- A Martian Stranded on Earth: Alexander Bogdanov, Blood Transfusions, and Proletarian Science by Nikolai Krementsov
Alexander Bogdanov was a Bolshevik Renaissance man. A physician, psychologist, economist, philosopher, and science fiction author, Bogdanov wrote on a variety of topics. He is best known as the foil for Vladimir Lenin's Materialism and Empiricism (1908) in which Lenin attacked Bogdanov's epistemology. In A Martian Stranded on Earth, Nikolai Krementsov provides much more than a biography. He not only tells a captivating story, he makes significant contributions to the fields of Russian and Soviet history, history of science, and history of Marxist thought. He explores Bogdanov's education, revolutionary activity, and contributions to Marxist political economy as well as his training in medicine and the influences on his thinking of Spencerian positivism, Darwinian evolutionism, and Haeckelian monism.
Bogdanov and other Left Bolsheviks including Anatoly Lunacharsky, Alexandra Kollontai, and Maxim Gorky opposed Lenin's doctrinaire and rigid Marxism that emphasized the role of the Party over the working class. They strived for a reinterpretation of Marxist theory that gave culture a central role, and in a way "deified" the worker and his potential contributions to culture through "god-building" that sought the higher good for the working class. Not only in his voluminous writings on political economy and medicine, but also in science fiction, which was then popular in Russia, Bogdanov explored these ideas. In Red Star (1908) he described the adventures of a young revolutionary from Earth who visits Mars where he encounters socialism—a collectivist Martian society devoid of individualism. The Martians have managed to prolong life through exchange of blood among inhabitants. This reflected Bogdanov's vision of a new society physiologically united and rejuvenated by blood exchanges, and reflected his desire to achieve this in practice through blood transfusions after the 1917 Revolution.
Bogdanov declined the invitation of his brother-in-law, Lunacharsky, to take a position in the Commissariat of Enlightenment (Education). Bogdanov was a visionary who pondered whither proletarian culture, science, and literature after the Revolution in the Proletkult movement, serving as one of its leaders. Lenin distrusted Proletkult since the Bolsheviks had little influence over the workers in the organization. He emasculated Proletkult and approved attacks on Bogdanov's publications. Fearing for his life, Bogdanov left the country, joining the Soviet trade delegation in London. On his return he was arrested, interrogated, and released with the understanding that he must cease political activities. [End Page 197]
At this point, Bogdanov turned to blood research. Krementsov examines the history of blood research, services, and transfusions in Soviet Russia within the context of a "mini" revolution associated with the introduction of experimental methods in studies of life, death, and disease. He chronicles the rapid expansion of the life sciences and the rise of big science in Soviet Russia. The Commissariat of Health, for example, supported Bogdanov's research while at the same time it established a series of councils, bureaucracies, and institutes to support public health. Scientists successfully gained funding for research in part because Soviet leaders recognized that they required better health care for themselves. All of this led to formation of the Institute of Blood Transfusion in early 1926, where Bogdanov turned to the struggle against aging and for rejuvenation. He eventually died as the result of an experiment he performed on himself.
Krementsov concludes his study with a discussion of the fact that in Soviet Russia there were no national standards for or laws regarding transfusion, and no standards for paid and unpaid donors, until Stalin's revolution from above that centralized the organization of the science. A personal note: I have been fascinated by Bogdanov for years, and often had my own dream to write his biography. I am thrilled that Krementsov has written such a wonderful, readable, short (126 pages), comprehensive, and delightful book.
Paul Josephson teaches at Colby College and is the lead author of a forthcoming environmental history of the former Soviet Union and a book on Soviet arctic...