Saturday, 27 September 2014

Red Star Gazing and the Inevitability of Full Space Communism

Part Two

Under Stalin, what remained of the Soviet communist dream turned into a nightmare of international proportions. Nevertheless, many people outside of the USSR in the 30s, even anti-Stalinist communists who managed to avoid being murdered by the GPU, went along with Trotsky’s formulation in 1936 that 'socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earth’s surface-not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity'. In other words, the productive capacity of the supposedly socialist Soviet Union was sufficient justification for its existence. When this system was belatedly mobilised for the fight against Nazism, those who still dreamed of a communist future were further comforted that there remained something to be said for the USSR’s 'socialism'. Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate provide novelistic depictions of how believers in very different contexts convinced themselves that the sacrifices required by this system were worthwhile.

The twin shocks of Khrushchev’s 'secret speech' and the bloody suppression of the Hungary uprising in 1956 put paid to such illusions in the West and gave birth to the so-called New Left. This created a space for a questioning of the determinist Marxism that had until then been given a free pass on the left (except in isolated and disparate cases), and which held that technological advance = progress = creating the conditions for socialism. This led to a re-evaluation (particularly among English new-left historians) of such awkwardly un-scientific tendencies as 19th century utopian socialism, 17th century millenarian proto-communism and Luddism. However, while the de-Stalinisation of the left in the West led, in many cases, to a rejection of technological determinism and laid the ground for the rise of CND and the green movement, this historical conjuncture gave technological determinism a new lease of life in the Soviet Union. In an echo of Trotsky’s logic, the Soviet Union would have to justify the horrors of the Stalinist era by delivering on the techno-utopian dream that had seemingly been side-lined along with constructivism and the abandonment of the revolution’s internationalism.

Francis Spufford takes this post-Stalin Soviet panorama as the backdrop of his novelised history book Red Plenty. In it, he has Khrushchev musing on the current situation of the USSR: 'fortunately, the hard part of the task was nearly done. They had almost completed the heavy lifting, they had heaved and shoved and (yes) driven people on with kicks and curses, and they had built the basis for the good life, their very own horn of plenty', and translates him as claiming in 1959 that 'in our day, the dreams mankind cherished for ages, dreams expressed in fairytales which seemed sheer fantasy, are being translated into fantasy by man’s own hands'. Of course, the utopian dreams of the planned economy were rather more prosaic than the electrifying explosion of creativity that might have been heralded by world soviet revolution in 1917-21. Nevertheless, in the context of the space race, they did provide a boost to the Soviet sci-fi imagination, as the the Soviet images featured on io9 and Dark Roasted Blend attest.

From Tekhnika Molodezhi journal

While the illustrations here don’t have the eerie parallel universe feel that art and sci-fi had in the Russian Revolution’s heroic period, they still pack a punch, particularly the depiction of the communal living space under the surface of the moon from the journal Tekhnika Molodezhi, whose on-line archive is available here:

No comments:

Post a Comment