Elaine Mallon, Socialist Party Scotland
Art is a language that everyone can speak. The tangible creation of something that came entirely from your imagination is a unique experience. Participating in each step is empowering and it’s this very empowerment that’s deliberately attacked under capitalism. Even for industrial workers, the pride of seeing a finished product they contributed to is vanishing in front of their eyes.
Cheap mass production is turning workers and artists alike into repetitive zombies with no real value or knowledge in society.
Devalued and desperate for work is exactly the mindset that capitalism thrives on. Trotsky said that mending this separation between the intellectual and physical plays a key role in a socialist revolution.
Bringing the inner world into the outer world of tangible reality, art allows the expression of ideas that are beyond articulation and language. In a world where people feel more and more alienated and abandoned by society, where education is poorer when you’re poor, art can still reach out and improve the lives of people who dare to think and create. Art and music have been around longer than language, they speak to our senses, our emotions and our instincts giving it enhanced powers of communication that run far deeper than language and intellect. It’s often good judgment that prevails, rather than following rules.
Artists often learn quickly there’s more than one way to approach a problem or answer a question, encouraging multi-perspectives about the world around us. Picasso and Matisse, two of the main founders of cubism represented this 3 dimensional, multi-perspective view in much of their work.
Capitalism has butchered artistic expression beyond recognition. In today’s political climate it has been reduced to its profit and investment value. Monet and Picasso have been reduced to acquisitions and investments, sought after by the super-rich and sold on for obscene prices.
They’ve become assets that are easily hidden from tax collectors, hoarded in high-security vaults and art bunkers. Museums in the 21st century are struggling to cope with rising costs and massive cuts in funding. They’re shamefully being forced to sell off collections to private buyers, restricting public access to important works appropriated by the ultra rich.
During the Russian revolution art was used to communicate important ideas, encouraging literacy, political education and participation in the revolt. This was called Agitprop.
There was even an agitprop train that travelled the length and breadth of Russia spreading news of the revolution. The outside of the train was covered in protest art. Inside there would be literacy lessons, exhibitions, gramophone recordings of speeches, films and lectures.
Films were just as important as any other medium during the revolution. Eisenstein released Battleship Potemkin in 1925. The dramatisation of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew rebelled against their senior officers, proved an inspiring example of uprising. Its notorious reputation saw it banned in various countries over the years but still remains an all time classic to this day. It was named the greatest film of all time in 1958 and continues to receive the highest standard of reviews online. An example of the deep communication that art can provide even several generations after its creation.
A great musical phenomenon took place in Russia in the 40s. German troops had completely surrounded Leningrad, people were starving to death, conditions were horrific and the future bleak, but, on the evening of 9th August 1942, the loud cacophony of German warfare was temporarily silenced by a live orchestra! Loud speakers had been hastily rigged-up across the front line and a strange sound – that terrified some of the community at first- was eerily carried throughout the city.
A classical concert performing Dmitri Shostakovich’s 7th symphony was performed and broadcast across the land. It would become more familiarly known as the ‘Symphony of Leningrad’ but never before had a piece of music become such a powerful symbol of resistance or such an effective tool of psychological warfare.
One eyewitness recalls that spectators were moved to tears when the musicians arrived for the performance in their shabby concert clothes, poverty stricken skeletal figures in dinner jackets and gowns. Three members of the orchestra died of starvation before the premiere even took place.
The score was photographed on 900 pages of microfilm and put in a tin can that was flown across enemy lines. It was a courageous act and although the siege would continue for another two years, claiming the lives of nearly a million civilians, German officers who were later captured admitted that on hearing the Leningrad symphony they instantly knew the city could never be defeated. Shostakovich initially dedicated the piece to the life of Lenin then amended the dedication to the city of Leningrad on its completion.
It stands today is one of the most important performances in history. A performance that had a direct effect on the minds of everyone present. A haunting example of the power of music.
People are already being plunged into poverty, workers are participating in strikes all over the country. We need to formulate an artistic response to spread the revolutionary message. Get involved, participate, stand up and fight, create your own revolutionary art and spread it far and wide!
For more on socialism and art visit the Bad Art website