It May Shock You. It Might Even Horrify You.

Writing in yesterday's New York Sun, National Review ‘s Andrew Stuttaford surveys some of the carnage and perversity featured in the intriguing new book Lenin's Brain and Other Tales from the Soviet Archives. From Stuttaford's review:

The saga begins with the removal of [Lenin's] brain in the immediate aftermath of its owner's death, to be poked and prodded, examined and venerated. From there it went on a long, strange trip from skull to jar to slide, ending up divided into 30,953 carefully selected slices. (I am unclear whether this total includes the portion that was dispatched to Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.) A German brain specialist was put in charge of the project for a while, but he proved unacceptably foreign and irritatingly independent. In the end, however, Stalin's Politburo got the result it wanted from a team of more biddable experts, "proof" that Lenin was smarter than just about anybody else—a mixture of pseudoscience and elitism that was all too typical of the Bolshevik project. As the episode reminds us, the Soviet leadership believed that the masses were inherently unreliable: Without an "enlightened elite to manage [them], there would never be a peasant-worker paradise. By this logic, the creators of this dictatorship must themselves be head and shoulders above the rest."

Whole thing here.

The Soviet horror show that particularly sticks in my brain is described in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. The scene is a district Party conference in Moscow Province. Stalin wasn't there, but of course he was celebrated at the close of proceedings. The applause was thunderous.

However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first. And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn't stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks. At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly—but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Taktix&#174||

    I wouldn't last eight minutes with the "Russian Beauty" in the ad to the right...

    Anyone else see that?

  • ||

    "Russian Beauty"

    All I see is Drew Carey. He's a beaut but hardly Russian.

  • kinnath||

    Yup I see it. But this lady is not the best looking Russian I have seen.

  • Jorgen||

    it amazes me that there are still people living in Russia. I'm so used to the relative freedom and comfort of the United States that it's hard to imagine how you could survive the Czars, and then the Soviets, and now Putin.

  • ||

    Some Russky brains are more equal than others.

  • robc||

    Whats an "ad"?

  • kinnath||

    Whats an "ad"?

    It's the crap that shows up in the company mandated web browser when you look at the Internet instead of doing your job.

  • ||

    Jorgan,

    It is kind of amazing. I read in a biography of Solzhenitsyn a few years ago that of the original Soviet generation born in the 1920s that between the purges and World War II, 90% of the males born in that period died an unnatural death. It is just unimaginable.

  • ||

    I think we should dump Lenin and Einstein's brain into the same jar and watch 'em rassle!

    Dillinger's penis could referee.

  • ||

    But this lady is not the best looking Russian I have seen.

    She'll do. She'll do just fine.

    I have to say, the auto-ads that get matched with the stories are endlessly amusing.

  • kinnath||

    But this lady is not the best looking Russian I have seen.

    She'll do. She'll do just fine.

    She's definitely a Euro-babe, but doesn't look Slavic. A little bait-and-switch perhaps?

  • ||

    "She'll do. She'll do just fine.

    I have to say, the auto-ads that get matched with the stories are endlessly amusing."

    They just want to marry you, get their greencard, get pregnant and divorce you to take every dime you have. Despite the drawbacks, if she is any indication of the quality of women avaialable, it is still a bargin.

  • Colin Clout||

    ..."proof" that Lenin was smarter than just about anybody else...

    Soviet leaders - before and after the Revolution - liked to put on an air of intellectual mastery. Most scholars these days would probably argue that the ideas of most of the Bolshevik bigwigs were derivative and that at best they at best were decent synthesizers.

    As the episode reminds us, the Soviet leadership believed that the masses were inherently unreliable...

    Some elements of the Soviet leadership were more amenable to the masses self-organizing than others were. Those who didn't like this idea won out however.

  • ||

    If we can find Kennedy's brain, it'll be a superbrain cage match; think of the global pay-per-view take! I bet we could get Murdoch to back us.

  • kinnath||

    They just want to marry you, get their greencard, get pregnant and divorce you to take every dime you have.

    Supporting evidence?

  • Mad Ivan||

    >>It is kind of amazing. I read in a biography of Solzhenitsyn a few years ago that

  • Mad Ivan||

    Eh... This is some silly board software...

    Anyway, it is rather surprising that anyone still actually would believe anything from Solzhenitsyn's ramblings... About the only thing that is reliable there is that he was, in fact, a KGB informant when it suited him..

    And Russians happen not only to live in Russia, but even to like Putin... Weird, innit?

  • ||

    "Anyway, it is rather surprising that anyone still actually would believe anything from Solzhenitsyn's ramblings..."

    Yes because it is myth that Stalin killed anyone. The great terror was just a captalist lie. Who the hell are you? Walter Duranty?

  • ||

    Leftist evil always comes cloaked in "science".

  • robc||

    kinnath,

    It's the crap that shows up in the company mandated web browser when you look at the Internet instead of doing your job.

    My company mandated web browser is firefox.

  • ||

    Oh, only the Soviet leadership believed it was just a little brighter than the masses ? Guess the Kennedys and the rest of the Washington folks don't count for nuthin'. If they are just the same as me I guess they won't mind helpin' me around the farm , only for a few days, when they're not busy doing the people's work.

  • kinnath||

    And Russians happen not only to live in Russia, but even to like Putin...

    And a lot of Russians liked Zhirinovskii too.

  • kinnath||

    My company mandated web browser is firefox.

    Lucky you ;-)

  • Mad Ivan||

    (And a lot of Russians liked Zhirinovskii too)

    Some still do, if anything for entertainment value. For the vast majority, they live better under Putin than before, and they can see that most of the so-called "opposition leaders" are either insane (Novodvorskaya, Kasparov) or far more dangerous (Limonov).

    (Yes because it is myth that Stalin killed anyone)

    Stalin had quite a few people killed, and noone is arguing that point. The point relevant here is that Solzhenitsyn is a megalomaniac (and whatever language he is writing in, is not Russian), by all accounts not a nice person (to put it mildly), and happens to havу rather cold relationship with truth.

    If one were to believe "statistics" from Gulag Archipelago (even if it is obvious that at the time it was being written, Solzhenitsyn could not have had access to any statistics whatsoever), there would not be any people left in Russia by now...

  • Colin Clout||

    Mad Ivan,

    Do you think that Holdomar was an act of genocide?

  • Taktix&#174||

    They just want to marry you, get their greencard, get pregnant and divorce you to take every dime you have.

    Supporting evidence?


    An episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

    Duh!

  • Colin Clout||

    ...Holodomar...

  • ||

    "For the vast majority, they live better under Putin than before..."

    I think a better handle for "Mad Ivan" would be "Putin on the Ritz".

  • PC||

    Speaking of ads, I have always noticed the totality of commercials on TV during a certain time segment and who they are trying to target. Like when I used to stay up late in college and the only ads were herpes meds, bad credit counseling, and GED and Post secondary educational institutions but lower level than colleges. Like denture creams and senior stuff during Jepoardy.

    That said, why is Reason trying to court the NAMBLA and incest crowd with that ad between Drew and the Buy a Bride?

  • Mad Ivan||

    Holodomor...

    Mass murder, yes, probably. Genocyde, no. At least not by any accepted definition.

  • ||

    COOPER DOOPER!

  • ||

    R.I.P. Peter Boyle.

  • ||

    "Get married again? No thanks. I'll just find a woman I can't stand, and give her a house." - Rod Stewart

  • Colin Clout||

    Mad Ivan,

    So you agree with Solzhenitsyn that it wasn't an act of genocide.

  • ||

    Mad Ivan,

    Yes he is megelomaniac and not a nice person. But he also was right about Stalin and was right when most people in the West were living in denial. Further, that wasn't his autobiography, it was a biography and the 90% figure doesn't come from him.

    Is it your position that Stalin's death toll is overrrated? Look there were a couple hundre million people in Russia in the 1920s. You could kill 20 million in the war and another 20 or 30 million in the gulags and famines and you are still left with 130 million people plus the birth rate.

  • Mad Ivan||

    Colin - even a stopped clock is right twice a day... Calling holodomor an act of genocyde might be good politics for Ukraine, but it does not make it so.

    John - Considering his ideas about how Russia _should_ be, he might have been right about Stalin, to some degree, but from an entirely different angle than what most westerners would think. Or like.

    Stalin's death toll, as well as extent of individual atrocities is exaggerated. No matter what Solzhenitsin says (as he does), arresting a quarter of Leningrad population would be impossible, counterproductive, and simply beyond belief...

    I have actually read one of Solzhenitsyn's autobiographies (and believe me, reading him in Russian is a major undertaking) and, actually knowing some people he mentions, I would not put much trust in any facts that he presents.

  • Colin Clout||

    John,

    By the 1970s very few people were in denial about the nature of the Great Purge. After all, Robert Conquest's book had been published in the 1960s.

  • ||

    I was aware that Solzhenitsyn has some loopy ideas, but I was not aware of evidence that he made things up in Gulag Archipelago. Citation? I am genuinely interested.

