Our phones are used as weapons against us – by tracking our movements and recording our conversations and thoughts primarily.
However, they can be used as effective weapons in our own hands as well.
The filming, editing and publishing capacities of the phones in our pockets can do the same job that, up until recently, needed hundreds or thousands of people to do as well as lots of money and time.
Each of us has the capacity to be an amateur film or poster maker. You can make posters, graphics, videos and more very easily, and organised sections of the working class have the opportunity to harness these developments for mass propaganda production.
“Revolutionary culture is a powerful revolutionary weapon for the broad masses of the people. It prepares the ground ideologically before the revolution comes and is an important, indeed essential, fighting front in the general revolutionary front during the revolution. ” – Mao, On New Democracy (1940)
Many apps have inspired the growth of communities around them of other amateurs learning and teaching each other, typically based on creating interesting content for Instagram.
Members of revolutionary organisations have at least the same amount of natural skill as any Instagram influencer.
As we struggle toward the proletarian line, we generate the slogans to use in posters. And our direct actions look great in video and photos. This is the kind of material graphic designers and videographers love to work from. And we, red first, can become expert in these visual propaganda skills.
How to get this propaganda out is another question. Social media companies are clamping down and there is not much of the old ‘free web’ remaining.
Mass group chats through apps seem to be one method to distribute propaganda that is less restricted, at the time of writing.
“Works of art which lack artistic quality have no force, however progressive they are politically. Therefore, we oppose both works of art with a wrong political viewpoint and the tendency towards the “poster and slogan style” which is correct in political viewpoint but lacking in artistic power. On questions of literature and art, we must carry on a struggle on two fronts.” – Mao, 1942
So the question which follows is: what films do we make with this technology and our skills?
Our ranks surely have many Dziga Vertovs and Jean-Luc Goddards among us!
Films – and stories from time immemorial – have a narrative arc. This is generally of the pattern: a normal person has their life disrupted, they are pulled into a struggle and are forced to dig deep within themselves and the people around them to overcome it – establishing a new and in some way better life
This “mono-myth” is a recognisable pattern that humans relate to dating back to antiquity.
Since the ruling ideas at any time are the ideas of the ruling class, we can be sure that elites have crafted these storytelling techniques to propagate their own narratives from the classical period to Hollywood and Netflix today.
There is evidence to show that the people reappropriated these native devices to tell their own stories of resistance along the way.
But the point is: we can and should use these techniques now – to tell the stories of our class, in a scientific socialist way.
The “hero’s journey” narrative arc needs to be told about our class – we as individual members, as class fragments and as the working class as a whole (alongside other progressive classes) are on a heroic journey to end class society forever and save the world from Capitalist destruction. Our struggles, our dramas, our oppressions and our triumphs should be captured and concentrated and given back to us as political theatre – from the masses to the masses.
Fortunately, there is a well-developed radical theatre technique to help us here: theatre of the oppressed.
Established by Augusto Boal in Brazil in the 60s (and taking the politically conscious interactive theatre of Berthold Brecht to the next stage) this is a collection of techniques for practitioners to apply theatre to several parts of our social lives.
The relevant technique for us (wannabe social filmmakers) is ‘forum theatre‘.
This is designed for interacting with groups of ordinary people to dissect their problems. It involves the people explaining a situation of oppression they face, then ‘directing’ the group to act the oppressive situation out.
This scenario is acted out in front of a ‘forum’ of other people who watch the acted form of real oppression taking place. The theatre is then repeated, with the people in the forum now allowed to give directions or jump in and act in the scenario until they can find a way to end or mitigate the oppression.
Isn’t this similar to the “hero’s journey” narrative arc?
An ordinary person gets their life disrupted by oppression and has to discover their own power in order to struggle against this oppression.
What we have is a set of techniques to generate theatre – or film scripts – from among the people; but more than that, we have ways for the people themselves to “rehearse for life” and to generate demands for a Mass Line.
How? As the ‘forum’ creates solutions to the oppression, some solutions will be bigger than what the person experiencing the oppression could apply by themselves.
This can be the basis for collective organising to create these solutions, and the participants are primed to implement it.
And so in this process of trying to create a revolutionary film among the people, we have collected ideas from them, analysed and organised a nucleus of people around implementing them, set out a list of further demands to work towards – and the revolutionary film we create will be the ideal propaganda to promote this.
This kind of creative approach is a continuation of the work Augusto Boal, who would drive around Brazil in a van in the 50s and 60s to perform and learn from rural workers, did promoting his radical theatre – except updated for technology (mobile filmmaking devices are ubiquitous today unlike in Boal’s) and for ideology (Boal was a radical but a liberal, and his methodology has limits set by this. Marxism takes the methodology to the next stage).
Marxism and revolutionary film theory is the final ingredient to add into this mix of popular filmmaking skills, common filmmaking technology and a practical methodology for taking the ideas and experiences from the masses and concentrating them as scripts.
The stage is set for us to rediscover these old theories and apply them in new ways and to generate new theory.
Finally, what are some intermediary ways to improve our filmmaking craft collectively?
Since 1999 there has been a petty-bourgeois movement called Kinokabaret which involves groups of enthusiasts organising short intensive collective filmmaking sessions in towns and cities all around the world.
“Do well with nothing, do better with little, but do it now” is their motto.
These kinds of sessions are good ways for amateur and beginner filmmakers to work with more experienced ones and to quickly pick up the necessary skills.
And such sessions themselves need to be taken up and adapted by Marxists and the working class to make them ours.
Marxist and revolutionary kinokabaret sessions and global calls for filmmaking themes of urgent relevance to the working class would be a promising and achievable next step in building a Marxist film movement.
The blossoming of ever more film festivals would be another complementary part of this.
Of course, filmmaking sessions and festivals are a front by which Marxists and the working class can encroach upon the territory of the bourgeois film industry and make it ours. It should be complementary to our own propaganda production and work among the masses, not instead of it.
In general, the path of mass revolutionary filmmaking is wide open to us.
This is a new form of literacy, and we live in a moment when the cameraphone suddenly became as common in the hand as the pen did millennia ago.
Mass revolutionary filmmaking can become another front of struggle – a modern form of storytelling – but only in the context of all the same struggles communists and revolutionaries have learned in all the decades and centuries of organised working-class resistance and revolt. ‘Red first then expert’, ‘intellectualise the proletarians and proletarianise the intellectuals’, ‘from the masses to the masses’ – and all the many lessons we’ve learned on how to build and lead the revolution. Left and right deviations, adventurist and reformist cinema will be produced. But in synthesis, we have a useful tool to make revolution in form and essence, that we need to use more and better.
For any Marxists and filmmakers interested in organising revolutionary kinokabarets, Anti Imperialist Action Ireland would like to collaborate.