Illusion and Reality, Christopher Caudwell 1937
Arnold, Swinburne, Tennyson and Browning, each in his own way, illustrate the movement of the bourgeois illusion in this “tragic” stage of its history.
Tennyson’s Keatsian world is shattered as soon as he attempts to compromise between the world of beauty and the real world of misery which will not let him rest. Only the elegiac In Memoriam, with its profound pessimism, the most genuinely pessimistic poem in English up to this date, in any way successfully mirrors contemporary problems in contemporary terms.
Like Darwin, and even more Darwin’s followers, he projects the conditions of capitalist production into Nature (individual struggle for existence) and then reflects this struggle, intensified by its instinctive and therefore unalterable blindness, back into society, so that God – symbol of the internal forces of society – seems captive to Nature – symbol of the external environment of society:
Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod. ...
The unconscious ruthlessness of Tennyson’s “Nature” in fact only reflects the ruthlessness of a society in which capitalist is continually hurling down fellow-capitalist into the proletarian abyss:
“So careful of the type?” but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries: “A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.”
.... No more! A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime
Which tear each other in the slime
Were mellow music matched with him.
O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress
Behind the veil, behind the veil?
Browning revolts from the drab present not to the future but to the glories of the virile Italian springtime of the bourgeoisie. Never before had that vigour been given in English poetry so deep a colouring. But his vocabulary has a foggy verbalism which is a reflection of his intellectual dishonesty in dealing with real contemporary problems. To Tennyson the Keatsian world of romance, to Browning the Italian springtime; both are revolting backwards, trying to escape from the contradiction of the class for whom they speak. Browning dealing with contemporary problems, can produce no higher poetry than that of Mr. Sludge or Bishop Blougram. Yet he too in his eager youth could reproach an older bourgeois poet for following the familiar round of reaction:
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
Burns, Shelley was with us – They watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,
He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!
Swinburne’s poetry is Shelley’s world of immanent light and beauty made more separate by being stiffened with something of the materiality and hypnotic heaviness of Keats’ world. Fate, whether as Hertha or the Nemesis of Atalanta in Calydon, is no longer tragic, but sad, sad as the death of Baudelaire. Swinburne is profoundly moved by the appeal of the contemporary bourgeois-democratic revolutions taking place all over Europe (1848-1871), but the purely verbal and shallow character of his response reflects the essential shallowness of all such movements in this late era when, owing to the development of the proletariat, they almost instantly negate themselves.
Arnold’s poems breathe the now characteristic “pessimism” of the bourgeois illusion, which is now working out its final and (to itself) tragic stages. Arnold battles against the Philistine, but he has an uneasy suspicion that he is doomed to lose. And in fact he is, for he fights his mirror reflection. As long as he moves within the categories of bourgeois society his own movement produces the Philistine; he drives on the movement which generates Philistine and poet, by separating the poet from society.
The next phase of bourgeois poetry is therefore that of “commodity-fetishism” – or “art for art’s sake” – and is given in the false position of the bourgeois poet as producer for the market, a position forced on him by the development of bourgeois economy. As soon as the pessimism of Arnold and the young Tennyson, and the even sadder optimism of Browning and Swinburne and the old Tennyson when dealing with the contemporary scene, made it inevitable that the poet quit the contemporary scene, it was equally inevitable that the poet should fall a victim commodity-fetishism. This meant a movement which would completely separate the world of art from the world of reality and, in doing so, separate it from the source of art itself so that the work would burst like a bubble just when it seemed most self-secure.
Engels in Anti-Dühring very clearly explains the characteristic of every society based on commodity-production:
[it] has the peculiarity that in it the producers have lost control of their own social relationships. Each produces for himself, with the means of production which happen to be at his disposal and in order to satisfy his individual needs through the medium of exchange. No one knows how much of the article he produces is coming on the market, or how much demand there is for it; no one knows whether his individual product will meet a real need, whether he will cover his costs or even be able to sell at all. Anarchy reigns in social production. But commodity production, like all other forms of production, has its own laws, which are inherent and inseparable from it; and these laws assert themselves in spite of anarchy, in and through anarchy. ...They assert themselves, therefore, apart from the producers and against the producers, as the natural laws of their form of production, working blindly. The product dominates the producers.
Engels contrasts this with the older and more universal method of production for use instead of exchange. Here the origin and end of production are clearly seen. All are part of the one social act, and the product is only valued in so far as it is of use to the society which produces it. In such a society the poem as such derives its value from its collective appearance, from the effect it has on the hearts of its hearers and the impact, direct and evident, on the life of the tribe.
In capitalist production, which is commodity production in excelsis, all this is altered. Everyone produces blindly for a market whose laws are unfathomable, although they assert themselves with iron rigidity. The impact of the commodity upon the life of society cannot be measured or seen. “Man has lost control of his social relationships.” The whole elaborate warp and woof of capitalism, a complex web spun in anarchy, makes this helplessness inevitable.
To the poet the bourgeois market appears as the “public.” The invention and development of printing and publishing was part of the development of the universal bourgeois free market. Just as the development of this market (by the extension of colonisation and transport and exchange facilities) made it possible for a man to produce for places whose very names he did not know, much less their location, so the poet now writes for men of whose existence he is ignorant, whose social life, whose whole mode of being is strange to him. The market is for him “The Public” – blind, strange, passive.
This leads to what Marx called “commodity-fetishism.” The social character of the art-process, so evident in the collective festival, now disappears. “A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour. In the same way the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself.” In the same way the art work, once its social realisation in the hearts of society is veiled by the “market” or the “public,” appears to the poet as something objective. This is helped by the swing-over of art from forms visibly dependent on men in association – the dance, the song, music, the spontaneous drama and commedia dell’ arte – to crystallised records of the art process not therefore visibly dependent on society – the written poem, the musical score, the written play, the picture or sculpture. The art stimulus becomes objective – a commodity.
Capitalist production requires for its movement – capital. Constant capital is a continually increasing part of the sum of capital. This constant capital takes the visible form of elaborate factory plant and indirectly the more highly-developed technique and organisation necessary to use this plant. This growth of constant capital and therefore of social organisation due to increasing productivity of labour contrasts with the growth of individualism in ownership and appropriation due to the increasing wealth of private capitalists. In the same way bourgeois poetry is marked by a continually increasing sum of tradition and technique, of which the Poet feels the pressure, so that there is a continual contradiction between the tremendous social experience embodied in the poem and the individualistic and anti-social attitude of the poet. “Tradition” towers up before the poet as something formidable and tremendous, with which he must settle accounts as an ego.
But the poet is not a capitalist. He does not exploit labour. To the capitalist commodity-fetishism takes the form of sacralisation of the common market-denominator of all commodities – money. Money acquires for him a high, mystic, spiritual value. But the writer is himself exploited.
In so far as he “writes for money” of course he acquires a purely capitalist mentality. He may even himself exploit labour by means of secretaries and hacks who do his “donkey-work” for him. But the man who writes for money is not an artist, for it is the characteristic of the artist that his products are adaptative, that the artistic illusion is begotten of the tension between instinct and consciousness, between productive forces and productive relations, the very tension which drives on all society to future reality. In bourgeois society this tension is that between the productive forces (the socially organised power of capitalist technique in the factories) and the social relations (production for private profit and the resulting anarchy in the market as a whole indicated by the universality of the money or “exchange” relation instead of the direct or “use” relation). Because this is the fundamental contradiction, the poet “revolts” against the system of profit-making or production for exchange-value as crippling the meaning and significance of art. But as long as he revolts within the categories of bourgeois thought – that is, as long as he cannot cast off the basic bourgeois illusion – his revolt takes a form made necessary by the system of commodity production.
The exploited – of which the poet thus becomes one – are of two kinds in capitalist production: These two kinds, the labourer and the craftsman, may be regarded as descendants of the serfs and artisans of medieval days. However, the lineage is not direct. Serfs became capitalists and artisans were hurled down into the proletariat during the capitalist revolution. The exploited may be regarded as descendants of the one class of artisans. The labourer has been thoroughly proletarianised; the craftsman, for special reasons, has still retained a measure of privilege in capitalist production which gives him the illusion of belonging to the “middle class,” a class immune from and superior to the class struggle as a whole. None the less, the proletarian abyss yawns always beneath his feet. His privilege is an accident of a particular stage of capitalist production and is always being torn from his grasp. However, the historical change of capitalist production produces always new members of this class, which therefore appears always to have a certain stability and separate existence, although its actual composition is in a state of wild flux. The final stages of capitalism reveal the fallacy of even this phantom separation, and the petty bourgeoisie finds its privileges being torn from its hands.
Let us examine the main history of these two divisions in England.
(i) The Labourer. – He is the man who works drably, monotonously and at the most-sweated wages, a mere cog in the machine. He is the proletarian proper, the unique creation of capitalism. His fight against the capitalist is most bitter and uncompromising because his work, by its very nature, is of a kind it is impossible to like, and therefore his revolt is expressed as a fight for leisure, an attempt to snatch from his employers’ reluctant hands every extra hour of decent human existence outside the factory. This fight goes with a struggle for higher wages, to make those short hours of leisure as full and free as possible.
This is the only form his struggle for freedom can take within the categories of capitalist production, for in his dull task freedom expresses itself as the opposite to social activity or “work.” Because he constitutes the majority of those from the surplus value of whole labour-power the capitalist derives his profit, the antagonism between the two classes is naked and direct. This antagonism is the real core of the class struggle in capitalist society. Each minute of his leisure or penny of his wages is so much from the capitalist’s profit. His freedom is precisely the capitalist’s unfreedom, and via versa.
(ii) The Craftsman. – This class, as foreman, overseer, or mechanic, or in a profession as barrister, doctor, engineer or architect, occupies a special position in capitalist production because of his personal skill, technique or “key” job. Because of his favoured position, his delight in his skill, and his higher wages, the craftsman finds himself often in opposition to the genuine proletariat. Work for him does not "stand in such sharp opposition to leisure, or his freedom to the capitalist’s freedom, as in the case of the labourer. Sometimes he is even in business “in a small way” himself, not as a capitalist, but employing two or three apprentice-assistants and selling to large capitalists. This apparent cleavage of interests is expressed in these workers’ organisations. The great general labouring unions – the T. & G.W., N.U.G. & M.W., and such similar unions – in their early days, led by Ben Tillett, Tom Mann and John Burns, found themselves opposed by and contending with the “amalgamated” craft unions such as the old A.S.E., which inherited the Liberal traditions of the “Junta” that had, at an earlier date, ousted the original militant but badly organised lodges.
None the less, the development of capitalist production remorselessly turns the craftsman into a labourer. The machine competes with and ousts the product of his skilled hands in all departments and forces him into the “industrial reserve army” of the unemployed.
The effect is at first to make him revolt against the demands of a “commercialised” market by setting up his skill as a good in itself, detached from social uses. You will hear such a craftsman admire an old Napier car, for example, as a superb production of skilled craftsmen, and compare it with a modern mass production Ford, which fulfils the same social rôle and is cheaper. The old skill, although more wasteful of human labour, has acquired a special value to the craftsman because it is the condition for his existence as a class distinct from the proletariat, and is set over and against the market with its criterion of profit, which is the cause of the outdating of his skill. Eventually, employed as a factory hand, he may still cherish his outdated skill by making models, by indulging in little private “hobbies” and other socially meaningless activities that exercise his craft.
In this his attitude is fundamentally akin to that of the writer. The writer’s relation to capitalism is also privileged and craft, although its “ideal” content gives it a still higher privilege than manual craftsmanship in an age where the class division has separated thinking from doing. The writer is a part of upper bourgeois society, like the doctor, barrister, architect, teacher or scientist whose work has a similar theoretical content – the manual craftsman is never more than “lower middle class.” None the less, both find themselves expressing the special aspirations and delusions of the petty bourgeoisie.
Just as the growth of capitalism tends more and more to whelm all industrial production in mass production, expropriate artisans in thousands, and proletarianise the craftsman to the level of a labourer or machine-minder, so it has the same effect in the realm of art. Mass-production art enforces a dead level of mediocrity. Good art becomes less saleable. Because art’s rôle is now that of adapting the multitude to the dead mechanical existence of capitalist production, in which work sucks them of their vital energies without awakening their instincts, where leisure becomes a time to deaden the mind with the easy phantasy of films, simple wish-fulfilment writing, or music that is mere emotional massage – because of this the paid craft of writer becomes as tedious and wearisome as that of machine-minder. Journalism becomes the characteristic product of the age. Films, the novel and painting all share in the degradation. Immense technical resources and steady debasement and stereotyping of the human psyche are characteristics alike of factory production and factory art in this stage of capitalism. Let any artist who has had to earn a living by journalism or writing “thrillers” testify to the inexorable proletarianisation of his art. The modern thriller, love story, cowboy romance, cheap film, jazz music or yellow Sunday paper form the real proletarian literature of to-day – that is, literature which is the characteristic accompaniment of the misery and instinctual poverty produced in the majority of people by modern capitalist production. It is literature which proletarianises the writer. It is at once an expression of real misery and a protest against that real misery. This art, universal, constant, fabulous, full of the easy gratifications of instincts starved by modern capitalism, peopled by passionate lovers and heroic cowboys and amazing detectives, is the religion of to-day, as characteristic an expression of proletarian exploitation as Catholicism is of feudal exploitation. It is the opium of the people; it pictures an inverted world because the world of society is inverted. It is the real characteristic art of bourgeois civilisation, expressing the real and not the self-appraised content of the bourgeois illusion. “High-brow” bourgeois art grows on the bourgeois class’s freedom. “Low-brow” proletarian art grows on the proletariat’s unfreedom and helps, by its massage of the starved revolting instincts, to maintain that unfreedom in being. Because it is mere massage, because it helps to maintain man in unfreedom and not to express his spontaneous creation, because of that, it is bad art. Yet it is an art which is far more really characteristic, which plays a far more important and all-pervasive rôle in bourgeois society than, for example, the art of James Joyce.
The poet is the most craft of writers. His art requires the highest degree of technical skill of any artist; and it is precisely this technical skill which is not wanted by the vast majority of people in a developed capitalism. He is as out of date as a medieval stone-carver in an era of plaster casts. As the virtual proletarianisation of society increases, the conditions of men’s work, robbed of spontaneity, more and more make them demand a mass-produced “low-brow” art, whose flatness and shallowness serve to adapt them to their unfreedom. The poet becomes a “high-brow,” a man whose skill is not wanted. It becomes too much trouble for the average man to read poetry.
Because of the conditions of his life, the poet’s reaction is similar to that of the craftsman. He begins to set craft skill in opposition to social function, “art” in opposition to “life.” The craftsman’s particular version of commodity-fetishism is skill-fetishism. Skill now seems an objective thing, opposed to social value. The art work therefore becomes valued in and for itself.
But the art work lives in a world of society. Art works are always composed of objects that have a social reference. Not mere noises but words from a vocabulary, not chance sounds but notes from a socially-recognised scale, not mere blobs but forms with a meaning, are what constitutes the material of art. All these things have emotional associations which are social.
Yet if an art work is valued for its own sake in defiant and rebellious opposition to the sake of a society which now has no use for skill, it is in fact valued for the artist’s sake. One cannot simply construct random poems. If their associations are not social they are personal, and the more the art work is opposed to society, the more are personal associations defiantly selected which are exclusive of social – bizarre, strange, phantastic. In this stage of the bourgeois illusion therefore poetry exhibits a rapid movement from the social world of art to the personal world of private phantasy. This leads to individualism. In revolting against capitalism the poet, because he remains within the sphere of bourgeois categories, simply moves on to an extreme individualism, utter “loss of control of his social relationships,” and absolute commodity-production – to the essence, in fact, of the capitalism he condemns. He is the complete mirror-revolutionary.
And his too triumphant proclamation of liberty at last achieved in full, marks the very moment when liberty completely slips out of his hands.
This movement into the world of “art for art’s sake” – i.e. “art for my sake” – of course is well marked in England with Rossetti, Morris before he became a socialist, Wilde and to a certain extent Hopkins. But in this epoch of the final stage of capitalism the movement becomes most rapid in other countries. England, the quickest to develop methods of capitalist production, is slowest to decline. The final movement in bourgeois art is accomplished most fully in other countries.
