If Lenin’s Corpse Could Talk

– How is life?

– Like in a mausoleum: not alive, not buried!

In May 2003, the Red Square became a scene of madness for one night. Deafening sounds of guitars, wildest screams of girls, the exhilarating solo voice of the legendary Paul McCartney, the explosion of fireworks and firecrackers above the stage – everything contributed to a festive night and a cheerful mood Muscovites were having on May 24. The authorities gave the permission to use the entire square for the concert with a huge screen erected outside the Red Square for those unlucky fans who could not afford to buy a ticket. The crowd gave a wail seeing the live Paul McCartney show up on the stage and proceed to the microphone. People wanted to see the show. They wanted to see the show for which they paid up to 1500 dollars from their pockets. The entrance guards were on alert looking for all fare dodgers trying to sneak to the concert without tickets. The police performed their functions in a strict proper way arresting unwelcome gate-crushers and those ticketless guests trying to bribe the guard to see Paul McCartney. That night was a musical chaos. In that chaos and bustle, one fare dodger was completely forgotten by everyone. That fare evader was lying next to the Kremlin wall, at the Spassky Tower, enjoying the melancholic song “The Fool on the Hill.” That dead-head was Lenin-cadaver humming the Beatles’ song and automatically changing certain words and phrases:

Day after day,                     "Day after day
Alone on a hill,                    Alone under a hill,
The man with the foolish grin       The man with the Jewish grin
is keeping perfectly still          is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him        But nobody wants to know him
They can see that he's just a fool  They can see that he's just a ghoul
And he never gives an answer        And he never gives an answer

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round.

Well on the way,                    Well on display,
Head in a cloud,                    Head to the crowd,
The man of a thousand voices        The man of a thousand voices
talking perfectly loud              talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,          But nobody ever hears him,
Or the sound he appears to make,    Or the sound he appears to make,
And he never seems to notice,       And he never seems to notice,

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round.

And nobody seems to like him,       And nobody seems to like him,
They can tell what he wants to do,  They can tell what he wants to do,
And he never shows his feelings,    And he never shows his feelings,

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round.

Ooh,ooh, round and round and round  Ooh,ooh, round, round, underground

And he never listens to them,       And he never listens to them,
He knows that they're the fools     He knows that they're the mules
They don't like him,                They don't like him,

But the fool on the hill,           But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,            Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,           And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.      See the world spinning 'round. 

Ooh,ooh, round and round and round  Ooh,ooh, round, round, underground
(Lennon)                            (Lenin)
"The Fool on the Hill" (1967)       "The Ghoul under the Hill" (2003)

Lenin-cadaver was getting more creative and even poetic with days or, better say, with years. It did not take him long to twist the song he was listening to on May 24 and change the lyrics to reflect himself in this beautiful musical combination. Lenin-cadaver hummed the song and thought: “Paul McCartney is doing great over there, upstairs, above ground. Perhaps a little bit too loud since I feel the vibration of his electric guitar as if my bed has suddenly started dancing along with ‘The Ghoul under the Hill.’ If only I could stand up and make some moves to that music! I feel my muscles got atrophied completely. Do I actually have muscles? Sometimes I feel I am no more than a ghoul lying in this sarcophagus for the public display for the mere amusement of the crowd. People know me as Lenin. They do not know me as Lenin-cadaver at all. ‘And nobody seems to like him, they can tell what he wants to do, and he never shows his feelings.’”

Lenin-cadaver never showed his feelings to human beings. He did not complain about the loudness of McCartney’s music and microphone. He did not say anything about being so close to Paul and still lacking the chance to see the concert or watch the live transmission of it on TV. He did not mention the coldness and darkness of the mausoleum which had been first built of wood. He did not say anything to people. He only talked to himself: “Thank Marx, my present house is made of steel concrete with brick walls and granite veneer textured with marble, labradorite stone, and crimson quartz rock which muffle the outside sound without eliminating it entirely. I quail at the thought of my previous dwelling, made of wood in the shape of a cube topped with a three-stage pyramid. Proletariat, workers of the world, think of how you treat your mummified but not dead communist leader! You placed me in the building which evidently resembles a dog house! I deserve to be treated with more respect! Honestly speaking, some of my co-mummies received a better treatment in terms of housing, the mausoleum structure. I sincerely envy Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. I envy their Taj Mahal, that splendid white marble mausoleum of Mughal architecture. I envy their UNESCO World Heritage status. I envy their beautifully craved calligraphy on the pishtaq and marble cenotaphs. I envy their elaborate decoration of the interior spangled with precious gemstones. I even envy their ginormous garden with flowerbeds, a water tank, a reflecting pool, and avenues of trees and fountains. Their mausoleum looks like a paradise and an honorable place for honored people.” For another two hours Lenin-cadaver plunged into the thoughts about how any corpse should be respected, appreciated, and taken care of.

