Notes of a layman - Iuda Grossman-Roshchin

Гроссман-Рощин

Letter to the editorial staff of Modern Architecture. Source: Sovremennaya arkhitektura. 1926, nr. 3, p. 77 and cover.

A bio-bibliography of Grossman-Roshchin can be found here.

To me, a complete layman in architecture, it is somehow awkward to write in a special journal, in which the best forces of modern, Soviet architecture are involved. What serves as an excuse for my boldness are the following two considerations: 1) I very carefully follow the journal Modern architecture. I am not just a "curious reader." I have my "professional," philosophical approach and commitment. Perhaps I somehow shall risk to state these thoughts of mine on pages of the journal, if the editorial staff finds this interesting. 2) I in fact intend only to put a question. No more. But in fact this is permitted also to a layman. And if my question even in the remotest degree will help to more clearly identify one problem of modern architecture, then also my boldness will be somewhat justified.

Here is what it is about: I was very interested in the question, to what extent modern, Soviet architecture embodies the ideas1 of our epoch?

This question I would like to justify.

In the not so good, and not so really old days we were taught in reputable [url= https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brockhaus_and_Efron_Encyclopedic_Dictionar...]dictionaries[/url] of arch-scientific language, by arch-scientific people the following. "Every building, for whatever it would have been intended, has the goal to meet our needs; these needs, according to the real and spiritual nature of man, are of two kinds: material needs and moral needs". And further: "There is even one kind of building, that satisfies not any material needs, and is being built exclusively by virtue of spiritual demands of human nature."

I think that I will not be mistaken if I say that modern architecture is fighting this dualism, that modern architecture at the root kills the idealistic division between the utilitarian and aesthetic ranks.

Before me is the strongly dated and yet very interesting book "The Psychology of the French people" (La Psychologie du peuple français, 1898) by Alfred Fouillée. In this book there is a chapter "Architecture, music." The author contrasts the French to the German character. The Germans would be characterised by naturalism and mysticism. The French show their genius in rationalism, in curbing fiery, even religious, romance, by intelligence. This is also reflected in French architecture. According to the author French architecture

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forced in the sky the immense arch and raised the bell tower up to the clouds, seeking balance not in the mass of the building, based perpendicularly on the ground, but in the aerial combination of aerial forces, opposing the pressure of one part of the arch to the resistance of another part; thus reducing the subordination to the ground and, mutually balancing all the pressures, it drew finally the lean and triumphant arch to the heavens. So were overturned all the ancient procedures of architecture: the arch was no longer only intended to cover the building; on the contrary, the building itself served only as a support for the roof and opened in all directions distant perspectives, under the mystery of twilight. The inner frame of the building, reminiscent of hands folded in prayer, could do almost without external support: it was supported less by its mass, than by the cancellation of its mass.

Is it necessary to prove that the whole scheme of Fouillée is imbued with idealism? Is it necessary to show the metaphysical characteristics of the "nature" of the two nations? But one idea, or rather, approach, is certainly correct. Fouillée does not enclose architecture in some closed series, but treats it in connection with the socio-cultural ideas of the epoch. So I would like to ask our young architects-materialists: to what extent are cultural ideas of the epoch embodied in the works of modern architecture?

The second issue of the journal featured the deeply interesting article of cde. M. Ya. Ginzburg "The International Front of Modern Architecture." But this wonderful article even more strikingly emphasised, at least for me, the legitimacy of the question. In the article is pointed to the emerging united front of progressive architects. Declaring on an international scale the struggle against the routine, crumpled and faded beauty; the international of advanced architecture puts forward the principle of social utility. But indeed that fact, that both America and Soviet Russia base themselves on this platform, proves, that here there is still nothing specific, characteristic for our country and for our epoch! Utility! Good. But indeed we know that also Bentham in another area put forward the utilitarian principle, according to which the individual is a walking psycho-expenditure accounting department. This utilitarianism Marx gave a merciless rebuff as the ideology of shopkeepers. Take another example: Futurism in Italy and Futurism in Soviet Russia. One must be hopelessly ignorant to claim that Russian Futurism is different from the Italian purely thematically: there is sung imperialism, with us Sovietism and communism. The matter is not so simple: the structure itself, the very design of Mayakovsky and Aseev are completely different. And so I ask; what distinguishes our utilitarian approach from the corresponding, American one? On this question the mentioned article by cde. Ginzburg partly responds:

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In contrast to that, Soviet modern architecture, at least, grouped around our journal, is primarily based on the firm materialistic method. It does not contain any nihilism, does not in any case waive the demands of a formal expression, but it is based entirely on the functional features of all tasks and each of its elements. Our front of modern architecture is based on the principle that a complete architectural work, like any other true-modern thing, is not a house, not a thing plus some kind of aesthetic increment to it, but a rational and planned organized concrete task, in the very method of its organisation containing the maximum capacity of its expressiveness. Our front of modern architecture is based on the sound principles of constructivism, on the method of functional thinking, on the method, specifically indicating to the architect the path of his activity, telling him one or another formulation of his task.

The answer to my question I do not find. I do not understand why the progressive practicability in America can not regard a house not as a thing plus the aesthetic increment, but as a "rational and planned organized concrete task." True, elsewhere the author points out that standardisation encounters in the conditions of old life the vulgarity of individual tastes, the competition of various companies, the spontaneity of the growth of urban dwellings. But in fact one involuntarily recalls the words of Nietzsche: "why do I need to know from what you are liberated, you tell, for what are you liberated." Indeed the penetration of the given building by ideas of the epoch is described not by the discarded dated superstructure of the past, but by the distinct that is typical of the given epoch. We are very interested to know concretely, in what is materialised the element of planning in buildings or projects of modern architecture.

I am afraid to be misunderstood. Least of all suffices an ideological increment to a strictly utilitarian idea. This would be tasteless revived dualism: the building plus a Soviet-ideological extension. No. I am interested in something else. Wherein is manifested the "organic" nature of the epoch in the real objectification, materialisation of an architectural idea.

Note: I do not criticise, as a layman I just put the question. Perhaps this question is essentially not logical? - I do not know. The legitimacy of posing it is partly justified by cde. Ginzburg. He writes: "In the last decade before the war Germany, under the thrust of pan-Germanism (my italics Gr. Rosh.) sought to find monumental and overwhelming forms, creating a heavy style, animated, mainly, by its chauvinistic fervor" (my italics. Gr. R.).

Thus, still before the war German architecture embodied the idea of a class! Is it really also a sin to raise the question: and how our architecture, not before, but after the October victory, embodies the idea of ​​a new class? – One thing is certain: a thorough identification of this side of the problems of Soviet architecture would be extremely interesting to many workers in other fields. One can say: such problems can be put in a journal, dedicated specially to questions of the theory of art, but not in a strictly specialist journal. I do not think so. Precisely the answer of philosophers and theorists is the least convincing. Yes, and it's time to end this division by theorists and practitioners. Precisely specialists, precisely workers, precisely builders need to carefully highlight the problem: to what extent and to what degree are realised the ideas of the epoch. That is the question that I allowed myself to put as a layman.

I.S. Grossman-Roshchin

The editorial staff finds that previous issues of SA partly already answered comrade Grossman-Roshchin. But in view of the specifically sharpened question, not devoid of purely idealist bias – SOVREMENNAYA ARKHITEKTURA in one of the next issues will try to give the author of the letter a fully exhaustive answer. (От редакции. Ответ на письмо Гроссман-Рощина // Современная архитектура. 1927. № 1. — С. 1—2. http://tehne.com/event/arhivsyachina/arhiv-v-i-vesniny-angar-konkursnyy-... The reply contains nothing new.)

Original reference: И. С. Гроссман-Рощин. Заметки профана. Вместо письма в редакцию Современная Архитектура // Современная архитектура. 1926. № 3. — С. 77, 3 стр. обложки.
http://tehne.com/event/arhivsyachina/arhiv-zametki-profana-mehanizaciya-...

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The philosopher of art Mikhail Lifschitz tells this anecdote about his encounter with Grossman-Roshchin:

In 1923, the year before Lenin's death, at Vkhutemas there was already taught a course on Marxist philosophy; it was given by the former anarchist, Lunacharsky's friend I. Grossman-Roshchin, a man very funny, a member of the literary controversies of those years. His lectures, however, few students could understand, they were full of all scientific terminology, foreign words, which he oddly shouted. Nevertheless, to this man I owe the discovery of my, if I may say, philosophical talent. During the winter break he gave students topics of independent written work. I chose the topic of pragmatism, read James and wrote a criticism of his philosophy. When the courses began again, Grossman-Roshchin publicly praised me. To me he said the prophetic words, which, I hope, are not so far from the truth: 'Your forte is Leninism.' The word "Leninism" then sounded for the first time for me.

