[From Dave Riley] Re:CP writers

dave riley dhell at optusnet.com.au
Mon Nov 18 08:01:26 MST 2002

[ Dave: i have subscribed you to the post-only version of marxmail
list. you can now submit posts directly to the list from
dhell at optusnet.com.au and read responses on the web. Les Schaffer ]

This  is an interesting topic and it's good to see that some commentators
aren't phased by  the hoary old by always trendy dismissals about Marxist
and  affiliated writers' penchant for didacticism.

 I don't share the standard Trotskyist view of the "socialist realist"/CP
dominant period in the Arts.  It was much richer than has been allowed for
especially in countries outside the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, instead of
addressing some of the intentions of writers who move leftward, Trotsky and
his later followers tended to bend the stick too far the other way  such
that any cultural output that consciously tried to advocate  socialism was
some how seen as becoming rigid and mechanical.

Similarly, Trotsky's view on Formalism -- in the context of Modernism --
mistook the mesh that exists between form and content. Any writer of any
form knows that form matters. The Catholic  McLuhan was half right : the
medium is the message. Indeed form can have a class perspective. The
contradiction is -- at least for Trotsky's literary followers -- that (in my
view anyway) the Formalists have been the most significant contributors to a
radical cultural tradition. Even CP adherents outside the Soviet Union were
using and experimenting with formalist techniques as a matter of course.
Within the USSR such activity was a death warrant.

Trotsky's advocacy seems to pander to esoteric and often egocentric
movements like Surrealism  and ignore  more concrete objectives that may
cause a writer to write. Indeed, despite the Marxian context that Trotsky
places his literary arguments they did tend towards a libertarian mode of
criticism. I think he in part did this in order to win allies so he spoke to
a lot of writers and the like with something of a conciliatory and all
inclusive tongue: come to me, I believe in Freedom!

It  took me a long time to release myself from Trotsky's literary spell ,
but in the end you gotta free yourself primarily because there's nothing
there that can assist a writer moving leftward.

I took up some of these  points (separate from Trotsky) in a review I did of
Bertolt Brecht's career which has been used in a few stateside uni courses.


I consider Brecht's early work -- prior to 1933 -- much more interesting
that his later "morality' plays which won him so many credits among
bourgeois commentators. Similarly Clifford Odets'  "Waiting For Lefty" is a
great piece of theatre and probably  his most completely realised drama.  It
remains a major dramatic work of the Twentieth Century as does Brecht's
lehrustucke agit prop pieces.

For those who can manage the investment, there's a good review and
discussion of the work of Peter Weiss from the South African journal,
Critical Arts.  Weiss, for those who don't know of him, wrote "The
Marat/Sade" and the later "Trotsky in Exile".


Similarly, in this regard,  the work of John Arden & Margarita D'arcy on the
West Coast of Ireland is very interesting especially his neglected, "Non
Stop Connelly Show". ( A great commentary on this piece about the advocacy
of socialism on stage is available in Arden's published collection of essays
and reviews).

The problem today -- in theatre anyway --is that so much of the fashion has
consciously tried NOT to be didactic; that many groups that proclaim their
radical position tend to advocate a consensual approach.  An example is the
Brecht Forum's promotion of Augusto Boal Theatre of Liberation techniques.
While these are no doubt useful tools, they aren't essentially political or
socialistic ones -- in essence they advocate nothing other than the
consensual views of the participants as manipulated by the facilitator.
Really, this is a long way from what Brecht was on about... Baolist
techniques pass muster as "political theatre" -- which is a gross
exaggeration of its everyday potential.

In that regard, I think Marxists haven't spent enough energy attending to
the process of changing consciousness in the way that, Baol's mentor, Paolo
Freire did.  His was a hotch potch of ideas which by default are gutted from
a political core but carry  enough Marxism in them to work in the
dialectical sense he was after. There's a review of his method at:


Dave Riley
dhell at optusnet.com.au

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