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


(BEING CONTINUED FROM  14/01/15 )

UTOPIAS OF LIFE

All the utopias of space suffered in varying degress from one-dimensionality, environmentalism, and a compulsive single-formula mentality. Though operating in the arena of the feasible, they ail too seldom examined the materiał — human beings — for whom they were planning and designing. They ušed terms such as Equality, Communalism, New Morality, Collectivism and so on without examining what these terms might hâve meant to various segments of the population : workers, peasants, women, students. In my brief survey of « utopias of life » — that is social experiments in action — I shall try to show the diversity and divergence of meanings that these terms had among the people who used them. My principal aim is to sketch in some of the behavioral history which is often left out the story of utopias. Frank and Fritzie Manuel, in their monumental study of utopian thought, conceded at the outset that what they aptly call « applied utopistics » — the utopian expérimental behavior of everyday life — had to be omitted from their account because of the shear scope of their work. But in studying utopia in a given révolution or historical epoch, it is essential to go beneath the literary and social fantasy into the realm of émotions felt, words spoken, and deeds performed — in other words into various patterns of behavior inspired by and responding to the révolution, but utopian in their relation to the current reality. How did the people themselves react to dreams of the future, to attempts at militarization or mechanization of life, to equality, community, and morality.

On the question of organizing life as a whole, there existed two poles of thought and behavior : those who wished to mobilize people from the center by means of the Party, the military, or other organs, and those who wished to be left alone by the center altogether. It was the old Russian dichotomy between administrative utopia (symbolized by the Military Colonies of the early 19th century) and popular utopia (symbolized by peasant flight and sectarian communities), i.e. between State and People. Trotsky’s famous experiment with the militarization of labor during the Civil War was an example of the fírst pole. In action as well as in intention, Trotsky, as Commissar of War, strove to turn soldiers into workers and peasants, and civilian laborers into soldiers — in other words to militarize society at least for the duration of the war, to subject virtually the entire population to the rigors of discipline, military hierarchy, and martial law. For several months in 1920, his efforts in certain sectors of Soviet Russia actually went much further than the vague défensive schéme of Frunze discussed above. By his opponents, Trotsky was compared to Arakcheev, the master of Alexander’s Military Colonies, and condemned for creating a brutal military despotism. The experiment did not work very well even for its limited purpose and won no adhérents as a suitable mode for organizing socialist society in time of peace1 . At the opposite pole from Trotsky’s militarization of labor were the movements to secede from under the shadow of centralized power and build smaller worlds of freedom and community. Like the peasant rebels and sectarians of the 18th and 19th centuries, certain groups and communities bade farewell to the two capitals, to their ne w « tsars » Lenin and Trotsky, to central authority, to utopian intellectuals in the city who dreamed of urbanizing, electrifying, militarizing, and mechanizing Russia. The numerous republics that were founded, the districts that withdrew from the politics and battle of the révolution — such as the tiny « tsardom of Ur » deep in the forests above Kazan — were not utopian communities by design or purpose. But there was something of a primitive utopia in the way their inhabitants hoped and endeavored to create or sustain an earlier way of life. Local communal experiments on the ground were genuine attempts to realize utopias – ideal communities — in the midst of révolution. The most famous of these was Nestor Makhno’s communal republic in the vicinity of Gulyai-Pole in the Southern Ukraine where land was divided equally and worked communally, with the chief of the Insurgent Army himself doing fieldwork once a week — ail of it detached and in défiance of any central power, Red or White. Less independent but no less expérimental was the commune of Kronstadt where workers, sailors, andintellectuals toiled side by side in the vegetable gardens. Anarchiste formed dozens of communes, but so did Bolsheviks and people unattached to any party : peasants, workers, widows, vétérans, ethnie minorities, and even children. Withdrawal and escape were certainly impelled by political, nationalist, and économie considérations during the years of révolution and civil war ; but in some cases they arose from a dream, the realization of which seemed to hâve been made possible by the révolution, with its chaos, reversai, and centrifugation. For a number of years, people lived out this dream in their utopian enclaves in the hope that God would remain in heaven and the « tsar » would remain far away2 .

The ultimate goal of all utopia is an ideal community — whether it encompasses a small village of sectarian brethren or a mammoth communal apartment building in a socialist city. But to live in a community, its members must share certain values about human behavior. During the révolution and into the 1920s, three issues captures the imagination of revolutionary remolders of personality : morality, equality, and efficiency. The campaign to create a new proletarian morality came for the most from groups that often overlapped in membership and mentality : the Zhenotdel, the League of Militant Atheists, and the Komsomol, in the other words the elite of middle-level activists in the building of a socialist society. The Zhenotdel or women’s section of the Party focused on relations between men and women — a subject much discussed in récent historiography3 . The League of Militant Atheists contained mostly ultraleftists who wanted to abolish belief in God at once, destroy the church, and root out the superstitions and rituals of the people. Some took to blasphemy and carnival, designed to shame and ridicule the church and discrédit its authority ; others to the launching of new revolutionary rituals, such as Octobering (the communist blessing of newborns with names such as Barricade, Revolt, Electric, Guillotine, Vladlen, etc.), Red Weddings, and Socialist funerals4 . Still others lived by a « communist code » as models for the young. In the matter of communist moral codes, the Komsomol took the lead in endless debates about smoking and drinking (manly or harmful ?), dancing (healthy sublimation or Afričan depravity ?), dressing neatly (cultured or antiproletarian ?) – and the debates were lived out, argued, and observed in the course of everyday life. Out of the swirl of debate and practice came much confusion and acrimony to be sure, but also a fresh look at the human condition and the possibilities of building a new personal culture out of the revolutionary values5 .

Egalitarianism in the Russian Révolution sprung from many currents, including the abstract ravenstvo of the intelligentsia and the folkish pravda of the peasantry. It expressed itself in a rich variety of behavioral formš. Equal rights to goods. services, and privilèges meant flattening of the wages scale for all (including commissars), blocks of theater tickets for workers ; a place in the queue according to moment of arrivai at it ; first-come-first served for all railroad seats ; access to trams for all (including men in the ranks) ; the confiscation of wealth and treasure, and the invasion of mansions and large fiats by the lower classes. Equal liability “îeant everyone should work, including those who had never worked before — and sometimes collective responsability (kruglovaja poruka) and coerced collective looting. The egalitarian suspicion of authority high culture, and intellect expressed itself in things like worker’s control, iconoclasm, specialist-baiting, and even an orchestra without a conductor. And the egalitarian hostility to déférence appeared in such formš as the revolt against military rank, salute, and courtesy to superiors, in the abolition of terms like gospodin, in the egalitarian use of vy-ty and the word comrade, and in overall opposition to socially differentiated dress. This far from exhaustive list is drawn not from programmatic brochures, but from actual examples of revolutionary behavior in the early years of Soviet power6 .

If in the utopianism of everyday life, morality was largely the realm of masš communist organizations, and egalitarianism the masses at large, the efficiency-inlife movement known as the League of Time was very limited indeed, including only a few thousand active adhérents and lasting only two years (1923-1925). Founded by Platon Kerzhentsev as an offbranch of Gastev’s Taylorist movement, it directly related to everyday life and not just training in an institute for the workplace. The Timeists (èlvisty in Russian after L. V. – Liga « Vremja ») were formed into Time Cells all over urban Russia with the intention of translating Gastev’s utopia of space into life. They wore badges with the letters L. V. on tnem and big watches on their wrists. Timeists harassed managers of factories, shops, cafétérias, schools, government organizations. Their arena of opération was universal, though they possessed no coercive authority. Their weapons were diagrams for relocating furniture, equipment, and personnel along rational Unes, clocks to enforce punctuality, locked doors in the face of tardy students, interruptions of long-winded speakers, timetables and schedules, yardsticks and meters, and a strident and humorless détermination to turn functioning humans into parts of a huge machine. The Timeist ideal was a self-disciplined army, marching in précision step (šagistika) from one productive task to another according to a prearranged schedule. Though they probably achieved little enough in transforming work and life habits, the League of Time was abolished after a few years in the face of widespread opposition to it as a band of ubiquitous busybodies7 . Urban and rural communalism in the 1920s was the laboratory where all the separate movements of utopia in life coalesced and were put to the test. It was also the phenomenon that most closely replicated the social pictures of the future contained in the utopias of time and some of the utopias of space. The communal experiments of the 1920s possessed an enormous variety in styles, structures, milieux, and participants. There were several thousand Anarchist and Communist rural communes whose members were motivated by a mixture of ideology, survival, and curiosity. In them residence usually remained individual or by family ; work was coopérative ; in the early years distribution was according to varying notions of « equity » ; equipment and services were pooled ; and land was held in common. Most rural communes were in later years only slightly « higher » in socialist form than the kolxoz. Religious and Tolstoyan communes in the countryside were more consistently communal — that is complète pooling and sharing of resources and products, with residential community. In the cities, student communes dealt with all aspects of life outside of the classroom, particularly common residence and dining. Communes were formed along similar lines by groups of workers in the same enterprise, thus adding workplace association to the living arrangements. Tenants of the few hundred House Communes designed by the socialist architects of the 1920s attempted to put utopias of space into practice by living in them. During the five year plan there flourished for a time the rabočaja kommuna, actually an updated arteľ where groups of young people migra ted to the new construction sites, worked as teams, pooled their wages and possessions, and slept in tents8.

Given the wide variety of formš – all permitted and some even encouraged by the régime — one сап imagine the variety of behavior patterns. In the realm of equaHty, the spectrum on women’s position ran from relegation of women to the communal kitchen and laundry in rural communes to full rotation of all tasks among men and women in the student and workers’ communes ; on property from large areas of priváte possessions in rural areas to full pooling of everything (including underwear) in the urban communes ; from priváte life in rural communes to complète association in every leisure moment in urban communes ; from privacy of family space in the country, through priváte and public space in the House Communes, to complète « nationalization » (as they quaintly called it) of sleeping, studying, and visiting space in the student communes. Within each type of commune, the variation was also considérable. An enthusiast for rural communes suggested introducing the clock and the bell to induce punctuality, but there is no evidence that this ever caught on. Yet in some of the student communes, Timeists attempted to introduce what was called a « reign of terror and time » by regimenting and tabulating every waking moment of the communards. Few sources exist on moral issues in the rural communes, but the urban ones were constantly beset by problems of outside income, sex, the use of leisure time, mode of dress, comradeship, collective spirit, and many other aspects of byt and moral behavior. Although there is no place hère for more concrète détails about expérimentation in the realm of everyday life, what I hâve outlined points to two striking perspectives on the discussion of utopianism in the Russian Révolution.

The first is the immense différence between the values and behavior patterns just discussed and the fiat, simplified, schematized, and naively optimistic formulations of those who dealt in perfect societies of the distant and immédiate future. Granted, the utopians of time assumed that the décades and the centuries would hâve brought about the high technology, the super-abundance, and the long training of the Soviet People that would enable such mechanisms to operáte in the way they were depicted. But they said very little in their discussions, programs, or novels about the transition from the « old » personality to the « new » or about ways in which préjudices and vices were to be eliminated along the road to utopia. The utopians of space were even more arrogant : they laid out environments for a communal and comradely life in the near future, expecting their own génération or the next on1 to occupy the utopian landscape without moral or psychological mapš and compassés to guide them, to say nothing of sufficient time for preparing the journey. The ironie thing is that both kinds of utopian schemer were surrounded in the first décade of the Révolution with thousands of workers, students, peasants, women, Young Communists, Militant Atheists, Timeists, communards, and all sorts of people who could hâve given them rewarding lessons in the problems of creating a new society from below and from the inside. The second and concluding point is this : that the utopians of life deserve far more crédit and attention than they hâve been given by Soviet or Western historians for exploring in peaceful and mostly non coercive ways the methods by which human relations сап be bettered. They were also naive, over-optimistic and sometimes even arrogant. But these vices were balanced at least by their willingness to experiment upon themselves and take the conséquences — to live in communes and not just design them, to practice « proletarian » morality and not just preach it, to insinuate equality into everyday life and not just to proclaim it, to work precisely, punctually, and conscientiously, and not just inscribe such behavior on  propaganda posters.

The utopians of everyday life were clearly inspired by written visions of the future, science fiction, and revolutionary utopias — by their own admission. Far less often were the utopians of time and space aware of the experiments and expériences that were going on under their very noses. The Stalinists who came to power in the 193 Os were of course aggressively hostile to almost all of these early utopias and experiments, and they imposed their own solution úpon the révolution. But that is another story.

the end

RICHARD STITES

notes

1. R. Pethybridge, The social prelude to Stalinism, London, 1972, chap. 3.

2. For documentation on this phenomenon, see Stites, « Utopias in the air and on the ground », in Kleberg and Stites, Utopia…, op. cit.

3. Stites, The Women’s Liberation…, op. cit., B. Farnsworth, Aleksandra Kollontai, Stanford, 1980 ; B. Cléments, Bolshevik feminist, Bloomington, 1979 ; G. Lapidus, Women in Soviet society, Berkeley, 1978.

4. Stites, « Iconoclastic currents in the Russian révolution », in A. Gleason et ai., eds.. Bolshevik culture, Bloomington, 1984.

5. The sources on this are manifold, but see P. Gooderham, « The Komsomol and Worker Youth », unpublished páper, University of Ľssex, 1981.

6. Stites, Utopias…, art. cit.

7. The journal Время, 1923-1925 ; P. M. Keržencev, Борьба за время. M., 1965.

8. Rural communes : B. Kerblay, « les Utopies communautaires », this issue, with documentation ; I. A. Konjukov, Коллективное земледелие, 3rd éd., Moscow, 1927. Urban communes : K. Menhert, Youth in Soviet Russia, New York, 1933 ; M. Jankovskij, Коммуна 133, L., 1929 ; N. Buxel, « О коллективах », Красная молодеж, 3-4 (mar.-apr. 1925), р. 132-134.

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