As many American cities eliminate Confederate monuments amid a wave of protests, a tech venture capitalist is asking if it’s time to pull down a 16-foot tall statue of communist dictator Vladimir Lenin in a Seattle neighborhood that has become a tech hub, with offices for Google and Adobe and the headquarters of Getty Images, among others.
Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz, which invests in companies such as Airbnb and Lyft, says that if “one wanted to pull down statues of profoundly evil people,” the Lenin statue in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood should be on the list, reported GeekWire.
Evans tweeted about the statue to his 224,000 followers on Tuesday, noting Lenin was “responsible for uncountable human suffering.”
Activists regularly apply red paint to the bronze statue to signify the “blood on the hands” of the founder of the Soviet Union.
The statue was brought to the U.S. after being toppled during the 1989 revolution that overthrew the Communist Party in the former Czechoslovakia.
Defenders of the statue see it as ironic, particularly in the context of the quirky Fremont neighborhood. Known for its hippies and artists, Fremont’s motto is “De Libertas Quirkas,” the freedom to be peculiar. A giant statue of a troll sits under a major bridge, the annual summer solstice parade features nude bicyclists, and a cast aluminum sculpture at a bus stop of six people and a dog, called “Waiting for the Interurban,” is regularly dressed up by locals in a variety of apparel.
The Seattle Times noted in a 2015 story on the Lenin statue that it is “loved and hated – and very Fremont.” The eight-ton bronze was brought to Seattle from Poprad, Slovakia, by a Seattle-area man, Lewis Carpenter, who was teaching in the former East bloc nation. Carpenter died in 1994, but his family still owns the statue and, as of 2015, it was for sale for $250,000 or best offer.
The Independent Journal Review reported that in addition to Fremont’s Lenin, an 18-foot Lenin originally commissioned by the USSR stands on an apartment rooftop on the Lower East Side of New York City, and a large metallic bust of the Soviet founder is on display outside a museum in Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, Seattle’s Democratic mayor, Ed Murray, expressed “concerns” about a monument to Confederate soldiers in a local cemetery, which closed Wednesday afternoon after receiving threats related to the monument, the Seattle Times reported.
On the same day, a small group of protesters gathered at the Lenin statue, and on Thursday, the Times reported, Murray called for both the Confederate monument and the Lenin statue to be taken down, saying they represent “historic injustices” and are symbols of hate, racism and violence.
The Soviet Union, according to an averaging of academic reports by the war histories website Necromatics.com, was responsible for 56 to 62 million “unnatural deaths” overall, with 34 to 49 million under Stalin.
Under the “Red Terror” of repression carried out by Lenin’s Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution, it’s estimated by some scholars that as many as 1.5 million people were killed.
Historian Robert Conquest contends Stalin’s purges were consistent with Lenin’s principles and a natural outgrowth of the system he established. The architect of perestroika and glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Yakovlev, said the “truth is that in punitive operations Stalin did not think up anything that was not there under Lenin: executions, hostage taking, concentration camps, and all the rest.”
‘There are no statues of Hitler’
GeekWire, which is based in Fremont, reported some defended the statue in the Twitter thread featuring Evans’ comments. They argue it’s a private piece on private land, although it stands near a busy thoroughfare amid shops and restaurants.
The website representing The Artist’s Republic of Fremont argues “art outlasts politics”:
The presence of this sculpture has evoked a wide range of responses. If art is supposed to make us feel, not just feel good, then this sculpture is a successful work of art. The challenge is to understand that this piece means different things to different people and to learn to listen to each other and respect different opinions. From an artist’s standpoint, all points of view are valid and important.
After his opening salvo in the Twitter debate, Evans was more resolute.
“There are no statues of Hitler. There should be none of Lenin,” he reasoned. “I see no justification for statues deliberately praising a fight for slavery.”