John Reed Clubs and Proletarian Art - Part I

Hemingway, Andrew
Date Written:  2015-07-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21232

The writings of Marx and Engels provide no support for the idea, frequently associated with Marxism, that the movement of the working class to emancipate itself from capitalism and build a classless society requires a proletarian or revolutionary art as an aid to its struggles.



Communist organizing of culture required the same mechanisms as the party's organizing in other fields, namely the setting up of fronts to serve as a transmission apparatus between the small vanguard of disciplined communists that made up the party and those sympathizers outside its ranks whose consciousness needed to be raised and energies channeled in useful directions.(32) The name of the main cultural front in the United States was the John Reed Clubs, the first of which was set up in New York by members of the New Masses circle in October 1929.(33)

It is hard to be sure of the scale of the clubs. The "Draft Manifesto of John Reed Clubs," published in June 1932 claimed there were thirteen clubs "throughout the country";(34) in May 1934 the leading Communist critic Joshua Kunitz claimed in New Masses that there were 30.(35) An internal memorandum of 1932 gives total membership of the clubs as 735, with the largest being in New York with 160 and the smallest being in Portland, Oregon, and Carmel, California, each with a mere 12. A later party memorandum gives membership of the New York club as approximately 250 and presumably the membership of other clubs had also grown.(36)

One thing that can be said with certainty is that the Clubs did not function satisfactorily from the party's perspective. This was partly because they were set up haphazardly and proved hard to weld into a cohesive national organization. Many branches contained "very few writers and artists" and most members were "teachers, lawyers, dentists and other types of professional."(37)

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