Festivals/ Events

Festivals/ Events (23)

This section contains previews, reviews etc. of arts and cultural festivals and similar special events.

Burns Unbroke

Burns Unbroke

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Picture: Calum Colvin, Portrait after Archibald Skirving.

Burns Unbroke opens on 25 January 2018 at Summerhall in Edinburgh. This new, contemporary, multi-arts festival will celebrate the variety of artistic and performing practices currently on offer in Scotland, and beyond, through the prism offered by new interpretations of the life and work of Robert Burns. The inspiration for the title comes from the epigraph, which Burns marked as ‘anon’, printed at the beginning of his first poetry collection, the Kilmarnock edition, published in 1786.

The festival‘s innovative visual arts programme features over 30 visual artists and there will be newly commissioned work by four Scottish based artists. In addition, the programme of events includes an Alternative Burns Night, spoken word performances, children’s performances and a tailor made programme of music. Interdisciplinarity is at the heart of this project and new synergies will be offered to a diverse audience, providing a unique experience of contemporary interpretations of Scotland’s national bard.

An advisory panel has been appointed for Burns Unbroke: Gerry Carruthers (Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow), Calum Colvin (Professor of Contemporary Art Practice, Dundee University), Pete Irvine (Founder of Unique Events) and Emma Nicolson (Director, Atlas Arts).

Burns Unbroke will take place at Summerhall where the visual art will be on display in 11 galleries for six weeks, from 25 January – 10 March 2018, with the majority of performance events focussed around the weekend of 26-28 January. The exhibitions will be open to the public, Tuesdays to Sundays, throughout the six weeks and entry is free.

Burns Unbroke is a partnership between Sheilagh Tennant of artruist and Summerhall, Edinburgh’s most exciting new centre for visual and performing arts, best known for its innovative Fringe programmes.

The prime aims of Burns Unbroke will be to highlight the continuing relevance of Burns’s words and the remarkable extent of his influence as well as attracting/inspiring new, younger audiences.

Burns Unbroke runs from 25 January to 10 March 2018 @Summerhall, Edinburgh. See https://www.artruist.com/


Russian Revolution Centenary: Marking 100 Years Since the October Revolution

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Culture Matters is pleased to support the international, one-day conference on the October Revolution organised by the Russian Revolution Centenary Committee, which takes place in London on 4 November 2017. The full programme has been announced and includes sessions on:

An introduction to the history of the Russian Revolution

The impact of Russian revolutionary politics on British society and the labour movement

International perspectives on the contemporary relevance of the Russian Revolution

The art and cinema of the Revolution.


Speakers include:

Tosh McDonald – President, ASLEF

Andrew Murray – Chief of Staff, Unite the Union.

Mike Wayne – academic, educationalist, filmmaker, activist and cultural theorist.Professor in Screen Media, Brunel University.

Sarah Badcock – historian of Imperial and revolutionary Russia, author ‘A prison without walls? Eastern Siberian exile in the last years of Tsarism’

Mary Davis – women’s and labour movement historian, author ‘Sylvia Pankhurst: A Life in Radical Politics’, founder Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee

Aleida Guevara – paediatrician, Cuban revolutionary, Angolan medical mission veteran, and daughter of Che Guevara

David Lane – leading academic and writer on USSR, state socialism, Marxism and class

Christine Lindey – pioneering art historian, Morning Star arts critic, author ‘Art in the Cold War: from Vladivostok to Kalamazoo’

Richard Leonard, MSP – Labour Party’s frontbench spokesperson on the economy in the Scottish Parliament

Vijay Prashad – historian, editor LeftWord Books, author ‘No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism’

Brinda Karat – MP for West Bengal Communist Party of India (Marxist), former student activist and trade union organiser, leading Indian women’s movement activist

Teresita Vicente de Sotalongo – Cuban Ambassador in London

Adrian Weir – labour movement historian, Asst Chief of Staff, Unite

Johanna Scheringer-Wright – MP for Thuringia and German Left Party (Die Linke) member

Vyacheslav Tetekin – veteran of Soviet solidarity with African liberation movements, former MP Russian Duma CP of Russian Federation, member of editorial board of Sovetskaya Rossiya (Soviet Russia)

Full details and tickets are available from: Russian Revolution Centenary Conference

Spark - A Festival of Revolutionary Film

still from October 1928

As part of the centenary, the programme includes a film festival, which takes place at two of London's most renowned independent cinemas: the Phoenix and the Rio. It features classics of early Soviet cinema by Pudovkin, Eisenstein and Vertov. Beatty’s Reds will also be shown as a unique and daring Hollywood film about the Revolution.

Film's potential as a tool to explain and win support for the Revolution was recognised early on by young communist filmmakers. One hundred years on, this festival celebrates the lasting international impact of Soviet cinema. 

Screenings take place on eight consecutive Sundays from 24 September. Ticket are just £10/8 and can be purchased through the host cinemas. Full listings can be found on the  Russian Revolution Centenary Committee's website: Spark Film Festival. A preview of the festival by John Green is available here: Spark Illuminates Russian Revolution

Making an Art of Revolution

Making an Art of Revolution

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Mark Perryman invites us to put on our dancing shoes and celebrate the October 1917 centenary.

To coin a phrase ‘How do you solve a problem like VI Lenin?’ As the centenary of the October revolution fast approaches, the interesting if often deeply flawed exhibtions mounted by the Royal Academy, the British Library and the Design Museum will be cleared away and we will see the politics take centre stage. We’ve already had an inkling of what to expect with the aftermath from Charlottesville, which sparked the moral equivalence brigade and their your-communism-was-just-as-bad-as-their-Nazism so yah-boo-sucks efforts at intellectual debate.

Much of this is easy enough to dismiss and oppose. However, if in doing so we tie ourselves up in left-wing hagiography then I’m not sure how far we advance our cause either. Lenin remains, of course, the most superb tactician of revolutionary change, and deserves every credit for that. He was the leader of an insurrectionary mass movement who in the process laid the basis for an entirely new society. There are precious few political figures from the twentieth century who can match Lenin’s achievements.

Except for the most embittered of anti-communists, none of that should be controversial. The difficulties occur on our side when the tactics, leadership, and new society of Lenin are wrenched out of all context, or as theorists prefer, out of the ‘conjuncture’, to propose a politics of mimicry rather than adaptation to the conditions we face. This is hardly a new debate either, the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci first raised this precise issue in the 1920s when he made the distinction between the revolution as a war of manoeuvre versus the war of position.

So a century on, how to celebrate 1917? It would be nice to get it right, after all precious few of us are going to be around for the bicentenary! The imperative of revolutionary change, notwithstanding this conjuncture or that, remains unchanged, and thus makes the best starting point. A notion summed up best by the title John Reed’s epic account of October 1917, Ten Days that Shook the World. An ideal so good that neither Hollywood nor Warren Beatty were able to destroy the message and instead produced a rather decent film version, Reds.

1917 served to inspire across the entire spectrum of the arts. Music, poetry, architecture, design, theatre, fashion, literature, film – has there ever been such a moment where such great art was shaped out of revolution? A revolutionary imperative that not only inspired, but recognised that to flourish these artists, writers, designers, poets would need the space to express this imperative in their own terms, not as servants of the revolution but in its service.

This first made sense to me in the mid 1980s, when the Crafts Council hosted a London exhibition ‘ Art into Production: Soviet Textiles, Fashion and Ceramics, 1917-1935’. The vivid colours, the variety of shapes, the ever-presence of a sense of movement with a purpose caught my eye and I’ve never forgotten it.

Shortly after and the era of Gorbachev, Glasnost and Perestroika meant a much wider re-assessment of Soviet power on the world stage, the beginning of the end of what had threatened to become a new cold war. And this was reflected too in a popular appropriation of ‘Bolshevik chic’. Harmless enough in intent, broadly well-meaning but pretty much devoid of political content, there goes that conjuncture again.

And so where do we end up for October 2017? In post-Soviet Russia Putin will seek no doubt to represent 1917 as indicative of the might of his Greater Russia nationalism. This was the era of the USSR after all, a nation on a scale that Putin today can only dream of. Meanwhile across what used to be thought of as the West, parties of social democracy are suffering a phenomenon the writer and activist James Doran has described as Pasokification, a steep decline in support following these parties’ embrace of the neoliberal consensus.

In Greece PASOK has suffered the steepest fall of all but elsewhere in France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Irish Republic, social-democratic parties have not only declined but faced an insurgent challenge from the Left too. None of this amounts to 1917 revisited, but chimes nonetheless with the inspirational motives of radical change.

In Britain the picture is different. Because the insurgency has come from within the party of social democracy itself, led by a rank outsider and serial rebel, Jeremy Corbyn. Labour of course is not about to become a revolutionary party. It has never been one and will never turn into one. But the sense that a party set on winning parliamentary power can co-exist with the ambition of reinventing itself as a social movement is increasingly prevalent as the defining characteristic of Corbynism.

Finding a way to mix all this together for a 1917 centenary night out is no mean feat. But Philosophy Football, with the help of the RMT, are doing that at London’s Rich Mix Arts Centre on Saturday 21st October. Described by Time Out as ‘The Sex Pistols of Balkan Brass’, The Trans-Siberian March band headline with a special Shostakovich-inspired set. Michael Rosen reviews how 1917 produced a wave of childrens’ books at the time. Rosy Carrick performs extracts and interpretations of the brand new translation of Mayakovsky’s epic poem Lenin which she recently edited.

And Des Kapital, the surprise hit of the Edinburgh fringe, recalls the events of the Russian Revolution via the songs of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Robbie Williams – a history lesson like none other, complete with audience singalongs! Add author of Landscapes of Communism, Owen Hatherley and Eldina Begic creator of the Comradettes clothing project to Richard Seymour author of Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics on the spirit of revolution – and be prepared to expect the unexpected.

Art out of Revolution is at Rich Mix, East London Saturday 21st October. Tickets from Philosophy Football.

MP 2 TSMB Promo Pics 300DPI

Counter-cultural art to change the world

Counter-cultural art to change the world

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Chris Jury explains why he's inspired by a new generation of artists taking on the artistic and political establishments.

I’ve been working at the intersection between politics and popular culture since the mid-1970s and, for all those four decades, people have been saying to me things like: “Relax, Chris, it’s only television... only a film... only a song... only a play... it’s only entertainment... the arts never changed anything... art for arts sake, money for God’s sake...”

But, as Bob Dylan once said in one of those supposedly pointless political songs, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

I am a co-founder of the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival, Creative Director of Public Domain Arts & Media and Producer of the GFTU’s Liberating Arts festival. For the last couple of decades raising money and generating enthusiasm for counter-cultural initiatives like these have been a pretty hard slog. But, in the last two years, the mood has noticeably become much more positive. It appears that, at least temporarily, the ruling elite have lost control of the cultural narrative. Not entirely, of course — the mainstream media still plays a huge part especially among those over 65.

But for anyone under 60 the political plurality of social media and the sheer number of online sources of news, books, plays, films, television and music has broken the hegemonic monopoly of both the commercial corporations and their collaborators in the “liberal” capitalist state. In terms of rhetoric and propaganda, the neoliberal era is over. The “common sense” assumptions of the last three decades that government is bad and private industry good, that markets are efficient and that governments have to balance the books by cutting public services are no longer sustainable.

This isn’t to say that neoliberal capitalism itself is over, it’s definitely not. That’s going to take one hell of a fight. But the terms of the debate have undoubtedly shifted to the left. Nearly 20 years of static income, rampant stress and bullying in the work place, the brazen refusal of the City to change its rhetoric let alone its implementation of policies after the economic crash of 2008, the reaction of the mainstream media to the election of Corbyn as Labour Party leader and the appalling level of debate around the EU referendum have allowed many more people to recognise that our mainstream media and cultural institutions are entirely failing as instruments of our democracy.

The counter-cultural power unleashed by cheap production technology and social media has played a huge part in this shift to the left and encouraged perhaps the most healthy counter-cultural arts scene we’ve seen in the UK in the last 20 years. At the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival this year all the feature films are homegrown and we had over 2,000 entries to our Small Axe activist film competition. When we started only four years ago, we had half a dozen.

Similarly, the line-up of Liberating Arts demonstrates the sheer depth and vitality of the UK’s counter-culture. Performers include some of the stalwarts of the last 30 years like Banner Theatre, Red Ladder and Attila The Stockbroker but we also have the next generation of counter-cultural artists such as Captain Ska, Itch from The King Blues, Kate Evans (pictured), Anthony Anaxagarou and Francesca Martinez. 

This new generation of activists have lived their entire lives surrounded by relentless neoliberal propaganda and yet they have seen through it and embraced the ideas of equality and social justice that just two years ago seemed to be consigned to a different era. These talented young men and women have also understood that cultural expressions of their core beliefs and values are not merely “entertainment for the troops” but are crucial to inspiring hearts and minds and thus to changing the world.

This article is also published in the Morning Star. For more details on the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival visit tolpuddleradicalfilm.org.uk and for Liberating Arts, gftu-liberatingarts.org.uk

Glastonwick Festival

Glastonwick Festival

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Chris Guiton tries to prise some cultural theory from the feisty, punky, bolshie lefty that is Attila the Stockbroker. Attila manages (if that's the right word) Glastonwick festival. The links to festival info and tickets are: Glastonwick Beer and Music Festival 2017 and Ropetackle Centre/Glastonwick Tickets

Q. Where did the idea of Glastonwick come from?

The idea of Glastonwick came to me in the early 90s. I was performing at lots of music festivals where the beer was always the corporate, overpriced urine of Satan, and going to beer festivals where the entertainment was ALWAYS a f***ing blues band. A f***ing BORING blues band (is there any other kind?) plodding away in the corner singing ‘I woke up this morning....’ WHAT A BLOODY SHAME! IF YOU HADN’T  I WOULDN’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO THIS BOLLOCKS!

A light came on in my head. ‘Let’s have a music festival with good beer, and a beer festival with good music’ I thought. I know about music (and poetry, obviously) my mate Alex Hall knows about beer – 22 years later here we are!     

Q. Looking at the artists roster, Glastonwick appears to have a strong progressive political element to it. Can you tell us how this came about?

How do you THINK it did? What am I going to put on? DISCO? Hippy Covers bands? Prog rock?  :) I’m a stroppy Leftie poet/musician and  I travel the country (and the world) doing gigs, often at political events.  I meet like-minded people. If they are spiky, irreverant, entertaining and above all WRITE THEIR OWN MATERIAL, I invite them to Glastonwick.       

Q. Do you want to tell us a bit about your own political journey?

I’m stroppy, left wing, concerned about other people and about the future of the planet. Always have been. Punk, Rock Against Racism, anti fascist stuff, Miners’ Strike benefits, the 20 year battle to save our football club, Brighton & Hove Albion...culture always to the fore. 3400 gigs in 24 countries. Hundreds of benefits. Earned my living as Attila since 1982.

Q. Who are the people who've influenced you most, as a musician and poet?


Q.  Brecht famously said, 'Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.' How relevant do you think this is now as we face a  continued neoliberal assault on the 'cultural commons', those elements of art and culture that rightly belong to all of us?

It is the best thing anyone has ever said about culture and is 100% true.  I put it another way.  'When I talk about cherry blossom in my poetry, I mean boot polish.'      

Q. Glastonwick is taking place this year just before one of the most important general elections held in a long time. Its outcome could determine whether we seek to build a fairer society or end up with a plutocracy which benefits only a wealthy elite. Rosa Luxemburg's quote, "Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism." feels very apt! How do you think artist should respond to this challenge?  

I give you the title poem of my latest poetry book, published a couple of weeks ago.

by Attila the Stockbroker

9 November 1989:
Fall of the Berlin Wall.
9 November 2015:
‘Election’ of Donald Trump.
Cause and effect.
The ghastly end 
to a chain of events 
going back to the 80s.
Gorbachev’s brave reforms.
Yeltsin’s kleptocratic gangster-coup.
9/11. Gulf War.
Islamic State.
and the rise of the populist Right.
This is a pivotal moment.
In the centenary year
of a Red revolution which shook the world
the Left needs to reclaim its heritage
and move forward.
But in order to do so with clarity
we first have to look back.
Not right back to the beginning.
That path has been well-trodden
by thousands of writers 
in millions of words:
the victories and the travesties,
the advances and the betrayals.
I’m going back just 28 years:
to February 1989 in East Berlin.
I was there. 
On my four tours of the GDR
between 1986 and 1989
I had watched the East German Left 
organize to growing effect
against the fossilized Party leadership 
and now, inspired by Gorbachev’s Soviet reforms,
they were openly demanding change.
More democracy.
More socialism.
(I’ll never forget the banners:
‘Mehr Sozialismus, bitte!’)
Of course things couldn’t stay the same.
Gorbachev was right to do what he did.
But he was betrayed.
The good went out with the bad.
The baby with the bathwater.
And the people paid the price.
The Wall fell.
The brave activists of the Left
who brought it down
were swamped by hordes 
blinded by Bild Zeitung,
fighting over bananas. 
Across Eastern Europe
worlds collapsed overnight.
People celebrated.
In many ways they were right to.
Party by all means, we shouted –
but organize as well.
Take control of your own destinies. 
Don’t believe the lies of the West.
They promise you exotic travel 
but you will have no money to travel 
They promise exotic cars
but you will have no money for cars
They will destroy your industries
privatize your futures
and make you paupers in your own lands.
But too few listened.
The cold, cruel masters
of a new world smiled.
It’s the end of history, they said.
Socialism has failed
the red banner has fallen
and now, workers, we are your masters,
all over the world.
We’ll close down. Sack. Downsize. Relocate. 
Ship in cheap labour. Outsource. Bring in robots. 
Force down wages. 
Crush your spirit.
Cast you aside
secure in the knowledge that your champions are dead 
and that our pet media mouthpieces
can save us from your wrath
by blaming your fate on others:
immigrants, refugees
and your sacked co-workers 
now recast as your enemies -
as scroungers off your taxes.
Slowly the vice tightened:
slowly the penny dropped.
Twenty years on from the fall of the Wall
opinion polls stated
that a majority all over Eastern Europe 
(not the liberal elites of course,
laughing into their lattes,
but the forgotten masses
ignored by the world’s media)
believed that their lives were better before 1989.
That what was allowed to go into their mouths
mattered at least as much
as what was allowed to come out of them.
That without economic democracy  -
without jobs, healthcare, education, housing -
political democracy was meaningless 
and that globalization, free trade
and neo-liberalism
were the enemies of working people everywhere,
East and West.
But the mass Red parties of the European Left
had disappeared in a welter of spineless apology
and self-loathing
leaving an open goal
for the populists of the Right.
And now
while we argue amongst ourselves
it is the likes of Trump, Le Pen and Wilders
who try to steal our clothes -
who use progressive-sounding weasel words
to spread the politics of hate.
Elsewhere in the world 
the modern secular movements
for liberation and education
slowly collapsed without their Soviet mentors,
leaving a void.
A people still oppressed and poor
searched for their own champions,
their own protectors.
Enter the fundamentalists.
For Trump and Le Pen
read ISIS and the Taliban:
the same weasel words,
the same dead-end reality –
literally so
for those young, duped jihadis.
So where do we go from here?
One thing is for sure.
Now as then
the choice is clear.
Socialism or barbarism.
We must reclaim 
the territory which the populists have stolen.
This is the challenge.
A hundred years on
from the great stand in Russia
Let’s make another stand.
A modern stand.
A stand against globalization and neoliberalism.
Against nationalism and division.
Against racism and homophobia.
Against fundamentalism and misogyny.

Q. Culture Matters has embarked on some work to develop arts and culture policies in the labour movement which tackle the geographic, class and financial barriers that many working class people face trying to access the arts, as both consumers and performers. What are your thoughts on what a socialist arts and culture policy might look like?


Q. Brexit has divided the Left. Assuming it goes ahead in one form or another, how do you think we best maintain an internationalist perspective and support cultural links with comrades in the EU and more widely? 

By carrying on doing exactly what we’re doing now.  Here’s another poem.

(Written on the ferry home, Oct 10 2016)

by Attila the Stockbroker

I’ve just toured with my band Barnstormer
from Dunkirk to Lucerne and back
through France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland
without showing a passport once.
Yes, non-EU Switzerland too –
a little bridge, an empty hut.
In my punk rock youth
I remember 
how musicians had to carry carnets 
for our instruments 
when we crossed the Channel -
everything down to the last spare string 
painstakingly listed on a pointless green form
checked and stamped at every border
after standing with the truckers in endless queues.
I remember the invasive French customs 
- douane, not moeurs -
whose cretinously predictable searches
for non-existent drugs
took the edge off many an otherwise enjoyable tour.
Search the big posh cars
driven by the suits,
I’d always say
after these unimaginative custodians 
had finished their fruitless checks:
no-one imports half a ton of heroin 
dressed like we are
driving a scruffy transit van
with ‘CLEAN ME’ 
written in the dirt on one side 
on the other
a large knob and testicles
adorning the back
and empty beer bottles
rolling around on the floor.
Are we going to have to go through all this again?
Just because Rupert Murdoch 
was pissed off by the fact
that no one in Brussels
took a blind bit of notice of him?
Lord give me strength!

Only joking, of course.
Brexit was an informed decision 
taken by the British people 
after serious consideration
of the established facts
presented intelligently
and objectively 
by the rigorous guardians 
of the Fourth Estate.
And anyone who suggests anything else
is patronizing and supercilious.
So if in a few years time
a British number plate for a band touring Europe
becomes the equivalent of a plague signal on a door 
in medieval times
and I am once again obliged to fill in ridiculous forms
and perhaps even at my advanced age
stand naked in a room 
with a gloved finger up my arse
and my foreskin peeled back
as I once did in Calais in the Eighties
I shall hold myself proudly to attention
and celebrate the fact 
that I am British
and we have 

Mayday in Glasgow

Mayday in Glasgow

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MayDay Celebrations spread across Scottish Central Belt.

Glasgow Friends of MayDay (GFoMD) today announced another stellar line-up for the sixth annual Great May Day cabaret celebrating International Workers’ Day (May Day). This annual event at Oran Mor takes place this year on MayDay itself - Monday May 1 – this year’s public holiday.

This year’s headliners are the acclaimed and award-winning Edinburgh-based roots collective Southern Tenant Folk Union. Ably supported by Leicester singer-songwriter and activist Grace Petrie, the welcome return of Marxist magician Ian Saville, folk legend Arthur Johnstone, godfather of Scottish stand-up Bruce Morton, Ayrshire’s second-best ever poet Jim Monagahan, plus Fraser Speirs, Stephen Wright, and Gavin Paterson.  All hosted by Dave Anderson and supported by Thompsons Solicitors.

Chris Bartter, Chair of Glasgow Friends of MayDay said. “It’s great that the cabaret has attracted major talents like Southern Tenant Folk Union, and that Grace Petrie can come up and spend some time letting Scotland hear her fresh new style. It is especially good that we can run a number of cabarets this year.”

This year, Mayday cabarets are also taking place in Irvine (Celtic SC – Fr1 28/4), West Lothian (Loganlea Miners Welfare – Sat 29/4), and Blantyre (Miners Welfare – Sun 30/4). Playing all four cabarets are core acts Ian Saville, Bruce Morton, Jim Monaghan, Fraser Speirs and Stephen Wright. They will be joined by Grace Petrie in Glasgow, Blantyre and Loganlea, rising star Maeve Mackinnon in Irvine and Blantyre, Arthur Johnstone in Irvine, Loganlea and Glasgow, and talented singer Calum Baird in Loganlea

This year’s Mayday marches will take place on different days around Scotland, with the largest on Sunday April 30 in Glasgow. Others will be on Sat April 29 (Aberdeen, Dundee and Fife) and Sat May 6 (Edinburgh and Irvine). Both Glasgow and Edinburgh’s marches feature Paul Laverty, screenwriter of  I, Daniel Blake as a keynote speaker. Details here - http://www.stuc.org.uk/campaigns-and-external-events/mayday-2017.

Other events around the MayDay weekend also include events at the Tron as part of its Mayfesto season, and a short tour of a one-man play about the miners’ strike. Undermined by Danny Mellor, touring with the backing of Unite Community, will play Aberdeen (The Blue Lamp – 26 April); Dundee ( Arthurstone Comm Lib - 27); Edinburgh (Out of the Blue Drill Hall- 28); and Glasgow (STUC-29).

These and many other events will be featured in the programme to be available shortly via the GFoMD website. http://may1st.org.uk/

For further information please contact:

Chris Bartter (Chair GFoMD – 07715 583729)

Stephen Wright (Fairpley - 07734 350247)

An alternative worth fighting for: the GFTU Liberating Arts festival

An alternative worth fighting for: the GFTU Liberating Arts festival

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Chris Jury looks forward to a gathering of activists and unions to promote the role of the arts in challenging right-wing ideas.

The role of the arts and culture is crucial in the ongoing struggle for equality and social justice. In that struggle, the first battle that has to be won is the propaganda war and the arts are the most effective tool in that battle for hearts and minds. From the Egyptian pyramids to the nazi propaganda of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, to television’s Lion’s Den and The Apprentice, ruling elites have always understood that their power rests not only upon guns and money but also on the compliance of the people.

Early in November, a major union-backed conference and arts festival in Exeter is set to take a significant step forward in mounting a challenge to that power. The three-day event builds on the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) Art of the Trade Unions day last year and among its organisers are GFTU general secretary Doug Nicholls, creative activists, academics and prominent political arts professionals, including representatives from Reel News, Banner Theatre and Townsend Productions.

The festival aims to connect the trade union movement with cultural workers, creative activists and public educators. They’ll be exploring how power is as much an idea as it is a physical reality and, in order for people to take the significant risks involved in resisting power, they need to believe that change is both necessary and possible and that there is a preferable alternative.

Neoliberal propaganda has been spectacularly successful in convincing huge numbers of people that political change is neither necessary nor possible and that “there is no alternative” to free market capitalism. As a result of this propaganda victory, oppositional consciousness arising from declining living standards, increasingly precarious work, gross inequality and the barefaced dismantling of the welfare state is benefiting the far right as much as the left.

Effective propaganda costs money and by definition, the capitalists own or control most of it. In an almost entirely mediated world, dominated by global corporations and billionaire tycoons like Murdoch, how we can convince sufficient numbers of people that there is a credible and desirable socialist alternative to neoliberal austerity is one of the biggest challenges faced by the left.
Unless we can mount an effective countercultural propaganda offensive, our chances remain slim. 

Thus GFTU is inviting trade unionists, cultural workers, creative activists and educators to propose workshops, performances, media screenings, exhibitions, discussions, lectures and networking events that explore how we can fight back against the relentless stream of neoliberal propaganda and create our own propaganda. The aim is to convince people that there is a left alternative worth fighting for.

The inaugural Liberating Arts conference and arts festival will take place on November 3-5 at the Roborough Studios, University Of Exeter. If you are a trade unionist, cultural worker or creative activist and would like to propose a session for Liberating Arts 2017 then please email the event producer Chris Jury at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you wish to present an academic paper or other research-based event, please email Dr Rebecca Hillman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Victor Jara Festival

Victor Jara Festival

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Victor Jara Festival - El Sueño Existe July 28/29/30 2017 Machynlleth, Wales SY20 8ER

Deep in the heart of rural West Wales, in the pretty market town of Machynlleth, a quite extraordinary political/cultural festival “El Sueño Existe” (The Dream Lives on) keeps the spirit, the music and the politics of Victor Jara of Chile alive each summer.

Victor Jara, a member of the Chilean Communist Party, emerged as the iconic singer of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity Government of 1970 – 73. On a wave of optimism and enthusiasm Allende had been democratically elected, introducing far reaching reforms throughout society – land rights for the peasants, free healthcare and education for workers, popular art and culture and much more. It was all brutally ended on 11th September 1973 by the military coup, led by the fascist General Pinochet – and supported by the CIA and the US Government of Nixon and Kissinger.

Victor Jara’s sublime poetry and songs of the workers’ struggles, their joys and sorrows were heard throughout Chile, and after his brutal killing in the immediate aftermath of the coup, he quickly became a key voice in Latin America’s struggles for justice and socialism, in resistance to 500 years of oppression and genocide.

Today the El Sueño Existe festival brings together for a magical weekend not only Latin American singers, songwriters, bands, dancers, poets and painters, but also a great crowd of solidarity activists, journalists, academics, film makers, theatre groups, welsh language activists and festival goers, in a wonderful melting pot. It is a happening on a grand scale, where you are just as likely to drop into a workshop debate on the life and legacy of Fidel Castro, an Ecuadorean singer in a laid back concert, a local film maker presenting her work with indigenous communities of the Amazon, or a kids’ orchestra from the mean streets of South London showing off their skills and commitment.

In short the festival is an eclectic and heady mix of all things political and cultural, and creates its own special energy through the hundreds who make it over the hills to Machynlleth. Each festival (run by volunteers, and supported by Unite the Union, Wales) chooses a Latin American country as a main focus, whilst promoting all cultures that seek a progressive way forward. In July 2017 the main country focus will be Ecuador, where the Citizens’ Revolution President, & wheelchair user since being shot in a robbery, Lenin Moreno, has recently triumphed in elections. In the era of Trump, Brexit and all of the threats we all face, El Sueno Existe is an uplifting and magical experience.

As Chilean Academic and Solidarity activist, Dr. Francisco Dominguez (Middlesex University) says:

In all my many years as an activist in Britain, I have found that one of the most beautiful gestures of commitment with Latin America’s struggles is the El Sueño Existe Festival in the depths of marvellous Wales. Organised to celebrate the worldview and music of Chilean singer, Victor Jara, to tell the world that his dream, our dream, of a better world goes on. El Sueño Existe is solidarity at its very best.

All info from the festival website - weekend tickets, (Approx £50 + camping £12) - from www.elsuenoexiste.com. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Banner Theatre  playing at the 2016 GFTU Festival

Art and the Movement

Written by

Jan Woolf reports on the recent The Art of Trade Unions event, organised by GFTU.

I have never seen an angel. Show me an angel, and I’ll paint one.

This, from the French 19th century realist painter and Communard Gustav Courbet marked a turning point in the relationship between artist and society, for he was breaking a historic link between artist and patron that had required them to paint superstitious or aristocratic subject matter. Like England’s Constable, Courbet was an artist of the material and natural world – considered at the time to be subversive. Because it wasn’t only a declaration of art for all, but the world for all.

We’re still a long way from that. The long historic struggle between Capital and Labour has always had art at its heart – the best of it (but not all of it) on the side of Labour, for creativity has progress as an imperative. It’s not so much church and state that we’re taking on now, but the multinationals under a particularly vicious neo-liberal anarchy.

There is an urgent need for progressive artists to be involved in the Movement.

This was the opening remark from GFTU’s general secretary Doug Nicholls at The Art of Trade Unions event in Bedford December 6th, which was organised by the General Federation of Trade Unions and the open network Liberating Arts. A gathering of a radical network of activists, academics and artists watched performances and presentations that had one agenda – how cultural workers can better serve and celebrate, working class struggle.

In short, how we can change things. It’s clear how this might have happened in the past. Novels like The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, the work of Charles Dickens and Jack London, helped change consciousness to pave the way for the Welfare State, but are safely lodged in the past – and of course, we’ll never get back to those days.

Or will we? Ken Loach’s recent masterpiece I, Daniel Blake reveals the vicious effects of neo-liberalism on working class people. It’s how art works with and through us during this time of change for the working class today that is the challenge.

Academic and activist Rebecca Hillman talked about collaborations between theatre makers and trade unions, how it can be used to challenge oppressive structures, and how art can be used as a political tool. A theme taken up by Dave Smith of Blacklisted, who spoke of ‘propaganda by the deed,’ and the campaign to expose the recent blacklisting of union activists in the construction industry.

Peter Marcuse from the artists’ collective Brandalism presented a campaign against the corporate control of outdoor adverting – how it pollutes our minds. Advertisements were taken down and replaced with different images by this guerrilla art collective working with their toolkit – a key for dismantling an advert and high vis vests. After a call for graphic artists to attend AA meetings (Advertisers Anonymous), intrigued designers turned up, keen to take on the toxicity of consumerism and adopt the manifesto ‘Advertising shits on your head.

When asked about the legality of the campaign, Peter’s answer was this:

They didn’t ask if they could put their images in our faces, so we didn’t ask them if we could take them down.

‘What got you going?’ I asked him later. He said:

We were motivated by the dominance of commercial images in our cities,
and the idea that those with the most amount of money can display their
messages in front of us without our consent. Advertising regularly
re-asserts problematic cultural values that appeal to our sense of
status, individualism, wealth and power - rather than socially
beneficial values like equality, community and solidarity…Confronting the advertising industry means organizing…. and challenging one of a key drivers of neoliberal consumer capitalism.

Another ‘artivist’ was Theresa Easton of the Artists’ Union of England, talking about her work with communities engaged in activism – a hidden art force putting the paper images into a campaign, notably the Durham Teaching Assistants strike, when their employers tried to cut their pay by 23%. Did those employers REALLY expect them to lose 5k a year?

Sean Ley of Reel News was involved too – showing his film of highly energised protests, mostly women, at the Durham demonstrations of November 2016, and eighty picket lines of newly empowered workers. You don’t get that back in the bottle so easily. Reel News is a video activists’ collective who know how to use social media well, how, paradoxically, to use it to build that old fashioned idea of getting people in a room talking together.

Education was a big theme. Poet Jess Green – all staccato movement and Kate Tempest-like intensity - expressed through her performance, the contrast between the imperative of education – which comes from the Latin educare, to lead out – and the folly of excessive testing of children, and the pointless bureaucracy imposed on young teachers. Let kids be kids not a national average statistic, she said.

Banner Theatre, who had been working with trade unions since the early 1970s, did a great performance and music piece on the recent Chicago teachers strike, and the formation of Coalition of Radical Educators (CORE) a group that transformed their sluggish union into a fighting force that took on the slow privatisation of Chicago’s schools, stopping them becoming little businesses.

Townsend Productions performed extracts from Tolpuddle Theatre, and United We Stand – and their current touring production Dare Devil Rides to Jarama, by Neil Gore. It’s a new play about Clem Beckett, a motorbike speed rider who volunteered to fight fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Another character is the Marxist critic Christopher Caudwell. Caudwell on stage? Fascinating stuff. This is sophisticated drama, not agit-prop.

An invigorated audience generated some interesting ideas for;
• alternative arts councils, funded by the trade unions
• a centre/theatre as a home to working class theatre.
• importance of the revival of satire
• use of a common language around the arts, whatever the level
• professionalism and excellence
• importance of a fair rate to artists, making communities stronger

It’s interesting how the obfuscating effects of postmodernism has undermined all this, with the exclusivity of art language blurring communication between people and communities. Sure, art can serve politics by revealing and mirroring our society. It can put the oomph into a campaign, inspire and motivate, help the ideas slip down nicely, but it is its transformational nature that’s so important, and the role that art plays in a fulfilled life.

Like food, it nourishes, and we can’t live without it. But this was a given; no need to rehearse and finesse psychological theories about art and the individual and society. This event was a step on the way to a three day Liberating Arts festival planned for November 2017 as the trade union movement gears up towards a high level of struggle during the next few years, when cultural work will be strengthened to appeal to the head and heart. For art changes people, and so does activism. Together they’re dynamite.

Doug Nicholls concluded by saying this:

It's no accident that our great national poet and playwright was on our side....... Shakespeare in his history plays and great tragedies depicts the economic and moral collapse of the feudal system, in his Roman plays he shows how any socially divided society is undemocratic and ruled by despots and in his comedies, particularly plays like The Comedy of Errors, he shows how the market driven economy destroys social relationships and how human identity is distorted by profit and the cash nexus.

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