The symphony of revolution
One 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.