Lenin’s tomb is remarkable

Visitors in front of Lenin’s tomb, Winter 1924
Photo: Földvári Books

In January of 1924, a week after the death of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, his embalmed body was placed on display in a temporary wooden tomb in Moscow’s Red Square—an ideological shrine that was visited by hundreds of thousands of onlookers over the next few months. Eight years later, by which time the wooden structure had been replaced by an elaborate mausoleum of marble and granite, Lenin’s coffin was visited by Malcolm Muggeridge, an English journalist covering Moscow for the Manchester Guardian. Muggeridge had landed in the city filled with optimism about the Soviet experiment. Yet, in his diary the next day, a more complex outlook began to unfold, questioning both the system he had admired and the emotions it stirred within him.

The Diary Entry

17th September 1932

Lenin’s tomb is remarkable. For the two hours that it is open daily a constant procession of people file past the embalmed body. They take their hats off when they go in and do not talk; otherwise there is no ceremonial. No one kisses the glass around him, or makes the sign of the Hammer and Sickle, or anything like that. They just stare. And there he is—a little man with a neat beard and a determined mouth and a well-shaped, but not memorable head. Altogether the effect is austere, at the same time theatrical.

What do the thousands upon thousands of Russians who wait, sometimes a considerable time, to see him, make of the spectacle, I wondered. Their faces, quite blank, give away nothing. Here, I thought, is the one successful, even convincing, piece of ceremony devised in modern times. But I had a queer conviction that one day an enraged mob would tear him from his place and trample him under foot. Lenin did not look a fanatic, but, as far as appearances are concerned, is quite in the Russian saintly tradition.

Coming away from the tomb I looked into a church and saw four or five old crones and a half-witted priest blessing one another indiscriminately. Christianity at least is over in Russia, and it is difficult to see how it will ever be revived.

Further Reading

In 1981, nine years before his death, a selection of Malcolm Muggeridge’s extensive, detailed diaries were published by Morrow with the tile Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge. Diary entry reprinted here with kind permission of the Malcolm Muggeridge Literary Estate.


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