The Garment Workers’ Union’s Pageant of Unity (1940) as manifestation of transnational working-class culture
Keywords:working-class literature, political pageant, avant-garde theatre, propaganda, Garment Workers’ Union, transnational working-class culture, cultural mobility
In this article, I examine the Garment Workers’ Union’s theatre as a manifestation of transnational working-class culture in the 1940s. Analysing Pageant of Unity (1940), a play in which Afrikaans and English alternate to express the equality of Afrikaans- and English-speaking workers in the face of exploitation, I offer an attempt to escape the confines of a national literature as linked to a single language. I demonstrate how the political pageant—a genre typical of socialist propaganda and international trade unionism—was adapted to a South African context. This drama is, therefore, viewed as a product of cultural mobility between Europe, the United States, and South Africa. Assuming the ‘follow the actor’ approach of Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, I identify a network of interconnections between the nodes formed by human (drama practitioners and theoreticians, socialist organisers) and nonhuman actors (texts representing socialist drama conventions, in particular agitprop techniques). Tracing the inspirations and adaptations of conventions, I argue that Pageant of Unity most evidently realises the prescriptions outlined by the Russian drama theoretician Vsevolod Meyerhold whose approach influenced Guy Routh, one of the pageant’s creators. Thus, I focus on how this propaganda production utilises certain features of the Soviet avant-garde theatre, which testifies to the transnational character of South African working-class culture.
Altenbaugh, Richard J. “Proletarian Drama: An Educational Tool of the American Labor College Movement.” Theatre Journal vol. 34, no. 2, 1982, pp. 197–210. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/3207450.
Anon. “Aan ‘Die Transvaler’.” Klerewerker, Oct. 1938, p. 5.
Anon. “Crusade for a Living Wage.” Garment Worker, Feb. 1940, pp. 3–7.
Bell, John. “Pageant.” Ecumenica: Journal of Theatre and Performance vol. 7, no. 1–2, 2014, pp. 53–8. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/ecumenica.7.1-2.0053?seq=1.
Berger, Iris. “Solidarity Fragmented: Garment Workers of the Transvaal, 1930–1960.” The Politics of Race,
Class and Nationalism in Twentieth Century South Africa, edited by Shula Marks & Stanley Trapido. Routledge, 2014, pp. 124–55.
Berger, Iris. Threads of Solidarity: Women in South African Industry, 1900–1980. Indiana U P, 1992.
Brink, Elsabé. “Plays, Poetry and Productions: The Literature of the Garment Workers.” South African Labour Bulletin vol. 9, no. 8, 1984, pp. 32–51.
Berger, Iris. “Purposeful Plays, Prose and Poems: The Writings of the Garment Workers, 1929–1945.” Women and Writing in South Africa: A Critical Anthology, edited by Cherry Clayton. Heinemann, 1989, p. 107–27.
Coetser, J. L. “KWU-werkersklasdramas in Afrikaans (ca. 1930–ca. 1950).” Literator vol. 20, no. 2, 1999, pp. 59–75. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v20i2.470.
Cornelius, Hester. “Eendrag teater.” Klerewerker, May/June 1941, p. 11.
Cornelius, Hester. “Ons en die voortrekker-eeufees.” Klerewerker, Oct. 1938, p 4.
Dawson, Gary Fisher. Documentary Theatre in the United States: An Historical Survey and Analysis of Its Content, Form, and Stagecraft. Greenwood, 1999.
Drwal, Małgorzata. “Afrikaans Working-Class Drama in the Early 1940s: Socialist Realism in Die Offerande by Hester Cornelius.” Dutch Crossing 2020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03096564.2020.1723861.
Felski, Rita. “Comparison and Translation: A Perspective from Actor-Network Theory.” Comparative Literature Studies vol. 53, no. 4, 2016, pp. 747–65. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5325/complitstudies.53.4.0747.
Fishbein, Leslie. “The Paterson Pageant (1913): The Birth of Docudrama as a Weapon in the Class Struggle.” New York History vol. 72, no. 2, 1991, pp. 197–233, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23178785.
Foley, Douglas E. “Does the Working Class Have a Culture in the Anthropological Sense?” Cultural Anthropology vol. 4, no. 2, 1989, pp. 137–62. https://www.jstor.org/stable/656273.
Goldstein, Malcolm. The Political Stage: American Drama and Theatre of the Great Depression. Oxford U P, 1974.
Greenblatt, Stephen J. Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto. Cambridge U P, 2009.
Hobsbawm, Eric. “Introduction: Inventing Traditions.” The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger. Cambridge U P, 2003, pp. 1–14.
