One-Man Picket Under the Slogan,
“Mr. Kalyagin, Brecht Is Not Your Aunt!”
On January 24, a one-man picket from the socialist movement Vpered, in the person of myself, took place in front of the Et Cetera Theater in Moscow. The picket was staged in connection with the premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s play, “Drums in the Night.” Not long after the start of my picket, a security guard from the theater approached me and asked what I was doing there and by whose permission I was doing it.
I explained that I had every right to hold a one-man picket there without any permission from anyone.
Seeing that I would not be moved by his legal arguments, the guard took out his phone and requested “backup,” but then apparently decided to resolve the problem himself. He said: “Get the fuck out of here if you don’t want your face beat in.” It should be noted that this man (Sergei, as it later turned out) was not your typical bemuscled security guard. He had what is known in Russia as “an intelligent face,” wore glasses, and really looked more like a student from the Financial Academy or the Legal Faculty at Moscow State. Imagine my surprise, then, when after my reply to his threat that he knew where he could go, Sergei punched me in the jaw.
We were separated by some journalists and employees from the theater who ran over to us. I continued my picket. Soon after, a female administrator emerged from the theater and began talking to the journalists. She wanted to know who had commissioned the picket, how much I was being paid for it, and then began asking the journalists not to report on it. Simultaneously she was trying to calm down a very wound-up Sergei, who kept trying to involve himself in her conversation with the journalists with such remarks as: “What’s he messing with our business for? Does he want his face beat in?”
At the end of the picket the administrator came over and apologized for the overeager Sergei. I suggested that the Et Cetera Theater should be more careful about the people it hires. But it should also be said that if our city’s bourgeoisie continues to think that all of world culture, including leftist culture, is at its disposal to do with as it pleases, then these kinds of incidents, and problems for their “business,” will be inevitable.
During the picket, leaflets with the following text were distributed:
A PROLETARIAN PLAYWRIGHT
IN A COURTIER’S BOURGEOIS THEATER
The staging of a play by Bertolt Brecht, a major figure for leftist culture and the leftist movement in general, by the Et Cetera Theater is just another sign of the depoliticization of our cultural sphere, another step on the path toward the profanation and elimination of any cultural alternative, analogous to today’s attempts by the authorities to destroy any political alternative, including a left and trade union movement, by pushing forward a total market fundamentalism behind the curtain of patriotic rhetoric and the so-called “national project.”
The head of the Et Cetera Theater, Alexander Kalyagin, is the typical subject of this politics. He is a director-bureaucrat who, on the one hand, fights against Finance Minister German Gref’s “theater reforms,” but on the other hand, gives up the House of Veterans Theater in Petersburg for “commercial redevelopment.” He’s a member of the fictional People’s Chamber; a man who welcomes the President and his suite to the theater; a signer of letters against the President’s personal enemies; and the head of the Union of Theatrical Workers that fully follows the corrupt and antidemocratic line of the ruling classes.
The multifaceted activities of this theatrical boss confirm, once again, the interconnections between cultural production and the distribution of economic and political power.
For an artist to take part in this system is to support and encourage it, even as he justifies himself with the idea that “pure art is outside ideology and politics.” Brecht spent his entire life battling just such ideas:
Great apparati like the opera, the stage, the press, etc., impose their views as it were incognito. For a long time now they have taken the handiwork (music, writing, criticism, etc.) of intellectuals who share in their profits—that is, of men who are economically committed to the prevailing system but are socially near-proletarian—and processed it to make fodder for their public entertainment machine, judging it by their own standards and guiding it into their own channels; meanwhile the intellectuals themselves have gone on supposing that the whole business is concerned only with the presentation of their work, is a secondary process which has no influence over their work but merely wins influence for it. By imagining that they have got hold of an apparatus which in fact has got hold of them they are supporting an apparatus which is out of their control, which is no longer (as they believe) a means of furthering output but has become an obstacle to output, and specifically to their own output as soon as it follows a new and original course which the apparatus finds awkward or opposed to its own aims. Their output then becomes a matter of delivering the goods. And this leads to a general habit of judging works of art by their suitability for the apparatus without ever judging the apparatus by its suitability for the work.
—from Brecht’s “Notes to the Opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahogonny.”
English translation from Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. and trans. John Willett (New York, 1964), pp. 32–33.
In early 2007, Medvedev once again took to the streets. This time it was to protest the staging of a Brecht play by the well-known actor and director Alexander Kalyagin, a powerful (and popular) cultural operator who in 2005 had signed a disgraceful Soviet-style letter from fifty “representatives of culture and society” in favor of the guilty verdict against Yukos chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The title of the action is a reference to Kalyagin’s most famous role—as a con man who dresses up as a woman in order to impersonate someone’s rich aunt in the 1975 film, Hello, I’m Your Aunt. Posted at Vpered.org.ru January 25, 2007
Translation by Keith Gessen
Kirill Medvedev | It’s No Good
n+1 / ugly duckling presse
eastern european series # 30