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Issue #1945      14th December, 2020

Art and the People

This article originally appeared in Tribune August, 1943.

In all epochs of history, art drew largely for its material on the life of the people. Capitalism provides a striking exception with its “bourgeois art.”

Science, the fine arts, literature, and music are beyond the reach of the people: the fruits of culture are available only to the select few – the “elite.”

Apart from current popular art (which as in all former class societies co-exists with the art of the leisured class), bourgeois painting and literature today no longer correspond with the movement of progressive mankind for sanity and justice in social life.

“Bourgeois art” is concerned almost entirely with form, with technique; and some of its achievements in this sphere are quite valuable.

But restating and repainting the old ideas in new ways, no matter how brilliant and intriguing, cannot disguise its essential remoteness from the life of the masses.

“Bourgeois art” must not be confused with the great art works produced in the epoch of bourgeois rule.

The truly great art of Balzac, Beethoven, Schiller, Tolstoi, etc., were “not of an age, but for all time.”

The productions of these masters reflect what mankind feels, needs and aspires to; they are the spiritual treasures of the human race which the Socialist future will cherish as we do.

ART IN CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM

The separation of art and labour in capitalist society is expressed in the studied falsification of social conditions and problems in literature, the films, in drama and painting; in “escapist” art and in all sorts of oddities and adventures in form and technique (cubism, symbolism, etc.).

Under Socialism, art and labour achieve their re-union.

“Art belongs to the people,” said Lenin. “Art must strike its roots deep down to the very core of the working people. It must be understood by the masses and loved by them.”

In capitalism the divorce of art from life – indeed, the violent conflict at times – reflects itself in the subjectivism of many an artist, and which, traditionally at any rate, extends to eccentricities of personal behaviour.

This is not accidental. The real artist is a person of acute perception and fine sensibilities. The themes he wants to treat are beauty, justice, heroism and love. But in the world in which he seeks his inspiration he sees, instead of beauty, much that is drab and ugly; the capacity for heroic endeavour and sacrifice is stultified in a social order where money and profits govern everything.

Similarly with the themes of love, patriotism and justice – capitalism mutilates life with its injustices and its hurts to human dignity.

PAID WAGE LABOURERS

The artist will not (not yet!) have read the “Communist Manifesto,” but in the course of his creative activity be becomes poignantly aware of what Marx wrote:

“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.”

In Soviet Russia the artist finds his artistic life among the people; in Socialist production he receives his inspiration for creativity, his spiritual sanctions, and in the personal sense, is accorded the people's affection and esteem. Art and labour are one; the artist and society compose a unity.

Next article – Decadent art is fascist weapon

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