Bodies of Lenin. Ideology and Biochemistry in the Laboratory of the Future
At the center of the Soviet project was the figure of Leninism. That figure was produced simultaneously in the spheres of language, visual image, and material artifact. It consisted of an enormous number of Lenin texts, quotes, images, and sculptures, as well as his physical body in the Mausoleum. Leninism as a field of knowledge occupied a sovereign position vis-à-vis the Soviet political system. This means that Leninism was treated as an expression of the foundational Truth of the Soviet project—Soviet political language had to refer to Leninism for legitimacy and could never question it. In reality, however, Leninism was not a fixed and static dogma; throughout Soviet history it was continuously changing and updating.
Lenin‘s texts were edited and censored, Lenin‘s images were retouched and reinvented, and Lenin‘s body was re-embalmed and resculpted with new materials. A central role in this process was played by the scientific fields of anatomy and biochemistry that maintained and updated Lenin‘s body in the Mausoleum. How was this biochemical work carried out at the level of laboratories, experiments, and anatomical procedures? How did ideology and biochemistry interact in the project of building communism?
Alexei Yurchak is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He works in socio-cultural, political, and linguistic anthropology. His research has focused on the history of the Soviet communist project and on the post-socialist transformations in Russia and the former Soviet countries, on informal artistic scenes in the socialist and post-socialist worlds, and on the intersections of science, technology, and politics. He is the author of the award-winning book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (2006), which has been translated into many languages. He is currently finishing a book on the political and scientific history and philosophy of Lenin’s body.