The workers’ club
Town and Revolution,
First, we must establish just what was meant by a “club” in the USSR of the twenties, a country in which the word had previously been applied only to private rooms reserved for the use of a group of nobles or wealthy bourgeois. A club was exactly the opposite of what is sometimes implied by a “club” today.
The important thing about a club is that the mass of the members must be directly involved. They must not approach it or be channeled into it from the outside as mere entertainment. They themselves must find in it the maximum of self-expression.
The role of the club is to serve as a sort of school of culture…Within its walls workers of every age should be able to find rest, relaxation, and a renewal of energy at the end of the working day. There, outside the family, children, adolescents, adults, and the old should be made to feel members of a collectivity. Their interests should be expanded. The role of the club is to liberate men from the old oppression of church and state.
Originally, this new building, the expression of a new social function, was the response to a spontaneous demand, proof that it met a genuine need. Within a few months of the installation of the Soviet regime numerous clubs had been established. They were run by trade-union or political organizations, often by local groups, and set up in former private houses, in converted churches, in sheds, almost anywhere. In fact, the adaptation of these unlikely premises was one of the first tasks to confront the Soviet architects immediately following the revolution.
A center for creative activity and the diffusion of culture, the club was also some compensation for the discomfort and overcrowding that the workers suffered at home. Unable to provide apartments for all, the state tried to make up at the collective level for its deficiencies on the individual plane. But this was not all. Essentially, the club embodied a conception of culture that was no longer that of an elite but of the mass, no longer acquired in the silence of the study or in halls of learning, but in a group bound by common interests and an awareness of their need. It corresponded to a conception in which the home tended to become merely a place for the individual to rest, while life in all its social and cultural aspects developed in collective centers and collective forms, at a time when a craving for culture was beginning to seize the broad masses of the population:
We are living at a time when an immense cultural movement is developing among the working masses, the idea…of a new social and collective way of life is advancing with giant strides…
Every worker [in our new industrial centers] is anxious to take an active part in both public and cultural life. The thirst for knowledge is enormous. The time has come for us to give the workers not only homes but buildings with facilities for meetings, study, recreation, reading, and the activities of various special groups [kruzhok]…
…The idea of building palaces of labor or clubs is in the air…
Both in its architecture and in the facilities that it offered, the club, which El Lissitzky was to call a “social power plant” [soziales Kraftwerk] and “a workshop for the transformation of man,” evolved between the early years of the Soviet regime and the beginning of the thirties. Continue reading