Birthdays Lenin

AT THIS very moment, a citizen of Moscow is bending over Vladimir Lenin's mummified body-encased in a mausoleum's airtight glass box-and in a tone that is perhaps whimsical, perhaps cynical or rueful, extends a birthday greeting to a dead man.

The Soviet regime has gone to great lengths in the celebration of Lenin's 100th birthday. In addition to "encouraging" its subjects to visit Lenin's tomb, and staging the inevitable parade of atomic warheads through Red Square, the government has systematically smothered its consumer market with a myriad of "Lenin Centennial" products. In a manner similar to that of 1967's 50th anniversary commemoration of the October Revolution, visitors to GUM and other "people's " department stores are urged and obliged to choose from among "Happy Birthday Lenin" trinkets and chocolate cakes, Lenin Centennial ball-point pens and baby bottles.

Even so, it appeared for a time before today that the Soviet's commemoration of Lenin would be bleakfully and hopelessly marred. The Americans too, it seemed, had plans for April 22. Until last week, Apollo 13 had been scheduled to splash down in the Pacific yesterday, and today would have been an occasion for great national celebration in the wake of the astronauts' success. But now, Moscow, as cocky as any large auto firm which has beaten its rivals to the public market with a new, spectacular finished product, is eminently pleased that the day of commemoration is entirely theirs.

In a sense, it would have been grossly inappropriate for Lenin to have suffered commemoration by a moonshot. Inappropriate and unfortunate, not because the moonshot happened to be an American venture, for Lenin's political preferences were never ranged in terms of national chauvinism, but rather because this genre of scientific probing-whether American or Soviet-has entailed extravagant, self-interested government appropriations at the cost of basic human needs. As tens of millions go hungry within their respective borders, each country spends tens of billions of dollars to launch their ambitious missiles, those huge, prodding figures that greet each other across an empty sky.

And it is no more fortunate that the greatest memorial to Lenin is now being raised in contemporary Russia. For those who rule the Soviet Union today are an elite corps of self-serving bureaucrats who manipulate and mismanage 200 million lives in the name of Leninist principles. The crude, exploitative commercialism with which the Moscow regime is staging its gala event is but an example of how a handful of men in power have been able to impose on an entire nation the tastes, the preferences, the idiosyncratic perversities of a few.


IF THERE was a single ideal with which Lenin founded the modern Soviet state, it was that people should exercise direct control over the political and social machinery that affected their own lives. In his view, the Communist Party was to serve as a vehicle of popular expression, not an elite vanguard that was to remain small and independent of society ??ge. Before the overthrow of tsarism in Russia, the party was indeed small and circumscribed, but its phenomenal growth after the establishment of Bolshevik rule suggests that it sought to incorporate within itself differing political and intellectual tendencies, rather than to submerge and eliminate them.

The posture of American foreign policymakers toward the new Soviet state was a further indication that Lenin was viewed as an advocate of popular rule. The Bolsheviks, wrote Secretary of State Robert Lansing in December 1917, "are wanting in international virtue," They sought "to make the ignorant and incapable mass of humanity dominant in the earth." They appealed to "a class which does not have property but hopes to obtain a share by process of government rather than by individual enterprise," Remarking that the Bolshevik philosophy of government "may well appeal to the average man, who will not perceive the fundamental errors," he concluded that the new state was "a direct threat at existing social order in all countries."

It was this unmistakable "threat" which prompted President Wilson in 1918 to contribute thousands of American troops to a 14-power invasion of Siberia. This invasion, which was undertaken to aid the remnants of Tsar Nicolas' army and other anti-Bolshevik forces who were attempting to topple the new Soviet government, precipitated a civil war which was to last three years and claim 12 million Russian lives. Wilson's own decision to enter the civil war at a time when American troops were already committed to stopping a massive German offensive on the Western front, was dramatic proof of American determination to eliminate the Bolshevik alternative to their expanding sphere of influence in the East.

It is within the context of a decimated, impoverished, and continually besieged Soviet nation that one must consider the atrocities of Stalinist rule. As one who was faced with resurrecting and maintaining the initial gains of the Bolshevik victory, Stalin faced a set of alternatives any of which would have resulted in widespread suffering and death, by famine if not by police terror and violence. His forced collectivization and his persecution of the kulaks must have been prompted at least in part by the fact that the wholesale refusal of the peasants to sell their already scant grain reserves to the state was resulting in starvation and death in Russian cities. Under these circumstances, the regrowth of oppressive, undemocratic state machinery in the Soviet Union under Stalin is easier to understand, if not any less difficult to condone.

Much of the Jonus for the oppressive social and political atmosphere in the Soviet Union today must necessarily rest with Stalin's successors. It is true enough that Stalin bequeathed to them a government that was entirely undemocratic and totalitarian, and that an enormous anti-Stalinist thrust was needed to restore the country to its Leninist foundations. Yet, in the name of "de-Stalinization." these men only reinforced the bureaucratic machinery they inherited, and have actually spread inequality by the introduction of material incentives and profit motives into Soviet economic relations. As a result, the clique which rules Russia today is an economic as well as a political and military elite.

STILL, even as Leninism was being uprooted and destroyed in Russia, it was moving toward a new, foreign land. As Lenin lay on his deathbed in 1924, his philosophy had already stolen out of Moscow and crossed the Sinkiang Mountains to the old Manchu empire. Those who seized upon Lininism in China were impelled to adapt it to an unfamiliar environment of rural and backward peasants and imbue it with new organizational impulse if it was to succeed. And yet, as Mao wrote in 1930, those who became Leninists viewed the revolution as something only barely beyond their grasp: a ship at sea whose mast is vaguely visible from the shore, the sun whose morning rays begin to curl alluringly over an eastern mountaintop, a child about to be born nestled anxiously in its mother's womb.

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