Submitted by otherreposter in Anarchism

There is an ugly anti-intellectualist tendency on the left - notably in the kinds of historical reenactment club circles that produce tacky red and yellow propaganda with lines like 'comrade workers, we must seize the means of production from our enemies, the capitalist class' - that I like describing as Cornelius Cardew syndrome.

Cardew was a fascinating character. A 60s era avantgarde classical composer and free jazz improviser, as well as a contemporary of towering minimalist figures like Morton Feldman, La Monte Young and Karlheinz Stockhausen, he had a political awakening in the early 70s and joined the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) before becoming a member of the central committee of the RCP (The Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)) [Monty Python had plenty of material to work with in this period].

Claiming that avantgarde classical music was bourgeois elitism, and denouncing Stockhausen, as well as John Cage, in a vituperate and dogmatic little book titled 'Stockhausen Serves Imperialism', Cardew abandoned his earlier work in order to compose music that 'served the interests of the working class' and was 'accessible to the proletariat'. He spent the rest of his short life performing 'class-conscious' folk music while dismissing everyone from Bowie to the Clash to punk in general as reactionary, fascist and petit-bourgeois before being killed in a hit-and-run accident in 1981 that some of his comrades argued was a political assassination by MI5.

I see this a lot in left circles: an ironically elitist vanguardism wherein the central committee can enjoy sophisticated tastes in art and culture, or read difficult philosophical texts by Marx and Hegel, but immediately denounce anyone else who presumes to share such things with 'the proletariat' as some or other kind of counter-revolutionary sophist, choosing instead to dumb down their forms of political engagement and 'popular education' in an attempt to appeal to a mythical everyman who wears blue overalls, eats plain food and enjoys only the most conventional forms of music and film. A noble wretch of a being who would never be able to understand such privileged lifestylist indulgences as a Rothko painting, an experimental film or words with more than two syllables.

In reality, however, as Jacques Rancière reminds us in his masterwork, Nights of Labor: The Workers Dream in Nineteenth Century France, working class life, which he examines through an extensive exploration of worker-run newspapers, journals and letters of the time, has always been rich with creativity, intellectual thought and play. Far from being the dour, work-and-bread caricatures many leftist vanguardists operate with, workers have formed poetry clubs, created abstract art, written critiques of Kant and Hegel, discussed metaphysics in working class salons, run anarchist theatres and libraries, and have generally understood their own political and economic conditions at least as well as - if not better than - those who assume to act on their behalf. Most importantly, they have not typically thought of themselves primary as workers, but rather as human beings, with all the possibilities that entails.

If contemporary leftists really want to work themselves out of their bind of anachronism and irrelevance, and if they'd like to be honest (and remember, good leftists LOVE Maoist self-criticism) about why their tone deaf political parties with contrived Marxism-by-numbers names never garner any actual traction among poor and working class people, treating their Cornelius Cardew syndrome may be a good place to begin. No, not everybody has a postgraduate humanities or political science qualification, and most people have not been to the Tate Modern, watched a Godard film or read Badiou. If we do not respect the radical equality of intelligence of all people, however - their inherent ability to appreciate and participate in the creation of art and knowledge of all types, no matter how rarified - then we are doing a grave disservice to ourselves and each other, and to the basic principles of egalitarian politics.

As the old line goes, we fight for bread, but we fight for roses too.

  • AE


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tuesday wrote

I was thinking about an aspect of this earlier today when I was trying to write something about other anarchists and my instinct at first was to use comrades, but then I remembered that not all anarchists are communists, and I'm not really one either so maybe I shouldn't use weird specific language like that...

I tried to think of another "group name" for anarchists that is self referential, but realized that anarchist is exactly that without creating any insider culture that's specific to anarchists, which I liked better.


flingwingin wrote

sounds like a populism thing

the worse anti-intellectualism i see more often though is of (academic-brained) post-leftists who think rational thought belongs to the White Man and is oppressive, so they try and be some wizards and shit. It's really kind of sad and frustrating because these people won't be able to help themselves or others if they retreat into fantasy. It robs you of power. Like there's hella critiques of how statist/civ logic is all about finding out how to manipulate things, and this is bad, and we should return to myths and shit - but fuck that, the point for anarchists (and leftists in general) should be power to the weak, redistribution of power to all the people (and non-human creatures maybe) to keep people from being abused.

But there's a tendency to see things as "we went too far, we never should have known this, and consciousness is probably oppressive too so i smoke weed 24/7". It's just kind of sad, it's an ally that could have been. (same with lots of people though... schizos and lots of drug users in general, and all the ones out there who kill themselves. Shit's messed up, people go down paths that get them in a loop thats hard to break other than it ending in tragedy, and all the people who could be making the world better leave some way or another - and we're left with the uncritical power worshipers running the place)