The Hopeless Radical, a poem

A fearful night,

and a burned bridge freshly smolders.

Such is the life of a hopeless radical.

Less sexy than a hopeless romantic,

but more useful than a hopeless idealist.

Two are ideal hands of the state,

whose hands when pressed against us

create our struggle.

Our struggle,

Our political struggle.

The hopeless radical knows

that identity is not solidarity,

and logic cannot fixate on rhetoric.

The pressing hands,

They ignite and explode gaslights

To burn and humiliate us.

This is the life of the hopeless radical,

Of the unbowed optimist.

The state, the struggle,

The hands against us,

And our rhetorical traditions.

This is our life,

The life of the unbowed,

of the unbroken,

of the hopeless radical.

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Lies and Slander, A poem

“The poor deserve it!”

Lies and slander.

“The left hates…”

Lies and slander.

“The police protect and serve.”

Lies and slander.

“Your standard of living will only go up.”

More lies, more slander.

“Love is all you need.”

More lies, more slander.

“This is land of the free.”

The biggest lie, the biggest slander.

Activist, a poem

Philosophy is dead.

May theory reign supreme.

For we don’t reflect,

We plan,

We vote,

and we care.

We are your neighbors, your daughters and sons,

We are nothing to fear,

Yet we are everything you hate.

We are hear and we are loud.

We are and will be hear

until this work is done.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda – A poem for a dying planet

Would have,

Could have,

Should have.

These words which only pay lip service

to memory and potential

and attribute cause to regret

Serve no purpose but to hinder us

As our world decays.

We owe it to ourselves,

To our living legacies still too young to fend for themselves,

We owe it to them to act.

To organize and hope.

Two words to embody and elevate,

While we smash the banks of marble,

And pine for the fjords of freedom.

Would have,

Could have,

Should have.

Nay.

Will have.

Can have.

Shall have.

Cruel Reality, a poem for our times

Cruel Reality

A classic song screams out through my radio,

“We won’t get fooled again!”

Unless we don’t pay attention in history class,

Or worse, when we don’t bother to ask any questions.

Yet soft,

Do not let your words enable “deconstruction.”

Fight on weirdos, fight on freaks,

Fight on.

Stanza 2, the part where the poet keeps rambling,

Not this time.

My poems are no longer mine,

No longer for me,

No longer needing to be justified or validated.

Poetry itself is justified.

Does the president get it?

Of course not,

Evil is as evil does.

Evil has no humanity,

Do not appeal to where there is no court.

Why do so many legitimize evil

by doing nothing?

Denial, easy to do

when ICE or the B.I.A isn’t kidnapping your child

and beating up your grandmother.

Brainless professional bootlicks

and we give them badges and parades.

If they failed at high school football

why trust them with the law?

Cruel reality, not everyone is on your side.

Cruel reality, our lenses can be skewed

and skew our view.

Cruel reality, people are not always what they seem.

I could go on for days about this world’s cruel reality.

And I will.

I need to.

Cruel reality, an idea is an idea in of itself.

It’s all inane, but it’s all very interesting to.

Both?

Yes, and neither.

Confused yet?

Good. That’s step one.

The next is controlling

channelling

the inevitable frustrations.

Your microwave will kill you

faster than a diseased box

and the cops are bloodthirsty.

Long live reality T.V.

Max Headroom was no metaphor,

Tangent words begin again

reps and senators

Hot sex live 24/7

And the millionaires whine more about it than we do.

That’s nice but please sir,

Please master,

May I have some more?

No, well, can I have my life back?

No?

Can I at least live?

No.

Why are the puppies begging eyes

only effective when they are blue,

not brown?

Enjoy cable?

iPhones? Wifi?

And all the other masturbation aides?

Well, congrats jerks,

While you were hate tweeting about whatever it is,

Tyrone got shot,

Maria was deported,

And Mohamed is stuck in LAX.

Good luck replacing all three.

Flags make good cum catchers,

And even our soldiers are tired of being props,

Sick of being human flag poles.

Don’t use the used to justify you.

Facts to suit theories not theories to suit facts.

Have I limited myself?

Is grammar so important?

What do order and style

have anything to do with truth?

When did “MAGA” become “Zig HEIL!”?

It always was.

A big, round planet

that no empire could ever keep covered.

Caligula had to come sometime

but a horse in the senate would be fitting

since it is already full of jackasses.

Thank you good night!

You’ve been a great crowd!

Don’t forget to harass the waitress on your way out.

Cruel reality,

Integrity can fall short,

And supremacy hinders the so called “supreme.”

Cruel reality,

Proustian memories triggered not by a cookie, but a beer,

A familiar scene, my local pub and brew.

A dad trying,

A bored teen,

A hungry young sister,

Convinced she “isn’t hungry daddy!”

It is her standing rock, she will not be moved.

A sweet scene, tainted by the world it exists in.

Cruel reality,

Not everyone on the same side

is actually on the same side.

Cruel reality,

One man can destroy democracy.

One can always interfere,

But one can never stand in the way of truth.

Cruel reality for them,

The truth is always there,

And will always haunt them.

Cruel reality,

We can never be free from the haunt of memory.

Nation captive to nation,

The profit in pain.

Cruel reality,

Kids don’t care about the carbon-dated world

of colas and silver screen stars.

Should they?

A question for the philosophers, not the poets.

Cruel reality for the enemy,

Is that the game is a state of mind.

But the game ain’t saying nothing.

Today the masses say it,

Cruel reality for the enemy,

The eye of integrity,

Karma and big brother

Are on them like never before.

Cruel reality for the enemy, but we all got game.

Cruel reality, what is happening here

Is perfectly clear

And it always has been.

Cruel reality,

Racism is not just for the racists,

But even the “good” people.

Cruel reality for me,

Though frustration is real

The tedium of this world,

The pain and suffering

Is more real than ever today.

Cruel reality, that isn’t too cruel when you think about it,

But the time, the chance, to step back,

And give others a space, a time, a home.

Cruel reality, pretty blond pornstars

Have gone political,

And trust me when I say

It isn’t pretty.

Cruel reality.

Cruel reality.

Cruel reality.

Won’t someone pass me a pill

Since joints are a sin?

Pass me a pill so that I may sink

So that I can forget

So that I can ignore these days,

This era,

So that I can ignore

our cruel reality.

What is Socialist Art?

It is very true that one cannot always go by the principles of Marxism in deciding whether to reject or accept a work of art. A work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art. But Marxism alone can explain why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a given period of history; in other words, who it was made a demand for such an artistic form… – Literature and Revolution, pg. 150

Recently I was attempting to answer the question,”what is socialist art?” as a theoretical response to Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution. I had just finished the book and was working on a piece that would be an attempt to expand his application of a Marxist lens towards the arts by contemporizing it for socialists here in the 21st century. Originally I started off with the question, “what is socialist art?” However I found that I could not answer the question until I answered a more pressing one, “what is arts place in the Revolution?” Since I have now established that art indeed has a place in Revolution with my previous blog post, I will now attempt to answer my original question. What is socialist art?

Arguably Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution is the most influential piece of Marxist literary theory. It was arguably the first application of Marxism towards the arts and it paved the way for the likes of Terry Eagleton. Communists such as myself who came to leftism through their study of literary theory owe the existence of their Marxist lens to this text.

Although it was written almost a century ago, Literature and Revolution still provides us with two central principles that can be applied if we are to look at art through a socialist lens. In order to determine, “what is Socialist art?” we must look at art as socialists. It should be noted that the terms Marxist, socialist, communist, and leftist are used interchangeably in this piece, as they are in most of my work. It should also be noted that Trotsky uses the term “proletarian art” as opposed the term “socialist art.” In this piece the terms will be used interchangeably because art that is inherently proletarian is art that in-turn inherently socialist.

Literature and Revolution offers use two principles that can be used to determine what is socialist art. The first is that the proletariat are capable of understanding art, and that it is the bourgeoise who have controlled the economy of art, but their control does not mean the proletariat are not interested in art.

In addition to that, Trotsky’s work demonstrates art, like anything in historical dialectics, are subject to the economics of its time and place and therefore serves as a reflection of history and culture from where the art comes from. Therefore proletarian art will reflect proletarian culture. Trotsky argues that this proletarian culture needed to be developed by the proletariat after Revolution was achieved. However this is not so today. Unlike Trotsky and the bolsheviks who were rebuilding a culture from scratch, there is already a rich existence of anticapitalist traits in contemporary art.

Proletarian art is one that is reflective of the proletariat in the time and place they exist. Whereas bourgeoise art is always indulgent for the sake of indulgence proletarian art is always one that is expressive. Consider the artists who create for arts sake versus the working class artists who produce art not for profit but for the sake of their own self expression, or for the reclamation of their colonized culture.

Jeff Koons and Damien Herst are more likely to produce indulgent and pretentious sculptures for the sake of a high price tag, whereas a Chicano or Chicana street artist is likely to graffiti a mural to express their outrage over their coopted or ignored cultures. Another fine example of anti capitalism in art is the legend of Banksy, a person who shreds his art if it ever appears for sale at Sothebys. Proletarian art is art that rejects the bourgeoisie or the racist patriarchy they uphold, rather than cater to them.

However what is most important to consider is the amount of people who draw, write poetry, blog, make videos, jam with friends, all without seeking a profit. The fact that art is a form of therapy, a form of community, a form of cultural reclamation, a form of resistance, and a form of self expression demonstrates that the masses, and therefore the proletariat, are both interested and capable of being involved in the world of art. Therefore the “art world” should not be controlled by a single class but should be something that benefits the collective.

Proletarian art is about radical self expression, bourgeois art is self expression to appease an already affluent class. Proletarian art is not just self expression of an individual artistic proletarian but rather it is a self expression that rejects bourgeois influence and the oppressive systems within that influence. Art that rejects the bourgeoisie and the systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism are all arguably manifestations of socialist art.

Bourgeois art however is expressive of the artists individual politics through its indulgence. To put it plainily, art for arts sake is art that is art that accepts the status quo. Since the status quo is one of oppression, indulgent bourgeois art is art that is complacent with oppression. For example the art of the impressionists, while technically masterful, were created to appease a petite bourgeois art world. In Literature and Revolution Trotsky points out that while bourgeois artists are often obsessed and even mystify the peasantry, they ignore the reality of their industrial proletarian neighbor. “Our old literature and “culture” were the expressions of the nobleman and the bureaucrat, and were based on the peasant.”(pg 30)

In other words bourgeoisie artists romanticize elements of the working class but refuse to incorporate the reality of their struggle into their world. This is still true today and can be seen in the bourgeoisies co-opting of street art and graffiti art.

Street artist Bansky hid a shredder in this frame and activated it when his piece sold for over $1 million at Sothebys in 2018

Proletarian art is also art that is created in response to the bourgeoisie power and all of its manifestations, whether it be colonization, patriarchy, or the overall class system. The murals of Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, Zapata, Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta that grace the walls of buildings in Compton, Watts, East LA, Oakland, and South Sacramento are all examples of the modern working class using art to fight bourgeoise oppression. Indigenous and African artists who are keeping the arts of their colonized people alive should be welcomed as socialist art as well. The fact that art is used by so many for so many different purposes reflects the truth that the proletariat are both capable and interested in the intellectual properties of art.

There is also the agitational element of political street art like Banksy’s or in the cultural expressions of non white street artists. There is also the agitational effort we see in feminist art. Art that puts the reality of sexwork or the reality of attacks on women’s bodies should be included in our definition of proletarian art as well, for women are the most exploited of workers and any art that reflects that reality is inherently a rejection of the bourgeoisie definition of art. The same goes for art produced to agitate and express the realities of being trans, non binary, or gay. All art that is born out of a rejection of capitalist oppression must be included in our definition of proletarian art.

Fridha Khalo’s “Henry Ford Hospital, 1932”

If socialist art is art that rejects the bourgeoisie’s control of art, then socialist art should elevate oppressed cultures and people. This is because art is a reflection of the times and place it is produced no matter what. Considering we live in explicitly racist, sexist, transphobic, and queer-phobic times, proletarian art should both reflect that and reject the status quo that enables these cultural constructs of capitalism. There is also the reality that art and cultures have always been around but all in someway or another all cultures and art forms have been forced to respond to capitalist oppression. That is proletarian art, black poetry slams, indigenous art, street art, or any art that exists because of a rejection of the capitalist status quo.

Unlike Trotsky in the USSR we do not need to re-define art we need to use it to elevate our working class. We simply must reject the notion that the art we put up in galleries and museums to honor famous artists is the only manifestation of art. All we need to do to determine “what is socialist art?” is to bring in the arts that have already been born out of their rejection of capitalism. This is not only possible but it is already happening, artists have been creating to reject capitalism even as Trotsky was writing Literature and Revolution over a century ago, what has not been attempted is a general contemporary categorization of socialist art. However even Trotsky himself pointed this out in the text;

“themes migrate from people to people, from class to class, and even from author to author. This means only that the human imagination is economical. A new class does not begin to create all of culture from the beginning, but enters possession of the past, assorts it, touches it up, rearranges it, and builds on it further. If there were no such utilization of the “secondhand” wardrobe of the ages, historic processes would have no progress at all.” – Literature and Revolution pg 149

In conclusion, the proletariat are already creating their own art for means of self expression, political agitation, therapy, and cultural resistance. Whereas Trotsky’s Revolution had to create a proletarian culture, today a proletarian culture already exists in the numerous oppressed peoples under contemporary capitalism. Therefore our proletariat art is the art of our oppressed masses, of people who have either been denied their culture or denied access to the culture created by the bourgeoisie. Socialist art can be any medium, but it must either be about reclaiming culture or rejecting the oppressive pillars of capitalist culture. So the ultimate answer to my question, “what is socialist art?” is art that actively works to reject capitalism and the oppressive structures that capitalism brings.

The Artist Is The Revolutionary

The Artist as the Revolutionary

Art for art’s sake

was the most selfish and lazy philosophy

ever defended.

Art for art’s sake,

is lazy.

Art is an available tactic,

a potential means to the ends

of revolution.

Art that only exists for itself

is selfish.

Art is a means,

a means of production,

and all means,

all tactics,

all resources

belong to the people

not the patrons.

Pretty pictures,

edgy statues,

all meaningless

when it’s expression just for expression’s sake.

I do not scorn the schools of art,

I simply point out truth,

as all artists should.

The personal is political

and art, good art at least, is very personal.

Art must be, nay, Art is,

more than an outlet,

it is a tool,

escapist art is a distraction.

The artist,

The visionary,

The revolutionary,

has a duty to their public.

Art is revolutionary

and so should be the artist.