Reminiscing After Socialist History Society Lectures

Prof. Khatchatur I. Pilikian, SHS Newsletter, London UK, October 2010

A talk by Ann Sassoon on Gramsci followed by a lively and even extemporary discussion (August 9th, 2010) kindled in me pleasant mementoes of my cultural and artistic formative years in Italy during 1957-1967.

On September 25th, 2010, we also had SHS (Socialist History Society) Annual A.L.Morton Memorial Lecture delivered by Bob Grifiths, telling us about the Great Railway Strike of 1911 in South Wales, and its impact as class struggle on the battle for trade union rights which had just began.

Prof. Khatchatur I. Pilikian, SHS Newsletter, London UK, October 2010

A talk by Ann Sassoon on Gramsci followed by a lively and even extemporary discussion (August 9th, 2010) kindled in me pleasant mementoes of my cultural and artistic formative years in Italy during 1957-1967.

On September 25th, 2010, we also had SHS (Socialist History Society) Annual A.L.Morton Memorial Lecture delivered by Bob Grifiths, telling us about the Great Railway Strike of 1911 in South Wales, and its impact as class struggle on the battle for trade union rights which had just began.

For many decades, generations of intellectuals of the left referred to fascist ‘Duce’ Mussolini’s most valued prisoner, the communist Antonio Gramsci’s acclaimed phrase (originally from Romain.Rolland, as A.Sassoon noted), “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”, as an indicator to understand success or failure of a struggle. The two lectures mentioned above also rekindled in me the thought that it is high time to rephrase that leftist dictum. The truth does indeed sets us free to observe, I humbly think, that no peoples’ liberation and survival struggles could ever be realised and accomplished without the optimism of the intellect in harmony with the optimism of the will.

Let me first declare that the only ist I happily ‘attach’ to my ‘calling’ is related to art in general, whether visual, musical, conceptual, etc, poetry being the ‘distilled drop of its earthly honey’– I am just saluting a Neruda ‘metaphora’. Hence I am an artist. A Roman playwright, Terence, once wrote this moving phrase (in his play titled Heautontimorumenus): “homo sum, humanum nihil a me alienum puto”, which even Karl Marx loved to quote. I don’t consider myself a ‘Marxist’– I gather Marx too disliked the eponym ‘Marxist’– but as an artist I feel I am in tune with Terence’s “I am a human being, hence there is nothing human that I do not feel to be my concern”.

There are distilled wisdoms in some of Marx’s dictums, such as the maxim that the freedom of each is dependent on the freedom of all, somehow concordant with the ’dense drops of earthly – and in this case, unearthly — honey’ of the Holy Scriptures of East-West-North and South. But I am not a ‘worshipper’ of any ‘divinity’, ‘saint’, or ‘prophet’ of any doctrine for that matter. I love those ‘wisdoms’, but I don’t ‘worship’ the ‘bees’. I luxuriate in the vortex of criticism/dialogue with all, let alone with myself as an artist. This is the ‘limit’ of my ‘boundless concerns’.

I have come to witness, that Capitalism, whether it is ‘centrally controlled’ or ‘free-marketed’, has an in-built structure – alienation. The latter progressively breeds indifference, to finally explode as its deformed negatives, in hostility and in violence. To side step this structure, philanthropy, a legally subtle practice of tax evasion, is put on a pedestal as a window-dressing, which also functions as a safety valve for virtual reality, the infant idyllic of alienation and escapism. The main function of virtual reality, this elevated superstructure of Capitalism, is: to dispute, refute and to ultimately ‘dethrone’ the infant idyllic of altruistic indulgence— the Utopia of Benevolence.

Most crucially, Capitalism vitally needs Democracy for its existence, whereas Democracy does not need Capitalism for its survival. Hence the incessant struggle for Democracy in all the fields of human endeavour is crucial for humanism to survive the exploitation of and often the onslaught on Democracy by Capitalism.

And, yet again good old Karl Marx was and still is on the dot. Let me quote one of his most humanist axioms — albeit sounding controversial to many — with few interjections of the key concepts mentioned above:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world [alienation], just as it is the spirit of spiritless condition [indifference]. It is the opium of the people [the only phrase used and abused, out of context, over and over again]… The demand to give up illusions about the existing states of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusion [virtual reality indeed]… The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears. Criticism has torn up the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man shall wear the unadorned, bleak chain but so that he will shake off the chain and plucks the living flower. [Utopia of Benevolence]” (K. Marx. Contributions to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law)

It might sound awkward, not to say blasphemous, but the atheist Marx’s above mentioned axiom always reminds me of The Holy Quraan’s fragrant phrase, “Does thou not see how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word? It is like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches reach into heaven?” (Chapter 14, Surat Ibrahim. Verse 25.)

I am pretty sure that most of the prophets and apostles of all faiths did not hesitate preaching church even in a whorehouse. As to the refutation of “private property” as an absolute or even ‘eternal’ category, no need for Marx for that. Here is St. Basil, AD 4th c. "Wretches, how will you justify yourselves before the Heavenly Judge? You say to me, 'What is our fault, when we keep what belongs to us?' I, ask you, 'How did you get that which you called your property/ How do the possessors become rich, if not by taking possession of things that belong to all? If everyone took only what be strictly needed leaving the rest to others, there would be neither rich nor poor." (Quoted in: R. Luxemburg, Socialism and The Churches, Merlin Press, 1972, p 11). Amen.

No doubt in my mind that all the state and religious schizophrenia of today, suffer a common, fundamental and deep rooted terror of one overriding 'Gabriel'–the spectre of the aspirations of humanity at large reclaiming Humanism, World Peace and Brotherhood/Sisterhood of Mankind— a most formidable 'Gabriel' than any 'State' or ‘Religion’ had or could ever play the role of, as the imploding of the Soviet Union magnified that human predicament. Characteristically, the instigators of Holy Terror, State or Private, Religious or Atheist Individualism, are all presenting their sophism as a fundamental creed to force humanity to worship Mammon, the Alpha and Omega of their raison d'être–a Globalised Schizophrenia indeed. Meanwhile, child cleansing, counting many millions, because of hunger in a world of plenty as never before, is devastating the humankind as a collateral damage for profit-at-any-cost. Yet again, the Child of Mankind at the ninth hour is crying with a loud voice: Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani ? = My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?
 

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