Victor Serge

April 28, 2012

I put Victor Serge alongside of Vasily Grossman as an awe-inspiring Russian writer of whom I knew next to nothing, brought to my attention by the wonderful New York Review of Books Press (and also by my friend who recommended Kolyma Tales.)  Serge’s novels are not, in fact, well known at all; certainly not here in America.  He wrote in French, was published in French, and was saved from death in the Gulag because of the outcry of French literary intellectuals who were acquainted with his work.  Good thing he knew French!  His novels were only first published in English in the early 1970s.

Serge was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich, in 1890, the son of anti-Tsarist agitators living in exile in Belgium.  He grew up in the militant atmosphere of exiled socialist-communist revolutionaries, and only set foot in Russia in 1919, after years of agitation, prison, writing, various exiles, and a life of poverty.  He landed in Petrograd/Saint Petersburg/Petersburg/Leningrad in the midst of the terrifying five-year Russian Civil War, and threw himself into The Revolution.  He remained a committed revolutionary, but retained his fierce independent (was it anarchist?) bent, and was quick to recognize the ‘betrayal of The Revolution’ that Stalin represented.  From there, it was all downhill.

His writings are unique in their blend of intense sympathy for the revolutionary cause, their unflinching recognition of the crimes committed in its name, their profound disgust with the course of the Soviet revolution, their poetic style, and the modernistic techniques he absorbed from European literary developments.  No plain social realism, no bitter denunciations of the cause betrayed, no simple answers.  Most interesting to me:  he focuses like a laser on the questions of just how people can believe they are struggling for the better  future of humanity while committing acts they know to be outrageous crimes; and why did so many people simply carry on with their work, fatalistically expecting to be unjustly arrested, tried, and perhaps executed?

The shortest of these three novels here, Conquered City, was the first written, and takes place in Petrograd during the siege he witnessed beginning in 1919.  The physical privation of citizens is horrifying.  The novel is actually a series of vignettes, some of which take place out of the city on the various fronts of the civil war, and which introduce characters from all realms of the Russian Empire:  bandits, intellectuals, proletarian communists, proletarian White sympathizers, counter-revolutionaries, Party leaders, and on. Serge depicts them all with sympathy, yes, even the counter-revolutionaries!  Throughout, all are subject to terror:  the Red Terror, or the White Terror.

One episode involves a dedicated young woman communist, hell-bent on “getting a case [investigation of a counter-revolutionary cell] moving.”  She is enthusiastic, relentless, and totally committed to the cause, with little thought for…well, anything. She cracks the case.  It turns out that a well planted worker is actually an enemy agent, and the lover of a formerly middle-class young woman.  Turns out that this woman was friendly with a well-respected, energetic, young communist agent, Arkady.  The woman’s brother was ‘suspected’ of something – wasn’t everyone? – and was hauled in for questioning.  Arkady knew immediately it was all garbage, and got the fellow released.  Now the man’s sister is known to be the lover of a man who is known to be an enemy of the people, and Arkady released his brother!  He’s done for, and he knows it.  Osipov, his friend, arrests him.  “What have you done, my poor old friend, what have you done!”  They shake hands.

Later, another mutual friend visits Osipov and challenges him on the arrest of Arkady:  “You know brother, we’re committing a crime.

“A crime?”  Osipov tossed back at him.  “Because one of us got hit this time around?  Don’t you understand that one must pay with one’s blood for the right to be pitiless?  Do you by any chance imagine that we won’t all end up like that?”

Class war is a dirty business, but “it must be done.”  These views recur again and again through the books.  With views like that, people will do anything.

The Case of Comrade Tulayev may be Serge’s best known novel, and I found it to be the most extraordinary of the three.  It takes place at the height of the Great Purge of the late 1930s triggered by the assassination of Kirov.  A young man gets hold of a revolver, determined to kill Stalin.  On his nightly walks, he actually sees him occasionally, stepping into a limousine at a Kremlin gate.  With the revolver in hand, he approaches the gate again, and Stalin is there!  But he totally looses his nerve, and walks on.  A little later, he sees another Party boss – it’s Tulayev, yes, certainly it’s that murderous scum!  He’s being dropped at the door of his mistress’ apartment.  He walks up to him, shoots him, and runs.  The ripples of terror immediately spread far and wide.

The chapters of the novel tell the story of Party members caught in the net of the pseudo-investigation into the murder.  There must be a conspiracy of course:  how could it be otherwise?  Most of them end up dead, shot for their invented complicity in the international plot against the Socialist state.  Among the victims: a long-exiled party member brought in from his Siberian house-arrest for interrogation; a young woman studying textile production in Paris on a plush-assignment (her father is a bigwig in the police organs – he is arrested too) who reads of the arrest of a former teacher and makes the fatal mistake of sending a telegram to papa demanding that he help the man; a commissar working in Spain – just what was Stalin’s aim in the Spanish Civil War? – who intercedes to help a young American communist arrested as a Trotskyite [He actually confronts Stalin in the Kremlin, and is let off with a posting to Siberia to work in forestry.]

One victim, in prison, is visited by another old Bolshevik who has been broken.  He urges the resister to give in, confess to whatever is asked:

Better men than you and I have done it before us.  Others will do it after us.  No one can resist the machine.  No one has the right, no one can resist the Party without going over to the enemy.  Neither you nor I will ever go over to the enemy…And if you consider yourself innocent, you are absolutely wrong?  We innocent?  Who do you think you’re fooling?  Have you forgotten about our trade?  Can Comrade High Commissar for Security be innocent?  Can the Grand Inquisitor be as pure as a lamb?  Can he be the only person in the world who doesn’t deserve the bullet in the neck which he distributed like a rubber-stamp signature at the rate of seven hundred per month on the average?  Official figures – way off, of course.  None will ever know the real figures…”

As someone wrote of Kruschev, commenting on his secret speech denouncing Stalin’s crimes, he too was up to his elbows in blood.  They all knew the score.  They had quotas for arrests, imprisonment, execution…  Amazing that through all this, Serge still manages to convey why these people got into this in the first place:  their intense thirst for justice, fairness, an end to the crushing tyrannical poverty of the old regime, and a deeply felt desire for a society in which human equality is prized.  To note this as an irony is so obvious as to be ridiculous.

Unforgiving Years is the last of the three that I read, and the strangest in many ways.  In this book, Serge adopts a style that is at times elliptical, modernistic, and sometimes seems hallucinatory.  It is the tale of a communist agent who has had enough – he can’t go on, and he decides to escape to Mexico.  He knows the machinations of the security apparatus and how hard they are to evade, and he knows that his knowledge only gives him a little head start over his inevitable pursuers.  There’s also the business of his lover:  he wants to take her too, and that makes it harder.

The novel seems like a screenplay for a political film noir, but the level of tension, paranoia, and sheer horror exceeds anything from that genre.  At times, I felt that Thomas Pynchon had cribbed the entirety of Gravity’s Rainbow, from Serge:

In every war there is a rear that holds better than the front, a rear fat with noble sentiments, creature comforts, and lucrative deals:  this rear, which balances the front, makes the insanity total…The beaches of California still exhibit, in season, a full complement of pretty women with smiling thighs:  such is the natural order of things.  After all, there’s philosophical solace to be found in the fact that some still live while others die, an obvious improvement on everyone dying…But it  is no longer possible to embark upon a  coherent line of reasoning without falling into absurdity.

This novel was published in English in 1970, about the time Gravity’s Rainbow came out, but who knows?  Maybe Pynchon read it in French?

The ending of the story takes place in a paradisaical Mexican mountain setting but has all the weirdness and menace of the finale of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway.  Knowing as we do the end which Trotsky met in hiding, it is no surprise what happens, but just how the long arm of the Party reaches out to crush those who stray is terrifying nevertheless.

Not exactly happy reading these three books, but Victor Serge is a novelist for the ages – brilliant!

La politique noir

November 30, 2011

From film noir to la politique noir, and I don’t mean ‘black politics’, as in Black Power.   My reading and viewing have converged at what Philip Pomper, in his biography of Sergei Nechaev, calls, “[the] striking lesson in the disastrous possibilities of revolutionary politics.”  Extreme disturbed personalities, fantastic rhetoric, and violence.  Patty Hearst, Dostoyevsky’s Demons, Ed Begley as a lunatic Texan Cold Warrior, and Nechaev, fact and fiction.  Let’s start with Ms. Hearst.

Patty Hearst, a film from 1988, directed by Paul Schrader, with Natasha Richardson in the lead, is hard to find, but you can get it on DVD.  It doesn’t seem to be an official release, whatever that means, but it is a very fine dramatization of this crazy episode in revolutionary fringe politics.  Schrader is sympathetic to, but not sentimental about Hearst:  a young, sheltered girl who thought she knew a thing or two about the world is kidnapped and kept in a closet for weeks, blindfolded and gagged, treated like a dog, and raped (made a sperm receptacle) by her captors, male, and it seems female as well.  We would all like to think that we would come through this okay, and escape at the first opportunity, rather than imploding and joining the gang, so, as she tells us at the end, her survival, ‘rescue’, and trial were mightily inconvenient for the mass audience following every sordid minute of the tale.

I’ve written about the Symbionese Liberation Front and their rhetoric before, and the film does a great job of dramatizing it.  Ving Rhames (Marsellus in Pulp Fiction) uses that deep voice of his to convey the  incantatory and delusional charisma of Field Marshal Cinque.   The thing is, that as I’m watching it, I’m thinking of Dostoyevsky’s novel, Demons.  After Patty has joined The Cause, and is helping plan a bank job, she asks, “Will the rest of The Army help us with it?”  Everyone chuckles, and Cinque replies, “It’s just us, there is no army.”  Did Pyotr Verkhovensky really have a network of cells communicating with him?  Some characters wondered.  The similarities multiply.

The members of Hearst’s cell are all white, except for their leader, Cinque, and they all have a major case of white radical guilt.  When Hearst complains that she is hungry, they tell her “This is how black people in our country live every day!  You don’t know!”   Every word Cinque utters is considered brilliant.  At one point, a cell member responds to a rather inept and non-sequitur comment with, “Brilliant, that’s brilliant!  Goddamn it , goddamn I wish I was black!”  Later, he is shown in blackface makeup, the usual disguise they use, attempting to strike a streetwise pose.  This corrosive guilt and lack of self-esteem it brings to political thinking was not new in the 60’s:  Nechaev was very successful in exploiting it in his recruitment of middle-class and upper-class Russians of his own time.

It is well-known the Demons draws heavily on the trial record of Sergei Nechaev, who had a brief period of power within the chaotic Russian revolutionary movement.  He was a manipulator, a liar, a thief, and totally – that’s actually an understatement – unprincipled.  When he started his own journal, it was called The People’s Revenge.   He bilked Herzen and his daughter out of thousands, tried to seduce her after the old socialist’s death, played Bakunin like a fiddle, and committed so many frauds – he was always claiming to have legions of followers at his beck and call – that Bakunin’s association with him gave Marx the leverage to get Bakunin kicked out of the International, that pesky, infantile, anarchist!  (In fact, I have discovered, there is a scholarly literature on the Russophobia of Karl Marx.  He thought they, the Russian revolutionaries, were a bit nuts – how’s that for communist irony!)

What I found  surprising regarding Demons, is how closely some parts of the novel are modeled on Nechaev’s life.  The central murder of the book, in fact, conforms almost exactly to the facts of the case – the botched disposal of the corpse in a pond; luring the victim with a story of a buried press; and the almost comic disorganization of the killers.  We must recall, after all, that Dostoyevsky originally was planning a comic burlesque of nihilist politics when he began his story.  The Wise Serpent of Demons, combines many of Nechaev’s personality traits with a cunning and slyness that the real-life figure lacked.  Nechaev moved with clumsy and ill-concealed cynicism towards his goals, eventually disgusting most of those he worked with in the revolutionary underground.  Still, he was committed to the cause, fanatically, so they cut him a lot of slack.

Pomper dissects his life with a lens tinted with psychoanalytic hues, but not intrusively so:  the Oedipal, infantile anti-authoritarian, and perverse sexual mental contortions of his thinking are quite plain in his writings.  One of his favorite propaganda tropes was to depict the orgiastic and revolting sexual activities of the Tsar, the nobles, or of whomever he was attacking.  Obviously, this sort of rhetoric has a long history – often turned against Jews – and it had a grand future, being part of the revolutionary stock in trade right up to 1917.  His language makes use of religious themes as well, particularly martyrdom, for which he planned, and is in this way curiously linked to the imagery of What Is to Be Done?

I originally bought Pomper’s  biography hoping to find more writings of Nechaev’s, but apart from some letters, and excerpts from articles he wrote, and, of course, the full text of his Catechism, there was not much.  I was particularly disappointed by the absence of a translation of his Foundations for a Future Social Order, the document in which he lays out his plans for society after the revolutionary transformation.  From the bits I have read of and about it, it is a grim vision of a militantly regimented society that seems drawn from the history of ancient Sparta and Fourier’s utopian plans.  What particularly upset some (according to Nechaev) were his notions of communal dining.  This led to Marx’s famous contemptuous dismissal of his ideas as “barracks communism.”  In his world, Pechorin would be less than superfluous:  he would be a pest to be exterminated.

Was Nechaev on his mind when Italo Calvino wrote Beheading the Heads?  In this short story, a tourist happens upon a land where the leaders are ritually executed periodically (as were some kings in ancient times, if The Golden Bough is to be believed).  The action then jumps back in time to show us the nihilist cells planning for The Revolution, after which there will be no leaders other than those who agree to die, and so prevent tyranny.  One man questions whether they should not ritually execute the leaders of their cells since that is what they plan for society.  Are they not hypocrites if they do not?  Naturally, there is some hesitation on this point amongst the revolutionary heads.  They hit upon a compromise:  they will ritually mutilate the leaders at suitable intervals, leaving the post-revolutionary society to fully implement their plan.  It concludes with descriptions of revolutionary activity led by men with no fingers, missing ears, sometimes a wooden leg, each vanished appendage a testament to their zeal for the New World Order.

Finally, we have Ken Russell’s film, Billion Dollar Brain (1967), with the always enjoyable Michael Caine.  It’s basically, a mediocre spy film that followed Caine’s work as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File.  The film is enlivened by Karl Malden playing an utter sleaze of an ex-agent gone ‘entrepreneur’  working for ‘General’ Midwinter (Ed Begley), a fanatical anti-communist zillionaire from Texas.  Midwinter is angry at the world, at the government (the password between his men is always, “now is the Winter of our discontent“) and most of all at the commies.  He has a secret plan to use germ warfare against the Russians while his private army of rebels in Latvia begin the dissolution of the Evil Empire.   He mixes Christian fundamentalism with anti-Russian hellfire to work up enthusiasm among his ’employees’, while his plans are being completely undermined by Malden’s diversion of the mercenaries payroll into his own pocket.  The Russians are onto him too, and they efficiently dispose of his army in an air attack on the frozen Baltic that brings to mind Alexander Nevksy’s victory at Novogorod.  Perhaps it takes a Brit to penetrate to the center of the American Texas phenomenon.  In this case, Russell’s exaggeration was no exaggeration.

Liberty for all

December 24, 2009

“When I am old, I shall write criticism; that will console me, for I often choke with suppressed opinions.”

Gustave Flaubert in a letter to Georges Sand

I feel compelled to unburden myself on the topic of libertarianism.  There are all sorts of people who describe themselves as libertarians, and it’s hard to make sense of the mix.

  • You have gun-obsessed Rambo-wannabees like the guy who created the picture here (Click on it to visit his blog if you have a robust tolerance for the way out!).
  • There are folks like Clint Eastwood who once remarked, “My political philosophy is simple.  Everybody should leave everyone else alone.”  Yep, good one, Clint.  That’s a real roadmap for governing a modern industrial state of 300 million.
  • There are those inpsired by the crackpot intellectual, Ayn Rand, who at least must be granted the credit for inventing a new literary genre, the philosophical soap opera.
  • And then there are thoughtful people, like a fellow I work with, who are quite reasonable but seem to revel in the libertarian cachet of ornery contrarian thinking.

I often find myself in agreement with specific critiques of libertarians, whether they are left-libertarian nearly-anarchists or right-libertarian, free market ideologues.  In fact, many of the respectable, i.e., rational and scientific, critics of the global warming point of view (AGW) are, in fact, libertarians.  But, in the end, I find it to be a bizarre and utopian political philosophy that is in full denial of the facts of human history.  As a point of view that influences the political choices you make, yes, I can see that, but anything more…?  Closer to wacko.

For libertarians of all stripes, the state, um…I mean, THE STATE, is the greatest evil.  The state, and “collectivist” actions that seek to improve life, or enslave others.  I’m all against enslavement, but I rather like improving life, even if the agent is the evil state.  Libertarians would say that’s a Faustian bargain, bound to end in the Gulag or the death camps.

Why The State?  Why not money?  Isn’t that the root of all evil?  Or…language?  Without language, no state, no money!  It’s a rather simplistic point of view.  Are they realistic in their expectations of what would succeed the present situation of vigorous state activity?  Do they care?  Do they want to revert to pre-industrial, geographically isolated “eco-regions?”  I dunno…

Sure, some state solutions fail.  Bureaucracies are cumbersome and can mutate into strange things that frustrate the very improvements they were created to bring about.  What else is new in this, the fallen state of mankind?

As a practical political philosophy, liberatarianism is hokum.  People advocating it are either naive or dishonest.  Naive if they believe that a general attempt to apply libertarian principles would result in anything other than the most powerful economic and political forces capturing the state and bending it towards their own ends, which is what they are always trying to do; or dishonest because they are part of those forces and they see libertarianism as a nifty way to pursue that goal under cover.  Mostly the former, I think, because corporate and political power has captured so much of state power today, that libertarianism is probably more of an annoyance than a help.

Fiasco II – The horror, the horror…

October 31, 2009

The Commune - a familiar scene these days too...

I finished Zola’s novel The Debacle, and I feel as if I barely survived.  The book is absolutely harrowing in its depiction of the horror, gore, and sheer terror of war.  The graphic detail – heads blown off, entrails flying, hideous and ghoulish atrocities – are the sort of thing we expect in movies and books about war today, but in the 1890s?  I wonder if this marked a first.

Zola, of course, was known for doing his research, and he visited locations, interviewed scores of participants, and reviewed the literature.  In many ways, the book reads as an historical chronicle as much as a novel.  But it soars, or descends, into great, infernal poetry in scenes such as the days immediately after the disastrous defeats, when Jean and Maurice, solid peasant and educated bourgeois, fight for life in the great charnel house and prison that the countryside has become inside the Prussian encriclement.  The apocalypse seems to have arrived – corpses exploding and stinking, the river choked with dead men and animals, and wild herds of lost and starving cavalry horses charging madly about, destroying everything in their path in a frenzy of hunger and madness.

The deadly bitterness of occupation and civil strife are depicted as well. The murderous fury of the French against the collaborators recalls scenes I dimly remember from Marcel Ophul’s film, The Sorrow and the Pity.  (I went to see that with my parents as a kid – hardly understood any of it – but boy, did it make an impression!)  The bloodlust rises to epic stature as one woman conspires to murder the father of her child, watching as the guerillas truss him up, slit his throat, and bleed him dead like a great pig.

