Friday, 17 February 2012

The naive optimism of the past

Being a socialist with an eye for Soviet design - typography, art, architecture - you won't be surprised that I have this poster on my walls:

I must take a proper picture. It's Russian, and celebrates 20 years of Russian space exploration since Gagarin's flight. It's a beautiful example of the romanticism which imbued both Russian and American discourse about space, despite the fact that both programs were almost exclusively military in design and intention. 

Here are a few more Russian space posters, intended to persuade the Russian people that - despite archaic industrial infrastructure and barely being able to feed the population properly - Soviet Communism was capable of cutting-edge technology. 

Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!

Socialism is our launching pad

In the name of peace

We were born to make the fairy tale come true!

Sons of October - Pioneers of the Universe!

No doubt American space propaganda fulfils similar requirements, though it probably isn't so neo-romantic: capitalist hegemony was rarely ideologically explicit, perhaps because its Western population rarely starved or got sent to gulags. 

I'm no Soviet Communist: as far as I can see, the USSR failed in the early 1920s when a mix of Russian Nationalism, anti-semitism, other forms of racism and authoritarianism set in. I'm much more sympathetic to some variations of Trotskyism and syndicalism, in which the state withers away as workers collectives behave altruistically. However, I do believe in strong states as the only way a population can collectively determine policy and distribution of goods and services: not very romantic, but serviceable. 

For a syndicalist take on science fiction, I highly recommend techno-utopian Ken MacLeod's series of novels, many positing the colonisation of space by Scottish workers' co-operatives. What might have been…

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