Post-Revolution Russia: the Birth of a New Civilization

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

By Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

When the Bolsheviks took over Russia after the revolution, it was time for them to create a brand-new society and lay the foundations of a civilization that would be different from previous tsarist ones. Through various stages of building this civilization, Russia witnessed an era of innovation, disagreement, and factionalism.

Vladimir Lenin's statue in the city of St. Petersburg.
The leaders and thinkers of the communist regime designed the new civilization. (Image: Alex3dteam/Shutterstock)

The Creation of a New Man and Woman in Bolshevik Russia

With the grand aim of creating a new soviet man and new soviet woman, the leaders and thinkers of the Russian communist regime set out to inaugurate this new civilization. The plan was so ambitious that it took the form of another stage in the evolution of human beings.

Leon Trotsky, after he established himself as the victor of the Civil War, began considering these social issues. In his book, Literature and Revolution, published in 1924, he wrote: “The human species… will once more enter into a state of radical transformation, and, in his own hands, will become an object of the most complicated methods of artificial selection and psycho‐physical training. This is entirely in accord with evolution…. Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness… to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.”

The image is showing the flag of the USSR.
The Soviet regime planned to create new Soviet persons. (Image: СССР/Public domain)

The new Soviet person was in complete contrast to bourgeois softness, being hard, tough, and realist. The vision of society was of one collective mass comprised of individuals. Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Soviet poet, referred to it as “the huge ‘we’ of communism”.

This is a transcript from the video series The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

A Mechanized Mass Devoid of Personal Identity

As an extension of the collective mass, some Bolsheviks considered the transforming effects of work on workers. The Central Labor Institute, founded by the worker poet Aleksei Gastev, promoted the rationalization and management of industrial work through scientific theories. It was influenced by the international trend of Taylorism. The founder of this fad, Frederick Winslow Taylor, instituted elaborated time and motion studies to maximize efficiency in workflows and to organize the tasks of workers. Although Lenin had previously criticized Taylorism for exploiting workers, his government adopted Gastev’s Taylorist ideas since it would help establish his power.

Gastev’s project was a form of social engineering through which workers would be anonymous and identified as “individual proletarian units… A, B, C, or 325, 0.075, 0, and so on”. The product of this system was a society of “mechanized collectivism”.

This mechanized collectivism produced anonymous, faceless individuals similar to objects, without souls, emotions, or expressions. The individuals were identical to machines that were measured by the mechanical metrics of speed and pressure rather than by emotions or expressions of feelings.

Gastev was fascinated by this robotic vision that turned into a Soviet version of Americanism. Russia would become an industrial plant similar to the factories and assembly lines of Henry Ford. Communism was supposed to follow in the footsteps of American capitalism and then outdo it through a reshaped society created by technology.

Learn more about the communist manifesto and Das Kapital.

Tatin’s Tower, Symbol of Communist Civilization

Model of Tatlin's Tower in the courtyard of the Royal Academy, London.
Tatlin’s Tower was dedicated to the achievement of the Bolsheviks. (Image: TobyJ/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

Such revolutionary ideas are best embodied in a monument dedicated to the astounding achievement of the Bolsheviks. It was supposed to be the tallest building in the world, a massive structure that was designed to be rotating continuously. The whole structure was built on a cube at its base for meetings. On top of that, there was a pyramid that was designed to be the administrative office. On top of all this, there was a cylinder designed to be a media center. All of these parts rotated, but at different speeds: the cube rotated once a year, the pyramid once a month, and the cylinder once a day. It was inspired by the Eiffel Tower but was taller. While the Eiffel Tower is about 1,000 feet, Tatlin’s tower was 1,300 feet.

Designed in 1919 by Vladimir Tatlin, it was called the Monument to the Third International, or Comintern. The building was designed as a center to spread propaganda, with giant screens outside the building to show movies with political messages. On top of the building, there was a radio tower to send signals around the world to spread the Bolshevik ideology.

Despite all these exciting features, the building was never built because war-stricken Russia could not provide the budget for such an ambitious feat of engineering. But it continued to inspire many Soviets as one of them stated, “The monument is made of iron, glass, and revolution.”

Learn more about revolutionary Russias.

Common Questions About Post-Revolution Russia: the Birth of a New Civilization

Q: Why was Vladimir Tatlin’s Tower never built?

Tatlin’s Tower, with its ambitious design to rival the Eiffel Tower, was never built because war-stricken Russia could not provide the budget for such an ambitious feat of engineering. But it remains a symbol of communist civilization.

Q: What is Taylorism theory?

Taylorism was a theory designed by Frederick Winslow Taylor. It used elaborated time and motion studies to maximize efficiency in workflows and to organize the tasks of workers. It was a world trend when the Bolsheviks were building the new Communist civilization and largely influenced their ideas.

Q: What did Vladimir Tatlin design?

Tatlin designed a building called the Monument to the Third International. It was a spiral structure with three different parts: a cube at the base, a pyramid on its top, and a cylinder on top of that. All of these parts rotated at different speeds.

Q: What were Aleksei Gastev’s ideas?

Aleksei Gastev was a Soviet worker poet. He was influenced by Taylorism and introduced and promoted the rationalization and management of industrial work through scientific theories.

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