In a century of steel and war, Switzerland has made industries of chocolate and the pursuit of peace. Above-the-fray Switzerland thinks of itself as unoffending. But it has much to answer for. It was Lenin's haven until Germany sent him in a sealed train to Russia to ignite the revolution that would take Russia out of the war. Germany used Lenin (in Churchill's phrase) "like a typhoid bacillus." It found the disease in squeaky-clean Switzerland.
While in London, Mrs. Gorbachev vetoed a visit to Marx's grave in Hightower Cemetery, preferring to visit the crown jewels in the Tower. But she will go as a pilgrim to Lenin's Geneva haunts. She will be celebrating the man who vowed to purge Russia of "harmful insects" and ordered "shooting on the spot one out of every 10 found idling." He pioneered modern genocide by ignoring individual guilt, enforcing collective guilt against "class enemies," a.k.a. "harmful insects."
The Gorbachev family's division of labor is between theory and practice. She is a university lecturer in "Marxist-Leninist philosophy," which is an oxymoron. He is concerned with practice. While she is genuflecting at Geneva's 10 Rue du Foyer, where Lenin lived with Krupskaya, he will, we are asked to believe, be seeking world tranquillity, to enable him to build communism in one country.
The theory, advanced by many Western intellectuals, is that the Soviet elite does not mean what it says when it says, as it constantly does, that it embraces Lenin. He did not believe there could be communism in just one country. He said: "As long as capitalism and socialism exist, we cannot live in peace. In the end, one or the other will triumph." However, there never is a shortage of Westerners eager to assure the West that Soviet leaders do not mean the menacing things they say, that what they really mean is . . .
Today's theory is that Gorbachev wants a respite from the arms race, and especially from one involving technologically exotic defense systems, so he can "solve his economic problems." But it is absurd to say that military spending is causing the regime's economic problems. Military spending is the regime's raison d'.etre. The regime has never given priority to the comforts of the masses. It has never made a serious effort to provide a Cuisinart in every apartment, or even a separate apartment for every family.
Yet the West's wishful thinkers insist: Gorbachev wants to build communism. Which means . . . what?
In "Travesties," Tom Stoppard's antic play that turns on the fact that Lenin, James Joyce and the Dada artist Tristan Tzara were in Zurich during 1917-18, a character is told that a "social revolution" has erupted in Russia. He asks: "A social revolution? Unaccompanied women smoking at the opera, that sort of thing?" He is told: "Not precisely, sir."
Even communists have had trouble saying precisely, or even vaguely, what communism is supposed to be. Lenin said, with nice concision: "Communism is Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country." If Lenin was right, communism has come to Russia. Is Leninism right? Ask Mrs. Gorbachev, who teaches the stuff.
Lenin liked electrification but loved terror, and said: First things first. Trotsky said: "We shall not enter into the kingdom of socialism in white gloves on a polished floor." Lenin said you do not make an omelet without breaking eggs. He established an egg-breaker: Cheka, the secret police. By 1919, Cheka was killing 1,000 persons a month for political offenses. In the preceding 80 years, the number of executions in the Russian empire had averaged 17 a year.
When the first lady of the Soviet state makes pilgrimages to places made sacred by association with Lenin, she reaffirms the iconographic role of the man who unified the theory and practice of mass murder. She is not a peasant; she is what passes for a philosopher in a society where the humanities are illegal. She knows what Lenin said and did, and what she is doing. Let us do her and her husband the honor of taking them seriously when they say they take Lenin seriously, even reverently.
In 1907 Lenin wrote to his mother from Geneva, saying he was weary but was getting a "wonderful rest" in restful Switzerland: "No people and nothing to do is the best thing for me." Indeed. But by March 1908, he had his pep back. He told a Geneva meeting that during the Paris Commune, the proletariat was guilty of "excessive magnanimity. . . . It should have exterminated its enemies." His placid Swiss listeners probably murmured, "Well, of course, by 'exterminated' he really just means . . ."
We know what he meant. And we know what Soviet leaders mean when they say they are Lenin's children.