Grassroots Modernism/Issue 8         Writer's Biographies         Purchase Issue 8 in Print


by Marc James Léger

The dominant trends in social theory and practice are often set against what Alain Badiou defined in The Meaning of Sarkozy as the second sequence of the communist hypothesis, which runs from the October Revolution to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The post-traumatic postmodern left that emerged in the wake of May '68, however, has failed to adequately respond to the consequences of the establishment of the post-1989 New World Order. National economies the world over are hostage to the monetary system, free trade regimes and austerity measures designed to control labour. Socially engaged artists are increasingly putting forward utopian alternatives to the problems of capitalism, and as Engels argued in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, "nothing could come from this kind of eclectic, average socialism... a mish-mash permitting of the most manifold shades of opinion." Notwithstanding the rise in leftist anti-capitalism more generally, in cultural milieux there is a resurgence of what Peter Bürger, in Theory of the Avant-Garde, defined as the "bohemian avant garde." For Bürger, utopias can only be realized by the whole of society. Art that seeks to become integrated into life represents a false sublation of art's function and thereby rapidly becomes institutionalized. The historical avant gardes are not those who seek to sublate art into life and thereby renew the field of culture, but those who attack institutionalization and in doing so permit the existence of bourgeois society to become visible. Today's neo-bohemian art produces counter-culture rather than values that can stand for society as a whole. Bohemian art protests and simultaneously protects the bourgeois order by insisting on utopian ideals. Social practice becomes compensation. The historical avant gardes, in contrast, seek to portray society in its totality. In this regard, such an art is oriented towards revolution, which represents the working classes in their universal function of emancipation.

JOIN A POLITICAL GROUP is an action-oriented project that acts simultaneously as a manifesto and documentation of the possibility of renewing with the aims and ideals of the historical avant gardes in this age of class polarization. My own, particular engagement with the project, called May Day, brought me temporarily into the fold of the marxist-leninist-maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR-RCP Canada). Visual documents from this encounter, which I acquired through the Norman Bethune information centre, include Marxist publication that were printed by Foreign Languages Press in Beijing in the 1970s. The first point of theoretical dispute that I had with the Party was on the thorny question of elections. The PCR set up a Canada-wide campaign to boycott the 2011 elections, scheduled for May 2. Bourgeois democracy was rejected and workers, immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, single mothers and First Nations were called to make common cause against capital. The hard line adopted by the PCR was that one should not, on ideological grounds, struggle and vote, which it defined as the "dumbest" possible response to the campaign. The campaign was designed to denounce bourgeois politics and oppose it with a genuinely popular political program. It was also established to demonstrate the antidemocratic character of the elections as well as the corruption of the powerful and wealthy. The PCR defined the boycott in Alain Badiou's terms as a "philosophical situation" in which a choice must be made (Le drapeau rouge, April 2011). I decided to vote. Other than a March 19 rally to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, my affiliation with the PCR was short-lived. The centrist social democratic NDP did not win the election but it did gain a foothold in the House of Commons with a large share of seats, becoming the official opposition. At the moment of writing, the NDP has decided to filibuster a back-to-work order by the Harper conservatives that would force the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to compromise with the Canada Post Corporation. This major dispute finds the Federal government attempting to pass anti-strike legislation, one of the first incidents since the elections in which the working class is called upon to portray society in its totality.

Down with the bourgeois state and its corporate cronies!
Down with the lapdog union executives!
Down with the banks!
All power to the political prisoners!
All power to peoples' liberation movements!
All power to the striking postal workers!



Frederic Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
Foreign Languages Press, Beijing China, circa 1975



V.I. Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy
Foreign Languages Press, Beijing China, circa 1975

Join a Political Group project

Join a Political Group
Marc J Léger, 2011



Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy
Foreign Languages Press, Beijing China, circa 1975