“The end of the history of culture manifests itself in two opposing forms: the project of culture’s self-transcendence within total history, and its preservation as a dead object for spectacular contemplation. The first tendency has linked its fate to social critique, the second to the defense of class power.” - Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
There was much to analyse in the Olympics opening ceremony, and many questions raised (the most obvious being ‘has someone spiked my drink?’). But the element that has drawn most debate has been the celebration of the NHS – a bizarre sequence of dancing nurses, children’s nightmares and a looming Lord Voldemort seen off by a squadron of Mary Poppinses.
It was instantly hailed by many on the left as a grand subversive gesture, one in the eye for Cameron and Boris and the rest, and a call to arms to defend the NHS.
At Lenin’s Tomb, Richard Seymour poured scorn on the spectacle as a rallying cry against the cuts:
Amid the general Sunday morning hangover, I hope those on the soft left who threw aside their probity for a saturnalian flag-fest are now in the mood to confess and repent. Lawks, Mary Poppins saving the NHS from Voldemort to the tune of Branson's money-spinner Tubular Bells! Let the Tories dare privatise the NHS now! (They're already doing it. They'll still be doing it on Monday. The fine nurses and doctors from Great Ormond Street Hospital danced in vain if this was supposed obstruct this determined class assault.).
But how genuinely subversive was the ceremony anyway? It may have had the Daily Mail and right-wing MPs and pundits frothing, but its content was obviously LOCOG-approved, and while Tory MP Aidan Burley called it “leftist crap”, it also had Boris Johnson crying “hot tears of patriotic pride”. Even the Nazi-impersonating MP Burley had to qualify his comments with “we all love the NHS”.
The recently published A People’s History of London, by Lindsey German and John Rees is reviewed by the Morning Star:
Lindsey German and John Rees have undertaken a formidable task. In one volume, they seek to encapsulate the history of London in terms of the ordinary people who have shaped it and given it its spirited life.
It's a history familiar to socialists and London lovers and what the book succeeds in doing is relating past with current struggles.
"There is barely a street in inner London that cannot tell a tale," says John. "This is not just a social history but is the story of a theatre of political activism". They draw on reasons for London's radicalism, and say the book is timely. "The Olympics and the Jubilee mean there is a big focus on London,' says Lindsey. "London books tell the history of the rich and powerful. We wanted to show there was a different tradition."Carrier's follows London's story from its sacking by Boudicca's hordes to the riots of August 2011, by way of strikes, revolts and the London mob, claiming "It is an inspiring history of radical activism, and this chronicle of these heroes who stood shoulder to shoulder is a timely reminder."