Nov 20 2016

FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT, TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?


WHAT DOES TRUMP’S VICTORY SIGNIFY?

– ALLAN ARMSTRONG IN CONVERSATION WITH

ALAN BISSETT, BRIAN HIGGINS, PAUL STEWART AND

JOHN TUMMON

(see short biogs at end)

 

 1. ALLAN ARMSTRONG – 9.11.16

“An even greater leap into fantasy land is the belief that Brexit will provide a progressive example to other member states wanting to break away from the EU…. The first and unfortunately well-known non-UK person to celebrate Brexit was none other than the Right populist US Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump. With typical crassness he chose his new golf course at Turnberry in Scotland to declare his solidarity with Brexit… Another presidential hopeful, Marine Le Pen, of the French Far Right National Front, was the first significant European politician to proclaim her solidarity with Brexit.
Continue reading “FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT, TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Jun 10 2016

EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION – A statement from the Republican Socialist Alliance

As part of the continued debate on the EU referendum we are posting this statement from the Republican Socialist Alliance. 

 

EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION

th-2

The European Union (EU) is facing a serious crisis. Vicious austerity imposed on Greece in an effort to uphold the Euro has destroyed living standards and jobs in that country. The EU’s economy is still in recession, while countries like Spain, Ireland and Portugal face mass unemployment and new spending cuts.
Continue reading “EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION – A statement from the Republican Socialist Alliance”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Dec 03 2015

THE WAR IN SYRIA

We are posting three pieces dealing with the situation in Syria. The first is the emergency motion passed overwhelmingly at the RISE National Conference in Glasgow on December 5th. The second was written by the World to Win Editorial Board just after the vote at Westminster to openly extend UK state involvement in the war in Iraq to Syria. The third by Allan Armstrong (RCN and RISE) was written just prior to the Westminster vote, and was included in the E&L special bulletin for the RISE conference.

 

1. EMERGENCY MOTION ON SYRIA PASSED AT THE RISE CONFERENCE ON DECEMBER 5th. 

th

Following:
Continue reading “THE WAR IN SYRIA”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Apr 03 2015

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: FROM LIBERAL PRIVILEGE TO DEMOCRATIC EMANCIPATION

On the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in England, Richard Barbrook calls for a new debate on the conception of citizenship.

Richard Barbrook, lecturer at University of Westminster

Richard Barbrook, lecturer at University of Westminster

 

“Government founded… on a system of universal peace, on the indefeasible hereditary Rights of Man … interests not particular individuals, but nations, in its progress, and promises a new era to the human race.”

Tom Paine, Rights of Man

 

In the second decade of the 21st century, citizenship is defined not just by the people being able to choose the political leadership of their nation through regular elections, but also by the legal protection of their human rights, such as media freedom, personal privacy, fair trials and religious toleration. Enshrined in both national constitutions and international treaties, these democratic precepts ensure that individual citizens can express their views and campaign for causes without fear of persecution or discrimination. Yet, when they were first codified during the 17th and 18th centuries’ modernising revolutions which overthrew aristocratic and priestly despotism in Western Europe and North America, these fundamental freedoms were initially restricted to a minority of the population: white male property-owners. Despite the universalist rhetoric of the English 1689 Bill of Rights, the French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the USA’s 1791 Bill of Rights, men without property, all women and the African slaves who were property remained outside their constitutional protection. In this pioneering liberal iteration, political and civil freedom was founded upon economic exploitation. Human rights were the privilege of the few not the emancipation of the many.

Continue reading “DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: FROM LIBERAL PRIVILEGE TO DEMOCRATIC EMANCIPATION”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Feb 24 2015

PROMOTING REPUBLICANISM

Murdo Ritchie (RCN) wrote the following article for  supporters of the Republican Socialist alliance. It was first also posted on Murdo’s blog  at  http://murdoritchie.blog.co.uk/2015/02/13/promoting-republicanism-20090169/.

