Lenin's body is improving with age

The job of maintaining Lenin’s corpse belongs to an institute known in post-Soviet times as the Center for Scientific Research and Teaching Methods in Biochemical Technologies in Moscow. A core group of five to six anatomists, biochemists and surgeons, known as the “Mausoleum group,” have primary responsibility for maintaining Lenin’s remains. (They also help maintain the preserved bodies of three other national leaders: the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh and the North Korean father–son duo of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, respectively.) The Russian methods focus on preserving the body’s physical form—its look, shape, weight, color, limb flexibility and suppleness—but not necessarily its original biological matter. In the process they have created a “quasibiological” science that differs from other embalming methods. “They have to substitute occasional parts of skin and flesh with plastics and other materials, so in terms of the original biological matter the body is less and less of what it used to be,” says Alexei Yurchak, professor of social anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. “That makes it dramatically different from everything in the past, such as mummification, where the focus was on preserving the original matter while the form of the body changes,” he adds.