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Cultural promotion and the Internationals

2020-08-12 | History

Cultural associations, popular universities, workers' libraries... From the beginning of the movement for workers' emancipation, cultural diffusion played a central role in the construction of a class fabric. The workers' societies first and the People's Houses later, made cultural diffusion a driving force of their work: from pure and simple literacy to the creation of schools, passing through an infinity of educational activities, conferences, reading groups and libraries. However, at least two issues emerge irremediably.

The object of this article was chosen by the readers of our news channel in Telegram (@communia).


rising capitalism|capitalism was developing

The view on art

"Indigenous" activists who, as the poster shows, do not use the local New Mexico dialect, vandalize a statue of the region's conquistador.

During these months, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and Great Britain gave free rein to the iconoclasm of the Anglo-Saxon petty bourgeoisie. Suddenly Columbus, the leaders of American independence or the forerunners of early British capitalism were condemned in image. Of course it was a moral condemnation. It's impossible to make an artistic judgment that isn't so. The question is what morality it served.

The most obvious example is the leftist morality we all know.

But looking at it from the future produces a very different result. The bloody conquests that made the world market possible, from America to India, however atrocious and violent their means, appear - seen from the communist perspective - as historically necessary moments in the construction of the conditions that make a liberated human society possible for the first time, the expansionism of the young and voracious American capitalism on the prairies occupied by the indigenous nations, the Russian Alaska and half of Mexico were necessary milestones of the fantastic development of the productive capacities that is the great legacy of capitalism ‎...‎.

The communists, these party spoilers, aspire to a reunified humanity and see in the dissolution of the old pre-capitalist identities into the "uprooted" proletariat, a historic step forward. While capitalism helped humanity to come closer to forming a universal economic metabolism and a universal class, what was relevant for the future was not the disappearance of the artisan, the indigenous person or the independent peasant... but rather that they became - or were placed in the position of becoming - proletarians. For the communist, all these excesses and conquests are but moments of the creation of the proletariat as a universal class by rising capitalism. ‎...‎ Communist morality gives light to what surrounds us, gives meaning and allows us to look at the history of our species with materialistic pride, free from all sentimentalism. A history which, broadly speaking, is nothing but the contradictory, conflicting and terrible, often bloody, account of the progress of the species towards its liberation, towards its reunification in a single human community not fractured by class divisions or enslaved by scarcity.

"What is communist morality?"

mode of production

1920s poster in the middle of the civil war by Kupreyanov supervised by Lenin: "Citizens, preserve the works of art"

Gothic churches were not built suddenly, under the impulse of a religious inspiration. The construction of the Cologne cathedral, its architecture and its sculpture, summarize all the architectural experience of Humanity since the time of the cavemen, and all the elements of this experience are combined in a new style that expresses the culture of its time, that is, in short, the social structure and the technique of the moment.

In a very striking way, Trotsky, who discusses in that text with those who advocate a 'proletarian culture', reminds them that:

All our current economic and cultural activity is nothing but a reorganization of our team between two battles and two campaigns. The decisive battles are still before us and there are still others on the horizon. The days we are living are not yet those of a new culture, they are at the most, at the threshold of that era. We must first officially take possession of the most important elements of the old culture, so that they can at least serve as a basis on which we can move towards the new culture. This becomes very clear if the problem is approached, as it should be, on an international scale.

"Proletarian Culture and Proletarian Art", LD Trotsky, 1923

First two ideas

Library of the People's House. Madrid.

So we have two first points of support to understand the importance that internationalists gave to cultural dissemination.

communism|the future we are fighting for

historical materialism

soviet|their own state forms

But... what is the point?

«Books, please, about all fields of knowledge», Rodchenko 1924

socialism| the historical period of transition in which capitalist relations would be globally dismantled

proletariat|universal class


The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in unique individuals and the consequent suppression of these talents in the great majority is a consequence of the division of labor (...) in any case, in a communist organization of society the inclusion of the artist in the local and national limitation, which responds purely and solely to the division of labor, and the inclusion of the individual in this particular art disappears, so that there are only painters, sculptors, etc disappears. And already the name itself expresses quite eloquently the limitation of his professional development and his subordination to the division of labor. In a communist society, there will be no painters, but at most men who, among other things, are also engaged in painting.

Marx and Engels. The German Ideology, 1846

communist morality|moral

In a future article we will answer the second question with which we opened this article: Why and on what terms did the past Internationals reject state schools?