In communism… will art, craftsmanship, traditional productions disappear?

21 March, 2021

craftmanship and art in communism

In communism the capacities of social production would multiply. Communist society would satisfy everyone’s needs and the economy would no longer be based on capital accumulation, but rather on a common metabolism with Nature. But what happens then with Art, craftsmanship or traditional forms of production that do not allow massification? Won’t alienation return through the back door by separating us from our capacity to directly transform and create things on a small scale?

In this article…

The question: what happens in communism with non-mass forms of production such as art, crafts or traditional productions?

In communism…. to satisfy the needs of each and everyone the physical productivity of labor is further developed. Wouldn’t it follow then that all traditional forms of production, craftsmanship, art, etc. would disappear because of their unproductivity? Won’t alienation return through the back door in communist society by separating mass social production from direct and personal labor, from the discovery of the transformative capacities of each and everyone?

Communist morality, labor productivity and the petty bourgeoisie’s love for the artificial production of scarcity

Cardboard craftsmanship: if it exists in communism, nobody will earn a living from it.
Cardboard craftsmanship: if it exists in communism, nobody will earn a living from it.

We communists are repulsed by the artificial creation of scarcity to which capitalism, in its crisis of civilization, resorts more and more frequently, denying human development and needs just as routinely as it does unnecessarily.

However, imbued with the logic of the system, the creative, artistic petty-bourgeoisie constantly seeks ways to create scarcity in order to participate in speculation. The most recent example: the ecstasy of the digital artists upon discovering that creations that can be replicated indefinitely at no cost and can be made unique through the use of cryptography.. Result: a small speculative boom that everyone applauds themselves for.

In other occasions they don’t hesitate to shamelessly present it as a social action. This is the case of the the cartonera publishing movement in which ultra-precarious cartoneros from different parts of South America copied and hand-bound books by local authors.

What need is there to copy anything by hand beyond the sadistic pleasure of the bohemian petty-bourgeoisie to participate in the exploitation, even symbolically, of the most precarious and impoverished labor force? What need is there to produce unique and scarce copies? Technology today, already, allows us to produce infinite copies of any book without expending much labor time at all to each new copy distributed.

Far from resembling anything like what present tendencies suggest a communist society will be like, the approach of the creative petty bourgeoisie to Art and craft production delights in the scarcity, misery and the exploitation of human labor. How can we then not be repulsed by it? If there is one thing we can know for certain about the future, it is that such things and such morals will not exist in communism.

Abundance and mass production in the communist society

The false myth of a "tragedy of the commons" that never existed. And in communism even less so.
The false myth of a “tragedy of the commons” that never existed. And in communism even less so.

This view of art and craft reflect a broader vision. Malthusians and ecologists, in their narrow and reactionary vision, associate abundance with large concentrated factories and environmental destruction. They propose a return to artisanal forms of production, even in food, to have us stop eating meat and to accept that the world is limited and that there are already too many of us humans in it.

That is, more or less the basic reactionary message: there is no other possible society than capitalism, we must accept sacrifices and deprivations in order to preserve its existence instead of demanding needs that, however human they may be, are actually destructive and most importantly, we workers are too many and we demand too much… the vision of the world of the most asphyxiated and reactionary capitalist.

We have already seen in previous installments of this series that none of this is true nor is it inscribed in the historical tendencies before us. Agricultural production in communism would be ecological, however, it will be automated and not artisanal. In communist society the production capacities will be massive, but they will be distributed in the territory according to human needs, the optimal scales to satisfy them -not to accumulate capital- and the needs of that common metabolism with the environment in which social production is transformed.

Art and craft in communism

Craftmanship and Art from the 1920s, during the Russian Revolution and civil war
Craftmanship and Art from the 1920s, during the Russian Revolution and civil war

On the other hand, the tendencies we see today where capitalism enters into direct contradiction with possible abundance do not say a word about the disappearance of Art, craftsmanship or traditional production. What changes is that… they are decommodified, nobody depends on them for their basic provision and they no longer have to do with accumulation. Where Art has disappeared is in capitalism..

To continue with the example of books: Today electronic formats make it possible to reproduce books with an extra cost per distributed unit that is practically nil. Going from distributing 1,000 copies to 100,000 depends only on how many people download the digital file. It is the closest thing to a glimpse of abundance that we can find in today’s capitalist society. That’s why it produces so many contradictions and all that monstrous legislation on intellectual property, a true deformed and grotesque caricature of the very legal institutions characteristic of capitalist property… when it was historically progressive.

What happens then with the physical object and its elaboration? Thousands of people become interested in it and learn the craft. To bind and physically produce a book is no longer a necessary means to produce content. The physical object and its production take on a new meaning: they are an end in themselves. Those who want to go beyond the satisfaction of their need to read, can enjoy editing it, making it beautiful, and binding it by hand…

It is a step beyond what communist morality points to. If this points towards a world in which people cease to be means (for accumulation) and become ends in themselves and for each other, the minimal experiences of abundance that capitalism borders on, allow us to see that in communist society all human activity would become an end in itself.

This is another way of approaching and understanding the radical transformation of human nature that socialization and the abolition of wage labor will produce and with them the end of the division of labor in communist society. This is because the end of the division of labor is not a mere organizational fact, it transforms the whole vital experience of people in communism, liberating their capacities and socializing them.

The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which is bound up with this, is a consequence of division of labor…In any case, with a communist organization of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness, which arises entirely from division of labor, and also the subordination of the individual to some definite art, making him exclusively a painter, sculptor, etc.; the very name amply expresses the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on division of labor.

In a communist society there are no painters but only people who engage in painting among other activities.

Marx and Engels. German Ideology, 1846

Arts and crafts are freed from being a means of life, they disappear as a specialized activity and monopoly of a few and merge into the social knowledge and consciousness of the species. In other words: in communism all human activity tends to become Art..

And the poets, the artists, the craftsmen… will they simply disappear?

Benjamin Peret
Benjamin Peret

Yes, in communism they will disappear because, as in everything else, socialization will put an end to monopolies of knowledge and position. The production of artistic works and meaningful objects will be socialized just as dangerous or unpleasant jobs will be socialized. Of course, in the way, in the process of transition to communist society the poet, the true artist, the one to whom capitalism today is incapable of giving a place, has much to contribute.

Today he can only be the cursed one. This curse that today’s society throws at him points to his revolutionary condition; but he will emerge from the reserve he was forced into and assume the leadership of society when, completely transformed, he comes to recognize the common human origin of poetry and science, and the poet, together with the active and passive collaboration of all, will create the exultant and marvelous myths that will set the whole world upon an assault on the unknown

Peret tiene la palabra. Benjamin Peret, 1943