White ppl look at what your grandparents use to do to my grandparents.

mad, mad, madddd.

Now you don’t even need a license

(via melzwhimzy)

Source: palmares-politics

The following are speaking notes I gave for a talk I gave at a one day forum on socialism at Langara. Some references depend on other talks, but I think most of it is still intelligible.

The richest 8.4% own more than 83% of the world’s wealth = this does not exactly mean that they own 83% of the world’s things, because we measure wealth not in things but in money. They don’t own the atmosphere, but that doesn’t stop them from choking it in smoke. They don’t own ALL the forests (just yet), but that doesn’t stop them from spilling oil all over them. To say that the richest 8% own 83% of the world’s wealth is to say that they own 83% of the value of things that have already been assigned a value, that have already been commodified and monetized. As Bradley has already shown, nature is a ‘free gift’ to the capitalist accounts: money is an expression of value, that is to say of labour time. To the extent that capitalist’s measure their wealth in money, they are measuring the amount of our labour that they have appropriated. In other words, if capitalists own, say, 83% of the world’s wealth, that means that 83% of all working hours have gone towards enriching the world’s wealthiest 8.4% – just 393 million people. To put that in perspective, the rest of the population (just under 7 billion people) is supported by just 17% of all labour. (This does not account for the ‘free labour’ of home makers or interns.)

The question “what would socialism look like?” is first and foremost a question of what might be done if that tremendous productive energy were redirected for the benefit of humanity in general rather than for this tiny minority.

But I do not want to jump the gun. The question is inherently speculative and tends to lead in the direction of fantasy rather than solid analysis. The only way to avoid utopianism is to treat socialism as emerging from capitalism itself and the characteristics it forces upon those who struggle against it.

The richest 8.4% own 83% of the wealth. But the rest of us don’t just build their houses and catch their caviar. We also build the factories, the equipment, mine the coal, dig the wells, etc. We not only work the means of production, we also produce the means of production. We produce them, the bosses own them. Which supposedly is what gives them the right to the things we produce using the machines that we also produced. Private property in the means of production also means private property in the products themselves: the bosses have the ‘right’ to sell them, dump them, or hoard them just as they please. These are what Marxists refer to as the “social relations of production” under capitalism.

Engels argued “that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; … in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged.” In other words, that the relations of production play a strongly determining role in the shape and structure of society. To change society, therefore, necessarily means changing the social relations of production.

The relations of production under capitalism means that we are forced to spend the majority of our waking hours working for bosses we dislike in jobs that we hate – even our sleep belongs to the bosses: how often do we say “I gotta get to bed early tonight, I have lots of work to do in the morning!” Fairly often we work to produce, move, or sell shit that we don’t even want. But we do it to get paid a wage so that we can buy things we need: food, clothes, entertainment, etc. Often enough these things are shit too, but we learn to get by. But we “get by” as private consumers. Of course, because the things we need are not part of the general wealth of society, we acquire them as private individuals from other private individuals. And as such, we are privately responsible for becoming successful private consumers.

Perhaps the best example of the kind of ideology this system encourages comes from Margaret Thatcher, who famously claimed: “I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

Its a familiar attitude: people who need help are sovereign individuals and have no right to expect us to bail them out. The idea that even outside of emergency situations, we might share in each others’ lives, take responsibility for and with each other is totally foreign to this kind of thought. For such people, even families are really just a kind of super-individual; a consuming household with 4.5 mouths. The result is a society more atomised – more anti-social – than any other historical formation. One of the results of this, historically, is a fairly strict division of labour within families. The one with the mammaries and uterus probably has a job, but also raises the kids, cooks and cleans and in general works to reproduce not only the labour power of the next generation, but also that of the current one embodied in their spouse (the primary bread winner). The effectiveness of this set-up is maximised if a norm of heterosexuality is enforced.

Forms of oppression like sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, abelism – all in one way or another, allows the ruling class to exploit this section or that more than the average, to pay the oppressed poorer wages, in worse working environments, perhaps ghettoise them in the worst parts of the cities, places where the ruling class can pollute or dump with greater impunity. But these ideologies also set worker against worker, one section of the oppressed against another, one section of the exploited against another. The goal that we should ultimately set ourselves is full human liberation – that ought to mean a world free of oppression.

Oppression is constantly being produced by capitalism, so a different society offers at least the possibility for such ideologies along with the structures and institutions that enforce them to at last be completely dismantled. But if people are as bigoted and debased as all that, how can we ever make a better society? As Marx pointed out ages ago: “for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of [people] on a mass scale is, necessary.”

The question, therefore, is: “how is this transformation to take place?” The Marxist answer to this is that the struggle for a better world itself transforms people. I think all of us have seen this lately. Active struggle against oppression creates the best opportunities for the development of solidarity. Radicalisation and anti-oppression sentiments are contagious. Think about the occupation of Tahrir. Or think of Occupy – it began as a protest against corporate greed, how quickly did it turn into a breeding ground for resistance against every kind of oppression? Here in Canada, the struggle for native sovereignty has immediately been involved with struggles for environmental justice, the social position of women, especially indigenous women, and even how we should relate to migrant labourers. And perhaps the greatest period of radicalisation in living memory – the late 60s – involved struggles against racism, sexism, imperialism, colonialism, and gave birth to the Queer Rights movement; as well as lines of solidarity forged between all of these. Consider the Black Panther Party, a group which when it first started was notorious for its sexism and homophobia but which ended with women’s liberation and anti-homophobia as basic principles. The Black Power movement is often caricatured as super macho, typified by the foolish claim of Stokely Carmichael in 1964 that “The only position for women in [the struggle] is prone.” But if that sort of thing was tolerated in 1964, by 1969, two thirds of the black panthers were women and they had developed a close relationship with one of the greatest black feminists still living: Angela Davis.

There are several pressures which lead to the development of this kind of consciousness. The most basic is that when one group of people struggle against their oppression, it can inspire other groups to do the same. More importantly, almost every form of oppression intersects with others. Just as black oppression necessarily includes the oppression of black women, or black queer people, so the struggle against black oppression necessarily also mobilised more than just straight black men. The mobilisation of the black community was also the occasion for an internal development in which black women and queers demanded to be recognised and won their right to participate in the struggle. The success of this internal struggle was a necessity for the movement as a whole – which could not possibly have won anything if it had excluded the majority of the black community. Black people who had absorbed not only a degree of self hatred, but also the rest of the bigotries that our society teaches nevertheless were capable of change. Their ideas were being shaken by the world that they were changing and they were often convinced of the rightness of the claims of black women and queer people.

There is only one social position whose struggles are expansive enough to include the struggles of people of colour, of women, queer people, the disabled, etc. and that is the working class. The working class is divided by these bigotries – and the division helps the capitalist class maintain their rule. The working class therefore must overcome these divisions in order to win anything. The working class contains much more than just straight, white, cis- dudebros. It includes all those doubly oppressed by capitalist bigotry. The struggles of the class are therefore subject to the same pressures which were so transformative for the Black Panther Party. This is why the struggle for the economic emancipation of the working class is coterminous with the struggle for human liberation generally. As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto: “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.”

More importantly:

“Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of [people] on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the [shit] of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”

The struggle for socialism cannot be won without also being, for example, anti-sexist – it follows that a socialist world would be that much LESS sexist right from the get-go, and creates the conditions for sexism and the patriarchy to finally be dismantled. So the struggle for socialism lays the basis for a world free of bigotry and oppression. But what about economic emancipation, what does that mean?

