PRINT May 1980

In Search of Religion

The dead man lay, as dead men always lie, quite heavily, in corpselike fashion sinking his stiff limbs into the cushions of the coffin, with his eternally bent head on the pillow; he thrust forward, as dead men always do, his yellow, waxen forehead with bald patches on the sunken temples and a protruding nose which seemed to be pressing against the upper lip . . . his face was more handsome and, above all, more significant than it had been in life . . ."
Lev Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

“Lev Tolstoy is the mirror of the Russian Revolution.”
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Lev Tolstoy as the Mirror of the Russian Revolution

Chapter I
TWICE A YEAR, ONCE IN spring before the planting of the seed and in autumn when the fields have been harvested, the elders appear before the people. Those who gather on the Main Square before the walls of the fortress may witness the elders’ ascent, as if from below the earth, onto the grave of the Founding Leader who was embalmed many years ago by a special secret substance and whose visage has therefore remained incorruptible. The ritual of the elders’ appearance before the people has been worked out to the most insignificant detail and is repeated from year to year. First the military leader pronounces a speech. The drums roll, and the best warriors pass fully armed across the square. After them comes the procession of athletes and gymnasts. Then the simple people follow in holiday costume, with flowers in their hands (Fig. 1). Some of them carry portraits of the elders who stand on the grave. The people cry out, “Glory, praise be to you, our guides and leaders, glory to the eternally living Founder.” The ritual processions continue for several hours. The elders descend. Such are the holidays in the capital. Simultaneously in large and small provincial towns the same ritual is enacted, only on a more humble scale. The local governors appear before the people against a backdrop of portraits of the Founding Leader who lies imperishable in the capital. Once a year the country’s finest children between the ages of ten and 13 gather at the sepulchre for the initiation rites (Fig. 2). They take the oath, kiss the flag, and red scarves are tied about their shoulders. In accordance with tradition, newlyweds come to the grave to pay their respects immediately following the marriage ceremony. On days when the tomb is open to the public, more than 12,000 people pass through it.

This is not a story about the life and customs of ancient civilizations or contemporary Afro-Asian tribes. We have described fairly precisely several customs of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, known in the vernacular as Russia. We dare to speak of this because we know that the peculiarities of Soviet life have taken on planet-wide significance in our century. And the ritual alternation of holidays and everyday life defines the physiognomy of a people in many ways; relatively new state rituals are superimposed over ancient Christian rites and pagan traditions preserved over the ages. In Russia two new Soviet holidays, the 1st of May (Day of International Workers’ Solidarity) and the 7th of November (Day of the Great October Socialist Revolution) have become the basic holidays of the people. These celebrations are essentially the visual incarnations of a complex, ideological construction erected through the efforts of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and hundreds of lesser known or entirely nameless activists, and then improved upon by the popular imagination.

“A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Communism . . .”—so begins the first and fundamental document of the international socialist movement, the Communist Manifesto. It is not an accident that at the foundation of the so-called theory of Marxism lies a somewhat mystical formula which links the superstitions of the past with a future happiness. The implementation of German theory in Russian reality served to expose the mystical nature of Teutonic thought.

Communism’s life on earth begins in Russia, in Moscow, at the Kremlin walls, on Red Square, whose ideological center is, as the Soviet ideologues tell us, the Mausoleum. “As everyone knows, the whole world begins at the Kremlin,” say the words of a poem which opens Soviet children’s textbooks. The dead and immortal Lenin lies in the Mausoleum. Soviet dissident writer Andrei Siniaysky, who now lives in Paris, has written: “What does it mean, this Marxist worship of a corpse skillfully preserved and placed in the center of existence, the foundation of the universe? What is the idea behind Lenin’s Mausoleum? . . . What do they mean to say by this? That Lenin died, but his body and his word are imperishable? That the worshipping of a corpse is in fact the religion of victorious materialism, with all its resulting murderous aftermath?” We will attempt to answer these questions.

Christ’s earthly death laid the foundation for the social institution of the Church. Lenin’s death began the earthly life of Communist praxis. As it turned out in both instances, the deceased didn’t really die. Christ, on the one hand, had to prove this by appearing before Mary Magdalene and suffering the unpleasant sensation of the Apostle Thomas’ dirty fingers being stuck in his wounds. On the other hand, anyone can convince himself of Lenin’s immortality; according to official Soviet statistics, by 1972, 73 million visitors had seen the incorruptible body in the Mausoleum. Of course, some of them, poisoned by scientific skepticism, may say that they only saw a corpse. But they will be mistaken. “Lenin is alive forever” and “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live” (Mayakovsky) are two basic slogans of Party literature for the masses. Yes, and what is life? We find the answer in Engels’ “Anti-Dühring”: “Life is the mode of existence of albuminous bodies.” Lenin’s albuminous body has been preserved through the efforts of Soviet scientists, its mode of existence fairly unusual—but all the same it is a mode, and it is existence.

Lenin died in the winter of 1924 (Fig. 3). An uninterrupted flow of humanity filed through the building where his body lay in state for three days and nights. An artist who was present in the room where people paid their last respects recalls the scene: “In the course of three days and three nights I saw people have the most unbelievable fits of hysterics. There were so many of them that it became necessary to set up hospital beds in a separate area.” On the day of the funeral the newspaper Pravda quoted one woman as saying: “Lenin, here, take my heart, my brain, my blood, my muscles . . . take them, but just look, if only out of the corner of your eye, listen, if only with a bit of your ear, and you’ll hear how much we all love you.” The people’s frenzy reached a high point, as occurred later too, when Stalin died. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection . . .” (Romans, 6:5). Not many believed in Lenin’s resurrection at the time, and therefore the death of one man was taken as death in general, everyone’s death. “It is imperative,” wrote the workers and engineers of one factory, “that Ilyich physically remain with us so that the unbounded masses of workers may see him.”

The juxtaposition of the words of the Apostle Paul with those prompted by the events of the Revolution might seem a bit strained to the reader. However, we are not the first to have called attention to such similarities. In 1920 a Czechoslovakian journalist Ivan Olbracht, member of the Communist International and personally acquainted with Lenin, wrote the following: “Who is he—our Vladimir Ilyich Lenin? . . . In vain I seek an historical analogy and the only image the least bit similar to him I can find is in Paul, Saint Paul, who, with the same passion becoming unshakeable law, with the same rigorous consistency of a brilliant builder, is creating a kingdom, whose ruler will be not him, but the dead Nazarene. . . .”

