An introduction to my blog, and notes on an anarchist approach to industrial art

Still from the Spanish-made anarchist film, Nuestro culpable

A short post detailing the ethos behind my blog, and an example of me attempting to apply this ethos to a practical problem: that of collective creative art.

One of the things that appeals to me most about anarchism is the way in which our practice is transformational, not utopian. Reading some socialist literature, you get the impression that the authors think politics is just about drawing up a nice big plan and then putting it into practise. I have found that this is not the case with anarchism - you don’t detect any of this in Gustav Landauer’s belief that socialism must ‘grow’ out of the existing society, or in Malatesta’s insistence on experimentation. It will be the job of the construction workers to decide how best to collectivise their professions, not the job of bureaucrats. It will be the job of the hairdressers to figure out how to transform their salons. It will be the job of the hospital workers to best run the hospital, and so on. Outsiders and people with relevant, related knowledge certainly have a role to play, but the job of transforming a specific kind of labouring will be left up to the ones that know it best – expertise, not authority.

The intention of this blog is to pick up on that thread and to try and think about the ways I can reconceive of the social relationships I’m personally involved in. Though I’ll probably also write on general political things, my main idea is to try and dig through the weeds and clear a libertarian path for the things I know the most about, the things where I’m not just a consumer or a bystander but a producer: social work, film, music, Australian society, Arab diasporic culture, and so on.[1] I thought I’d start by looking at a broad topic I don’t see much writing about: the structure of industrial artforms.

Collective force and creative exploitation

By ‘industrial artforms’ I don’t mean steam-punk or those sculptures made out of scrap metal, I mean those creative products that can only be made when large groups of people work in collaboration with each other. Filmmaking is an example – though there are many minor variations to the process, the standard filmmaking procedure involves a main director and a few assistants, screenwriters, cameramen, sound recordists, editors, gaffers, make-up artists, lighting specialists, actors, extras, casting agents, producers, and so on. Architecture is another – the creation of a building from start-to-finish requires an array of people from engineers to concreters.

The existence of these artforms poses a question to anarchists and other socialists: how can we figure out a way of making these things without resorting to hierarchy and command structures? Can we envisage a truly libertarian cinema, or a libertarian architecture, or a libertarian billboard? Not just something that has radical content, but something that is made in a libertarian way. It’s easy to find examples of major films with anti-capitalist themes in terms of cinematic content, but it’s near impossible to find similarly major films produced in a co-operative manner. The vast, vast majority of films retain a command hierarchy with a matching social theft added on.

Here I think it’s worthwhile to recall Proudhon’s collective force concept. This was the name he gave to the social force created by groups of people working together. When a group of individuals work together, they produce a kind of labour that goes beyond the sum of their individual efforts. It is this collective force that is monopolised and the products of it seized by an individual or a small group of them – a boss, a corporate board – who illegitimately possess, as individuals, the work of a collective.[2]

Applying this to the production process of a film and you can start to see what I mean by “command hierarchy with a matching social theft”. Though the film is a work done by an indivisible collective force, it is immediately wretched from the collective’s hands and it is divided up – the director and the screenwriter get the creative rights and the producer and studio get the financial rights. I know that’s oversimplified, but you get what I mean: the idea of below-the-line[3] crew members receiving any kind of creative credit is seen as absurd to most. What they do is perceived as purely technical, but it’s no less creative than what the director does.

Ways forward

My aim is not to harp on endlessly about why everything sucks, but to suggest alternatives. Normally, it would be appropriate to examine historical examples, but I’m genuinely struggling to find anything. One thing I did find out was that the Spanish film industry collectivised in the revolutionary years. This stopped in summer 1937 when the Communist Party took over the communications industry, but they still managed to churn out a fair few films, including an all-singing, all-dancing children’s musical, a blunt realist drama and a biting satire on the justice system[4]. Unfortunately, this just raised more questions than it answered. How were the films made? Did they retain the command structure of normal films? Did the crew have a say in which films they worked on? Did they have any creative input? Did they elect their directors and producers? I can’t find any information on this, at least none in English.

So I guess I’ll have to resort to a little bit of speculation here: I think in the absence of syndicates that can effectively organise and unify a large group of people, radical cinema production should be small, and those involved in the production should all be fully engaged in the creative process. Though there may be a role for a director, just like there may be a role for an officer in a libertarian militia or a delegate in a union, it should not be treated as a separate specialist class above and beyond the collective.

What do you all think? I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on the matter. Hopefully I’ve provided food for thought!

Sherbu-Kteer

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  • 1. I’ll also use it to practice and improve my writing so bear with me if its currently shithouse.
  • 2. The clearest exposition of this concept is in What is Property?, where Proudhon writes:

    A force of one thousand men working twenty days has been paid the same wages that one would be paid for working fifty-five years; but this force of one thousand has done in twenty days what a single man could not have accomplished, though he had labored for a million centuries. Is the exchange an equitable one? Once more, no; when you have paid all the individual forces, the collective force still remains to be paid. Consequently, there remains always a right of collective property which you have not acquired, and which you enjoy unjustly.

  • 3. The term ‘below-the-line’ refers to the parts of the budget allocated towards things like costume design, set construction, cinematography, and so on. ‘Above-the-line’ refers to the director, actors, producers, screenwriters, and so on. The people at the helm of the ship, basically. When labour is divided, conflicts can arise along these lines, as they did when the I.A.T.S.E. (representing below-the-line crew) was locked in a disagreement with the W.G.A. (representing above-the-line writers) during the latter’s 2007-08 strike.
  • 4. The children’s musical was named Nosotros somos así. It was directed by Valentin Gonzalez and can be viewed here. The realist film, Aurora de esperanza, was directed by Antonio Sau and can be viewed here. Finally, the comedy, Nuestro culpable, was directed by Fernando Mignoni and it can be viewed here.

Comments

sherbu-kteer
Aug 15 2018 12:50

Thank you to whichever magical pixie cleaned up my footnotes

Cooked
Aug 15 2018 13:50

In both art and architecture local traditions used to be a vehicle to create works with diffuse authorship and high level of accomplishment. Because everyone local worked within the same set of cultural and technical limitations they could learn from each other and the ever present legacy of previous generations to reach quite high levels. Working within a culture, history, language also gives meaning in itself by being part of a greater whole.

Despite being quite impressed by 'vernacular' art and architecture, and it possibly being the only way to achieve true collective art, I personally feel reluctant to argue for a return to or a creation of new traditions. It's difficult to unsee the conservative tendencies.

sherbu-kteer
Aug 16 2018 17:34

Yes, I completely get what you mean, the conservative tendencies are undeniable. However, I think it's possible to reclaim the good parts of traditionalism - positive connection to heritage, decentralised enterprise, etc - whilst discarding the negative aspects. In a funny sense, I think the punk scene and all its sub-scenes could be used as an example of a decentralised culture of art that has the positive aspects of traditionalism whilst (at least nominally) avoiding the bad parts.

If you take garage punk, for instance, it's a localised culture dedicated to making music in a manner that uses 50s/60s rock as a jumping off point for further exploration. It's built from the ground up, people are working in a shared tradition that they know they're contributing to, there's tremendous individualism, etc.