Jean-Marc Lachaud, Olivier Neveux | Arts and Revolution. On Some Theoretical and Practical Elements

Pierre Huyghe | Mating, 2015


It would be wrong to consider constructing a fully established aesthetic theory from a reading of the few pages that Karl Marx dedicates to artistic and literary creation. In L’Idéologie allemande, while countering an idealist approach, Marx affirms that a work of art needs to be analyzed in its context of production and reception. Nevertheless, in Grundrisse, while resisting a simplistic reflection theory, he stresses the unique character of artistic and literary products. Observing that his contemporaries can still be moved by the masterpieces of ancient Greek art, he also admits that they evidence “inequalities between the evolution of art in general and that of society.” [1]

For his part, Friedrich Engels does not put forward a normative theory of literature. [2] Certainly, like Marx, in La Sainte famille he vigorously criticizes the ideological content of Eugène Sue’s novel Les Mystères de Paris and, in a no-holds-barred exchange of letters with the author, also criticizes the political ambiguity of Ferdinand Lassalle’s “historical tragedy,” Franz von Sickingen. But, while he evokes these works, or even Shakespeare’s tragedies or Ibsen’s dramas, Balzac’s Comédie humaine, and Zola’s romantic bias, and even when he shows his profound contempt for Wagnerian music, Engels does not envisage that artistic and literary works might support any of the requirements of militancy. Although, during correspondence with the socialist novelist Margaret Harkness, he takes a position on questions about the “true realism” of works, and on the necessary recourse to what is typical (characters’ personalities, the contexts in which they act), which are brief in their “drift,” Engels never formulates any statement on formal literary modes.

In fact, there is nothing in Marx or Engels’ remarks to endorse a mechanistic or dogmatic reflection on aesthetics, comparable to that developed at the start of the twentieth century by Georges V. Plékhanov in L’Art et la vie sociale, or to justify a revolutionary power establishing a rigid and constraining model of aesthetics, as was the case with the canons of socialist realism imposed by the Stalinist Andreï A. Jdanov at the start of the 1930s (although it cannot be denied that some artists and writers themselves adhered to these principles). [3] [4] [5]

All through the twentieth century, intellectuals, artists and writers (as well as the leaders of revolutionary politics, such as Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci and Mao Zedong), have laid claim to Marx’s thought. [6] [7] [8] [9] They have intervened in the aesthetic field and through participation in conflict-filled debates that bring into tension complex links that unite and differentiate the aesthetic and political fields, with regard to questions of cultural heritage, popular culture, party political art and literature, the emergence of proletarian art and literature, and the “dialectic of form and content.” Later on, such debates deal with the reproducibility of the work of art, the threat to the relative autonomy of the artistic and literary spheres brought to bear by the development of cultural industries, the emergence and dominance of the society of the spectacle, and the modernity/postmodernity dispute. [10] These discussions have also been linked elsewhere to the upheavals of History (for example, when faced with the triumph of Nazism, Benjamin called for a politicization of art), and, more particularly, to the concrete situation of art and literature (with regard to the roles of artists and writers) in the Soviet Union (and in the people’s democracies of Eastern Europe, China or Cuba).

Within the limited framework of this introductory article, we will address some situations and themes, albeit briefly, through which it may be possible to highlight the contradictions that inflect Marxist approaches to artistic and literary production.


Artistic Avant-Garde and the Political Avant-Garde

Several avant-garde artists and writers who reject bourgeois society express enthusiasm for the October 1917 Revolution. For them the time has now come, as clearly stated in surrealist slogans, to “transform the world” (Marx) and “change lives” (Arthur Rimbaud).

A vivid sequence of creativity, debates, clashes, and theoretical statements opens up; artistically speaking the 1920s are rich and productive. The creation of mass spectacles, the eruption of a range of forms of agit-prop, the emergence of new artistic movements (like constructivism), experimentation with original aesthetic forms (such as Dziga Vertov’s “Cine-eye” and Vsevolod E. Meyerhold’s biomechanics) appears during these very dense and heterogeneous years. Its contribution to contemporary cultural creation is immense; Erwin Piscator, Bertolt Brecht or the October Group in France, including writer Jacques Prévert, for example, were influenced by the work of troupes like Blue Blouse in the USSR. [11] These movements vitalized the creative field through the medium of international communism (this can be seen, to cite just one reference, in the case of the proletarian Japanese Theater League).  [12]

The quantitative importance of a movement like Proletkult, created before October and led by Alexander Bogdanov, testifies to this effervescence. Seen as a “mass cultural organization, its aim is to occupy all fronts of social activity in order not to give the bourgeois enemy the opportunity of perverting or curbing the working class’s revolutionary impulse.” [13]  The rich debates surrounding this attest to the existence of a renewed approach to art and creation at the level of the masses. Proletkult was always characterized by a strong resistance to a revolution of forms and quickly opposed futurism, for example, one of the most important among the many avant-garde movements. These were regrouped in 1923 at the heart of LEF (Left Arts Front [Front Gauche de l’Art]) an initiative of Vladimir V. Maïakovski, Sergueï M. Tretiakov and Ossip Brik among others, as well as the “New LEF [Nouveau LEF].” [14] It is not a question of representing or understanding life but of constructing it,” as François Champarnaud stresses. [15] Manifestos, plays, poems, photographs, paintings, everyday objects: the creators of Lef seized on all media, just as they led an incisive and vital reflection on heritage and the past, and on the social functions of art under capitalist domination, which was also a passing stage–Tretiakov perceived it to be “a social narcotic […] a way for people to escape reality (with all its rough edges and difficulties) in an exotic illusion […] a school of manners.” [16]  Because of its very newness, the state was able, in 1917, to address completely new questions to artists. What use were they serving? How could they become this “small screw in the great revolutionary mechanism”, to reprise Lenin’s definition of party political literature? It was a question of reflecting anew, of discussing “the autonomy of art” and of striving to challenge its separation from the rest of existence (a critique that, in different forms and with distinct arguments, reappears with the surrealists and later, in situationism). The debates are frank, constrained in a more real and productive way when directed by Bolsheviks. Perhaps such discussions had never before linked aesthetics and politics so profoundly nor had such direct concrete implications.

However, the avant-garde’s aesthetic and political revolutionary fervor was very rapidly forced into conformity after the death of Lenin; it was reduced to silence in the Soviet Union like the Bolshevik party itself, and disavowed by the leadership of communist parties in capitalist countries.

After the short years in which, according to Jean-Michel Palmier, “intense formal experimentation, even if it did not receive the general approval of the Soviet government, even if Lenin revealed himself to be skeptical of ‘the new art [l’art nouveau]’ and did not hide his liking for the most classical realist works, did not suffer any repression,” the Stalinist regime brutally required artists and writers to subordinate their practices to Party directives. [17]  In the magical comedy La Punaise (1929), produced by Vsevolod E. Meyerhold (who would be arrested and executed in 1940), Vladimir V. Maïakovski (five years after the poet Sergueï A. Essénine killed himself in 1930) violently accused Party bureaucrats and the red-tinted petite bourgeoisie of betraying the promises of the October Revolution. [18] The Stalinist bureaucracy would respond with an implacable and ferociously organized repression to the disillusionment expressed by those who had given their creative energy in service of the revolutionary ideal (without denying their freedom to choose to believe in a new art and their critical capacity in respect of the construction of socialism), yet had ended up being perceived as enemies.

In France, the relationship between the surrealists and the communist organization was transitory and quickly became stormy. Nevertheless, the surrealist cohort was, in an exceptional case, a “French section of international communism” for a time, in the same manner as the PCF (French Communist Party [Parti communiste français])! André Breton, in contradiction to the positions defended by Louis Aragon, expressed his disagreement with the directions adopted during the 1930 International Congress of revolutionary writers in Kharkov (modeling artistic and literary biases, rejecting the contribution of Freudianism…) and the rupture was consummated in 1935 during the International Congress for writers for the defense of culture, organized in Paris (A. Breton violently opposed the line taken by the Soviet representative Ilya Ehrenbourg). [19] Despite Walter Benjamin’s enthusiasm for Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris—he wrote that the surrealists had understood the perspective of “self-transcendence called for by The Communist Manifesto,” and that Ernst Bloch considered surrealism to be reviving the avant-garde flame by looking into the possibilities hinted at in outline in the heart of the “world beneath, the world to the side and the world below”—the PCF leaders declared themselves incapable of seizing the subversive potential of a surrealist and revolutionary romanticism. [20][21] [22] Everyone also had in memory the scandal of Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Stalin painted in 1953, at the time of the Soviet leader’s death, and published in Les Lettres Françaises, a journal edited by Aragon. According to Dominique Berthet, the Communist Party leadership’s violent reaction clarified “the reality of the relationships between the PCF and its intellectuals and artists” and “the Party’s determination to direct and judge artists’ work, distributing praise and blame.” [23]

It is worth remembering, in opposition to the subjection of literary and artistic creation to the diktats of political power, that Trotsky, who affirmed that art occupies an “individual, particular place in human activity,” signed an important manifesto in 1938, along with André Breton and Diego Rivera: Pour un Art révolutionnaire indépendant demanded, at one and the same time, “the independence of art—for the revolution” and “the revolution—for the permanent liberation of art”! [24] [25]


Realism in Question

In the 1930s a dispute about expressionism developed within the heart of the German emigrant community. [26] [27] In “Grandeur et decadence de l’expressionisme” Georg Lukács considers that the movement, which bears the marks of capitalist decadence (even though it was qualified as “cultural bolshevism” by the Nazis!) facilitated the National Socialist party’s victory, because of its irrational revolt. [28] [29] Arguments developed by Bertolt Brecht and published after the Second World War opposed Lukács’s analysis. [30] [31] While creating a distance from the “pathetic rhetoric” of expressionism (the expressionist vision of the world influenced his first pieces of work), Brecht immediately got to the heart of the quarrel: in “Au Dossier du débat sur l’expressionnisme: réflexions pratiques” (1938), he notes that in this “battle,” “[…] we hurl forth war cries: “Expressionism!” “Realism!” The question for Lukács is indeed that of realism. In the same year, in “Il y va du réalisme” he states clearly that it is necessary to respond to the following question: “[…] which writers, what literary trends, represent progress in current literature?” [32] While referring in a formalist manner to a realist model of literature (that practiced by Balzac and carried on by Thomas Mann), Lukács is unable, unlike Walter Benjamin, Ernst Block or Anna Seghers, to analyze new forms (such as Brechtian epic theater, John Heartfield’s photo montages, or the novels of James Joyce and John Dos Passos, for example). [33]  [34] [35] Compared to Brecht who, with no formal a priori calls for “the application of the methods of dialectic materialism to the representation of reality” and for art to be aesthetically and politically effective (giving art an operational character), Lukács, combating naturalistic tendencies in the literary field (Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola) as well as modernist tendencies (those of Kafka and Beckett), without, however, accepting the rules of Soviet socialist realism, develops the foundations of his theory of “great realism” in several texts. For Lukács, each work must be realized “in the extreme deployment of its hidden possibilities, in this extreme representation of extremes which concretizes the summit and limits of the totality of both people and period.” [36] Lukács does not deny the particularity of the aesthetic act and is not proposing a reductive reflection theory. “Great realism” arises from an aesthetic of the unveiling of the essence of reality. In Le Roman historique, he also writes that art must reveal “the totality of the phase of historical evolution of human society.” [37] Countering the rigidity of those Lukácsian analyses that centre on a mode of literature which is determined historically, Brecht responds unambiguously and with reason that “each work must be judged according to the degree of reality that it managed to realize in each specific case, and not on its degree of conformity to a preestablished historical model!”


A Militant Art?

In an exemplary manner, Brecht’s own work illustrates a unique path to the heart of an inscription of artistic practices within Marxism (no longer a Marxist reading or Marxist readings of art itself). All his works denote an overtly militant project. This direct participation in contemporary struggles seems to be in opposition to Engels’ statement in a famous letter to Minna Kautsky, about her novel The Old Ones and the New: “The tendency” he writes “must arise from the situation and the action themselves, without being formulated explicitly.” [38] This recommendation seems to resist the direct and explicit inscription of art in politics, or of art at the service of a particular orientation. Nevertheless, many works, in all their varied forms, demanded a potential function for art in the struggle. Determining this function, its limits and effectiveness is the focus of other ongoing debates around the possibility of calling these forms “art” when they refuse to be “pure art” or “art for art’s sake.” They are the focus of three recurrent grievances. In an article dedicated to the concept of engagement popularized in 1948 by Sartre in Qu’est-ce que la littérature? Adorno maintains that “art does not consist in putting forward alternatives, but in resisting, through form and nothing else, the course of a world that continues to threaten human beings like a gun held to their chest.” [39] This statement outlines art’s political perspectives in ways that are resistant (nonprogrammatic) and formal. In effect it will form a reproach to works that sacrifice “form” for the sole benefit of “content,” thereby becoming reduced, to use Mikel Dufrenne’s telling and deprecating comment, to a mere “aesthetics of content.” [40] Statements that tend to artificially separate form/content (where the Soviet avant-garde would propose a much more productive triad: “material/technique/function”) deny militant art all value and artistic interest. A second axis is wary of a possible “indoctrination of art.” In fact, militant art is viewed differently depending on whether it emerges from a state injunction or if it is a deliberate choice by creators. This is what makes Trotsky, Rivera and Breton’s 1938 challenge to Stalinism so important: “The free choice of themes and the absolute nonrestriction of anything concerning our field of exploration constitute a benefit for the artist that is a right that needs to be defended as inalienable. Where artistic creation is concerned, it is of prime importance that imagination is free from all constraint, and under no circumstances should it be fettered.” [41] A similar, radicalized defense of the freedom of poetry will be found in a 1943 polemical text by the revolutionary surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, Le Déshonneur des poètes. It is concerned with shielding poetry from politics, from the conditions under which it is produced, the conditions of its contribution to emancipation: “[…] each authentic poem gives out a full and effective breath of liberty, even if this liberty is not evoked in its political or social aspect and, through that, it contributes to the effective liberation of mankind.” [42] The third great reproach against militancy is its lack of usefulness in terms of the revolutionary perspective, its inability to produce a political effect. This slightly exaggerated reproach is nonetheless just in one respect: the most explicit art is not necessarily the most radical, the most productive. Great works that appear at first to be apolitical in their approach have perhaps contributed more to emancipation than others that are overtly militant. Often, reflections on aesthetics developed by “classical” Marxist authors involve great works that are resistant to too explicit a party political bias. These three criticisms are justified in part. Nevertheless, they overlook the richness of artistic endeavors that demand a directly interventional art. What this does is to question art’s chief function. Whom does it serve? The reflections and statements that follow on from this all need to be historicized. The intense debates that animated the Left Arts Front (LEF) in the young Soviet Union are inevitably different to those developed in France in the 1970s, particularly in the wake of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. What purpose does art serve and whom does it serve? And how can its current social function be transformed? This would be one of the key questions posed by artists who became theorists of their own practices: Sergueï M. Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, John Heartfield, Georg Grosz, Bertolt Brecht, the artists influenced by Cinéthique, Jean-Luc Godard, André Benedetto, etc. Militant art cannot be grasped in a homogenous manner: it has diverse orientations, functions, and forms.


Art and Utopia

It would be absurd to pretend that art alone has the power to overturn the established order. However, through denouncing what is unbearable and tracing the tenuous outlines of alternative horizons, by plunging the individual into the heart of an experience that can awaken or ignite previously unsuspected hopes and desires, certain works of art undoubtedly have the power, as Herbert Marcuse asserts, to “change the consciousness and impulses of men and women,” who in turn may change the world.

When writing about twentieth-century struggles for emancipation, theorists inspired by Marx’s writing stress the critical and utopic potential of artistic and literary production. For Ernst Bloch, art is a “laboratory” at the heart of which, starting from several fragments of empirical reality, are hints of the hypothetical contours of the not-yet-there. Is there not still, as he notes, “a plentiful supply of not yet realized dreams?” For the author of Principe Espérance, who is a theorist of the aesthetics of anticipation, the wish-images of art and literature, set down at the heart of the here and now, obviously waiting to be realized, are all rich traces and dazzling bursts of light that constitute a concrete utopia. [43] Works that reveal “the prefiguration of a fulfilled world” at their core also arise from a “foundational illusion.” [44] Works such as Joyce’s novel Ulysses, surrealist collages or the works of Brecht (that “Leninist of the theater”), form “new passageways through things” and expose “something very far away until now.” [45] In his Théorie esthétique, Theodor W. Adorno (who elsewhere rejects the idea of an art that is subservient to politics) insists on art’s negative power. [46] [47] [48] While its “autonomy” makes it a “social fact,” art escapes the hold of the regular world through the deployment of its essential form. Art, which is therefore “asocial,” embodies the “deterministic negation of a deterministic society.” It is thus a question of interpreting a work’s “truth content” and of extracting the promise of happiness buried within it (sometimes paradoxically, because Adorno contests, with reference to the works of Paul Celan and Beckett, that “hope” can only be looked for “in the figures of death or nothingness”). [49]

For his part, through his documentary theater practice and in his remarkable Esthétique de la résistance, Peter Weiss affirms that art “tears away the ground beneath our feet”, thus hollowing out passages to freedom at the heart of the real world. [50] [51] In La Dimension esthétique Herbert Marcuse vigorously denounces orthodox Marxist approaches to questions of aesthetics (comparable statements are made by Ernst Fischer, eulogizing the imagination, developing the idea of contrast and defending the works of Kafka, Václav Havel and Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn), and he writes that “the political potential of art” needs to be located in “aesthetic form, as such.” [52] [53] [54] For him, art in its multiple forms has the potential to spell out a “promise of liberation.” Analyzing the negative-positive force that is expressed at the heart of the aesthetic-erotic, and paying attention, for example to what is produced by the counterculture (Beat Generation poetry, the practice of Living Theater), Marcuse states that an aesthetic of “Grand refusal” might again, despite everything, be made manifest at the heart of repressive societies. But what critical and utopian power does art have today? Can art, caught up as it is in a process of general commodification-spectacularization, and integrated in a consensual “all culture,” still deploy a polemical language and outline the possible-impossible so dear to Henri Lefebvre? Making reference to Stathis Kouvélakis’s political questioning, citing Bloch and Fredric Jameson and asking if there is “a life after capitalism,” we must, in an “anti-utopian conjecture,” question art’s capacity to “highlight what is intolerable […] in our present” and to “open up an experience, a sense of a future.” [55]


Art and Emancipation

With the supposed decline of “grand meta-narratives,” the current triumph of neoliberalism on a planetary scale and theoretical and practical hesitations about how to formulate new paths for an alternative perspective, the time for political and aesthetic utopias seems to be suspended. Evoking art’s pretensions to modernity, Jacques Rancière asks “what happens to a critical art when the horizon of dissent has lost its visibility? What happens to it in the contemporary context of consensus?” [56]

Certainly, some current postures adopt the values of the times (narcissism, entertainment, the Market…) often under the cover of subversion, while others, through their inclusion of the excluded and the victims in the scene, and their desire to restore social bonds, participate in the ethical turn of the aesthetic highlighted by Rancière. [57] [58] [59] These artistic practices function as a symptom. In addition, idealism reigns supreme in the aesthetic sphere and in critical approaches.

As far as the state of the world is concerned, the question of emancipation persists and is urgent. But can the domain of arts and literature (more bureaucratic and subject to commercialism than ever) concern itself with this type of problem? Do artists and writers wish for, or can they still propose, an aesthetic of shock or dissidence, of confrontation and division, like those being demanded by some (through the putting forward of forms and strategies—performances that bring the body into play, the use of new technologies and confrontation with the world of science, the creation of networks, infiltration of the system and recourse to invisibility…which merit being submitted to serious and lucid evaluation?) [60] And beyond that, will Marxist or progressive organizations, and the reconstruction of contemporary emancipatory thought integrate aesthetic, artistic and cultural questions into their reflections and programmatic perspectives?

Despite everything, the idea that art, directly or not, can be an instrument of emancipation in its own unique way, becomes a new idea. The visible resumption of struggles in the wake of alter-globalism, in particular, has reactivated a number of questions about the power and capacity of creation (and the possibilities that the Internet offers to redistribute the potential of agit-prop). As often in the preceding century, in ignorance of what has gone before, interventions consist of forms very similar to those put forward in other moments of conjecture. The proven importance of the Theatre of the Oppressed, proposed and conceptualized by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal in the 1970s is, for example, one of the strongest testimonies to this. [61] This form of theater that came out of the struggles of the South American people and of Paulo Freire’s Pédagogie des opprimés, which rejected the actor/spectator separation and explicitly inscribed its existence within a need to transform the world, resurfaces here and there, in India, Brazil, Burkina, and in Europe, in various forms and with diverse names. For all that, this form of theater that is critical of theater, an instrument of the oppressed, is not a historical stutter. It is reinvented, used by new movements in structures and projects that are more or less new, and, to that extent not fully known as yet.

Without doubt then, in contrast to what has been asserted, art since the 1980s has not resorted inevitably to producing pure, decorative beauty and reveling in the frivolity of entertainment. The struggles to come will focus what its function and value might be in another context. It is still too early to establish its main lines. The one thing that is certain is that the “ideology of aesthetics” did stall, and out of the confusion, diversity, and opacity are emerging forms and reflections which are becoming part of the already long and rich history of links between the arts and emancipatory politics.


  • [1]
    It is worth noting another rich seam of Marxist reflection on art, which focuses on art as a specialized social activity. On this, see among others, Isabelle Garo’s contribution “Art, activité, travail (1re partie). Marx et la critique de l’esthétique” (this text can be consulted on semimarx site:
  • [2]
    See Georg Lukács, Marx et Engels historiens de la littérature (the two texts are collected in this work): “Le débat sur ‘Sickingen’” and “Friedrich Engels, théoricien de la littérature et critique littéraire,” the former first written in 1931 and the latter in 1935), trans. G. Badia (Paris: L’Arche Éditions, 1975).
  • [3]
    See Marx and Engels, Sur la littérature et l’art, trans. and introduction by Jean Fréville (Paris: Éditions Sociales internationales, 1936).
  • [4]
    Georges Plékhanov, L’Art et la vie sociale trans. G. Batault-Plékhanov, A. Guillain et J. Fréville (Paris: Éditions Sociales, 1950). Translated by Eric Hartley, Eleanor Fox and Jack Lindsay as Art and Social Life (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1953).
  • [5]
    See François Champarnaud’s documentary study Révolution et contre-révolution culturelles en URSS (Paris: Éditions Anthropos, 1975).
  • [6]
    The reader can refer to Jean-Michel Palmier, Sur l’art et la literature, textes choisis et présentés par J.-M. Palmier (three volumes) (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1975).
  • [7]
    Trotsky’s interventions are collected under the title Littérature et Révolution (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1974). Translated by Rose Strunsky as Literature and revolution (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1925).
  • [8]
    See Slaw Krzemieojak’s text “Gramsci sur l’art,” published in the Polish journal Studia Estetyczne 18 (1981: 265-284.
  • [9]
    Mao, Zedong. On Art and Literature. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1960.
  • [10]
    See Jean-Marc Lachaud’s essays, Marxisme et philosophie de l’art (Paris: Éditions Anthropos, 1985), and Michel Lequenne’s Marxisme et esthétique (Paris: Éditions La Brèche, 1984). The reader can also consult the collective work Olivier Revault d’Allonnes et al. Esthétique et Marxisme (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1974).
  • [11]
    See Denis Bablet ed. for GR. 27 of CNRS’s “Théâtre moderne,” Le Théâtre d’agit-prop de 1917 à 1932 (a collective text arising from the Team’s work), (4 volumes) Lausanne (Switzerland); La Cité-L’Âge d’Homme, 1977-1978).
  • [12]
    See Jean-Jacques Tschudin, La Ligue du théâtre prolétarien japonais (Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan, 1989).
  • [13]
    Champarnaud, Révolution et contre-révolution culturelles en URSS, 185-186.
  • [14]
    Despite the wide dispersion of the few French translations of LEF, we would mention the important works by G. Conio, Le Constructivisme russe (Lausanne: Éditions L’Âge d’Homme, 1987).
  • [15]
    Champarnaud, Révolution et contre-révolution culturelles en URSS, 164.
  • [16]
    Sergueï M. Tretiakov, “Le Bon ton,” (1927) in Sergueï M. Tretiakov, Hurle, Chine ! et autres pièces (Lausanne: Éditions L’Âge d’Homme, 1982), 255. Translated by F. Polianovska, and Barbara Nixon as Roar China (London: M. Lawrence, 1931).
  • [17]
    Jean-Michel Palmier, Lénine, l’art et la revolution (Paris, Éditions Payot, 1975), 12.
  • [18]
    “Rhetoric, dialectic, a mania for argumentation, all these things dessicate a work, anything that puts it on the same level as a newspaper lowers the value of an artistic work,” Meyerhold affirmed in 1929.
  • [19]
    Ehrenburg, a writer who was also the correspondent for Izvestia in Paris, quarreled violently with Breton and demanded the surrealist’s exclusion. After the suicide of René Crevel, a surrealist writer and communist, and a member of the Association for Revolutionary Artists and Writers [Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires], during the night of June 17 to 18, Breton’s speech was read from the Congress rostrum by Paul Eluard. Breton challenged the “Platonism” and confusion of the Congress’s slogans and criticized the Soviet Union’s international politics, just as he excoriated the PCF in Du Temps que les surréalistes avaient raison, a text written and signed collectively by the surrealists in 1935 and currently published in Breton’s work entitled Position politique du surréalisme (Paris: Éditions Denoël-Gonthier, 1972), 97-117. The Congress’s response—a “frenetic need for orthodoxy” was considered an attempt to extinguish “real cultural problems” and the “voices of those not recognized.” In his Entretiens (1913-1952), produced in 1952 (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1969), 176, Breton evokes “the collapse of hopes which had endured for years, against the odds, which we had invested in the joining of surrealist ideas and practical action in the revolutionary field.” The reader may also refer to the speeches of the Congress, collected by Sandra Teroni and Wolfgang Klein under the title Pour la défense de la culture: Les textes du Congrès International des écrivains, Paris, juin 1935 (Dijon: Éditions universitaires, 2005).
  • [20]
    Walter Benjamin, “Le Surréalisme. Le dernier instantané de l’intelligentsia européenne” (1929), in Walter Benjamin, Œuvres II, trans. Maurice de Gandillac, Rainer Rochlitz and Pierre Rusch (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2000), 134. Michaël Löwy makes a very pertinent commentary on this text in “Walter Benjamin et le surréalisme: Histoire d’un enchantement révolutionnaire” (in Walter Benjamin, a collective work ed. Jean-Marc Lachaud), Europe, 804 (1996): 79-90).
  • [21]
    Ernst Bloch, Héritage de ce temps (1935), trans. Jean Lacoste (Paris: Éditions Payot, 1978), 208. Translated by Neville and Stephen Plaice as Heritage of Our Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
  • [22]
    In contrast, for example, to the Peruvian leader José Carlos Mariategui: see Michaël Löwy, “José Carlos Mariategui et le Surréalisme,” in Changer l’art / Transformer la société. Art et politique 2, texts collected by Jean-Marc Lachaud and Olivier Neveux (Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan, 2009).
  • [23]
    Dominique Berthet, Le PCF, la culture et l’art (Paris: La Table Ronde Éditeur, 1990), 233.
  • [24]
    Jean-Marie Brohm, “Les Marxismes et les arts,” Prétentaine 6 (1996): 171-185 recalls that “during a meeting of the press office and the Russian Communist Party’s central committee, May 9, 1924, Trotsky criticized “all the little shopkeepers, all the little heads of small arts workshops who have no idea of art as art, that is a particular, specific domain of human activity,” 183.
  • [25]
    André Breton and Diego Rivera, “Pour un art révolutionnaire indépendant” [Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art] in Littérature et révolution, 500.
  • [26]
    For the cultural and political engagement of emigrants, see Jean-Michel Palmier, Weimar en exil, vol. i, Exil en Europe (Paris: Éditions Payot, 1987), 409-528
  • [27]
    On expressionism we return to the works of Jean-Michel Palmier, L’Expressionnisme comme révolte (Paris: Éditions Payot, 1978) and L’Expressionnisme et les arts (two volumes) (Paris: Éditions Payot, 1979 and 1980) as well as Lionel Richard, D’Une Apocalypse à l’autre (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1976).
  • [28]
    Georg Lukács, “Grandeur et décadence de l’expressionnisme” (1934), in Georg Lukács, Problèmes du réalisme, trans. Claude Prévost and Jean Guégan (Paris: L’Arche Éditions, 1975), 41-83. Translated by David Fernbach as Essays on realism (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1980).
  • [29]
    On this debate, see Jean-Marc Lachaud, Bertolt Brecht, Georg Lukács, questions sur le réalisme (Paris: Éditions Anthropos, 1981) (second edition 1989).
  • [30]
    These are collected under the title Bertolt Brecht, Sur le realismeÉcrits sur la littérature et l’art, vol. ii, trans. André Gisselbrecht (Paris: L’Arche Éditions, 1970).
  • [31]
    Brecht, Sur le realisme, 82-86.
  • [32]
    Lukács, Problèmes du réalisme, 243-273.
  • [33]
    See, for example, his texts on “Le Surréalisme” and on Brechtian theater (Walter Benjamin, Essais sur Brecht, trans. Philippe Ivernel (Paris: La Fabrique Éditions, 2003).
  • [34]
    Bloch, Héritage de ce temps.
  • [35]
    Extracts from correspondence between A. Seghers and Lukács are published in Lukács, Problèmes du realisme, 274-306.
  • [36]
    Georg Lukács, “Préface,” in Georg Lukács, Balzac et le réalisme français (texts written 1934-1935 and collected in 1951), trans. Paul Lavau (Paris: Éditions Maspéro, 1973), 9.
  • [37]
    Georg Lukács, Le Roman historique (1937). Paris: Éditions Payot, 1965. 100-101. Translated by Hannah and Stanley Mitchell as The Historical Novel (London: Merlin Press, 1962).
  • [38]
    Friedrich Engels, “Lettre à Mina Kautsky du 26 novembre 1885,” in Marx and Engels, Sur la littérature et l’art, 145.
  • [39]
    Theodor W. Adorno, Notes sur la littérature, trans. Stephan Muller (Paris: Éditions Flammarion, 1984), 289. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen as Notes to Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).
  • [40]
    Mikel Dufrenne, Art et politique, UGE, collection “10-18,” (Paris: 1974), 163.
  • [41]
    Trotsky, “Pour un art révolutionnaire indépendant,” 496.
  • [42]
    Benjamin Péret, Le Déshonneur des poètes (Paris: Éditions Mille et une nuits, 1996), 19.
  • [43]
    Ernst Bloch, Le Principe espérance, vol. ii, trans. Françoise Wuilmart (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1982), 417-469. Translated by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight as The Principle of Hope (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995). On Bloch’s life and work, see Arno Münster, L’Utopie concrète d’Ernst Bloch (Paris: Éditions Kimé, 2001).
  • [44]
    Bloch, Le Principe espérance, 261.
  • [45]
    Bloch, Héritage de ce temps, 210.
  • [46]
    Theodor W. Adorno, Théorie esthétique, trans. Marc Jimenez (Paris: Éditions Klincksieck, 1974). Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor as Aesthetic Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
  • [47]
    Theodor W. Adorno, “Engagement,” in Théorie esthétique, trans. Marc Jimenez (Paris: Éditions Klincksieck, 1974), 285-306.
  • [48]
    See Marc Jimenez, Vers une esthétique negative: Adorno et la modernité (Paris: Éditions du Sycomore, 1983). If the question of utopia is tackled by Adorno, his position can nevertheless be distinguished from Ernst Bloch’s philosophy of a “concrete utopia” and the messianic posture adopted by Walter Benjamin.
  • [49]
    Theodor W. Adorno, Notes sur Beckett, trans. Christophe David (Caen: Éditions NOUS, 2008), 152-153.
  • [50]
    See Jean-Marc Lachaud, “Peter Weiss: théâtre documentaire et esthétique de la résistance,” in Art, culture et politique, (collective work) ed. Jean-Marc Lachaud (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1999), 121-138.
  • [51]
    Peter Weiss, Esthétique de la résistance (three volumes), trans. Eliane Kaufholz-Messmer (Paris; Éditions Klincksieck, 1989-1992/1993).
  • [52]
    Herbert Marcuse, La Dimension esthétique, trans. Didier Coste (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1979). Translated by Erica Sherover and Herbert Marcuse as The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics (London: Macmillan, 1979).
  • [53]
    Ernst Fischer, À la recherche de la réalitéContribution à une esthétique marxiste moderne, trans. Jean-Louis Lebrave and Jean-Pierre Lefèbvre (Paris: Éditions Denoël-Dossiers Lettres Nouvelles, 1970).
  • [54]
    Marcuse, La Dimension esthétique, 9.
  • [55]
    Stathis Kouvélakis, “Après le capitalisme, la vie!” in Y a-t-il une vie après le capitalisme?, ed. Stathis Kouvélakis (Pantin: Le temps des Cerises Éditions, 2008), 20-21.
  • [56]
    Jacques Rancière, Le Spectateur émancipé (Paris: La Fabrique Éditions, 2008), 75.
  • [57]
    Dominique Baqué’s essay on the plastic arts demonstrates this, Pour un nouvel art politique (Paris: Éditions Flammarion, 2004).
  • [58]
    See, for example, Olivier Neveux’s critical article, “L’état de victim: quelques corps dans la scène théâtrale contemporaine,” Actuel Marx 41 (2007).
  • [59]
    Jacques Rancière, Malaise dans l’esthétique (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2004). In this work the author evokes an ethical turn of the aesthetic.
  • [60]
    Nonetheless, a number of recent works tackle the question of the relationship between art and politics, most notably Art et politique (collective work) ed. Jean-Marc Lachaud (Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan, 2006), “Esthétique et politique,” (dossier) ed. Christian Ruby, Raison présente 156 (2006), Arts et pouvoir (collective work) ed. Marc Jimenez (Paris: Éditions Klincksieck/L’Université des arts, 2007), De l’Art contextuel aux nouvelles pratiques documentaires: les formes contemporaines de l’art engagé (collective work) ed. Éric Van Essche (Brussels: La Lettre volée Éditeur, 2007), La fonction critique de l’art (collective work) ed. Évelyne Toussaint (Brussels: La Lettre volée Éditeur, 2009) and Lachaud and Neveux, Changer l’art/Transformer la société.
  • [61]
    Augusto Boal, Théâtre de l’opprimé (Paris: Librairie François Maspero, 1977). Translated from the Spanish by Charles A. & Maria-Odilia Leal McBride as Theater of the oppressed (New York : Urizen Books, 1979).


Translated from the French by Cadenza Academic Translations

Actuel Marx Volume 45, Issue 1, 2009, pages 12 to 23


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