Sun, sea and socialism: beach reads for August 2022
Sunday, 07 August 2022 21:29

Sun, sea and socialism: beach reads for August 2022

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman makes a personal selection of ten books (and a T-shirt!) to add some bright sunny thinking to any holiday

It’s August and England is basking in Euro-winning glory. At Wembley, where England last won a major tournament, the 1966 World Cup. 56 years of hurt ended by England women. How cool is that? 

August, traditionally the height of the British holiday season.  And with the climate now in full emergency mode, bright sunshine and hot weather is pretty much guaranteed. That's how most of the front pages treat this deadly prospect. Rising summer death rates amongst the old and vulnerable, bush fires and drought are pretty much a footnote. Beaches along the Kent and Sussex transformed from holiday favourites to the frontline in arguments and actions over asylum, migration and race. 

For staycations north of the border how long before passport checks and currency exchange are required? Yes really this is the kind of level of debate the Unionist Left proffers. Meanwhile any length of Scottish break will convince this is another country and deserves to be recognise as so.  

Holidays, a time of nostalgia – what it was like when we were kids, teenagers, students and twenty somethings. For those of a pensionable age now and of a certain musical and political disposition, the summers of the late seventies will always be the era of rocking against racism with TRB, X-Ray Spex, Steel, Pulse but most of all The Clash. 

Packing some holiday reading? Despite all manner of digital media the written word remains a hugely influential space for ideas. How we read forms our ideas, what is read forms the ideas of other. With the rush towards vision-free Starmerism, a politics of critique, which for many begins with questioning what we read, see and hear, becomes more necessary than ever. 

A new generation of  left intellectuals are developing the kind of ideas that serve to highlight  the absolute lack of any kind of vision from Keir Starmer's Labour. In the 1980s a similar role was performed by writers in and around the magazine Marxism Today. It isn't simply nostalgia to observe how much this kind of thinking is needed today. Revisit, review, rewrite......and here are ten top reads for starters....  

1. Suzy Wrack A Woman's Game: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women's Football  

SS1

On the beach. England European Champions. A blissful summertime mix. And to add depth, context and brilliant ideas to the feelgood factor there's none better than one of the pioneers of the new (women's) football writing, Suzy Wrack, in her debut and most timely book.

2. Adrienne Buller The Value of a Whale: On The Illusions of Green Capitalism

SS2

Adrienne Buller is part of a new wave of economists producing  radical ideas, in stark contrast to Keir Starmer's mantra of 'Labour's mission in government will be economic growth'. With the climate emergency already upon us The Value of a Whale expertly explains why 'growth' isn't nearly enough.

3. Chris Armstrong A Blue New Deal: Why We Need a New Politics for the Ocean

SS3 

For the lucky ones there's no better place to spend August hols than on a beach in the sunshine. Thoughts of what rising sea levels will do to devastate coastal communities and rising summer heat as a threat to our health and environment may not be the nicest, if necessary, way to break up the sunbathing and swimming. A Blue Deal is the antidote, an incredible read on how by reversing climate change coastal communities could be regenerated.

4. Tariq Ali Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes          

SS4

'We shall fight on the beaches' was amongst many great Churchill lines a million miles away from the sound bites of  modern politics. But there's Churchillian myth-making too on an industrial scale: Tariq Ali provides a demolition job that some will disagree with but none should entirely ignore.

5. Vron Ware Return of a Native: Learning from the Land

SS5

For those who prefer a rural spot away from the sand and the sea Return of a Native is an insightful read of how the particularities of the English countryside have become key to constructing Englishness. Combining the ecological and the political, this is a book to provoke rethinking well beyond a holiday read.

6.  Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow, Eds. A Better Nation: The Challenges of Scottish Independence   

SS6

The near-perfect summertime city break is surely the Edinburgh Festival. Edinburgh is also where the re-established Scottish Parliament is located. Since it was the momentum towards independence has been in fits and starts but it will come. Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow's edited collection of essays is the best possible survey of a shift, a tad more important than fretting over whether future festival visitors from the rest of the UK (sic) will need to pack their passports. 

