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From the Cultural Revolution of 1917 to the Counter-Revolution of the Present


Ludmila Bulavka

From the Cultural Revolution of 1917 to the Counter-Revolution of the Present

Culture and revolution. Revolution and culture. This theme has been written about and dissected so much in our country that it would seem that a point of exhaustion has been reached. What more remains for anyone to say? The overwhelming consensus is that its problematical character has been perceived as little more than an ideological ritual. The fact remains, however, that new things can indeed be said, and that the relationship between these two forces contains the utmost contemporary significance, especially in our current climate of an emerging bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia.

The country of my birth — the USSR — is no longer in existence today, and for anyone to look back at its history and to highlight, not just the obvious tragedies incurred by the Soviet peoples, but also its achievements and successes — and more than that, to demonstrate pride in those achievements — is tantamount for many to be little more than a sign of disease. But what motivates my desire to go back to the past, and what fortifies my courage, is a recognition that what we are living through now is a fundamental crisis of culture of global proportions, which has not just affected Russia in the most squalid of ways, but which has also destroyed a culture which always united the most contradictory periods of Soviet history. It is my belief that the destruction of these former cultural values has evoked a tragic sensation in the vast majority of ordinary people, whereby they feel nothing more than immigrants in their own country. To add to their belief that they have no real future ahead of them, devoid as they are of economic resources, they are also told that they have no past. What is otherwise a very abstract belief in the so-called ‘End of History’ is for us extremely tangible and real.

The Dialectical Road

The dialectical relationship at work here can be explained as follows. In the 1920s and early 1930s history clearly existed first and foremost as a transfonnative event; as a qualitative development of society which prioritised history as a category of time. By the 1970s and the period of Brezhnevite stagnation, history had effectively been transformed into a kind of hypostasis. It now served first and foremost as a social concept and as an act of memory, which now gave priority to history as a category of space. During these years, people could not directly experience for themselves the humanitarian ideas of social creativeness which lay at the heart of the socialist ideal, but they could at least experience it indirectly as an act of (staged) memory. What exists today, however, has taken everything one stage further. Not only is there no direct historical creativity of the masses, but there is also no longer any cultural embodiment of historical memory. In short, the individual, as a social subject, exists in a situation where he can neither create history nor have a memory of it. If this is one attribute of the present situation, there is also another one which likewise deserves recognition. If, during the period of stagnation, we could say that history bore no sense of time (as a process of development) but did give scope for space (as a cultural event), then in today’s situation there exists the unique position of an existence which lies both outside the principles of development as well as outside culture; that is to say, an existence both outside of time and space. Moreover, having torn asunder the umbilical cord connecting the present with the past, any conceptual notion of the future must also be affected. It is from this starting point, then, that one must understand this sensation of people being immigrants not just in their own country, but in the whole of history.

The introduction of so-called ‘democracy’ and ‘liberalism’ in Russia has thus accomplished something that the Gulags of Stalin and the stagnation of Brezhnev were both unable to accomplish — the destruction of hope and the creation of an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness. Mankind as a generic being has been thrown overboard into the Sargasso sea of postmodemity. In the domain of work, relations, and general life as a whole, everything is oriented towards one thing and one thing only — how to make the most amount of money (with the emphasis on make rather than earn). It is here that we can locate the foundations of the modem crisis of culture, which is uniquely engendered in the depths of the societal depression which currently exists in Russia. To escape this depression, procure for oneself a non-alienated conception of life, requires, at a minimum, forms of resistance to the ‘new world order’, and wherever possible, the creation of alternative ideas.

In order to understand the basis of the ‘cultural idea’ of today’s counter-revolution — and counter-revolution rather than the self-promoted notion of a ‘revolutionary’ transformation away from the earlier Soviet culture to contemporary postmodernism — it is absolutely vital that we understand the existential nature of the interrelationship of our initial point of departure: the October revolution and culture. On top of this, one also needs to have an understanding of the dialectics of this relationship, because without this, it is impossible to comprehend many of the contradictions at work here as well as the ultimate failures which eventually gave rise to the crisis of Soviet culture. But before we get down to this, let us first of all explore a number of crucial paradoxes at work here.

First, what is the nature of the relationship between acts of cultural destruction and cultural creation during the revolution? Can we perhaps say that the people at this time were simply barbarians who failed to understand precisely what it was that they desired from this thing called culture? Indeed, was the destruction at work here nothing more than an act of wanton vandalism; a wanton vandalism which was really the main motif of the revolution itself?

Second, what explanation can we provide for the fact that tens of thousands of people (and first and foremost young people) took part in some of the most incredible processes of spontaneous cultural creativity ever witnessed in history, at a time when they were also suffering under the most bitter human conditions of cold, starvation and rampant diseases and death? Of course, within the very act of revolution one could locate the basis of an intrinsic celebratory idea. But this in itself was surely not sufficient to compensate for the extremities of the conditions which were to be inflicted on people, and which in turn would give rise to a situation where people would still have the strength, the desire and the human resources, after all of this, to paint, to compose, to act, to write and to take part in all manner of popular and street festivals. And let us not forget that the engagement of workers, peasants and soldiers in such acts of spontaneous creativity was already widely evident in the very first years of Soviet power, as witnessed for example at the beginning of the 1920s, and in particular the all-Russian congresses devoted to the analysis and exchange of experiences, problems and perspectives for the development of this mass cultural creativity. For example, in November 1919 (and this in the condition of civil war remember!) there took place the first all-Russian Congress of Workers and Peasants Theatres in which 243 delegates participated (including Communists, Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and non-party delegates) from 27 regions of the country. In 1921 there was the first all-Russian gathering of musical workers; one year after the creation of 224 musical workshops as part of the Proletkult movement. The workshops of the fine arts, meanwhile, (which by 1920 already numbered 186) had been quick to establish themselves in those parts of the country that had been freed from control from the White Guardists, and in just one of the Petrograd studios more than 4,000 people were participating in its activities. Finally, at the first all-Russian congress of proletarian writers in 1921, 36 leading associations of proletarian writers from across the whole Republic were represented.

When it comes to the third paradox, this has already been the subject of some analysis by Viktor Arslanov. Why, in the 1930s, precisely at the peak of Stalin’s repressions, did Soviet artists across the whole cultural spectrum create some of their finest works — from Eisenstein the filmmaker to Mukhina the sculptor, and Bulgakov and Pasternak the writers? Was it because they did not understand what was going on in the country at this time, or is it the case that the Gulag is a necessary attribute of intellectual, creative inspiration?

Last, but not least, the fourth paradox that I want to explore is this: why is it the case that today, when the Communist Party no longer exists and the ‘ideological monster’ has been defeated, and the people have been granted the full fruits of ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy’, there has been no single worthwhile cultural development in the past ten years. Indeed, on the contrary, we have been witnesses to its absolute decline.

The enumeration of these paradoxes can be continued, but the main question remains: what stands behind them and what logic forms the whole bond of such paradoxes? To answer this, of course, it is absolutely imperative to find the direct connections and the essential dialectical linkage.

New Subjects of History

In October 1917 — and I am now referring to this date not as an exclusive political event, but as a process of real, qualitative change — there existed the precondition for the emergence of something vital: the possibility for the realisation of the social creativity of a great part of the ordinary working people. The crucial thing to note here is that they did not just adapt to the new social circumstances around them, they themselves formed, created, and, to put it simply, made these new social relations into something materially real in all domains of life — from the economic to the social and the cultural; a reality which gave full credence to the basis of social creativity. In addition to this, it is also important to recognise that the revolutionary masses created these social relations in a contradictory and often primitive way according to their own ideals and strengths; in a word, on the basis of all that ‘rich cultural baggage’ which was acquired ‘thanks’ to the Tsarist regime.

And here there emerges another important factor. As a direct consequence of the events of October 1917, the workers for the first time transformed themselves from a mere object of history and instead became a real subject of historical processes; an opportunity which was grasped in its fullest creative sense. In the course of this process the decisive conditions were created for the emergence of two vitally important tendencies. Firstly, the social creativity which was unleashed was like a ‘yeast’ which gave rise to its own essence of socialist ideals and ideology. And secondly, every individual was able to discover his/her own essence in the river bed of currents which came to merge with each other.

Let us take a look at these processes from the perspective of socialist ideology. The class struggle, which was both the precursor of October 1917, as well as the consequence of the people’s revolution (in the guise of the civil war), became an extremely powerful catalyst in the process of the ripening of the real material interests of the rising masses. The revolutionary events of this period, virtually for everybody, focused attention on the simple, yet often life-or-death alternative — are you for the Whites or Reds? The power of this choice is wonderfully captured in a whole range of contemporary films and literature; with two of the best examples being Chapaev’s The Brothers Vasil’ev and Sholokov’s And Quiet Flows the Don. In other words, the events forced everyone to choose and decide precisely what their own interests were and to express these interests in the most acute political form. And through the manifestation of such Bolshevik formulas as ‘Peace to the People’, ‘Factories to the Workers’ and ‘Land to the Peasants’, ordinary people were now energetically cast into the arena of historical activity. To be sure, their real interests at this time were not necessarily socialist, in a conscious sense of this term, but by their very own participation in the possibility of real social transformation, an explosive ideological energy was released which had the consequence of making them ever more socialistically aware.

In its turn, the logic of social creativity (as with any kind of creativity in general) gave rise to a set of ideals by means of which the whole essential reality was going to be transformed. The origin of these ideals, needless to say, predate the Bolsheviks, and can really be seen as the result of the heroic, and as a rule tragic, endeavour not only of the people of Russia, but the whole of humanity, tearing itself free from the necessities and obligations of Tsarism. Certainly, the emotional, spiritual and moral suffering (as well as endurance) of this experience has always been very pronounced in the country’s art, just as the counterposing ideals of social justice were seen as a product of a wider, world culture.

This ethical, popular ideal was, of course, a long way from being based on any scientific, let alone Marxist, foundations, but nevertheless this was compensated for in the quality of its moral imperative invoking a sense of justice; a form of justice which propagated the other as an equal to oneself. And for this reason, then, this ideal could already be considered social, notwithstanding its at times religious-like undertones. What differentiated the truly social form of this ideal from the truly religious, however, was its far less egocentric basis. Within the Christian conception of morality the emphasis is on my duty not to sin. The moral question of my neighbour is not my concern, but God’s. And in this moral lack of exactingness towards others, what is strikingly apparent is the moral alienation of the Christian ideal.

And so, thanks to the appearance of the social creativity of the masses, the previous ideal of justice finally starts to descend from the level of the abstract and the transcendental and becomes, in the words of Evald Il’enkov, ‘an historical happening’. That is to say, by means of its insertion in the concrete historical form of social creativity, it begins to find itself (in a complicated and contradictory way) assuming the guise of the socialist ideal. An ideal of socialism, not communism, it should be stressed, for it is necessary to remember the words of Marx and Engels themselves when they wrote that communism does not consist in an ideal which needs to be made reality, but is instead that which is a real movement which destroys the present situation.

In its turn, the real material interests of the broader masses, which are logically included in this social creativity, are at last beginning to emerge at the level of individual or particular interests. Once again, this is a form of individuality which is already ideological in nature and which can therefore be said to have a definite existence. As a result of this, common class interests can now be established up to a level which is still not general; something which is after all impossible in a society which is still riven with class conflict.

What we can see, then, is the way in which the October revolution gave rise to processes of a mutual formation of a socialist ideal (not in an abstract, but in a concrete historical form) and a socialist ideology, each of which in its relations with the other was able to advance simultaneously and requisitely. The acceleration of this mutual formation took place at the level of the development of its own forms of social creativity, with the main criteria here being its capacity to penetrate particular moments of social relations and transform them into something more universal.

The Tools of Culture

Not surprisingly, the drawing together of socialist ideals and ideology called forth powerful cultural explosions, which for the working class was one of the immediate intrinsic legacies of the revolution. If, before the revolution, culture for the exploited masses had been nothing more than an expression of their alienation — viewed at best as a useless leisure pursuit of their masters, and at worst, as a special instrument of their own exploitation -then with the development of the socialist revolution, culture now found completely new avenues of expression and understanding.

In effect, it became for them an actual working utensil. A familiar tool equivalent to the workman’s hammer and the peasant’s sickle, primitive to be sure, but nevertheless of tremendous significance, because for the first time it created the scope for a whole new way of life, affecting not just one aspect of their existence (in the political or economic domain etc.) but the sum total of all their social relations. And this sense of it being a ‘working utensil’ should not be interpreted as bearing no concrete use. The fact that the working class developed such a regard for culture was precisely because they saw its concrete potential.

Having said this, it is necessary to recognise that alongside this there existed the fact of destruction as well. A subject of great debate, this fact of destruction did not occur as some kind of simplistic act of primitive vandalism. As a rule it was very much connected with that part of cultural existence which had previously been nothing more than an instrument of the blunt exploitation of the masses; an adjunct of the previous regime’s policy of keeping the workers in their allotted place, and was therefore seen as the ideological epitome and symbol of oppression. This is the first thing.

Secondly, one must not forget that the revolution quickly gave rise to a powerful social explosion, which brought forth an inflamed class conflict, ultimately leading to civil war. Along with all the other costs of this war, it was inevitable that there would also be cultural casualties.

And thirdly, one needs to admit that there were inevitably some acts of brutal cultural vandalism. These were not necessarily authorised ‘from above’; representing in some way an intrinsic part of the ideology of the new regime, as it is all too frequently imputed today by our new ‘democratic’ officials. Instead, many of these acts of ‘vandalism’ were spontaneously carried out from below, and in many ways represented the strongest embodiment of the depths of their earlier cultural alienation. For some people, this was the only reaction they were at this stage capable and conscious of. To have expected otherwise would have been to expect a degree of critical maturation that only an access to culture could have given them; something that was deliberately denied tile masses under the old order. Indeed, if anything, the surprise is how little vandalism there was. One of the real historical merits of the Bolsheviks is the way in which they were almost immediately able to transform such furious and aggressive feelings of alienation into a constructive energy of social transformation, gathering in this cultural alienation and making it the task of a new cultural revolution to extinguish it forever.

The social openness towards culture at this time, and an individual’s self-awareness of it, occurred not only because it was turned into a working instrument of the revolutionary masses as part of their desire to create a new life and a new civilisation. The maelstrom of revolutionary events also gave birth to a revolutionary mass with an acute need to comprehend as fully as possible the ideas which were emerging, to understand their proper interests in all of this, and to link all of this together in the best way possible. To parallel their emergence as a new subject of historical actions, artistic culture now took on the form of a true, meaningful ideology; a philosophy of proper cultural interests and needs.

Acting on the Stage of History was still not enough proper culture, in the strict meaning of this term. Nevertheless, the social claims of the uneducated and uncultured revolutionary masses now became the main reason for the fact that after the fires of the political revolution in October 1917 there now began to emerge the flames of the cultural revolution which was to dominate the 1920s and early 1930s.

With the setting alight of this process there came to life brand new artistic forms, particularly theatrical forms, such that it would not be unjust to speak of a theatrical October paralleling that of a political October. As early as May 1st, 1919, in Kronstadt, there took place a mass spectacle devoted to proletarian internationalism in which 20,000 people took part. In Petrograd, meanwhile, in honour of the opening of the Second Congress of the Comintern, another spectacle was organised with the participation of more than 4,000 people. In the same period there was the spectacle of the ‘Storming of the Winter Palace’ which saw more than 10,000 people take part, with the music for the spectacle being provided, would you believe, by factory hooters and military warships harboured in the town. And these examples could be multiplied many times over. In short, then, the revolution forced the masses out of their lousy trenches and pitiful abodes, just as culture was forced out of its arrogant salons and into the public squares creating the vector for their mutual interaction. This in turn gave rise to a second tendency resulting from the social creativity of the 1920s; the mutual interaction of socialist ideology with socialist ideals, which was dealt with earlier.

