Showing posts with label proletarian culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label proletarian culture. Show all posts

Monday, June 04, 2018

When Studs Terkel Spoke Truth To Power In A Sullen World -A Tribute From NPR’s Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source”-Studs Terkel Looks At His Craft

When Studs Terkel Spoke Truth To Power In A Sullen World -A Tribute From NPR’s Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source”

Link to Christopher Lydon's Open Source program on the late "people's  journalist" Studs Terkel 

By Si Lannon

It was probably Studs Terkel via a series of book reviews of his interviews trying to get a feel for the soul of the American from Sam Lowell that I first heard the expression “speaking truth to power.” Spoke that message to a sullen world then. Unfortunately since that time the world had not gotten less sullen. Nor has the need to speak truth to power dissipated since Studs passed from this mortal coil of a world that he did so much to give ear and eye to. The problem, the real problem is that we in America no longer produce that pied piper, that guy who will tell the tale the way it has to be told. Something about those gals and guys who waded through the Great Depression, saw firsthand in the closed South Side Chicago factories that something was desperately wrong with the way society operated and slogged through World War II and didn’t go face down in the post-war dead ass could war night spoke of grit and of a feeling that the gritty would not let you down when the deal went down. When Mister (Peabody, James Crow, Robber Baron you name it) called the bluff and you stood there naked and raw.        

Fellow Chicagoan writer Nelson Algren (he of The Man With The Golden Arm and Walk On The Wild Side) put the kind of gals and guys Studs looked around for in gritty urban sinkhole lyrical form but Studs is the guy who found the gritty unwashed masses to sing of. (It is not surprising that when Algren went into decline, wrote less lucid prose Stud grabbed him by the lapels and did a big time boost on one of his endless radio talks to let a candid world know that they missing a guy who know how to give voice to the voiceless, the people with small voices who are still getting the raw end of the deal, getting fucked over if you really want to nitty-gritty truth to power). So check this show out to see what it was like when writers and journalists went down in the mud to get to the spine of society.     

Click On Title To Link To Studs Terkel’s Web Page.


Studs Reflects On His Craft

The Spectator, Studs Terkel, The New Press, New York, 1999

As is my habit when an author "speaks" to me, I have been running through the oral histories of the mainly average citizens of America collected by the recently departed Studs Terkel, the premier interviewer of his age. When I latch onto a writer I want to delve into I tend to read whatever comes into my hands as I get it rather than systematically or chronologically. Thus, I have just gotten my hands on a copy of Terkel's "The Spectator", a professional actor's memoir of sorts, that goes a long way to filling in some blanks in the life story of one Louis "Studs" Terkel (including information that the nickname "Studs" is from the Chicago trilogy "Studs Lonigan" by James T. Farrell, another author who will be reviewed here in the future).

For those unfamiliar with Terkel's work other than his seemingly endless capacity to interview one and all this little book acts as glue to understanding a life-long commitment to his craft as an actor, his appreciation of those who gave memorable performances, his fantastical recall of such moments in the theater and on film and his creating of a wider audience appreciation for various musically traditions like jazz, folk music and the blues. Nice work.

Studs, like many of the members of his generation, was formed by the hardships and cruelties of the Great Depression that I believe in his oral histories are his special contribution to insights into that period and that is reflected here, as well. That was a time, as today's' current economic and social events seem to copying, where one was forced to get by on wits, cleverness and sheer "guts". Studs himself did odd jobs around the theater trying catch on a performer. But not just any theater and not just any performer. This is the period of the Theater Guild and of WPA which gave cultural workers or those who aspired to such a chance. These early efforts formed the lifelong interest that he has in the theater, playwrights, directors and of the 'tricks of the trade' in order to make the audience "believe" in the performance. I found, personally, his probing and informed interviews with Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams , two of my own favorite playwrights, the most interesting part of a book filled with all kind of interesting tidbits.

For his efforts, then and later, Studs had some success in his career as a performer first in the ubiquitous radio that informed the consciousness of many in the so-called "greatest generation" as a disc jockey and interviewer of various musical figures like Billie Holiday on his shows, the Wax Museum and the Eclectic Disc Jockey. It is the combination of the radio as a medium and the in-depth interview as a format that sets Studs apart. Today we have no comprehension of how important these little extended interviews are as a contribution to the history of our modern culture. Will the ubiquitous mass media sound bites of the 21st century or even the unfiltered presentations on "YouTube", or its successors, tell future generations what that culture was all about? I don't even want to hazard a guess. But for now, savor, and I do mean savor, Studs going one-on-one with the above-mentioned Miller and Williams or songwriter Yip Harburg, come-back actor James Cagney, culture critics Harold Clurman and Kenneth Tynan and many, many more actors, actresses, playwrights, impresarios, directors and other cultural gadflies. Kudos and adieu Studs.

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
Gorney, Yip Harburg

They used to tell me
I was building a dream.
And so I followed the mob
When there was earth to plow
Or guns to bear
I was always there
Right on the job.
They used to tell me
I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead.
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad
I made it run
Made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad
Now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower up to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime.
Once I built a tower,
Now it's done.
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits
Gee we looked swell
Full of that yankee doodle dee dum.
Half a million boots went sloggin' through hell
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say don't you remember?
They called me Al.
It was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember?
I'm your pal.
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits,
Ah, gee we looked swell
Full of that yankee doodle dee dum!
Half a million boots went sloggin' through hell
And I was the kid with the drum!

Oh, say don't you remember?
They called me Al.
It was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember?
I'm your pal.
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

*Detective Novelist Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe Meets Leon Trotsky- “On The Quest For The New Socialist Persona”-An Encore

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Raymond Chandler's The High Window.

Book Review

The High Window, Raymond Chandler, Random House, New York, 1992

The last time that I mentioned the work of ace detective writer Raymond Chandler was as a foil in what turned out to be a polemic over vices and virtues of Chandler’s main detective character, Phillip Marlowe. That concerned a response to a comment I had made in reviewing Chandler’s last Marlowe novel, Playback. Although I thought that Chandler (and Marlowe) had finally run out of steam in the long running series by the time of that book's publication I noted that overall there were some attributes that I found admirable in that hard-boiled detective. A reader, a self-described socialist-feminist admirer of Leon Trotsky, took exception to my characterizations. Since the story line as it unfolds in the book under review, 1942’s The High Window also highlight those attributes(except he does not take any knocks on the head for the good of the cause) I have decided to repost sections of that commentary. I have a link to a Wikipedia entry for The High Window above for those who want the story-line :

“In a recent posting I reviewed detective novelist supreme Raymond Chandler’s late work (1958), “Playback”, the last in his series of Philip Marlowe stories. (See archives, September 20, 2009.) In that review I mentioned (as I have in several previous reviews of other books in Chandler’s Marlowe series) a number of positive attributes about Marlowe that I found appealing. For starters: his sense of personal honor in a modern world (the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s) that laughed at such old-fashioned notions; his gritty intrepidness in search of ‘rough’ justice in a messy world; his amazing, almost superhuman, ability to take a punch or seven for the good of the cause; and, his at least minimally class conscious and sometimes barely hidden contempt for the traditional social hierarchy and its police authority. In response, I received an e-mail from a reader, an ardent socialist-feminist and fellow admirer of Leon Trotsky, who took me to task for my characterizations and argued that I had it all wrong both as to Marlowe’s virtues and to his so-called (her description) anti-authoritarian posture.

In passing, the reader deeply discounted those attributes where I put a plus, deplored even the idea of the possibility that a future socialist society would have room for such attributes as mentioned above and that Marlowe’s attitude toward women was ‘primitive’ (her description). While one would be hard pressed, very hard-pressed, to include Marlowe, with his very quaint but macho attitude toward women reflecting the mores of an earlier age, as a champion of women’s emancipation and he became over time a little shopworn in his sense of honor, common sense, ability to take a punch and lay off the booze the reader missed the point of my critique. Or rather she is much too dogmatic in her sense of “political correctness” as it applies to the literary front. Thus this little commentary is intended not so much to clear the air as to posit several ideas for future discussion.

I hate to invoke the name of Leon Trotsky, the intrepid Russian revolutionary, hard-working Soviet official, well-regarded political pamphleteer, and astute literary critic into this discussion but in that last role I think he had some useful things to say. Without a doubt Trotsky could have made his mark solely on the basis of his literary criticism, witness his Marxist masterpieces “Literature and Revolution” and “Literature and Art”. What makes Trotsky’s literary analysis so compelling is not whether he is right or wrong about the merits of any particular writer. In fact, many times, as in the case of the French writer Celine and some of the Russian poets, he was, I think, wrong. But rather, that he approached literary criticism from a materialist basis rooted in what history, and that essentially meant capitalist history, has given us when he analyzed characters, the plausibility of various plots and the lessons to be drawn about “human nature” put forth by any given writer.

This is no mere genuflection on my part to a revolutionary leader whose work I hold in high regard but a recognition that capitalism has given us some much distorted concepts of what human nature is, or can be, all about. That is the core of the genius of Trotsky’s sharp pen and wit. That is why he is still very readable, for the most part, today. Unless it is question of political import, like the struggle inside Russia in the early 1920’s over the preferential establishment of a school of “proletarian culture” supported by the Soviet state that was bandies about by likes of fellow Bolsheviks Bukarin and Zinoviev, Trotsky did not spend much time diagramming any but the most general outline of the contours of what the future socialist society, its habits, manners and morals would look like. He did, and this is central in this discussion, spend a great deal of time on what capitalism had and would bequeath a socialist state. Including both its vices and virtues.

Not to belabor a point this is the link between Leon Trotsky and one fictional Philip Marlowe. Trotsky accepted that personal honor had a place as a societal goal and as a matter of social hygiene. The parameters of that sense of honor naturally would be different under a social regime that was based on use value rather than the struggle for profit margins. Certainly Trotsky’s biography, particularly that last period in the 1930’s when he appeared to be "tilting at windmills", demonstrates that he had a high moral code that drove him. Certainly the word intrepid is not out of place here, as well. Other words that can describe his personality-hardworking, hard-driving, a little bit gruff, but in search of some kind of justice. Those, my friend are the links that are the basic premise of a socialist society as it evolves out of capitalist society. As well as individual initiative, a sense of fairness, and well-placed scorn for established authority and the time-worn clichés about the limits of human nature.

Do I draw the links here too closely? Perhaps. Although Marlowe has his own version of "tilling at windmills" in search of some kind of rough justice and vindication for all those knocks on the head one cannot deny that he does not challenge bourgeois society except in the most oblique way. He will not rail against General Sternwood’s oil derricks. He will not lead a crusade against the old order in his search for the elusive Velma. He is, if anything, very Victorian in his attitude toward women, good or bad. (Chandler’s Marlowe and Trotsky are both men of another era in their personal attitudes toward women, although Trotsky was light-years ahead on the political front). Nor is Marlowe the prototype for the “new socialist man”. But he remains a very appealing fictional character nevertheless. Who is your favorite fictional character, detective or otherwise? Let the discussion continue. ’’

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tales From The 1950s Crypt- The "Red Scare", Dalton Trumbo And "The Hollywood Ten"

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for "The Hollywood Ten", an honorable group of writers with connections, of some sort, to the American Communist Party who, honorably, refused to name names during the height of the American ruling class' "red scare" tactics of Cold War fame. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this space today we of the anti-Stalinist, anti-capitalist, pro-communist left could have better used some of the pens of these fighting writers than the Stalinists did.

Clip From Trailer for Trumbo (2015)- the story of the black-listed writer who wrote the classic Johnny Got His Gun.



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

From The Renegade Eye Blog-The Stalinization of Post-Revolutionary Soviet Art and Architecture

The Stalinization of Post-Revolutionary Soviet Art and Architecture

Panteleimon (brother of Il'ia) Golosov's Submission for the Narkomtiazhprom Competition

The vibrant artistic culture that existed in post-revolutionary Russia thrived up until the early 1930s. During that time, the Soviet government allowed a great deal of creative liberty, with a number of independent artistic and architectural movements sprouting up in the aftermath of October. Some state oversight existed in the capacity of Narkompros, the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment. Its Fine Arts division sponsored some projects, but gave no special preference to any particular group or style. Narkompros’ director (and Lenin’s old friend) Anatolii Lunacharskii may have been more fond of the classics of Western civilization than he was of the modernists’ brash iconoclasm, but he was remarkably tolerant of any group that displayed enthusiasm for the Bolsheviks’ social and political revolution.

Post-revolutionary art and architecture can be disaggregated into three main categories: the modernist, the atavistic, and the “proletarian.” This third category traced its origins to Aleksandr Bogdanov, one of leading figures in Russian Social-Democracy and Lenin’s early rival within the Bolshevik party. Modernism had emerged in pre-war Russia out of the fragmentation of Symbolism in the fields of literature, poetry, and art, but absorbed international influences as well. The traditionalist eclecticism of artistic and architectural atavism was passed on through the Imperial Academy system, which had been imported from Western Europe some two hundred years before.

Tatlin's Tower (1919) Digitally Superimposed on the Petersburg Skyline

Out of these three groups, the modernists were the first to lend their support to the Bolshevik cause during the Revolution. Only months after October 1917, Maiakovskii and others declared their solidarity with Lenin’s party. They saw the social and political revolution carried out by the communists as a parallel to the artistic revolution that they were attempting to realize. But the Soviet avant-garde was far from being a unitary movement. In the fifteen years following the October Revolution, numerous avant-garde currents were established, each with their own agendas and often antagonisms against one another. They shared a rejection of the ways of the past, and they tended to be more internationalist and experimental in orientation. There were the Russian Futurists (very different from their Italian counterparts), painterly and architectural Suprematists, Productivists, artistic and architectural Constructivists, and Formalists in architecture and literary theory, etc. These various groups also invited modernists from other countries to join in the project of building a new society.

Eclectic Architecture from 1924

At the same time, however, there was the more conservative brand of eclectic art and architecture inherited from the old academy system. These artists and architects were generally referred to as the academicians, and were generally despised by the avant-gardists. They saw artistic and architectural history as a sort of inventory of recognized styles that could be arbitrarily combined or juxtaposed at the whim of the artist or architect. This is why their style was often referred to as “historicist.”

Anti-Capital (1920)

Alongside this, there was the Proletkult/proleterian art movement that Lenin and Trotskii were so uncomfortable with, that tended to be more realist and “heroic” in its representation of workers, Bolshevik leaders, and revolutionary battle scenes. They believed that there would emerge a new form of art and architecture that was both created by and legible to the revolutionary proletariat. They believed that the working masses had already established their own essential culture in opposition to bourgeois taste and high society under capitalism. Lenin and Trotskii criticized them for believing that the culture of the proletariat would be that drastically different than the culture that had predominated under capitalism. The other aspect that disturbed them was that the Bolshevik Revolution was meant to create a classless society, not a specifically proletarian society. Nevertheless, Proletkult and proletarian art merged with elements of a strange brand of monumentalist avant-gardism that in architecture banded together in the group VOPRA, and this led to the Stalinist synthesis of Socialist realism.

Around 1931-1933, Stalin and his henchmen intervened and wanted to put an end to the various competing groups and form an official style that would be run by forcibly unionizing the different art and architectural groups together. Once all the groups had been subsumed into All-Union appendages of the state, bureaucratized and monitored closely, the decision was made to institute Socialist realism. This way, all artists and architects had to be registered with and licensed by the state and made to conform to union mandates handed down from above, by the Stalinist hierarchy. Those who did not join with the state-funded unions would not have their work supported or even recognized by the Soviet government, and would not receive the regular income that the union provided.

Works now had to be:

Proletarian: art relevant to the workers and understandable to them.
Typical: scenes of every day life of the people.
Realistic: in the representational sense.
Partisan: supportive of the aims of the State and the Party.
Socialist realism literally killed all the vibrant creative energies that had been unleashed after the Revolution, in the following ways:

Aleksandr Fadeev's "The Young Guard"

1. In literature, it meant that books predictably had to have some sort of conflicted petit-bourgeois or intellectual who was nostalgic for the old order and thus initially resisted socialism or collectivization. A protagonist, usually a virtuous, handsome young worker who was enthralled by the revolution, either helped lead his conflicted comrade to embrace the glorious new regime of Stalinist collectivization or was set up in contrast to the greedy, wily supporter of the old order as an example of the New Man — industrious, courageous, and heroic. Every book was supposed to have either a happy ending or an ending that taught a moral lesson.

Vladimirskii's "Roses for Stalin" (1934)

2. In the visual arts, it meant an end to the daring work of abstract painting and creative photomontage experimentation and a return to representational verisimilitude. It would characteristically paint noble portraits of wise Uncle Stalin, gazing out with a look of kindliness and resolve. It would portray scenes of Stakhanovite workers dutifully toiling away inside of the factory or happy, smiling peasants pleased with the joys of collectivization. Of course, it was all fantasy, but the figures portrayed in the paintings were made to look like real people.

Official Design for the Palace of the Soviets (1932)

3. In architecture, perhaps the strangest blend was arrived at through the combination of monumentalist gigantism and neoclassical stylization — columns, arches, and decorative facades on an enormous scale. It resulted in what was later sometimes called the “Stalinist Gothic,” towering buildings that almost looked like gigantic wedding cakes set against gray skies. One of the final deathblows to modernism in Soviet architecture was the design chosen as the winner for the competition for the Palace of the Soviets in 1932. Google “Palace of the Soviets” and you’ll see the enormous wedding-cake building with a huge stature of Lenin on top.

King Kong atop the Empire State Building (1931)

**Post-script: Susan Buck-Morss hilariously compared the choice for the Palace of the Soviets with Lenin atop a towering pedestal to King Kong, perched up on the Empire State Building in eponymous movie.

~ by Ross Wolfe on April 16, 2011.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Dancer's Corner- The Work of Isadora Duncan

Click on the headline to link ot a YouTube film clip on Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan (1878-1927)
by Samuel Dickson

The San Francisco part of this story came to me in bits, like the insignificant pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that have no particular import in themselves, but which, when placed in their proper positions in the over-all design, make a fascinating picture.

I found the first small piece in a book on old San Francisco. The year was 1878, and the item tells of the home of Joseph Duncan, a suave and cultured gentleman who was a cashier of the Bank of California and whose fortune crashed with William Ralston's. He was known as a connoisseur of the arts, and was often asked to select paintings and marbles for the palaces of his friends who knew little about them. His own home at Geary and Taylor Streets held many treasures. At one corner now stands a drugstore, at another a grocery and fruit store, at another the Bellevue Hotel, and the Clift Hotel on the fourth. In 1878 Joseph Duncan's home of art treasures occupied one of those corners. I'm under the impression that it stood at the northwest corner where the drugstore now stands. But it was shortly, after 1878 that the home was broken up and scandal and divorce resulted. Mrs. Duncan was a virtuous, high-principled Victorian lady. Joseph, the poet– a very good poet, too– the dreamer, the connoisseur of arts, had lost his heart to a spinster lady. on Russian Hill, and Mrs. Duncan divorced him.

The Duncans had several children and very little money, and that made the scandal more tragic. Joseph Duncan had been a brute and a scoundrel, and Mrs. Duncan virtuously spent many years telling the children what a scoundrel their father was. However, one of the children mat Papa some years later and found him a charming, cultured gentleman of appealing personality. But that all came later.

The second small piece in the jigsaw puzzle was a personal experience of mine that happened a few months less than fifty years after the scandal at the corner of Geary and Taylor Streets. It was the summer of 1927. I had been invited to a soiree– no other word describes the function– in a home out on Pacific Avenue. There were long-haired artists; there were hungry musicians; there were starving poets; and I, who belonged to none of those classes, joined the shrilling throng. It was the hour between sunset and darkness. Most of the guests congregated around a grand piano while a lady of mature years with a page-boy bob explained that she had never studied music or learned to play the piano, but in a dream had been inspired to go to the keyboard, and play. She now sit at the keyboard and played the most amazing music I had ever heard, while most of the guests congregated around her and sighed and clasped their hands. I sat on a small stool at Ina Coolbrith's feet.

Ina Coolbrith, the poet laureate of California, was very old. That was last year of her long life. She was a gentle, sweet-faced old lady, as old-fashioned and old-world as a miniature painted on ivory. She wore a simple, black silk dress, an old brooch at her throat, and her mantilla falling over her thin white hair. She told me of the men and women she had known when San Francisco was young. Her friends had been legion. Many of them had achieved greatness and died, and only Ina Coolbrith remained, a link between the Golden Dawn and the San Francisco of 1927.

Her friends had been Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joaquin Miller, Harr Wagner, and Jack London, and they all had loved her. She told me about them quite simply as though their love was her rightful heritage. And there was one other. He was a poet, a dreamer, a musician, and a connoisseur of the arts! She had been the one great love of his life. His name was Joseph Duncan. Joseph Duncan was long since dead and she, the poet laureate, went on, dreaming in the memories of the departed years. Joseph Duncan! He had been so gentle, so great an idealist, and so fine a poet! What if he was a cashier in a bank; even a bank cashier could dream of sonnets. But he was dead and the pages of his story were closed. Yet it was not really ended, for he lived on in his children. There were four of them, and Ina Coolbrith had learned to know and love one of them well. Her name was Isadora Duncan.

As I stated before, that is the second bit in the pattern of the jigsaw puzzle. Now, before we come to the story of Isadora Duncan—for after all, this is her story—there is one more small piece in the puzzle pattern. It happened only a year or so ago. I went to see The Lute Song, one of the Theatre Guild productions at the Curran Theatre, and in that lovely pageantry one of the characters was an old blind father.

He was led across the stage, his steps faltering, as the blind should be led. But this wasn't acting; He was in fact blind, He was Raymond, one of children of Joseph Duncan.

There are the bits in the pattern. It was in Oakland, a few years after the scandal at Geary and Taylor Streets, that Ina Coolbrith met the child, Isadora. She came to the Oakland Public Library, as a few years later Jack London was to come, to ask the library lady, Miss Coolbrith, for a book to read. Just as Ina Coolbrith was to guide Jack London's reading some time later, so she guided and shaped the mind of the small daughter of Joseph Duncan.

Isadora was a quaint child, a strange mixture of practical common sense and worldly sophistication, and she was a dreamer like her father. The child loved poetry, beauty, and rhythm, and she hated reality. She was, in fact, a rebel. Her childhood had been an unhappy one. There was strife and divorce, with her mother's insistence that her father, Joseph, was a demon in human garb. Then there was her mother's disavowal of the religion in which she had been raised, and her espousal of the atheism of Robert Ingersoll. These were the unhealthy shapers of Isadora's childhood. Of course, when she eventually met her father, she found him a charming, lovable poet, and that heightened the confusion in her mind. Passing years tend to soften the intolerance of childhood, but Isadora Duncan never lost her contempt for the institution of marriage as she had seen it. When she was twelve years old she made a solemn vow that she would welcome love when it came, but she would never marry.

After the divorce, Mrs. Duncan found a small, drab home in Oakland for her brood of four children. The constant poverty in which they lived was softened by the wealth of poetry and music that Mrs. Duncan brought into the home, molding the lives of her small offspring. The four of them loved to sing, loved to play-act, and above all, loved to dance. Somewhere I have read that Isadora Duncan gave no thought to becoming a dancer until she had gone to Europe. This was an absurd distortion of fact. Isadora Duncan danced as soon as she could walk. The children read every book, good or bad, that chance flung in their path, and when chance was busy with other people's problems, Isadora went to the Public Library. There she met Ina Coolbrith. Ina possessed a rare talent. She not only created beauty, but she had the gift, as well, of inspiring the creative instinct in others. Isadora was an eager pupil. Her reading carried her back to the classical culture of ancient Greece, and the natural, unaffected, spontaneous Grecian art became her inspiration and dream. Toe-dancing, social gymnastics, was to be scorned. She demanded, from the very beginning, self-expression unrestrained by rule and custom.

When she was fourteen years old, pupils, children of neighbors, came to her to be taught to dance. The Oakland classes grew and then there were classes across the bay in San Francisco. Every day Isadora and her sister, Elizabeth, took the ferryboat to San Francisco and then walked from the Ferry building to Sutter and Van Ness Avenue. There, in the old home they had rented—the Castle mansion—they taught the young hopefuls of San Francisco society forms of the dance that were fifty years ahead of their time. Charles Caldwell Dobie, speaking of those days, said that he visited the old Castle mansion after the school had seen its last days, and found the hardwood mantels chopped away. Possibly surmises Dobie, it was used for kindling wood to keep the Duncan sisters and their pupils warm during their days of poverty.

But Isadora didn't like poverty and she didn't like restrictions. There were distant horizons awaiting her. She read about them in her books, the faraway places that call to all imbued with the creative instinct. Any place would do as long as it was "away." She induced her mother to take her to Chicago. What matter that the family purse was, as always, almost empty? Funds were found and, armed with a wealth of enthusiasm, mother and daughter started out.

The Eastern theatrical managers saw the girl dance, praised her, told her it was all very lovely. But, after all, that wasn't the accepted way to dance; it wasn't the way of the theater. No, it would never do. She'd better go home to San Francisco and be a schoolteacher! Their funds were gone, so they pawned their jewelry. They ripped a bit of old Irish lace from Isadora's dress and sold it. Finally, starvation, not a threat but an actuality, faced them, and then Isadora received an engagement. At last, she was to dance– to dance in a music hall. In a fogged atmosphere of stale beer and tobacco smoke the girl appeared, a breath of ancient Greece. Her audience chewed on its cigars. They found it all a little uncomfortable. This certainly wasn't what they'd come to see! In short, they wished she'd get through so the next act could appear.

But in the audience one night sat a dreamer like herself. He was Augustin Daly, the theatrical producer. He saw what none of the others had seen– the vision, the ideal, and the dream behind the dancing of the girl. He cast her as one of Titania's dancing fairies in his production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He gave her small part in pantomimes. Perhaps she couldn't force her audience to understand the beauty of simplicity, but at least this gave her the opportunity to dance, and to eat.

Her brothers and sisters were sent for, and the family settled to New York. One night Isadora danced to the music of Ethelbert Nevin; Nevin was in the audience, entranced. He arranged for concerts for her and suddenly blasé New York. hailed a new star, a child with the wisdom of the ages and the simple innocence of the sheep that grazed on the Athenian hills. Society accepted her. She danced for the four hundred in Newport's exclusive salons. They made much of her, but just as swiftly they dropped her. And again the family purse was empty.

Once again the lodestone of distant horizons beckoned. What did it matter that the family had no money? They would go to London. After Isadora had borrowed right and left from her former friends of Newport society, the Duncans sailed.

In London, a few engagements brought a few dollars, but the few dollars weren't enough to fill the young hungry stomachs. Then one night Isadora and one of her brothers were dancing in their Grecian veils in the small garden of a tiny house in Kensington Gardens. They danced by the light of the stars and their only audience was their own shadows. Quite unexpectedly, a beautiful lady came and stood watching them and was amazed. When they had finished their dance she swooped down upon them and took them to her own home. She was Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the idol of the London stage. She played for them and they danced for her; she. sobbed dramatic tears, and introduced them to London society.

The meeting with Mrs. Pat Campbell was the turning point in the story of Isadora Duncan. Mrs. Campbell introduced them to London society acclaimed them, and British royalty honored them. Life became busy, hectic, and full to overflowing with triumphs– and setbacks, Duncan, the dancer, had arrived, but the girl, Isadora, was still a rebel against customs and traditions– and marriage.

She danced in Paris and was cheered. she danced in Berlin, and the art-loving Germans went mad with enthusiasm. The artists and students of Munich idolized her. The story is told of the night that, unharnessing her horses, they dragged her carriage through the streets of Munich in a rain of flowers. They carried her into their cafe, lifted her onto a table, and she danced for them. Life was gorgeous. But always at the back of her persistent mind was her dream, Some day she would dance in the land of ancient culture where the Athenian maidens had made the dance a religion. Some day she would bring back the beauty of classical simplicity to the people of the nineteenth century. What if she did dance in scant veils that showed the honest beauty of her form? There could be no evil in honest beauty. Europe cheered her and virtuous old wives condemned her. Isadora went to Athens and took her mother, brothers, and sister with her. And on a green hill that faced the Acropolis, she made a solemn vow that here she would build a temple to art.

In the Athenian hills Isadora gathered a class of small Grecian boys about her. She taught them the dances of ancient Byzantium, as well as Greek choruses and songs. bare-legged, with sandaled feet and flowing draperies, the Duncans danced from village to village, and the world called them mad. A year passed, and their purse was empty. Bidding a tearful farewell to the peasants who had learned to love the lady on Kopanos Hill, Isadora and her kin returned to modern civilization and Vienna.

Vienna took her to its gay heart, and success and wealth returned. But now Isadora Duncan learned that life without the fullness of love was incomplete. Then, in Berlin, in 1905, she met Gordon Craig, the colorful, handsome, glamorous son of Ellen Terry. This was the great love; this was life at its highest. The world sighed, and giggled, and was delighted. Isadora was perfectly happy. A baby was born, and they named her Deirdre. Isadora adored her.

New friends came to join the strange household. Eleanor Duse, her life shattered by the tragedy of her romance with D'Annunzio, took them to Italy to aid her in the production of an Ibsen drama. Isadora danced her dances of the Athenian hills in Rome. But now a new ambition and dream was born. She would train choruses, and build her greatest ballet around the music of Beethoven's immortal Ninth Symphony.

She came to the United States and danced to the music of Walter Damrosch's orchestra. America was shocked, and delighted. Of course, everyone had a body, but one didn't acknowledge the fact. Even modest ankles weren't to be exposed. That nonsense was ended by an edict from no less a wielder of strong opinion than Teddy Roosevelt. "Isadora Duncan," he proclaimed, "seems to me as innocent as a child dancing through the garden in the morning sunshine and picking the beautiful flowers of her fantasy." So the master politician became poet, and Isadora danced and was forgiven her sins.

She built a school where she taught young girls the beauty of the dance. She was the priestess of the dance, and in that role did more to return it to its ancient glory than any other single man or woman in the world's history of terpsichore.

Then, one night in Paris, Isadora Duncan danced to the haunting melody of Chopin's "Funeral March," and a vision of tragedy came to her. She danced with eyes closed and saw her two children threatened by evil. She danced as though in a trance, and her audience sat, thrilled, chilled, and breathless. It was terrible and it was beautiful. A few days passed and the father of her son stood before her. His lips were dry and his eyes were haggard. He told of the death of her two children.

Life was dead; dreams were dead; the world was empty. Isadora Duncan, the rebel, had won her rebellion and lost all that was worth the fight. She felt she would never dance again. But she did dance. In her tragedy she had become a giantess, and life does not or cannot stand still. She won new triumphs, found new loves, and achieved new furors. She faced new tragedy in 1914 when, under the shadow of the dawn of the first World War, another baby was born—dead. Still she danced, and still she continued to teach her girls. She danced her Ninth Symphony to an audience that sat as though in the presence of a creature divine. Her greatest creative dream had become a reality.

Isadora Duncan, the little girl of Geary and Taylor Streets in San Francisco, died in 1927. A veil caught in the wheel of her automobile. There was the grinding of brakes—and then darkness. She died tragically, horribly, and the world was upset for a few hours and then went about its business. But those who had loved her and who knew her dream of beauty mourned her passing of a human creature who had been an honest builder of dreams. She had done more for the art of the dance than any other man or woman in history. And above all else, she had been the honest daughter of her poet father.

Isadora Duncan photograph by Arnold Genthe

Samuel Dickson was a prolific magazine writer in the 1920's and early 30's, and became an NBC feature writer in the late 1930's. He wrote the NBC-KPO/KNBC series "This is Your Home," sponsored by W. and J. Sloane, then one of San Francisco's leading furniture stores. The series was narrated by NBC-KPO/KNBC (now KNBR) announcer Budd Heyde, and broadcast during the late 1940's and into the 1950's at 10:30 Sunday mornings. This Isadora Duncan chapter was originally one of the KPO/KNBC radio scripts, later printed in "San Francisco Kaleidoscope," Stanford University Press, 1949.
Budd Heyde can be heard on this 78-RPM promotional phonograph recording made for W. and J. Sloane sometime during the late-1940s.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

*Poet's Corner- Vladimir Mayakovsky's "Conversation with Comrade Lenin" and Other Poems From Early Soviet Days

Markin comment:

Mayakovsky marched with the Bolshevik Revolution as long as he could, considering the futuristic school poetic traditions that he came from, but the days of Stalin were not good day for free-lance, free-wheeling poets, or any one else for that matter. Old Mayakovsky still "speaks" to me about the glory days of the revolution.
Vladimir Mayakovsky 1929
with Comrade Lenin

Source: 20th Century Russian Literature.

Awhirl with events,
packed with jobs one too many,
the day slowly sinks
as the night shadows fall.
There are two in the room:
and Lenin-
a photograph
on the whiteness of wall.

The stubble slides upward
above his lip
as his mouth
jerks open in speech.
The tense
creases of brow
hold thought
in their grip,
immense brow
matched by thought immense.
A forest of flags,
raised-up hands thick as grass...
Thousands are marching
beneath him...
alight with joy,
I rise from my place,
eager to see him,
hail him,
report to him!
“Comrade Lenin,
I report to you -
(not a dictate of office,
the heart’s prompting alone)

This hellish work
that we’re out to do

will be done
and is already being done.
We feed and we clothe
and give light to the needy,

the quotas
for coal
and for iron
but there is
any amount
of bleeding
and rubbish
around us still.

Without you,
there’s many
have got out of hand,

all the sparring
and squabbling
does one in.
There’s scum
in plenty
hounding our land,

outside the borders
and also

Try to
count ’em
tab ’em -
it’s no go,

there’s all kinds,
and they’re
thick as nettles:
red tapists,
down the row,
They strut around
as peacocks,
badges and fountain pens
studding their chests.
We’ll lick the lot of ’em-
to lick ’em
is no easy job
at the very best.
On snow-covered lands
and on stubbly fields,
in smoky plants
and on factory sites,
with you in our hearts,
Comrade Lenin,
we build,
we think,
we breathe,
we live,
and we fight!”
Awhirl with events,
packed with jobs one too many,
the day slowly sinks
as the night shadows fall.
There are two in the room:
and Lenin -
a photograph
on the whiteness of wall.

