Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution

Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution

by Richard Stites

The revolutionary ideals of equality, communal living, proletarian morality, and technology worship, rooted in Russian utopianism, generated a range of social experiments which found expression, in the first decade of the Russian revolution, in festival, symbol, science fiction, city planning, and the arts.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.13
  • Pages: 344
  • Publish Date: September 1st 1991 by Oxford University Press, USA
  • Isbn10: 0195055373
  • Isbn13: 9780195055375

What People Think about "Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution"

It's divided roughly into quarters: a history of utopian thought in pre-revolutionary Russia, of which Marxism was only one variety; a discussion of practical problems the revolutionaries faced in building a new society; an overview of many now-forgotten writers and social movements who explored the many possibilities open for Russian society once the tsar was overthrown; and finally the gradual elimination of those possibilities as the revolution began take its fixed course by silencing dissidents and hardening into Stalinism. (an immensely influential work whose title Lenin would later famously borrow), Prince Peter Kropotkin's Should We Concern Ourselves with the Ideal Society of the Future?, Alexander Bogdanov's Red Star, and Edward Bellamy's best-seller Looking Backward, and his summary of Kropotkin's 1873 book is a good example of the kind of thinking characteristic of many other writers: "...he depicted the new Russia as a freely formed federation of self-governing peasant communities in full possession of all the land, commonly held and equally partitioned. Stities goes into a lot of detail about Russia's experience with small-scale religious communes based on "sobornost", an attitude of "mystical togetherness" that survived the tumult of the February and October Revolutions and in fact provided the foundation for many future communes and revolutionary experiments, especially in religion. These great murderers deserve the gratitude of all mankind." But there simply wasn't a way to remove centuries of religious tradition in a short time (Lenin's eventual embalming after his death is a famous instance of pseudo-religious throwback), and in fact many factions initially did not want to, because the myriad small kibbutz-like communes dotting the countryside preached a form of Orthodox Christian socialism that they found quite congenial. Most anti-religious posters descended to the level of coarseness, such as the one depicting the Virgin Mary with a bulging belly longing for a Soviet abortion." Stites also has a good quote from the French Revolution that applies equally to the Russian one: "'The revolutions of barbarous people,' said the deputy Barère in 1791, 'destroy all monuments, and the very trace of the arts seem to be effaced. The revolutions of an enlightened people conserve the fine arts, and embellish them, while the fruitful concern of the legislator causes the arts to be reborn as an ornament of the empire.'" Lenin the aesthete, with his 10,000-book personal library, was very worried about this, and sought to preserve Russia's artistic heritage even if it wasn't ideologically congenial as the new symbols, signs, songs, and monuments that were being produced. Stites also discusses Jan Larri's The Land of the Happy, another more upbeat novel, which in 1931 was the last utopian novel to appear in Soviet Russia until after Stalin's death. "In the long perspective of Russian history, the Revolution was one of those times - like the Baptism of Rus in 988 and the reign of Peter the Great - wherein a decisive break with the past is consciously and visibly effected and announced." While for us, nothing could be more natural than grouping communist art into one style, a perfectly understandable habit given the severe uniformity of the later years, the millennialist sea of isms of the time contained a lot of intriguingly different attitudes about the world around them. Another example was urban planning: was the best method to promote socialism to restructure old cities, to build massive new planned urban centers, or to retreat to small, human-scale communes (summarized by Stites as Urbanists, Superurbanists, and Disurbanists)?

In many ways, this book is a rehabilitation of the "utopianism" of the early Soviet Union. This array of utopianism took numerous forms, from science fiction to public housing (which is one of the more maligned aspects of the USSR in later periods) and peasant communes.

It provides evidence that a social experiment emerged from the 1917 Russian Revolution striving to create a new and perfect society; utopia. Stites goes beyond what your textbook will tell you about the Russian Revolution and broaden your realm of Soviet history--to where it all began.