_____________

PROMOTING REPUBLICANISM

Thomas Paine - republican internationalist in England, USA and France

Thomas Paine – republican internationalist in England, USA and France

The advocacy of socialist republicanism has very few precedents in the United Kingdom. While many organisations can make claims to republicanism, in most cases this has been rarely developed and has often seemed like it was added on as an extra to more immediately pressing concerns. It should be no real surprise that an anti-political, economic reductionism (economism), or a separatism that sought an end to London rule, and many other perspectives have used the term emptying it of any real understanding or meaning.

Continue reading “PROMOTING REPUBLICANISM”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Aug 15 2014

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF COUNTER-REVOLUTION

Kool34 sent us a comment on the articles in our recent bulletin on the First World War (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/08/09/emancipation-liberation-special-bulletin-the-centenary-of-the-world-war-i-imperialist-slaughter/#more-7342). This comment invited us to read the following article by Mark Kosman. We are pleased to draw this to the attention of our readers.

th-14  

In 1871, Karl Marx wrote that governments use war as a fraud, a “humbug, intended to defer the struggle of the classes” (1). In 1914, that fraud was so effective that not only most workers, but also most Marxists, supported their respective nation’s rush to war. Ever since then, governments have used war to defer class struggle and prevent revolution. But this strategy cannot last forever.

Continue reading “ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF COUNTER-REVOLUTION”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Jun 12 2013

IRELAND – UNION STRATEGY, KEYNES AND THE DEBT

This article, by James Fearon, is from the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) website. It highlights how the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s (ICTU) support for Keynesian reforms is tied to a strategy to make workers pay for the ruling class’s debts – only more slowly than the incumbent Fine Gael/Labour coalition government.  

In the UK, Ed Balls has flagged up Labour’s acceptance of current Tory attacks on our class, and his willingness, if Labour is elected in 2015, to go down the same road with further attacks on universal benefits. The TUC’s thinking goes no further than that of the ICTU. Only when pushed does it mount any actions – such as on November 30th, 2011 over pensions. However, these actions are merely token, as the TUC’s ignominious collapse in the subsequent days highlighted. The TUC is trapped in the same Keynesian thinking as the ICTU.  It has no wider vision than a return of a Labour government, hopefully committed to  some Keynesian economy boosting measures, so that, as in Ireland, workers are given longer to pay off the ruling class debts. With such miserable aspirations, it is unlikely that the TUC will be able to shift Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Their appeal is directly to the  banksters and other corporate capitalists –  ‘You can trust Labour to continue the austerity offensive and the welfare counter-reforms.’

David Begg, General Secretary of ICTU whipping up worker enthusiasm

David Begg, General Secretary of ICTU whipping up worker enthusiasm

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), and reformists in general, have been particularly animated recently over flaws that have been found, in the research by Reinhart and Roghoff, on the effect of austerity on the fiscal multiplier. They have taken this as evidence that ‘austerity isn’t working’ and that the possibility exists that they may still receive a lifeline from a slower, less virulent capitalist attack on the working class. If this ‘Better, Fairer Way’ to pay off the banksters’ debts should be adopted by the political elite in any meaningful way ICTU could claim that the slightly reduced pain of a slower austerity was their doing, and this in turn would provide them with some semblance of a fig leaf to cover their shame.

A former senior advisor to Citibank was quoted favourably in union literature recently when he expressed doubts about the efficacy of austerity based on figures which show a larger than predicted fiscal multiplier of €1.6 in economic shrinkage for every €1 removed through austerity measures. Figures from the IMF, based on data from 28 countries between 2009 and 2013, actually put the multiplier as high as 1:1.7 and Keynesian economists, the TUC and ICTU have all seized hungrily upon these figures. While trade unions exhibit a touching, perhaps over zealous, faith in these figures, the findings are not so readily accepted by the financial establishment.

Continue reading “IRELAND – UNION STRATEGY, KEYNES AND THE DEBT”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


May 31 2012

A NEW TYRANNY OVER EUROPE


A crisis of capitalism, a threat to democracy

The leaders of Europe spent much time and ingenuity in designing the Financial Stability Pact so that it would not require a vote. The fact that Britain and the Czech Republic did not sign meant that it could not be formally part of European structures. The major powers went ahead anyway. The Irish government signed without a murmur. This ad-hoc arrangement was to become law over European citizens behind their backs, outside the formal (and already undemocratic) European structures, with a recommendation that it be written into individual constitutions. The Fine Gail coalition, having explored every legal avenue to try to amend the constitution without a vote, now tell us that there is no alternative to voting yes to the Pact.

