He has lain in silence for 88 years - the preserved corpse of a man who refuses to die.
|Lenin: a very long sleep|
The preservation of Lenin’s body provides a fascinating insight into the early Soviet Union and the development of the cult of personality. It is also an extraordinary testimony to the dedication of a small team of expert scientists.
|As he was before the glycerine bath|
But Lenin’s Politburo colleagues strongly disagreed. Felix Dzerzhinsky, chairman of the Lenin Funeral Committee, said: ‘If science permits, Lenin’s body must be preserved.’
But this posed a real problem. There were many known techniques for embalming a body in the manner of the ancient Egyptians, but none that could be guaranteed to preserve Lenin’s life likeness.
|Egyptian embalming: not a great likeness|
Others disagreed. Vladimir Vorobiev, a professor of anatomy at Kharkov University argued that ‘many anatomical compounds can be preserved for decades; this means we can try and apply them to an entire body.’
|Embalmed in mud: the bogman|
But this had to be ordered from Germany and time was against the steadily decaying corpse. It was decided to summon Professor Vorobiev to Moscow and give him the weighty responsibility of saving Lenin’s from ruin. He was aided in his work by another expert, Boris Zbarsky: both men knew they’d be killed if they failed.
|Dead but not yet embalmed|
But the rest of what is on display in Red Square is genuine Lenin. His eyebrows, moustache and goatee are his original hair. And his genitals, too, were left in situ (although it goes without saying that they’re not on display).
Once the internal organs had been removed, the corpse was immersed for many weeks in a special solution that contained glycerine and acetate. The dark, mould-like spots that had appeared on the body were removed with acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide. It was very important to keep the eye sockets from collapsing: artificial eyes were made to replace the original pair and inserted into the holes.
|Prof Vogt studies Lenin's brain|
But Lenin was back in Moscow in the spring of 1945. The only change was that he was no longer wearing the traditional military field jacket. Now, he was dressed in a three-piece suit. Every ten years or so, he is given a new set of clothing.
|Lenin's final resting place? The Moscow mausoleum|
‘Not every expert is allowed to restore such treasured historical objects, like a Raphael or a Rembrandt. Those who do it, we tremble. I feel a great responsibility in my hands.’
Boris Yeltsin was the first senior political leader to suggest that Lenin should be buried. He said that following the collapsing of the Soviet Union, it was no longer appropriate to keep the corpse on display.
But neither Vladimir Putin not anyone other senior figure seems inclined to remove from display what must surely rank as one of the most macabre tourist attractions in the world.
So there he lies, marble white, wrinkled and on occasions a little mouldy. A human corpse is an animate organism that’s bursting with life.
So long as he remains on display, Lenin will continue to be the corpse that never quite died.
I am the author of seven works of narrative history including the best-selling Nathaniel's Nutmeg and, most recently, Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War. If you'd like to buy my books, click here for UK readers and here for US readers. For more information about my books, visit www.gilesmilton.com