1908 – Red Star

1908. Three years after violent revolution, the Russian Empire is slowly stabilizing. Tzar Nicholas II kept one of his promises and formed the Duma (Russian Parliament) in 1906; however, its authority was weak. The Tsar was still absolute leader, and he needed to confirm all new legislation. On top of that, the freedoms promised by the October Manifesto, a document that was supposed to be the precursor to the Russian Constitution, were withdrawn. The Tzar replaced them with the much watered down Fundamental Laws of 1906.

The first Duma lasted 73 days before the tsar dissolved it, the second 103. After dissolving the first Duma, the Tzar appointed Pyotr Stolypin, a conservative monarchist, as prime minister of his government. After dissolving the second Duma, the Tsar reformed electoral law to give greater voting power to the gentry and landowners, and less to the peasantry and working classes. These moves resulted in a more stable, more conservative, third Duma that favored the Tzar’s government.

The revolution was dying. Socialists were divided. Mass movements, strikes and protests were on a decline, and political terrorism was on a rise. Russia was under martial law, and the Russian government was cracking down on revolutionaries. Thousands of political terrorists were executed, forcing much of the Bolshevik leadership to go into exile. However, not everyone was convinced the revolution was over. Alexander Bogdanov felt that the working masses could be reignited, and in 1908, he wrote for them Red Star, an optimistic novel describing a communist utopia on Mars.

Tsar Nicholas II’s opening speech before the two chambers in the Winter Palace (1906)

Alexander Aleksandrovice Bogdanov (1873-1928) was a Russian, and later Soviet, medical doctor, philosopher, science fiction writer and revolutionary. Bogdanov was a founding member of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, and was deeply committed to the faction, until disagreements with Lenin got him expelled in 1909.

After he was expelled Bogdanov devoted the rest of his career to writing, science, and developing Proletariat (working class) culture. He developed a scientific discipline called tectology, a precursor to systems thinking, which was intended to uncover the underlying organizational principles of all other systems. Bogdanov felt that such a unified systems awareness was needed for restructuring society according to Marxist principles. In Red Star, Bogdanov demonstrates how these principles can be applied by creating a functioning communist society on Mars.

Red Star tells the story of Leonid, “Lenni,” a Russian revolutionary and mathematician. Lenni is living in St. Petersburg at the time of the Tzar’s crackdown in 1907 when he is invited by Menni, a disguised Martian, to visit an advanced communist society living on Mars. The journey takes several months, and when they arrive Lenni immediately begins to immerse himself in Martian society with the goal of learning everything possible about life on the planet.

In Russia at the time, the three major challenges any future communist state would have to resolve were what to do with the undereducated peasant class, nationalistic tendencies, and division of labor. In Mars, there were no peasants and separate nations did not exist. Farming had been industrialized centuries ago eliminating the need for a peasant class and nations never really had an opportunity to form. The Martian geography is structured in such a way that no serious natural barriers exist to separate groups of people from one another. Constant exposure and intermingling along with a smaller population and single language kept the population homogenic and unified.

Labor is more complicated. In Mars, everyone produces according to capacity and consumes according to desire. There is no issue of overconsumption because there is a central institution of statistics capable of calculating the average consumption on a societal level and how much needs to be produced by society in order to meet the required demand. All labor is voluntary on Mars. If Martians become bored, they check to see which occupations are currently needed and switch to a position they find more interesting that matches their skill sets. Because Martians believe in their collective society, there are always plenty of volunteers to fill any vacancies that are created, which means that there is always a surplus of labor. As a result, most members feel the need to work a maximum of six hours a day.

Lenni visits an art museum on Mars

In Martian society, individuality is heavily de-emphasized. There are those who contribute more and those who contribute less, but they are all valued equally. There are no heroes or role models to emulate because no need for them exists. Martians listen to the people in charge not because of any inherent authority, but because they recognize their professional expertise. This collectivist attitude is accomplished by education starting from a very early age, in separate children’s colonies.

On Mars the only challenges facing society are those posed by nature, not other people. Scarcity of resources is a serious issue facing Martian society, and the main reason Martians are exploring earth (and also Venus). Bogdanov felt that the need to have an external enemy who can be conquered and defeated would always exist, but better that external enemy be nature than other human beings. His Martians felt the same way, believing their unified society more than capable of overcoming any challenge thrown their way.

The Omer today is kindness in courage, two attributes embodied by Bogdanov’s Mars. Martian society is a kind society in which selfishness has been eliminated, and its citizens are constantly looking for ways in which they can help improve the lives of all members of their society. Courage is also not lacking. There is never a shortage of volunteers for any mission, regardless of risk. These two attributes are also embodied by the Bolsheviks and Bogdanov himself who genuinely believed that overthrowing the Tzar’s government would make life better for all Russians. Seeing these two attributes go hand in hand, inspires admiration. It’s not always easy to stand up for what you believe. Bogdanov took a lot of risks in writing and publishing the book. I think he more than succeeded in delivering.

Red Star

Author: Alexander Bogdanov

Translator: Charles Rougle

Publisher: Indiana University Press

Published: June 22, 1984 (Original 1908)

Pages: 257

Format reviewed: Digital PDF