Thursday, January 24, 2013

What is to be done?

by Eric Trevett

Theory without practice is sterile; practice without theory is blind.

THE DEEPENING capitalist crisis arises from the over-production of goods that the market is incapable of absorbing. The proof is plentiful to show that capitalism is in ever deeper political and economic crisis. But this has not put the capitalist class on the defensive.
 All capitalist countries are engaged in swingeing attacks on the working class, and to a degree the middle strata, from democratic rights to economic and living standards.
 Recent price hikes in transport and fuel costs have provoked further indignation and the repercussions include many individuals and families joining those already in poverty conditions.
 The wages movement to offset the worst effects has been lagging. Some workers have endured a three-year pay freeze.  The scourge of unemployment is a huge problem and the official figures cover up the reality. In some countries, like Spain, the figure is 40 per cent.

 What is to be done?

The labour and trade union movement has been weakened by politically motivated the closure of the mining industry and the attack on manufacturing. This has been another short-sighted action by the employing class and adds to their problems in achieving the market’s capacity to absorb goods. It has also meant more difficulty in resolving the balance of payments deficit.
 There are three main areas of struggle going on:

1)         The trade-union led campaign against the cuts.
2)         Students, who have held a number of large scale demonstrations on the issues of fees and grants.
3)         The peace movement, leading with the demands that Trident should be cancelled and British forces should be brought home from Afghanistan.

 Basically all three movements are directed at defeating Government policies and therefore it is obviously necessary for them to merge into a river of discontent and determination to defeat the austerity programme.
 Laws such as the one criminalising the squatters’ movement are likely to be ignored as more people become evicted – unable to cope with mortgages or cuts in housing benefit. Such action should be supported and applauded.
 The role of communists is to encourage the widest participation and to encourage the movements to merge, but also to campaign for an ideological shift in the main body of workers’ understanding of capitalism and the necessity for socialism.
 Without the guidance of the revolutionary party the working class will not be able to escape from its continuing exploitation. The movements on various issues may well give rise to a revolutionary situation but without the guidance of a revolutionary party that understands the necessity of smashing the state machine of the ruling class as a prerequisite to building a socialist society they will not succeed.
 Following such a revolution there will be a sharpening of the class struggle as the old ruling class tries to re-establish its authority. As stated above, our priority in calling for the merging of the various movements that are opposing the austerity strategy includes the essential struggle for working class unity around the revolutionary programme, taking into account the specific conditions in Britain and its class composition.
 With the historic development of the labour movement we see the formation of the Labour Party and general unions coming into being – such as the dockers and gas workers and actions such as the match girls strike. Those engaged in struggle saw the need for working class legislation, especially to counter new laws seeking to make trade unions financially liable for any loss of profits the employers suffered as a result of industrial action.
 The Labour Party was formed by the trade unions and socialist societies. But it did not have the aim of creating a socialist Britain in its constitution. It was a force for better representation of the working class within capitalist society.
 Only after the First World War did the Labour constitution incorporate Clause Four, which called for the heights of the economy to be taken into public ownership.
 In the 1990s that Clause Four was replaced because it hindered the right-wing policy of privatisation. And in Britain major parts of the labour movement support a right reformist policy.
 Labour is still the workers’ party by virtue of the fact that the trade unions, trades councils and cooperative bodies are the main source of its being and its financial basis.
 Its leadership has often betrayed the interests of the working class. But anger at such treachery by the leadership should not blind us to the reality in Britain of a reformist ideology and the myth of gradualism: the idea that socialism can be brought in piecemeal through parliamentary democracy.
 This overlooks the fact that the capitalists have a state machine capable of negating Parliament – a state of Parliament, councils, the armed forces, police and civil service. All swear their allegiance to the crown.
 To make the case for voting Labour in elections and working within the labour movement – with the trade unions and the Labour Party – is the best method of winning the working class for revolutionary ideology.
 In opening our columns to a discussion on these issues we challenge anybody to put forward a more realistic strategy than that contained in our 17th Congress document, discussed and debated over many months and voted on and passed at our 17th Congress last December.
 We face the future with confidence that the working class will triumph and overthrow the exploitation and oppression of capitalism.
 The new technology forces society to embrace the more fundamentally efficient means of production. Only in socialist conditions can these new developments be used for the good of all humankind.

A Feminist dialogue

Judy Chicago's Gunsmoke: the artist as the victim in one of her early works

By New Worker correspondent

Feminist artists have been around for a   long time but is there really such a thing as feminist art? Well we may find the answer to this at an exhibition of the works of four major women artists currently showing at the Ben Uri art museum in north London.
Judy Chicago, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick and Tracey Emin have all achieved critical acclaim over the years and this collection of the output of these American and British artists has been brought together for the first time under the banner of  A Transatlantic Dialogue.
Judy Cohen changed her name to Chicago in 1970 in a protest against patriarchy.   A pioneer of the feminist art movement, she coined the term ‘feminist art’ and she was clearly an inspiration for the other three artists.
 Her most famous work is probably The Dinner Party which is an installation which uses 39 symbolic plates at the table  to illustrate the “progress” of women throughout history while Tracey Emin is best known for her  controversial ‘unmade bed’.  But while this exhibition concentrates on their small scale works they typify the output of these four artists over the decades.
The themes deal with sexuality, male domination and female assertiveness in differing ways but they largely ignore the reality of the life of working women. These semi biographical images of menstruation, birth and female servitude may tell us a lot about the artists and their self-obsession but they do little more than convey a feeling of indifference and depression.
Any serious student of modern art of the latter apart of the twentieth century would probably find this exhibition fascinating but whether it concretely contributes to the struggle for equality is debatable.
The Ben Uri Gallery, which incorporates the London Jewish Museum of Art, goes back to 1915 when the Ben Uri Art Society was founded in the East End of London in 1915 by the Russian emigre artist, Lazar Berson to provide an art venue for Jewish immigrant craftsmen and artists to exhibit their works. Today it  houses the world’s most distinguished body  of work by artists of European Jewish descent.
The gallery holds over 1,200 works, representing major avant-garde movements and encompassing a broad range of 20th-century modern British art. Though only a fraction of collection can ever be displayed in the current cramped building in Camden it nevertheless provides a window to the contribution made by Jewish artists to the avant-garde movement.
The Ben Uri Gallery is at 108A Boundary Road, London NW8 0RH and the exhibition runs tol 10th March. Admission is £5 and it is open Monday 1pm - 4pm, Tuesday  to Friday  10am - 5.30pm and Sunday 12pm to 4pm.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Masterly Performance


By Carole Barclay

Mikhail Bulgakov is one of those Soviet authors who only achieved international acclaim long after his death. Because he was not openly anti-Soviet he was never lionised by the bourgeois media that embraced Boris Pasternak and Anna Akmatova and international recognition only came long after his death.  In fact his seminal work, The Master and Margarita, was never published in his lifetime. But it is now regarded as one of the classics of the Stalin era, even though the Soviet leader rarely approved of much of Bulgakov’s literary output. 
Bulgakov trained as a doctor but he later abandoned medical practice to devote himself to literature and the arts. His play about the Civil War was one of Stalin’s favourites which the Soviet leader saw fifteen times.  But Bulgakov soon turned to satire and magic realism which brought him into conflict with the Soviet literary establishment and ensured that most of his books never saw the light of day.
He made a living working as a consultant at the Bolshoi and  when a top theatre director criticised Bulgakov, Stalin defended him saying that a writer of Bulgakov's quality was above “party words" like "left" and "right".
The Master and Margarita, which was written in the 1930s, is partly a literary revenge on all his artistic detractors as well as a commentary on the human condition. It inspired Mick Jagger to write Sympathy for the Devil and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and it has now  been adapted for the stage for a short run at London’s Barbican theatre.
It’s basically a frustrated love story between Margarita and the writer known as the “master” and the suppression of his own book about the trial of Jesus.  And it is set in 1930s Moscow coping with a visit from the Devil himself, masquerading as Professor Woland, and his retinue which includes a foul-mouthed gun-toting cat called Behemoth.  While Woland exposes the greed, selfishness and corruption of petty bureaucrats and literary jobsworths  Bulgakov’s barely disguised enemies end up dead or in the lunatic asylum. Eventually the two main protagonists are magically reunited for eternity by Woland and his fiendish accomplices.
This production tends to be fantastical rather than satirical with a dazzling display of special effects and a cast which perfectly captured the essence of Bulgakov’s characters and enthralled  the audience.
Though it is impossible to translate the entire book on the stage this adaption is a gutsy interpretation that is worth seeing in its own right even if you  haven’t read the novel. The current London  run ends on 19th January and it is well worth the visit if you can secure a ticket. The book was eventually published in the Soviet Union in 1967 And English translations are always in print.  There are also a number of film adaptions on Youtube including a Russian TV serialisation made in 2005 which faithfully follows the plot from beginning to end.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is at the Barbican Theatre in London until 19th January and tickets range from  £16 to £42.

Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution


By Alan Stewart

 Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution: Richard Gott,pbk, 368 pp,
 Verso Books, London,  2011, £10.99.

In 1958 -a year before Castro's victory in Cuba- radical elements in the Venezuelan military, based in Maracay, staged a revolt.  There was also rioting in the capital Caracas.  When a left wing Patriotic Junta appealed for a General Strike the dictator Marcos Perez Jiminez resigned.  But when the dust settled it was Romulo Betancourt and his US backed Accion Democratica party that held the reins of power.
            Indeed Venezuela soon came to be run -like neighbouring Colombia- on the basis of a two party carve up.  Under the so-called Pact of Punto Fijo (1958) Accion Democratica had the hegemonic, dominant role but it would alternate periodically with the Christian Democratic Party, COPEI.  Other parties, of both left and right, would effectively be precluded from power. Many left wing Venezuelans followed the example of the Cuban revolution, took to the hills and launched a guerrilla insurrection that endured until the late 60's.
            In the meantime corrupt politics continued behind the democratic facade.  Carlos Andres Perez in particular had a "penchant for stealing from the state" when he was President from 1974-1979.
            Perez returned to power in 1989 and tried to restructure the economy on neo-liberal lines.  When the price of petrol rocketed and bus fares doubled the poor, particularly those who lived in the surrounding shanty towns, descended into the capital city for a week of "indiscriminate looting."  The "unexpected, unorganised rebellion" spread to other towns and cities including Maracay, Valencia, Barquisimeto, Cuidad Guyana and Merida.  Several hundred were killed in the rioting itself and in the repression that followed.
            A certain Hugo Chavez had already been organising a Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement within the ranks of the military.  But when the 1989 "Caracazo" occured they were caught unaware.  They simply weren't ready to seize the opportunity!
            In February 1992 however Chavez was a commanding officer of a parachute regiment in Maracay.  The planning was now coming to fruition.  Chavez say a chance to overthrow the "corrupt politicians, improve the conditions of the poor and chart a new course" for Venezuela. In the event his attempt to take the Presidential Palace failed (even though the rebellion attracted wide support elsewhere) and Chavez ended up in San Francisco de Yare jail.
            But he was out within two years.  Carlos Andres Perez was under house arrest on corruption charges.  And Chavez, with his own political movement -drawing support initially  from progressive military figures, left wing journalists and intellectuals- was able to win a Presidential bid in 1998.
            Richard Gott explains in his newly updated book how Chavez has ruled -and been re-elected- since on the basis of his willingness to challenge "globalisation and neo-liberalism."  It is a riveting read.