Lenin in Arlington

>> Monday, August 02, 2010

Newt Ginrich's spokesman told Salon in a phone interview today that building a mosque at Ground Zero "would be like putting a statue of Mussolini or Marx at Arlington National Cemetery."

Asked what the 19th century German philosopher had ever done to America, Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler said: "Well let's go with Lenin then." Tyler explained that he was talking about Lenin, who died in 1924, as representative of the Cold War and ideologies opposed to America.

-Justin Elliott, "Gingrich aide: Mosque at Ground Zero is
like statue of Marx at Arlington," Salon, July 30th, 2010

So here's the part I think is funny about Tyler's statement: not only can I not think of anything Lenin did to the United States, either, but obviously there's what the United States did to Lenin.

American troops in Vladivostok parading before the building occupied by the staff of the Czecho-Slovaks.What happened, of course, is that the United States basically invaded Russia in 1918, or--if you prefer--"intervened" in the October revolution. Two major deployments, the AEF Siberia and the Polar Bear Expedition were sent to Russia to fight against the Bolsheviks in what was pretty much entirely an internal Russian matter; that is to say, it's not like there were any American interests directly and adversely affected. I should probably clarify that to say any rational American interests: American business interests were already terrified of the evil lure of socialism as represented by organized labor and similar populist movements, and the 1917 Russian Revolution of course raised the spectre that a leftist movement of dirt farmers and factory workers would overthrow American industrialists, causing conservatives (including Democrats like Woodrow Wilson) to piss their pants. (This is where you see that whole "ideologies opposed to America" idea being born, by the way, with the rich Americans running the country being scared of poor Americans tired of being abused at work and hungry all the time taking their shit; you can draw what ideological conclusions you'd like from that.)

Hence the deployment of something like 10,000 American soldiers to intervene in the Russian revolution on the side of royalists, landlords and the gentrified elites. (Although the Bolsheviks and surely the Americans regarded these nobles and quasi-nobles as "capitalists," I wouldn't say there's a helluva lot of resemblance to anything we'd consider as such. But whatever.)

I bring this all up because Tyler's comments are the kind of thing that manages to be really funny and terribly sad at the same time. I don't know how other countries manage their history or whether they make the same messy hash of it we do, but what we commonly consider our history is what really would have to be called "folklore" when set against actual, you know, facts. In American folklore, Lenin is this hard-faced, hairless nightmare who turned half the world into a realm of brutalist fonts, industrial architecture and ever-present fascistic policemen in fur hats and heavy coats; not to let Lenin off the hook for horrors he was actually responsible for, but to the extent any of those images are actually reflections of the Soviet Union, they belong to America's Second World War ally, Joseph Stalin. We mainly attribute Stalin's "accomplishments" to Lenin because of a complicated bit of Russian history which we don't care about because if Americans in general can't be bothered to give a shit about their own history, how do you figure they feel about foreign history?

Vladimir Lenin, natchWhat happened after Lenin's death in 1924, if you don't know, is that the fractious coalition of Russian Communists... okay, maybe I should start over. In a nutshell, first of all, Russia's Communist Party originally consisted of several socialist and communist organizations, most notably the moderate Mensheviks and more hardcore Bolsheviks, the latter led by Lenin and Leon Trotsky, who were later joined by Joseph Stalin. But by Lenin's death in 1924 (you know, twenty-one whole years before the commencement of the Cold War and the ideologies thereof), the Mensheviks and other minor members of the coalition had been purged--killed or forced into exile. However, Lenin's death destabilized the Bolsheviks' lock on power, since there was some question over whether it would be Trotsky or Stalin who would take on Lenin's role as head of the party.

Trotsky, though hardly a saint and certainly guilty of atrocities during the revolution, was relatively educated and rational compared to Stalin; on the other hand, he had a seemingly boundless gift for pissing people off and was surprisingly unsavvy at party politics. Keeping it short, by 1927 Trotsky was stateless and Stalin's grip on the reins of power quite secure; by the early 1930s and until a Soviet agent killed him with an axe in 1940, Trotsky was holed up in a fortified Mexican villa.

Now, getting back to Lenin: during this whole era in which Trotsky was running for his life or hiding in Mexico, Stalin was seriously concerned--justifiably paranoid, you should say--that Trotsky would come back to Russia and lead some sort of Trotskyite-Bolshevik counter-revolt against the Stalinite-Bolsheviks, and Stalin took appropriate steps. The non-axe component of Stalin's anti-Trotsky strategy was to repeatedly try Trotsky in absentia for treason and espionage and so forth while issuing a gout of propaganda explaining how Stalin was the sainted-and-beloved Lenin's favorite kid all along, etc. (In fact, Lenin was sort of pissed at both of them, something the Soviets unsuccessfully tried to hide until Khruschev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956.)

The point being that Stalin worked very, very, very hard to legitimize his dictatorship by tying it to Lenin. Anything Stalin did, really, was (according to Stalin) merely what Lenin would have done if he'd been around, a carrying-along of the torch and all that. Now, Stalin was kind of an idiot in a lot of respects (e.g. see also) and totally an asshole; while it's certainly possible Lenin would have done some of the things Stalin did, we really can't say, but what we can say is that you really can't blame Lenin for the excesses of Stalinism unless you take Stalin at his word, and the only reason you'd take Stalin at his word is if you weren't paying a lot of attention to Russian history.

Of course, getting back to Rick Tyler, Stalin really didn't do a whole lot to the United States either. Matter-of-fact, after that whole ill-advised and brief treaty with Germany in 1939, what Stalin did was have several million Russian soldiers bravely soak up the brunt of Nazi Germany's military strength at the cost of their own lives, thereby buying the British the time they needed to not lose the war and paving the way for America's kicking-of-fascist-ass on Europe's western fronts. Which doesn't change the fact that Stalin was a bit of a monster, the point is that the biggest thing the monster ever did to the United States was share the credit for kicking Hitler's ass. (Kind of leaves you wishing all of America's so-called enemies were like that, doesn't it?)

But, anyway, Rick Tyler and Lenin: so, when Tyler says "Lenin," he's probably thinking of Stalin. I mean, Lenin was in power for just a little over six years (November 8th, 1917 to January 21st 1924--I get roughly 74 months out of that), two decades before the Cold War even started, and during that time he was mostly consolidating power. I'd say he didn't fuck with any Americans at all during that time period, but that's not true and gets back to that original point: of course he was fucking with some Americans, the ones who, you know, were invading Russia. Which, you know, is terrible and all that: I mean, they were our guys for fuck's sake, and America is made out of awesome, even Jesus said so, so I guess Lenin was supposed to let the American Expeditionary Forces roll wherever they wanted to, blowing crap up and shooting Bolsheviks for God.

See, this is the whole "folklore" thing I was talking about. Most Americans seem to forget, if they ever knew in the first place, that the United States sent troops to the Soviet Union during the Russian Revolution to fight communism. An arguably hostile act on our part which might have something to do with the Soviets not exactly trusting the United States, if you think about it. That's just a hypothesis, and it could be wrong, but at least entertain the possibility. In American folklore, or "history," as we like to call it, all we have ever done was a greater march from liberty for ourselves to liberty for the world, with the occasional minor misstep like that whole slavery thing we got over without too much fuss, and certainly there's no part of American history where we ever did anything that might be kind of assholey. Not like Lenin, say, who... well, whatever it was he did to America, which I'm sure was pretty bad. Probably took a shit on a flag or something.

So here's Rick Tyler, saying that it would be an insult to Americans to put a statue of Lenin in Arlington National Cemetery, when by any rational consideration it would be a non sequitur, a total "what-the-fuck-why-is-he-here?" moment. Lenin, the great enemy of America who had the unmitigated gall to defend his nation from American aggression; I don't know, perhaps this imaginary statue in Arlington should show a Polar Bear kicking Lenin in the nuts or something, because, I mean, that's about the only way it would actually make sense. Of course, no doubt there are a lot of Americans out there who understood what Tyler meant and agree with him, but that's because they're ignorant.

This is all aside from the obvious problems with Tyler's comments, like the fact that the proposed community center isn't at Ground Zero and would it really matter if it was and all of that; I just find it a bit hysterical--and sad--that Tyler's comments are so far out of left field and yet it's unlikely very many people will even notice that the analogy isn't just inapplicable but really based on a completely spurious premise. If you wanted it to at least have a workable premise, you'd pick somebody who actually had attacked Americans sort of out-of-the-blue and not the other way around--P.G.T. Beauregard, for instance.

Though I guess if your boss is from Georgia, maybe that wouldn't be a good idea, either.


Mrs. Bitch Monday, August 2, 2010 at 11:46:00 AM EDT  

Goddammit! See, now if you had written my high school history books, back before you were even born, I might have actually enjoyed reading about it and tried to learn some of it. As it is, that is one subject in which I am a completely ignorant philistine.

Of course, Texas would be burning you in effigy on piles of your books.

Good post...again.

vince Monday, August 2, 2010 at 4:39:00 PM EDT  

Yeah, most (if not all) WWI allies sent troops, including Canada, the UK, Australia, and I believe Japan (no time to double-check my memory on this). And the fighting went on until sometime in 1920 (again from memory).

But of course, anyone associated with Gingrich is unlikely to know this, or if they did, likely to just ignore it.

Nathan Monday, August 2, 2010 at 7:35:00 PM EDT  

And, since Arlington Natl. Cemetery is built on land confiscated from the Lee and Arlington Families at the end of the Civil War...for Union graves...isn't it EXACTLY like building a monument to an enemy on the site of his triumph?

I just don't get these fucking people.

Nathan Monday, August 2, 2010 at 7:36:00 PM EDT  

I'm not sure I worded that right, but I plead medically prescribed loss of vocabulary. I'm sure Eric can translate if it's required.

Eric Monday, August 2, 2010 at 8:20:00 PM EDT  

I get what you're trying to say, Nathan. Also, I didn't know that about Arlington National Cemetery--thank you.

Hope this was sufficiently entertaining, and that you're feeling a little better, man. Wish I had something to offer with more, I dunno, singing and dancing.

Warner (aka ntsc) Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 8:32:00 AM EDT  

Mrs. Bitch it is good to see you again, if you would consider letting me see your blog?

During the civil war, Arlington was seized and used as a hospital. The dead, and I believe this included Confederate dead, were buried near the mansion for the specific reason of making it a place Lee would not want to live at again.

I don't know if this came from the Secretary of War or an underling, but it was taught to me as intentional.

Both my parents and my father-in-law are buried there.

John the Scientist Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 1:19:00 PM EDT  

It's a fascinating and forgotten piece of history. I have a Mosin-Nagant that was issued to the Polar Bear Regiment once they hit Russian soil (ammunition for Springields being hard to find in Arkhangelsk).

Tyler is an idiot who doesn't know any history, true. I mean, why would the dude pick Mussolini? I have quibbles with that choice as well. If he'd said Tojo or Rommel or even Pancho Villa, it would make sense. We don't put monuments to political figures - even our own - in Arlington, we put monuments to soldiers.

That being said, Tyler's gut reaction is closer to being correct than yours - not by feat of intellect, I'm sure - blind pig and all that. Veterans visiting Arlington would not be going WTF if they saw a statue of Lenin in Arlington - they'd rightly see it as a symbolic slap since of many of the enemies our armed forces faced in the latter half of the 20th century carried the banner of Lenin, be they the PLA in Korea or the NVA on their own turf. Whether those enemies were truly Leninist is a moot point - enemies those soldiers fought against carried that banner.

I felt a tinge of what? Not exactly fear, nor loathing, but a feeling as akin to them as melancholy is akin to true sadness, when I saw Lenin's profile on buildings and official papers when I was in the USSR. His face IS a symbol of evil: Dzerzhinsky's, Yezhov's and Beria's (the latter of which was not even a Communist) would not have been possible without the original Red Terror.*

In a similar manner, vegetarian buddhist restaurants are not emblazoned with the same symbol in the US that they are in the East, since the swastika - even pointing in a different directionp - conjures up images not in keeping with their ethos (even if Hitler WAS a vegetarian). They realize the power of the symbol, no matter what the separate origins of the symbol in Asia.

*Whether a Leninist state would have been different in say 1937 than a Stalinist one is open to debate - Stalin finished what Lenin started, and gave it a particular flavor, but the cake batter was mixed by Lenin, Bukharin, Radek, and others who would have stood in Stalin's shoes, even absent Trotsky. And before Stalin's "Socialism in One Country" Lenin was promising to do more than right some social wrongs in other countries, he was promising to wage a French Revolution style massacre on the entire globe. He was not poor put upon Lenin, he was a demagogue threatening to take more than just major corporations for the State - he also took farms away from good farmers and redistributed them according to abstact and absurd principles. When that fell through he half-heartedly institued NEP, but was still bent on long-term land redistribution which Stalin eventually got around to.Though I'm pretty sure Stalin knew by 1937 that the theory was horseshit, he needed a way to subdue the Ukraine, and famine worked nicely.

Also, you're a little harsh on Stalin's intellect. Dude was a genius. The more I read of the stuff that's been released from the Soviet archives, the more I respect and fear the dude.

John the Scientist Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 1:20:00 PM EDT  
This comment has been removed by the author.

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