Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, May 8, 2015

Out of War and Revolution: Another Tower of Babel

Artist's Conception of Petrograd's New Skyline

In 1915 Lenin proposed the creation of a new International to promote “civil war, not civil peace” through propaganda directed at soldiers and workers. Two years later Lenin led the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, and in 1919 he called the first congress of the Comintern, in Moscow, specifically to undermine ongoing centrist efforts to revive the Second International. This evolved into the Third International, also called Communist International, by name Comintern,  the association of national communist parties founded in 1919. Though its stated purpose was the promotion of world revolution, the Comintern functioned chiefly as an organ of Soviet control over the international communist movement.

Vladimir Tatlin
About this time Lenin decided his program for world conquest needed "Monumental Propaganda".  He appointed an artist named Vladimir Tatlin to lead the program, who proposed to celebrate the Third International with the preposterous, grandiose, utopian and (like all utopian schemes since Thomas More's "Utopia") utterly un-realizable, construction shown above.

As the later art critic Robert Hughes described it:

Tatlin's most grandly useless conception, however, which has always been the darling of "radical" art historians, was his design for a Monument to the Third International, 1920. It was to be a gigantic open-frame ziggurat of steel, spiralling up from the middle of Petrograd and dwarfing everything on the city's skyline. It would be built on a diagonal, representing that of the earth's axis. It would contain four enormous glass halls, each containing a different ceremonial structure for the Party, all turning at different speeds. The lowest one, a cylinder, would rotate once a year. The next, a pyramid, would turn once a month; and so on to the topmost hall, another cylinder, going round once a day. But although it would have some generally designated uses, these were never thought through — they were just part of the cloudy rhetoric that served to hide the disastrous shortages the revolution produced. The whole affair would be 400 metres high, but it never materialized, because it would have used up far more structural steel than the whole of Russia had. It was the unbuilt and unbuildable tower of a Babylonian socialism.

Sources: MOMA's website, and The Guardian

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