Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Farce of Proletarian Culture and the New Messiahs of Renaissance and Enlightenment

-Rajesh Tyagi/ 9.2.2017

Old crap often returns to haunt again and again in the dark times of defeat and reversals!  

We are living in such unfortunate times. As all revolutionary gains are destroyed, the reaction pervades and the debris from the trash of history is reiterated and scattered everywhere.

Once again, we find new pastors preaching the working class to undergo a protracted cultural training, and pass through the rigor of a period of proletarian renaissance and enlightenment, before a political revolution. In practice, this means substitution of the political revolution by a cultural crusade for infinity.

In this ‘call to action’ we find the old rut of ‘proletarian culture’, condemned to junk of history long before by the October Revolution, once again at work.

The call, however draws its instant spur from the closest cradle in history- Mao’s ‘great proletarian cultural revolution’.

It was Mao, who recycled the old rubbish of ‘proletarian cultural revolution’ forging a ferocious and bloody campaign in China in 1966, to cover-up his petty maneuvers to re-capture the power inside the bureaucratic apparatus in Peking.

Amidst the economic crash and political chaos that prevailed by 1966, after failure of the foolish adventures under Mao, first during collectivization campaigns (1949-58) and then under the Great Leap Forward (1958-62), Maoists exhorted for ‘proletarian cultural revolution’ in 1966. With the aid of army under the then defence minister, Lin-Biao, Maoists were able to muster and arm the youth brigades (Red-Guards) to wipe out the rivals and physically liquidate all opposition, inside and outside the state and retake to the power.

This purely bureaucratic ploy, couched under ‘proletarian cultural revolution’, took its toll at millions. In addition, immense destruction of rich cultural heritage of China was carried out and China was thrown back for decades.

With all contempt that they really deserved, Lenin had long back headed off the calls for Proletarian Cultural Movement (Proletkult) in Russia.

‘Proletkult’ was the banner of the petty-bourgeoisie that had its roots in the defeat of 1905 revolt in Tsarist Russia. It was led and directed by the degenerated elements like Bogdanov and patronized inside the state and the Party by the right wingers like Nikolai Bukharin.   

As pessimism set in after the failed uprising of 1905, a whole stream of petty-bourgeois currents erupted inside the ranks of the social democratic movement, infecting Bolsheviks as well.

A philosophical current, preceding the later ‘Proletkult’, emerged within Bolshevik ranks of Russian Social-Democracy, opposing and accusing Lenin of imposing leadership of intelligentsia upon the Party. Since gone down in the history as ‘Bolshevik Left’, the current led by Alexander Bogdanov, Anatoly Lunacharsky and Maxim Gorky, proposed to use the art and culture as a means to inspire political action through a protracted cultural revolution among the proletariat to prepare it for political revolution.

Perplexed by the defeat of 1905, Lunacharsky and Gorky proposed to found a "human religion" around the idea of socialism, motivating individuals to serve a greater good outside of their own narrow self-interests.

Bogdanov, Lunacharsky's brother-in-law, was also working along similar lines simultaneously. In 1904, Bogdanov had published a weighty philosophical work called ‘Empiriomonism’ which attempted to reconcile Marxism with the ideas of non-Marxist thinkers Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius into a socialist cult. In fact, Avenarius was Lunacharsky’s teacher in Zurich and it was Lunacharsky who introduced Bogdanov to ideas of Avenarius.

Bogdanov believed that the socialist society of the future would require forging a fundamentally new perspective on the role of scienceethics, and art with respect to the individual and the state.

Together these ideas of ‘Bolshevik Lefts’, emerging out of the ebb of the revolution after 1905 defeat and the pessimism that set in its aftermath, came to be known as ‘God Building’.

Using the environment of ebb and pessimism, the God Builders, led by Bogdanov posed direct challenge to the leadership of Lenin.

Lenin was grossly critical of this mysticism and mocked at the inventors of new religion and God.

Lenin strongly opposed the ‘God Builders. Lenin argued that capitalism itself has laid down all necessary foundations for a political revolution by the Proletariat and there was no need for any special cultural adventure for it.  

Lenin and his followers, saw in Proletkult a hotbed for bourgeois intellectualism and liberalism.

To Lenin, the ‘Bolshevik Lefts’ and their movement presented a vile threat to the ideology of Marxism. Lenin looked at the "god-building" movement and its leaders as purveyors of a reborn philosophical idealism that stood in diametrical opposition to the fundamental materialist foundations of Marxism.

In 1908, Lenin took the God Builders to task, combing through more than 200 books, to pen down a thick polemical work-  ‘Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy’.

Lenin accused Bogdanov and his fellow comrades of smuggling Machist idealism into the revolutionary movement.

With Publication of the book, Lenin emerged victorious inside the ranks of Bolsheviks, defeating the God builders. In Paris conference, held in June 1909, Bogdanov was expelled from the Bolshevik faction.

The relations between the two factions however remained tense.

During his six years political exile in Europe, Bogdanov relinquished all revolutionary activities in 1912. He returned to Russia in 1914 to be drafted into the army by the Tsarist regime.

On the eve of WWI, Lunacharsky also broke with Lenin and the Party to join as correspondent of newspapers in France and Italy, later.

Lunacharsky rejoined the Party in August 1917, and was appointed Commissar of Education after October revolution. Bogdanov,  remained hostile to Lenin, never rejoined the Party and founded ‘Proletkult’, the Proletarian Cultural Movement, after his return from the front.

Meanwhile, between February and October 1917, attempts were made by the Soviets to organize and centralize the educational and cultural organisations all over Russia. This campaign lasted upto two weeks before the October Revolution.

Immediately after October revolution, numerous educational, cultural clubs and societies sprung up and the ‘Proletkult’ also spread its wings.

With patronage of Lunacharsky and Bukharin, Proletkult received a budget of 9.2 million gold rubles for the first half of 1918, nearly one third of the entire budget for adult education.

Over the time the Proletkult developed huge apparatus with state funds, that included club houses, theatres, public halls, studios etc. and claimed complete autonomy from the state.

Proletkult was founded upon a misconceived notion entertained by the right-wing Marxist theoreticians that the new proletarian ruling class would develop its own distinct class culture to supplant the former culture of the old ruling order. Proletkult was viewed by them as a primary vehicle for the development of this new "proletarian culture".

In a conference of "proletarian writers" held in Petrograd in the fall of 1919, Grigory Zinoviev attacked the Proletkult and demanded its disbanding.

Lenin was already critical to the idea of creation of a wholly new proletarian culture and its embodiment, the Proletkult. At a public speech in May 1919 Lenin declared any notions of so-called ‘proletarian culture’ to be ‘fantasies’, which he opposed with ruthless hostility.

Lenin had profound disagreement with the very idea of Proletkult. He viewed it, in historian Sheila Fitzpatrick's words, as "an organization where futurists, careerists, idealists, and other undesirable bourgeois artists and intellectuals addled the minds of workers who needed basic education and culture...". 

While Lenin looked at Proletkult as utopian and wasteful, the cult’s adherents, led by Bogdanov and Lunacharsky, in 2nd world Congress of the Comintern, established a Cultural International in August 1920, with Lunacharsky at its head.

Proletkult movement had sprung up during the civil war period when the top leaders and best elements were engaged in war.

At the end of the War as CC of the Communist Party started to take interest in the question of Proletkult, Lenin directed Pokrovsky to present a report on the budget and structure of Proletkult. Lenin opposed the whimsical aesthetic endeavor that burdened the state treasury for no good at all. Lenin, instead proposed to utilize the funds for imparting basic education to illiterate mass.

Lenin finally called for disbanding of Proletkult and its amalgamation into the Commissariat of Education.

The National Congress of the Proletkult in October 5-12, 1920, convened under Lunacharsky, was forced to declare its termination. Lenin in his notes dated October 9, 1920, noted about proletarian culture:
1. Not special ideas, but Marxism.

