Before concluding, I think it fitting to spare a final word on Eisenstein’s essential project: the application of Marxism to art. In the first episode of this series, I stated that my purpose in all of this work is to develop a practicable Marxist politics of art. Eisenstein attempted such a project, expanding on it through his later work. Before his death he was working on bringing this project to a form of fruition, putting together the outline for a film on Marx’s Capital. What we see specifically in Eisenstein is an example of an attempt to apply Marxism to artistic form.
I don’t want to pretend that Eisenstein is unique in this regard. There have been various attempts to apply Marxism to artistic form. Brecht, for example, developed a technique known as “the alienation effect”. Whilst I intend to discuss these other attempts in later episodes, my fundamental criticism of Eisenstein is applicable to most — if not all — that have attempted to develop such a “Marxist aesthetic”.
As I said earlier in this episode, art is a social relation. It is a specific form of relationship that exists between the artist and their audience. Furthermore, its form is conditioned by social forces prior to production, by the concerns of artistic production themselves and in consumption. If we consider what Eisenstein is attempting to get at — how art forms communicate and shape meaning — then we discover that aethestics too are conditioned by social forces. To put this bluntly: apples did not evolve to be symbols of sin. Rather, we developed as a species to understand them as such, in particular parts of the world over given periods. How we interpret symbolism, film structure or editing is a product of artistic history.
This presents any artist attempting to produce Marxist forms of art — particularly one as aesthetically radical as Eisenstein — with a problem. Once their work has been produced it must also be understood. As the work will often use some form of new artistic language, this is a difficult task for any potential audience to come to grips with. As we have seen, in order to even make October truly intelligible it is necessary to approach how films create meaning in a radically different way. Whatever new formal language has been developed must also be learned. Without the proliferation of many works using the same processes, this is unlikely to occur on a significant scale. As I have said, this is one reason why October was unpopular on its release and today remains both obscure and difficult.