Painting Utopia

"In Praise of Communism" by Ronald Paris in the DDR Museum

By DDR Museum

The Work and Its Creator

In 1969/70, Ronald Paris painted his piece In Praise of Communism for the conference hall of the House of Statistics in East Berlin. Bertolt Brecht described this work as “simplicity that is difficult to make.” For the artist, this meant commitment to utopia and criticism of the existing system. 

Ronald Paris at the reveiling of "In Praise of Communism" at the DDR MuseumDDR Museum

The Moon

The silver disk of the full moon symbolizes the coldness of the exploitative society. In the middle of the triptych, the sun of revolution rises, shining over humanity on the right-hand side. The metaphor of the light of the socialist utopia permeates the work.

Slaves

Reminiscent of the gloomy atmosphere of a mine, where workers, like slaves in ancient times, toil unclothed for the wealth of their masters. There is nothing yet to indicate that the slave army will one day rise.

Bread and Water

The exploited workers receive only a meager meal: dry bread, a jug of water or wine, and a herring. Even so, there is a clean white cloth laid over the table, evoking thoughts of the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples.

The Teacher of the Masses

Although the figure is barefoot, the colorful suit does not make him appear proletarian at all; rather a prophet bringing the good news of salvation to the poor. He is pointing to a couple, who are absorbed in a book.

Brecht’s Didactic Poem

The eponymous poem by Bertolt Brecht from the play The Mother, based on Maxim Gorky's novel of the same name, is integrated into the fresco. This element is reminiscent of the religious art of the Middle Ages which often shows Bible passages or other short explanatory quotations.

The Resigned Couple

There is a second couple next to the pair who are reading: one of them is sleeping, while the other is keeping his eyes closed and covering his ears. They do not want to know anything about the working class’s struggle for freedom. The theme is reminiscent of the etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1799) by Francisco de Goya.

Karl Liebknecht

A blood-red sun rises. It hangs over Karl Liebknecht, as he was known in photos that were ubiquitous throughout the German Democratic Republic. The cofounder of the Communist Party was murdered along with Rosa Luxemburg in January 1919, and then became a martyr.

Demonstration

Two police officials wearing the military headgear customary in the 1920s, the shako, have taken hold of a demonstrator. A gentleman in a coat and hat is observing the scene. He may be a member of the secret police, or simply a citizen.

Danse Macabre

The painter draws upon the medieval motif of the Danse Macabre. The powerful people of the world form a colorful circle striding towards the Last Judgement, led by Death. The upside-down dancers include birdmen and an angel.

The Bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie is represented as an evil and decadent family. A shark-headed man wearing a black, white, and red sash and his wife, with a broad dolphin snout, are drinking champagne. Their young daughter is waiting for a husband in a well-behaved and modest manner, while their son is dreaming of future wars.

Hellhounds

Two dogs with claws and their teeth bared are on guard, like Cerberus at the entrance to Hades in Greek mythology. With their repellent ugliness, they symbolize fascism and war. Their breath and dripping saliva are a deadly poison.

The Power of the Workers

The revolutionary worker has put the hellhounds in their place with the barrel of a gun. The revolutionary who is wearing an ammunition belt is at the center of the composition. He is evocative of Saint George, the dragon slayer of Christian legends.

Revolutionary Traditions

Behind the worker, a fighter in the Red Cavalry Army from the Russian Civil War and a revolutionary sailor in the People's Navy Division from the German November Revolution of 1918 can be seen, along with other figures who could be interpreted as fighters against fascism.

Utopia

Socialism has triumphed. People are stretching their tired limbs after the years of gloominess. Children are playing and learning, an engineer is holding up a model aeroplane, others are designing a future project with a compass. Life is blossoming under the bright sun.

The Painter and His Model

The artist is sitting in front of his easel. But who is the model? According to one interpretation, it was Professor Robert Havemann. Like the painter, he was a convinced communist and simultaneously a staunch critic of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) system.

In Praise of Communism by Ronald ParisDDR Museum

Times of Upheaval

Less than 1,000 feet away from In Praise of Communism, hundreds of thousands took to the streets around Alexanderplatz in November 1989 to demonstrate peacefully for change. A few days later, the Berlin Wall fell and the borders of the GDR were opened.

Demonstration of the Peaceful Revolution on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin by Berliner ZeitungDDR Museum

A New Country Is Born

Only a few months later, on October 3, 1990, Germany was united, confirming the end of the socialist GDR. Communism as a form of government on German soil remained a utopian ideal.

Bild newspaper special edition at the day of Germany's reunificiation "Good Morning Germany" by Bild ZeitungDDR Museum

The Fate of the Fresco

When the House of Statistics was set for demolition in 2010, the mural was at risk of being destroyed.

The original place of "In Praise of Communism" at the Haus der Statistik in BerlinDDR Museum

A New Home

The DDR Museum rescued the painting, transported the 36-feet long work of art, and had it restored. Since then, the fresco has found a new home within the DDR Museum.  

Ronald Paris at the reveiling of "In Praise of Communism" at the DDR MuseumDDR Museum

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