Music, class and party in 1920s Russia

Issue: 164

Mark Abel

The recent centenary of the Russian Revolution produced a renewed flurry of interest in the events of 1917 and reminded us of their huge impact. The focus of those discussions for revolutionary socialists was quite rightly the significance of the revolution as a political event and the lessons it offers for those who wish to see an end to capitalism across the world. But the revolution also set in motion seismic changes in culture—understood as the values and behaviours of everyday life as well as the creative arts and literature. The period immediately following 1917 was characterised by an upsurge in artistic experimentation and activity that lasted until nearly the end of the 1920s and Stalin’s first Five Year Plan. It was definitively snuffed out by the subsequent imposition of the doctrine of “socialist realism” during the 1930s.

Best known are the developments that took place during those years in visual art and literature. But the revolution also had a profound impact on musical life in Russia. This article will examine how the Russian musical establishment reacted to the challenges of a new generation of composers and musicians, including the young Dmitri Shostakovich, whose ideas had been shaped by the revolution. It will focus in particular on the political debates about the nature and place of music in a revolutionary society before drawing some conclusions about what the history of this period contributes to a Marxist understanding of the role of music and the relationship between music and politics.

Is there such a thing as revolutionary music? If so, what makes it revolutionary? Its subject matter, or its story or programme? Its lyrics? Its use of innovatory techniques? Does music have a class content? Is popular or commercial music necessarily anti-revolutionary? How should music education be organised? To what extent can workers be involved in music-making?

Breaking with the past: music of the revolution and civil war

The revolution’s first musical effect was to create a need for music ­appropriate for the commemorative events that formed part of political life following October 1917. Given the infeasibility of creating new music from scratch, what music was suitable for these events, involving speeches and parades of workers and soldiers along streets decked out in embroidered banners and flags with slogans? Naturally, the revolutionary anthems were a core part of the repertoire. On May Day 1918 in Moscow, both the “Marseillaise” and the “Internationale” were played and sung.1 But there was also a need to remember the dead of the ­revolution. The revolutionary funeral dirge “You Fell Victim”, sung by mass choirs, was a staple at these events, having already replaced “God Save the Tsar” as the tune played by the bells of the Kremlin. Meanwhile set-piece performances such as the one in Petrograd on May Day 1918 often included Mozart’s Requiem.

On the first anniversary of the revolution, in November 1918, celebrations in Moscow featured musicians playing all over the city followed by a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio overture. By 1920, Petrograd’s vibrant street theatre scene had evolved to produce mass urban spectacles involving thousands of ­performers. Professional artists worked alongside workers and Red Army soldiers to act out the revolutionary events in tableau form. The music for these performances was chosen for its stock connotations but set a precedent for attitudes towards different kinds of music in subsequent years. It was common for the privileged and exploiting classes to be accompanied by commercial “gypsy music”, the Can-Can or Viennese waltzes. On one occasion the “Marseillaise” was gradually drowned out by the “Internationale” to symbolise the displacement of the provisional government by the soviets. But apart from the anthems, music symbolising revolutionary workers was in short supply. Henry Litolff’s little-known Robespierre Overture was pressed into service on the third anniversary of October, but did not stay in the repertoire.2

During the Civil War, a group of songs from the European socialist movement, mostly marches with stirring lyrics, became well-known.3 New revolutionary words were written for other popular tunes, all of which were based firmly in 19th century melodic and harmonic conventions. From the classical canon, Beethoven featured heavily, especially the Eroica and Ninth Symphonies. But music by Russian composers with no apparent political credentials such as Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Glinka was also chosen for political events.4

All of this was the repurposing of existing music for revolutionary times. Many thought that new times required new music. The driving force behind attempts to revolutionise musical culture during these early years was Proletkult, an organisation which sprang up after the February Revolution and had a membership of about half a million by 1919. Proletkult’s musical goal was to involve workers in musical activity, setting up studios across the country where workers could practise a range of art forms. The movement comprised a spectrum of different perspectives. At one end were those who primarily wanted to allow Russian workers the access to art and culture they had been denied under Tsarism. A Proletkult document of 1918 explains that in the Moscow music studios, of which there were 17,5 workers studied musical literacy and attended courses on music appreciation as well as learning folk and revolutionary songs and engaging in choral singing and composition.6 This work of “cultural enlightenment” overlapped with the efforts of the new government’s Commissariat of Enlightenment (Narkompros) headed by Anatoly Lunacharsky.7

Proletkult also contained another wing, represented by its founder and ­leading figure, ex-Bolshevik Alexander Bogdanov, whose goal was the creation of a uniquely proletarian culture. Bogdanov believed that “the proletariat is destined to create its own literature and poetry, which will be distinct in essence from those of the bourgeois past”, and viewed Proletkult as a laboratory for the development of proletarian art.8 Musicians associated with Proletkult were responsible for some of the successful additions to the repertoire of revolutionary songs during the civil war such as “Budenny’s March”9 and “White Army, Black Baron”.10

A further grouping within Proletkult were those committed to the aesthetic movement of Futurism, the most famous of them being the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The Futurists were the wing of the artistic community most friendly to the October Revolution and therefore Futurist art so dominated the mass celebratory and commemorative events of the early years of the revolution that it is still often thought of as the “official art” of the Russian Revolution. In common with the wider European Futurist movement, Russian Futurists believed that the only true artists were those who furthered the destruction of all existing, complacent and “self-satisfied” art, its traditions and institutions.11 The movement sought to revolutionise artistic language and forms by focusing on continuous forward movement, dynamism and dialectical self-renewal.12 It saw itself as the artistic equivalent of the revolution’s attempt to rebuild society on a new basis.

