Juan Acha: The Cultural Revolution
Oiga, No. 386, Year VIII
The recent Industry Act has wiped away all doubt: we are witnessing the awakening of a revolutionary spirit; we are headed toward socioeconomic justice, which will supposedly shape a new mentality. In view of this situation, a group of young artists has started to express—through mimeographed leaflets, events, and discussions—the need for a cultural revolution.
The fact is that even the most radical transformation of socioeconomic structures is not enough to change the basis of human mentality and, as such, of society. Any such change must necessarily be accompanied by a cultural and sexual revolution, as young people all over the world have been claiming for years. To condemn these young people, or to make their demonstrations a police matter, rather than to try to understand them, would be an error—lest we find ourselves having to hastily implement their values, under the imperative of another, more pressing revolution.
As required by the industrial revolution that is already underway, and in keeping with the socioeconomic changes that have started among us, we now have an educational reform that will adequately train new generations for technological production. But we are not yet tackling the qualitative problems of consumption (the use of tools, art, and free time), which are closely tied to the cultural and sexual revolution.
The cultural revolution advocates a new mindset, that is, a society of free individuals who respect the freedom of others. (The sexual revolution concerns women’s liberation, as well as the desire to bring joy back into the practices of love). The new society would be free from discrimination and hierarchies, and have no fear of or mistrust institutions, civil servants, and laws. The shoemaker, doctor, laborer, and engineer would all be equal, individually and culturally (in the anthropological sense).
If we accept the idea of culture as a necessary process of change (a characteristic of the West), one particular work of art may still be more valuable than another of the same kind, but this value would not be applicable to the overall profession as interest group (institutionalism) or to the individual as citizen (personal protagonism). Because the aim of the cultural revolution is precisely to come up with a new interpretation of the specific and circumstantial value of the artwork—or cultural rupture. To this end, young people are starting to attack the cultural values of the unjust bourgeois society.
For the bourgeoisie, culture—a set of free actions and works—is a value system that imposes ideas and a false consciousness (ideologies), with a strong tendency to fetishize cultural works. Culture thus becomes a form of worship or liturgy, and then a weapon of power and repression. It is a means for creating, dictating, and conserving values that separate humans rather than connect them. The “cultured” man and the artist are raised up and deified, and thus forced to look down upon and neutralize the critical spirit of others. All of this mystification prevents the development of mutual respect and even hinders the existence and survival of mankind.
Western culture carries the seeds of its own ongoing transmutation, which the bourgeoisie circumscribes to formal changes and young people are now identifying as radical mutations. Cultural values, the mainstay of the dominant class, are in decline—not man, not culture. The value of something—in the sense of both the quality of and value of acquiring and consuming a particular object—depends on the privilege and imposition of a dominant class. This applies equally to a chair, a painting, a club, a house, or a tradition. Can a new society uphold these values? It is certainly necessary to undertake a total transmutation of values, given that simply switching or replacing them would only give rise to the same bad habits. Young people do not wish to replace the values of the dominant class with those of the dominated middle or lower classes; nor do they want to replace the plutocracy with a bureaucracy, the oligarchy with a technocracy, or the aristocracy with a cultural elite. They want freedom.
If some artists are starting to mention the cultural revolution, they are being consistent with the path that art has taken over the past hundred years. Painters and sculptors have been destroying values and now find that they need to subvert the concepts of art and culture—imposed by the bourgeoisie and all systems of power—so as to adapt art to the new, wished-for society and, as such, counteract the adverse effects of the industrial revolution (the consumer society). Artistic values, and art itself, have lost cultural standing. These artists do not concede the existence of art or artists, only artistic acts as a faculty inherent to humans in general. Art, like morality, is not the profession or exclusive preserve of a few. In a new society, children will be taught to produce art without knowing what art is; in no event will they be tied to the consumption of Leonardos, Renoirs, Picassos, and Mondrians. Each person will produce art without expecting spectators, success, or sales.
Proponents of the cultural revolution believe that art schools, cultural centers, cultural outreach departments, cultural attachés, reviews, and museums simply spread bourgeois, or so-called traditional values. These institutions have turned their backs on the cultural revolution: they do not encourage individual production or deal with the problems of information, both of which are so important to any revolution; nor are they concerned with safeguarding against the repressive manipulations of the mass media (press, TV, film, comic strips). They simply disseminate bourgeois culture.
Cultural guerrilla fighters and revolutionaries do not just seek destruction. They seek what people fear most: the freedom of individual behavior within a climate of mutual respect. As such, it would be counterproductive to ask them for a cultural program or art system; it would go against freedom, which is a constant and “uncomfortable” circumstantial choice. We have become so used to thinking and working comfortably ensconced in systems, definitions, and values that we are no longer able to resist, and we no longer understand that others may be free or want to be so.