Lenin and the Myths –a ‘Tajik’ tale
July 18, 2018
Those were the years that followed the Bolshevik Revolution. Tales of Lenin was spreading faster than the Soviet itself was. Historians given to anti-Communist propaganda have since kept on insisting that the USSR was formed by military force – by warfare unleashed by the Red Army. However, tales, anecdotes and narratives that speak to the contrary could not in entirety by overlooked by the Global North. Wherefrom do these narratives stem, those that speak against the mainstream ones that have since been established as dominant narratives by the capitalist society? The answer would be – from the common people: those whose aspirations does Communism champion. It was not just the industrial workers. Even for the tillers and the pastoralists, Lenin had become like a mythic hero. Even in climes beyond Russia, common people had begun to dream the dreams of liberation from bondage. And those dreams had begun to be expressed – through multiple cultures of resistance – resonating across Europe, Africa and beyond. Thus, in, Lenin in Russian Folktale and Oriental Legend, Piaskovskii [Piaskovskii 1930], we find three Uzbek texts, as well as a Chinese, a Kirghiz, an African and a Chukchi text. The Uzbek folktale involves Lenin having to get rocks made from a boulder & solve a riddle that comprised of three questions:
Who are the strongest of all?
Who are the happiest of all?
Who are the saddest of all?
The answers were:
the wise – whom all love;
the most righteous – whom, too, all love; and
Piaskovskii’s compilation was far from exhaustive. Across decades following the Revolution, such tales had kept on coming up. Thus, in A Short History of Culture (Lindsay, 1963) – another folklore – a tale parts of which are told in music – found space – cropping up from the tilling & herding communities of Tajikistan. The tale goes thus:
Lenin has set out for “the Big City to the North”. The road ran through deep forests. The rich have hired a shaman to kill Lenin. The shaman tried to cast evil spells. But he was thwarted by nature. Birds & animals protected Lenin. The hills gave him shadow. The sun burnt itself softer so that the rocks do not heat up & scorch his feet. When Lenin was thirsty, the skies rained. When he was thirsty, badgers brought him food, doe got him their own milk. Thorny bushes receded to the corners. Fireflies showed him the way all night. Off the trail had that shaman lit a fire, hoping, that the light will make him lose his way. But the woodcock bird showed him the way. It flew ahead of Lenin, showing him the correct path.
In this way, Lenin reached that “Big City to the North”. There, the working people were to rise soon. For,
Out of darkness did Lenin make
a garden of flowers
from life to death –
For, he is stronger
than the combined forces of all these warriors
For, all that they had destroyed
for over a thousand years,
were rebuilt by Lenin
Many pundits have regarded most of these tales as fake & counterfeit ones – forged by Communist propagandists. Debasing Communism & everything that surrounds it has been one of the most lucrative sources of income over academics & comprador intellectuals. This tradition is as old as Communism itself. But, despite affixing adjectives such as ‘fabricated’ etc, the scholars have not yet been able to deny or refute their existence, despite desperate attempts at behest of their paymasters. For, to deny the plausibility that such myths & legends around Lenin can crop up among the people is also to deny the plausibility of all the miracle-tales & charisma-tales that had cropped up around Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Gautama Buddha, Guru Nanak, Sri Chaitanya and all other cult figures who had consolidated significant political power by mobilising against dominant orders of their times.
Lenin was not the only mass leader from the 20th century around whom myths & legends were borne by & spread amongst people. Part II of the Iconic Bangla novel Dh(n)orai Chorit Manosh (Satinath Bhaduri, 1951) narrates how, in the 1930s & 1940s, a story had spread like wildfire across Chhotanagpur & beyond – that an impression of Gandhi’s face has appeared on a ripe gourd somewhere! Again, a Gondi song from Bastar hold how, in 1910, Gunda Dhur – having led the adivasi people to multiple valiant guerilla-battles against the British – turned into a bird and flew away – no one knows whereto (Nandini Sundar, 2007).
Among all the things that Marx wrote, one of the most-quoted ones is: “Religion is the opium of the masses”. This creates the shibboleth of atheism that all Communists must pass through to become Communists. I do not debate or discourse the same. But, at the same time, it is crucial to not forget something that Engels had penned:
“Revolutionary opposition to feudalism lasted throughout the middle ages. It took the form of mysticism, open heresy or armed insurrection, all depending on the conditions of time” (Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, 1850)
When we look at histories from the Indian subcontinent, we find all three happening together all throughout the middle ages and beyond – even into ancient and modern times. For instance, between the 9th century AD & the 12th, as the Pala emperors were consolidating & expanding their power over the eastern subcontinent, there arose, in those climes a heterodoxical order – the Siddhacharyas. Hailing majorly from the indigenous castes and tribes of the subcontinent, they preached of the Easy Path. Their mysticism stood in direct confrontation with the dominant and elaborate Mahayana narratives mandated by the state. Thus, when the one of the last Pala emperors banned fishing and hunting in the name of Buddhism – there arose the fishers and the hunters in rebellion (11thcentury AD). Through riparian guerilla warfare, the rebels killed the king in war and liberated much of the Empire for a few very brief stints of indigenous self-rule. It was like a dream that flickered for a while before being snuffed out by the re-risen caste-orders of Hinduism. The cultural, ideological and philosophical essences that lay at the foundation of this rebellion by the fishing and hunting people drew much from the Siddhacharyas (Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, 1960). The Siddhacharyas, as many of their names & tales reveal, were themselves indigenous. Unlike the Brahmins, they never left their vocations in search of spiritual bullshit. All that their philosophies taught was for to keep getting better at what they did, to lead materially fulfilling family lives. This was the ‘Easy Path’. Over time, multiple myths and legends did indeed come to surround the Siddhacharya minstrels and bards.
Again, at the turn of ‘modernity’, when, in 1770, a great famine arising out of Company-misrule wiped one-thirds of Bengal’s population out, it was the mystic minstrels who had formed the first line of resistance. The Fakir Rebellion was led from the fore by Majnu Shah, a dervish. The cultural front was provided by Bauls like Lalan Fakir. Carrying on in the same tune, many of the indigenous resistances that shaped up in the 19th century against British rule took mystic tones and tenors. Thus, when, in the 1820s, the famers of Mymensingh, east Bengal, took to arms against the British and their landlording lackeys, those rebels & revolutionaries, too, had identified themselves as ‘Bauls’ or ‘Pagal-Panthi’s – literally, followers of paths of the Crazed.
The Bauls of today sing of the Easy Path. As did the Siddhacharyas from the 9th century AD. From the 11th century fishers to the 19th century farmers – all who had rebelled in Bengal had, at their foundation – innately materialistic visions of origins similar and verily indigenous. The same also holds salt for the Siddha poets of Tamil Nadu (10th-15th centuries AD). All of them reject rituals and ceremonies. Across the ages & geographies, all these mystics have rejected customs & rituals of the empowered elite. They reject religion & faith (Zvelebil, 1973). Most of all, as countless songs known and lost attest, all of them had rejected the caste-system. And, all around such rebel poets and leaders, have people woven garlands of myths and legends over time. Then, why doubt Lenin?
Maybe it is time to reassess the roles that such folklores, myths & mystic auras that keep on emerging from the people & their cultures – from eons primitive to modern. Maybe it is time to stop looking at these as opium for the masses, or at the very least, to seek to learn even from this metaphoric opium – for the sake of stronger & stronger Revolutions to come roaring out from the blazing guts, steely eyes & clenched fists of humanity.
First published in Counter Currents.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.