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The CIA Reads French Theory: On the Intellectual Labor of Dismantling the Cultural Left

Gabriel Rockhill, Ph.D.v

It is often presumed that intellectuals have little or no political power. Perched in a privileged ivory tower, disconnected from the real world, embroiled in meaningless academic debates over specialized minutia, or floating in the abstruse clouds of high-minded theory, intellectuals are frequently portrayed as not only cut off from political reality but as incapable of having any meaningful impact on it. The Central Intelligence Agency thinks otherwise.

As a matter of fact, the agency responsible for coups d’état, targeted assassinations and the clandestine manipulation of foreign governments not only believes in the power of theory, but it dedicated significant resources to having a group of secret agents pore over what some consider to be the most recondite and intricate theory ever produced. For in an intriguing research paper written in 1985, and recently released with minor redactions through the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA reveals that its operatives have been studying the complex, international trend-setting French theory affiliated with the names of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Roland Barthes.

The ‘Apparat’ in Paris: CIA Agent and Head of the CCF Michael Josselson (center) in a Working Lunch with John Clinton Hunt and Melvin Lasky (right)

The image of American spies gathering in Parisian cafés to assiduously study and compare notes on the high priests of the French intelligentsia might shock those who presume this group of intellectuals to be luminaries whose otherworldly sophistication could never be caught in such a vulgar dragnet, or who assume them to be, on the contrary, charlatan peddlers of incomprehensible rhetoric with little or no impact on the real world. However, it should come as no surprise to those familiar with the CIA’s longstanding and ongoing investment in a global cultural war, including support for its most avant-garde forms, which has been well documented by researchers like Frances Stonor Saunders, Giles Scott-Smith, Hugh Wilford (and I have made my own contribution in Radical History & the Politics of Art).

Thomas W. Braden, the former supervisor of cultural activities at the CIA, explained the power of the Agency’s cultural assault in a frank insider’s account published in 1967: “I remember the enormous joy I got when the Boston Symphony Orchestra [which was supported by the CIA] won more acclaim for the U.S. in Paris than John Foster Dulles or Dwight D. Eisenhower could have bought with a hundred speeches.” This was by no means a small or liminal operation. In fact, as Wilford has aptly argued, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), which was headquartered in Paris and later discovered to be a CIA front organization during the cultural Cold War, was among the most important patrons in world history, supporting an incredible range of artistic and intellectual activities. It had offices in 35 countries, published dozens of prestige magazines, was involved in the book industry, organized high-profile international conferences and art exhibits, coordinated performances and concerts, and contributed ample funding to various cultural awards and fellowships, as well as to front organizations like the Farfield Foundation.

The intelligence agency understands culture and theory to be crucial weapons in the overall arsenal it deploys to perpetuate US interests around the world. The recently released research paper from 1985, entitled “France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals, examines—undoubtedly in order to manipulate—the French intelligentsia and its fundamental role in shaping the trends that generate political policy. Suggesting that there has been a relative ideological balance between the left and the right in the history of the French intellectual world, the report highlights the monopoly of the left in the immediate postwar era—to which, we know, the Agency was rabidly opposed—due to the Communists’ key role in resisting fascism and ultimately winning the war against it. Although the right had been massively discredited because of its direct contribution to the Nazi death camps, as well as its overall xenophobic, anti-egalitarian and fascist agenda (according to the CIA’s own description), the unnamed secret agents who drafted the study outline with palpable delight the return of the right since approximately the early 1970s.

More specifically, the undercover cultural warriors applaud what they see as a double movement that has contributed to the intelligentsia shifting its critical focus away from the US and toward the USSR. On the left, there was a gradual intellectual disaffection with Stalinism and Marxism, a progressive withdrawal of radical intellectuals from public debate, and a theoretical move away from socialism and the socialist party. Further to the right, the ideological opportunists referred to as the New Philosophers and the New Right intellectuals launched a high-profile media smear campaign against Marxism.

While other tentacles of the worldwide spy organization were involved in overthrowing democratically elected leaders, providing intelligence and funding to fascist dictators, and supporting right-wing death squads, the Parisian central intelligentsia squadron was collecting data on how the theoretical world’s drift to the right directly benefitted US foreign policy. The left-leaning intellectuals of the immediate postwar era had been openly critical of US imperialism. Jean-Paul Sartre’s media clout as an outspoken Marxist critic, and his notable role—as the founder of Libération—in blowing the cover of the CIA station officer in Paris and dozens of undercover operatives, was closely monitored by the Agency and considered a very serious problem.

In contrast, the anti-Soviet and anti-Marxist atmosphere of the emerging neoliberal era diverted public scrutiny and provided excellent cover for the CIA’s dirty wars by making it “very difficult for anyone to mobilize significant opposition among intellectual elites to US policies in Central America, for example.” Greg Grandin, one of the leading historians of Latin America, perfectly summarized this situation in The Last Colonial Massacre: “Aside from making visibly disastrous and deadly interventions in Guatemala in 1954, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Chile in 1973, and El Salvador and Nicaragua during the 1980s, the United States has lent quiet and steady financial, material, and moral support for murderous counterinsurgent terror states. […] But the enormity of Stalin’s crimes ensures that such sordid histories, no matter how compelling, thorough, or damning, do not disturb the foundation of a worldview committed to the exemplary role of the United States in defending what we now know as democracy.”

It is in this context that the masked mandarins commend and support the relentless critique that a new generation of anti-Marxist thinkers like Bernard-Henri Levy, André Glucksmann and Jean-François Revel unleashed on “the last clique of Communist savants” (composed, according to the anonymous agents, of Sartre, Barthes, Lacan and Louis Althusser). Given the leftwing leanings of these anti-Marxists in their youth, they provide the perfect model for constructing deceptive narratives that amalgamate purported personal political growth with the progressive march of time, as if both individual life and history were simply a matter of “growing up” and recognizing that profound egalitarian social transformation is a thing of the—personal and historical—past. This patronizing, omniscient defeatism not only serves to discredit new movements, particularly those driven by the youth, but it also mischaracterizes the relative successes of counter-revolutionary repression as the natural progress of history. 

Anti-Marxist French Philosopher Raymond Aron (left) and His Wife Suzanne on Vacation with Undercover CIA Operative Michael Josselson and Denis de Rougemont (right)

Even theoreticians who were not as opposed to Marxism as these intellectual reactionaries have made a significant contribution to an environment of disillusionment with transformative egalitarianism, detachment from social mobilization and “critical inquiry” devoid of radical politics. This is extremely important for understanding the CIA’s overall strategy in its broad and profound attempts to dismantle the cultural left in Europe and elsewhere. In recognizing it was unlikely that it could abolish it entirely, the world’s most powerful spy organization has sought to move leftist culture away from resolute anti-capitalist and transformative politics toward center-left reformist positions that are less overtly critical of US foreign and domestic policies. In fact, as Saunders has demonstrated in detail, the Agency went behind the back of the McCarthy-driven Congress in the postwar era in order to directly support and promote leftist projects that steered cultural producers and consumers away from the resolutely egalitarian left. In severing and discrediting the latter, it also aspired to fragment the left in general, leaving what remained of the center left with only minimal power and public support (as well as being potentially discredited due to its complicity with right-wing power politics, an issue that continues to plague contemporary institutionalized parties on the left).

It is in this light that we must understand the intelligence agency’s fondness for conversion narratives and its deep appreciation for “reformed Marxists,” a leitmotif that traverses the research paper on French theory. “Even more effective in undermining Marxism,” the moles write, “were those intellectuals who set out as true believers to apply Marxist theory in the social sciences but ended by rethinking and rejecting the entire tradition.” They cite in particular the profound contribution made by the Annales School of historiography and structuralism—particularly Claude Lévi-Strauss and Foucault—to the “critical demolition of Marxist influence in the social sciences.” Foucault, who is referred to as “France’s most profound and influential thinker,” is specifically applauded for his praise of the New Right intellectuals for reminding philosophers that “‘bloody’ consequences” have “flowed from the rationalist social theory of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the Revolutionary era.” Although it would be a mistake to collapse anyone’s politics or political effect into a single position or result, Foucault’s anti-revolutionary leftism and his perpetuation of the blackmail of the Gulag—i.e. the claim that expansive radical movements aiming at profound social and cultural transformation only resuscitate the most dangerous of traditions—are perfectly in line with the espionage agency’s overall strategies of psychological warfare.

The CIA’s reading of French theory should give us pause, then, to reconsider the radical chic veneer that has accompanied much of its Anglophone reception. According to a stagist conception of progressive history (which is usually blind to its implicit teleology), the work of figures like Foucault, Derrida and other cutting-edge French theorists is often intuitively affiliated with a form of profound and sophisticated critique that presumably far surpasses anything found in the socialist, Marxist or anarchist traditions. It is certainly true and merits emphasis that the Anglophone reception of French theory, as John McCumber has aptly pointed out, had important political implications as a pole of resistance to the false political neutrality, the safe technicalities of logic and language, or the direct ideological conformism operative in the McCarthy-supported traditions of Anglo-American philosophy. However, the theoretical practices of figures who turned their back on what Cornelius Castoriadis called the tradition of radical critique—meaning anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist resistance—surely contributed to the ideological drift away from transformative politics. According to the spy agency itself, post-Marxist French theory directly contributed to the CIA’s cultural program of coaxing the left toward the right, while discrediting anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, thereby creating an intellectual environment in which their imperial projects could be pursued unhindered by serious critical scrutiny from the intelligentsia.

As we know from the research on the CIA’s program of psychological warfare, the organization has not only tracked and sought to coerce individuals, but it has always been keen on understanding and transforming institutions of cultural production and distribution. Indeed, its study on French theory points to the structural role universities, publishing houses and the media play in the formation and consolidation of a collective political ethos. In descriptions that, like the rest of the document, should invite us to think critically about the current academic situation in the Anglophone world and beyond, the authors of the report foreground the ways in which the precarization of academic labor contributes to the demolition of radical leftism. If strong leftists cannot secure the material means necessary to carry out our work, or if we are more or less subtly forced to conform in order to find employment, publish our writings or have an audience, then the structural conditions for a resolute leftist community are weakened. The vocationalization of higher education is another tool used for this end since it aims at transforming people into techno-scientific cogs in the capitalist apparatus rather than autonomous citizens with reliable tools for social critique. The theory mandarins of the CIA therefore praise the efforts on the part of the French government to “push students into business and technical courses.” They also point to the contributions made by major publishing houses like Grasset, the mass media and the vogue of American culture in pushing forward their post-socialist and anti-egalitarian platform.

What lessons might we draw from this report, particularly in the current political environment with its ongoing assault on the critical intelligentsia? First of all, it should be a cogent reminder that if some presume that intellectuals are powerless, and that our political orientations do not matter, the organization that has been one of the most potent power brokers in contemporary world politics does not agree. The Central Intelligence Agency, as its name ironically suggests, believes in the power of intelligence and theory, and we should take this very seriously. In falsely presuming that intellectual work has little or no traction in the “real world,” we not only misrepresent the practical implications of theoretical labor, but we also run the risk of dangerously turning a blind eye to the political projects for which we can easily become the unwitting cultural ambassadors. Although it is certainly the case that the French nation-state and cultural apparatus provide a much more significant public platform for intellectuals than is to be found in many other countries, the CIA’s preoccupation with mapping and manipulating theoretical and cultural production elsewhere should serve as a wake-up call to us all.

Second, the power brokers of the present have a vested interest in cultivating an intelligentsia whose critical acumen has been dulled or destroyed by fostering institutions founded on business and techno-science interests, equating left-wing politics with anti-scientificity, correlating science with a purported—but false—political neutrality, promoting media that saturate the airwaves with conformist prattle, sequestering strong leftists outside of major academic institutions and the media spotlight, and discrediting any call for radical egalitarian and ecological transformation. Ideally, they seek to nurture an intellectual culture that, if on the left, is neutralized, immobilized, listless and content with defeatist hand wringing, or with the passive criticism of the radically mobilized left. This is one of the reasons why we might want to consider intellectual opposition to radical leftism, which preponderates in the U.S. academy, as a dangerous political position: isn’t it directly complicit with the CIA’s imperialist agenda around the world?

Third, to counter this institutional assault on a culture of resolute leftism, it is imperative to resist the precarization and vocationalization of education. It is equally important to create public spheres of truly critical debate, providing a broader platform for those who recognize that another world is not only possible, but is necessary. We also need to band together in order to contribute to or further develop alternative media, different models of education, counter-institutions and radical collectives. It is vital to foster precisely what the covert cultural combatants want to destroy: a culture of radical leftism with a broad institutional framework of support, extensive public backing, prevalent media clout and expansive power of mobilization.

