Art, Aesthetics, and Politics

Re-blog of the artwork by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. I just enjoyed reading through and viewing their art I wanted to share. Enjoy their treasure trove of a website and work, seriously inspirational.

‘Monument to a Lost Civilization’

First exhibited in Palermo Italy, 1999.

‘Emilia Kabakov warns, [about ‘Monument to a Lost Civilisation’, Palermo, Italy, 1999] “Don’t repeat our mistakes, look at your dreams clearly, but don’t sacrifice the people in the name of ideology.”’

Quotations from:


The ‘organic’ crisis of the British Labour Party: is it too late to save Labour?

The British Labour Party has embarked on a self-inflicted public meltdown, thanks to the action of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in triggering a leadership contest against Jeremy Corbyn. This is taking place just a month after the biggest political and economic shock in my lifetime: Brexit. Whilst the governing Tory Party, the European Union and the pan-European elite were roiling under the hammer blow of Brexit…Hilary Benn and others organised a mass resignation of MPs from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. The failed ‘coup’ culminated in a ‘no-confidence’ vote against Corbyn by 172 MPs and triggered the move to a leadership contest. Sustained pressure on Corbyn by the Labour right-wing to stand down followed; a situation only prevented by the steadfast action of the leaders of the trade unions. The refusal of the unions forced the coup plotters and their busted flush into the open. We must be clear: it is the Labour right-wing which have made the Labour Party a laughing stock to the general public and clearly lined up, alongside the Murdoch-owned media, against Mr Corbyn. By inflicting such a massive and public attack on the Labour Party, the Labour right have precipitated a ‘conjunctural’ crisis of the party in the midst of an ‘organic’ crisis of British society. The question must be posed: is it too late to save Labour?

We must be clear what the British Labour Party is: it has always been an uneasy parliamentary and political alliance. Starting life as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, it was a pact between the trade unions, ethical and statist socialists, to ensure independent Labour representation on political bodies. It was during the First World War that Labour MPs first entered government and following the war a clause, the ‘socialist’ clause IV, was inserted into the new constitution of the party:

‘To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.’

It was Tony Blair and ‘New’ Labour which removed clause IV and definitively won the British Labour Party to the Thatcherite agenda and the neo-liberal ‘common-sense’ of our era. This is the strategic ‘conjuncture’, but we are also witnessing the emergence of new forces, a re-energised layer of young people, workers and trade unionists. A significant issue here is that these new layers have awoken to political consciousness in the midst of an ‘organic’ crisis of the British Labour Party and wider British state and society.

What do we mean by ‘organic’ crisis? Antonio Gramsci, a Communist theoretician in the 1920s and 1930s who died in a Fascist Italian prison, defined ‘organic’ crisis in a number of ways. Most importantly he defined this type of crisis as a ‘certain point’ when ‘social classes become detached from their traditional parties.’ A breakdown between ‘“represented and representatives”’.[1] This is the wider significance of the revolt of the PLP against the membership and unions of the British Labour Party. Further, this revolt by the right-wing is matched by the electoral changes hitting the Party across Britain: in Scotland it is unclear if Labour will ever recover from Ed Miliband’s and ‘New’ Labour’s disastrous leadership; in the north of England a similar detachment and disenchantment, although not expressed electorally so far; whilst in Northern Ireland there is a vibrant Constituency Labour Party which is still prevented from contesting elections openly; it is only in the midlands and south of England and in Wales that Labour is still holding up. It is into this uncertain electoral field that the Labour right-wing has seen it fit to attack, denigrate and publicly shame the party. The conjuncture is favourable to the Labour Party: the governing Tory party is in disarray following Brexit, so why has the Labour right broken ranks so catastrophically?

The Labour right-wing has broken ranks so decisively because they know the political ground is shifting. They’ve clearly adopted ‘red-scare’ tactics more suited to the Daily Mail than the labour movement. Their strongest argument, however, is that they wish to be in government and not a ‘protest party’. The left-wing of the Labour Party is weak on this issue as it does have an aversion to taking government. The question is, why? Because much of the left looks at government as the pond they wish to rule but, with a guarantee they will never have to place a toe in the water. The key issue for the left is not whether to be in government or not, the key issue is: on whose behalf? Never again must a government, led by the British Labour Party, be a government of imperialist misadventure (Tony Blair, 1997-2008), nor that of saving the 1% at our collective expense (Gordon Brown, 2008-10). The Labour Party was set up to deliver socialism for working people. Socialism means delivering real, tangible gain (in power and monetary terms) for working-class people. The Labour Party can be saved, but only by returning to its radical roots. If this requires losing the (neo-)liberal right-wing of the party then so be it. If they split the Labour Party, as they so clearly wish to do, then we must roll up our sleeves, like they did in 1931, and prepare the Labour Road to Power.

[1] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), p. 210.

Brexit and the return of the nation-state.

line drawing

On 23rd June 2016 the United Kingdom voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union (EU); the electorate spoke and a British exit from the EU is the result, or ‘Brexit’. This has caused shockwaves, politically and economically, in a result few predicted. Within hours of the result, the British Prime Minister David Cameron stated his intention to step down in October. The pound has taken a battering on currency markets: at 10.30pm (GMT) on the 23rd June it was strong against other currencies, but by 10am(GMT) on Friday 24th June it was taking a hammering and recovered slightly by the end of trading. Further, British stocks and shares were hit hard on Friday as well, forcing the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, to step in stating, ‘the Bank will not hesitate to take additional measures as required as those markets adjust and the UK economy moves forward.’ Across Europe neo-liberal elites have responded to the British result with dismay and derision. This decision will have an impact regionally, on the continent and globally for years to come and Britain will, more than likely, experience a recession as a result. But after over 40 years of membership of the EU and its forerunner (the European Economic Community, which Britain joined in 1973), why did Britain vote to leave? Is this the triumph of the hard-right as many have claimed? Or, alternatively, is it the return of the nation-state in an era of globalisation?

The referendum result was exceptionally close, just 1,269,501 votes separated the two sides (or, to view it another way, less than the entire population of Northern Ireland was the difference between Brexit and continued EU membership). Further, there are a number of clear demarcation lines on how people voted: first, a regional and urban-rural split; second, class and socio-economic division; third, a generational divide. The regions of the UK state voted differently. For example, east, west, north and south of England and Wales all endorsed leaving the EU, whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed remain. This regional difference was also expressed in an urban-rural split: the cities of England, London, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire all voted to remain. It seems that those who felt they had gained from the EU or had something to gain, voted remain; whereas those that felt little benefit from it voted to leave. This division, between haves and have-nots, reflects the harsh class divisions felt across the UK. For example, socio-economic indicators were a reliable indication of how an area would vote: areas with higher numbers of degree-level inhabitants voted remain, whilst areas with a lower socio-economic status were much more likely to vote leave. This feeling of having lost out, in the past, present or on future prospects, helps to explain why so-called “experts” were consistently ignored by the electorate (a position of some justification when the “experts” spectacularly failed and called a remain victory on Thursday evening, shortly after polling closed). The vote for Brexit represents, to some extent, the return of working-class people into British political debate, no longer will it be possible to treat the people with contempt á la Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and other neo-liberal elites. Last, there was a clear generational divide in voting patterns. The higher the median age, the more likely an area was to vote leave. According to a YouGov poll, nearly ¾’s of young people backed remain and there has been a heartfelt despair expressed by many young people at the result. It seems that it was amongst the youngest that the claim that the EU delivered benefits to the people was given the most credence. But what are the ramifications of this result?

The Brexit referendum was rancorous, bitter, bad-tempered and, unfortunately, contributed to the murder of a Labour MP, Jo Cox. Her death was certainly contributed to by the vicious and hyperbolic campaign waged by both remain and leave during the referendum. Verbal abuse, physical attack, scape-goating and denunciation were all common-currency. Speaking personally, it took all my self-discipline to actually go and vote on the 23rd June. I felt so disgusted at the actions of each side in the referendum. The future of the British state, British politics and the European project now hang in the balance. Within the Labour Party, for example, there is a renewed Blairite offensive on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The Blairite’s are blaming Corbyn for the refusal of English and Welsh working-class people to endorse the EU. Referenda could now occur which threaten to break up the UK state itself, specifically in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, which narrowly voted to remain a part of the UK state in 2014, the Scottish National Party leader, Nichola Sturgeon, has already clearly stated she will press for a new referendum in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, a referendum could also now be held on the reunification of the island with the Republic of Ireland. Yet the political situation is exceptionally fluid. Just like in Northern Ireland a few months ago, across Britain now to the Janus Gates have opened. This is tied to the return of the nation-state form in an era of globalisation. What we need now is a bold, audacious and vibrant New Left across these islands. There are clear dangers in the situation, such as how the media is portraying the vote as a victory for the hard right, but also opportunities. Given the explicit class divides opened by the vote, there is a clear necessity for a Labour government on a socialist programme. The time for clear socialist struggle is here and the revolt of the masses in Britain has begun.

line drawing mirror

Early Marxist criticisms of Freudian psychoanalysis: Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács

Stimulating stuff on Korsch, Lukács and Psychoanalysis.

