Simon Behrman's piece (Feature, Socialist Review Culture column, July/August 2011) brings Gustav Mahler back centre-stage as well he should be. Mahler's often harsh and strident music interspersed with delicate and sublime interludes rocks us back and forth between peace and turmoil. His was a tormented soul. This was not only due to the persecution he faced because of his Jewishness but also because of the pain of his personal life.
Simon mentions Mahler's spirituality. The great mystery of divinity to him was never the preserve of any one religion so much as part of a universal whole. We, as socialists, should probably acknowledge more often the inexplicable secrets of life and its origins without presuming to know many of the answers.
In that respect, Mahler's music may take us closer to the concept of the eternal than anything which comes out of the mouths of priests and bishops.
On the other hand, the adagietto from the 5th Symphony and the slow movement in the 10th, exquisite though they are, have been compared by some to film music.
You'll get a totally different picture from this, quite literally, if you watch Ken Russell's beautifully shot 1974 film Mahler. Here the old master cavorts through a series of sometimes surreal, often intentionally humorous stunts at the expense of the Nazis in an entertaining and lively biopic.
Put in the work and few composers will take you to the outer limits more than Gustav Mahler. What can you say? Give it rice! Bravo!
A load of phonics
It was excellent to read Michael Rosen's rebuttal (Frontlines, Socialist Review July/August 2011)), of the Evening Standard's recent literacy campaign.
As a teaching assistant in east London I have been particularly irked by the campaign. As teaching assistants and support staff across the country are losing their jobs the Standard was vociferously campaigning for do-gooding volunteers to "Get London reading".
The campaign was also grossly ethnocentric, dismissing the languages of EAL (English as an Additional Language) students as hardly as important as learning English. I wonder how many "Get London reading" campaigners can read Urdu, Arabic or Albanian.
The regression to "phonics" as a way of teaching literacy may help some students but it is of little use to those with dyslexia and other special educational needs. We need a holistic approach that embraces a number of methods. We also need to find ways for students to succeed using the medium that suits them best. This might involve verbal examinations, for example.
All of this should go alongside keeping paid, qualified support staff in schools and, as Michael Rosen rightly argues, not closing libraries. Thanks for such an informative piece!
On Cliff's shoulders
I wanted to say how useful I found the Tony Cliff article (Features, Socialist Review July/August 2011), in the last issue of Socialist Review.
After attending the meeting at the Marxism festival this year about Cliff it led me to learn more about him. It was inspiring to listen to his wife telling stories of the lengths they had to go to fight alongside the oppressed - throwing revolutionary leaflets off roofs in Palestine.
I went to buy more of his books, including Marxism at the Millennium, which I thought was very accessible and useful. My favourite quote of Cliff's is: "If we stand on the shoulders of giants we see a long way. If our eyes are closed, we don't see much at all."
The article was right to point out that we cannot idolise Tony Cliff, but should apply his theories to the modern day. Cliff was not a historian but a revolutionary.
Cyprus on the edge
It's not just Greece that is facing a major crisis (Interview, Socialist Review July/August 2011)). On 11 July 2011, 2,000 tons of explosives exploded in a naval base next to the main power station on the south coast of Cyprus. The explosion killed 13 people and caused billions of euros of damage to both the electricity station and the economy due to subsequent power cuts. The explosives were stored in containers that the Cypriot government confiscated from an Iranian chartered ship en route to Syria, under tremendous diplomatic pressure from the US and UK almost three years ago.
The right wing opposition parties and their media have gone on the offensive claiming that responsibility for the explosion rests with the government and not with the US. Far right wing supporters seized on the opportunity to gather outside the presidential palace demanding the resignation of Dimitris Christofias, the first left wing president elected on the island. They claim to be a non-partisan "Indignant Movement", yet they sing the Greek national anthem to demonstrate their hostility to Turkish-Cypriots and chant racist slogans against immigrants.
The right wing parties are also pushing a series of austerity measures through parliament, and want to ignore the unions. Christofias and his party, the Communist AKEL, insist that any austerity measures must be negotiated with the unions. The unions are threatening strikes if they are sidelined, and though the union bureaucracy doesn't want to fight it may be given no choice. That could change everything in Cyprus.
A reader in Cyprus