In Russia, death becomes you
Alesandr Bogdanov in 1908. Image via Wikimedia Commons (cc)
From The Nation:
Aleksandr Bogdanov, a prominent early Bolshevik and science fiction writer, investigated the rejuvenating properties of blood transfusions in the 1920s, though he soon died after exchanging blood with a tubercular student. As anthropologist Anya Bernstein discusses in The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia, Bogdanov’s hope was not merely to prolong the lives of individuals; he envisioned a sanguine communism in which all were granted an equal share of society’s collective health through blood exchanges. In his popular 1908 sci-fi novel Red Star, a revolutionary Russian scientist travels to Mars and visits a communist society that has eliminated inequality—not just in property but also in health and strength—as well as gender binaries. The happy Martians participate in regular blood exchanges that extend their lives and break down the barriers among them.
Bogdanov’s ideal of “physiological collectivism,” as he called it, didn’t make his experiments any less dangerous on a biological level (as he tragically discovered). But his project was a libertarian’s nightmare and a far cry from a model in which a rich few purchase the blood of the impoverished many. In The Future of Immortality, we meet a number of Bogdanov’s heirs, Russians who hope to extend life for all of humankind. Many are adamant in their commitment to collective transcendence, and some even have government funding. Their projects are often ludicrous from a scientific perspective, but Bernstein isn’t concerned with that. Instead, she seeks to understand what these Russian ways of “remaking life and death” reveal about human efforts to “bring the future into the present,” even as the future turns into an increasingly scary place.