[Marxism] Art is...the Permanent Revolution

Richard Menec bookfind at mymts.net
Fri Mar 2 14:01:18 MST 2012

> For those familiar with Leon Trotsky's political career, you will of 
> course recognize that this was a question that preoccupied him as well. 
> One of the major obstacles to my getting involved with a revolutionary 
> organization was what can only be described as a prejudice against what I 
> viewed as "propagandistic" art.

Upton Sinclair, in his introduction to what I consider one of his most 
important books, weighs in on this question in "Mammonart" (1925), Pp7-9. 
The full text is available online here: 

    "Throughout this book the word artist is used, not in the narrow sense 
popular in America, as a man who paints pictures and illustrates magazines; 
but in its broad sense, as one who represents life imaginatively by any 
device, whether picture or statue or poem or song or symphony or opera or 
drama or novel.  It is my intention to study these artists from a point of 
view so far as I know entirely new; to ask how they get their living, and 
what they do for it; to turn their pockets inside out, and see what is in 
them and where it came from; to put to them the question already put to 
priests and preachers, editors and journalists, college presidents and 
professors, school superintendents and teachers:  WHO OWNS YOU, AND WHY?

    The book will present an interpretation of the arts from the point of 
view of the class struggle.  It will study art works as instruments of 
propaganda and repression, employed by the ruling classes of the community; 
or as weapons of attack, employed by new classes rising into power.  It will 
study the artists who are recognized and honored by critical authority, and 
ask to what extent they have been servants of ruling class prestige and 
instruments of ruling class safety.  It will consider also the rebel 
artists, who have failed to serve their masters, and ask what penalties they 
have paid for their rebellion.

    The book purposes to investigate the whole process of art creation, and 
to place the art function in relation to the sanity, health and progress of 
mankind.  It will attempt to set up new canons in the arts, overturning many 
of the standards now accepted.  A large part of the world's art treasures 
will be taken out to the scrap-heap, and a still larger part transferred 
from the literature shelves to the history shelves of the world's library.

    Since childhood the writer has lived most of his life in the world's 
art.  For thirty years he has been studying it consciously, and for 
twenty-five years he has been shaping in his mind the opinions here 
recorded; testing and revising them by the art-works which he has produced, 
and by the stream of other men's work which has flowed through his mind. 
His decisions are those of a working artist, one who has been willing to 
experiment and blunder for himself, but who has also made it his business to 
know and judge the world's best achievements.

    The conclusion to which he has come is that mankind is today under the 
spell of utterly false conceptions of what art is and should be; of utterly 
vicious and perverted standards of beauty and dignity.  We list six great 
art lies now prevailing in the world, which this book will discuss:

    Lie Number One:  The Art for Art's Sake lie; the notion that the end of 
art is in the art work, and that the artist's sole task is the perfection of 
form.  It will be demonstrated that this lie is a defensive mechanism of 
artists run to seed, and that its prevalence means degeneracy, not merely in 
art, but in the society where such art appears.

    Lie Number Two:  the lie of Art Snobbery; the notion that art is 
something esoteric, for the few, outside the grasp of the masses.  It will 
be demonstrated that with few exceptions of a special nature, great art has 
always been popular art, and great artists have swayed the people.

    Lie Number Three:  the lie of Art Tradition; the notion that new artists 
must follow old models, and learn from the classics how to work.  It will be 
demonstrated that vital artists make their own technique; and that 
present-day technique is far away superior to the technique of any art 
period preceding.

    Lie Number Four: the lie of Art Dilettantism; the notion that the 
purpose of art is entertainment and diversion, an escape from reality.  It 
will be demonstrated that this lie is a product of mental inferiority, and 
that the true purpose of art is to alter reality.

    Lie Number Five:  the lie of the Art Pervert; the notion that art has 
nothing to do with moral questions.  It will be demonstrated that all art 
deals with moral questions; since there are no other questions.

    Lie Number Six:  the lie of Vested Interest; the notion that art 
excludes propaganda and has nothing to do with freedom and justice.  Meeting 
that issue without equivocation, we assert:

    All art is propaganda.  It is universally and inescapably propaganda; 
sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.

    As commentary on the above, we add, that when artists or art critics 
make the assertion that art excludes propaganda, what they are saying is 
that their kind of propaganda is art, and other kinds of propaganda are not 
art.  Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is the other fellow's doxy."


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