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Books Cultural strategies for communists

FRAN LOCK welcomes a discussion of culture designed to stimulate discussion and help to develop practical campaigns 

Class And Culture: Provocations For Cultural Democracy
Edited by Mike Quille 
Communist Party of Britain, FREE

CLASS and Culture: Provocations For Cultural Democracy, is an accessible, galvanising exploration of culture, not merely as the medium through which ideology flows, but as a vital, joy-giving force in the lives of working-class people, and as a potential site of radical resistance. 

Poetry Matters by Kevin Patrick McCann outlines not only the way in which working-class people are excluded from access to poetry, but also the methods by which working-class poets are assimilated, defanged and tokenised.

As McCann pithily puts it: “You can be a rebel and attack glaring injustices; just don’t attack the real causes of those injustices. For example, you can attack racism as long as you don't make the connection between racism and the class system.”

The essay exposes the ideological basis of marginalisation of poetry, but McCann also offers a persuasive account of the transformational power of poetry in the lives of marginalised people. McCann’s contention is that poetry creates the space and the language in which to resist the unendurable. In schools, in community centres and in prisons, it has the potential to restore dignity and voice to the voiceless.

He also makes a pressing case for the need for financial support, and for that to happen organisations such as trade unions and the TUC must recognise the cultural front as not merely a minor or secondary site of struggle, but as central to the building of a fairer society.

Scott Alsworth’s Reclaiming Literature exposes the mechanisms through which literature has become increasingly marketised, and exhorts us to “reclaim the creative high ground,” to remember that “some of the greatest writers in this country have been card-holding communists.”

This idea of an alternative communist tradition of literature is a reminder that we are not, in fact, powerless; that the game can be played by an entirely other set of rules. Alsworth has useful suggestions for building our own coterie of writers, and teaching is at the core of developing a strong, active communist literature. 

Ben Lunn’s Arts Funding In Britain For Classical Music is an incisive case study on inequality of access and provision across Britain and his conclusions have far-reaching implications across the arts. He emphaises the need for equality of access to education across the regions, and to “a variety of idioms, aesthetics, styles and sensibilities.” This last feels significant, having witnessed first-hand the shoehorning of working-class creativity into one or two narrowly predetermined forms.

Lunn’s other major contention is that any future vision for the arts needs to be led by artists and not by “arts managers.” This is a call to leverage the knowledge we already possess as artists, activists and workers and take control of our own cultural production.

Nathan Le-Bas’s People’s Modernism: A Marxist Approach to Cinema misses a companion essay, looking at the visual culture of contemporary cinema, and reflecting on the position of cultural workers within the industry. How do the big studios co-opt the visual language and thematic concerns of dissenting cultures and social justice movements, only to reduce them to empty tropes? How does the narrative message of much neoliberal cinema sit beside its employment practices — I’m thinking particularly here about the language of “empowerment”? 

Brent Cutler’s piece, A Marxist Critique of Television absolutely nails the increasingly negative portrayal of left-leaning (let alone communist) causes and characters in both drama and documentary strands of mainstream television. What’s missing, however, is an account of the socialist creatives currently working in television who do amazing work. How effective are they at pushing back against this trend? 

James Crossley tackles the often thorny issue of spirituality in Religion and Culture: “It’s in the interests of the ruling class to stress religious motivations for acts of terror (usually worded in terms of a ‘perversion of Islam’ or the like) at the expense of discussing the complexity of causes. This is because a primary focus on ‘perverted’ forms of religious motivation avoids implicating the actions of the ruling class.”

I certainly endorse the call to bolster a critical discourse around religion and the way in which it is used to mobilise support and to justify the political decisions of various regimes, given the rise of an increasingly intolerant, increasingly empowered religious right in both the US and Europe. 

Finally, Misinformed: Monopoly Press and Bourgeois Hegemony by Alan McGuire and Culture Matters to State Monopoly Capitalism by Ron Brown, are needle-sharp on exposing the nuts and bolts of ideological manipulation through various media channels, and offering practical suggestions to resist and counter these manipulations. 

What is heartening in both essays is that resistance is based upon mutual support across three key fronts — economic, political, and cultural — and builds on work already under way to recognise and integrate the cultural field into the struggle more broadly. 

Dr Fran Lock was shortlisted for the 2023 TS Eliot Poetry Prize. The full text of this article is available on the Culture Matters website, and the Class and Culture pamphlet is available free to download at


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