The Russian Revolution as Utopian Leap
A century ago, amidst the catastrophe of world war, many Russians believed they were beginning a global transformation that would realize the deepest dreams of humanity for a fully humane world. One can hardly exaggerate the extent of these dreams, hopes, beliefs; or their disappointment as time marched on. A surprising expression of these dreams was public art, popular literature, and political writing filled with images of flight, wings, and even resurrection. Of what Marxists called the “leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.” This talk will explore how many Russians, ranging from peasants and workers to intellectuals and political leaders, tried to capture the meaning of the historic age they were living through. In doing so, we will think about the complex relationships connecting revolution, religion, utopia, emotions, and history—and the principle of hope with the experience of failure.
Mark D. Steinberg is a professor in the Department of History, as well as the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He specializes in the cultural, intellectual and social history of Russia and the Soviet Union in the 19th and 20th centuries. Professor Steinberg has published 13 books (a combination of monographs, edited volumes and a textbook that is now in its 9th edition and has been translated into Polish, Turkish, Chinese and Korean), the most recent of which is titled The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921(Oxford University Press, 2017). He has also published dozens of articles, including several in Russian, and delivered numerous talks around the United States and abroad. During the past year alone, the year of its centenary, Professor Steinberg had eleven speaking engagements (alongside academic talks and media interviews) on the subject of the Russian Revolution, a key area of his expertise. Over the years, his various research projects have been awarded funding from sources spanning from his home institution (e.g. Arnold O. Beckman Research Award, and Hewlett International Research Travel Grant, UIUC) to national competitions (e.g. for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the International Research and Exchanges Grant). His recent work focuses on revolutions, urban history, emotions, religion, violence and utopias, and his new project addresses “the crooked and the straight” in urban public life in Odessa, Bombay and New York City during the 1920s and 1930s.