1990s >> 1997 >> no-1115-july-1997

The Last Word: Moving statues

The proposal of the boorish old drunk, Boris “the booze” Yeltsin, to remove the

Cartoon: by Peter Rigg

embalmed body of Lenin from its tomb in Red Square and give him a “decent Christian funeral” (as opposed to what would presumably be an indecent one) has set me thinking. Old Lenin has been lying in state for over seventy years: a mummified memorial to his years of unblushing lying as head of state: a veritable dictator in a fraudulently described “workers’ government”.

The plan is to hold a referendum in St. Petersburg to decide what shall be done with Lenin. Has it occurred to the commerce-hungry Russian leaders that there is a market out there for Lenin relics? To be sure, they would not fetch much in St. Petersburg if forced to compete with fresh sausages, but think of the profits which could be accrued if Lenin cuttings were flogged off to sections of the dwindling world Trotskyist movement? The British SWP, which these days resembles a walk-in mausoleum for the praise of long-dead Bolsheviks, would surely pay a handsome price for a bit of prime Lenin anatomy. (Think of the jealousy it would inspire amongst the others Leninist cults: one can see now the RCP forging its very own fake Lenin testicles.) Lenin’s left big toenail would be worth at least the price of Paul Foot’s salary for one month. Why not call in Camelot to ensure that the spoils are divided fairly?

Of course,Yeltsin did not invent the idea of kicking men when they’re dead. As ever, the English state was the pioneer in the field of brutality to the disinterred bodies of its enemies. For the sake of children and the nervously-inclined, we shall not describe what they did to Oliver Cromwell for having the audacity to temp as a monarch.

Historical revenge is not sweet.The sight of the crowds booing Ceaușescu, the hideous Rumanian dictator (Sir Nikolai, to you, for he was knighted by the Queen for services to British trade) was a joy to watch, but why did they have to spoil it all my executing him? It is so much pleasanter to rout ones enemies and then leave them to rot in bitterness. (Lenin’s successor, Stalin, never quite grasped this point — as Trotsky was to discover.) Only the weak need to murder and torture to assert their strength.

The problem of what to do with offensive monuments is a real one. When they pulled down the statues of Lenin all over central and eastern Europe in 1989/90 they were actively destroying the symbol of a lie which had imprisoned them. There are some statues in Britain which cry out for such justice. The vast metal-wasting edifice of the parasite, Victoria, which stands close to Buckingham Palace: the offensive statue of the gratuitous aerial murderer, Bomber Harris: the statue at the end of Camden High Street, London to the callous free-marketeer, Cobden; these and numerous others across the land will surely be candidates for the sledgehammer of the people once the streets are truly reclaimed.

The case for vandalism, though seductive, is weak. The disfigurements and destructions encouraged by the Cultural Revolution in China were a futile attempt to dislodge the minds of the millions from the past by knocking down its superstructural architecture. For this socialist (though not necessarily for all) there will be a safe place for buildings of genuine beauty in a society of equality. Why on earth deny to future socialist generations the splendours of Westminster Abbey or Christ’s College chapel in Oxford or the Hindu Temple in historical Neasden simply because they emerged out of unearthly folly? William Morris’s dream of turning parliament into a storage place for manure was a teasing fantasy, but missed the point: surely, the objective must be to get the shits out and use the place productively. Why pour more manure on to centuries of past deposits?

There may well be a role for Buckingham Palace in a sane society. The sight of the ex-Queen and her old man serving tea and sandwiches to visitors to London would cheer us all on many a rainy day.

As it is, the profit system has its own way of disposing of exclusive assets. In France there is a huge row over the sale, for £30 million, of Voltaire’s old estate at Ferney. The fear that some philistine Yank might drift in and insert a pinball machine at the place of the desk where the great man once wrote his brilliantly funny novel, Candide, has caused locals to protest in the vain sort of way that people without £30 million tend to protest. Even Buck House has been opened to the vulgar hordes. Surely it can only be time before Camelot will sell tickets for a night out with Andy—or Edward, if one is so inclined. An alternative might be to offer the Lenin mausoleum as a new home for the dwindling Windsor family and open their palace to the kids who are sleeping on the streets within a mile of it. Now, that really is a foolish idea—isn’t it?

Steve Coleman