Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
New Low for Académie française.
I suppose any institution claiming to represent the heights of French culture that includes former French President and mediocrity Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (still, amazingly, alive, though it’s often hard to tell) lacks, shall we say, all credibility.
But the election of Alain Finkielkraut to the “immortals” has introduced a new low.
Finkielkraut occupys the same place in French philosophy and culture, as, say, Peter Hitchins.
He began with some, middlebrow, writings in the tradition of Emmanuel Levinas. He celebrated Jewish culture and sometimes offered penetrating insights into post-Shoah Jewish identity. Some may admire his stand on the break up of Yugoslavia, where he was beside himself against Serbia. Fewer, perhaps, would have admired his close friendship with Croat leader, and Holocaust denier, Franjo Tuđman.
In recent years Finkielkraut has been distinguished by a relentless hatred of anything he believes threatens French identity.
If anybody wants to distinguish left-republican secularism from what Finkielkraut’s critics call his « républicano-communautariste » it is easy to do.
He explicitly attacks multiculturalism from the right, offering only a tale of woe and decline faced with immigration and métissage (Mixing, cultural and ethnic). As one can imagine he has had the courage of those going with the grain of conservative prejudice to oppose “political correctness” – a term as wide as it is vacuous.
By contrast Jean-Luc Mélenchon has explicitly defended” ” métissage” as the basis for a new class unifying republican socialist left.
Over the last year Finkielkraut has become even more obsessed – were it possible – with “l’identité française”.
He complains that France is an “auberge espagnole” (a pejorative term, in this context, for a mixture of people living together) in which the ethnically true French dare not speak out. (L’Identité malheureuse, d’Alain Finkielkraut. 2013)
Despite the occasional exalted language Finkielkraut resembles a Peter Hitchins, or a French version of Nigel Farage.
It is with no surprise that we learn that his election to the Académie française met opposition. The columnist scraped in with 16 votes out of the 28 members of the august body.
In the era of Wars and Revolutions. American Socialist Cartoons of the mid-twentieth century. Edited by Sean Matgamma.
“Although in some places, notably in the Untied States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of adherents, and develop into an organised movement with a petty Fuehrer of its own, its inspiration is essentially negative. The Trotskyist is against Stalin just as the Communist is for him, and, like the majority of Communists, he wants not so much to alter the external world as to feel that the battle for prestige is gaining in his own favour.”
George Orwell. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. ( Orwell and Politics. Page 355. Penguin 2001.)
In the Era of War and Revolutions publishes American left-wing cartoons for the most part long unavailable (even on the Web). They are largely from the papers of what became the Trotskyist American Socialist Workers’ Party, and their publications, such as Labor Action, the Militant, Socialist Appeal and New Militant, although there are some from the Communist Party (US), Daily Worker.
It is immediately striking that capitalists wear top-hats, and are corpulent. while workers are muscle-bound titans. No punches are pulled. Stalinism is a horror, American capitalism is embodied in Jim Crow and Lynching, As Sean Matgamma says in the Introduction, this is “clear and stark class-struggle politics, counterposed to both capitalism and Stalinism.”.
Orwell was simply wrong to say that Trotskyists were single-minded opponents of Stalin and Orthodox Communism. There is an equal focus on capitalism, the 1930s struggles of the US labour movement, Fascism, and, as World War 2 approached, and was fought, imperialism.
It would have been useful to have outlined the political evolution of the SWP (US) and the publications in which the cartoons appeared.
Its opposition to American participation in the World War – the subject, or sub-text, of many of the designs - takes some explaining.
The SWP’s own supporters claim that (2008),
The Socialist Workers Party…… maintained the Marxist view that in the modern epoch there is no progressive wing of the capitalist class. The major industrialized capitalist rivals, dominated by finance capital—what Marxists term imperialism—are constantly driven to wars of conquest in which they try to redivide the world’s territories. The working-class vanguard, the party held, needs to explain the imperialist character of the war and why workers and farmers must oppose it, fighting instead for their own class interests worldwide.
Vanguard workers in the United States came under increasing attack as Washington sought to drum up a patriotic campaign in support of its war drive. The Smith “Gag” Act was passed in 1940, prohibiting the advocacy of “overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States.” Under this thought-control law, 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and Teamsters Local 544 in Minneapolis were railroaded to prison for their class-struggle course in the labor movement, including opposition to the imperialist war. They spent between 12 and 16 months behind bars.
Not everybody, one suspects, will have much sympathy with that stand. Apart from the wider problems it raises it stood uncomfortably close to the US ‘isolationists’ of the period.
Yet Stalinism, for all Orwell’s cavils, is something that was rightly a major issue for the American Trotskyists. In the Era reminds us that there were people on the left prepared to speak their opposition, and dramatically illustrate it in their publications. That some of the SWP became so obsessed with the Soviet Union that they became what would be later be called ‘neoconservatives’ perhaps shows the difficulty of maintaining a Thrid Camp position.
The SWP itself still exists, a small group of property developers who continue to publish Trotksy and use their other resources to back Cuba.
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are to be congratulated for publishing this material. It deserves a place on every socialists’ bookshelf. For this Blogger, who has only a passing familarity with the American left, it is a useful reminder of its rich past.
In an era of wars and revolutions, by Carlo and others, edited by Sean Matgamna. 312 pages, £8.99. To order by post, pay £8.99 plus £1.60 postage here.
More information from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.
Note on some of the cartoonists - Laura Gray (Slobe),
From Labor Action.
Labor Action regularly published cartoons and caricatures penned by Jesse Cohen, who worked under the name Carlo, while the Militant ran graphics by Laura Slobe, whose party name was Laura Gray. Despite the new wave of public and scholarly interest in the history of comics and cartoons, neither Carlo nor Laura Gray has attracted much attention from historians of the graphic arts. Readers of this magazine might recognize Carlo’s work from the short profile we published in issue 37 (Summer 2004); now it’s Laura Gray’s turn.
Like Jesse Cohen, Laura Slobe attended high school in the 1920s, came of political age during the 1930s, and remained active on the far left after World War II. She was born in Pittsburgh, but grew up in Chicago, where she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before working for the Works Progress Administration Art Project. As a young, avant-garde artist she concentrated her efforts on painting and sculpture, which remained her lifelong passions. She joined the SWP in 1942, and her first cartoon appeared in the Militant two years later. The labor journalist Art Preis later remembered that, “From the first, her work added such a fresh, bright, satirical note to the paper that it was enthusiastically hailed by our readers everywhere.” According to another SWP writer, “The cartoon’s subject matter was on the agenda of the Militant’s staff meetings. After the staff discussed and decided what the topic would be, Gray would go home and start to draw.” In addition to serving on the staff of the Militant, Gray “worked at a series of jobs to support herself, including painting store mannequins and creating window displays for some of New York’s big department stores.” She remained the SWP’s in-house artist from 1944 until her death in 1958. Tragically, she had contracted tuberculosis in her early twenties, and had a lung removed in 1947. She died after a brief bout with pneumonia.
Militant atheists should ‘get over it’ and accept Britain is a ‘Christian nation’, according to communities secretary Eric Pickles.
Having previously introduced laws that ensure parish councils can avoid legal challenges for holding prayers in public meetings, Pickles this weekend urged non-believers to avoid imposing their ‘politically correct intolerance’ on others.
Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum, the communities secretary said he had ‘stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish’.
‘Heaven forbid,’ he added. ‘We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.’
In his speech, Pickles said the Government had also ‘backed British values’ and ‘stopped Whitehall appeasing extremism of any sort. Be it the EDL, be it extreme Islamists or be thuggish far-left, they’re all as bad as each other’. From here
This follows the much more strident claim by Baroness Warsi in February that,
For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.”
There have been many commentaries on this bluster.
One of the best, by Matt Broomfield (Left Foot Forward), focuses on the secular alternative to Pickles’s ‘Christian nation’.
What is secularism?
Following Broomfield we note that,
Secularism is not Atheism.
Secularism is the policy of opening up society to all beliefs by making no one faith or non-faith a central part of the public sphere. This means no public subsidies for religious groups, and certainly no “established” Church. It means that education is free from religious doctrine. It means that official religious values, symbols and practices in these areas – such as schools – should be excluded.
It is not Extremist.
Broomfield states, “In his speech, Pickles aligned secularism with the extremist doctrines of the English Defence League and militant Islam, saying “they’re all as bad as each other”. In reality, secularism is not a religious or political ideology at all, so much as it is the absence of any one dominant ideology.
It is not Intolerant.
Broomfield notes that secularism has nothing to do with the Marine Le Pen’s claim that Front National schools will only lay on pork for children to eat. This is as bad as forcing people to eat Halal food (something rigorously forbidden from diet example, to all Sikhs). Le Pen is not a secularist – she has backed Catholic led-demonstrations against gay marriage and teaching gender equality in schools. Such has been the importance of this clash that Libération has a whole special section on its site devoted to it: here. Those citing the FN should look there before pontificating about its opportunistic ‘secularism’.
But more is needed.
In Britain the education system, particularly through ‘free schools’ and academies’ has been wide open to the influence of faith groups. These have imposed their narrow agenda with public funding.
Some on the ‘left’ would no doubt prefer Pickles to promote faith more broadly.
The multiculturalism that has been used to promote religious causes, from reinforcing traditional authority, to the state where active communalism, with public subsidy is promoted by municipalities like Tower Hamlets. It bolsters reactionary political influence of religious groups – the opposite the aim of secularists who wish to make the public domain open and free from bigotry.
Only a militant, that is vigilant, secularism, can fight back against this.
It requires not just the ‘absence’ of an official doctrine but a conscious effort to undermine religious dogma.
That is, not an official replacement doctrine but a call for mass pressure and activity to create free spaces for people’s ideas, culture and values.
Contrasts with the Front National.
But before one lie gets repeated again and again, nobody has ever proposed the following (as Broomfield claims), “the National Front’s plans to force Muslim schoolchildren to eat pork.”
A weaker version of this claim, closer to the truth, is made by the Bob Pitt,
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.
The Front National proposes to put pork on the menu in all school canteens.
In practice this has not meant denying an alternative.
« Il y a toujours eu deux menus dans les cantines : l’un avec porc, l’autre sans porc pour ceux qui ne désirent pas enconsommer. Naturellement, cette possibilité sera préservée dans les cantines de Fréjus, l’essentiel étant que la liberté de chacun soit préservée »
There has always been two menus in the canteens: one with pork, the other without pork, for those who don’t want to eat it. These possibilities will be maintained in the canteens of Fréjus” (Front National town).
Today Le Monde summarises the real conditions which the Front National operates within.
It debunks some myths. Essentially that there is a major issue about Halal food in French school, and that Marine Le Pen’s Party is laying down an important marker on the subject.
The question of pork is a sign of secularism in danger
But the issue is not new, the vast majority of canteens offers alternative dishes and have done for decades, and no religious organisation has recently made a special request on this subject.
Le Pen’s party will not accept halal in canteens
But there is none in the places where the party is in charge.
Impose the presence of pork on school menus
This is already the case for all menus that we could see in towns run by the FN.
- But maintaining a substitute menu
But this, too, is already the case in most FN run towns
- If the municipality cannot offer an alternative to pork dishes, would it keep the pork?
This is already the case in the past for menus in FN controlled towns.
- Finally, will the president of FN ensure that “there are always two menus”
This is mostly true for municipalities run by the FN, it is not in general the practice
So, not only is Halal Food not a major topic of controversy, but that all it boils down to in practice is that the Front National claims that it will “offer” a pork menu.
The only really major fault of their position (distasteful rhetoric aside) is that they do not guarantee to offer an alternative Halal – or vegetarian? – dish.
But in practice they do: as can be seen below.
|Ville FN||Restauration||Porc dans les menus||Substitution proposée?|
Directly Funds Religious Groups.
This is not the place to discuss the full picture of the Panorama report into Tower Hamlets Council and Lufter Rahman.
Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for local government, is not the best person to criticise anybody, even the person who ties his shoelaces.
Counterfire has however muddied the waters by repeating Rahman’s charges that the programme is ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’.
Since they claim to speak for the left, they need a reply.
Take away the constant reminders that Lutfur and many of supporters are Bengali(!!), and what were we left with? Firstly, the fact that he didn’t follow the advice of council bureaucrats as to who should get funding, and secondly that he didn’t submit himself to sufficient questioning by Tower Hamlets’ Labour-dominated council. As for the former, it is a hardly a political scandal that funding decisions should, ultimately, be taken by elected representatives rather than unaccountable bureaucrats. If a mayor is to be branded corrupt for not doing what his officials tell him, why bother having elections at all?
This avoids the issue of the nature of directly elected mayors with the kind of powers to override and ignore objections from critics that was illustrated in the documentary.
It is a curious position to take, considering the battles the left has had with other directly elected mayors, in Bristol, to cite but one example.
It would have more to the point to argue that Eric Pickles, the Minister responsible for this system in the first place is biased by focusing on only one borough and one Mayor.
Counterfire then goes on to make sweeping claims.
The British establishment seem rather conflicted on what they want Muslims to do. On the one hand they aggressively lecture British Muslims on their responsibility to engage with democracy and domestic political institutions. On the other hand, they seem awfully frightened by the prospect that voting by Muslims could actually influence the outcome of elections, and that brown people might get to spend public money.
We shall ignore Counterfire’s own ‘lectures’ to British Muslims on Imperialism, and its strange silence on the backing some British Muslims give to the Syrian jihadists.
The main problem is that the article’s rhetoric ignores a central issue : Tower Hamlets policy of funding, directly, faith organisations.
These are the relevant items.
Panorama suggested the Faith Building Scheme in Tower Hamlets was somehow divisive, whereas faith and social cohesion go hand in hand in Tower Hamlets. The borough has a strong tradition in this regard: for example, the Salvation Army was formed in Tower Hamlets and many faith-based organisations deliver community services accessible to all. Preserving these buildings to support the area’s heritage and its rich faith communities is seen as vital to the fabric of Tower Hamlets
Grants to mosques
Many of these organisations, Churches, Mosques and Synagogues deliver valuable community services. Some will also have buildings of historical and community interest. It is about heritage, but this includes supporting the fabric of what makes our community strong. The inspiration for the scheme came from the fate of Nelson Street Synagogue, to help them maintain their building – in their case it was about heritage, but for others they were doing good community work and needed a means of improving their buildings.
The Docklands and East London Advertiser 21st February 2014.
A pitched battle broke out last night between Bangladeshi groups in a Whitechapel park, with women and children caught in the middle.
Hundreds had gathered in the park at midnight to place flowers at the Shaheed Minar (Martyr Monument) for the annual Bangladeshi Martyrs Day ceremony.
But flowers gave way to fists as the night turned violent after a war of words between rival groups over controversial war crimes trials in Bangladesh.
Tensions have been bubbling in the East End over the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh, which is trying men accused of war crimes during the country’s 1971 liberation war.
Death threats have been received by activists in London and some have been attacked in the street.
These clashes were the direct result of a battle being fought between Bangladeshi secularists and Islamists.
What is the fundamental objection to financing religious groups?
It is not a matter of ‘heritage’ that is being sponsored by the Tower Hamlets Council (a criterion, incidentally, that means the secular French government helps out with the preservation of religious buildings).
It could be that this takes sides in controversies, such as oppose two wings of Bangladeshi society.
But more importantly it is to give active finance for religious groups some of which have a political agenda and many of which have far from inclusive positions of women’s rights, LGBT issues, and a host of other topics.
Does this happen elsewhere?
This is a problem: multiculturalism being used to shore up faith communities and traditional leaderships.
One could say that this is the opposite of the anti-racist secularism a diverse borough like Tower Hamlets needs.
Instead all we get is bluster from the Rahman camp: Mayor’s response to BBC Panorama.
Alain Badiou: I was wrong, innit?
“The Greatest Philosopher since Plato and St Ignatius of Loyola”, as Terry Eagleton calls him, Alain Badiou, a dapper gent, wears his 132 years well.
The Tendance interviewed him in Les Deux Magots.
“Cher Maître, is it ‘true’ that your latest book includes a 300 page self-criticism of your Maoist years and your support for the Khmer Rouge?”
“Indeed! Let me sum up my truth procedure: Regretter et se repentir, on peut toujours le faire. C’est très facile! One can always regret and repent, it’s always easy! As Spinoza said, it’s always a bit too easy. “
The great man paused, slipping into the fluent English he learnt as a Dalston pot-boy.
“I was wrong, innit?”
Dipping a chip into a bowl of mayonnaise he continued,
“When Mao launched the Great Cultural Revolution, it was a Communist Invariant. But now only 40 years later we have to admit that there were some errors. Humiliating professors, for example and not performing any of my operas. I remain, however fidèle to the Event. There have been dramas and heart-wrenching and doubts, but I have never again abandoned a love.”
“And Pot Pot”
“He was a bit of a lad, hein?”
“But times move on. L’Organisation Politique is set in new directions. After taking absolution I plan to retire to a Trappist Monastery in Belgium to brew an excellent beer. Here try some”.
Diagram of Badiou Truth Procedure.