Lenin in Ruins: 'Let Everything Be Temporary' (fwd)

Jamal Hannah jah at SPAMiww.org
Sat Dec 11 00:30:40 MST 1999

Ok. Now that the discussion of anarchism vs. marxism-leninism is over, I
thought I'd forward this message here. I actualy LIKE this stuff Lenin
said about what art should be.  I think that was a cool idea, and I do
not see why anarchists would disagree with it, though many would probabaly
say that to order all artists to do a certain type or art would be a
mistake.. however, consider the forms bourgeoise art could porribly take:

1) art making fun of the revolutionaries, the revolution, or individuals
important to the revolution.

2) art that is intended as advertizing.

3) art that is masterbatory/sexualy explicit.

4) art that means nothing.

5) art that enshrines capitalism or capitalist values (dollar signs?)

Note that the masses would find most of this art a bore, I think, and
there would be no need to "ban" it.  Of course advertizing would be
destroyed by the direct-action of workers opposing capitalism.
Sexual art could be debated, but should not be limited by the state.
If radical feminists really hated some art, they could always create
art making fun of it or deconstructing it.. or they could just destroy it,
but this would be drastic.

The point is, there's no reason for art to be controlled by the
revolutionary forces, so much as INSPIRED by it and nudged along in a
certain direction. I do not think the capitalist "romantic realism" of Ayn
Rand's objectivists would be very popular. (anyway, it's just a rip-off of
social realism just like Nazi art was a ripoff of socialist realism) Of
course, some very good artists might go over to the side of the
bourgeoisie, but there will always be good artists on the side of the
revolutionaries too.

I think a cruical thing about leninism is this: the parts of leninism that
were GOOD can easily be swept away by the next leader who comes to power
in a party-based system using democratic centralism. There needs to be
safegaurds against this.. there needs to be protection of the democratic
process.  I think marxists like Rosa Luxemburg were great.. but what
happends after she is dead and stalinists take over?  You must have a way
to avoid this.

 - Jamal

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 1999 16:06:36 -0500
From: Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at osu.edu>
To: lbo-talk at lists.panix.com
Subject: Lenin in Ruins: 'Let Everything Be Temporary'

Mark Lewis writes in "What Is To Be Done," _Ideology and Power in the Age
of Lenin in Ruins_, eds. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (NY: St. Martin's
Press, 1991):

*****   All over Eastern Europe, every day for some months, cities have
been overseeing the removal of busts, statues, bas reliefs and pictures of
Lenin.  These are images that are hated by many, hated because they are
understood and perceived as synecdoches for equally despised communist
regimes.  But, of course, Lenin was always much more than this simple
representation.  And there is indeed some sense of the idea of Leninism
which survives today, survives despite the wholesale removal of his public
effigies, survives the very fact that these monuments were ever built in
the first place.  Perhaps the removal of these massive monuments is not
totally incommensurate with some of the original ideas of Lenin,
particularly those ideas he had about a revolutionary public art.  This is
not to say that I think that the monuments should necessarily be removed,
destroyed or displaced (on this matter I can confess only to the most
profound ambivalence), but what I want to recognize is that the Lenin of
1917-1918, the Lenin of "On the Monuments of the Republic"[17] might never
have approved of the original erection of the bronze statues, in Bucharest
or elsewhere.  Insofar as this idea(lism) of Lenin can be said to be
remembered today, I want to briefly examine Lenin's relationship to the
question of public art as it emerged during the immediate months after the
October Revolution.