Vladimir Mayakovsky 1930
At the Top of My voice
First Prelude to the Poem

Source: The bedbug and Selected poetry, translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey. Meridian Books, New York, 1960;
Transcribed: by Mitch Abidor.

My most respected
comrades of posterity!
Rummaging among
these days’
petrified crap,
exploring the twilight of our times,
will inquire about me too.

And, possibly, your scholars
will declare,
with their erudition overwhelming
a swarm of problems;
once there lived
a certain champion of boiled water,
and inveterate enemy of raw water.

take off your bicycle glasses!
I myself will expound
those times
and myself.

I, a latrine cleaner
and water carrier,
by the revolution
mobilized and drafted,
went off to the front
from the aristocratic gardens
of poetry -
the capricious wench
She planted a delicious garden,
the daughter,
and meadow.

Myself a garden I did plant,
myself with water sprinkled it.
some pour their verse from water cans;
others spit water
from their mouth -
the curly Macks,
the clever jacks -
but what the hell’s it all about!
There’s no damming al this up -
beneath the walls they mandoline:
“Tara-tina, tara-tine,
It’s no great honor, then,
for my monuments
to rise from such roses
above the public squares,
where consumption coughs,
where whores, hooligans and syphilis

in my teeth too,
and I’d rather
romances for you -
more profit in it
and more charm.

But I
setting my heel
on the throat
of my own song.
comrades of posterity,
to the agitator
the rabble-rouser.

the torrents of poetry,
I’ll skip
the volumes of lyrics;
as one alive,
I’ll address the living.
I’ll join you
in the far communist future,
I who am
no Esenin super-hero.

My verse will reach you
across the peaks of ages,
over the heads
of governments and poets.

My verse
will reach you
not as an arrow
in a cupid-lyred chase,
not as worn penny
Reaches a numismatist,
not as the light of dead stars reaches you.

My verse
by labor
will break the mountain chain of years,
and will present itself
as an aqueduct,
by slaves of Rome
enters into our days.

When in mounds of books,
where verse lies buried,
you discover by chance the iron filings of lines,
touch them
with respect,
as you would
some antique
yet awesome weapon.

It’s no habit of mine
to caress
the ear
with words;
a maiden’s ear
will not crimson
when flicked by smut.

In parade deploying
the armies of my pages,
I shall inspect
the regiments in line.

Heavy as lead,
my verses at attention stand,
ready for death
and for immortal fame.

The poems are rigid,
pressing muzzle
to muzzle their gaping
pointed titles.

The favorite
of all the armed forces
the cavalry of witticisms
to launch a wild hallooing charge,
reins its chargers still,
the pointed lances of the rhymes.
and all
these troops armed to the teeth,
which have flashed by
victoriously for twenty years,
all these,
to their very last page,
I present to you,
the planet’s proletarian.

The enemy
of the massed working class
is my enemy too
inveterate and of long standing.

Years of trial
and days of hunger
ordered us
to march
under the red flag.

We opened
each volume
of Marx
as we would open
the shutters
in our own house;
but we did not have to read
to make up our minds
which side to join,
which side to fight on.

Our dialectics
were not learned
from Hegel.
In the roar of battle
it erupted into verse,
under fire,
the bourgeois decamped
as once we ourselves
had fled
from them.
Let fame
after genius
like an inconsolable widow
to a funeral march -
die then, my verse,
die like a common soldier,
like our men
who nameless died attacking!
I don’t care a spit
for tons of bronze;
I don’t care a spit
for slimy marble.
We’re men of kind,
we’ll come to terms about our fame;
let our
common monument be
in battle.
Men of posterity
examine the flotsam of dictionaries:
out of Lethe
will bob up
the debris of such words
as “prostitution,”
For you,
who are now
healthy and agile,
the poet
with the rough tongue
of his posters,
has licked away consumptives’ spittle.
With the tail of my years behind me,
I begin to resemble
those monsters,
excavated dinosaurs.
Comrade life,
let us
march faster,
faster through what’s left
of the five-year plan.
My verse
has brought me
no rubles to spare:
no craftsmen have made
mahogany chairs for my house.
In all conscience,
I need nothing
a freshly laundered shirt.
When I appear
before the CCC
of the coming
bright years,
by way of my Bolshevik party card,
I’ll raise
above the heads
of a gang of self-seeking
poets and rogues,
all the hundred volumes
of my
communist-committed books.

Vladimir Mayakovsky 1929
My Soviet Passport

Source: Sputnik no.12/1982, translated by Herbert Marshall;
Transcribed: by Liviu Iacob.

I'd tear
like a wolf
at bureaucracy.
For mandates
my respect's but the slightest.
To the devil himself
I'd chuck without mercy
every red-taped paper.
But this ...
Down the long front
of coupés and cabins
File the officials
They gather up passports
and I give in
My own vermilion booklet.
For one kind of passport -
smiling lips part
For others -
an attitude scornful.
They take
with respect, for instance,
the passport
From a sleeping-car
English Lionel.
The good fellows eyes
almost slip like pips
bowing as low as men can,
they take,
as if they were taking a tip,
the passport
from an American.
At the Polish,
they dolefully blink and wheeze
in dumb
police elephantism -
where are they from,
and what are these
geographical novelties?
And without a turn
of their cabbage heads,
their feelings
hidden in lower regions,
they take without blinking,
the passports from Swedes
and various
old Norwegians.
Then sudden
as if their mouths were
those gentlemen almost
Those very official gentlemen
that red-skinned passport
of mine.
like a bomb
take - like a hedgehog,
like a razor
double-edge stropped,
take -
like a rattlesnake huge and long
with at least
20 fangs
The porter's eyes
give a significant flick
(I'll carry your baggage
for nix,
mon ami...)
The gendarmes enquiringly
look at the tec,
the tec, -
at the gendarmerie.
With what delight
that gendarme caste
would have me
strung-up and whipped raw
because I hold
in my hands
my red Soviet passport.
I'd tear
like a wolf
at bureaucracy.
For mandates
my respect's but the slightest.
To the devil himself
I'd chuck
without mercy
every red-taped paper,
But this ...
I pull out
of my wide trouser-pockets
of a priceless cargo.
You now:
read this
and envy,
I'm a citizen
of the Soviet Socialist Union!
Vladimir Mayakovsky 1930
Past One O’Clock ...

Source: The Bedbug and selected poetry, translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey. Meridian Books, New York, 1960;
Transcribed: by Mitch Abidor.

This poem was found among Mayakovsky’s papers after his suicide on April 14, 1930. He had used the middle section, with slight changes, as an epilogue to his suicide note.

Past one o’clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I’m in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Art and Revolution-Before "Socialist Realism" in the Soviet Union

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Winter 1976-77, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
Markin comment on this article:

Over the past couple of years I have placed as many still relevant social, political, literary, and cultural articles from the journal Women and Revolution as I have been able to find as a source for leftist militants to think about these questions that are not always directly related to our day to day tasks in the class struggle today. I have made some effort into trying to get as many articles about the experiences of the Soviet Union as possible because that experience is, in some senses, our only example of what could have been had things turned out a bit differently back in the early days of the Russian revolution.

A couple of general observations about the tenor of the Soviet-centered articles. First, each article starts with items and ideas that spoke to the promise of the revolution, the things that could or should have been done and that the Bolsheviks raised holy hell to try to accomplish. Second, each article notes that turning inward of the revolution and the erasing of institutions, movements, and currents that surfaced in the revolutionary period and that were slammed in the period of Stalinist degeneration of the late 1920s. Those observations should be etched in the memory or every leftist militant who wants to fight for our communist future so we do better when our chance comes.
Art and Revolution-Before "Socialist Realism" in the Soviet Union
by Janis Gerrard

Soviet art is linked in the minds of many with an endless and repetitive panorama of heroic factory workers and healthy-looking peasants, basking in the reflected glory of Stalin's fatherland. But the sterile,servile, cynical and unimaginative "art" associated with Stainist totalitarianism is the product of the suppression of a virtual creative explosion which accompanied the revolutionary struggle. During the brief period of democratic proletarian dictatorship between the overthrow of tsarism and its reactionary censorship policies and the institutionalization of "socialist realism" under Stalin, the optimism and unlimited expectations unleashed by the Russian Revolution supported a heady atmosphere of artistic experimentation.

Under capitalism the arts rely for survival on the monied patronage of the leisure class. But although the Soviet state was born in conditions of desperate poverty, its commitment to making art accessible to the masses intersected a profound cultural upheaval which had begun in the 1890's, to produce a surge of creative activity that swept through every area of artistic endeavor.

As the Soviet government was bringing new sources of light and energy to the population through a campaign to spread the use of electricity—leading to a popular definition of communism as "soviet power plus electrification"—it was taken for granted that the revolution would bring light and energy to the intellect as well.

A look at the effects on the arts of the October Revolution illustrates the commitment of the young Bolshevik regime, despite immense material obstacles, to culture. The complex and shifting relationship between artists and the regime also illuminates the high ideals of the best elements of this idiosyncratic petty-bourgeois layer, which sought to associate its creativity with the great liberating revolution.

The Winds of Change

Although there is no direct relationship between political struggle and aesthetic innovation, historically periods of great artistic and cultural ferment have often preceded violent political struggle, as the changing class relations are mirrored in artistic expression. In Russia, dramatic transformations were evident in the arts several decades before the revolution.

At the beginning of the 20th century, after 300 years of existence, the ballet was still regarded as
frivolous entertainment for young aristocrats. The audience regarded the performance as a form of burlesque—where else could one see women so scantily clad? When the young Mikhail Fokin, who was later to introduce innovations which would save ballet from oblivion, questioned a leading dancer on the possibility of artistic renewal of the dance, he was told, "Ballet is pornography, plain and simple."

Young noblemen would sit in the smoking room playing cards and exchanging stories of romantic conquests until an usher announced that one or another "favorite" was due to appear, at which they would rush into the nearly empty theater to cheer loudly for an encore. One went to the theater to hear the soliloquy of a famous actor, to see the (our de force of a renowned ballerina, to hear the high C of a visiting soprano.

The novel concept of ballet as art can be credited to a handful of theatrical geniuses who qualitatively trans¬formed the dance in the first years of the 20th century. They included: C. Stanislavsky of the Moscow Ar; Mikhail Fokin, choreographer of the Imperial Ballet; S. Diaghilev, grand impresario of the Ballets Russes; A. Benois, artist, designer of scenery and costumes and close collaborator of Diaghilev; George Balanchine, choreographer for Diaghilev and pioneer of modern ballet in the West; and Isadora Duncan.

Stanislavsky's role in ending the isolation of the Imperial Ballet cannot be underestimated. He strove to cast away all the artificial and unnatural theatrical conventions which served only to advance the career of individual performers while stifling the art of dance and theater. His ideas focused on the desire to create in art the concept of "truth of life." His costumes and sets were defined to reflect the period of the play and to contribute to the artistic whole. He allowed no interruptions in the mood of the drama and fostered collaboration between different branches of the performing arts to achieve an artistic whole.

Isadora Duncan's first Russian tour in 1905 occurred just as these leaders of the "left" reform current were formulating their criticisms of the ballet and searching for new artistic models. For Fokin, who had dreamed of staging a ballet in the Greek style, Duncan's powerful yet simple performance, in which she was clad simply in a Greek tunic and danced on a green, grass-like rug with simple, graceful movements to the music of Chopin and Schumann, had an overwhelming impact. Her dancing, unfettered by the confines of classical ballet technique, challenged all serious ballet dancers to examine their own concepts of art and aesthetic movement.

Duncan's influence was profound but, as Stanislavsky discovered when he met her in 1908, she was incapable of articulating her methods. She could speak only in mystical and idealistic terms of her concept of the interpenetration of art and life. Moreover, out of a false standard of artistic purity she refused to allow her dancing to be filmed.

The 1905 Revolution, which shook Russian society to its foundations, also jarred the complacency of the Russian ballet. Both Fokin and Anna Pavlova, the world-renowned prima ballerina, were involved in organizing a strike by dancers under the slogan "Freedom of Art," with a program of relatively minor economic and organizational reforms.

Other fields of art demonstrated an equally accelerated rate and heightened exuberance of creative expression. In poetry, new currents sprang up faster than they could be labeled. Symbolism gave way
to futurism, then to acmeism, imagism and a multitude of unclassifiable styles. On the stage, the ensemble work of Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theater and the expressionism in Meierhold's theater wrought pro¬found changes in dramatic production.

But of all the art media, music seemed to be the central and determining one. Aleksandr Bloc, one of the greatest poets of the period, spoke of escaping from calendar time to "musical time." The pioneering abstract painter, Vasily Kandinsky, said he considered music the most comprehensive of the arts and the model for all others, while his colleague Chiurlionis called his paintings "sonatas" and his exhibitions "auditions."

In writing, too, a new musical style evolved, and a new form of lyrical narrative called "the symphony" was developed by Andrei Bely. In the theater, Meierhold's emphasis on gesture underscored his belief that "the body, its lines, its harmonic movements, sings as much as do sounds themselves."

Even Lenin, removed as he was from the world of art, confessed to a strong and disturbing attraction to music during this period. In his Days With Lenin, author Maxim Gorky quoted him as saying:

"I know nothing more beautiful than the Appassionata I could hear it every day. It is marvellous, unearthly music. Every time I hear these notes, I think with pride and perhaps childlike naivete, that it is wonderful what man can accomplish. But I cannot listen to music often, it affects my nerves. I want to say amiable stupidities and stroke the heads of the people who can create such beauty in a filthy hell. But today is not the time to stroke people's heads; today hands descend to split skulls open, split them open ruthlessly, although opposition to all violence is our ultimate ideal—it is a hellishly hard task...."

Particularly after the Revolution of 1905, when man artists fled to the West, Russian art developed in a direction that was both more international and more interdisciplinary. One artistic medium seemed to flow into another. Thus futurism, the most radical of the new artistic currents, began in painting and then moved into poetry. The painter M. Vrubel drew much of his inspiration from poetry, while his use of color inspired poetry. The Ballets Russes epitomized this harmonious fusion of the arts, combining the scenic designs of Benois, L. Bakst and N. Roerich, the music of Igor Stravinsky, the dancing of the great Nizhinsky, the choreography of Fokin and the guiding genius of Diaghilev.

This development was sharply checked by the outbreak of war in 1914, which forced Russian art into isolation. During the war even the most avant-garde artists became superpatriots. The futurists, including Maiakovsky, led a patriotic-nationalist movement which elevated Russian primitivism and religious icons to the basis of a great Russian art of the future. Diaghilev and his group, cut off from Russia, toured Europe and the United States with a continually degenerating Ballets Russes. Isadora Duncan became a French patriot on the grounds that France was the preserver of what was best in modern European culture, although she said:

"France is the only country that really understands But I have great hopes for Russia. At this moment she is passing through the growing pains of childhood, but I believe that she is the future for Artists and the Spirit "

The Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution sent shock waves of wild hope and exhilaration through the artistic intelligent¬sia. In his famous poem, "Twelve," written just after the October uprising, Aleksandr Bloc introduces a popular revolutionary song traditionally sung to the accompa¬niment of balalaikas:

"No sound is heard from the city, There is silence in the Nevsky tower. And on the bayonet of the sentry Glistens the midnight moon."

—A. Bloc, quoted in James H. Billington, The Icon and the Axe

Only Bloc changes the last two lines to an exultant: "And there are no more policemen— Rejoice, lads, without need of wine!"

For Fokin and Stanislavsky, the opening of the theaters to audiences composed of factory workers who had last year been peasants and to soldiers who had only yesterday been peasants was the realization o a lifelong aspiration. Batches of tickets were distribute free to the heretofore artistically disfranchised plebe an classes through the Soviets and other worker, organizations.

The new audiences were difficult—to say the least— composed as they were of people unfamiliar with ur¬ban culture in general, not to mention the subtleties of literary and dramatic tradi¬tions. As commissar of war, Trotsky had to teach many of these former peasants to use soap and to clean their weapons. Similarly, Stanis¬lavsky viewed his task as educating them in the conventions of the theater: "... to sit quietly, not to talk, to come to the theater on time, not to smoke, not to eat nuts in public, not to bring food into the theater and eat it there, to dress in [their] best so as to fit more into the atmosphere of beauty that was worshipped in the theater."

In 1921, Anatoly V. Lunacharsky, Soviet minister for education, telegraphed Isa¬dora Duncan: "Come to Moscow, we will give you your school and 1,000 children. You may carry out your ideas on a grand scale." The offer was irresistible, despite the warnings of her friends that cannibalism was rampant and that "four year old children hung by their heels in the butcher shops."

Duncan entered the Soviet Union at a time when many artists were leaving, both for political reasons and to escape the misery and privations of a country ripped apart by civil war. She and her protege Irma Duncan were the first foreign artists to enter the Soviet Union and the last for some time.

Bolshevik Ideals and Harsh Realities

The Bolshevik Ministry of Education and Art— Narkompros—faced enormous difficulties. Lunacharsky was caught in the middle of warring artistic tendencies, all clamoring for official approval. Further¬more, he was crippled, as were all government administrators, by the gap between the ideals and program of the Bolshevik party and the material inability to realize this program under conditions of war, extreme scarcity and national isolation.

The Bolshevik program called for artistic freedom, no state intervention into artistic affairs and no preferential state support for any particular artistic tendency, on the grounds that this would inhibit the development of other tendencies.

Lunacharsky was well aware of the need for political support and material aid from the artistic intelligentsia, realizing how few active artistic sympathizers there were. He was forced again and again to prove his artistic
neutrality both to the artists themselves and to the party.

Despite the extremely difficult conditions under which it was forced to function, Narkompros did manage to keep open the universities and to preserve the public libraries, art collections and museums. It also instituted a network of kindergartens, children's colonies and experimental schools and administered state subsidies to support the arts.

Nevertheless, it seemed that Narkompros could satisfy no one. To give precious resources to the ballet while workers were starving was highly controversial. The exigencies of war communism left little extra for the fundamental restructuring necessary to lift the Russian masses out of centuries of backwardness and cultural poverty.

Narkompros vs. Proletkult

Freed from tsarist persecution, a multitude of artistic tendencies—futurists, confuturists, constructivists, supremacists, primitivists, imagists—surfaced; each with its own manifestoes, journals and organizational animosities. While hailing their new freedom from autocracy, many of these tendencies were suspicious of the Bolsheviks. The Artists' Union, formed in May 1917, held up the banner of artistic freedom like a cross to fend off the suspected Bolshevik threat.

The "left" wing of this Union was dominated by the futurists—self-proclaimed architects of the future "proletarian culture," who argued for a complete break with the past, insisted on a fundamental link between art and technology, introduced technical-industrial terms into their poetry and identified themselves with Bolshevism and internationalism. But futurist leader Maiakovsky, despite his sympathies for the revolutionary proletariat, stood in principle against joining any state body dealing with art. The Artists' Union refused to cooperate with Narkompros even in its campaign to save art treasures from war damage.

Lenin, whose aesthetic tastes were relatively conser¬vative, personally disliked the flamboyant public spectacles, bright yellow shirts and painted faces in which the futurists delighted and was infuriated when they painted the trees in front of the Kremlin bright colors for a May Day celebration.

Lunacharsky and Trotsky were more sympathetic to avant-garde and experimental trends but also felt a commitment to the preservation of artistic tradition. It was disgraceful, said Trotsky, to approach the "cultural heritage" of the past with nihilistic contempt. The working class had to take possession of that heritage and guard it. Above all, they strove to maintain an even-handed policy of official toleration and even encour¬agement with regard to all artistic tendencies. None¬theless, the government was always suspected by the traditionalists of favoritism toward the futurists, espe¬cially when the futurists, after splitting from the Artists' Union, had obtained a position within the graphic arts department of Narkpmpros by offering their services for the production of propaganda posters.

The most organized expression of radicalism in the arts was the Proletkult (Proletarian Culture) organiza¬tion, whose founder was Aleksandr Malinovsky,known as Bogdanov. Bogdanov means "god-gifted" and accurately reflects the image which this individual had of his own importance.

Although Bogdanov had been a member of the Bolshevik party until his expulsion in 1909, he believed that the key to the future lay not in the tranformation of economic relationships through class struggle and socialist revolution but in the technology and ideology which was already being created by the proletariat. He also argued that the destructive conflicts of the past would never be resolved without the creation of anew, socially oriented religion, which he called "empirio-monism." Bogdanov's idealism was attacked by Lenin in Materialism and Empiric-Criticism.

The theoretical basis of Bogdanov's Proletkult was the belief (originally supported by Lunacharsky) that
artists, under the direction of an organization similar to a trade union, which was to protect the interests of the proletariat in the cultural sphere, should create a "proletarian culture" which would substitute for the decadent, class-biased and therefore dangerous bour¬geois culture. "Proletarian culture" would become a weapon of the oppressed in the class struggle. Proletkult saw nothing of value in the old bourgeois culture, which, its adherents argued, must be immedi¬ately destroyed. The refutation of this idea of "proletarian culture" was succinctly summarized by Trotsky in the preface of Literature and Revolution:

"It is fundamentally wrong to oppose proletarian to bourgeois culture and art. Proletarian culture and art will never exist. The proletarian regime is temporary and transitory. Our revolution derives its historic significance and moral greatness from the fact that it lays the foundations for a classless society and for the first truly universal culture."

What is more, argued Trotsky, the historic destiny of the proletariat does not leave it enough time to develop a new culture. Whereas the bourgeois way of life developed organically over several centuries, the proletarian dictatorship will be measured in years or decades, and its duration will be filled with savage class struggles. "We are still soldiers on the march," he said. "Our epoch is not the epoch of a new culture. We can only force open the gate to it."

Although Lenin believed the concepts of Proletkult to be un-Marxist and unmaterialist, he refrained initially from intervening against it on the grounds that it was not the role of the party to take positions on questions of art and culture. But Proletkcult's attempts to create a new culture under the conditions of war communism proved dangerous. The discovery that Narkompros' budget for the arts was larger than its budget for education and that the special rations which had been granted technical specialists had been extended to artists prompted Lenin late in 1920 to support Lunacharsky's demand that the hitherto freewheeling Proletkult be subordinated to Narkompros.

The immediate cultural necessity, he argued, was to raise the level of the Russian masses—to help them acquire the level of competency that the petty-bourgeoisie had taken for granted: literacy, simple arithmetic, hygiene. But the avant-garde artists of Proletkult disdained such mundane tasks. Lenin characterized them as "parasites...escapees from the bourgeois intelligentsia" who were looking for a playground in the institutions desperately needed by the workers.

Lenin was supported in his struggle against Proletkult by both Lunacharsky, who believed that proletarian culture was possible but not imminent, and Trotsky. Trotsky agreed with Lenin on the philosophical aspects of proletarian culture as well as the immediate priorities of raising the level of culture for the masses but disagreed with Lenin's evaluation of avant-garde experimentation and was particularly sympathetic to the futurists.

The real strength of Proletkult is demonstrated by the fact that after deciding in 1919 that the organization represented a danger, it took the Bolsheviks two years to achieve its subordination to Narkompros. Proletkult was also censured for its claim to have brought about "immediate socialism" in the cultural sphere, a "proletarian culture" totally emancipated from the bourgeois past. It is instructive that throughout this fight Lenin never resorted to censorship. Freedom of expression for all except active counterrevolutionaries was a fiercely guarded principle during Lenin's lifetime.

Degeneration, Defection, Death.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) initiated in 1921 meant a loosening up in most areas, but coinciding asit did with the end of the Proletkult fight and the reorganization and trimming down of Narkompros, it hit the arts like an austerity program. It was all Lunacharsky could do to salvage subsidies for the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Ballets, the Academic Theater and the Moscow Art Theater. He almost lost on the ballet, which Lenin ordered closed because of its "negligible artistic value" and high cost of mainte¬nance; He managed to keep the Bolshoi open, after the Council of Trade Unions ordered it closed, only by arguing that the theater was needed for congresses and state functions. Other theaters maintained themselves by selling tickets to those who could afford them and distributing a small number to trade unions and schools at half price. The Proletkult Theater and the Isadora Duncan School maintained their premises but were told to support themselves through performances. Duncan, with 40 students and a staff to support, went on a pan-Soviet tour, which was artistically successful, but after the expenses of the orchestra and transportation were settled, she had little left with which to maintain her school. Her next tour to Central Asia was so financially disastrous that she decided that if she must go back to dancing for money she should go to a country that had some—the United States. But al¬though her concerts in the U.S. were sold out, she was banned in Boston and other cities for "inflammatory Communist dancing" and oratory.

The degeneration of the revolution after 1924 and the insidious entrenchment of the Stalinist bureaucracy was reflected in the arts. In the ballet, experimentation with themes of class struggle began to be booed off the stage. George Balanchine was publicly criticized for his experiments with pantomime, which were character¬ized as a break with "artistic tradition." In 1924 he and his whole company defected and joined Diaghilev in Paris—the first in a long line of Soviet ballet dancers to defect.

