New Myth, New World: From Nietzsche to Stalinism

Article excerpt

Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal. New Myth, New World: From Nietzsche to Stalinism. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2002. 464 pp. $45.00, hardcover.

Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal's latest book is the summation of numerous scholars' research into the influence of Nietzschean philosophy on Russian and Soviet cultural development. Rosenthal has been at the forefront of this research, editing both Nietzsche in Russia (Princeton University Press, 1986) and Nietzsche and Soviet Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1994). She has now published a book that is significant not only for its erudition and scholarship, but for its comprehensive nature. New Myth, New World: From Nietzsche to Stalinism is interdisciplinary in its approach and spans a wide range of cultural, intellectual, social and political developments. Rosenthal states: "This book is not a history of twentieth-century Russian culture, nor does it coverall aspects of Nietzsche's influence. Its focus is on the trail of Nietzschean ideas that began in the 189Os and ended in the 1930s" (p. 25). Rosenthal, in this quote, seems to diminish her own achievements as the book does much more than trace ideas, it provides a very convincing paradigm through which to view Soviet discourse.

New Myth, New World is divided into four sections. section one is concerned with the russification of Nietzsche (1890-1917). Special attention is given to the Symbolists, Russian philosophers (Berdiaev, Frank, Shestov and Florensky), Marxists (Bogdanov and Lunacharsky), and the Futurists (theories on The New Man). Rosenthal argues that Nietzschean philosophy was absorbed into all of these movements, especially in their desire to engage with Dionysian elements in order to create a new culture and society.

Section two deals with the fusion of Marx, Engels and Nietzsche into political ideology by Lenin, Bukharin and Trotsky. Rosenthal then examines the dissemination of this political philosophy during the Civil War via cultural groups such as the Scythians, Futurists, Proltekult, and the Christians (Ivanov, Florensky, Berdiaev and Merezhkovsky). During this period ( 1917-1921 ) a type of utopianism emerged which favoured collectivism, a willingness to create a new man and with him a new society.

Section three is concerned with the NEP period ( 1921 -1927). It was in these years that the Party elite began to foster a class-based morality, supporting Bolshevik myth-creation and the Cult of Lenin. The New Soviet Man and a proletarian morality is propagated by the avant-garde in such a way as to formalize an official artistic aesthetic of the "heroic" and the "monumental," which remains influential throughout the mid-1930s.

Stalin is the focus of section four (1928-1953). The Cultural Revolution brings about a psychological transformation in which destruction of the old world ushers in the construction of a new society. Dionysian frenzy leads to a new rigid Apollonian order.

Socialist Realism is viewed within the context of the Stalinist myth-creation and helps to fashion the Stalin Cult, as a realization of the Will to Power.

The Epilogue examines the re-emergence of Nietzsche (although he never really disappeared) in official discourse and the creation of a new cycle of myth-making following Stalin's death. …