Sorry to Bother You! -The Need for Working Class (and Progressive) Art

We Need a New Culture, but Only Our Class Perspective can Bring it!.jpg

With all the craziness happening in the world at the moment, there is something we feel that is seriously lacking today. That something is both a proletarian and a progressive art culture. There are few individual progressive artists out there however and Boots Riley is one of them. He’s been a dope MC for years. Unlike pretty much every other rapper, he has never sold out (thought the possibility always exists). He doesn’t brag about his riches when we can’t afford rent. He doesn’t tell us that the path to freedom is to flying around in private jets sponsored by Google. He has some understanding of the contradictions present in society and our lives and always treated us (his fans) with respect. Hip-Hop is a folk culture. It reflects the state of the people, it was forged through class struggle. It was also perverted under the leadership of the capitalists.

Hip-Hop is ours – or is it?

Unlike what the capitalist press wants you to believe, Hip-Hop culture is not a “black culture” but rather the culture of the poor. It is the frustrated expression of the ghetto. Centuries in the making, with elements and tendencies formed throughout the world, Hip-Hop manifested itself in the South Bronx though it was brewing across cities and borders the whole itme. It came as a force in a time when the children of the Jazz generation found themselves in dilapidated living conditions. Jobs were far and few. Buildings were crumbling and set ablaze by landlords and capitalists to make off with insurance money. Gangs were commonplace and the situation was desperate. Lacking the knowledge of the history of class struggle, though significantly shaped by it, the youth rebelled in their own way.

As all the tendencies culminated into the various foundational elements of Hip-Hop (breaking, MCing, Writing, DJing, Beat Boxing), a new cultural expression was born. With all due respect to DJ Kool Herc and the other recognized forefathers of Hip-Hop, the culture would have arose with or without any particular individual. It is a collective culture of the working class and laboring masses. It didn’t speak for the people, it was the people. It was a progressive force full of its own contradictions. It came as a form of resistance (albeit highly limited).

Over the decades we have allowed our culture to be hijacked by the bourgeoisie and integrated into Capitalism/Imperialism. We have allowed them to make it cool to say “I’m a boss”. Is it cool to be a boss? Hell naw! We understand the realities of poverty caused by capitalism and we understand the just desire to try and “make it” in the form that was shoved down our throats since we were kids.

Class Struggle Determines it all

Boots Riley has a history of organization. This organization is connected to labor and political practice which informs his art. This is how he was able to remain somewhat independent (so far) of the bourgeois ideology which dominates popular music. We respect his craft and are grateful that in every outlet he has, he mentions class and the fundamental role of the workers. We encourage everyone to see his movie “Sorry to Bother You” as soon as possible. Outside of being a hilarious film with interesting plot developments, at the core with tons of layers, Boots addresses issues of class, ideology, and other contradictions of capitalism. We should however point out that without our autonomous organization, even his contribution will remain limited.

Without our organization and an actual mass movement, even progressive art will reflect varying elements of capitalist domination. At a time of consolidating fascism, it is a breath of fresh air to see that progressive politics can still pierce the ideological stranglehold of our common class enemy. However, Boots is one progressive artist, imagine the power a unified working class movement can bring to culture? Imagine what will happen if millions of us are organized for our interests with our own artists?

The Need for Proletarian Artists

Without an autonomous alternative from the workers, the petite-bourgeois artist will gravitate to the destructive ideology of capitalist society. We don’t need that shit. We would delude ourselves if we believed even progressive art can stand on its own without concrete social movements to back it up. We need to step up to the plate and construct our own future. We need to support progressive petite-bourgeois artists but we must also build our own! Many of the songs that were sung by Pete Seeger and Barbara Dane (folk legends) were songs that came out of the working class struggle. It was in the mines that some of the most moving works of art were made.

It was also the use of popular melodies that made the lyrics stick in the heads of the workers who sung them as they toiled and built their initial organizations. It is our struggle that determines our future. It will be our artists who help construct not only our combative autonomous organizations, but also the soundtracks and posters for our struggles. The working class artist is a key player in a new culture due to emerge.

All art is political

Art is an expression of a class perspective in culture. This includes even Future, Migos, and all the “lil” guys out there. All art offers us either a concept to a path of liberation or a permanent residence in exploitation and domination, no art is devoid of class. We must nurture all our talents, build all our tendencies of humanity and our potential will blossom through the class struggle. We must constantly struggle with ourselves and our ambitions under capitalism to develop the social relations we want to see in the world. What we build today will be what will last through to tomorrow. We got nothing to lose and everything to gain so why are you still not giving us a holla? Hit us up, let’s build our culture and more importantly, our collective power!



INDIVIDUALLY WE’RE WEAK, COLLECTIVELY WE’RE STRONG! Check out Boots Riley’s latest Democracy Now interview here 

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