Moscow: dead Lenin

It is a quasi religious experience, after standing in line in the hot July sun and finally passing the security checkpoint, to  file past the red granite tombstones of Communist heroes — John Reed among them (no women, as far as I could see, though I didn't actually manage to read all the names) — and then enter the dark descending staircase. Uniformed honor guards signaled vigorously for me to take off my cap and hushed everybody. Then, after another turn in the dark passageway, you file past the waxy figure, dressed as though to chair a meeting or give a speech. The guards keep everybody moving so soon we are back in the bright sun, walking past still more tombstones and plaques with names of dead Communists. 

Today's Russians must view Lenin much the way Americans are supposed to think of George Washington, as the founder (or "father") of the modern state, meriting the same kind of respect as Peter the Great, the motor force of an earlier great modernization. Their respective ideologies, like Washington's supposed "deism", are little more than historical curiosities — very few Russians today call themselves "communists". But Lenin's thinking may still offer us some good guidelines, both regarding political strategy (his ideas about how to gain and extend power were most effective) and
larger economic questions (imperialism, for example). He may not have been a pleasant man to deal with (I'm remembering Struve's and Valentinov's memoirs, quoted by Edmund Wilson in his 1972 introduction to To the Finland Station). But he was a brilliant and audacious one. And Russia could not have become the power it is today without the consolidation of the centralized, modernizing state, difficult to imagine under the Mensheviks or any of the other contenders of 1917-1920.

 Olga Boiko has posted  historical photos of the mausoleum, together with interesting commentary


Dirk van Nouhuys said...

I'm not sure I buy your father of our country analogy. My knowledge of Russian history is limited to some reading I did in preparation for visiting St. Petersburg in the Yeltsin era, so I am free to make glib generalizations. There is a problem both with Russian political culture and the men involved.

By the way, it is interesting to me that before the rise to power of eve-totalitarian Moscow, the area was dominated by the Republic of Norvgorad, which was a sort of Mercantile oligarchy much like Venice, with which it had trade relations. Oh, if the Norvgoroskiski had only held on, can we imagine what the world would've been like?

What struck me about Russian leadership was that it invariably had vicious bloodthirsty power-hungry czars, most of which were incompetent, a few of which, such as Peter the Great, Catherine the great, and Vladimir Ilitch, were competent. But it does not seem to me that except for the brief second of the Mensheviks, the quality of Russian leadership and it’s relation to the governed changed between the early czars and now.

That seems a profoundly different sense of father of our country, though czars are often referred to as " little father", than what Americans mean by Washington.

And please note that at the end of his second term Washington retired to his farm, hardly something we would think Vladimir Ilitch capable of. In doing so he was among other things, consciously emulating Roman general Cincinnatus, a point very clear to his contemporaries. That is: the role of a good leader is to lead when necessary, and then withdraw and make way for democracy.

By the by, when I was in graduate school at Stanford I had an 8 o'clock Latin class. Often when I was looking for a parking place I would see a small man in a dark suit walking to his office in Hoover Tower. It was Kerensky, at that time employed there essentially as a reference book.

Geoffrey Fox said...

Yes, Kerensky outlived them all. No, Lenin was not like Washington except perhaps in the public memory here (Russia). BTW, Alexander II seems to me to have been "competent" — he had a clear sense of what he was trying ti do, and accomplished much of it before his assassination.