It’s a pity The Revenant is already taken: should Leonardo DiCaprio decide to play Lenin, it would be a perfect title for the film.

It’s also regrettable that the Russian rendering of The Revenant chosen by the dubbers, Vyzhivshiy, simply means “(the) one who (has) survived” – not “(the) one who (has) returned from the dead.”

Apart from the obvious reasons why it would be appropriate, consider this:

…[B]efore the Bolshevik leader was embalmed, the possibility of reanimating his body was actively considered. Senior members of the Bolshevik party, together with prominent writers and scientists, had been interested in the possibility of overcoming death by technological means for some years.

The Soviet trade minister Leonid Krasin and the education minister Anatoly Lunacharsky were leading figures in the Immortalization Commission, the body set up to organize Lenin’s funeral. Both were “God-builders” — a section of the Bolshevik intelligentsia that believed science would enable humans to achieve god-like powers, including immortality. Drawing on the thinking of a Russian Orthodox mystic Nikolai Fedorov, the works of writer Maxim Gorki and the rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky — often described as “the grandfather of Russian astronautics” — the God-builders aimed to use the power of science to deliver humankind — or at any rate its most valuable specimens — from death.

In a primitive version of what in the U.S. later came to be called cryonics, Krasin tried to freeze Lenin’s body by using a refrigerator imported from Germany, with the hope that the corpse could later be returned to life.

I wrote about another Bolshevik adept of that weird cult, Alexander Bogdanov, in 2004.


  1. This reminds me of a grotesque but funny episode in the memoirs of Mao Zedong’s doctor Li Zhisui. The Chinese politburo orders the Chairman’s corpse to be embalmed but nobody knows how to do it properly. Li Zhisui and his hapless colleagues pump Mao so full of formaldehyde that his face swells up like a hamster’s and they have to spend hours massaging it back into some kind of presentable shape.

    A more recent example was when Hugo Chavez died and Maduro wanted him pickled but the Russian experts they consulted said the body was already too rotten to preserve. An apt metaphor for the current condition of Saint Hugo’s Bolivarian Republic.

    • They can’t do anything right, these Chavistas. Russia has accumulated so much expertise with Lenin that the first thing to do, obviously, was contact the Russians as soon as Chávez stopped breathing. Russian embalmers were as clueless as the Chinese in 1924 but no other country has committed so much resources to the cause of keeping a dead man’s body is a passable condition.

    • BTW, at first the Soviet leaders did not order Lenin’s body preserved. It did not occur to the pathologist who performed the autopsy that he should take special care not to damage the body and make embalming harder. It must have seemed a bizarre and disturbing idea that Lenin’s body would be displayed in public for 90 years. The autopsy was done by Alexei Abrikosov, a famous pathologist (a small street is named after him in Moscow). His son Alexei won the Nobel prize in physics in 2003, with Ginzburg and Leggett.

      • Googling around, I note that some people claim the Bolsheviks might have drawn inspiration from the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1923.

        Another Latin American pickling disaster was the strange story of the embalmed body of Eva Peron, which even became the subject of a novel.

  2. I think it was in Cahterine Merridal’s Night of Stone that I was rather surprised to learn the Soviets in the early days had all sorts of weird fascinations with the occult and other mumbo-jumbo.

    • Mumbo-jumbo, but not so much occult in the sense of Hitler’s Ahnenerbe (or Conan-Doyle’s and Yeats’ spiritualism), more an attempt at a progressive religion. Stalin wasn’t much interested in any cult besides Stalin- and Lenin-worship so all the competing confessions faded away soon.

      I suspect that in the 1920s, some of the Bolshevik leaders felt that their triumph over domestic and foreign adversaries in 1917-1920 was literally supernatural. Euphoric, they wondered: what if everything was possible, even the ? What if the Bolsheviks could subjugate nature itself, with its birth and death cycles?

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