In 1991, as the USSR was in the process of eating itself alive, an avant-garde artist named Sergey Kuryokhin went on national TV and announced that Lenin was a mushroom. More ridiculous than the statement itself, delivered in a bland, authoritative deadpan, was the fact that millions of Russians allegedly believed him. Eventually, a beleaguered Communist Party official had to publicly repudiate the claim, explaining very seriously that “a mammal cannot be a plant”.
We should treat this anecdote as not simply a quaint piece of Soviet kitsch, but rather, something of a cautionary tale. As I hope this edition conveys, the past is not a static series of factoids that we can afford to relegate to the back of our imaginations. For so many people, history isn’t over. Instead, it continues to shape, explain, and in many instances, define our present.
To that extent, there are parallels that can be drawn between 2017 and Glasnost-era Russia. We live in a time where so many of the established rules of politics have been shattered, leaving behind a carousel of nightmarish absurdia. In moments such as our present one, where the truth is under siege from dishonest politicians and a cynical, corporate media, people are willing to believe anything, no matter how bizarre. And just like in 1991, absurd times breed absurd realities. Lenin, of course, was not a mushroom. But we would do well to keep in mind his brief moment of fungal-ness.