"The form of value," Antonio Negri argues, "is the material representation of the organisation of collective labour in a determinate society" (1992, 70). By this, he means that the form of value that is dominant in a given society at a particular historical moment is a practically-determined social concept that corresponds to the "social constitution." The constitution is "the mechanism of the labour of a multitude of subjects." Thus, the form of value "constitutes the socially effective and representative mediation of the labour processes, of the norms of consumption, of the models of regulation--it resides, in short, 'above' the mode of production." In Capital (1867), Marx identifies a series of phases in the history of the labour process--from handicraft, through manufacture, to large-scale industry--that indicate a series of transformations of the mode of production. With each of these transformations, society is gradually reconstituted along the lines of the newly-dominant labour process; society has to change in order for capitalism to keep on ticking in its new form. These transformations affect the interactions between production and consumption, the forms of the State, the institutions of civil society, the forms of the political organisation of labour, and the social forms of the production, circulation and reception of culture. It is the form of value that mediates these transformations and their interaction; it is the cement that holds it all together. These processes of transformation, however, should not be conceived in a linear fashion. They follow the dynamic of the capitalist social relation and are consequently determined by the antagonism that it constitutes. Society does not automatically become "Fordist" or "post-Fordist." It does so as the result of struggles. Thus, Negri concludes:
[T]he form of value is a function of the antagonisms and a product of their solution. The form of value, as the material transcendental of the constitution of a multitude, is submitted to the alternatives which the social antagonisms determine: it can therefore alternatively tend either toward identifying itself with the "mode of production" or, on the contrary, toward being critically lived through revolutionary practice. (1992, 71)I am interested in analysing the constitution and interactions between political, ideological and cultural formations; specifically focusing on twentieth-century theatrical projects that have defined themselves, in one way or another, as of, for, or by "the people"--however that entity is understood. Within what has been identified as the "Fordist" phase of capitalist society, not only has there tended to be a direct connection, through sponsorship and/or ideological direction--between radical political formations and cultural producers (for example, the Communist Party of Germany's support for Piscator's production of Red Revue , and the subsequent emergence of agit-prop as a new mass theatrical form in Germany), but also, and more importantly I believe, there has tended to be a clear correlation between the organisational forms of each. While the direct connection may have subsequently faded in the later stages of Fordism, the correlation at the level of organisational form remains identifiable. I will propose that this correlation exists by virtue of the formative influence of the dominant form of value in a determinate society. If this is so, it may serve as a means of identifying the distinguishing features between the operation of the revolutionary and fascist versions of "mass theatre" which were produced in the early stages of Fordist society. The similarity at the level of organisational form between the different mass theatrical events would derive from their common articulation of the dominant form of value of the emerging Fordist society. The differences between them would derive from the different means by which that articulation occurs. The different articulations of the technologies of theatre in each could be located in their submission to the alternatives presented by the social antagonisms whose solution is embodied in the form of value: mimetic identification with or critical transformation of the mode of production. "For if the status quo is taken for granted and petrified," Adorno suggests:
a much greater effort is needed to see through it than to adjust to it and to obtain at least some gratification through identification with the existent--the focal point of fascist propaganda. This may explain why ultra-reactionary movements use the "psychology of the masses" to a much greater extent than do movements which show more faith in the masses. (1991, 129).Through an analysis of the articulations of the technologies of theatre in Soviet and Fascist Italian "popular theatre," I will attempt to demonstrate that my proposition has some validity.
