I have this little book in my hands. Having spent years on the Trotskyist left, we saw no victory to socialism in Russia rather we saw a defeat of the revolution by the failure of the socialist revolution to spread after 1923, and Stalinism a reversal to capitalism, to state capitalism where the bureaucracy were separated from the working class. Trotsky called Russia a degenerated workers state, but Tony Cliff called it more, a failed revolution.
Boris Groys says the west has “has transformed (socialist realism) into an object of frivolous amusement. p 120.
During his time in the Soviet Union, Groys participated in the unofficial cultural scenes of Moscow and Leningrad, publishing in “37,” “Chasy,” and other samizdat magazines. In 1979 he published the essay “Moscow Romantic Conceptualism” in the art magazine A-YA, in which he coined the term applied to the art movement “Moscow Conceptualism.”” Wikipedia
However, the revolution of 1917 and what led up to it, which could have happened anywhere, freed thinking processes, allowed for experimentation and gave life to art.
For artists, the February Revolution opened up broad possibilities of self-administration, for which reason many of the avant-garde, including those who stood close to the Bolsheviks, such as Vladimir Mayakovsky (Conversation with the Tax Collector About Poetry), mistrustfully followed the Bolsheviks’ first steps in cultural politics after the October Revolution. The slogans were autonomy and self-administration. However, the offer of the newly-installed People’s Commissariat of Education (Narkompros) to work together was simply too tempting. Anatoly Lunacharsky, its director, had set up a department for fine arts (IZO-Narkompros) in Petrograd with a branch in Moscow, engaging a staff of artists as advisors. When the short-lived People’s Commissariat for Czarist Artworks and the Protection of Landmarks merged with Narkompros, the furnishing of new museums as well as the reorganization of the academies also fell within the avant-garde sphere of influence.
If one takes a broader look at Malevich’s post-October art organizational activities, what stands out most is the fundamental constructive feature based on participation and practical implementation. His museum conception for modern art commences with Impressionism, proceeds through Cézanne, the Cubists, and the Futurists, and ends with the suprematist movement he himself founded as a final reckoning with representational painting. Here, the gaze was to be liberated for a deeper reality.
But Groys seems to misunderstand the failure of the revolution and writes as if the outcome, Stalinism which killed the revolution, is the legitimate outcome of the 1917 revolution rather than its failure.
Even Malevich who wrote p 15 of Groys “”All creation whether of nature or of the artist, or of creative man in general, is a question of constructing a device to overcome our endless progress” Yet he is like Klee’s angle ahead looking back, trying to stop the destruction. In modern capitalist times, Soviet, Cuba, US, Africa, “progress” is the accumulation of goods and manufacture for profit despite the needs of humans or the environment. The white and black square as embodiments of this necessity to halt this “progress” are interesting art.
- Boris Groys, Under Suspicion, 2012 (philosophiesresarc.net)