Copyright controversy over Marx & Engels’ Collected Works

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The following is a petition that recently appeared over at www.change.org, imploring the book publisher Lawrence & Wishart [L&W] to withdraw its demand that the Marxist Internet Archive [MIA] take down its transcriptions of Marx & Engels ‘Collected Works [MECW]. Like most of the petitions begun on that website, it will almost surely prove ineffectual. Nevertheless, it’s now reposted here for largely symbolic reasons.

I will say in passing, however, that I on’t begrudge L&W the decision to invoke copyright on the MECW, at least not any more than I begrudge any book company to do so. MECW is L&W’s rightful property — that is, property according to bourgeois right. So they are fully justified — from a legal standpoint, anyway — to insist that it be respected. They’re no worse than, say, the “counterhegemonic apparatus” of Verso, New Left Review, and Historical Materialism. Anyone who loudly protests L&W’s invocation of copyright while defending the copyright of his or her own publishing house just as loudly are total hypocrites for protesting L&W’s decision. Especially since the MECW alone is more worth reading than the vast majority of shit, most of it tedious exegesis, that they put out.

However, all things told, it’s pretty pointless to try and enforce this and will doubtless inspire a backlash. Below the petition are some links to a website where someone (I don’t know who it is) has apparently uploaded printers’ PDFs of the first 23 volumes of the MECW. Didn’t even know they existed before someone alerted me to it. And don’t know if any more are set to become available, so don’t ask. In a way, though, they’re preferable to the MIA versions, since they’re proofed and formatted. Not just for citation purposes, either, but because the MECW on MIA was incomplete and often contained clerical transcription errors.

Petition to allow Marx & Engels’ Collected Works to remain in the public domain

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We are very grateful for the work you have done, along with International Publishers and Progress Publishers, translating into English and publishing the MECW [Marx & Engels Collected Works]. This is an extremely valuable contribution to the workers movement and Marxist scholarship not only in the English-speaking world, but internationally.

MIA [Marxist Internet Archive] has made these works available for free on the web to an even wider public, and they have now become an essential tool for thousands of Marxist scholars and activists around the world.

We fully appreciate the efforts and difficulties that running a small independent publishing house entails. But allowing free access to the MECW on the MIA website does not hinder sales. On the contrary, the publicity it provides increases them, and we would support any attempt to further improve this aspect.

But over and above any commercial considerations, there is a crucial matter of principle at play here. Having been available freely online for ten years, the MECW have become an essential part of the shared knowledge and resources of the international workers’ movement. We cannot take a step backward.

This decision would only damage Lawrence and Wishart’s reputation without bringing any significant economic advantage.

That’s why we call upon you to reconsider this decision and reach an accommodation which keeps these essential resources in the public domain, where they belong.

PDFs of Marx & Engels’ Collected Works

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Note:
I’m not hosting any of this content, and don’t know who is.

  1. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 1
  2. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 2
  3. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 3
  4. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 4
  5. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 5
  6. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 6
  7. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 7
  8. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 8
  9. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 9
  10. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 10
  11. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 11
  12. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 12
  13. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 13
  14. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 14
  15. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 15
  16. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 16
  17. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 17
  18. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 18
  19. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 19
  20. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 20
  21. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 21
  22. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 22
  23. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 23
  24. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 24
  25. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 25
  26. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 26
  27. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 27
  28. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 28
  29. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 29
  30. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 30
  31. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 31
  32. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 32
  33. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 33
  34. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 34
  35. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 35
  36. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 36
  37. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 37
  38. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 38
  39. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 39
  40. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 40
  41. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 41
  42. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 42
  43. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 43
  44. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 44
  45. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 45
  46. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 46
  47. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 47
  48. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 48
  49. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 49

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Finally, here is a word from Sebastian Budgen on this. Of course he’s lamely trying to counterbalance his own (very public) condemnation of those who violate copyright for books that he helps put out with the popular public outrage over Lawrence & Wishart demanding the same. He doesn’t fault them in terms of the principle of the matter — nor do I — as I assume he fundamentally agrees with them. Rather, he questions the viability of the demand that the public respect its copyright claim. I agree with him here, but have no clue why he doesn’t apply the same logic to himself.

Sebastian Budgen from Historical Materialism lamely hedges his bets over Lawrence and Wishart

Also, hats off to Doug Henwood for the following hilarious troll. I may have been unfair in characterizing his political stance on electoralism in a previous post; hopefully this maybe forgiven.

