MOSCOW — Through all the twists of glasnost , one figure in Soviet history has stood above criticism: V. I. Lenin. But an official magazine now has breached that taboo with a vehement attack on the man who led the Communists to power in Russia.
"Lenin--all victories of the party and the state are linked with the name of Lenin," wrote Vasily Grossman in a 1963 work published posthumously in the June issue of the Oktyabr literary magazine. "But all cruelty committed in the country has become the tragic burden of Vladimir Ilych."
Grossman charges that Soviet political terror and dictatorship were begun by Lenin and not by his successor, Josef Stalin, as Communist Party doctrine has maintained since 1956.
By printing the Ukrainian-born writer's short novel "Forever Flowing" in the Soviet Union for the first time, the monthly implicitly questions President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's often-stated view that the nation needs only to shake off the totalitarian heritage of Stalinism and return to true Leninist ways to construct a democracy in which the liberty of each citizen is respected.
"Bolsheviks did not believe in the value of personal freedom, freedom of speech and press," Grossman said. "They, like Lenin himself, considered those freedoms which were a dream for many revolutionary workers and intelligentsia as . . . insignificant."
Lenin, who steered the Bolsheviks to power in the 1917 Russian Revolution, was elevated to near divine status by the Kremlin after his death in 1924. His writings and thought have served since as a touchstone and bible for Communists, Gorbachev among them.
The Soviet founder's preserved body lies in a shrine-like mausoleum at the Kremlin Wall, and people lining up daily to wait their turn for a glimpse at the remains have worn a path across the cobblestones of Red Square.
Lenin's words are cited as gospel by Kremlin leaders as well as state agencies and propaganda organs.
In "Forever Flowing," Grossman portrays a Lenin at odds with the official heroic portrait, a man who may even have had a paunch because of a love for buttered macaroni. More importantly, Grossman's Lenin is a political fanatic who would sooner exterminate his enemies than try to persuade them.
"Lenin's intolerance, unshakable aspiration to achieve a goal, contempt for freedom and cruelty to those who thought differently, his ability to remove from the earth whole regions, areas, which did not comply with his orthodox rightness--all those features were not added to Lenin's character by the revolution, they go much deeper, into Lenin's youth," wrote Grossman, who died in 1964.
"Lenin didn't try to find the truth in discussions, but to win," Grossman said. "When debates were transferred from the pages of newspapers and magazines into the streets, battlefields and wheat fields, it was realized that all cruel means were useful and good."
Grossman's accusations are strong stuff even given the criticism of other Soviet historical figures that has appeared under Gorbachev's campaign for glasnost, or more openness. In a foreword to "Forever Flowing," Grigory G. Vodolazov takes issue with Grossman's "identification of Lenin with Stalin" but defends Grossman's right to write as he pleased.