Posted by: exiwp | August 9, 1989

The Art Factory: What is a Revolutionary Workers’ Collective (1989)

By Fred Newman
Stono, 1989

Castillo is a new collective of artists, journalists, technicians, intellectuals, formed by the coming together of two other collectives—the National Alliance (NA) newspaper collective (begun in 1979) and the Castillo Center for Working Class Culture (CCWCC) collective (begun in 1981). And the CCWCC was itself born of—what else?—still another collective, the New York institute for Social Therapy and Research (NYISTR—begun in 1978). So, it should be clear, Castillo is about collectivity. But what in the hell is collectivity anyway? The dictionary (with its usual pomposity) says that “collectivity” is “the quality or state of being collective.” And it defines “collective” as “formed by collecting; gathered into a whole” and “of, as, or characteristic of a group; of or by all or many of the individuals in a group acting together” (our italics). But Castillo is a certain kind of collective; it is a workers’ collective. As such it is a group working, not merely neutrally acting, together.

But what is work, in general, and what is cultural and intellectual work in particular? And what’s collective work? And what’s collective cultural and/or intellectual work? To get a handle on these matters we have to go beyond the “neutral” dictionary of Mr. Webster to the distinctly and admittedly class biased science of Mr. Marx. Work, or the activity of producing goods or services, is typically organized in our culture and/or society in a highly productive yet highly alienated way. Workers, cultural and otherwise, are “Strangers in an Estranged World,” making things not for their own or their families or even their communities’ use but rather for exchange, i.e., to be sold in the appropriate market place. Indeed, what is produced is ultimately (at least in most cases) used. But the criterion of production is whether it will sell; not whether it is socially needed. (The 493rd brand of striped toothpaste is obviously less needed than the as yet unbuilt housing for the homeless but there is more money to be made on 493.) The estrangement of labor, therefore, is the subtle transformation of one’s work activity into a product together with the transformation of labor itself into a product (paid for by a wage), thereby alienating or structurally separating one’s creativity and productivity from oneself, i.e., one’s human activity.

Now those who benefit most from this arrangement (this organization of work)—we’ll call them capitalists for the sake of our exposition—argue that this way of doing work has produced the most and the best products that humankind has ever had. Many seriously disagree with this claim of the capitalists. Others agree but raise the question of the price humankind has been forced to pay for the capitalist arrangement. Still others point out that times change and that what was best and most at an earlier moment in history might no longer be either relative to the current collective needs of the Earth’s total population. Castillo believes that work—cultural, intellectual or otherwise—done for exchange is destructive of both worker and product and points to the current level of decadence manifest in capitalist art, capitalist science, capitalist culture, capitalist toothpaste, capitalist politics and capitalist workers as clear evidence. The socialist countries, surely more committed to production for use rather than exchange, but vastly poorer than the capitalist countries and, moreover, functioning in a capitalist (exchange dominated) world environment, have not yet come close to exhibiting the social superiority of collective production for use. Furthermore, we believe that socialist, communist, revolutionary and progressive intellectuals and artists within capitalist countries, especially but not limited to the U.S., have failed to create the conditions necessary to carry out collective work for use. Castillo believes that we have a critical role to play in making plain both the possibility of and the superiority of workers’ collective production for use in intellectual, journalistic and cultural work.

What’s so different about us? Castillo is a critical component of a new political movement for radical independence. Here in the U.S. progressive working class politics, culture, journalism and intellectual work have historically been profoundly hindered by the absence of working class institutions useable both to produce and disseminate the politics, culture, journalism and intellectual products of our class. Working class newspapers, theatres, research centers, art centers, schools, political parties etc., while to some extent functional (albeit in extremely assimilated/revisionist fashion) in Western Europe and other still-capitalist sectors of the world, are conspicuously absent in the U.S. So-called progressive working class politics, art, etc., are inevitably both created and transmitted by petit bourgeois institutions and/or straight out bourgeois institutions and, therefore, employ the mode of production of the petit bourgeoisie and/or the capitalists. In order to break with this state of affairs radical independence is required, not as a state of consciousness or even a unique political programmatic, but as an activity. Radical independence is organizational self determination, only derivable from the activity of developing unmediated (direct) organizational relationships to the working class and enlightened middle class community. Radical independence means building actual working class institutions.

Perhaps this language is too fancy. The work involved, however, is hardly fancy. Castillo is a working collective of artists and intellectuals who every week, for many hours, fundraise door-to-door to support our radically independent mode of artistic and intellectual production. And the radically independent network of embryonic working class institutions of which Castillo is a component fundraise not only door-to-door but subway car to subway car and block to block in our working class and middle class neighborhoods to establish not merely a financial independence but a political independence unrealizable when Exxon or even a more humane philanthropist is the ultimate funding source of one’s creative activity. Castillo co-operatively, enthusiastically and successfully works to build new, radically independent working class-for-itself institutions here in the U.S.A. This radical independence both makes possible and demands a re-organization of creative and intellectual work.

Now the artist or intellectual—radical or not so radical—might insist (many do) that they do not create for exchange. Indeed they might claim that they create neither for exchange nor for use. The petit bourgeois artist with the very best of intentions may say that she or he creates out of a deeper psychological or spiritual or creative drive. Perhaps so, but psychological, spiritual and creative states of mind do not determine social reality; social reality determines them. No doubt these complex mental states, in their turn, profoundly influence social reality. But it is illusion to suppose that the inner drives of our species can transform the oppressiveness of our exploitatively organized society and culture. Rather it is the collective reorganization of the mode of creating and producing art and analysis which will yield profoundly new and sublime inner states now unimaginable.

But we must push even deeper. Production for use? For whose use and for what use? Is our production for the use of the working class? This might seem the apparent answer. But it is, of course, wrong. Our creative production is for the use of all those who support the total reorganization of all work so as to eliminate ultimately the exploitation of human by human. The working classness of Castillo’s politic is not a petty sectarian bias but a world historic recognition that the reorganization of work is a necessary pre condition for the elimination of all forms of exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. The reorganization of work and the political organization of the working class are dialectically interdependent. For the bourgeois economically defined working class in itself is in no way the revolutionary class for itself that will usher in (by including all of humankind within its domain) a development of productivity and creativity heretofore unknown, indeed, unimagined by our species. If the working class is not a politically revolutionary activity (practical critical in Marx’s words) then it is not truly a class at all. It is not an historical class: it is merely a societal category.

Revolutionary Culture or “Marxist Aesthetics”

The Marxist aestheticians (not surprisingly!) work feverishly to justify their claims that there is such a thing as “Marxist aesthetics.” To achieve this impossible justification (for there is no such thing as Marxist aesthetics, still less a justification of it) they re write and de revolutionize Marx by explicitly eliminating revolutionary activity.

In his general introduction to the widely respected Marxism and Art, Maynard Solomon articulates the classic version of the “justification.” We quote extensively in the interests of fairness:

Marxism, however, has had its greatest successes precisely in the realm of heightening and transforming consciousness as a prelude to the intended transformation of society. At the very tune that Engels was composing his last works. Marxism had become the accepted philosophy of a party representing large segments of the German working class, and was making inroads in other countries as well, including Russia, the United States, England and France . Its theories were gripping the masses. To the extent that its exponents emphasized the derivative aspect of the various modes of consciousness they appeared to negate the means of explaining Marxism’s influence. Marxism could only account for its revolutionary power (and prevent itself from being transformed into a doctrine of evolutionary parliamentary passivity) by “correcting” the economic determinist emphasis, by explaining how men are able to “make their own history” even though they do not do so “out of whole cloth.” This posed an apparently insuperable difficulty for those who regarded Marxism as an unalloyed “science of society”: if ideas can transform society, how can it be asserted that economic forces are in the last analysis decisive? [Footnote 19: Lenin was to introduce an even greater difficulty. He asserted that the working class could, by itself, only achieve trade union consciousness, thereby suggesting that the automatic processes of history could not produce socialism.] If super-structural categories are contingent upon the material base, how can it be said that such categories are in turn decisive in the transformation of the material base? If Marxism posits the dependency of superstructure upon material social historical developments, how can Marxism itself be explained except as a premature expression of a working class which has not yet asserted itself in a decisive economic sense? Further, if the ruling ideas “are the ideas of the ruling class” how can the anti-capitalist power of the Marxist theories themselves be explained? Is Marxism exempt from its own laws?

As has been indicated, the issue turns on dialectics. Marx had laid the groundwork for the solution to these difficulties as early as 1843, in the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (see below pages 52 53), where he described the philosophical artistic “dream history” in which Germany had avoided the necessity of present political action but in which it had anticipated its revolutionary future. [Footnote 20: The separation of Marx from Feuerbach hinged on precisely this question of the dynamic subject: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism … is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity.” (Theses on Feuerbach.)] Engels patiently took up this thread m his later writings. In Ludwig Feuerbach, he wrote: “Just as in France in the eighteenth century, so in Germany in the nineteenth, a philosophical revolution ushered in the political collapse.” Super-structural events—ideas, philosophy, art, etc.—prefigure changes in the mode of production. Marxism not only allows for, but demands the heightening of consciousness as a necessary pre condition for historical progress.

The stress in Engels’ later works upon the active and revolutionary side of super-structural processes reconfirmed the presuppositions from which Marxism originated. The ruling ideas of each age are the ideas of the ruling class (see below, pages 49 50). These include an anticipatory element which comes into being not primarily as the emerging consciousness of a rising class but as the highest level of consciousness of the most advanced members of the ruling class itself who seek thereby to avoid the painful realities of social existence as well as to transcend their awareness of impending extinction as a class. [Footnote 21: “The bourgeoisie itself … supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education; in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie,” write Marx and Engels in a different context (The Communist Manifesto, chap: one, p. 117).

They continue: “Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.” (loc cit.).] These ideas penetrate various strata of society through the mediation of the art forms and theoretical writings in which they are expressed, becoming part of the consciousness of oppressed classes, crystallizing into the Utopian, revolutionary, system shattering goals of ascending groups—the imaginative models by which the mode of production is ultimately transformed.

No revolution can take place without the work of ideological preparation, without the transformation of consciousness. History is an extension of the labor process, in which, writes Marx in Capital, “we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement” (see below, page 23). [Footnote 22: Marx’s discovery ‘that the labor process consists of the materialization of goal projections (concretizations of the imagination) not only resolves the philosophical problems of causality and teleology (origins and goals, means and ends are inseparably linked) but also constitutes the basis for the formulation of all applications of Marxist theory—whether of politics, philosophy, or aesthetics. For in Marxism the labor process is the model of all social activity, and the teleological element in the labor process demarcates human labor from instinctive animal labor.

Engels writes: “The animal merely uses external nature, and brings about changes in it simply by his presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals.” (Dialectics of Nature, p. 291). Lukacs explores this subject in a brilliant essay of his final years, “The Dialectics of Labor: Beyond Causality and Teleology,” (Telos, no. 6 (Fall 1970), pp. 162 74). See also Lucio Colletti, “The Marxism of the Second International” (Telos, no. 8 (Summer 1971), pp. 84ff).) And this brings us back into the aesthetic dimension: it is mankind’s dream work play, poetry, theoretical science, philosophy its mock world into which the imagination withdraws for sustenance and rejuvenation, which is a necessary motor of the labor process and of history itself.

If this analysis were even halfway correct it would justify the comfortable inactivity of the Marxist aesthete as an independent “consciousness raiser,” an expert on contemplation and imagination who hobnobs with the literati and culturati of the bourgeoisie not because of his or her liking for the dry martini. No. According to Solomon the Marxist aesthete, ever self-sacrificing, bears the horror of the Hamptons and elsewhere to serve the proletariat by discovering those necessary ideas,” … mankind’s dream work—play, poetry, theoretical science, philosophy its mock world into which the imagination withdraws for sustenance and rejuvenation [does he mean booze and hor d’oeuvres?], which is a necessary motor of the labor process and of history itself.” (Our italics)

But the creative contemplations and imaginings of an alien class could not be and need not be the necessary motor of history. The real resolution, i.e., the Marxist resolution, of the problematic laid out by the not so wise Solomon is, of course, revolutionary activity, not “Marxist aesthetics” or bourgeois creativity. The “dynamic subject” spoken of as a necessity by Solomon in his footnote 20 is nothing more and nothing less than the revolutionary activist. Indeed, the extent to which the Marxist aesthete seeks to eliminate revolutionary activity is never more apparent than in Solomon’s clever albeit disingenuous de-contextualization of Marx’s first thesis on Feuerbach. Here is the whole thesis, the full quote:

The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism (that of Feuerbach included) is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in Das Wesen Des Christenthums, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary,” of “practical critical,” activity.

Solomon, like Feuerbach, does not “grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary,’ of ‘practical critical’ activity.”

“Marxism … demands the heightening of conscious’ ness as a necessary pre condition for historical progress” asserts Solomon. But what is the activity of “heightening consciousness”? Not, mind you, what activities heighten consciousness (for such a formulation idealistically reifies “heightened consciousness”) but what is heightening consciousness qua activity? Marx, the revolutionary, insists that it is only heightening consciousness as revolutionary activity which allows women and men to “make their own history.” The resolution of Solomon’s pseudo problem (i.e., how can there be new and revolutionary ideas if the ideas are themselves totally determined products of an economically over-determined base) is organized revolutionary activity. For it is only in, with and by such collective activity an activity which explicitly is not “an extension of the labor process” and therefore not historical in the bourgeois or societal or class in itself sense but historical in a class for itself or revolutionary sense, that the subjective objective (and the superstructure base) dichotomy is practically and totally smashed.

Solomon’s distortions know no bounds. In footnote 19 he actually invokes V.I. Lenin to justify his cultured analytical life style. But when Lenin “asserted that the working class could, by itself only achieve trade union consciousness, thereby suggesting that the automatic processes of history could not produce socialism,” he was hardly advocating a year’s vacation for himself to be spent playing chess with Maxim Gorky. He was, and Solomon surely knows this, insisting that economism was a deadly deviation from Bolshevism, whose centerpiece is its insistence on the fundamental role of organized revolutionary activity (the Leninist party) as a pre-condition for social revolutionary change.

Does the issue “turn on dialectics,” as Solomon glibly indicates? Indeed, when the “Marxist Aesthetician” starts talking about dialectics (not to mention “turning on”), hold on to your money. To be sure, the dialectical method is critical to Marxist science. But dialectics, for Marx, is not reducible to a bourgeois model of feed back or American style pragmatic interactionism. Dialectics is the methodology of revolutionary activity. Here, in all fairness, we must point out that Solomon has been mis-educated by no less an authority than Engels. For it was Engels, caught up in the paradigm of 19th century bourgeois science, who over-identified dialectics (and dialectical materialism) as a universal rather than as a revolutionary science. It was Lenin, not Engels, who translated Marx’s (and Hegel’s) dialectical method into revolutionary activity. And while Lenin understood this well the critical role of the petit bourgeoisie and of intellectual and creative work in the revolutionary process, he never regarded “consciousness raising” as in any manner an alternative to organized revolutionary activity (i.e., the democratic centralist revolutionary party).

In sharp contrast to both Marx and Lenin Solomon says, “No revolution can take place without the work of ideological preparation, without the transformation of consciousness. History is an extension of the labor process, in which, writes Marx in Capital ‘we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.’ And in footnote 22 he adds, “For in Marxism the labor process is the model of all social activity…”

But whether the labor process includes producing something that was or wasn’t “in the imagination” of the laborer hardly matters. Contemporary computerized and automated production more and more suggests that this statement is, even on its own terms, false. But to use this empirically questionable feature of the labor process to justify the motor force role of imaginings (and, in Solomon’s argument, bourgeois imaginings at that!) in the revolutionary process is utterly ludicrous. For to claim that “in Marxism the labor process is the model of all social activity” is to relegate Marxism to a passive science of societal assimilation as opposed to an active science of revolution. For, you see, the revolutionary activity is not modeled after the labor process. The revolutionary activity is, in fact, the self conscious reorganization of the labor process; it is only by virtue of this reorganizing activity that relevant imaginings (whatever their origins) transform into significant social and cultural tools (and results). It is the revolutionary activity (the reorganization of the labor and production process) which challenges the minant epistemology ontology and methodology which in turn makes consciousness raising (using culture and knowledge created by the bourgeoisie and even its precursors) meaningful in a revolutionary sense.

CONCLUSION

Castillo is, as we have said, reorganizing the process of producing art and analysis. Castillo is reorganizing the production of culture; reorganizing the production of how we see and hear and feel and touch and imagine and dream and think and love and learn and…. We are reorganizing the production of culture, to the extent possible, for the use of the revolution for the benefit of all humankind.

The significant feature of revolutionary work and production, cultural or otherwise, is not the dominance of theory over practice, thought over action, or even a “dialectical unity” between theory and practice, thought and action. The plan, the idea, the conception, in revolutionary production do not precede the action or the activity, in any sense, dialectical or otherwise. Indeed the “teleological element” is absent in revolutionary work precisely because such work completely challenges the linear, cause-effect organization of work (and everything else) in bourgeois society; in its place is a historical relationship to production which treats the totality of human history and development, to be sure in antagonistic relationship to its current societal organization but not determined by that societal organization. Thus the reorganization of cultural production in a revolutionary manner yields art which at once challenges the totality of the societal organization of culture and contributes to nothing less than the totality of human history. It is production which in both form and content will not be circumscribed by any societal assumptions and pre-conditions. To be sure it will be determined by them. Forces of production cannot be idealized away. But Castillo will not be organized by the societal organization of the production of culture. All of this, of course, if we succeed. If we fail we will … well, who cares and who knows?

The Castillo production process is dialectical in practice, not in theory. Lev Vygotsky, the Soviet psychologist, has taught us about tool and result.

The search for method becomes one of the most important problems of the entire enterprise of understanding the uniquely human forms of psychological activity. In this case, the method is simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool and the result of study.

(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 65)

All our products are results and tools, revolutionary tools. Yet these are not the tools of the local hardware store. They are far more like the tools of the tool and dye maker—tools specifically shaped to be results capable of advancing the further production—of tools! Revolution, we were once told, is not an afternoon tea party. But what if it is? What, after all, is an afternoon tea party? Well, it depends on how you produce it for whom and for what use. Tools, tools, tools. We are not simply making toots (and results); we are reorganizing the production of art and analysis so as to yield tools and more tools (and results). Our art is never commodified because it is simply the tool for the next result—and tool and result and tool and result and tool…

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