Culture of the Future : The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia

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David in Atlanta
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Sep 8 2007 06:33
Culture of the Future : The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia

http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft6m3nb4b2&brand=eschol
A defender of workers autonomy in the arts, a talented medical researcher and an important Marxist intellectual rival of Lenins.
So how come I've never heard of Alexander Bogdanov?

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Devrim
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Sep 8 2007 08:24
Quote:
So how come I've never heard of Alexander Bogdanov?

From the ICC book on the Russia Communist Left, This article reproduced here:

http://libcom.org/library/communist-left-russia-after-1920-ian-hebbes

Quote:
THE WORKERS’ TRUTH

The Workers’ Truth was the first group of the communist left to emerge ‘outside’ the RCP(B). this group took its name from its paper Rabochaia Pravda (no. l, Sep 1922) in which it launched an appeal that outlined it programmatic views. The paper was produced illegally in Moscow and it was here that the group had its base throughout its existence, during which it was clandestine in operation even before it was made illegal. R.V Daniels and E. H. Carr, the main secondary sources in English, agree that the group was mainly composed of intellectuals and some workers, and that it was probably a splinter group that emerged from the Proletkult movement rather than directly from the RCP(B). Like this movement which was influenced by A. Bogdanov, the Workers’ Truth shared certain of Bogdanov’s views and this may have been a factor in their apparent isolation from other left communist groupings both inside and outside the RCP, and the indifference or hostility expressed towards them despite the convergence of their political positions on many key questions.

...

David in Atlanta
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Sep 8 2007 09:18
Devrim wrote:
Quote:
So how come I've never heard of Alexander Bogdanov?

From the ICC book on the Russia Communist Left, This article reproduced here:

http://libcom.org/library/communist-left-russia-after-1920-ian-hebbes

I was just reading that article when i initiated the search that found the proletkult history. I find them a fascinating and sympathetic movement.

David in Atlanta
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Sep 8 2007 09:49

Here's an interesting if extremely biased biography.
they seem to take the position that Bogdanov was a hard-workiing, honest revolutionary and all round splendid chap except when he disagreed with Lenin and then he was wrong automatically.

http://www.bogdinst.ru/HTML/English/Bogdanov/biography.htm

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Demogorgon303
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Sep 8 2007 10:06

Bogdanov represented a positivist deviation from Marxism, hence his unpopularity with Lenin. In the struggle against the Mensheviks, however, he was one of Lenin's closest supporters. He was expelled for refusing to respect party discipline during the question about participation in the Duma ( the majority around Lenin supported this work, the Otzovists rejected it).

As for the ProletCult, this was a subject of fierce debate in the Bolsheviks. Trotsky argued that it was impossible for the proletariat (as an exploited class) to truly develop an independent artistic culture. While its condition demanded the development of a political culture, as long as the proletariat remained exploited it was unable to do anything other than ape the culture of the bourgeoisie. Only by emancipating itself as a class could the proletariat develop its own cultural forms and obviously, in so doing, it would no longer be a proletariat. For the Trotsky tendency, the proletariat was to concentrate on assimilating the best aspects of bourgeois science and art, in order to synthesis a truly human art as the proletariat began to abolish itself.

David in Atlanta
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Sep 8 2007 14:10
Demogorgon303 wrote:
Bogdanov represented a positivist deviation from Marxism, hence his unpopularity with Lenin. In the struggle against the Mensheviks, however, he was one of Lenin's closest supporters. He was expelled for refusing to respect party discipline during the question about participation in the Duma ( the majority around Lenin supported this work, the Otzovists rejected it).

Thanks for explaining what the expulsion was over. Culture Of The Future doesn't go into details and somehow I didn't buy the explaination on the badly translated biography page.

Quote:
As for the ProletCult, this was a subject of fierce debate in the Bolsheviks. Trotsky argued that it was impossible for the proletariat (as an exploited class) to truly develop an independent artistic culture. While its condition demanded the development of a political culture, as long as the proletariat remained exploited it was unable to do anything other than ape the culture of the bourgeoisie. Only by emancipating itself as a class could the proletariat develop its own cultural forms and obviously, in so doing, it would no longer be a proletariat. For the Trotsky tendency, the proletariat was to concentrate on assimilating the best aspects of bourgeois science and art, in order to synthesis a truly human art as the proletariat began to abolish itself.

As much as it gags me to say it, T. had a valid if rather abstract point. Although if I'm getting a correct view of Bogdanovs eduational proposals, they weren't that far removed. B also stressed bourgeois science and art, although with a critical and experimental analysis due to the very bourgeois origins of the culture and the desired class composition of his students, a somewhat idealized factory proletariat

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Devrim
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Sep 8 2007 15:04
David in Atlanta wrote:
As much as it gags me to say it, T. had a valid if rather abstract point.

Why does it gag you to say it, David?
Devrim

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Sep 8 2007 15:30

I would also note that this dispute was covered in Pannekoek's Lenin as Philosopher. Bogdanov wanted to mix Marxism with the positivism of Mach and Avenarius, whereas Lenin opposed him from the standpoint of an older and cruder bourgeois materialism.

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Sep 8 2007 15:41

This article, from the second volume of our communism series, goes into the argument between Trotsky and the Proletkult.

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/109_proletkult

David in Atlanta
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Sep 9 2007 12:44
Devrim wrote:
David in Atlanta wrote:
As much as it gags me to say it, T. had a valid if rather abstract point.

Why does it gag you to say it, David?
Devrim

The Ukraine, Kronstadt, the Tenth Congress, you know, the usual.............that whole "iron broom" policy towards revolutionaries who dared disagree with the Party center. His remarks about cultural theory, while perhaps correct in the abstract, in context seem like a rather shallow attack on a semi-autonomous workers organization centered around an expelled party member.

I just noticed this in the bio of Kollontai:

Quote:
The Workers' Opposition, which had majority support in the Metalworkers' Union

and the Proletkult article mentions the Metalworkers several times as enthusiatic participants in proletkult projects.

David in Atlanta
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Sep 9 2007 13:04

Purely speculative, but i wonder what would have happened if all three organizations, the wo , metalworkers and pk, had broken all relations with the party?

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OliverTwister
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Sep 10 2007 05:14

why do you think that Trotsky was right?

The way I read it, it's the idea that proletarian revolt is the fulfillment of the Enlightenment project.

If anything, I think it's the dialectical negation.

I think T wanted to believe that workers could only ape bourgeois culture because he had a vested interest in that idea: as the venerated intelligentsia of second-international marxism, he could tell workers what to do if they believed that they couldn't figure it out themselves.

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Sep 10 2007 08:20

A bit crude Oliver. You could try engaging with what Trotsky actually wrote.

For example, from our article on Proletkult:

In our view, the direct subordination of artistic movements to the transitional state is not the correct answer to confusion between the artistic and the political spheres; indeed, it tends to compound it. According to Zenovia Sochor in Revolution and Culture, Trotsky was opposed to Lenin’s efforts to liquidate Proletkult into the state, even though he agreed with many of Lenin’s criticisms of Proletkult (see p154). In Literature and Revolution, he puts forward a clearer basis for determining the communist policy towards art: “The marxist method affords an opportunity to estimate the development of the new art, to trace all its sources, to help the most progressive tendencies by a critical illumination of the road, but it does not do more than that. Art must make its own way and by its own means. The marxist methods are not the same as the artistic. The party leads the proletariat but not the entire process of history. There are domains in which the party leads, directly and imperatively. There are domains in which it only cooperates. There are, finally, domains in which it only orients itself. The domain of art is not one in which the party is called upon to command. It can and must protect and help it, but it can only lead it indirectly. It can and must give the additional credit of its confidence to various art groups, which are striving sincerely to approach the revolution and so help an artistic formulation of the revolution. And at any rate, the party cannot and will not take the position of a literary circle which is struggling and merely competing with other literary circles” (chapter 7, ‘Communist policy towards art’). In 1938, in response to the Nazi and Stalinist project of reducing art to a mere adjunct of state propaganda, Trotsky was even more explicit: “If, for the better development of material production, the revolution must build a socialist regime with centralised control, to develop intellectual creation an anarchist regime of individual liberty should from the first be established. No authority, no dictation, not the least trace of orders from above!” (Leon Trotsky on Literature and Art, New York, 1970, p 119)

Trotsky also went deeper than Lenin on the general problem of proletarian culture; while Lenin’s resolution leaves space for this concept, Trotsky rejected it altogether; and he did this on the basis of a searching reflection on the nature of the proletariat as the first revolutionary class in history to be a class without property, an exploited class. This understanding, a key to grasping virtually every aspect of the proletarian class struggle, is elaborated very clearly in the extract from Literature and Revolution published below. There is also a very succinct summary of his thesis on proletarian culture in the short introduction to the book: “It is fundamentally incorrect to contrast bourgeois culture and bourgeois art with proletarian culture and proletarian art. The latter will never exist, because the proletarian regime is temporary and transient. The historic significance and moral grandeur of the proletarian revolution consists in the fact that it is laying the foundations of a culture which is above classes and which will be the first culture that is truly human”.

Randy
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Sep 10 2007 11:03
Alf wrote:
...
Trotsky also went deeper than Lenin on the general problem of proletarian culture; while Lenin’s resolution leaves space for the concept (of proletarian culture), Trotsky rejected it altogether; and he did this on the basis of a searching reflection on the nature of the proletariat as the first revolutionary class in history to be a class without property, an exploited class. This understanding, a key to grasping virtually every aspect of the proletarian class struggle...

Interesting. I can see that the bourgeoisie revolting against the medieval aristocracy was one propertied class seizing the reins from another, and is distinct in that manner from prole revolt against the bourgeoisie. What about the transition from "ancient" civilizations to feudal life? I know the rise of Christianity and the invasion of "barbarians" into western Europe played large parts in these changes: was there even a "revolutionary class" as such during that transition?

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Alf
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Sep 10 2007 13:02

That's a good question. Marx analysed feudalism as a synthesis between the rural landowners who had switched from slave production to the system of 'coloni' a kind of serfdom, and the impact of the barbarian tribes with their mixture of common ownership and tribute exacted from conquered regions. In other words, there was no single revolutionary social force as in the rise of the bourgeoisie. There's an interesting book by Perry Anderson on this called Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism.

Randy
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Sep 10 2007 18:59
Alf wrote:
That's a good question. Marx analysed feudalism as a synthesis between the rural landowners who had switched from slave production to the system of 'coloni' a kind of serfdom, and the impact of the barbarian tribes with their mixture of common ownership and tribute exacted from conquered regions. In other words, there was no single revolutionary social force as in the rise of the bourgeoisie. There's an interesting book by Perry Anderson on this called Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism.

Thanks Alf, I'm going to read that.

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syndicalistcat
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Sep 10 2007 19:23

According to Sam Farber, in "Before Stalinism", Bogdanov became a member of the Bolshevik party in 1908 and was expelled, at Lenin's insistence, in 1909. Farber describes Bogdanov's group in the Bolshevik party as being influenced by syndicalism. The massive Russian national general strike of 1905 and the worker soviets was in fact one of the influences on the growth of syndicalism in Europe before World War I. The model of the soviets and the national general strike of 1905 had a broad influence also on the radical left in Russia, not only Bogdanov's group but also in the Socialist Revolutionary Party, where a sovietist, anti-parliamentary tendency was also expelled in 1906, forming the Union of SR-Maximalists.

David in Atlanta
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Sep 10 2007 19:46

Well I'll be damned, seems I owe the ghost of Lev Davidovich an apology if he opposed the forced integration of proletkult into the party/state educational bureaucracy. It doesn't over-balance his bloody handed actions elsewhere, he was usually willing enough to use force against working class dissent. I'm surprised he drew the line at proletkult.

Of course he was right, Oliver, if you accept a couple of points. If the proletariat is working to destroy class distinction, if will of necessity abolish itself, and not have time enough, historically speaking, to develop a fully developed culture.
To which I hope the proletkult cadre responded with a rousing "yeah, so what?"