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Nikolai Fyodorov believed that only resurrection of the dead could save the world. His extraordinary ...
2022-01-19 09:00:00

The Russian Prophet of Immortality
The Philosophy of Nikolai Fyodorov

Illustration by Mieczysław Wasilewski
The Russian Prophet of Immortality
The Russian Prophet of Immortality

He was a rebel in the absolute sense. He believed that in order to save humanity, we need to oust death from the world. Therefore, not only must the living be saved, but also the dead need to be resurrected. His extraordinary vision fascinated the writers of his time: Dostoevsky, Solovyov, Tolstoy.

Read in 10 minutes

“Mortals of the world, of all countries, tribes, nations, occupations, titles, estates, faiths, beliefs, opinions – unite!”

(From the introduction to “Common Task”, Odessa, 1914; a collection of writings on Fyodorov)

He ate little. His staple diet consisted of dry bread and tea. He also slept little, believing that sleep is the brother of death. As far as we know, he refrained from sex. He worked in the reading room of Moscow’s Rumyantsev Museum, the biggest library in Russia at the time. He showed up before the library opened, and left long before it was closed. He brought readers not only the books they ordered, but also others that they might find interesting. It was easy for him to find the additional material, as he allegedly knew the entire catalogue by heart. He gave his salary away, leaving only a small sum to cover his modest needs. He slept on a bare wooden chest, covering himself with his coat. He actually had no personal belongings. Because of his worn out clothes, he was often taken for a homeless person.

His name was Nikolai Fyodorov (1829–1903) and he was the author of the most maximalist philosophical idea in history.

Resurrect our ancestors

He rebelled against death. He believed it was a scandal that should not be allowed to happen; that it was an offence and a challenge to our morality and humanity. Fyodorov’s conviction did not, however, result from egoism or his own fear of death. He was concerned about his neighbours: he could not stand it that other people were dying. He claimed that primitive humans became human when they suffered the shock of witnessing their neighbour’s death. According to Fyodorov, this traumatic experience lies at the roots of human evolution. This is how humans separate ourselves from nature. From then on, we go on living aware of death, struggling with it, postponing the inevitable end. The problem is that everyone does it separately, on their own, thus rending the efforts futile. We compete all the time, forced to fight for resources and survival.

Man is mortal because he has been caught in the vicious circle of nature. Life does not belong to him, it is a loan that he will have to pay back one day. He is born a hostage. He has been sentenced to death, but the execution has been postponed. He also knows that all his close ones are going to die and he often witnesses their dying. He watches the death of his loved ones and is unable to do anything about it. Eventually he accepts it, persuading himself that it could not have been otherwise, because such is the law of nature...

Fyodorov argued that this is not the law, but lawlessness. It is time to say: “No more!” To yell at death: No pasarán! To defeat it, definitively and irrevocably. Not just for ourselves, living at the moment, but also – or perhaps, above all – for our dead. We need to resurrect our fathers and mothers, because we owe them our life. We are in their debt. We live on a gigantic cemetery and we are morally indebted to all of dead humanity, stuck in the ontological void of the past tense. The world is ill with death and needs to be healed.

Of course, it is not easy at all. If death is the result of man’s dependence on nature, one needs to subjugate nature. Reshape it, so that it no longer kills us. Both earthly and cosmic nature. The universe shall rise on new foundations, because the universe is one entity. In several billion years, the sun will change into a burning red giant and swallow the Earth, therefore we need to think about the future. We cannot limit ourselves to one planet. It would be a condemnable lack of imagination and an unheard of wastage of space. According to Fyodorov, man is a “prisoner of the Earth, an idle passenger, a parasite, a sponger who involuntarily travels with it around the Sun.” We need to break with our isolation, and conquer and colonize the entire universe. Make the laws of physics, chemistry and biology obey man. This step should also solve the demographic problem that will inevitably arise when the Earth is inhabited by a growing number of the resurrected.

