Lenin’s body has remained in this preserved state since his death in 1924. Initially Russian citizens pleaded for a memorial to commemorate his everlasting and influential spirit, and the government soon decided to immortalize the body. But the Politburo made the decision to embalm even before the death, realizing otherwise that the funeral would have to be “the grandest the world has ever known. ” Lenin holds enormous collective meaning in both past Soviet and new Russian society, as he produced the world’s most powerful Communist state. Robert Service explains Lenin’s influence, saying, “Lenin was not merely to be depicted as a heroic figure in the history of Bolshevism...he had to enjoy the mythic status of an omniscient revolutionary saint.” Service demonstrates the height of deism, and the necessity for an everlasting memorial. Even after his death the Soviet people viewed him as their leader and thus the embalmment ensured that his influence would never fade. The government also used the corpse as a manipulative tool, for around him was built an enormous mausoleum in the shape of a stepped pyramid, perhaps symbolizing the Soviet Union’s steady increase of strength. The pyramid is made of red and black granite, deemed by the government to symbolize communism and mourning. Future Soviet political leaders, including members of the Politburo, the Soviet state’s executive committee, would make speeches atop this great monument, attempting to transfer Lenin’s power over society to themselves. But despite these manipulative uses, Lenin’s body demonstrates the revolutionary Communist spirit and reminds those Russians who continue to revere Lenin of their hope for another charismatic and passionate leader.
Lenin’s death and subsequent embalmment has been described by many as a “mummification,” with many similarities to the ancient Egyptians’ sacred embalming process. Both deified corpses, revered as icons, had their internal organs removed; the Egyptians preserved all of the organs in jars while Lenin’s brain was taken to the Soviet Brain Institute to be studied for signs of superior genius. The Egyptians held the belief that preserving the body would empower the soul and allow it to return to the corpse. In a symbolic manner, Lenin’s body also illustrates this belief; by protecting his body, his spirit would always be kept alive for the Soviet people. With the process of embalmment the Soviet party leaders of the 1920s effectively deified Lenin’s strong influence for many generations to come. Yet this also hinders modern Russian progress as the people continually look back to the past, rather than show hope for the future.
A fascinating text is Stalin’s eulogy that he read over the corpse as Lenin’s faithful inner circle said their final goodbyes to their leader’s body. It reads, “In departing from us, Comrade Lenin enjoined on us to guard and strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat. We vow to thee, Comrade Lenin, that we will honorably fulfill this thy commandment.” The language in this passage sounds Biblical, not surprising since Stalin received a religious education. The passage holds a tone of reverence and mourning, while illustrating Stalin’s immediate acquisition of power and influence. Furthermore, like the embalming process the eulogy also deifies Lenin’s spirit and cements the idea that this man embodies all of Soviet culture. From observing the eulogy, it is clear that even after death he dictates what is wrong and right. It seats his spirit high above the rest of society and equates him with God, such that his every wish about Soviet society must be fulfilled. Additionally, Stalin uses extremely formal language, suggesting that the embalmment process was a solemn and somber occasion. It connotes that Lenin’s word is law, and that though his body no longer functions, his spirit, continued through the propagated Cult of Lenin, will constantly haunt the Soviet people as a reminder of his ideal society.
- Lillie Carlile, December 2009