The arguments of the European Leadership, of the troika and of Irish capitalism rarely refer to the contents of the pact. This is hardly surprising, as the ideology on which it is based is the debased neoliberal ideology that was used to justify the credit boom in the first place. It is roughly the fifth in a series of increasingly desperate attempts to resolve the credit crunch, which became the sovereign debt crisis and then the Euro crisis. Stability is to be achieved by imposing increasingly harsh austerity and savagely cutting wages, pensions and public services.  As none of these were in any way responsible for a crisis based on the financialisation of capital and a frenzied bubble of reckless lending by the banks, it is hardly surprising that repeated doses of the same medicine don’t resolve the issue, especially when the banks and the bondholders continue to absorb a greater and greater share of the world’s wealth.

Protesters often cry that austerity isn’t working. At a number of levels this misses the point.  It causes terrible privation to the working class – but this is the scheme working – this is what it is supposed to do.  It has certainly worked for the bondholders, banks and stock markets, restoring share values in the stock market to pre-crash levels. Where it hasn’t worked is in restoring stability and this is where the emphasis has shifted from the workers picking up the tab to a process of restructuring – wage rates and social benefits must be driven down to a point where competiveness is assured by pushing wage rates to the bottom and keeping them there. The stability pact is aimed at outlawing opposition and moving the levers of the economy outside any form of democratic control, so that  the workers feel powerless and so that any kind of reform seems impossible.

The demands of the fiscal pact are:

*            General government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus. The annual structural deficit must not exceed 0.5% of nominal GDP.

*            Budgets will be submitted to the commission in advance – so Ireland’s budget is discussed in Germany, not in the Dail.

*            The balanced budget rule will be introduced in Member States’ national legal systems at constitutional level. It will be out of the reach of any new government that opposes austerity.

*            Member States whose government debt exceeds 60% of GDP will sharply cut public spending.  In Ireland’s case this would mean a 5% cut year on year.

*            The governments in this situation shall submit a structural reform plan to the European commission and council and they will oversee the economy – a permanent troika arrangement.

*            The plan will be a partnership arrangement – social partnership in Ireland has delivered so well for capitalism that it is to be exported across Europe.

*            Countries that don’t meet their targets can be fined by the European court.

The central idea is that countries must balance their books. The sheer gall of this demand is breathtaking. The US economy floats on trillions of debt. The British print billions of extra pounds to manage their economy. The banks don’t balance their books, the bondholders don’t balance their books, the speculators don’t balance their books but Sean and Sinead Public – they must practice the most severe forms of financial stringency!

It is difficult to see just how extreme an idea this is when we are bombarded with propaganda that claims that the crisis is one of unbridled public spending and that assures us that national economies are just like private households.

All of the above is nonsense. Public spending had nothing to do with the credit crunch and Irish public spending  – and the level of public services – are at the bottom end of European tables.

In any case a national economy is nothing like a household. What it needs to function is liquid capital – the ability to move quickly between surplus and deficit as the occasion demands. The imposition of the pact would confirm the dependent nature of the Irish economy.

But much of capitalism no longer operates by the old rules. Despite all the blather about risk-taking entrepreneurs the new rule is that senior bondholders must never suffer a loss.

Under this rule the debt built up by banks and bondholders in the credit crunch became public debt. The public debt became sovereign debt. The accumulated sovereign debt became a crisis of the Eurozone. The Financial Stability Pact aims to stabilize the Eurozone by assuring bondholders that there is no limit to the amount that will be extracted from the working class to guarantee the euro.

There are two further elements to the pact worthy of notice. One is its permanent nature. It is not meant to overcome a temporary difficulty of one or two years. Rather it is meant to forever change the balance of forces between capital and labour and leave the majority of the working class in abject poverty. The other element is that, under the regime of late capitalism, democracy is becoming increasingly obsolete. In Greece and Italy capitalism has stepped in with an imposed regime. In Ireland the troika supervises the government. Now the FSP will enshrine  austerity in law and in the constitution and votes will have no power to alter economic policy.

