Workers Vanguard No. 1069

29 May 2015


Socialism and Art

(Quote of the Week)

The 1917 October Revolution, which shattered the capitalist order in backward Russia, was animated by the goal of building a society on socialist principles—that is, the satisfaction of people’s material and cultural needs. The birth of the Soviet workers state in what the Bolsheviks viewed as the opening shot of world socialist revolution gave rise to a great wave of artistic experimentation and ferment. This creative energy was later smothered by the Stalin-led bureaucracy that usurped political power from the proletariat beginning in 1923-24 amid the continuing isolation and backwardness of the Soviet Union. In the excerpt below, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky explained the material foundation of culture.

If the dictatorship of the proletariat should prove incapable, in the next few years, of organizing its economic life and of securing at least a living minimum of material comforts for its population, then the proletarian régime will inevitably turn to dust. The economic problem at present is the problem above all problems.

But even a successful solution of the elementary problems of food, clothing, shelter, and even of literacy, would in no way signify a complete victory of the new historic principle, that is, of Socialism. Only a movement of scientific thought on a national scale and the development of a new art would signify that the historic seed has not only grown into a plant, but has even flowered. In this sense, the development of art is the highest test of the vitality and significance of each epoch.

Culture feeds on the sap of economics, and a material surplus is necessary, so that culture may grow, develop and become subtle. Our bourgeoisie laid its hand on literature, and did this very quickly at the time when it was growing rich. The proletariat will be able to prepare the formation of a new, that is, a Socialist culture and literature, not by the laboratory method on the basis of our present-day poverty, want and illiteracy, but by large social, economic and cultural means. Art needs comfort, even abundance. Furnaces have to be hotter, wheels have to move faster, looms have to turn more quickly, schools have to work better.

—Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924)