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Lenin and Utopia

Renfrew, Alastair



The demise of the Soviet Union has for the past twenty-five years stood as effective “proof” of the error of utopia. This article returns to an ambivalent source of Soviet utopianism, Lenin's State and Revolution (1917), in order to show how the contradictions inherent in the theory of the state developed there programs no less than the dialectical transformation of Lenin's principled anti-utopianism into a particular form of utopia. This prepares the argument that Soviet ideology and the ostensibly practical politics through which it was mediated are grounded not in Marxism-Leninism or so-called dialectical materialism but rather in a neutralization of the inevitable contradictions of the “actually achieved” spatial utopia by projecting them onto the temporal axis. The essence of Soviet ideology thus lies in the absolute and enduring future projection of present contradictions onto the utopia yet to come. The cult of Lenin disguises the manner in which the “true” utopia of the “withered state” was supplanted by the “false” utopia of the projected “radiant future.” In the process both Lenin and the Soviet utopia become maximally productive experiment fields for all forms of ideologized future projection, rather than one-dimensional “proofs” of the untenability and undesirability of utopian thinking as such.


Renfrew, A. (2016). Lenin and Utopia. Poetics Today: International Journal for Theory and Analysis of Literature and Communication, 37(2), 269-294.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 1, 2014
Online Publication Date May 24, 2016
Publication Date 2016-06
Deposit Date Mar 23, 2016
Journal Poetics Today: International Journal for Theory and Analysis of Literature and Communication
Print ISSN 0333-5372
Electronic ISSN 1527-5507
Publisher Duke University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 37
Issue 2
Pages 269-294
Public URL