Saturday, December 14, 2013

Activist Artists

". . . if we accept the social structures of capitalism, we are indeed left with the limited choices that undermine meaningful human agency. . ." 

"The central Marxist critique of capitalism is located on the terrain of human capacities. Capitalism is unjust and undemocratic not because of this or that imperfection in relation to ideal conceptions of equality or freedom. We reject capitalism because at its core it involves the control by some of the time, creativity, and potential of others. And the narrowness of the market discipline capitalism imposes as part of that drive to constant accumulation frustrates humanity’s capacity for social liberation." 

". . . have confirmed that the soul-destroying world that capitalism more and more offers us is a fundamental barrier to human development. . ."

Sam Gindin thinks that assimilating leftist activist ideas in art can break the pervasive fatalism that characterizes our era to achieve social change. He describes this idea as "radical art," and this can be done in two ways. First, "artists have to step beyond their studios and workplaces to act in the world as directly political people." Second, artists "must assimilate a critique of capitalism's impact on human possibilities," which to my mind, means the failures and excesses of capitalism. 

By fatalism, he is careful to distinguish it from passivity. Alternative vision is articulated and actions are taken, but there is a pervasive belief that the way to achieve the goal can never be found. He observed this fatalism represented in social democracy disempowered by the logic of capitalism and remains satisfied with its anemic neo-liberalism. Another brand of this fatalism is coming from a new generation whose vision is contrary to social democracy, but characterized with acceptance of the existing system. 

For sure, the writer likes the vision of progress found in capitalism, but rejects it as a method. He sees both imperialism and capitalism as working together. He laments that despite of obvious evidence of the failure of capitalism, its power did not diminish, but strengthened instead. 

So in his vision of seeing the emergence of activist artists, he wants that the energy and talents of this new breed of artists will focus in destroying capitalism. He shares conviction with Brecht that to allow the continuation of capitalism is to "undermine meaningful human agency." He agrees with Marxism that "capitalism is unjust and undemocratic," a barrier to social liberation, "soul-destroying," and manipulative of "time, creativity, and potential of others."


It is obvious that the above proposal springs from a Marxist's analysis of an "imperialist-capitalist" system, which Sam Gindin describes as the ruling ideology. Contrary to Gidin's idea, I see his article as a typical example of mainstream analysis, and by mainstream, I mean socialism, which is the very climate that we are in at present.

From the point of view of Austrian economics, capitalism is not the ruling system these days; it is actually, socialism. The writer fails to distinguish free market capitalism from corporatism or crony capitalism. If he is attacking the latter, I think he is accurate. 

In Planned Chaos, Ludwig von Mises distinguished between two types of socialism. These are the Russian or the communist version (which Gindin advocates) and the German version during Hitler's time, which is more appropriate to describe as interventionism. So instead of seeing Marxism as the champion to dismantle capitalism, what Gindin actually describes is a conflict between two forms of socialism using capitalism as a disguise. Government interventionism is the reigning political and economic policy these days that Gindin wrongly described as capitalism. It is this German kind of socialism that he wants to be replaced with the Russian kind of socialism in its progressive form.

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