Red Star: The First Bolshevik Utopia


A communist society on Mars, the Russian revolution, and class struggle on two planets is the subject of this arresting science fiction novel by Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928), one of the early organizers and prophets of the Russian Bolshevik party. The red star is Mars, but it is also the dream set to paper of the society that could emerge on earth after the dual victory of the socialist and scientific-technical revolutions. While portraying a harmonious and rational socialist society, Bogdanov sketches out the ...
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A communist society on Mars, the Russian revolution, and class struggle on two planets is the subject of this arresting science fiction novel by Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928), one of the early organizers and prophets of the Russian Bolshevik party. The red star is Mars, but it is also the dream set to paper of the society that could emerge on earth after the dual victory of the socialist and scientific-technical revolutions. While portraying a harmonious and rational socialist society, Bogdanov sketches out the problems that will face industrialized nations, whether socialist or capitalist.
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Red Star

The First Bolshevik Utopia

By Alexander Bogdanov, Loren R. Graham, Richard Stites, Charles Rougle

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1984 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-17350-8



1. The Break

It was early in that great upheaval* which continues to shake our country and which, I think, is now approaching its inevitable, fateful conclusion.

The public consciousness was so deeply impressed by the events of the first bloody days that everyone expected a quick and victorious end to the struggle. It seemed as though the worst had already occurred, that nothing more terrible could possibly happen. No one had realized how tenacious were the bony hands of the corpse that had crushed and still crushes the living in its convulsive embrace.

The excitement of battle quickly spread throughout the masses. Souls opened selflessly to welcome the future as the present dissolved in a rosy mist and the past receded somewhere into the distance and disappeared. All human relationships became unstable and fragile. During these days something happened that radically altered the course of my life and separated me from the rising tide of the people's struggle.

Although I was but 27, I was numbered among the "old" party workers. I had six years of service behind me, the only interruption being a year of prison. I had sensed the approaching storm earlier than many, and I greeted it more calmly than they when it came. I was forced to work much more than previously, but I did not abandon either my scientific pursuits or my literary endeavors. I was particularly interested in the structure of matter and made my living by writing for two children's magazines. And then I was in love ... or so it seemed to me.

Her party name was Anna Nikolaevna. She supported another, more moderate current in our party, which fact I attributed to the mildness of her character and the general political muddle. Although she was my senior, I considered her a not yet fully developed person. There I was mistaken.

Very soon after we became intimate, the consequences of the difference in our personalities began to appear painfully obvious to us both. We gradually became aware of a profound ideological discrepancy in our attitudes toward both the revolution and our own relationship. She had entered the revolution under the banner of duty and sacrifice, while I had joined it under the banner of my own free will. She joined the great movement of the proletariat because she found satisfaction in its supreme morality, whereas all such considerations were alien to me. I simply loved life and wanted it to flourish as fully as possible, and I was therefore attracted to the current which represented the main historical path leading to such prosperity. To Anna Nikolaevna, proletarian ethics were sacred in and of themselves, whereas I considered them a useful appurtenance necessary to the working class in its struggle, but transitory, like the struggle and the system which generated it. According to Anna Nikolaevna, in socialist society the class ethics of the proletariat would necessarily become the universal moral code, while I believed that the proletariat was already moving toward the destruction of all morals and that the comradely feeling uniting people in labor, joy, and suffering would not develop fully until it had cast off the fetishistic husk of morality. These disagreements of ours often gave rise to evidently irreconcilable interpretations of political and social facts.

Our views on our own relationship differed even more sharply. She thought that love implied certain obligations—concessions, sacrifices, and, above all, fidelity for the duration of the union. In actual fact I had no intention whatever of entering into other liaisons, but I was unable to recognize fidelity as an obligation. I even believed that polygamy was in principle superior to monogamy, since it provided for both a richer private life and a greater variety of genetic combinations. In my opinion, it was only the contradictions of the bourgeois order which for the time being made polygamy either simply unfeasible or merely the privilege of the exploiters and parasites, who were all befouled by their own decadent psychology. Here too the future would bring a radical transformation. Anna Nikolaevna deeply resented such views, in which she perceived an attempt to mask a coarsely sensual outlook with intellectual phrases.

None of these disagreements had given me any reason to think of ending our relationship, but then an external factor entered our lives that contributed to such a rupture. At about this time, a young man bearing the unusual code name Menni arrived in the capital. He had with him certain information and messages from the South which indicated that he enjoyed the full confidence of our comrades there. After completing his assignment he decided to stay on for a while in the city. He began dropping in on us rather often and was obviously interested in getting to know me better.

Menni was original in a number of respects, beginning with his appearance. His eyes were so completely masked by a pair of very dark glasses that I did not even know their color. His head was disproportionately large, and although he was handsome, his face was strikingly immobile and lifeless, entirely out of keeping with his soft, expressive voice and well-built, youthfully supple figure. His speech was free and elegant, and his remarks were always pregnant with meaning. He had a broad education and was evidently an engineer by profession.

