"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Lenin is even more relevant today in an era of growing repression Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

It was the summer of 2018 when I was vacationing in Moscow with my family.   

One of the most memorable parts of our trip was a tour of Red Square, especially the tomb where the towering leader of the communist revolution rests permanently.

Lenin, who led the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 that changed the course of world history, was never buried. His mummified body lies in state at the mausoleum that we were all so eager to visit.  

After all, my father-in-law who is a Marxist, always wanted to have a glimpse of the global icon of the communist movement. He was a source of inspiration to many Indian communists of my father-in-law’s generation.

Though language was a great barrier, through the internet we were able to find information about the Metro line that took us from the Airbnb where we were staying, to Red Square on the day we chose to visit the tomb.

The wait was very long as the line-up seemed almost endless. We picked our spot. The crowd was diverse. People who waited patiently both in the front and in the back came from different parts of the world speaking among themselves in different languages.

Somebody had warned us that it might take us anywhere between 1-2 hours to finally reach Lenin. However, we remained determined. As we waited, there was a sudden downpour and people who anticipated the rain came out with umbrellas and raincoats and kept themselves glued to the ground while others ran below tree shades. As the rain stopped, they quickly returned to their previously held positions. At least I did not notice anyone getting fatigued and leaving early.

We were able to get in within one and a half hours. Unfortunately, photography of Lenin was not allowed. One of the guards at the gate gestured people to remove their hats as a mark of respect before going into the room housing Lenin. Using hand language, he assured my father-in-law that it was okay for him to keep wearing his turban. Russians know who Sikhs are, and how the turban is important for them. The relations between Indians and Russians go back to the time of the revolution, when Lenin became a guiding light for Indians, including radical Sikhs who were fighting against British occupation of their homeland. Many Sikh activists and leftists had travelled to Russia to learn more from the October revolution. Although my father-in-law is not a religious man, he sports long hair and wears a turban which is very common for practicing Sikhs.

Once inside, we kept our eyes wide open to register each and every detail of the man lying under a big bright light, with eyes closed and eternal glow on his face. We went around slowly. having a look at him from both sides before venturing out. The pin drop silence inside can be partly attributed to the strict environment, and partly to people’s reverence for Lenin.

The whole experience left us totally enthralled. It belied claims of the corporate media that Lenin and his ideology have lost their relevance. If the general mood at Red Square was any indication, Lenin still remains popular. It is a separate matter that the communist movement has weakened in Russia, which has ushered in the free market era. Big food chains such as MacDonald’s and Subway greet visitors in different parts of Moscow.

The story does not end there. I had noticed similar enthusiasm of international visitors at a house where Lenin once lived in Zurich. It was sometime in 2014 when we were visiting Switzerland. Located in an obscure area, the house has a plaque outside recognizing the time period of his stay in the city. We were able to find it easily by asking people in the neighbourhood; to our amazement the visitors who were already there taking pictures were from the US.

Lenin had advocated for the right to self-determination in the colonized world, giving hope to the people of India when they were fighting against foreign occupation. Apart from that, he had spoken out against white supremacy and emphasised international solidarity.

Today in India, religious minorities are being targeted under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime, and Hindu supremacists, who had never supported the freedom movement and rather sided with the British, are being glorified as national heroes. Lenin needs to be kept alive in the collective memory of Indian citizens. Being a Canadian of Indian origin, I am definitely indebted to him for standing up for my elders.

Also in the light of growing bigotry and repression in other parts of the world, be it the US or Palestine, Lenin’s legacy will always be pertinent. The people’s love for him shows that he is not dead and will continue to live in our hearts. On his 150th birth anniversary on April 22, let’s resolve to carry forward his struggle for a just society.

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