No one would ever call Vladimir Lenin a romantic figure. In nearly every historical photo he looks fierce and determined. In Lenin’s case, image and reality coincided. He was a professional revolutionary, an exile at home and abroad. His place in the world was wherever the revolution was going to occur, was occurring or had already occurred. Lenin’s life was dedicated to revolution, an ideal with virtually no romance involved. From all accounts, Lenin’s long time wife Nadezhda Krupskaya fit the same mold as her husband. She was just as determined as her husband, which meant total dedication to him and the cause of revolution. Lenin was known as a man who was totally uncompromising in his views. Either you agreed with him or you were an enemy. Krupskaya was totally in sync with his views. Befitting their commitment to revolutionary principles above all else, they had no children, which is hardly surprising. To say Krupskaya was a very plain looking woman is giving her the benefit of the doubt. Grim and grey would be a fitting description for her sense of style. Krupskaya was like her husband, all revolution all the time.
Romance & Revolutionaries – Inessa Armand’s Early Years
Nevertheless, Vladimir Lenin was a human being, with human needs. There was another side to him, a side that contained a romantic relationship with a woman. Like so many of the Bolsheviks, Lenin’s personal life is engulfed in myth and mystery. Trying to make out the details of his personal relationships is troublesome at best. It is hard to separate his personal and professional lives since they were virtually inseparable. The woman who played the role of Lenin’s mistress was an unlikely candidate. Her original name was Elisabeth-Ines Stephane d’Herbenville. As the name implies, she was French. Both of her parents pursued careers on the stage, her mother as a comedian, her father as an opera singer. By the age of five her immediate family life was in tatters. Following the death of her father, Inessa (the name she came to be known by) moved to Moscow, where she was raised by relations who worked as teachers on the estate of a Russianized French family. This was the first of many, many moves for Inessa.
After the initial upheaval of her early years, Inessa’s life seems to have settled down. Well educated, artistic and cultured, she ended up marrying one of the sons of the wealthy family whose estate she had been raised on. Soon they had four children. All would seem to have been going well, but living a life of comfortable means was not something she aspired to. Her husband, Alexander Armand, along with his brothers had all been enthralled with radical politics. Inessa was consumed by revolutionary fervor after reading Lenin’s “The Development of Capitalism in Russia”. She decided to do her part in bringing about societal change by helping workers and peasants. This included using her family’s means to start a school for peasant children. At the same time, Inessa was falling in love with her husband’s brother Vladimir. Eventually they would have a child together. All the while Inessa had been involving herself deeper and deeper in radical socialist politics. This brought her to the attention of Tsarist Russian authorities. She would be arrested and sent into exile above the Arctic Circle, in far northern Russia. She escaped soon thereafter, fleeing to Paris, a city filled with both romance and revolutionaries.
Radical Love – Lenin & His Mistress in Paris & Krakow
Inessa Armand first met Vladimir Lenin in either Paris or Brussels. She was immediately attracted to his magnetism, charisma and most importantly, revolutionary ideals. She moved to Paris in 1909 where Lenin and his wife were living. The image of Paris as a city of romance is well known, but in the pre-World War I years it also was home to a shadowy underground filled with exiled radical socialists. Lenin and his wife helped lead this underground movement, Inessa Armand became a confidant of both. Undoubtedly Lenin and Inessa were not the stereotypically romantic Paris couple. There were probably no moonlit walks beside the Seine or embraces shared in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Instead, their romantic passion was due to the fact that they were ideological fellow travelers.
It was a relationship forged as much or more at political meetings as the bedroom. Yet Inessa Armand’s dark Gallic looks cannot be discounted as a factor in their attraction. Compared to Nadezhda Krupskaya, Inessa radiated sexuality. It might be assumed that Nadezhda would have been insanely jealous of Lenin’s relationship with Inessa. Ironically, there is no record of any such emotions causing a breach in what amounted to a revolutionary ménage a trois. The three were bound by their commitment to revolution. When Lenin and his wife moved to Krakow Inessa moved in with them. Whatever romance there was between Lenin and Inessa it always came second to the cause. Inessa probably saw her work for the Bolshevik cause as one and the same as her love for Lenin.
Sacrificing Love & Life For The Revolutionary Ideal
A few years later with the First World War raging, Inessa joined the exiled Lenin’s once again, this time in Switzerland. It was the only time Inessa would come close to an ideological break with the man she so revered. Lenin believed that Russia must end its involvement in the war no matter the cost in territory. Inessa thought differently, she believed that Russia should continue fighting the Germans in order to save the motherland. This put her at odds with Lenin, something few in his inner circle ever dared. In a letter to Inessa, Lenin wrote, “that as regards the defense of the country, it would be extremely unpleasant for me if we disagreed. Let us see eye to eye.” Seeing eye to eye meant coming around to Lenin’s way of thinking. Inessa knuckled under. Her whole life was subsumed to Lenin and his cause. Her unwavering loyalty meant that she was with him on the sealed train that Germany provided to deliver Lenin back home where he could foment full scale revolt. This was the pinnacle of Inessa’s relationship with Lenin.
After the Revolution, Lenin became preoccupied with the civil war. Beginning with his return to Russia in the fall of 1917 all the way through the end of his life Lenin and Krupskaya were virtually inseparable. As for Inessa, she focused her energies in the revolution as an advocate for women’s rights. It is hardly surprising that as a supreme loyalist Inessa spent the last year of her life indefatigably organizing the International Conference of Communist Women in Moscow. This success was ill-fated, as it brought her to the brink of exhaustion. A much needed vacation in the Caucuses could not save her life. The years of exile, imprisonment, travel and work had destroyed her health. She contracted cholera and died soon thereafter at the age of forty-six. She died alone, far away from the man she had so loved and idolized. Lenin saw to it that Inessa Armand’s body was brought back to Moscow where she was buried in the Kremlin Wall next to Red Square. In the end she had sacrificed both love and her life to the revolutionary ideal. She was not the only one. Only three and a half years later, Lenin was dead as well.