In the past 3 years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Russian town of Bor twice. Described by Lonely Planet as an ‘unattractive settlement’, Bor is primarily known for its glass factory and sweeping views over the mid Volga region. Best reached by cablecar from the eminently more interesting Nizhny Novgorod, Bor appears to have little to offer the tourist. Yet, if you can stomach the 10 minute walk through the rows of Khrushchyovka apartment blocks from the cablecar station, there is more to be found. Quite literally rising from the dust, Bor’s central square is home to a stellar example of Socialist realist sculpture. Portraying workers, women and soldiers alike, the might of the Soviet system is forever captured in forged iron and bronze.
Bor’s victory statue, however, portrays much more than just the wartime triumph of the Soviet people. As with many similar monuments found across the former USSR, the realism betrays not history, but ideology. In the strikingly moulded bodies, weapons and tools of those gargantuan figures there is projected onto the minds of the observer an ode to something beyond. Despite the harsh realism, the otherworldliness is remarkable.
This is, of course, that which Aleksandr Zinovyev satirically described as Homo Sovieticus: the idealised Soviet man, a ‘superman’, as Trotsky put it. Exemplified by figures such as the champion coal miner Alexey Stakhanov, the New Soviet Man was to be what Trotsky described as a ‘higher social biological type’ in the civic evolution of mankind. Both physically and mentally, the exertion and austerity of this figure was to be a triumph over his base instincts, reforming himself in perfect sociobiological harmony. This is the striking reality made physical through metal and concrete in town squares across the former Soviet Union.
However, this phenomenon is not unique to the USSR. The notion of a ‘New Man’ is ubiquitous to most totalitarian regimes in one way or another. The Nazis, for example, relied heavily on Nieztschean ideas of the Übermensch to shape their Neuordnung, or New Order. In Fascist Italy, the mould of brutality, barbarity and anti-Romanticism in contemporary understandings of a New Man is clear.
Fundamentally, the New Man program is one of political redemption. It is, as Trotsky argued, the raising of mankind to that higher social biological type. Whether in the Soviet Union or Fascist Europe, the respective transformations of individuals are united in the desire to overstep base humanity to a goal of ideological perfection. Much like the monuments’ alloy, it is the melting and recasting of the individual man into a state sanctioned mould.
In Marxist terms, this manifests itself as a radical hostility to any biological understanding of man. Such appears a truism, for the emphasis on the explicitly social regeneration and rebirth of the human is to deny any biological essentialism. If we are to argue, as most would, that the diverse tapestry of human existence is a varied picture, the feasibility of the Homo Sovieticus becomes somewhat difficult.
In any society, there will always be intelligent people, there will always be unintelligent people. There will always be beautiful people, there will always be ugly people. There will always be strong people, and there will always be weak people. This is a fact of life, and we cannot place value judgements on it.
The ease, then, with which these base traits may be overcome and conquered is an unclear picture. The attempt of Eurasian totalitarianism to transplant the subjective onto the objective appears an impossible task. This difficulty is amplified further still at a meta level, that is to say in terms of human moral existence. To spend only 10 minutes on Earth would teach you that humans are lustful, slothful, violent, avaricious beasts. At our core, this is who we are; everything that Marxist theory says we are not!
The great religions of modernity know this, and shift the idea of redemption and transformation to a posthumous sphere. The consistent emphasis on life after death in Abrahamic faiths is an implicit acknowledgment of what it means to be human. It is a concession of incompatibility between the utopian ideals of religion and our physical existence. Only after this life can such utopian revolution occur.
This is why the notion of a New Man, and particularly a New Soviet Man, is so interesting. It exposes quite plainly the fundamental misanthropy of Marxist theory. The anti-essentialist shift to make eschatological truths immanent is, fundamentally, counter-propositional to who we are.
To attempt to bring such utopian ideals into the worldly sphere is to secularise the previously untouchable truths of religion. To immanetise eschatology is also to immanetise posthumous judgement.
I would argue this accounts for much of the rapacity that has come to define Leftist regimes. It is a manifestation of cosmic disappointment. First and foremost, it is disappointment that humans are quite different to the idealised, anti-essentialist portrait painted in works of political philosophy. They are not, as Mao famously proclaimed, ‘blank sheets of paper’, onto which anything could be inscribed.
It is here that judgement is secularised. With the absence of any conception of afterlife or divine punishment, there is no otherworldly wriggle room to excuse that which we actually are. This explains the Gulag, the prison camps, and the secret police that come to form the grand systems of control that exemplify regimes of a Leftist ilk.
In other words, they are manifestations of the realisation that the organic New Soviet Man, for example, is utter fantasy. It is only through extreme violence, oppression and control that there can be any hope of forcing this circle through the square hole.
This social rapacity is also reflected in ideological terms, specifically in the course of dialectical materialism. The never ending, violent struggle of conflicting ideas forced together into contradiction and eventual synthesis is a reflection of this cosmic disappointment. It is the constant movement beyond, the radical need for progress and development and destruction of all that came before. It is constant ideological demolition in service of a truth that can never be quite realised.
We can almost hear the ideologues of the Soviet Union cry out in anguish: ‘If only man were blocks of alloy and concrete!’
Yet, it is the idea of dialectic which is more apt in the present. Of course, Leftism in the 21st Century is devoid of the Gulag, prison camps and secret police — at least in conventional terms. What it has managed to retain, however, is the brutality of the dialectical progress that defines classical Marxism, again towards goals that are either undefined or acutely misanthropic.
We only need to look at the development of certain lobbies in the past two decades to see this. The existence of woke ‘cancel culture’ shows the Left still takes no prisoners in the struggle towards ideological perfection. In the grand Twitter narrative of oppression and intersectionality, the ruthless drive towards radical inclusivity has heralded the e-death of many public figures.
With the ideological goalposts of modern dialectic being ever changed by the woke intellectual class, even those on the conventional Left are cast aside. Whether J.K Rowling, Germaine Greer, Jonathan Ross, or Ricky Gervais, the list is extensive and ever expanding. Unable to keep up with the pace of the modern identarian dialectic, they are exiled to the Twitter Gulag.
With no discernible goal other than the smashing of social norms through perpetual progress, the boundaries are forever pushed at the expense of those who can’t conform. There is no room for the afterlife or greater truths, progress must be had now, at all costs.
So what does the New New Soviet Man look like? I won’t attempt to describe, but will instead leave this task to the imagination of the reader. I suspect we are thinking similar things.
As comedic as this might seem, the points of continuity are clear. Although the modern Left are no longer concerned about mining quotas, agricultural cycles or 5 year plans, they have retained the misanthropy, the (virtual) Gulag, and the fundamentalist progressivism. This is the danger of immanetised eschatology, the attempt to change who and what we are without allowing for exactly that.
We live not in an age of Homo Sovieticus, but instead Homo Unproblematicus. See you in the Gulag!