by V. M. Karren
When Vladimir Lenin, the brain father of the now dissolved and discredited Soviet Union, passed away, it was in a very mortal way. He died from the effects of a series of progressively disabling strokes, and for several months before his actual passing his face had the expression of a condemned man waiting for his sentencing. His last words and thoughts go a long way to explain that expression. Even though Lenin enforced his secular religion of loyalty to the state and persecuted all symbols of living religion and the religious, in his final days even he acknowledged that he was going soon to meet his Maker. . . “as his greatest enemy.” As terrifying as such a thought would be for anybody, Lenin feared even more that Joseph Stalin, a bank robbing, megalomaniac mafiosi was close enough to and had enough loyalty around the power seat of the communist party to muscle out his chosen successor, Leon Trotskiy as the leader of the central committee. Lenin’s fears were well grounded.
Immediately after Lenin’s death, Stalin disregarded every wish of his dying mentor, and to be sure of his take over of the party apparatus he commissioned a brutal assassination attempt of Trotskiy with an ice pick while making his final move to fill the power vacuum. As a final insult to his dead comrade Stalin did not let Lenin be buried without more than the usual observances for the passing of a head of state, as Lenin himself wished, but entombed Lenin’s body in a red granite mausoleum on Red Square — no doubt so Stalin could keep close watch that Lenin actually stayed dead! To this day the preserved remains of V. I. Lenin can be viewed by the curious public and tourists behind thick security glass and in very dim lighting, denying him the rest that all the dead should be afforded.
Next, Stalin ordered thousands of statues to be carved and mounted all over the Soviet Union depicting the Lenin, the immortal leader, pointing the way to the bright future of the workers’ state. A slogan was created; “Lenin is, was and always will be,” to help assure the Soviet public that the USSR would never lose its way as it would be guided by their eternal leader. Ironically, against his will and express instructions to his successors, Lenin was deified in the secular religion that he forced upon his people.
For a time after Joseph Stalin had passed away his body was laid next to Lenin’s in the monolithic tomb that had been constructed on Red Square, just off the Kremlin wall. It became very evident that Stalin had ordered the construction this red polished granite crypt with hopes of himself being laid and preserved there in perpetuity—his only chance at immortality.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Kruschev took the reigns of power, and the Soviet Union began a period of ‘de-Stalinization’ by disavowing the totalitarian paranoia that Stalin perpetuated and by returning to the pure communistic theory that Marx and Lenin had expounded during their short lives. The public mood in the Soviet Union began immediately to thaw, and the chill of the oppressive years of war, purges and suspicion melted away to a warmer, more nurturing Soviet system. Artists were allowed to create, poets were encouraged to write about the horrors of the recent past and architects were able to experiment in more colourful and creative styles of building. Film makers and play writers began to take a critical look at Stalin and his brand of Communism and denounce the destructive culture of fear and suspicion that he created. Political prisoners began returning from Siberia and were officially rehabilitated to be able to rejoin society again. Although Kruschev allowed criticism of Stalin, still Lenin and Marx were revered as wise, guiding statesmen. Kruschev himself was an ardent Communist and believed strongly in the correctness of a pure communist philosophy.
Although life within the Soviet Union was beginning to bloom after a long cold winter, relations with the United States and its western allies were growing increasingly tense as the rhetoric from both sides was growing in animosity towards the other. Kruschev won several diplomatic battles for the USSR around the world, as well as lost a few in the end, but while he was on a roll he frightened the world, and especially the United States. . . to its core.
It was under the leadership of Kruschev that Sputnik was successfully launched into orbit around the earth and returned with a still living dog inside. It was under the leadership of Nikita Kruschev that the standard of living inside the Soviet Union briefly surpassed that of the United States and Europe. It was under the leadership of Kruschev that the USSR was granted three votes in the General Assembly of the United Nations, much to the anger and insecurity of the United States. It was Nikita Kruschev that declared upon his visit in the United States that the communist system would bury the capitalist system due to its innate superiority. It was at then that the arms race of the Cold War truly began running.
I grew up in the later years of the Cold War, terrified of the possibilities of nuclear war and the inevitable end of the world that the launching of these missiles could bring. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan was at the helm and was continually rattling the USA’s countless nuclear sabres. The USSR had also just invaded Afghanistan and a stray Korean airliner had just been shot out of the sky on the direct orders of Yuri Andropov above the Soviet Union’s far eastern territories. The struggle between Communism and Capitalism for influence around the world was in full swing as I was coming to understand the workings of international affaires and politics. This fear and awareness of the ease with which life on our planet could be evaporated by a hot nuclear mushroom cloud, motivated me from a young age to try to bridge the differences between the two competing systems.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union I have visited the tombs of each of its leaders, from Vladimir Lenin to Yuri Andropov. I have even visited the tomb of Karl Marx himself in the Highgate cemetery in London. Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, and Yuri Andropov are all buried in full state honours on Red Square, in the heart of Moscow. Mikhail Gorbechev has yet to pass on, and may he live long and tell his story over and over. Only Nikita Kruschev has been separated from the rest of the country’s former leaders in death because he died after his fall from grace —after he blinked at Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. Even after the great steps forward that Kruschev led his country to take after ruthless, totalitarian rule, the loss of face on the world stage over Cuba was too much for those of the Inner Circle to take. Kruschev was declared unfit to rule and was retired from political life. Some in the central committee claimed he was crazy, some believed he was about to lose control of the whole country. Others just wanted his job.
Nikita Kruschev is buried in one of Moscow’s most prestigious places to be buried in all of Russia, even though he wasn’t good enough to rot next to the other glorious leaders on Red Square who had “kept the faith.” Kruschev’s bones are interned underneath a low key, moderately sized dark red granite head stone, with the likeness of his round, bald head and toothy grin smiling forever at the walls of the ancient Noviy Devechy monastery. The graveyard is perched on a small hill overlooking a peaceful pond—that happened to be frozen over when I visited it with my father in early days of 1997.
I can understand the feelings of animosity that my father’s generation has towards the Communist leaders of the USSR, especially Kruschev who kept the USA in a constant state of alert and anxiety about whether or not tomorrow would even be worth planning for. That is why I snapped a beaming photograph of my father standing over Kruschev’s grave in the snow, drinking a cold can of Russian made Coca-Cola shortly after muttering. . .“Who buried who, Buddy?”