CPGB-ML Congress discusses proletarian culture
Address by Central Committee member Paul Cannon to Congress 2018: resolution on proletarian culture
I move this motion [see below] and ask Congress to take this opportunity to consider the harmful effects modern bourgeois culture is having on the class struggle and the threat it poses to continued human progress.
All of us here are realists and we know that our ability to influence the main trend in the arts is extremely limited for the moment. Having said that, our cultural pieces in Proletarian play an important role in expressing our opinions on this question, not only for the widest possible external audience, but also, crucially, for our own comrades.
None of us can be immune from the polluting effect of bourgeois literature and art, which subverts the natural instincts of people towards mutual aid and brotherly love, and in their place introduces the virulent germs of individualism, envy and greed. The obsession with the history of Kings and Queens which was overcome in art and culture for a large part in the 20th century (thanks to the Soviet Union and widespread influence of socialist ideas) has returned with a vengeance. These subjects now dominate drama, documentaries and books, and lurch from the semi-historical to the outright ludicrous. Television series depicting the sexed up struggles of kings and queens, their murderous intrigues and ‘human’ back stories pass for historical dramas, and for those who find such shows a little dull, the same stories are retold replete with wizards, dragons and midgets, all of whom at some point either have to have gratuitous sex with one another or commit murderous outrages in a glorified phantasmagorical medieval world. This buffoonery now runs for hundreds of episodes, each one as dull as the last, whilst millions are spent on the accompanying billboards of semi-nude, blood-soaked ‘actors’ surrounded by pseudo-gothic imagery replete with inane slogans such as ‘all men must die’, ‘iron from ice’, ‘fight for the crown’ and the one which offers viewers most hope ‘the end begins’.
The harmful messages conveyed through anti-social and anti-working class literature, music, television and advertising of all types is reinforced by the social acceptance of various channels of self-delusion; not least addiction to social media, computer gaming and general escapism of all sorts. These saturate our environment to the extent that we are in danger of suffocation. And suffocation is the fate that catches up with many young people today who see no class struggle.
Communists must remind ourselves of the clean fresh air of proletarian culture, especially that which blew through the former USSR and which, to a modest extent, can be felt in our party study classes and branch work today. Party work, proletarian culture, these are defences against the awful assault on so many minds and wills which are broken by capitalism, so many young lives ruined by depression, anxiety and a host of mental health problems which are symptoms of a sick society and depraved bourgeois culture which has nothing left to offer than escapism and delusion.
Speaking to the 3rd All Russian Congress of the Komsomol in 1920, Lenin said that,
“Proletarian culture is not something dreamed up out of nowhere; nor is it the invention of people who call themselves specialists in proletarian culture. That is all complete nonsense. Proletarian culture must emerge from the steady development of those reserves of experience which humanity has built up under the yoke of capitalism.”
To this day Trotskyites and misleaders of the working class seek to hide the significance of Soviet cultural achievements from new generations of socialists. Writing in the Guardian in March 2017 Tariq Ali sneers:
“The classicism that was so deeply rooted in Lenin acted as a bulwark to seal him from the exciting new developments in art and literature that had both preceded and accompanied the revolution. Lenin found it difficult to make any accommodations to modernism in Russia or elsewhere. The work of the artistic avant garde – Mayakovsky and the constructivists – was not to his taste.
“In vain did the poets and artists tell him that they, too, loved Pushkin and Lermontov, but that they were also revolutionaries, challenging old art forms and producing something very different and new that was more in keeping with Bolshevism and the age of revolution. He simply would not budge. They could write and paint whatever they wanted, but why should he be forced to appreciate it?”
These words of Tariq Ali seek to conceal from the reader the real state of affairs in Soviet literature, and Lenin’s attitude towards them. Tariq Ali does this because Trotskyism worships revolutionary slogans; it champions that which appears to be revolutionary but in essence is reactionary and backward. Ali, as an opportunist and a scoundrel, has spent his career misdirecting the youthful excesses of new blood that comes into the movement. It is an old trick to pit ‘the new’ against ‘the old’, to champion naivety rather than harness youth’s energy and adding it to humanity’s general reserve of experience. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater is an old tactic of Trotskyite politics. How can one criticise Lenin’s attitude to the early excesses of Mayakovsky and similar revolutionary poets when they write as Mayakovsky did:
“Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc. overboard from the Ship of Modernity.” And “All those Maxim Gorkys, Krupins, Bloks, … need only a dacha on the river. Such is the reward fate gives tailors.
From the heights of skyscrapers we gaze at their insignificance!…” (‘A Slap in the face of Public Taste’)
Such excesses should not be held up as something to emulate but as something to overcome. Tariq Ali, with an ego as big as a youthful Mayakovsky chooses to use this as an avenue to attack Lenin and Leninism. He writes,
“Many of Lenin’s colleagues were more sympathetic to the new movements. Bukharin, Lunacharsky, Krupskaya, Kollontai and, to a certain degree, Trotsky understood how the revolutionary spark had opened up new vistas.”
These are heroes of Ali’s because they are either counter-revolutionaries and fascist conspirators or found themselves for some time in the camp of thc the so-called ‘opposition’.
“Lenin was also hostile to any notion of a ‘proletarian literature and art’, insisting that the peaks of bourgeois culture (and its more ancient predecessors) could not be transcended by mechanical and dead formulae advanced in a country where the level of culture, in the broadest sense, was far too low. Shortcuts in this field would never work, something that was proved conclusively by the excremental ‘socialist realism’ introduced in the bad years that followed Lenin’s death. Creativity was numbed.”
How the creative output of Sholokov, Gerasimov, Brodsky, Eisenstein can be labelled excremental by this third rate courtesan of imperialism is anybody’s guess. No doubt he is comparing them to his own monumental works ‘Iranian Nights’ and ‘Partition’ in film, or maybe his 1988 magnum opus entitled ‘Time to Bury Lenin’.
For our part, the critical assimilation of the heritage of previous epochs helps us to find our feet, helps us to know that the present deplorable state of affairs is but transitory, and opens up a vision of a much brighter, happier future.
The great benefit of socialist realism is that it is thoroughly consistent with Marxist philosophical materialism. Its works are realistic but also romantic. When a child is born, it inherits the world as it is; the good and the bad. Marxism protects that which is good, nurtures that which is healthy in the garden of human creative thought, whilst weeding out that which is poisonous, harmful and ugly. That is why socialist realism is both realist and romantic. We must not abandon that which is old merely because it is old, and in the field of the arts, this resolution calls upon the party to resurrect, to the best of its ability, that which could be dismissed as old, that which was squandered and lies forsaken and through doing so, hopes to demonstrate to young workers today that the solutions to today’s problems, feelings, quandaries do not lie in the promises made by capitalism and its sick, paranoid, murderous projections in screen and print media.
In the general hubbub of day to day life it is important not to succumb to the weeds of bourgeois culture. It is worth reminding ourselves that, though chronologically we belong to the age in which we are living, spiritually we belong to the future.
Resolution on proletarian culture
Promotion of proletarian culture
This Congress recognises that our society is in a state of moral decay and that bourgeois art offers up for working people a diet of the most corrupting and banal material. Bourgeois painting, television, cinema, drama, dance and music spread the same toxic influence of bourgeois individualism. Sadly, nowhere is there to be observed a real movement of proletarian art. Bourgeois art continues to glorify the disgusting excesses, unbridled consumerism and moral depravity of modern bourgeois society, offering as role models and central characters corrupting anti-heroes, gangsters, drug dealers, murderers, mercenaries, the police and imperialist soldiers or endless streams of instantly forgettable cabaret acts, and for children (and adults that have regressed to the level of children) increasingly vacuous big screen ‘superheroes’.
The ongoing decay of bourgeois society has advanced to the point where demented mystical drivel, pornography and extreme violence and cruelty are routine, monthly offerings from Hollywood, the BBC, the production companies and publishing houses of the imperialist countries. Fantastic and mystical ideas dull the imaginations of workers and detach them from the great struggle of mankind against capital. Violence and cruelty normalise abominable behaviour and prepare us to accept the unleashing of fire and fury upon the oppressed people. It is of no surprise that such a cruel and unjust society as ours in the imperialist countries should produce art that is just as wicked and sick as the society that has nourished it.
There is now an endless production of films which elevate the characters of the sick and psychologically demented. Grown adults are encouraged to associate themselves with sadists and killers, vampires, zombies and ghouls and cover the walls of their houses and even their bodies in scenes depicting hellish trauma, such are the ideas which these ‘artistic’ offerings arouse. Directors of film franchises like Hostel are living out on-screen their most depraved fantasies involving sexual violence, torture and murder whilst Hollywood and the presstitutes hypocritically moralise over Harvey Weinstein!
Worst still, the incessant praise of capitalism from every corner of the arts, love of its methods and cruelties are lauded by ignorant workers. What dignity is left to British workers who roundly applaud another firing by Alan Sugar, a ten-minute begging session in front of the ‘Dragons’ or another indecent, humiliating performance for Simon Cowell? Workers taken in by this ‘entertainment’ are utterly castrated before their exploiters and turned into wretched voyeurs of their own humiliation.
Congress recognises that only our party, a Marxist-Leninist party, can offer any salvation to the tortures of our era, and proletarian art is a powerful tool for our social emancipation. The limitations through size and finance which are placed upon our output in video and literature are well known. However, we recognise the enormous impact our political educational videos have had and are having upon workers through YouTube, we applaud the distribution of a number of copies of Ostrovsky’s book How the Steel Was Tempered in 2015, and praise the articles in Proletarian that have critiqued anti-Soviet propaganda films or brought to readers a Marxist appraisal of Shakespeare. Furthermore, we applaud our socialist cartoonists who illustrate our journals and leaflets with such vibrancy and humour. In our own small way, our party has continued in the great tradition of socialist realism in artistic criticism and artistic production. Our party is the only light in the darkness that surrounds us: our artistic output, our propaganda, our penetrating analysis, will lead British workers to a dignified life if we are able to link our party with the masses. To this end, and recognising the above, Congress instructs the central committee to:
1. Delve into the wealth of Soviet literature and bring to life through re-publication some Soviet titles at intervals that can be sold to party members and the public. The titles chosen should have the broadest popular appeal that will give the unacquainted reader a glimpse of the heroism of Soviet citizens in their struggle against the bourgeoisie and in the struggle for socialism. The books chosen should be suitable to hand to new party supporters and candidates unfamiliar with Soviet history and literature. They should be the most inspirational stories that convey the proletarian ethics and morality of the world’s first socialist state. These stories, some of which might be Stalin Prize winners, are lost to time. Their distribution in the 21st century can be a powerful antidote to the sickness and depravity of the bourgeois arts, and can counter the nihilism that penetrates the ranks of even the most sincere and well-meaning comrades.
2. Give more attention to the artistic output of modern Russia and China, particularly the historical dramas and documentaries. Not only have these countries advanced technically in the production of good historical dramas and documentaries which deal with their revolutionary history, a renaissance is to be observed in the way in which historical personalities are now being reappraised by the young generation of these countries. These films, while not perfect, can play an important role in the development of our own party members and supporters, but need promotion in our party press to bring them to the attention of a British audience.
Resolution on identity politics
While being totally opposed to discrimination on grounds of race, sex or sexual proclivity, this congress declares that obsession with identity politics, including sexual politics, is anti-Marxian.
Congress therefore resolves that the propagation of identity politics, including LGBT ideology, being reactionary and anti-working class and a harmful distraction and diversion from the class struggle of the proletariat for its social emancipation, is incompatible with membership of the party, rendering those involved in its promotion liable to expulsion.