The Soviet Brain Trust

by James S. Robbins

The Brain Institute (Institut Mozga) was established in 1926 to study the
brains of infleuntial people, and reflected Stalin’s predilection for quack science. They have
scores of brains on hand, including Maxim Gorky, Andrei Sakharov, Sergei Eisenstein, and of
course the great Stalin himself. The Lenin and Stalin brains were sliced up into tens of thousands
of sections with a microtome, and fixed to slides for study (which didn’t turn up much). At the
time, slicing seemed the thing to do, but with contemporay medical technology the brains would
be easier to examine intact. In fact, in their current condition they are of not much use. However,
the Brain Institute has been left with some superb collectables. Forget having a hunk of the Berlin
Wall, a Lenin or Stalin brain sample would be the ultimate Cold War trophy item. The Institute
should get into the swing of capitalism and figure out a way to get those slides on HSN or QVC
right away. But they’ll have to have some kind of proof of authenticity, I wouldn’t want to order
Stalin and get Zinoviev or some other hapless purgee.

BTW, those interested in more details on Lenin’s preservation should check out Ilya Zbarsky’s
Lenin’s Embalmers
, a first-hand account of the process. Andrew Stuttaford mentioned it in the
Corner last July 13
with a link to a review of a play based on the story.
The Soviet Period is such an endless
source of the weird and tragic.

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