The man who rises from the dead, will not be as he was before dying, either. He will be thoroughly transformed: “Our body should be our own work.” The exact parameters of the transformed body remain unknown, but one can find in Fyodorov’s writings some predictions. A united humanity will control the entirety of the universe through something resembling a wireless data transmission between mind and matter. Thinking will translate into reality. One can assume that we will enter an altered state of consciousness. Let us hope it will be this way; otherwise, an endless existence in our current state would be the worst punishment – or actually, hell itself. The difference between body and spirit will be obliterated. There shall be no sexes, as they are a tool to replicate mortals; therefore, in the new world they will prove obsolete. Man will become an androgyne, and children will no longer be born. The loss of old organs shall be compensated for by new ones: “Including those aero- and aethero-nautical […] with which [man] shall […] move and obtain in the entirety of the universe the materials to build his organism.” The same goes for time – we will also be able to travel in it freely. Man will become cosmopolitan in the literal sense, i.e., a “cosmic human”. Immortal, a superhuman and a post-human, all at the same time.

Towards the new kingdom

Fyodorov did not leave any detailed instructions on how all of the above should be achieved, because it went beyond even his imagination. The important thing for us is to start at all. For now, humanity should be waken up, shaken, reminded that universal mortality is our only genuine enemy and the cause of our ills – anything else is a surrogate topic. We must try doing something, such as resurrecting those who died recently. Then sow the desert in Turkmenia with crops and bring down the rain. Educate the young, because if not them, then who? It will go from there, and the methods will be made up as we go.

We shall be all the more successful as God is on our side, and this is what he expects from us. According to Fyodorov, this is the meaning of Christianity. As resurrecting goes, Jesus provided an example, so we should perpetuate his redeeming work. Instead, we just sit idly and wait for God to do the job for us. We pray to him, asking for various things, instead of acting ourselves. In fact we don’t believe, and have never believed. If we believed, everything would be possible. Therefore, it is time to finally wake up, grow up, believe and become God’s helpers. If Christ rose from the dead, we can do it too. We just need to get a grip. We celebrate Easter, but instead we should turn it into a task of cosmic character. Oust death from being. When we have done it, the difference between God and the mortal world will be obliterated. Both spheres shall unite and there shall be a human-divine kingdom. We shall see God “face to face”, thus gaining the ultimate proof of his existence.

We were to be lead towards resurrection by the tsar – an antitanatic dictator, a psychocrat, the leader of the resurrected. Things did not work out this way, but it is not over – one day, we shall resurrect the tsar and he will lead us further. We should also abandon cities because they are the seats of corruption, consumerism, the cult of youth and libido. It is time to move to the countryside: “Of the greatest importance in the cosmic task are peasants-ploughmen; bankers and factory owners have no place in the universal, cosmic task.” We will dwell around country cemeteries – around the ashes of our fathers and their fathers. Resurrectional developers better have bricks and mortar at the ready. We will build museums to preserve the past, and schools to prepare students for the conquest of the future. At night, we will go out to meadows with portable telescopes and look into the stars – the future homes of our successors. We are done with the fruitless cogito ergo sum – philosophy too should be put into action: “‘I think’ shall mean ‘I resurrect’.” We are done with wasting time, energy and resources. Everyone needs to be mobilized, we need to appoint resurrectors, and form a folk army that will fight the drought. There’s power in unity. We must start accumulating the ashes, gather the scattered particles with DNA, and, with these materials, attempt to recreate the dead. Not bad copies who do not remember who they were, but living individuals with their identity and memory. Everyone.

All or nobody

At the time, Hitler was a kid just starting school, so nobody could foresee the moral dilemmas that would arise. But everybody should literally mean everybody. Including Hitler, only a Hitler transformed, enlightened, repentant. As his penance, let him resurrect all Jews, and his sins shall be forgiven. Other mass murderers should also be given the chance of redemption. Let them come back and rectify the evil they have done. Because if we don’t do it, God will. This is what the Bible says, and Fyodorov had no intention of questioning it. Resurrection will happen anyway. Either we perform it, thus atoning for our sins, or he will do it, if he loses patience because of our idleness. The problem is that then God will have no choice and he will resurrect us for the last judgement, dividing us into the chosen ones and the damned. Irrevocably and definitively. It means that hell would last forever, fire and evil would remain a part of being, forever.

