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.”

This article by Alan Woods looks at how the French Revolution affected British poets. It struck Britain like a thunderbolt affecting all layers of society and this was reflected in its artists and writers.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered by many as the greatest musician of all time. He was revolutionary in more senses than one. One of his main achievements was in the field of opera. Before Mozart, opera was seen as an art form exclusively for the upper classes. This was true not only of those who went to see it, but also of its dramatis personae - the characters who were shown on the stage, and especially the protagonists. With The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro in its original Italian title), all this changes. This is the story of a servant who stands up to his boss and outwits his master.

Ludwig van Beethoven died today in 1827. If any composer deserves to be called a revolutionary, it is Beethoven. He carried through what was probably the greatest single revolution in modern music and changed the way music was composed and listened to. This is music that does not calm, but shocks and disturbs. Writing in 2006, Alan Woods describes how the world into which Beethoven was born was a world in turmoil, a world in transition, a world of wars, revolution and counter-revolution: a world like our own world.

Leonardo da Vinci died 500 years ago today in 1519. Da Vinci was an absolute giant in the history of human thought and culture. Alan Woods pays tribute to the great artist, scientist and philosopher, whose life and ideas were revolutionary in so many fields.

The fire that partly destroyed Notre Dame is a tragedy for anyone who cherishes the cultural, artistic and architectural achievements of humanity. Capitalism is undermining its own past achievements and those of previous societies, and this emerges very clearly when one takes a closer look at what happened in Paris on Monday 15 April.

Trotsky, a recent Netflix series produced by Russian state television, is a scandalous misrepresentation of both Trotsky’s life and the October Revolution. Alan Woods and Josh Holroyd respond to this insulting portrayal of Trotsky and the Bolsheviks’ legacy.

On 25 January, 2018 a lecture was held in the Al Hamra Hall, a well-known cultural center in Lahore, Pakistan on the topic of “Marxism and Literature”, by the editor of In Defence of Marxism, Alan Woods. The event was organized by the Progressive Youth Alliance. We share this video of Alan's lecture, in which he speaks about the development of language and literature across the history of class society, and how it was shaped by revolutionary events. 

We publish Alan Woods’ guest introduction to a special edition of Farsi-language art magazine, Contemporary Scene, called Capitalism and Art. The edition contains a series of articles about Marxism and culture, many of which were previously published on Marxist.com.

The centenary of the Russian Revolution has opened in an appropriately explosive fashion, with Donald Trump’s first raft of vile executive orders provoking international protest on a gargantuan scale. It is fair to say that tensions are high, and widespread anger is the order of the day.

Shakespeare transformed English literature, reaching heights that before were unheard-of and which have not been reached subsequently. Like a blazing meteorite he shot across the firmament and cast a glorious light on an entire period in our history. His impact on world literature was arguably greater than any other writer. His works have been translated into every language. For centuries after his death his star has not dimmed but shines as brightly as on the first day.

Hieronymus Bosch was one of the most remarkable and original painters of all time. His works were painted five hundred years ago, yet they seem astonishingly modern, anticipating surrealism. This is the art of a world in a state of turbulence, torn by contradictory tendencies – a world in which the light of reason has been extinguished and where animal passions have gained the upper hand, a world of terror and violence, a living nightmare. In short – a world very like our own. Alan Woods examines it from the standpoint of historical materialism.

The publication in English of The Man Who Loved Dogs by the Cuban author, Leonardo Padura is a major literary and political event. I read this remarkable novel when it came out in Spanish and it made a profound impression on me. I had intended to write a review then, but was prevented from doing it by a combination of circumstances. With the greatest pleasure I will now rectify this omission.

On 31 July Gore Vidal died at his home in Los Angeles from complications arising from pneumonia. He was 86 and had been ill for some time. As I was away on holiday at the time, I did not find out about this till later. The comrades in charge of Marxist.com decided to republish an article I had written in July 2002 with the title The decline and fall of the American empire, based on a television interview with the American writer.

Alan Woods, of the International Marxist Tendency, speaks to University of Arts' London students at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, where a replica of Picasso's great painting of the massacre at Guernica is on display. Using this powerful masterpiece as a starting point, Alan explores what makes great art; to what extent is great art a reflection of the period from which it comes; and can propaganda be great art?

Alan Woods gives a lecture at the Chelsea College of Art in London in April 2009. He deals with the important role art plays in revolutionary political movements and speaks about how art changes to reflect the social and political events of the time.