Monday 12 July 2010

Father of the Age

Late this afternoon I finished reading Molotov’s Magic Lantern, Rachael Plonsky's idiosyncratic and brilliant journey through modern Russian history, taking as her point of departure the books she found in the Moscow apartment of Stalin’s former foreign minister and co-executioner. I intend to write a review over he next few days but I'm adding this, I'm adding what you are about to read, in a kind of intellectual ferment. It's an impression on the same basis as the painting style. Forgive me if it seems a little incoherent. Quite simply, it's raw thought.

Molotov, or Vyacheslav Skryabin, his real name, was a product of an age. Europe has been divided by historians into distinct phases or ages - the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, all quite arbitrary when one thinks about it. For me the last century up to the fall of the Soviet Union is best defined as the Age of Ideology, the age when human destiny was guided by one malevolent idea or another.

Yes, malevolent. How does one understand a man like Adolf Hitler? How does one understand a school drop-out, a man who disgraced and betrayed his family, who sank into the most abject sections of Viennese society? But for the First World War this man would have died in complete obscurity in some common lodging house in Vienna or Munich. But his pathology was Germany's pathology. The war, which really did pull out the roots of European civilization, gave him his opportunity; ideology gave him his opportunity.

But that was not enough, Germany’s defeat and sense of grievance was not enough; there had to be something more; there had to be a Moses, one who brought the commandments of the Age of Ideology down from Mount Sinai. The Moses was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Russian, Kalmyk and Jewish, Lenin, to use his alias, in my estimation the most vile, most malevolent human being who ever lived, and, oddly enough, the apotheosis of mediocrity.

I saw him when I was in Moscow - if it is him and not a wax replica. Inwardly I could feel nothing but contempt. Every evil that you have ever conceived, every evil of the Age of Ideology is his. Hitler is nothing; Hitler was merely an epiphenomena. He, along with Stalin, Trotsky, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot and the rest of the monsters are simply inconceivable without Lenin. Some of his children may be bastards but they are still his children.

The remarkable thing is that he was crushingly dull, not at all charismatic. His writing is second-rate, hysterically polemical and almost always off target. His oratory, from what I can gather, was even worse. If he is evil his evil is even more banal than that of that stupid apparatchik Adolf Eichmann. I can't understand, I don't understand, why history threw up this bourgeois mediocrity other than as some massive joke.

I remember reading the comment of a Russian after he'd seen him in Red Square for the first time, after it was safe to express an honest opinion. His hope was that Ulyanov would remain like this forever, not buried with his mother as he had wished, that he should remain as an exhibit for the idle and the curious to gawp at as if visiting an exhibition of stuffed animals prepared by a taxidermist. He should remain like this for the sacred soil of Russia would simply refuse to hold him. Amen


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  2. Beautiful post, and I absolutely agree. I know we criticize Stalin a lot more often then Lenin, but there's a difference between the two: Lenin had as close to complete control over Russia as any man could ever have, while Stalin was 1) dealing with a Russia that was already Communist and suffering the inevitable economic consequences of being Communist and 2) barely in control of himself.

    While (2) is a good reason not to go in to leadership, and it is not to his credit that for whatever selfish reason he did, it is worth noting that Stalin is the only leader of the Soviet Union who ever made it work economically, and that's just it: Communism is, always has been, and always will be, a system built on human sacrifice. Even in the Bible, the only way socialism of any sort was able to work was when people were put to death for any tiny grievence against the "economic good," because once you rid the world of personal responsibility you need a substitute, and there's really only one available, fear, absolute, total fear that can never, at any hour or minute, be escaped from. Stalin, in many ways, is more of a pathetic figure, someone who followed a path he did not have the disposition to handle out of a sense of entitlement due to how the USSR and Tsarist Russia had treated his father, who had been declared an enemy of the state and put in to house arrest in Siberia, and then, when he finally found his way to power, already ill-equipped to handle it, was made to command a Soviet economy quickly destroying itself as a result of the system it was made to sponsor ideologically, by Lenin.

    "Accursed are transgressions, the world is cursed for them. They will happen, but to he who is the cause of transgression, I say to you, it would be better for that man if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown in to the ocean." -Christ, roughly paraphrased.

  3. Ulyanov - govno!!

    That's my Russian for the week.

    BTW I wasn't tailing you with Recherche du Tunnel Perdu..that's a purely accidental coincidence. (Unless you're controlling my thoughts. I better break out the aluminium foil hat. Does that work against witches - or only aliens? And shouldn't that be "tale of a succuba"? Or is it a secretly significant error? Time for a post on paranoia.)

  4. Thanks, Retario. :-)

    Nothing works against witches; nothing works against me. Ah, my dear friend, it's all part of a greater plan. Just for you I'm going to post one of my favourite songs on Retarius and Anastasia this evening. :-)