‘Revolutionary and Socialist Art’ by Leon Trotsky from Literature and Revolution Translated by Rose Strunsky. International Publishers, New York. 1925.
WHEN one speaks of revolutionary art, two kinds of artistic phenomena are meant: the works whose themes reflect the Revolution, and the works which are not connected with the Revolution in theme, but are thoroughly imbued with it, and are Colored by the new consciousness arising out of the Revolution. These are phenomena which quite evidently belong, or could belong, in entirely different planes. Alexey Tolstoi, in his The Road to Calvary, describes the period of the War and the Revolution. He belongs to the peaceful Yasnaya Polyana school, only his scale is infinitely smaller and his point of view narrower. And when he applies it to events of the greatest magnitude, it serves only as a cruel reminder that Yasnaya Polyana has been and is no more. But when the young poet, Tikhonov, without writing about the Revolution, writes about a little grocery store (he seems to be shy about writing of the Revolution), he perceives and reproduces its inertia and immobility with such fresh and passionate power as only a poet created by the dynamics of a new epoch can do. Thus if works about the Revolution and works of revolutionary art are not one and the same thing, they still have a point in common. The artists that are created by the Revolution cannot but want to speak of the Revolution. And, on the other hand, the art which will be filled with a great desire to speak of the Revolution, will inevitably reject the Yasnaya Polyana point of view, whether it be the point of view of the Count or of the peasant.
Greater Dynamics Under Socialism
There is no revolutionary art as yet. There are the elements of this art, there are hints and attempts at it, and, what is most important, there is the revolutionary man, who is forming the new generation in his own image and who is more and more in need of this art. How long will it take for such art to reveal itself Clearly? It is difficult even to guess, because the process is intangible and incalculable, and we are limited to guesswork even when we try to time more tangible social processes. But why should not this art, at least its first big wave, come soon as the expression of the art of the young generation which was born in the Revolution and which carries it on?
Revolutionary art which inevitably reflects all the contradictions of a revolutionary social system, should not be confused with Socialist art for which no basis has as yet been made. On the other hand, one must not forget that Socialist art will grow out of the art of this transition period.
In insisting on such a distinction, we are not at all guided by a pedantic consideration of an abstract program. Not for nothing did Engels speak of the Socialist Revolution as a leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom. The Revolution itself is not as yet the kingdom of freedom. On the contrary, it is developing the features of “necessity” to the greatest degree. Socialism will abolish class antagonisms, as well as classes, but the Revolution carries the class struggle to its highest tension. During the period of revolution, only that literature which promotes the consolidation of the workers in their struggle against the exploiters is necessary and progressive. Revolutionary literature cannot but be imbued with a spirit of social hatred, which is a creative historic factor in an epoch of proletarian dictatorship. Under Socialism, solidarity will be the basis of society. Literature and art will be tuned to a different key. All the emotions which we revolutionists, at the present time, feel apprehensive of naming – so much have they been worn thin by hypocrites and vulgarians – such as disinterested friendship, love for one’s neighbor, sympathy, will be the mighty ringing chords of Socialist poetry.
However, does not an excess of solidarity, as the Nietzscheans fear, threaten to degenerate man into a sentimental, passive, herd animal? Not at all. The powerful force of competition which, in bourgeois society, has the character of market competition, will not disappear in a Socialist society, but, to use the language of psycho-analysis, will be sublimated, that is, will assume a higher and more fertile form. There will be the struggle for one’s opinion, for one’s project, for one’s taste. In the measure in which political struggles will be eliminated – and in a society where there will be no classes, there will be no such struggles – the liberated passions will be channelized into technique, into construction which also includes art. Art then will become more general, will mature, will become tempered, and will become, the most perfect method of the progressive building of life in every field. It will not be merely “pretty” without relation to anything else.
All forms of life, Such as the cultivation of land, the planning of human habitations, the building of theaters, the methods of socially educating children, the solution of scientific problems, the creation of new styles, will vitally engross all and everybody. People will divide into “parties” over the question of a new gigantic canal, or the distribution of oases in the Sahara (such a question will exist too), over the regulation of the weather and the climate, over a new theater, over chemical hypotheses, over two competing tendencies in music, and over a best system of sports. Such parties will not be poisoned by the greed of class or caste. All will be equally interested in the success of the whole. The struggle will have a purely ideologic character. It will have no running after profits, it will have nothing mean, no betrayals, no bribery, none of the things that form the soul of “competition” in a society divided into classes. But this will in no way hinder the struggle from being absorbing, dramatic and passionate. And as all problems in a Socialist society – the problems of life which formerly were solved spontaneously and automatically, and the problems of art which were in the custody of special priestly castes – will become the property of all people, one can say with certainty that collective interests and passions and individual competition will have the widest scope and the most unlimited opportunity. Art, therefore, will not suffer the lack of any such explosions of collective, nervous energy, and of such collective psychic impulses which make for the creation of new artistic tendencies and for changes in style. It will be the aesthetic schools around which “parties” will collect, that is, associations of temperaments, of tastes and of moods. In a struggle so disinterested and tense, which will take place in a culture whose foundations are steadily rising, the human personality, with its invaluable basic trait of continual discontent, will grow and become polished at all its points. In truth, we have no reason to fear that there will be a decline of individuality or an impoverishment of art in a Socialist society.
The “Realism” of Revolutionary Art
Can we christen revolutionary art with any of the names that we have? Osinsky somewhere called it realistic. The thought here is true and significant, but there ought to be an agreement on a definition of this concept to prevent falling into a misunderstanding.
The most perfect realism in art is coincident in our history with the “golden age” of literature, that is, with the classic literature of the noblemen.
The period of tendentious themes, when a work was judged primarily by the social ideals of the author, coincides with the period when the awakening intelligentsia sought an outlet to public activity, and tried to make a union with the “people” against the old regime.
The Decadent school and Symbolism, which appeared in opposition to the “realism” which ruled before them, correspond to the period when the intelligentsia tried to separate itself from the people and began to worship its own moods and experiences. Though, in fact, it submitted itself to the bourgeoisie, it tried not to dissolve itself into the bourgeoisie psychologically or scientifically. In this cause Symbolism invoked the aid of Heaven.
Pre-war Futurism was an attempt of the intelligentsia to rise out of the wreck of Symbolism, while still holding on to individualism, and to find a personal pivot in the impersonal conquests of material culture.
Such is the rough logic of the succession of the large periods in the development of Russian literature. Each one of these tendencies contained a definite social and group attitude towards the world which laid its impress upon the themes of the works, upon their content, upon the selection of environment, of the dramatic characters, etc. The idea of content does not refer to subject matter, in the ordinary sense of the term, but to social purpose. A lyric without a theme can express an epoch or a class or its point of view as well as a social novel.
Then there comes the question of form. Within certain limits, this develops in accord with its own laws, like any other technology. Each new literary school – if it is really a school and not an arbitrary grafting – is the result of a preceding development, of the craftsmanship of word and color already in existence, and only pulls away from the shores of what has been attained in order to conquer the elements anew.
Evolution is dialectic in this case, too. The new tendency in art negates the preceding one, and why? Evidently there are sentiments and thoughts which feel crowded within the framework of the old methods. But at the same time, the new moods find in the already old and fossilized art, some elements which when further developed can give them adequate expression. The banner of revolt is raised against the “old” as a whole, in the name of the elements which can be developed. Each literary school is contained potentially in the past and each one develops by pulling away hostilely from the past. The relation between form and content (the latter is to be understood not simply as a “theme” but as a living complex of moods and ideas which seek artistic expression) is determined by the fact that a new form is discovered, proclaimed and developed under the pressure of an inner need, of a collective psychological demand, which, like all human psychology, has its roots in society.
This explains the dualism of every literary tendency; on the one hand, it adds something to the technique of art, heightening (or lowering) the general level of craftsmanship; on the other hand, in its concrete historic form, it expresses definite demands which, in the final analysis, have a class character. We say class, but this also means individual, because a class speaks through an individual. It also means national, because the spirit of a nation is determined by the class which rules it and which subjects literature to itself.
Let us take up Symbolism. What is it understood to mean: is it the art of transforming reality symbolically, a method of artistic creation in form? Or is it that particular symbolic tendency which was represented by Blok, Sologub, and others? Russian Symbolism did not invent symbols. It only grafted them more closely to the organism of the modernized Russian language. In this sense, the future art, no matter what lines it will follow, will not wish to reject the Symbolist heritage in form. But the actual Russian Symbolism of certain definite years made use of the symbol for a precise social purpose. What was its purpose? The Decadent school, which preceded Symbolism, sought the solution of all artistic problems in the personal experiences of sex, death, and the rest, or rather of none but sex and death. It could not but exhaust itself in a very short time. From this – not from social impulses – followed the need to find a higher sanction for one’s demands and feelings and moods, and so to enrich and elevate them. Symbolism, which made of the symbol not only a method of art, but a symbol of faith, seemed to the intelligentsia the artistic bridge to Mysticism. In this concretely sociologic sense, and not in any abstract formal sense, Symbolism was not merely a method of artistic technique, but the intelligentsia’s escape from reality, its way of constructing another world, its artistic bringing up in self-sufficient day-dreaming, contemplation and passivity. In Blok we find Zhukovsky modernized! And the old Marxian symposiums and pamphlets (of 1908 and after) on the subject of the “literary decline”, no matter how crude and one-sided some of their generalizations may have been, and no matter how they tended to mere scribbling, gave an incomparably more significant and correct social literary diagnosis and prognosis than Chuzhak did, for instance. He gave thought to the problem of form sooner and more attentively than many other Marxists, but because of the Influence of the current schools of art, he saw in them the growing stages of a proletarian culture, and not the stages of the intelligentsia’s growing estrangement from the masses.
What are we to understand under the term realism? At various periods, and by various methods, realism gave expression to the feelings and needs of different social groups. Each one of these realistic schools is subject to a separate and social literary definition, and a separate formal and literary estimation. What have they in common? A definite and important feeling for the world. It consists in a feeling for life as it is, in an artistic acceptance of reality, and not in a shrinking from it, in an active Interest in the concrete stability and mobility of life. It is a striving either to picture life as it is or to idealize it, either to justify or to condemn it, either to photograph it or generalize and symbolize it. But it is always a preoccupation with our life of three dimensions as a sufficient and invaluable theme for art. In this large philosophic sense, and not in the narrow sense of a literary school, one may say with certainty that the new art will be realistic. The Revolution cannot live together with mysticism. Nor can the Revolution live together with romanticism,if that which Pilnyak, the Imagists and others call romanticism is, as it may be feared, mysticism shyly trying to establish itself under a new name. This is not being doctrinaire, this is an insuperable psychological fact. Our age cannot have a shy and portable mysticism, something like a pet dog that is carried along “with the rest”. Our age wields an axe. Our life, cruel, violent and disturbed to its very bottom, says: “I must have an artist of a single love. Whatever way you take hold of me, whatever tools and Instruments created by the development of art you choose, I leave to you, to your temperament and to your genius. But you must understand me as I am, you must take me as I will become, and there must be no one else besides me.”
This means a realistic monism, in the sense of a philosophy of life, and not a “realism” in the sense of the traditional arsenal of literary schools. On the contrary, the new artist will need all the methods and processes evolved in the past, as well as a few supplementary ones, in order to grasp the new life. And this is not going to be artistic eclecticism, because the unity of art is created by an active world-attitude and active life-attitude.
In 1918 and 1919, it was not uncommon to meet at the front a military division with cavalry at the head, and wagons carrying actors, actresses, stage settings, and other stage properties in the rear. In general, the place of art is in the rear of the historic advance. Because of the rapid changes on our fronts, the wagons with actors and stage properties found themselves frequently in a difficult position, and did not know where to go. At times they fell into the hands of the Whites. No less difficult at present is the position of all art, caught by the violent change on the historic front.
The theater especially is in a difficult position for it absolutely does not know where to go and what to “show”. And it is most remarkable that the theater, which is perhaps the most conservative form of art, should have the most radical theorists. Everyone knows that the most revolutionary group in the Union of Soviet Republics is the class of dramatic critics. At the first sign of a revolution in the West or in the East, it would be a good thing to organize them into a special military battalion of Levtretsi (Left theatrical reviewers). When our theaters present The Daughter of Madame Angot, The Death of Tarelkin, Turandot, The Cuckold, then our venerable Levtretsi try to be patient. But when it comes to giving Martinet’s play they nearly all rise on their hind legs (even before Meyerhold gave The World On Its Hind Legs). The play is patriotic. Martinet is a pacifist! And one of the critics even expressed himself in this wise: “This is all passé for us, and therefore of no interest.” But all this “Leftism” is horrible philistinism, without an ounce of revolutionism behind it. If we are to begin, from the standpoint of politics, then Martinet was a revolutionist and an internationalist, when many of our present-day representatives of the extreme Left had not even begun to smell Leftist blessings. Moreover, what does it mean to say that Martinet’s piece belongs to yesterday! Has the social revolution in France already taken place? Is it already victorious? Or shall we consider a French revolution not an independent historic drama, but only a boresome repetition of what has happened to us? This Leftism covers, besides many other things the commonest national narrowness. There is no question but Martinet’s play is too long in spots, and that it is more literary than dramatic (the author himself hardly expected that the play would be put on the stage). But these defects would have remained in the background if the theater had taken this play in its national and historic simplicity, that is, as a drama of the French proletariat at a certain point in its great march, and not as a sketch of a world that is on its hind legs. To carry over the action of a definite historic milieu into an abstract constructivism, is in this case a deviation from the revolution – from that real, true revolution which is developing obstinately and moving from country to country, and which appears, therefore, to some pseudo-revolutionists as a boresome repetition.
I do not know whether the stage needs bio-mechanics at the present time, that is, whether there is a historic necessity for it. But I have no doubt at all – if I may speak my own point of view – that our theater is terribly in need of a new realistic revolutionary repertory, and above all, of a Soviet comedy. We ought to have our own The Minors, our own Woes from Being Too Wise, and our own Inspector General. Not a new staging of these three old comedies, not a retouching of them in a Soviet style, as for a carnival parody, though this would be more vital than ninety-nine per cent of our repertory – no; we need simply a Soviet comedy of manners, one of laughter and of indignation. I am using the terms out of the old literature text-books on purpose, and I am not in the least afraid of being accused of going backwards. A new class, a new life, new vices and new stupidity, demand that they shall be released from silence, and when this will happen we will have a new dramatic art, for it is impossible to reproduce the new stupidity without new methods. How many new minors are tremblingly waiting to be represented on the stage? How much woe is there from being too wise, or from pretending to be too wise, and how good it would be if a stage Inspector General would walk across our Soviet life. Please do not point to the dramatic censorship, because that is not true. Of course, if your comedy will try to say: “See what we have been brought to; let us go back to the nice old nobleman’s nest” – then, of course, the censorship will sit on your comedy, and will do so with propriety. But if your comedy will say: “We are building a new life now, and yet how much piggishness, vulgarity and knavery of the old and of the new are about us; let us make a clean sweep of them”, then, of course, the censorship will not interfere, and if it will interfere somewhere it will do so foolishly, and all of us will fight such a censorship.
When, rare as it was, I had occasion to watch the stage, and politely hid my yawns so as not to offend anyone, I was strikingly impressed with the fact of how eagerly the audience caught every hint at present-day life, even the most insignificant. A very interesting manifestation of this can be seen in the operettas revived by the Art Theater, which are skittish with big and little thorns (there is no rose without thorns!). It occurred to me then that if we were not yet grown enough for comedy, we should, at least, stage a revue!
Of course, no doubt, and it goes without saying, in the future the theater will emerge out of its four walls and will merge in the life of the masses, which will obey absolutely the rhythm of bio-mechanics, and so forth, and so forth. But this, after all, is “futurism”, that is, music of a very distant future. But between the past on which the theater feeds, and the very distant future, there is the present in which we live. Between Passéism and Futurism, it would be well to give “Presentism” a chance behind the footlights. Let us vote for such a tendency! One good Soviet comedy will awaken the theater for a few years to come, and then perhaps we will have tragedy, which is truly considered the highest form of literature.
Old and New Tragedy
But can a great art be created out of our infidel epoch, ask certain mystics, who are willing to accept the Revolution if it can secure them immortality. Tragedy is a great and monumental form of literature. The tragedy of classic antiquity was deduced from its myths. All ancient tragedy is penetrated by a profound faith in fate which gave a meaning to life. The Christian myth unified the monumental art of the Middle Ages and gave a significance not only to the temples and the mysteries, but to all human relationships. The union of the religious point of view on life with an active participation in it, made possible a great art in those times. If one were to remove religious faith, not the vague, mystic buzzing that goes on in the soul of our modern intelligentsia, but the real religion, with God and a heavenly law and a church hierarchy, then life is left bare, without any place in it for supreme collisions of hero and destiny, of sin and expiation. The well-known mystic Stepun approaches art from this point of view in his article on Tragedy and the Contemporary Life. He starts from the needs of art itself, tempts us with a new and monumental art, shows us a revival of tragedy in the distance, and, in conclusion, demands, in the name of art, that we submit to and obey the powers of heaven. There is an insinuating logic in Stepun’s scheme. In fact, the author does not care for tragedy, because the laws of tragedy are nothing to him as compared to the laws of heaven. He only wishes to catch hold of our epoch by the small finger of tragic aesthetics in order to take hold of its entire hand. This is a purely Jesuitic approach. But from a dialectic point of view, Stepun’s reasoning is formalistic and Shallow. It ignores the materialistic and historical foundation from which the ancient drama and the Gothic art grew and from which a new art must grow.
The faith in an inevitable fate disclosed the narrow limits within which ancient man, clear in thought but poor in technique, was confined. He could not as yet undertake to conquer nature on the scale we do today, and nature hung over him like a fate. Fate is the limitation and the immobility of technical means, the voice of blood, of sickness, of death, of all that limits man, and that does not allow him to become “arrogant”. Tragedy lay inherent in the contradiction between the awakened world of the mind, and the stagnant limitation of means. The myth did not create tragedy, it only expressed it in the language of man’s childhood.
The bribe of spiritual expiation of the Middle Ages and, in general, the whole system of heavenly and earthly double bookkeeping, which followed from the dualism of religion, and especially of historic, positive Christianity, did not make the contradictions of life, but only reflected them and solved them fictitiously. Mediaeval society overcame the growing contradictions by transferring the promissory note to the Son of God; the ruling classes signed this note, the Church hierarchy acted as endorser, and the oppressed masses prepared to discount it in the other world.
Bourgeois society broke up human relationships into atoms, and gave them unprecedented flexibility and mobility. Primitive unity of consciousness which was the foundation of a monumental religious art disappeared, and with it went primitive economic relationships. As a result of the Reformation, religion became individualistic. The religious symbols of art having had their cord cut from the heavens, fell on their heads and sought support in the Uncertain mysticism of individual consciousness.
