Staunton, April 22 – Since Lenin’s death in 1924, each succeeding Soviet and Russian leader has used him for its own purposes, Gennady Bordyugov says. Stalin used Lenin to build his own cult. Khrushchev used Lenin to destroy Stalin’s cult. And Gorbachev offered a new vision of Lenin in the hopes of renewing and reforming socialism.
Yeltsin avoided attacking Lenin as many hoped he would in order to maintain social peace, the Moscow historian and publisher says. And now, Putin is seeking to minimize the importance of Lenin because it wants to reduce the importance not just of the Bolshevik revolution but of revolution as such (rg.ru/2021/04/22/komu-i-zachem-nuzhen-byl-kult-lenina.html).
Putin’s approach represents a development of Yeltsin’s, Boryugov tells Valery Vyzhutovich. The first Russian president based his policies an “anti-Leninism” but did not support “the anti-cult because he had adopted a course toward social peace” by allowing for “the coexistence of contradictory rituals and symbols, one of which was the mausoleum.”
Initially, Vladimir Putin adopted much the same approach, but with time, he has shifted his position and views any celebration of Lenin as carrying with it the risk of celebrating revolution, something that the current Kremlin leader both fears and is committed from happening.
Bordyugov suggests that interest in Lenin is gradually fading but is unlikely ever to interfere not only because of the complexity of the Bolshevik leader but because of the various ways not only the leaders of the Russian state but others can make use of the image they create for him.
“One of the founders of the Soviet school of historians, Mikhail Pokrovsky called history ‘politics projected into the past,’” the Moscow historian says, adding that “this is one of the few of his judgments with which one can completely agree.” At the same time, however, “politics is a form of action positioning itself as history.”
Consequently, those who see themselves as historic figures necessarily must come to terms in one of many ways with past leaders, accepting them, rejecting them, or transforming them to fit their own needs whatever the historical record shows. All those options continue to be available – and to be exercised.