In my time as editor of the RED blog, I have been fortunate enough to come across 2 artists I would consider to be “organically” representative of proletarian art in its present stage of development. For the purposes of this piece, they will remain anonymous. I mean no offense by considering their art as “organic” or, more accurately, nascent. Quite the opposite is true. However, as I hope to work with the individuals in the future, I have opted to avoid any unintended offense.
A following consideration stems from this: my writing here will necessarily take the form of abstraction. Although what I am to argue here has a concrete basis & was born of concrete observations, self-censorship has forced me to write in purely theoretical terms. I hope to return to this in the future, outlining my position with the concrete & evidential material it deserves.
1stly, it is necessary to define what is meant here by “organic”. The term is born out of a distinction made by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Traditional intellectuals are – or appear to be – ‘disinterested’. Conversely, “organic” intellectuals are partisan – they speak for the interests of a specific class & this is transparent in their work. (Committees of Correspondence for Socialism and Democracy, ‘Organisation is the Central Task, Radical Education is the Key Link‘, slide 5.) In Gramsci’s argument, “organic” intellectuals are formed out of their day-to-day existence & of struggle. They are, speaking generally, intellectuals belonging to the oppressed classes.
Artists are a form of intellectual. They articulate the same content as intellectuals, through the medium of aesthetics. This gives human ideas an emotional content. For example, the Russian novelist Maxim Gorky articulates an organisational theory of the Vanguard Party in his novel Mother. It is entirely possible for an artist to fall under Gramsci’s conception of the “organic” intellectual. This is clearly reflected in the Prison Notebooks handling of Brescianism.
My reference to Gramsci is loose at this point, precisely because the concrete association is loose. Rather than “organic” intellectuals or artists already formed, I am discussing “organic” artists in formation. The word nascent is clearly more accurate in this consideration. However, there is a deeper political meaning to this. At the present phase of struggle in Britain, it is transparent to state that there is no progressive movement. Occasionally, there is the murmur of a hidden struggle. As this resistance is nascent, its intellectuals must also be nascent.
There is an important aspect of Gramsci’s consideration appropriate for this – that the “organic” intellectual is partisan. “Organic” intellectuals do not represent a class by virtue of belonging to it but, rather, by articulating its interests. In this sense, a proletarian writing poetry cannot be said to writing proletarian poetry by virtue of their writing it. The political content of the poetry is what determines its class character.
Both of the sources that this piece is based upon possess 2 characteristics. 1stly, they were written in struggle, as part of the process of said struggles. 2ndly, they possess a self-identity with the struggles they describe. These 2 characteristics are intimately linked. Through struggle, ideas are developed; when these ideas are initially expressed in the form of aesthetics, they evoke the symbols & language of their development. In a sense, nascent proletarian art – as a product of struggle – must necessarily develop its own aesthetic language. The purpose of the work is to communicate an experience of struggle, to other participants within that struggle.
2 conclusions logically follow. (a) The development of a proletarian artistic trend cannot be achieved through artificial means. It is the product of concrete events, concrete experiences, a common political language that is developed through practical activity. (b) In its nascent phase, the art of the proletariat appears as aesthetically unintelligible to those not involved in the struggle it describes. Its self-identifying qualities determine this aspect: it is written for a specific audience, which does not include its most direct adversaries, casual onlookers or art historians.