Key issues, like the position of the writer in society, the relationship of the old and the new in literature, and the much discussed relationship between the «creator» and the «audience,» are examined and explained in a different light by regarding them as more than purely theoretical issues or abstract cultural problems and, instead, considering them as social issues that can only be settled at the level of practice.
Abdulla Al-Dabbagh amplifies the area of research by discussing some of the major opposing positions to the theory outlined and, by examining at length the portrayal of proletarian heroism, one of its key concepts, in the literary works of the same epoch. The result of the close textual analysis of a large number of major works of poetry, drama, and fiction reveals the course of the artistic development to be complementary to that of the theoretical advance.
Table Of Contents
- About the Author
- About the Book
- This eBook can be cited
- 1 Basic Principles
- 2 The Yenan Talks
- 3 The Cultural Revolution in China
- 4 Counter-Currents
- 5 Proletarian Heroism in Socialist Literature
- 6 Contemporary Perspectives
This work is a study of the relationship between the development of socialist literary theory and the process of cultural transformation in modern society. It is divided into two main parts: the first traces the outline of the theory and the second examines its reflection in the actual works of the literature. A third part, titled “contemporary perspectives,” discusses how some of the issues raised in the first two parts are viewed nowadays.
After a brief introduction that contains a formulation of the relationship between literature and society in general, the work begins to analyze the literary theory under investigation in the writings of the three key figures of Marx, Lenin and Mao. This analysis is set alongside a detailed examination of the literary part of the cultural superstructure during the years of Cultural Revolution in China—from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies—and, to a lesser extent, in the Soviet Union, in the late twenties and early thirties. One product of this investigation is a redefinition of the concept of socialist realism in literature. More importantly, the major elements of the literary theory begin to be seen as emerging from the process of the cultural transformation of society. Key issues—e.g. the position of the writer in society, the relationship of the old and the new in literature, and the much discussed relationship between the “creator” and the “audience”—are here examined and explained in a different light when they are regarded not as purely theoretical issues, or ← vii | viii → abstract cultural problems, but as social issues that can only be settled at the level of practice.
The last two chapters amplify the area of research by discussing some of the major opposing positions to the theory outlined and, in the lengthy second part, by examining the portrayal of proletarian heroism, one of its key concepts, in the literary works of the same epoch. The result of the close textual analysis of a large number of major works of poetry, drama and fiction reveals the course of the artistic development to be complementary to that of the theoretical advance. ← viii | ix →
This is a work of literary theory with a historical approach. It attempts to clarify and formulate the relationship between literature and the cultural revolution through its development in the 20th century. It is based on my PhD dissertation, submitted to Essex University, under the title of “Literary Theory and Cultural Revolution,” in 1983. I have not changed anything substantial in it. The only changes made are stylistic. Nor have I made any changes demanded by the knowledge of the history of the last 28 years. I decided that the work should stand as a document of its time. I have, however, at the suggestion of the Publisher, added a lengthy last chapter, part III, which discusses some of the contemporary perspectives on the issues raised in the first two parts, not just in the literary domain, but in the field of the history and conflict of ideas and ideologies generally.
The work begins with an expository introduction to the area of research and to the lines along which it will be conducted, which contains a formulation of the relationship between literature and society in general, and a brief sketch of the development of socialist literary theory. It points to the concept of exploitation as the key to the understanding of all human culture, and to the struggle for the elimination of exploitation as the key to socialist culture. The latter, in the succeeding epochs of its historical development has steadily increased in importance and has come to play a decisive role in our contemporary era of cultural revolution. The following three chapters that form the bulk of the first part of the work trace this process out in detail. ← ix | x →
The first chapter, titled “Basic Principles,” begins with the elucidation of Marx’s basic idea regarding the development of a new kind of literature once the traditional division between mental and physical labor is abolished through the wider general transformation of society. Although Marx did not refer to it by that name, it is this general transformation that we call the cultural revolution and in which the role of literature defines our area of investigation. The chapter continues to trace the development of this key idea in the works of Lenin and in the experience of the October Revolution. Lenin’s three basic contributions—the principle of literary partisanship, the dual nature of national culture and the concept of the cultural revolution—are shown to be advances in the direction pointed to by Marx. There follows a discussion of the literary objectives of the First Five-Year Plan period that were formulated within the general intellectual debates often described as the Soviet cultural revolution. Both the positives and the negatives of this era are explained, and its successful assault on the old type of writer and the old type of literature is regarded as an important preparation for the first attempt at a clear definition of socialist literature—the concept of socialist realism discussed in the concluding section of the chapter.
The second chapter is centered on the development of socialist literary theory in its major text: Mao’s Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art. It contains a detailed discussion of the key ideas of this crucial work, its influence on literary practice and the ways in which it extended and advanced soviet literary theory. Finally, it concludes with a discussion of the important relationship between literature and the change or remolding of ideological outlook, usually referred to as the rectification campaign that is Mao’s unique contribution both to the field of literature and to the field of the cultural revolution. This chapter also reveals that Mao’s literary contributions are inseparable from the practice of the Chinese revolution, particularly in the Yenan period.
The third chapter discusses the development of literary theory in the course of the Cultural Revolution in China. It begins with a brief investigation of the position of the writer in society, and of the relationship between the old and the new literature. Enunciated first in Marx’s basic idea, these two main themes of our research are now seen in the context of more advanced social conditions. The chapter also contains a detailed account of the literary struggles of that era and ends with a summing-up of the four major contributions of the Cultural Revolution to literary theory: The radical break with old culture and literature, the repudiation of revisionist literature, proletarian heroism and the concept of the three stresses, and, finally, the principle of collective authorship and of mass participation in the creation of literature. ← x | xi →
The fourth chapter amplifies the area of the research and highlights the literary theory under investigation by examining some of the major counter-currents that have opposed its course of development and through that opposition, whether directly or indirectly, have been instrumental in bringing it about.
The lengthy second part, chapter 5, is a detailed analysis of the development of proletarian heroism—a key concept of socialist aesthetics—in a number of major works of poetry, drama and fiction written in the same historical period covered by the previous chapters. As an exercise in close textual analysis, it discovers the progress of the literary products to be complementary to that of the literary theory and of the wider cultural practices and transformations discussed in the first part of the work.
As a final word, this book would not have been completed without the support of my family, and especially of my wife and life-long companion, to whom I dedicate it. I would like also to thank the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and the staff of the Acquisition Department in Zayed Library of United Arab Emirates University for their continuous support. Once again my thanks are due to Caitlin Lavelle and Sarah Stack of Peter Lang for their efforts in the production of this book. Any shortcomings, however, remain solely my own. ← xi | xii → ← xii | xiii →
The primary condition for any successful investigation is to start off by connecting literature to society. Literature and ideas generally do not grow in a vacuum. They are always either a means of preserving a particular social system or the means of transforming it in accordance with certain material conditions. People in various societies simply by participating in the process of production, the process of satisfying their living needs, enter into certain production relations with each other. The ideas and the cultures which they produce are expressions, at varied levels of sophistication, of this complex process and these diverse relations of production. With every big change in the material conditions the state of society changes in a way that the old production relations turn into an obstacle that must be removed, and the ideas accompanying those relations turn into meaningless words that have to be replaced by new ideas more suitable to the new circumstances.
It is well-known that sociology divides human society from its early stages until the present-day into five principal types which are: primitive communism; slavery; feudalism; capitalism; and socialism. And although there might be a variety of social formations, these formations will not be more than various combinations of these five principal types. For example, semi-feudal and semi-colonial society which includes a large number of the countries of Asia, Africa and South America is made up principally of a combination of feudal relationships and capitalist relationships. ← 1 | 2 →
From another angle these five historically successive types of society can also be divided into two basic kinds: non-exploitative societies, like primitive communism in which there is no exploitation of man by man or socialist society which seeks to put an end to this kind of exploitation—by moving toward communism—and exploitative societies like the slave, feudal and capitalist societies that are built upon the exploitation of man by man. Therefore, all the historical social transformations, with the exception of those which accompanied the downfall of the primitive commune and excepting the socialist revolution, were transformations that aimed, in essence, to substitute one exploitative system by another as, for example, the replacement of slavery by feudalism or the big transformations and revolutions which accompanied the downfall of feudalism and the domination of capitalism.
Ideas, literatures and cultures generally are formed inside the various social systems. They are a means of preserving those systems that could also transform into a means of changing, removing and replacing them by other social systems.
In any historical epoch the ruling class seeks to preserve the social system that serves its interests and seeks to make its ideas, the ideas of preserving the system, the ruling ideas. Its intellectual domination becomes one of the components of its material domination, a fact that has given rise to the famous sociological thesis that in any historical epoch the ruling ideas are always the ideas of the ruling class.
The ruled and exploited classes also express their attempts at changing the social system by ideas that serve their interests in that change. The nearer these attempts get to a total revolution, the more revolutionary their ideas become.
Ideas and cultures in all societies, then, can be divided into two principal kinds: the ideas and cultures of the ruling classes which seek to defend and preserve the existing system and the ideas and cultures of the revolutionary classes which seek revolution and the transformation of the existing system. It must, however, be emphasized that all those ideas and cultures except when scientifically socialist, are alike in that they are essentially exploitative, seeking, either to defend an exploitative system or to change it and replace it by another exploitative system.
Ancient Greek culture, for example, in spite of the big human advance that it entailed from an abstract intellectual viewpoint, was from the social viewpoint the culture of the slave-owning class, serving the interests of that class and stamped by the particular exploitative nature of that class.
The same thing may be said of modern European culture which, although it had a revolutionary aspect in fighting feudal ideas and feudal culture particularly during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment epochs, was, ← 2 | 3 → in essence, an exploitative culture seeking to substitute one exploitative social system (the feudal) by another (the capitalist). Modern European ideas are, in their social essence, exploitative ideas because they are expressions of the development of capitalism in its various stages, and they are stamped by the particular exploitative nature of the capitalist system.
- XI, 222
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- Publication date
- 2012 (March)
- Socialist literature Cultural Revolution Marxism Literary Practice Classes Division of Labour Literary Theory
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2012. XII, 222 pp.