Saturday 16 March I saw a performance by the city of Birmingham symphony orchestra (CBSO) of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5. The symphony took up the second half of the performance, with the period before the interval dedicated to a mixed bag from Shostakovich’s ‘the Limpid Stream’ and his Piano Concerto No 1.
Workers are entitled to ask – why should I care? Whilst classical music in Britain enjoys broad popularity, it is by no means accessible to the vast majority of workers and has a decidedly unfashionable image amongst large swathes of the population. A typical assumption would be that price excludes large numbers of workers, though hundreds of thousands of British workers are quite prepared to pay far in excess of the price for a mid-range ticket in a symphony hall (£35) to see some dreadful performance at the O2 or watch South Americans kick a ball about for Manchester City. Classical music, so long dominated by the intelligentsia and the ruling class appears to millions of workers as aloof, long-winded, high-brow and political, and who could blame them? For those not accustomed to its special laws; to the etiquette of clapping in the right places and holding in every cough until an interval, the entire proceedings can be as incomprehensible as they are inconvenient.
Marx on music
Workers are exposed to all sorts of musical influences, and many workers are exposed to classical music without even realising it, even if it is just Zadok the Priest prior to a Champions League football match. This music has mass appeal, but it is not the music that is always the easiest to comprehend. Depth and content are too readily discarded in modern society in favour of shallow meaningless forgettable music.
Marx, writing in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844) had this to say when discussing music and beauty,
“…only music awakens in man the sense of music, and just as the most beautiful music has no sense for the unmusical ear… the meaning of an object for me goes only so far as my sense goes (has only a meaning for a sense corresponding to that object) – for this reason the senses of the social man differ from those of the non-social man. Only through the objectively unfolded richness of man’s essential being is the richness of subjective human sensibility (a musical ear, an eye for beauty of form – in short, senses capable of human gratification, senses affirming themselves as essential powers of man) either cultivated or brought into being. For not only the five senses but also the so-called mental senses, the practical senses (will, love, etc.), in a word, human sense, the human nature of the senses, comes to be by virtue of its object, by virtue of humanised nature. The forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present. The sense caught up in crude practical need has only a restricted sense. For the starving man, it is not the human form of food that exists, but only its abstract existence as food. It could just as well be there in its crudest form, and it would be impossible to say wherein this feeding activity differs from that of animals. The care-burdened, poverty-stricken man has no sense for the finest play; the dealer in minerals sees only the commercial value but not the beauty and the specific character of the mineral: he has no mineralogical sense. Thus, the objectification of the human essence, both in its theoretical and practical aspects, is required to make man’s sense human, as well as to create the human sense corresponding to the entire wealth of human and natural substance.”
It is from such a position that communist workers should learn to enjoy classical music, and perhaps also begin to comprehend our distaste (often instinctive) towards those clattering, boastful, monotonous and ugly genres such as jazz and soul or the more modern (and even more commercial) rap and grime to name but four molesting musical rackets.
Mirga conducts Shostakovich
The outstanding feature of the pre-concert atmosphere was the naked and extreme hostility to the USSR. The advertisement and programme was explicitly political, as is often the case with Shostakovich. The bourgeoisie, who dominate classical music (as with all the arts, even those which appear to be dominated by us) never ceases to draw political, cultural and historical allegory from music old and new. Art for them has to serve their class interests, and the music at times is little more than an avenue by which to foist upon the audience their interpretation of historical events and political prejudice.
The CBSO performance was conducted by Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. Mirga is the CBSO Music Director. She is a Lithuanian, a rising star in the world of classical music, though she cannot play any instrument to the level of a virtuoso. This writer could find no display of blatant anti-sovietism in her interviews, although every journalist who interviews her is sure to note that she is Lithuanian, a witness to the Soviet ‘occupation’ etc. In fact in every interview you can be sure that some remarks, in addition to the comments that she is a woman sticking it out in a man’s world, will be made along the lines of these in the FT:
“she lived through the collapse of the Soviet regime in her country and experienced at first hand the “positive, unifying force” of the mass singing that played such an important role during the Baltic republics’ liberation” (FT July 28, 2017)
Dmitri Shostakovich is of importance and interest to advanced workers for three
reasons. Firstly he is universally recognised as a great composer of music, secondly, he was a Soviet artist with enduring worldwide fame, and thirdly, he represented a revisionist tendency in soviet music being a recognised leader of the ‘formalist tendency’. With regards to his position as a formalist, Shostakovich has been very useful to anti-soviet musicologists, sociologists and historians, for whom he is an ‘innovator’ and ‘individual’ which contributes towards his ongoing popularity in the West.
Everyone connected with classical music likes to quote from the words of Shostakovich, usually the words (published second hand) at the end of his life, the period of his decline, the 20 years he lived with the political ‘freedoms’ Khruschevite revisionism won for the remnants of the vanquished exploiting classes and in particular, for the sections of soviet society which clung onto the habits and ways of thinking associated with the epoch of exploitation. Shostakovich was one of these men. A formalist in the twenties he was part of the ‘avant guard’.
