Rodchenko, Physical Culture and the Soviet Darwinian Body in the 1930s
After the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks embarked on an extensive campaign to encourage the Soviet population to engage with physical culture and sport. Initially focused on the nascent Red Army, the propagandising of physical culture rapidly developed into a nexus for a complex web of discourses, not just about ensuring Soviet military strength, but also about public health; ideological soundness; women’s emancipation; eugenics; and increased industrial and procreational productivity. Two significant threads linking these discourses appear to have been, on the one hand, the crypto-Lamarckian heritage of nineteenth-century Russian Darwinism, and on the other hand, the interlinked belief that the Revolution would call forth a new genus of humanity – the so-called ‘New Person’. Within Soviet visual culture from 1917 onwards there were countless different representations of the ideal Soviet Darwinian body – both male and female - produced in response to the contingent demands of shifting political contexts. This paper concentrates on images of women in a few of Aleksandr Rodchenko’s photographs of Soviet sports parades from the mid- to late 1930s, and explores some of the ways in which the pictures related to the above mentioned mesh of discourses, as nuanced by the post-1934 requirements of Socialist Realism and Rodchenko’s notion of photographic truthfulness. Ultimately, the paper proposes that the images may be seen as both confirmations of the ongoing evolutionary process, and alluring, aspirational exhortations for Soviet women to self-evolutionise into a maternally focused version of the prophesised ‘New Person’.