Jimmy Joy Visits the Pioneers: A Story
Through the 1920’s the Soviet ideological and cultural posture vis-à-vis the United States was a complicated one, one that looked simultaneously backward at and forward to the transatlantic colony turned federation of independent states. American capitalism and the exploitative inequalities of its sociopolitics and socioeconomics were unanimously condemned. At the same time, Marxism posited capitalism as an ineluctable phase of passage between feudalism and socialism, and from this perspective - as a fuller and purer embodiment of free-market capitalism than any other contemporary polity – the United States was further evolved than the European nations, most of which were still at least nominally ruled by monarchs in the early Twentieth Century. It was only by virtue of a Russian exceptionalism conceived by Plekhanov, conceded by Marx and seized upon by Lenin that the Bolshevik Revolution had been able to bypass the capitalism phase and give immediate rise to a socialist state on the territory of an autocratic monarchy. Early Soviet Russia thus had a closer kinship with the United States than with Europe. The United States’ being a relatively young state engendered by a violent revolution against a monarchic European power contributed to this sense of affinity. At the level of ideology and sociopolitical evolution, early Soviet Russia saw itself as ahead of the U.S. When it came to industrialization and technological progress, though, the United States was the object of early Soviet Russia’s unqualified and enthusiastic admiration and seen as an exemplar for the Soviet vision of humanity’s willful transformation of its environment. The novel audacious urban landscape of American cities - characterized by such marvels of contemporary engineering as skyscrapers, elevated railroads, widespread electrification and the first steel-wire suspension bridge with a span of more than a mile (the Brooklyn Bridge) – was roundly celebrated by Soviet luminaries. Likewise America’s defining pioneering advances in aviation, industrialized farming and mass production (particularly mass production of automobiles). Despite its ideological wrongheadedness, for many exponents of early Soviet culture and thought the United States was the world’s most progressive country after their own, and while they viewed their own state as more advanced ideologically and sociopolitically, they acknowledged that the United States vastly outstripped Soviet Russia at the level of industrial and engineering progress. The term “Американизм” (“Americanism”) was used in the 1920’s to denote the innovative, organizational and productive force of America, which Nikolai Bukharin in a 1923 speech identified as the element which had somehow to be combined with Marxist doctrine in order to propel the new Soviet state towards its destiny.
Enthusiasm for the American urban landscape, and particularly the skyscraper, is expressed in several Soviet illustrated books for young readers from the 1920’s, and the skyscraper is a recurring feature of the new aspirational Soviet urban landscape in these works (in this collection see: Юность иди! (Go Youth!), 1923; Колька и Ленин (Kol'ka and Lenin), 1927). A few years later in the early 1930’s designs for the grand skyscraper Palace of the Soviets would aim at surpassing the Empire State Building, then the world’s tallest structure.
The motif of the energetic American child or youth who bucks the American socio-cultural order and flees to the land of the Bolsheviks appears in another book illustrated by Kustodiev and featured in this catalog: Большевик Том (Tom the Bolshevik), 1925.