Writing 1

Art and Class Struggle

In ancient Celtic history domination meant losing your tongue. We will not be concerned with taste here but speech and how art becomes an organ of speech. Art can open out hidden relationships between people, things and the world we inhabit; how then does art realise its potential to question and open out hidden relations including the social relations of art itself?

Tongues smal picture

In imperialist capitalist countries the freedom of art appears like a totem for the social freedom of criticality, but to what ends? Acknowledging the reality of class antagonism in its fullest sense, who does this ‘image of freedom’ serve? Exclusion often accompanies serious critique and this negates the aim of changing the social and economic relations that determine distribution of resources and ownership of property necessary for public interaction with art. This is the wall of class antagonism that we must come up against. Far too often, in the demarcation of an autonomous ‘safe’ space we have the fiction that art is independent rather than interdependent. Real autonomy is a position in relation to other social relations that we are able to investigate unimpeded; it is neutralized when fetishised as an unquestioned ‘image of freedom’ within narrow unacknowledged constraints. Social conditions affect how many people have access to and how easy it is to gain time and resources to practice art. In imperialist countries like the U.K we are living at a cross roads: at least some people from working class people have taken the opportunity of post-war, ‘progressive’ education policies to study art practice, which were in many ways given as a sop to the working class as something they could aspire to shut them up, also this has contributed to the split in socialism Lenin describes. However, capitalism is its own grave digger as Marx says and education offered to the working class offers unintended possibilities. There are things which could be used in the class struggle but they lie dormant and must be untangled. Despite major problems of interpellation (identifying and seeing oneself as part of the capitalist structure as the only way to get seen) into notions of capitalist meritocracies we should acknowledge that new resistance and questioning of exploitation has emerged, the student protests and teach-ins in 2010 are one example although a sustained movement did not emerge from this. The tide of these reforms has been on the ebb for several decades. After 2008 we are at a point in history in the U.K when rights for future generations of working class students are being removed as access to tertiary education becomes increasingly limited, with high tuition fees and the increasing prevalence of business ideology.

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This an ongoing re write of piece written for the historical materialism conference in Delhi. The older version can be found HERE