Lenin: Yep, Still There

Writing in the Moscow Times, Alexei Bayer reminds us that despite the dictatorial power wielded by Vladimir Putin, the lunatic Lenin still lies in a tomb on Red Square. Putin could remove him with the stroke of a pen but he doesn’t, which means he wants him to stay.  And that says all you need to know about the prospects for real progress in Putin’s Russia.

During the Soviet era, Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum was the focal point of Red Square. It sat right in the middle of the square and was watched over by a military guard that changed at the stroke of the huge Kremlin clock in an elaborate goose-stepping ceremony.

It was the center of the country’s political life, too — the only place where the average Russian saw his leaders in the flesh. The Politburo reviewed twice-yearly marches of their loyal citizens while standing, quite literally, upon the founder of the Soviet state.

Communism was supposed to be the creed of the future, but its prophet lay mummified in a pyramid harking back to ancient Egypt or Persia. (The word “mausoleum” comes from Mausolus, the Persian satrap of Caria from the fourth century B.C.) The long line of waiting visitors matched the countless other lines snaking outside stores across the Soviet Union, as people hoped to buy chronically scarce food and consumer goods.

Writer Sergei Dovlatov put it best when he claimed that so many places in the Soviet Union stank so badly because the country’s main corpse had never been properly buried.

In modern times, the mausoleum has been eclipsed by other attractions on Red Square, including the rebuilt Iversky Gate — it was blown up by the Bolsheviks — and the old GUM department store, transformed from a grim showcase of Soviet economic failures into a mall of overpriced Western boutiques.

In winter, when a skating rink sponsored by clothing designer Bosco di Ciliegi opened on Red Square, the mausoleum looked somehow diminished and shunted aside.

This parallels the fate of its occupant. While passions still rage around Josef Stalin and attempts are being made to revive his reputation or place his portraits on Moscow streets, Lenin’s monuments dot the Russian landscape without much controversy. No one seems to care, even though there is much to the thesis that Stalin merely put Lenin’s ideas into practice.

Lenin may be irrelevant, and the 140th anniversary of his birth may pass almost unnoticed on April 22, but his embalmed body still occupies the mausoleum. A team of highly trained professionals is still employed on a full-time basis to keep his remains in fine fettle.

Calls to give Lenin a decent burial have been heard for years. Even those who consider the man to be a criminal and a monster object to using his body as a kind of macabre, circus-like attraction for out-of-towners. More to the point, however, is that preserving a shrine to the founder of Soviet communism — along with the mini-cemetery for Soviet-era luminaries just behind the mausoleum — is completely inconsistent with the values of a new, democratic Russia. How can the country move forward and find its place in the community of nations if after two decades it hasn’t yet been able to rid itself of such embarrassing and destructive symbols of its past?

The problem, however, is deeper and stems from the generally ad-hoc nature of the Bolshevik regime. When Lenin died in January 1924, his cohorts couldn’t figure out what to do with his body. Ignoring his express wish to be buried near his mother in St. Petersburg, they decided to pretend he didn’t die completely and that he was still present — at least in the flesh. Apparently, even today the Russian government can’t find a better solution.

24 responses to “Lenin: Yep, Still There

  1. When Mr. Putin was asked by phone on a tv program about this particular issue, he said, ” The Communists…” which I took to mean that he cared about the feelings of Russians who still support Communism. Too much cracking for their common mind I suppose is his reasoning. Something to do with kindness to them and social cohesion in society seem to be the line of thinking here.

  2. The article states that “preserving a shrine to the founder of Soviet communism …. is completely inconsistent with the values of a new, democratic Russia.” I would say that it is completely expected because this Russia is neither “new” nor “democratic.” Just like having a Secret Police, by whatever name it goes these days, is also completely logical in this kind of society.

  3. About the regular ‘maintenance’ of Lenin’s corpse:
    Some years ago, I read the sickening details of the regular & frequent ( I seem to remember that it is weekly or even bi-weekly-?)
    complicated chemical/cosmetic …’refreshing’ of his corpse, so that it appears, that he is merely asleep, that the semi-divine founder of Soviet Communism, could come back at any moment, and resume the reigns of government, leading the Workers’ Paradise once again.
    Since he is their secular/athiest/communist-‘saint’, as is expected of the incorrupt bodies of Christian saints (east or west), he ….cannot….be
    seen to rot or decay.
    That in itelf, could be seen as proof to the Russian masses that communism is a false-religion, a pack of lies.
    But, alas! because his body is that of….a devil-in-the-flesh, he….does decay.
    Hense, the frequent cosmetic/chemical care.
    I say, devil or not, dump his pathetic/unatural ‘body’, finally! into mother earth, …best in an unmarked grave, perhaps in Siberia where he caused so many others to be murdered and buried.
    But, PLEASE! no more monuments to him.

