People under communism; Drama to order, part one
People under communism. This is a transcribed series of full hour programs based on documented evidence and expert knowledge about the power and intentions of the Soviet Union. This series is presented by the National Association of educational broadcasters in consultation with scholars from the Russian Institute of Columbia University. The Hoover Institute and library at Stanford University and the Russian Research Center at Harvard University. The program you're about to hear drama to order. Is based on materials and counsel provided by Dr. Ernest Simmons chairman of the department of Slavic languages at Columbia University and professor of Russian literature in its Russian Institute.
I. Dr Ernest J Simmons has been a student of Russian literature and culture for some 20 years and has made five trips to the Soviet Union for research purposes. His biographies and critical studies of Pushkin Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are standard works. He has made an intensive study of Soviet government controls over the writers of plays. Now Dr. Simmons since we are probably going to have to live with the Soviet Union for many years to come it is perhaps dangerous to make a virtue of ignorance about it. Whatever may be the future of our relations it is highly important to know everything we can about that country and its peoples. One broad field of human endeavor in the Soviet Union of which little is known on the outside is the field of drama and the manner in which the government controls it. In the early days of the Soviet regime
playwrights were permitted some freedom and often they created plays of artistic merit. However with this swift growth of the power of Stalin and the domination of the Communist Party he heads regimentation of drama grew rapidly in this new policy all Soviet playwrights have been placed under rigorous controls by the party. How these controls operate in the Soviet Union and the effect they have on the playwright and his creations in drama will be the subject of this broadcast on drama to order. I invite you to go with me to attend a performance in a children's theatre in the Soviet Union. Perhaps the first such visit in American radio.
It is in Leningrad. Shortly after 5 o'clock on a summer afternoon we were standing in front of a famous theatrical house. The young spectators theatre in a few minutes we'll see snow ball a play about America perform before thousands of Russian children during the past few years. Children who live in cities are reaching from ah King jewel in the fallen off down to TIFF listen yet a bomb on the border of Turkey from the Baltic port of Riga eastward across the steppes of Central Asia to blot of a stock on the Sea of Japan. The theater we are about to enter the young spectator is the editor of Leningrad is only one of a network of professional theatres devoted to the entertainment of children. But it is time for the Mormon story. This way we are in the theater proper. Children from 8 to 13 are all around us boys and girls perhaps 50 in each road impatient for the performance to begin the stage projects into the audience
so that we surrounded on three sides. The rise of becoming accustomed to the dock now there is the orchestra grouped in front of the stage. I think they're about to stop. Following scenes from snowball. A story of America. Written expressly for Russian children. They are a literal translation from the Russian. And there goes the curtain. The action takes place in a city in the United States on the stage before us is inexpensively furnished living room in the home of missed a bit of an American millionaire as he sits at his desk his teenage daughter Angela enters. Ha. I want to have a talk with you. I am listing my child. I can't go to school anymore. It's too much from what should have come up from the
south. We had to enter my business demanded it. I'm setting up something big. Your inherent millions who Sure it's nice to have millions but can't you do something to stop me from being humiliated. I can't change the law or child in the public schools of the city everybody studies together white and colored children alike. There is no private school in the city. It's one of those black faces wouldn't sit so close right next to me. But shove with their elbows loud and add to their lessons right in the south they sit separately in the back of the room. But here that Mr. Thompson he's too good to be someone's at the door. It's probably me. Alone I'd like to speak to the principal Mr. Thompson this is Bedell a member of the school board.
Well Mr. Thompson. Yes yes I'd like to see you personally I have a great many suggestions. Of course when would you suggest we get together Mr. Thompson. There's that too. You can't make it six Wednesday. All right. As day about. Until I'm going out. The curtain rises on the next scene. It is the following Thursday shortly before almost a bit of Angelus father is due to arrive at the school. Mr. THOMPSON The school principal is in his office with Dick Dempsey the negro boy they call Snowball. Now listen day you stop worrying and study just as if no new comers were in class. I'm SNOW Mr. Thompson. Well my grandfather was a porter. My father's a longshoreman and my mother was a maid.
