Joris Ivens: Socialist film makerI am re-reading Joris Ivens' autobiography _The Camera and I_ (International Publishers: New York, 1969). Ivens was a Dutch Documentary film maker who was born in 1898 and died some years ago in his nineties. He was famous for his sympathetic portrayal of the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, the Russian collectivisation drive, the Vietnamese struggle against American imperialism and many other radical causes. One of his most acclaimed docos is _Borinage_ (1933) a story of the Belgian miners' resistance to wage cuts during the Great Depression.
This is an especially inspiring tale - the oppressed of the earth up against the power of capitalist authority and resisting it with all their collective nobility. But what particularly struck me about Ivens' retelling of the making of the film was an anecdote concerning three portraits in a miner's home in Wasmes where Van Gogh had lived. The portraits, which were painted by the miners themselves, were of King Albert, the Virgin Mary and Karl Marx.
When Ivens asked why these particular portraits, he was told that Prince Albert sometimes came and gave money to the victims of accidents. On such occasions his portrait was wheeled out. The portrait of the Virgin Mary was insurance against the possibility that there might be something after death. Then the miners added "when we really want something we take that portrait of Marx out in the streets." (Ivens, 1969: 90-1)
Ivens called these reasons 'sound' and although I am inclined not to agree with that choice of word, nevertheless we can learn something if we contemplate the deeper reasons for the portraits. IMHO the portraits actually represented three aspects of the consciousness of the miners. I would like to suggest that it is interesting to think of these aspects in terms of Hegel's master-slave dialectic and the ideologies of the slave or Unhappy Consciousness as Hegel termed it.
First there is the tendency of the slave to seek reconciliation and mutual forgiveness from the master. This is the moment of accommodation symbolised by Albert's portrait. It is of course the impulse that sustains both laborism and social democracy. The workers manoeuvre for crumbs from those who benefit most from the market and attempt to play one section of their rulers off against another. The workers desire not to be free from the master but only for the master to be nicer to them.
There is also an element of the stoical variety of Unhappy Consciousness present at this stage. In constructing the image of Albert as the charitable master the miners were ignoring the reality of their world. Kojeve's gloss on this aspect of Unhappy Consciousness is that the stoical slave 'tries to persuade himself that he is actually free simply by knowing that he is free - that is by having