Vladimir Lenin And Vladimir Putin

Feb 24th, 2024 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Sunday, 21 January 2024, was centenary of the death of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of Soviet communism and the leader of the bloody Bolshevik Revolution that brought communism to Russia.  There were no parades or stirring speeches in Red Square. The obvious reason is that one of Lenin’s most strident critics is Vladimir Putin, “who appears far more enamored with the empire that Lenin’s revolutionaries overthrew.”  “In my opinion, the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s death creates an opportunity to try to move away from the endless passionate and meaningless bickering around the dilemma: is he an angel from heaven or a monstrous antichrist, the embodiment of absolute world evil?” said Vladimir Lukin, a Russian senator who formerly served as a human rights commissioner. But, he added: “Whether it will be used is another question.”

When Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) died on 21 January 1924, Soviet authorities at the behest of Stalin began embalming his body and building a mausoleum. The red and black polished stone temple has stood at the heart of Red Square since October 1930 and briefly housed Stalin’s remains until 1961. Huge crowds of people queued to pay their respects to Lenin in Soviet times, but today, ceremonies honoring the revolutionary are attended mainly by those nostalgic for the communist era.  His embalmed body has become, primarily, a tourist attraction. Once every 18 months, the mausoleum is closed to allow scientists to re-embalm his body and repair the damage caused by time.  A third of Russians believe that the body of Lenin should be laid to rest as quickly as possible, according to a new survey by the VTsIOM pollster.   “I believe we should be very careful here, so as not to take any steps that would divide our society. We need to unite it,” Putin told pro-Kremlin activists in 2016 on whether to bury Lenin. Rumored plans to remove his body in 2024 were abandoned.  “Once the lodestar of international revolutionary movements, Lenin’s influence has waned in the century since his death as his role in creating conditions for the brutal Communist dictatorship that emerged from the 1917 Russian revolution became ever more stark.”

Andrew Roth of The Guardian writes that “Lenin’s influence on modern politics may be most keenly felt in China, where his vision of the party-state led by an ideological vanguard has become a political reality. Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese Communist party, studied Marxist theory and ideological education at Tsinghua University from the late 1990s when he was a senior official in Fujian province. When he assumed power in 2012, he soon gave a speech to party officials in which he called on them to ‘practice core socialist values’, including Marxism-Leninism.  Not so in Russia, where Lenin has been roundly denounced and recast as a villain by Putin. In speeches dating back to 2016, Putin has blamed Lenin for appeasing nationalists and drawing fault lines into the Soviet system, creating national republics that would later have the right to secede from the Soviet Union. he asked.  Lenin’s recognition that Ukrainians and Russians should live in different states, as well as his insistence that the industrial Donbas region remain in the Ukrainian republic, helped to bring Ukraine back into the fold after declaring independence in 1918, noted Serhii Plokhy , a professor of history at Harvard University.”

In Ukraine, the countless city squares and statues named for Lenin before 2014 were seen as a relic of Russian colonialism, and the country in 2015 launched a broad campaign of “decommunization,” taking down thousands of monuments and renaming tens of thousands of streets and squares, and sometimes whole towns and villages.  The ubiquitous statues of Lenin were a particular target—more than 1,300 were removed by 2016.

Putin, announcing the most important decision of his presidency, the launch of the full-scale war in Ukraine, mentioned Lenin 11 times, as he angrily accused him of appeasing nationalists and of creating “Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine,” which includes lands Russia has now occupied in the east and south.  “You want decommunization?” Putin said angrily in a speech just days before he launched the invasion. “Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunization would mean for Ukraine.”  In that vitriolic speech questioning Ukraine’s statehood three days before the attack, the Kremlin leader accused Lenin of having “invented” Ukraine when he founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  By giving the Soviet republics a degree of autonomy, Putin argued, Lenin allowed the emergence of nationalism and the eventual implosion of the USSR.  “It was because of Bolshevik policy that the Soviet Ukraine came into being, which (one) would be perfectly justified to call Lenin’s Ukraine,” Putin raged.  “He is its inventor, its architect,” he continued.

Historian David Satter puts Lenin in the proper perspective:  “The Soviet Union was based on Marxism, a secular religion, and Lenin was the architect of its system of antimorality. For Lenin, as he said in his speech to the Komsomol on Oct. 2, 1920, morality was entirely subordinated to the class struggle. An action was right not in light of ‘extrahuman concepts’ but only if it destroyed the old society and helped to build a new communist society.  The effect of this theory is felt today in post-Soviet Russia, where the legacy of communism’s blanket rejection of universal morality destroyed the hope for democratic reform. Lenin’s theory also inspired modern terrorism and contributes to the weakness that leads many in the West to condone ideological crimes.”

Lenin was born in 1870 in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), the son of a senior school inspector. In 1893 he moved to St. Petersburg, where he joined the Marxist party and published a book, What Is to Be Done? (1902), in which he described a plan for seizing power by a disciplined “vanguard” party of professional revolutionaries. The unacknowledged model for this party was the Russian People’s Will, which was founded in 1879 and in 1881 carried out the assassination of Alexander II, the “Czar Liberator,” who 20 years earlier had freed the Russian serfs.

Satter makes several important observations about Lenin, Putin and modern Russia:

  • “In February 1917, Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks, had 24,000 members. It was able to triumph in a country of more than 100 million because it was a machine of concentrated power that accepted murder and glorified it as a moral obligation. Isaac Steinberg, the non-Bolshevik justice minister in the first revolutionary government, objected to summary executions. He sarcastically asked Lenin: ‘Why bother with a Commissariat of Justice? Let’s call it the ‘Commissariat for Social Extermination.’ Lenin’s face lit up, and he said: ‘That’s exactly what it should be, but we can’t say that.’”
  • “The combination of dedication to Marxism and total contempt for ethical norms made it possible for the communists and their successors to establish totalitarian regimes in the 20th century that ruled more than one-third of the world’s population. Although most of these regimes no longer exist, the damage they did is likely to be felt for many years to come.  Russia today is noncommunist but no less lawless than under the Soviets. Arbitrary rule, once codified in Marxist-Leninist ideology, is now justified by the prerogatives of the state, which take absolute priority over the lives of individuals.  Russian officials interpret the purpose of Russian history as the strengthening of the state. In a 2008 speech, Vladimir Putin said that maintaining Russia’s place as a ‘mighty nation’ calls for ‘enormous sacrifices and privations on the part of our people.’ In other words, his ambition is the same as Lenin’s: for Russians to suffer indefinitely for the state.  Russia has suffered an estimated 360,000 casualties in Ukraine. That hasn’t persuaded Russian leaders to stop the war. In a recent speech, Mr. Putin said the solution was for Russian women to give birth to more potential soldiers. ‘Many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had seven, eight or even more children,’ he said. ‘Let us preserve and revive these excellent traditions.’”
  • “When the Soviet Union fell, Russia dismantled the socialist economy but didn’t restore the moral framework Lenin destroyed. The result was the rise of a criminal state no less dangerous than its predecessor—one that has engaged in assassinations, shot down civilian airliners, and even bombed apartment buildings to bring Mr. Putin to power.  Lenin’s influence is also evident in the terror perpetrated in the name of political Islam, like Marxism a system of total explanation. The savagery of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack against Israel reproduced almost exactly the Bolsheviks’ tactics against suspected nonsympathizers and other civilians during the Red Terror (1918-22).”

Among some conservatives, as well as some Progressives in the political culture of America, there is a growing dissent about supporting Ukraine after Putin’s invasion of that nation:  Perhaps it is not worth it; perhaps we should be spending this money at home, not so far away; perhaps, because of the history of czarist Russia, Ukraine should be part of Russia; perhaps, if the US and the West had just promised that Ukraine would not be a part of NATO, Putin would have stopped his harassment and dismemberment of Ukraine, which he began a few years ago in his annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine; and, perhaps, because Ukraine has a history of political and financial corruption, there is no justification for the West supporting Ukraine’s war against Russia.  In my opinion such thinking is short-sighted, dangerous and baseless.  The war in Ukraine is a war to stop Vladimir Putin’s assault on freedom and sovereignty.  The moral clarity of the Ukrainian war is crystal clear.  The West is fighting a barbaric monster in the person of Vladimir Putin, who still follows the moral framework created by Lenin.   Conservatives who support him and Progressives who want to force Ukraine to negotiate with Putin, have no sense of history and lack the moral high ground to make such a claim.  Putin’s autocracy is bankrupt in so many ways.  May God in His infinite justice and righteousness defeat him and bring him down for his hubris and defiance.

See Andrew Roth in The Guardian (21 January 2024); and David Satter in the Wall Street Journal (20-21 January 2024).

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