5 January 2019
5 January 2019
31 December 2018
This is, in many ways, an especially difficult time to be an artist. That, by itself, makes it important not only to continue creating, but to carefully consider some of the things that make it difficult, and how to respond to them.
There are a number of issues related to the current trend of scolding, boycotting, and gathering hate against any comedian, writer, actor, or artist who has been accused of being sexually inappropriate. But there is one piece of it in particular that’s been nagging at me.
I heard it most clearly expressed in response to a comrade’s post about Ezra Pound. The post pointed out that Pound was virulently antisemitic, essentially a fascist, and yet a brilliant poet, whose work could reach the sublime, could deeply affect lives. It is a profound contradiction, and yet, there it is. In the comments to this observation was a remark to the effect of, “There are plenty of other poets.”
I’ve heard this same thing a number of times in a number of forms, and it keeps eating at me: In order to hold this opinion, one most consider art a commodity. “Well, heck, there’s plenty of tomato sauce out there, why should I buy from a reactionary like Hunt? There are plenty of poets out there, why should I read a reactionary like Pound?” It disturbs me that the answer isn’t obvious: because Pound is giving us something we can’t get from anyone else. The things I’ve taken from Patrick O’Brien are entirely different from what I’ve taken from either C. S. Forester or Jane Austen; my life has been enriched by all three, and my understanding of human personality has been enriched by at least two of them.
And here’s another thing: What would happen if it were revealed that, for example, Shakespeare had done certain things, or had certain personality traits, that were foul and disgusting? Would that mean those who understood the world better, those who understood what it means to be human more deeply through his work would have those experiences wiped away? Or, let me put it in more concrete terms related to our own field: has the recent controversy about Joss Wheton destroyed the sense of power, the feeling of, “I can do anything I chose to!” that so many girls took from “Buffy”?
This post is not attempting to argue that individuals, by virtue of being artists, ought not to be held responsible for their actions. What I am asking you to consider are the consequences of treating works of art (in the broadest sense) as interchangeable commodities. As that idea spreads, what does it do to those trying to create art, trying to find a way to express in images and in moments something lasting, powerful, revelatory? Those who profit from art (in the narrow, scientific sense of profit), will of course always judge art by its bottom line. Do creators of artistic works really want to accept that method? Do you honestly think the world will be better if we start looking at books, at film, at comedy, as simply “product?” And yet, “Why would I read Ezra Pound? There are plenty of other poets” does exactly that.
I understand and sympathize with those who feel, “This person is slimy and disgusting and I’m not comfortable giving him my money.” We live in a society in which wealth is accepted as the final arbiter of quality, and none of us live outside of that society, so it is impossible to be unaffected by it. It is natural to see “giving the person money” as an important aspect of how we address art and artists. But maybe it isn’t the most important aspect? Maybe in your intense desire to “punish” someone who has done, or been accused of doing, something reprehensible, you are contributing to making this a society in which art, instead of a means to uplift us all, becomes just another product, of no more significance than a can of tomato sauce? If this attitude spreads among those who read, can those who write be immune? I do not believe so.
You say you cannot separate the art from the artist. Maybe it’s worth trying a little harder. I agree with art critic David Walsh: “To become whole, human beings require the truth about the world, and about themselves, that art offers.” I am asking you to consider what will happen if these things become unimportant compared to our opinion of the personality of the creator. I beg to submit that this will be, in the long run, terribly destructive to art and artists.
28 December 2018
The US elections in 1948 were a full sweep victory for the Democratic Party—the presidency and both houses—running on a strong pro-labor stance. Upon election, of course, Truman and the Democratic controlled congress turned against the unions, breaking them up and suppressing them and making sure they were led by people who fully supported the Korean “police action” (that was opposed by the majority of Americans, and the overwhelming majority of workers). The attacks on the union movement were continuous and powerful, although, in fairness to Truman, he never went as far as FDR, who pushed for a law permitting striking workers to be drafted into military service and forced to labor.
The primary technique Truman used in this was to raise hysteria against “Russian spies” and “Russian influence.” While it is worth discussing how the actions of the Stalinists in the 30s and 40s permitted this to work, that isn’t the point I’m making now. What I want to say is, this campaign was very successful, in that he was able, with the help of AFL and CIO bureaucrats, to break up some of the more militant unions and significantly weaken others. It is not going too far to say that Reagan was able to launch such a successful attack on the unions in the 1980s because of the action of Truman and the Democrats 30 years earlier.
In 1952, the Republican Party ran on a platform that the Democrats were “soft on Communism” and won the presidency and control of Congress and unleashed McCarthy.
In other words, “Hey, thanks for going out and finding that nice stick. Now we’re going to beat you to death with it.” When you abandon principle (not that the Democrats had any) for short-term political gain, you’re stropping the razor that will be used to cut your throat.
Here endeth the lesson.
11 December 2018
The “Yellow Vest” protests in Commercy are calling for the building of popular committees to guide the struggle. This tells us, if we didn’t already know, that they’re serious.
In a Facebook discussion, I got into a mild disagreement with someone who opposed “vangurdism.” I’ve been thinking about it ever since, so I want to get my thoughts down. Between those who already know more about the subject than I do and those who don’t care, I figure maybe three people might be interested, but, since I’m one, here we go.
The issue of building a revolutionary leadership within the working class is often (including by me, I’m afraid) posed as a complete abstraction. There is this thing called “the leadership” and somehow it gains leadership of “the masses” and when considering this, people concerned with revolutionary politics argue about is this a good thing or a bad thing and what are the possible problems and so on, and none of it has anything to do with reality.
When large sections of the working class begin to move, whether in mass protests such as we’re seeing in France, or a general strike such as we saw in Minneapolis and San Francisco in the 30s, or a revolutionary struggle (often emerging from one of the others) such as in Russia, one of the first things that happens is the creation of steering committees in some form. These are democratically elected representatives of the working classes that have the job of making tactical decisions that can’t wait for mass votes, and strategic recommendations. These organs occur spontaneously. because it quickly becomes obvious to those involved in such mass actions that without them a serious struggle is impossible. We’re already seeing the seeds of this in France, as I mentioned above. The exact forms vary, but they usually feature immediate recall for any representative who fails to represent, a vital feature in a social struggle where both objective circumstances and the the consciousness of the masses change so quickly.
In the Russian Revolution of 1905, these spontaneous organizations were called “workers councils,” or “councils,” the Russian word being “soviet.” These same organs occurred in Germany in 1918, in Spain, in Italy, and even appeared in Hungary in 1956, and many other places. When an insurrection takes place (Russia 1917, Germany 1918, &c) these fighting organs quickly and naturally become organs of government.
Above, I made mention of tactical decisions and strategic recommendations (two things that aren’t as distinct as I’m making them sound). Those are the key. These leadership organs negotiate with the enemy as appropriate, consider offers, compromises, decide when a protest should and should not take place, and where, and if it should be armed, when to advance, when to retreat, how to approach winning over the army, and so on. These organs are trusted by the workers, because they were created by the workers.
A bad decision can be catastrophic to the entire struggle. And making good decisions is very difficult—it requires a solid understanding of the mood of the masses at any given moment, the ability to evaluate the strength of the enemy, a deep commitment to the cause, and a clear understanding of the goal to be achieved (even if, in the inevitable confusion of such struggles, the steps to reach that goal are unclear).
For those of us who believe such struggles are inevitable, the question is how to prepare for them. Marxism is not, the opinions of thousands of academics to the contrary, a set of precepts to be used in making passive criticisms of the status quo. Marxism is the science of revolution; that is, the science that provides the tools to evaluate the questions posed during a revolutionary struggle. The revolutionary party is the laboratory of revolution, where those who understand the inevitability of such conflicts test ideas and prepare. The revolutionary party enters working class struggles with a program and a clear idea of the goal. It is constantly fighting within the working class for its ideas, to spread its understanding, to find the most advanced, class conscious workers and work with them to prepare for what will happen.
As the mass struggle erupts, the revolutionary party then fights to win these leadership positions, having built a solid base within the working class. The October Revolution of 1917 happened when the Bolshevik Party won a majority in the Soviet. The Minneapolis General Drivers strike was successful because it was Marxists, Trotskyists, who were elected to leadership positions. The German Revolution of 1918 was defeated because the infant Communist Party was unable to win the leadership of the soviets from the rotten Social Democrats, who handed power back to the bourgeoisie.
Thus, what some call “vanguardism” is nothing more than preparing within the working class for the conflicts to come, and attempting to win broader and broader sections of workers to the party, and fighting for socialist consciousness against the coming upsurge, so it will be carried to a successful conclusion. There is nothing in the least undemocratic about it, on the contrary, it takes place in the most democratic, most truly representative political form yet devised.
The revolutionary party and the revolutionary class are not separate and distinct entities, the way some people (as I said, including me) sometimes talk about them. The revolutionary party is that section of the revolutionary class that has most consciously prepared for mass struggles. The fight for leadership of the organs of struggle of the masses to carry them to a successful conclusion is the task of the revolutionary party.
27 November 2018