By Ben Lunn
Almost since the day the fight for socialism became organised, artists in Britain have looked for ways to use their talents in the aid of this great vision. In the 1930s Alan Bush founded the William Morris Music Society as an organisation for artists to discuss politics and music and how they work together.
Similarly, in 1933, thanks to Pearl Binder, Clifford Rowe, Misha Black, James Fitton and others, the Artists’ International Association was formed which sought to promote “unity of artists for peace, democracy and cultural development.” Hanns Eisler and Maxim Gorky also sought to find ways for artists to unite a working-class political vision with the arts and both wrote extensively on it.
There are numerous other examples which would require a whole other argument to give each initiative justice. Though all noble efforts, and with some very admirable achievements behind them, ultimately, they fell by the wayside, either due to political sectarianism internally or simply failing to keep momentum and the organisation running ineffectively.
Today many politically driven artists either form friendship groups unified by a political vision, or simply lack the ability to organise and weaponise their arts and politics. Both effectively leave artists isolated alone, or in their own circles, missing the masses.
In November, however, a new International Art Front held a conference in Greece, with participants from Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Russia and Germany. The purpose of the meeting was to “unite artists against imperialism.” The discussions were varied, and deeply considered with a focus on what is the role of the arts in fighting imperialism or what is art in its relation to the people?
On the second day the conference focused on organisational foundations of the front and formation of an executive council (EC), with the election of election of individuals from Germany, Italy, Greece and Cyprus and, finally, agreeing general objectives. Campaigns were also agreed: 1) Freedom for imprisoned Catalan rapper Pablo Hasel; 2) the ending of political persecution of the Turkish band Grup Yorum attacked by pro-Erdogan goons; 3) an all-encompassing campaign against censorship of political and revolutionary art.
Having watched some of the discussions online, it is clear to see there was a militant drive, behind the formation of an organisation that can actively campaign and function, allowing artists to develop politically as a group, while also offering a challenge to the current hegemony of neoliberalism. Though full of promise, the lack of representatives from many other European countries, let alone African, Middle Eastern, Asian, South and North American, show there are weaknesses present.
Sitting here in Britain, it is all too clear that a challenge to neoliberalism and US hegemony is desperately needed. Musicians across Britain have had to fight for many basic things like decent pay from streaming, or the right to be able to tour, while simultaneously seeing organisations like the English Touring Opera drop a large selection of their orchestra in the name of “diversity.”
There are many battles ahead, politically and socially, and realistically there is not a strong enough voice currently for artists. The Musicians’ Union and Incorporated Society of Musicians both do good work for their members, but are solely focused on battles in the workplace, which are necessary, but one-sided and apolitical.
Similarly, readers may ask why don’t musicians/artists simply join a radical party, say the Communist Party of Britain, Scottish Socialist Party, Socialist Labour Party (add parties ad nauseum). This is a valid point, and there is much to be said about the urgency that should be placed on political education and activism for artists through an organised party, as opposed to anarchic individualistic learning.
However, without trying to demean the good work the radical left parties do, the two major concerns are: due to their size they do not necessarily have the means to support artists to the extent that is required; and the priority is on fighting workplace battles as these are more desperate fights to win. In such context, the International Art Front’s success is of utmost importance.
The IAF has prioritised building and organising, over aesthetic battles, and there is a sense they are not descending into adventurism — but the days are very young, and we cannot accurately predict the organisation’s future effectiveness or impact. This being said, you’d forgive an idealistic person like myself for getting swept up imaging the potential this could bring. If the IAF can successfully expand membership while also elevating the political awareness of musicians, there becomes an opportunity for a new generation of genuinely radical and humanistic artists. However, if it fails, we’d be left with a nice adventure and dream still to be fulfilled. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: Morning Star