e-flux journal 56th Venice Biennale
a n t i s e p t i c a l l y

Cosmos

with

Boris Groys


Several decades before the 1917 Communist Revolution, some thinkers and artists in Russia experimented with a number of materialist metaphysical programs for overcoming death, starting by colonizing heaven. 

 

And this unusual fusion of socialism, religious mysticism, and an unshakable belief in the transformative powers of human knowledge and technology shaped a large part of the emancipatory aspirations of the Soviet Union, including its space program.

 

To suppose that such an imaginative radical humanism rooted in art, science fiction, and esoteric spiritualism formed the basis for the project of scientific socialism might come across today as a wild thought.

 

But perhaps such wild thinking is precisely what is so urgently needed at a time when most progressive ideologies appear powerless in preventing the catastrophes we are currently faced with.





Detail of drawing on view in the 1927 exhibition “The First World Exhibition of Interplanetary Spacecrafts and Mechanisms,” Tverskaya Street 68, Moscow.

Even when I was publishing articles and lecturing on the radical ideas of immortalism and space travel during the early days of the Revolution, I was distilling them to a few affirmations that, although far from complete, constituted a fairly satisfactory definition of our credo. It seemed particularly important to create an awareness of our ideas in their most basic form, as close as possible in format to slogans, to express our scientific or philosophical ideas in a nutshell and answer a genuine need.

The most important thing for us is the immortality of the individual and its life in the cosmos. We have elevated this value to a goal in itself, thus formulating our teleological point of view. Our philosophy is first and foremost a great teleology and all philosophical problems are shaped by our glorious objectives.

We looked to our undying instinct for immortality and our unquenchable thirst for glorious creativity, trusting in our biocosmic consciousness of the objective world’s reality. Objective reality is an infinite arena for the great struggle in which everything that possesses individuality and integrity asserts its supreme existence.

Our ethical stance is an ethics of action understood in terms of the realization of the great objectives of biocosmism. Our ethical norms are defined by our ultimate goal (in this respect, we take an opposite view to Kant’s, for whom values and objectives stem from ethical norms). Our ethics are supported by our cosmology so that, were our world to be harmoniously complete and prepared, there would be no room for our individual actions or, indeed, those of others.

I have based the most important statements of our ideas concerning biocosmism on the philosophical premises presented here as concisely and clearly as possible, condensing them into the following clauses:

1. Death reduces man and debases the human character: fear for one’s life gives rise to timidity, baseness, falsity, and distortion. Death is also responsible for the deepening root of social injustice, monstrous private ownership, and the antagonism between individuals, nationalities, and classes. This restriction in time—death, that is—represents the age-old foundation for the spiritual and material collapse of both the individual and society.

2. But, man has within him an instinct for immortality, at once powerful and undying, and can never, therefore, be reconciled with the order of death. Death is so logically senseless, ethically inadmissible, and aesthetically ugly that the question of immortality inevitably rears its head in a person’s consciousness. In his inability to face death, man has looked for salvation in religion and mysticism in the hope of immortality, if only for the soul.

3. At a time when religion has finally become obsolete, when a religious and mystical solution to the question of immortality is no longer bound up with our daily bread, and death’s stronghold has been shaken biologically, mankind has, at last, come close to solving the realization of individual immortality as the immortality of the individual in the fullness of its physical and spiritual powers.

4. In biocosmism, every individual—and indeed mankind as a whole—will find complete freedom only in the struggle for individual immortality. Biocosmism maintains that this struggle represents the true basis for the spiritual and material union of the people, that the individual and society will grow to unprecedented heights in terms of strength and creativity, and that, through its involvement in this struggle, there will be unparalleled advances in the human character.

5. Note that in biocosmism the question of personal immortality, or immortalism, is also regarded as a question of resurrection. Resurrection is, above all, a logical conclusion to personal immortality and a guarantee against the chance death—avoidable in principle—of a person already assured of personal immortality. The question of resurrection is therefore also a question of new life among those who have lived before.

