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They Saved Lenin's Brain!

They Saved Lenin’s Brain!

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Editor’s Note:

The following essay was later incorporated into Kerry Bolton’s The Psychotic Left: From Jacobin France to the Occupy Movement, available from Black House Publishing

As contradictory as it might seem, the physiology of the human brain was of significant interest to the early Soviet leadership. A collection of brains was preserved, with a focus on that of Russians remarkable in the arts and sciences, with an Institute of the Brain which was created for the primary purpose of studying Lenin’s brain, comparing it to that of Russian geniuses, with the intention of declaring that Lenin was the greatest genius of them all. What is also notable is that Lenin’s brain was not compared to the brains of ordinary folk, such as proletarians or peasants, but that of the culturally and academically accomplished, thereby implying:

(1)  an elitist assumption,

(2)   that accomplishment is based on inherited neuro-physiology

The question arises as to how is it possible to reconcile this implicit elitism and hereditarianism with the fundamental Marxian-communist doctrine of the malleability of the human personality through environmental reconditioning? The task was to prove that Lenin was an innate genius. However, the endeavour ran into major difficulties because, at the beginning, the German Oskar Vogt, an internationally  eminent scientist, was asked to head the examination, and the project was uncharacteristically placed outside of Soviet hands.

The preliminary step was the creation of the V I Lenin Institute, shortly after Lenin’s death in 1924,[1] which was to collect material for the elevation of Lenin to Soviet godhood, which would be symbolised with the embalming of his body[2] and its display in a stepped pyramid in Red Square.[3]

With the direction of the study being given to a non-communist German scientist, there were problems insofar as the Soviet apparatus could not control his findings and make them conform to their political requirements. The report on the brain, issued under the auspices of the Institute of the Brain, especially created for this project, was not released to the Politburo until 1936, citing indices that show Lenin’s supposedly remarkable neuro-physiology behind his genius.[4] However, Vogt had the year before been citing different conclusions.

The first error in the matter was for Nikolai Semashko, Soviet minister of health, and Ivan Tovstukha, deputy director of the Lenin Institute, to jointly propose that Lenin’s brain be sent to Berlin for study to prove Lenin’s genius. The chosen expert, Professor Vogt, worked with the Neurobiological Institute of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Berlin, and he was described by Semahsko and Tovstukha as ‘the only world expert on this question’. Vogt, who had met with Soviet scientists in February 1924, had stated that it was possible for such studies to ‘provide a material basis for determining the genius of Lenin’.[5] Rather than the entire brain, Vogt was sent a single preliminary sample. Two ‘communist-physicians’ (sic) were selected to study under Vogt. In 1926, with studies also taking place by Vogt-trained Communist scientists in Moscow, the Institute of the Brain was established so that Lenin’s brain could be compared with those of other eminent Russians.[6] Over the course of several years, Vogt’s predominate role was slowly shifted to the Soviet researchers, and by 1932 the Soviet regime was declaring its antagonism towards Vogt. The criticism of Vogt was directed by A Stetskii, not a scientist or a physician but the head of Soviet propaganda for the Central Committee of the Communist party. In his report on 10 April 1932, Stetskii condemned Vogt, stating that,

Vogt’s presentations are of a questionable nature; he compares Lenin’s brain with those of criminals and assorted other persons. Professor Vogt has a mechanical theory of genius using an anatomic analysis based on the presence of a large number of giant cortical pyramidal cells. In the German Encyclopaedia of Mental Illness, a German authority (a Professor Spielmaier[7]) claims that such pyramidal structures are also characteristic of mental retardation. In this connection, a number of evil remarks about comrade Lenin have been placed in the bourgeois press.[8]

Stetskii recommended that contact be severed with Vogt and that the specimen of Lenin’s brain be returned to the USSR.[9]  While having problems with the Hitler regime, and no longer holding his position with the Neurobiological Institute in Berlin, Vogt was pushed aside.

On 27 May 1936 the Brain Institute in Moscow issued its 153 page report to the Politburo confirming what the party had demanded, that Lenin’s brain showed ‘exceptionally high functioning of the nervous system’, as shown by the large pyramidal cells from the third layer of the cerebral cortex.[10]

In regard these pyramidal neurons, they were discovered by the Ukrainian anatomist and histologist, Vladimir Betz (cells of Betz).

Although the Soviet scientists heralded the finding of these cells in Lenin’s brain as proof of genius, such large neurons are related to mental diseases, such as schizophrenia, where large cell density occurs on both hemispheres of the brain,[11] and focal cortical dysplasia in epileptics.[12]


Lenin was treated for syphilis as early as 1895, at the age of 25, although it is still debated as to whether neurosyphilis was the cause of his death.

In 1923 Lenin was treated with salvarsan, which was the only medication specifically used to treat syphilis at that time. Prof. Witztum writes: ‘The trial was successful, but it was stopped because of severe side effects’. Potassium iodine was used with salvarsan; then the usual method of treating syphilis.[13]

Chief pathologist, Alexei Abrikosov, was ordered to prove that Lenin had not died of syphilis. Abrikosov did not mention syphilis in his autopsy. However, the blood-vessel damage he cites in the autopsy and the paralysis are symptomatic of syphilis. Of the 27 physicians who treated Lenin, only eight signed the autopsy report, despite the tremendous pressure they must have been under. A second report was issued, which does not cite any of the organs, major arteries, or brain areas usually affected by syphilis.

Lertner et al, state:

Lenin’s personality clearly changed years before more obvious illness. Early on, he found loud noise unbearable, a symptom I have heard many Lyme (or toxic mold) people report. He also became quick-tempered, irritable and sometimes lost self-control (a norm in spirochete infection).[14]

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Death of Brother Shaped Lenin’s Life

Lenin’s family upbringing does not include the dysfunction of that often marks the background of sociopaths. However, a trauma in Lenin’s youth did provide the catalyst for his life’s course.

Born Vladimir Ulyanov to a close-knit, middle class, liberal family,[15] yet one in which the parents were neither radicals nor antagonistic towards the Czar, the man who became Lenin was as a youth apolitical, and proudly described himself as a ‘squires son’.[16]  Despite the closeness and adulation he held towards his eldest brother, Alexander, neither Vladimir nor anyone else in the family knew that Alexander was involved in revolutionary activities, until he was hanged for plotting the assassination of Czar Alexander III, in 1887.[17]

Dr James D White writes of the impact of Alexander’s execution on Vladimir and his sister Olga:

Anna Ulyanova records that Sasha’s[18] arrest and execution served to revolutionize both Lenin and – more noticeably – Olga. The actions of Lenin and Olga in the period following Sasha’s execution suggest that they had resolved that their brother’s death would not be in vain and that they would serve the cause for which he had sacrificed himself – just as soon as they could discover what that cause had been. …

The task facing Lenin and Olga was to piece together what the ideas were that had inspired Sasha to become a revolutionary.  Some light would be thrown on this by Sasha’s friend Mark Elizarov, who had also become Anna’s fiancé. Both Mark Elizarov and Ivan Chebotarev had been expelled from the university. Chebotarev recalls that when he returned to Simbirsk  at the beginning of June 1887 he went to visit the Ulyanov family and was questioned by them, especially by Lenin, about the last days he spent in Sasha’s company. Chebotarev says that Lenin was especially interested to know about what had made his brother a revolutionary. We know what Chebotarev thought about this question because he wrote about it in his memoirs published in 1927. In those memoirs he gave prominence to Sasha’s membership of the economics study group, and must certainly have mentioned this to the Ulyanovs forty years earlier. What he said could be supplemented by Mark Elizarov, who had also been a member of the study group. From these sources it would be possible to establish Sasha’s programme of reading and what the direction of his thinking had been. These were the tracks that Lenin and Olga were to follow.[19]

From the contemporary accounts Dr White shows that the only revolutionary in the Ulyanov family had been Alexander, and that it was only due to his execution that Vladimir and Olga, who obviously knew nothing of radical politics and doctrines, sought out those ideas with the intention of redeeming their brother’s death. Dr White states further of this:

The Ulyanovs were a family that had flourished under the tsarist regime, and the Ulyanov children could look forward to careers which would build on their father’s success. After the death of Alexander Ulyanov his sister Anna went over in her mind for many years what it could have been in his early life that had inclined Sasha towards terrorism, but could find nothing of significance. Neither Sasha nor Lenin became revolutionaries through any personal grievance. Sasha became a revolutionary through his sense of loyalty to friends, and Lenin became a revolutionary through his loyalty to his brother. From the time of Sasha’s death Lenin tried to model himself on his brother. He had associated with the same people as Sasha, had read the same books as Sasha, joined the same revolutionary organizations as Sasha. He could not be a terrorist like Sasha, because the revolutionary organisations that he joined had rejected terrorism, largely as a result of Sasha’s unsuccessful attempt. It cannot be any coincidence that Lenin took the same approach to the future of the Russian economy as Sasha had as conveyed to him by Chebotarev, Elizarov and Bartenev. He knew that Sasha had been impressed by Plekhanov’s arguments and that he shared Plekhanov’s views on the imminent disintegration of the peasant commune and the prospective development of capitalism in Russia. Lenin’s first major theoretical work, his study of the development of capitalism in Russia, would adopt these views and give them a polemical edge.[20]

