Wednesday June 13, 2012 – Finally, Lenin

Today we’re super-efficient travellers.‭ ‬We go out for breakfast at Cafe Xray‭ (which I learn later is the Russian for Cafe House – Coffee House – literally translated as Cafe Chaos. Anyhow,‭ ‬but it looks like Xray‭)‬,‭ ‬line up for tickets to the Moscow Kremlin before the ticket booth opens at‭ ‬9:30am,‭ ‬and line up to get into Lenin’s Tomb before that opens at‭ ‬10am.‭ ‬Our haste is justified by seeing the lines as we leave,‭ ‬which extend into the far distance.‭

I feel genuinely excited going to the tomb.‭ ‬As mentioned, it and the Kremlin were closed for‭ ‬4‭ ‬days in honour of Russia Day,‭ ‬and a stage had been set up on Red Square presumably for a concert for Putin and his friends.‭ ‬But it wasn’t just the delay,‭ ‬it was the chance to see Lenin,‭ ‬the great revolutionary strategist, that raised my expectations.‭ ‬The approach to the tomb,‭ ‬along the Kremlin wall,‭ ‬had graves of international revolutionaries:‭ ‬Clara Zetkin,‭ ‬Big Bill Haywood,‭ ‬others I couldn’t translate.‭ ‬The tomb itself is a low,‭ ‬red and black marble building with the word Lenin on the front,‭ ‬which I stopped to admire and then was told to move on by a guard.‭ ‬Inside it’s dark,‭ ‬which was even more jarring after the brilliant sunshine outside.‭ ‬We trooped past at various speeds,‭ ‬me going as slowly as possible to absorb the atmosphere.‭ ‬Then Lenin himself appeared,‭ ‬in peaceful,‭ ‬waxy repose in his crystal sarcophagus.‭ ‬He looked a little too real to be a waxwork,‭ ‬but not real enough to look like he had just closed his eyes.‭ ‬I studied his face:‭ ‬he had a large forehead and a small mouth.‭ ‬No wisdom,‭ ‬no expression conveyed‭ – ‬I was looking at a husk.‭ ‬

This small man,‭ ‬who theorized how to remake the world on an entirely new basis,‭ ‬freed from the illusions of the utopians and the fears of the reformists,‭ ‬had been turned into the apotheosis of everything he represented.‭ ‬From the foremost revolutionary strategist,‭ ‬who thought of nothing but how to bring down the international capitalist system,‭ ‬he had been turned into the father of a nation.‭ ‬That seems like a big deal‭ – ‬and it was certainly presented as such‭ – ‬but only to those who have never read Lenin or known what he worked for.‭ ‬Every nation has founding fathers‭; ‬the international working class movement has millions of unsung heroes,‭ ‬and a few leading lights.‭ ‬Against his wishes,‭ ‬Lenin had been defanged,‭ ‬turned into a symbol of bourgeois stability that he hated.

I emerged blinking into the sunlight with a sadness that I couldn’t articulate.‭ ‬It only gelled when we got to the Kremlin itself and saw the tombs of the tsars dating back centuries,‭ ‬and I realized what Stalin had done by initiating the cult of Lenin:‭ ‬he’d established a continuity between the ruling class of the old Russia and that of the new.‭ ‬He made the regime legitimate through adopting the symbols of the old one.‭ ‬Where the Tsar used to go to the church containing his ancestors before sending off his troops to fight,‭ ‬Soviets would go to the tomb of their ancestor before making whatever sacrifices the regime deemed necessary.‭

‬It makes me angry that Stalin could take a living movement and turn it into the thing it tried to overthrow.‭ ‬It’s cold comfort that Lenin recognized that, without revolutions in other countries to come to the aid of the Soviets,‭ ‬the Bolshevik revolution would be strangled.‭ ‬He was right:‭ ‬what he failed to anticipate was the grotesque way in which the new regime twisted itself to look like the old.

A security gate to nowhere:

The Kremlin was pretty,‭ ‬but the pictures of Tsars and church elders filled me with contempt rather than awe.‭ ‬Perhaps I was still upset about Lenin,‭ ‬but here we were,‭ ‬wandering through a private estate of kings.‭ ‬The Tsar’s people starved and worked their whole lives in formal and debt slavery‭; ‬he had a private‭ ‘‬Secret Garden‭’ ‬within the walls of the Kremlin that he could wander in.‭ ‬

Putin’s owl, chained to its house:

The religious imagery was just a mask for state power:‭ ‬those images of saints weren’t about the glory of spirituality but about who had the power to wield the images.‭ ‬Here are the tsars,‭ ‬here’s God blessing the tsars,‭ ‬now do what you’re told.‭ ‬At least that’s how I read it.‭ ‬I was impressed to see,‭ ‬right at the topmost ceiling in Ivan’s bell tower,‭ ‬a picture of God.‭ ‬You don’t see that very often.‭ ‬It had to be God,‭ ‬because it was carrying the baby Jesus,‭ ‬and between them overtop was a white dove in a blue circle,‭ ‬the image of the Holy Ghost.‭ ‬God had long hair and a beard but was more well-kempt than a hippy.

No tourist was snapping pictures of this:

Or this – the Constructivist radio tower from the early 1920s:

A Soviet industrial mural near the Kremlin:

Our day only hit one snag:‭ ‬once we’d collected our luggage and said goodbye to our hosts,‭ ‬we had an hour to get to the train station.‭ ‬We knew which station,‭ ‬and it wasn’t rush hour,‭ ‬so we weren’t anticipating any problems.‭ ‬But Komsomolskaya metro station,‭ ‬our destination,‭ ‬has three train stations around it.‭ ‬We went to one with‭ ‬20‭ ‬minutes to spare,‭ ‬and were directed next door‭; ‬with‭ ‬12‭ ‬minutes to spare,‭ ‬we were directed to the station next to that one.‭ ‬Then we ran up the platform,‭ ‬me dragging my bag and M.‭ ‬carting her backpacks.‭ ‬There were train ladies lined up outside the train as before‭; ‬the first one told us to run.‭ ‬We got past third class to second,‭ ‬where a train lady told us to get on and hurried us through the carriage‭ – ‬she’d done us a favour because you’re only supposed to get on your car,‭ ‬but our berth was in the next one.‭ (‬Later she smiled at us‭ – ‬Russians act tough but they’re genuinely nice.‭) ‬We got to our berth with‭ ‬4‭ ‬minutes to spare.‭ ‬Sitting down never felt so good.


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