Jonathan Meades’ show last night on Stalin and Architecture was so annoying. It promised to be a welcome exposition on a often-derided subject that’s generally dismissed glibly in one fell swoop.

But that’s not what we got. It was astonishly poor. He needed to pan it out with increasingly polemical references to Stalin and the nature of dictatorship, but if I wanted 6th form denunciations of totalitarianism, I’d have watched Bill O’Reilly. By all means remind us of the grim reality of life in Stalin’s Russia, but reminding us again and again? We know. Stalin bad man. Killing bad. Repression bad. Now, those buildings…

There was also a laughable attempt to ascribe something to the Russian ‘Bolshie’ character. He said that the Germans were, well, much more compliant people (scratch a libertarian and I’ll show you a vanilla right-winger happy to generalise about nations and ‘races’ who’s read Hayek and has a posh accent), he posited that there was a link to some historical essence of non-compliant Russian-ness which is why we use the word Bolshie. Eh? As opposed to an English word for being a bit uppity that equates being an agitator with being a Commie.

He kept referring to the impossibility of being an architect under Stalin; Stalin’s desire for a style defined by the bourgeois or imperialist styles it would not be rather than any conscious idea. These were good points, but I wish he’d done some research and perhaps identified a particular building and showing us how the bureaucracy and the whims of the apparatchiks of varying ranks interfered with the design and building process leading to the weird thing we see now. Instead, he did just do a few jump cuts set to music. And reminded us that Stalin was BAD. And that Jonathan Meades is so very, very, good.

* Apologies to the 1991-2 editorial team of SCAN, Lancaster University’s student newspaper, for use of their headline.

The Brown Wedge