Adventures of the avant-garde
The Sphere and the
The attention with which figures such as [Siegfried] Kracauer, [Martin] Wagner, and [Bruno] Taut follow the realization of the Soviet First Five-Year Plan and May’s work in the USSR must, however, be considered in another light with respect to the observations made so far. In the Tagebuch of 25 July 1931, Wagner writes:
The irony of destiny: the same day in which more than a thousand city planners, after having witnessed for five days an autopsy of the cadaver of the European urban organism, agreed, in their final meeting, on their inability to do something, the municipal assessor of city planning, Ernst May, gave his report on Russian city planning before a circle of enthusiastic young architects and interested builders…The young instinctively feel that a new vitality is springing forth from Russia, that there new possibilities are maturing and will bear fruit, that there the creative joy of city planning, freed from all the obstacles of property and of private profit, can fully expand.
And Wagner concludes his hymn to realized socialism with an indicative expression, which puts in the forefront the “ethical” value of global planning: in the Soviet city, “there must be contained the greatest and noblest moments of a socialist Zeitgeist…as the Cathedral of the people.” The mythical “cathedral of socialism” makes its last appearance here. Wagner, like May, Hannes Meyer, Mart Stam, and Hans Schmidt, sees in the USSR of the Five-Year Plans the only possible checkpoint for the hypotheses of city planning put forward in Germany from 1924 on. In the experiment of global planning, the intellectuals of the Weimar Republic believe that they can recognize the “exact” arrangement of technical-operative work, denied them by a capitalist system in regression. But behind this widespread hymn to the oneness of the decision-making.
The dissolution of the “social pacts” on which the “contract democracy” of the Weimar Republic was based becomes evident in the course of the Brüning’s government by presidential degree and in particular after the breaking up of the Parliament of July 1930. In the face of this collapse of the compromises that had held together fragilely the heap of contradictions in which the Weimar culture had found its own spaces, the USSR of the First Five-Year Plan can be considered in a new light: no longer a place of collective catharsis, but rather the place where the State seems to assume the role assigned by [Rudolf] Hilferding and by the Congress of Kiel to the connection “political form/social organization of capital.” This role, note well, is still claimed in 1932 by the ADGB and the Afa-Bund, in the pamphlet Umbau der Wirtschaft, the last significant document of Weimar syndicalism.
In this light, May’s and his collaborators’ acceptance of the invitation of the Cekombank, Bruno Taut’s work in Russia, Martin Wagner’s exit from the SPD and his recognition of the USSR as the only subject capable of bringing to completion the political-disciplinary hypotheses thwarted by the crisis of the Weimar system take on notable significance. Even more so, if one considers such direct interest in the USSR — especially on the part of a former member of the Social Democratic party like Wagner — in relation to the increasingly anti-Soviet declarations by the leadership of the SPD, beginning with those of its president, Otto Wels, at the Congress of May 1931, in which Bolshevism and National Socialism are equated with violence and dictatorship.
It is all too easy to emphasize the mythicization of Soviet planning carried out by the radical Weimar intellectuals. With respect to the debates on Soviet art, which, as we have seen, profoundly affect the German milieu after 1922, the situation at the beginning of the 1930s seems completely reversed. The disciplinary baggage tested in vitro in Germany now seems able to furnish technical answers to planning demands to which the reflection on that baggage had autonomously led: the convergence between the two parallel journeys seems not only possible but actually historically necessary. The avoidance of composing a Trauerspiel on what could appear as a grandiose failure, by sublimating the tragedy into certainties transferred to a different institutional terrain, is indeed touching. That such a transferral was inappropriate can be demonstrated by the well-known vicissitudes of European architects in the USSR. The lesson that can be learned from this experience surpasses, however, the limits that define it: in its search for a “homeland,” technique risen from the ashes of the avant-garde will be forced to recognize that it is rootless.
 See, among others, Siegfried Kracauer, “Sozialistiche Städte: Zu einen Vortrag von Ernst May,” Frankfurter Zeitung 419 (8 June 1931); Wagner, “Sterbende Städte?”; idem, “Die Ussr baut Städte”; Bruno Taut, “Zum Problem der Zukunfstadt: Sowjetrusslands architektonische Situation,” Das neue Russland 7, nos. 1-2 (1930): 1 1-13; idem, ” Russlands architektonische Situation,” Moderne Bauformen 29 (1930): 57-67. As an example of the attacks of the right-wing press on the work of Ernst May in the Soviet Union, we cite the article, “Baudirektor der Sowjet-Union, Generalissimus des russischen Wohnungswesens,” Frankfurter Naschrichten 198 (19 July 1930), with its derisive verses and satirical cartoons. May’s motives for leaving Frankfurt on 30 September 1930, together with twenty-one collaborators, are found in his own article, “Warum Ich Frankfurt Verlasse,” Frankfurter Zeitung, 1 August 1930, p. 1.
 M. Wagner, “Die Ussr baut Städte,” Das Tagebuch 30 (25 July 1931).
 Umbau der Wirtschaft: Die Forderungen der Gewerkschaften (Berlin, 1932). The union document states: “In the present economic system there are already measures that must be taken for a planned economy. In particular, the unitary direction of the economy of the public sector must be assured. A central organ must be entrusted with the creation of a planned economy and of its direction. Working in close collaboration with the banking office, cartels, monopolies, and with the organs of the commercial monopoly and of public administration, it must supervise the activity of the single sectors and act so as to further their planned development. ” Rusconi, commenting on the Umbau der Wirtschaft (La crisi di Weimar, pp. 396-97), points out that “the basic weakness of the union proposal is the absence of effective tools with which to carry it out,” observing further that in its reasoning, “unconsciously present…is the postulate that the State is an institution above everything,” having primarily technocratic functions.
 On this subject, see K. Junghanns, “Die Beziehungen zwischen deutschen und sowjetischen Architekten in den Jahren 1917 bis 1933,” Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin 9 (East Berlin, 1967): 369 ff.; Hans Schmidt, “Die Tätigkeit deutscher Architekten und Spezialisten des Bauwesens in der Sowjetunion in den Jahren 1930 bis 1937,” ibid., no. 3, pp. 383-99; Marco de Michelis and Ernesto Pasini, La città sovietica 1925-1937 (Vienna, 1976) [fundamental]; Konrad Püschel, “Die Tätigkeit der Gruppe Hannes Meyer in der Udssr in den Jahren 1930 bis 1937,” in Wissenschaftliche Zeitsch rift der Hochschule für Architektur und Bauwesen Weimar 5-6 (1976); Christian Borngräber, “Ausländische Architekten in der Udssr: Bruno Taut, die Brigaden Ernst May, Hannes Meyer und Hans Schmidt,” in Wem gehört die Welt: Kunst und Gesellschaft in der Weimarer Republik (Berlin, 1977), pp. 109-38; idem, “Hans Schmidt und Hannes Meyer in Moskau, Veränderung eines funktionalistischen Bewussteins,” Werk-Architektur 23-24 (1978): 37-40.
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