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Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941 Hardcover – 1 Nov 2011


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"Cosmopolitan" is not the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking of culture in the Stalin era. But even the nightmare of totalitarianism can be complex, and Clark traces the efforts of regime-blessed Soviet cultural figures of the 1930s to foster a "transnational fraternity" with leftist European artists and intellectuals, comrades-in-arms against fascism who were enamored of Marx and fascinated by the Soviet" "experiment." It was something of a two-way street, with Stalin, very much a hands-on impresario, allowing the import of Western film and literature, as long as the cumulative effect was to give his political vision imperial reach. As a result, for much of the decade, the exchange of ideas about theater, film, literature, journalism, and architecture was richer and more intense than one might have thought. As Clark demonstrates in this masterful tour of trends in Soviet culture and their echoes in Europe, the modified version of universalism tolerated by Stalin placed the Soviet Union at its center, and at the Soviet Union's center stood Moscow--the site and symbol of centralized Soviet power." -- Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs, 1st November 2011

Katerina Clark refocuses our attention on the streets, books, buildings, festivals and fantasies that Moscow's citizens actually inhabited during this most strident decade of Soviet nationalism and parochialism, one in which most Soviet citizens lost the right to travel abroad, but in recompense gained the "knowledge" that there were native Russian forerunners of everything worthwhile. In nine enormously erudite chapters, Clark builds the compelling case for her thesis that this decade of insular Stalinism and the Great Terror was also a highpoint of Soviet cosmopolitanism...Clark's great contribution is to show that the conflicting impulses towards insular nationalism and cosmopolitanism coexisted and shaped each other in unexpected ways. In some places, the precision and originality of Clark's argument is nothing short of revelatory...The main point of Moscow, the Fourth Rome may be larger than its relevance to Soviet history. It reminds us that the dominant characteristics of our own cultural moment--which we eagerly acknowledge as transnational, global and ineluctably cosmopolitan--could also potentially coexist with powerful countervailing programs of isolationism and chauvinism. It demonstrates the crucial importance of comparative literary and cultural studies in the 21st century." --Yvonne H. Howell Times Higher Education 17th November 2011

About the Author

Katerina Clark is Professor of Comparative Literature and Slavic Literature, Yale University.

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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Scintillating and Unique Overview of Stalinist Culture in the 1930's 31 Jan. 2013
By Alex Scriabin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Katerina Clark chooses here to explore a rather dismal period which still has a fascinating and far-reaching cultural significance. Politically, in the 1930's the USSR was in a state of massive upheaval. Peasants in the countryside were condemned to collectivization, while eventually the repression hit the cities as well as the Party elites. The president's wife (Kalinina) herself was imprisoned under Stalin. This was a frightening time to hold any influence, as such influence put one under state scrutiny. Stalin is unique in that he considered almost nothing to be culturally insignificant; even the realm of music faced a daunting and perilous position in the Soviet state. It is important to remember, however, that during this time Bulgakov penned "The Master and Margarita", Shostakovich wrote his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, both masterpieces, and Eisenstein directed "Ivan Grozni: Parts I and II". This was not a cultural wasteland by any means, and many foreign intellectuals were drawn to the Soviet sphere. Some were entranced, while others became disillusioned.

Katerina Clark here explores the vast landscape of the 1930's in the Soviet Union, with an emphasis on Moscow. She discusses architecture, the cult of the written word (literature, journals, letters, Stalin's writings, plays), and photography; she also mentions music and film, but these are not the primary cultural modes on which she chooses to focus. She discusses the Popular Front (Soviet cultural and direct involvement in the Spanish Civil War), Brecht and his influence, Gorky, the Purge Trials, socialist realist literature, Stalin's writings, Stanislavsky, and many other fascinating subjects in order to paint a vivid picture of the cultural trends of the time. There is also a fascinating exploration on the peripheral regions in popular imagination (esp. the Arctic). Although it is hardly a bright and optimistic period in human history, it is an important one. Today, we often lump fascism and communism into a totalitarian definition, yet in the 1930's (until the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) these two ideologies were diametrically opposed. Much of this opposition, before the outbreak of war, took place on the cultural front, and many intellectuals in the West as well as in Moscow itself felt that communism was the best antidote to the threat of fascism.

