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Communist district. I talked to the people there a number of times,” recalled
a young middle-class youth.24 What Nazi campaigners endeavored to realize
was the myth of the trenches, in which soldiers from a variety of social back-
grounds allegedly discovered their common German being, or the experience
of the Weimar era Werkstudent, the impoverished middle-class students who
spent summers working in factories and living among workers.25 This folksy

“The Story of a Farmer,” in Theodore Abel, The Nazi Movement: Why Hitler Came to Power

(New York: Atherton Press, 1966), 289.
Peter H. Merkl, Political Violence under the Swastika: 581 Early Nazis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton

University Press, 1975), 53.
Rudolf Kahn, folder 31, box 1, Theodore Abel Papers, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford,

CA. See also Fritz Junghanss, folder 526, box 7, Theodore Abel Papers, Hoover Institution
Archives, Stanford, CA.
Merkl, Political Violence, 132.

Friedrich Kurz, “Meine Erlebnisse in der Kampfzeit,” 25 Dec. 1936, Bundesarchiv, NS26/529.

“The Story of a Middle-Class Youth,” in Abel, Nazi Movement, 269.

In his Michael: A Novel, trans. J. Neugroschel (New York: Amok Press, 1987), Goebbels

thematizes the work student. See also Michael Kater, “The Work Student: A Socio-Economic
Phenomenon of Early Weimar Germany,” Journal of Contemporary History 10 (1975): 71“94.
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 313

evidence is undoubtedly sentimentalized, but it indicates the value placed on
cross-class experiences in narratives of political awakening.
The journey of political discovery in the service of a larger, national collective
was usually not explained in racial terms, or only vaguely so. Indeed, one of the
challenges that Nazi revolutionaries and their sympathizers faced when Hitler
came to power in 1933 was to learn how to think racially, to act in racially
desirable ways, and thus to become a complete Nazi and an identi¬able Aryan.
Nonetheless, the political journey in the 1920s was accompanied by an open-
ness to the fact that there were harsh new lessons that had to be followed if the
collective good of the nation was to be secured; this epistemological openness
before 1933 prepared the ground for the acceptance of a racialized worldview
after 1933. The prevalent physiognomical practices of the Weimar era derived
from the endeavor to get at the true workings of things. “It was as if one can see
the epoch standing in front of the mirror searching for its face,” write Claudia
Schmolders and Sander L. Gilman: “Left and Right, the political elite sought, if
even in vain, for the singular character or the true portrait,” whether it was of
Bolshevism, the century, or Germans themselves.26 Scholars have emphasized
the ways in which physiognomic typologies added up to a defensive maneuver
to give knowable contours to a “society in disarray.”27 But the proliferation
of physiognomic readings should also be regarded as an effort to reclassify, to
retrieve, and to reach beneath the surface or behind appearances in order to
¬nd a new order and a new subjectivity. The “new visuality” (die neue Schau),
in the words of the racial scholar E. Guenther Grundel, pierced through the
insubstantial illusions of the present order to reveal thresholds to another place,
new, “the new historical acting subject [Aktionseinheit] at the very threshold of
a new era.” Although Grundel took note of an emerging racial selfhood, con-
ceptions of “social biology” and “racial hygiene” remained inde¬nite. What
was consequential, however, was the general acknowledgment that the fate
of the nation depended on the recognition of the true or deep dynamics of
history. An emphasis on depth and “vertical thinking” underscored just how
incomplete Germany™s journey to political self-determination remained; how
indebted it was to visual, physiognomical expertise; and how heavy the labor
involved in transforming the self to serve the new collective needed to be.28
In Germany as well as in Russia, the New Man was deployed amid intense
engagement with history. Yet the respective understandings of what actually
constituted history differed. Russian, later Soviet, ideologues exuded a striking
con¬dence in the laws of history, which, they knew, animated their revolution-
ary project. They did not waste time probing the surface for possible alternative
meanings, but impatiently proceeded to bring the new world into being. Their

Claudia Schmolders and Sander L. Gilman, eds., Gesichter der Weimarer Republik: Eine phys-

iognomische Kulturgeschichte (Cologne: DuMont, 2000), 8
Frame, 3.

