Nikolay Fyodorov painted by Leonid Pasternak

In a curious, if not puzzling, manner, Russian Orthodox Easter and themes of the Russian Cosmism seem to somehow chime together. Perhaps, some of the readers still remember the year when the Orthodox Easter fell on the Cosmonautics Day, and everyone was commenting on this remarkable coincidence. Perhaps, it is not so chance a coincidence that the religious ideas of the general Resurrection and venturing into space are closely interconnected within the remit of  the Russian religious and secular philosophy. 

Ultimately, the first Russian, or Soviet, to be precise, flights into space, had been inspired by the philosopher Nikolay Fyodorov (1829 – 1903), the founding father of the Russian Cosmism (and subsequently, the Soviet Cosmism). He inspired Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy (1857 – 1935), the first Russian rocket scientist, to think of making manned flights into space possible. He was the first to suggest that humanity should search life on other planets, in order to move the surplus of  humans from Earth to other inhabitable planets. Originally, he was taking care of all these generations of human beings he had been planning to resurrect — the whole myriads of people who had ever tread upon the planet Earth. We might view him, in this case, view as a rather unexpected predecessor of Elon Musk. 

And still… If it had not been for Fyodorov, there perhaps would have never happened any flights into space in Russia. Today, he is still popular, and many contemporary Russian artists base their artistic practice on his ideas, like for example, Arseny Zhilyaev, or Anton Vidokle. And, certainly, the foremost of them all — Ilya Kabakov, with his cosmic utopias. 

Our new contributor, Arianna Cantarelli, presents her own view on the philosophy of Nikolay Fyodorov.  

When it comes to philosophy, there is no doubt that Russia has produced some of the most important and fascinating intellectuals of the recent centuries. It is perhaps the literary giants that most rapidly spring to mind: figures such as Lev Tolstoy, who famously inspired Mahatma Gandhi with his philosophy of passive resistance; Fyodor Dostoevskiy, who packed his novels with Christian ideals to the extent that we feel his moral agenda constantly pressing upon us to question society’s status quo through his hard-hitting realism. However, one name seems to have gone largely unnoticed among the plethora of Russian pioneers of culture, and it is, in fact, of a man whom both Dostoevskiy and Tolstoy themselves knew well and greatly idolised: Nikolai Fedorovich Fyodorov.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), the founder of modern astronautics.

Born in 1829 as the son of a Gagarin Prince and peasant woman, Fyodorov grew up to become one of the most influential thinkers for Russian modernity. Nicknamed ‘the Father of Cosmism’, his philosophical Utopianism led him to become the first person to envision and devise mankind’s exploration of the cosmos. In fact, one of his most loyal disciples was none other than Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy, the most important figure for the development of Russian rocket science, whose writings successfully flew Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961.

At core, Fyodorov was a Christian philosopher. He was primarily motivated by the belief that it was man’s God-given destiny to establish paradise on earth. However, he is often recognised as one of Europe’s most creative and enigmatic thinkers due to his unusual synthesising of traditionally opposing ideologies. For example, in his project to lead humanity forth towards enlightenment, Fyodorov combined scientific rationalism and religious moralism, which even today are often considered mutually exclusive. But these two aspects were not the only two brought together: Fyodorov went on to integrate altruism in egoism, unite conservative slavophilism and anarchic populist ideals, tinge Orthodox Christianity with mystic pagan undertones. Surprisingly, his work even has a Marxist flavour in its emphasis on proactivity for immediate and palpable change despite his aversion to socialism. If anything, Fyodorov was a true believer in the potential of the human race. His ability to recognise merit in every idea and combine a multitude of notions, regardless of contradictions or paradox, to create an integral and functional philosophy is remarkable to say the least. His work functions as proof that the world is never really black or white when it comes to ideology; rather, it is a fascinating spectrum of colours which we simply need to learn to harmoniously blend together.

So what was Fyodorov’s great plan for restoring Eden on Earth? For him, there was only one major evil threatening humanity, and that was death. Fyodorov firmly believed that it was mankind’s fear of death, our incomprehensibility of it, that fractured and created disunity in our world. He was convinced that death broke up communality, straying us away from practicing love and compassion. As a result, Fyodorov believed that all other mundane evil, like urbanisation, environmental damage, war, and egoism, stemmed from our death fears. And so the only option was for man to overcome death in a complete transgression of nature. Fyodorov had a precise and clear solution: resurrection.

At a first impression, this great plan — called The Common Task — appears eccentric to say the least. Yet Fyodorov firmly believed that the physical resurrection of every single one of our ancestors was not only possible but absolutely necessary in order to abolish death and find fulfilment in earthly paradise after so many years of suffering. Certainly, many of his contemporaries were fascinated by this philosophy, but failed to comprehend how it was achievable. Undoubtedly, this was due to Fyodorov being a technological prophet of his time. He believed that by combining the human gifts of science, knowledge and spirituality man would be able to develop technology that could regulate nature, and finally embody the God-like image he was created in. He devised electric rings to circumference the earth that would control temperature and precipitation through electricity, in order for optimal living conditions to be provided for all. He envisioned space travel for the collection of our deceased ancestors’ atoms, so that they could be sewn together and abolish the detrimental force of death. And once all this was completed, harmony would be found in re-connectedness and immortality.

In defence of his plan, Fyodorov complained that current scientific knowledge was being wasted under the dark shadow of capitalism. He considered human intellect to be consumed by industrialisation and the production of useless ‘toys’ that only distracted distract men, disconnecting them from their social duties. And he was equally critical of socialism too, for he believed that human resources were being similarly misdirected towards a political hoax that promoted unity based on materialism and wealth rather than what really mattered: morality and kinship.

However outlandish and utopian Fedorov’s vision may be, there is nonetheless so much that we can learn from his ideas today. In what direction are we focusing the development of our technology? What are we prioritising to benefit from scientific research? How can we make use of all the innovative creativity and ever-evolving knowledge that exists is today in order to create a better future? Perhaps resurrection is too much of an extreme answer, but there is one element of Fyodorov’s thought is certainly applicable to our increasingly divided world. For Fyodorov’s Utopia to work, the participation and collaboration of every person — regardless of class, wealth or beliefs — was essential; separation and rivalry were futile. And in 2018, this notion is more relevant than ever. In other words, we must be pro-active. We must find interconnectedness again, and not by looking to past but towards our eternally dawning future. All we need to do is realise that we already have the means to create change and make the world a better place, but we are hindered by our inability to come together as one. And in our quest to do this, Fyodorov’s example of philosophical collage serves us as more than just a starting point.