Speaking about the care, Lenin-cadaver regularly had to undergo bath procedures which were not always pleasant and comforting. Friday was the day for Andrey and two other cadaver specialists to pay a visit to dedushka Lenin and work as professional cosmetologists and tender massage therapists. Lenin-cadaver met them every Monday and Friday which explained why the mausoleum was not open for public display on these days. The procedure usually started with the painful removal of the corpse from the sarcophagus in the public room to an adjacent laboratory place where Lenin-cadaver was regularly taking baths and undergoing antiaging procedures. Andrey was usually the one to conduct a thorough examination of the mummified body. For Lenin-cadaver, Andrey was certainly the favourite one out of all the cosmetologists. During the bath procedure, Lenin-cadaver always had a monologue in its head: “Andrey has tender, motherly, soft hands which touch my body with such particular care as if I am some precious object, an infant, a god’s son. He tenderly unbuttons my shirt, takes off the jacket and the trousers, puts a white thin blanket to cover my naked body either to make me feel less self-conscious and ashamed or to protect my skin from risky exposure to that blinding laboratory light. Andrey examines every centimeter of my skin looking for any bodily rupture, any change of the skin tone, any sign of my physical appearance deteriorating. It took me time to get adapted to this weekly procedure and stop feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. But beauty knows no pain. That’s how we say it in Russia. I believe I am one of the most attractive and good-looking cadavers in the world today. I still look like Lenin alive and that’s the biggest value for any corpse. To resemble a living person, not a lifeless scarecrow.”

In fact, if a cadaver wanted to look like a human being not like a scarecrow, there was one sickly procedure it could not avoid. The balsamation bath. This was a torture for any corpse, to feel the formalin liquid penetrating the body through a big hole in the cadaver’s chest. In March 1924, the medical workers cut Lenin-cadaver’s chest in half and removed all the inner organs from the inside. Lenin’s brain, his pride and dignity, was removed as well. Lenin became a corpse without a heart or brain. The mummified garment was regularly washed with acetic acid which supposedly burned its flesh like hundreds of nettle bushes or thousands of bee stings. The torment was not over yet. The inside feeling of itchiness was coupled with the experience of the 1-percent formolized cotton-wool applied to the mummified body before it was plunged into a bath of 3-percent formaldehyde. The chemical treatment had initially included the process of bleaching the skin spots with hydric dioxide, the substance which was so popular among Russian fashionistas for dying their hair. Later the hydric dioxide was replaced with the peroxide mixed with ammonia. It made the cadaver’s skin look very white. The last bath for Lenin-cadaver to enjoy was the balsamation liquid bath which contained anti-bacterial components – 66 per cent of glycerin, diuretic salt, and 2 per cent of anti-microbial quinine chloride. The laboratory temperature could not exceed 16 degrees Celsius. Imagine how cold it must be lying naked in a cold bath filled with chemical substances and then all of a sudden being pulled out of the water. Lenin-cadaver complained to himself: “Nobody gives you a towel. Nobody covers your body with a blanket. However, it is not comparable to those days when, for the first time, the mausoleum workers equipped my room with huge, heavy, dark greyish fridges which turned the air into an unbreathable vacuum of freezing cold atmosphere and made me feel my knuckles and tips of my toes quaking with cold and fear. They think a cadaver cannot feel cold. They think a cadaver does not feel anything at all.”

Lenin-cadaver was visited by hundreds of people every week, but no one left a more profound and more significant trace in its life than the mummified body of Stalin. Their acquaintance took place in 1953. One day Lenin-cadaver found itself not alone. There was another corpse in the mausoleum. It was an extremely awkward situation. Two great, mighty communist leaders were lying next to each other resembling ordinary patients in a Soviet hospital. Let’s say they found themselves sharing the same room as complete strangers, being forced to start a conversation mainly so as not to hear the overwhelming silence. But these two mummified patients were not, in fact, complete strangers to each other. They had been acquainted in another life. They had been acquainted before they became cadavers. Stalin-cadaver knew that without Lenin-cadaver, he would not have existed. Lenin-cadaver knew they had to build their relationship anew. They knew each other as human beings. Now they were cadavers: things between living and dead. Things. Certainly, hierarchy exists between things as well. Stalin-cadaver felt inferior in relation to Lenin-cadaver: not because of their pre-mummified life experience when Stalin was always perceived as a mere follower of Lenin, as someone who could only continue developing Lenin’s great communist ideas without generating any of his own; and not because their pre-mummified last meeting was characterized by the tense relationships, secret plotting, struggle for power in Russian society of the 1920s. The hierarchy was unconsciously felt because Lenin-cadaver had been there before Stalin-cadaver came into existence. It felt like Lenin-cadaver was always there. Stalin-cadaver was a temporary resident in the Lenin mausoleum. They did not even change the big signboard on the mausoleum roof from “L E N I N” to “L E N I N & S T A L I N.” People would come to cherish Lenin without making two additional steps towards Stalin-cadaver. They would not even care to turn their hands to look at Stalin-cadaver, to notice its presence. Stalin could feel people’s preference for Lenin-cadaver. One day Stalin-cadaver decided to break silence:

“Do you think a gentleman in the dark-gray costume is a foreigner? He doesn’t look Russian to me. Russians would never wear something that looks like a potato sack. Look at his glasses! They are covering more than half of his face. What a strange sense of fashion.”

