The Marx Memorial Library is home to a phenomenal collection of resources on the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union. These include posters depicting contemporary propaganda wars; pamphlets documenting accounts of vistors to Russia during the civil war; photographs of the Red Army and leaflets from the Hands Off Russia campaign in Britain. We also hold pamphlets and periodicals documenting collectivisation, the space race, and soviet culture and art.
Our workshops can be tailored to your needs, and will particularly appeal to GCSE and A-Level History, Politics and Art students. They can focus on:
Not only is a visit to the library a chance to view our archives, but an opportunity to visit the historic building built in 1737 where Lenin worked in exile from 1902 - 1903. This makes the Marx Memorial Library in 2017 - on the centenary of the revolution itself - one of the most authentic and inspiring places to learn about Russia's history.
First published in the Morning Star on Saturday/Sunday December 31-January 1 2016/17
CHRISTINE LINDEY explains how the 1917 Russian Revolution ignited unprecedented artistic transformations which made a real difference in people’s lives
“IN THE land of the Soviets every kitchen maid must be able to rule the state,” said Lenin and the arts were an intrinsic part of the Bolshevik revolution’s attempt to achieve this momentous step forward.
But it was no mean task. For a population — 80 per cent of whom were illiterate — serfdom, abolished in 1862-4, was still within living memory.
And it was by expressing the revolution’s aims through imagination, emotion, humour and joy, that the arts opened the people’s minds and boosted their self-confidence to seize power.
How best to do this was hotly debated. Rejecting unique works of art as self-indulgent bourgeois commodities, some artists heeded the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s dictum that “the streets are our brushes, the squares our palettes.”
Turning to agit-prop — agitation and propaganda — they created ephemeral posters and street pageants and decorations to educate and enthuse support for the revolution.
Thus in 1920 artists including Nathan Altman organised the ambitious re-enactment of the storming of the Winter Palace, involving decorated buildings, factory sirens and 2,000 Petrograd proletarians. Perhaps a few kitchen maids were among them.
Trains were transformed into “moving posters,” with vivid images and slogans painted on them, and were filled with travelling theatre companies, film shows, books and literacy classes to bring socialism to the countryside.
Such actions were possible because the worker state became patron of the arts. Recognising the importance of culture, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Minister for Enlightenment, immediately revolutionised cultural institutions.
The arts would now serve the people, not the aristocracy or bourgeoisie.The art market was abolished, museums nationalised and their contents reorganised and reinterpreted from a working class perspective.
Two radical artists — washerwoman’s son Alexander Rodchenko and bourgeois ex-lawyer Wassily Kandinsky — jointly founded 22 new museums and purchased contemporary art for the young state. Museums worldwide still envy these collections.
The 19th-century progressive intelligentsia had already challenged tsarist Russia’s near mediaeval socio-political conditions and their expression through equally polarised aesthetics.
The aristocracy favoured Western academic art as a mark of their superior sophistication, while denigrating their serfs’ woodcut prints (luboks), icons, carvings and embroideries as “crude” and “primitive.”
But the early avant garde upturned these aesthetic criteria. Arguing that photography liberated them from academic art’s fussy illusionism, they were inspired by the flat shapes, bold colours and outlines through which folk art succinctly expressed visible and inner worlds.
So, after 1917, lubok-inspired revolutionary posters, illustrations and textiles, energising peasants and workers by affirming their own, hitherto denigrated, cultural traditions.
But artists also embraced the social progress promised by industrialisation and the surge in the recent technological inventions — film, recorded sound, telephones, flying machines and motor cars.
Their forms and functions symbolised the speed, dynamism and energy of modernity and of the revolution.
As art education was reorganised, the Marxist Vladimir Tatlin headed the innovatory VKhUTEMAS, the technical workshops in a Moscow art school which influenced the globally influential German craft and fine art Bauhaus movement from 1919 to 1931 and beyond.
Inspired by the machine age, VKhUTEMAS dispensed with traditional art to investigate forms, spatial organisation, materials and processes as a basis for producing cheap mass-produced goods, accessible to all.
Rejecting the bourgeois concept of the artist as individual male genius, they defined themselves as classless, self-effacing “constructivists,” collectively constructing the revolution alongside other workers, regardless of gender.
Lyubov Popova’s transportable theatre, Rodchenko’s posters and Varvara Stepanova’s textiles shared the abstracted forms of modernity — the circles of factory cogs and wheels, electricity’s lightning zig-zags or the soaring grace of flying machines.
