J.V. Stalin: The Discussion with Sergei Eisenstein on the Film ‘Ivan the Terrible’

Ivan the Terrible - in the film

Ivan the Terrible – in the film

More on the USSR – including other writings of JV Stalin

J.V. Stalin: The Discussion with Sergei Eisenstein on the Film ‘Ivan the Terrible’

Introduction

So far on this blog, when it comes to Socialist Realism, the emphasis has been on how it manifested itself in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. This has through an analysis of the distinctive (and often very impressive) Albanian lapidars but there have also been articles addressing paintings, art in general as well as looking at architectural representations such as mosaics and bas relief on and in buildings.

There have also been posts about how Socialist Realism was seen in the People’s Republic of China during its socialist period (which tragically ended very soon after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976).

A beginning (small at the moment) has also been made on the country which was the first to develop the Socialist Realist theory and practice, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). So far this has been quite limited to a start on a look at the magnificent decorations of the metro stations – in reality the biggest art galleries in the world (especially in Moscow and Leningrad).

An equally small contribution has also been started in the public art of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

All these projects related to the above countries are ongoing.

However, so far, there has been little presented on the most important technological development in the field of arts of the 20th century – cinema.

VI Lenin, the first leader of the first Socialist State, realised from the very beginning the importance of literature and art in the development of the dictatorship of the proletariat, without which a workers state wouldn’t be able to exist. He also understood the importance of the moving image in this task.

As did JV Stalin and the article below shows that he took a very active interest in how the Soviet Cinema industry was developing – what messages and values it was trying to transmit in the socialist education of the Soviet working class and peasants.

Anti-Communists constantly distort events to twist them to fit into their anti-working class agenda. Not surprising as capitalism and imperialism will do and say anything which they think will strengthen their hold on the majority of the people of the world and to undermine anyone who seeks to challenge their political and economic control.

Many people might have heard/read about Stalin’s intervention regarding Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1934. This criticism was accepted by the composer – and even today the work isn’t considered to be one of Shostakovich’s best. What probably isn’t widely known is that Stalin’s criticism came from a very deep understanding of Russian folk culture and he considered it important for Soviet artists (in all fields) to create artistic works to which the majority of the Soviet population could relate.

His intervention with Eisenstein about the two films of Ivan the Terrible primarily concerned historical accuracy – to which Eisenstein was playing fast and loose. In a socialist society artists have obligations to the people which do not exist in a capitalist society. After all, Eisenstein’s ability to have the luxury of following his artistic ideas was paid for by the working people. Stalin in this interview was reminding the film maker (and by implication all other artists) about his obligations.

Ivan the Terrible - sketch by Eisenstein

Ivan the Terrible – sketch by Eisenstein

Introduction by Revolutionary Democracy

One of the consequence of the anti-Stalin campaign initiated by the CPSU in 1953 has been that a number of facets of Stalin’s interventions on cultural questions are virtually unknown in the Communist movement. It is a telling commentary on this state of affairs that Paresh Dhar in his review of Asok Chattopadhyaya’s book Martiya Chirayat Bhabana – Silpa Sahitya Prasanga (in Bengali) can write that ‘what is most striking is that by a special research work, Asok has unveiled Stalin’s numerous involvements with art and literature of which we never heard before’, (Frontier, May 24th, 1997).

This discussion took place between Stalin, Zhdanov and Molotov from the political leadership of the CPSU(b), and S.M. Eisenstein and N. Cherkasov at the end of February, 1947. It was an integral part of the attempt by the Bolshevik party in the post-war period to raise the artistic level of Soviet culture and to eliminate weaknesses in ideological and political content.(1) Prior to the discussion the Central Committee of the CPSU(B) had, on September 4th, 1946 taken a decision on the film Glowing Life. Parts of the decision which bear on Ivan the Terrible are cited here:

‘The fact of the matter is that many of our leading cinema workers – producers, directors and screen writers – are taking a light-hearted and irresponsible attitude to their duties and are not working conscientiously on the films they produce. The chief defect in their work is failure to study subject matter… Producer Eisenstein betrayed ignorance of historical facts in the second series of Ivan Grozny, depicting Ivan Grozny’s progressive army, the oprichniki, as a gang of degenerates reminiscent of the American Ku Klux Klan. Ivan Grozny, a man of strong will and character, is shown as a spineless weakling, as a Hamlet type… ‘

‘One of the fundamental reasons for the production of worthless films is the lack of knowledge of subject matter and the light-hearted attitude of screen writers and producers to their work.’

‘The Central Committee finds that the Ministry of Cinematography, and primarily its head, Comrade Bolshakov, exercises inadequate supervision over film studios, producers and screen writers, is doing too little to improve the quality of films and is spending large sums of money to no useful purpose. Leading officials of the Ministry of Cinematography take an irresponsible attitude to the work entrusted to them and are indifferent to the ideological and political content and artistic merits of the films being produced.’

‘The Central Committee is of the opinion that the work of the Ministry’s Art Council is incorrectly organized. The council does not ensure impartial and business-like criticism of films for production. It often takes an apolitical attitude in its judgement of film and pays little attention to their idea-content. Many of its members display lack of principle in their assessment of films, their judgement being based on personal, friendly relations with the producers. The absence of criticism in the cinema and the prevalent narrow-circle atmosphere are among the chief reasons for the production of poor films.’

‘Art workers must realise that those who continue to take an irresponsible, light-hearted attitude to their work, may well find themselves superfluous and outside the ranks of progressive Soviet art, for the cultural requirements and demands of the Soviet theatregoer have developed and the Party and Government will continue to cultivate among the people good taste and encourage exacting demands on works of art.’ (Decisions of the Central Committee, C.P.S.U.(B) On Literature and Art (1946-1948), Moscow, 1951, pp. 26-28.)

1. An earlier criticism of the films of Eisenstein (Strike, The Battleship Potemkin, October, and The General Line) was published in 1931: I. Anissimov, ‘The Films of Eisenstein’. This has been reprinted in Bulletin International, 64-67, April-July 1983, pp. 74-91. (In French).

J.V. Stalin: The Discussion with Sergei Eisenstein on the Film ‘Ivan the Terrible’

We were summoned to the Kremlin at about 11 o’clock [In the evening – Ed.]. At 10.50 we reached the reception. Exactly at 11 o’clock Poskrebyshev came out to escort us to the cabinet.

At the back of the room were Stalin, Molotov and Zhdanov.

We entered, exchanged greetings and sat around the table.

Stalin. You wrote a letter. The answer got delayed a little. We are meeting late. I first thought of giving a written answer but then I decided that talking will be better. As I am very busy and have no time I decided to meet you here after a long interval. I received your letter in November.

Zhdanov. You received it while still in Sochi.

Stalin. Yes, yes. In Sochi. What have you decided to do with the film?

Eisenstein. We are saying that we have divided the second part of the film into two sections, because of which the Livonsky March has not been included. As a result there is a disproportion between the different parts of the film. So it is necessary to correct the film by editing the existing material and to shoot mainly the Livonsky March.

Stalin. Have you studied History?

Eisenstein. More or less.

Stalin. More or less? I am also a little familiar with history. You have shown the oprichnina incorrectly. The oprichnina was the army of the king. It was different from the feudal army which could remove its banner and leave the battleground at any moment – the regular army, the progressive army was formed. You have shown this oprichnina to be like the Ku-Klux-Klan.

Eisenstein said that they wear white cowls but we have black ones.

Molotov. This does not make a major difference.

Stalin. Your tsar has come out as being indecisive, he resembles Hamlet. Everybody prompts him as to what is to be done, and he himself does not take any decision… Tsar Ivan was a great and a wise ruler, and if he is compared with Ludwig XI (you have read about Ludwig XI who prepared absolutism for Ludwig XIV), then Ivan the Terrible is in the tenth heaven. The wisdom of Ivan the Terrible is reflected by the following: he looked at things from the national point of view and did not allow foreigners into his country, he barricaded the country from the entry of foreign influence. By showing Ivan the Terrible in this manner you have committed a deviation and a mistake. Peter 1st was also a great ruler, but he was extremely liberal towards foreigners, he opened the gate wide to them and allowed foreign influence into the country and permitted the Germanisation of Russia. Catherine allowed it even more. And further. Was the court of Alexander I really a Russian court? Was the Court of Nicolaus I a Russian court? No, they were German courts.

The most outstanding contribution of Ivan the Terrible was that he was the first to introduce the government monopoly of external trade. Ivan the Terrible was the first and Lenin was the second.

Zhdanov. The Ivan the Terrible of Eisenstein came out as a neurotic.

Molotov. In general, emphasis was given to psychologism, excessive stress was laid on internal psychological contradictions and personal emotions.

Stalin. It is necessary to show the historical figure in correct style. For example it was not correct that in the first series Ivan the Terrible kissed his wife so long. At that period it was not permitted.

Zhdanov. The film is made in the Byzantine style but there also it was not done.

Molotov. The second series is very restricted in domes and vaults, there is no fresh air, no wider Moscow, it does not show the people. One may show conversations, repressions but not this.

Stalin. Ivan the Terrible was extremely cruel. It is possible to show why he had to be cruel.

One of the mistakes of Ivan the Terrible was that he did not completely finish off the five big feudal families. If he had destroyed these five families then there would not have been the Time of Troubles. If Ivan the Terrible executed someone then he repented and prayed for a long time. God disturbed him on these matters… It was necessary to be decisive.

Molotov. It is necessary to show historical incidents in a comprehensive way. For example the incident with the drama of Demyan Bedny Bogatyp. Demyan Bedny mocked the baptism of Russia, but in reality acceptance of Christianity was a progressive event for its historical development.

Stalin. Of course, we are not good Christians but to deny the progressive role of Christianity at that particular stage is impossible. This incident had a very great importance because this turned the Russian state to contacts with the West, and not to an orientation towards the East.

About relations with the East, Stalin said that after the recent liberation from the Tatar yoke, Ivan the Terrible united Russia in a hurried way so as to have a stronghold to face a fresh Tatar attack. Astrakhan was already conquered and they could have attacked Moscow at any moment, The Crimean Tatars also could have done this.

Stalin. Demyan Bedny did not have the correct historical perspective. When we shifted the statue of Minin and Podzharsky closer to the church of Vasily Blazhenova then Demyan Bedny protested and wrote that the statue must be thrown away and that Minin and Podzharsky must be forgotten. In answer to this letter, I called him ‘Ivan, do not forget your own family’. We cannot throw away history…’

Next Stalin made a series of remarks regarding the interpretation of Ivan the Terrible and said that Malyuta Skuratov was a great army general and died a hero’s death in the war with Livonia.

Cherkasov in reply said that criticism always helped and that after criticism Pudovkin made a good film Admiral Nakhimov. ‘We are sure that we will not do worse. I am working on the character of Ivan the Terrible not only the film, but also in the theatre. I fell in love with this character and think that our alteration of the scenes will be correct and truthful’.

In response to this Stalin replied (addressing Molotov and Zhdanov) – ‘Let’s try?’

Cherkasov I am sure that the alteration will be successful.

Stalin. May god help you, – every day a new year. (Laughs.)

Eisenstein. We are saying that in the first part a number of moments were successful and this gives us the confidence for making the second series.

Stalin. We are not talking about what you have achieved, but now we are talking about the shortcomings.

Eisenstein asked whether there were some more instructions regarding the film.

Stalin. I am not giving you instructions but expressing the viewer’s opinion. It is necessary that historical characters are reflected correctly. What did Glinka show us? What is this Glinka? This is Maksim and not Glinka. [They were talking about the film Composer Glinka made by L. Arnshtam. The main role was played by B. Chirkov.] Artist Chirkov could not express himself and for an artist the greatest quality is the capability to transform himself. (Addressing Cherkasov) – you are capable of transforming yourself.

In answer to this Zhdanov said that Cherkasov was unlucky with Ivan the Terrible. There was still panic with regard to Spring and he started to act as a janitor – in the film In the Name of Life he plays a janitor.

Cherkasov said that he had acted the maximum number of tsars and he had even acted as Peter 1st and Aleksei.

Zhdanov. According to the hereditary line. He proceeded according to the hereditary line.

Stalin. It is necessary to show historical figures correctly and strongly. (To Eisenstein). You directed Alexander Nevsky. It came out very well. The most important thing is to maintain the style of the historical period. The director may deviate from history; it is not correct if he simply copies from the historical materials, he must work on his ideas but within the boundary of style. The director may vary within the style of that historical period.

Zhdanov said that Eisenstein is fascinated by the shadows (which distracts viewers from the action), and the beard of Ivan the Terrible and that Ivan the Terrible raises his head too often, so that his beard can be seen.

Eisenstein promised to shorten the beard of Ivan the Terrible in future.

Stalin. (Recalling different actors from the first part of the film Ivan the Terrible) Kurbsky – is magnificent. Staritsky is very good (Artist Kadochnikov). He catches the flies excellently. Also: the future tsar, he is catching flies with his hands! These type of details are necessary. They reveal the essence of man.

…The conversation then switched to the situation in Czechoslovakia in connection with Cherkasov’s participation in the Soviet film festival. Cherkasov narrated the popularity of the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia.

The discussion then touched upon the destruction of the Czechoslovakian cities by the Americans.

Stalin. Our job was to enter Prague before the Americans. The Americans were in a great hurry, but owing to Koniev’s attack we were able to outdistance the Americans and strike Prague just before its fall. The Americans bombed Czechoslovakian industry. They maintained this policy throughout Europe, for them it was important to destroy those industries which were in competition with them. They bombed with taste.

Cherkasov spoke about the album of photographs of Franco and Goebbels which was with Ambassador Zorin at his villa.

Stalin. It is good that we finished these pigs. It is horrifying to think what would have happened if these scoundrels had won.

Cherkasov mentioned the graduation ceremony of the Soviet colony in Prague. He spoke of the children of emigrants who were studying there. It was very sad for these children who think of Russia as their motherland, as their home, when they were born there and had never been to Russia.

Stalin. It is unfortunate for these children. They are not at fault.

Molotov. Now we are giving a big opportunity to the children to return to Russia.

Stalin pointed to Cherkasov that he had the capacity for incarnation and that we have still the capacity to incarnate the artist Khmelev.

Cherkasov said that he had learnt a lot while working as an extra in the Marine Theatre in Leningrad. At that time the great master of incarnation Shaliapin acted and appeared on stage.

Stalin. He was a great actor.

Zhdanov asked: how is the shooting of the film Spring going on?

Cherkasov. We will finish it soon. Towards spring we are going to release Spring.

Zhdanov said that he liked the content of Spring a lot. The artist Orlova played very well.

Cherkasov. The artist Plyatt acted very well.

Zhdanov. And how did Ranevskaya act! (Waves his hand.)

Cherkasov. For the first time in my life I appeared in a film without a beard, without a moustache, without a cloak, without make-up. Playing the role of a director, I am a bit ashamed of my appearance and I feel like hiding behind my characters. This role is a lot of responsibility because I must represent a Soviet director and all our directors are worried: How will a Soviet director be shown?

Molotov. And here Cherkasov is settling scores with all the directors! When the film Spring was called into question, Cherkasov read an editorial in the newspaper Soviet Art regarding Spring and decided the film was already banned.

And then Zhdanov said: Cherkasov saw that all the preparations for Spring had perished so he took on the role of a janitor. Then Zhdanov spoke disapproving of the critical storm which had come up around Spring.

Stalin was interested to know how the actress Orlova had acted. He approved of her as an actress.

Cherkasov said that this actress had a great capability of working and an immense talent.

Zhdanov. Orlova acted extremely well. And everybody remembered Volga-Volga and the role of the postman Orlova had played.

Cherkasov. Have you watched In the Name of Life?

Stalin. No, I have not watched it, but we have a good report from Kliment Efremovich. Voroshilov liked the film.

Then that means that all the questions are solved. What do you think Comrades (addresses Molotov and Zhdanov), should we give Comrades Cherkasov and Eisenstein the opportunity to complete the film? – and added – please convey all this to Comrade Bolshakov.

Cherkasov asked about some details in the film and about the outward appearance of Ivan the Terrible.

Stalin. His appearance is right, there is no need to change it. The outward appearance of Ivan the Terrible is fine.

Cherkasov. Can the scene about the murder of Staritskova be retained in the scenario?

Stalin. You may retain it. The murder did take place.

Cherkasov. We have a scene in which Malyuta Skuratov strangles the Metropolit Philip.

Zhdanov. It was in the Tver Otroch-Monastery?

Cherkasov. Yes, is it necessary to keep this scene?

Stalin said that it was necessary to retain this scene as it was historically correct.

Molotov said it was necessary to show repression but at the same time one must show the purposes for which it was done. For this it was necessary to show state activities on a wider canvas and not to immerse oneself only with the scenes in the basements and enclosed areas. One must show wide state activity.

Cherkasov expressed his ideas regarding the future of the altered scenes and the second series.

Stalin. How does the film end? How better to do this, to make another two films – that is second and third series. How are we planning to this?

