MODERNISM REVISITED Four Modernism and Soviet Communism

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    MODERNISM REVISITED

    Roger Griffin

    Lecture Four

    MODERNISM AND SOVIET

    COMMUNISM

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    Political Modernismy Max Horkheimer refers to Gods orphans: human beings exiled from

    the existential security of traditional Christian culture, but still obsessedby the nostalgia for the absolute Other, for a higher reality

    y These are the modern, existentially tormented people who populatethe novels of Dostoevsky, especially in Crime and Punishment, Notes fromthe Underground, The Devils, and The Brothers Karamazov

    y Dostoevsky sees the project of socialism as the tower of Babel built withoutGod, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth

    y Luciano Pellicani explores these orphans contribution to modernpolitics in Revolutionary Apocalypse. IdeologicalRoots of Terrorism, (2003)

    y He shows how the thirst for Gnostic knowledge can express itself infantasies of acts of purging destruction to bring about a new orderwhich will overcome nihilism

    y The result is what he calls the Jacobin, who sees political change asresulting from a man-made apocalypse produced within human time

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    GnosticPoliticsy Pellicani uses the term Gnostic to evoke a particular existential

    predisposition dominated by a veritable horror of the existing thatfills him [her] with concern, nausea and anguish.[...] The world he[she] sees is radicallyevil. He/she is dominated by a desperatenostalgia for a totally different world, which he [she] has never seen,but from which he [she] feels unjustly exiled.

    y Life therefore becomes for the modern Gnostic, religious orsecular, a state ofpermanent waiting for radical renewal, which isboth resurrection and restoration. As a result history is experiencedas a soteriological drama of fall and redemption. After the final battlethe whole cosmos will be overturned and reordered, and GreatUniversal Harmony will reign forever.

    y Political Gnosticism, with its palingenetic fantasies driven byexistential terror and the need for a new nomos, is thus anoutstanding expression of what we have called politicalmodernism

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    Anarchismas Modernismy

    The syndrome of Gnostic politics can be studied in itspurest from in the abstract political schemes of utopiansocialists (Fourier, Saint-Simon, Proudhon) andanarchists (Bakunin, Kropotkin)

    y

    However, a particular type of Jacobin was driven by aneed not to theorize a new world but bring it aboutthrough a Gnosis ofaction, of creative destruction

    y The archetype of this child of modernity is SergeiNechayev whose Catechism of a Revolutionaryof 1869inspired numerous Russian nihilists to carry out attackson Tsarist Russia to usher in a new era

    y The most famous was the assassination of Tsar AlexanderII in a bomb attack in March 1881 by NarodnayaVolya(Peoples Will)

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    The Communist Manifestoasa

    Modernist Document

    y Meanwhile less utopian schemes for exploding the continuum of

    history (Walter Benjamin) were being elaborated

    y In Peter Osborne Philosophy in Cultural Theory(2000) Marxs

    Communist Manifesto is treated as the founding text of an

    internationalist political modernism

    y Marxs premise is the ambivalent impact of capitalism, destructive

    both of feudalism and subsistence economies but also of existential

    security: all that is solid melts into thin air

    y His revolutionary vision is thus of a new world based on socialismwhich will end alienation and atomization and restore community,

    meaning, purpose and hence nomic certainty to human existence.

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    BolshevismasaGnostic formof

    modernist politics

    y The driving force of Bolshevism was the Gnostic, Jacobin, positive

    nihilism, creative destruction of revolutionary apocalypse

    y Hence the constant theme of cathartic destruction that

    characterizes the conduct of the civil war, the collectivization of

    agriculture and the destruction of the Kulaks, the ruthless drive to

    socialization and modernization

    y The apocalyptic logic exerted an irresistible appeal to a whole

    generation of intellectuals, artists, and professionals in a position

    to modernize post-Tsarist Russiay These found themselves suddenly in the forefront of a wave of

    programmatic modernism

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    Thesurgeofmodernistenthusiasmfor

    Bolshevismdocumentedin

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    Beatthe Whites withthe Red Wedge -

    El Lissitzky - 1919

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    El Lissitzkys Wolkenbgel

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    Vladimir Tatlin Constructivism

    Monumenttothe Third International (1919)

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    Montageofhow thetower wouldhave

    beenon Moscow skyline

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    Narkomtiazhprom, Vesninbrothers,

    1934

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    IntouristGarageby Konstantin

    Melnikov, 1933

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    Soviet RussiaasamodernistGardeningState

    y BaumansAmbivalence and Modernity: modernity generates dyad of

    order/chaosy Gardening state seeks to create rational (French) garden out of chaos of

    modern society, a project that involves bonfires of the weeds

    y NB Tony Harrison: The Gaze of the Gorgon

    The Gorgon worshippers unroll/ The barbed-wire gulags round the soul.

    The Gorgons henchman try to force/ History on a straighter course/

    with Gorgonisms that impose/ fixities on all that flows,

    with Fhrer-fix and crucifix/ and Freedom-freezing politics.

    Each leader on his monstrous plinth/ waves us back into the labyrinth

    Out of the meander and the maze/ Straight back into the Gorgons gaze.

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    Stalinas Nietzscheanmodernist

    politicianbeyond goodandevil

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    Magnitogorskironandsteel works

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    The USSR in Construction 1930-49

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    The New Russian Man

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    The Modernist Thrustofthe Stalin Cult

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    The palingeneticresiduein Soviet

    Realism

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    Soviet Housingfor Citizens

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    Soviet Housingfor Non-Citizens

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    The ModernizingCollectivizationof

    Agricultureunder Stalin

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    Itscorollary: The Ukrainian Famine

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    ThePerverse ModernityofExtremist

    Political Modernism

    John Gray sees Nazism and Fascism as two examples ofmodern utopianism driven by apocalyptic fantasies ofcreating a new world

    In different ways, Nazism and Communism claimed tobe based on science but were actually vehicles forapocalyptic myths. Each believed a major rupture inhistory was imminent that would usher in a new world.

    Both embody the creative destructiveness of extrememodernism driven by a revolt against the nomocidalforces of modernity