Mad Genius: Alexander Bogdanov

BY Christian Sager / POSTED April 8, 2014
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Sog_Bogdanov_feature_600x350 Vladimir Lenin plays chess (crying checkmate) with Alexander Bogdanov during a visit to Maxim Gorky. Capri. Italy. (April, 10 (23) – April, 17 (30) 1908). The story goes that Lenin and Bogdanov argued politics during the game, with the former becoming “childishly petulant” when he lost.

Alexander Bogdanov was an intellectual who persistently attempted to change the world to a logical arrangement he thought would lead to the ideal society. He was also a risk-taker, and while he possessed many of the traits of a genius, in Bogdanov’s case they proved lethal. Like other geniuses he had his hands in multiple disciplines: medicine, economics, politics, philosophy and especially writing. It’s estimated he published close to two hundred volumes of work, including the science fiction novel “Red Star” and its sequel “Engineer Menni.” Unfortunately, Bogdanov also believed in some of the very science that he fictionalized, leading to his death from a blood transfusion gone wrong.

Politically, Bogdanov’s strident Marxism often got him into trouble. He had co-founded the Bolshevik Party with Vladimir Lenin, but in 1909 the was expelled from the very group he initiated. Bogdanov wanted to apply the principles of science to a Marxist social structure. When the party dismissed his politics, Bogdanov expressed them instead in his writing.

First, Bogdanov created an imaginary communist utopia on Mars in his 1908 novel “Red Star.” The character Leonid (a surrogate for Bogdanov) is a Russian revolutionary who is transported to Mars to experience their perfect system and bring its philosophies back to Earth. These Martians also practiced “physiological collectivism,” where they mutually exchanged blood to both improve their health and bind their society together. Then in 1912 Bogdanov began publishing volumes of “Tektology,” a system to bring the sciences under one universal methodology. Tektology was a study of science itself, designed with social applications in mind as well. But under Stalin’s regime, it was largely ignored.

Despite this, Bogdanov turned to Stalin when he revisited his theories of blood transfusion. Thinking there were possible military applications, in 1926 Stalin supported Bogdanov’s creation of the Institute of Blood Transfusion. While in the West transfusions were a method for sustaining the diseased or the deficient, Bogdanov believed them to also be physically stimulating. To demonstrate his conviction, he participated in transfusions regularly.

At 54 years old he exchanged a liter of blood with a physics student who had traces of both tuberculosis and malaria. Having been exposed to tuberculosis consistently, Bogdanov thought he must be either resistant or immune to the disease. But after the transfusion, his body began failing fast. He was terribly ill and his kidneys stopped working so his urine turned black. Later, once he let his colleagues administer treatment, his heart weakened. The 21-year old student however, recovered from the transfusion quickly. Both had a blood type of O and the physicians at the institute were at a loss as to what was ailing Bogdanov. When his lungs began filling with fluid, his doctor knew the situation was terminal, but consented to another blood transfusion at the behest of Bogdanov’s family. His respiration improved for a short time and then on April 7, 1928, Bogdanov’s heart failed and he died.

Modern experts hypothesize that the problem wasn’t with this single blood transfusion, but the 11 others that Bogdanov had experimented with previously. It’s possible they caused his body to form antibodies that reacted severely even when his own blood type was replaced. Despite all his efforts to build a better world, the risks Bogdanov took to prove his point ultimately led to his own demise.

Sources:

  • Huestis, Douglas W. “Death in the Blood.” World & I. Vol. 14. Issue 4. April 1999.
  • Weisse, A. B. “Self-Experimentation and Its Role in Medical Research.” Texas Heart Institute Journal. Volume 39. Issue 1. Pages 51-54. 2012
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