Karl Marx, tickled and honoured
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 00:41

Karl Marx, tickled and honoured

Published in Visual Arts

John Green introduces some Karl Marx bicentenary cartoons and caricatures.

5 May 2018 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx. To commemorate this the Ken Sprague Fund organised an international cartoon and caricature competition which drew over 150 entries from artists around the world.

Ken Sprague was one of Britain’s foremost politically-committed graphic artists and the fund was set up to commemorate his work as well as the ideas he stood for. This competition was dedicated to Tony Farsky, a close friend of Sprague’s and himself a long-time supporter of progressive causes. 

The jury awarded a joint first prize to Stefan Siegert of Germany for his caricature of a laughing Marx (see above) and Ukrainian cartoonist Konstantin Kazanchev for his cartoon of Marx confronting a young skateboarder wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt.

120.WINNER konstantin kazanchev resized1

Second prize went to Raed Khalil from Syria for his black-and-white drawing of a bust of Marx’s head with a flock of birds breaking into flight from it.

 

12. raed khalil syria head into birds resized1

Third prize was awarded to Ehsan Ganji from Iran for his cartoon of an assembly worker manufacturing truncheons for a police force that will then use them to beat protesting workers.

124.EhsanGanji IRAN truncheon resized1

Marx would surely have been tickled — and maybe honoured — to see himself caricatured, lampooned and eternalised in such humorous ways as demonstrated by the images in this exhibition. What the cartoons and caricatures do reveal is a wide range of political interpretations — some portray Marx himself, others indict capitalism and yet others vilify the whole Marxian outlook or ridicule its impact. Some are sharply funny, some deadly serious and yet others acerbic.

Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson says of the catalogue: “I got my first big break doing gags about Karl Marx. The point, however, is that so did he. Any idiot who thinks of Marx as a dour, 'humourless leftie' has never read him and probably never met a proper leftie either. This splendid book should put them right on both counts.”

What is most striking about almost all the submissions to this competition is how unnecessary language or translations are. Despite cultural and language barriers, most use a visual imagery that can be understood internationally, across all cultural, religious or political barriers and boundaries.

Cartooning and caricature have a very long tradition in most countries, but it has never been an easy occupation. Even today in some parts of the world cartoonists risk harassment, imprisonment or worse for taking on the mighty and powerful. In countries where there is no free press or a strongly censored one, cartoons and caricatures take on an added significance.

Cartoonists are the modern equivalent of the ‘Fool’. They are granted a licence to say and visualise opinions and viewpoints that would probably be unacceptable and outrageous if expressed by public figures. They take on leading politicians, celebrities and lampoon them, expose their hypocrisy, shallowness and egotism. Cartoons always work through ridicule, laughter, bitter irony and satirical barbs. They deflate pomposity and strip away the trapping of status and power. Cartoonists provide us with an alternative narrative to that provided by the mainstream media. Their imagination is infinite. Cartoons capture what screeds of print cannot do. They encapsulate complex phenomena in one-off visual metaphors. They also underline the ridiculousness of human beings slipping on their own discarded banana skins - engineers of their own downfall.

Our intention in organising competitions like this – the fourth under the auspices of the Ken Sprague Fund – is also to help stimulate young cartoonists and give encouragement to cartoonists everywhere to use this powerful tool against oppression, the arrogance and pomposity of power and speak up for the little people of the world, those with limited access to the wider media.

The Ken Sprague Fund was set up shortly after his death in 2004, to celebrate and build on his multi-faceted artistic creativity and humanitarianism. Among his many talents, Ken was also a great cartoonist and in celebration of this aspect of his creativity, the Fund organised Britain's first international political cartoon competition in 2006, and has held another three since then.

'Cartoonists', he once said, 'are often, but unfairly, not considered to be artists at all. The question, "but can you draw properly too?" is a familiar one to most cartoonists.' Such attitudes were reflected in the fact that few of the original cartoon drawings from previous generations exist today; they were often discarded after publication, not considered worth keeping. In our somewhat more enlightened times, they are now viewed as vital historical documents as well as works of art in their own right.

