This is Your Revolutionary Reading

Today, South African media is taking to the streets to protest the battering-ram speed of the Secrecy Bill being pushed through. In my heart, I want to believe that this will get stomped on by the Constitutional Court but it seems far too audacious to hope for that much right now. At the least, we can be sure that alternative media and the Internet will continue to be sources of information, and there’s too much traction against this for it to go forward. Compared to the apartheid era, with a mostly compliant white population and a completely disenfranchised black population, this Bill will have to go up against ten of millions of South Africans with voices. I hope that it will be enough.

It makes me think about books that are influential to this kind of mood. Besides the obvious 1984 by Orwell, there are hundreds of titles dealing with revolution, history and protest. Below are some of my favourites:

One No, Many Yeses, by Paul Kingsnorth

A manifesto, an investigation, a travel book: an introduction to the new politics of resistance which shows there’s much more to the anti-globalisation movement than trashing Starbucks. It could turn out to be the biggest political movement of the twenty-first century: a global coalition of millions, united in resisting an out-of-control global economy, and already building alternatives to it. It emerged in Mexico in 1994, when the Zapatista rebels rose up in defiance of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The West first noticed it in Seattle in 1999, when the World Trade Organisation was stopped in its tracks by 50,000 protesters. Since then, it has flowered all over the world, every month of every year. The ‘anti-capitalist’ street protests we see in the media are only the tip of its iceberg. It aims to shake the foundations of the global economy, and change the course of history. But what exactly is it? Who is involved, what do they want, and how do they aim to get it? To find out, Paul Kingsnorth travelled across four continents to visit some of the epicentres of the movement. In the process, he was tear-gassed on the streets of Genoa, painted anti-WTO puppets in Johannesburg, met a tribal guerrilla with supernatural powers, took a hot bath in Arizona with a pie-throwing anarchist and infiltrated the world’s biggest gold mine in New Guinea. Along the way, he found a new political movement and a new political idea. Not socialism, not capitalism, not any ‘ism’ at all, it is united in what it opposes, and deliberately diverse in what it wants instead — a politics of ‘one no, many yeses’. This movement may yet change the world. This book tells its story.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

In short, V, the eponymous character, sets out to cripple and destroy the government of his day. Voted in by a terrified public after a nuclear war, the fascist Norsefire runs the country in an ongoing battle against anyone who isn’t white, heterosexual, Christian and obedient to the invasive machine. With the Eye, Ear, Mouth, Nose and Finger working as branches of the government in the constant surveliiance and abuse of the citizens, V begins his vendetta against the people who started this terrible regime. Along the way he rescues Evey, and she becomes complicit in his work. An orphan who has been battered by the regime, she becomes more than just V’s stray; she becomes instrumental.

Fight Club by Chuck Paulahnuik

You are not your bank account, and you are not who you tell yourself you are.

 

 

Take it Personally: How Globalisation Affects You by Anita Roddick

An extraordinary book from outspoken business leader Anita Roddick that brings together some of the most prominent of authorities on globalisation (including Susan George, David Korten and Naomi Klein), taking a hard-hitting look at the myths and reality behind this phenomenon that affects us all, and showing us how we can all fight it. Some of the leading names in the globalisation debate have contributed to the book, including Naomi Klein, Susan George and David Korten, as well as organisations and charities such as the Rainforest Action Network.

The book deals with a diverse range of the issues surrounding globalisation, including human rights, the environment, international trade and finance, health, the food we eat and the clothes we wear.

‘Globalisation is the most important change in the history of humankind, and the latest name for the conspiracy of the rich against the poor. It is the phenomenon most subject to the efforts of economists and statisticians, and the least understood and measured change in our time.’ Anita Roddick

Toxic Sludge is Good For You by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

Toxic Sludge is Good for You explains exactly how the magic of modern PR transforms the favoured policies of the rich and the powerful into uncontroversial common sense. It is without doubt the most important book about the methods and objectives of corporate public relations ever published. Reading it will make life for the executives at Hill and Knowlton, Ketchum and Barston-Marstellar a little bit more difficult. And that can only be a good thing.

Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Around the world in Britain, the United States, Asia and the Middle East, there are people with power who are cashing in on chaos; exploiting bloodshed and catastrophe to brutally remake our world in their image. They are the shock doctors. Thrilling and revelatory, The Shock Doctrine cracks open the secret history of our era. Exposing these global profiteers, Naomi Klein discovered information and connections that shocked even her about how comprehensively the shock doctors’ beliefs now dominate our world – and how this domination has been achieved. Raking in billions out of the tsunami, plundering Russia, exploiting Iraq – this is the chilling tale of how a few are making a killing while more are getting killed.

Media Control by Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky’s backpocket classic on wartime propaganda and opinion control begins by asserting two models of democracy—one in which the public actively participates, and one in which the public is manipulated and controlled. According to Chomsky, “propaganda is to democracy as the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state,” and the mass media is the primary vehicle for delivering propaganda in the United States. From an examination of how Woodrow Wilson’s Creel Commission “succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population,” to Bush Sr.’s war on Iraq, Chomsky examines how the mass media and public relations industries have been used as propaganda to generate public support for going to war. Chomsky further touches on how the modern public relations industry has been influenced by Walter Lippmann’s theory of “spectator democracy,” in which the public is seen as a “bewildered herd” that needs to be directed, not empowered; and how the public relations industry in the United States focuses on “controlling the public mind,” and not on informing it. Media Control is an invaluable primer on the secret workings of disinformation in democratic societies.

New Rulers of the World by John Pilger

John Pilger is one of the world’s most renowned investigative journalists and documentary film-makers. In this fully updated collection, he reveals the secrets and illusions of modern imperialism. Beginning with Indonesia, he shows how General Suharto’s bloody seizure of power in the 1960s was part of a western design to impose a ‘global economy’ on Asia. A million Indonesians died as the price for being the World Bank’s ‘model pupil’. Ina shocking chapter on Iraq, he allows us to understand the true nature of the West’s war against the people of that country. And he dissects, piece by piece, the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ to expose its Orwellian truth. Finally, he looks behind the picture postcard of his homeland, Australia, to illuminate an enduring legacy of imperialism, the subjugation on the First Australians.

The Silent State by Heather Brooke

Award-winning investigative journalist Heather Brooke exposes the shocking and farcical lack of transparency at all levels of government. At a time when the State knows more than ever about us, Brooke argues that without proper access to the information that citizens pay for, Britain can never be a true democracy. Silent State is a groundbreaking and important book, which should be read by anyone who wants to know how Britain really works.

Confessions of An Economic Hitman by John Perkins

As an Economic Hitman (EHM), John Perkins helped further American imperial interests in countries such as Ecuador, Panama, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. As Chief Economist for the international consulting firm Chas. T. Main, he convinced underdeveloped countries to accept massive loans for infrastructure development and ensured that the projects were contracted to multinational corporations. The countries acquired enormous debt, and the US and international aid agencies were able to control their economies.

He tried to write this book four times but was threatened or bribed each time to halt. The events of 9/11 – a direct result of the activities of EHMs in the 1970s – finally forced him to confront the role he played himself, and to reveal the truth to the rest of the world.

Counterpower by Tim Gee

No major campaign has ever been successful without Counterpower – the power that the ‘have-nots’ can use to remove the power of the ‘haves’. This is examined by investigating the history and tactics of the suffrage movement, the labour movement, the anti-war movement, the anti-colonial movement, the environmental movement and today’s human rights and anti-globalisation movement. In the context of the financial crisis and the threat of climate change, engagement in system critical social movements is on the increase. This unique book demystifies the power dynamics of social change.

V for Vendetta Retrospective

As the world watches the growth of the Occupy movement and its often attendant V-masked protestors, it is a good time to look at and discuss the V for Vendetta graphic novel, and whether it is still relevant nearly thirty years after its publication. (There’s a fascinating article here in which David Lloyd discusses the meaning of the mask in further detail.)

In short, V, the eponymous character, sets out to cripple and destroy the government of his day. Voted in by a terrified public after a nuclear war, the fascist Norsefire runs the country in an ongoing battle against anyone who isn’t white, heterosexual, Christian and obedient to the invasive machine. With the Eye, Ear, Mouth, Nose and Finger working as branches of the government in the constant surveliiance and abuse of the citizens, V begins his vendetta against the people who started this terrible regime. Along the way he rescues Evey, and she becomes complicit in his work. An orphan who has been battered by the regime, she becomes more than just V’s stray; she becomes instrumental.

I consider V for Vendetta to be a triumph of the potential of the graphic novel to convey themes and ideas as complex as any novel. I read it at least once a month, and each time I find something new or horribly relevant to today. Whether its priests who survey the death camps or the protestors being gunned down, the novel continues to resonate through to today. As discussed by the Guardian,

But even so, there’s no doubt that the evils of the British Tory party and Thatcherism were preying on Moore’s and Lloyd’s minds when they created the book – as they’ve both often confirmed in interviews. Here is Moore in conversation with a comic fan around the time of the release of the V for Vendetta film: “They were talking less about annihilating whichever minority they happened to find disfavour with and more about free market forces and market choice and all of these other kind of glib terms, which tended to have the same results as an awful lot of the kind of fascist causes back in the 1930s, but with a bit more spin put upon them. The friendly face of fascism.”

No doubt, V for Vendetta is compulsory reading for anyone who has ever felt disillusioned by government or pushed around by propaganda. Its more than just a call to action; it is the exploration of freedom, of choice and personal growth.

I don’t think the movie nearly approaches the level of meaning the graphic novel does; Evey’s choices and growth are very poorly handled in the movie and the ending is changed for the worse. Alan Moore has tried to distance himself from movies made out of his projects and added in another interview that he would spit venom all over the Watchmen movie when it was released. If one looks at the Watchmen and V for Vendetta movies as plain action flicks, then they deliver well. Its not the worst way to pass two or so hours (I suspect that Sex and the City 2 might be). But for those who love the novels, its very much like seeing a delicious cake, handcrafted lovingly by one’s mom, being enthusiastically stomped on by a schoolyard bully. I found this especially true with Watchmen, which was a brilliantly complex and difficult novel. The movie was just so…tawdry. Even though the actors looked exactly like their characters (which is fairly impressive), the only one who even approached the complexity of their character was Rorschach, as played by Jackie Earle Haley.

But a poor adaptation of a book is much more common than a good one, alas. (Fight Club, Sherlock and all the Roald Dahl books being exceptions to this rule.) It is especially bound to happen when trying to capture the complexity of works done by the inimitable Alan Moore. V for Vendetta has four major interlocking stories (V, Evey, Detective Finch, Creedy) as well as minor characters with substansial side stories. All of them come together in the graphic novel and each influences the other. The movie, on the other hand, was noisy and bombastic and mostly missed the point. Perhaps the Wachowski brothers felt that their work of torturing movie goers was not yet complete with the abortive failure of The Matrix Movies That Dare Not Speak Their Names. So they punished V instead.

Still. Hugo Weaving made an excellent V, which is the most redemptive thing about that film. If an audio book was an option, then he would be my first choice.