The Mechanics and Energetics of Soviet Communism

Prof. Robert Bird
University of Chicago

25. Juni 2018
10:00 Uhr

Aleksandr-Vil’gel’m Lukin:
Kohle von Kuzbass. (1938)

I trace the progression in the 1920s and 1930s from mechanical conceptions of communism to the idea or image of communism as a state of energy. I show how this change drew on impulses originating in diverse spheres, from the Marxist theory of nature to cosmist philosophy and avant-garde aesthetics, and how it underwrote the Stalin consensus of the mid-1930s, as typified by such artists as Marietta Shaginian, Andrei Platonov and Aleksandr Dovzhenko. I argue that socialist realism was proposed precisely as a mechanism for modeling solutions to the material resistances thrown up against energetic communism by the material world, human psychology and cultural history. While acknowledging the limitations of energetic communism—indeed, its complicity in mass atrocities under Stalin—I propose reasons for its lasting appeal at later moments of cultural history, right up to our own day.