The im­mor­tal­i­sa­tion Com­mis­sion: Rus­sian Cos­mists ver­sus death

SD TUCKER rolls back the decades to the ear­li­est days of the Soviet Union in search of the Rus­sian diplo­mat Va­le­rian Mu­ravyov, fa­ther of the for­got­ten Com­mu­nist plot to gain con­trol over time.

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I n 1928, a strange lit­tle vol­ume named

Ovlade­nie Vremenem, or Con­trol Over Time, hit the book­shelves of the new Work­ers’ Par­adise of postRevo­lu­tion­ary Rus­sia. Pub­lished at the au­thor’s own ex­pense, the book laid out a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gramme for the al­chem­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of mankind, with the ul­ti­mate aim of free­ing a new, postSoviet breed of col­lec­tivised hu­man­ity from the bonds of time it­self. The au­thor, how­ever, was not some lone crank sit­ting in his gar­den shed and claim­ing to have in­vented a time-ma­chine – in­deed, he dis­missed such an HG Wells-style idea as be­ing one of un­ac­cept­able bour­geois in­di­vid­u­al­ism – but a well-con­nected Rus­sian diplo­mat sit­ting at the heart of the new Bol­she­vik gov­ern­men­tal ma­chine. A gifted lin­guist with a bril­liant in­tel­lect, Va­le­rian Mu­ravyov (1885-1932) proved highly use­ful to the early Red regime. He was ac­quainted with Leon Trot­sky, and this was a friend­ship that proved use­ful to Mu­ravyov at first. How­ever, once Trot­sky fell out of of­fi­cial favour, this al­liance be­came more of a li­a­bil­ity than an as­set, with Mu­ravyov be­ing ar­rested as an ‘en­emy of the peo­ple’ in 1929 and packed off to in­ter­nal ex­ile in Rus­sia’s frozen farnorth, where he died of ty­phus in 1932. It turned out that Mu­ravyov’s rather es­o­teric hopes for the al­chem­i­cal, time-abol­ish­ing fu­ture of Com­mu­nism were not shared by those who held the real power at the top of the Party. In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917, how­ever, he could have been for­given for think­ing oth­er­wise; what fol­lows is not a wind-up.


In 1924 the Soviet Union’s first leader, Lenin, died. Or did he? Some in­flu­en­tial Bol­she­viks at the time sim­ply re­fused to ac­cept the sad news, and in­sisted that he was merely sleep­ing. In par­tic­u­lar, one Leonid Krasin (1870-1926), Soviet Com­mis­sar of Trade, and the man who had en­abled the Bol­she­viks to stay afloat fi­nan­cially post-1917, had trou­ble ad­just­ing to re­al­ity and in­sisted upon keep­ing his hero’s corpse firmly above-ground. Most peo­ple who hang onto the dead bod­ies of loved ones and refuse to al­low them burial are pointed firmly in the di­rec­tion of the near­est loony-bin; Krasin, though, found him­self in­dulged. Made head of a new ‘Im­mor­tal­i­sa­tion Com­mis­sion’, the trained en­gi­neer was handed re­spon­si­bil­ity for cre­at­ing Lenin’s tomb. How­ever, a tomb was not pre­cisely what the au­thor­i­ties got from Krasin. In­stead, he built them a timema­chine. Krasin had a touch­ing faith in the fu­ture abil­ity of Soviet science to per­form won­ders. He was “cer­tain”, he said, that Com­mu­nist doc­tors would one day be able to res­ur­rect the dead, a task which would ob­vi­ously be made eas­ier if their corpses could be pre­served prop­erly. With this in mind, Krasin com­mis­sioned the ar­chi­tect AV Shchu­sev to de­sign Lenin’s tomb, partly on ac­count of Shchu­sev’s un­usual be­liefs. Shchu­sev was a fel­low-trav­eller of the Rus­sian Fu­tur­ist move­ment in literature and the arts, sev­eral of whose mem­bers also re­fused to ac­cept the death of Lenin. “Lenin, even now, is more alive than all the liv­ing!” pro­claimed the Fu­tur­ist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky when the great man’s death had been of­fi­cially an­nounced, be­fore pen­ning the pro­pa­ganda slo­gan “Lenin lived! Lenin lives! Lenin will live!” for the use of his Party mas­ters.

