Inside the Moscow Metro

"All Moscow is Building the Metro"
“All Moscow is Building the Metro”

Of all the colossal construction projects (stroiki) undertaken during the 1930s arguably none was more celebrated and successful than the Moscow Metro. True, the project was a mass of confusion that fell behind schedule and went over budget while squandering natural resources and human lives, but what else would one expect from the civilization of Stalinism?

The opening of the Metro’s first line in 1935 was heralded by state propagandists as a major achievement of Soviet socialism. To a considerable extent, it was. The Metro introduced a new, modern form of transportation to the USSR; it facilitated the movement of people around the rapidly expanding capital; and it helped transform Moscow from a sprawling and confused nineteenth-century village into a sprawling and confused twentieth-century urban metropolis.

The Metro’s earliest stations (located deep beneath the capital city’s central districts) were visually stunning architectural and artistic ensembles. Designed to inspire wonderment and awe in the minds of commuters they were bedecked with bas-reliefs, statues, stained glass, and large mosaics depicting the unity of workers and peasants, the vigilance of Red Army soldiers, and the industrial triumphs of socialism, among other standard Stalinist tropes. Each functioned as a propagandistic set-piece advertising the Party’s power while providing citizens with constant displays of iconic cultural forms.

The well-ordered and rational Metro was a testament to the Soviet leaders’ faith in the transfigurative power of technology. One contemporary writer went so far as to proclaim the Metro’s subterranean structure a new “System of Copernicus:” the hub around which the capital of emerging Soviet civilization (and, in time, the world) would gravitate.