Authoritarian Discourse in Civil Society: Notes from the Congress for Cultural Freedom

Tom Shillam

It seems easy, today, to distinguish between progressive and authoritarian political discourse. The battle lines have taken shape in front of us. Strongman leaders and xenophobic demagogues identify ‘immigrants’, ‘Muslims’ and ‘globalists’ as collective enemies. They shut down universities, block NGO boats from saving desperate migrants adrift in the Mediterranean and disappear journalists who don’t agree with them.   Organised in political parties, civil society groups, and protest movements, their opponents remain steadfastly supportive of civil liberties and human rights.

But is progressive political discourse constituted by the defence of rights alone? As progressive parties lose electoral support – with few exceptions  – across Europe and beyond, it is becoming increasingly clear that bolder strategies and messages of hope are needed to resist authoritarian advancement.[1] Rights we hold dear – which include, for researchers, academic freedoms – might be best maintained by constructing narratives of past, present and future which emphasise their historical importance and future promise.

Protest and civil society movements which attempt this are already having success. ‘Extinction Rebellion’, a new UK-based direct action group focussing on climate change, positions its activism within a longer history of civil rights, suffragette and anti-authoritarian agitation. Thousands gathered in front of Gandhi’s statue in Parliament Square, London on its launch. To have success, movements need narratives, and narratives draw on influences and voices of hope, repurposed for the future. Gandhi is a prime example.

In this venture, I suggest, it is vital to remain critical and reflective about such

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Gandhi Statue in Parliament Sq, London (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

influences. Take Gandhi; environmentalists draw on him, but elsewhere, Ghanaian students remove his statue from university campuses, raising attention to the racial slurs he used during his time in South Africa. Voices which civil society movements draw on can – even when raised in favour of an ostensibly progressive cause – subtly exclude, degrade, even oppress certain groups. Clement Attlee is currently enjoying a revival on the British Left – a Prime Minister whose government described early ‘Windrush’ Jamaican immigrants as an ‘incursion’ and did not promote acceptance of them.

My research strongly emphasises the importance of considering these questions. At a conference held in West Berlin in June 1950, a number of well-known liberal and left-wing intellectuals gathered to discuss the threat posed to freedom of cultural expression by Communism. They soon founded a permanent body, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), which established offices, produced magazines and arranged conferences across 35 countries and several continents in the 1950s and 1960s. The aim was to forge a new kind of liberal and ‘anti-totalitarian’ cultural criticism which counteracted the appeal of Communist ideology among progressive intellectuals reading CCF magazines and attending CCF conferences.

A number of prominent progressive thinkers on the British Left – such as Bertrand Russell and Stephen Spender – and on the Western Left more broadly, became involved with the project. These thinkers often believed that the freedoms they enjoyed, including freedom of expression and freedom of speech, were linked to the level of individual freedom achieved in Western societies. Human progress followed a democratic capitalist path; certainly, tensions existed, which Western CCF writers suggested might be eased by introducing welfare states, but a basic formula for attaining key freedoms had been worked out in the West.[2]

When turning to the pages of British CCF magazine Encounter, though, it is easy to uncover less than progressive sentiments festering beneath the veneer of liberalism and human advancement. These sentiments often reared their heads in essentialised treatments of the Third World. In the first edition of Encounter, Swiss writer Denis de Rougemont, seeking to ‘find’ India, oozed stereotypes; spiritualism was ubiquitous, and the country was stunted by its ‘primitive’ hierarchy which kept all passive. The ‘profound crisis of India’, inhibiting any advancement towards ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’, crystallised in its failure to ‘rupture with magic’.[3]

Similarly, in October 1955, South African writer Laurens van der Post turned an ostensibly critical eye on prospects for progress and development in Africa. A deeply racialised account ensued. The ‘African’, or the ‘black man’, had endured in a timeless state of ‘natural and innocent society’ until the arrival of the ‘white man’ or the ‘European man’. Now, Africans entered onto the stage of history. Their temperamental quiescence meant that, for some time, they ‘served the white man in a way that is almost too good to be true’ in a moment of ‘hush and suspended indigenous development in Africa’ which carried ‘immense potentiality’. Van der Post believed his account was progressive – he proceeded to critique ‘unenlightened white policy’ in Africa which had destroyed these potentialities of development – but it clearly turned on racist imagery.[4]

Such essentialised depictions had long featured prominently in Western writing. A well-known example regarding India is James Mill, a utilitarian so convinced that wisely formulated laws precipitated human progress that he dismissed the entirety of so-called ‘Hindu’ or Indian civilisation in an 1818 book without ever having visited the country. In the later part of the 19th century, this civilisational thinking became indistinguishable from racialised thinking; white connoted civilisation and progress, black connoted savagery and stasis.

De Rougemont and van der Post are extreme examples, but the same thinking subtly undergirded many Encounter considerations of similar topics. Where a progressive politics might have engaged with Indian and African intellectuals and invited their ideas on what human ‘freedom’ meant and how it might be achieved, a ‘progressivism’ characterised by race exceptionalism predominated.

Indeed, the Western CCF did attempt to bring Indian and African intellectuals, among others, into the fold, but not as independent contributors. They got in contact with intellectuals deemed receptive to a Western liberal and anti-Communist politics, inviting them to organise magazines and conferences on related themes in their home countries. When these intellectuals talked too much about politics – Indian CCF intellectuals frequently drew on their experience of colonialism to challenge the notion that ‘freedom’ was a Western import – they were seen to have gone off script; Western organisers complained and set up replacement magazines.[5]

Not only did the ‘liberalism’ of the CCF’s founders conceal beliefs which were authoritarian in their political implications – if Indian and African societies were uniformly illiberal, it would take a strong and robust state, as Western writers often observed, to change them – it also served unexpected geopolitical ends. The CIA, which sought from the late 1940s to promote the ‘non-Communist Left’ in the US and beyond, found something it approved of in the CCF, covertly funding early meetings and offering further support throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Several historians have suggested this had the effect of taming the more radical and innovative currents within CCF branches whilst strengthening the ‘liberal’ ones examined above; anyhow, a seemingly independent civil society movement was relying on CIA funds.[6]

These points emphasise that anti-authoritarian political and civil society forces are not, by default, progressive, an impression that is easy to gain when one looks at political landscapes today. ‘Liberal’ political languages can exclude and essentialise different groups of people, with authoritarian implications. This is not a problem restricted to colonial history; several professedly ‘liberal’ publications including The Economist have recently welcomed President Bolsonaro of Brazil, suggesting his premiership may do good even whilst openly acknowledging his despicable views. To be a progressive is to constantly consider and reconsider whether one’s own views and those of movements one finds appealing contain exclusionary elements. This helps a truly progressive politics take root against its openly authoritarian counterparts.

Tom Shillam is a PhD student based in the Department of History, University of York, whose research considers the cultural Cold War and decolonisation in 1950s & 1960s South Asia. He is currently looking into early Congress for Cultural Freedom journals published in Britain and India, which reveal intriguing divergences on what ‘freedom’ and ‘authoritarianism’ meant to intellectuals from different political and cultural backgrounds. His broader interests include blogging and public history, which has led to articles for fora such as The Conversation.

References

[1] The British Labour Party is a rare exception: https://www.opendemocracy.net/jon-cruddas-response-to-michael-sandel

[2] Frances Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books, 1999); Giles Scott-Smith, The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Political Economy of American Hegemony 1945-1955 (London: Routledge, 2002).

[3] Denis de Rougemont, ‘Looking for India’, Encounter (October 1953), 36-42.

[4] Laurens van der Post, ‘The Dark Eye in Africa’, Encounter (October 1955), 5-12.

[5] Eric Pullin, ‘Quest: Twenty Years of Cultural Politics’, in Campaigning Culture and the Global Cold War: The Journals of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, ed. Giles Scott-Smith, and Charlotte Lerg (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 286.

[6] Scott-Smith, The Politics of Apolitical Culture: Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

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The Institutionalization of Injustice: The Emperor’s New Clothes?