Finally, intellectuals of the world should unite in recognizing our power and seizing upon it in order to do everything that we can to develop systemic and radical critique that is as egalitarian and ecological as it is anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. The positions that one defends in the classroom or publicly are important for setting the terms of debate and charting the field of political possibility. In direct opposition to the spy agency’s cultural strategy of fragment and polarize, by which it has sought to sever and isolate the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist left, while opposing it to reformist positions, we should federate and mobilize by recognizing the importance of working together—across the entire left, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has recently reminded usfor the cultivation of a truly critical intelligentsia. Rather than proclaiming or bemoaning the powerlessness of intellectuals, we should harness the ability to speak truth to power by working together and mobilizing our capacity to collectively create the institutions necessary for a world of cultural leftism. For it is only in such a world, and in the echo chambers of critical intelligence that it produces, that the truths spoken might actually be heard, and thereby change the very structures of power. 

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Isaac Asimov Reviews ‘1984’

Originally published in The New York Times.

REVIEW OF 1984

By Isaac Asimov

I’ve been writing a four-part article for Field Newspaper Syndicate at the beginning of each year for several years now and in 1980, mindful of the approach of the year 1984, FNS asked me to write a thorough critique of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

I was reluctant. I remembered almost nothing of the book and said so – but Denison Demac, the lovely young woman who is my contact at FNS, simply sent me a copy of it and said, ‘Read it.’

So I read it and found myself absolutely astonished at what I read. I wondered how many people who talked about the novel so glibly had ever read it; or if they had, whether they remembered it at all.

I felt I would have to write the critique if only to set people straight. (I’m sorry; I love setting people straight.)

A. THE WRITING OF 1984

In 1949, a book entitled 1984 was published. It was written by Eric Arthur Blair under the pseudonym of George Orwell.

The book attempted to show what life would be like in a world of total evil, in which those controlling the government kept themselves in power by brute force, by distorting the truth, by continually rewriting history, by mesmerising the people generally.

This evil world was placed only thirty-five years in the future so that even men who were already in their early middle age at the time the book was published might live to see it if they lived out a normal lifetime.

I, for instance, was already a married man when the book appeared and yet here we are less than four years away from that apocalyptic year (for ‘1984’ has become a year that is associated with dread because of Orwell’s book), and I am very likely to live to see it.

In this chapter, I will discuss the book, but first: Who was Blair/Orwell and why was the book written?

Blair was born in 1903 into the status of a British gentleman. His father was in the Indian civil service and Blair himself lived the life of a British Imperial official. He went to Eton, served in Burma, and so on. However, he lacked the money to be an English gentleman to the full. Then, too, he didn’t want to spend his time at dull desk jobs; he wanted to be a writer. Thirdly, he felt guilty about his status in the upper class. So he did in the late 1920s what so many well-to-do American young people in the 1960s did. In short, he became what we would have called a ‘hippie’ at a later time. He lived under slum conditions in London and Paris, consorted with and identified with slum dwellers and vagrants, managed to ease his conscience and, at the same time, to gather material for his earliest books.

He also turned left wing and became a socialist, fighting with the loyalists in Spain in the 1930s. There he found himself caught up in the sectarian struggles between the various left-wing factions, and since he believed in a gentlemanly English form of socialism, he was inevitably on the losing side. Opposed to him were passionate Spanish anarchists, syndicalists, and communists, who bitterly resented the fact that the necessities of fighting the Franco fascists got in the way of their fighting each other.

The communists, who were the best organised, won out and Orwell had to leave Spain, for he was convinced that if he did not, he would be killed From then on, to the end of his life, he carried on a private literary war with the communists, determined to win in words the battle he had lost in action.

During World War II, in which he was rejected for military service, he was associated with the left wing of the British Labour party, but didn’t much sympathise with their views, for even their reckless version of socialism seemed too well organised for him. He wasn’t much affected, apparently, by the Nazi brand of totalitarianism, for there was no room within him except for his private war with Stalinist communism. Consequently, when Great Britain was fighting for its life against Nazism, and the Soviet Union fought as an ally in the struggle and contributed rather more than its share in lives lost and in resolute courage, Orwell wrote Animal Farm which was a satire of the Russian Revolution and what followed, picturing it in terms of a revolt of barnyard animals against human masters.

He completed Animal Farm in 1944 and had trouble finding a publisher since it wasn’t a particularly good time for upsetting the Soviets. As soon as the war came to an end, however, the Soviet Union was fair game and Animal Farm was published. It was greeted with much acclaim and Orwell became sufficiently prosperous to retire and devote himself to his masterpiece, 1984.

That book described society as a vast world-wide extension of Stalinist Russia in the 1930s, pictured with the venom of a rival left-wing sectarian. Other forms of totalitarianism play a small role. There are one or two mentions of the Nazis and of the Inquisition. At the very start, there is a reference or two to Jews, almost as though they were going to prove the objects of persecution, but that vanishes almost at once, as though Orwell didn’t want readers to mistake the villains for Nazis. The picture is of Stalinism, and Stalinism only.

By the time the book came out in 1949, the Cold War was at its height. The book therefore proved popular. It was almost a matter of patriotism in the West to buy it and talk about it, and perhaps even to read parts of it, although it is my opinion that more people bought it and talked about it than read it, for it is a dreadfully dull book – didactic, repetitious, and all but motionless.

It was most popular at first with people who leaned towards the conservative side of the political spectrum, for it was clearly an anti-Soviet polemic, and the picture of life it projected in the London of 1984 was very much as conservatives imagined life in the Moscow of 1949 to be.

During the McCarthy era in the United States, 1984 became increasingly popular with those who leaned towards the liberal side of the political spectrum, for it seemed to them that the United States of the early 1950s was beginning to move in the direction of thought-control and that all the viciousness Orwell had depicted was on its way towards us.

Thus, in an afterword to an edition published in paperback by New American Library in 1961, the liberal psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm concluded as follows:

‘Books like Orwell’s are powerful warnings, and it would be most unfortunate if the reader smugly interpreted 1984 as another description of Stalinist barbarism, and if he does not see that it means us, too.’

Even if Stalinism and McCarthyism are disregarded, however, more and more Americans were becoming aware of just how ‘big’ the government was getting; how high taxes were; how increasingly rules and regulations permeated business and even ordinary life; how information concerning every facet of private life was entering the files not only of government bureaux but of private credit systems.

1984, therefore, came to stand not for Stalinism, or even for dictatorship in general – but merely for government. Even governmental paternalism seemed ‘1984ish’ and the catch phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you’ came to mean everything that was too big for the individual to control. It was not only big government and big business that was a symptom of 1984 but big science, big labour, big anything.

In fact, so thoroughly has 1984-ophobia penetrated the consciousness of many who have not read the book and have no notion of what it contains, that one wonders what will happen to us after 31 December 1984. When New Year’s Day of 1985 arrives and the United States is still in existence and facing very much the problems it faces today, how will we express our fears of whatever aspect of life fills us with apprehension? What new date can we invent to take the place of 1984?

Orwell did not live to see his book become the success it did. He did not witness the way in which he made 1984 into a year that would haunt a whole generation of Americans. Orwell died of tuberculosis in a London hospital in January 1950, just a few months after the book was published, at the age of forty-six. His awareness of imminent death may have added to the bitterness of the book.

B. THE SCIENCE FICTION OF 1984

Many people think of 1984 as a science fiction novel, but almost the only item about 1984 that would lead one to suppose this is the fact that it is purportedly laid in the future. Not so! Orwell had no feel for the future, and the displacement of the story is much more geographical than temporal.

The London in which the story is placed is not so much moved thirty-five years forward in time, from 1949 to 1984, as it is moved a thousand miles east in space to Moscow. Orwell imagines Great Britain to have gone through a revolution similar to the Russian Revolution and to have gone through all the stages that Soviet development did. He can think of almost no variations on the theme. The Soviets had a series of purges in the 1930s, so the Ingsoc (English Socialism) had a series of purges in the 1950s. The Soviets converted one of their revolutionaries, Leon Trotsky, into a villain, leaving his opponent, Joseph Stalin, as a hero. The Ingsoc, therefore, convert one of their revolutionaries, Emmanuel Goldstein, into a villain, leaving his opponent, with a moustache like Stalin, as a hero.

There is no ability to make minor changes, even. Goldstein, like Trotsky, has ‘a lean Jewish face, with a great fuzzy aureole of white hair and a small goatee beard’. Orwell apparently does not want to confuse the issue by giving Stalin a different name so he calls him merely ‘Big Brother’.

At the very beginning of the story, it is made clear that television (which was coming into existence at the time the book was written) served as a continuous means of indoctrination of the people, for sets cannot be turned off. (And, apparently, in a deteriorating London in which nothing works, these sets never fail.)

The great Orwellian contribution to future technology is that the television set is two-way, and that the people who are forced to hear and see the television screen can themselves be heard and seen at all times and are under constant supervision even while sleeping or in the bathroom. Hence, the meaning of the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you’.

This is an extraordinarily inefficient system of keeping everyone under control. To have a person being watched at all times means that some other person must be doing the watching at all times (at least in the Orwellian society) and must be doing so very narrowly, for there is a great development of the art of interpreting gesture and facial expression. One person cannot watch more than one person in full concentration, and can only do so for a comparatively short time before attention begins to wander. I should guess, in short, that there may have to be five watchers for every person watched. And then, of course, the watchers must themselves be watched since no one in the Orwellian world is suspicion-free. Consequently, the system of oppression by two-way television simply will not work.

Orwell himself realised this by limiting its workings to the Party members. The ‘proles’ (proletariat), for whom Orwell cannot hide his British upper-class contempt, are left largely to themselves as subhuman. (At one point in the book, he says that any prole that shows ability is killed – a leaf taken out of the Spartan treatment of their helots twenty-five hundred years ago.)

Furthermore, he has a system of volunteer spies in which children report on their parents, and neighbours on each other. This cannot possibly work well since eventually everyone reports everyone else and it all has to be abandoned.

Orwell was unable to conceive of computers or robots, or he would have placed everyone under non-human surveillance. Our own computers to some extent do this in the IRS, in credit files, and so on, but that does not take us towards 1984, except in fevered imaginations. Computers and tyranny do not necessarily go hand in hand. Tyrannies have worked very well without computers (consider the Nazis) and the most computerised nations in today’s world are also the least tyrannical.

Orwell lacks the capacity to see (or invent) small changes. His hero finds it difficult in his world of 1984 to get shoelaces or razor blades. So would I in the real world of the 1980s, for so many people use slip-on shoes and electric razors.

Then, too, Orwell had the technophobic fixation that every technological advance is a slide downhill. Thus, when his hero writes, he ‘fitted a nib into the penholder and sucked it to get the grease off. He does so ‘because of a feeling that the beautiful creamy paper deserved to be written on with a real nib instead of being scratched with an ink-pencil’.

Presumably, the ‘ink-pencil’ is the ball-point pen that was coming into use at the time that 1984 was being written. This means that Orwell describes something as being written’ with a real nib but being ‘scratched’ with a ball-point. This is, however, precisely the reverse of the truth. If you are old enough to remember steel pens, you will remember that they scratched fearsomely, and you know ball-points don’t. This is not science fiction, but a distorted nostalgia for a past that never was. I am surprised that Orwell stopped with the steel pen and that he didn’t have Winston writing with a neat goose quill.

Nor was Orwell particularly prescient in the strictly social aspects of the future he was presenting, with the result that the Orwellian world of 1984 is incredibly old-fashioned when compared with the real world of the 1980s.

Orwell imagines no new vices, for instance. His characters are all gin hounds and tobacco addicts, and part of the horror of his picture of 1984 is his eloquent description of the low quality of the gin and tobacco. He foresees no new drugs, no marijuana, no synthetic hallucinogens. No one expects an s.f. writer to be precise and exact in his forecasts, but surely one would expect him to invent some differences.

In his despair (or anger), Orwell forgets the virtues human beings have. All his characters are, in one way or another, weak or sadistic, or sleazy, or stupid, or repellent. This may be how most people are, or how Orwell wants to indicate they will all be under tyranny, but it seems to me that under even the worst tyrannies, so far, there have been brave men and women who have withstood the tyrants to the death and whose personal histories are luminous flames in the surrounding darkness. If only because there is no hint of this in 1984, it does not resemble the real world of the 1980s.