This is quite a unique and fascinating addition to the cultural history of the period. Bravo for a passionately-researched volume. The book is extremely well-written, and it should appeal both to hardcore Soviet history buffs as well as more casual readers. I also highly recommend The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual by the same author, which is THE book on socialist realism in literature as well as a fantastic read all around. There is also a fascinating new addition to socialist realist art in the stunning volume Socialist Realisms: Great Soviet Painting 1920-1970.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
"Interwar" Culture Wars 24 Jan. 2012
By Absinthe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am not a specialist in Soviet history, so I cannot judge Clark's command of her sources, but she has written a fascinating study of Soviet cultural history centered around four major Soviet celebrities, two of whom met their end during Stalin's purges of the 1930s. Anyone interested in the culture wars of the interwar years -- can they really be called "interwar" still? -- as I say, anyone interested in the 20th century's Forty-Years' War will find much material to mull over in Prof. Clark's pages. I enjoyed it hugely.
4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Too many ingredients for one soup 17 Sept. 2012
By George Shaner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
While I'm not going to accuse the author of trying to white-wash Stalinist realities to save the Popular Front moment, I will say that her effort to link the creation of a new Soviet art with international politics did fall flat for me.

At the very least I don't think you can priviledge cultural analysis over politics in the 1930s, as seems to be the case here.

I'm not impressed with Clark's grasp of the visual arts.

While the claim was also that individuals such as Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Tretiakov, Mikhail Koltsov and Ilya Ehrenburg were going to be used as exemplars to illustrate the connections between Soviet politics and culture, for me they drift through this book like ghosts.

Perhaps the "Fourth Rome" metaphor was not the focus to chose, particularly since the author seems to abandon it fairly quickly.

More like 2.5 stars, as only specialists are really going to have cause to wade through this concoction.
12 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Stalinism as a civilization 1 Mar. 2012
By Mark bennett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In this book the author makes a rather odd attempt to rehabilitate aspects of stalinism. Not the domestic political aspects of Stalinism, but the cultural ones and the popular front politics of the 1930s outside of the Soviet Union. She attempts to revive the old idea of the "new soviet man" indirectly by suggesting that Stalinism was a "civilization". Her approach is somewhat dependent on her audience being ignorant of certain aspects of soviet history and taking aspects of stalinism at face value (which is always dangerous).

She also has an enormous tendency to read things into events and works of art with little foundation. Her interpretations of the films of Eisenstein are in my opinion off the deep end. As well her attempts to link acting theory with the presentation of the purge trials.

There is an attempt here as well to carve out a seperate world for the artists and intellectuals of the Soviet Union and its friends abroad in the era. And an attempt to re-create the doublethink that allowed the cultural elite to often look the other way. Its all the more ironic in that this seperation of art from politics goes against the core beliefs of the subjects of the study. They usually saw art and culture as inherently and absolutely political.

Its easy to understand the author's point of view. Much of several decades worth of literary and cultural studies scholarship is joined at the hip to analysis, concepts and academic traditions that often have their roots in Stalin's soviet union. To "save" soviet civilization from stalinism is to also save generations of cultural analysis from oblivion.

The test of this book's premise is that nobody would write a similar book on Italy or Germany in the 1930s. Nobody would dare seperate the crimes of fascist states from the cultural world of their capitals or the international influence of their cultural worldview. Nobody today would write an ode to the lost intellectual wonders of Southern American Plantation Society that excluded its foundation on slavery from discussion. Some slight word substitution from one of the mainstream reviews makes the point:

"----'s revelatory portrait of a scintillating future-facing metropolis should dispel the gloomy myth of Berlin in the 1930s--bleak and gray beneath its pall of purges and trials. Instead, the city was "a city of light," where art and politics fused in its literature, film, and drama. Berlin seemed the successor to Rome, a center of art and power whose influence would overspread the entire globe..."

In the end, carving out a different world for soviet intellectuals and their friends during the 1930s doesn't work. In a system where the state was all, thats simply impossible. And the author should know better than to attempt it.
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