Why go back to the ’twenties? This is the burden of both Logie Barrow and K. P. Mayer, though each approaches the question from a different starting-point. In reply, there are three points worth making.

1. It is quite true, as Logie Barrow points out, that artistic styles can be put to the service of capitalist equally with revolutionary society: the ergonomic, display or agitational styles and techniques developed in Soviet Russia can re-appear in the western world, robbed of their original revolutionary content. The history of styles is different and separate from the history of world-views or, even more important, of revolution and the struggle for socialism. But this does not diminish the interest and importance of the points where these histories meet, when the superstructure, often drifting far away from the base, is suddenly wrenched into contact with it. These are the vital moments in the modern history of art and we should not neglect them or view them merely as contingencies: unless we want to see art as entirely contingent anyway (which Logie Barrow often seems on the verge of saying).

2. Of course, Logie Barrow is right to point out that what is of interest and importance for art history or aesthetics looks rather different from the point of view of the practising artist: the artist (at least the revolutionary artist) in a capitalist society must approach with irony what the art historian can view with equanimity. The ‘twenties in Russia, for the artist, are nothing more than a heroic cenotaph; they are the Paris Commune of aesthetics. But it would be quite wrong, in the name of facing facts, of ‘realism’ to refuse to identify with a Utopianism, which for a brief moment disfigured the bland face of Philistinism.

3. K. P. Mayer is right to point out that Lissitsky was frequently wrong and that Marshall McLuhan says much of value. But the main point is that, for McLuhan, ‘description’ is quite separate from ‘therapy’, and, indeed, he never ventures into discussing therapy at all, but on the whole slides into a tacit acceptance of the inevitable tribal future. Lissitsky, on the other hand, is involved in the dynamism of the whole ongoing process and tries to discover how it can be inflected one way rather than the other: he wants to see how modern techniques can make people think, become more conscious, rather than just unconsciously respond and react. McLuhan consistently tends to equate thought (whether qualified as linear or not) with the old Gutenberg era and empathy, participation, etc, with the new electronic age and to make this equation a necessity, inherent on the media.


The article by Isaac Deutscher was originally delivered as a Trevelyan lecture and is printed here by permission of the Oxford University Press and will be included in a volume to be published by them on June 22under the title of The Unfinished Revolution.

John Berger’s article on Cubism in the last number was printed by permission of Penguin Books and will form part of a book to be published by them entitled Introduction to Modern Art.