Nothing had impelled Lenin to become a revolutionary, neither in terms of his family circumstances, which were comfortable and stable, nor in terms of an independent analysis of Czarist society. Dr Figes states that the suggestion that the liberal father exerted influence on his sons and daughters to become revolutionaries is erroneous. Anna Ulyanova recalled that her father was a religious man who admired the reforms of Alexander II during the 1860s and, as a provincial school inspector, sought to keep the young from radicalism.[21]

The rest of the life of the once apolitical youth who became Lenin was fanatically devoted to avenging his brother’s death, and ‘Lenin’ was the persona that was adopted for the purpose. Lenin had an entire state, and even the prospect of an entire world, upon which to inflict he compulsion to exact a bloody tribute, projecting the responsibility of his brother’s execution onto entire social classes that had to be executed as his bother had been. In Marxism Lenin found a ready-made doctrine of revenge, hatred and destruction with which to wreak vengeance, which had been formulated precisely for that purpose by Karl Marx[22] as vent for his own personal ‘demons’ (to use his father Heinrich’s term).

Lenin was expelled from the University of Kazan in 1887 for involvement in a student riot, briefly jailed along with several other students, and expelled from the university several days later. He spent the next few years attempting to get back into university, but was known as the brother of Alexander Ulyanov, and kept under police surveillance. However, he was able to resume studies at St Petersburg University in 1890. Such circumstances could only have reinforced Vladimir’s feelings of persecution, martyrdom and resentment, and would further identify him personally with the martyrdom of his brother.

How these factors shaped Lenin’s personality is indicated from a reliable source, Peter Struve, originally a seminal influence in Russian Marxism although later rejecting the doctrine, who knew Lenin well. Struve observed that the most prominent traits of Lenin’s personality were hatred, anger and the need for revenge. He wrote:

The terrible thing in Lenin was that combination in one person of self-castigation, which is the essence of all real asceticism, with the castigation of other people as expressed in abstract social hatred and cold political cruelty.[23]

As has been seen with the other Leftist ideologues that have been previously considered, including Marx and Trotsky, and here, Lenin, the concern with humanity is as an abstract concept. There is no personal empathy, and therefore classes and individuals are consigned to death, torture and famine in the interests of an idealised future society that can only be achieved by the destruction of hated normative conventions that have somehow oppressed the mattoid personality. The masses of victims are given impersonal labels such as ‘bourgeois’ and ‘kulak’ and are identified as social pathogens for elimination. Even the sufferings of those who are at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale should not be alleviated, as such reformism would only interfere with the dialectical processes necessary for revolution. Hence of the famine of the Volga peasantry in 1891, Lenin opposed any suggestion within the socialist movement that they should be assisted. In fact, unlike his father, he cared nothing for the peasantry, and according to Dr Figes:

He once even signed himself before the police as ‘Hereditary Nobleman Vladimir Ul’ianov’. In his private life Lenin was the epitome of the heartless squire [of the type] his government would one day destroy. In 1891, at the height of the famine, he sued his peasant neighbours for causing damage to the family estate. And while he condemned in his early writings the practices of ‘gentry capitalism’, he himself was living handsomely on its profits, drawing nearly all his income from the rents and interest derived from the sale of his mother’s estate.[24]

This discrepancy between Lenin’s personal views and life, and his public persona was a trait also possessed by Marx, who, as considered previously, treated his maid in an exploitive manner, and looked upon relatives as sources of inheritance.[25] As a political doctrine Lenin expressed mass suffering as an impersonal historical necessity, stating in regard to the peasantry and the 1891 Volga famine:

By destroying the peasant economy and driving the peasant from the country to the town, the famine creates a proletariat… Furthermore the famine can and should be a progressive factor not only economically. It will force the peasant to reflect on the bases of the capitalist system, demolish faith in the tsar and tsarism, and consequently in due course make the victory of the revolution easier… Psychologically all this talk about feeding the starving and so on essentially reflects the usual sugary sentimentality of our intelligentsia.[26]

Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder

In “Leftist Personality Types” I have attempted diagnostic descriptions of several Leftist luminaries, identifying Karl Marx for example as having Necrophilous Personality Disorder,[27] and Leon Trotsky as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder.[28]

It is only in recent years that a category of mental dysfunction has been posited which identifies embitterment caused by perceived personal injustice: Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED).[29] Dr M J S Wong,[30] writes: ‘This type of reaction is thought to be universal and frequently seen in patients who have had to cope with events of personal injustice, humiliation, frustration, and helplessness’.[31]

Feeling embittered is a prolonged emotional state of hate and anger caused by the belief that one has been treated unfairly. Emotional embitterment exists in a dimension similar to depression and anxiety, and therefore, when it is most intense, it can become pathological and lead to devastating personal, social, and occupational impairment.[32]

This is termed ‘post-traumatic’ because it is instigated by a ‘single precipitating life stressor’ leading to feelings of unfair treatment.[33] PTED, as distinct from life-threatening stressors that cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), occur when an event causes disruptive life changes. PTSD causes feelings of fear; PTED causes feelings of revenge. The execution of Vladimir’s brother is the type of stressor that could cause PTED. While PTED, which has not yet been listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, would seem to be an apt description for those lone killers who, for example, undertake multiple killings in revenge for being bullied at High School or dismissed from employment.

Vladimir Ulyanov found in Marxism both a rationalisation and a method of satisfying his impulse for revenge and destruction against a society, that he perceived since he was a teenager, had caused the death of his brother. Leftism, epitomised in Marxism, is the doctrine of the sociopath and provides a rationalisation and modus operandi for the type of revenge on a mass scale that the average sociopath can only vent on an individual basis. Behind the multitude of words that have been written and spoken on Marxist and other socialistic doctrines, in the most convoluted terms of intellectual sophistry, stands a drive to wreak destruction upon the normative values that form the basis of civility, which Winston S Churchill described cogently as ‘this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality’.[34]



[1] Paul R Gregory, Lenin’s Brain and other Tales form the Soviet Secret Archives (Hoover Institution Press, publication no. 55, 2008), pp. 24-25.

[4] Paul R Gregory, op. cit., p. 25.

[5] Ibid., p. 25.

[6]Ibid., , p. 27.

[7] Walther Spielmeyer (1879-1935), an authority on the nervous system, and first director of the histology section of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Psychiatrie (German Institute for Psychiatric Research).

[8] Paul R Gregory citing Stetskii, ibid., p. 29.

[9] Ibid., p. 29.

[10] Ibid., , p. 31.

[11] Thomas J Cullen et al, ‘Anomalies of asymmetry of pyramidal cell density and structure in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in schizophrenia’, The British Journal of Psychiatry, No. 188, 2006, pp. 26-31.

[12] F Colciaghi, et al, ‘Status epilepticus-induced pathologic plasticity in a rat model of focal cortical dysplasia’, Brain: The Journal of Neurology, Vol. 134, Issue 10, 2011, pp. 2828-2843.

[13] V Lerner , Y Finkelstein, E Witztum, ‘The Enigma of Lenin’s (1870-1924) malady’, European Journal Neurology, Vol. 11, 2004, pp. 371-6.

[14] Ibid.

[15] James D White, The Practice and Theory of Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), p. 20. White, Professor Emeritus, Reader in Russian and East European History, University of Glasgow, is an eminent authority on revolutionary Russia.

[16] Orlado Figes, Professor of Russian History, Birbeck College in A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (Penguin Books, 1998), p. 152.

[17] James D White, op. cit., p. 21.

[18] Alexander Ulyanov.

[19] James D White, op. cit., p.  28.

[20] Ibid., p. 39.

[21] Orlando Figes, op. cit., p. 152.

[22] K R Bolton, ‘Psychopathology of the Left: Some Preliminary Notes, Part I’, op. cit.

[23] Peter Struve, ‘My Contacts and Conflicts with Lenin’, cited by Orlando Figes, op. cit., p. 389.

[24] Orlando Figes, op.cit., p. 152.

[25] K R Bolton, Psychopathology of the Left, Part I’, op. cit., pp. 41-42.

[26] Cited by Michael Ellman, ‘The Role of Leadership Perceptions and of Intent in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1934’, Europe-Asia Studies, September 2005, p. 823.

[27] K R Bolton, ‘Psychopathology of the Left, Part I’, op. cit., p. 42.

[28] Ibid., p. 44.

[29] Michael Linden, Max Rotter, Kai Baumann, Barbara Lieberei, Posttraumatic Embitterment Disorder: Definition, Evidence, Diagnosis, Treatment (Hogrefe & Huber Publishers, 2007).

[30] Department of Psychiatry, Tai Po Hospital, Hong Kong.

[31] M J S Wong, ‘Review: Posttraumatic Embitterment Disorder:

Definition, Evidence, Diagnosis, Treatment’, Hong Kong Journal of Psychiatry, Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists, No. 17, 2007, p. 103.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Winston S Churchill, ‘Zionism vs. Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People’, Illustrated Sunday Herald, February 8, 1920, page 5.

Source: Ab Aeterno, no. 11, April-June, 2012.



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One Comment

  1. White Republican
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    In Mein Kampf, Hitler referred to Marxism as the “the figment of a criminal brain,” and remarked: “This theory represents an inseparable mixture of reason and human madness, but always in such a way that only the lunacy can become reality and never the reason.”

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