20 Jan Mourning It Is Not
January 21 is the day Lenin died in 1924. He was a Karl Marx devotee, he inspired the Bolshevik Revolution and founded the Soviet Union. In addition to his political persona, Lenin was a sage and scholar, pure of thought and heart, an unerring inspiration of his and all the following generations. He was what went for God in an atheist country – a cosmic gift.
Scientists placed Lenin’s brain in formaldehyde. Two years later they sliced it into over 30,000 slivers for further study of that peerless gray matter.
His embalmed body is still on display in the Mausoleum erected specifically to house it like a pyramid housed a pharaoh. The difference was that a Pharaoh would have never shared his chamber with his successor, but Lenin did host Stalin between 1953 and 1961.
Lived, Lives, Will Live
More than a million people in three days came to say good-bye to Lenin. And quickly, decisions were made to publish his works, establish a Day of Mourning, and rename the city of Petrograd to Leningrad. Huge, big and small monuments popped up in every central square of every city, town, village.
Busts and portraits graced foyers, offices, and Wedding Palaces.
Cities, factories, universities, streets, regions, ships were named in his honor and the Order of Lenin became the highest decoration for outstanding services to the Soviet Union.
Children names Vilen for V.I. Lenin, Vladlen for Vladimir Lenin, Ninel for Lenin read backwards became popular. And even the straightforward Vladimir took on a new life. Slogans “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live forever”
and “Lenin is more alive than the living” inspired many Soviets for decades. Nine-year-olds could not wait to enter the Young Pioneer organization and become Lenin’s grandchildren – I know I couldn’t.
Mausoleum Or Else
Lines to the Mausoleum had remained incredibly long every day for many years.
To visit Moscow for the first time meant to pay one’s heartfelt respects to the founder of their motherland and the Party. However, I learned the hard way that this tradition had grown into a requirement. In 1964, on my one and only trip to Moscow, the sight of the queue snaking around the Red Square under the hot sun made it easy to scratch my pilgrimage in favor of an art gallery.
When I foolishly mentioned that at work in my Komsomol leader’s presence he threatened to convene an emergency conference to assess my political leanings. It was terrifying but as luck would have it, on that same day he was caught in the attic with a woman not his wife. Phew!
Give Us the Child for 8 Years
Lenin managed to keep his image immaculate through the Soviet times. Not one of his successors was that fortunate. A joke of the 1960s: A conversation of a grandchild with his grandmother, “Grandma, is Lenin good or bad?” “Good.” “Is Stalin good or bad?” “Bad.” “Is Khrushchev good or bad?” “He’ll die we’ll find out.”
The revered founder of the Soviet Union not only changed the course of history but, more importantly, created a different mentality that is still very much alive. Just let his words sink in:
“A lie told often enough becomes the truth”
“It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed”
“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted”
“Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever”
“Crush… resistance with such brutality that it will not forget it for decades to come”
“Carry out merciless mass terror…; unreliable elements to be locked up in a concentration camp…”
All Stalin and Hitler had to do was to follow the leader.
Thank You For Shooting. Thank You for Missing.
Doctors determined that a stroke, the third in two years, caused Lenin’s death. Rumors attribute it, however, to a variety of reasons, including syphilis and poisoning. His close comrades ascribed the latter to Stalin who, in the words of one of them, was “capable of anything” and supposedly preferred this way of settling accounts. Though there was no definite proof, Lenin did warn against putting too much power into his hands as we learned after Stalin’s fall from grace.
One more theory had to do with the possible effect of the failed assassination attempt on Lenin in 1918 by a terrorist Fanny Kaplan, a member of a competing party and a lover of Lenin’s brother Dmitry.
She confessed. Three days later, the officers of the law shot her in the back of her head, stuffed her body into a barrel, poured benzene over it and set it on fire.
Conveniently, Kaplan was Jewish. Like a joke said, depending on the circumstances, people could blame the Jews for shooting at Lenin or for missing the mark. In post-Soviet times, Kaplan lost her fiendish image. Details came to light that put her fault into question, particularly due to her near-blindness and inexperience with guns.
Visit and Wonder
If you find yourself in Moscow and are curious to see an embalmed body – the Mausoleum is open every day, except Monday, Friday, and holidays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Entrance is free of charge. The lines are short.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the government stopped funding the preservation of Lenin’s body. Private donations do the job ever since.