Officially, the Communist party fulfilled the people’s will. After much to-do, almost accidently in the provinces, a man was found, who with much convincing agreed to undertake the embalming process. His name was Vorobyov. Vorobyov (1876–1937) was a professor at Kharkhov University and one of the great scholars of the 20th century. His method of embalming has since been kept a secret. The powers that be hold mummification to be a special privilege of the Soviet system, the secret of Russian genius, one of the unique accomplishments of the center of world Communism. Egyptian priests kept the composition of embalming fluid a secret for thousands of years, but mummification was widely practiced. Not only were the bodies of Pharaohs preserved, but also those of their wives, of bureaucrats, and of simple people and cats, dogs, crocodiles, etc. The Egyptian image of the afterlife, which differs vastly from the Soviet one, necessitated the body’s preservation because of the belief in the presence of an immortal soul. Burial furthered the intimacy of the soul’s ties to the body, and the mummy was inaccessible to outsiders. Any person deliberately or even accidentally entering the tomb was accursed and subject to the death penalty. As far as we know, Marxism-Leninism denies the existence of any soul whatsoever, be it mortal or immortal, as it denies anything which does not directly and logically flow from the human anatomy. This view is shared, of course, not only by Communists.

The Mausoleum in Moscow was built by A.V. Shchusev, a Russian architect who had been renowned before the Revolution. Shchusev was born in 1873 and received an excellent architectural education in St. Petersburg. In 1910 he was honored with the rank of Academician of Architecture for his restorations of 12th-century churches. He won fame for his design of an orthodox church in Moscow, which was a masterful stylization of Old Russian architecture in its Byzantine period.

Three different mausoleums were designed and built by Shchusev on the same spot. The first two were intended to be temporary and were wooden structures. They can be judged only by photographs and the descriptions of observers. Whether he was overwhelmed by the extraordinary nature of his task, influenced by the constructivist fashion of the ’20s or whether it was due to lack of time and means, is not known, but in any event, this experienced old stylizer designed his first version of the Mausoleum in a sternly modernist style—a literally understood Cubism. The first Mausoleum consisted of three separate edifices: a central cube, closed on three faces, and two parallelepipeds placed symmetrically on either side, with large doors on each of their facades (Fig. 4). The contents of the Mausoleum were situated below ground level, and upon entering the left-hand building, the visitor had to descend a stairway about ten feet, then pass by the sarcophagus, ascend and exit from the right-hand side building. The central cube served as the roof of the burial vault. It was ornamented with the short inscription LENIN in black wooden block-letters and was crowned with a small, three-step pyramid, an allusion, it would seem, to the six-step pyramid of the Pharaoh Djoser. In the Egyptian prototype the funeral room containing the Pharaoh’s mummy was likewise situated in the earth, below the foundation. The first Mausoleum existed for only a few months, and construction began once again on the same spot in the spring of 1924. Despite the frightful cold and the short time it stood (the public was admitted for only a month and a half), 100,000 people managed to visit the first Mausoleum. Three basic ideas were laid forth in this version that were retained in the other two: the location of the building on Red Square, the pyramid form, and the underground placement of the inside viewing area.

The Mausoleum stands in the center of a small cemetery, which in official language is called “the revolutionary necropolis.” Immediately following the Revolution, revolutionaries who died in street battles began to be entombed at and in the Kremlin walls. The tradition of ceremonial funerals on the main square continues to this day, and astronauts and high party officials who manage to hold their jobs till death are immured in the Kremlin walls. The revolutionary necropolis is growing, slowly but surely.

In Christian tradition the deceased are buried within the churchyard, close to the church. Lenin’s Mausoleum functions as the Church edifice within this cemetery. However, in contrast to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy which see the Church as the reflection of a Heavenly Church, the Mausoleum is a unique and unreproducible Communist temple, the spiritual center of world Communism, and it contains the god himself. Soviet Communists invented the term the cult of personality for their own needs in the struggle between personalities within the upper echelons of the party apparatus. However, if the personality (individual) leaves the struggle and yet the cult remains, then we have every reason to speak of a form of religious worship. The deification of heroes was a widespread phenomenon in pagan times. Having been deified, these heroes became gods in the full sense of the word. Lenin’s case is somewhat different. He is unique and central.1 That his visage mingles with those of Marx and Engels changes nothing. Taken together, they are analogous to the Christian trinity, in which the cult of the one who died and was resurrected clearly predominates. One could say that Communism is a pagan version of a monotheistic religion.

The second wooden Mausoleum stood for five years and was an extraordinarily strange hybrid (Fig. 5). Shchusev united the three separate buildings of the first mausoleum into one and increased the overall size several fold. The Cubist style was left intact, and the structure was ornamented with panels reminiscent of late 19th-century wardrobes. The upper level of the pyramid was crowned with a portico of unknown significance. Such “houses” atop pyramids are characteristic, interestingly, of the temples of pre-Columbian America. The Aztecs, who were sun-worshippers, carried out human sacrifices in them. We do not know what transpires on the roof of Lenin’s Mausoleum, and we can find only one material explanation of its existence: the upper portico probably covers vents, which must be necessary given the comparatively small size of the building through which thousands of people pass every week.

An important ideological detail, which was retained in the final one, appeared in the second version of the Mausoleum: a rostrum was added to the roof of the pyramid’s first step. Since that time, the leaders have appeared at this tribune, sometimes to give speeches but more often to wave their hands and smile at their people proceeding across Red Square in sleek rows. The people in their turn wave their hands and smile at their leaders. It’s harder on the leaders than on the people; they are obliged to stand in one spot for four to five hours at a stretch, at a time of year when it is quite cold in Moscow. Most likely the interior of the Mausoleum has been redesigned to include a bathroom, kitchen and perhaps beds so that the elderly leaders may rest. We must repeat that these are only our conjectures as everything concerning the architectural plan, construction, or interior of the mausoleum is a government secret. Visitors are allowed no more than a minute and a half in the burial vault, taking photographs is categorically prohibited, and not one photograph of the interior, the sarcophagus or the eternally living leader lying in the Mausoleum is known to exist. A bit strange, isn’t it?

