Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Comical revolution (2014)

Book Review from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Revolution Will Be Hilarious. By Adam Krause, New Compass Press, 2013

The cover of Adam Krause's book features the unlikely combination of Lenin and Groucho Marx. Groucho would be uncomfortable with being in such proximity to Lenin whose regime announced 'without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds, let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood'. Groucho observed about capitalism 'the secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.'

Krause opens his book with a scene from Woody Allen's film Stardust Memories but the more appropriate film would be Annie Hall where Allen places comedy in the service of the radical left:
'Allison: I'm in the midst of doing my thesis on Political Commitment in Twentieth Century Literature. Alvy: You're New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, socialist summer camps, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, strike-oriented. Allison: That was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype. Alvy: Right, I'm a bigot, I know, but for the left.'
George Carlin and Bill Hicks have used their comedy to question the way we live and posit an alternative to capitalism. Carlin's lines like 'that's why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it' and Bill Hicks's statement 'It's not that I disagree with Bush's economic policy or his foreign policy, it's that I believe he was a child of Satan sent here to destroy the planet Earth' contribute to developing class consciousness.

Krause cites the role of the Fool in Shakespeare's King Lear as a character that can speak the truth to authority without fear of reprisal. A different Shakespearian reference could be the role of 'working class' characters in Henry IV Part 1 such as Poins, Bardolph, and Peto who 'hang out' with Falstaff and Prince Hal (the future Henry V) in taverns drinking, whoring, and engaging in tomfoolery and even robbery. Here, the class boundaries are blurred in a revelry of youthful rebellion paid homage to in Gus Van Sant's film My Own Private Idaho.

Krause cites Emma Goldman's popular misquote 'If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution' although it is never clear from Krause's book what this 'revolution' is. Krause does not mention socialism although he refers to William Morris's novel News from Nowhere. Krause's 'three favourite Marxists' Groucho, Harpo and Chico hilariously send-up militarism and nationalism in the film Duck Soup which is also used in Woody Allen's film Hannah and Her Sisters as motivation for a character to carry on with life.

Socialists expect the aftermath of 'revolution' to be as Guy Debord writes in Theses on the Paris Commune: 'the Commune was the biggest festival of the nineteenth century'. Krause concludes that 'the revolution will be hilarious. Seriously' but during his book he forgets EB White's advice 'humour can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind'.
Steve Clayton

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