Phil Collins’ work in film, video and photography often provides a platform for the overlooked or the disenfranchised. Shining a light on what is generally perceived as the losing side in the political and social upheavals of the past two decades, marxism today is an ongoing project that began by following the fortunes of former teachers of Marxism-Leninism in Communist East Germany. Collins’ short film marxism today (prologue) (2010), first presented at the 6th Berlin Biennale, mixes contemporary interviews with the ex-teachers alongside archive material, in which snapshots of life in the old GDR are offset with the teachers’ own recollections of the time, and their contrasting experiences after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Contemplative, engaging and affecting, the film is supplemented by a companion piece, use! value! exchange! (2010), that revisits key concepts in the toolkit of Marxist economic analysis, and introduces them, with exemplary vigour and concision, to a new generation of students. Based around a sample lecture by one of the featured teachers, Andrea Ferber, it reinstalls Marx to a more elevated position in the pantheon of contemporary thinking, as a supreme prophet of capitalism-in-crisis and as an equally prescient and forensic critic of consumer culture.
Relocated to Manchester, where Engels wrote 'The Condition of the Working Class in England', Collins’ project prompts a wider reflection on the city’s formative place in the history of radical thought. A follow-up staging in London, accompanied by screenings, talks and other events, continued Collins’ imaginative enquiry into the continuing relevance of Marxist ideas in the present day.