In the psyche of the modern imperialist mindset, there is often displayed a unique, often morbid fascination with Soviet era statues and monuments, especially when they can be found languishing in derelict or partly dismembered conditions.
Writing in the Mail Online, Isabel Baldwin’s August 4th article Spooky Stalins and Lonesome Lenins covers a photo documentary exhibition currently being exhibited in Portland, Oregon, by American photographer Matthew Moore which perfectly encapsulates the superstitious and titillating nature of the bourgeois fixation with this theme.
Having travelled around parts of Eastern Europe (tellingly, mainly those former socialist states which became vassal-states of nato following the termination of the Warsaw pact), Moore curated a photographic collection of Soviet statues which have either been held in storage or displayed in ‘Memento parks’ following their initial removal or dismantling from the town and city centre pedestals on which they once stood.
The style of Moore’s photography, showing the subject matter in restrained black and white with no other figures in shot, has an air of retro-fetishism about it, and plays up to the western cultural tendency to depict historical socialist experience as cold, grey, sterile and lifeless, reproduced endlessly in various tropes and motifs throughout contemporary popular culture for decades.
In the photographer’s own words, he is simply considering that as the toppling of statues has become something of a trend in the west recently, and is seen to be a socially divisive phenomenom, then maybe the adoption of a memento park type solution could be helpful.
But this is by the by, as for Moore’s audience, and demonstrably for the author of the Mail online article, Soviet statues depicting Lenin or Stalin are viewed as if terrifying remnants of supernatural, ancient deities, slumbering half submerged in the earth like the gods and giants of classical mythology, imbued with an inconceivable, unspeakable, latent power.
When the author reflects on the fact that “…boulders now sit in the former Leninplatz, Berlin, where a statue of Lenin stood. The monument was removed in 1992 and buried in 192 pieces in a wooded area outside Berlin…” we are being invited to indulge in an attitude evoking the superstitious practices of antiquity in Europe, such as beheading the corpses of executed villains to prevent them from coming back from the grave as malevolent spirits, or driving stakes through the hearts of suspected vampires in their disinterred coffins.
This, we suppose, is quite a natural attitude to be displayed by the scribes of the decadent, culturally grave-bound bourgeoisie.
Economically and philosophically incapable of solving urgent problems in society, deeply fearful of losing control in the way they’ve always managed to avoid, the ruling class and their intellectual servants evidently have recourse to periodically salve their tortured souls with musings on the profound insight to be gleaned from broken Lenin statues, dilapidated Soviet war memorials and empty spaces on which once stood monuments to Josef Stalin; entertaining themselves with daydreams in which they imagine the spectacle of a Soviet statue being bulldozed to smithereens.
To the defensive, victim-playing mentality of parasitic imperialism, the romantically arranged ruins of previously existing socialist societies serve not simply as symbolic displays of victory over a vanquished ideological foe, but also as silent, cautionary sentinels, looming ominously from desolate woods and parks, as a warning to the capitalist class of the eternal threat posed by an organised working class taking up the cause of socialism.
Of course, if Moore were to have cast his view wider, and taken in the sights of some post-Soviet states which have not spent the last 30 odd years expunging all remaining symbols of socialist prestige and achievement from public life and view, he would often find a much more colourful picture when searching out Soviet era statues and monuments.
We must remember that at the behest of imperialism, post-socialist states of Europe have been subjected to a wholly ideological process of ‘de-communisation’ through the late 1980’s to the present, the whole point of which is to paint the socialist experience in such dark and miserable colours that no worker would ever dare to risk engaging in such an endeavour again. In some former socialist states, this process has necessarily involved the persecuting and outlawing of communist and socialist parties and organisations in an effort to prevent any resurgence of revolutionary socialism.
In others, notably the Russian Federation, where communist parties are free to participate in capitalist parliamentary politics, communist parties, community groups, historical societies and charities frequently work together to preserve, restore and sometimes raise anew statues and monuments glorifying the social, economic, technological and military achievements of the Soviet era.
In Montenegro, and also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, busts and monuments to Red Army Marshal Georgy Zhukov have been unveiled in recent years, attended by local dignitaries and the respective Russian Ambassadors.
Whilst imperialism tries to amuse itself with endless scathing obituaries to Marxism and communism, be it with films like Armando Ianucci’s The Death of Stalin, or another tasteless memorial to the ‘victims of communism’, local residents across wide parts of the former USSR take time to fix, repaint and lay flowers at the feet of their local Lenin statue, and, perhaps even more surprisingly for Moore and Baldwin, take time to install new statues and busts of Josef Stalin – in essence a slow recoil reaction to the ‘de-stalinisation’ of the Khrushchev era of revisionist sabotage, which sought to deny Stalin’s theoretical contribution to Marxism and so saw virtually all public monuments to Stalin dismantled in a very short period of time.
That sentiment was intensified again towards the end of the USSR’s existence, with the once mighty CPSU driven onto the rocks by its revisionist, market-fixated leadership, and it has only been since the restoration of capitalism and the institution of a bourgeois multi-party democracy in the Russian Federation that monuments to Stalin have been able to start springing up again.
Here we find the story which the bourgeoisie cannot reconcile itself with, cannot crow about, mock, or fantasise that they dance on the grave of Marxism when retelling it. This is the story that disturbs the imperialist’s reverie amongst the lonely statues, as they turn, with a start, thinking “Did that statue just move…?”