On the Relations between Lenin and Stalin

Maria Ulyanova

In this issue we publish the third in the series of materials relating to the ‘Lenin Testament’ and the relations between Lenin and Stalin. The two statements of Maria Ulyanova, the sister of Lenin, given below were published for the first time in the USSR in 1989 during the period of ‘perestroika’. Yu Murin and V. Stepanov who prepared these and related documents for publication in the Soviet journal ‘Izvestia TsK KPSS’ noted that the background to the writing of these two statements was the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the A-UCP(b) held in 1926:

‘The opposition (L.D. Trotsky, G.E. Zinoviev, L.B. Kamenev and others) in their struggle against I.V. Stalin and the majority in the CC used the last letters written by V.I. Lenin, in which he had put forth his opinions of eminent party leaders, and accused the CC of hiding these documents from the party. G.E. Zinoviev in his speech at the plenum talked about the contents of V.I. Lenin’s letter to I.V. Stalin dated 5 March 1923. Consequently the following documents were read out in the plenum: V.I. Lenin’s letter to the Congress dated 25 December 1922, the follow-up letter dated to the Congress dated 25 December 1922 – ‘On the question of nationalities or ‘autonomisation’ and the letter ‘To the party of Bolsheviks’ dated 18 (31) October 1917 on the attitude of L.B. Kamenev and G.E. Zinoviev towards the question of the armed rebellion.

‘Following the discussion at the plenum and having taken into consideration the reading of the letters of V.I. Lenin, G.E. Zinoviev, L.D. Trotsky, N.I. Bukharin and I.V. Stalin, M.I. Ulyanova issued statements which were appended to the stenographic report of the plenum.’

(‘Izvestia TsK KPSS’, No. 12, 1989, below p. 200, translated from Russian by Tahir Asghar).

It is clear from the second statement made by Maria Ulyanova that the first had been prompted by the request of Bukharin and Stalin to guard the latter a little from the attack of the opposition. The involvement of Nikolai Bukharin in the preparation of Maria Ulyanova’s statement dated 26th July is evident from the following note in his handwriting on the letterhead of the CC of the RCP(b) which is preserved in the former archives of the CPSU(b) :

‘In view of the systematic slander on Comrade Stalin by the opposition minority in the CC and the unending assertions regarding a virtual termination of all relations by V.I. Lenin with I.V. Stalin, I feel obliged to say a few words about the relations between Lenin and Stalin as I was present alongside of Lenin during the whole period at the end of V.I.’s life.

‘Vlad. Ilyich Lenin highly valued Stalin, so much so, that at the time of the first stroke and also during the second stroke V.I. entrusted Stalin with the most intimate of assignments while emphasising that it is Stalin alone that he is asking for.

‘In general, during the whole period of his illness, V.I. did not ask for any of the members of the CC and did not want to meet any of them and would ask only for Stalin to come. Thus all the speculations that V.I.’s relations with Stalin were not as good as with others is totally contrary to the truth’.

(Loc. cit. Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar).

In the first statement Maria Ulyanova rejected the charges made by the opposition that there had been a rupture between Lenin and Stalin in the last months of the life of Lenin and also affirmed the closeness of the political and personal relations between the two Bolshevik leaders. Zinoviev in his speech of 21st July 1926 at the joint plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission of the A-UCP(b) had referred to the evaluations by Lenin of Stalin in the second part of his ‘Letter to the Congress’ (24th December, 1922), the continuation of the letter (4th January 1923) and the article ‘On the Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomisation’. On the question of Stalin’s ‘rudeness’ Maria Ulyanova asserted her opinion that the incident between Stalin and Nadezhda Krupskaya was ‘completely personal and had nothing to do with politics’. It had arisen as by the decision of the Central Committee Stalin was charged with the responsibility of ensuring that no political news reached Lenin during the period of his serious illness as per the instructions of the doctors. Nadezhda Krupskaya had breached this decision which led to Stalin criticising her and in turn was hammered by Lenin. Maria Ulyanova considered that ‘had Lenin not been so seriously ill then he would have reacted to the incident differently’.

The second, undated, statement by Maria Ulyanova is more reflective of the events in the last months of the life of Lenin. Ulyanova sought to delve more deeply into the connection between the last letter of Lenin which demands an apology from Stalin for his behaviour with Nadezhda Krupskaya with the last writings of Lenin and the political line of Stalin in the period after the death of Lenin. Maria Ulyanova sheds new light on the personal and political intimacy between Lenin and Stalin. We learn that Stalin was a more frequent visitor to Lenin in the period of his illness compared to the other party leaders. Lenin turned to Stalin for help when he came to the decision that in the event of his becoming paralysed he wished to end his life by consuming potassium cyanide. Maria Ulyanova’s account of this matter is of great value as it answers the scandalous charge levelled by Trotsky that Stalin had arranged for Lenin to be administered poison. (L. Trotsky, ‘Stalin’, Vol. 2, London, 1969, p. 199). The narration is of further value in countering the assiduously fostered notion prevalent in the west that Trotsky was in some sense closer to Lenin and in fact the ‘heir’ of Lenin and Leninism. From her direct knowledge of the discussions of Lenin and Stalin on the subject of Trotsky, Maria Ulyanova is able to aver that Lenin stood in close political proximity to Stalin despite the difference between the two on the Caucasian question. (On this see the note ‘Bolshevism and the National Question’, ‘Revolutionary Democracy’, Vol. 1, No. 2, September 1995, pp. 66-69). Ulyanova’s account of the dissatisfaction of Lenin with Stalin on the matter of sending monetary assistance to the émigré Menshevik Martov may not convince many of Lenin’s political correctness on the question, rather political sympathy may go to Stalin who exclaimed to Lenin that he should find another party secretary if he wished to send money to this enemy of the workers.

The differences between Lenin and Stalin manifested in Lenin’s last letter to Stalin where he demanded an apology from Stalin originated, as Maria Ulyanova pointed out, from a situation where Stalin was required by the party politbureau to ensure the compliance of the doctors’ instructions that Lenin should not be informed of political developments. Ulyanova indicates that the ‘maximum fear’ was of Nadezhda Krupskaya who was accustomed to holding discussions on political matters with Lenin. Stalin’s attempt to maintain the medical instructions precipitated the quarrel with Krupskaya in which he threatened to take her before the Central Control Commission of the party. This in turn provoked the contretemps between Lenin and Stalin.

Lenin’s letter to Stalin of 5th March 1923 did not touch upon the fact that Nadezhda Krupskaya was circumventing the medical instructions and that Stalin had been charged by the politbureau to ensure their compliance. Lenin demanded that Stalin withdraw his words to Nadezhda Krupskaya, apologise or face a rupture in their relations.

This letter is well-known as it was circulated at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU by Khrushchev in 1956 and later reprinted all over the world by the revisionist Soviet press.

It is now known that Khrushchev had been a member of the Trotskyist opposition in the early 1920s so that, as Kaganovich has pointed out in his memoirs, the ‘secret speech’ represented an example of political recidivism.

Lenin’s letter to Stalin was held back at the request of Nadezhda Krupskaya and was eventually delivered personally by M.A. Volodcheva to Stalin on 7th March, 1923. Stalin immediately replied to the letter of Lenin but it was not read by the intended recipient as Lenin’s health worsened. The rebuttal of Stalin is self-explanatory. It is published as an appendix to the two statements of Maria Ulyanova for the first time in the English language.

Vijay Singh

No. 1

M.I. Ulyanova to the presidium of the
joint plenum of the cc and CCC of the RCP(b)

26th July, 1926

To the Joint Plenum of the CC and CCC

The oppositional minority in the CC in the recent period has carried out a systematic attack on Comrade Stalin not even stopping at affirming as though there had been a rupture between Lenin and Stalin in the last months of the life of V.I. With the objective of re-establishing the truth I consider it my obligation to inform comrades briefly about the relations of Lenin towards Stalin in the period of the illness of V.I. (I am not here concerned with the period prior to his illness about which I have wide-ranging evidences of the most touching relations between V.I. and Stalin of which CC members know no less than I) when I was continually present with him and fulfilled a number of charges.

Vladimir Ilyich really appreciated Stalin. For example, in the spring of 1922 when V. Ilyich had his first attack, and also at the time of his second attack in December 1922, he invited Stalin and addressed him with the most intimate tasks. The type of tasks with which one can address a person on whom one has total faith, whom you know as a dedicated revolutionist, and as a intimate comrade. Moreover Ilyich insisted, that he wanted to talk only with Stalin and nobody else. In general, in the entire period of his illness, till he had the opportunity to associate with his comrades, he invited comrade Stalin the maximum. And during the most serious period of the illness, he invited not a single member of the politbureau except Stalin.

There was an incident between Lenin and Stalin which comrade Zinoviev mentions in his speech and which took place not long before Ilyich lost his power of speech (March, 1923) but it was completely personal and had nothing to do with politics. Comrade Zinoviev knew this very well and to quote it was absolutely unnecessary. This incident took place because on the demand of the doctors the Central Committee gave Stalin the charge of keeping a watch so that no political news reached Lenin during this period of serious illness. This was done so as not to upset him and so that his condition did not deteriorate, he (Stalin) even scolded his family for conveying this type of information. Ilyich, who accidentally came to know about this and who was also always worried about such a strong regime of protection, in turn scolded Stalin. Stalin apologized and with this the incident was settled. What is there to be said – during this period, as I had indicated, if Lenin had not been so seriously ill then he would have reacted to the incident differently. There are documents regarding this incident and on the first demand from the Central Committee I can present them.

This way, I affirm that all the talk of the opposition about Lenin’s relation towards Stalin does not correspond to reality. These relations were most intimate and friendly and remained so.

26th July 1926. M. Ulyanova.

(Ts PA IML, F. 17, Op. 2, D. 246, Vyp. IV; Tipografskii tekst).

Courtesy: ‘Izvestia Ts.K. KPSS’, 1989, No. 12, p. 196.


No. 2.

M.I. Ulyanova on Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s relation towards J. Stalin:

In my application to the Central Committee plenum I wrote that V. Ilyich appreciated Stalin. This is of course right. Stalin is a major worker and a good organiser. But it is also without doubt, that in this application, I did not say the whole truth about Lenin’s attitude towards Stalin. The aim of the application, which was written at the request of Bukharin and Stalin, was to refer to Ilyich’s relation towards him. This would have guarded him a little from the opposition attack. This speculation was based on the last letter by V. Ilyich to Stalin where the question of breaking this relationship was posed. The immediate reason for this was personal – V. Ilyich’s outrage that Stalin allowed himself to be rude towards Nadezhda Konstantinovna. At that time it seemed to me that this very personal matter was used by Zinoviev, Kamenev and others for political objectives and the purpose of factionalism. Further weighing this fact with other statements of V. Ilyich, his political testament and also Stalin’s behaviour after Lenin’s death, his ‘political’ line, I all the more started explaining to myself the real relation Lenin had with Stalin towards the end of his life. Even if briefly I think that it is my duty to talk about it.

V. Ilyich had a lot of control. He was very good in concealing. For whatever reasons whenever he thought it necessary he would not reveal his relations to other people. I remember how he hid himself in his room and closed the door when a worker from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee whom he could not tolerate, came to our flat. He was definitely afraid to meet this man, fearing that he would not be able to control himself, and that his real attitude would become rudely apparent.

He controlled himself even more in his relations towards the comrades with whom he worked. For him work was the first priority. He subjugated the personal in the interests of work. Never did the personal protrude or prevail.

A distinct example of this type of relation was the incident with Trotsky. In one politbureau meeting Trotsky called Ilyich ‘a hooligan’. V. Ilyich turned as pale as chalk, but he controlled himself. ‘It seems some people are losing their nerves’. He said something like this in reply to Trotsky’s rudeness. This is what the comrades told me while retelling the incident. He never had any sympathy for Trotsky. This person had so many characteristics which made it extremely difficult to work with him in a collective fashion. But he was a great worker and a talented person and I repeat for V. Ilyich work was the first priority and that is why he tried to retain him for the job and tried to work with him jointly in the future. What this cost him – is a different question. It was extremely difficult to maintain a balance between Trotsky and the other members of the politbureau, especially between Trotsky and Stalin. Both of them were extremely ambitious and intolerant people. For them personal aspects preponderated over the interests of work. From the telegrams of Trotsky and Stalin sent to Lenin from the front, it becomes clear what was the type of relation they had in the first years of Soviet rule.

Vladimir Ilyich’s authority controlled them. Things did not reach that height of unpleasantness which they would reach after the death of V. Ilyich. I think for a number of reasons V. Ilyich’s attitude towards Zinoviev was not good. But here also he controlled himself for the interest of the work.

In the summer of 1922, during the first illness of V. Ilyich, when I was staying with him constantly almost without absences, I was able to closely observe his relation with the comrades with whom he worked closely and with the members of the politbureau.

By this time I have heard something about V. Ilyich’s dissatisfaction with Stalin. I was told that when V. Ilyich came to know about Martov’s illness, he requested Stalin to send him some money. In reply Stalin told him ‘I should spend money on the enemy of the workers! Find yourself another secretary for this’. V. Ilyich was very disappointed and angry with Stalin. Were there other reasons also for V. Ilyich to be dissatisfied. It seems there were. Shkolovski narrates about a letter by V. Ilyich to him, in Berlin, when he was there. From this it becomes clear that somebody was undermining V. Ilyich. Who and how – it remained a secret.

In the winter of 20-21, 21-22 V. Ilyich was feeling sick. He had headaches and was unable to work – Lenin was deeply disturbed. I exactly do not know when, but somehow during this period V. Ilyich told Stalin that he would probably be stricken with paralysis and made Stalin promise that in this event he would help V. Ilyich to obtain potassium cyanide. Stalin promised. Why did he appeal to Stalin with this request? Because he knew him to be an extremely strong man devoid of any sentimentality. V. Ilyich had nobody else but Stalin to approach with this type of request.

In May 1922 after his first attack he appealed to Stalin with the same request. V. Ilyich had then decided that everything was finished for him and demanded that Stalin should be brought to him immediately. This request was so insistent that nobody could gainsay it. Stalin was with V. Ilyich within 5 minutes and not more. When Stalin came out he told Bukharin and me that V. Ilyich had asked him to obtain poison. The time had come to fulfil his earlier promise. Stalin promised. V. Ilyich and Stalin kissed each other and Stalin left the room.

But later on after discussing the matter together we decided that V. Ilyich’s spirits should be raised. Stalin returned to Lenin and told him that after talking it over with the doctors he was convinced that everything was not yet lost and therefore the time for fulfilling his promise had not come. V. Ilyich noticeably cheered up and agreed. He said to Stalin, ‘you are being cunning?’ In reply Stalin said ‘when did you ever know me to be cunning?’ They parted and did not see each other till V. Ilyich’s condition improved. He was not allowed to meet his comrades.

During this period Stalin was a more frequent visitor in comparison to others. He was the first to come to V. Ilyich. Ilyich met him amicably, joked, laughed and demanded that I should treat Stalin with wine and so on. In this and in other meetings they discussed Trotsky and from their talk in front of me it was clear that here Ilyich was with Stalin against Trotsky. Once the question of inviting Trotsky to Ilyich was discussed. This had a diplomatic character. The offer to Trotsky to become Ilyich’s deputy in Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars – ed. R.D.) was made with the same motive. In this period Kamenev and Bukharin came to meet V. Ilyich, but Zinoviev did not come even once. And so far as I knew V. Ilyich never expressed any willingness to meet him.

After returning to work, in the autumn of 1922, V. Ilyich frequently met Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin in the evenings in his private office. Once in a while, I tried to part them, reminding them that the doctors had forbidden him to sit for long at work. They joked and explained that their meetings were simple discussions and not official talk.

V. Ilyich was most annoyed with Stalin regarding the national, Caucasus question. This is known from his correspondence with Trotsky regarding this matter. It is clear that V. Ilyich was completely outraged with Stalin, Ordjonikidze and Dzerzhinsky. During the period of his further illness, this question would strongly torture him.

To this the other conflict was also added, and which was brought about by V. Ilyich’s letter to Stalin on 5.3.23 and which I am going to quote below. It was like this. The doctors insisted that V. Ilyich should not be informed anything about work. The maximum fear was of Nadezhda Konstantinovna discussing anything with V. Ilyich. She was so used to discussing everything with him that sometimes completely unintentionally and unwillingly she might blurt things out. The politbureau gave Stalin the charge of keeping watch so that the doctors’ instructions were maintained. It seems, one day coming to know about certain conversations between N.K. and V.I., Stalin called her to the telephone and spoke to her quite sharply thinking this would not reach V. Ilyich. He warned her that she should not discuss work with V.I. or this may drag her to the Central Control Commission of the party. This discussion deeply disturbed N.K. she completely lost control of herself – she sobbed and rolled on the floor. After a few days she told V.I. about this incident and added that they had already reconciled. Before this it seems Stalin had actually called her to smooth over the negative reaction his threat and warning had created upon her. She told Kamenev and Zinoviev that Stalin had shouted at her on the phone and it seems she mentioned the Caucasus matter.

Next morning Stalin invited me to V. Ilyich’s office. He looked upset and offended. He told me ‘I did not sleep the whole night. Who does Ilyich think I am, how he regards me, as towards a traitor, I love him with all my heart. Please, somehow tell him this.’ I felt sorry for Stalin. It seemed to me that he was sincerely distressed. Ilyich called me for something and in between I told him that the comrades were sending him regards ‘Ah’ – objected V.I. ‘And Stalin has requested me to tell you, that he loves you’. Ilyich frowned and kept quiet. ‘Then what’ – I asked ‘should I convey your greetings to him?’ ‘Convey them’ answered Ilyich quite coldly. But I continued ‘Volodia he is still the intelligent Stalin’. ‘He is absolutely not intelligent’ frowning Ilyich answered resolutely.

I did not continue the discussion and after a few days. V.I. came to know that Stalin had been rude with N.K. and Kamenev and Zinoviev knew about it. In the morning very distressed Lenin asked for the stenographer to be sent to him. Before this he asked whether N.K. had already left for Narkompros (People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment – ed. R.D.) to which he received a positive answer. When Volodicheva came V.I. dictated the following letter to Stalin:

‘Absolutely secret. Personal. Respected Comrade Stalin! You were rude enough to call my wife to the telephone and insult her. Even though she has expressed to you her willingness to forget the incident, but even then this fact came to be known through her by Zinoviev and Kamenev. I am not ready to forget so easily what has been done against me and what is done against my wife I consider as having been done against me. Therefore I ask you to inform me whether you are ready to take back what you said and apologise or whether you prefer to break off our relationship. With respect Lenin. Written by M.V. 5/III-23’.

V.I. asked Volodicheva to send it to Stalin without telling N.K. and to put a copy of the letter in a sealed envelope and give it to me.

After returning home and seeing V.I. distressed N.K. understood that something had happened. She requested Volidicheva not to send the letter. She would personally talk to Stalin and ask him to apologize. That is what N.K. is saying now, but I feel that she did not see this letter and it was sent to Stalin as V.I. had wanted. The reply of Stalin was not handed over immediately and then it was decided probably by the doctors and N.K. not to give it to V.I. as his condition had worsened. And so V.I. did not come to know about the reply of Stalin in which he apologised.

But howsoever irritated Lenin was with Stalin there is one thing I can say with complete conviction, his words that Stalin was ‘not at all intelligent’ were said without any irritation. This was his opinion about him – decided and complex and which he told me. This opinion did not refute the fact that V.I. valued Stalin as a practical worker. He considered it absolutely essential that there should be some initial control over his ways and peculiarities, on the force of which V.I. considered that Stalin should be removed from the post of general secretary. He spoke about this very decisively in his political will, in his description of a group of comrades which he gave before his death. But these documents never reached the party. But about this some other time.

(Ts PA IML, F. 14, Op. 1, D. 398, l. 1-8; avtograf).

Courtesy: ‘Izvestia Ts.K. KPSS’, 1989, No. 12, pp. 196-199.


On 18 December 1922 - two meetings of the Central Committee of the R.C.P. (b) took place and which Lenin could not attend due to illness.



Letter of Joseph Stalin to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

7th March, 1923.

To Com. Lenin from Stalin


Comrade Lenin!

Five weeks ago I had a discussion with Nadezhda Konstantinovna whom I consider not only your wife, but also my senior party comrade. I told her on the telephone something very close to the following :

‘The doctors have forbidden any political information to be given to Ilyich. They consider this routine the most effective method to cure him, whereas you Nadezhda Konstantinovna are violating this routine. To play with the life of Ilyich is not allowed’.

I do not think that these words can be seen as anything rude or impermissible directed ‘against’ you nor I did I proceed from any other purposes other than your quick recovery. Moreover, I think it my duty to see that this routine is maintained. My explanation to Nadezhda Konstantinovna confirms that there was nothing except a simple misunderstanding.

If you think that to maintain the ‘relationship’ I must ‘take back’ the above-mentioned words, then I can take them back but I do not understand where is my ‘fault’ and what exactly is wanted from me.

I. Stalin.

(Ts P A IML, F. 2, Op. 1, D. 26004, l. 3; avtograf.)

Courtesy : ‘Izvestia TsK KPSS’, 1989, No. 12, p. 193.

[Lenin’s letter and Stalin’s answer were kept in an official envelope in the department of administrative matters of Sovnarkom on which it was written – ‘Letter from Lenin dated 5/III-23 (2 copies) and reply from Stalin – not read by Lenin. Single copy’. Stalin’s reply was written on 7th March immediately after receiving Lenin’s letter from M.A. Volodicheva – editor].

Translated from the Russian by Sumana Jha.

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