Blog Post 9/13/2016
We Grow Out of Iron and The Ion Messiah
Gastev’s poem and his background represent a modernizing Russia. Gastev was a factory work, a member of the proletariat which was the fastest growing class of people and the new face of Russia in the early 20th century. He was a peasant who became literate and politically active. His profession and class play an increasingly important role in Russian society and according to Marxists, his class occupies the most politically crucial role in the new socialist order. After all Gastev is a socialist.
How do poems, specifically his poem, represent characteristics of modernity? The poem focuses largely on the material world. He describes the tools of industry: “workbenches, hammers, furnaces” etc. and the factory they are found in. He personifies the factory, growing taller and stronger as “fresh iron blood pours into my veins”. The very fact that he describes a factory, a productive enterprise made to produce materials, is evidence enough of this theme of materialism and in this way represents this characteristic of modernity. The poem concerns itself solely within the realm of man and machine. It captures the idea of progress and the changing world, it’s inevitability as the factory shouts “Victory shall be ours!”
Kirillov’s poem and Kirillov’s orgins are similar to Gastev’s. However, instead of celebrating the factory he celebrates the proletariat with his poem. He equates the common factory worker to god. He says “There he is – the savior, the lord of the earth. / The master of titanic forces… We thought he would appear in a sunlight stole, / With a nimbus of divine mystery,” His atheistic ode to humankind’s central place in the universe represents the humanism, secularism and scientific thought of modernity. He portrays the working man as the prophet, drawing a parallel with Christ’s central role in deliverance and the saving of humanity. Instead of god saving mankind it is man who will free and deliver the people of the world. This theme of nihilism and humankind’s supreme preeminence relates to this very secular aspect of modernity.
Both Vladimir Kirillov and Aleksei Gastev express their admiration of the growing collectivization of industry in revolutionary Russia through their free verse poetry. The poets envision industry as the cure to class struggles that plagued revolutionary Russia, for under a rational and efficient system of production, all workers will be equal. Kirillov tells his readers that the leader of Russian industry may be a common man, “From the suburbs,” ((Vladimir Kirillov, “The Iron Messiah,” in Popular Poetry in Soviet Russia, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1929), 216)) with enough power and charisma to bring citizens “to eternal fraternity” ((Kirillov, “The Iron Messiah,” 216)). Kirillov seeks to empower the average Russian worker, engaging in a form of mass politics to mobilize the working class.
Gastev paints the factory floor with images of heaven, rising Christlike out of the building to bring Russia to a new age of progress and pride. Rather than tire from work, Gastev boasts that “iron blood pours into my veins.” ((Aleksei Gastev, “We Grow Out of Iron,” in A Treasury of Russian Verse, edited by Avrahm Yarmolinksy (New York: Macmillan Company, 1949), 252)) Kirillov and Gastev put their faith in Russian industry, worshipping work as a deity. But does their veneration neglect the true lot of the peasant? They make no note of how industry could continue to exasperate the struggle of the revolutionary-era peasant. In the face of this poetic naivety, is it any wonder that workers’ quality of life in the Soviet Union plummeted?
Her reforms were progressive in the sense that they moved Russia towards modernization and brought the state in line with Western concepts of the relationship between a government and its subjects. One theme present throughout Catherine the Great’s reforms is an attempt to balance state powers and individual liberties. The Statute on Provincial Administration states that “the personal security of each loyal subject is quite precious to the Monarch’s philanthropic heart,” and the establishment of an ordered, hierarchical bureaucracy within the provinces is one way to enforce order and protect personal security among and of the subjects. However, the bureaucratization serves a second purpose, which is to quantify and order a population in case the state wishes to mobilize them when they need labor or combat. Article 20 of the Charter to the Nobility mandates that no subject may “spare neither labor nor even life itself in State service,” reminding the nobility that they are subject to the same calls to war and work as the rest of the population.
However, Catherine’s reforms also implement checks on state power. According to the Charter to the Towns, no urban corporation may make regulations contrary to the laws of the state. Catherine’s reforms standardized the rule of law throughout Russia and ensured that no provincial power could infringe upon the rights of their subjects by creating their own regulations. Overall, Catherine’s reforms show the delicate balance, characteristic of many nascent modern states, between using a population as a resource and respecting the rights of that population to encourage their obedience to their government.
Did Catherine’s reforms favor either the subject or the state?
In the fifth chapter of Three New Deals titled “Public Works,” Wolfgang Schivelbusch compares the motivations for and the goals of the large public projects carried out by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the United States during the 1930s. Schivelbusch argues that each country’s project responded developments within the Soviet Union, their shared competitor ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Public Works,” in Three New Deals – Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939) (New York: Picador, 2006), 104)). Although Italy’s drainage of the Pontine Marshes, German’s construction of the autobahn, and the United States’ construction of dams and power plants through the Tennessee Valley Authority Act uniquely reflected each country’s unique social context and needs, all of the projects reflected the modern theme of promoting individualism through collectivism.
These projects drew the attention of the entire nation while only actually affecting a small portion of the population. Nevertheless, with each project the state created a new national prize and monument around which the people could feel a sense of pride. The projects themselves served as propaganda, they created fantasy’s that masked the national reality. Mussolini galvanized and militarized the Italian people with his “harvest battle” as he marched tractors and people into new cities long before the start of WWII ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 151)). To quote David Lilienthal, a member of the TVA’s board of directors, the new electrical dams and towns created by the TVA represented “a token of the virility and vigor of democracy” during the depths of the depression and a period where only 20 percent of American home had electricity ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 151)). Hitler preemptively constructed the autobahn before the motorization of Germany ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 170)). These national projects united the people around a sense of achievement while also promoting a sense of individuality. The new Italian agricultural land and towns promoted self sufficiency and an independent lifestyle. In the American and German projects, the myth of widespread electricity and mobility respectively fostered a sense of freedom that technological developments facilitated. All three projects left the majority of the population yearning for a new lifestyle; albeit, a national dream.
As Schivelbush outlines in chapter four titled, “Back to the Country,” the aforementioned states tried to develop the same sense of collective individualism in their efforts to institute economic autarky, national economic stability achieved through individual self-sufficiency ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 107)). Furthermore, each state’s program reinforces one of core characteristics of a modern state outlined by David L. Hoffmann in his book Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices. Hoffman identified the modern state’s ability to “utilize the emotional and mobilizational power of traditional appeals and symbols, themselves disembedded from their original context and recast for political purposes” ((Hoffman, David L, and Yanni Kotsonis. Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 247)). Postwar, modern governments seemingly never acted without some ulterior or latent political motive. What other government programs support this thinking? Could a modern government ever implement policy devoid of propagandistic values? How did/has the public works of Italy, Germany, and the United States changed our view of government programs? Did these public works achieve their goals? How are they viewed today?
Hoffman defines the traditional sense of modernity as liberal democracy and industrial capitalism. This idea or narrow concept of modernity, in my mind, proceeds from our desire to clearly identify the others: to separate the proverbial tares from the wheat. However, in our insatiable egotism and self justification we construct rigid lines of demarcation by which to separate ourselves from the others. Hoffman deconstructs this archaic version of modernity to define the more fundamental, rational sense of true modernity.
The key lies in the governments evolved relationship with the people. During the modern era, people became the focus of governments. All forms government, fascist, democratic, communist, or socialist, invested significant time and resources into the lives of the people. I really enjoyed following Hoffman’s clear logic and connections between democratic and communist governments, seemingly polar government structures. The author argues that perhaps the most distinguishing factor between government types are their goals. Communist or fascist governments heavily invest in citizens’ lives to further a particular agenda or cultivate a certain national mindset. Conversely, Hoffman says that although liberal democracies intrude on person liberties, just like communist or socialist states, they do so for the national good without pursuing “grand ideological claims.” I struggle with this argument. Although there are certainly differences between government types, the lines are not so clear.
