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Criticize the Revisionist Viewpoint in Music

by Chu Lan

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #9, March 1, 1974, pp. 18-19.]

Following is the translation of a commentary entitled “Grasp the Essence, Deepen the Criticism” by Chu Lan which appeared in “Renmin Ribao” recently. —Ed.

THE mass struggle to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius is now developing in depth. The discussion on programme and absolute music and the criticism of the revisionist viewpoint which professes that bourgeois classical music has “no profound social content” are also being carried out in a more and more deep-going way. This is a sharp struggle in the field of art and literature between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and between Marxism and revisionism. The practice of struggle proves that it is most necessary to criticize this erroneous view. We must make this criticism a part of the struggle to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius and carry it through to the end!

In order to carry out criticism more profoundly, we must take class struggle and the two-line struggle as the key link and see through superficial appearances to grasp the essence of the revisionist viewpoint. Only in this way can we completely demolish the revisionist viewpoint and make it abhorrent.

Marxism teaches us that in examining a problem we should look at its essence. The essence of our problem is not whether musical works have titles or not. The main thing is the political content of the class they express and the political line of the class they serve. All bourgeois music, programme and absolute, are weapons to shape opinion to serve the bourgeoisie for seizing and consolidating political power. Numerous facts in the history of music show that absolute music, or music without titles, is merely a means by which bourgeois composers conceal the class content of their works. For certain political aims and to meet the needs of struggle, composers sometimes give descriptive titles to their works and sometimes not. But even if given a descriptive title, this can be disregarded and the work played in a manner far from what the title implies.

Are not impressionist and modernist musical works often designated with such titles as “pines,” “fountains” and “moonlight”? But analysis of them from a class viewpoint can clearly reveal the decadent, chaotic life and depraved sentiments of the bourgeoisie the weird cacophony represents. The music of the modern revisionists in particular, frequently under the guise of “revolutionary” titles, slanders and distorts in an unbridled way the revolutionary struggles of the people and heroic images of the working people, and vilely attacks the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist system. It can thus be seen that whether a musical work has a descriptive title or not does not in the least change the political content and class essence it expresses, nor the objective social function it performs. Hence, the basic problem lies in the stand, viewpoint and method we adopt towards bourgeois works of music, including programme and absolute music. The crux of the contention is whether one takes the stand of the proletariat, upholds the Marxist class viewpoint and method of class analysis and, taking into account the historical development of class struggle of a specific period, critically analyses the class content of bourgeois music, or whether one takes the stand of the bourgeoisie and replaces concrete class analysis with empty talk about abstract concepts such as “contrasting and changing moods,” “healthy” and “bright,” which actually is publicizing the bourgeois “theory of human nature” and covering up the class essence of musical works to hoodwink and beguile the broad masses.

We must never abandon class analysis and engage in empty talk as to whether a piece of music has or has not any “profound social content.” In class society, all works of art have their concrete social content of a specific class. There is absolutely no such thing as social content that is abstract or above classes and neither is there such a thing as abstract “profundity.” The real aim in publicizing bourgeois musical works as having, “no profound social content” is to cover up the class content reflected in the music of the bourgeoisie. This can lead only to the revolutionary people lowering their vigilance against corruption by bourgeois ideology and facilitate bourgeois cultural penetration and provide a cover for the bourgeoisie to seize positions from the proletariat in the field of art and literature.

The appearance of the revisionist viewpoint denying the class character of musical works is no isolated, individual, accidental phenomenon. It is the concentrated expression of a tendency in society and in music circles today to make a fetish of foreign things and restore the old order of things. This tendency is reflected in the question of whether or not there is any social content in bourgeois music, both absolute and programme; it is also reflected in composing music, performing music and teaching music. And not only in music, but also in other fields of art. They differ in form only.

A reflection in music of the theory of “the dying out of class struggle” is the publicizing of the bourgeois theory of human nature, denying that music has a class character. We must thoroughly expose this and carry out serious criticisms against it.

The essence of the revisionist viewpoint in this question of absolute and programme music is the landlord-bourgeois theory of human nature. This theory of human nature which denies the class character of music is brought over from the European bourgeoisie and can also be traced back to the doctrine of Confucius, the ideological representative of the decadent slave-owning class of China. We must further criticize this revisionist viewpoint in the course of the struggle to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius.

Chairman Mao has pointed out: “The class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the class struggle between the different political forces, and the class struggle in the ideological field between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie will continue to be long and tortuous and at times will even become very acute.” We must fully understand the protractedness of the struggle in this field. In our struggle to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius, we must combine it with the actual class struggle in the realm of ideology, particularly in art and literature (including music), carry out sustained revolutionary criticism of all revisionist views and ideological trends which are unfavourable to the development of socialist art and literature and, in the course of tempestuous struggles, further consolidate and develop the socialist positions in the field of art and literature.

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