  • Colin Clout||

    Mad Ivan,

    It is a safe bet to say that at least one million people died in the Soviet Union as a result of some sort of direct form of state terror. That doesn't included all the people killed by the murderous and rather stupid industrial and agricultural policies of the Soviet state during Stalin's reign.

  • Colin Clout||

  • Mad Ivan||

    jbd -- I only have links in Russian currently. As an example, his estimates of people who died during construction of White Sea- Baltic canal ranges from 1350000 to 3280000 (depending on edition). Which would be terrible, of course, but the entire number of people employed in the construction was 125000. Even Stalin was not able, at least as far as I now, to kill the same person 30 times over...

    Colin - One million sounds like a more believable number. Does it include the Civil War, or only реу following period.

    People dead because of failed policies... it is sad, but for it to be a crime there should be some intent, and given Stalin's (and generally Soviet) preoccupation with increasing the population (to increase both production and army size), intent seems to be unlikely.

  • Joel||

    I really don't know anything about Solzhenitsyn except what I read in The Gulag Archipelago, and all I know about Stalin is all the shit I've been told for all my life. So admitting that everything I think I know could well be wrong, I've got no dog in whatever flamefest is getting ready to light up.

    But before it does, please let me just say that if I were in the physical presence of the only person I've ever encountered who was actually willing to speak up even mildly for Josef Stalin at this very late historical date, anyone who would be so ballsy, so gallsy, and - if any one tiny thing I've ever heard about Stalin is even slightly true - so incredibly wrongheaded as to come out in public and do that...well, hell. I'd want to shake his hand, just so I could tell my grandkids I did.

    That's all I want to say.

  • kinnath||

    An episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

    It's settled then.

  • ||

    Joel,
    Would the same apply in the case of Pol Pot, or would it be too soon?

  • Rhywun||

    I'd grab the popcorn, but I fear this thread is dying down anyway.

  • goodwin alert||

    Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot . . Compare and Contrast

    So what's more important, raw numbers of bodies or percentage of starting population?

    Religious/Ethnic targets versus Class/Political targets versus Class/Intellectual targerts?

    Or can be settle on bad people are bad people?

  • ||

    "jbd -- I only have links in Russian currently. As an example, his estimates of people who died during construction of White Sea- Baltic canal ranges from 1350000 to 3280000 (depending on edition). Which would be terrible, of course, but the entire number of people employed in the construction was 125000. Even Stalin was not able, at least as far as I now, to kill the same person 30 times over..."

    Of course you can, you just replace the ones who die. For example, if you have a work force of 125,000 and say 5,000 a month die but are replaced by 5000 new people, in four years you will have killed twice the number of people who are working on the project. It is the same way divisions during World War II sufferred 300 and 400% casualties.

    As far as Stalin's arresting a quarter of the population of Lennigrad being unbelievable. Why not? Hitler exeterminated 13 million people and the whole continent of Europe claimed not to know. Pol Pot killed one quarter of the population of Cambodia in about three years. Mao killed over a 100 million. Considered in the light of what happened later in the 20th Century, there is nothing unbelievable about it at all.

  • Mad Ivan||

    jbd - 125000 is, supposedly, the total number of people to have worked on the project, not the number of people to have worked on it at any single moment.

    As for the second point... emptying one quarter of a million-person city would be rather noticeable, and I know enough people from Leningrad/St. Petersburg, and not one of them ever mentioned the city being emptied out like that...

    Now, we're not talking about Stalin being a good person, which he was not, but rather about Solzhenitsyn being a reliable source of information and, tangentially, about the tendency to exaggerate Soviet crimes, which might bring political points to some, but does, in the end, cheapen the real issue.

  • Rhywun||

    for it to be a crime there should be some intent

    Lots of crimes don't have intent. IANAL, but I just looked up "manslaughter" and the phrase "malice aforethought" came up - "which may involve an unintentional killing but with a willful disregard for life". I'd say "willful disregard for life" accurately describes every Communist regime I've heard of.

  • ||

    Mad Ivan: Ya dovol'no khorosho chitayu po russkii. Yesli ne vozrazhayetye, khotel byi chutat' links.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Hitler exeterminated 13 million people...



    What? Are you talking about the concentration / death camps? The highest estimates I'd seen ran about 6 million.

  • ||

    I don't know what the truth is here, and I'm interested in the evidence. But I do not think it is convincing to argue that Stalin would not have intentionally slaughtered millions because he was simultaneously trying to increase population.

    Many of the things he indisputably did were self-desctructive, for example killing off most of his best military leaders in the purges when he knew Germany was rearming and an eventual confrontation was inevitable. He could have opted to kill off particular parts of the population (say, for example, Ukrainian peasants resisting collectivization), even if he wanted to increase overall population.

