The battle for art – part three: on the use in capitalist ideology for spiritual art and art education

Janis Lander: Vision Art Workshop - ‘Observing the energy body (centres and channels)/Observing thoughts and emotions/Understanding the dynamic interaction of colours and “sacred geometry” in the making of an image’

Janis Lander: Vision Art Workshop – ‘Observing the energy body (centres and channels)/Observing thoughts and emotions/Understanding the dynamic interaction of colours and “sacred geometry” in the making of an image’

Schiller was confident that men in the contemporary world could develop new types of harmony and new types of community predicated upon new connections between the powers of the mind. This could not, however, be developed by ignoring the enormous changes which had overtaken society since the decline of the Greek city state. Schiller saw the long-term solution to the problem in terms of a programme of aesthetic education which, by uniting facets of personal experience, would lead eventually to the development of harmonious social experience. Schiller’s typology of human development was, in a sense, therefore, triadic. It presupposed at the beginning of the historical world an undifferentiated society peopled by whole men whose capacities and powers had not been fragmented by the division of labour – such a society reached its zenith with the Greeks and has since declined as a result of the growth of science and the division of labour. These factors had led to the fragmentation of the community and of the person. The third stage of this process, which has yet to arrive in Schiller’s view, was to be induced by aesthetic education, which would procure a regeneration of both the community and the individual personality appropriate to this change in the human condition.

Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 74

Part three/to be continued…



The battle for art – part two: art and ideology

Mark Rothko, White Centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, oil on canvas, private collection, Qatar

Mark Rothko, White Centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, oil on canvas, private collection, Qatar

Laurence Zuckerman, ‘Book tells how commie-hating CIA became a patron of the arts’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1.4.00

George Orwell’s Animal Farm has a chilling finale in which the farm animals look back and forth at the tyrannical pigs and the human farmers and find it “impossible to say which is which”.

That ending was altered in the 1955 animated version, which removed the humans. Another example of Hollywood butchering great literature? Yes, but in this case the film’s secret producer was the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA, it seems, was worried that the public might be too influenced by Orwell’s pox-on-both-their-houses critique of the capitalist humans and communist pigs. So after his death in 1950, agents were dispatched (by none other than E. Howard Hunt, later of Watergate fame) to buy the film rights to Animal Farm from his widow to make its message more overtly anti-communist.

Rewriting the end of Animal Farm is just one example of the often absurd lengths to which the CIA went, as recounted in a new book, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press) by Frances Stonor Saunders, a British journalist.

Much of what Saunders writes about, including the CIA’s covert sponsorship of the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom and the British opinion magazine Encounter, was exposed in the late 60s, generating a wave of indignation.

But by combing through archives and unpublished manuscripts and interviewing several of the principal actors, Saunders has uncovered many new details and gives the most comprehensive account yet of the period between 1947 and 1967.

This picture of the CIA’s secret war of ideas has cameo appearances by scores of intellectual celebrities like the critic Lionel Trilling, the poets Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott and the novelists James Michener and Mary McCarthy, all of whom directly or indirectly benefited from the CIA’s largesse.

Travelling first class all the way, the CIA sponsored art exhibitions, conferences, concerts and magazines to press its larger anti-Soviet agenda.

Saunders provides ample evidence, for example, that the editors at Encounter and other agency-sponsored magazines were directed not to publish articles directly critical of Washington’s foreign policy.

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles (Number 11,1952), Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles (Number 11, 1952), Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

She also shows how the CIA bankrolled some of the earliest exhibits of abstract expressionist painting outside the United States to counter the socialist realism being advanced by Moscow.

In one memorable episode, the British Foreign Office subsidised the distribution of 50,000 copies of Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s anti-communist classic. But the French Communist Party ordered its operatives to buy up every copy of the book, giving Koestler a windfall in royalties.

The agency also changed the ending of the film version of Orwell’s 1984. 

In the book, the protagonist, Winston Smith, is entirely defeated by the nightmarish totalitarian regime. At the end, Orwell writes, Winston realised that “He loved Big Brother”.

In the film, Winston and his lover, Julia, are gunned down after Winston defiantly shouts: “Down with Big Brother!”

Such changes came from the agency’s obsession with snuffing out a notion then popular among many European intellectuals: that East and West were morally equivalent.

But instead of illustrating the differences between the two systems by taking the high road, the agency justified its covert activities by referring to the unethical tactics of the Soviets.

Some of the participants, like Arthur Schlesinger, who knew about some of the CIA’s cultural activities, argue that the agency’s role was benign, even necessary.

Compared with the coups the CIA sponsored, he said, its support of the arts was some of its best work.

“It enabled people to publish what they already believed,” he said. “It didn’t change anyone’s course of action or thought.”

The New York Times

Part two/to be continued…


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The battle for art

Commemorating its tenth year, the opening of the CCF’s second Berlin conference in June 1960 featured (L to R): George F. Kennan, Raja Rao, Willy Brandt, Jacques Maritain, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and J. Robert Oppenheimer

Commemorating its tenth year, the opening of the CCF’s second Berlin conference in June 1960 featured (L to R): George F. Kennan, Raja Rao, Willy Brandt, Jacques Maritain, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and J. Robert Oppenheimer

‘As we have seen, negation had to be replaced by positive integrating factors once the removal of the “offending element” from the social arena had made negation pointless. …

“The battle for art” was by no means a National Socialist invention. The slogan and the issue had been of central concern in German cultural life for decades. But the National Socialists were the first to make this battle for art a focal point of political conflict and to define an individual’s position in it as evidence of his approval or rejection of National Socialist political goals and principles. This issue became a touchstone for determining who were the friends and who the foes of the Third Reich.

Paul Schultze-Naumburg expressed precisely this view in 1932 in his book Kampf um die Kunst (The Battle for Art): “A life-and-death struggle is taking place in art, just as it is in the realm of politics. And the battle for art has to be fought with the same seriousness and determination as the battle for political power.”

This statement, which at first glance seems exaggerated and, indeed, absurd in view of the actual importance of art in the overall social structure, assumes reality only if art and art criticism are used as weapons in a political struggle.’

From Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich, Trans., Robert and Rita Kimber, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1974

*   *   *

In her new book Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granata), Frances Stonor Saunders tells the fascinating story of the vast postwar Kultur-kampf, the Cold War conflict over cultural values and ideologies amid which several literary and cultural generations grew up. It pulled in books and magazines, congresses and concerts, artists and writers, political visions of economic growth and social progress. And it dawned when the US, the one outright victor from World War II, suddenly found itself a superpower, found it had somehow entered history.

Needing a culture to match, it stared over the wire at Russia (which had pursued intellectual politics since Catherine the Great) and sought worldwide intellectual admiration and support. As the Cold War froze and ideologies divided, the US government poured huge resources into a cultural propaganda campaign. It was covert. As Saunders explains: “A central feature of this program was to advance the claim it did not exist.”

Yet there was nothing covert about the overall enterprise; the decision to revive flattened Europe and develop democratic institutions through the enormous program of aid – economic, political and cultural – has shaped it to this day and explains its federalism and its Americanised shopping-mall culture.

So came the Marshall Plan, the “special relationship”, the Atlantic Alliance, the denazification in Germany and Austria, the long-term presence of US troops and bases. There was also the Fulbright program, the US Information Agency, the Amerikanhausen all over Germany, promoting jazz, movies and Saul Bellow, and the growth of an academic subject that was new even to Americans: American studies.

The program was aided by the defection of many western intellectuals who had been red in the 1930s. Alienation began with the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi-Soviet pact; by the late 40s, Marxism was the god that had failed.

In cultural warfare, the US seemed at first to have small resources. “What is America but millionaires, beauty queens, gramophone music and Hollywood?” asked Adolf Hitler. Many European intellectuals felt a similar cultural distaste for the land of chewing gum and Mickey Mouse.

Hence the Kulturkampf, which Saunders traces back to Berlin in the time of denazification and to three key figures. Michael Josselin and Nicholas Nabokov (Vladimir’s musician cousin), both emigres, were with the US military command and working on denazification and cultural policy in the psychological warfare division. Then another soldier, Melvin Lasky, urged on the US government a policy designed to win over the often passionately anti-American European intelligentsia. The magazine Monat was established and the culture war began.

In 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency was founded: in its early days it resembled the clubby, patrician, pipe-smoking, senior common room spirit of the wartime intelligence community. It had excellent contacts with the NCL (non-communist Left), the “new liberals” and the emigres who, having fled the Europe of Hitler and Stalin, had become a powerful force in the US.

This book shows in splendid detail how CIA policy went everywhere. Awash with funds, the CIA turned into the covert Maecenas, the new crypto-patron of an age when the old private patrons had disappeared. Artists, writers, intellectuals, seminars, concerts and magazines were supported by “foundations”. It was the age of get-me-a-grant-while-you’re-up. Scholarships, travel grants and exchange schemes shipped European intellectuals across the Atlantic for their graduate education.

Meanwhile, US writers, plays, books, concerts and art exhibitions came in profusion to Europe. A key instrument was the Congress for Cultural Freedom, administered by a band of leading European intellectuals. It circulated ideas, ran congresses, aided magazines. In Britain, it published Encounter, the leading intellectual and cultural review of the day, and simply indispensable. By various labyrinthine means, the CCF and much else had CIA funding.

The charge is that organisations celebrating “cultural freedom” were steered by the US arm of espionage, that writers who were attacking the trahison des clercs were themselves traitors, that a systematic attempt was made to intrude on intellectual independence. The injection of money into US intellectual reviews by the Ford Foundation and much else is traceable to the CIA.

In 1967, the edifice effectively collapsed. The Camelot court mood, as a result of which American intellectuals had rallied to John F. Kennedy, was gone. The Vietnam War brought wide-spread protest, the intelligentsia was increasingly at odds with government and nation. When Ramparts magazine blew the story, it opened an era of intellectual guilt and embarrassment, and a suspicion of much in modern intellectual life.

As Saunders says, much of western intellectual life and many individual figures were compromised. Yet the situation was filled, as she notes, with strange ironies. Saunders asks: Who paid the piper? But how does the piper call the tune if you don’t know who the piper really is?

Many intellectuals and artists went to the US on the Fulbright program, contributed to the lively and intelligent literary magazines, attended conferences, concerts and exhibitions sponsored by various unusual foundations. In many cases, it is quite possible to argue that the CiA innocently financed much radical, indeed anti-American, opinion as well as a whole new experimental era of the arts. For writers, John Updike’s Bech books best capture the atmosphere: the radical, unreliable American writer wanders a divided Europe on cultural tours, a CIA spook on one side, a Communist Party apparatchik on the other, looking for truth, love, literature, decency, the smell of independence and freedom, and maybe just a little irony.

Another irony is more obvious. American spooks could have had little idea of the strength of the culture they were out to promote. Yet they were sponsoring an American Risorgimento. This was the great age of American writing, music and art – the age of Arthur Miller, Bellow, Updike, Norman Mailer, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Jasper Johns. The culture was worth selling and it was not innocent: subversive, self-critical ironic, ambiguous, it caught the uneasy corruption rather than the innocent wonder of the American age. The CIA was, so to speak, the promoter of postmodernism, the investor of a new culture.

The last irony is grimmer. What began as part of a high-cultural Americanisation of Europe turned into the commercial globalisation of Europe and the larger world. America Americanised itself as a vast franchise or global corporation, to which all Europe became party. The oddest truth is that the age of cultural and counter-cultural politics was one when literature was serious, tense, politically charged, morally dangerous and mattered. Now it doesn’t: we live in the age of the logo and the corporate sponsor.

How compromised was postwar US and European culture? Certainly there were those who enjoyed walking in the shadows with the devil while they seemed to be walking in the sun. There were the amazingly innocent and the bitterly deceived. Saunders’s book overestimates the degree of compliance and conformism, and often suspects motives that were not impure. Throughout, the US continued to be an intensely self-critical society, challenging its own conformities, dismayed by its own lonely crowds. Those who worked with government agencies often passionately challenged McCarthyism and defended liberals.

Yet Saunders is right. This reality is a crucial story, about the dangerous, compromising energies and manipulation of an entire and a recent age.

Malcolm Bradbury, ‘Spooks in the Culture’, The Weekend Australian 21-22.08.99

Part one/to be continued…



Want to see a good display on New Year’s Eve?

NGC 6357: Stellar Wonderland

NGC 6357: Stellar Wonderland


Image (click twice to fully enlarge)

The battle for art – part five: the bourgeois art gallery, capital’s House of the Lord

UM, Weisman Art Museum | Minneapolis, MN | Frank Gehry with MS&R

Symbols for the two great approaches to God the Self:

  • floors of lacquered woodgrain – the pathway of contemplative (Romantic) spiritual activity
  • walls of pure white – the surrounds of contemplative spiritual stillness

Lighting from the ceiling accentuates and unites floor, walls and artworks to form a spiritual whole – for Plotinus, the greatest contemplative activity in the greatest contemplative stillness.1


1. Think this a bit far-fetched? In the Roman banquet room the ceiling and floor were also significant – the ceiling symbolised the universe and the floor symbolised the earth.

And remember, art galleries and the layout of everything in them (including the cafeteria) are designed by people educated in both the theory and practice of art.


Engels on the materialist conception of history

Smokestacks Polluting Pittsburgh

According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Neither Marx nor I have ever asserted more than this. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its results, such as constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and especially the reflections of all these real struggles in the brains of the participants, political, legal, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases determine their form in particular. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent and neglect it), the economic movement is finally bound to assert itself. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.

We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite antecedents and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one.

Engels to Joseph Bloch in Königsberg; London, September 21[-22], 1890, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 394-395

Preparing for the first redivision of the world as areas of exploitation.

Preparing for the first redivision of the world as areas of exploitation.


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Engels on materialism: part 6 – the universe is a process

The second specific limitation of this materialism lay in its inability to comprehend the universe as a process, as matter undergoing uninterrupted historical development. This was in accordance with the level of the natural science of that time, and with the metaphysical, that is, anti-dialectical manner of philosophising connected with it. Nature, so much was known, was in eternal motion. But according to the ideas of that time, this motion turned, also eternally, in a circle and therefore never moved from the spot; it produced the same results over and over again. This conception was at that time inevitable. The Kantian theory of the origin of the Solar System (that the Sun and planets originated from incandescent rotating nebulous masses) had been put forward but recently and was still regarded merely as a curiosity. The history of the development of the Earth, geology, was still totally unknown, and the conception that the animate natural beings of today are the result of a long sequence of development from the simple to the complex could not at that time scientifically be put forward at all. The unhistorical view of nature was therefore inevitable. We have the less reason to reproach the philosophers of the 18th century on this account since the same thing is found in Hegel. According to him, nature, as a mere “alienation” of the idea, is incapable of development in time — capable only of extending its manifoldness in space, so that it displays simultaneously and alongside of one another all the stages of development comprised in it, and is condemned to an eternal repetition of the same processes. This absurdity of a development in space, but outside of time — the fundamental condition of all development — Hegel imposes upon nature just at the very time when geology, embryology, the physiology of plants and animals, and organic chemistry were being built up, and when everywhere on the basis of these new sciences brilliant foreshadowings of the later theory of evolution were appearing (for instance, Goethe and Lamarck). But the system demanded it; hence the method, for the sake of the system, had to become untrue to itself.

Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886


Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

A mystical tale


Hi Moshe,

You’ve asked me to briefly re-state my position on mysticism, so I’ll begin with a tale.

Long ago (aren’t these always the first words of a tale?), because a conversation I had with a girl seemed to go well, I asked her for a date and she agreed.

I turned up in a 3-piece suit with tie on a very hot and humid afternoon (in Australia we call such weather ‘stinking hot’). I waited and waited but she never appeared. I wondered, as one might, ‘Why not?’

I remembered that during our conversation I had said, and with some feeling, that I thought concrete is beautiful. Could this have been the reason for her ‘no-show’? That concrete is beautiful was something I had been cogitating.

Why is concrete beautiful? I recommend the study of it – the richness and subtlety of its textures, of its colours, its ‘flaws’, the processes and effects of its ageing.


At a deeper level, concrete and I are the same matter, the same objective reality, but organised differently (I just remembered that when I worked in the Tate as a gallery attendant, my supervisor, in philosophical conversation one day in the staff-room said sagely ‘Grass never grows on a busy footpath [my hairline had substantially receded] – or through concrete’. How you interpret that is up to you.).

When I die, the matter of which I am comprised will pass back into the same world into which all concrete, too, will similarly decay.

If all humans are beautiful in their mere existence (as I think), then why not concrete?

I particularly think concrete is beautiful because I perceive my profound relationship to it. At the most fundamental level (isn’t this what philosophers seek?), our beauty is its beauty.

Then there are the considerations of the relations of concrete and humans as parts to the material whole. These relations and the manifestation of them are what is most beautiful.

What links Plotinus to Chernyshevsky is that for both, beauty is reality and life. Where Plotinus referred to those of ‘another’ world, Chernshevsky referred to those in this.

Star Cluster R136 Bursts Out

Star Cluster R136 Bursts Out

The philosophical current developed in mysticism (particularly German) and then incorporated into dialectical materialism addresses all this.

But where both mysticism and materialism equally address the whole and its parts and processes, the centrality of emotion (though rationalised) and, particularly, intuition to mysticism give much greater scope to our ‘feelings’ and brain processes other than those of linguistic reason – a crucial point yet to be absorbed into dialectical materialism, which is still in the shadow of the patriarchal model, the Man of Reason.

Marx stood the mystical understanding of ‘reality’ and ‘life’ on its material feet. It is up to us to further develop dialectical materialism. While not a science, it is the philosophy of the future.

I look forward to your response,

All the best,



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The Lucky Country

Art Walk Map, Sydney 2014

Art Walk Map, Sydney 2014

Servile internationally, bullying in the region:

‘The swing between submission and assertiveness has lost its extremism, but the final conquest of the colonial problem has not yet been achieved…We are still not quite sure whether to be proud or ashamed of ourselves.’

The spiritual littleness in not embracing the uncertainty of vision and the new:

‘In truth the Australian does not ignore spiritual values provided they are plain, direct and assessable. His limitation lies in an obstinate bondage to the positive, a preference for the sum with an answer verifiable in the back pages of the book. He turns aside, scornfully and yet timidly, from the glories and terrors of the incertitudes, from the exaltations of the mysteries. Such a conception as André Gide’s Return of the Prodigal is scarcely imaginable as the product of an Australian mind. Consequently we escape that cooling and thinning of humanity which afflicts the Gide type, but we cannot achieve Gide’s kind of depth and reverberation. Yet the incertitudes and the mysteries, the excitement of the sum which never comes out, are the food and wine of the artist, whatever his country…Only when the contour-smoothing erosions of time have reconciled us to the acceptance of mystery will the colonial dilemma be finally solved.’

The Cultural Cringe, A.A. Phillips, Melbourne University Press, 2006 (first published in 1950), 61-62

Part one/to be continued…



Zamyatin: We – 4


Daylight. Clear. Barometer at 760.

Can it be that I, D-503, really wrote all these hundreds of pages? Can it be that at one time I felt all this – or imagined that I had felt it?

The handwriting is mine. And what follows is in the very same handwriting – but, fortunately, only the handwriting is the same. There are no ravings whatsoever, no preposterous metaphors, no emotions whatsoever. Facts only. Because I am well; I am perfectly, absolutely well. I smile; I cannot help but smile: they have extracted some sort of a sliver out of my head; my head is light, empty. To be more exact: it is not empty, but there is nothing extraneous in it, nothing that would interfere with smiling (smiling is the normal state for a normal human).

Here are the facts. That evening my neighbour, who had discovered the finitude of the universe, and I, and all the others there with us, were seized for not having certifications of fantasiectomy and hauled off to the nearest auditorium (its number, 112, was for some reason familiar). There we were bound to the operating tables ands subjected to the Grand Operation.

The next day, I, D-503, appeared before The Benefactor and imparted to Him all I knew about the enemies of our happiness. Why could this possibly have seemed difficult to me? It is incomprehensible. The only explanation lies in my former malady, the soul sickness.

On the evening of the same day – seated with Him, The Benefactor, at the same table – I found myself for the first time in the famous Chamber of the Gas Bell Glass. That woman was brought in. She was to give her testimony in my presence. This woman remained contumaciously silent – and smiled. I noticed that her teeth were sharp and very white – and this created a beautiful effect.

Then she was led in under the Gas Bell Glass. Her face became very white and, since her eyes were dark and large, this created an extremely beautiful effect. When they started pumping the air out of the Gas Bell Glass she threw he head back, half closing here eyes and compressing her lips: this reminded me of something. She kept looking at me as she gripped the arms of her seat – kept looking until her eyes closed altogether. Thereupon she was dragged out, quickly brought back to consciousness with the aid of electrodes, and was again made to sit under the Gas Bell Glass. This was gone through three times – and she still had not uttered a word. Others, who had been brought in with this woman, proved more honest: many of them started talking after the first treatment. Tomorrow all of them will mount the steps leading to the Machine of The Benefactor.

There can be no postponement, because the western districts of the city are still full of chaos, roaring, corpses, and – regrettably – a considerable body of numbers who have betrayed rationality.

We have, however, succeeded in constructing a temporary wall of high voltage waves on the transversal 40th Prospect.

And I hope that we will conquer. More than that: I am certain that we shall. For rationality must conquer.

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, (1920) Trans., Bernard Guilbert Guerney, Penguin, London, 1984, 220-221