Blues Communism and Proletkult

Authors: Luke Anthony Hingtgen*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Cultural Geography, Socialist and Critical Geographies, Black Geographies
Keywords: Music Geographies, Sound, Free Jazz, Blues Epistemology, Proletarian Culture, Decentralization, Improvisation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The blues was the emancipated American slaves’ first formalized secular music and popular unconscious expression, a collective recognition of the urgency to square up the world. By the twentieth century, the blues not only reified the poor and working class Black American experience but revealed the indeterminable Black American and proletarian telos (freedom). Anticipating that freedom, many joined Richard Wright in looking to communism “as a life strategy using political tools...a deep going sensuality that took cognizance of fundamental human needs and answers to those needs.” Recognizing the formidable gap between capitalism and a liberatory society, the Bolshevik philosopher, Alexander Bogdanov, claimed communism was unattainable without the expulsion of bourgeois knowledge and cultural forms, including music. And in doing so, he proposed the necessity of building autonomous proletarian culture (Proletkult). While the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) had a significant foothold in organizing Black agrarian and industrial workers from the 1930-60s, taking many spatially and culturally unique decentralized forms, little has been said of the blues and its intimate participation in Black proletarian spaces, struggles, sounds, and cultures of the time. By rupturing the hegemonic anti-communist and white supremacist narrative of American bourgeoise culture, I plan to remap and imagine the musical space the blues/jazz as autonomous proletarian culture (Proletkult) may have occupied in Black Communist’s sound, formation and praxis. Additionally, I will look to the blues form in conceptualizing the potential production of Proletkult for contemporary party building and class struggle.

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