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."
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?