First Published: Alive Magazine: Literature & Ideology No 42, September 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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There are many confused and confusing ideas floating around this country on the question of CULTURE. Many people honestly think that culture is something of and by itself – independent and separate from the real world. The capitalist system defends its own interests by spreading confusing ideas on the real nature of culture and the system which reflects.
For example: There is a line widely promoted that – to be “cultured” a person must be elegantly groomed – not do very much of anything and especially not do anything which is useful to the people – and always sip tea with one’s little finger up in the air! This and many other ridiculous ideas are put forward as the epitome of culture – if you do these various things then you are a so-called cultured person. That’s what is said and it is criminally wrong. Essentially what these things reflect is simply the culture of the bourgeoisie.
The culture which is promoted in Canada is the bourgeois culture of the U.S. imperialists. There are still remnants of the old British colonialist culture around – sipping tea with their fingers up – but these are now so widely satirized that nobody in their right mind actually has aspirations to be that way. The British colonial culture has been replaced in Canada by the U.S. imperialist culture since the U.S. imperialists took over the economic base from Britain.
Every system, once established, builds a cultural superstructure on its economic base. The superstructure reflects the system itself and is designed to prove the legitimacy of the system. This was true in slave societies, feudal societies and it is true under capitalism. The cultural superstructure, under U.S. imperialism, consists of all the rules and regulations, so-called values, social relationships etc which BEST SERVE TO KEEP THE U.S. imperialists in control of the Canadian people.
For example, in order to survive a little longer, the U.S. imperialists must defend their interests with fascist tactics. To accomplish this they must create the illusion that armed thugs are a natural part of society. And so, on television and in the movies, they present dozens of cops’ shows aimed at getting the people used to having these armed thugs controlling their lives.
Everything produced by the monopoly capitalists within this cultural superstructure is designed to maintain the illusion that the capitalist system is the way things should be and have to stay.
One of the major lines promoted by the U.S. imperialists, through their various conscious and unconscious agents, is the line that it is possible to change the capitalist system by changing the reflection of the system. This leads to all sorts of strange ideas. The whole counter cultural business floated in the 60’s – the flowers in your hair, love-in, Woodstock racket – was designed to take the heat off capitalism. The youth coming up in the 60’s were deflected, in the main, from overthrowing the U.S. imperialists, by the promotion of the idea that an individual can drop out of society, do his own thing, etc. The youth were misdirected, told that they could change society by having their own culture.
Another of the major lines promoted by the U.S. imperialists, and all of the bourgeoisie, is that intellectuals and academics must be separate from the real world in order to do their work. This kind of propaganda removes progressive intellectuals and academics from connection with the people and turns the intellectuals into one of two main things: either so-called intense, retiring bookworms who work towards some great flash of cosmic clarity – or, on the other hand, into babbling carriers of VD – Verbal Diarrhea! Both of these serve mainly to avoid or confuse the real world.
Basically, then, culture is promoted as something separate from and above most people. It comes, it is said, from the bourgeoisie itself or from the centres of something called “HIGHER LEARNING”. It was into this situation that Alive magazine walked five years ago and it is within the capitalist system and cultural superstructure that Alive has fought for its circulation and readership. The development has been conscious and the level of organization is relatively higher now than it was at the beginning. People should pay attention to Alive’s experience only in order to decide what is to be done now. The presentation, here, is only worth something if it leads to some definite action.
The first issue of Alive magazine was published in December, 1969. In the five years since that time Alive has come to grips with the problems of production and the problems of distribution. In the first three years, Alive struggled with the problems of distribution without much success. The circulation settled at slightly less than one thousand copies per issue. The method of distribution was the traditional combination of subscriptions and bookshop sales.
Persistent and patient work established a network of over one hundred bookshops across Canada which handled the magazine. The fact that only a few of these ever paid their bills and returned mastheads for unsold copies was accepted as a condition of the Canadian situation, (size of the country, difficulty in having personal contact, etc.)
In the Fall of 1972, Alive magazine launched a dangerously new system of distribution. Decisions were taken to concentrate sales efforts in southern Ontario, while maintaining the identity of Alive as a national literary magazine. The people who produced Alive decided to take the magazine directly onto the streets and campuses of southern Ontario. This led to increased sales, excellent contact with readers, and, a series of arrests of Alive people.
The arrests of Alive sellers were concentrated in the 1973 period and led to actual jail sentences being served by Alive people. in Kitchener, Ontario, Edward Pickersgill and Barry Fowlie were sentenced to jail in April 1973. At this point (2 years later) the sentences have not been served. The Kitchener authorities have the full right (according to their system) to pick up and put away these two Alive people at any time. This is a very clearcut example of fascism in its developing stages. For example, any time there is actual disruption of the capitalist system by the Canadian working class and progressive people, all those who have petty jail sentences outstanding can be picked up and removed from their positions of influence.
Alive, then, has faced the choice between passive academic opportunism on the one hand, and active, anti-fascist cultural work on the other hand. The Canadian people have a long and courageous history of anti-fascist practice. Alive has chosen to stand with the majority of the Canadian people.
At the start of 1973, the Production Collective took over full responsibility for all aspects of Alive magazine. Other people who were involved with Alive Press did one or the other of two things: some saw the direction in which Alive was headed and dropped out; others took up other activities within Alive Press (for example, book publishing, bookshop, etc.)
The Production Collective had already engaged in some small amount of direct sales in 1971 and 1972, and summed up the most pertinent distribution fact of its experience: A bookshop on the main downtown street of any Ontario city might take ten copies of Alive. In the four weeks that the issue was current the bookshop might sell between five and ten copies. On the other hand, one Alive seller, standing on the same street, could easily sell forty to fifty copies of the same issue in two or three hours.
It was decided that bookshop sales should be cut back to those which paid their bills. Further it was decided that at some later date emphasis would be placed on organizing supporters to distribute to shops in their own local areas. This would mean that Alive would not be a burden on small bookshops since the Alive people could assist in keeping track of sales.
Working consistently on these “direct sales” the circulation was quickly moved from under a thousand in 1972 up to a regular 2500 in 1973. The Production Collective recognized that although 2500 is a very respectable circulation for a literary magazine in Canada, it was not enough. The weak distribution through bookshops by all Canadian publishers is directly attributable to the control of the Canadian economy by U.S. imperialism. The Canadian people do not have access to concrete examples ot their own culture in any substantial fashion. Recognizing that this capitalist system must be overthrown before the Canadian people can control their own culture, the Production Collective determined to make a contribution to overthrowing the capitalist system. The tool to be used in this contribution was and is Alive magazine which works to clarify the nature of the main enemy.
With this in mind, in 1974, the Production Collective determined to make Alive more and more accessible to the Canadian people. Refusing to sink into the traditional complacency of cultural publications under capitalism Alive began to seriously organize Associate Editorial Collectives and Associate Distribution/Editorial Collectives. People who came forward to support the content of Alive magazine were consistently urged to assist in the dissemination the magazine. Also, the format of Alive was changed from “magazine” size to “newspaper” size. The content remained consistent.
Using these tactical developments both the content and the distribution improved. Circulation rose, in 1974, from 2500 to 4000. All of these steps forward were seen as victories in the face of the capitalist system but it was always maintained that this work only served to clarify the situation Alive has never taken the position that cultural work, by itself, will be the actual method of overthrowing the capitalist system. That actual work is done by the proletariat under the leadership of the communist party. In Canada that leadership, the communist party, is the Communist Party Canada (Marxist-Leninist).
In 1974, Alive fought hard to make a contribution in exposing the true nature of revisionism. The revisionists in Canada criminally put themselves forward as “communists” and serve as the main enemy inside the revolutionary working class.
The Revisionists act as a crust over the top of the honest revolutionary motion of the working class. They act as conscious brake-shoes in the service of the monopoly capitalists and the two superpowers. They will go to any lengths to confuse, distort and misdirect the revolutionary motion the working class. Their nature and their tactics must exposed and smashed in order to unleash the energy of the working class. Thus cultural workers can serve immediately by assisting to smash revisionism and its allies (NDP, Trots and all the other scum which lies on the surface of the revolutionary movement).
Alive, in 1973 and 1974, actually engaged in fighting the enemy on the streets and campuses of southern Ontario, this struggle was taken up it became more and more obvious that progressive cultural workers must get organized. From this came the actual program of organizing various associate collectives.
Now, after five years of building and growing separate from the intellectual communities (universities colleges), Alive is moving to organize cultural groups universities and colleges. The Associate Distribution/Editorial Collectives in the southern Ontario cities continue to work and to expand their fields of influence. On the campuses, Alive is already moving on a program organize progressive cultural clubs or associations. In effect, the progressive cultural clubs will be to the campuses what the distribution/editorial collectives are to the cities.
The Production Collective, based in Guelph, has always recognized that the best way to get store and street sales Toronto, for example, is to have Toronto people carrying that program. By the same token, the best way to have regular programs at a university is to have people from university carrying on a regular program of direct sales, literature tables, and other events. Recognizing this and putting this into action are, obviously, different things. Organization does not fall from the sky and nor does it spring up, as an anti-fascist, anti-capitalist organization; various people sit around trying to wish it into existence.
The Production Collective has learned patience. Where the conditions are suitable these various collectives and clubs will be formed. Alive sees its main work in this area being the preparation of the conditions in various areas, collectives and clubs come up in various areas to carry out the general policy of Alive then the Production Collective can open up new areas.