The New Russia may have finally embraced free-market capitalism, but Vladimir Lenin, founder of Soviet communism and one of the great murderers of the twentieth century, still casts a long shadow across the Russian landscape. Indeed, when I journeyed to Russia with my family last summer to research my forthcoming novel, Moscow Rules, it seemed Lenin was our constant companion. His statue still looms over the gates of the city that once bore his name, with its arm heroically extended as if poor Vladimir were forever trying to hail a cab. Streets still bear his name, as do squares, schools, parks, and sports clubs. And he still snoozes peacefully in his little rose-colored mausoleum at the edge of Red Square, a waxen figure in a bottle, well-dressed and neatly groomed.
One cannot enter a tourist bazaar without stumbling across all manner of Lenin paraphernalia, including ubiquitous metallic busts of the great man that peer inscrutably from dusty shelves. Sometimes, the head of his accomplice and successor, Joseph Stalin, stands next to him. In one market on the outskirts of Moscow, I saw a fine little statuette of Lenin seated in a chair, clearly thinking deep thoughts. I wondered what weighty matter was he pondering at the moment the artist conceived this iconic image. The annihilation of a village that would not bend to his will? The murder of a rival? Or perhaps he was thinking about killing a few meddlesome shopkeepers who didn’t quite see the wisdom in submitting themselves to “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Imagine if the scene were Berlin instead of Moscow. Imagine if, near Brandenburg Gate, there stood a hundred-foot-tall statue of Adolph Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute. Imagine if one could buy a bronze-plated bust of Hitler in a flea market in the Tiergarten. Imagine if one could window shop in the Hilter-Strasse or take lunch at an outdoor café in the Hitler-Platz. Or if one could view Hitler’s body—or his ashes, perhaps—in a sacred tomb at the edge of the Alexanderplatz. Editorial pages, interest groups, and political leaders throughout the civilized world would surely howl with indignation and anger. And rightly so.