These below are the memories of my grandfather’s meeting with Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin. Lenin, who himself did not shy away from using violence to obtain and maintain power, was very aware that those who sought a more egalitarian society but were not prepared to move fast to obtain power themselves, would, in time, have violence exercised against them by those seeking to maintain or re-establish the previous status quo. In a world of geopolitics in which we see violence used on a daily basis to maintain the power structure that established itself after the fall of the Soviet Union, we can conclude that although the economic experiment of the Soviet Union has been relegated to the history books, there are still political lessons to be learnt from Lenin, the first one being that those who are more determined to achieve power will never hesitate from using violence to obtain it. It follows that those who believe in a more egalitarian society and are fortunate enough to live in democratic societies and who have the opportunity to seek power without the use of violence, need to use every means at their disposal to achieve it, without hesitation, and with a sense of urgency, because if they don’t, there is always the possibility that those who are seeking to stop them will ultimately resort to using violence. As Noam Chomsky said: “People with power understand exactly one thing: violence”.
(from Ercole Graziadei, “Persone”, Mondadori, 1966. Translation by Robin Monotti Graziadei)
Summer of 1920. The revolution is not even three years old. Delegations and all sorts of individuals converge to Moscow, some very well known, others incongruous to the point of charlatanism. There is also a mission of the Italian cooperatives, captained by Fernando Pozzani, specialist in grain. The list of stops of the journey will aid to reconstruct the times: Rome, Berlin, Copenaghen, Stockholm, Helsingfors , Reval , Petrograd , Moscow.
From Rome to the shores of the Baltic we used a special train carriage equipped with beds from the Italian rail company, given to us by the long-sightedness of Francesco Saverio Nitti, persuaded by the usefulness of establishing contact with a Russia about which the majority thought “it’s the end” and the minority thought it was a beginning. Of this long-sightedness Mussolini benefited two years later as soon as he gained power by signing, together with England, the first recognition of Soviet Russia. This has the form of a de facto recognition, expressed through that treaty for commerce whose seed was planted by this modest mission of cooperators in terms of trade between the two countries.
In those days a delegation of the Italian socialist party also happened to be present in Moscow, led by Giacinto Menotti Serrati.
One evening the news reaches us that the next morning – the morning of the 27th June 1920 – we will be received by Lenin: the two delegations in full. The author was also part of the group, as secretary of the former, barely twenty years old he had left his job as a trainee banker in Paris driven by a thirst for knowledge towards a world twice new.
The modest, almost cramped office of Lenin at the Kremlin has already been described, with its demure furniture and the eighteenth century ministerial desk, covered with waxed black canvas. I could, perhaps, sketch the hand-cranked telephone that was on that desk and that remained silent for the whole duration of the meeting. Telephones that remain silent when they need to, speak of the personality of the person who sits at the table on which they rest.
What struck you was the modest height of the man, the Mongolian features and the demure yet not dowdy clothes: like those of a high school teacher, we would have said. He was wearing a white shirt and a tie; not the rubashka, the work shirt of the Russian peasant that symbolised for the men in command the equivalent of the more recent Castro military uniform.
The atmosphere of respect that Lenin created around himself was evident. The tone of conversation between him and the other two or three soviet characters present, among whom Zinoviev and Bukharin, coloured this respect with cordiality, in keeping with the collective nature of party management and of the res publica that to the surprise of many was noticeably of that world, and that only his death and the coming of Stalin were able to destroy, with consequences known to all and suffered by too many.
Of all the things he said that day, two remain above all others in the memory of that day forty-five years ago: the first was the importance, that seemed to some to verge on the miraculous, that Lenin gave to electrification – or to the problem of energy – in the development of his country, a country that needed to be industrialized; the second was the attention he gave to documenting himself on the Italian political situation and the diagnosis that arose from this.
The movement that was to lead to the occupation of the factories had begun. Lenin asked the opinion of the visitors on this subject, visitors who were surprised (the term is not accidental) by the events until that point. In such circumstances it’s not necessarily the strongest that replies: it is the one who is most talkative. It was the honourable Enrico Dugoni, the father of the late mayor of Mantova. In essence he said: “We are in no hurry to make a revolution. We have the unions and with these we control both industry and agriculture; we have a majority or near to of the town halls and we guide them through the league of socialist municipalities; we have a dense network of cooperatives and through these we have a decisive hold on the economy of the country; in one word, we have all the advantages of power without carrying the responsibility.”
The speech was not yet over, when Lenin burst out in his jerky yet perfectly articulate French, of a man of extensive reading: “They will burn your unions; they will hunt you out of the socialist town halls; they will destroy your cooperatives!” He explained that one has no right to terrorize the landowners and at the same time refuse to obtain power – with the amount of responsibility and force it implies – or the penalty will be to become the victim of the physiological process of expulsion of a foreign body.
It was only four months to – 21st November 1920 – the operation Palace of Accursio. Fascism, suitably fed and armed, began the hunt of the socialists from the town halls (and incidentally, in some cases, from this world) punctually followed by the destruction of the cooperatives and by the burning of the unions.
The prediction had come true.