    • There is a fascinating story about how they decided to put mummify Lenin in the first place. Some of the Bolshevik leaders were fascinated by science fiction and the promise of the fountain of youth and immortality. By preserving Lenin’s body, they were hoping that when the “immortality drug” is invented, they could somehow “resurrect” Lenin from the dead.

  4. Let me remind people that Yeltsin, who was in charge of Russia for its first 8 years, didn’t remove Lenin’s corpse either. Why? Yeltsin said that he didn’t want to offend the older generation, which had grown up to worship Lenin. He didn’t want to open old wounds.

  5. Also:
    I read some time ago, that one of the motives of the communist desecrators of multitudes of Orthodox churches and especially of the…sacred reliquaries /shrines with the…incorrupt bodies of various saints (commonplace in Orthodox countries, and to some degree also in Catholic lands too), was that they were desperate to find the church’s ‘secret’ at preserving these bodies (as they were convinced, as total athiests, that this was a ‘church trick’, etc.), so that they could use those church secrets, to also preserve the bodies of Lenin and other leaders of the revolution. Thus, they forcibly removed many such sacred relics, and wisked them away for …study. But, in the end, this did them no good, as witnessed by all the …tricks…that THEY have had to use to keep Comrade Lenin looking…chipper.

  6. Whatever one may think of Lenin, the revolutionary still has more statues and monuments erected in his honor (i.e., all around the world) than the likes of statesmen such as Washington, Jefferson, etc.

  7. The fact that lenin has more statues is not a point of pride.

    Commie doctrine forced people to worship lenin like a god, and to read his writings as if they were Holy Scripture.

    Commienism built lots of statues to lenin. Commienism failed.

    The point is – in democracies, having statues all over the place to worship some mortal mass murdering jerk is not viewed as a good thing.

    Having a free, open, productive society is.

  8. And is the mausoleum still open to the public? Trouble is Communism is very much like a religious cult, so it’s very difficult to see how totally perverted it is when you’re looking at it from within. It has its own logic, its own paradigm.
    I remember how back in probably 1988 or 1989, I was discussing the history of the USSR with a class mate and I suggested that perhaps Lenin might have been wrong, my friend’s eyes bulged so much that for a moment there I thought they were going to fall out and then gave me a lecture on the infallibility of Lenin. The guy was the ultimate sacred cow, Stalin was the bastard and Lenin was that enigmatic leader about whom people were saying, ‘if only he had lived for another ten years or so, we’d be living in a paradise on earth now’
    Of course things have changed since then and I believe if his body was buried now the majority of people wouldn’t give a toss, so I really don’t know why Putin’s keeping him in the mausoleum. Yeltsin probably wasn’t being entirely honest when he said he didn’t want to offend the old generation. After all, in spite his ‘democratic’ image, Yeltsin was an old communist, he was probably just scared to desecrate this holy shrine of Soviet Communism that was the mausoleum.

    • It is funny how people forget the “red terror” of Lenin, a psychopathic reign of violence that only occurred because Lenin believed that terror was a necessary part of any revolution.

      People also forget that Lenin built the apparatus of state terror later used with such deadly effect by Stalin.

      • the most famous quote attributed to Lenin:
        ‘kill, kill, kill’
        If my memory serves me right he wrote this about Orthodox priests

  9. What can I say about Lenin. My grand-grand-grandfather shook little Lenin on his hands. Maybe too much shaking?

  10. to La Russophobe:
    Why did you erase my comment to this Chang Wei Ching?


    We did not erase your comment. It was picked up by the SPAM filter and never published because it contained profanity, which is banned on this blog. We have erased the comment of “Ching” which contained profanity.

    • AAH! Of course, I was only correcting that man’s stupid praise of Lenin and Mao, & his mis-spelling of his vulgar English, of the ‘f word’, advising him when attacking my America, to at least use correct English spelling, which “f “word, I then did spell correctly for his education.
      Your automated censor caught me!
      But, I am happy to learn, that La Russophobe finally!… does not tolerate vulgar words, as it has in the past, which has caused me to wonder why you….did tolerate them.
      I have hoped that you would put a stop to it.
      Though, doing so via a mindless machine, I’m not sure promotes free speech or thought or expression (?)
      But, I have winced every time I have read that pathetic gutter talk here, especially when refering to private body parts, etc.
      (This is all too common with some Russian commentors, the Putler internet trolling goon types!)
      I don’t use such words in my vocabulary, in any language, and I don’t like reading such disgusting words on blog sites, even if mispelled by those whose knowledge of my English language is primitive (or pretended, primitive).
      So, then, it’s fine with me, since you removed both his vulgarity, and my attempt at correcting it.
      Thanks, and carry on!