I have heard reference made to a crisis of the theater. This crisis is real, but it cannot be attributed to the cinema's success. It must be considered from a dual perspective, at once spiritual and material. The spiritual aspect concerns authors, the material aspect the number of seats. It is necessary to prepare a theater of masses, a theater able to accommodate 15,000 or 20,000 persons. . . . The scarcity of seats creates the need for high prices which keep the crowds away. But theaters, which, in my view, possess greater educational efficacy than do cinemas, must be designed for the people, just as dramatic works must have the breadth the people demand. They must stir up the great collective passions, be inspired by a sense of intense and deep humanity, and bring to the stage that which truly counts in the life of the spirit and in human affairs. Enough with this notorious romantic "triangle" that has so obsessed us to this day! The full range of triangular configurations is by now long exhausted. Find a dramatic expression for the collective's passions and you will see the theaters packed. Mussolini. 28th April, 1933.The declaration of a "crisis" in the theatre--the feeling that it had somehow been left behind in the rush of modernization sweeping Europe in the first few decades of the twentieth century--was a common pretext for the modernist avant-garde's violent intervention in and transformation of the existing theatrical apparatus and their place in the social relations of culture. Common too was the appeal to what was perceived as a new subject of history--the people, the proletariat, the masses--as a guarantor of any project's leap beyond the anachronistic. What they were attempting to leap over was the bourgeois individual--that entity waylaid by the first world war "under a hail of steel and a holocaust of fire" (Piscator), and, so it seemed, laid to rest by the twin poles of capitalist crisis: the Russian revolution and the crash of 1929. What was less clear was what kind of post-bourgeois collective subject would rise in its place. This was not just an issue for the "revolutionary" ideologies of left or right. As Gramsci shows, the attempt to answer that question may be identified behind the educational and disciplinary Puritanism of Ford: "the need to elaborate a new type of man suited to the new type of work and productive process" leading to the attempt "with the aid of a body of inspectors, to intervene in the private lives of his employees and to control how they spent their wages and how they lived" (1971, 286; 304).
It is within the interrelations between the elements constituting this problematic that the Italian fascist mass spectacle 18BL (1934) attempted to install itself. Theatre--a "theatre of masses," as demanded by Mussolini almost exactly one year previously--was posited as a site for the creative mediation of social modernization, "revolutionary" political ideology, and cultural subject-formation. With the adoption of the social form of the mass spectacle for its organisational processes enabling the constitution of a mass, collective subjectivity, and the presupposition of the development of a more fully modern society--the constitution of an industrially-based "mass society"--18BL found itself, however, facing a dilemma. In contrast to, for example, the Nazi Thingspiele movement (1934-37), which harked back to the ceremonial rites of the ancient Teutons, the Italian fascist mass spectacle rushed to mark itself as a process and product of the modern. Not only did 18BL represent the fascist regime's attempt to move towards "the people," but it also had to embody its commitment to social modernization--a commitment demonstrated both through the show of the co-ordinated discipline of the hundreds upon hundreds of bodies necessary to stage the event, and through the thematic incorporation of the technological. Both these articulations--the collective constituted through the mass spectacle and the theme of technology--threatened to eliminate the specificy of its fascist political ideology by too close an association with the Bolshevik. On the one hand, the mass spectacle form, in the democratizing tendencies imparted to it ever since Wagner, threatened to eliminate the fascist sense of hierarchy: de Feo, one of 18BL's organizers, insisted:
It is absurd to consider, as I read somewhere, abolishing the distinction between different kinds of seating in these theaters-to-be; this is the usual facile rhetoric of our home-grown bolsheviks, who prepare American cocktails in rationalist salons while discussing mass psychology. (qtd. Schnapp 1996, 43-44)On the other, the incorporation of the technological threatened the "typically mechanico-positivist, materialist error" (Mussolini, qtd. Schnapp 1996, 32) of reducing man to the qualitatively-identical, mass-produced level of the machine; thereby threatening the dissolution of the possibility of positing "soul, spirit, beauty, heroism, individualism, and Latinity" (Schnapp 1996, 84). Consequently, it is to the specific articulation of these two elements that we may look in attempting to identify the distinguishing features of revolutionary and fascist popular theatre. As I will show, however, the latter's stress on its modernity--understood through the rubric of the techno-industrial, or Fordism--will produce a fragmentation in the former as an object of inquiry. Although the Soviet mass spectacles were the most direct influence on the organisational formation of 18BL, they do not represent, within its discursive "imaginary," the political ideology from which they sprang. This is because, I will argue, their articulation of social modernization is in "pre-Fordist" terms. It is at the level of competing articulations of the Fordist form of value that 18BL's antagonism with Soviet theatrical models may be identified. In pursuit of the latter, the investigation will be forced beyond the boundaries of "mass theatre."
is the post-revolutionary Soviet experiments that define the modern
form of "mass spectacles." The Soviet mass spectacle was not haunted
by questions about its specificy within the modernization thematic;
it knew itself to be new, and at that time its only competitors were
the elements of the "old world." Within the discursive world created
by the Soviet mass spectacles, the event announces itself as new by
virtue of its shift from the individual to the mass and the instigation
of a collective subject as both the subject and object of the drama.
In this way it distinguishes itself from the old, "pre-modern" society.
More specifically, it took the pre-revolutionary Symbolist utopias of
"ritual theatre" (whose formulation was largely a response to the abortive
1905 revolution), and recast their "people" as the proletariat (Kleberg
1980, 44-64). Platon Kerzhentsev's The Creative Theatre (1918) was the
most influential formulation in this direction--his book was in its
fourth edition by 1920. The October revolution had, he claimed, provided
the social base for the realization of the ritual community valorized
by the Symbolists; by the time of the fourth edition, he was able to
claim that "much of what seemed a utopia two years ago now appears to
be on the way to becoming a reality" (qtd. Kleberg 1980, 62). This claim
was based on the explosion of mass spectacles that had occurred in the
Petrograd, for example, May-day 1920 saw the performance of The Mystery
of Liberated Labour. Written by a collective author, it was performed
by around two thousand people before the former Stock Exchange. It followed
a three-act structure, depicting domination by the oppressors, their
battle with the oppressed and eventual defeat at their hands, and finally
the "Kingdom of Peace, Freedom, and Joyful Labour," imaged as a choral
dance around a "tree of freedom," the replacement of weapons for tools
of peaceful labour, and a fireworks display (von Geldern 1993, 158-9).
The most striking thing about the play, in comparison with 18BL, is
the means by which the collective is envisioned. Contrary to Marx's
understanding of the proletarian revolution as constituted around nothing
but the future, the Soviets "anxiously conjure up the spirits of the
past to their service . . . to present the new scene in world history
in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language" (Marx 1852,
595). Within Act II, the battle of slaves and oppressors is shown through
a series of struggles: Roman slaves under Spartacus, peasants led by
Stepan Razin, the Jacobins, and finally the Red Army. The positive figurations
of the new subject of history, then, are defined through reference to
older models of collectivity. What is absent from these figurations
is an engagement with the effects of modern "mass society's" loss of
qualitative distinction on collective subject-formation. Although the
subject of the drama is a "mass" one, this mass is defined through the
series of shifting--but qualitative--identities; it is thus a "pre-modern"
conception of the "mass." The principle behind the series was supposed
to be an increasing organisation whose highest point was the Red Army.
As von Geldern indicates, however, these differences "were not visible
in the performance" (162). The impression must have been more one of
a series of spontaneous, leaderless revolts.
intentions behind the development, although largely unrealized, do provide
a means of locating some of the differences between the Soviet and fascist
mass spectacle. This is because they point to a dynamic that was to
be most fully realized in The Storming of the Winter Palace (1920):
the legitimation of the Bolshevik revolution. In place of the metanymic
series of uprisings in Mystery, Storming provides a very specific, localized
and concrete referent: it was performed in the same location as the
events it depicted from three years previous. In this, though, it does
not alter the qualitative definition of its mass subject; rather, the
Red Army is installed even more directly. Performed on the 7th of November
before one hundred thousand spectators, the action begins with the February
revolution, follows the gradual organisation of the workers (on a red
stage to the left, with Kerensky and the provisional government on a
white stage to the right), until they are illuminated fully by searchlights,
and crying "Lenin, Lenin" charge over the arch which joins the two stages
to do battle with the "Whites." Kerensky leaps to a car for an escape,
and is pursued along a path between the two large groups of spectators
by trucks full of the Red Guard waving bayonets, to the Palace. Silhouettes
struggle in the windows of the Palace, until the Red Army is finally
successful, and red lights flash out. A canon fired from the battleship
Aurora and fireworks herald the victory of the October revolution. The
situatedness of Storming illustrates an aspect of the Soviet mass spectacles
that makes any comparison with 18BL complicated: rather than a general
plan to institute a tradition of perpetual cultural revolution and to
embody the ideological values yet-to-be-realized, the Soviet spectacles
have a very specific task: to garner support for the Bolshevik government
during the civil war. As von Geldern shows, the spectacles only appear
to exist on any significant scale for three years (1917-20), and with
the end of the war, and Lenin's introduction of the NEP (New Economic
Policy), their significance fades.
as such was not present as an organising principle of the Soviet mass
spectacles. Although the mechanical or technological occasionally played
a (usually subordinate) role in the productions--the motorcar, or the
searchlights used to shift the audience's attention--they never entered
as protagonist. In 18BL, however, the machinic, and the relation between
the human and the machine, becomes the very site of post-bourgeois subject-formation.
The association between socialism and the idea of the "modern" itself
must, through the rearticulation of the relations between the modernization
of industrial production and the disciplining of the human body required
to adjust to that new regime, be definitively broken, if fascism is
to retain its specificy. Consequently, the discursive environment that
the spectacle constructs is primarily oriented towards the question
of its relation to the Soviets. By virtue of the use of the rubric of
"bodies and machines" as a differentiating principle of the fascist
imaginary constituted by 18BL, however, the discourse of the event does
not address itself to the Soviet mass spectacles. The organizers were
content to allow the similarity between the two at the level of social
form to go unmarked. The supercession of the bourgeois individual by
the collective as both subject and object of the theatrical is common
to both ideological formations. The failure to differentiate at the
level of social form consequently disturbed some of 18BL's fascist critics.
Since 18BL uses the "bodies/machines" rubric as the basis of differentiation,
it is to those Soviet theatrical practices that are implicitly repudiated
though that usage that we must address ourselves if we are to attempt
to determine the specificy of its mode of articulation of the technologies
of theatre. Such a shift of comparison creates a problem and a question.
Firstly, the comparison will address only one pole of the stage/auditorium
relation--the stage. This is because the rubric does not appear within
the Soviet mass spectacles and so the latter offer no basis for comparison
of the differing articulations of bodies and machines. While it does
appear within Soviet avant-garde practices, they constitute the audience
very differently. Secondly, a question is inevitably raised: why, within
the Soviet tradition, are the themes of industrialization, modernization,
and the technological not mediated through the form of mass spectacle?
was named after the first truck to be mass-produced by Fiat, and presented
itself as an example of the embodiment of Mussolini's call for a theatre
of the masses. Like many of its Soviet predecessors, it consisted of
a three-act structure: depicting the first world war, the victory of
the fascist revolution, and the reconstruction of the nation that the
revolution proceeded to enact. The protagonist throughout this narrative
was a / the truck 18BL; strangely for a product of mass-production,
however, the truck is personalized--it is gendered, and exhibits human
qualities such as virtue and sudden impetuousness (for example, when
she overturns the "table" of parliament). As we shall see, not only
are these attributes designed to provoke the audience's identification,
they are also an essential part of the fascist conception of modernity.
After struggling through the war, the revolution, and reconstruction,
the truck breaks down, sacrificing herself in the swamps that are being
reclaimed by enabling a bridge to be built over her. Meanwhile, an equestrianly-mounted
Mussolini appears on the horizon, providing a suitable site for the
transference of the audience's identification. A script writing contest
was announced, prior to the production, that was designed to institutionalize
the production of mass spectacles for the future. 18BL was being heralded
as the model that would guide the fascist cultural production of the
is the organisation of the machines and bodies in 18BL that provides
the key to fascism's specificy. Although moving within the same general
stage space, the trucks and the human beings in the play occupy two
different, and mutually exclusive, dramatic universes. The specificy
of their articulation, then, lies in the constitution of each and the
mode of their interrelation. In occupying a separate and parallel dramatic
world, the bodies and machines "double" one another (Schnapp 1996, 89).
