Untitled text (“Cubism Destroys the Idea of the Object”) by Kazimir Malevich

circa 1918. Translated by Frank Goodwin or Irina Menchova.

Untitled, undated. “Kubizm, razrushitel idei veshch”. Formerly Nikolai Khardzhiev Archives, Moscow-Amsterdam, now Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, RGALI, Moscow. Inventory number 9.10. K.S. Malevich 832. The emphasis on the non-objective forces of Suprematism and on the Suprematist “construction” would suggest that the text is of 1918, the time during which Malevich was painting such canvases. He says in this text that it is a “report” but to whom he does not say. The frequent references to the “technicum”, a school of vocational training, further suggests that this text is of 1918, the year during which Malevich was active in a government plan to set up a People’s Academy of Art in Moscow, an “art technicum”. He could, then, have been addressing the planning committee.

Cubism destroys the idea of the object. The disappearance of the subject frees the artist and the world; it enters the non-objectivity of action, removes the cover of the arts, liberates itself from the State, Religion and the Church, which will no longer teach us to illustrate painting. Essentially, liberation from a thing, as from consciousness of the object, is a sign of man’s proximity to nature. Nature has no subjects; there is none in the human technicum, either. The consciousness of the object exists in the artist and we designate all bodies as objects (a collective); and yet on the same basis, we differentiate between those bodies. A simple act of self-structuring exists, an act that copies nothing, imitates nothing. Like a pure act of forces, a river flows with the goal of creating, not imitating objects, but the utilitarian consciousness turns such an act into objects, instruments, and means. Thus man now sees only the utilitarian in everything and continues to reason further in this way; but, nevertheless, the means, instruments and objects themselves remain essentially non-objective, for in their eternal finiteness they cannot attain their goal.

I have touched upon Cubism and wish to demonstrate that, in culture, its painting reached the highest development both in the consistency of painterly material and in the construction of curved and straight [forms], surfaces, volumes, etc.. How is purely natural art substantiated? By those same curved and straight forms, surfaces and volumes, the same symmetry and asymmetry of contrasts, the balance of a non-objective body; a body, moreover, in which the human tentacles of specialists grope about for doors to the discovery of useful objects, albeit in vain. Nature moves by way of a non-objective path, as does the entire objective technicum. Of course, man is free to sit himself on a motor car and even learn to direct its force towards some kind of goal, but this cannot accommodate its pure force, man has not adapted himself. The force remains pure and any attempt to accommodate it merely impedes: it was and will be non-objective. The painting of Cubism is the same pure force into which nothing objective has been introduced. Its construction develops extraordinarily fast and as soon as it reveals the river within, I presume that someone will start to launch boats. Thus the whole non-objectivity of Cubism and Futurism has continued to evolve and the idea of Suprematism is already achieving a vivid form of the non-objective. The moment of usefulness is approaching and that is our business, but defending the purity of non-objective quality is not the primary issue of my present report. In the Suprematist construction, however, we see that action occurs as a natural, non-objective form, that growth occurs without calculations. Here experience is living and natural, not literate or bookish, and without resorting to the engineer, man will probably come to a construction through the painterly passage and will develop his own inner painterly technicum. The latest and greatest technicum is the most economical one, free, creative, and vast. Only in this kind of technicum can all humanity take equal part without difficulty, for it will create, but not copy or imitate.

The painterly idea begins to crystallise as soon as the objective world begins to disappear in painterly movement, right down to pure Suprematist non-objectivity. The latter is the extremely crucial point of the manifestation. At this moment various solutions present themselves to the working individual. A multitude of questions arise and, like red hot fires, raise a powerful flame, and the excited organism can cast the mould of a completely unresolved question, thus adapting the non-objective to an objective appearance. Studying the non-objective manifestation of painterly essence, I have ascertained that its consciousness moves by way of nature’s natural movement, that the idea of painting conceals within itself a universal Suprematia, an essential non-objectivity. At the same time it encourages man to reveal his creative work to a greater extent through the incarnation of this idea or to manifest what exists eternally in the eternity of form and within the life of various progressive conditions. Objectivity is a manifestation of man’s experience and scientific order, while non-objectivity is a cosmic, natural condition. In its non-objectivity the painterly idea withdraws towards the former. Herein lies the question of the new culture of man, for he is entering a new consciousness of being as a unity of the universe’s cosmic manifestation, the only difference being that all his manifestations within the latter must occur in an unconscious movement towards non-objective forms. This is why we should be careful of the manifestation of non-objective forms. Many may imagine that in attaining or creating non-objectivity endlessly there can be no life, for the objective world will disappear, the goal will disappear, usefulness will disappear, etc.. However nature herself – the entire universe – is also non-objective, aimless, inexpedient, and yet still comprises life. Somehow or other, both construct and build the world.

In the beginning there was only one technicum of the objective, but now a new one of painterly objective Suprematism is advancing through art. A struggle for the culture of man has ensued, a battle for the non-objective or the objective. Throughout this struggle, throughout these demonstrations, many misunderstandings and obscurities will arise in this new non-objective science and so, then resolving this or that question about the non-objective, we should always look closely at all the possibilities. Misunderstandings about the non-objective have already accrued because painterly essence emerged from constructivity, i.e., it arrived at the general constructive art of constructions. It came to rely on the technicum of objective consciousness. Still, that does not mean that objective forms should be constructed according to an objective law.

Image: Suprematist Composition: White on White by Kazimir Malevich, 1917-18

“The return of all, or even the majority of the nations which are today oppressed, to independence would only be possible if the existence of small states in the era of capitalism had any chances or hopes for the future. Besides, the big-power economy and politics – a condition of survival for the capitalist states – turn the politically independent, formally equal, small European states into mutes on the European stage and more often into scapegoats. Can one speak with any seriousness of the “self-determination” of peoples which are formally independent, such as Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Rumanians, the Serbs, the Greeks, and, as far as that goes, even the Swiss, whose very independence is the product of the political struggles and diplomatic game of the “Concert of Europe”? From this point of view, the idea of insuring all “nations” the possibility of self-determination is equivalent to reverting from Great-Capitalist development to the small medieval states, far earlier than the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.”

– Rosa Luxemburg, “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” from The National Question, 1909

Image: The German Peasants’ War by Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, 1932

Paul Kirchhoff and the Grupo de Trabajadores Marxistas de Mexico (GTM)

Paul Kirchhoff (1900-1972), alias “Eiffel”

“Politically isolated, the International Communist Left only had a real existence in two countries. It was thus with great surprise that in June 1937, it received from far-away Mexico — where it had never had any contacts — a leaflet denouncing the massacre in Barcelona in May. Signed by the Grupo de Trabajadores Marxistas de Mexico, it was in compete harmony with the positions of Bilan and Prometeo. It attacked the Cardenas government which had been the most ardent supporter of the Spanish Popular Front and had sent arms to the Republicans. This government aid, camouflaged under a “false workerism”, had contributed to the massacre of our “brothers in Spain”. It warned that “the defeat suffered by the workers in Spain must not be repeated in Mexico”. The Mexican workers thus had to fight for “an independent class party”, against the Popular Front and for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only “the struggle against the demagogy of the government, alliance with the peasants and the struggle for the proletarian revolution in Mexico under the banner of a new communist party” would “guarantee our victory and be the best aid we can give to our brothers in Spain”.

Like the Italian and Belgian Lefts, it called on the workers of Spain to break with the Socialists, Stalinists, anarchists, all of whom were “in the service of the bourgeoisie” and to “turn the imperialist war into a civil war”, through the fraternisation of armies and the constitution of a “Soviet Spain” (1).

Such a convergence of positions undoubtedly showed that the Marxist Workers Group (MWG) was well acquainted with the orientation of the Italian Left.

A few weeks later, the Italian and Belgian Left – but also Union Communiste – received a circular from this group about the campaign of slander waged against it by the Trotskyst group in Mexico, the Liga Comunista (2). The militants of the MWG were denounced in IV Internacional as “agents of the GPU” and “agents of fascism”. In a country where the Mexican CP and the police did not hesitate to resort to assassination, this denunciation was to put these militants into the gravest danger – militants who undeniably defended the cause of the proletariat with the greatest firmness and energy, whatever one‘s view of their political positions. The August issue of IV Internacional contained the most serious accusations:

… the individuals cited, or rather the provocateur Kirchoff (sic), called for not supporting the Spanish workers under the pretext that to demand more arms and munitions for the antifascist militias is to …support the bourgeoisie and imperialism. For these people, who cover themselves with an ultra-leftist mask, the sum total of Marxism consists in the abandonment of the trenches by the workers at the Front. In this way the German and his instruments Garza and Daniel Ayala reveal themselves as agents of fascism, whether consciously or unconsciously – it matters little, given the consequences.