The Irish establishment argue that the barbarism of the stability pact represents safety, stability and the road to prosperity. With these sorts of arguments they should be on a hiding to nothing – yet at the time of writing they have a majority of those expressing an opinion.

Beyond the formal argument there is an unstated argument, expressed in arguments that Europe will simply ignore a no vote or, alternatively, that we are so deeply committed to austerity that a new pact will make no difference. The basic argument is that Ireland is incapable of having any autonomy or level of self-determination. We should simply do as we are told and the imperialist powers will recover, dragging dependent countries like Ireland in their wake.

If we are to fight for a no vote we must both expose the dishonesty and brutality of our capitalist overlords and make the case for an alternative society able to meet human needs and that allows us to control our own destiny.

 

A better, fairer way

It is now generally forgotten that the bank bail-out was followed by mass demonstrations and by a public sector strike. The initial protests were not all unsuccessful – pensioners and students forced retreats on the first austerity plan. It was notable that the further one got from the trade union leadership the more successful the protests were.

There was a pretty simple reason for that. The trade union leaderships had been locked in social partnership with government and bosses since the 1980’s. Wage freezes were punctuated by cost of living rises and compensation in the form of tax cuts. Even while economic growth took place wages as a proportion of the economy fell sharply and profits rose equally sharply. Strikes were largely unknown but the union bureaucracy gained new status, ensconced in partnership committees at every level of society, sympathising with their members at changes to working conditions they had agreed in solemn conclave.

As this model of business unionism gained ground the salaries of union bosses, appointed for life, swelled – John Carr of INTO, with an enormous salary and pension package, become the highest paid union executive in the British isles, his pay dwarfing that of union officials in British unions with ten times the membership. He was closely followed by Jack O’Connor of SIPTU.

So when the credit crunch broke the concerns of the bureaucracy were not identical to those of their members. Ordinary trade unionists worried about jobs, wages and pensions. The bureaucracy worried about maintaining their place in partnership, including the acceptance of austerity. They had, however, to sell a policy of collaboration to their members.

The outcome was their policy of a “Better, Fairer Way”.  The policy was misnamed. In reality it was a better, fairer way to pay the bondholders. Essentially there were two proposals. One was to take longer to pay the debt. In essence the Irish government has been forced down this path. The outcome is even higher interest payments and austerity stretching beyond 2025.

The second proposal was that, in addition to paying the bondholders, the government should have adopted a “countercyclical” Keynesian programme of investment to stimulate the economy. Again this would have involved a bigger debt and more interest payments, but that didn’t matter. The fact that government and employers rejected their programme did not affect its usefulness in providing cover for a policy of support for austerity.

It is important to remember that, even if sincere, the “better, fairer way” would not have amounted to an alternative. It is firmly rooted in a Keynesian past and is essentially an appeal for an alternative, gentler capitalism. None of the major powers say that such an alternative exists. When the Greek people vote against austerity the capitalist powers tighten the financial necktie around their throats, when Hollande proposes investment for growth he does so on top of the continuation of austerity.  Socialists should not find themselves putting forward a left version of the bureaucracy’s programme.  The question is not what capitalism will do to help the workers. It is what the workers will do to fight back.

The union leaders called for a better and fairer way, but caved into savage wage and pension cuts. This collapse was followed by a new partnership, summarised in the Croke Park agreement , where the unions not only accepted cuts, but worked to agreed targets to impose them. The arrival of the troika saw trade union collaboration written into the memorandum of understanding.

There are a number of key elements in the discussion about the Croke Park agreement that remain important. One is the claim that the pay of public sector workers would be protected. Almost immediately that narrowed to cover existing members. New teachers, for example, work at a lower rate with very poor pension provision. That makes the agreement not a temporary shelter, but a mechanism for restructuring pay and conditions. Even in the case of existing workers pay rates are maintained via extra unpaid work and mass redundancies. Allowances, we are now told, are not part of our wage and can now be slashed.

A second point is the role of “left” trade union leaders. Although a sizable section of the trade union leadership opposed Croke Park, that opposition was purely formal and never involved putting forward an alternative or mobilising workers in struggle. Following the vote Jimmy Kelly of UNITE called on members to reverse their no vote, effectively turning a 60% victory for the right into a 100% victory.

Throughout the discussions about partnership, austerity and Croke Park one thing stands out. If the union bureaucracy stood by a single word of their “better, fairer” alternative then we would be facing into an indefinite general strike. At the very core of the Financial Stability Pact is the outlawing of any Keynesian “invest for jobs” alternative. So when ICTU shrugs their shoulders, when Jack O’Connor mumbles weasel words, they are simply confirming the policy of David Begg and the majority of the Trade union leaderships – there is no alternative to sacrificing the workers to save capitalism.

 

Building Resistance

Resistance has to begin by recognizing the depth of the hole we are in. We are the victims of a failed economic system, handicapped by the political collapse of working class institutions. As we write, the majority of workers in France and Greece have voted against the austerity. Growing opposition will cause disquiet and instability among the European elite, but will not lead them to abandon austerity.

In France Francois Hollande has won mass support, but has not put forward a programme of opposition to austerity. Rather he promises what our politicians routinely promise – renegotiation – with investment proposals that will remain marginal when tied to an agreement of permanent austerity.

Hollande is echoing many socialists when he proclaims that austerity isn’t working, but this is to misstate the case. At one level austerity has worked very well. All the bondholders have been paid, the stock exchanges have recovered to pre-crash levels and the total assets of the rich have significantly increased.

Of course austerity does not work for the working class. Young people flee Ireland. In the North charities distribute 1/3 million in food parcels. In Spain 50% of youth are unemployed.   In Greece parents, unable to feed their children, abandon them in food kitchens. This does not represent a problem to capital. Its normal operation involves a significant proportion of the world’s population living with permanent hunger. Part of the current recovery involves global speculation in food reserves, pushing the poor closer to starvation.

Where austerity isn’t working is in providing a return to stability. The level of debt weighs down economies. They slip in and out of recession and the danger of all-out revolt by workers becomes greater. The current strategy is to press ahead with austerity, to create a new reality where the price of labour is driven downwards so that if capitalism does recover, a new boom will be driven by low wage economies, with public services stripped away and privatised.  This will not feel very different from austerity to the working class. The capitalists hope to convince workers that it is impossible to fight back by removing democratic controls on the economy through the Financial Stability Pact.

The alternative strategy offered by Hollande is to manoeuvre to retain the support of workers by adding a small element of investment. One example of this kind of strategy was Obama saving the US car market while slashing jobs and wages far car workers. Even the minor proposals by Hollande have led to panic in the markets. They fear that rising hopes in workers that cannot be realized will simply increase the threat of revolt.

That revolt has to be changed from potentiality to actuality. We need to build new workers movements across Europe with policies that resolve the crisis in the interests of the workers, not those of capital.

 

A genuine alternative

A genuine alternative must include:

*            A full repudiation of the debt. Any form of bailout can only bleed the workers dry.

*            Seizure of assets where capitalism is no longer able to productively develop them. We either own them as public services or we have involuntarily bought them through NAMA.

*            A bank controlled by the workers – after all, we own all the capitalist ones.

Workers Control of national resources in the process of being given away to transnationals.

*            An international confederation of workers resistance across Europe.

All of the above presupposes an independent workers movement which can only be built from the existing resistance and from a political opposition to ICTU’s policy of collaboration.

A no vote will give new life to resistance. Alongside the votes in Greece and France it will establish that austerity is not something that workers accept but something imposed upon them, and thus justify further resistance.

And further resistance will be necessary. There is no possibility that a series of votes will persuade the bondholders, the IMF and ECB to set fire to hundreds of billions of debt. We may not be asked to vote again on this one, as it does not block the European strategy, but our enemies will be striving to apply the crushing blows of the Austerity Pact and bring a more brutal form of capitalism to life in an Ireland of perpetual austerity.

It is important that we build a movement that will continue after the vote and that sees itself as an action movement rather than an electoral one. The simplest process would be for the household charge movement to become a more general anti-austerity movement.

The movement must orient towards the working class. It should challenge ICTU now that it is effectively out of the shadows and in support of austerity. It should call on unions that say they are for a no vote to break with ICTU and to campaign actively as part of the resistance. Nor should it wait for any section of the bureaucracy: rank and file movements should be formed across the unions to assert the rights of the ordinary members.

The tide is turning. We have had four years of austerity and endless promises that capitalism would recover. Instead we have continued chaos and a merciless attempt to drive the living conditions of the working class back into the 18th century.

Now workers across Europe are saying no. We must join with them to reject capitalist austerity and begin the journey to a socialist society, based on human need.

 

Socialist Democracy (Ireland), May 2012

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Mar 20 2009

Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People –What does it stand for?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:31 pm

When the RCN used the image of the bare-breasted Liberty from the iconic Delacroix painting as a front cover for our pamphlet, Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy, this provoked a debate in the SSP. Catriona Grant, leading socialist feminist, and member of SSP Edinburgh no 2 branch contributes to the debate.

Why are Liberty’s breasts bared in Delacroix’s painting – Liberty Leading the People? A recent discussion in the SSP raged for a week or two whether Delacroix’s work of Liberty Leading the People was sexist. Is it revolutionary or sexist? Can it be both?

Eugene Delacroix’s Romantic painting of 1830 is probably Delacroix’s most famous work – the bare breasted and footed goddess warrior, triumphantly leading the Parisians with the tricolour in her hand to their ultimate goal for liberty, fraternity and equality! (Sisterhood was never mentioned).

Liberty Leading the People commemorates the July Revolution of 1830 in France, which toppled the Emperor Charles X, a generation or so after the French Revolution. In the painting, Liberty leads the people over the bodies of the fallen. Stridently and encouragingly she holds up the tricolour of the French Revolution in one hand and brandishes a bayonet in the other, the dead being her pedestal, her plinth to declare the revolution – they are victorious.

Why does Liberty in the painting have her breasts on show? Does it matter? Did her dress fall off her shoulders by accident or was she just tardy in her dress? Traditionally, in Romantic paintings, this meant that she was not like other bourgeois, proletariat or peasant women, but having her breasts on show indicated power and even supernatural strength. The bare breasted lady is indeed not a lady at all but a symbol personified by Marianne – a French goddess-like figure and “robust woman of the people”. She symbolises the French Republic. Liberty in Delacroix’s painting is no ordinary woman – she is a revolutionary goddess! She is a goddess-like warrior, who symbolises the Revolution and the Republic, and not a depiction of women’s status in society of the time. This painting pre-dates Impressionists, who recorded what they saw, rather than depicting symbols in a romantic way. Would it have been possible to paint a French mortal woman in this stance? At this time probably not. Only a symbolic woman could have such a role in a piece of historic propaganda rather than a real woman.

So is Delacroix sexist in his subject matter? Well, of course he is! In 1830, it would almost be impossible not to be sexist or patriarchal as the dominant society, even in revolutionary France, was sexist at this time, as was the rest of the Western World. However is the painting sexual and misogynistic? No, I don’t think it is. It’s subject matter is not about sex or sexuality but about the power of the revolution, the breasts are symbolic, not a pair of pneumatic boobs of a ‘page three stunna’.

But what does this painting stand for – is it a revolutionary painting, or an excuse just to see another pair of breasts in a gallery alongside hundreds, even thousands, of other pairs of breasts? As the Guerrilla Girls tell us, only 3% of the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum, in New York, are by women, and of the paintings of women, 83% of them are naked – this is replicated all over the world in art galleries. Women have been objectified over the centuries and so have their body parts, Delacroix is not a feminist but a bourgeois 19th century painter capturing the mood and propagandising the only way he knows how – through Romantic imagery.

Who was Delacroix and why did he paint this picture?

Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798. He was the son of the ambassador of the French Republic to Holland. His father had been very active during the revolution. Despite his parents dying when he was a little boy, he would be very aware of the revolution and the terror that reigned afterwards.

He began to paint at age of 17. He was hugely influenced by the Romanticist period of painting and later went on to influence the Impressionist movement, particularly Cezanne and Picasso, who copied his paintings. Romantic paintings are paintings, depictions of fantasy, and an expression of feeling – of love, of fear, of desire and even, of revolution. They are emotional paintings not paintings of reason, or of fact.

In 1830, Delacroix watched the fighting in central Paris alongside his friend and fellow painter Eugene Lami. This fighting had erupted not far from their studio. Delacroix was not a participant but a spectator. He wrote to his brother, Since I have not fought and conquered for the fatherland I can at least paint on its behalf. That’s why he painted
Liberty Leading the People.

Liberty Leading the People is sort of a political poster, it’s the ‘No Poll Tax’ poster of its time. It marks the day when the people rose and dethroned the Bourbon King.

Delacroix made a number of sketches. They contained street fighters, individually and in groups. He decided to construct his artwork around the allegorical female representing Liberty. This was a daring concept – having the bloodstained victims of an actual battle, setting a high-flown symbolic figure in the middle of the dirt and triumphant on the bodies, not of our victims, but of her comrades.

Liberty Leading the People is a two-dimensional painting. Delacroix uses linear perspective to give the effect of 3-dimensional space. He uses aerial perspective with the city in the back being smaller and the sky is blue and grey. The battle of July Revolution of 1830 is the subject matter. The meaning of the image, the content, is the people wanting liberty, and the battle the people went through to gain liberty. Liberty leads the people on. Delacroix uses these images to tell the story – looking at the painting you know that there is a victory, a triumph – even if you are not aware of the situation.

The focal point of this work is Liberty. The emphasis is on Liberty because she is the most important figure in the work. Liberty stands out more than the other figures because she is carrying the flag with bright colours of red, blue and white. According to people who know things about fine art, Liberty Leading the People is very much in scale and proportion. The art is in proportion because of the relationship between the parts to each other. No figure is larger than any other figure. An example is the young man to the right of Liberty. He is not larger than the older men to the left of Liberty. The figures are in scale because the figures are the normal or expected size. The shape (hands, arms, feet, torso, head) is all in the right scale to the actual bodily parts of a person.

Delacroix’s spirit is fully involved in its implementation of Liberty Leading the People. He executes the work with the heroic poses of the people fighting for liberty, the outstretched figure of Liberty, the dead figures, and the attitudes of the people following Liberty. Delacroix has given this painting a sense of full participation, no one is passive in the painting. This work has been called the first overtly political work of modern painting.

Shown at the Salon of 1831, the painting was understood in various ways and caused quite an uproar. Working class, a fishwife, and a whore is what the figure of Liberty was called by Outraged of Paris. Critics said that the painting was a slander of the five glorious days, that Liberty was ignoble, and that the insurgents represented a rude class of people, urchins and workmen. The newly blossoming bourgeoisie was shocked by the painting – it was seen as crude and unnecessary.

Liberty’s breasts were seen as shocking, despite the fact the majority of Romantic paintings depicted naked women or semi-naked women, because she was active and not passive. Her breasts, on show with her bare feet, indicate her power and strength as opposed to her sexuality – naked or semi naked women are usually reclining or surrounded by other women – rather, she is in an active stance of defiance surrounded by mortal men.

Women in the first French Revolution

But was it so impossible to depict a real woman involved in the revolution other than a fantasy warrior goddess? Did women not play a role in the French Revolutions? Women – working class and peasant women – have always played a political role. They were responsible for putting food on the table, and during times of hardship, such as famine, when bread was unavailable or expensive, women had traditionally marched to the civic centre to beseech the local government to ameliorate their misery. During the first French Revolution, this tradition would be followed, but with one new development. Parisian women no longer marched to the civic centre to petition the local magistrates, but rather they marched first to the royal palace itself. They sent their petitions directly to the king then, later, they marched to the national legislature. It was the women who rattled the gates demanding bread!

Women in France formed clubs and organised. They met together to learn how to become citizens of a great nation, rather than subjects of a king, and to press for specific legislation. These women wanted equality of rights within marriage, the right to divorce, extended rights of widows over property and of widowed mothers over their children, publicly guaranteed educational opportunities for girls (including vocational training for poor girls), public training, licensing, and support for midwives in all provinces, guaranteed right to employment, and the exclusion of men from specific traditionally-female professions, like dress-making.

In August 1791 the Declaration to the Rights of Man was made known by the National Assembly. In September 1791, National Assembly was replaced by a newly elected body, the Legislative Assembly, a constitutional monarchy. This prompted Olympe de Gouge, female revolutionary, to write the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizeness (1791), possibly the best known tract on the rights of women from the period, as a response to the Declaration to the Rights of Man and its silence regarding women.

But the revolution did not deliver male suffrage never mind female suffrage – only men who paid a certain amount of taxes had a say and unemployment was rife. War against foreign forces who wanted to restore King Louis XVI’s power, the return of political instability and the resulting economic hardship, and their desires for sexual equality, all mobilised women once again to act collectively on their own behalf. This resulted in even more marches, more clubs, more petitions, and the increased use of the taxation populaire.

In 1793, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, created by sans-culotte women, lasted only six months, before it was shut down by authorities. These women were revolutionary, militant feminists! Advocating issues of interest to the radical middle class and the Parisian poor, such as penal reform, occupational training for girls, public morality, and economic reforms. At this time the Jacobins demanded, among other things, that all women wear the Revolutionary dress and cockade (a hat that indicated different factions). A law was duly passed to require all women to put on the proscribed articles and when the Républicaines-révolutionnaires tried to have the law enforced, market women rebelled and petitioned the Convention. The Convention seized their opportunity, dissolved the Society, and outlawed all women’s clubs and associations. The women were seen as anti-revolutionary and as traitors. A period of terror and barbarism reigned in France, but women still rebelled and organised. But by 1794, Olympe de Gouges had been guillotined. The people would not rise up again until 1830 (depicted by Delacroix – could Liberty be Olympe?).

Society of Revolutionary Republican Women Manifesto

The National Assembly, wishing to reform the greatest and most universal of abuses, and to repair the wrongs of a six-thousand-year-long injustice, has decreed and decrees as follows:

  1. All the privileges of the male sex are entirely and irrevocably abolished throughout France;
  2. The feminine sex will always enjoy the same liberty, advantages, rights, and honours as does the masculine sex;
  3. The masculine gender [gendre masculine] will no longer be regarded, even grammatically, as the more noble gender, given that all genders, all sexes, and all beings should be and are equally noble;
  4. That no one will henceforth insert in acts, contracts, obligations, etc., this clause, so common but so insulting for women: That the wife is authorized by her husband before those present, because in the household both parties should enjoy the same power and authority;
  5. That wearing pants [la culotte] will no longer be the exclusive prerogative of the male sex, but each sex will have the right to wear them in turn;
  6. When a soldier has, out of cowardice, compromised French honour, he will no longer be degraded as is the present custom, by making him wear women’s clothing; but as the two sexes are and must be equally honourable in the eyes of humanity, he will henceforth be punished by declaring his gender to be neuter;
  7. All persons of the feminine sex must be admitted without exception to the district and departmental assemblies, elevated to municipal responsibilities and even as deputies to the National Assembly, when they fulfil the requirements set forth in the electoral laws. They will have both consultative and deliberative voices. . . .;
  8. They can also be appointed as magistrates: there is no better way to reconcile the public with the courts of justice than to seat beauty and to see the graces presiding there;
  9. The same applies to all positions, compensations, and military dignities. . .

We are told that Liberty is a symbol, however the women who in the 18th Century penned the above could easily have been Liberty. However they may have worn trousers and had their blousons tightly buttoned up (I would imagine).

For those worried about her breasts being on show forever or her catching cold, Liberty is properly attired by the time she appears as a giant statue guarding over Ellis Island in the US, this time her breasts are covered and instead of a tricolore she holds a torch of justice aloft her head.

Liberty has been printed on stamps and the 100 franc note, she remains a poster girl of the 20th and 21st century – featured on the front cover of the RCN’s Republican Communist magazine, Issue 1 and their pamphlet on republicanism, and on Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution. It is on the front cover of the band, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida album. Liberty Leading the People has inspired many over the decades and centuries.

Long live Liberty!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,