  • 1. замыслы: plans, designs, aims, intentions, conceptions

Posted By

Noa Rodman
Mar 17 2016 13:47

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Battlescarred
May 28 2016 14:40

In his final years Grossman-Roshchin became an abject apologist for Stalinism. As can be seen in Under The Blows of the Counterrevolution Nestor Makhno had little respect for the man and his irresponsibility and unreliability. IG-R had moved from Black Banner terrorism to anarcho-syndicalism( when before he had harshly criticised syndicalism)then calling himself an "anarcho-Bolshevik" and by 1926 going over totally to Bolshevism.

Noa Rodman
May 28 2016 19:18

Makhno was displeased about the servility to the Bolsheviks displayed by the whole conference of Odessan anarchists ("Roshchinites" because they had great faith in Roshchin) held at the Hotel Florence in Moscow April/June 1918, planning underground struggle in Ukraine against the Hetman. Some wanted G-R to ask Bolshevik aid for the anarchist struggle in Ukraine, but G-R refused. Makhno says that G-R gave as reason that he saw no point in the mission (of underground struggle).

Makhno's comment about G-R's alleged recklessness is based on Arshinov. (see the previous chapter where Makhno enjoyed hearing a lecture of G-R.)

Karetelnik
May 29 2016 10:42

Nestor Makhno's memoirs contain a number of threads concerning individuals which he never completed. One of these threads concerns Iuda Grossman-Roschin, whom he encountered in both 1918 and 1919.

G-R arrived at Makhno's headquarters in May 1919, despite the fact that other anarchists from Moscow were prevented by the Bolsheviks from joining the Makhnovists. Viktor Belash, chief-of-staff of the Makhnovist army, records the following in his memoirs:

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With regard to Grossman-Roshchin, Makhno told me one-on-one: "Among the anarchists he's regarded as an authority and is one of the leaders of the Moscow Federation of Anarchists, where there are rumours that he's a Cheka informer. But it would be awkard to arouse his suspicions by openly distrusting him. And what if the rumours are a provocation of the Cheka? It's not like we have anything to hide. We even need someone to advise the [Bolshevik] higher-ups about the real state of things. Since he doesn't seem to be ill-disposed towards us, we can give him free rein. He's already given some lectures on the theme: 'The October revolution and the Tactics of the Anarcho-syndicalists'. Maybe he'll let something slip – let's keep an eye on him. I'm telling you this privately; it's not for the press."

The Makhnovists soon became convinced that G-R was acting as a Bolshevik agent, not as an anarchist visiting on his own initiative as he claimed, and he was lucky to escape with his life.

The controversy over G-R's behaviour in 1919 continued well into the post-civil war period. Writing in the French anarchist journal Le Libertaire in 1922, Voline claimed that G-R had been a member of the Bolshevik Council of the Defense of the Republic, which had sent him to Makhno's headquarters to engage in "destructive propaganda". In his article, Voline made a point of translating G-R's given name as "Judas".

In 1923 Peter Arshinov, who had been present at Makhno's headquarters in May 1919, passed on his memories of G-R's role. Arshinov recalled a meeting with the Bolshevik leader Lev Kamenev to discuss the civil war crisis: whenever Arshinov made a comment favourable to Soviet power, Kamenev would declare, "That's just like our Iuda."

In 1937 Emma Goldman wrote that G-R was "part and parcel of every act the Bolsheviki did."

Noa Rodman
May 29 2016 09:30

Indeed it would be interesting to read his 'October revolution and the tactics of the anarcho-syndicalists': Гроссман И.С. (Гроссман-Рощин). Октябрьская революция и тактика анархосиндикалистов // Голос труда. - М.; Пг., 1919. - N1, де­кабрь.-С. 2- П.

Battlescarred
May 29 2016 15:53
Noa Rodman wrote:
Makhno was displeased about the servility to the Bolsheviks displayed by the whole conference of Odessan anarchists ("Roshchinites" because they had great faith in Roshchin) held at the Hotel Florence in Moscow April/June 1918, planning underground struggle in Ukraine against the Hetman. Some wanted G-R to ask Bolshevik aid for the anarchist struggle in Ukraine, but G-R refused. Makhno says that G-R gave as reason that he saw no point in the mission (of underground struggle).

Makhno's comment about G-R's alleged recklessness is based on Arshinov. (see the previous chapter where Makhno enjoyed hearing a lecture of G-R.)

Not true that all the Odessa anarchists were "Roshchinites", a gross generalisation. Cerainly Grigory Borzenko (forthcoming bio) was his own man and Makhno respected him as a "serious comrade". And the conference was not just of anarchists from Odessa, there were anarchists from Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav in attendance as well.

Noa Rodman
May 29 2016 18:15

Right, Makhno says G-R was highly regarded by anarchists from everywhere (he just mentions particularly some from Odessa, though not Borzenko, who btw was also present). I linked above in the beginning of text to a thread with more info about G-R.

I think it is obvious that after he turned to the Bolsheviks there would be a negative response from the anarchist camp. However, G-R's "turn" to Leninism was a genuine one (by contrast, I doubt if the same can be said of Arshinov).

I think this is clear from details in his texts, eg; reminding about Lenin's dictum about need to smash the state, stressing Lenin's Hegelianism/dialectics vs. Kautsky's/Second International supposed reformist positivism, etc.

Battlescarred
May 30 2016 08:55

Of course there would be " a negative response from the anarchist camp" FFS. He ended up defending Stalinism in the end, a sad and pathetic trajectory.
Obviously your agenda here on libcom is to proselytise for your form of left communism but I think you are wasting your time.

Noa Rodman
May 30 2016 11:08

Ok but to be clear, you don't differentiate Stalinism from the Left Opposition or even from "left communism", say the Democratic Centralism group (around Sapronov).

It would be interesting to learn if he took sides in these 'intra-Bolshevik' struggles (like I said, he reminded about Lenin's dictum on the need to smash the state, which was no longer exactly such a popular idea among 'Leninists' later). If you can find such evidence, do not be shy to post it.

His later writings are mostly about topics such as art, literature. It is interesting that he had a generally negative position (like Lenin) toward avant-guardist art and such. In general he was one of the best Bolsheviks/Marxists.

Battlescarred
May 30 2016 12:38

What are you on about? Of course I know the difference between Stalinism and left communism. You're tying yourself in knots

Noa Rodman
May 30 2016 13:14

Be so kind as to provide a source for your statement (or specify, elaborate etc.):

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In his final years Grossman-Roshchin became an abject apologist for Stalinism.

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He ended up defending Stalinism in the end, a sad and pathetic trajectory.

Battlescarred
May 30 2016 14:17

Here: (in Russian)
https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Гроссман,_Иуда_Соломонович

Noa Rodman
May 30 2016 15:54

There's no source for that wikipedia claim.

What could have given rise to that impression though, is Roshchin's negative attitude toward avant-guardist art. It is a widespread belief that any criticism of modernist art (or architecture) equals Stalinism or was an invention of Stalinism. Roshchin however was a critic already before the rise of Stalinism.

This did not prevent him from being arrested apparently:

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All representatives of the sociological school (V.S. Pereverzev, I. Grossman-Roshchin), not to mention even the critical-marxists of an earlier call (G. Gorbachev, G. Lelevich), were arrested and many executed.

Все представители социологической школы (В.С. Переверзев, И. Гроссман-Рощин), не говоря уже о критикахмарксистах раннего призыва (Г. Горбачев, Г. Лелевич), были арестованы и многие расстреляны.

source: Пути и вехи. Русское литературоведение в двадцатом веке (2016)
by Димитрий Сегал

Battlescarred
May 30 2016 16:12

Certainly Grossman-Roschin was a loyal member of RAPP (Russian Association of Proletarian Writers) with snide attacks on LEF(Left Art Front) which chimed very well with Stalinist social realism.
I admit that Avrich contradicts the Russian wikipedia source and he states in The Russian Anarchists that G-R was horrified by the rise of Stalin. Details of G-R's death remain obscure but apparently he committed suicide.

Noa Rodman
May 30 2016 17:45

Does Roshchin come across as a Stalinist in the present article though? Or if you refer to his 1923 article in LEF (before RAPP was even created), then what was Stalinist about it?

The anecdote by Mikhail Lifschitz on his encounter with Roshchin is interesting, because I think it precisely shows that Roshchin preceded, perhaps even influenced, Lifschitz (who later became known as the most conservative Stalinist critic), rather than the other way around (Roshchin allegedly chiming along with Stalinism).

Karetelnik
May 30 2016 19:01
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All representatives of the sociological school (V.S. Pereverzev, I. Grossman-Roshchin), not to mention even the critical-marxists of an earlier call (G. Gorbachev, G. Lelevich), were arrested and many executed.

This is rather vague and not, I think, very accurate. Surely the author means V. F. Pereverzev (1882-1968) who was repressed in 1938 and spent many years in the Siberian camps. Stalin didn't start shooting literary hacks until the late 1930s, after G-R was already dead.

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Details of G-R's death remain obscure but apparently he committed suicide.

Suicide is mentioned in G-R's bio in the Dictionnaire des militants anarchistes, but no source is given. His death was duly noted in anarchist correspondence from the 1930s found in the International Institute of Social History, but there is no suggestion of suicide.

There is no question about G-R's devotion to Lenin, whom he claimed as a personal friend. Indeed he may have known Lenin in Switzerland during WWI (G-R's line on WW1 was similar to Lenin's). The Russian-American historian Yuriy Felshtinsky recently found an Okhrana document in the Hoover Institute which indicates that the Germans tried without success to recruit anarchists, Iuda Grossman-Roshchin in particular, to destabilize the tsarist government. Lenin, of course, was not so scrupulous.

Noa Rodman
May 30 2016 20:10

His arrest is also mentioned elsewhere:

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The repression touched also the ideologues of RAPP: L. Averbuch, V. Kirshon, I. Grossman-Roshchin, G. Gorbachev.

"Репрес­сии затронули и идеологов РАППа: Л. Авербаха, В. Киршона, И. Гроссман-Рощина, Г. Горбачева."

It is surely a derail to abuse Lenin of being a recruit of the German government, but regardless, it would be nice to know how Roshchin did manage to freely travel to Russia from Switzerland.

Karetelnik
May 30 2016 21:06
Quote:
His arrest is also mentioned elsewhere:
Quote:
The repression touched also the ideologues of RAPP: L. Averbuch, V. Kirshon, I. Grossman-Roshchin, G. Gorbachev

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Yes, his arrest is mentioned elsewhere, but in this case the author is referring to events of the "second half of the 1930s" when G-R was already dead. When G-R was "rehabilitated" in 2003, it was on account of his arrest by the Bolsheviks in October 1919. So I think we are still looking for solid evidence that G-R was repressed in the 1920s - 1930s.

Karetelnik
May 31 2016 18:19
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it would be nice to know how Roshchin did manage to freely travel to Russia from Switzerland.

That remains a mystery, since the Entente countries refused to issue travel documents to Russians who opposed their war effort. According to the lists published by Vladimir Burtsev, there were 14 anarcho-communists (some were actually anarcho-syndicalists) on the sealed train which carried Lenin across Germany, but G-R was not among them.

Noa Rodman
May 31 2016 21:00

To get access to some of Roshchin's articles in Golos truda (1919) it seems this would be easiest for someone in Germany since lots of libraries have it (or electronic access to it). Perhaps it is possible to access it online also for anyone willing to pay (it says 40 dollars for one day access, so maybe you can view the entire paper?): http://primarysources.brillonline.com/browse/anarchist-periodicals/golos...

Battlescarred
Jun 14 2016 11:02

"Suicide is mentioned in G-R's bio in the Dictionnaire des militants anarchistes, but no source is given. His death was duly noted in anarchist correspondence from the 1930s found in the International Institute of Social History, but there is no suggestion of suicide."
Another source i found says that he died of natural causes on 6 June 1934

Noa Rodman
Jun 14 2016 17:09

Right (probably you refer to a Spanish article). I must say, though, that all this focus on biography is less interesting to me. In turn, you probably feel the same way about his later literary writings. His last book dates from 1929. It's because I can find nothing thereafter, that I from the start doubted that he could ever have defended Stalinism.

(hope you check the other anarchist journals, in the link I posted: less focus on anarchist biographies, more on their writings)