True, in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, one could certainly argue that there. But the development of this mutual interaction between the revolutionary masses and culture was not only evident in the fact that the working class began to open itself to new and non-alienated concepts. Simultaneously, there also began the process of the liberation of culture from its previously organised form of social being. The establishment of Soviet power now made possible the creation of a system of cultural values (through the institutional setting of not just museums, but also palaces, libraries, galleries and concert halls) of the utmost openness for all social sectors of society without exclusion, hindrance or discrimination. Similarly, the fresh wind of revolutionary creativity gave birth to new groups of artists who were not just creatively inspired, but who also had a tremendous strength of desire, stemming from the new possibilities which had been generated, to participate directly in the creation and furtherance of a new cultural politics. Against a background of other motivations at work here, of course, this nevertheless remained a vital driving force of such artists of the stature of M. Chekhov, Malevich, Grabar, Blok, Meyerhold and many others — all of whom had made names for themselves before the revolution, and who were then in the forefront of co-operating at close quarters with the new Soviet regime.

The conclusion we can thus far make then is this: one of the main outcomes of the revolution was the interaction of two sets of forces or movements. First, socialist ideology and ideals, and second, the revolutionary masses and culture — both of which intersected with each other. The social basis for the new creativity of the masses became the centripetal force at work here, which connected all of these components together in a new form of unity. To be sure, there were contradictions at work within this new-found unity, and understanding how these contradictions evolved is a crucial issue for us. Another factor of importance is the fact that the unity that was created became the basis for the conception of a new cultural universality; a universality in the guise of Soviet culture. The development, and the ultimate disintegration of this unity is what really underpins the very essence of Soviet culture.

Bureaucracy’s Revenge

Why, then, was the integrity of this unity so short-lived? Without doubt, the main factor here was the way in which the development of the Stalinist form of bureaucratism started to dislodge the processes of social creativity. As time went on, the mass social cultural movement was gradually relocated into formal, excessively organised institutes, and certainly by the Brezhnev era culture had become nothing more than a ritualised adjunct of ideology. A degree of institutionalisation was always inevitable, of course, and in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In our case, however. it went to such extremes that it was simply impossible for the earlier creative tendencies to survive. Rather than being consolidated, they were simply smothered.

With the slow death of social creativity so the bedrock was laid for the decomposition of all the constituent elements of the cultural unity which had been uniquely created. Let us pursue, for example, the logic of transmutation suffered by socialist ideology. From the convictions of the 1920s it gradually became transformed in the Stalinist period into an act of faith (with the suicide of Mayakovsky representing a decisive symbol of this change), ultimately culminating as nothing more than a ritual by the time of Brezhnev.

In the 1920s, as we have seen, the working class were considered, and genuinely felt themselves to be, the subjects of revolutionary transformation. The veritable truth of socialist ideology at this time was personally verified at every moment by living practice, as too were the personal experiences of mistakes, contradictions and tragedies. It is precisely for this reason, then, that it found the form of conviction — as embodied in that old slogan, ‘practice as the criteria of truth’. But with the development of bureaucratism, all forms of social creativity were destroyed. Or, to be more precise, the energy of creativity moved from the domain of social relations into the sphere of material production (as witnessed, for example, by the emergence of the Stakhanovite movement and the enthusiasm of the constructors of the first Five Year Plan etc.) Let us be clear that the critical moment here was not in the fact that social creativity entered the sphere of material production, for after all, this in itself was a very positive development and contributed to many successes. After all, it was only thanks to the workers creative enthusiasm, in conditions remember of absolute horrendousness, that the programme of industrialisation was successfully carried out.

