2017, the Russian Revolution, and the idea of utopia

Billed as a year of imagination and possibility to mark the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, 2016 didn’t quite work out that way.

2017 offers another opportunity to consider the meaning and value of the idea of utopia, marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the most significant utopian enterprise since the American and French revolutions.

For most, the Soviet experiment, like 2016, will be remembered for its dystopian character: the bloody civil war that followed the Revolution; the swift suffocation of the nascent workers’ democracy by an overbearing bureaucracy; the immense suffering of forced-march collectivisation and industrialisation; the terrors of the 1930s police state; and the chronic misfiring of an economic engine that finally sputtered and died. The hulking edifice of the USSR stands as a ruined dream factory, utopia’s tombstone.

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Merz to Emigré and Beyond book cover

Merz to Emigré and Beyond

Merz to Emigré and Beyond by Steven Heller, first published in 2003 and republished this summer, is a richly illustrated chronicle of the radical magazines, newspapers and journals published during the 20th century.

For Heller the test of a true avant-garde is a commitment to political as well as aesthetic change, the willingness to shun fashion and the possibility of commercial success in pursuit of the deeper objective of radical social reform. The radical publishers he studio sought to ridicule and undermine artistic, political and social establishments so as to clear a space for the advance of the new.

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