My uncle was an elevator operator who put a curse on her people. Why should we always be servants. I want to study I want to be a great series you know. That's what I want to do Mr. Thompson. You will do it even if it is hard. Don't believe those who would have you think you are not worthy of lofty ideas and feelings. You know people are clever and talented and they have produced great scholars artists and musicians so study Dick study calmly. You can be a surgeon. I sure hope you. I certainly shall. You are so very grateful to Mr. Thompson. Goodbye Dick. Goodbye Mr. Thompson a few moments later missed the bill arrives at the office. I mean how do you do Mr. Bellew.
Good afternoon Mr. Thompson. Sit down. You wanted to see me on a personal matter. I won't keep you. Yes I have a personal matter with you. My daughter is being treated badly and your school Mr. Thompson. Angela has been complaining about it treated badly by whom by some of the students in our class. Perhaps your daughter should seek the reason for it in her own character. I would like to spare my daughter from an analysis of my character. I am asking you to step into the situation in the class you know. I always prefer that children solve their own conflicts and it usually works out all right. I myself step in only in an emergency in the present situation I'm going to request I'm going to insist. That you take decisive steps. I demand that you give another seat to that. What's his name. Dick. I believe they call him snowball snowball the other members of his race in the back seats.
I should insult a boy who is fine in every respect because he is a negro. I will not do that. I gave my word to my student Dick Dempsey that nobody will dare to prevent him from studying in their school or you are a dangerous man Mr. Thompson. You want especially dangerous because you can instill sympathy for the harmful and useless ideas which you preach. I'll be frank with you. I'm a busy man and I did not intend to get tied up in a school at the present time. My daughter complained she was treated badly and I merely wanted to rectify that. But now I have run into you. You are not the right person to be heading this school. Do you think you want to turn your students against the government. I want to make my students honest Americans who won't have to blush before the whole world because of their country. We will not permit our children to be crippled in school. We shall bring them up to be real Americans from now on this school is going to be my direct concern if victims in all the children are not put in the back of the room by tomorrow. You will regret your stubbornness.
Think it over before it's too late. Mr. Thompson we are going to fight for our children for the future America. We will bring them up for the world for real freedom for friendship. We won't give in. You don't frighten us. We will fight. Missed a bit o makes good his threat and succeeds in having Mr Thompson removed as principal of the school. But in the last act of snowball Thompson gathers Dick Dempsey and his friends together and militantly shouts his resistance to racial prejudice. This Russian play snowball from which you have just heard X literal translations from the Russian was awarded a Stalin prize the highest honor for a literary or dramatic work. And the piece says enjoyed the great
popularity in the Soviet Union. You may have found these scenes rather shocking but this play is only one of a number of Russian plays about American race prejudice. A Soviet commentator writes in a magazine of the Russian children's reaction to an actual performance of Snowball the tense silence in the auditorium is suddenly broken by indignant child's. The young spectators jump from their seats and shout someone is broken into tears. Then the uproar subsides and the audience is quiet for a few minutes while there is a thunderbolt of applause. A second Soviet critic writes of Snowball the play exposes the most repellent feature of present day imperialist America racism. But theatre has produced a penetrating show that mercilessly exposes the inhumanity of business men. The young Soviet actors have
capably rendered life's cruel truth ever shown how deeply moved they are by the tragedy of the Negro people in America. Snowball is by no means an isolated example of the technique employed by the Soviets to represent America as a nation divided against itself. The purpose behind such plays is an obvious one to hammer home to impressionable youngsters the suffering and the injustices of the non Soviet world. This might be termed mine a variation of a basic theme that the will of the Soviet Union is the best of all possible worlds. Unfortunate indeed is the child who lives there and not elsewhere. Snowball is one of the answers to the government demand made upon Dramatis in the resolution of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party on Aug. 26 1946 in title the repertory of the dramatic the Eddas and the measures for its improvement. This resolution began a
purge of the theater and drama accompanied by the endless breast beatings that have always been one of the most sorrowful aspects of ideological changes in the arts in the Soviet Union. Many of the well-known playwrights became the targets of numerous Hosley critical articles in the press. Official critics openly demanded the Dramatis heels of the commands of the Communist Party in the writing of planes. This is what one party critic said we should write about and portray for the stage a Soviet citizen the builder of the future whose qualities of character and spirit will show to our play go ours as well as to the whole world. The ideological and truly human superiority of our people raised under our socialist regime. But this is a suave and kindly way of giving an order to the right. Listen now to what one of the leading Soviet playwrights declared in prob in defense of communism in drama and in the arts in general.
We have an unbending character quite unpleasant for our enemies. We will not change it. Let our enemies think us unpleasant coming from them. It is a compliment. Publicly from the tribune of Iraq for all the world to hear we say and will keep on saying that we are communists and will keep on fighting for communism that we consider communism to be the only path for humanity to follow into the future that our communistic ideals have been are and shall be immutable and that no one is going to change them. Remember these are the words of one of the most popular dramatist in the Soviet Union. Constantine seminar in the same article he goes on to say and to their zealous had tickets of your art we should say there are different opinions about the beauty of Alton about the beauty of life. There is the opinion that life's beauty lies outside the bounds
of struggle outside toil outside of trials and that consequently the beauty of all it is also outside all of this. On the other hand there is the opinion that the main beauty of life lies precisely within the struggle within toil within trial and that within then lies also the beauty of art. This is a deeply rooted part of your opinion. This is so we affirm this more than that. We are proud of it. That was the statement of Soviet playwright Constantine seaman as it appeared in prompter in the new postwar themes for drama it was quite inevitable that the West in America should become primary objects of attack this attack runs the whole gamut of intellectual and artistic life. It is a curious and new departure for the Soviets. There had been no possibility of criticism of the West in America in the Soviet Union before
this but it had always been done with a frank admission of our more obvious achievements and then obvious feelings. It had taken the form largely of a condemnation of Bush walk capitalism in its way of light before the war portrayals of Americans in Soviet plays revealed a frank admiration for their efficiency and industrial genius. But the criticism now is designed to prove to Soviet citizens that there is absolutely no aspect of life and culture in which the Soviet Union is not supreme. It all appears to be cold war propaganda of the Soviet third international against the Democratic International in which the Soviet man must be convinced of his superiority and that of his civilization in the drama. This aspect has been reflected in a whole group of plays fiercely
denunciatory of American and Western European bootable life intended not only to damage our way of life but also to purge any surviving vestiges of esteem which Soviet citizens may have for that way of life over the last few years. More than 30 Soviet plays have been directed against one aspect or another of American life or political policy. They have often been stollen Prize winners and have been played to millions of Soviet citizens. Some of their titles are the Russian question the color of the skin shadow the Voice of America Missouri walls the mad haberdasher. Plays in which Americans have been held up to scorn as spies gangsters war mongers imperialists and business racketeers with clever propagandists still real abuses and weaknesses in American life are singled out as the theme's poor race relations the oppression of minorities political corruption yellow journalism
red baiting violations of civil liberties and these weaknesses and abuses then misrepresented as being widely accepted in uncorrected in the United States as in the play snowball. The power of such propaganda should not be underestimated but the huge superstructure of the Soviet is regarded by the state as one of its best instruments for forming the minds of its citizens. But there are hundreds of professional theatres and thousands of amateur ones and the audiences yearly run into the millions and its repertory is entirely controlled by the state. It is possible however that the propaganda designs of the Kremlin in this respect do not fool all the Soviet people all of the time. For some years now it has been impossible to go to the Soviet Union to test this supposition by asking the average theater goer
what he or she thinks of the plays performed. Granting that they would be unafraid to tell the truth. I have here with me an escapee from the Soviet Union Mr. Alexander. I'll be interested Mr. Alexander to hear your reactions to some of the things that have been said here today and reactions to your own experiences with the Soviet theater. Miss Alexander did you go often to see plays in the Soviet theater or do you mean Soviet plays or foreign and old Russian plays. Well as a matter of fact I had in mind precisely Soviet plays the Soviet plays I was never too anxious to see them. But still I saw some of them. Do you recall some of the titles of the plays you saw I saw and then this so-called Blahnik which is in English. Well true you are idiotic I suppose you could say Adrian
Chiles though it has been translated into English you know when it's called Father unknown which is pretty remote from the original title. But they're all so much alike that I don't recall the title of the one. Always knew what would be ended play. You mean by that I'd take it that the situations in them were stereotyped. The motivation was always the same and the characters were pretty much all alike. Well yes that was the situation. Why do you suppose they're all alike. What makes them. Just about as unvarying gaited as a row of telephone poles. It is the fact that there are always good heroes bad heroes. Not that hero. I mean as bad the characters division is really primitive and you know that the bad characters are always enemies of the party that good characters are always good communists and it really makes it not
interesting at all it has I think it has these players have no artistic value whatsoever. Now you said that you saw Pavel Greco. This was a rather popular play you recall in the Soviet Union perhaps you could tell us what your reactions were to that play. Well I certainly didn't like it and I could feel that it is what they call NOT Russian I get that there is propaganda education I detect there but I have seen people shedding tears over the adventures of the Communist hero who is the victim of the enemy of the people who want to compromise him. Now these were not adults but still this were also a disparate Adela's sense and I think this is quite symbolic. That it just shows that the propaganda did it. Dana's second part of the audience.
Well after all this play was an attempt to show how the enemies of the party made life miserable for a young communist who had achieved considerable success and how Eventually he managed to rehabilitate himself. How would you describe the propaganda element in that place. I think that this was really an attempt of this on the part of a Soviet government to give they had entered a pretty ation of the so-called purges because they just wanted to show that the purges of the party abetted justified by the by different anti-Soviet making nations of the enemies of the people. Well now you've heard these scenes from snowball. Do you remember similar propaganda plays in the children's the US. Well I don't remember the titles but I do recall that I had to go to the children's theatre and I do recall that my parents suggested that I go there more often a while. Such a suggestion
is of course as good as an order. Relieve on your parents. I know that from my parents but it was a suggestion by the school teacher and a school teacher. Well now are you suggesting Mr. Alexander over that children go to the children's theaters only because they are ordered to do so. Well as suggestion of this kind of suggestion from a school teacher to the child's parents is as good as an order and I think that a great percent probably they'd go for this reason. You don't think they really find enjoyment in the children's theatre. Perhaps some children do this is quite possible but there is never so certain a percent of children which went to the theatre simply because the parents are very afraid not to let the children go. It is known that through the children and through school they party exercises control over the parents.
