Russian Nationalism Against Lenin Aceprensa

Russian Nationalism Against Lenin Aceprensa

January 21 marked the 100th anniversary of Lenin's death, but there was no official commemoration in Putin's Russia. That day, only a few hundred people came to the communist leader's mausoleum in Red Square.

The authorities' silence is another example of the dissatisfaction with Lenin on the part of President Vladimir Putin and his entourage, which has been openly expressed in recent years but became very clear when Putin accused Lenin of promoting Ukrainian nationalism because he was over considered the possibility that member republics of the USSR could exercise the right to self-determination and secede from the Union. This was provided for in the Soviet constitutions of 1924, 1936 and 1977.

The criticism of Lenin by Russian nationalism

This vision of an anti-nationalist Lenin does not correspond to historical reality. Although an independent Ukrainian republic emerged after the 1917 revolution, Soviet Russia and the Ukrainian Bolsheviks fought against it until they defeated it in 1921. The following year, Soviet Ukraine became part of the USSR, while Western Ukraine was integrated into the Polish state, which had gained independence in 1918. After World War II, all of Ukraine came under Soviet rule, which led to a change in borders. It was the work of Stalin, the man who reconquered territories from the former Tsarist Empire and expanded Moscow's sphere of influence in Europe.

The perception of Lenin in Putin's Russia is that of a leader who was more interested in proletarian internationalism than Russian nationalism and who was capable of sacrificing everything for the triumph of revolution on a global scale. The focus is on the exiled Lenin, who was surprised by the February 1917 revolution in Zurich, but was able to agree with the imperial government to return to Russia with an armored train and bring about the overthrow of the provisional government with a coup that led to the withdrawal of the Russians out of World War I, which would allow the Germans to concentrate on the Western Front against the Allies.

Nationalist fervor in Russia has been calling Lenin's figure into question for some time

Lenin and Trotsky, his negotiator, do not fare particularly well from a Russian nationalist perspective because they accepted the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918), which entailed the loss of territory under Russian sovereignty and the recognition, among other clauses, of independence provided. from Finland, Georgia and Ukraine. For Lenin, this humiliation for the Bolshevik regime had a temporary character, since it arose from the need to avoid the invasion of German troops into Russia and the overthrow of the communist government due to its military weakness, which Trotsky himself, coordinator, recognized about the actions of the Red Army. The incomprehension and protests that the treaty provoked were a necessary price to pay for Lenin and Trotsky, who then agreed on the meaning of world revolution. One had to be patient and limit oneself to waiting for an impending proletarian revolution in Germany that would put an end to the imperial regime. This fact would allow the Russians to regain lost territories.

Events did not unfold as the Bolshevik leaders expected, as the Weimar Republic, a parliamentary regime, was introduced in Germany in 1919, the same year that the Hungarian Communist Republic of Béla Kun failed, although it also met on those days For the first time in Moscow the Communist International, promoter of the Leninist dream of a world revolution. Finally, the Red Army was defeated by the Poles near Warsaw in 1920 and was unable to advance into Germany.

According to some historians, these failures affected Lenin's spirit, as his health became increasingly impaired by insomnia, headaches and nervous exhaustion, in addition to his excessive involvement in government affairs in order to consolidate the communist regime. His precarious health must also have been influenced by the three bullets in the attack on him by the anarchist Fanny Kaplan in August 1918. One of them got stuck in his neck and was not removed until 1922. In any case, Lenin's health deteriorated, and after several times he suffered a stroke and died on January 21, 1924.

Lenin’s “democratic centralism” applied to Russia

Nationalist fervor in Russia has been calling Lenin's figure into question for some time. However, Putin has no intention of throwing it into the “dustbin of history,” to use Trotsky’s well-known expression. The Russian president does not completely deny the founder of the Soviet state, because that would mean denying his own origins, although he has criticized his decisions related to the First World War or his order to execute the imperial family. Nor is he willing, for now, to remove Lenin from his mausoleum and bury him next to his mother in Saint Petersburg, as was speculated a few years ago, since, as he himself explained in 2005, this would be tantamount to telling the generations lived under the USSR who clung to false values. Therefore, it would take a longer period of time before the final whereabouts of Lenin's remains could be decided without causing unnecessary controversy.

However, in today's Russia it will be difficult not to continue to accuse Lenin of making the mistake of advocating for the self-determination of the people, which would have contributed to the weakening of Russia and the denial of its history. What Lenin actually detested was bourgeois nationalism, although he did not deny the importance of nationalism to the victory of the revolution in the Tsarist Empire. As was seen in the case of Ukraine, which was incorporated as a Soviet republic in 1922, it was later time to impose “democratic centralism” in all areas under Moscow's sovereignty, which was reflected in the functioning of the party.

According to the French historian Hélène Carrére d'Encausse, in her recommended biography of Lenin (published in 1998), at the VIIth Party Congress in April 1917, Stalin defended the right of nationalities to secede from Russia, as advocated by Lenin. However, then he made the following reservation, which was fully confirmed in the history of the USSR: “Nationalities are not obliged to exercise this right, and most importantly, its exercise must take into account the interests of the proletarian revolution.”

Therefore, after the founding of the USSR in 1924, the constitution of a no less centralized federal state was enacted. Since then, the federal state remained the sole organizer and guarantor of national rights. The above-mentioned historian recalls that the Leninist strategy was always the same: the defense of “proletarian self-determination” to the detriment of the original nationalist governments, which would enable a transition from the national republic to the soviet republic. The result will be the union with Russia, which will be enforced in the name of the security of the new state and political kinship with the Soviet Republic. Therefore, as Carrère rightly notes, Lenin always had the will to “preserve the community of fate of the peoples living in the space of the former empire” and was “the true architect of the plurinational federal state, officially founded in 1924.”

The figure of Stalin will not cease to be controversial, but a positive message is spreading from power due to his victory in World War II

Furthermore, Xi Jinping’s China is proof that “National Leninism” can exist.

Stalin's rehabilitation

The criticism of Lenin contrasts with a certain rehabilitation of Stalin, who, despite his Georgian origins, embodied Russia's resistance to Hitler's invasion in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, in which the communist leader did not hesitate to use the symbols of history , with Alexander Nevsky or Peter the Great, and the Orthodox faith, despite the regime's official atheism. The war in Ukraine is intended as a continuation of the same war in which the fate of Russia would also be at stake.

However, Stalin's rehabilitation is long overdue. In interviews that Putin gave to filmmaker Oliver Stone in 2017, the president asserted that Stalin was a complex figure and that he should not be demonized, comparing him to Oliver Cromwell, who established a tyrannical government but monuments in Britain had. and with Napoleon, who led France to disaster and despite everything continues to be admired by many French people. In other statements, Putin has not denied the terror of the Stalinist era, although he rejects the demonization of Stalin as a pretext for attacking Russia.

Perhaps this explains the December 2021 dissolution of the International Memorial Foundation for “terrorism and extremism,” the NGO that has been investigating the crimes of Soviet oppression and contemporary Russia since 1989, from the 1937 purges to the Chechen wars. Thus, a government-imposed monolithic version of the national past triumphed. Just as China cannot completely renounce the Maoist Cultural Revolution because it would undermine the regime's legitimacy, today's nationalist Russia cannot renounce Stalinism.

The figure of Stalin will not cease to be controversial, but a positive message will be spread from power, as his victory in World War II would have helped preserve Russia's identity. As is often the case in politics, the theory of collateral damage prevails, expressed in a sentence attributed to the communist leader: “When the wood is felled, the splinters fly.”