Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lenin and Historical Memory

This is a bit of an older article now, so perhaps you've seen it, but I found this New York Times article on the debate within Russia over what to do with Lenin's body quite fascinating. I come down quite strongly on the side of leaving the body where it is. This is not because I love Lenin. Nor is it because I want to see him as a nostalgic reminder of a now dead economic and social system. Rather, I think it is necessary to keep that body where it is because it is important to remember Lenin for what he was. Too often, when a new order comes to a society, there is an almost complete erasure of the past. Erasing the past serves a new regime well. By eliminating reminders of the past, it helps lessen the nostalgic pull that symbols have on people and thus helps dampen foment against the new regime. I was just reading a book review of a new work on Catholicism in pre-Henry VIII England that argued this very thing. Henry and then Elizabeth did all they could to destroy all vestiges of Catholic England and replace it with a religion subservient to the state. Today, we know very little about English Catholicism and this is a shame.

I am happy that Russia so far as not gone down this path. It is important to remember the Soviet past for so many reasons. It's important to remember the cult of personality that dominated the Soviet Union. It's important to remember the bad things that Lenin caused. It's important to remember the person who spurred Soviet industrialization. It's important to remember the Brezhnev years and why people eventually rejected Soviet-style communism. Getting rid of his body may satisfy a gut urge in many to have their way with the body of a horrid tyrant but other than this primal action, what would it accomplish? Russia needs constant reminders of its history and Lenin, if he does nothing else at this point, provides that.

Matt, for good reason, presumably disagrees with this perspective.