The Blu Tack of History







Jenny Diski‘s characteristically pithy LRB blog today on Thatcher’s funeral ends with a quote from Peter Hennessy: ‘More of Margaret Thatcher… will cling to the velcro of our collective memory than any other politician of recent times.’  Velcro’s far too suburban for Brighton, of course, where we prefer to camply flick about grotty balls of the Blu Tack of History.  Viz this less-than-funereal display in a shop window in Kemptown today. The hat nicely capped the broken fire hydrant of my outrage: kudos to the window dresser.  And before I went off on one about the T-shirt, I did have to stop and think about Che Guevara, who has been accused of presiding over the execution of allegedly 1200 collaborators after the Cuban Revolution – beginning with his own coldly documented murder of a colleague – and enabling Castro’s imprisonment and maltreatment of homosexuals and dissenters. Was Che in his way as much an ally of dictators as Thatcher, that infamous friend to Pinochet and supporter of the Khmer Rouge?  Defenders claim the trials were necessary, the victims guilty (and far fewer in number than those executed in American prisons);cite Cuba’s many accomplishments in health and education; and blame in part the embargo for the increasing repression within Castro’s closed society. I have a lot of sympathy for the latter views, and at the same time fully expect that Che and Castro were flawed and violent leaders – power does tend to corrupt. But it nevertheless seems to me that the Che icon – however degraded by ubiquity and ignorance – symbolises the best of his radical determination to liberate the world’s poor from dictators and colonial masters. People who wear it should, of course, educate themselves about him, but in no way should his image be casually co-opted by the West’s Vive la Latte T-shirt brigade, in service of what is dangerously close to becoming a new cult of Thatcher. The cynical narrative of self-defeating totalitarian revolutionaries only serves to aid the status quo. The challenge is to recognise and honour the real achievements of the international left, while constructing a flexible, democratic infrastructure of rebellion that will avoid the pitfalls of absolute power. Zizek today claims that the left needs a new Master to rival Thatcher in charisma – perhaps, but only if that person inspires each of us to get up, stick our own radical poster to a lamp-post, and make a difference from wherever we are.


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