More sig­nif­i­cant in the eyes of Shchu­sev, how­ever, was the work and thought of the Rus­sian-Pol­ish Fu­tur­ist-Supre­ma­tist painter Kaz­imir Male­vich, best known today for his 1915 paint­ing of a black square which is meant (amongst other things) to de­pict eter­nity. Un­doubt­edly, Male­vich loved all things square and cu­bic; th­ese days, he would live on a diet ex­clu­sively of Square Crisps, get square-eyed through watch­ing too much tele­vi­sion, spend his leisure-hours try­ing to solve the eter­nal rid­dle of the Ru­bik’s Cube, and hang all his works in Lon­don’s White Cube Gallery. In­spired by Theos­o­phy and the writ­ings of the Rus­sian mys­tic PD Ous­pen­sky, Male­vich be­lieved that ge­o­met­ri­cal shapes rep­re­sented a higher re­al­ity ex­ist­ing be­yond the hu­man world. With this in mind, Male­vich pro­posed that the shape of Lenin’s tomb should def­i­nitely be that of a cube, be­cause cubes, in his view, rep­re­sented the fourth di­men­sion, a time­less zone which some­how en­abled peo­ple to es­cape death. By plac­ing Lenin’s corpse within a giant grey cube, said Male­vich, it would en­sure that he lived on in a “supra-ma­te­rial king­dom of the ideal spirit”. Th­ese brand-new Fu­tur­istSupre­ma­tist cubes of his, he claimed, were time-ma­chines which par­tially oc­cu­pied the fourth di­men­sion it­self, and so had mag­i­cal, death-de­fy­ing prop­er­ties. “Lenin’s death is not death,” ar­gued Male­vich, and a Com­mu­nist cube was no longer re­ally a cube, but “a new ob­ject, tak­ing as its form the cube... with which we can main­tain Lenin’s eter­nal life, de­feat­ing death.”

Shchu­sev liked the idea, and de­signed a tomb for Lenin con­sist­ing of a trio of cubes cor­re­spond­ing to the Holy Trin­ity, one of whose mem­bers had fa­mously come back to life Him­self, 2,000 years pre­vi­ously. Krasin liked the idea too, but in­sisted that a large Ger­man re­frig­er­a­tor also be placed in­side the mau­soleum for Lenin to rest in, just in case. Then, when Rus­sian science had ad­vanced far enough, the frozen leader’s soul could be sum­moned back into our own time-frame to re­an­i­mate his body to guide the na­tion once again. For good mea­sure, Male­vich pro­posed that minia­ture magic cubes be dis­trib­uted to the pro­le­tariat so


they could set up cu­bic shrines called ‘Lenin Cor­ners’ in their homes and fac­to­ries, thus al­low­ing them to med­i­tate upon how Com­mu­nism had freed mankind from time and death – a sug­ges­tion which was ac­cepted. When Male­vich him­self died in 1935, he was buried in a field with a white con­crete cube as a grave-marker, no doubt de­signed to en­sure his fu­ture res­ur­rec­tion. 2


How could demon­stra­bly in­tel­li­gent and ca­pa­ble men like Leonid Krasin come to be­lieve in such mad­ness? Sim­ply put, be­cause such mad­ness was very much in the air at the time. Krasin be­longed to a move­ment called the ‘God-Builders’, or

bo­gostroiteli, who pro­moted the view that mankind, through ad­vances in science and so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tion, was in the process of trans­form­ing it­self into a species of liv­ing gods. Many of th­ese God-Builders held prom­i­nent po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment, such as Ana­toly Lu­nacharsky, Com­mis­sar of En­light­en­ment, who de­fined God as be­ing sim­ply “the so­cial­ist hu­man­ity of the fu­ture”, a God “not yet born, but be­ing built.” Lu­nacharsky, like many later com­men­ta­tors, viewed Bol­she­vism as be­ing es­sen­tially a re­li­gious move­ment, with science as its new form of ‘ra­tio­nal’ magic, and was the founder of a Rus­sian equiv­a­lent of the Bri­tish SPR, where the God-like pow­ers of Com­mu­nist su­per-men of the fu­ture, like telekine­sis and telepa­thy, were re­searched; all those later Cold War tales of Nina Ku­lag­ina and her psy­choki­netic ilk have their ul­ti­mate ori­gins with Lu­nacharsky and his God-Builders. 3

The God-Builders them­selves, though, were the in­her­i­tors of an­other tra­di­tion now known as ‘Rus­sian Cos­mism’, the bizarre cre­ation of the as­cetic Moscow li­brar­ian and philoso­pher Niko­lai Fe­dorov (1829-1903). Al­most un­pub­lished in his own life­time, the true scope of Fe­dorov’s think­ing was only re­vealed with the post­hu­mous print­ing of an an­thol­ogy of his writ­ings dubbed The Phi­los­o­phy of the Com­mon Task, which laid out his un­likely ar­gu­ment that mankind had a sa­cred duty to res­ur­rect our an­ces­tors, all the way back to Adam and Eve, by hoover­ing up their “an­ces­tral dust” and then patch­ing it all to­gether again. Noth­ing was to dis­rupt this plan; if any dust had floated off into space, then Earth would have to be trans­formed into a giant space­ship to re­cap­ture it, the ul­ti­mate aim of the pro­gramme be­ing to achieve to­tal “knowl­edge and con­trol over all atoms and mol­e­cules” in the Uni­verse. Once this had oc­curred, Eden would be sci­en­tif­i­cally re­stored; death, ill­ness, hunger, war, work and all other ills could be abol­ished for­ever. Even sex would be dis­con­tin­ued as, with the dead liv­ing for­ever, there would be no need for re­pro­duc­tion. Then, in­stead of eat­ing an­i­mals or crops, hu­man­ity would even­tu­ally evolve into “au­totrophic” be­ings, feed­ing off sun­light and thin air. Grad­u­ally, we would shed each of our body parts in turn, trans­form­ing into a race of asex­ual su­per-psy­chic space-plants, liv­ing in what Fe­dorov called “rich mind-fields”, merg­ing with the Uni­verse it­self and be­com­ing an in­sep­a­ra­ble part of it. 4

Amongst the early wave of Bol­she­viks, there were plenty who would have deemed them­selves Cos­mists as well as Com­mu­nists. In­deed, to some the two terms seemed in­sep­a­ra­ble. How­ever, such Fe­doro­vian won­ders could only be achieved by ev­ery­one pulling to­gether and fol­low­ing the same path. In the era of Tsar Putin, we are al­ways be­ing told that the Rus­sian peo­ple love a strong leader. Fe­dorov would have agreed, feel­ing that the Tsars of his own day had been given the di­vine task by God of bring­ing all lands un­der their rule and mak­ing Moscow into a ‘New Rome’, from which all hu­man en­deav­our was to be di­rected. No friend of in­di­vid­u­al­ism, he ar­gued that his Com­mon Task had to be over­seen by a ruth­less Rus­sian au­to­crat. Dic­ta­tor­ship, he said, rep­re­sented “the duty to the dead of all the liv­ing”, whereas demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tions rep­re­sented only the self­ish de­sire of the liv­ing to be free, or “the recog­ni­tion of amuse­ment and play as the goal of life”, rather than the holy task of res­ur­rect­ing the dead. 5 Put a Soviet spin on that, how­ever, and you get an im­age not un­like that of the ab­so­lute dic­ta­tor Stalin do­ing what­ever he likes in the name of World Rev­o­lu­tion. Bizarrely, some in­cur­able op­ti­mists amongst the Cos­mists be­gan to spec­u­late that Stalin was mur­der­ing so many peo­ple fol­low­ing his full ac­ces­sion to power in 1929 sim­ply so that he could later res­ur­rect them, within the New Soviet Eden. 6 Be­fore he was sent off to Siberia, per­haps Va­le­rian Mu­ravyov would have been one of th­ese same de­luded fools.

LEFT: Leonid Krasin, head of the Im­mor­tal­i­sa­tion Com­mis­sion re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing Lenin’s tomb.

BE­LOW: Ni­co­lai Federov, Moscow li­brar­ian, philoso­pher and lead­ing light of Rus­sian Cos­mism.

ABOVE: One of AV Shchu­sev’s designs for Lenin’s mau­soleum on Red Square. ABOVE RIGHT: Lenin’s em­balmed body, pho­tographed for the first time in 30 years in 1991.

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