Thursday 27 June 2013

Ken Loach's 'The Spirit of 45' review: ethnically cleansing history

There have been black people in Britain at least from Roman times; some historians claim that north Africans were here 3,000 years ago. The first Chinese visitor we know of was Jesuit priest Shen Foutsong, who communicated in Latin when he worked at the Bodleian Library in the 17th century. His portrait still hangs in the Queen's collection. British involvement with India has a long history: Indian people were here in Shakespeare's time.

People of colour have been part of the fabric of British society for centuries, but seek as you might, you won't find any in Ken Loach's feature-length documentary, The Spirit of 45.

It gets off to a cracking start. Powerful archive footage from the 1930s reminds us of the horrors awaiting if the Tory-led coalition succeeds in clawing back all the post-World War II gains made by the British masses.

Witnesses of those grim pre-war times are interspersed with commentary from younger pundits. In perhaps the most moving testimony, Sam Watts describes how he and his siblings slept five to a bed infested with fleas and bugs in a hovel with rats in the skirting and behind the walls.

Outside toilets were the norm. Meals consisted of swede and potato with no meat. Bread and dripping, far from being a staple, was a luxury as you needed beef for dripping, so carbohydrate-heavy jam was the unnutritious standby for hungry children.

To see footage of swaggering mine-owners juxtaposed with that of miners who'd had to dig out the bodies of their fellow workers because the health and safety the right so gleefully lampoons was absent, is to well up with tears of both sorrow and anger.

The tragedy befalling us, and a key message of the film, is that the days of filthy rich exploitation of the dirt poor are coming back.

Time and again you find yourself drawing parallels between the inequity we thought was consigned to history, and the devastation wrought today during the biggest upward redistribution of wealth — from the poorest to the richest — for centuries. A third of council housing is now owned by private landlords who charge exorbitant rents, subsidised by the public purse because successive governments won't dare cap rents. Our utilities are in the hands of profiteering cabals. Food production is skewed by the big supermarkets (squeezing both farmers and consumers) who donate to political parties and even sit in government.

Back then, politicians understood that, to build a home fit for the heroes who'd won the war, it was crucial to combat the five evils: “Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.”

Atlee's government accelerated the construction of council homes, nationalised key industries and gave us the first National Health Service in the world. To combat poverty, the government's emphasis was on creating proper jobs making things, the best known cure for "idleness". The tone of the era as captured by the film was one of coming out of the second world war together and rebuilding the nation out of the rubble.

As an antidote to the poison being poured out by today's media backing the corrupt and discredited austerity policy of our unelected government, it is a powerful reminder that better things are possible.

However, about thirty minutes in, a growing unease sets in. The film may be shot in monochrome, but it presents a rose-tinted view of the Labour government, lacking any reference to its savage treatment of liberation movements in Kenya and Malaya, or its pursuit of cold war policies that specifically excluded people like Loach and his associates.

And suddenly the anaesthetisingly sentimental Hovis ad music shrieks and I'm shot out of the feelgood trance Loach is weaving, like Neo waking up in his dystopian cocoon in The Matrix. Not one non-white speaker. NOT ONE! He couldn't find any in the NHS? Transport? Posties? Pensioners? It's as if people like me have been bred out of the working class gene pool in Loach's vision of an idealised white working class.

My own father, an ex-seaman, was a British trade unionist in Liverpool from the 1920s onwards, and one of the founders of the Chinese Seaman's Union. It was needed as Chinese ran much of the merchant navy during World War II and plenty died for us in conflicts up to and including the Falklands War, and yet they were horribly discriminated against. Others, for example, wrote for the press, including Jack Chen, a correspondent for the Co-operative Movement's Sunday paper Reynolds News. Had Loach researched archive footage with any genuine determination to represent the working class and the movement in its full range and diversity, he would have found plenty of Chinese firefighters in wartime Liverpool.

Trade Union historian Wilf Sullivan has published an overview of the immensely important work done by people of colour in the movement since the 1930s, and I know personally of one south Asian shop steward at Dagenham Fords in the 1970s, and yet Loach couldn't find ONE?

If not from that specific period, then how about the younger talking heads commentating in the film? Are there really no activists of colour he could find who could add to our understanding of the political shift in post-war Britain?

Why distort the composition of the class that needs to resist capitalist predation? The Spirit of 45 gave rise to the Welfare State which required major waves of immigration from the Caribbean as a direct result of creating the NHS and all those jobs in transport. Where were they in the vision of '45? Why are we being sold a mythologised Little England where everyone is white?

George Orwell pointed out in his bitter 1939 essay, "Not Counting Niggers": "What we always forget is that the over­whelming bulk of the British proletariat does not live in Britain, but in Asia and Africa."

Loach is well aware of this, as he's been in enough revolutionary milieux and is familiar with the role of imperialism in the world. So why impose such a filter? Who gains?

Loach's airy dismissal on BBC Radio 4 of his ethnic cleansing of our history was simple: "That's how it was. That's the record of the time. That's what people thought, that was the moment of the time." You can't include stuff " ... to suit our present sensitivities."

Harking back to a fictitious Golden Age when everyone was white is a dangerous game to play in the current climate of immigrant-bashing. It represents a surrender to a media-created antagonism towards non-whites and immigrants with polls showing that increasing numbers of us blame immigration for dwindling resources. Is this the audience that Loach and the People's Assembly are hoping to win over? Films like The Spirit of 45 should be inspiring and educate people with the truth, rather than implying that if you can't beat the EDL and UKIP then join them.

In constructing a narrative palatable to a consistuency increasingly susceptible to the dishonest blandishments of the right, Loach is speciously coy about the identities of his participants.

I recognised most of the talking heads as being members of far left groups and yet they weren't identified as such, opting for titles that made them look like "ordinary" witnesses and workers when they clearly weren't. It is absolutely fair that the far left, as members themselves of our society, should have a say in how our society is run. However, I'm puzzled as to why left leaders who tell their rank and file members to publicly identify themselves — indeed, that they should shout it from the rooftops — fail to do so themselves here. Why not? Why be so modest about your political affiliations?

As the late prominent sect leader Tony Cliff used to say, you must never lie to the class. That presumably includes lying by omission.

The most disturbing moment comes towards the end with a dramatic lingering still shot of an angry young black man raising his fist, the first and last image focusing on an ethnic figure rather than ones who'd accidentally strayed into view. It was as if the filmmaker and his associates were saying, "We will utilise your fury but we won't give you a voice. We will do it for you using your muscle but not your political input. Thanks for the window dressing." Given the absence of minorities in the telling of the tale, this seems opportunistic at best. It is also a sharp reminder of how the 9/11 attacks prompted former SWP leaders (now running Counterfire) of the Socialist Alliance to ditch the People's Assembly Mk I when they courted the angry energy of disaffected Muslims. They weren't slow to dump white working class interests then, to be picked up ten years later when the Muslim charm offensive had run out of steam.

It's a shocking exclusion, and one that Loach's defenders have tried to write off as an unthinking omission. It's unlikely that a director with several decades' worth of experience at the top of his craft wouldn't know exactly what his mise en scéne was communicating.

It's the same with his amnesia regarding the less savoury aspects of Labour's history. Loach has been a political filmmaker since I was in nappies, so did he really forget Britain's shameful roles in Korea and Kenya? Or that while it was imposing eight years of austerity they still had the funds to make Britain's nuclear bomb? Or Labour under Harold Wilson closing more mines than Thatcher? Or its vicious attacks on the working class in the 1960s and 70s?

The film's leap from from 1951 Festival of Britain to 1979, missing out, among others industrial conflicts, Grunwicks, is jarring and baffling.

In his eagerness to weave a romanticised view of the period Loach has resorted to distorting events. Does he have the courage of his conviction to let the facts galvanise his audiences into action and develop their consciousness? Or does the film induce a trance-like state for his audiences, a slack-jawed Spielbergian passivity?

The Spirit of 45 is emotionally effective but, as Tariq Ali once said of the huge Vietnam War protests, emotion doesn't last. Look at how the Occupy movement has fizzled out despite the best efforts of principled activists. You need the politics and the theory to plan a course of action that will be effective and endure, otherwise you end up repeating the same mistakes and time is running out. I could quote Pete Townshend and the greatest political rock song ever written, Won't Get Fooled Again, but most have been around the block more than once and know it by heart. If only it no longer held true.

My Guardian article: Ethnically cleansing working class history.

Harpy Marx on The Spirit of 45

A review by Tom Jennings who also spots the glaring exclusions and omissions.

Not quite the Spirit of 45, Blood and Treasure.

The Left's Invisibility Bomb

The People's Assembly led by the same characters who destroyed the Socialist Alliance (People's Assembly MkI) when it suited them, and Respect.

More SWP rape accusation: "a dangerous place for a woman"

Dr Evan Smith with an illuminating response to my Guardian article: the British left and BME workers.

Chinese coolies on the Western Front in World War I.

How was anti-Iraq war demo energy frittered away? Demobilising the STWC on the most crucial day of the anti-war movement.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

CRAP LYRICS: What do Siouxie Sioux and Rod Stewart share with Bernard Manning?

Charles Shaar Murray just read me a brilliant demolition of "Hong Kong Garden" by Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees and "Every Picture Tells A Story" by Rod Stewart from journalist and former NME writer Johnny "Cigarettes" Sharp who has written a most excellent book, Crap Lyrics (pub Portico).

Punk rock never had any truck with petty social rules or niceties. Yet when Siouxie sang, Slanted eyes meet a new sunrise, a race of bodies small in size, she seemed to be expressing a knowledge and empathy with immigrant peoples that had more in common with pre-punk figures such as, say, Bernard Manning. Chicken chow mein and chop suey, they rhymed questionably with Hong Kong Garden takeaway, displaying all the searing wit of the bloke who goes into a Chinese restaurant and asks for 'flied lice'. But let's not be too hasty in our condemnation. After all, Miss Sioux has since claimed that the song was 'kind of a tribute' to immigrant communities who were harassed by skinheads in the late 80's.

It's certainly an interesting way of showing respect for other cultures, especially coming from a band who once wore swastikas on stage. I'm sure they meant well, though. Anyway, I'm off down the Notting Hill Carnival dressed in an afro wig and boot polish — it's my tribute to the afro-caribbean community. I'm hoping for a warm reception.

I can't stand Rod Stewart so I was lucky enough to miss out on this lyrical masterpiece, "Every Picture Tells A Story".

Once the Beatles had taken the word by storm, the globe became a playground for tight-trousered troubadours eager to export some culture (usually a culture of sexually transmitted bacteria) to their foreign cousins. But like latter-day Marco Polos, they did at least report back on theier experiences, to educate us in the customs and peoples they met there. As Rod Stewart put it in this postcard from the edge:
On the Peking ferry I was feeling merry, sailing on my way back here.
I fell in love with a slit-eyed lady, By the light of an eastern moon,
Shanghai Lil never used the pill, she claimed it just ain't natural
... and so I did the decent thing, and put a condom on my Deng Xiao Ping.

OK, so I kind of made up that last line. But don't dismiss old Rod for any lack of chivalry, or indeed romance. He goes on to inform us how she won his heart, then refers to her once more as the 'slit-eyed lady'. How she must have loved that pet name. Sadly, history history does not record whether she affectionately dubbed him 'parrot face' in return"
Johnny's sharp book is full of equally funny take-downs, throwing like a top martial artist, actually not having to do much except have an eagle eye and present what's already there. The Beastie Boys telling us, Girls! To do the dishes! Girls! To clean up my room. Girls! To do the laundry!; Rod Stewart again, promising to make love to you Like fifteen men when he gets "Lost In You" (hmm); Prince coming over some poor woman's wedding gown in "Head" (double hmm); Prince once more coming where he shouldn't in "Come" (triple hmm). Who's this Liz Phair who wants to fuck you like a dog (presumably after sniffing your bum for the longest time) and threatens to make you like it in "Flower"? And Prince yet again, this time coming in his "Sister" like some sort of dribble-monster run riot.

Thank heavens song-writing giants like Bob Dylan and David Bowie set a better example. Oh, wait ...!

Buy this book!!!

Chinese diaspora limelight in London: South China Morning Post

My column for the South China Morning Post magazine 9th June 2013.

City scope: Chinese bask in the summer limelight 
Anna Chen in London

Following one of the longest winters on record here, I've emerged blinking into the light to find my hometown has become a hot spot for Chinese diaspora theatre. An eruption of British East Asian talent on stage this summer is finally putting paid to the notion that Pacific Rimmers can play only one-dimensional, buck-toothed, orientalist monsters.

As the bass rumblings of theatre-industry initiatives and the clamour of international protest (prompted by the British East Asian Artists' objections to the Royal Shakespeare Company's casting of The Orphan of Zhao with predominantly non-Asians) have risen to a crescendo, the resulting pyroclastic flow of productions has been hard to ignore. Highlights have included Border Crossings' stylish love story Consumed, set in Shanghai; and Howard Brenton's #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei (featured in an earlier column) at the Hampstead Theatre and streamed live over the internet. The most exciting of them all, however, has been the British premiere of David Henry Hwang's comedy Yellow Face, which last month launched London's newest venue, the Park Theatre.

Elegantly, but devastatingly, Yellow Face lampoons Western popular culture's embedded assumptions about white superiority, all served in the round by a seven-strong cast that includes David Yip - he of British television's The Chinese Detective fame - and the beautiful Gemma Chan.

The arrival in London of not only Yellow Face but Hwang, two decades after his mega-hit M. Butterfly - a Tony Award-winner on Broadway, New York - took London by storm, has been greeted by squeals of delight.

With all his accolades and achievements as a leading American playwright, Hwang is our Yoda, our pole star; living proof that we - the Chinese diaspora - exist. Yes, we knew it all along, but The Establishment didn't.

Children have been born and grown up since Anthony Hopkins and Glen Goei frolicked in the M. Butterfly limelight all those years ago. Now, a new generation of young, savvy East Asian audiences are flocking.

Park Theatre on press night was the place to be if you were a British East Asian creative type. Champagne flowed, oiling the sense of excitement and relief that the production of excellent drama could be as natural and normal an activity for Chinese as plotting to take over the world.

Monday 24 June 2013

The People's Assembly in Westminster: looks like a Croque, Monsieur

Your starter for ten (or a tenner): you are organising a political rally in Westminster where 4,000 activists are seeking ways to challenge the most vicious class war against the poorest in society by the rich and powerful that anyone can remember. You are surrounded by expensive eateries selling chi-chi food. (This is Westminster, after all.) What food do you lay on for people coming long distances, who've shelled out for a ticket, and who might be skint and hungry? Would it be this?

That Firebox menu, the absence of a créche, Ken Loach's all-white vision of his Spirit Of '45 film and the same bureaucratic opportunists running the show having trashed the Socialist Alliance (People's Assembly Mk I) and Respect (People's Assembly Mk II), say quite a lot about the PA rally that took place on Saturday. Some have criticised it as a displacement for activism and "death by platform", and pointed out its top-down structure which is not very democratic. (More articles here and here and here and here.)

Dare to laugh at their menu and this is what happens. So much for solidarity and learning from mistakes — what mistakes? Still there are some who are getting a nice little career out of this (there always are), so who can blame them?

Are we being led up the garden path once more by the same old suspects who wrecked past attempts to organise? And do we have to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel every time John Rees's ego gets the better of the movement?

I am reposting below my article about the People's Assembly from 28th March 2013.

People's Assembly and Nechayev's Catechism: be very afraid ...

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the left, here comes the penis on a skateboard. 
It's class war. Millionaire Bullingdon bullies we never voted for swept into power by the machinations of their mini-me Liberal Democrat fags who had swiped the left-of-centre vote from a discredited Labour Party and then trashed their gullible constituency.

Since the coalition's 2010 power-grab, the poor have lost 38% of their income while the richest have grown richer by hundreds of £billions; the new clearances have seen the poorest Londoners moved hundreds of miles away to an already hard-pressed Stoke, while the disabled have been monstered and left to die. When partially deaf and blind Thalidomide victims are thrown off disability benefits and told to search for non-existent jobs while millionaires are given tax cuts, you know something's gone terribly wrong.

Capitalism is in crisis, but it's not dying. As capitalist production moves from the West to Asia and Africa, it's mutating and offloading its surplus labour in Europe and north America while using our money to recapitalise its banks. The very same crisis for which revolutionaries have been praying to the Marxist deity for over 150 years has arrived  — but there's no-one to give it the welcomed shove it deserves.

So where are they, all the Marxian theoreticians who've had forests felled to accommodate their lengthy tomes? Imploded through sex scandals; splintered by power-jockeying; fratricidal fighting over a comb they can't use: hairless and heirless and flailing like punchy-drunks while it's us who burn. We've been hoping for some potent social force to put up a challenge — maybe a reinvigorated Labour Party with its conscience returned to it by Ralph Miliband's offspring? Hah, some hope. Their treacherous abstention from the retroactive workfare law vote demonstrates which way they're heading.

So the emergence of the People's Assembly should make us all shivery with delight. Here is a unifying force that'll turn five digits into a fist and enable us to fight back.

At least, that's the PR spin.

Sadly, this is no DC Comics Superman swooping in to save us from the Big Bad. This is Nietzsche's Superman, not Christopher Reeve's; the usual top down take-over — "Monopolise Resistance" as Dave Renton quotes the anarchist wags in his illuminating critique.

This ain't rock 'n' roll — this is fratricide.

For who do we see at the helm? John Rees and his Counterfire crew — the usual suspects with the reverse Midas touch, turning everything to shit; arch-bureaucrats bringing order and stasis to the struggle like Blue Meanies invading Pepperland. If you want to see what's in store for this much-needed initiative, it would pay to examine what's happened every time the former Socialist Workers Party (SWP) leaders — the John Rees/Lindsey German axis — have bolted themselves to the head of a campaign: how Rees took an axe to the Socialist Alliance (SA); how they sunk Respect; and how they sat on the anti-war movement in the Stop the War Coalition (STWC). They can't see a flicker of life without holding a pillow over its head and declaring themselves king and queen of the castle.

The SWP has a fine old tradition in screwing the left — even those on their side. Especially those on their side. I've seen the John Rees modus operandi up close: doing over his rivals with monotonous predictability. Like a rutting stag in a herd, he can't help himself: Paul Mason, Dave Osler, Greg Tucker, Ken Livingstone, Mike Marqusee and Liz Davies among many others, including myself, have all received the JR treatment. However, he was always going to come unstuck with his inevitable attempted take-down of his erstwhile bezzie mate George Galloway. You may not like Galloway or agree with his politics, but he's a cunning bruiser and will not be fucked with. John Rees is only half-smart and came off worst in that Oedipal bust-up but, like capitalism in crisis, he's mutating.

Throwing chum out of the boat for the sharks because he'd screwed up and left it to the last minute is one charming tactic. So when, as leading executive member of the Socialist Alliance, he neglected to organise someone to write the SA budget for the 2001 general election in time for the press launch, he asked Paul Mason and Dave Osler to do it with about a week's notice.

As the unpaid, full-time establishing and acting SA press officer, I managed to hold off the BBC elections unit when Paul and Dave said they needed an extra day or two. I was on good terms with the media — they loved us as the innocent principled newcomers — and they were happy to know our budget was on its way. It arrived, it was good and we were all delighted with it.

However, like some Mafia don testing out a henchman intent on making his bones, Rees instructed me to carry out a character assassination on them in the SA email lists and media for being late.

I politely declined.

In the Stanley Milgram experiment that is the left, I've consistently refused to press that electrocution button and attack fellow leftists — something many of them can never forgive me for. It's not as if you can't move without tripping over capable progressives so you have to treat them as valuable assets: like "gold-dust" as one old honeytrap used to spout.

Every time I see Paul Mason on BBC's Newsnight, I smile. Because that's the career John Rees feels he should have had.

Sad to say, the left does not protect its assets. Instead, the inadequate men and women who have floated to the top like used food and assumed ownership of its organisations treat talent as a threat. And so it came to pass that I was targeted, Stalinised, airbrushed-out and left for dead. But that's another gory story.

Now, I know from experience how Rees and his friends work. And I know that, unless he's had a character transplant or found god (and not the one in his mirror), he'll have people around him who are compromised by having done his little jobs. And his big jobs. I shudder to think of what those idealistic disability/ benefits/ bedroom-tax activists have in store for them.

Dave Renton knows the terrain well and has written the best critique on the People's Assembly I've seen so far on the problem — please do read it.

It was John Rees of Stop the War (StW), Counterfire (CF) and CoR who led off the discussion of how the PA would work at the recent CoR National Council. ( We can imagine, without needing to be conspiratorial, that the plan for a People’s Assembly was first discussed round “that” Clapton Square dining room table, with Lindsey German. Lindsey will have been on the phone to Chris Nineham, then Clare Solomon, James Meadway and Sam Fairbarn, and only much later will the plan have been visited upon the world.

Like Terminator VI (“I’ll be back … back … back”), this is of course a sequel. The first People’s Assembly to be held at Westminster Central Hall was the Stop the War Coalition People’s Assembly against war in Iraq on 15 March 2003. This too was planned by John and Lindsey and then agreed with Chris. This too had various international speakers and spin-off events.

Vertical, top-down organisation that's less democratic bottom-up and more up your bottom.

Here's Dave catching John Rees writing on how to treat cadre:

“The cadre of the organisation gives it stability, durability, and effectiveness in the struggle. But this can also give rise to problems especially when the conditions of struggle change quickly. ... This highlights an important point: cadre only remain cadre if they continue to relate correctly to the turning points in the struggle. If they do not, in spite of their accumulated knowledge and experience, they turn from an asset into a liability.”

So there's the self-justifying political dressing up for habitual playground bullying — they do this for sport.

I read Dave's piece and was reminded of this: in 1869, the young Russian Sergei Nechayev wrote his Catechism Of A Revolutionist (see below) — once an influence on Lenin but proving too brutal even for the Soviet leader — on how to treat fellow leftists:

19. The fourth category comprises ambitious office-holders and liberals of various shades of opinion. The revolutionist must pretend to collaborate with them, blindly following them, while at the same time, prying out their secrets until they are completely in his power. They must be so compromised that there is no way out for them, and then they can be used to create disorder in the State.
20. The fifth category consists of those doctrinaires, conspirators, and revolutionists who cut a great figure on paper or in their circles [kruzhki].
They must be constantly driven on to make compromising declarations: as a result, the majority of them will be destroyed, while a minority will become genuine revolutionists.
21. The sixth category is especially important: women. They can be divided into three main groups.
First, those frivolous, thoughtless, and vapid women, whom we shall use as we use the third and fourth category of men.
Second, women who are ardent, capable, and devoted, but whom do not belong to us because they have not yet achieved a passionless and austere revolutionary understanding; these must be used like the men of the fifth category.

Hey, that last one sounds like me.

Is John Rees the new Nechayev? The alien waiting to burst from John Hurt's chest? The monster who won't die in the final reel but keeps coming back for the sequels?

So, while I'm willing on all those organisations who are joining the People's Assembly, struggling to defend the weakest in our society, I'm also waiting on tenterhooks to hear the inevitable tales of the next round of obedience training and horrors. I wish you luck. I hope I'm wrong but somehow I don't think so.

* * * * *

Now read this. Nechayev influenced Lenin for a while but was then rejected. Is it making a comeback? Anything sound familiar?


by Nechayev

Sergey Nechayev (Sergei Nechaev) was born to poor parents in the provincial town of Ivanovo, Russia in 1847. In his 35 years in this world, Nechayev perfectly combined the incorruptible intellect of the social idealist with the icy will of the pragmatic realist. The young revolutionary invested the phrase ‘the end justifies the means’ with a frightening reality perhaps unthinkable today by all but the most desperately fierce regions of the mind.
Below is the complete text of the Catechism of a Revolutionist, conceived by Nechayev in 1869 and widely circulated among the elite of the Russian underground thereafter.
by Sergei Nechaev
The Duties of the Revolutionist to Himself
The Relations of the Revolutionist with his Revolutionary Comrades
The Relations of the Revolutionist within [his revolutionary] Society
The Attitude of the Society toward the People

The Duties of the Revolutionist to Himself
1. The revolutionist is a person doomed [obrechennyi, in older usage signifying also “consecrated”]. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, and no name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed in the single thought and the single passion for revolution.
2. The revolutionist knows that in the very depths of his being, not only in words but also in deeds, he has broken all the bonds which tie him to the civil order [grazhdanskim poriadkom] and the civilized world with all its laws, moralities, and customs, and with all its generally accepted conventions. He is their implacable enemy, and if he continues to live with them it is only in order to destroy them more speedily.
3. The revolutionist despises all doctrines and refuses to accept the mundane sciences, leaving them for future generations. He knows only one science: the science of destruction. For this reason, but only for this reason, he will study mechanics, physics, chemistry, and perhaps medicine. But all day and all night he studies the vital science of human beings, their characteristics and circumstances, at every possible level of social existence. The object is perpetually the same: the surest and quickest way of destroying the whole filthy order.
4. The revolutionist despises public opinion. He despises and hates the existing social morality in all its manifestations. For him, morality is everything which contributes to the triumph of the revolution.
Anything that stands in its way is immoral and criminal.
5. The revolutionist is a person obrechennyi [see first line]. He is merciless toward the state and toward the whole formal social structure of educated society [soslovno-obrazovannogo obshchestva]; and he can expect no mercy from them. Between him and them there exists, declared or concealed, a relentless and irreconcilable war to the death. He must accustom himself to torture.
6. Tyrannical toward himself, he must be tyrannical toward others. All the gentle and enervating sentiments of kinship, love, friendship, gratitude, and even honor, must be suppressed in him and give place to the cold and single-minded passion for revolution. For him, there exists only one pleasure, one consolation, one reward, one satisfaction — the success of the revolution.
Night and day he must have but one thought, one aim — merciless destruction.
Striving cold-bloodedly and indefatigably toward this end, he must be prepared to destroy himself and to destroy with his own hands everything that stands in the path of the revolution.
7. The nature of the true revolutionist excludes all sentimentality, romanticism, infatuation, and exaltation. All private hatred and revenge must also be excluded. Revolutionary passion, practiced at every moment of the day until it becomes a habit, is to be employed with cold calculation. At all times, and in all places, the revolutionist must obey not his personal impulses, but only those which serve the cause of the revolution.

The Relations of the Revolutionist with his Revolutionary Comrades
8. The revolutionist can have no friendship or attachment, except for those who have proved by their actions that they, like him, are dedicated to revolution.
The degree of friendship, devotion and obligation toward a comrade is determined solely by the degree of his usefulness to the cause of total revolutionary destruction.
9. It is superfluous to speak of solidarity among revolutionists. The whole strength of revolutionary work lies in this. Comrade-revolutionists [tovarishchi-revoliutsionery] who possess the same revolutionary passion and understanding should, as much as possible, deliberate all important matters together and come to unanimous conclusions. When the plan is finally decided upon, then the revolutionist must rely solely on himself. In carrying out acts of destruction, each one should act alone, never running to another for advice and assistance, except when these are necessary for the furtherance of the plan.
10. All comrades should have under them second- or third-degree revolutionists — i.e., comrades who are not completely initiated. these should be regarded as part of the common revolutionary capital placed at his disposal. This capital should, of course, be spent as economically as possible in order to derive from it the greatest possible profit. The real revolutionist should regard himself as capital consecrated to the triumph of the revolution; however, he may not personally and alone dispose of that capital without the unanimous consent of the fully initiated comrades.
11. When a comrade is in danger and the question arises whether he should be saved or not saved, the decision must not be arrived at on the basis of sentiment, but solely in the interests of the revolutionist cause. Therefore, it is necessary to weigh carefully the usefulness of the comrade against the expenditure of revolutionary forces necessary to save him, and the decision must be made accordingly.