In the tragedies of Shakespeare, ‘which would be entirely unthinkable without the Reformation, the fate of the ancients and the passions of the mediaeval Christians are crowded out by individual human passions, such as love, jealousy, revengeful greediness, and spiritual dissension. But in every one of Shakespeare’s dramas, the individual passion is carried to such a high degree of tension that it outgrows the individual, becomes super-personal, and is transformed into a fate of a certain kind. The jealousy of Othello, the ambition of Macbeth, the greed of Shylock, the love of Romeo and Juliet, the arrogance of Coriolanus, the spiritual wavering of Hamlet, are all of this kind. Tragedy in Shakespeare is individualistic, and in this sense has not the general significance of Oedipus Rex, which expresses the consciousness of a whole people. None the less, compared with Aaeschylus, Shakespeare represents a great step forward and not backward. Shakespeare’s art is more human. At any rate, we shall no longer accept a tragedy in which God gives orders and man submits. Moreover, there will be no one to write such a tragedy.
Having broken up human relations into atoms, bourgeois society, during the period of its rise, had a great aim for itself. Personal emancipation was its name. Out of it grew the dramas of Shakespeare and Goethe’s Faust. Man placed himself in the center of the universe, and therefore in the center of art also. This theme sufficed for centuries. In reality, all modern literature has been nothing but an enlargement of this theme.
But to the degree in which the internal bankruptcy of bourgeois society was revealed as a result of its unbearable contradictions, the original purpose, the emancipation and qualification of the individual faded away and was relegated more and more into the sphere of a new mythology, without soul or spirit.
However the conflict between what is personal and what is beyond the personal, can take place, not only in the sphere of religion, but in the sphere of a human passion that is larger than the individual. The super-personal element is, above all, the social element. So long as man will not have mastered his social organization, the latter will hang over him as his fate. Whether at the same time society casts a religious shadow or not, is a secondary matter and depends upon the degree of man’s helplessness. Baboeuf’s struggle for Communism in a society which was not yet ready for it, was a struggle of a classic hero with his fate. Baboeuf’s destiny had all the characteristics of true tragedy, just as the fate of the Gracchi had whose name Baboeuf used.
Tragedy based on detached personal passions is too flat for our days. Why? Because we live in a period of social passions. The tragedy of our period lies in the conflict between the individual and the collectivity, or in the conflict between two hostile collectivities in the same individual. Our age is an age of great aims. This is what stamps it. But the grandeur of these aims lies in man’s effort to free himself from mystic and from every other intellectual vague. ness and in his effort to reconstruct society and himself in accord with his own plan. This, of course, is much bigger than the child’s play of the ancients which was becoming to their childish age, or the mediaeval ravings of monks, or the arrogance of individualism which tears personality away from the collectivity, and then, draining it to the very bottom, pushes it off into the abyss of pessimism, or sets it on all fours before the remounted bull Apis.
Tragedy is a high expression of literature because it implies the heroic tenacity of strivings, of limitless aims, of conflicts and sufferings. In this sense, Stepun was right when he characterized our “on the eve” art, as he called it, that is, the art which preceded the War and the Revolution, as insignificant.
Bourgeois society, individualism, the Reformation, the Shakespearean dramas, the great Revolution, these have made impossible the tragic significance of aims that come from without; great aims must live in the consciousness of a people or of a class which leads a people, if they are to arouse heroism or create a basis for great sentiments which inspire tragedy. The Tsarist War, whose purpose did not penetrate consciousness, gave birth to cheap verse only, with personal poetry trickling by its side, unable to rise to an objectivity and unable to form a great art.
If one were to regard the Decadent and the Symbolist schools, with all their off-shoots, from the point of view of the development of art as a social form, they would appear merely as scratches of the pen, as an exercise in craftsmanship, as a tuning up of instruments. The period in art when it was “on the eve” was without aims. Those who had aims had no time for art. At present, one has to carry out great aims by the means of art. One cannot tell whether revolutionary art will succeed in producing “high” revolutionary tragedy. But Socialist art will revive tragedy. Without God, of course. The new art will be atheist. It will also revive comedy, because the new man of the future will want to laugh. It will give new life to the novel. It will grant all rights to lyrics, because the new man will love in a better and stronger way than did the old people, and he will think about the problems of birth and death. The new art will revive all the old forms, which arose in the course of the development of the creative spirit. The disintegration and decline of these forms are not absolute, that is, they do not mean that these forms are absolutely incompatible with the spirit of the new age. All that is necessary is for the poet of the new epoch to re-think in a new way the thoughts of mankind, and to re-feel its feelings.
Arts Technique and Nature
In these latter years, architecture has suffered most of all, and this is true not only of our country alone; old buildings have been gradually destroyed, and new ones have not been built, Hence the housing crisis the world over. When work was resumed after the War, the people directed their energies, first of all, towards the most essential articles of consumption, and only secondarily towards the reconstruction of basic capital and houses. Ultimately, the destructiveness of wars and revolutions will give a powerful impetus to architecture, in the same way as the fire of 1812 helped to beautify Moscow. In Russia, the cultural material to be destroyed was less than in other countries, the destruction was greater than in other countries, while the rebuilding is immeasurably more difficult than in other countries. It is not surprising, then, that we have had no time for architecture, one of the most monumental of arts.
At present we are beginning to repair the pavements a little, to re-lay the sewage pipes, to finish the unfinished houses left to us as a heritage – but we are only beginning. We made the buildings of our Agricultural Exhibition out of wood. We must still put off all large-scale construction. The originators of gigantic projects, men like Tatlin, are given involuntarily a respite for more thought, for revision, and for radical re-examination. But one must not imagine that we are planning to repair old pavements and houses for decades to come. In this process, as in all other processes, there are periods of repair, of slow preparation and accumulation of forces, and periods of rapid development. As soon as a surplus will come after the most urgent and acute needs of life are covered, the Soviet state will take up the problem of gigantic constructions that will suitably express the monumental spirit of our epoch. Tatlin is undoubtedly right in discarding from his project national styles, allegorical sculpture, modeled monograms, flourishes and tails, and attempting to subordinate the entire design to a correct constructive use of material. This has been the way that machines, bridges and covered markets have been built, for a long time. But Tatlin has still to prove that he is right in what seems to be his own personal invention, a rotating cube, a pyramid and a cylinder all of glass. For good or bad, circumstances are going to give him plenty of time to find arguments for his side.
De Maupassant hated the Eiffel Tower, in which no one is forced to imitate him. But it is undoubtedly true that the Eiffel Tower makes a dual impression; one is attracted by the technical simplicity of its form, and, at the same time, repelled by its aimlessness. It is an extremely rational utilization of material for the purpose of making a high structure. But what is it for? It is not a building, but an exercise. At present, as everyone knows, the Eiffel Tower serves as a radio station. This gives it a meaning, and makes it aesthetically more unified. But if the tower had been built from the very beginning as a radio station, it probably would have attained a higher rationality of form, and so therefore a higher perfection of art.
From this point of view Tatlin’s project for a monument appears much less satisfactory. The purpose of the main building is to make glass headquarters for the meetings of the World Council of People’s Commissars, for the Communist International, etc. But the props and the piles which are to support the glass cylinder and the pyramid – and they are there for no other purpose – are so cumbersome and heavy that they look like unremoved scaffolding. One cannot think what they are for. They say: they are there to support the rotating cylinder in which the meetings will take place. But one answers: Meetings are not necessarily held in a cylinder and the cylinder does not necessarily have to rotate. I remember seeing once when a child, a wooden temple built in a beer bottle. This fired my imagination, but I did not ask myself at that time what it was for. Tatlin proceeds by a reverse method; he wants to construct a beer bottle for the World Council of People’s Commissars which would sit in a spiral concrete temple. But for the moment, I cannot refrain from the question: What is it for? To be more exact: we would probably accept the cylinder and its rotating, if it were combined with a simplicity and lightness of construction, that is, if the arrangements for its rotating did not depress the aim. Nor can we agree with the arguments which are given to interpret the artistic significance of the sculpture by Jacob Lipshitz. Sculpture must lose its fictitious independence, an independence which only means that it is relegated to the backyards of life or lies vegetating in dead museums, and it must revive in some higher synthesis its connection with architecture. In this broad sense, sculpture has to assume a utilitarian purpose. Very good, then. But it is not at all clear how one is to approach the Lipshitz sculpture from such a point of view. I have a photograph of several intersecting planes, which are supposed to be the outlines of a man sitting with a stringed instrument in his hands. We are told that if today it is not utilitarian, it is “purposeful”. In what way? To judge purposefulness, one has to know the purpose. But when one stops to think of the purposefulness and possible utility of those numerous intersecting planes and pointed forms and protrusions, one comes to the conclusion that, as a last resort, one could transform such a piece of sculpture into a hat-rack. Still, if it had been the sculptor’s plan to make a sculptured hat-rack, he would have probably found a more purposeful form for it. At any rate, we cannot recommend that a plaster-cast be made of it for hat-racks.
We must therefore assume that the Lipshitz sculpture, like the word-forms of Kruchenikh, are merely exercises in technique, like the playing of scales and passages. They are exercises in the verbal and sculptural music of the future. But one should not hand exercises out as music. It is better not to let them out of the studio, nor to show them to a photographer.
There is no doubt that, in the future – and the farther we go, the more true it will be – such monumental tasks as the planning of city gardens, of model houses, of railroads, and of ports, will interest vitally not only engineering architects, participators in competitions, but the large popular masses as well. The imperceptible, ant-like piling up of quarters and streets, brick by brick, from generation to generation, will give way to titanic constructions of city-villages, with map and compass in hand. Around this compass will be formed true peoples’ parties, the parties of the future for special technology and construction, which will agitate passionately, hold meetings and vote. In this struggle, architecture will again be filled with the spirit of mass feelings and moods, only on a much higher plane, and mankind will educate itself plastically, it will become accustomed to look at the world as submissive clay for sculpting the most perfect forms of life. The wall between art and industry will come down. The great style of the future will be formative, not ornamental. Here the Futurists are right. But it would be wrong to look at this as a liquidating of art, as a voluntary giving way to technique.
Take the penknife as an example. The combination of art and technique can proceed along two fundamental lines; either art embellishes the knife and pictures an elephant, a prize beauty, or the Eiffel Tower on its handle; or art helps technique to find an “ideal” form for the knife, that is, such a form which will correspond most adequately to the material of a knife and its purpose. To think that this task can be solved by purely technical means is incorrect, because purpose and material allow for an innumerable number of variations. To make an “ideal” knife, one must have, besides the knowledge of the properties of the material and the methods of its use, both imagination and taste. In accord with the entire tendency of industrial culture, we think that the artistic imagination in creating material objects will be directed towards working out the ideal form of a thing, as a thing, and not towards the embellishment of the thing as an aesthetic premium to itself. If this is true for penknives, it will be truer still for wearing apparel, furniture, theaters and cities. This does not mean the doing away with “machine-made” art, not even in the most distant future. But it seems that the direct cooperation between art and all branches of technique will become of paramount importance.
Does this mean that industry will absorb art, or that art will lift industry up to itself on Olympus? This question can be answered either way, depending on whether the problem is approached from the side of industry, or from the side of art. But in the object attained, there is no difference between either answer. Both answers signify a gigantic expansion of the scope and artistic quality of industry, and we understand here, under industry, the entire field without excepting the industrial activity of man; mechanical and electrified agriculture will also become part of industry.
The wall will fall not only between art and industry, but simultaneously between art and nature also. This is not meant in the sense of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that art will come nearer to a state of nature, but that nature will become more “artificial”. The present distribution of mountains and rivers, of fields, of meadows, of steppes, of forests, and of seashores, cannot be considered final. Man has already made changes in the map of nature that are not few nor insignificant. But they are mere pupils’ practice in comparison with what is coming. Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing “on faith”, is actually able to cut down mountains and move them. Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan. Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste. We have not the slightest fear that this taste will be bad.
The Reshaping of Man
The jealous, scowling Kliuev declares, in his quarrel with Mayakovsky, that “it does not behoove a maker of songs to bother about cranes”, and that it is “only in the furnace of the heart, and in no other furnace, that the purple gold of life is melted.” Ivanov-Razumnik, a populist, who was once a left Social-Revolutionist – and this tells the whole story – also took a hand in this quarrel. Ivanov-Razumnik declares that the poetry of the hammer and the machine, in whose name Mayakovsky speaks, is a transient episode, but that the poetry of “God-made Earth” is “the eternal poetry of the world”. Earth and the machine are here contrasted as the eternal and temporary sources of poetry, and of course the eminent idealist, the tasteless and cautious semi-mystic Razumnik, prefers the eternal to the transient. But, in truth, this dualism of earth and machine is false; one can contrast a backward peasant field with a flour mill, either on a plantation, or in a Socialist society. The poetry of the earth is not eternal, but changeable, and man began to sing articulate songs only after he had placed between himself and the earth implements and instruments which were the first simple machines. There would have been no Koltzov without a scythe, a plow or a sickle. Does that mean that the earth with a scythe has the advantage of eternity over the earth with an electric plow? The new man, who is only now beginning to plan and to realize himself, will not contrast a barn-floor for grouse and a drag.net for sturgeons with a crane and a steam-hammer, as does Kliuev and Razumnik after him. Through the machine, man in Socialist society will command nature in its entirety, with its grouse and its sturgeons. He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans. The idealist simpletons may say that this will be a bore, but that is why they are simpletons. Of course this does not mean that the entire globe will be marked off into boxes, that the forests will be turned into parks and gardens. Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times. The machine is not in opposition to the earth. The machine is the instrument of modern man in every field of life. The present-day city is transient. But it will not be dissolved back again into the old village. On the contrary, the village will rise in fundamentals to the plane of the city. Here lies the principal task. The city is transient, but it points to the future, and indicates the road. The present village is entirely of the past. That is why its aesthetics seem archaic, as it they were taken from a museum of folk art.
Mankind will come out of the period of civil wars much poorer from terrific destructions, even without the earthquakes of the kind that occurred in Japan. The effort to conquer poverty, hunger, want in all its forms, that is, to conquer nature, will be the dominant tendency for decades to come. The passion for mechanical improvements, as in America, will accompany the first stage of every new Socialist society. The passive enjoyment of nature will disappear from art. Technique will become a more powerful inspiration for artistic work, and later on the contradiction itself between technique and nature will be solved in a higher synthesis.
