â€˜Not for nothing was the stalinist 1930s characterised both by the fierce and relentless struggle against formalism in music, literature and the arts that ended careers and even lives, and by a torrential outpouring of new workâ€™
manifesto magazine is a digest of postings from the 21centurymanifesto blog.The aim is to capture the best commentary, reportage and analysis drawn from a wide range of progressive sources throughout the world.
3 War and anti-war Andrew Murray on new dangers and the failure of the ‘war on terror’
8 History made by the Pentonville 5 Graham Stevenson reflects on a day the balance of class power shifted
12 Understanding the crisis Zoltan Zigedy gives a Marxist account of the economic crisis
16 Police in for a good hiding Nick Wright on the unravelling of an unholy alliance
18 A defence of Stalinist art policy Mark Jones explains why much of socialist realist art is valued
24 Syria’s agony is far from finished Kenny Coyle on imperialism and Syria’s agony
Andrew Murray chaired the Stop the War Coalition
Graham Stevenson was president of the European Transport Workers Federation
Zoltan Zigedy is a US marxist and blogs at http://zzs-blg.blogspot.fr
Nick Wright was head of Haringey Council’s police research unit in 1984
Mark Jone’s writing sparked an interesting discussion at http://tinyurl.com/bbuzv7 v
Kenny Coyle was formerly international secretary of the Communist Party
War and anti-w
he “war on terror” might now be considered the longest general imperialist war in history. Now in its twelfth year, it comfortably exceeds the duration of the two world wars of the twentieth century combined. Particular imperialist wars – against the Vietnamese for example – have lasted longer; but the “war on terror” is of a different type – a war ostensibly against a method, fought by fluctuating alliances of great powers, with the USA at their core, extending over a vast and enlarging range of nations across thousands of miles, reading from west to east – Mali, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan being those explicitly targeted, with still others, headed by Iran and Syria obviously targeted. In its scope and duration, this has been a historically imposing episode. It cannot be said to have gone well. That may be a statement of the obvious, but it bears explaining. The war has evidently been a disaster for those it has been visited upon – the Iraqi and Afghan people first of all. But it has also been an enormous failure, in its own way on a Vietnam-war scale, for its promoters, the US elite above all. In general terms, the objective has been to maintain the “unipolar moment” – the unchallengeable world hegemony of the USA which emerged from 1991 – internationally, and in particular to impose a Pax Americana across the greater Middle East. The different specific conflicts have of course had specific triggers, but they have all occurred in that broad setting.
We can now trace four overlapping phases to the war – the conflict in Afghanistan (begun 2001, scheduled to officially finish in 2014 – we shall see); the Iraq war (2003-2010?); the Obama drone war (Pakistan, Yemen and beyond 2009 to date) and what could be termed the “Arab Spring” war (Libya, Syria and, indirectly Mali, running from 2011 onwards). Let us judge their outcomes from the perspective of their promoters. In launching the Afghan war, George Bush and Tony Blair set two objectives – overturning the Taliban regime and denying Al-Qaeda sanctuary and support in Afghanistan. Both objectives were achieved within three months – but the great powers have then spent the ensuing eleven years un-achieving them again. By occupying Afghanistan and seeking to prop up a corrupt and undemocratic regime, with all the ensuing brutalities, the Taliban has been given a cause and space to re-establish itself; while the spread of the conflict to Pakistan has allowed Al-Qaeda to entrench itself there instead. Whenever the war ends, it is certainly not going to look like it will be under any circumstances which can be passed off as a NATO ‘victory’, which has been the main purpose for maintaining the war for so long. That is in itself sensational – that a guerrilla army in one of the world’s poorest countries can deny victory to the mightiest military alliance ever seen. Peoples all over the world fighting for independence and justice will no doubt have taken note. The Iraq war was fought for multiple aims –
overthrowing the Saddam regime; turning Iraq into a permanent base for US military hegemony in the region; securing the strategic supremacy of Israel; isolating Iran; seizing Iraqi oil; and turning Iraq into a “democratic and free-market beacon” in the Arab world. All of these aims were iterated, with different weight being given to each at different stages. Clearly, only the first has been achieved, and that must be qualified by the acknowledgement that the present government in Iraq, if lacking Saddam’s brutality, is a monument to sectarian dysfunctionality and lacks almost all the attributes of a national, let alone democratic, regime. Otherwise: US troops have departed with no permanent bases left behind; Iran has been strengthened; Israel is as isolated as ever; Iraq is no sort of a beacon and the attempt to impose a rigid Chicago School economy was a disaster – and even the unchallenged access to oil resources appears to be out of reach for most of the US transnationals licking their lips back in 2003. Again, a lost war and, incidentally, a particular humiliation for the British military, the ineffectiveness of which was long plain, but the extent of its brutality is only now coming to light. The “drone wars” may appear to have had more success from Washington’s point of view, since they are, if reports are to be credited, led to the death of a number of al-Qaeda leaders. However, they have effectively spread the war to Pakistan, destabilising this nuclear-armed state, in part because the drones kill far more civilians than they do their stated targets. While drones are not, unlike ground invasions, a means of
securing regime change, they also operate according to the law of unintended consequences, whereby their continued use can push a regime over the edge regardless. Finally, the “Arab Spring” conflicts – by which is meant those western interventions arising from, and designed to master, the movement of the Arab peoples for democratic liberation, beginning in Tunisia and Egypt two years ago. To date the main overt military intervention was the regime change war against Libya, which, while succeeding in ousting the Gadhafi government, has not led to a viable alternative government in Libya – rather it has plunged the country into ethnic, regional and sectarian strife, which has again given a new scope to local al-Qaeda affiliates and has spilled over into Mali and Algeria, provoking in the former a fresh neo-colonial incursion by the former imperial power, France. In Syria too the opposition to Assad, that which was not in the pocket of imperialism from the get-go, has been suborned by great powers apparently, at time of writing, content to see Syria bleed but concerned as to what genies might come flying out of the bottle should their cobbledtogether opposition “alliance” actually prevail. So from this litany of half-met goals and more often outright failure, we can draw the obvious conclusion that imperialism, and the USA above all, is a good deal less imposing and mighty than it seemed at the turn of the century. More specific consequences follow: n The effort to extend and entrench the bases of a US-dominated New World Order has failed. That
seems to me to be definitive – even before we consider the behaviour of other events, other powers, in ushering on the passing of the “unipolar moment”, the limits of declining US power have been exposed. n The unity of the imperialist camp has been eroded in two senses. The core US alliance – basically NATO plus Japan and Australia – has found it harder and harder to act in concert, from the start of the Iraq war onwards. This is relative and not absolute, but still an important factor. Secondly, new centres of opposition to US power – China and Russia – have emerged and established themselves in a way that looked far from certain, and not even particularly likely, in the 1990s. n Neo-conservative ideology, whether presented as “liberal interventionism” or the “mission to protect” is relatively discredited. The disaster in Iraq was the first and most serious blow, but its inability to deal with the Arab Spring, and identify with the Arab people’s desire for democracy (except where that coincides with imperial interests) has further highlighted its limitations. It now amounts to little more, as a practical programme, than uncritical support for the Israeli government. None of this points, however, towards a safer world. Indeed, it indicates a transition to a new phase of imperialist conflict, and in all likelihood a more dangerous one. The first harbinger of the new order was the Russia-Georgian war of 2008, which saw the Georgian government, a key NATO satrapy and in itself virtually a neo-con “international”, humiliated by
Russia, with the US powerless to intervene. It may be worth recalling that the foremost western political leader urging such intervention at the time was David Miliband, then British Foreign Secretary. It is not hard to envisage such conflicts recurring in the former “Soviet space” as Putin seeks to re-establish imperial Russia, using the many legitimate national grievances left behind by the Soviet collapse as levers. But the situation in Asia is still more threatening. A recent issue of the Economist headlines the danger or China and Japan going to war, a conflict which would certainly draw in the USA. Indeed, Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, announced a year ago – shifting military power to the Pacific from elsewhere - is perhaps the moment the future will identify as the start of the march to a third world war. The ostensible issue is the control of various uninhabited islands lying between China and Japan. Similar arguments over archipelagos and their associated resources have set China against almost all its neighbours in the recent past, notwithstanding the rhetoric of “peaceful ascent”, tending to drive them to seek shelter under the expanding US military umbrella. The Chinese government, on the other hand, is surely right to characterise Japan, now under a more nationalist government itself, as the advanced detachment of a US drive to encircle their country. Indeed, such a drive has been a part, albeit a subordinate one, of the “war on terror” from the outset, when the Pentagon used 9/11 to seek new bases in the Philippines, ostensibly to challenge Islamic guerrillas there.
The achievements of neo-liberalism were secured in the class struggle, through the use of the state power
Where does this new tension come from? Undoubtedly from the rapid growth and economic expansion of China, to the point where it is now a powerful competitor for access to natural resources in Africa and elsewhere, and can develop its own military into a powerful counter-balance to the US in the Pacific and the Far East – all this occurring at a time of deep and enduring economic crisis in the USA and its principal allies. The scale of the last factor is well-known and needs little elaboration here. So let us content ourselves by citing the views of someone you have never heard of and probably should have – Saker Nusseibeh. Over to the Financial Times: “Political risk in the developed world is higher than it has been for at least two generations and investors need to factor in the risk of government appropriation of assets, civil unrest and even war, according to a large investment house. “Saker Nusseibeh, chief executive of Hermes Fund Managers, a £25bn UK investment House, feared that the US and China were entering a cold war, that rising economic nationalism in Europe ‘is creating conditions last seen at the end of the 19th century in the run up to World War 1’, and that the high youth unemployment prevalent in many southern European states is ‘typically one of the two main ingredients for civil war’, alongside bad harvests…. “ ‘The idea of war between developed nations in modern times may seem absurd, yet it is not that farfetched. Do not forget that for most of modern history
these nations have gone to war over economics’ said Mr Nusseibeh. “ ‘Considering today’s wealth divide both between countries and within them, it is entirely possible that at some stage some will say ‘enough’ and seek forcible change.’ “ The Hermes chief argues that the period since the second world war and since the 1980s in particular has been one of particular stability in the ‘developed world’ and is now coming to an end. Being a fund manager, he naturally expects to make some money from the situation, mainly it would seem in commodity speculation. Mr Nusseibeh’s personal fortunes to one side, his bleak assessment of the future corresponds to the facts of the world situation. A prolonged period of political stability and a shorter period of high rates of economic growth (albeit largely fictitious and bubble-driven as it turned out) have come to an end. The achievements of neo-liberalism were secured in the class struggle, through the use of the state power in a number of countries, Britain not least, to weaken and break up the working-class movement; and internationally to destroy any obstacle to the global expansion and accumulation of capital, of which the USSR was the most significant and obvious. The “stability” thus secured pursued three ends: First, the extension of wage labour, the only source of surplus value and hence ultimately of profit, across the world, pulling perhaps as many as a billion more people into the circuit of capitalist production, in China,
the former socialist countries, India and elsewhere. This fact above all has driven capitalist growth over the last generation. Second, the intensification of exploitation, the fruits of weakened trade unions and workers’ parties, which has seen the share of wealth secured by labour diminished in most countries, and inequality spread. Third, state intervention to secure the extension of commodification, through privatisation and the elimination of many barriers to the “free operation of the market”. In the end however this led to an increasing overaccumulation of capital, with the evil day of reckoning only postponed by a series of “bubbles” culminating in the vast speculations on the housing market, with an array of banks, hedge funds and investors each effectively looking for a bigger and bigger slice of every mortgaged property in the world, to the point of insolvency and borderline insanity. The consequence of a ”free market” would here have led to wholesale bank failure and economic seizure. To avert this, the banks have been bailed out with vast sums of public money, at a time when tax income has been reduced by the slump. The capitalist answer to the problem of their own making has been austerity, the kindly word for mass social immiseration, in southern Europe and Ireland most of all, but also in the USA and here in Britain. So far, so bad. The second line of crisis is the democratic, as our friend from Hermes implies. Bourgeois democracy has always basically been
‘... we can draw the obvious conclusion that imperialism, and the USA above all, is a good deal less imposing and mighty than it seemed at the turn of the century’
democracy for the good times, when any likely outcome of the normal democratic process is guaranteed to leave prevailing property relations intact and to subject the social hierarchy to no more than reasonable – unavoidable – modifications. When elections might actually make a profound difference we drift onto territory which starts as “technocratic” takeovers of elected governments, proceeds through voter suppression initiatives and other measures to drive down turnout and keep politics as an exclusive elite preserve and end up with outright authoritarian government. The continuum runs Mario Monti – US Republicans – Golden Dawn as it were. All fuelled, of course, by a popular contempt of the politicians which have led the world into this mess, a contempt very easy to arouse. Weakened democracy and circumscribed political activity makes it easier for the third leg of the world crisis to bear its bitter fruit – beyond economic slump and political reaction lies war. In a world of overaccumulation, with opportunities for profit blocked and limited by the crisis, the scramble for resources, for access to markets, for the opportunity to exploit and super-exploit gradually passes from the realm of private initiative to become public business, from the corporation to the state. It is under these conditions, or those very like them, that in the past imperialism has gone feral. Absent a single powerful hegemonic power able to exercise the strength to impose an agreeable division of the world market between interested parties, which includes
denying itself that which could maybe otherwise obtain, no set of rules, let alone ideological wishful thinking, can hold things together. The failure of the “war on terror” in its own terms seems to establish that it is these conditions which are coming to predominate today. Whether it is disputed Pacific islands, a discontented Russian minority in a post-Soviet “successor state”, an attack on Iran or something else altogether which provides the spark is ultimately a secondary question – second to the question as to whether imperialism should be endured at all. The immediate alternative is to break the pressure that imperialist interests have on democratic politics, and to as far as possible block the avenues to war. It is true that the drive to war is ineluctable under monopoly capitalism, but it is eminently possible to block any particular war at any particular time. If the foregoing is right, then the strengthening of the existing anti-war movement is clearly a priority. There are other demands which could be described as anti-imperialist, which have broad popular support and could and should be campaigned for, alongside the immediate “anti-austerity” questions, to which they are closely connected: n Withdraw all British troops from abroad, and close all military bases. n Nationalise the arms industry, which would allow a reconfiguration of the manufacturing sector which it dominates. The state effectively directs the sector in any case. n State control over the banking sector.
n Nationalisation of the energy sector, which could protect consumers while also curbing a major private source of pressure for an aggressive world policy. n Extend the Leveson recommendations to the issue of the ownership of the media, dispersing the concentrations of communications power which have prostituted themselves in support of war in Iraq and elsewhere. n Establish a system for the recall of MPs. Had such been in place in 2003, the parliamentary vote on the Iraq war might well have been different. One could add to or subtract from these measures, but taken together they create the greatest possibility of arresting the drive to a third general imperialist war at a time when the working-class movement is not strong enough to end the capitalist system as a whole. Indeed, their adoption would also speed the reconstitution of the working-class movement itself. n
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Saturday 16 February 2013 7pm
Arden Theatre Leslie Smith Drive Faversham Kent ME13 7LE 01795 531 600 Produced and directed by Louise Townsend this criticallyacclaimed two-man play by Stephen Lowe is based on the working class novel by Robert Tressell with performances by Neil Goreand Fine Time Fontayne www.townsendproductions.org.uk
Presented by Kent Morning Star Group Help sponsor this performance and support working-class and radical theatre in Kent Tickets £6 Box office or go to http://conversationpoetry.co.uk/rtp/ 10/10 Sensational…the achievement of this production is nothing short of breathtaking” Liverpool Echo “Witty, fast paced and hard-hitting” Morning Star
How the Pentonville Five made history
ic Turner, who has just died, is perhaps most famous as one of the Pentonville Five dockers imprisoned in 1972. The Pentonville case was a high water mark during a period of stunningly effective working-class militancy against the attacks of the 1970-74 Tory government – a period it is worth learning from as we face renewed class war by a Tory-led administration. Between 1970 and 1974 there were two national miners’ strikes and two national dockers’ strikes. The nation’s postal workers and construction workers also went on strike. Council-house tenants launched a wave of rent-strikes and there was even an abortive general strike. This took place in the context of the Tory plan to diminish the value of workers’ incomes through the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, which met its biggest test during the Pentonville case. In the words of then Communist Party trade union organiser Bert Ramelson, after Pentonville the Act simply became “inoperable.” The dockers’ strikes led to the Ted Heath government imposing states of emergency. A measure of how sensitive they were lies in the revelation from Cabinet papers that Heath received regular reports from secret agents and had phones tapped and bugged. Meetings between dockers’ shop stewards and leading Communist Party officials were detailed for him – as were internal discussions about the editorial line of the Morning Star.
It later emerged that a leading London docker, who later became the chair of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), was an MI5 informant. The key battle for dockers was over “containerisation,” the move towards shipping goods in large standard-sized steel containers. Only 15 men handled a container ship, compared with the 150 required by a conventional vessel. Job numbers were dropping drastically. Dockers weren’t fighting containerisation itself, but campaigned for a designated zone around registered docks where container-handling would be done by organised labour. In Merseyside a joint committee of TGWU dockers and lorry drivers obtained agreements from March 20 1972 with 35 transport firms. But one firm, Heaton’s, which moved containers to inland depots to “stuff and strip” them at half the usual cost, went to the special court set up by the Act – the National Industrial Relations Court – for an injunction against picketing. In London, action focused on a ramshackle container depot in Stratford less than two miles from the London docks – the now defunct London International Freight Terminal on the site of what today is the Olympic park. In July 1972, five shop stewards were imprisoned in Pentonville Prison for criminal contempt of court. The case was recorded as Midland Cold Storage (MCS) Ltd v Turner and Others. MCS was owned by Lord Vestey, the head of a
massive meat shipping company. It was said that the Vesteys did not just live off the interest on their invested capital, but on the interest on the interest. MCS had sought an injunction to end picketing. A private detective agency, Euro-Tec, was asked by Special Branch to establish the names of the rank-andfile leaders. One Euro-Tec agent later revealed that thousands of shop stewards and union officials, their families and friends were regularly monitored by the agency on behalf of MI5. The five who were arrested and imprisoned on Friday July 21 1972 were Conny Clancy, Tony Merrick, Bernie Steer, Vic Turner and Derek Watkins. Turner and Steer were both prominent Communist Party members and Steer was also lay secretary of the unofficial national ports shop stewards committee. The day the men were sent to prison 35,000 dockers walked out on strike. That weekend saw a massive mobilisation across the country, with phone lines ringing red hot in preparation for a total stoppage in all ports. By the time the dockers were released on the Wednesday at least 250,000 workers had taken unofficial strike action. Newspapers and public transport were almost totally shut down. Some coalmines came out. Customs, immigration and social security offices were severely affected. There was almost no milk available that week – it was then almost exclusively delivered by drivers
organised by the TGWU. It was this tremendous pressure which led the Official Solicitor – then as now a fairly unknown part of the state judicial system – to apply to the Appeal Court, which ordered their release. But the House of Lords immediately backed a counter-appeal from the haulage companies. This prompted the TUC general council to call a one-day general strike for Monday July 31 unless the five were set free. The general strike didn’t happen because the Official Solicitor succeeded in having them released. But a number of unions, including the National Graphical Association, held one-day protest strikes anyway. The Cabinet was informed that the proposed general strike was “bound up with tactics to secure the acceptance, by the dockers’ delegate conference taking place that day, of the recommendations in the interim report of the joint special committee on the future of the dock industry.” That was a problem, since the emphasis of the Aldington-Jones report was on improved severance – mainly for unfit and older dockers – coupled with some temporary work-sharing, which many saw as the thin end of the wedge. Thus, when a delegate threw open the doors and shouted out to hundreds of waiting dockers: “It’s a national strike!” a massive roar shook the streets around Transport House. Bernie Steer was lifted onto shoulders and paraded
around to chants of “Heath Out!” Thousands of dockers appeared from nowhere to march in an orderly fashion to Tower Hill for a rally. As Tony Merrick roared: “We were asleep for five years while they took jobs away from us. Even now, the victory has not been won.” From July 28 42,000 registered dockers began the quietest and most solid, successful dock strike ever. The settlement after three weeks of strike action saw major improvements in conditions and also staved off deregulation for 15 years. Eventually the Containerbase Federation Ltd made an agreement with the TGWU road transport (commercial) trade group, preferring a devil they could do business with. It opened our roads to a world of box containers. Shaken by Pentonville, the nation’s capitalist newspapers set to work to portray the Communist Party as the source of the problems in British industry. The News of the World launched a major campaign against Ramelson. The national dock labour scheme was abolished in 1989. Since then the union has fought back to regain a key role, but much casual work still abounds in Britain’s ports. n This article is adapted from extracts from The Pentonville Five: Dockers in Action, Solidarity and the Anti-Union laws, available from the Communist Party history group for £1.50.
The Morning Star and the internet challenge
The rise of the internet has provided a massive challenge for the traditional print media. For the Morning Star, which doesn't have the financial clout of Britain's other daily nationals, that challenge is even greater. But the questions remain the same. And unlike the rest of the media we're a readerowned co-operative with you as our biggest asset. First a bit of history. This paper was one of the first to have a website, and a free one. We only put up a few features articles and the editorial. By 2004, emerging from a near-fatal era of financial crisis, it was decided that we needed to up our game: With the commonly held myth in mind that making the Morning Star available for free would seriously undermine our print sales, only the culture and editorial sections were accessible without a subscription. The number of people who paid to access the Morning Star remained low, so in 2009, with what was then supposed to be an interim redesign ready to go, we tore down the subscription barrier and put the whole paper up lock, stock and barrel for free: But things have moved on. The dilemma facing the print media is that there are plenty of other free competitors out there. However the costs of financing good-quality original journalism remain high. Despite millions of hits a year, the Guardian and Observer still leak cash on their online news operations. In fact, the majority of its web-related income comes from services such as its dating service Soulmates.
Print papers, especially at a local level, have reacted to the challenge of the internet by axing titles and journalists, resulting in plunging quality. The Morning Star cannot and will not follow the herd when it comes to this downward spiral. In any case the paper exists to promote an idea - the idea that another world is possible. We're there to spread far and wide stories of injustice and resistance, and to promote alternative, people-first policies. For the foreseeable future the print edition is going to remain at the heart of our operations. With millions of people still reading print media the potential readership is there. But we cannot neglect the internet. It is one of the most criticised aspects of the Morning Starâ€™s operation. With the assistance of some of the many thousands who access our website for free I hope that this can change. Morning Star Online has the potential to project alternative ideas shoulder to shoulder with those promoted by the Establishment media, not just in Britain but globally. But there are major barriers. The first is cost. The Morning Star has drawn up an ambitious brief for the website that would give us new ways to raise funds and push its content far and wide. But this will cost thousands of pounds. Our second issue is our production set-up. We currently have to wait until the paper is "put to bed" before manually cutting and pasting articles
across one by one. It's the internet equivalent of writing a newspaper in longhand and copying it out manually for each reader. The project we have drawn up will mean that we can finally advance on this front. Our third barrier is technology. The current patchwork quilt of sites - the shop, subscriptions and the main news pages - are an electronic Frankestein's monster. We currently can't even offer a Kindle edition, which is based on simple RSS feeds, because our current system is not good enough to allow us to do this. But with your help we can change all that. I am appealing to all readers of the online edition to share the burden of raising the investment towards a new site that will benefit both those who dip in and out, and those who are regular readers. Everyone who subscribes to our PDF edition, will bring us closer to delivering a new website and eedition for all handhelds. Prices are set at a similar rate to our print edition, although for those who currently read the Morning Star in print it is better for the paper if you continue to do that. For those who are not able to pay for an esubscription, please consider becoming a regular donor to our Fighting Fund. If we pull together we can give the Establishment media a run for their money. In solidarity, Richard Bagley Morning Star Editor https://subscriptions.morningstaronline.co
â€˜... enormous monopoly corporations have succeeded in merging their interests with the functions of the stateâ€™
Understanding the crisis
or a student of Marxist political economy, a highlight of 2012 was the seven-part discussion of the global economic crisis, its causes, and consequences in Socialist Voice, the excellent monthly publication of the Communist Party of Ireland. Beginning in January with the review of a book on the crisis, two interlocutors—identified as NC and NL– surveyed the landscape of radical and Marxist explanations of economic crises and their meaning for the working class movement. Several features of the discussion were remarkable. First, the discussion was conducted in a comradely and respectful manner. Much of the academic “Marxist” dialogue is about scoring points and splitting hairs. The SV exchange, on the other hand, sought to construct and unify. Second, the articles were free of jargon and pretension. Too often self-styled Marxist economists feel compelled to package their views in fashionable or “sophisticated” language to create an aura of profundity. Third, the dialogue owes little to bourgeois economics. Outside of a few distinguished Marxists like Maurice Dobb, Ronald Meek, and Victor Perlo, in the English-speaking world, training in mainstream bourgeois economics has been more of a hindrance than a help in grasping and advancing Marxism. Likewise, formalism—the fetish of mathematical and logical constructs– has elevated issues like the so-
called transformation problem or the “Okishio Theorem” to center stage at the expense of pursuing and elaborating the insights of Marx, Engels, and their successors. In most cases, the formalists and academicians would be well advised to return to a study of the opening chapters of Capital, an exercise that would render much of their exercises pettifoggery. The Socialist Voice contributions cover briefly, but clearly and seriously, the theories of crisis ranging from the tendency-of-the-falling-rate-of-profit through underconsumptionism, stagnation, long cycles, and the general crisis of capitalism. They draw on a diverse group of theorists from Andrew Kliman and the Monthly Review adherents through Nikolai Kondratiev and Hans Heinz Holz. I urge everyone interested in Marxist political economy to read them. Hopefully, this discussion will generate further research and debate over the many issues addressed. Developing a clear and full Marxist account of the current crisis is a work in progress. My own thoughts, offered in the same comradely spirit, are below: SYSTEMIC CRISIS 1 Capitalist economic crises are of two types: cyclical and systemic. In the course of capitalist economic activity, imbalances occur between various departments of production, between suppliers and producers, between production and consumption, etc. These imbalances result in slumps or slowdowns in productive activity. Bourgeois economists refer to these as
“business cycle” events, meaning that they are cyclical or self-correcting; recovery is on the horizon, perhaps the distant horizon, but on the horizon. Generally, bourgeois politicians apply conventional nostrums— interest rate adjustments, state spending, incentives or inducements—to adjust these cycles to their political ends. Even though these are episodic events, the ensuing damage generally falls on the backs of working people. 2 Systemic crises, on the other hand, are reflective of deep contradictions inherent in the capitalist system. As such, they are not subject to either patience or the usual menu of remedies. Capitalism, like a perpetual motion machine, violates the laws of nature. A system cannot continue forever that depends upon increasing complex social interactions while awarding the riches produced by those interactions to a few who are dissociated from the same social processes. In the long run, the accumulation of private, concentrated wealth tends to choke off the further accumulation of that wealth. 3 Systemic crises do not pass, but are temporarily suppressed or resolved through transformative change. That is, policy makers may blunt or postpone the harshest consequences of systemic crises, but eventually systemic changes are necessitated to exit the crisis. For example, despite New Deal boasts about resolving the Great Depression in the US, the Depression’s demise only came with the vast systemic changes that accompanied a world war— socialist-like economic planning, organization, investment, and production in war supplies and the massive destruction of material assets. In our time, the full impact of the 2001 technology crisis was suppressed only to exacerbate the 2008 crisis. The underlying dynamics of capitalist crisis remained, and still remain. 4 Systemic crises are, in the final analysis, crises of accumulation. What cripples the mechanism of capitalism most decisively is the inability to generate sufficient profit. Conversely, those factors which restrain the growth of accumulation– retard the rate of profit– largely account for systemic crises. Thus, broadly speaking, crises are caused by a tendency within the system for the rate of profit to fall.
5 Basing systemic crisis on failing accumulation and not imbalances or unrealized consumption has the following political consequence: it cannot be overcome with liberal or social democratic panaceas. Wealth redistribution, public sector jobs programs, social insurance etc. will not directly restore profitability unless these programs are actually subterfuges for surplus transfer. Only the restoration of profit growth will stabilize the economy. We saw this in the US after mid2009 when profits rebounded sharply (generated by intensified exploitation!). But even then earnings began to recede again by mid-2012. Thus, for the working class, the choice is really only between helping the capitalists restore profit or working to eliminate the capitalist system! 6 Paradoxically, the crisis exists because the accumulation process is overwhelmed by the huge pool of surplus in the hands of the few, the owners of the means of production, distribution, service, and finance. Just as before the Great Depression, investment opportunities in productive activities are outstripped by the sheer weight of accumulated surplus. The rate, as well as the expected rate, of profit sinks against the aggregate capital held by corporations, banks, and the rich. They turn to speculation in scarce resources, property and financial schemes, the ever-active “hunt for yield.” And they take on debt which amplifies the folly of this ceaseless search for a return on available capital. 7 The systemic crisis should not be understood as foretelling an ultimate breakdown of the system. Henryk Grossmann’s pioneering work on Marx’s tendency of the falling rate of profit—because of its strict logical exposition—mistakenly led some to believe that capitalism would implode by its own logic. Similarly, academic Marxists divorced from the working class movement lean heavily on projected stagnation to force the departure of capitalism from the world stage. But capitalism always has extreme measures to fall back on for its self-preservation: a re-shuffling of the cards through war, forced-march capitalism through fascism, and many forms of direct and indirect enslavement. The only escape from capitalism is through the efforts of the most advanced, organized elements of the working class armed with an understanding of capitalism.
MONOPOLY AND STATE-MONOPOLYCAPITALISM 1 The theorists at Monthly Review are correct to persistently point to the never-ending concentration of capital into fewer and fewer hands as evidence for the rise of monopoly capital. Mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, and integration ensure that leading corporations grow stronger and fewer. At the same time, they understate the resiliency of capitalism to create and re-create new arenas of competition. Frederick Engels stated it well in the very first Marxist tract on political economy (Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy): “Competition is based on selfinterest, and self-interest in turn breeds monopoly. In short, competition passes over into monopoly. On the other hand, monopoly cannot stem the tide of competition—indeed, it itself breeds competition…” It is this seemingly small point that eludes the “Monopoly Capital” (MC) school associated with Monthly Review. 2 Even in a hugely capital-intensive industry and a paragon of monopoly like automobile production, competition persists with new producers entering the industry through new technologies (e.g., electric cars) or national initiatives (Japan, Korea, and today China and India). While price competition persists (contrary to the MC school), competition is also expressed through technological features, fuel consumption, performance, warranty protection, and a host of other differences. Moreover, these differences are based in the techniques of production and costs of production and not merely sloughed away as “the sales effort” as Sweezy and Baran do in Monopoly Capital. They equally sidestep the competition between old and new, mainstream and alternate industries. 3 Despite the persistent concentration of capital, competition among capitalists and the thirst for a return on capital stocks will always steer the system towards systemic crisis. 4 Of greater use to the working class movement is the theory of state-monopoly-capitalism. While monopolization may bend, but not break the logic of capitalism, enormous monopoly corporations have succeeded in merging their interests with the functions
of the state. The enormous power and reach of monopoly enterprises have commandeered all organs of the state and harnessed the state’s actions to the promoting of capital accumulation. While the theory of state-monopoly-capitalism has been dismissed in left circles since the demise of European socialism, the priority by the state given to the US/European bank bailouts surely underscores its validity and makes the critics pause to reconsider. The theory is an essential tool for understanding the behavior of EU and US policy-makers through the course of the crisis. “FINANCIALIZATION” AND DEBT 1 “Financialization” is an unfortunate term—fashionable, but adding little light to our understanding. The growing role of finance has been noted since before the time of Lenin. The process culminated in finance accounting for over 40% of corporate profits in the US by the early twenty-first century—in part by its increasing absorption of stampeding surplus and in part by the decline and departure of manufacturing that formerly accounted for a far greater share of US profits. 2 Unquestionably finance took on a leading role in the US, the UK, and a few other advanced capitalist countries with the creation of a vast new pool of lowwage workers available to manufacturing after the destruction of Eastern European socialism, its socialistoriented allies and the PRC’s opening to global markets. This reflected the new national division of labor in the global economy— manufacturing and export in the East and South and finance, management, and services in the West and North. 3 As the leading financial center, the US became the Mecca for those with pockets overflowing with cash and fewer investment opportunities in an era of low interest rates and cheap money. 4 Unlike in the world of commodity production where value is produced in real time, finance offers opportunities to appropriate future value through contractual instruments like mortgages, bonds, futures, and, in our era, even more exotic creations. These instruments trade in future value, hence challenging capitalism to find even more marginal investment
opportunities to absorb surplus and potential surplus. 5 Debt—the offspring of easy credit and low interest rates—serves as an amplifier of financial investment, the critical bridge to ever-more reckless speculation. Thus, finance served up its many “innovations” designed to absorb the ocean of surplus accumulated over decades and in search of another round of accumulation in an environment of diminishing returns. In this manner, the tendency for accumulation to retard its own re-production found its expression in the financial crisis that broke out in the US in 20072008. OTHER CRISIS THEORIES 1 Wave theory– the notion that economic activity exhibits a wave-like trajectory from boom to bust and back to boom again—enjoys an almost mystical, spiritual attraction for many. Associated with the views of Nikolai Kondratiev in Marxist circles, the theory of a regular, periodic wave—long or short—is flawed for two distinct, but fatal reasons. 2 From an empirical perspective, it is impossible to settle on those features of economic history that are decisive in expressing the upturns and downturns of regular cycles. That is to say, the dependent variables are illusive and hazy. Moreover, when they are clearly stipulated—GDP, labor productivity, profits, etc—no incontrovertible pattern is revealed. Instead, only intuitive patterns are seen by those already disposed to see them. 3 From a theoretical point of view, there is no candidate for an independent variable that demonstrates a consistent and regular wave-like behavior throughout economic history (or the history of capitalism). Neither technological innovation, cultural or demographic change, nor any other candidate for the cause of cycles exhibits the kind of wave-like nature that would account for regular, periodic waves in the historic record. And where we find wave-like motion in nature (eg. Lunar cycles), there is no obvious causal connection with economic life.
4 In short, long cycles are impossible to discern without
appealing to Rorschach-like impressionism and impossible to explain without assuming what it sets out to illustrate. When you want to see a face on the moon, you’ll see one. 5 We owe a great debt to Hans Heinz Holz, the late German Marxist philosopher, who brought new life to the long-standing Communist concept of the General Crisis of Capitalism (GCC). As Holz points out, Soviet social science mechanically and empirically attached the GCC to the historical stages ushered in by the Bolshevik revolution and the Second World War. This was a misleading interpretation dissolved by the setbacks to socialism. 6 Holz is correct in rehabilitating the GCC as a truly general crisis generated by capitalism’s internal mechanisms independently of important, but external events. He is correct to conceive of the GCC as a total crisis, not limited to the economic sphere but including social life, culture, ideology, and all other human relations. 7 Thus the GCC is not a theory of economic crisis. Instead, the systemic crisis of capitalism is one element—one causal element– in the General Crisis of Capitalism. 8 Much more work needs to be done in developing a full theory of the GCC with its consequences in every aspect of everyday life. n The Socialist Voice articles referenced here are to be found in the January, April, May, June, October, November, and December issues of Socialist Voice or online at http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/index.html.
The police in for a
watched Andrew Mitchell when he was a councillor in Haringey in the mid 80s. I was working as head of the council’s Police Research Unit before, during and after the Broadwater Farm fighting between the police and local youth and he was an opposition Conservative councillor. But I found him a nice enough bloke (despite being a Tory lawyer), sharp-minded and sharp-witted, unfailingly courteous and focussed on policy. Thus I was surprised to read the headlines. But it is not he but a different Tory with the name Andrew Mitchell in the news these days – discourteous in his routine dealings and, it appears, with powerful enemies in his own party. There is a story that the now distinguished lawyer was ‘instructed’ by the even then notoriously abrasive rising Tory politician to find some other names than the ones they shared. Politician of all parties, but especially Tories, and police have a common problem. None can speak the truth without breaching the unwritten code which wraps mainstream political discourse around law enforcement in a cocoon of hypocrisy and myth. The truth of the matter is that surprisingly little routine police activity is actually about catching criminals. To hear the nonsense talked about putting more bobbies on the beat you would think that this is a rational use of police time and a valuable aid to crime fighting. Not so. One chief superintendent told me – as I was
reviewing his MSc dissertation – that his belief was that a patrolling police officer passed within a 100 yards of a crime being committed only once in every 14 years of service. (Except, he added when working in the City of London where it was a considerably more frequent occurrence). So the pretence of putting bobbies on the beat is more about securing consent and masking the real operational priorities than security. An array of sustaining myths has grown up to buttress the political support that the police, as an institution, needs. To maintain the uncontested support of the propertied classes it is necessary for much of police activity to remain obscured from public scrutiny. Just occasionally reality breaks through and people whose daily lives are lived away from conflict with the state learn first hand how unequal the contest can be. It appears that the evidence that led David Cameron to dump Andrew Mitchell may not be completely reliable and even may have been partly concocted. Indeed police officers have now been arrested, cautioned and questioned. Mitchell’s outrage could not be more convincing. In ‘fitting up’ a Tory minister the code has been broken. Most Tory politicians know there is a big gap between myth and reality. It is just not considered politic to discuss it. Whilst spotted photographing police beating some black youth in South London in the early 80s I was chased by the police involved and given the routine ‘good hiding’. My GP, himself an active Conservative and a pillar
of the community inspected my highly typical injuries and willingly signed me off work with the reassurance that if I took legal action he would back me up. “I know the reality” he said. The reality, then as now, is that the police – in their routine dealings with working class people, young people and especially young black people – will make up the evidence if they feel the need. This is not simply an individual aberration, it has the character of an ingrained institutional response, witness Hillsborough. The telling phrase that summed up the Broadwater Farm in the minds of many in the local community became common currency when the then Haringey Council leader Bernie Grant and later Labour MP for Tottenham remarked that, "The youths around here believe the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday and what they got was a bloody good hiding." For speaking that truth he was pilloried. Now the police are in for another good hiding. This time dished out by a government that – because of the economic crisis engineered by criminal bankers – is being compelled to cut into the tribute that the police, as an institution, need and demand as of right. If any the accounts that surround Mitchell’s abandonment by his party leader and Cabinet colleagues are proved to have been fabricated then the fools who contrived them have scored an impressive own goal. They had him bang to rights but now have turned him into a martyr. By his own admission Mitchell has a foul mouth – by common consent he is not universally liked by his
colleagues. He talked his way into trouble and has now been rescued. It is an unfashionable view on the left, but I don’t think all police, maybe not even very many, are happy with falsely concocting evidence. But from what they say, the results-driven agenda handed down by Labour and Tory Home Secretaries alike, drives the numbers game and makes it inevitable. Even so, very few individual police officers are willing to take a stand against it although – in despair or disappointment – a good many give up after too few years in the job. Honest police officers are ill served. The role of the Police Federation, is under scrutiny. We may never be able to trace the exact sequence of events that connected the original account of the encounter between the Tory minister and the Downing Street protection team and the corroborative account given by a supposedly ‘passing’ member of the public who turns out to be a serving police officer. That he is a constituent of a Tory Whip who, by some accounts, was ill-disposed towards Mitchell is a coincidence that, if crafted by a crime novelist, would not impress a Golden Dagger jury. The federation, whose finely honed expertise in defending the indefensible is being tested, is in trouble. The unspoken contract that protected it has been breached. Police officers would be better of in a proper trade union that puts their collective interests as workers above the privileges that separate them from other working people. n
ritics of Stalinist policy towards the arts have difficulty admitting what is actually obvious: that despite the supposed philistinism, bloodthirstiness, stupidity, evil-mindedness and malice of Stalin and his ‘henchmen’, the Soviet Thirties saw the greatest outpouring of works of art, theatre, literature, film, music, sculpture and architecture in Russian history. This takes some explaining: the tally of major 20th century works in any field of culture (symphonic works, novels, paintings, films etc) shows a high number of works created in the Soviet Union under High Stalinism. It is said that under the rubric of Socialist Realism Stalin inflicted a cruel and stultifying regime on the fine arts, which engendered easel-painting and sculpture of generally second-rate dullness and awful, servile conformity. These defects are said to be matters of principle and outweigh any conceivable theoretical gains which in any case are lacking in the fine arts (compared to cinematography etc). It is usually added that it is no excuse to point out that actually some of the stuff was rather good: since we do not applaud the Borgias because their rule happened to coincide with the flowering of Renaissance art, we should not indulge Stalin’s excesses either. In civilised (bourgeois) society artists and the consumers of their work are each allowed to do their thing in serenity and personal security. Stalin’s ‘Terror’ did not permit this. The Party
A defence of Stalinist art policy
stood between artist and viewer, subjecting both to its baleful gaze. Stalin’s policy towards the arts is therefore to be opposed on two general grounds. First, no-one (least of all a jackbooted commissar personifying the absolute state) has the right to mediate between the artist and his/her viewer. Second, the sovereignty of the individual and the right to live free from fear in a law-governed society, is more fundamental even than the right of the state to survive. Stalinist repression and policing of the arts is ‘barbaric’ and ‘unconscionable’ [but one justification for Stalin's policy towards Russian artists might lie in comparing it with Hitler's and then trying to judge whether Stalin's policy helped or hindered the Soviet state in its attempt to prevent Hitler carrying his policy out]. It is not just a matter of the Stalinist liquidation of the avant-garde and their substitution by the alleged aridities of socialist-realism. The real issue is more serious and universal: freedom of expression versus the interests and rights of the state. The Bolsheviks arrogated the right to subordinate art to politics, meaning, to the creation of their dictatorship. Still more heroically, Lenin even wanted not merely to use art for his own purposes but to insist theoretically that art could not even be art unless it served those purposes. If you grant that art is a class question and must be subordinated to a class politics, then you take your stand with Lenin’s frankly ‘totalitarian’ subordination of art to political life and the interests of the state. Art has no more autonomy than any other sphere of life.
The proletarian dictatorship insists on its subjugation. It is clear too that Stalin was the executor of Lenin’s behests, and you cannot separate Lenin’s policy from Stalin’s. If Lenin was wrong, so was Stalin. If both were wrong then we have to admit that the socialist revolutionary project contains a radical defect and cannot be the instrument of human freedom. So the question is important. Ironically, both Lenin and Stalin turned out to be conservators of bourgeois cultural forms. Lenin destroyed the Proletkult and called instead for the preservation of the finest achievements of bourgeois culture, and for making them accessible to the masses. Stalin in his time purged the avant-garde, accusing it of ‘formalism’ and even drove Mayakovsky to his grave. However in terms of the principled question it would not have mattered if the Party had done things the other way round, ie, purged the Socialist Realists and the Victorian novelists and made the practitioners of Proletkult into honoured representatives of official Soviet art. The issue would still be, does the Party have the right to decide which art and which artists shall survive and prosper, and which shall be silenced and purged? As the anti-stalinist Aleksandr Sidorov of the USSR (now Russian) Academy of Arts put it, under the Bolsheviks ‘Man, and especially ‘simple’ Soviet man, was thought of exclusively as a viewer, but by no means a consumer or possible possessor, of decorative art works, and at best he had to be content with a mere reproduction, copy or album of an artist’s work.
This circumstance is indissolubly linked to the following four processes. Firstly, public awareness was transformed into the object of demagogic manipulations and speculations. Secondly, aesthetic requirements were depersonalised, and the interests of the individual were completely dissolved in ideological and artistic programmes imposed by the State. Thirdly, leaders appeared who acted as mediators of culture and invariably took up a position above the viewer, reader or listener and knew better than others what to teach, how to educate, what the people must know and what they must not know, what the people needed and what was contrary to their needs, what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’. And fourthly, art criticism was reduced to a concrete exposition of ideas sent down from on high; it played the role of a priest of a new belief who explained the postulates of that belief to the parishioners of the church of socialist realism.’ (Matthew Cullerne Brown, ‘Art Under Stalin’, (1991) pp 12-13). [Sidorov is worth debating even if it seems unfair to blame the Bolsheviks for flooding the country with cheap editions of colour prints of the fine arts, which they did.] Related to this totalitarian Bolshevik intent is the Stalinist notion that art, like society itself, can make progress, and that since socialism is ‘a higher stage’, socialist art too must be higher, must be ‘the most forward looking and progressive of all the artistic methods that have ever existed.’ (ibid). All these assumptions, needless to say, have been falsified by events. Or have they?
The decay of Soviet culture under Brezhnev, its progressive atrophy, fissiparousness and lack of direction, and the growing cynicism of official circles towards its products, the growing public indifference to socialist-realist art and the hypocrisy of its practitioners and apologists, and the growth of ‘dissident’ oppositional art, might seem all the evidence we need that the goals of Stalinist High Art were absurd and self-defeating: as Sidorov says (or seems to), only the market, with its purveyors and possessors, can clean up the arts. In Stalin’s own time, such cynicism and hypocrisy was largely absent. Officially-sanctioned art was also the art consumed privately by leading officials, including Stalin himself, who was a great admirer of the works of socialist-realists like Sergei Gerasimov, Oganes Zardaryan, Martinos Sarayan and Aleksandr Laktionov (page 14 Letter from the Front) The belief in the unfailing superiority of socialist methods, and in the certain victory of socialism and decline of capitalism, was genuine and widely held. By the time of Brezhnev, such ‘naivete’ was openly mocked within the ruling circles, whose corruption was almost boundless, as was their contempt for the stupidity, helplessness and vulgarity of the masses. Thus official attacks on the avant-garde coincided with growing immorality and debauchery in the ruling circles, such that Brezhnev’s own daughter held up banks at gunpoint – aided by her husband (the chief of police!) in order to fund her jewelry acquisitions; and every high official had his ‘own’ private collections
of forbidden Western art, literature, and pornography. Sovietart was soon divided into sinned-against and sinners; most execrated were the portrait-painters of Stalin himself; they and their works (irony!) were purged from the historical record and Stalin’s onceubiquitous image was effaced from public spaces. Since 1991 there has been a reversal of attitudes. The bourgeois collector has decided in his countinghouse of a soul that works of Socialist Realism are high-value items. Of course! What else could you expect, given the way of the art world? However, it was unexpected. The first Sotheby auctions, held in Moscow during the era of Peretsroika, showed formerly forbidden avant garde (often openly anti-soviet) works. The history of those works and of these auctions was curious: they did not fetch the prices hoped for, and these first attempts to stimulate and profit from, anti-soviet and post-soviet painting in Russia, did not lead anywhere. But Socialist Realism, on the contrary, has powered on from strength to strength. Socialist Realist paintings, especially from the era of High Stalinism, proved highly collectible and now fetch extravagant prices in auctions. That such political works should end up as prized commodities seems odd. I am not aware that the same posterity obtained for Nazi High Art, so it cannot be a question of the general collectibility of alleged totalitarian art forms. Of course, despite everything there is no reason why Socialist Realist works should not prove to be art. After all it is no disqualification of any artwork that it
was produced to state order, or according to an ideological plan of some kind. Western art began out of church and state patronage, or out of fawning depictions of the persons, families and possessions of powerful and wealthy men. The issue for Sidorov and for us is still therefore not whether works produced for supposedly bad reasons or under difficult circumstances can be art but whether or not socialists who hold state power acquire a right to decide the content of art and the style it is produced in. In any case, Sidorov’s prioritising of the relationship between the artwork and the viewer, in a solipsistic and private discourse, also makes little sense. In capitalism, artworks make the same uncertain journey of realisation as do all other commodities and in the process become the bearers of social relations. Under socialism, artworks may enjoy a different modality, which subverts their existence qua commodities. But in either case it remains true that any work submitted for public scrutiny enters the social world and is subject to the conventions, controls and internalised censoriousness which exist in all cultures, times and places and arguably provide not a straitjacket but the *form* of a representation without which it would be impossible for the artist to create anything meaningful. While for art to be art the epiphanic relationship to the viewer must exist and be real, it is useless to deny the social context. The moment of repression/internalisation of normative categories is also the moment of creation.
far left Martinos Sarayan A nook of old Yereva centre left Sergei Gerasimov The Partisan’s Mother
right Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
‘Socialist realism is art precisely because it was the strict opposite of ‘realist socialism’
left Alexander Samokhvalov Weaving Shop 1929
This is literally so. Not for nothing was the Stalinist 1930s characterised both by the fierce and relentless struggle against formalism in music, literature and the arts that ended careers and even lives, and by a torrential outpouring of new work. The famous Pravda attack on Shostakovich in 1934 put an end to musical adventures like Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, but also led to the towering achievements of Shostakovich’s middle years. The arts were to not merely prefigure socialism but also to serve the goal of ‘communist education’. In a society of total mobilisation, art too was mobilised. Even when railing against the patronising, authoritarian state, Aleksandr Sidorov (quoted above) is certainly aware that the issue is thus more complicated than it seems (he ends his tirade with these words: ‘I may have thrown too negative a light on the range of art in the Stalinist period, and perhaps I have paid too much attention to the ‘extreme’ manifestations of that art. But, as the Russian saying has it, things are seen more clearly when observed from one side.’) Socialist Realism was meant to take art beyond capitalist commodity production. Just as the avantgarde of the Twenties strove to push beyond the limits of the frame of the picture (its conceptual, formal, technical or expressive frame; and even the ‘frame’ itself) so, too, did the anti-formalist ‘Realism’ of the Thirties actually have the same avowed goal: to push art beyond the boundary of its commoditised frame of perceptual reference, of social signing or
emblematage, and even of the picture’s physical frame which encapsulates it, marks it off from the world, and makes of it a potential commodity. Realism inducted the viewer through the frame and beyond it into a world of concrete objectivity, of limitless possibility and boundless growth. Socialist realism is art precisely because it was the strict opposite of ‘realist socialism’, ie, the unvarnished depiction of actual (blemished, faulty, dysfunctional, warped) Soviet reality, the socialism of the everyday world of overwork, shortage, ennui, of private feuding and conspiracy. Socialist realism was a confabulation of impossible opposites, an explosive equilibrium founded on the concrete-objectivity of the form of representation of allegedly normal, everyday events, scenes and contexts which are actually unreal, hyperreal, or simply fabulous. That is why when one contemplates them now, these paintings often have a mirage-like quality, a hallucinatory, iconic, narrative substance which can arouse intense feelings, which can wound the observer, and all this of course sharply contradicts the technical realism of the specific representation. It is as if all of them: Stalin, his politburo, the stern-faced captains of the Workers and Peasants Red Army and the masses themselves: the miners, railwaymen, aviators and constructors, the collective farmworkers, the plump, well-found, ruddycheeked maidens in their banya – creamy-skinned, full-bodied women holding infants, in images so violently real that the intense scents of birch leaves and pine resin, the steam hissing from the furnace, the
sound of gaiety and laughter, almost overwhelm the viewer – or labour-scenes, with tanned, lithe men working a lathe or scything a field, or the shining-eyed masses at a factory-committee meeting, an avuncular bust of Lenin beaming impishly on — all are part of a landscape of pure dreams, which we can behold with a kind of nostalgic languor, with feelings of desire which seem to have neither a source within ourselves nor in the object-field of the painting. I am just now examining an image of a painting by Aleksandr Samokhvalov entitled ‘Woman Metro Builder with Penumatic Drill’, (1937, from the Russian State Museum collections) see front cover. This shows a woman shock-worker briefly resting from excavating the tunnel for the Moscow Metro. In reality it is a Palladian scene; classical and statuesque, there is a stillness about her face, which is strongly illuminated from the front, and as she gazes into the bright light, we almost see the socialist Arcadia she is seeing, the disclosed/hidden, future/past utopia. One halfclenched hand, plump and dainty, unmarked by labour, rests upon a rock; she has tied her jacket round her waist and the effect is of a classical, robed piece of statuary that seems to have emerged from the living rock; the face is youthful, plastic, inquisitive, robustly beautiful and determined: there is defiance in her eyes. Whatever this painting is of, it is not of a woman metro builder (but there were tens of thousands of women volunteers, often office workers, who did help dig the tunnels, even during lunch-breaks; it is them the painting celebrates, not as they are but as they should be).
‘Socialist Realism really did point beyond the ‘framing’ of art within the commoditised object world of reified social relationships’ Hammer and Sickle 1977 Andy Warhol As the magazine Sovietskoe Isskustvo (Soviet Arts) said in 1935, Moscow was to become ‘a city of happiness,’ which would inspire ‘feelings of harmony and well-being’. This was not so much socialist townplanning as a kind of delirium. And only it was only a year before that Zhdanov officially declared to the writers’ congress, the policy of ‘socialist-realism’. There are not many art historians writing much about socialist realism. Two are Brandon Taylor and Matthew Cullerne Brown, whose 1998 book ‘Socialist Realist Painting’ is a resplendent, coffee-table edition and highly recommended; it is glorious feast of ‘art of Stalin’s time [that is] full of purpose – always ready, as it were, to die with its boots on’ (Cullerne Brown, Art Under Stalin, (1991) p277). Importantly, Cullerne Brown locates the origins of Socialist Realism in the prerevolutionary history of Russian iconography, and of the peredvizhniki, the 19th century Itinerants who celebrated everyday life. He does not manage to answer Sidorov’s questions, but perhaps they are unanswerable anyway. Brandon Taylor’s two-volume work on Soviet art which Pluto published in I think 1992-93 have this market pretty much to themselves.
If all art is socially conditioned (as well as conventionally constrained) then at least LeninistStalinist policy has the merits of transparency, openness and honest partisanship, expressed in the idea that artists, like everyone else, shall be driven by what was known as partiinost’, that is, the over-riding commitment to the Party and its principles and endeavours. These were about generalising to the masses the promise of bourgeois civilisation, and increasing the education, health, welfare and life opportunities of the common woman/man. The Party strove to make art a mass and not just an elite activity and was proud of its achievement, announcing in the late Thirties, in the style of High Stalinist statistics, that 80 percent of Soviet artists hailed from the working class and the peasantry. According to the party, that made them part of the new ruling class’s (proletarian) intelligentsia. This is shaky Marxism, but anyway this is not the real achievement of Soviet Socialist Realism: which is that actually it does fulfil Sidorov’s requirements: because at its best it is art that communicates in an immediate, epiphanic, and thaumaturgic way.
But even this fact (subversive of ‘bourgeois’ critiques) is not the real reason for acclaiming Socialist Realism. More radically, it is because Socialist Realism really did point beyond the ‘framing’ of art within the commoditised object world of reified social relationships. Far from being a step backwards, of being the expression of the (non-existent) ‘Stalinist Thermidor’, Socialist Realism was a step into a different world, a de-technicised, de-fetishised world of representations that made it the true successor/displacer of the avantgarde movements of the first quarter of this century. Socialist Realism tried to portray a postcapitalist universe of transparently human intersubjectivity based on what Gorky called ‘the true data of our socialist society’. In striving to do so, it actually created a mythical back-projection of heroic grandeur onto the drab face of Soviet reality. But so what? Compared to this the West could only show the dementia of Jackson Pollocks’ CIAexpressionism, or Warhol’s pathetic juvenilia, or the empty scatologies of postmodernism. n
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Building an economy for the people An alternative economic and political strategy for 21st Century Britain Edited by Jonathan White. Contributions from: Mark Baimbridge; Brian Burkitt; Mary Davis; John Foster; Marjorie Mayo; Jonathan Michie; Seumas Milne; Andrew Murray; Roger Seifert; Prem Sikka; Jonathan White and Philip Whyman £6.95 (+£1 p&p) ISBN 978-1907464-08-9
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The imperial controversy challenging the empire apologists Stop the War Coalition chair Andrew Murray subjects Blair’s war mongering, the leading pro-imperial historians – including Niall Ferguson – and the pro-war ‘left’ to a withering analysis. Foreword by George Galloway £12.95+£2p&p 150pp
The education revolution Cuba’s alternative to neoliberalism World expert Théodore H. MacDonald on the singular success and revolutionary impetus of the Cuban education system. Foreword by NUT leaders Christine Blower, Bill Greenshields & Martin Reed £14.95+£2p&p 265pp Illustrated in colour
Killing no murder? South Wales and the 1911 Great Railway Strike Robert Griﬃth’s English language version of his ground breaking Streic! Streic! Streic! on the class politics of the 1911 rail strike and its revolutionary signiﬁcance today. Foreword by Bob Crow £12.95+£2p&p 126pp illustrated
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Granite and Honey The story of Phil Piratin, Communist MP Kevin Marsh and Robert Griﬃths hjave written a pioneering new biography that tells the story of Phil Piratin, elected Communist MP for Stepney Mile End in the post-war General Election that swept Labour to oﬃce. £14.95 (+£1.50 p&p), 256pp illustrated
US interventions in Latin America Henry Suarez demonstrates that US imperialism's interference in the aﬀairs of Latin America is not a new phenomenon.
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Syria and imperialism
Imperial legacy that created modern Syria
Like its neighbours, modern Syria is a state whose very existence and borders have been defined by 20th century imperialism.The current crisis can only be understood by placing it in its broad historical context of the geopolitical faultlines of the region rather than within the often superficial framework of the "Arab spring" or "Twitter revolutions" that informs most Western media coverage. The outcome of the Syrian unrest has profound implications for the wider Middle East and this can only be appreciated by recognising the country's historical background. The carving up of the Ottoman Empire's Middle Eastern possessions after the first world war by Western imperialist powers was done with the characteristic mix of violence and duplicity that goes with any forcible redrawing of frontiers. It was also combined with the same sickly hypocrisy about defending freedom and rights from tyranny that is the hallmark of today's "humanitarian" interventionists. Modern Syria has a long and tortuous history of interference and domination that pre-dates this current tragic crisis. Even before the defeat of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1918, many of its former Middle East provinces had already been carved up by the rival empires of Britain and France.
Ottoman administrators divided their empire into provinces and sub-provinces that bear little relation to the frontiers of today's Middle Eastern states. The underlying Franco-British war aim was to slice off those territories with non-Turkish populations, leaving a weakened rump state in predominantly Turkish Central Anatolia. And, as luck would have it, this would provide Britain especially with access to the considerable oil reserves of these Ottoman territories. After months of secret negotiations in the midst of the First World War, a Franco-British deal was agreed in 1916. Known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the two diplomats who agreed the terms, the two imperialist powers agreed to share the spoils of victory with their Triple Entente partner Tsarist Russia. Britain and France were to get the lion's share of the Arab provinces, while Tsarist Russia was lined up to take over Istanbul, the strategic Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits as well as eastern regions with mainly Kurdish, Armenian and other smaller ethnic minorities. This under-the-table deal was exposed after the Russian revolution in November 1917, when the Bolshevik press published details of the Sykes-Picot deal plucked from the Tsarist foreign ministry files. However, after Turkey's defeat in 1918 several factors modified these initial plans for territorial redivision and occupation of the Middle East. First the new-born Soviet Russian republic had renounced Tsarist war claims.
Second Greece and Italy had both been promised territory for their late entrance into the wartime alliance with Britain and France. Third a Turkish republican movement under Kemal Ataturk was emerging determined to resist further Western demands. A fourth element had been the successes of the Arab Revolt, the rising of Arab tribes against the Ottomans epically, if rather romantically, portrayed in David Lean's classic Lawrence of Arabia. The figureheads of the revolt, the Hashemite dynasty from the Arabian peninsula, had been promised a federation of Arab kingdoms once the Ottoman Turks had been removed. In 1918, the Arab Revolt culminated in the triumphal entry of Hashemite Prince Faysal into Damascus and the proclamation of the first independent Arab government. In 1920, a General Syrian Congress declared a United Kingdom of Syria, covering undivided Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. French forces swiftly drove the upstart Faysal from Damascus and he fled to exile to London. After just six months, the British government compensated the Hashemite elite by imposing Faisal on the new throne of Iraq instead, while his brother Abdullah later became the founder of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. A final factor, and one which continues to be at the heart of the wider Middle East conflict, was the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, in which Britain promised to create a "national home for the
Jewish people" within Palestine. In 1920, as a complement to the Versailles Treaty in Europe, Britain and France proposed the Treaty of Sevres, a post-war settlement to be rubber-stamped by the infant League of Nations. Using the Sykes-Picot deal as a basis, the Treaty of Sevres went further. Greece was also to be allocated an enclave in western Turkey around the ancient city of Smyrna (Izmir) with its historic Greek population, while Italy was to be given a protectorate around Antalya on Turkey's southern coast. In the east, an Armenian state was to be created immediately and a referendum on independence for Kurdish region was to be held within one year. Turkey's major ports were to be given "international status," in other words imperialist-run cities. However, the post-war overthrow of the Ottomans and the military success of Ataturk's forces killed the treaty. An armed Greek invasion force was routed and almost two million ethnic Greeks were expelled from Turkey. In turn one million or so Turks and other Muslims were likewise forcibly transferred out of Greece in one of the world's most traumatic acts of ethnic cleansing. Under Ataturk's leadership, Turkey defeated Armenian forces in the southern territory of the shortlived Armenian republic and, after a pro-Bolshevik rising and the subsequent entry of the Red Army, the northern part of Armenia became a Soviet republic. The promised Kurdish republic never saw the light of day.
The subsequent 1923 Treaty of Lausanne effectively ended imperialist attempts to dismember what had become the Turkish republic, but it also formalised the replacement of Ottoman imperialism with its victorious British and French counterparts under the guise of League of Nations "Class A" Mandates. These legalised, at least for a temporary period, de facto foreign rule in these lands "until such time as they are able to stand alone," as the League delicately put it. Britain bagged the three former eastern Ottoman provinces of Mesopotamia to form the British mandate of Iraq. It also took over several southern provinces as the British mandates of Palestine (today's Palestine and Israel) and Transjordan (modern Jordan). Initially the latter was part of the Palestinian mandate but to minimise Arab opposition, the Transjordan region was separated from mandate Palestine and exempted from the provisions of the Balfour Declaration. France, meanwhile, took over half a dozen territories, sandwiched between Turkey in the north, Palestine and Transjordan to the south and west and Iraq to the east, and created the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon. During their period of colonial rule, which lasted until 1946, the French divided and redivided these territories several times. The Syrian mandate was initially divided into six parcels - Damascus, Aleppo,
Syriaâ€™s agony is far from finished an Alawite state, Jabal Druze, the Sanjak of Alexandretta and the State of Greater Lebanon. The French encouraged ethnic and religious favouritism to counteract the numerical predominance of Arab Syrians. For example, the Christian Maronite community in what had been Mount Lebanon were one of the few groups to positively welcome French rule and came to oversee a far larger territory in the new Greater Lebanon. However, this larger state now included a substantial non-Christian minority. Decades later, as demographic changes whittled them down into a minority, the Maronites' entrenched privileges became one of the causes of the 1970s Lebanese civil war. Aside from mainstream Sunni and Shia schools of Islam, the French found themselves ruling over communities of some of the more unorthodox offshoots from Shia Islam. The Alawites, Druze and Ismaili schools were regarded as unbelievers by strict Sunnis and as misguided heretics by mainstream Shi'ites. Alawites and Druze minorities were given their own autonomous areas and the French heavily recruited them into the colonial military forces. Despite this attempt to play ethnic groups against each other, there were several revolts against French rule. There was an Alawite uprising from 1919-1921 although the Alawites were less enthusiastic in their support for the largely Sunni-Christian-Druze Great
Syria Revolt of 1925-27 against French rule. This was brutally suppressed by the colonial authorities leaving more than 6,000 dead and creating at least 100,000 homeless refugees. As French rule weakened during the 1930s, the colonial authorities centralised the Syrian territories but the territory of Alexandretta was leased to and eventually incorporated into Turkey despite its substantial Arab and Alawite population. Today it is the Turkish province of Hatay but Syrian maps continue to show the territory as disputed. Syria and Lebanon became separate states in 1943, yet there was no Syrian embassy in Beirut until 2008, signalling a continuing belief, in Damascus at least, that the relationship between the two countries was not that of separate states. This complex colonial background is an essential factor in understanding today's crisis. Ethnic and sectarian tensions are not natural eternal features of the country but have been manipulated and accentuated by foreign rule and occupation. The lessons for today are obvious.
In his defiant speech in Damascus Syrian president Bashar al-Assad stressed his determination to see off the internal and external attacks on his regime. Assadâ€™s speech was dismissed by Western politicians and media as yet another example of his unwillingness to engage in talks. This was despite offers of a ceasefire, a new constitution and political reform if outside forces stopped arming and funding the rebel groups and opposition forces committed themselves to a peaceful and Syrianbased dialogue. Now that US President Barack Obama has officially recognised the rebranded National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and Tory PM David Cameron has given the green light for British military preparations the Syrian conflict is likely to escalate further. But this flies in the face of the military failure of the various rebel militias. Even with arms shipments from wealthy Gulf regimes, training support from various foreign states and thousands of foreign jihadi fighters the insurgents have not managed to break the government. Substantially increased foreign firepower will be needed to do that. Despite the sectarian intentions of many of the rebel militias and their documented participation in ethnic atrocities, the Nato-Gulf alliance remains intent on toppling Assad at all costs.
On December 11 last year the Guardian reported that “Britain’s military chiefs have drawn up contingency plans to provide Syrian rebels with maritime, and possibly air, power.” Opposition to Assad remains profoundly divided. The “national coalition” was cobbled together in November in Doha, capital of the emirate of Qatar – one of the main funders bankrolling the armed opposition’s diplomatic and military efforts. The coalition is essentially a rebranded Syrian National Council (SNC), the previous incarnation of the Western and Gulf-backed group. Britain has recognised the SNC as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, a recognition previously extended by such democratic paragons as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. Not only does this renamed coalition not represent the Syrian people as a whole – clearly the population is bitterly divided – but it has also been denounced by some opposition figures within Syria who see it as little more than a foreign puppet fixated on a military solution to the country’s crisis. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which controls much of Syrian Kurdistan, described it as a pawn of Turkey and Qatar. The exile-centred opposition is also distant from secular forces within the country, such as the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change, which are opposed to the current regime but which press for dialogue with the Assad government instead of bloodshed. And it’s opposed by at least some of the Islamist groups operating within the country. Western nervousness about the role of al-Qaida influenced groups in the armed opposition is well founded but comes a little too late. While the US has designated one faction, the alNusra Front for the People of the Levant, as an al-Qaida-inspired terrorist group this has been rejected by the armed opposition itself. Yet Washington’s designation is one that Damascus made some time ago, only for it to be dismissed as government propaganda. Now, however, these groups handily provide another dubious pretext for imperialist intervention – what if alQaida got its hands on Assad’s chemical weapons? Late last year an orchestrated media campaign on the chemical weapons issue neatly coincided with
Nato’s decision to station Patriot missiles on the TurkishSyrian border. Marking the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in early December, the BBC’s venerable world affairs editor John Simpson piously warned that chemical weapons remained in the region, specifically mentioning the Syrian regime. Simpson’s broadcast was right on cue. Using the chemical weapons issue to prepare support for further intervention, such as by imposing no-fly zones or even attacking air defences as in Libya, was the latest cynical ploy from Washington and one faithfully taken up by mainstream media. Simpson pontificated in a subsequent article: “So, has anything positive come from the terrible suffering of Halabja? “Strangely, yes. The revelation of what had happened stirred the conscience of the outside world, and three years later led directly to the imposition by Britain and the US of a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.” Did Simpson forget that the no-fly zone was the direct result not of Halabja but of the Gulf war of 1991, a war fought in defence of Kuwaiti oil, not Kurdish blood? Not all of the British media has shown such lockstep discipline in harmonising coverage with the Establishment. After a recent visit to Syria the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn, son of Claud Cockburn (the Daily Worker’s Frank Pitcairn), noted the “repeated forecasts of imminent victory for the rebels and defeat for Assad. Ignored in this speculation is the important point that Assad’s forces still hold, wholly or in large part, all the main cities and towns of Syria… “Understandably, the rebel version of events is heavily biased towards their own side and demonises the Syrian government.” But unfortunately some sections of the antiimperialist left have been wrongfooted by the complexity of the Syrian events, trying desperately to maintain support for an imaginary revolution. For example, in defiance of all the evidence to the contrary, Socialist Worker’s Simon Assaf recently claimed that “despite their efforts Western powers and their Arab allies have not yet been able to hijack the revolution. The new Syrian National Coalition represents
a broad alliance of exiles, defectors, local revolutionary committees and the rebel brigades.” The SNC is a creature of the West and its Gulf allies. A little humanitarian liberalism here for the Western audience, a little Sunni fundamentalism there to placate the Saudis and Qataris. Just as in Afghanistan, when anti-Soviet hostility led sections of the British left to overlook the blatantly reactionary agenda of the mojahedin, antipathy toward the Syrian government has clouded the vision of what is now a struggle to preserve the country’s very existence as an independent and united state. Syrian Communist Party (Unified) general secretary Hanin Nimir recently put the issue bluntly: “Syria is facing a political, military, economic and social battle.” Yet the party’s hostility to foreign intervention and internal armed opposition cannot be equated with uncritical defence of the past order, especially its authoritarian political structure, nor with a dismissal of the genuine grievances that sparked legitimate and widespread popular discontent. Its newspaper An Nour (The Light) called on December 25 for “a comprehensive national dialogue to reach a political solution, including first and foremost ending the violence in all its forms, returning displaced persons to their homes, and then moving toward a transitional phase to establish a democratic civil state.” Nor has it just been the Ba’athist political path that has given rise to criticism from the mainstream legal left. Syria’s economic trajectory has moved ever closer into the imperialist orbit with grave social consequences, fuelling popular dissatisfaction. At a December 2012 central committee meeting Syria’s other legally recognised Communist Party, led by Ammar Bagdash, declared that “a large part of this situation is due to the siege imposed on Syria and to acts of sabotage. But along with these the government did not make the nationally needed rupture with economic neoliberalism, which basically contributed to creating the crisis experienced by Syria now.” Nonetheless, despite these severe political and economic failings Syria is not under attack because of them. It is its refusal to bend the knee to global and regional powers who want to uproot its sovereignty, its secularism and its potential to resist the new world order that motivates the West. n