All governments absolutely try to disperse perceived national values through their institutions, programs, and other actions. During the Second World War the United States conducted immense advertising campaigns to rally support for the war and also demonize any anti-war or American sentiments, whether actively antagonistic to the United States or simply ideological. Perhaps I am just naturally inclined to distrust governments, but I believe that all powerful organizations are concerned with their own history and the way it will be told.
I realize the article largely pertains to the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century; nevertheless, I still think about the direction western society is now traveling. European countries, and slowly the United States as well, are starting to adopt more social or collective policies and programs. This is not a criticism, only an observation on how the tares and wheat are becoming obsolete upon our embracing of a new form of modernity.
Bauman’s introduction to Modernity and the Holocaust raises questions pertaining the Holocaust and its relationship with modern civilization. While there are many historical and theological arguments attached to the questions raised, there are minimal accounts of sociological arguments.
If looking though through a historical/theological lens, one can find how modernity contributed to the Holocaust. While human beings would like to think only about the positive outcomes of modernity, we must think of the negative outcomes that resulted in such a change in society. While there is not a specific beginning of modern society, I believe in the later 19th century when individuals moved to urban cities due to industrialization, the shift in society changed to a more modern view. Life shifted away from religion and more towards consumerism and urban ideals. With modernity taking over, industrialization began to sweep Europe.
Relating the shift of modernity to the Holocaust, Nachama Tec, John R. Roth, and Henry Feingold try to explain how modernity could have influenced the Holocaust. A journalist from Le Monde interviewed hijacked victims who experienced divorce after their horrific experiences. As a result, the victims were able to notice negative characteristics of their spouses that were not as obvious as before the hijacking occur. This proves that there are hidden abnormal traits amongst all people that are most likely never to be identified by people due to the desire to only view what is the norm. In relation to the Holocaust, while modernity is viewed as a positive shift, somehow the hidden abnormal traits were exposed, which resulted in the Holocaust. Bauman states, “we suspect (even if we refuse to admit it) that the Holocaust could merely have uncovered another face of the same modern society whose other, more familiar, face we so admire. And that the two faces are perfectly comfortably attached to the same body. What we perhaps fear most, is that each of the two faces can no more exist without the other than can the two sides of a coin” (7).
Further explaining how the Holocaust resulted from the shift towards modern civilization, Feingold states, “Auschwitz was also a mundane extension of the modern factory system. Rather than producing goods, the raw material was human beings and the end product was death, so many units per day marked carefully on the manager’s production charts” (8). As expressed by Feingold, the Holocaust produced all evidence from the modern shift, it was just the inhumane choice to destroy human beings instead of producing materialistic goods.
In the first chapter of Zygmunt Bauman’s “Modernity and the Holocaust”, multiple perspectives are provided regarding the relationship between modernity and the Holocaust. Bauman begins by refuting the concept of the Holocaust- or any major sociological development, for that matter- as a singular “event” that can be scrutinized in terms of the multitude of historical elements that contributed to its development. Rather, he projects the idea that unless we revise our sociological perspective on the past, we will never see it as anything but “a unique but fully determined product of a particular concatenation of social and psychological factors” (4). Though such phrasing might be a bit gratuitous, Bauman raises an interesting point here: pointing to the research of Nechama Tec, he imprints upon the reader that rather than examining the Holocaust as an “aberration” of human behavior, it must be viewed as a sort of “sleeping menace”- that the kind of moral extremism exhibited on both sides does not arise as a result of human development, but rather exists alongside the norm, and only surfaces when conditions permit (7). Bauman argues that we mustn’t examine the Holocaust through a sociological perspective, but rather see the Holocaust as a revelation of what society is capable of given the culmination of “efficiency…technology…[and] subordinate thought and action to the pragmatics of economy” (13). This inductive approach forces us to reevaluate sociological perspectives on a sweeping scale, which is Bauman’s major point, but his conclusion- that the Holocaust occurred as a result of modernity, advancement, and the conditions that they brought on- is flawed. While this assertion holds a basis in valid reasoning, Bauman merely takes steps in the right direction. The point he seems to miss, however, is ironically his own- that the correlation between the development of industrial and unethical means and the occurrence of genocide are not directly related. It becomes clear, however, when applying Tec’s disputation of the “social determinants” of morality that the Holocaust was not a result of the times, but more accurately a simultaneous development that fostered in an era of efficiency and modernity (5).
