Narkomtiazhporn: The pornographic proto-Stalinism of the Commissariat of Heavy Industry

Narkomtiazhprom + archiporn
Narkomtiazhprom + archiporn =

The competition for the design of the National Commissariat of Heavy Industry building [Наркомтяжпром] would be the last under Stalin to feature a number of submissions using modernist forms and techniques. Heavy industry is always sexy: scorched, hardened bodies covered in sweat, filth, and grime. Sparks spew all about, illuminating in flashes the piping and steel grating that surrounds. There’s no orgasm quite like the panting, hyperventilating surge toward climax one experiences while suffering from black lung. No sex like pneumoconiosic sex.

Already here, though, one can discern the contours of an emerging Stalinist sublime. This can be seen in the absurd scale onto which neoclassical forms have been projected. The contest for the Palace of the Soviets had been completed, to nearly universal disappointment within the modernist camp. There can be little doubt that the winning design from that whole affair weighed heavily on the minds of the modernists.

Like so many other architectural projects from the time, Narkomtiazhprom would never be built. Some have questioned whether it was really ever meant to be built at all, or if it was rather a ruse intended to unmask newly-unionized architects who were still harboring some loyalty to modernism.


Moscow modernism

Color photographs from 1931

Image: A modernist staircase in a
workers’ club in Moscow (1931)


You know, this whole thing would have been much more of a fair fight and an interesting debate if any of these hysterics had actually bothered to read any Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, etc. — figures in whose footsteps they claim to follow — rather than just regurgitate third-rate digest versions of these authors out of the Cliffite canon. If you’re really going to insist on being a “Leninist” today, it might help to have at least a passing familiarity with these authors’ writings, rather than desperately distort their work so as to confirm whatever it is you are doing already. Obviously, the famous revolutionaries from the history of Marxism mentioned above would find all the various grouplets of the Left today unrecognizable, bearing no relation whatsoever to the emancipatory project they either inaugurated or contributed toward. Yes, even the cryogenically-preserved consciousness of Trotsky himself (i.e., the Sparts).

My reaction to the latest hullabaloo — Muscovite worker taking a swig from a bottle while on break (1931)

My reaction to the latest hullabaloo — Muscovite worker taking a swig from a bottle while on break (1931)

That’s not the point, thankfully. While it may seem antiquarian in the Nietzschean sense, the reason for my “obsession with and curatorial affection for communism’s arcana and paraphernalia” is not some vain belief that this past, which they belong to, can be recreated or revived, but because they belong to a period when the Left actually mattered and played a significant role in world events. By comparison, the actually-existing Left of today — whether former advocates of a Living Marxism or self-declared members of “the (still-living) Left” — appears a rather shriveled, paltry thing. Sure, one could point out that there are X or Y number of doctrinally Marxist or avowedly leftist groups “still kicking,” slowly hemorrhaging its membership or amalgamating itself into the amorphous blob of “Left unity.” But what kind of “life” is that? If eking out some miserable, politically-irrelevant existence “carrying on the good fight” is what they call “living,” then I’m more than happy to admit to myself that I’m “dead.”

As things stand, I’m losing interest in satirizing or polemicizing against these intellectual pygmies. It’s just not worth the time or effort. Vintage Soviet alphabet-porn and ceramic Suprematist plateware are far more educational and spiritually uplifting (quite possibly even more revolutionary) than any of this nonsense.

Konstantin Mel'nikov, Rusakov workers' club (1931)

Mel’nikov, Rusakov club (1931) — Where my erstwhile opponents should go: Школа Коммунизма

So now for something completely different:

Here are a few select examples of Moscow modernism taken from the fantastic album “Life in Moscow, 1931: Color photos.” Highly recommended for anyone who reads this blog. Thanks also to The Constructivist Project, whose Facebook page I encourage you all to “like,” for bringing them to my attention. Enjoy! Continue reading

Soviet avant-garde submissions for the 1929 memorial to Christopher Columbus in Santo Domingo

The controversy surrounding the celebration of Columbus Day notwithstanding, the various radical Soviet avant-garde project submissions for the 1929 international competition to design a memorial to Christopher Columbus in Santo Domingo were pretty incredible.

Engels’ 1847 speech on Columbus’ accidental journey to what would become known as the Americas is appended below. After that, there are a couple excerpts from Franz Mehring’s 1895 text On Historical Materialism.


Minutes of Engels’s Lecture to the London German
Workers’ Educational Society on November 30,1847

The discovery of America

Written: November 30, 1847;
Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 627;
First published: in Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung, jg. 8, Leipzig, 1919.

Citizens! When Christopher Columbus discovered America 350 years ago, he certainly did not think that not only would the then existing society in Europe together with its institutions be done away with through his discovery, but that the foundation would be laid for the complete liberation of all nations; and yet, it becomes more and more clear that this is indeed the case. Through the discovery of America a new route by sea to the East Indies was found, whereby the European business traffic of the time was completely transformed; the consequence was that Italian and German commerce were totally ruined and other countries came to the fore; commerce came into the hands of the western countries, and England thus came to the fore of the movement. Before the discovery of America the countries even in Europe were still very much separated from one another and trade was on the whole slight. Only after the new route to the East Indies had been found and an extensive field had been opened in America for exploitation by the Europeans engaged in commerce, did. England begin more and more to concentrate trade and to take possession of it, whereby the other European countries were more and more compelled to join together. From all this, big commerce originated, and the so-called world market was opened. The enormous treasures which the Europeans brought from America, and the gains which trade in general yielded, had as a consequence the ruin of the old aristocracy, and so the bourgeoisie came into being. The discovery of America was connected with the advent of machinery, and with that the struggle became necessary which we are conducting today, the struggle of the propertyless against the property owners. Continue reading

Models of Soviet avant-garde architecture

Some gorgeous models I found of Soviet avant-garde architecture (both realized and unrealized structures) designed by Australian students.