To Philipp Tolziner

Alice Creischer
publication date: 09.2018

As a Bauhaus student, Philipp Tolziner had been involved in the construction of the Balcony houses at the Törten settlement in Dessau and the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau before he left to the Soviet Union. He survived incarceration in the Usollag labor camp in Solikamsk, near Perm in the Urals. He never left the Soviet Union, working in the Urals and later in Moscow on housing projects. With precarious means Tolziner copied and reproduced files, added authors, titles, years, and inventory numbers to his personal archive, creating a private Bauhaus archive in his Moscow flat. In 1996, he donated his archive to the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, where it is stored in the same way it was organized by Tolziner in Moscow. With a new sculptural installation Alice Creischer references Philipp Tolziner’s early training as a wicker furniture maker, intimates the architect’s Bauhaus experience, and, through a series of texts that extend from the work, explores his proximity to communist ideals and his architectural responses.



I believe I belonged to a new type of Bauhaus student who already had vocational training. I, for example, was a trained wicker furniture maker who had considerable work and life experience… We had all experienced World War I, from war fever to the November Revolution. I witnessed the Munich Soviet Republic and its overthrow, and also the first wave of National Socialism in Munich.

(Philipp Tolziner: “Mit Hannes Meyer am Bauhaus in der Sowjetunion, Erinnerungen eines ehemaligen Mitglieds der Bauhausbrigade ‘Rotfront’”, lecture at the Bauhaus in Dessau, 1989).

Tolziner’s father was a broom maker.

The three reasons why twigs are made into a broom.

The Bolshevist revolutionaries did not choose the unfavorable conditions under which the revolution was victorious, but they contributed to creating the unfavorable conditions under which the revolution failed. […] It was above all three historical events from which they drew obvious, albeit incorrect, conclusions

a the quashing of the Paris Commune in 1871 (by the Prussians),

б the oppression of the Russian revolution of 1905, and

B the betrayal of the German Social Democrats in 1914 (the approval in the German parliament of war credits against Russia).

While the first two make it comprehensible why the Bolsheviks placed their revolutionary priority on fighting the counterrevolution with the military and the police, the third event explains the intransigency with which they enforced this policy especially against moderate allies.

(Bini Adamczak: Der schönste Tag im Leben des Alexander Berkman, edition assemblage, Münster 2017.)



a Alexander Berkman at the border, Petrograd, 1920

The revolutionary hymn, played by the military Red Band, greeted us as we crossed the frontier. The hurrahs of the red-capped soldiers, mixed with the cheers of the deportees, echoed through the woods, rolling into the distance like a challenge of joy and defiance. […] A strong desire was upon me to kneel down and kiss the ground […]. Never before, not even at the first caress of freedom on that glorious May day, 1906—after fourteen years in the Pennsylvania prison—had I been stirred so profoundly. I longed to embrace humanity, to lay my heart at its feet, to give my life a thousand times to the service of the Social Revolution. It was the most sublime day of my life. (In 1920, Berkman and a group of 249 political prisoners were deported from the United States to Russia.)

(Alexander Berkman: The Bolshevik Myth, New York 1925, cited in Bini Adamczak, op. cit.)

б Wilfried Franks in Dessau, 1929

I arrived after dark and there was this beautiful glass-fronted building, all lit up, with people walking about inside. If you can imagine, a 50-foot-high area of glass with the lights shining through and the steel girders of the construction four feet back from the glass. You can't believe what an experience that was. You would have been as dumb-struck as I was if you had seen it. I had come into a strange country and had endured a horrible stinking train journey, with people talking in a language I didn't understand, and suddenly I had arrived at this wonderful place and wondered, “Where have I come to?”

(“Former Bauhaus student to speak in Sheffield and Liverpool,” World Socialist Website, November 23, 1999,

B Philipp Tolziner in Moscow, February 1931

The train arrived late in the evening. Nobody awaited us at the station, because Hannes Meyer received our telegram only on the next day. The efforts of the lady at the information kiosk to find a hotel room via telephone were futile, and so she let us sleep in her workplace.

(Philipp Tolziner, op. cit.)




Two days later the students told me that there was to be a gathering in the square. They had put up a big platform with banners and everything. They said the fascists were coming, and we must be there to hear what they said and to see what they did. […] Then the speaker came out on the platform. He was the leader of the fascists in the state of Thuringia. I couldn't follow anything he said, but I could see that the people I was with were deeply hurt and frightened by what they heard. When we got back they told me, “On Monday we are going to have a Spiegelfest (festival of mirrors).” Monday arrived, and I got up early, at about seven o'clock, and went into the workshop. All the walls of the workshop were draped with mirrors—big mirrors, little mirrors. There were beer barrels on legs and the drink was free. These people that I had been with, were all “practical idealists,” which means they were fighting for an ideal which could actually be achieved. I knew them as such, and here they were making love in public, and drinking and going to sleep against the wall, they were so drunk. And this went on the whole day long. […] It was intended to be a kind of Bacchanalian feast, and it was that. And to such a degree that I couldn't equate it with what they were, and had been, and all that they had taught me to be.

(Wilfred Franks, op. cit.)



The camp bosses […] first deployed him (Tolziner) as an architect in the public administration, then […] in the project workshop of the main administration in Solikamsk. He designed housing barracks and workshops for the camp, residential buildings for the guards, an officers’ mess, and a villa with a pond and a jetty for the wife of the commander of the camp. Compared with the ordinary prisoners, he enjoyed privileges that increased his chances of survival. […] It was in the interests of the camp administration to protect any specialists among the prisoners, because the Gulags were strictly-led businesses geared to fulfilling production plans. The plan could only be fulfilled through the rational exploitation of the prisoners. […] The communal accommodation consisted of rows of wooden barracks resembling the housing blocks of industrial cities. They were oppressively similar to Schwagenscheidt’s sketch on the theme of the May Brigade’s communal housing, as if a joke had turned into thousand-fold reality.

(Ursula Muscheler: Das rote Bauhaus, Berenberg, Berlin 2016, pp. 124–125.)

We are now faced with the main task, we must provide the workers with housing. […] As regards the type of house, we prefer three- or four-story houses with two-, three-, and four-room apartments. […] Only this year have we begun to any extent to build standard type wooden houses, and occasionally building slabs are now being used … Of course, we must use a lot of reinforced concrete in the long run, and we will have to do so … But there is not sufficient iron and cement.

(L. M. Kaganowitsch: Die sozialistische Rekonstruktion Moskaus und anderer Städte der UDSSR, Hamburg/Berlin 1931, in: Harald Bodenschatz & Christiane Post (eds.): Städtebau im Schatten Stalins. Die internationale Suche nach der sozialistischen Stadt in der Sowjetunion 1929–1935, Berlin 2003, p. 32 (note, p. 83) [Translated from German].)



Housing stock, fulfillment of the 1st Five-Year Plan, 1927/1928–1932/1933

1927/1928: new urban buildings 5.4 million square meters

Goals 1932/1933: 2.5 million square meters

Results 1932/1933: 7.33 million square meters

Each figure = 1 million square meters

1930–1933: 500 factories constructed by the firm Albert Kahn Inc.

1928: 3.12 million industrial workers

1932: 6.01 million industrial workers

Each figure = 1 million workers

Harald Bodenschatz & Christiane Post, op. cit., pp. 93–94.

Coal extraction Soviet Union / German Reich

1929: Soviet Union 41.8 t / German Reich 177 t

1938: Soviet Union 418.6 t / German Reich 186.2 t

Each figure, 40.000 tons

Crude iron extraction Soviet Union / German Reich

1929: Soviet Union 4.3 t / German Reich 15.3 t

1937: Soviet Union 14.5 t / German Reich 16 t

1938: Soviet Union 14.7 t / German Reich 18.6 t

1930: more than 60,000 tractors

1931: 100,000 tractors

1934: 250,000 tractors

Each figure = 10.000 tractors w-stalin-das-jahr-des-grossen-umschwungs-1929/

1929: 1,300 peasant rebellions

Each figure = 100 rebellions

Until the end of 1931: 5 million deported peasants

Each figure = 2 million peasants

1933: 2 million prisoners in Soviet labor camps

Each figure = 0,5 million prisoners

The village reacted to the violent acquisition of grain, which was accompanied by mass arrests of the peasantry and the ruin of their businesses, with rebellions against the rulers. […] throughout 1929 more than 1,300 rebellions were registered across the country. […] This prompted the party leadership to massively reinforce the apparatus of repression in the countryside. Based on more recent data, 2.1 million people (1.8 million registered at destination and 0.3 million who died en route) were deported to remote regions as so-called “special settlers,” and 2–2.5 million, or 400,000–450,000 families, were forcibly resettled in their home region. A further 1–1.25 million, or 200,000–250,000 families, “de-kulakized” themselves. All in all, the war against the village affected 5-6 million people. […] In this context, the labor camp system experienced a great upswing. The prisoner economy was a key feature of the first Five Year Plan. In 1929, penitentiary labor colonies and penitentiary labor camps were established. […] Construction projects in Magnitogorsk, Stalingrad, Chelyabinsk, Moscow, Tambov, Saratov, Perm, and many other cities were carried out with the help of forced laborers from the penitentiary labor colonies. […] The number of prisoners in Soviet labor camps in 1933 has been estimated at 2 million. […] The number of industrial workers increased from 3.12 million (1928) to 6.01 million (1932).

(Harald Bodenschatz & Christiane Post, op. cit.)

In themselves money and commodities are no more capital than are the means of production and of subsistence. They want transforming into capital. […] The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the laborers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labor. […] The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. […] In the history of primitive accumulation, all revolutions are epoch-making […] above all, those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled as free and “unattached” proletarians on the labor-market. The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process. The history of this expropriation, in different countries, assumes different aspects, and runs through its various phases in different orders of succession, and at different periods.

(Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels: Capital, Vol. 1, Part 7,



I came to the conclusion that when designing a farm for kolkhoz peasants […] not only the climatic conditions should be a determining factor but also national customs and other local traditions. Nor did it suffice for the project engineer to deal with them theoretically; it was desirable for him to personally experience them. […] Based on these considerations, I attempted in the summer of 1937 to implement everything at an agricultural collective farm that I was familiar with […]. With the development plan of the peasant farm designed together with the kolkhoz peasants […] I returned to Moscow and worked with Tibor Weiner on the competition project. The […] farms are located in a row from east to west […]. Between the homesteads with roofed living terraces facing west lies the garden, open to the street and adjacent to it, on the north side of the house, its farm section, and behind the garden the grain shed. At the time, the kolkhoz peasants were remunerated for their work mainly with products of their labor, grain and so forth. Therefore, the grain shed of the kolkhoz peasant remained […] the testimony […] of his wealth and was consequently given […] a place of honor.

(Philipp Tolziner, op. cit.)

[…] in the socialist period of history the peasant farm was considered as something inferior […] Hence the old idea of grain and meat factories. It is now clear to us that this view has not so much a logical, as a genetic origin. Socialism was conceived as the antithesis of capitalism; born in the dungeons of the German capitalist factories, nurtured in the minds of an urban proletariat haunted by forced labor, by generations that had lost the habit of any individual creative work or thought […].

(Alexander V. Chayanov (Ivan Kremnev): “The journey of my brother Alexei to the land of peasant Utopia” (1920), in: The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1976, pp. 63–108.)

The land issue was the decisive issue of the Russian revolution. At least if the revolution was supposed to be about the “independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority” (Marx/Engels, The Communist Manifesto). […] While in France 55 percent of the population lived in villages, in Germany 40 and in England 20, it was more than 80 percent in Russia. […] The relationship between city and countryside, between workers and peasants is key to understanding the Russian revolution, as it is to understanding its violent failure. For decades, it was shaped by the option between war communism or capitalism.

(Bini Adamczak, op. cit., pp. 73–77.)

If the Bolsheviks had given back the land of the village community as a collective and simultaneously invested a considerable part of the social accumulation fund in its modernization […] the tax in kind could have been kept at a level on which the village community […] would not had to have ruin itself, while the cities would have been spared from chronic undersupply. […] On a third of the land that had previously been owned by the tsar, for the most part forest, the Bolsheviks could have built modern exemplary plants of collective agriculture […]. The Russian working class, if it had oriented itself toward the needs of the village community whose members made up 90 percent of the population, would have been spared from bureaucratically- organized state monopolism, not to mention the Gulag economy. The Soviet economy could have become reality not only nominally but in a continuation of the Paris Commune […]. It could really have become the hinterland for the revolutions in the West and a signal for the anticolonial peasant revolutions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and not a deadly trap for those who were forced to seek asylum from fascism in the Soviet Union.

(Ulrich Knaudt, in: Bini Adamczak, op. cit., p. 87.)

After 73 years with an open ending, state socialism was finally defeated by state capitalism in the competition for consumption and arms. Capitalism won this game according to its own rules, those of competition. […] Those who had claimed that there is no alternative to liberal capitalism were proven correct. But for other reasons than the ones they assumed. Not because […] the market economy had demonstrated its superiority over a centralized, planned economy, but because up to this moment all historical alternatives had actually disappeared. They were violently driven out of history. […] until time travel is invented, history remains unchangeable […]. That is why we look at the past in both a helpless and a relaxed way […]. The fact that it could have turned out differently, that people could have made other decisions, is, however, also an objection against the present.

(Bini Adamczak, op. cit., pp. 134–135.)

Alice Creischer, “Für Philipp Tolziner” (For Philipp Tolziner), 2018, Concrete, wood, drawings, textile, mugs.

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