Art in our Times

Posted in Alternative Media, Books & Authors, Communist Workers & Peasants Party, Comrades, Marxism, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art on September 18, 2011 by daanishkhan

By Ammar Aziz

Art, in the “free world” we live in, has become the monopoly of the ruling classes which suits the basic nature of their exploitative system by doing both, generating profits and keeping the people in a state of confused contentment

An art exhibition was going on in a posh gallery of Lahore. Installation art was the medium and you could find strange ‘art objects’, hanging and placed, in all the dimensions of space. The gathering – filled with high class ‘intellectual socialites’ and art critics – was enough to represent a ‘positive image of Pakistan’. That positive yet so unrealistic image consisted of the postmodern works by many famous artists. While passing from one side of the gallery, I looked at an art piece. It was one and a half brick, placed on a tiny table with the artist’s name. I kept moving and found a blank canvas, hanging in the middle of a wall. A few art critics were trying to understand the “depth of white” from that blank canvas while others were satisfying their intellectual thirst by relating those bricks to the complications of “consciousness and unconsciousness”. At the end of the gallery, at one corner, a couple of multicolored electric wires were exhibited on the floor. I found that art piece the most interesting of all. I was still trying to figure out what that meant when all of a sudden a man – probably an electrician who was working there – came, grabbed the wires and went away!

Art in our times has lost everything – content – form – meaning and purpose.

It has become a possession of a minority that has not only commodified its very social nature but also has destroyed its aesthetic beauty. This approach, however, has been viewed as the ‘next big thing’ in the philosophical premises of art and being highly praised by the West. One wonders, what’s the reason of promoting a meaningless generation of art in the name of intellect or, more precisely, postmodernism? Why is there a rising trend of obscure and pretentious creations that create a wedge between the intellectuals and the masses? This chaos, known as art, shows the philosophical and ideological conflicts of the 2oth century and their tragic consequences after the end of the cold war. This emerging craze of strictly meaningless art has its roots back in the political interests of the Western Imperialism. The advocates of ‘free-market’ who talk about ‘artistic freedom’ negate the social relevance of art, by limiting it to merely subjective and usually nihilistic themes if not completely meaningless. What on earth is that artistic freedom that rejects the objective truth? The philosophy behind such art is as perplexing as the art itself. Chomsky while criticizing the postmodern theorists said, ““Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, even Foucault…write things that I also don’t understand but don’t hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me.”

The realism- phobia that started during the cold war era still exists in the capitalist West and its intellectual-allies throughout the world, including Pakistan. I remember how one of our ‘liberal’ art history teachers at NCA viciously declared social realism merely as a propaganda while romanticizing abstract expressionism as “the avant-garde” art form.

I feel it’s important here to discuss briefly the origin of this irrational fear of realism. In order to counter the ideologically strong, realistically significant and aesthetically appealing Socialist Realism of the Soviet Union, the CIA came up with a secret policy in the 1950s– known as ‘long leash’ – to promote that sheer nonsense known as abstract expressionism in order to prove the “intellectual freedom” of the US. Donald Jameson – a former CIA officer – conceded in an interview, “yes the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it. It was recognised that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was.”

The materialist analysis of history reveals that art has always been important to people, since its earliest beginnings from the dark caves of France to the present day. What’s the element that has kept those prehistoric cave paintings alive even after tens of thousands of years? Their ability of being understandable owing to their astonishing realism! This not only drives our attention to the fact that art’s initial beginnings were based on the representations of the actual world but also enforces the idea that art was meant for some social purposes. Do you think those prehistoric people would have gone that deeply, crawling into the inaccessible recesses of the dark caves to draw something for the sake of decoration? I highly doubt it. Such drawings were an important ritual among those hunter gatherer societies – a ritual they used to perform for the success of hunting animals for food! Thus, art started evolving as a social activity rather than an individual act.

With the division of labor and evolution of private property – that culminated in the division of mankind into classes, separating mental labor from manual labor and art from craft, the very basic character of art lost its social significance and became a commodity – a meaningless commodity whose nasty importance is based on its price like any other thing in a capitalist society. For example, Van Gogh, who died in extreme poverty, is amongst the most ‘valuable’ painters of the world whose paintings change hands at auctions for millions of dollars. If, somehow, his works go out of fashion tomorrw, these so-called art lovers would divest themselves just like the dealers get rid of the falling shares on the floor of the stock market. Thus, art, in the “free world” we live in, has become the monopoly of the ruling classes which suits the basic nature of their exploitative system in two ways: a) it generates profit b) it keeps people in a state of confused contentment. That minority always use and abuse the role of art and culture for their own gluttonous interests. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engles explain, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force”.

Every sensible rational mind should understand that the cultural aspects of any society (superstructure) can not be fully understood when separated from the material economic conidtions of that society (base). Every society is shaped by the relations of production and exchange (economics) that form its base. History’s most liberating event – the October Revolution – when the working-class played the most important role in striving for a society free of exploitation, alienation and oppression – started an era of undying art that was the outcome of the very basic philosophy their revolution was based on: Dialectical Materialism which has an inseparable relation with realism. The opposing forces of proletarian revolution saw their art – that reflected their liberation and motivated them to struggle – as one of their biggest enemies. But the artists, all over the world, who emerged after the revolution, were able to base themselves on a very rich and progressive tradition of Social and Socialist realism. Progressive Writers Movement is the Pakistani chapter of that internationalist movement of art.

Consider a situation where entertainment no longer works as industries but only as activities necessary to human well-being. Art loses its exclusive and individual character under Socialism and becomes the ownership of all. It doesn’t only reflect the matter but plays its heroic role in changing that too. The masses, so long bound to submit in silence, find a new voice and witness a radical transition. An artist’s role is to fight for the economic emancipation of mankind to gain the lost soul of humanity. Art has played an important role since the birth of mankind and this role will not only conitnue but be greatly enhanced and gloroified when art would become a cause to beautify life. That would be “humanity’s leap from the realm of neceassity to the realm of freedom” in the words of Engles. Diego Rivera, the Mexican Communist Muralist painter, concluded the aims of revolutionary art at the end of his Manifesto, which is the need of our times:
“The independence of art for the Revolution”

Author is an independent film-maker, a political activist, and he also teaches film theory at NCA lahore.

American poverty at all-time high

Posted in International Affairs on September 14, 2011 by Umer

The number of Americans living in poverty rose to a record 46.2 million last year, official data has shown.

This is the highest figure since the US Census Bureau started collecting the data in 1959.

In percentage terms, the poverty rate rose to 15.1%, up from 14.3% in 2009.

The US definition of poverty is an annual income of $22,314 (£14,129) or less for a family of four and $11,139 for a single person.

The number of Americans living below the poverty line has now risen for four years in a row, while the poverty rate is the biggest since 1993.

Poverty among black and Hispanic people was much higher than for the overall US population last year, the figures also showed.

The Census Bureau data said 25.8% of black people were living in poverty and 25.3% of Hispanic people.

Its latest report also showed that the average annual US household income fell 2.3% in 2010 to $49,445.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans without health insurance remained about 50 million.

The data comes as the US unemployment rate remains above 9%.

President Barack Obama last week launched a new $450bn job creation plan.

He wants to fund huge construction projects, schools and services, while giving tax cuts to workers and small businesses to boost recruitment.

However, his plans require backing from Congress, where Republicans – who control the House of Representatives – have voiced their opposition.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14903732

“The hope of a new dawn”

Posted in Communist Movement, Communist Workers & Peasants Party, Comrades, International Affairs, Marxism, marxist, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art on August 13, 2011 by daanishkhan

by Danish Khan

Here comes another 14th august, a day celebrated by the state of Pakistan as its independence day, but for an average citizen of the country, it is just another day with ever-growing troubles and sorrows. During the last 64 years, lots of things have changed but the Independence Day
celebrations on official levels are still very much the same, the putrid display of militaristic insanity, which does not suit a state where poverty and hunger is spreading like a viral infection, fake and oblivious patriotic songs, which try to deny the existence of different nationalities in a federation of Pakistan, and try to patronize people with the Pakistani Nationalism by suffocating the rich and diverse culture and history of Balochis, Sindhis and the Pakhtuns. And to wrap up the celebrations prayers are offered at official level to please the theocracy of the country, and the ruling elite pardon for forgiveness from the omnipotent for all the crimes they have committed all year long against the people of Pakistan. But now days the lack of interest in the independence day celebrations among the common citizens is a mere reflection that  an average citizen is completely fed up of this onslaught of fake patriotism which has been continuously thrown upon him for last six decades to cover up the wrong deeds and doings of the ruling elites of this country.

“ yeh daag daag ujaala yeh shab-guzeda sahar,

woh intezaar tha jiska yeh woh sahar tu nahi”

On the eve of 14th august 1947, on the creation of the state of Pakistan, Faiz wrote one of the historical poem of its kind  titled as                    “Subah-e-Azaadi” (Dawn of Freedom), at that moment when everyone was celebrating the so called freedom, Faiz was not too much enthusiastic about it. In his poem he tried to raise a point that things would not change too much for an average citizen in this kind of Pakistan. Isn’t it turned out to be true after the long and bleak experiences of 64 years?

The existing state of Pakistan without any shadow of a doubt is a state which has been run by the military for last six decades. It is not surprised when people say that military is the most stable and strongest institution of the country, but I would rather say that military is such a hegemonic institution of the country which has not allowed any other institution to sustain and develop itself to challenge the hegemony of the military. Thus if this country has been a home of misery, poverty, hunger and darkness for last six decades, most of the credit goes to the military of the Pakistan. But wait a minute, what about the religious clergy (Mullahs), feudal landlords and the Bourgeois of the country?

Well military has been such a hegemonic force that, all these above mentioned forces of the society have been forced directly or indirectly to support and back the hegemony of the military. Furthermore, they all represent the reactionary and the privileged classes of the society, thus directly or indirectly their interests have been amalgamated with the interests of the military establishment. Thus the contemporary state of Pakistan is a state which defends and protects the interests of Military Generals, Religious clergy (Mullahs), feudal lords (jagirdaar) and the Bourgeois class.  So, if you do belong to the any of the above mentioned fragments of the society, you might have a reason to be joyous on this Independence Day, but if not, and odds are very much against you, then it is the time to realize and rationalize a change which can bring about necessary socio-economic changes to shackle this stranglehold of these monstrous forces.

All of these powerful forces have been very smart and clever, they have kept an average citizen in confusion by blaming each other for the economic and social troubles of the country, but in reality all of them are just different phases of the same rotating cycle. The military blames the political ruling elite as the reason for country’s dire situation, the Mullahs (religious clergy) blames music, dance, film, women in shirtsleeves as the reason behind all the troubles of the country including poverty, hunger and disparity among the people. While in very mellow and disguised words the Bourgeois class blames military (not as an institution, but just one general who turns out to be a dictator) and the feudal lords for the lack of democracy and prosperity in the country, and the feudal lords claim that it is only the media which is exaggerating things, otherwise
country is doing pretty good.

On contrary, an average citizen of Pakistan collectively blames and considers all these sects of the society responsbile for all the pain and misery of the people of Pakistan. The living conditions of the working class people of Pakistan tantamount to slavery. Even after the long 64 years, if a state is unable to provide the basic necessities of life, i.e. food, clean drinking water, electricity etc. then it would be crime to not ask those who have been in power to be accountable in the court of the people. But it is a tendency among the corporate mainstream media and in the Bourgeois culture to discourage such questions and debates which point out the real contradictions of the society. That is the primary reason, when anyone talks about the accountability of the military of Pakistan, the patriotism of that person is doubted upon. But we the youth of Pakistan opted to rebel against this norm and tradition, we are not going to stay silent, we are following the pathways of Sajad Zaheer, Hassan Nasir, Habib Jalib, Nazir Abbasi and Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and all those brave matrys who resisted against this system of oppression and exploitation.

Even in such miserable conditions, there is still a dawn of hope in the hearts of the people, for some reasons they have realized that things only get worsen to get better. After every dark night, there is a new dawn, which brings the hope of a better tomorrow for the people of Pakistan. The class consciousness among the people of Pakistan has been increasing steadily because of their harsh material experiences and realities, and due to the sound and consistent political activism by the revolutionaries of the country. Now the people have realized that being passive will not do them any better, instead of being reactionary they have to be proactive and revolutionary. The tales of French revolution, Russian revolution
and the Chinese revolution have been widely discussed among the intellects of the society, and now this debate is slowly but surely spreading among the youth and the working classes of the country. Now it is upon the people of Pakistan and on their class consciousness to learn from the histories of the great revolutions of the past, and try to relate and localize them according to their existing material conditions. It would be too early and speculative to say that when and which way the pendulum of revolution would swing, but the one thing is certain, the emancipation and the welfare of the majority of the population would be the center of the gravity of any coming change in Pakistan.

Lahore: Tribute paid to Comrade Mansoor Saeed

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , on June 14, 2010 by Umer

(June 13th, 2010/ Sunday- Report: Ammar Aziz)

In Lahore, a large number of activists and workers gathered to pay tribute to the revolutionary struggle and contributions of Comrade Manssor Saeed, a senior communist leader and intellectual, who has recently passed away on May 24, 2010. He took an active part in the politics of the Left and cultural activism all his life. He joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1964, before moving to Pakistan in 1970 to marry his cousin who was a member of Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). He then joined the CPP, later in 1975, and remained an active member of the party as the In-charge of International Department, In-charge of Ideological Section, and Member of Central Committee and Central Secretariat till his death.

The reference was organized by the CPP and Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP) at the Dorab Patel Auditorium, HRCP which was filled with hundreds of people, holding red flags. It was presided by Comrade Imdad Qazi, leader CPP and Comrade Taimur Rahman, Secretary General CMKP. Special guests inluded IA Rahman, Jamil Umar, Muneeza Hashmi and Sania Saeed, who is the daughter of Comrade Mansoor Saeed (late) and is known as a progressive actoress.

The event started with a group of children singing the Communist Internationale. According to Sania Saeed, “these children reminded me of my revolutionary childhood and I feel honored that my father, Comrade Mansoor Saeed, educated me ideologically.”

Comrade Imdad Qazi said that small emerging leftist groups are the element of hope in Pakistan. If they follow people like Mansoor Saeed, they would play a significant role in the Socialist struggle.

Comrade Taimur Rahman highlighted Mansoor Saeed’s literary and theatrical contributions. He said, that, we shall follow the revolutionary path of Comrade Mansoor Saeed through art and culture, who initiated the progressive theater in Pakistan with his Theater Group Dastak. He said, that our party will start some study circles based on Mansoor’s writings. Comrade Taimur Rahman also performed with his band Laal and sang songs dedicated to the cause of working-class.

Other speakers emphasized their personal and ideological affiliation with Comrade Mansoor Saeed and said that he will be remembered with great respect in the history of class-struggle in Pakistan.

At the end, Laal Theater performed and workers performed a play ‘Machine’. It was highly appreciated by the audiences. The event was closed by the performance of Comrade Naseer, member CMKP Hashtnagar, who sang Faiz’s poetry and progressive Pashto song.

Comrade Tamiur Rahman said, in spite of the tragic loss of our beloved comrade Mansoor Saeed, we have celebrated today’s gathering with hope of struggle leading towards the Socialist revolution.

Religion as a panacea for Baloch nationalism

Posted in Pakistan, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 28, 2010 by Umer

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Striking Quetta’s Civil Hospital on April 16, 2010, a young Baloch suicide bomber, Haq Nawaz Baloch, killed at least eleven people, including two top police officials and a television journalist. This attack was dissimilar from ones previously carried out by Baloch nationalist guerrilla fighters against government installations and its security forces. Thus the largely secular Baloch society was introduced to an uncommonly new phenomenon of religious extremism and one for which it is almost totally unprepared to respond.

Unfortunately we cannot regard this suicide bombing as a unique occurrence. Just three days before two teenage sisters were acidified in the Dalbandin town of Chagai District in Balochistan by unidentified persons riding a motorbike. The girls were punished for the “crime” of not observing strict Islamic Hijab. Hailing from an extremely poor family, the girls were rushed to a Quetta hospital. Their faces are burnt but due to the lack of proper medical facilities their medical treatment is unsatisfactory.

An underground militant group calling itself as the Baloch Gharatmand (Honored) Group had, days before launching the first staggering attack, circulated a leaflet warning women in the area that they should leave their homes without being accompanied by a male family member. According to the interpretation of the shadowy group, being unaccompanied by a male family member is “un-Islamic” and should therefore be “punished” by those who ignored the warning.

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May Day in Nepal, 2010

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Uncategorized with tags , on May 19, 2010 by Umer

Maoism – A Critique From the Left

Posted in Books & Authors, Communist Movement, International Affairs, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2010 by Umer

Pragoti has had a number of contributors from the Left taking on the subject of Maoism and Maoist violence in India. Various articles such asthis or this have addressed the subject. One of the regular contributors to Pragoti, Prasenjit Bose, has now edited a volume of articles which critique the Maoists from the viewpoint of the organised Left in the country. The critique is organised on various lines – a theory/praxis critique by PMS Grewal and Nilotpal Basu and a comparative assessment of various extremist/Maoist movements across the world, particularly in Latin America by another Pragoti contributor Vijay Prashad. The book is rounded off with a telling ideological document that debated the viewpoints of the Naxalites before these left wing sectarians branched off from the CPI(M) in the late 1960s. The book is available for purchase here. With permission from Prasenjit Bose, we are carrying the introduction to the book (the first chapter) in this post.

Introduction — Prasenjit Bose

As the debate on leftwing extremist violence and the state’s offensive against it intensifies in India, opinion tends to get increasingly polarized. On the one side are those who consider the CPI (Maoist) as a destructive terrorist group, much like the Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or the separatist United Liberation Force of Asom (ULFA), which has to be crushed through the military might of the state. On the other side are those who see the Maoists as a revolutionary force, fighting for the cause of the exploited and the marginalized, and justify their violent acts as a necessary evil in order to bring about radical social transformation. Little effort is made, however, from either end to delve deeper into the question of leftwing extremism, in India or elsewhere, in order to understand its current activities in terms of its ideological basis, social roots and historical origins. 

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