Then you feel that the children's theatre is pretty much a propaganda weapon used by the government in a vast educational program of bringing up young Soviet citizens to be worshippers of the regime. I certainly do. How can that be affected in some of the rather fantastic themes that they employ in the children's The it is the themes from Hans Christian Anderson all the themes from the lovely little poetic stories of Pushkin themes from the Brothers Grimm's Fairy Tales how can they make use of these for propaganda purposes. Well they make hues of these stories by. Emphasizing the cute features of different characters and yet we have yet a division on bad and good characters and the rich are always the bad characters about the
poor are always the good characters. So that here where you have a picture of a vulgarized idea of class struggle the rich are always the hue of a reassurance they're always cowards while the poor are of the clever the courageous the magnanimous and it certain effects in a certain way the imagination of the children. Or better to say it is supposed to influence the children's imagination. Now in the dope place where you were in your friends conscious of the fact that an effort was being made to propagandize I think this is a very important and a very serious problem because their opinions do vary I have heard some people say that only a very small number escapes the propaganda that is that only a very small number really realizes that it is propaganda. On the
other hand there are opinions that the circles of Russian intel against where the old traditional cultural traditions of the period of illusion or Russia are still alive hate these place and they're very well aware of the propaganda behind it. No the Soviet youth is partly aware of it but of course it is a part of Soviet use which is influenced by the propaganda because they have no contact with abroad. They can't read books published abroad they know nothing about it and at the same time they know that the propaganda and to believe in it is an indispensable condition of success in social and political life and therefore they're willing to believe or are they just. Forces themselves still believe. Do you think that the average theatre goer Miss Alexander also understands that the Soviet government has set up a whole series of
controls whereby they determine exactly what the content of these plays will be. The ideological message that they will purvey and also whether or not they can even be performed many people do know it. And I would say that often has many of the Soviet citizens have seen the live end of us. I have been you. If you have devoted to the masses of Soviet people having seen the live in the West do not believe anymore the propaganda and they certainly are aware that there is a strong propaganda in every Soviet play and I'm sure they are aware of it now. When oh so many Soviet plays didn't direct it to set at nought the influence the impression debased made upon the speech people. Do you yourself have any idea of just how these controls work in
drama in the Soviet Union did you. Did you and your friends ever become aware of the methods and the steps by which the government managed to control the drama. I don't know but. I always knew that the writer if you would not write what the government would like him to will never have his splay perform. If the people are bored by these propaganda plays and you give the definite impression that they are bored seeing plays with the same situations the same type of hero the same negative characters. Why do you suppose that they keep on going to see these plays again and again. Well first of all the this Soviet plays are not as frequent as the old Russian and foreign place. It is much
easier to get tickets for these plays and it is to get in to get tickets for the old Russian and foreign plays at the same time. They are still frequented for the reason that Russian people have very few opportunities of spending there. There are very few places where they could spend their time after work where they could relax. They have only theatre and movies and. There is an old tradition of Russia to visit St. Peter's. That's why even the Soviet plays have sometimes a food audience I would say judging from the figures that are made available to worse though we can't be certain always how correct they are that the Soviet theater is about as well attended in the USSR as sports are attended in this country. That is the audience's run into the millions and millions every
year. So I find it rather hard to understand why people would go all out of their way to be bored. Well I think first of all that the figures which Soviets give are never right and if there is of course such a great continuation of the theater it is on the account of foreign and old Russian plays and certainly not in their count of this Soviet plays.
- People under communism
- Drama to order, part one
- Producing Organization
- National Association of Educational Broadcasters
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Episode Description
- This program, the first of two parts, analyzes the state of drama in the Soviet Union.
- Series Description
- A series of documentaries, interviews and talks based upon documented evidence and expert knowledge about the power and intentions of the Soviet Union.
- Broadcast Date
- Politics and Government
- Drama--Soviet Union--History and criticism.
- Media type
Advisor: Simmons, Ernest J. (Ernest Joseph), 1903-1972
Advisor: Hoover Institute and Library on War, Revolution, and Peace
Advisor: Columbia University. Russian Institute
Advisor: Harvard University. Russian Research Center
Director: Papp, Frank, 1909-1996
Funder: Fund for Adult Education (U.S.)
Host: Simmons, Ernest J. (Ernest Joseph), 1903-1972
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Writer: Papp, Frank, 1909-1996
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 52-38-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “People under communism; Drama to order, part one,” 1952-12-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 5, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-s756jt9h.
- MLA: “People under communism; Drama to order, part one.” 1952-12-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 5, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-s756jt9h>.
- APA: People under communism; Drama to order, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-s756jt9h