Mayakovsky intends the audience to answer Pobedonosikov’s question, in their own minds if not aloud, with a resounding “Yes!” Each of the six acts ridicules in a different way the bureaucracy’s usurpation of control over both social goals and individual lives. The growth of bureaucracy in the late 1920’s resulted from two elements in Soviet society. First, Marxist-Leninist ideology encouraged the formation of numerous people’s soviets, committees, unions, and congresses in all areas of life: health services, transportation, the arts, industry, and housing. Second, the Communist Party’s desire to control these decision-making groups led to the establishment of parallel party organizations within these committees, unions, and congresses. The result was a complex, multitiered, ponderous machinery of government, which had the power to approve or disapprove everything but did not have the responsibility to produce anything.
The Bathhouse thus portrays the creative energies of socialist workers—who are represented in Chudakov, Velosipedkin, and the Phosphorescent Woman—wrestling with a stifling bureaucratic system, embodied in the character of Bureau Chief Pobedonosikov and his minions. Mayakovsky’s presentation of the conflict is as much journalistic as it is literary, for the problem was current and crucial; it needed immediate rather than leisurely response.
Chudakov, Velosipedkin, and the Phosphorescent Woman represent the virtues and values of the good socialist citizen. They do not hesitate to work hard. They look forward to the future when the benefits for which they fought the October Revolution—social equality, economic sufficiency, and political harmony—will be enjoyed by all comrades. Chudakov’s time machine is both the image of their goal and their realization that modern-day socialism is still evolving and maturing.
Pobedonosikov, Optimistenko, and the other officials prove that bureaucracy tends to obstruct the efforts of hard-working citizens and to reward itself instead. Pobedonosikov’s title, Chief of the Bureau of Coordination, neatly captures the difficulty in a phrase. His title does not specify whom or what he coordinates or why coordination is necessary, yet it gives him authority that seems to be...
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- Critical Essays