The Charnel-House

Much has been written over the years about the similarity between and compatibility of Marxian sociology and Freudian psychology. Here is not the place to evaluate those claims. Suffice it to say, for now, that both social critique and psychoanalysis have seen better days. Both doctrines have lost whatever pretense they once had to scientific status and today are relegated mostly to the humanities. One is more likely to hear Marx and Freud mentioned in the halls of the academy than shouted in the streets or whispered in clinical settings.

Tomorrow or the next day I plan to post PDFs of the complete works of Wilhelm Reich in English, German, and possibly Spanish. I will perhaps devote a few lines to the question of Marxism and Freudism, to the way each approaches and interprets irrationality. Whether as social ideology or psychopathology, this is their shared concern and primary motivation…

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The New Left in Ulster and the Opening of the Gates, part three.


In the final and concluding blog post of the series, The New Left in Ulster and the Opening of the Gates (see part one here and part two here), we will be examining a few more of the present struggles, the new and the old.


“May you live in interesting times.”


Every day there is a new struggle, a new group, a new individual prepared to fight back. The famous Chinese proverb is both a curse and hope; it is an aphorism of two faces, at least. Whilst they tear chunks out of each other over the EU referendum debate, within Britain, the Tories are faced with newly confident workers and people in struggle. Into that sorry fight-and shamefully ignoring the lesson of Scotland-the Labour Party leadership lines up beside the hated Tories. Locally a Northern Ireland Executive has been formed, eventually and patched together with the aid of an independent unionist, Clare Sugden as Justice Minister. What is ‘fresh’ about this Fresh Start is anybody’s guess. For most people it will amount to working harder, for less pay and with the ever present, casualization (see the UCU dispute with universities, ongoing as we speak). But the 43 years old Labour History Society of Ireland will deliver some new thinking when the Society’s latest journal, issue 41 a 1916 Centenary edition, is launched at the John Hewitt in Belfast, this evening, Thursday 26 May 2016, at 6.15pm.


Saothar is the annually published journal of the Irish Labour History Society and the launch of its latest journal issue, issue 41 a 1916 Centenary edition, will deliver new research and new thinking this year. The Society is dedicated to publishing the history and culture of working-class people in Ireland. Its website explains, in a suitably understated way, that:

“The Irish Labour History Society (ILHS) was established in 1973 with the Constitutional obligation to ‘promote the knowledge of Irish labour history and of Irish people in labour history abroad and labour history in general’.”

Since then the Society has published, annually, some of the most important writings on Irish working-class culture. It has been an incredibly important platform for working-class activists, by hand or by brain. The scholarly material that has been produced and the archives collated by the Labour History Society of Ireland are an achievement for workers’, at home and abroad. The material to be published in issue 41 looks incredibly interesting, with new research and reflection on old classics (personally, the reflection on C. D. Greaves’ work is the main article I will look to read first). It feels apt to end this series of blog posts by examining new material produced by a Labour History Society now entering into a golden, middle age. The Labour History Society of Ireland is very much a part of the ‘old’ left, but it has a key role to play in the formation of the New Left in Ulster. The ‘old’ Left in the north of Ireland, much like its southern Irish counterpart, must place unity, solidarity and mutual support between the left as order number one.It is only now that the seeds first sown by the first generation of labour historians are beginning to truly be felt in Ireland. I suspect, before the decade ends, at least a few more academic left-wing journals will be launched in Ireland. This will have to be part of a common left agenda for common struggle.


See you at 6.15pm Thursday 26 May 2016 the John Hewitt Bar, Belfast, for the launch of Saothar, 41.

The New Left in Ulster and the Opening of the Gates, part two.


In part one of this series of blog posts, ‘The New Left in Ulster and the Opening of the Gates, part one’, we examined the political expression of these new left-wing developments; in this blog post we will examine some of the social struggles occurring in the north and the left.


Last week, on the 5th May, two People Before Profit Alliance Assembly candidates won election to the Assembly at Stormont in Northern Ireland. On Monday 9th May a protest at Bedford House, the main BBC Northern Ireland building in Belfast, at the treatment of the Irish language sector during the election. On Tuesday the 10th May European Directors of Friends of the Earth, from 25 countries, suspended their AGM in Carlingford, Republic of Ireland, to take part in a protest at fracking in Woodburn Forest Park, Northern Ireland. Friends of the Earth Europe Director, Magda Stoczkiewicz, commented:

“We couldn’t in all conscience sit in Carlingford discussing how to build a fossil-free future while just up the road a fossil fuel company is riding roughshod over community concerns in pursuit of the last drop of oil and gas. Standing in solidarity with the local people in Woodburn, who are fighting to protect their water, their forest and our climate, is simple necessity.”

Today, 11th May, a General Meeting of the Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union at 2pm at the Mandela Hall to discuss the management decision to shut down many courses at QUB, especially in the Arts and Humanities. This meeting will be followed by a teach-in. The above campaigns are just a small indication of the social-political struggle currently underway in the north. They are indicative of the opening for the left. But how can the left help develop such struggle?




Unity and real solidarity between social, political, economic and cultural struggle are the order of the day for the left. All sections of the working people are being forced to struggle with employers and the state. Working-class people, across the island, confront the forces of the status quo. The gates have opened, yet the organised forces of the left still remain under-developed. This seems to be a consequence of the failure of The United Left Alliance in 2011. The ULA was an opening which was allowed to wither on the vine: Ireland today does not have the time to make such a catastrophic mistake, again. This limitation of the left is in contrast to the intuitive yearning for a coherent, strong, unified battle plan, across these struggles. The ‘old’ Left in the north of Ireland, much like its southern Irish counterpart, must place unity, solidarity and mutual support between the sections of the left as order number one of the day.


The New Left in Ulster is well positioned to act as a lightning rod for the class anger which has built in the province, yet the old limitations remain.


‘There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves

Or lose our ventures.’

Brutus, in Shakespeare, Julius Ceasar, Act 4, Scene 3.

The New Left in Ulster and the Opening of the Gates, part one.

Janus was the patron saint of beginnings and endings: when the gates of the double-gated temple were open, this meant war; and when the gates were closed, this symbolised peace. The Roman God, Janus, was also double-faced. This duality was emblematic of success or failure, victory or defeat, past and future. Janus as the patron of the four seasons also, essentially, represents the dialectical whole. The victories registered by progressive, green and left-wing forces at the elections to the Assembly on 5th May 2016 in Northern Ireland represent a new opening for the left in the north.

The stunning electoral victory of the People Before Profit Alliance (PBP) in two constituencies in the north, Belfast West and Foyle, with Eamonn McCann and Gerry Carroll, is a testament to the arrival of this New Left in the north. Both are political campaigners of integrity, grit and determination. Their capture of two seats represents a victory for the New Left here. The significance of this is already being registered by mainstream commentators. One esteemed academic has described the election result as, ‘nothing has changed, but a lot has changed or is changing’. Many in Northern Ireland feel under threat by such a principled left-wing opposition-especially, but not only Sinn Féin-and it will be interesting to see how PBP orientate with respect to the rest of the left. When we incorporate the vote for other left-wing alliances in the Assembly election then it is also clear that the socialist and radical Green left is stronger than it has been since the elections to the Forum in 1996 which preceded the Good Friday Agreement. This victory by PBP is a victory for the New Left in Ireland, but this is also Janus-faced: it represents the victory of the new, but some old limitations remain.

The biggest limitation, at this stage, seems to be the reaction of the rest of the left. It appears that much of the rest of the left is muted, at best, in their welcome for Carroll and McCann. Some purists explain PBP as one of a narrow victory for ‘republican socialism’; whilst Republican-Socialists are not so sure, seeing PBP as a form of narrow ‘gas-and-water socialism’ that ignores imperialism and the issue of Irish identity. There is more significant opposition from the largest nationalist party, Sinn Féin, which may be forced to tack leftwards due to PBP’s pressure. There has also been a limited attempt to downplay the significance of the victory, some describing the vote as merely a ‘protest vote’. However much we qualify the victory of PBP it is clear that they won, twice, because they built their vote, campaigned on the ground and offered a genuine radical, anti-sectarian message to working-class people. PBP have set a new marker for the left as a whole across Ireland today. But, and arguably more significantly, they represent the development of a New Left on this island. The victories by McCann and Carroll may well represent the opening of the gates.


PBP have also appealed for anyone on the left to get involved: I would second that call, for the good of the left and working-class people across these islands.


As a registered supporter of Labour Northern Ireland, I will also be seeking to expand the opportunities for collaboration across the left and all causes for equality. I will return to the topic of the New Left in Ireland, but for now: Red Salute from the North.