Friday, 28 September 2018

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956

An account of the events of the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 from one of the participants, Peter Pallai who was a student demonstrator.


Transcript of the video

Program Moderator:
Next to the fallout from the division of Europe which followed the Second World War. As Winston Churchill put it in a speech from 1946, `an Iron Curtain descended across the continent, from Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic`. The consequence was that those on the west of that Iron Curtain after 1949 were generally under implied American protection as part of NATO, but those on the east came under the strict influence of Moscow, and not always willingly. For example 60 years ago, students and workers took to the streets of Budapest to protest at Soviet rule in Hungary. The demonstrations turned violent and for awhile the Revolutionaries were in control.

In 2010 Ed Butler spoke to one of the rebels Peter Pallai, who was a first year student at university when he joined in the street protests in Budapest in October 1956.

Peter Pallai:
All we wanted was that we should have a more humane treatment, we should have a more liveable society, that socialism should actually live up to its name. So we were going to march and a lot of people spontaneously started joining from the sidewalks, people looked out of office windows, some of them hung out Hungarian flags. And workers started pouring into the centre and joining us. So what started out with a few hundred students soon turned into a fantastic mass demonstration.

It’s very hard to estimate how many people poured out onto the streets, probably half a million.


People started shouting various slogans, and one that sticks in my mind which the first time it sounded a bit risky but we all took it up, it went, probably the best English translation that `soldiers of all lands go back to your homelands.` And as the evening wore out somebody started shouting Russkies go home, Russians go home. And I had absolutely no premonition of the fighting to come.


At that moment, a couple of people came on motorcycles in a terribly agitated manner. They were shouting, screaming that the Security police is shooting at unarmed people at the radio station. And we ran into the street were the radio building was, and we actually came under fire, and it was a terrible shock. Next to me a fourteen year old girl was just cut down by bullets, and I was very lucky not to be shot. I saw absolutely no weapons on our side from anyone. Suddenly people had the idea that there was a large barracks building on that same boulevard. To go there and get the army people to give their weapons.

The crowd broke down the door and as the doors broke down we saw a line of soldiers with bayonets fixed and a Lieutenant in command. And the Lieutenant started shouting at us that he would order the soldiers to fire if we proceed any further. Even if we wanted to back down we couldn’t because of the pressure of the people behind us. We started shouting at the soldiers that `you’re not going to shoot your own kind are you?` and the soldiers didn’t, they just pushed this officer aside and we suddenly streamed into this building. So we were given ammunition and armed with rifles and ammunition, at the radio building the battle was fantastic. But by that time our side was armed it had turned out that workers came from another suburb, from an industrial suburb and they broke into factories were not just ammunition but weapons were made and they armed the rebels and they were armed themselves, and they were storming the radio.


Ed Butler:
After just five days of popular revolt the Soviet troops stationed in the capital pulled out. A reformist Communist Imre Nagy was installed as the country’s new President, pledging the end to Moscow’s control. For a few days it seemed as though the revolution had won, and for Peter Pallai a dream had been realised.

Peter Pallai:
I mean we went from a demonstration where no one thought that it would be any fighting, then it turned into a terrible struggle which ended or seemed to have ended with a miracle. And we thought that finally this little country which was squeezed between Germany and Russia and the Turks and all the great powers, finally finally we can determine our own fate.

Ed Butler:
What happened then?

Peter Pallai:
On the 3rd of November, which was a Saturday, we heard news that a Hungarian delegation made up of party people, all parties and of Hungarian rebel forces went to talk to the Russians, how they shall be withdrawing, and how the Hungarian rebel forces will not fire on Russian troops. And I remember that very relieved I went home to sleep, to my parents.

I took my weapons with me and next morning I woke up and heard gunfire, and we switched on the radio and we heard the Premier Imre Nagy saying that the Soviet troops had attacked unexpectedly and he was asking for help from the West.

[Extract from Imre Nagy’s radio speech]

This is the Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy speaking. At dawn Soviet troops attacked our country, in order to overthrow the legitimate Hungarian Democratic government.


Ed Butler:
On the streets of Budapest civilian fighters armed with nothing more than rifles tried to stand up to the might of the Soviet tanks and artillery, it was an uneven contest, and Hungary’s cries for help became increasingly desperate.

[Hungarian radio broadcast in English]

This is Hungary calling, this is Hungary calling, the last remaining station, we are requesting you to send us immediate aid in the form of parachute troops over the trans-Danubian provinces. For the sake of God and Freedom help Hungary.

Peter Pallai:
They had overwhelming strength, I did realise that it is all lost and I didn’t want to go back to fighting because I knew that it would be just senseless to lay down my life. It was terrible, we couldn’t quite believe that the world would just sit back and do nothing about this.

Ed Butler:
So what happened to you, once the Soviets regained control of the city?

Peter Pallai:

Well, my friends and myself, we were manufacturing various leaflets which we stuck up on various parts of the town. And when I was walking home my dad was waiting for me on the corner, and dad said to me, don’t come home because they’ve been looking for you. Dad handed me a briefcase, in that briefcase was a bottle of plum brandy, my pyjamas a toothbrush, five thousand forints. And he said mother sends her love, go, don’t come back.

He said that we go Northwest, and there’s a huge barracks building, used to be manned by the Hungarian border guard, now filled by Russians which is practically straddling the border. He said there’s a regular search light going round, its predictable how its circling, and we should try to go as near as we dare to the Russian sentry, because there’s a North wind that evening and if we approach them from the South their voices will be carried to us, but we have to crawl.

I don’t know how long it took, I was scared out of my wits, there were three of us and we crawled for god knows how long. And when we left the Russian voices behind we stood up and started walking, and I did something very melodramatic, something which I must have read in books but it came to from the heart. On the last piece of Hungarian ground, I just kneeled down and kissed the land, kissed the ground because I thought that I’ll never see my parents again, I’ll never see my friends again, I never see my country again. 

And that was to be the fact for 28 years actually. It was a feeling of broken hopes, it was a feeling of betrayal, it was a feeling of there’s no justice in the world, the pointlessness of politics, the pointlessness of doing anything. And the Russians can do anything they want to us.

Ed Butler:
Peter Pallai was among some 200,000 Hungarians who fled the country, he moved to London becoming a journalist and worked at the BBC World Service. Thousands of others died in the fighting or they were executed in the crackdown that followed, among them Imre Nagy the President. It was to be another 33 years before Soviet backed Communist rule was finally ended in Hungary.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

I ain't mad, I'm just dissapointed - A response to We aren't Anti

There's an essay written in 2005 by a member of a group of French Communizers called Theorie Communiste or Communist Theory, the essay is called "We are not Anti". Its not a massive hit in the mainstream but it has found an audience and it does keep popping up on my personal radar every year or so. I've read it several times over the years and while I don't rate the contents of the text very highly I do find the fact that its gained an audience amongst the modern self described Ultra Left very interesting.

I was surprised to find a translation of the essay on Libcom to be honest, because I don't think it has any value at all beside as a cautionary tale in the dangers of transparent rhetoric.

I have no direct contact with Communist Theory so I don't have any insight into how that group produces its material, but it seems pretty clear to me that "We Are Not Anti" was written up and published not as an attempt to spark a debate but to appeal to an established audience. Its starts off very strongly, it outlines the groups viewpoint

Not being anti does not mean to be a maximalist and proclaim, without rhyme or reason, that one is for total revolution and that, short of that, there is only reformism. Rather, it means that when one opposes capital in a given situation, one doesn’t counterpose to it a good capital. A demand, a refusal poses nothing other than what it is: to struggle against raising the age of retirement is not to promote the better administration of direct or socialized wages. To struggle against restructuration is not to be anti-liberal; it is to oppose these measures here and now, and it is no coincidence that struggles can surpass themselves in this way. We’re neither anti-this nor anti-that. Nor are we “radical.” We pose the necessity of communization in the course of immediate struggles because the non-immediate perspective of communization can serve as the self-critical analytic frame of struggles, as such, for the historical production of the overcoming of capital.
But every paragraph that follows apart from the concluding remarks is essentially repeated. It takes an "Anti" concept, anti-racism, anti-liberalism, anti-zionism etc, but its criticism is fundamentally the same, the only difference is the specific example given to prove TC's main argument.

Fortunately this means that I don't need to respond to every single paragraph, even if I have issues with some of the specific examples given. Unfortunately for the TC the essay has a flaw that cuts right to the core of their argument, and at least one paragraph exposes this core quite noticeably, it is the section on Anti-racism.

Anti-racism, brother of anti-fascism, is now another state ideology which accompanies and absolves the massive and practical state racism that has developed in France since capital’s entrance into open crisis in the 1970s. The anti-worker politics of capitalist restructuring “racialized” a set of workers, first by dividing them into “French” and “immigrants,” then by further “ethnicisation” and so-called “communitarianism” [communautarisme]. This situation puts anti-racism in an untenable position. If it is shown the “little blacks” have displayed racism against the “little whites” (just returns which reap the whirlwind), the anti-racists will have in any case already told us that this wasn’t racism but social resentment! Marvellous imbecility that, which thinks racism is biological. It will always be true that anti-racism holds its own as well as racism without ever putting a stop to it. During the great struggles of 1995 or 2003, [Jean-Marie] Le Pen disappeared from the landscape and we barely even remember his existence. This was not the result of anti-racism.
This paragraph is very helpful in understanding just what TC's view actually is. Sadly for them its an excellent example of what's rotten with their methodology. And I don't mean the very poorly dated reference to Le Pen[1]

Allow me to break down the stages of the argument.

1) State ideologies are not capable of supplanting capitalism and building Communism in its place.
2) Anti projects manifest as tools of the state and are state ideologies.

1: Personally speaking I agree here, and I hope it was this part of the essay that was key to its popularity, though having spent several years rubbing shoulders with that crowd I sadly doubt it.

2: However this is where the serious issues lie. How exactly do we define what is and is not an State ideology? Well for TC its actually very easy and we see it plainly in its attempt to attack Anti-racism. A thing is proven to be a state ideology if a state (any state) at any time in history adopts the idea as a concious policy. The modern French State adopted a form of anti-racist policy, now by TC's own admission the French state has failed miserably in building a post racial society and indeed its policies seem to have entrenched and exacerbated racism within its borders.

But even so, this puts anti-racists everywhere (in absolute terms, with no exceptions or nuance, keep in mind) in an "untenable position". It doesn't matter how many connections anti-racists have with the French state or their own state, or how closely or divergent their aims and activities are to these states, they are all tainted.

But believe it or not, lazy usage of absolutes to try and force lines in sand is the minor issue here, there is actually a much, much more serious issue that this paragraph lays bare.

The burden of proof seen here is consistent throughout the essay, if a State can make an "Anti" position part of its platform then its good enough to write off the whole endeavour. The issue here is that Theory Communist as the name suggests is allegedly a Communist organisation. But ever since 1917 we have had multiple states triumphantly proclaim the building of Communism as their state ideology. Some of those states still exist today. So by TC's own criteria Communism is itself a state ideology, incapable of success and every and all adherent regardless of nuance or circumstance is guilty of "counter posing a good capital".

That's not my idea, its there's, their framework, their burden of proof. This is such an obvious flaw that its genuinely shocking to me that a group like TC would write this up, put their names to it and publish it publicly without realising. But then again while I've seen this essay pop up here and there, it has done so to uniform praise, I've not encountered any serious criticism from its readership.

So the real question here is why?

See we have several potentials here, all of them very poor: Either Communist Theory considers the burden of proof its established sufficient, and genuinely didn't realise that it was proposing its own futility, which doesn't bode well for the groups analysis on, well anything really.

Or worse it did realise you could take its argument and apply it to Communism and get the same result. But didn't care because this was designed as propaganda to be eaten up by an audience that simply isn't interested in engaging in even the most basic of critical relationships with the information they consume.

Again I have no idea what their intent was, but the publication of this terrible essay and its reception have I feel done a lot to expose some very worrying trends amongst the contemporary Ultra left. Even if you already agreed with the conclusions drawn by this essay it still has no real use, its arguments are poor and flawed. Indeed for me its had the effect of tainting its audience by association, I have sincerely lost a lot of intellectual respect for people and groups that I've seen promoting this essay and the "important lessons contained within".

It forces me to conclude that a good chunk of this subculture are either in the habit of merely consuming information that seems to agree with their preconceptions as a reinforcement excercise, in much the same way a lot of the members of the more top down parties and Monks do. Or they're not really communists, just people who have taken on the identity of the stereotypical image of a Communist intellectual.

Just like what happened with Situationism when it got popular.

2. Always use the most obscure language possible. Get lots of big scholarly words from a dictionary and use them often.
Poor: "Things are bad."
Better: "The formative mechanism of culture amounts to a reification of human activities which fixates the living and models the transmission of experience from one generation to another on the transmission of commodities; a reification which strives to ensure the past's domination over the future."
6. Cultivate a conceit and self-importance bordering on megalomania. Take credit for spontaneous uprisings in far-flung corners of the world, sneer at those who oppose or disagree with you.

1: I'm not bringing this up to criticise TC for failing to predict the future. I'm making a note of this because it provides evidence that TC isn't as in tune with French politics and society as it presents itself. The Le Pen's did not go away like TC claims, they and their far right nationalist project stuck around and were in the process of making a very visible political resurgence around the time this was published.

2: If you read any of the French Ultra Gauche or those inspired by them you'll have to get use to a specific jargon unique to each group and author, the opening paragraph of this essay is a surpisingly mild example. For instance,

"We’re neither anti-this nor anti-that. Nor are we “radical.” We pose the necessity of communization in the course of immediate struggles because the non-immediate perspective of communization can serve as the self-critical analytic frame of struggles, as such, for the historical production of the overcoming of capital."

This clumsy section is basically saying that when TC gets involved in immediate struggles that many others would consider reformist, or part of an Anti-something project, it isn't because TC only gives its support when it thinks these partial struggles have the potential (somehow) to develop into a proper Communization struggle. Yes it does boil down to `its different when we do it`.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Nike and its Sweatshop Problem


Recently trainers giant Nike hired Colin Kaepernick to be its new celebrity sponsor. Kaepernick is a professional American style Football player but his fame is largely boosted by his public protesting against police killings of African Americans.

As a result this has made him a target of right wing American vitriol. As a result they greeted his lucrative and high profile new gig with alarm and outrage. Currently #Nikeboycott is trending on social media platforms, as are pictures of very strange and impotent protests of consumers destroying the Nike products that they have already bought.

So yeah that's probably not going to hurt Nike's profit margins much at all unless they get their act together.

However Nike is a pretty awful company, most well all capitalist business are, its rooted in their structure and motives for existence. Nike is infamous for its use of sweatshops and what became known in the 1990s as Corporate slave labour. Simply typing the words Nike Sweatshops into a search engine brings up hundreds of photographs, banners and placards against the companies practices. The above video is about the global consumer protests and a strike by Indonesian Garment workers. The first interview is with former factory employee Cicih Sukaesih whom famously was invited to the USA to confront Nike's top executives, they declined to meet with her, so instead she toured the country speaking to the American public instead.

The interview with Cicih Sukaesih also goes into detail about the issues with consumer boycotts as a tool of social change.


Program Announcer Max Pierson:

But we begin by looking at the harsh realities of global commerce. Going back over thousands of years each leap forward in transport be it sail ships, ancient roads, steam or jet engines has led to a consequent expansion of trade. But over the last century that process has accelerated towards what we now think of as the globalised economy.

Some argue that increased trade increases the world’s prosperity, but while their maybe winners there are also losers. In the early 1990s one of the world’s best-known brands Nike began to attract bad publicity over the working conditions in some of its factories. Fans of the sports retailer started to boycott the company when they found out about the sweatshop conditions in which some trainers were made.

Claire Bose has been speaking to an Indonesian Nike worker who was fired for protesting against poor wages and conditions.

Cicih Sukaesih:

It was very tiring, it was very boring. My job was to glue the sole of the shoe on the trainer, the bosses forced us to do overtime. We were constantly pushed to meet targets.

Claire Bose:

In 1992 Cicih Sukaesih made Nike trainers in Indonesia. She earned less than the minimum wage, less than a dollar a day. Cicih would be at the factory from 7:00am to 9:00pm six days a week, she was only allowed to leave the conveyor belt for lunch.

Cicih Sukaesih:

We didn’t have time to have a break even if we wanted to take a pee it wasn’t allowed. Some of us would pee under the machine.

Claire Bose:

She says that the bosses at the Korean owned subcontractor where she worked were abusive to.

Cicih Sukaesih:

Our supervisor would say “Hi monkey” and use that insulting language. Some women were also sexually abused, the bosses would touch and grab them inappropriately. It was very upsetting and disturbing to see.

Claire Bose:

At the time Nike made some of the worlds most popular shoes, with sales worth nine billion dollars a year. Its logo commanded people to “Just do it”. Cicih had no idea that the shoes she made could be sell for more than a hundred dollars a pair. When she found out she was horrified.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I had enough, I was annoyed, I decided to see if any of my friends had the same idea. We agreed to organise a strike.

Claire Bose:

But organising thousands of workers wasn’t easy.

Cicih Sukaesih:

We had to plan in secret, we first spoke about it during a work outing. It was for a religious festival so it gave us an excuse to talk to each other freely. Back in 1992 there was no other way to communicate secretly. We had no mobile phones, so I am very proud that we managed to convince all 6,500 workers to strike, 90% of these were women. We all agreed to go on strike.

Claire Bose:

And in September 1992, the workers went on strike for three days, incredibly the factory owners agreed to the demand for a rise in salary. But it was small, only new workers were granted the minimum wage the equivalent of a dollar and twenty-five cents a day. Everything went back to normal but then one month after the strike Cicih was arrested.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I was interrogated and accused of involvement in an illegal organisation. On the second day I was afraid of being tortured, I was made to sit in a chair covered in blood and forced to admit to being the mastermind of the strike action. I was terrified.

Claire Bose:

She was released, but two months after this interrogation Cicih was fired. She was black listed by her employment agency, and hasn’t worked since.

But protests like hers were beginning to attract the attention of charities such as Christian Aid.

Christian Aid Spokesperson:

One of the things which Christian Aid is highlighting is the double standards that go on in the shoe trainer industry.

Claire Bose:

They pointed to the millions of dollars paid by companies like Nike to sports stars such as Basketballs Michael Jordan for promoting their products.

Christian Aid Spokesperson:

Particularly when you’ve got mega celebrities in the sports industries being paid as much as 70 million pounds to endorse some of these shoes for which say a woman working in a factory in China would probably be paid only be paid around twenty-five pence an hour.

Claire Bose:

Nike rebuffed the claims made by Christian Aid and others, saying they were fair to their overseas employees.

Nike Spokesperson:

Our code of conduct says first of all that every factory worker has to earn at least the minimum wage, at least. Second all factory workers have free housing, they have free transportation and they work in well-conditioned, well ventilated working areas, so we don’t have anything to do with the things mentioned in the Christian Aid report.

Claire Bose:

Both workers and manufacturers were just starting to grapple with the impact of globalisation and of relative pay scales. Later the founder of Nike Phil Knight spoke to the BBC about it.

Phil Knight:

Essentially there are markets and all these things that really kind of dictate what gets paid and what doesn’t get paid. [muttering] If I’d like to average say Michael Jordan’s salary with a shoemaker in Indonesia this is Michael Jordan wouldn’t like that to good, and we wouldn’t have Michael Jordan as an endorsement. And the same take on a shoemaker in Indonesia is paid 50% more at entry level than what he gets at minimum wage you know in other industries in Indonesia. So, what we try to be is good citizens within the country that we’re working in.

 Claire Bose:

But Cicih Sukaesih didn’t recognise that image of Nike as the good citizen. So, when in 1996 an American NGO Press for Change invited her to visit America and tell Phil Knight in person, she agreed immediately.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I was very proud to be able to go to America, I wanted to speak to the owner of Nike, Phil Knight to tell him about the low wages for Nike workers in Indonesia. Maybe he didn’t know the condition of his workers in Indonesia.

Claire Bose:

Despite traveling to Nikes headquarters in Oregon, she didn’t get her audience with Phil Knight. But during her stay in America Cicih managed to tell her story to thousands of teenagers and students, many of whom then vowed to boycott the company. But that was something she herself struggled with.

Cicih Sukaesih:

In fact it was confusing, I didn’t want to promote a boycott because that would mean people would stop buying the shoes and the company would close in Indonesia. I worried that it would lead to many unemployed workers in Indonesia, I thought the important thing was to keep the company, but make sure that they applied the code of conduct which meant paying a decent wage.

Claire Bose:

Two years later in 1998 Nike’s CEO Phil Knight admitted that his company had become synonymous with slave wages and forced overtime. He announced a program to address the complaints made against them by allowing monitoring of their factories by NGO’s. Millions of Nike trainers are still made in Indonesia, Cicih has never had a job since working for Nike, she lives with her sisters family. She remembers fondly her trip to America, and in particular the first time she tried on a pair of Nike trainers.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I felt proud indeed, because after so many years making shoes finally I could try them on. Proud at the time and sad too, sadly I made the shoes for four years and never tried it. I could not afford to buy it, proud and sad.

