MP Pavlovich [ML Veltman]
People’s Commissariat of
I have arranged for publication of a school atlas (in Petrograd).2 It would be extremely important to include maps of imperialism. Would you not undertake this?
- Colonial possessions 1876-1914-1921, adding or specially shading off semi-colonial countries (Turkey, Persia, China, and so forth).
- Brief statistics of colonies and semi-colonies.
- Map of financial dependencies. For example, for each country ± with a figure (millions or milliards of francs) of how much this country owes, and how much it is owed;
Also comparatively for 1876-1914-1921, if 1876 be taken as the culminating point of pre-monopoly capitalism.
- Railways of the world, with a note, in each country, showing to whom most of them belong (British, French, North America, etc.).
Will this prove too much of a mixture? Convenient forms can be found, with what matters, what predominates noted very briefly.
- The main sources of those raw materials over which there is a struggle (oil, ores, etc.) — also with notes (% or millions of francs belong to such-and-such a country).
We must without fail include maps of this kind in the textbooks, of course with a brief explanatory text.
A statistical assistant can be given you for the auxiliary work.
Please reply whether you undertake this, how and when.
With communist greetings,
Vladimir Ulianov (Lenin)
Chairman, Council of
1 Pavlovich, M. P. (Veltman, M. L.) (1871-1929) — Social-Democrat, Menshevik. He became a Communist after 1917, and from 1921 was a member of the Collegium of the Commissariat for Affairs of Nationalities.
2 Reference is to the preparations for the publication of the Vsemirny geografichesky atlas (Geographical Atlas of the World), launched on Lenin’s initiative. The project was not realized.
The transformation of the human body, its metamorphosis, is made possible by the costume, the disguise. Costume and mask emphasize the body’s identity or they change it; they express its nature or they are purposely misleading about it; they stress its conformity to organic or mechanical laws or they invalidate this conformity.
The native costume, as produced by the conventions of religion, state, and society, is different from the theatrical stage costume. Yet the two are generally confused. Great as has been the variety of native costumes developed during the course of human history, the number of genuine stage costumes has stayed very small. They are the few standardized costumes of the commedia delle arte: Harlequin, Pierrot, Columbine, etc.; and they have remained basic and authentic to this day.
The following can be considered fundamentally decisive in the transformation of the human body in terms of this stage costume:
- The laws of the surrounding cubical space. Here the cubical forms are transferred to the human shape: head, torso, arms, legs are transformed into spatial-cubical constructions.
Result: ambulant architecture.
- The functional laws of the human body in their relationship to space. These laws bring about a typification of the bodily forms: the egg shape of the head, the vase shape of the torso, the club shape of the arms and legs, the ball shape of the joints.
Result: the marionette.
- The laws of motion of the human body in space. Here we have the various aspects of rotation, direction, and intersection of space: the spinning top, snail, spiral, disk.
Result: a technical organism.
- The metaphysical forms of expression symbolizing various members of the human body: the star shape of the spread hand, the x sign of the folded arms, the cross shape of the backbone and shoulders; the double head, multiple limbs, division and suppression of forms.
What follows is an assortment of extremely high-resolution portraits of famous figures gleaned from various sources around the web, along with a short text by the French photographer and media critic Gisèle Freund. Almost 175 portraits are included, featuring well-known philosophers, political economists, and revolutionaries such as Thomas Münzer, Stepan Razin, René Descartes, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, David Ricardo, G.W.F. Hegel, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Toussaint Louverture, Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, Baruch Spinoza, Georges Danton, and numerous others who I’m forgetting. Included also, as mentioned, is an extract from Freund’s Photography and Society (1970), a book more than thirty years in the making.
Freund’s close friend and theoretical influence Walter Benjamin commented on an earlier draft of this chapter:
Study of the history of photography began about eight or ten years ago. We have a number of publications, mostly illustrated, on its infancy and its early masters. But only this most recent study has treated the subject in conjunction with the history of painting. Gisèle Freund’s study describes the rise of photography as conditioned by that of the bourgeoisie, successfully illustrating the causal connection by examining the history of the portrait. Starting from the expensive ivory miniature (the portrait technique most widely used under the ancien régime), the author describes the various procedures which contributed to making portrait production quicker and cheaper, and therefore more widespread, around 1780, sixty years before the invention of photography. Her description of the “physiognotrace” as an intermediate form between the portrait miniature and the photograph shows in exemplary fashion how technical factors can be made socially transparent. The author then explains how, with photography, technical development in art converged with the general technical standard of society, bringing the portrait within the means of wider bourgeois strata. She shows that the miniaturists were the first painters to fall victim to photography.
Besides Freund’s masterful study, I would also recommend Aby Warburg’s longish essay on “The Art of Portraiture and the Florentine Bourgeoisie” (1902). Less obviously Marxist than the remarks by Freund and Benjamin in this post — Warburg was a self-professed follower of Burckhardt — but quite complementary to them. Feel free to browse and enlarge any of the images below.
The development of the photographic portrait corresponds to an important phase in the social development of Western Europe: the rise of the middle classes when for the first time, fairly large segments of the population attained political and economic power. To meet their resulting demand for goods, nearly everything had to be produced in greater quantities. The portrait was no exception: By having one’s portrait done an individual of the ascending classes could visually affirm his new social status both to himself and to the world at large. To meet the increased demand for portraits, the art became more and more mechanized. The photographic portrait was the final stage in this trend toward mechanization.
Around 1750 the nascent middle classes began pushing into areas that were formerly the sole domain of the aristocracy. For centuries the privilege of aristocratic circles, the portrait began to yield to democratization. Even before the French Revolution the bourgeoisie had already manifested its profound need for self-glorification, a need which provoked the development of new forms and techniques of portraiture. Photography, which entered the public domain in 1839, owes much of its popularity and rapid social development to the continuing vogue of the portrait. Continue reading
My favorite Bolshevik propaganda artist of all time might be Dmitrii Orlov, better known as “Moor,” who was active in revolutionary struggles from 1905 through the Russian Civil War and World War II. His drawings are just so fucking hardcore. Readers of this blog will have seen some of his illustrations for the militant godless journal Bezbozhnik, as well as other assorted propaganda posters. Trotsky named him as one of the USSR’s finest young cartoonists.
In this post I’m just including some of the ones I like the most. No real rhyme or reason to it. Enjoy!
“Futurism” and proletarian art
Certain art circles and private individuals who not so long ago abused us in various “cultural publications” for working with the Soviet government and who knew no other name for us than “bureaucrats” and “perfunctory artists” would now rather like to take our place.
And so a campaign has begun against futurism, which, they say, is a millstone around the worker’s neck and whose claims to “being the art of the proletariat” are “ridiculous,” etc.…
But are they so ridiculous?
Why did it need a whole year of proletarian government and a revolution that encompassed half the world for the “silent to speak up”?
Why did only revolutionary futurism march in step with the October Revolution?
Is it just a question of outward revolutionary fervor, just a mutual aversion to the old forms, that joins futurism with the proletariat?
Not even they deny that futurism is a revolutionary art that is breaking all the old bonds and in this sense is bringing art closer to the proletariat.
We maintain that there is a deeper link between futurism and proletarian creation.
People naïve in matters of art are inclined to regard any sketch done by a worker, any poster on which a worker is depicted, as a work of proletarian art.
A worker’s figure in heroic pose with a red flag and an appropriate slogan — how temptingly intelligible that is to a person unversed in art and how terribly we need to fight against this pernicious intelligibility.
Art that depicts the proletariat is as much proletarian art as the Chernosotenets who has gotten into the Party and can show his membership card is a Communist.
Just like anything the proletariat creates, proletarian art will be collective:
The principle that distinguishes the proletariat as a class from all other classes.
We understand this, not in the sense that one work of art will be made by many artists, but in the sense that while executed by one creator, the work itself will be constructed on collectivist bases.
Take any work of revolutionary, futurist art. People who are used to seeing a depiction of individual objects or phenomena in a picture are bewildered.
You cannot make anything out. And indeed, if you take out any one part from a futurist picture, it then represents an absurdity. Because each part of a futurist picture acquires meaning only through the interaction of all the other parts; only in conjunction with them does it acquire the meaning with which the artist imbued it.
A futurist picture lives a collective life:
By the same principle on which the proletariat’s whole creation is constructed.
Try to distinguish an individual face in a proletarian procession.
Try to understand it as individual persons — absurd.
Only in conjunction do they acquire all their strength, all their meaning.
How is a work of the old art constructed — the art depicting reality around us?
Does every object exist in its own right? They are united only by extrinsic literary content or some other such content. And so cut out any part of an old picture, and it won’t change at all as a result. A cup remains the same cup, a figure will be dancing or sitting pensively, just as it was doing before it was cut out.
The link between the individual parts of a work of the old art is the same as between people on Nevsky Prospekt. They have come together by chance, prompted by an external cause, only to go their own ways as soon as possible. Each one for himself, each one wants to be distinguished.
Like the old world, the capitalist world, works of the old art live an individualistic life.
Only futurist art is constructed on collective bases.
Only futurist art is right now the art of the proletariat.
June 8th, 2009
Flashed around the world in September 2001, the pictures of the World Trade Center towers lying in ruins were both horrifying and — though few would openly admit it — strangely stimulating. The former because we instantly realized, with despair, that many people had died in the towers’ collapse, and that many others would suffer as a result of it for the rest of their lives. The latter because such a grand scale of destruction evoked an essential truth about human existence, a truth so disturbing that it is usually cloaked in denial: we are all going to die.
Not only will we die, but so will all our works. The great buildings, the great works of art, the great books, the great ideas, on which so many have spent the genius of human invention, will all fall to ruins and disappear in time. And not only will all traces of the human as we know it vanish, but the human itself will, too, as it continues an evolutionary trajectory accelerated by bioengineering and future technological advances. What all of this means is that we cannot take comfort in any form of earthly immortality that might mitigate the suffering caused by the certainty of our personal extinction.
It is true that through works of art, artists can live on in the thoughts and actions of others. This, however, is more of a comfort to the living than to the dead, and while it may help a living artist maintain a denial of death effective enough to keep believing that working and striving is somehow lasting, it is an illusion, and a pretty thin one at that. In contrast, the solidarity that develops between people who accept the inevitability of oblivion is more substantial and sustainable. When we witness an accident or disaster, we are drawn to it not because of ‘prurient interest,’ or an attraction to the pornography of violence, but rather to an event that strips away the illusions of denial and reveals the common denominator of the human condition. For the moment of our witnessing we feel, however uncomfortably, part of a much larger scheme of things, closer to what is true about our existence than we allow ourselves to feel in the normal course of living.
Religions have promised immortality and certainty in afterlives of various kinds, but for many today this is an inadequate antidote to despair. There are people who want to focus on the present and in it to feel a sense of exultation in being alive here and now, not in a postponed “later.” This desire cuts across all class, race, gender, political, and economic lines. In some religious lore, the ruins of human forms will be restored to their original states, protected and enhanced by the omniscient, enduring power of a divine entity. But for those who feel this is too late, the postponement of a full existence is less than ideal. For them, the present — always both decaying and coming into being, certain only in its uncertainty, perfect only in its imperfection — must be a kind of existential ideal. The ruins of something once useful or beautiful or symbolic of human achievement, speaks of the cycles of growth and decay that animate our lives and give them particular meaning relative to time and place. This is the way existence goes, and therefore we must find our exultation in confronting its ambiguity, even its confusion of losses and gains.
The role of art in all this has varied historically and is very much open to question from the viewpoint of the present. The painting and poetry of the Romantic era made extensive use of ruins to symbolize what was called the Sublime, a kind of exalted state of knowing and experience very similar to religious transcendence, lacking only the trappings of the church and overt references to God. Hovering close to religion, Romantic ruins were old, even ancient, venerable. They were cleansed of the sudden violence or slow decay that created them. There was something Edenic about them — Piranesi’s Rome, Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” Friedrich’s Wreck of the Hope. The best of such works are unsentimental but highly idealized, located intellectually and emotionally between the programmed horror of Medieval charnel houses and the affected nostalgia for a lost innocence of much architecture and painting of the late nineteenth century.
Taken together, these earlier conceptions are a long way from the fresh ruins of the fallen Twin Towers, the wreckage of Sarajevo, the blasted towns of Iraq, which are still bleeding, open wounds in our personal and collective psyches. Continue reading
Against the synthetic portrait, for the snapshot
Novyi lef № 4, pgs. 14-16
Moscow (April 1928)
I was once obliged to dispute with an artist the fact that photography cannot replace painting in a portrait. He spoke very soundly about the fact that a photograph is a chance moment, whereas a painted portrait is the sum total of moments observed, which, moreover, are the most characteristic of the man being portrayed. The artist has never added an objective synthesis of a given man to the factual world, but has always individualized and idealized him, and has presented what he himself imagined about him — as it were, a personal summary. But I am not going to dispute this; let us assume that he presented a sum total, while the photograph does not.