By the time of the 1917 revolution, Lenin had already insisted that art
under socialism should no longer serve the elite of society, "those 10,000
suffering from boredom and obesity; it will rather serve the 10's of
millions of labouring people, the flower of the country, its future".[18]
In order to further this aim, Lenin proposed what he called a _Monumental
Propaganda_.  This was to be a so-called "people's" art, one that would
become part of everyday life, assisting in the ideological shaping of a new
revolutionary mass consciousness.  Lenin argued that this Monumental
Propaganda should be produced through the posing and installation of
slogans and other "quickly executed forms."  Even more important to Lenin
were "the statues -- be they busts or bas reliefs of figures and
groups."[19]  The statues were _not_ to be made of marble, bronze or
granite, but on the contrary, were to be extremely modest in their
production, and should take advantage of cheap and readily available
materials such as plaster.  Lenin felt that these works should react to the
moment, that their objective was always to instruct within the context of
particular celebrations.  Above all, wrote Lenin, "Let everything be
temporary."[20]  And with these words addressed to Lunacharsky, Lenin
announced the beginning of a massive project (much of it centered around
May Day celebrations) to install dozens of plaster statues and busts, each
one celebrating a revolutionary figure or event.  Very few of these works
survived more than a few months, and almost none remain in any form today,
as Lenin and the artists involved must have anticipated.  Some of the works
were crudely executed, others crudely conceptualized, while others were
extremely radical insofar as they challenged the whole notion of
_permanence_ with regards to public monuments and statuary.  Particularly
interesting is Nikolai Kolli's _The Red Wedge Cleaving the White Block_
(1918).  In this work Kolli seems to parody and question the whole
historical project of the permanent public monument, a monument that relies
on the height and unassailability of a stone plinth from which it towers
over the publics that move within its domain.  The plinth is also the site
of the official inscription, of the command to respect of Kings and
Dictators.  In plaster form, what Kolli is splitting open, is the very
support system of all monuments.  It seems to suggest the absurdity, within
the revolutionary context, of erecting yet another bronze statue on the
physical supports of historically inscribed tyranny -- the plinths that
have borne the weight of cold terror.

This work by Kolli was produced within the context of other works by
artists which consisted in temporary modifications and additions to
existing statues and monuments.  And if the revolution did produce its fair
share of "cultural vandalism," it is also the case that many at the time
thought that this exercise of destruction was not only unnecessary, but
actually counter-revolutionary.[21]  As the artist Alexander Blok put it at
the time: "Even while destroying we are still the slaves of our former
world: the violation of tradition itself is part of the same tradition."[22]

Not quite the Abbe Gregoire, and perhaps not sharing his archivist's
imperative for conservation, but nevertheless, Blok's demand, his
perception is part and parcel of a more complex and interesting approach to
the art of the past.  Moreover, it is an approach which I believe is not at
all contrary to Lenin's desire that contemporary public works be

...Public art is literally an art creating a public, an art creating
society -- one that may or may not be commensurate with any real body of
people in a real time or place.  On the other hand, the work of research,
historiography and connoisseurship will continue nonetheless: there are
records, photographs, texts, withness accounts, sometimes even the actual
objects.  As the early street art of the Russian Revolution demonstrates:
permanent bronze works they may not be but the record of their
interventions, what Gregoire might have called their inevitable didactic
presence, lives on....

[17]  V.I. Lenin, "On the Monuments of the Republic" (April 12, 1918), _On
Literature and Art_ (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1967)
[18]  V.I. Lenin, _Complete Collected Works_, V.12
[19]  A.V. Lunacharsky, "Lenin o monumentalanoi propogande," _Lenin i
izobrazitelnoe iskusstvo_ (Moscow: 1977), quoted in Vladimir Tolstoy, "Art
Born of the October Revolution," _Street Art of the Revolution_ (London:
Thames and Hudson, 1990)
[20]  A.V. Lunacharsky (ibid)
[21]  In the essay "On the Monuments of the Republic," Lenin does in fact
'order' that those "monuments erected in honor of tsars and their minions
and which have no historical or artistic value are to be removed from the
squares and streets and stored up or used for utilitarian purposes."  He
did however order that such a program of adjudication and removal should be
done under the auspices of a special commission made up of the People's
Commissars for Education and Property of the Republic and the chief of the
Fine Arts department of the Commisariat for Education.  Together they were
to work with the Art Collegium of Moscow and Petrograd.  This does suggest
that Lenin was sympathetic to the idea that politicians alone would be
unable to decide which works were of 'merit,' etc., and that he felt it
necessary for 'experts' to be consulted.  Despite, for example, the fact
that many hundreds of religious icons were destroyed, it is still the case
that Lenin's approach to the art of the past was significantly more
sophisticated than either the legislature of the French Revolution and many
of the current 'post-communist' governments in Eastern Europe....
[22]  Blok's sensibility has, by and large, been lacking in present day
Eastern Europe....*****

Those who are planning a massive demo in New York might appropriate Lenin's
idea of public art.  How about staging a mock-fascist rally in honor of
Rudolph Giuliani, complete with giant plaster monuments commemorating the
achievements of Il Duce?  At the same time, on the streets, we can stage
Brecht's _The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui_ while enjoying spectacles of
book burnings and exhibitions of "degenarate art."


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