Our Revolutionary Music

Hanns Eisler 1932

Music, like every other art has to fulfill a certain purpose in society. It is used by bourgeois society mainly as recreation, for the reproduction (re-creation) of labor power, to lull people and to blunt their intellect.

The workers’ music movement must be clear about the new function of their music, which is to activate their members for struggle and to encourage political education. This means that all music forms and techniques must be developed to suit the express purpose, that is the class struggle. In practice that will not result in what the bour- geoisie calls style. A bourgeois composer with “style” will solve all his musical tasks in a similar way, so that in bourgeois aesthetics they talk about an “artistic personality.” In the workers’ music movement we do not aspire to “style” but to new methods of musical technique, which will make it possible to use music in the class struggle better and more intensively.

The best way of describing bourgeois music is by using the term “mood,” for it signifies that bourgeois music wants to “entertain” the listener. The task of workers’ music will be to remove the sentimentality and pompousness from music, since these sensations divert us from the class struggle. 

The most important requisite of revolutionary music is to divide it into music for practical performance: songs of struggle, satirical songs and so on, and music to be listened to: didactic plays, choral montage and choral pieces with a theoretical content. 

The first requirement the class struggle places on the mass fighting song is that it is quickly taken in, that it is easily understood, vigorous and accurate in attitude. And here lies a great danger for the revolutionary composer.

Comprehensibility in bourgeois music is to be found solely in the field of popular song, and unfortunately, the mistake is often made of settling for a so-called “red” popular song. Yet the bourgeois song hit has a corrupt musical passivity which we cannot adopt. The melodic line and the harmony of the popular song are of no use. But it is possible to remould the rhythm of jazz to make it taut and vigorous.

Music to be listened to does not need the same comprehensibility as do mass fighting songs. The construction depends on the content of each piece making it possible to develop bigger and more exacting musical forms. However, the revolutionary composer can fall into other traps. First of aridity and boredom, but secondly the danger of wildly rehashing the antiquated, formal experiments of bourgeois music in the early postwar years. The music for choirs and didactic plays will have to be given a sharp and cold basic tenor, for that is how the choir must sing in expounding political slogans or theories before mass audiences.

In recent years a number of new revolutionary composers have been working actively in the workers’ music movement-Vogel, Szabó¹, Vollmer, Ernst H. Meyer, Schröder, Nöthling and others. The choral montage of the Workers’ Choir of Greater Berlin must be mentioned as a special achievement. Together with their conductor, Gold- stein, they have proved that a choir can create a choral work for itself, if it is sufficiently eager and active politically.

From Hanns Eisler A Rebel in Music, Selected Writings; Manfred Grabs Editor; Seven Seas Books.

Author: Other Aspect

A Marxist-Leninist journal, based in India and aimed at analysing the contemporary world events from a Marxist-Leninist perspective.

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