2. Not the invention of a new proletarian culture, but the development of the best models, traditions and results of the existing culture, from the point of view of the Marxist world outlook and the conditions of life and struggle of the proletariat in the period of its dictatorship.

On December 1, 1920, the CC under Lenin, published a decree with scathing critique of the Proletkult.

Leon Trotsky opposed the idea of Proletkult from the very beginning. Answering the question, ‘Can there be a Proletarian Culture?’, Trotsky replies in negative.

Underscoring the farcical nature of the appeal to ‘Proletarian Culture’ Trotsky said that the Proletariat unlike its predecessor classes in history, neither possess any material means nor the necessary time to raise a culture of its own, either before or after the revolution. It would have to spend all energy first in capturing the power, then in defending it and destroying the old world around. By the time it would emerge victorious in this battle, it would start dissolving into a socialist community, losing its very class existence.   

Trotsky wrote, “The formless talk about proletarian culture, in antithesis to bourgeois culture, feeds on the extremely uncritical identification of the historic destinies of the proletariat with those of the bourgeoisie. A shallow and purely liberal method of making analogies of historic forms has nothing in common with Marxism. There is no real analogy between the historic development of the bourgeoisie and of the working class”.

He further claimed, “….as the new regime will be more and more protected from political and military surprises and as the conditions for cultural creation will become more favourable, the proletariat will be more and more dissolved into a socialist community and will free itself from its class characteristics and thus cease to be a proletariat. In other words, there can be no question of the creation of a new culture, that is, of construction on a large historic scale during the period of dictatorship. The cultural reconstruction, which will begin when the need of the iron clutch of a dictatorship unparalleled in history will have disappeared, will not have a class character. This seems to lead to the conclusion that there is no proletarian culture and that there never will be any and in fact there is no reason to regret this. The proletariat acquires power for the purpose of doing away forever with class culture and to make way for human culture. We frequently seem to forget this”.

While opposing the idea of a proletarian culture, both Lenin and Trotsky agree that a cultural revolution must follow the political one. Both agree that this cultural revolution has to base itself not on the ashes of the cultures of bygone era, but on the very foundations of this human past.

From a cultural revolution, Lenin and Trotsky deduce a struggle for more rapid and thoroughgoing movement for general upliftment of the mass of people from dungeons of illiteracy and ignorance, instead of fantasies and opulence.

Rebuking those who argued that before setting out for struggle for socialism, the Proletariat must undergo a cultural revolution to acquire socialist culture, Lenin wrote in 'Our Revolution', in 1923: "If a definite level of culture is required for the building of socialism (although nobody can say just what that definite ‘level of culture’ is, for it differs in every Western European country), why cannot we begin by first achieving the prerequisites for that definite level of culture in a revolutionary way, and then, with the aid of the workers’ and peasants’ government and Soviet system, proceed to overtake the other nations?" 

The claim of 21st century Maoists that a proletarian cultural movement, renaissance or enlightenment, would precede the political revolution, is false to the core and a mockery of the whole revolutionary history and experience. If under conditions of modern capitalism, a cultural renaissance can be carried out among the proletariat, there hardly would remain any scope or need for a political revolution. 

The reactionaries, in fact, are proposing to drag the history back to the dawn of bourgeois era and to throw back the revolutionary movement by centuries.   

Needless to say that the perspective of Lenin and Trotsky on culture and cultural revolution, is in direct and stark contrast to the spurious ‘proletarian cultural revolution’ advocated by Mao during 1966-76 and more to that of his followers in 21st century who propose to carry out a ‘proletarian cultural revolution’, a cultural renaissance or enlightenment in place of or before a political one, reinvigorating the old Bogdanov from the dustbin of history.

These new preachers of old gospel of 'proletarian culture' are not strangers to us. They are the renegades who had misinterpreted 'the chinese path' yesterday to disorient the revolutionary struggles from Telangana to Naxalbari, before completely abandoning them. They are the backstabbers of October revolution. They are the hangmen of Stalin and Mao, who, in the last century, have strangled the world socialist movement through smothering the living revolutions in all countries one after the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment