The end of the nineteenth century ushered in new movements in Russian poetry, art, dance, and music, which continued to grow throughout the early twentieth century. The movement sought to unify all forms of art and promoted collaboration amongst artists. Companies such as the Ballets Russes merged artists of all disciplines, from painters to musicians, in their shows. As this new wave of Russian art progressed, the past was often rejected in favor of a belief in progress through the unification of the Russian people. Though the past was often rejected, once the Russian Socialist Revolution occurred, Bolshevik politicians such as Lenin and Lunacharskii failed to recognize the value of the past in the proletariat movement.
In The Proletariat and Art, Alexander Bogdanov stated the important role of art in the organization and unification of a strong proletariat. ((http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/culture-and-revolution/culture-and-revolution-texts/the-proletarian-and-art/)) However, he argued that the proletariat should critique past art rather than reject it in its entirety. Instead, traditional Russian art provided an opportunity for the working class to find new interpretations of the artworks in order to learn from it through a proletarian lens. According to Bogdanov, if the proletariat could find new meaning in these pieces of art to advance their own agenda of unity and collectivization, then past artwork would work as a tool to strengthen the proletariat. Further, critiquing traditional artwork would allow the proletariat to understand the past and ensure that it would not repeat itself.
Elements of the past were often present in Russian art, such is in Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and in Goncharova’s Primitivist paintings. ((http://artinrussia.org/natalia-goncharova/ ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF1OQkHybEQ)) These artists believed in the progress of a unified Russian society, but they used symbols of the past in their works to demonstrate its role in inciting this progress. Though the music of “Rite of Spring” employs modern techniques, it is juxtaposed with traditional tribal dancing and costumes in the ballet. Further, Goncharova’s Primitivism was a modern art technique, but it focused on artistic styles and methods of the past. Lenin and the Bolsheviks failed to recognize the importance of the past in art and in a successful proletariat society as a whole.
The Red Army occupying Moscow, during the Russian Civil War
((Bolsheviks in Moscow. Digital image. The Russian Civil War: 1917-1920. Accessed February 7, 2016. http://www.emersonkent.com/wars_and_battles_in_history/russian_civil_war.htm))
In the U.S., there seems to be a commonly held misconception about the emergence of Soviet Russia and its relationship with its surrounding neighbors. From my history classes, I remember learning about Russia leaving World War I and the basics of the Russian Revolution. However, after that period, it seems that Russian history just disappears until World War II. Suddenly, Russia became our uneasy ally. I recall hearing the negative effects of the Great Depression on the Russian economy, like it had for all major global economies; however, aside from that, it was mostly Roaring Twenties and the New Deal. Since Soviet Russia grew in size from WWI to WWII and, as a class, we never really touched upon Russia; we were left to assume that the leaders of Russia thought it best to expand immediately. Reading these documents proved my assumptions wrong.
Russia’s transition from a new government to the might USSR was not as smooth. In fact, the documents provide evidence of the Bolsheviks pushing to help like-minded individuals in neighboring areas. For example, in the “Council of People’s Commissars, Decree on Recognizing the Independence of the Estonian Soviet Republic,” the response detailed in the document pushed for Estonian independence. This concept is contrary to what many students in the US are likely led to believe. The Council of People’s Commissars not only recognized the independence of the newly founded Estonian Soviet Republic, but pushed for both military and economic aid. These ideas are supported in two of the other documents, which essentially both call for the unity of Russian laborers in a global fight for freedom against the bourgeoisie and imperialists. It appears, however, that once Stalin took over control of the government, he sought to enforce these ideals strictly and militarily, as opposed to in a friendlier manner.
The first of Wednesday’s readings, the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, was a document that created a mutually beneficial, albeit brief, truce between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. Although both countries had fundamentally different political systems and ambitions, Russia favored entering into a non-aggression pact because it knew that Germany was a highly industrialized, blossoming state that posed them a significant threat. Stalin knew that if Hitler chose to strike Russia, they would not be adequately prepared to defend themselves. At first the truce benefitted Germany because once they decided to engage most of Europe, they knew that they would not be required to fight a two-front war as they had to do in the past during WWI. Hitler saw fit to violate this pact, which it appears to have been his intention all along, because it was part of his political ideology to remove the Jewish problem in the east in order to make room for the Lebensraum to house the burgeoning German population. He believed that Russia could be easily taken, allowing Germans to reclaim the territory that is rightfully theirs, from the Bolshevik/Jewish “menace.”
