Alexey Gastev

One of my favorite blogs, Languagehat.com, writes today about Alexey Gastev (Proletkult, Uchraspred, D-503). He quotes Richard Pipes who quotes Gastev and suggests that "this nightmare, in which one Western historian perceives a "vision of hope," provided material for Evgenii Zamiatin's anti-utopian novel, We":

The psychology of the proletariat is strikingly standardized by the mechanization not only of motions, but also of everyday thinking. . . . This quality lends the proletarian psychology its striking anonymity, which makes it possible to designate the separate proletarian entity as A, B, C, or as 325, 075, and 0, et cetera. . . . This signifies that in the proletarian psychology, from one end of the world to the other, there flow powerful psychological currents, for which, as it were, there exists no longer a million heads but a single global head. In the future this tendency will, imperceptibly, render impossible individual thinking.

Gastev's TsIT (Central Institute of Time) prepared recommendations on the scientific organization of labour for the Soviet factories and offices. Lenin used to have one of their reference cards pinned on the wall. In 1924, TsIT organized a commercial company, "Ustanovka", which allowed the institute to function without the financial aid from the state. They taught workers, engineers and officials to organize their time, to optimize production lines and conveyors. More than 500,000 people became students at TsIT's courses.

In 1928, Alexey Gorky visited TsIT and was so deeply impressed by the what he saw and heard that he embraced Gastev and said: "I can see now why you have left literature. It's worth it." Gastev's poetry was often called "the hymn to the heavy industry." Some of his verses have something in common with Walt Whitman: "The concrete is the idea of our working construction. Fed by the feat and the death, I work." Or this one: "I walk everywhere with my hammer, my chisel, my drill -- across the world. I step across borders, continents, oceans. I make the whole globe my motherland."

His best known poetic books, written in the period of Proletkult, are "The poetry of the workers' strike" and "A pack of orders". I don't know if these verses were ever translated into English, so here are two my lame attempts.

Order 04

Prisms of buildings.
Pack of twenty blocks.
Put it under the press.
Flatten it to a parallelogram.
Squeeze it to 30 degrees.
Remake the block-tank
into a worm-gear.
Diagonal movement.
Cut the streets without a shudder.
One thousand calories more for the workers.

Let's erect monuments

To the AMOEBA — who gave us reaction.
To the DOG — the greatest friend who calls us to the excercise.
To the MONKEY — the hurricane of live movement.
To the HAND — the miraculous intuition of will and construction.
To the SAVAGE — and his stone strike.
To the TOOL — as the banner of the will.
To the MACHINE — the teacher of precision and speed.

Gastev was arrested in 1938 and died either in 1938 or in 1941.

More verses by A.Gastev in Russian.

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