This was the thought the Russian philosopher could not bear. An eternity of evil with the damned burning in hellfire is a catastrophe for the entire being, entire creation, of us all – including those saved. Can we genuinely be saved knowing that our neighbours, our friends, will stay in hell forever? Will it not disturb the heavenly bliss, obliterating salvation and God himself? Therefore, either everyone is saved, or no-one. We must help God, essentially, save him, because hell will be the negation of God. It will be his defeat and disaster.

This is how Fyodorov thought. He had no doubts that there was no other way. For half a century, every single day he thought about the imperative of raising the dead, and about saving the totality of being. Impatient, sleeping little, eating little, giving away his money, as there is no time to sleep or eat when being is in danger. There is no time to live when our forefathers are decomposing in their graves and every day it becomes more difficult to put them back together. With every hour there is more death, the list of the dead grows longer. Therefore, we need to put an end to this lawlessness, this madness.

The common task

He had this idea in the autumn of 1851. He was 22, he had just finished his second year of studies at the Faculty of Applied Sciences at Odessa’s Richelieu Lycée, which had the status of a higher education institution. The concept was a response to his beloved uncle’s death. Fyodorov’s father did not care about his son Nikolai; anyway, he had had 11 children with different women. He had an estate with 786 souls, and didn’t care about anything. About his mother, we only know that she was ‘unmarried’. A son out of wedlock in a conservative, patriarchal society. It seems that the uncle was the only person to show him a little love – and now he too was gone. Fyodorov, excluded from the community of the living, gave his love to the dead. He pondered over an all-encompassing project that would engage all of humanity in reshaping the universe. Yet he never said a word about his idea to anyone. Neither did he write anything about it for nearly 30 years. In his opinion, the notion was so obvious that everyone should think about it anyway. Reminding mortals about their mortality would be an insult.

He never graduated from his studies. He took teacher training courses, and for about a dozen years taught history and geography in provincial schools. Then he moved to Moscow and became a librarian. In his eyes, the library was a kind of cemetery – its resources could one day be helpful in resurrecting the authors of its texts. He shared his grand idea only with the circle of his closest disciples and friends. Eventually, one of them could not hold it any longer and sent a brief summary of the “common task” to Dostoyevsky. The author of Demons responded enthusiastically and asked for more. The year was 1878. Fyodorov put pen to paper for the first time and started writing his answer to Dostoevsky. It grew into Fyodorov’s longest text with the baroque title: The Question of Brotherhood or Kinship, of the Reasons for the Unbrotherly, Unkindred, or Unpeaceful State of the World, and of the Means for the Restoration of Kinship. The addressee never read the nearly million-character-long answer as he died in 1881. Before he died, however, he managed to tell the young Solovyov about Fyodorov. The latter became enthusiastic as well, he even tried to present the then unknown philosopher to the public, but he was laughed at, and his enthusiasm was quenched. Fyodorov’s attitude also impressed Tolstoy, who called Fyodorov a “saint”, yet he did not share his views.

With time, Fyodorov grew increasingly bitter. Humanity still could not recognize the idea of resurrection, and his “great contemporaries” did not want to popularize it. He needed to do it himself, so he finally started publishing, but always under a pseudonym, somebody else’s name, or anonymously. After he died, his articles were gathered and published by his disciples. They called it The Philosophy of the Common Task.

He was read by Platonov and Pasternak, Berdyaev and Bulgakov, Tsiolkovsky and Vernadsky. He even inspired the Bolsheviks, who also dreamed about defeating death. Nobody has ever dared to go farther than Fyodorov. His thought is dynamite planted under the world we know. An attempt at turning over the traditional hierarchy of madness and self-evidence. Madness is our passivity towards death, not the project urging us to fight it. Asked about the fantastical nature of his ideas, he replied that they were nothing of the kind...


Translated from the Polish by Adam Zdrodowski

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