Notes on the Lenin Mausoleum

Lenin while he was still alive and in good health, working away in the Smolny Institute.  Portrait by Isaak Brodsky (1884-1939).


When Lenin died 21 January 1924, there were a lot of people who wanted to pay their respects, and so his body was embalmed for viewing, some pieces accordingly removed.  What was supposed to be a week, turned into a couple of months, and then a couple of years, and then some decades.  It seemed that in the immediate aftermath of Lenin's death, the remaining Bolshevik leaders needed something of Lenin by their sides to invoke their legitimacy.  After all it had been Lenin who created the party; Lenin who built the party; Lenin who carried out the 1917 Revolution; Lenin who lead the party through the civil war years; Lenin, Lenin, Lenin.  In fact, the party was Lenin.  So what do you do now that there was no Lenin?  How do you, as surviving leaders, keep Lenin with you, by your side?  The people know (and maybe "trust" Lenin); they don't really know the others leaders.

The answer:  Why not put Lenin on public display to remind people that Lenin is still with them!  Yes!  Please try to imagine a pre-TV, pre-information age, pre-radio age when the site of an incorruptible Lenin body (what a miracle!) remained in full view.  What a powerful symbol that was. Soon, this, of course, turned into an entire cult of Lenin.  Lenin was everywhere; Lenin had done everything; and more important for Stalin's purpose; it soon became the party of Lenin and Stalin.

ps.  Note that Lenin's widow tried to prevent Lenin from being put on display, as I am quite sure that Lenin would not have wanted anything so stupid, so superstitious, so base.  This just goes to show that it is all the more important to have a good lawyer draw up your last wishes in a legally-binding document.

Lenin Stalin
Lenin and Comrade Stalin plot strategy.

It was a bit surprising to me, but there is quite a bit of information available on the web regarding the treatment of Lenin's body and the building of the mausoleum.

Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum
Image of the Lenin Mausoleum while Stalin was in residence.  Photo by Thomas T. Hammond.
Lenin mausoleum
The Lenin Mausoleum with Stalin removed.
Kremlin wall
The Kremlin Wall burial area behind the Mausoleum (where Stalin now lies).

ps.  When I was there in 1990, a group of us were herded through the mausoleum--Foreigners always moved to the front of the line.  I though that the whole display concept was stupid--Lenin belongs in the ground--and refused to look at the body on display.  That was my little protest.


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