All over Russia, from Communist Party rallies to tourist souvenir shops, there are banners bearing the Soviet-era slogan “Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin Will Live”. This was no mere Communist rallying cry – some of those guys were serious. They really expected to see the short socialist walk again. And perhaps help colonize other planets.
The belief that Lenin would rise from the grave to lead the march to communism once more has its roots in the work of Nikolai Fyodorov, a 19th century, Moscow-based ascetic philosopher. Despite not publishing anything in his lifetime, Fyodorov was cited by both Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky as a major influence.
“He has devised a plan for a common task for humanity, the aim of which is the bodily resurrection of all humans…it is not as crazy as it sounds,” the author of War and Peace wrote in a letter in 1881.
Fyodorov, who preferred to disseminate his ideas orally, was convinced that the resurrection of the dead was scientifically possible, and that it was also humanity’s moral duty to undertake this task. Mankind, the celibate thinker maintained, was the tool nature had chosen to resolve its greatest flaw, i.e. death.
In order to do this, Fyodorov suggested, scientists would have to search for the atoms of all the world’s dead and then reassemble them. The final day of this resurrection “project” would see Adam and Eve reborn in the Pamirs, the central Asian mountain range that he considered the site of the biblical Garden of Paradise. As the Earth was likely to get a bit overcrowded with all these newly reborn folk, Fyodorov believed that the once dead would seek out other planets to colonize.
It would be very easy to dismiss Fyodorov as, at best, a well-meaning eccentric, but his ideas continued to thrive after his death, and were taken up by a number of respected figures in Soviet society. Not least of these was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics, who studied under Fyodorov in Moscow as a teenager.
Fyodorov was also the inspiration for the 1920s Biocosmists-Immortalists, a state-approved pro-Bolshevik group that aimed to extend the October 1917 Revolution into the realms of time and space, and who claimed that humanity had two basic rights - the right to immortality and to unimpeded movement throughout the universe. “Dead of all countries, unite!” proclaimed a 1920 manifesto released by the group, whose members included high-up Soviet scientists and philosophers.
After Lenin’s death, the Biocosmists-Immortalists published a statement in the state-run Izvestiya newspaper that consoled the bereaved nation with the thought that the workers of the world “would not be reconciled” with the passing away of the father of the Revolution and would not rest until he was resurrected in all his glory. "Lenin, even now," wrote poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, “is more alive than all the living."
Soviet Foreign Trade Minister Leonid Krasin was another believer in Fedorov’s ideas and after Lenin’s passing he took control of the construction of the Red Square mausoleum where Lenin’s body would lie eternally in state. It was Krasin, in talks with Stalin and other key Soviet figures, who pressed for Lenin’s body to be embalmed to preserve it for future science.
Even before Lenin’s death, Krasin had been upfront about his beliefs. "I am certain that the time will come when science will become all-powerful, that it will be possible to recreate a diseased organism and resurrect great historical figures,” he said at a funeral in the years before the father of the October Revolution’s death.
As historian Mikhail Pokrovsky pointed out, while Christianity promised its followers eternal existence in the afterlife, Communism looked to provide immortality here on Earth. The Soviets did not believe in the afterlife – they believed in the power of their science to eventually defeat mankind’s oldest and cruelest enemy.
Another notable literary figure to take an interest in Fyodorov’s work was Maxim Gorky, the Order of Lenin-winning writer. “We shall all rise from the dead,” Gorky stated in a work entitled “On Knowledge.” In a state where God had been exiled, it goes without saying that Gorky was not speaking of the Christian promise of eternal life.
Or as a character in Soviet writer Andrei Platonov’s 1929 novel The Foundation Pit stated: “Marxism can do anything. Why do you think Lenin lies in Moscow perfectly intact? He is waiting for science, he wants to rise from the dead…”
Further reading: The Occult in Soviet and Russian culture - Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal (Cornell University Press), The Immortalization Commission – John Gray (Picador)
From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.
Marc Bennetts is a journalist (The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, and more) and the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books). He is currently working on a book about Russia’s fascination with the occult.