• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Culture and Politics, Culture and Capitalism

Photo Source Bruce Krasting | CC BY 2.0

Culture is a mutable phenomenon. Still, its constant motion in a society tends to maintain certain fundamental aspects which, when examined, represent the economics and organizational basis of that society. Although most cultural critiques one finds in today’s media and classrooms rarely mention the economic basis of modern culture and accept the idea that it is something that naturally depends on its commercialization, a deeper economic reality exists. This fact, while acknowledged in a general way by some Marxists, tends to get pushed aside by most people on the left. Indeed, cultural critics are rarely found in most leftist media. There are a few worthy attempts to remedy this lack of left cultural criticism (Red Wedge being one of the more consistent such entities in the US), but, as anyone attending a leftist conference can tell you, there’s just not much talk about the role and meaning of culture on the Left.

Monthly Review Press recently published a small collection of selected writings by the British poet and critic Christopher Caudwell. The texts, written in the 1920s and 1930s, discuss the nexus of culture and economics with an emphasis on poetry and its transition from a collective experience of oral recitation to the modern understanding of poetry as a mostly private matter between the poet and their world. Caudwell, who was a poet and a novelist, died fighting in the Spanish Civil War. One can only speculate as to what he would have observed and written if he had lived into the world that evolved after World War Two.

Titled Culture and Politics: The Selected Writings of Christopher Caudwell, the book itself contains selections from three of Caudwell’s texts: Studies in a Dying Culture, Illusion and Reality, and Heredity and Development. Chosen and introduced by David Margolies, editor of the cultural journal Red Letters, the sections of these three books published here reveal a coherent and convincing argument on the nature of bourgeois culture and its role in capitalist society. At the same time, Caudwell’s writing raises questions regarding the nature of history in both its making and its telling.

Margolies opens the text with Caudwell’s consideration of the writer D.H. Lawrence. In this piece, Caudwell immediately challenges the conventional notion of freedom. In essence, he argues that freedom is not found by isolating one from society, but by humanity’s very nature as a social creature. In other words, it is human interaction and cooperation with each other that provides the potential for the truest form of individual freedom. Capitalism and the culture of the class it upholds—the bourgeoisie—replaces the relationship between humans with a relationship between people and things. It is through the exchange of these things for money that prevents humans from realizing their full potential as individuals and as humans. Why? Because one becomes defined by their relationship to those things, those commodities; one either is a laborer whose labor is exploited to make those things or one is the one who exploits said labor. One becomes defined by their relationship to the means of production. There is no such thing as free choice in modern civilization, write Caudwell, because the class structure prevents it. Not only does this structure limit one’s choices, it actually eliminates certain choices altogether. A perfect example of this latter case is the person who wants to be a poet. Since there is no genuine way for most people thinking of such a future to make a living, this option is rejected. After all, one prefers a warm place to sleep and food on the table and that requires an income, something that is not a guarantee for the poet. This observation remains true to this day, despite the considerable changes in the nature of production and the nature of labor. Indeed, it is probably even truer.

Caudwell argues that the ideal of a return to nature is essentially a surrender to the reality of capitalism. Although there is an appeal in the idea of returning to a simpler time when human industry was based more on common lands and shared goals, the romanticization of such ideals in the modern world can easily pave the way to fascism. In order to accomplish such a goal would require a retreat from the consciousness humanity has achieved. This conundrum is not a solution, but a surrender to the forces that make true freedom difficult, thereby leaving the social sphere open to subjugation by those who prefer their capitalism with fascist accouterments.

This book is much more than a critique of Lawrence and other writers. It is a fascinating analysis of the history of poetry and, in turn, the nature of song. In addition, it is a Marxist take on the economics of culture, the role played by art and literature in human society, and the nature of the bourgeoisie. Caudwell moves seamlessly from the specific to the universal, strengthening his argument with each sentence placed on the page. After reading this collection, I was left with a desire to read more works by Caudwell and a newfound understanding of the English poets Milton and Pope.

We live in an ugly time. The forces of reaction conspire with capital to subjugate all of humanity in the name of freedom. Their task is monumental, but so is their effort. Just as they control the means of production, so do they control the means of creating culture. The sophistication required by Caudwell to make his argument regarding the nature and role of culture in capitalist society is barely needed in this period of decay. The nature of art is that it both reflects and encourages that decay in a manner insidious and otherwise. Most are none the wiser. The product being sold as culture leaves much to be desired. So, indeed, does the civilization from which it is derived.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

May 26, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump Administration and the Washington Post: Picking Fights Together
John Kendall Hawkins
The Gods of Small Things
Patrick Cockburn
Governments are Using COVID-19 Crisis to Crush Free Speech
George Wuerthner
Greatest Good is to Preserve Forest Carbon
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Covid-19 Conspiracies of German Neo-Nazis
Henry Giroux
Criminogenic Politics as a Form of Psychosis in the Age of Trump
John G. Russell
TRUMP-20: The Other Pandemic
John Feffer
Trump’s “Uncreative Destruction” of the US/China Relationship
John Laforge
First US Citizen Convicted for Protests at Nuclear Weapons Base in Germany
Ralph Nader
Donald Trump, Resign Now for America’s Sake: This is No Time for a Dangerous, Law-breaking, Bungling, Ignorant Ship Captain
James Fortin – Jeff Mackler
Killer Capitalism’s COVID-19 Back-to-Work Imperative
Binoy Kampmark
Patterns of Compromise: The EasyJet Data Breach
Howard Lisnoff
If a Covid-19 Vaccine is Discovered, It Will be a Boon to Military Recruiters
David Mattson
Grizzly Bears are Dying and That’s a Fact
Thomas Knapp
The Banality of Evil, COVID-19 Edition
May 25, 2020
Marshall Auerback
If the Federal Government Won’t Fund the States’ Emergency Needs, There is Another Solution
Michael Uhl
A Memory Fragment of the Vietnam War
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
Make a Resilient, Localized Food System Part of the Next Stimulus
Barrie Gilbert
The Mismanagement of Wildlife in Utah Continues to be Irrational and a National Embarrassment.
Dean Baker
The Sure Way to End Concerns About China’s “Theft” of a Vaccine: Make it Open
Thom Hartmann
The Next Death Wave from Coronavirus Will Be the Poor, Rural and White
Phil Knight
Killer Impact
Paul Cantor
Memorial Day 2020 and the Coronavirus
Laura Flanders
A Memorial Day For Lies?
Gary Macfarlane – Mike Garrity
Grizzlies, Lynx, Bull Trout and Elk on the Chopping Block for Trump’s Idaho Clearcuts
Cesar Chelala
Challenges of the Evolving Coronavirus Pandemic
Luciana Tellez-Chavez
This Year’s Forest Fire Season Could Be Even Deadlier
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Beijing Acts on Hong Kong
George Wuerthner
Saving the Lionhead Wilderness
Elliot Sperber
Holy Beaver
Weekend Edition
May 22, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Hugh Iglarsh
Aiming Missiles at Viruses: a Plea for Sanity in a Time of Plague
Paul Street
How Obama Could Find Some Redemption
Marc Levy
On Meeting Bao Ninh: “These Good Men Meant as Much to Me as Yours Did to You”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Shallò: 120 Days of COVID
Joan Roelofs
Greening the Old New Deal
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Still Matters
Charles Pierson
Is the US-Saudi Alliance Headed Off a Cliff?
Robert Hunziker
10C Above Baseline
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
The Fed’s Chair and Vice Chair Got Rich at Carlyle Group, a Private Equity Fund With a String of Bankruptcies and Job Losses
Eve Ottenberg
Factory Farming on Hold
Andrew Levine
If Nancy Pelosi Is So Great, How Come Donald Trump Still Isn’t Dead in the Water?
Ishmael Reed
Alex Azar Knows About Diabetes
Joseph Natoli
Will Things Fall Apart Now or in November?
Richard D. Wolff
An Old Story Again: Capitalism vs. Health and Safety
Louis Proyect
What Stanford University and Fox News Have in Common
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail