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Leon Trotsky 19380601 Revolutionary Art and the Fourth International

Leon Trotsky: Revolutionary Art and the Fourth International

June 1, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 349-352]

Dear Comrades:

I deeply regret that unfavorable circumstances do not allow me to participate in your conference. The vanguard of the workers of the whole world awaits its answers to the most burning problems of their struggle for freedom.

I am, however, sufficiently acquainted with the discussion that is going on in different countries on the fundamental problems of the workers' movement, and with the documents which have been submitted for your appraisal, to have the right to assure you of my complete solidarity with the work which you are called to do.

In the whole course of its history, the proletariat has never yet been as completely deceived and betrayed by its organizations as it is today, twenty-five years after the start of the First World War and a few years, perhaps only a few months, before the start of the Second World War.

The Social Democratic International, as illustrated by the last and most recent governmental experience of Leon Blum in France, is an adjunct of the bourgeois state apparatus, which summons it to its aid in the most difficult periods for the most shameful work: in particular, to prepare a new imperialist war.

The role of the Third International is – if such a thing is possible – even more criminal and injurious, because it covers the services it renders to imperialism with the authority stolen from the October Revolution and Bolshevism.

On the soil of Spain, Stalinism has shown with particular clarity that it has assumed the role of international policeman against the proletarian revolution, the same role that czarism played against the bourgeois revolution.

Official anarchism, by its shameful policy in Spain, has convinced the masses of workers of the entire world that they can no longer count on it. Like the bureaucracy of the two pseudo-Marxist Internationals, the anarchist bureaucracy has succeeded in making itself one with bourgeois society.

To prevent the shipwreck and rotting away of humanity, the proletariat needs a perspicacious, honest, and fearless revolutionary leadership. No one can provide this leadership except the Fourth International, basing itself on the entire experience of past defeats and victories.

Permit me, nevertheless, to cast a glance at the historic mission of the Fourth International, not only with the eyes of a proletarian revolutionist but with the eyes of the artist which I am by profession. I have never separated these two spheres of my activity. My pen has never served me as a toy for my personal diversion or that of the ruling classes. I have always forced myself to depict the sufferings, hopes, and struggles of the working classes because that is how I approach life, and therefore art, which is an inseparable part of it. The present unresolved crisis of capitalism carries with it a crisis of all human culture, including that of art.

In a certain way the whole world situation impels talented and sensitive artists onto the road of revolutionary creativeness. But this road, alas, is obstructed with the rotting corpses of reformism and Stalinism.

If the vanguard of the world proletariat finds its leadership, avant-garde art will find new perspectives and new hope. Meanwhile, the so-called Communist International, which brings nothing to the proletariat but defeats and humiliations, continues directing the intellectual life and the artistic activity of the left wing of the international intelligentsia.

The results of this hegemony are particularly striking in the USSR, that is to say, in the country where creative revolutionary activity should have attained its highest development. The dictatorship of the reactionary bureaucracy has stifled or prostituted the intellectual activity of a whole generation. It is impossible to look without physical repugnance at the reproductions of Soviet paintings and sculpture, in which functionaries armed with brushes, under the surveillance of functionaries armed with guns, glorify as "great" men and "geniuses" their chiefs, who in reality are without the slightest spark of genius or greatness. The art of the Stalinist epoch will go down in history as the most spectacular expression of the most abysmal decline that the proletarian revolution has ever undergone.

Only a new upsurge of the revolutionary movement can enrich art with new perspectives and possibilities. The Fourth International obviously cannot take on the task of directing art, that is to say, give orders or prescribe methods. Such an attitude toward art could only enter the skulls of Moscow bureaucrats drunk with omnipotence. Art and science do not find their fundamental nature through patrons; art, by its very existence, rejects them. Creative revolutionary activity has its own internal laws even when it consciously serves social development. Revolutionary art is incompatible with falsehood, hypocrisy, and the spirit of accommodation. Poets, artists, sculptors, musicians will themselves find their paths and methods, if the revolutionary movement of the masses dissipates the clouds of skepticism and pessimism which darken humanity's horizon today. The new generation of creators must be convinced that the face of the old Internationals represents the past of humanity and not its future.