Welcome to the Twilight Zone and “Russian experiments in life after death.”


Photos: Lenin’s Mausoleum, 1989, from my collection. Indoor photography was not allowed, to put it mildly.

If it’s really strange reading you’re looking for, may I suggest this review in The Nation of a book by Anya Bernstein called The Future of Immortality: Life and Death in Contemporary Russia. The review begins with cryogenics and then really leaves the tracks.

The Collective Body: Russian experiments in life after death, by Sophie Pinkham

… This practice (of life-extending blood transfusions) has its origins in a truly utopian and egalitarian, if even more biologically suspect, experiment. Aleksandr Bogdanov, a prominent early Bolshevik and science fiction writer, investigated the rejuvenating properties of blood transfusions in the 1920s, though he soon died after exchanging blood with a tubercular student. As anthropologist Anya Bernstein discusses in The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia, Bogdanov’s hope was not merely to prolong the lives of individuals; he envisioned a sanguine communism in which all were granted an equal share of society’s collective health through blood exchanges.

You only thought you knew why the USSR failed.

“All social doctrines … all the social utopias humanity has tried to achieve have stumbled up against the short-breathedness of man,” (Anastasia) Gacheva tells the crowd. “The utopias stumbled on man’s deepest misfortune, which is his mortality. Mortal man cannot be made happy. This is why communism did not succeed.” Needless to say, this is a novel diagnosis of communism’s failure. It wasn’t the command economy, the Cold War, or growing popular resistance that brought the Soviet Union down but rather the failure to achieve eternal life. Until all people unite in the common cause—the struggle against death—the world will be rife with conflict, whether or not the state professes itself a utopia.

I’m headed back to reread this essay, this time with a couple belts of vodka.