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A History of Communist Utopias
Andrew Grant Geography 565
Humans have forever lived in flawed environments. Wherever there is disease, hard labor, strife, or nonfulfillment, people have sought to change their environments into something else, something better. We are place-makers at heart, shapers of our physical realities, and at the apex of our goals is often the dream of a perfect society, a utopia. This may seem unrealistic and unobtainable, yet for thousands of years humans have been dreaming up these societies, their geographies, and their structures. Sometimes, with great ideological inspiration, revolutionaries and leaders have actually attempted to create these seemingly impossible societies. From the communes of the utopian socialists to the grand scale empires of Soviet Russia and Maoist China, these attempts have deviated from their original goals and ultimately failed. The nominal “utopias” created by these governments turn out to be anything but the good places they intend to be. In the Western World Ancient Greece set the first stone of what would be the utopian ideal. Plato and the ancient Stoics both believed in perfect city-states in which private property was abolished and households were made less private (Dawson, 141). In Christianity the notion of perfect places continued; the Garden of Eden is a pure and innocent place until it is corrupted by temptation, and God continually smites “wicked” places like Sodom and Gomorrah. Places deemed good by God are places where people live by religious morals. During the Renaissance many great thinkers once again grappled with the concepts of what would make a great place. Thomas More’s Utopia, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Tommas Campanella’s City of the Sun, and Andreae’s Christianopolis are all utopias modeled upon Greek and Christian values. Unsurprisingly the social values of
these cities are highly reflective of the Renaissance world the authors were conditioned by and familiar with. Yet despite the authors’ strong connection to the Church, Solarians and Utopians were actually pagans at heart (Kuman, 20). A sort of scientific order pervades these early utopias. In New Atlantis great buildings are constructed in order for scientific experiments to be conducted. One houses meteorology experiments, and another deals with “perspectives” and contains light experiments (Campanella, 268). On the walls of the City of the Sun are written math equations, animal and plant taxonomies, and other useful scientific information (Campanella, 279). It’s as though living in a place so potent with knowledge in and of itself can cause the inhabitants to become enlightened. The essential geographical designs of the early utopias are modeled in ways that are supposed to reflect better health and more reasoned planning than had been executed in medieval Europe. After the Black Death of 1347 to 1350, the first health boards were established in Northern Italy (Eliav-Feldon, 34). An age of acknowledgement of unsanitary conditions and of desire to improve them had set in. Almost all of the utopias were built in climates close to that of the Mediterranean or more southern, where healthier weather was supposed to prevail. More put Utopia’s slaughterhouses outside of the city walls in order that the possibly corrupting scents of dead animals were isolated from the populace (Eliav-Feldon, 38). It was commonly thought in these early Renaissance times that one could catch a disease simply through smelling foul things, an unsurprising fact when most cities lacked sewers or proper waste disposal. Renaissance utopians relied heavily on symmetry and circular rings for the designs of their cities. Borrowing from the idea of the Italian Quattro Centro (EliavFeldon, 36); places were constructed in order to express openness of movement yet imply
Thomas More made his Utopia modeled after England in its width and length. 14). two of the seven deadly sins. something that would not necessarily provide social justice. 275). 47). Campanella uses communism as a mechanism to remove individualism and guarantee state control. great efforts were made in order to incorporate the natural elements of the world into the city (Eliav-Feldon. 37). as they were thought to aid in the curing of disease (Bacon. Gardens and public baths are prevalent throughout New Atlantis. naturally fortified bay and the shape of a crescent. Tying in with Campanella’s astrology concepts. One of the most important aspects of the Renaissance utopias is the suggestion that some type of communism was necessary for the perfect society to operate. each of them serving its own scientific function and each of them prepared with withstand a foreign siege. and public places closely reflect the original Roman designs for Londinium (Goodey. courtyards. . but gave it a large. Gardens are also very common throughout the early utopias. but would keep the society stable and controllable. a design that would later on be seen in Communist Russia. Perhaps taking a hint from the original Garden of Eden or recognizing the lack of green space within cities of the time. is designed to be perfectly symmetrical. Campanella’s City of the Sun was built using seven concentric rings.social order and stability. they were also each named for a planet of the solar system (Campanella. The grid of the cities of Utopia are set up in such a way as that at the center of every 3 by 3 block of housing is a block of garden space (More. Amaurotum. 264). One of the main cities of Utopia. More suggested that the abolition of private property would free humans from Greed and Pride. but also saw those sins as the greatest obstacles to overcome in order to allow communism and social justice. Its straight streets.
a man of great vision who designed all of the cities on the island. and Love. the metaphysic. They had a hierarchy of a ruling class who were entrusted to maintain a stable society. 296). In New Atlantis the scientific class is to bring affluence. This aspect of the Renaissance utopias easily invited criticism. However. The Renaissance utopias did not operate as completely communal states. Wisdom. Utopia is founded by King Utopus. The utopian socialists of the turn of the 19th century saw this as a critical problem and focused on doing away with a ruling class altogether. as to entrust a single ruler to be fair and maintain a state of universal well being takes a lot of faith. their founders still find an absolute ruler necessary for the life of the state. this supposedly positive scientific aspect of Bacon’s utopia would re-emerge later as perhaps the most daunting fear of the anti-utopian writers. 81-84). longevity. and his sons. the princes Power. allowing the common use of family property. Christianopolis is based on firmly religious ideals. and freedom of pain to the general population (Eliav-Feldon. King Hoh.Andreae’s Christianopolis is much smaller then Utopia and the City of the Sun and has similar communist ideals. Utopian socialists such as Saint Simon. and the methods of sharing and interaction are like that of large extended family. Owen. rule the City of the Sun. Even though these societies heavily strive for social justice and extended equality. and Fourier were designing communes that would . Kings ruled over the Renaissance utopias as they did in Europe at the time these authors lived. This utopia even has a hierarchy of clergy relying on astrology as their faith (Campanella. Around the time of the French Revolution in Europe the idea of the “natural rights of man” and of pursuits for equality within government were very strong. People would live equally and in general harmony without the need for private property.
Eventually. For the first time these communes were not just being proposed.bring these issues to the forefront of their inhabitants’ lives (Geoghegan. Owens built “New Harmony” in the rural US in the early 1800s. One of the things needed in order to get these communes off the ground were initial private investment. Tillage all but stopped and supplies quickly dwindled. The ideal society quickly fell apart. but the ideals of communism were all but forgotten in the face of simple frontier survival (Loubere. which were being compounded by the rise of the Industrial Revolution. As result of these issues the commune had to adapt stronger central control. filled with people escaping the ills of an unjust world. Owens and Fourier created or inspired dozens of communes around Western Europe and the US. The urbanite working class arose as the new . 36). 22). The utopian socialists sought to make places equal and equalize access and roles (Levitas. 76). Owens left quickly after he established it and left his son as the leader and facilitator of the commune. but actually executed on a smaller scale. an aspect key to Maoist and Stalinist communism. One of the drives behind the natural rights movement was to make hunting and fishing rights universal. People bickered over who had to do what and complained about workload distribution. 77). The utopian socialists bred their ideas in the city and saw the agrarian life as preferable over the ills of society bred in large cities. Some of the extremely early settlements of rural Wisconsin were also established around the models of Fourier and Owens. The absolute monarchies of Europe had made forests and streams places that were off-limits to non-aristocracy. professional farmers had to be brought in to sustain the livelihood of the commune (Loubere.
This visitor was the German theorist Karl Marx (Geoghagen. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s. Later on however. The proletariat class would only be free when they controlled their own destiny and could share the wealth of the world amongst them selves. 28). Marx and Engels praised the work and ideals of the utopian socialists. and nearly every street. In 1843 one of Fourier’s Parisian workers communes had a visitor who ended up adding to the concepts of utopian socialism a new idea. 25). Instead of a protracted struggle with the upper classes. the only way to bring a perfect society to the world would be by way of violent revolution. their attitudes changed as they developed their own ideas about the progress of history and the ideal communist state. Immediately after the Russian Revolution of 1917 huge homes and palaces were divided into communal apartments. The Bolsheviks in Russia adapted the ideals of Marx. and public place was renamed and ideologically recreated in order to express the new design of socialist culture. one of struggle and revolution. Instead of a slow method of persuasion that would eventually convert the world over to their ideals (Saint Simon’s beliefs eventually turned into a religion). 73). The Bolsheviks planned on and succeeded in turning the Russian world and its traditional design upon its head. throwing away from society all elements of elitism ranging from clergy to aristocracy to rich merchants (Levitas. 45). clergy and factory managers were killed or given the most difficult jobs. They said that class struggle was undeveloped when the utopian socialists designed their communes (Geoghagen. canal. the Bolsheviks promised a socialist utopia that could be realized within a few generations (Geoghagen. .suffering segment of society. but they morphed them into a party platform.
Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities are built on the familiar concentric ring model and featured public gardens and easily accessible roads. and autobuses provided mobility around towns and to work (Bater. Massive systems of public transportation involving subways. 53). The scale of building was incredible. were built on models that strongly reflected the Renaissance utopias. and most stores were built into the ground floors of the housing complexes. After rising to power Stalin pushed for socialism within one country. In the capitalist world utopian ideas for social betterment were developing alongside those forming in Russia. Housing building was almost entirely a state affair and continued on until the 1980s. trolleybuses. Tying in with the socialist ideas of the communists and utopian socialists were also ideas of abolition of certain types of public property and the idea of equalizing the town and country. for example from 1960 to 1975 1. 102). termed microrayons. trains. Howard had devised “magnets” which illustrated the attractions of the town and country and . 104). and began the communalization of the country.55 billion square meters of new housing were constructed (Bater. Adjusted for the new industrial age the town’s factories were put on the outskirts of the cities so that the pollution was kept away from the residences (Howard.And so with Marxist beliefs at its helm Soviet Russia went on to form its own communist government. High-rises went up around massive green spaces. setting aside the aspirations of global revolution set forth by Marx. daycares and schools were present within the housing complexes. Peasants were organized into co-operative farms and workers were put into communal housing. The new housing projects. Refuse and sewage from the city was even used as fertilizer in the country.
And despite the fact that all Russians were to be living in equal housing despite their roles in society. who even designed exhibits with Russians for the World’s Fairs of the early 20th century. 104). more private co-operative housing was allowed by the state at several points during the 50s and 60s. It took many short trips in many different directions and many hours of waiting in order to obtain the basic necessities for daily life. People would pool their resources and build a housing high-rise with the maximum regulation size of apartments (Bater. Both architects saw themselves as architectural philosophers and Le Corbusier was openly driven by utopian ideals. Architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier sought to incorporate ideas of health and stability into their architectural designs.devised a way to satisfy the two and maintain a healthy environment. Despite their high concepts however. neither were able to get their city-size models executed on large scales (Curtis. The first of these garden cities was realized in Letchworth. Coupled with later party cadre housing. However. Le Corbusier created vast cities of raised housing high-rises and open gardens. allowing anyone to walk anywhere and opening up the world by allowing daily life to become transparent. The Soviet designs contradict Christaller’s Central Place Theory (Medvedkov. The housing projects of Russia were often designed by sociologists whom operated in contact with ideas like those of Le Corbusier. England in 1937 (Goodey. 15) and there are glaring flaws in community designs. 327). visible differences in the façade of egalitarian housing. the places well short of expectations. 17). Instead of concentrating stores like in departmental buildings and allowing businesses to grow naturally. . communism forced stores into concrete cubes with a seemingly random distribution.
35). which made up over eighty percent of the country. They would be given the short end of the stick in Stalin’s utopian scheme. One factor that greatly separated the revolutions within Russia and China and the subsequent changes in culture was from where the revolution spread. In Russia the revolution was started on the streets and in the factories of Saint Petersburg and Moscow. The socialist dream was not important to most of the Russian peasants who were cut out of the government and whose opinions were rarely considered. but it would be naïve to say that in China these Western-borne philosophies and their historical backgrounds were acting independently. that they – the proletariat. For thousands of years Emperors who maintained Taoist and Confucian principles ruled China and the culture of the country was pervaded by the teachings of such philosophies. but in China it came from the countryside. and the cities only as sources of revenue and technology (Murphey. are the only group that has borne the burden of industrial capitalism and can overcome it. Mao saw the country as providing the ideological inspiration for the communist government. the cities were seen as evil corrupted places. After years of colonization by the British and Western capitalist influence in the eastern ports. Immediately the large-scale farms of the Soviet Union faced plummeting yields. as the producers of food to fuel the revolution. the communist revolution was finally completed in 1949 after decades of civil war.In China. as the government took all the grain that was necessary for feeding . Marxist and Leninist theories were strongly applied in China. Marxism teaches that the revolution must come from the working industrial class. The backbone of society in traditional China was the rural class.
48). The farmers were to give their crop to the state and then the state would give them what they needed to survive (Gene Hsin. where it was more easily transported and traded. Still Mao insisted that some measure of industrialization reach the small villages and towns deep inside of China. the port cities of Eastern China became the main concentration of manufacturing and industry in the country.000 people apiece. 4).the peasant populace and planting for the next farming season. During Mao’s Great Leap Forward. However. A very similar situation occurred in China from 1958 to 1961. with poor harvests and the waste of the communal dining halls. it quickly proved to be more practical to leave the main industry by the ports. During the years of colonial rule by the British. in order to uniformly spread the industry of the country (Murphey. Over 30 million people died (Gene Hsin. Tens of millions died in Russia and the Ukraine from starvation between 1930 and 1937 (Becker. 44). 45).600 communes consisting of 23. Between August and October of 1958. So a campaign . A major aspect of the Great Leap Forward was to try to develop massive province size communal farms centered on special agrocities. At first Mao wanted to break up the factories on the coast and transport them further inland. 1). Communal dining halls were set up within the new communes and private kitchens were liquidated. Government propaganda encouraged the people to eat all they wanted since the government would take care of everything. Soon. Mao also had a slew of ideas for how to deal with the cities under the new socialist grand design. the whole countryside was starving. socialist ideologies were to be quickly carried out in order to get the arrival of the socialist paradise back on track. upwards of ninety-nine percent of the Chinese peasants were communalized into 23. a concept taken from Khrushchev (Becker.
In addition everyone comes out to help with the harvest. and dissent was censured into virtual non-existence. but most participants had city-life backgrounds. During the latter the government took strict control of education within the state and all but eliminated non-socialist education. One important issue that is brought up by communist applications is that of who will do what. The silverware and metal scraps possessed by the peasants were all melted down in a government drive for scrap metal. But during times of socialist euphoria. Many of these plants were extremely inefficient and were shut down. 35). a group of . Owen’s utopian communes were structured around an agrarian way of life. In More’s Utopia. when the ideal socialist utopia seemed within reach. It is doubtful that early utopian writers envisioned states where such a forced crackdown on deviant thought was necessary for all to accept and perpetuate a communist state. Intellectuals and teachers were seen as enemies of the state and therefore the people and were strictly cracked down upon. This closely mirrors what happened in Russia. The two extended periods of strict adherence to socialist ideals were during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. where a system of thought and schooling developed where adherence to the text of the party line became truth. In Stalinist Russia the Komosol.began to set up small “backyard furnaces” and small scale factories throughout the country. 50) and there is periodical movement of families between the country and the city. Professors and librarians were beaten and paraded through streets and replaced by preachers of Maoist dogma (Murphey. the factories were re-commissioned or reconstructed (Murphey. people in the countryside and city trade roles. 59). Everyone learns farming during schooling (More.
as the state has clearly ordained roles for everyone at every time. He also put the same restrictions on citizens of cities. This was synonymous with the times of great famine and did little more then bring Red Terror to the countryside. was made to go out into the countryside and incite the peasants to work harder by policing them for supposed grain theft and accusing them of hoarding money. preventing them from going to major cities where a better lifestyle was available. A common issue dealt with in the early Utopias is the degree of freedom of movement between places. Movement amid city and country and therefore choice of lifestyle is extremely restricted in the early Utopias. as though their simple presence could unbalance things. basically turning all peasants back into serfs (Becker. More made it mandatory to seek permission in order to travel. Stalin implemented a passport policy in Russia. It was also used to keep dissenters and “enemies of the state” in secluded regions. In 1949 Mao forced 20 million citizens out of the major cities into the countryside in order to mechanize and make farming more efficient (Murphey. In China the “hukou” system was introduced. 40). Even today one can easily be stopped on the street by policemen and asked for their “dokumenti” to see if one has permission to be where they are. 44). and most utopian stories start off with stories of travelers being warned away.young city communists. and upsetting these roles could upset the structure of society. imposing the same basic restrictions on movement of its citizens and to discourage them from moving to major cities. people were continuously trying to move into the major cities seeking better health care and jobs and the government was continuously hosting mass forced exoduses of city dwellers in order to keep the city . Throughout the history of Maoist China.
a censured media. The word Utopia is actually an ironic conflagration of the Greek words “eutopos” and “outopos. Utopia was perhaps a place that couldn’t be. An earthly struggle for perfection could be a futile one. The particulars of who would be forced out of the city were not important. as a Maoist goal was to eliminate the distinction between country and city life and between menial and mental labor (Sit. Life was personified by long lines for food. 23). little choice in education or career. Before long alcoholism became one of the main problems of the communist society and of the government. shortages of light bulbs and soup. Work output plummeted and stagnation set in.populations down (Sit. homogenous homes. Therefore farmers could end up as factory workers and factory workers as farmers. And reality did not feel like paradise. The age of utopia had begun. Interestingly enough around this time dissent literature was just beginning to take off in Russia.” respectively meaning “good place” and “no place” (Kuman. and a crippling bureaucracy permeating most aspects of life. The Russian people were left to wonder how great their lives really were in a communist utopia. Class distinctions had been eliminated and the good life had set in. By the 1970s Brezhnev had declared the Soviet experiment to be a success and claimed that mature socialism had been reached within Russia. 317). The very last line of Campanella’s “City of the Sun” hints that maybe all the science and astrology is nonsense and that “God gives all in his good time” (Campanella. From the very beginning the utopian idea was built on a razor’s edge. 8). . Without the continuous drive of grand socialist schemes and the iron-fisted rhetoric of ruthless dictators there was only reality. 9). and economic stagnation was about to set it.
and neighbor spying on neighbor were accompanied by purges and prisons in Siberia. To Stalin man became machine and life became dispensable for the function of the state. one of the core drives to aspire for it (Geohagen. The “perfect state” had become a totalitarian nightmare. A member of the upper cadre in China during the fifties. writers and theorists were already predicting their perversions. Those in the governments of Russia and China who tried to change the direction of the totalitarian machine were subdued until everyone fell into step.Around the same time that the communists in Russia were getting their footing. 224). . The government hunted down and exterminated those who deviated from the party line. The characters of Huxley’s Brave New World live their lives high on narcotic-like drugs and worshipping a state created religion. confiscated documents. 49). Socialism lost its sense of humanity. Liu Shaoqi attacked the “Utopian fantasy” that Mao was trying to impose on the countryside (Becker. Western authors were writing about the ultimate bad places. the dystopias. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four illustrates a society in which socialism has turned to fascism and where it is impossible to be honest and stay living (Kumar. they were too busy surviving day to day to fantasize about Utopias. they really had no reason to desire it. 289). As they were not familiar with the party doctrine and were not living a lifestyle that bred these escapist thoughts. pointing out the fact that no peasants would want to give up their independence and land for some idea contrived by a few Party intellectuals. Science has enslaved humanity. Like the members of Owen’s commune in Wisconsin. Secret police. 83). As mass-scale “utopias” were finally taking shape in reality. a concept mirrored in Zemyatin’s We (Kumar.
a coercion that never actually succeeded. Surely Marx would also have condemned the revolutions in Russia and China as well. For the people of Russia and China. They were totalitarian states ruled by leaders who earned their respect out of . According to Marxist theory a large population of industrial workers was a requirement for communist transformation. He argued that the world was not developed enough at the time of Fourier and Owens for their communal models to be executed on any large scale. Unfortunately the communist governments were forced to coerce the majority of their populations into the socialist mold. Marx devised his theories about class struggle in Western Europe where substantial portions of the population worked industrial jobs. They forced people into communal lifestyles against their wills in order to prolong the illusion of the perfect society.So how close were the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China to actually creating the socialist utopias they set out to realize? Not very close at all. utopia was to be a farce. In Russia and China the totalitarian regimes operated on their greed for resources and labor exploitation and their pride in the ideological regimes they created. The Soviet and Maoist Utopias turned out to be not good places but wholly bad places. everyone would want a communist revolution. countries where three quarters of the population lived rural lifestyles. however he pointed out how hard it would be to initiate the latter because of the former. One of the main goals of More’s Utopia was to eliminate Greed and Pride through communism. By Marxist theory. if everyone was exposed to the horrendous conditions of industrial life. and therefore few besides the ruling class would have to face the iron fist of the revolution.
We have the desire to conceptualize a truly good place. Perhaps someday. It’s farfetched. Humans became pawns in a grand scheme of presentation and appearance.terror instead of kindness or aptness. . even if it may always lie beyond our grasp. a dystopia in disguise. At least the idea of the utopian society is within the vision of humanity. Maybe of most importance is the fact that humanity was marginalized. aspects contrary to the empirical societies of Bacon and Campanella. What seemed like utopia to the untrained eye was actually an illusion. Free thought was censured and new ideas were suppressed. Or maybe More was right and Greed and Pride will always stand in the way of our attempts to reach actual equality and practice true social justice. but certainly such a place could be executed in far better ways than the dystopias of the 20th century. if enough people are in agreement on a large enough scale a true utopia could be realized.
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