“Times might be changing over there. Upstairs. Up the hill. They change. We remain the same. That’s our power.” Lenin-cadaver was in a melancholic, self-reflective mood again.

“I don’t feel that power anymore,” said Stalin-cadaver. “My pre-mummified existence had a lot to do with power, domination, rule, control, subjugation, superiority, leadership, dependence, and hegemony. I loved that. As a person, I loved it. But as a corpse, it is a different thing.” Stalin-cadaver felt vulnerable seeking advice from someone he had deliberately disrespected as a political leader whose policy he intentionally refused to follow after Lenin’s death. Stalin began his career as a blind follower of Lenin’s communism policy working hard to gain his own recognition of an independent political thinker. Stalin-cadaver did not want to repeat this cycle, but it could not help accepting its inferiority.

“It is. You do not belong to yourself completely. They wash you, cut your hair, put on your suit, apply make-up, place your body the way they want it look, touch your hands, and look at you. You are always being watched.”

“There’s a small camera in the upper-left corner of the wall. Don’t they just understand we want our privacy as well?” Stalin-cadaver asked.

“You have to understand one thing. You are already lucky enough to exist as a mummified cadaver. Stalin’s body could be buried underneath the surface and it would be as if you had never been born. You are in an in-between place: not alive, not buried.” Lenin-cadaver remembered Stalin’s rudeness, unpredictability, and hostility. In his last testament of 1922, Lenin suggested Stalin be removed from his position as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee. It suddenly occurred to Lenin-cadaver that Stalin had managed to make history in Russian society and become legendary enough to be mummified and placed in the mausoleum next to Lenin-corpse. The competition between two political figures could actually have a continuation in the underground world.

“What does it feel like to be a mummified cadaver for so many years?” The sudden voice of Stalin-cadaver interrupted Lenin-cadaver’s flow of thoughts.

“It is loneliness which absorbs you.” Lenin-cadaver replied. “You don’t feel attached to anything or anyone. Hundreds of visitors would pass you everyday, scrutinize you, look inside your nose holes believing the hair is still growing there. They are silent: talking is prohibited in the mausoleum. They do not hold your hand or tap you on the shoulder. They do not smile at you: the solemn atmosphere of sullenness and darkness is not appropriate for a cheerful mood, laughs and smiles. The mausoleum guards treat you as a treasure box. They do not care about you. They care about your value. You are their target, their task, their mission to fulfill. The mausoleum workers who wash and polish you never find time to take a seat and be with you. You are a medical experiment for them. A lab rat. You have no friends, no other mummies, nobody. You are alone in this world.”

“Depressing enough. At least you got all the attention from the public! No one pays a visit to me,” said Stalin-cadaver.

“They think a mummy is responsible for the pre-mummified existence of its body. They think you should take responsibility for  history.”

Lenin-cadaver suddenly remembered one visitor on a cold winter day of January, 1937. Sunday morning was the busiest and most crowded day for the mausoleum. Russian tourists from provincial towns, foreigners with Bolsey cameras in their hands, and Muscovites taking their children on a stroll were standing in a long line patiently waiting for their turn to greet Lenin-mummy and wish it a good day. Nothing spelled trouble. Lenin-mummy was not even paying attention to the visitors that day. It was thinking of some distant abstract matters. Lenin-mummy remembered the Kremlin clock about to strike twelve. The guard was about to change. For a second or two, Lenin-mummy was left untended, the crucial moment for a woman in a black coat and scarf covering most of her face to jump over the red ribbon and trespass the line dividing the public space of the mausoleum and the private area of Lenin-cadaver. In a second Lenin-cadaver saw the fierce, angry eyes of the woman a millimetre away from its own eyes and felt her rapid breathing on its nose. “She hates me” – it struck in the cadaver’s head. Lenin-corpse could feel the hatred coming from her heart. The woman pulled her hands from the pocket of her black coat and stretched them towards Lenin-cadaver. Cold from winter air, unfamiliar hands touched the cadaver’s throat, and in a moment the mausoleum was filled with inhuman, blood curdling scream from which one could comprehend only parts of sentences she wanted to say:

“Merciless killer!”

“State terrorist!”

“Madman, go to hell …!”

“You destroyed my noble family and the children, they …!”

“You deserve … next to Ivan the Terrible!”

