Sunday 30 October 2011, 17:23

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

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The protest movement that began with Occupy Wall Street is very clear about what it is against - an international capitalism that is cruel, unfair and untenable. But the movement refuses to say what it is for. Much of this refusal comes from a belief that modern capitalist society is extremely skilful at co-opting dissent and that any discussion with the media is the first step in being reabsorbed into 'the system'.

It also has the added benefit of irritating mainstream journalists and commentators.

I want to tell an odd, romantic, but ultimately very sad story that shows where this fear of possession on the left comes from. It is set during last the time that British, European and American students tried to be a vanguard for revolution. It shows how that fear can easily lead to a pessimistic belief that all one's dreams for a better future are just illusions - and how that pessimism then came to paralyse the left in Britain throughout the eighties and nineties.

But the story is not all sad - because I think it shows that the same thing does not have to happen again.

That just as the ideology of modern capitalism is a choice, not a natural reality - so too is the pessimism of the left.

The story begins on the evening of June 11th 1968 in a first floor flat in London. There was a party given by a man called Clive Goodwin who was the editor of a radical newspaper called Black Dwarf. He is one of the central figures in this story.

Goodwin's flat was on the Cromwell Road in west London. The next day the BBC were going to record a radio programme called Students in Revolt and they had flown in the leading revolutionary students from all over Europe and America to take part - and Clive had invited them all to a party in this first floor room. It included famous names like Danny Cohn-Bendit the Autonomist revolutionary from the Paris uprising and Rudi Dutschke whose attempted assassination had led to violent riots across Germany.

The flat is now part of The Fraser Suites - "luxury serviced apartments for our corporate clients".

All the student revolutionaries at the party saw themselves as part of a new kind of left wing radicalism. They were against the the Soviet Union which they saw as just another kind of totalitarian dictatorship. But the big enemy was the United States and its terrifying power. It was killing thousands of Vietnamese civilians in the name of freedom, while its multinational conglomerates were ruthlessly exploiting and devastating the third world to feed Americans with a constant stream of luxury consumer goods.

This ferocious and destructive consumer-war machine must be overthrown.

Another guest was the left-wing theatre critic Ken Tynan. He wrote in his diary about a moment at the party:

"The barricades were up in Paris: everyone was talking about 'instant revolution': and when Cohn-Bendit held a question and answer session, I made myself immediately unpopular by asking: 'What's your strategy? What is the next step the students will take?' Cohn-Bendit said impatiently 'the whole point of our revolution is that we do not follow plans. It is a spontaneous permanent revolution. We improvise it. It is like jazz.' Everyone applauded and reproved my carping."

But there was a ghost that haunted the party in the room that night - Clive Goodwin's young and beautiful wife who had died tragically less than two years before. She was a revolutionary painter and collagist called Pauline Boty.

Pauline Boty and Clive Goodwin had been at the centre of the student movement as it grew in Britain. But the reason Pauline was like a ghost at the party was not just her death, but because she had come from a tradition of revolt that was beginning to disappear from the movement.

Because Pauline had loved America. She wasn't frightened of it, she loved the powerful images at the heart of American culture, and the deep emotions the music and films evoked in her.

Pauline Boty wasn't naive about American power, and she knew those alluring images and sounds could crawl into your brain and shape the way you saw the world, and disguise the underlying exploitation. But she believed that she could possess those images and use her imagination to rework them into something magical, inspiring and liberating.

Here is one of her paintings that expresses that confidence. It's called The Only Blonde in the World. She painted it in 1963.

Pauline had gone to study at the Royal College of Art in London in 1958 and had become one of the leaders of a new art movement. Here is the movement described by The Listener magazine in 1962

In 1964 the BBC made a film about this movement. It was called Pop Goes the Easel and was directed by Ken Russell.It focussed on four artists but he two stars of the film were Pauline Boty and her best friend Derek Boshier.

Here are two sections about them. First is Boshier - he brilliantly describes how popular images of American power seduce the mind - they start to "infiltrate you at the breakfast table". But one shouldn't be frightened because it is possible to possess those images in turn.

Then there is Pauline Boty - her bit begins with a wonderful piece of film-making - where she is the girl running away.

Ken Russell's production notes for the film say that "the authoritative woman in the wheelchair, should be someone representing authority, hideously formal". While the three girls around her "need to look as though they represent an institution."

And Pauline should play "herself - an art student resenting authority"

The first shots in the film are of all four artists together - they were all friends - the other two are Peter Blake and Peter Phillips. It is beautifully shot, and the song is Goodbye Cruel World by James Darren.

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Then the growing student movement found a political philosopher who would become their inspiration and guide. He was called Herbert Marcuse.

Marcuse was going to have a powerful and very complicated effect on the student revolutionaries. On the one hand his ideas explained the fascination that people like Pauline Boty had for the images of American power - but he also questioned whether it was ever possible to control or transcend them.

Marcuse said that you could never break the spell. That however much you took American culture and played rebelliously with it, you would always remain possessed by it. But this would set in motion a terrible logic within the New Left that would lead to a creeping distrust of all dreams of the future.

Here is Marcuse surrounded by lots of revolutionary students at the "Free University" in Berlin.

Marcuse first became famous with a book called Eros and Civilization. In it he reached back to utopian socialist ideas beyond the dead hand of Marxism and communism - to long-forgotten names like Charles Fourier.

Fourier had said that love and sex could be the motors for a truly free society. It was only the coercive mechanisms of "reason" and "duty" that repressed and distorted these desires in human beings.

Marcuse imagined a future in which individuals would be liberated both from the fetters of capitalism and from the repression of their true instincts. It was an optimistic vision - and people like Pauline Boty who truly expressed their desires in art and in love were like creatures in this new world.

But then in 1964 Marcuse became pessimistic. He wrote another book called One Dimensional Man. He had realised, he said, that capitalist society was far more manipulative than he had imagined. It had learnt how to take those desires and feed the masses spurious, addictive pleasures that enslaved them.

This wasn't liberation - it was a dark world of what looked on the surface like an entrancing modern culture in which sex was discussed and portrayed openly, but really it was all cheap gratifications and stupefying pleasures that blotted out true human needs.

Here is Marcuse on television explaining how human beings are enmeshed in this new psycho-technical power structure. Even the grand progressive dreams of the Enlightenment have been appropriated, he says, and used not for liberating human beings but for repression.

Marcuse was part of what was called the Frankfurt School of political philosophy.

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Marcuse gripped the student left because he describe the revolution in a completely new way. The struggle was in your heads as much as in the streets.

Capitalism had seized control of the inner desires and feelings of their workers and were manipulating it at will. It was summed up in a slogan - There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads. He must be Destroyed.

This meant, Marcuse said, that you couldn't look to the workers to start the revolution - instead it would be led by three groups on the margins.

Number one were the alienated black underclass. Because capitalists didn't bother to manipulate their desires

Number two were the exploited workers of the third world. Ditto.

And number three were the students in the west. Because they had the power to see through the false consciousness.

By the mid 1960s two of the leading members in London of this new rebirth of left wing politics were Pauline Boty and her husband Clive Goodwin.

Clive Goodwin was a working class boy from Kensal Rise in North London. In the 1950s he became an actor - and then he started a magazine about the theatre called Encore, working with people like Vanessa Redgrave and Kenneth Tynan. This took him into the early New Left that was growing up in the publishing world and he soon became an influential figure who helped fuse avant-garde theatre with revolutionary politics.

Then Clive became part of the modern media world. He presented a youth programme called That's For Me on ITV which mixed politics and culture. And he received the highest accolade when Ken Russell chose him to act in what was seen as an extraordinary breakthrough film for the BBC - called Dante's Inferno.

It's the story of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. But Russell self-consciously dramatised it to echo the student revolution that was happening all over the west in the mid-60s. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was played by Oliver Reed, but Ken Russell chose the elite political and cultural avant-garde of London to play the group of "student idealists" gathered around Rossetti. And he asked Clive Goodwin to play John Ruskin.

Here are some extracts - beginning with the start of the film that makes the revolutionary parallels clear, followed by Clive Goodwin appearing as Ruskin. And then Oliver Reed going demented, plus some totally brilliant melodramatic film making. The style is of its time but it is still wonderful. And it wasn't just style, they really did think that this was the way to break through the rigid way people saw the world.

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And then one morning when he was walking with Kenneth Tynan, Clive Goodwin met Pauline Boty. Ten days later they were married.

In a wonderful and brilliant biography of Boty - but as yet unpublished (someone should publish it) - the writer Adam Smith describes how Boty had been in a tragic love affair with a married television producer. Boty wanted to marry her lover but she began to realise that this was never going to happen. Adam Smith has unearthed fantastic material that shows how Boty by this time was emerging as one of the early feminists - writing and presenting sardonic monologues on "that cold, cardigan-clad, sexless ghost known to the world as The English Gentlewoman" for BBC Radio.

But she was also very honestly aware of the ambiguities that emerge when the deep emotions of love and desire get mixed up with trying to be an independent person. Smith has found an interview Boty gave to the writer Nell Dunn for a book called Talking To Women. Pauline describes bluntly why she got married.

"I got married under very extraordinary circumstances, very odd. I mean - I was very heavily involved with someone who was married and I never really quite believed anything he said, even though probably a lot of it might have been true but I never sort of have confidence that people love me. I know people love people at moments you know, and very genuinely - I can't believe that someone can love someone consistently.

One of the awful things about being in a situation with a married man is that you're kind of sitting in your little box of a room waiting for a phone call, and then every now and then they go up to this box and lift the lid and take you out and it's lovely, you know. And I hate that kind of inactive thing. I can't stand it, and it just got to a peak. And then I met Clive and I just got on terribly well with him, we got stoned all the time and I only knew him ten days before and he was the very first man I met who really liked women, for one thing - a terribly rare thing in a man.

I mean he was the first man I could talk to very freely to but I didn't like him at all at first. But he was the first man who made me laugh quite sort of sincerely over the telephone because I'm terrible about the telephone, I don't like the telephone at all"

Kenneth Tynan said that Boty was very sharp, very quick and very honest.

And Pauline too became part of the London revolutionary scene. Here is a great bit of her appearing in yet another Ken Russell film - this time the story of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. It illustrates Bartok's ballet The Miraculous Mandarin' which was banned throughout Europe in 1919.

Again the revolutionary parallels are made clear. The scene from the Miraculous Mandarin is set in the London of the 1960s intercut with the repression of revolution in Germany and Austria in the 1920s. Pauline plays a prostitute whose job is to lure a man to be beaten and killed by shadowy forces. Corrupted sex and state violence are all part of repression.

The painting you glimpse in the background is one of Boty's, called Colour Me Gone. Good title.

And I think Mr Russell had been watching too much Jean Luc Godard.

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In 1965 Pauline Boty became pregnant. But early in the pregnancy an ante natal check revealed that she had a form of lymphatic cancer.

She was determined not to have an abortion - and continued the pregnancy. One story says that Boty was determined to beat the illness through radiotherapy. Another says that she refused aggressive therapy in order to save her unborn child.

The baby was born in February 1966 and was named Boty Goodwin.

But Pauline's cancer continued to get worse and on July the 1st 1966 she died in the Royal Marsden hospital.

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Exactly a year later Herbert Marcuse gave a speech in Berlin which he entitled "The End of Utopia". He didn't mean, Marcuse said, that utopia was impossible - in fact it was the reverse, human beings now had the technical and scientific means to achieve what had only once been dreamed of. Today it was no longer a utopia - it was a real possibility.

But then he asked the depressing question. Why weren't the masses rising up and seizing the means of achieving this? Marcuse's answer was simple - literally everyone in society was conspiring against it. Or as he put it: 'the total mobilization of existing society against its own potential for liberation'. Which simply meant - everyone's minds had been possessed.

At the end of the lecture a student got up and asked the first question: " To what extent do you see in the English pop movement a positive point of departure for an aesthetic-erotic way of life?"

Marcuse answered: "As you may know, of the many things I am reproached with, I have supposedly asserted that today the movement of student opposition in itself can make the revolution. Far be it from me to assert such a thing. The groups you have mentioned are characteristic of a state of disintegration within the system, which as a mere phenomenon has no revolutionary force whatsoever but which perhaps at some time will be able to play it role in connection with other, much stronger objective forces."

In revolutionary terms this was a big put-down of the student movement. They thought that Marcuse had told them they would be the vanguard - but now he was denying he had ever said such a thing.

A very clever BBC journalist had also spotted the growing absurd direction the student movement was taking as is pursued the ideas it thought it had taken from Marcuse.

He was called James Mossman - and in 1968 he made a brilliant film which used a fly on the wall technique to watch the British student revolutionaries as they tried to liberate the workers from their false consciousness.

It is not nasty, but Mossman turns it into a subtle British comedy. The bit at the occupation of the Hornsey College of Art is just wonderful. While Paris students were rioting and confronting the might of the French state, the British students take over their art college. And without realising it they start to copy the enemy - the women make the tea and run the switchboard while all the men sit round talking to Mossman about 'kicking the police horses' bottoms'.

The film also has shots of the office a new radical newspaper that Clive Goodwin had founded called Black Dwarf.

And the quote from the student at the end about how people have been brainwashed is very funny. "I mean their whole mind is, you know, like a cabbage, they can't do exactly what they want". Marcuse couldn't have put it better

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There was a growing sense of despair among the British revolutionaries. And Marcuse's explanation - that everyone's minds had been possessed - now began to work a curious logic, because it seemed to make capitalism even more powerful in the minds of the revolutionaries. Capitalism became for them a devilish force that could take any authentic part of human experience and turn it into a tool of psychological manipulation. Nothing was safe - not even what you dreamt of inside your own heads.

The most dramatic and brilliant expression of this growing pessimism came in 1968 with a made-for-TV play on the BBC called "The Year of the Sex Olympics"

It was written by Nigel Kneale who had also written the Quatermass science fiction films. The Year of the Sex Olympics is set in the future in a society where television had become the central means of pacifying the masses by showing them live sex - while the audience watched passively in a drugged state.

But one of the TV elite, Nat, realises that this is bad and decides that he is going to smash through this illusion with real emotions - that will then awaken the masses from their one-dimensional lives. But he hasn't reckoned on the ability of those who run the "media-complex" to take that revolutionary reality and twist it and use it to intensify their control.

Nat suggests a new programme called The Live Life Show. He and a woman who also has seen through the illusion will go to a remote island and live a "real" life. Cameras will watch them 24 hours a day. Nat believes that what the audience see will punch through the manufactured "apathy" and re-energise them.

But soon their child falls ill, then they find there is a psychopath on the island. The audience watch in their millions - but not in the way Nat hopes.

The play is wonderfully kitsch. Leonard Rossiter plays the devilish "controller" - "no more tensions, just cool". And I particularly like the upmarket TV programme for the more discerning viewer - "Artsex". While the controller's nasty sidekick has some great lines - "They think the show's over, but now it gets super-king".

It is a perfect expression of the paranoia that was beginning to seep into the left at the end of the 1960s - and it also brilliantly prefigures Big Brother by thirty years.

It was originally transmitted in colour - but this is a black and white recording, it is all that remains.

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By the end of the 1960s the independent left wing revolutionaries like Clive Goodwin began to despair. The movement was being taken over by dull, lifeless theoreticians. But there was one hope left for the revolution - it was the marginalised and alienated blacks that Marcuse had said were the other vanguard.

Goodwin turned to writing about charismatic Black Power leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Bobby Seale in his Black Dwarf newspaper. And in Britain a charismatic leader of black radicalism emerged called Michael Malik. He consciously modelled himself on Malcolm X - and set out to challenge the hypocrisies of white power and expose the inequalities its supremacy was built on.

Michael Malik renamed himself Michael X and became a media star in the late 1960s in Britain. Here he is challenging a very smug representative of the white establishment on the BBC in 1970.

His organisation was called the Radical Adjustment Action Society - RAAS for short.

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But then suddenly that dream also fell apart - and in a catastrophic and horrific way.

In 1971 it was revealed that Michael X had ordered the murder of a young white student. It was only the beginning of an extraordinary set of revelations - that showed Michael X had used money given to him by white middle class leftists to build what was effectively a gangster empire that ran drugs and killed anyone that got in the way. That his claims of building a revolutionary organisation had been a complete fraud.

