Revolution und Culture
AREVOLUTION, I.E. A REBELLION AGAINST THE PREVAILING SOCIAL SYSTEM, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT BREAKS OUT FOR POLITICAL REASONS, EXPLOITING THE PRETEXT OF SOCIAL INEQUALITIES. TRADITIONAL MEANS TO SECURE AND THEN EXERCISE POWER RELY ON RADICAL AND VIOLENT BEHAVIOUR. THE FATE OF INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE DOESN’T COUNT; THE SPIRITUAL NOTION THAT HUMAN RELATIONS SHOULD BE GOVERNED BY REASON HAS NO PLACE IN POLITICAL GAMES AND POWER STRUGGLES.
The 1789 French Revolution replaced the King with a Republican government until the commander of the army, Napoleon Bonaparte, seized power for himself and turned into an absolute ruler. As if that weren’t enough, he then went on to proclaim himself Emperor. However, we’ve got to give credit where credit is due as, after all, he did contribute to Europe’s development. In fact, the call to arms of ‘liberté, egalité, fraternité’ seeped across the borders and spread like wildfire, leading to an appeal for change. Napoleon’s military victories ended with his Russian expedition, where he was defeated by the united forces of England, Germany, and Russia.
In memory of Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, Peter Tschaikowsky composed Ouverture 1812: a battle scene featuring the clash between the Russian and Frenchman against the backdrop of the song Gott sei des Kaisers Schutz (God Save the Emperor) raging against the melody of the Marseillaise, until Napoleon is beaten to the sound of cannon thunder and bells. Ludwig van Beethoven composed the symphony Eroica in 1805, and dedicated it to Napoleon and then proceeded to tear it into the pieces when the commander proclaimed himself Emperor. When it comes to French paintings, Jacques Louis David was the most important representative who also somehow contributed to the revolution. With his painting, The Death of Marat, he created a homage to the revolutions’ heroes.
Fast-forward 100 years and the Russian revolution murdered the Czars. Lenin, moved by his revolutionary spirit, came back to Moscow from Switzerland. The Communist Party then seized power. Same old, same old: they murdered and killed off dissenters, and the situation only worsened, becoming more gruesome after Lenin’s death, when Stalin became the dictator. A measly 50 years ago, May 1966, the ‘cultural revolution’ took place in China and lasted for a good 10 years. The political campaign was devised by Mao Zedong and served the purpose of removing the old cadre of the Communist Party and secure him infinite power. The cultural revolution had been in the making for years before it was actually implemented.
The traditional Beijing Opera was renewed following the advice and Guidelines of Mao Zedong and his wife, Jian Qing. The stage was cleaned of classic characters such as the Emperor, ruler, sage and they were replaced by the workman, farmer, and soldier: proletarian people were to be celebrated by the proletarian mass. After the downfall of the Communist Party, Mao’s policies were implemented, and the class struggle took centre stage. For the actual start of the cultural revolution, a number of different mass campaigns were carried out. On 16 May 1966, the younger generation under the sway of Mao’s doctrine were mobilised in Beijing to free society from the bourgeois and revolutionary elements – according to reliable sources, the consequences of that day resulted in more than 2 million people dying, 30 million being politically persecuted and 100 million members were imprisoned because of their relatives’ political allegiance. Students beat their professors to death, universities were closed for 10 years, western goods were destroyed; a violin teacher, who had hidden his instrument away, was tortured until he revealed its hiding place trying to protect his family. The violin was destroyed and he was beaten to death. The Communist Party not only gave instructions to renew the Beijing Opera House: it also commissioned the composition of symphonies and scores for piano music. One such work is the piano concert composed by a collective of four composers between 1968 and 1969, The Yellow River: it’s rowdy, bursting with pathos, loud, a melodic patchwork reminiscent of Rachmaninoff und Tschaikowsky. Should you be so unlucky to hear it, you too would grieve for the mishandled piano, a pathetic attempt which, luckily, we’ll never have to hear in a European concert hall.
And today? What has become of the cultural revolution? Capitalism and its trusty companion corruption, once hated, have now made a comeback. The number of millionaires and billionaires keeps on growing. The Politburo of the Communist Party has learnt nothing. The worst chapter in Chinese history wasn’t used to teach a lesson: nostalgic nationalists still hum the old hymns for today’s President, Xi Jinping. In occasion of a gala evening for the 50th anniversary of the cultural revolution you could still read the following on some posters: ‘People of the Earth, unite to defeat the American invaders and their minions.’ The gala evening took place in May 2016. Fanaticism and contempt for other people are the hallmarks of a Revolution carried out in the name of a god. Nothing new under the sun, and it‘s actually quite a repetitive element in some religious interpretations. What isn’t right is that, in our day and age, an ‘Islamic State’ and the Taliban go around destroying men and cultures – proving how little we’ve learnt from our past. Once upon a time, there was also a revolution which didn’t kill: not one human life was snuffed out. The Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which reunited a Germany divided since 1945. Conductor Leonhard Bernstein arranged for the text of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy to be changed in occasion of the performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony: instead of Freude, schöner Götterfunken the singers had to sing Freiheit, schöner Götterfunken. With this contribution, I followed some thoughts which rose to my consciousness upon hearing the word ‘revolution’. Memories of what was read, remembered, experienced. I hope this moves the reader, too, to continue this flow of consciousness.