Socialist Worker

Find the right culture in the Left Field

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1868

I DON'T know about you, but I hate columnists who write about their holidays abroad. So I had better apologise in advance! This year I stayed in a tiny village just outside Marciac in the south west corner of France. Marciac, a village of 6,000 inhabitants, puts on the biggest jazz festival in Europe. Over two weeks some of the greatest names in jazz played there-Wayne Shorter, Oscar Peterson and Wynton Marsalis.

A few hundred miles down the road in Larzac, at least 350,000 celebrated the release from prison of anti-capitalist activist Jose Bove. It seems that every town and village in France puts on cultural festivals of some type or another. And the tiny village I stayed in, population 345, spent more on its summer firework display and classical music concert than the borough of Hackney, population 200,000, spends on its Guy Fawkes Night celebrations. Are you sure? I hear you ask. Absolutely-last year Hackney council pulled its firework festival, claiming it cost too much.

How can small villages, co-operatives and trade unions across Europe put on massive celebrations, yet your average city council in Britain can just about muster a few bits of tinsel to pass off as Christmas decorations? I think there are two reasons. Firstly, New Labour and its town hall stooges are not interested in culture-they dropped any idea of enriching people's lives years ago. Pop Idol, Cliff Richard and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals are the cultural pinnacles as far as Blair is concerned.

Secondly, and more importantly, this is a government that worships the market. Unless it makes a profit, New Labour doesn't want to know, and councils have long ago given up the idea of resisting PFI and budget cuts. The Notting Hill Carnival demonstrates the bankruptcy of New Labour's promotion of culture.

This year over a million people attended Europe's largest festival. The figures were down, yet what is the government's solution? Increased corporate sponsorship. Along with heavy-handed policing, growing levels of commercialism have been responsible for driving people away. But I'm glad to say this column is not just going to praise the left across the Channel and moan about the state of affairs in Britain.

Geoff Martin, one of the key organisers of Left Field at the Glastonbury festival, told me, 'There is a turnaround taking place in the unions with the election of more left wingers. But we're missing a trick if we don't roll that out into other areas-education, cultural activity and youth work.' This is what Left Field is doing. For those who don't know, Left Field was launched two years ago to bring culture, politics and the ideals of the trade union movement to a new, younger audience.

On the first day of this year's Glastonbury, Left Field put on a Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) rave and discussion panel on combating the Nazis. On Saturday Tony Benn debated the Iraq war, and Mark Steel and Mark Thomas pushed the Left Field message home in fine comic style. There are moves afoot to make sure there are Left Field events at every major musical festival next year.

Last week in Stoke, the Labour-controlled council and LMHR came together to put on a 2,000-strong festival against the Nazis. The TUC are continuing to back their Respect festivals and local campaigners in Whitstable organised a 1,000-plus anti-capitalist/anti-Nazi festival.

It's great to see a section of the trade union movement putting its money where its mouth is. It's inspiring to see activists using events as a way of bringing people together to challenge the cultural bankruptcy of the multinationals. As well as making politics interesting for a new generation of activists, they are also helping to save music from the music industry.

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Sat 13 Sep 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1868
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