Moscow: day 2

On Friday we toured the churches and gardens inside the red walls of the Kremlin, full of tombs and images of saints and tsars, and then took a great leap into another time and mind set with the exhibition in the State Historical Museum, "The myth of the beloved leader." For this small but densely packed show, the curators brought out of hiding objects, posters, videos and other images related to the creation and elaboration of the myth that was supposed to substitute for the suppressed myth represented by those churches: the enlightened heroism and steadfastness of Lenin, and the continuation of his spirit in Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin ( Russian : Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин).

Stalin's version of the myth required distorting or obliterating much of the turbulent story of the creation of the Soviet Union and of the Comintern, which is why so much of the material in this exhibition had been hidden after Stalin consolidated his power in 1927. Many of the heroes of those earlier phases had been declared enemies by Iosif Vissarionovich — Trotsky being the best known, but there were scores of others who had worked closely with Lenin but now were to be expunged from the record and, when possible, killed. But all those bright, enthusiastic faces have been brought back to view, in photos, documents and the vivid sketches by Isaak Brodsky and, most impressively, in his huge painting (1920-1924) of the Second Congress of the Communist International.

In the full-size original, with the help of an electronic screen provided by the museum, you can pick out Lenin (presiding), Stalin (far to the right of the picture, a few rows in front of the column), Trotsky (behind and to the left of Lenin, leaning over a rail and talking to another comrade), Karl Radek (a special hero of mine— I think he's the man sitting in the same row as Lenin, to his left), Zinoviev, Kamenev, John Reed (the only American I found), plus scores of men and women delegates from Germany, France, Hungary, Bulgaria...

If those early Bolsheviks had only tried to demythologize Christianity as intelligently and respectfully as the museum curators seek to reveal the construction of Stalin's myth of his own continuation of a heroic Lenin, maybe we would not see today so many frightened people pleading for salvation by the saints. But it seems that most people need powerful imaginary companions to get through all our troubles, and for decades, a mythified Stalin-Lenin duo did the job for millions of Russians and others. Now they're gone, and the saints have come marching back.

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