working class culture
Martin, P, Mr, Paul
PAULM at socsci.uct.ac.za
Wed Oct 4 14:35:09 MDT 1995
can anyone help with sources around the debates about the existence
of a working class culture? i am familiar with Trotsky's
interventions against Proletkult and with the book called 'The Lenin-
Bogdonov Controversy', but would like to more up-to-date arguments.
In South Africa it is assumed there is such a thing as a working
class culture. Examples are many and quite persuasive. For instance,
there are "cultural workers/activists" in COSATU (the Congress of
S.A. Trade Unions) whose task is to nationally organise productions,
be they poetry readings, songs, mine dances or plays. Such
productions are democratically organised from the start.
The example of a play about a strike might help. To begin,
cultural workers co-ordinate who wants to be in the play and who
wants to help. The next stage is the discussion about form and the
content of the play and this means 'workshopping' the production.
Regular reportbacks to those not involved in the play means problems
can be discussed and advice given by all interested union members.
Even before the play is shown publicly, it is presented to the union
members so they have the opportunity to decide whether it represents
their play or not. If they find it inaccurate or problematic, they
order the activists to change it accordingly. Obviously realism is
the key and so metaphor and symbolism, etc are used minimally.
Even at the performance, the audience is involved, jeering boss-
characters, booing scabs, chanting slogans and also offering
suggestions for demands tabled in fictional negotiations. There is,
then, the dynamism between artists and audience and between workers
and the community.
Is this working class culture because it deals with workers'
experiences, struggles and values? Is it working class culture
because it comes 'from below'? Trotsky says no because "the
proletariat ..., though it has culture in politics, has little culture
in art." Is this wrong?
Centre for African Studies
University of Cape Town
(paulm at socsci.uct.ac.za)
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