7. Owen Hatherley Artificial Islands: Adventures in the Dominions

SS7

Owen Hatherley is a key figure amongst the new generation of  left intellectuals. Mixing architectural critique, travelogue and cultural commentary, his writing is unique and never disappoints. His subject matter is rewardingly unpredictable, unearthing a long forgotten history of Britain and the white Dominions. Artificial Islands will spice up any holiday thoughts on the future of the Union.    

8. Gregor Gall The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer

SS8

As summer draws to a close September 2022 will mark the 40th anniversary of the break-up of Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper, aka The Clash. For those of a certain age and inclination it was this foursome who provided the soundtrack to our lives – and still do. Gregor Gall brilliantly locates the music Joe Strummer provided for the band in what he calls 'punk rock politics' a mix  of radicalism, resistance and rebellion, and good to dance to as well.

9. Terry Eagleton Critical Revolutionaries: Five Critics Who Changed the Way We Read

SS9

Terry Eagleton is both a pioneer of literary criticism and an unashamed Marxist. A politics of critique remains as essential as ever, especially in an era when the party of opposition is running scared of any ideas that are remotely oppositional. If literary criticism, let alone Marxism, doesn’t sound like a natural choice for a beach read, then this highly readable introduction to Eliot, Leavis, Williams and others will surprise, intrigue and inspire.

10. Doreen Massey Selected Political Writings; with Stuart Hall  Selected Political Writings; and Robin Murray Selected Political Writings

SS10 

If room in the suitcase or rucksack is at a premium these are the books to pack. Publishers Lawrence and Wishart have produced the perfect reads to take us away from the next-to-no-ideas Keir Starmer Labour Party to an ideological place where ideas are positively overflowing. Here are posthumous collections of three writers central to the magazine Marxism Today in the 1980s. Doreen Massey, Stuart Hall and Robin Murray's political writings – there is no better preparation for the change that must follow after a summer of discontent.

…..and a T-shirt!

SS11

On the beach and ever after, wear the incredible memories of an unforgettable July 2022. Philosophy Football's unique T-shirt with England's victories with full match details: Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sweden. And then after 120 minutes England 2 Germany 1 added and the 'Lionesses' became the CHAMPIONS. From here 

NB No links in this review are to Amazon. If buying books from corporate tax dodgers can be avoided, please do. Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction aka Philosophy Football      

Mainstream media as Iago to our collective Othello
Sunday, 07 August 2022 21:29

Mainstream media as Iago to our collective Othello

Tayo Aluko writes about the mysterious case of a misidentified(?) Robeson portrait. Image above: Paul Robeson as Othello

Once, many years ago, while touring the US, I happened to be listening to an NPR radio programme about Paul Robeson, with his son Paul Robeson, Jr., as the special guest. It started with a recording of Ol' Man River, Robeson's signature song. As it was playing, I couldn't help feeling that it didn't sound like the great man, but expected to be proved wrong. The presenter said, "That was Paul Robeson singing Ol' Man River," and introduced Paul Jr., who immediately retorted with, "That was NOT my father." I could feel the presenter's embarrassment, and expect a producer got chastised for that grave error.

I fear a number of people are in for similar embarrassment soon, for it has been reported in The Guardian, no less, that a long-lost portrait of Robeson has been rediscovered and will be going on display from May 14 at an exhibition of works by the painter Glyn Philpot at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester this month.

Once again, I am prepared to be proved wrong, but I am quite sure that the portrait to be displayed is NOT that of Paul Robeson. The only similarity between the portrait's model and Robeson himself is the colour of their skin. That's all. It makes me wonder how such established institutions can be so mistaken, and why nobody else that I know of appears to be challenging the claim.

The portrait is said to have been painted in 1930 while Robeson was playing Othello opposite Peggy Ashcroft at the Savoy Theatre, so we can use one of many pictures from that production, and compare it with the model in the portrait. This is what the gallery director apparently did, but where he saw a likeness, I see only differences. Start with the hairline. Robeson's recedes away from the front in a very much more pronounced way than in the portrait. Robeson sports a goatee (he always did for this role), while the model grows hair on his jaw, not quite joining with the sideburn. Robeson's moustache isn't as luxurious as that of the model. Then, there's the nose. Robeson's is flatter, wider, and tips downwards, unlike that of the model.