The only illustration we can offer the reader is a black-and-white reproduction of a sketch for the interior of the burial vault that has an empty sarcophagus in the middle, and a sketch of one of the staircases (Fig. 6). The artist’s name and the year of the drawing are not given. It would seem that it relates to the last, stone version of the Mausoleum which was erected in 1930 and stands to this day, virtually unchanged on the outside. The present Mausoleum was built from huge blocks of grey, red and black granite (Fig. 7). It is even more Cubist in appearance than its predecessors. This is perhaps the most original construction of the 1920s. However, the most important thing about the Mausoleum is, of course, its contents. The building is emphatically solid—clearly built to withstand time. But what will happen to the body? Soviet writers answer evasively: “We can only hope that Ilyich’s body will keep for still a long time to come.” But for how long? Centuries? Millennia? Until what time? Reasoning analogically, we can find an answer in Paul: “. . . for he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (Corinthians 15: 25, 26)

Chapter II
In contrast to the Bible, which posits an earthly paradise in the past, Socialism turns this simple scheme upside down and promises an earthly paradise in the future. But how can this straight-line Communist model of historical development be combined with another piece of Biblical wisdom, i.e., that everything comes round full circle? “Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:10) Marx and Engels were responsible for bringing the two together.

The divine progenitors of Russian Socialism, the wise grey-haired elders, saw the historical development of humanity as a spiral, resembling not only the Tower of Babylon, but Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International as well. According to this metaphorical schema, Socialism is a dialectical repetition of prehistorical Communism, only at another, “higher” level of the ascent to the lofty goal. As a result of a governmental “coup d’état,” the top and bottom changed places. The terms high and low lose their theological rigor in the atheist mind (god vs. devil, good vs. evil, heaven vs. hell), and we observe that the “height of the development of human society” repeated the “lowest” primitive religious forms, which do indeed resemble phenomena of prehistorical societies. Followers of the theory of archetypes would undoubtedly explain this fact by an appeal to the secret depths of the collective unconscious. Some researchers have noted that people who fall prey to obsessive paranoia frequently draw symbols which can be found in ancient cave drawings.

The human skull, a symbol of death, was frequently used in popular posters of professional Russian artists as well. For example, the well known battle-painter Vereshchagin employed a pyramid of human skulls in his painting The Apotheosis of War. During the first bloody Russian Revolution of 1905, which Lenin later called a “dress rehearsal” for the October Revolution, the artist Custodiev did an illustration which was widely reproduced at the time. In it, a huge skeleton, symbol of death and terror, walks amid the houses and barricades of Moscow (Fig. 8). What is curious is that after the 1917 revolution, Custodiev created a painting (one of his most famous), entitled The Bolshevik, which compositionally is very close to the other (Fig. 9). This painting also shows a giant moving from right to left across the canvas through the streets of Moscow, crushing people under his step. But this time death has been incarnated as the giant of Russian fairy tales and symbolizes the Bolshevik Party, the word bolshevik being derived from the Russian word for big. In analyzing the mythic phenomena of mass psychoses, it is tempting to see the entire collective as one neurotic giant, especially such a collective as Soviet society, in which the fear of death from starvation, or an inadvertently spoken word, has enslaved the popular consciousness since the first years of “war communism.” However, despite the attractiveness of the theory of archetypes, we shall appeal not to Jung but to Lunacharsky, a Communist, for explication.

Immediately following the Revolution, Lenin appointed Anatoly Lunacharsky as Minister of Culture and Enlightenment. The theoretical writings and activities of this extremely erudite man show that many of the paganistic phenomena of mass Soviet culture did not spring from the mystical depths of genetic memory but instead were consciously implanted from above by educated members of the Communist elite who were well acquainted with historical research into pagan cults and rites. It will suffice to quote A. Bogdanov, a colleague and personal friend of Lunacharsky, who became the ideologue of Proletkult shortly after the Revolution: “In the profoundness of the idea, the ancient Aryans’ laws of Mana are much higher than Christianity, and their views of death, as expressed in funeral rites, without the shadow of a doubt surpass Christianity in nobility, greatness and beauty.” Lunacharsky was not quite so critical of Christianity when he stated as Minister in 1920 that “. . . no one can deny that Communist organizations existed in early Christianity. No one can deny the existence of socialist tendencies in some Christian sects of the 16th century.”

Lunacharsky was the Party’s highest authority in questions of culture and art, and he even allowed himself to argue with Lenin. In most of his critical and theoretical works, this Party esthete attempted to devise ways of putting traditional forms of culture, art and religion at the service of the Party. The future Commissar believed that the scientific terminology of socialism was inaccessible to the illiterate masses and that socialist teachings would be more readily accepted if the Party could formulate them in the poetic language of art, as well as in mythological images. Though Lunacharsky wrote many articles on this issue, the idea of a new, “fifth” religion is most clearly laid out in the book Religion and Socialism, published in 1906. Dmitry Merezhskovsky, a right-wing poet, astutely realized even prior to the Revolution that the main significance of this new positivist religion would be death, i.e., the destruction of people: “The religion of a person who wants to become a god is, of course, a deception. The point of departure of this phenomenon is ‘only man exists,’ there is no God, God is nothing, and therefore, ‘Man-God’ means ‘Man-Nothing.’ Imaginary deification leads to the actual destruction of individuals.”

Lunacharsky’s theory, upheld by such authorities and cohorts of Lenin’s as Gorky and Bogdanov, came to be known as “God-construction.” This term precisely defines the essence of the inferiority complex of all Soviet culture and art, and has become a part of Soviet rites and rituals. In contrast to Christianity, whose adherents believe in God become man, socialists came to believe in man become God. Several months after the Revolution, the magazine Creativity published a photograph of Lenin with the caption “Heart and Brain of the Revolution,” also accompanied by the amateur verse of A. Rumiantsev, a worker:

Praise be to you, the creator of construction
Praise be to you, who with a look of rapture
Build a temple of rare miracles . . .
You are the greatest architect . . .
You are Russia’s heavenly vaults
You are the light of truth! You are the people itself!

This light, this halo was seen by Lunacharsky as well: “The structure of Lenin’s skull is truly entrancing. One must look at him carefully to appreciate the physical power, the contour of the forehead’s colossal dome, and to notice, I would say, a sort of physical emanation of light from its surface” (Stories about Lenin). The shining, geometrically stylized, blood-red head of the Leader can be seen all over Russia—on highways and buildings, in factories and offices, and in city and provincial clubs. All of them are replicas, in varying scale, of one huge canonical profile created in 1961 by the artist Mylnikov for the stage of the Kremlin’s Congressional Palace (Fig. 10). The ritual-bureaucratic spectacle of the eternally living Leader’s heirs is enacted against this symbolic backdrop in front of a carefully chosen, dedicated audience. Lenin’s head is depicted on a red banner, and the sun’s rays radiate from it.

