Object lessons from the Bauhaus

Joan Ockman
Art in America
Dec. 1, 2009
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Bauhaus is the name of an artistic inspiration.

— Asger Jorn, letter to Max
Bill, January 1954

Bauhaus is not the name of an artistic inspiration, but the meaning of a movement that represents a well-defined doctrine.

— Max Bill, letter to Asger
Jorn, January 1954

If Bauhaus is not the name of an artistic inspiration, it is the name of a doctrine without inspiration — that is to say, dead.

— Asger Jorn, letter to Max
Bill, February 1954

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What was the Bauhaus really? The question has been raised repeatedly ever since Nazi agents raided the school in April 1933, precipitating its closure by the faculty a few months later. On the 90th anniversary of its founding, and the 20th of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, a major exhibition organized by three institutions in Germany,[1] and now another at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, have relaunched the debate. The answer proffered in MoMA’s “Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity,” assembled by Barry Bergdoll, curator of architecture and design, and Leah Dickerman, curator in the department of painting and sculpture, is that the Bauhaus was, above all, a new form of art education: a radically innovative and progressive school for artists and designers in the modern epoch. This is hardly revelatory, but it’s a valuable frame for rethinking the Bauhaus’ lessons for today. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue advance the argument that under each of its successive architect-directors — Walter Gropius (1919-28), Hannes Meyer (1928-30) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1930-33) — and in three locations — Weimar (1919-25), Dessau (1925-32) and Berlin (1932-33) — the Bauhaus brought together a diverse group of international artists, designers and architects in “a kind of cultural think tank for the times.”[2]

But if the Bauhaus may be said to have been the ultimate decantation chamber for early 20th-century modernity, it didn’t just emerge from Gropius’ head after World War I as a full-fledged idea. Nor did its afterlife in the various institutions and schools that carried forward its legacy over the remainder of the century play out neatly. The curators have made the decision not only to leave out its often messy pre- and post-history, but also to circumscribe most of the surrounding context, focusing narrowly on the school’s 14-year existence and its leading pedagogical figures and students. (The catalogue does a better job of situating the school’s development as well as some of its exemplary objects in relation to the cultural background, with many fine essays.)

As Bauhaus scholars have amply documented, the roots of the school’s design reformism lay in the British Arts and Crafts Movement (especially as filtered into Germany in the first decade of the century by the architect, author and cultural ambassador Hermann Muthesius), the European Werkstätten and Werkbund movements, and the school’s immediate predecessor in Weimar, Henry van de Velde’s Kunstgewerbeschule, whose building also housed the Bauhaus during its initial phase. Pedagogically, the school’s anti-academic, experiential philosophy of learning, variously imparted by its different masters, also had well-established antecedents in 19th-century and early 20th-century progressive education movements, including those of Europeans Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Maria Montessori, and Georg Kerchensteiner, as well as John Dewey in the United States. Arguably, what was unprecedented at the Bauhaus was neither the effort to forge a new unity between the fine and applied arts, nor even, subsequently, between esthetic practice and commercial production, but rather the school’s extraordinary gathering of creative talents in the service of these objectives. That it sustained this project for nearly a decade and a half with a total of 33 faculty and 1,250 students over the course of its life, all the while being threatened by reactionary political forces and destabilizing economic ones, is all the more remarkable. Even if the school’s efforts to bring its designs to the marketplace had checkered success, the widespread diffusion of its intellectual and pedagogical program remains a phenomenon.

Apropos of the show’s title, it is worth emphasizing that the workshop per se is hardly a modern form of organization. It harks back to the medieval craft guilds or Bauhütten — brotherhoods of masons and other tradesmen that existed all over Europe from Gothic times, typically bound together by arcane social rituals and unified spiritually around architecture, or more precisely Baukunst, a monumental synthesis of the building arts. The instructors in the Bauhaus workshops, initially split up into formal and practical training, were known as masters rather than professors; students progressed from Lehrlinge (apprentices or trainees) to Gesellen (journeymen) to Jungmeister (young masters).

The transmission of knowledge on the model of the guild workshop also parallels the hieratic relationship between master and acolyte in a religious sect. That the Bauhaus was steeped in both these atmospheres—of craft and cult—in the immediate aftermath of World War I is richly conveyed in the exhibition, which opens with Lyonel Feininger’s famous woodcut made to accompany the school’s founding program. The crystalline image of a Gothic cathedral is charged with the same romantic-utopian afflatus that inspired the revolutionary socialism of several other cultural-political groups formed in the early months of the Weimar Republic, including the Workers Council for Art, the November Group and the circle of architectural fantasists brought together by Bruno Taut and known as the Glass Chain. Handcrafted products by the school’s bookbinding and pottery workshops, including a series of superb vessels by the future monk Theodor Bogler, as well as curious totems like a coffin designed by Lothar Schreyer and Marcel Breuer’s long-lost “African” Chair — a student project created in collaboration with Gunta Stölzl in the weaving workshop — likewise reflect an early Bauhaus whose metaphysical-material concerns were remote from the machine.

Similarly, the Sommerfeld House, a log dwelling for a rich timber merchant and Bauhaus patron, realized in 1920-21 by Gropius with his partner Adolf Meyer, belongs to this late Expressionist mood. Represented in the exhibition by a series of original photographs and a colored drawing, the house was based on a system of wood prefabrication, and its construction was solemnized by a ritualistic topping-out ceremony (regrettably documented only by the invitation produced in the Bauhaus printing workshop). Inside, it was fitted with elaborately carved wall decorations, stained-glass windows and furnishings crafted by Joost Schmidt, Josef Albers, Breuer and other Bauhaus students in a Gesamtkunstwerk collaboration among all the workshops. The first of a series of “worksites,” the house inaugurated the on-site approach to teaching architecture that prevailed until the subject was finally integrated into the curriculum under department head Hannes Meyer in 1927. Along with his Märzgefallenen-Denkmal (Monument to the March Dead), 1921-22 — a cantilevered concrete “thunderbolt,” displayed in an early plaster model — the Sommerfeld House reveals a wholly different Gropius from the one associated with both the sachlich Fagus Factory of 1914, which made his early reputation as a functionalist architect, and the Bauhaus building to come in 1925-26 in Dessau.

The most visually arresting image from this period is an abstract painting by Johannes Itten titled Aufstieg und Ruhepunkt (Ascent and Resting Point), 1919. The canvas unexpectedly evokes the Parisian Orphism of the Delaunays or František Kupka, attesting to more complex cross-pollination across the modernist map than conventional narratives (and this show) suggest. The charismatic Itten, whose sacerdotal persona and haptic teaching methods made him the school’s most distinctive figure in these years, also inaugurated the famous Vorkurs in 1919. Subsequently modified under his successors, the half-year-long preliminary course was the portal to the workshops and would serve for most of the next decade as a fundamental initiation rite for every student entering the school. Continue reading

Venezuela and the “Bolivarian Revolution”

Sergio López
Kosmoprolet
April 2009

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This is an analysis of the socio-economic and political bases of the rise to power of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and of the trajectory of the “Bolivarian” regime. Its author, “Sergio López,” writes from firsthand knowledge of conditions in Venezuela, and this article appeared first in Kosmoprolet, Heft 1, the publication of the Freundinnen und Freunde der Klassenlosen Gesellschaft (Friends of the Classless Society).

A translation of this piece was published in the journal Internationalist Perspective, and is reproduced from their website below. While it’s quite a bit lengthier — at over 11,000 words, it’s able to say more about the socioeconomic context and so on — López’s article forms a nice supplement to the much shorter piece by Marco Torres on “The Dead Left: Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution,” which is more of an ideology-critique with a political emphasis. Both pieces were written around the same time, with López ‘s coming out in 2009 and Torres’ in 2010. Moreover, Marco’s piece focused more on what the Western Left’s fixation on Venezuela and Bolivarianism said about its own powerlessness.

Even though several years have now passed, with the anniversary of Chávez’s death having just been marked, both pieces provide a nice Marxist counterpoint to a lot of the rather uncritical cheerleading engaged in by Alan Woods and the International Marxist Tendency or George Ciccariello-Maher‘s anarchist apologia for the Venezuelan state.
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“President Chávez is a tool of God”

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A highlight of every child’s birthday party in Venezuela is a piñata, a brightly-colored paper container filled with candy or toys dangling from a rope. Taking turns the children try to break the piñata with a stick. When it eventually breaks releasing its precious contents all the children jump at it and try to grab as much of it as possible. It goes without saying that the weaker children are intimidated and squeezed out by the stronger ones. Their share depends upon the size of the piñata, the number of children and, ultimately their capability of standing up to the other children. If there were no interference by the parents, several children would go away empty-handed.

How is this related to the Bolivarian process? How does the game continue? And who are the players?

In a materialist understanding, the key to the “Bolivarian revolution” cannot be the man Hugo Chávez with his real or alleged staff of advisers. Rather, the historical structures, the concrete economic interests and the social tensions within Venezuela are key to understanding Chávez’s rise to power, his political actions and his particular rhetoric.

Since the 1920s oil has been Venezuela’s most important export good. Ever since, it has been central to all economic, political and social life in Venezuela. Unlike agricultural produce, natural resources were at that time already the property of the state which, hence, as a direct trading partner of the foreign oil companies, had a source of capital at its disposal which is to this day largely independent from the rest of the country’s economic activity. It was only in the 1920s that the state exerted its authority against the local chieftains, the “caudillos,” and set an end to the recurring flare-up of bloody civil wars that had shaken the country since its independence in 1821.

Proprietors of natural resources can regulate the access to it, deny it altogether or sell it at a high price. This is the source of the “absolute rent” Marx analyzed. By founding OPEC, the oil exporting countries could raise this absolute rent and snatch it away from the world market. Moreover, oil has an advantage over its main competitor on the energy market, coal, because the extraction of oil is cheaper than that of coal. Therefore, the oil industry gains a so-called differential rent. Particularly in the years after 1958 the Venezuelan state was in a struggle with the oil companies over a share in this differential rent until it eventually nationalized oil production in 1975, in a way though which still involved the oil companies. For almost a century this state has been trying to strengthen its bargaining power against the transnational oil companies without endangering the whole process of extracting and distributing the oil.

This is at the heart of Venezuela’s perpetual anti-imperialism. The character of the negotiations, and which oil concessions are granted, is pivotal for the country’s foreign policy. The struggle for political power, the discussion about the attitude towards the oil companies and the appropriation of the oil rent, dominate the political sphere. Also, socio-economic structures have developed in direct dependence on the almighty state and its seemingly inexhaustible sources of capital. This has led to an historically early process of urbanization in the administrative centres and in the areas where the oil is extracted. Today less than 15 percent of Venezuelans live in the countryside (compared to 25 percent of the French and 10 percent of the Germans). Continue reading

Architecture in cultural strife: Russian and Soviet architecture in drawings, 1900-1953

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Originally published over at Metropolis magazine’s online edition. A longer, slightly more comprehensive version of the review appears below.

The exhibition “Architecture in Cultural Strife: Russian and Soviet Architecture in Drawings, 1900-1953” opened two weeks ago at the Tchoban Foundation in Berlin, Germany. Bringing together a total of 79 unique architectural delineations from this period, the show spans the twilight years of the Romanov dynasty up to Stalin’s death in 1953.

Pavel Siuzor, Dom Zinger (1902-1904) K.N. Rouchefort and V.A. Linskii, 1906-1907

One is immediately struck by the periodization, bookended as it is by the death of a major political figure on one side and the turn of the century on the other. In terms of historical events, the latter of these seems fairly arbitrary. Stylistically, however, the date makes a bit more sense. Around 1900, Russian architects began to emulate non-academic design movements originating abroad. What Jugendstil had been to Germany, Art Nouveau to France, Sezessionstil to Austria — so stil’ modern [стиль модерн] was to Russia. Modernist architecture (sovremennaia arkhitektura [современная архитектура], not to be confused with stil’ modern) was still a couple decades away, but Pavel Siuzor and Gavriil Baranovskii introduced the style to Petrograd with some success.

Not much happened in the fifteen years from 1905 to 1920, at least as far as architecture is concerned. Of course this was largely due to the turbulence of the time. Two wars, a string of social and military crises, and multiple political revolutions interrupted ordinary construction cycles, preventing anything like normality from taking shape. Meanwhile, the widespread destruction of the country’s built infrastructure wrought by years of bloody civil war created a demand for new projects to replace what had been lost.

Nikolai Ladovskii Communal House Experimental project for Zhivskulptarkh Moscow, USSR 1920 Pencil, colored pencil, and colored ink on tracing paper 40 x 21 cmIl'ia Golosov, Lenin House 1924

After conditions finally stabilized in 1922, an experimental phase set in. Inspired by revolutionary tendencies in the visual arts — by abstract painting and sculptural constructs — an architectural avant-garde began to take shape. Highly innovative research was conducted at schools like INKhUK and VKhUTEMAS/VKhUTEIN in Moscow, as well as the Academy of Arts and RABFAK in Leningrad. Students of architecture were encouraged to explore the possibilities of new materials and forms. The emerging Soviet avant-garde was hardly monolithic, however, despite certain popular depictions that represent the modernists as one homogenous bloc. While such simplifications are often expedient, even necessary, some nuance is inevitably lost along the way.

Continue reading

Ivan Leonidov’s proposal for the Lenin Institute in Moscow (1927)

AIM: To answer the needs of contemporary life through maximum use of the possibilities of technology.

THEME: The Lenin Institute is the collective knowledge center of the USSR.

LOCATION: Where the new city is developing. Lenin Hills in Moscow.

CONSTlTUENT PARTS: A library with 15 million volumes of books and 5 reading rooms of 500-1000 seat capacity, and an institute of librarianship.

Auditoria varying in capacity from 250-4000 people. A scientific theater, i.e. planetarium. Research institutes for individual academic work.

BookScanStation-2013-07-12-06-34-10-PM0004

MECHANIZATION: Library — Delivery of books to the reader and back into the stacks takes place through vertical and horizontal conveyor systems; upon request from the catalogue hall, the books are automatically delivered to the reading rooms. Continue reading

Hannes Meyer and Le Corbusier, alternative visions for the Palace of the League of Nations (1926-1927)

The League of Nations competition, 1927: Contemporary architecture comes to the front

Sigfried Giedion
Space, Time, and
Architecture
(1938)

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The 1927 international competition for the League of Nations Palace at Geneva is one of the most illuminating episodes in the history of contemporary architecture. For the first time present-day architects challenged the routine of the Academy in a field which it had dominated for generations, the design of m0numentally impressive state buildings. The Academy won this particular engagement, but its victory injured the prestige of its methods.

The conventional routines showed themselves incapable of producing architectonic solutions to problems of modern organization. The proof of that helplessness did much to break down popular resistance to modern treatments.

It was plain from the start that, among the 337 projects submitted, one — the work of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret — was peculiarly important and significant. Later developments verified this first judgment.

What made it important: It unexpectedly forced high officials from everywhere in Europe to consider seriously a kind of architecture which they had always dismissed as aesthetic trifling. For decades there had been an established style for the stately official building — an international style that hardly varied from country to country. Custom had made its validity seem guaranteed for all time, and the official element automatically turned to it when the matter of their Geneva setting came up. The scheme that came to the forefront, however, shockingly disregarded the stylistic approach in order to tackle specific problems.

The idea of a league of nations is one which we encounter time and again in history. Its realization, however — the actual establishment of a neutral center where representatives of every country might meet to maintain the equilibrium of the world — was a completely new thing and brought a highly complex institution into being. Its varied functions required a division of its headquarters into three main parts: a secretariat, where the daily work of its administration could he carried on; a meeting place for committees of various sorts whose sessions occurred intermittently (the Conseil and the Grandes Commissions); and a hall for the yearly sitting of the Assemblee generale. Besides this, a great library was needed in the whole complex.

The outstanding fact about the scheme submitted by Le Corbusier and Jeanneret is that they found the most compact and best-conceived solution to these needs.

The Secretariat, the great administration building near the entrance to the grounds, was given a slender wing which paralleled the lake. The rows of horizontally sliding windows gave every clerk or typist an unimpeded view over water and mountains. A roof garden was available for rest periods. The building had a ferroconcrete skeleton and seerned to hover above its site on supporting pillars set back of the curtain walls. Le Corbusier had used the same treatment, a short time before and on a smaller scale, in his Villa Cook at Boulogne-sur-Seine.

The great Assembly Building was moved forward to the lake front. Two huge expanses of glass made up its side walls. The Grande Salle des Assemblees, meant for twenty-six hundred auditors, was designed with the needs of a large audience as the determining factors. It had to be possible to hear and see perfectly from every one of its seats. To ensure this, the ceiling was given a nearly parabolic curvature. This was on the advice of the specialist, Gustave Lyon. But the ceiling is not simply introduced into the design as an acoustical aid:

it is taken up into and influences the whole form of the hall. Le Corbusier converts what was offered simply as a technical expedient into aesthetic means. Le Corbusier went a step further in his project for the United Nations building in New York, 1947. There he included the floor in the total curvature of the space. This would have been the most inspiring interior space of our period if its realization had not been made impossible by certain political interests. The later development of the hall by others shows no trace of Le Corbusier’s inspired sketch; it is merely an enormous igloo.

In the treatment of the ceiling Le Corbusier unconsciously followed the example of earlier men. Thus Davioud in the seventies used a parabolic ceiling in a project for a theater of a capacity of five thousand. The Adler and Sullivan Auditorium of 1887 in Chicago — the finest assembly hall of its period — is similarly modeled by considerations of acoustics.

Competition Design for the League of Nations Building in Geneva 1926-1927

Le Corbusier’s plans show a thoroughly considered treatment of the traffic problem. The problem was acute when the General Assembly was in session, and it had to be possible to move great streams of cars in short order. The rear entrance of the Assembly Building accordingly took its form from an everyday solution to the same difficulty — the sheltered loading platform set between two transit lines. But once again a purely utilitarian development is transmuted into an expressive means. The development of such a means of expression can be seen thirty years later in the transformation of the architectonic articulation of the flat platform roof of the League of Nations project into the upward curving concave shell that rises majestically above the façade of the Secretariat Building at Chandigarh. Continue reading

Someone is buried here: Adolf Loos on architecture and death

Architecture

Adolf Loos
Neue Freie Presse
Vienna, 1910

May I take you to the shores of a mountain lake? The sky is blue, the water green and everywhere is profound tranquillity. The clouds and mountains are mirrored in the lake, the houses, farms, and chapels as well. They do not look as if they were fashioned by man, it is as if they came straight from God’s workshop, like the mountains and trees, the clouds and the blue sky. And everything exudes an air of beauty and peace…

But what is this? A discordant note in the tranquillity. Like an unnecessary screech. Among the locals’ houses, that were not built by them, but by God, stands a villa. The creation of an architect. Whether a good or bad architect, I don’t know. All I know is that the tranquillity, peace and beauty have vanished.

Before God there are no good or bad architects, in His presence all architects are equal. In the cities, in the presence of Belial, there are subtle nuances, as is the nature of vice. And therefore I ask, why is it that any architect, good or bad, desecrates the lake.

The farmer doesn’t. Nor does the engineer who builds a railway along the shore or scores deep furrows in its clear surface with his ship. They go about things in a different way. The farmer marks out the site for his new house in the green meadow and digs out the trenches for the foundations. Then the mason appears. If there is clay in the area there will be a brickworks delivering bricks. If not, then he can use the stone from the shores of the lake. And while the mason is laying brick upon brick, stone upon stone, the carpenter arrives and sets up his tools. His ax rings out merrily. He is making the roof. What kind of roof? A beautiful or an ugly one? He has no idea. It’s just a roof.

Tzara House, Paris (1925).

tristan-tzara-01 tristan-tzara-0212 tristan-tzara-021 tristan-tzara-04

And then the joiner measures up the doors and windows, and all the other craftsmen come and measure up and go back to their workshops and work. Finally the farmer mixes up a large tub of whitewash and makes the house nice and white. He cleans the brush and puts it away. He’ll need it again next Easter.

His intention was to erect a house for himself and his family, or for his animals, and that is what he has done. Just as his neighbor or his great-great-grandfather did. Just as every animal does when it is guided by instinct. Is the house beautiful? Yes, just as beautiful as a rose or a thistle, as a horse or a cow.

And I repeat my question: why is it that the architect, no matter whether good or bad, desecrates the lake? Like almost all city dwellers, the architect lacks culture. He lacks the sure touch of the farmer, who does possess culture. The city dweller is rootless. Continue reading

Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer, competition entry to the Chicago Tribune tower (1922)

Equivocal icon:
The competition design for the Chicago Tribune tower by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer

Bart Lootsma
Bauhaus: A Model
New York, 2009

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The design by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer for an office and administration building for the Chicago Tribune was conceived in 1922. The context was an international competition announced by the Tribune on the occasion of the sixty-fifth jubilee. For decades already, European architects had drawn inspiration from developments in the United States, and the competition represented an initial opportunity to come to terms with the specifically American task of designing a skyscraper. Many Europeans submitted designs, although the names of such well-known figures as Erich Mendelsohn, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier — whom one might have expected to participate — were absent. Among the two hundred and sixty-five submissions from twenty-six different countries were thirty-seven from Germany, where debates about skyscrapers had been particularly intense, especially around the time of the 1921 competition for a high-rise building on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. In Chicago, the winners were the Americans John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood, whose Neo-Gothic building was erected in 1925. The decision sparked passionate debate, instigated by critics who had preferred the modernist design of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

