Art

new planet 1921.jpgLargeIt is sometimes said that Marxists are only interested in pouring over economic data and political analysis – that we have no interest in art and culture. Nothing could be further from the truth. By striving for the end of capitalism and freeing men and women from exploitation, we seek to give ordinary workers more time to enjoy and participate in culture, and raise art to new heights.

Art under capitalism is shackled to the profit motive. Culture is a business, and many of humanity’s finest works of art, music and literature are locked up in private collections or reserved for the wealthy. Moreover, art has become increasingly shallow and pedestrian, reflecting the crisis of the capitalist system itself. Rather than empowering artists to experiment and develop new ideas, billions are thrown at derivative dross by a shrinking handful of media monopolies. The rot of capitalist society is reflected in a rotten culture.

The solution to art's problems is not to be found in art itself, but in society. The Russian Revolution saw a flood of creativity as artists took inspiration from the heroic struggle of the masses against Tsarism and capitalism. The Bolsheviks flung open the gilded doors of Russia’s galleries and opera houses to ordinary people for the first time. This is our inspiration. By breaking with the capitalist system and returning culture to the people by investing in education and the arts, as Trotsky puts it: “The average human type will rise to the heights a Goethe or a Da Vinci… And above this ridge new peaks will rise.”

Wole Soyinka is a prominent Nigerian playwright, and in 1986, he became the first African writer ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In October 1965, Soyinka was arrested for allegedly seizing the Western Region radio studios and using them to publicly dispute the published results of the recent elections, but in December of the same year, he was acquitted. Didi Cheeka of the Workers' Alternative Editorial Board looks at the ideas and works of this well known writer.

Goran M, after interviewing the famous Black American hip hop band Public Enemy, wrote this analysis of their background, how they emerged as a band, how their lyrics evolved, and what they generally stand for. He puts everything within the context of the struggles of the Afro-American community for their rights. Public Enemy clearly expressed, and continue to express, a growing radical mood among blacks, but also among all the youth.

Goya was one of the greatest artists of all time. His paintings are a priceless document of the history of the Spanish people. He painted the world in which he lived, and he painted it in terms of uncompromising realism. His entire outlook was shaped by great historical events - the French revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the ferocious struggle for national independence and the movement for liberal reform that followed it, a movement that was brutally crushed by the forces of darkness, obscurantism and reaction. This article is part of an important new series by Alan Woods called Art and revolution.

In the present epoch, the bourgeoisie is no longer capable of advancing human civilization, but the decay of the capitalist system threatens to poison every aspect of social life. The most heartbreaking example of the way in which capitalism is destroying the cultural heritage of mankind is what has just happened in Iraq.

The connection between Italian Futurism and fascism is well known. Alan Woods looks at the psychology of the Italian bourgeois and petit bourgeois intellectuals in the period before and during the First World War that gave rise to this singular phenomenon. It is an object lesson on how art and politics can become inextricably linked, and how this mixture arises from a definite social and class basis.

We publish here the transcript of a speech by Alan Woods on the subject of the relationship between Art and the Class Struggle. The speech was given at a Marxist Summer School in Barcelona (Spain), in July 2001.

Art is important to people. It has always been so from the earliest human societies, when it was indissolubly linked to magic — that is, to the first primitive attempts of men and women to understand and gain control over the world in which they live. However, in class society art is so designed as to exclude the masses, and relegate them to an impoverished existence, not only in a material but in a spiritual sense.

“If sharks were people,” Mr K. was asked by his landlady’s little girl, “would they be nicer to the little fishes?” (Bertolt Brecht)

"Art can neither escape the crisis nor partition itself off. Art cannot save itself. It will rot away inevitably as Grecian art rotted beneath the ruins of a culture founded on slavery unless present-day society is able to rebuild itself. This task is essentially revolutionary in character. For these reasons the function of art in our epoch is determined by its relation to the revolution." Leon Trotsky, 1938.

The following letter by Leon Trotsky appeared in one of the early issues of Partisan Review in 1938 under the editorship of Dwight MacDonald. Trotsky’s hope that this magazine would “take its place in the victorious army of socialism” was not borne out by its subsequent evolution, as his second letter indicates.

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?

This is an essay by Trotsky, taken from Chapter 4 of Literature and Revolution published in 1924, in which he looks at the development of the Futurist trend in art, looking in particular at its Russian variant, but also touching on the Italian.

Originally published by Trotsky in 1924 these essays constitute a significant contribution to the then ongoing debate in the USSR over culture and art in a Workers State. It foreshadowed a later debate over the Stalinist conception of “Socialist Realism” in the later part of the decade. This book was suppressed by the bureaucracy after Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1928.

"It is untrue that revolutionary art can be created only by workers. Just because the revolution is a working-class revolution, it releases very little working-class energy for art. During the French Revolution, the greatest works which, directly or indirectly, reflected it, were created not by French artists, but by German, English, and others."