Artists & Communism

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In an article, ‘A world war has begun. Break the silence.‘, John Pilger poses a series of questions which, taken together, amount to a moral outcry, a sob of abandon.

‘What has happened to the great tradition of popular direct action, unfettered to parties? Where is the courage, imagination and commitment required to begin the long journey to a better, just and peaceful world? Where are the dissidents in art, film, the theatre, literature?’

Whilst I will not attempt to answer the vast majority of points, as a practicing anti-Imperialist, Communist artist, I think it is important to communicate & clarify on the role of Communist artists within Imperialist Britain in the present period. The following programme, divided into 3 segments for ease of reading, serves to fulfil this ambition.

Aesthetics

‘There is the political criterion and there is the artistic criterion; what is the relationship between the two? Politics cannot be equated with art, nor can a general world outlook be equated with a method of artistic creation and criticism. We deny not only that there is an abstract and absolutely unchangeable political criterion, but also that there is an abstract and absolutely unchangeable artistic criterion; each class in every class society has its own political and artistic criteria’ (Mao, Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, 2 May 1942.)

ONE. The above is accepted as fundamentally true & correct. Artists, if they are to call themselves Communists, must act in accordance with the premise implicit within this statement. Proletarian (meant as an explicitly political term) art must seek to bring forth a proletarian artistic criterion.

TWO. This criterion cannot derive from abstraction. It must come from the living movement & struggle of actual human beings.

THREE. Artistic criteria – in any instance – is a simplified expression, denoting the evaluation of an artistic productย in consumption. In order to produce this basis, the commodity itself & the production of art must change. Aesthetics must become proletarian.

FOUR. Aesthetics are the tools of the immaterial labour embodied in art. They operate by the shaping of emotion via socially recognised & understood units of meaning – symbolism, syntax, context etc. They, therefore, are a collective, socialised form of production/consumption. Aesthetics cannot operate without the understanding & approval of society.

FIVE. An artwork is ultimately defined by 2 distinct components of aesthetics – form & content. These 2 aspects exist in a dialectical unity.

SIX. Bourgeois aesthetics – as with bourgeois ideology in general – is an abstract content. It does not possess, even refuses, a contextual character. For example: the typified romantic comedy plot structure. The essentials are repeated across a mass produced plethora of contexts. This achieves, through repetition, the effect of universalising the specific. Joyce. The political character of this specific – its real content, free of any subversion – is thoroughly reactionary. It is selected to be so. This is particularly evident in postmodern cultural production.

SEVEN. What must be recognised is that the “new” art – proletarian art – will not be created abstractly by the work of a Great Individual. It will come from movement, from struggle & the masses. This cannot be willed into being. New units of meaning must be formed in concrete praxis.

EIGHT. Examples of this can be seen in the artistic form adopted by members of the oppressed, who in engage in artistic production but emerge only in local campaigns etc. This is the coming into being of political consciousness, to congnitisation & ossification of an understanding gained through political action. It is nascent consciousness. Majoritively, it is wholly concrete & specific – an identification with a given struggle or political leader, with its demands intact whether narrow or broad.

NINE. Overwhelmingly, bourgeois art is consumed by the working class. Overwhelmingly, the artistic criteria held by the working class is that of a reactionary, bourgeois artistic criteria.

Communists

ONE. The Communist artist’s goal, in this present period, must be to sharpen the contradictions in bourgeois artistic criteria. This requires that they must be studied & understood. In its organisation, bourgeois art threatens suicide.

TWO. Art is an inherently social phenomenon. By placing art in the straight jacket of private production, by reifying the existence of its own universals throughout this mode of production, the bourgeoisie create an absurdity. An elite & tiny group of aesthetes from the bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie & labour aristocracy speak in universals, for all of humanity. They create obfuscation & mythology.

THREE. Proletarian art must offer the alternative of a concrete multitude. Instead of the narrow abstraction of a handful, the concrete voice of an ocean.

FOUR. Bourgeois art is, therefore, cultural despotism. Proletarian art must be – in its fundamental essence – a cultural democracy. It’s ideological opposition to the bourgeoisie will serve as its central axis.

FIVE. Communists must draw out this contradiction by the use of the concrete universal. The misery of the individual must be integrated with the oppression & resistance of the class. The class struggle must be typified, it must become an aesthetic narrative – a framework into which the creation of a proletarian art may be situated. Our main weapon in the artistic process is context, is the active development of human history.

SIX. Whilst this may be achieved symbolically by “fine works”, it must be concrete in order to gain any ground amongst a living working class. As such, nascent art must be both nurtured & prioritised. It must be brought under the wing of Communist forces & fused with them.

Concrete work

ONE. The most immediate priority for Communist work in the arts, in Britain, must be the creation of cultural spaces democratically orientated toward the oppressed. This can take many forms – performance nights, street art events, clandestine theatre etc.

TWO. These events must be openly democratic & participatory. 1000 fine poems by a “Communist” is nothing compared to the liberating moment, the explosion of rage through a microphone, in the voice & tone of an oppressed creature. There is a reason that religious ceremony stands at such a crucial place in reactionary dogma: it is a rebirth of sorts, an experience of the sublime.

THREE. In our humble position, it is safe to insist upon only this: the sublime is not abstract, nor the product of Nature. The sublime is human action, creation, production. The sublime is action toward liberation.

FOUR. Participation should, wherever possible, be turned toward production. This is to erode the mystery of artistic production: to erode the division of labour that makes art esoteric & divides humanity into automatons & kings.

‘The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which is bound up with this, is a consequence of the division of labour.’ (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, 1945.)

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