MOSCOW — The cult of Lenin, under assault since the demise of the Soviet Union that he founded, was confronted Saturday with a revisionist challenge--a new official inquiry into a 1918 attempt on his life.
Generations of Soviet schoolchildren were taught that a fanatical Socialist revolutionary, Fanny Kaplan, shot the "leader of world revolution" with two poisoned bullets from a Browning pistol on Aug. 30, 1918, after a meeting in a Moscow factory, but that she failed to kill him.
The new investigation, ordered by Russia's prosecutor general, grew out of suspicions that the assassination attempt on V. I. Lenin was a hoax staged by Bolshevik rulers as a pretext to unleash the "Red terror" campaign against foes of their 1917 revolution.
Those suspicions are based largely on a guard's testimony that he saw Kaplan in a Soviet prison camp in the 1940s--evidence that disputes the official version that she was shot to death right after firing at Lenin.
The Moscow newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda added a new element of doubt Saturday, quoting a Security Ministry investigator as saying that part of the official file on the alleged Lenin shooting was missing.
"When the case was handed over to us, we saw right away that it was incomplete," the investigator, Mikhail Perevozkin, told the newspaper. "It was drawn up very carelessly and, apart from that, full of mistakes. You cannot tell whether it's even finished."
"The forensic tests that are normally carried out in such cases were not done then," he added. "Out of 124 pages, five are missing. What they contain, no one knows."
In the new investigation, Security Ministry detectives are examining documents, bullets, spent cartridges and the pistol Kaplan allegedly used, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. They were requisitioned last week from the Lenin Museum. The newspaper said that bullet-pierced clothing Lenin was supposedly wearing at the time of the shooting will also be examined but that tests of the Soviet founding father's mummified corpse, which lies in his Red Square mausoleum, are unlikely.
An article in the Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta last year suggested the holes in Lenin's clothing were poked by the secret police, who unleashed a terror campaign by killing hundreds of anti-Bolshevik prisoners after the alleged assassination attempt.
A previous reopening of the case, ordered in 1934 by former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, did not alter the official story that Lenin was seriously wounded in the neck and shoulder.
Lenin worship that permeated the Soviet Union after his death in 1924 has managed to survive the union itself, which collapsed at the end of 1991. Downtown Moscow is still dotted with plaques where he spoke, and not all of his statues were toppled in the 1991 anti-Communist frenzy. Die-hard Communist believers wave his portrait at rallies.
But Russian historians have begun to document evidence that the systematic terror that Stalin used to kill millions was instituted under Lenin. Lenin's birthday is no longer a holiday; his name has been removed from the country's most prestigious library, and Russia's Central Bank has moved to phase out ruble bills bearing his goateed portrait.