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Issue #1606      August 14, 2013

For Marx (Za Marksa)

“There is only one ally against growing barbarism – the people, who suffer so greatly from it.” Bertolt Brecht Essay on Popularity and Realism

If there are those in the world today who doubt the relevance and foresight of Karl Marx, a considered and reflective viewing of the new Russian movie, For Marx should dispel any doubts.

The movie by controversial Russian director Svetlana Baskova (Baskova is also the screen writer) takes place in Russia as the global financial crisis begins to affect the economy and the workers.

It begins as a bus picks up workers in a large city and takes them to a Soviet era factory that is now run by gangster capitalists who engage in a type of hyper exploitation.

On the bus, an activist union leader has decided that the workers at the decrepit steel foundry have had enough of the wage reductions, the poor safety conditions and the management-run union at the plant. He seeks their support to establish an independent union.

On arrival at the foundry, the workers dismount from the bus and viewers are taken for a visual tour of the foundry where poor ventilation of the often dangerous fumes from the steel smelting process can be seen and guard rails and so forth are scarce.

This is contrasted by the modern and clean boardrooms of the hyper capitalists who own the plant and try to strip as much surplus value from the workers as possible to fund extravagant art collections and decadent live styles. In one scene, the main character of management is on the phone to an associate saying, “Hired labour is our future. They should be afraid of hunger.”

For those viewers who think that the protagonist workers organising the independent union are communists they are to be sadly mistaken as the only mention of the Communist Party is when the independent union finally organises a rally in the city, they hope that enough people come to outnumber the Communists.

However, the leadership core is well read of progressive Russian and German literary figures and quotes from Gogol, Godard, Stanislavski and Mikhail Pokrovsky dot conversations which they have in evening meetings between themselves and with workers to convince them to join their movement.

Pokrovsky, who was a 20th century Marxist historian whose work was acclaimed by Lenin, emphasised the role of economics as the driving force of history.

Perhaps for viewers in Western liberal democracies, the most relevant literary reference is that of the alienation effect of bourgeois theatre of Marxist German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

In Brecht’s days from the 1920s to the 1950s when he wrote Threepenny Opera, Mother Courage and Her Children and The Life of Galileo he used the alienation effect to combat emotional manipulation in the theatre replacing it with an entertaining or surprising jolt. The actors are put in situations where they emotionally step away from their characters or use skilful self critique amongst other techniques.

In the movie the leaders of the independent union tell others at the factory that they should not have to put up with the awful conditions and the cutting of their wages any longer.

All is not plain sailing and they must confront blackmail, bribery, murder and intimidation, especially from the workplace representatives of the management’s union who constantly try to impress upon them that their actions are confusing the workers.

The owners of the foundry want the activists “gotten rid of”, resulting in the murder of two of the leaders.

The principle protagonist survives but is in the vicinity of the shooting and must decide to continue with his just fight or withdraw.

There is only one direct quote from Marx and that is, “History repeats itself first as tragedy and the second time as farce,” which could relate to the brutal yet clumsy actions of the gangster capitalists.

The workers and their leaders continue to organise speeches, banners and placards for the rally which is a success, resulting in the calling of a strike. The hyper capitalists respond with a “cleaning day” locking out the workers.

The rest of the movie then races towards a gruesome and unexpected yet fitting climax.

The film played to rave reviews in Russia where the Kommersatn newspaper reported it as “A merciless sentence to capitalism itself.” Meanwhile the “industry” in the US, the Hollywood Reporter said, “Although it misses its target, the film should find a readymade audience at further festivals [It was featured at the 64th Berlinale International Film Festival in February 2013], with potential niche appeal to overseas distributors, and more Groucho than Karl.”

The movie is a must see for all communists and progressive minded people who believe that a better world is not only possible but inevitable – though it must be planned and well organised.   

Next article – Sand mining fears for Quandamooka

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