When people think about socialism two images come to mind. The first is this kind of impoverished world where everyone wears blue-gray jumpsuits, has one child, and drives a tractor. The second, more optimistic one, involves a world with a better social safety net and less income inequality. The vision of socialism which I want to give is much grander than either of these. By socialism I mean a world without classes, where everyone controls the means of production collectively and therefore also shares in the fruits of social production collectively.

Once again, to get a glimpse of what such a world would look like, we have to first look at capitalism. Any society that is sufficiently complex will involve certain divisions of labour – simply because we can’t all be doing everything all of the time. At any given moment, somebody has to be producing crops, somebody has to be preparing food, writing songs, designing buildings, constructing them, somebody has to be minding the children, etc. We live in the kind of society where such divisions are relatively permanent: someone who farms is a farmer, anything else that she does is just a hobby. The reason that capitalism makes such roles relatively permanent is because we have to pay to gain new skills, and typically while we are learning new skills we are earning a smaller income. Nevertheless it is at least possible to imagine a society where this wasn’t the case. As Marx wrote, under capitalism, “each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

But there is one division of labour which exists only in class societies. In class societies one group of people produce the goods while another class – the ruling class – administers over the production process. The ruling class decides how we work, what we produce and how surpluses are invested. Marx called this division (somewhat imprecisely, I admit) the division between manual and mental labour. On the side of the producers, capitalism has socialised the labour process to an unprecedented degree. The production of goods actually involves a staggering degree of cooperation and coordination. What that means is that production comes to included greater and greater interconnectedness and dependencies within the whole of society. Contrary to the opinion of Margaret Thatcher, capitalism is unique in that it has drawn the majority of the species into a single massive directly interdependent society. Nevertheless, because the working class produces and the ruling class oversees, workers do not have a good view of the total production process.

But from the perspective of overseeing that production, on the other hand, the capitalist class, which, together with its managerial assistants, is meant to oversee the administration of this great division of labour has next to no understanding of the actual concrete requirements of the labour process, and, because of competition, conspires to horde information, actively preventing itself as a class from fully accessing the knowledge which is really available to it. In fact, because there is very little centralised planning and companies (largely) confront each other as hostile competitors the precise nature of the social relations that make up ‘the economy’ is inherently mysterious. A market economy is made up of so many complex interactions that it’s not possible to understand exactly what’s going on, even though a great many economists, investment banks etc. devote a lot of energy to doing so and risk a lot of money on bets about what is likely to happen.

The resulting chaos is what is typically referred to as the “genius of the market.”

In 2008, for example, at the start of the last financial crisis, the US government spent approximately 3 metric fuck-tonnes of money bailing out the financial sector by basically throwing money at the major banks. The hope was that this would get banks to start lending again. It didn’t. Years and years of skeevy lending practices had left all the banks with toxic debts – they all knew that much. What they didn’t know was exactly HOW MUCH toxic debt each of their rivals were left with. Without this knowledge, they would not risk lending.

Such corporate secrecy and competition are the stock and trade of capitalism. Imagine the world we might live in if pharmaceutical companies pooled their research and data together rather than hid it behind copyright and intellectual property laws. Imagine how much could be saved if food producers weren’t all trying to swipe market share from one another, but were instead coordinating rationally to produce the best food in the amounts that were actually needed. We moan a lot about food wasted at homes or restaurants – that is by private consumers – but the vast majority of food is wasted because too much is produced to be sold in the first place. Too much is produced to be profitably sold, but people go hungry.

The ideologues of the ruling class like to tell us that the market is the most efficient form of economic coordination. In fact capitalism is the most wasteful society in history. Not only in the terms of the staggering amounts of stuff it produces that never gets consumed, but also in terms of the staggering amount of resources thrown at stupid bullshit like war, paying CEOs, the elaborate and bloated system of brutal repression that keeps us all in our place, and Jersey Shore. Think about how much money is spent “rationalising” production – that is, in forcing workers to labour at the maximum pace, like robots or machines. Think about how much research goes into this kind of ‘managerial science,’ how much ‘consultants’ are paid to ‘restructure’ workplaces – maximising the output of single factories, throwing workers out of jobs, sucking the joy out of labour from those who keep their jobs – all for what? So that companies like McDonalds can turn a 646% profit on a filet-o-fish while paying their workers starvation wages. They tell us that they need to exploit us so heavily to keep the economy running – but they cannot even keep that promise. No ruling class in the developed world has been as successful in keeping wages down than the American ruling class – that did not stop the recession in 2008, and it hasn’t prevented the current ‘recovery’ from being the slowest and shallowest since the second world war.

In place of this conspiracy of chaos, socialism offers rational, democratic planning. In the place of the sham democracy offered by capitalism which maintains the dictatorship of the bosses over all of the most vital aspects, socialism demands the complete democratization of social production. To paraphrase Engels, in place of the domination of persons, socialism offers the administration of things, and the conduct of processes of production. We see the beginnings of such democratic and collective planning more often then you might think. To use Egypt again, think about the way the demonstrators more or less spontaneously organised for food, security, first aid, and the like. Or think about factory occupations. Or even co-ops. In these situations people get what they need not because they can pay for it, but because their fellows have organized to make what they need available. How simple this is. The economy of such a set up is completely transparent. Compare this to 2008 where more homes stood empty than there were homeless people, but nobody was housed — why? Certainly not because the police were throwing people out of their homes, chalk it up to the mysteries of the market. To the problem of homelessness, socialists propose a radical solution: put the homeless into the homes. How many people lost their job while factories stood idle and raw materials were dumped or allowed to rust? Another extremist solution: open the factories, let the workers in. Let them make the things that people need, let the people who need them acquire them — a child would think this obvious, but to capitalism, if a profit cannot be made then let people and materials just rot. Perhaps what I am proposing sounds impossible, but we manage such miracles everyday. Most major corporations are massive economies unto themselves, involving the distribution of parts, the movement of materials, the coordination of extensive networks of labour: does one side of a factory sell to another? Does one Ford plant sell to another? Of course not: they manage production BEFORE their cars get to the market the same way a household does — by figuring out what supplies are needed, what tasks have to be done and by when and then getting them done. A capitalist enterprise is like a family with an abusive and dictatorial patriarch forcing everyone else to do his bidding — we should do to the bosses what we should do to abusive husbands or fathers: kick em to the curb, and organise our lives along loving and practical cooperation.

My proposal depends primarily upon the struggle of the working class for self-emancipation. One of the reasons that the working class is in a position to wage and to win such a struggle is that the things that they do their work on are not easily divided for personal use. You can’t just cut up a modern workplace into self sustaining bits. So their labour is inescapably cooperative. Like any exploited class, the proletariat have an interest in first improving the conditions of their exploitation and finally of ending it completely. Their individual weakness and their shared class interests also make their forms of resistance spontaneously cooperative in a uniquely democratic way.

Several things can get in the way of this spontaneous democratic impulse, union bureaucracy for example. Nevertheless, this kind of democracy has been a feature of almost every major social convulsion that workers have been involved in. This is because when workers organise independently for their own interests they can only do so as equals (that is they are equally dispossessed of the means of production). Workers’ councils have therefore, historically, been the characteristic form of such independent self-organisation. These councils, arising more or less spontaneously from the practical requirements of the struggle are what workers use to coordinate that struggle, to deliberate and make political decisions, and to share information but also simply to keep themselves fed, to organise the defence against the police and strike breakers, or even the military. We’ve seen such councils arise in France, Russia, Germany, Chile, Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Finland, Iran, The United State, and in embryo, in Egypt.