  • Colin Clout||

    Mad Ivan,

    One million during the Great Terror alone.

    As for the failed policies, Stalin was well aware of the suffering that those policies wrought; indeed, if I am not mistaken, this is one of the reasons why he made his "Dizzy with success" statement that delayed collectivization in the early 1930s.

  • Colin Clout||

  • Mad Ivan||

    jbd - try www.duel.ru for example. http://www.duel.ru/publish/emelyanov/emelian.html or http://www.duel.ru/200821/?21_7_1 have some interesting iinformation, if true.

    If by "best military leaders" you mean someone like Tukhachevsky, he was beaten back any time he went against anyone other than badly armed peasants, but he sure was quite good at slaughtering those...

    That Stalin's regime was eliminating people deemed dangerous (not necessarily killing, but at least shipping them off to camps) is one not really in question. But once you get to numbers like 20-30-100 millions, it requires that people involved were insane and stupid. Stalin and Co. were "not nice" to say the least, and they were deluded about thew ability of planned economics to work in long term, but they most certainly were not stupid.

    Rhywun - in that case, pretty much any government can be indicted. Certainly any US administration.

    Colin - since everyone seems to agree ереф people were shipped off to Gulag or shot on site in greates numbers during the Great Terror, then the total number can not be that much greater than a million...

  • Colin Clout||

    Mad Ivan,

    From what I have read twenty million seems to be a fair estimate actually.

    ...but they most certainly were not stupid.

    Stalin proved himself to be rather dim on a number of occassions (not that he was always so, he could also be quite sly and clever). The classic example of this was his unerring belief that Germany was not preparing to invade in 1941, even though his military advisors (Zhukov was one of them I think) warned him for some time prior to the invasion that the USSR was indeed at hand.

  • Mad Ivan||

    Colin - every time I have read this number, it was including people who died during famines etc., not only victims of repressions.

    I do not claim to know what was going through Stalin's head, but apparently there was so much conflicting intelligence data coming in at the time (i.e. from Zorge) about possible dates for German attack that taking any premature action, in violation of the Non-aggression treaty, would not have necessarily been any smarter...

  • bill||

    "enlightened elite to manage [them], there would never be a peasant-worker paradise. By this logic, the creators of this dictatorship must themselves be head and shoulders above the rest."

    This is a very interesting comment seeing as how all the leaders of the Communist Revolution were Jews.

  • ||

    They just want to marry you, get their greencard, get pregnant and divorce you to take every dime you have.

    Delete the bit about the greencard, and this sounds like all too many women I have known.

  • ||

    To make this discussion just a little stranger, Solzhenitsyn himself published a weird little editorial in the Boston Globe a few weeks ago, arguing that the Great Famine that happened in the Urkraine was NOT a genocide.

    So you can stop waving around Gulag Archipelago to shut down any conversation now.

  • ||

    "What? Are you talking about the concentration / death camps? The highest estimates I'd seen ran about 6 million."

    You're confusing the number of Jews murdered, which was about 6 million, with the total number of defenseless and innocent men, women and children murdered by the Nazis, for which 13 million is actually a conservative estimate.

  • Colin Clout||

    Mad Ivan,

    Stalin didn't need to invade Germany to prepare for war; heck, all he needed to do was mobilize his forces and otherwise prepare for an invasion. He was unwilling to do so because apparently his gigantic ego got in the way of common sense. Millions of Soviet citizens would have been saved if he had simply been prepared to admit that he was wrong about the original timeline he expected re: war with Germany.

  • Colin Clout||

    atrevete,

    Yes, Roma/gypsies, homosexuals, Poles, "undesirable" Germans (be they for political or "hygenic" reasons), also died in the camps. Plus there are the millions of civilians and soldiers of who died as a result of military conflict (a lot of them were told to start walking and they died of starvation, etc. on their way to the "destination" they were instructed to go to).

  • Mad Ivan||

    Colin -- as I recall, they were doing some major maneuvres around that time. In any case, getting back to the original argument, it might be a sign of ego, but not of stupidity...

    In any case, even smart people sometimes make stupid decisions.

  • ||

    Colin, Mad Ivan,

    I think Hitler was so inside Stalin's head, con-man style, that Stalin was actively working to disbelieve people who warned him about a German invasion, including the front-line troops who reported it the first day.

    There had to be plenty of people around him who were warning him about making a deal with the hateed fascists, saying he was setting up the USSR for betrayal, and we know how he dealt with dissent. I think he got to the point that he reflexively dismissed warnings about that, and the Nazis knew this and used it against him.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement