Thursday, June 26, 2014

Workers of All Lands Unite

Left in London

Tourism is a not always about  beer and pasta or museums.  In London, with its long history of capitalism and labor, there are other things to investigate.  A few days ago, Russell Brand stood before a crowd of 50,000 anti-austerity campaigners in Trafalgar Square and called for a ‘peaceful revolution.’   In fact, it is difficult to be in London for any period of time without running into something political.  Protesters drinking bad English beer in the Albany pub notified us that rallies were going on in Trafalgar. 

Or you could drink in the pubs that Orwell frequented – the Dog & Duck or the Newman Arms.  He must have drunk as much as Hemingway.  By chance, drop into an art gallery in the Brick Lane area, the Whitechapel Art Gallery, and see a free show of 40 years of protest photography and film by Chris Marker.  Pictures of Che’, filmed speeches by Fidel play on the wall to curious Millenials.  Brick Lane is also host to Pathfinder Books, upstairs from a bar, whose aging comrades were waiting for their leaders to return from Oberlin.  I told them the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S. almost never collaborates with the any other groups – they are even absent from the anniversary planning of the 1934 Teamster strikes in Minneapolis.  Strikes they led at the time.  The two old comrades could not process the information and instead tried to sell me a very nice Pathfinder paperback.  

Or journey to the theatre environs.  The Young Vic staged a play by an exiled Bylorussian troupe, called “Red Forest” after the reddened trees of Chernobyl.  The play tracks, in a clichéd way, miseries around the world – the tsunami in Japan, polluted rivers in Brazil, Native Americans deprived of their land, the meltdown at Chernobyl, all through the narrative of an African refugee woman trying to get into Europe through Morocco.   Of course, these young actors had no solution but the appearance of two white buffalos as symbols of ‘hope.’  Or the dark farce, “A Small Family Business” at the National Theater that highlights the role of greed in leading a small capitalist family, who owned a furniture firm, from conventional morality to murder and drug running.  Must keep the Porsche, stereo component system and yacht in order!

The Clerkenwell area of London was at one time outside the walls of the City, and for that reason attracted rebels like Wat Tyler, the Chartists, the Tolpuddle Muddlers, various Fenians, William Morris’ 20th Century Press and then Vladimir Lenin, who edited Iskra out of the Press building.  It is now the Marx Memorial Library at 37 Clerkenwell Green.  Across the street is the Crown Tavern, where the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party held their 2nd convention, upstairs.  This is where the Bolsheviks became the majority in the party.  Even today, Mayday marches start on Clerkenwell Green.  The library now houses a vast collection of mostly Communist Party materials, as well as the largest library on the Spanish Civil War in English and some colourful murals.  The genial retired comrade who escorted us around also showed us a chess set by Rodchenko and Lenin’s tiny workroom.

Class issues also exist at the Tate Modern art gallery, located on the south bank of the Thames.  A display of revolutionary Soviet posters, some very well-known, are on the same floor as the Picassos and Tanqueys.  A large portrait of Trotsky is in their center.  Dissident Russian architect Brodsky has a display on the second floor of extraordinary 'imagist' architectural designs. On the next floor is a large painting on Vietnam modeled after Guernica. Yet as you go 'up' in the Tate from the crowded lower floors of cubism, constructivism and surrealism, to the upper, more empty floors of abstract, then post modernist, minimalist and 'display' art, you can see the decay of 'western' or 'capitalist' art more clearly, ending in almost completely black or white canvases.  People are absent, not just looking at the art, but 'in' the art too.  Realism has been left far behind.  Above that is the gift shop and the 'member' club, and perhaps above that, the permanent collection of 'Nothingist' art - an empty floor.

The June 30 and July 2nd 2014 London Evening Standard, a widely-read Tube newspaper,with advertising from the real estate industry, had these two stories about London being the "Hunger Games" capital of the UK.  London is far ahead of every other city in the UK in terms of wealth and jobs.  What mainstream paper in the U.S. would even mention that New York or San Francisco were the 'Hunger Games' capitals of the U.S.?  None.
Lying just north of the main part of London is Highgate Cemetery, which you can reach by a Zone 2 pass on the Underground to Archway, then a short bus ride up the hill to Waterlow Park.  Walk west through the park to the southwest corner and you will come to Highgate Cemetery, now taken care of by a Trust.  Located there is the massive grave marker for one of the founders of communism, Karl Marx, buried with his wife and other family members.  This marker was commissioned by the British Communist Party in a new location, as Marx was originally buried in an unmarked grave a short distance away.  His family had no money for a headstone.  Buried a short distance from his memorial are other Marxists and radicals – leaders of the South African, Iranian & Iraqi Communist Parties; Eric Hobsbawn, the famous English historian, Paul Foot and other Labour Party radicals.  Also in the cemetery is Vanessa Redgrave’s father, the folk singer Bert Jansch, the philosopher Herbert Spencer and the female writer George Elliot, as well as many progressives. 

The quote on the memorial is: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways - the point, however, is to change it.”  Marx is buried in England because he was a refugee from Europe, and because he did his most close work examining  British capitalism, and from it, capitalism in general, in and around London. 

(reviews of books by William Morris and George Orwell, below)
Red Frog
June 26, 2014

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