The capitalist organisation of production has meant that workers must struggle together, not only within a workplace, but across workplaces. Capitalism frequently makes it both necessary and possible for the working class to offer a single united front against the ruling class. Workers councils therefore become the instrument of working class power and an alternative structure by which to manage society – democratically, and from below.

In the course of this, we often see capitalist use lock-outs against workers. But this is a double edged sword. Occasionally, workers respond to lockouts by taking over the factories and running it themselves. Workers control – organised through such councils – cuts against the division of material and intellectual labour and makes the workers both producers and overseers of the production process. And this potential is ultimately the basis of socialism.

This kind of thoroughgoing democracy is what socialism offers in place of capitalism. The question, “what would socialism look like?” is unanswerable concretely because people will for the first time be empowered to freely, collectively, and consciously shape society – socialism will look like, whatever a liberated humanity wants it too look like.

But, wait! There’s more. So far, we’ve only talked about taking over the means of production from the capitalists. But it has to be understood that these are not simply neutral instruments. Most of the time they are designed to reduce the part played by the worker to the most minimal contribution. To reduce the actions of the worker to the most robotic, repetitive, movements set at an inhuman pace. We have already seen that most of the 83% of the world’s production has gone to enriching the very rich. If we got rid of those parasites and redirected all that time and resources towards meeting the needs of everyone generally, we could all work far less. There could be so much more time for play, self development, and leisure. But with the democratic control of the means of production comes the opportunity to transform labour processes. To maximise the satisfaction we get out of making things, interacting with people, feeding people, caring for people. The sorts of rewards that prevail in art and craft: the sense of concretely expressing your creative powers, of collaborating productively with people who share your interests, and of making things that you yourself value and feel proud of – that could become true for all production.

Imagine a world where labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want – not only a means of gaining satisfying goods, but satisfying in its own right. Under capitalism, we waste half our waking day frustrating our creative powers, degrading our abilities, and just plain bored. All our lives are spent shackled to the profits of others. Imagine a world dedicated instead to human joy.


"The Soviet Union played a heroic role in combating the evil of fascism, as well as in helping to topple the colonialist powers. It also featured the kind of solidarity among its citizens that Western nations seem able to muster only when they are killing the natives of other lands. All this, to be sure, is no substitute for freedom, democracy and vegetables in the shop, but neither is it to be ignored."


Eagleton, Terry, Why Marx Was Right (Yale University Press, 2011) p.5 (via fuckyeahdialectics)

Goddam it, Eagleton has published some facile bullshit in his day, but this takes the fucking cake.

Source: fuckyeahdialectics

A few notes on Lenin's "Testament"




Aye - trots often like to wheel this out, but I doubt many of them have actually read what lenin wrote, there is absolutely nothing new in there, no criticism of war communism or anything like that….people seem to think that because he railed against “bureacratism” in the party that he was predicting the stuff trotsky wrote about in “the revolution betrayed” - but those opinions were pretty standard - Stalin railed against bureaucracy himself, constantly.

I’m a ‘trot’ — more, or less — but i can’t even remember the last time i had to talk or think about Lenin’s Testament. I know Trotsky himself retrospectively turned it into a big deal, and from the IS, Cliff talked about it every now and then. the latter was WAY before my time. Most of the people I’ve ever spoken to about the Testament (there haven’t been too many) weren’t particularly impressed with his letters on Stalin. Which makes sense, since if you actually read them, they turn out to be little more than an assessment of his character. He calls for Stalin to be demoted, but not because he is in a position that allows him to lead a rising class of bureaucrats. He calls for Stalin’s demotion because he worries that Stalin’s bad personality will precipitate a split. Once you’ve got the ‘avoid a split at all costs’ goal in mind, Trotsky and Krupskaya’s willingness to help suppress the document make perfect sense — this was clearly a better method for preventing a split. Unfortunately, a split at this point might actually have done some good, although, even that is far from clear.

So, I guess I agree, I’m just not sure which actually living ‘Trots’ are being talked about?

Here’s a link to Lenin’s Testament if anyone’s interested

The trots I had in mind were the ones I used to be in a party with, and subsequent things I’ve read, I think it’s often cited because it fits so neatly in with the ‘love Lenin - hate Stalin’ Trotskyist narrative - for example Paul D’Amato is a very influential american Trot who writes:

at the end of his life in 1924, Lenin wrote a testament demanding Stalin’s removal from power. 

which isn’t true, he suggested his removal from the post of Secretary General specifically, not that he be ‘removed from power’ and he made clear it was just because of his lack of caution and rude personality, which Lenin even feels the need to describe as “quite tolerable… in dealing among us Communists”. Quite nice of him seeing as he was dictating this a few words at a time.

Just because he’d be a bad Secretary General doesn’t mean he should be removed from his other, very powerful posts…Stalin had State roles as well as Party ones,  for example Stalin was at the time Peoples Commissar in charge of the People’s Commissariat for Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, which, if you read the Testament note dated 29th of December, Lenin wanted to merge with the CC…He wanted it to be a source of many new Central Committee members, and therefore more powerful than it already was. . It’s therefore not true that Lenin wanted Stalin “removed from power” - ironically D’Amato’s article is called “Behind the slander and lies about Lenin”…pah

well, shit. Guess there are still serious Marxists that bang on about the “Testament.” 


A few notes on Lenin's "Testament"


Aye - trots often like to wheel this out, but I doubt many of them have actually read what lenin wrote, there is absolutely nothing new in there, no criticism of war communism or anything like that….people seem to think that because he railed against “bureacratism” in the party that he was predicting the stuff trotsky wrote about in “the revolution betrayed” - but those opinions were pretty standard - Stalin railed against bureaucracy himself, constantly.

I’m a ‘trot’ — more, or less — but i can’t even remember the last time i had to talk or think about Lenin’s Testament. I know Trotsky himself retrospectively turned it into a big deal, and from the IS, Cliff talked about it every now and then. the latter was WAY before my time. Most of the people I’ve ever spoken to about the Testament (there haven’t been too many) weren’t particularly impressed with his letters on Stalin. Which makes sense, since if you actually read them, they turn out to be little more than an assessment of his character. He calls for Stalin to be demoted, but not because he is in a position that allows him to lead a rising class of bureaucrats. He calls for Stalin’s demotion because he worries that Stalin’s bad personality will precipitate a split. Once you’ve got the ‘avoid a split at all costs’ goal in mind, Trotsky and Krupskaya’s willingness to help suppress the document make perfect sense — this was clearly a better method for preventing a split. Unfortunately, a split at this point might actually have done some good, although, even that is far from clear.

So, I guess I agree, I’m just not sure which actually living ‘Trots’ are being talked about?


To my comrades, of any party or none

The epitaph of the SWP has been written. How long will this necrotic tissue poison the British left?


 In 1919, Walter Gropius, putting on his best hierophant’s voice, declared that the goal of the Bauhaus was to help create a new unified art (reaching its apogee in Gropius’ own discipline, architecture) “which will rise one day towards heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.” In the process, architecture and the ‘fine arts’ would be restored to a state of grace from which they had fallen. They would be “rescued” from their respective “isolation” in the Goshen of the “salon” and given back their “architectonic spirit.”1

Although this proclamation, which was accompanied by Lyonel Feiniger’s woodcut, “Cathedral of Socialism,” was more headily messianic in its tone than was typical for Gropius, it was dealing with issues that had already concerned him before the German Revolution, before even the first world war, and which would continue to concern him all his life.

In “The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus,” written four years after the “Proclamation,” Gropius once again returned to the subject, more systematically and at greater length. Here we learn that the “’academy’”

shut off the artist from the world of industry and handicraft, and thus brought about his complete isolation from the community. In vital epochs, on the other hand, the artist enriched all the arts and crafts of a community because he had a part in its vocational life…
With the development of the academies genuine folk art died away. What remained was a drawing room art detached from life.

Worse, the “lack of all vital connection with the life of the community led inevitably to barren aesthetic speculation” on the part of fine artists. For Gropius, art has suffered a “disastrous secession … from the workaday life of the people” so that our entire aesthetic life is impoverished.2

In registering this impoverishment, Gropius was standing in an honourable and, by then, well established tradition stretching through the architect and designer, Henry van de Velde and going at least as far back as William Blake. Although the issue is rarely spoken of in the dire apocalyptic terms of a Blake or a Gropius, it is in fact an anxiety that continues to be felt to this day, and several attempts have been made to explain its existence which cut rather deeper than Gropius’.

Terry Eagleton suggests that the retreat of art from life into an autonomous existence is a kind of pressure release valve for humanity’s aesthetic impulses which are not easily accommodated by the narrow (and typically philistine) instrumentality of commodity production. For Eagleton, “Art comes to signify pure supplementarity, that marginal region of the affective/instinctual/non-instrumental which a reified rationality finds difficulty incorporating.” But this occurs precisely via art’s integration “into the capitalist mode of production” because when art becomes, in and of itself, a commodity, “it is released” from its older ties to the world.3

Esther Leslie, channelling Walter Benjamin, suggests that the retreat of art into itself can be understood in terms of a “schism within the bourgeois class.” The isolated artist is here the figure of the “critical bourgeois bohemian” in “defiance against philistine segments of the class” who come to regard the producers of art as “redundant” and perhaps too devoted to ideals to be quite trustworthy.4

Both authors equate this phenomenon with the “moment of modernity.”5

It is clear that any systematic history of the divorce of art from life would have to take into account both these arguments, among others. Nevertheless, what both Leslie and Eagleton show is that the divorce of art from life is a structural tendency for our aesthetic life under capitalism, although one which unfolds unevenly and over time. To historicise this further, it is surely significant that even in Germany the two people generally credited with bringing attention to this divorce are English: John Ruskin and William Morris6. England had had its bourgeois revolution long before Germany finally overthrew the Kaiser, and it was also in England that the Industrial Revolution began – it is hardly surprising, therefore, that England would also engender the first protests against that period’s effects upon the aesthetic life of its people (although it is true that Morris would only gain the theoretical framework with which he thought through this protest via his engagement with the ideas of a German revolutionary: Karl Marx).

And it is in Morris’ life, work and writing that Gropius, as well as the rest of the staff and students at the Bauhaus, would have had the first model for the “reunion between creative artists and the industrial world”7 which was so sought after. Morris gives three closely interrelated reasons for what he regarded as the degraded state of the so-called “decorative arts,”8 the first is capitalist alienation which makes labour into a drudge and so obviates the very possibility of art in its products (Morris, after Ruskin, defines art as “man’s expression of his joy in labour.”). According to Morris, the “modern state of society,” is therefore “founded on the art-lacking or unhappy labour of the greater part of men.”9

The second has to do with the priorities of capitalist production – put briefly, profits. And the third is the net result of the development of the division of labour, aided by the particular form in which capitalism develops the forces of production (especially machinery). Morris predicted that the full development of this system would lead to production owned by a ruling class blind to ugliness and indifferent to beauty and managed by technicians directing a labour process so thoroughly routinised that no space could be required (or even desired) for the labourer’s skill and intelligence.10

Morris’ solution to this was the famous workshops of the Firm of Morris & Co. in which the division of labour was reduced to a minimum and every worker trained to be skilled in as much of the production process as possible11 – that is to say, Morris’ solution was craft work. Although craft was also to play its role in the Bauhaus, the simple factor of time and development meant that handiwork could not possibly be imagined as a commercially viable basis on which to build a unification of art with life that would have any meaning for the aesthetic life of the German people. Morris’ model, which never produced affordable work in mass quantities, could not reasonably be transplanted into the Germany of the 20s.

Gropius created a school centred around craft workshops under the twin direction of a form master and a craft master, with the intention of allowing students to synthesise the abilities of both in their own practice. Gropious, who in the “Proclamation” wrote, “Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all turn to the crafts,” probably thought of this process in terms of art becoming productive – but in fact, it would be more accurate to say that it tried to make production into art. It is clear enough from the way the Bauhaus was run that Gropius regarded craft as being aesthetically empty. The purpose of the craft masters was to provide what was thought of as purely technical know-how for the workshops, they “were not included in the Masters’ Council; they had no votes, and were consulted only as occasional advisers.”12 Eva Forgacs even quotes Gropius as saying “the composition corresponds to the historical evolution of the Bauhaus, which owes its concept and inception not to craftsmen but to artists … And this is a spiritual, not a technical, concept.”13 The role of craft training is therefore merely to familiarise the students with the nature of materials and processes so that they would possess in themselves a total understanding of production – the better to design for production. For Gropius, the “craft workshops [should] develop into industrial laboratories: from their experimentation will evolve standards for industrial production.”14

The obviousness of this solution prevents us from seeing its true audacity. Gropius was thoroughly aware of the anxieties regarding division of labour in the factory:

The principal difference between factory production and handicraft lies … in the fact that in the factory each operation involved in manufacturing a product is performed by a different man, whereas the craft product is made entirely by one person.15

But if Morris believed that this division of labour was partly responsible for the sorry aesthetic quality of its products and therefore needed to be resisted, Gropius solution is to follow this division all the way through. He was essentially theorising a new branch of labour emerging at this time within the total social division of labour: aesthetic labour. Paradoxically, it is precisely by accepting the reifying logic of capitalist production which threatened to expunge art from everyday life that art’s place there could be guaranteed.

The formal implications of this strategy are perhaps best exemplified in the chairs of Marcel Breuer. His tubular chairs in particular (figure 1), which he began to develop in 1925, represent a high watermark for clean and efficient modernist design. They are constructed from extruded and bent metal tubes, making use of no more nor less material than was strictly required for comfort and stability, and stretched fabric made from steel-thread for the seat and back rest. The Bauhaus’ insistence on familiarity with materials and techniques is clearly on display in the soundness of its design and the innovative use of the chrome-plated tubes, while its pleasing and unassuming neatness display an elegance and facility with form that is still imitated today.


No doubt with such objects in mind, Forgacs claims that the “Bauhaus objects made” in this period are “flexible,” “graceful,” and possess an “aesthetic appeal”16 – she is wrong on two counts. The first is in her definition of ‘aesthetic appeal’ which here can only mean roughly ‘nice looking.’ She is thus operating under a fairly careless understanding of the aesthetic (which I have also had to make some use of in this essay), but if by ‘aesthetic appeal,’ we were to mean instead an appeal to the affective or the libidinal (which Eagleton suggests we should), then it would have to be pointed out that this is precisely what the designers of the Bauhaus had managed to expunge from their designs by the mid to late twenties.

Secondly, she is making a category error. To understand this, and in order, furthermore, to understand the transformation that art underwent in its attachment to industrial design at the Bauhaus, it is useless to look at a single chair: Breuer’s chairs do not have a singular existence; we need to view them en masse (figure 2). In their multiplied, reiterated, existence, the chairs become abstractions of themselves. The objects, as it were, are not the real thing. Breuer’s ‘chair’ would not be diminished by the destruction of a single unit, nor by any number of units, nor by every last tubular chair in existence. Breuer’s chair is not in the objectly chair, but in its design, which has acquired a Platonic, metaphysical existence that makes the actual chairs the equivalent of so many (exactly identical) flickering shadows on the walls of a cave. Whatever charms it may possess belong properly to this essence, the concrete objects are rather the medium by which we access these charms.


The technical requirements of elevating the idea of an object into its unalterable code that must be transcribed without error or mutation by material production, means that as a technical practice, the development of design itself comes to mirror the development of machinery under capitalism already touched on in the discussion of Morris’ production philosophy. As Harvey Braverman points out, under the rule of capital,

Machinery comes into the world not as the servant of “humanity,” but as the instrument of those to whom the accumulation of capital gives the ownership of the machines. The capacity of humans to control the labour process through machinery is seized upon by management from the beginning of capitalism as the prime means whereby production may be controlled not by the direct producer but by the owners and representatives of capital.

Thus, the unifying feature of mechanisation in the factory is

the progressive elimination of the control function of the worker, insofar as possible, and their transfer to a device which is controlled, again insofar as possible, by management from outside the direct process.17

For Braverman, therefore, (as for Morris) the development of mechanisation in the factory exacerbates the reification of labour precisely because machinery takes the form of capital – by definition, an instrument for the domination of labour.

Gropius and the Bauhaus designers turned this into a virtue. As Marcel Fransiscono observes,

for Gropius the advantage of [mechanisation] lies just in its assurance that the designer’s intentions will be carried out to the last detail and not left to the mercies of incompetent or indifferently minded artisans.18

Breuer’s tubular chairs, built from homogenised materials along a regular and machine formed geometry, are designed precisely to allow and to demand exact repetition at every step of the production process.19 And although this is in one sense an understandable desire on the part of an artist eager to preserve the integrity of his work – we should remember that the choice to accept the role of ‘aesthetic labourer’ as separate from material production was a deliberate one on the part of the Bauhaus.20 Furthermore, although this choice was more or less inevitable given their goal to bring art into industry, this goal itself was not entirely innocent. It was in fact part of a liberal nationalism which wanted “quality work,” at least in part because this was “necessary in order to compete in foreign markets.”21

It seems, therefore, that the betrothal of art to industry effected by the Bauhaus came at a heavy price – and this has to do, in part, with the inability of its theoreticians to see the possibilities of craft as a distinct aesthetic practice and strategy. The progression of Bauhaus chairs once again offers a demonstration of this. In 1926, Breuer prepared a tongue-in-cheek film strip which he titled “A Bauhaus Movie lasting five years,” and listed the author as “life demanding its rights;” a different chair is in each frame of the strip and every chair is attached to a year (figure 3). The first is his oppressively solid “African chair” of 1921; this is followed by the much more pleasant and comfortable looking “chair with coloured wool straps,” which he made with Gunta Stolzl dated 1921 ½; followed by one of Breuer’s “easy chairs,” 1924; then by Erich Dickmann’s “kitchen chair,” which shares the year 1925 with the chair that follows it; one of Breuer’s early “Wassily chairs;” and the final frame is an image of a woman sitting cross legged, suspended in the air, given the date 19??.


Two parallel, and I believe intertwined, progressions are apparent in the film strip. The first is the increasing de-materialisation of the chairs, culminating in the image of a woman sitting on nothing at all. The second is the movement from craft to industrial design. This begins with the African chair, folky, mawkish, ostentatiously a craft object (if not a very good one) is followed by the three lighter constructions (or perhaps, deconstructions) more and more borrowing the spare, geometric vocabulary of modernist design but still produced by the artists themselves, and finally ends with the industrially manufactured Wassily chair.

The link between these two progressions is provided by Breuer himself, who wrote:

A piece of furniture is … in itself impersonal, it takes on meaning only from the way it is used or as part of a complete scheme.
… It must be able to serve both those needs which remain constant and those which vary. This variation is possible only if the very simplest and most straightforward pieces are used…22

For Breuer, therefore, furniture’s only goal is functionality. It accomplishes this goal, as we have seen, via the instrumentalised efficiency of its production, but also by being itself unobtrusive, invisible (and what better way to achieve this than by replacing the chair with air?).

The kind of relationship to the work required to produce such an aesthetic is, in my view, precisely one which already sees the work as essentially un-material. What is required is that such psychological investment as the artist makes is placed not in the executed objects but in their intellectual conception. Craft works very much in contradistinction to this.

Forgacs opines that “craftsmanship is not merely style and technique, but an approach as well, a worldview embraced by the traditional folk artist, and craft methods cannot create anything contrary to the craft worldview, or transcending it.”23 Apart from the lazy equation of craft with folk art, I am not really sure what any of that is supposed to mean. She seems, in effect, to be accusing craft of being ineluctably reactionary – but whatever the claim exactly is, any survey of contemporary studio crafts would probably convince her that it is less than accurate. What she gets right, however, is that there is an ethos indigenous to craft production and which is distinct from the ethos apparent in the kind of industrial design exemplified by Beuer.

The contrast between this design ethos and the one which Gropius himself attributes to craft production could not be more stark:

The craftsmen sit between the doors of their stalls and [their] work. When a stranger asks about the price of their wares, they answer in a sullen monotone; for they are in love with their work and will not be disturbed. They part only unwillingly even from their finished work.24

Because craft lacks the division between the one who conceives and the one who executes the work, it is necessarily devoted to the material production of objects. Gropius’ craft worker, in fact, is so invested in the objects they produce (via their unalienated labour), and is apparently so little enamoured of functionality, that they are hardly willing to sell them at all: a step which would be necessary if the object’s potential to function is ever to be activated. Without taking the exaggerations of the fable too seriously, the point still stands: contrary to popular belief, craft, as an aesthetic practice, does not necessarily fetishise functionality. Function is not its goal, it is its idiom and the typical arena in which it does its aesthetic labour. It works precisely by what it does in excess of functionality.25

In fact, with its obdurate refusal of industrial divisions of labour, craft processes are by definition obsolescent in relation to the average standards of capitalist productivity – it already requires an investment of labour greater than the average. More importantly, precisely because its aesthetic work exists in its objectly self and not in its design or conception, it cannot afford to be invisible. Craft objects must insist, as the ‘fine arts’ do, upon a response to them that is conscious and operates at the level of the “affective/instinctual/non-instrumental” which Eagleton insists belongs to a more fully developed aesthetic life – but which, unlike the operation of the ‘fine arts,’ is situated in the ‘workaday life’ of its users. That such a production practice would be absolutely incapable of penetrating widely into people’s general lives under capitalism may at this point be taken for granted.

It seems therefore that we are left with two alternatives to art’s divorce from everyday life. The first, is a design practice which rescues the aesthetic for life, but only at the expense of truncating it drastically – and which, moreover, is dependent (to varying degrees) upon capitalist reification. The second, is a studio craft practice which resists reification and attempts to prefigure in some dim way an aesthetic life unmarked by art’s retreat from the world but which is from the beginning incapable of actually producing that life at a general level.

Gropius banned politics at the Bauhaus,26 in so doing he cut the school off from participating in the only process that could have broken the Gordian Knot presented by these two alternatives. It is tempting and amusing to argue, in moralistic fashion, that the Bauhaus should have raised a slogan such as ‘Neither craft nor design, but social revolution,’ but the truth of the matter is that this would not have saved Germany from Fascism nor the bungling leadership provided by the revolutionary wing of the German working class (the various anarchists, left communists, and Spartacists) or the disastrous advice of the Comintern.27

The most likely result of greater radicalism on the part of the Bauhaus staff is simply that they would have been shut down sooner. What we got instead was one of the most productive experiments in industrial design of the twentieth century – and the one which made all subsequent experiments possible. Whatever else one might think of the Bauhaus, its politics, its ethos, or even its products – that is no mean achievement.

1Walter Gropius, “The First Proclamation of the Weimar Bauhaus” in Bauhaus 1919-1928 ed. Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius (Boston: Charles T. Banford Company, 1959), p. 16.

2Walter Gropius, “The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus” in Bauhaus 1919-1928 ed. Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius (Boston: Charles T. Banford Company, 1959), pp. 21-24.

3Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), pp. 367-368.

4Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (London: Pluto Press, 2000), p. 184.

5Eagleton, Ideology of the Aesthetic, p. 368. Leslie writes “Modernism begins in this period of coerced marginalization” – which she dates as being around 1852 in the France of Napoleon III (p. 184).

6The are explicitly named in “The Theory and Organization,” p. 21.


8He defines these in contradistinction to “Intellectual” art, which “addresses itself wholly to our mental needs … the [Decorative Arts], though so much of it as is art does appeal to the mind, is always a part of things which are intended primarily for the service of the body.” William Morris, “Art Under Plutocracy” in Political Writings of William Morris ed. A.L. Morton (New York: International Publishers, 1973), p. 59.

9Ibid. p. 67. This is one of those instances where the fashion of using ‘man’ as a stand-in for the species is not only irritating, but actually obscures the meaning. Should we translate his definition as “humanity’s expression of joy in its (collective) labour” or as “a human being’s expression of joy in their labour”? This is an elision of some importance. It would be nice to excuse this phallocentricism on his times, but, in point of fact, Morris was a sexist even by the relatively low standard set by the socialist left of the 1880’s.

10Ibid. p. 70-72.

11E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary 1st American edition (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), p.104-105.

12Eva Forgacs, The Bauhause Idea and Bauhaus Politics Trans. John Batki (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1995), p. 46.

13Gropius, “An die Werkstattenleiter’, 22 April 1922, Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin, Gropius documents, unit no. 7/5, quoted in ibid. p. 47.

14Gropius, “The Theory and Organisation” p. 25.

15Ibid. p. 25.

16Forgacs, The Bauhaus Idea, p. 200.

17Harvey Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degredation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), pp. 193 and 212. This is not some conspiracy on the part of the bosses and managers to inflict malicious psychological torture upon their workers, but it does strengthen the hand of capital against labour. Under these conditions, ‘specialisation’ also tends to imply de-skilling. A worker may specialise in pulling a lever at just the right time for eight hours a day, but however essential this task may be, the worker herself only becomes more replaceable for it.

18Marcel Fransiscono, Walter Gropius and the creation of the Bauhaus in Weimar: The ideals and artistic theories of its founding years (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971) p. 33.

19The fact that both the machine and forms designed for machine production take on the role of capital is almost certainly the reason that so many Romantics (Ruskin, Leach) have turned to handwork as a kind of salvific production practice. As Marx notes, compulsory – alienated – labour is experienced as a loss of one’s essential powers (1844 Manuscripts). But there are also degrees of alienation; the more automatised the labourer’s actions, the more totally controlled from above, the more un-free it is in every instance, the less will the product of that labour be an objectification of the worker’s powers and abilities (which are, in turn, reduced to almost nothing). It is the case that most machines and many modern materials are designed precisely to cut the direct producer off from their product, whereas certain materials and processes are by their nature less homogenised and more recalcitrant. Working with such materials and processes necessarily means that each act of production is somewhat distinct from every other. This in turn requires the direct producer to make certain decisions afresh every time – in other words, to apply their skills and knowledge to the subtly different problems posed by each distinct act of production. It is this character which makes them relatively resistant to total reification and open to variability. Such processes are obviously not suited to ‘total management’ by people standing above the workforce and so are comparatively unattractive for capitalist industry. For this reason, it has generally been left to the crafts and artisan labour to explore their aesthetic potential. The studio crafts in particular have an advantage in that the practitioners are their own bosses (it is unalienated labor), and therefore are in command of the total production process, including its contingencies. No wonder such labour is seen as being more fully the expression of the labourer. I suspect that this, probably more than anything else, is the rational kernel behind the romanticism surrounding the hand – but it is not the hand per se, it is the conditions of production in their totality.

20Forgacs, The Bauhaus Idea, p. 104.

21Fransiscono, Walter Gropius, p. 19.

22Marcel Breuer, “Bibl. no. 15” in Bauhaus 1919-1928 ed. Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius (Boston: Charles T. Banford Company, 1959), p. 126.

23Forgacs, The Bauhaus Idea, p. 105.

24Walter Gropius, “Baugeist oder Kramertum?” Die Schuhwelt (Pirmasens), no. 37 (October 15, 1919), p. 821. in Marcel Fransiscono, Walter Gropius and the creation of the Bauhaus in Weimar: The ideals and artistic theories of its founding years (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971) p. 19.

25I am not aware of any theorist of craft that has put this case quite this baldly. The closest approximate to this formulation that I have come across is Theodore Adorno’s riff on Kant: “purposefulness without purpose is … really the sublimation of purpose” from Adorno “Functionalism Today” in Craft in Theory ed. Glenn Adamson (Oxford: Berg, 2010) p. 398. Leach however does criticise the Bauhaus potters for excessive ‘functionalism’ and joyless design, Leach, A Potter’s Book (London: Faber and Faber, 1976.), p.15.

26Forgacs, The Bauhaus Idea, p. 41.

27The best history of the defeat of the German Revolution is Pierre Broue, The German Revolution: 1917-1923, trans. John Archer (Leiden: Brill, 2005)


Antisocial Psychology : Mediations : Journal of the Marxist Literary Group

This looks like it’s going to be very interesting!





Red Witches Press is now taking orders!(:

Orders will start shipping out tomorrow!

Everyone seemed so hyped up about the distro so Rowen and I decided to just say fuck it and unveil it tonight. Keep in mind if you order zines, they won’t be printed until tomorrow. Hope you enjoy it!

redwitches will win 

Source: redwitchespress

 Every annual report from the Tate Gallery’s Board of Trustees summarises its ‘Aims and Objectives’ by making reference to the gallery as a public good: The Tate’s goal, “drawn from the 1992 Museums and Galleries Act, is to increase the public’s understanding and enjoyment of British art from the sixteenth century to the present day and of international modern and contemporary art.”1 The Tate’s director, Nicholas Serota, has taken the time to translate this into a form that better captures its spirit: “Public collections,” he argues,

are expressions of the identity of a community, whether it be local, regional, national, or occasionally international …
The existence of a public collection necessitates and nurtures study and research, gathering of knowledge, and a developing appreciation of ourselves and of our relation to each other. Our understanding of our own strengths, achievements, and limitations is profoundly affected by awareness of earlier cultures and societies. 2

If any gallery can plausibly claim to be an ‘expression’ of such an expansive community, it is surely the Tate. For the past ten financial years, the Tate (all four taken together) has consistently been far and away the most popular gallery in the United Kingdom, receiving over 7 million visitors for every financial year from 2006 to 2013, and there is every reason to believe that 2013/14 will see it reach this number once again. The Tate Modern alone, receiving an average of 4.8 million people yearly over this period, is rivalled only by the British Museum (5.4 million) and the National Gallery (4.7 million). By comparison, the V&A averages just over 2.8 million.3

Serota’s argument does not merely claim that public collections, such as those of the Tate, are simply passive expressions of the community. For Serota, they necessitate, nurture, develop and affect the community’s collective knowledge and understanding of itself. Not everyone is as optimistic as Serota about the implications of this thought. The trustees of the Tate are all appointed by government, all but one directly by the Prime Minister. The majority of them have direct links to the corporate sector, including, of course, the current chair, Lord Browne, who was British Petroleum’s chief executive from 1995 until his appointment to the board in 2007. Lord Browne’s appointment and election to the chair is no coincidence: BP is the Tate’s longest running corporate sponsor. Furthermore, the Tate currently receives 40% of its funding from the state, and the remaining 60% from non-government sources – BP being only one important sponsor in a long list of sponsors from the wealthiest segment of the corporate sector (note that admissions are the smallest source of ‘self-generated’ income for the gallery).4 The Tate, in other words, has deep institutional ties of friendship with and dependence upon the richest and most powerful people in Britain and indeed the world. It is therefore hardly surprising that the ideological work performed by the Tate, right down to the level of curatorial strategies, should be shaped by their interests.

BP’s brand name sits prominently among numerous displays and events, including ‘BP Saturdays’ a weekly event for children. By the same token, “the Gift,” a wind turbine blade donated in an act of guerrilla art installation by Liberate Tate to the gallery in 2012 as part of their campaign to force the Tate to divest itself from BP was rejected on the grounds that it was not “in line with the current strategy, commitments and priorities for the Collection” (although the supporting material was accepted into the Tate’s archives).5 These are not the first instances of the gallery making choices based on the interests of big business. As far back as 1984, a catalogue of work by Hans Haacke critical of Exxon and Mobil was pulled from circulation after bogus complaints from Mobil, which the gallery either did not bother to investigate at the time or did investigate but complied with anyway.6 The Tate would therefore seem to neatly fit Haacke’s description of major players in the ‘consciousness industry’ as ‘managers of consciousness’. In 1987, Haacke argued that

The adjustments that museums make in the selection and promotion of works for exhibition and the way they present them create a climate that supports prevailing distributions of power and capital and persuades the populace that the status quo is the natural and best order of things. Rather than sponsoring intelligent, critical awareness, museums thus tend to foster appeasement.7

Museums are therefore seen as major producers of consciousness and hegemony – and the more intimate their links to power, the more dangerous their influence is upon the populace. To put it in Marxist terms, such institutions help to cement the rule of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. This kind of left wing critique therefore begins from the same starting point of many museum directors: that these institutions play a major and quite direct role in the symbolic life of the national (or international) community as a whole. The statistics now commonly collected by governments and by major museums and galleries puts us in a new and better position to assess this assumption – because of the Tate’s popularity, it will be the principal focus of my analysis.8


Table 1: Demographic analysis of Tate visitors from 2006 to 2013 in 000s

The nature and limitations of the data (cf. endnote 8) strongly favour an analysis which focuses on the population of UK residents that actually visits the gallery spaces rather than international visitors or participants in Tate sponsored events outside of the gallery walls. It follows that I am looking at the ideological significance of the use made of these specific spaces for the national rather than the international population. Within these limitations, the data allows us to usefully ask “whose consciousness is the target of the Tate?” and “which communities are finding expression there?” and find a few precise answers.

Table 19 gives data aggregated from the Tate’s annual accounts from 2006 to 2013.* It is impossible not to notice how consistently under represented the NS-SEC groups 5-8 are. These groups comprise ‘lower supervisory and technical occupations’, ‘semi-routine occupations’, ‘routine occupations’, and ‘never worked and long-term unemployed’ – and thus map onto the Marxist class categories of the lower strata of the managerial middle class10, the working class, and the lumpenproletariat surprisingly well (this tells us something of the political interests of this population).


Graph 1: Visits by adults aged 16 and over from NS-SEC groups 5-8 by museum

As of the last census these groups together amounted to over 15.5 million people or 37.7% of the UK’s adult population;11 in comparison for the last 3 years, attendance from this group has been below 9% of the total domestic attendance at the Tate, and none of the available data ever puts it above 20%. The demographic data for museum and gallery attendance across the UK is not nearly as complete as those gathered by the Tate and use different measurements, but the “Taking Part” surveys for 2011/12 and 2012/13 allow for some rough comparisons. They show that among groups defined as of ‘moderate means’ and ‘hard pressed,’ 45% and 38.7% respectively visited a museum or gallery at least once between April 2012 and March 2013 – up from 42.7% and 32.5% in the previous twelve months. Narrow as this data is, the Tate shows a decline in museum attendance among lower socio-economic categories in this period.12 Furthermore, the most recent government measures for museum performance indicators demonstrate that although the Tate was the most visited of any government sponsored museum or gallery in the years 2010/11 and 2011/12, it performed relatively poorly compared to the other 16 sponsored institutions in attendance by people within the NS-SEC groups 5-8. As Graph 113 shows, the Tate’s share of visitors from this population was middling at best, and dwarfed by the National Museums of Liverpool and the National Museum of Science and Industry. The Tate is a clearly a gallery of the elites, even more so than most of the other sponsored institutions – although clearly the majority of gallery attendance by people in NS-SEC groups are not going to any of the major institutions.

Arguably as interesting as the data derived from the Tate’s official statistics is what cannot be derived at all. In compliance with performance indicators imposed by the DCMS, the Tate measures attendance from members of lower socio-economic groups, children, people with disabilities and from ethnic minorities. As Table 1 indicates, it is not performing brilliantly in most of these categories – although it is doing well enough to maintain government funding. But these categories themselves are never broken down; for example, of the visitors from ethnic minorities, we do not know how many were children, from overseas, or from NS-SEC groups 5-8 – presumably one person of colour is as good as another.

The Tate performs a large amount of qualitative research on its visitors using surveys and interviews. In comparison to this (voluntary) research, the quantitative data gives the impression of i’s dotted and t’s crossed but no more. In part thanks to its qualitative research, the Tate maintains a good rate of visitor satisfaction: the percentage of visitors surveyed who would recommend a visit to others is consistently in the 90s. The Tate takes great pains to respond and learn from this research14 but the previous discussion sheds a light on it that the Tate is not likely to explicitly discuss. The statistics clearly demonstrate that qualitative research performed with a sample population of a few dozen or even a few hundred may easily be composed entirely of white, able-bodied members of the ruling class and the upper strata of the middle class. It is from their input the the Tate learns to shape its curatorial strategies. This brings us back to Haacke’s “Museums as Managers of Consciousness.” The Tate’s popularity indicates the effectiveness of its qualitative research and curatorial strategies, strategies which Nick Prior has astutely summarised as “not just rest[ing] on the (curatorial) authority of its collection … but [which] finds ways of responding to the different frames of reference of its audience”15 – but this audience is emphatically not composed of the exploited and oppressed who need to be manipulated into giving consent.

The censorship which the Tate sometimes exercises, does not, therefore seem to have a great deal to do with what it does not want the nation as whole to hear or with presenting a coherent ideological front to the working class (with manufacturing consent) – rather, they are examples of what some members of the ruling class find themselves unwilling to say to other members of that same class. This suggests that, to the extent that it is at all accurate to claim that the Tate produces ideology for the working class, it is only via a conversation which some sections of the ruling class are having with other sections in the process of imagining to each other the world which they rule. Speaking in a functionalist vein, the Tate’s ideological production serves the symbolic/ ideological/ethical needs of the classes which actually participate directly in this production at and around the Tate, for whom the Tate acts as a repository and processing house of their symbolic resources.

Arguably, the longest running of these, conducted partly in the form of market research, has to do with the status of art itself as a symbolic resource which the ruling class needs, versus the marketable commodity which the ruling classes cannot stop themselves from turning it into. This perennial anxiety was underlined in the very first paragraph of the opening essay of the catalogue for the 2009 Tate Triennial: curators, claims Nicolas Bourriaud,

have an ethical duty not to let signs and images vanish into the abyss of indifference or commercial oblivion, to find words to animate them as something other than products destined for financial speculation or mere amusement.16

Prior suggests that the Tate is an exemplar of the strategies which museums are finding to deal with this problem. The museum “sets itself up for the critic as well as the tourist, the artist as well as the ‘ordinary’ visitor.”17 (65) Within limits, Prior is surely correct that the Tate must position its collection as polyvalent enough to be object of contemplation, spectacle, investment and/or consumption just as one pleases. But, this strategy is not necessarily stable nor was it automatically arrived at. The Tate, with other institutions, had to engage in symposia and forums (such as the one from which Serota’s position was quoted), market research, and empirical trial and error in order to get there. Perhaps the ‘solution’ which the Tate has employed to deal with the problems posed by the interpenetration of commodity exchange and the art world allows it, for the moment, to sustain its collection as a symbolic resource and develop it as a marketing tool simultaneously — but it is not necessarily the solution favoured by other art institutions (the Guggenheim, for example). If the maw of ‘commercial oblivion’ threatens to drain the art world of its meanings, this is not a danger that can be skirted by clever curatorcraft. It is rather an existential fact for art under capitalism; while it is true that capitalism will never totally annihilate art as a symbolic resource simply because humans are symbolic creatures, negotiating this tendency has become the central concern for the conscientious art director. (Ultimately, though, only socialism can rescue meaning for art)

The curatorial practices of the Tate might best be seen as an intervention – on this issue and many others besides – by fractions of a ruling class which is divided along sectional interests. Since this is a conversation to which the exploited and oppressed are not generally privy, in addition to the usual and vital practice of ideological critique which uncovers what is not-said or hidden by a text, we should ‘read’ the Tate also for what it reveals and listen for what we might over hear. Furthermore, given that this conversation is only possible on the basis of the social surplus created by the exploited classes perhaps an even more mischievous reading practice is in order: one which wilfully ‘misunderstands’ in order to misappropriate these same resources for our ends. Perhaps there is a possibility that – if only we could find ways to steal them – the symbolic resources so carefully cultivated and domesticated by the likes of British Petroleum nevertheless have something to offer the rest of us who have interests entirely antagonistic to theirs or who believe, with Liberate Tate, that the world will not be safe while BP exists in it.

*The data from the Annual Accounts reports for 2008-2009 are inconsistent with those of 2009-10. The latter gives a figure of 558 for NS-SEC groups 5-8 attendance in 2009, rather than the more generous 857. Although I have opted to use the larger figure given by the 2008-2009 reports, it should be noted that the figures for this category in all subsequent years are consistently below 400. The data for attendance by ethnicity is also inconsistent for this same year. The 2009-10 annual report gives 428 for 2009 rather than 746.

1The Tate Gallery, The Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery Annual Accounts 2012-2013 (London: The Stationery Office, 2013) p. 3

2Nicholas Serota, “Why Save Art for the Nation?”, Curator: The Museum Journal 48, no. 1 (January 2005) p. 14-15

3Comparisons and averages derived from: Department for Culture, Media and Sports, Museums and galleries monthly visits October 1, 2013

4This information is available on the Tate website at and, information regarding the relative importance of admission to special exhibitions was based on the last report of the Annual Accounts.

5Nicholas Serota, personal communication to Liberate Tate, September 25, 2012. Accessed: October 26, 2013,

6Hans Haacke, “Lessons learned” Tate Papers: Landmark Exhibitions Issue 12, (2009):

7Haacke, “Museums as Managers of Consciousness” in Hans Haacke, Unfinished Business (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987) p. 47

8A few comments on the nature of the data are in order. Numerically, the Tate receives between two to three times as many unique visitors to its website as physical visitors to its four physical galleries. In 2011, the year in which Tate Online saw the greatest number of unique visits – over 19 million, in comparison, there were just under 7.5 million physical visitors. This suggests, unsurprisingly, that the Internet is now a major site of ideological production, dissemination and consumption for the Tate. Unfortunately, the nature of the Internet is such that we know very little about these on-line visitors: whether they are from the UK or elsewhere, their race, gender, and class are all impossible to determine. Similarly, overseas visitors made up between 40% and 50% of the Tate’s visitors between 2008 and 2013 – but we know nothing about their age, race, origin or gender and can only make broad guesses regarding their class based on the fact that they can afford to travel. (Annual Accounts, from 2008-2009 to 2012-2013)Although it is clear that the Tate plays a major role in the international art scene, what this actually means for manufacturing consent at the level of a globalised capitalism cannot plausibly be approached from this data. For this reason, I will focus on the role the Tate plays within the UK, but even here we encounter some limitations. It is difficult to find data on Tate programs that extend beyond the walls of the gallery itself, for example, ARTIST ROOMS or educational programs in schools. What data is available, however, suggests that these are numerically far less important than the actual gallery spaces; the number of children who participated in Tate sponsored outreach programs reached a record 579 thousand children this year, more than double that of 2012 – but compare this with total gallery attendance from UK residents in 2013: over 4 million. Furthermore, we once again know nothing about these children (Annual Accounts 2012-2013, 12). Finally, we have absolutely no data on how Tate displays might affect public consciousness beyond Tate’s official Internet activities, its outreach programs, and the actual gallery displays: who reads the press releases and how? Who sees the advertisements? How many blog posts, tweets, or Facebook updates make reference to the Tate – and how significant would these be? In other words, we do not know much about the transmission belts that must exist between the ‘official’ life of the Tate and the rest of society.

9Data compiled from The Tate Gallery, The Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery Annual Accounts, 2005-2006 to 2012-2013

10It is true that not every Marxist agrees that it is possible to speak of a managerial middle class, but for useful analysis of this class category see: Guglielmo Carchedi, On the economic determination of social classes (London; Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977) and Alex Callinicos, “The ‘New Middle Class’ and socialist politics” in The changing working class: Essays on class structure today, Alex Callinicos and Chris Harman, (London: Bookmarks, 1987) p. 13-52

11Nomis official labour statistics, “Census 2011” accessed: October 26, 2013,

12Department for Culture, Media and Sports, Taking Part – Statistical Release June 2012, p . 21 and Taking Part 2012/13 Quarter 4 June 2013 p. 21

13Department for Culture, Media and Sports, Sponsored Museums: Performance Indicators 2011/12, October 23, 2012, (London:, 2012) p. 8, Figure 6.

14For an example see Barbara J. Soren, “Audience Research Informs Strategic Planning in Two Art Museums ,” Curator: The Museum Journal 43, no. 4 (October 2000). p. 324-342

15Nick Prior, “Having One’s Tate and Eating It” in Art and its Publics: Museum studies at the millennium, ed. Andrew McClellan (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p. 65

16Nicolas Bourriaud, “Altermodern” in Altermodern Tate Triennial ed. Nicolas Bourriaud (London: Tate Publishing, 2009) p. 11

17Prior, p. 65