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Posts Tagged ‘Great Depression

Diego Rivera’s socialist murals, 80 years later, as a visual anthem for global resistance

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In The Uprising (1931), a woman with a baby at her hip and a working man fend off an attack by a uniformed soldier. Behind them, a riotous crowd clashes with more soldiers, who force demonstrators to the ground. The location is unclear, though the figures’ skin tone implies that the scene is set in Mexico or another Latin American country. In the early 1930s, an era of widespread labour unrest, images of the violent repression of strikes would have resonated with both US and Latin American audiences. The battle here stands as a potent symbol of universal class struggle.

In New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a new exhibition has opened that displays the artistic work of Diego Rivera, whose socialist murals of the 1930s depicted the onrush of capitalism and its effects on labour and rural cultivators in Mexico. The heroines and heros of the Occupy movement in the USA could not have asked for a more fitting epilogue to their struggle, for Rivera’s work is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago, and indeed more so, for in 1931 western capitalism had not the ravening tools it employs today.

Diego Rivera’s name is synonymous with epic murals of social revolution in the first decades of the 20th century. The powerful appeal of socialist politics following the Russian Revolution was felt by broad layers of the population in Mexico, especially with the economic collapse of 1929, and could not be ignored. Rivera’s connection with socialism went deep, for the power of his work was bound up not just with the radical nationalist Mexican Revolution, but also with the establishment of the first worker’s state in Russia in 1917.

Inspired by his experience of New York City, the panels also show a modern metropolis at the height of a building boom made possible by the legions of available labour during the Great Depression. The skyscrapers that came to define the city’s iconic skyline all went up in an astonishingly short period of time. Rivera took on New York subjects through monumental images of the urban working class and the social stratification of the city during the Great Depression. [See ‘The Socialist Art of Diego Rivera’ for more.]

The mad reign of the killer bankers

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Pretty charts by the IMF which make no sense to the newly impoverished in developing countries. After three years of G20 meetings to produce a new 'global harmony', the system is still intact: a mixture of deregulation, princely rewards for the brains behind 'financial innovations' and destruction paid for by state and taxpayer.

In the 2011 May issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, the comment ‘Immune and all-powerful’ by vetern observer of 20th century absurdity, Serge Halimi, is short, blunt and a new indictment of the global financial mafia. This mafia is represented on governments by its criminals-in-chief: Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J P Morgan. There are more such criminals-in-chief of course, and some are regional (in Russia, China, India, Brazil) as they preside over the movements of capital and the passing of legislation to disempower, impoverish and enslave tens of millions around the developing world.

It is in the interests of these folk, the humble wage earners in field and in the slums, that Halimi has written this cameo. He has pointed out that the International Monetary Fund has just admitted that “nearly four years after the start of the global financial crisis, confidence in the stability of the banking system as a whole has yet to be fully restored”. He then quotes US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke who described it as “the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression” but has reminded us that no-one in the US (or in its client and comprador countries for that matter) has been charged with any crime. [Bernanke was quoted by Jeff Madrick in “The Wall Street Leviathan”, The New York Review of Books, New York, 28 April 2011.]

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J P Morgan all stood to gain by the collapse of the high-risk investments they warmly recommended to their clients. They got off with a fine at worst; more often they got a bonus. In fact Halimi is needlessly polite, for the criminals-in-chief have not only got off with bonuses, they have continued to be permitted to ply their destructive trade in developing countries and in the commodity trading arenas.

Eight hundred bankers were prosecuted and jailed after the fraud-related US Savings and Loans failures in the late 1980s, said Halimi. “Now the power of the banks, increased and concentrated by restructuring, is so great that they seem immune to prosecution in any state impeded by public debt. Future White House candidates, including Barack Obama, are already begging Goldman Sachs to fund their election campaigns; the head of BNP Paribas has threatened European governments with a credit squeeze if they make any serious attempt to regulate the banks; Standard & Poor’s, the agency that awarded its highest rating of AAA to Enron, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and many junk bonds, plans to downgrade the US rating if Washington fails to deliver public spending cuts.”

What the IMF calls the World Economic Outlook, this is the 2011 April issue, as inconsequential as the last.

So, it is not only immunity. The criminals-in-chief are revealed as actually dictating social policy to the countries of the developed world. In France, the Socialists complain that “governments devoted more resources to rescuing the banks and financial institutions in the year after the subprime crisis than the world spent on aid to third world countries over 50 years” [this was in L’hebdo des socialistes, 16 April 2011].

But the remedies they propose are pathetic (a 15% bank surcharge) or pious hopes (abolish tax havens, establish a public rating agency, tax financial transactions), which rely on unlikely “joint action by the member states of the European Union”.

What should have been a crisis too far came to nothing, Halimi has concluded. He has quoted Andrew Cheng, chief adviser to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, as having said that this passive attitude is connected to a “capture problem”, which is states in thrall to their financial system [“Big Winners in Crises: the Banks”, International Herald Tribune, 13 April 2011]. Too often political leaders behave like bankers’ puppets, anxious not to spoil the party. I would have expected Monde Diplo to show some teeth here, for this is in most democracies called treason, and the punishment must match the crime.