Wednesday 24 June 2009

Lenin's Century

I saw this man, yes, I did, or at least what purports to be him in the mausoleum in Red Square, though he looked more like something from Madame Tussaud rather than the remains of a real person, grotesquely preserved as a modern form of an Egyptian mummy. It was December 2005, Christmas Day of all days, and I was in Moscow for a few days with my boyfriend. I’m not sure that I really wanted to see this spectacle-my boyfriend was keener-but no trip to Moscow would be complete without it, I suppose. It made me feel a bit like a Medieval pilgrim off to see the head or hands or other earthly remains of some long-dead Saint. And I suppose that was the point of the whole thing, to induce a bogus sense of secular reverence; it was certainly Stalin’s point, the point of a one-time student in an Orthodox seminary. Ecce Hommo- a dead man and frozen ideas.

Before proceeding any further I will make a free confession: I despise Lenin: I despise his memory, I despise everything he stood for; I despise his murderous intolerance, I despise his writing and his whole thought-process. Above all, I despise him as the chief architect of the murder of the Romanovs, of the Tsar and the Tsaritsa; of the children; of Alexi, Olga, Maria, Tatiana and Anastasia. So, you are at liberty to dismiss all that follows as pure prejudice on my part.

So, yes, I despise him, but I cannot dismiss his historical significance: he was, in a sense, the creator of the twentieth century, thankfully drawing ever further into the past. The Bolshevik Coup of November 1917 ended any prospect of a continuing democratic revolution in Russia; it may have ended the prospects for democracy for all time in that country, at least as we understand it in the west. And the Coup was Lenin’s Coup; of that there can be no mistake. He was also the creator of Stalin, his most gifted acolyte. And as for his later ‘rejection’ of his ‘wonderful Georgian’ of all the things it was possible to say about Stalin to accuse him of rudeness most count as the most laughable political critique of all time!

And so the apostolic succession continued: Lenin begat Stalin, Stalin begat Mao, and Mao begat Pol Pot, a descent into ever decreasing and ever more homicidal circles. But there is more than that, far more. The right-wing reaction that swept across Europe in the 1920s and 1930s was occasioned both by a fear of Communism and a determination to learn from Communist practices. So Fascism and Nazism are, in a sense, the bastard children of Lenin and Leninism, just as Mussolini and Hitler are his illegitimate sons. Leninism, in its practical impact, was the first attempt in history at democide, arguably its most lasting, its only legacy.

There were not many people visiting on that Christmas Day. Gone are the long tails of yesterday. Gone, too, is Communism, killed off towards the end of Lenin’s Century. There are states that are still ruled by a Communist oligarchy, states like China and Vietnam, but the ideology is all but dead. There is, of course, the sclerotic Castroist regime in Cuba, tottering, like its creator, on the lips of death. And there is the termite society of North Korea, with a government that builds bombs while the people starve. It might serve as a kind of museum piece, a reminder of everything Lenin brought to the world.

What of the man, or the-alleged-remains of the man? There was a proposal not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union that he should at last be allowed a proper burial. I remember reading what one ordinary Russian said about this, that the soil of Holy Russia would not receive him, that he deserved to remain as he was, to be gawped at by the idle and the curious; to be gawped at by me. Amen to that!

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