ONE: WHAT WAS SOCIALISM?

The first class began with the definition of the class key terms: “Socialism,” “Music,” and “Imaginary.” We ran through a sweeping overview of Marxist theory, covered definitions of historical and dialectical materialism, base & superstructure, fetish, alienation, use v. exchange value, ideology, proletarian and bourgeoisie, and other key terms (see and add terms to the course blog’s Lexicon). We examined the stages of history according to Marx. Through excerpts from The Communist Manifesto, we observed how Marx  and Engels challenged Hegelian idealism through a materialist approach to history, which emphasizes that all “hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (14).

We also read excerpts from the philosopher Charles Taylor’s The Social Imaginary article, and we threw around suggestions for how we might define “music” in this class (as commodity, as text or process, as sound). We ended with clips of different musical examples as teasers for materials we will cover later in the semester: these included a dissident Tuvan singer, a performance of “Chervona Ruta” in a Soviet-era film featuring Sofia Rotaru, a Cuban neuva trova song by Carlos Puebla, and a bombastic Chinese film performance of The Internationale from the film “East is Red.”

The second class discussion revolved around the prompt that was given at the start of class, to think about how capitalism impacts musical production, consumption, and circulation. We had a very productive and far-ranging conversation about professional, amateur, and personal music-making, and were able to bring in some of the key ideas from the two readings that had been assigned: the opening chapter from Moore’s “Music and Revolution” and Zemtsovsky’s “Musicological Memoirs on Marxism.” Sophie proposed an intriguing definition of “fakelore” to encompass commodified (and often, white-washed) music in capitalist society. Maria reviewed some of the key points from both Moore and Zemtsovsky, emphasizing why the arts were so important in socialist regimes, and the impossibility of fully comprehending what life must have been like under such ideological pressure.

Questions that resonate after class: How did socialist regimes such as the USSR actually mandate that new revolutionary music be created–i.e., on the basis of what musical material? What dangers did folklore pose to socialist states? Would Solzhenitsyn have really written Dallas if he had been born in the United States, as the Cuban minister of culture suggested? And other questions…

What other questions do you have? What are you most looking forward to studying this semester?

20 comments on “ONE: WHAT WAS SOCIALISM?Add yours →

  1. We developed a definition of socialism, and spoke about the naivety surrounding Marx’s earlier depictions of communism and socialist ideologies, in the first class; I’m interested, however, in tracing what socialism means, in practice, to people across a diverse social strata. More broadly, I’m eager to explore the means by which socialist ideologies are adapted and interpreted by disparate cultural and social milieus, particularly through their musics.

  2. I am intrigued by the terms “fakelore” and folklore, wherein folklore represents the authentic, and “fakelore” is the inauthentic appropriation and commodification of art production from a group deemed to be lower class or minority by a group that is elite or a majority. The use of these two terms exposes much about one who uses them as well as the social groups that they are critiquing for their manner of art production. To write simply, what one culture deems inauthentic differs greatly from what another culture deems inauthentic, and reveals what values are at the heart of each culture. If one considered authentic to be that which resonates most closely with the central tenets and strongest principles of a culture, then what a culture views as authentic in terms of art-making really just reflects that culture’s ideals. On a further note, authenticity often is imagined as stemming from the original qualities of the one producing the art form, particularly music, and is not derived from a musician or artist’s receptivity or attempt to please to audience. However, I would argue that in any case, music might be thought of as the sound that exists between the one (or thing) that creates it and the listener who hears it. As such, there is always an interplay between the musician and the listener, so there is no possibility for absolute authenticity, as the musician is continually interacting with an audience in some form or another. Perhaps then a culture would deem music authentic, and thus “folkloric” where the musician represents his/her originality of sound production through creative approaches to engaging with his/her audience, particularly where this originality resonates with the ideals of that culture.

  3. I am interested in the kind of “Aesopian language” of secret signals that Zemtsovsky mentions in relationship to his and his colleagues published work under socialism (178). We spoke in class about the “inaccessibility” of the sentiment behind certain songs and compositions. Is an act of translation necessary when reading or listening to work created under Socialism. Or does the attempt at reinterpretation represent a kind of violence to the authenticity of the composition? Must we leave it intact while simultaneously understanding that there are subtleties not immediately available to us?