For most of Europe in the 19th century, modernity was seen as the emergence of nation-states, the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, and the rise of capitalism. Imperial Russia and Soviet modernity differed from this concept. Instead, their modernity focused on Enlightenment ideals such as the belief in progress, a focus on reason, and the belittlement of religion and tradition. The inclusion of Russian modernity broadens the definition parameters of this obscure term. The Soviet Union encompassed mass politics, population management, and socialism.
Anthony Gidden defines modernity as the establishment of abstract systems to measure time and space. In other words, reordering tradition to scientific and medical expert systems. In Russia, these expert systems consist of rationalizing economic production, and reorganizing the population and society. Mass politics were a major influence in Russian culture during the 19th and 20th century. In Hoffman’s article, he argues that in order to be visible to the public, experts had to employ myths and “make a participatory but nondemocratic form of politics. Experts did this by inventing traditions, specifically folk culture, in order to promote certain ideologies. These soviet experts sought to reorganize and retrain the citizens in order to make these valuable assets. The ultimate goal of citizenship was to be rational and productive. For ultimate productivity, the Russian government insisted on population management. To them, the citizens were statistics on a map. The Soviet Union introduced tactics such as sterilization in order to keep citizens at maximum efficiency. Socialist ideology played a huge part in Russian society. Socialism was a product of European modernity. Things such as elimination of private property, unequal distribution of wealth, and economic exploitation were a response to Europe’s modernity. The Soviet Union chose national interest over individual interest in order to improve the society as a whole. For the Russian government reshaping, disciplining, and mobilizing the population in order to meet industrial and welfare needs characterized modernity. As Hoffman points out, “Soviet socialism responded to challenges and aspirations of Europeans modernity.”
The Holocaust may not have been an unpredictable genocide in regards to the potential extremes of human nature, but when compared to other large scale pogroms it remains an anomaly through its modernized nature. The Holocaust does not elicit the usual genocidal imagery often characterized by a type of primitiveness and chaos, but is marked by a bureaucratic industrial system in which the organization of upscaled executions became reminiscent of a pragmatically scheduled business model. How should we expect our ethical values to progress relative to industry?
Zygmunt Bauman explores the pathology behind the Holocaust in Modernity and the Holocaust, an attempt to make sense of the psychology and behavior of modern constructs applied to genocide. Bauman concludes that science has become increasingly distinguished by a “self-imposed moral silence” (29) and that science seems to be making strides in efficiency while simultaneously abandoning morality. Bertrand Russell, a renowned British philosopher (1872-1970) came to a similar conclusion in his prediction of science’s relationship with ethics in his piece ICARUS or The Future of Science in 1924. Briefly put, Russell states that mankind can produce equal good with the power of science as potential harm, but there is a pattern between his observations of men’s passions revolving mainly around “evil” desires, which makes him highly wary of advance technology in the hands of mankind.
So far it seems as though humans have held onto our instinctual ethics while developing more efficient ways to pursue them. The Holocaust remains a perfect example of this. Oddly enough, calamitous events such as this provide short term devastation, but eventual enlightenment. Could it be argued that events like the Holocaust are actually societal building blocks to understanding human behavior and preventing genocide in the future? Or will violence always be as certain as death and taxes?