06 June 2010

Victor Serge: Literature and Revolution

Marxists have always had a problem with theorising Art. Radical proposals for changing the State and replacing the power of one class with that of another does not sit easily with a taste for Beethoven, Michaelangelo, and Marcel Proust. And political sympathy for an oppressed class (the proletariat) has often resulted in wishing its artistic achievements into being. When a revolution (of sorts) did take place in St Petersburg in 1917, expectations were high that a different art would be formed in the new type of society. And at first it did start to happen. The graphic art of Rodchenko and El Lissitzsky, the architecture of Tatlin, and the poetry of Mayakovsky produced a native form of modernism whose influence is still alive today, almost 100 years later.

But none of these artists were working class, and before long Party apparatchiks were calling for the suppression of their work and demanding art that followed the Party line. Since the party had a monopoly of the means of production and even the supply of paper, they got what they called for. The result was worthless propaganda of the 'boy meets tractor' variety.

Victor Serge was able to avoid these ideological traps more than his contemporaries (and his predecessors) for two good reasons. ... more >>

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