Tag Archives: Brexit

The Tiger In The Smoke

tiger

The Tiger In The Smoke –
Art and Culture in Post-War Britain
By Lynda Nead
Yale University Press – £35.00

Six years of war had drained the colour from Britain. Or so it seemed to those arriving in the country at its ports and railway stations from overseas and to those living in its faded, battered streets and amongst the broken buildings and bombsites. The aftermath of war was perceived and later remembered through a register of greys: the colours of bombed ruins and rubble, the hue of fatigue and austerity, of ongoing rationing and uncertainty. To many, even the air, the atmosphere, was gloomy and muted, with fogs making the landscape strangely and relentlessly colourless, spreading a pall of smoke-saturated particles over streets, buildings and trees.

                                            Broken Buildings and ‘Horrid Empty Spaces’
                                            (‘The Atmosphere of Ruins’)

This is an absolutely terrific book.

Indeed, The Tiger In The Smoke – Art and Culture in Post-War Britain is without any fog-induced, remote shadow of a doubt, one of the most inspired, invigorating and above all, quintessentially English books I’ve read in a long, long time. But what’s interesting, is there’s also no doubting that – that for all the wrong reasons – someone like former Smiths singer and annoying, current-day gob-shite of utterly unwarranted racist persuasion, Morrissey, would undoubtedly embrace it with all the tactile impudence of an over zealous apostle.

Likewise, former UKIP head-honcho and equally ill-informed, hypocrite from hell, Nigel Farrage.

Reason being, both brazen bigots and their idiosyncratic ilk, inexorably (and blindly) hark after a period in relatively recent English history, wherein myopic, super independence and everything that that nigh entailed – rationing, sectarianism, dire discrimination and the contagion of the horrific class system – was the invariable, ‘right-on’ order of the day.

As if ”the hue of fatigue and austerity, of ongoing rationing and uncertainty,” resembled something of the good old days; and was/is thus, something to be adhered to.

Admittedly, this absolutely isn’t to say The Tiger In The Smoke in anyway condones Britain’s black and white era of ”rationing and uncertainty.”
It resolutely does not.

It’s just that here we have a book which wholeheartedly substantiates what Britain, or England to be precise, really was like after the Second World War.
Not great.
Yet it remains some sort of nostalgic epoch – clearly underlined by perpetuating hardship and struggle – which today’s ignorant and utterly foolhardy Brexiteers long to return to.

Authoress Lynda Nead touches on as much in the chapter ‘Broken Buildings and ‘Horrid Empty Spaces,’ where she writes: ”In Lewis Gilbert’s controversial 1953 film Cosh Boy, the young and violent juvenile delinquent, Roy, forces his respectable girlfriend to have sex with him in a bombsite. Bombsites were where ‘spivs’ made their deals and carried out their crimes: crepuscular, broken places that were breeding a corrupt and depraved population. They seemed to draw suspicion, violence and discontent; in 1955 the race relations writer Michael Banton observed that white hostility to the colonial immigrant population was, in part, because ‘Indecent behaviour in the alleys and bombed buildings was frequent.’ This was the world of bombsites as opposed to picturesque ruins: murder, rape, prostitution, spivs, homosexuals and black immigrants, the nightmare antithesis of the ideal new Britain of the planners and improvers.”

Nead could quite easily have called the chapter ‘Broken Britain and Horrid Empty Spaces,’ because in a way, these 337 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) are just as social as they are political as they are timely – simply because it captures said time period, both majestically and magnificently.

The photography throughout is alone, profoundly stark and telling.

Whether it’s Bill Brandt’s ‘The Square Where the Nightingale Died with the Fog in its Throat,’ Bert Hardy’s ‘The Birmingham of Yesterday,’ Haywood Magee’s ‘Immigrants Arriving at Victoria Station, London, or once again, Bert Hardy’s ‘The Horse Dealers.’

All tell the truth as it so effervescently needs to be be told; because as we all well know, true photography – before the onset of photo-shop and the ease with which to so readily manipulate – doesn’t lie.

To be sure, The Tiger In The Smoke tells the truth.
Just one facet (among many) which warrants investigation.

Other than that, each of Nead’s nine exceptional chapters traverse a certain interdisciplinary approach to film, television and advertising; which to be honest, more or less transcends time (and to a certain degree, fashion). With such chapter headings as the aforementioned ‘Broken Buildings and ‘Horrid Empty Spaces,’ ‘To Let In The Sunlight,’ ‘Learning To Think In Colour’ and ‘Battersea, Whitechapel and the Colours of Culture,’ the book provides unprecedented analyses of the art and culture – not to mention the trajectory of life and subliminal politics – within the shot-gun parameters of post-war Britain.

The ghastly repercussions of which the equally ghastly Foreign Secretary (a joke, surely?) Boris Johnson is still utilising and distorting for his own, ego-driven ends.

The kernel of said, ego-driven ends is touched on throughout.
None more so than in the fifth chapter, ‘Thirty Thousand Colour Problems,’ where Nead candidly writes: ”The dissolution of the empire after 1945 was ragged and violent; in the mid-1950s, Britain was involved in colonial wars in Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya, and reports of these conflicts fed into beliefs and assumptions about migrants from the empire who were now living in Britain. In particular, the conflicts in Kenya between 1952 and 1956, involving the Mau Mau, seemed to feed into long-established imperial fantasies of superstitious and violent natives, violating and murdering English women and bringing on themselves violent reprisals.”

As mentioned at the outset of this review, the likes of Morrissey, Farage and perhaps the BNP et al, will undoubtedly confide, take some sort of comfort in as well as confuse The Tiger In The Smoke with that of their own disgruntled, dishonest and utterly disgusting world-view.

This is a colossal shame, because this rather magisterial book cries out to be seen and wholly embraced for all the right reasons, and for what it really is: that of a template as to what Britain will probably revert back to – if it hasn’t already done so by way of the increase in recent hate crime – once the true horror of Brexit finally descends.

David Marx

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Europe Since 1989

europe

Europe Since 1989 – A History
By Philipp Ther
Princeton University Press – £27.95

The Brexit campaign succeeded because it insisted there is an alternative, even if it is detrimental to large parts of the population and might in fact lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

Who’d have thought that back in 1989 – when Germany was still (just about) divided into two parts and the dreadful Margaret Thatcher was still at the helm of British politics – that less than thirty years later, Westminster would bestow the entire country’s future upon the neanderthalic shoulders of rabid nationalism?

Whether it’s the inexorable bumbling oaf that is actual Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson (who, along with the vile Nigel Farrage, the more than accommodating playwright, Alan Bennett, has since described as ”not having a moral bone in his body”), or the tumultuous hordes of racist empty heads from Newquay to Newcastle – the United Kingdom is indeed on a dissolutory slope to unspeakable disaster.

As one reads through the ten chapters of this altogether compelling book, one very much comes to realise as much. Especially as Phillip Ther, who is Professor of Central European History at the University of Vienna, hurls a menagerie of political punches – almost all of which land right upon the wide-open face of current-day, populist posturing.

To be sure, since the initial inception of Europe Since 1989 – A History, Britain has a new Prime Minister in Theresa May, while both the US and France have new Presidents; but the all round general essence of what is written amid these 337 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgments, Notes to Chapters, Selected Bibliography and Index), makes for more than robust reading.

Not to mention, profound common sense.

In the final chapter (‘The Roads Not Taken’) for instance, Ther refers to the liberal, Oxford-based sociologist, Ralf Dahrendorf, who, in relation to ”Japan, South Korea and Taiwan […] having generated wealth before introducing democracy,” he quotes as having rejected ”the use of the term ”revolution” in the context of 1989. In his view of history, revolution always caused more harm than good, especially on an economic level. To him, 1989 was, instead, a ”transition” to a liberal democracy and market economy, which he hoped the West would assist, as actively and sympathetically as possible.”

In response to this, one can only agree that most of the West has assisted, although the UK, it has to be said, has major problems with said assistance. Furthermore, due to the utterly absurd and long-forgotten ideology of Cool Brittania, the powers that be do not even want to reach out to Europe – let alone Asia.

Again, as the author makes clear in the Preface to this English edition: ”As Brexit shows, the old specter of nationalism is back again, and has greater popular appeal than the EU, which as been made the scapegoat for all sorts of social and economic problems. The populists promise to safeguard their ethnically defined nation from the ills of global competition, labour competition at home, rising criminality, foreign terrorists, and the decay of traditional national values.”

Hmm., ‘traditional national values,’ at the acute and detrimental expense of everything it supposedly holds dear, and dare I actually say it: values.

For further substantiation and background, read this exceedingly well-researched book.

David Marx

Why The UK Voted For Brexit

brexit

Why The UK Voted For Brexit –
David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation
By Andrew Glencross
Palgrave Pivot – £37.99

I’m still exceedingly hard pressed to think of at least ONE iota of a good thing to have emerged as a result of the referendum on Brexit. But am alas, inexorably stumped beyond profound shock, disbelief and tumultuous frustration.

The cacophonous hordes, who from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, continue to reside amid the myopic charge of far too many immigrants (supposedly coming over here, nicking our jobs and changing our way life) is so astonishingly adolescent; were it not so utterly detrimental for all concerned – in the extreme might I add – it would be nigh laughable.

The (laughter and) latter of which, the most concise Why The UK Voted For Brexit – David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation both touches on and reflects upon without any undue flim-flam nor skimming around the immense political disaster that Brexit invariably is.

And will continue to be for many, many years to come.

As Andrew Glencross, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations and author of these six chapters writes: ”The over arching purpose of this book is […] twofold. It seeks, firstly, to shed light on how the UK came to vote for Brexit; secondly, it evaluates the implications that this decision has for the country’s international relations as well as for its domestic politics.

What the referendum outcome probably demonstrated most clearly was how far public opinion was out of step with the government’s cost-benefit argument for EU membership. Confident of winning the referendum on the basis of a pragmatic, bean-counting evaluation, David Cameron’s gamble proved a great miscalculation.”

If nothing else, such words are a great understatement.

Economically alone, Brexit will prove devastating for the country, as Glencross continues: ”It ranks amongst the major political blunders of British Prime Ministers and has sent shock waves across Europe and the North Atlantic.”

Very readable and very to the point, Why The UK Voted For Brexit is a brave and altogether timely book, which absolutely needs to be read by anyone and everyone who actually cares about Britain and it’s future.

David Marx

The End Of British Politics

9783319499642

The End Of British Politics
By Michael Moran
Palgrave Macmillan/Pivot – £37.99

The film director Alfred Hitchcock once summarised his aim in film making as ‘to scare the wits out of the audience.’ This is a fine formula for a great film director but not a credible strategy of statecraft.

                                                                                                      (‘The End Of State’)

Can’t argue with that.
Indeed, who would even want to?
Especially given the fact that what’s left of Westminster’s ‘strategy of statecraft,’ is itself, being flushed down the toilet (of all misbegotten hope), faster that a jack-booted-skinhead can decide whether or not to Sieg Heil outside a mosque or a synagogue.

That Britain’s politics are no longer a joke, but rather, an international cataclysm of the most profound disdain, ought come as no surprise.

Doesn’t the mere (succinct) title of this rather tough and gritty book, wholeheartedly illustrate as much?

What accounts for The End Of British Politics being such a resolute and rather spot-on read, is it’s no nonsense account of current day Britain, by way of a vituperative, yet well analysed consideration of condemnation.

Take the military for instance, upon which Michael Moran (who is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of Manchester and Professor of Government in the Alliance Business School, University of Manchester) writes: ”In perhaps no European country bar Russia is militarism so powerfully ingrained as in Britain. Britain is the only member of the European Union which allows the military to enter schools for the purpose of recruiting schoolchildren. Military spending, and the economy’s military production, is uniquely high for a state the size of the United Kingdom […]. There has only been one year (1968) since the Second World War when a British Service person has not been killed on active service. Some of the greatest military engagements, such as the defiance of Hitler in 1940, have fed into the belief in providence: that the British are a chosen people with global military responsibilities.”

That just one recent aspect of said ‘responsibility’ manifested in the terrible Iraq War – upon which Moran also writes: ”In Chilcot we see this pragmatic face of the special relationship: no sooner was the invasion over than the two parties began, like gangsters dividing the loot, to argue over the division of the spoils, notably Iraq oil and the lucrative market in defence services” – is, like Brexit and the ever widening cleavage between the country’s haves and have nots, just one example (of many), of where the country is going so horribly, horribly wrong.

But at the end of the day, who really (really) cares?
The government? Nigel Farage? Theresa May?

This blunt and altogether forthright publication is one book the Prime Minister won’t be wanting to read; which is why everyone else in their right mind at least, absolutely should.

David Marx

The Great Brexit Swindle

brexit

The Great Brexit Swindle
By T. J.Coles
Clairview Books – £10.99

Perhaps the best evidence for the truth about Brexit is Nigel Lawson’s article in the Financial Times entitled, ‘Brexit gives us the chance to finish the Thatcher revolution.

Just as Margaret Thatcher was capable of inciting one to spit blood during her incorrigibly vile and in-humane, eleven-year reign at the helm of British politics; the tiniest, sneakiest reminder of said tenure, remains just as equally spiteful and hateful, today, as when she used to regularly spout forth in the eighties.

Brexit notwithstanding, where millions of gullibles were hoodwinked into believing their day of democracy had finally arrived upon a wide-open platter of ‘Up The Junction,’ ‘Up The Arsenal’ and, wait for it,’ God Save The Queen’ last June (2016); the colossal and rather unfortunate irony lies in the fact that almost ALL of those who despised Thatcher, actually voted to Leave.

The three quintessential reasons being that huge swathes of the British (primarily English) populace are insecure, impeccably fick and guess what? Horribly racist – sometimes a caustic combination of all three.

Unfortunate qualities this equally impeccable, brave and brazen book, more than sheds pristine light on.

To be sure, The Great Brexit Swindle – Why the mega-rich and free market fanatics conspired to force Britain from the European Union is the utmost of invaluable and volatile of reads; quite simply because it tells the truth in such a way as it invariably needs to be told.

In the chapter ‘Finishing Thatcher’s Revolution,’ author T. J. Coles writes: ”In this book we have highlighted the genuine grievances of working and unemployed persons who saw their livelihoods and prospects decline and who ultimately voted for Brexit. We have also noted the propensity towards xenophobia. England is where pro-Leave sentiment was strongest, particularly in the deindustrialized north. Instead of educating working and unemployed English people about the common enemy of neoliberalism, the tabloids and television media have given people the impression that migrants are to blame for job insecurity and a general decline in living standards. In addition, the skewed demographic character of the UK gave older people greater voting power. The polls show that older people were more inclined to vote Leave.”

Indeed, older people, along with the mighty myopic, the uneducated and the hateful; in other words, those who subscribe to the ideology of the despicable tabloids.

For a balanced overview of Brexit: READ THIS BOOK.

David Marx

Fighting Over Fidel

fidel

Fighting Over Fidel –
The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution
By Rafael Rojas
Princeton University Press – £24.95

The Moon of the Cuban
Revolution’s gone under
the Laughing Carib-
I told you so!

[…]

What’ll we do for new
hope for the masses now
politics shows its tricks
How should I know?

Communists, Capitalists
play up to the masses
and both are sincere but
Business is slow!

Cut up the world, and
You’ll see the right answer
Words are the weapons,
the weapons must go!

(Allen Ginsberg – in the poem devoted to the closing of Lunes de Revolution)

When I lived in New York, I had the great fortune to interview Allen Ginsberg in his East Village apartment, who, it has to be said, remained true to his inexorable Howl induced, esoteric self.

We discussed everything from the validity of poetry to Bob Dylan (who he admitted was his favourite poet), American politics to William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac to nineteen-fifties/sixties Cuba; the latter of which is more than well assimilated and brought to bear in the fifth chapter of this overtly, eye-opening book, Fighting Over Fidel – The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution.

Aptly entitled ‘Moons of the Revolution,’ author Rafael Rojas traverses the entire trajectory of the Beat Poets fraught relation(s) with Cuba when he writes: ”Many members of the Beat Generation were enamoured with the Cuban Revolution and travelled to the island in order to directly experience its social and political process […]. These were the years (1960-62) when US policies toward Cuba were turning increasingly hostile, as reflected in the American-supported Bay of Pigs invasion, other violent US actions against the Cuban regime, and the Kennedy administration’s subsequent declaration of a trade embargo against the island […].

From his journal notes, we know that Ginsberg came under great pressure during the US hearings against the FPCC at the beginning of the 1960s. That pressure only increased when Castro declared the ”socialist” character of the revolution just hours before the Bay of Pigs invasion. As the revolutionary leaders pronounced their public declarations of Marxist-Leninist ideology, the position of figures like Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, who had defended the Cuban Revolution as standing for another kind of Left, was put in a state of suspense.”

Needless to say, said ‘suspense’ led Ginsberg to write his first critical poem on Cuban socialism, when in December 1961, he penned the following:

Allessandri [sic] of Chile, trickery and oily manners, Castro
     of Cuba, a big cigar and he wants to be a hero too,
He thinks of his name in the future & shuts down the Moons of
     the Revolution.-
The Moon of the Cuban Rebellion’s gone under the laughing
     Carib!

All the above said – which is clearly open to a myriad of interpretation given how things are continuing to pan out in today’s Cuba – these 250 pages (not including Notes, References and Index) sets much of the record as well as the narrative straight; especially so far as the backdrop of the ideological confrontation betwixt the Cold War and the spiky/inevitable breakdown of relations between Havana and Washington are concerned.

As such, from ‘Hipsters and Apparatchiks’ to ‘Socialists in Manhattan,’ from ‘Negroes with Guns’ to ‘The Skin of Socialism,’ Fighting Over Fidel is a superbly written and well put together book. Each and every chapter sheds yet more (profound) significance upon a most turbulent time in recent history, which, in relation to 1960s New York, Rojas wholeheartedly underlines in the book’s Introduction: ”That decade and this city constituted a microcosm of activity whose resonance was felt around the globe. New York in the 1960s was the moment and the place for progressive movements of all kinds: artistic vanguards, women’s liberation, sexual liberation, civil rights, and opposition to the Vietnam War. But these movements and struggles were also privileged scenarios for the emergence and circulation of debates over the ideological identity of Cuban socialism – its truths and its errors, its coincidences and divergences from the Soviet model, its lessons for the Western Left – as well as for the articulation of critiques of US government policy towards Cuba […].

In New York, with its strong liberal and socialist traditions, the Cuban Revolution was discussed as nowhere else, just as the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War had energized the city’s public discourse decades before.”

Just as the very same city (and the UN?) now endeavours to comes to terms with the terrible fiasco that is Brexit – and the potential pulling apart of the European Union. Admittedly, a revolution it might not be (yet), but if current hatred and division is anything to go by – might it be a matter of time?

Either way, Fighting Over Fidel is a terrific read; one I’d highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in Cuban politics. Not to mention the Beat Poets.

David Marx

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands

scruton

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands –
Thinkers of the New Left
By Roger Scruton
Bloomsbury – £16.99

Peace never appears in Newspeak as a condition of rest and normality. It is always something to ‘fight for,’ and ‘Fight for Peace!,’ ‘Struggle for Peace!’ took their place among the official slogans of the Communist Party.

From the same source comes the penchant for ‘irreversible’ changes. Since everything is in motion and the ‘struggle’ between the forces of progress and the forces of reaction is always and everywhere, it is important that the triumph of ideology over reality be constantly recorded and endorsed. Hence progressive forces always achieve ‘irreversible changes,’ while reactionary forces are wrong-footed by their contradictory and merely ‘nostalgic’ attempts to defend a doomed social order.

(‘What is Left?’)

In light of the above, it’s mighty ironic that in the Introduction of Fools, Frauds and Firebrands – Thinkers of the New Left, Roger Scruton rather deftly writes: ”and I have allowed my publisher, Robin Baird-Smith, to persuade me that a new book might bring some relief to students compelled to chew on the glutinous prose of Deleuze, to treat seriously the mad incantations of Zizek, or to believe that there is more to Habermas’s theory of communicative action than his inability to communicate it.”

Talk about a brazen and altogether elongated (robust) black kettle; which, to all intents and utterly non-humble purposes, Scruton appears to have been soundly inoculated with.

Indeed, whether by default or some sort of academic vaccination that’s gone risibly wrong, it is cantankerous, if not amusing, that Professor Scruton – who is not only Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford but also Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington, DC – should lean towards ”mad incantations of Zizek” (whose most recent book, Disparities, I reviewed just a few days ago). Reason being, he has himself proceeded to write a veritably high-octane book of dense, yet highly dispassionate, ruthless New Leftism.

That said, these eight chapters (which range from ‘Resentment in Britain: Hobsbawm and Thompson’ to ‘Disdain In America: Galbraith and Dworkin;’ ‘Liberation In France: Sartre and Foucault’ to ‘Tedium in Germany: Downhill to Habermas’) are, as one might expect, littered with a menagerie of politically salubrious one-liners: ”’social justice’ is a goal so overwhelmingly important, so unquestionably superior to the established interests that stand against it, as to purify every action done in its name.,” ”the transformation of the language of politics has been the principal legacy of the Left, and it is one aim of this book to rescue that language from socialist Newspeak.,” ”The ‘isms’ that govern political change work through people, but not from them.,” ”The reality of the free economy disappears behind the description, to be replaced by a strange baroque edifice, constantly falling to the ground in a dream-sequence of ruin.,” ”An enemy is identified, a ‘struggle’ defined, and a theory provided to show that you can fight with the heroes merely by staying at your desk.”

Such philosophical/political usurpation, might at best be defined as all too considered; but surely there has to be an abundance cracked chaos within its initial calculation? That is, seismically cynical to the point of no return.

No deliberation.
In other words, brazen braggadocio at its finest.

A place where the likes of Mark’s twain shall never meet the likes of Gramsci’s humanism: ”It is indeed the very historical reality of fascism that undermines the communist dream – the dream of a society without conflict and opposition, not because the first is resolved and the second accommodated, but because the ‘conditions’ of conflict have been removed. Marxists assume these conditions to be social, changeable, dependent on ‘antagonistic production relations.’ But if the conditions of conflict lie, as they evidently do lie, in human nature, then to hope for their removal is to entertain an inhuman hope and to be moved towards inhuman action (‘Culture Wars Worldwide’).

Isn’t UKIP’s Nigel Farage, that most terrible of human beings (for whom lying is nigh tantamount to drinking beer) the most perfect embodiment of ‘antagonistic production relations? ‘

Come, Come, m’Lord, surely Farage’s fakedom is ‘painless praxis’ at its most regal robust? Wherein Brexit – and it’s tumultuous trajectory of a thousand little Hitlers per-hour – do reigneth supreme amid the ”human nature” of ”inhuman hope.”

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands – Thinkers of the New Left is a quintessentially entertaining read; the sort of which is simultaneously adroit and annoying. That said, I’d like to leave the final word(s) to that of the author himself: ”[…] this is not a word mincing book. I would describe it rather as a provocation.”

Hmm….

David Marx