If Confederate statues are coming down across the US, should statues of figures like Lenin come down too, as demanded by a small group of Trump supporters this week in Seattle, dubbed the “worlds saddest right-wing protest”? No, says John Medhurst….
In reaction to the events in Charlottesville and across the American South, where statues of Confederate war leaders like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are now being taken down, a small group of right-wing protestors have demonstrated in front of a Soviet-era statue of Lenin in Seattle (purchased and transported to America when the Soviet Union fell, and erected in a bohemian area of the city). Their point was that Lenin was responsible for far more deaths than Lee etc, and also in the name of a defeated, discredited cause. Should not, therefore, this statue also be removed?
As the author of a new history of Lenin and the Russian Revolution that condemns Lenin and the one-party state he introduced (No Less Than Mystic, out now from Repeater), do I sympathise and agree with these protestors? Basically, no. If the statue was of Stalin, sure. One cannot rationalise and defend Stalin’s record. He was literally and directly responsible for programmes of mass murder such as the collectivisation of the Russian peasantry in 1929-33 and the “Holodomor”, the hunger-extermination of 7 million Ukraninan peasant-nationalists in the the 1930s, not to mention the Great Terror of 1936-38, which executed between 600,000 and 1.2 million people.
Why not, then, take down the Lenin statue? Because there is no equivalence at all to the Confederate statues. Firstly, there is no historical or cultural context to the placement of, and response to, the Lenin statue. Seattle did not go through the Russian Civil War or its aftermath, and does not argue about its symbols to this day. Absent that history, the statue is essentially an ironic cultural artifact, an indulgence in armchair revolutionism by a trendy middle-class. It has no direct relevance to the contemporary American political scene. The statues of Lee etc are a permanant and deliberate reminder and endorsement of a war fought to protect slavery, of the Jim Crow system that survived until the 1960s that was only defeated by a mass black civil rights movement, and of continuing white supremacism. In a country where 27% of African-Americans live in poverty compared to 11% of whites, where black males have six times the incaceration rate of whites, and where black men between 15-35 are nine times more likely to be killed by the police than are other Americans, these staues are not an ahistoric post-modernist statement.
Secondly, Lenin’s record, whilst open to severe censure and criticism, cannot be equated, as one of the protestors’ placards has it, with that of Hitler (or Stalin). He unforgivably destroyed the fragile flowers of Russian democracy in 1917, including those of the grass-roots “soviets” or workers councils, denied politcal opponents including socialist ones the right to free expression, and laid the foundation of a system that would eventually mutate into Stalinism. But his crimes, whilst real, were small in comparison to those of Hitler and Stalin, and arose more from a culpable inability to foresee the consequences of his actions rather than a set intent to establish tyranny.
I hold no brief for Lenin, as my book makes very clear. Leninism was a disaster for the international socialist movement and for the prospects of establishing a durable, democratic socialist society across the world. But the protest in Seattle is disingenous and insincere, designed to give cover to white supremacists now revealed as violent neo-nazis. It should be ignored.
No Less Than Mystic: A History of Lenin and the Russian Revolution for a 21st Century Left, is out now from Repeater. More info/links to buy online here.
John Medhurst is the author of That Option No Longer Exists: Britain 1974-76. He has written for Novara Media, the Morning Star, Red Pepper, Green Left and the Journal of Contemporary European Research. He is married with two daughters and lives in Brighton, England.
Soon it will be difficult to find anyone who will have admitted to doing it. Leave’s leaders are dropping like flies – they can emigrate to Canada and enjoy the perks of an open society they affect to despise, leaving the foot soldiers behind to pick up a bill of opprobrium, self-harm and shame that follows from being had. No one sings “no one likes us, we don’t care” and really means it. The referendum was the wrong place to make a valid point against poverty and exclusion, an exclusion even more of us will share living in a country we don’t want to be identified with.
Repeater is more London-based than anything else, but we don’t exist in a London bubble. Our editors and staff are based in London, Newcastle, Wiltshire, Suffolk, and Argentina; our authors all over the UK, Europe and the world. We refuse to paint over half the country as dim racists beyond salvation. Yet no-one could deny the racism of much of the leave campaign, and the damage this has done. Racism is nothing new – in London or the rest of the UK. But what may have been covered with a thin veneer before is coming swaggering into the light, emboldened.
Unity is needed right now, but that unity must not come at the price of pandering to racism and anti-migrant rhetoric. As publishers and as people we pledge to do what we can to work towards unity, to defend and boost the marginalised, to listen, to learn, and to fight encroaching fascism wherever we can.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” – C.S.Lewis, A Grief Observed
Of course, what you mourn at first, is yourself. Too soon to reassure myself by recounting Prince’s importance, or his place in the canon, too soon to contextualise something that feels like a personal attack, by death, upon your reason. Right now, things are a little too raw because what you recount when you hear this kind of news isn’t just the person you never met, who you’ve lost – you recall the people who you’ve been with, the nights when he saved you and the mornings he woke you, that first flush of first love when Around The World In A Day tangled you to sleep nightly for a year, the kids you lullabied with those songs, the person you were when those songs first kept you intact and kept you alive. This isn’t about adding up marks, checking the legacy, nailing anything – rather you apprehend just how concretely and spectrally someone’s art can inhabit your life, your everyday – not just soundtracking it but dwelling with you, in your kitchen and your bedroom and your living room, colouring things, taking your hand, lifting you up. You recall, with the habitual focus of an adult, times and places and specifics but more evocatively you remember how your senses flared, your synapses sparked, how prior to your current deadening you were still so up for grabs, there to be made. You recall hope seen through tears, pictures you played on a constant mind-reel, sounds that are now cellular, inside you, part of your own unique visceral balance between idealism and despair. What you’re mourning is yourself. Because you wouldn’t be yourself without him. From the off, he was too much to simply apportion affection to. He was a burning bright filament of your animus that has now been extinguished. This isn’t over-reaction. This is what music can do. Continue reading RIP PRINCE ROGERS NELSON, 1958-2016
It’s our birthday: Repeater started a year ago. For a publisher we had an abrupt beginning, coming into the world suddenly, without a great degree of planning or forethought, and crucially, without any authors or books. In the last year your goodwill and ongoing interest has helped keep us going, along with the hard work of our copy editors, proof readers, a type setter, designer, production editor, publicist and the support of our parent company, Watkins Media. A publisher that isn’t releasing books is a strange and sometimes frustrating oxymoron to be part of, and I am pleased to say that our behind the scenes work is now ready to go overground: our first releases will be in the shops on January 21st 2016, with eleven more books to follow over the next six months (details below). We currently have forty two authors under contract, all of whom show tell-tale signs of being possessed by genius and who will, at the very least, vindicate our work and your curiosity, in the years to come. Thank you again for the last twelve months. – Tariq Goddard
Dawn Foster – Lean Out– a powerful call for a more inclusive feminism in an age of austerity. Preorder now.
‘From the early records of Greek and Latin slang, where [words for pig] were used to describe the female genitalia through to modern uses of ‘pig’ to mock the police, the fascist and the male chauvinist, pigs seems to have borne the brunt of our rage, fear, affection and desire for the ‘low’. [But] it was precisely the ambivalence of the pig, at the intersection of a number of symbolic thresholds, which had traditionally made it a useful animal to think with.’ – Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression
As I said earlier, it is hard not to enjoy the ridiculing of Cameron. But if we take a step back, it should be clear that an atmosphere of sexual humiliation is one that favours current forms of power rather than dismantles them. Robin James points out the role of hazing in sexual abuse, and in some ways we can consider the whole range of ways in which the English haute-bourgeoisie initiate children into its ranks as a form of abuse. This is one of the points I was trying to get across in my piece on humour in the latest New Humanist (below). Boarding school and the top end of Oxbridge are environments designed to produce the very hardening and insensitivity which allows Tories to dehumanise and demonise the poor. Class wounds everyone, especially the ‘privileged’.
This is the edited text of a talk given by Alex Niven at the NewBridge Project, Newcastle-upon-Tyne last week.
I’d like to start with a quotation from Dubliners, James Joyce’s first work of fiction, published almost exactly a hundred years ago. It was written largely in the Edwardian period, in the last days of British colonial rule over Ireland; that is, on the eve of the Irish Revolution:
That night the city wore the mask of a capital
Dubliners is a collection of realist—some might say magic realist—stories about residents of Dublin in which almost all of the characters feel disillusioned or constricted in some way; paralysis is a word that echoes throughout the book. But Dubliners isn’t, in the end, a pessimistic work. Even though the characters in Joyce’s stories are paralysed on the one hand, there is also a sense that something is about to happen, a sense that Dublin is about to break free and come into its own. Within five years of the publication of Joyce’s book, Dublin was indeed the capital of a newly independent nation. And, a century later, it still is.
This is not to say that capitals and nations don’t bring with them their own kinds of problems and responsibilities and limitations. But I think something in the music of that quotation does help to emphasise the fact that radical change in the
circumstances of a city, a country, the world, can happen very quickly. Revolutions are possible. Political campaigns are not futile. Big collective projects can succeed. At certain moments in our history, we are able to take significant steps towards the creation of the ideal city, channelling utopian ideals, even if utopia is by definition unrealisable. Continue reading A rupture in the ground – Alex Niven on Corbyn & the ideal city
Blair and company argue that the Tories crave a Corbyn win, but the trap has been set a move beyond that: Cameron and Osborne can rest confident that the terror of electoral wipe-out will have a neo-Blairite Labour party galloping towards their position anyway. Always fighting the last war, and on a badly-chosen battlefield. The Labour mainstream cannot adapt to new parameters, cannot think except in the abjection of the spectre of a hard left, even as they appoint themselves the true custodians of the world-to-come. Continue reading The Corbyn Effect
Jeremy Corbyn has today taken the lead in the Labour leadership race – something that seemed unlikely even a few weeks ago. Whatever your views on Labour (even amongst the Repeater team, they are conflicted), it’s great to see an overtly radical candidate doing so well. Whatever the outcome, his candidacy seems to be pushing Labour and political discourse to the left, which can only be a good thing.
You can vote for Corbyn as a Labour member, as an affiliated supporter (through membership of an affiliated union etc), or by becoming a ‘supporter’ (sign up online here and pay £3).
We’re cross-posting (with permission) this great piece by desiredxthings on the demise of Page 3 — T.S.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE DEMISE OF PAGE 3
Well, the tits are gone and now all of our lives are meaningless. Wherever will feminism go now the patriarchy is crushed?
The No More Page 3 campaign has been a mess from the beginning – it was the online milieu of the middle class, white feminists who have been stomping all over minorities for decades. Anti slut-shaming has become trendy, so rather than telling other women not to get their breasts out in the first place, mainstream feminism is dictating how and when to get your breasts out – and evidently getting your breasts out for payment is verboten. But this is okay, of course.
It initially came across as a fairly benign campaign, to keep boobs out of a family paper. We can’t have kiddies staring at norks, can we? But… to try and position The Sun as a family newspaper, a main argument of NMP3, is laughable. If you want your children to have access to misogyny, homophobia, racism, antagonism towards those on state welfare, ableism, xenophobia, whorephobia and a whole host of other oppressive bullshit, that’s your own bad parenting; but don’t call it a family newspaper.
Let’s get this straight, I don’t really care about the titillation of men and I’m not even going to trouble myself analysing this as a free speech issue – those aren’t what I’m concerned about. I’m concerned as a sex-worker in a time where the well-funded face of feminism sees us, at best, as an inconvenience on the journey to the gender equal utopia and, at worst, despicable gender traitors. No More Page 3 has tried to deny claims that they are opposed to sex workers or nudity; that’s all well and good, but why does what they do completely counteract that? Their claim is that other glamour modelling opportunities exist; but they either fail to grasp or completely ignore the importance of page 3 to a glamour model. The Sun is the most popular publication in the country and high circulation means higher exposure. One photo in The Sun can lead to countless other opportunities. NMP3 have removed a stepping stone for many glamour models (many of which do not have agents and have to navigate the industry alone) and hacked away at a career route. Continue reading Page 3 was the least offensive thing in The Sun