The catalogue, I’ll have the Last Laugh Yet! with the winners and a selection of the best images is available online or from bookshops for £8.99 plus p&p. The exhibition ‘Laughing with Marx’ runs from 23 April until Fri 11 May in the Guardian HQ foyer, The Guardian , Kings Place, 90 York Way, King's Cross, London N1 9GU. It is free of charge.

Prints of the caricatures and cartoons exhibited here can also be purchased. For details contact the Ken Sprague Fund, 11 Dorset Road, London W5 4HU or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

14. Marx in tree branches resized2

'That mankind's physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature' - Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844. Cartoon by Stephen Sieger, from the book.

Karl Marx, tickled and honoured
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 00:41

Karl Marx, tickled and honoured

Published in Marx200

John Green introduces some Karl Marx bicentenary cartoons and caricatures.

5 May 2018 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx. To commemorate this the Ken Sprague Fund organised an international cartoon and caricature competition which drew over 150 entries from artists around the world.

Ken Sprague was one of Britain’s foremost politically-committed graphic artists and the fund was set up to commemorate his work as well as the ideas he stood for. This competition was dedicated to Tony Farsky, a close friend of Sprague’s and himself a long-time supporter of progressive causes. 

The jury awarded a joint first prize to Stefan Siegert of Germany for his caricature of a laughing Marx (see above) and Ukrainian cartoonist Konstantin Kazanchev for his cartoon of Marx confronting a young skateboarder wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt.

120.WINNER konstantin kazanchev resized1

Second prize went to Raed Khalil from Syria for his black-and-white drawing of a bust of Marx’s head with a flock of birds breaking into flight from it.

 

12. raed khalil syria head into birds resized1

Third prize was awarded to Ehsan Ganji from Iran for his cartoon of an assembly worker manufacturing truncheons for a police force that will then use them to beat protesting workers.

124.EhsanGanji IRAN truncheon resized1

Marx would surely have been tickled — and maybe honoured — to see himself caricatured, lampooned and eternalised in such humorous ways as demonstrated by the images in this exhibition. What the cartoons and caricatures do reveal is a wide range of political interpretations — some portray Marx himself, others indict capitalism and yet others vilify the whole Marxian outlook or ridicule its impact. Some are sharply funny, some deadly serious and yet others acerbic.

Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson says of the catalogue: “I got my first big break doing gags about Karl Marx. The point, however, is that so did he. Any idiot who thinks of Marx as a dour, 'humourless leftie' has never read him and probably never met a proper leftie either. This splendid book should put them right on both counts.”

What is most striking about almost all the submissions to this competition is how unnecessary language or translations are. Despite cultural and language barriers, most use a visual imagery that can be understood internationally, across all cultural, religious or political barriers and boundaries.

Cartooning and caricature have a very long tradition in most countries, but it has never been an easy occupation. Even today in some parts of the world cartoonists risk harassment, imprisonment or worse for taking on the mighty and powerful. In countries where there is no free press or a strongly censored one, cartoons and caricatures take on an added significance.

Cartoonists are the modern equivalent of the ‘Fool’. They are granted a licence to say and visualise opinions and viewpoints that would probably be unacceptable and outrageous if expressed by public figures. They take on leading politicians, celebrities and lampoon them, expose their hypocrisy, shallowness and egotism. Cartoons always work through ridicule, laughter, bitter irony and satirical barbs. They deflate pomposity and strip away the trapping of status and power. Cartoonists provide us with an alternative narrative to that provided by the mainstream media. Their imagination is infinite. Cartoons capture what screeds of print cannot do. They encapsulate complex phenomena in one-off visual metaphors. They also underline the ridiculousness of human beings slipping on their own discarded banana skins - engineers of their own downfall.

Our intention in organising competitions like this – the fourth under the auspices of the Ken Sprague Fund – is also to help stimulate young cartoonists and give encouragement to cartoonists everywhere to use this powerful tool against oppression, the arrogance and pomposity of power and speak up for the little people of the world, those with limited access to the wider media.

