Archive | December 11th, 2019

Grover Furr on the continuing revolution in Stalin-era history

Exposing the psychological warfare that has been waged against workers under the banner of ‘Soviet studies’.

Grover Furr

Grover Furr, professor in mediaeval literature and specialist in Soviet history debunks ten of the greatest anti-Soviet and anti-Stalin lies.

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** Grover Furr will speak in London on Wednesday 24 July 2019 **
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holbourn. WC1R 4RC
6.30pm on Wed 24 July 2019
Join us!
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“No book that is not hostile to Josef Stalin can be published by an academic publisher.” There is no objectivity to be found in any officially-sanctioned ‘research’ about his period of leadership of the USSR. It is well-paid and widely disseminated psychological warfare.

Having learned the Russian and Ukrainian languages so as to be able to investigate the source material thoroughly, including the archives of the USSR that were opened in 1991, Professor Furr reveals with certainty and authority that the story presented to the general public about Stalin and socialism in the USSR is entirely false.

His findings confirm the Soviet and communist understanding that the class struggle intensifies rather than abates after the victorious revolution of the working people. They confirm that it absolutely necessary for the working class to establish its revolutionary dictatorship to defend and continue the revolution.

Ten common lies disproven by Prof Furr as slander and falsification

1. ‘Stalin was against democracy’

In fact, he was the moving force behind the 1936 constitution – the most democratic ever written.

2. ‘Khrushchev spoke the truth in his 1956 “secret speech”‘

In fact, it was lies from start to finish. As a result of those lies, the world communist movement halved over the next two years.

The capitalist press, anticommunist authors like Robert Conquest, and fake socialists such as the anarchists and Trotskyists all echoed Khrushchev’s lies.

Revisionist ‘official Soviet history’ from Khrushchev to Gorbachev paved the way to counter-revolution. ‘Stalin and Beria’s crimes’ were a complete fabrication by Khrushchev.

3. ‘The murder of Sergei Kirov was organised by Stalin’

Kirov was the first secretary of the Bolshevik party in Leningrad, and was murdered in December 1934 by Leonid Nikolaev, who was part of conspiracy to put Grigorii Zinoviev into power. Fourteen men were indicted, tried, convicted and executed for his murder in 1935.

Over the course of three years, a wider plot was uncovered, and links to Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev were proven, as well as to a military group around Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

In 1936, 1937 and 1938, the ‘Moscow trials’ were held, in which these anti-Soviet plotters were exposed. The Soviet narrative around all this is true, and Trotsky was also linked to this conspiracy.

4. ‘Stalin was like Hitler’

This lie was peddled once again in Bloodlands, a book by Timothy Snyder, professor at Yale, who has written dozens of articles for the New York review of books, the Times, etc. In his book he repeated the old imperialist trope of equating Stalin with Hitler and was lauded with prizes and rave reviews as a result. Snyder’s works have been translated into 26 languages and distributed around the world by a grateful imperialist media machine.

He claims that during World War 2 the Soviets killed between six and nine million civilians. Professor Furr checked every footnote and reference in Snyder’s book, reading the original sources in Polish and Ukrainian. He found every alleged ‘crime’ to be false and that Snyder was deliberately lying about the evidence as well as citing lying sources.

Not a single accusation against Stalin held up to scrutiny. These dedicated anticommunists could not find a single actual crime to accuse him of! This fact in itself is compelling evidence that there are no such crimes.

5. ‘Trotsky was wrongly accused by Stalin’

In fact, in the 1930s Trotsky was conspiring against the USSR and formed a coalition with right-wingers in the party with the aim of overthrowing socialist rule. Pierre Broué, his biographer, discovered letters between Leon Sedov (Trotsky’s son) and Trotsky that proved the existence of the block between Trotsky and the rights within the USSR, formed in 1932.

6. ‘Trotsky was a loyal Bolshevik’

Most shocking of all his crimes, Professor Furr found irrefutable evidence that Trotsky conspired with the Japanese and German governments against the USSR during WW2.

If his plans had been successful, the Soviet people and resources would have been put at the disposal of the fascist forces. The outcome of the war would have been completely different. The unmasking of this plot was a vital step in the defeat of fascism.

7. ‘The Moscow trials were faked’

In fact, all the evidence shows that the defendants were not coerced and that they were indeed guilty of assassinating Kirov and planning to assassinate Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich and others, and of attempting to organise a coup with the aid of the Japanese and the Germans.

Nikolai Yezhov (head of the NKVD head in 1937-8) was also proven to be conspiring with the Germans.

8. ‘Yezhov was falsely accused’

The evidence proves that Nikolai Yezhov really did head a conspiracy against the USSR and its leadership, and collaborated with Nazi fascism.

9. ‘The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was a betrayal; the Soviet Union “invaded” Poland in 1939’

The pact was not an alliance; it was a vital step in buying the Soviet Union more time to build its defences, and all the allies agreed at the time that the USSR had not ‘invaded’ Poland but merely stopped the Germans from advancing over its entire territory after the Polish government collapsed and fled.

10. ‘The Soviets perpetrated the Katyn massacre’

In April 1943, during WW2, the Nazis claimed to have found the bodies of Polish officers allegedly shot by the Soviet army and buried in mass graves. This was Nazi propaganda designed to split the antifascist alliance, which was beating the German war machine.

In fact, all the evidence proves that Katyn was a Nazi German crime and that the allegation against the USSR was a lie.

Professor Furr also touches on other disputed topics such as Soviet collectivisation, the Dewey Commission (a group of Trotskyists who set up an inquiry into the charges against Trotsky), the alleged ‘Holodomor’ (famine in Ukraine).

The standard narratives about all these – taught to school and university students and propagated in books, films and TV shows – says Professor Furr, are all part of a great anti-Soviet lie.

“No book that is not hostile to Stalin can be published by an academic publisher,” he says. There is no objectivity to be found on this topic; it is pure psychological warfare against the workers of the world.

‘Soviet studies’ in the west, he concludes, is simply “propaganda with footnotes”.

Posted in RussiaComments Off on Grover Furr on the continuing revolution in Stalin-era history

Stop the coup; defend President Evo Morales. Hands off Bolivia!

As Latin America’s masses struggle to throw off the yoke of imperialist control, the US has intervened once more to overthrow a popular government.

Party statement

The CPGB-ML strongly condemns the coup that took place yesterday, 10 November, in Bolivia, where army chiefs forced elected president Evo Morales to resign, with a warrant for his arrest being issued a few hours afterwards.

The apparent leader of the coup is a prominent representative of wealthy Santa Cruz capitalists, bible thumper Luis Fernando Camacho, and in recent days its organisers have been sending fascist gangs around the country to terrorise members of the government and of the party of government, Movimiento al Socialismo (the Movement for Socialism) and their families.

Meanwhile, the army and police have sided with the perpetrators of the coup, just as they did in 1975 in Chile, when the popular elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile was overthrown under the direction of US imperialism.

We send greetings to President Evo Morales of Bolivia and wish to express our party’s full support for him as president of his country and for his right to occupy that position, earned through tireless and intelligent labour to improve the living conditions of the Bolivian masses over the last 13 years.

In our view, he remains the legitimate elected president of his country, notwithstanding his forced resignation, and certainly has every right to stand to be re-elected in the re-run of the presidential elections.

He has called this re-run at the request of the treacherous US-controlled Organisation of American States (OAS), which, without producing a shred of evidence, has questioned the validity of the results of the 20 October election won by President Morales by a wide margin.

However, it is now clear he will be prevented from standing, if indeed the election is held at all.

With the backing of his party, Evo Morales has been exceptionally successful in achieving his aims, as even his enemies are forced to acknowledge. This, for instance, is what the Washington Post has written:

“Thirteen years after his Movement for Socialism won at the ballot box, it’s indisputable that Bolivians are healthier, wealthier, better educated, living longer and more equal than at any time in this South American nation’s history …

“Using cash from the natural gas industry wrung from foreign investors – most of whom nevertheless remained profitable and have stayed in Bolivia – Morales’s government lifted up neighbourhoods such as Huancané, an enclave of more than 3,000 working-class indigenous people transformed by government investment.

“With new stone roads, the neighbourhood is now accessible by minibus, connecting residents to the world’s highest mass transit system – the aerial cable cars.”

Before Morales came to power, vast amounts of Bolivia’s wealth were channelled towards imperialist multinationals by well-rewarded local magnates. But under Morales’s leadership, the Bolivian people were able to put a stop to this daylight robbery, so that a far greater proportion of the country’s wealth could be directed towards benefiting the masses of the people.

Social spending by the government has reduced extreme poverty by more than half. Roads, schools and hospitals have been built throughout the country, and welfare funds are distributed to help the most vulnerable.

Per capita income has increased threefold, and social inequality has diminished dramatically. At the same time, the economy has grown at twice the rate of the Latin-American average.

It is no wonder then that the Morales government is highly popular with the people of Bolivia, especially the indigenous population, who had previously never had the opportunities they have now to lift themselves out of poverty and backwardness.

Of course, the Morales government has never been popular with the imperialists, at whose expense the Bolivian people have been thriving. Throughout his tenure of office, US imperialism has tirelessly sought to mobilise disaffected sections of Bolivian society – the compradors and their hangers-on, who have of course lost out under the new dispensation – to try to bring about regime change, so far with no success.

However, as a capitalist economy, Bolivia is not exempt from the ravages of the world economic crisis, and it is a fact that demand has been falling for Bolivia’s main exports, especially gas, resulting in price reductions on the world market and reduced government income.

Imperialism has seized upon those aggrieved by the necessary consequences of this to renew its efforts at regime change.

Although the compradors and the aggrieved together only make up a minority of the population, they are, with the covert backing of imperialist NGOs, able to threaten the country’s normal functioning with violent demonstrations, involving the destruction of government property and acts of extreme violence against government supporters, including the burning of their homes.

In response to this, millions of Bolivian people have come out on the streets to demonstrate their support for their government and for their president, which needless to say receives little attention from the imperialist media, which prefer to focus on the mayhem caused by the counter-revolutionary forces.

There is no doubt that if imperialism is able to re-impose a government servile to imperialist interests onto them, the Bolivian people stand to lose all or most of what they have gained in the last 13 years.

For this reason we join all progressive people in demanding:

Respect the result of the October 20 election; no interference in the re-run election; let the Bolivian masses be their own election monitors!

Bolivia’s wealth belongs to the Bolivian people!
Hands off Bolivia!

Posted in USA, BoliviaComments Off on Stop the coup; defend President Evo Morales. Hands off Bolivia!

From climate change to regime change

From Brazil to Bolivia and Venezuela: how the environment has become a tool of coercion.

Proletarian writers

Evo Morales joined firefighters in burned forest in Santa Rosa, Boliva, August 2019.

Since this article was written, the legitimate president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has been overthrown in a US-sponsored coup.

The huge profits to be made from Bolivia’s massive reserves of lithium (essential in the production of electric cars) are just one of the factors being pointed to by commentators seeking to explain imperialism’s desire to replace Evo Morales’s popular government with one under their control.

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Throughout August and early September, fires ravaged large parts of the Amazon rainforest, affecting the nations of BrazilBolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

The finger of blame has primarily been pointed at populist Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who is committed to rolling back environmental protections of the Amazon in order to exploit its untapped riches. Bolsonaro had presided over a significant increase in the rate of deforestation of the Amazon since his election. (Financial Times)

On 19 August 2019, the US space agency Nasa released this update via its earth observatory:

“With the fire season in the Amazon approaching its midpoint, scientists using Nasa satellites to track fire activity have confirmed an increase in the number and intensity of fires in the Brazilian Amazon in 2019, making it the most active fire year in that region since 2010.

“Fire activity in the Amazon varies considerably from year to year and month to month, driven by changes in economic conditions and climate. August 2019 stands out because it has brought a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon, explained Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences laboratory at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight centre.

“While drought has played a significant role in exacerbating fires in the past, the timing and location of fire detections early in the 2019 dry season are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought.” (Uptick in Amazon fire activity in 2019, Nasa Earth Observatory, 19 August 2019)

A further update from the earth observatory added new context to unfolding events:

“Since the beginning of August 2019, Nasa satellites have observed several fires near the border of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. (Note that this area is not in the Amazon rainforest.)

“On 25 August 2019, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired images of one of the larger fires, which was burning north of the Paraguay River near Puerto Busch. The first image was made using OLI bands 4-3-2 (visible light). The second image includes observations of shortwave-infrared light in order to highlight the active fire. Recently burned areas appear black.

“Images from Nasa’s Modis sensors indicate that this fire likely burned first in Paraguay and then spread into Bolivia and Brazil by 19 August 2019.” (Fire burns in Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil, 25 August 2019)

Climate change – a hard power tactic of control?

Although Bolsonaro deserves condemnation for his policies, which are undoubtedly contributing to the destruction of the Amazon, what cannot be ignored is the way that corporate media and politicians have manipulated a moderately severe event into a cataclysmic disaster for the planet – bringing along with them environmental ‘nongovernmental’ organisations (NGOs), celebrities and woke environmentalists, who have all been declaring the ‘end times’.

The media have maintained a consistent, uniform and straightforward message: The fires are an unprecedented disaster for the Amazon rainforest, and Bolsonaro is responsible for burning the planet down.

This is misleading on both counts.

“Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, uses satellite imagery to track fire activity and deforestation around the world.

“He said the Amazon is not on track for a record this year.

“‘Our satellites allow us to go back to 2000 and compare 2019 fire activity all the way back to the beginning of this century,’ Morton said. ‘Fires in 2019 haven’t reached the levels they were at in the early part of the 2000s.’ …

“In the early 2000s, another bout of international outrage over fires in the Amazon pushed the Brazilian government to implement a national action plan to deal with deforestation. From 2004 to about 2014, it was incredibly successful.

“The Federal Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon relied on real-time collaboration between government agencies to stop deforestation fires as they were happening.

“But in 2015, the Brazilian economy fell into a deep recession, and deforestation rates started to rise again.

“‘It wasn’t that the government was no longer focused on [the anti-deforestation] environmental policies,’ de Bolle said. ‘It was really that, because of this very deep recession, they ran out of money, and they were no longer able to fund a lot of these initiatives.’” (As fires continue to rage in the Amazon rainforest, who is really to blame? by Meg Kelly and Sarah Cahlan, Independent, 7 October 2019)

What is of note is how quickly the fires entered and exited the focus of the ‘mainstream’ corporate media. In the run up to the G7 meeting, held in France between 24-26 August, there was wall-to-wall coverage of the fires, but almost immediately after the summit had concluded, media interest took a nosedive.

French president Emmanuel Macron was at the forefront, leading the criticism of Bolsonaro at the G7 summit. He declared an ongoing “international crisis” and suggested that an international statute to protect the rainforest may be needed “if a sovereign state took concrete actions that clearly went against the interest of the planet”.

Discussions about the fire also affected ongoing negotiations of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Mercosur (a trade bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay). (EU, Mercosur strike trade pact, defying protectionist wave by Philip Blenkinsop and Leika Kihara, Reuters, 28 June 2019)

President Macron and Irish president Leo Varadkar both threatened to refuse to ratify the trade deal, worth billions of dollars to Brazil, unless the country committed to implementing environmental protections. (Amazon fires: Brazil threatened over EU trade deal, BBC News, 23 August 2019)

The speed at which Bolsonaro has changed tack from declaring fire data to be ‘lies’ to sending in the military and banning land-clearing fires for 60 days at the end of August suggests that environmentalism backed up with the threats to a nation’s economy can be an effective tool in forcing compliance upon unwilling nation states. (Financial Times, 24 and 29 August 2019)

In other words: do what we say, or else.

Why was Bolsonaro targeted?

The reason Bolsonaro became public enemy number one overnight is not immediately apparent.

President Macron, of course, has a vested interest in the Amazon, as the French colony of Guyana is situated in the region. Moreover, by taking a strong line against Brazil, the French president can appear tough on climate change while not having to take any meaningful steps towards preventing global warming at home in France.

However, what seems more likely is the aim of ensuring that the imperialists are able to control the Amazon – its minerals, its pharmaceutical treasures and its precious woods.

Another possibility must also be borne in mind by all anti-imperialists. Venezuela, currently the number one Latin-American target in the sights of the US regime-change machine, shares a border in the Amazon with Brazil.

It is not inconceivable that the imperialists wish to abrogate to themselves the right to ‘protect’ the Amazon by use of troops (either theirs or those of their regional proxies) in order to provide a cover for amassing a military force on Venezuela’s southeastern border. (Map of the Amazon rainforest)

As anti-imperialists, we must be able to filter the fact from the spin and to recognise the imperialists’ ulterior motives. Bolsonaro undoubtedly has allowed land clearance to recommence and is part of the problem, but the point that is never mentioned by corporate media or imperialist politicians is that whoever is in power, Brazil’s economy is too fragile to allow it effectively to preserve the rainforest.

What they do not want workers to understand is that under capitalism, even with the best of intentions, the necessary steps to safeguard the planet cannot consistently be taken – the ‘business cycle’ of boom and bust dictates whether resources are available for such ‘secondary’ concerns as ensuring humanity’s future. When economic crisis hits, austerity dictates that they are not.

The imperialists who loot Brazil via their local proxies are part of this problem; they cannot provide any solution. It will certainly not advance the cause of protecting the environment (which is ultimately dependent on humanity’s liberation from imperialism) for imperialist troops to be parachuted in to ‘guard’ (ie, control) the region’s resources.

It is the capitalist-imperialist system that condemns a country like Brazil, so rich in natural and human resources, to its apparently permanent state of economic fragility. It is the capitalist-imperialist system that stops humanity from taking the necessary steps to ensure our environment is protected.

Extinction Rebellion does imperialism’s bidding

Amid the drama unfolding in relation to Bolsonaro and the Brazilian rainforest, Extinction Rebellion (XR) found a new target for condemnation in the form of progressive Bolivian president Evo Morales, and were quick to place the blame for fires in Bolivia at his doorstep.

On 26 August, an article was published on the self-styled ‘radical left-wing’ Novara Media’s website titled ‘It’s not just Brazil’s forests that are burning, Bolivia is on fire too’, authored by a prominent member of Extinction Rebellion, Claire Wordley.

XR even went so far as to organise protests outside Bolivia’s embassies across Europe.

Through these acts, XR found itself ahead of the curve, with the Guardian and the Independent rushing to catch up and throw their weight behind the ‘Morales = evil dictator’ plotline.

On 27 August, the Independent ran with the headline: ‘The world believes the Amazon is in trouble because of Bolsonaro. Instead, they should look to Bolivia.’ (Harriet Marsden)

While the Guardian on 2 September went for ‘“Murderer of nature”: Evo Morales blamed as Bolivia battles devastating fires’. (Dan Collyns)

In her article for Novara Media, Ms Wordley blamed Morales for the fires ravaging the Amazon, declaring him to be as “damaging as … the capitalists Morales claims to hate” and characterising his responses to the fires as having been forced upon him by climate-conscious citizens.

What should be interesting to readers about Wordley’s article is that it is almost entirely dependent upon claims made by Bolivian ‘activist’ Jhanisse Vaca Daza, who can only be described as a professional regime-change operative.

Ms Vaca Daza has founded an NGO called Ríos de Pie, whose purpose is to spread anti-Morales propaganda. She has also been appointed as manager of the ‘Freedom Fellowships’ that have been issued by the Human Rights Foundation, an organisation which in effect functions as a training network for activists working to overthrow leaders that Washington wants to depose.

Vaca Daza has been instrumental in issuing Freedom Fellowships to ten ‘anti-authoritarian’ activists in places that include Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia, and Hong Kong, all of which the US/Nato imperialists are working overtime to destabilise.

“The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is pleased to announce the creation of the Freedom Fellowship, a unique programme that awards ten human rights advocates, social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders from authoritarian countries around the world with the unique opportunity to dramatically increase the impact of their work … The fellows will work with HRF staff and a team of specialists to improve leadership, movement building, fundraising, marketing, and digital security.” (HRF announces the Freedom Fellowship, 21 May 2019)

For more information on Jhanisse Vaca-Daza, we recommend the excellent article on the Grayzone website. (Western regime-change operatives launch campaign to blame Bolivia’s Evo Morales for Amazon fires by Wyatt Reed, 29 August 2019)

While it is true that earlier in the year the Bolivian government allowed small farmers to burn some areas of forest land to clear way for crop production, it’s worth pointing out that although the media is using fears over the ecological destruction of the Amazon to attack President Morales, the majority of fires in Bolivia have occurred outside the rainforest.

“Morales in July issued a decree allowing controlled burns and clearing of lands. While people are supposed to obtain prior permission, authorities say most of the fires have been started illegally.

“Morales also granted an amnesty for people caught burning fields illegally last year.”

“While some of the fires were burning in Bolivia’s share of the Amazon, the largest blazes were in the Chiquitania region of southeastern Bolivia, a zone of dry forest, farmland and open prairies that has seen an expansion of farming and ranching in recent years.” (Bolivia battles vast fires as Brazil’s Amazon crisis captures world attention, South China Morning Post, 28 August 2019)

Bolivia, like all developing nations, struggles at times to balance economic development with environmental concerns. However, President Morales’s response to the fires has been prompt and decisive – in stark contrast to the foot-dragging of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

In late August, the Bolivian government hired a Boeing 747 supertanker, which discharged 1,892,330 litres of water over affected areas in just a few weeks. The government also put into action five helicopters, which have dropped 873,720 litres, and contracted aircraft, dropping a further 39,610 litres. Thousands of firefighters, soldiers, police and volunteers were mobilised to help tackle the blazes.

Bolivia was able to report an 85 percent reduction in fire hotspots on 28 August after just eight days of the massive operation, with the UN recognising and praising these efforts. (Bolivia’s Amazon fire hotspots reduced by 85 percent, Telesur, 28 August 2019)

Furthermore, President Morales went on to announce an ‘ecological pause’, during which the sale of fire-affected land has been prohibited. This effectively prevents profiteers from selling newly-cleared land for ranching and land cultivation and nullifies the further temptation of individuals to set more forest fires for this purpose. Morales has also declared his intention to begin afforestation and reforestation in affected areas within the Chiquitania department of Santa Cruz. (Cambio.bo, 28 August and 10 September 2019)

“Now begins the stage of recovery of the fauna and flora of our Chiquitania. Together we managed to put out the fire and together we will begin the post-fire stage. We have learned many lessons and will prepare to take care of #MotherEarth for the good of future generations,” wrote President Morales on Twitter. (Bolivia and Nicaragua launch large reforestation plans, Telesur, 9 October 2019)

Why is Morales being attacked?

It is no coincidence that the opportunity to attack Morales was seized upon in the run-up to Bolivian presidential elections of 20 October.

Bolivian compradors and imperialist powers had hoped that Morales would be defeated in these elections as his policies, which overwhelmingly benefit the poor, are intolerable to imperialism. Since his time in office began, Morales has overseen land reforms, a trebling of the minimum wage and the nationalisation of energy resources.

Fortunately, for the poor of Bolivia and progressive-minded people alike, Morales won a third successive term in office, and for this, we offer him our congratulations. However, his victory has not been well received outside of his base of support amongst the poor.

“Mesa, a former president, backed by a collective of centrist and right-wing parties, has rejected the official tally, calling it ‘the result of fraud and a breach of the popular will.’

“The poll triggered a week of violent protests, with rival supporters clashing with security forces and each other in (Bolivian capital) La Paz and elsewhere.

“Mesa has called on his supporters to maintain their street protests. Thousands of demonstrators blocked streets in major cities around the country on Saturday, erecting barricades and waving the red, yellow and green Bolivian flag.

“Morales urged those who accuse him of fraud to provide evidence.

“‘We aren’t hiding anything, we aren’t lying … They’ve given no proof’ of fraud, he said on Saturday.

“Morales had said earlier that he would be happy to contest a second round – and do so ‘the next day’ – if anyone provided evidence of fraud.”

Violence from rival political supporters has marred the popular election victory. Mesa’s attempt to question the legitimacy of the result and his imperialist backing has led Morales to warn of a potential coup plot against his government.

These fears are certainly not unfounded – as recent events in Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua demonstrate. It is to be hoped that the Bolivian masses are strong enough to withstand these efforts to deprive them of their victory and the gains they have made.

Workers and progressive people everywhere must give every support to their struggle.

Posted in Bolivia, Brazil, VenezuelaComments Off on From climate change to regime change

Book: Identity Politics and the Transgender Trend

Where is LGBT ideology taking us and why does it matter?

Proletarian writers

Download a digital copy now.

Pre-order a print copy in our online shop.

*****

Alongside a push to legislate for unquestioning acceptance of the concept of ‘gender fluidity’, we are witnessing a drive by the state to police not only actions, but words, and to criminalise as ‘hate speech’ all attempts to discuss the most basic facts of the matter.

Can you be born in the ‘wrong body’? Is sex something real or just an imaginary social construct? Does who you sleep with define who you are? Why is there such growing and persistent abuse of the word ‘community’?

And how have we arrived at a moment where the exploiters are able to appoint themselves the judges of all matters relating to the struggle for freedom of the exploited?

These are essential questions that workers must have the right to ask. Under attack is not only our freedom of speech and thought, but our very understanding of the world we live in and the way we organise our struggle for socialism.

Posted in LiteratureComments Off on Book: Identity Politics and the Transgender Trend

The coup in Bolivia: why was Morales targeted?

What lessons can workers learn from the events in Bolivia?

Proletarian writers

Supporters of Evo Morales demonstrate after he announced his resignation, along with the indigenous flag and a placard that reads: ‘Evo you are not alone’.

It hasn’t even been a month since the tragic and criminal overthrow of Bolivia’s progressive former president Evo Morales and his MAS (Movement for Socialism) party.

The coup against the popular government of President Morales was spearheaded by one Luis Fernando Camacho, the millionaire leader of an explicitly fascist paramilitary group. The motivations for his US-sponsored overthrow have been steadily accumulating over the 13 years of Morales’ tenure, but appeared to come to a head when the government signed a deal to let China exploit Bolivia’s massive lithium deposits.

In this article, we will look at some of the key achievements of the MAS government, for it is not only vital to understand the specificities of what motivated US intervention – aside from the latter’s goal of full-spectrum dominance – but also to demonstrate the urgency of giving all possible support and solidarity to the Bolivian people.

Trotskyist and social-democratic dominance over the working-class movement is a primary obstacle in this all-important task of the working classes in the imperialist core countries. Their ‘left-wing’ pro-imperialist propaganda condemns the Bolivian revolution as ‘bureaucrat capitalist’ and ‘tyrannical’, unworthy of support and solidarity because of its lack of ideological ‘purity’.

Such chauvinistic slander is not the product of a meaningful anti-imperialist analysis. It erodes genuine anti-imperialist solidarity with the masses of Bolivia and manufactures consent (although less overtly expressed) for US intervention.

It is therefore vital that we highlight the progressive actions of MAS and the perilous drives of the Bolivian opposition so that progressives worldwide can see through imperialist, Trotskyist and social-democratic slander alike, and engage in meaningful anti-imperialist solidarity actions.

Bolivia’s opposition

Coup ringleader Camacho is the organiser of the fascist Union Juvenil Crucenista (UJC). He is a member of Bolivia’s elite (Camacho was even named in the Panama Papers), which lost out through MAS’s nationalisation programmes. His own family’s gas company stands to gain considerably, owing as it does 20 million bolivianos ($2.9m) to the government for tax evasion. (‘It’s now or never’: Bolivian elite destroying the country by Edu Montesanti, Telesur, 7 November 2019)

The renationalisation by the Morales government of key resources and utilities such as natural gas, hydropower, electricity and telecoms has been pivotal in bringing about a drastic reduction in poverty amongst ordinary Bolivians over the last decade, but the advancement of such progressive policies has also led to the intensification of the class struggle, as the super-rich and their US masters have employed the most backward fascistic subversives in their relentless battle to bring down the MAS government.

Though the UJC played an invaluable role in the reactionary coup, its members are footsoldiers, not the leaders of the opposition force:

“While Camacho and his far-right forces served as the muscle behind the coup, their supposedly more ‘democratic’ bourgeois political allies waited to reap the benefits.

“The presidential candidate Bolivia’s opposition had fielded in the October election, Carlos Mesa, is a ‘pro-business’ privatiser with extensive ties to Washington. US government cables published by WikiLeaks reveal that he regularly corresponded with American officials in their efforts to destabilise Morales.” (Bolivia coup led by christian fascist paramilitary leader and millionaire – with foreign support, The Grayzone, 11 November 2019)

Although your run-of-the-mill neoliberals represent the main body of anti-socialist opposition in Bolivia, the ‘moderate’ leadership of the counter-revolution does not quell the threat of fascism in Bolivia. On the contrary. history has shown that the moderate wing of counter-revolution can only keep its most reactionary partners in check for so long, especially under such crisis situations as Bolivia is now undergoing.

Karl Marx demonstrated in his enlightening work The Eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Bonaparte – his summary of lessons on the state and counter-revolution – how willing the bourgeoisie is to capitulate liberty and democracy to the most backward elements of reaction in order to maintain its rule. (1852)

The Bolivian people are fighting back against the reactionary coup; against the reimposition of the unbridled dictatorship of the imperialist-backed comprador bourgeoisie. So long as it exists, the reactionary bourgeoisie will always be ready to unleash fascist paramilitary forces such as the UJC to try to quell the rising proletarian tide, securing the class interests of the imperialists and Bolivian compradors no matter what the cost.

Lithium trade

To understand the most proximate cause of the coup, it has to be realised that Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats are thought to contain as much as 50-70 percent of known global lithium deposits – a metal that is central to the manufacture of phones, laptops, car batteries, and so on.

Competition over access to this vast supply of lithium has been intense, given the importance of the commodities that need it for their production – items which define and run today’s computer-led consumer society.

It looked as if the primary access was going to be given to Russia and China – countries that have helped tackle underdevelopment in the oppressed countries through equitable loans and trade deals, in stark contradiction to US imperialism, which is the primary instigator of global underdevelopment.

Russia had intended to supply Bolivia with mineral extraction equipment, developed as a result of its vast experience in extracting oil and natural gas, whilst China was hoping to become the biggest customer of Bolivian lithium. (Russia’s Bolivia gambit is a bold economic move, Global Research, 16 July 2019 and Bolivia begins lithium exports to China, Telesur, 11 August 2016)

Bolivia’s close economic ties with Russia and China were a serious impediment to the US’s ongoing attempt to crush the rise of both countries. Not only that, but they were vital in promoting the growth of a multilateral world order that breaks from the US’s unilateral model of full-spectrum dominance, offering breathing space to oppressed nations to pursue their own course of development without imperialist interference.

People-centred reforms

Ever since Morales’ ascension to the presidency, Bolivia had taken a total U-turn from former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s pro-IMF (International Monetary Fund) agenda, replacing it with a socialist-leaning anti-imperialist one.

This resulted in Bolivia attaining the second-highest rate of economic growth of any Latin-American country in 2018. Using the funds gained through exports to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s reliance on the imperialist-controlled world market, the MAS government carried out social programmes that reduced moderate poverty from 66 percent to 39 percent of the population and absolute poverty from 45 percent to 17 percent. (Bolivia’s economic wonder video, Telesur, 23 October 2018)

According to the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the achievements of the Morales government were staggering:

“By 2018, real GDP per capita had increased by 50 percent above its 2005 level. While the region overall has experienced a sharp slowdown over the last five years, Bolivia’s per capital GDP growth was the highest in South America. Since 2006, Bolivia’s real per capita GDP has grown at double the rate for Latin America.

“In the first eight years of the Morales administration, national government revenue from hydrocarbons increased nearly sevenfold, from $731m to $4.95bn. Most of the increased revenue resulted from nationalisation and associated policy changes, including a doubling of production by 2013. These revenues were central to allowing the government to achieve macroeconomic stability and accomplish most of its other goals.

“Bolivia’s unemployment was nearly halved (from 7.7 percent to 4.4 percent) in 2008, and has continued at roughly around that level through 2018.

“Bolivia has recently held investment at very high levels as compared to the past, with investment averaging 21.8 percent of GDP annually in the past five years (2014–18).

“Public investment has increased with the growth of Bolivia’s economy, even during periods of unfavourable terms of trade. Bolivia has had the highest public investment, as a percent of GDP, in the region.

“Starting in 2010, Bolivia’s central bank has applied unconventional monetary policy through a quantitative easing programme, in order to purchase financial instruments issued by state-owned enterprises as well as government bonds. In December 2018, almost half (44 percent) of the central bank’s balance sheet was invested in domestic assets (up from 12 percent in 2010).” (New report reviews changes in Bolivia’s economy under Evo Morales’s presidency, CEPR, 17 October 2019)

These advances for Bolivia’s people only registered as heinous crimes and mortal threats in the eyes of imperialism – and quite rightly so. Imperialism, as a socioeconomic system, relies on the prolonged underdevelopment of oppressed countries to maintain its global dominance and draw superprofits from exploiting the labour and resources of such countries.

When the people of an oppressed country successfully challenge such underdevelopment through independent action, it threatens not only the superprofits of billionaires, but the entire existence of imperialism.

Every victory attained by the oppressed, exploited, wretched of the Earth, from Bolivia to Venezuela, from Syria to Korea, and even here at home in Britain, brings imperialism closer to total crisis. Progressive workers in the imperialist heartlands must give meaningful solidarity to the masses of Latin America in their efforts to safeguard their interests against the IMF-sponsored ‘pink tide’ dragging much of Latin America under the yoke of ‘neoliberal’ imperialism.

Bolivia’s MAS government also made great efforts to settle the issue of ethnic disparity amongst the population – provoking resentment amongst the privileged European-descended elite.

“Colour revolutions and the hybrid wars that they oftentimes lead to are commonly driven by the external exploitation of pre-existing identity differences in diverse states, with Bolivia being no exception.

“The country is still mostly inhabited by its indigenous people, though severe socioeconomic disparities exist within this demographic and between it and the non-indigenous minority, a state of affairs that was institutionalised for decades until Morales’s rise to power rectified this historic wrong and sought to promote equality among the population.

“The non-indigenous people are predictably much better off than the indigenous ones, and it’s they who historically formed the core of the anti-Morales opposition.” (Bolivia’s boiling with colour revolution unrest, Global Research, 31 October 2019)

Even the Washington Post, an impeccable imperialist mouthpiece, has admitted that President Morales’s progressive policies had been extremely effective in Bolivia:

“Thirteen years after his Movement for Socialism won at the ballot box, it’s indisputable that Bolivians are healthier, wealthier, better educated, living longer and more equal than at any time in this South American nation’s history.

“As Morales seeks a fourth term in elections Sunday, his Bolivia is serving as a counterpoint to Venezuela in the hemispheric ¬debate over socialism – a now-loaded word that has become a flash point in the US presidential race.” (Socialism doesn’t work? An emerging middle class of Bolivians beg to differ, Washington Post, 16 October 2019)

In the same article, the Washington Post made an interesting juxtaposition between Bolivia and Argentina, Ecuador and Chile, the former following a progressive anti-imperialist path at the time the article was published, and the latter three countries, a path of neoliberalism:

“Bolivia’s economy is closing the gap with the rest of the continent, growing faster than most neighbours over the past 13 years. Meanwhile, governments that have embraced market policies – notably, in Argentina and Ecuador – face economic and political chaos.

“Chile, the South American model for capitalism’s success, still reigns as the region’s richest and most stable economy. Yet even the International Monetary Fund, that champion of the free market, concedes that Bolivia’s socialists have been more effective in combating extreme poverty than any other South American government, slashing it from 33 percent of the population in 2006 to 15 percent in 2018.”

No doubt the Chilean model of neoliberalism brought it up to be ‘the region’s richest and most stable economy’ for American corporations and the Chilean comprador elite. But is this really a stable course of development?

Chilean neoliberalism was brought about via a militarist coup – the 9/11 of Latin America – enforced by a fascist dictatorship. Chile is now dealing with a nationwide insurrection. ‘Economically stable’ – for a time, but politically a powder keg.

Bolivia is undergoing dark times in the aftermath of the coup. Washington’s lackeys have seized power, and the Bolivian masses are not taking their usurpation lying down. Huge nationwide demonstrations against the coup forces are providing a serious challenge to the self-appointed ‘transitional government’ in La Paz.

Since these demonstrators are being met with the most brutal force, in which many protestors have been killed, along with leaders and supporters of MAS, it is to be hoped that the Bolivian people will refuse to become victims of another Chile and instead follow the example of their well-armed comrades in Venezuela, whose determination to defend themselves has foiled many attempts to overturn the popular government of Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro.

As with the attempts to destroy socialist Cuba and Bolivarian Venezuela, workers in Britain must make common cause with our brothers and sisters in Bolivia, under attack for no other crime than that of trying to determine their own affairs and make use of their own resources as they see fit. A blow against freedom anywhere is a blow against freedom everywhere, while a victory for imperialism abroad is a shot in the arm to the profiteering bandits here at home.

And workers everywhere must learn the lessons of the Bolivian counter-revolution and of the attempted counter-revolution in Venezuela. We must study the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the state so that we are armed an understanding that can guide us to victory; vanquishing all enemies of the people as they struggle for a decent and secure life.

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Support the French strikers!

France’s militant unions are joining forces with yellow vest activists in a serious challenge to Macron’s EU-backed assault on living standards.

Proletarian writers

Strikers protesting with a banner that reads: ‘Who sows misery reaps the wrath,’ 5 December 2019.

French workers, up in arms about President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to undermine their pensions, brought the country to a shuddering halt last Thursday (5 December), crippling road and rail transport, schools, hospitals, Air France, energy giant EDF and many other sectors.

President Macron’s neoliberal pension ‘reforms’ would see workers’ entitlements cut by as much as 30 percent, gutting pension schemes that were won through many years of struggle.

Aware that the outcome of this battle is of critical importance for the whole working class, many workers are not settling for just a one-day strike, but are extending the action. Some of the largest unions urged anyone on what they term a “renewable” strike to carry on over the weekend, and are currently mobilising for another mass walk out today (10 December).

Since most transport workers are already on renewable strikes, train services have been truly scuppered. Road transport was also hit over the weekend as lorry drivers blocked roads in protest at onerous fuel taxes.

Most worrying of all for Macron was the sight of the militant CGT union federation welcoming the yellow vest activists and marching with them shoulder to shoulder.

A united proletariat finding common cause in the struggle against capitalist austerity – this is the stuff of bourgeois nightmares, and of our dearest hopes.

Posted in FranceComments Off on Support the French strikers!

Nicaragua: Amnesty’s travesty of hypocrisy

Another shameful report from those who peddle ‘human rights’ lies to justify imperialist war.

Proletarian writers

President Daniel Ortega during the commemoration of the 39th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.

With the facade of a ‘human rights’ group – and with the deeds of a well-funded imperialist propaganda machine – Amnesty International (AI) has waged a three-year smear campaign against Nicaragua and its progressive leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) under President Daniel Ortega.

For decades, imperialism has manufactured public consent for its rapacious foreign aggressions by rebranding it as ‘humanitarian intervention’, justified by the spurious reports of a ‘human rights’ industry spearheaded by outfits such as Amnesty.

These reports deliberately gloss over (at best) or outright ignore (more usually) any serious consideration of the context or historical conditions that give rise to the contemporary actions of governments that are targeted for overthrow by imperialism.

Take China, for instance. AI gingerly glosses over China’s very real reasons for needing to supress such organisations as the new-age (and pro-imperialist) cult Falun Gong. Amnesty deliberately leaves out any mention of the US military bases stationed all over Asia in countries such as south (US occupied) Korea, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines, all of which are packed with missiles aimed at China and the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Falun Gong cult has been known to collude with the very US imperialism menacing Asia. (China 2017/18, Amnesty International)

It is bizarre to suggest that AI, with its army of legal experts and activists, left out such vital context, which would explain China’s apparent ‘human rights violations’, for any other reason than rank dishonesty. What’s more, given Amnesty’s official broadening of its horizon to include the policy of “pushing for stronger legal frameworks to protect economic, social and cultural rights” (as well as ‘human’ ones), an honest appraisal ought to lead the organisation to applaud China as a world leader in the field.

As JV Stalin (a leader who did more to guarantee the human rights of workers all over the world than almost any other) once said: “It is difficult for me to imagine what ‘personal liberty’ is enjoyed by an unemployed hungry person. True freedom can only be where there is no exploitation and oppression of one person by another; where there is not unemployment, and where a person is not living in fear of losing his job, his home and his bread. Only in such a society personal and any other freedom can exist for real and not on paper.” (Interview with Roy Howard, 1 March 1936)

Sadly, China’s escalation of literacy to over 99 percent, lifting 850 million people out of poverty, and raising life expectancy to 76 years are all absent from Amnesty’s report. The organisation would do well to revisit its own goals and the wise words of Stalin, one of the world’s greatest defenders of human rights. This clear bias in Amnesty’s report demonstrates its complicity to imperialist aggression.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, Amnesty has been working for the last three years and more to undermine the popular anti-imperialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua just as it is undermining the anti-imperialist leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

Even during the Sandinista revolution, Amnesty proved itself to be a mouthpiece of US empire. For instance, it was more concerned to voice concerns about the rights of Luis Mora, an operative for the US-backed fascist militia, the Contras, than for his 30,000 dead victims.

Such a case of bias not only exposes Amnesty’s role in prettifying western imperialism, but also contradicts one of its newly adopted policies: a pledge made by 2001 “to be more effective in combating human rights abuses by a diverse range of non-state actors”. (Human Rights for Human Dignity, Amnesty International, 2014 and Why Does AI Refuse to Listen to Criticism About its Work?, Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group, November 2019)

The economic development of Nicaraguan society has for decades now been impeded by the US imperialists, who have waged a protracted campaign of economic sanctions and backed fascistic Contra rebels to crush the popular government. Logic therefore compels us to conclude that the primary abusers of Nicaraguan human rights reside in Washington.

The way for Nicaragua to overcome imperialist economic and military aggression is through closer economic cooperation with other governments on the frontline of the anti-imperialist struggle. In this regard, the plans to build a new inter-oceanic canal that would break the monopoly currently held by the US-controlled Panama canal is a most welcome development. However, Amnesty has proven, yet again, to be sworn enemies of the genuine development of oppressed nations and the real liberation of their peoples.

Amnesty has criticised the canal’s construction as a project that would ‘divide the country in two’ and sell Nicaragua’s future to the Chinese. These spurious objections fly in the face of the experience of many oppressed nations – particularly in Africa – that has benefitted from Chinese help in developing their infrastructure and strengthening their independence from imperialist control.

As well as highlighting Amnesty’s opposition to any development that takes place outside of the imperialist-backed NGO/IMF and World Bank framework, the report goes on to advocate the disarmament of the oppressed nations – to the sole benefit of the oppressors.

In the wake of a storm of violent imperialist-backed demonstrations against the Sandinista government last year (not unlike the demonstrations that paved the way to the overthrow of Bolivia’s progressive anti-imperialist government and the installation of a fascist dictatorship in its place), Amnesty condemns what it calls the Nicaraguan government’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy – that is, the government’s will to defend its people and their revolutionary gains from terroristic acts by the far-right.

This is yet another example of Amnesty’s failure to make any serious acknowledgement of the context of a government’s actions, and its preferential treatment of fascist terrorists acting in the interests of US imperialism.

A report from the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG) titled Dismissing the Truth highlighted key lies in Amnesty’s report on the Sandinista government’s alleged ‘persecution’ of opposition groups, which described these violent provocateurs as gentle pacifists:

“The city of Masaya was the subject of armed siege by opposition forces for several weeks. AI claims that the government, in ending this siege, used indiscriminate and lethal force and pro-government armed forces. The report explains how, given the failure of peace negotiations, the police were obliged to use armed force to free Masaya from heavily-armed actors who had declared their ‘independence’ from the national government.

“Amnesty International wrongly asserts that a police officer killed during the violence was the subject of a possible ‘extrajudicial execution’ by the government for deserting his post. In fact, he was killed by opposition sniper fire, along with a colleague, while carrying out his duties.

“Other cases of alleged ‘extrajudicial execution’ or ‘arbitrary detention’ cited by AI can be shown either to be false or to present conflicting evidence. In each case, AI virtually ignores any evidence that contradicts their pre-existing beliefs about the situation.” (26 February 2019)

The report also highlighted the systematic errors in Amnesty’s report regarding the police officer mentioned above:

“AI is supposed to abide by the so-called Huridocs (Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems) research standards, but fails to compare information from what are self-avowedly opposition sources with evidence from elsewhere, for example the national assembly’s truth commission or the government’s office of the procurator for the defence of human rights.

“AI appears to treat murders of Sandinista victims such as in the Morrito massacre (where four police were killed and nine kidnapped) as a matter of domestic law, but then AI attacks the government for applying the law and creating ‘political’ prisoners of the perpetrators.

“Despite its declared intentions, AI appears to hide behind a legally anachronistic and incorrect insistence that only governments can commit human rights abuses. Yet UN security council and general assembly resolutions over the last 20 years have repeatedly insisted on the human rights obligations of armed non-state actors.”

The NSCAG concludes its report on the Faber Lopez incident (the name of the police officer in question) with a damning condemnation of Amnesty. “AI’s account was not only wrong but maligned the bravery of a fallen police officer and, in effect, portrayed him as a coward. AI has never retracted or apologised for this gross error on their part despite direct efforts to get them to do so.”

An irreducible pillar of the communist antiwar policy is to challenge the lies and pro-war propaganda that is sold to the masses lock stock and barrel by the corporate ‘mainstream’ media. Such media depend heavily on the ‘human rights’ industrial complex to manufacture public consent for imperialist aggression and full-spectrum dominance over oppressed countries.

All genuine antiwar activists must work with and promote the work of genuine solidarity campaign groups worldwide in combating and challenging the grossly misnamed ‘human rights’ industry, especially the shamelessly deceitful organisation that is Amnesty International.

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The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence

by LOUISA WILLCOX

Airedales to deter grizzly bears from coming into camp? This was one of several novel recommendations made at a recent meeting of Yellowstone grizzly bear managers in Cody, Wyoming, during a lively brainstorming session about ways to reduce human-bear conflicts. Another was establishing an academy where citizens could learn from each other by exchanging stories about successful coexistence with grizzly bears.

Indeed, despite often polarized views about grizzly bear management at this and other meetings, people have tended to agree on the need to reduce conflicts and the means of going about it, including obvious measures such as being mindful in bear country and making sure that human foods are unavailable. Even as consensus emerged regarding methods for coexisting with grizzlies, the conversation inevitably turned to funding. Everyone agreed that living with bears tends to cost money – for dumpsters, electric fence, education, and more.

During the nearly 40 years that I have observed and participated in grizzly bear management, I have heard the need for increased funding of coexistence efforts voiced time and time again, bringing together people on all sides of the grizzly bear debate. When discussions turn to real places and problems, people holding conflicting ideologies often agree on commonsense on-the-ground solutions.

Why Coexist?

It is important to remember why we are obliged to coexist with grizzlies in the first place. If nothing else, we owe it to the bears as atonement for the past lethal excesses of our European ancestors. We white people killed off nearly all the grizzly bears that once lived in the western United States in a mere blink of the eye, between 1850 and 1950. We justified this atrocity with the toxic rhetoric of Manifest Destiny. Even though our modern counterparts of autoclaving ancestors may be in a minority, they are no less deadly.

Despite growing fascination and sympathy for grizzlies among people worldwide, we humans still cause nearly 90% of all grizzly bear deaths – even under protection offered by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We literally hold the future of the Great Bear in our hands.

Indeed, who we are as humans can be measured by our willingness to share a landscape with a mere 3% of the grizzlies that once roamed at mid-latitudes of the United States. And at a time when feelings of loneliness increasingly define modern society, wild animals provide us with the opportunity to feel less isolated and self-absorbed.

Perhaps more than any other animal, grizzly bears can provide us with an unparalleled gift by commanding our attention and concentrating us in the moment. Who doesn’t hear the snap of every twig when hiking through grizzly country?

Fortunately, the vast majority of people who currently live near or among our few remaining grizzlies feel pride and curiosity rather than the venomous hostility harbored by a small minority. Moreover, figuring out how to live with these magnificent animals can be hugely gratifying.

Trash Talk in Cooke City

The tiny hamlet of Cooke City, Montana, provides an instructive example. Cooke City is on the doorstep of Yellowstone Park, and a microcosm of people with wildly different views about everything but the dates of our major holidays. Yet these people came together to solve the community’s chronic conflicts with grizzlies that had become used to foraging for garbage in their backyards.

I recall a packed meeting convened by grizzly bear managers years ago at the town’s fire hall. It began badly, with many leaning back in their chairs, arms crossed. But when a state biologist put up a map showing where he and other bear managers had killed scores of food-conditioned grizzlies bears during previous years, he was peppered with questions about particulars. People leaned forward. While everyone had stories about grizzlies in the back of garbage-filled pickups or doing backflips over a half-broken-down fence to feast in the town landfill, most did not fully appreciate the scale of the problem.

Or that a relatively simple step, such as constructing a trash compacter inside a fully enclosed building, could reduce grizzly bear deaths. Within months of the meeting, a bear-proof garbage transfer station was constructed. Clever fundraising was central. (More on the genius who figured out the funding later.) Bear conflicts plummeted.

But no one could have predicted that the facility would evolve into a community gathering place, an informal art gallery, lending library, and Good Will store. In the end, a facility that cost only $125,000 continues to save grizzly bear lives while at the same time bringing the community together on Saturday mornings to drink coffee, socialize, and look at the art on the walls.

Here and elsewhere, I have seen that when people are offered a clearly defined problem, rather than an opportunity to vent, their creative ability will be harnessed in figuring out a solution. But there is no denying that money not only helps, but is often even critical.

The Growing Money Problem

The demand for more funding to reduce conflicts with grizzlies in the Northern Rockies is mounting even as the budgets of wildlife management agencies shrink. Exacerbating current problems, grizzly bears are expanding their range in response to deteriorating habitat conditions catalyzed by climate warming, invasive species, and burgeoning numbers of people.

Moreover, shortfalls in funding to support coexistence work have been aggravated largely because managers’ prefer to dump most of their available budgets into efforts to simply count bears, with the somewhat cynical motive of ginning up an argument to remove federal protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE).

In fact, inadequate funding for coexistence work threatens to undermine hard-fought gains made during the last 40 plus years. Even officials in Yellowstone Park, which has long been the gold standard for coexistence excellence, are struggling to meet today’s challenges. At the Cody meeting, Park Service managers admitted that it will be at least another decade before they can afford to have bear-proof food safes at every campground within Park borders.

The funding needed to support coexistence work in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is outlined in an obscure appendix to the 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, a plan for managing grizzlies when federal protections are removed – as happened briefly during 2017-2018 before a federal judge reversed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting decision. The price tag for post-delisting management was estimated at roughly $5 million per year, most to support coexistence education and infrastructure. Importantly, these costs will remain the same regardless of whether the grizzly bear is listed under the Endangered Species Act or not.

A tiny footnote in the appendix shows a shortfall of roughly half a million dollars annually for conflict reduction efforts on National Forest lands alone. And the actual shortfall is almost certainly far worse, given the Forest Service’s current severe fiscal crisis.

Remarkably, an appendix outlining funding needs was dropped from the final version of the Conservation Strategy for the NCDE. This appendix that was included in a draft version of the plan showed major discrepancies between the money needed to implement the plan and any realistic assessment of available funds. Could the government be concerned that admissions of funding shortfalls might cast doubt on the wisdom of delisting?

A wiser course would be to confess these budget problems — problems that agency officials agree will worsen if grizzlies are delisted in the GYE or NCDE. Admitting the need for more money is a first step to finding creative solutions. No matter where people stands on the topic of delisting, most agree that avoiding conflicts with grizzlies is a good idea — and that coexistence costs money.

But before diving into the nitty gritty of funding needs, it is worth taking a detour to examine a critical ingredient of successful coexistence that cannot be paid for: our attitudes and capacity for empathy.

What’s Between Your Ears

Although it’s easy to get caught up in the technology and gadgetry of coexistence, I’ve found that just about all successful coexistence efforts are fundamentally rooted in curiosity about, even compassion for, grizzlies. This gets to the stories we tell about grizzlies and ourselves — “what goes on between your ears,” as my husband, bear expert Dr. David Mattson likes to say.

Clearly, people who are benevolent, willing to share space, and genuinely curious about bears — what they are doing and why — are more willing to explore ways to solve problems. I have extolled the virtues of such people in a number of essays and interviews (for example, herehere, and here).

But too many outdoor and hunting magazines try to boost sales by hyping grizzlies as “Monsters of God,” invariably accompanied by pictures of grizzlies with gaping mouths. Yet this crass fear-based exploitation of bears to make a profit is relatively new. Long before printing presses, cultures across the Northern Hemisphere told stories about our kinship with bears. One oft-told story in circumpolar cultures is about The Woman who Married a Bear — a story, at root, about the power of love and co-creation between humans and grizzlies.

Nonetheless, even a relatively few well-armed and hostile people can kill lots of grizzlies in short order. That is why we need laws like the ESA to prevent an anti-bear minority from depriving the rest of us our legitimate desire to have thriving grizzly bear populations. Strong and vigorously-enforced laws are often the only way to curb bad actors.

Returning to Cooke City, I saw one particularly problematic restaurant owner there who fed leftovers to grizzlies to thrill tourists finally stop this deadly practice after a federal law enforcement officer threatened to impose a stiff fine. There is often no substitute for laws like the ESA to change the behaviors of a recalcitrant few.

Moreover, ESA protections bring other benefits. For one, more funding is available to government managers as well as to private individuals to support proactive measures that promote coexistence.

Not a Subway Franchise

Last summer, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, a conservative, and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a liberal, cosponsored the “Promoting Resourceful and Effective Deterrents Against Threats Or Risks involving Species (PREDATORS) Act” (S. 2194). This legislation would award prizes for technological innovations that foster coexistence between people and carnivores – another example of bipartisan appeal. In his submitted testimony, David provided a helpful framework for thinking about grizzly bear coexistence.

David broke down the challenge according to types of landscapes and types of involved people. For example, residents in the booming Flathead Valley can avoid conflicts by carefully storing food and attractants, including keeping domestic animals indoors at night, using bear-resistant dumpsters, deploying electric fencing around chicken coops, and removing bird feeders during summer. Since a sloppy neighbor can lure bears into a neighborhood with garbage and create trouble next door, coexistence efforts are more effective if undertaken at the scale of a watershed or a broader landscape.

Similar principles apply to managing attractants on private agricultural lands. One of the most successful examples of coexistence on ranchlands is the oft-featured Blackfoot Challenge in Montana. Here ranchers reduced conflicts by over 80% using a combination of measures that included prompt removal of dead livestock, disposal of carcasses in a composting facility, and widespread deployment of electric fencing around calving areas and residences.

On public rangelands, proven practices include close monitoring and low-stress management of livestock to avoid attracting grizzlies to the anxious bawling of agitated cattle. In some cases, as with the helpless domestic sheep that grizzlies find to be irresistibly attractive, conflicts are intractable and the only feasible solution is closure of the allotment. Nonetheless, during recent years conflicts in the GYE over cattle on grazing allotments have been on the rise. Most of this increase can be attributed to collapse of important native grizzly bear foods such as whitebark pine and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. To compensate, grizzlies are turning to eating more meat, unfortunately including cows. As a consequence, proactive and vigilant husbandry practices are more important than ever.

Roads can also escalate conflicts between bears and people by facilitating access for poachers, as well as people who are just simply unprepared to encounter a grizzly bear. Moreover, roads fragment habitat by displacing bears, which is why the Forest Service moved to limit the extent of road networks. But off-road vehicle users can easily circumvent often poorly designed road closures. And as mountain bike use increases, so can dangerous encounters between bears and bikers moving silently at high speeds.

On heavily-trafficked transportation corridors we are seeing a sharp increase in deadly bear collisions involving both cars and trains. Train collisions in particular have mounted along the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad in the NCDE, where a record 8 grizzlies were killed by trains during 2019. Much more needs to be done to develop a system of wildlife overpasses and underpasses, expanding on pioneering work along Highway 93 in the Mission Valley by the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes and Montana Department of Transportation.

Today, conflicts with big game hunters on public lands are a leading cause of mortality in the GYE. Equipped with exceptional noses, grizzlies can smell animals killed by hunters many miles away and are even orienting towards gunshots as figurative dinner bells. Conflicts with hunters have predictable ingredients, including surprise encounters, contestation of carcasses, and availability of attractants at camps. Also, in Wyoming and Idaho black bear hunters routinely misidentify and kill grizzlies. Carrying bear pepper spray, quickly removing big game from the field, and keeping clean camps are a sampler of proven ways to reduce these conflicts.

In the end, no one size fits all. Different practices are appropriate to different landscapes, different participants, and different social contexts. In the words of a friend who specializes in coexistence with large carnivores: “coexistence is not a Subway franchise.”

Coexistence Midwives

People tend to gravitate toward technofixes, but there is no substitute for specialists who can navigate the sometimes fraught arena between people and bears. In the case of Cooke City, Dan Tyers of the Gallatin National Forest was the creative genius who found the funding for the trash compactor. Of all places, he found the money in mitigation funds related to the reconstruction of the Beartooth Highway that runs through Cooke City, that were then matched by the local County and local donations. With roots in the community and an aw-shucks demeaner, Dan brought people along. In the end, they owned the project and had pride in the result. Indeed, all the coexistence successes I know of are born by an adept government “midwife.”

Yes, nonprofit organizations do what they can to educate the public and underwrite the costs of coexistence infrastructure, but they too lack adequate resources. Importantly, they lack the legal authority necessary to intervene in conflict situations.

As a grizzly bear advocate for several nonprofit organizations, I was most successful in advancing coexistence when partnering with skilled agency practitioners. Which gets to the meaning of “skill”, which here is more art than science, and necessarily honed on the job. You simply can’t study wildlife management and, from that, know much about resolving conflicts with large carnivores when you graduate. Many who study wildlife management prefer animals to people. These folks may make good researchers but are less likely to shine when trying to promote coexistence in an arena that is fundamentally defined by people skills.

A sense of humor also helps. When Jamie Jonkel, bear specialist with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, called a year beset by conflicts “Bear-Mageddon,” people in the neighborhood smiled as they double-checked their dumpsters.

Skilled practitioners are gems who can be as endangered as the species they are trying to save. And the work can be thankless. Even the best can burn out, exhausted from long days, panicked phone calls from landowners, lack of support from higher-ups, and grief over killing bears because people behaved badly.

Today, agency coexistence practitioners often rely on “soft money” that is discretionary and less assured than funds supporting researchers who merely count bears – an activity seen by agency higher-ups as essential to serving the political agenda of delisting. Shortfalls in funding are most pronounced in the vast Selway-Bitterroot region where grizzlies have started to reappear after being extirpated over 60 years ago and in the landscapes between these ecosystems that are vital to reconnecting our long-isolated Northern Rockies grizzly bear populations. Clearly more funding for coexistence in these landscapes is urgently needed.

It is time to move away from wasteful, polarizing, and unjustified government campaigns to delist grizzlies. Instead, we need to focus on efforts that bring communities together to foster coexistence. Our major challenges inescapably involve finding enough funding, building support for coexistence, and enforcing laws that help keep grizzlies alive. This is a tall order, but so too are the rewards: ensuring that future generations can see a wild grizzly in the American West.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of intriguing ideas, from an academy for those interested in learning more about coexistence to using Airedale dogs to deter grizzlies.

Posted in Campaigns, EnvironmentComments Off on The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence

Ideology or Popularity: How Will Britain Vote?

by SAMEER DOSSANI

Photograph Source: It’s No Game – CC BY 2.0

It’s not news that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a popular figure.

It’s also not news that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies are hugely popular with the British public.

Why should the first of these appear to matter more than the second?

The answer, of course lies in something that we’ve known for a long time. The British press cater to elites. In fairness this is just how the press works. As Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman point out in their classic Manufacturing Consent, Western media function on the basis of a propaganda model. Media companies make money through advertising, which makes more money by catering to wealthy audiences. The result of this is a huge bias in favor of elite opinion. Since Thatcher effectively won the argument against anything that might actually be accountable to the people rather than to the pounds sterling, this logic dominates not just private media, but public media and even other institutions like universities and political parties. That extends to the Labour party, or at least it’s Blairite wing.

Which is precisely why the rise of Jeremy Corbyn is so interesting. And so dangerous, at least to some people.

The anti-Corbyn tactics are telling. They indicate a kind of desperation. Unlike the Blairite wing of the party, Corbyn’s Labour is proposing measures that would push back on the kind of predatory global capitalism that has been on the rise. Among them are slowing and reversing the privatisation of the NHS, scrapping user fees for education, and funding a Green New Deal to live up to Britain’s climate change commitments.

In a democracy, these proposals would be the subject of debate. To the extent that the Conservative party represents any ideology it is still Thatcherite neoliberalism, and so the counter arguments would be fairly clear – privatization is good because free markets are good; governments, like families, need to cut budgets so they don’t spend more than they earn; and trade liberalization makes the world go round. As economists like Ha-Joon Chang of Cambridge have pointed out, these arguments have never been true. The only way countries develop, is by violating the rules of neoliberal capitalism. And after the worldwide collapse of global capitalism in 2008, followed by a decade of punishing the victims of predatory capitalism for the failures of capitalism, the vague references to Adam Smith ring hollow.

So the Tories are in the uncomfortable position of having to defend unpopular policies based on transparent falsehoods. What’s their answer to this problem? Somewhat surprisingly, their answer appears to be “socialism lite”. Their manifesto boasts of delivering 50,000 more nurses for the NHS, a claim they immediately walked back when it turned out that 19,000 of those nurses are already in the NHS. A couple of weeks after the election was announced, Boris Johnson scrapped plans to decrease corporate taxes, a measure which he then tried to link to increased spending on public services. Apart from their demand that the disastrous Brexit referendum of 2016 must be implemented no matter the cost (and despite that fact that no one knew what they were voting for), there’s not much to separate the logic underlying the Tory proposals from that of their Labour rivals.

Politically speaking, one would have to conclude that the Conservative party has lost the ideological argument. No one, including their own ministers, is defending its legacy. So why does it still seem likely to win this week’s election?

The secret to the Tories’ possible success seems to be to focus less on the issues, and not at all on their own leader (who can’t be bothered to turn up for an interview or a debate). Instead, they are focusing on Labour’s unpopular leader. And the odd thing is that it seems to be working.

The muckraking includes calling Corbyn an anti-semite, but it doesn’t stop there. (Somehow the fact that Boris Johnson has a habit of making racist comments is irrelevant; Labour is an anti-racist party and therefore must be held to a higher standard.) A new book by Tom Bower paints a portrait of a power hungry anti-semite who regularly hangs out with Muslim extremists. Anyone with an ounce of sense will struggle to find the Labour leader in this description; for his part Bower had the sense not to source his allegations so there’s no way to check up on which of these might be true and which are blatant fabrications. For anyone interested, Peter Osborn has a thorough debunking.

The advantage of mudslinging is that it sometimes sticks. Many British voters can’t say exactly why they don’t like Corbyn, but they know that they don’t like him. Even if these allegations were defendable, Corbyn’s Labour party has effectively won the debate on austerity. Both parties are promising to protect the NHS from privatization, but only one party is actually selling NHS data to private companies like Amazon. That should matter a lot more than whether or not the British public would like to go on holiday with Jeremy Corbyn.

Whatever the outcome, this is one of the most fascinating elections on record. Arguments for the status quo – that the rich should see the biggest gains when capitalism works and the poor should pay when it doesn’t – aren’t working. Demonization of one’s opponents has always been a part of electoral politics, but in this election that’s pretty much the only tactic in play, at least for the Tories. Their victory would be a huge triumph of the British propaganda system. It would also be a huge failure for democracy.

Posted in UKComments Off on Ideology or Popularity: How Will Britain Vote?

Popular Theatre as Cultural Resistance: Engaging Audiences Worldwide

By Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

“Primarily, I am a prose writer with axes to grind, and the theatre is a good place to do the grinding in. I prefer comedy to ‘serious’ drama because I believe one can get the ax sharper on the comedic stone.” – Gore Vidal

“The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.” – Stella Adler

“When the play ends, what begins? Seeking conscientization: awareness leading to action” – Sarah Thornton

Introduction

The importance of theatre is demonstrated by the prevalence and variety of forms it takes both locally and globally in society today.  Indeed, over the centuries theatre has played an important sociological and ideological role. It has been used both by communities and elites to propagate and spread ideas for the consolidation of society (Morality plays), for social improvement (Neo-Classical plays) as well as instigating and promoting revolutionary ideas (Brechtian theatre).

In many places theatre is funded by states through state theatres – playing national repertoires as well as showing international plays translated and/or modernised.  However, it will be argued that as political and economic crises grow, so does the widening gap between two forms: community and state theatre. The global economic crisis has seen theatre once more developing into a useful community tool for highlighting important local issues (e.g. policing) and global issues (e.g. climate change) in many different ways (such as mass demonstrations and public squares). It will also be argued that, in general, the state deals with any upsurge in popular resistance by attempting to appropriate radical working class culture into preexisting structures to neutralise opposition. As with other art-forms, the influence of Enlightenment and Romantic ideas can still be felt today.

I will look at the development of general movements in theatre from the seventeenth century: beginning with neoclassical theatre as an Enlightenment reaction to Restoration bawdiness, the influence of Romanticism, the rise of Realism, political theatre of the 1930s leading to the Documentary theatre of recent decades, and the contrasting ideology of state and community theatres of contemporary society.

Village feast with theatre performance, artist from the circle of Pieter Bruegel the younger – central part of painting by unknown Flemish master

15-18th Centuries – Neo-Classicism v Medievalism

Medieval theatre was mainly religious and moral in its themes, staging and traditions, emerging around 1400 and developing until 1550. Theatre was an ideal way to solve the difficulties of spreading the faith to a largely illiterate population. Certain biblical events were dramatised for feast days and performed by priests. In England there were many mystery plays such as the York Mystery Plays, the Chester Mystery Plays and the Wakefield Mystery Plays.

Around the middle of the sixteenth century began English Renaissance theatre which was based on the rediscovery and imitation of classical works. Playhouses were established and became the sites for the production of plays by playwrights such as William Shakespeare (1564–1616), Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) and Ben Jonson (1572–1637). Genres of the period included the history play, tragedy and comedy, including satirical comedies.

All a far cry from biblical stories and Christian morality: the classical influence bringing the subject matter down to earth.

Reconstruction of the theatre of Dionysus in Athens, in Roman times.

This period lasted until the ban on theatrical plays enacted by the English Parliament in 1642.

This ban, effected by the Puritans, lasted 18 years and ended in 1660 and the theatres were reopened. The strict moral codes of the Puritans were upended and comedies became the predominant mark of Restoration plays. These plays were a form of social commentary – recurring themes were cuckolding, shaming, seduction and the inversion of wealth, class and property. However these themes also represented the upper class who tended to make up the typical audience (unlike the Morality plays) especially as most ordinary people could not afford the price of admission.

Restoration comedies were seen by many as bawdy, and neoclassical theatre was a reaction to the decadence of these Charles II era productions. Neoclassical writers advocated a return to the values and conventions of classical Greek drama. They believed that previous styles put far too much emphasis on emotions and the individual and looked to the classical style for inspiration on how to get people to see society in a more positive, collective manner by encouraging virtuous behavior. The Neo-Classical attitude could be seen in the humanism of the plot lines which encouraged the audience to empathise with the characters rather than laugh at them. The rise of sentimental comedy reflected the Enlightenment idea that without emotion, imagination and sympathy people would not be able to have the moral feelings that lead to our general ideas of justice and virtue.

The Neo-Classicists developed a set of guidelines for the theatre, for example, they:“included five basic rules: purity of form, five acts, verisimilitude or realism, decorum and purpose. Play houses generally rejected scripts or productions that did not meet these requirements. Playwrights and actors in the Neoclassical period officially recognized just two types of plays: comedy and tragedy. They never mixed these together, and the restriction led to use of the now well-known pair of happy and sad masks that symbolize the theatrical arts. […] Comedies, which were either satires or comedies of manners, tended to focus on the lower ranks of society, while tragedies portrayed the complex and fateful lives of the upper classes and royals.”

19th Century – Romantic reaction and the rise of Realism

The growth of Romanticism in Germany and France eventually affected writing for the theatre as romantic nationalism and a growing interest in a return to medievalist faith in feeling and instinct as a guide to moral behavior. These two opposing philosophies of Neo-Classicism (Enlightenment ideas rooted in science and reason) and Romanticism (based on feeling and faith) eventually clashed in France where the Comédie Française maintained a strong Neo-classical hold over the repertory.

The tensions between the two opposing outlooks eventually resulted in conflict. On the night of the premiere of the drama Hernani by Victor Hugo (1802–1885) in 1830, riots erupted. They became known as the “battle of Hernani“, whereby:“The large crowd that attended the premiere was full of conservatives and censors who booed the show for disobeying the classical norms and who wanted to stop the performance from going forward. But Hugo organized a Romantic Army of bohemian and radical writers to ensure that the opening would have to go ahead. The resulting riot represented the rejection in France of the classical traditions and the triumph of Romanticism.”

Hugo’s Romantic army of writers and artists attacked Classicist positions and called for “Down with theories and systems! Let us tear away the old lath-and-plaster hiding the face of art! There are neither rules nor models; or, rather, no rules but the general laws of Nature!”

Premiere of the drama Hernani by Victor Hugo in 1830

This triumph of Romanticism meant move away from structure and realism and the rise of a more personalised, individualistic philosophy looking inwards to the self, not to mention an irrational rejection of progress and a return to medieval ideas of faith and hierarchy.

By the 1870s political events and social reforms led to the popularity of the Realist movement and a rejection of Romantic idealism. The Realist movement began in the mid-19th century as a reaction to the irrationalism of Romanticism. However, it was also a reaction to neoclassicism which had become elitist and aristocratic in its assumption of knowledge of Greek and Roman history and myth. The Realists returned to basic ideas of equality, influenced by the French revolution and the Utopian Socialists. Realist ideas had a profound affect on both the theatre and its audiences:“The achievement of realism in the theatre was to direct attention to the social and psychological problems of ordinary life. In its dramas, people emerge as victims of forces larger than themselves, as individuals confronted with a rapidly accelerating world.”

Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), the Norwegian playwright, is known as the “Father of Realism” and he wanted a theatre that was closer in style to real life on the stage. Ibsen attacked middle class society’s values and his plays were based on unconventional subjects, e.g., euthanasia, the role of women, war and business, and syphilis. In A Doll’s House, Ibsen questions the roles of men (main provider of the family, public image) and women (limited education) in marriage and society, as well as showing poverty and failed relationships. Realism offered a new type of drama, one in which the public and society could relate to. Ibsen developed the form of the Well-Made play:“1. Soliloquies and asides were discarded
2. Exposition in the plays was motivated
3. Causally related scenes
4. Inner psychological motivation was emphasized
5. Recognition of environmental influences
6. Acknowledgement of socio-economic milieu”

He encouraged a style of dialogue which would be more realistic and easier to understand. However, what Realism did have in common with Neo-Classicism was the desire to make theatre more useful in the progressive development of society:“The mainstream theatre from 1859 to 1900 was still bound up in melodramas, spectacle plays (disasters, etc.), comic operas, and vaudevilles.[…] Technological advances were also encouraged by industry and trade, leading to an increased belief that science could solve human problems. But the working classes still had to fight for every increase in rights: unionization and strikes became the principal weapons workers would use after the 1860s—but success came only from costly work stoppages and violence. In other words there seems to be rejection of Romantic idealism; pragmatism reigned instead. The common man seemed to feel that he needed to be recognized, and people asserted themselves through action.”

Other writers in the Realistic form include George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) in England and Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) in Russia. Shaw made fun of society’s norms for the purpose of educating and changing society. He used witty humor to present contemporary views and the showed their consequences putting forward his own ideas. Chekhov’s plays concentrated on psychological reality showing people trapped in social situations and having hope in hopeless situations.

20th Century and Modernism

The influence of Realism continued into the twentieth century where it morphed into different forms such as Naturalism and Socialist realism. Meanwhile the Romantic influence on Modernism could be seen in the characteristic emphasis on an internal life of dreams and fantasies in Symbolist theatre and in the subjective perceptions of reality in Expressionist theatre in Germany.

Realism, on the other hand, flourished in Russia where Konstantin Stanislavski (1863–1938) and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko (1858–1943) founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1897. Both were committed to the idea of a popular theatre. Stanislavski developed “psychological realism” which differed from his own Naturalistic early stagings:

“Naturalism, for him, implied the indiscriminate reproduction of the surface of life. Realism, on the other hand, while taking its material from the real world and from direct observation, selected only those elements which revealed the relationships and tendencies under the surface. The rest was discarded.”

Stanislavski and Olga Knipper as Rakitin and Natalya in Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country (1909).

The revolt against theatrical artifice with Realism and later Naturalism produced a new type of theatre which made Stanislavski famous and his theatre very successful. Later in the 1930s Stanislavski’s method would become an important element in the Socialist Realist ideology introduced by the USSR Union of Writers in the mid 1930s. The aim of Stanislavski’s method was ultimately to absorb the audience completely in the fictional world of the play.

The contemporary playwright, Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) in Germany, reacted to this method which he believed was ‘escapist’ as he felt that any radical content would be blunted, that catharsis would leave the audience complacent. However, Stanislavski believed the audience would observe and learn from the action on stage (using the dialectics of thesis/antithesis/synthesis) in an updated politicised Neo-Classicism. If action proceeded from awareness then the audience would not be complacent but would achieve catharsis through political action instead.

Brecht, in the Modernist fashion, developed what he called Epic theatre which sought to historicize and address social and political issues. He used innovative techniques, one of which he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as ‘defamiliarization effect’, ‘distancing effect’, or ‘estrangement effect’). To do this, “Brecht employed techniques such as the actor’s direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense in rehearsals, and speaking the stage directions out loud.”

The contrast between the Stanislaviski’s and Brecht’s methods show very differing attitudes to the audience capacity for understanding and assimilating the content of a play. Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) used this effect by speaking directly to the audience at the end of his film The Great Dictator, which some believe led to a decrease in his popularity. The audience may feel that the actors are speaking down to them, or insisting on radical action without first knowing and understanding all aspects of the issue being presented. It has to be questioned whether it is necessary to ‘knock people out of their complacency’ and to give an audience credit for their ability to understand the message solely from the action on stage. The Modernist experimentation with forms also led to elite forms of culture such as James Joyce’s (1882–1941) Finnegans Wake as the ultimate indigestible example.

Photograph of Mother Courage and the dead Kattrin (Internationalist Theatre)

As the century wore on other types of political theatre emerged such as the differing forms of Documentary theatre of the 1960s and 1970s. This style of theatre “uses pre-existing documentary material (such as newspapers, government reports, interviews, journals, and correspondences) as source material for stories about real events and people, frequently without altering the text in performance. The genre typically includes or is referred to as verbatim theatre, investigative theatre, theatre of fact, theatre of witness, autobiographical theatre, and ethnodrama.”

While the presentation of pre-existing material may seem dry and undramatic, it was the partisan interpretation and presentation of the material which gives it its artistic power. In other words, its Realist, rather than Naturalist, interpretation made all the difference to what may appear to be a Naturalist form (i.e. using material verbatim).

Another type of alternative theatre which emerged in the late twentieth century (though in some countries it has been around a lot longer) is Community theatre. It refers to a style of theatre which exists in the community itself and can be created entirely by the community, as a collaboration between the community and professionals or put on by professionals especially for that community. Ideologically it can have a vary wide outreach and can be seen:“to contribute to the social capital of a community, insofar as it develops the skills, community spirit, and artistic sensibilities of those who participate, whether as producers or audience-members. It is used as a tool for social development, promoting ideas like gender equality, human rights, environment and democracy. Most of the community theatre practices have been developed based on the philosophy of education theorist Paulo Freire’s approach of critical pedagogy in theatre and implementation techniques built by Augusto Boal, known as Theatre of the Oppressed.”

Paulo Freire’s (1921–1997) method was to promote social change by getting the audience to participate in critical thinking through dialogue, identifying concerns, solutions and examining different perspectives. The plays would be performed “on streets, public places, in traditional meeting spaces, schools, prisons, or other institutions, inviting an alternative and often spontaneous audience to watch.”

Freire’s approach attempted to stimulate social change by encouraging the audience to build capacities for critical thinking through participation in active dialogue. The participants would identify issues of concerns and discuss possible solutions, with an enhanced tolerance for different perspectives with regard to the same problem. Such plays are then rarely performed in traditional playhouses but rather staged “on streets, public places, in traditional meeting spaces, schools, prisons, or other institutions, inviting an alternative and often spontaneous audience to watch.”

Augusto Boal’s (1931–2009) approach also breaks down the ‘invisible wall’ between actors and audience but the difference being that the audience determines the action on stage not the playwright. For example, Boal writes:

“The spectators feel that they can intervene in the action. The action ceases to be presented in a deterministic manner, as something inevitable, as Fate. Man is Man’s fate. Thus Man-the-spectator is the creater of Man-the-character. Everything is subject to criticism, to rectification. All can be changed, and at a moment’s notice: the actors must always be ready to accept, without protest, any proposed action; they must simply act it out, to give a live view of its consequences and drawbacks.” [1]

Augusto Boal presenting his workshop on the Theatre of the Oppressed. Riverside Church, May 13, 2008.

21st Century – State Theatre v Community Theatre

In the twenty-first century State Theatre and Community Theatre exist side by side but as the global economic crisis deepens the traditional repertoire of the State theatre may seem to become out-dated and distant from social issues.

Community theatre is a form which, like the ballad form in music, is capable of tackling and analysing contemporary issues in a very short period of time. However, the tendency of the state is to try to absorb all opposition into its own conservative narrative and ‘de-fang’ it. This tendency is discussed by the poet Fran Lock in detail:“This matters, because the people traditionally holding the purse strings, controlling the presses; the people responsible for funding us and publishing us, are the same power elites who decide what constitutes a valid working-class voice, and an acceptable working-class identity. Arts Council England, for example, has nothing to gain from supporting people and projects who challenge or threaten their traditional business model, and most major publishers are wary of a working-class poetics that openly and explicitly acknowledges the politics of its own oppression. To have your work “out there” in any meaningful sense, to secure the invaluable financial assistance by which a creative project lives or dies, is to accept that your work, and that you, as a person, will be mediated, filtered and enmeshed, by and in the machinery of a grossly unequal hierarchy. By this method we are compromised. We tailor and shape our voices and ourselves to fit their image of us, and our working-classness is depoliticised and de-fanged through an act of caricature. By this mechanism is the triumph of working-class representation transformed into the tool by which working-class participation in the arts is edited, eroded and policed.”

A street play (nukkad natak) in Dharavi slums in Mumbai.

Another important aspect which she alludes to is the problem of monolithism (‘shape[ing] our voices and ourselves to fit their image of us’) which is the way dissent can be silenced by portraying minority groups as being made up of similar people all sharing similar views. As Kenan Malik writes:“Multiculturalists tend to treat minority communities as if each was a distinct, singular, homogenous, authentic whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. In so doing, they all too often ignore conflicts within those communities. All the dissent and diversity gets washed out. As a result, the most progressive voices often gets silenced as not being truly of that community or truly authentic, while the most conservative voices get celebrated as community leaders, the authentic voices of minority groups.”

These are the kinds of difficulties community theatre faces, in particular, problems which are more accentuated where access is provided by a State theatre. However, in the streets, manipulation or outright censorship/rejection is much more difficult. And like the original Morality plays, the community theatre may have an ideological aspect which is equally difficult to moderate.

The Romantic/Modernist influence can still be seen in ‘mainstream’ [non-community theatre] in the emphasis on (formal) experimentation over (sociopolitical) content in projections of the future of theatre, for example:“We can see the seeds of theatre’s future coming from three directions. Firstly, in the experimental works in the new theatre groups and companies, which may we call; off the existing established theatres. Secondly, in the rise of theatrical movements originated from the experimental works were done in the last century. Thirdly, in the works of few established theatres – and here we stress the word ’few’ – these works mainly done by some daring directors.”

However, not all writers are blind to the growing sociopolitical and economic crises developing globally, as one writer notes:“The future predictions of trends in theatres. Well, it is true that technology has really affected theatres in terms of audience attendance and also changes in the overall appearance of the live performances in order to attract more audiences but will there be changes in the 21st-century trends in the cinema industry? Well, experts project the following changes in future: Need for community and people interactions will lead more people to the theatres. The increase in smaller theatres located in all parts of the country to attract more people to the theatres. Younger directors and actors will ensure more performances in the smaller theatres and the main focus will be on issues, news, and concerns of the immediate community.”

Thus, it can be seen there are mixed opinions on the future of ‘official’ theatre based in large and small theatres. It could be speculated that the ‘small theatre’ end and community-based theatre would be set for conflict as the professional and the amateur clash over what is to be portrayed and how, particularly if the issues raised and their resolution are perceived from widely differing ideological perspectives.

Conclusion

Throughout the last four centuries theatre has been pushed and pulled in many directions. It has been used by cliques for their own class entertainment. It has been forced many times in the direction of benefiting the greater good and dragged back again to serve elite agendas. However, the importance of theatre for examining social, political and more recently animal and climate issues, in an immediate and negotiable way, will ensure that theatre as a mirror of society will be a difficult form for the state to control.

Posted in Politics, WorldComments Off on Popular Theatre as Cultural Resistance: Engaging Audiences Worldwide

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