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(en) Britain, Freedom* November 2011 - PEACE, LOVE AND PETROL BOMBS REVIEW

Date Mon, 19 Dec 2011 09:29:16 +0200


“cos everybody hates a tourist” Common People, Pulp ---- This is going to be a review of confessions. Mostly mine. But firstly we need to dispel a myth or two. Myth one: This is a novel about the anti-globalisation movement. It’s not. It is a novel about Wayne. More precisely it is a novel about the author DD – a delve into the mindset and mannerisms of a university lecturer reminiscing about his gap year adventures. Like rummaging through somebody else’s old snapshots of holidays in the sun, it only makes sense if you actually care for the grinning face smudged against the camera lens detailing every personal faultline, obscuring the breathless sunsets, beautiful architecture and impressive locations. The politics of the book generate little more than local colour, added spice to the demons and diary pages of DD’s world. The summit protests are merely destinations, distractions, everything gets a passing mention, a fleeting glance. And it’s all such a laugh.

Myth two: from working class stiff to lecturer in creative writing before you’re thirty. Now that’s the sort of fiction I’d like to read. So where does the lecturer take us?

Pretend you never went to school
The book careers between two worlds; the holiday romance of living on the edge with the politicos and rabble rousers, largely in European host cities where everything revolves around Wayne’s world (although we never really get to find out how he funds his travels in hyper-reality), and the banalities of working in a fast food restaurant in Scotland, which takes up by far the biggest part of the book. Confession number one: I worked in fast food restaurants. Two types of people work there – the dead end kids with no-where left to go, and the university undergraduates who couldn’t get jobs working behind the bar at the student union. The fast food sections of the book are basically sentimental re-writes of Trainspotting with the drugs taken out. There’s even a pastiche of the Renton interview scene, copied from the film almost word for word dinnae ken, ya wee radge. Irvine Welsh for the hipster generation.

As a whole it reads like a collection of short stories pummelled together as a sort of literary challenge. Perhaps an exercise in elements of creative writing? It’s not seamless but then it’s not dangerously incoherent.

A dog lying in the corner
The actual politics? They come stumbling across the page in stage managed clumps, not as bombast and mercifully punchline free. They’re crayoned on and repeated in a weird childlike glaze, as though the general reader might not get it otherwise. And yet the book is not aimed at the general reader. There’s too much unexplained insider knowledge, too many knowing reference points dropped into the text that only politicos would recognise: “the FIT team followed ” “Reclaim the Streets got lots of hate mail” “we have Turkish Tankies round here” “Bonanno in the corner” “this never happened at Conway Hall” and listing the political oddities and fringe elements at the anarchist bookfair just seems like endless winks and nods for the bulletin board scene.

Class is explained as an intellectual conceit, a proposition, a place we occupy, not something that burns through you with a scorching resentment, that throws you out into the world disarmed, without a warning, and without a safety net. If class is expressed as a mathematical equation, expelled as air, then anarchism is dressed as a problem packaged in other people.

Oh you’re so funny
“When they showed him without his mask, I saw it was the English guy from the university, Simon. I wanted to help him, to do something. And that, of course, is exactly what the spectacle precludes”

These are the final sentences in one of the later chapters; it’s the moment DD finds out UK anarchist Simon Chapman has been arrested by Greek police. It’s the moment he begins to question his political commitment to “the struggle”. Weirdly enough in real life for us it was the moment our politics kicked in.

Confession number two: I know Simon, a good friend, committed anarchist and one of the founders of the Wombles. When we discovered he’d been arrested during the EU summit in Greece in 2003 we worked our bollocks off as a prisoner support group. I guess you’d call it a solidarity campaign. I remember this was also the time DD was posting ‘humorous’ parodies of political activists on the internet for the amusement of other anarchists. So when in this novel he calls the Thessaloniki hunger strikers “our comrades” you’re left with a hollow feeling of contempt at the crass opportunism of a university lecturer.

Still you’ll never get it right
But we do need our own political voices. If anyone wants a true insight into the Euro-activists trail then Ramor Ryan’s Clandestines (AK Press) does the job. Written by an Irish exile just before the wave of anti-capitalist protests took hold it’s a beautifully crafted piece of anarcho-travelogue that captures the mood of that time perfectly.

Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs will find its niche, though, and all the better for that. If you are a university graduate middle-class libertarian communist then this book is aimed at you and you’ll definitely get something from it, for your average working class anarchist (and I know there must be more than four of us about), we’ll have to keep hoping one day the grease stains will come out in the bath.

Peace Love and Petrol Bombs
ISBN: 978-1849350617
Price: £8.99
D.D. Johnston
AK Press

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* Anarchist journal
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