The Ken Sprague Fund was set up shortly after his death in 2004, to celebrate and build on his multi-faceted artistic creativity and humanitarianism. Among his many talents, Ken was also a great cartoonist and in celebration of this aspect of his creativity, the Fund organised Britain's first international political cartoon competition in 2006, and has held another three since then.

'Cartoonists', he once said, 'are often, but unfairly, not considered to be artists at all. The question, "but can you draw properly too?" is a familiar one to most cartoonists.' Such attitudes were reflected in the fact that few of the original cartoon drawings from previous generations exist today; they were often discarded after publication, not considered worth keeping. In our somewhat more enlightened times, they are now viewed as vital historical documents as well as works of art in their own right.

The catalogue, I’ll have the Last Laugh Yet! with the winners and a selection of the best images is available online or from bookshops for £8.99 plus p&p. The exhibition ‘Laughing with Marx’ runs from 23 April until Fri 11 May in the Guardian HQ foyer, The Guardian , Kings Place, 90 York Way, King's Cross, London N1 9GU. It is free of charge.

Prints of the caricatures and cartoons exhibited here can also be purchased. For details contact the Ken Sprague Fund, 11 Dorset Road, London W5 4HU or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

14. Marx in tree branches resized2

'That mankind's physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature' - Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844. Cartoon by Stephen Sieger, from the book.

Framing the Russian Revolution
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 00:41

Framing the Russian Revolution

Published in Cultural Commentary

 Dennis Broe takes Western cultural institutions and critics to task for their failure to properly convey the revolutionary energy of Soviet art and politics after 1917.

This month marks the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, October 25th on the Russian Calendar at that time which was November 7th in the West. The Centennial is being celebrated and/or denigrated with various events, exhibitions, and interpretations here in Europe. What is now emerging as the dominant interpretation is a picture of the event in which the February 1917 overthrow of the Czar in Saint Petersburg is now celebrated as the beginning of a democracy that was brutally extinguished with the October Revolution, in which Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks conspiratorially seized power and which led inevitably to the foundation of an undemocratic regime in the guise of a dictatorship of the proletariat.

DB Cult Leader Vladimir Lenin

Likewise, the art of the period immediately before and after the Bolshevik Revolution, a flourishing of all the arts including photography, graphics, painting, theater, cinema and music, is now for the first time being branded as the murderous expression of a totalitarian regime, and this in the heroic period of 1917 to 1932.

All kinds of former truths are being challenged, with the French magazine Telerama now referring to the “myth” of Franco-English imperialism ready to aggress Russia as an excuse for the Bolshevik takeover and with the supposedly left-wing daily Liberation choosing on the week of the centennial to run instead of a consideration of that event an extensive book review of the political camps, with the caveat that before marking the revolution it is first necessary to read the book The Goulag.

The most prominent anti-revolutionary book though is Berkeley professor Yuri Slezine’s The House of Government which essentially presents the Soviet leadership as a cult that lived in the same state-owned building. The book sees the revolution itself as a secular form of fanaticism and the Soviets as fanatics who took the religious version of the final days and the apocalypse and reinterpreted it as the inevitable coming of a global revolution that would redeem humanity.

To this liberal onslaught must be added the attack by the British newspaper The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones on a monumental exhibition on the “Art of the Revolution” at the Royal Academy claiming that the celebration of one of the most fertile periods in the history of art instead “sentimentalises” a “murderous chapter in human history” and comparing the Bolsheviks in this early period of the Revolution to the Nazis.

RR The Defence of Petrograd Alexander Deineka 1928

Alexander Deineka, the Defence of Petrograd, from the RA exhibition

The review appeared before the exhibition opened and functioned as British liberals replaying Churchill’s dictum about the Soviets that he would strangle the baby in its cradle, here strangling the exhibition before it could be seen. It is worth noting that the attack is largely being waged by the liberal press, coinciding with a new McCarthyism being led in the U.S. by the Democrats, in which everything Russian is and now must be demonized.

