Rorate Caeli

LENIN: 100 Years of the Death of one of the Greatest Criminals in History - by Roberto de Mattei

Lenin on the centenary of his death (1924-2024)

An atmosphere of penumbra enveloped the centenary of the death of Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, known by the pseudonym Lenin, one of the most criminal figures in history. He died on Jan. 21, 1924, in Moscow, of paresis; he had been born 54 years earlier in Simbirsk, on the west bank of the Volga River. The son of a school inspector, Vladimir Ulyanov was a typical product of that turn-of-the-century Russia in which, as Curzio Malaparte wrote, "petty-bourgeois fanaticism ranged from Marxist liberalism to Tolstoy's rotten Christianity" (The Good Man Lenin, Adelphi, 2018, pp. 22-23). 

His youth was marked by the affair of his older brother Aleksandr, who was hanged in May 1887 for plotting against the life of Tsar Alexander III. Vladimir Ulyanov, who was already beginning to read revolutionary works, became convinced of the error of the populists who intended to raise the peasantry by carrying out exemplary terrorist acts. Crucial then was his meeting with the father of Russian Marxism Georgii Plechanov (1856-1918), an exile in Switzerland.

A disciple of Marx as well as Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), Lenin developed a theory that made Revolution a science. In autumn 1895 he founded the Osvoboždenie truda ("Emancipation of Labor") circle in Petersburg for the unification of revolutionary groups, but in December he was arrested and served fourteen months in prison and three years in Siberia. Exiled in 1900, he moved to Munich and finally to Zurich, where with Plechanov and Julii Martov (1873-1923), he founded the periodical Iskra ("Spark") for the purpose of spreading communist ideology in Russia. In the book What to Do? (1902), he planned a highly centralized communist party led by "men whose profession is revolutionary action" (Selected Works, Progress, 947, vol. I, p. 331). 

World War I broke out and Lenin was living in a modest room in Spiegalgasse, Zurich, when, in February 1917, Aleksander Kerensky's (1881-1970) revolution overthrew the tsarist regime. The German General Staff decided to send "the bacteria of the red plague" to Russia to collapse the enemy army's home front. On April 17, 1917, thirty-two revolutionary exponents, including Vladimir Ulyanov, left Zurich inside a "lead train" for Petrograd.    

Upon arriving in Russia, Lenin urged the Bolshevik party to assume power, theorizing in State and Revolution (1917) the violent conquest of power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, which would be followed by the "decay" of the state, that is, the spontaneous transition from the lower to the upper phase of classless communist society.

When, in October 1917, the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin succeeded in a coup d'état to seize power, Marx's "eleventh thesis" of Feuerbach (1845), according to which, the task of philosophers is not to know the world, but to transform it, seemed to have been historically fulfilled in his person. Violence was the method of gaining power and maintaining it. On December 20, 1917, Lenin created the Cheka, the political police to whom he entrusted the task of annihilating the bourgeois class. George Leggett calculates the executions carried out by the Cheka alone at 140,000 between 1917 and 1922 (The Cheka: Lenin's political Police, Clarendon Press, 1981, p. 467).

The Cheka was the first in a series of organizations - the GPU, the NKVD, the KGB, up to the current FSB - that refined but essentially did not change their methods. Another tool of repression created by Lenin were the concentration camps for opponents, the infamous Gulags. By October 1923 there were 315 of them with 70,000 prisoners, while spectacular political trials were taking place that resulted in the elimination of the Russian ruling class, officers, aristocrats, bourgeoisie, and priests. About 100 bishops and 10,000 Orthodox priests were imprisoned, 28 bishops and 1215 priests shot (Marco Messeri, Utopia and Terror. The Untold Story of Communism, Piemme, 2003). In the Leninist perspective, religion, private property and the family were to be eradicated at the roots. On December 17, 1917, a few weeks after winning power, divorce was introduced; abortion was legalized in 1920; it was the first time in the world that this was done without any restrictions.

The proclamation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on December 30, 1922, was Lenin's triumph. When the founder of the USSR died two years later, devoured by his hatred, all power was centralized in the hands of Stalin, who, harking back to his comrade and master, led a fierce struggle against two fronts: the "right deviation" of Bukharin and the "left deviation" of Trotsky. Both ended up assassinated by Stalin along with many of their followers. 

Marx-Leninism was the doctrine of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. Even in the last phase of the regime, Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022) declared that the ideological source of perestroika was Lenin, insisting on the need to return to the "creative spirit of Leninism" and "to reread" Lenin's works in order to understand Leninist method in depth (The Common European House, Mondadori, 1989, p. 267).

In those years, "liberation theologians" made pilgrimages to the Soviet Union to venerate the mummy of "Saint" Lenin, displayed at Stalin's behest in the Red Square mausoleum. In 1987, describing the long line waiting to see "the embalmed body of the great revolutionary," Father Clodovis Boff called it "an act of true devotion, of authentic veneration, which a theologian has no difficulty in explaining." After contemplating the mummy, "everyone in the procession, with their eyes fixed on the hero, feels compelled to move forward with their heads turned back so as not to miss a single drop of that instant of grace" (Faith and Perestroika. Liberation Theologians in the USSR, Cittadella, 1988, p. 39).

 After the self-dissolution of the Soviet Union, the myth of Lenin was obscured and the thousands of statues of the founder of the USSR were demolished throughout the post-Soviet space. In Ukraine, the phenomenon has taken on such great dimensions that it has been referred to as Leninopad, perhaps the greatest movement of political iconoclasm in the 20th century. Antonella Salomoni, a historian at the University of Bologna, has chronicled the rise and decline of the cult of Lenin through the history of his body and images (Lenin in Pieces. Destroying and Transforming the Past, Il Mulino, 2024).

The new tsar, Vladimir Putin, considers Stalin, not Lenin his champion, but he has not expelled Vladimir Ulyanov from the Russian Pantheon. Lenin's embalmed mummy continues to be a pilgrimage destination in the heart of Red Square, while a state history museum is dedicated to the founder of the USSR 35 kilometers from Moscow. What would have been said if, after 1945, a public space had been reserved for Mussolini or Hitler in the center of Rome or Berlin? But today the anti-communism has dissolved and Putin's own critics in the West call him "fascist" and not "communist." Communism thus continues to spread its errors around the world, while on March 18, 2024, the ghost of Lenin accompanied Putin's speech in Red Square to celebrate his re-election. 


Vladimir Lenin, on his deathbed, declared to Viktor Bede, a Hungarian ex-priest and his fellow journalist in Paris, "You know that my illness will soon lead me to death and I feel abandoned in the ocean of blood of endless victims. To save our Russia this was necessary, but it is too late to change now: we would need ten Francis of Assisi" ("L'Osservatore Romano," Aug. 23, 1924). Lenin's words, perhaps the only correct ones he ever uttered, retain their tragic relevance in the Putin era. 

(Roberto de Mattei)