Futurism was strongest in visual art and poetry, but its celebration of industrialisation and new technology did produce an echo in music. Musicians were urged “to listen carefully to the new tempo and sonorities in the revolutionary life of the proletariat, work out new instruments and instrumentation to express the sounds of contemporary life.” Music should be an expression of the highly collective and cooperative labour of modern society. One result was the creation of “noise orchestras” which used industrial engines, turbines, dynamos, sirens, hooters and bells to generate performances within factories, sometimes accompanied by a gymnastic “ballet” on the shopfloor. On a grander scale were the city-wide performances of factory sirens and whistles which began in 1918 in Petrograd and culminated in a “Symphony of Sirens” in Baku in 1922 in which factory hooters, ships’ foghorns and cannons were coordinated by flag-wavers situated on rooftops following strict instructions.13 “Constructivism” shared Futurism’s obsession with industry, and was pursued musically by composers such as Aleksandr Mosolov whose The Iron Foundry of 1927 achieved ­international notoriety.14

Continuity, tradition and artistic heritage

Despite the freshness and the vigour of their contributions to revolutionary imagery and celebration, both Futurism and the wider Proletkult movement found themselves in increasing tension with the Bolshevik government’s commitment to the preservation and dissemination of existing, “bourgeois” culture. The education ministry, Narkompros, aimed “to give to all those who desire it the opportunity of acquiring musical culture, of learning to understand music in all its manifestations and to become musically literate.” Lunacharsky, its head, declared, “we recognise the immense values created by the old culture and we make them available, not to a small group of parasites, but to the entire working population”.15

Lenin in particular was hostile to the idea that existing culture could or should be ditched in favour of a newly-created one. He argued what was needed was “not the invention of a new Prolet-culture, but rather the development of the best models, traditions and results of the existing culture from a Marxist point of view and the development of the conditions of proletarian life and struggle in the era of its dictatorship”.16 He also distrusted the radical claims of the artistic avant-garde, telling German socialist Clara Zetkin that revolutionaries were too influenced by the iconoclasm of expressionism, Futurism, cubism, and the other “isms”.17

Lenin’s view was partly shaped by his own conservative tastes in art, but its real basis was a materialist understanding of culture that was profoundly at odds with the thinking of the revolutionary artists. In Lenin’s view, culture is not something that can be engineered at will, but is shaped over long periods by the material conditions that underpin it. Speaking at the Tenth Party Congress in 1921, he argued:

The cultural problem cannot be settled as swiftly as political and military problems. One must understand that the conditions for movement ahead are now lacking. It is possible to conquer politically in several weeks, and in war in several months; but to be victorious culturally in such a time is impossible. A much longer period is required.18

Whenever Lenin is discussing culture, it is not primarily the arts that he has in mind, but culture in its broadest sense, including all the gains in knowledge and science made by previous generations of humanity. Culture in this sense is indispensable for the building of socialism. The problem facing the Russian Revolution was not the wrong kind of culture, or the lack of a distinctive proletarian culture, but a desperately low level of culture among the mass of the population resulting from the country’s political and economic history. In a 1922 diary entry Lenin pointedly remarks that while people are holding forth on proletarian culture, insufficient progress has been made to eradicate Tsarism’s appalling legacy of illiteracy among the population, which stood at 68 percent in 1920.19 Lenin was appalled that Lunacharsky had approved the printing of 5,000 copies of Mayakovsky’s poem “150,000,000” during a paper shortage when it was only of interest to “libraries and cranks.” He overcame the resistance of Lunacharsky in order to end the autonomy of Proletkult in 1920. The organisation responded by severing its links with the Futurists, but formally dissolved in 1923.20

The task given to Narkompros in the field of the arts was the education and enlightenment of the population in the existing artistic heritage. Given the dire situation facing the country under the impact of civil war and economic blockade, there was an incredible amount of musical activity. The main theatres, opera houses and music publishers were nationalised in 1918, the music conservatories were made state institutions, and all orchestras and choirs were brought under state control and funded. Despite the extreme privations, orchestral concerts performing the classical repertoire continued throughout the civil war, the composition of their audiences now transformed by the distribution of tickets to workers through the trade unions. Performances took place in factories, army barracks and outlying districts, and were accompanied by lectures and explanatory booklets setting the music in its political and historical context.

This was an extraordinary commitment to the deepening of musical culture at a time when there were so many urgent priorities. It was an effort that depended on the services and cooperation of a music profession that was overwhelmingly hostile, or at best ambivalent, to the revolution. But this was part of a much wider problem of the dependence of the regime on “bourgeois specialists”. As the civil war ended and some of the state control over society was relaxed under the New Economic Policy (NEP), the issue became how to make best use of Russia’s relatively thin layer of highly trained experts, while expanding their ranks through the democratisation of higher education.

The music profession was one for which these problems were particularly intractable. The two key elite education institutions, the Moscow and Leningrad music conservatories, were staffed by conservative figures from Russia’s liberal intelligentsia who saw their role as defending Russian high culture by producing highly-trained instrumentalists, composers and musicologists using traditional educational methods. The Bolsheviks abolished university entry tests, recognising that they were a barrier to students from working class and peasant backgrounds. Nevertheless, because undertaking higher education in classical music depends on an engagement with musical culture for longer and from an earlier age than most other fields, Lunacharsky was forced to allow an exception for the music conservatories. A further attempt to widen access to the conservatories was made with the establishment of “workers’ faculties”, but they never overcame the stigma of being tokenistic, second-class departments comprising students who had failed to make it into the conservatory proper.21

The NEP’s partial reprivatisation of the economy put paid to the mass, state-directed artistic efforts of the civil war period. The state orchestras and opera companies continued to perform the established repertoire, but now had to revert to attracting a paying audience. Consequently, they tended to prioritise the most popular pieces from the classical canon. Workers retreated from the concert halls, their musical needs increasingly satisfied by the newly privatised popular music publishing houses and fledgling recording industry. “New” concert music was championed by the Association of Contemporary Music (ACM), set up in 1923 by the progressive, modernist wing of Russia’s musical establishment.22 The ACM sought to re-establish connections with the latest Western European musical developments and nominated works by its members to represent Russian music at the annual events of the International Society for Contemporary Music.23

The ACM’s main activity was sponsoring concerts, mostly of chamber music, to small, elite audiences. The music was modernist, rather than avant-garde, in that it sought to be at the cutting edge of the classical canon, rather than aiming to achieve a rupture with tradition.24 Works by Western European composers including Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schönberg, Béla Bartók, Maurice Ravel, Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud were performed, while among the Russians represented were Nikolai Myaskovsky,25 Sergei Vasilenko and Leonid Sabaneyev.26 The music of Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev exerted an influence although both were in exile. Though modernists, most ACM members did not see any political aspect to the music they promoted. Sabaneyev argued the standard traditional line that music is not ideological but is pure sound:

Music does not express ideas, it does not express “logical” constructions. Rather it has its own musical aural world, its own musical ideas, and its own internal musical logic. It is a closed world, and the gulf between it and logic and ideology usually can only be breached in a forced and artificial way.27

Not unlike the conservatory professors, this strand of musical life in Russia seemed completely immune to the revolutionary changes going on around it. Within the ACM, only the theorist, critic and composer Boris Asafiev echoed Lunacharsky’s challenge that musicians needed to find ways to reflect the realities of life in the new Soviet state. But the motives of the two men in making this appeal to composers were somewhat different. Lunacharsky wanted to win Russia’s leading artistic figures to a commitment to contribute to the building of a new society, while Asafiev would later become instrumental in encouraging composers to submit to the Stalinist suppression of modernism in the 1930s.

One initiative in the world of classical music that did try to incorporate the spirit of change was the conductorless orchestra Persimfans. Set up in 1922 by the violinist Lev Tseitlin, the orchestra was dedicated to a democratic and egalitarian ethos that rejected the control of a single individual. Tseitlin argued that not only did the cult of the conductor as “maestro” replicate the tyranny of the capitalist workplace, but the exaggerated arm-waving that had become fashionable distracted from a proper appreciation of the music. The conductorless orchestra’s repertoire was agreed democratically and, rather than each player learning only their own part in preparation for performance, the group took the time and trouble to familiarise themselves with the entire score.

This approach was more than just a gesture of solidarity with socialist principles. It may also have contributed to the quality of the performances, with Prokofiev in particular praising the orchestra’s interpretations of his works.28 Persimfans was committed to bringing orchestral music to working class audiences and was so successful that it spawned a number of other conductorless orchestras during the 1920s. This artistic experiment was killed off in the so-called “cultural revolution” at the end of the decade and went into reverse in the 1930s with the introduction of a series of state-organised competitions for conductors. Tellingly, Karl Marx’s passing mention in Capital of the orchestral conductor as analogous to the directing authority of collective labour under capitalism was cited against Persimfans by its Stalinist enemies.29

Proletarian music?

From the beginning of the 1920s, then, the battle lines were already drawn in the arguments about music, but from 1923 it was the “proletarian musicians” that made the running in a series of vitriolic debates. The Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM) was not a continuation of Proletkult, but began as a group of seven party members, mostly theorists rather than musicians, dedicated to revolutionising musical culture to make it fit for Soviet society. RAPM was a sister organisation of the much more influential proletarian writers’ organisations of the time.30 But despite being treated as a minor irritant by most of those making the musical running during the 1920s, its arguments increasingly resonated and laid the basis for Stalin’s musical prescriptions in the following decades. The positions of RAPM members, though crude and strident, also go to the heart of debates about the relationship between music and politics.

RAPM’s aim was to achieve the “extension of the hegemony of the proletariat to the field of music”.31 Using language transferred directly from political activity, they declared that the tradition of Western “bourgeois” music was increasingly ossified and in decay, and it now fell to the proletariat to create a musical culture on an entirely different basis. Although some previous music could provide a healthy model, bourgeois culture’s individualism and its concept of “art for art’s sake” had led to degeneration, esoteric experimentation and the dominance of form over content. The bourgeoisie had also corrupted the folk song tradition, although its peasant, feudal roots made it unsuitable for the proletariat in any case.

Among RAPM’s targets were the modernist composers of the ACM, who they regarded as exemplary of the elitism and bankruptcy of bourgeois culture. RAPM’s existence predated the term “socialist realism”, and their view of proletarian culture was not the conservatism and conformism of the subsequent decades, but their charge of “formalism” was taken up by the Stalinists as their primary weapon against the modernists in the 1930s. Although they revered Beethoven and Mussorgsky, instead of orchestral works RAPM argued for the composition of “mass songs”, collective in nature, simple and direct enough to be picked up and sung by working people involved in the choirs of the workers’ clubs that existed in most working class districts.32

For RAPM, the other chief expression of the degeneracy of musical life, to which the rest of its attacks were directed, was urban popular music. Following the NEP’s lifting of the ban on private publishing in December 1921, a vibrant market in popular songs developed. One of the most popular types was “gypsy music” or tsyganshchina, a genre with 19th century origins based on the clichéd emotionalism of a supposedly gypsy folk style.33 Another was Western dance music consisting of Russian versions of imported styles such as the tango and the foxtrot. RAPM characterised all of this as “petty-bourgeois” music and argued for a thoroughgoing struggle against “Nepman music”.34 This “cast-off bar-room garbage” was an unhealthy mix of sentimentality and eroticism. One of their theorists explained:

Thanks to their accessibility, these songs divert our perception to the side, away from the real artistic, healthy song. They atrophy our ability to go over to the side of more developed musical material, and thus are one of the strongest brakes on the musical cultural enlightenment of the masses.35

The epitome of the degenerate popular romance was a song called “Little Bricks”,36 which sold over a million copies as sheet music before RAPM successfully had it banned under the first Five Year Plan. According to a leading RAPM member, the song “fosters a somnolent, indolent, inert will; the mind loses its swiftness, keenness and brilliance and sinks in the foul mire of grey drabness, of futility, and of sniffling petty-bourgeois sentimentality.” More dangerous still was what RAPM called “pseudo-revolutionary music”—the setting of revolutionary lyrics to existing popular tunes. RAPM called this “the most vulgar, the most scandalous type of contemporary musical production” because it surreptitiously used the politically progressive nature of the new words to smuggle in the ­degeneracy of petty-bourgeois music.37

RAPM couched its arguments in highly polemical language, regarding all those with opposing views as class enemies. But the issues they took up remain central to debates about music and politics. Musical modernism is attractive to revolutionaries because its attempt to revolutionise established musical language seems to represent a thoroughgoing critique of existing society. The price of this radicalism, however, is a drastic narrowing of the audience for this music, which often degenerates into obscure academicism, as exemplified by the plethora of esoteric research projects inventing new musical scales and tonal systems in early 1920s Russia (the first electronic musical instrument, the termenvox or theramin, also resulted from this experimentation).38 There is no necessary correlation between artistic revolutionism and revolutionary politics, as the continuity of the ACM with the rest of the pre-revolutionary Russian musical establishment showed. The two leading Russian modernists, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, were hostile to the revolution and lived outside Russia during the 1920s, the latter only returning once the musical landscape had stabilised and his privileged lifestyle had been guaranteed. Nevertheless, simply writing off all contemporary concert music as the victory of form over content, as RAPM did, is a crude and undialectical position which fails to understand the aesthetic basis of modernism as a response to social crisis and upheaval.

RAPM’s attacks on the modernists took a particularly heated form in the case of one ACM member, the composer Nikolai Roslavets. Roslavets was from a working class background, and a supporter of the October Revolution who joined the Bolsheviks. He wrote music in an uncompromisingly modernist style, having invented his own 12-tone system of composition before Schönberg famously developed his. He explicitly linked his demanding style to his revolutionary politics, declaring:

I consider the Russian proletariat the lawful inheritor of all of the culture that came before him—to be worthy of that culture’s best musical part. And therefore it is specifically for him that I write my symphonies, quartets, trios, songs and other “head-smashing” works…being completely convinced that I will live to see the day when the proletariat will find my music as intelligible and accessible as it is today to the best representatives of Russia’s progressive musical society.39

Despite its atonal idiom, Roslavets’s work is not particularly difficult or ­inaccessible, but his argument that it would take time to achieve a mass audience was taken by RAPM to be equivalent to Schönberg’s elitist statement: “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art”.40 RAPM accused Roslavets of representing “petty-bourgeois reaction hiding behind leftist phraseology” and vowed “to isolate him ideologically from the Soviet musical scene” in order to “protect society” from his influence”.41

Roslavets contributed an October Cantata to the tenth anniversary ­celebrations of the revolution but the attacks on the inaccessibility of his work increasingly hit home, and he abandoned his modernist style in 1929, trying his hand instead with folk material.42 Roslavets’s dilemma is familiar to artists who are committed to revolutionary socialist politics. Yet rejecting the perceived elitism of “highbrow” modernism by turning to popular culture is also problematic. As today, early 20th century urban popular music was overwhelmingly driven by commercial concerns rather than aesthetic or artistic ones, avoiding anything which challenged the audience in its effort to maximise sales. The purveyors of popular culture regard themselves as being in the entertainment business and therefore prioritise accessibility over all other concerns by encouraging a reliance on well-worn clichés. Like similar critiques in the West, RAPM’s attack on popular music, therefore, was not wholly unwarranted, although again it was crudely expressed. The organisation’s hostility to setting revolutionary lyrics to existing music also raised the issue of musical meaning, challenging the view that music is simply a neutral vehicle for ideological content supplied by the words. RAPM had a point when it criticised attempts to turn classic operas by Puccini, Meyerbeer and Glinka into revolutionary works by giving them new plots and libretti.43

RAPM rejected as ideologically corrupt every strand of existing musical culture—modernist concert music, the various kinds of popular music and jazz, which was just beginning to make its impact felt.44 It paid lip service to the idea that workers could learn from folk music and the classical canon. But its major shortcoming was that it had very little idea of what the ideologically correct mass music of the proletariat should sound like. Beyond a few simplistic propagandist and agitational songs, RAPM composers produced very little music. Their inaugural concert, in 1924, featured a mixture of music inspired by folksong, European marches, Russian church music and sentimental Russian romances.45 Only the words indicated its left-wing nature. A “production ­collective” (Prokoll) of leftist composers based in the Moscow conservatory was slightly more successful, producing a collectively composed “oratorio”, The Path of October, for the revolution’s tenth anniversary concert. For all its composers’ hostility to “formalism” and popular music, it featured experimental choral techniques and included traditional rhyming ditties called chastushka.

Theory of art

RAPM’s underlying problem was a flawed conception of music itself. Its theory of art drew heavily on that of the more powerful “proletarian literature” groups such as On Guard and The Smithy to which RAPM allied itself. This theory had its origins in the thought of Georgi Plekhanov, the founder of Russian Marxism, and in particular in the idea that each class in society has its own distinctive ideology: “I hold to the view that social consciousness is determined by social existence… It follows that art…expresses the strivings and the mood of a given society, or, for a society divided into classes, of a given social class”.46

To this, the “proletarian artists” added another component, derived from Bogdanov’s thinking. Not only was art an expression, or reflection, of the worldview of a class, it was an organiser of social experience: “As a consequence, [art] is a most powerful weapon for the organisation of…class forces. The proletariat must have its own class art to organise its own forces in social labour, struggle, and construction”.47

As a result of this perspective, the “proletarian artists” of the 1920s assumed that the language and tactics of the political sphere could be transferred directly to the field of art. A resolution adopted by the First All-Union Congress of Proletarian Writers in 1925 asserts that: “The path by which the proletariat has proceeded in the fields of general politics and economics must be the same path that it follows in literature, that is, the path of hegemony, of the seizure of power by the proletariat in the field of art”.48

The Marxist notion that art is not neutral and does not stand above society was interpreted to mean that all art serves the interests of one or other class in society. Therefore, all art that was not explicitly committed to communism, including that of all non-communist composers, had to be eradicated because “the rule of the proletariat is incompatible with the dominance of non-proletarian literature”.49

RAPM transferred these ideas to music, declaring that music was “a mighty weapon for disseminating the influence of a class.” Despite the proletariat’s seizure of political power, the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois Nepmen were continuing to assert cultural dominance by distracting the proletariat from their class interests through individualism, mysticism, eroticism and aestheticism (art for art’s sake).50 What was needed was an urgent class struggle in the arts to overcome this with music that served the interests of collective proletarian reconstruction.51

Because they understood the field of art as directly parallel to the arena of politics, RAPM members, like those of its sister groupings in literature, continuously demanded that they should receive the exclusive endorsement of the party as the leading faction in Russian musical life. Throughout the 1920s this was resisted by the party, although the “proletarian artists” were not without supporters on the Central Committee. They were opposed by Leon Trotsky who, after Lenin’s death, and before his own expulsion, led the argument for a non-partisan policy towards the arts, and he did so on the basis of a much more sophisticated Marxist theory of art. Trotsky accepted the premise that art has a class character. He argued, nevertheless, that counterposing proletarian art to bourgeois art is based on a false and simplistic analogy between the historical development of the two classes which has more to do with liberalism than Marxism. The bourgeoisie is a rich class which came to power fully armed with the culture of its time as a result of a process that took many centuries. It was the most cultured class within feudal society; the class of philosophers, artists and educators. By contrast, the proletariat is a materially deprived class whose coming to power makes it acutely aware of its lack of culture, and its need to acquire it. That is why its first task must be to try to master the culture—“the organic sum of knowledge and capacity which characterises the entire society”—of which it takes possession. Only after a lengthy period will it be possible to talk of the emergence of a distinctly new culture, but by that time the proletariat will have overcome the marks of its oppression, and ceased to exist as a class, having dissolved into the socialist community. Trotsky’s initial, devastating point against the “proletarian artist” groups is that bourgeois art will be replaced by socialist art, not proletarian art.52

Secondly, Trotsky took issue with a simplistic notion of the class content of art. What does it mean to say, as the “proletarian writers” did: “We understand proletarian literature as that which comprehends the world from the view of the proletariat”?53 Art is not the same as politics, its class content is not straightforwardly identifiable. The class criterion in art is “refracted artistically…in conformity with the quite specific peculiarities of that field of creativity to which we are applying our criterion.” This is not because art is a special, mystical sphere, existing separately from social processes, but because of the greater role played by subconscious processes in artistic creativity. The class nature of bourgeois art is not due to the conscious insertion of bourgeois values into its content, but results from the continuous immersion of artists in a bourgeois milieu. “They breathe the air of bourgeois salons and receive hypodermic inspirations from their class which nourish the subconscious processes of creativity”, as Trotsky put it. That is why laboratory methods for the creation of a proletarian art, such as those of the Proletkult, are ineffective and voluntaristic: “It is impossible to create a class culture behind the backs of a class”.54

In any case, the class nature of bourgeois art does not mean it cannot speak to revolutionaries or workers. Trotsky asks, how is it that we can appreciate a work from long ago such as Dante’s Divine Comedy on an aesthetic level, not merely as a historical document? His answer is that in spite of the differences between class societies, there remain common features that transcend those differences. Our ability to respond aesthetically requires that the work of art’s “feelings and moods shall have received such broad, intense, powerful expressions as to have raised them above the limitations of the life of those days.” If Dante’s work touches us, it is “not because he was a Florentine petty bourgeois of the 13th century but, to a considerable extent, in spite of that circumstance.” Such historical transcendence is not unlimited, however, and Trotsky predicts that there will come a time when we will only be able to relate to the works of William Shakespeare on a scientific-historical basis, rather than an aesthetic one.55 It follows that if workers find it difficult to relate to the masterworks of 19th century symphonic tradition, it is not because their socio-historical distance has made them irredeemably anachronistic or alien.

This discussion goes to the heart of what we understand art to be, and what we expect it to do. For the “proletarianists”, as we have seen, art was an ideological tool, a weapon for the organisation of collective, class forces, which, “by means of images, influences the psyche of the reader, listener, etc, through ‘emotional infection’”.56 Or in another formulation, art’s role was to exert an “emotionally organising influence on the psyche in connection with the task of the class struggle”.57 Trotsky threw his weight behind those, such as Alexandr Voronsky, editor of the influential literary journal Red Virgin Soil, who argued that art’s role is not that of weapon, it is not an ideological “hammer”, but a means of cognition of the world.58 Like Voronsky, Trotsky maintained that works of art “provide knowledge in graphic form…they generalise experience, they widen the horizon.” He suggested that a work is artistic when its content develops, “not according to the author’s desires, but according to the latent forces of the characters and the setting.” It is this, rather than any overt ideology or “message” that makes it possible to talk of art’s “truthfulness”, that aspect that art shares with science, despite its differences.59 This means that to expect or demand that writers and composers insert socialist ideology into their works is completely to misunderstand the nature and role of art, and to confuse it with propaganda.

Trotsky’s understanding here follows a line of thought initiated by Marx and Friedrich Engels when they argued that it was in the nature of art that great artworks could be “truthful” despite deficiencies in their authors’ politics or worldview.60 Arguably this is even more the case in respect of a non-representational art form such as music. Trotsky makes an exception of music, however, specifically excluding it as a cognitive art form, and describing it instead as an “art of infection”: “Music too, of course, relies on a particular knowledge of nature, its sounds and rhythms. But here the knowledge is so deeply hidden, the results of the inspiration of nature are to such an extent refracted through a person’s nerves, that music acts as a self-sufficing ‘revelation’”.61

To the extent that Trotsky was right that music seems to address human emotions rather than concrete data, its difference from literature is surely only a matter of degree. Not only is the expression of human feelings socially and historically determined, but the language of music itself—its forms, its systems of pitch and rhythm, etc—is shaped by concrete material conditions.62 Instrumental sounds may have been rarefied and abstracted to distance them from day-to-day sounds, but all melody retains a direct link to the human voice and all drumming is the musicalisation of the sounds of daily life, especially in the world of work. In terms of form, music is arguably no more abstract than non-representational painting. We do not have to exempt non-representational art from any cognitive role: it too can be “truthful” to the extent that it develops according to the internal logic of its material. Trotsky’s adoption of the term “infection” used by his opponents, which is taken from Leo Tolstoy’s aesthetic theory, is misplaced here.

Trotsky defended Futurism and the other avant-garde artistic movements from the charge of decadence levelled at them by the campaigners for proletarian art. Futurism was driven by a Bohemian individualism, rather than revolutionary socialism, but nevertheless represented a sincere revolt of “the semi-pauperised left wing of the intelligentsia” against the restrictive and elitist aesthetics of the established art world. Its social component was motivated by a deep-seated disgust at the limitations and vulgarity of existing society.63 Revolutionaries do not turn their backs on protests against capitalist society, even if they are not working class in nature, let alone denounce them as evidence of the degeneracy of bourgeois society.

The cutting edge of Trotsky’s discussion of Russian art in the ­post-revolutionary period was a refusal to bend to the incessant lobbying of the various “proletarian artist” groups, RAPM included, to win the endorsement of the party as the leading force in their respective artistic field. As we have seen, this demand was based on a false analogy between the political and artistic spheres. Trotsky regards it as entirely inappropriate for the party to take sides in struggles between artistic factions with different agendas. He was in favour of total freedom for artistic tendencies, going so far as to argue that, although it might be necessary to impose socialist centralisation to achieve the development of productive forces, the revolution should establish “an anarchist regime of individual liberty” for the arts and intellectual creation. There should be “not the least trace of orders from above”.64

This perspective does not mean that aesthetics remains immune to the changes brought about by a socialist revolution. Like Lenin, Trotsky argued that the timescale for artistic change is necessarily much longer than for political and economic transformations. There is no revolutionary art yet, he wrote in 1924, firmly rejecting the crude notion that the only worthwhile art is that which describes factory chimneys or propagandises for workers’ uprisings against capital. Moreover, it may be that non-proletarians are best placed to represent the revolution artistically, just as non-French artists were largely responsible for the art of the French Revolution. It is much more likely that elements of the Russian intelligentsia will produce better artistic representations of the revolution than the working class is able to. The latter is hampered both by a low cultural level and the need to concentrate on pressing political tasks.65

Trotsky coined the term “fellow travellers” for those members of the ­intelligentsia who accepted the revolution despite not being committed to it politically.66 Against RAPM and the other “proletarian artist” groups, he argued that the work of non-Communist artists, as long as it was not used to foment counter-revolutionary plotting, should not be repressed. The field of artistic creativity was “not one in which the party is called upon to command”.67

This position held within the party until a Central Committee resolution of 1925 referred to the “proletariat occupying a forward position” in the arts, and made the astonishing claim that “already the proletariat has ready infallible criteria regarding the social-political criteria of any literary work.” The resolution’s confirmation that the party did not support any particular faction and had a policy of “free competition” in the arts was somewhat contradicted by the fact that it now had a position explicitly favouring proletarian art, even if such art did not yet exist.68


The following year, Lunacharsky found himself under attack from party conservatory students for referring to several leading ACM members, including the celebrated symphonist Myaskovsky, as “our composers” even though they were allegedly “formalists” who rejected “social realism” in their work. Lunacharsky defended himself by rejecting the term “realism” in relation to music. Unfortunately, he did so by making a special case of music compared to literature and painting, coming close to arguing that music is meaningless:

Not only is [music] free of images, but it does not reflect the nature of the sounds that we hear in everyday life. Every attempt to get closer to “realism” leads to music that is clearly untruthful, and it is in fact the semi-decadent Futurists who have tried to introduce noise orchestras that supposedly bring music closer to life. It is difficult, therefore, to speak of realism in music. Nor is it easy to draw lines that would strictly demarcate one set of class tendencies from another (in music). Thus, for example, a march created by imperialists can also be put to splendid use by revolutionaries… Even the Marseillaise itself can be well received by monarchists so long as the words aren’t attached to it. This is proof of the extent to which music, unlike literature, is ineffable.69

As the 1920s wore on, Lunacharsky found himself under increasing pressure from those opposed to his Commissariat’s support for institutions such as the Bolshoi Ballet and the Moscow Opera which continued to perform the classical repertoire, and its failure to suppress the modernists of ACM in favour of the “proletarians”. The young Shostakovich, easily the most talented composer of his generation, occupied a curious position on this battleground. Although a modernist by inclination, he kept his distance from the ACM and his support for the revolution led him to be influenced by the arguments of RAPM. His first big break came when, aged 20, he accepted a state commission to write a symphony for the tenth anniversary of the revolution after it had been refused by Prokofiev. The resulting Second Symphony, To October, combines modernist language with a choral finale set to a mundane text by a “proletarian poet”, and features a factory whistle included at the suggestion of the commissioning department’s director. Thus, all the necessary political nods are made to the “proletarianist” perspective—to Beethoven as the model revolutionary composer by aping the choral finale of his Ninth Symphony, to the “mass song” as favoured musical form, and, through the factory whistle, to labour and industry.

Shostakovich’s relationship with RAPM was ambivalent. He was scathing about the music written by its members, and detested the group’s opinionated meddling and criticism. His music was certainly popular with Russian audiences in later years, but, contrary to the claim that he transcended the popular/classical musical schism, Shostakovich shared RAPM’s hostility to popular music.70 His inclusion of jazz and popular references in his ballets and operas, such as the arrangement of the foxtrot “Tea For Two” in his The Golden Age, was little different from their use in the celebratory pageants of the revolution’s early years or in the productions of experimental theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold, that is, to signify Western decadence and the heartless frivolity of the exploiting classes. Shostakovich distanced himself from its performance as a stand-alone piece in case it should be thought that he endorsed foxtrot.71 When RAPM canvassed for a ban on the publication of “light” music, Shostakovich’s response outstripped all others in its vitriol against popular music composers. He accused them of “wrecking activity” and proposed their expulsion from the copyright organisations to prevent them earning an income. He also shared RAPM’s vehement hostility to “pseudo-revolutionary music”, writing: “Be on guard against gypsy and foxtrot music in disguise—they will put a ‘100 percent reliable’ text to a gypsy romance.” These excessive expressions of support for the “proletarian” perspective could not have been driven purely by political expediency. When RAPM was eventually dissolved by order of the party in 1932, Shostakovich was not among those composers who were relieved, declaring: “The class war continues in the country, and it also continues in musical art”.72

RAPM’s demise followed a short period when it was elevated to the kind of dominance it had always aspired to. At the same moment that Stalin secured victory over his rivals in the party, the careful cultural policy initiated by Lenin and overseen by Lunacharsky disintegrated. In 1928 and 1929, a series of events changed the political and cultural climate markedly. In the frenzied atmosphere whipped up against “bourgeois specialists” by the Shakhty show trial of engineers accused of sabotage,73 Nikolai Bukharin, trying to rid himself of accusations of “rightism”, reversed his previous support for non-partisanship in culture and the arts and called for “loyal cultural cadres” to protect the working class “from bourgeois degeneration, from petit-bourgeois vacillation, and from the dulling of revolutionary vigilance towards the more cultured class enemy”.74

Thus, with a cynical revival of the language of class struggle, the “cultural revolution” of 1928-1932 was launched, followed shortly afterwards by the First Five Year Plan. Later that year, a Central Committee resolution asserted that “mass literature” was increasingly necessary “as an instrument for the mobilisation of the masses around the basic political and economic tasks”,75 and in 1929, it was the turn of the All-Russian Conference of Music Workers to hammer the point home in relation to music:

There can be no conceivable further development of musical culture in this country without the establishment of direct connections with our political and economic development. Any other attitude would not only be reactionary, but entirely utopian. This must be firmly grasped by all who have not yet ­understood it.76

Lunacharsky, having by this time tendered his resignation as Commissar for Enlightenment, echoed the new orthodoxy by referring to the “colossal sin of formalism” and the “problem of syncopated music.” But when he was challenged for not bowing sufficiently to the idea of “proletarian song”, he fought back by attacking his opponents’ sectarian arrogance:

There isn’t a single person in attendance here who should imagine that he knows what proletarian music is or that he can teach the proletariat. If you really are the representatives of the proletariat, then you will listen out for what the proletariat likes. And if it sings “Little Bricks”, then even if that song is of little musical value, it must have something in it that makes it a favourite… It seems to me that they are striving for something of their own, something from the peasant life of their origins, perhaps something they heard in their childhood, in the family home. And if you are going to construct some weird and wonderful houses of cards for them, you won’t hear the proletariat singing them back to you. No, they will ignore you as a group of fantasists, purveyors of songs they don’t understand.77

Nevertheless, the conference gave RAPM a de facto monopoly in determining the country’s musical direction. Erstwhile opponents such as Asafiev rushed to confess their political errors and join the organisation as it celebrated its “decisive strikes on the reactionary group of musicians that dominated the most important musical institutions” of the country, and its destruction of “a petty-bourgeois musical organisation that was standing on an opportunist platform”.78 By 1931 the most prominent fellow travellers of the ACM had vowed to dedicate themselves to “Marxist-Leninist methodology”, with Myaskovsky’s capitulation signalled by his composition of a symphony on the theme of the collectivisation of agriculture. His contract for the work came with an instruction to read Lenin and Stalin in order to get a “correct philosophical interpretation” of the issue.79 It was not long before the term socialist realism was coined and imposed as an orthodoxy in all the arts, music included.

What can we learn from this history and these debates?

1. RAPM members were the proto-Stalinist counter-revolutionaries of the arts world of the 1920s.

RAPM’s sectarianism and its focus on political campaigning made its members different from the adherents of Proletkult who had preceded them. Both organisations preached the mistaken doctrine of proletarian culture but Proletkult was, at least, committed to educating and involving workers in musical activity.

The emphasis on new, specifically proletarian, musical forms was not conducive to the conservative musical agenda of the 1930s onwards, which was intent on rehabilitating the 19th century symphonic canon as the official music of the USSR. But RAPM had never succeeded in producing any of this new music in any case, so there was none of it to be stamped out. Otherwise, RAPM’s manifesto, with its strident antipathy towards all manifestations of ­modernism, and its relentless campaigning against the corrupting effects of the various strands of popular music, both homegrown and imported, performed the softening up process for the introduction of socialist realism. This went along with the imposition of a regressive puritanism in daily life. The summary disbandment of the organisation is merely another instance of Stalin’s tendency to discard ­political allies once they had served their useful purpose.

2. Music is not a tool for the accomplishment of political tasks.

There is always a temptation for revolutionaries to judge music for its political content as though it were part of the ideological weaponry of the class struggle. This was the central mistake of RAPM and the “proletarian artists”. It is wrong, not because music has no connection to ideology and politics, but because artistic creativity is a fundamentally different kind of activity from making political propaganda. Marx’s definition of aesthetic activity was the development of human powers as an end in itself. He wrote of the development of a musical ear as evidence of the richness of human beings’ sensuous, historical relationship with the world.80 Music is, in its fundamental sense, the name we use for playing with our propensity to make sounds as we exist in the world. To engage musically is to transform temporarily our sense of hearing from a faculty for communication and survival into a human ability that exists for its own sake. Music, therefore, like all the other artforms, is fundamentally non-utilitarian. Its communicative aspect is a product only of the fact that it is a collective, joint activity. It is not a means of communication in the sense of sending messages or transmitting emotions from composer or performer to listener.81

This is not the same as saying that music is meaningless or even ineffable. It is to say that music’s meaning is not translatable into words or other media. Music can, of course, be harnessed to other media expressing concrete ideological content. Yet to limit the role of music to a supporting role for words or film drama is again to reduce it simply to utility.

3. There is no necessary correlation between revolutionary musical techniques and revolutionary politics.

Even in its historical heyday of the 1910s and 1920s most modernist composers did not identify with revolutionary social change, and since then the major strands of musical modernism have lost any connection with radical politics, and ended up pursuing ever more obscure side alleys, losing their already small audience along the way. We should be wary of repeating Lunacharsky’s equating of modernism and radical politics—“You are a revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in life”—in his appeal to Prokofiev to stay in Russia.82 On the other hand, the Russian experience shows that the critique of modernism as “formalist” leads straight to conservative conclusions, and to the kind of narrow conformism that stunted Russian culture for decades. We should also be careful about the “decadence” argument. The modernisms of the early 20th century were indeed the product of deep crisis in bourgeois society and marked the end of its ability to see its values reflected in a confident, flourishing highbrow culture.83 But the avant-garde movements also represented protests against bourgeois society and, to the extent that they articulated social crisis aesthetically, they also express the truth of their circumstances.

4. A blanket criticism of popular music is incompatible with a Marxist analysis.

All sides in the musical debates of the 1920s—the modernists of ACM, the “proletarianists” of RAPM, and Lunacharsky as the Commissar for Enlightenment—condemned popular music as vacuous and debased. This put them in line with the musical establishment across Europe at the time, and to some extent ever since. There may have been little of artistic value in the popular music of the 1920s. But as the only music with a genuine mass audience, criticism of it effectively turns into a moralising impatience with those who enjoy it, a tendency of which Lunacharsky was aware. The hope initially invested by Roslavets that over time Russian workers would come to understand his complex music is a less patronising approach, but relies on music being held in a kind of suspended animation in readiness for the future, which is the antithesis of a healthy musical culture.

On the face of it, this looks like an insoluble problem that has changed little since the 1920s. There have been developments over the last 100 years, however, which have altered the situation. First, musical tastes were undoubtedly shaped by the general level of cultural deprivation of Russian workers. Today, levels of literacy and general education among the world’s population bear no comparison to those faced by the Bolsheviks. With this level of cultural attainment goes a much higher level of musical knowledge and sophistication among non-specialists, even if it lags far behind the ability of the affluent classes to assimilate musical culture. Second, the Western “classical” tradition has never recovered from the crisis represented by modernism in the period of the Russian Revolution. With a few exceptions, orchestral and chamber music programmes have changed little in the past 100 years as 20th century works struggle to get included in the mainstream repertoire.

Third, urban popular music, though today even more firmly a wing of big business than it was in its infancy, has been shaped by a series of popular interventions from below. Jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, punk, hip-hop and so on, all received their initial impetus from beyond the established musical institutions of society, whether academic or commercial. Furthermore, an array of musical traditions from less economically developed parts of the world have forced themselves into global musical culture in the past 40 years. In both cases, the music industry sanitises and tames this raw material in the process of commercialising it. Yet the marks of these vibrant subaltern interventions remain on musical culture in a way that was not true of its early years, and mean that it is just as naïve to dismiss popular music as culturally empty as it is to celebrate it uncritically because of its market success.

The field of popular music is far from being democratic, but it is open enough to new participants to ensure that the major struggles of the past 60 years have found their echoes in popular, rather than “classical” music. The period in the United States from the Civil Rights Movement to the end of the Vietnam War is proof of that. We can expect this to continue to be the case.

5. “Socialist music” will depend on a revolution in the structure and place of music-making in society, and will not be reducible to a form or a style.

As the failure of RAPM showed, a new musical language cannot be created at will; to believe that it can be is a form of idealism and voluntarism. Lenin and Trotsky were correct about that. But simply to argue, as Lenin did, that workers must soak up existing high culture, and to open up the concert halls and opera houses to them, positive though such improved access would be, is an ­inadequate alternative. Acculturation involves a creative engagement with an existing tradition, not its passive absorption. The bourgeoisie understands this, and has developed a sophisticated system of institutions for selecting and developing the next generation of specialists to join the caste of professional musicians. The socialisation of art and culture will require moving away from a structure in which a small number of professional creators supply a mass of passive consumers. It will need to provide the ability and resources to engage in music-making for all with an interest in doing so, along the lines of the famous passage in The German Ideology where Marx and Engels look forward to the possibility of being freed from the rigid division of labour characteristic of capitalism.84

The supposed revolutionaries of RAPM, with their ceaseless attacks on everyone and everything, never questioned the divisions between composer and performer, musicians and audience, divisions that replicate and mirror the capitalist division of labour. They fought for control over the music conservatories but never challenged the role of those institutions in ensuring that music remained the preserve of a narrow layer of professionals. Leaving aside the delusions of hot-housing a proletarian culture, it was the activists of Proletkult and their successors who briefly pointed in a new direction by organising music-making activities in working class districts, running choirs in the workers’ clubs and campaigning to make instruments such as the accordion widely available.85 Those driving these initiatives did not insist that people played or sang a new “proletarian” repertoire. And they had greater ambitions for the process than fostering “amateur” music-making, a disparaging term that only makes sense in the context of a professionalised and marketised musical culture.

