Tag Archives: anarchy

Top 5 doomed literary loves

Perhaps it isn’t in keeping with the spirit of the season, as everyone loves a happy ever after, but sometimes it has to be acknowledged that the really great literature lives elsewhere.  With that in mind, and with Valentine’s wishes to all readers, here are ten minutes hate’s favourite star-cross’d lovers…

1. Anna and Vronsky – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The fairytale prince (though really a Count) escapes his destiny to marry the sweet-as-sugar Princess Kitty and skips off with the more captivating Anna instead.  Russian society at the time taking its cues from Paris, they might have been forgiven for carrying on behind her husband’s back.  Yet it is when the pair decide they can’t breathe without the other in the room and decide to throw career (him), family (her) and sanity (both) on the bonfires of love and lust that all hell really breaks loose.

Anna watching her lover fall from his horse mid-race and having to contend with his possible death under the suspicious eye of her husband is one of the finest scenes in the book, or possibly ever written.  And while the parallel story of Kitty and new love Konstantin provides a more realistic portrait of the early years of a marriage as well as acting as counterpoint, it is the raging, ultimately destructive, passions between Anna and Vronsky that linger long after reading.

2. Helene and Jean – The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir

Few things are more tragic than the discovery of crucial knowledge too late to do anything useful with it.  Witness reluctant hero Jean Blomart’s night of remorse and reflection as he only realises how deeply he cares for on-off girlfriend Helene after she has taken a bullet helping her ex escape from the Nazis.

The long vigil allows him the chance to reflect on the choices he has made in his life, politics and behaviour towards Helene – while wrestling with the decision over whether to send others out on a similarly dangerous mission – all in a suitably existential manner, of course.  But the philosophy never detracts from what is a cracking tale of betrayal, deceit, love, and ultimately, death.

3. Jake and Anna and Hugo and Sadie – Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Perhaps not since A Midsummer Night’s Dream have the forces of love got it so spectacularly wrong, with emotions in Murdoch’s first novel entangling to such a degree that no-one seems likely to get what (or who) they actually want.  Perfectly capturing the often comic choices of still-young-but-old-enough-to-know-better hero Jake Donaghue as he attempts to sort his chaotic life out enough to get the money, the acclaim and – of course – the girl he deserves.

His continuing mis-steps on that path to contentment, made due to his unvarying misconceptions of his world, are handled with such a light touch that it is impossible not to sympathise, even while desiring to give him a good shake!  A scene where he trails Anna through Paris, seeing her without her ever realising he is there, is beautiful in its longing and sense of loss.  This is another philosophical novel which never betrays the humanity of its central characters.  The inadequacies of language in conveying our perspectives – the ‘net’ of words we are all caught in – will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to tell someone they love exactly how it is and how it’s going to be.

4. Robert and Maria – For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

The whispered conversations, while curled in his sleeping bag, their hopes for their life together, the brutal intrusion of their final goodbye.  It is a short yet grand passion, full of idealism and beauty, despite – or perhaps due to – the death and horror that surrounds them.  The earth even moves.

Yet, like the Republic they are fighting for, it is not destined to last.  As with The Blood of Others, Fascist bullets ultimately prove too strong for even this perfect love to overcome.

5. Winston and Julia – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

What else could it be?

Boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy realises that is because he wants girl really.  Boy gets girl.  Boy convinces girl to join him in overthrowing a ruthless dictatorship.

Fails.

Looking back over my choices I realise that perhaps there is a common theme, that love can’t survive in a world bedevilled with totalitarian regimes, Fascist atrocities and the stern disapproval of a rigid society.  Those structures will always be incompatible with such deep feelings because, as noted by Jonathan Carroll, in his excellent tale of un-doomed love, White Apples:

…real love is always chaotic. You lose control; you lose perspective. You lose the ability to protect yourself. The greater the love, the greater the chaos. It’s a given and that’s the secret.

The idea of love as anarchy works better for me than all the diamonds and flowers and chocolates paraded at this time of year.  Perhaps Saint Valentine, killed for his opposition to the Roman Emperor, would approve.

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The state of us

It is becoming increasingly clear that the things we need to have happen in order for a fairer, more just society to emerge, from economic reforms to climate change measures, as well as improvements in education, health and social care are further away than ever.  The systems of government hamper more than they help, either by way of elected officials for reasons of ideology or because they are in the thrall of lobbyists or the Sir Humphreys of this world:

Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy

Quite.

Regaining control will be more of a headache than marking an ‘X’ every five years and expecting that to do.  It requires engagement and understanding and other words which have become sullied by overuse in the kind of overeager council leaflet often used to line kitty litter trays.  But if the last nine months have shown anything, it is that the kind of people who seek elected office can in no way be trusted with the responsibility of it.

On everything from tax kickbacks for the rich to flogging off the forests, our ‘leaders’ are dangerously out of step with what rational thoughts and future generations require.  To justify it they point to a woeful majority of voters who agree with some of their policies, although not many of these were explicitly laid out in the manifesto.  They can ignore scientists, economists and the advice of history as they run amok and seek to dismantle in months what it took our forefathers generations to establish.  The only response we have is to change them for another, similar shower in different coloured rosettes with slightly nuanced policy differences in half a decade.

It’s almost enough to make you turn to drink

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Pocket-picking time again

They say everyone has 20:20 hindsight, but with each new report that is released it becomes clear that the only sensible response to the financial crisis that began in 2007 is:

are you taking the piss?

Because it is increasingly apparent that, yes, in fact, they are.  Governments across the globe are expecting the poorest and those most in need of help to pay for the clear up while the bankers skip off to the Cayman Islands with suitcases full of our cash and an entreaty that the blame culture must end:

There was a period of remorse and apology; that period needs to be over

- Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, quoted in Private Eye No 1280

If nothing else, you have to admire their chutzpah.

A reasonably well-connected friend told me back then that the credit crunch was being talked into existence.  I wasn’t sure I believed her, worrying that certain banks were too big to fail and about what might follow if they were allowed to collapse and take millions of ordinary worker’s savings, pensions and mortgages down with them.  In my naivety I might have expected an ounce of fucking gratitude for the largesse we showed in saving the bankers from the abyss.  Not a bit of it, if it was given at all it was begrudged and now, apparently, it’s over.

Instead of remorse, what we get are lectures from the decks of their super-yachts, moored off the coast of the latest tax haven, on why the need for austerity has added hospitals to the list of things now to be considered luxury items.  As noted by the Anarchist Writers:

it is hard to tell whether the Con-Dems stupidity is driven by class interest, incompetence, ideological blindness, economic illiteracy, or a Machiavellian wish to use crisis to pursue market-fundamentalist social engineering. Probably a mishmash of all with the incompetence, ideology and illiteracy helpfully deepening the crisis which can be used as an excuse to impose neo-liberal dreams and ensure the rich get richer

Clearing the deficit at a speed that terrifies most economists certainly seems to be their obsession, the gloss of prudent financial management given to an ideological mission to roll back every advance the working class has won for itself over the last 60 years, while allowing the looting of the global economy to continue unchecked.

Why should we break our backs stupidly paying tax?

Of course, as the rich and the corporations they control demand and get ever more lenient tax regimes, some idiot has to be found to make up the shortfall.  Guess who is in the frame?  So work becomes more and more like this, with the sting of a reduction in take home pay and the removal of services your taxes used to cover.  Remember who you’re working for:

But don’t fear!  We still have a gazillion pounds to spend on the Olympics, millions more to set up the organisation to monitor MP’s expenses and a few quid left over for some really nice chairs.

I wonder what will be our tipping point, what will see us head for the streets, when Mubarak is estimated to have accumulated 40-70 billion dollars from his reign in Egypt, an astronomical sum but one dwarfed by the quids our rulers have handed over to their mates in the pin-stripes.  Maybe it’s time to start building the barricades?

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Hints of Spring

Wandering around Tokyo over the last day or two and the weather has definitely felt a little warmer, not that we are breaking out the flip-flops just yet, but if you have to take off a mitten for a minute to get some change out of your pocket you don’t instantly feel the digits drain of blood, which is encouraging.  (Cue snowfall brought about by this post!)

Recently one of my students mentioned a poem by Shelley which she told me was very popular in Japan, and which ends with the words:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

She told me it was also encouraging, because however much you feel as if you are in the depths of a Narnian endless Winter, the longer it goes on for, the closer you must be getting to Spring.

And bearing all that in mind, I was further encouraged when I looked into the poem, Ode to the West Wind, a little more (ok, looked it up on Wikipedia!) and read that it was written by Shelley in 1819, not long after the Peterloo Massacre.  The Spring he is anticipating is not only the temporal one, but also an awakening to reform and revolution, with the wind bringing a message of change as it travels.

