A Perfume Called ‘The Decline of the West’

In an anecdote found in Maria Gough’s The Artist as Producer Ilya Ehrenburg remarks that such was the popularity of Oswald Spengler’s theory of the decline of European civilization in 1920s Russian intellectual circles ‘that even a fragrance called ‘Decline of the West’ appeared on the market.’


Lenin commented on the Spengler fad:

The old bourgeois and imperialist Europe, which was accustomed to look upon itself as the centre of the universe, rotted and burst like a putrid ulcer in the first imperialist holocaust [i.e. First World War]. No matter how the Spenglers and all the enlightened philistines, who are capable of admiring (or even studying) Spengler, may lament it, this decline of the old Europe is but an episode in the history of the downfall of the world bourgeoisie, oversatiated by imperialist rapine and the oppression of the majority of the world’s population.

— V.I. Lenin, ‘On the Tenth Anniversary of Pravda’, 5 May 1922



Soviet Perfume Seller c.1920s

Seems the putrid stench emanating from the West needed to be counteracted by an invention of new scents — Henri Brocard, the owner of the largest Russ­ian fac­tory of pomades, per­fumes and soaps before the Rev­o­lu­tion; had cre­ated the per­fume ‘The Empress’s Favourite Bou­quet’. When in 1917 his fac­tory was nation­alised and renamed into the ‘Zamoskvoret­skiy Soap Fac­tory No 5’, the per­fume was renamed ‘Red Moscow’. From an article on ‘The Scent of Communism’


Red Moscow Perfume

Yet, this was but a change of brand not the end of the product, the full emancipation of the senses will not be achieved through private property, but its abolition:


Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it – when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., – in short, when it is used by us. Although private property itself again conceives all these direct realisations of possession only as means of life, and the life which they serve as means is the life of private property – labour and conversion into capital.

In the place of all physical and mental senses there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses, the sense of having. The human being had to be reduced to this absolute poverty in order that he might yield his inner wealth to the outer world.

The abolition [Aufhebung] of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and qualities […]

— Karl Marx, ‘Private Property and Communism‘, From the 1844 Manuscripts. (My emphasis).


About anti

Anthony Iles is currently a doctoral candidate at the School of Art & Design, Middlesex University. A founder member of the Full Unemployment Cinema. A contributing editor with Mute / Metamute since 2005. He is the author, with Josephine Berry-Slater, of the book, No Room to Move: Art and the Regenerate City (Mute Books, London 2011), contributing editor to the recent publications, Anguish Language: writing and crisis (Archive Books, Berlin, 2015), and Look at Hazards, Look at Losses (Mute/Kuda, 2017) and a contributor to Brave New Work: A Reader on Harun Farocki’s Film A New Product. Recent essays have been published in Mute, Radical Philosophy, Rab-Rab: Journal for Political and Formal Inquiries in Art and Logos.
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