Art and culture in Trotsky



Leon Trotsky, the arts and culture, and their influences on Mario Pedrosa's Brazilian Trotskyism

“The 'spirit' is 'tainted' from the beginning by the curse of matter, which appears in the form of layers of moving air, sounds, in short, in the form of language.”
(Marx & Engels 1975, 313)

From Epic to Tragedy

A tragic event that took place on April 14, 1930 in Moscow ended the cycle of the first 13 years of the Russian Revolution, becoming emblematic of the time of its acute bureaucratization: the suicide, aged 36, of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Being Mayakovsky considered by many as the main protagonist of revolutionary poetry and as one of the most active – in Trotsky’s terms – traveling companions (Companion) of the Revolution, this event serves as the focus for an important text by the leader of the Red Army, written, already in exile, for the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition in May of that same year in posthumous homage to the poet and convert a posteriori in one of the chapters of his paradigmatic book Literature and RevolutionOf 1924.

In the fourth paragraph of that text, entitled “Mayakovsky's Suicide”, Trotsky seeks to denounce the pernicious content of the Soviet government's official warning about the poet's death, as formulated by the General Secretariat of the Party – that is, by Stalin –, which sought to dissociate the extreme act of the poet from his social and literary activities. Mayakovsky's act had a passionate character: the poet lived in the midst of a complicated love triangle with his beloved Lília Brik and her husband, and one can suggest a certain potentially depressive component of his character. Despite this, the opening sentence of the testimonial-poetry left by the poet said: “No one is to blame for my death and please, no gossip”. Even so, Trotsky tries to understand the context of his act and associates, not without reason, Mayakovsky's tragic decision with the growing coercion that culture and the arts suffered under the yoke of Stalinism already in progress: “The best representatives of the proletarian youth [ …] fell under the orders of people who converted their own lack of culture into a criterion of reality.” (Trotsky 1980a, 224).

What we witnessed, from the first days of the Russian Revolution or even from the years that immediately preceded it at the end of the 1920s, was a notable loss of revolutionary vigor and freedom of creation in the essentially speculative field of the arts, concomitant with the intellectual imposition obtuse of provincial thinking, consistent with the nationalist theory and, in that context, fundamentally anti-Marxist of Socialism in One Country, typical of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

It was not long before Trotsky's assertion was met with opposition within the Soviet government. A man of great culture and a worthy militant past in the Bolshevik historical ranks, Anatoli Lunacharsky, People's Commissar for Public Instruction until 1929, little by little lost representation in the Stalinist government and sought, with his political skill, flexibility and ability to adapt to the courses of the power, cling to some buoy on the high seas and distance himself from the Trotskyist Left Opposition, and it is in this context that, in 1931, he conceived an eloquent text dedicated to the Russian poet (“Vladímir Mayakovsky, innovator”), in which, not without a certain irony, opposes Trotsky's statement:

“Trotsky wrote that the drama of the poet is to have loved the revolution with all his strength, to have gone to meet it, when that revolution was no longer authentic, losing himself in its love and its journey. Naturally, how could the revolution be authentic if Trotsky does not participate in it? That alone is enough to demonstrate that it is a 'fake' revolution! Trotsky also claims that Mayakovsky took his own life because the revolution did not follow the Trotskyist path. […] In the interests of his small, insignificant and bankrupt political group, Trotsky welcomes everything that is hostile to the progressive elements of the socialist world we are creating.” (Lunatcharski 2018, 199)

Seeking to delimit Trotskyist criticism simply to the field of a mere internal dispute for power, moved by personal vanity and not by an essential and eminently political and ideological conception, Lunacharsky still precedes this passage with two phrases that make him place, at that moment, in the field opposed to that of Trotsky: “Today, Trotsky is with the Philistines. He is no longer, like us, the comrade of the iron Mayakovsky, but of his [petty-bourgeois] double” (idem, ibidem).

But even in the midst of the Soviet political crisis that was spreading in the early 1930s, and which would result in the complete decimation of the Russian Left Opposition and the relentless control of the arts by the Stalinist dictatorship, resulting in an engaged art classified as of the school of Socialist Realism – with an artistic quality of the worst that has ever been seen in the history of the arts –, Trotsky and Lunacharsky seemed to agree on one point: the links that tied Mayakovsky’s revolutionary work to the old bourgeois world. Trotsky himself, at the beginning of his essay, stated:

“Mayakovsky sincerely wanted to be a revolutionary, even before being a poet. In reality, he was above all a poet, an artist, who distanced himself from the old world without breaking with it.” (Trotsky 1980a, 223)

But could Mayakovsky have completely freed himself, even though he was part of historical Bolshevism and the Revolution, from the class nuances with which his poetic elaboration was, in a certain way, tinged? Affirming himself through the speculation of the artistic New in form and content, and joining hands with the Revolution, the poet would have been able to rid himself, even so, of his petty-bourgeois origin or – in Lunacharsky’s terms – of his double?

 Art subjected to its classist analysis

It is likely that this dilemma greatly contributed to Mayakovsky's decision to end his existence. The Stalinist strategy of “self-criticism” was already outlined there and would come to characterize the coercive farce of the Moscow Processes, which would culminate in decimating almost all of the revolutionaries of 1917. It would not be illogical to deduce, therefore, that the castrating course of Stalinism in Soviet power were determining factors for the existential discouragement of the great poet: the moral and self-punishing demand probably constituted the decisive psychic ingredient that would have impelled him to self-annihilation.

The same question that arises before the artistic fact is, however, extendable to any other field of knowledge. Strictly speaking, we could ask ourselves whether the greatest revolutionaries in our modern history, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Lunacharsky themselves, the majority of Bolsheviks, Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, would be able to get rid of their petty-bourgeois origins, and more: whether the question itself makes any sense[I].

The fact is that the entire history of knowledge stems irrevocably from its historical conditions, and since the socialist project posterior to the bourgeois revolution, it is natural that Culture, which, in the beautiful definition of Roland Barthes, “is everything in us except our present”[ii], carry with it the classist traits of its historical origin into the new socialist construction.

The issue comes up against the properly Marxist analysis of art and culture, which sought to unravel the ideological links that unite the conscious and subconscious layers of the thinker and – we could extend it – of the artist. In a letter to Franz Mehring, dated July 14, 1893, Engels writes: “Ideology is a process which the presumed thinker follows, consciously no doubt, but with a false consciousness. The real driving forces that impel him are unknown to him, because, if that were not the case, it would not be an ideological process.” (Engels in: Marx & Engels 1974, 44).

Already foreshadowing the focus on the ways in which the subconscious makes transparent, at the level of fully conscious elaboration, the social, drive and affective roots, a focus that would come to characterize the pillars of Freudian psychoanalytic theory in the XNUMXth century, Engels pays particular attention to the influence , in any fact of thought – and, consequently, of culture –, of the idea over the formulations, that is, of the content over the form, an idea that necessarily stems from the material conditions of life and survival of citizens and that are imposed and managed by the ruling classes. It is in this sense that, in german ideology, Marx and Engels will affirm: “The ideas of the ruling class are also the ruling ideas of each epoch, or, in other words, the class which is the power material dominance of society is also the power spiritual dominant." (Marx & Engels 1974, 22).

But if these assumptions are true, the merit of Marx and Engels in unveiling the mechanisms of domination in classist societies did not prevent them from preventing their own mechanistic interpretation from becoming preponderant in historical Marxism and being applicable, without any kind of relativization. , to any field of human knowledge, which would imply an attitude previously condemning every fact of culture, since a classless society did not even exist. In other words – and we are only focusing on the artistic and cultural field –, for Marx and Engels, but not for a good part of those who would claim their ideals, the Marxist materialist dialectic should be able to understand, interpret and reflect on the classist influences in works of art, but the products of art could not fail to be considered from their own specificities, so that we can, even in a new socialist society, take advantage of facts of culture, necessarily historical.

It was precisely on this point that Trotsky debated, already in the early 1920s, against mechanistic tendencies within Bolshevism, when he discussed the relationship between “The party and the artists” (article of May 9, 1924), stating that “ art and politics cannot be approached in the same way. Not because artistic creation is a ceremony or a mystique, […] but rather because it has its own rules and methods, its own laws of development, and above all because in artistic creation subconscious processes play a considerable role, and such processes are more slower, more sluggish, more difficult to control and direct, precisely because they are subconscious.”[iii] (Trotsky 1973, 138).

Now, if the Socialist Revolution was desired by Marxism, it was not so that the working classes would continue to see themselves restricted from access to culture and be forced to restrict their existence to the needs of survival and the oppression of exploited labor, but, at the same time, on the contrary, so that his emancipation would also mean an emancipation of his spirit. It was in this sense that Lenin, as critical as Trotsky in relation to the defense of a “proletarian culture” (proletcult) – as enacted by some of his comrades (including Lunacharsky himself) within the Bolshevik party – had stated, in an article entitled “Proletarian Culture”, dated October 9, 1920, that “Marxism conquered its universal historical significance as an ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because it in no way rejected the most valuable conquests of the bourgeois epoch, but, on the contrary, because it assimilated and re-elaborated all that was most valuable in more than two thousand years of development of thought and human culture.”[iv] (Lenin 1979, 271).

The fact, however, that Marxism consists rather of a philosophical-political interpretation of the facts of culture, and not exactly a modus operandi of artistic creation itself, that is, of Marxism, in the face of the artistic fact, focusing more on the interpretation and understanding of ideas than on the active and creative production of forms, meant that it ended up serving mechanistic thinking – that same which Marx would have repeated his famous phrase: “Then I am not a Marxist myself” – not as an instrument of interpretation and reflection (and even of positioning) in the face of the artistic fact, but rather as an instrument of imposition on artistic creation of a certain “ideological conduct”. ” to be followed by the creator.

We are well aware of the most disastrous consequences of this deviation from genuinely Marxist intentions: “Marxist” ideology begins to play a condemnatory, judgmental and controlling role, while it should, critically, abstain – as Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky wished – from seek to exercise an iron hand over the act of artistic creation. Marxist conceptions, when faced with artistic works, then come to be identified with those that will give importance above all to the explicit ideological content of the work of art, regardless of what it, even when manifestly reactionary, could contain what was formally revolutionary. As one of the main literary critics that Brazil has ever had, the Marxist Antonio Candido, so well describes, “according to these [Marxist, or, for the sake of truth, pseudo-Marxist] conceptions, works of art and literature should necessarily be interpreted and evaluated according to their social dimension and, not infrequently, according to their potential political significance. As a result, criticism tended to focus on content and neglect issues of form, including the invoice.” (Candido in: Castilho Marques Neto 2001, 15).

However, the desire that the critic or Marxist critique could deal with the problems of form was not absent from Russian revolutionaries. Lunacharsky, in preparing the “Theses on the Tasks of Marxist Criticism” (from April to June 1928), recognizes that “the Marxist critic takes as the object of his analysis, first of all, the content of the work, the social essence that this embodies”, but then expresses this desire, stating that one could not “ignore the particular task of analyzing literary forms”, and that “the Marxist critic should not omit himself in this regard” (Lunatchárski 2018,144).

When he does this, he comes up against the question that in the artistic forms themselves – and this even in relation to artistic languages ​​that are more distant from verbal meanings when turned to themselves, as is mainly the case with musical language – one can sort of “track” ideological contents that, in a certain way, gave rise to it. The statement, however, would also give vent to a biased and controlling interpretation of artistic forms themselves. For this bias, the autonomy of artistic forms would lose any meaning, failing to recognize what typifies the work of art: the exercise on itself and on the history of its language; in other words, its intertextuality.

 The defining characteristics of art

When Trotsky states, in Literature and Revolution, that “art must forge its own path”, and that “the methods of Marxism are not the same as those of art” (Trotsky 1980a, 187), has in mind precisely the specificities of the artistic field and, considering it if art as a whole, its generic but specific laws, which escape Marxist analysis. If the methods of Marxism can interpret art and even “explain”, from a sociological and ideological point of view, the advent of a certain artistic tendency, they will be insufficient to understand it in all its fullness, and still less a given one. particular artwork. Therefore, only by entering the specific terrain of artistic languages ​​can a given work be deeply understood:

“It is perfectly true that one cannot always follow Marxist principles alone in judging, rejecting or accepting a work of art. A work of art must first be judged according to its own laws, that is, according to the laws of art. But only Marxism can explain why and how, in a given historical period, such an artistic tendency appears; in other words, who expressed the need for a certain artistic form and not others, and why.” (Trotsky 1980a, 156)

Cultural Jdanovism, that is, the Stalinist indoctrination that enlisted the arts (not to mention other areas of human knowledge), as promulgated mainly by Andrei Zhdanov from 1946 onwards, but which did nothing more than correspond to the constraints that artists already felt in the skin at the end of the 1920s, completely ignored the laws to which Trotsky referred, generic to all artistic creation and independent of the laws that would be complementary to them, namely: those that specifically govern each of the artistic languages. Contradicting the supreme principle that underlies every artistic work of value throughout the history of mankind, namely: the freedom of creation, the Jdanovist indoctrination repeated the tragic act of Mayakovsky: it made the art produced under its “auspices” commit suicide .

It would be quite pretentious to carry out an exhaustive and exhaustive analysis of all the aspects that could typify a work of art, but let us see, briefly, the factors that seem to condition the making of the artistic work, that is, what Trotsky alluded to when he spoke of his “ own laws” or what the FIARI Manifesto deals with in point 2, when it talks about “the specific laws to which intellectual creation is subject”.


The first of these characteristics is what we called intertextuality above, that is, the ability of the work of art to dialogue with other works of its language, contemporary or belonging to the past. If music – to take it as an example of one of the artistic languages ​​– was well defined by Roman Jakobson as a introversive semiosis (cf. Jakobson 1973, 100), that is, a language whose signs continually refer to elements interior to their own sign articulation, to their own meaning. technique, and if that is why it differs from verbal language, whose words refer externally to the concepts they evoke, when we hear a tonal cadence, a rhythm, a quote from another piece or a certain way of orchestrating – we are only focusing on its perception aesthetics –, we weave relationships with the whole arsenal of musical culture that we have deposited in us. And the same is true of every work of art in every other language. The artistic work establishes continuous dialogues with precise aspects of its history: “The creative activity of historical man is, in general, hereditary” (Trotsky 1980a, 156). At the same time that it institutes a New, the work is also, as much as one wants to break with the past, always a commentary on what has already been done.


In addition to this aspect, there is a second aspect, inseparable from it. The work of art necessarily deals with its technicality. Judging by the degree of elaboration of its techniques, a given artistic language may even run the risk of becoming inaccessible or barely accessible to those who are not aware of its technical intricacies, at least at the level of its full understanding. Such a risk occurs particularly with music, with its musical writing techniques – which certainly makes the musical language the most difficult of the arts, given the high level of its technicality –, but this characteristic is part, to a greater or lesser extent, of all artistic language.

Historical non-linearity

The work of art that makes an epoch, that is, that establishes itself in the history of its language due to its artistic qualities, will always keep the potential to be “reread” and “reinterpreted” in future times and in conditions different from those for which it was born. And more than that: there are several cases, in the history of the arts, in which a work is rediscovered or revalued, taking it out of oblivion. This fact substantially distinguishes the work of art from politics: in politics, actions have to have an immediate effect to be valid; otherwise, they succumb and are not considered victorious. It could be argued that Trotskyism is proof against this thesis:

Trotsky was defeated and killed at Stalin's behest, but Trotskyist ideas exceed Trotsky himself. His resonance proved, in a certain sense, to be a winner, as it remains active, and in the middle of 2019 it is Trotsky and his legacy that we are talking about at the Cuban Congress, and not the Stalinist legacy! The judgment of what exactly is a “winner” or “loser” in the political field must, therefore, be relativized. But whatever it may be, all political action aims at some immediate effect, even on the level of ideas. The work of art, on the contrary, does not aim at any immediate effect beyond the aesthetic enjoyment that it institutes in itself – what Barthes called, in his magnificent Read the text, enjoyment. And, by doing so, it keeps all its aesthetic potential for an eventual future fruition.

Although, in the intertextual plot that establishes the artist's dialogues with the history of his language, there is "progressivity" and undeniable development of his technique, there is not exactly "linear progress", that is, absolute historical linearity in the history of art, and works of art can refer to artistic achievements that are sometimes very distant from them in time. To the same extent, one cannot decree the invalidity of a certain artistic achievement simply because it did not exert immediate influence on subsequent works: “In the economy of art, as in the economy of nature, nothing is lost and everything is interconnected” (Trotsky 1980a, 174)[v]. We deal more with a transgression, with a non-linear development of artistic facts. If there is no mere chance, neither is there irreversible causality in the history of artistic languages. In this, art is also distinguished from science, since if in the history of science certain achievements can be observed that will bear fruit later on, the general rule of the scientific historical course is the continuous immediate overcoming of its achievements by means of veracity: once a certain thesis is proven, the previous hypothesis is confirmed or relentlessly revoked. In art, however, there are no established truths, nor surpassed. Artistic deeds succeed each other continuously without canceling each other out, and the new deed does not cancel the aesthetic potential of past deeds; on the contrary: by means of intertextuality, it enlarges it[vi].

error and risk

Undoubtedly, the artist aims for the formulation that interests him: the enjoyment aesthetics of his work. And the honest artist wants the success of his elaborations. But in the face of creation, there is no way to avoid risk and, with it, error itself, and this to the point that error sometimes acquires a place of honor in the work of art. This is how Arnold Schönberg, one of the greatest musicians of the XNUMXth century, asserts: “[Error] deserves a place of honor, because thanks to it it is that the movement does not cease, that the fraction does not reach unity and that veracity never ceases. becomes true; for it would be too much for us to bear the knowledge of the truth.”[vii] (Schonberg 2001, 458)

We see then that it is in art that all uncertainty and all instability of expression have a full place of articulation, that is, it is in art that the drama inherent in every linguistic sign finds its most propitious place for exploration. Art thus enhances the ambiguities and antinomies that already exist in the relationship between signifiers and signifieds within the linguistic sign itself and those that exist between the sign itself and the object it represents. Jakobson already referred to this antinomy, which reveals itself as something essential to the dynamics of languages, when he writes: “Why is this necessary? Why is it necessary to emphasize that the sign does not merge with the object? Because alongside the immediate awareness of the identity between sign and object (A is A1), immediate awareness of the absence of identity is necessary (A is not A1); such an antinomy is indispensable, since without paradox there is no dynamic of concepts, nor dynamic of signs, the relationship between concept and sign becomes automatic, the course of events cools down, the consciousness of reality atrophies.” (Jakobson 1985, 53).

Art seems, therefore, to constitute the ideal place for the supreme exercise over the ambiguities that the expressive vehicles of artistic languages ​​offer to the creator. With this, they also end up establishing the optimized field of essentially dialectical aesthetic perception, as the following passage, in which Trotsky bases, in philosophical terms, the continuous mutation that translates into the essence of his theory of Permanent Revolution (reinvigorating the term originally formulated in 1850 by Marx: “Revolution in Permanent” (cf. Hosfeld 2011, 79)[viii]), is very similar to the Jakobsonian formulation:

“The axiom 'A' equals 'A' is, on the one hand, the starting point of all our knowledge and, on the other hand, it is also the starting point of all the errors in our knowledge. […] For concepts, there is also a 'tolerance' which is not fixed by formal logic based on the axiom 'A' equals 'A', but by dialectical logic based on the axiom that everything changes constantly.” (Trotsky 1984, 70)

Invention and the New

If religion deals with dogma and its belief, and if science with hypothesis and its veracity, art deals with invention and its deed (writing, in the Barthesian sense). The artistic work undertakes a paradoxical movement in time, and such a paradox is of its own nature: on the one hand, it weaves relationships, through intertextuality, with past works; on the other hand, it focuses much of its energy on inventing the New, pointing to the future. “Ich suche das Neue” – “I look for the new”, says one of the characters in the opera From today to tomorrow op. 32 of Schönberg. Every anachronism in art, in the uninventive and diluted repetition of past deeds, tends to die in ostracism. Only the New erupts into the present, opens paths and makes the work last, and only it, when it does not have the immediate “effect” of innovation, will retain potential for its future rediscovery. As an object of knowledge, the New is what allows aesthetic enjoyment the awareness of the exercise of sensitivity itself. Marcel Proust writes:

“We only truly know what is new, what abruptly introduces a change of tone into our sensibility that strikes us, what habit has not yet replaced by its pale facsimiles.”[ix] (Proust 1989, 110)

More than breaking into the present, the New makes the creator not content with the present and, opening paths, points to the future. Such is the role of the artistic avant-garde, correlated to the political avant-garde. And it was in this way that Arthur Schopenhauer, Arnold Schönberg's bedside philosopher, and who so well defined the genius art – a concept that is so misunderstood and prejudicedly categorized as a “bourgeois” notion –, he referred, in his Metaphysik des Schönen, to the “nervousness” of genius individuals:

"[…] O present it is rarely enough for them, because most of the time it does not fill their consciousness, inasmuch as it is too insignificant. Hence the indefatigable commitment to the incessant search for new objects, worthy of contemplation.” (Schopenhauer 2003, 63)

Absolute control versus weightlessness

Art is therefore the domain of full consciousness and, consequently, of the almost desperate – but in general very pleasurable – search for a total control of the artistic feat, because the New is what awakens full consciousness:

“Any succession of events in which we take part through sensations, perceptions, and possibly actions will gradually fall out of the realm of consciousness when the same sequence of events repeats itself, in the same way and with high frequency. But it will immediately be raised to the conscious region if, on such a repetition, the occasion or the environmental conditions encountered in its quest differ from those that existed on all previous incidences.” (Schrödinger 1997, 109)

The physicist Erwin Schrödinger draws our attention, therefore, to the fact that organic processes “are associated with consciousness insofar as they are new” (Schrödinger 1997, 112)[X], and when Trotsky discussed, in a passage previously alluded to by us, about the considerable role that subconscious processes play in the work of art, he did not do so in vain: recognizing the interference of subconscious processes is, at the same time, praising the pursuit of consciousness full of articulations and language games when elaborating a work of art, since only with full awareness of the processes and aiming at the most rigorous control of writing techniques can one give vent to a genuine outcrop of processes unconscious or subconscious. In other words, the more control one seeks to have over the artistic object, the more authentic that which, despite all control, springs from the imponderable, unpredictable and unexpected. It is, therefore, in the exercise of a call to conscience that we access the door of our unconscious; and this is what the revolution in Freudian psychoanalysis consisted of.

In this sense, the poetics of chance in art – such as Surrealism – are peripheral or minority aesthetics, and even having originated works of value, they always end up showing a clear and conscious attitude of the artist in front of his creation. The artist cannot evade his responsibility in the face of the artistic achievement; he is, in this way – and even when he speaks in the opposite direction –, the incarnation of his own conscience in the face of the New that he wants to establish: and this is how he places himself, even when he performs more syntheses than innovations, at the aesthetic vanguard of his era[xi].

Freedom and Utopia

For all its characteristics and for its speculative, inventive essence, art does not and could not accept any coercion. It is the terrain of complete freedom, since without freedom there can be no speculative thought. The work of art contains in itself, therefore, the possibility of the impossible, under the risk of error, even if the artist does not evade his enormous social and historical responsibility – social, because “even the artist’s most solitary discourse lives on the paradox […] of speaking to men”[xii] (Adorno 2003, GS 12, 28-9); historical, because even when he makes a rupture, the artist does not fail to insert himself in the intertextual plot of the history of his language and the language of men. The work of art, therefore, is the place where one daydreams, in the sense of Daydream (day dream) of which the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch spoke[xiii]; thus establishing a topical utopia: it is the place or environment, created by the artist, in which one lives, with complete freedom, what he proposes to us, being able, as a spectator, to leave this world whenever one wants and abandon it, or to love that new world and revisit it. The freedom of creation is correlated to the freedom of its enjoyment.

For all its general laws, added to its specific laws, we see that Marxist methods are insufficient to deal with the artistic phenomenon, and, consequently, any control exercised over creative artistic activity can only come from those who are completely unaware of the essence of art. artistic creation and Marxism itself:

“[…] In the field of literature and art, we do not want to support either 'Trotskyist' or Stalinist tutelage. […] An authentically revolutionary power cannot and does not want to take on the task of 'directing' art, much less give it orders, neither before nor after the seizure of power. […] Art can be the great ally of the Revolution as long as it is true to itself.”[xiv] (Trotsky 1973, 210-211)

1 – Surrealist success and error

By assuming chance as the main strategy, the artist ends up giving up the search for total control of his materials – even knowing that such full control will be unattainable – and promotes, in the first instance of artistic elaborations, that which will never emerge on the surface of consciousness without giving up what it is: the subconscious. Such was the fundamental error – but an error that, let us emphasize once more, did not fail to give rise to some works of historical value – of Surrealism, perhaps the most inconsistent of the historical vanguards in the field of the arts: to base its poetics on the belief that the unconscious could constitute the first instance of artistic elaborations.

“Automatic” writing, as André Breton wanted in literature, is, therefore, an illusion, since every process of creative elaboration, and therefore necessarily interfering (since aiming at a New), irrevocably passes through the conscious choices of the creator. What Sigmund Freud formulated about the unconscious was misunderstood, and Surrealism was, strictly speaking, a serious mistake. Trotsky himself, in the discussions he held with Breton with a view to drafting the FIARI Manifesto (International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art), outlined his doubts regarding Breton's use of chance, as the French poet reports in his speech at the rally organized by the Internationalist Workers' Party commemorating the anniversary of the October Revolution on November 11, 1938 in Paris. Trotsky would have told him: “Comrade Breton, the interest you dedicate to the phenomena of objective chance does not seem clear to me” (Trotsky & Breton 1985, 62). The Manifesto, as we know, was drawn up by Breton, corrected by Trotsky and signed in Mexico on July 25, 1938 by Breton and Diego Rivera (Trotsky thought it best not to sign it, since abstaining would reveal the clear authorship of the artists), and centers the issue on the social and political conditions of art and the need to assert its freedom, but it obviously does not deal with eminently artistic issues, leaving the use of chance and the discussion about the pertinence or not of its use outside the scope of the document. The dialogue reported by Breton clearly demonstrates, however, that Trotsky's approach to Surrealism was based mainly on a political strategy, and not on an artistic bias.

And precisely at this point lies the importance of the Manifesto. Although allied to an artistic movement – ​​we dare to say – of little consistency or at least questionable, Trotsky allied himself, symptomatically, to an artistic current that, even incurring the risk of error, acquired great projection as a vanguard current international art and was in crass opposition to the shallow realism imposed by Stalinist totalitarianism: Socialist Realism.

Of international projection was also, at the time of the Manifesto and after it, the opposition to Socialist Realism by the anti-Stalinist left. In an important text entitled “Realism is not reality” (May 11, 1957), the Brazilian revolutionary, certainly the greatest art critic in Brazil, Mário Pedrosa, would rightly state in his conclusion: “No ism can be placed in reality. ” (Pedrosa 1995, 106). Pedrosa's critique was aimed at Stalinist Socialist Realism, still prevalent in Soviet culture at the end of the 1950s, but his opposition actually echoes the cries of the Trotskyist Manifesto of 19 years ago. And, at this point, Surrealism undertook perhaps its greatest success: asserting itself as the current that most clearly opposed the cultural barbarism that Stalinism imposed not only on artists, but on the entire population under Soviet rule. Ten years after his brief text in opposition to cultural Jdanovism, Pedrosa would still return to the theme (in the text “The Revolution in the Arts”, from November 1967) and, initially referring to Trotsky’s radically open and stimulating posture towards art vanguard of his time (more specifically to the work of Vladimir Tatlin in his Literature and Revolution), proclaims:

“Here is the rational, honest language of one of the great builders of the regime, in the face of the freest and most audacious projects of its artists. But everything changed later; the art of the most authentic Russian revolutionary artists is expelled, thrown into the basements of museums and many of them are forced to exile or hide or capitulate morally and aesthetically before the increasingly distant and frightening powers of the day, in the very year in which that Trotsky was also expelled from Soviet Russia itself, in 1929, and transformed into a heretic driven from country to country, until he died assassinated by an agent of Stalin, in Mexico, in 1940, on the eve of the invasion of Russia by the soviets, his land and his work too, by the hordes of Hitler.” (Pedrosa 1995, 150)

2 – The role of arts and culture in modern societies

The main question that arises is: if every artistic product necessarily comes from an economically and politically organized society, if it inevitably reflects with itself – even if in opposition to them – ideological and classist traits of these societies, and if the defense of freedom and total absence of coercion is conditio sine qua non for the exercise of artistic making, what is the relationship of correspondence maintained between art and society?

Art in Stalinist society

As for Stalinism, there is no doubt - a certainty corroborated by the shallow level of artistic elaboration of the works of Socialist Realism: with the rise of Stalinist power and the bureaucratization of the Soviet State, the use of art by the bureaucracy, through coercion and curtailment of creative freedom, as propaganda for the ruling caste and propagation of a new form of “state capitalism”, stifling independent voices in art and politics that oppose bureaucracy and imposing artistic enjoyment – ​​what’s left of it – the ideology dominant. All attributes of art, as verified above, are contradicted or simply abolished:

A intertextuality is annulled, since, for Stalinism, dialoguing with history is dialoguing with bourgeois art, which must be forgotten;

A technicality is sacrificed, because by denying its own history, from which it develops, the work crushes its technique to the level of a mere unequivocal and direct representativeness (the cult of personality in painting; the restricted use of an elementary – and anachronistic, paradoxically bourgeois – tonality). in music, etc.);

A nonlinearity is denied, because every artistic product has to represent the inevitability of the historical course that results in the emergence of the great (bureaucratic) Leader of the Revolution, and there is the establishment of the novel or poetry essentially teleological, finalists, addressed to the apotheotic tone of the new regime;

There is no more room for free experimentation: the error or risk are categorically abolished, as art becomes deliberately affirmative, ideological place of suppression of all doubt in the exaltation of the Soviet State;

A invention and the New give way to precepts from above and formulas of artistic expression accepted by the bureaucracy, and it is not by chance that both technique and language elements constitute, in fact, resources used for a long time – and much better – by the bourgeois art of the past: figurativism, tonality , traditional versification in poetry, architecture restricted by the mere practical use of spaces, etc.;

O control over the materials gives way to the control exercised not by the artist, but by the powerful about the artists; the regime “approves” or “disapproves” artistic production, in a true annihilation of the efforts in which the artist must undertake his creative force for the mastery of matters of art. US own choice, and consequently, in total control not only over the creator's conscious formulations, but also over imponderable elements that could emerge from them; for socialist “realism”, there is no room for the improbable: art is the place of affirmation of that reality, unquestionable;

Finally, annihilate the freedom and the dream – fundamentally contradicting Lenin, according to whom “whoever cannot dream is a bad communist” (Lenin apoud Lunacharsky 2018, 239); art ceases to be the place of Utopia to be the topos of ideological affirmation of the instituted power, since, for the bureaucracy, there is nowhere else to go: if Socialism in One Country is proclaimed, then it would be this the place of Socialism: the place of intangible bureaucracy.

For all these reasons, Socialist Realism actually decreed the death of art, or, as we have already said, his suicide, and through this bias Trotsky alludes to the symbolic character of Mayakovsky's tragic act. And in this, Socialist Realism joined hands with fascism, because nothing is more symbolic and at the same time real and cruel than the intention unveiled by the sentence handed down by the fascist prosecutor Michele Isgrò, on May 28, 1928, before the intellectual and revolutionary Antonio Gramsci , when Mussolini’s Court sentences him to prison: “Per vent'anni dobbiamo impedere a questo cervello di funzionare!"[xv] (in: Gramsci 1977, XXV).

Art in capitalist societies

But what about the relationship between art and society in the framework of capitalism in a period concomitant with the bureaucratization of the Soviet State, a time when the FIARI Manifesto originated?

In this period – and in fact already since the beginning of the XNUMXth century, with the advent of atonalism in music, expressionist art and the historical vanguards (including Surrealism itself in the plastic arts), with the poetic experiments that tended to go beyond ordinary versification in poetry (Mallarmé and others), giving rise to visual poetry, concomitant with the process of extreme densification or “poetization” of prose (Joyce), etc. –, visionary avant-garde artists – those whom Trotsky referred to as “creative wreckage” who envisioned new ways of seeing art – felt increasingly cut off from society. Contrary to the heyday of bourgeois art, which took place with the initial development of capitalism until the turn of the XNUMXth century to the XNUMXth century, in which the artist, even when opposing the socio-political order, still found some social support for With the crisis of capitalism at the beginning of the modern era and the advent of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, we witnessed a divorce between avant-garde art and the public, a process that gave rise to the emergence of a strong standardization of consumer art. with the advent of what Theodor W. Adorno will define, as all pertinence, of cultural industry. Experimental art – just as great art has always been, by the way – becomes, if not properly muzzled, at least systematically isolated and increasingly limited to specialists. In modern capitalist society, the modern artist is a fundamentally misunderstood, exotic artist, alienated from contact with the great masses. He isolates himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, in his “ivory tower”. Paradoxically, due to the “elitist” character imposed on him by the mechanisms of the cultural industry, he is sometimes even identified as the “bourgeois artist” sui generis, and for that very reason he is sometimes highly valued, which, while giving him a certain sustenance (when not making him wealthy), further isolates him from the mass of workers and, if aware of his revolutionary role, throws him into contradiction with your own ideals[xvi]. What presented itself as a “protest” is soon assimilated by the system, and this at the height of the emergence of a true mass culture, hitherto non-existent in the history of human knowledge. It is as if, precisely in the face of a phase in which communication and its means of transmission potentially reach a massive number of people, capitalism condemns it with the following sentence: “Live well with your protests and your incomprehensible experiments, but be content to circulate his products only among us bourgeois, who pay him well!”