“Misanthrope!”

“Not slaves … Not a herd of foolish workers!”

“Violence doesn’t … happy and free!”

“Dirty syph!”

“Bloody dictator!”

Lenin-cadaver shuddered remembering that shameful moment of the public disdain and talking to itself: “She was merciless. She placed all her hatred and blame on me, the mummified body of Lenin. Her freezing fingers were stuck into my throat but the coldness of her words was much more tangible. She could not understand my mummified existence started in 1924, at the time when Lenin as a human being ceased to exist. I exist as a cadaver and as a cadaver I have not done anyone a mischief. Am I truly supposed to be responsible for the actions of someone I slightly resemble? Do you really assume I carry all the thoughts, ideas, insights, plans, and beliefs of the communist leader? Lenin’s brain and heart are not even inside me anymore! I am a cadaver. You can love or hate me but you have to treat me as a cadaver. And not as a human being.” Lenin-cadaver could never find peace with that situation.

The crying woman was soon seized by the mausoleum guard and taken to the police office. Nobody knows what kind of punishment she received for making a scene in the sacramental place at the Red Square. Lenin-cadaver was about to share this story with Stalin-cadaver but changed his mind in the last moment. “I will find another time to share it with Stalin-cadaver. The story is too frightening for a newcomer,” Lenin-cadaver thought. It did not find time to tell the story. In 1961, Stalin-corpse was removed from the mausoleum and buried at the cemetery. It vanished into thin air overnight, spontaneously and unexpectedly as it appeared in the mausoleum. Russians thought the body of the merciless dictator and murderer should not be dignified and publicly worshiped. Lenin-cadaver was left alone again. Forever alone in the dark rooms of the mausoleum.

There was only one period in its mummified life when Lenin-cadaver received an opportunity to leave the walls of the gloomy mausoleum. 1941, World War Two, during Hitler’s goal to occupy Moscow. Lenin-cadaver was treated as a sacred symbol of Mother Russia, which was to be specially protected from the enemy’s invasion. On a Friday morning, Lenin-corpse was lying on the sarcophagus patiently waiting for the painful balsamation bath procedure. The door opened, but the cadaver did not see the cheerful face of Andrey. Instead, it saw two people in military uniforms enter the mausoleum with a wheelbarrow and something resembling the sleeping bag. Lenin-cadaver thought it was time to leave the mausoleum and be buried under the surface. The two men were silent. They did not even talk to each other, but their movements were well-coordinated and distinct. They carefully lifted the body from the public bed and put it on the wheelbarrow inside a sleeping bag. The cadaver looked at them very carefully. It thought they would be the last people to see in this world. It looked at the ceiling made of beautiful red bricks, at the sarcophagus which solemnly resembled a king’s throne, at the door, which presumably was the threshold between people and cadavers. Lenin-cadaver looked at the one man’s eyes before he finally zipped its sleeping bag. The corpse was not to be buried that night. Instead, it was going to some faraway place. It was its first and last time to take a car to the train station and a train to Tyumen, one of the sunniest cities in Russian Siberia. The mummified body was placed in a coffin like some dead body so as not to attract anyone’s attention. The cadaver’s removal to Tyumen was a huge state secret. Nobody knew Lenin-corpse was not present in Moscow for four years of its existence. For four years, it did not have any guest visitors except for the medical workers. It felt at peace. Lonely again, but at peace.

Lenin-cadaver was sent back to Moscow in 1945 and has been living in the mausoleum for almost 90 years by now. In a recent time, there has been more agitation among Russian people to remove the mausoleum and bury Lenin-corpse according to the Orthodox Christianity traditions. Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party stresses the need for Russia to break from the gloomy past of the communist country and proceed to a brighter future with no idols to worship. The need for the cadaver’s removal could be arguably caused by some paranormal activities evident behind the walls of the mausoleum and the Kremlin. The ghost of Lenin has been said to wander around the Kremlin and threaten with a fist to everyone it meets on its way. The mausoleum night camera caught the corpse of Lenin moving inside the sarcophagus. During 15 seconds of the video, one can see Lenin’s left hand raise upward and his head and the upper part of the body make a move as if in an attempt to sit upward. And then a sudden fall.

“I hope nobody noticed that.”

On a cold winter night Lenin-mummy would lie in the sarcophagus and tune a familiar song:

“Day after day,
Alone under a hill,
The man with the Jewish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a ghoul,
And he never gives an answer,

But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Well on display,
Head to the crowd,
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,
or the sound he appears to make,
and he never seems to notice,

But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

And nobody seems to like him,
they can't tell what he's able to do,
and he never shows his feelings,

But the ghoul under the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Ooh, ooh,
Round, round, underground.

And he never listens to them,
He knows that they're the mules
They don't like him,

The fool under the hill
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Ooh,
Round, round, underground.”