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Monday, November 24, 1997 Published at 19:15 GMT



World: Analysis

Lenin's Love Life Exposed?
image: [ BBC regional analyst Stephen Mulvey ]
BBC regional analyst Stephen Mulvey

According to the Sunday Times newspaper, a British historian is about to make new revelations about the love life of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Robert Service, professor of Russian history at the University of London, is reported to have found private letters and medical records which show that Lenin continued a love affair with the French-born revolutionary, Inessa Armand, for much longer than is commonly supposed. BBC regional analyst, Stephen Mulvey, considers the evidence available so far.

The theory that Lenin had a love affair with Inessa Armand is widely accepted by historians, but it's usually supposed that this affair took place in Paris several years before the revolution, and was not long-lived.

The new evidence reportedly gathered from Russian archives by Professor Service, suggests that Lenin tried hard to end the affair with Armand, but found himself unable to live without her. According to the Sunday Times Professor Service is making a television programme that will be screened next month. One of his claims is that when Lenin moved into the Moscow Kremlin in 1918, he took both his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, and his lover (Armand). All three had separate bedrooms.

Russians have long enjoyed speculating about the relationship between Lenin and Armand, an advocate of free love. People have even discussed the possibility that Lenin could have fathered of one of Armand's children. Some have noted that Lenin and Krupskaya had no children -- and concluded that Lenin was impotent. Others have speculated that Lenin might have contracted syphilis in his student days. Most of these suggestions appear to be unfounded.

One thing that most historians agree on is that Lenin's life was overwhelmingly dominated by politics. According to the author of one recent history of the revolution, by the Cambridge historian Orlando Figes, "Lenin's personal life was extraordinarily dull." He was an ascetic, like many of his fellow revolutionaries. Although he acknowledged that he could be moved by music, it was a luxury he tried not to allow himself. He did not smoke or drink, and was not interested in beautiful women -- except for Armand.

But the evidence for a long-lasting passion is not conclusive. From the fact that Armand had a room in the Kremlin, and believed in free love, it does not necessarily follow that she and Lenin continued to sleep together until her death from cholera in 1920. Neither is this proven by the fact that Lenin was overwhelmed by grief at her funeral.

Professor Service's argument is, admittedly, strengthened by the fact that Armand wrote a letter to Lenin just before her death. The letter itself has been lost, but in a surviving covering note Armand declares that she cared only for her children and Lenin. Professor Service believes it's significant that Armand asked her daughter to deliver the letter to Lenin's sister, Maria, rather than to Krupskaya -- suggesting that Armand wanted to spare Krupskaya the pain of forwarding to her husband a declaration of love.

It may be that Professor Service has additional evidence, which will be exposed when his programme is televised. But for the time being his theory, while undeniably intriguing, falls somewhat short of demonstrated fact.






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