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 3.46.50 PM

Radical ideologies today: Marxism and anarchism

Christoph LichtenbergEva Curry
Alex KhasnabishChris Parsons


This spring, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a series panels on “Radical ideologies today: Marxism and anarchism” in New York, Frankfurt, Halifax, Thessaloniki, and Chicago. The panel description reads: “It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Marxism and anarchism. They emerged out of the same crucible — the Industrial Revolution, the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage, and all significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. In this respect, our moment seems no different.

There are a few different ways these ideologies have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: a version of Marxist theory — understood as a political-economic critique of capitalism — is used to comprehend the world, while anarchist practice — understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now — is used to organize, in order to change it. Some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism rejects anti-statist adventurism, and call for a strategic reorganization of the working class to resist austerity, and perhaps push forward a “New New Deal”. This view remains wedded to a supposedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand waving in both these orientations with regard to politics, tactics, and the end goal. Finally, there have been attempts to leave the grounds of these theories entirely — but these often seem either to land right back in one of the camps or to remain marginal.

To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these ideas must be unfurled if they are to serve as compass points. In what ways does the return of these ideologies represent an authentic engagement and in what ways the return of a ghost? Where have the battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting, theoretically and practically, the problems of our present?”

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation that PAS-Halifax hosted on February 1, 2014, at University of King’s College. The speakers participating in Halifax included Christoph Lichtenberg, Alex Khasnabish, Chris Parsons, and Eva Curry. A full recording of each of the events held in this series can be found online.

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Christoph Lichtenberg: When I think of Marxism and anarchism, I think of two tendencies within the workers’ movement, both of which see themselves as revolutionary, as opposed to the tendency that is known as Social Democracy, which would work through reforms. I think of Marxism as interchangeable with Leninism or Trotsykism. I do not associate it with Maoism or Stalinism. I think of anarchism in its best representation as exemplified by people like Bakunin, Kropotkin, or anacho-syndicalism. There are some commonalities between the two tendencies. I just want to highlight three of them: I think Marxism and anarchism agree on the need for the liberation of humanity through the destruction of capitalism. I also think that we agree on the fact that there is a class struggle going on between the exploiters and the exploited. And finally, I think we agree on the need to destroy the existing, oppressive, capitalist state structure. What happens after that is where we diverge.

The conflict really began with the creation of the alliance with Social Democracy by Bakunin and his followers, and what it meant is that they maintained a somewhat secret organization within the First International and started to publish articles that were critical of Marx. There was a lot of going back and forth over organizational matters, but, as with every organizational dispute, at the heart of it is really politics. The difference in politics between Marxists and anarchists really came to the fore at the 1872 Congress of the First International in The Hague, when there was a big debate between the Bakunin faction and the Marx followers about the role of the state in the transformation towards socialism. The Marxists argued that there was a role of the state in the transformation towards of socialism while followers of Bakunin insisted that the state should immediately be replaced by self-governing workplaces and communes. The Bakunin faction lost that debate and were expelled from the First International for maintaining their secret organization.

Bakunin

Around 1880, Kropotkin and other Russian revolutionaries announced the need for a permanent revolt through word, gun, and dynamite. This set the anarchists, particularly in Russia, on the course of anarchist terrorism, which removed them from the masses and isolated them.

The October Revolution in 1917 is the key event to understanding revolution. The Second International collapsed in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War because the different sections of the International ended up supporting their own governments’ war efforts. So rather than being internationalists, they sided with their own national governments, which Lenin, the Russian revolutionary who led the Bolsheviks, identified as a complete betrayal of the spirit of socialism. The main thing he learned from the collapse of the Second International was the need for revolutionaries to set up a separate organization from the reformists — the need for a vanguard party.

Continue reading

Krugman on Piketty: From one celebrity neo-Keynesian to another

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Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times on the buzz around Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Believe the hype, he advises, but the French economist is certainly no Marxist. The celebrated columnist documents some of the more extreme reactions the book has elicited from Republicans and right-wingers, which he calls “the Piketty panic”:

[C]onservatives are terrified…James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute warns in National Review that Mr. Piketty’s work must be refuted, because otherwise it “will spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged”…it has been amazing to watch conservatives, one after another, denounce Mr. Piketty as a Marxist. Even Mr. Pethokoukis, who is more sophisticated than the rest, calls Capital a work of “soft Marxism,” which only makes sense if the mere mention of unequal wealth makes you a Marxist.

It is to Krugman’s credit that he can see through the hysterical right-wing denunciations of Piketty as a “Marxist” or “collectivist,” however. That’s something that can’t really be said for the book’s various “Marxian” admirers. Many on the Left tend to believe the Right’s paranoid rhetoric about fairly anodyne liberalism: if conservatives decry Keynesianism or political correctness as “Marxist” (i.e., economic  or cultural), then it must be!

Yeah, not really. Continue reading

Birthday > Earth Day: Happy 144th, Vladimir Il’ich!

Never thought of it before, but Maiakovskii’s tripled refrain

Ленин ⎯ жил,
Ленин ⎯ жив,
Ленин ⎯ будет жить!

…in his poem Lenin, seems to echo Rosa Luxemburg‘s final written words in “Order Reigns in Berlin”:

Ich war,
Ich bin,
Ich werde sein!

Vladimir Lenin, born 144 years ago today. Some rare and not-so-rare posters of Lenin appear below. Click to enlarge.

Nikolai Akimov - Lenin. For every 10,000 enemies we will raise millions of new fighters, 1925  Continue reading

Real abstraction: On the use and abuse of an idea

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The Marxi­an no­tion of “real ab­strac­tion” has garnered a great deal of at­ten­tion in left­ist the­or­et­ic­al circles of late, with some­what mixed res­ults. It was first for­mu­lated and treated sys­tem­at­ic­ally by Al­fred Sohn-Reth­el, an eco­nom­ist as­so­ci­ated with the Frank­furt School of so­cial the­ory. Helmut Reichelt has poin­ted out, however, that the term was used pri­or in a couple in­stances by the Ger­man so­ci­olo­gist Georg Sim­mel (Reichelt, “Marx’s Cri­tique of Eco­nom­ic Cat­egor­ies,” pg. 4). Not­ably, Sim­mel’s us­age oc­curs in con­nec­tion with the “ab­stract value” rep­res­en­ted and meas­ured by money, as that which con­verts qual­it­at­ively in­com­men­sur­able items in­to quant­it­at­ively com­men­sur­able com­mod­it­ies. He writes that “not only the study of the eco­nomy [eco­nom­ics] but the eco­nomy it­self is con­sti­tuted by a real ab­strac­tion from the com­pre­hens­ive real­ity of valu­ations” (Sim­mel, The Philo­sophy of Money, pg. 78).

With Sohn-Reth­el, the ex­pos­i­tion of the concept is much more thor­oughgo­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the defin­i­tion he provides in In­tel­lec­tu­al and Manu­al Labor (1970), “real ab­strac­tion” refers solely to the so­cial re­la­tion­ship of com­mod­ity ex­change, or rather to their ex­change­ab­il­ity as such. The ex­change of com­mod­it­ies, and the ab­stract equi­val­ence on which it is based, does not simply take place with­in the minds of those ex­chan­ging them. It oc­curs at the level of real­ity. Sohn-Reth­el as­serts that “real ab­strac­tion arises in ex­change from the re­cip­roc­al re­la­tion­ship between two com­mod­ity-own­ers and it ap­plies only to this in­ter­re­la­tion­ship” (Sohn-Reth­el, In­tel­lec­tu­al and Manu­al Labor, pg. 69).

Reichelt and oth­ers have noted the im­port­ance of the way this was framed by the crit­ic­al the­or­ist Theodor Ad­orno, one of Sohn-Reth­el’s close friends and cor­res­pond­ents. He re­spon­ded to charges of an overly “ab­stract” con­cep­tu­al­iz­a­tion of so­ci­ety by main­tain­ing that this ab­stract­ness was not in­ven­ted by so­ci­olo­gists, but rather be­longs to the very con­sti­tu­tion of so­cial real­ity. Ad­orno ex­plained:

The ab­strac­tion we are con­cerned with is not one that first came in­to be­ing in the head of a so­ci­olo­gic­al the­or­eti­cian who then offered the some­what flimsy defin­i­tion of so­ci­ety which states that everything relates to everything else. The ab­strac­tion in ques­tion here is really the spe­cif­ic form of the ex­change pro­cess it­self, the un­der­ly­ing so­cial fact through which so­cial­iz­a­tion first comes about. If you want to ex­change two ob­jects and — as is im­plied by the concept of ex­change — if you want to ex­change them in terms of equi­val­ents, and if neither party is to re­ceive more than the oth­er, then the parties must leave aside a cer­tain as­pect of the com­mod­it­ies… In de­veloped so­ci­et­ies… ex­change takes place… through money as the equi­val­ent form. Clas­sic­al [bour­geois] polit­ic­al eco­nomy demon­strated, as did Marx in his turn, that the true unit which stands be­hind money as the equi­val­ent form is the av­er­age ne­ces­sary amount of so­cial labor time, which is mod­i­fied, of course, in keep­ing with the spe­cif­ic so­cial re­la­tion­ships gov­ern­ing the ex­change. In this ex­change in terms of av­er­age so­cial labor time the spe­cif­ic forms of the ob­jects to be ex­changed are ne­ces­sar­ily dis­reg­arded in­stead, they are re­duced to a uni­ver­sal unit. The ab­strac­tion, there­fore, lies not in the thought of the so­ci­olo­gist, but in so­ci­ety it­self. (In­tro­duc­tion to So­ci­ology, pgs. 31-32)

Real ab­strac­tion does not refer to ideo­lo­gies that arise on the basis of ma­ter­i­al ex­change of goods, or the labor pro­cess that al­lows such ex­change in the first place. Of course, Sohn-Reth­el is in­ter­ested in ac­count­ing for “the con­ver­sion of the real ab­strac­tion of ex­change in­to the ideal ab­strac­tion of con­cep­tu­al thought” (Sohn-Reth­el, In­tel­lec­tu­al and Manu­al Labor, pg. 68). But this “con­cep­tu­al ab­strac­tion” or “ideal ab­strac­tion” is clearly de­riv­at­ive, a mir­ror­ing of the ab­strac­tion at work in real­ity it­self at the level of ideas.

For ex­ample, Sohn-Reth­el ex­plains the con­cepts of mod­ern nat­ur­al sci­ence as based upon ideal ab­strac­tions of meas­ur­ab­il­ity and quan­ti­fi­ab­il­ity ap­plied to nature, which them­selves de­rive rather from a so­ci­ety in which a premi­um is already placed upon the meas­ur­ab­il­ity and quan­ti­fi­ab­il­ity of labor. “While the con­cepts of nat­ur­al sci­ence are thought ab­strac­tions,” writes Sohn-Reth­el, “the eco­nom­ic concept of value is a real one” (Sohn-Reth­el, In­tel­lec­tu­al and Manu­al Labor, pg. 20). Even then, however, not every so­cial ideo­logy re­flects this spe­cif­ic real­ity. Nat­ur­al sci­ence is cer­tainly one of the spheres of thought that Sohn-Reth­el seeks to ex­plain with re­course to the real­ity of ab­strac­tion, con­sid­er­ing its fun­da­ment­al con­cepts to be ideal­iz­a­tions of this real­ity. Oth­er ideo­lo­gies cer­tainly can be traced to so­cial and ma­ter­i­al con­di­tions, but not ne­ces­sar­ily to the con­di­tion of real ab­strac­tion.
toscano_fanaticism
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Al­berto To­scano, a Marxi­an the­or­ist and trans­lat­or of Ba­di­ou, of­fers ex­haust­ive sum­mary of prom­in­ent Marx­ist ac­counts of ab­strac­tion in his art­icle “The Open Secret of Real Ab­strac­tion.” To­scano re­hearses these po­s­i­tions with his usu­al com­pet­ence, but his aims re­main purely ex­eget­ic­al. On the whole, he presents a fairly ser­vice­able ac­count. In his own the­or­et­ic­al work, however, To­scano’s de­ploy­ment of the concept of real ab­strac­tion is rather curi­ous. He in­vokes the concept in his study of Fan­at­icism: On the Uses of an Idea, look­ing to un­der­stand “re­li­gion [it­self] as a real ab­strac­tion” (To­scano, Fan­at­icism, pg. 186). Clearly, if one is op­er­at­ing un­der the defin­i­tion of “real ab­strac­tion” offered above, re­li­gion can­not be con­sidered a real ab­strac­tion since this refers only to ex­change.Some­times To­scano comes a bit closer to the mark, as in his passing re­marks re­gard­ing “Marx’s meth­od­o­lo­gic­al re­volu­tion, his for­mu­la­tion of a his­tor­ic­al-ma­ter­i­al­ist study of so­cial, cul­tur­al, and intellectu­al ab­strac­tions [cor­rect] on the basis of the real ab­strac­tions of the value-form, money, and ab­stract labor” (To­scano, Fan­at­icism, pg. 190). Here the real ab­strac­tion be­longs to ex­change value, money, and ab­stract labor, and not to their ideal re­flec­tions in ideo­logy. But just a few pages pri­or, To­scano states that

Wheth­er we are deal­ing with money or with re­li­gion, the cru­cial er­ror is to treat real ab­strac­tions as mere “ar­bit­rary products” of hu­man re­flec­tion. This was the kind of ex­plan­a­tion fa­vored by the eight­eenth cen­tury: in this way the En­light­en­ment en­deavored…to re­move the ap­pear­ance of strange­ness from the mys­ter­i­ous shapes as­sumed by hu­man re­la­tions whose ori­gins they were un­able to de­cipher.” The strange­ness of re­li­gion can­not be dis­pelled by ascrib­ing it to cler­ic­al con­spir­acies or psy­cho­lo­gic­al de­lu­sions, to be cured through mere ped­agogy. (To­scano, Fan­at­icism, pg. 184)

Go­ing from this, it ap­pears that To­scano groups re­li­gion to­geth­er with money as a form of “real ab­strac­tion.” Money ex­presses real ab­strac­tion in a ma­ter­i­al man­ner by meas­ur­ing the value con­tained in com­mod­it­ies, but re­li­gion does noth­ing re­motely of the sort. To be sure, To­scano is right to in­sist that re­li­gion is not an “ar­bit­rary product of hu­man re­flec­tion.” No ideo­logy is purely ar­bit­rary and ir­ra­tion­al, but is rather based in and ra­tion­ally ex­plic­able through ma­ter­i­al con­di­tions. In oth­er words, the ir­ra­tion­al­ity of re­li­gion is of an ob­ject­ive sort, rooted in ma­ter­i­al con­di­tions that can­not be ex­plained away as mere fantasy or su­per­sti­tion, but which must in­stead be re­vo­lu­tion­ized or ma­ter­i­ally rooted out. Nev­er­the­less, this does not mean that the so­ciohis­tor­ic­ basis on which an ideo­logy arises is ne­ces­sar­ily that of real ab­strac­tion.

This er­ror can be dis­pelled fairly simply, for­tu­nately. Since “real ab­strac­tion” refers ex­clus­ively to the ob­ject­ive real­ity of com­mod­ity ex­change, one can only really speak of ideo­lo­gic­al re­flec­tions of real ab­strac­tion wherever com­mod­ity ex­change has gen­er­ally taken hold. Ideal or con­cep­tu­al ab­strac­tions based on real ab­strac­tion prop­erly ex­ist only in so­ci­et­ies dom­in­ated by the re­la­tion of ex­change. Most will agree that cap­it­al­ism is a re­l­at­ively re­cent phe­nomen­on, dat­ing back only a few cen­tur­ies as a truly glob­al (or glob­al­iz­ing) mode of pro­duc­tion. Re­li­gion, by con­trast, has ex­is­ted for mil­len­nia, since the dawn of hu­man his­tory at least. How could re­li­gion be an ideal­iz­a­tion of real ab­strac­tion, much less a form of real ab­strac­tion it­self, in so­ci­et­ies where com­mod­ity ex­change was not a per­vas­ive real­ity? To­scano’s ac­count of re­li­gion as a “real ab­strac­tion” be­comes in­co­her­ent as soon as one con­cedes these facts.

Per­haps there is some much more ex­pans­ive no­tion of “real ab­strac­tion” de­veloped by Finelli or the oth­er the­or­ists To­scano leans on in Fan­at­icism. But if Sohn-Reth­el’s con­cep­tion is the one he’s work­ing from, his ar­gu­ment doesn’t really work.

The metropolis, money, and abstraction

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What follows is an extract, some preliminary research, from an essay I’m working on with Sammy Medina. It’s in very rough form, and over-footnoted. Much of it will have to be cut. But I still felt like I had to go through everything step by step to make sure that each stage of the argument holds up. Once that’s done I’m hoping I’ll find shortcuts for how to say it with greater brevity.

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The modern metropolis, both in its historical origins and present-day existence, is the site of capitalist accumulation par excellence. As the German sociologist Georg Simmel put it in his celebrated 1903 essay, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” “[t]he metropolis has always been the seat of the money economy.”1 Money played a vital role, after all, in shifting the political center of gravity away from the countryside toward the city. Despite the numerous titles and privileges enjoyed by clergymen and noblemen, the townsmen had one mighty weapon in their struggle against feudalism: money.2 By removing the primacy of land tenure (i.e., the manorial system of fiefs and hereditary estates), it eroded the basis of traditional bonds of dependence. “Long before the ramparts of the old baronial castles were breached by the new artillery, they had already been undermined by money,” wrote Friedrich Engels in 1884. “In fact, gunpowder could be described as an executor of the judgment rendered by money.”3

With the increased availability of minted coins in Europe — starting in the twelfth century with the discovery of silver deposits in Thuringia,4 but especially following the influx of precious metals from the New World after 14935 — commodity circulation took place on an expanded scale.6 For merchants and moneylenders living in the cities, the pervasiveness of pecuniary transactions allowed them to leverage their position at the crucible of exchange against the landed aristocracy in the surrounding territories.7 The feudal lords relied on the towns both for their finished wares as well as the occasional loan, and thus fell prey to price gouging and crippling debt. Hard currency thereby helped bring about the decline of feudalism alongside the rise of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Cities today invariably reflect this influence. Not simply owing to their past function as the breeding-ground of modern capitalism, but because of their ongoing inundation by the money form of capital as well. Practically every facet of urban life is organized according to synchronized rhythms of exchange.8 Here money acts as a sort of perpetuum mobile, facilitating the circulation of commodities throughout the city and its environs.9 At the same time, however, it accelerates the tempo of daily interactions, since “a change in monetary circumstances brings about a change in the pace of life,” as Simmel observed.10 Whether a town was from the outset a center of trade or a seedbed of industry,11 money eventually permeates its entire infrastructure. Replacing medieval relations rooted in so-called “natural economy,”12 it soon becomes integral to the comings and goings of the whole populace.13

The move away from economies based on barter and the gift, where precise equivalence of exchange is either impossible or besides the point, toward economies based on money and credit acquires an almost world-historical significance in this light.14 Indeed, it is difficult to exaggerate the unique character of a money economy. Continue reading

Mikhail Barshch’s housing-communes in Moscow 1928-1930

Karel Teige
The Minimum
Dwelling
(1931)

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Currently, the functions and dimensions of the jačejka as a new housing type are widely discussed in the USSR under the heading of the obshchezhitie [collective living] versus the dom-komuna. The collective house is seen as a kind of interim solution, designed to accomplish the transition from the rental barracks type to a higher mode of dwelling. These collective houses are intended to provide accommodations for more than one person, and sometimes even families share a single room. The apartments have no kitchens, which are provided separately and shared by a number of living units. In some cases public dining halls are provided instead. The dom-komuna represents a more authentic solution for collective living: it is a house designed for a large number of inhabitants — a big structure, without kitchens, but containing common children’s homes, clubs, and so on. An all-out collectivization of dwelling services implies that it is possible to develop two types of houses: the dwelling beehive or the dwelling combine.

One of the foremost advocates of the dom-komuna [i.e., dwelling combine] idea is [Leonid] Sabsovich, the author of the book The USSR in Fifteen Years [1929], where he proposes a much more developed version than that exemplified by early Moscow dwelling communes. His mature dom-komuna envisions complexes for two to ten thousand inhabitants. Each commune is conceived as a distinct community, a city, and includes meeting halls, a club, study rooms, a theater, movies, health care facilities, emergency rooms, exercise rooms, and so on. Other spaces are provided for the offices of the administration and the local soviet. Several of these dom-komuna can be combined to make up a residential city for adults. Children would be raised and educated outside of the city, in special school districts.

Sabsovich’s theories have been implemented to some degree in the well-known architectural project of a large dom-komuna by Mikhail Barshch and Vladimir Vladimirov, members of the Construction Committee of the Economic Soviet (Stroikom), with the difference that in this project the children’s home and the schools are included as an integral part of the complex, in order to prevent the segregation of children’s life away from adult life in special districts. It is a self-contained community, an independent dwelling complex and a new urban type, designed as a unified architectural structure serving both individual and collective life. Its design and built form reflect the organization of collective life. It succeeds in fusing into a unified whole a whole series of heterogeneous elements. According to Sabsovich, the fundamental question facing the new type of socialist housing is to define the center of gravity of the dwelling combine: is it represented by the common spaces or by the complex of individual rooms? In his opinion, there is no doubt that the center of gravity of any socialist dwelling should be the collective, social spaces. And, since it is imperative to build at the lowest possible cost and save space, he defends the position that unavoidably the individual dwelling cells must be kept as modest as possible, rather than skimping on collective spaces, where it is essential to nurture the new lifestyle. For the collective spaces, he establishes a minimum of three square meters per inhabitant (but never less than one square meter). Sabsovich assumes that the majority of the inhabitants will spend most of their free time in the collective spaces for recreation, lectures, study, physical culture, and similar activities, while they will use their individual cells only for sleep and possibly individual rest — in short, when biological needs make isolation from the collective necessary. On these assumptions, it should be possible to reduce the individual cell to a mere sleeping cubicle of minimal dimensions, with an approximate floor area of four to five square meters. The opponents of Sabsovich’s theory claim that such housing communes change communism into communalism and that it is neither advisable nor possible to bring together all private as well as collective living functions in a single building complex, even if loosely arranged. They argue that it would therefore be better to decentralize these functions and accommodate them in special buildings, which means that the ideal collective house should be conceived as a separate beehive, consisting solely of individual living cells. Continue reading

Avant-garde journal design: Building Moscow [Строительство Москвы], 1927-1931

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Below are some pretty stellar avant-garde journal designs by Gustav Klutsis, Vasilii Elkin, and El Lissitzky for the monthly architecture journal Building Moscow. It ran through the 1930s, but progressively became less and less modernist in terms of both form (layout, formatting) and content (projects, proposals) as time went on. Number eleven from the year 1928 shows Le Corbusier’s influential proposal for the Tsentrosoiuz, or central union administration building, in Moscow. Here he incorporated a number of elements from his League of Nations proposal, which had been rejected the previous year.

There’s also a note here that I’ve included from the fourth issue of  1929. Enjoy!

Журнал Строительство Москвы, несомненно, становится все более содержательным. Им интересуются уже не только специалисты-строители и архитектора, но и широкие круги рабочей общественности. В свете строительных задач Москвы — ответственность органа Моссовета все более увеличивается. Continue reading

Bauhaus master Walter Gropius’ submission to the Palace of the Soviets competition, 1931

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Just a few brief notes, since I’m presently occupied with other tasks and because I’ve dealt with this topic (however cursorily) elsewhere. Recently I stumbled upon a cache of outstanding images of Walter Gropius’ 1931 submission to the Palace of the Soviets competition in Moscow. The majority of these images are floor plans, numerous because of the complex multilevel structure Gropius envisioned. Many, however, are sketches — perspective and axonometric drawings — depicting the view of the Palace from the river as well as approaches to its various entrances. A few more show the building’s situation vis-à-vis the rest of the city, site plans and the like.

Some have noted the similarities between Gropius’ proposal for the Palace of the Soviets and his earlier experiments with the idea of “total theater” for Erwin Piscator. James Marston Fitch, for example, pointed out the continuities that exist between the designs Gropius made for Piscator up through a 1930 proposal for a theater in Kharkhiv, Ukraine, leading ultimately to his conception of the Palace of the Soviets (Fitch, Walter Gropius, pg. 22). Gropius had already designed a theater for Oskar Schlemmer at his Bauhaus building in Dessau.

Total theater.

Important differences may be mentioned as well, however. Certainly Gropius’ Palace of the Soviets project was conceived on a much grander scale, given the specifications and requirements outlined by the Bolshevik government. Predictably, this entailed shifting qualitative dynamics that couldn’t be solved merely by quantitative increase or multiplication. Acoustical studies thus form an integral part of Gropius’ argument for the viability of his building.

Obviously, as everyone knows, things didn’t turn out the way the modernists had expected in the USSR. Neoclassicism won out, much to the chagrin of Le Corbusier, Moisei Ginzburg, Hans Poelzig, Erich Mendelsohn, Hannes MeyerSigfried Giedion, and the rest. Many felt it was a repeat of the whole League of Nations debacle. Giedion even sent Stalin an angry collage in protest — a futile but rather entertaining gesture. Would’ve loved to have seen the befuddled look on Dzugashvilii’s face when he opened that letter.

You can enlarge any of these images by clicking on them and scrolling through the gallery I’ve compiled.

Sketches.

Continue reading