Born 28 November 1896, Old Style (10 December, New Style). He was the 11th son of an estate manager in Ryazan. After graduating from a private gymnasium in Ryazan in 1915, he enrolled in the historical-philological faculty of Moscow University. He fell in with a group of writers and artists including the likes of Khlebnikov, Aseev, Vera Ilina, N. Chernishev and E. Lisitsky. Upon reading Mayakovsky's Cloud in Trousers, Budantsev reports that he suddenly ceased being an epigone of Symbolism and turned into a propagandist for Mayakovsky.
Budantsev spent little if any time on his studies, preferring instead to churn out three poems a day. He and other imitators of Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov managed to wrest control of the journal Mlechnii Put away from some amateur "peoples' poets" and publish their works.
In spring of 1916, Budantsev was called up for military service. In September, he was sent to work as a quartermaster with Russian forces in Persia. In February 1918, he found himself in Enzel, Persia, where he aligned himself with the Revolutionary Committee, headed by I.O. Kolomiytsev. A Social-Revolutionary-turned-Bolshevik, Kolomiytsev was named the first Soviet representative to Teheran, and he invited Budantsev to join him there on the mission. Budantsev, however, was eager to return to Russian, so Kolomiytsev gave him a letter of introduction to the editor of the paper Izvestia of the Baku Soviet.
During the summer of 1918, Baku was in turmoil. German and Turkish forces threatened from the north. The Menshevik and Social-Revolutionary parties were engaged in anti-Soviet agitation, advocating that the English be invited into the city as protectors. Budantsev, who had first-hand knowledge of English activities in Persia, wrote a series of articles exposing the colonial aspirations of the British, their greedy desire to control the oil riches of the region, and their complete lack of concern for the indiginous people. Budantsev used several pseudonyms for these articles: A. Pridorogin, B. Vorozhbin, and P. Vladimirov.
After the counterrevolutionary coup in Baku, Budantsev and others, betrayed by Mensheviks, were arrested as they tried to sail out of the city. Budantsev's papers were confiscated and, in the confusion, this allowed him to blend in with a crowd of refugees and escape to Astrakhkan.
In Astrakhan, the military revolutionary committee assigned Budantsev and two others to organize a Red Army newspaper. Publication of this paper, Krasnii Voin, began in September 1918. Each edition of the paper carried at least one, and sometimes two or three articles by Budantsev.
While in Astrakhan, Budantsev stayed with some of Khelnikov's relatives. He tried to coax Khlebnikov to write for Krasnii Voin, but the poet proved unsuited to newspaper work. The paper published a few of his poems as well as the piece "October on the Neva."
During this time, Budantsev began writing poetry again, and had a few verses published in the literary journal Sirena.
In 1919, Budantsev was with the provisions committee of the 5th Army, chasing after Kolchak. By the beginning of 1920, however, he was back in Moscow, where he finally undertook writing as his full-time profession.
Budantsev's first novel, completed in 1922, was Komandarm ("Army Commander"), about a provincial revolt led by an unrepentant Social-Revolutionary in Astrakhan. The novel originally was named Myatezh ("Uprising"), but Dmitri Furmanov had also written a novel using that title. So the two writers flipped a coin, and Budantsev lost. The novel was written in a "chopped prose" (rublenaya proza) style which was in vogue in the early twenties. Some critics of the time saw a resemblance between Budantsev's work and that of Pilnyak, noting at the same time a greater tendency toward realism in Budantsev. The villain of Komandarm, the left Social-Revolutionary Kalabukhov, is effectively portrayed as a vainglorious poseur, spiritually empty, filled instead with a hatred of Soviet power. The positive heroes--the Bolsheviks Bolotov and Lysenko--however, come off looking rather superficial and made-to-order.
Budantsev sent a copy of this novel as well as volume of his short stories entitled Yaponskaya Duel ("Japanese Duel") to Maksim Gorky. Yaponskaya Duel takes up a favorite subject of the 1920s, the fate of the intellectual in the Revolution. The protagonist of this story, an eccentric bibliographer, cannot find his way in the new revolutionary society, so he gets his revenge by burning his life's work--a bibliographic collection of translations of western European poets into Russian. Other stories in this collection focus on the petty bourgeois and philistines trying to adopt to the new order. Typical examples of this theme are Moscovskiye Ugli ("Moscow Corners"), Tarakan ("Cockroach"), Vesenaya Pesnya ("Spring Song"), and Kaplya ("The Drop"). Striking portraits of businessmen-NEPNEP can be found in the stories Ugli Padeniya ("Angles of Fall") and Otchii Dom ("Father's House").
In his subsequent works, Budantsev abandoned the chopped prose style in favor of straight realism. This is apparent in his second novel, Sarancha ("Locusts", 1927). The action takes place around a cotton-cleaning factory in a remote region of southern Azerbaijan near Persia. The area is threatened with an imminent attack of locusts. Local officials try to prepare for the attack, but swindlers--both in and out of official positions--defraud the government, leaving the region without resources or equipment with which to battle the locusts. As a result, calamity is unavoiable. A particularly memorable scene in the novel shows an army of women using shovels to squash the locust larvae while the men, wading ankle-deep through a sea of the writhing vermin, shovel them into pits and set them aflame. Part crime story, part natural-disaster tale, Sarancha also defends the importance of marriage and seems to advise against abortion. The novel is also curiously devoid of politics. One of the swindlers makes a passing comment to the effect that the Soviet government stole from the rich, so it's his turn to steal back now. But the swindlers are basically just crooks. They do not belong to any organization; they are not engaged in any nefarious plot to overthrow Soviet authority. They just want to get rich. The factory-director hero of the novel, an intellectual recently returned from Persia, is motivated not by any political ideas, but a simple desire to work and help others. And the local Communist, a Comrade Effendiev, does not preach politics. Rather, his is like a good civic official anywhere, looking out for the welfare of his people.
While Sarancha avoided political topics, the same cannot be said of some of the stories Budantsev wrote in the 1920s. In stories such as Forpost Indii ("Outpost of India", 1922), Lunnii Mesyats Ramazan (1925), and Zhena ("Wife", 1926), drawing upon his experience in Persia and Azerbaidjan, the author highlights the curelty and inhumanity of the British occupation of the region. Concerning these stories, in 1988 Soviet critic L. Polosina wrote:
Not getting distracted with the exotic, he [Budantsev] reflects real life, the class contradictions which he himself saw, the cruel politics of British imperialism, turning the country into its colony.
In Forpost Indii, a local Persian Bolshevik attempts to lead the oppressed workers in a rebellion against the colonialists. Betrayed, he dies a horrible death in prison at the insistence of the "cultured" English overlord, who also duplicitously despises the informer who helped him catch the Bolshevik.
Zhena ("Wife") tells the story of the four wives of a rich Uzbek in a remote village. The senior wife is dedicated to her husband and cruel toward the other wives, all of whom live a hard life with no rights. One of the younger wives, pregnant, dies as a result of being overworked. Another wife is drawn to the new life and new people symbolized by the railroad which is being built through the area. Her attempt at flight is stymied, but there remains hope for her future.
During the 1920s, Budantsev produced so many short stories and plays that in 1929 an edition of his collected works filled three volumes. Budantsev was active in literary circles, working for various newspapers and serving as head of the prose department of the state publishing house Goslitizdat. He hob-nobed with the likes of Zoshshenko, Leonov, Babel, Vs. Ivanov, and Konstantin Fedin. He had a particularly close friendship with Boris Pasternak.
In 1930, Budantsev again took up the topic of the intellectual in the new society. The story Dom S Vykhodom V Mir ("House With an Exit into the World", 1930) is about a construction engineer who decides to remain at a large factory construction site, far from his beloved Moscow. While he is impressed with the scope of the project and with the people selflessly working on it, he makes this decision not out of conviction, but rather because of the messy state of affairs in his own family.
In the 1930s, socialist construction became the main topic for most Soviet writers, including Budantsev. He wrote sketches about Dneprostroi, the electrification of the country, and the construction of the Moscow Metro. He composed a whole cycle of sketches on the Balakhan Paper Factory, one of the major construction projects of the first Five Year Plan. The topic informed his fiction as well. Rasskaz o Trude ("Story of Labor", 1932) tells the tale of a factory foreman for whom the interests of the factory are a matter of his personal proletarian honor. He cannot abide shoddy work and undertakes to redo faulty welding himself. He works for more than 24 hours straight in order not to fall behind schedule.
Budantsev's third novel, Pisatelnitsa ("Woman Writer") was completed in 1936. It is a novel about the life of a factory and a city, but also about the art of creation. The novel begins with a woman writer arriving at a factory to gather material for her next work. The narrative follows her every step and thought. As the characters of the heroes of her future novel come more into focus, we see the world view of the old woman writer herself changing. She feels drawn to these new people, comes to understand them, and--more than merely writing about them--she gets involved in their lives.
In 1940, Sergei Budantsev was unlawfully repressed. He was later rehabilitated. At the time of his death, Iunosha ("Youth"), a novel about a young man come to study in Moscow, remained unfinished.