THE MOSCOW METRO: A WOLFSONIAN COMMEMORATION OF A SUBTERRANEAN PALACE OF THE PEOPLE

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Eighty years ago, the workers of the Soviet Union completed the first section of the Moscow Metro, a subway system considered to be one of Russia’s greatest achievements of the twentieth century.

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The metro was just one of Comrade Stalin’s ambitious plans intended to drag Russia into the industrial age and to demonstrate the technological capabilities of the new Socialist state even as the capitalist countries were seemingly paralyzed in the wake of the Great Depression.

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The Moscow Metro became such a source of pride for the Soviet State that a line of cups and saucers and other porcelain were decorated with images of the stations.

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Lazar Moiseyevich Kaganovich (1893-1991), an important Communist functionary and close associate of Joseph Stalin, was responsible for implementing many of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policies and rapid industrialization projects in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Moscow Metro.

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Kaganovich’s forced agrarian collectivization policies and imposition of draconian grain expropriations on the kulaks (or peasant farmers) triggered the politically motivated and catastrophic 1932-1933 famine-genocide in the Ukraine.

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CHICAGO AMERICAN, COURTESY OF FORUM 54 (SPRING 1983)

When Kaganovich was placed in charge of the Moscow Metro project, he first had to import British engineers with the technological know-how and experience drawn from working on the London Underground.

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The profoundly paranoid Soviet leader, Comrade Stalin, however, considered the British experts to be “spies” and had them arrested, condemned in show trials, and expelled from the country in 1933. But many of the foreigners’ engineering designs, construction plans, proposed routes, and even recommendations to use escalators rather than elevators were integrated into the final project.

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Kaganovich personally oversaw the work on the Moscow Metro, along with project managers Ivan Kuznetsov (and later Isaac Y. Segal).

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The Moscow Metro first opened for service in May 1935, with tunnels that originally stretched some 11 kilometers long underground and the 13 stations which connected Sokolniki to Okhotny Ryad, and extended out to Park Kultury and Smolenskaya.

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The metro was intended not only to be a technological wonder, but to “wow” the world by making the stations in the tunnels into underground “palaces of the people.”

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Some of the most renowned architects and artists in the country were put to work designing the pavilion entrances and the marbled interiors of the underground stations, many of them adorned with mosaics.

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A second section was opened up in March 1938, with stations decorated in a Socialist Realist version of the Art Deco style popular in this period.

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A third stage of construction was delayed (but not completely halted) by the Second World War. During the siege of Moscow in the fall and winter of 1941, the Metro Stations (like their London Underground counterparts) also served as air-raid shelters.

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Thanks to a donation by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, The Wolfsonian now possesses some original drawings by Polish artist Feliks Topolski (1908-1989) of the Russian people taking shelter in the tunnels.

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GIFTS OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

~ by "The Chief" on June 3, 2015.

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