Eisenstein said that it was better to combine the already shot material of the second series with what was left of the scenario – and produce one big film.

Everyone agreed to this.

Stalin. How is your film going to end?

Cherkasov said that the film would end with the defeat of Livonia, the tragic death of Malyuta Skuratov, the march towards the sea where Ivan the Terrible is standing, surrounded by the army, and says, ‘We are standing on the sea and will be standing!’

Stalin. This is how it turned out and a bit more than this.

Cherkasov asked whether it would be necessary to show the outline of the film for confirmation by the Politburo.

Stalin. It is not necessary to present the scenario, decide it by yourselves. It is generally difficult to judge from the scenario, it is easier to talk about a ready product. (To Molotov.) You must be wanting to read the scenario?

Molotov. No, I work in other fields. Let Bolshakov read it.

Eisenstein said that it was better not to hurry with the production of this film.

This comment drew an active reaction from everybody.

Stalin. It is absolutely necessary not to hurry, and in general to hasten the film would lead to its being shut down rather than its being released. Repin worked on the Zaporozhye Cossacks Writing Their Reply to the Turkish Sultan for 11 years.

Molotov. 13 years.

Stalin. (with insistence) 11 years.

Everybody came to the conclusion that only a long spell of work may in reality produce a good film.

Regarding the film Ivan the Terrible Stalin said – That if necessary take one and a half, two even three years to produce this film. But the film should be good, it should be ‘sculptured’. We must raise quality. Let there be fewer films, but with greater quality. The viewer has grown up and we must show him good productions.

It was discussed that Tselikovskaya acted well in other characters, she acts well but she is a ballerina.

We answered that it was impossible to summon another actress to Alma-Ata.

Stalin said that the directors should be adamant and demand whatever they need. But our directors too easily yield on their own demands. It sometimes happens that a great actor is necessary but it is played by someone who does not suit the role. This is because the actor demands and receives the role while the director agrees.

Eisenstein. The actress Gosheva could not be released from the Arts Theatre in Alma-Ata for the shooting. We searched two years for an Anastasia.

Stalin. Artist Zharov incorrectly looked upon his character without any seriousness in the film Ivan the Terrible. He is not a serious Army-General.

Zhdanov. This is not Malyuta Skuratov but an opera-hat.

Stalin. Ivan the Terrible was a more nationalist tsar, more foresighted, he did not allow foreign influence in Russia. Peter 1st opened the gate to Europe and allowed in too many foreigners.

Cherkasov said that it was unfortunate and a personal shame that he had not seen the second part of the film Ivan the Terrible. When the film was edited and shown he had been at that time in Leningrad.

Eisenstein also added that he had not seen the complete version of the film because he had fallen ill after completing it.

This caused great surprise and animation.

The discussion ended with Stalin wishing them success and saying ‘May god help them!’

They shook hands and left. At 00.10 minutes the conversation ended.

An addition was made to this report by Eisenstein and Cherkasov:

‘Zhdanov also said: ‘In the film there is too much over-indulgence of religious rituals.’

Translated from the Russian by Sumana Jha.

Courtesy: G. Maryamov: Kremlevskii Tsenzor, Moscow, 1992, pp. 84-91.

This text is taken from one of the pages on the Revolutionary Democracy website, specifically J.V. Stalin: The Discussion with Sergei Eisenstein on the Film ‘Ivan the Terrible’

We thank those comrades for permission to reproduce the interview here.

More on the USSR – including other writings of JV Stalin

Moscow Metro – Avtozavodskaya – Line 2

Collective Farmers

Collective Farmers

More on the USSR

Moscow Metro – Avtozavodskaya – Line 2

Avtozavodskaya Metro station – now on Line 2 – was one of the seven stations completed during the anti-Hitlerite War and was opened on 1st January 1943. It’s original name was the Stalin Works Station, after the armaments factory that was above ground at that time. This name was changed in 1956 as part of the campaign against Socialism. Avtozavodskaya translates as ‘Car factory’.

Often the art work inside the Metro stations had a relationship with the area that the station served. In 1943 this area was one of heavy industry and some of the images reflect that fact. As time goes by areas change their use and importance in the economy of  the country – especially in Russia as so much fell apart with the chaotic destruction of the Soviet Union. This creates a certain disconnect from the immediate area but the art can give pointers to the past.

It’s also common for there to be military references in those stations completed during the years of the Great Patriotic War as a way of increasing awareness of the need for the people to bear in mind the dangers the country was facing. There’s a permanence with the military references in the Soviet Metro stations but this would have been mirrored in the London Underground with its ‘public information’ (the British don’t use ‘propaganda’) posters. 

All the Moscow Metro stations are bright but Avtozavodskaya is even more so as the columns are narrow and there are no walls between the central corridor and the two platforms. Together with the light bouncing off the tiles and marble that was used in the construction this means that when you come off the escalator you enter a large, bright and airy space, not really what you expect underground. According to the architect’s wife he got his inspiration from reading a book about plants whilst at the same time listening to Bach’s music.

On the Platform

On the platform level there are eight, long, narrow mosaics and four square stone bas reliefs – four and two on each side respectively. Between the bas reliefs there’s an empty space. This is the result of political vandalism that probably goes back to the latter part of the 1950s. If there’s nothing on show now then it almost certainly had a reference to Comrade Stalin, perhaps a mosaic with a meeting with workers, a Party celebration or perhaps, as the station was completed during the war, a reference to Stalin’s role in that war. Whether whatever was there was removed and destroyed or merely covered up I have no idea. There must be photographic records of the stations at the time of their opening but these remain elusive.

The Eight Mosaics

Armaments Factory

Armaments Factory

During wartime virtually all industrial production is given over to those products which support the war effort and for that reason half of the mosaics depict industrial scenes. Whereas the others show aspects of industry in general this one shows a tank production line – this could possibly be the famous T-34. 

In the centre, and dominating the scene, are three, large completed tanks. In the foreground, to the side of the tanks are two groups of workers who are in the process of assembling the chassis of the next generation of tanks. In each group there are two men and one woman, all carrying out the same type of work. Three of the men are using hydraulic bolting tools. This indicates that women were working in industry in an equal capacity as the men, showing how the society had developed in just a generation.

Before the Revolution Russia was just a peasant economy with little industrialisation. That all changed with the rapid development of agriculture and industry in the 1930s. Without that development the Soviet union wouldn’t have been able to confront, and finally defeat the invading Nazis. At the time the mosaic was created the tanks would have been driven out of the factory and then immediately sent to the front.

Collective Farm

Collective Farm

The growth of industry would not have been possible without the mechanisation and collective reorganisation of agriculture – in fact the development of one depended upon the development of the other. The next mosaic shows a scene from the countryside at harvest time at either a large collective or State farm. 

In the centre we see the level of mechanisation with a tractor (with caterpillar tracks) pulling a combine harvester and a lorry alongside to collect the separated grain. Also to show how the role of women had changed since the Revolution a woman is operating the harvester. There’s another harvester slightly behind and to the left of the main subject – this one operated by a man, indicating the interchangeability of roles in the new society.

On the right hand side there’s a man and woman in conversation. She is holding, and reading from a sheet of paper. he is dressed in overalls and holds a wrench in his right hand. At their feet is a set of wheels. He is almost certainly a mechanic, a necessity in the countryside to keep the machinery in working order – especially at the busy time of harvest. She could well be a Brigade leader going through the progress of the jobs he has been allotted or telling him what he should do next.

Here it’s important to stress that it was only in the Soviet Union, at this time, where women were in positions of responsibility and authority. I’m not saying that complete equality existed in the Soviet Union in the 1940s but at least there was an effort to create such a situation. It took the capitalist west more than a generation to get even close.

On the left hand side is a small group of three, two men and a woman. One of the men is much older, with a white beard and wearing glasses. He is not dressed for working in the fields as he is dressed in a white suit. He’s inspecting the ears of the corn which is in the sheaf that the woman is holding. He would be a scientist checking the quality of the harvest. The third member of the group is a younger man, taller than the older man, dressed in farm clothes and sporting a black mustache. He’s looking on the inspection process awaiting for the verdict.

The whole scene is a reference to the way in which Soviet agriculture had to advance. It was bringing mechanisation and industry to the countryside together with advances in science to ensure a bountiful and healthy crop. This is the basis for modern agriculture and was a million miles away from the feudal level of agriculture before the Revolution.

Commercial Port

Commercial Port

The next scene is of a busy commercial quayside – almost certainly not Moscow – which is a hive of activity.

The centre of the panel is the background, across the dock from the quay on which the people are standing. Here we see a large crane in the process of loading (or unloading) a cargo ship, whose mast is right of centre. Behind is the outline of quayside warehouses and on the right there’s steam billowing out from an electricity station cooling tower.

On the right hand side the background is created by the black stern of a large ship that’s tied up to the dock. There are what looks like two chains coming down from the (unseen) deck of the ship to two bollards on the dockside. This is strange as you would never tie up a ship, of whatever size, with chains. I can only surmise that the artist knew nothing about the actuality of a port and guessed at what would have been used. There’s no problem with artists (and intellectuals) not knowing the facts, it’s another that no one sought to enlighten him/her.

Standing on the quay in front of this ship are two people, a man and a woman, involved in fishing. He is still dressed in his oil skins and is holding up a large fish in both his hands. He’s smoking a pipe. The woman is bent over emptying a large basket of fish on to the quay at the same time as looking at the fish the man is holding as if to say ‘It’s been a good catch’. At the extreme right hand edge a number of barrels are stacked and I would think this is for the salted fish that would have been the main way that fish was preserved in the 1940s. Laying parallel to the bottom of the panel is a large fish – this will almost certainly be a sturgeon, long time associated with Russia (for its caviar). 

On the left hand side a group of three men are in the process of loading barrels on to a lorry. The man at the rear of the vehicle is guiding a barrel, which is hanging from the hook on a cable from an unseen crane, on to the flat back of the truck. To his left the other two men are in the process of connecting another barrel to the hoist line. 

The man on the left is older, is dressed in a white suit (a bit inappropriate for dock work I would have thought) , is wearing a cap and holds the hook end of the loose line in his hands. The other man, to his right, is standing behind a barrel ready to help him connect the line. All the three men are wearing large, white protective gloves.

Behind the lorry, and on the edge of the quay, are what could be bales of rope. On the extreme left hand side of the panel is a small stack of sacks, waiting to be loaded  on to the next truck, perhaps. 

Behind this scene a small, two-masted sailing boat is in the process of coming into the picture.

Foundry

Foundry

There are flames everywhere in this scene from a foundry. On the right hand side we see two men guiding a large crucible of molten metal, hanging from an unseen gantry crane. which they’ve just taken from the furnace, the metal giving off a glow at the top. They are taking this over to the left hand side where two other men are in the process of pouring metal into a cast. With large casts the process has to be continuous and organisation is the key. At the cast you can see the white stream of metal leaving the crucible and the whole process is being supervised by a woman who is on the other side of the cast to the men. She is wearing protective googles and a hat but otherwise seems to be wearing ordinary clothes.

The only other person in the scene is a woman who is standing in the middle, between the activity of casting. In her hand she is holding a small piece of testing equipment. It’s close to her eye as if she is looking through a small glass window to inspect whatever is inside. There’s a small hopper at the top of this device which would allow the insertion of what she wants to test. In a foundry everything depends upon the quality of the sand and the moulds into which the metal is poured and I assume that it’s somewhere along the line of this testing process that is her responsibility. She has a clip board tucked under her left arm and she is wearing ordinary working clothes.

There’s a nice little touch at this point in the mosaic. As I’ve said there are flames all around and what the artist has done is to give her a shadow so to her right is a larger silhouette of herself.

Assembly Shop

Assembly Shop

The next mosaic is another industrial scene – this time in an assembly shop. On the right a woman is riding on an early electric fork lift bringing in a container of links for the production of caterpillar tracks. This appears to be an assembly shop for small tracked vehicles, putting these tracks together seems to be what is happening on the left hand side. The size of the tracks are far too small for military use so it’s likely that this part of the factory is making agricultural equipment – as important in the war effort as armaments.

It’s difficult to work out what’s the two men in the centre are doing but it’s obviously another process in the production line. This is only one small part of a very much larger factory as can be seen from the large presses in the background.

Forge and Pressing Shop

Forge and Pressing Shop

We are in another part of the factory for the next mosaic – this looks like the pressing shop. On the right hand side a man is taking a long, heavy piece of metal from the furnace, looking over to his left to see if they are ready for the next piece to process. He grabs the white-hot metal with a long pair of tongs, the weight of the metal being born by a rod that hangs down from a pulley system.

In the centre two men are in the process of the initial shaping of another piece of metal, standing in front of a hammer press which gives the metal close to its final shape. The metal still being hot from the furnace the sparks are flying in all directions. One of the men, on the right, is wearing goggles whilst the other, his right hand holding the long tongs, uses his left hand to hold a welders mask in front of his face. The man on the right seems to be holding a hose which is directed to where all the sparks are flying. Is this a jet of air? i don’t know enough about these processes to be able to say.

The other worker, on the far left, is working alone at another, perhaps smaller press. The metal is still white but it’s shape is now more defined, getting closer to its required format. Standing slightly facing the viewer we can see that he wears full protective gear and goggles.

So here the artist has sought to present three stages of the pressing process. Perhaps these are meant to be the presses seen in the background of the assembly shop. 

The Red Air Force

The Red Air Force

Most of a Soviet twin engine medium bomber dominates the mosaic that refers to the Red Air Force. We know it’s a Soviet plane by the large red star on the tail fin. It’s possibly an Ilushin Il – 4 or a Tupolev Tu – 2.

Standing behind the wings are two airmen (of a three man crew), one with a map in his hands as if they are discussing the upcoming mission. They are possibly the pilot and navigator.

The bomb bays are open and two of the ground crew are loading large bombs by way of a hoist into the aircraft. Standing at the front of the plane, looking up into the air with a pair of binoculars, is possible the third member of the crew – the gunner.

In the background is another bomber sitting on the apron and looking underneath the belly of the aircraft can be seen a truck.

The Red Navy

The Red Navy

The last of the mosaics commemorates the Red Navy and is a very busy picture. In the background, and taking up the full length of the mosaic is a large battleship in full steam – with smoke coming out of its twin funnels and creating significant waves. There’s a red flag flying from the bow with a large golden star.

Dwarfed by the battleship a small, two man speedboat is racing alongside, its bow up out of the water. There’s a red flag from both the bow and the stern. 

On the right of the scene two men appear to be on the top of a coning tower of a submarine. One is already in place and is sending a semaphore message. His comrade is climbing up the steps to join him.

On the left hand side, in the foreground, are three sailors at a bow gun on yet another ship. One of them has a shell cradled in his arms and is about to push it into the open breach. The second sailor is looking ahead as if to work out the settings to make on the gun. Another sailor stands behind the gun but we only see parts of his uniform. 

A couple of things stand out in these mosaics. One is that the skill of the artist is such that all the faces are distinctive and unique. You get an idea of what they are thinking as they carry out their tasks. Another is that women were always represented in an equal manner apart from those images which show the armed forces. Women did take an active and front line role in the Great Patriotic War (I’m not too sure about the Navy) but very often in women only squads.   

Four Bas Reliefs

The bas reliefs are divided equally into rural and industrial scenes but one thing that unites them is the way they have been constructed. They are very large (I can’t say exactly as they are high up and on the other side of a railway track) but instead of being carved on to one piece of stone they are very much like a jigsaw puzzle – but a puzzle that has different sizes of blocks each time.

Aircraft Production

Aircraft Production

Socialist Realist Art is not always realistic. It’s a way of telling a story about the life of the workers and how they are attempting to build a new society. It’s an art form which places workers and peasants at the centre of public images which does not exist anywhere outside of those societies that have made a revolutionary change to the previous exploitative and oppressive society. And we have an example here which introduces unreality into a Socialist Realist image. 

The male kneeling is in the process of servicing an aircraft piston engine, the engineer standing on the right hand side is making notes on a clip board. The hook at the top is ready to take the engine for repair. But in 1943 how many Muscovites would have known where the engine came from? How could they relate to an important part of the defence of their city and country?

That’s easy. Add a couple of men dressed in pilots uniforms and give one of them a propeller which is taller than himself. It’s not very sophisticated but it’s no more strange than Catholic martyrs being depicted with the instruments used in their death. And there’s nothing strange in works of art being produced in a Socialist society which bears the hallmarks of the old society, including its religious imagery. I discussed this in the post about the statue by Odhise Paskali (Shoket- Comrades) in Permet Martyrs’ Cemetery.

Until a new form of art, which has been able to develop outside of the influences of capitalism, then Socialist art will always exhibit aspects, tropes, of that old society. It may look strange but that is all part of the development of ideas and how those ideas can be communicated in a way that ordinary people can understand and appreciate. We must remember that the Constructivists, at the beginning of the 1930s, moved into design and away from painting because ‘paintings could not be understood by the masses’.

Harvest Time

Harvest Time

This is another harvest scene – but it’s difficult to work out which part of the vast Soviet Union the scene is set. I thought perhaps in the Ukraine – as the bread basket of the country – and then Georgia – due to the connection with Joseph Stalin. But couldn’t come to a definite conclusion. The head-dress of the young woman on the right is quite distinctive as are the boots of the woman on the left.

This is the harvest as the woman on the left is dragging a sheaf of grain in both her hands and the woman on the right is plucking fruit from a tree and has a basket of fruit balanced on her right shoulder. One of the children is ‘helping’ the other looks bemused – as does the young foal in the centre of the image.

Life in the Tundra

Life in the Tundra

This is another rural scene but this time from the tundra. But I’m not sure how to interpret what we see. On the far right we have a young woman who’s holding a somewhat struggling goose. Sh’e got a grip of the goose’s left wing under her arm but the goose’s right wing is flapping and fluttering above and in front of her face. She’s also dressed in light summer clothing, as is the little girl at her feet.

The man appears to be putting on a heavy winter animal skin coat and is half dressed for different seasons. When we go further to the left both the woman and the small child (are they the same as on the right but at a different time of year?) are dressed for the harshest of winters, complete with a reindeer.  

Precision Engineering

Precision Engineering

Finally, we have another industrial scene – a little bit more straightforward than the first bas relief, but only a little bit. Here we seem to have different aspects of production brought together but with little clue as to how they fit together.

Of the two central characters the one standing is dressed in a suit and is using a set of dividers on a sheet of paper that’s resting on the knee of the man sitting. This could be a designer explaining to one of the workers what the nature of the task he is asking him to carry out. 

On the right hand side we have a standing worker who is dressed in the same sort of protective gear we saw in the mosaic about the foundry – together with the large tongs to be able to manoeuvre the white-hot metal.

On the left hand side there’s a female worker cradling a cannon shell in her arms so that indicates that the action is taking place in an armaments factory.

There is a tenuous connection between the mosaics and the bas reliefs but I don’t think that in Avtozavodskaya  the connections had been fully thought through. There is much more of a unified theme in many of the other stations.

The more I look at these bas relief the less I like them – a shame when there are so many wonderful examples on the Metro network in general.

At the top of the escalators

The Defence of Moscow

The Defence of Moscow

The large mosaic at the top of the escalators is very different, in many ways, from those that run alongside the platforms below. The materials that make up the mosaic are different; here they are much larger pieces of cut stone, which covers a range from brown through to green and on to yellow. The feel is also different in that this is one of celebration, the celebration of the end of the blockade of Moscow (that lasted from October 1941 to January 1942) and the beginning of the counter-attack which would eventually lead to the destruction of the Hitlerite forces in their own lair in Berlin in May 1945. 

I have no idea of the artist of this mosaic – it’s certainly not Frolov, he would have been trapped in Leningrad when the decision was made to create this celebratory work of art and it’s so very different in style from his other designs in the station.

The design is on two planes. In the foreground we have the Russian Red Army. In the centre, coming straight at the viewer, with its gun barrel pointing at you, is an almost life-size depiction of a tank.This is quite probably one of the many versions of a T-34 tank – the most produced and most successful tank of the Second World War (although the drivers gun should be on the right hand side at the front). However, this tank is not in fighting action, more as part of a celebratory parade as the central figure of three who is standing on top of the tank is saluting.

Presumably he’s the tank commander and on his right, slightly behind, is another tank crew member, wearing the classic Russian ribbed tank helmet. In his hands he holds a gun of some kind (a little indistinct) and he is looking over to his right. Below him, and on the cowling over the right hand caterpillar track, is another soldier behind a heavy, wheeled, machine gun. This is probably a PM M1910 Maxim Machine Gun. (This weapon seems to have had an even greater longevity that the AK47 Assault Rifle – having been produced first in 1910 and versions reported to have been seen in the Ukraine in 2017.)

To the left of the commander is another soldier, facing forward and probably not from the crew, who has the butt of his long rifle – with bayonet attached – resting on the cowling over the tracks of the tank. He’s wearing a greatcoat and has the straps of a dispatch pouch, which rests on his left hip, across his chest. It’s possible to make out a star on the front of his fur hat. To his left is another soldier, kneeling with one knee on the cowling of the tracks, and in his hand he holds a tommy gun – the circular ammunition magazine clearly seen. He also has a star on his hat.

On either side of the principal tank are two other tanks with their gun barrels fanning out. Here we move away from the idea of a celebratory parade and get the impression that these weapons are ready to cover all areas in defence of their city and State capital. There are no people seen on these defensive tanks.

And what they are defending is the city of Moscow. Whereas the tanks and soldiers were in yellow and brownish stone the city itself, in the background, is constructed of gradations of green stone. We know it’s Moscow as three of the iconic towers of the Kremlin are shown with their distinctive red stars. Those stars, lit up at night, still shine to this day. During Soviet times the ‘Hammer and Sickle’ was attached to the stars but unfortunately they have been removed now. The other towers in the image have flags flying from their summits.

Kremlin Star with Hammer and Sickle

Kremlin Star with Hammer and Sickle

In the centre of this representation of Moscow is a strange figure. Merging into the buildings is the upper torso of what looks like a warrior from the 16th century as we have a mustachioed and heavily bearded face and he wears a Turban helmet on his head. Although no hand is visible a large spear is on his left side, the point extending as high as the stars on the Kremlin towers. To make matters even more strange this figure is saluting, mirroring the action of the (smaller) tank commander below.

I can only guess who this is supposed to be. My suggestion is that this is a representation of Tsar Ivan IV ‘The Terrible’. He fits into the time scale and he had a relationship with Moscow (as ‘Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533-1547, before he became Tsar and it was in this period that the St Basil’s Cathedral – the multi coloured, domed building at the end of Red Square – was built). But why he should make an appearance in a celebration of a victory by revolutionary workers and peasants I don’t know.

