Why “proletarian literature”?

Editorial from the Fall-Winter 2013-14 issue of Struggle,
a magazine of proletarian revolutionary literature

By Tim Hall

(CV #49, August 2014)

This magazine declares its material to be "proletarian literature." Why? There is a method to our madness. "Proletariat" is the name Karl Marx used to denote the revolutionary working class under capitalism. Revolutionary because it is the essential producing class and because capitalism can live only by grinding the workers incessantly, eventually driving them to make a revolution, no matter what the workers' current views are. The core of the proletariat is the industrial workers; vast numbers of other wage workers share much of the proletarian existence.

And what is that existence? To work on, producing the capitalists' unlimited wealth, that rises like a geyser from our labor, with only drops left for us. And to be ever-insecure, owning no means of production, always a couple of paychecks from homelessness, while all around us there is wealth aplenty. Even in the U.S., the most developed capitalist country, this insecurity is grievous. Millions here today are unemployed, desperately hanging on to unemployment benefits, at the mercy of the whims of the bloated, corrupt parasites in Congress. Among the employed a section of workers has emerged — call-center employees and temporaries of various kinds — whose employment (and thus livelihood) is so insecure that it calls itself a "precariat." But this precariousness afflicts nearly all workers, even thus thought to be the most secure and "bribed" by capitalism. For example, among auto workers in Detroit in the 1980s, when left pessimists branded them "bought off," there was a very common saying: "our kids will never have these jobs," that is, they recognized that the system would destroy even their partial stability (itself interrupted by layoffs). And so it was. The UAW labor misleaders sold out the younger generation, and now those children, if they have jobs in auto at all, are working for half the pay of their parents. And a similar fate has arrived for the children of the postal workers.

The literature in Struggle embodies the pain, anger, passion and rebellion of such workers, who are the vast majority of the U.S. population and are the core of the oppressed around the world. And all the problems Struggle magazine deals with, from racism to sexism to imperialist war to environmental disaster, all are intimately linked to this relation of the proletarian mass to the capitalist exploiters; carrying through this revolution is the key to unlocking all the other problems; arousing the proletarian workers to fight on all these questions is key to advancing these struggle and to preparing the proletariat for revolution.

Leon Trotsky, a well-known leader in the Russian Revolution, asserted that proletarian revolutionary literature was impossible. This opinion is utterly bankrupt and only serves to discourage revolutionary writers.

In his book Literature and Revolution Trotsky asserts that the proletariat is too ground-down by capitalist labor to be able to produce its own literature. This opinion is antiquated and only applies where 12-14 hour workdays still predominate. Trotsky asserts that the proletariat does not have the hundreds of years to create its literature that the bourgeoisie had to create its own. This, too, is wrong; revolutionary proletarians have been creating songs and poems since at least the 1840s and we are 170 years down the longer-than-expected road, with a huge volume of literature endorsing the goals of the proletariat and socialism created in nearly all countries. Trotsky asserts that the proletariat must spend all its time assimilating the existing culture of bourgeois society. But in a world where secondary education and literacy is very widespread, and where issues are constantly debated on myriad media and in classrooms, it only takes a few years for a worker to have a good initial grasp of the existing culture. And besides, if we are to consider the proletarians unable to absorb existing bourgeois culture, then how can they act in a revolutionary way on the political front, let alone in literature and art? No, this objection, too, must be dismissed.

Trotsky asserts that the proletariat cannot spare any time from the revolutionary struggle to create literature and art. This is ludicrous. Every revolutionary class has always created its own literature and art, its own culture, to sustain and inspire it in battle, to clarify just what its theoretical musings and passionate desires mean and where they must and will lead. In fact, literature and art, creative culture in general, is so crucial that there will be no proletarian revolution at all without a revolutionary culture, without revolutionary writers, artists, creators, imagining and portraying the liberation of the exploited class of proletarians and, with it, of all the oppressed of the world.

Trotsky regards his clinching argument to be that in the classless society to come — in a few decades, he thinks — there will be no proletariat, since there will be no classes. Therefore, no proletarian culture or literature. So there is no time to develop it and no future place for it, he says. This is bizarre. To think that a stable, classless society could be built without a vast revolution in the masses' thinking is absurd. Under centuries of class society, and harshly under capitalism, the dominant ideology imposed by the ruling classes has been "every man (yes, man) for himself, devil take the hindmost." The oppressed classes always harbored an opposite ideology — that of collective labor, "share and share alike." The proletarian revolution, burning through disasters, will, for the first time since prehistory, make that the general viewpoint and practice. Therefore, the new, classless society will be stamped thoroughly with the viewpoint of the proletariat, for all time once classes are abolished. Thus proletarian culture and literature have a long struggle ahead and a very long, glorious future as well.

Resolutely we march on. We will create, we are recreating, the revolutionary proletarian literature, despite the nay-sayers like Trotsky. The defeat of his pessimism, and the advance of revolutionary literature, are equally inevitable.


A magazine of proletarian revolutionary literature

Struggle is an anti-establishment, revolutionary literary journal oriented to the working-class struggle. It reaches out to “disgruntled” workers, dissatisfied youth and all the oppressed and abused and supports their fight against the rich capitalist rulers of the U.S. and the planet. It is open to a variety of artistic and literary forms and anti-establishment views. We welcome works with artistic power which rebel against some element of the capitalist power structure or against the entire system itself.

Visit the Struggle website at Strugglemagazine.net!

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