It is in this sense that, even today, the watchwords with which the Trotskyist Manifesto ends are of great relevance:

“The independence of art – for the Revolution!
The Revolution – for the ultimate liberation of art!”

The emancipation of the spirit, which the Socialist Revolution aims at, is also the emancipation of art, topos where the spirit is found in its most free and sovereign form.

3 – The contradictions between the arts and the capitalist cultural industry: a dialectical balance

If he is aware of his role as an artist, and if he is aware of the revolutionary role of the arts, the artist is, in capitalist society – and regardless of whether he is well or poorly paid –, an unfortunate person. To understand the complexity of his dramatic situation, nothing better than the metaphor used by Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the Dialectic of Enlightenment (Dialectic of Enlightenment), referring to the famous episode in Odyssey of Homer, when Ulysses, hearing and enjoying the song of the sirens, has his hands tied to the mast of the ship so as not to feel compelled to throw himself into the sea, while the oarsmen, so that they do not allow themselves to be carried away by the pleasure of that song and also be tempted to commit suicide, they have their ears covered with wax, an episode that well illustrates Adorno's criticism of the capitalist consumer society, as masterfully described by the Brazilian Marxist philosopher Rodrigo Duarte:

“The criticism deepens due to the ruse employed by Ulysses to survive the song of the sirens: his subordinates, who must propel the vessel, have their ears filled with wax so as not to hear the music and row vigorously. Ulysses himself would like to have an idea, however vague, of the beauty of the song, and so he allows himself to be tied to the ship's mast so as not to throw himself to his death when being hypnotized by the sound. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, this situation is an allegory of the situation of art and culture in what they call the 'managed world', as they become a luxury item for the consumption of a small minority, which, however , is found bound hand and foot, and totally inaccessible to the vast majority, who play the boat with your ears plugged, without any prospect of having at least a notion of beauty in its superlative degree.” (Duarte 2002, 32, emphasis added)

That is, the creator or those who understand him and have access to his work enjoy art, but, powerless, have their hands tied in front of society, while workers are prevented from exercising their aesthetic sensitivity, because if this came to occur, art would certainly serve as a propitious instrument for awakening his conscience. Once accessible, art becomes an ally of hunger: the desires for better living conditions will necessarily correspond to the desires for a better life. customer service of life, which directly implies the full exercise of culture. Art – and this aspect, albeit implicit, is not addressed by Adorno and Horkheimer – keeps, as the brilliant episode in Homer illustrates, a transformative potential, and for this reason it is still seen, by the capitalist system, as dangerous e threatening. For this reason, capitalism does not falter in encouraging the production of a mass culture, both shallow and widespread, serving as a dampening of aesthetic sensitivity. Hence the symbolic fact that the sirens' song incites those who enjoy them to death, since no one can resist (their) beauty and, consequently, the desire to have access to the full exercise of aesthetic sensitivity, which would go against the capitalism as a form of labor exploitation; more than that: bowing to aesthetic beauty in the midst of class society and throwing himself into the sea of ​​aesthetic delight, the artist walks towards his own death, a death social of their intellectual production.

Faced with the cultural conditions imposed on us by the capitalist system, the man of culture has only two alternatives: to integrate into the system, adapting and serving the mechanisms of cultural alienation; or to resist and oppose these mechanisms, denouncing, with his apocalyptic vision and his avant-garde work (either in its content, or in its form – by simply doing it –, or both), the ideological intricacies through which capitalism muzzles the sensitivity of the vast majority of the population and alienates it from its own sensitive production. But one way or another, the artist necessarily lida with these issues in capitalism, because, living in it, it is with the mechanisms of the capitalist system that he will also have to deal with for his survival. If Marx well emphasized this condition averse to the creator in capitalism, when he said, in the “Theory on Surplus Value”, that “capitalist production is hostile to certain branches of intellectual production, such as art and poetry” (Marx in: Marx & Engels 1974, 64), defending the integrity of the artist while stating that the artist should not create for profit, but evidently would need financial resources to create[xvii], he was well aware that nothing escapes capitalism, which treats everything as a commodity. This is what the beginning of The capital, in a phrase that, to the ears of the radical artist, sounds like a sordid reality:

“The commodity is, in the first instance, an external object, a thing that, by virtue of its properties, satisfies human needs of any kind. The nature of such needs – whether they come from the stomach or from fantasy, for example – does not alter this fact in the least.”[xviii] (Marx in Das Kapital – Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Erster Band, Buch I: Der Produktionsprozeß des Kapitals, in: Marx & Engels 1986, 49)

Umberto Eco's sociological analysis, in his insightful description of these two types of postures - that of apocalyptic and the two integrated – is therefore of great relevance in the debate on culture in consumer societies. More than that: once the artist irrevocably lives in the capitalist system (until a Socialist Revolution revokes it), his analysis of the pros and cons of the cultural industry is of great relevance, since, by creating them, capitalism does not fail to bring to light many contradictions regarding to the mechanisms of its cultural domination.

The indictments against the cultural industry

Briefly exposing what Eco called “accusations” against the mass media (mass media), capitalist mass culture and the cultural industry (cf. Eco 2011, pp. 40-43), we have the following arguments:

Mass culture tends towards an indistinct standardization of popular taste through a very indistinctness of the beings that make up the popular masses; acts as if popular taste could be guided by an average (and average) taste, crushing differences and annulling individualities;

It does not promote “sensibility renewals” (p. 40), but rather reinforces old stylistic traditions, diluting bourgeois cultural values ​​in the socially subaltern instances of consumer societies, as if they were current and innovative artistic solutions;

The cultural industry provokes or evokes intense emotions, appealing to the pathos sentimental as a vehicle of alienation as opposed to a real elaboration of sensibility, as occurs mainly in music, used “as a stimulus of sensations more than as a contemplable form” (p. 40);

Through the persuasive power of advertising, the cultural industry models consumption and the population's desire;

Even when it conveys highly elaborated cultural products, the cultural industry does so in a clearly diluted way, either in form or in the “small doses” through which it manages such accesses (p. 41);

The cultural industry seeks to “level” high-elaboration cultural products with cultural products stylized muzzled by standard styles, thus dampening the critical potential and interest, by way of distinguishing what is more elaborate, by the full exercise of sensitivity, and therefore discouraging the “personal effort to have a new experience” (p. 41);

In the cultural industry, the shallow cultural offer abounds and, with that, the cultural exercise is inflated through the encouragement of “an immense amount of information about the present” (p. 41); with that, the mass media “numb all historical consciousness” (p. 41);

“Made for entertainment and leisure”, the mass media praise “only the superficial level of our attention”, and in this way the product of culture does not act “as an aesthetic organism to be penetrated in depth, through an attention exclusive and faithful” (p. 41); art is diluted as a “background” among other activities of social life, and not as a place for exercising and deepening aesthetic sensibility;

Thus, “symbols and myths of easy universality” (p. 41) and easy recognizability are instituted and imposed, leveling individualities by leveling them to the minimum;

In this way, the cultural industry acts essentially conservative, systematically reinforcing the common consensus and, subliminally, praising all conformity uncritical;

Finally, the mass media they act “as a typical 'superstructure of a capitalist regime'” and as “an educational instrument typical of a paternalistic but, on the surface, individualistic and democratic society” (p. 42).

