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Often when I’m doing a Socialist Worker paper sale or a stall for some cause, we will have a petition as well as all our material. Some of these are great and will probably prove to be effective: the petitions against NHS privatisation or the bedroom tax and evictions, for example. The reason these are useful is it because they are unambiguous what their aims and where the petition is going.

But the anti-racist petitions we use, usually provided by Unite Against Fascism, seem to have no purpose. We have collected signatures opposing UKIP, the EDL, and today, “Don’t let the racists divide us.” They are typically very wordy – not ideal for someone who is interested but in a hurry, and do not have an end goal. They are better than nothing as the number of signatures can be used as a statistic, so they are perhaps on the same level as names at the end of a letter of solidarity. But the petitions do not go anywhere and merely bounce around inside the UAF, without a plan or end result. This isn’t much more than a rant, but please try to make your petition as clear and goal-driven as possible.

Based on a talk that I gave to the Kent Socialist Workers Party group. To many people these ideas will be obvious, but sometimes it helps to be reminded of the obvious. References are at the bottom.

There are three main tasks that face a revolutionary socialist party. The first is the SWP’s role, or any socialist party’s role, as an antifascist opposition; second is the importance of education on socialism: this topic is the majority of this article; third is the importance of internationalism and of relating individual struggles, as explained by Duncan Hallas.

At the recent Party Council of the SWP (June 2nd), Weyman Bennett (UAF) made a point about the role of socialists in fighting the far right. Recent experience has shown that social-democracy  (that is, introducing socialist politics through reformist methods) in Europe, for example in Sweden, Denmark, and arguably the area controlled by our own Green Party, has shown no opposition to austerity. Many problems and kinds of unrest caused by capitalism make the rise of fascism all the easier. Trotsky in his last article (August 1940), Bonapartism, Fascism, and War gives many examples of these problems but there are three that are most relatable to our current situation: “the gravest crisis of capitalist society; growing confusion and indifference; the growth of hostility to the proletariat”.

I could give specific examples, but they are fairly self-explanatory. The polling strength of the racist Swedish Democrats is the result of scapegoating inequality and other social ills on immigrants. It is quite clear that if the periodical and inevitable crises of capitalism can lead to the popularity of fascist and right-wing populist ideas, a dedicated anti-capitalist party will also be the most effective antifascist party. Left-reformists themselves have a lot to answer for in the rise of the far right. The Labour party has taken a typically conservative stance on immigration, while Ed Milliband expresses his respect for UKIP. All this serves to normalise anti-immigrant hatred.

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Music students, I think, have something unique to offer if they wish to oppose capitalism and classist prejudice. The different fields of performance, composition, and music history or musicology are all useful platforms, if you find singing union songs to yourself isn’t enough.

Learning music history, particularly of Western art music, often feels like studying the history of the stuffy aristocracy, who have so little in common with the rest of us. If you are in a position to teach an overview of music history, it is perfectly possible to have a theme of class division and struggle in your lectures. Teach about what the ignored majority was doing with music and how it functioned socially. Place emphasis on the exceptions to what was expected of a musician. This could be the women composers all the way back to Kassia need to be mentioned, how the guitar broke some class boundaries in Spain, or how the first ‘superstar’ performer, Paganini, had a working class background. In terms of original research, ethnomusicology is very exciting for talking seriously about folk music, and music in class struggle and protest is the topic of many articles and books, such as Dorian Lynskey’s ’33 Revolutions per Minute.’

If you love performing in a classical style, and want to orientate your studies in that direction, then perform to as many different people as you can, in any setting. If you are asked to play a piece of music, or if someone wants to hear what you’re listening to you, and you dismiss this by saying “oh, you won’t like it,” it might just be embarrassment for your personal taste, but often I think it is a childish kind of elitism. Many more people will get into classical music if they are given they chance and if it isn’t presented in a way that makes it seem totally separate from all other music. I perform weekly in my university’s Performance Society, usually doing something by Fernando Sor, and accompanying a singer later on. Most people do a pop song or part of a musical so I feel like, by including classical music in this setting, I’m reducing any class implications of the music, in a small way. If you do any instrumental teaching like teaching folk guitar or jazz piano, you could suggest some easy classical stuff to show that it isn’t so boring. One of my earliest influences in guitar-playing was my granddad’s skiffle band and some ‘Guitar Legends’ compilation album, but my first teacher broadened my listening and playing by suggesting some simple flamenco-influenced pieces.

Composers, when writing stage music or anything character-driven, could present a typically unheroic character in a dignified way. Think Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ but without killing them off. Another option is to compose in a classical form but use an obvious folk influence, like Smetana, Glinka, Bartók and others have done before. Usually this is used for some kind of patriotism or nationalism, but it has the effect of legitimising the creations of poorer people as real art.

Like students of every discipline, music students need to protest tuition fees and put more pressure on the NUS or their own institution’s union to fight it. Many musicians are not having their talents fully realised when they miss out on a music degree. It goes without saying that we need to protest capitalism and austerity at every level, too. Poverty stifles creativity.