Lenin's cultural internationalism



Of all the Leninist conceptions about art, the one that most reveals itself to be glaringly current is the defense of internationalism.

One of the striking democratic traits of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's spirit is manifested in his notorious discretion in relation to the domain of the arts. Unlike authoritarian personalities, who immediately seek to impose their own conception on all fields of human activity, generally without accepting any divergence and directing them towards strengthening their own power – whether through themselves or through of his representatives –, an authentic revolutionary leader will always know how to encourage freedom of artistic thought and creation.

When we observe Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's attitude towards art throughout his life, this notable difference stands out between the way he saw culture and the brutality that followed him in the bureaucratic command of the Russian Revolution, leading to Stalinist Socialist Realism, mainly formulated and postulated in strict rules of artistic conduct by Andrei Alexandrovitch Zhdanov, a close collaborator of Stalin.

The coercions that many artists suffered under the yoke of Andrei Zhdanov, a fact that led such impositions to be categorized as typical of “Zhdanovism”, in reality relaxed not with the death of Andrei Zhdanov in August 1948, but only with the disappearance of the Stalin himself in March 1953, which proves the above all Stalinist character of Socialist Realism, having generated one of the most embarrassing phases of the arts, such as the low level of works created under the tutelage of the Soviet usurper who, paradoxically, made use of the “Leninism” as one of the arguments for maintaining and strengthening its authoritarian power.

The way in which art and culture were treated in the Stalinist era is one of the most complete proofs of how contradictory Stalin's claim to a “Leninist” heritage was, as Anatoli Lunacharski, appointed People's Commissar, had rightly stated in the Education and Culture sector after the October Revolution of 1917, “throughout his life, Lenin had very little time to devote special attention to art. In this respect, he always confessed to being a layman and, as he always considered dilettantism as something odious, he did not like to give opinions on art” (Lunatcharski 1975, p. 9).

It was evident that, for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, art required specific and careful consideration, and a serious expression in this regard could only come from people who considered themselves sufficiently competent in the face of artistic languages: “[Lenin] declared that he could not speak seriously those questions [about art], as I did not consider myself to have the necessary competence” (Lunatcharski 1975, p. 13).[I]

From this fundamental attitude, which exudes respect and a measured spirit towards creation and invention in the field of arts, a logical consequence follows and is consistent with the revolutionary spirit: art and culture should not suffer impositions from the Revolution, and a leader revolutionary, even if he could naturally have his own predilections, and even if he thought he had the necessary competence to pronounce on art, he should not exert any coercion on the artist. And even though Lenin was the supreme leader of the Russian Revolution, enjoying greater prestige and power than his greatest companion in directing the direction of the Revolution, Trotsky, his occasional opinions would never serve as an argument to formulate guidelines to be followed by cultural agents. .

This fact is proven and reinforced by Anatoli Lunatcharski himself, who, constantly speaking with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on issues related to education and culture and respectfully asking him, with a certain frequency, about his opinions on the directions to be adopted in his “portfolio” , vehemently attests: “Vladimir Ilyich never converted his aesthetic sympathies and antipathies into guiding ideas” (Lunatcharski 1975, p. 15).

Trotsky's ease in dealing with artistic issues, and more specifically with literature, having as its main (but not only) fruit his tome bringing together essays written mainly between 1922 and 1923 under the title Literature and Revolution, makes us conjecture that, between Lenin and Trotsky, there was a certain distinction: while the first is characterized, as we attested above, by a manifest restraint when faced with artistic issues, the second seemed more involved, resourceful and dedicated to these issues, having , it seems, a broader and more critical culture in relation, above all, to literary works, to the point of manifesting itself through these critical essays that ended up constituting one of the most precious contributions of 20th century Marxism in the field of arts.

And this is without taking into account his subsequent involvement, in the final years of his life (more precisely, in 1938), with one of the main aspects of the artistic avant-garde, namely Surrealism – especially due to his very friendly relations with the writer Frenchman André Breton, one of the leaders of the movement and a self-confessed Trotskyist –, without ceasing to speak equally critically towards this current, which Trotsky viewed with some caution as he understood that, through the bias of the so-called “automatic writing”, Surrealism was perhaps misinterpreting the still emerging Freudian psychoanalysis. This consisted of Trotsky's reservation in relation to an “objective chance” that established itself as a sacred principle of the surrealist movement.[ii]

This distinction between Lenin and Trotsky seems indisputable to us, therefore, with regard to their involvement with artistic issues and the resourcefulness of both in this very specific field, but the convergences are no less. Thus, in an important text dated May 9, 1924, “The Party and the Artists”, Trotsky, in full accordance with Lenin's discretion (we prefer, here, this designation to “Leninist”), asserts: “Yes, we must deal with art as art and literature as literature, that is, as an entirely specific sector of human activity. We have, of course, class criteria that also apply to the artistic field, but these class criteria must, in this case, be subjected to a type of artistic refraction, that is, they must be adapted to the absolutely specific character of the sphere of activity at hand. which we apply them” (Trotsky 1973, p. 137).

Trotsky's statement, in the midst of the affirmation phase of the Russian Revolution and already in its process of degeneration – as it dates four months after Lenin's death –, echoes his already visionary formulation from 1910, when, in a text entitled “The intelligentsia and Socialism”, stated that “regardless of the class character of any movement (as this is only the way!), regardless of its current party-political physiognomy (as this is only the means!), socialism, by its very nature, essence, as a universal social ideal, means the liberation of all types of intellectual work from all social-historical limitations and obstacles” (Trotsky 1973, p. 38).

Now, wasn't this liberation of intellectual work as one of the fundamental goals of socialism precisely what Vladimir Ilyich Lenin included as one of his basic precepts in relation to artists? Rosa Luxemburg's great friend, Clara Zetkin, in her Memories of Lenin (1955), reproduces a statement by Lenin that leaves us with no doubts about this: “In a society based on private property, the artist produces goods for the market, he needs buyers. Our revolution freed artists from the yoke of such prosaic conditions. She made the Soviet state her defender and her client. Every artist, everyone who considers himself an artist, has the right to create freely in accordance with his ideal, without depending on anything” (Lenin apoud Zetkin, in: Lenin 1980, p. 231).

Of course, Lenin's stance is not free from contradictions. In the heat of the moment, he sometimes appealed to Lunacharski to guide cultural production as propaganda for the Revolution.[iii] If the artist shouldn't “depend on anything”, why should art serve as propaganda? The heat of the hours we refer to does not just date back to the October Revolution: it dates back to the first Russian Revolution, which failed in 1905, in a text whose title is “Party organization and Party literature”, written in 13 ( November 26th[iv], Lenin goes so far as to formulate that “publishing houses, shops, bookstores and reading rooms, libraries and other establishments must be Party enterprises, subject to their control” (Lenin 1975, p. 73), a formulation that will fit like a glove in Jdanovist/Stalinist iron fist in its rigorous and authoritarian control of cultural production.

But even here contradictions exist and can have a positive effect. In the same text from 1905, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin recognized that the Party's relationship with art could in no way occur mechanically, defending the individual freedom of the creator precisely in the domain of literature, which, when dealing with words, reveals more than any other art the meaning of its formulations and the ideology of its authors: “It is indisputable that literature lends itself less than anything else to this mechanical equation, to leveling, to the domination of the majority over the minority. It is indisputable that it is absolutely necessary, in this field, to give a wider place to personal initiative, individual inclinations, thought and imagination, form and content. All this is indisputable, but all this only proves that the literary sector of the Party's work cannot be mechanically identified with the other sectors of its work” (Lenin 1975, p. 73).

Whatever the case, the congruence between Lenin and Trotsky manifested itself in an increasingly categorical way, not only in practical matters of an eminently political nature, but also in ideological ones. Maturity also comes to great geniuses, and already in the construction of the hitherto victorious socialism, both Lenin and Trotsky defended a non-mechanistic relationship between the Party and art, or between Marxism itself and culture, as it was clear to both that the methods of art acquire a certain autonomy, differentiating themselves from the eminently Marxist methods of analysis.

This is precisely what Trotsky refers to in his text “Party Politics in Art”, part of Literature and Revolution: “Marxism offers several possibilities: it evaluates the development of new art, monitors all its changes and variations, through criticism, encourages progressive currents, but does no more than that. Art must pave its own path. The methods of Marxism are not the same as those of art” (Trotsky 1980, p. 187).

The fact is that, no matter how much one wants to affirm, in a genuinely Marxist stance, the supervalence of historical factors over individuals, the thesis of historical substitution, whereby individuals are seen as essentially weaker than their macro-structural conditions, must be called into question, as we see that, depending on who this or that historical circumstance depends on, the course of events turns out to be completely different. In the oscillations of such formulations about the ambivalent relations between Party and culture, we see that some of them do not run the risk of becoming authoritarian weapons as long as they are in the hands of individuals with an upright character like Lenin, but already in the hands of personalities like that of Stalin...

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin certainly did not count on his own death when he insisted on the propagandistic character of art, as propagandizing a revolutionary regime is completely different from propagandizing a despotic regime. If propaganda is necessary, it only proves revolutionary if “controlled” by revolutionaries, otherwise it becomes a lethal weapon of the Revolution itself! In this sense, the defense of an anarchic condition for artistic creation, absolutely free from all coercion and consequently from all obligation in the face of a presumed and inescapable commitment to one's own ideological propaganda, is symptomatic. definitive of the F.I.A.R.I. Manifesto. – the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Artists, founded by him, Breton and Diego Rivera in 1938.

In the provisional drafting, carried out by Breton and Rivera, the statement that emphasizes this precept did not exist, but appears in the finished text and corrected by Trotsky: “If, for the development of the material productive forces, it is up to the revolution to erect a regime socialist centralized plan, for intellectual creation it must, from the beginning, establish and ensure an anarchist regime of individual freedom.” (Trotsky & Breton 1985, pp. 42-43).[v]

In a hermeneutic analysis of the origin of this essay, it becomes clear, therefore, that the insistence and prominence of the anarchist character of artistic creation originate from the hands of Trotsky himself, which, at first, may seem surprising to us. How, in the midst of the construction of the Fourth International, would there be any concession to anarchism as a concept, even if strictly confined to artistic creation? Maturity – we have already formulated it – also comes to great geniuses…

And another no less surprising aspect is precisely the appeal to this concept considered by the supposedly Marxist orthodoxy as so… bourgeois! In his 1910-1911 essays on Leo Tolstoy, in one of the few digressions that Lenin granted to the artistic field – motivated mainly by the death of the great Russian writer –, Lenin appeals to the concept of “genius”[vi] which seeks to place Tolstoy's personality outside of any thesis of historical substitution, attributing him a unique role in the history of Russian literature: “Leon Tolstoy belongs to an era that was reflected in masterful relief both intwo brilliant artistic works and in his doctrine, an era that extends from 1861 to 1905” (“Leon Tolstoy and his time”, essay written on January 22 (February 4), 1911: Lenin 1975, p. 60).

The same concept is evoked in a previous text, dated November 28 (December 11), 1910, entitled “Leon Tolstoy and the contemporary labor movement”: “Tolstoy's criticism is not new. […] But the originality of Tolstoy's criticism, its historical importance, lies in the fact that he translates, with a vigor of which only genius artists are capable, the transformation of the mentality of the largest masses of the people of Russia in the period in question, and precisely from rural and peasant Russia (Lenin 1975, p. 50).

Much more bourgeois (or petit-bourgeois) than the evocation of the term is to ignore its original meaning, as formulated, with great aptness, by Arthur Schopenhauer. The concept refers to special circumstances in which an individual, acting with high objectivity in the face of the facts of his world and its structural arrangements, manages to transcend the specific historical conditions that surround him and ends up erecting works that can be transplanted, with permanent value, to other later eras with the same or perhaps even greater artistic and aesthetic value than at the time in which they were conceived.

For Schopenhauer, it is precisely in art that genius reveals itself in all its fullness: “It is Art, the work of genius. It repeats the eternal Ideas apprehended by pure contemplation, the essential and permanent phenomena of the world, which, depending on the material in which it is repeated, is exposed as plastic art, poetry or music. Its only origin is the knowledge of Ideas, its only end is the communication of this knowledge. – Science follows the endless and incessant chain of different forms of foundation and consequence: from each end achieved it is again thrown further, never reaching a final end, or complete satisfaction, just as little as, by running, one can reach the point where the clouds touch the horizon line. Art, on the contrary, finds its end everywhere. For the object of her contemplation she removes from the torrent of the world's course and isolates it before herself. And this particular, which in the fleeting torrent of the world was a tiny part disappearing, becomes a representative of the whole, an equivalent in space and time of the very infinite. Art stops at this particular point. The wheel of time stops. Relationships disappear. Only the essential, the Idea, is the object of art. (Schopenhauer 2005, pp. 253-254).[vii]

In this sense, far from interpreting genius as something of an absolutely subjective nature – which would effectively make the concept perfectly in line with the properly bourgeois and above all romantic spirit – the concept is imbued with an objective character, leaning much more towards a Marxist interpretation. from its meaning: “It follows that genius is nothing other than the most perfect objectivity, that is, the objective orientation of the spirit, as opposed to the subjective one that goes hand in hand with the person himself, that is, with the will” (Schopenhauer 2005, p. 254).[viii] And it is, let us see, this objective character, which transcends his time without ceasing to refer to it with all the acuteness, that Lenin refers to when reporting to Tolstoy.

Contrary to what one might expect, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin does not openly combat Tolstoy's pacifism, nor his moralism. Recognizing the noble origin of the Russian writer, he rightly praises the transcendent character that exudes in his writings, notably in his final works: “Tolstoy belonged, by birth and education, to the high Russian rural nobility; He broke with all current opinions in this field and, in his latest works, subjected the current political, ecclesiastical, social and economic regime to vehement criticism, based on the enslavement of the masses, their misery, the ruin of peasants and small landowners in general, in the violence and hypocrisy that permeate contemporary life from top to bottom” (Lenin 1975, p. 50).[ix]

More than that: he comes out in defense of Tolstoy, enunciating the Socialist Revolution as the only necessary and possible means for the Russian master's work to become accessible to anyone and everyone: “The artist Tolstoy is only known, even in Russia, for a minority. So that his great works can actually become accessible to everyone, it is necessary to fight, continue fighting against the social order that has condemned millions, tens of millions of men, to ignorance, brutalization, forced labor, misery; socialist revolution is necessary” (Lenin 1975, p. 43).[X]

Faced with this “transcendence”, this objectivity of which the “genius” work is capable, Lenin weaves, in one of his essays on the Russian writer, dated January 22 (February 4) 1911 and entitled “Leon Tolstoy and his era”, a curious comment, in which he highlights the progressive aspects present in great works of art, regardless of their era. The “curiosity” lies in the fact that, instead of “progressive”, Lenin uses nothing less than the term… socialist!

This reminds us of an answer that the great Brazilian communist literary critic Antônio Candido gave when he was asked if he would be disappointed with the collapse of socialism in the face of capitalist hegemony. With more or less these words, Antônio Candido surprised the interviewer and responded to the question with another initial question, followed by a categorical statement: “Debacle of socialism? But socialism is the winner! All social achievements within capitalism, what is most progressive about it, are due to socialist ideology and its struggles!”[xi]

Lenin states, in his essay, that there is socialism and socialism, praising, as if in an apology for the minimum programs that are still trapped by conditions that were previously feudal and then capitalist, each progressive element as being fundamentally socialist in nature: “There is no doubt that Tolstoy's teachings are utopian and reactionary, in the most exact and profound sense of the term, in their content. But this does not mean, in any way, that this doctrine is not socialist, nor that it does not contain critical elements capable of providing precious materials for the instruction of the advanced classes. There is socialism and socialism. In all countries where there is a capitalist mode of production, there is a socialism that expresses the ideology of the class called to replace the bourgeoisie, and there is another socialism that corresponds to the ideology of the classes that the bourgeoisie replaced. Feudal socialism, for example, falls into the latter category, and its character was defined many years ago, more than sixty years ago, by Marx, along with the other varieties of socialism.” (Lenin 1975, pp. 63-64).

Obviously there is, here, a certain freedom in the use of the term, but what is evident is the importance of not closing the doors to the creations of the past, coming out in defense of the cultural and historical legacy of all humanity, something that united viscerally, once again, the thought and erudition of Lenin and Trotsky, in crass opposition to Stalin's truculence and ignorance.

In “Lenin on Culture”, an article written for the Pravda on January 21, 1930, Lunatcharski emphasizes that “Lenin strongly emphasized that it would be much easier for us to fight and build if we had inherited a more developed bourgeois culture after the overthrow of the monarchy and the ruling classes. He repeated several times that this bourgeois culture would make it easier for the proletariat of the Western countries to accelerate, after their victory, the effective and complete realization of socialism.” (Lunatcharski in Lenin 1980, p. 247).

It was in this sense that, making an analogy with the use of officers from the old regime as members of the Red Army organized by Trotsky, Lenin states, in his text “Successes and Difficulties of Soviet Power”, from 1919, that the edifice of socialism should be built with the stones inherited from the bourgeoisie: “When Comrade Trotsky told me recently that the number of officers in the army was in the tens of thousands, I had a concrete idea of ​​what is the secret of using our enemy, of how we must force those who it was our enemies building communism, how we should build communism with the bricks that the capitalists chose to use against us. No more bricks were given to us! And with these bricks, under the leadership of the proletariat, we must force the bourgeois experts to erect our edifice. This is the most difficult thing, but it is also the guarantee of success” (Lenin 1980, p. 63).[xii]

Through this defense of bourgeois cultural heritage, Lenin strongly identified with Trotsky's vision of art and culture, as for both socialism would represent not the negation of historical culture, but rather the historical emancipation of thought, finally making it accessible to the masses the most relevant thing that man has managed to build, even in the midst of the market conditions of capitalism, or even before, in the midst of feudalism, in the domains of science, philosophy and the arts. Hence the strong reservations of both in the face of the imminent proletarian culture – the Proletkult, defended by Alexander Bogdanov, his great friend Lunatcharski and others.

In the draft resolution on proletarian culture, whose unfinished manuscript of October 9, 1920 was only published for the first time in 1945, Lenin leaves no doubt when stating in his second point how he saw the issue: “Not the invention of a new culture proletariat, but the development of the best models, traditions and results of existing culture from the point of view of the Marxist conception of the world and the conditions of life and struggle of the proletariat at the time of its dictatorship.” (Lenin 1980, p. 152).

Here it is not clear how a Marxist conception of the world could serve as a point of view for such development based on the models of the bourgeois past, but there is an unequivocal understanding that inventing a new culture that was proletarian would be a task not only inadvisable, but also unfeasible, since, in the dictatorship of the proletariat, the proletariat itself would cease to be a class. No one would have been able to predict the direction that the arts would take in the prolonged and assured construction of socialism – a fact that could not be verified, as the October Revolution itself began its process of degeneration notably as early as 1923, with the disease of Lenin and above all the definitive defeat of the German Revolution –, but for both Lenin and Trotsky it was certain that one of the means to be appropriated by the proletariat in the revolutionary process were the means of intellectual production: the historical cultural legacy of humanity.[xiii]

In the cultural field, there would therefore be no need to tabula rasa. Ruptures of this type, if they occurred, should come from eminently artistic positions, as a free choice of the creator, not as an imposition of the Party and much less as a fundamental guideline of the Revolution. In his magnificent essay on the great poet Vladimir Mayakovsky[xiv], considered by Jean-Michel Palmier in his immense study on Lenin and art as the greatest poet of the Russian Revolution[xv], Lunacharski states that “Mayakovsky understood very well that humanity's past held immense values, but he feared that, if he accepted them, he would be forced to accept everything else as well. Therefore, it was preferable to rebel against everything and say: We are our own ancestors.” (Lunatcharski 2018, p. 186).

But Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, quite the opposite – and with certain reservations, perhaps without much reason, in relation to the poetic work of the metal poet (as Mayakovsky defined himself) –, and in the same way as Trotsky, did not hesitate to defend the heritage bourgeois, even speaking out through its systematic study by the victorious proletariat. Resolution 4 of the text “Proletarian Culture”, dated October 9, 1920, clearly states: “Marxism gained its universal historical significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because it did not in any way reject the most valuable achievements of the bourgeois epoch, but , on the contrary, assimilated and reformulated everything that was of value in more than two thousand years of development of human thought and culture. Only further work on this basis and in this direction, inspired by the practical existence of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the struggle of the proletariat against all exploitation, can be considered as the development of a truly proletarian culture.” (Lenin 1979, p. 271).

In the aforementioned text by Trotsky from 1924, “The Party and the Artists”, there is an enunciation that finds great identity with the Leninist formulation, when Trotsky states that “the bourgeoisie took power and created its own culture; the proletariat, having seized power, will create a proletarian culture. But the bourgeoisie is a rich and therefore educated class. Bourgeois culture existed even before the bourgeoisie formally took power. […] In bourgeois society, the proletariat is a disinherited class, which owns nothing and is therefore not in a position to create its own culture. By taking power, he sees, for the first time, clearly the real situation of his terrible cultural backwardness.” (Trotsky 1973, p. 140).

This raw observation, evident in minds with intellectual honesty and frankness, encourages us to reflect on the situation of culture today, amid the hegemony of capital. The situation, however, is different: with the delay of proletarian revolutions and the relative “socializing” advance of some populist measures of a social nature within capitalism itself (advances of the “minimum program” type to which we have already referred), the proletariat, even in the midst of late capitalism, it ends up building its own “marginal” culture, doing so, however, in extremely precarious conditions and under strong ideological imposition, at the specific level of artistic languages, of consumer societies, resulting in cultural products of a very low level, defended tooth and nail by the “empowerment ideology” that tends to confuse the legitimacy of such initiatives with an irresponsible attitude, from a Marxist point of view, in defense of the quality of these cultural by-products of capitalist society, for the simple fact that that they come from the most exploited classes in society.

There is, therefore, a true apology for cultural misery. What we simply see is the supremacy and apology of the capitalist cultural industry itself (as Theodor W. Adorno defined it). We live, from a cultural point of view, in the most critical period of humanity. It is necessary to have courage to denounce a critical situation like this, in the face of the risk of lynching by pseudo-leftists (in general, petty-bourgeois with shallow cultural background), and to fight, even within the framework of capitalism, for access to disadvantaged populations in terms of culture and the study of artistic languages, with all their technical specificities. This without abandoning the defense of the artistic avant-garde, as the character of resistance in the face of cultural barbarity comes to the surface amidst its manifestations, in a battle that revives the fight waged by Mayakovsky in favor of the New.

Referring to Mayakovsky's stance, Lunacharski asserts: “The poet must take part in the production of new things, that is, his works, even if they are not utilitarian in themselves, must provide stimuli, methods or instructions to produce useful things. The purpose of all this is the transfiguration of circumstances and, consequently, the transformation of the entire society.” (Lunatcharski 2018, p. 189).

What is defended here is aesthetic sensitivity, something systematically combated by late capitalism and the cultural industry.

However, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin did not always know how to follow or even value this New so defended by the metal poet. “Regarding futurism”, for example, “his opinion was frankly negative” (Lunatcharski 1975, p. 13), and he demonstrated great difficulty in assimilating or letting himself be carried away by musical sensitivity. The abstraction of music, which despite all its technicality (which certainly makes it the most difficult of the arts) has the potential, due to the strength of tensions and relaxations and its temporal course, to move, to provoke emotions, bothered Lenin.[xvi]

Perhaps because of this difficulty, he preferred Beethoven's music, especially the Sonata Appassionata, as attested by his wife Nadejda Krúpskaia and his Memories about Lenin[xvii]. Beethoven's work is, of course, not the only one in which this occurs, but it is a very clear example of how bourgeois technical progress causes direct reflections on artistic creation, and at the same time in a direction that is sometimes opposite to the bourgeois spirit itself.

In his curious analysis and reflection on the sounds of the world – his book The tuning of the world –, the creator of the term soundscape (soundscape), Canadian Murray Schafer, observes that “the replacement of the harpsichord, with a plucked string, by the piano, with a hammered string, typifies the greater aggressiveness of a time in which plucked or hammered objects came into existence thanks to new industrial processes. […] The power enabled by these new technical developments was first harnessed by Beethoven[; …] his aggressive temperament made the “offensive” character of the new instruments especially significant to him […]. In principle, there is little difference between Beethoven's attempts to epater les bourgeois, with the effects on sforzando with clenched fists, and those of the modern teenager with his motorcycle. The first is the embryo of the second” (Schafer 2011, p. 159).

Of all Leninist conceptions about art, however, the one that most reveals itself to be glaringly current is the defense of internationalism! This aspect is relevant, as in addition to supporting the defense of an entire legacy of humanity in the cultural field, it helps to clarify Lenin's position regarding nationalism in his very important controversy with Rosa Luxemburg.

As is widely known, the debate surrounding the national question arises when, in its Junius leaflet: the crisis of German social democracy, written between February and April 1915 and published just a year later, in April 1916, Rosa Luxemburg states as Task 5 at the end of her text: “In this era of unbridled imperialism, there can no longer be national wars. National interests serve only as a pretext for placing the working masses of the people under the rule of their mortal enemy, imperialism” (Luxemburg 1979, Volume II, p. 176). If this formulation were not enough, Rosa concludes in his Principle 6, in a definitive way, that “the immediate mission of socialism is the spiritual liberation of the proletariat from the tutelage of the bourgeoisie, which is expressed through the influence of nationalist ideology” (Luxemburgo 1979, Tomo II, p. 180).

Rosa Luxemburg's position is assertive and leaves no room for any doubts: she correctly identifies in nationalist ideology the essence of bourgeois ideology itself. His vision is based on radical internationalism, without any concessions, and, from this point of view, Rosa was, of all the great Marxists, the personality most coherent with the most essential precepts of Marxism itself, as he claimed that it was in radical internationalism that lay the main goal to be achieved by the international revolutionary movement.

Thus, at the same time as I went to meet, before la lettre, from the Trotskyist conception that criticized the isolation of socialism in a single country (Stalinist theory that would serve as a basis for the strengthening of the Soviet bureaucracy), that is, within national borders (something that, as we know, would become increasingly evident only in later period, throughout the process of degeneration of the Soviet State, diametrically opposing Trotsky to Stalin), also identified, equally in an anticipated and premonitory way, with the theory of the (perhaps utopian) dissolution of the State as an instrument of power and social organization of the ruling classes, so well formulated by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in The State and the Revolution, conceived one year after the publication of the Junius brochure, that is, between August and September 1917, on the eve of the October Revolution.

Rosa was, therefore, a great visionary, and would soon establish herself as the main leader of the German Revolution of 1918, alongside Karl Liebknecht, whose negative outcome, with the murder of both in January 1919 by the militias that preceded Hitler's rise to power in Germany[xviii], would be the main blow suffered by the international communist movement in the 20th century, because if the German Revolution had been victorious under the leadership of Rosa and Liebknecht, the Russian Revolution would have found strong and immediate support within Europe and in the most important European country geographically and politically at the beginning of the 20th century, and the entire course of the last century would have been completely different, with a probable overwhelming advance of the communist movement across the globe!

In reality, the collapse of the new German revolutionary uprising of 1923, sealing any possibility of a communist revolution on German soil, once and for all frustrating the German revolutionary movement of 1918 and opening the way for the Nazi rise, represented, alongside Lenin's death shortly after beginning of 1924, the two great disasters suffered by the international revolutionary movement: the first, due to political circumstances; the second, due to bad luck, a fatality that, for health reasons, removed its main leader, Lenin, from the victorious Revolution in Russia, precisely at its most critical moment. It was too bad of an omen for it to have worked…

In any case, upon becoming aware of the Junius brochure, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, recognizing the extremely high level of elaboration (genuinely Marxist) of the writing, and without knowing that Junius was a pseudonym and that the writing came from the hands of the brilliant Rosa Luxemburg, was surprised by the content of the text precisely with regard to opposition from Junius brochure regarding the thesis of the self-determination of peoples, opposing this precept, considered (until today) by most Marxists as an almost sacred principle, to the basic principle of class struggle, by identifying, in the ideological roots of national movements, bourgeois ideology itself: “Lenin (who did not know that Junius was Rosa Luxemburg) was shocked to read in the same text that analysis that opposed national self-determination and opposed it to the 'class struggle'” (Dunayevskaya 2017, p. 140).

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was obviously based on the progressive character and transitional strategy that was evident in the defense of anti-colonial struggles, supported by the history of assessments regarding the struggles for independence in colonial countries since Marx and Engels. Already in a letter to Kautsky dated February 7, 1882, Friedrich Engels asserted: “In no case do we have the task of diverting the Poles from their efforts to fight for the vital conditions of their future development, or of persuading them that national independence It is a very secondary issue from an international point of view. On the contrary, independence is the basis of all common international action” (Engels apoud Dunayevskaya 2017, pp. 136-137).

But Rosa Luxemburg did not accept any concession, and we understand this well as radical artists: Rosa's position, radically internationalist, is, in the eyes of the radical artist (and I affirm him, here, as being one of them), and alongside the defense of its anarchic condition (as Trotsky defended in his 1938 text conceived jointly with Breton and Rivera), the most coherent with the most fundamental precepts of communist and revolutionary ideology, and even in relation to the self-determination of the peoples Rosa was skeptical, as Behind the principle, as a rule, there was a trace of bourgeois ideology that would certainly exert a strong propensity to halt the revolutionary movement and restrict national emancipation within the regulatory frameworks of class society.

For Rosa, only a movement that had revolutionary internationalism as its fundamental motto could carry out the radical communist project without, midway through, losing its way and becoming the object of a dramatic capitulation. As Dunayevskaya states, “the outbreak of the First World War did not quell Luxembourg's opposition to self-determination. […] His conviction was that internationalism and ‘nationalism’, even the question of self-determination, were absolute opposites” (Dunayevskaya 2017, p. 139). Lenin opposed Rosa's position, however – and not without reason from his point of view – the fact that “Marxist dialectics demands a correct analysis of each specific situation […]. Civil war against the bourgeoisie is also a form of class struggle” (Lenin apoud Dunayevskaya 2017, p. 141).

Nothing more perverse and opposed to Marxist dialectics than dualist thinking that wants to decree reason to one of the sides when, from their respective perspectives and points of view, both were right! A Marxism that wants to be permanently evolving, in invigorating updating, needs to air itself out and understand that the differences between great revolutionaries can result in healthy maturation in the face of strategies and tactics to be put into continuous movement, in permanent (r)evolution, and If Lenin's position concerned local decisions, concrete assessments of each struggle situation, it was precisely in the field of culture, in his blatant opposition to “national cultures”, that Lenin's radical internationalism was clearly evident.

For already in his “Critical Notes on the National Question”, from November 1913, Lenin stated: “The slogan of national culture is bourgeois arrogance (and often also ultra-reactionary and clerical). Our slogan is the international culture of democracy and the global workers' movement. […] Whoever wants to serve the proletariat must unite the workers of all nations, invariably fighting against bourgeois nationalism, both their “own” and that of others. Whoever defends the slogan of national culture has no place among Marxists, his place is among nationalist philistines.” (Lenin 1975, pp. 157 and 159).

A succinct assessment of the reactionary role played by nationalist currents in art – especially, in my personal context, Brazilian nationalist music, which I struggle with as a radical composer – would suffice to confirm how right both Rosa and Lenin were: if Socialism wishes to emerge as effectively emancipatory, it will do so in defense of the entire cultural legacy of humanity, sweeping away any national border that seeks to imprison artistic, cultural and scientific facts, opposing the peoples of this miserable planet.

This is how, from his discretion in the face of artistic phenomena to the fight for radical access to the masses of the entire cultural legacy of humanity, through the uncompromising defense of creative freedom, the transcendence of great (genius) works of art, the assimilation and study of bourgeois cultural heritage and cultural internationalism, we glimpse the integrity of genuinely Leninist thought.

* Flo Menezes, composer, is a professor at the São Paulo State University (Unesp), author, among other books, of Acústica Musical em Palavras e Sons (Atelier, 2014). [https://amzn.to/3u19tiF]


Dunayevskaya, Raya: 2017. Rosa Luxemburg, women's liberation and philosophy Marxist of the revolution. La Habana: Editorial Filosofi@cu Instituto de Filosofía.

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich: 1975. About art and literature, edition prepared by Miguel Lendinez. Madrid: Ediciones Jucar.

1979. Literature and art. Moscow: Editorial Progreso.

1980. Culture and the cultural revolution. Moscow: Editorial Progreso.

1982. Spring in Moscow (a poem by Lenin). São Paulo: Edições Populares (Analdino Rodrigues Paulino Neto).

2018. philosophical notebooks. Sao Paulo: Boitempo Editorial.

Lunacharski, Anatoli:

1975. The visual arts and politics in the U.S.S.R.. Lisbon: Editorial Estampa.

2018. Revolution, art and culture. Sao Paulo: Popular Expression.

Luxembourg, Rosa: 1979. Chosen works, Tome I & II. Bogotá: Editorial Pluma.

Palmier, Jean-Michel: 1975. Lenin, art and revolution. Paris: Payot.

Posadas, Juan: 2020. Beethoven's music, human relations and socialism. Brasília: Independent Editor C. A. Almeida.

Schafer, R. Murray: 2005. The tuning of the world. São Paulo: Editora Unesp.

Schopenhauer, Arthur: 2005. The world as will and as representation. São Paulo: Editora Unesp.

2014. The world as will and imagination, Drittes Buch, § 36, in: The world as will and imagination / Die Kunst, Recht zu behalten / Aphorisms about life wisdom. Hamburg: Nikol Verlag.

Trotsky, Leon: 1973. About art and culture. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

1980. Literature and revolution. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores.

Trotsky, León & Breton, André: 1985. For an Independent Revolutionary Art, Rio de Janeiro: Editora Paz e Terra.

2016. Dossier André Breton – Surréalisme et Politique, Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne. Paris: Center Pompidou.


[I] In an important text from 1932, “On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Alexandrinsky Theatre”, Lunatcharski reproduces a speech that Lenin would have addressed to him: “I do not pretend to pretend to be an expert in artistic matters” (Lenin apoud Lunatcharski, 1980, p. 246).

[ii] Breton himself quotes Trotsky in his text about his visit to the revolutionary leader in his exile in Mexico: “Comrade Breton, the interest you dedicate to the phenomena of objective chance does not seem clear to me. I know very well that Engels appealed to this notion, but I wonder if, in his case, there is something else. It seems to me that you have some concern about keeping – his hands delimited a fragile space in the air – a small window open to the beyond” (Trotsky apoud Breton, in: Trotsky & Breton 1985, p. 62; original emphasis).

[iii] “In 1918 Vladimir Ilyich called me and told me that it was necessary to develop art as a means of propaganda” (Lunatcharski 1975, p. 11).

[iv] The difference in dates refers to the difference between the Western and Russian calendars.

[v] In the original French: “Si, pour le développement des forces productives matérielles, la révolution est tenue d´ériger un régime Socialist of centralized plan, for the creation of intellect within which the first step is to ensure and assure a regime anarchist of individual liberty.” (“Pour un art révolutionnaire indépendant” (F.I.A.R.I. Manifesto, July 25, 1938), signed by André Breton and Diego Rivera, but also written by Trotsky, in: Dossier André Breton – Surréalisme et Politique, Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne. Paris: Center Pompidou, 2016, p. 106).

[vi] Even though I have basic knowledge of the Russian language, I did not have access to Lenin's texts in the original Russian, but I rely here on the seriousness of the translations that I was able to read (in Spanish, in Portuguese...), supporting myself in the assumption that Lenin has effectively appealed to the concept of genius in its corresponding word in Russian.

[vii] Given the importance of the philosophical formulation, we reproduce the excerpt in the original German: “Es ist die Kunst, from Werk des Genius. Sie wiederholt die durch reine Kontemplation aufgefaßten ewigen Ideen, das Wesentliche und Bleibende aller Erscheinungen der Welt, und je nachdem der Stoff ist, in welchem ​​sie wiederholt, ist sie bildende Kunst; Poetry or Music. Ihr einziger Ursprung ist die Erkenntnis der Ideen; ihr einziges Ziel Mittheilung dieser Erkenntnis. – Während die Wissenschaft, dem rast- und bestandlosen Strom vierfach gestalteter Gründe und Folgen nachgehend, bei jedem erreichten Ziel immer wieder weiter gewiesen wird und nie ein letztes Ziel, noch völlige Befriedigung finden kann, so wenig als man durch Laufen den Punkt erreicht, wo die Wolken den Horizont berühren; so ist dagegen die Kunst überall am Ziel. Denn sie reißt das Objekt ihrer Kontemplation heraus aus dem Strome des Weltlaufs und hat es isoliert vor sich: und dieses Einzelne, was in jenem Strom ein verschwindend kleiner Teil war, wird ihr ein Repräsentant des Ganzen, ein Äquivalent des in Raum und Zeit unendlich vielen : sie bleibt daher bei diesem einzelnen stehen: das Rad der Zeit hält sie an: die Relationen verschwinden ihr: nur das Wesentliche, die Idee, ist ihr Objekt.” (Schopenhauer, The world as will and imagination, Drittes Buch, § 36, in: Schopenhauer 2014, pp. 199-200; original emphasis).

[viii] In the original German: “[…] So ist genius nichts anderes als die vollkommenste objectivity, d. H. objektive Richtung des Geistes, entgegengesetzt der subjektiven, auf die eigene Person, d. i., den Willen, gehenden.” (Schopenhauer Idem, 2014, p. 200; original emphasis).

[ix] This excerpt is taken from his essay “León Tolstoy and the contemporary labor movement”, dated November 28 (December 11), 1910.

[X] This excerpt is taken from the essay that Lenin wrote on the occasion of the Russian writer's death: “Leon Tolstoy”, dated November 16 (29), 1910.

[xi] I reproduce the great critic's statement from memory, but I assure the veracity of its content.

[xii] It is in this sense that Lenin also states, in Leftism, childhood disease of communism, that “bourgeois intellectuals cannot be banished or destroyed, they must be defeated, transformed, merged again, re-educated, just as the proletarians themselves must be re-educated based on the dictatorship of the proletariat, at the cost of a long-term struggle, because Nor will they be able to free themselves from their petit-bourgeois prejudices suddenly, by a miracle, by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, by an order, a resolution or a decree, but only at the cost of a long and difficult mass struggle against the petit-bourgeois influences on the masses” (Lenin 1975, p.149).

[xiii] Em The visual arts and politics in the U.S.S.R., Lunacharski, who disagreed with Lenin for advocating in favor of Proletkult, asserts: “Vladimir Ilitch also disagreed with my opinion regarding Proletkult. […] She was afraid that the Proletkult tried to also occupy itself with the ‘elaboration’ of a proletarian science and, in general, of a total proletarian culture. […] I thought that with these initiatives, at the moment immature, the proletariat would turn its back on the study and assimilation of already existing scientific and cultural elements” (Lunatcharski 1975, pp. 15-16).

[xiv] Both the essay on Mayakovsky and the one on Dostoevsky (in which the author develops the idea of ​​the polyphonic novel in the Russian writer's work) are proof of Lunatcharski's great critical talent. Mayakovsky's, however, reveals in its conclusion the very questionable facet of Lunacharski, as he vehemently opposed Trotsky, claiming that, for Trotsky, the poet's suicide in 1930 was due to the direction of the Revolution, already in full swing. degeneration. Lunatcharski writes: “Trotsky wrote that the poet's drama is to have loved the revolution with all his strength, to have gone to meet it, when this revolution was no longer authentic, to have lost himself in his love and his journey. Naturally, how could the revolution be authentic if Trotsky did not participate in it? This alone is enough to demonstrate that it is a ‘fake’ revolution! Trotsky also states that Mayakovsky took his own life because the revolution did not follow the Trotskyist path. […] Thus, 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 that we are creating” (Lunatcharski 2018, p. 199). This fact did not prevent Trotsky, with his unshakable intellectual honesty, from writing a posthumous tribute, in 1o of January 1933, to Lunatcharski, recognizing his cultural and intellectual merits by drawing, with his sharp pen, an acute psychological portrait of the militant who, from friend and companion, became, in his words, an “honest adversary”. The short essay, which did not appear in any edition during his lifetime, Literature and revolution, ended up being added to the posthumous editions of this fundamental book for Marxist culture. Whatever the case, it is necessary to recognize that Trotsky's allegation about the reasons that led Mayakovsky to commit suicide did not necessarily correspond to reality, since, as Palmier describes, suicide was an idea that had haunted the poet for a long time. : “On April 14, 1930, a tragedy occurred. [Mayakovsky] shot himself in the heart. Many people tried to find a political reason for this suicide, trying to read into it the result of the divorce between the new regime and itself […]. Others saw this as the culmination of all the criticism he had received and, above all, the lack of enthusiasm for his later works. In reality, Mayakovsky, that hypersensitive giant, has been haunted by death and suicide since he was young” (Palmier 1975, pp. 406-407).

[xv] See Palmier 1975, p. 423.

[xvi] “Music really pleased Vladimir Ilyich, but it changed him. […] One day he told me frankly: ‘Listening to music is very pleasant, no one doubts it, but, imagine you, it changes my mood. In a way I bear it painfully’. […] The music pleased Lenin very much, but [it] made him visibly nervous.” (Lunatcharski 1975, p. 14)

[xvii] In Lenin 1975, p. 246. Trotskyist Juan Posadas, in his naive book on Beethoven's music, reaffirms this predilection of Lenin: see Posadas 2020, p. 45.

[xviii] The fatal blow of the pre-Hitlerist right would soon culminate in the murder of Kurt Eisner in Bavaria on February 21 of that same year, 1919, a personality who acted as a mediator between the labor movement and the bourgeois Parliament and who defended the maintenance of property private, but which still represented, after the disappearance of the two great German revolutionary leaders, a minimal hope for some minimally progressive advances in German society.

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