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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. In this study, historian Richard Stites offers a vivid portrayal of revolutionary life and the cultural factors--myth, ritual, cult, and symbol--that sustained it, and describes the principal forms of utopian thinking and experimental impulse. Analyzing the inevitable clash between the authoritarian elements in the Bolshevik's vision and the libertarian behavior and aspirations of large segments of the population, Stites interprets the pathos of utopian fantasy as the key to the emotional force of the Bolshevik revolution which gave way in the early 1930s to bureaucratic state centralism and a theology of Stalinism.
Download Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution epub
ISBN: 0195055373
ISBN13: 978-0195055375
Category: Other
Subcategory: Humanities
Author: Richard Stites
Language: English
Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 14, 1991)
Pages: 344 pages
ePUB size: 1506 kb
FB2 size: 1755 kb
Rating: 4.1
Votes: 172
Other Formats: mobi lit docx lrf

It's hard to fully describe a book like this, except by saying that the author has really outdone himself in surveying his subject. And even that is an understatement. Richard Stites' "Revolutionary Dreams" is by far the best book on Russian utopianism ever written, and it is both impressive in its scope and quality and inspiring in its portrayal.

Stites' book describes the manifold ways in which utopianism, and revolutionary novelty, were introduced into every aspect of life and society in Russia during the revolutionary period (roughly 1917-1928). This goes from science fiction books depicting the utopias and dystopias of the future, to socialist burials and marriages, to children called "Melor" (Marx-Engels-Lenin-October Revolution), to communal living in apartments, to garden cities, to egalitarianism in dress and pay, to popular festivals, and so much more. Stites also pays extensive attention to the various top-down ways in which revolutionary reformation of society was attempted, such as the League of Time, the neo-Taylorists, the Godbuilders, the Atheist societies, and so on, all of which sought to remold the old society into a new and shining future.

The author does a fantastic job of showing how after the October Revolution there was, among artists and intellectuals but even among peasants and workers in Siberia, a general feeling that anything could now be done, that anything truly was possible. Now was the time to build the future on a better basis than anything that had gone before. Because there had been different utopian currents before the Revolution, as Stites describes in his opening chapter, this led to very different conceptions of what should count most in the new society; in particular the struggle between efficiency and modernization utopians on the one hand and the freedom and equality utopians on the other hand was a perpetual one. But in these days it was very well possible for societies to form and try to design and build Russia according to their own views of the future (as long as they were leftist), without this leading to repression or death, such as would later happen with Stalinism. In this, Stites also demonstrates the essential difference between Soviet society in the Leninist period and the later USSR from Stalin on.

We learn all about Constructivism and Futurism in art, about the symphony orchestras without director, about the peasant anti-landlord movement, about the ambivalent attitude towards the architecture and sculpture of the Czarist society, about Lunacharsky and his Commissariat for Enlightenment, about Zamyatin and "Engineer Menni", about iconoclasm and godless religion, and about Mozart's requiem for those fallen in the struggle against oppression. In short, this book is absolutely essential reading for anyone whose heart still goes out to the possibility of a better world.
Great book. great writing. Exciting read. Not too wordy. I understand everything. I recommend this book to any one interested in the first 10 years of the Soviet Union.
What would one do if he or she had the power to completely change the social, cultural, political, religious, and economic structure of an existing society and create a utopia? Richard Stites, professor of history at Georgetown University, offers a fascinating look into the "revolutionary dreams" and fantasies of utopian thinkers articulated in the "feelings, thoughts, words, and actions that express, evoke or symbolize what has been called 'the utopian propensity'" (p. 3). This spiritual and mental expressionism of the revolution, encompassing the people, the state, and the radical intelligentsia, was deeply rooted in the "traditions of popular and religious utopia" and "manifold layers of previous [Russian] history" (p. 3). These utopian visions were enormously altered by Russia's industrialization, what Stites calls its "technological revolution" that resulted in an almost religious worship of the machine and American icons Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford. (p.3, 252). Stites culls from a vast array of imaginative sources including science fiction, to illustrate the experimental "programs and designs" in city planning, communal living, dress, speech, art and culture of a perfect society that could have been but was doomed by Joseph Stalin's scalpel and systematic "fantasctomy" (p. 235).                 Various conflicting emotions and ambiguities surface throughout Stites work. The essential conflict stems from the polarization of rationality versus far-flung daydreaming. To further illustrate this friction, the author introduces the variety of forms in which utopian visions take and an equal number of social/political groups that adhere to its varied manifestations. For example there are administration utopia, "a rational light beamed into the perceived darkness of the barbarous village world" versus popular/peasant utopia, based on the concept of Pravda (truth) and volya (freedom) (pp.15-18). The revolutionary iconoclasm that declared war on the luxury and symbols of the old regime, culture (Nihilism), and intellectualism (Makhaevism) through wanton vandalism, had to eventually be stifled by the very establishment that implemented it (Bolsheviks) lest every national treasure be destroyed. The conflict over urban versus rural life also presented a quandary. Cities were known for being centers for cultural and political activity as well as havens for crime, vise and the squalor of industrial waste. There was even thought of eliminating the cluster of cities all together in favor of a continuous avenue of modular housing that stretched in a straight line far into the vast Russian hinterland. Stites seems to not take a stand against the more absurd side of utopian daydreaming. The author does, however, differentiate between its two main political protagonists, V.I. Lenin and Stalin. Stites perceives Lenin as sympathetic to the utopian propensity, however, with one rational foot firmly placed in reality. Stalin, on the other hand, had both feet cemented in a realist agenda of "spontaneous euphoria and terror" (p. 227). Perhaps the oddest ambiguity of all is a "fantasy state" or "panegyric utopia" under Stalin, rising from the ashes of the revolutionary utopia Stalin supposedly hated so much. According to Stites, Stalin "detested disorder, freedom of expression, experimentation for its own sake, and especially experimentation in building autonomous communities and promoting equality," all of the attributes of revolutionary daydreaming. Stites concludes, "Stalin's intense hatred of revolutionary utopianism and his emerging totalitarian system were not simply two independent ingredients of Stalinism but inextricably related" (p. 246). The most important theme of the book is "the Russian Revolution drew on a rich tradition of ritual culture, of forms traditions and motifs rooted in the past" (p. 79). Stites draws from an impressive list of Russian and western literature to stress this point. One comes away with a better understanding of the connection between the old peasant traditions and what was to become some of the basic tenants of communism, yet, like other scholars before, Stites does not succeed in bridging the gap between peasant and revolutionary intelligentsia. Nevertheless, Stites has contributed a provocative analysis that should stand the test of time. Stites acknowledges the lack of primary sources but hopes that his work will invite similar scholarly works. Stites, himself has contributed a significant sequel with _Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) as well as, his previous work: _The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia_ (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Stites has also edited a number of anthologies dealing with Russian history.
This is one of the best pieces of Russian History I have read, better than Billington or Pipes to be sure. Stites explores the long tradition of Russian Utopias and cultural myth, he digs up amazing bits of early Soviet cultural practice, and carefully analyzes it all with an impressive set of theoretical tools. Best of all this is an extremely enagaging book, nothing dry about its careful historical work, just fascinating subject matter in a clear, sensible form. I was so engaged by Revolutionary Dreams when I first saw it in a friend's library that he had to lend it to me to get me to go home. Finally, I know of nowhere else that you can learn about what made the Rosa Luxemburg chocolate bar special.
Came as advertised.
A beautifully written and insightful exploration of political thought in Russia during the industrial revolution.