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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 EU crisis pocket guide

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The Transnational Institute has produced a terrific pocket guide on the financial crisis in the European Union, called, not surprisingly, ‘The EU Crisis Pocket Guide’. It’s a very handy alternative to reading about 257,000 words of confusing and jargon-heavy tripe authoritative commentary written by hopelessly compromised economist-blokes commentators and observers of the financial scene.

‘The EU Crisis Pocket Guide’ tells you, as straight as a punch to the chin, how a crisis made in Wall Street was made worse by EU policies, how it has enriched the 1% to the detriment of the 99%. It doesn’t stop at that – quite unlike the boring and largely clueless economist blokes who take great delight in pointing out a problem but have little to say about how to solve it, keeping the 99% in mind.

In keeping with the civilised socialist tendency therefore, ‘The EU Crisis Pocket Guide’ outlines some possible solutions that prioritise people and the environment above corporate profits.

You are well encouraged to download the booklet from these links:
Pocket guide: 12 page (PDF, 403KB) or Pocket guide: 8 page (PDF, 399KB)

What ‘The EU Crisis Pocket Guide’ contains: How a private debt crisis was turned into a public debt crisis and an excuse for austerity; The way the rich and bankers benefited while the vast majority lost out; The devastating social consequences of austerity; The European Union’s response to the crisis: more austerity, more privatisation, less democracy; Ten alternatives put forward by civil society groups to put people and the environment before corporate greed; Resources for further information.

I am much obliged to the peerless Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal for calling our attention to this absolute gem of a guidebook. Links, if you didn’t already know, promotes the exchange of information, experience of struggle, theoretical analysis and views of political strategy and tactics within the international left. You are well advised to read it regularly.

Here are some of the eye-openers from this Pocket Guide, things we suspected but which the dibbly-dobbly economist blokes and their corporate sponsors never admitted:

Much of the so-called debt crisis was caused not by states spending too much, but because they bailed out the banks and speculators. European Union government debt had actually fallen from 72% of GDP in 1999 to 67% in 2007. It rose rapidly after they bailed out the banks in 2008. Ireland’s bank bailout cost them 30% of their national output (GDP) and pushed debts to record levels.

As austerity cuts swept Europe, the numbers of the wealthy in Europe with more than $1 million in cash actually rose in 2010 by 7.2% to 3.1 million people. Together they are worth US$10.2 trillion. The five biggest banks in Europe made profits of €28 billion in 2010. There are 15,000 professional lobbyists in Brussels, the vast majority of them representing big business.

European Union’s answers to the problem? More austerity. In the UK, 490,000 public sector jobs are being cut; in Ireland, wages for low paid workers have been reduced; in Lithuania the government plans to cut public spending by 30%. The EU is planning to impose requirements by 2013 that means that no European member state countries can have a budget deficit of more than 3% of GDP or a public debt of more than 60% of GDP which will mean even more austerity.

Alternatives from the 99% – Clearly, there is a strong need to break with the dangerous free market fundamentalism that has created and worsened a social crisis of vast proportions. Here are some proposals for alternatives – put forward by many civil society groups – that could create a fairer and more just world.

Hu Jintao on 90 years of the Communist Party of China

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Here follow extracts from the keynote speech made by Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), at a grand gathering marking the 90th founding anniversary of the CPC at the Great Hall of the People. This speech is an important document for not only Asians but also for those who follow socialism in all its variety in various parts of the world.

Facts have shown that neither the mission of striving for national survival nor the historic task of fighting imperialism and feudalism could be accomplished by reformist self-improvement movements which did not touch the foundation of feudal rule, old-style peasant wars, revolutions led by bourgeois revolutionaries, or other attempts to copy Western capitalism. To find a way of achieving China’s development and progress, one must, first of all, find an advanced theory that can guide the Chinese people in their revolution against imperialism and feudalism, and an advanced social force must rise that can lead social changes in China.

[You can get the full text in this document.]

With the founding of New China, the Chinese people became masters of their country and society and determined their own destiny. China achieved a great transition from a feudal autocracy that was several thousand years old to a people’s democracy. Great unity and unprecedented solidarity of all ethnic groups were realized in China. The history of old China being a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society which was like a heap of loose sand was brought to an end once and for all. The unequal treaties imposed on China by imperialist powers and all the privileges they had in China were abolished. The Chinese people stood up, and the Chinese nation entered a new era of development and progress.

[More on the 90th anniversary of the CPC from China Daily.]

Comrades and Friends, we owe all our achievements over the past 90 years to the tenacious struggles waged by Chinese Communists and the people of several generations. The Party’s first generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Mao Zedong at the core united with and led the entire Party and the people of all ethnic groups in achieving the great victory of the new-democratic revolution, establishing the basic socialist system and creating the fundamental political prerequisite and institutional foundation for all development and progress in contemporary China.

The Party’s second generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Deng Xiaoping at the core united with and led the entire Party and the people of all ethnic groups in starting the great march toward reform and opening up, sounding the bugle of the times for building socialism with Chinese characteristics and ushering in a new period of socialist development. The Party’s third generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Jiang Zemin at the core united with and led the entire Party and the people of all ethnic groups in steadfastly carrying out reform and opening up, advancing with the times, guiding reform and opening up to move in the right direction, and successfully ushering the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics into the 21st century.

A review of its 90 years of development shows that the following are essential for our Party to preserve and develop its advanced nature as a Marxist political party: The Party should free up the mind, seek truth from facts, advance with the times, take a scientific approach toward Marxism, use Marxism as an evolving theory to guide practice in new realities, uphold truth, correct mistakes, blaze new trails, and maintain the motivation that enables the Party to forge ahead in a pioneering spirit. It should serve the people, rely on them, work for their benefit with heart and soul, draw on their wisdom and strength, and always maintain close ties with them. The Party should appoint officials on their merits, attract as many talents as possible, use our cause to inspire, train, and cultivate high-caliber personnel, constantly absorb new blood, and maintain its vitality at all times.

The Party’s growth over the past 90 years shows that theoretical maturity is the basis for political conviction, advancing with the times theoretically is a prerequisite for forging ahead in action, and unity of thinking is an important guarantee for the whole Party to march in step. We Chinese Communists believe that the basic tenets of Marxism are an irrefutable truth and that Marxism must be constantly enriched and developed as practice changes, and we never take Marxism as an empty, rigid, and stereotyped dogma. For Marxism, practice is the source of its theory, the basis for its development, and the criterion for testing its truth. Any actions that stick to dogma, ignore practice, or overstep or lag behind real life will not succeed.

[More on the 90th anniversary of the CPC from China Daily.]

The ‘Religion of Capital’ revisited

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“We need religion to curb the masses. But what religion? It must be a new religion. Now, then, the only religion that answers the requirements of our days is the Religion of Capital. Capital is the true, only and omnipotent God.”

Those were the words, prophetic and terrible, uttered by the “notorious” Statistician Mallock, in Paul Lafargue’s remarkable satirical work, ‘Religion of Capital‘. Mallock has just risen from a “group of capitalists” – Vanderbilts, Goulds, Rothschilds among them – and lets loose with brutal simplicity to stop short the wranglings between the theologians, free-thinkers and philosophers. This is what he went on to say:

Cover of Religion of Capital, by Paul Lafargue (1916)

Cover of Religion of Capital, by Paul Lafargue (1916)

“He manifests Himself in everything. He is found in glittering gold and in stinking guano; in a herd of cattle and in a cargo of coffee; in brilliant stores that offer sacred literature for sale and in obscure booths of lewd pictures: in gigantic machines, made of hardest steel, and in elegant rubber goods. He is everywhere. Capital is the God whom the whole world knows, sees, smells, tastes. He is sensible to all our senses. He is the only God that has not yet run against an atheist.”

Lafargue tells us how the group of Capitalists rejoiced at hearing this, how they cheered and applauded loud and long at this clear and cold definition of the new creed.

“When Capital visits a country, it is as if a hurricane had broken loose, that tears down and destroys everything that stands in His way — men, animals, the quick and the dead. Capital seizes upon free and healthy, strong and happy people and immures them by the hundreds of thousands in the mills, the factories and the mines. There He pumps out their blood; when He lets them go again, they are prematurely old, scrofulous, anaemic, consumptive. The imagination of man has never yet been able to conceive a more fearful, cruel and pitiless God when enraged.”

Lafargue goes on to describe the Catechism of the new religion as an interrogation of a humble worker.

Q. What is your name?
A. Wageworker.
Q. Who are thy parents?
A. My father was called Wageworker; my mother’s name is Poverty.
Q. Where wast thou born?
A. In a garret under the roof of a tenement house which my father and his comrades built.
Q. What is thy religion?
A. The Religion of Capital.

It is a catechism whose tremendous power is found now (Lafargue would no doubt observe, were he amongst us today) in the financial skulduggery that has entrapped millions of families in the North and South alike and driven them to penury. His Statistician Mallock has made tens of thousands of converts in the banking system of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Q. What does thy religion order thee to do with thy savings ?
A. To entrust them to the savings banks and such other institutions that have been established by philanthropic financiers, to the end that they may loan them out to our bosses. We are commanded to place our earnings at all times at the disposal of our masters.
Q. Does thy religion allow thee to touch thy savings?
A. As rarely as possible; but it recommends to us not to insist too strongly upon receiving our funds back; we are told we should patiently submit to our fate if the philanthropic financiers are unable to meet our demands, and inform us that our savings have gone up in smoke.

Who was Paul Lafargue? Karl Marx’s son-in-law, Lafargue (1841-1911) was a leading member of the French socialist movement and played an important rôle in the development of the Spanish socialist movement. A close friend of Friedrich Engels in his later years, he wrote and spoke from a fairly orthodox Marxist perspective on a wide-range of topics including women’s rights, anthropology, ethnology, reformism and economics.