Trotsky’s Vodka, The Church and Cinema is an interesting essay both in being a incredibly early appreciation of cinema in Soviet history (which few Americans know was one of the leaders in film achievement alongside Italy, Germany and France) as a work by someone who has all the right values (or at-least most of the right values) a person should have but wishes to use propaganda and force to implement them and therefore cannot distinguish art from propaganda or views art in purely propagandistic terms.
He begins the rather short essay (less-than two thousand words which is my own personal standard for writing anything of substance; though I of course realize that precision is more important than word count and the length of something is almost entirely irrelevant to the merit of the thought contained within – it’s actually more of a standard for a day’s worth of writing rather than whether I said something that deserves to be considered an essay rather than a short point that should be placed within a larger more meaningful work though this aspect of it is certainly there as well) by making the blunder of advocating prohibition. He does this while stating that one of the great achievements (rightly so) of the October Revolution was to establish a eight-hour work day for the factory workers; this however only shows the sickness of the prohibition mindset more clearly by comparing it with a far-more progressive and materialist framework. It is the Conservative and Religious mentality to ban things that the Catholic Church or any type of Status Quo or authority dislikes and finds either harmful to the public or far-more to the point of their psychology harmful for their own authority. Some needless rules enforced will always exist under the irrational systems of God and Government to erode the minds of the public and to have them thoughtlessly obey the Church, the State and the opinions of the rulers of commerce. Human progress is never made by using force or banning something for the public (I’ll go into why Capitalists are an exception momentarily) because they’ll always find other, usually more harmful, means to do what perhaps can be rightfully judged morally but cannot be said is an act that any individual should impose force on another to prevent the continuation of. Abortion, though I would not judge those who get an abortion in most cases, is a perfect example in the sense that were abortions are illegal woman still give them to themselves (or the husbands assist them with a kick down the stairs) without medical professionals to guide or implement what they wish to be done to their body.
This is precisely the distinction between the Idealist and Materialist conception of human nature and freedom. Occasionally one might find a sound clip from some repulsive reactionary far-right Christian who claims that the First Amendment only applies to Christians (even though it’s a implicitly Secular freedom that prevents Christians to establish religious authority in Government), that this is a “Christian Nation” and that freedom only consists of being able to do what Christians think is right or ordained (and typically commanded since the very essence of a god is typically a being that rationalizes the use of force by tribal and mystical people) by their god rather than freedom in the actual sense of unrestrained action by religion, Government, or any other force. The pastor (at-least I believe that’s what he was) from the ludicrous documentary “Cultural Marxism” is a clear example of this limited and contradictory form of freedom. This is a segment of the Christian evangelical who believes that freedom is essentially everyone doing what the Christian would like them to do and freedom to conform to their personal world view. This type of stupidity fails to comprehend the most basic notion that freedom is the notion that we allow individuals to do what they want to do regardless of whether authoritarian schmucks disagree.
Though Marxists never seem to possess a notion quite as laughable or contradictory with the essence of liberty, they do seem to possess the idea that it’s ideal and justified to curtail freedoms. It’s rather funny that Marxists somewhat routinely criticize the Anarchists for slipping into Idealism into some of their notions or attitudes when a Marxist advocating making any drug illegal on Utilitarian grounds make the same blunder the Conservative and the Liberal does by despite centuries of evidence believing that forcing the good life (or at-least using force to prevent forms of the bad) is successful or justifiable. Force is an intrinsic part of Idealism because it views the human condition as a form of consciousness primarily and not a caused or a material being whose primary essence cannot be negotiated or debated away but rather must be addressed as the psychological and biological, rather than rational, being that Man is. Anarchism understands this all-the-way-through in a sense when Marxists or any other group that authorize force or involuntary hierarchy on Utilitarian grounds forget that a membership of forced participants is a false organization that has no significance and is instead a type of drudgery like the inauthentic-self expressed at family gatherings.
He expresses a clear lack of understanding of the nature of force and prohibition when he commends Fourier’s theories on society being based on allowing the natural expression of impulses (seeming to be a precursor to Freud at-least in this way) rather than have them be repressed by Christian Puritanism and asceticism. What is drinking if not, although a self-destructive and poor vice in consistently creating pleasure, a Hedonist impulse that seems to some extent ingrained in human nature? It’s true that drink could be replaced by healthier substitutes for distraction and pleasure as Trotsky mentions, but part of accepting human beings as they are is accepting their preferences as they are rather than mandate taste or the ludicrous idea of forced cultural sophistication. But this takes me to Trotsky’s poor understanding of art and the potential of cinema.
It’s made the most clear that Trotsky views as art as propaganda when he mentions essentially creating afterschool specials to show that drinking is a vice (as if we needed to be taught that) and one would suppose not only propaganda against alcohol but for prohibition since a State that would both use force against non-violent individuals and use cinema to attempt to contour taste and opinion would obviously combine the two to have the populous accept their authority and gradually see it as natural as the average man and woman now sees the artificial constructions of Government, religion and capital. He claims that his form, or the Soviet form of propaganda would be without moralizing or self-righteous demagoguery but this is very-much like saying that one is going to be a motivational speaker who is going to relay entirely on reason and not attempt to persuade emotion in the audience in the slightest. The very nature of a propaganda film is an explicit attempt to persuade the audience towards a certain worldview in a typically obvious and not particularly convincing way. Both Atlas Shrugged and The Jungle are obvious examples of this. The latter is far easier to read but not much easier to digest considering it quite early on becomes obvious that the characters exist solely as sacraments of suffering on the altar of political expression. Or rather that they exist only as token foreigners who are exploited by the Capitalists.
Having a political message in your film is fine and even commendable if it is based on well-formed arguments woven into the story rather than scare tactics or straw-men, but it needs to be an undertone of your story rather than the main essence or element of it – even worse if it becomes explicit like in Ayn Rand’s works. A story must exist first and foremost as a tale of interest and intellectual depiction of our understanding of the complexity of reality – such is the true nature of imagination. To have the politics of the film precede the understanding or conception of the film’s world is much-like having political philosophy precede epistemology and ethics rather than the other way around. The argument of the film must be both implicit in the story and derived from an implicitly conveyed understanding of reality or human nature woven into the film. However, this understanding must always remain hidden. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a perfect example, for in the film there is a Shakespearian struggle ‘tween Caesar and Koba, within the struggle there are clear ideological and psychological distinctions but they are conveyed naturally through the telling of the tale rather than explicitly as a argument for the Non-Aggression Principle – and yet the film is a effective argument for such.
The story teller must speak as the Oracle of Delphi who neither tells nor hides her meaning. Open to interpretation, it invites the intellect of the viewer to turn-over and examine the contents of what they have before them rather than have it be a two-dimensional image that is spoon-fed and therefore leaves the audience both unmoved and dissuaded from the ideas and values the filmmaker is attempting to persuade them of. The Purge movies are a key example of this and how an over-the-top satire without humor does not persuade the audience towards more Left-wing values but if anything has them repulsed towards them like the vegan who makes me buy a cheeseburger when I hear he or she whine about eating meat is murder.
This is ultimately the very distinction that must be understood ‘tween Church and Cinema or between propaganda and art. Propaganda is simplistic, myopic and mind-numbing as is a Sunday mass. Art however must function on multiple levels and entertain the audience in both distraction and education of the real world. Trotsky rightfully points this out but then returns to the points of how the State should use the theater as an outlet for opinion control. Once again, it is not as if a political point cannot be made in art or fiction, it simply must be made with intelligence and nuance rather than as something you would find in a direct-to-DVD Christian film or in 1930’s German film – mention Triumph of the Will and the “black documentary” about Jews. Cinema must replace the Church not only in what entertains and is a cultural outlet and avenue for people but more importantly the essence of the theater and secular story-telling must replace the propagandist and repetitive nature of the mass. Church is the most pointless thing on this Earth. Some charlatan stands at a podium and gives essentially the same talk about the same poorly written immoral book; the same standard form of speeches that have been given for hundreds of years. Theater and cinema however entertain the audience with new stories as well as new takes on old stories. It’s exciting as well as potential for the intellectual. Church however is like having the same book club about the same banal scribbles for millennia. The meeting of The Objectivists to discuss the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged or Neo-Nazis discussing Mein Kumpf for an extreme example are essentially the exact same thing; it’s self-congratulation and self-confirmation in its very essence. Any group has this to some extent, which is why Anarchists have always warned about what Orwell calls “Group Think” but certainly some are more privy to it than others. Anarchists, Marxists and Atheists may all have things in common with their kin when they gather, but the difference between the Atheist and the Christian or the Anarchist and the Conservative is the former of both yearn for distinction and precision in argument and above-all participation; while the Christian mass is a passive lobotomizing event and Conservatives prefer being told what to think rather discovering how to think.
Another flaw of the propagandist perception of art is that it takes up the view that society is largely influenced by art and not the other way around. Like all things that have impact on each other there is a dual stream of influence involved, but clearly art is largely a natural expression of the material and social conditions of society – something a Marxist should clearly understand being a materialist but Trotsky seems iffy or clouded on the topic. Of course political regimes, religions and corporations use advertizing and various other means (having their ideas and values being instructed in the home and brainwashing children for example) to propagandize and influence society’s perception – how America views the Israel/Palestine conflict being an obvious example – but that does not mean that either the majority of art is propaganda as Trotsky, Malcolm X and others think or that Socialists should respond in kind and teach people by shouting at them and inculcating them into a cult of thinking rather than immersing them into a school of thought and way of life that is naturalistic and not only allows but depends upon the free and unfettered expression of mind and impulse (except in the Freudian sense of more immediate Hedonistic impulses being naturally repressed to achieve greatness) to have a healthy and free society not depending upon the crutches and self-directed artillery of State, commerce or God.
The very nature of art as explicitly propagandistic shows the sick nature of the State and proselytizing. How a certain kind of Marxist is no better than the perverse mentality of the Christian or Muslim. Unfortunately some Marxists (but by no means all) seem to be at-times even more crassly or simplistically Utilitarian than Liberals who at-least consistently defend (at-least in theory though often in practice) free speech, freedom of the press, separation of religion (or ideology in the most overt sense) from Government, and various other freedoms which the Bolshevik side of Marxism seems a tad uncertain or feels a tad scrupulous about. An Anarchist of course realizes the importance of persuasion since we view all force as immoral and unjustified; however, we must also remember that we must fight first, or rather primarily for better living and intellectual conditions and that Churches, State or businesses have no intention on reasoning or negotiating with us – so our struggle is not an argument but a battle in which our foe will strike us but we cannot strike back in the same manner if we wish to retain our integrity (unless of course they are using violence in the most immediate sense). We cannot mimic their tactics, lest we embody their insidiousness. Instead “taking people as they have been made by nature and as they have been in part educated and in part distorted by the old order” is the tendency of the Anarchist. To urge people to fight along with us but never condition them in a vacuum to have no other view but our own; such being the practice of the representatives and forces behind State, God and commerce.