Bust of Lenin
Materials: Cast in white metal and sprayed to resemble bronze, marble base
Dimensions: 15 cm high
Place acquired: GUM department store, Moscow, 1986
Place of manufacture: Soviet Union
I bought this bust of Lenin in a small stall within the State Universal Store (GUM) in Moscow that specialised in busts of Soviet leaders and communist heroes. It was the perestroika era of the Soviet Union so although the iconography was still 'official' there was already a detectable irony in the marketing of these items and doubtless they were selling mostly to tourists like myself.
It follows the European tradition of the classical bust, using high status materials, marble and bronze, although it is faked bronze in this case. The effect is intended to be respectful, dignified, portentious. An inspiring presence on a desk, mantlepiece or shelf. A visible sign of political allegiance and orthodoxy.
Lenin personified a kind of creation myth for the Russian Soviet state. His brand of analytical intellectualism coupled with decisive, often ruthless action are seen as the crucial elements of the Bolshevik success in 1917. His philosophy of small, highly disciplined cadres of activists capable of reading a situation and intervening to vital effect became a blueprint for countless small revolutionary groups around the world. His early death in 1924 has meant that his reputation is based on the successes of the revolutionary period as well as the struggle to establish the Soviet ideal in the early years of it’s existence. He is relatively untainted by the catastrophes and the tyranny of the stalinist era and became a safe icon for the Soviet regime. After his death he became the focus of an enduring personality cult of which this little bust is perhaps one late example.
It's worth noting however that in 2014 Lenin's tomb in Red Square is still there with his preserved body still on show to a queueing public. So perhaps there is a more permanent place for Lenin in Russian history.