Arty resistance

A report from the Artists Of The Resistance meeting on 26th January 2011 in central London

Apparently, SWP members are required to keep a copy of Socialist Worker on their desks whenever they attend a public meeting. This functions as an advertisement as well as territorial urination when different tendencies meet in the same room. At the Artists Of The Resistance open planning meeting – an offshoot of Counterfire’s Coalition of Resistance – overt advertising of one’s political affiliations was rather frowned upon, as were a lone SWP delegate’s efforts at linking up the group with the Right to Work front.

The room was torn between two distinct tendencies: ‘anti-hierarchical’, politically unaffiliated advocates of spontaneous, spectacular direct action on the one hand  – united under the Artists against the Cuts umbrella – and those who were slightly less averse to organisation on the other: Artists of the Resistance.

The former group is influenced by a certain type of academic Marxism: one that views Marx as one of many entries in an extensive canon of ‘interesting thinkers’ and reduces his thought to a few dialectical mindgames while bypassing the proletarian revolution bit. Infatuated though they may be with that perpetually fashionable staple of radical student culture, the 1960s Situationism of Guy Debord, their lack of a well-grounded political perspective effectively results in a left-liberal outlook best described as Naomi Kleinism.

It isn’t capitalism, then, that these artists view as the problem, but merely the big, mean-spirited corporations that they perceive as a threat to independent and DIY culture. They do not want to get involved in actions to resist cuts in arts funding because institutions such as the Tate and the ICA have “dodgy links with BP” and, more importantly to them, to avoid being co-opted and institutionalised.  At times, it got to the point where one wondered what cuts the Artists against the Cuts group were actually against.

Quite rightly, an SWP member argued that in a capitalist society there were no non-capitalist spaces. This wasn’t just about culture, she continued, but about wider society: we could not stand aloof when ICA and Tate employees were facing redundancy just as much as workers elsewhere. Her words were lost on those in the room who perceived themselves as ‘artists’ – apparently a distinct caste in society – rather than members of a class.

Though the Artists of the Resistance group attempted to make concessions to the libertarian artistic mindset, the friction in the room was symptomatic of a problem that dates back a long time. Once we had the most advanced composers, painters, graphic artists, playwrights, actors and film directors in our ranks. With the arrival of the socialist-realist aesthetic and the Stalinist denunciation of any deviation as formalism, the communist movement managed to repel and alienate the artistically talented for a long time to come.

The philistine economism of today’s socialist groups does little to fix that. If left papers talk about strikes and marches and nothing but, where is the inspiration for progressive-minded artists? In the absence of a left aesthetic and cultural critique – but, more importantly, when no vision that can inspire the minds of millions is presented – it is small wonder that artists gravitate towards the acceptable ‘radicalism’ of the New Left crowd at best.

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