At the end, Maurice, now a crazed and fanatical communard, and Jean, fighting with the forces of reaction, simply because he wants everything to be gotten back in order so he can return to the land, meet again in a Paris that is recapitulating the Fall of Babylon.  An orgy of destruction, madness, and atrocious murderous rage is burning itself out.  Zola was a liberal who detested left-wing revolutionaries.  He tries to fathom in Maurice how an educated man could throw his lot in with such people as a result of the deep humiliation of the war, the frantic desire to destroy everything in the hope that something better will replace it, and the end-game of months of war, besiegement, hunger, and isolation:

Just previous to the 31st of October Maurice was more than usually a victim to this malady of distrust and barren speculation. He listened now approvingly to crude fancies that would formerly have brought a smile of contempt to his lips. Why should he not? Were not imbecility and crime abroad in the land? Was it unreasonable to look for the miraculous when his world was falling in ruins about him?

And so Maurice went on leading an idle, vagabondish sort of life, in a state of constant feverish agitation. He had ceased to be tormented by hunger; he devoured the first white bread he got with infinite gusto; but the city was a prison still: German guards were posted at the gates, and no one was allowed to pass them until he had been made to give an account of himself. There had been no resumption of social life as yet; industry and trade were at a standstill; the people lived from day to day, watching to see what would happen next, doing nothing, simply vegetating in the bright sunshine of the spring that was now coming on apace. During the siege there had been the military service to occupy men’s minds and tire their limbs, while now the entire population, isolated from all the world, had suddenly been reduced to a state of utter stagnation, mental as well as physical. He did as others did, loitering his time away from morning till night, living in an atmosphere that for months had been vitiated by the germs arising from the half-crazed mob. He read the newspapers and was an assiduous frequenter of public meetings, where he would often smile and shrug his shoulders at the rant and fustian of the speakers, but nevertheless would go away with the most ultra notions teeming in his brain, ready to engage in any desperate undertaking in the defense of what he considered truth and justice. And sitting by the window in his little bedroom, and looking out over the city, he would still beguile himself with dreams of victory; would tell himself that France and the Republic might yet be saved, so long as the treaty of peace remained unsigned.

from the Project Gutenberg text:  The Downfall

Karl Marx, and revolutionaries everywhere, revered the Commune, but the picture that Zola paints of it is of a disorganized, opportunistic, delusional, and fanatical group of die-hards who reduced the city of Paris to ashes.  Not that he thinks well of the forces of reaction either.  Ultimately, they serve the masters who brought on the entire debacle, by starting the war with Prussia.

In the end, France will have to be rebuilt, born anew, as in his great novel Germinal, through the simple and unstoppable drive to live and flourish in peace that Jean, the simple peasant, represents.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

March 7, 2008


Raise your hand if you have seen this film.  Come on, I want to know who you are!  Send me a comment!  I saw this extradordinary work as a college student in the 70s – just that once – and I remembered it vividly.  I just bought it from the Criterion Collection of DVDs, and, to my delight, it is just as amazing as I recalled it from 30 years ago!

Directed by Dusan Makavejev in 1971, it earned him – his words – “a one-way ticket out of Yugoslavia.”  Remember-this is long before the Fall of Communism!  The film was banned in the East Block for years of course, and it is not widely seen or heard of in the West.  I posted about it briefly early in this blog. What is it?

I provide a brief outline with images of the film here.  It is an attempt to convey the visually and intellectually dazzling experience it provides.  For an excellent and lengthy description of the myriad ideas that crisscross throughout the film, visit this post on another blog.

The film begins as an investigation into the life of Wilhelm Reich (WR), focusing on his later years in America.  Reich was a member of Freud’s circle, but he was deeply interested in contemporary politics, appropriately terrified by the rise of Fascism, and a Communist.  Of course, with his belief in the connection between sexual repression and political movements, he couldn’t be a favorite son of The Party, and the Nazis reviled him as a perverted Jewish subversive.  Reich linked the repression of the sexual drive with the appeal of Fascism for the masses, and he was an advocate for free and open sexual education of youth.

Opening credits – still image of WR – shot of his Orgone Accumulator

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NYC waste incinerator – Reich on the way to prison – NYC streets 1970

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In his later days, Reich went rather mad.  He developed crackpot theories about cosmic orgone energy, which he believed was channeled by humans during sex. The Orgone Accumulator was a box he “invented” to capture and focus this blue energy for therapeutic purposes.  His books were banned, burned in New York, and he was tried and imprisoned through actions by the US FDA.  Meanwhile, in the grungy NYC of the 1970s, some strange bohemian types roam about and don clothing and paraphernalia of urban guerillas.

Title pages of works by and about Reich – WR memorial in the USA


Local folks reminisce about the eccentric Mr. Reich – Cloud buster apparatus to manipulate
atmospheric cosmic orgone energy – Archival clip of the arrival of scientists arriving to meet with WR

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The film provides some background on the earlier career of WR, but focuses on his deranged later period. How much more deranged than the rest of us was he?  Was his insistence on the primacy of sexual force in human life nutty, or just common sense?  He was certainly a fish out of water in the USA, despite his conversion to conservative politics.  (He voted for Eisenhower).  Isn’t America filled with loonies like WR, setting up communes, founding Utopias, peddling revelation?

Milena’s story – Milena – Relaxing with a cigar and Karl Marx

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Milena’s appeal – Sexual polemic for proletariat – Comarade Stalin

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The fictional narrative of the film begins to be intercut with the documentary strand at this point. The satire, parody, visual and verbal irony are relentless.  The language and artistic cliches of orthodox state communism are hilariously skewered, while the psychological documentary side of the tale is pursued with segments of primal-scream therapy and New York Reichian therapists discussing the role of body language, “body armor” to Reich, in repressing sexuality.

Milena, the Yugoslavian heroine is devoted to the ideals of revolution in the personal and political realm.  She is a communist-feminist advocate of freedom, in love and work, but she has yet to find the right man with whom to build her personal sexual-socialist paradise.  Leaving her cramped apartment so her voluptuous roommate can have her romp with her latest boyfriend, she goes to the terrace to address the assembled workers on the need for sexual joy in communist revolution.  An annoying worker, who fancies himself eligible to be her lover, appears yet again.  Archival propaganda films of Father Stalin (played by a look-alike) are intercut, the monumental socialist-realist kitsch providing a bizarre and hilarious counterpoint to the action.

Meanwhile, back in NYC – At last, a love interest! – Milena smitten

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Back in NYC, the crazy guerilla wonders the streets, menacing with his M-16 to which he appears to have an overly passionate relationship.  Milena goes to an ice spectacular with friends and, lo! she finds the man of her dreams!  He is a god, and she is in love, at last!  The show is an absurd and showy concoction of kitsch – part Vegas, part Moscow – to the choral accompaniment of childish songs of praise to The Party.

Soviet Man, Soviet Hero, Soviet Hunk

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Milena approaches the lead skater – Vladimir Ilyich, like V. I. Lenin – and of course, he responds to her – she’s gorgeous, and so serious! After his makeup is off, he comes home with her to have some milk and cookies.  The two women fawn over him, so handsome! as he talks on, sonorous, serious stupidities falling from his tongue as if rehearsed.  Seeing a poster of Manhattan he says, of course, they have performed “miracles of production,” but they are unhappy, without our socialist souls.
What is that picture! – Communism means “in common” – Breakthrough?


The working class is the subject of history – Death to Male Fascism! – Free Love!


Vladimir notices a picture on the wall of Adolf Hitler sitting in the midst of a huge circle of admiring, adoring young women.  What is a beautiful young communist doing with that on the wall?  Milena explains that it is to illustrate how thoroughly the beautiful erotic impulse can be distorted and manipulated to frustrate the workers and to subjugate women to tyrannical rule of fascist males.  The portraits of Reich and Freud look down from the wall.  Do they approve?