No doubt the failures of the October Revolution were numerous, including famine and starvation in the Ukraine and a rapid installation of camps for political prisoners, but so were the triumphs. Lenin seized power with the support of the army and the workers on one burning question, an end to the war which was decimating the working classes of Europe. He was nearly the only person to urge what he called “Revolutionary Defeatism,” claiming that a defeat for the capitalist nationalists in the war meant a victory and a halt to the slaughtering of working people by each other in the trenches and by new technologies of increasingly deadly and remote killing machines.

It is very easy to make the claim that it was the Soviet takeover and the actual threat of international revolution that ended World War I since the Western powers recognized they no longer had the luxury of slaughtering each other since there was now a real threat to their existence and they, the U.S., France and Britain most prominently, at the time of signing the armistice, sent expeditionary forces to destroy the Soviet state.

DB SovietWoman1920

Soviet Poster, 1920.The inscriptions on the buildings read "library", "kindergarten", "school for grown-ups", etc.

To this may be added that it was yet again the Soviet “cult” and the Russian people that two decades later halted the next form of Western capitalist barbarity in the guise of the Nazi conquest of Europe. At the height of the Civil War, 1918-22, while battling for their survival, Lenin’s Bolsheviks pursued a policy of combatting illiteracy, teaching reading and writing in the various republics in 40 different languages and dialects and refusing to impose Russian Cyrillic. In 1919, at the worst moment of being attacked and under siege, the Soviets boasted 1200 reading clubs and 6200 political, scientific and agricultural circles and by the end of the war 5 million children were in schools, reversing the Czar’s policy of education only for the elite under which only one child in five was educated.

Along with this new literacy, during the war and after, until the end of the first five year plan in 1932, went a flourishing and democratising of especially the visual and more crucially the graphic arts, particularly posters with elaborate and splashy typography and image and photo collages which appeared in trams, on factory walls and throughout the cities in places where crowds passed.

This was a kind of embracing of popular media which in the West would simply be absorbed into the advertising industry. Theatere began to incorporate popular elements of the circus as Meyerhold countered Stanislavski’s psychological realism with a biomechanical method stressing collective and machine-like movement. Constructivism, likewise an incorporation of the power of the machine into painting and cinema, took the pre-war dynamism of Italian Futurism at a moment when that form was embracing a fascist militarism and instead reinterpreted the machine as a source for good in the service of the people and not as simply a killing machine.

Soviet avant-garde art, the currents of which began before the war and was let loose by the earlier Revolution of 1905, greatly influenced the West in the theatrical experimentation and de-psychologizing of Brecht, in the bringing of abstract notions of design to mass production in the Weimar Bauhaus School, and in the ways Eisenstein’s montage in the films Strike and Battleship Potemkin were incorporated into the cinema of Hitchcock.

The period also featured a rethinking of the purpose of the museum, opposing the collector instinct of museums in the West as being dead archives or conversely as simply presenting art as utterly separated from life and only related to its own history. To counter this, the Soviets proposed open air museums integrated into the community, and a broader definition of what constituted art to include folk art and street design. These innovations are now official policy - uncredited to the Revolution of course - of many museums such as the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art whose director boasts their incorporation.

The Revolution though in the year of its centenary has in many ways been sidelined. The Royal Academy exhibit was Europe’s most extensive. Paris’s Pompidou on the other hand chose instead to highlight Russian dissident art in its exhibit Kollektsia, which traced extensively the decades from the 1950s to the 1970s, an uninspired period which broke down into Sots Art which was the Russian equivalent of Pop Art and various returns to the Constructivism.

Elsewhere, there is a current exhibit at the library of the Museum of the Army titled “And 1917 Becomes Revolution” with examples of this flourishing of the arts alongside Western figurative paintings of the pope blessing and sanctioning the slaughter of the troops. There is also a recounting of how two French members, out of a delegation of four, sent to convince the Soviets to stay in the war instead “went native” and converted to their side in favor of the revolution.

