Vladimir Lenin: Man of Teflon?

In the West, commentators speak from time to time about certain politicians who seem to possess the characteristics of Teflon. No matter what they say or do, it has no bearing on their status.

Lenin by Isaak brodsky
Portrait of V.I. Lenin by Isaak Brodsky. (Public Domain)

In Russia perhaps no one individual exemplifies the principle so fully as the man who led the Russian Bolshevik revolution. In fact, it is heresy to vilify Vladimir Lenin in any way. The Soviet system so programmed the populace that today the revolution itself, and the period of Soviet rule can be called into question, and even ridiculed, as long as Lenin is set aside from criticism. It is as if he led the revolution, yet had nothing to do with it.

With the exception of Joseph Stalin who is on a stellar rebound to rehabilitation, any other revolutionary or Soviet leader is fair game. It is hard to find a statue to Sergei Kirov, Aleksandr Bogdanov, or even Leon Trotsky, but Lenin busts are everywhere.

So, what is it about Vladimir Lenin (born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) that deserves the Teflon coating? He was not a model of kindness and congeniality by any stretch. Lenin was a crafty and cunning revolutionary with a flair for both oratory and violence. Only his shortened lifespan spared the Russian people from directly experiencing the fullness of his own brand of sadistic cruelty.

In Russia’s “near abroad,” the regions that make up the former Soviet Union outside the present borders of Russia, Lenin has not fared so well, except in enclaves of ethnic Russians.

ILenin Livess education to blame? Unquestionably, Soviet schoolchildren were spoon-fed heavy doses of exaggerations, and often outright lies, to create an image of Lenin as someone on the level with Jesus Christ himself. Given that Christ was banished from the Soviet public square, Vladimir Lenin was enthroned as the saviour of the Soviet Union.

Upon Lenin’s death, the Soviet leadership immediately created the idea, borrowed from the Orthodox Christian teaching of the mystical presence, that Lenin was somehow now spiritually present in the life of the Soviet Union, and in the lives of Soviet citizens. In a phrase borrowed from Christian liturgy, the idea of “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ shall come again,” the Soviets adopted something eerily similar: “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, and Lenin will always live!”

The cult of Lenin was cultivated before, and later continued alongside the cult of Stalin. Stalin used the cult of Lenin to enshrine the cult of Stalin.

Were it was just a matter of Soviet education, then why have many former Soviet republics rejected the cult of Lenin? In most of those former republics the reminders and ideas of Lenin are disappearing from public view. He is seen as just another dictator who was bent on power.

Perhaps it is safe to point to the Russian state, as official policy, which allows Lenin to remain clothed in his Teflon suit. The Russian state needs heroes, and goodness knows the last generations of the Tsars were not exactly Russia’s most inspiring role models. Besides, to elevate the Tsars would be tantamount to an admission that the Soviet experiment was a mistake. It was another Russian named Vladimir who in more recent times remarked that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

So for now in the hearts of many Russians, Lenin lives.

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