The second of Wednesday’s readings, Stalin’s speech form 1946, was the speech that highlighted his re-election campaign. In this speech he attributed Russia’s victory to the effectiveness of the country’s Soviet system. Stalin adamantly professed the efficacy of the system when he stated, “The issue now is no longer the viability of the Soviet state system, because there can be no doubt about its viability…” While it is true that Russia was much more effective fending off Germany in WWII than WWI, Stalin asserted that no other system could have achieved such positive results. While arguing for the efficacy of his Five Year plans, he compared Russia’s output in 1941 to that of 1913. He used suspect reasoning while justifying his argument with these statistics because Russia was in such a dismal state of affairs in 1913 that the gains experienced during this interval of time could in fact be considered, “the simple and ordinary development of a country from backwardness to progress.” Once Germany violated their Non-Aggression pact, Russia was put on the defensive and nearly taken over by Germany. For a nation as large and populous as Russia, the industrialization achieved by 1941 was still relatively lackluster. When Stalin stated in his speech that “it does not resemble the picture of the way our army was supplied during the First World War, when the front suffered chronic shortages of artillery and shells, when the army fought without tanks and aircraft, and when one rifle was issue for every three men,” he is partially incorrect because that was the Red Army’s state of affairs for much of the first half of the war. During the battle of Stalingrad troops were sent into battle rifleless, similarly to WWI. Also, Stalin was forced to pass order #227, which stated that any man who made an attempt to retreat was to be gunned down by his own troops who were stationed in the rear of the lines. He failed to take into consideration the fact that any population facing the brink of total annihilation will do anything in their power to survive by focusing the entire nation’s efforts and resources towards the war effort, regardless of what system is in place. Stalin used the Russian victory as a springboard to launch his reelection campaign. He only highlighted the positive aspects of the war, which obviously cumulated with a Soviet victory against their antagonistic, Nazi-German enemy. What he chose to exclude from his speech was the 21 to 28 million deaths that the Soviet Union experienced during the war – far more than any other participating nation.
In today’s readings: TheSpeech of April 12th, 1921, Mein Kampf, and The 25 Points of 1920, Adolf Hitler expressed many of the tenets of his political ideology, which was still in its fledgling stage. In this National Socialist ideology Hitler rejected both leftist and rightist ideologies alike. He stated, “the condition which must precede every act is the will and the courage to speak the truth-and that we do not see today in either the Right or in the Left.” Hitler despised capitalism because he believed that the Jews were able to harness it as a tool to oppress the German population through economic means. He also detested socialism and Marxism because he associated these movements with the Bolshevik-Jewish led Russia, and believed that it would lead Germany to “complete destruction-to Bolshevism.” Hitler advocated a political philosophy where the German peoples were to put the “nation” above everything else in degree of importance, and secondly to bolster the strength of this “nation” by being “social” and acting in the best interest of the community at large; Hence the term National Socialism.
Compared to the Hitler’s popular conceptions, I believe that the aforementioned documents expressed both similarities and differences. Hitler is well known for his demonization of the Jewish peoples, and this component was present in the various examples of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Hitler’s ideology created a binary opposition where there existed only the “victory of the Aryan or annihilation of the Aryan and victory of the Jew.” In his mind it was either one or the other, with no room for compromise. While he was professedly anti-Semitic, he did not yet advocate violence against this population. In these writings his principal aim was to distance the “pure-blooded” Germans from their Jewish counterparts. It was not until later, particularly with Hitler’s mandate of the Final Solution, that he garnered the reputation as a heinous, bloodthirsty, maniacal mass-murderer.
