Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941

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Overview

In the early sixteenth century, the monk Filofei proclaimed Moscow the "Third Rome." By the 1930s, intellectuals and artists all over the world thought of Moscow as a mecca of secular enlightenment. In Moscow, the Fourth Rome, Katerina Clark shows how Soviet officials and intellectuals, in seeking to capture the imagination of leftist and anti-fascist intellectuals throughout the world, sought to establish their capital as the cosmopolitan center of a post-Christian confederation and to rebuild it to become a beacon for the rest of the world.

Clark provides an interpretative cultural history of the city during the crucial 1930s, the decade of the Great Purge. She draws on the work of intellectuals such as Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Tretiakov, Mikhail Koltsov, and Ilya Ehrenburg to shed light on the singular Zeitgeist of that most Stalinist of periods. In her account, the decade emerges as an important moment in the prehistory of key concepts in literary and cultural studies today-transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and world literature. By bringing to light neglected antecedents, she provides a new polemical and political context for understanding canonical works of writers such as Brecht, Benjamin, Lukacs, and Bakhtin.

Moscow, the Fourth Rome breaches the intellectual iron curtain that has circumscribed cultural histories of Stalinist Russia, by broadening the framework to include considerable interaction with Western intellectuals and trends. Its integration of the understudied international dimension into the interpretation of Soviet culture remedies misunderstandings of the world-historical significance of Moscow under Stalin.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Clark's revelatory portrait of a scintillating future-facing metropolis should dispel the gloomy myth of Moscow 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. Moscow seemed the successor to Rome, a center of art and power whose influence would overspread the entire globe. Yale University professor Clark demonstrates that culture was always central to a wide range of Soviet citizens. Artistic and political leaders hoped to create "an aesthetic state" populated by an entirely new type of citizen, and this project reflected broad trends rather than Stalin's whims. However, many nations were attempting similar experiments, and although Clark alludes to parallel developments in the United States and Europe, as well as to Stalin's cultural rivalry with Hitler, she is never quite able to identify what made the Soviet experience different from those pursued elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is intellectual history at its best—simultaneously grand and intimate, discussing world trends while emphasizing the importance of individual figures, events, and works of art. (Nov.)
Cleveland Plain Dealer

This is a bold work of broad reach that will likely have Russian-history professors sparring in the professional journals.
— John Kappes

Times Higher Education

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

Choice

This is an invaluable study, deserving of wide attention.
— V. D. Barooshian

Bookforum

In Moscow, the Fourth Rome—a series of linked essays following an adroitly plotted historical narrative—[Clark] recounts a scandalous episode in art history, while making a significant contribution to the understanding of 1930s European political culture and providing a lucid guide to the late-'30s period of mainly Soviet collective mania. Clark ranges from literature to cinema to theater to painting to architecture (noting, for example, that the same adjectives—simple, restrained, calm—were used to describe both social-realist architecture and the positive heroes of socialist-realist literature). She neither glosses over nor dwells upon the parallels between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia typically drawn by exegetes of totalitarian art. Instead, her book begins by establishing the Stalin regime's remarkable cultural ambitions, including the elevation of intellectuals and writers. Putting the symbiotic relationship between literature and politics at the heart of official culture (epitomized by the 1933 renaming of Moscow's central thoroughfare after the author Maxim Gorky), Clark emphasizes the degree to which, however self-servingly, the system known as Stalin promoted internationalism. Indeed, helped in no small part by the spectacle of Nazi book burning, the Soviet Union further advanced itself as the protector of Western culture...Was there ever a place where culture was more a matter of life and death? Clark steers clear of undue theorization, although a vulgar Marxist might wonder what base determined this fantastic superstructure. Was it the Second Five-Year Plan? A reaction formation in response to the Third Reich? Stalin's enigmatic personality? The nature of Communism? Or, given the theocratic roots of Russian culture, was it simply a historical inevitability? The evidence is here for the parsing.
— J. Hoberman

Times Literary Supplement

Katerina Clark's new book, Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941, provides us with an unusually rich and multifaceted study of the complex nature of Soviet intellectual life in the humanities in the 1930s, and does so in a form likely to reach a much wider audience than other academic studies in the same area. This is not to suggest any superficiality in Clark's analysis. As with all her previous work, Moscow, the Fourth Rome is meticulously researched and referenced, displaying a formidable grasp of both detail and general trends. Rather, the broad sweep of Clark's approach promises to contribute to a more general and very welcome shift in perspective about intellectual life under the Stalin dictatorship...One can only applaud the scope of the material presented here, and many will benefit from Clark's subtle and nuanced analysis. Moving from public architecture and theatre to the literature of the Spanish Civil War and debates about the epic, the novel and the lyric in Soviet literary theory, Clark illuminates a dimension of Stalinist culture too often obscured. We are able to see how it was only by degrees, and certainly not in any simple way, that a narrower nationalism came to predominate as the "Great Patriotic War" approached. The presentation is both scholarly and accessible, and there is little doubt that, like Katerina Clark's earlier Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution, Moscow, the Fourth Rome will become a standard point of reference for students of Soviet culture.
— Craig Brandist

Foreign Affairs

"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

Evgeny Dobrenko
As with all of Clark's previous books, this insightful and path-breaking Moscow sequel to her Petersburg will become an instant classic. Mixing ideology, literature, film, architecture, critical theory, politics, and everyday life, Clark has given us a landmark study, for no other book has encompassed the whole spectrum of Soviet cultural and intellectual history in the era of high Stalinism, conceptualized it so imaginatively and captured its pervasive terror.
Sheila Fitzpatrick
With her study of Stalinist "cosmopolitanism" and the dream of Moscow as the mecca of world culture, Clark once again blazes a new trail that many others will follow. Four high-profile Soviet intellectuals–the "cosmopolitan patriots" Sergei Eisenstein, Mikhail Koltsov, Ilya Ehrenburg and Sergei Tretyakov–served as intermediaries with world (particularly germanophone) culture and European leftist intellectuals in the era of the Popular Front, and their colorful stories provide the backbone of an enthralling narrative whose subjects range from literary translation and Soviet worship of the word to the Moscow show trials and the Spanish Civil War.
Nancy Condee
A foundational challenge to the model of "insular Stalinism," this volume is essential to debates on trans-European cultural history and global cosmopolitanism. It will be an invaluable touchstone for a new generation of scholars to question the remnants of cold-war research.
Michael David-Fox
Clark's field is the vast canvas of 1930s culture as a whole, particularly the nexus between literature, architecture, and power. Her agenda is nothing less than to insert a largely missing international dimension to our understanding of Stalinist culture. It is difficult to overstate the implications of this trailblazing work.
Catriona Kelly
This is an outstanding study of 1930s Soviet culture. The book argues persuasively that the perception of the late 1930s as a period of 'national Bolshevism' oversimplifies. Even as spy mania gripped the nation, Soviet culture strove to absorb world literature and art through translation, adaptation, and imitation. Clark's richly documented account, based on abundant archival sources, sheds new light on well-known phenomena of the period, such as Eisenstein's polymathy or Bakhtin's study of Rabelais, and points to intriguing oddities, for instance the obsession with transgressive love that played out against the background of the purges and the Spanish Civil War.
Fredric Jameson
Clark's rich and wide-ranging book is not only a vivid portrait of Moscow, but also a whole tableau of the Soviet 1930s, seen through the live sand works of four of its most interesting and productive intellectuals, including Sergei Eisenstein. Collectivization and the purges cast a shadow over these years, which are, however, characterized by a far greater network of international relations than one might have imagined, and Clark's Moscow therefore reaches into Germany and France, and indeed as far as the United States itself. This account contributes to the rethinking of the Soviet experiment by demonstrating the cultural and intellectual excitement of what has otherwise so often been stereotyped as a period of terror and fear.
Foreign Affairs - Robert Legvold
"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.
Cleveland Plain Dealer - John Kappes
This is a bold work of broad reach that will likely have Russian-history professors sparring in the professional journals.
Times Higher Education - Yvonne H. Howell
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.
Choice - V. D. Barooshian
This is an invaluable study, deserving of wide attention.
Bookforum - J. Hoberman
In Moscow, the Fourth Rome--a series of linked essays following an adroitly plotted historical narrative--[Clark] recounts a scandalous episode in art history, while making a significant contribution to the understanding of 1930s European political culture and providing a lucid guide to the late-'30s period of mainly Soviet collective mania. Clark ranges from literature to cinema to theater to painting to architecture (noting, for example, that the same adjectives--simple, restrained, calm--were used to describe both social-realist architecture and the positive heroes of socialist-realist literature). She neither glosses over nor dwells upon the parallels between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia typically drawn by exegetes of totalitarian art. Instead, her book begins by establishing the Stalin regime's remarkable cultural ambitions, including the elevation of intellectuals and writers. Putting the symbiotic relationship between literature and politics at the heart of official culture (epitomized by the 1933 renaming of Moscow's central thoroughfare after the author Maxim Gorky), Clark emphasizes the degree to which, however self-servingly, the system known as Stalin promoted internationalism. Indeed, helped in no small part by the spectacle of Nazi book burning, the Soviet Union further advanced itself as the protector of Western culture...Was there ever a place where culture was more a matter of life and death? Clark steers clear of undue theorization, although a vulgar Marxist might wonder what base determined this fantastic superstructure. Was it the Second Five-Year Plan? A reaction formation in response to the Third Reich? Stalin's enigmatic personality? The nature of Communism? Or, given the theocratic roots of Russian culture, was it simply a historical inevitability? The evidence is here for the parsing.
Times Literary Supplement - Craig Brandist
Katerina Clark's new book, Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941, provides us with an unusually rich and multifaceted study of the complex nature of Soviet intellectual life in the humanities in the 1930s, and does so in a form likely to reach a much wider audience than other academic studies in the same area. This is not to suggest any superficiality in Clark's analysis. As with all her previous work, Moscow, the Fourth Rome is meticulously researched and referenced, displaying a formidable grasp of both detail and general trends. Rather, the broad sweep of Clark's approach promises to contribute to a more general and very welcome shift in perspective about intellectual life under the Stalin dictatorship...One can only applaud the scope of the material presented here, and many will benefit from Clark's subtle and nuanced analysis. Moving from public architecture and theatre to the literature of the Spanish Civil War and debates about the epic, the novel and the lyric in Soviet literary theory, Clark illuminates a dimension of Stalinist culture too often obscured. We are able to see how it was only by degrees, and certainly not in any simple way, that a narrower nationalism came to predominate as the "Great Patriotic War" approached. The presentation is both scholarly and accessible, and there is little doubt that, like Katerina Clark's earlier Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution, Moscow, the Fourth Rome will become a standard point of reference for students of Soviet culture.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057876
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2011
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 990,673
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

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