Comintern Aesthetics

Steven Lee | English | University of Toronto Press, 2020

Founded by Vladimir Lenin in 1919 to instigate a world revolution, the Comintern advanced not just the proletarian struggle but also a wide variety of radical causes, including those against imperialism and racism in settings as varied as Ireland, India, the United States, and China. Notoriously, and from the organization’s outset, these causes grew ever more subservient to Soviet state interest and Stalinist centralization. Comintern Aesthetics shows how the cultural and political networks emerging from the Comintern have continued, even after its demise in 1943. Tracking these networks through a multiplicity of artistic forms geared towards advancing a common, liberated humanity, this volume captures the failure of a Soviet-centered world revolution, but also its enduring allure in the present.

The sixteen chapters in this edited volume examine cultural and revolutionary circuits that once connected Moscow to China, Southeast Asia, India, the Near East, Eastern Europe, Germany, Spain, and the Americas. The Soviet Union of the interwar years provided a template for the convergence of party politics and cultural history, but the volume traces how this template was adapted and reworked around the world. By emphasizing the shared, Soviet routes of these far-flung circuits, Comintern Aesthetics recaptures a long-lost moment in which cultures could not only transform perception, but also highlight alternatives to capitalism, namely, an anti-colonial world imaginary foregrounding race, class, and gender equality.