So it is with a fervent hope that the events of this weekend can see a wind of change reach us all, along with the warmer summer breezes we have missed out on over the last couple of months.  And if that is not a perfect excuse to link to the following video, I don’t know what is.

Enjoy the weekend!

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Egyptians are in the street looking for a brighter day

No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges

- Buenaventura Durruti

With these words ringing in our ears, it is hardly surprising that a number of governments, ours included, usually so gung-ho about exporting democracy to other parts of the world – particularly the Middle Eastern bits – seem to be remaining tight-lipped about the uprisings in Egypt.

Of course, as Justin McKeating notes, America and Britain have a many different reasons not to be pushing Egyptian President Mubarak out of the door too swiftly, at least not until they have safely recovered the keys to the filing cupboards (you just know there are paper records somewhere…) containing details of all the War on Terror detainees renditioned to the country to be tortured on our behalf.

And via Truth, Reason & Liberty we learn that even if the Western leaders wanted to share in the glow of their very own Berlin Wall moment, they have the restlessness of the international markets to consider first:

A one-dollar, one-day increase in a barrel of oil takes $12 million out of the U.S. economy.  If tensions in the Mideast cause oil prices to rise by $5 for even just three months, over $5 billion dollars will leave the U.S. economy. Obviously, this is not a strategy for creating new jobs

- Jason S. Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington research group, quoted in the New York Times

Difficult to ignore the not-so-veiled threat to workers in America contained in the last line.

So, while it is tempting to get carried away by the romance of soldiers and protesters embracing, hard-headed realism is required.  As the regime rounds up journalists and seeks to prevent pictures being taken of Tahrir Square, as more protesters are shot, it is essential that we stand in solidarity with the people of Egypt as they struggle to make their society more as they wish it to be.  Even if they get their wish and see Mubarak removed, what follows may be far from the envisaged democracy, as vested interests seek to protect their privileges.

Then, maybe it is also time for us to stop the bar-room and blog grandstanding and learn from Egypt’s example, where people are out on the streets, trying to change their realities in any way they can.  As I sit typing in Japan’s safe commercial paradise, a country that one of my students describes as ‘slowly sinking’, unwilling to wake up to the problems it faces, I can only wish for some of what is in the water in Cairo to be transported to Tokyo and London, to help us avoid complacency, however unlikely that appears.

Egyptians are in the street looking for a brighter day.  Are we content to sit and watch it on TV, or can we be persuaded to join them?

Photograph from 3 quarks daily, via the mortal bathMore photographs of the demonstration at the Boston Globe

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Walk like an Egyptian

Events in Egypt are by turns shocking – as stories of live bullets and gas used against protestors emerge – yet encouraging, if this quote is anything to go by:

[The US has] been lulled by a pro-stability narrative that has been spun out by Mr Mubarak and other Arab autocrats. Unfortunately for Cairo and Washington, the street is saying the game is up

- former CIA director Emile Nakhleh, writing in the Financial Times,

quoted by Naked Capitalism

The message is clear: lose the streets and lose the geo-political game.  No wonder the British police are now using tougher methods against peaceful protesters.

And no, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to post this video pass by:

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Indirect action

Updates to ten minutes hate have been few and far between lately, for which I am sorry, although in my defence, the situation is as yet nowhere near as bad as it was this time last year when I was studying for the qualification that would see me end up in Japan 12 months later.

That said, with the sheer number of heartening stories around at present, this is no time for a blogger with something to say about our ways of living and how screwed up they have become to be sitting on her hands, especially since recent weeks have seen successes for a couple of causes very close to my heart.

First, the fan’s campaign at Liverpool Football Club saw hated owners Hicks and Gillett finally shown the door following a series of financial mis-steps which made even the bankers despair.  Despite initial wariness, new owners NESV seem to be making all the right noises, with their recognition of the supporters’ role as the true custodians of the Club.  Union Spirit of Shankly remains committed to fan ownership and participation in the running of the club as a future aim.  All to the good.

Then, the sleeping class consciousness of the UK seems to be awakening at last.  Not quite as fond of a riot as our French, Greek or Italian cousins, a slash-and-burn approach to public sector cuts, alongside the retention of the Downing Street stylists and photographers, seems to be pushing even the most placid of British people into taking out poor, defenceless police vans.  Long may it continue.  It is good and healthy for a government to have next to no idea when its population will kick off.

And yet, and yet…

It is with a sometimes heavy heart that I read the blog updates, emails and news stories telling me what you have all been getting up to during this new Winter of Discontent.  Those that follow me on Twitter may have been noticing a higher than usual number of retweets as I am recycling other people’s news.  It is not just the physical distance you notice at a time like this, the time difference also sees my part of the world steaming ahead into the new day while you are all asleep and dreaming of new anti-kettling avoidance tactics.

So, sure, I have clicked on some links, sent my support along the line and written some words.  But is it enough?

To see what I want to see for the UK and around the world – real political power returned to the people, the space to live a free life, access to education and services for all, an end for those who seek to control and trammel life – is that going to be brought about by a few mouse clicks?  Perhaps not, which is why I am resolving to spend the rest of this year finding more ways to get more involved, if there is a way to do so from 6,000 miles away.

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Sugar and spice

Once again, Grace Dent has written the kind of column that should have all intelligent people running around the room cheering and air-punching. I had only made it as far as this paragraph:

Sotomayor spent 2010 transforming judicial thought on the “right to remain silent”, while Gaga was probably dancing about a stadium – nips out and wearing backless chaps made of tampons – hooting: “Woo! Leetle monsterz. Female empowerment!” This sort of irony is par for the course in list-land

before I was madly in love with every comma and pledging to call my first born daughter Grace in her honour.  Then she got me with this:

Oh pipe down, you female transorbital neuroendoscopy specialists at the back, Coleen has a children’s book deal and will almost certainly help choose the colour of the cover

and I realised that I must start petitioning someone for statues of Ms Dent to be placed as warning beacons where teenage girls congregate, such as outside Top Shop changing rooms and near bus stations when the local boys’ schools are chucking out.  I feel like I have been banging on about this since those far-off days when Posh took back Beckham after the Rebecca Loos ‘episode’, but what the hell are we teaching girls by our examples, that it really doesn’t matter how much your other half disrespects you by chasing other women so long as he keeps buying you nice things to compensate?

And should it follow that Hillary Clinton is less powerful now that her name is on the desk in her own right, than she was in the days when she had unlimited access over the pillows to the guy in the top job?  I would love to see someone suggest that to her face, as I think I would probably enjoy watching her tear that person a new one – therefore aren’t I lucky that just this exact scenario already went down:

Good on her, too.  We have reached a pretty poor pass when women are prepared to forego a place at the table in lieu of a position or three between the sheets.  Nor should any good men be made to feel unsettled by such rhetoric as lads, it is just as much in your interest to declare yourself a feminist if you have a mother, sister, daughter or wife whose horizons are being narrowed by this bullshit.

The problems of the world cannot be resolved simply by one side winning the battle of the sexes.  They require a balance between the hunter-gatherer stuff you do so well and the empathy and intuition that we bring to the table.  Any society which leaves the serious business to the men, while the women stand pouting on the sidelines is soon going to fall apart at the seams, because, as a great philosopher once wrote, it may be a man’s, man’s, man’s, world but it sure as hell wouldn’t be nothing without a woman.  Isn’t that the truth.

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My team is Red

‘It’s all thought out,’ Flavia said.  ‘This [music] and the football stadium – they give us two places to scream and curse and stamp our feet.  They’re not stupid… they’re evil.  They know they have to provide an outlet.  Without a valve to release the pressure, this country would explode.’

- Nathan Englander, The Ministry of Special Cases

To some, a World Cup presents the opportunity for an enjoyable grand delusion, a chance for the skilful to shine, allowing dreams of achieving greatness in front of a global audience to become reality for one fortunate group of players.  As well as the chance to lift the Jules Rimet, there is also the hope of every no-mark with a political theory going spare of seizing the opportunity to get their byline in the paper.

Via Max Dunbar, I learn of Terry Eagleton‘s recent assertions that:

… for the most part football these days is the opium of the people, not to speak of their crack cocaine. Its icon is the impeccably Tory, slavishly conformist Beckham. The Reds are no longer the Bolsheviks. Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished

(emphasis added)

If Mr Eagleton had paid closer attention to the English Premier League team nicknamed ‘the Reds’, he might have found much to love.  Or perhaps not.  His brand of politics is a more ideologically driven variety of the simple socialism proclaimed by Bill Shankly and adopted as a slogan by the fans’ campaign named for him:

The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life

Mr Eagleton might be encouraged by Spirit of Shankly’s progress towards putting these words into practice, as shown at their Independence Day Rally.  We heard from great speakers such as Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, who spoke of his politics having been learnt as much inside Anfield as in his early working life in Liverpool.  Yet the aim of the day was not fine speeches, but the launch of a scheme for future fan ownership of Liverpool Football Club.

The glossy, corporate-sponsored face of football is the aspect of the game that has become the dominant force in recent years.  It has received a lot of attention and, to a casual observer, may appear to be the only one.  There should certainly be disquiet at the way life in South Africa has been presented during the tournament, backed up with support for campaigners who are attempting to change the lives of the population of what is still, for all the first-class stadia that have been built, a Third World country.

That said, to suggest that a love of football and a love of freedom can’t exist side-by-side in the human heart is to miss what many fans take from the game.  It is also to ignore that, even in the so often despised professional game, the lowly can still beat those with greater resources.  Barcelona, with its ‘more than a club’ ethos, can overtake the corporate-backed Red Devils.  For many fans, that alone would be enough to secure utopia!

Unlike other sport football requires no specialist equipment and can be played by two people with a proper ball, or a broken tennis ball, or even a stone or tin can, as the players of millions of worldwide childhood street games can attest.  So the effects of football on our political consciousness should not be dismissed and calls for the game’s abolition should not go unchallenged.  As Carlos Fernández writes:

It’s one of the most wonderful things when we meet someone new at a game, or our bonds strengthen at dinner or a bar after we play. If the football field is essentially a meeting place for play, it must then extend to wherever people enjoy being with each other. That’s where anarchy might start, or at least where it can blossom. When the idea of self-organization can be made obvious by how a goal is scored or how a team trains, anarchism seems like no great feat

It is time to establish football for the fans, not the fat cats.  It is our game and after all, we so often hear that it would not exist without us.   As the over-leveraged owners of our clubs cast around for additional finance, we can come together to build a new model, however long it takes, because we know that what we create will stand for generations.  In football, so it goes in life, as well as in politics:

I am an Anarchist not because I believe Anarchism is the final goal, but because there is no such thing as a final goal

— Rudolf Rocker, The London Year

(… unless that goal is a last-minute winner against Villa away on the final day of the season to secure us number 19, eh, Rudolf mate?!)

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A ringside seat

At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, blogging seems a bit redundant at the moment.  The situation changes so rapidly, while Stephen Fry, John Q Publican and the Flying Rodent say everything I want to, but better.  It seems ridiculous to add another opinion to the fog of disinformation as the news media continues its descent from the sublime to the ridiculous:

But it is not ten minutes hate‘s style to drown in such self-indulgent waters for long.  Instead, let’s take a couple of lungfuls of air and attempt to doggy-paddle towards a distant yet sunny stretch of beach.  For the first time that I can remember, people are interested in politics again, and not the stupid, ‘leader’s wives’ version of it eternally peddled by the tabloids, but the ancient mechanics behind how the system should work and if in fact it does.

The brightest dot on the horizon must be that we have had no government for five days now and the sky still hasn’t fallen in.  If you turned off Sky News and ignored the papers, you would barely even notice.  This either points to an unelected cabal of civil servants being the real power in the country or a dizzying scent of anarchism in the air:

…when the most thoroughly organized, centralised institution, maintained at an excessive national expense, has proven a complete social failure, the dullest [mind] must begin to question its right to exist. The time is past when we can be content with our social fabric merely because it is “ordained by divine right,” or by the majesty of the law.

- Emma Goldman

So I say, let them squabble.  While they distract themselves with the scintillating prospect of live, 24-hour coverage of some suits chatting in a room, we can get on with some direct action.  Take Back Parliament, Mend our Voting System, Unlock Democracy, there are plenty of campaigns to get involved with, many of which don’t even require you to get up from your desk.

Of course, you could argue that engaging with the election process in any way other than setting fire to your ballot is a betrayal of true anarchist principles.  Though ‘whoever you vote for, the government always wins’ seems to have been knocked on the head a bit this last week.  I also think that so many of us turning our backs on the process – 35% of eligible voters didn’t engage on Thursday and not all of those were locked out of polling stations – is what has allowed the expenses-fiddling and lobbying to become so endemic. 

If they think we are watching, maybe they will take the piss a little less.  Let’s make the bastards work for those free, taxpayer-funded bath plugs!

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