Cultural Studies and Modern Languages


This free online course is being run by Futurelearn and the University of Bristol it started this week – 22nd February. I will record my research and insights here.

Week 1:  It starts with a slogan La Liberta e Terapeutica!  Freedom is therapeutic!  it was coined by Franco Basaglia in the 1960s, he is a psychiatrist who was revolted by the situation of the mental hospitals in Italy and decided to eradicate them.


We are also looking at the activists work during the Spanish Civil War.

Dolores Ibárruri, pseudonym La Pasionaria (Spanish: “The Passionflower”) (born Dec. 9, 1895, Gallarta, near Bilbao, Spain—died Nov. 12, 1989, Madrid), Spanish Communist leader, who earned a legendary reputation as an impassioned orator during the Spanish Civil War, coining the Republican battle cry, “No pasarán! ” (“They shall not pass!”).

Born the eighth of 11 children of a Viscayan miner, Ibárruri was compelled by poverty to quit school at age 15 to work as a seamstress and later as a cook. Becoming radicalized, she published in 1918 an article in a newspaper called El Minero Vizcaino, using for the first time the pseudonym La Pasionaria.

Two years later she joined the newly formed Spanish Communist Party. After a turbulent career, in which she was jailed several times for political activities, she emerged as one of the Communist deputies in the Republican parliament and, by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936, had become a national figure. A sometimes violent radio and street orator, she made such famous exhortations as “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” (July 1936).

With Francisco Franco’s victory in 1939 she escaped by plane to the Soviet Union, where over the years she represented her party at Kremlin congresses, until Santiago Carrillo succeeded her as secretary-general in 1960. Though reputed to be an old-line Stalinist, she protested the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

She returned to Spain on May 13, 1977, some 18 months after Franco’s death and 34 days after the Spanish government again legalized the Communist Party. She was reelected to her deputy seat in the Spanish parliament that year but later resigned because of ill heath. She remained honorary president of the Spanish Communist Party until her death. Throughout her career Ibárruri almost always appeared dressed in black.

Germany:  Unification – the colours of the new German flag


1848 : disturbances in Europe.  The new liberal parliament declared the new colours for the new flag a flag of the people:  Unity, Justice and Freedom. A new national anthem too.

Workers of the World Unite!

The slogan Workers of the world, unite! (in German, Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!) emerged from within a social and political movement in the mid-19th century. It has been variously called the working class movement, the socialist movement, and the communist movement. The key founding document of the movement was the Communist Manifesto of 1848, written by the German intellectuals Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The document finishes with the rallying cry: Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!

Marx and Engels believed that the key factor in determining political and economic realities was class, not nationality. In this analysis, French workers had far more in common with German and English workers than they did with the French capitalist class which, Marx and Engels argued, exploited French workers in the interests of profit. In an age of growing nationalisms, a trend which deepened as the 19th century continued, Marx and Engels aimed to create an international movement of workers’ solidarity to throw off the chains imposed on workers by the old aristocracies and by greedy capitalists in the industrial revolution.

Marx and Engels themselves were intellectuals rather than ordinary workers, and worked in collaboration with other thinkers in small international organisations – often in exile, because their own governments considered them dangerous revolutionaries. So, for Marx and Engels the international context was the norm. Since Germany itself was not yet a united country in 1848, they were also calling for workers to look beyond the borders of the small principalities which ruled them and to think of themselves as a far larger international movement which transcended language and dynastic or other local allegiances.

The Communist Manifesto was not immediately important in 1848, but as the industrial revolution spread and workers flocked to the cities it was eagerly taken up as the basis for political parties in the European countries and beyond. Eventually it was translated into every major language. And so the slogan travelled.

These workers’ parties created an umbrella organisation to coordinate their policies, the International, firmly established by 1889. In particular, they vowed that workers in different countries would unite and so never go to war against one another to fight for capitalists’ interests. However, the International also highlighted the differences between the parties in different countries. When war came in 1914, nationalist and patriotic interests triumphed over the internationalist ideal of the slogan, and the International itself collapsed.

After the First World War, the slogan and eventually Marxism itself, became the preserve of the communist movement. After the Second World War, communist rule spread out from Russia and the Soviet Union across eastern Europe, China and south-east Asia, with strong communist parties in most of the rest of the world. Every Marxist party adopted the slogan as its own, and it regularly appeared in the masthead of party newspapers across the world. But, as before, the slogan was increasingly an empty vessel: there were deep splits between the communist-ruled countries and as the Soviet Union collapsed, international workers’ solidarity was clearly at an end.

Week 2:  We looked at the novel the Cremator by Ladislav Fuks and a video – a strange pre war black and white movie, surreal, baroque, a premonition of what was to come in Europe with the death camps.

The book The Cremator (in Czech, Spalovač mrtvol) captures the increasingly oppressive psychological atmosphere in Prague as the German occupation took hold during the Second World War. It was written, however, during the Communist period in Czechoslovakia, which lasted from 1948 to 1989, and may also be read as an allegory of the pressure on ordinary people to collaborate under Communist dictatorship. Czech national identity is traditionally based on the notion that they are peace-loving, tolerant and kind, but victimized by others. Fuks complicates this picture by showing how an apparently decent Czech becomes a tyrant.

Ladislav Fuks’s novel may be read not only in the context of other novels about the war, but also as an analysis of twentieth-century mass violence. He suggests that the human desire to rid the world of suffering, which reached a new peak in twentieth-century utopian ideologies, only causes greater suffering. The experience of occupation gave practical meaning to discussions about the nature of individual choice and responsibility, most famously in the work of French Existentialist writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Like them, Fuks asks whether human beings, however oppressed, ever lose the chance to choose between right and wrong.

The Cremator was published during a period of cultural liberalization in Communist Czechoslovakia, when censorship declined, artistic experiment was favoured, and recent Czech history became open for discussion. The novel was therefore received positively, cementing Fuks’s position as a leading contemporary Czech writer. In August 1968, however, the period of liberalization was ended by a Soviet-led military intervention, and the full implications of the novel could not be publicly explored until after the fall of Communism. Fuks’s reputation was damaged by his decision to continue publishing novels in the 1970s and 1980s, which opponents of the post-1968 Communist government considered collaboration. Nowadays, however, Fuks is properly recognised as one of Czech literature’s most interesting authors, and The Cremator has taken its place among the classics of twentieth-century Czech literature and is widely studied in schools.

We also looked at Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Dante Alighieri’s Inferno with its wonderful illustrations by Gustave Dore.

In week 3 we looked athe Obelisk of Luxor which was gifted to Paris and was placed in the Place de la Concorde to be a symbol for the new France, with its break away from the ancien regime.  It is an Egyptian monument and really has no place in this European city where there is no relevance to that culture.

Then we looked at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

I haven’t had time to make comments here but this was a really interesting course.

Shepherd’s map of the Habsburg Empire (19th – 20th century)

Austro-Hungarian Empire (nowadays, Austria, Hungary and many other states)

finished with :: ‘Belly Dancing to the Marseillaise: French Identity in Video Art’ (2003) by Zoulikha Bouadbellah, France, which was not very popular with the course participants.  I found it offensive.  Then this week we looked at the famous Shepherd’s map of the Habsburg Empire (19th – 20th century) Austro-Hungarian Empire (nowadays, Austria, Hungary and many other states).