The competition came to symbolize the heroic struggle of the modernist movement. As late as the 1949 film The Fountainhead, viewers saw Gary Cooper in the role of Howard Roark, his face filled with bitterness, viewing plans which strongly resemble those by Max Taut, Walter Gropius, and Adolf Meyer. They bear the handwritten inscription “NOT BUILT.” Roark’s rival, Peter Keating, prefers an eclectic style. Many years later, in 1950, Gropius explained in retrospect: “In 1922, when I designed the Chicago Tribune high-rise, I wanted to erect a building that avoided using any historical style, but which instead expressed the modern age with modern means; in this case with a reinforced concrete frame which would clearly express the building’s function.” The accuracy of this statement must however be called into question, as it seems to have been influenced by the design’s subsequent reception. In the 1950s, moreover, Gropius could no longer recall that in 1925, he had still presented the building in Internationale Architektur as being planned in “iron, glass, and terracotta.” Continue reading

Suprematism in architecture: Kazimir Malevich and the arkhitektons

Painting and the Problem of Architecture

Kazimir Malevich
Nova generatsiia
Vol. 3, №. 2 (1928)

If we examine the painting of the first quarter of the 20 century we immediately notice two trends: “objective” and “non-objective.”

These two trends differ both formally and in their Weltanschauung and attitude to art.

Corresponding to the different types of Weltempfang there arise various artistic classifications.

In the “objective” trend there exist various stages: the first stage is figurative; it perceives the model as such. In this stage we see objects in their artistic expression “as they are.”

In the second stage the subject or model is only a means of communicating the artist’s experience in works of art. What is more, all the objects, or nature, are artistically unified by the tone passing through them.

In the third stage we see how as the result of a particular artistic Weltempfang there occurs “artistic deformation of phenomena”; hence follows the disintegration of the object into separate pictorial elements. They create a new order which is called “the cubic form of revealing artistic expression.”

At this stage the object itself is not considered “as such,” and “as such” it is not the content of artistic skill; it exists only as the sum of unorganized painterly elements.

Next come two variants of the fourth stage of communicating Weltempfang: they are called “non-objective.”

In one of these types we see the total eclipse of the object and have a work of pure painterly Weltempfang.

The other “non-objective” type is not only the revelation of artistic Weltempfang but also of a whole series of the dynamic, static, magnetic, and other elements which exist in nature.

These two figurative stages deal exclusively with the form of objects, i.e. forms with the help of which objects are created on the canvas “as such.”

In the “non-objective” stages, on the other hand, form plays an important role, since without form it becomes impossible to convey any kind of Weltempfang.

In the “non-objective” stages one is not dealing with the representation of phenomena “as such,” but with the communication of definite sensations which exist in the phenomenal world.

In the “non-objective” stages there comes to the fore the question of creating the “forming element” with which to communicate sensations.

Thus the problem of form arises only in the new “non-objective” art. This is why the “non-objective” arts have had to rid themselves of the contents of various ideologies and also of the entire material side of everyday life, the system of which has been developing on a basis harmful to painting. Thus, for example, the table, house, motor, wedding, marriage did not develop as a result of people’s perceiving life artistically and expressing elements of this perception, as a revelation of artistic Weltempfang, in the form of a table.

The table, in common with all objects of a technical purpose, has practical utilitarian functions, and therefore the content of such objects is functionality; and all the elements of the world’s material constitute a firm functional order.

Thus the system of artistic perception of the functional order of the object may happen not to correspond to the artistic perception of the object, as one is dealing not with the functional content of a table but with its artistic content.

The critics have regarded this trend as “abstract,” at the basis of “abstract” art, parting from practical, concrete life.

To this “non-objective” type belongs Suprematism.

From this short analysis we see that in the first two stages of revealing sensations “form” is not a problem and does not have the same importance as in the third stage and, particularly, in the “non-objective” stages.