Max Pierson:

Cicih Sukaesih was speaking to Claire Bose, and you can see Cicih campaigning in America in 1996 on our website, just search for BBC Witness. It remains a fact that a very high percentage of the shoes and clothes sold in the glitzy high street shops of the richest countries in the world have been stitched together in the factories of some of the poorest.

I’m joined now by Lucy Siegle a journalist and author of To Die for an investigation of the fashion industry. Lucy has anything really changed from those days in the 1990s when there seemed to be a growing awareness of the sweatshop question?

Lucy Siegle:

I think a lot has changed superficially, I am not convinced that there has been substantive changes in the supply chain that rule out the abuses that we heard about then and we hear about still. And in many ways I think the problems in the supply chain have spread throughout different producer countries, what we might call fashion hotspots, garment hot spots. When Cicih was leading that campaign, we had a slightly different looking fashion industry.

That has transformed and is even faster, even cheaper and even greedier for market share than it was back in the 90s if you believe that.

Max Pierson:

But did campaigns like that and the threat of a boycott, no matter how effective it was, did the threat of a boycott have any impact on the big brands?

Lucy Siegle:

I think it obviously caused Nike to change direction. So, what we saw was kind of out right denial, hostility and shutting down of campaigners and trying to seize control of the narrative. And as that report makes clear, after a couple of years of that Phil Knight who was CEO at the time came out and said “we do have a charge to answer here, and this how we’re fundamentally changing”. Now that was a massive shift and gave a lot of hope to campaigners and concerned citizens.

Because you know the issue is that things are very, very complex. The, the move to substantive change has not really happened, the business model has actually grown more fierce and more competitive and I think we still have a huge amount of problems in the fashion supply chain. I actually wrote in my book-my book came out two years before the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh. That was in 20th April 2013 when 1133 people were killed in a single incident making garments for different brands, for the Western high street stores they’re the brands that we all know very, very well.

And that you would think would mark a seismic shift, it hasn’t actually. And that really is evidence that it’s the business model that is really at fault here.

Max Pierson:

But isn’t there at least more transparency? It’s not as if the world does not know about the potential for sweatshop conditions in some of the developing world. And the responsibility has to some extent be on both the consumers and the big brands to be clear what they’re buying and where that stuff is being made.

Lucy Siegle:
It is not possible for them to be 100% clear and accurate about where stuff is being made when the supply chain is incredibly chaotic. Also, I think Nike was actually one of the first brands to publish their list of supplier factories and you see a lot of brands doing that now. But actually, what tends to happen is that they published a list of first tier factories that they know about where their first order was placed and what we’re still not taking account of are their two, three and four tier factories into which orders are subcontracted.

Where there isn’t really anybody watching what’s going on and this is where a lot of these abuses, which ranges as your report made clear from sexual abuse of women, intimidation, right through physical abuse and then right through to terrible disasters as we saw at Rana Plaza. So, transparency of first tier factories tells us something, but it doesn’t tell us enough. And it isn’t fair to expect the consumer to try and unravel all of this before they buy an item of clothing.

We know that boycotts damaged the people that they’re set out to help, we don’t want them to boycott, but what else do we want them to do? It’s a really really sticky question.

Max Pierson:

And what about what we might call the Nike argument in the 1990s, that umm they were paying more than the legal minimum wage in Indonesia at the time, even though that wage might be pitiful by the standards of those who were buying the products?

Lucy Siegle:

Yes, it’s still an argument that’s being used today by hundreds of other brands all over the world so that’s one, that’s one aspect that has travelled all through the decades. The living wage debate over fashion has really been disgracefully slow. What we can say is that the fashion industry is not paying people a living wage and is not providing decent livelihoods within its supply chain after all of these years.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Two Dimensional Revolution

I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice the correlation between young people engaging with words like `Socialism` and sentiments like `Eat the Rich` with anime avatars? Currently everything that can present itself as an alternative to capitalism from religious spiritualism to Anarchistic terrorism is experiencing a boom in popularity.

The other thing the kids are into right now is mass market Japanese pulp entertainment lumped under the banner of anime. Now Anime (I'm also including the stuff that comes with it like comics, games, toys etc.) is incredibly divisive, there have been arguments about its artistic merits if any, workplace practices within the industry, this one has a consensus that its generally low paid highly demanding work, but what is to be done about it is still pretty controversial, and its political content. Oh boy, that last one can get fierce.

The way I see it Anime isn't a genre or art style its a medium, animation. All anime are cartoons and all cartoons are anime. Overall Japan's animation industry is like anyone else's, its also become increasingly incorporated into the global animation industry, the credits of most of them include South Korean and Chinese studio's for example. Some films were created by Directors because it was their life long ambition to make them, others were churned out by committee so a corporation to milk a trend before the consumer base moved on to something else.

Cyber punk and Blade Runner were also hugely influential in the 80s and 90s, so there are a lot of shows from those periods about fighting the big bad megacorps. Bubblegum Crisis is one that gets highly rated for this.

However this does mean that their are some really interesting stuff for anyone if they're willing to look. For example I don't like Japanese jokes, even when I understand the pun its just a lame pun, but I really enjoy trashy, gory horror flicks, and I've been enjoying anime versions of these since I was a child, thank you very much SciFi channel and that German language channel on diamond cable.