At Vitebsk Art Academy Kazimir Malevich founded UNOVIS, a group in which students and teachers collaborated in explorations of the essence of form and volume to create futuristic architectural models as prototypes to inspire designers, engineers and architects. And they did.
Marc Chagall, painter of poetic evocations of Jewish village life and art commissar of his native province, founded the Vitebsk academy during the revolution and Lunacharsky’s pluralist aesthetic policies enabled Malevich, pioneer of geometric abstraction, to teach in the same academy.
Similarly Alexander Deineka, who argued for realist paintings to represent the revolution and workers’ lives, taught in the same Moscow institution as Tatlin, renowned for his soaring design for a monument to the Third International (1919-20).
During the hardships of war communism (1917-22) artists concentrated on speculative research but some of these reached fruition afterwards.
Kitchen maids sported dresses printed with modernist motifs celebrating technology and socialism. Buildings such as Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin Communal House of 1930, incorporated communal facilities such as laundries, dining halls, kitchens and reading rooms.
Inspired by UNOVIS, its horizontal banded windows sweep across the facade, providing maximum light and air, behind wide, heated corridors in which tenants could interact.
Together with parallel developments in the other arts, the visual arts made real differences to people’s lives. In the coming centenary year of the 1917 revolution, numerous exhibitions will repeat the neoliberal mantra “great art, shame about the politics,” perpetuated since the 1920s.
In fact, it was great politics which generated such a blossoming of the arts
The MML hosts regular book sales which offers out parts of our collection of rare pamphlets and books on labour history and working-class movements to the public. The book sales are always very popular and worth checking out to get yourself a rare Marxist classic or international history for a cheap price!
Project Archivist Vacancy at the Marx Memorial Library: ‘Volunteers for Liberty: The Archives of the International Brigades’
National Cataloguing Grants Scheme funded project
This is an exciting opportunity for an archivist with experience cataloguing complex collections to work on the most significant archive on the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in the UK.
The archive is of international research interest and documents the British response to the Spanish Civil War. At its core are the archives of the International Brigades: the papers of the International Brigade Association and the personal papers of numerous volunteers. It is also a unique resource on the Aid Spain movement, which mobilised in support of the besieged Spanish Republican Government, and later campaigns against the Francoist dictatorship in the UK and elsewhere.
You will catalogue this fascinating collection using our online Soutron cataloguing system http://marx.soutron.net/Portal/, select material for digitisation, oversee the work of volunteers re-packing the collection and play a central role in promoting it through our website and social media. There will also be scope for involvement in outreach activities including writing articles, giving presentations and contributing to an education pack aimed at school groups.
The Marx Memorial Library, founded in 1933, is a library, archive, museum and education charity. Our collections, classes, lectures and events focus on the science of Marxism, the history of socialism and the working-class movement. You will play a central role in the day to day life of the MML as part of a small, dynamic team. In addition to a postgraduate qualification in archives and records management, you be highly motivated, happy to work independently and have a keen interest in the work and remit of the MML.
This is a full-time fixed term 11-month post on £26,000 per-annum. Closing date Midday 9 January 2017.
37a, Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU; www.marx-memorial-library.org.uk; 020 7253 1485
To Her Excellency Teresita Vicente Sotolongo,
Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland:
Dear comrade Vicente,
The General Committee and Staff of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers' School in Clerkenwell, London extends our sincere condolences and solidarity with the people of Cuba on behalf of our members and students on the sad announcement today of the death of Fidel Castro Ruz.
Fidel's contribution to the great task of the liberation of humanity will be reckoned among the greatest of the 20th century. The defeat of apartheid in South Africa, the throwing back of imperialism in country after country and the inspiration that the Cuban people's revolution has brought would not have been possible without the leadership, determination and intelligence of Fidel and his love for the people.
We mourn his death in solidarity with the Cuban people and we continue to be inspired by the great achievements Fidel led, particularly in the field of education and adult literacy, where Fidel's legacy is seen in Cuba's role today as a world leader breaking through barriers of illiteracy and ignorance.
We look forward to continuing our work with the representatives of the Cuban people's revolution in the struggle for peace, socialism, freedom and independence.
Farewell comrade Fidel.
Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
On behalf of the General Comittee of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers' School:
John Foster, Secretary
Alex Gordon, Chair
Marjorie Mayo, Vice Chair
Graham Stevenson, Treasurer
A message to all members and readers that MML's reading room will be closed from 15 December to 9 January. This also means that no tours will be taking place over this period. Apologies for any inconvenience.