Continue reading

Trotskyism in Greece: An interview with Andros Payiatsos

Nikos Manousakis
Platypus Review 64
March 2, 2014

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On November 22, 2013, Nikos Manousakis, a member of the Platypus Affiliated Society in Thessoliniki, interviewed Andros Payiatsos, Secretary General of Xekinima or “Start,” the Greek chapter of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.

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Nikos Manousakis
: Tell us about the Greek chapter of the CWI. What are its involvements politically, its connection to the wider international organization, its ideological background, and what are Start’s aims in present-day Greece?

Andros Payiastos: Xekinima, which can be translated as Start, has a long history that dates back to the period of the Junta, the military dictatorship from 1967-1974. It was originally a small group that operated illegally under the Dictatorship of the Generals and, in 1974, joined the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). Xekinima had evolved in a Trotskyist direction, although not with full clarity at the outset, and was involved in the uprising of the Athens Polytechnic in the autumn of 1973. Start members joined PASOK when the latter was created in 1974. Around the same time Start came into contact with the British counterpart of the CWI, then called Militant, which was working inside British Labour. The group has had an interesting and a complex development since then. In its initial period it was very successful within PASOK, which, in the 1970s, was an entirely different organization from the one we see today — with thousands of working-class fighters and radical left activists. It was also very bureaucratic. But Xekinima was very quickly expelled. From 1975 onwards, Xekinima has worked as a tendency outside PASOK, although it directs itself at the PASOK rank and file.

Then in the late 1980s, a discussion began to develop in Greece and internationally about the character of working-class parties, labor parties, Social Democratic parties, etc., and there was a move in the direction of abandoning them. So Xekinima, too, shifted toward independent work and abandoned any kind of relationship with PASOK. Furthermore, in the 1990s, Xekinima came out openly as an independent organization with a stated aim of rebuilding the forces of the Left, describing PASOK as a bourgeois party, which had abandoned any link to working-class interests.

The 1990s were a very difficult period. The Left, as a whole, was in crisis as a result of the collapse of Stalinism and was confronted by a major ideological offensive by the bourgeoisie globally. It is fair to say that the entire Left was in crisis, even in tatters! Many organizations split and Xekinima also suffered from such clefts.

NM: This in spite of the fact that Xekinima had a different ideological or Trotskyist background?

AP: The Trotskyist current, although it was the only one that had predicted Stalinism was a temporary historical phenomenon and that it would collapse in one way or another, nevertheless paid the cost of the collapse of the Stalinist left. Because the collapse had an adverse, negative effect on the struggles of the working class, on the consciousness of the working class, on leftist working-class organizations, and on the leadership of the trade unions, etc.

NM: So you understand 1989 to have been a turning point for the Left in Greece and globally?

AP: Without any doubt! And Xekinima paid a cost for 1989. Actually, it is fair to say that Xekinima was able to restart, to rebuild its forces, having contracted to a small group by the late-1990s, when leftist movements found new life as the repercussions of the financial-economic crisis in southeast Asia were felt internationally, by the effects of the anti-globalization movement, and then the anti-war movement. It was this rebirth that followed the collapse of the Left in 1989 that also allowed Xekinima to rebuild its forces and become one of the significant forces on the Left today.

NM: How would you define the present goals of Xekinima?

AP: The general goal, of course, is the transformation of society. Capitalism is a deadly system leading to the barbarism that we experience today. How we get to transform society is the main question and a difficult one because the entire Left claims, in one way or another, that they are struggling for a socialist society, but historically the Left has proved incapable of achieving that aim. We have two goals given the present state of things in Greece: The first is to develop a transitional program that reflects the needs of today, define the aims for the working class to fight for, launch proposals about how that fight should develop, in other words a plan of struggle for the working class in order to be able to face this barbaric attack by the troika and the Greek bourgeoisie. The second is to try to bring together the forces which agree on the fundamental tasks of our epoch, I mean forces from the rest of the Left with an orientation toward revolutionary Marxism.

The Greek left is in turmoil — reflecting the depth of the current crisis on the one hand and the deficiencies of the (international) Left on the other. What is very important, however, is that there are significant forces inside all of the major left formations which are in opposition to the ideas or political lines of the central leaderships of those left formations. Such forces exist inside SYRIZA, but also inside the ANTARSYA coalition, and the KKE, the Greek Communist Party. These forces understand the necessity of a transitional program as I have described above and, also, the vital importance of the United Front. Continue reading

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