Lenin's Tomb

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Shortly after the death of Vladimir Ilich Lenin in 1924, and despite the opposition of his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Soviet leaders built a mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square to display his embalmed body. The architect Alexei V. Shchusev designed two temporary cube-shaped wooden structures and then a permanent red granite pyramid-like building that was completed in 1929. The top of the mausoleum held a tribune from which Soviet leaders addressed the public. This site became the ceremonial center of the Bolshevik state as Stalin and subsequent leaders appeared on the tribune to view parades on November 7, May 1, and other Soviet ceremonial occasions. When Josef V. Stalin died in 1953, his body was placed in the mausoleum next to Lenin's. In 1961, as Nikita Khrushchev's attack on Stalin's cult of personality intensified, Stalin's body was removed from the mausoleum and buried near the Kremlin wall. Lenin and his tomb, however, remained the quintessential symbols of Soviet legitimacy.

Because of Lenin's status as unrivaled leader of the Bolshevik Party, and because of Russian traditions of personifying political power, a personality cult glorifying Lenin began to develop even before his death. The Soviet leadership mobilized the legacy of Lenin after 1924 to establish its own legitimacy and gain support for the Communist Party. Recent scholarship has disproved the idea that it was Stalin who masterminded the idea of embalming Lenin, instead crediting such figures as Felix Dzerzhinsky, Leonid Krasin, Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, and Anatoly Lunacharsky. It has also been suggested that the cult grew out of popular Orthodox religious traditions and the philosophical belief of certain Bolshevik leaders in the deification of man and the resurrection of the dead through science. The archival sources underscore the contingency of the creation of the Lenin cult. They show that Dzerzhinsky and other Bolshevik leaders consciously manipulated popular sentiment about Lenin for utilitarian political goals. Yet this would not have created such a powerful political symbol if it had not been rooted in the spiritual, philosophical, and political culture of Soviet leaders and the Soviet people. More than a decade after the fall of communism, Lenin's Tomb continued to stand on Red Square even though there were periodic calls for his burial.

See also: cult of personality; kremlin; krupskaya, nadezhda konstantinovna; lenin, vladimir ilich; red square


Tucker, Robert C. (1973). Stalin as Revolutionary, 18791929. New York: Norton.

Tumarkin, Nina. (1983). Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Karen Petrone