Peasant Utopia? Lies!

the travels of my brother alexeiThe short story ,“The Travels of My Brother Aleksei to the Land of Peasant Utopia” written by Aleksandr Chaianov is about a man named Aleksei Kremnev who works for the Soviet government in the early 1920s and he’s taken into the future to 1984 to see the peasant utopia that the Russian’s dreamed of. The main theme of this story is the change of thinking from bourgeois to socialist, which is a big part of Revolutionary culture.

Revolutionary Culture as depicted through this short story is very upsetting. Private businesses are gone. The people are trying to get rid of the family dynamic once and for all. Having negative feelings about socialism is wrong. The most upsetting thing of them all is that the peasant picture of the future is completely false.

1. Private Businesses are gone- In the beginning of the story, the main character Aleksei Kremnev is walking home late one night from a meeting and he’s walking down a street in Moscow that used to be thriving with private businesses and where the main character had so many amazing memories. For example, the author writes, “and for many long hours he had rooted, eyes burning with proselytic fervor, through the handwritten and printed treasures of Shibanov’s antiquarian bookstore- there, where now in the dim light of the streetlamp you could make out the short sign “Chief Administration of Paper Industry”.”

2. Abandoning the Family Dynamic- On his walk home, Aleksei’s thoughts are filled with phrases that he heard at the meeting about getting rid of family life once and for all. Thoughts like “By destroying the family hearth, we will deal the final blow to the bourgeois system!”, “Our decree, which forbids nourishment at home, casts the joyous poison of the bourgeois family out of our way of life and stabilizes the socialist principle until the end of all time.” or “Family comfort gives birth to proprietary desires; the joy of the small time property owner conceals the seeds of capitalism.” They believe that the family dynamic is a custom of the bourgeois and should no longer exist.

3. The idea of being unhappy with the socialist way of life is wrong- After he gets home, Aleksei is looking at his collection of books by his favorite authors, like William Morris, Edward Bellamy, St. Thomas Aquinas, Robert Blatchford, and Herzen, who he calls pioneering utopians and he’s asking them if they are satisfied with what he’s done. He’s talking to his books, because he isn’t satisfied with what he’s done as an old socialist himself and an important Soviet functionary who ran one of the departments in the World Council of National Economy. Chaianov writes of Kremnev’s feelings, “He felt a kind of unfocused regret for what was departing. Some cobweb of bourgeois psychology still darkened his socialist consciousness.” Aleksei felt that it was wrong to be unhappy with the Soviet society he was living in. He thought that is was just remnants left over from the brainwashed bourgeois society.

4. The utopia that Soviet socialists dreamed about and is depicted in this story is false. After questioning himself and his books, Aleksei lost consciousness and woke up in a Soviet Utopia in 1984. This utopia was bright and beautiful and the city of Moscow was filled with green and people and cars. Soviet Russia was thriving in agricultural engineering. Everybody was educated. He met a woman who could talk for hours about art. Russia was leading in technological advances. Everybody loved socialism.

Sadly, none of this came to fruition in 1984. People living in the 1920s Soviet Russia truly believed that this sort of utopia was really their future, but it wasn’t. This was an idea of the socialist school of thought. The idea that life was going to suck for a little bit, but one day in the future, everything will be perfect and there will be no more hardship.

Overall, these ideas of Soviet Socialist thought are saddening and inhumane. Taking away people’s freedom and right to own and run a bookstore; people’s right to enjoy a bookstore is wrong. The idea that a family- a husband and wife who have a home and raise kids, should be extinguished, is inhumane and is stripping away the most the simplest form of joy that exists: love. It isn’t wrong to be unhappy with one’s life either. That’s life. Finally, it just doesn’t make sense that all these people believe that getting rid of all these things will eventually lead them to live in a utopia. How can an utopia exist if the little things in life that bring people joy and give them a desire to live are stripped from them?

Sources:

Chaianov, Aleksandr. “The Travels of My Brother Aleksei to the Land of Peasant Utopia.” The Russia Reader. edited by Adele Barker and Bruce Grant. pg.370-77. Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2010.

11 thoughts on “Peasant Utopia? Lies!

  1. cameron_b says:

    Hi Alicia! This is a really interesting post for a number of reasons, most predominantly being the interest of the story itself. But what do you think the purpose behind this utopia was? Meaning, why do you believe this society is what they wanted to strive for? When studying a culture’s hope for the future, an interesting concept is to compare the present to that dream. What differs and why would they see the changes as improvements? Great post and your commentary at the end was a very nice, personal analysis.

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      Cameron, you pose a really good question. I’m not very sure as to why this utopia was something worth striving for. I think they wanted to striv for this utopia and that it was their dream, becuase life was hard during their present. Russia wasn’t an easy place to live. They had famines. They were poor. They were noticing that they wer efallign behind their neighbors in the west. Not to mention all the war that they had lived through. Life couldn’t get any worse. I think that the utopia was a dream that they had to look at in order to escape their present and reality.

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      I’m not sure whether or not this inspired the book 1984. I say this, becuase they are both two very different pieces of literature from different time periods and different cultures. I would like to think that it was just a coincidence!

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  2. clairetams728 says:

    Do you think that this piece was written as a deterrent from socialism or to glorify it in the aftermath that Aleksei woke up to in 1984? Do you think it was a common goal of all socialist followers to abandon the family dynamic and private ownership or that this was the image that socialist revolutionaries held and hoped to persuade the proletariat of? Because I feel like if I were living in a society with such radical changes I would be scared of these ideals that were taking place so rapidly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • aaucoin23 says:

      Overall, I think this piece was written in support of Soviet Socialism. I think it was written as a way to share with the audience, “life is hard right now, but look what we’ll have in the future!” kind of thing. I definitely don’t think that the abondoment of the family dynamic was a common goal of all socialist followers, but it was that of the few that spoke up. Chaianov himself was an overrall supporter of Soviet Socialism, but not without being a critic of Marx and Soviet State policy, which eventually led to him dying in a labor camp. Even though he was a supporter, he still didn’t agree with everything and he paid the price for it too.

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  3. A. Nelson says:

    This is such a tricky and interesting selection to analyze! I think that fourth section (the one where he talks to the woman about 20th-century art) is key to understanding what Chaianov valued and hoped for in terms of his “peasant utopia.”
    So, check back on some of this, and think about some of the assumptions you are making. Certainly many people believed that sacrifices in the present would lead to a better future, but I’m not sure we can prove that people generally believed that Utopia was inevitable or even likely in the 20s. And I think Chaianov’s use of the word (which means “nowhere”, interestingly enough!), is somewhat ironic. He was a very interesting thinker, and this selection certainly shows him at his nonconformist best!

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      Dr. Nelson, I agree with you that I should’ve been more in depth when talking about the 20th century art. I tried to mention it briefly in my blog, but I definitely think I could’ve mentioned the specific artists and genres that the girl was raving on about to the main character.

      And on the topic of the utopia, I also understand where you’re coming from about the utopia. I don’t think everybody believed in a utopia like the one depicted in the short story, but I do think that they believed in a better future that would eventually be more freeing, becuase that was what was advertised to them by the socialist ideology. I do agree that it would’ve been hard for people at that time to even believe in a better future, becuase life was so hard for them, but also think that there wre the optimistic ones who dreamed of a utopia or a better future to help them escape reality.

      Also, about Chaianov, I agree that this piece shows him as his nonconformist self. The way that he so easily described the hardship of living under the regime and the sorrow that it brought the main character shows that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. aaguilar6 says:

    I think the Utopia that was depicted by communist ideology mirrors very closely to the same Utopia imagined by Socrates in Plato’s Republic. They both emphasize the abolishment of private enterprise and the removal of the nuclear family as the focal point of community. What is interesting is that you interpreted both of these possible scenarios as ultimately distopian. I would argue that the real distopia that Chaianov is presenting is the faux communist dictatorship that promised utopia but had no intentions of fully reforming the state.

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      I have to disagree with your last sentence. Chaianov is presenting a faux communist dictatorship tht promised utopia, but I do think that at the time this piece was written, it was still the full intentions of the government to find that utopia. I think the regime was still so young when this piece was written that the regime wasn’t fully corrupt yet. They hadn’t given up yet.

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