Continuing to work through this piece from Life News by Evgeny Antoniuk. Whom, by the way, I mistakenly called a “reporter” yesterday — he is actually a historian.
Where we left off, a minority of the Bolshevik leaders — Antoniuk points to Stalin and Leonid Krasin as the main forces here — had taken that first step down that slippery slope. Namely, from a temporary treatment of Lenin’s corpse — a measure necessary to accommodate all those who wished to attend the funeral, and those arriving later but still wanting to view the body — to the heretical notion that the corpse should be preserved indefinitely. Turned into an object of raw religious pilgrimage. In a land where the state religion was Atheism. We learned about Krasin’s visionary friend Alexander Bogdanov, who had a a Frankenstein-like interest in preserving corpses. All part of his pseudo-scientific experiments in learning the secret of eternal youth. The practical result, as I pointed out, and which does not even sound so far-fetched nowadays, is that we still possess (probably) some of Lenin’s DNA. Bogdanov, had he lived to see our era, would be impressed by our modern experiments in cloning. The idea of cloning Lenin from his DNA is actually a realistic one in our time, but it is highly dubious the current Russian government would permit such an interesting experiment.
Imagine, though, if it happened: What would the new baby Lenin grow into? It goes without saying that he would be raised in a different family, by different parents. If he received a good education, one can imagine that, with his high IQ, he would do well in school. He might be attracted to a career in law or politics, something that would exercise his keen mind and love of debate. But his political views might end up being completely different from the prototype’s, depending on his life experiences and the people he met. Like I said, it would be an interesting experiment in the eternal “nature vs nurture” conundrum.
Leaving those speculations aside and returning to the main theme: What was the key reason for preserving Lenin’s mortal remains? The official version presented was this: The Party had to heed the numerous requests of the proletarians who wanted to see the body. Antoniuk scoffs at this: There were no such requests proceeding from the working class. In 1924 Soviet Russia was an overwhelmingly Christian nation. Even the custom of cremation was virtually unknown in Russia, and continued to be regarded as alien. Despite vigorous efforts of the Soviet government to inculcate the practice, as a highly practical way of disposing of corpses. On the other hand, the practice of embalming was also not common in Russia. Overwhelmingly, the Orthodox Christian people of Russia placed their dead in the ground. That was how it was done.
Antoniuk concludes that this decision to preserve Lenin’s body was made by the top leaders of the Party. And once again, most fingers point to Stalin. During repeated debates on this issue, a debate which began even before Lenin’s death, it got to the point where opponents of the new clilque were openly bullied, e.g., “And why does this comrade speak out against preserving the body of our beloved leader?” “And why does this so-called comrade seek to destroy the body of our beloved Lenin?” “Perhaps you are not a true Marxist-Leninist after all?” In other words, already by 1923 Soviet Russia, formerly an enlightened European nation, was turning into North Korea, with its “Dear Leader” and its cult of the dead. [Please forgive the a-historical comparison, which is mine, and not Antoniuk’s.]
The Widow’s Appeal
Eventually all the Party leaders caved into the peer pressure, with the exception of Lenin’s widow Nadezhda Krupskaya. Krupskaya wrote a tearful letter addressed to the Politburo: “I have a huge request of you. Please do not allow your grief for Ilyich to turn into some kind of cult of his personality. Please do not build monuments to him, do not name palaces after him, do not organize extravagant ceremonies in his memory, etc. In his life he placed very little meaning to any of that, and all of this would burden him if he knew.”
Krupskaya, like Lenin himself, was a European-style Marxist intellectual, to whom such Asiatic rituals and cult-worship seemed repulsive and indisputably barbaric.
Born in 1869 to an aristocratic, but impoverished, Russian military family, Nadezhda was given a very good education, but had to make her own living as a governess and tutor. Self-identifying with the working class, the young woman adopted the socialist ideology when she was introduced to the writings of Karl Marx.
In her mid-20’s Nadezhda met Vladimir Lenin in 1894, at a Marxist discussion circle. There are indications, in both biographies, and in their correspondence, that the couple were just good friends who appreciated each other as companions, but were not amorously attracted to one another. Their marriage may well have been a “fake” one, just a device for Nadezhda to be able to accompany Lenin to his exile in Siberia. Corroboration for this notion lies in the pages of a book which many Russian revolutionaries of that era regarded as a Holy Bible. Namely, Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s novel “What is To Be Done?” A work of fiction promoting the idea of women’s equality and place in the workforce. Also the completely revolutionary (and shocking) idea of free love. Although, in his attempt to thwart the censor, Chernyshevsky is a bit cagey about this aspect, his novel basically promotes the idea of wife-swapping. A key plot point of the novel is the hero’s fake marriage to the heroine, Vera Pavlovna. His altruistic purpose being to free Vera from her intolerable home life. So that all the comrades, male and female, can live in relative comfort and work together to promote the revolutionary cause.
Lenin’s reverence for this book is very well documented. In fact, he was so dogmatic on this point, that at one time he threatened to expel any comrade from the Party who had the gall to question the literary merit of Chernyshevsky’s masterpiece!
As an interesting aside: Despite the fact that Westie “literary critics” universally mock Chernyshevsky’s book, it has continued to be popular in niche circles. I was recently intrigued to discover that, along with other popular fictional characters such as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Vera Pavlovna and her crew enjoy an afterlife in the world of fan fiction — and in English, no less! For example, in one fan-written story, Vera — now a famous medical doctor practicing in St. Petersburg — treats a series of women with gastric problems. Vera, an expert diagnostician, deduces that they are all wearing too-tight corsets. Employing her former skills as a seamstress, Vera invents a better type of corset, which alleviates the suffering of her patients!
Quite a beauty in her youth, with that Slavic pouty mouth, Krupskaya’s physical appearance quickly deteriorated with age. According to her wiki page, it is believed that she suffered from Grave’s Disease, which affects the thyroid. This might explain the bulgy eyes and the weight gain. By the time of her husband’s death Nadezhda looked much older than her 55 years. She looked like a frumpy old lady with saggy breasts. Despite her devotion to the Party, and all the work she had put into organizing ancillary movements, such as the Women’s Auxiliary, the Komsomol Youth and the Pioneers, Krupskaya was no longer treated with respect by members of the Politburo. To them she had become just another annoying “babushka”. Hence, her pleas against turning her husband’s corpse into a religious relic, went unheeded. Nonetheless Nikolai Bukharin, one of the members of the leading Triumvirate that was developing (Stalin-Trotsky-Bukharin) was dispatched to meet with Krupskaya and try to put her mind at ease. Bukharin lied to the widow, in modern jargon “mansplaining” to her that the preservation of Lenin’s body was just a temporary measure. Just for the next month or so, scout’s honor, Nadya. In reality, Party leaders were already trying to figure out a better technology to preserve the corpse indefinitely.
[to be continued]