“Always Alive” — How And Why Lenin was Mummified – Part III

Dear Readers:

Once more continuing this  piece from Life News  by reporter Evgeny Antoniuk, about the death and mummification of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

Recall that when Lenin died, the debate among the Bolshevik leaders around the issue of preserving his body, more or less resolved itself.  As funeral arrangements were made and delegates took several days to arrive in Moscow, physical reality itself forced the issue.  The Bolsheviks were adherents of the Marxist-Hegelian “Materialistic” philosophy, which can be summed up in the words “Reality Bites”.  Atheistic materialists do not believe that dead bodies come back to life, as the Bible says, “Incorruptible”.  Nor, unlike Alyosha Karamazov in regard to his mentor, Father Zosima, did they expect the corpse of their departed leader to smell like a rose.  Recall that when Father Zosima’s corpse started to get a bit ripe, this reality sent the emotionally fragile Alyosha into a tailspin of religious doubt.  Bolsheviks, on the other hand, being made of a “tougher stuff”, as Comrade Stalin noted in his funeral oration, did not require that God send them a signal from beyond the grave, that Lenin had maintained the correct line all along, in that endless series of factional struggles.  One can be considered a great political leader, but still die, and start to decay.

Father Zosima: Not quite dead yet.

Hence, Bolshevik leadership ordered Lenin’s body to be temporarily embalmed by one of his own treating physicians, Professor Alexei Ivanovich Abrikosov.  Abrikosov (1875-1955) was nothing like a mortician.  He was a renowned research pathologist specializing in tuberculosis and tumors.  Professor Abrikosov has a tumor named after him; and he also sired Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov, a scholar who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2003.  In other words, embalming a body was something well below this guy’s pay grade.  But the Bolshevik leaders needed a man whom they could trust to keep everything confidential.  Implored to embalm Lenin’s body, Abrikosov rigged something up with balsam that was only supposed to be temporary.  The plan still was to put Lenin’s body into the ground as soon as all the delegates had gone home.

Despite his “seat of the pants” effort, Abrikosov’s amateur mortician work was surprisingly enduring.  And was helped by the unusually cold Moscow winter.  Due to this, Lenin’s body remained in good enough shape to stay on display right up until spring.  When the warm weather arrived, Lenin’s body began to decay, to the extent that it could no longer be kept on display.

And this is where the “slippery slope” turned into a medievalist landslide:  Instead of finally burying the body, Bolshevik leaders started to think of ways to preserve the body still longer, and longer.  It was as if they had no confidence in their own abilities to lead the country, without Lenin’s corpse always looking over their shoulders and giving them sound advice.

Antoniuk is not sure exactly who should be blamed for making the decision, at that fateful turning point, to “keep on going” with the body-preservation thing.  He thinks it was either Stalin’s decision; or perhaps Krasin’s.  Leonid Krasin  (1870-1926) was an Old Bolshevik, whose name we don’t hear so much; but he was a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee in 1903.  In his wild youth, Krasin, along with Stalin, was alleged to have robbed banks in Tbilisi, in order to raise money for the party.  Krasin, an engineer and explosives expert, was also alleged to be the man who helped rig up the bombs used against Russian Prime Minister Stolypin.  Due to this, the adventure-seeking Krasin either left the Party voluntarily or was expelled, depending on whose version you believe.

Leonid Krasin

Lenin himself did not tolerate anarchists or  “individual terrorists” in the ranks of the Party.  In other words, types (like Lenin’s own brother, Alexander Ulyanov) who attempted to assassinate prominent individuals.  It wasn’t that Lenin thought that killing, say, a Stolypin, was morally wrong.  He just thought it was a stupid waste of effort, that should be spent organizing the masses.   In other words, you kill one guy, another guy takes his place.  The only real change comes about, not through pointless violence against select individuals, but through mass education and mass action aimed at toppling the entire system.  When Alexander was hanged for his crime, Lenin, who still adored his brother, made a vow to achieve the same results which his brother had strived for, and yet using a different method.  Lenin’s famous words, as poeticized by Vladimir Mayakovsky, were:

       мы здесь
               тебя сменить готовы,
        но мы пойдём путём другим

(“Brother, we here are ready to replace you, and we will win, but we will take a different path.”)

Long story short:  Due to his unorthodox and violent activities, Krasin left the Party.  In 1908 he emigrated from Russia, temporarily abandoned politics altogether, became a successful businessman and millionaire.  It was only after the February Revolution of 1917 that Krasin returned to Russia and rejoined the Bolsheviks.  One cynically wonders if his millions had something to do with his being accepted back so readily into the fold.  In any case, he was appointed People’s Commissar of Foreign Trade from 1920 to 1924.

They Saved Lenin’s DNA

Krasin’s wiki page mentions some intriguing facts about this man’s obsession with death and immortalization.  Krasin was a believer that “the time will come when science will become all-powerful, that it will be able to recreate a deceased organism. I am certain that the time will come when one will be able to use the elements of a person’s life to recreate the physical person.”  In other words, Krasin may have had a sci-fi type motive in preserving Lenin’s body.  In the hope that future scientists could find a way to bring it back to life.  And this does not even sound as bizarre today as it would have at the time.  Consider that in our era we actually do have the technology to clone Lenin from pieces of his DNA.  Of course, the new Lenin would not have the history nor the memories of his antecedent, and that is probably not what Krasin had in mind.  He was probably thinking more along the lines, of say, Frankenstein’s monster.

Krasin was very good friends with another Old Bolshevik named Alexander Bogdanov, a medical doctor and science fiction writer.  The early Bolsheviks were quite a crew of intellectuals.  These were truly interesting men, and quite visionary for their time, and not just in the political realm.  Bogdanov experimented with the theory of “rejuvenation” via blood transfusions.  This sounds creepy, and it was.  But Bogdanov was not the first man who ever dreamed of finding the secret of eternal youth.  And unlike Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, who sought youth in a magical painting, Bogdanov took a more practical approach:  He recruited members of the Communist Youth to provide him with blood samples.  Which he then infused into his own veins, in the hope that it would make him grow younger every day.  Instead he died, in 1928, apparently from a blood transfusion gone terribly wrong.

Bogdanov sought the secret of eternal youth.

And again, to modern ears none of this sounds nearly as ridiculous as it would have, to the people of that time.  It’s true that we have still not (in our era) solved the problem of aging; and we know better than to think simple blood transfusions will do the trick.  But modern scientists know about DNA and stem cells and that sort of thing, which people of that time didn’t know, and it’s not completely far-fetched to imagine that a Bogdanov, or a Lenin, can be re-cloned in the not-too-distant future.  The only real question is:  Would the current Russian government even want them back?  Or would they, like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, have them locked up the moment they re-appeared in society?

As Antoniuk surmises, Stalin and Krasin came together and, for two completely different reasons, plotted to preserve Lenin’s body well beyond its normal shelf life.  Krasin’s motive was something born of Mary Shelley’s feverish imagination.  Whereas Stalin’s motive was more down to earth:  To build the “Lenin Cult”, which, through clever sleight-of-hand, he would later transmogrify into a cult of himself.  The thought was this:  Lenin’s body on display had proved to be such a hit, that they wanted to continue the show indefinitely.  Communist Pilgrims from all over the world would come to view the sacred relics.  And who would be there to greet these pilgrims?  The designated successor, of course — Joseph Stalin!

[to be continued]

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