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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(2 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 29, 2 May 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

World’s Fair Tale

You have probably seen photographs in the papers of the Soviet pavilion at the New York World’s Fair: a towering monstrosity, streamlined up to an enormous statue of a man in overalls holding aloft, in a Statue-of-Liberty attitude, a large star. The architect is Boris Yofan, most renowned of present-day Soviet architects, who did a similar job for the Paris Exposition, substituting for the man in overalls a pair of muscular young people in shorts.

Yofah also did the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow; whose colonnaded tiers rise up like a huge wedding cake to form a pedestal for a gigantic Statue of Lenin. That there is something esthetically grotesque in a building serving as the pedestal of a statue – and what statues! – this bit of grammar school architectural lore has yet to penetrate the Russian steppes.

At any rate, there is quite a story connected with Yofan’s latest monstrosity. It seems – according to some one who should know – that many months ago a pair of Soviet architects arrived in this country with a plan for a Soviet building at the Fair. This was submitted to the Fair’s architectural board, which, as is the routine, criticised it and suggested certain changes so as to bring it into harmony with the surrounding buildings. The architects went back to Moscow, and no more has been heard over here of either of them.

This winter Yofan and an associate, K.S. Alabian, arrived in New York and presented an entirely different plan. On examining this one, the Fair’s architectural board found that its ground plan was some fifty feet bigger than the space allotted to the building and, furthermore, that its central tower, bearing the workman-and-star, was one hundred and eighty feet high, which was just one hundred feet higher than the top limit which had been set for all governmental buildings at the Fair. The board was, therefore, about to return, the plans with a request for drastic revisions when a wire came from the State Department in Washington.

Its general gist was that the two previous architects had been liquidated because their plan had been criticised, and that it would be much appreciated if the Yofan-Alabian plans could be approved by the board without any major changes. So the board, being kindly fellows, let the tower stand – it is the second highest structure at the Fair, being eclipsed only by the Trylon itself – and, to give room for the extra fifty feet of ground space, moved over three adjoining buildings, one of them being, incidentally, the Japanese pavilion. Yofah returned in triumph to Moscow, where he was fittingly honored. And just before he sailed, he gave to the press an interview in which he made a number of contemptuous remarks about the bourgeois architects of the United States.

Footnote on the Romanovs

“More than 600 volumes of early nineteenth century fiction which came from the Imperial Library at Tsarskoe-Selo have been purchased by the University Library ... The books came from that section of the private library of Nicholas II which was housed in the Alexander Palace. There they must have remained on the shelves, undisturbed by the curiosity of the Emancipator or of his descendants. Otherwise, it is hard to account for their amazingly fresh condition, the completeness of the sets and the fact that many of them are found in the original paper covers just as they were issued.” From The Princeton Alumni Weekly, April 15, 1938.

More Afterthoughts

In my role of unofficial critic and reviewer of S.W.P. demonstrations. I found myself the other night on the campus of the City College of New York, taking in the Yipsels’ anti-war strike. The meeting was held outside one of the college buildings, and attracted perhaps two hundred people. The Stalinized American Students Union, which for good reasons the college authorities “recognize” as the official anti-war student group, held its meeting at the same time, in the Great Hall of the college, with Joseph P. Lash and Heywood Broun as the chief speakers. I poked my nose into the Great Hall long enough to estimate the attendance there at about 1,000. The contrast between these figures is sad, but it reflects no discredit on the Yipsels. They had plenty of banners, red flare lights, and slogans chanted in unison, as well as some excellent speakers. The smallness of the crowd they drew simply reflects the great strides the war spirit has made on our campuses.

There is, however, one criticism I would like to make. In the early part of the meeting, a number of Stalinists stood on the fringes of the crowd and shouted appeals to passing students to go to their meeting. These cries were so loud as to make it hard to hear the speakers. Finally, a few stalwart comrades presented themselves before the disrupters and, without having to actually use force, were able to convince them their place was elsewhere. After that, the meeting went on peacefully. I should say that this should have been done much sooner, and that only such a show of force – however much the danger of breaking up the meeting entirely – will silence such disturbers. I say this realizing quite well, of course, that force – or even the threat of it – is a two-edged weapon at radical meetings.

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