In conversation Menni constantly tended to reduce all individual practical questions to their general ideological foundations. When he visited us, somehow it seemed that the differences in character and opinions between my wife and myself always emerged so clearly and vividly that we became painfully aware of just how irreconcilable they really were. Menni's general outlook was evidently similar to my own. His remarks were always formulated gently and tactfully, but they always cut straight to the point. He was so skillful at relating the political disagreements between Anna Nikolaevna and myself to the basic discrepancy between our outlooks that these differences appeared to be psychologically inevitable, and we lost all hope of influencing each other or finding any common ground. Anna Nikolaevna regarded Menni with a mixture of hate and lively interest, while my attitude was one of great respect and vague distrust. I sensed that he had some sort of goal, but I was unable to put my finger on it.

During January (it was already the end of January), the leaders of both party currents were preparing to discuss organizing a mass demonstration which would probably result in an armed conflict. The evening before the planned meeting, Menni visited us and raised the question whether the party leaders themselves should participate in the demonstration in the event that it was decided upon. Anna Nikolaevna declared that anyone who voted for the demonstration was morally obliged to march at its head. I considered that no such obligation existed, but that the participants should be such persons as might be necessary or useful. Since I had had some experience of similar matters, I included myself in that category. Menni went further, asserting that in view of the fact that an armed clash with the troops was evidently unavoidable, the presence of street agitators and combat organizers was a must, whereas political leaders were quite out of place and people who were weak or jittery might even be downright harmful. Anna Nikolaevna was insulted by these arguments, taking them to be aimed specifically at her. She broke off the conversation and went to her room. Menni left soon after.

The following day I was obliged to get up early and leave without seeing Anna Nikolaevna, and I did not return until evening. The demonstration was voted down both by our committee and, I was told, by the executive collective of the other current. I was satisfied with the decision, because I knew that we were quite unprepared for an armed conflict and I considered such an action a useless waste of energy. I thought that the decision would mollify Anna Nikolaevna after the conversation of the day before, but when I arrived home I found a note from her on the table:

I'm leaving. The better I understand myself and you the clearer it seems to me that we have chosen different paths and have both made a mistake. I think we had best not see each other any more. Farewell.

Exhausted, with a feeling of emptiness in my head and a chill in my heart, I wandered the streets for a long time. When I returned home I found an unexpected guest waiting for me. Menni was sitting at my table writing a note.

2. The Invitation

"I must speak to you on a certain very serious and rather curious matter," said Menni.

I had no objections, so I sat down and prepared to listen.

"I have read your brochure on electrons and matter," he began. "I have been studying this problem for several years myself, and I think that many of the ideas in your brochure are correct."

I gave a silent nod of appreciation. "In your study," he continued, "you make one observation that I think is especially interesting. You express the hypothesis that the electrical theory of matter, since it necessarily represents the force of gravity in the form of an attraction and repulsion deriving from a play of electric forces, should eventually enable us to discover a different gravitational principle. In other words, we should be able to obtain a type of matter such that it is repelled rather than attracted by Earth, the sun, and other known celestial bodies. By way of comparison you refer to the diamagnetic repulsion of bodies and the repulsion of parallel currents of different sets. All of this is mentioned in passing, but I have the impression that you yourself attach more importance to it than you wished to disclose."

"You are right," I replied, "and I think that it is along these lines that man is going to solve the problems of free movement in the atmosphere and interplanetary travel. Whether or not my idea is in itself correct, however, it will lead to nothing until we have developed an accurate theory of matter and gravity. If another type of matter exists, then it is obviously impossible simply to find it, as the force of repulsion has long since eliminated it from the entire solar system. Or, more likely, it was never included in the composition of the system in its initial nebular stage of development. Thus this type of matter must first be constructed theoretically and then actually be reproduced. At present we lack the data necessary for such an operation, so that all we can do now is begin to envisage the problem itself."

"Nevertheless, the problem has already been solved," said Menni.

I looked at him in amazement. His face was as frozen as ever, but something in the tone of his voice told me I was not dealing with a charlatan. "Perhaps he is mad," flashed through my mind.

"I have no need to deceive you," he answered my thought, "and I am quite aware of what I am saying. Hear me out patiently, and then, if you are still unconvinced, I shall give you the proof."

And he told me the following.

"The great discovery we are talking about was not made by any one individual. It is the achievement of an entire scientific society that has been in existence for quite some time now and has been working along these lines for many years. Until now the society has been a secret, and I am not at liberty to give you the particulars of its origin and history until you and I have come to an agreement on the main issue.

"Our society is far ahead of the academic world in many important scientific questions. We knew about radioactive elements and their decay long before Curie and Ramsay, and our analysis of the structure of matter has come much further than theirs. We foresaw the possible existence of elements that are repelled by the planetary bodies and subsequently succeeded in synthesizing this minus-matter, as we briefly designate it.

"After that it was easy to develop and implement technical applications for the discovery—first, flying machines for movement within the atmosphere, and then vehicles for travel to other planets."

Menni's tone was calm and persuasive, but his story seemed too strange and improbable to believe. "And you were able to do all this in secret?" I interrupted.

"Yes, because we considered secrecy to be of the utmost importance. We decided that it would be very dangerous to publish our findings so long as most countries are ruled by reactionary governments. You, as a Russian revolutionary, would be the first to agree. Look how your Asiatic government uses European means of communication and destruction to oppress and eradicate all the most vigorous and progressive elements in the country. Or take the government of a certain semifeudal, semicon-stitutional country whose throne is occupied by a warmongering, jabbering blockhead in the power of a pack of known swindlers—is it much better? How much are even the two philistine republics of Europe worth? It is clear that if our flying machines were to become known, the governments would first of all try to get a monopoly on them and use them to enhance the power and might of the upper classes. That is something we most decidedly do not want, and we shall therefore retain the monopoly for ourselves and wait for more favorable circumstances."

"Have you actually succeeded in reaching other planets?" I asked.

"Yes, the two closest, the telluric planets Venus and Mars. Of course I am not counting the moon, which is dead. At this very moment we are exploring them in detail. We have all the necessary technical resources—what we lack is people, strong, reliable people. By the authority vested in me by my comrades, I am inviting you to join our ranks. Naturally, you would have all the rights and obligations of any other member."

He paused to wait for my answer. I did not know what to think.

"Proof!" I said. "You promised to show me the proof."

Menni took from his pocket a glass bottle containing a metallic liquid, which I took to be mercury. Strangely, however, this liquid, which filled not more than a third of the container, was not at the bottom of the bottle but in its upper part from just below the neck right up to the cork. Menni turned the bottle upside down and the liquid flowed upward to the bottom. He released the phial, and it hung suspended in midair. This was incredible, but there could be no doubt that it was really true.

"This is an ordinary glass phial," Menni explained, "but it contains a liquid which is repelled by the bodies of the solar system. Just enough liquid has been poured in to counterbalance the weight of the bottle, so that they are weightless taken together. We construct all our flying machines on the same principle. They are made of ordinary materials, but they have a reservoir filled with the appropriate quantity of this minusmatter. All that remains is to give this entire weightless system the proper speed. The flying machines intended for use in Earth's atmosphere have simple electric motors and wings. Such craft are of course unsuited for interplanetary travel, where we employ an entirely different system, with which I shall familiarize you in more detail later."

There was no longer any room for doubt.

"What restraints does your society place upon its members, besides, that is, the obligation to keep its existence a secret?"

"Actually, hardly any at all. Neither the private lives nor the public activities of our comrades are circumscribed in any way, so long as the activity of the society as a whole is not jeopardized. Upon joining, however, each new member is required to perform some important task for the society. This binds him more closely to the organization and also affords us an opportunity to observe his talents and initiative in action."

"In other words, I will also be assigned such a mission?"


"What, exactly?"

"You are to participate in the expedition leaving tomorrow for Mars in our etheroneph."

"How long will this expedition take?"

"We do not know. The round trip will require at least five months. Of course, there is always the possibility we may never return."

"I understand, but that is not the point. What will become of my revolutionary work? You are obviously a Social Democrat yourself, so you must understand my problem/'

"Make your choice. We think that you should pause in your work to complete your training. The mission cannot be postponed. If you refuse to accept it now you will not be given another chance."

I thought for a moment. Now that the broad masses had entered upon the scene, the absence of any one party worker was of little consequence to the cause as a whole. Besides, I would only be away temporarily, and, when I returned, my new connections, knowledge, and skills would make me considerably more useful. I made up my mind.

"When am I to start?"

"Immediately, with me."

"Can you give me two hours to notify my comrades? They will have to replace me tomorrow in the district."

"That matter has almost been taken care of already. Andrei arrived today, fleeing from the South. I told him that you might be leaving, and he is prepared to take your place. While waiting for you I wrote him a letter with detailed instructions, just in case. We can drop it off to him on our way."

There was nothing more to discuss. I quickly destroyed my personal papers, wrote a note to my landlady, and began dressing. Menni was ready already.

"Well then, let's go. From this moment on, I am your prisoner."

"You are my comrade!" answered Menni.


Excerpted from Red Star by Alexander Bogdanov, Loren R. Graham, Richard Stites, Charles Rougle. Copyright © 1984 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Fantasy and Revolution: Alexander Bogdanov and the Origins of Bolshevik Science Fiction / Richard Stites,
RED STAR: A Utopia,
Bogdanov's Inner Message / Loren R. Graham,
Selected Bibliography,

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