2008 | 62 | 2(281) | 154-175
Article title

THE EVOLUTION OF SOVIET MASS-SCALE SPECTACLES (FROM 1917 TO THE 1930S) (Ewolucja widowisk masowych w Zwiazku Radzieckim (od roku 1917 do lat 30))

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The point of departure are the differentiated and contradictory sources of the phenomenon of Soviet mass-scale spectacles On the one hand, the latter referred to the concept of the 'masses' which, according to its class interpretation, represent predominantly the proletariat, and in certain versions - exclusively the proletariat from highly industrialised factories and large cities. On the other hand, mass-scale spectacles emerged from pre-revolutionary idealistic conceptions of the renascence of culture via the rejection of individualism and a return to primary sources focused on the commune. These notions, inspired by views expounded by Nietzsche, were propagated and developed in Russia by Viacheslav Ivanov, the idea of 'bogostroitelstvo', which combined Marxism and religion (Lunacharsky, Alexandr Bogdanov, et al.) and the idea of 'sobornost', stemming from the Russian Orthodox movement and represented by, i. a. Nikolai Berdyaev. The first post-revolutionary years featured two discernible and mutually hostile tendencies in culture: the project of objectifying the proletariat, expressed in the idea of the 'mass-scale theatre', and, on the other hand, the 'theatre for the masses', according to which the masses were treated as an object and passive recipients, and art - as a tool of ideological indoctrination. The first project was developed chiefly upon the basis of the Proletcult. In a suitable sub-chapter the authoress recalls the polemic between Lenin and Proletcult ideologues, with special emphasis on the inner contradictions both within the Proletcult ideology and the stand represented by the Bolshevik party. A depiction of the Proletcult ideology in the domain of the theatre encompasses also its less known aspects, such as the rejection of the copyright 'fetish' (which rendered possible an unrestricted adaptation of the classics) and a new conception of the theatrical company: radical Proletcult theoreticians proposed a total abolition of the function of the director and his replacement by a collective. In the new theatre, as envisioned by Proletcult, the actor was to become the foremost expression of mass-scale and collective principles. The successive sub-chapters discuss assorted forms of the mass-scale theatre: amateur theatricals, the theatre in the armed forces, mass-scale performances (including the most famous Capture of the Winter Palace), communist rituals, political carnivals, as well as marches, parades and demonstrations from the 1930s. Examples of the spectacles and their descriptions come from Soviet texts (1918 - mid-1930s). The authoress brings the reader closer to the political context of the mass-scale spectacles, paying particular attention to the disputes waged by the Bolshevik party and avantgarde artists, and concerning the form of political propaganda and new culture in general. The article's leitmotif concerns the evolution of mass-scale spectacles, from carnivals and theatrical shows based on the idea of activating the masses, to demonstrations and parades, which imposed a certain rigour upon the masses and expressed the might of the Soviet state.
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  • Katarzyna Osinska, Instytut Slawistyki PAN, ul Bartoszewicza 1b/17, 00-337 Warszawa, Poland
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