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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 January 2017
Comment: John Berger, 1926-2017
Remarkable art of a contradictory socialist
John Berger in 2009 (Click to enlarge)
John Berger, who has died aged 90, was one of the most influential arts and cultural critics of the last half-century.
A self-avowed Marxist, Berger made waves in the 1960s with his book 'The Success and Failure of Picasso', about the artist and the effect of capitalist commercialisation on his work. Berger's greatest impact was 'Ways of Seeing', a hugely influential book, and the 1972 TV series for BBC examining visual art.
He argued that Western art tradition since the Renaissance has been intertwined with the interests of the ruling classes and of capitalism. Capitalist social relations meant oil painting served as a status symbol of power and wealth. The depiction of women in art, in particular, was as objects to be possessed.
Berger came across Marxism while studying at art college, and these ideas richly informed his subsequent remarkable body of work, as art critic, novelist, poet, essayist, and writer for stage and film. He won the Booker prize for his novel, 'G', in 1972, and as a protest at the sponsor's origins in the slave trade, gave away half of his prize money to the Black Panthers.
Living for decades in a remote area of the French Alps, Berger wrote sensitively about the marginalisation of rural workers in an age of industrial capitalism, on the disastrous consequences of neoliberalism, and on the Palestinian struggle, among many subjects.
Berger's Marxism was not fully rounded out or linked to a clear socialist programme for the fundamental change of society. He presented some contradictory and confused ideas. He appeared to support Stalinist Russia's crushing of the 1956 Hungarian workers' uprising, but he sided with the 1968 'Prague Spring' revolt.
Not surprisingly, Berger's ideas fell out of fashion with prevailing 'postmodernism' in academia. But he did not renounce his ideals. To the end, he produced a valuable, radical, materialist critique of art.
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In The Socialist 18 January 2017:
What we think
Labour's civil war continues - build a mass workers' party
Tories torn in two on single market
Inaugurate the resistance
We can stop Trump's sexist agenda in its tracks
International socialist news and analysis
Mexico: Mass movement against "gasolinazo"
USA: Seattle activists win housebuilding programme
1917revolution.org website to launch
Socialist Party news and analysis
'Black alert' NHS: Demonstrate 4 March
Eight billionaires own as much as half humanity!
Pollution kills 600: fight for clean air!
Northern Ireland calls snap election: back Labour Alternative
Millwall FC move threat: Defend the Den - 'wall not Renewal
Workplace news and analysis
Billions in profit for Tesco, cuts and job losses for workers
Liverpool dockers and drivers protest "appalling lack of facilities"
Manchester: BA cabin crew pay strike
London: Taxi drivers gridlock City of London
Southern Rail strike continues
Unite the Union elections
PCS union national executive elections
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
The Socialist: read it, write it, sell it
Protesters surround Sheffield's cutting council
Fracking protest in Sherwood Forest
Residents protest at plans to close nine community centres
Anger at south east Kent Momentum meeting
Socialist Party national committee agrees document for congress
Socialist readers' comments and reviews
Why I joined the Socialist Party
Theatre review: high art and savage poverty in Bootle
John Berger: remarkable art of a contradictory socialist
Socialist artists invite others to exhibit work
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