Milena’s roommate – she left her clothes somewhere – brings the refreshments.  Let’s share, we are all communists! Vladimir explains that a communist must be incisive, sharp, like a scalpel…The wall breaks, someone is coming through! It’s that drunken worker again, so unlike the Adonis-Vladimir.  He sings and makes as if to march with his pickaxe and locks Vladimir in the armoire.  Cut to Milena:  She’s the only person in the frame…she’s holding the frame…she addresses US!

Releasing the Soviet Hero – Granny, Look! – It’s Stalin!

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Bohemian “artist” molding a penis – Stalin speaks!
Milena frees her love from the closet – cut to a Soviet propaganda film:  all eyes turn to Comarade Stalin!  Then back again to weirdo NYC where we watch an artist do a plaster cast of a man’s erect penis so as to make a wax or plastic model of it. Turned out pretty well!  Back to Stalin!!
Last stand for fascist architecture? – Primal scream – Reach for the heights!


Our weirdo urban guerrilla continues his maneuvers.  How fitting that he ends up in Lincoln Center, surely not an accident.  The style is reminiscent of Mussolini’s projects – totalitarian kitsch is a different kind of International Style. (Philip Johnson, who had a hand in the project, was quite sympathetic to the Nazis for a while…) We learn more about Reichian therapy and watch numerous women come into ecstatic contact with their inner-orgone, or at least breathe very heavily.  And finally, our urban warrior finds release with his beloved M-16 and sends off some celebratory rounds skywards.  Happiness is a warm gun!!

Cloud busters – He thinks only of THE REVOLUTION – Is he blind!

“Your people are so interesting,” he says. “And the women?” she asks.

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Back at Rancho Orgone,  the cloudbusters are manned by the intrepid cosmic seekers.  They look an awful lot like anti-aircraft guns, but they are designed to bring energy down to the earth, not to send destructive explosions up into the sky.  Milena and Vladimir take a romantic walk by the not so romantic riverside.  She tries, but he has eyes, ears, thoughts, only for the great revolution.  “To die for love is wasteful, romantic, bourgeois.  Brutally zoologic!” He lives only for his art in service to the glorious workers state!  Does he not see the palpitating beauty right in front of his nose, aching for him to take her into his arms and bring them both to a revolutionary, socialist, common, fruitful consumation?!!!  Is he blind?!  Alas, she realizes sadly, he may be just that.

She makes one last try…and, STALIN!

Eisenstein would be proud.


She will try once more, desperately, without inhibition, to break through his emotional, intellectual, sensual armor and to let him know what she wants, what she needs, in no uncertain terms.  She reaches for him and…he SLAPS her! And we see… Comrade Stalin!  (How interesting – could this be a deliberate echo of the movie, Fail Safe?)  Stalin looks on coldly, with world-historical understanding (the choir music swells!)  The woman brings a supplication – he considers, will he grant it?  The world on his shoulders!

Enlightenment – Anger – Telling it like it is!


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She sees the truth now, the cosmic light energy of understanding is shed on her, through her.  She will set the record straight and she is terrifying in her righteous, socialist, revolutionary, feminist, truth-telling.  She lets that sniveling stuffed-shirt of the revolution have it with hits, verbal pummeling, and slaps.  She knocks his stupid hat off!

You want the revolution, but heaven forbid it should touch you!”  She really gives it to him! “What’s a baby? For a man, a second, then it’s the woman’s job!”  You want revolutionary violence, I’ll give it to you!  She denounces him, his party, the revolution, and the entire kitsch spectacle of his socialist art extravaganzas.


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At last, on his knees, he understands, she forgives and finds love…



…But in the end, the energy released is too much for this repressed agent of the people’s revolution.  The male principle must reassert itself, achieve dominance and control of all impulses.  He cannot allow himself to run free.  The communist road must be followed!  The champion skater, tumbled low by love, uses his skate to decapitate Milena with one terrific blow.  Her head, examined in the morgue, begins to talk, to tell of her tragic experience with this “genuine Red fascist”. Meanwhile, Vladimir lets loose with a song of his sorrow. Her story will go on, and his.


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