Art

Trotsky on art

Art is important to people. It has always been so from the earliest human societies, when it was indissolubly linked to magic — that is, to the first primitive attempts of men and women to understand and gain control over the world in which they live. However, in class society art is so designed as to exclude the masses, and relegate them to an impoverished existence, not only in a material but in a spiritual sense.

In Roman times we had "bread and circuses"; now we have soap opera and pop music. Commercial art which sets out from the lowest common denominator is at once a useful soporific drug intended to keep the masses in a state of stupified contentment, while at the same time making a few capitalists exceedingly rich. By thus reducing the artistic level of society to a bare minimum, and increasingly alienating the "serious arts" from social reality, capitalism guarantees a continuous degeneration and pauperisation of art in general.

Confined to this rarified atmosphere, where it is obliged to feed off itself in the same way that factory-fed cows and chickens are fed the dead carcasses of other animals, and develop a deadly brain disease as a result, art becomes ever more sterile, empty and meaningless, so that even the artists themselves begin to sense the decay and become ever more restless and discontented. Their discontent, however, can lead nowhere insofar as it is not linked to the struggle for an alternative form of society in which art can find its way back to humanity. The solution to art's problems is not to be found in art, but only in society.

— From Marxism and art

This article by Alan Woods looks at how the French Revolution affected British poets. It struck Britain like a thunderbolt affecting all layers of society and this was reflected in its artists and writers.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered by many as the greatest musician of all time. He was revolutionary in more senses than one. One of his main achievements was in the field of opera. Before Mozart, opera was seen as an art form exclusively for the upper classes. This was true not only of those who went to see it, but also of its dramatis personae - the characters who were shown on the stage, and especially the protagonists. With The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro in its original Italian title), all this changes. This is the story of a servant who stands up to his boss and outwits his master.

The Russian Revolution ushered in a flowering of creative expression in all the arts, but particularly cinema, which was advanced to new heights by the likes of Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein, who regarded film as a weapon of class struggle. Despite being cut short by the Stalinist degeneration of the regime, the legacy of October in the field of filmmaking continues to be felt to this day.

“Man does not live by politics alone – and [we must] never forget it in our propaganda, written or spoken,” wrote Trotsky in 1923. Marxism is often accused of being a lifeless ‘dogma,’ engaging purely in economic analysis. However, as Alan Woods explains in the #IMU22 session ‘Marxism and Art: Unshackling Culture from Capitalism,’ human lives would be meaningless without artistic expression. Rescuing culture and raising it to a higher level for future generations is an essential task of the class struggle.

We are delighted to be able to announce that the Iranian Exit Theatre Group based in Tehran has translated the article “Shostakovich, the musical conscience of the Russian Revolution” by Alan Woods into Farsi. This is an important and welcome development, which will make the really revolutionary content of Shostakovitch’s life and work known to a broader audience.

What does Marxism have to say about cinema? Quite a lot in fact. For over a century now cinema has existed as a primary tool of social communication within society: one aimed directly at the people rather than an elite, reaching audiences far beyond anything previously conceived. From this has flowed TV, video, DVD, streaming and more - all features of our daily lives.

Within the first two weeks of its release on Netflix, Don’t Look Up racked up over 300 million streaming hours to become the second-most viewed movie in the history of the platform. This satirical allegory on the climate crisis is undoubtedly one of the most controversial movies as well, eliciting strong opinions, lively debate, and nearly equal parts positive and negative reviews on film rating websites like Rotten Tomatoes.

At the dawn of 2022, the cries of “Happy New Year” have an empty ring for most people, because most people are not happy at all. In the past, in troubled times, they looked for consolation in religion. But nowadays, the churches stand empty. Instead, people have tended to take refuge in their local pub, or perhaps in the cinema, which have become something like a modern opium of the people. But given that many of these are closed, many have nowhere else to seek comfort than in their television set.

Squid Game is the latest production from South Korea that brilliantly exposes the brutal reality of capitalism – that of extreme competition. As the series tops the Netflix charts worldwide, Korean workers are preparing for a general strike.

Santiago Rising, the new Alborada Films documentary by Nick MacWilliam, is a powerful portrayal of the insurrectionary uprising that shocked Chile at the end of 2019, Diego Catalán writes.

On 13 February, the Marxist Student Federation will host a screening of Santiago Rising followed by a Q&A session with the director, Nick MacWilliam, and Carlos Cerpa (from the IMT Chile-Octubre).

Though there's some controversy over the exact date, it's believed that Ludwig van Beethoven was born today in 1770. If any composer deserves to be called a revolutionary, it is Beethoven. He carried through what was probably the greatest single revolution in modern music and changed the way music was composed and listened to. This is music that does not calm, but shocks and disturbs. Writing in 2006, Alan Woods describes how the world into which Beethoven was born was a world in turmoil, a world in transition, a world of wars, revolution and counter-revolution: a world like our own world.

Netflix recently released a TV adaptation of Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian action thriller Snowpiercer, which offers a powerful allegory about the struggles of class society. Steve Jones looks back at the original film.