Goodbye Lenin, is the Party over?
Jan 15 2013
French president Francois Hollande has proposed a marginal tax of 75 per cent for millionaires. Although this proposal has been blocked on technical grounds by the Constitutional Council of France, Hollande is proposing to resubmit the proposal — this time making a water-tight legislative case for higher taxes on millionaires.
The top rate of tax in Russia is only 13 per cent. Therefore, high income and high net worth individuals have an incentive to leave France and migrate to Russia. In such an environment, Lenin (aka Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov) is probably feeling a little uncomfortable lying so close to the Kremlin — embalmed. He had wished for a modest burial next to his mother in Leningrad (now the name has changed back to St Petersburg). But that was not to be.
I visited the Lenin Mausoleum in Red Square on his birthday — April 22 last year. I had expected a long queue, but it took me less than 30 minutes to visit “him”. Most of the visitors were Chinese, Vietnamese and tourists from other countries — I saw very few Russians.
Many Russians believe he should be provided a decent burial like his Georgian comrade Joseph Stalin aka Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. What the culture minister of Russia Vladimir Medinsky has said is probably “the most unkindest cut of all”. He has asserted, “Having him as a central figure in a necropolis at the heart of our country is sheer nonsense.” The Levada Polling Institute says that almost 56 per cent of Russia wants Lenin buried.
By the way, you cannot see “Lenin” anymore. The mausoleum is closed for serious repairs. The Russian leaders make speeches on a podium above the mausoleum. To enable the elderly and infirm Politburo members to ascend the podium, a lift was built in the 1980s. As a consequence, the foundation of the mausoleum cracked, water has been seeping in and, as if by God’s will, the foundation stone is moving towards St Basil’s cathedral.
In a bizarre twist to the tale, Russia’s Communist Party (KPRF) has invited the French actor and tax exile Gerard Depardieu to join its ranks, following his formal acceptance of the Russian citizenship. KRPF’s first secretary Valery Rashkin is on record to have said, “Yes, today I wrote an official letter to Depardieu in France inviting him to join the KPRF...I think he has great respect for his father, who was a member of the Communist Party, and would share his position.” The fact that he is opposed to a progressive tax system appears to be of no consequence. The new communist manifesto seems to say, “The bourgeoisie of the world have nothing to lose but their high taxes. They have Russian passports and communist party memberships to win. Tax fugitives of the world, Unite!”
While Lenin is likely to be buried in Moscow, would you believe that a huge statue of Lenin has been installed in Seattle — the cloudy city which is home to the largest multinational corporations
like Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon.com and Starbucks? Yes, in Seattle. The Statue of Lenin in Seattle is a 16-foot (5 m) bronze sculpture in Fremont a suburb of Seattle.
The statue was constructed by a Slovak sculptor under commission from the Soviet and Czeckoslovak governments. With the help of the original sculptor, the statue was professionally cut into three pieces and shipped to the US at a total cost of $41,000. It was financed by an American called Lewis Carpenter, who mortgaged his home to pay for it. There was a huge uproar when the huge statue was installed in the citadel of capitalism — but there it is — a tourist attraction.
And while all this is happening in the former communist country Russia, in the US — to the shock and awe of the Republicans — taxes are all set to rise. Occupy Wall Street movement broke out in no other country but the US. The French want to tax heavily the super-rich and there are voices calling for similar action in India for the sake of fiscal responsibility, equity and redistributive justice.
President Obama won the re-election with the promise of taxing rich people and narrowing the fiscal deficit, but at the same time not significantly curtailing social entitlements. The Republicans are opposed to higher taxes.
Here is what the senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has to say:
“We know that you can’t raise taxes enough to solve the problem. In fact, the big argument during the campaign over whether or not we should raise tax rates on people above $250,000 would have produced enough revenue to fund the government for six days. So we know that may be a good political talking point, but it doesn’t really deal with the problem.” With the threshold being pushed up, he will argue that it is an even smaller number of days.
I am reminded of the movie Goodbye, Lenin! It is poignant movie about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. In a touching yet comic manner, Goodbye, Lenin! narrates the story of how a loving son tries to move heaven and earth to restore his mother to health — and preserve her faith that Lenin really did win after all! But did he? As the prospect of the burial of his mortal remains loom large — is the party over for the great revolutionary leader?
(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India. These are his personal views)