Still working through this piece from Life News by Russian historian Evgeny Antoniuk. Where we left off yesterday, Lenin’s widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had literally got down on her knees and begged the Bolshevik leadership not to mummify her husband nor turn his ascerbic personality into a cult for worship. But did they listen to her? No…..
Once the decision had been made to turn the political leader of the world’s proletariat into King Tut, then all that remained was to find a better technology. Here the Bolsheviks were at a bit of a loss. Nothing like this had ever been done before in Russian history. But one always needs to keep in mind that the Soviets, broadly speaking, were a wing of the Futurist movement.
The aforementioned Leonid Krasin (he’s the Old Bolshevik who left the party to become a terrorist, then made a million dollars, and returned, just in time for the October Revolution, and who shared with Alexander Bogdanov an interest in man’s immortality through technology) suggested the idea of freezing Lenin’s body, as soon as possible. Krasin believed that some future egghead generation would have the technology to unfreeze the body and bring it back to life.
Such a theme has a worthy history in popular culture, ranging from Mayakovsky’s short story The Bedbug, to Woody Allen’s comedy film Sleeper, to the animated TV show Futurama. In our modern world, there are actually such institutions, which freeze people when they die (sometimes just their heads), in the hope of bringing them back to life at some point in the future. This is called cryonics. It’s big business and it’s based on real science. They key point, though, is that the person’s brain must be frozen on ice. The rest of the body is not nearly as important as the brain. I am not sure whether Krasin understood that point exactly, since Lenin’s body had already been on display for a couple of months, and it is dubious that brain matter would survive that long incorruptible. But then, I am not a pathologist, so what do I know?
In any case, Krasin’s idea was accepted by the rest of the Party leaders, and they ordered some rather expensive freezatory equipment to be brought in from Germany. A committee of three men was set up to oversee this project: Krasin himself, Molotov, and Bonch-Bruyevich. Yep, that’s the same Vyacheslav Molotov, as in Molotov-Ribbentrop, whom Western propagandists never fail to cite when trying to “prove” that Stalin and Hitler was always in league with each other; and that Communism and Nazism are just two sides of the same coin.
As for Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich, most Westies have not heard of him, otherwise they would probably think up some way to defame that guy as well. Bruyevich was a devoted, but obscure, Old Bolshevik and comrade of Lenin’s from way back in the Iskra days. He was known as “Good Old Bonch” [I just made that up.] Bonch took part in all the revolutionary history, and continuing to serve the Soviet state loyally until his death in 1955,
After Lenin’s death, Bonch, along with most of the other Old Bolsheviks, spoke out against the mummification of Lenin’s body. But apparently he was brought to heel by peer pressure. So Bonch joined in the ghoulish festivities, while Doctor Abrikosov experimented with various recipes involving formaldehyde and glycerin. Antoniuk mentions a colleage of Abrikosov’s, name of Deshin, but he doesn’t give a first name, and I can’t find a wiki entry for this guy.
Meanwhile, Abrikosov was charged with guarding Lenin’s body in the wooden mausoleum, while Party leaders eagerly awaited the arrival of the cryonic equipment from Germany.
And then another man suddenly entered the picture, a certain bio-chemist named Boris Ilyich Zbarsky.
Zbarsky’s Big Idea
Boris Ilyich was born in 1885 in a Russian Jewish family in Kamenets-Podolsky. His photograph shows him to look startlingly like Norman Bates, only with a moustache.
As a schoolboy, Zbarsky joined the Socialist Revolutionaries movement (SR’s), which later went into armed opposition to the Bolsheviks. Like many Russian revolutionaries, Zbarsky emigrated to Switzerland as a young man. He studied mathematics and the physical sciences. In 1912 he returned to Russia, where he successfully defended his doctoral dissertation at St. Petersburg University. During World War I, Zbarsky organized the production of the chemical Formalin, for the uses of the Russian army. He also helped organize a factory to produce chloroform. Again, for the army.
After the October Revolution, Zbarsky briefly participated in Soviet politics (was elected to the Vyatsk regional Soviet), but soon left politics and devoted the rest of his life to science, especially chemistry.
When he became involved in the Lenin-body thing, Zbarsky’s innovative idea was to use an antiseptic preparation called bactericide. According to his wiki page, he had concocted a balsamic liquid which prevents the drying out of the tissues.
Antoniuk is less kind to Zbarsky than is his wiki page. According to Antoniuk, “He [Zbarsky] had learned that experiments were being conducted on the preservation of Lenin’s body. He understood that this opportunity gave him the one chance in a million. If he could succeed in preserving Lenin’s body and become its keeper, then his laboratory and institute would always be fully funded; he himself would be welcomed in the Kremlin, and he will thus be able to skate by all repressions and all threats to his existence.”
Zbarsky was good friends with an anatomist from Kharkov named Vladimir Vorobyov. Vorobyov had a lot of experience with embalming bodies. The two men worked together on Lenin’s corpse. Vorobyov’s biography shows that he died in 1937, but don’t get too excited — it wasn’t the Stalin Terror from which he died. It was simple uremia. Apparently he had a bum kidney.
Returning to those heady days of 1924: A big feud was looming between Krasin and Zbarsky.
Krasin: “I want to freeze him.”
Zbarsky: “I want to use my patented formalin concoction.”
As these two intellectual giants were duking it out, it was already March, the warm weather was bathing Moscow, and Lenin’s body was starting to get a bit ripe.
[to be continued]