Category Archives: Soviet Russia

American justice

Joe Jones, 1933. Columbus Museum of Art. Dalrymple writes: ‘There were Communists among the American artists in the 1930s who probably would have become socialist realists à la Stalin, if (as was, in reality, impossible) the US had turned Communist; but in the US political context, theirs was an art of protest, not unjustified in itself but ill-assorted with their blindness to the incomparably worse horrors of Soviet Russia. The working-class, self-taught Jones painted his powerful work to protest lynchings and the continued existence of the Klu Klux Klan. This was perfectly justified; lynchings, though not numerous given the size of the US population, must have exerted an influence far beyond their statistical importance, not unlike Islamist terrorism today; yet even lynchings were a minor phænomenon compared with the mass executions and starvation synonymous with Communism from its inception. Despite his obvious and sincere sympathy for the impoverished and downtrodden, Jones could not imagine that anything was worse elsewhere—least of all in his imagined utopia-on-earth.’

In pursuit of an enemy to eliminate

Dalrymple writes: ‘Kazimir Malevich’s Red Cavalry [Russian Museum, St Petersburg] of 1932—the last year with any scope left for ambiguity in Soviet art before socialist realism was pronounced the one true style—was a response to increasing pressure on him, one of the originators of abstract painting, to return to figuration. It is still partly abstract, with kilim-like colored stripes representing land below a pale sky that shades upward into indigo; but over the land thunder 12 rows of schematic Red Cavalry, as though crossing the endless plains of central Russia. Nothing in the picture, however, indicates whether their cause is good or evil, whether the horsemen are heroic or vicious. Since all of Malevich’s other figurative paintings of the time show heads without faces—an oblique commentary on the Soviet dream of cloning communist Man socially, if not genetically—it is fair to conclude that the artist did not intend his Red Cavalry to be seen as wholly heroic—though one could interpret them that way if proceeding from the premise of their heroism.’