Imagine a statue in Westlake Plaza of Hitler, who stoked ethnic and class hatred to inspire extermination of six million Jews. Unthinkable. Yet, under the insidious, value-neutral rubric of "provocative art," Seattle proudly displays a larger-than-life sculpture of a man equally abhorrent.
His focus on strict adherence to the bloody principles of revolutionary class war led to a vastly greater death toll than that of Hitler. There's much to the ugly truth about Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, whose likeness shamefully stands in a public square in Fremont.
Respected historians agree Lenin laid the ideological groundwork for 50 million to 100 million murders in the name of 20th-century Communism. Still, some local media observers have suggested our Lenin is cloaked in "ambiguity" and the statue deserves a pass because he inspired solidarity among our Wobblies in their heyday, or because a democracy-promoting fragment of the Berlin Wall has been considered for installation nearby.
Such blithe rationalizations and the labored explanatory text adjoining the statue itself betray worries we're condoning something awful. We are. It's finally time for Seattle's limousine liberals and bicycle-riding bohemian bourgeoisie to face Lenin's real meaning. There just aren't two sides to it.
In "Fifty Million People Dead: The Grand Failure - The Birth and Death of Communism in the 20th Century," former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski details "the catastrophic legacy of Lenin" in Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia. He writes that Lenin exemplified the "concentration of power in just a few hands and reliance on terror."
Estimates from leading Soviet and European scholars in the "Black Book of Communism" are of some 85 to 100 million dead at the hands of 20th-century Communists. Here again, Lenin is strongly implicated as the founding father of Communist mass murder.
Reviewing this years-in-the-making 800-page work, the noted biographer of Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Michael Scammell, wrote in The New Republic about the book's "suffocating torrent of fresh evidence from newly opened Soviet archives" of murderous excesses under Lenin. These included mass exterminations by the "Cheka" secret police Lenin founded (renamed the MVD and later the KGB), and torture.
One internal report from Lenin's time noted, "orgies and drunkenness are daily occurrences. Almost all the personnel of the Cheka are heavy cocaine users. They say this helps them deal with the sight of so much blood on a daily basis."
Scammell observes, "the 'Black Book of Communism' lays to rest once and for all the myth of the 'good' Lenin versus the 'bad' Stalin. . . . Lenin blazed a path of tyranny and bloodshed not only for Stalin, but also for Mao, Ho Chi-Minh, Pol Pot, and a century's worth of psychopaths at every level of the Communist chain of command, from dictators to bureaucrats."
Then read "Black Night, White Snow," by the late Harrison Salisbury, the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning Russian correspondent. Guiding Lenin were these, his own words: "We must stick the 'convict's badge' on anyone and everyone who tries to undermine Marxism, even if we don't go on to examine his case. When you see a stinking heap on the road you don't have to poke around in it to see what it is."
The recent biography, "Lenin," by British scholar Robert Service of St. Anthony's College in Oxford, confirms his place in history as "a rebel whose devotion to destruction proved greater than his love for the 'proletariat' he supposedly served."
Lenin's disturbing legacy persists. A State Department report estimates some 100 killings last year of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, considered a threat by Chinese communist leaders. Aware of Falun Gong's plight early on, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell in late 1999 issued a proclamation saluting the group, but quickly rescinded it after protests.
Local media references amusedly note Lenin stands amidst Fremont's groovy capitalism, guarding a burrito stand, no less. Detached modern irony abnegates the taxing responsibility to thoughtfully employ free expression (a basic human right Lenin killed people to deny).
Our breezy attitude puts us in distinguished company. A fancy Las Vegas eatery, Red Square, also installed a statue of Lenin for arty, edgy atmosphere. Appropriately enough, someone excised his head.
But it was recovered and then frozen in a block of ice used in the restaurant's sub-zero designer vodka "locker." Customers would don a Russian fur coat and hat, march in and snort a few premium Stolys chilled on Lenin's frozen cranium. Then back to their tables for caviar, blinis and the house specialty, "Siberian Nachos."
What good, campy fun! Forward, comrades, to the baccarat tables!
Seattle's Lenin statue isn't illegal. But it is unconscionable. A man from Issaquah brought it from a Poprad, Slovakia, junk heap after the Iron Curtain fell. That's where it belongs.
Matt Rosenberg is a Seattle writer and regular contributor to the opinion page of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.