Unfortunately, the Russian Revolution did not have time to effect a ­thoroughgoing democratisation of music-making, and, consequently, did not produce much in the way of new music. By the end of the 1920s its cultural ­radicalism had been snuffed out. Even Shostakovich is better thought of as caught between Western modernism and Stalinist conservatism than as a product of the revolution. Nonetheless, the debates of the 1920s can help us to develop a Marxist understanding of music and its place in society, and to avoid repeating the errors of that period.

Mark Abel is a saxophonist and pianist, and a trade union activist at the University of Brighton. He is the author of Groove: An Aesthetic of Measured Time (Haymarket, 2015).


1 Tolstoy, Bibikova and Cooke, 1984.

2 Stites, 1989, pp80-96. Lenin himself was instrumental in promoting the “Internationale” as the hymn of the October Revolution and tagging the “Marseillaise”, with its bourgeois revolutionary origins, as the anthem of February 1917, even though the Russian version was the “Workers’ Marseillaise” with more radical lyrics than the original—Nelson, 2004, p35.

3 Various artists, 1964.

4 Stites, 1992, pp45-46; Rothstein, 1991, p270.

5 Nelson, 2004, p23.

6 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p17.

7 Schwartz, 1972, pp20-21.

8 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p10.

11 Burliuk, Kruchenykh, Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov, 1917.

12 Maguire, 1968, p190; Burliuk, Kruchenykh, Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov, 1917.

13 Stites, 1989, pp159-160; Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, pp81-83.

14 Schwartz, 1972, p85.

15 Schwartz, 1972, p15.

16 Schwartz, 1972, p43.

17 Zetkin, 1934.

18 Krebs, 1970, p48, translation amended.

19 Lenin, 1978, p182.

20 Schwartz, 1972, pp21-22 and 42; Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p45.

21 Nelson, 2004, pp175-178; Schwartz, 1972, pp24 and 26

22 ACM was often referred to by its Russian initials, ASM.

23 Krebs, 1970, p49; Schwartz, 1972, p50; Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p91; Nelson, 2004, pp47-49.

24 Taruskin, 1997, p91.

25 Not to be confused with the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

26 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, pp107 and 134.

27 Nelson, 2004, p50.

28 Stites, 1989, p138.

29 Nelson, 2004, pp193-195; Stites, 1989, pp135-136 and 139; Marx, 1977, p313.

30 Such as RAPP/VAPP, see Brown, 1971.

31 Schwartz, 1972, pp55-66.

32 Nelson, 2004, pp121-124; Koenker, 1991.

33 Rothstein, 1991, p376.

34 Rothstein, 1991, p268.

35 Nelson, 2004, p105.

36 Go to

37 Rothstein, 1980, pp383 and 379.

38 McQuere, 1983, pp43-45; Schwartz, 1972, p52.

39 Nelson, 2004, p64.

40 Schönberg, 1984, p124.

41 Schwartz, 1972, p54.

42 Schwartz, 1972, p86; Ferenc, 1992, p9; Sitsky, 1994, p41.

43 Puccini’s Tosca was reworked as The Struggle For the Commune; Meyebeer’s Les Huguenots as The Decembrists, about an uprising in St Petersburg in 1825 and Glinka’s A Life For the Tsar was renamed Ivan Susanin from 1929 onwards to shift the focus onto its peasant leading character—Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, pp109, 143 and 225.

44 Starr, 1983.

45 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p100.

46 Quoted in Brown, 1971, p7.

47 Brown, 1971, p7.

48 Brown, 1971, p29.

49 Brown, 1971, p29.

50 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, pp128.

51 Brown, 1971, p59.

52 Trotsky, 1970, pp42, 47, 79, 54 and 95.

53 Brown, 1971, p63.

54 Trotsky, 1970, pp76-78 and 49.

55 Trotsky, 1970, pp67-68. Trotsky does not comment on Marx’s musings on the same question, in the latter’s case in relation to the art of ancient Greece, see Marx, 1973, pp110-111.

56 Resolution of the First All-Union Congress of Proletarian Writers, 1928, quoted in Brown, 1971, p63.

57 Maguire, 1968, p190.

58 Deutscher, 2015, p736; Trotsky, 1970, p87. Voronsky expresses his position thus: “Art is the cognition of life. Art is not the free play of fantasy, feelings and moods; art is not the expression of merely the subjective sensations and experiences of the poet… Like science, art cognises life. Both art and science have the same subject: life, reality. But science analyses, art synthesises”—Voronsky, 1998, p98.

59 Trotsky, 1970, pp87 and 93.

60 For example, Engels, 1888.

61 Trotsky, 1970, p87.

62 See my discussion of musical and social time in Abel, 2015.

63 Trotsky, 1924.

64 Trotsky, 1970, p119.

65 Trotsky, 1970, pp54-55.

66 Cliff, 1991, p111.

67 Trotsky, 1970, p56.

68 Brown, 1971, pp235-240.

69 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, pp175-176.

70 Behrman, 2010, pp35-36.

71 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p275. “Tea For Two” was retitled “Tahiti Trot”.

72 Fitzpatrick, 1992, p195.

73 Named after the town where it took place.

74 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p198.

75 Brown, 1971, pp241-242.

76 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p219.

77 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, pp223-224.

78 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, p261. The “petty-bourgeois” organisation was the Organisation of Revolutionary Composers which had formerly split from RAPM over its sectarianism.

79 Frolova-Walker and Walker, 2012, pp285-286.

80 Marx, 1959.

81 See Abel, 2018 for a more in depth discussion of this perspective.

82 Taruskin, 1997, p87.

83 See Hobsbawm, 1989, pp219-242; Harman, 1999, pp466-468.

84 “For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape…in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner”—Marx and Engels, 1974, p54.

85 Nelson, 2004, pp116-117.


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