A doctor says stress, family medical history or possibly even poison led to the death of Soviet Union founding father Vladimir Lenin, debunking a popular theory that a sexually transmitted disease was responsible for his death.
UCLA neurologist Harry Vinters and Russian historian Lev Lurie reviewed Lenin’s records for a University of Maryland School of Medicine conference on famous people’s deaths that opened on Friday.
The conference is an annual event at the school, where researchers in the past have re--examined the diagnoses of figures including King Tut, Christopher Columbus, Simon Bolivar and US president Abraham Lincoln.
The 53-year-old Soviet leader suffered several strokes before dying in 1924 and what caused them is not clear.
An autopsy found blood vessels in his brain were extremely hardened, results that have been difficult to understand said Philip Mackowiak, who organized the event.
“No. 1, he’s so young and No. 2, he has none of the important risk factors,” Mackowiak said.
Lenin did not smoke — he never let smokers near him. He also did not have diabetes, was not overweight and the autopsy did not find any evidence of high blood pressure, Mackowiak said.
There was “considerable suspicion” among Russians at the time of Lenin’s death that syphilis was to blame, he added.
However, family history appears to have worked more against Lenin, Vinters said.
Lenin was treated for syphilis using the primitive medications available at the time and while the sexually transmitted disease can cause strokes, there is no evidence from his symptoms or the autopsy that was the case with Lenin, he added.
The Soviet leader’s father also died at 54 and both may have been predisposed to hardening of the arteries. Stress is also a risk factor for strokes and there is no question the communist revolutionary was under plenty of that, the neurologist said.
“People were always trying to assassinate him, for example.” Vinters said.
Lurie, a St Petersburg-based expert in Russian history and politics, who also planned to speak at the conference, said that while Lenin had several strokes, he believed former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin could have finished him off with poison, a theory that Vinters said is a possibility.
Lenin’s health grew worse over time. In 1921, he forgot the words of a major speech and he had to learn to speak again and write with his left hand after a stroke. A major stroke later left him paralyzed on one side and unable to speak.
However, Lurie said Lenin had recovered enough in early 1924 to celebrate the new year and went hunting.
Lenin, who supported Stalin’s rise to power, may have realized he had made a mistake and begun aligning himself with former Soviet Red Army leader Leon Trotsky, which could have caused Stalin to poison Lenin, the historian said.
Poisoning, eventually became one of Stalin’s favorite methods for disposing of his enemies, Lurie said.
“The funny thing is that the brain of Lenin still is preserved in Moscow, so we can investigate,” Lurie said.
Lenin’s embalmed body also still lies on public display in a Red Square mausoleum almost 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union he founded.
Vinters, who reviewed autopsy records and the leader’s clinical history, said toxicology tests that might have revealed poisoning were not conducted during the autopsy. Reports from the time also show Lenin was active and talking a few hours before his death.
“And then he experienced a series of really, really bad convulsions which is quite unusual for someone who has a stroke,” Vinters said.