Ken Loach’s latest film, I, Daniel Blake, has already generated a lot of ink. First because it is the work of a very expressive film-maker who is well-versed in criticising the capitalist world. Second, because the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival, to widespread surprise. Since then there have been numerous articles in the press, praising or attacking the film, seeing it either as a real social thermometer or as an alarmist tear-jerker.
What are the basic question posed by racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia, by all these social behaviours which reveal human alienation and which can go as far as murder. How does one explain such an unleashing of social violence; how do you understand these prejudices which seem to come from a bygone age of superstition? How, faced with these types of problems, do you guard against the ideological thinking that the bourgeois system abundantly spreads around in order to mask reality and accentuate the divisions which weaken its historic enemy, the class of proletarians?
By starting a new heading of ‘Readers’ Contributions’ on our website, and occasionally in our paper, we hope to encourage our readers and sympathisers to write texts and articles which can go into greater depth than is possible in our discussion forum, and so stimulate a longer term reflection. These articles, while being broadly based on proletarian politics, need not fully represent the positions of the ICC, or may deal with issues on which the ICC does not have a collective view. The question of art is clearly such an issue, and we welcome Boxer’s effort to deepen our understanding of the marxist approach to humanity’s creative productions.
The main purpose of this article is to bring the work of Max Raphael into the field of contemporary marxist attention and discussion where it belongs. The bourgeoisie calls many of its intellectuals “marxist”, which not only serves to give them a sheen of credibility but usually helps to debase genuine marxist contributions. Many learned individuals have important things to say around the various ideological spheres that have grown up around society and this is to be expected. But unlike the bourgeois “marxists” who pronounce on the ideologies of the ruling class, the views of Max Raphael are very clear on the necessity of the revolutionary overthrow of a corrupt and destructive capitalism by independent working class action, and this fact alone leads us to express an interest in trying to understand his works. Raphael wrote dozens of books and many more papers on art, mostly in French and German with a few in English. He said that if one wanted to understand his views on art then all of them should be read. We can’t do that or even approach it, but we can draw out some elements in order to give us a deeper perspective on art within a framework of the workers’ movement.
A visit to the "Truth and Memory" exhibition of British war artists, currently showing at London’s Imperial War Museum, prompts some thought about the complex relationship between art, politics and propaganda.
By announcing the forthcoming adoption of a law authorising gay marriage, the French government has provoked a series of mobilisations and media debates where everyone is asked to choose their camp : ‘for’ or ‘against’ gay marriage. The same thing has happened in other countries: in Britain David Cameron’s proposal to legalise gay marriage has created deep divisions in both the Tory party and the Anglican Church (which had already been convulsed by the scandalously radical idea of allowing gay priests and women bishops).
In the previous article in this series, we saw that sport concentrates nationalist ideology and that it is an instrument at the service of imperialism. It expresses all the monstrosity of decadent capitalism.
For a long time sport has represented a phenomenon that cannot be ignored from the fact of its cultural breadth and its place in society. A mass phenomenon, it's imposed on us through the tentacles of many institutions and results in a permanent hammering from the media. What significance can we give it from the point of view of a historical understanding and from the point of view of the working class?
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death, the year 2006 witnessed the celebration of Heinrich Heine as the great poet of German romanticism. Heine: wasn’t that the author of the Lorelei song, which sounds so popularly romantic that even the Nazis could not do without it? Romanticism: was that not a flight from reality into the past, into religion and the world of legends and myths? And this being the case, why should a contemporary marxist paper deal with Heine today?
In the first part of this summary of the
second volume (International Review 125) we looked at how the communist
programme was enriched by the huge advances made by the working class movement
during the world-wide revolutionary upsurge provoked by the First World War. In
this second part, we consider how revolutionaries struggled to understand the
retreat and defeat of the revolutionary wave, while showing that this too was a
source of invaluable lessons for the revolutions of the future.
previous articles in this series examined how the communist movement,
during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the darkest years of the
counter-revolution, struggled to understand what had become of the
first proletarian dictatorship to establish itself on the scale of an
entire country – the Soviet power in Russia. Future essays will
look at the lessons revolutionaries have drawn from the demise of
this dictatorship and have applied to any future proletarian regime.
But before proceeding in that direction, we must return to the days
when the Russian revolution was still alive, in order to study a key
aspect of the communist transformation that was raised, though not of
course resolved, during that decisive period. We refer to the
question of ‘culture’.
Michael Moore's film, Fahrenheit 9/11, honored by the Cannes Film Festival, more for its politics than its artistry, has been playing to packed theatres across the country this summer. Within the US the controversy surrounding this film reflects the seriousness of the divisions within the American bourgeoisie about the conduct of the war in Iraq. Walt Disney Co., the film's producer, originally decided not to permit the film to go into theatrical release for fear of offending the Bush administration because of its sharp political attack on the administration. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, a prominent liberal democrat, who served as legal counsel representing Moore in his efforts to get the film into release, said he was fighting for this film to be in theatres nationwide because he believes it is a film that every American should see, that it's message is vital to American democracy. The New York Post, the conservative tabloid, controlled by Murdoch's News Corp, denounced the film as crass propaganda.
The clamor over gay marriage has become a virtual obsession of the bourgeois media in the United States over the past several months. Television talk shows have been replete with impassioned debate between liberal reformers and conservative Christians arguing the pros and cons of granting same-sex couples the right to a legally sanctioned marriage. From the Marxist perspective, while the often bigoted and hate-inspired arguments of the conservative foes of gay marriage-which claim that homosexuality is a perverse lifestyle whose legal recognition will further erode the moral fiber of the nation-are easy to reject, the often inspired and passionate arguments of liberal reformers for granting the right to same sex marriage are not so simple to evaluate
For more than a month the prestigious New York Times, and the
media in general, have been shaken by the Jayson Blair scandal,
which has put into question the veracity of the mass media that
the ruling class relies upon to manipulate and mold mass
consciousness in contemporary society. Blair was exposed for
plagiarizing and even fabricating more than 73 national news
stories over the past year. To repair the damage to its
credibility, the Times devoted four full pages of its May 11th
edition to detailing Blair’s transgressions. This “coming
clean” by the self-styled American newspaper of record was
supposed to reassure the public that the New York Times was more
than capable of cleaning its own house. The whole thing was very
reminiscent of the New York police department’s
self-investigations of police brutality complaints. Journalists
around the country rushed to the defense of the Times, praising
the newspaper for confronting the scandal head-on. As one
apologist put it, “the New York Times, the Wall Street
Journal, and the Washington Post are dedicated to reporting the
There has been a lot of hype in the mass media about the so-called 'Greatest Generation' -- the generation that fought in World War II. First there was "Saving Private Ryan," the Hollywood blockbuster starring Tom Hanks, which glorified the sacrifices of those who fought in the war. More recently, there has been a media campaign to erect a monument to the soldiers and sailors who "made the world safe for the American way of life." Tom Brokaw, one of the most prominent television news reporters/broadcasters in the United States, has published two books on this generation, both those who fought in the war. The television news has been inundated with "heart-warming" stories about "long overdue" medals and citations being awarded to aging veterans. Various tributes have been made to the factory workers who worked long and hard to produce the weapons and materials needed to prosecute the war. A strong dose of gratitude is handed to those men and women who were not sent into combat but who worked under often dangerous and difficult conditions to keep production for war going at a fierce pace. There has been homage to all the women who worked as nurses or factory workers or truck drivers to keep war production going.
The world wide success of the film Gladiator has generated a renewed interested in Ancient Rome and the role of gladiators. Any inquiry into this question has to raise the spectre of the slave war between 73 and 71 BC, which was lead by the gladiator Spartacus. Unlike the fictional Gladiator which opposes the central character and his small band of gladiators to the truly wicked emperor Commodus, the real slave revolt saw 100,000 or more slaves waging war on their Roman oppressors and defeating the seeming invincible legions time and time again. This revolt, though bloodily crushed, has inspired revolutionary movements. The main grouping of revolutionaries in Germany who opposed World War 1 adopted the name of the Spartacus League to express their determination to wage war on the ruling class; and like Spartacus and the slave army the revolutionary struggle of the workers in Germany was drowned in blood. Thus the name Spartacus became synonymous with the revolutionary aspirations of the exploited. Whereas Gladiator is about the hero and his small band of gladiators standing up for an empire based on 'justice' (no mention of the exploitation of slaves) against the oh-so-wicked Commodus: in short for democracy against dictatorship.
The novelist and art critic John Berger wrote an article in the Guardian, 24 August, 'The beginning of history', praising Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 in glowing terms. "The film, considered as a political act, may be a historical landmark. Yet to have a sense of this, a certain perspective for the future is required. Living only close up to the latest news, as most opinion-makers do, reduces one's perspective. The film is trying to make a small contribution towards the changing of world history. It is a work inspired by hope". For Berger, this is an attempt by an artist to intervene in world politics and has both an immediate and a deeper and wider aim. The immediate aim "is to stop Bush fixing the next election as he fixed the last. Its focus is on the totally unjustified war in Iraq. Yet its conclusion is larger than either of these issues. It declares that a political economy which creates colossally increasing wealth surrounded by disastrously increasing poverty needs - in order to survive - a continual war with some invented foreign enemy to maintain its own internal order and security. It requires ceaseless war.
The following extracts, which are accompanied by our own comments, are taken from the final chapter of Literature and Revolution, where Trotsky outlines his vision of art and culture in the developed communist society of the future. Having rejected the notion of ‘proletarian culture’ in previous chapters, Trotsky permits himself a glimpse of the truly human culture of classless society; it is a glimpse which takes us far beyond the particular question of art to the prospect of a transfigured humanity.
Every ruling class creates its own culture, and consequently, its own art. History has known the slave-owning cultures of the East and of classic antiquity, the feudal culture of medieval Europe and the bourgeois culture which now rules the world. It would follow from this that the proletariat has also to create its own culture and its own art.