From Anti-Stalinism to Art for Art


Don't worry about our current situation, if we were born in 1935, nothing would have changed. We would find ourselves on the brink of a world war ready to explode, but also in intellectual wars.

While the war to defeat the fascist forces continued in Moscow, while the French were dealing with the concepts of nationalism and fascism, they did not ignore the arts. In fact, the phrase "they did not overlook" is a little bit used as a propaganda tool, as if using heavy guns and rifles. For this reason, art was not used as a moonlit summer evening activity that an elite group could understand, but as the most powerful weapon of the years when the people were fighting for life and death and the revolutions were made.

How Did Dimitrov's Butterfly Effect Turn into a Storm in the World?

The seventh congress of the Comintern meets on 25 July 1935. It all starts with Dimitrov enumerating the tactics that will be used for the eventual defeat of fascist forces around the world. It's all part of what he calls the "People's Front" strategy, involving the international alliance of intellectuals and the liberals, for tactical purposes, the revolutionaries.

The so-called popular front had to give the green light to artists and the names of the intellectual world. Because they knew that any formation that did not receive the support of reason and creativity would not be enough to drag the masses after them.

On the one hand, the communist front, which wanted to attract the bourgeoisie, started to sweep their capitalist discourses under the carpet. Of course, everything was to attract artists and art. The value of culture was reaffirmed, if necessary, by the communist party.

Dear middle-class people, it was a big slice to clash between communists and fascists, no one wanted to lose this slice to the other. In both groups, he gave the proletariat a national role to save the national culture, which the decadent and dispirited bourgeoisie was unable to resist.

In France, the spark of the same war fell. The French Communist Party has suddenly become a lover of bourgeois culture. He launched the same struggle to determine whether the communists or the fascists would emerge as the sole defenders of French cultural values.

The situation was no different in the United States. Communism'' 20th century. Claimed to be "Americanism". As in France, Communists hoped to reduce the segregation in which intellectuals could connect energies liberated by the crisis of capitalism and work their frustrations on. The Popular Front became a haven where progressive intellectuals could work with a spirit of community and even achieve a certain dignity. Of course, under the conditions of this period, choosing to be a communist was both the easiest and the most rational way.

If we look at the general framework for those years, especially for the first time in American history, writers, theater actors and painters were not members of the society who could not keep up with the society. Their social role was eventually accepted. The Popular Front movement, in which artists played an important role, in a way associated the end of the artist's alienation with the artist's social effort.

Therefore, this result brings us to today's definition of "Revolutionary Artist". They even describe themselves as "guardians of liberal and democratic ideals". The communist-artist cooperation, which dates back to the 1935s, is based on these reasons, and the movement of art and revolution begins with the communist party embracing the intellectuals instead of attacking the intellectuals by reaching the seriousness of the situation.

The spirit of revolutionary and artistic union was thrown by Soviet Russia, but the first movement came from American intellectuals. With the "First American Writers Congress", he started the movement where all writers will come together.

The revolutionary movement of the political world was advancing in the art of the social movement. How would the social mobility experienced be reflected in the modern painting?

All was not rosy on the popular front, and in Paris, the surrealists, after much hesitation, took the opportunity to voice their fears about the wisdom of the façade's optimistic outlook, and Andre Breton was one of the first to make a sound. He refused to defend the abstract concept of "culture", believing that it represented, in relation to himself, the culture of the enemy, the bourgeoisie. Feeling insecure, the surrealists took the event to another dimension. They sent a letter about the freedom of expression of art for the congress to be convened.

On the other hand, the popular front received support from an important figure. Picasso is the giant of the art world. The crowd attending the Second Congress of American Artists in December 1937 had a great impact when the sick master's voice was heard over the telephone in those days. The message from the other side of the ocean gave American artists the feeling that they were with their comrades in Europe, that they were directly and immediately participating in the struggle against fascism, that they were working with Picasso and other European artists on the united front to save culture.

I would like to include Picasso's short message here. Because it is a summary of the ideology of the concept of the Popular Front;

...“As the rebel planes rained bombs on our museums, the people and militia risked their lives to save the artworks and put them in safe places. I would like to inform you that I have always remained convinced that artists who live and work with spiritual values ​​cannot and should not remain indifferent to a collision in which the highest values ​​of humanity and civilization are at stake.

While Paul Vaillant-Couturier was talking to Paris about stealing abstract art from the bourgeoisie, this was literally happening in the midst of the fascist bombardment in Madrid. While absurd and theatrical, Picasso's message sets the visionary, romantic scene in which he works together to save the works at the Prado when firebombing awakens, putting the lives of the public and militia at risk.

The period 1936-1939 was a very turbulent period in terms of world art and political history. Many intellectuals redefined their attitudes. Trotsky and Stalin, the two great determinants of the period, were reshaping the art world. While Stalin defended the totalitarian understanding of art, on the other hand, Trotsky's support for independent art. ''pure and true art always contains a destructive and critical element''. he would say.

Trotsky's analysis of art and the reflection of social events since 1938. "Art and Politics" explains under the title.

“Broadly speaking, art is the expression of man's need for a harmonious and complete life, in other words, the need for the essential gains that a class society deprives him of. That's why it's always part of really creative work to step into reality, consciously or unconsciously, actively or passively, optimistically or pessimistically. Every new trend in art started with rebellion.

Art, the most complex part of culture, the most sensitive and at the same time the least protected, suffers the most from the collapse and degradation of bourgeois society. It was impossible to find a solution to this impasse through art, because there is a crisis that covers the whole culture, starting from the economic base of culture and ending at the highest layers of ideology. As a result, art could neither escape from this crisis nor could it separate itself. 

Art can neither escape from a crisis nor can it separate itself. Art cannot save itself… for these reasons, the function of art in our time is determined by its relation to the revolution.

Art, Depression and the Avant-gardes

Social problems and uncertainties continued. To overcome these, the voice of the avant-gardes began to be heard on the other front.

In the political discourse of the avant-garde; just like science, he says that he will not accept orders and rules in his art, that he has his own laws and that he cannot tolerate the contrary. A true intellectual creation does not get along with lies, hypocrisy, and the spirit of conformity. Art can be a powerful ally of the revolution only if it stays true to itself. (Leon Trotsky, "Art and Politics", letter to the editors of Partisan Review, 1938, p.3)

These powerful rhetoric were later reinforced by Andre Breton, Trotsky and Diego Rivera's manifesto entitled "Towards a Free Revolutionary Art".


How New York Stole Modern Art Thought & Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War Flood Publishing Author, Serge Guilbaut