Culture and tomorrow: Italian and Russian futurism

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January 22 , 2017 – Fort Russ News – 

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Op-Ed by Vladimir Golstein

On the eve of WWI there arose an interesting artistic movement, called Futurism. Both in Italy and in Russia. On the surface it was a movement of young aggressive poets and artists who promoted urbanism, speed, technology, modernism all tainted with male braggadocio and nihilism. On the deeper level, however, it was a response to Anglo-French bourgeois status quo.

Many countries and cultures, be it Germany, Italy or Russia, felt that they’ve been edged to the outskirts of historic development by those capitalists and colonialists who got into the bus, and didn’t want anyone else to get in.

So at a certain moment, these modernist rebels presented a unified front. They were united in their rebellion and rejection of the stifling status quo.

But as things unfold, Russian Modernists (Maykovsky, Kruchenykh, Burliuk, Elena Guro, Khlebnikov) all joined the left, while Italians became fascists. Maybe in the milder version of Mussolini, but fascists and virulent nationalists nevertheless. The most celebrated leader, F.T. Marinetti, even fought at the eastern front during WWII. Old guy (he was 63) still felt the need to shoot at his former Russian comrades in arms.

Why such difference in trajectory? Why this aversion to stifling and self-righteous bourgeois empires produces both fascists and communists?

I think what saved Russians from these destructive germs of virulent nationalism, was the fact that Russia was already an empire (as opposed to Italy and Germany, which were mostly mono-national). Great Russian Futurists came from different regions of this empire — Georgia, Ukraine, Astrakhan’ region with their Tartar dominance. So by nature (and by the universalist Russian culture coupled with the universalist Marxist ideology) they were internationalists. They could not promote Ukrainian at the expense of Russian, Russian at the expense of Georgian and so on).

The West, with its ridiculous insistence on equating its enemies, and thus merging together Hitler and Stalin, misses this key point. Stalin might be a cynical and cold-hearted manipulator who never worried of human price (no comments that claim that a) He murdered millions. b) He murdered no one), but his and the Soviet ideology was surely forward looking, as opposed to retrograde petty selfish fascist concerns. The Italian futur-ists had rapidly turned into past-ists.

This internationalist dimension is very important to me. I understand that on some level, many of my friends are these futurists, rebelling against the oppressive cultural, economic and military hegemony. But I hope that we all are aware that there are both Mayakovskys and Marinettis among us. Of course, any repressed or ignored group has to assert itself and develop, but the temptation is there, temptation to take the interest of this group as paramount. But that’s fascism after all. 

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