It was Karl Marx who famously claimed that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Happily, he was right, at least in terms of the lives and afterlives of Communist revolutionaries. His ideas, as operationalized by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and others have heaped untold misery upon millions during the last hundred years. In the 21st century, however, their public remembrance is hilarious.
One statue that has not received much attention in the current political climate is the one of Vladimir Lenin in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. To attribute its presence in such a prominent public space to the left-leaning nature of the Seattle citizenry would be unfair, because the statue is in fact private property. “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” Lenin once said. It seems that no one is buying. The Fremont Fine Arts Foundry holds this particular statue in trust for its owners, the Carpenter family, as they continue to look for someone, anyone, who will take this sculpture off their hands — for the right price. Lenin’s likeness owes its presence in this particular public space to market forces, sitting as it does in the palm of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, waiting to be whisked away by the highest bidder. Capitalism’s ironic dance on the graves of its enemies never fails to amuse.
Sometimes it is their literal graves upon which this dance is performed. Entry to the burial place of Marx in London’s Highgate Cemetery will cost the socialist pilgrim four pounds sterling (about $5.40). The powers that be at Highgate have hit back at criticism for charging entry by pointing out that Marx himself purchased a lot in the private cemetery for the equivalent of about $5 in today’s currency, preferring it to the publicly funded, state-owned alternative. If this isn’t “heightening the contradictions,” to use Lenin’s phrase, I don’t know what is. It’s almost too good to be true.
Furthermore, in 2014, the Communist Party candidate for the mayoralty of Novosibirsk, in Russia, defeated the incumbent and indicated he was open to the idea of erecting a publicly funded statue of Stalin. After a write-in referendum on where to erect the statue, the Russian Defense Ministry vetoed the proposed location, citing renovation plans and Stalin’s “controversial role in history.” Mayor Anatoly Lokot’s solution was to allow the Stalinists to put up their statue — on private property, at their party headquarters. No room for Stalin outside the free-market in this municipally Communist Russian town.
According to the Moscow Times, selling Soviet souvenirs on online marketplaces like eBay can yield profits of 300 to 500 percent. Items from secondhand stores in the former Eastern Bloc are usually bought locally and sold online, mostly to Americans, the very people who were supposed to be “buried,” according to Nikita Krushchev, by the superior economic model of socialism.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down these statues” is an understandable response to the presence of these things in public. But it’s much more fun to watch them being bought and sold at an agreed-upon price.