Lenin in LA

Lenin by Gao Brothers

On a 2016 mid-summer detour in my Snowbird migrations, I flew to Florida to check the mooring lines on my boat following the close call of hurricane Hermine. From there I flew on to Los Angeles for a family visit. LaLandia is always filled with surprising street images that trigger memories and reflections. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but how many words would a chrome-plated, five-meter high bust of Lenin on the sidewalk of a busy street in LA be worth?

I was bicycling with my son and grandson in the Hancock Park area of LA. We were on our way to a pet store for a supply of crickets to feed my grandson’s pet leopard gecko lizard. If that was not weird enough, then the encounter with a huge chromed Lenin bust made it even weirder.

The bust brought back a flood of memories starting with an earlier life in Los Angeles during the Cold War working in the military-industrial complex. For the last couple of decades, I have migrated between the USA and Germany. In Bavaria I live with the increasing tensions of a resurgent Russia sharing the anxiety of many Europeans. Lenin happened to live a two hour’s drive from my village ─ before the Bavarian police chased him out ─ back in the late 19th century. During his time in Munich he undoubtedly aligned his philosophy with Marx and Engels in German Marxism. Their socialist revolutionary spirit spread throughout Europe during the 19th Century. They argued that we were alienated early in human history during the emergence of economic and social classes. “When early societies produced more than they needed to exist on, the surplus was set apart for special communal purposes such as investment, defense or religion. The groups that took charge of this surplus became the ruling class (Middlesex University, London).” In the 20th century, this alienation fueled the Bolshevik Revolution against the Russian Czar and resulted in communism. This was the opposite end of the spectrum from capitalism where all property was owned by the state. Today this continuing class division is fueling current European right-winged nationalism as well as the politics of the presidential election in the United States.

Back to the Lenin bust. Wiki lists fifty-three countries that have Lenin statues as well as one in Antarctica at a defunct Soviet research station at the Pole of Inaccessibility, which “has the world’s coldest year-around average temperature . . . As of 2007, it is almost entirely buried by snow, with little more than the bust visible.”

The LAWeekly publication says, “Angelenos are used to seeing weird things, but a 20-foot-high chrome metal statue of Lenin’s head . . . certainly slows traffic. The sculpture by the Gao Brothers is located on a corner in front of a long-abandoned car dealership that is now the independent Ace Museum.”

The Dangerousminds blog, quoting Richard Metzger said, “Driving down La Brea Avenue in Hollywood the other day, I did a double-take when I spotted this amazing gleaming bust of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. What’s a massive chrome bust of the Bolshevik leader of the October Revolution doing chilling on one of LA’s premiere shopping strips catering to bourgeois hipsters who want to purchase expensive lamps, rugs and designer furniture, you ask?”

Finally, back to the leopard gecko: according to Wiki, “In captivity, it is near impossible to completely duplicate the diet they will have in the wild, so the most nutritious insects known are offered, usually dusted with a fine calcium powder with added vitamin D3 and sometimes gut loaded by feeding.” So, in real life we have the elite leopard gecko feeding on sacrificial crickets ─ workers, gut loaded with food and supplements. And spinning in my overworked mind is a Bolshevik-styled revolution by cricket workers against the leopard gecko and his enablers.

The chromed, street art of a huge Lenin bust, a block away from the pet store, brought out weird thoughts in LA, one of the world’s centers of creative wealth-generating capitalism. Hopefully, in years to come my, grandson will appreciate this story of an ironic encounter.

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