Lajos Kassák’s “To the Artists of All Nations!” (1920)
Translated from the German by John Bátki.
From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,
1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002).
• • •
The artists of a social class that is striving to achieve fully human status, alone and misunderstood in their actions, are calling out to you in a brotherly appeal. Listen to us. Our voices project rebellious, blood-red question and exclamation marks, and their coagulated meaning proclaims our undying faith in permanent revolution. We feel there is only one law, that of continual advance in the face of cosmic life; everything else is a cowardly avoidance of our true selves or a resigned waiting for death. And we are not afraid of ourselves and have no intention of resigning from our lives. The revolution is our life, and our revolution is a most sacred credo of love.
This is 1920 and we are past the purely romantic longing for greater heights; inside us torn, bloody roots reach toward the absolute, and we have earned the right to plain words uttered without gesturing.
We have learned what life is about and have internalized its laws.
We have no roots in the past and we have no reins tied to the future.
Our solitary shout into the world at large is a spout of our lifeblood: where is Man to be found?
The essence of the new art is empathy with the tragedy of our times and infusing it with meaning for the time of birth. The vocation of the new artist involves rousing to full consciousness a humanity lost the midst of the stupefaction of the oppressed and the speculations of profiteers. Thus it is not individual glorification nor is it art for the masses in the sense of people’s tribunes. Let us be clear about this. For only through this recognition can the road lead to today’s truth, to the only actual truth — to life, to you and me, to Unity.
This is what we demand of those who make art and those who are receptive to art. By placing both on the same level we have declared the equality of those who give and those who accept. For as the concept of the servants and the served will disappear, so will that of the glorified and the abased. Our motto is: Humanity. For we are human in our art, and just as we had refused to be the servants of the bourgeoisie in the past, we shall refuse to be the servants of any other class in the future — even if that class is called the proletariat. We believe that every form of class servitude represents another variant of today’s social system of enslavement. We have no desire to help a new class in place of the former one, lording it over humanity. We proclaim the community of triumphant individuals as opposed to any kind of class dominance, and a collective ethics as opposed to any kind of morality of the state. This is where the light and warmth of our fraternal words leads. Our paths rush us to the land of fraternity, and the word our banners flash forth is Action. Action of redemption, not the action of hatred.
This alone can be the voice of today’s justice.
Brothers! We send our loud signals to you from this land that abounds in history, searching for iron-fisted destroyers and clear-headed builders. We are recruiting the pioneers of the liberating thought to lead the army of the masses flooded by misery. These are the masses that are still mostly led by their bellies so that all fine hopes are again liable to perish. The energies of the revolted proletariat have been fatally chained to a single track and the clock strikes one funeral after another for a world in flames.
Let the seers see clearly now!
The revolution must not be rationalized into the service of solving any one question, any single idea. For the revolution is not a means for triumphing in life — the revolution is the goal, Life itself.
Let us face the fact that today’s worldwide movement does not yet signal the beginning of a new world, only the end of the old. Not the individual and collective rejection of government, but its seizure by repressive organizations. This is not yet the transcending of government, merely a development into its fullest form, terrorist Social Democracy.
All this is still nothing but politics.
The power-struggles of parties moving the masses.
Jockeyings for position, with the accompanying anxieties over position.
But the perspectives have opened up!
Certain tragic individuals, like the cursed angels of mythology, already carry within themselves, and expose as a sacred monstrance, the one and only certain sign of revolution: an active consciousness.
And here is our time, and your time, brothers, for all of us who want to set fire to the soul of humanity, using the fuel of historical materialism. Now is the time to bring to light the eternal stability of ethics as opposed to every kind of class morality. Stressing the solution of economic problems is not enough for enhancing the possibilities of human existence. The masses have starved long enough to be ready to revolt at any time for a momentary improvement in their lot — but now is the time, as never before, to deepen instinctive rebellion into conscious and permanent revolution. Having liberated the actual forces at work, we must now reappraise our abstract concepts. As we shake off the hindering layers of mud, we also have to point our torches toward the one and only goal. For only a ceaseless longing for Onward can reinforce our fortitude in fighting each momentary battle. For only a liberated soul can guarantee that the liberated body will not be subjected to a new yoke.
Brothers, whose sad and joyful souls pour forth into single-minded lives of politics, science, and technology, you are as aware as we are that this is the only way it can be. We are aware that the origins of the revolution (its instigators) are immediate economic factors, but its unstoppable propellers are the awakened psychic forces. Pure, unified consciousness. The shout you hear from us issues from the innate law of world revolution. New artists! Reach out in the chaos of revolution to allow the harmony of the revolution resound with the consanguinity of our blood. Beyond class interests, toward the interests of all humankind. Above and beyond the dictatorship of a class, toward the dictatorship of ideas. Throw away the placards carrying names, cast aside pseudo-humanism and individual imperialism!
We shall not be stopped!
Brothers, become truly fraternal, to build a new man, the collective individuum!
For under the banner of communism, which is the purest faith, there cannot be any other interest than humanity’s vast existential interest, of which you and I equally partake!
The realization of this interest under the dictatorship of ideas can only take place through the revolutionizing of souls!
This revolution can only be assured through the ethical and pointedly cultural education of the proletariat that constitutes the wholesome raw material of the future.
Therefore we demand culture! And yet more culture!
The proletariat is inexorably battering at the reign of the slave-keeping fathers; we must now begin the fight against the reign of the first-born siblings.
Down with the politics of the bloodthirsty! Down with the leaders clinging on to their prestige! Down with the Talmudists of the revolution!
We have had enough of lawyers’ reasoning, administrative mechanisms, boring speeches!
Long live the revolution against all tradition!
Long live the responsible collective individuum!
Long live the dictatorship of ideas!
[Originally published as “An die Künstler aller Länder!” in Ma vol. 5 (1920)]