It’s a nice exhibit but very difficult even to find in the museum and overshadowed by the current Army blockbuster about the everyday life of a soldier, an exhibit more in favor of war. And indeed World War I over the last three years is everyday honored in its centennial while the event that halted the war is slighted.

CL Beat the whites with the red wedge by El Lissitzky 1919

By far the most interesting European exhibit was in Venice at the Palazzo Zatere which has been taken over by the V-A-C Foundation, a joint Moscow-Venice group that staged “Space, Force, Construction” which attempted to update the radical thrust of the arts in this period with contemporary art with a political bent over the last three decades. Here was: Lissitzky’s “Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge,” a geometrical description of the Soviets outnumbered and surrounded but surviving by ingenuity......

DB Tatlins Tower

......and a recreation of Tatlin’s Monumental “Tower of the Future” which was an attempt to address the mistakes of the Tower of Babel.....

DB Rodchenkos lunchroom

........and Rodchenko’s design for a worker’s lunchroom/study center, where eating and acquiring of knowledge go on simultaneously.

DB Kuleshovs By The Law

Lev Kuleshov's By the Law

Probably the continent’s most thrilling exhibit of Soviet art though is the currently ongoing French Cinematheque series “The USSR of Cineastes” which covers the period of the 1920s through the end of World War II. Beyond Eisenstein’s Strike and Potemkin, the series contains screenings of the anti-petit bourgeois House on Trubnaya Street, a comedy by Boris Barnet about the maltreatment of a peasant woman by the building’s small business elite; Lev Kuleshov’s By the Law, a montage experiment and adaptation of a Jack London short story about how the greed of an international mining expedition in Alaska turns deadly; and The Yellow Ticket, Feodor Ostep’s portrait of a wet nurse, abused by her baronial employer and then cast out into prostitution.

DB Feodor Osteps The Yellow Ticket

Feodor Osteps, The Yellow Ticket

Why the downgrading of the Revolution? Is it not because in these times which due to increasing income disparity in the West, the brutalisation of the world by industrial climate change, and the ever disappearing support of the state for any form of worker aid or comfort, Revolution is certainly on the table and discomforting to an increasingly shrinking cadre of elites?

Yet the dissatisfaction in whole deindustrialized areas left for dead in France, the US, and Britain is being channeled into pro-nationalist, anti-immigrant sentiment that is the opposite of Lenin’s call for an international joining of the workers across the West and the world to rise up.

Instead the Russian Revolution, which twice halted capitalist barbarity on a global scale, is characterized as merely barbarous itself. At the moment when the world is most in need of it, Western elites have been very careful in this year of the centenary to ignore or deny the energy that inspired one of the great hopes of humanity in the twentieth century.

Framing the Russian Revolution
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 00:41

Framing the Russian Revolution

Published in 1917 Centenary

 Dennis Broe takes Western cultural institutions and critics to task for their failure to properly convey the revolutionary energy of Soviet art and politics after 1917.

This month marks the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, October 25th on the Russian Calendar at that time which was November 7th in the West. The Centennial is being celebrated and/or denigrated with various events, exhibitions, and interpretations here in Europe. What is now emerging as the dominant interpretation is a picture of the event in which the February 1917 overthrow of the Czar in Saint Petersburg is now celebrated as the beginning of a democracy that was brutally extinguished with the October Revolution, in which Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks conspiratorially seized power and which led inevitably to the foundation of an undemocratic regime in the guise of a dictatorship of the proletariat.

DB Cult Leader Vladimir Lenin

Likewise, the art of the period immediately before and after the Bolshevik Revolution, a flourishing of all the arts including photography, graphics, painting, theater, cinema and music, is now for the first time being branded as the murderous expression of a totalitarian regime, and this in the heroic period of 1917 to 1932.

All kinds of former truths are being challenged, with the French magazine Telerama now referring to the “myth” of Franco-English imperialism ready to aggress Russia as an excuse for the Bolshevik takeover and with the supposedly left-wing daily Liberation choosing on the week of the centennial to run instead of a consideration of that event an extensive book review of the political camps, with the caveat that before marking the revolution it is first necessary to read the book The Goulag.

