On Ascending A High Mountain

Let us picture to ourselves a man ascending a very high, steep and hitherto unexplored mountain. Let us assume that he has overcome unprecedented difficulties and dangers and has succeeded in reaching a much higher point than any of his predecessors, but still has not reached the summit. He finds himself in a position where it is not only difficult and dangerous to proceed in the direction and along the path he has chosen, but positively impossible. He is forced to turn back, descend, seek another path, longer, perhaps, but one that will enable him to reach the summit. The descent from the height that no one before him has reached proves, perhaps, to be more dangerous and difficult for our imaginary traveler than the ascent—it is easier to slip; it is not so easy to choose a foothold; there is not that exhilaration that one feels in going upwards, straight to the goal, etc. One has to tie a rope round oneself, spend hours with all alpenstock to cut footholds or a projection to which the rope could be tied firmly; one has to move at a snail’s pace, and move downwards, descend, away from the goal; and one does not know where this extremely dangerous and painful descent will end, or whether there is a fairly safe detour by which one can ascend more boldly, more quickly and more directly to the summit.

It would hardly be natural to suppose that a man who had climbed to such an unprecedented height but found himself in such a position did not have his moments of despondency. In all probability these moments would be more numerous, more frequent and harder to bear if he heard the voices of those below, who, through a telescope and from a safe distance, are watching his dangerous descent, which cannot even be described as what the Smena Vekh1 people call “ascending with the brakes on”; brakes presuppose a well designed and tested vehicle, a well-prepared road and previously tested appliances. In this case, however, there is no vehicle, no road, absolutely nothing that had been tested beforehand.

The voices from below ring with malicious joy. They do not conceal it; they chuckle gleefully and shout: “He’ll fall in a minute! Serve him right, the lunatic!” Others try to conceal their malicious glee and behave mostly like Judas Golovlyov.2They moan and raise their eyes to heaven in sorrow, as if to say: “It grieves us sorely to see our fears justified! But did not we, who have spent all our lives working out a judicious plan for scaling this mountain, demand that the ascent be postponed until our plan was complete? And if we so vehemently protested against taking this path, which this lunatic is now abandoning (look, look, he has turned back! He is descending! A single step is taking him hours of preparation! And yet we were roundly abused when time and again we demanded moderation and caution!), if we so fervently censured this lunatic and warned everybody against imitating and helping him, we did so entirely because of our devotion to the great plan to scale this mountain, and in order to prevent this great plan from being generally discredited!”

Happily, in the circumstances we have described, our imaginary traveler cannot hear the voices of these people who are “true friends” of the idea of ascent; if he did, they would probably nauseate him. And nausea, it is said, does not help one to keep a clear head and a firm step, particularly at high altitudes.3

1.Smena Vekh—the title of a collection of articles published in Prague in 1921, and then the name of a journal published in Paris from October 1921 to March 1922. It was the mouthpiece of advocates of a socio-political trend that emerged among White émigré intellectuals in 1921 and was supported by part of the old, bourgeois intelligentsia that did not emigrate for various reasons.

A certain revival of capitalist elements in Soviet Russia following the implementation of the New Economic Policy served as the social foundation for this trend. When its adherents saw that foreign military intervention could not overthrow Soviet rule they began advocating co-operation with the Soviet government, hoping for a bourgeois regeneration of the Soviet state. They regarded the New Economic Policy as an evolution of Soviet rule towards the restoration of capitalism. Some of them were prepared loyally to co-operate with the Soviet government and promote the country’s economic rejuvenation. Subsequently, most of them openly sided with the counter-revolution.

2.Judas Golovlyov— a landowner and main personage of M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlyov Family. He was called Judas for his bigotry, hypocrisy and callousness. The name Judas Golovlyov has become a synonym for these negative traits.

Our thanks to marx.org for permission to distribute. For further on this text see, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/feb/x01.htm.