Review – Art and Revolution: Writings on Literature, Politics & Culture by Leon Trotsky

Art and Revolution: Writings on Literature, Politics & CultureArt and Revolution: Writings on Literature, Politics & Culture by Leon Trotsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a revolutionary, Trotsky never writes in a vacuum, separate from practice. As with Lenin and others, it is important when reading any of his work to understand what was happening in politics at that time, and what he was responding to. Underlying any of his thoughts on art and culture are wider arguments he is carrying forward.

This is a collection of Trotsky’s writing on art, literature and culture. Paul N. Siegal does well in his introductions to each piece to explain the context in which they were produced. Here we have everything from articles printed in newspapers whilst he was in exile after the 1905 failed revolution, speeches to Soviet bodies in the 1920s whilst he was a leader of the burgeoning Soviet society, and later, again in exile after failing to oppose Stalin.

At the centre of the most interesting writing is an understanding of how culture will develop from Capitalism through the transition to Socialism, and importantly how there is no short cut to this. Key here is that art is not good simply because it is ‘politically pure’. Art has it’s own rules, and these are separate to politics. He explains how art and politics interact, and how artists cannot be dictated to as to what they should produce, or what ‘good’ art is. This was certainly not how Stalin saw it.

A fascinating read, but certainly at times a challenging one. As I say, each piece needs to be read in the context of the time he was writing it, and it can be quite dense trying to understand often minor arguements that underlay this. The second half in particular can be tricky, as he writes about specific writers. Without prior knowledge of them, there is only so much you can take from the pieces. To a degree, sections of the book are really just for completists. However, there is plenty here to work through to understand Trotsky’s position and arguments regarding art and culture. Like so much of his work, it remains of vital importance for those who wish to fight for a better world today.

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