By Sagar Deva

Despite unspeakable horrors that were routinely carried out against indigenous populations across the globe during the Colonial era, it was rare for colonisers to present their repression of native peoples in anything other than morally positive language. The justification for withholding basic rights from native populations was couched in the language of civilisation, where the native and ‘coloured’ populations were portrayed as insufficiently civilised, and too subhuman to enjoy the basic human rights and dignity that were the prerogative of the white, Christian man.

The coloniser, cloaked in righteous whiteness was divinely ordained to rule over the lesser peoples for their own good, his authority shrouded in benevolence and wisdom. In this way, the rapacious exploitation of entire peoples and nations could be portrayed as a glorious and noble endeavour to ‘elevate’ repressed people closer to the level of the white man through forcible processes of ‘civilisation.’

After the end of the Second World War and the global movement towards self-determination, colonial powers which had previously possessed vast empires were no longer able to directly exploit other nations through the use of military force and direct rule. However, this did not mean that the factors which initially drove these nations to colonise vast swathes of the globe disappeared overnight. Unrestrained greed and a ruthless economic mentality were still prevalent amongst many important states, and were particularly apparent within the emerging global presence of the USA, which had rapidly emerged as the worlds dominant power.

In addition, racial and cultural attitudes which perceived white, western civilisation as fundamentally superior to civilisations in the developing world had not entirely disappeared and were still prevalent amongst certain governments and populations within this dominant diaspora.

Nonetheless, the fact that powerful states could no longer dominate other nations militarily necessitated innovative solutions for entrenching their hegemony in the international system. Military multipolarity, and particularly the existence of nuclear weapons, had substantially reduced the ability of powerful states to impose their authority on the global order. A new approach was thus required to impose the authority of developed, northern powers on the autonomy of developing countries in the Global South and to ensure maximum dominance within the international system.

To this end, the core international economic constitutions were created, which comprised of the GATT (which later became the World Trade Organisation) and the ‘Bretton Woods’ institutions, which included the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ostensibly, the purpose of these organisations was to provide a fairer economic playing field by promoting ‘free trade’ and opening up markets to ‘fair competition’, as well as, in the case of the IMF, providing emergency loans to countries with questionable liquidity to ensure the financial stability of the international system.

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The ‘Gold Room’ at Bretton Woods, where the establishment of the World Bank and IMF was first agreed. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Much of the rhetoric of the US led coalition who were key in the creation of these organisations has been distinctly utopian, referring to the ‘egalitarian’ nature of a global free market and consistently emphasising the supposed ‘fairness’ of the organisation. Thus, the rhetoric and language used by dominant powers has sought to normalize the intensive process of market liberalization engendered by these organisations by positing them as an objective normative good and promoting them as the only way in which ‘good’ global governance might be achieved, a process which will supposedly benefit the entire global system.

However, this attempt to normalize, even constitutionalise, practices of intense, global, market liberalization has in many ways, simply been a way to entrench the economic hegemony of the developed world over the underdeveloped South. In a world where power is increasingly expressed economically rather than militarily, powerful states and associated multinational corporations have utilised the rhetoric of market liberalization and free trade to exert control over other states and entities to the benefit of themselves and the detriment of others.

Many examples of this paradigm exist but two immediately spring to mind. The first of them refers to the process of ‘structural adjustment’ practiced by the IMF, an organisation dominated by powerful developed countries as voting power is directly tied to fiscal contribution.  Structural adjustment was a process whereby IMF loans were only given to countries if they reformed their markets according to IMF guidelines, which invariably demanded as a key condition market liberalization.

These conditions included opening markets to foreign competition and the creation of ‘fiscal discipline’, particularly with regard to reducing government spending on welfare budgets. This strategy was particularly used in the Latin American Debt Crisis of the 1980’s.

However, the only beneficiaries of these processes were multinational corporations, almost invariably based in the developed world, which now had access to enormous new markets. The effects of structural adjustment on Latin American economies were disastrous, lowering real GDP substantially, creating mass unemployment and driving many local, previously government protected businesses into bankruptcy in favour of multinational corporations backed by powerful developed countries. Despite this disaster, the IMF and World Bank continued to utilise slightly amended processes of structural adjustment well after the end of this crisis, often resulting in substantial damage to the host nation.