If you're feeling misanthropic, then there are plenty of direct to video movies from the lte 80s-early 90s made by creators whom sincerely believed that humanity was a mistake and so made miserable films about humans being really horrible to each other.

If that doesn't suit you, then there are plenty of fluffy slice of life comedy series that are just about friends being hanging out and being good friends. Like Azumnaga Daioh, Lucky Star, Free! etc.

And I know of at least one Anime that called Angel Cop, which was made to promote Nazi party anti-Semitism. That is not a joke or me reading into something, the plot of Angel Cop is that a Communist terrorist movement and an American multinational corporation are both attacking the prosperous and independent nation of Japan. It turns out that both are being controlled by "The Jews"... Incidentally that was one of the earlier animes to be released in the West, you know how they handled the anti-Semitism? They just cut out the references to Jewish people, and left all the other nationalism and bigotry in.

Fortunately overtly political message anime tends to lean the over way, a number of famous and influential directors, writers, artists and animators came out of the Japanese New left of the 1960s and 70s. Including the very famous Hayao Miyazaki, and so I've decided to compile a list of socialistic ( a broad sense) anime's. For both the anime leftist and confused new comer alike. This is just a list and brief description of merits, I have seen more in epth reviews of a number of these shows and will include them, though do bear in mind I don't necessarily agree with everything the say.

Steam Boy

A story about the invention of a revolutionary new form of steam power that could improve the whole of mankind. Essentially cold fusion but with steam. Unfortunately the cost of developed this new power meant the inventors had to get investment funds from a company called O'Hara and while its pleased the research project was successful, it really wants dividends on its investment as soon as possible and the fastest way to get a quick profit is of course weapon sales.

In a sense its about how property holds back technological development. The British Imperial Government gets involved, and at first it seems noble compared to the O'Hara mega company, but it becomes clear that they wish to get a hold of the steam technology to develop their own weapons programs and prevent O'Hara from selling weapons to its Imperial rivals.

So neither government or capital come out of this film looking very good, they're both self interested and hypocritical. There's a battle scene between the police and a private security army, highlighting the similarities.

Our hero is a working class lad from Manchester and his inventor Grandad whom wanted to build a new society using the nearly unlimited energy of this new invention he largely pioneered. Its animation is beautiful, it has a very steam punk look, with tanks and fighter planes as they might have looked in the 1860s. It did get some criticism from purists because it was an early adopter of Computer Graphic animation, but it blends with the traditional animations pretty well in my opinion.

If you can, I'd recommend watching the English dub, the dialogue is full of nineteenth century colloquialism's and the cast even manage to pull off Mancunian accents.

The Wings of Honnêamise

No I don't know what a  Honnêamise is either, googling just brings up this anime film. I'm just going to call it Wings from now on. Wings is a lot like Steamboy, its about an attempt to put a man into space. Its like Yuri Gagarin the anime. It set in a world that isn't really earth, they're all humans but the nations and history and cultures are very different.
The space agency is incredibly underfunded, and the only way for them to get some support from their government to get a rocket ship and capsule built and ready for launch is to highlight its potential military capabilities. They're all dedicated to space exploration and have no interest in war but they're desperate for funds. One drawback is that a hostile nation now views the program as a threat and tensions between the two nations increase. 
Again naked greed and self interest from the powerful actively impedes scientific progress and discovery. It ends with Lhadatt the cosmonaut getting into space and reflecting and praying for humanity to improve itself. 
And unfortunately I'm not doing it much justice, its very beautiful in both its looks and its music and sound design. 
There's a video review that does show some of that off, but it does also go into extreme detail about the plot and characters so use with caution.

There is however one flaw in this film which I should mention, at one point there's an attempted rape scene. I don't why its there, its uncomfortable and doesn't seem to add anything to the story or characters, if anything it diminishes it. It doesn't last long, but it does stick out there. I've been told there are censored versions that just cut that part out, I don't know if that's true, but if it is I'd recommend watching that version.
The Great Adventure of Horus Prince of the Sun

The Adventure of Horus was an early project of Hayao Miyazaki. He and his colleagues had a mission statement to make a film about `Socialist principles`. What this meant in practice is a fairy tale like fantasy film set in a Vikingish land where Horus and his fishing village must work together to defeat an evil Wizard. The villains are all guilty of selfishness in one form or another, wealth, immortality at the expense of other lives etc, and unlike most fantasy stories where the hero and maybe a band of warriors does all the work Horus does need the help and support of the village to resist and defeat the Evil Power.

Personally I think this is perfect for young children, it has lovely singing, and talking animals, including an adorable bear cub called Koro.

Gundam 0083 - War in the Pocket

Gundam is a massive franchise, and I mean massive. There are dozens of anime series, some have continuity with others, some don't, there have been multiple films, video games, comic series, novels toys and model kits. It can be incredibly overwhelming. I've started getting into it, but I had to use a guide written up by a mega fan who had seen it all to figure out where to start and what to skip.

The franchise is famous for its criticisms of war and militarism and given that its been in existence since 1979 and is still going strong today, it maybe the longest running criticism of war and militarism in existence. Unfortunately the quality and extent of that criticism can vary wildly depending on what part of the franchise is being looked at.

With that in mind I've picked War in the Pocket as out of what I've seen its both the most damming in its criticism and accessible to newcomers. It was the first series I'd seen, I didn't really know much at all about the franchise but I had no trouble getting it.

Its six episodes long, and fairly self contained, it does have connections to other shows in the franchise but it isn't vital. It concerns a young boy in a fair away colony. There's a war going on but so far its left their part of space alone, Alfred and his friends like most young boys when there's a war on far away are obsessed with it. Trading stories and war toys etc. Then the war comes home and Alfred still obsessed with the exciting adventure gets caught up in it, makes friends with some soldiers and well the ending is very bitter.

SFDebris did a review of each episode of the series if you'd want more info, massively spoilers though.


I've already talked at length about Berserk previously, so I'll just quickly summarise Berserk is in my opinion about power. Domination be it economic, political or personal is never benign. The rich and powerful are cruel even if they don't intend to be, those whom pursue power and wealth do so at the expense of others.

As a consequence of this the series is full of depictions of violence, torture, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, death in many forms, bigotry, discrimination, persecution, exploitation, slavery, etc. But unlike certain animes that indulge in these things for marketing its all key to the themes, plot and character development.

Guts the protagonist (with the big sword) is a damaged young man who was raised by a mercenary whom while teaching him how to fight and having a sort of paternalistic affection for him, also relentlessly exploited the power and influence he had on the boy and ultimately betrayed him. It takes him years to even start coming to terms with his trauma's and in a way he never has done. The reason he's such an excellent fighter, is revealed to be because fighting in a life or death struggle was the only way he knew how to cope with the emotional turmoil he was in. It takes him years to even tolerate being physically touched by even a friend.

Authorities of every type, religious, military, financial, governmental are shown to be self interested and harmful to the common people.

There's a review of the 1997 series

And a review of the 1997 series and manga

The Flying Ghost Ship

This one is admittedly quite light, its more a fun mystery adventure then a meaty stew of themes and political discourse. It starts out like a anime version of Scooby Doo, it even has an intelligent Great Dane. This was also another early film Hayao Miyazaki worked on in 1969. It was also the first anime to be shown in theatres in the Soviet Union, and is so popular in Russia that they redubbed it in the 90s, though I've not been able to find a reason why.

Its a light mystery involving a ghost ship, a giant robot that menaces the city, and a conspiracy between private companies and the government complete with a Roger Moore era Bond villain secret base. It has something for everyone. I won't spoil the plot since its a mystery show, but I will tell you that involves the pushing of an addictive soda drink.

Its probably the most spotty in terms of animation, at one point a character is literally slid onto the screen. But all the parts that need to look good, the robot attacks, the Ghost ship, the tanks moving into the city etc. I heard Toei had funding issues at this time, if so then they prioritised very well, the set pieces all look and move very well.


This is controversial for me, I know a lot of people responded to AKIRA as a story about punkish youths getting caught up in a government conspiracy to do... well something, and its probably something bad given that this a pretty authoritarian government with a powerful and very active police and army.

And if you've never seen it its worth watching. Its interesting it looks great, and I do know a few people who responded really well to a general impression of anti establishment resistance the film gives off.

But politically speaking its incredibly vague and kind of a mess, Kaneda the youth on the iconic red bike just stumbles into the plot because a mate of his gets nabbed and he's really attracted to Kei, and her rebel group is shown to be puppets of a corrupt politician. It doesn't help that the plot of the film is itself vague and kind of a mess.


Aggretsuko is a short series about modern Japanese worklife. Retsuko is an officious worker whose treated very poorly like most staff, however a combination of her being very nice and eager to help and being a woman means she's singled out for additional abuse and exploitation. She works long hours in a career that's stalled for an abusive manager whose literally a sexist pig.

She can complain about his behaviour, but her coworkers and friends point out how nothing will probably happen to him apart from alerting him that she tried to get him in trouble. Her only consolation is going to a Karaoke booth after work and screaming out Death Metal tirades about how terrible her boss and work is.

The whole show is about alienation at work and sexism. Later on she does befriend two women who are higher up in the company whom help her and she reaches a sort of truce with her sexist manager. This has put off some people who were really into the show. However this does lead to a really important bit, after some confrontations her manager reflects on why he's been so personally abusive and exploitative of his power over the office staff.

He hasn't just been demanding the staff commit to the workload and follow the companies rules, he's been dumping his own work on them and demanding of servant like behaviour too. He realises that back when he was a grunt in the company his managers treated him in the same way, only it was worse because back then there were fewer safeguards and an even more hostile workplace culture rooted in seniority. So when he became a manager he took out all his frustrations on the employee's beneath him and exploited everything shred of power he had.

There's a pretty good review of it here.


This ones a bit different, you may have seen an image of what looks like a future Nazi stormtrooper, being shared around on forums and social media, something like this

This character is from Jin-Roh. Jin-Roh is a sort of alternative history film. Japan is largely a police state with a very large and very active militant left wing revolutionary movement. The opening of Jin-Roh is a riot with a very well armed resistance taking on armed riot police. In response to this social upheaval the government created another police unit specifically to destroy armed terrorists.

Those are the fellows in the armour and glowing red eyes. Essentially they're a death squad. That and the look is probably why right wing types on the net love sharing images and clips of the film. Out of context its a powerful and intimidating image of right wing power. For me though I just assume they haven't bothered watching the film, because in context he doesn't say what they want it to say.