A BBC then made a very powerful film that exposed Michael X and how he had conned the revolutionary left in Britain. It is a fantastic piece of journalism and also shines a harsh light onto the strange and rather desperate relationship between the children of the rich middle classes in London and their idol - Michael X - the last hope of true revolution.

The film is a cruel but very accurate expose of their delusions - told in parts like a thriller. I have put up a long extract from it because of all the fantastic twists and turns in the story and the extraordinary range of characters - that even includes Diana Athill, a legendary London literary figure. And it ends with Michael X behaving like a Werner Herzog hero - fleeing into the remote jungle - and we follow his track. It's an amazing forgotten story.

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It was the final nail. The white left-wingers argued that this criminality was the result of capitalist oppression because it distorted and corrupted people like Michael X. But these excuses only served to make capitalism seem even more powerful and unchallengeable.

By now Clive Goodwin had become a successful literary agent - representing playwrights. And in 1973 one of his most famous clients, a playwright called Trevor Griffiths wrote a play called The Party that tore apart the revolutionary dreams of the previous ten years. It caused a sensation when it was put on at the National Theatre.

It is set one night in a flat in 1968 - the set directions are clear that it was modelled on the sort of flat that Clive Goodwin and Pauline Boty had back then - "SW7 somewhere. Big, white, sunny, rather cool. Hockney and Botys".

It takes you back to where this story started - in a flat one night in 1968 on the Cromwell Road and a room full of revolutionaries. But instead of sharing their hope and dreams they are now tearing each other apart. One of them is a publisher called Jeremy who is modelled on Clive Goodwin. Then an old Trotskyite called John Tagg brutally dissects the roots of their pessimism as the projection of their narcissism. The implication is that really their type of psycho-sexual liberation is just another form of oppression.

But then John Tagg turns out to be a brutal and heartless monster. Which means there's no hope at all.

It's clunky, and its very actor-heavy in its stagieness - but it tells you a lot about where the left had ended up. And Tagg's speech - which I have put in, is very powerful.

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In 1977 Clive Goodwin went to Los Angeles with Trevor Griffiths. They were going to see Warren Beatty who wanted to make a film called Reds - about the Russian revolution. The script had been written by Trevor Griffiths.

One evening Goodwin got a terrible headache. He walked into the lobby of the Beverley Wilshire Hotel and began to vomit. The hotel security took him to the men's room where Goodwin passed out. They were convinced he was drunk. He wasn't staying at the hotel so security called the police who came and handcuffed him, dragged him through the lobby and laid him face down on the pavement.

They put him in a police cell - and the next morning they found him dead. He hadn't been drunk, he had suffered a brain haemorrhage.

To many of his friends on the left it showed just how brutal and uncaring a society America really was - underneath the veneer of dreams that his wife Pauline Boty had once been so entranced by.

And what had begun as an idealistic reinvention of left wing politics in Britain also ended at the very same time with a distrust of all dreams.

It was the end result of Herbert Marcuse's theories. He had said the capitalist power works by possessing and manipulating the desires inside your own mind. But no-one ever explained how you distinguished between the two kinds of dreams inside your head - the ones that were planted there by evil capitalist fantasy-machines, and the genuine dreams of a new and better future. And if your dreams of a better future failed, and the world didn't change - then maybe they too were just part of the manipulation?

And as the revolutionary aims of that generation failed, a terrible suspicion began to grow. Maybe all dreams of other worlds were just illusions. And that in turn led them to accept the dreary functionalism of the material world and the utilitarianism of modern economics which simply said that dreams were located in material, physical objects that could then, conveniently for capitalism, be sold for vast amounts of money. And people became increasingly obsessed by their own material form - their bodies.

The right thing to do now was not to change society, but change yourself. And not what went on inside your head, but simply your Body Mass Index.

In the early 1990s Pauline Boty's daughter - Boty Goodwin - went to Los Angeles to study art. She was rich because of her mother's estate, but she also felt trapped by her mother's shadow. She started taking heroin, and her studies were disrupted. In 1994 she wrote a letter to her moral tutor:

"I remember the days when keeping thin was a matter of a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a line of coke. I lived off McDonalds and ice cream and kept a steady 120 pounds. Needless to say, not any more. Now I am obsessed. Everywhere I look I see ads from every newsstand. LOOK BETTER NAKED. A SEXY BUTT, SLIM THIGHS, FLAT ABS. WOMEN WHO LOVE SEX AND HOW MEN CAN TELL. Are the two connected? I want to beat up sixteen-year-old girls.

Why is that despite an adoring father, an almost nauseatingly 'politically-correct' upbringing, and a feminist historian godmother, the tyranny of beauty still obsesses me so?"

In November 1995 Boty Goodwin died of a heroin overdose.

The student left in the 1960s had believed that the revolution would start in their heads because that was where capitalist power exerted its control. But it was a dead end because it led them into a terrible trap - where they became paralysed by the fear of possession.

As a result they became unable to articulate an inspiring vision of the future and came to distrust their own dreams because they were frightened that they would be immediately appropriated. And that is where much of the left still remain - paralysed by a dark pessimism and a fear of the cynicism of the media around them.

To really change the world the left needs to go back to the same utopian socialists that Marcuse rediscovered in the 1950s, and the grand romantic visions of other worlds they put forward.

The one I love most is Charles Fourier who in the 1830s outlined an extraordinary new kind of society based on communities he called Phalanxes.

Here is an image of a Phalanx.

Fourier had no truck with the idea of changing people. All the different things inside their heads was just what they were like - and you worked with that extraordinary range of human nature and channelled it to create societies in which everyone played a role suited to their nature. His vision is wonderfully optimistic. Even potential murderers are allowed to work off their psychotic impulses - as butchers.

And at the heart of Fourier's society is the idea of Love - a grand feeling of which sex is just a part. And there were special groups in the Phalanxes whose job was to manage the dynamics of Love. If you had been rejected by someone you loved, a special corps of "fairies" would come immediately and take you away, and cure you of your unhappiness.

Fourier's romantic innocence seems intensely shocking to us today - because it seems so naive and optimistic. But it is their power to shock us in this way that potentially makes these long-forgotten utopian ideas genuinely revolutionary.

You may not believe in fairies, but in today's world it's hard to believe in the infallibility of the laws of free-market economics. So which one would you choose?

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    Comment number 41.

    @ Nausika: I write whut fer a whut!? Haha, what made you think that? Nah sorry, wrong beau.

    About undemanding jobs leaving one with free time - that's been eroding since the Thatcher days; every second and joule of a worker's time and energy is accounted for these days and as real wages decline overtime becomes necessary. I would love an easy job but I've never found one that stayed easy or lasted. The good life is easier imagined than realised for most people. Yeah there are a lot of middle to upper class people who get caught on a treadmill out of greed and habit but that's not most folks' affliction. I agree with your sentiment along the lines of 'the best things in life are free/cheap'; can be hard to secure these things in proper balance with work though. My best friend moved out of the city to be with a partner, now can't afford to move back as she planned. We used to do everything together; it's a major hit to quality of life and entirely due to factors beyond our control (meanwhile millions of Chinese worker wish their loved-ones were only a bus-ride away). People at my work are often sick with stress; how can they find the energy and initiative to take up creative pursuits in their free time? I struggle myself; I tend to want to just decompress.

    I have wondered whether the main thought driving a lot of this material here is a vision in Adam Curtis's mind of how two guys, Marx and Engels, thought, discussed, wrote, and informed (if not exactly determined) a lot of how society was organised thereafter. The thinking and dreaming we do or don't do does matter and that's a battleground worth fighting on - it's worthwhile to encourage people to be critical and visualise a better world and not only play a passive or instrumental part in the very bounded and artificial mass-media conversation.

    @ Renfro: This sort of follows on from the above. I agree that the next revolution will need know-how, but my vision is not one of persuading professionals to join hands with the proles and reorganise institutions from within. I think that by far the more realistic and desirable alternative is for activism to get practical instead of focusing on symbolic 'resistance' and apocalyptic fantasies.

    I was talking with an American anarchist; a very moral and intelligent woman. She had helped to found a store which distributed basic food freely without any means-testing, on the premise that in a wealthy society essential foodstuffs should on principle be freely provided, like water and security. And it's easy for a few people on modest incomes to get together to bulk-buy flour and whatnot and demonstrate to the public how absurd it is that anyone should die for want of proper nourishment in the midst of technological civilisation.

    What happened is, the store was well received by the community, and benefited a lot of people while it lasted, until a rival anarchist group judged it as being against some principle or other and burned it down.

    And this is the problem. We need two wings working together: an intellectual engagement with the facts and with human values, and an energetic engagement with practical realities. People should be doing real, practically useful things for actual human beings, instead of thinking of themselves as ideological purists, holier-than-thou, class-warriors, freedom-fighters. There seems to be a glut of Che wannabes and a glut of beard-stroking academics, and not enough people willing to create co-ops, communal housing projects, actual proper think-tanks, lobbying groups, homelessness projects... you can make a better world by getting up and making a better world, but people are waiting for Neo to beat up Agent Smith and ring a big bell or something. People just need to get together and form networks that will change and even replace the nature of society and politics. We can humanise the world from the grassroots up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @G: Well I had the very odd thought that you were that French-surnamed consigliere who writes a column for The Guardian. We get the weekly print version that incorporates articles from The Washington Post and Le Monde here in Sydney. But really, I can read any English-language newspaper on the Internet: I can read Hindustan Times or the Times of India even, if I want to. I love reading their faintly hysterical old-fashioned English. Anyway this being a public forum, I didn't want to attact unwanted attention (I am fairly new to these parts) so I was being rather cryptic with those two French words that ended my piece. What persuaded me to think the way I did? I was only focussing on your writing style: it's very fluid, it has a definite character and the intelligence and insight that inform it are considerable. I haven't hacked into your server and I'm not in love with you or anything like that! Then again, if your looks and charms are of as high a standard as the writing is, I just might be persuaded otherwise.

    I am really sorry for the people at your workplace if it is as bad as you describe. It sounds as if there is an oppressive and intimidating atmosphere there. You all have my sympathy. Is there no way you can get outside help without attracting attention from senior management?

    The situation sounds like a part of Karl Marx's description of anomie, though he was writing in a general way about the interests of the managerial class vis-a-vis the proletariat. In his "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844" he refers to four types of alienation and one of these is the alienation of the worker from his ability to achieve self-actualisation or inner fulfillment from his output. This could take place in different ways: workers do something that contributes to the final product but never get to see what that looks like so they have no real connection to it. Or they produce something that they know is good but managers order them to change it to something inferior; the product though is still attributed to the worker. Or the worker is told to deliberately create something he knows to be false but which managers determine must be sold to the public as true.

    If you are allowed to personalise your work area, I think you should do so - it may be a way of destressing. Listening to music you like on headphones, taking short breaks to meditate and practise deep breathing, consuming healthy foods and beverages and staying away from snacks and soda drinks are a start.

    Today I took a lunchtime walk down to Martin Place and chatted to one of the Occupy Sydney reps who let me take away an Occupy Sydney statement. It's not very specific but Katy explained that at present the OS movement is about generating awareness with the aim of building up a critical mass, at which point a more definite manifesto with a clear vision, goals and a set of values and principles may be produced. In the meantime, some people within the OS movement have organised little tutorial groups and ongoing classes that teach all kinds of activities such as crafts and arts.

    I also have a copy of the #Occupy Wallstreet Facebook speech and yes, there is a definite environmental sustainability component, an awareness of corporate fascism and a link between the system we labour under and the deaths of people in those Middle Eastern and North African countries the US-led coalitions have invaded.

    I see you like science fiction, I can recommend some science fiction films for decompression purposes!

    Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" (France)
    Wanuri Kahiu "Pumzi" (Kenya)
    Rene Laloux "Fantastic Planet" (France)
    Andrei Tarkovsky "Stalker" (Russia)
    Konstantin Lopushansky "Dead Man's Letters" (Russia)
    Charlie Deaux "Zoetrope" (United States)
    Chris Marker "La Jetee" (France)
    Jindrich Polak "Ikarie XB-1" (Czechoslovakia)
    Anthony Lucas "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello" (Australia)
    Paul Campion "Eel Girl" (New Zealand / United Kingdom)

    Some of these are very short (5 mins) and the longest would be "Stalker" at nearly 3 hours in length.

    I am still searching for David Blair's "WAX: or the Discovery of Television among the Bees" which I have seen twice back in the 1990s and want to see again. I know the computer graphics will be very dated but it's just such a strange film!

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    Comment number 43.

    @ Nausika

    Can't remember whether this site allows links to be posted...

    Parent website:


    It's not got a very clear layout; the link to the film itself is here:


    (you use the arrow on the right at the end of each section to move on to the next)

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    Comment number 44.

    @ G: Why, thanks very much for that, that's wonderful! Yes I will try that link! And don't hyperventilate in the decompression chamber while watching the flix!

    @ theartteacher2: if you go to www.savetibet.org and search the term "reincarnation", you'll see an article dated 15 August 2007. Click on that and you'll get the whole article plus the State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No 5 which details the procedures to be followed by reincarnating Tibetan monks. Government decrees don't get any more surreal than this!

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    Comment number 45.

    Coming from an ex-Communist country that saw one revolution which was actually a coup d'etat, and nothing positive since, I couldn't help but admire (though smirk a bit at) the discourse of middle-class socialist students a la Paris '68. So this essay/collage was a bit of an eye-opener.

    The will to protest is very important. Where I'm from, you just can't rattle people, no matter how desperate they are they won't complain by taking it to the streets.

    Someone here mentioned Dmitry Orlov. Let's see. Nausika, was ithe article "Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century"? Lots of what he says there rings true.

    TV for 2 hours a day but nobody was watching anyway, only Soviet films in the cinema, but bootleg videos everywhere and a neighbourhood VCR did the trick, blackouts all the time, people growing their own vegetables and living together in crowded apartments, doing the least amount of work expected of you, mandatory employment unless you had extraordinary circumstances - but you know, and I was going to say in a strange way but perhaps it's not so strange, people had more free time, spent a lot of time outside, dare I say they were happier? People were forced to be creative back then because they had this whole system to subvert, it was exciting for the arts, especially in the 80's when censorship wasn't severe and you could get away with certain references. But you couldn't get away with free speech.

    So anyway, a revolution. Sorry, but I don't see it happening. Change will be thrust on us if peak oil arrives, everything collapses, etc etc, but meanwhile people want to be powerless (otherwise there'd be no governments). I see this all the time. We like to suffer, complain, and do nothing about it really. Another reason why I don't see this happening via revolution is because I've been translating some articles and call to arms type of thing from Occupy and that takes you really close to the effects of the text; these texts were positively shouting at me to wear some new uniform if you will, some new constraint of freedom... but maybe that was just my own feeling.

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    Comment number 46.

    @ postcronicita: I have a copy of that article you mention but the one I referred to is at this link if you want to look: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/23259. You might also like to read Esteban Morales's "Lessons from Argentina's Economic Collapse" to see how people in Argentina coped in the early years of the 21st century.

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    Comment number 47.

    Nausika, I always want to look, that's the problem! Thanks for the link, and the book is in my goodreads queue. Do you have a blog? I'd like to read it seeing as you always leave some good ideas and a trail of links like nice ripe fruit in your wake.

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    Comment number 48.

    I added Dream, Baby, Dream by Suicide into the media mix as I read this.

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    Comment number 49.

    Couple of links that people might like

    I like this. It tragically doesn't have fairies who look like Pauline Boty as part of the plan. But apart from that I think it's pretty good.


    And also, for those who haven't seen this yet there's a little a bit by AC about the US season on BBC4. There's links to the programs, I checked out the MLK interview which is brill because it has MLK in it. And there's a program called California 2000 or something - it's full of gold. Check them out.


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    Comment number 50.

    @ postcronicita: Hi, thanks for the compliment! I only have a film review blog at http://undersoutherneyes.edpinsent.com/ which you're welcome to look at. Choose whatever category or tag you're interested in and go from there. You'll see my interests are, uh, not quite mainstream! I have no other blogs.

    @ theartteacher2: I liked the first link and downloaded it for free. Thanks very much for putting that up! And thanks also for the second link.

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    Comment number 51.

    Fascinating, but at the same time it makes you feel like going "oh whatever". We're all just tribal animals, nothing's going to be perfect, this is the way of the world. Unfair wealth distribution? 80/20 rule. Class systems? Tribal apes. The kids are rioting? Mob behaviour and bog standard youth culture. Time to get over the fact that we're animals and just live out the rest of our insignificant life on this speck of dust of a planet. We're just humans.

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    Comment number 52.

    While this is a rather good dissection of the failure of 60s leftists, I feel like to claim the Occupy movement has no specific dreams is a bit unfair.

    Early on at least, they did have a specific list of demands on Facebook (things like ending Corporate person-hood, free college etc.) and the influence of people like Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert (who do have specific visions for society) can't be ignored, they make up a large part of their libraries, especially the main People's Library in New York.

    The utopian visions of things like anarcho-syndicalism exemplified by anarchist Spain or the early Kibbutzim, I feel at least, are very present and very specific to Occupy, it's not just a bunch of people who think society will spontaneously re-organize itself without specifics in mind.

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    Comment number 53.

    @ theartteacher2: regarding the link with AC's blurb about the America season - I had to wrinkle my nose at the suggestion that over the last ten years the predominant attitude of the BBC towards America has been dark and skeptical. Maybe in comparison with some other period, yeah, but take a look at the BBC's portrayal of America in comparison with the kind of coverage The Evil Empire gets in non-allied countries where the effects of America's manipulations are felt more painfully. And the view that America is warring in the Middle East for cynical and self-serving reasons is still not offered by the BBC as a probable truth, only as a marginal conspiracy-theory. It looks into some of the details, like 'the dodgy dossier' but shrinks from any conclusions that might undermine confidence in the state itself - they'd rather pin it on some rogue, or on George Bush, or explain it as 'bad judgement'. While you sit eating your dinner in front of the telly you are never asked by the newsreader to consider whether we all might have thrown our lot in with hypocritical plunderers, war-criminals and mass-murderers. But isn't this the case? And what, we should just sigh phlegmatically and get on with it, knowing it's as good as it's ever going to get?

    I'm all for recognising America as a plurality of cultures, attitudes, good and bad, whatever - it's a Big Place, obviously - it's Complicated; it made some good music and HBO made some good telly programmes. But I think British news media have always pretended that the American political apparatus acts in good faith to spread democracy etc, when in fact they tirelessly oppose democracy even in their own country, and even more so in their many client states.

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    Comment number 54.

    @ theartteacher2: I read a good book several years ago: it's Morris Berman's "Dark Ages America: the Final Phases of Empire" which details those aspects of US culture and society that have put the United States on a trajectory of self-destruction. It's a gloomy read with a well-argued premise, bolstered by examples drawn from history, sociology, cultural studies and psychology. Berman's observations apply just as much to other countries of the Anglosphere: in Australia people sometimes joke that ours is the 51st state in the Union and after our Prime Minister's recent creepily gushy reception of President Obama and her agreement to have 2,500 US marines stationed near Darwin and for the US military to be able to conduct war games exercises without having to notify Canberra the nature of these exercises and what weapons or equipment might be used, we are edging just that little bit ahead of Stephen Harper's Canada and David Cameron's UK in the race to have the dubious honour bestowed on us. We are such good little children down here!

    There are also William Blum's "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" and "Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II". For another point of view and to see how far back in US history overseas adventures go, you should also read Saul Landau's "The guerrilla wars of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala". Pretty chilling to discover that the American political elites always had a soft sport in their hearts for Nicaragua since 1875 or thereabouts.

    There was a book by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryn Wyn Davies I read years ago that examines the role Hollywood plays in advancing the myth of a benevolent America. I can't remember if it was "Why do People hate America?" but it might very well be.

    And there's Daniel Lazare's excellent "The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy" which looks at how the US system of government with its precarious balance of checks among the three levels of government (Congress, the President and his Cabinet, the Supreme Court) and the US Constitution have stymied political and cultural development and progress in the country.

    And for examples of how Americans themselves are victimised by the government they're brought up to believe can do no wrong, James Bovard has written a number of books like "Attention Deficit Democracy" and "Freedom in Chains: the Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen". From memory, I think Bovard's books can be repetitive because they detail abuse upon abuse upon abuse. Bovard used to work for the Cato Institute%2

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    Comment number 55.

    Sorry the msg was cut off, here's the rest ...

    And for examples of how Americans themselves are victimised by the government they're brought up to believe can do no wrong, James Bovard has written a number of books like "Attention Deficit Democracy" and "Freedom in Chains: the Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen". From memory, I think Bovard's books can be repetitive because they detail abuse upon abuse upon abuse. Bovard used to work for the Cato Institute (may still do for all I know) and has a bad opinion of past US Presidents like Franklin D Roosevelt for various reasons too complicated to go into here.

    Yep I do leave some nice ripe fruit around the joint here. Can't tell you where my little tree of golden apples comes from, that's my secret.

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    Comment number 56.

    I have come across some very heart-warming news just now. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal has been hearing war crimes charges of Crimes Against Peace against former US President George W Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has delivered its verdict that both are guilty of Crimes Against Peace and in violating international law in invading Iraq.

    Lawyers and human rights activists have praised the decision and have said they will lobby the International Court of Crimes to charge B and B for war crimes.

    Not that this will make much difference to Bush and Blair themselves in the immediate short-term other than the fact that they will avoid visiting Malaysia and maybe a few other countries whose governments agree with the verdict.

    The KT tribunal will hold a separate hearing in 2012 on charges of torture linked to the Iraq war against former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former US Vice President (and reptile in human disguise) Dick Cheney.

    Give the tribunal time and hopefully we shall see Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy arraigned on war crimes charges in invading Libya and polluting that country with depleted uranium and toxic chemicals, much of which will eventually blow over Europe in wind currents.

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    Comment number 57.

    Sorry I should have said " ... Lawyers and human rights activists IN MALAYSIA have praised the decision and have said they will lobby the International Court of Crimes to charge B and B for war crimes ..." Nausika, you're thinking too much ahead as usual.

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    Comment number 58.

    Can I ask the other commenters here whether they themselves gave up on imagining better worlds like the Phalanx?

    The world will come to be run by rational morality, or it will be destroyed, or it will become absolutely horrible. Whatever the odds, I don't see the point in being resigned about it.

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    Comment number 59.

    @ G: Well we are hyper-individualised children of a society that has stamped out most forms of collective and co-operative activity that don't conform to a profit-making template or paradigm that suits the so-called 1% and which leaves the rest of us out in the cold. We have been trained since childhood to consider our societies the best in the world or at least the best of a bad lot of societies. We live in an eternal present in which history and the teaching of history are either considered irrelevant or at best secondary to subjects that are short-cuts to a life of high income, material luxury or instant fame (or notoriety as the case may be). We accept whatever the government or mandated media institutions tell us and know of no other alternatives. Alternative ways of living or doing things are treated as so much exotica to be sampled when we are playing tourists.

    No need to wonder why, for example, most people in the United States or in Australia consistently vote for political parties whose agendas run counter to their (that is, the people's) interests. You and I know, for example, that about 50 million people in the US have no medical health insurance and if any one of them fell under a bus tomorrow and ended up in hospital with serious injuries, that person would be in danger of going bankrupt and would spend the rest of her/his life in dire poverty. Yet that same person might go to a polling booth at the next Presidential election and vote for a party that proposes to wipe out Medicare or Medicaid altogether! We then ask that person, "Why did you vote for that party?" and the person might say, "I voted for that party because I believe we ought to be self-sufficient and not rely on government welfare! The party tells me so!"

    Duh! Never underestimate people's ability to hold two or more contradictory beliefs or delusions in their heads! And never underestimate the extent to which people turn into ostriches and stick their heads in the sand to the point of asphyxiation and beyond when you present something that conflicts with whatever narrative or paradigm runs in their heads.

    I cannot get over how many people believe Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was a tinpot despot in spite of information readily available on the Internet, often from sources you least expect to be sympathetic towards him, that his government over 42 years improved standards of education, made education free and compulsory for children up to the age of 15 years, provided basic health care and social benefits, eliminated malaria, provided workers' compensation, maximum work hours and minimum rest periods and subsidised utilities, petrol and food staples. I mention these achievements of the Gaddafi period to people I know and they get so ANGRY!

    I did see Elly's comment at 51 and asked myself if it was worth my while answering it and questioning each and every point made. Should we even strive for "perfection"? Are we merely tribal apes? Even apes have culture that varies from one group to another. Mob behaviour - what is that? Psychologists tell us that our behaviour is more influenced by situations and groups than we like to believe and our personalities are not as consistent as we think. Plus I think that the recent London riots had elements of flash mob behaviour and opportunism, and were not merely mindless. People raided stores that sold popular brands and ignored places selling other products. As for bog standard youth culture, if your perception of what passes for youth culture is limited to gangsta rap, X-Factor and the Kardashians, you're the one who watches too much TV, not the kids!

    And what is meant by "rational" morality? It was "rationality" or the idea that people and institutions can be assumed to be always cool, calm and collected when they play the stock market casino that contributed to the present precarious global financial situation. Yet we know that investors are prone to the herd mentality and the stock market tends over time to move further away from "equilibrium". What is meant by "destroyed"? It might not be a bad thing if Western society as we know it now is "destroyed". Death can be a transformative process that leads to a better society which venerates life, not the kind of twisted death-worshipping cult we are seeing in our serial-killer leaders. (I can just see Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy et al silently mouthing: "We can't help ourselves ... we have little voices in our heads telling us to kill, kill, kill ... PLEASE STOP US NOW BEFORE WE BOMB SYRIA AND IRAN!")

    I imagine the world can be a much better place but I think it will be through a process of death and transformation that this will come about. There are certain tendencies in our Western civilisation that must work themselves out into the open. We cannot suppress them or try to stop them else they will continue to threaten us and will come out eventually.

    And I've had a quick look at Fourier's phalanxes on Wikipedia just now and I'm not sure I like the look of them!

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    Comment number 60.

    @NausikaDalazBlindaz - But I'm a kid myself! I'm an 18 year old from upper edmonton in Enfield, one of the first places to see rioting, I am and always have been surrounded by the kind of people that rioted. I'm well acquainted with youth culture, and that's why I think it was the biggest factor, no politics or anything sophisticated involved in it at all.

    Well yes, spot on, flash mob behaviour, and we're influenced by groups and situations, we agree.

    I'm saying we don't need to strive for anything, let alone perfection. This is what we can come up with. You haven't said anything about the 80/20 rule, why?

    Yes, we are just tribal apes, with hierarchies and limbic systems. Essentially we're all just digestive tubes trying to reproduce, who think of themselves as higher beings because we've gotten a bit intelligent. We've got a long way to go before we evolve into anything but jumped up apes. But my point is we think we can get rid of tribal structures such as leaders, alpha males/females, the 80/20 rule of complex systems, that we're somehow better than that and have moved on, well we haven't. We need to get over ourselves, and all of this to me seems like romantic rubbish, from both the left and right.


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