Bilan and Communisme sent an open letter to the Centre for the IVth International and to the Trotskyst PSR in Belgium, demanding clarification. This letter received no reply. It showed that this denunciation was at toot political, and that the methods of Trotsky and his followers were curiously redolent of those of Stalinism. Bilan concluded that:

It has been clearly established that it was above all because these comrades have adopted an internationalist position analogous to the one proclaimed by Marxists during the 1914-18 that they have been denounced as provocateurs and agents of fascism.

Bilan no. 44, Oct.-Nov. 1937

In fact, the militants cited by the Trotskyst organisation were not all unknown figures. And for good reason Garza and Daniel Ayala had come out of the “Liga Communista Internacional” in Mexico. They had broken with it because of its support for the progressive character of the nationalisations carried out by the Cardenas government, its support for the Spanish Republican government, and its attitude in the Sino-Japanese war in which it took the site of the Chinese government.

As for the provocateur “Kirchoff” — who was known under the pseudonym Eiffel and whose real name was Paul Kirchhoff — he was also not unknown to the revolutionary movement. The one whom the Liga Comunista Internacional called “the German”, the “agent of Hitler”, had since 1920 been a militant of the German Communist Left. A member of the KAPD since its foundation – and also of the sinter organisation of the KAPD, the AAU, in Berlin — he participated in the work of this current until 1931. An ethnologist by profession, he left Germany for the USA that year. From 1931 to 1934, he was a member of the IKD in exile, also of the Latin American Department of the International Left Opposition. In September 1934, he was one of the 4 members (out of 7) of the leadership of the IKD in exile who rejected the policy on entrism into social democracy and who described this policy as “complete ideological capitulation to the IInd International”. Having broken with Trotsky, he was until 1937 (3) a member of the political bureau of Oehler‘s Revolutionary Workers League. Expelled from the US, he hat to take refuge in Mexico. In contact with the RWL, which he represented vis-à-vis the Trotskyst Liga Comunista Internacional, he defended the positions of the Italian Left as a minority within that group. On the events in Spain, he presented a motion proclaiming the failure of the RWL: “The events in Spain have put every organisation to the test; we have to admit that we have not passed this test. Having said this, our first duty is to study the origins of this failure.” The Eiffel motion, like that of the LCI minority, clearly implied a split:

The war in Spain began as a civil war, but was rapidly transformed into an imperialist war. The whole strategy of the world and Spanish bourgeoisie has consisted in carrying out this transformation without changing appearances and letting the workers think they were still fighting for their class interests. Our organisation has kept up this illusion and supported the Spanish and world Bourgeoisie by saying: The working class in Spain must march with the Popular Front against Franco, but must prepare to turn its guns on Caballero tomorrow.

L‘Internationale no. 33, 18/12/37, “La RWL et ses positions politiques”

Having broken with the RWL, Eiffel and a small group of workers and former Trotskyst militants formed themselves into an independent political group. In September 1938 they published the first issue of Comunismo, which had two and possibly three issues before disappearing in the whirlpool of the world war.

If the MWG had been formed in Europe, it would probably have been linked organisationally with the International Communist Left. Geographical isolation contemned the small Mexican group to live by itself in the most total isolation, in a country dominated by the ideology of and-imperialism and the workerist nationalism of Cardenas. In order to survive, Comunismo kept in written contact with the Italian and Belgian Fractions. It recognised that it was “the work of there two groups which had inspired its effort to create a communist nucleus in Mexico”. “Stimulated by this international support and by the letters sent us by the Italian and Belgian comrades”, the militants of the MWG, like them, proposed to make a critical balance sheet of the Communist International, in order to create “solid bases for the future communist party of Mexico”.

In the theoretical and political domain, the Mexican communist left showed great boldness, going resolutely against the stream in a country where any group situating itself on an internationalist terrain was open to the most serious threats. Unlike the Stalinists ant Trotskyists, Comunismo defined the oil nationalisations in Mexico as reactionary “in the imperialist phase of capitalism” where “there cannot be any progressive measures on the part of decomposing capitalist society and its official representative: the capitalist state”. The strengthening of this state could only have one goal: to save the global property of the national capitalism within the context of imperialist decadence, and to protect it against its workers and peasants. Furthermore, the nationalisation of oil did not put an end to the domination of foreign imperialism. By going against British interests, Cardenas had merely strengthened the grip of the USA on the Mexican state.

Taking up the thesis of Rosa Luxemburg, the MWG rejected any defence of national liberation struggles. “Even in the oppressed counties”, the workers have no fatherland or national interest to defend. “One of the fundamental principles which has to guide our whole tactic on the national question”, Comunismo continued, “is and patriotism… whoever proposes a new tactic which goes against this principle abandons the ranks of Marxism and goes over to the enemy”.

The positions of the MWG seemed to the Italian Left like “rays of light” coming from a distant country in the worst conditions of existence. They demonstrated that the positions it defended were not merely products of its own imagination, but of a whole movement of the communist left which went beyond the restricted boundaries of Europe.”

The “Bordigist” Current, 1912-1952: Italy, France, Belgium, USA by Philippe Bourrinet, pages 207-212

  1. La masacre de Barcelona: una lección para los trabajadores de Mexico, Mexico, DF, mayo de 1937, Apartado postal 9018.
  2. Grupo de trabajadores marxistas: ―a las organizaciones obreras del país y del extranjera‖. This text retraced the itinerary of the militants of the group, and denounced the «campaign of slanders» by the Liga Comunista Internacional and the PCM (Mexican Communist Party). It explained the positions of the MWG on Spain and the Sino-Japanese war.
  3. On the political itinerary of Paul Kirchhoff (1900-72), cf. apart from the above text, the passages in the Oeuvres (Works) of Trotsky, vols. 4 and 6, EDI, Paris. His positions in the RWL appear in L‘Internationale no. 33, 18/12/37.

“Though economically weak the Spanish bourgeoisie had not been deprived of its repressive apparatus. While Franco led the military attack, the Republican bourgeoisie manoeuvred in the most consummate manner in order to disarm the workers ideologically “by the judicial legalisation of the arming of the workers” and the incorporation of the militias into the state. But it was above all the POUM and the CNT which played the decisive role in enrolling the workers for the Front. The two organisations ordered an end to the general strike without having played any part in unleashing it. The strength of the bourgeoisie was expressed not so much by Franco, but by the existence of an extreme Left able to demobilise the Spanish proletariat.

When the capitalist attack was unleashed by Franco‘s uprising, neither the POUM nor the CNT dreamed of calling the workers into the streets…

Through its slogan of a return to work, the POUM clearly expressed the turning point in the situation and the bourgeoisie‘s manoeuvre of putting an end to the general strike, then by issuing decrees to avoid a workers reaction and finally, by pushing the workers out of the towns towards the siege of Zaragossa.

Bilan no. 36, Oct.-Nov. 1936, “La Leçon des événements d‘Espagne”

Certainly, as Bilan recognised, at the end of July, the regular republican army had been “practically dissolved”, but thanks to there two parties and the Stalinist PSUC “it was gradually reconstituted with the columns of militiamen whose general staff remained clearly bourgeois…”

Finally, Bilan added, the power of the Republican state was definitely consolidated on 2 August, when the Catalonia Generalidad decided “to call several classes to arms”. The civil war between bourgeoisie and proletariat became a plain war between rival bourgeois factions, under the leadership of the coalition Republican government supported by the Poumists and the anarchists.”

– Philippe Bourrinet summarizing Bilan’s analysis of the Spanish civil war in The “Bordigist” Current, 1912-1952: Italy, France, Belgium, USA

Image: Stalingrad by Asger Jorn, 1972

“Left-Right, Republic-Monarchy, supporting the left and the Republic against the right in view of the Proletarian revolution, these are the choices and positions defended by the different currents acting within the working class. But the real choice is elsewhere and consists in the opposition between capitalism and the proletariat, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in order to crush the proletariat, or the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to erect a bastion of the world revolution for the suppression of states and classes.”

– commenting on the situation in pre-civil-war Spain, from “L‘écrasement du proletariat espagnol,” Bilan number 12, October 1934