Soviet-era erotic alphabet book from 1931 [Советская эротическая азбука 1931 года]

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Image: This threesome brought
to you by the letter «А» (1931)

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UPDATE: Apparently it was Giuliano Vivaldi behind the whole rumor that this collection was intended to “combat adult illiteracy,” as I put it here. He wrote: “I copied this from someone’s wall and added with a few exclamation marks that it was part of Stalin’s fight against illiteracy (joke intended). Since then my joke was cited as fact and traveled the internet.”

Consider me trolled! Still prefer to think of it having been conceived for that purpose.

Reproduced here are a bunch of scans from a fascinating erotic alphabet book printed in the Soviet Union circa 1931, made to combat adult illiteracy. By the sculptor and future People’s Artist of the USSR Sergei Merkurov [Сергей Меркуров], no less. For those of you who enjoyed my previous post on classic Soviet board-games from the 1920s, this should be right up your alley.

Ц, Ш

Ц, Ш

As my friend Jasmine Curcio points out, these images draw upon clear precedents in the phallic imagery of ancient Roman art. Throughout the ABC book one can find images of horny satyrs, indecent cupids, and flying disembodied cocks. Given Merkurov’s own fascination with ancient Greek and Roman art, this is hardly surprising. No doubt, all of these precedents were consciously invoked. Though it is admittedly somewhat interesting to see various dirty motifs cribbed from the style of Roman antiquity deployed for the purposes of a Soviet literacy campaign, which was itself such a distinctly modernizing project.

This should stand as definite challenge the false notion that the Soviet Union suppressed its citizens’ sexual desires, or was in the least conservative when it came to such matters. At least, not until Stalin achieved full control and instituted conservative policies. And, ironically, illustrated by the same man who’d later be commissioned by the Soviet government to sculpt a number of famous monuments to Stalin.

Ф, Ь

Ф, Ь

My friend Anna Khachiyan‘s reaction is worthy of inclusion here:

Thanks for sharing this — it is fantastic! All my years of tumblr trolling, and I’ve never seen anything nearly as good. And so artfully done, too. Alas, if only they had this much sex in real life.

But I must ask: What ever happened to the letter «Ж» in these drawings? This would be a difficult letter to navigate, sexually, but imagine the erotic possibilities!

Anyway, without further delay, some acknowledgments:

All of these great images are reposted from the brilliant Russian Livejournal account Isle of Crimea [Остров Крым]. I’d also like to thank Arya Moghadam for first bringing them to my attention. Credit is also due to Agata Pyzik, who first discovered them for the Anglophone world.

Needless to say, these are not safe for work. Enjoy. Continue reading

Il'ia Chashnik, Kosmos (1925)

Studies on hysterical materialism

Three essays

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Image: Il’ia Chashnik,
Kosmos (1925)

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A brief overview of the recent series on hysterical materialism: its etiology, pathology, symptomology. Needless to say, these three studies represent a major contribution to the field of medical Marxism, and should aid in the production of new vaccines, remedies, and prophylactic techniques for the treatment (and prevention) of materialist hysteria.

Also, note well:

Masturbation is to eros what suicide is to thanatos.

Enjoy. Continue reading

Klutsis, Composition 1921

Hysterical materialism

An historical diagnosis

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Image: Gustav Klutsis,
Composition (1921)

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“Historical materialism,” Franz Mehring once wrote, popularizing the phrase, “approaches every section of history without any preconceptions.”

Hysterical materialism — it might be said, phrasing things quite oppositely — approaches any supposed “sectarian” with every preconception.

In explicating the former, historical materialism, Mehring was simply making public something that his friend and comrade Friedrich Engels had already communicated to him in private. The term, abbreviated “histomat” (after «истмат», a good Soviet portmanteau), referred to a general outlook and a methodology for interpreting social reality. Quite fittingly, Mehring sought to explain historical materialism’s emergence in the second half of the nineteenth century by applying the historical materialist method reflexively to itself. Continue reading

Plaksin, A Spectrum of Glass (1920)

Hysteria in Historical Materialism

A labile disorder (1995-2013)

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Image: Plaksin, A Spectrum of Glass (1920)
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Though one might point to any number of possible precursors, the advent of hysterical materialism proper only occurred with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. From this point forward, the phenomenon began to spread in earnest. Many factors contributed to its rise, overdetermining its eventuality, but at an etiological level the most approximate cause of hysterical materialism was the historic death of the Left in this moment. The Left had already by then been limping along for several decades, especially after “the century of Marxism” drew to a close around 1973. But the final breakup of the Bolshevik experiment brought an end to an age; the trauma of this loss proved too much  for some to handle. History having now ceased to take place, material reality itself became hysterical.

We thus at last come to hysterical materialism, and begin with a concrete case. Barely a century after historical materialism was first proclaimed, and only a few years after its seeming defeat, the germs of this new dementia found their way into a fledgling journal project dedicated to the doctrine’s renewal. As if History were playing a practical joke, the name of the journal where “materialist” hysteria became most firmly entrenched was none other than Historical Materialism. Over time some of its most notable editors and event planners came to be afflicted by this terrible illness, and to this day continue in its throes. To be sure, the vast majority of its contributors and fellow-travelers remain untouched by hysterical materialism, with outbreaks of so-called “mass hysteria” appearing far less frequently than its individual manifestations.

1. MATERIALIST ⇆ HYSTERIA
2. MATERIALIST HYSTERIA
3. MATERIALYSTERIA Continue reading

Lenin for children

A picture gallery

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Image: Detail from poster encouraging literacy:
“Lenin is dead; Leninism lives”
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From Krupskaia’s Reminiscences of Lenin

Lenin’s solicitude for the children was strikingly manifested during the famine that prevailed in 1919. The food situation became critical in May. At the second meeting of the Economic Commissium Ilyich raised the question of rendering relief in kind to the children of the workers.

Towards the end of May 1919 the situation got worse. There were lots of grain, thousands of tons of it, in the Ukraine, the Caucasus and in the East, but the civil war had cut off all communications, the central industrial districts were starving. The Commissariat of Education was swamped with complaints about there being nothing to feed the children with.

Lenin and Children, Young Guard

Lenin and Children, Young Guard (1924)

On May 14, 1919, the army of the North-Western Government launched an offensive against Petrograd. On May 15 General Rodzyaako had taken Gdov, the Estonian and Finnish White Guard troops started to advance, and fighting began at Koporskaya Bay. Ilyich was concerned about Petrograd. It was characteristic of him that at this very same time, on May 17, he put through a decree for children to be fed free of charge. This decree provided for the improvement of the food supply for children and the welfare of the working people, and ordered that such supplies should be issued free of charge to all children up to 14 irrespective of their parents’ ration class. The decree applied to the large industrial centres of sixteen non-agricultural gubernias. Continue reading

Disclaimer

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Image: Grigorii Zinov’ev in 1936,
mugshot taken after his confession
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Just to clear up some recent confusion surrounding my blog, responsibility for the views contained therein, and so on. Some reconsideration and reevaluation of formerly-held opinions — some good old-fashioned самокритика — may well be in order.

The opinions expressed on my blog are mine alone, unless otherwise indicated. (I have occasionally reposted articles and interviews from various other sources). In any case, they do not necessarily reflect the views of any other group or organization. No one else is responsible for them.

Moreover, having maintained this blog for several years now, some of the positions taken in pieces I’ve posted in the past may no longer even reflect my current opinion on a given issue. This doesn’t exonerate me for having written them, of course, but hopefully it will alert the reader to the relative fluidity of my perspective over time.

All of this being said, however, any comments, questions, and criticisms would be welcomed.

Family collectives and comradely communes: Three color illustrations from Modern Architecture (1930)

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IMAGE: Poster advertising the first exhibition
of the Soviet magazine Modern Architecture

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The following are extremely rare color prints from the legendary Soviet avant-garde architectural publication Modern Architecture [Современная архитектура], depicting communes for comrades [товарищеский коммуны] and collective housing units for families [семейные коллективы].

Incidentally, this would be the last issue of the journal before changing its name to Soviet Architecture [Советская архитектура] at the beginning of 1931.

Communal dwelling for comrades [товарищеская коммуна] № 17, Modern Architecture (1930)

Communal dwelling for comrades [товарищеская коммуна] № 17, Modern Architecture (1930)

While its covers often featured bold color schemes, the illustrations on the pages in between were nearly always black-and-white. This was so even with an issue entirely devoted to color and light in architecture, which included detailed graphs and optical charts measuring and explaining color spectra, but no color pieces. Continue reading

Color photo of Trotsky (1940)

No “true” Trots, man

A response to Corey Ansel
on “authentic” Marxism

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IMAGE: Color photo of Leon Trotsky (1940)
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While I’m sympathetic to many of Corey Ansel’s criticisms of both the crisis-ridden Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and their recently-disaffected cadre, I am only sympathetic up to a point. The same goes for an earlier piece in which he sought to combat the various “neo-Kautskyite” critiques that have been leveled at the SWP’s brand of “Leninism” by figures such as Pham Binh, Louis Proyect, and members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) like Ben Lewis, all of whom draw inspiration from Lars Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done? in Context. While Lih’s study provides an important corrective to readings that anachronistically project Lenin’s later disgust with Kautsky back onto their relationship prior to August 1914, something Trotsky himself pointed out in his short rebuttal “Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg” (1932),  the fact remains that Lenin sided on numerous occasions with Luxemburg against Kautsky and Trotsky against the Old Bolsheviks after this point.

Certainly Lenin and Trotsky — and yes, even Lenin-ism and Trotsky-ism — deserve to be saved from those who shamelessly vulgarize them, as well as from those who think they have discredited these figures or traditions by defeating such mere caricatures. But the truth of the matter is that no one can really be a “Leninist” today apart from the most general attention to discipline, organization, and more or less democratic or centralized elements. Lenin spoke about politics as something that could only meaningfully occur when the masses began being counted in millions, when space and time were measured in continents and epochs. In this sense, no one on the Left can be “political” today, if for no other reason that no workers movement exists on such a scale. Still less can one be a “Trotskyist,” especially as Trotskyism itself was only formed as a coherent body of doctrines subsequent to Trotsky’s exile, from the outside looking in. (In this sense the foundation of the Fourth International was in itself an admission of defeat, at least in terms of Trotsky’s former strategy of saving the Third International through the Left Opposition. This remains so even if its motives were noble). Continue reading

Rembrandt's De anatomische les van Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1631)

“Seymour and Co.: The Fools on the Hill,” by Corey Ansel

The SWP opposition:
Providing a failed
post-mortem analysis

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IMAGE: Rembrandt’s De anatomische
les van Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1631)
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Written by Corey Ansel, and originally posted at The Chair Leg of Truth, The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernityand The North-Star. While I am sympathetic to many of the arguments Corey makes here, and believe I understand his reasons for making them, I nevertheless remain somewhat skeptical of what I feel are some erroneous conclusions one might draw from his polemic/critique. These I will post in the next few days.

Hardly anyone on the left can claim to have been untouched by the crisis within the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP).  Initially stemming from rape allegations against leading SWP member Martin Smith (now notoriously known as “Comrade Delta”), the crisis has managed to utterly discredit the organization in the face of the revolutionary left, as well as onlookers seeking ammunition to use against the workers’ movement. A special conference was held on March 10 to discuss the issues of democratic centralism, Leninism and other questions regarding the party question. But it isn’t the circus inside the SWP that is worth the attention of revolutionaries.

Enter Richard Seymour. A long-time activist within the SWP, writer and primary figurehead of the opposition against the internal bureaucracy within the SWP, Seymour has been scapegoated by top bureaucrats such as Alex Callinicos for jumpstarting a blog titled ‘International Socialism’ for those interested in discussing the crisis outside of party channels. It has long been known that the Cliffite tradition has nothing in common with Leninist theory, let alone the democratic centralist method of building a revolutionary party. Although Seymour and many of his co-thinkers resigned from the organization after the conference, aren’t there more pressing questions to be answered? Continue reading

Toussaint_Louverture_par_Montfayon

Pam Nogales, “Book review: Universal Emancipation, by Nick Nesbitt”

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IMAGE: A Romantic portrayal of Haitian
revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture
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Originally posted on Eleutheromania.  Though I’ve not read the book, Pam’s review gives me the distinct impression that Nesbitt is working within a Deleuzean frame, with a strong emphasis on “singularity” cribbed from Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza.  Thus, the notion of “radical enlightenment” adopted from Jonathan Israel’s well-known book championing Spinoza is shot through with a distinct Deleuzeanism.  Such are its theoretical underpinnings, anyway, for what it’s worth.

Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment. By Nick Nesbitt. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 2008. Pp. viii, 261.

“The radical transformation of France after 1789 did not determine the appearance of the Haitian Revolution; instead, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was a key element in creating what David Scott has called the ‘conditions of possibility,’ the ontological ground that allowed for a local rebellion’s increasing articulation in terms of universal human rights.” (Nesbitt, 62)

Similar to historian Jeremy Popkin, although with a radically different conclusion, Nick Nesbitt also grapples with the question of whether or not the Revolution in Saint-Domingue was “ideologically predetermined” by the radical ideas of the French Revolution (Nesbitt, 128). While Popkin’s exposition argues that the Revolution was caused by a set of intricate contingencies and the blunders of human reason, Nesbitt’s argument prioritizes the legacy of the Enlightenment tradition as the grounds of possibility for the Revolution in Saint-Domingue. But this is only one side of the argument and it comes after an important clarification: Nesbitt challenges the understanding of the Enlightenment as a homogenous development, located in Europe and “accessible” only to privileged subjects. He argues that this perspective not only obfuscates the conditions under which the Revolution took place but blocks recognition of a critical contribution to the discourse of human rights.[1] By way of its “singularity,” writes Nesbitt, the slaves in Saint-Domingue went beyond the limitations of bourgeois revolutions but in order to learn from this historical rupture, we must recover the link between the Revolution and the tradition of Radical Enlightenment thought. Continue reading