  4. I am interested in how the music was regulated in socialist countries. What struck me about the introduction was that on page 17, it said that capitalist countries engineer music for financial gain and thus make it seem like the production of music in socialist countries is more intelligent and must have more cultural value. I would agree that although the capitalist countries control their music with businessman, the socialist countries have just as much regulation, connecting both societies and really making them seem like they are more than what was originally thought. No matter how you look at it, both countries had regulations on the production of music, which makes their “cultural” values the values of the particular society. Also on page 17, it said capitalist music does not encourage cultural development. In class, I think we came to the conclusion that capitalist countries have different genres of music which create their own cultural niche, while socialist music attempts to create a artistic genre which focuses on the proletarians.

  5. I am also interested in exploring the dichotomy between folklore and “fakelore.” In an anthropology class that I took last semester, we extensively discussed the term authenticity and what it truly means for something to be “authentic.” Generally speaking, “authentic” seems to mean original or genuine. However, to say something is authentic is subjective to each person’s own background and exposure to the world (or lack thereof). What is authentic to one person might not be authentic to another. Margarita Mazo claims that songs about Karl Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were village “folk” songs, which upsets Zemtsovsky because Mazo’s quotes around “folk” were not warranted. Zemtsovsky argues that even though Lenin’s name was present in many revolutionary songs, it does not take away the songs’ individual authenticity. These revolutionary songs are no less original than a “regular” village song or another popular song that has no mention of Marx, Lenin, or Stalin.

  6. I thought the comment about the tangential nature of art and politics within socialist societies was particularly resonant and as it remained the somewhat unspoken thread throughout the rest of class discussion, I was thinking about the idea of “worth” being applied to art/music in not only socialist societies but also capitalist societies, which we touched on to some degree in our discussions on Adorno and professional versus amateur musics. I believe in engaging this concept leads to layered and far reaching comments on art in society, public art, and art within both socialist and capitalist societies, and picks at a question that is somewhat ever present in discussions of art for many people, what is its value? why is it important? Moore touched on the sort of ramifications that were stipulated in socialist societies around the arts, such as how many artists should there be, how should they produce, etc. I thought this was an interesting idea to consider, especially with the mindset of someone living in a capitalist society, where the arts are unregulated by the government (as in comparison to the regulations in socialist societies). I would be interested to continue to look at the beginnings of public art/music and the rise oft these things in relation to the political histories of socialism versus capitalism.

  7. I was aware that a socialist regime would influence certain aspects of the music itself, but I was unaware of to what extent a political regime has on music. Another thing that I am interested in was brought up in our last class – fakelore and the adaption of different cultural types of music. I am wondering when exactly something is considered fakelore, as isn’t everything an adaption of something else? And is fakelore a problem or an exploitation, is it something that we should be working to move away from, or should we just be more aware? Also I would like to go deeper into how capitalism effects music and if the changing way that we purchase music will either cause it to become more uniform or allow for a broader spectrum to be marketed.

  8. One thing I noticed during our class discussion was that most of our criticism of the capitalist music industry was framed around the question of ‘who’s making money and who isn’t?’ or ‘who’s profiting and who’s being stolen from?’ But if we divorce the money from music, just for the sake of argument, might there be more creative potential for the musician living under capitalism. Maybe there is a silver lining for the society that says, ‘you might not make any money, but you can write whatever music you want.’ And I do think there are plenty of amateur musicians out there that don’t care or expect to make much money from their music.

    On the topic of folklore/fakelore, I find it interesting that a socialist regime would hold itself above the ‘simpler, barbaric’ ways of the past while also encouraging the simplification–some might say ‘folkification’–of its peoples’ music.

  9. I’m particularly interested in the necessity for individual socialist states to forge their artistic policies largely on their own, with few hints being delivered from the actual texts of Marx and Engels. The notion to add state structure to art in the first place is also interesting, how necessary was it for the socialist governments to regulate the production of music as well as other cultural outputs (i.e. literature, studio arts, theatre)? Zemtsovsky makes mention of the genuine emotions that stir the local people to make folk songs praising Lenin or other party leaders (Zemtsovsky 177) which lead me to believe that even without regulations, artists would create work inspired by the revolution and its potential progress. While it is certain that not all of the output from all creatives would have been positive the state’s confidence so as to take the regulation of culture into their own hands with little to no guidance from socialist doctrine seemed curious to me and I would love to discuss it throughout the semester.

  10. In our class discussion, Professor Sonevytsky brought up the question, “What should the mechanics of Socialist music be?” While I’m not sure that one answer can adequately represent a range of socialist systems, it would be interesting to learn more about the different ways in which socialist systems have exerted influence over the arts. Specifically, the ways in which systems express socialist ideas through differing genres, such as popular and folklore music. I am currently wondering if it possible for the effectiveness of these different genres in promoting a government’s ideological agenda can be measured. I would also like to learn more about “fakelore” and the concrete ways in which it differs from authentic folklore. After being introduced to this term in the Zemtsovsky piece, I would like to know more about its defining features, whether or not it will have a strong foothold in the future, and if any authors of this literature have offered some kind of solution to it.

