Saturday, July 20, 2013

On Social Realism Art of the 1930s

Idealism Gone Bad
When I look at social realism art of the 1920s and 1930s I get sad.  The reason for this is reason.  During this “inter-war” period we lost our way in terms of the rights of individuals to be free from harm caused by others, our individual reasoning was overcome by a collectivist reason where we assign our agency to others.  Social realism art is a meme for collectivism, where we find ourselves in an artificial class struggle.  Instead of individuals we become de-personalized depictations in a Them versus Us artform, where ideal-types replace subjectivity. 
   Both socialism and fascism, although opposed historically, are the same in Statist ideology.  This period of history, and it might be argued through today, is where our individual aspirations, known and realized only by our own individual actions in free-association and cooperation with others, take a secondary position to the political class who have the ‘fatal conceit’ to believe that they know more than the individual what is best for that individual.  We become aggregates in “State-istics” (statistics) where we lose ourselves to the State. And the State is not a government “for the people” but an entity unto itself, looking out for its own best interests as it enlarges its own power and control.
   What is most sad for me is that we have done this voluntarily, turning our self-actualization, which can only be learned through trial-and-error and corrections in our own consciousness, over to others, who we then acknowledge to be wiser about our own conditions than we are ourselves.   
   I do understand that art of this period, social or socialist realism, tries to cut through the temporal poverty and alienation of factory labor, and provide hope for a “new man (person)” moving forward.  However as applied, the individual became a tool for the collective, where the ends justify the means.  This results in a Statist ideology, creating poverty and servitude, both in Fascist countries (Italy and Germany) as well as Communist countries (the USSR and its satellites) as the State extends its power, both domestically and through imperialism, on the back of the people. 
   Sad to say the same holds true for the USA, where under the New Deal farmers were paid to reduce crop outputs in the Heartland while people were starving in the Bowery.  Central planning under the New Deal failed miserably though few admit this.
   The social (-ist) realism art of the period showed “hope” for a new idealized life for mankind, but in the end this idealism lead to nothing more than Nation-States creating war over minute shades of Statism during WWII.  The “free world” was not, and the Iron Curtain was nothing but a Them to allow the military-industrial complex of the US to earn exorbitant profits in (cold) war procurement.  This is unfortunately a moment which extends through today with US troops in over 100 countries and our Secretary of State (whoever she or he may be at a given point in time) travelling the world telling other people what to do.
   Today with the drone kill-list on the US president’s desk every AM, and the Statist drug war giving the USA (land of the free?) the highest incarceration rate in the world, we can look back at the idealism of socialist realism art and be sad how it has all turned out.  There is no one to blame but ourselves.  We can look at social realism art and dream of how it might have turned out with the depicted bold idealism, but, alas it did not turn out to be a new Man, but rather an enslaved person kowtowing to an ever more powerful State.