In many ways, living in the USSR was quite unlike what we experience in present day Canada. Because of the stark contrast in the portrayal and treatment of political leaders between our cultures, researchers do not have to be familiar with Soviet history to identify unmistakable differences.
In Canada, it is not commonplace to find flags, banners, note cards, statues or paintings created and showcased in devotion to our Prime Minister. Conversely, Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin was featured on these sorts of materials and more, achieving a venerable status throughout the Soviet Union and beyond. This is easily seen in Ryerson University’s Leniniana Collection, which consists of more than 800 items featuring the image of Lenin. A messianic Lenin effectively filled the void brought about by the USSR’s violent suppression of organized religion:
Certain symbolic forms probably recalled religious icons. The extensive use of the colour red, the distorted perspective (Lenin is far larger than the sun, the globe, and the worker and peasant on either side), the composition (Lenin flanked by the worker and peasant, just as Christ was sometimes flanked by two apostles), and the circular frame that surrounds Lenin (Christ was often situated in an oval frame) must have been familiar to Russians accustomed to the conventions of religious icons. (Bonnell, 1999, p. 146)
By applying Lenin’s likeness, the colour red and Communist slogans and imagery such as stars, hammers and sickles onto a wide range of materials, Lenin and his party became omnipresent – like a god. When they replaced the paranormal God with themselves, Soviets made their party into an alternative to Christian theocratic rule (Riegel, 2005). The fact that Lenin was not supernatural was irrelevant: Leninism became the political religion of the state.Despite the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the propagated deification of Lenin continues to fascinate scholars and non-academics alike. Much like saints of Christianity, Lenin’s corpse lies in a sacred mausoleum. This site remains popular among tourists and researchers continue to seek to learn more about this infamous figure of revolution.
To discover the Leniniana Collection at Ryerson University’s Special Collections, please make an appointment between 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. Contact us at email@example.com or at 416-979-5000 ext 4996. We are located on the fourth floor in the library in room LIB 492.
To read more about Leninism as a political religion, refer to the works cited. Both sources are available through the Ryerson University Library.
Bonnell, V. E. (1999). Iconography of power: Soviet political posters under Lenin and Stalin. Retrieved from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=acls;idno=heb05220
Riegel, K. (2005). Marxism‐Leninism as a political religion. Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 6(1). http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14690760500099788