on 8 March 2009
This title is bad. It should be THE strike, but they translated word for word and in Russian they do not have articles. It gives to the title an abstract look or feel that is not at all what the film is about. In fact the film is just the contrary. It is purely concrete, pragmatic, in no way reflexive or trying to analyze and understand that brutality in the repression of a strike that started before even having an objective or a reason. This brutality is in many ways typical of some periods in the history of the industrialization of our countries, Russia, the USA or Western Europe. It stopped or became more limited when the leaders and managers, both politicians and economic bosses, understood that this violence was menacing the establishment in the long run far more than some compromises along the way. What is surprising is how Eisenstein in 1924, at the end of the war communism of the civil war and at the beginning of the New Economic Policy of Lenin who was on the brink of dying, some kind of delayed assassination, painted a world that was cut in two, and nothing else but these two. And far away from Mayakovski or the other poets of that time, all of them militants and committed to the revolution, he depicts a situation in which there is no culture, no mind, no humanism, no nothing, especially not any thinking. All is shown as being primary, physical, at the simple level of instincts and senses, on both sides. The workers go on strike because they feel dissatisfied but they don't know why. It is an urge in them to do it and any reason is good enough to start and then to force everyone, and I insist on this "force", to get into the strike with violence of course and that working class violence is natural, isn't it? On the side of the bosses it is not better, but it is not worse either. It is just pure refusal because their instinct is to say no. They are in no way different from their workers. The police and army are even worse because they enjoy using violence. They have no humaneness, no sense that they are from the people, no patriotism that would mean some feeling, some sentiment, or some recollection that they were born from the people, among the people, in the people, as members of the people. That vision is so extreme that we do not feel any sympathy or compassion for that kind of discourse. But yet, and the first part seems to go that way, I just wonder if Eisenstein did not make it all a charade, a grotesque farce, or even a monstrous carnival. He uses his camera so well that he is able to concentrate on masses of people instead of individuals or faces. Few close-up shots but a lot of moving, running crowds, his specialty, and it is that focusing on these movements that make the discourse funny, unreal, surreal, surrealistic even. Was Eisenstein already seeing the new master of the USSR coming up to take over? Was Stalin a haunting ghost in this film? Was Eisenstein making that caricature of history in order to make people think? I doubt it very much. He used all his genial art and competence with a camera and an editing bench to fascinate the crowds who were discovering the cinema, the magic of electricity and the new media in order to make them politically supportive of the revolution. He could not even be considered as naïve since he shows very well that all starts from a minority that manages to push along or force the working class into action. Then the rest is nothing but stubbornness and there is only one resistance to the hardships of such a period and it comes from women, and men are obliged to force them down into obedience to their will. All I say there is going against the grain of that Soviet revolution, and that is why I say Eisenstein was doing what he had to do but at the same time was keeping a tongue in his cheek. What happen to that tongue had to come later, but he did not forget to put one of his Solomon's numbers in the film with six geese strutting around in that factory.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines, CEGID