‘Art and the Four Stages of Socialism’ by Anatoli Lunacharsky from the Daily Worker Saturday Magazine. Vol. 3 No. 234. October 16, 1926.

Transcribed for the first time here, though printed in 1926 this is clearly one of Lunacharsky’s pre-war ‘god-building’ essays written in the late 1890s and early 1900s, collected in three volumes as ‘Religion and Socialism’ in Russian between 1908 and 1911. A strange stand alone from the Daily Worker’s magazine with no explanation and some unwieldy translation, nevertheless a tantalizing glimpse into those early writings, which still cries for an English edition.

‘Art and the Four Stages of Socialism’ by Anatoli Lunacharsky from the Daily Worker Saturday Magazine. Vol. 3 No. 234. October 16, 1926.

The idea of socialism can be diversely conceived and interpreted. It is complicated. Here, even more than in the sphere of art, each new step does not obviate the preceding one but, on the contrary, includes it in a broader system. Here we are not dealing with the stages of the complete expression of socialism.

The First Stage.

IN the first stage, the so-called social question is considered as a question of the inequality of man, not biological. but legal and economic inequality. One is tormented by the consciousness of the profound injustice of the fact that at one social pole is found well-being and superfluity, and at the other—-miserable, oppressive poverty.

The privileged gave birth to the idea of philanthropic socialism; the step-children of society—-to the socialism which Engels called “that communism which is founded solely on the demand for equality,’’ and of which Kautsky said that “it is vulgar and naive; it was created not by social far-sightedness, not by altruistic thinking and feeling, but by urgent material needs, the struggle of class interests.”

Philanthropic socialism, the socialism of sympathy for the sufferings of the people, has outlived its time and has not only become useless but, in many cases, harmful. Art has frequently enlisted in the service of socialism, but in so doing, has seldom raised itself to broad and exalted conceptions; it remained didactic, shedding tears and expressing indignation like an editorial in an honest newspaper.

The struggle for economic interests, sanctified by the idea of equality, is even now the concrete foundation of the entire socialist movement. Other artists have approached it and described it with more understanding and with more profound sympathy. But they did not raise themselves to the highest level of art, remaining on a level of naturalistic understanding. The artists exhausted themselves portraying the misery, the need and the ire of the proletarian, but they were afraid to understand his enthusiasm, as if ashamed to introduce “romanticism” into the sober portrayal of his struggles. An artist, not a proletarian, will hardly succeed in creating a masterpiece while standing on this naturalistic level. Nevertheless, one cannot fall to hail the gifted attempts of such writers as Mirabeau, Delagrazia Youshkevitch and especially Gorki.

The Second Stage.

THE great French Revolution was the first to proclaim with such force the right of equality for every being. The thirst for freedom in the relations between people—that is the principal moral nerve of the end of the eighteenth and the entire nineteenth centuries. But it turned out—and the courageous people, who had no fear of delving into the matter, had perceived it very early—that political and even spiritual emancipation is neither adequate nor concretely possible without the economic emancipation of man. The capitalistic dream of achieving such a freedom on the basis of the division of property among all, of founding a kingdom of equal, independent citizen-owners—this dream has disappeared. And then socialism came forward as a lawful continuator of the emancipation tendencies of the revolution: it set itself the task of organizing collective ownership for the complete emancipation of man.

‘Lunacharsky on the podium of a rally organized by employees of the Krasny Vostok propaganda train at one of the railway stations. 1920.’

Art is easily carried away by ideas of freedom because no one values freedom to such an extent as does the artist. The glorification of freedom, often full of enthusiasm, led to the creation of great works. But the artists have seldom expounded the idea of the necessity of instituting the collective human properly as the sole basis upon which It is possible to erect the structure of freedom. The novels of Bellamy and even of Morris and several of the last works of the unique and gifted Velt, it seems to me, leave the reader cold. They are too much social treatise and too little art work; but the worst is that the whole stormy striving after freedom can be called off with the question asked by Zarathustra: “You tell me l am free, free…But for what are you free, my brother?”

Freedom cannot be an end in itself. As such, it merely appears to the slave. If the goal of socialism is freedom, then whet is the goal of freedom? Enthusiasm over “empty freedom” which has lately acquired new strength and, in addition, has been spoiled by an unpalatable mysticism, is the enthusiasm of the helot and the cripple, the person who is smothered and who therefore thinks that air, the right to breaths, is an end in itself. One cannot deny the great significance of the art of the love of freedom, agitating and calling to revolution. But it is not very enduring. The idea of pure freedom is one-sided and perhaps that is why the people who are unable to give it a content, exchange it for a mystic gas, with which their freedom is filled, and which tears towards the clouds, ever remaining empty and light because of this very emptiness.

The corrupt and disappointed thirst or freedom often manifests Itself in an unexpected form—it becomes a thirst for freeing oneself from one’s social duties, that is, simply a thirst tor egotistic aloofness from the world process, from the. struggle for concrete freedom and its now concrete content.

The Third Stage.

MORE profound and more lofty is the concept of socialism as the new collective world born within the old individualistic world. The basis of both worlds is the social character of the process of labor. But, for the artist, the inner process is much more important here—the struggle in the soul of man and of mankind is between the two bases, individualism and collectivism. I personally believe that the collectivistic attitude, the growth of the new collective soul, carries along with it

not merely a powerful interest for the artist, the naturalist-investigator, but also a powerful quality of value, capable of inspiring masterpieces permeated with the highest enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the artists of our have naturally given themselves over to individualism which has scarcely any feeling for the phenomenon of the new collective soul that is just beginning to try out its wings which, at present, are still weak, misfortune lies ha the tact that they are everywhere accepting the psycho-pathological phenomenon of the mob as the true example of collective feeling and as the true expression of the collective psyche. They are Inclined to accept, especially the finer sympathies, as for example, the lofty sympathies heroes and martyrs of the collective idea, merely in their external, individualized aspect without noticing their deeper social character. But then, shall we not be obliged to wait for the artist-proletarian to express the collective-creative processes of human life? I do not think so. Even art itself, if conditions help it to find the normal terms of life—circles, schools, tendencies- can lead to correct performances. I want to say that the artist who carries on his work as teacher, training pupils, who feels that he is giving expression to groups and to masses and is their inspiration, can discover the bright depths of the new super-individualistic soul thru simple self-observation. Unfortunately, individualism is ruining our artists. Instead of great forms of art, schools, we see before us a forced, hysterical striving after originality, aloofness. Our artist can hardly create collectively at all, and that deprives him of the possibility of understanding the rising and growing collective psyche.

The Fourth Stage.

BUT if one merely considers here the standpoint of philosophy and history as a new epoch in human culture, differing radically from all former epochs thru, which mankind has lived, socialism takes on a fascinating luster. Labor, in all of its forms, is a process of the humanizing of nature, of its. subjection to reason, of the conquest of the universe. But it cannot have the same significance in all its fullness so long as it Is piecemeal and is conducted chaotically. Its piecemeal character, its disorganization, expresses itself in the degrading fact that it is a slave of the economic environment which it has itself created, of its own means of production. No less frightful add degrading are the class and national struggles which it has itself created, of its people one against, another. The stage of profound disorganization of insane squandering of cultural forces, of Internal straggle, is absolutely unavoidable in the growth of the economic power of man —but once it is understood, it becomes a curse. A significant part of the most painful and the most offensive sufferings at men are created by men themselves in their blind and fatal struggle and division among themselves. The process of destroying the dependence of the inspired person upon his soulless tools, of destroying class and national struggles, is difficult and complicated; but as a result of this process, an enormous quantity of living, cultural forces must be set free. The rapidity of the progressive movement of mankind will transcend all conceivable boundaries. Mankind will be transformed into a harmonious family of gods which will consciously follow its great goal—to secure the existence and development of great phenomenon in the world: enjoyment, thinking and creation—phenomena, which arose in the world as a result of a happy concurrence of climatic and chemical conditions on a small planet and which find themselves in constant danger of senseless loss of energy or even of destruction as a result of these latent processes. The self-defense of the human kind is closely bound up with attack. The eternal goal of man and the goal which is continually drawing farther away from him, is to become a God, the prime thought and the feeling heart of the world. On the road to the realization of this dream, which has been of past and present, there will be created colossal cultural works and there will be realized the growth of refinement of the capacity to feel and enjoy, of the power of thought and the commanding mightiness of the will, indescribable in our language. Socialism as a social question, is the prerequisite of true culture; it sets itself the goal of organizing even now the enormous but disintegrated forces of humanity.

‘Speech by Lunacharsky at opening of the festival-review of musical amateur performances of workers. 1928.’

Socialist as a teaching is the true religion of mankind, divested of its mythical cloak in which the inadequate development of the Intellect and the feelings of our fathers had enveloped it. It unites our “humble,” “materialistic” origin, the unavoidability of suffering, or degradation thru which we have lived, of baseness and error which we have committed; the unavoidability of the bitter draught of sufferings which we are still to take, and together with all this—the loftiness and greatness of the task of all human co-operation which sets before itself ever more clearly the goal: there must be a god, a living one, an all-happy and all-powerful one. We are his creators!

Scientific socialism reveals, abstractly and in its basic lines, the painful, moving, majestic and strange process of god-creating, otherwise called economic process. Art, the art of tragedy, must reveal and make us feel this process in the whole, concrete, fiery, multicolored, stormy transformation of its endless, real or conceivable manifestations. Every true art of tragedy is socialistic. Conscious art of tragedy is doubly socialistic.

Socialism needs art. All propaganda is embryonic art. All art Is propaganda. It is the education of souls, their cultural transformation. On the general basis of the tragic world view, many tendencies are naturally possible which may contend with one another. But such a struggle is capable of giving birth to new lives, to new blossoms. Is capable of adding surfaces to the thousand-surfaced figure of the human soul.

The union between scientific socialism and true art is a natural one. Unfortunately, very few at present understand the full cultural significance of socialism, and at the same time, new masterpieces of true art are unfortunately very rare.

The Saturday Supplement, later changed to a Sunday Supplement, of the Daily Worker was a place for longer articles with debate, international focus, literature, and documents presented. The Daily Worker began in 1924 and was published in New York City by the Communist Party US and its predecessor organizations. Among the most long-lasting and important left publications in US history, it had a circulation of 35,000 at its peak. The Daily Worker came from The Ohio Socialist, published by the Left Wing-dominated Socialist Party of Ohio in Cleveland from 1917 to November 1919, when it became became The Toiler, paper of the Communist Labor Party. In December 1921 the above-ground Workers Party of America merged the Toiler with the paper Workers Council to found The Worker, which became The Daily Worker beginning January 13, 1924.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/dailyworker/1926/v3n234-oct-16-1926-TDW.pdf

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