Mihály Biró, 1886-1948

Bud­apest nat­ive Mihály Biró (1886-1948) joined the So­cial Demo­crat­ic cause early in life. He spent the peri­od between 1910 and 1914, design­ing strik­ing and widely noted posters and il­lus­tra­tions for the SZDP [Hun­gari­an So­cial Demo­crat­ic Party].

Fol­low­ing the First World War, Biró be­came the graph­ic mouth­piece of the new Red Army of the Hun­gari­an So­viet Re­pub­lic. The ad­vent of the right-wing dic­tat­or­ship of Miklós Hort­hy soon forced him to flee to Vi­enna, however, where he cre­ated the Hort­hy Port­fo­lio (1920), con­sist­ing of col­or litho­graphs doc­u­ment­ing the at­ro­cit­ies of the Hort­hy re­gime.

Along­side the polit­ic­al posters — Biró’s true call­ing — he also cre­ated posters for in­di­vidu­al busi­nesses and the boom­ing film in­dustry. Biró fi­nally fled from Aus­tro­fas­cism in 1934 and settled in Czechoslov­akia, where he be­came ill and deeply de­pressed. In 1938, he suc­ceeded in flee­ing on to Par­is, where he was to stay un­til 1947.

It was only in 1947 that he was able to re­turn to Bud­apest, where he died in 1948.

Continue reading

Anti-Bolshevik propaganda posters: Metal as fvkk

.
Recently, I was contacted by a fellow named Harry K. Wärts via The Charnel-House’s Facebook page. Admittedly, I don’t check the messages I receive there too often. Nevertheless, this caught me a bit off-guard:

Hey, I’m in the Swedish death metal band Gravebomb. We’re great, and also eager for exposure. I really like your blog, so I think it’d be great if we could do a share-for-share thingy. Both as a way to turn on death metal fans to communist theory (as it is the musical equivalent or expression of a “ruthless criticism of everything existing” [Marx]) and as a way to get revolutionary communists into death metal and our band in particular. Don’t know if you like the idea, but I think it would be pretty edgy.

You can check out our album Rot in Putrid Filth on Spotify to see if it’s for you.

Since I didn’t get back to Wärts in a timely fashion, he wrote me another note: “Why will you not respond to our calls for solidarity in propaganda?”

Obviously this was something I needed to do. Can’t just leave a comrade hanging.

Initially I was skeptical. Most of the metal coming out of Europe, especially the Nordic countries, is intensely reactionary — fascist, even. Plus, I’m not even much of a metal fan these days, though I was back in high school.

Acquaintances on social media urged me to do so, however, “for the love of all that’s unholy.” Fuck it, I thought to myself. Hence the present post.

Glancing at the track list, we find song titles like “Killing Apex,” “Hack the Heads off the Preachers,” “Funeralizer, and “Parasite Spawn.” Sound revolutionary to me. Regardless, I’m not going to listen through their entire catalogue and scrutinize their lyrics to make sure they convey a communist message or ruthless critique. Not like communists censor music, after all… Oh wait

To accompany this music, I’m posting a series of anti-Bolshevik artwork that can only be described as “metal as fvkk.” Early anti-Bolshevik agitprop posters — from roughly 1905 up through the end of the 1940s, but especially 1917-1939 — make up some of the best adverts for Bolshevism. Despite their explicit intention to frighten people with the specter of communism, or dissuade them from joining it, these posters fucking rule. Who wouldn’t want to be an undead skeleton commie killing fascists?

Kvltvrbolschewismvs? Underground black metal enthusiasts should at least appreciate the images of communists burning churches.

Bloody Sunday 1905 GvjdoTA Die Gefahr des Bolschewismus [The Danger of Bolshevism] com_8_MGzoom e545a3d724c179b4624cb41755e6a8d7 focus-400-grande1 - frame2Art.IWM PST 13079 plakat_antisov23 plakat_antisov24 Die Heimat ist in Gefahr 2 Schließt Euch fest zusammen gegen Spartacus (…) Continue reading

The death of Marat and the death of art

.
Jean-Paul Marat, the famous French revolutionary and member of the Club des Cordeliers, was assassinated by the Girondin sympathizer Charlotte Corday two hundred twenty-two years ago today. David’s rendering of Marat lying dead and bloodied in his bathtub, Corday’s concocted note still held in his left hand, is perhaps the most iconic political image of all time. On numerous occasions it has been parodied, satirized, and otherwise détourned (most notably in 1860, under Louis Bonaparte’s reactionary Second Empire, by the “patriotic” painter Paul Jacques Aimé Baudry).

An account of Marat’s death and subsequent canonization as a martyr of the Revolution appears below, taken from Arno Mayer’s The Furies (2000). This is then followed by several hilarious, more recent parodies of David’s painting. I’ve already stated on numerous occasions that art is, for all intents and purposes, dead. So it should come as no surprise that The Death of Marat itself would itself fall victim to the death of art. Enjoy.

jacques-louis david, mort de marat (1793)the-death-of-marat-1793-oil-on-canvas-joseph-roques

The death of Marat
.

Had it not been for the rising storm [of Terror], the assassination of Marat, on July 13, 1793, the eve of the fourth anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, most likely would have been an isolated and harmless bolt of political lightning. But with the turbulent weather, Marie-Anne-Charlotte de Corday d’Armont’s fatal deed touched off a political firestorm. In death even more than in life, Marat lent himself to being at once apotheosized and demonized — as the incarnation of good or evil, light or darkness, virtue or vice, purity or impurity.

Disenchanted with the Revolution, Charlotte Corday claimed that by killing Marat she meant to “avenge untold innocent victims” as well as “save thousands of lives…and prevent many other disasters.” When the judges, before sentencing her to death, asked whether she “thought she had slain all the Marats,” she replied that with “this one dead, all the others will be put in fear.”

Almost instantly Corday was both excoriated and extolled as the arch-avenger. One of the revolutionary papers reported that on hearing of Marat’s assassination, several women exclaimed that death by guillotine would be “too mild for such a heinous crime” and vowed to “cut up and devour the scoundrel who had deprived the people of their best friend.” After noting in Père Duchesne that to curse Corday was to “fire the people’s vengeance,” Hébert likewise insisted that to “fit the crime” the punishment would have to be “more terrible and degrading than death by guillotine.” As for Charlotte Corday, on being turned over to the Abbaye prison, she apparently feared “that the people would tear her limb from limb.” She did not breathe easier until she thought she stood fair to be “beheaded by the guillotine, which would be a gentle death.”

Charlotte_Corday Carlota_Corday_1889_by_Arturo_Michelena

There was, indeed, considerable apprehension that an overwrought crowd would once again invest the Abbaye prison, this time to touch off an uncontrollable massacre with the vindictive slaying of Marat’s assassin. At the Convention several deputies, worried that a popular “clamor for vengeance” would set off “a terrible explosion,” urged citizens to remain both calm and vigilant at the same time that they reassured them that they “would be avenged.” Likewise François Hanriot, the hardline commander of the capital’s national guard, simultaneously approved the cry for vengeance and stressed that “the best way to keep in check the aristocracy was to trust and support our courts of law.” Presently even the firebrand Hébert sought to calm the atmosphere, insisting that “the day of vengeance was not yet at hand” partly because Paris still needed to persuade the provinces that the capital was not “a city of cannibals.”

In the meantime, at the main Jacobin club there was a move to enshrine Marat, the martyr of liberty, in the Pantheon. But Robespierre objected, contending that by giving people a false sense of “redress,” such a spectacular homage would assuage their “thirst for vengeance.” On July 15 a delegation of the Society of the Men of August 10 came to the Convention to “demand that Marat be avenged” rather than given “the honors of the Pantheon,” not least because he was, in any case, assured of a “permanent Pantheon in everyone’s heart.”

By this time several bards of the Revolution were entrusted with planning a solemn funeral rite for Marat. It stands to reason that the iconoclastic intelligentsia, including the unbound artists of the new order, should have turned to celebrating and commemorating the Revolution’s major events and heroic leaders or martyrs. In this way they hoped to challenge and replace the resplendent public ceremonials of the ancien régime. Jacques-Louis David is emblematic of these self-conscious activist illuminati who came forward to assist in laying the foundations for a future full of promise. An early partisan of reform, he was radicalized by the force of circumstance. With time he became a fervent champion of the nascent republic and Jacobin patriotism. David was elected one of the capital’s deputies in the National Convention and eventually served on its Committee of General Security. He had a sympathetic understanding for Robespierre and Marat, with whom he consorted off and on.

David_Self_Portrait2013 04 27 Le serment du Jeu de Paume, le 20 juin 1789 - Jacques-Louis David - Carnavalet 2

David emerged, of course, as not only the peerless painter-artist of the Revolution but also its master metteur en scène. Characteristically he idealized and ideologized one of the Revolution’s grand founding events in The Oath of the Tennis Court, his first and arguably one of his most compelling historical paintings, started in mid-1790. No less exemplary, David was the guiding spirit of the ceremonial transfer of Voltaire’s ashes to the Pantheon in June 1791. This sober and grandiose funeral procession, partly mimetic of yesterday’s religious prototype and featuring Greco-Roman imagery, was staged to symbolize and herald “the victory of reason over superstition, philosophy over theology, justice over tyranny, tolerance over fanaticism.” David was responsible for the overall “organization” and “decoration” of this and several later public rites, while François Gossec and Marie-Joseph Chénier provided, respectively, the music and lyrics.

David does not seem to have had a hand in conceiving and staging the cavalry of Louis XVI — procession, execution, burial — on January 21, 1793, which was designed to consummate the king’s profanation as a symbol of monarchy while diligently precluding his living on as a martyr. Indeed, David’s calling and vision was to construct, represent, and memorialize heroes, not anti-heroes; martyrs, not demons. Nowhere was his revolutionary commitment more intensely tested and expressed than in his orchestration of the funeral of Jean-Paul Marat and his martyr painting of this uncommon revolutionary. A few months earlier David had experimented with new techniques of funeral pageantry and iconography in rendering honor to Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau. As deputy from Yonne, this aristocrat had voted the death penalty for Louis XVI. In revenge for this apostasy, Lepeletier was mortally stabbed by a former royal bodyguard. David arranged for his semi-nude corpse, with its fatal wound unhidden, to lie in state on the Place Vendôme preceding a memorial service on the floor of the Convention. Shortly thereafter David captured the atmosphere and message of the ceremony in his painted exaltation of Lepeletier. In every respect, Lepeletier’s apotheosis prefigured Marat’s. Continue reading

Dmitrii Moor, Bolshevik cartoonist and propagandist (1883-1946)

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!

 tumblr_npzq00jK1g1ta0q7zo1_1280 IN_1134_B_l Плакаты СССР- Ты записался добровольцем? (Моор Д.) 1920 00-unknown-artist-the-golden-idol-of-the-lord-of-world-capitalism-1918-20 Плакаты СССР- Помоги. (Моор Д.) 1921 Continue reading

El Lissitzky’s Soviet pavilion at the Pressa exhibition in Cologne, 1928

The revolution on display
.

El Lissitzky was one of the great masters of Soviet avant-garde art and architecture. Besides Malevich, Tatlin, and Rodchenko, Lissitzky is probably the most famous Russian modernist from this period. He was certainly the most internationally renowned. Part of the reason for this was his numerous expeditions abroad, throughout Western Europe, usually sent there by the USSR’s Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatolii Lunacharskii.

International constructivism followed him, as he met and worked closely with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, J.J.P. Oud, Mart Stam, and a host of others. Journals, too: VeshchGABC.

