Frank Lloyd Wright’s unabashedly pro-Soviet sentiments during the 1930s

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. and Mrs. Iofan, Society of Cultural Relations Banquet, Moscow (1937)

Frank Lloyd Wright, almost indisputably the greatest architect America ever produced, was throughout his life a strong supporter of the ideals of liberty and democracy and strove to find their expression through architecture.  However, it is less well known that he was a staunch supporter of the Soviet social experiment during the 1930s.  Of course, he did not believe that this support was in any way incompatible with his prior belief in democracy and liberty.  Quite the opposite, he considered the Soviet Union to be embarking upon an entirely new path toward a more perfect democracy.  Like many other observers in the West, he failed to recognize the totalitarian and undemocratic nature of the Stalinist regime.  Wright can probably be excused for not seeing this at the time, though he did problematically endorse program of “Socialism in One Country” as a fitting course of action for the Russian people.  Nevertheless, Wright’s belief in the emancipatory potential of the Bolshevik Revolution is symptomatic of the great surge of utopian sentiment involving the young USSR, as well as of a deep disillusionment with the capitalist socioeconomic order, which was in shambles over the whole course of that decade.

You can download Wright’s various statements and articles written with regard to the Soviet Union by clicking the following link:

Frank Lloyd Wright on the Soviet Union

Frank Lloyd Wright with Mr. and Mrs. Arkin, outside Moscow (1937)

 The following is an excerpt from one of these exchanges:

FIRST ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS BY PRAVDA

October 19, 1933

Dear Mr. Wright:

A year ago the Pravda asked your opinion about the position of the intellectuals in the United States in connection with the economic crisis. Your opinion was then forwarded to Moscow. Today the Pravda editors, wishing to acquaint their readers more thoroughly with the changes wrought in the life of the intellectuals, during the last year, solicit your opinion on the following questions:

1. What change, if any, has taken place in the life of the intellectuals (engineers, technicians, architects, artists, writers, teachers, etc.) during the last year?

2. How has the prolongation of the crisis influenced the creative activities in this country in the realm of technique, art, literature and the sciences?

3. Do you see improvement ahead for the intellectual groups?

An early reply will be highly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Moissaye J. Olgin

My dear Mr. Olgin:

Little visible change in the life or the attitude toward life of the intelligentsia of the United States is evident. No clear thinking is possible to them. They are all the hapless beneficiaries of a success-system they have never clearly understood, but a system that worked miracles for them while they slept. The hardships of the last three years have left them confused but not without hope that more miracles will come to pass in their behalf. They are willing to wait for them to happen.

The capitalistic system is a gambling game. It is hard to cure gamblers of gambling and everybody high and low in this country prefers the gamblers chance at a great fortune to the slower growth of a more personal fortune.

It is true that the educational system of the country has for many decades been breeding inertia. It aims to produce the middle-class mind which is able to function only in the middle of the road, boulevard preferred. It is the “safe” mind for the system as set up.

Machine power is vicarious power at best and breeds a lower type of individuality, it seems, the longer it functions. Action of any sort becomes less and less likely. So creative activity is a thing of the past — so far as it goes with machine power in these United States. Little art of any but the most superficial kind — the formula or the fashion — now characterizes the life of the States. The capacity for spiritual rebellion has grown small and the present ideals of success are making it smaller every day. No radical measures have been undertaken in the New Deal but there has been a great deal of tinkering and adjusting and pushing with prices to bring the old game alive again. Something more is needed than an arbitrary price-system to re-awaken capitalistic confidence in the spending of money.

The capitalistic system has evidently come to the necessity for a radical change that no tinkering can effect.

It is now proposed among the more sensible of the intelligentsia that all absentee-ownership be declared illegal by legislation.

The far-reaching consequences of such an enactment are hard to forecast but certainly the stranglehold of capitalism would be cut by such a measure and a freedom would ensue that would soon make Democracy a reality instead of the pretense it is. There is little chance however for any such measure until all the expedients have been tried and have failed in plain sight of everyone.

In the course of the next five years a real demand for such “repeal” of special privilege may come to pass. This is the feeling of the minority among the intelligentsia but they are doing nothing about it. They are spectators by birth, breeding, and habit.

Meantime all are getting on with about one-tenth of their former incomes.

I believe all three of your questions are answered in this answer to the first question.

1. The present economy has practically eliminated our profession, such as it was.

2. An entirely new set of ideas more in keeping with the principles of architecture are needed before thinking men can be inspired with sufficient confidence to go on building any more buildings. In the epoch now painfully closing — disguised as “economic depression” — architecture was only bad form of surface decoration: landlord bait for tenants. If the profession of architecture has any future it must get the building more directly and sensibly out of nature for the native.

3. Nor do I see any possibility of any return to the abnormality which has become normal, without some serious recognition of such organic integrity as a matter of means as well as an end to be achieved. Capitalistic centralization was content to employ the makeshift. Its economic structure was a makeshift. Its buildings were makeshifts. Its social life was an economic anxiety to makeshift. And finally its devotion to the makeshift is sterilizing all human creative power. There is left but ingenuity and scientific research.

4. I view the U.S.S.R. as a heroic endeavor to establish more genuine human values in a social state than any existing before. Its heroism and devotion move me deeply and with great hope. But I fear that machine worship to defeat capitalism may become inverted capitalism in Russia itself and so prostitute the man to the machine. Because the heart beats of the human soul are not like the ticking of a watch creative art is essential in any up-building of any social order worthy to be called organic and to endure. Individuality is a precious asset of the human race where it rests upon a common basis fair to all and should be rewarded according to its just value. This just reward is no less the problem of Russia now than of every other sincere attempt to enable all to rule and be ruled by their own bravest and their own best.

Yours sincerely,

Frank Lloyd Wright

7 thoughts on “Frank Lloyd Wright’s unabashedly pro-Soviet sentiments during the 1930s

  1. Pingback: “The Graveyard of Utopia: Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of the International Avant-Garde” (Roughly the First Half) « The Charnel-House

  2. Pingback: The Graveyard of Utopia: Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of the International Avant-Garde « The Charnel-House

  3. Very well researched. I have been writing an ongoing series about Wright on my blog and this provides an excellent insight into his quasi socialist- democratic ideology. I look forward to reading your other entries.

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  7. Pingback: The Wright Women: “Loving Frank”, an Architect of Modernity – TheTollOnline.com

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