According to the official slogan, “Communism—is the lofty future of all humanity,” and so the artists of Lunacharsky’s department began to portray not only Lenin but also the “lofty goal” in the form of the sun (Fig. 11).2 There is no need to prove that sun cults and sun-worship are some of the oldest manifestations of the religious instinct, and that they were not confined to the countries of the pyramids on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. It is interesting to note that, in the Slays’ pre-Christian beliefs, round “pancakes” were symbols of the sun-god Yarila. At the spring equinox this god was eaten in fantastic quantities, that is, of course, if the grain harvest was sufficient.3 Thus, in the subconscious of the Russian people, Communism is associated not so much with a fruitless theoretical ideal as with a fully material symbol of a happy time (somewhere in the future) when they will no longer live under the constant threat of hunger—a time when it will no longer be necessary to lust after a tin can of god, lying in a granite refrigerator. The propagandistic symbol of Russian monoatheism, the solar halo, indissoluably linked Communism and Lenin (who had become that very corpse whose specter wandered about Europe), and this explains why prelogical thought found it so natural that the leader, deified after death, could not leave the earth. God’s place is in paradise, and paradise was promised to them not in heaven but on this earth. If Lenin didn’t go to paradise, then paradise would come to Lenin. In order for “the reign of good and light” to come to pass, however, it is necessary to struggle: “We went into the bloody fateful battle” and “Dearest, we closed your eagle eyes ourselves” sang Russian Communists after their secret sessions. Participants recall that at these words a miserly, masculine tear always rose in Lenin’s eye.

In accordance with the mythological beliefs of many people, the power of darkness is the enemy of light. According to such a steadfast structural principle of the human mind, Lenin’s plan for the electrification of Russia becomes one form of the struggle with the “unenlightened” dark. Ancient symbolic depictions of this struggle are known to exist, and a particularly interesting example was found in a cave in Siberia,where a dragon is shown devouring the sun. But Lenin is the sun, and a sun which shines not only during the day! The illuminated face of the Leader can be seen projected in the night sky of the capital on holidays (Fig. 12). “Know that I see everything from on high,” go the words of a popular Soviet song. Even at night the powers of light do not flag in the battle with the powers of darkness. It is known that Stalin frequently did not sleep and would wake his bureaucrats with nocturnal telephone calls. The professional fighters of evil kept vigil with him as well; nocturnal arrests and nighttime interrogations became a tradition of the Russian secret police at that time. But Chekists, unlike Lenin, are not immortal. In Kiev the world’s only memorial to a secret police force and the monument (by the sculptor Vuchetich) to their first director, Felix Dzerzhinsky, which stands in the center of Moscow, testify to this (Fig. 13).

The theme of a hero victorious in single combat with a dragon is as old as the world. However, in Soviet art the “many-headed hydra of world imperialism” became the symbol of evil (Fig. 14); and the Communists who fought it acquired the characteristics of the knights of Russian epics, and are frequently depicted in the style of Russian icons (Fig. 15). As every Soviet child knows, the path to the final victory of Lenin’s ideas is strewn not only with the enemy’s corpses but also with those of beautiful, brave, pure and kind heroes as well. Not far from the Mausoleum, on one of the Kremlin walls, hangs a memorial plaque erected to the memory of those who perished in battle (Fig. 16). In the background of the shining sun is the figure of a strange seraph. (Or perhaps the angel of death?) It carries a red banner and has six wings, which for some reason sprout from its buttocks. This painted cement relief is the work of the sculptor Konenkov and was put up in 1918. In an anonymous editorial, entitled “The Sun Doesn’t Die,” devoted to the victims of the “holy struggle,” the magazine Creativity wrote the following: “The Sun of the Revolution turned them to ash. But It did not die. It lives and will live and the greater the number of heroes It turns to ash, the greater will be the numbers of their followers, until all of humanity has become their disciple, having come to believe that it is impossible to live without the Sun of Truth.” Further on, speaking of a “monument not created by human hands to our beloved leader,” the editor wrote, “This will be a monument to Freedom that has been won in battle. A monument to the Sun, which doesn’t die.”

And so the mummified Sun doesn’t die, but what is to be done, how are other heroes, simple mortals to be preserved? De Chardin once wittily noted a certain peculiarity of the atheist world view, which leads to the idea that after death people continue to live in their accomplishments. The Futurist poet and Communist Mayakovsky, whom Stalin called the “best, and most talented poet of our Soviet era,” expressively formulated this idea: “We live so that in dying we will be incarnated in steamships, verses and other long-lived affairs.” Expressing his enthusiasm for members of the Communist Party, the poet wrote, “If nails were made of these people, there would be no stronger nails on this earth.” It is important here to call attention to the pseudonym Stalin, formed from the Russian word for steel. The name points up certain well-known characteristics of the man’s personality, to which sentiments of “bourgeois abstract humanism” were alien. The head of the secret police, Dzerzhinsky, was called none other than “Iron Felix” by his friends. It is also interesting to note that the first two powerful steamships produced by the USSR were named the “Felix Dzerzhinsky” and the “Joseph Stalin.” And Mayakovsky himself was reincarnated not only in verse but also in the form of a splendiferous underground palace, the Mayakovsky subway station. The Moscow Metropolitan Transport System in its entirety bears Lenin’s name. The Order of Lenin, as is the case with other awards in Russia, is conferred not only on representatives of the new aristocracy but on newspapers, magazines, factories and bureaucratic institutions as well.

Frequently, medals and awards are given posthumously. In such instances, if the body has not yet been consigned to the earth, the tokens of distinction are placed in the hero’s coffin during the funeral. No nation in this century has lost such an enormous number of people to violent deaths as has the Soviet Union. Think about it for a minute and count—the Revolution and the Civil War, then the incessant waves of repression—first against the remainders of the old aristocracy and private entrepreneurs, then against the peasants, public servants, intelligentsia, against Communists themselves, and lastly against any independent and active element of the population. Finally, this bloody bacchanal, a virtual “Dance of Death,” reached its mad culmination during the Second World War. This country—one sixth of the earth’s surface—is literally covered with memorials to the victims of bloody events. Thus it is not only the ideological symbol and a cult of a dead leader but also the terrible history of Soviet Russia itself which explains the exceptional place the cult of death occupies in this atheist culture.

Chapter III
In the short span of the 60 years since the Revolution, the theme of funerals and heroic deaths has spread in Soviet art, in painting in particular, further than has ever before been seen anywhere in the world. Despite the opinion that Socialist realism is an art of superficial optimism, an overwhelming number of art exhibits and magazines portray these tragic themes. Closely adhering to this, there are the countless paintings on the subject of arrests, interrogations, capital punishment, and conflicts which directly precede a fatal denouement.

You can see an ancient mythological motif—brother rising against brother in a painting (1933) by one of the greatest masters of Socialist Realism, Sokolov-Skalia. This is not Cain and Abel, however, but a typical scene from the history of the Civil War, in which often one member of a family belonged to the Red Army and another to the White. (Again we have historical color symbolism, forcing us to recall the medieval war of the Red and White Roses). Like many Soviet realist paintings, the composition is determined by the principles of theatrical mise-en-scène, in which the greater the artist’s skill, the easier it is to guess what happened “before” and what will occur “after” the frozen scene.

There is another equally ancient and equally frequent motif in Soviet painting—that of the Oedipus complex. The favorite hero of Soviet children is the “pioneer” (analogous to a Boy Scout) Pavlik Morozov, who reported his father for concealing grain which the Bolsheviks had requisitioned from the peasant population. As a result, the old anti-Communist was arrested and executed, and the ideological youngster was murdered by counterrevolutionary friends of his father. The battle with dragons is transformed in real life into a battle with next of kin. The murder of a son is not a new theme in Russian art, however. History provides the artist with many dramatic conflicts. The best known painting of the Russian artist Ilya Repin depicts Ivan the Terrible killing his son. The Russian Tsar Peter the Great also sent his son to the other world, but as he belonged to a more civilized time, he didn’t do it with his own hands, but turned his heir over to a professional executioner. The reasons for the murder were not simply primitive emotion; ideological considerations played a part. Like the Soviet leaders, Peter wanted to appropriate fashions and military technology from the West, whereas his son Alexei wanted to import Western ideology into Russia as well. (At the time this meant Catholicism, not capitalism.) An important prerevolutionary artist, Nikolai Ge, was inspired by this historical event to create an equally well-known painting in which Peter is depicted interrogating the Tsarevich Alexei. It is interesting that during Stalin’s time these dismal paintings were so popular that for some reason they were reproduced on boxes of chocolates. Stalin removed himself even further from Ivan the Terrible’s uncivilized methods than had Peter I. When the German military command offered to exchange Stalin’s captured son for the son of a fascist general, Stalin refused. His son was murdered not by a compatriot, but a foreign executioner. So, prognoses of pessimists notwithstanding, customs and traditions have become more humane and civilized.

Depictions of capital punishment have been popular in the history of art, particularly Christian art, but in socialist ideology the instrument of death has not become so clear and pure a symbol of belief as the cross. Socialism’s symbol is a crossed hammer and sickle, which can be interpreted not only as death but as castration. In ancient Greek myth it was with a sickle, in fact, that the god Cronus castrated his father. Thus, in the context of Communist theories concerning the inevitability of the historical process, Socialism is also the deification of historical time (Cronus meaning time in Greek) as well as death. Unlike Lunacharsky, however, we will not play with ancient symbols, as this could lead us into the dark wilds of metaphorical speculation. We will return to historical facts.

Among the various types of capital punishment with which both Soviet history and art are so rich, depictions of the gallows are for some reason more successful than those of the no-less-popular firing squad. (Perhaps because it is difficult for Soviet realists to compete with Goya’s and Manet’s classical renderings of this subject.) One of these gallows played a fateful role in the history of the Russian monarchy when Alexander Ulyanov, member of the terrorist group “The People’s Will” and Lenin’s older brother, was hung in 1887. According to the memoirs of people close to Lenin, this death so affected the 17-year-old Volodya, that he swore to fight against the powers of darkness with more successful methods. In 1972 the young artist Tatyana Nazarenko received one of the highest honors—the Lenin Prize of the Communist Youth Group (Komsomol)—for her group portrait of the participants in the assassination of Alexander II. The execution of another Komsomol heroine, the partisan Zoya Kosmodemianskaya, was also a favorite theme for Soviet artists of the ’40s and ’50s (Fig. 17). Changing silhouettes and construction from epoch to epoch—prerevolutionary, revolutionary and postrevolutionary—the gallows provides an inexhaustible source for dramatic talents, illustrating as well in quite an original way the history of Russian fashion in the dress of the victims.

It is extremely curious, both from a psychological and a formal standpoint, that once having undertaken to use this fascinating theme, Soviet artists nonetheless avoid showing the heroes hanging. As a rule, they depict the moment just before death, when the heroes spout fierce monologues or reduce their enemies and spectators to ash with their fiery gazes. Soviet artists also frequently portray friends and followers of the executed hero in the act of removing his or her body from the gallows, or angrily grieving over the body of the victim of the powers of darkness, once it has been removed from the noose. In Christian art, as we know, in addition to the events directly preceding Christ’s crucifixion, the removal from the cross and mourning over Christ’s body is a no less traditional subject than is the crucifixion itself. It is possible that the fleeting nature of death by hanging does not allow Socialist Realism to unfold the dramatic possibilities of the process of death itself. Death from the bullet is a far more fruitful theme in this respect, since mortal wounds permit a more lengthy death scene, with such expressive, tried and true attributes as the hero’s dying gestures, i.e., theatrical details which give the realistic talent room to play. Petrov-Vodkin’s classic painting The Commissar’s Death falls into this category (Fig. 18). It was painted at the beginning of the ’20s, at the dawn of Soviet painting. It’s interesting to compare it to Moiseenko’s picture, Victory, painted in the ’70s (Fig. 19). We can see that allusions to Christian art are growing stronger in Socialist Realism. The positioning of the dying victor’s body forces us to recall the figure of Christ in Michelangelo’s late Pietà. A contemporary master of Soviet painting, M. Savitsky, likewise turns to a Christian interpretation of the events of the Second World War in his work The Partisan Madonna.

The earliest experiment in the Socialists’ use of Christian imagery is Malyshev’s aquarelle, We sing this song to the madness of the brave (a word for word quote from Gorky’s “Song of the Storm Petrel”). The painting portrays a Social-Revolutionary martyr tied to a cross and licked by tongues of flame. This work created a double sensation in 1906 when the censor removed it from an exhibition of the Society of Petersburg Artists. The paintings of Soviet artists who develop the interrogation theme also have their source in such prerevolutionary treatments of Christian subject matters. Nikolai Ge, painter of Peter I Interrogates His Son, is known for another prerevolutionary pearl of Russian art, What Is Truth, in which Pontius Pilate is shown questioning the arrested Christ. Of course, time does not stand still. The characters change, and the nature of the questions asked in such situations changes as well. Together with the concretization of outmoded abstract ideas about truth, the questions asked by contemporary researchers have also become more concrete.

No doubt the questions are not at all abstract in loganson’s Interrogation of Communists, which was perhaps the most popular painting of the 1930s (Fig. 20). This work of art became the classical prototype for numerous Soviet paintings on similar themes. The proud poses of a young girl in the blossom of her youth and a man in full possession of his powers both of whom have been arrested, became almost canonic renderings of the moment preceding the hero’s death. It could be conjectured that this canvas’ secret of success was that its Soviet viewers, both contemporaries of Stalin and potential victims of his purges, saw heroes on both sides of the interrogator’s table.

The depiction of ceremonial processions at funerals, however, was a truly original genre which has no clear source in the art of other eras and religions. In 1906 Isaac Brodsky, the founder of Stalin’s academism and a student of Repin, painted Red Funeral, portraying a glum procession carrying the coffins of the heroes of the barricades, wrapped in red material. It was at the time of the first Russian revolution that political demonstrations combined with funeral processions—two important holiday rites of Soviet Russia—to begin the tradition of ritual processions to the Leader’s grave. From Brodsky’s time on, coffins wrapped in red cloth occupied art important place at official exhibitions, for along with the folds of red banners they provided almost the only decorative relief in the lackluster coloring of most of the paintings. In choosing the color red as their symbol, the Communists acquired an exceptionally effective instrument for unconsciously influencing the Russian people. In Russian the words red and beautiful have the same root. Everyone knows of Soviet Russia’s red flag, but few realize the significance of the Soviet Union’s second flag. It is a flag of mourning whose red expanse is bordered with a black stripe. The existence of a second flag, i.e., the duality of the main state symbol, opens up dark depths of the atheist subconscious into which not many disciples of pure fact would care to look. This flag of mourning is hung all over Russia for 24 hours each January 21st, the anniversary of Lenin’s death.

This very red flag with its black stripe is the compositional and color center of V. Serov’s painting depicting the funeral procession accompanying Lenin’s coffin (Fig. 21). The crowd moves from right to left in Serov’s painting as it does in Brodsky’s Red Funeral. In Sokolov-Skalia’s painting, The Road from the Hillock (the place near Moscow where the sun set on the life of the Leader of Peoples), the crowd moves in this very same direction from Ilyich’s coffin (Fig. 22).

It is exceedingly interesting, in comparing artistic treatments of the dead in different periods of Soviet art, that we find the deceased always lying with his head to the left, regardless of whether or not he was a victim of the Revolution, one of the two world wars, or died in time of peace (Figs. 23, 24, 25). It seems that here we are dealing with a phenomenon called “a cartographic world view.” Since childhood we have assimilated a geographical view of the world which contains a left (west)-right (east) opposition. Thus, on the left is the country of the setting sun—the afterlife realm of myth, and it is facing in this direction that the fallen heroes lie—following the sun of Communism, the eternally alive Leader. But finally the rank and file hero has been covered with earth, and the reader might surmise that having shown the events preceding death, death itself, and the funeral, the Soviet artist would leave the victims of his art to rest in peace. Alas, nothing of the sort . . .

The painting Immortality by the Ukrainian artist T. Glembievskaia was the showpiece of a 1973 Moscow exhibit dedicated to the 55th anniversary of the Soviet Armed Forces (Fig. 26). (The official name of this grandiose salon was “Guarding the Motherland.”) This boldly executed painting depicts the Russian tradition of annual memorial wakes on the graves of the deceased. A white tablecloth set with food and drink is laid at the foot of a standard two-meter high obelisk decorated with a star. Friends and relatives of the dead man, in this case a soldier, sit on the ground on either side of the “table,” and the deceased himself is in effect at the head of it.

The Russian Orthodox Church struggled unsuccessfully against the pagan tradition of memorial wakes. Combining the wake with Orthodox Easter festivities, people would go to the cemeteries and feast upon colored eggs, kulich and vodka on the graves of their dearly beloved. Ancient pagan customs are particularly obvious in the full glass of vodka and the snack (for example, a large piece of sausage) left untouched during the feast—though Russia is a country frequently on the edge of starvation. This food is for the deceased and is left on the grave when the celebrators leave. Thus, having shed several Christian layers, the emotional pagan custom of honoring the dead entered its second childhood in the country of victorious progress, in the most forward-thinking of all societies on earth.

Chapter IV
When should the people’s conservative tendencies be used, and when should they be eliminated? This is the biggest problem facing the ideological apparatus of the Communist leadership in Russia.

Every government endeavors to manipulate public opinion. In Russia, where the state has concentrated in its hands virtually the entire economic wealth of the country, this is much easier to do than in other places, but it is not quite as simple as it might seem at first glance. The first and best device for convincing the masses is repression. There is no need to point out the virtuosity with which the Soviet government has made use of this method. The other method—propaganda—has been carried on much less effectively. Countless published party resolutions complain of the shortcomings of ideological work and call for the strengthening and improvement of “visual agitation”—a party term for all the visual arts. Failures in art have pursued the party officials from the beginning of Soviet power.

Several months following the Revolution, Lenin worked out a “Plan for Monumental Propaganda” and demanded that Lunacharsky implement it. In his plan Lenin referred to a 16th-century Italian novel by Tomazzo Campanella, City of the Sun. This famous utopian novel describes an ideal country where social equality reigns; its happy inhabitants stroll along streets which are entirely covered with edifying inscriptions, instructive sculptures and educational paintings. Lunacharsky proceeded to draw up a list of “individuals to whom monuments should be erected in Moscow and in other cities.” The list contained 66 names. But the plan, alas, came a cropper. Lenin wrote indignant notes, sent telegrams and threatened to imprison the officials responsible, all to no avail. A few plaster monuments were put up in Moscow and Petrograd. Some of them (for example, a bust of Bakunin), were Cubist in style. According to contemporaries, horses bolted at the mere sight of the Cubist Bakunin, and devout elderly people, upon passing it, turned away, crossed themselves and spat to the side as one is supposed to do upon meeting the Devil. This monument had to be covered with a cloth to avoid provoking an already uneasy population. Finally, an anarchist group blew it up because it deformed the image of their beloved theoretician. Several dozen realistic monuments simply remained unnoticed. Inscriptions on buildings such as “The revolution is a whirlwind which blows back all who resist it” or “Respect for antiquity is undoubtedly one of the signs of true enlightenment” simply did not arouse the expected popular enthusiasm. The people did not appreciate Leninist ideas. The sublime and uniquely true theory of Marxism needed to be translated into a language accessible to the masses. The translation of “Das Kapital” from German into Russian was of no help in a country with high illiteracy, and for literate people its reading also presents definite difficulties. The task of explication of Leninist ideas was finally laid upon artists, among whom a fight promptly ensued.

The “modernists” convinced the government of the necessity of creating new forms—simple and geometrical, and thus, in their thinking, accessible to the masses. They developed projects for a glass and granite paradise. Traditionalists didn’t propose anything, but appealed to common sense and fought with the formalists. The masses, occupied with the struggle for survival, searched for food which didn’t exist, and were forgotten in the fight. The only flight of popular enthusiasm in response to a governmental act, was, as we have already pointed out, in connection with Lenin’s Mausoleum, which had become a “wailing wall” where one could bemoan one’s unhappy fate.

The authorities did not value the Mausoleum as the center of the “fifth religion” for quite some time as it did not exactly correspond to Marxist-Leninist ideas. The intelligentsia, in league with the government, envisioned palaces of joy while the people dreamed of plazas of woe.

The unification of the Russian people with the ruling class came about not on common theoretical principles, but on the basis of common misfortune, on a reciprocal vicious circle of terror. The Second World War brought new victims and deepened this unity. In 1943 Soviet artists began to make projects for graves for the victorious masses. “The pilot who batters the enemy plane, the warrior who covers the embrasure of a pillbox with his body, the sailor who throws himself under an enemy tank with a grenade in hand—all this is new, ours, contemporary,” stated an architect at a special conference devoted to memorial architecture. Of all the grandiose projects developed during the war, only one was actually built. It was the work of the architect Y. Belopolsky and sculptor E. Vuchetich, and its construction was completed in East Berlin in 1949 (Fig. 27).

The memorial is situated in a park and comprises a dozen sculptures, reliefs and burial embankments distributed over an area of more than two thousand square meters. The many sculptural figures in the academic style of the late 19th century do not represent real people or any mythological or Christian figures. The artist’s idea was that each of them should express a certain concept, visually manifest such words as “motherland,” “warriors,” “glory,” etc. Therefore, seeing the figure of a woman, we say “Motherland,” a flag hewed from granite symbolizes “Glory.” In this memorial, as in others built at a later date, the key image of the whole ensemble is the woman’s figure. The sculptures’ pedestals are covered with inscriptions in bombastic bureaucratese which employs a Christian vocabulary and frequently quotes from Stalin’s speeches, i.e., “May the triumphant banner of the Great Lenin shield you.” All of the numerous structures stand in rows, which frame a wide walkway. The visitor’s direction is determined by them, and in order to get out of the labyrinth it is necessary to look at everything the artist designed. Burial location was resolved hierarchically. “Motherland-Death” leans over the graves of four individuals posthumously awarded the title “Hero of the Soviet Union.” The others’ remains are interred further off in five common graves without decoration or inscriptions, and surrounded by sarcophagi. After proceeding along the pathway of stone coffins, the viewer enters the main square, where, on an artificial hill, stands a sculpture of a soldier holding a huge sword in one hand and pressing a child to his breast with the other. The dialectic embodied here in the right-punishing hand and the left-comforting hand was met with ed. (The crosslike sword was used once again by the same artist in a work entitled We shall beat swords into ploughshares. Khrushchev presented this sculpture to the United Nations and it now stands near Le Corbusier’s skyscraper in New York City.)

Underneath the sculpture of the Berlin soldier, inside the hill on which it stands, is a round, domed hall completely covered in mosaics. The artist himself calls this room a mausoleum, but unlike its Moscow prototype, there is no corpse inside. In the middle of the hall on a black granite pedestal, in a gold casket, instead of a sarcophagus, lies—a book. The names of Soviet soldiers who perished in the battle for Berlin are inscribed on its parchment pages. Here we find gold and precious types of stones, and the interior of the burial vault is filled with images—all of the Egyptian chic of the Pharaohs’ tombs.

We linger over the description of the Berlin Memorial in such detail because it served as the prototype for all such subsequent monuments built later, in the ’60s and ’70s. As legend would have it, Stalin was actually rather critical of Vuchetich’s creation. Optimism was demanded of Soviet artists after the war, perhaps because the dictator pathologically feared death. At the beginning of Khrushchev’s reign a campaign began against “the varnishing of reality.” In life, Khrushchev’s ideologues explained, not only good, positive things exist—there are negative phenomena as well, and the people must be exposed to this. A constant struggle is going on between good and bad, and though good will eventually be victorious, it won’t be for some time to come. Meanwhile, we live in a wartime state of siege—the best of us are always on the front lines and we perish in incredible numbers.

It is imperative to glorify those who die for the edification of their contemporaries, so that subsequent victims will know in dying that they shall not be forgotten: they will be given posthumous awards, monuments will be erected to them, cities, ships and buildings named after them, and so on. The greatest attention was directed toward the young, who had not yet been tainted by bourgeois influences. Examples for emulation were found in the history of the Second World War. The favorite hero of Soviet writers and sculptors is the soldier Alexander (Sasha) Matrosov. To aid the attacking Soviet Army in seizing a small village, Sasha covered the embrasure of a German pillbox with his body. The machine gun was silenced for several seconds, deciding the outcome of the battle in the Russians’ favor. Dozens of monuments have been erected to Alexander Matrosov all over Russia.

On Party directives Soviet children began the search for new heroes in the early 1960s. They were organized into groups and, under the supervision of their elders, traveled to different parts of the country on summer holidays. The vast expanses of European Russia are covered with broken tombstone monuments and graves whose inscriptions have faded—forgotten reminders of the last World War. The children were to identify graves and do research in local or central archives to determine who had fought in that place and when they perished. They paid special attention to the search for the graves of distinguished individuals, i.e., those who received medals of honor during the war. Information about their feats was obtained from war decrees and from questioning local inhabitants and surviving friends and relations. The lives of the heroes were compiled on the basis of the information obtained. The historical truth was often spruced up by the author’s patriotic imagination, and sometimes blatant lies were perpetuated, in the race to fulfill the plan. There were extraordinary occurrences as well: fallen heroes turned out to be among the living. New gravestones were placed on the recently reopened graves. According to official sources, in the course of several years Soviet children erected several tens of thousands of memorials.

The movement “from below” was reinforced by action from above. Hundreds of monuments were erected, ranging in style from simple and humble to unbelievably luxurious. The phenomenally grandiose memorial at Stalingrad, a project of Vuchetich and Belopolsky, is particularly famous. Vuchetich and Belopolsky worked along with several sculptors on this project. The memorial complex is situated on a gently sloping hill, at the top of which stands a sculpture of a woman crying out with a lifted sword in hand (Fig. 28). (The overall height of the sculpture, from sword tip to pedestal base, is 85 meters.) This is The Motherland. Swathed in clothes reminiscent of antiquity, in a warlike pose with an ancient weapon in hand, Motherland looks extraordinarily aggressive and is most likely calling her sons to new battles. A woman at the head of warring men became very popular due to Delacroix’s painting Freedom on the Barricades, and it concealed a certain double meaning. When deprived of her wings and removed from ancient Greek mythology, the Greek Nike-Victory is not necessarily understood by the contemporary viewer as she once was. To decode this allegory we must resort to certain nouns of the feminine gender. Thus, submitting to the laws of Russian grammar, War, Homeland (or Motherland), Victory and Death are unified in the Russian mind. Women are a favorite motif for Soviet sculptors creating common graves. The Stalingrad memorial is laid out according to the principles set forth in the Berlin memorial. This is an entire city of the dead. Wide paths framed by sculptures cross each other and create plazas. A Russian atheist version of Michelangelo’s Pietà stands on the Plaza of Grief (Fig. 29). On the Plaza of Glory stands the figure of a soldier. A domed building, “The Pantheon of Military Glory,” is situated at the pedestal of the Motherland figure. In the center of its mosaic-covered interior is a giant concrete fist holding a torch with an eternal flame. The names of those who perished are written on the walls.

To describe the many monuments erected in the ’60s and ’70s would take up far too much space. We shall mention just one more huge memorial in Latvia (Fig. 30). In contrast to their Russian colleagues, Latvian sculptors depict mothers and the dying in a more contemporary manner. The Baltic republics have to some extent preserved their own artistic traditions, which originated in Germany. The Latvian memorial is on a huge green field surrounded by a forest. Sculptures stand without pedestals and are made of blocks of stone. The central figure is stretched forth on its knees and is Cubist in style. Judging by the title The Humiliated (in the feminine form of the adjective) it is the figure of a woman, though it’s a bit difficult to determine the sex due to the style. In addition there stands a group of men, whose fists are raised at different levels. One lone, dying figure stands apart. As we can see, a change in style does not change the content; the symbolism remains the same as in the Russian memorials. The attempt to link suffering with a “national style,” relinquishing common European clichés, is quite characteristic. The very same woman, in mosaic this time, stands on a wall at a memorial not far from Moscow. She is an exact copy of Byzantine representations of the Virgin Mary (Fig. 31).

The most important thing about these recent monuments is that they have become part of rituals approved by the government. As the author of a Soviet book entitled The Origins of Christian Mysteries (1978) relates, “In the Ukraine the rite of marriage includes placing flowers at the base of the monument to Lenin and on the graves of fallen heroes (Fig. 32). In Stalingrad newlyweds place flowers at the eternal flame. . . .”

There are many monuments to heroes in Russia, and their numbers are increasing yearly. Sometimes it would seem that the well-publicized decline in the grain harvest is due to the steady decrease of tillable soil that has been given over to the dead, symbolizing the nonexistence of privately owned land in Russia. If no cosmic catastrophes occur, if the sun does not extinguish itself or, on the contrary, burn up the earth, then it is logical to assume that in the future, given such a solicitous relationship to the sacred memory of heroes, not only Red Square, but the entire Soviet Union, will be literally paved with gravestones. The Hero of Socialist Labor and famous Soviet sculptor Sergei Konenkov envisioned Communism in this very way. “The very concept of a ‘cemetery’ will change. They will be parks of good memories. In them, the grateful descendants will ‘recall’ those who did not spare themselves in the name of the common good. Young life will seethe around magnificent works of sculpture, and under the canopies of beauteous trees. These parks will become places of leisure and the pride of every Soviet city.”

Every government must concern itself not only with the immediate but with the long-term needs of its people. The farsighted heirs of the Mausoleum’s unsociable inhabitant concern themselves not with Lebensraum, but with potential Todesraum, which could in the future become Parks of Eternal Glory, with Plazas of Grief, Alleys of Heroes and other creations of artistic genius.

Socialist Realism—that grandiose manifestation of modernism—is not a style but a method of employing any artistic forms created by humankind. The Socialist content penetrates the cells of culture like a virus, and renews the forms from within. The cultures of the most varied epochs and people are used as manure, as fertilizer on the field of Socialist culture, which has no time, and to which space submits.

Who knows, perhaps in our life time Western artists, sculptors and architects of all persuasions will begin to erect majestic mausoleums to their national heroes, having come to believe that the cult of death is the only ideology capable of stopping the inflation of esthetic and ethical values.

The famous specter haunts not only Europe now. The most recent incarnation of Lenin and Christ in one—in Guyana—should force potential People’s Commissars of Enlightenment in the future State of Common Happiness to ask themselves the question: Is there any gnosiological, indissoluable tie between Communist ideas and the cult of death, that very thing which incarnates a certain absolute equality, making people who have been different in material, political and other rights forever equal? Taking the risk of being accused by our friends of propagating “right-wing” ideas, we have written this historical essay on the culture into which we were born and in which we grew up, in an attempt to answer this very question.

The artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid began working together in Moscow in 1965. They now live in New York City.

Translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell.



1. After Stalin’s death. his body was placed in the Mausoleum with Lenin’s. They lay in one sarcophagus together, covered with the same red banner. Stalin’s name was added to the Mausoleum’s exterior, under Lenin’s. Apparently, monotheism could not permit this duality, and one of Krushchev’s first acts on coming to power in 1956 was to remove both Stalin and his name from the Mausoleum. Stalin was reburied in a simple grave near the Kremlin wall. (K/M)

2. The Russian word for “lofty” is tsvetloe and is a common adjective literally meaning “light” or “bright.” It is a frequently used cliché of Party slogans. i.e., tsvetlyi tsel, i.e., “bright (or lofty) goal” and tsvetloe budushchee, “the bright (or lofty) future.” Thus, if Communism is the tsvetlyi tsel, it is metaphorically logical that it should be depicted as the sun. (Translator)

3. The tradition continues to this very day. Maslenitsa occurs the week before Lent and the Russian custom is to stuff oneself with blini or pancakes, smothered in butter—hence the name of the holiday, which is derived from the Russian word for butter. In pagan times, this holiday was a celebration of winter’s end and was assimilated into the Christian calendar just before the Lenten fasts, during which, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, no butter may be eaten. (Translator).