The photograph presents a precise moment documentarily.
It is essential to clarify the question of the synthetic portrait; otherwise the present confusion will continue. Some say that a portrait should only be painted; others, in searching for the possibility of rendering this synthesis by photography, follow a very false path: they imitate painting and make faces hazy by generalizing and slurring over details, which results in a portrait having no outward resemblance to any particular person — as in pictures of Rembrandt and Carrière.
Any intelligent man will tell you about the photograph’s shortcomings in comparison to the painted portrait; everyone will tell you about the character of the Mona Lisa, and everyone forgets that portraits were painted when there was no photography and that they were painted not of all the intelligent people but of the rich and powerful. Even men of science were not painted.
You need not wait around, intelligentsia; even now AKhRR artists will not paint you. True — they can’t even depict the sum total, let alone .001 of a moment.
Now compare eternity in science and technology. In olden times a savant would discover a truth, and this truth would remain law for about twenty years. And this was learned and learned as something indisputable and immutable.
Encyclopedias were compiled that supplied whole generations with their eternal truths.
Does anything of the kind exist now? …No.
Now people do not live by encyclopedias but by newspapers, magazines, card catalogues, prospectuses, and directories.
Modern science and technology are not searching for truths, but are opening up new areas of work and with every day changed what has been attained.
Now they do not reveal common truths — “the earth revolves” — but are working on the problem of this revolution. Continue reading
Red divisions are over a front of vast length. Draw a line from Moscow in any direction, prolong it, and you will reach some part of the Red Army which is fighting for Soviet Russia so heroically. The organization of this army is a very good example of the efficiency of the revolution.
No wonder the war was called an examination to the people. Of course, war itself is a great barbarity, and all Socialists are bent upon its extermination. But it must be overcome; that is, circumstances must be changed so that war will become not only needless but impossible. The people cannot leap over war instantly, surrounded by the jackals of imperialism, until the mad teeth are jerked out of the mouths of these jackals. And if the people are forced to wage war, then in its capability of defense, battle and attack all the resources of the people are shown: its economic power, its strength of organization, the spiritual average of its masses, the amount of material for leadership, etc., etc.
And so, taking the question from this angle, we may say with assurance that in a land such as ours, worn out, despoiled and ruined to the last degree, no other regime could organize an army. We may now say with certainty that an army will not be successfully organized in Germany, neither by Ebert or Scheidemann. Only Communists, who have taken the power into their own hands and shown in a practical way that this power knows no interests, worries or problems other than those of the working class, will find it possible to organize an army which will become the dependable hedge of the Socialist Republic.
We commenced with the divisions of the Red Guards. Into these we accepted workers, not seldom those who took a gun into their hands for the first time. While the task was to overcome the fighting bourgeoisie, junkers, white guards, groups of students, etc., the Red Guards showed an incomparable excellence in their revolutionary spirit and determination. In a very short period Red Guard divisions spread the Soviet power to all parts of the country. But with the offensive of the Germans in February of last year the condition changed immediately. The enthusiasm of the untrained, badly armed people proved weak before the well-organized Hohenzollern divisions under junker leadership. The first battle showed this, and brought about a fall of spirits in our divisions and armies. This fall of spirits resulted in decomposition within the ranks.
Think of that period. The old army turned into an armed beggary all of Russia, filled all stations, cars, made direct attacks upon the workers on the railroads, ruined railroad property, forcefully robbed the food supplies, etc. The enemy attacked us from the west, taking the Ukraine. The Cossacks rebelled on the Don: in the East, the Czecho-Slovaks, and in the north Archangel was taken from us. The ring was growing tighter and tighter. Then the Mensheviki wrote about the “dying corpse” of the Soviet power. Not only the direct enemies of the working class, but some of the friends of the workers thought that there is no way out, salvation is impossible.
It was this moment of deadly danger for the revolution which gave birth to the crisis of salvation. The watchword: “The Socialist Fatherland is in danger” awakened the best that is in the laboring masses. This was the test of one revolution. Now we may say with quiet assurance that the workers’ revolution has passed the test. Continue reading