Jin-Roh is the story of one of the members of these special units. You may wonder why I'm including this here, well its because the film doesn't actually glorify these Special Units at all. On the contrary it comes across rather critical, the plot involves power plays between the Special Units and other rival police forces who are constantly jockeying for position in this authoritarian regime. Its also concerned with the question of how much humanity does someone in that position have left? The answer is not much, its incredibly dehumanising, that armour may look cool and intimidating but do that job for long enough and eventually all you are is a bit of armour and a gun, a miserable, sad and lonely existence.

Kill La Kill

Kill La Kill (KLK) is basically the reason I thought about making this list. When I first noticed that internet users with anime avatars were no longer just spewing racist bile or calling me a Jewish agent, a lot of the openly left wing ones had avatars based on characters from KLK or were sharing meme's images and clips from this show. So I got curious.

It popped up on Netflix and I binged the show in a couple of days. Its very watchable and I can see why it appealed. The first scenes open on a lecture about the Nazi party and it uses school uniforms and clothing in general as a metaphor for social conformity and oppression. The main character Ryuko Matoi the girl with the black hair with the red stripe, (incidentally I don't think her red and black colour scheme is coincidental) is new student, she's a rebel at heart who rejects all arbitrary rules. She quickly finds herself in conflict with the school authorities whom have a regime based on strict discipline and hierarchy.

And its quickly revealed that theirs a whole social system being built on the same lines throughout Japan, and there's a clothing company that's busy monopolising the global textile markets in the background.

 Its a great show, unfortunately there is one area that I know from experience does put off some people from getting into it. KLK involves a lot of scenes with scantily clad high schools. Unlike some anime's I don't remember it showing this in a leering way, the tone is usually self aware joking, but it still is jokes about high school students beating each other up in skimpy costumes. I don't recommend searching KLK at work, even some of the official promotional material and merchandise would raise some eyebrows.

For me its the weakest part of the show, and I can't really blame anyone for being put off because of it. Though that is a shame.

Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers is a film about three homeless people whom discover an abandoned baby at Christmas. They decide to look after the baby they call Kiyoko, for a night or two before handing her over to the authorities because they fear the baby will grow up to associate Christmas with abandonment. While doing this they decide to track down the parents to reunite the baby, or at least find out why the baby was abandoned in the first place.

This leads to a wacky adventure full of coincidences. The film is like a mix of Down and Out in Paris and London, a Charlie Chaplin era physical comedy. While their are jokes, the fact these people are homeless is never mocked or the subject of a joke, the humour comes from the personalities. Being homeless is depicted as rather bleak even with close friends and a sort of support network. It's full of examples of how homelessness in Japan is treated (about as poorly as everywhere else) and how the homeless survive. We see the three -a transwoman who worked as a drag queen at a cross dressers bar, a young girl runaway and Gin a man who due to debts had his family life destroyed- deal with all sorts of obstacles just moving through the city.

Official society, especially the police are no help at all and aside from handouts from a Christian group who give them a meal in exchange for being proselytised to, they're only help is from other outcasts. They could just give the baby up to the nearest police station, but all that will happen then is that the baby will be swallowed up and passed around by the foster system. At least this way the baby has a chance at family life first.

They essentially form a quasi family and mutual aid group, by working together and pooling what money and connections they have they're able to make it across Tokyo while looking after a baby.

Its really emotional, but due to the subject it covers a lot of pretty raw topics. Hana the transwoman is called a man and several slur words (at least that was how the subtitles translated them*) throughout though Hana is not ridiculed by the film and is shown to be accepted by the other homeless and the character who does insult her a lot is shown to be an well meaning but flippant and ignorant arse. Its not depicted as malicious and he is shown to care about her deeply and they have a weird surrogate relationship going on.

It also covers abandonment, the destructive power of debt, social prejudices, trauma, suicide, relationship breakdowns and how hard it can be to reconnect with family members even when both sides are willing to give it a go.

Despite the humour and the strong emotional core its still quite a sad film.

*I watched this subtitled without an English language track. Apparently while Tokyo Godfathers was localised and released internationally the company that did it didn't bother to dub it at all.

A review

Skip to around 07:42 to avoid a tiresome tangent about subbing and dubbing. 


Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths

Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths is a fictionalised autobiographical manga by Shigeru Mizuki based on his experiences as a conscript in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) sent to Papua New Guinea. When pushed Mizuki has stated that about 90% of it is fact. During the war the most of his compatriots were killed and he lost his left arm, and while I recall a lot of the men dying I don't recall a character losing their left arm, so I guess that was the 10% fiction.

Its incredibly bleak, the men are exhausted, starving and eaten by the wildlife and that's before the American army arrive to shoot at them. The style is like a newspaper cartoon with characters heavily caricatured, the exception is scenes of brutality which are almost photorealistic. Its a chilling contrast. Onwards doesn't just say war is physically hell and leave it at that though. It actively depicts military discipline and the officers as brutal, and it ridicules and denounces the militaristic propaganda and the bizarre cult of death prominent amongst Japan's right wing.

A character actually asks a superior why the IJA aren't allowed to surrender after a hard fight, it can't be that surrendering is a form of weakness, the European and American soldiers are allowed to surrender and their winning the battle and the war. The only answer he gets is a smack in the mouth. The unit is eventually order on a suicide march against a superior opposition. 


Capital is a two volume Manga that explains and illustrates various parts of Karl Marx's economic work Das Kapital. Not really much to say really, their is an linking story of a business that grows from a simple one man workshop into a massive cheese production factory. If you're having trouble with the original I recommend giving the manga a try.

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