The most prominent anti-revolutionary book though is Berkeley professor Yuri Slezine’s The House of Government which essentially presents the Soviet leadership as a cult that lived in the same state-owned building. The book sees the revolution itself as a secular form of fanaticism and the Soviets as fanatics who took the religious version of the final days and the apocalypse and reinterpreted it as the inevitable coming of a global revolution that would redeem humanity.

To this liberal onslaught must be added the attack by the British newspaper The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones on a monumental exhibition on the “Art of the Revolution” at the Royal Academy claiming that the celebration of one of the most fertile periods in the history of art instead “sentimentalises” a “murderous chapter in human history” and comparing the Bolsheviks in this early period of the Revolution to the Nazis.

RR The Defence of Petrograd Alexander Deineka 1928

Alexander Deineka, the Defence of Petrograd, from the RA exhibition

The review appeared before the exhibition opened and functioned as British liberals replaying Churchill’s dictum about the Soviets that he would strangle the baby in its cradle, here strangling the exhibition before it could be seen. It is worth noting that the attack is largely being waged by the liberal press, coinciding with a new McCarthyism being led in the U.S. by the Democrats, in which everything Russian is and now must be demonized.

No doubt the failures of the October Revolution were numerous, including famine and starvation in the Ukraine and a rapid installation of camps for political prisoners, but so were the triumphs. Lenin seized power with the support of the army and the workers on one burning question, an end to the war which was decimating the working classes of Europe. He was nearly the only person to urge what he called “Revolutionary Defeatism,” claiming that a defeat for the capitalist nationalists in the war meant a victory and a halt to the slaughtering of working people by each other in the trenches and by new technologies of increasingly deadly and remote killing machines.

It is very easy to make the claim that it was the Soviet takeover and the actual threat of international revolution that ended World War I since the Western powers recognized they no longer had the luxury of slaughtering each other since there was now a real threat to their existence and they, the U.S., France and Britain most prominently, at the time of signing the armistice, sent expeditionary forces to destroy the Soviet state.

DB SovietWoman1920

Soviet Poster, 1920.The inscriptions on the buildings read "library", "kindergarten", "school for grown-ups", etc.

To this may be added that it was yet again the Soviet “cult” and the Russian people that two decades later halted the next form of Western capitalist barbarity in the guise of the Nazi conquest of Europe. At the height of the Civil War, 1918-22, while battling for their survival, Lenin’s Bolsheviks pursued a policy of combatting illiteracy, teaching reading and writing in the various republics in 40 different languages and dialects and refusing to impose Russian Cyrillic. In 1919, at the worst moment of being attacked and under siege, the Soviets boasted 1200 reading clubs and 6200 political, scientific and agricultural circles and by the end of the war 5 million children were in schools, reversing the Czar’s policy of education only for the elite under which only one child in five was educated.

Along with this new literacy, during the war and after, until the end of the first five year plan in 1932, went a flourishing and democratising of especially the visual and more crucially the graphic arts, particularly posters with elaborate and splashy typography and image and photo collages which appeared in trams, on factory walls and throughout the cities in places where crowds passed.

This was a kind of embracing of popular media which in the West would simply be absorbed into the advertising industry. Theatere began to incorporate popular elements of the circus as Meyerhold countered Stanislavski’s psychological realism with a biomechanical method stressing collective and machine-like movement. Constructivism, likewise an incorporation of the power of the machine into painting and cinema, took the pre-war dynamism of Italian Futurism at a moment when that form was embracing a fascist militarism and instead reinterpreted the machine as a source for good in the service of the people and not as simply a killing machine.

Soviet avant-garde art, the currents of which began before the war and was let loose by the earlier Revolution of 1905, greatly influenced the West in the theatrical experimentation and de-psychologizing of Brecht, in the bringing of abstract notions of design to mass production in the Weimar Bauhaus School, and in the ways Eisenstein’s montage in the films Strike and Battleship Potemkin were incorporated into the cinema of Hitchcock.

The period also featured a rethinking of the purpose of the museum, opposing the collector instinct of museums in the West as being dead archives or conversely as simply presenting art as utterly separated from life and only related to its own history. To counter this, the Soviets proposed open air museums integrated into the community, and a broader definition of what constituted art to include folk art and street design. These innovations are now official policy - uncredited to the Revolution of course - of many museums such as the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art whose director boasts their incorporation.

The Revolution though in the year of its centenary has in many ways been sidelined. The Royal Academy exhibit was Europe’s most extensive. Paris’s Pompidou on the other hand chose instead to highlight Russian dissident art in its exhibit Kollektsia, which traced extensively the decades from the 1950s to the 1970s, an uninspired period which broke down into Sots Art which was the Russian equivalent of Pop Art and various returns to the Constructivism.

Elsewhere, there is a current exhibit at the library of the Museum of the Army titled “And 1917 Becomes Revolution” with examples of this flourishing of the arts alongside Western figurative paintings of the pope blessing and sanctioning the slaughter of the troops. There is also a recounting of how two French members, out of a delegation of four, sent to convince the Soviets to stay in the war instead “went native” and converted to their side in favor of the revolution.

It’s a nice exhibit but very difficult even to find in the museum and overshadowed by the current Army blockbuster about the everyday life of a soldier, an exhibit more in favor of war. And indeed World War I over the last three years is everyday honored in its centennial while the event that halted the war is slighted.

CL Beat the whites with the red wedge by El Lissitzky 1919

By far the most interesting European exhibit was in Venice at the Palazzo Zatere which has been taken over by the V-A-C Foundation, a joint Moscow-Venice group that staged “Space, Force, Construction” which attempted to update the radical thrust of the arts in this period with contemporary art with a political bent over the last three decades. Here was: Lissitzky’s “Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge,” a geometrical description of the Soviets outnumbered and surrounded but surviving by ingenuity......

DB Tatlins Tower

......and a recreation of Tatlin’s Monumental “Tower of the Future” which was an attempt to address the mistakes of the Tower of Babel.....

DB Rodchenkos lunchroom

........and Rodchenko’s design for a worker’s lunchroom/study center, where eating and acquiring of knowledge go on simultaneously.

DB Kuleshovs By The Law

Lev Kuleshov's By the Law

Probably the continent’s most thrilling exhibit of Soviet art though is the currently ongoing French Cinematheque series “The USSR of Cineastes” which covers the period of the 1920s through the end of World War II. Beyond Eisenstein’s Strike and Potemkin, the series contains screenings of the anti-petit bourgeois House on Trubnaya Street, a comedy by Boris Barnet about the maltreatment of a peasant woman by the building’s small business elite; Lev Kuleshov’s By the Law, a montage experiment and adaptation of a Jack London short story about how the greed of an international mining expedition in Alaska turns deadly; and The Yellow Ticket, Feodor Ostep’s portrait of a wet nurse, abused by her baronial employer and then cast out into prostitution.

DB Feodor Osteps The Yellow Ticket

Feodor Osteps, The Yellow Ticket

Why the downgrading of the Revolution? Is it not because in these times which due to increasing income disparity in the West, the brutalisation of the world by industrial climate change, and the ever disappearing support of the state for any form of worker aid or comfort, Revolution is certainly on the table and discomforting to an increasingly shrinking cadre of elites?

Yet the dissatisfaction in whole deindustrialized areas left for dead in France, the US, and Britain is being channeled into pro-nationalist, anti-immigrant sentiment that is the opposite of Lenin’s call for an international joining of the workers across the West and the world to rise up.

Instead the Russian Revolution, which twice halted capitalist barbarity on a global scale, is characterized as merely barbarous itself. At the moment when the world is most in need of it, Western elites have been very careful in this year of the centenary to ignore or deny the energy that inspired one of the great hopes of humanity in the twentieth century.