Russia was all set to build its first subway by the turn of the 20th century, but a revolution and a world war put plans on hold until Stalin got his first five-year plan underway in 1928. It would take five years of enforced industrialization just to provide the materials for the initial stages of the Moscow Metro and Stalin wasn’t planning to do it on the cheap.
It was the largest venture in Social Realism that Stalin had attempted. Taking a page from Nikolai Chernyshevsky, described as “Lenin’s favorite nihilist,’ Stalin decided that riding a subway could glorify not only the Communist Party, but also its glorious leader. It was Chernyshevsky who declared that “art is no use unless it serves politics” and every station on that first line served Stalin and the Party.
First, the decor was lavish, proving that sacrifices made for the motherland were well worth it. Second, all the architecture and decorative detail were designed to draw the eye upwards, as toward the sun – and the sun of the Party was Stalin.
That made the lighting of particular importance and the torches, chandeliers and lamps were made of the newest, most efficient materials, which often meant aluminum.
So what tourists usually described as impressive and beautiful were actually carefully thought out exercises in propaganda, not for visitors but for the masses.
On May 15, 1935, the first line opened – it is the red diagonal on the map, the Sokolnicheskaya Line. The fare was one kopeck, about a penny.
Today, about 7 million of Moscow’s 11 and a half million residents ride the Metro daily. It is the second most heavily used subway system in the world – only Tokyo is busier.