Ceiling mural

Ceiling mural

If many of the thousands of travellers who pass through this station don’t notice ‘The Defence of Moscow’ mosaic before jumping on to the escalator down to the platform even fewer will be aware of the large ceiling mural that covers most of the area above the vestibule. 

It is a circular design with a sun effect, offset from the centre, which has lines radiating out in all directions. Cupping underneath the sun is the arc of a huge sickle which is made up by different red coloured, parallel sheaves of grain, the staggered heads creating the serrated effect found in most representations of the peasantry in the Soviet emblem. The handle of the sickle is made up of a combination of a maize cob, some more sheaves of corn (flowering) and a sunflower head.

Passing underneath the sickle, close to the handle, and also in red is a large hammer – the representation of the proletariat. This is a geometric presentation of industry with symbols for electricity (the zigzag design and a couple of insulators), coal mining (a couple of underground trucks), girders, cogs and diagrammatic representations of different machinery.    

Just above the ‘sun’ and close to the edge of the main design is a large red, five-pointed star – the symbol of Communism. If we go clockwise from that star we come across different aspects of Soviet society, related to work, leisure and science, all in a simple, basic (even primitive) style.

First there’s an oval sports stadium. from inside this structure a very tall flag pole emerges and it flies a flag with the letters ‘CCCP’ (USSR). Below the stadium is another symbol I haven’t yet been able to work out.

Continuing around next are a couple of male football players, tackling each other for the ball just in front of a goal mouth, part of the net is shown in blue. Below the lower player there are three flowers in front of what might be the outline of a building.

The other side of the handle of the sickle is a large building which might be a school or a Palace of Culture – it’s certainly not anything to do with industry. The building has a large main entrance with steps coming up from street level. There are clouds in the blue sky and to the left of the building there’s a tall tree, and below that are a couple of smaller shrubs. Scattered around the grass in front of the building are numerous flowers. In the bottom corner of this sector is a mask, a common symbol used to denote theatre in general so whether this is suggesting that the building is a theatre or reinforcing the idea of the arts I’m not sure.

The next segments introduce the world of work and industry, more specifically the production of automobiles – which gives the present name to the station. I can’t work out exactly what is happening in the first bit but it seems to me all part of the production line process. The first man seems to be moving things on the line and in the second segment two men are moving a completed internal combustion engine on to a chassis. Next we have a man and a woman beside a milling machine. He seems to be holding a piece of paper in his hand, perhaps the design specifications for the piece of work she is about to create. She is on the point of putting on safety goggles indicating that she is the skilled person to be doing the work – again an example of how advanced the Soviet Union was (even in its Revisionist stage) in moving towards equality between the workers – not perfect but at least heading in the right direction.

That’s the scene inside the factory the next image is of the exterior of the factory, with its smoking chimneys, the smoke being blown in the wind.

The story then moves on to scientific advances. A male is sitting at a what looks like an early computer control console. In his left hand he holds a board, perhaps with data he’s inputting or a series of instructions. This might be a reference to the nuclear industry as the next symbol is one of those for nuclear energy, with three protons circling around a neutron. On the edge of the circle is a meter so this could well be a Geiger-counter.

Finally, as we come almost full circle, we come to the exploration of space. Following the curve of the circle we have the trail of the launch of a rocket (in red). This trail bisects the atmosphere between that of space and the Earth’s. In the darkness of space we see a satellite and crossing between the two we see a capsule returning to Earth, with its parachute deployed to slow it down in the heavier atmosphere. In the background are the stars.

There’s little text in this image but what is there declares the aims of Socialism; CBOБOДA (Liberty), PABEHCTBO (Equality), БPATCTBO (Fraternity) and CУACTЪЮ (Happiness). Also on some of the red lines that swirl around the space around the design can be seen the word MЍP (Peace).

It’s difficult to date exactly this design. It looks to have been heavily influenced by the designs of the likes of Andrey Gulobev and Daria Preobrazhenskaya, who both worked in textiles, in the early 1930s. Looking at the state of the technology I would guess at the late 1970s. The Moscow Summer Olympics took place in 1980 and with the messages in the text it would make sense that this, relatively new addition to the decoration of the station, was created in readiness for this event with many foreign visitors using the Metro.  

Avtozavodskaya station plaque

Avtozavodskaya station plaque

In many of the older and impressive stations there will be a plaque giving information about when the station was opened and who was involved in the construction. These plaques are normally found at the bottom of the escalators to the platforms.

In Avtozavodskaya we know it opened on January 1st 1943 and that it had a name change – as stated at the beginning. Also the architects were Alexey Dushkin and N Knyazev. Dushkin (24th  December 1904 – 8th October 1977) also worked on Kropotkinskaya (1935), Ploshchad Revolyutsii (1938), Mayakovskaya (1938) and Novoslobodskaya (1952) as well as the Red Gates Administrative Building (1953) – one of what are known as ‘The Seven Sisters’, the huge buildings which sour into the sky in the centre of Moscow which were built after the war. I’ve not been able to find out anything about Knyazev.

The mosaics were created by a V Frolov. I think this must be Vladimir Alexandrovich Frolov (1874, St. Petersburg – 1942, Leningrad) as he is the only Frolov mosaic artist I have identified. If this is the case then he would have died (of starvation in the 872 day Siege of Leningrad during the Great Patriotic War) before the work was completed. This would be possible as plans for the construction and the decoration would have been made long before the actual opening of the station. Whether he ever saw any of his designs in actuality is unlikely but it’s almost certain he never saw the completed art work.

When I first started to investigate the history of the Moscow Metro I thought that all of the early stations were built well underground. That’s not the case. Why I don’t know – as yet. Especially as this station would have served the workers of an important armaments factory.

Depth: 11 metres (36ft)

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