A second example of where dominant economic powers have sought to normalize unfair trade practices with potentially damaging and dangerous consequences was in the creation of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights’ or TRIPS agreement. This agreement allows for the almost universal enforcement of global intellectual property rights over almost all products including medicines. Under the guise of ‘free trade’ and ‘fairness’, TRIPS has been accused of creating ‘artificial scarcity’ for important medical products by preventing domestic producers from producing generic drugs.

As a result of this, the price of multiple necessary and lifesaving drugs has been increased considerably, with developing countries highlighting the unfairness of the agreement as well the potential loss of life caused by unaffordable medicines. Once again, the key beneficiaries of this agreement were powerful multinational pharmaceutical countries who possessed enormous lobbying power within dominant developed states.

In the past, colonial powers used the language of racial, cultural, or civilizational superiority to justify dominance and exploitation over other, less powerful nations. Nowadays, powerful states instead seek to normalize their dominance through the language of market liberalisation and free trade which unfairly advantage them over less developed states, allowing for their exploitation. Instead of simply accepting the dominant narrative of the global economic institutions, it is instead imperative to understand the impact that such language can have on imposing injustice and disparity in the world today.

Sagar Deva is a doctoral candidate in the University of Sheffield Department of Law. His research focuses on the relationship between international legal theory and global politics.

‘Enemies of the people’: Fake news and Bolshevik manipulation of the press in early Soviet Sormovo

By Laura Sumner

laura blog 3
One of Donald Trump’s references to ‘fake news’

 

‘The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!’- Donald Trump (17th February 2017)

‘This strike is subordination… In short, they [Mensheviks and Right SRs] acted as enemies of the proletariat, the enemies of the people, like true Whites.’- ‘Sormovskaia Zhizn’’, Rabochii- Krestianskii Nizhegorodskii Listok  (18th May 1918)

‘Fake news’ was named word of the year in 2016.[1] It was one of the buzz phrases used by sections of the media and politicians against apparently false news stories and campaign claims. Whilst endorsing fabricated news stories himself, Donald Trump has appropriated the term ‘fake news’ to use against sections of the American press which are critical of him. This supposedly ‘post truth’ era in 2017 may seem like the beginning of a slippery slope of backhanded political campaigns from which we can never return. However, there is nothing new about fake news or accusations of fake news. In fact, Trump’s hostile language towards the press is sharply reminiscent of the attempts of the early Soviet state 100 years ago to shape a revolutionary discourse during the Civil War.

Sormovo was a large metalworking factory and industrial complex situated in Nizhegorod province. It had a skilled and literate workforce which had a lot in common with metalworkers in Moscow and Petrograd. However, unlike Moscow and Petrograd it was not the Bolsheviks but the Socialist Revolutionaries, or SRs who commanded the support of Sormovo workers. They won a majority of Sormovo votes for the Constituent Assembly in

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Sormovo workers in the foundry workshop, 1923

November 1917 and continued to have a presence inside the factory and in the Sormovo soviet until mid 1918. The Bolsheviks sought to create a negative discourse about their moderate socialist opposition in Sormovo in an attempt to elicit the support of Sormovo workers. Smith argues that the monopolisation of revolutionary discourse by the Bolsheviks was one of the main reasons they managed to secure state power during the Civil War.[2] The power of the Bolshevik discourse of ‘class war’ is revealed in the Soviet state’s ability to portray the moderate socialist opposition as enemies not only of the new Bolshevik state, but of the people, despite their enduring support in the provinces.

 

After the moderate socialist press was shut down in Sormovo in January 1918, it was extremely difficult for the SRs and Mensheviks to openly challenge Bolshevik policies and rhetoric. Bolshevik newspapers were now one of the only official sources of information. The Sormovo Bolsheviks utilised the local press to speak directly to metalworkers in a section called ‘Sormovo life’ (Sormovskaia Zhizn’). This cemented a Soviet discourse not only about the political opposition but about workers and the Bolsheviks themselves. The Bolsheviks explained labour activism in Sormovo by creating and establishing a discourse that labelled the moderate socialists as ‘bourgeois’ enemies. They were blamed for acting falsely towards workers by trying to dupe them into the destruction of the Soviet state and were used as scapegoats for ongoing unrest amongst labourers. During a strike in 1918 the Bolsheviks publicly accused the Mensheviks of infiltrating certain workshops in Sormovo and persuading workers to be violent during a strike:

‘The Mensheviks and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries have long inserted themselves in Sormovo to agitate against the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. They enjoy all the difficulties that the country is going through. [They] excite the workers against the Soviet government policy and against the dictatorship of the proletariat.’[3]

This type of language is suggestive of a Bolshevik siege mentality and is remarkably similar to Trump’s twitter rants which have accused sections of the mainstream media of lying and deceiving the American people. Like Trump, the Sormovo Bolsheviks created a discourse about themselves in reference to their relationship to workers. Indeed, published Bolshevik resolutions often began ‘we Sormovo workers agree…’. Like Trump’s populist presentation of himself as a successful self-made businessman representing the ordinary working man, the Bolsheviks presented themselves as workers and as the party of the workers, which represented their views and best interests. The Bolsheviks’ was based on what the moderate socialists were not. The moderate socialists were bourgeois and the Bolsheviks were not, the bourgeoisie exploited workers and the Bolsheviks did not.

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Bolshevik newspaper Rabochii-Krest’ianskii Nizhegorodskii Listok

 

The Sormovo workers were given no agency in the narrative of labour activism in Bolshevik local press. They were merely puppets being manipulated by the moderate socialists. In private, the local and provincial organisation in Nizhnii Novgorod were in a continual state of fear about Sormovo workers, of their labour activism, ingrained support for the SRs and their integral role in the production of munitions for the Civil War. In private, Soviet reports about the causes of strikes are not steeped in ideological language. In a report of another strike in 1919 the Bolsheviks reported how they believed the strike had begun:

‘The reason for the outbreak of the strike was mainly about the insufficient amount of food issued per month to workers.’ [4]

This reveals a major discrepancy in the Sormovo Bolsheviks discourse about workers. In private correspondence the Bolsheviks were aware of how the food crisis in Sormovo was a prominent grievance of Sormovo workers. In the public press the workers themselves were not publicly blamed for the strike as this would have raised ideological questions about the nature of the Soviet state being a workers’ regime and representing workers in Sormovo.

By using labels such as ‘bourgeois’ and ‘enemy of the people’ to identify enemies of the state, the Bolsheviks created a powerful revolutionary discourse. The use of labels as a means of distinguishing the opposition had no base in reality but was a means to distinguish the state’s allies from its enemies. The fluidity of these labels created an atmosphere of fear and became a coercive tool, which was a formative experience for the Soviet Union, not unlike the ‘fake news’ phenomenon at play at present in the United States.

Laura Sumner is a final year ESRC funded History PhD student at the University of Nottingham. Her research ‘Ideology and Identity: ‘Knowing’ workers in Early Soviet Russia, 1917-1921’ explores discourses about worker identity in the Early Soviet Period with a focus on the factory complex Sormovo in Nizhegorod Province. You can find her on Twitter:

References:

[1] ‘’Fake news’ named word of the year by Macquarie Dictionary’, The Guardian (24/01/2017) [https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jan/25/fake-news-named-word-of-the-year-by-macquarie-dictionary]

[2] S. Smith, Captives of revolution: The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik dictatorship, 1918-1923 (Pittsburgh, 2011) pp. xiv-xv

[3] ‘Sormovskaya Zhizn’’, Rabochii- Krestianskii Nizhegorodskii Listok (18th May 1918)

[4] GOPANO (Gosudarstvennyi obshchestvenno-politicheskii arkhiv Nizhegorodskoi oblasti ) f.34, op.1, d.61: Sormovskii Raikom RKP(b) Nizhegorodskaia Gubernia: Materialii Komissii po zabastovki na Sormovskii zavoda (27th March 1919)

Full Image Attributions:

Image 1: Author’s screenshot of Donald Trump’s 25/02/2017 tweet

Image 2 (Sormovo workers in the foundry workshop): V.A. Kazakov, Revoliutsei Prizvannye: Ocherki ob ychastnikakh revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia v Nizhnegorodskoi Gubernii, vstupivshchikh v partiiu v 1917 godu (Gorky, 1987), p.142

