Ralph Fox

Communism’s Fight on the Cultural Front

First Published: Daily Worker, September 11 1935.
Source: Ralph Fox: A Writer in Arms
Publisher: Lawrence & Wishart, Ltd., London, W.C.1.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

IN his report to the World Congress, Comrade Dimitrov laid great stress on one form of mass struggle against Fascism which in this country has hardly begun.

This struggle is the struggle of the working-class to smash the capitalist monopoly of culture, to win over to their side the best and most honest of the intellectuals, to neutralize others.

Science, education, the Press, cinema, radio, art, literature, medicine, the theatre, all these and many other activities are controlled by the ruling classes and used by them in order to maintain capitalist society.

But the scientists, teachers, writers, doctors and others are to-day rarely members of the privileged upper section of society. They are men and women of the middle sections, often, indeed, of the sections which are nearest to the working-class, living in their youth lives of poverty and hard struggle.

These sections are deeply affected by the crisis in the capitalist system. They see capitalism beginning to look upon their activities, save when they are useful for military purposes, as overheads, to be cut down.

Lastly, the best of these intellectuals see with alarm that capitalism, now a decaying social system, can no longer develop human culture, but only debase and destroy it.

However, because of the desperate nature of their economic position, these intellectual workers are also liable to become active agents of Fascist demagogy, and certain sections are quite willing to prostitute themselves to the worst and most Jingo elements in the capitalist State.

The victory of Socialism not only means that the best in the heritage of past achievement of humanity is preserved (whereas capitalism endangers it) but that a vast new prospect for its further development is opened up by the freeing of the forces of production.

Among the millions of workers who are barred from real cultural activity to-day, there is an immense thirst for knowledge, for health and for beauty, which only Socialism can satisfy. The demand of these millions for schools, laboratories, clinics, new modes of travel, art, literature and music, means a new and splendid future of creative work for scientists, artists, doctors and teachers.

This is the basis of the unity between the intellectuals and cultural workers and the working-class. Its practical working out is an essential part of our United Front campaign.

A writer who can influence thousands through his work, if he comes ever so little towards the working-class, even if only to understand that Fascism and war are evils, is a valuable ally.

These things are still little understood by those among us who should be most conscious of them.

Recently, for example, there was a review in the Daily Worker of a book on the lives and work of British scientists in the nineteenth century. The author, a well-known popular writer on science, had tried to view these men from the standpoint of Marxism.

How do we receive this book? The reviewer, after omitting to tell us what the book is about, at the end of a prosy column loftily informs the author he is guilty of “silliness” because he does not understand Marxist teaching on imperialism.

The silliness here, of course, is in the reviewer’s attitude to this honest intellectual who, however weakly, has tried to give us a true picture of some of the most important Englishmen of our age, men whose lives have been neglected by the bourgeoisie as “dull.”

This is a perfect example of the kind of attitude we must crush relentlessly if our Party is to become a leading force in cultural work.

We must develop Communists who can express this policy and work out these solutions. Recently a great “Jamboree” of the academic forces of all nations took place at Oxford simultaneously with a very important Congress on academic freedom.

Though our Party was very active at Oxford in the various meetings, it had not yet developed sufficient authority for our members to speak in the name of our Party, expressing the views of our Party on the very important questions discussed.

In France the triumph of the People’s Front has been an example to every country. That triumph was made possible by the successful building of working-class unity.

But that fight for unity was helped on, and in turn was helped by, the fight on the cultural front which won over to its side great names like Langevin, Rivet, Gide and Rolland. Our Party was the leader in this work and we must all recognize what immensely valuable allies have been won.

In France we have smashed a breach in the hold of the bourgeoisie over the minds of the people, with the result that the mass work of the Party is enormously facilitated.

“Communists who suppose that all this has nothing to do with the cause of the working-class, who do nothing to enlighten the masses on the past of their own people, in a historically correct fashion . . . who do nothing to link up their present struggle with its traditions and past—voluntarily relinquish to the Fascist falsifiers all that is valuable in the historical past of the nation, that the Fascists may bamboozle the masses.”

These words of Comrade Dimitrov apply with as much force to Britain as to France we, too, have our revolutionary past, stretching back for hundreds of years. Marxist-Leninist dialectic applies to English history as much as to French.

It is good that the historical Seventh Congress of the Comintern has given us such a lead and that our Party is now in all seriousness preparing to attack these questions.