Bolshevik festivals, 1917-1920 by James von Geldern

By James von Geldern

Within the early years of the USSR, socialist festivals--events entailing huge, immense cost and the deployment of hundreds of thousands of people--were inaugurated through the Bolsheviks. Avant-garde canvases embellished the streets, employees marched, and problematic mass spectacles have been staged. Why, with a civil warfare raging and an economic climate in ruins, did the regime sponsor such spectacles?In this primary accomplished research of ways fairs helped construct a brand new political tradition, James von Geldern examines the mass spectacles that captured the Bolsheviks' historic imaginative and prescient. Spectacle administrators borrowed from a practice that incorporated tsarist pomp, avant-garde theater, and well known celebrations. They remodeled the ideology of revolution right into a mythologized series of occasions that supplied new foundations for the Bolsheviks' declare to strength.

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Realists drew or wrote about things, they filled their work with ideas, they frowned on playfulnessall of which are designed to spoil a festival. The fin-de-siécle symbolist movement reacted to realism with consternation. How, the symbolists asked, can truth be depicted realistically, when it is intangible, objectless, ethereal? Eventually, with the arrival of a second generation of symbolists, the antirealist impulse bred an interest in older styles of theater associated with festivals and fairgrounds.

The most important factor in remaking celebrations was a new function: propaganda. The use of public spectacles to explain intricate political principles moved the Bolsheviks into a dialogue with a cultural tradition that was in many ways alien to their goals. Drawing an idiom from traditional popular culture, liturgical rites, and even tsarist ceremonies was expedient because that vocabulary was most familiar to the people. Yet these symbols and spectacles shifted attention away from ideology, the Bolsheviks' fundamental claim to power.

Boris Kustodiev, Celebration for the Second Congress of the Third International, Petrograd, July 1920. 8. Toward a World Commune, mass spectacle, Stock Exchange, Petrograd, July 1920. 9. Vladimir Tatlin, Monument to the Third International, Petrograd, 1920. 10. The Red stage, Storming of the Winter Palace, mass spectacle, Petrograd, November 1920. 11. Liubov Popov and Alexander Vesnin, design for a theatricalized mass maneuver in honor of the Third International, Moscow, 1921. Page xiii Acknowledgments I have been gratified during the writing of this book by the interest I have met with on the part of my colleagues.

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