I finally finished Sukhanov’s The Russian Revolution 1917 (discussed briefly here)—it’s a fascinating eyewitness account of momentous months, but he’s a lot more interested in the theoretical infighting of various Marxist fractions than most of us are today, so some of it is heavy slogging—and was rewarded towards the end, during the dramatic account of the opening session of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets on the night of Oct. 25 (November 7), 1917, with what is if not the first use at least the locus classicus of one of the great rhetorical cliches. The Mensheviks and SRs whom Sukhanov graces with the sarcastic epithet “the pure-in-heart” (чистые) have made the fateful decision, after the Menshevik leader Martov has placed before the congress a resolution (very popular, judging from the response of the crowd) opposing any military settlement of the ongoing crisis (i.e., the Bolshevik coup which was then underway), to walk out in protest, leaving the Bolsheviks unopposed. As they do so, to the jeers of the Bolsheviks, Trotsky makes a triumphant speech justifying the Bolshevik actions (“We openly forged the will of the masses for an insurrection, and not a conspiracy”), ending with this zinger: “To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out; go where you ought to be—into the dustbin of history!” (Тем, кто отсюда ушел и кто выступает с предложениями, мы должны сказать: вы — жалкие единицы, вы — банкроты, ваша роль сыграна и отправляйтесь туда, где вам отныне надлежит быть: в сорную корзину истории!)
Sukhanov, by the way, is an interesting guy. At first, caught up in the story he’s telling, you find him a likable and eagle-eyed observer, but after a while you start noticing that he must have been a pain in the ass to his acquaintances, what with his constant harping on theoretical disagreements and his sneers at anyone who doesn’t follow the correct line (which is, of course, his); about that time, he lets you know that he’s quite aware of it, mentioning his bad temper and (what we would now call) poor interpersonal skills. This comes to a head in the quite moving description of his relations with Lunacharsky (pp. 374-76):
After he arrived in Russia on May 9th, together with Martov, he at once, and quite naturally, came to the Novaya Zhizn [Gorky and Sukhanov’s independent newspaper]. There we became personally acquainted and quite soon intimate… he was not yet in Lenin’s party and had a rather ‘soft’ disposition; we still felt ourselves to be comrades-in-arms in politics as well as literary collaborators.
But we also became rather close friends on purely personal grounds. You might say I spent almost all my unoccupied time with Lunacharsky. He often spent days and nights with us in the Letopis, where my wife and I had a pied-à-terre. Sometimes at night he would come to see me at the printer’s, to have a little more talk and look at the next day’s edition. And when we were detained in the Tauride Palace we used to spend the night at Manukhin’s and again talk away endlessly.
We discussed everything: regardless of the theme, Lunacharsky’s talk, stories and repartee were interesting, clear and picturesque, just as he himself was interesting and brilliant…
It is said that when he became a Minister Lunacharsky more quickly and completely than others acquired a ministerial manner, with its negative qualities. I don’t know. After the October Revolution I completely broke with him… For two and a half years, down to this very moment, I’ve only had a few fleeting encounters with him, and not very agreeable ones at that. He really took a ministerial air with me. But I don’t know how much he was to blame for all this, and I know very well how much I was, with my rather disagreeable character. My continual polemics were really bitter and unendurable, when we ceased to be companions-in-arms and became political enemies.
The tragedy of a man who values friendship but is unable to keep friends because of his difficult character, of which he is well aware, shines through that passage; I think Sukhanov must have been lonely much of his life.
I understood his character a little better after I read the introduction to Nikolai Sukhanov: Chronicler of the Russian Revolution (thanks, Amazon Search Inside!). Nikolai Nikolaevich Gimmer (he adopted the name Sukhanov in 1907) was born in 1882 to a minor railway official of German descent whom he never knew and a mother to whom he said (in a brief autobiographical sketch he wrote in 1927) he was never close. Well, it turns out his mother, Ekaterina Pavlovna Simon, was at the center of one of the most notorious Russian court cases of the late 19th century. In love with Stepan Ivanovich Chistov but unable to divorce her worthless, drunken husband and marry him because “the Moscow Ecclesiastical Consistory refused her application for a divorce on the grounds that the evidence proving her husband’s ‘marital infidelity’ was ‘insufficient’,” she convinced Gimmer to fake a suicide: his clothes and a farewell note were left on the ice of the Moskva River, while he took a train to Petersburg with the money she’d given him. Unfortunately, the police figured out the deception, and she and her new husband were charged with bigamy, and the details of the case (fully reported in the papers) riveted the country (and became the basis for Tolstoy’s play The Living Corpse, Живой труп). They were sentenced to seven years’ exile in Siberia, but “thanks to their case being taken up by A. F. Koni, a well-known lawyer in the criminal appeals department of the Senate, in 1898 Tsar Nikolai II, acting on the advice of his minister of justice, commuted the sentence to one year’s imprisonment.” So the teenaged Nikolai spent a year of high school fending for himself while his mother was in Butyrki Prison. No wonder he became a difficult person!