Home > Labour Party News, Miscellaneous > The symphony of revolution

The symphony of revolution

Literature and RevolutionOne of the most enduring stereotypes of that heterogeneous bunch who go by the name of ‘revolutionaries’ is that they are middle class, from stable backgrounds and that in truth the very idea of being radical is a youthful, incomprehensible reaction against the cloying atmosphere of a home in which daddy and mummy really did love one another. Often this stereotype can translate as a disrespect for ‘intellectuals’ who talk about the working class and how to ‘fix’ society.

Even within the Labour Party, there are those who attack any notion that in order to explain the experiences of everyday life and to render social, political and economic experience cogent, one might be forced to depart from using the everyday language of ‘common sense.’ These attitudes have their inverse also; many revolutionaries whom I have known railed against listening to classical music as a bourgeois taste, a capitulation to mainstream opinion, as though their grunge was a protest.

I’ve never felt akin to either of these attitudes, being an ardent lover of classical (or properly ‘western art’) music, apart from baroque which is just so tedious, and also being something of an intellectual – at least by the standards of those people I’ve debated with on Labour Members’ Net. Yet I’ve always wondered whether or not these attitudes are developed as a result of the culturally lacking proletariat from which these elements emerge.

That might seem snobby, to imply that as a general rule the working class in this country lack culture, but then no one who teaches outside of grammar or private schools can argue that any significant proportion of our children or their parents seem like well-educated sorts. Perhaps that’s an indictment of the examination-focused education system but even were our system different, in day-to-day life people aren’t encouraged to study or talk about abstract knowledge or theories of art or music.

Nothing says that in enjoying this sort of thing, we should exclude simpler forms of art such as the absolutely hilarious LOLCat Bible or that relating to each other on the level of daily experience would become obsolete. Yet the purpose, in my view, of a communistic society would be to broaden the experience of the masses and lift the level of common knowledge above the merely technical, which we need to get by, towards the vistas of philosophy achieved only by a minority under hitherto existing forms of society.

In Soviet Russia, the opposition to the broadening of education in what could be considered the dominant forms of bourgeois culture was known as Proletkult, short for Proletarian Culture. One of Trotsky’s major essays, Literature and Revolution, was aimed against that strand of thought – and for all the snobbery one might wish to perceive in a diagnosis that suggests the working class could be better educated, I’m forever encouraged by the lofty goal expressed by Trotsky of ‘levelling up’ the working class.

We might find some relevance in that in a country where we are constantly complaining about the dumbing down of the BBC, the collapse of education standards and any number of other ways we have of suggesting that we’re not achieving anything like that powerful, earth-moving vision of a future which men had ninety years ago. Miners’ reading groups might be gone, the political education officer in CLPs might get little traction but it is our duty for fight for the education of the working class, not merely to pass the buck to private institutions.

About these ads
  1. July 26, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    It’s all very good of Trotsky, from him ‘well to do’ background and social circles to want to ‘level’ people ‘up’.

    “at least by the standards of those people I’ve debated with on Labour Members’ Net. Yet I’ve always wondered whether or not these attitudes are developed as a result of the culturally lacking proletariat from which these elements emerge.

    That might seem snobby, to imply that as a general rule the working class in this country lack culture, but then no one who teaches outside of grammar or private schools can argue that any significant proportion of our children or their parents seem like well-educated sorts.”

    Perhaps it is your cultural palette which is unsophisticated and inferior.

    I could list you a million punk bands, the musical and lyrical nuances, differing outlooks of each.

    Do not be tempted to make your (or indeed Mr. Bronstein’s) subjective cultural preferences a binary superior.

    There’s a lot more chance of your science being wrong than there is in base economics.

    Further, perhaps we should see cultural value in terms of use? In which case I’m quite happy with football, a cheeseburger and my old Pogues albums.

    Forward blinkered workerism! :op

  2. July 26, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Your attitude is disingenuous at best Tom; whilst I don’t generalize the subjective value I attach to classical music, nor can one pretend that a meaningful understanding of something as basic as the role of the state in society be achieved without appraising the works of Rousseau, Locke or indeed Lenin.

    Secondly, how can one have a genuine and deep appreciation of any sort of music without understanding where it comes from and what forms it takes? Indeed the whole point of communism is that not just trained musicians will appreciate this and be able to use it to create great works, limited, at the moment to a minority.

    I admire the DIY ethic of punk and the uncompromising lyrics of the songs as much as the next person – but the anti-intellectualism contained within much of the so called punk ethos, lent expression by various “punk” ideologies is exactly the sort of barbarism I have a big problem with. It is the musical equivalent of those people who want to debate any subject but eschew theory.

    It is also ineffably Anglo-American in many respects.

    As for your inverted ‘man-of-the-people’ snobbery, Tom, I would point out that with your bastardisation of Gramscian theory, you’re not one to talk about well-to-do backgrounds. Also, it was hardly a well to do background if one abandons one’s home and ends up in a Siberian labour camp on several occasions.

    Finally I don’t understand what you mean with that comment about ‘my’ science and ‘base economics’ – I don’t see the opposition you evidently are suggesting.

  3. July 28, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    “nor can one pretend that a meaningful understanding of something as basic as the role of the state in society be achieved without appraising the works of Rousseau, Locke or indeed Lenin.”

    Well, quite. I’m lucky enough to have a basic reading in all three (more basic, with regard to Lenin).

    And I like punk music.

    “Secondly, how can one have a genuine and deep appreciation of any sort of music without understanding where it comes from and what forms it takes? Indeed the whole point of communism is that not just trained musicians will appreciate this and be able to use it to create great works, limited, at the moment to a minority.”

    Sure, good point.

    “I admire the DIY ethic of punk and the uncompromising lyrics of the songs as much as the next person – but the anti-intellectualism contained within much of the so called punk ethos, lent expression by various “punk” ideologies is exactly the sort of barbarism I have a big problem with.”

    Well, I too, but luckily it has little impact, which is the real beauty of it. It’s a bit like playing a violent computer game. It contains things which which one disagrees but may nonetheless find aesthetically pleasing. Despite their anarchism, you won’t find much on a Crass or Dead Kennedys album that Marxists will find difficult to agree with. But that said, the sound of the music sums up more accurately what I feel like as a human being than the lyrics themselves.

    Besides, though I appreciate your extraneous approach to the topic of punk, it must be said that this stripped down, largely working class-originated genre often has great intellectual weight. At the start it was built alongside the evolution of situationism and the material decline of the 70s. In later years you have bands like Bad Religion who write wonderfully complex lyrics (albeit to simple melodies) about religion and the human condition in general. I’d advise a read of them, even if you’re not into the sound!

    “As for your inverted ‘man-of-the-people’ snobbery,”

    Whoah! I’m not having a go at classical music. I’m having a go at people who enjoy their classical music alongside derision of other genres. Harm not, and be free! I’m also having a go at the lack of access to the genre which has produced an audience which I find distinctly uncomfortable; sitting with the enemy, as it were. I felt the same when I last visited a friend at Oxford Uni. A night out there can be like pygmalion for me. Intensely uncomfortable and often patronising.

    In terms of ‘well to do’, sure, I enjoy a good Gramscian bastardisation. But I’m not sure that’s a result of my class background. Most kids of my class background had no support from parents, and we all went to crumbling schools. I went to a school where young kids dealt hard drugs and answering questions got you a punch. So I learned to punch.

    “Finally I don’t understand what you mean with that comment about ‘my’ science and ‘base economics’ – I don’t see the opposition you evidently are suggesting.”

    I was saying that musical preferences aren’t things with clearly deductible superior and inferior ends (much as I might claim otherwise when conversing with some poor misguided souls!).

    With no numbers the distance of your opinion from an objective truth or ranking is always going to be a long one, therefore conclusions based upon this are tenuous. I think yours are tenuous and therefore unintentionally ideological. But that is of course a pop in the dark based only upon what is written here, and is not meant as any kind of insult.

    My point is essentially that you are being illogically dismissive of forms other than that you yourself prefer.

    As I have avoided the belittling of classical music, about which I admittedly know little, I don’t deem myself to have made the same mistake. Do you?

  4. July 28, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    I am not being as dismissive as you think I am – and if I gave that impression then of course I apologize. I know a bit of punk – having grown up with people for whom Jello Biafra and his Kennedies were all the rage. And no doubt they are easily definable as culture, i.e. that lasting thing of artistic merit (howsoever one defines it) which we can pass on to a next generation.

    However I’m saying that if that is the only culture which one possesses, then one is culturally uneducated – and often this is in fact the case. To make explicit just how much I’m not devaluing the status of such music, I think any classically trained musicians who eschews supposedly lesser forms of music is just as culturally deficient.

    But this deficiency is not, as I see it, ever going to be addressed because culture is the pastime of a minority – whether it is a Brahm’s piano concerto or the latest riff from garage punk.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers

%d bloggers like this: