Tales of a lost revolution

Issue section: 

Inside the Rainbow, editors Julian Rothenstein and Olga Budashevskaya, Redstone Press, 35 pounds; Red Spectres, editor Muireann Maguire, Angel Classics, 12.95; Sound in Z, Andrei Smirnov, Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 24 pounds

When you talk about Soviet art it is a generally accepted wisdom that it is all dull dreary Socialist Realist stuff - the sort that chokes the immagination. Now readers of Socialist Review know that this is nonsense.

There was an outpouring of creativity during the early years of the Soviet Union, most of it buried by the onset of Stalin's purges. When we look back at this art what is most striking is how it still feels fresh.

The changes that were taking place posed the question of the relationship between art and society differently.

Now these movements are once again seeing the light of day. Three new books capture the creativity of these revolutionary years.

Starting off there is a lovely little book (its actually quite large) called Inside the Rainbow which is a collection of illustrations, poems and texts from children literature.

It gives a vivid sense of the changes that were taking place. In the stories kings and queens are replaced with people from everyday life who provide the imagination and inspiration.

The most eyecatching aspects book are the avant-garde illustrations that just scream of endless possibilities. We would all be buying more kids books today if the artwork was impressive as it is here.

Red Specters is a collection of Soviet gothic and fastasy tales from the 1920s. The only author in this collection that many are familiar with is Mikhail Bulgakov. The dark nature of civil war and famine, along with the decay of the old and the possibilities of the future, provide the backdrop for the this collection.

Many of its authors were killed on Stalin's orders. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that gothic and fantasy forms are used to highlight some of the tensions of the times.

The final book, Sound in Z, is a eye opening account of a lost history of Soviet electronic music. But it is so much more. What this book illustrates is the interdependence between science and art as well as the desire to create a new society.

These pioneers of electronic music did not see sound in an abstract way: it was intimately connected to the social and material world.

The emerging ideology was an attempt to create an art based on materialism, natural science and formal analysis. In essence, it is a product and a part of the process of unifying practice and theory.

After seeing a presentation of the Theremin, an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact, one Soviet pioneer said, "It's a solution to a huge social-scientific-art problem; it's the first big step into the future, it's a social revolution in the art of making music."

This book rediscovers the inventions and creators of new musical technologies and researchers of sound that have largely been forgotten.

It is perhaps worth remembering Lenin's quote that "Communism is Soviet Power plus the electrification of the whole country".

Inside the Rainbow, Red Spectres and Sound in Z are available from Bookmarks bookshop.