The Relations of the Revolutionist within [his revolutionary] Society [k obshchestvu]
12. The new member, having given proof of his loyalty not by words but by deeds, can be received into the society [tovarishchestvo] only by the unanimous agreement of all the members.
13. The revolutionist enters the world of the state, of the privileged classes [soslovnyi…mir], of the so-called civilization, and he lives in this world only for the purpose of bringing about its speedy and total destruction. He is not a revolutionist if he has any sympathy for this world.
He should not hesitate to destroy any position, any place, or any man in this world. He must hate everyone and everything in it with an equal hatred.
All the worse for him if he has any relations with parents, friends, or lovers; he is no longer a revolutionist if he is swayed by these relationships.
14. Aiming at implacable revolution, the revolutionist may and frequently must live within society while pretending to be completely different from what he really is, for he must penetrate everywhere, into all the higher and middle-level social formations [sosloviia], into the merchant’s commercial establishment, into the church, the gentry estate, and the world of the bureaucrat [mir biurokratskii] and military, into literature, and also into the Third Section and even the Winter Palace of the tsar.
15. This filthy social order can be split up into several categories.
The first category comprises those who must be condemned to death without delay.
Comrades should compile a list of those to be condemned according to the relative gravity of their crimes; and the executions should be carried out according to the prepared order.
16. When a list of those who are condemned is made, and the order of execution is prepared, no private sense of outrage should be considered, nor is it necessary to pay attention to the hatred provoked by these people among the comrades or the people.
Hatred and the sense of outrage may be partially and temporarily useful insofar as they incite the masses to revolt. It is necessary to be guided only by the relative usefulness of these executions for the sake of revolution. Above all, those who are especially inimical to the revolutionary organization must be destroyed; their violent and sudden deaths will produce the utmost panic in the government, depriving it of its will to action by removing the cleverest and most energetic supporters.
17. The second group comprises those who will be spared for the time being in order that, by a series of monstrous acts, they may drive the people into inevitable revolt.
18. The third category consists of a great many brutes in high positions, distinguished neither by their cleverness nor their energy, while enjoying riches, influence, power, and high positions by virtue of their rank. These must be exploited in every possible way; they must be implicated and embroiled in our affairs, their dirty secrets must be ferreted out, and they must be transformed into slaves. Their power, influence, and connections, their wealth and their energy, will form an inexhaustible treasure and a precious help in all our undertakings.
19. The fourth category comprises ambitious office-holders and liberals of various shades of opinion. The revolutionist must pretend to collaborate with them, blindly following them, while at the same time, prying out their secrets until they are completely in his power. They must be so compromised that there is no way out for them, and then they can be used to create disorder in the State.
20. The fifth category consists of those doctrinaires, conspirators, and revolutionists who cut a great figure on paper or in their circles [kruzhki].
They must be constantly driven on to make compromising declarations: as a result, the majority of them will be destroyed, while a minority will become genuine revolutionists.
21. The sixth category is especially important: women. They can be divided into three main groups.
First, those frivolous, thoughtless, and vapid women, whom we shall use as we use the third and fourth category of men.
Second, women who are ardent, capable, and devoted, but whom do not belong to us because they have not yet achieved a passionless and austere revolutionary understanding; these must be used like the men of the fifth category.
Finally, there are the women who are completely on our side — i.e., those who are wholly dedicated and who have accepted our program in its entirety. We should regard these women as the most valuable of our treasures; without their help, we would never succeed.

The Attitude of the Society toward the People [narodu]
22. The Society has no aim other than the complete liberation and happiness of the narod — i.e., of the people who live by manual labor. Convinced that their emancipation and the achievement of this happiness can only come about as a result of an all-destroying popular revolt, the Society will use all its resources and energy toward increasing and intensifying the evils and miseries of the people until at last their patience is exhausted and they are driven to a general uprising.
23. By a revolution, the society [tovarishchestvo] does not mean an orderly revolt according to the classic western model — a revolt which always stops short of attacking the rights of property and the traditional social systems of so-called civilization and morality. Until now, such a revolution has always limited itself to the overthrow of one political form in order to replace it by another, thereby attempting to bring about a so-called revolutionary state.
The only form of revolution beneficial to the people is one which destroys the entire State to the roots and exterminates all the state traditions, institutions, and classes [klassy] in Russia.
24. With this end in view, the Society therefore refuses to impose any new organization from above. Any future organization will doubtless work its way through the movement and life of the people; but this is a matter for future generations to decide.
Our task is terrible, total, universal, and merciless destruction.
25. Therefore, in drawing closer to the people, we must above all make common cause with those elements of the masses which, since the foundation of the state of Muscovy, have never ceased to protest, not only in words but in deeds, against everything directly or indirectly connected with the state: against nobility, against bureaucracy [chinovnichestva], against priests, against the merchant gild, and against the parasitic kulak [rich peasant].
We must unite with the world of adventurous robber bands, the only genuine revolutionists in Russia.
26. To weld this world into one single unconquerable and all-destructive force
This is our organization, our conspiracy, our task.

* * * * *

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Note: The penis on a skateboard refers to Bette Midler's reaction the first time she saw the baby alien burst out of John Hurt's chest in Alien.

More on the SWP sex crisis implosion.

A Bad Case of the Trots — my first public airing of the problem in 2003.

Current anti-feminism wave and its deep roots in the left.

Soviet Goon Boy with some reflections on the SWP crisis.

Dave Renton's critique of the People's Assembly.

Further comment and an interesting thread at Socialist Unity.

They don't appreciate criticism.

Don Milligan on the People's Assembly Westminster rally 22nd June.

The People's Assembly led by the same characters who destroyed the Socialist Alliance (People's Assembly MkI) when it suited them, and Respect.

More SWP rape accusation: "a dangerous place for a woman"

What Next Journal

A Bad Case of the Trots: for the record.

The left's invisibility bomb. How's that liberation thing going for you?

Anna Chen's poem "What is Filth?" inspired by Pat Stack's blogging "filth" comment.

SWP breakaway Counterfire group leads People's Assembly: a public health warning.

I've had several SWP goons going for me on Twitter. Here's the latest. Hilarious.

The Guardian on more sex pest allegations inside the SWP.

Solomon Hughes on SWP CC arrogance over the Sheffield organiser who they protected.

Cath Elliott on the no-platform for rape deniers vote at the UNISON National Women's Conference last week.

Some analysis on why this happened and the "logic to the madness": Leninism and the 21st Century.

A Marxist perspective in "Feminism is a dirty word"

Who is saying what about the SWP Crisis.

Sunday 23 June 2013

The Steampunk Opium Wars: Lord Palmerston declares war on China video

Egged on by Sir Jardine Matheson, Lord Palmerston declares war on China when Lin Zexu destroys the British opium stocks.

Poem "After Kipling: Apology for the First Opium War" written and performed by John Crow.

The Steampunk Opium Wars is written and narrated by Anna Chen.

With Paul Anderson, Louise Whittle, Hugo Trebels, Neil Hornick, John Paul O'Neill. Charles Shaar Murray on Guitar and Marc Jefferies on bass. Plus Deborah Evans Stickland and Gary Lammin.

More of The Steampunk Opium Wars

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Man bites dog: China's dog-meat festival challenged

It's good to see Chinese people challenging the culinary habits of the Yulin dog meat festival and rescuing animals destined for the pot. Not only brutal but a health hazard, most of the estimated 10,000 animals killed in appalling conditions are strays and abductees, so who knows what diseases they're carrying?

Apart from concern about the fate of man's best friend in Guanxi province, we should also worry about the state of the human beings doing the killing and consuming. Dogs are not as intelligent as pigs (so there goes our bacon sandwich) but their sociability is a lot more obvious ... unless you own a cute Vietnamese pot-bellied pig or raised a Babe from piglethood.

Personally, I wouldn't eat any animal that ate other animals, especially considering what we know about kuru or bovine spongeiform encephalitis (BSE) which Britain gifted to the world.

It requires a heart of stone to ignore their pain, so what damage are people doing to themselves? It's not quite as mad as the bloodfest of the Faroe Islands, where pilot whales are slaughtered in huge numbers by men, women and children apparently in the grip of some sort of blood-lust trance, but the degree of insensitivity towards sensate creatures — whether it be fox hunting, hare coursing or skinning dogs, sometimes alive — makes you wonder what's happening to their inner health.

The (very) few people I've met who happily eat dog and cat have invariably been cold fish themselves.

Dining on dogs is better than humans starving. Back in the bad old days when entire communities died from hunger, eating dogs and other furry creatures including cats and rats was understandable. But famine is no longer a threat and dogmeat is an expensive luxury, considerably dearer than chicken, pork, beef, fish and duck.

The consumption of tiger penis, rhino horn, monkey brains or shark fins are wasteful destructive barbarities we can do without. But before you comfort yourself that we're more civilised, how about the super-wealthy devouring people's lives while enriching themselves? Or US Republican candidate Charlie Fuqua calling for rebellious children to be executed? Or killing innocents by drone attack in order to get at one alleged terrorist, at the rate of fifty to 1?

Barbarism is everywhere — it just manifests differently.

Fin for all the family

Monday 17 June 2013

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Yellowface sequence from Anna May Wong Must Die!

The Yellowface sequence from Anna Chen's solo show, Anna May Wong Must Die! (2009).

Hollywood legends we have loved getting silly with the oriental make-up.

There are many contenders who could have been added to this slideshow. Luise Rainer was cast as the wife in the MGM movie of Pearl S Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning blockbuster, The Good Earth, depriving Anna May Wong of the major role for which she was so perfect. It could have broken the bamboo ceiling and allowed her to be recognised as a stellar actress. There's Beatrice Lillie in Thoroughly Modern Millie; a weird Christopher Walken (isn't he always) as Feng in Balls of Fire; David Carradine in the Kung Fu television series; Jonathan Pryce in the stage version of Miss Saigon; just about everyone in Cloud Atlas.

More here

Saturday 8 June 2013

Anna at Stoke Newington Literary Festival Sunday 5.15pm

I'm performing at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival tomorrow (Sunday 9th June) at 5.15pm in the Budvar Marquee. Here's a poem.


For are we not a cruel race?
I'm told that often,
By people who are cruel
Who make a virtue of their viciousness
In the way only the truly callous can
Who then turn around and say
Ha! We can do that to you,
True, we can,
And there's nothing you can do.

So here I am,
Furiously stroking my pussy
Like a comic-book villain
And twirling my moustache
Which I call Lyrical
Because I wax it.

