So far the emphasis on this blog has been on those examples of Socialist Realist art that I have encountered on various visits to Albania in the past few years – especially the ‘lapidars’ (public monuments and sculptures). One of the drivers for starting this project was the fear that due to both active political vandalism and simple lack of care many of these unique works of socialist art were likely to disappear in the near future and would be lost to posterity.
The Albanian Lapidar Survey of 2014 meant that, at least, those monuments that still existed and were identified at the time would be recorded in as much detail as possible, including a comprehensive photographic record of their condition in 2014. The fate of those lapidars has varied in the intervening years, some suffering further decay others suffering inappropriate (if at times well meaning) and destructive ‘renovation’.
With many of the lapidars I have visited I have attempted to carry out a deep reading of what they represent and have tried to put them in their historical context. I don’t even try to maintain that I have always got it right but in lieu of any other such record (much information about the more than 650 lapidars covered in the ALS investigation – and many other works of art, such as bas reliefs, mosaics, etc. – having been destroyed or lost in the chaotic years of the 1990s) I hope my efforts can help in reconstructing a comprehensive data base for the future. Although many have already been written about on this blog there are still many to follow.
Travelling quite extensively around the country I have encountered artistic elements of the socialist past that were outside the remit of the ALS. That includes the likes of the mosaics (Bestrove, Tirana Historical Museum and on the Bashkia in Ura Vajgurore – to name a few) and bas reliefs (for example, the Durres Tobacco Factory and Radio Kukesi) already mention as well as paintings (in the National Art Gallery in Tirana), statues (including the ‘Sculpture Park‘ behind the National Art Gallery and the 68 Girls of Fier), stand alone structures (such as the Party Emblem in Peshkopia) and murals (such as the Traditional Wedding Mural in the hotel restaurant also in Peshkopia), exhibits in museums and a number of other works that have (sometimes) miraculously survived the 30 years following the success of the counter-revolution.
By the time the Party of Labour of Albania had achieved victory over the fascist invaders in November 1944 the idea of Socialist Realist Art as something Socialist countries should encourage had become entrenched in the thinking of revolutionary Marxist-Leninists. I presented my interpretation of this when discussing art in Albania but the same arguments would suit the use of art in the other major Socialist countries, especially the Soviet Union and China.
I intend to look at Soviet Socialist Realist Art, initially, by reading the stories being told in the Metro stations, principally of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow.
When it comes to the People’s Republic of China there are already examples of the use of art in the struggle to establish Socialism in the pages of Chinese Literature. Various issues of that magazine are available from 1953 to 1981 (the final 5 years an example of how literature and art can be used to turn back Socialism in a similar way it was used to promote Socialism from 1949 till just after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976).
The Chinese approach to literature and art can also be gleaned from the works of the writer and cultural theorist Lu Hsun.
Here I present a slide show of a collection of posters from the last, full revolutionary year of the People’s Republic of China (1975) to give an idea of how Chinese poster art had developed to that date.
I was lucky on my first Monday morning in Buenos Aires/Argentina. I was looking for a shop to get a local SIM card. I didn’t find the place I was looking for but in the process came across people congregating for a demonstration – or was it two?
It seems that the little garden area to the south of the Obelisk, on Avenida 9 de Julio, in the central part of Buenos Aires is the traditional starting place for workers’ demonstrations. Arriving at that part of the city at around 11.00 on Monday 26th November 2018 I noticed a number of banners and went to investigate.
It was immediately obvious that this was a left-wing, anti-government gathering. The first banner I saw was one of the MST (Movimiento Sin Trabajo – Unemployed Workers Movement) but this was still in the early stages of people arriving and others were in the process of fixing their banners to their carrying poles.
In various Latin American countries there’s a form of displaying your banners and statements which is nation specific. Many countries don’t use poles at all and the banner is carried in the hands of the supporters. In many ways these banners are not designed to be preserved but address a particular issue. Here in Argentina they seem to go closer to what was the British tradition. That’s having a distinctive and long-term banner which indicates who the organisation is that is supporting the aims of the march.
Whilst not being as ornate as some of the Trade Union Banners that used to be paraded through the streets of various cities and towns of Britain (many of which, with factory and whole industry closures many of these are now only seen in the museum context of the People’s History Museum in Manchester) some of the banners had had significant time and effort expended upon their creation.
There was a variety of Party Political banners (not all of their political allegiance I could work out) but also a number of very local neighbourhood (barrio) banners. I liked that approach, in a way, as it was good that people are demonstrating in a way that shows solidarity based on where they lived. Trade Unions having been attacked and seriously challenged in all countries for various reasons what the working class needs are organisations which bring people together with something in common. ‘Issue politics’, which is becoming dominant throughout the world divides us rather than unites us. Where the working class live is still a positive uniting and organisation positive.
As we got closer to midday more and more people started to arrive. This demonstration was not going to be damp squib. But at that time I didn’t know of the strange situation that existed, but which all those there did.
One matter that struck me as I walked amongst this crowd (which had a higher presence of women than most of the demonstrations I have been on) was that this was not a representative selection of people from Argentinian society. I’ve only been here for a few days but on the streets there’s a mix of people from those with European features to those whose roots are obviously from a pre-Columbian culture. The latter tend to be shorter and with a darker complexion.
The overwhelming features of the crowd congregating close to the Obelisk were with an indigenous background. This is not really surprising. Throughout Latin America those with roots pre-Hispanic invasion are lucky to have survived. Those who have will almost invariably get the dirty end of the stick. Racism is as rife in Latin America as in other parts of the world. This ‘racial divide’ indicates that Argentina still has some way to go if the workers want to face the severe situation that is worsening by the day.
What was surprising, and disappointing, when I had the chance to think about my chance experience, was the lack of any organised, working class, trade union presence at this gathering. If they were there then I didn’t see them and there were certainly no work related banners. Organised labour was absent and that has obvious serious consequences for any struggle. It just demonstrates the effectiveness of the ruling class in being able to divert any struggle into a local matter (however important) rather than confront issues from a class standpoint.
This ‘neighbourhood environment, however, did have its positives. There was evidence that the ‘barrios’ had organised food for the people who had come to the demonstration. Some of them marched as a group to the meeting place, together with their drummers. As a foreigner I could see that people wanted to be with those they knew, their neighbours and friends. The jockeying for places was something I’ve never seen in the many demonstrations I’ve been on in my political life.
Without any announcement, at least which I heard, at 12.00 a section of the crowd moved away from the garden in the middle of what I understand is supposed to be the widest road in the world and started to form up at one of the slip roads.
Remembering two martyrs
But I should be giving an explanation of why this demonstration was taking place at all, To the best of my knowledge it was a reaction to the murder of a 36 year old activist, Rodrigo Orellana, who was involved in the occupation of a piece of empty land in an area to the south of Buenos Aires. He was shot in the back by the police very early in the morning of Thursday 22nd November. Another activist, Marcos Jesus Soria was killed by police in Cordoba last Saturday. There were other issues, there always are, in a time when the working class throughout the world are still paying the cost of the last capitalist crisis with the next one only around the corner, but Rodrigo’s and Marcos’s murders seems to have been the main reason for the calling of this demonstration, when the week itself was full of events due to the G20 meeting.
If I have read the situation correctly it was very impressive that so many people could have been called out onto the streets in such a short space of time.
Ready for action
Up to now there had been no obvious police presence. That changed when the first part of the demonstration moved away from the garden and onto the road. At first I was pleased that so many people were on the streets and would cause traffic chaos. But however many people were there it was all controlled by a couple of motorcycle, city police who were at the front of the march. The hundreds, thousands, of people who were on to the road would only be allowed to cross an intersection if the chaos of people blocking junctions could be minimised.
For reasons that make no sense, other than making a statement that the state is always ready to stand up against any workers manifestation of defiance, at the very place where the head of the march formed up, a contingent of about 30 riot police, with all their ‘necessary’ equipment were standing on the pavement, letting the demonstrators (many of whom were with very young children) know who was really in control. These miserable lapdogs of the ruling class are a carbuncle on society – in whatever country they might appear – and a rational approach to how to deal with them is something that should be in the thoughts of all revolutionaries. As a demonstration of female inclusiveness there was one woman, at least, in this group of state-sponsored and armed thugs.
Slowly more people joined the others on the road and the area around the garden started to empty out and eventually the MST banner mentioned above was at the rear. For some reason there appeared to be some hesitation to move off but when it did I was bemused to see that there were still hundreds of people, and a not inconsiderable number of banners still by the Obelisk – and there was no sign that they were going to move. All kinds of thoughts came through my mind. Was there some sort of political schism that I was unaware of and there had been a decision to split the march? I certainly hadn’t been aware of any animosity when I was mingling with the crowd. I just couldn’t work it out.
The march moves off
I followed the march for a few blocks to just before it turned right off the main avenue, heading in the direction of the Congress Building only a few more blocks away. I didn’t know what to do. I would have liked to have seen the march to its end but wanted to try to find out the reason why those who had not joined the march did so.
(From my political point of view I did see a banner and a flag of an organisation calling itself the ‘Partido Revolutionario Marxista-Leninista – which doesn’t seem to have an Internet presence (which I personally is over-rated but must be there if for no other reason that to direct people to Party publications and activities) so don’t know if it is a realistic entity. Depending upon my future plans I will attempt to search out this group in the coming weeks.)
Arriving back at the meeting point it was soon obvious that this was very much a neighbourhood event (ALL the banners were displaying that fact) as speakers were making their thoughts known. However, the PA system was far too inadequate for any but those really close to the speakers to be able to hear anything. Being at a busy traffic intersection didn’t help. This rally was also about deaths at the hands of the authorities and probably had been planned for some time – the reason that two separate demonstrations were taking place at the same time.
I don’t know if that rally was to later go on the streets and make their feelings known at a government building as the rally seemed to be going on forever and there was no sign of movement. Later that evening, reading a newspaper in a bar, a lot of my questions were answered – even more so the next day when the big demo that had moved towards the Congress Building was reported in Tuesday’s papers. I didn’t see any mention of the rally.
I can see that there might have been a desire on behalf of the organisers and supporters of this neighbourhood rally to have their case separate, in the hope of giving the issue more publicity but I don’t really understand why some effort wasn’t made to incorporate the original cause in the wider movement.
An efficient and effective PA could have been set up and the speakers could have addressed the whole of the crowd that had assembled. Then together the expanded group could have marched to the Congress. Nothing will change based on either of those two events but it would have been a move forward to unite all the grievances of the people against the ruling class of Argentina and the world.
(When I first planned this post I wasn’t aware that the 2018 G20 summit was due to take place here at the end of this week. That presents a couple of issues. First is that the area I am staying in will be virtually shut down from Thursday night until late on Sunday. That creates a logistical problem as I have a flight to the south early on Friday morning and, as of now, have no idea how to get to the airport as all the buses and transport are seriously disrupted. The other issue is that I would like to be here as I know there are a number of demonstrations planned and I’ll miss out. Hopefully, the Argentinian National Airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, are planning strike action this week and that might give me the opportunity to change my flight and stay for another few days. Time will tell.)
Baked beans are still the main contribution to foodbanks
Foodbanks are becoming a feature of British society as the ‘austerity’ measure bite. The nation should prepare itself for a great deal more hot air as more and more people become dependent upon charity.
Earlier in the year, during and after my trip to Catalonia, I posted a couple of articles about how people in Spain and Catalonia were dealing with the austerity measures that were having such a dramatic impact upon an increasing number of people. What I wanted to stress there was the fact of people taking direct action. People weren’t just sitting back and suffering without a fight.
This included a number of raids on supermarkets (where activists would take basic foodstuffs without paying in order to highlight the desperate situation of many people) and that movement spread, during late August, to cover a number of areas of the country. I must admit that since returning to the UK I haven’t kept up to date with any subsequent developments but, at least, people are still angry as can be seen by the activity on the streets of the likes of Madrid and Barcelona.
At the same time there were statements being made by Spanish judges and rich politicians that what the poor and hungry should do is go, cap in hand, asking ‘Can I have a little more, Sir’, Oliver Twist wise. Just be servile and perhaps a few crumbs will fall from the rich man’s (and woman’s) table and survival might be possible.
This after years of so-called ‘prosperity’ when everything was possible, when deprivation was to be a thing of the past. But these false promises, based upon the spending of money that did not exist, did not take into account the periodic crises of capitalism that occur, have occurred and will occur, at (irregular but normally decade long) intervals for as long as capitalism exists. The ‘Third Way’ promised by Blair was nothing more than new wine in old bottles.
In my post about Reus I wrote about the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) distributing monies to the poor and then went on to discuss the issue of collection of food for distribution to the poor and needy. I was surprised to learn that this was happening in Spain, which is not, on the world scale of things, a poor country but even more surprised to learn that foodbanks were common in the US (and had been since 1967!) and becoming common in the UK.
A few days ago I read that a new foodbank is about to open in Warrington, just a few miles down the road. This prompted me to check if they existed in Liverpool and was ‘shocked’ to discover that they do, and are spreading. I was even more shocked to read the statement from one of the biggest ‘providers’ of these foodbanks:
“The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 250 foodbanks currently launched, our goal is for every town to have one.”
‘Our goal’, it seems, is to perpetuate poverty and charity, not do something about it so that people can live in dignity and security.
In the intervening days there have been more references to foodbanks, even being the topic of an edition of the Food Programme on Radio 4. Mostly run by churches, of all denominations, this seems to be a way that religion (‘the opium of the masses’) is trying to inveigle its way back into society after being effectively rejected and marginalised in recent times.
And there doesn’t seem to be an end of the demand for these charity outlets. Each year since the crash occurred in 2008 we have been told that next year will see improvements. Such statements have obviously been lies or (at best) wishful thinking. Now the UK government is saying that austerity is with us for – at least – another 5 years. And what happens on the streets of Britain? Nothing!
That nothing in the past has prompted the present coalition of Tories to attack even more aspects of the welfare state that was sold to the country in the immediate post-WWII period to ward off and potentially revolutionary activity on behalf of the working class. As the descendants of those who fought against fascism are prepared to do nothing then it should be no surprise that the ruling class continues its attacks. When ‘austerity’ eventually ends there will be nothing left but the dog eat dog, care nothing for anyone else, selfish society that was the dream of Thatcher and Blair. If anyone thinks that what we once had would return with the ‘good times’ they are deluding themselves.
What was gained in the past by struggle and which is being taken away due to acquiescence will not reappear without an even greater struggle in the future.
When even the departing Governor of the Bank of England has said, on a number of occasions, that he is surprised that the people of Britain have not taken to the streets in reaction to what has taken place in the last 4 or 5 years; when the trade unions in this country don’t make an effort to show a modicum of support for fellow workers in the rest of Europe when they take to the streets to express their anger at the wholesale robbery of a nation’s resources, through privatisation, and the removal of hard-won terms and conditions of employment; when the people of the UK revert to a situation more akin to that at the end of the 19th century with imperialist pretensions and support for foreign wars (already there is UK army involvement in Syria and it’s only a matter of time before something kicks off in Iran); when billions of pounds are being spent, and many more billions being committed, for more modern and sophisticated weapons to ensure that ‘we’ can kill more of ‘them’ with less and less risk to ‘our boys (and girls)’; when a nation effectively sticks its head in the sand and hopes that all the problems will just go quietly away then the people of this country better get a liking for baked beans.
For that will become their basic diet if they are forced to rely on charity. Despite all the years of campaigning about a balanced diet and the experience from the Miners Strike of 1984-5 it’s tins of baked beans that predominate in donations to foodbanks.
This post was first published in 2012. Then I said food banks were one of the biggest growth areas in the fifth most richest economies in the world. But in place of making efforts to see the elimination of such obscenities the people of Britain have been quite happy to see the need for such locations expand. A recent article about the number of people in Scotland who depend upon these centres (and the disinterest of government ministers) demonstrates that the growth in this area is becoming almost unstoppable. A civilised country would consider the existence of such places a disgrace – but too many of those who are unfortunate enough to live in Britain don’t seem to see that.