Lenin's Mausoleum Photo: Larry Koester

Lenin’s Mausoleum
Photo: Larry Koester

A couple of days ago I was at the Lenin Mausolum on the Red Square.

Being so close to the body of a man who is so steeped in myth and history, still glorified today by so many people, was a very interesting experience. It made me think of the fact that I used to glorify Lenin. To a certain extent, I still do. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the man was more of a paradox than a hero.

He was a saviour for millions of poor russians, and for that, he will always be  a hero in my eyes. But he also gave the order to kill their oppressor. tsar Nikolas II. The oppressor might have been more or less incompetent as an omnipotent ruler, and thus more indirectly than directly responsible for oppressing his own people. The fact remains, though, that he was an oppressor.

But did he deserve to die?

This question should be at the forefront when looking at Lenin’s life and  political work. Like the tsar, Lenin was also more or less indirectly responsible for his actions. Nikolas’ dad had given the order to kill Lenin’s brother, and Lenin had started a revolution that might have been very difficult to see through to the end had the tsar still been alive.

But did that relieve him of the responsibility for giving an order to murder an unarmed man and his family?

This is the paradox of Lenin. After being to his mausoleum, I visited Russia’s State Historial Museum. On the occation of the tsar’s murder, it contains an exhibition to Nikolai IIs memory. I’m not the only one who’s had to grapple with Lenin’s paradox. Vladimir Putin is also having to navigate between strongly condemning the act of murder and at the same time not condemning the Lenin’s Soviet Regime.

For some people, murder is a line that cannot be crossed. Once you’ve murdered someone, you are and forever will be a tyrant, a beast, a semi-human. I will contend that Lenin was, like the rest of us, a flawed human being. But unlike the rest of us, he achieved great things.  And here, perhaps more than any, is the most important question concerning Lenin:

Can great acts of heroism excuse tragic acts of violence?

Depending on what your answer is, he is probably a hero or a beast. For me, he will always remain a paradox.