The movement is seen in its purity in France. Baudelaire begins it: “Il ne peut être du progrès (vrai, c'est à dire moral) que dans l'individu et par l'individu lui-même.” Verlaine and Rimbaud continue it, though Rimbaud, allying himself with the Commune, passes from poetry with the collapse of the first proletarian dictatorship.
From then on the movement develops via the Parnassians, through the symbolists, to its climax in the surréalistes. With the Parnassians the word is valued for its marmoreal craft qualities; with the symbolists for the vogue penumbra of emotional associations lying beyond the word – that is, for its extra-social associations – ; with the surréalistes directly for its private unconscious significance. The transition from Heredia via Laforgue to Apollinaire is surprisingly rapid and clear.
In England poetry at first seems exhausted. The universal movement of the bourgeois economy which is debasing all art, or making it move to surréalisme, is halted in England by little “pockets” or sheltered occupations, representing the reserves of England’s long bourgeois summer, The country – preserved and protected by the rich industrial capitalist who finds it better to exploit ruthlessly the colonial “country” for raw material and keep some vestige of idyllic relations around him – is one such pocket; it gives us Hardy and a succession of less gnarled country poets such as Thomas and Davies. Oxford and Cambridge are other such pockets; they give us Housman, Flecker, Brooke and various other “Georgian” poets. The war closes this period. In 1929 the final economic crisis of capitalism affects even England, and English poetry too moves rapidly towards symbolism and the most logically consistent expression of poetic craft revolt – surréalisme.
The surréaliste is somewhat equivalent to the craftsman who makes trifling models and toys in his spare time to exercise his skill. This is the way he expresses his revolt and secures some free outlet for his craft, by deliberately making something of its nature useless and therefore opposed to the sordid craftlessness of mass-production. We will deal later with the aesthetic theory of surréalisme and the importance it attaches to the Unconscious, when we have had time to consider the real function of the instincts and of the Unconscious in art. At the moment we need only point out that, so far from the free association which is the basis of surrealistic technique being really free, it is far more compulsive than ordinary rational association, as Freud, Jung and MacCurdy have clearly shown. In rational association images are controlled by a social experience of reality – the consciousness of necessity. In free association the images are controlled by the iron hand of the unconscious instincts – and it is therefore no more free than the “thinking” of the ant. Man becomes free not by realising himself in opposition to society but by realising himself through society, and the character of the association in itself imposes certain common forms and conventions which are the badge of his freedom. But because the surréaliste is a bourgeois and has lost control of his social relationships, he believes freedom to consist in revolting against these forms whereby freedom has been realised in the past. Social activity, the means of freedom, is – because its products are appropriated more completely by individuals the more social the activity becomes – opposed by a resolutely non-social activity which is felt to constitute freedom because its products are useless to society and therefore cannot be appropriated by individuals. Of course this is an outside view of the process. Subjectively the artist believes himself to be realising an ideal freedom derived from the “magic” qualities of art works and the unique features of the artist’s mind.
At each stage the bourgeois contradiction by unfolding itself revolutionises its own base and secures a fresh development of technical resources. Hence the movement from “art for art’s sake” to surréalisme secures a development of the technique of poetry, of which in England Eliot is the best example owing to the already-mentioned lag. But it cannot continue indefinitely. The conflict between technical resources and content reaches a limit where it explodes and begins to turn into its opposite. A revolution of content, as opposed to a mere movement of technique, now begins, corresponding in the social sphere to a change in productive relations as opposed to a mere improvement in productive forces. As a result the social associations of words will all be re-cast, and the whole subject-matter of poetry will become different, because language itself is now generated in a different society. There will be a really revolutionary movement from the categories of bourgeois poetry to the categories of communist poetry.
The surréaliste therefore is the last bourgeois revolutionary. To pass beyond him – beyond Milton, beyond Godwin, beyond Pater, beyond finally Dada and Dali, is to pass beyond the categories of bourgeois thought. What politically is this final bourgeois revolutionary? He is an anarchist.
The anarchist is a bourgeois so disgusted with the development of bourgeois society that he asserts the bourgeois creed in the most essential way: complete “personal” freedom, complete destruction of all social relations. The anarchist is yet revolutionary because he represents the destructive element and the complete negation of all bourgeois society. But he cannot really pass beyond bourgeois society, because he remains caught in its toils. In the anarchic organisation of bourgeois economy certain laws of organisation still assert themselves, and therefore can only be shattered by a higher organisation, that of a new ruling class.
The anarchist is the typical revolutionary product of the country where industrial capitalism has developed late under “hot-house” conditions and has resulted in the rapid proletarianisation of a large number of artisans or petty bourgeois craftsmen. It is a petty bourgeois creed. Hence its strength in “late” capitalist countries like Italy, Spain, Russia and France – precisely the countries where the surrealistic tendency in all is also most marked.
But it is also the character of surréalisme, as it is the character of anarchy as a political philosophy, that it negates itself in practice. The difference between communism and anarchy as a political philosophy is that communism believes that bourgeois rule can only be successfully overthrown by an organised movement. This organisation, expressed in soviets and trade unions, is a direct outcome of the organisation forced on the proletariat by the general conditions of capitalist economy. The anarchist, however, has recently been a petty bourgeois, a peasant or an artisan. He has not been organised for long in an industrial and political struggle against the capitalist class. He therefore sees revolution as an individual destruction of authority which would suffice to restore the conditions in which he enjoyed the fruit of his own labour.
But in practice the anarchist discovers that the mere destruction of an outworn society, let alone the building of a new, requires organisation. The mere necessities of the task drive him first into trade unions and then into the creation of soviets. This was seen in the Russian Revolution, when the sincere Social Revolutionaries were mostly forced, by the logic of events, to the Bolshevik standpoint, and again in Spain, when in Barcelona the anarchists have had to support a strong Central Government, help in the organisation of defence and supplies, and in every way negate their own creed. Hence the truth of the old joke as to the anarchist’s code:
“Para. 1. There shall be no order at all.
“Para. 2. No one shall be obliged to comply with the preceding paragraph,”
and the significance of the newspaper report after the Fascist revolt in Spain: “The anarchists are keeping order in Barcelona.”
In the same way, as a revolutionary situation develops, the surréaliste poets either retreat to reaction and Fascism (as many in Italy) or are thrown into the ranks of the proletariat, like Aragorn in France.
In a country such as England, the final revolt of the craftsman usually takes a different form. The craftsman is not there an independent artisan or petty bourgeois whose first taste of proletarianisation gives him a hatred of “organisation.” The proletarianisation of the artisan took place in the late eighteenth century in England, and because the possibilities of revolution were more hopeless, his rebellion took the form of Ludditism – the smashing of the machines which expropriated them. The next great proletarianisation of the craftsman was marked by the rise of the general labourers’ unions in the face of the opposition of the craft unions, and the struggle then was a struggle between a developing proletariat and the capitalists, with the craft unions standing aside.
Thus the final crisis in England found the craftsman a man who, as the result of the long springtime of English capitalist development, occupied a privileged position in production. He formed the famous labour aristocracy who made it seem as if England, not content with a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois monarchy, aimed also at a bourgeois proletariat. In the final crisis it soon became apparent that this favoured position was only the expression of the temporary supremacy of England in world capitalism and vanished with the growth of competition and tariffs. Unemployment, insecurity, wage-cuts and dismissals as the result of rationalisation, from 1929 to 1936, ravaged all the ranks of the “craft” and “professional” elements of England just as, at a somewhat earlier date, they had those of Germany. So far, however, from proletarianisation in all cases producing an anarchic frame of mind in these types, it has an opposite effect in those who are “key” men rooted in the heart of industry everywhere – in the tool-room of the factory, as supervisors, foremen, technicians, specialists, managers and consultants. In these positions they find that their skill is wasted, not by the organisation of men into factories, but because the progress of this organisation – its logical conclusion in an immensely increased human productivity – is defeated by the characteristic anarchy of capitalist production – the individual ownership and mutual competition of the various factories.
Hence their revolution against the system which is crippling them is not reactionary in content, like the artisan’s, but genuinely progressive, in that it demands greater organisation – the extension of the organisation already obtaining in the factories to production as a whole.
But though progressive in content, it by no means follows that this demand will find an outcome in a progressive act. Even at this revolutionary stage the craftsman halts at two paths. One leads up to the bourgeoisie., with whom his responsible position and higher salary have always associated him – indeed the doctor, architect, and artist, owing to the “ideal” content of their work, have actually been a genuine part of the bourgeoisie. The other path leads downward to the proletariat, from whom his privileged Position has always sundered him – for proletarianisation, because it has involved worsened living conditions, has been something to be avoided at all costs. Hence he has an ingrained repulsion from alliance with the proletariat. In the pass he has measured his success and freedom by the distance he has climbed up from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie – the famous petty bourgeois snobbery and exclusiveness which is only the cold reflection of man’s constant desire for freedom.
If he chooses the upward path, he chooses organisation imposed from above by the bourgeoisie – in other words, Fascism. Of course this organisation is a mere sham – it is a cloak for further rationalisation, and the consolidating of the power of the most reactionary section of the capitalist class. It results, not in the increased organisation of production but in greater anarchy and more bitter competition. Rationalisation is in fact irrationalisation. It leads to an increase in anarchy outside and inside – internally by a profound disturbance in economy resulting from the growth of armament and luxury industry at the expense of necessities and a general lowering of wages, and externally by an increase in tariffs and imperialism and a general drive towards war. The only real organisation consists in the counter-revolutionary regimentation of the proletariat and petty bourgeois classes and the smashing of working-class organisations.
But equally the craftsman may choose the downward path, and he is the more likely to do so as the development of the industrial crisis and the objective examples of Fascism abroad reveal the inevitability of this move. This path consists of allying himself with the proletariat and extending the organisation of the workers within the factories to the organisation of production as a whole by liquidating those rights which stand in the way – individual ownership of the means of production. Since this right is the real power of existing society, this means the substitution of workers’ power for capitalists’ power. When he makes this choice, the craftsman, because of his key position in production, his privileged income (giving him more leisure and cultural opportunities), and his experience of responsibility, becomes a natural leader of the proletariat, instead of their most treacherous enemy, as he is when he is allied with the bourgeoisie.
It is for this reason that the last three years in England have been marked by the development of a revolutionary outlook among those very craft and petty bourgeois types – the “labour aristocracy” – who formerly displayed all the reactionary qualities that made a craft union notorious in this country and made many of their spokesmen in Germany actual supporters of the Fascist régime. Anyone familiar with trade union affairs is aware that just as the craft unions and those industrial unions with a strong craft competition formerly opposed the general labourer’s unions as being too militant and “socialist,” it is now the craft and semi-professional unions like the A.E.U., E.T.U., A.S.L.E. & F, N.A.U.S.W. & C. and N.U.C. who at the Trades Union Congress and through their branches and Metropolitan Councils or District Committees press for militant action and are reproached by the general unions for being too extreme and communist. In the same way those craftsman whose ideal theoretical content has given them a special position among the bourgeoisie itself – doctors, scientists, architects and teachers – are now moving Left and entering the Communist Party in considerable numbers, passing straight from Liberalism without an intermediate sojourn in the Labour Party.
The same final movement of the bourgeois illusion is reflected in the growth of the People’s Front, where all the liberal elements, representing the craft content of modern society, put themselves under the leadership of the proletariat in a formal written alliance limiting the scope of that leadership.
In English poetry this is reflected in the fact that English poets, without ever moving completely into surréaliste anarchy, change from a position near surréalisme into its opposite – a communist revolutionary position, such as that adopted by Auden, Lewis, Spender and Lehmann. How far this is genuinely communist and what level of art it represents, is a consideration which will be deferred to our final chapter, for with this movement the bourgeois contradiction passes into its synthesis. It now starts to revolutionise, not merely its productive forces but its own categories, which now impossibly restrict those productive forces which its tension has generated. This movement is farther advanced in France, with Gide, Rolland, Malraux and Aragon wearing the uniform at which all once sneered. Here it has only begun.
We have surveyed briefly the most important general determining forces influencing bourgeois English poetry. It is now necessary to change from a consideration of the social and historical movement which determines the poet’s attitude and produces that very tension which can only be resolved by poetry, to a consideration of the movement of individual creation – the specific way in which the individual responds to this outward pressure and by a dialectic process imparts to it an impulsion from his own instinctive energy. Before we can do so, we must survey the general technical characteristics of poetry which condition his task.