Vladimir Mayakovsky and the Utopian imagination in the Russian revolution

M. D. Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This article - the third part of a three-part series that reinterprets the "utopianism" of Russian revolutionaries, especially the Bolsheviks - focuses on the perspectives of Vladimir Mayakovsky. Part 1 described the basic theoretical approach: an alternative definition of the utopian imagination developed after 1917 in the work of Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and others. In brief, this sees utopia as a critical analysis of conventional constructions of reality, time, and the possible: as a critical negation of that which merely is in the name of what should be, as a radical challenge to assumptions about what is possible and impossible in the present, as a vision of time and history as containing the possibility of an explosive "leap in the open air of history" (Benjamin). Utopian consciousness breaks into the normativized world of knowledge and expectations about reality and possibility in history to reveal the new and unexpected. This is utopia as radical epistemology, hermeneutics, and praxis. This article focuses on Vladimir Mayakovsky (the previous articles discussed Alexandra Kollontai and Lev Trotsky). Mayakovsky's poetry visualized both the oppressive darkness of the lived present and a world of possibility greater than the normativized reality of his own time. He offered a counterreality of "Vladimir Mayakovsky" as utopian antithesis to the merely factual reality of the present. He explored the conventional linear temporality of the world as given and the possibility of an explosive leap into the future. Time was particularly important for Mayakovsky's poetic thought and is a central theme in all utopian thought. Like Kollontai and Trotsky, Mayakovsky's utopian impulse collided with the stubbornness of the present, with the tenacious force of necessity. But the focus in all three articles has been on the spirit that led them to attempt to leap into the clear, free, and unpredictable open air of history. This utopian impulse was central to the experience of the Russian revolution for so many. We must recognize their utopian "leap" even as we acknowledge the dystopian and catastrophic landing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-91
Number of pages9
JournalVestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo Universiteta, Istoriya
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018


  • Russian revolutionaries
  • The Russian revolution
  • Utopianism
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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