I’VE MOVED MY BLOG TO SQUARESPACE.
I’VE MOVED MY BLOG TO SQUARESPACE.
Image (c) Mark McGowan @chunkymark http://theartisttaxidriver.blogspot.gr/?m=0
Owen Jones’s blog, Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer, is rather odd. It’s as if he’s having (or had) an existential crisis. Labour’s low poll ratings have worried him. I find his blog a little bit patronising. Here’s why…
Essentially he says (to quote a repetitive, but really rather good (back in the day) rave tune): “You can’t beat the system. Go with the flow!” Buy Facebook ads, copy Tory media “strategies”, bit-sized chunks only for the (presumably, for Owen, ill-educated, short attention-spanned masses) please, soundbites like New Labour, simple messages, “repeat ad infinitum” (I wonder how many people consider those words to be as essentially illegible as “anti-austerity”?) Oh, and don’t fool yourselves by thinking getting out in the streets and protesting (and door knocking) will change THEIR system! Play the game. Play THEIR game. Comply. Or, if you must, beg for (small) change, for THEIR compromise!
Oh, and aren’t his little Guardian-sponsored YouTube interviews lovely? He’s SO (as Polly “I’ll split Labour for a second time” Toynbee says) “honest”, SO “brave”; speaking an “inconvenient truth” to those who demand a different system. Owen seems to be implying: Mass movements might work in other countries chaps, but, come on, this is (Little) England. Our bourgeoisie are made of sterner stuff. Stiff upper lips everyone. Keep calm and carry on as (ab)normal. Grin and bear it.
And yet, Owen fetishizes Podemos and other mass movements built by playing a different game. People-powered, socialist games. Mass demos, strong social media, anti-immigration, anti-austerity, anti-Establishment and, most importantly, popularist. This, I accept, is something Labour needs to be a lot sharper on going forward…
But isn’t it great that Owen has helpfully provided a list of HIS own existential questions that, only if answered correctly, might (and even that’s a long shot, he admits) lead to a glimmer of hope for socialist democracy? Thanks Owen. I’ll not dissect the 9 policies here but offer (in the spirit of Owen’s blog) my bite-size, reductionist slogans distilled from his blog (to be repeated, of course, “ad infinitum”) with my own little self-indulgent soundbite responses:
The thing is that it seems to me that Owen implies that the only way to win is to compromise: to row back on socialism; to mislead the electorate. We must remember that, as Paul Mason writes, ‘It’s not Jeremy Corbyn they’re afraid of, it’s you’ – IT’S US! We must stay strong. Owen is wrong about the end of the Left. We are growing broader and stronger. Socialism in Britain is not on a precipice! (The Labour Party are, however.)
This excellent open letter to Owen Jones by “ex-ex-Labour party member” Darrell Kavanagh offers a wholly different perspective. It asks Owen Jones to come back and support Jeremy Corbyn. This, together with Paul Mason’s blog mentioned above, offer hope and strength to me in this struggle for a radically different future.
WHAT?!? £350 per head stalking tours around Southwark for agents of #gentrification! RESIST! via @HousingActionSL
Tomorrow, New London Architecture (NLA) are hosting “On Location” – a day long event, with walking tours in and around Southwark throughout the afternoon. Attendance at the event costs a ridiculous £358.80 per ticket (unfortunately Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth couldn’t afford that!)
The aim of the walking tours is for Southwark and its eager property developing partners to point out ‘regeneration’ opportunities across the borough – in their own words, the tours will ‘look at the areas of major development opportunity in the borough of Southwark, looking at the Council’s forward strategy for Elephant and Castle, Old Kent Road, Peckham and Canada Water’ so that they can ‘discuss what these key strategic areas for London need to do to maximize their development potential’.
HASL and residents of Southwark are all too familiar with the effects of the social, economic and political forces at work and social cleansing in our communities…
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So the Parliamentary Labour Party want Corbyn out via a new leadership election…
Firstly, fair en0ugh. That’s their privilege. Secondly, they always wanted Corbyn out; they never thought he could win.
Unfortunately for the PLP, Labour leaders are democratically voted in by the members.
I re-joined Labour because Corbyn offered a sense of hope: something different – progressive socialism that listens to the people – to the members. I tore up my membership after voting the smiling son of Thatcher, Tony Blair, in for the sole reason of GETTING THE TORIES OUT!
I believe the membership are solidly behind Corbyn. I believe he has been bullied, lied about, betrayed day-after-day by sniping and constant leaking of information to a Right wing press only too desperate (like many others) to get Corbyn out. I believe the media (including the disgraceful BBC and Guardian) are, like many MPs on all sides, only interested in a “leader” who will tow the party (read status quo) line. I believe that this hatred and oppression of Jeremy Corbyn not just inherent within the UK political elites (including, of course, the New New Labour elite) but also (perhaps more so for they are the driving force) the global libertarian ultra-neoliberal elite – the same people who are gleeful at having convinced those most likely to vote for socialism (or, dialectically, for fascism) – the poorest and most disenfranchised in our society – that Brexit was a popular revolt – a peasants’ uprising! Instead, the Leavers voted for racism on the streets and in the media, xenophobia in every particle of air we breathe, fragmented and warring communities, displacement, and MUCH DEEPER AUSTERITY MEASURES. They bet on all sides, don’t worry about them. They want division and powerlessness. It’s VERY good for business.
Little surprise these people hate Corbyn. He stands against austerity, for social justice, for human rights, for a socialist democracy of the people, for the people; against war, against neoliberalism, against global elites. So do I. Corbyn is the sort of different “leader” we need right now: a democratic socialist. I believe in individual responsibility and collective solidarity, NOT “strong leaders”! So when I hear, we need “strong leadership”, I hear, DO AS YOU’RE TOLD, COMPLY, FALL IN LINE, WE KNOW BEST!
There are many in Labour, in the UK, in the world, who DO NOT WANT a socialist government of the people. But we who believe in fairness and equality MUST STAND FIRM. We must KEEP CORBYN.
And as for the increasing attacks on socialists, Marxists, Lefties, Leftists, whatever, please understand that, contrary to the Blairite unelected peer Mr Blunkett, Marxists are not out-of-touch with the people or unfit to govern. We are many. We are committed to exposing the exploitation and colonialism that is the life blood of neoliberal capitalism. We are committed to fighting, as activists, for equal rights, for workers’ rights, for social justice, for fair taxation, for environmental justice, for housing justice; and against racism, fascism, sexism, war, injustice, austerity, more. We fight for these things, alongside other socially progressive people and groups, in solidarity because we believe in hope, togetherness, fairness and justice – in real democracy and freedom.
There are many now saying that we need a return to centrist politics, to New Labour Blairism. They think this will win back those most disenfranchised and affected by years and years of Tory austerity, preceded by an extensive period of Blair’s not-so-soft Thatcherism. Many of these people did very well during Blair’s golden age; and ok during Tory austerity. Fair enough.
But please don’t attempt to overthrow Corbyn undemocratically (as has, effectively, been done) and please do not attempt to turn our legitimate struggle for hope and freedom into some form of Left wing “lunacy”! We are entitled to our beliefs and we will fight for our voices to be heard and for a socially democratic government in (I hope) coalition with other progressive voices and parties, just as you are entitled to oppose us.
Many of us have been fighting fascism, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment for many years ON THE STREETS, ON SOCIAL MEDIA, IN OUR DAILY WORK, IN OUR COMMUNITIES. Have you?
I am VERY angry. These are incredibly uncertain times.
The UK is boiling over with a hatred and sense of alienation whisked up by UK and international self-interest – by the global libertarian elite: the 1%. THEY do not want an EU. THEY do not want peace. THEY do not want social justice. THEY do not care about the UK. THEY support any political party who will pander to THEIR demands. THEY control everything, everywhere. THEY hate socialism. THEY exploit people using whatever means necessary via THEIR media: lies, racism, hatred, division, xenophobia, false austerity, war, denying environmental destruction, on and on…
This global libertarian elite have riven the UK apart. THEY backed #Leave. Isolation, division and turmoil are THEIR favourite foods. THEY feast on the very anti-immigrant sentiment they create in the first place. THEY support fascists AND corporations; NGOs and authoritarian dictatorships. THEY cover every eventuality. But, most of all, THEY sell us the lie that we should be free from control. That the people must take back control. Individualism. Not the individual responsibilities of a socialist democracy. No. The divided, alienated, powerless individualism of a consumer: a consumer of THEIR products, THEIR media, THEIR culture.
Make no mistake, the global libertarian elite backed #Leave not just to unleash nihilistic division upon the people of the UK but to sow the seeds of disintegration across Europe too. THEIR message is powerful: THEY will use the most disenfranchised people in our countries, in our communities, the people most affected by THEIR neoliberal agendas and austerity cuts, against our governments, against our better judgements, to destroy democracy whether in progressive, left, or centre-right wing forms. The aim is to create instability, to falsely lead the most disenfranchised, vulnerable people to believe that they’ve taken back control, before revealing that the result is out of control. The seeds of a new authoritarianism are now sown. Now THEY just need to find another glove puppet “leader” – a “strong leader” – from, in the case of the UK, either a far right Tory or even a sinister “third way” new Blairite. And THEY will do everything in their power to prevent socialist democracy rallying to oppose THEIR dominance, THEIR oppression. These Neocolonialists know how to divide and rule. The present attempted Blairite coup against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is about divide and rule. It MUST be resisted.
Why? Because, I believe, that our only option right now is to find the “freedom to”, not the “freedom from”. The freedom from leads us into new authoritarian control, if not outright fascism; automaton submission at least. The freedom to gives us back our autonomy, our sense of relevance in the world, our sense of meaning something, an aliveness, connectedness. To do this, I believe we must become active, become activists, we must use creativity as a force for freedom, real freedom. We must remember that, in the words of Erich Fromm in Fear of Freedom, ‘there is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself‘ (1942 , p. 227). We must realise that the libertarian elite have emptied individuality and freedom of all meaning, all value. We must be creative. We must co-operate. We must participate in a fight for our freedom.
The arts and culture can be a powerful ally of progressive socialist movements for autonomy, solidarity, justice, co-operation, hope and peace across all people in the UK, Europe and the world. And yet, in the UK, for example, the arts and culture have been used to build new palaces for the elite and their well-off servants, to help housing developers socially cleanse council tenants, to promote centrist, depoliticised happy participation in state-sanctioned cultural activities. The result is that the arts and culture have been turned into the “Creative Industries” – a means to “produce” innocuous art that is easily “consumed” by more people. The result is that art is used as a colonising arm for the pacification and “civilisation” of those most disenfranchised by global neoliberalism – those most likely to have bought the #Leave lottery tickets. But, and this is important, the disenfranchised people tend to stubbornly refuse these offers of officially-sanctioned cultural salvation. Arts Council England scratch their heads. Many (not all) art institutions scrabble to work out how to increase their “outreach” programmes, how to become “inclusive”. The thing is that spending on arts and culture was and is exclusive, elitist and dismissive of everyday culture, of working class culture, of “other” cultures.
LOOK AT THE RESPONSE TO OUR CURRENT #BREXIT CHAOS BY MANY ARTS INSTITUTIONS!
THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES. TUMULTUOUS. INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT!
Most arts institutions haven’t even mentioned the #Leave vote. It’s as if it hasn’t happened. The Institution of Art has its head down. Trenches dug. Carry on as normal. Business as usual.
I suggest that we need to rethink the role of arts and culture in the UK; that we need to spend much more money on the types of culture that the most disenfranchised WANT. To not interfere, but to recognise how important creative acts are to people of all backgrounds. We must, of course, focus spending and restructuring around the NHS, our welfare state, around public expenditure not austerity, on rebuilding social bonds from the bottom up instead of wastefully spending billions on weapons of mass destruction. But the arts and culture can play a part in a move towards a socialist democracy too.
For me, my focus is on activist art and interventionism. This is (and operates best when) outside of state funding agendas. Here too, individualism and co-operation creatively open up moments of dissent, offer glimmers of opportunity for self-realisation, and fight for our rights, for social justice, against fascism, racism, hatred, oppression, exploitation and displacement.
I found solace during these past few difficult days in the work of psychoanalyst and critical theorist Erich Fromm that will inform my path through the lies and divisions created by the 1% for the 99%. I would like to end by sharing four quotes from Fromm’s Fear of Freedom I think are incredibly relevant to our solidarity today and in our futures even though they were written in 1941.
The cultural and political crisis of our day is not due to the fact that there is too much individualism but that what we believe to be individualism has become an empty shell. The victory of freedom is possible only if democracy develops into a society in which the individual, his growth and happiness, is the aim and purpose of culture, in which life does not need any justification in success or anything else, and in which the individual is not subordinated to or manipulated by any power outside himself, be it the State or the economic machine; finally, a society in which his conscience and ideals are not the internalization of external demands, but are really his and express the aims that result from the peculiarity of his self. These aims could not be fully realized in any previous period of modern history; they had to remain largely ideological aims, because the material basis for the development of genuine individualism was lacking. Capitalism has created this premise. The problem of production is solved – in principle at least – and we can visualize a future of abundance, in which the fight for economic privileges is no longer necessitated by economic scarcity (Fromm, 1942 , pp. 233-234).
We must replace manipulation of men by active and intelligent co-operation, and expand the principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people, from the formal political to the economic sphere (ibid., p. 235).
The words democracy, freedom, and individualism become objects of … abuse … There is one way to define the real meaning of the difference between Democracy and Fascism. Democracy is a system that creates the economic, political, and cultural conditions for the full development of the individual. Fascism is a system that, regardless under which name, makes the individual subordinate to extraneous purposes and weakens the development of genuine individuality (ibid., p. 236).
The victory over all kinds of authoritarian systems will be possible only if democracy does not retreat but takes the offensive and proceeds to realize what has been its aim in the minds of those who fought for freedom throughout the last centuries. It will triumph over the forces of nihilism only if it can imbue people with a faith that is the strongest the human mind is capable of, the faith in life and in truth, and in freedom as the active and spontaneous realization of the individual self (ibid., p. 238).
We can, I believe, only find our place in the world, our freedom, our meaning, through the act of living; through co-operative acts of living together, creative acts that build social unity, acts of participation in the social process for social justice. Only then can we regain control over our lives, our freedom. Only then can we offer hope where there is now despair; togetherness instead of loneliness, and strength in place of powerlessness.
We live in terrible times. I feel sad about the world. I feel angry.
The murder of the superbly dedicated Labour MP Jo Cox is incredibly upsetting. She stood up for her beliefs, she cared, she sought to help people, vulnerable people. She was murdered by the hands of a white Right Wing fanatic: a fascist, a terrorist.
The EU Referendum has undoubtedly stirred up the long festering spirit of ignorant xenophobia, racism, violence and hatred that we all know blights the UK and the rest of the world.
It is time to stand up to the hard Right and the soft Right in this country. The divisive racism and spite shown by nationalist groups, UKIP, many Leave campaigners and much of the UK press is disgraceful: they all have incited violence. They all have blood on their hands.
WE MUST ORGANISE AGAINST THE SINISTER TIDE OF DISGUSTING RIGHT WING HATRED. All of us who are sad and horrified by the senseless murder of Jo Cox, who care about all our fellow humans, who seek hope, fairness and justice in this fragmented, unfair world, who care about our children’s future. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
And what do the Arts do? The Art World celebrates the opening of the massive tower of neoliberal, colonial and imperial elitism that is the new Tate Modern “Switch House”! Champagne corks popped as the Great and the Good donned their finest for a VIP preview just a few hours after yesterday’s terrible murder!
BUSINESS AS USUAL!
The Art World offers little or no mention of Jo Cox. They have said very little about the EU Referendum. The Art World is effectively depoliticised.
At sad times such as this, the Art World veil disintegrates to reveal its irrelevance.
I’m so, so sad, but we must always fight for peace, hope and justice!
I claim socially engaged art is DEAD. (Whether it ever lived or even existed beyond a category description is, of course, another question.) The Art World is DEAD. So, when the Art World subsumes the category description “socially engaged art” (and “social practice” and many more, for that matter) it must KILL the category description – the words.
Practice (the doing that arises from being) is beyond names, titles, descriptors, signs and signifiers. Attempts to categorise and measure the individual doing that arises from individual being (whether in the form of individual or group or culture-wide practice) always impose falsely limiting frameworks upon our innumerable acts of individual living; are always reductionist. Mapping, naming and measuring things (including practices) are not only acts of reductionism but also the first steps to empire and colonisation. Divide and rule. Dominate, exploit, displace, destroy. The aim of this (capitalist) game is to conquer everything whilst retaining individual words, emptied of their original meanings: meaningless words.
So, when I playfully suggest that socially engaged art is DEAD, I mean the words have been subsumed then repurposed by the Art World; by the Establishment. This is not new. THEY have always appropriated radical art practices in this way. (Was socially engaged art ever really radical anyway?) THEY steal the words and depoliticise the practice. THEY (revealing their total uncreativeness and dependency upon artists) institutionalise and sanitise EVERYTHING. Culturally, that is the role of Arts and Cultural institutions; their duty. THEY do it very well, even encouraging cohorts of new devotees who skip happily along, “delivering” the newly appropriated and totally depoliticised practices as commanded. (Of course, depoliticisation is one of the most politically aggressive acts possible – a negation of our rights, our freedoms.) THEY play by the rules of capitalism. WE must never forget this. Arts and Cultural institutions, with or without their Creative Industries branding, are part of the capitalist system.
Socially engaged art was said to be anti-institutional, politically motivated and subversive. It was, for a long time, dismissed as poor quality art or even ‘not-art’. Then suddenly it became BIG NEWS. Everyone’s socially engaged nowadays, aren’t they? Why? Socially engaged art, like community arts and many forms of avant-garde practice, left itself wide open to appropriation. (Perhaps, many in the field secretly wanted to be accepted by the Art World?) It expanded to include more and more interpretations. It did not define itself as a movement. It allowed itself to be courted by the same Art World that once despised it. It celebrated its recognition and celebrated the creation of ‘poster boys (and girls?) for socially engaged art’. It bought into government agendas like wellbeing, inclusion and education. It wanted a slice of arts funding. In short, it was bought. The writing was on the wall for socially engaged art for a long time. Its death should come as little surprise.
DEATH: Socially engaged art created increasingly expensive and exclusive conferences culminating in outrage by many grassroots practitioners illustrated, for example, in this excellent recent article responding to OPEN ENGAGEMENT 2016 which claimed to focus on ‘power’ whilst actually reproducing hierarchies of power within the field.
DEATH: Socially engaged art wins the 2015 Turner Prize. (Are Assemble socially engaged artists anyway?) Tate describe Assemble as ‘a perfect example of artists using socially engaged practise because they collaborate with residents to improve their local area’ in their glossary of art terms. I wrote about the not so collaborative commissioning of Assemble recently.
DEATH: (Linked to the point above.) Tate describe socially engaged art as ‘art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work’! They go on to say that the practice can ‘often be organised as the result of an outreach or education program’! They mention activism but limit the intentionality to helping a ‘community work towards a common goal, raise awareness and encourage conversation around issues, or perhaps to improve their physical or psychological conditions’. DEPOLITICISED and INSTITUTIONALISED.
DEATH: Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places initiatives now often claim to work with socially engaged art/ practice (in place of the now virtually buried ‘participatory arts’).
DEATH: Guggenheim Museum announce a new Social Practice Art initiative funded with a significant award from the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations (the philanthropic arm of the international private banker with some very unsavoury global investments). Of course, the Guggenheim themselves are widely recognised as one of the major arts institutions of the 1% as well as abusing the rights of workers employed to build its new museum in Abu Dhabi.
DEATH: Socially engaged artists are employed at the service of housing associations intent on social cleansing and gentrification. For example, here at Balfron Tower, London in this excellent article by Balfron Social Club.
I could go on. Perhaps you would like to suggest your own causes of the death of socially engaged art?
What does this mean for radical social praxis, activist art practices, socially and politically targeted interventionist art? Nothing. This practice continues as normal. In fact, it is growing. The tedious sublimation of radical practice pushes the practice forward; strengthens its resolve. THEY are always playing catch up.
Is it time for a new radical avant-garde?
It is time, I argue, that we stand against the Art World and wider Establishment status quos and expose their intricate links to neoliberalism and neo-colonialism whenever and wherever we find them! In leading member of the Situationist International Raoul Vaneigem’s words, The Revolution of Everyday Life.
More on the growth of anti-institutional, activist and revolutionary art practices soon…