Grundel, Die Sendung der jungen Generation: Versuch einer umfassenden revolutionaren Sin-

ndeutung der Krise (Munich: Beck, 1932), 305, 327.
Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck

task was to eliminate the developmental gap that separated backward Russia
from more advanced industrialized countries, to “catch up and overtake” the
bourgeois West. In Germany, by contrast, these very certainties had been under
modernist attack since the turn of the century, and their remnants were shat-
tered in the trenches of the Great War. Temporally, Germany was under way
to new shores in the wake of the war, while contemporary Russia continued to
move on a linear axis of developmental time rooted in the Enlightenment tra-
dition. These different trajectories account for the different shapes of the new
man in both systems. Russian ideologues, who placed all their belief in the
salvational potential of history, were keen on molding citizens into historical
agents who likewise understood the laws of history and acted on their behalf.
Hence the orientation toward individuals™ “consciousness,” their “souls,” as
the decisive realm in which the new man became manifest. In Germany, on the
other hand, the realization that historical certainties had been broken made
it necessary to arm the nation and individuals against the vagaries of modern
time, a time in which history itself had become delinquent. It was in this dan-
ger zone of unprecedented anxiety and possibility that German thinking and
acting about the new man developed. It invoked ideals of physical strength,
alertness, and a ruthless disposition which were to shield the German nation
against frightful processes of erosion and degeneration.
The Soviet regime that came to power in 1917 declared the revolution to
be the watershed of world history. The revolution was to mark, in Marxist
parlance, the end of mankind™s prehistory and the beginning of real humanity.
This was of course a self-created myth, which glossed over the fact that the New
Man as a concept preexisted 1917, and that most Soviet projects to implement
this program were based on preexisting designs. Nevertheless the revolution
was a turning point in a political sense: it brought to power a movement which
was de¬ned by its commitment to produce an “improved edition of mankind”
(Trotsky). In this process, Marxist ideology, the script of humanity™s rebellion
and self-becoming, turned into a statewide prescription for political action.
Thus 1917 was a watershed, not in an empirical sense of producing actual new
people, but conceptually, as a marker in historical time. As such the revolution
was a real point of origin for a regime committed to transforming the world,
and to transforming it according to scienti¬cally measurable laws of historical
progress. The Bolshevik state preached a utilitarian morality that legitimated,
and in fact demanded, the forcible removal of obstinate remnants of old life,
in order to clear the path for the emergence of the new. In the atmosphere of
the Civil War, the calls by leading Bolsheviks to “knock out the teeth from old
traditions” or to “punch” every “burzhui in the mug” (Bukharin) who insulted
Soviet power were bound to be read in more than just metaphorical ways.29 As
Bukharin™s words suggested, much of the Bolshevik regime™s organized violence
was directed against the “bourgeoisie,” a label that could target anyone who

Both quotations from Bukharin, cited by Gerd Koenen, Utopie der Sauberung: Was war der

Kommunismus? (Berlin: A. Fast, 1998), 129“30.
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 315

hailed not from workers or poor peasants or was occupationally tied to tsarist
era political, economic, or social structures. In Germany, by contrast, the effort
was directed at racial reclamation in the name of the Volk, rather than a clearing
of debris in order to move forward.
The ¬rst decade of Soviet rule was rich in thinking and experimenting with
the New Man. This experimental phase was de¬ned by the search for an
idealized proletarian subject. Most contemporary visions of the New Man in
one form or another incorporated proletarian attributes. Especially prevalent
were notions of the machine man. Proletarian poets Vladimir Kirillov, Mikhail
Gerasimov, and Aleksei Gastev poeticized the factory and heralded a new
type of proletarian superman, an “iron messiah,” who had blended with his
machines, “an iron demon of the age with a human soul / with nerves like steel /
with muscles like rails.”30 These visions of a machine man only super¬cially
resembled Ernst Junger™s armored worker-soldier who appeared at roughly the
same time. The proletarian™s metal skin was not meant to shield him against
his unpredictable environment. Rather it expressed an exuberant vision of a
fully industrialized world that produced human beings in its own mechanized
image. Underlying these visions was a materialist assumption, deriving from
Marxism and later behavioralism, that man™s nature was entirely conditioned
by an environment toward which he merely reacted. This premise meant that
technological ¬xes could solve social problems. The metal purity and rhythmic
discipline of the technological age would mold disorganized human individuals
into a gigantic collective machine; in turn, the collective machine-man would
educate the chaotic physiological apparati of every individual worker. The
machine man was especially the domain of Proletkul™t, an organization inspired
by Bogdanov and dedicated to the creation of a distinctly proletarian culture to
buttress the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once in place, proletarian culture
would bring about a spiritual revolution, renewing the consciousness of the
working class. Before being outmaneuvered by the Communist Party, which
feared for its hegemony, Proletkul™t numbered over half a million workers.31
One of the most radical and in¬‚uential proponents of Proletkul™t, Aleksei
Gastev, created a “Central Institute of Labor” in which he conducted research
on the ability of rhythmic and mechanically precise labor processes in the fac-
tory to “educate” the muscles and nerves of the proletariat.32 Gastev™s teachings

Cited by Rosenthal, 159; see also Rolf Hellebust, Flesh to Metal: Soviet Literature and the

Alchemy of Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003); Mark Steinberg, Proletar-
ian Imagination: Self, Modernity, and the Sacred in Russia, 1910“1925 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 2002).
Rosenthal, 156; Lynn Mally, Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary

Russia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
Toby Clark, “The ˜New Man™s™ Body: A Motif in Early Soviet Culture,” in Art of the Soviets:

Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in a One-Party State, 1917“1992, eds. M. Cullerne Bown
and B. Taylor (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), 37; Vladislav Todorov, Red
Square, Black Square: Organon for Revolutionary Imagination (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1995), 69“70; Stefan Plaggenborg, Revolutionskultur: Menschenbilder und
Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck

were far reaching: by 1938 more than 1 million workers had received training
in his institute and its branches. The founder of Proletkul™t, Bogdanov, exper-
imented with, and eventually died from, transfusions of ¬ltered blood among
workers to create a communal proletarian body “ a literal attempt to substanti-
ate the notion of an enlarged laboring self that he and other “Godbuilders” had
advocated before the revolution. Beyond Proletkul™t, other Soviet activists con-
ceived of ideal humanity in mechanical and technological terms. They included
the theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold and the “biomechanical” training he
devised for his actors, and the ¬lmmaker Dziga Vertov, who dreamed of a “per-
fect electric man”33 “ an individual whose soul was no longer subject to chaotic
and ineffectual psychological impulses but functioned with the directed energy
and precision of machines: “We bring people into closer kinship with machines,
we foster new people. The New Man, free of unwieldiness and clumsiness, will
have the light, precise movements of machines.”34
The sense that, if left to itself, human psychology was chaotic or passive and
therefore required rational intervention in order to be activated and directed
was shared by all revolutionary actors at the time and applies equally to Nazi
Germany and the Soviet Union. A similar consensus also applied to the disdain
Vertov expressed for “contemporary man,” his “inability to control himself,”
and “the bungling citizen™s” alternating states of “disorderly haste” and pas-
siveness.35 Existing man comprised “old human material” that was in need of
rebuilding, which was the socialist construction project.36 In this regard, Ver-
tov™s contemporary man was not so different from the racial types that ideolo-
gists of the Third Reich such as Walter Gross and Heinrich Himmler inherited
in 1933. They too had mismanaged their selves, although in the German case it
was a question of bodies and marriages and racial lineages. Without the racial
discipline of the National Socialist state and the self-discipline it sought to
inculcate, Germany was doomed. The way ahead was to transform old bodies
into new through state regulation and, more importantly, race consciousness

kulturelle Praxis in Sowjetrussland zwischen Oktoberrevolution und Stalinismus (Cologne:
Bohlau, 1998), 35“45.
This expression was coined by the ¬lmmaker Dziga Vertov. Members of the Soviet avant garde

literally related individuals™ social consciousness to electricity, regarding weak consciousness
as an effect of low-voltage activity in the body. They advocated communal housing, so-called
“social condensers,” as catalysts of attaining a high-voltage current in individuals™ bodies and
the social body as a whole. See Katerina Clark, Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 251.
From the manifesto, “The New Man” (1922), in Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov, ed.

Annette Michelson and trans. Kevin O™Brien (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984),

“Lenin i vospitanie novogo cheloveka,” Revoliutsiia i kul™tura, no. 1 (1928): 5“10, here 5.

Even the pedagogue Anton Makarenko, who saw himself working in the tradition of Gorky
and his concept of the human personality, deplored the absence of a “science of human raw
material” which would enable him to distinguish “precious raw material” from “junk.” See
Anton Makarenko, Pedagogicheskaia poema (Moscow: Khudozh. literatura, 1964).
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 317

on the part of individuals. But a rejection of liberalism, and of the chaos of
a purely individual point of view that accompanied it, was common to both
construction projects.
Yet inside the Soviet Union these mechanicist conceptions of man were
increasingly criticized for their inability to account for the human soul as
a hearth of individual consciousness. Indeed Gastev militated for a “rad-
ically objective demonstration of things, of mechanized human masses,


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