UTOPIAN SOCIETIES (VIb) – UTOPIAS IN ROO(M)CIA – ROU(M)SIA – RUSSIA


(BEING CONTINUED FROM  10/05/14 )

UTOPIAS OF SPACE
Utopias of space are programs for a new environment, new institutions, and new  habits to fit the coming arrangement of things. They differ from temporal utopia  in that they are seen to be feasible in the very near future — and their prophets  are always ready to begin at once. They are utopian none the less in that they go  against the current reality in a far more drastic way than the political, economic,and social programs that corn flowing out of any révolution. It might well be argued that all of Bolshevism was such a utopia. But the Bolshevik Révolution  proclaimed and put into action very much that was concrete and limited in scope.
A utopia must hâve an overall vision of what society should be like. I shall limit my discussion to those that seem most représentative and most comprehensive in  the sweep of their aspirations : Prussianism, Mechanization, Militarization, and Urbanization.

The 1916 appeal, Against Civilization, subsequently revised and Bolshevized in 1918, for the Prussianization of Russian society by the two intellectuals, Evgenii  Poletaev and Nikolai Punin, seems at first glance an isolated literary épisode  without much resonance1 . But in fact it resonated with ideas that were much in  the air during World War I and the Russian Civil War : the hopelessly flaccid and  degenerate condition of Western civilization and the beauty and utility of harshness.
Against civilization rhapsodized at lenght, in Nietzschean and Spenglerian tones,
about the décomposition of English and French civilization with their individual  egoism and their cults of the romantic and the sentimental. To this they opposed  Germanie Kultur : discipline, bravery, hardness, military prowess, solidarity, battlefield  camaraderie, and organization. After the révolution they joined these notions  to what they saw as similar ones in Bolshevism : the organizational power of the  machine, proletarian solidarity, class violence, hierarchy, and obédience — first  for war and then for industrial survival. The first two Bolshevik Commissars of  War, Trotsky and Frunze, might not háve read Against Civilization, but they  certainly showed themselves at times in full sympathy with some of its ideas for  a militarized society.
The vision of Alexei Gastev to mechanize the Russian proletarian and raw  peasant recruits to the factory was both more concrète and more extravagant.
Gastev was an intellectual who had made himself a worker before the révolution,
then an industrial poet, and then a utopian prophet of human mechanization.
His utopian prose poem, Express (1916), traced the journey of a train through a  future superindustrialized Siberia. After the révolution he called for a new society in the near future in which the world would be transformed into an urbanized  machine, its inhabitants mechanized and standardized down to appearance, nomenclature, émotions, language, and even thought2 . It was undoubtedly these works that moved Zamyatin to write We. In the 1920s, Gastev founded and ran the Central Institute of Labor on Taylorist principles (though called Scientific Organization of  Labor in Soviet parlance). Its aim was to transform a disorganized and  undisciplined work force, with its rustic notions of time, space, order, and motion,into smoothly functioning components of industrial civilization. Like Frederick  Winslow Taylor, who inspired him, Gastev clocked the workers’ movements, measured out normš for industrial tasks, and drilled his pupils in orderliness and  punctuality. But he went far beyond Taylorism (once dubbed « a normal American madness ») and preached compulsively the virtues of awareness, submission  to the rhythm of the machine, and a geometrie and mechanical style of life and  work.
Punin, Poletaev, and Gastev sought to change the environment through  organization,ichnology, and mechanization of the individual psychology — to make
the leap into modernity and prosperity by varying degrees of outward transformation of the « system » or environment and inward reform of the psyche. A rather  différent, more primitive, design for remaking Soviet society — but almost solely as a mode of defence of the State — was the now much-talked-about « militarization of society » enunciated by War Commissar Mikhail Frunze in the mid 1920s.
Struck by the prospect of a future war of immense destructive power, by the  enormous cost of conducting the next conflict, by the staggering backwardness of Russia’s infrastructure, and by the looming menace of death from the skies by means of long distance bombing, Frunze concluded that the old différence between  front and rear in time of war would disappear and that the entire nation would be living on a military front. The only way to prépare for this, he argued, was the complète militarization of society (voennizacija obščestva), by which he meant  militarization of discipline, ranks, and organization in the government, a wartime  footing for the economy, and a permanent military posture for the entire population— thus turning the Soviet Union into an armed camp in the most literal sense   of the term. It was in some ways reminiscent of the schemes of Tsar Alexander I. and his War Minister Arakcheev to plant military colonies ail over the Empire and  militarize the life of the peasants. Frunze’s plan was never realized in peacetime,though there are a number of contemporary Western analysts of Soviet affairs who  believe that Soviet society is now moving exactly in that direction3 .
Surely the most important, interesting, and relevant of the utopias of space – and the one most written about in the West4 — is the phenomenon of town planning in the  late 1920s and early 1930s. Opinions on the future of the city constitute  a very rich and multiformed spectrum, running from anti-urbanist desires to  blow up the towns and rusticate Russia, through various intersecting and overlapping  schools or « urbanizing » and « de-urbanizing » , to suggestions by lyrical  enthusiasts to eliminate nature altogether in favor of a single global city. Soviet  town planners and architects fell in the middle catégories and argued over issues  such as how large, how far apart, how dense, how high, and in what form the new  cities or non-cities should be laid out. Their plans were for the most part socially,economically, and geographically very radical, and thus utopian, but as utopias
of space — environment for the immédiate future — they were solemnly conceived