Image 3: Author’s own

Suicide really isn’t war: megalomania, counterculture and the joy of metal music in the Soviet Union

By Dawn Hazle

Popular music presents a problem to authoritarian regimes: by its nature it either has to be controlled, or banned. Yet, control requires a lot of resources, and simply just pushes the problem underground.  In the Soviet Union, both approaches were undertaken: popular music was controlled through state-sponsored Vokal’no-Instrumental’nyi Ansambl’ (VIA) groups and everything else was banned.  Consequently, anyone who didn’t fit the bill simply went underground and, due to pressures, ignorance or lack of enforcement, they went often unpoliced and proliferated.

Russian metal music was one such disregarded and, therefore, underground genres. It grew in a similar way to Western metal music and was inspired by Western metal, but also

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AriaFest concert in Moscow (November 2015)

by Russian rock. Metal and rock, intentionally or not, are forms of ‘counterculture’ that provide an alternative to the dominant culture, and in the case of Soviet Russia, to official Soviet culture. One of the first bands in the Soviet context to establish themselves solely in the genre of metal are Aria, still going strong today and regarded as the Russian Iron Maiden. On 31 October 1985 they released their first album, Maniia Velichiia (Megalomania), in magnitizdat format.

 

Upon a cursory glance at the tracklist (in Russian), it is clear there is more to this album (and by extension, to the band) than sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: the final track, ‘Pozadi Amerika’, with its generally recognised translation ‘America is Behind’, looks much like an anti-Western song.[1]  But a closer look at the lyrics shows something altogether different: it is merely describing a man reading a travel magazine. The song talks about the world being laid out in front of him, and this sense of ‘pozadi’ is lost in the translation .

Another potentially anti-Western song is ‘Zhizn’ Zadarom’ (‘Life for Free’). A simple reading of the lyrics shows this is not necessarily inaccurate, as there are lines such as the following:

Wisdom, beauty and talent – all overshadowed by the pricelist And it happened that he gave his life for nothing

But a simple reading is not enough: this denunciation of Western decadence can also be accurately applied to Soviet officials and the privileges that they enjoyed. The eponymous instrumental, ‘Maniia Velichiia’, can also be read this way: highlighting not only capitalist decadence in its harsh guitar entry but also Soviet megalomania as the near-operatic vocal chorus becomes ever louder.

The album moves further into anti-Soviet territory with ‘Bivni Chernykh Skal’ (‘Tusks of Black Rocks’).  This song contains the following lyrics:

He shouts to the gods: “I have no more need for you,

I can understand everything and do it myself!”

The cry’s echo was picked up at the same moment,

Carried away and smashed on a glacier

[…]

A rock cracked and an avalanche came down

And carried him away like a grain of sand

This appears to represent the leaders of the atheist Soviet Union, now beginning to pay the price after turning their backs on their people as they have turned their backs on God: the

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AriaFest Concert, Moscow (November 2015)

economy was in terrible shape, food imports had increased and relations with the West had soured.

 

In an interview I conducted with the writer of these lyrics, Alexander Ielin, in November 2015, he assured me the intention was largely anti-war. I have found this hard to fathom in ‘Pozadi Amerika’, but the lyrics of ‘Bivni Chernykh Skal’ and ‘Volunter’ (‘Volunteer’) could easily be interpreted as such.  One song which makes this anti-war stance particularly clear is ‘Eto Rok’, with its dual-meaning title (‘This is Fate’ or ‘This is Rock’). The last verse reads as follows:

It is enough to put on a brave show, the fate of all of us is as one Suicide really isn’t war, Not Waterloo, or even Armageddon There is not and never will be a winning side

I do, however, urge you to listen to the song: the lyrics given here paint a dreary picture (this part starts around 3:48) but the musicians are clearly enjoying themselves during most of the song. This, after all, is usually the point of this kind of heavy metal: to have fun, share that joy with others and ignore those who don’t like it.

Bio: Dawn Hazle is a part-time Master of Arts (by research) student in Russian & Slavonic Studies at the University of Nottingham. Her research interests include Russian heavy and power metal, Tolkienism and the convergence of myth and reality. Her current study is investigating the influences on Aria’s first album, Maniia Velichiia, in the contemporary late Soviet climate. You can find her on Twitter at @keletkezes, and find out more about her interests on her blog.

References

[1] (see the album’s reviews on Encyclopaedia Metallum – in Russian)

Full Image Attributions

Image 1 & 2: created and provided courtesy of Dawn Hazle

An Emotional Break-Up: Historical Pathos Rhetoric in the Brexit Debate

London_June_13_2016_Vote_Leave_in_Islington_Brexit_(27576083301)

By Liz Goodwin

In an impassioned speech to assembled campaigners in Leeds on the eve of the EU Referendum, Ukip leader Nigel Farage tried to convince his audience to #Vote_Leave. His argument was not new to the campaign as a whole – focused on encouraging ordinary people to make a stand against the lazy European elite – but the way in which he phrased his case was even older.

In suggesting that ‘this is our chance as a people to get back at a political class that has given away everything this nation has ever stood for, everything our forebears ever fought for and everything we want to hand to our children and grandchildren’, Farage employed one of the most deep-rooted and consistently utilised rhetorical talents – that of pathos.[1]

In this roaring speech, intended to invoke and elicit feelings of patriotism, love and loyalty to family, and anger at a sense of disenfranchisement and anti-elitism in his audience, Farage used language to appeal firmly to the heart – yet his linguistic mode of doing so is inherently linked to a pan-European intellectual tradition going back millennia.

Both campaign sides were characterised by emotional rhetoric: the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were frequently criticised for lacking passion in presenting their Remain case.[2] Leave financial backers like John Caudwell of high street retailer Phones4U denounced ‘Project Fear’ on the opposite side, branding such claims made by experts as ‘subjective’ and ‘hysterical.’[3]

Even campaign tweets were aimed at provoking emotional responses – in an analysis of language used in both camps’ social media, ‘fear words’ relating to immigration and the economy were shown to be demonstrably more frequently in use than across Twitter as a whole.[4]

I’ve just started work on the use of pathos as a rhetorical tool in Reformation debates in sixteenth-century Germany, and it strikes me as appropriate, following a campaign so imbued with emotionally-charged language intended to move the voter to action, to examine the context of this tried-and-tested rhetoric device. Emotional rhetoric is something that, somewhat ironically, connects politicians and political regimes across the spectrum – it’s a linguistic tool that works for the authoritarian and the liberal.

Pathos was theoretically recognised and utilised by some of the greatest European minds of the Medieval world. Aristotle established it as one of the three modes of persuasion: alongside ethos (a kind of charismatic authority on behalf of the speaker) and logical explanation (or proof), it was the emotionally-charged pathos, appealing to something in the listener, that was the most highly valued.[5]

In a highly Farage-esque move, Cicero advised the orator ‘to prefer emotion to reason’, so that the audience is ‘so affected as to be swayed [by emotion]… rather than by judgement or deliberation. For men decide far more problems by hate, or love, or fear, or illusion… than by reality.’[6]

Caritas
Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer frequently employed pathos in her writings

St Augustine would justify this rhetoric concept for the Christian Middle Ages, stating that emotionally-laden language appeals were key to ‘moving the minds of listeners, not that they may know what is done, but that they may do what they already know should be done.’[7] He even used pathos to explain that fundamental, Medieval theological issue, the Fall of Man – it was an emotional appeal from Eve that caused Adam to be persuaded, rather than that of logical reason.[8]

 

Throughout the Middle Ages, pathos can be seen within preaching, aimed at moving the audience through emotionally-loaded language to be better Christians. In his thorough and influential preaching ‘manual’, near-anonymous fourteenth-century writer Robert of Basevorn defined the role of Christian sermonising to be to move the listener ‘to meritorious conduct.’[9] Fire-and-brimstone preachers like Savanarola in Florence would frequently incite audiences with apocalyptic visions of Godly judgement if they didn’t change their ways – surely the most emotive of language is that which threatens Hellish punishment to listeners.

During the religious upheavals of the Reformation, Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer utilised pathos throughout her Journal, detailing what happened to her convent amidst Lutheran attacks. She was one of many active, Classically-inspired, highly educated Humanists to engage with this emotional language as a form of defensive Catholic argument; her work aimed to move the reader to empathy and compassion for the plight of those in the religious life, threatened by new Protestant doctrine.

