[Marxism] Fwd: [Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist] Comment: "Reading Trotsky While Watching Kurosawa"

Shane Hopkinson swhopkinson at gmail.com
Fri Jan 2 00:46:51 MST 2015


Thanks for that Louis.

Whatever their limitations at least WSWS has put some serious work into
developing some cultural critique for their organisation.  I had read over
a number of lectures by David Walsh before putting my query to Louis and so
I thought it might be useful to put my summary here of the classical
Marxist position a la Walsh.

In his lecture 'Socialism and Cinema' (
http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/11/cine-n10.html) Walsh stated that
"the best film work in the past—including at the US studios—was
inconceivable without the powerful presence of socialist ideas and thus the
revival of global cinema requires a socialist movement and "the emergence
of a consciously socialist and revolutionary tendency in film making and
criticism." Historical events like Cold War and Collapse of Communism are
ultimately the cause of the decline in quality of art since "all serious
art contains the element of protest, direct or indirect, against the
conditions of life, and that all serious criticism of social life
gravitates toward Marxism" and the present state of the world is certainly
crying out for more artistic creations that are about the big human
problems we face. This is elaborated in two parts as “Film, history and
socialism” (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/01/york-j22.html) which
are worth reading. In Part Two Walsh argues that ‘great films’ have ‘what
Trotsky called a definite and important feeling for the world. They make a
genuine engagement with reality, with the way people are, the ways in which
they behave... Trotsky speaks beautifully of this quality, which, he says,
“consists in a feeling for life as it is, in an artistic acceptance of
reality, and not in a shrinking from it, in an active interest in the
concrete stability and mobility of life.”’

But it is in 'The Aesthetic Component of Socialism' (
http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2008/10/aest-o11.html ) that Walsh takes up
the importance of Trotsky's 'Literature and Revolution'. Walsh argues that
the role of the critic is not to give a 'Marxist' blessing to this or that
work, artist or style - we are partisans of free artistic creation and of
access to those creations in art – just as we would be in science - in
promoting scientific exploration of physical universe and education about
their discoveries.

Walsh goes on to say that Trotsky understood that culture was impacted by
history and class relations and that culture (which Trotsky defines as
"everything that has been created, built, learnt, conquered by man in the
course of his entire history, in distinction from what nature has
given....") was *both* an expression of human powers and that these powers
have forged art into a basic instrument of class oppression. It was in this
contradiction that Trotsky urged workers to study and master the best of
bourgeois culture. Walsh, following Aleksandr Voronsky, argues that just as
sciences need to be mastered (analysis as rational conceptualisation in the
form of laws) so too do the arts (synthesis as sensuous contemplation in
the form of images). Trotsky suggests that the role of Marxist critique is
to "to help the most progressive tendencies by a *critical illumination* of
the road."

The tension is between seeing art and culture in instrumental terms - the
aim of 'good art' is to 'advance the class struggle' or some such - and in
solely individual expressionist terms (of 'art of art sake'). If the former
then why study Shakespeare? The latter posits that the artist is an
isolated individual. Walsh goes on ‘a work of art, Trotsky observed, must
speak directly to the reader or the viewer in some fashion, must move or
inspire or depress him or her’ and this can happen across time and space.
Great art can transcend its conditions of production - even as it expresses
the very ‘way of life’ of its particular time and place – it shows us
something about the human condition. There is a role for examining the
social context and emergence of art forms but this isn’t strictly an
aesthetic assessment – knowing the class outlook of an artist is hardly the
end of the matter.

Walsh argues that creating an audience for revolutionary ideas cannot be
about mere political propaganda and cannot be separated from a culture. The
socialist movement before 1917 ‘which brought into its orbit and
assimilated the most critical achievements of bourgeois political and
social thought, art and science’. A revolution requires the critical
consciousness of the mass of the population and is not just expressed in
political or scientific ideas but in art as well – ‘it’s great power
consists in its ability to connect human beings, as though by invisible
wires, at the most profound and intimate levels’.

Walsh then asks since there is an objective aspect to art - what of the
subjective? In what sense does art have a subversive or disturbing quality?
Is this a matter of the content of a work as in a ‘political’ film? What
then of abstract art or orchestral music? Walsh suggests that great art
represents an impulse to freedom, the striving for a better existence, and
quotes Breton saying that artistic expression ‘is the beginning of a
protest. This protest, conscious or unconscious, is an element of every
creative work’ and calls forth a reaction in us.

Marx’s 1843 Letter to Ruge says "Hence, our motto must be: reform of
consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical
consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself
in a religious or a political form. *It will then become evident that the
world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be
conscious in order to possess it in reality.*

Walsh concludes: ‘Bringing this "dream of something" into humanity's
conscious and unconscious life is the eternal labour of art.’

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