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Sci-fi and the revolutionary utopianism of Russian Cosmism


To mark the hundred-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the New York Times is publishing an ongoing series of essays about the history and legacy of Communism. The latest piece in this “Red Century” series is by A. M. Gillitz, and it traces the utopian thinking of twentieth-century sci-fi programs like Star Trek back to Russian Cosmism, a philosophy influenced by Lenin’s revolutionary thinking. Gillitz also observes that the utopianism of twentieth-century sci-fi has given way to the dystopianism of twenty-first century sci-fi, with shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Walking Dead projecting a future of scarcity and endless conflict. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

If H. G. Wells had been less skeptical of Communism and joined the party, he wouldn’t have been the first sci-fi or futurist thinker to do so. Alexander Bogdanov, an early political rival of Lenin’s, wrote “Red Star,” a utopian novel about a Communist colony on Mars where everything was held in common and life spans were greatly extended through the use of parabiosis, the mutual sharing of blood. Along with Anatoly Lunacharsky and Maxim Gorky, Bogdanov proposed a program of “God Building,” which would replace the rituals and myths of the Orthodox Church through creation of an atheistic religion.

For his part, Gorky was a fan of the Cosmism of Nikolai Fyodorov and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a scientific and mystical philosophy proposing space exploration and human immortality. When Lenin died four years after meeting with Wells, the futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s line “Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin Will Live Forever!” became not only a state slogan, but also a scientific goal. These Biocosmist-Immortalists, as they were known, believed that socialist scientists, freed from the constraints of the capitalist profit motive, would discover how to abolish death and bring back their comrades. Lenin’s corpse remains preserved for the occasion.

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