and seriously discussed.
In what kind of homes and in what kind of cities should socialist people live ?
Home and town planners of the revolutionary period were not much indebted to  the traditions of Fourier and Chernyshevsky whose communal structures, though  adorned with technology, were meant to be located in rural milieux. Their direct  inspiration were the European Garden City movement and German Social Démocrat  iuerban utopianism, both from the tum of the century. The former was geographically radical but socially conservative. The latter was the reverse. Writers such  as Kautsky, Atlanticus, Braun, Zetkin, and Bebel, impressed by rapid urbanization  and the possibilities of gaz, electricity, and rapid transit, saw the communal apartment building as the residential model of the future socialist city. The combination  of communal cooking and feeding, technology applied to tenant services, and  individual rooms combinable for families, would allow for the  économie émancipationof women from housework, a space and time for communal and convivial  encounters among the résidents, and space for privacy as well. This belief was
developed among the Bolsheviks before the révolution by those interested in the
position of women and in the future of the family : Kolontai, Krupskaya, Armand,
and Lenin5 . Soviet ideological architects of the 1920s saw the communal apartment
house (or House Commune) as a social incubator of the new society, endowing  the residential environment with an almost physically transformative power.
In the mid-1920s, the urban communal vision began to possess city planners.
Some of them advanced outlandish, fantastic, and often delightful dreams of a  new communal world. The architect Leonidov, for example, envisioned Russians  living in small House Communes of sixteen families each, united in their daily  life by an enclosed winter garden, and set in a huge network of linear cities covering  the vastness of Russia. A school of town planning known as the Urbanists projected massive communites of 40-50,000 people in House Communes clustered around a  factory, with individual cells for every person, including married couples. Newlyweds  could move into adjoining rooms and those who divorced could simply  close the Connecting door. A variant Urbanist schéme, reminiscent of Zamyatin’s  nightmare, provided for segregated, barracks-like dormitories with rigid schedules  of the day’s routine and spécial days for sexual cohabitation. On the other hand,a realistic Urbanist allowed for temporary kitchens in each living space which could  be removed once the communards had moved over to communal dining.
The De-Urbanists were fired by a wholly différent vision : to empty the cities
and spread families and individuals around the countryside in portable, mobile,
and prefabricated homes. Like the Urbanists, they allowed for fluid family relations  in a society where divorce was extremely easy : the portable units, really room-sized  boxes on stilts, could be attached and detached in the event of marriage or divorce.
Workplace, domestic services, and communal facilities (meeting halls, clubs, theaters)
were to be within easy walking distance. In outward form, the schéme of the  De-urbanists was very much like American style suburbia of that era. Urbanists, De-Urbanists, proponents of linear cities, garden cities, non-cities, and renovated  cities jostled their ideas and plans in the bustling market place of utopian dreams  in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
But the House Commune idea dissolved in an oceanie tide of urban in-migration  from the rural areas which rusticated the cities, eroded the citified idealism,and turned buildings designed as communes into collections of overcrowded « communal apartments » (kommunalnye kvartiry). The kommunalka, as it has been called since then, was a twisted parody of the communal idea, with whole families  stuffed into a room, with sometimes 30 people sharing hallway, bath, toilet, phone,kitchen, and entryway. A British observer in Moscow noticed in the kitchen of an eight-room, eight-family apartment (formerly occupied by one family), eight  separate cupboards and eight ranges on the « communal » stove for eight separate  préparations (by eight wives of course) of eight privately consumed meals6 . So  it has been in the inner-city « communal » apartment ever since.
New cities were certainly built in the 1930s, many of them enormous, particularly
at the industrial sites. But the living schemes – the utopias of space — of  the Urbanists and De-Urbanists almost never got off the ground — or onto the  ground. In the early 1930s, utopian town planners were repudiated by the régime  as dangerous dreamers : Urbanists were called « Mensheviks » and De-Urbanists  « social fascists » — expletives much in the air at the time and having no earthly relationship to the ideas of these architects. Not only Stalin and his political henchmen  hated communes ; so did his enemies Trotsky, Bukharin, and others. No polls  were taken of the population, so we cannot know how it may háve taken to them.
Spontaneous communards were always a small minority of the population, even in  the 1920s — Anarchists, Tolstoyans, sectarians, and a handful of urban communist  young people. From what we know the peasantry, who constituted the bulk of  the urban population in the mid 1930s, it is doubtful that it would hâve been much  interested in the elaborate fantasies of city planners and communal architects.
But it is also doubtful that even under the right démographie and political  conditions Soviet urban utopias would hâve worked very well. Their designers did not address themselves much to problems of group psychology and human  personality. According to their approach, the environment and the reshaping of  productive relations would solve ail problems. Yet the associational frameworks  designed for communards might well hâve led to aliénation from the outside world  and to desiccation and boredom within. Their devices for multiplying and enriching  human contacts today sound rather drab and mechanistic : big dining rooms, group  discussions and lectures, entertainment and educational events, and dynamie inter  action in the enclosed pathways and winter gardens between buildings. But ail such  plans suffered from insufficient attention to the « communal personality » and
ways of breeding it. Fourier and Chernyschevsky in the 19th century and kibbutz
theorists today are far beyond them in this essential matter.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