  11. I am interested in the socialist states regulation of culture, particularly music, and how effective it was in either reinforcing revolutionary thought or criticizing it (Moore states on page 8 of the introduction that many musicians used music for critique on a daily basis) whether the message could really reign over the music itself and to what degree performance affected this. I am also interested in the decisions made regarding culture, in terms of how many artists there should be and what kind of art they should make with little to no basis in the writing of Marx and Engels.

  12. What I found most resonant this week was our discussion about the aspects of music (production, performance, recording, distribution) that were and are most commodified. In other words, it’s a question of what element of music becomes the “object” that has definite size, value, price, etc.? It seemed like our unofficial conclusion was that the recorded sound is what we think of as the object, possibly because it’s the only part of music that can literally and figuratively fit in our hand — we don’t go to a concert and walk away with the feeling that we “own” the concert simply because we bought a ticket. A CD, cassette, or mp3 is different story. It’s ours, and we always want more of it, so it becomes the easiest and most lucrative stage of music-making for the industry to control. I’d be curious to continue the conversation to its various end points, such as the situation we have under capitalism in American where the the music industry is disintegrating (and why that’s a good thing), as well as the state of music ownership under other political systems in other parts of the world.

  13. Something Professor Sonevytsky brought up in our first class really struck me – the idea that in a communist society music doesn’t have a “use value.” When you listen to the music composed during that era you can tell that this mindset was in place. It’s clear that there was a conscious effort to project onto music this artificial value. While this is not a mindset that is present in our society today, it reminded me of the idea of different types of “capital” that we briefly discussed in class. Can we classify music itself or the knowledge of music, as a type of social or educational capital? These types of questions about how to quantify the arts interest me and I’m curious how they will play out when we discover more specific examples throughout these different societies.

  14. Through our comparison of the role of music in capitalist and socialist countries we partially defined music as an object of some kind of value. This brings to mind questions about the way that individuals and societies at large use music. Music has a wide range of social functions. It’s obviously pleasurable: It’s good for dancing, it fills up empty acoustic space, making music is fun. At the same time, music can be more than just a form of sensory pleasure, it can also create a sense of community, in combination with some kind of visual aesthetic it can actually define a social group, it can resonate deeply within an individual or a group and create shockwaves of powerful sentiment. Of course, in socialist countries, music was directed towards the latter categories. Music was supposed to create a sense of community between workers (like the bombastic internationale from the Chinese film) and a sense of emotional (and perhaps intellectual) purpose. In capitalist countries, most of the produced and promoted music is of the former category: pleasure sells.
    I’m interested in exploring the exceptions to the generalizations I made above. What does soviet pleasure music sound like? Does it really sound like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z4m4lnjxkY? And how do we explain the success of dissident music in the United States? Bands like Rage Against the Machine using corporate platforms to denounce capitalism? Where does the avant garde fit into all this? Composers like Luigi Nono, Henry Flynt or Cornelius Cardew composing “socialist music” from the fringes of the avant garde in capitalist countries and the “drawer pieces” of Soviet composers like Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina? I’m excited to explore the ways that market forces and government agencies control or attempt to control music production.

  15. I found the article by Zemtsovsky to be quite illuminating. It really put into the focus what kind of intellectual limits were placed on the academics. It was quite striking to see how far they were able to push new and original ideas while having to rely on “the cliches of Marxist phraseology.” These limitations even seemed to thrill at certain points according to Zemtsovsky “to remain an academic scholar writing intelligently was something of an exploit. It appears the totalitarian nature of the Marxist-Lenin doctrine actually promoted a shrewd freedom. There were clearly defined rules so with a bit of cleverness the task of subverting the rules could be accomplished if one was interested in such a thing.

  16. Zemtsovsky’s article was fascinating to me. I always remembered from other classes that spoke on the communist regimes about how wide the act of censorship was but to the extent that he talked about it in the article was astounding. Due to the fact that we live in a capitalist society that fortunately offers no form of censorship in that extent, I’d like to know I guess more about how were musicians/artists (like the ones in the videos you showed us) in that regime able to prosper through those times.

    Also would like to explore that notion of authenticity that we spoke of. At first I was confused about the word, but after our class, I had a better understanding of the term “fakelore” thanks to Sophie’s interpretation of it in the capitalist sense. It had me thinking of the modern era and the topic of appropriation within the popular genres of now (e.g. Hip Hop and Macklemore). It made the perspective of Zemtovsky’s article more understandable and of why he criticized the calling of the soviet music “fakelore.”

  17. One question I had after our second class is whether music created in a socialist society must be inherently political. The question of why we create music loses a dimension in a socialist context: since socialism eliminates the option for financial gain in creating music, the motive for creating a work of art is not monetary, but something else. This is not to say that the motives for creating art in a capitalist society are necessarily monetary, it’s only that monetary motives can exist (at least at much greater levels) within a capitalist context. This could point out that socialist music is more of a comment than a commodity. In a financial sense, the lack of monetary reward for socialist music permits the artist both a new freedom and a new restriction: musicians no longer need to cater to public tastes, since an extremely successful work will not yield a greater profit, but an artist must now cater to a political agenda in order for their works to be heard on a large scale. Can the term ‘sell-out’ (e.g., think of violinist Andre Rieu, or (possibly) any popstar) exist in a socialist context?

  18. A discussion about (and facilitated by) our reactions to socialism, in overview, led to a productive recap of some of its effects on creativity, intellectualism, and academia. The readings, namely for me the one featuring Zemtsovsky’s experience, accented points of the struggle for artists and musicologists in evocative ways…Although we didn’t fully enter his text in our second class discussion, the material peaked my intrigue, leaving some questions unfilled and others not formulable. Along similar lines, capitalist/socialist comparisons were raised; the lens of that comparison was also brought into view, and so we have begun to immerse ourselves in the heat of our task, which seems to be to gaze into a complicated universe of creativity and expression existing in a current forcibly removed from so many antecedent canons of human thought and conduct, to the end of sympathizing with those for whom socialism was responsible and whose responsibility it simultaneously was/is to keep it the universe alive. I wonder if the subtle disregarding or outmaneuvering of the forced intellectual agenda (such as when Zemtsovksy winks and nods his way through academic circles and publishing committees) was common in academic spheres, and wonder at, less attainably perhaps, the effect of such censorship on creative memory and collective draw upon traditional themes/elements of antecedent culture (respective to the socialist society in focus). How do we pick up the slack of traditions who suffer under socialist regimes? Is that ‘bad’ ethnography? Do we reach for things the majority of people did not carry with them organically through oppressive times? What constitutes a ‘line of tradition,’ in the sense of a continuous emanation of older from old, newer from new? To simply observe ‘divisions of time and politics and economies between periods of rest and resolve’ seems like an outdated way of examining consistency in a society; to what do we look and pilot our intrigues to reach a few affordable conclusions about some words in our class’ lexicon- namely: what suffices to actually be a tradition? Is Fakelore Folklore? And: what tools do we need to answer these debatable questions?

  19. In our class discussion, it was mentioned that Marxist ideology desired the arts to hold a place in the daily lives of the proletariat as a form of leisure and creative expression. Though this desire was left unrealized, I am interested in learning more about which artistic/musical styles would be celebrated in the communist utopia of the future. I am also intrigued by Lenin’s notion of a cultural vanguard composed of elite persons with the capacity and foresight to educate the proletariat of their power. Are the enlightened actions of this vanguard present in the actions of the Communist Party, regarding the aesthetic and the arts, in the 1930s? We have read on the disconnect between socialism in theory and as it is practiced within the Soviet Union. The prominent discrepancies between the aesthetics and themes of Socialist Realist art, as it is promoted at this time, and the reality of the soviet worker during collectivization imply that the Soviet Union of the present is temporary. Is Socialist Realism, as a nationalistic celebration of the past, merely a temporary prop for Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist ideology to distract from an era of presently unfulfilled promises? Was Socialist Realism an aesthetic end goal? Or was it believed to have the ability to ultimately inspire an artistic avant-garde which would represent a futuristic and progressive communist nation where people are free to practice and perform the arts for their own enjoyment, as Marx had imagined?

  20. Music is controlled in many different aspects by all types of societies around the world. Here in the United States for example, capitalism affects our accessibility to it through fees and ticket sales. More importantly this is what the music industry thrives off of. In a country with a background of socialism it’s controlled in a few different ways. There is of course the music that is seen as propaganda appropriated by the government endorsing the way in which they live. This is more structured and in some countries (the USSR at one point in time) even being controlled through laws. On the other hand there is music that is considered underground. Here we don’t have this as anything inappropriate can be published for commercialism.

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