In 1925 the poet Esenin, Isadora Duncan's estranged husband, committed suicide. Although ostensibly an apolitical act, this suicide, like Balanchine's defection, started a trend among artists. In fact, the self-destruction of poets associated with "drunkenness and bohemian influences" created a new Russian word— "Esenism." These suicides represented the inability of a certain layer of artists either to submit to the growing bureaucracy or to fight it.

In 1929 Lunacharsky resigned his post as commissar of education. In the same year, Maiakovsky wrote "The Bedbug" and "The Washhouse," skillful, satirical plays exposing the bureaucracy. The public criticism of these works was brutal. He was allowed no reply and was hounded until he finally recanted. But although in a poem of capitulation he promised to write one hundred party books and publish them in the official party press, he was never to write anything again. In 1930 he shot himself.

In 1935 Maiakovsky was proclaimed a national hero by Stalin. Russian school children were compelled to memorize his poems; posthumous awards were bestowed; a subway station was named in his honor. One understands that when a subway station is dedicated to a martyred poet by his persecutors the time for debating questions of aesthetics, style and freedom is past." (Boldface by Markin)

Monday, November 08, 2010

*A Snapshot View Of The Leaders Of The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution-Soviet Culture Commissar Anatol Lunacharsky

Click on title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the 1917 Bolshevik revolutionary leader and agitator and later early Soviet Culture and Education commissar, Anatol Lunacharsky. No added comment is needed in this space for the work, life and deeds of this man as his "Revolutionary Silhouettes" posted here today speak for that work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal- "Revolutionary Defeatism"

Click on the headline to link to the “Revolutionary History” Journal entry listed in the title.

Markin comment:

This is an excellent documentary source for today’s militants to “discovery” the work of our forbears, whether we agree with their programs or not. Mainly not, but that does not negate the value of such work done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.

Monday, July 05, 2010

*Writer's Corner-Less than zero: Bret Easton Ellis’s sequel misses- A Guest Book Review

Click on the headline to link to a Sunday Boston Globe, dated July 4, 2010, guest book review of Bret Eason Ellis' latest novel.

Markin comment:

The reason that I am posting this guest review is that the reviewer's (Jay Atkinson) first paragraph hits the nail right on the head about the dearth of sympathetic (or even likable) characters that populate most contemporary literature:

"Sometime in the 1970s, when money and power became mixed up in the counterculture, it all went horribly wrong, in literature and in life. The primary books that celebrate this intriguing aspect of Americana, works by writers like Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, and Jim Carroll — even Whitman and Thoreau — often featured charismatic quasi-hoboes as their protagonists, enlightened seekers in pursuit of “joy, kicks, darkness, music,’’ in Kerouac’s famous expression. These penniless hipsters were not looking for freedom from authority so much as freedom from oppression; for the most part, they were willing to live, and let live."

Does anyone else have that same sense? Or sense of the decline of "hobo" sensibility.
Neal Cassady from Kerouac Denver, "The Brown Buffalo", Oscar Acosta, from Thompson California, Duane from McMurtry Texas, McMurphy from Kesey Oregon, Hell, even Faulkner crazies from Mississippi and Tennessee Williams misfit from all over the South. I could go on. Where have they gone in techno-America? At least they could have left an e-mail address. Right?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

*Not Quite Ready For Prime Time Class Struggle- The Art Of Fine Cooking For The Servantless- “Julie and Julia”- A Film Review

Click on the title to link to a "The Sunday Boston Globe", December 13, 2009, review of writer/cook/apprentice butcher Julie Powell, author of the blog and book reviewed below.

Every once in a while there is something to review that I have watched, listened to or read that just does not fit the 'high' standards of this space. Something that is lacking in the way of lessons to be drawn for the pushing the class struggle forward. Or, put another way, this writer, on occasion has the need to stretch out and write something whimsical. Today commentary is one such example. So be it.

DVD Review

Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep, directed by Nora Ephron, 2009

I can boil water. My “soul mate” can boil water and, in addition, throw something into the pot. That, sadly, is the extent of our culinary acumen. That condition, nevertheless, does not preclude said “soul mate” from enthusiastically partaking in the recent mania for all things cookery. This last sentence is a round-about way of getting to the why of reviewing this recent film centered on a parallel presentation of the lives of a modern (maybe, post-modern, blog and all), alienated, middle class woman who gets caught up in a French cooking frenzy and the American post-World War II “queen” of that domain, the alienated, upper middle class woman, Julia Child.

Now it would be quite easy to sneer at the original premise of the plot- connecting the high-pitched old PBS icon Child with a "thoroughly modern Millie", Julie, in a fluffy, feel good piece of film about the travails of finding meaning in modern day life. Or to look askance at those old OSS (predecessor of the CIA) connections of old Julia and her husband, Paul. Or, more interestingly, the noblesse oblige premise of an intelligent woman with time on her hands behind her manic struggle to publish a book on fine French cooking for the average, servantless American housewife.

On most days I would be more than happy to throw some barbs that way. But here is the “skinny”. This is just , in its own way, a funny look at a couple of slices of Americana. Beside that, who has time to be critical, in the above-mentioned ways, when you have to concentrate on watching Meryl Streep BE Julia Child. (Director Nora Ephron, apparently, just let Streep goes through her paces, thankfully). As always that actress turns in a sterling performance, no matter what the part. Moreover, if those are not good and sufficient reasons for taking a dive on this subject, please remember that “soul mate”, who loved this film. I do not want to have to revive, in our household, the old tradition of having someone else taste my food before I eat it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

*Writer’s Corner- Dalton Trumbo’s Anti-War Classic “Johnny Got His Gun”

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Dalton Trumbo's classic anti-war novel "Johnny Got His Gun".

Book Review

Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo, Vintage, New York, 1993

The subject of war has had all sorts of novelistic treatments, the most successful usually trending lightly on the war action itself and delving into the personal choices and consequences of the characters as their central aim. In that odd sense the most compelling novelistic treatments are either pro-war (for some seemingly rational reason like defending one’s country or coming to the aid of a smaller, weaker country, etc.) or neutral to the more physical and psychological dimensions of the situation. A flat out, anti-war (or, to use a more vague term, pacifistic) treatment is usually not successful either because it has a “preaching to the choir” quality or strikes some false chord. That is not the case with Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun”.

Although this novel was written under the sign of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in the late 1930s , reflected in Communist International and American Communist Party political line as one of intense opposition to Western war preparations it brings more home truths than merely another piece of ‘communistic’ propaganda and it would be incorrect even for staunch anti-Stalinists to dismiss it out of hand. Joe, the main character here, maimed beyond belief and repair, is every mother’s son, every American mother’s son. His interior monologue, as he remembers his past, his lost youth, his desires and the useless way he was used in the last days of World War I is almost unique in the way the story unfolds. It certainly is not for the faint-hearted, or the weak-minded. As steps are now being taken to up the ante in Afghanistan, another one of those wars to ‘defend’ democracy this thing should be required reading for every mother, and every mother’s son and daughter who seeks to put him or herself in harm’s way.

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye
words and music Traditional

While on the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While on the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While on the road to sweet Athy
A stick in me hand and a drop in me eye
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

With your drums and guns and drums and guns, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and drums and guns, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and drums and guns
The enemy nearly slew ye
Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Where are your eyes that look so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your eyes that look so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your eyes that look so mild
When my poor heart you first beguiled
Why did ye run from me and the child
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

Where are your legs with which ye run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs with which ye run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs with which ye run
When first you learned to carry a gun
Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

I'm happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I'm happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I'm happy for to see ye home
All from the island of Sulloon
So low in flesh, so high in bone
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Ye haven't an arm, ye haven't a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven't an arm, ye haven't a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven't an arm, ye haven't a leg
Ye're an armless, boneless, chickenless egg
Ye'll be having to put a bowl to beg
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

I'm happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I'm happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I'm happy for to see ye home
All from the island of Ceylon;
So low in the flesh, so high in the boon.
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Extra lyrics I found:

They're rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They're rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They're rolling out the guns again
But they never will take our sons again
No they never will take our sons again
Johnny I'm swearing to ye.

Chords: KEY D

Background: Which came first the chicken or the egg. I first learned about "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" from a popular American version written during the Civil War. That song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" was first published in 1863 as "Words and Music by Louis Lambert," which was a pseudonym for Patrick Sarsfield, 1829-1892. Patrick was a native of Ireland who emigrated to Boston. "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is a rousing song about a hero returning from war.

The first published version of "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye" came out several years after Sarsfield's song. Nevertheless, it is strongly believed to have originated in Ireland.

It's a much more somber song that tells about the woes and horrors of war in the popular folk tradition of describing the body parts blown off a soldier who does not come home to his love.