am 25. Mai 2005
As the subtitle of this book points out, Alexander's Bogdanov's "Red Star" was "The First Bolshevik Utopia." Bogdanov was a major prophet of the Bolshevik movement and while the red star of his title is the planet Mars, he is clearly envisioning the kind of society that could emerge on Earth after the victory of not only the scientific-technical revolution, a belief that can be traced in utopian literature back to Francis Bacon's "The New Atlantis," but also the social revolution dictated by Marxism. The future of "Red Star" is the radiant future of socialism that Bogdanov believed would eventually triumphant everyone on earth. At one point in the novel the hero, a Bolsehvik activist named Leonid, declares: "Blood is being shed for the sake of a better future. But in order to wage the struggle we must KNOW that future." Of course, Bogdanov believes that he does indeed know the future, thanks to the writings of Marx and Engels.
From a historical perspective the key thing to keep in mind is that Bogdanov is writing well over a decade before the Russian Revolution. In fact, he is writing in reaction to the 1905 revolution that compelled Tsar Nicholas II to issue a constitution and create a parliament. This came after the 1903 split of the Russian Marxists into the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Like the hero of "Red Star," Bogdanov went with the former and Lenin, and was one of the original "twenty-two" who met in Switzerland to form a group dedicated to disciplined revolutionary action. As part of this effort, Bogdanov wrote "Red Star."
What is most interesting is that the "tectology" that Bogdanov envisions in constructing his utopia on Mars does not ignore the dangers of collectivisim and high technology (which were at the heart of many of the anti-utopian fantasies of the late tsarist period). He even has a sense of humor: the vegetation on Mars is red, and Leonid calls it "socialist vegetation." On Bogdanov's Mars you will find clothes made out of synthetic material, three-dimension movies, and a death ray, but no political state. Citizens engage in both voluntary labor as well as leisure and culture. The conflict in the story comes when someone tries to change the Martian utopia. Ultimately, you can make the claim that "Red Star" is more science fiction than propaganda, since Bogdanov creates a perfect world where the "labor question" has been made moot by the industrialization of farming. There is no peasant class on Mars for Russian readers to relate too, provided, of course, they were inclined to reading a science fiction utopian novel.
"Red Star" was extremely popular during and after the Russian Revolution and is a fascinating example of utopian literature in that it deals with the problems faced by industrial nations, whether socialist or capitalist, such as atomic energy, the environment, biomedical ethics, and shortages of food and natural resources. The illustrations for "Red Star" are taken from the 1923 Moscow edition. This volume includes Charles Rougle's translations of the complete texts of not only "Red Star," but also Bogdanov's 1913 novel "Engineer Menni" and a 1927 poem "A Martian Stranded on Earth." These latter two works appear in English for the first time in this collection. "Engineer Menni" takes the then current beliefs about the natural history of Mars and uses it to tell a story about the construction of the canals as a parable of class struggle. The heroes of the story, as the title indicates, are the engineers, who would indeed do great work in transforming the Soviet Union in the 20th century. "Red Star" is an important example of utopian literature that should be back in print.