Saturday, November 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Lenin Lives in Russian Writing Only to Die Again, Moscow Critic Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 6 – Russians continue to argue about Stalin and other Communist leaders, but in such debates, Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, has been left largely “somewhere on the side,” a reflection of the often unrecognized fact that he, unlike the others, plays a variety of roles for the current generation, according to a Moscow scholar.
That may be changing, Aleksandr Chantsev argues in the current “Neprikosnovennyy zapas,” given that his works are now being republished and an entire virtual community devoted to his memory has emerged, and consequently, it is time to consider the actual role Lenin continues to play in the lives of Russians (
Unlike those who want Lenin out of the mausoleum and are angry that more than 70 percent of all Lenin monuments in the Russian Federation remain in place 20 years after the end of the Soviet Union (, Chantsev, a philologist, considers the imagery of Lenin found in literary works as a key to understanding his role in Russian life now.
As far as the Soviet system is concerned, Chantsev begins, “everything is clear – we don’t want it, but they are reviving it.” That sense, he continues, leads to debates about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Trotsky, but somehow “Lenin turns out to be left somewhere on the side,” historically distant, preserved in amber, “half-condemned but half rehabilitated.”
What is striking, the critic notes, is that Lenin has become an object onto which have many displaced many things which are far from the original meaning of the man and his historical role. “The main thing” turns out to be “images of childhood,” not just because of Bonch-Bruyevich’s stories but also because people now associate Lenin with their early years.
The literary record of the last 20 years suggest that “behind all these ‘Leninist subjects’ stands special relations with the object. The motives are clear: they have a more psychological basis: the denial of communist ideals in the Soviet period, the ridiculing of the former idol in the first years of perestroika and then … one of the symbols of the denial of current Russian reality.
In reality, Chantsev argues, “Lenin here is important not in and of himself; he is much more significant for what he embodies – and it is from this the continuing presence of his image arises. This is intensified still further by the formulaic images of Lenin created in the Soviet period which are used by contemporary authors for [his] desconstruction.”
And that is terribly important, Chantsev suggests because “after 70 years of defenseless existence under the pressure of official idiologisms, Russian writing with the help of these measures is undertaking an attempt at a late vaccination against the virus of Lenin – and it is not for nothing that in texts [about him] there are so many references to illness.”
Consequently, while Lenin still lives in Russian writing and consciousness, his existence is a “strange” one, somewhere “between life and death.” He plays the role of Osiris, of someone who dies in order to be reborn only to die again. And however angry many may be about his re-appearance, such a pattern is intended to ensure that his like will not come again.
“Unlike the image of Stalin … in our days,” Chantsev says, “when at spiritual séances out of the past are called forth terrible heroes of myths … on should not be surprised by such a frequent appearance of Lenin” or fail to understand that his return is required in such forums in order that it not happen in real life.
Lenin must “yet again be reborn in order that, having finally died, he can leave his meta-historical mausoleum and move from the status of ‘the most living of all living’ into the form of an ordinary historical personage.” And because that is the requirement, Chantsev concludes, “in the immediate future, Lenin will appear yet again in many books, films, and songs.”

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