The use of emotional language in the construction of political argument, then, is nothing new. Nor is it the preserve of the right, or those with more ‘authoritarian’ worldviews. Whether this altered the vote outcome or not – and many media think pieces have claimed one way or the other – the fact remains that the moving rhetoric that broadly characterised the Brexit debate was built on the linguistic practice of pathos.

In light of Michael Gove’s assertion that ‘the British people have had enough of experts’ in the run up to the EU Referendum, it seems worth pointing out that the language used and the arguments utilised were actually built on centuries-old, highly intellectual, philosophical and, crucially, pan-European rhetoric tradition. Then again, our charismatic and Classics-educated new Foreign Secretary could probably have told you that already.

Liz Goodwin recently completed an AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Sheffield on the impact of reform on female monastic communities in sixteenth-century England. Find her on Twitter @ElizMGoodwin.

[1] Nick Gutteridge, ‘Nigel Farage: Vote Brexit to take UK back from ‘contemptible’ Cameron and his rich cronies’, The Telegraph, 1/6/2016.

[2] Andy McSmith, ‘Brexit: Project Fear had reason on its side, but anti-experts caught public mood’, The Independent, 24/6/2016.

[3] ‘Project Fear gets personal: Cameron equates Brexit to ‘self-harm’, RT, 5/4/2016. 

[4] Ashley Kirk, ‘EU referendum: Remain uses Project Fear more in tweets than Leave’, The Telegraph, 22/6/2016.

[5] Gary Remer, Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration (Pennsylvania, 1996), p. 20.

[6] Ibid., pp. 20-21.

[7] Ibid., p. 21.

[8] Eric Jager, The Tempter’s Voice: Language and the Fall in Medieval Literature (London, 1993), p. 114.

[9] Cheryl Glenn, Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance (Illinois 1997), p. 91.

Image credits

Banner: Wikicommons

Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer: Wikicommons

 

Me avergüenzo de ser británico: Como ciudadano británico y ciudadano de la Unión Europea (aún) me avergüenza escribir esto

Written by Matthew Kerry, this post originally appeared on ctxt.es on June 24, 2016, reproduced with Matt’s permission.

Polling_Station_Brexit
Way in? (Image found on WikiCommons)

 

A mis amigos españoles,

Como ciudadano británico y ciudadano de la Unión Europea (aún) me avergüenza escribir esto. Me avergüenzo de ser británico.

Ante todo, quiero enviar mi solidaridad, dolor y disculpas a todxs lxs trabajadorxs europexs que, por las islas británicas, curran en los hospitales, fábricas, hoteles y el campo por mencionar unos pocos –muchas veces en condiciones pésimas– para levantar este país y que contribuyen muchísimo más al Estado de lo que reciben. Muchos de ellos condenados al exilio económico forzado de sus propios países.

La clave de este referéndum ha sido la inmigración. El 52% de votantes ha votado a favor del Brexit. Circulaba durante la campaña en Twitter un lema que rezaba “no todos los de Brexit son racistas, pero los racistas votarán al Brexit”. Creo que tiene algo de verdad esta frase, pero me niego a pensar que más de la mitad de la población británica es racista. Votar para salir de la UE fue votar en contra del statu quo. La política migratoria ha logrado focalizar ansiedades de diversa índole en las antiguas zonas industriales azotadas por el neoliberalismo, las costas y regiones rurales en declive económico y sin salidas laborales desde hace años, y también debidas a los recortes, las políticas de la austeridad y los efectos de la globalización y un mundo que está evolucionando cada vez más rápido. Las fronteras abiertas se han convertido en un símbolo de la falta de control. De allí el Brexit, y el poderoso mensaje de take back control.

El horizonte es negro pero pienso que los británicos somos mejores que esto. Yo soy del 48%, pero también soy del 99%.

En solidaridad, amor y respeto,

Matthew

Matthew Kerry has a PhD from the University of Sheffield on  radical politics in the Spanish Second Republic. You can find him on Twitter at @guajeingles