Do Socialists Care About Culture?

At the 2001 Communist Party convention, the workshop on culture was standing room only. Everybody got to talk once; everybody had strong ideas. Ambition was boundless. People wanted to set up cultural centers in ever major city. Another interesting idea was to have a traveling cultural presentation that would tour America. Surprisingly, we didn’t spend a lot of time complaining about the popular capitalist culture, but spent a lot of time talking about our own rich working class culture and how to extend it.

All the plenary sessions had culture deliberately planned for. There were songs, media shows, graphics arts everywhere. So the answer is, “yeah.”


We Even Write Songs

George Meyers song “The Winning Side” The web host won’t let me load the whole thing, so I just put a verse.

When I heard that George Meyers was gravely ill, I wrote this little song to let him know how much he meant to me. I had known him about 15 years and always wondered why he was so cheerful. He had a lot of medical problems those last few years, he had already been through a prison term (“for thinking”) and the awful period of American history known as the witch hunt. When it dawned on me why he kept on smiling, it was one of the great lessons I had learned from the man. I taped the song and sent it to his hospital. A few days later, it came back unopened. George was gone.

But he certainly wasn’t forgotten. Every meeting I go to, they request the song. I even sang it at the convention.

Here are all the lyrics:

“The Winning Side”

We knew him when we saw him, by the smile upon his face

And we always knew he loved us, cause he loved the human race

Chorus: And they never stopped his smiling, no matter how they tried

Cause in his heart, he always knew, he was on the winning side


Oh the bosses thought they had him, when they threw him in a cell

But they didn’t know George Meyers, he just smiled and wished them well

And they never stopped his smiling, no matter how they tried

Cause in his heart, he always knew, he was on the winning side


When our thoughts come round to quitting, and our life is just a trial

We know we’ll go on trying, cause we’ll see George Meyers’ smile

And they’ll never stop our fighting, our love won’t be denied

George Meyers, is in our hearts, and we’re on the winning side!

And they’ll never stop our fighting, our love won’t be denied

George Meyers, you’re in our hearts, and we’re on the winning side!

--Jim Lane


Yes, They Do!

I posted a note on the Pre-convention discussion board on Yahoo asking folks to contribute their opinions on “culture.” There were lots of fantastic responses. One outstanding artist wrote:


“Yes, our Party needs to have more and more info available on those artists whom are fighting the good fight. Jello Biafra is a great example, as is Ani DiFranco (another writer spoke of her new release recently). And we can not forget that old timers like Pete Seeger continue to be of monumental importance.”


Here’s a fine one: “I'm glad this subject has been brought up. What do we mean by "culture" and why is it important? Most of us think of music or expensive art but culture includes everything from architecture to language to the fine arts. Culture defines who we see ourselves as and it is culture that we act out of. Culture has an important class aspect as well. Culture comes from the people and in its formation is always relevant and rich with meaning defined by the experience of the people. The bourgois usually are quick to jump on new cultural examples and undermine it sucking out any relevance and commodifying it. You want to rebel? They'll sell you black clothes, body jewelry and music devoid of meaning. Bourgois culture breeds cynicism and contempt as well as anti-working class attitudes. It is also rife with racism, sexism, and nationalism.


‘Proletarian culture is just the opposite and is something we need to promote and support. Historically the Party has done much of this. In the 20's, 30's and 40's the Party was at the center of our national culture be it in film, theater, or literature. We put out Masses, New Masses and later, Masses & Mainstream magazines. We preserved and promoted folk music with great effect. Most of this was crushed by McCarthyism. Rock grew out of the folk movement and was at first revolutionary but it was soon co-opted by the bourgoisie and is now mostly reactionary.”


Another said: “There are many parts to the culture of a nation, a people, a religion, a way of life, a neighborhood or a belief system. Some of those parts are intended for limited use in one area, like cheaply produced candy should never be viewed as a complete meal.


‘Hopefully its never viewed as anything more than an occasional treat. But in our society, pretty packaging, lots of advertising and bought advocacy have produced a population that is sluggish, overweight, lazy and without the realization that there is more to a meal than a quick sugary buzz. This is at least part of the explanation for so much of pop music being so very light-weight these days.”


Another: “During the first decades of the CPUSA, culture was largely of the ‘high-art’ type. I suppose this went along with the intellectual leadership, which held the proletariat in highest esteem, yet often had many more years of schooling than the average worker. Most cultural workers then were poets or other writers. Most cultural events were in held in theatres, art galleries or—in the case of the various ‘shock brigades’—on the picket lines. But as far as music went, composers tended to ignore the people’s sounds of folk songs, instead choosing to aim for  the type of music Hanns Eisler wrote for Bertolt Brecht, ie-proletarian music, which was European in nature. Most left-wing musicians in the 20s and ‘30s looked down upon the use of gospel or pop tunes, like the IWW had always done. They wanted to use Modern music in the way other Modernist artists/political activists were doing…


‘Woody Guthrie came to the attention of the California District office of the Communist Party in 1939, when his song, “Mr. Tom Mooney Is Free”, was heard by members. Their struggle for Mooney’s freedom was a long one and upon his release from a 22 year unjust prison term, Guthrie wrote this song and began to receive 

requests by the Party for performances of it at meetings…”


And another: “We all know that movies, music, television is all controlled by huge corporations (except the indy-media scene). Today’s so called “pop” culture

really DOES promote drug addiction and apathy (the two are tied together).

I see kids come into my school stoned all the time,…


‘An expansion of the PWW’s culture section should include more in-depth

articles on events, albums, and movies and support the groups that run them.

This is the best way for the CPUSA to promote radical culture.” At present Chris Butters is doing a great job promoting culture in Political Affairs but we need to do more.”


So, yes, socialists care a great deal about culture. They have excellent ideas about it. Like a lot of things about modern society, we hope to make improvements!