6. The question of interplanetarianism is raised in biocosmism at the same time as immortalism. If death (a restriction in time) is the primary root of evil in the life of the individual and society, then its secondary root is caused by a restriction in space, which is to say, the primary position accorded by one’s home, hometown, native land or state, and race. At the end of the day, even internationalism could be construed merely as a limitation in terms of the universe.

7. Mankind has already come up against the question of interplanetarianism, since an era of space travel will immediately follow an era of air travel. Interplanetarianism involves the problem of how to master cosmic space, how to become a citizen of the cosmos and an active participant in life in space, regulating and transforming the cosmic bodies at will through our wisdom, reshaping the old and creating new worlds.

8. The questions of immortalism and interplanetarianism must not be viewed independently or linked automatically. They both result from and complete one another, constituting a single organic whole united under a single term—biocosmism.

9. Even if there is an element of fantasy to biocosmism, this fantasy of ours should not be relegated entirely to the realms of utopia. Since it depends on the latest advances in science and technology, the fantasy of biocosmism has matured sufficiently for the questions of immortalism and interplanetarianism to become the “order of the day.” We contend that biocosmism is the new supreme life-plan for the single individual as well as mankind as a whole, and that it is now time to set about realizing this plan.

10. Our belief that the time has now come for us to present the questions associated with biocosmism as life’s most important objectives is based on our opinion that a world struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors and between labor and capital is now unfolding before us. This struggle seeks to destroy class divisions; in our view, this is a necessary prerequisite to the organizing of universal questions associated with biocosmism. The Revolution will undoubtedly embrace biocosmism, so that defining, collecting, and organizing the tendencies embodied within it will become the most important task of the revolutionaries. With the Revolution under way, an outline of the questions pertinent to biocosmism, the highest possible plan, is essential in order to bring victory to those in revolt. If we do not hesitate to implement the ideas of biocosmism today, before the Revolution is complete, the tenor of the Revolution will be forever altered.

11. In the struggle for biocosmism, it would be unthinkable either to imitate or concur with a religious or mystical order of things. Instead of immortality beyond the grave and immortality in the soul, our goal is to promote immortality here on Earth, in the real universe, the immortality of the individual, with all its spiritual and physical powers. Our relationship with religion and mysticism is, therefore, irredeemably negative. In the same way, instead of a dreamy, poetic, imaginative penetration of the universe, we favor a realistic interpretation of space travel as the immediate task of technology.

12. In the struggle for biocosmism, we are reliant on the latest scientific and technological achievements, striving to transform them at the same time as philosophy, sociology, economics, and art, etc., in keeping with our teleological notions; that is to say, their form and content must be formed to accord with the glorious objectives of biocosmism. This is why biocosmism represents the beginning of a completely new culture, a new order of things, and a new objective reality.

These twelve clauses make up the “Sacred Tenets of Biocosmism.” They comprise the ideological core from which our burgeoning creativity, propaganda, and struggle springs and continues to spread. We bring to the world the greatest gospel of them all; until now, it was hard to realize the unprecedented immensity of a movement that we, the biocosmists, are initiating in Russia, at the center of the Great Revolution.

Up until this point, mankind has resembled the people of ancient philosophy, who lived in a cave where they saw only the shadows of things. But today, thanks to the biocosmic avant-garde, mankind more strongly resembles those figures at the moment when they emerged from the cave, looking at real things lit up by the light of the Sun, even choosing to look at the Sun itself. We are sure that, in the very near future if not immediately, men will perceive themselves and the world through our lens and happily walk beneath our biocosmic banner.

Of course, in our movement, mistakes are possible, and death probably awaits us, as its first messengers and warriors. But even the prospect of serious mistakes and failures does not trouble us, in the same way that the danger of protracted defeat does not trouble the determined conqueror. He who has great goals before him, who is completely sure of himself, strong and absolutely firm in his resolve, ultimately always emerges victorious.

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“Our Affirmations” was first published in Biocosmist (Биокосмист) no. 1 (March 1, 1922), the magazine of the Russian and Moscow Anarchists-Biocosmists. 


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