The fact that the model's clothing is different from that of Robeson's Othello could potentially be explained away by the possibility that he might have sat for the portrait in rehearsal costume, but how does one account for the anonymous title given the portrait when it was sold in 1944?  Robeson had burst into public consciousness when he played a highly acclaimed Joe in Showboat at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1928. He became a regular in concert halls all over the UK thereafter, and a much sought-after celebrity. And yet, his portrait is sold with the title "Head of a Negro?" Highly unlikely.

But the Guardian says it is Robeson, so it must be, right? I beg to differ, and would say that this appears to be a case of people wanting so badly to believe something to be true, that they ignore all evidence to the contrary. If I am right, this would be another case of a journalist and editors accepting information from a source and reproducing it without doing their own checks. The Guardian won't be alone in this, and indeed all of mainstream media, the BBC included, are accused by many of being complicit in peddling untruths fed to it by the global elite to such an extent that they are complicit in creating many of the world's ills.

We saw it in Robeson's time, when in 1949, he made a speech in Paris in which he questioned why African Americans would fight against the Soviet Union (America's ally until the end of WWII, and the place where he first felt the absence of racism), when they were second-class citizens in their own country. The press first distorted the speech to make it sound deliberately unpatriotic, and then whipped up anti-Black, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist sentiment to such an extent that by the time Robeson returned to his country, he had turned from being the most popular and successful artist to the most hated. This culminated in the infamous Peekskill Riots of August and September 1949: an episode from which he was lucky to emerge alive. The following year, his passport was cancelled, and it would be another eight years before he was able to tour again. His health, his career and his reputation never fully recovered after that.

Remarkably, for one who was probably the most famous American of his day, Robeson is almost a forgotten figure today. It is therefore always a welcome sight when his name and story pop up, even if it is to use him (erroneously in my view) to promote an art exhibition.

Undermining Jeremy Corbyn

Another person who fell spectacularly from grace, thanks partly to mainstream media, is Jeremy Corbyn. What is interesting in his case is how selectively he is either ignored or remembered since his demise. Most of the time, it is as though he never existed, and you won't hear or read about him in the papers or in the news, even from people in the Labour Party he once led. Forgotten is the fact that under him, the Party became the largest political party in Europe. Forgotten, that when a snap General Election was called by Theresa May in 2017, Corbyn's Labour came barely 2000 votes short of victory. Forgotten, that following that powerful showing, people within the Party itself set about undermining him in collusion with the media and other Establishment figures to such an extent that by the time of the 2019 election, so much of the public had been turned against him and the Party that they badly lost the election.

It has also been forgotten that a report commissioned by the Party (never officially published but leaked) has documented the Party officials' and MPs' machinations. A further report commissioned into the leaking of that first report has, strangely, been repeatedly delayed. In the meantime, it has been acknowledged in a single programme on the BBC that there was never any evidence of anti-Semitism by Corbyn himself; and for an authoritative summary of why the allegations of anti-Semitism were either manufactured or grossly exaggerated, one has to go to the blog of a lone campaigner, Simon Maginn, to see how and why #ItWasAScam.

And when Labour, under its new, particularly uncharismatic and apparently unprincipled leader, Keir Starmer, performed poorly (and even worse than under his predecessor) in the recent Council elections, many current MPs and pundits have resurrected Jeremy Corbyn's name for the sole purpose of blaming him for the defeat of 2019 that they themselves had engineered! The haemorrhaging of members and funds from the Party since his departure seem not to trouble them as they prepare for the 2024 General Elections.

There are many more examples of politicians and elites using the media to persuade us to do or accept things that are palpably bad for us, others and/or the planet, whether through misinformation, obfuscation or suppression: the Iraq War; the Afghan War; Palestine; Yemen; the last US President and Julian Assange being just a few examples.

This indeed recalls Shakespeare's Othello, in which our tragic hero is persuaded by the constant whispering deceit of Iago into succumbing to "the green-eyed monster," and murdering his innocent young wife. While being nowhere near as serious or consequential a case of misinformation as many, this error by the Guardian in accepting (if I am right) the misidentification of Head of A Negro as Paul Robeson is another reason for us to "beware of the mainstream media."