No, the real downside of all of this lay in the fact that social creativity was abandoned in the sphere of societal life. As a consequence, new forms of alienated relations were created between the masses and the new apparatchiks within the bureaucratic apex which had been created to oversee die industrialisation process.

Or, to put it another way, up to the Stalin era die subject of social creativity was extremely diverse, encompassing as it did all social strata, from the working class to the formal intelligentsia, the party leadership and the official ideologues, and at the same time was also integral. As bureaucratisation developed, however, so diere began an erosion of this integrity ot the subject of social creativity to the point that it became fractured into two different and separate castes: the bureaucracy on the one hand (at the apex of key organisations such as the party, the administration, the trade unions etc.) and the working class on the other.

From this moment on, then, socialist ideology starts to abandon its earlier form — that of conviction — and becomes instead nothing more than a form of faith or trust. More than that, it also started to imitate that old traditional, proverbial form of Russian faith. And as the latter started to dominate, the way was cleared for it to become transformed into a duty; or, more accurately speaking, a moral-ideological imperative. With the canonisation of socialist ideology, what we now begin to see is the emergence of something akin to a socialist form of Christianity. The new God (in the guise of Stalin), like the old one, is deemed to be all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipotent and unique; its relations are only at a vertical and hierarchical level and are never at the level of informal familiarity; and like the God of Christianity it is beyond reproach and criticism — in a word, what we have is the return of all the old forms of Christian alienation.

By the time of the Brezhnev era, socialist ideology has further elapsed into a system of rituals and rites, of an increasingly inert and sluggish nature. Culminating in the events of August 1991, and the attempted coup against Gorbachev, it is no longer possible to witness any religious-like fervour in the ideological domain. Instead, a form of ideological atheism has prevailed, amounting in effect to the de-ideologisation of ideology. And it is this ideological atheism which continues to prevail today, especially amongst our new breed of post-Soviet philistines, whose one and only form of motivation is the accumulation of that currency which bears the head of a certain George Washington.

But the disintegration of the Soviet universality not only struck at socialist ideology, it also created a similar trajectory in the cultural domain as well. From being an instrument of the revolutionary transformation of social life, it was gradually transformed into an icon of deified proportions, which re­created all the traditional trappings of alienation. That is to say, culture was no longer embodied in people’s daily life experiences, which was toe main characteristic of early Soviet culture, when all social relations were filled with cultural concepts and when human relations were devoid of all forms of alienation, but on the contrary, life now withdrew itself from culture. For some, there seemed nothing unusual in this, and indeed it was defended on the grounds that such a change in the social vector of culture might even sharpen the highest artistic personality of the individual. Its effect in practice, however, was extremely negative. As culture became more and more an escape mechanism from the routine reality of an alienated everyday life, so it could not help but represent a dramatic reversal and defeat of the liberating potential of culture, transforming previously socialised cultured individuals into an anti-social consumer of culture. Such cultural regression has if anything, of course, considerably worsened in the new ‘liberal’ climate, where its main role now is to be nothing more than a form of ‘psychological release’ or mechanism of relaxation. Indeed, taking up the refrain of a popular advertisement in Russia at the moment, one might even go as far as saying that its function is not really different to that of a piece of chewing gum.

Thus, the development of Stalinist bureaucratism eventually led to the destruction of social creativity, bringing in its wake its own destruction of the fully developed unity of socialist ideals, ideology, culture and the working class which had been formed in the 1920s and early 1930s. On top of this, it also destroyed the foundations of a Soviet universality which had been creatively established on two main principles — Soviet culture and Soviet civilisation, both of which had been united dialectically into a common synthesis. The result of this disintegration was the coming into being of a new pseudo-unity: a petit-bourgeois ideology, with conformist ideals, mass culture and a new kind of ‘social creativity’ with very specific Russian roots oriented towards Mafia-type racketeering, speculation, prostitution etc. It is these features, then, which define our present condition — a condition which is very much in tune with contemporary postmodernism.

In formal terms, postmodernism offers equal rights in the existence of all styles and directions (although only in artistic terms), but in reality this supposed freedom is really a turning back to relations of alienation. After all, look at the basis upon which postmodernism is founded. Within postmodernism in general there is no concept of relation, no subject of relation and even no conception of die Person/Human Being. In the absence of the Human Being (as a representative form) the essence of human (moral) problems has been extracted out of art and culture, which has now been re-made without subjects, without problems and orienting itself to a technologically comfortable form of consumerism and consumer. As a consequence, art and culture, as a socially unifiable language and as a depository of non-alienated human relations, is now considered unnecessary. And it is thus from here that one can trace the modem crisis of culture.

Or, to put it another way, postmodernism is an endeavour to create history and culture without human beings as subjects of history and culture. As a result, I think we can categorically say that postmodernism is a legitimate cultural projection of contemporary developed liberalism, including its present-day Russian incarnation.


What conclusions, then, can be made? First, if we look back at the revolution from a cultural perspective we can see that it evolved according to the following pattern: the socialist revolution created the premise for the emergence of a type of culture which was able to overcome previous relations of alienation. We need to understand, of course, that this was not the only tendency of Soviet culture, but it was more than adequately manifested in its essence. And in this sense, ideal communism -the world of non-alienated relations — in Soviet society was created in the bosom of Soviet culture and especially in its heart and soul (Soviet art); and this is why even today apologists for the Yeltsin regime continue to strive after Soviet art forms. In such circumstances this was the condition for the appraisal of the laws of Soviet culture, which the majority of the working class accepted as a kind of prototype of communism — i.e. non-alienated social relations; a situation already then of real socialism, which was then murdered by bureaucratism.

Here it is important to bring to light another contradiction: the creation of this ideal communism in the realm of Soviet culture appeared not only in advance of, but in isolation of, any manifestation of real socialist relations in the material (economic) realm of life, which was still conditioned by a very backward form of capitalism. The success of the former was not in itself sufficient to overcome the deficiencies of the latter. Indeed, quite the opposite. We also have to be clear, however, that in terms of what has happened since 1991, we have not so much moved forwards to a new stage of capitalism, but instead we have gone backwards to an almost unique postmodern form of feudalism.

Second, and following on from this, the liberating potential of culture is firmly connected with the liberating potential of socialist revolutionary politics. That is to say, it was the revolution which itself revealed the most essential laws of culture, which were fully embodied in the practice of social transformation and social creativity. Outside of this domain, the potential of culture is nearly always restricted to little more than an act of consumption.

Third, the revolution engendered a new universalism in the form of Soviet culture, which overcame, in an organic way, not only national, but also state forms of culture, putting in its place a small niche of world, international culture. Up to this time world culture had consisted of a dialogue of different national and popular/folk cultures, but the new Soviet culture represented a new precedent of world culture based on a completely different set of foundational principles. That is to say, it emerged as a result of the historical and localised experience of different peoples, consciously desirous of creating a world of non-alienated relations.

Fourth, and finally, the general humanistic ideal of a socially just and non-alienated society, which prior to the revolution existed purely as a kind of abstract desire, became not just die main component of Soviet culture (and here we are referring first and foremost to its socialist tendencies), but it also entered the mentality (the psychological and the spiritual culture) of the people. This is one of the main reasons why we can still say that even in today’s Russia, while outwardly and perhaps intellectually the rhetoric of anti-communism prevails, inwardly (under their skin) there is still a great deal of residual commitment and belief in die values of social justice, mutual assistance and collectivism in ordinary people’s approaches to the transition now taking place. This residue of communist cultural values is not sufficient in itself to defeat or block die transition currently under way, but it does at least help explain some of die deformations in that transition process and why the process of capitalisation has been far more problematical, as well as more vicious, in Russia than elsewhere.

If, then, in October 1917 the Bolshevik revolution created culture as communism, we should assert tliat our future task is to create, in die words of Karl Liebknecht, ‘communism as culture’.

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