Mike Quille makes an appeal for support for Culture Matters, and introduces a new series of articles on the effects of the coronavirus crisis on culture. The image is of Efa Supertramp, who was among the many radical artists bypassing the gatekeepers of cultural production by appearing at the WSO Isolation Festival on April 11. Broadcast live on Facebook, it raised more than £27,000 for food banks
How do working people achieve more personal and political freedom? In the Wages of Labour, written in 1844, Karl Marx had this to say:
To develop greater spiritual freedom, a people must break their bondage to their bodily needs — they must cease to be the slaves of the body. They must, above all, have time at their disposal for spiritual creative activity and spiritual enjoyment.
The same point was made more poetically in a poem based on Helen Todd’s speech on the aims of the women’s movement:
Hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread, but give us roses.
The Culture Matters Co-Operative is all about bread and roses. It has been running for nearly five years and promotes bread and roses for all — a progressive, socialist and democratic approach to all forms of cultural activities.
We believe that all forms of culture should be for everyone and that class-based divisions in society constrain, prevent and spoil our enjoyment of all the cultural activities which we need to enjoy life and be fully human. This is also recognised in the expanded references to culture in the latest version of Britain’s Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party of Britain.
By culture we mean not only the arts — poetry, film, theatre and visual art — but other activities like sport which bring enjoyment, enlightenment and entertainment into our lives. And using media like the internet, TV and social media is an important cultural activity and one of the few cultural activities we’ve been able to practise under lockdown.
Digital technology also has great potential to democratise culture, allowing working-class radicals to bypass the gatekeepers of cultural production, and we use it to run a website which publishes creative and critical material on a range of topics.
Supported by trade unions — mainly Unite, the Communication Workers Union, the Musicians’ Union and PCS — we have also run a number of Bread and Roses arts awards to encourage cultural production by trade unionists and other workers that is meaningful to work and life in a class-divided society.
We've also published a range of poetry books such as Witches, Warriors and Workers, a groundbreaking anthology of poetry by working-class women, edited by Jane Burn and Fran Lock. Supported by various trade unions and trades councils, we’re also publishing a series of anthologies of radical literature.
Poetry collections from Ireland (Children of the Nation) and Wales (Onward / Ymlaen!) have already appeared and there will be an anthology of radical Scottish poetry coming out later this year. These books are all for sale on this website, see links above.
We’ve grown fast in just a few years and that’s thanks to the voluntary work of committed writers, artists and activists and to trade-union support. We’re proud that our mission has been valued by creative workers, readers and the labour movement generally.
We want to refresh and broaden the content of the website and tackle class-based discrimination in publishing by building networks of creative workers. We want too to expand our output in Britain and abroad and support the labour movement in local campaigns for cultural democracy.
Coronavirus and culture
It's inevitable that the current coronavirus crisis will affect all kinds of cultural activities, in all kinds of ways. Going to a concert, a film, a football match, a religious service, is never going to be the same again.
The virus has driven us apart. Yet, as socialists, we have always been committed to the way culture brings us together in shared and social activities. Culture gives voice to the values of solidarity, the dignity of work, concern for the poor, celebration of our strength and potential and in imagining a better world.
So how are we going to do that, now? What does a socialist response to the effects of the coronavirus crisis on culture look like? How should things change around the content, management and state support of culture? What does the coronavirus crisis means for our “spiritual enjoyment” of different cultural activities?