Any interaction between the two consequently takes the form of a mimetic
mirroring of entities that are fully constituted in their own world,
and whose integrity is not disturbed by the interaction. Within this
scheme of bifurcation, the final transference to the figure of Mussolini
gains additional significance: he embodies the individual who is able
to reconcile both worlds into one; a total fusion of the quantitative
self-identity of mass-production and the unique qualities of personality.
one possible example of the discursive object that constitutes the implicit
point of comparison for 18BL between socialism and fascism, I have chosen
Meyerhold's production of The Magnanimous Cuckold (1922). There are
two technologies are at work within Meyerhold's production: the mode
of performance that he refers to as "biomechanics" and the constructivist
set designed by Lyubov Popova. Each of these articulated a series of
relations in a particular way--a particularity that constitutes the
location of socialism's specificy for the discourse of 18BL. On the
one hand, then, biomechanics; Rudnitsky records the following note from
the Meyerhold archive: "Biomechanics is man-movement, man-speech; man-speech-movement;
man-space; man-collective (the masses)" (1988, 93). The relation I want
to focus on is the last. In 18BL, as Pavolini (another of its organizers)
describes it, "the idea of articulating the whole around an 18 BL truck
was seized upon: a truck as protagonist; as single and collective personage"
(qtd. Schnapp 1996, 51). According to this formulation, the truck does
not so much supplant the bourgeois individual as supplement it by providing
the model for its socialization. The truck is the vehicle for the metaphoric
leap from the individual to the mass conceived as individual. When Mussolini
appeals for the abolition of the triangular configurations, therefore,
it is less the triangulation that is being objected to (at least, so
the "argument" of 18BL would run), than its limitation to an individual
level. The individual triangle of the family romance is supplemented
by a collective, socialized triangle of Mussolini as the national father
embodying the fusion of the maternal machine and the mass as collective
subject. Within Meyerhold's biomechanics, however, the movement from
the individual to the collective does not proceed via metaphoric leap;
rather, it proceeds via the transmission of rhythm. This in turn consists
of a deliberateness of movement, shorn of inessentials, derived from
a responsive interaction with the movement of the other actors. Consequently,
the biomechanical movement from individual to collective involves the
mutual readjustment of its constituent elements which, as we shall see,
also includes the machinic.
constructivist set produces the second series of relations articulated
by Meyerhold's production. The constructivists are associated with the
idea of "production art." "It was only natural," Kleberg claims, "that
the theatre, the most public art form, should have held a special attraction
for the advocates of production art" (1980, 72). Although this statement
correctly identifies the involvement of Tretyakov, Eisenstein, Axenov,
Popova, etc. with theatrical productions, it elides what Rudnitsky identifies
as "an amusing paradox" (1988, 90): the constructivists' involvement
with the theatre could only be justified by an attempted destruction
of its mimetic function. The stress should be laid on attempted, since
a realized destruction is commensurate with the dissolution of theatre
itself, which could only remain a utopian--though, for all that, a nonetheless
enabling--myth of the modernist avant-garde. The tensions produced by
the attempt to incorporate constructivism into a theatrical process
may be gauged by the "comradely tribunal" to which Popova was summoned
by her fellow constructivists, in order to defend her apparent "betrayal"
of their principles in involving herself in something as illusionistic
and ideological as theatre. Her defence was that the experience of the
theatrical event had been "the happiest day of her life" (Rudnitsky
Art should be an active, constructive force in the world, the constructivists claimed, rather than a passive reflection of reality. To this end, the skills of the actor came to be theorized as essentially inaugural: they were a demonstration of the successful merging of labour and play, achieved through "'the Taylorized gesture'" (Kerzhentsev), that would eventually be socialized throughout the working population. Arvatov suggested:
The future proletarian theatre will become a platform for the creative forms of reality; it will develop life-styles and human models; it will be transformed into a single great laboratory for the new public life, and will take for its material every manner of social function. The theatre as production, the theatre as factory for the skilled man--this is what will sooner or later be inscribed on the banner of the working class. (qtd. Kleberg 1980, 73)The specific articulations of the technologies of theatre in the Soviet avant-garde practices--whether the musical-hallisation, cinefication, or circusisation of the various off-shoots of Russian futurism, eccentricism or constructivism, or the "biomechanics" of Meyerhold--had undergone a process of "proletarianisation" according to Arvatov's formulation. This assessment rested on an analogy drawn between the socialist forms of labour that, it was claimed, were emerging within the social production of the Soviet Union (the subbotniki and voskresniki, or Saturday and Sunday workdays--initially voluntary, but increasingly expected--in which productivity was two to three times greater than the normal rate; "exemplary communist work" that represented, Lenin claimed, "a cell of the new, socialist society"), and the new forms of artistic production practiced by the modernist avant-garde (and pioneered by Cubism). "Proletarianisation" was the result of moving away from the bourgeois forms of artistic production--with its "illusions of naturalism" (Kleberg 1980, 73)--towards a modernist aesthetic predicated on the transformed social function of direct utilitarianism. Thus, Popova's set construction was similarly shorn of all "inessentials"--defined as such with reference to practical instrumentalism--leaving only a series of stylised forms embodying scenic functions constituting a stage/acting-machine. As Axenov noted, "'it was possible to play with this set as with a fan or a hat'" (qtd. Rudnitsky 1988, 92).
transformative function assigned to the theatrical is also the stated
intention of the organizers of 18BL. The "material" of the transformative
process in the Soviet model, however, is "every manner of social function."
This differs from the fascist version insofar as the latter invokes
the "bodies/machines" complex as a reference point. It is, in short,
a productivist model. Meyerhold said in 1922: "The work of the actor
in an industrial society will be regarded as a means of production vital
to the proper organization of the labour of every citizen of that society"
(Braun 1969, 197). Thus, while the constructivists share with the fascists
an attention to the possibilities for active reconstruction of reality
possessed by the aesthetic function, the former's principles of intervention
into life are based on a model aimed towards reality's reconstruction
according to a rationalised, functionalist principle; it should be "intelligent,
rational, functionally precise and economical . . . [and] in accordance
with 'clear thinking and intellect'" (Rudnitsky 1988, 89). What I will
suggest is that although the fascist spectacle shares with production
art the notion of a direct influence and shaping of reality--the laboratory
for the new public life--it attempts to do so without discarding the
schematization between the Soviet and fascist forms of theatre thus
divides itself, within the attempt to make the theatrical directly organize
reality, between the attempted abandonment or retention of the mimetic
function. Such a schematization is only possible on the basis of ignoring
the totality of technologies constituting the theatrical apparatus in
each project, but it may serve as an initial alignment for mapping the
interrelations between social modernization, political ideology and
cultural process. The constructivists create a stage in which the articulations
of its technologies constitutes a circulation of parts and functions
between the bodies and machines. The fascists created a stage in which
the world of bodies and that of machines could only interact indirectly,
through identification, unless united in the final figure of Mussolini,
which the audience is invited to incorporate. The concern with the interaction
between bodies and machines is indicative of the emergence of a Fordist
regime of accumulation in the social production of both countries. Although
the constructivists can be criticized for their uncritical adoption
of Taylorist principles as an explanatory scheme, the attempt to combine
play and labour within that framework indicates, I believe, the possibility
for critical intervention. In imposing the mimetic structure of identification
on these interactions, however, the fascist model elides such a possibility.
In this, they constitute the antagonistic poles of the embodiment of
the form of value.
1 See Bradby and McCormick, "Radical Theatre in Weimar Germany" (1978, 60-81) and Stourac and McCreery, "Hello!--State Power! Workers' Theatre in Germany" (1986, 87-187).
See von Geldern's account, "Labor Transformed" (1993, 151-156).
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Berghaus, Günter. 1993. "Fascism and Theatre: Granada Symposium." The Drama Review 37.3 (T139): 13-15.
---, ed. 1996. Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on the Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945. Providence RI, USA and Oxford, UK: Berghahn.
Bradby, David, Louis James and Bernard Sharratt, eds. 1980. Performance and Politics in Popular Drama: Aspects of Popular Entertainment in Theatre, Film and Television 1800-1976. Cambridge, New York and Melbourne: Cambridge UP.
Bradby, David, and John McCormick. 1978. People's Theatre. London: Croom Helm; Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.
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Foster, Hal. 1996. "Mothertruckers." Foreward. Staging Fascism: 18 BL and the Theater of Masses for Masses. By Jeffery T. Schnapp. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP. xiii-xviii.
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