Nor did he foresee any difference in the role of women or any weakening of the feminine stereotype of 1949. There are only two female characters of importance. One is a strong, brainless ‘prole’ woman who is an endless washerwoman, endlessly singing a popular song with words of the type familiar in the 1930s and 1940s (at which Orwell shudders fastidiously as ‘trashy’, in blissful non-anticipation of hard rock).

The other is the heroine, Julia, who is sexually promiscuous (but is at least driven to courage by her interest in sex) and is otherwise brainless. When the hero, Winston, reads to her the book within a book that explains the nature of the Orwellian world, she responds by falling asleep – but then since the treatise Winston reads is stupefyingly soporific, this may be an indication of Julia’s good sense rather than the reverse. In short, if 1984 must be considered science fiction, then it is very bad science fiction.

C. THE GOVERNMENT OF 1984

Orwell’s 1984 is a picture of all-powerful government, and it has helped make the notion of ‘big government’ a very frightening one.

We have to remember, though, that the world of the late 1940s, during which Orwell was writing his book, was one in which there had been, and still were, big governments with true tyrants – individuals whose every wish, however unjust, cruel or vicious, was law. What’s more, it seemed as though such tyrants were irremovable except by the chance of outside force. Benito Mussolini of Italy, after twenty-one years of absolute rule, was overthrown, but that was only because his country was suffering defeat in war.

Adolf Hitler of Germany, a far stronger and more brutal tyrant, ruled with a steel hand for twelve years, yet even defeat did not, in itself, bring about his overthrow. Though the area over which he ruled shrank and shrank and shrank, and even though overwhelming armies of his adversaries closed in from the east and west, he remained absolute tyrant over whatever area he controlled – even when it was only over the bunker in which he committed suicide. Until he removed himself, no one dared remove him. (There were plots against him, to be sure, but they never worked, sometimes through quirks of fate that seemed explainable only by supposing that someone down there liked him.)

Orwell, however, had no time for either Mussolini or Hitler. His enemy was Stalin, and at the time that 1984 was published, Stalin had ruled the Soviet Union in a ribbreaking bear hug for twenty-five years, had survived a terrible war in which his nation suffered enormous losses and yet was now stronger than ever. To Orwell, it must have seemed that neither time nor fortune could budge Stalin, but that he would live on forever with ever increasing strength. – And that was how Orwell pictured Big Brother.

Of course, that was not the way it really was. Orwell didn’t live long enough to see it but Stalin died only three years after 1984 was published, and it was not long after that that his regime was denounced as a tyranny by – guess who – the Soviet leadership.

The Soviet Union is still the Soviet Union, but it is not Stalinist, and the enemies of the state are no longer liquidated (Orwell uses ‘vaporised’ instead, such small changes being all he can manage) with quite such abandon.

Again, Mao Tse-tung died in China, and while he himself has not been openly denounced, his close associates, as ‘the Gang of Four’, were promptly demoted from Divinity, and while China is still China, it is not Maoist any longer.

Franco of Spain died in his bed and while, to his very last breath, he remained the unquestioned leader he had been for nearly forty years, immediately after that last breath, Fascism abruptly dwindled in Spain, as it had in Portugal after Salazar’s death.

In short, Big Brothers do die, or at least they have so far, and when they die, the government changes, always for the milder.

This is not to say that new tyrants may not make themselves felt, but they will die, too. At least in the real 1980s we have every confidence they will and the undying Big Brother is not yet a real threat.

If anything, in fact, governments of the 1980s seem dangerously weak. The advance of technology has put powerful weapons – explosives, machine guns, fast cars into the hands of urban terrorists who can and do kidnap, hijack, gun down, and take hostages with impunity while governments stand by more or less helplessly.

In addition to the immortality of Big Brother, Orwell presents two other ways of maintaining an eternal tyranny.

First -,present someone or something to hate. In the Orwellian world it was Emmanuel Goldstein for whom hate was built up and orchestrated in a robotized mass function.

This is nothing new, of course. Every nation in the world has used various neighbours for the purpose of hate. This sort of thing is so easily handled and comes as such second nature to humanity that one wonders why there have to be the organised hate drives in the Orwellian world.

It needs scarcely any clever psychological mass movements to make Arabs hate Israelis and Greeks hate Turks and Catholic Irish hate Protestant Irish – and vice versa in each case. To be sure, the Nazis organised mass meetings of delirium that every participant seemed to enjoy, but it had no permanent effect. Once the war moved on to German soil, the Germans surrendered as meekly as though they had never Sieg-Heiled in their lives.

Second – rewrite history. Almost every one of the few individuals we meet in 1984 has, as his job, the rapid rewriting of the past, the readjustment of statistics, the overhauling of newspapers – as though anyone is going to take the trouble to pay attention to the past anyway.

This Orwellian preoccupation with the minutiae of ‘historical proof’ is typical of the political sectarian who is always quoting what has been said and done in the past to prove a point to someone on the other side who is always quoting something to the opposite effect that has been said and done.

As any politician knows, no evidence of any kind is ever required. It is only necessary to make a statement – any statement – forcefully enough to have an audience believe it. No one will check the lie against the facts, and, if they do, they will disbelieve the facts. Do you think the German people in 1939 pretended that the Poles had attacked them and started World War II? No! Since they were told that was so, they believed it as seriously as you and I believe that they attacked the Poles.

To be sure, the Soviets put out new editions of their Encyclopaedia in which politicians rating a long biography in earlier editions are suddenly omitted entirely, and this is no doubt the germ of the Orwellian notion, but the chances of carrying it as far as is described in 1984 seem to me to be nil – not because it is beyond human wickedness, but because it is totally unnecessary.

Orwell makes much of ‘Newspeak’ as an organ of repression – the conversion of the English language into so limited and abbreviated an instrument that the very vocabulary of dissent vanishes. Partly he got the notion from the undoubted habit of abbreviation. He gives examples of ‘Communist International’ becoming ‘Comintern’ and ‘Geheime Staatspolizei’ becoming ‘Gestapo’, but that is not a modern totalitarian invention. ‘Vulgus mobile’ became ‘mob’; ‘taxi cabriolet’ became ‘cab’; ‘quasi-stellar radio source’ became ‘quasar’; ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation’ became ‘laser’ and so on. There is no sign that such compressions of the language have ever weakened it as a mode of expression.

As a matter of fact, political obfuscation has tended to use many words rather than few, long words rather than short, to extend rather than to reduce. Every leader of inadequate education or limited intelligence hides behind exuberant inebriation of loquacity.

Thus, when Winston Churchill suggested the development of ‘Basic English’ as an international language (something which undoubtedly also contributed to ‘Newspeak’), the suggestion was stillborn. We are therefore in no way approaching Newspeak in its condensed form, though we have always had Newspeak in its extended form and always will have.

We also have a group of young people among us who say things like ‘Right on, man, you know. It’s like he’s got it all together, you know, man. I mean, like you know -‘ and so on for five minutes when the word that the young people are groping for is ‘Huh?’

That, however, is not Newspeak, and it has always been with us, too. It is something which in Oldspeak is called ‘inarticulacy’ and it is not what Orwell had in mind.

D. THE INTERNATIONAL SITUATION OF 1984

Although Orwell seemed, by and large, to be helplessly stuck in the world of 1949, in one respect at least he showed himself to be remarkably prescient, and that was in foreseeing the tripartite split of the world of the 1980s.

The international world of 1984 is a world of three superpowers: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia – and that fits in, very roughly, with the three actual superpowers of the 1980s: the United States, the Soviet Union, and China.

Oceania is a combination of the United States and the British Empire. Orwell, who was an old Imperial civil servant, did not seem to notice that the British Empire was in its last throes in the late 1940s and was about to dissolve. He seems to suppose, in fact, that the British Empire is the dominant member of the British-American combination.

At least, the entire action takes place in London and phrases such as ‘the United States’ and ‘Americans’ are rarely, if ever, mentioned. But then, this is very much in the fashion of the British spy novel in which, ever since World War II, Great Britain (currently about the eighteenth strongest military and economic power in the world) is set up as the great adversary of the Soviet Union, or of China, or of some invented international conspiracy, with the United States either never mentioned or reduced to the small courtesy appearance of an occasional CIA agent.

Eurasia is, of course, the Soviet Union, which Orwell assumes will have absorbed the whole European continent. Eurasia, therefore, includes all of Europe, plus Siberia, and its population is 95 per cent European by any standard.

Nevertheless, Orwell describes the Eurasians as ‘solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces’. Since Orwell still lives in a time when ‘European’ and ‘Asiatic’ are equivalent to ‘ ‘hero’ and ‘villain’, it is impossible to inveigh against the Soviet Union with the proper emotion if it is not thought of as ‘Asiatic’. This comes under the heading of what Orwellian Newspeak calls ‘double-think’, something that Orwell, like any human being, is good at.

It may be, of course, that Orwell is thinking not of Eurasia, or the Soviet Union, but of his great bête noire, Stalin. Stalin is a Georgian, and Georgia, lying south of the Caucasus mountains, is, by strict geographic considerations, part of Asia.

Eastasia is, of course, China and various dependent nations. Here is prescience. At the time Orwell was writing 1984, the Chinese communists had not yet won control of the country and many (in the United States, in particular) were doing their best to see that the anti-Communist, Chiang Kai-shek, retained control. Once the communists won, it became part of the accepted credo of the West that the Chinese would be under thorough Soviet control and that China and the Soviet Union would form a monolithic communist power.

Orwell not only foresaw the communist victory (he saw that victory everywhere, in fact) but also foresaw that Russia and China would not form a monolithic bloc but would be deadly enemies.

There, his own experience as a Leftist sectarian may have helped him. He had no Rightist superstitions concerning Leftists as unified and indistinguishable villains. He knew they would fight each other as fiercely over the most trifling points of doctrine as would the most pious of Christians.

He also foresaw a permanent state of war among the three; a condition of permanent stalemate with the alliances ever-shifting, but always two against the strongest. This was the old-fashioned ‘balance of power’ system which was used in ancient Greece, in medieval Italy, and in early modern Europe. Orwell’s mistake lay in thinking there had to be actual war to keep the merry-go-round of the balance of power in being. In fact, in one of the more laughable parts of the book, he goes on and on concerning the necessity of permanent war as a means of consuming the world’s production of resources and thus keeping the social stratification of upper, middle, and lower classes in being. (This sounds like a very Leftist explanation of war as the result of a conspiracy worked out with great difficulty.)

In actual fact, the decades since 1945 have been remarkably war-free as compared with the decades before it. There have been local wars in profusion, but no general war. But then, war is not required as a desperate device to consume the world’s resources. That can be done by such other devices as endless increase in population and in energy use, neither of which Orwell considers.

Orwell did not foresee any of the significant economic changes that have taken place since World War II. He did not foresee the role of oil or its declining availability or its increasing price, or the escalating power of those nations who control it. I don’t recall his mentioning the word ‘oil’.

But perhaps it is close enough to mark Orwellian prescience here, if we substitute ‘cold war’ for ‘war’. There has been, in fact, a more or less continual ‘cold war’ that has served to keep employment high and solve some short-term economic problems (at the cost of creating long-term greater ones). And this cold war is enough to deplete resources.

Furthermore, the alliances shifted as Orwell foresaw and very nearly as suddenly. When the United States seemed all-powerful, the Soviet Union and China were both vociferously anti-American and in a kind of alliance. As American power decreased, the Soviet Union and China fell apart and, for a while, each of the three powers inveighed against the other two equally. Then, when the Soviet Union came to seem particularly powerful, a kind of alliance sprang up between the United States and China, as they co-operated in vilifying the Soviet Union, and spoke softly of each other.

In 1984 every shift of alliance involved an orgy of history rewriting. In real life, no such folly is necessary. The public swings from side to side easily, accepting the change in circumstance with no concern for the past at all. For instance, the Japanese, by the 1950s, had changed from unspeakable villains to friends, while the Chinese moved in the opposite direction with no one bothering to wipe out Pearl Harbour. No one cared, for goodness’ sake.

Orwell has his three great powers voluntarily forgo the use of nuclear bombs, and to be sure such bombs have not been used in war since 1945. That, however, may be because the only powers with large nuclear arsenals, the United States and the Soviet Union, have avoided war with each other. Were there actual war, it is extremely doubtful that one side or the other would not finally feel it necessary to push the button. In that respect, Orwell perhaps falls short of reality.

London does, however, occasionally suffer a missile strike, which sounds very much like a V-1 or V-2 weapon of 1944, and the city is in a 1945-type shambles. Orwell cannot make 1984 very different from 1944 in this respect. Orwell, in fact, makes it clear that by 1984, the universal communism of the three superpowers has choked science and reduced it to uselessness except in those areas where it is needed for war. There is no question but that the nations are more eager to invest in science where war applications are in clear view but, alas, there is no way of separating war from peace where applications are in question.

Science is a unit, and everything in it could conceivably be related to war and destruction. Science has therefore not been choked off but continues not only in the United States and Western Europe and Japan, but also in the Soviet Union and in China. The advances of science are too numerous to attempt to list, but think of lasers and computers as ‘war weapons’ with infinite peaceful applications.

To summarise, then: George Orwell in 1984 was, in my opinion, engaging in a private feud with Stalinism, rather that attempting to forecast the future. He did not have the science fictional knack of foreseeing a plausible future and, in actual fact, in almost all cases, the world of 1984 bears no relation to the real world of the 1980s.

The world may go communist, if not by 1984, then by some not very much later date; or it may see civilisation destroyed. If this happens, however, it will happen in a fashion quite different from that depicted in 1984 and if we try to prevent either eventuality by imagining that 1984 is accurate, then we will be defending ourselves against assaults from the wrong direction and we will lose.

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Video

Late Night Marxism: Historical Materialism: Modes of Production (Part One)

Video: Stalin’s Last Speech, 1952 [Subtitled]

‘I’m a Russian Occupant’: Viral video justifies imperial aggression

A recently released YouTube video entitled ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’ is a deeply telling panegyric to 19th century-style white man’s burden imperialism, which goes a long way towards explaining what is wrong with the mentality of many Russians today.

It’s a rare occurrence to see proponents of a worldview unironically putting out such a bold (and frankly racist) statement of agency, a statement which approaches Idiocracy levels of parody. One could almost laugh, if this clarion call to unapologetic national pride was not so blatantly supremacist and aggressive.

To put it all in a rather crude nutshell, everything in this part of the world would be crap if it weren’t for the Russians, and it’s crap again because Moscow’s petulant children forgot the benefit of kowtowing to their suzerain. That might sound like an exaggeration. It is not. In a typical display of Russian militaristic bravado, the highly-stylized clip begins with a so-called Little Green Man (slang for the crack Russian troops who took Crimea sans insignia) loading a clip into his AK-100 while the narrator proclaims that being an occupier is his manifest destiny.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Turning his eye to Yermak’s 16th century conquest of Siberia, the video goes full on Heart of Darkness by arguing that now they (whoever they might be) produce oil, gas and “other useful stuff, have “schools and hospitals” and can’t sell women for “a bundle of sable skins” – all thanks to Russian colonial expansion.

I guess one is left to assume that the benefits of 400-plus years of progress would have escaped the indigenous population if it weren’t for the Russians occupation. It’s also strange how putting a stop to selling women for sable skins is brought up as a justification, seeing that rape, enslavement and self-admitted genocidal policies were carried out against the natives, often, and rather ironically, due to the lucrative fur trade.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Serfdom was also being deeply entrenched in Russian society during the same time period, which is to say, Russia was actually moving backwards socially during this period of imperial expansion (legal amendments in 1649 and 1658 made the bulk of Russians slaves in all but name.) So they saved the people from selling their women into slavery so Russians  themselves could sell them into slavery? Right.

The narrator moves on to the Baltics, arguing they were renowned for their high quality radio equipment, cars, famous perfumes and balms during Soviet times.

“I [Russia] was asked to leave them. Now they sell sprats, and part of their people clean toilets in Europe.” 

That the financially robust Baltic states, one of which is projected to reach the economic level of the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway by 2025 (and potentially become one of the top five most productive nations in the world) have been relegated to forage fish sellers and European toilet cleaners is frankly odd.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Central Asia is next, and perhaps an easier target given the authoritarianism and wealth inequality that plagues these states for a number of reasons. Seemingly reducing the five republics of the former Soviet bloc to one homogeneous mass, the narrator sidesteps any substantive issues by saying they are now being saddled with US loans and “growing Cannabis” (with the image of a pot leaf quickly being replaced with a white powder I’m assuming is heroine.)

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Apart from the unforeseen possibility that Colorado has outsourced its pot business to Uzbekistan on the back of high interest loans, I’m not really sure what the narrator is getting at. Another contention, that many migrants now work in Russia in often desperate conditions, is true, though to blame them for the macroeconomic conditions that make some states net importers of guest laborers seems ludicrous.

The reductionist approach also belies the fact that Kazakhstan’s GDP per capita is nominally close to Russia’s, providing economic conditions which attract more Central Asian migrants than any other country in the world (apart from its neighbor to the north.) And what, pray tell, do Russia and Kazakhstan have in common? I’ll give you a hint:

In Ukraine, well you guessed it. Once upon a time they built things, and now all they can do is construct “revolution and dictatorship.” 

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

So looking at all of the chaos that’s been unleashed by one of the worst geopolitical disaster’s of the 20th century, the narrator, whoever he is speaking for, is coming out of the closest (no, not that closet!)

“Yes, I’m an occupant, and I’m tired of apologizing for it. I’m an occupant by birthright, an aggressor and a bloodthirsty monster. Be afraid.” 

The video, unsurprisingly, goes on to deride western hypocrisy, parroting the widely held belief that democracy does not exist, before reducing western values to gays, gays, more gays, and Conchita Wurst (as opposed to transparency, the rule of law, the protection of minorities, civil rights and the regular and predictable transition of power through free and fair elections.)

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

“I politely warn you for the last time, don’t mess with me. I build peace, I love peace, but I know how to fight better than anyone else,” the message, which is quickly dispatched to Barack Obama, concludes.

screen-shot-2015-03-12-at-3-42-59-pm

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Kevin Rothrock from Global Voices contacted the alleged creator of the video, a man going by the name of Evgeny Zhurov. Zhurov is emphatic that the professionally produced video was independently made, saying claims of Kremlin involvement are an absolute “lie.”

“These people want to destroy the ‘myth’ about a guy who works ‘for an idea,’” Zhurov said.“They want to make all my work look like it was part of some government contract.”

I for one believe whoever is behind the video is an ancillary point. That the Kremlin would make (or at the very least finance) such a video in a world of internet troll farms and organized-state hysteria is par for the course. What’s more important is the fact that the maker of this video has his finger on the pulse of contemporary Russia. In line with their educational curriculum, many Russians believe in a reductionist view of history which hinges on external invasions of Russia, but ignores numerous instances of Russian aggression against its own neighbors.

It is within this narrative that the myth of the peaceful but ferocious Russian was born. The revelatory part of the video, of course, is that it couples Russians belief in their peaceful nature with its highly militaristic culture, which revels in the idea of being feared. For those who visit Russia, the obsession with power is stark. Some have likened it to a sublimated prison culture, and even in Soviet times, prisoners themselves called the labor camps the ‘small zones’ and the country itself the ‘big zone.’ And this obsession with power manifests itself in virtually every interaction.

When the face of Russia’s domestic propaganda effort Dmitry Kiselyov warned “Russia can turn the US into radioactive dust” last March, he was speaking directly to the Russian id that can resentfully only find parity with their former Cold War rival in its ability to destroy it (and be destroyed in turn.) Russia is a shadow of its former Soviet incarnation, but due to its nuclear arsenal, it most be feared and respected, or so the logic goes.

I already mentioned its reduction of Western values to one gigantic gay pride parade, though there is something interesting in its interpretation of Soviet History. Russians both view the Soviet Union as a Russian imperialistic project and as a commonwealth of brotherly nations coming together for a utopian vision of the future. Many Russians deftly navigate very convoluted waters in which all of the evils of the Soviet Union are blamed on outside anti-Russian forces (often Jews), while at the same time believing that all of the accomplishments of the Soviet Union were in fact Russian accomplishments.

The videos portrayal of the former Soviet republics and Siberia itself as backwaters that would have been nothing if not for Russia’s beneficent occupation is a widely held belief. Jim Kovpak, an amateur historian and author of the popular blog Russia Without BS, summarized this mentality in an article entitled ‘See, this is why nobody likes you.’

“It goes something like this. Russian wants to rant against some former Soviet nationality. It doesn’t matter if its their ‘Slavic brothers’ like the Ukrainians or non-Slavic nationalities like Uzbeks, Tajiks, or Georgians. With the most condescending and patronizing tone, they remind the target of their rant how great they had it under the USSR, or in the case of this article, the Russian Empire. Typically no distinction is made between the two.  

The story is that Muscovite Russians selflessly endeavored and bled to give these people various “gifts” for which they were ungrateful in 1991. Basically it’s the equivalent of a right-wing American telling black Americans that they should be grateful for slavery, or better said a British person lecturing India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan about how great they had it when they were the jewel of the British Empire. The difference being, however, that in the US or UK views like this are often met with sharp criticism, often all across the political spectrum. In Russia they are mainstream and encouraged,” he wrote.

That these views are mainstream and encouraged is obvious in the stellar popularity of ‘I am a Russian Occupant’, which has gathered over 5 million views and 111k likes in some two weeks. One of the most telling aspects of many Russians is that they are supremacists who are enraged that they might be viewed as inferior, anti-PC bigots who will jump at the slightest mischaracterization of their own people, self-proclaimed lovers of peace who are militarists obsessed with power and respect, patronizing colonialists who are deeply resentful that neighboring nations do not respect the paternalistic yoke.

These contradictions are the source of a great deal of internal strife that manifests itself externally, as the pressure of cognitive dissonance rarely dissipates of its own accord. And often, the psychic fault lines between reality and delusion create tremors in the real world.

It would be easy to dismiss this clip if it weren’t so telling. After all, it is the worldview it depicts (a false belief that it is Russia’s “birthright” to keep their backwards and rebellious children in the fold) that drove the Kremlin to rip Ukraine apart rather than let it choose its own path. Taken in that light, there is nothing funny about ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’ at all.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нетю

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нетю

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KKE (1918-55) (Anasintaxi): Video and Photos from Presentation of Books

K. Natsikas (member of the PC of Anasintaxi), S. Zachariadis, T. Mpallos, et al.

K. Natsikas (member of the PC of Anasintaxi), S. Zachariadis, T. Mpallos, et al.

Alexis Parnis (poet and close friend of N. Zachariadis) and Tassos Mpallos

Alexis Parnis (poet and close friend of N. Zachariadis) and Tassos Mpallos

Sifis (Josef) Zachariadis under his father’s portrait

Sifis (Josef) Zachariadis under his father’s portrait

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Workers’ Communist Party of France (PCOF) on the Charlie Hebdo Massacre

pcof-jpg

From the newspaper La Forge
Central Organ of the Workers’ Communist Party of France

The attack against Charlie Hebdo that left many dead and injured is a barbaric act.

We strongly condemn it and our thoughts go to the victims, their families, and the employees of the magazine and we promise them our solidarity.

It is an action with the purpose to create fear and is an attack on the right to free information and expression. As a paper we join efforts to defend its democratic rights, though there has for some time existed an unhealthy environment for the defense and apology of racism, intolerance and a normalization of reactionary ideas. We declare that it must stop the exploitation of religion, whatever it is, to divide and undermine the values of fraternity and tolerance.

We will participate in the rally in Paris at the Republic Square tonight at 17 o’clock, and we call upon our comrades and friends to participate in initiatives that will take place in other cities.

Paris, January 7, 2014
pcof@pcof.net
enavant@club-internet.fr

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Video from Hayat TV: 20th Anniversary of the ICMLPO

The following videos are from the Turkish EMEP’s television coverage of the 20th anniversary of the ICMLPO (Unity & Struggle).

Was Stalin’s View on Art Different from that of Marx and Engels?

This article was published by Alliance (Marxist-Leninist) as part of the publication Alliance, issue #53, “Aesthetics and Revolution – Essays and Talks.”

A talk given to commemorate Bill Bland at Conway Hall, London, September 2001

Preamble

This is not the occasion to dwell on Bill’s enormous contributions to the Marxist-Leninist movement in both theory and practice. That will be history to do. This evening, is to celebrate Bill as a man.

It is well known that he was passionate about the arts, and that he took very seriously, Stalin’s dictum that “art was the engineer of the human soul”. I thought it fitting therefore, to emulate Bill’s approach when answering difficult questions surrounding Stalin. It is even more fitting to attempt this upon a subject he was passionate about.

I regret that this was not done by Bill himself, for several reasons. But one of these is that to answer the question posed, will be impossible for me to do as well as Bill would have done.

Introduction

Critics and pundits continue to teach incessantly how ‘bad’ art was in Stalin’s lifetime in the Soviet Union. It is commonly asserted that Stalin’s view of art was only for self-glorification or for propaganda.

For example, the popular art historian, Robert Hughes writes this in “Time” in 1994: [Italics-Editor’s emphasis]:

“Throughout his rule, Stalin had sponsored a form of state art officially known as Socialist Realism. Geared to a naive, not to say brutish, mass public barely literate in artistic matters, Soviet Socialist Realism was the most coarsely idealistic kind of art ever foisted on a modern audience – though Capitalist Realism, the never-never land of desire created by American advertising, runs it a close second…As a young man Stalin had been snubbed by the Russian intellectual elite. His revenge was to grind their faces in the ice of miracle, mystery and authority, to make culture into a form of ventriloquism from on high. Socialist Realism was a religious art celebrating the transcendent power of communist ideology, the impending heaven of world socialism and the godlike benignity of its father, Lenin’s successor, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, the man of steel. And like the traditional icons of Christ and the saints it replaced, the stuff was omnipresent. No square or schoolroom in Russia lacked its image of Stalin pointing to the future…

What strikes a modern non-Russian viewer most is Socialist Realism’s unabashed fantasy. Realism in Stalinist terms did not mean painting things as they were or even as they might be: the inevitability of Socialist progress erased that conditional “might,” along with the gap between present and future.

That which will be already is, under the world-sustaining gaze of Comrade Stalin. Ideology ascribed to Stalin the actual role of God, the creation of reality itself…

One sees how Socialist Realism transcends history, with Stalin (who in 1917 was the editor of Pravda but had no role in planning the October Revolution) being painted into the very heart of the first Bolshevik conclaves cheek by jowl with Lenin. One sees Stalin protecting the motherland from the Kremlin ramparts, towering over generals or members of the Politburo who in biological life were considerably taller than he. There he is conducting the defense of Stalingrad (though in fact he prudently avoided going anywhere near a battle), encouraging collective farmers and listening to Maxim Gorky read.

But most of all he is busy being himself: God. Fyodor Shurpin’s Morning of Our Motherland, 1946-48, is a portrait of Stalin in the literal form of the Pantocrator, contemplating a new world he has brought into being. He wears a white coat of radiant purity and is bathed in the light of an early spring morning. Behind him stretch the green pastures of a transfigured Russia, Poussin (as it were) with tractors and electricity pylons, and shy plumes of smoke rising to greet the socialist dawn from far-off factories.”

“Icons Of Stalinism Soviet Socialist Realism Portrayed A Godlike Maximum Leader Reigning Over A Communist Heaven” By Robert Hughes. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/archive/1994/940124/940124.art.html

But Stalin saw Art as being: “the engineer of the human soul.” But then could Stalin not distinguish between propaganda and art? Was Stalin only interested in Art for the purpose of his own glorification?

This would be quite inconsistent with what we know of Stalin’s own views, which were first highlighted by Bill Bland. Stalin detested the Cult of Personality and recognised that it was being used by enemies to attack him (See for example, “Stalin Myths & Realities”; at http://ml-review.ca/aml/STALIN-TXT/WBBSTALINMYTHSPARIS1999.html).

Nonetheless, the prevalent view is that Stalin was a vain-glorious dictator – in the arts as well as all other spheres of life. It is no wonder that any hint of alternative viewpoint is suppressed. So for example the influential New York Review of Books (NYRB), published Isiah Berlin’s article, that was originally written in the 1930’s for the British secret service on the state of arts under Stalin.

Berlin’s article is very convenient for conventional wisdom in that it is generally vituperative of the USSR. But the article applauded in general, the results of the state policies on art. This was most inconvenient for the NYRB. To retain even a tiny fragment that did support the USSR arts policy was anathema. Which fragment was correspondingly cut. This read:

“On the other side it must be said that the childlike eagerness and enthusiasm of Soviet readers and Soviet theatrical audiences is probably without parallel in the world. The existence of State-subsidised theatres and opera, as well as of regional publishing houses, throughout the Soviet Union is not merely a part of a bureaucratic plan, but responds to a very genuine and insufficiently satisfied popular demand. “

Isiah Berlin: ‘The Arts in Russia under Stalin’ ; [Passage Omitted From the New York Review of Books, 19 October 2000, p. 60] at: http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/berlin/vl/published_works/artscut.htm

Despite the epithet “childlike” – this perspective of a Soviet arts policy that stemmed from and spoke to the masses – was too uncomfortable for the NYRB.

Thus the general view is propagated, that in contrast to Marx and Engels, Stalin was a ‘boor’ – too uncivilized and uninterested to see beyond a propagandist art that glorified him. It is generally argued even by bourgeois critics, that Marx and Engels were men of taste who would not have inflicted “Socialist Realism” on the world. Of course it is well known how erudite Marx and Engels were, and this has been extensively catalogued (See SS Prawer: “Karl marx and World Literature”; Oxford 1978).

Even the bourgeoisie now acknowledge this.

But Marx and Engels did not live in an era when it was possible to build a Socialist state. For that reason, and for the reason that they are now long dead, they are ‘spared’ too much abuse, while more recent enemies of the bourgeoisie like Stalin who could build socialism, are vituperated.

We will ask tonight:

“How far apart were Marx and Engels from Stalin, concerning their views on the arts?”

In general the views of Stalin on the arts have been represented well by Zhdanov in his lectures and writings on art. [See Bland’s own article on “Stalin and the Arts” in this issue of Alliance 53 [At http://ml-review.ca/aml/AllianceIssues/A2004/STALINART.html].

This is not here, an examination of the Ultra-leftist deviations in the arts such as Proletkult [See Bland cited before & Alliance 7 at http://ml-review.ca/aml/AllianceIssues/ALLIANCE7COMMUNISTACADEMY.html] and AKhRR (The Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia)

Instead, I propose here to examine primarily, whether Stalin’s views substantially varied from those of Marx and Engels.

We will examine FIVE specific questions:

1) How did Marx and Engels view the inter-relationship of the mode of production & society to art ?

2) What did Marx and Engels view as making for ‘good art’?

3) How did Marx and Engels view art that frankly proclaimed the workers cause?

4) What were the favourite pictures of Marx, Engels and Stalin?

5) Was there good art produced in the USSR up to 1953?

State Art, Propaganda and Caricature

But first we should define certain recurrent artistic terms. 

When one sees pictures like this one by Freidin and entitled “Glory To Stalin”; it does appear to be celebrating a state event in the USSR. This could be thought of as being propaganda because it depicts Stalin favourably.

glory2stalin50GFreidin

Or at the very least, it may be doubted whether this is “great art.”

But it is in fact a form of art well recognised in every society. It is what we will here call, an “Art of State”; one that helps to form the “myths” and “self-images” of a state.

Such imagery and icons are necessary to each and every state, and indeed ubiquitous in every state.

It would be quite wrong to even suggest that the USSR was unique in having such art.

For instance, this painting, by  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, American, (1816-1868) is entitled “George Washington Crossing the Delaware”, 1851 (378.5 x 647.7 cm ,  is in the  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Emanuel_Leutze_(American,_Schwäbisch_Gmünd_1816–1868_Washington,_D.C.)_-_Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_-_Google_Art_Project

It is a central iconic image that depicts George Washington’s heroic victories over the English colonists in the American War of Independence.

Whether Washington in these battles actually struck such poses or was quite as well dressed and clean is immaterial to the purpose of the artist.

It is meant to focus a nation’s gaze on one of its formers and heroes.

Copley

Similarly, the painting in the Tate Gallery Of  “The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781” by John Singleton Copley (1783) was iconic for its time, in England.

It showed a battle between English and French troop in Jersy (the Channel Islands) in a conflict sparked by the American Revolutionary Wars. Peirson’s death for the British flag was revenged by his personal manservant – whose name is not honoured in the title fo the painting.

Or even more well known, is the statue of Boadicea on the banks of the Thames just below the Houses of Parliament.

Boadicea

Propaganda art is at a different level from “State Art” in our view, and is more clearly designed for a day to day persuasion. Propaganda art, in general, carries a negative overtone. However, such art may be both very well done and may serve an extremely useful function. Such is the case for the posters seen here, from the USSR.

Much of the poster art from the USSR, is nowadays recognised as being both technically, but artistically as well, very fine, and is collected for huge amounts of money.

SaveBooks1919Kupreyanov

The caption is “Save Books”; by Kupreyanov

MayakovskyNoBureacracy1921

The caption is “Anti-bureaucracy” by Mayakovsky

DimitriMoorHelp1921

The caption is “Help!” (During the imperislist blockade); by Dimitri Moor.

Caricature should be distinguished from propaganda, and perhaps its’ hallmark is that of an extreme exaggeration of features.

A master of this was Honore Daumier, who here, lampooned the King of France as never-endingly receiving into his vast mouth the people’s wealth:

GargantuaDaumier1808

It is quite true that some posters may be less useful, and sub-serve a true ‘propagandist’ purpose. Such for example are the numerous images of J.V.Stalin, and of V.I.Lenin in these:

Bizukhov’s “Stalin and the Railway”

BizukovStalinRail1932

“Lenin and Stalin”; Anonymous, 1948

LeninStalinAnon1948

But, it should be again reiterated that Stalin is clearly on record as abhorring and trying to prevent the Cult of Personality.

I strongly doubt postes such as these were produced at the behest of Stalin, and his stated preferences in art (See below) are a strong indication of this.

But stronger evidence, comes from the history of the USSR where Stalin at many points attempted to obstruct a Cult of the Personality arising. 

Summary:
I have argued that all States have an ‘official’ art that serves as a vehicle to reinforce national images.

This was not unique to the USSR.

I have also argued that propaganda and caricature can both be valuable media for different progressive purposes.

(1) The Views of Marx and Engels on Art in Relation to Society

The Inter-relation of Art and the Society in which it is produced

As all who are interested in art will know, the origins of art lie very early on in man’s history:

“Anatomically modern humans had existed for at least the previous 50,000 years, but 50,000 years ago there appear the first signs of art, of versified tools for specific functions, and other clues to enhanced culture.”;

Johnson D & Edgar B: “From Lucy to Language”; New York; 1996; p. 52; .

“If art is an attempt to imitate nature, our Upper Paleolithic ancestors were master artists. It is impossible to visit a cave like Lascaux in south western France or Altamira in Northern Spain and not be moved by the images of horses, bison, deer, and other prehistoric animals. Art painted on the ancient cave walls. Reaching across eons of time, these lifelike yet hauntingly impressionistic paintings immediately connect us with the artists who rendered their world on cave walls nearly 20,000 years ago. When the painted cave of Altamira first came to the attention of researchers, in 1880, the immediate reaction was that such sophisticated and well-executed paintings could not have been made by prehistoric people.”

Johnson D & Edgar B: “From Lucy to Language”; New York; 1996; p. 53.

What more can connect ancient cave art than the common themes of food animals and hunting?

Lascaux

Early discoveries of such cave paintings were initially controversial. Pundits instantly dismissed them as “too sophisticated” to have been drawn by primitive men and women. But it is interesting that Engels did not share the general skepticism of his age, and he also accurately located the first pieces of art as being a very early part of  mankind’s history.

“By the combined functioning of hand, speech organs and brain, not only in each individual but also in society, men became capable of executing more and more complicated operations, and were able to set themselves, and achieve, higher and higher aims. The work of each generation itself became different, more perfect and more diversified. Agriculture was added to hunting and cattle raising; then came spinning, weaving, metalworking, pottery and navigation. Along with trade and industry, art and science finally appeared. Tribes developed into nations and states. Law and politics arose, and with them that fantastic reflection of human things in the human mind — religion.”

‘The Part Played By Labour In The Transition From Ape To Man’ By Frederick Engels;
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1876hand/index.htm

Elsewhere Engels relates that the essential development needed to enable the advent of Art, was that the hand became free of a need for locomotion:

“At first, therefore, the operations for which our ancestors gradually learned to adapt their hands during the many thousands of years of transition from ape to man can only have been very simple ones. The lowest savages, even those in whom presumably a regression to a more animal-like condition with a simultaneous physical degeneration occurred, are nevertheless far superior to these transitional beings. Before the first flint was fashioned into a knife by the human hand, a period of time must have elapsed in comparison with which the historical period known to us appears insignificant. But the decisive step was taken: the hand had become free and could henceforth attain ever newer skills, and the greater flexibility thus acquired was transmitted and increased from generation to generation.

Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour. Only through labour, through constant adaptation to new operations, through inheritance of the special development thus acquired of muscles, ligaments and, over longer periods of time, bones as well, and by the ever renewed use of this inherited refinement in new, increasingly complicated operations, has the human hand attained that high degree of perfection that has enabled it to conjure into being the paintings of a Raphael, the statues of a Thorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini. “

Frederick Engels: “The Part Played By Labour In The Transition From Ape To Man”;
in “Dialectics of Nature”: ; http://www.marx2mao.org//M&E/PPL76.html

Yet, if the physical anatomy of hands that produce art have not substantially changed over historical time, art certainly has.  

What explains the emergence of paintings of a Raphael from the anatomically similar hands that created the art of the Lascaux Paleolithic hand?

What makes the art of one historical period different from that of another period? Marx and Engels recognised that it was the “relations of production.

These will form the “economic structure of society”; which in turn explains all social life – “the social, political and intellectual life-process in general.” When the underlying economic conditions changes, the whole of society undergoes changes. But Marx nonetheless points out that in “the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic, in short, ideological, forms” – the relation is not as exact as in the “material transformation of the economic conditions of production.” This early and central passage from Marx’s writings is as follows:

“In the social production of their existence, men enter into definite, necessary relations, which are independent of their will, namely, relations of production corresponding to a determinate stage of development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which there arises a legal and political superstructure and to which there correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life-process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — what is merely a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within the framework of which they have hitherto operated. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. At that point an era of social revolution begins. With the change in the economic foundation the whole immense superstructure is more slowly or more rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic, in short, ideological, forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such an epoch of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social forces of production and the relations of production.”

Karl Marx: “Preface And Introduction To A Contribution To The Critique Of Political Economy”; 1844;  
http://www.marx2mao.org//M&E/PI.html
(p3-4)

In so far as the artistic object itself goes (object d’art)  Marx identifies this product as resulting from a specific form of production, centred on “beauty” and its’ appreciation. But this form of production cannot be analysed separately from analyses of a more general production. In early [‘original’] production, the overall state of the finished product is ‘primitively crude’. However, artistic production is part of the overall production in a society.

And its production itself creates a “public with artistic taste” :

“So production creates the consumer.  

3) Production not only provides the material for a need, but it also provides a need for the material. When consumption emerges from its initial natural crudity and immediacy — and its remaining in that state would itself be the result of production being stuck in a state of natural crudity — it itself is mediated as an urge by the object. The need it feels for the object is created by perception of the latter. Like every other product an objet d’art creates a public with artistic taste and a capacity to enjoy beauty. Production accordingly produces not only an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object.”

Karl Marx: “A Contribution To The Critique Of Political Economy”; Appendix I ; I. Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation). http://www.marx2mao.org//M&E/PI.html (pages 20, 21).

Moreover, Marx points out that in the era of capital, even art takes place within a production work place in cooperation between a small group of workers who have divided up their labour:

“Sancho … thinks that “no one can compose your music for you, complete the sketches for your paintings. No one can do Raphael’s works for him.” Sancho could surely have known, however, that it was not Mozart himself, but someone else who composed the greater part of Mozart’s Requiem and finished it,”‘ and that Raphael himself completed “only an insignificant part of his own frescoes.

[Sancho].. imagines that the so-called “organisers of labour” wanted to organise the entire activity of each individual, and yet it is precisely they who distinguish between directly productive labour, which has to be organised, and labour which is not directly productive. In regard to the latter, however, it was not their view, as Sancho imagines, that each should do the work of Raphael, but that anyone in whom there is a potential Raphael should be able to develop without hindrance. Sancho imagines that Raphael produced his pictures independently of the division of labour that existed in Rome at the time. If he were to compare Raphael with Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, he would see how greatly Raphael’s works of art depended on the flourishing of Rome at that time, which occurred under Florentine influence, while the works of Leonardo depended on the state of things in Florence, and the works of Titian, at a later period, depended on the totally different development of Venice. Raphael as much as any other artist was determined by the technical advances in art made before him, by the organisation of society and the division of labour in his locality, and, finally, by the division of labour in all the countries with which his locality had intercourse. Whether an individual like Raphael succeeds in developing his talent depends wholly on demand, which in turn depends on the division of labour and the conditions of human culture resulting from it.”

The German Ideology. The Leipzig Council. III. Saint Max 393

Two related matters are often raised as a general criticism of these notions as they are applied to art:  

Firstly is the relationship between the economic times and the art produced an absolute relationship?

Engels made clear that anyone who insisted that “the economic factor is the only determining” factor for any particular aspect of life, was not a Marxist. The subtleties of many other factors would often intervene in an “endless host of accidents,” to make a mechanical and simple equation linking economics to each manifestation of real life – silly. Nonetheless, Engels reiterates that economics is the “ultimately determining factor”:

“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Neither Marx nor I have ever asserted more than this. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he transforms that expression into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure-political forms of the class struggle and its results, such as constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc, juridical forms, and especially the reflections of all these real struggles in the brains of the participants, political legal, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas-also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases determine their form in particular. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent and neglect it) the economic movement is finally bound to assert itself. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier that the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.”

Engels to Joseph Bloch; September 21-22, 1980. Marx and Engels; in Collected Works; 

In addition to this, Marx points out that there is an “unequal development” in both material production and in art. Marx however points out that even in spite of this “unevenness,” there are material and rational explanations  – provided the subject is explored in enough detail. He takes as an example the case of ancient Greek art – that could only arise upon the basis of a Greek mythology. Yet the level of production in Greece a that time was not as high as the “peak” of Greek art might otherwise suggest: 

6. The unequal development of material production and, eg that of art. The concept of progress is on the whole not to be understood in an abstract form. Modern art etc. This disproportion is not as important and difficult to grasp as within concrete social relations e.g. in education. Relations of the United Sates to Europe. However , the really difficult point to be discussed here is how the relations of production as legal relations take part in this uneven development. For example the relation of Roman civil law (this applies in smaller measure to criminal and constitutional law) to modern production. …..

As regards art it is well known that some of its peaks by no means correspond to the general development of society; nor do they therefore to the material substructure, the skeleton as it were of the its organisation. For example, the Greeks compared with modern [nations], or else Shakespeare. It is even acknowledged that certain branches of art, e.g. the epos, can no longer be produced in other epoch making classic form after artistic production as such has begun; in other words that certain important creations within the compass of art are only possible at an early stage in the development of art. If this is the case with regard to certain branches of art within the sphere of art itself, it is not so remarkable that this should also be the case with regard to the entire sphere of art and its relation to the general development of society. The difficulty lies only in the general formulation of these contradiction. As soon as they are reduced to specific questions, they are already explained.

Let us take for example the relation of Greek art, and that of Shakespeare, to the present time. We know that Greek mythology is not only the arsenal of Greek art but also its basis. Is the conception of nature and of socials relations, which underlies Greek imagination and therefore Greek [art] possible when there are self-acting mules, railways, locomotives and electric telegraphs? What is a Vulcan compared with Roberts & Co; Jupiter compared with the lightning conductor, and Hermes compared with the Credit Mobilier? All mythology subdues, controls and fashions the forces of nature in the imagination and through imagination; it disappears therefore when real control over those forces is established… Greek art presupposes Greek mythology, in other words that natural and socials phenomenon are already assimilated in an unintentionally artistic manner by the imagination of the people… Egyptian mythology could never become the basis of or give rise to Greek art… Is Achilles possible when powder and shot have been invented? And is the Iliad possible at all when the printing press and even printing machines exist?”

Marx “Introduction” to Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58; in “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” [“The Grundrisse”]; in Collected Works; Volume 28; Moscow; 1986 p.46-47

Secondly, why does art of an earlier era resonate with us?

After all, if art is “of its’ time” – of what consequence should it be to humans many generations later? Marx also addresses this problem, in the same Introduction to Political Economy cited above, where he so memorably compares Hermes with the Credit Mobilier:

“But the difficulty we are confronted with is not, however, that of understanding how Greek art and epic poetry are associated with certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that still five us aesthetic pleasure and are in certain respects regarded as a standard and unattainable ideal. An adult cannot become a child again, or he becomes childish. But does the naiveté of the child not give him pleasure, and does he not himself endeavour to reproduce the child’s veracity on a higher level? Does not the child in every epoch represent the character of the period in its natural veracity? Why should not the historical childhood of humanity, where it attained its most beautiful form, exert an eternal charm because it is stage that will never recur? There are rude children and precious children. Many of the ancient peoples belong to this category. The Greeks were normal children. The charm their art has for us does not conflict with the immature stage of the society in which it originated. On the contrary it charm is a consequence of this and is inseparably linked with the fact that the immature socials conditions which gave rise, and which alone could give rise, to this art cannot recur.”

Marx “Introduction” to Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58; in “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”; [“The Grundrisse”] in Collected Works. volume 28; Ibid; p. 47-48.

Neither Stalin nor Lenin devoted too much time to a fully integrated view of art and art history. They had to build socialism. Lenin confessed to Anatol Lunarchasky that art was fascinating but that it would take a lifetime to sort out the innumerable problems posed in its history, but that he would have liked to do so.

Even so, it is very easy to demonstrate that Stalin agrees with these fundamental elements of the Marxist world view.

These views expressed summarise the general analysis known as Historical Materialism. Stalin wrote “Dialectical and Historical Materialism,” that forms a chapter in the famous “History of the CPSU(B).” This piece continues to be excoriated by many who see it as “reductionism” and an “over-simplification” of Marx and Engels. Marxist-Leninists however accept that it is a very cogent and clear explanation of Marx’s views:

“Hence, the source of formation of the spiritual life of society, the origin of social ideas, social theories, political views and political institutions, should not be sought for in the ideas, theories, views and political institutions themselves, but in the conditions of the material life of society, in social being, of which these ideas, theories, views, etc., are the reflection. Hence, if in different periods of the history of society different social ideas, theories, views and political institutions are to be observed; if under the slave system we encounter certain social ideas, theories, views and political institutions, under feudalism others, and under capitalism others still, this is not to be explained by the “nature,” the “properties” of the ideas, theories, views and political institutions themselves but by the different conditions of the material life of society at different periods of social development.

Whatever is the being of a society, whatever are the conditions of material life of a society, such are the ideas, theories, political views and political institutions of that society. In this connection, Marx says: 

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” (Marx, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 269.)”

J. V. Stalin: “Dialectical And Historical Materialism”: September 1938; In “History of the CPSU(B)”; Moscow 1939; p.115; Or in “Problems of Leninism”; Moscow; 1954; p.725. OR at: http://www.marx2mao.org//Stalin/DHM38.html

If this general postulate of a link between modes of societal production and thought is true, are there at least some examples in art, that they specified? Fortunately as already pointed out in the fragments of Marx and Engels, there are, and we will point out some further examples.

SUMMARY: Marx, Engels and Stalin believed that the mode of production determined human consciousness. This final determinant was qualified by a complex interaction with society, but nonetheless was the starting point for an evaluation of changes in society. This determinant even determined human appreciation of “beauty.”

(2) Did Marx and Engels give us Clues as to what makes for “Good Art?”

Fortunately for us, despite the lack of any single unifying statement, both Marx and Engels were so interested in art that they left many useful analyses on art. At least some of their views are able to be condensed into the statements below. 

(i) Art must be “true” to life: The depiction artistically, of truth must be a complete one – Tomorrow’s world as well as today’s.

Art should express not only what is an apparent and obvious truth now, but also what is a latent and developing truth. This may then take a stance that projects from the world of today into the world of tomorrow.

Not only should the truth be given in all its’ aspects, but in addition true events should be presented so that it can be clear why they have become a reality. These aspects can be seen in the letter (extant only in a draft form now) that Engels sent to Margaret Harkness whose novel “City Girl”  had been sent to me:

“[Draft] [London, beginning of April 1888]  
Dear Miss Harkness, 

I thank you very much for sending me your City Girl. through Messrs. Vizetelly. I have read it with the greatest pleasure and avidity. It is indeed, as my friend Eichhoff your translator calls it, ein k1eines Kunstwerk [Original Footnote A small work of art]; to which he adds, what will be satisfactory to you, that consequently his translation must be all but literal, as any omission or attempted manipulation could only destroy part of the original’s value.  

What strikes me most in your tale besides its realistic truth is that it exhibits the courage of the true artist. Not only in the way you treat the Salvation Army, in the teeth of supercilious respectability, which respectability will perhaps learn from your tale, for the first time, why the Salvation Army has such a hold on the popular masses. But chiefly in the plain unvarnished manner in which you make the old, old story, the proletarian girl seduced by a middle-class man, the pivot of the whole book. Mediocrity would have felt bound to hide the, to it, commonplace character of the plot under heaps of artificial complications and adornments, and yet would not have got rid of the fate of being found out. You felt you could afford to tell an old story, because you could make it a new one by simply telling it truly.

Your Mr. Arthur Grant is a masterpiece. 
If I have anything to criticise, it would be that perhaps, after all, the tale is not quite realistic enough. Realism, to my mind, implies, besides truth of detail, the truth in reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances. Now your characters are typical enough, as far as they go; but the circumstances which surround them and make them act, are not perhaps equally so. In the City Girl the working class figures as a passive mass, unable to help itself and not even showing (making) any attempt at striving to help itself. 

All attempts to drag it out of its torpid misery come from without, from above. Now if this was a correct description about 1800 or 1810, in the days of Saint-Simon and Robert Owen, it cannot appear so in 1887 to a man who for nearly fifty years has had the honour of sharing in most of the fights of the militant proletariat. The rebellious reaction of the working class against the oppressive medium which surrounds them, their attempts – convulsive, half conscious or conscious-at recovering their status as human beings, belong to history and must therefore lay claim to a place in the domain of realism.” 

Letter to Margaret Harkness; Engels April 1888; Marx and Engels Selected Correspondence, Moscow; 1975; p.379-81. 
at: http://ml-review.ca/aml/SocialistArt/Final-ME_LASSALLE.htm

(ii) Characterisation must be accurate and represent both an individual and the background of that person – becoming a “type.”

Engels thought that it was important to depict not only a generic “type” in a character, but that the “type” should at the same time be sufficently realistic as to be recognisable as a true single “personality.”

“I have now also read Die Alten und die Neuen [The Old Ones and the New], [Original Footnote: A novel by Minna Kautsky] for which I sincerely thank you. The life of the salt-mine workers is described with as masterly a pen as were the portraits of the peasants in Stefan. [Original Footnote: Stefan von Grillenhof was the first novel written by Minna Kautsky……. the characters exhibit the sharp individualisation. so customary in your work. Each of them is a type but at the same time also a definite individual, a “Dieser,” [Original Footnote “This one”] as old Hegel would say, and that is how it should be.”

Engels To Minna Kautsky, November 2th 1885; From “Marx & Engels: On Literature & Art”; Moscow; 1976; p.87-89; London, November 26, 1885;
at: http://ml-review.ca/aml/SocialistArt/Final-ME_LASSALLE.htm

It should also reflect the future reality. See earlier quote from Engels.

But to do this in art, is very different from having a simple “cut-out” propagandist “formula.”

(iii) The stylistic presentation of the art must be at the highest level in order to allow the content to come out the clearest.

Numerous citations can be given of Marx and Engels insistence on achieving the highest level of professional stylistic presentation of art. It should not be forgotten that both Marx and Engels had at an early stage considered literature and poetry as a career and had both rejected this path – at least in part because they recognised their own limitations. 

A good illustration of Marx’s view that it is necessary to strike the right balance between form and content is in a letter to Ferdinand Lassalle, where Marx  critiques Lassalle’s play “Franz von Sickingen”: 

“London, April 19, 1859.
Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle, on his drama Franz von Sickingen

I am now coming to Franz von Sickingen. [Original Footnote: A Drama by Lassalle-Ed]

First of all, I must praise the composition and action, and that is more than can be said of any other modern German drama. In the second instance, leaving aside the purely critical attitude to this work, it greatly excited me on first reading and it will therefore produce this effect in a still higher degree on readers who are governed more by their feelings. And this is a second and very important aspect.

Now the other side of the medal: First -this is a purely formal matter – since you have written it in verse, you might have polished up your iambs with a bit more artistry.

But however much professional poets may be shocked by such carelessness, I consider it on the whole as an advantage, since our brood of epigonous poets have nothing left but formal polish.”

Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle; Problems Of Revolutionary Tragedy: Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle On His Drama Franz Von Sickingen Transcribed By Alliance From: “Marx And Engels On Literature And Art”; Moscow; 1976.
at http://ml-review.ca/aml/SocialistArt/Final-ME_LASSALLE.htm

Summary

Those creative geniuses Marx and Engels therefore recognised a core of aesthetic principles. As can be readily appreciated by a comparison against either Zhdanov’s writings, or of the “Theses of Art,” from the Marxist Leninist Organisation Britain, drafted by Bland, the views of Marx and Engels are very similar to those enunciated by the proponents of what came to be called Socialist Realism.

(3) Should Art be “Committed?”

Whether art should be committed or not – is at the centre of the debate between pure aesthetes (“Art for Art’s Sake”) and those who argue that art has a purpose. But committed art might not art that “wears its’ heart on its sleeve.” Committed art, might be better if it does not fire the viewer’s eye with a blunderbuss. This might be another distinction between high art and propaganda art. In general, we will argue that Marx and Engels both took this line of thought. 

Thus Engels argues to Mina Kautsky, that while art “with a purpose” can well be great art (Such as that of Aeschylus, Schiller, Dante, Cervantes etc), it is not necessary to “serve the reader on a platter the future historical resolution.”

“The novel itself reveals the origins of this shortcoming. You obviously felt a desire to take a public stand in your book, to testify to your convictions before the entire world. This has now been done; it is a stage you have passed through and need not repeat in this form. I am by no means opposed to partisan poetry as such. Both Aeschylus, the father of tragedy, and Aristophanes, the father of comedy, were highly partisan poets, Dante and Cervantes were so no less, and the best thing that can be said about Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe is that it represents the first German political problem drama. The modern Russians and Norwegians, who produce excellent novels, all write with a purpose. I think however that the purpose must become manifest from the situation and the action themselves, without being expressly pointed out and that the author does not have to serve the reader on a platter the future historical resolution of the social conflicts which he describes. To this must be added that under our conditions novels are mostly addressed to readers from bourgeois circles, i.e., circles which are not directly ours. Thus the socialist problem novel in my opinion fully carries out its mission if by a faithful portrayal of the real conditions, it dispels the dominant conventional illusions concerning them, shakes .the optimism of the bourgeois world, and inevitably instils doubt as to the eternal validity of that which exists, without itself offering a direct solution of the problem involved, even without at times ostensibly taking sides. Here your exact knowledge and admirably fresh and lifelike presentation of both the Austrian peasants and Vienna “society” find ample material, and in Stefan you have demonstrated that you are capable of treating your characters with the fine irony which attests to the author’s dominion over the beings he has created.”

Engels To Engels To Minna Kautsky, November 2th 1885; From “Marx & Engels: On Literature & Art”; Moscow; 1976; pp.87-89.
At http://ml-review.ca/aml/SocialistArt/Final-ME_LASSALLE.htm 

He also points out to Margaret Harkness, that it is often better for the authors true opinions to remain hidden:

“I am far from finding fault with your note having written a point-blank socialist novel, a “tendezroman”, as we Germans call it, to glorify the social and political vies of the authors. That is not at all what I mean. The more the opinions of the author remain hidden, the better for the world of art. The realism I allude to may crop out even in spite of the author’s opinions. Balzac whom I consider a far greater master of realism than all the Zolas, passes, presents et a venire [past present and to come], in La Comedie Humaine gives us a most wonderfully realistic history of French “society”, especially of “le monde parisien”, describing.. almost year by year from 1816-1848 the progressive inroads of the rising bourgeois upon the society of nobles that reconstituted itself after 1815 and that set up again, as far as it could the standard of la veille politesse francaise [Old French Refinement]…. Even in economic details.. I have learned more from [Balzac] than from all the professed historians, economists and statisticians of the period together. Well, Balzac was politically a Legitimist [adherents of the Bourbons overthrown in France in 1792, who represented the interests of the landed aristocracy]; his great work is a constant elegy on the irretrievable decay of good society, his sympathies are all with the class doomed to extinction. … That Balzac was compelled to go against his own class sympathies and political prejudices, that he saw the necessity of the downfall of his favourite nobles, and described them as people deserving no better fate; and that he saw the real men of the future where, for the time being they alone were to be found – that I consider one of the greatest triumphs of Realism, and one of the grandest features in old Balzac.”

Letter to Margaret Harkness; Engels April 1888; Marx and Engels Selected Correspondence, Moscow; 1975; p.379-81;
At http://ml-review.ca/aml/SocialistArt/Final-ME_LASSALLE.htm 

Similarly, Marx points out to Lassalle that while the content of an art work needs to be historically accurate, it is not necessary – indeed it is often counter-productive – (“Your gravest shortcoming”) – to allow characters to be “transform(ed) [from] individuals into mere mouthpieces of the spirit of the time.”

Art therefore is not a series of speeches, it is a different article from propaganda:

“London, November 26, 1885; Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle, on his drama Franz von Sickingen ;

Hence, if you did not want to reduce the collision to that presented in Gotz von Berlichingen – and that was not your plan – then Sickingen and Hutten had to succumb because they imagined they were revolutionaries (the latter cannot be said of Gotz) and, just like the educated Polish nobility of 1830, on the one hand, made themselves exponents of modern ideas, while, on the other, they actually represented the interests of a reactionary class. The aristocratic representatives of the revolution –behind whose watchwords of unity and liberty there still lurked the dream of the old empire and of club-law — should, in that case, not have absorbed all interest, as they do in your play, but the representatives of the peasants (particularly these) and of the revolutionary elements in the cities ought to have formed a quite significant active background. In that case you could to a much greater extent have allowed them to voice the most modern ideas in their most naive form, whereas now, besides religious freedom, civil unityactually remains the main idea. You would then have been automatically compelled to write more in Shakespeare’s manner whereas I regard as your gravest shortcoming the fact that a la Schiller you transform individuals into mere mouthpieces of the spirit of the time. Did you not yourself to a certain extent fall into the diplomatic error, like your Franz von Sickingen, of placing the, Lutheran-knightly opposition above the plebeian Munzer opposition?  Further, the characters are lacking in character. I exclude Charles V, Balthasar and Richard of Trier. Was there ever a time of more impressive characters than the 16th century? Hutten, I think, is too much just a representative of “inspiration” and this is boring. Was he not at the same time an ingenious person of devilish wit, and have you not therefore done him a great injustice?”

“Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle; Problems Of Revolutionary Tragedy: Marx And Engels To Ferdinand Lassalle On His Drama Franz Von Sickingen Transcribed By Alliance From: “Marx And Engels On Literature And Art”; Moscow; 1976
At http://ml-review.ca/aml/SocialistArt/Final-ME_LASSALLE.htm.

Summary:
Both Marx and Engels thought that the best art was distinct from propaganda. The latter depicts people acting as “mouthpieces.” But the best art while being very realistic and true to life, did not need to “itself offer a direct solution of the problem involved” or “even without at times ostensibly taking sides.”

(4) What Paintings  did Engels, Lenin and Stalin Admire?

Some indication has been given of this from the references of Marx and Engels in literature already cited, but there is far less regarding the visual arts.

I have not dealt with Stalin’s literary preferences as Bill has already dealt with this in his article Stalin and the Arts [http://ml-review.ca/aml/AllianceIssues/A2004/STALINART.html]. 

But since this talk is more about the visual arts, and a picture is worth a thousand words, I would like to show the favourite paintings as far as we know, of Engels and Stalin. We have some indication of their preferences in this regard, but none of either Lenin or Marx.

(i) Frederick Engels: Karl Hubner: “The Silesian Weavers”

hubner

The example that we know of for Engels, is vividly described by him in an article.

Engels clearly has absolutely no compunction about highlighting a picture that is both partisan and highly emotional.

These are two of the very elements that bourgeois ideologues find most repugnant about socialist realism:

“Let me on this occasion mention a painting by one of the best German painters, Karl Hubner, which has made a more effectual Socialist agitation than a hundred pamphlets might have done. It represents some Silesian weavers bringing linen cloth to the manufacturer, and contrasts very strikingly cold-hearted wealth on one side, and despairing poverty on the other. The well-fed manufacturer is represented with a face as red and unfeeling as brass, rejecting a piece of cloth which belongs to a woman; the woman, seeing no chance of selling the cloth, is sinking down and fainting, surrounded by her two little children, and hardly kept up by an old Man; a clerk is looking over a piece, the owners of which are with painful anxiety waiting for the result; a young man shows to his desponding mother the scanty wages he has received for his labour; an old man, a girl, and a boy, are sifting on a stone bench, and waiting for their turn; and two men, each with a piece of rejected cloth on his back, are just leaving the room, one of whom is clenching his fist in rage, whilst the other, putting his hand on his neighbour’s arm, points up towards heaven, as if saying: be quiet, there is a judge to punish him. This whole scene is going on in a cold and un-homely-looking lobby, with a stone floor: only the manufacturer stands upon a piece of carpeting; whilst on the other side of the painting, behind a bar, a view is opened into a luxuriously furnished counting-house, with splendid curtains and looking-glasses, where some clerks are writing, undisturbed by what is passing behind them,. and where the manufacturer’s son, a young, dandy-like gentleman, is leaning over the bar, with a horsewhip in his hand, smoking a cigar, and coolly looking at the distressed weavers. The painting has been exhibited in several towns of Germany, and, of course, prepared a good many minds for Social ideas. At the same time, we have had the triumph of seeing the first historical painter of this country, Charles Lessing, become a convert to Socialism.”

Frederick Engels: “Rapid Progress of Communism in Germany”; First Printed In: The New Moral World No. 25, December 13, 1844; In Collected Works; Volume 4; Moscow; 1975; pp. 229-233

(ii) V.I. Lenin

It is not known what Lenin’s favourite painting was. But it is known that he detested “Futurism,” and “incomprehensible art.”

Here is Vladmir Tatlin’s “Model of the Monument to the Third International 1920”:

tatlin

Everything we do know about Lenin’s views on art, are quite consistent with those of Stalin:

“All Lenin’s recorded utterances on art at this time suggest he approved the traditional and deplored the formally innovative. In February 1921, on a midnight visit to Varya Armand (the daughter of the revolutionary Inessa Armand), who was studying art in Moscow, Lenin became involved in a discussion with a group of art students in their hostel.These students recognised ‘nothing to the right of constructivism’ in art; but among their number was one student (a Siberian whose name, for one reason or another, has not come down to us) who made realistic works:’

“This,” says Lenin, “I understand. This is comprehensible to me, and comprehensible to you, and comprehensible to a worker and to everyone else.”‘

Similarly, in his most extended reported discourse on art, a conversation with Klara Tsetkin, he reportedly called for an art that was ‘comprehensible to the masses’.

This comprehensibility appears to have signified, in Lenin’s mind, a kind of party-oriented reportage; discussing the Soviet cinema, which he regarded as the most important art form (this was, in fact, a prescient and not at all conventional view circa 1920), Lenin emphasised the importance of documentary films, stating that ‘the production of new films, imbued with Communist ideas, reflecting Soviet actuality, should begin with the newsreel’.”

Matthew Cullerne Bown; “Socialist Realist Painting”; New Haven 1998; p. 62.

It was very soon after this time, that Lenin began a counter-attack on the ultra-leftism of the Proletkult (See http://ml-review.ca/aml/AllianceIssues/ALLIANCE7COMMUNISTACADEMY.html).

(iii) J.V.Stalin: Ilya Repin: “Zaporozhe Cossacks Write a letter to Tartar King”

repin75As described by Brown, Stalin was impressed by Repin, but espeically this picture:

“Picture depicts Cossacks writing a rude and rebellious letter to the Turkish Sultan in reply to his demands for their capitulation. The Cossacks are collectively splitting their sides in anticipation of the Sultan’s reaction…. Stalin wrote modestly leaving the exhibition in the visitor’s book: ”Was at the exhibition. Generally in my opinion good”

Matthew Culhearne Brown; “Art Under Stalin”; New York; 1991; p. 56.

(iv) W.B. Bland: Diego Rodriguez De Silva y Velazquez: “Pope Innocennzo X.”

While not in any way attempting to elevate Bland to the levels of the Marxist-Leninists discussed in this article, it is nonetheless appropriate in a memorial on Bill, to ask what were some of his favourite paintings? Bland’s relation to his leaders, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Hoxha, is a matter for history and deeper analysis.

However – In Bill’s house in Ilford, the walls were hung with a variety of impressionist painting, including Van Gogh’s “Chair and boots”; “Sunflowers.” There was also a small reproduction of Degas’s statuette of the Dancer. He lived by himself, and these articles certainly reflected his own taste.

Diego Rodriguez De Silva y Velazquez: “Pope Innocennzo X.”

Diego Velazquez-538583

On the back of a postcard sent to me, of this painting Bland wrote: “I think this portrait (on loan here at present) is one of the finest I have ever seen”;

(5) Was Good Art Made in the USSR?

In this format, it is impossible to give a full and comprehensive history of USSR painting.

However we cna give some some indication, that all range of contents dealing with human life was depicted with vivid realism and accuracy. A range of paintings will be presented as examples.

Even Anatol Lunacharskii, who at times wavered in his views, as the Commissar for enlightenment, declared himself in favour of realism; despite his pull towards the futurist leftist tendency.

In 1919 Lunarchaskii appealed in “The Artistic Task of Soviet Power’  that:

‘The central content … is the struggle for socialism and the socialist ideal itself”;
Cited Matthew Cullerne Bown; “Socialist Realist Painting”; New Haven 1998;   p. 54.

How well did the artists respond?  Flipping through the excellent publiction by Matthew Cullerne Bown, “Socialist Realist Painting” published by Yale in 1998, we can readily see some extremely wonderful works. The illustrations below are all drawn from that work.

In terms of the ‘Iconic State Art’ that was discussed earlier, perhaps the first memorable piece was that of Isaak Brodski – who was introduced to Lenin by Lunacharskii as follows:

“From an ethical and political point of view the artist Brodskii merits complete trust’;

Cited Bown M.C. Ibid; p. 57.

Thereafter an immense painting “The Ceremonial Opening of the Second Congress of the Third International” [350×550 cm] was shown in 1924. Of the 218 delegates from 67 parties, Brodski made 125 portraits, combining these into the picutre.  Each individual delegate – including Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin – are recognisable.

Brodski

In the meantime, while he was working away on this massive scale, he painted Lenin and Trotsky. 

It is not recorded as far as I can find, that Trotsky modestly declined to have his picture painted. Indeed Trotsky urged that Lenin be depicted, as did Krasin (Bown Ibid p. 56).

In a later march of the Ultra-leftists of the AKhR, Brodski was driven out:

“AKhR began a purge of its own ranks in 1928. The bete-noir of the young activists was the arch-traditionalist Brodksi. In a declaration issued at the time of the May 1928 Congress, they called for a struggle with ‘photo-naturalism – Broskiism’. Brodskii was driven out fo the AKhR; soon afterwards he was followed buy the painter of Russian hisotricla scences Gavriil Gorelov – hounded out becassue in 1927 he had aprticiated in the decoration of a church – and by Leningrad apinter Mikhail Avilov.”

Cullerne Bown Ibid; p. 115.

An early example of an artistically exaggerated perspective, one that enhanced an overall realism is that of Kustodiev B.M. “A Bolshevik’; 1920 [101×141 cm].
In my view, tihs illustrates nicely the distinction between “Realism” and “Naturalism.”

Kustodiev

Kustodiev was previous to this picture, better known for nudes and portraits. He became a respected member of the arts community, and exhibited both with ultra-leftists from the Protekult and other groups. He remained unaligned.

The difficulties of daily life were portrayed with unflinching realisms as in Savitski’s G,K. “The year 1919’; 63×43 cm].

Savitski

An example of a “realism” that was quite novel – and “anti-naturalism” – in its depiction of stark cold plain background was Alexander A Deineka’s “The Defence of Petrograd”; 1927 (218×354 cm);

Deineka

Although not a member of the AKhRR, Deineka was invited to show at the 10th exhibiton of AKh RR, and this painting was “considered the star of the
exhibition” Cullerne Bown Ibid; p. 77.

He studied workers’ movements in the factory for hours at times before a picture, and he was fascinated by “rhythm.” This can be seen above.

As well can seen sharp contrasts – “the struggle of white and black elements in graphics” – as expounded by Vladimir Favorski.

Deineka was a bridge between the graphics of the socialist poster and the canvas art of Socialist Realism.

Later commentators would remark on the multi-spatial dimension (Two lines of soldiers – before and after the revolution) – as a “paradigm of the “dialectical-materialist” approach to painting.”; Cited Culleren Bown Ibid; p. 95.

The new life under sociailism was depicted as being a wide open avenue along which a young lady could drive a car towards the city, by Yuri I Pimenov “New Moscow”; in 1937 [140×170 cm].

Pimenov

The image of “A Partisan” by Sergei V Malyutin 1936 [100×150 cm] is deceptively simple. With intense focus on the man, the rutted snow behind shows how this man will travel on guard for danger.

Malyutin

While George C Nisski’s “Sebastopol – The Meeting”;(1935 77×101 cm) shows with luminescent colouring, an age-old scene of boy meets girl. With the kicker of a bunch of mates in the background no doubt good humouredly – but perhaps slightly jealously? – watching their comrade’s good fortune.

Nisski

The natural beauty of the world, was not lost on artists in the USSR of socialist realism, as a famous impressionist artist, Aleksandr M Gerasimov shows in “An Orchard in Blossom”; (1935; 124×133 cm).

Gerasimov

With the War years of course, the emphasis changed, and the war reality and bravery of the USSR people was shown clearly. Despite the privations of the war, painting went on. Exhibitions were once more held from 1942, and one, “Leningrad in the Days of the Patriotic War,” held ins the still besieged city, drew:

“weak, scarcely moving people .. to our cold exhibition hall .. carrying their most recent works”;
Bown M.C. Cited Ibid; p.216.

To be singled out are perhaps Sergei V. Gerasimov’s “The Mother of  a Partisan” (1943 184×232 cm); 

GerasimovS.V

And once more the work of Alexsandr A Deineka, whose rapid movement in “The Defence of Sebastopol” (1942 200×400 cm) makes the canvas appear cinematic. This is helped by the unusual horizontal canvas shape, a “wide angle” frame. The naked figure on the far left hurling a grenade swirls into the dressed sailor brandishing a piece of fencing as defence, who in turn is thrown into the distant sailor wielding a rifle in hand-to-hand combat.

Deineka2

Naturally again the emphasis would shift after the war, to once more depict the life of the people. “Galya of the Birds” by Pavel F Globa [1950 137×201 cm] is very far from the image that is presented by the bourgeoisie of socialist Realism. As for A.M.Gerasimov, it would not be very far-fetched to think of this in an exhibition of the Impressionists.

Globa

Conclusions

Contrary to received wisdom, Stalin’s views, and personal preferences in art were not at all dissimilar to those of Marx and Engels and Lenin.

He was not the moving force behind the plethora of bad propagandist art that was seen in the late period of the USSR. Undoubted distortions occurred, and need further exploration. However, Ultra-leftist trends were supported by a combination of misguided honest elements, and hidden revisionists. 

Nonetheless, the era of Socialist art covered a number of trends over the period 1917-1953, and undoubtedly has left future progressive artists and peoples a lasting legacy of extraordinary art. 

Whether it is to everyone’s taste is another matter. But then – not everyone is a supporter of socialism. I submit, that the art of that era is more consistent with people’s views than the modern art collected by the Saatchi’s of this world.

Source

Late Night Marxism – Current Task of Communists

Single Shot Espresso: Ukraine Supplemental – Interview with Dmitry Kolesnik

Late Night Marxism – Episode 1 – January 2014

Introducing my new podcast “Late Night Marxism with Espresso Stalinist.” Hope you enjoy it!

 – E.S.

Mark Twain on New Year’s Day

MarkTwainCigar

“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drinks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.”

Video: Lenin in Color with A Cappella Internationale

1984 CIA Propaganda Booklet on the U.S. Invasion of Grenada

panel

From Wikipedia:

“Rescued from Rape and Slavery is a 14-page comic published in 1984 by the Central Intelligence Agency but ostensibly credited to the non-existent “Victims of International Communist Emissaries.” The comic was developed by the Commercial Comic Book Company, the largest American provider of educational comics. The script is by Malcolm Ater and the art by Jack Sparling. Upon completion of the book, Ater, also head of the company, met his CIA connection in a Washington DC taxicab, where he exchanged the art boards for a suitcase full of cash.

The comic, described as “heavy-handed propaganda” by Randy Duncan in The Power of Comics, was airdropped over Grenada prior to the American Invasion of Grenada. The purpose of the Rescued from Rape and Slavery comic was to “justify the American intervention in the country, by describing the rise of communist forces there and how their presence demands military intervention.” The comic outlines President Ronald Reagan’s justifications for the invasion: alleged oppression and torture of the local inhabitants, threats to American medical students on the island, and a potential domino effect leading to more Communist governments in the Caribbean.”

Link: http://www.ep.tc/grenada/index.html