The year 1905. After it, reaction. Reaction settled in with autocracy and the double oppression of the merchant and the factory owner.
Reaction created art and life in its own image and according to its own taste. The art of the Symbolists (Bely, Balmont), mystics (Chulkov, Gippius), and sexual psychopaths (Rozanov)–the life of the petty bourgeois and philistines.
The revolutionary parties smashed their lives; art rose up and smashed their tastes.
The first impressionistic flare up was in 1909 (the collection A Trap for Judges).
The flames were fanned for three years.
Fanned into Futurism.
The first book of the union of Futurists was A Slap in the Face of Public Taste (1914, Burliuk D., Kamensky, Kruchenykh, Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov).
The old order made a correct assessment of the laboratory work of these, tomorrow’s dynamiters.
The Futurists were greeted with censorship-beheadings, prohibitions on performances, the barking and howling of the entire press.
The capitalist, of course, was never a patron of our whipping lines, our splinter-strokes.
Encircled by a parochial lifestyle, the Futurists were forced to engage in mockery with yellow blouses and painted faces.
These hardly “academic” methods of struggle, a presentiment of a future surge, immediately shook off the hanging-on aesthetes (Kandinsky, Jacks of Diamonds, and others).
On the other hand, those who had nothing to lose clung to Futurism, or at least draped themselves in its name (Shershenevich, Igor Severyanin, the Donkey’s Tail, and others).
The Futurist movement, led by people of the arts who rarely delved into politics, sometimes painted itself in the colors of anarchy.
Alongside people of the future marched aesthetic rot, attempting to rejuvenate itself, dressing up in the leftist banner.
The war of 1914 was the first test of the public spirit.
LEF 1 (MAR 1923)
The Russian Futurists definitively broke with the poetic imperialism of Marinetti16, having earlier booed him during his visit to Moscow (1913).
The Futurists , drowning out the saber-rattling of the war-singers (Gorodetsky, Gumilev, and others), were the first and only ones in Russian art to curse war and to fight against it using all the weapons of art (“War and the World” by Mayakovsky).
The war initiated a Futurist purge. (Members of the “Mezzanine” broke off, Severyanin went to Berlin).
The war commanded that we see the future revolution . (“A Cloud in Trousers”)
The February Revolution deepened the purge, splitting Futurism into a “right” and a “left”.
The rightists became echoes of the charms of democracy. (Their names are in “All Moscow”.)
The leftists, waiting for October, were christened “Bolsheviks of art” (Mayakovsky, Kamensky, Burliuk, Kruchenykh).
The first Productivist-Futurists (Brik, Arvatov) and Constructivists (Rodchenko, Lavinsky) joined this Futurist group.
The Futurists , from the very beginning, while still in the Kshesinsky Palace, tried to reach agreement with groups of worker-writers (the future Proletkult), but these writers (judging by the look of things) thought that revolutionality was limited to agitational content alone; they remained complete reactionaries regarding form and were in no way able to join forces.
October cleaned up , shaped up, reorganized. Futurism became the left front of art. “We” became it.
October taught through work. By 25 October, we had already set to work.
Clearly, after seeing the backs of the fleeing intelligentsia, no one asked us much about our aesthetic creeds.
We created the then revolutionary “Izo”, “Teo”, “Muzo”; we led the students in the storming of the academy.
Along with this organizational work, we produced the first real works of art of the October epoch (Tatlin–Monument to the 3rd International; Meyerhold’s staging of Mystery-Bouffe ; Kamensky’s Stenka Razin ) We did not indulge in aesthetics, producing works for our own pride. The experience which we had attained was put to use creating agitational-artistic works which the revolution demanded (ROSTA posters, newspaper feuilletons, etc.)
To agitate for our ideas, we organized the newspaper Art of the Commune as well as a tour of factories and plants to stage discussions and readings.
Our ideas won over the workers’ audience . The Vybog district organized the com-fut.
Our artistic movement demonstrated its strength by organizing strongholds of left art throughout the RSFSR.
Parallel to this ran the work of our far eastern comrades (the journal Tvorchestvo [Creation], who theoretically confirmed the social inevitability of our artistic trend and our social union with October (Chuzhak, Aseev,Palmov, Tretyakov). Tvorchestvo , subjected to all sorts of persecution, took upon itself the whole of the struggle for the new culture within the DVR and Siberia.
Gradually losing the belief that the Soviet government would exist for only two weeks, academicians–individually and in small groups– began to knock on the door of the Narkomat [People’s Commissariat of Education].
Not wanting to take the risk of using them in responsible work, the Soviet government offered to them–or, more accurately, to their European names–some out-of-the-way cultural and educational positions.
The persecution of left art began from these out-of-the-way places, coming to a brilliant culmination in the closing of Art of the Commune and so on.
The government, busy with the war fronts and economic collapse, did not involve itself much in the aesthetic squabbles, attempting only to keep things in the rear from getting too noisy and to reason with us out of respect for the “big names”.
Now there is a respite from war and hunger. LEF must demonstrate the panorama of the art of the RSFSR , establish a perspective, and occupy a position worthy of us. The art of the RSFSR as of 1 February 1923:
I. Proletart. Part of it has degenerated into official writers, oppressed by bureaucratic language and the repetition of political ABC’s. Another part of it has fallen under the influence of the academic manner, with only the name of their organization recalling October. The third and best part of it, is, after the pink Bely’s, reeducating itself concerning our works and, we believe, will march alongside us in the future.
II. Official literature. In artistic theory, everyone has a personal opinion: Osinsky praises Akhmatova, Bukharin praises Pinkerton. In practice, journals feature only best-selling names.
III. The “Newest” literature (the Serapions, Pilnyak,betc.). Having adopted and diluted our devices, they spice them up with Symbolisms and respectfully and gravely adapt them to the light style of NEP-literature.
IV. Change of Landmarks. From the west comes thundering an invasion of the most enlightened eminences. Aleksei Tolstoy is already polishing up the white horse of a complete collection of his works for a triumphal entrance into Moscow.
V. And, finally–violating the decorous perspective–in various corners are individual leftists . People and organizations (Inkhut, Vkhutemas, Meyerhold’s Gitis, Opoyaz, and others). Some heroically attempt to till the inordinately difficult virgin soil by themselves; others are still cutting through the shackles of the past with their file-verses.
LEF must unite left forces into one. LEF must survey its ranks , tossing away anything from the past that has stuck to it. LEF must create a united front to blow up the old, to fight for the inclusion of the new culture.
We shall solve the problems of art not with a majority of votes of a mythical left front, existing to date only as an idea, but by the work and energy of our action committee, which year after year leads the work of the left, and of those who have always led it ideologically.
The Revolution has taught us much.
In the work of strengthening the achievements of the October Revolution and strengthening left art, LEF shall agitate art with the ideas of the commune , opening for art the road to tomorrow.
LEF shall agitate the masses with our art , creating within them an organized force.
LEF shall confirm our theories with active art , raising it to the highest level of skilled work.
LEF shall fight for the art-construction of life .
We do not pretend to a monopoly on the revolution in art. We shall make things clear through competition.
We believe that through the correctness of our agitation and the strength of the works we are producing we shall prove: we are on the true path to the future.
Vol I LEF 1, pp 3-7 / 1923