Evan Burger has written up a short piece for Jacobin entitled “Toward a selfish Left.” He summarizes his argument as follows: “The Left doesn’t need a renewed emphasis on morality; instead, we must reclaim the concept of self-interest.” While the rest of the article is rather glib — going so far as to naturalize self-interest at one point (the author urges us to be mindful of “humanity’s inherently self-interested nature”) — its basic point regarding the subpolitical character of most ethical injunctions is sound.
To be sure, “Marxists” and leftists of all stripes have resorted to the most maudlin moralizations in recent decades, hoping to stir the masses from their inertia by appealing to their guilty conscience. Attentive readers of Marx will remember, however, that this has nothing to do with the critical position he advocated for communists:
Communism is quite incomprehensible to [the anarchist and individualist Max Stirner] because the communists do not oppose egoism to selflessness or selflessness to egoism, nor do they express this contradiction theoretically either in its sentimental or in its high-flown ideological form; they rather demonstrate its material source, with which it disappears of itself. The communists do not preach morality at all, as Stirner does so extensively. They do not put to people the moral demand: love one another, do not be egoists, etc.; on the contrary, they are very well aware that egoism, just as much as selflessness, is in definite circumstances a necessary form of the self-assertion of individuals. Hence, the communists by no means want…to do away with the ‘private individual’ for the sake of the ‘general,’ selfless man.
So much for that “hive mind” collectivism libertarians always erroneously ascribe to Marxism and Marx. The freedom of each is a prerequisite for the freedom of all. Bourgeois subjectivity, though it for the first time expresses a widespread sense of individuality (mirroring the shift away from the family toward the individual as the basic productive unit of society), is eventually constrained by the onset of the capitalist mode of production. Continue reading →
Mel’nikov’s Proposal for the Laboratory of Sleep (1930)
Included in this post is the original issue of Building Moscow (Строительство Москвы), in which the general planning schemes for the proposed “Green City” of Moscow were submitted. Contributors to this competition included some of the premier architects and city-planners of the day: Moisei Ginzburg and Mikhail Barshch of OSA, Nikolai Ladovskii of ARU (a splinter group of ASNOVA), and Konstantin Mel’nikov, who was more of an independent (his membership in the different avant-garde architectural societies of the day varied over time).
The plans were wildly ambitious, and, unfortunately, none of them were realized. Nevertheless, the ambition and utopianism of their proposals remain as fascinating and haunting today as ever. Haunting, because these plans were so crudely shoved aside by Kaganovich and the Stalinist bureaucracy — because the ideas survived as artifacts long after their potential for realization had passed, because their fantasy has since outlived history and continues to linger over it, like a ghost. Thus, the fact that these science fictions were discarded, placed on the Hegelian “slaughterbench of history,” did not mean that they altogether vanished without a trace. They survive, spectrally, as testaments to a society that could have been.
The extraordinary ambitions of the Soviet planners were declared unrealistic and impracticable. And indeed, given the Soviets’ technological and material limitations at that time, they may well have been impossible. But such a verdict has often been passed on past visions of the future, and utopian speculation in general. Yet the modernists who took part in this competition felt that such utopianism was not only warranted, but required by a revolutionary society like the Soviet Union. Under capitalism, they argued, utopianism was a waste of time and impossible to realize. Now that the October Revolution had overturned these social relations, however, utopia was at last realizable, and so fantastic visions of the future were at last justified.
In any case, this issue contains Ginzburg and Barshch’s reproduction of their famous Disurbanist scheme for the Green city, which they had first unveiled in an issue of Modern Architecture (Современная архитектура) a month before. It also includes Mel’nikov’s mysterious and intriguing proposals for a “Laboratory of Sleep,” an “Institution for the Transformation of the Perspective of Man,” and a “Sonata of Sleep.” Ladovskii’s project for “the rationalization of rest and socialist living” saw him experimenting with his notion of a parabolic city within the municipal limits of Moscow. The rationalization of rest and sleep were indeed very important when it came to the Green City; Le Corbusier mentioned over and over his delight at the Soviets’ abolition of the seven-day week, replaced now by a five-day cycle of working for four days and resting on the fifth.
Below is the original issue, digitized and restored to the best of my ability from the microfiche copy: