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(en) Canada, Anarchist Journal, Linchpin #1 - Culture>> Poking Holes In History + Counter Culture And The Left

Date Sun, 02 Dec 2007 11:43:06 +0200


Poking Holes In History - After visiting the Hamilton Workers’ Art and Heritage Centre, Alex D finds that writing History is as much a site of class struggle as the shop floor. Remembering the resistance and victories of working class people that have come before us reminds us that a better world is possible and helps us imagine how together we might bring about this better world. Even in defeat, our struggles are never truly defeated as long as the memory of resistance is preserved. From it we can draw lessons that will shape our strategies and tactics in future struggles against exploitation, poverty and oppression. This is why those who get richer everyday off our work wish to erase the memory of our struggles. And so our history textbooks and museums tell us that history is made by our rulers, the supposedly great Prime Ministers, big industrialists and other rich white men.

But our struggles have poked holes in this lie. An important example is the trade-union run Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (WAHC) in Hamilton. Located in the historic North End working class neighbourhood, the WAHC is the only national organization dedicated to preserving workers' history and culture. The building itself has a rich working class history, from 1858 to 1995 it served as a federal customs house, a home, a school and textile factory. Inside, the main attraction is the gallery space where historical and contemporary exhibits developed by the WAHC are displayed. Current exhibits include: Punching the Clock: Working in Canadian Factories from the 1840s to the 1980s and Made in Hamilton Industrial Trail which takes you through the history of working class life in Hamilton in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The WAHC also organizes traveling exhibits across the country. A number of exhibits are currently on the road including "...and still I rise!" A History of African-Canadian Workers in Ontario, 1900 to Present. Virtual displays are also available and can be accessed at www.virtualmuseum.ca (enter WAHC in the search engine). The exhibit Highway Workplace: The Canadian Trucker's Story is currently available online. Other activities and services offered include educational group tours at $3.00 per person; inter-active educational programs for students in elementary and high school; a research service that helps union locals write down their history; and space rental for events and meetings.

A visit to the WAHC reminds us that it has always been us, the working class, who have built and nourished our communities and made them decent places to live. And we are also reminded of the awesome power that we have when we organize together to resist those who exploit and oppress us.

DIRECTIONS>> WAHC is located at 51 Stuart Street, Hamilton, Ontario. Public visiting hours are from 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday. Staff can be reached at 905.522.3003 or by email at wahc@wahc-museum.ca
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Counter Culture And The Left

The Rebel Sell authors set themselves the task of attacking an idea of counter culture they see at the heart of social movements, so is that why the cover has a summit protester in gun sight wonders James Redmond

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed (Harper Collins, 2004)

Potter and Heath are right that counter cultural rebellion can sometimes suck energy away from making "concrete improvements in people's lives," by providing excuses for not engaging mass society but their counter cultural imagination is limited to MTV, Adbusters, a host of mainstream Hollywood movies, the authors' own dashed ex-punk background, Kurt Cobain 's suicide notes and anything mall rat in between.

And despite their stated central preoccupation they ignore well articulated differences between “sub cultures” and “counter cultures.” You see sub cultures hang under the mainstream's belly, dependent on it and lacking a real critique. Counter cultures at least try to foster alternative values and ways of being to replace a dominant culture - so one contains at least some revolutionary purpose, the other doesn't. This failure to distinguish gives the authors an easy job of ripping into a series of piss poor straw men.

There is no discussion of the very real and needed role of counter cultural forms in political movements. How could they have overlooked the IWW's folk song tradition, the working man's clubs of the UK and Ireland or the foot ball leagues and community groups of pre-Nazi German social democracy - were these too just "pseudo rebellions" to be ignored?

Alongside this historic blind sight, they completely skip the well trod over subjective reasons for engagement in counter cultures. Still funnily enough they note how an awful lot of school yard bullying stopped once they and their nerdy friends went punk. Counter cultures can be a very ordinary thing, a form of self defence or de-marcation of space, you only have to think of struggles around silly work uniform rules or piss ant fussy supervisors having their authority eroded by a shop floor black humor.

Really the book does contain some great pop culture writing, but the attempt to weave it into a general theory of counter culture falls a little flat, even if their reason for writing it comes from a decent impulse, that is; movements that define themselves by being on the margins of society, will stay there.

Much of the weight of their book is just a re-hash of Thomas Frank's quip that "ever since the 1960's hip has been the native tongue of advertising." The authors claim to "shatter central myths" turns out to be just restating the obvious with much weaker conclusions. They themselves do not want to "eliminate the game, but level the playing field" and so call for traditional social democratic measures to over come market failures. They even suggest bans on cosmetic surgery, ignoring how thwarted society really is by contemporary forms of alienation in their call for a rewind to the '50's.

Face it anything that opens with the claim that Adbusters selling Blackspot sneakers was a “turning point for western civilization” is bound to piss you off along the way. With sky scrapers of argumentation erected on foundations of sand, the Rebel Sell smacks of a pair of grad student academic enfant terribles - the perfect stuff for drunken conversations, mindlessly frustrating yet deeply challenging to your own steadfast opinion.

CHECK EM OUT>> Adam Curtis’ documentary The Century of the Self (on google video..) which looks at the harnessing of new lifestyles created in the 1960’s to brands that sell dreams over products and Thomas Frank’s book The Conquest of Cool, the original political economy of hip.
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