Historians and fans tend to dismiss all Shostakovich’s words which don’t fit the narrative of the ‘oppressed creative genius’, especially his articles in Pravda (which demonstrate his own fierce polemics against his contemporaries and worse still even praise soviet music) by saying that these were forced words, that he was often ‘contradictory’ and they even go so far as to say he was an outright liar when they find something reflecting too positively upon soviet life.
Politics and the CBSO
The programme notes for the CBSO evening entertainment are there to tell the audience
exactly what to think, exactly how to interpret the music they are about to hear. Gerard McBurney gave the pre-concert talk for members and supporters of the CBSO and he was responsible for a large part of the printed programme, giving his ludicrous and anti-communist reflections on all manner of aspects of the music. McBurney is viciously anti-Soviet and anti-Stalin. He is the son of an American archaeologist who ended up teaching at Cambridge. His grandparents on his mother’s side were British army officers, as were his great-grandparents on that side. The archaeologist father took an interest in the USSR and produced a book entitled “Early man in the Soviet Union”. His position at Cambridge University may have helped to get his children in, and after early schooling at Winchester College Gerard McBurney, our British composer and critic entered Corpus Christi Cambridge along with his brother Simon McBurney OBE (who you may have seen in Harry Potter or the Vicar of Dibley and all manner of other silly things).
McBurney’s ludicrous concert notes leave the audience in no doubt whatsoever that Shostakovich was a persecuted artist, like all good Soviet artists (the rest being mere tools of Stalinist tyranny), that he was in fear of his life and that he mixed with writers and artists who for no good reason whatsoever were executed by a tyrannical regime in the Kremlin.
“The extent of violent repression in the USSR in the 1930’s was, by any standards, shocking. This was the period of Stalins most ruthless consolidation of absolute power (no less!), beginning in 1928 with the Five-Year Plans [those awful things] and the monstrous project of the Collectivisation of agriculture…”
“It’s an oft-told story – one of the nightmares of the 20th century history – and certainly one factor in why Shostakovich’s music sounds the way it does”
“At the very start of this period, Shostakovich’s supreme compositional achievement was undoubtedly his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District… The composer began it in the autumn of 1930, at the age of only 24, and finished it two years later…
“A year or so later, around the time of the first performance of his opera, he completed his ballet The Limpid Stream. To begin with, this piece, like the opera, was successful; its first staging in Leningrad in the spring of 1935 was followed by a second one in Moscow in the autumn.”
“From then on, it was not only Shostakovich’s career that was threatened, but – as we know from memoirs of his friends and family – his personal safety.”
Shostakovich’s Limpid Stream (meaning Bright Stream) is set on a collective farm. The concert notes think Shostakovich was poking fun at the name of the workers holiday villages which the Soviet Union had set up. Only an entitled middle class snob could imagine such a pun. Our own country, with its Sandy Bay’s and Sunny Heights, its Naples of the North (Morecombe) and English Riviera (Devon) are decidedly untrendy holiday resorts for mobile middle class aesthetes like McBurney. He can only imagine that Shostakovich, like himself would have scoffed at those Soviet workers forced to take holidays in such wretched places. Indeed they may well have scoffed (though to their credit they didn’t) at the proletariat in the capitalist world who far from being able to take free holidays in resorts like the Bright Stream were permanently on holiday from the world of work and suffering the acute crisis of capitalism which destroyed millions of workers at this time (20% unemployment in Britain and 25% in the USA).
Shostakovich wrote the music for the ballet but not the entire story, and it is foremost the story which is criticised by Pravda in an article entitled ‘Ballet Falsity’. The Limpid Stream follows a troupe of musicians and dancers sent to perform for agricultural workers in the provinces. The scriptwriter, Adrian Piotrovsky who in 1937 was shot for espionage (58-6 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR), tells the story of the antics of the troupe, who essentially frolic, wife swop (unknowingly) and make games down on the farm. Shostakovich’s music accompanies these antics, especially the frolicking; it even led the New York Sun to label the music pornophony which is a far harsher criticism of the music than Shostakovich received from the Soviets! Indeed, a recurring theme in Pravda’s criticism is that soviet art criticism is decidedly lacking in criticism and most often takes on the role of lavishing praise on favourite artists.
Pravda’s criticism in 1936 of the Limpid Stream was essentially directed at the fact that the ballet had not bothered to investigate in any way the life and problems of a real collective farm, nor had it made even the slightest effort to depict the costume, folk dance and traditions of the people it was purporting to represent (from the Kuban). In our modern, touchy idPol dominated times it would be the most distressing to see such brazen ignorance of the cultural traditions and values of ethnic minorities, and it is surprising that McBurney is so insensitive to this. When it came to the musical score of Shostakovich, Pravda said:
“From the libretto, we learn that it has been partially transferred to the collective farm ballet “Bolt” which failed [a previous work by Shostakovich, he essentially reused his old tunes]. It is clear what happens when the same music should express different phenomena. In fact, it expresses only the composer’s indifferent attitude to the topic.
The authors of the ballet — both the directors and the composer — seem to expect that our public is undemanding, that she will accept everything, that she is crammed together by nimble and unceremonious people.
In reality, only our musical and art criticism is undemanding. She often commends works that do not deserve it.”
In our book such criticism hardly amounts to a death threat.
Muddle Instead of Music
The Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk is perhaps the most infamous of all Shostakovich’s works, and is undergoing a revival in the West where it is used repeatedly to push the lie that Stalin personally launched an attack on Shostakovich, the great innovator, and had this masterpiece censored. In Birmingham in March the celebrated Birmingham Opera Company performed this very piece, just another example of their innovative (i.e., very dull, predictable, liberal and PC) trajectory.
The story of Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk originated with Nikolay Leskov. Leskov wrote a sordid tale in which Katerina Ismailova, the wife of a provincial merchant has an affair with a clerk in her husbands office. She poisons her father-in-law who is unsurprisingly unimpressed, then joins her lover in strangling her husband and finally murders her little nephew. Leskov wrote Katerina as a depraved criminal, but Shostakovich attempted to present her as a tribute to women’s liberation. So effective was Shostakovich, that the Guardian (remarking upon a recent performance of the Opera in London) said, “we get to marvel at the way in which in this opera Shostakovich so brazenly and lovingly hands the moral high ground to a murderer, and keeps you rooting for her until the very last note.”
Shostakovich’s Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, received the praise of many a soviet ‘critic’ at the time of the first performance in Leningrad. Particular fawning praise came from Ivan Sollertinsky who was a professor at the Leningrad conservatoire as well as the artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic, an impartial ear if ever there was one. It can be of no surprise that when Shostakovich’s Lady MacBeth debuted in Leningrad it was well received by such good friendly critics and that it was not until it had a thorough inspection in Moscow that any independent criticism was given. It is unsurprising that the artistic director of the philharmonic would praise his own work, but it is a surprise that an artistic director could be considered a suitable critic for his own chosen performances! And Soviet publications, including Pravda don’t fail to capture the sense that nepotism and the old boys club operated just as well in certain circles of Soviet artistic production as they had done under capitalism. McBurney see’s it somewhat differently of course, in his notes he says,
“…in January 1936, the composer’s life was turned inside out by a devastating public attack on his Lady Macbeth, a now notorious article entitled Muddle Instead of Music, published prominently in Pravda [on page 3], the official newspaper of the Communist Party.”
McBurney, like Sollertinsky thinks Shostakovich should be above criticism, not criticism in general but most certainly Soviet criticism. Soviet criticism has as its aim the ‘extermination of the artist’, his ‘incarceration and physical annihilation’ etc etc. For McBurney, Shostakovich was certainly above criticism from the workers and their Communist Party, from those foul people who holiday in Sunny Heights and Fawlty Towers. McBurney fails to mention that Shostakovich, to his credit, like many Soviet artists had a completely different attitude to criticism, and self-criticism, even if it left a bitter taste years after the experience. In those times of open class struggle, many artists were as happy writing criticism of their contemporaries as they were composing new works, and only weeks before his rebuke Shostakovich had been published in Pravda describing as “weak” his contemporary Ivan Dzerzinsky’s ballet ‘The Quiet Don’ based on the world famous Sholokov story!
Stalin goes to the opera
It is said that Stalin, Zhdanov and a handful of politburo members went to the Moscow showing of the Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk and were decidedly unimpressed. Their opinions were shared by others such as Kerzhentsev, the Chairman of the Committee for Arts Affairs. ‘Muddle Instead of Music’ was their response, it was published by Pravda without an author:
“With the general cultural development of our country there grew also the necessity for good music. At no time and in no other place has the composer had a more appreciative audience. The people expect good songs, but also good instrumental works, and good operas.
Certain theatres are presenting to the new culturally mature Soviet public Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth as an innovation and achievement. Musical criticism, always ready to serve, has praised the opera to the skies, and given it resounding glory. The young composer, instead of hearing serious criticism, which could have helped him in his future work, hears only enthusiastic compliments.
From the first minute, the listener is shocked by deliberate dissonance, by a confused stream of sound. Snatches of melody, the beginnings of a musical phrase, are drowned, emerge again, and disappear in a grinding and squealing roar. To follow this “music” is most difficult; to remember it, impossible.
Thus it goes, practically throughout the entire opera. The singing on the stage is replaced by shrieks. If the composer chances to come upon the path of a clear and simple melody, he throws himself back into a wilderness of musical chaos – in places becoming cacophony. The expression which the listener expects is supplanted by wild rhythm. Passion is here supposed to be expressed by noise. All this is not due to lack of talent, or lack of ability to depict strong and simple emotions in music. Here is music turned deliberately inside out in order that nothing will be reminiscent of classical opera, or have anything in common with symphonic music or with simple and popular musical language accessible to all. This music is built on the basis of rejecting opera – the same basis on which “Leftist” Art rejects in the theatre simplicity, realism, clarity of image, and the unaffected spoken word – which carries into the theatre and into music the most negative features of “Meyerholdism” infinitely multiplied. Here we have “leftist” confusion instead of natural human music. The power of good music to infect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, “formalist” attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.
The danger of this trend to Soviet music is clear. Leftist distortion in opera stems from the same source as Leftist distortion in painting, poetry, teaching, and science. Petty-bourgeois “innovations” lead to a break with real art, real science and real literature.
The composer of Lady Macbeth was forced to borrow from jazz its nervous, convulsive, and spasmodic music in order to lend “passion” to his characters. While our critics, including music critics, swear by the name of socialist realism, the stage serves us, in Shostakovich’s creation, the coarsest kind of naturalism. He reveals the merchants and the people monotonously and bestially. The predatory merchant woman who scrambles into the possession of wealth through murder is pictured as some kind of “victim” of bourgeois society. Leskov’s story has been given a significance which it does not possess.
And all this is coarse, primitive and vulgar. The music quacks, grunts, and growls, and suffocates itself in order to express the love scenes as naturalistically as possible. And “love” is smeared all over the opera in the most vulgar manner. The merchant’s double bed occupies the central position on the stage. On this bed all “problems” are solved. In the same coarse, naturalistic style is shown the death from poisoning and the flogging – both practically on stage.
The composer apparently never considered the problem of what the Soviet audience looks for and expects in music. As though deliberately, he scribbles down his music, confusing all the sounds in such a way that his music would reach only the effete “formalists” who had lost all their wholesome taste. He ignored the demand of Soviet culture that all coarseness and savagery be abolished from every corner of Soviet life. Some critics call the glorification of the merchants’ lust a satire. But there is no question of satire here. The composer has tried, with all the musical and dramatic means at his command, to arouse the sympathy of the spectators for the coarse and vulgar inclinations and behaviour of the merchant woman Katerina Izmailova.
Lady Macbeth is having great success with bourgeois audiences abroad. Is it not because the opera is non-political and confusing that they praise it? Is it not explained by the fact that it tickles the perverted taste of the bourgeois with its fidgety, neurotic music?
Our theatres have expended a great deal of energy on giving Shostakovich’s opera a thorough presentation. The actors have shown exceptional talent in dominating the noise, the screaming, and the roar of the orchestra. With their dramatic action, they have tried to reinforce the weakness of the melodic content. Unfortunately, this has served only to bring out the opera’s vulgar features more vividly. The talented acting deserves gratitude, the wasted efforts – regret.”
Shostakovich Fifth Symphony
Following the Pravda article Shostakovich met with Kerzhentsev, the Chairman of the Committee for Arts Affairs, and carried on his work, having expressed his willingness to comprehend the criticism and to alter his work. In his meeting with Kerzhentsev he was reportedly told that he should reject his formalist errors, work to attain in his art something that could be comprehended by the masses and that the authorities did not want a ‘public declaration’ that was insincere or formulaic. It was suggested to him that he should tour the USSR and listen and record the folk songs and music of its peoples, acquaint himself with the best 100 and synthesise his experience. Such an approach was in the best traditions of the greatest of Russian artists, not least the poet Pushkin who had set out on a similar journey a century before writing his best works.
Far from destruction, from Muddle Instead of Music arose Shostakovich’s greatest triumph, his Fifth Symphony, nearly universally recognised as his best. It was often referred to as “the practical creative answer of a soviet artist to just criticism”. Made up of four parts (movements), Moderato (moderate pace), Allegretto (brisk), Largo (slow and dignified) and Allegro non troppo (meaning fast, but not too much!) his work is comprehensible to the ear, has an easy to follow melody for the most part, and an incredibly distinctive and memorable finale which feels as though it will bring the roof in. The Birmingham CBSO, ending on this monumental piece, were clearly having a lot more fun than they had played the jarring and ugly parts of the first half of the evenings concert, and it was the only piece to bring truly rapturous applause from the Birmingham audience. It was the finale of the Fifth which caused such a sensation at the time as well, and is the source of controversy today. Bourgeois critics cannot possibly ignore the greatness of the piece, and so have to find a way to explain its existence, especially as the composer was at risk of losing his life, was reviled by the people and harassed at every turn. They turn to the old tune that yes it is a work of genius, with special hidden meaning only discernable to them. They are aided in this by Shostakovich’s ‘smuggled memoirs’ in which he says “I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth… its as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying ‘Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing’, and you rise, shakily, and go off muttering ‘Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.” At the time, in his published writings Shostakovich said
“The idea behind my symphony is the making of a man. I saw him, with all his experience, at the centre of the work, which is lyrical from beginning to end…”
Writer Alexei Tolstoy witnessed that “the audience understood Shostakovich’s unshakable optimism… We were faced with the realistic, great art of our epoch…” The four movements of the symphony were likened to the psychological stages in the formation of a personality, in which “the Finale brings an optimistic solution to the tragic parts of the first movement…”
Formalism in music
Pravda’s criticism became known as criticism of the formalist trend in music. Formalism, as in the arts and literature, attempted to foist on soviet society art which could only be appreciated by ‘the chosen few’, those enrolled into its secret meanings, a small self-appreciation circle. These days we are so used to this ludicrous attitude to art and social life that we think nothing of it. Incomprehensible garbled words spat out so fast or sang so annoyingly slow they cannot be understood by most people, animal faeces on canvas and in sculpture which is open to ‘interpretation’, and a world of idPol acronyms and alphabetty spaghetti to describe sexuality and race; it is the stranglehold of political correctness enforced by imperialist-funded thought police in universities and art gallery’s, a world under the pernicious influence of toothless vegetarianism in art, literature and philosophy.
In the post war period, the CPSU(b) led a campaign against this trend. In its struggle to overcome the formalists in music it was necessary to overcome Dmitri Shostakovich, amongst others. Speaking to a Conference of Soviet Music Workers in 1948, the great Marxist-Leninist Andrei Zhdanov said,
“There is in fact, then, a sharp though hidden struggle between two trends taking place in Soviet music. One trend represents the healthy, progressive principles in Soviet music, based on the acceptance of the immense role to be played by the classical heritage, and in particular by the Russian school, in the creation of a music which is realist and of truthful content and is closely and organically linked with the people and their folk music and folk song — all this combined with a high degree of professional mastery. The other trend represents a formalism alien to Soviet art, a rejection of the classical heritage under the banner of innovation, a rejection of the idea of the popular origin of music, and of service to the people, in order to gratify the individualistic emotions of a small group of select aesthetes.
The formalist trend brings about the substitution of a music which is false, vulgar and often purely pathological, for natural, beautiful, human music. Furthermore, it is characteristic of this trend to avoid a frontal attack and to screen its revisionist activities by formally agreeing with the basic principles of socialist realism. This sort of underhand method is, of course, nothing new. History can show many instances of revisionism behind the label of sham agreement with a given teaching. This makes it all the more necessary to reveal the real essence of the formalist trend and the damage it has done to the development of Soviet music.
As an example, there is the attitude towards the classical heritage. There is no indication whatever that the supporters of the formalist school are carrying on and developing the traditions of classical music, however much they may protest to the contrary. Any listener will tell you that the works of Soviet composers of the formalist type differ fundamentally from classical music. Classical music is marked by its truthfulness and realism, its ability to blend brilliant artistic form with profound content, and to combine the highest technical achievement with simplicity and intelligibility. Formalism and crude naturalism are alien to classical music in general and to Russian classical music in particular. The high level of the idea content in classical music springs from the recognition of the fact that classical music has its sources in the musical creative powers of the people, in a deep respect and love for the people, their music and song….
Let us recall how Serov [Alexander Serov 1820-1871 – Ed.] described his attitude to folk music. I have in mind his article ‘The Music of South Russian Song’ in which he says:
“Folk songs are musical organisms which are in no way the work of individual creative talent but compositions of the whole people, and by all their attributes far removed from artificial music. These flowers break through the soil into the light quite of their own, as it were, and grow to full resplendence without the slightest thought about authorship and composers’ rights and therefore little resemble the hothouse products of the learned composers’ activity. So it is that, above all, in folk song we find unaffected creative genius and the wisdom of simplicity, as Gogol puts it so aptly in Dead Souls, which is the supreme charm and secret of any work of art.
As a lily in its magnificent raiment of purity puts to shame the glitter of brocade and precious stones, so is folk music, in its childlike simplicity, a thousand times richer and stronger than all the complexities of scholastic invention taught by pedants in conservatoires and music academies.”
How well and forcefully this is said! How true the formulation of the main issue: that the development of music must proceed on a foundation of interplay, that is by enriching ‘academic’ music from folk music. This theme has practically disappeared from our theoretical and critical articles today.”
Whatever Shostakovich’s merits and frailties as a man, his political weaknesses as an artist are discernable. Though he was a man lucky enough to have been born to witness the ascendency of the Russian proletariat and to record in music what he saw he could never shake off the elitism of his education and position. Toadying and nepotism are hang over’s from capitalism and exploitative society that socialism must overcome. As Zhdanov remarked “the crux of the matter is that the regime of the formalist sect in the musical organisations has not been entirely unpleasant, to put it mildly, for the leading group of our composers.” Shostakovich’s greatest musical work is a product of the most fantastic, and incredible era yet witnessed in the development of human culture, the period of socialist construction, and as such it should be of interest to all advanced workers, even if not to taste. His output is inextricably tied to the momentous achievements of the USSR, achievements never surpassed by any other socialist state in terms of the development of all round culture and the moulding of a new man. We must remember that the class struggle is fought across many battlefields, music being one very important front. Our job, as thinking workers and proletarian revolutionaries is to know our Soviet history so as to build the new world.
“The first premise of all human existence is … that man must be in a position to live in order to make history. But life involves before anything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things” (K Marx and F Engels, The German Ideology (1846), International Publishers, New York, 1947, p.16).
A short column in the FT on Saturday 18th May notes the publication of a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) into council tax inequality. The report, focused on London but taking into account some statistical evidence for the whole of Britain concludes that council tax is beginning to look a lot like the ill-fated Poll Tax which caused Margaret Thatcher so many problems thirty years ago.
The UK is ranked by the OECD as having, after France, the greatest reliance on property taxation of all OECD country respondents as a proportion of GDP. For 2017, property taxes accounted for around 4.2 per cent of GDP, more than twice the OECD average.
The IPPR report states that today’s system of council tax leaves those living in the lowest-value homes paying a higher proportion of council tax with regard to property value, than those living in the highest value homes. This is particularly acute in London where property investment has taken house price prices to ludicrous levels. The study found that a household in a Band A property in London would on average pay nearly five times what a Band H household would pay as a proportion of property value. The poorest Londoners pay 8.1% of household income in council tax, whilst those in the top income decile contribute just 1.3% of their declared earnings.
“Those in the lowest-value homes in London are paying a higher proportion of council tax with regard to property value than those in higher-value homes… To the extent that the distribution of property values is a proxy for wealth, this is not fair… The regressive nature of the present council tax system is embedded in its design… The highest-value property in Band H will attract a maximum of three times the tax on the lowest-value homes, even though (based on the current banding system) the high-value home is worth at least eight times the low-value one in 1991 property prices. As a proportion of property value, lower-value properties pay a larger proportion than higher-value properties.”
“Across England”, according to the report, “officially recognised annual total council tax arrears increased from £836 million in 2013/14 to £944 million in 2017/18. Moreover, the total arrears outstanding in 2017/18 were £3 billion, up from £2.5 billion in 2013/14. Research by the anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) has also found that a number of councils are using bailiffs, and claimants are being charged court costs on top of their arrears… At the most extreme, 305 people were given custodial prison sentences for non-payment of council tax between 2013/14 and 2017/18, with another 6,278 receiving suspended sentences…”
No tinkering with the present system of taxation will be enough to stop the steady slide of hundreds of thousands of workers and middle classes into absolute destitution and misery. The crisis of overproduction, its consequent lay-offs and redundancies destroy the purchasing power of the masses who are also crushed under the weight of rising prices and taxation which they can no longer afford. Millions of workers today are a pay cheque away from ruination. Raising taxation of empty homes in London does nothing to undermine the financial power of the landlord and capitalist class, it does nothing to alleviate the underlying cause of the people’s misery – capitalism. Only under socialism, where the private ownership of the land by a tiny few is replaced with a socialist system of land ownership and taxation, where the recurrent crisis of capitalism is done away with and replaced by planned production can the working man and woman finally find themselves liberated.
The IPPR is from a social democratic think-tank with a long history of providing Labour party class collaborators with policy proposals designed to paper over the cracks of an increasingly divided and unequal society, its chair of trustees is Lord Adonis and in 2016 it appointed Tom Kibasi its Director. Mr Kibasi has worked for the Rockerfeller Foundation and the Bill Gates Foundation.
Embassy of Venezuela
Statement about the suspension of Twitter account / New account
On 1st May, Twitter temporarily suspended the account of the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United Kingdom, alleging “infractions” on the conditions of this social network.
This first suspension occurred one day after the attempted coup in Venezuela, and in parallel to the suspension of numerous Twitter accounts of the Bolivarian Government.
After the immediate appeal made by the Embassy, Twitter replied two days later informing that the suspension was permanent, and that there is no possibility of another appeal.
The permanent suspension of the official Twitter of the Embassy will not silence the voice of the Bolivarian Revolution in the United Kingdom. We have a new Twitter account, @EmbaVenezUk ; please socialize the account among your contacts, so we can multiply information about Venezuela as swiftly as possible. Venceremos!
The following excerpt is taken from a longer article published by the CPGB-ML, link below.
Our party pointed out in our most recent free newspaper sheet – distributed to, and read with interest by, tens of thousands of workers – that British workers had demanded Brexit, and that the failure to deliver it was demonstrating to the mass of British workers the fraud of their so-called parliamentary democracy.
The opportunity for workers to gain an increased understanding of the true nature of Britain’s parliament, which in reality is a hollow talking-shop concealing the iron fist of the state apparatus and the dictatorial rule of the wealthy ruling-class elite, is clear.
So much so, that the issue of Brexit – despite the triumphalist broadcasting of large anti-Brexit marches and online petitions – far from going quietly away, looks set to upset the applecart of bourgeois politics in a fairly extreme way.
Supporters of Labour party social democracy are up in arms. But this is not new for them. They have always issued hollow slogans to the workers of Britain along the lines of “Vote Labour to keep the fascists / BNP / Ukip / Tories out”. Their politics consist of calling for votes for Labour as an answer to all questions.
British workers are realising intuitively and by experience, however, that Labour is another capitalist party, just like all the others, even though most of these workers may not yet define themselves as anti-capitalist.
The days after the collapse of the banks in 2008, when everyone was demanding action against the bankers, have long been transformed by politicians and media into ‘the people’ apparently demanding action against immigration. In that fraud of protecting the rich and victimising the poor, all the capitalist parties have played their part, Labour first among them.
But that is not what is at issue here and now. The fact is that workers are realising that Labour is as much and more the agent of their misery as any other representative of the ruling class.
The meaning of Brexit
Choosing to ‘stand with’ the EU imperialists (imperialist ‘internationalism’) or to ‘stand with’ the British imperialists (imperialist ‘nationalism’): is that the essence of Brexit?
No. Brexit, as the CPGB-ML has emphasised since the beginning of the debate leading up to the referendum (in which 17.4 million voted to leave the EU, as opposed to 16.1 million who voted to remain), hurts European, British and US imperialism alike.
The harder the Brexit, the more the imperialists will be set back. Yes, some privileged workers will find that their privileges come under threat from this outcome, but that’s the way the winds of capitalist economic crisis are blowing in any case.
Vote for the Brexit party in the upcoming EU elections 2019
ReAD THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: https://www.cpgb-ml.org/2019/05/07/news/galloway-farage-brexit-party-eu-election/
The Birmingham Branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) sends its warm regards and revolutionary greetings to comrades and friends all over the world on 1 May 2019.
In every part of the country where we are active our comrades are working hard to bring our revolutionary message to workers on the streets, in their workplaces and homes. At this moment of great political turmoil in our country, our Party is undertaking a mass campaign of political propaganda in defence of the interests of the working class; not least the exposure of the sham of British democracy and our defence of the Brexit referendum result.
Taking up the political tasks outlined at our 8th Congress in 2018 our comrades are well on the way to meeting our organisational goal of distributing more than 100,000 copies of our Proletarian front sheet, and on May 1st in Birmingham we will add to the work achieved so far with a leafleting campaign and social celebration to mark International Workers Day.
Since 1889 the international working class has chosen this day, the first of May, to mark the mutual solidarity of all workers, in our struggle for work, for rest and recreation; for the equality of all nations and peoples, women and men. For decent pay and conditions within the old capitalistic order of exploitation, within which we remain imprisoned by our wage-slavery – and renew our struggle to build a better world, in which we move forward to a higher, fairer, more decent order of society, and relations between nations; our struggle for socialism!
Today we reaffirm our resolute intention to cast off this parasitic and decadent capitalist system, and with it the exploitation of one human being by another and one nation by another.
We must never forget that no matter how well our trade unions battle for higher wages and better pay, they are fighting against the effects, and not the causes of our exploitation.
As long as we receive wages for our labour, rather than taking ownership of the very means of producing – the land, the housing stock, the factories, mines, retail stores, distribution and communications networks, banks and industries, media and government – we will remain the pawns of our exploiters; powerless to effect change in our interests. Beggars at the feast.
We do not need ‘fairer’ wages alone; we need to end this capitalist system of exploitation and robbery in its entirety.
And we must record, in passing, the fact that since the heroic miners’ strike of 1984/5, which ended in the defeat of the once mighty National Union of Mineworkers, for the most part, our unions have failed even to engage in everyday skirmishes effectively; they have failed even to resist the constant tendency of the capitalists to force our wages to rock bottom.
The pitiful wages of the McDonalds strikers, or of our hospital cleaners; the totally inadequate levels of ‘minimum wage’ and ‘living wage’, and the legions of ‘illegal’ workers who do not even scrape these meagre sums, are all testament to this sad fact. As is the inability of even better-off workers to afford decent homes.
Our ministers and parliamentarians have no answers to our most pressing problems.
Workers and oppressed peoples of the world, unite!
You have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to win!
The ability of the illusory British bourgeois democracy to dupe the workers of this country is fast eroding.
Nearly three years after voting to the leave the European Union, workers still have no idea when, how or even if that promised exit will actually take place.
Despite 17.4 million people delivering a direct democratic mandate for leave in June 2016, the overwhelming majority of British parliamentarians are committed remainers. As a result, ‘Brexit day’ has passed with Britain still a member of the EU.
According to the law passed two years ago, 29 March was supposed to be the day Britain left the European bosses’ club; prime minister Theresa May promised on more than 80 occasions that the people’s vote would be honoured and the country would leave the union on schedule.
Instead, she has seen her withdrawal deal (which is really a treaty) rejected three times by Parliament; and rejected by leavers and remainers alike. In an attempt to satisfy everyone, she has satisfied no-one. For remainers, any deal to leave the EU was too much, and for leavers, her deal was ‘Brexit’ in name only.
These are the faces of some of Birmingham city council’s best paid employees. Jonathon Chew (Assistant Chief Exec), Jacqui Kennedy (Director of Neighbourhoods) and Dawn Baxendale the present Chief Exec.
It was revealed in The Times this week that Birmingham has 28 employees earning more than £100,000 a year, and a significant number who are on more than the Prime Minister.
The Taxpayers Alliance found that more than 600 council workers across the country are on such sums, with the highest paid Chief Exec in the country on £595,077! They have compiled a Town Hall Rich List, and Birmingham sits in 4th place! The Alliance says,
“…the town hall rich list also showcases the executives who have overseen failing departments or received bumper pay-offs after poor performance in the job.”
Thats a fitting description of many of those paid off by Labour-run Birmingham city council. Jacqui Kennedy, one of those on the gross (in every sense of the word) salaries earns in excess of £100,000 a year and will be remembered for her sterling efforts in wasting £6 million of taxpayers money during the bin strike in 2017, whilst Dawn Baxendale was at the same trick again this year, wasting a similar amount on another war on council workers, waged in tandem with the local Labour party who are ideologically hell bent on displaying their anti-worker credentials to the banks, tories and corporate media in the hope they can win the next general election (despite betraying Brexit)!
John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers Alliance, said: “The average council tax bill has gone up by more than £900 over the last 20 years and spending has gone through the roof.
“Disappointingly, many local authorities are now responding to financial reality through further tax rises and reducing services rather than scaling back top pay.
“There are talented people in the public sector who are trying to deliver more for less but the sheer scale of these packages raise serious questions about efficiency and priorities.”
The Local Government Association said: “Senior pay is always decided by democratically elected councillors in an open and transparent way.”
Fall out amongst thieves
Having privatised all that they can get their hands on (nearly), Birmingham city council has been trying to charge private contractors Amey (who they appointed to maintain the roads) the best part of £50 million for a few road bollards.
Neil Jonston reported “The city council has been accused of holding “its own road network hostage” after apparently charging Amey, a highways company, £58,000 a day for a delay in repairing two sets of bollards designed to prevent drivers from swerving around speed bumps.
The council said that the contractor had put road users in danger by taking months to carry out the repairs on a quiet residential street. Amey has not been paid by the council since 2017, when officials withheld monthly payments for work after issuing fines running into millions for delays in repairing bollards, lamp posts and potholes.
The bill for the delay on the bollards in a parking strip on Westwood Road, Witton, has reached £48.5 million according to Amey, after the contractor took a year to carry out the first repair and seven months to fix the second set. The initial penalty was £250 but because the council said the repair should be treated as a category one defect, meaning it was an emergency and posed danger, it doubled every hour.
The council is also said to have billed Amey £12 million for a pothole and £14 million for adding cable ties to three lamp posts, which the council called unnecessary “cosmetics”.”
Only under capitalism could such madness prevail and yet we are led to believe by all the main political voices that such idiocy drives the economy, creates growth and is the sign of a functioning, competitive society. Such drivel could only fool the deaf, dumb, blind and wilfully ignorant.
Only a planned economy, a socialist system, can get rid of the burden upon the poor of such ludicrous and wasteful excesses as inflated salaries for failing bureaucrats and multi million pound potholes.
Get in touch to put an end to the madness:
MP’s vote themselves another pay rise
The British government and the pen pushers sat in parliament claim to represent us, but are little more than the executive committee of the ruling classes (bourgeoisie). Once again they have again shown the people of Britain utter contempt by awarding themselves another pay rise at a time of austerity!
Whilst working men and women queue at food banks up and down the length of our country, nearly four million children are at risk of malnutrition and 8 million households are food insecure (meaning they cannot afford decent and healthy foods) these piglets at the trough act as though they can go on feasting on the blood, sweat and tears of our country.
Pay for MP’s up 2.7%!
The new pay rise announced brings the total wage package for MP’s from £77,379 to a whopping £79,468, a 2.7%. there has been an increase almost every year from 2010 to 2019, this increase is said to account for inflation and brings the total increase in the last 9 years to £13,730 (IPSA, 2019), whilst on the other hand public sector workers have had nearly a decade of pay freeze, with at best a total 2.2% wage increase this year (Ons.gov.uk, 2019), which is below the inflation rate. This means wages have been falling for hundreds of thousands of workers, so why is there a pay rise for MP’s? As ever we the British people must tighten our belts and soldier on with a stiff upper lip, toe the line and not complain whilst British children suffer malnutrition and we see a return of Victorian era diseases such as rickets, leading to bone deformities.
Could one argue that surely our leaders deserve a good wage for a job well done considering the great strides they’re taking to deliver on the mandate of the British people and implement a full brexit?! Perhaps the management of the NHS, our wonderful health service?! Well, how about the affordable council housing being built, wait… not at all! Those who are are njoyting the high life are the MP’s and the thousands of landlords and privateers benefitting from spiralling rents, inflated house prices, speculation on the markets and privatisation in health, education and utilities. It’s high time we followed in the footsteps of the French people and not only tell Parliament enough (!), but show them just what that means.
If you’re fed up with the state of things and want a better life and future for your children and loved ones, as all fair minded working people do, then contact the Birmingham Worker and demand a dignified life, safety for our children, respect for those who work hard and nothing for the parasites who make our lives miserable.
Foodfoundation.org.uk. (2019). Children’s Future Food Inquiry – Food Foundation. [online] Available at: https://foodfoundation.org.uk/childrens-future-food-inquiry/ [Accessed 11 Mar. 2019].
IPSA. (2019). MPs’ Pay and Pensions – IPSA. [online] Available at: http://www.theipsa.org.uk/mp-costs/mps-pay-and-pensions/ [Accessed 11 Mar. 2019].
Savage, M. and Lee, D. (2019). ‘I regularly see rickets’: diseases of Victorian-era poverty return to UK. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/23/poorer-children-disproportionately-need-hospital-treatment [Accessed 11 Mar. 2019].
Ons.gov.uk. (2019). Understanding average earnings for the continuously employed – Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/articles/understandingaverageearningsforthecontinuouslyemployed/2015-05-18#introduction [Accessed 11 Mar. 2019].