The personal dreams of a few enthusiasts today for making life more dramatic and for educating man himself rhythmically, find a proper and real place in this outlook. Having rationalized his economic system, that is, having saturated it with consciousness and planfulness, man will not leave a trace of the present stagnant and worm-eaten domestic life. The care for food and education, which lies like a millstone on the present-day family, will be removed, and will become the subject of social initiative and of an endless collective creativeness. Woman will at last free herself from her semi-servile condition. Side by side with technique, education, in the broad sense of the psycho-physical molding of new generations, will take its place as the crown of social thinking. Powerful “parties” will form themselves around pedagogic systems. Experiments in social education and an emulation of different methods will take place to a degree which has not been dreamed of before. Communist life will not be formed blindly, like coral islands, but will be built consciously, will be tested by thought, will be directed and corrected. Life will cease to be elemental, and for this reason stagnant. Man, who will learn how to move rivers and mountains, how to build peoples’ palaces on the peaks of Mont Blanc and at the bottom of the Atlantic, will not only be able to add to his own life richness, brilliancy and intensity, but also a dynamic quality of the highest degree. The shell of life will hardly have time to form before it will burst open again under the pressure of new technical and cultural inventions and achievements. Life in the future will not be monotonous.
More than that. Man at last will begin to harmonize himself in earnest. He will make it his business to achieve beauty by giving the movement of his own limbs the utmost precision, purposefulness and economy in his work, his walk and his play. He will try to master first the semiconscious and then the subconscious processes in his own organism, such as breathing, the circulation of the blood, digestion, reproduction, and, within necessary limits, he will try to subordinate them to the control of reason and will. Even purely physiologic life will become subject to collective experiments. The human species, the coagulated Homo sapiens, will once more enter into a state of radical transformation, and, in his own hands, will become an object of the most complicated methods of artificial selection and psycho-physical training. This is entirely in accord with evolution. Man first drove the dark elements out of industry and ideology, by displacing barbarian routine by scientific technique, and religion by science. Afterwards he drove the unconscious out of politics, by overthrowing monarchy and class with democracy and rationalist parliamentarianism and then with the clear and open Soviet dictatorship. The blind elements have settled most heavily in economic relations, but man is driving them out from there also, by means of the Socialist organization of economic life. This makes it possible to reconstruct fundamentally the traditional family life. Finally, the nature of man himself is hidden in the deepest and darkest corner of the unconscious, of the elemental, of the sub-soil. Is it not self-evident that the greatest efforts of investigative thought and of creative initiative will be in that direction? The human race will not have ceased to crawl on all fours before God, kings and capital, in order later to submit humbly before the dark laws of heredity and a blind sexual selection! Emancipated man will want to attain a greater equilibrium in the work of his organs and a more proportional developing and wearing out of his tissues, in order to reduce the fear of death to a rational reaction of the organism towards danger. There can be no doubt that man’s extreme anatomical and physiological disharmony, that is, the extreme disproportion in the growth and wearing out of organs and tissues, give the life instinct the form of a pinched, morbid and hysterical fear of death, which darkens reason and which feeds the stupid and humiliating fantasies about life after death.
Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.
It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psycho-physical self-education will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts – literature, drama, painting, music and architecture will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.
Literature and Revolution by Leon Trotsky. Translated by Rose Strunsky. International Publishers, New York. 1925.
Contents: Introduction, I) Pre-Revolutionary Art, The Intelligentsia Which Stood Aloof – The Islanders – The Culture-Skimmers – The Ralliés – Reform in the Church – The Retainer – Quality in Literature – Individualism and Mysticism – Romanticism and Anthroposophy, II) The Literary “Fellow-travellers” of the Revolution, Transitional Art – A New Soviet Populism – Kliuev, A Revolutionary “Fellow Traveller” – Yessenin And The Imagists – The Unformed Realism of the “Serapion Fraternity” – The Retrogressional Realism of Pilnyak – Rustic or Peasant-Singing Poets – The “Changing Landmarks” Group – Neoclassicism or “Revolutionary Conservatism”, III) Alexander Blok, Blok’s Place in Russian Literature – The Pre-Revolutionary Element of Blok’s Symbolism – Why The Twelve is Not a Poem of the Revolution – Dualism – Blok and the Bourgeoisie, IV) Futurism, Its Bohemian Origin – The Break with the Past – The Component Elements of Russian Futurism – Mayakovsky and the Revolution – Futurism, a Line Between the Creative Intelligentsia and the People, V) The Formalist School of Poetry and Marxism, The Formalist Opposition to Marxism – The Reduction of Poetry to Etymology and Syntax – Art for Art’s Sake and the Materialist Dialectics – The Argumentations of Shklovsky and Others – An Analogy with the Theologic Argument Against Darwinism, VI) Proletarian Culture and Proletarian, What is Proletarian Culture, and Is it Possible? – The Cultural Methods of the Bourgeoisie and of the Proletariat – The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Relation to Culture – What is Proletarian Science? – Workingmen-Poets and the Working-Class – Cosmism – Demyan Biedny, VII) Communist Policy Toward Art, Revolutionary Art not Produced by Workers Alone – Leisure and Political Indifference of True Intelligentsia as Factors in Creative Art – The Functions of the Communist Party in Relation to Art – Social Cataclysm and the Continuity of Art and Culture, VIII) Revolutionary And Socialist Art, Greater Dynamics under Socialism – The “Realism” of Revolutionary Art – Soviet Comedy – Old and New Tragedy – Art, Technique and Nature – The Reshaping of Man. 256 pages.
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