My aim for this blog is not necessarily to make a fresh theoretical contribution (although I won’t rule it out). My purpose is to pull together the diverse strands of Marxist thought in general to explore its implications for art in particular — thus building a comprehensive theory.
This should be a useful resource for readers who want to know more but have neither the time nor the means to negotiate the huge body of literature available, or who seek a starting point from which to explore further. After all, there is no single work to which people can be directed. This blog cannot of course study everything, and won’t attempt a full historical overview either of art or of Marxism.
The danger of compression can be over-simplification: art, like any other aspect of human society, is full of contradictions and subject to many different forces. I hope to avoid this danger while remaining comprehensible to readers who have not studied Marxist theory. Some readers won’t fully understand all the terms that are used, but in one post or another their meaning will be explained.
In traditional Marxist cultural analysis, the emphasis has overwhelmingly been on literature — I will try to overcome this limitation by considering all forms of art. Another of my aims is to try and clarify some of the persistent misconceptions in Marxist art theory, many of which — the theory of ‘decadent art’, the imposition of ‘socialist realism’, etc — have little or no basis in Marx’s work.
Marxist theory is not a unified whole. There are differing perspectives and outright disagreements, just as there are within bourgeois theory, and debate is a constructive thing. Inevitably I will be selective. I seek to create a consistent argument based upon the best Marxist thought, while commenting upon disagreements. Where I quote a writer, it is because that particular passage is useful — it does not necessarily mean I endorse everything else the writer said, even in the same work, and occasionally I use quotes to illustrate faults rather than merits. One may for example reasonably agree with Lukács in some matters while objecting to his critique of modernism. It is of course possible to interpret some of Marx’s ideas in different ways, but it would be misleading to claim that there are as many Marxes as readers: he is far more consistent than that. My hope is that the great majority of Marxists will find little to object to here. The blog is non-sectarian: I do not write as the representative of any organisation and will criticise specific groups or individuals only if and when it is necessary in order to clarify artistic questions.
Italics used in quotes are in the original unless otherwise stated. I use the Common Era designation for dates, preferring ‘BCE’ and ‘CE’ over the traditional ‘BC’ and ‘AD’, as this is more sensitive to non-Christians and academically neutral. Millions of people of all faiths use the Gregorian calendar out of convenience and the Common Era notation is more broadly acceptable. Of course the dates are still based upon the calendar’s Christian origins, and the system’s pre-eminence derives from the West’s imperialist history, but no realistic alternative is on offer.
Just as reality and theory are not static, neither is this blog. I welcome contributions from readers that help to advance its quality and accuracy, and will amend or expand posts where necessary. My aim is simply to achieve the highest theoretical standard.
Please note that although I avoid gender bias in my own language, I can’t undo it in the words of people I have quoted, or in translations made of them. The practise of using ‘man’ as a synonym for ‘human being’ is the result of thousands of years of sexism, and even among progressives it is not yet dead.
A final note on this blog’s epigraph, “to tell the truth is revolutionary” (the relevance of which will become clearer as we go on). This quote is regularly misattributed to Gramsci. The first number in 1921 of the daily edition of L’Ordine Nuovo, a socialist journal founded in 1919 and edited by Gramsci when it became a daily, had this motto by Lassalle on the front page. Gramsci had however already written something very similar: “To tell the truth, to arrive together at the truth, is a communist and revolutionary act” (from the article ‘Workers’ Democracy’, in L’Ordine Nuovo, 21 June 1919).
Update 30-10-10: I have altered the site’s motto to the present one, ‘Humanity makes itself’, as I think it better captures my general theoretical position.