The cracks in the culture industry

Faced with this reality, it is necessary to recognize, dialectically and strategically, from a revolutionary point of view, the possible positive and contradictory points in the way in which the capitalist means of communication and the bourgeois cultural industry are managed, taking advantage of the cracks in the system to undertake a tactic of effective cultural transformation that opposes the mechanisms of class domination, and this even within the framework of capitalism. Exploring such fissures and such contradictions is equivalent to establishing a minimal program in the field of culture. Here, in summary, are the arguments either relatively favorable to the mass media, or with which the revolutionary artist will have to deal, as exposed by Eco (cf. Eco 2011, pp. 44-48):

Mass culture inevitably stems from all industrial society, from the new means of technical reproducibility and mass dissemination of information and cultural goods, not being, according to Eco, something typical only “of a capitalist regime” (p. 44); Eco evokes the mass cultures of Mao's China and the Soviet Union;

It is a necessary vehicle for any communication by any political or economic group in its communication “with all citizens of a country” (p. 44);

It conveys information previously inaccessible to a large part of the population; “therefore, the man who whistles Beethoven because he heard it on the radio is already a man who, although at the simple level of melody, approached Beethoven [...], whereas an experience of the genre was once exclusive to the wealthy classes, among whose representatives, very many, probably, although submitting to the ritual of the concert, enjoyed symphonic music at the same level of superficiality” with which the majority of the population does with the products of the so-called low culture capitalist (p. 45);

The accumulation of information somehow turns into formation (p. 46), in which data quantitative end up promoting a certain mutation qualitative of cultural levels, through an abundant influx of absorption, albeit superficial, of cultural data; the dissemination of cultural goods in abundance ends up, in a way, making the masses have contact in some way with the most elaborate products of the high culture bourgeois, being able to arouse the yearning in the masses for greater access to culture and education;

Eco forces us to recognize that “since the world began, multitudes loved the circus” (pp. 46-47), that is, entertainment products have always been part of “mass taste” and relate to a certain basic need of human beings for distraction and leisure[xx];

Eco insists, still, on the fact that “a homogenization of taste would contribute, in the end, to eliminate, at certain levels, caste differences, to unify national sensibilities”, to which, in the last instance, every socialist project is intended. ;

As for the so-called "revolution of the paperbacks” (p. 47), with the publication and cheap or pocket editions of great classics at very affordable prices, Eco sees this as a positive way of mass dissemination of products of great artistic elaboration;

According to Eco, all mass communication still tends, in a certain way, to become a slogan, becoming the target of “a schematic and superficial reception” (p. 47), such as the writings or theses critical of mass culture itself and even the Marxist vision of what culture is, which ended up giving rise to even the Stalinist vision of Socialist Realism; the phenomenon of a “levelling down” is therefore not exclusive to the mass culture of capitalism;

There is undoubtedly a certain awareness of contemporary man towards the world, even if due to an abundant offer without suggesting “criteria of discrimination” (p. 48) among the information conveyed; Eco argues that the “current” masses of contemporary societies “appear to us to be much more sensitive and participants, for better or worse, in associated life, than the masses of antiquity, prone to traditional reverence in the face of stable value systems. and indisputable” (p. 48); that is, “the major communication channels disseminate indiscriminate information, but provoke cultural subversions of some importance” (p. 48);

“Finally,” says Eco, “it is not true that the mass media are stylistically and culturally conservative. Due to the very fact that they constitute a set of new languages, they have introduced new ways of speaking, new styles, new perceptive schemes”, instituting a certain “stylistic renewal” (p. 48) within mass societies.

It is undoubted that, even when pointing out certain contradictions and coexistence between positive and negative aspects of the mass media and of the cultural industry itself, Umberto Eco's arguments prove to be relevant and should be taken into account by those who are on the sidelines. Marxist, Leninist or Trotskyist point of view on culture.

It should also be noted that creation always results from the equation between the historical conditions to which the creator submits himself and his creative capacity, his talent, and sometimes a product of culture is evaluated by how much the creator has achieved, in his work, overcome the sociolinguistic limits that were imposed on him. If this is valid for the work of the so-called “high culture”, that is, for the works that, avant-garde at the time of their conception, outlined and boosted the development of artistic languages ​​throughout history, this should also be taken into account, in due proportions, in relation to works arising from mass popular culture in capitalist societies or even from authentically folkloric cultural activities: there are, undoubtedly, artistic creations of value even in those that fit within the molds of mass culture (as, incidentally, recognizes Eco), that is, works that seek to overcome the limits imposed on it by[xx]. The relativization that must, however, also be taken into account with regard to the creations of popular “consumer” art stems from the fact that, even when giving rise to genuine works of value, the limits within which the artist creates, molded by the cultural system of consumption, are not overcome to the point of establishing a new aesthetic, that is, the artistic work is limited to certain limits and its intertextuality (that with which it dialogues at the very core of language) is limited to a restricted field, consistent with certain standards accepted by the cultural industry. Such works are not truly speculative, and for this reason it is not to them that a Manifesto like that of FIARI refers: the aesthetic support point of a document like this is found symptomatically – with all its problems – in Surrealism, that is, in one of the trends of vanguards historical.

Finally, if the negative points of mass culture constitute the aspects to be fought in a consumer society and denied in the construction of Socialism, it is necessary to recognize the positive points that the contradictions of the cultural industry reveal to us so that they serve a revolutionary cause of the culture as a whole. When Lunacharsky himself, in the heyday of his revolutionary activity in a text from April 1919 (“O proletkult and Soviet cultural work”), writes that “the proletariat must have full ownership of the universal culture [emphasis added]”, and that “to disparage the science and art of the past under the pretext that they are bourgeois is as absurd as, under the same pretext, to throw away factory machines or railways” (Lunatcharski 2018, 58), points to the same evidence formulated years later (in 1939) by Trotsky regarding the need, in a new socialist society, to make use of the advances and achievements of bourgeois societies, which also applies to the domain of culture:

“To save society, it is not necessary to stop the development of technology, close the factories, award prizes to farmers for sabotaging agriculture, impoverish a third of the workers, or summon maniacs to act as dictators. […] What is indispensable and urgent is to separate the means of production from their present parasitic owners and to organize society according to a rational plan.” (Trotsky 1990, 57-58)

In Socialism, the means of mass communication should not, therefore, be destroyed or denied, but rather expropriated from the usurpers of culture, turning them into means of cultural deepening of the masses or, better said, of individuals.

4 – Mário Pedrosa: Trotskyist thinker of culture

“Life is too rich in surprises to be cocooned in any hypotheses elaborated by the spirit” (Pedrosa 1939, 317). This is how the greatest revolutionary politician in the history of Brazil expresses himself in one of the most lucid texts of Marxist literature: “The defense of the USSR in the current war”[xxx]. The phrase, of a philosophical nature, actually addressed the “dogma” defended by Trotskyists, and in obedience to Trotsky, of the unconditional defense of the USSR, to which Pedrosa was opposed as one of the most active Trotskyists in the construction of the Fourth International. Let us remember that it was Pedrosa who, alongside the Greek Georges Vitsoris, replaced Rudolf Klement, kidnapped and dismembered by Stalinist agents, as administrative secretary of the Movement for the Fourth International, having played an active role in the conference of its foundation at the congress of September 3, 1938, in Périgny, on the outskirts of Paris[xxiii].

For Pedrosa, more than a bureaucratized socialist state, Stalinism had already converted the Soviet Union into a kind of state capitalism, and depending on the political situation in which the USSR found itself in a given war confrontation, the defensionism until then defended by Trotsky should be relativized, since the actions of the Red Army, under Stalin's command, sometimes massacred or at least neutralized the potentially revolutionary forces in the invaded countries (such as the cases of the Soviet invasions in Poland and in Finland in 1939). The debate, brought by Pedrosa to the bosom of the IV International in gestation[xxiii], and although he was the only representative of the ten Latin American Trotskyist sections at the Périgny Congress (cf. Karepovs 2017, 74), it cost him the removal of the Trotskyist ranks on the initiative of Trotsky himself, as the actress and Trotskyist militant Lélia Abramo:

“There was a time when even with Trotsky he [Pedrosa] had a disagreement and there was a rupture – that was when Trotsky, in the discussion at the Fourth International, imposed the slogan of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union, since defending the USSR would be to defend the revolution itself, a position that was intensified with the Hitler/Stalin pact. At this point Mário Pedrosa wrote a document in which he made restrictions on Trotsky's line. As a consequence, Trotsky reorganized the Secretariat of the Fourth International and Mário Pedrosa was excluded.” (Abramo in: Karepovs 2017, 22)

Trotsky's assassination in Mexico shortly after the heated debate may have contributed to proving that Pedrosa was perhaps right. In any case, if the discussion ended up taking Pedrosa out of the Fourth International, it did not take him out of Trotskyism: his trajectory and theoretical and critical work prove that he continued, until the end of his days, faithful to Trotsky's conceptions, to which he constantly referred with respect and admiration, and especially his work as an art critic and curator is proof that one of the greatest influences exerted by the FIARI Manifesto and the Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist conceptions about art and culture were precisely on Brazilian soil .

In his magnificent text “Art and Revolution”, already quoted, Pedrosa launches his sharp attack against cultural Stalinism, always from a Trotskyist point of view. Both his faith in the Socialist Revolution and his unconditional defense of aesthetic sensibility, in opposition to the obtuse spirit that so characterized cultural Jdanovism, implacably shine through when he says:

“The political revolution is on the way; the social revolution proceeds in any case. Nothing can stop them. But the revolution of sensibility, the revolution that will reach the core of the individual, his soul, will only come when men have new eyes, new senses to embrace the transformations that science and technology are introducing, day by day, in our universe, and, finally, intuition to overcome them. […] Confusing, therefore, political revolution with artistic revolution is very typical of the burotechnocratic mentality dominant in the omnipotent or totalitarian States of our days, and of which Stalinist communism is still today the most finished and sinister expression.” (Pedrosa 1995, 98)

His words converge to the FIARI Manifesto in its eighth point, when it states that “art cannot consent without degradation to bow to any foreign directive and docilely come to fulfill the functions that some believe they can attribute to it, in order to pragmatic, extremely narrow ends”. Opposing the Stalinist totalitarian state and having spent his life fighting for socialism, Pedrosa was a defender of freedom, thought, art and social justice – in short, from a libertarian socialism. At the end of his life, he was moved to sign membership form number 1 of the emerging Workers' Party (from which he would probably have already left or been expelled, a conviction that is corroborated by the reformist policy of the PT governments which, in part - and even to the by default –, contributed to the rise to power of neo-fascism in Brazil today). If he were alive today, Pedrosa would certainly be defending avant-garde art and Socialism, in a way consistent with the political trajectory of his entire life.

In a tribute to Pedrosa, the great Marxist psychoanalyst and poet Hélio Pellegrino, one of his traveling companions, would write, in Newspapers in Brazil of February 5, 1960, the moving words:

“Mario Pedrosa was, indisputably, our master, and not just our master: he taught the whole of Brazil that the socialist revolution is a search for freedom, for more freedom. There is no authentic socialism without freedom, but, conversely, there is no freedom without socialism either, since there is no true freedom without justice.” (Pellegrino in: Karepovs 2017, 220)

Humanity today no longer lives trapped between cultural Stalinism and the capitalist cultural industry. On that scale, the revolutionary artist would have nothing to win. With the exception of the few countries in which the Socialist Revolution remains victorious – as notably in Cuba – Stalinism, unfortunately, ran its course, as Trotsky had predicted in 1936 in The Revolution Betrayed, and capitalism was restored. The fact, however, that we are here, in Cuba, discussing the Trotskyist legacy is the most complete proof that neither Stalinism nor fascism – to refer to Gramsci's condemnatory fascist sentence – managed to appease the functioning of the revolutionary brain, and if the fatal blow of the Stalinist agent – ​​who, at a time of inevitable and important alliance with the bureaucratized Soviet Union, paradoxically found his last asylum in Cuba –, if this blow was delivered precisely against the brain of the great leader of the Red Army, it was not enough to stop the resonance of his ideas.

Today, Socialist Realism no longer exists: it is a corpse of history, like Stalinism; it is ostracized, like all mediocrity. The artistic vanguards, in turn, do not feel threatened, but neither do they find space, in capitalism, for their full flourishing: they are, at best, assimilated as they were before, in a tone of contempt, with their social inefficiency, by the meshes of almost global hegemony of Capital. The conclusion of the FIARI Manifesto, however – and precisely for this reason – remains clamorously current: art claims Socialism, and this, its libertarian character. And nothing more confluent with the essence of art than that. For, as Trotsky would say in The Revolution Betrayed, “spiritual creation needs freedom” (Trotsky 1980b, 125).

* Flo Menezes he is a composer, author of about one hundred works in various musical genres and more than ten books, he is the founder and director of Studio PANaroma of Electroacoustic Music at Unesp (São Paulo State University), where he is Professor of Electroacoustic Composition.

This text was originally presented at the Congress “León Trotsky – vida y contemporaneidad. A critical approach” (Cuba, May 2019)


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Pedrosa, Mario & Xavier, Livio:
“Esquisse d'une analyse de la situation économique et sociale au Brésil”, in: The Class Struggle, Paris: 4e année, n. 28-29, February/March 1931, pp. 149-158.

Proust, Marcel:
At the recherche du temps perdu, IV – Albertine disparue, I. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1989.

Schoenberg, Arnold:
harmonielehre. Wien: Universal Edition, 1949.
Harmony. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2001 (translation by Marden Maluf).

Schopenhauer, Arthur:
Metaphysics of Beauty. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2003.

Schrodinger, Erwin:
What is life?. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 1997.

Trotsky, Leon:
About art and culture. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1973.
Literature and Revolution. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores, 1980a.
The Revolution Betrayed. São Paulo: Global Editora, 1980b.
In defense of Marxism. São Paulo: Editorial Proposal, 1984.
The Living Thought of Karl Marx. São Paulo: Editora Ensaio, 1990.

Trotsky, Leon & Breton, André:
For an independent revolutionary art. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Paz e Terra, 1985.


[I] The Marxist revolutionary tradition itself takes for granted the leadership of the masses by a Vanguard revolutionary, which, due to the very structural conditions of class societies, would naturally result from a petty bourgeoisie. As Domenico Settembrini writes in his tendentiously critical entry regarding the Leninism, however, in this passage, with evident pertinence when he addresses Lenin's theory in his overcoming of traditional Russian populism: “Since the evolution of the working class, in the parliamentary democratic regime, distances it from the path of socialism, it will be necessary to , first and foremost, a guide to keep the masses on the right path. Here, then, was found the need and the task of a party made up of professional revolutionaries of petty-bourgeois origin, formed outside the working class and not subject to control or influence by it. Party that will be the repository of the truth, as an interpreter of the most real essence of the working class, the current incarnation of socialism, the only guarantee of its future advent.” (Settembrini in: Bobbio et alii 2016, 681)

[ii] “La culture [est] tout en nous sauf notre présent” (Barthes 1973, 32). Barthes' phrase seems to be directly related to Marx's in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: "The tradition of all dead generations weighs heavily on the brains of the living." (Marx & Engels 1974, 66)

[iii] “Art and politics cannot be approached in the same way. Not because artistic creation is a ceremony and a mystique, […] but because it has its rules and its methods, its own rules of development, and above all, because in artistic creation the subconscious processes play a considerable role, and these processes they are slower, more indolent, more difficult to control and direct, precisely because they are subconscious.” (Trotsky: “The party and the artists”)

[iv] “Marxism has conquered its universal historical significance as an ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because it has not in any way rejected the most valuable conquests of the bourgeois epoch, but, on the contrary, it has assimilated and reworked all that is most valuable in more than two ways. thousand years of development of human thought and culture.” (Lenin: “The proletarian culture”)

[v] Referring to music, the great musicologist Carl Dahlhaus writes: “Unlike political history, in which the non-effective consists of nothing, in the history of music a work, from which nothing follows, can also be significant” [“Anders als in der politischen Geschichte, in der das Wirkungslose nichtig ist, kann in der Musikgeschichte auch ein Werk, aus dem nichts folgt, bedeutend sein”]. (Dahlhaus 1978, 340)

[vi] It is in this sense that Umberto Eco states: “In each book, over time, all the interpretations that we give them are embedded. We don't read Shakespeare as he wrote. Our Shakespeare then is much richer than what was read in his time.” (Eco in: Eco & Carrière 2010, 134)

[vii] “[Der Irrtum] verdient einen Ehrenplatz, denn ihm verdankt man es, daß die Bewegung nicht aufhört, daß die Eins nicht erreicht wird. Daß die Wahrhaftigkeit nie zur Wahrheit wird; denn es wäre kaum zu ertragen, wenn wir die Wahrheit wüßten.” (Schonberg 1949, 394).

[viii] The term Permanent Revolution originates in Marx in the writing of his Message to the Communist League, in 1850 (cf. Dunayevskaya 2017, pp. 321-356, especially from p. 332). In this text, Marx writes: “The attitude of the revolutionary workers' party towards petty-bourgeois democracy is the following: march with it in the struggle for the overthrow of that faction whose defeat the workers' party aspires to; marches against it in all cases where petty-bourgeois democracy wants to consolidate its position to its own advantage. But the greatest contribution to the final victory will be made by the German workers themselves, starting from the awareness of their class interests, occupying a position independent of the party as soon as possible and preventing the hypocritical phrases of the petty-bourgeois democrats from diverting them for a single moment from the task. to organize the party of the proletariat with complete independence. Its battle cry must be: permanent revolution” (Marx apoud Dunayevskaya 2017, pp. 336-337). to this character permanent bases of the revolutionary process, which is allied to the revolutionary character of the petty bourgeoisie at a certain moment to soon after reach the proletarian revolution, the theory of Permanent Revolution of Trotsky will add the transcendence of the revolution in the national scope to, in a subsequent moment, the international scope.

[ix] “Nous ne connaissons vraiment que ce qui est nouveau, ce qui introduit brusquement dans notre sensibilité un changement de ton qui nous frappe, ce à quoi l'habitude n'a pas encore substitué ses pâles facsimiles.”

[X] This thought is in complete agreement with what the French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux says in a dialogue with the composers Pierre Boulez and Philippe Manoury: “The brain image of the response to novelty reveals in man an activation of the prefrontal and temporal cortex, as well as of the cingulate cortex that are part of the cerebral territories that intervene in the access to consciousness, [...] which illustrates the idea of ​​an 'awareness' awakening an interest in novelty” [“L'imagerie cérébrale de la réponse à la nouveauté révèle chez l'homme une activation des prefrontal and temporal cortex ainsi que du cortex cingulaire qui font partie des territoires cérébraux intervenant dans l'accès à la conscience, […] ce qui illustre l'idée d'une 'prise de conscience' ouvrant à un intérêt pour la nouveauté”] (Boulez & Changeux & Manoury 2014, 61).

[xi] In a text dated June 17, 1938 (“El arte y la Revolución”), Trotsky writes: “[…] It is small groups that made art progress. When a given dominant artistic trend has exhausted its creative resources, creative 'debris' that knew how to look at the world with new eyes is separated from it.” [“[…] They are small groups that have made progress in art. When the dominant artistic tendency has exhausted its creative resources, creative 'debris' is separated from it, who have known how to look at the world with new eyes.”] (Trotsky 1973, 209)

[xii] “Denn noch die einsamste Rede des Künstlers lebt von der Paradoxie, […] zu den Menschen zu reden.”

[xiii] Arno Münster clarifies about Bloch: “Day dreams are always oriented towards the future, while night dreams have a privileged relationship with the past […]” (Münster 1993, 25). It is in this sense that Bloch speaks of a Concrete utopia seated on the feet: “The point of contact between dream and life, without which dream is only an abstract utopia, and life, then, only triviality, is given in the utopian capacity settled on the feet, connected with the possible reality.” [“Der Berührungspunkt zwischen Traum und Leben, ohne den der Traum nur abstractrakte Utopie, das Leben aber nur Trivialität abgibt, ist gegeben in der auf die Füße gestellten utopischen Kapazität, die mit dem Real-Möglichen verbunden ist.”] (Bloch 1985, 165)

[xiv] “[…] In the field of literature and art we do not want to support either 'Trotskyist' or Stalinist tutelage. […] An authentically revolutionary power cannot or does not want to give itself the task of 'directing' art, let alone giving it orders, neither before nor after taking power. […] Art can be the great ally of the revolution insofar as it is true to itself.” The thought is diametrically opposed to the conclusion reached by Lunacharsky when he discusses what Marxist criticism would consist of. Judging by the content of a given work, Marxist criticism should, in the view of the man who would become one of the defenders of Stalinist Socialist Realism, even exercise censorship: “[...] Not Marxist criticism, but censorship comes into play Marxist” (Lunatchárski 2018, 147); or again: “The limits of freedom that we can grant in a time of struggle depend on the severity with which we evaluate this type of 'romantic' and, if the state apparatus considers it necessary to let these works pass, or let them slip away, or for a mistake, or through lack of vigilance (although he is extremely vigilant), then the critic must in any case remove them with the greatest force […]. No, you forgive me, there is no place for that kind of tolerance here.” (Lunacharski 2018, 241)

[xv] “We must stop this brain from working for twenty years!”

[xvi] Mário Pedrosa, in a 1975 text entitled “Cultured art and popular art”, observes with painful relevance: “To fix the value of the work on the market, it is of no importance if, within capitalist society, the artist is servile and intransigent defender of his values ​​or if he is a challenger and denounces his vices. We could even say that, in the capitalist market, protest has a better price than a submissive posture. Thus, the famous artist represents, within bourgeois society, the full incarnation of the individualist hero, the greatest fetish created by that society and, therefore, for incarnating its primordial myth, that society is obliged to gratify him with all the possessions, because he represents the maximum realization of the values ​​he defends and must show that he who is able to realize these values ​​reaches the bourgeois paradise, 'The Promised Land of Capitalism'.” (Pedrosa 1995, 322)

[xvii] Marx asserts in the “Debates on the Freedom of the Press”: “Of course, the writer must earn money in order to live and write, but in no case should he live and write in order to earn money” (Marx in: Marx & Engels 1974, 73 ). The sentence is quoted in the ninth point of the FIARI Manifesto and is totally confluent with the observation of Marx and Engels in the german ideology, when they state: “[…] Men need to be able to live in order to 'make history'.” (Marx & Engels 1975, 311)

[xviii] “Die Ware ist zunächst ein äußerer Gegenstand, ein Ding, das durch seine Eigenschaften menschliche Bedürfnisse irgendeiner Art befriedigt. Die Natur dieser Bedürfnisse, ob sie zB dem Magen oder der Phantasie entspringen, ändert nichts an der Sache.”

[xx] In “Art and Revolution” (second amended version of the article of March 29, 1952, in: Newspapers in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, April 16, 1957), Mário Pedrosa warns, referring to the theorists of Stalinist Socialist Realism: “According to the same theorists, art is not for the elites, but for the masses. They decide, no one knows for what title, the most convenient cultural food for them. However, the everyday and banal reality is different: the masses are not interested in art. By the way, neither do the so-called elites. […] What the people are looking for is fun, and this in all countries, 'capitalist' or 'socialist'. He is indifferent to both figurative and abstract painting. The elites, the same way. And it's natural. Bourgeois civilization, in its happiest expressions, is a civilization of extroverts. Exteriorization is its most general characteristic. The fast pace of life today leaves no time for contemplation. And painting, like sculpture, requires contemplation in appreciating, silent meditation” (Pedrosa 1995, 96). Neither the “natural” tendency to leisure, nor its defensible justification, however, prevent this leisure from being manipulated by the dominant ideology, as recognized by Eco himself, when he states: “[...] The way of having fun [of the masses ], of thinking, of imagining, is not born from below: through mass communications, it is proposed to them in the form of messages formulated according to the code of the hegemonic class. We are thus faced with the unique situation of a mass culture, within which a proletariat consumes bourgeois cultural models, keeping them within an autonomous expression of its own”. (Echo 2011, 24)

[xx] It is through this bias that a musician from the ranks of the musical avant-garde (as seen with Luciano Berio, brilliant composer and Umberto Eco's travel companion, in his declared admiration for certain songs of urban popular music, notably by the Beatles) can recognize and even get moved by the beauty of a popular song, restricted to the very (de)limited sphere of market music.

[xxx] The text first appears in English, “The defense of the USSR in the present war”, and under the pseudonym of Lebrun, in: International Bulletin (issued by the SWP – Socialist Workers Party), New York, v. 2, no. 10, February 1940, pp. 1A-17A, but drafted on November 9, 1939.

[xxiii] For all the details about Mário Pedrosa’s political trajectory, consult the extraordinary book by the Marxist historian Dainis Karepovs: Karepovs 2017.

[xxiii] In reality, the debate around Trotsky's thesis of unconditional defense of the USSR was already fought during the founding Congress of the Fourth International, in Périgny, on the outskirts of Paris, on September 3, 1938, and the opposition to a dogmatic acceptance of it was defended, there, only by the delegate of the minority of the French POI (Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste), Yvan Craipeau (cf. Karepovs: “Mario Pedrosa and the IV Internacional (1938-1940)”, in: Castilho Marques Neto 2001, 108), but it was Mário Pedrosa who, in his profound text “The defense of the USSR in the present war”, in February 1940, raised the discussion in a consistently theoretical way, which resulted in a severe estrangement between Pedrosa and Trotsky himself, the split in the IV International leadership and the subsequent departure of Pedrosa from the organization (cf. the harsh correspondence between Mário Pedrosa and Trotsky in: Karepovs, Idem, pp. 119-126).

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