Left-wing ignorance of history

Thoughts on socialism and leftism generally

Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Gavin » 05 Mar 2012, 22:36

Here I repost an article from my own blog (slightly reworked) from October 2007:

Walking around London, you will sometimes see people wearing t-shirts saying things like "Make music not missiles" or bearing the iconic image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, from the famous photograph by fashion photographer Alberto Korda. These are extremely naive statements, extreme simplifications of complex matters, which mainly serve to indicate that the wearer actually knows very little about the issues he or she claims to champion. They are intellectually lazy.

The first example is so grossly simplistic I shall not deal with it in detail. Suffice it to say that decommissioning of arms is an extremely difficult and delicate matter and we cannot all simply pick up guitars and sing songs around a fire without the slightest further care about national security.

Let's move onto the issue of Che Guevara. Che Guevara was a socialist, some say communist, so it is ironic that his image should now be at the centre of a marketing machine, now be a fashion brand, and I dare say many who wear it know know little about their idol beyond some vague ideas that he "stood for freedom". This kind of naivity and political ignorance, leading to unthinking idolatry, is not only embarrassing, it can also be dangerous.

It is wrong to idolise anyone, because they will always fail to live up to expectations. But let us review a few known facts about Che Guevara, in order to help these people back down to earth:

  • He pawned his sister's jewellery to make money for himself.
  • He had the annoying habit of addressing people as "mate" - hence his nickname.
  • He never worked for a living.
  • He summarily executed many suspects without trial (as Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia has actually pointed out).
  • He was an adulterer.
  • He fully desired to fire nuclear weapons at the United States.
  • He regarded North Korea as a model to which Cuba should aspire.
  • He was extremely anti-American, urging people to "take up arms and create 100 Vietnams".
  • He was an aggressive individual since his youth - indeed even his protector Castro cited his "excessively aggressive quality".
  • His last words were supposedly "Shoot coward - you are only going to kill a man". (Note the "only")
  • He was responsible for setting up forced labour camps.
  • He displayed an inability to work with others, often patronising them.
  • He staged terrifying mock executions of boy soldiers.
  • He rarely washed (and was proud of this - earning him the nickname "The Pig").
  • He naively thought he could "go missing" for an extended period and evade the United States, when in fact they had him under constant surveillance.

Che Guevara was a contradictory character - more than anything a rebel looking for a cause, and his social outrage only gave him an outlet for an obvious love of violence. He also, incidentally, failed in his overall aims. The worship of him is naive adolescent revolutionary romanticism, and we should take no notice of those who wear his image, not least because by doing so they hypocritically contribute to the capitalist system which he claimed to oppose (wrongly, in my view).
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Michael » 05 Mar 2012, 23:01

The Che Guevara T-shirt phenomenon has been repeating itself recently with the Guy Fawkes mask. Seen at many Occupy Wall Street protests, and as the symbol of the nuisance hacker organization Anonymous, I have come to doubt that anyone donning the mask understands who Guy Fawkes was or what he stood for.

I do understand where they are drawing the reference from: the ludicrously simplified 2005 film version of Alan Moore's dark, complex meditation on terrorism and totalitarianism, "V for Vendetta". This in itself is disappointing, and a sign of the very shallowness of popular culture - people prefer the interpretation to the original. It is another manifestation of the lazy thought behind the popularity of Che Guevara t-shirts.

Alan Moore gave his title character V a Guy Fawkes mask to make a deliberately ambiguous statement, expecting his audience to know that Guy Fawkes was a Catholic terrorist who plotted to blow up the English parliament to make way for an authoritarian religious state. While the character in the book fights against a totalitarian government as bad as Stalin's USSR or Hitler's Third Reich, at no point in the narrative does Moore let you escape the fact that he is deeply and frighteningly insane. Moore also follows the wife of one official V murders, showing the effects of terrorist violence on an ordinary person, someone who wanted no part of politics but has her life ruined by the violent acts of a self-appointed savior.

The film, as one would expect, completely neglects all these elements, and portrays V as a cartoonish Batman-like character, full of ingenious ruses that best his enemies at every turn. Most distressingly of all, the ending has been radically changed. When V in the comic books blows up 10 Downing Street at the conclusion of his terrorist campaign England descends into violent anarchy, with the only consolation being that there is the remote possibility a better, more just order might emerge. In the film, by contrast, the destruction of Parliament is greeted by a vast crowd cheering and celebrating, with no sense that the sudden removal of order and control will be in any way dangerous.

I have nothing but contempt for people who would use such a symbol so casually, ignoring all its other contexts and resonances, for cheap political street theater. Especially when those same people (the Anonymous hacker collective) have shown themselves to have no higher ideals than mere wrecking, damaging what other people have built simply because they disagree with them. This is the politics of the very forces the character V, in Moore's graphic novel, fights against, with the only difference being that they are not (yet?) in power.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Caleb » 06 Mar 2012, 05:36

I agree. These kinds of symbols are simply absurd these days because they are so reductionist. It seems to be the state of political discourse generally though. I can't watch or listen to many on the so-called right of American social commentary (i.e. all of the shock jocks, be they on Fox or not) for the same reason.

Several years ago, when I lived in London, I was shopping in the centre of London one day. I didn't even realise it was May Day and I turned a corner and almost ran right into a march. There were several banners with faces of the usual suspects: Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. I wonder what the general reaction would be if people were to march with banners with the faces of Hitler or Mussolini.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Mike » 06 Mar 2012, 06:12

Oh, the Che T-shirts...<shudder>

Absolute staples while I was at university in the mid-nineties, and still just as popular all this time afterwards. And, as Gavin says, the irony in the marketing of them is rich. As my brother once quipped, Viva la Duplicación!!

It's amazing how quickly the less savoury aspects of the lives of historical icons get glossed over. And as for the Guy Fawkes/V-for-Vendetta masks, even left-leaning acquaintances of mine are thoroughly embarrassed by them.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Damo » 07 Mar 2012, 14:07

Gavin wrote:Walking around London, you will sometimes see people wearing t-shirts saying things like "Make music not missiles''


This reminds me of the quip Ronald Reagan made about the flower power children of the 1960's :- 'Their signs said make love, not war, but they didn't look like they could do either'

Galway city council(Ireland) is prosposing to build a statue to Che Guevara. Kevin Myers is not happy.

Galway City Council is considering a proposal to raise a statue to Che Guevara. Excellent: a monument to a ruthless killer is just what our ailing tourism industry needs. However, I will say this for Guevara: he reminds us that evil is usually not ugly, or repellent, or outwardly vile.


http://www.independent.ie/opinion/colum ... 26006.html
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Gavin » 07 Mar 2012, 15:47

That's a good one from Reagan. It reminds me of this one too from Mark Steyn:

"If Rumsfeld were to say, "Free Tibet? Jiminy, what a swell idea! The Third Infantry Division goes in on Thursday," the bumper-sticker crowd would be aghast. They'd have to bend down and peel off the "FREE TIBET" stickers and replace them with "WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER.”


For some more great quotes from him, by the way, see here.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Andrea » 09 Nov 2013, 11:04

This is about Guy Fawkes and the misappropriation of his identity by the leftist groups Anonymous and Occupy and pretty much the media in general. Several of you have already mentioned the V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes masks, and since the 17th century is my area of expertise, I have to say - this really bugs me! Now, I'm not against people who have a different opinion from me. I won't call them bad names simply because I don't agree with them. That being said, however, anyone who purposely seeks to take a historical figure and mould them into something they certainly were not is wrong and demands change.

I tweeted about the Gunpowder Plot on the 5th, and I also wrote this (which was retweeted a lot)

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 00.30.37.png


I expected, and received, the typical left-wing defensiveness about the masks, but I was able to refute each of their preposterous and ignorant claims.

Here are the most common misconceptions about Guy Fawkes:

Fawkes was an anarchist
On my facebook page, I wrote: Too many people in certain modern groups look on Guy Fawkes as an anarchist figure. He was NOT. Do not buy into the V for Vendetta ideology - that was a graphic novel and a movie! Fawkes - and the other plotters - were fiercely conservative both socially and politically. They wanted order and stability. He was in no shape, way, or form an anarchist.

Fawkes was an anti-Capitalist
Another gem. There is not a shred of evidence to support this ridiculous claim. Also, "capitalism" didn't really exist then as we know it today.

Fawkes was an oppressed individual who rose up against the ruling elite.
Can people seriously believe this? It's rubbish! These chaps were not impoverished, oppressed men - they were pretty wealthy by the standards of the day.

So what's the truth (as far as we know it)? Bonfire Night is where we traditionally celebrate the thwarted attempt of Catholic plotters in what’s called The Gunpowder Plot, on 5th November, 1605. The most famous of these plotters was Guy, or Guido, Fawkes. The others were: John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Sir Ambrose Rookwood, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, and the leader, Robert Catesby. These men were disenchanted with the lack of religious tolerance under the new King, which he had promised them, and had resorted to drastic and murderous means. They were what we'd call terrorists, but they were certainly not of the lefty variety. They were "right-wing" Catholic extremists. Catholics in the late 16th and 17th centuries wanted England to be how it was before the changes under Henry VIII - who notoriously changed the country's religion from Catholicism to Anglicanism solely because he wanted to annul one marriage and marry another.

King James I was to attend the Opening of Parliament and the idea was that these plotters would blow up the House of Lords – assassinating the King and ministers so they could install James’s daughter, the nine-year-old Elizabeth (later the Winter Queen in Bohemia), upon the throne – as a Catholic. Fawkes was to guard the 36 barrels of gunpowder, which he and the other plotters had smuggled into the under-croft under the House of Lords. At midnight, men (who had been tipped off about a possible plot) found him, saw the gunpowder and arrested him.

The 5th of November is the date in which we celebrate the failure of the plot. By the evening of the 5th, my twitter feed was swamped with Guy Fawkes masked people throughout the world that I got so angry, I made this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 00.32.39.png


Hopefully that was clear enough, but not enough people will have seen my messages and tweets. And so, the modern view of Guy Fawkes is completely incorrect. Sadly, the myths are so thoroughly entrenched that often even otherwise educated people think Fawkes was an anarchist, probably due being brainwashed with the ignorance inherent in V for Vendetta.

(By the way, if Russell Brand supports Anonymous, even more reason to think they're ridiculous on top of ignorant!) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/protesters-gather-million-mask-march
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Gavin » 09 Nov 2013, 11:13

Thanks for that. It is funny (and sad) that all these people think Fawkes was a left-wing anarchist. Amusing also that millionaire socialist Brand took his mask off at an anonymous rally - that's the only time he's been funny (if inadvertently) so far, to my knowledge.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Thomas M. » 16 Jan 2014, 06:35

Out of curiosity I decided to see if there were any "materialist" (i.e. Marxist) analyses of Fawkes anywhere online, and I can't find any. I searched on Google, I searched on Marxists.org, and finally I looked up works by Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill on Google Books and they sparsely mention him in passing, never actually analyzing him. From a cursory search I couldn't find any Anarchist analyses of him either. 99% of mentions of Fawkes referred to the Day, not the person.

In other words, from what I can see there's no conflicting narrative against "bourgeois" historiography on the subject of the plot and therefore no basis to proclaim Fawkes a sort of proto-leftist; it well and truly is a case of historical ignorance.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Damo » 20 Jan 2014, 17:03

Gavin wrote:Here I repost an article from my own blog (slightly reworked) from October 2007:

Walking around London, you will sometimes see people wearing t-shirts saying things like "Make music not missiles" or bearing the iconic image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, from the famous photograph by fashion photographer Alberto Korda


Gavin that reminds me of a quote by the late Ronald Reagan:

Their signs said make love, not war, but they didn't look like they could do either.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Gavin » 20 Jan 2014, 18:46

Yes, that's a great quote, Damo.
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Re: Left-wing ignorance of history

Postby Gavin » 31 Aug 2014, 11:38

Gavin
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