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Lenin's gOwn Wordsh(Part One: On Art and Culture)

2. On Literature

Is gFree Literatureh Possible?

gWe must say to you bourgeois individualists that your talk about absolute freedom is sheer hypocrisy. There can be no real and effective efreedomf in a society based on the power of money, in a society in which the masses of working people live in poverty and the handful of rich live like parasites. Are you free in relation to your bourgeois publisher, Mr. Writer, in relation to your bourgeois public, which demands that you provide it with pornography in frames and paintings, and prostitution as a esupplementf to esacredf scenic art? The absolute freedom is a bourgeois or anarchist phrase (since, as a world outlook, anarchism is bourgeois philosophy turned inside out). One cannot live in society and be free from society. The freedom of the bourgeois writer, artist or actress is simply masked (or hypocritically masked) dependence on the money-bag, on corruption, on prostitution.h (gParty Organization and Party Literatureh Collected Works vol. 10, pp. 48)

For Lenin, gfree literatureh can only be that literature which is connected to the liberation struggles of the proletarian masses and fights for their victory; in other words, that literature that is created through the gpermanent interactionh between scientific socialism and the present struggle of the working class. Here Lenin is not referring to gliteratureh in the narrow sense of the word, but in terms of a wide range of written activity in general. For Lenin, the often referred to gabsolute freedomh of literature is an empty phrase and sheer hypocrisy, since such gfreedomh can not be said to exist in a society ruled by the power of money.

The choice is between a literature connected to the ruling class that serves gsome satiated heroine, the bored eupper ten thousandf suffering from fatty degeneration,h or a literature for the sake of the working class struggling for a future classless society. Here it is not a question of the abstract gessence-theoryh of literature. This is not the question of gwhat is literature?h that intellectuals like to bandy about. Lenin is merely emphasizing the fact that in class society literature is necessarily connected to a particular class whose interests it gserves.h Since literature that gservesh the ruling class cannot be free, the only gfree literatureh possible is that which is gopenly connected to the proletariat.h

For Lenin, any idea of the absolute autonomy of literature, art for artfs sake, or the absolute freedom of writers, is simply an anarchistic bourgeois concept and reactionary rhetoric. The following passage deals with this issue.

What is gFree Publicationh?

gWe want to establish, and we shall establish, a free press, free not simply from the police, but also from capital, from careerism, and what is more, free from bourgeois-anarchist individualism.h (gParty Organization and Party Literatureh Collected Works vol. 10, p. 47)

Lenin wrote this around the time of the 1905 revolution when there was an active movement of gbourgeois anarchist individualistsh and liberals who considered themselves the defenders of gfreedom.h For this reason, Lenin offered a harsh criticism of their claims of creating gfree publication.h Lenin has been savaged for denying the freedom of speech, oppressing individual creative literary activity, or denying gthe freedom of absolutely individual ideological work.h However, what Lenin considered truly gfree publicationh was publication connected to the emancipation movement of the socialist workers.

The Question of gParty Literatureh and the Freedom of Literature

gWhat is the principle of party literature? It is not simply that, for the socialist proletariat, literature cannot be a means of enriching individuals or groups; it cannot, in fact, be an individual undertaking, independent of the common cause of the proletariat. Down with non-partisan writers! Down with literary supermen! Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat, ga cog and screwh of one single great Social-Democratic mechanism set in motion by the entire politically-conscious vanguard of the entire working class. Literature must become a component of organized, planned and integrated Social-Democratic Party work.h (gParty Organization and Party Literatureh Collected Works vol. 10, p. 46)

Intellectuals engaged in literary activity display a particularly strong tendency towards individuality and an aversion to organization. For such intellectuals, literary activity by its nature cannot be linked with organized party activity or be subordinated to such activity. They argue that this would be gbureaucratismh and the suffocation of culture, which would result in something dull and impotent. Lenin looked on this view as gnothing more than an expression of bourgeois-intellectual individualism.h

At the same time, however, this does not mean that Lenin did not recognize the distinctiveness of literary activity within organized party activity. Lenin firmly valued this. gThere is no question that literature is least of all subject to mechanical adjustment or leveling, to the rule of the majority over the minority. There is no question, either, that in this field greater scope must undoubtedly be allowed for personal initiative, individual inclination, thought and fantasy, form and content.h gFar be it from us to advocate any kind of standardized system, or a solution by means of a few decrees. Cut-and-dried schemes are least of all applicable here.h (Ibid.)

Lenin was opposed to all bureaucratism and authoritarianism that sought to limit or standardize the ideas or creative power of literary activity through gparty policiesh or resolutions. Such an attempt reflects a meaningless, narrow spirit, and would turn literary activity into something barren, an empty shell. On the other hand, however, Lenin sought for literary activity to become a constituent part of the socialist movement, and that there was no contradiction between these views. In other words, on the one, hand the literary aspects of the work of the workersf party cannot be stereotypically viewed as being identical to other aspects of the work of the party, while on the other hand, literary work naturally needs to become an inseparable part of the other aspects of communistic activity.

On Proletarian Culture

gWe must bear this in mind when, for example, we talk about proletarian culture. We shall be unable to solve this problem unless we clearly realize that only a precise knowledge and transformation of the culture created by the entire development of mankind will enable us to create a proletarian culture. The latter is not clutched out of thin air; it is not an invention of those who call themselves experts in proletarian culture. That is all nonsense. Proletarian culture must be the logical development of the store of knowledge mankind has accumulated under the yoke of capitalist, landowner and bureaucratic society.h (gThe Tasks of the Youth Leaguesh Collected Works vol. 31, p. 287)

This is Leninfs criticism of the idea of gproletarian cultureh that had been fashionable in post-revolutionary Russia among men of letters and leftwing intellectuals within the party. Lenin was criticizing what Stalin latter encouraged in the late twenties, and which became a part of the proletarian movement in every country (a gproletarian cultureh movement also emerged in Japan at the beginning of the Showa Period and it is questionable whether the heeded Leninfs warning).

Lenin found much in the gproletarian cultureh movement that was narrow minded, makeshift, arrogant, and decadent, rather than genuinely revolutionary. Unlike Trotsky, however, Lenin did not reject proletarian culture itself -- since it is clear that the foundation for the creation of the new future culture lies not with the bourgeoisie or gintelligentsiah in general but rather with the proletariat and those who fight with them. Since the workers are the only ones who can create a new culture and its foundation, there is no reason not to call this proletarian culture.

At the same time, however, Lenin viewed the gproletarian cultureh movement that rejected all past tradition as nothing but an anarchistic reaction. Opposed to the view of rejecting tradition and the past and creating something gnewh in onefs own mind, Lenin advocated studying the culture of the past, making it onefs own, thereby creating rich gnewh content. Proletarian or socialist art does not jettison humanityfs past, but rather is its aufheben (a negation that retains the affirmative side, a negation as the developmental law of things).

Sufficient not to be Bureaucratic Culture

gFor a start, we should be satisfied with real bourgeois culture; for a start, we should be glad to dispense with the cruder types of pre-bourgeois culture, i.e., bureaucratic culture or serf culture, etc. In matters of culture, haste and sweeping measures are most harmful. Many of our young writers and Communists should get this well into their heads.h (gBetter Fewer, But Betterh Collected Works vol. 33, p. 487)

This passage was aimed at those who too simplistically advocated gproletarian culture.h Within the tendency that was loudly talking about gproletarian art and literature,h Lenin didnft see the possibility of something proletarian, but rather the danger of ending up in the opposite direction. Leninfs concern was justified since after his death a gbureaucratic literatureh was established by the Stalinists. Rather than this gbureaucratic literature,h Lenin advocated the best work of the bourgeois literature in the West and Russia. The question had to be raised of whether or not so-called gproletarian literatureh had in fact exceeded the level of bureaucratic literature, not to mention the best literature produced in bourgeois society. Of course, this is referring to Soviet bureaucratic literature, not the some of the better recent works of Soviet literature.

On the Novel

g[A] novel carries descriptions of individuals, analysis of character, psychology of given types.h (Jan. 24, 1915 letter to Inessa Armand, Collected Works vol. 35)

In the past, there was a debate over the gessenceh of art, but Lenin viewed the novel as a question of the form of expression or reflection of reality. The particularity of the novel, unlike other means of expression, lies in its expression or analysis of the psychology and character of individuals. For example, rather than offering a historical analysis of the entirety of a class, the task of the novel is to concretely and vividly express class characteristics and archetypes that appear within the individual. If this is achieved, the novel is successful, and is art. Therefore, it is clear that art can also be one means of class struggle -- although more indirect than political struggle. In fact, there have been a number of writers who either consciously or unconsciously are writers as a means of political struggle -- particularly when political struggle becomes nearly impossible during extremely reactionary periods. It certainly cannot be said that such writers are inferior as artists.

Of course the crude theory, proposed today by literary critics attached to the Communist Party, that the content of art, politics, economics, philosophy and science are the same, and that art can be reduced to politics, is clearly mistaken. There is a reaction within literary theory against this political tendentiousness, which is the view that art, unlike science, has nothing to do with the real world and takes as its object the ideational world of the writer f the writer, thereby removing realism as the basis of art. This theory, however, does not lead the way forward from distorted, pseudo-proletarian literature to true proletarian literature, but rather signifies a step backward to petty-bourgeois individualistic literature and decadent bourgeois literature.

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