Streetwise Professor

January 21, 2018

Somebody Better Put a Tachometer on Lenin’s Corpse

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:50 pm

One of the most remarkable events–non-events, actually–of 2017 was the virtual total lack of any official Russian recognition of the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution.  The dilemma is particularly acute for Vladimir Putin, a proud Chekist–and, of course, the Cheka was the creation of the Revolution, and arguably essential to its survival.

But the Revolution’s legacy–including its anti-religious, anti-nationalist ideology, as well as tens millions of dead and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union–clashes with Putin’s current ideology of autocracy, orthodoxy, and nationality 2.0.  Hence the low-key (bordering on no-key) recognition of the events of October, 1917.

Last week Putin attempted to square this circle with a truly Orwellian formulation: Communism was Christianity. No–really:

“Maybe I’ll say something that someone might dislike, but that’s the way I see it,” Putin said in an interview for the documentary Valaam, an excerpt of which was broadcast on Russia 1. “First of all, faith has always accompanied us, becoming stronger every time our country, our people, have been through hard times.

“There were those years of militant atheism when priests were eradicated, churches destroyed, but at the same time a new religion was being created. Communist ideology is very similar to Christianity, in fact: freedom, equality, brotherhood, justice – everything is laid out in the Holy Scripture, it’s all there. And the code of the builder of communism? This is sublimation, it’s just such a primitive excerpt from the Bible, nothing new was invented.”

Look, Lenin was put in a mausoleum. How is this different from the relics of saints for Orthodox Christians and just for Christians? When they say that there’s no such tradition in Christianity, well, how come, go to Athos and take a look, there are relics of the saints there, and we have holy relics here,” Putin concluded.

Somebody should look in said mausoleum to see if Lenin is spinning at about 1000 RPM at the the assertion that his creation and ideology were mere sublimations of primitive Christianity.  Ditto Marx’s grave in London.

Make no doubt that Putin is going all in on Orthodoxy: just note his recent frigid dip to celebrate the Epiphany.

Moreover, Putin is being very selective in his commemorations of Russian history. For instance, largely reviled by the Orthodox, Peter the Great is virtually absent. And now we see that he reinterprets the most epochal–and apocalyptic–event in Russian history, a Revolution that was driven by a hatred and rejection of orthodox, nationalist autocracy, as some sort of historical continuity.

This is all quite amazing. Evidently Putin does not believe that he can attack communism, Bolshevism, and Leninism outright, because they resonate with too many people–particular among his political base. But he is acutely aware of the tension between his current crypto-tsarist ideology and the militantly anti-tsarist ideology that dominated Russia for 75 years.  So in a very Soviet way he completely rewrites history to assert that black is really white.

When Putin says “that’s the way I see it” what he really means is: that’s the way Russians are supposed to see it–get with the program. Who are you going to believe, Putin or your lying eyes?


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  1. Can’t say if there’s torque in Lenin’s Tomb, but if the Old Communist finds out that Vlad called him a “holy relic”; he just might become a very Christian resurrection and put Putin in a tomb.

    Comment by The Pilot — January 21, 2018 @ 10:15 pm

  2. What Putin says is actually obvious and uncontroversial. Ostensible “anti-nationalism” of the USSR was actually suppression of non-Russian nationalism combined with promotion of Russian chauvinism, just like it is today in the mini-USSR. And communism was, as far as the masses go, clearly just a rebranding of state religion a la Russe, which the masses had to comply with rather than believe in, just like the Stalin-created “Orthodox church” is in the mini-USSR. It only looks like “squaring the circle” if you try to take at face value what is and has always been garden variety orwellianism.

    Comment by Ivan — January 21, 2018 @ 11:44 pm

  3. Very real “anti-nationalism” of the USSR was actually suppression of “Great Russian chauvinism” under Lenin (who railed constantly on the topic); all that Stalin changed was to extend the suppression to all the other smaller country nationalisms. Indeed, the conservative thinkers sent off on the “philosopher’s ship,” or the Kiev Club of Russian Nationalists massacred to the man by the Bolsheviks, or Kluev, Ustryalov, various other National Bolsheviks in the 1930s, Rodzaevsky in 1945, would be exceedingly surprised to hear the USSR was engaged in the promotion of Russian chauvinism. No doubt the many dozens of Russian judicial victims of Article 282 would also be rather surprised to hear that Putin’s mini-USSR is promoting Russian chauvinism.

    Comment by S/O — January 22, 2018 @ 11:31 am

  4. @S/O Of course, the USSR claimed to be “internationalist”, egalitarian, peace-loving, even democratic. So does the mini-USSR. Fully orwellian, like I said.

    Comment by Ivan — January 22, 2018 @ 12:21 pm

  5. It’s a commonplace that belief in Communism is much like belief in a religion. And there are parallels between the behaviour of the Bolsheviks and of the early Christians – the venomous relations between different sects, the persecution of heretics, the savage treatment of pagans. The comparison strengthens if you pursue the comparison with that semi-Christian cult, Roman Catholicism – Lenin as Peter, and Stalin et al as later Popes. In fact the commies have the advantage there because Lenin undoubtedly went to Moscow whereas it’s most unlikely that Peter went anywhere near Rome.

    Comment by dearieme — January 22, 2018 @ 12:23 pm

  6. @S/O & @Ivan–sounds like the basis for a good debate re Soviet policy regarding Russian nationalism. Keep it clean!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 22, 2018 @ 2:58 pm

  7. Putin of course wants to have his cake and to eat it too. The Russian version of this saying is much more salty and involves a fish and a penis.

    Comment by LL — January 23, 2018 @ 7:07 am

  8. Orwellian indeed:

    ‘Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’

    Comment by Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — January 23, 2018 @ 8:14 am

  9. Anti-communists used to split on this issue back during the Cold War. Navrozov argued that Lenin and the Bolsheviks didn’t actually believe in a classless society and simply acted as opportunistic criminals to become super-Tsars. Pipes saw great continuity between Tsaarist absolutism and communism, in particular an antipathy to private property rights and the rule of law. The left anti-communists, many of whom started as Trotskyists or democratic socialists, tended to see discontinuity between the Orthodox-Tsarist state and the communist one, focusing on distinctions between authoritarianism and totalitarianism, etc.

    Comment by srp — January 23, 2018 @ 7:28 pm

  10. @dearieme–No doubt that there was a strong religious aspect to Communism–the God that Failed, and all that. But to suggest that it is basically Christianity in a different guise is too much. Christianity is a religion, but not all religions are Christian.

    Putin is attempting to resolve the fundamental contradiction between his personal history and the country’s Soviet history on the one hand and his current incarnation as successor to the tsars on the other. These things are antithetical, but that’s not politically convenient. So Putin is asserting that they are the same.

    @srp–I largely concur with Pipes that the Soviets adopted some aspects of autocratic rule as practiced by the tsars, especially with respect to economic/property relations, the lack of representative institutions, the heavy reliance on the security organs, and the expansionist foreign policy. But they rejected decisively the avowedly Christian identity of the Russian Empire, and also rejected its Russian nationalism/chauvinism (at least officially). Putin’s challenge is to restore the Christian and nationalist identities of the modern Russian state, without explicitly repudiating the Communists’ anti-Christian, anti-nationalist ideology. So he just denies that the Communists were anti-Christian: they were just a different kind of Christian!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 23, 2018 @ 10:07 pm

  11. Perhaps another way to interpret this is as a demonstration of the superficiality, and perhaps dishonesty, behind Putin’s currently expressed Orthodox beliefs. One who doesn’t really believe in saints, and who thinks that those that do are superstitious fools, would see no difference between the mummified Lenin and the relics of Mount Athos. To such a mind, both are mummery.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 23, 2018 @ 10:36 pm

  12. Prof, I take comfort from Putin’s making such run-of-the-mill manoeuvres for such politically mundane motives. I take further comfort from the fact that he is not Literally Hitler, that berth being already occupied.

    Comment by dearieme — January 24, 2018 @ 8:33 am

  13. @Professor

    “perhaps dishonesty, behind Putin’s currently expressed Orthodox beliefs” – that sounds very much like “perhaps 2+2 might even be 4”.

    The current gang never “rejected decisively the Christian identity”, they decisively rejected the dominance of the previously dominant gang, which just so happened to rely on the Orthodox church to assert its own control.

    Both the current “orthodox” and the previous “communist” official religions of Russia are simply utilitarian mechanisms of control over the population. The nomenklatura were as much intending to build the communism then as they are intending to follow the Christian commandments now.

    The only fundamental belief they have is that they are entitled to loot whatever they can get away with. To do this, they need control over the population. Control is primary, the method of control is secondary.

    The usefulness of the communist religion as method of control over Russia was lost primarily because of the pushback from the West. The nomenklatura had to change the color of the camo because the red was targeted effectively, whereas the Yanks interpreted this as victory and happily went home, leaving the control of the territory in the hands of the nomenklatura. But it has always been about the control, never about the color.

    Comment by Ivan — January 24, 2018 @ 4:09 pm

  14. Suppression of Russian Nationalism? Guess the whole Soviet system of “Russification” of ethnic minorities got missed by S/O…….

    Comment by Andrew — January 28, 2018 @ 9:41 pm

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