I am your reflection in the deepest night
When your bowels pack-up and collapse in fright
I am the yellow brick road to hell,
I am that part of you that is not well
Yellow dog, yellow peril,
Yellow fear, yellow feral,
Yellow fever
A letterbox beaver
The stripes on a wasp
The colour of piss
I resist
But still the diss persists
And still the diss persists
Should I slit my wrists
Or just get pissed?
I grind my teeth and shake my fist
I'm diced and dissed
I remain unkissed
And still the diss persists
Still the diss persists

So stick me with a yellow star
I see it coming down the tracks
Must be heroin left over from the opium wars
You should have stuck to crack

(Anna Chen 2010)

Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Friday 7 June 2013

David Henry Hwang interview: race, class and Yellow Face

My Morning Star interview with David Henry Hwang, whose play Yellow Face launched London's new Park Theatre last month.

‘We're pretty good on race sometimes but terrible on class’ 
East Asian playwright DAVID HENRY HWANG talks to Anna Chen about issues of cultural assimilation and equality of opportunity 

ONLY six months before I finally meet David Henry Hwang, the Western world's most famous playwright of east Asian heritage, the British East Asian Artists (BEAA) led an international protest when the Royal Shakespeare Company gave a miserly three — minor — roles out of 17 to east Asian actors in their first Chinese play, The Orphan of Zhao.

Now we're enjoying the British premiere of Hwang's play Yellow Face which launches London's brand-new Park Theatre, a mere quarter of a century after its Tony Award-winning author first had a play performed here, the Broadway and West End mega-hit hit M Butterfly.

And there are several more on the way with Chinglish and Golden Child expected this year.

Everyone's walking around the theatre with huge grins 'cause our Dave's in town. He's the nicest bloke you could wish to meet with the gentle manner of someone totally at ease with himself.

Hwang isn't just the first ethnically Asian playwright to succeed in the West. He’s got 20 plays, 10 musicals, plus film credits and writing galore on his CV and is recognised as one of the leading US playwrights and as a Grand Master of the theatre there.

Los Angeles-born in 1957, Hwang is the son of a penniless immigrant who became a millionaire banker. But the hip, young and educated Hwang is also a child of the civil rights, Vietnam and hippy eras and his writing reflects much of that progressive mindset.

His works have explored Chinese people’s experience from their first arrival in the modern US. After the first wave of immigration following the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the Chinese worked the mines, grew the food and built the railroads but were treated savagely by the dominant white population.

Suffering racist lynchings and mob attacks, their ill-treatment ran native Americans and African Americans a close third, To cap it all, the Exclusion Act of 1882 — only repealed in 1943 — specifically targeted the Chinese, banned miscegenation, denied them citizenship and turned them into aliens even unto the umpteenth generation.

Chinese Americans have played an important part in US radical politics since the civil rights movement of the 1950s. Perhaps the reason they are so far ahead of the British Chinese in fighting racism and exclusion is down to numbers, Hwang explains.

“When I was a kid, the majority of Asian Americans had actually been born in the US. We were inspired by the Black Power movement which expanded into a general third world power movement that Asians were part of,” he says.

"Since 1965, US immigration law has not favoured working-class labourers from Asia but people with tactical skills. So you have a generation of Asian immigrants who are upper class and educated with certain notions of entitlement that they apply to the US political system."

With that background, it might be expected that they are more likely to vote Republican than Democrat but that wasn’t the case in the last election, where 84 per cent of Asian Americans voted for Obama, Hwang says, the largest of any group except for African Americans.

"There's been a tendency for the Asian American community to split because a lot of Chinese Americans were anti-communist, but nobody really cares any more and so Democrats are perceived as being more fair to minorities. And Republicans are seen nowadays as being anti-science."

Asian American actors were lightning-fast in supporting the British east Asian struggle to take on the theatre establishment over the omission of our third largest ethnic minority from the stage.

Within days, while we were stunned rabbits in the headlights, both Hwang and the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) issued statements critical of the RSC's "laziness and lack of artistic integrity" and the "contradictory and fallacious nature" of their argument.

"We're pretty good on race sometimes but terrible on class. The US has obviously fallen short of its ideals but the ideal of equal opportunities is still there.

“So when Asians advocate equal opportunity in the States it's consistent with the Asian impulse to assimilate in a way that maybe is not as much as in Britain."

Hwang’s play Yellow Face garnered rave four-star reviews. A lone critic said it was irrelevant to a British audience but, as Hwang says, the play is about “some of the pitfalls in trying to create a multi-cultural society. It seems to me that would be relevant here."

As long as history doesn't veer into Pacific conflict and the Chinese don't suffer the same fate as Japanese Americans in 1942, which Hwang acknowledges is a slim possibility, we may have advanced the cause of anti-racism.

Each victory should be celebrated but "equal opportunity" is merely the first step to true equality and to that end we are going to have to look at what Hwang has to say about class.

Runs until June 16. Box office: (020) 7281-8813

Anna's 4 star review of Yellow Face

[EDIT: date of the Chinese Exclusion Act corrected to 1882 — not 1888.]

Saturday 1 June 2013

Wilko Johnson likes Anna Chen's poetry: video

So pleased to have received such sweet encouragement from Wilko Johnson for my poetry book, Reaching for my Gnu. (When I hear the word "culture", I reach for my gnu.)

I've uploaded the video again at full quality as my camera struggles in low light.

Thank you, Wilko. x

Anna plays the Stoke Newington Literature Festival on Sunday 9th June in the Budvar Marquee at around 5pm — time to be confirmed.

David Henry Hwang Yellow Face Q&A video Part 1

Here's the first part of the video from Saturday's Q&A session with Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang talking to Dr Amanda Rogers at London's new Park Theatre in the week of the British premiere of Yellow Face.

Produced by Special Relationship Productions (helmed by Kevin Shen and Lucy Fenton), Yellow Face was DHH's first play in the UK for a quarter of a century since his mega-hit M Butterfly opened in the West End in 1989.

Video by Anna Chen

Review of Yellow Face

Feature article on David Henry Hwang