Thursday, June 30, 2011

China: The Anger Beneath The Surface

Written By Alan Woods
Wednesday, 29 June 2011

1 May, Macao. Photo: Chi Chio Choi on Flickr

During the revolutionary events in Egypt, the Chinese authorities displayed extreme nervousness, increasing the police presence on the streets and clamping down on the Internet, where references to the Egyptian Revolution were banned. Why should the rulers of China be so worried about events taking place in distant countries?

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Canada: Federal NDP Convention - Right-wing Fails to Remove Socialism

Written by Julian Benson
Friday, 24 June 2011

The New Democratic Party, fresh on the heels of an historic electoral victory, has just concluded its federal convention in Vancouver. Seven Fightback supporters from four different cities were there to intervene in the convention which, even before it began, was set to be a showcase for the balance of forces between the left and right wings of the party.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Revolutionary Precursors: Radical Bourgeois Architects in the Age of Reason and Revolution

Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Cénotaphe a Newton" (Cenotaph to Newton) (1784)
Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Cenotaph for Newton," Interior (1784)

In honor of the Platypus Affiliated Society's Radical Bourgeois Philosophy summer reading group, I thought I would devote a blog entry to the celebration of radical bourgeois architecture. I've been writing a lot of posts related to the subject of the revolutionary avant-garde architecture that followed October 1917 in Russia and in Europe, so I think that it might be fitting to take a step back and review some of the architectural fantasies that surrounded that other great revolutionary date, 1789, the year of the glorious French Revolution. The three utopian architects whose work I will be focusing on here also happen to also be French — perhaps not coincidentally.

Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728—1799), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736—1806), and François Marie Charles Fourier (1772—1837) were each architects and thinkers whose ideas reflected some of the most radical strains of liberal bourgeois philosophy, with its cult of reason and devotion to the triplicate ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. The structures they imagined and city plans they proposed were undeniably some of the most ambitious and revolutionary of their time. At their most fantastic, the buildings they envisioned were absolutely unbuildable — either according to the technical standards of their day or arguably even of our own.

The first two utopian architects mentioned above, Boullée and Ledoux, were also renowned theorists and teachers of the neoclassical style that developed in eighteenth-century France. Indeed, between them they trained some of the most brilliant neoclassicists of their age. The French architects Jean Chalgrin, Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand were trained by Boullée, while Ledoux helped teach the influential Lithuanian architect Laurynas Gucevičius. Most of their own work that was actually built worked within the more traditional parameters of neoclassicism, and attests to their total mastery over the style.

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux's "Théâtre de Besançon," Interior (1784)
Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Temple of Death" (1795)
Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Temple of Death," Interior (1795)

But beyond their admiration for the Greek, Roman, and Renaissance styles from which they drew their primary inspiration, both Boullée and Ledoux were drawn into utopian speculation. In flagrant defiance of all the Vitruvian and Albertian dicta on feasibility and practicality, each drew up plans for impossible structures. Immersed as they were in an age of scientific, intellectual, and political revolution, Boullée and Ledoux each bore the imprint of their times. The radical ideas they encountered and revolutionary events that they witnessed gave them both the impression that a new world was forming before their eyes, in which the space of limitless possibility could open up.



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why is there no socialist architectural movement today?

I am choosing to repost a reply I wrote in answer to a good question Ren raised over at my blog. I hope that it is informative for everyone.

There is no truly socialist architectural movement today. This can be seen in two different lights — one positive, the other negative.

On the one hand, I believe that there is no socialist architectural movement largely because we don’t inhabit a revolutionary moment. There are significant events taking place throughout the Arab world and in some of the poorer parts of Europe. Even the major economic powers of the world are reeling from crisis. The world is experiencing more upheaval now than it has felt in decades. But all-out social revolution is not imminent. I understand, as you do, that revolutionary transformation is a process, but history requires certain spasms or events to trigger such processes and set them concretely in motion.

So from this perspective, it’s perfectly understandable why there should be no socialist architectural movement — any such proposals or designs would be hopelessly utopian in our present situation. Architecture can have a social mission, and modernist architecture was certainly committed to such ends in its time. But as Le Corbusier and others realized, an emancipatory architecture can only take place at the level of a generalized process of global social planning. Only then could such ambitious schemes be undertaken and implemented. And so for this to take place, a social revolution must have already laid the groundwork for revolutionary architecture and urban-planning.

On the other hand, however, this all can be seen in a tragic light. The failure of the Russian Revolution to spread to Central and Western Europe left most of the world outside the pale of truly transformative social change. Still, the ideology of modernist architecture sought initially to rationalize building practices across borders, to create a universal language of spatial organization. The modernists wanted to lay to rest the arbitrary, capricious, and anachronistic methods of traditional construction throughout the world. Furthermore, the European and Russian avant-gardes were deeply concerned with the shortage of workers’ housing, the continued antithesis between town and country, and the general anarchy of design in a world where the architect was forced to seek out private, individual contracts, and satisfy their patrons’ every whim and fancy.

It was for precisely this reason, I argue, that European modernists pinned their hopes so strongly on the socialist experiment taking place in Russia. Even though modernism — in both Russia and abroad — practically worshipped technology, with its cult of the machine, the members of the avant-garde saw in the Soviet Union the opportunity to realize their visions on an unprecedented scale. Occupying approximately a sixth of the terrestrial globe, the Soviet Union represented to them a sort of spatial infinity, where they could plan not only individual structures or neighborhoods, nor even just individual cities. Wholeregions could be moulded through the efforts of unified, centralized planning. Thus, with the disappointment of the League of Nations’ choice opting for a neo-Renaissance design for its headquarters, and the global crisis of capitalism in the midst of the Great Depression, the European avant-garde flocked to Russia in staggering numbers. From Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, and even the United States, architects of the “International” style were eager to participate in the building of a new society.

To name just a few: Le Corbusier, André Lurçat, Victor Bourgeois, Ernst May, Hannes Meyer, Bruno Taut, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Erich Mauthner, Arthur Korn, Hans Schmidt, Mart Stam, Cornelis van Eesteren — joining the dozens of capable modernist architects already working in the Soviet Union (Moisei Ginzburg, the three Vesnin brothers, Nikolai Ladovskii, El Lissitzky, Konstantin Mel’nikov, Il’ia Golosov, Nikolai Krasil’nikov, Georgyi Krutikov, Ivan Leonidov, etc., etc.)

And this is why the Stalinist betrayal dealt modernism such a crushing blow. With the decision for a grotesque neoclassical style for the Palace of the Soviets, the entire “mystique of the USSR” (as Le Corbusier called it) faded swiftly. Those who had dared to dream of a better future now found themselves hopelessly disillusioned. I maintain that this is where the social mission of modernism died its final, miserable death, and gave way to a more or less complete opportunism. Le Corbusier flirted with fascism in Vichy during the war before collaborating on the UN Building afterwards. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who in the 1920s had designed the official Monument to the communist heroes Karl Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg, was now commissioned to design the ultimate symbol of swanky corporate capitalism, the Seagram Building, in 1958. For architectural modernism, the form remained — but its substance had forever vanished. Thus, this accounts for the present lack of an international socialist movement in architecture as well.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Balance Sheet of October

This is an excerpt from a book highlighting the pluses and minuses of the Russian Revolution. It shows even a deformed socialism as Stalinism, will make great gains, that can't be met by capitalism.

By Ted Grant
July 2008

The Advances of the Planned Economy

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.
Alfred Tennyson.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the greatest events in history. If we leave aside the heroic episode of the Paris Commune, for the first time millions of downtrodden workers and peasants took political power into their own hands, sweeping aside the despotic rule of the capitalists and landlords, and set out to create a socialist world order. Destroying the old Tsarist regime that held sway for a thousand years, they had conquered one-sixth of the world's land surface. The ancien régime was replaced by the rule of a new democratic state system: the Soviet of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. It heralded the beginning of the world revolution, inspiring the hopes and dreams of millions who had lived through the nightmare of the first world war. Notwithstanding the terrible backwardness of Russia, the new Socialist Soviet Republic represented a decisive threat to the world capitalist order. It struck terror in bourgeois circles, who rightly regarded it as a threat to their power and privileges, but comforted themselves with the notion that the Bolshevik regime was likely to only last a matter of weeks. The nationalised property relations that emerged from the revolution, the foundations of an entirely new social system, entered into direct conflict with the capitalist form of society. Despite the emergence of Stalinism, this fundamental antagonism existed right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even today events in Russia continue to haunt world politics, like some Banquo's ghost that continually overshadows the festivities of the capitalist class.

Read the rest here


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gates Speech Reveals Deep Splits in Nato

Written by Alan Woods
Friday, 17 June 2011

Robert Gates speaking at the Annapolis naval academy in 2010. Photo: DoD/Cherie Cullen

A decade ago George W Bush and the neo-cons took advantage of 9/11 and combined pseudo-democratic demagogy with a thirst for revenge to launch American foreign policy on the road of brute military force. But after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the wake of the deepest slump since the 1930s, the mood has changed.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Notes on the Class Struggle in the USA

Written by John Peterson
Monday, 13 June 2011

February 19, Wisconsin. Photo: Jonathan Bloy

We publish here the notes used by John Peterson, National Secretary of the WIL, as the basis for his introduction to the discussion on "Perspectives for the Class Struggle in the United States" at the 2011 WIL Marxist National School. We recommend it be read in conjunction with the U.S. Perspectives 2010 document approved at the WIL's last National Congress.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Cuban CP Congress Ratifies Economic Guidelines – Workers’ Control and International Socialism Absent From Discussion

Written by Jorge Martin
Tuesday, 07 June 2011

The long delayed VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party took place on April 16-19 in Havana and discussed the Guidelines on Economic and Social Policy for the Party and the Revolution. The Congress was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when Fidel Castro proclaimed the “socialist character of the revolution”.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Greece On The Brink of Revolutionary Situation

Written by Stamatis Karagiannopoulos
Monday, 06 June 2011

June 2, Syntagma Square. Photo: Rania H.

Yesterday a milestone was passed in the social and political situation in Greece and throughout Europe. Impressive mobilizations rolled across the country: half a million in Athens and rallies of thousands of people gathered in Thessaloniki, Patras, Larissa, Volos, Heraklion, etc. This places Greece on the threshold of a revolutionary situation. It means that, for the first time in decades the developed capitalist countries of Europe are faced with the prospect of a revolution with continental dimensions.

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