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Towards a committed musicology.

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Music is a human activity and as suchitis a social phenomenon, integrally related to all other aspects of society. Societies do not exist before people - they are produced by people in active engagement with their environment. The most fundamental human activity caters to the satis­faction of basic needs (e.g. for food and shelter), and the exact nature of this activity depends on the degree to which the forces of material production are developed at that historical moment, i.e. the degree to which natural resources and technical skills are available for the production of the goods required to subsist. The process by which people produce what they need and the way in which they distribute their products establishes a relationship between such people, and the combination of these social relations and the productive forces in relation to which they develop is called a 'mode of production': Societies are complex, and while it is likely that more than one mode of production may co-exist, most societies have exhibited a dominant social relationship in which a few people have controlled the means of production, i.e. the available raw materials and the instruments of production. This control has placed these people in a position of power as the ruling class (e.g. the aristocracy in feudal times), and, in using their power to maintain their control, they have exploited subservient classes. In most Western countries today, the dominant mode of production is capitalism,in 􀀬hich the means of production is owned by a small class of capitalists as the result of a long history of inheritance, appro­priation and centralization. In terms of Marx's analysis of the dynamics of capitalism, products are exchanged on the basis of the amount of abstract labour embodied in them and this exchange-value characterizes them as 'commodities'. Commo­dities are exchanged, not for their immediate use-value, but for the purposes of accumulating capital. In the capitalist mode of production, labour-power itself is commoditized, its price being determined by the cost of the daily subsistence of labourers, which is paid to them as 'wages'. Because of the advantage of their ownership of the means of production, capitalists appropriate the products of labour and then sell them. They accumulate capital as a result of the difference between the value of labour-power as expressed in the wages they pay and the value of labour as embodied in the appropriated products. This difference is called 'surplus-value'. The labour which produces surplus-value is there­fore unpaid: it is surplus labour. Capitalists continually attempt to maximize surplus labour by extending working hours, expanding and centralizing production and developing productivity through co-operative labour and mechanization. Today, the accumulation and centralization of capital through its continual re-investment has led to the development of powerful monopolies which frequently antagonize those labour organi­zations such as trade unions which represent the interests of the exploited labouring class. The drive for productivity through mechanization has led to a decrease in the ratio between capital spent on labour and that spent on the means of production, with a consequent decrease in the proportion of surplus- value accrued. This is a contradiction which is central to capitalism, and, together with the fact that production is planned with accumulation and not consumption in mind, contributes to the recurrence of economic 'crises'. Our economy has the potential to produce a higher general standard of living, but this potential will not be fulfilled until the current domination of the means of production by capital is overcome, for capitalist social relations fetter the development of those very productive forces which make such a standard of living possible. These essential processes are often concealed in mystified appearances by an illusory understanding which Marx characterized as 'ideology'. For example, surplus-value is seen as 'profit', arising naturally in the difference between cost-price and selling price. The privileges of the ruling class also appear to be 'natural'. Such distortions as these,which obscure the 'contradictory and alienating social conditions' of capitalism, must be dispelled before musicology can formulate a relation­ship between music and society. If at this point it appears that economic theory is unrelated to musical concerns, then it needs to be re­emphasized that music is a social phenomenon and does not exist in a vacuum. In the same way as Marx described commodities as 'fetishized' when they are seen to have a life of their own, independent of the human relation­ships in which they are produced, so music is fetishized if it is not seen in relation to all social activities.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.