Society of the spectacle

'The state stages these dramas not only to impress foreign powers, but also to dazzle its own subjects into submission.' (Editorial, PN 2549) Oh come off it! We are not that easily bought off. Besides, I loved the Olympics and took out a subscription to Peace News after it finished. Will you be saying the same about the Paralympics?

Also: in your listings section at the back of the paper you carry a listing for a group in Manchester that have an email address that is victory_intifada. Isn't an intifada a violent uprising?

Steven Johnston, Stockport

Editor's response:

Thanks for your message, Steven. We're sorry that your brief points are bringing such a long response!

Firstly, intifada. An 'intifida' isn't the same thing as a 'violent uprising' – and indeed, the first Palestinian intifada (at least in its early phase) is widely acknowledged to have been one of the major nonviolent uprisings of the 20th century (see the entry in the online 'Global Nonviolent Action Database').

The online Oxford dictionary says that intifada means ' "an uprising" (literally "a jumping up as a reaction to something"), from intifada "be shaken, shake oneself" '.

As for the Olympics and other such events, you may well be right that ordinary people in Britain 'are not that easily bought off'. That doesn't mean that the British state doesn't stage these spectaculars (royal weddings, diamond jubilees, Olympic and Paralympic games) in order to try to shore up support for the monarchy in particular and the establishment in general.

Just before the queen's jubilee in June, support for the British monarchy stood at a historic high: 80% of British adults preferred monarchy to a republic, according to Ipsos MORI. Rival pollsters, YouGov, found, also in May, that 44% of Britons want the queen to have actual political power, rather than just being a figurehead. [See also MORI on 'Olympics boosts opinion of BBC, Royal Family and London

How does the establishment achieve these terrifying levels of irrational 'worship'? Having massive Union Jack-draped spectacles, with the military and the royal family at their heart, can't hurt!

Incidentally, a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times (12 August) found that the Olympics may have backfired on the government as far as Scottish independence goes. It seems that Scottish first minister Alex Salmond's rebranding of Scottish gold medallists such as cyclist Chris Hoy and tennis player Andy Murray as 'Scolympians' was successful in persuading 12% of Scottish voters to feel more favourably towards independence because of the Olympics. 

So, despite all the Union Jacks, instead of the Olympics creating greater support for the British 'nation' north of the border, it may have been highjacked to create more support for the Scottish nation!

No gods, no masters

I have decided not to renew my subscription for two reasons:

1) There is a fair amount of theoretical discussion and underlying principles are usually clear in reports. This is excellent. But it is 'old hat': it is a 're-hash' of what we (ie my generation) were saying and doing in the 1950s and 1960s.

Does each generation have to re-learn from the beginning what its parents and grandparents taught it? (I expect we were repeating the ideas of those who lived through the First World War.)

2) Every now and then, the peace movement acquires a 'god'. In the 1940s, it was Gandhi; in the '60s, Russell; etc. Now PN has taken up the latest god, George Lakey.

Well, I don't worship gods, I believe in equality of respect. Not only are there no 'goodies' and 'baddies', but also no 'heroes' and 'followers'.

So I'm not renewing my subscription. I will, however, send some money because PN is actually doing very good work.

Oliver Mahler

Editor's response:

Thank you, Oliver, for saying that we're doing good work. We appreciate your support.

It would be really helpful to know what new things you would like to see in Peace News.

When we look back over the five years we've been editing PN, we can definitely think of a number of things that revived valuable work or ideas from the past: re-publishing some of the evergreen writings of Barbara Deming (PN 2487-88); more recently, recovering the history of the US 'Movement for a New Society' (PN 2544, 2545).

We can also think of things that we've published that we considered new and fresh. To take two examples from our first issue: Dan Clawson on activism and labour movement organising, and Chris Crass on oppression within 'non-hierarchical' groups (PN 2485).

Turning to your second point, you believe PN is now 'worshipping a god', the US activist, trainer and author George Lakey.

Rather than worshipping George, we think activists here in Britain can learn from his 50 years of experiences, skills and ideas.

The Movement for a New Society (MNS), which he founded, was an inspiring 17-year experiment in radical nonviolence. The forms of activist training that began in MNS and were developed further in Training for Change are extraordinary tools for liberation and empowerment. The ideas and stories that George has brought together in his writings over the decades enrich and advance our discussions about how to move towards a decent, sustainable society.

That's why PN has re-published George's Toward a Living Revolution, and why we've published a long essay by George in this issue, rounding off his visit to the UK with some reflections sparked off by his time at PN Summer Camp in July.

Toward a Living Revolution hasn't got all the answers we need to build nonviolent revolution, but we do think that if every activist in the country read the book, our discussions about radical social change would start and finish at a higher level of sophistication and effectiveness.

We believe this is all part of the richness of our movement, and is worth celebrating and exploring. We hope you will rejoin us as a PN Sustainer soon!

Bravo Virginia!

What a fine piece by Virginia Moffatt (PN 2549) about the London Olympic Games. Most PN readers, I'd guess, had ambivalent feelings about the London Games – me included – but at heart they proved to be a celebration of 'The Family of Man' in all its forms.

I was a child during the 1948 games and followed them avidly on the wireless (radio).

In my memory the undoubted star was the Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen who won four gold medals and whose performance – unlike the disgraced US track star Marion Jones who won five gold medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – remains unsullied.

However, the unasked question in all the coverage I listened to and watched was this: why was it necessary to stage the Olympic Games in order to regenerate an area of East London? It could have/should have happened anyway. What was lacking was political will and social solidarity.

Fanny at Wembley 1948
down the years
she runs and jumps
never a Flying Dutchman just
a truly Golden Girl
forever young forever first
she is the one
I remember most

As Virginia Moffatt observes, sport can, at its best, transcend and make us feel, and behave, better.

Even if this transcendence doesn't last beyond the Olympics, better then than not at all.

Jeff Cloves, Stroud