Hummelen, W. M. H. “Het tableau vivant, de ‘toog’, in de toneelspelen van de rederijkers.” Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde vol. 108, 1992, pp. 193–222. https://www.dbnl.org/tekst/humm001tabl01_01/humm001tabl01_01_0001.php.
Hyslop, Jonathan. “The British and Australian Leaders of the South African Labour Movement, 1902–1914: A Group Biography.” Britishness Abroad: Transnational Movements and Imperial Cultures, edited by Kate Darian-Smith, Patricia Grimshaw & Stuart Macintyre. Melbourne U P, 2007, pp. 90–108.
Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Theatre. Thames & Hudson, 1977.
Keuris, Marisa. “Taferele, tableaux vivants, tablo’s en die vroeë Afrikaanse drama (1850–1950).” LitNet Akademies vol. 9, no. 2, 2012, pp. 744–65. https://www.litnet.co.za/taferele-tableaux-vivants-tablos-en-die-vroee-afrikaanse-drama-18501950/.
Krouk, Dean. “The Montage Rhetoric of Nordahl Grieg’s Interwar Drama.” Humanities vol. 7, no. 4, 2018, p. 99. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/h7040099.
Kruger, Loren. Post-Imperial Brecht: Politics and Performance, East and South. Cambridge U P, 2004.
Kruger, Loren. The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics Since 1910. Routledge, 1999.
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford U P, 2005.
Merrington, Peter. “Masques, Monuments, and Masons: The 1910 Pageant of the Union of South Africa.” Theatre Journal vol. 49, no. 1, 1997, pp. 1–14. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/34335.
Meyerhold, Vsevolod. Meyerhold on Theatre, translated and edited by Edward Braun. Methuen Drama, 1998.
Nilsson, Magnus & John Lennon. “Defining Working-Class Literature(s): A Comparative Approach Between U.S. Working-Class Studies and Swedish Literary History.” New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry vol. 8, no. 2, 2016, pp. 39–61. https://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/newproposals/article/view/186076.
Meyerhold, Vsevolod. “Introduction.” Working-Class Literature(s): Historical and International Perspectives, edited by John Lennon & Magnus Nilsson. Stockholm U P, 2017, pp. ix–xviii.
Pitches, Jonathan. Vsevolod Meyerhold. Routledge, 2003.
Routh, Guy. “The Johannesburg Art Theatre.” Trek, Sept. 1950, pp. 25–7.
Routh, Guy & Eli Weinberg. Pageant of Unity. 1940. Records of the Garment Workers Union AH1092, file Cba 2.4.2, William Cullen Library and Archive, Historical Papers, U of the Witwatersrand.
Sachs, E. S. “We Declare War on Starvation Wages.” Trade Union Rally and Pageant for a Living Wage / Vakunie Optog en Skouspel vir ’n Beter Lewe. 1940. Records of the Garment Workers Union AH1092, file Cba 2.4.2, William Cullen Library and Archive, Historical Papers, U of the Witwatersrand.
Sandwith, Corinne. “‘Yours for Socialism’: Communist Cultural Discourse in Early Apartheid South Africa.” Safundi vol. 14, no. 3, 2013, pp. 283–306. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17533171.2013.812864.
Shain, Milton. “’n Nuwe Hoggenheimer?” Die Burger, 7 Apr. 2016. https://www.netwerk24.com/Stemme/Aktueel/n-nuwe-hoggenheimer-20160406.
Tagangaeva, Maria. “Socialist in content, national in form: The making of Soviet national art and the case of Buryatia.” Nationalities Papers vol. 45, no. 3, 2017, pp. 393–409. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00905992.2016.1247794.
Trade Union Rally and Pageant for a Living Wage / Vakunie Optog en Skouspel vir ’n Beter Lewe. 1940. Records of the Garment Workers Union AH1092, file Cba 2.4.2, William Cullen Library and Archive, Historical Papers, U of the Witwatersrand.
Verwey, E. J. New Dictionary of South African Biography. HSRC, 1995.
Willemse, Hein. “’n Inleiding tot buite-kanonieke Afrikaanse kulturele praktyke.” Perspektief en Profiel: ’n Afrikaanse Literatuurgeskiedenis vol. 2, edited by H. P. van Coller. J. L. van Schaik, 1999, pp. 3–20.
Witz, Leslie. “Separation for unity: The garment workers union and the South African clothing workers union 1928 to 1936.” Social Dynamics vol. 14, no. 1, 1988, pp. 34–45. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02533958808458439.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Tydskrif vir Letterkunde
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.