Arthur Ransome's eyewitness report for the Guardian of Lenin's funeral in 1924
From Arthur Ransome in Moscow,
28 January 1924
In the middle of the hall, under the tall palms, the body of Lenin, in dull khaki, lay on a crimson catafalque guarded by a group of his old comrades. Dzerzhinsky, in a brown leather coat, stood with bent head like a Franciscan monk. Stalin stood with arms folded, iron like his name. Bucharin, beside him, was still for once, like a figure carved in wax.
Gradually the hall filled with Communists, all in ordinary working clothes. Only in the group of diplomats were there clothes that in any way reminded one of ordinary funerals. Here and there about the hall a summer lightning of white fire for the benefit of the kinematograph operators brilliantly lit up the white faces of bearded peasants in sheepskin coats, leather-jacketed workmen, and dull khaki uniforms.
Suddenly a stir ran through the hall, and all stiffened to immobility. Mrs Lenin was standing by the bier looking at Lenin's face, calm, dry-eyed, as if unconscious that he and she were not alone in the room. There was absolute silence: then funeral music, after which, when the orchestra had finished, a revolutionary dirge was sung by all in the hall, while soldiers stood at attention. I had a curious feeling that I was present at the founding of a new religion.
After the dirge, the lid was placed on the coffin and all except the guard of honour and the chief mourners walked silently out into the freezing air, where the sudden terrific cold struck one like a blow. We waited for the coffin and fell in behind it. The cold was such that only a very few with matted hair were able to remove their fur caps. People began walking with their hands at the salute, but presently found even that impossible. We walked between lines of soldiers, each one with helmet, face and shoulders veiled in hoar frost from his own breath. Slowly the procession passed the graves of dead Communists. Before them, close under the wall, was a huge dark mass, which we saw was a mausoleum built temporarily of wood. Immediately before it was a high platform, with a red-covered pedestal and a steep stairway leading up to the rails on either hand.
* * *
The first part of today's ceremony is over, and the march past, district by district, of working men and women and peasants from the country has begun. The cold is such that the soldiers are stamping continually where they stand, and delegations passing through the square break into a run. The chief of the militia has had the whole of his face frozen, and may lose nose and cheeks. It has been necessary to issue absolute prohibition against bringing children.
[But] in the main streets, in spite of this cold, were the greatest processions Moscow has ever seen. District by district, factory by factory, people of all nationalities, everybody, regardless of appearances, muffled in the warmest things they had, the whole town seemed to be moving towards the square. The Communists wore black bands edged with scarlet round their arms, but almost everyone I saw was wearing some sign of mourning, and even in the fashionable Kuznetzki Bridge Street well-dressed, obviously non-Communist, ladies were wearing mourning favours. Small boys were selling little portraits of Lenin which people pinned on their breasts, and at some points small paper portraits were being handed out free, and eagerly claimed.
This is an edited version of Ransome's original report for the Manchester Guardian.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016