J E F F R E Y H. M A C L A C H L A N
p r o c e s s n o t e s
My project began during quarantine after reading an essay in The New York Review of Books by Sophia Pinkham about Socialist Realism. I quickly became enthralled with the artwork produced by Soviet painters because there was a disguised sorrow in the otherwise relentless marketing of a worker’s paradise. I proceeded to read a dozen books about Soviet culture and wrote an entire manuscript of poems based on Socialist Realist paintings.
Since I was born in the twilight of the Cold War, I remember American culture telling me that I was supposed to dislike Russians, but I was never given a concrete reason. I feel a creeping Russophobia in our current political climate because of an ex-KGB agent who does not want to resurrect socialism’s safety net but does yearn for empire myth-making.
Vladimir Putin proves that for many in the Party core, global muscle meant much more than improving the lives of working people. In that way, Russia and the United States are eerily similar. Despite the “end of history” with capital hegemony, rural people across the globe have been left behind. During a recent CBS broadcast, the reporter interviewed rural Ukrainian senior citizens. They had very little material possessions. The obvious implied narrative is that they suffered under Soviet rule and now suffer under Russian invasion. The reporter never stopped to wonder why capitalism and the “end of history” didn’t provide the lush Western standard of living that was promised thirty years ago.
What I found most interesting about Socialist Realism is that it was considered “propaganda” by Western culture, but it was just crude versions of the commercials I’m forced to endure when watching televised sports. A better, more wonderful version of your life is just around the corner. All you need to do is work hard enough for ______ product and this better, more wonderful version of you will be realized. Instead of the product of socialism, it’s wireless headphones with a white apple placed upon the exterior.
In Defying Dixie by Glenda Gilmore, a Yale Historian, she describes the heady days after the Soviet Union was founded as it was a global beacon for the world’s oppressed. African Americans and working-class Russians truly felt like equals in Moscow. Of course, they were all future grist for the gulags. These poems represent the sadness for a people whose revolution was consumed by greedy leadership.
With the rise in popularity of the late 80s Soviet aesthetic in groups such as Molchat Doma, there’s clearly nostalgia for the glasnost era of the Cold War. I think the reason is they were heady times when Soviet citizens yearned for “normal.” That is, a country that cares about people’s material conditions as well as individual liberty. With the invasion of Ukraine, it’s clear that dream will remain deferred.