“He needed to defecate…Stalin got out of the car and asked ‘whether the bushes along the roadside were mined . Of course no one could give such a guarantee…Then the Supreme Commander-in-Chief pulled down his trousers in everyone’s presence.’ In a metaphorical commentary on his treatment of the Soviet people, and his performance as military commander, he ‘shamed himself in front of his general s and officers… and did his business right there on the road.’” Stalin on the way back from the Front, 1943.
(From: Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tzar, New York, Random House, 2003, 652)
The grief-extravaganza that engulfed North Korea following the recent demise of Kim Jong-Il, the first and only Communist boss to inherit from his father his own personal dictatorship and cult of personality, displayed for the outside world a curious and bizarre array of death rituals traceable back to the collective insanity in Russia that ensued after J.V. Stalin took his last breaths on March 5, 1953.
Kim Jong-Il, like Stalin and like Mao, descended from ordinary folks but during his revolutionary travails acquired superhuman attributes – virtue, wisdom, selfless devotion – beyond the likes of any other in his midst.
Stalin, Mao, Kim – these Marxist Übermenschen ruled over lesser mortals as near perfect beings. They are not supposed to die. But die they do, which comes as a jarring and untimely reminder of their ordinary fleshly composition. Breathless and cold they are now just like all of those millions who were made to perish under their benevolent watch – food for the worms. Thus the fiction of their perfection must be affirmed, first by an elaborately choreographed theatrics of universal despair and grief, with a cast of distraught thousands. Then the worms must be denied. From the embalmer’s table the grayish corpse, transformed, moves to center stage, a rosy colored, death defying shrine. “I am the immaculate deception.” The leader in death lives forever as an object of veneration.
The passing of a creature such as Kim Jong-Il is the kind of event that perhaps more than of any other exposes and dramatizes the absurd and fraudulent nature of Communism, an ideology whose enthusiasts have always been pleased to have us know speaks to the modernizing, progressive impulses of humanity and moves relentlessly toward the calculated improvement of the human condition.
The highly demonstrable, wide-spread grief that we see emanating from the throngs of people, crying, wailing with their faces contorted in the pain of sorrow and loss. Why are they so distressed? Is it genuine or feigned? Both probably, but this hedge of an answer only serves to underlie the difficulty making sense of the collective outpouring of grief for the tyrant-turned-cadaver. This difficulty, however, can be addressed with the maxim that: communism is the highest form of pretending. The greatest communists are the greatest pretenders. “Dizzy with success,” was how Stalin in the 1930s described the efforts his party underlings as they completed the forced extraction of the grain harvest from the Ukrainian farmers and then watched them starve by the millions.
These grief rituals for the passing of the communist bosses are the crowning absurdity of the cult of personality, the consummate achievement in the art of pretending. They bring to culmination the life of the Dear Leader which has been long imaged to mirror the exact opposite of reality – criminality masquerading as glory, ruthlessness celebrated as genius. The wisdom of the Leader has been folly; his benevolence, unspeakable wickedness. Progress has been nothing more than stagnation and corruption. The people’s highly visible anguish for the loss of the Leader is sublimated relief. Is he really, finally dead? Everything in the worker’s paradise is the opposite of what it appears.
Stalin’s death was consistent with his life as a supreme communist ruler. For the world to contemplate, his funeral in the middle days of March 1953 was a massive production out of which emanated the love, devotion and worship of the millions of Russians. The circumstances of his death on March 5th , observed only by his family and underlings, were desperate, sordid and disgusting. Death came from a stroke that left him lying on his bedroom floor, speech impaired, soaking in his own urine. His assistants, terrified of him, were reluctant to call the doctors. Stalin distrusted doctors, especially Jewish doctors. His devoted henchman – Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov – deserted the deathwatch, fled to the office to destroy the Boss’s papers and the evidence of their criminality.
Fidel tarries. The embalmers are anxious.