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Image: Zero Days
In the forward to his 1907 songbook, Scots-Irish socialist James Connolly wrote: ‘No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination, they will seek a vent for the aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle.’ It didn’t start out that way but visiting the 2016 Edinburgh film festival during one of the most troubling times in our history I found myself wondering if the documentary film had become our movements’ ‘song’.
The film Shadow World grabbed my attention and held it, as it did the festival jurors, who awarded it top prize. In testament to the film’s power, it has become the primary filter through which I now view the anti-Corbyn coup. Based on journalist Andrew Feinstein’s book of the same name, director Johan Grimonprez’s stunning visuals, rather than simply serving the story, brings poetry to its telling. Much will be familiar to Red Pepper readers but by linking these images to a coherent narrative around the arms trade it offers the kind of powerful clarity that only poetic expression can.It was an emotional screening. Jo Cox was dead, the referendum lost and the Labour Party coup had just been launched. Consequently, it is difficult for me to separate what was said in the film from what Feinstein said in his post-screening Q&A. His central thesis is that the three ‘great’ arms-dealing nations, the US, UK and Israel, have created the realpolitic of our time, a state of perpetual war that offers them untold riches and us untold misery.
Each country has its own distinctive offer. The US produces quantity, so it can deliver efficient and effective weapons at a reasonable price. However, its reach is limited by anti-corruption legislation that complicates things when bribes are required. Which is where the UK comes in. With no such restrictions, Tony Blair emerges as the arms trader par excellence strutting his stuff on the international stage backed up with mega bribes where required.
Israel’s USP is that its weapons demonstrations are live, often involving reducing Gaza to rubble. It’s truly heart-breaking stuff, and when you see the lengths they go to get their way you can’t help but see the anti-Corbyn coup as the industry flexing its muscle – anybody who might cast light into their ‘shadow world’ will be neutralised.
As Feinstein explained, the US arms industry has already put more money into Hilary Clinton to defeat Sanders than into any other candidate ever, and the presidential campaign proper hasn’t even started. Shadow World would suggest it’s no coincidence that the Labour hawks have led the coup and, like their mentor Tony Blair, they may not have to wait for heaven for their reward. In one of the film’s lighter moments, film-maker David Lawley-Wakelin admits that when he found himself in a position to famously heckle Blair (while giving evidence to the Murdoch enquiry) he secretly rang his mum and she said he might as well.
Director Alex Bibney’s Zero Days explains why we may have missed the opening shots in the world’s first cyber war – it was a 1-1 draw. The US melted a few Iranian nuclear fuel enrichers, Iran then equalised by wiping out the databases of a US oil company and shutting down three large banks for a day.
The film follows the story, which begins with the US developing the massively complex computer virus, or malware, which became known as ‘Stuxnet’, as a way to stop Israel from bombing Iran’s nuclear power stations. However, Israel – looking to maximise the damage – then released the malware indiscriminately into the Iranian system, the result being that it started turning up across the world and commercial anti-virus companies were brought in by worried companies to investigate.
Put simply, Stuxnet finds ways to switch off machines without the operators knowing. Eventually, the Russians cracked it and handed it over to Iran, whose bright young hackers now had the blueprint to do the same to the US. The trouble is, nobody can talk about any of this because it’s officially secret, so we witness various ex-state security bosses not denying it with accompanying knowing looks.
Once again, it was whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, who thought democracy might be best served if we the people knew that the big money was going into cyber warfare. The reality of this new warfare is terrifyingly mundane: rather than bombing a hospital you can simply switch off its power. Almost all of our machines were linked to the web at a time when such sophisticated malware was science fiction but all can now be turned on and off by a smart piece of undetectable computer code – and they are not easy to turn back on. It is a complex subject made comprehensible with the use of Matrix-like graphics.
Chicago Boys is a more traditional documentary that tells the story of the Chilean students sent from the Catholic University to study under Milton Friedman in Chicago, and how they seized the opportunity of the Pinochet coup to implement their neoliberal economic policies – which provided the blueprint for both Reagan and Thatcher, and underpin all our lives today.
Disturbingly, the film allows the Chicago boys to speak for themselves. At times it’s chilling, especially when Sergio di Castro, Pinochet’s finance minister, says he was ignorant of the torture and murder of the socialists who opposed his reforms. By and large the boys are content to celebrate the ‘economic miracle’ that is Chile today.I talked to director Rafael Valdeavellana afterwards. He defended his decision to give the boys a platform, explaining that young people in Chile had become alienated by the bitter left-right political rhetoric but had been engaged by his film and educated to the reality of the individualistic philosophical base of Chile’s economy.
A message on the festival’s website read: ‘Wow. These men were responsible for the arrest of thousands of trade unionists who opposed their views, including my father, who was tortured and then exiled to Scotland. “Changed the destiny of Chile,” says the PR blurb. “The end justifies the means.” Really? Next you’ll be showing a summer guide to Dachau.’
Niam Itani’s Twice Upon a Time is a different kind of documentary, a highly personal look at war from the experience of the refugee child. The humanity and compassion of the victims of perpetual war is revealed in stark contrast to the arrogant strutting of its perpetrators. This wonderfully plotted story takes three parallel and inter-connected stories and weaves them into a compelling narrative.
The simple truth of what compels a family to flee and the discovery of the film-maker’s own family’s tipping point is as human and ordinary as it is surprising. Fleeing Beirut, Niam’s mother comments that they didn’t think they were becoming refugees.
Niam remembers little of her own childhood flight and the war she fled from, apart from happy memories framed by photographs, so returns to her ‘home in exile’ to discover it now occupied by a young Syrian family from Daraa. She befriends young Khalil and sets herself the task of giving him happy memories. Twice Upon a Time stirred me to action, its honesty, simplicity and authenticity made me cry.
It wasn’t the festival experience I had expected, and it sat quietly at odds with the red carpets and parties offered by film companies to attract media attention to their product. I’m unsure as to how many of these films will get distribution but they did offer poetical expression to our struggle. Activists could do worse than support and arrange screenings of these powerful films.
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
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Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament