Monday, May 20, 2013

Haiku Review: This Situation

Haiku Review: This Situation
by Tino Sehgal
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin
12 April - 19 May 2013

By Fujimoto Ryouji

"Wwwwweeeelcome" audience.
Or actors? The stage is in
question. Meta-script.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ultra-Left Destruction

Ultra-Left Destruction: The end of the ULA and its origins.
Paddy Healy, Workers and Unemployed Action
May 2013

The position I outline here is my own position only. It is based on my experience as a left-wing activist at national and international level over 50 years. It is my personal response to current disunity on the left.

Competitive recruitment between the Socialist Party (SP) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has destroyed the United Left Alliance (ULA) and is now narrowing the Campaign against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) to such an extent as to make it ineffective. The number of people attending meetings, rallies and marches of CAHWT is dwindling as the two ‘Marxist’ groups advocate policies which are impossible for ordinary people and their dependents to follow. Despite the destruction of the campaign, the two groups will feel justified if they get some recruits out of it and, if above all, they get more recruits than each other! Competitive ultra-leftism is now becoming a hugely destructive feature on the left and a large obstacle to politically reorganising masses of ordinary people on a principled political basis as well as a serious obstacle to organising effective campaigns against austerity. I believe that I have an obligation to explain to political activists why these things are occurring and how these obstacles may be overcome and to generate a discussion on the way forward.


Leon Trotsky founded the Fourth International in 1938. The defining class battles in the past 70 years occurred during the Second World War, its aftermath and during the fall of Stalinism in Eastern Europe. Political currents are not revolutionary just because they say they are or because they use Marxist terminology or even because they have developed a comprehensive political programme. Indeed all currents have many committed and able members. It can only be concluded that they are revolutionary if they pass the test of history and continue to contribute to the achievement of workers liberation.

Before his assassination, after the war had broken out, Trotsky wrote a document entitled the Fourth International and War. While it was correct to designate the war as inter-imperialist and accordingly revolutionaries were required to oppose the war-mongering of their own capitalists, nevertheless the revolutionaries should be in the trenches with the workers and should not personally evade conscription. Normal agitation would be inadequate in war time and the Trotskyists should be prepared for armed action in appropriate circumstances. However this advice was disregarded in practice by Trotsky’s followers, notably in the UK and France.

Party leaders spent the war safe from conscription in Ireland and the Isle of Man. Even after the Nazis had taken over in France and set up a puppet French government the French Trotskyists did not change their abstentionist position. Nazis were rounding up Jews, trade unionists, gays and transporting them to labour camps and extermination camps. There was virtually no Trotskyist participation in “La Résistance” in the face of this barbarism.

There was a major revolutionary heave of the working class throughout Europe as the Nazi regime and its puppets crumbled. Because of these huge errors the Trotskyists were totally marginalised in this surge. They had not been in the trenches with the workers and they had not participated in the armed struggle against the Nazis in France and the Balkans. The Fourth International broke up into competing sects largely confined to the intelligentsia.

The working class surge in the UK resulted in the “war hero” Churchill being ousted by the Attlee led Labour Party. The Trotskyists were again completely marginalised and confined to intellectual circles because they had not been in the trenches with the workers who were now surging forward.

Crucially the entire left of the trade union movement fell into the hands of the Communist Party (CP), who had been in the trenches, particularly after the collapse of the Stalin-Hitler Pact (This also happened in Belfast where the CP became dominant due to the absence of the British or Irish Labour Parties). The international surge led to a major revival of Labour in 26-county Ireland and the development of Clann Na Poblachta.

Interest in Trotskyism did not substantially revive on the left until the Hungarian events of 1956.  During the late fifties and sixties each Trotskyist sect either developed or hardened their view that they were the sole inheritor of the revolutionary heritage of Trotsky. Each saw itself as the one true church outside of which there was no socialist salvation! Almost all Trotskyist currents expanded membership in the late sixties and seventies in the context of student revolts, opposition to the Vietnam war and the suppression of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia.

A successful revolution against Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe was a key plank of the Trotskyist programme of world revolution. This took a turn in 1980 when the Polish regime was forced to allow the free trade union Solidarnosc to organise following a workers revolt. What followed is history, including the fall of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and East Germany. Crucially, the outcome was not a victory for workers power, but for international capitalism.

This was a huge setback for the international working class (the UK’s SWP actually saw it as a replacement of one form of capitalism by another). The victory of the right in Eastern Europe politically strengthened capitalism world-wide and gave rise to new attacks on workers all over the world. As well as the reinforcement of Thatcherism/Reaganism and neo-liberalism (extreme capitalism, generally).

Were the Trotskyist currents able to give strong support to the workers revolt in Eastern Europe and make serious efforts to lead it along the path of workers democracy? We all did some things. For example, the League for a Workers Republic of which I was a leading member sent computers and printers to the Polish shipyards and transported them to there in person. Solidarnosc reps spoke in Ireland and were received by Clonmel Trades Council and Clonmel Corporation. Doubtlessly other currents did similar things.

In reality the Trotskyist currents were largely irrelevant. Apart from a handful of émigrés in Paris, there were no Trotskyists in Eastern Europe. Above all, not only was there no Trotskyist leadership in a single large western trade union, but the Trotskyists were not serious contenders for leadership in a single one... And it was forty two years since the founding of the Fourth International!

Solidarnosc was driven to the right by Western Trade union leaders, above all by the leadership of the American AFL/CIO and the American Federation of Teachers. European Social Democracy also played a significant role. Seeing that the revolution in Eastern Europe was a crucial, even defining, part of the Trotskyist programme, one might have expected that all the currents would come together, pool their resources, and give maximum support to the progressive elements in the developing revolt. Nothing of that kind of any significance occurred. Their main preoccupation was to use Eastern European activists to help themselves recruit in the west.

The failure of the Trotskyist currents to organise clandestine work in Eastern Europe over 30 years since the Second World War was inexcusable. It meant that they did not take the Trotskyist programme seriously and it raises serious questions about their internationalism. The weak position in Western trade unions was a product of the Second World War debacle. This was compounded by a failure to admit and rectify the error, and the resulting prioritisation of conflict and competition with other Trotskyists.


This is not a matter of apportioning blame to individuals or to particular currents. The reality is that all of them failed historic tests. The first failure facilitated the decapitation of the post-World War revolutionary process by the Communist Parties, particularly in France and Italy. The second failure in Eastern Europe facilitated the strengthening of world-wide capitalism against the working class.

This means that none of the currents have any revolutionary authority and continue to be seriously disfunctional. It means that none of the currents are “the one true church”. Arguably, they cannot admit this or address their own history because they still believe they “are the one true church”. The failure to make the “the one true church” dominant through individual recruitment will be the death of the revolution according to each of them. They are in a vicious circle from which they cannot escape.

Clearly, the belief that the dominance of your own current is a prerequisite for a successful revolution can justify all manner of behaviour.

The deadly rivalry between Trotskyist currents has particularly negative consequences in the current world situation of capitalist crisis. Because of the demise of the Communist Parties the Trotskyists are no longer a left opposition to Stalinism in the workers movement. The Social Democrats have been severely weakened in many countries, including Ireland. This means that genuine principled socialists have to take responsibility for the fate of the working class as a whole and for the rapid political regroupment of whole layers of workers. This must take priority over individual recruitment to individual groups. Until political currents accept this, they are an obstacle rather than a help.

In the absence of a recognised and proven revolutionary international leadership, we must do all we can where we can. We must all be committed to political reorganisation at a national level and to co-operate with like-minded people who give priority to this project. On the other hand, we must seek out all opportunities to create a revolutionary international. It is important to remember that all new internationals involved a coming together of political formations which had already existed from a number of countries.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

As uneasy as 1,2,3: A review of three per4mances

As uneasy as 1, 2, 3: A review of three per4mances
Project Arts Centre and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin
11 – 12 April 2013
By Darren Caffrey


May I Draw Your Eyes
by Fergus Byrne as part of Between You Me and The Four Walls

May I Draw Your Eyes, the first work of this series hosted by The Project Arts Centre, saw Byrne seated in a wooden construct similar to that from which the devil plays his best chess. In this respect, the allotted two-hour duration was like a marker of presence. Providing room for the lure of uncertainty to draw the viewer closer.

This immediate tension left the one empty seat to appear as though a proposition. An impression which crystalised quickly beneath the heat of a bright stage light hanging overhead. The stage was set, it was theatre, but theatre beyond a prescribed drama or narrative construct. Simply put, one man seated with a scribe in his hand diligently retraced the eyes of those who would sit with him.

The proposal appears to occur naturally, as though the result of an organic and wholesome urge to fulfil the promise of open space.

The public setting limits this somewhat, but in any case the action was expected to follow the course of a simple subjection. Each participant, who serves also as audience/viewer, themselves conjures up a pride associated with being seen openly. The performer, staring deeply into your eyes, casts a hard hand over a shining metal plate and marks forever something close to what he sees and what you are showing him.

Surrounded by darkness he draws blind and recites as mantra a piece which revolves as if a poetic turn. While the act is itself a propellant to the performance, the performers voice remains intimately personal to his individuality, consciously naked against the light of what is present.


Image linked from Múscailt, NUIG

Spectral (lake of eggs)
by Áine Phillips as part of Between You Me and The Four Walls

The second performance of the series, held in the same space the following night, saw Phillips in a Barbie-blonde wig, all tied up. Arms and legs apparently restricted by lengths of white fabric which led high into the rafters and fell back down to the floor, surrounding the performer where she sat. Before this spider-like phantom lay a gathering of upturned eggshells, neatly placed on the floor so as to further illustrate the full title of this performance, Spectral (lake of eggs).

This landscape is simply a narrative tool, from which the performer’s action necessarily follows, in order that the story be told. Beginning with actions only, the performer works her way loose of each hanging as it extends from her. Pulling, shifting and working against the ground and against the restraints imposed, she tears free the first and finally the last white stream of fabric. Despite each one falling in a manner of unceremonious happening, nonetheless there is created a moment of delicate emotional appeal. All eyes watching as these single white flags tumble through an otherwise darkened space. Intermittently and somewhat without reason, the performer is accompanied by noises and lighting effects which do not overly detract, nor do they add to that which the action elicits.

Having discarded with the restraints of the spectre, the performer stands for the first time. Putting on shoes reminiscent of those worn by girls for Confirmation, she makes up, wiping white over her face as though a gesture of adolescent mockery for the women of the world. It could be said that the discord between sound and lighting, and there again between action and quiet, was in fact a strategic concept, the thought being that complimentary tones would soften the performer’s activities. However, the story unravels as the performer commits her voice to the presentation, and real life bangs hard with the echo of past mistakes, each word spoken as though it were severely felt. Quickly it becomes clear that the delivery of this, at times gender-crossing, coming-of-age-tale is bound not to effects of technique, or accompaniment of any sort, but rather it all hangs on a passionate plea.

Between each telling, the lone performer enacts a sequence wherein eggshells are repaired with plasters and handed out to a largely receptive audience. In the closing scene, Tim Burton’s Batman, famed of comic-book heroism, appears to call out through the in-house speakers for one last repose before death, the performer’s actions resolved as though cast of an icon. As broken eggshells crack beneath her living body, the lighting dissolves away from the audience and in toward this reclining female spread out across a lake of eggs, the story complete.


This Situation
by Tino Sehgal

Dublin is also currently host to a work by the internationally acclaimed artist and Turner Prize nominee Tino Sehgal. Occupying a single room in IMMA’s temporary home next to the Iveagh Gardens, no distance at all from St. Stephen’s Green, a number of people perform work as devised by the artist in for his work, This Situation.

Essentially, the alternately paced actions of those performers present are guided by what appears to be a set of stock remarks about a certain text and the development of resulting lines of thought. It is unknown what exactly starts this whole thing off, but the work plays out everyday for a few weeks. The thing about a performance is that it cannot be found outside of its own setting. In this way, where it happens is also what it is. In the nearby park where people move at their own speed, nothing is considered so special of discussion between friends that it becomes a draw for others to watch and listen. Indeed privacy is valued so much that engaging in life as were it art might see you being chased out of the park altogether.

This Situation is played out by people who perform according to a set of precepts, each one a conspirator of the instructions which they have been given to fulfill. So without being strictly choreographed, activity may be shaped nonetheless. So it seems, as persons picked for their respective qualities and characteristics, dressed broadly typical and as such generic, weave in and out of action and speech. Each time divested of what is their own person, what is their own motivation, above and beyond work. The speeches made by the various performers in This Situation err on the side of deliberate contention. Each expression appearing to derive of a self-substantiation that defies legitimisation outside of the gallery setting, but which appeals to the relationship between the individual and the other as being one where the corridors of perception open for each of us.

Indeed references made to style, speech, and perception all evoke a world from which the park is sought as refuge. While present at the performance, the veil is transparently visible; in leaving, the work becomes but a ghost of something else, something of which perhaps others may seek. Little of its claims are themselves present, but none the less, its occurrence is identified as real.

Upon entry of each new patron, the group as one resound with the logo-centric “Wwwwwwelcome to this Situation!”. It is as though Tino Sehgal has hung a bell over the doorway for the purposes of alerting his performers, perhaps using it to serve also as a reminder that the audience merely reflect an obligation of the performance-cast to their work that is his. By employing the very same charm and disarming approach as the friendly salesman, the audience is assumed in the role of customer, thereby validating the contract and the product.