On Saturday, April 15th, Americans took to the streets — yet again! — to protest Don John Trump. This time, it was a Tax March. Meanwhile, here in Zurich, a similarly polarizing figure has my attention:
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by the alias Lenin. The following day, April 16th, will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Trump-like, Bolshevik destruction of the Russian “administrative state.” As Winston Churchill so eloquently said of this World War I inflection point:
Full allowance must be made for the desperate tasks to which the German war leaders were already committed… Nevertheless it was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed train like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.
On the train with Lenin was not only his wife but also his mistress. Nadezhda Konstantinovna “Nadya” Krupskaya was the wife. Inessa Fyodorovna Armand (born Elisabeth-Inès Stéphane d’Herbenville) was the mistress.
Quite often I find myself in the Zürich Hauptbahnhof, the very same, largely unchanged railway station, from whence they departed exactly a century ago. Walking where they once walked, I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to be in their shoes. Not literally: I prefer to keep wearing my Stuart Weitzman 550’s!
How much are our personalities reflected — or even (God help us) formed! — by the clothes (not just shoes!) we wear? That’s the kind of silly, distracting question I find myself mulling over lately as current events seem increasingly reminiscent of horrors from the past. Just as in the days leading up to World War I, there’s the distinct whiff in the Trumpian air of unimaginable but impending catastrophe, as pungent as decaying corpses.
What can be done? What can any individual do to confront the often evil forces of history? That actually is the title of an 1863 utopian novel that both Inessa and Nadya, as well as Lenin himself, found formative: What Is to Be Done? A spiritual, socialistic model for idealized society, the book justified Lenin’s open marriage and fueled both Nadya and Inessa’s aspirations for women’s rights and “freedom in love.”
Now, a century later — and thus privy to where their dreams led (a failed Communist state, the concomitant loss of freedom, endless conflict) — I find myself retreating into personal fantasies, thinking the thoughts that writers think, wondering who I would have rather been — the mistress or the wife, Inessa or Nadya — and what was it like, really like, to fuck Lenin?
Sex always seems somehow more intense, more desperately meaningful when set against the backdrop of violent, world-changing events. How much fun they surely must have had on that sealed train to Russia. Isn’t it pretty to think so!