Daily Archives: 10 May 2008

St Vladimir of the October Revolution

From: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 53-54:

Krupskaya’s wish that her husband [V. I. Lenin] be interred with other old comrades was ignored in favour of mummifying his corpse, a step apparently inspired by worldwide fascination with he contemporary excavation of Luxor and discover of the tomb of the pharoah Tutankhamen, although the intention was to preserve for eternity what Robert Service has dubbed ‘Saint Vladimir of the October Revolution’. Lenin’s mummified corpse was displayed in a temporary timber mausoleum in the Wall of the Kremlin before this was replaced in 1930 by a permanent stone structure. The design reminded one Russian commentator of the tomb of King Cyrus near Murgaba in Persia, although the model was actually the mausoleum of Tamerlane. The prime movers in the preservation of Lenin’s body were Bonch-Bruevich, Leonid Krasin and Lunacharsky, ironically all erstwhile God-builders who had clashed with Lenin on this very issue. They formed an ‘Immortalisation Commission’. The reasons for Lenin’s mummification were several. His early death, probably brought about by chronic bureaucratic overwork that he had been unaccustomed to in the earlier decades of his life, was a metaphor for the years of revolutionary elan and enthusiasm that were ineluctably passing away. Mummification meant that the moment would exist in this curious symbolic form throughout time. His spirit would also endure in the Party: ‘Lenin lives in the heart of every member of our Party. Every member of our Party is a small part of Lenin. Our whole communist family is a collective embodiment of Lenin.’ The aura of this dead St Vladimir would spread to his lesser successors, who henceforth were in control of what he had or had not said or written during his lifetime. Significantly, Stalin managed to gain influence over the fledgling Lenin Institute at the Party’s Sverdlov university, and through The Foundations of Leninism, in which he explained Lenin’s ideology to the new Party intake, thereby establishing himself as guardian of the canonical texts.

And what was the net result of this vicious campaign against religion? The Party-state could certainly deploy more force, and did so against the Orthodox clergy. But the ranks of the militant godless waned as quickly as they had waxed, and they were usually filled with the intellectually low grade in the first place. Peasants, whether on the land or newly transplanted to the cities, found ways of resisting this assault on their beliefs, perhaps by sending grannies to obstruct four-eyed student atheists or using loopholes in the law to retain use of a church. Committed religious believers became more entrenched in their faith, while the more casually secure fell away, probably without turning to the dominant secular creed.

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