Says Soviet Critic
Aleksandr Herzen compared the theatre to the parliament which Romanov Russia did not have; a century later the Soviet theatre critic Anatoly Smeliansky added a further reflection: ‘In Soviet Russia the theatre took the place of both the sham parliament and the half-strangled Church.’1 The theatre, although less accessible to the rural population than the printed word, was regarded as a vital messenger of ideological imperatives, but by 1945 the Punch-and-Judy tradition of the itinerant agit-prop troupe, perhaps perched on a railway wagon, improvisatory, expressionist, and witty, had succumbed to the gilded grandeur of chandelier classicism—the theatre was now a place where you must leave your coat in the cloakroom before entering the auditorium.
The Soviet Central Committee’s notorious cultural resolutions of 1946–8 brought terror and tears to every genre of cultural life—this was the Zhdanovshchina. Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, whose second marriage was to Andrei Zhdanov’s son, commented that Zhdanov viewed art from the bigoted and puritan points of view prevalent in the Party; his wife Zinaida, ‘the ultimate embodiment of this mixture of Party bigotry and the complacency of the bourgeois woman’, once remarked: ‘Ilya Ehrenburg loves Paris so much because there are naked women there.’2 The Central Committee resolution on theatre (26 August 1946), ‘Concerning the Repertoire of the Playhouses and Measures for its Improvement’, castigated Soviet theatres for their morbid preoccupation with performing ‘bourgeois foreign dramatists’. English and American one-act plays recently published in Moscow were damned as ‘cheap and trivial,’ inculcating a view of life (mirovozzrenie) harmful to Soviet citizens. ‘The grossest political mistake of the Arts Committee has been its wide circulation of such plays in the theatre world and their staging.’ Soviet playwrights were enjoined to study the life and