The book We was written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921 in early Soviet Russia. Zamyatin became a Bolshevik in the early 1900’s, working with the Bolsheviks throughout the years leading up to the October Revolution and being exiled multiple times by the Russian government. Zamyatin was an Old Bolshevik and he truly believed that Russian society had to change, so he supported the October Revolution and was present in St. Petersburg when it took place. However, in the years following the October Revolution, the Communist Party began to become more oppressive, primarily regarding censorship. Zamyatin was an author, he’d been writing consistently for about ten years by 1921, and he became very critical of the Soviet Party as they became more oppressive and began to censor more works.
We was written during the post-Revolution period of increasing censorship and it was a blatant criticism of the society that the Soviet Party was looking to create. In We, Zamyatin creates a dystopian society to represent how far from the original revolutionary ideals the Soviet Party has gone. The society that he creates is ruled by a government called the “One State”, a government that micromanages the lives of every citizen. Zamyatin writes We in a way that makes the reader think that the Soviet Party will eventually make Russia like One State and attempt to control everything that they do. He uses language in the book that is very similar to the propaganda used by the Soviet Party during that time period and he uses analogies that the reader would easily associate with the Soviet Party.
Zamyatin was a very brave individual. We was censored by the Soviet government before he could publish it in Russia, but he made sure that the manuscript made the journey to America where it was published in 1924. Eventually, his open criticisms of the Soviet Party would get him exiled from Russia, but before that time he did everything that he could to protest the absolutism that Russia was headed towards.
Dmitry Furmanov was a Russian writer who would become a commissar for the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War. A commissar was a position in the Bolshevik movement that encompassed multiple appendant bodies of representation (military, political, etc) but all represented the same organization: Communist idealism. It was the job of the commissariat to ensure that the party interests were being realized on day to day operations in all of their respective fields of work. For example, a commissar attached to a Bolshevik military battalion had the duty and obligation of working not only to recruit more to the cause, but also to ensure that the communist vision is realized by executing and planning phases of actions against the enemy. Whereas a commissar that represents the people would focus more on the morale and unity of the people on the home front. These individuals represented the senior leadership of the Bolsheviks and ultimately had a say over the policy, management, and development of the communist movement.
Furmanov’s particular commissar job led him to envelop a novel about arguably the most renown and famous hero of the civil war: Vasily Chapeav. Chapeav was a soldier of the Bolsheviks who was elected by his fellow soldiers to command their unit against the White Army. Later in the Civil War, Chapeav demonstrated himself as a confident and competent leader up until his last battle in which he and his unit were ambushed by White Forces. In his death, Chapeav exemplified the veracious spirit of the Bolshevik effort and went down in history as a hero of the Civil War and was immortalized throughout the future soviet military existence.
I found this reading to be invaluable insight into both the zeitgeist of the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and human psychology. Being born in the United States in 1993, I found this article to be both very fascinating and disturbing. Part of what I have been taught growing up is that it takes until somewhere in early adulthood to obtain a grasp of what you’re identity is as a person, and many never understand. I see the journey to understanding ones self as a fluid part of life, shapeless and easily distorted by pressure, but ultimately liberating. My conscience has been heavily influenced by a type of social revolution of cultural, religious, ethnic, and sexual acceptance brought about closely before the second millennium, and through my education I have been taught to transcend observed boundaries. Podlubnyi’s world is one which is hard to imagine myself in.
The first thing that surprised me was that Podlubnyi truly believes that he has been tainted with some sort of kulak blood, as if it were an inescapable genetic trait or a physiological, psychological defect. Podlubnyi spent his life as a prisoner of his own conscience, desperately digging an escape route from his kulak past to be identified as a worker of the state. The state truly owned him through what I would assume he would perceive as a somewhat transparent label which had been given to his father. Podlubnyi continued to lose sleep even when the state validated him as “working class”, as he continued to look towards guidelines for his thoughts and behaviors in order to be “free”.
The fact that suicide was brought about by a self-perceived uselessness towards the state also shocked me. Suicide to me comes about after extreme personal failure, but it is usually because of severe psychological depression or a severe implosion of ones life, causing one to see no purpose to continue. Although these may have been the thoughts and emotions of Podlubnyi, they were a product of the state’s influence on him rather than what I would perceive to be as a more personal affair. But perhaps the state was more personal to him than love or friendship would be to me, it is impossible to know.