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Lost Causes

Is Fremont’s Lenin Statue Celebrating Communism? Its History Suggests Not

Here is the difference between the Fremont landmark and the Confederate monument in Lake View Cemetery.

A handful of protesters Wednesday picketed Fremont’s Lenin statue, chanting things like “tear it down.”

The small demonstration, which was viewed widely via a live-stream from outspoken Donald Trump supporter Jack Posobiec, was a response to efforts to remove monuments across the country of Confederate war heroes (including one on Capitol Hill).

Conservatives decry those efforts because they claim it’s an attempt to rewrite history. However, the protest at the Lenin statue completely glosses over that piece of work’s odd past in order to conflate it with monuments to the Confederacy.

In short, the Lenin statue was never meant as a celebration of the Bolshevik revolution. Rather, it was found in a junk yard in Slovakia after the fall of communism and purchased by an Issaquah man named Lewis Carpenter, who was friends with the sculptor and thought the hunk of bronze could work as a piece of art.

He then transported it over to the United States, where it found its way to Fremont and has, among other things, been consistently vandalized, dressed up in a tutu, and festooned with a tinfoil hat from a nearby burrito joint. It’s also for sale, for $250,000, meaning “tearing it down” is as simple as writing a check.

To be fair to the protesters, the statue isn’t exactly clear in its mission, with many interpretations being put forth over the years. When the statue came to Fremont, in 1994, one Fremont chamber of commerce member suggested it was meant to show the ultimate impotency of the Soviet Union, as Lenin faced Fremont’s rocket statue.

“It’s one de-fanged Cold War emblem, facing another,” Jeanne Muir told the Seattle Times then. “They’ll be looking at each other bemused at where they ended up. Lenin will also be overlooking the Sunday Flea Market, which we think will be appropriate: Lenin the father of communism overlooking micro-capitalism at its best.”

It should also be noted that Trump supporters don’t have a monopoly on hating the statue; even The Stranger’s Charles Mudede says he doesn’t like it.

Compare all this to the monument in a Capitol Hill cemetery that reads “IN MEMORY OF THE UNITED CONFEDERATE VETERANS ERECTED BY ROBERT E. LEE CHAPTER NUMBER 885 UNITED DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY 1926.”

In the history textbook Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, the authors say the UDC was part of a broad effort in the South to celebrate “the Lost Cause” and preserve “a romanticized vision of the slavery era.”

The monument’s celebration of the Confederate cause has led to at least two pushes for its removal, one in 2015 and the latest coming as Confederate statues across the nation are being taken down by municipalities. Its fate, though, is not in the hands of the City of Seattle. As Mayor Murray pointed out in a press release from earlier today, it sits on private property, just like the Lenin statue. At least they have that in common.

“The monument to Confederate soldiers in the Lake View Cemetery is located on private property,” the mayor is quoted saying. “My office has called the cemetery operator to express our concerns regarding the monument. As we continue our ongoing proactive work to be an inclusive and welcoming community, we must also join the fight against the mainstreaming of hateful and despicable far-right political ideology.”

Update: Here’s another thing the two monuments have in common: Murray wants Lenin taken down, too. In a statement posted by MyNorthwest Thursday, Murray said: “Both are on private property, but I believe the confederate memorial at Lake View Cemetery and the Lenin statue in Fremont should be removed. We should never forget our history, but we also should not idolize figures who have committed violent atrocities and sought to divide us based on who we are or where we came from.”

dperson@seattleweekly.com

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