El Lissitzky, The Constructor (self-portrait, 1925)

El Lissitzky, The Constructor (self-portrait, 1925)

After 1926, Lissitzky began to design pavilions for the Soviet Union for international exhibitions. Konstantin Mel’nikov’s striking pavilion from the 1925 Paris Expo set a very high standard for formal dynamism and innovative use of materials. Many looked to the Soviets to continue to lead the way. (De Stijl impresario Theo van Doesburg was only impressed by Mel’nikov’s building and one other at the 1925 show). Lissitzky’s crowning achievement as far as exhibition displays went was the 1928 “Pressa” exhibition in Cologne. “Pressa” was meant to showcase the journalistic culture of the various countries that participated.

What follows are a number of rare images from that show. Some of them are extremely high resolution. A few translated passages of reviews in the German and British press are also included along with some of Lissitzky’s own remarks.

With Lissitzky, all the possibilities of a new exhibition technique were explored: in place of a tedious succession of framework, containing dull statistics, he produced a new purely visual design of the exhibition space and its contents, by the use of glass, mirrors, celluloid, nickel, and other materials; by contrasting these newfangled materials with wood, lacquer, textiles and photographs; by the use of natural objects instead of pictures…by bringing a dynamic element into the exhibition by means of continuous films, illuminated and intermittent letters and a number of rotating models. The room thus became a sort of stage on which the visitor himself seemed to be one of the players. The novelty and vitality of the exhibition did not fail: this was proved by the fact that this section attracted by far the largest number of visitors, and had at times to be closed owing to overcrowding.

Jan Tschichold, “Display that has
dynamic force: Exhibition rooms by
Lissitzky,” Commercial Art (1931)

A trip to the individual displays, and around the pavilion as a whole, will give the viewer an idea of the tremendous results achieved during ten years of Soviet activity.

— Die Welt am Abend
Berlin (5/25/1928)

The Soviet pavilion at the “Pressa” exhibition is a towering achievement, unique in its imaginative content, and unparalleled in its power of illustrative effect.

— Freiheit
Dusseldorf

5.26.1928

Katalog des Sowjet-Pavillons auf der Internationalen Presse-Ausstellung Köln 1928, pgs 3-5Katalog des Sowjet-Pavillons auf der Internationalen Presse-Ausstellung Köln 1928, pgs 6-8Katalog des Sowjet-Pavillons auf der Internationalen Presse-Ausstellung Köln 1928, pgs 9-11

My most important work as an artist began in 1926: the design of exhibition rooms. That year I was asked by the committee of the International Art Exhibition in Dresden to create the room of non-objective [Suprematist] art and was sent there by “Voks” [the commissariat/embassy that works with countries abroad]. After an educational trip — the new architecture in Holland being the subject — I returned to Moscow in the autumn.

El Lissitzky (1932) Continue reading

Spartakiade: A Bolshevik alternative to the Olympics

.
With opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics a couple nights ago in Sochi, Russia — and all the pomp, pageantry, and slapstick that went with it — it’s perhaps appropriate to reflect on the oft-forgotten Soviet alternative to the Olympics: the proletarian Spartakiade, set up in 1924 as a challenge to the hegemony of the bourgeois Olympiad. It’s important to remember that the modern Olympic games were a fairly recent phenomenon. The idea of holding an international sporting event along these lines was only revived in 1894, and the inaugural Games held just two years later. “Physical culture,” Fiskultur in German and Физкультура in Russian, was an ideology embraced across the political spectrum in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, part of a popular cult of the body that emphasized fitness as part of a well-rounded education (along with literacy and basic math skills). From mainstream European Social-Democracy during the 1890s to North American “muscular Christianity” around the same time, the idea enjoyed a great deal of support.

After conflicts broke out between the major European powers in 1914, the early days of what would eventually become known as the Great War, the Olympic games were put on hold. Though the Second International (founded 1889) capitulated to the spirit of patriotic belligerence that same year, upheaval in Russia resulted in the collapse of tsarism in February 1917 and the revolutionary seizure of power by the Bolsheviks a few months later. Its leaders thereupon declared the foundation of a Third, Communist International — the Comintern. One might view the stance taken by the Comintern during the early 1920s toward international sporting competitions like the Olympics as paralleling its own relationship to international bourgeois legal and political institutions around the same time. By establishing the Spartakiade as a rival to the Olympiad, the Bolsheviks hoped to set up a proletarian alternative to bourgeois internationalism.

Similarly, the Comintern itself would be viewed as a proletarian version of the bourgeois League of Nations, from which the USSR had been excluded, though here the socialists had a head start over their capitalist competitors (the First International Workingmen’s Association was organized in 1863, while the League of Nations would only take shape in June 1919). The Spartakiade existed as an international sporting event from 1924-1937, ending around the same time as the as the Comintern became defunct. Again, this mirrored the Soviets’ shifting attitude toward internationalism in general. Under Stalin’s doctrine of “socialism in one country” [социализм в одной стране], Spartakiads were instead repurposed as national events between the various semi-autonomous Soviet Republics. Likewise, just as the Soviet Union was made a participant in the United Nations after 1947, Soviet sportsmen began participating in the Olympics in 1952. This marked the effective integration of the USSR in the postwar status quo, less of an imminent threat to the bourgeois social order than its cynical cooperant.

Below is reproduced the Comintern’s November 1924 Manifesto of the Red Sport International. You can read the original May 1925 English translation of the document in Young Worker. Also included are some outstanding posters, photos, and promotional art for the games, which can be enlarged by clicking on the thumbnails.


.

Manifesto of the Red Sport International
Executive Committee, Comintern
November 21, 1924
.

To the Working-class Sportsmen of all Countries!

To all Working Men and Working Women In Town and Countryside!

The Third World Congress of the Red Sports International addresses this manifesto on behalf of the delegates who represent twenty-one countries at the Congress, to all workers belonging to gymnastics and sports organizations, and invites them to join the international association of proletarian and peasant gymnastics and sports organizations — the Red Sports International.

The bourgeoisie does its utmost to keep the oppressed classes under its domination. In the hands of the bourgeoisie, gymnastics and sports organizations are converted into tools of bourgeois militarism and fascism, and thereby into fighting cadets of the reactionaries against the proletariat of the home country, as well as the proletariat of foreign countries.

The bourgeoisie is fully aware of the important role of gymnastic and-sport organizations and it is using them as a means to corrupt the proletariat and to permeate it with bourgeois ideology, providing thereby active defenders of bourgeois capitalist interests in the everyday economic struggles (factory sports, clubs under capitalist control, strikebreaking, technical aid, etc.), as well as in the present and future political struggles (Chauvinist national organizations, military training of the young, national militia, etc.).

From being a means of the class struggle of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, proletarian gymnastic and sports organizations must become an important factor — for the proletariat — in the world struggle of the workers and poor peasants for the establishment of a proletarian social order.

In the atmosphere of class struggle there can be no “neutrality” and no “non-political attitude” for the workers also with respect to gymnastics and sports. Collaboration or class truce with and within bourgeois organizations, especially with the bourgeoisie, is tantamount to a betrayal of proletarian interests. Continue reading

Soviet travel brochures from the 1930s

In 1928, Stalin established a government-run foreign travel agency under the name Intourist (a contracted portmanteau of Иностранный [foreign] турист [tourist]). Though it had by that point already evacuated its international obligation to foment world revolution, Stalin’s regime was still looking to raise interest in the fledgling socialist state. All of the following brochures targeted potential tourists from the most advanced capitalist nations in the West — Germany, England, France, the US.

Stylistically, these pieces vary. Many are rather naïve, pastoral, even vaguely Orientalist, especially with respect to the more “exotic” Soviet Republics. Continue reading

Stalinist kitsch

.
The title of this entry deserves some explanation. “Stalinist kitsch,” one might object, is a bit superfluous. Or redundant, rather. Everything is announced by simply saying “Stalinist,” after all. Doesn’t matter if it’s politics, aesthetics, whatever. It’s already assumed that it’s kitsch.

All the same, there’s plenty about Stalinism that deserves to be taken seriously. Not because it’s “right” about history or society or economics; no, nothing like that. Rather, it’s because whether we admit it or not, Stalin did seem to represent one solution (or at least stopgap) to the problem of mass society. Perhaps not a likable answer to the issues posed by modernity, but a likely one. This is something that Boris Groys, among others, has pointed out.

Moreover, though Stalin might have been more than a little lackluster as a theoretician — the primitiveness and crudity of his imagination was legendary — it’s not like he was completely ignorant. Least of all about Bolshevism and its various controversies over the years. He’d been in the party since 1903, so he was hardly a novice. And to be honest, many historians politically aligned with Stalinism wrote very rigorous, detailed accounts of their various objects of study. Though they may be a little vulgar and undertheorized at times, they’re preferable to a lot of the crap that’s published.

What’s even scarier is that those few explicitly Stalinist parties that still exist often have better politics than their soi-disant “Trotskyist” counterparts, who now operate more or less according to the logic of Stalinoid popfrontism, but without even the vague self-consciousness that Stalinists possessed. Sad times indeed.

Below are a bunch of the kitschier photos, posters, and artworks from the Stalin era. Click on any of the images to enlarge them. Furthermore, to compensate for this bit of lighthearted parody, I’m including Evtushenko’s somber 1961 poem, published in Pravda, on the “heirs of Stalin.”

The heirs of Stalin

.
Mute was the marble. Mutely glimmered the glass.
Mute stood the sentries, bronzed by the breeze.
Thin wisps of smoke curled over the coffin.
And breath seeped through the chinks
as they bore him out the mausoleum doors.
Slowly the coffin floated, grazing the fixed bayonets.
He also was mute — his embalmed fists,
just pretending to be dead, he watched from inside.
He wished to fix each pallbearer in his memory:
young recruits from Ryazan and Kursk,
so that later he might collect enough strength for a sortie,
rise from the grave, and reach these unreflecting youths.
He was scheming. Had merely dozed off.
And I, appealing to our government, petition them
to double, and treble, the sentries guarding this slab,
and stop Stalin from ever rising again
and, with Stalin, the past. Continue reading

We must construct the Soviet dirigible fleet without delay

The struggle for lighter-
than-air dominance 

Untitled.
Image: “Let’s build a dirigible
fleet in the name of Lenin!”
Soviet agitprop poster (1928)

untitled2.

From an advertisement to appear on the text of a candy-wrapper:

The dirigible

.
The bourgeoisie come together
In order to separate us
But the Soviet dirigible
Flies along the border

Vladimir Maiakovskii
Moscow, 1923-1925

zeppelin zeppelin

Continue reading

The Architecture for the Palace of the Soviets/Архитектура Дворца Советов (1939) – Free PDF Download

The Archetype of Stalinist Architecture - The Palace of the Soviets

Continuing our theme of the decline of architecture, literature, and the visual arts under Stalin, it is perhaps appropriate to post here a document that was printed in order to educate the public on the proposed architectural design of  the building.  The Architecture of the Palace of the Soviets (Архитектура Дворца Советов) was intended to accomplish this task.  In it, numerous architects, some of them having formerly belonged to the now-vanquished Soviet avant-garde, sing the praises of this bizarre, wedding-cake blend of monumentalist gigantism and neoclassical stylization (the columns and lavishly-decorated façades).  Some, like Vladimir Paperny, have suggested that Stalin himself might have had a hand in its design, personally stepping in to oversee the realization of Iofan, Fomin, and Shchuko’s abominable vision.  Considering the sheer monstrosity of the final structure, it is not too unlikely that this might have been the case.  Either way, below you can download a free .pdf file copy of the 1939 text, which sadly includes a declaration from the once-great architectural modernist Nikolai Miliutin written in in support of the final proposal:

Архитектура Дворца Советов (1939)

And the following is a Stalinist propaganda film made a year before this text, in 1938, called New Moscow (Новая Москва), which features both the interior and exterior of the proposed building: