Marxism Today

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BFI Gallery, London, Until 10 April

Two short films by video artist Phil Collins explore sympathetically the contradictions of Marxism that existed in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The first, Marxism Today, uses interviews, music and archive footage to ask the questions: what was education like in the GDR, and what happened to teachers of Marxism-Leninism after reunification?

The teachers' stories are rich and varied. One teacher married a black South African and planned to move there to fight apartheid. A teacher's gymnast daughter tells of her struggle to adjust as the state that had controlled most aspects of her life, in pursuit of sporting glory, suddenly disappears. A third teacher recalls how the state paid her to gain a PhD in neoliberal economics! Between the interviews archive footage shows us the other side of GDR-style education, such as when a dusty bureaucrat drones on about education until music begins to fade in and out, freeing us from his stupefying banality.

Another state-made clip has a teacher watching while his students debate the question of West German exploitation with considerably more agility than he could muster. In response, he points once again to his scientific diagram that must remain beyond reproach.

The second 20-minute film is called Use! Value! Exchange! It is essentially contemporary footage of a succinct lecture on the opening chapters of Marx's Capital. I know this sounds quite dry, but it is actually surprisingly therapeutic when set to soft music. Overlaid are clips of statues of Marx and Engels being winched out of a park in Berlin - the cult has gone, but the ideas are very much alive. The pupils grapple with distinctions such as commodities and products and their teacher reminds them that as workers create surplus value, they have every right to be outraged and to revolt in order to expropriate what is rightfully theirs.