Call to Move Lenin From Mausoleum Signals End To a Communist Icon
MOSCOW — THE failed coup and the whirlwind of political upheaval that has followed have spun off a small eddy of activity in the cobblestoned expanse of Red Square. Suddenly, growing numbers of people from Moscow and afar are making pilgrimages to the boxy granite edifice that houses the embalmed remains of the founder of the Bolshevik state, Vladimir Lenin.Like Antonina Stepanovna and her husband, they have heard the news that Lenin may soon be removed from the mausoleum. "Today with tears in our eyes," she says, "we came to see him off because we heard he would be taken away. He was a good man. He was the best man. We have lived well because of him." Leninism falling One by one, the symbols of Soviet Communism are being whisked aside. Last week, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) Mayor Anatoli Sobchak proposed burying Lenin in the city where his revolution occured, only recently restored to its czarist name. This week, the defense minister almost casually canceled the traditional Nov. 7 parade on the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. The solemn visitors to Lenin's mausoleum seem cast adrift by these momentous changes. "We are going nowhere and nobody knows what is ahead of us," said Volodya Grachov, a Russian student from the Ukraine. The gathering at the tomb is the lingering expression of a dying faith in what many consider to have been a secular religion. Some historians see construction of Lenin's mausoleum as a deliberate attempt to transfer traditional Russian religious imagery to the new gods. The winding steps down into the crypt are reminiscent of the tomb of an Egyptian god-pharoah. The people file past the waxy body lain in a funereal pose, and in the dimly lit silence a guard motions urgently to a visitor to remove his hat . The feeling is of a shrine. For many Soviet analysts, the recent dramatic events have not been so much an assault on the communist faith as a revelation of its long process of decay. "Communism and the Communist Party ... were dead even before the coup and even before perestroika." says Andranik Migranian, a prominent Soviet political scientist. "They were dead in an ideological sense. Nobody took them seriously as ideological institutions or structures. "Long ago, maybe after [former Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev, they were demystified. They became pure power structures in a country where the rest of the population was completely alienated from power. These power structures used to use the rhetoric of communism, the old words, without the essence." "I was a member of the Communist Party for 33 years, until the coup," says Nodari Simonia, deputy director of the Institute for World Economy and International Relations and a well-known political theorist. "When I saw the press conference of those guys," he says, recalling the appearance of the junta on the first day of the putsch, "I decided it is the last day I would be a member of this party." Mr. Simonia counts himself among "100 or 150 people who had a chance to read the real Marx, the real Lenin in this country." He dismisses Soviet Communism as a "totally falsified ideology.... People were just reading and not understanding anything. I know thousands of people who started reading the simplified version of Russian Marxism by Stalin, ... and they all stopped reading after chapter four. It was just abracadabra for them." Simonia is an intellectual Marxist, one who sees socialism as an outgrowth of the Western enlightenment. What emerged as Soviet Communism, particularly under Joseph Stalin, bears no relationship to that tradition of thought, he argues. "Russia was least prepared for socialism in 1917, but it happened that the Bolsheviks came to power. For five or six years under Lenin, we pretended we were building communism. But it was never possible in such a backward, peasant country to build socialism, not to mention communism." Mr. Migranian expresses the view, held by many historians, that Soviet Communism was a peculiarly Russian phenomenon. "Great Russian nationalism traditionally had deeply rooted in Russian consciousness some elements of socialism and communism," he says. "Stalin combined Bolshevik messianism with Russian messianism." Stalin was most effective in fusing Russian patriotism with communist religious symbology during the war and the struggle against the Nazis. Nikolai Giorgievich, a war veteran, sees no contradiction between his regular visits to Lenin's tomb and his faith in the Russian Orthodox Church. "Communism has nothing to do with us," he says. "We were happy we were victorious during the war. We had to put up with rationing, but everything was done to win the war." The belief in Communism "was stronger and more sincere in the 1930s, '40s and '50s," says Simonia. "Already in the '60s there was an erosion of this belief. But from the '70s, from the time of [Leonid] Brezhnev, this belief was like Russian religion by the time of the revolution. Some still believed they were going to church, but they were making jokes about the priest." Today, Simonia continues, "I am sure not more than 35-40 percent still believe in this religion." As for the men who made the coup, "they never believed themselves. They are cynical people. But they hoped that a substantial minority, if not a majority, still believed in this." But such believers as do exist, Simonia says, are not to be found in the big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg where the putsch had to be won.
New religious belief If the secular god of Lenin has failed, what will supplant it? Simonia believes the answer lies in the visible growth of traditional religions of all kinds, from Eastern mysticism to the Russian Orthodox Church. The mass movements for national independence in the republics is another reflection of the shift in the allegiance of the Soviet population. "Nationalism and a kind of belief in the miracle of the market economy ... has replaced the communist idea," Migranian says. "The only exception is Russia where ... extreme nationalist ideology is not transformed into a mass movement ... so far." After the overthrow of the Communist Party, "after the collapse of the central institutions and [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev, everything is open now in Russia for a real nationalist movement."