RICHARD STITES

notes

1. E. Poletaev and N. Punin, Против цивилизации, 1916; Pg., 1918. i am indebted to
Charles Rougle of Stockholm University for this work.
2. K. Johansson and Charles Rougle, « Express : the future according to Gastev », in
L. Kleberg and Stites, eds., Utopia in Russian history, culture, and thought, spécial issue of
Russian history , 1984 ; Johansson, Aleksej Gastev, Stockholm, 1983.

3. M. V. Frunze, Избранные произведения, M., 1934, p. 192-201. For current interpré
tations, see W. Odom, « The ‘militarization of Soviet society1 », Problems of Communism, XXV  (sept.-oct. 1976), p. 34-51.
4. Among the best récent works are : A. Kopp, Changer la vie – changer la ville, Paris,
1975 ; id., Town and révolution, New York, 1970 ; N. A. Miljutin, Sotsgorod, Cambridge,
Mass., 1974 ; S. F. Starr, Melnikov, Princeton, 1978 ; id., « Visionary town planning during
the cultural révolution », in S. Fitzpatrick, éd., Cultural révolution in Russia, 1928-1931,
Bloomington, 1975 ; M. Bliznakov, « Urban planning in the USSR », in M. Hamm, éd., The city  in Russian history (Lexington, Kentucky, 1976).

5. For the background, see Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia, Prince
ton1, 978, p. 258-269, 409410.
6. E. D. Simon et ai, Mosco w in the making. London. 1937. p. 143-172.

SOURCE

Stites Richard. Utopias of time, space, and life in the Russian Revolution. In: Revue des études slaves, Tome 56, fascicule 1,
1984. L’utopie dans le monde slave. pp. 141-154.
http://www.persee.fr/

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