  11. >> 1921(?) Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the original Soviet secret police wrote to lenin: “Leave the church to the chekisty. Only they, with their specific chekist methods, can control the clerics and undermine the church from within.” That decision began the strange cohabitation of the church and the KGB, with the security agency using the church’s authority to influence believers at home and abroad and the KGB using church foreign dioceses as fronts for operations abroad.


    Dzerzhinsky himself boasted that: “We represent in ourselves organized terror — this must be said very clearly.”

    >> 1922 On March 19, 1922 lenin commands – Top Secret For members of -Revolutionaries and the Milyukovites [Left Wing Cadet Party], to fight against us if we, precisely at this time, precisely in connection with the famine, suppress the reactionary clergy with utmost haste and ruthlessness.

    The instructions must come down to this, that he must arrest more if possible but not less than several dozen representatives of the local clergy, the local petty bourgeoisie, and the local bourgeoisie on **SUSPICION** of direct or indirect participation in the forcible the Politburo: Now and only now, when people are being eaten in famine-stricken areas, and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses lie on the roads, we can (and therefore must) pursue the removal of church property with the most frenzied and ruthless energy and not hesitate to put down the least opposition.

    In addition, it will be more difficult for the major part of our foreign adversaries among the Russian emigres abroad, i.e., the Socialist resistance to the decree of the VTsIK on the removal of property of value from churches. Immediately upon completion of this task, he must return to Moscow and personally deliver a report to the full session of the Politburo or to two specially authorized members of the Politburo.

    At this meeting pass a secret resolution of the congress that the removal of property of value, especially from the very richest lauras, monasteries, and churches, must be carried out with ruthless resolution, leaving nothing in doubt, and in the very shortest time. The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and the reactionary bourgeoisie that we succeed in shooting on this occasion, the better because this “audience” must precisely now be taught a lesson in such a way that they will not dare to think about any resistance whatsoever for several decades.

    [Translation from the Library of the US Congress]

  12. @completely inconsistent with the values of a new, democratic Russia.

    No, it is completely consistent with the values of “a new, democratic” Russia.

    Btw, Lenin wanted to be buried,

  13. In Lenin, I respect a man who devoted all his energies to enforcing social justice… Men of this stamp enshrine and renew the conscience of mankind. (с) Albert Einstein.

    • Wow! Eugene,
      Hopefully these unfortunate words from Albert Einstein were spoken, before the outside world began to hear the awful truth about the new-Russia. There were, many people back then, especially western intellectuals who truly believed that a new glorious day had arrived for Russia, and indeed for the world, as the utopian communist society was launched in Russia. Most of these starry eyed, dreamers, were later shocked and dismayed, when they learned of the bloody particulars, and they then turned against Lenin, Stalin, and their murderous ilk.
      How sad it is today, that we still hear praise for those mass-murderers of humanity, from some of the younger/leftist oriented generation.
      Albert Einstein was truly a highly intelligent mind, yet, he was also very human. He was a lousy husband and father, a big womanizer to boot, among his flaws.
      But, to condemn Lenin, we today have hindsight.
      Lenin, thus, has to go down as among THE worst mass butchers and enemies of the human race, that has ever lived.
      He was an enemy of both God, and all mankind!
      His economic system, only produced mass starvation, just as did Stalin’s and Mao’s.
      Thrice-cursed be Lenin’s memory, forever!

      • Psalomschick,

        Einstein didn’t know that after Lenin’s death, an insane and paranoid monster from Georgia – Stalin – would come to power. That’s the problem with communist dictatorships: sooner or later a monster will come to power.

        • As Adolf Hitler’s and George W. Bush’s examples show, democracy is not a 100% guarantee against monsters coming to powers either. :-(

          • To : Comrade ‘Eugene’, Putler internet trolling goon,
            Your absurd & illogical linking of Adolf Hilter….and….President George W. Bush, as both ‘monsters coming to power’, is ridiculous and laughable.
            But then, that is Kremlin claptrap propaganda, isn’t it?
            It is really dumb stuff!
            (Can’t you folks think up something …new?)
            Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao….and now Vladimir Putin, now THEY were and are, monsters who came to power.

            • Once again: Hitler came to power through democratic elections.

              • @Once again: Hitler came to power through democratic elections.

                That’s just like Putin.

                OK, Putin’s election campaign has been much more violent (thousands of people killed and the massive destruction of kind Europe has not seen for over 50 years, and not just a relatively few victims in a street brawls and attacks).

        • Well RTR, Lenin was responsible for millions of deaths too, he was just as big a monster as Stalin, in fact many historians seem to think he was worse, as he built the terror system, from the camps to the secret police, that Stalin later used.

          After all, you have heard of the “red terror” haven’t you RTR?

          The Cheka, the Russian acronym for the Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle against Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, was established on December 7, 1917, as the government’s instrument of terror in its fight against political enemies. When Lenin was badly injured in a failed assassination attempt on August 30, 1918, his government quickly responded with the September 5, 1918, announcement of a policy of Red Terror that would take the form of arrests, imprisonments, and murders, triggering a civil war. Historian Richard Pipes has estimated that the Russian Civil War claimed two million combat deaths, two million deaths from epidemics, and five million deaths from famine. Another two million or more, mostly drawn from the bettereducated classes, fled in the face of the violence. Their departure drained the country of its already small pool of experienced leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs. The final death toll of the Russian Civil War exceeded the eight million deaths of World War I.
          When the Red Army proved unable to defeat Poland and Communism failed to inspire a successful revolution in Germany, Lenin, retreated to a more cautious set of policies. In 1921 he initiated the New Economic Policy (NEP). Peasants were subjected to minimum taxation and allowed to trade their surpluses, whereas the government maintained its control of large industry and foreign trade. In December 1922, Lenin renamed his revolutionary state as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Meanwhile, working-class protestors who demanded greater democracy, such as the Kronstadt mutineers in 1921, were brutally suppressed. The same fate awaited dissident factions within the Bolshevik Party, which were banned at the Tenth Party Congress of 1921. Before Lenin’s death in 1924, the Soviet Union’s first labor camps were set up on the remote Solovetsky Islands, and by the following year the population of these camps reached 6,000 prisoners. Under Stalin, these camps would evolve into the notorious Gulag, through which more than 20 million forced laborers would pass. During Lenin’s rule compulsory collective farms never became policy, but he created the system of repression that, under Stalin, would lead not only to collectivization but also the extermination of kulaks (wealthy landholders).

          Martin Malia, on the other hand, has argued that it was Lenin’s championing of a wildly impractical strain of Marxism that condemned Russia to its failed communist experiment. Pipes has described Lenin as embodying the hubris of Russia’s intelligentsia, who were willing to sacrifice millions of lives for the sake of their utopian fantasies. According to Pipes, Lenin’s system of government was the model whose features were copied not only by Stalin, but also by Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler and Mao Tse Tung.


          As the economy deteriorated, the Cheka waxed ever fatter. After an July 1918 revolt by SRs, the Cheka turned its guns on fellow socialists, executing 350 captured SR rebels. One month later, the SR Fany Kaplan nearly succeeded in assassinating Lenin. Her noble effort unfortunately gave the Cheka the excuse to initiate the Red Terror, i.e., mass executions of people based not upon their actions but their class origins and beliefs. As Landauer explains, “The first conspicuous act of government-ordered reprisals on a large scale without regard for individual guilt came after the assassination of Michael Uritzky and the attempt on Lenin’s life on August 30. These events were not in themselves apt to justify measures against the bourgeoisie, for the two assassins, Kenigiesser and Fania Kaplan, were both members of the Social Revolutionary party and therefore not “bourgeois.” But the minds of the Soviet leaders were dominated by the theory that Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks were tools of the “class enemy,” and it appeared logical to the Bolsheviks to strike at the group which allegedly had inspired the assassination. Five hundred hostages were shot in reprisal in Petrograd alone by order of Zinoviev, the head of the local soviet. On September 5, the people’s commissars officially legalized the red terror…” (European Socialism: A History of Ideas and Movements)

          From then on the Cheka’s executions never ceased. The exact number murdered is usually estimated at between 100,000 and 500,000, but the chaotic wartime conditions make the accounting especially difficult. But execution was not the Cheka’s only tool; it also pioneered the development of the modern slave labor (or “concentration”) camp. Inmates were generally frankly treated as government-owned slaves, and used for the most demanding sorts of work – such as digging arctic canals – while receiving pitifully small rations. As Pipes explains, “Soviet concentration camps, as instituted in 1919, were meant to be a place of confinement for all kinds of undesirables, whether sentenced by courts or by administrative organs. Liable to confinement in them were not only individuals but also ‘categories of individuals’ – that is, entire classes: Dzerzhinskii at one point proposed that special concentration camps be erected for the ‘bourgeoisie.’ Living in forced isolation, the inmates formed a pool of slave labor on which Soviet administrative and economic institutions could draw at no cost.”

          But the greatest crime committed by Lenin’s regime was the civil war the Soviet government waged against the peasantry, and the famine this war precipitated. The alliance of “the workers and peasants” was an ingenious slogan given the fact that almost everyone in Russia was a peasant. But it was a slogan that Lenin and his followers never had the slightest intention of following. They despised the peasants as ignorant “petty bourgeoisie” who stood in the way of collectivized agriculture. With one hand Lenin’s regime legally recognized the peasants’ land seizures, but with the other hand it demanded food at ever more unreasonable terms (in the end, unrestrained printing press finance plus price controls effectively required peasants to give their food away for free). “The law provided that all the grain that the producer had left over after satisfying his personal needs and providing for seed belonged to the state and had to be sold to its agencies at fixed prices.” (Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution) The consequences were a perfect illustration of the principles of “bourgeois” economics: with ever stricter price controls, peasants opted not to sell their grain to the cities. This made life ever harder for urban workers, who fled back to the country in huge numbers – often city populations declined by over 50%. Rather than repeal its price controls, the Bolshevik regime scapegoated black marketeers and speculators, unleashing the Cheka upon them with orders to administer summary executions. This merely drove up black market prices.

          So Lenin’s government advanced to the next stage: sending the Cheka and the Red Army to seize grain directly from the peasant. This was ideologically justified by dubbing peasants who resisted grain as wealthy “kulaks,” though rich and poor alike found themselves staring down the muzzles of the Cheka’s guns. Once again, the resort to ever greater brutality did not bring the desired results. Minimal food was collected, and the peasants went into open revolt. Lenin, who in every other matter seemed to be the master of the temporary compromise, could not control his hatred of the resisting peasants. He ordered kulaks to be deprived of not only surplus grain, but even seed grain, while in his speeches he exhorted: “Merciless war against the kulaks! Death to them.” Even as the Red Army battled Kolchak and Denikin, they waged a less visible civil war with the peasants. By most estimates several hundred thousand peasants were killed as a result of this so-called “Bread War” – as usual, the Red Army and the Cheka executed not only captured rebels, but often families, friends, or entire villages associated, however vaguely, with counter-revolution.

          The peasants had numbers on their side, and many soldiers were reluctant to fight them, but the government’s superior organization ultimately gave them victory over the peasants. But the victory was hollow, for after the fruit of their labor had been seized, farmers generally decided there was no point in growing a surplus. Moreover, since seed grain was often taken, many peasants were unable to grow surplus crops even if they wished. When the perverse incentives of price controls and expropriation were mixed with a drought, the result was one of the great disasters of the century: the Russian famine of 1921. Official Soviet reports admitted that fully 30 million Soviet citizens were in danger of death by starvation. The White forces shared little of the blame: as Pipes notes, the Civil War was essentially over by the beginning of 1920, but Lenin continued his harsh exploitation of the peasantry for yet another year. Moreover, the areas under White control had actually built up a food surplus. The horrific famine of 1921 was thus much less severe in 1920, because after the reconquest of the Ukraine and other White territories, the Reds shipped the Whites’ grain captured grain north to Petrograd, Moscow, and other cities with less hunger but more political clout. Low estimates on the deaths from this famine are about 3 million; high estimates go up to 10 million – which would probably have been much higher if not for foreign relief efforts which Lenin had the good sense to permit. For perspective, the last severe famine in Russia hit in 1891-92, and cost about 400,000 lives.

          Can Lenin and his associates be held morally culpable for the deaths of these millions of famine victims? If the famine were a natural catastrophe, this would be unreasonable. But the famine was largely man-made, the result of draconian price controls and requisitioning. Most of the evidence is that Lenin and his associates knew the probable results of their agricultural policies, but were willing to take the risk: according to Pipes, Lenin repeatedly said that he would sooner the whole nation die of hunger than allow free trade in grain. In short, Lenin and his comrades knew with substantial certainty that their policies would cause widespread death from starvation. Under any sensible definition of murder, this makes Lenin the murderer of millions.


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