Mayakovski wanted to believe in The Revolution...In fact, he was one of a large number of intellectuals who believed in the communist revolution before it happened, and was utterly alienated it once it did occur. The illiterate proles who marched through the gritty streets of Petersburg, the sailors, working in conditions that would have made Captain Bligh weep with pity, would chant his verses as they marched through the streets:
Go on and eat some oranges! Munch on a quail!
But know that your time is coming, Bourgeois!
When the revolution finally occured, he set to work: as one of the most gifted designers of Russian Propaganda Posters. Today, a Mayakovski original costs more than $100,000 USD. At the time, they were put up all over the place. These were not the posters you're probably thinking of - happy peasants and workers saluting the party - these were primal. A starving man, drawn in minimalist relief is looking at the large outline of a red finger. On the bottom: Do you want something? Join us!His most famous posters were the windows for TASS, the Soviet New Agency: he described the Bolshevik history of the revolution in relatively simple terms for the average person to understand. It wasn't even really necessary to be literate: fat capitalists and noble workers explained the truth to the masses.
But mainly, he was a lyric poet. In fact, the Soviets didn't really like his poetry: it was extremely personal, speaking of love, even during the revolution. In "A Cloud In Trousers" he is deliriously attempting to seduce a potential lover, Maria while dying of a diptheria fever.
Maria, let me in ! I can't take it any more! They're closing in all around me!
Now, they've even begun to poke me in the eye with ladies hatpins!
Maria, Don't Leave me out in the street!
You've let me in. My darling.
Well, don't be suprised if I quickly betray you...
And yet, despite a long description which then follows of all the ways he intends to betray his beloved, he falls again into rapture, with one of his most famous declarations of love:
I cherish you Maria the way an infrantryman, crippled by war
cherishes his one remaining leg.
This was clearly not the kind of stuff the Soviet censor had any love for, and when the Soviet establishment began to push Mayakovski to write more socialist realism he responded with an Ode to Stalin which is clearly intended as an insult, although he swore he meant it seriously:
Beloved leader, why won't you write a five year plan for ME?
Oh today, I feel as bouyant as a Soviet factory, manufacturing happiness.
Finally, he topped off his ouvre with "The Bedbug", in which a Soviet worker, transported into the future, is examined by the new man and found to be an utter, miserable, insignificant lout.
Despite Mayakovski's original support of the regime, this was too much for him, and he was silenced. Perhaps he committed suicide. Very possibly, he was murdered, after having been forced to write a suicide note to keep his family out of trouble. This is considered by many to be the real meaning of the words "the fact I die is no one's fault. Please, don't gossip." It's also quite possible that the comment about using the money to pay the taxes was deliberately put into the note so that Mayakovski's murderers wouldn't get it - if he would have mentioned the money in the note and asked for it to be given to his family, his killers may have denied the money existed, but by donating it to the state, he kept it out of their hands for sure. I hope he got some enjoyment out of the irony of knowing that his fake suicide note actually contained a donation to the state which killed him. It's now considered almost certain that Mayakovski was killed for being a too-individualist Bolshevik, a man who believed in social justice, but not at the expense of the individual personality - in essence, the wrong man for the times.
Life under communism was much more complicated than it appears, and many of the most celebrated establishment writers were constantly seeking ways to send out the message that they believed in freedom and human dignity. In Mayakovski's view, the most beautiful structure in the world was the Brooklyn Bridge and his poem of the same name puts him in a line between Whitman (who he was clearly thinking about when he wrote the poem) and Ginsburg (who took a pilgrimage to Mayakovski's grave, and fell on it weeping.) The opening lines of this poem serve as a fitting epitaph for Mayakovski's work and the reason I have chosen to defend him in this writeup:
Give, Coolidge, a shout of Joy!
Weep like a child, go red as our flag
I too, will spare no words about good things.
(Translations are my own)