A conversation with Dr. Adam Bogart about the Bolsheviks and Lenin’s and Stalin’s illnesses by Miguel A. Faria, MD

November 12, 2016, Hi Miguel, Food for thought [“Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev (1857–1927): Strange Circumstances Surrounding the Death of the Great Russian Neurologist” by Kesselring J] … It seems either Stalin or some of his colleagues consulted a neurologist about his withered arm in 1927, and the neurologist made a diagnosis of syringomyelia. [But] it is usually attributed by historians to either beatings by his father or childhood infection of some sort. But as you say, historians cannot be doctors [or medical scientists!].

It could be Stalin actually wanted to find out if anything could be done for the arm, because he was so embarrassed by it. We know a few of his toes were webbed on one foot, and he was embarrassed about that too so he always wore boots even when swimming!

Unfortunately, the neurologist was somewhat ignorant of the conditions of the USSR in this era, and added a short psychiatric note as well. Looks like we have another case of poisoning by Stalin, not of him… In the meantime I will be searching for Lenin’s autopsy report. Best regards, — Adam


November 12, 2016, Hi Adam, I first learned on the Bekhterev-Stalin affair after reading the book, Great Men with Sick Brains by the neurosurgeon Bengt Ljunggren shortly after it was published by The American Association of Neurological Surgeons in 1990. Dr. Bekhterev was also Lenin’s neurologist, and although apolitical, he provided propaganda “services” to the Russian revolutionaries by pledging allegiance to the new regime. According to this book, rumors circulated that Bekhterev had also diagnosed Stalin with “grave paranoia” — a lethal mistake for the great doctor.
In any case Stalin also had Bekhterev’s son Pietr shot because the son suspected that Bekhterev was poisoned by order of Stalin. Prof. V.N. Vinogradov (1882-1964), who I mentioned in my opening article on Stalin’s death was more fortunate. As Stalin’s doctor and physician in the Kremlin, he told Stalin he needed to slow down, which Stalin construed indiscreet or malicious, and Vinogradov was arrested and pulled into the concocted Doctor’s Plot, the dyelo vrachey.

Unlike Bekhterev who was dealt by Stalin immediately, Prof. Vinogradov was saved by Stalin’s sudden death. 

[November 23 addition] As to historians not capable of being physicians, I was explaining Dr. Plinio Prioreschi’s statement, “Medicine being a very esoteric field cannot easily be mastered by nonphysicians.” Prioreschi added, “the asymmetry (in esoterism) between science and the humanities… allows the physicist to be a poet but forbids a poet to be a physicist.” His truism was affirmed in the case of Stalin’s medical death as I explained elsewhere. — MAF


Interesting, Miguel. I did not know about the son. I see he does not make the diagnosis of syringomyelia explicitly, and I am not sure I agree if he did think that. I don’t see any spasticity when Stalin walks, but I need to take another look at a film clip and watch more closely.

It’s interesting that Hitler did not mind doctors speaking frankly to him on what the problem was and what he should do. Then, concerning the Jewish doctor’s plot, it is also interesting that Stalin was not anti-Semitic by policy as was Hitler, so although he made many crude remarks about Jews, I have always concluded that by 1948 he was already showing signs of organic disease. 

In 1927, Stalin did not have the absolute power over the USSR that he would by 1929. I don’t even think Trotsky was booted out yet, though powerless. So, I wonder if that made a difference in how he had to deal with Bekhterev. Best, Adam


Hi Adam, Stalin was in a power struggle with Trotsky in 1924. He successfully tricked and was allied to Zinoviev and Kamenev (forming the “Triumvirate”) against Trotsky. After Trotsky was defeated politically, Stalin, at the Party Congress, December 1925, remained allied to Bukharin but turned against his former allies whom he detested, Zinoviev and Kamevev. He declawed them by 1926 and had expelled Trotsky from the Party by 1927. Bukharin was easily outmaneuvered and allowed to remain as head of the “right wing” of the Party (as supporter of the New Economic Policy of Lenin [NEP], some liberalization, etc.) nominally until 1929, at which time he too was expelled from the Politburo. Stalin basically had near absolute power by 1927. The token opposition was terrified by then. By 1929 he had absolute power and basically no serious opposition. The old hard Bolsheviks had been tamed to submission; they would all be eliminated later!

Joseph Stalin (left) photographed with Vladimir Lenin (right)

Stalin was inclined to anti-semitism as shown by his late anti-cosmopolitanism campaign, but recognizing the number of prominent Jews in the Party, his indispensable Jewish associates, and Jewish wives in the leadership, he tolerated them until the 1940s. Beria was the great sponsor of the Jews, again because he and Stalin could use them in a variety of projects because of their shown resourcefulness, devotion to the cause, and loyalty to the Party.
I have reviewed Stalin’s major biographies as well as one of Beria and Ezhov, (NKVD heads) at HaciendaPublishing.com. I strongly recommend the two books on Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore, one of them, Young Stalin, I reviewed as well. Montefiore’s two books are cliffhanger tomes, perhaps the best biographies with a lot of personal stuff found nowhere else. You can easily search them at haciendapub.com. Thanks for Lenin’s post mortem! Miguel


Hi Miguel, That’s all true, but in 1927 Stalin could not simply have anyone arrested and shot with or without trial, unless there was some reasonable pretext. Especially a man as well recognized and respected as Bekhterev. Zinoviev and Kamenev were a cinch to tackle, because they were one of the original old Bolsheviks who found it amusing to place Stalin in the position of General Secretary, having no idea what kind of power that position really granted him. They were intellectuals, and as such, were too stupid to know just what kind of evil genius they were dealing with. It was always the same old story with all of them. Of course, it was Trotsky whom he tricked into not revealing the contents of Lenin’s last testament, which would have had them remove him from power forever. Note that all three of them were Jews (I think Kamenev may have been half Russian Orthodox), but this had absolutely nothing to do with Stalin’s hatred of them.
He surely did tolerate anyone who was useful to him, but Lazar Kaganovich was a friend, and that is probably because he was as almost as cruel and brutal as Stalin was, but he never gave any indication that he wanted to grab more power than Stalin allowed him. Stalin essentially gave Kaganovich and Nikita Khrushchev unlimited power to mastermind the Holodomor in Ukraine, where they both came from. But I am told by Ukrainian physicians and physicists I know that in modern day Ukraine, most of the blame for that is placed on Kaganovich alone, so I have to assume it is because he was Jewish.
Yes, I always thought Beria was no lover of Jews, but he was much more practical with how he handled them. That leads me to a perplexing aspect of Lenin. He was clearly philosemitic, and would not tolerate anti-Semitism because he truly believed Jews made the best communists.  Yet, we know now that Lenin placed a few Jews in high positions to make it look like the majority of Jews were in charge of the Communist Party, and he knew that they could be used as scapegoats that way, which they still are to this day. When you examine the Communist Party roles for 1920, you find 10% Jews and 90% Russians, but that is the opposite of the common perception, which is exactly what Lenin wanted.
I am glad to have found a copy of the autopsy report for you. Let me know your thoughts. There is no indication of syphilitic cerebrovascular disease, and even the aorta shows changes consistent with atherosclerosis, not syphilitic aortitis. Many people will still insist upon it, but I just don’t buy it. Best, Adam


November 13, 2016, Hi Adam, The Jewish contribution to the Bolsheviks, not surprisingly, was in the relatively more educated leadership and their wives. It was less so in the illiterate Russian proletariat in the rank and file.

Actually Beria employed many Jews in high positions even while Stalin was already imprisoning them or having many Jewish communists shot after returning from the Spanish Civil War. Beria pulled them out of jail and employed them. This is testified by both Sudoplatov and Aleksandr Orlov.
As far as Lenin’s autopsy, this is what I think. True, the gross autopsy findings are less consistent with neurosyphilis than with atherosclerotic cerebrovascular disease. Nevertheless meningovascular syphilis can also result in endarteritis with obliteration of arterial lumens, arterial thrombosis, and ischemic necrosis of the brain parenchyma. No doubt occlusion of the left ICA accounted for his right hemiparesis and Wernicke’s aphasia observed clinically with the necrosis of the cerebral parenchyma in the left hemisphere seen pathologically. The hemorrhage in the quadrigeminal plate caused his death but again this could have resulted from inflammatory vascular changes of syphilis or atherosclerosis. No mention was made of gummas, but without microscopic sections around the involved blood vessels and brain parenchyma I don’t know if we can rule out neurosyphilis completely yet. Miguel


Yes, that is true. I believe Molotov’s wife was Jewish, as was Yezhov’s, and I could look up a number of others that prove you right. It is untrue that Stalin married “Rosa Kaganovich” as his third wife, but I do think he had affairs with Jewish women, however. When it came to relieving his enormous sexual appetite, he did not discriminate.
The illiterate Russian proletariat in the rank and file were who Stalin enlisted through his role as General Secretary because they did what they were told and had no idea what the bigger picture was all about, but why did Lenin appoint Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky (a Jew) to head the team who assassinated the Czar and his family? He did not do an especially good job of it, and people to this day remember only him, not that the rest were Russian Orthodox.
I will read these articles you have linked me to as soon as I get a chance. Thank you for the material. I always appreciate more information on this subject.
No, I can’t agree with you that the hemorrhage in the region of the corpora quadrigemina was the immediate cause of death, given he [Lenin] died during status epilepticus the evening before. As you have pointed out, we need to have the clinical information along with the autopsy, and in Lenin’s case it is well documented. But, we do know the brain sections are still extant in the Russian archives and they will not release any of them to the Americans for examination, which makes no sense to me at this point. If there are questions about the histology, they would be trivial to answer even now. Best regards, Adam


Adam, Actually although not abstinent to either, Stalin was relatively temperate as to both alcoholic drinks and women. In this regard, the best and most captivating biographies on Stalin’s personal life, remain Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin and The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), which I strongly recommend.

We need more information. That is why you need to research and write the paper with whatever material we can get. Yes status epilepticus is one of the conditions that was reported clinically, but autopsy-wise, the little hemorrhage in the region of the corpora quadrigemina is all we can pinpoint pathologically. Psychotic behavior and delirium were also reported. There was no evidence of transtentorial herniation with swelling and edema secondary to acute infarction or hemorrhage anywhere else. Convince me with a good paper about your thesis. Cheers, Miguel

Written by Dr. Adam Bogart and Dr. Miguel Faria

Adam Bogart, PhD, is a Behavioral Neuroscientist at the Sanders Brown Center for Aging University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY. Behavioral Neuroscience Kent State University Kent, OH. Post doctoral fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center Bronx, NY. MS Immunology conjointly Adelphi University/Mount Sinai Medical Center New York City, NY.

Miguel A. Faria, MD, is an Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI). He is a retired Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History, Mercer University School of Medicine. Former member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 2002-05). Realclearhistory contributor (2012-present). He is President of HaciendaPublishing.com.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. A conversation with Dr. Adam Bogart about the Bolsheviks and Lenin’s and Stalin’s illnesses. HaciendaPublishing.com, November 21, 2016. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/a-conversation-with-dr-adam-bogart-about-the-bolsheviks-and-lenins-and-stalins-illnesses-by-miguel-a-faria-md/.

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