Social Change & Poetic Tradition

By Baraka, Amiri | Chicago Review, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Social Change & Poetic Tradition


Baraka, Amiri, Chicago Review


Define social as relationship that forms community, society, as that community from its economic material base to its cultural philosophical-institutional superstructure.

Society is a sum and dimension of all its relationships which define it-as to what kind of society. E.g., how people get their food, clothing and shelter-i.e., what they have to do, absolutely, to be here. These are the fundamental shapers of what we call society. There is no such thing as society without the relationships of those in it to create, change even destroy whatever it is these relations exist as.

Social Change can be progressive i.e. toward a more organically and consciously related entity as Human Earth. Toward the proliferation and enhancement, in all ways, of Life.

Or that change can be backward, reactionary, deathly, as the one we live in here. The gains from the democratic struggles of the sixties rolling back down Sisyphus mountain, as the U.S. loses its national sovereignty and is ruled now more directly by an imperialist ruling class, an international network of capital.

Poetry is an expression of Human Society, an aspect of its living description. And like society itself, the huge living culture is related and ordered (by whatever) lives. Art is "an ideological expression of society," says Mao at Yenan. "Where Do Ideas Come From?" asks Mao. From "Social Life." Our real objective lives as well as the psychological reflection, clear or "through a glass darkly," of those lives.

So in the arts, the culture, the society, there are classes, histories, experiences, values, assumptions, ways of rationalization, of class perception. "All ideas are stamped with class," says Marx. "For whom do you write?" Mao says at Yenan. What do you celebrate, what do you attack? What do you think beautiful, what ugly? Art expresses this, all art, even our own!

In society there are classes, groups formed by the socio-economic development of society and our place in it. Groups of people formed by their relationship to the production process, how material life goes on. Do we own these factories, television stations cic or work for them? Are we the purchasers of labor or the labor which is purchased? What is our place in the social organization of labor? Do we give orders or take them? What is the size of the social product (salary) and how do we get it?

For instance, most of us here are petty bourgeois by education and socialization, the vast majority of people can only sell the muscles in their arms.

A tradition is a historical social process in which certain recurring themes, motifs, forms, philosophies, institutions present a continuous tale of their social presence and impact. There is in any nation, two cultures, Lenin says, likewise in the U.S. there is the culture of the oppressed and the culture of the oppressors. So there is, as well, a tradition of the oppressed and a tradition of the oppressors. In the U.S., a minority of the oppressed are often utilized to shape the look, the approach, the themes, and message and psycho-social biases and presumptions on the majority of the oppressed, by adopting the forms of the oppressed. To look poor, for instance the jeans with the holes torn into them, which cost more money. Or Gangsta Rap. This is bourgeois commercial culture. Which takes the popular, as in rap, perverts the recurring themes of democracy, resistance, struggle, oppression and transforms them into a glorification of lumpen criminal Thuggishness. Extolling gangsterism not revolution.

In the arts and cultural expressions there is a sector enriched by the U.S. rulers, while the most democratic expressive and objective reflections of society are quickly covered, attacked, dismissed, while the art which expresses and confirms and legitimates the rule of capital, oppression, exploitation, imperialism, anti-democratic social relations, will be well-paid and ubiquitously in evidence and celebrated, given prizes, declaring the supremacy of them as person, artifact, tradition (and white supremacy) in whatever pose. …

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