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Can propaganda of the deed be initiated in art?

+4 votes
Tactic is usually understood as symbolic act intended to spread anarchist principles through deeds rather than words. Do you think a work of art (painting, novel, movie, etc) can function as a legitimate site for propaganda of the deed? Or are popular art forms far too corrupted as bourgeois cultural replication mechanisms to serve this purpose?
asked Oct 6, 2012 by dashe (1,000 points)
I was under the impression that the purpose of propaganda of the deed was to subject implacable, resigned peoples to a revelation of the temporal nature of government and its vulnerabilities? (Rather than to spread anarchist principles.) This notion failed. The central problem being its adamantly antisocial character. So I'm not entirely sure why it would be important to reinvent it in a more pacific fashion. I would also regard the notion of “corrupted culture” as a red herring since all culture is bourgeois. I can see no ground from which one might launch a countercultural opposition to an *industrially based* dominion.

Someone published a review of Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone on The Anvil Review that would be relevant to this question, but I'm reluctant to link to it since its html markup is defunct and it's probably unreadable for most.

Ah, well: http://theanvilreview.org/print/hum_with_the_talk_about_these_oppositional_spirits_/
Also, in what way is this approach to art primarily distinguishable from the Situationist notion of détournement?
“bourgeois cultural replication mechanisms”

What would be an example of such a thing?
Thanks for your comments. A quote from Bakunin is what brought the question: “We must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda.” ("Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis").

Theorists often say the novel is exemplary of a bourgeois cultural replication mechanisms.

I am not of the opinion that all culture is bourgeois. They likely wouldn't have smashing windows as part of their culture ;)

2 Answers

+1 vote
I really don't think so.

I think of propaganda of the deed as being specifically a violent act such as an assassination, robbery, bombing, etc. which is intended to inflict material harm on capitalists or the state, inspire other people to follow suit, and possibly also help fund the revolution (in the case of say a bank robbery).

While I can appreciate that (some) literally violent actions could potentially also be read as a form of performance art, I have no idea how a film, a novel, or a painting could be considered propaganda of the deed, since these things are quite unlikely to cause anyone physical harm. To my mind this is a pretty obvious distinction. Art-making operates at the level of superstructure rather than attacking the material base of society.

I don't think the problem is that art is "corrupted," exactly. I'm pretty sure the problem is that art has been subsumed by capital. For a good illustration of one way this works I highly recommend watching this if you haven't already: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yea4qSJMx4

It could definitely be worthwhile to try and make art which resists its role in capitalism, but I think if you believe your art conforms to a rubric of violent revolutionary political activity from the 19th century, then it ... probably won't be very good?

Also this is very worth reading:
http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm
answered Oct 6, 2012 by asker (7,900 points)
edited Aug 20, 2013 by asker
dude. hennessy is so funny! the personal mythology one is my favorite so far.
thanks for the link. :)

edited to uncheck the gddmd "email me" option. jeez.
Wow, that man is amazing. What a gem!
yeah he's great! I think my favorite is the one on studio visits!
Thanks for your response. I've been thinking about this understanding of propaganda of the deed as a potential form of art. I wonder if the real violence of the tactic is in fact cultural, since any material or physical harm inflicted is insignificant compared to the propaganda value.
Maybe, but I think the reason people don't do propaganda of the deed any more is because most of the time it ended up being better propaganda for their enemies.  (I'm not arguing against political violence, just the specific rubric of propaganda of the deed.)
@asker

Yeah, it often seems to happen that way, doesn't it!

I'm happy I stumbled on this page, as the knowledge and thoughtfulness is quite taking. I'm new here, so don't quite understand the etiquette or system for the votes and scores. Seems like a funny feature for an anarchist space, don't you think?

-e
+1 vote
I will think propaganda by the deed more as anti-art. for more on that check why the situationists, the dadaist and others came againts art. Propaganda by the deed is related to the concpet of direct action. Art on the other hand tends to be a mediation between oneself and reality.
answered Oct 7, 2012 by iconoclast (3,250 points)
I think the distinction you're making may be too simple.

I actually think of propaganda of the deed as being a special type of mediation in which the medium is actually physical violence. After all, doesn't propaganda of the deed have to involve, well, propaganda?
propaganda by the deed has been reduced to violent exemplary actions but anarcho-pacifists argue that propaganda by the deed can be non-violent and so sit-ins and strikes can also be forms of propaganda by the deed.
Hmm, looking over the wikipedia article I can see that there were some pretty early exponents of forms of pacifist propaganda by the deed. Weird.  I'd never heard it used that way before.
Because art is this mediation of the self and the other it must contain a vast potential of possible experiences and ideas -- far greater than its "creator" could ever intend or mean. And so I wonder if you have to read Orwell or if anarchist principles are enacted in less obvious ways as well.

Is it propaganda of the deed if a parent refuses to spank a child, demonstrating to others a simple way to resist domination? Is it propaganda of the deed if one reads this scene in a novel?
Maybe I'm just being overly nit-picky, but I think in contemporary usage 'propaganda of the deed" is way more specific than that. In my experience it's almost always used when talking about the specific historical trend of anarchist terrorism exemplified by eg galleani.

What would be the point of stretching this term to cover almost any gesture that you sympathize with?

Also no you don't have to read George Orwell... (?)
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