LENIN'S TOMB WITH A VIEW
11:00 PM, Nov 24, 1996 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
SOME THREE DECADES AGO, Yevgeny Yevtushenko published a poem titled " Stalin's Heirs." It was a plea to the leadership of the Soviet Union to prevent the return of Stalinism. At the time, the embalmed corpse of Stalin -- once displayed in the Red Square Mausoleum alongside Lenin's -- had been transferred to the Kremlin wall. Despite this deeply important act, there was growing alarm in the country that Stalin's spirit was alive and resurgent. Yevtushenko's poem expressed it well:
So it is now time to ask, Why is Lenin still there, lying in state in his air-conditioned shrine? When Khrushchev in 1961 ordered Stalin out of Lenin's tomb, his implication was that Lenin was still and always sacred. This was understandable: Lenin was communism's founder, and Khrushchev and his government were Communist. Mao Zedong's mummy reposes in Tiananmen Square, and why not? China's rulers are Communist. But the president of the new Russia, Boris Yeltsin, is not a Communist. In fact, he was almost overthrown by a Communist conspiracy three years ago. Yet Lenin continues to lie in his glass sarcophagus.
It is true that Yeltsin has put an end to round-the-clock military pageantry, complete with goose-stepping; now, a police guard lazes around the squat, reddish vault. But if Lenin and Leninism have lost their importance in Russian political thought, if their memory has been abominated, then the man himself should be taken to some cemetery far away, in a symbolic act of desecration.
Imagine that a provincial government in Germany (Bavaria, for example) announced the opening of a Hitler tomb. Imagine that people lined up daily to view a wax-museum replica of the founder of Nazism, lying in state. Western public opinion would be outraged. Any time a skinhead throws a firebomb into a tenement occupied by Turkish immigrants; any time a Holocaust-denier gets a tract published; any time a rightist party gets a big vote in Austria, a wave of apprehension about Hitler's heirs ensues. But the Bolshevik who brought so much misery to so many and wrought a proto-Stalinism ("proto" only because Lenin died in 1924) is still an object of veneration. Is Lenin morally superior to Hitler?
A few years ago, it was reported that Yeltsin would order Lenin's remains to be buried in the Volkovo cemetery in St. Petersburg. Furthermore, it was said, he would relieve the Kremlin wall of some of its illustrious bones: Stalin's, Brezhnev's, Andropov's, Chernenko's -- they would go to the Novodevichie cemetery in Moscow, or elsewhere, if the families so requested.
But nothing happened. Instead, with the onset of the presidential campaign earlier this year and the remarkable strength of Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov, Yeltsin, the Financial Times reported, "embraced the symbols and ceremonies of the Soviet era as he stepped up his campaign for election." On May 9, Yeltsin commemorated the anniversary of victory in World War II with a speech delivered from atop the Red Square Mausoleum. A red flag -- with a star substituting for the old hammer and sickle -- waved in the breeze. And not to be forgotten is that the Duma, Russia's parliament, has passed a resolution calling for the reconstitution of the USSR.
If one thing is clear at this point about Soviet history, it is that Lenin was a ghastly, inhuman revolutionary prepared to impose on Russia and all the world his messianic totalitarianism. Those in doubt need only consult hitherto secret documents recently published in The Unknown Lenin (Yale University Press). As for the corpse, the late Dmitri Volkogonov, a biographer of Lenin who had full access to the Lenin archive, writes:
An entire mechanism was put in place to manage Lenin's embalmed body, which had become vitally necessary . . . for its effect on the psychology of the masses. For the Bolsheviks it was one means of personifying the immortality of Lenin's precepts, although on the eve of the 21st century, rather than serving as a testimony of the man's greatness, it is instead a reminder of the depth of the country's historic failure.
If Leninism were not a latent ideological force in Russia, Lenin's body, like Stalin's, would have been removed from that tomb years ago. Perhaps it is time for Yevtushenko to give us another poem -- on the dangers of Lenin's heirs.
Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a columnist for the Washington Times.