Another iconic photograph from the 20c

Photograph by Don McPhee.

When I started this blog, I decided it would not be political in nature. But I couldn’t leave 2019 without looking back at what I call “the off-set 20th century,” the period from the Great War to this year. It is the century that saw the rise and fall of the working class. Even now I can hear the objections that I, as a lower-middle-class person, am bourgeoisplaining because I pretend to speak for the working class. As we look forward to 2020, I reply that someone bloody well has to, as they have just voted for their own extinction.

During the off-set 20c we have seen movements that were supposed to liberate the working class degenerate into oligarchies. Mikhail Bakunin said “If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself,” and he wasn’t far wrong. On the other side we have seen trans-national corporations exert, retain, and consolidate their grip on our minds and pockets. Under Xi, China now enjoys (?) the worst of both worlds.

In the early-mid-1980s, Margaret Thatcher set about her programme of dismantling British pluralism. Her telos was that power should reside in the hands of large business, facilitated by a light-touch, laissez faire government. All other influences – public corporations, the civil service, the trades unions – were to be abolished or neutered. By proxy, she took on the most powerful trades union in the land, the NUM, and defeated it. The miners were on a hiding to nothing from the start, the strike ruined them financially and the media ruined their reputation. The country did not realise what they were witnessing.

Leaving aside – hard though it might be – the dreariness of the subject, let me turn to yet another iconic photo of the 20c. Don McPhee happened to be in the right place at the right time, to take a picture of an almost friendly face-off between a young policeman and a striking miner. It carries with it just one ray of hope – that people can find a spark of humour at the worst of times. That is a message I would like to broadcast for 2020.

There’s not going to be much to laugh about. So have a good holiday season, enjoy that the longest night is behind us, light a Hanukkah candle, haul in a Yule log, remember the birth of Christ, raise a glass on Hogmanay and toast double-visaged Janus. Or just keep yourselves warm and wait for the snowdrops and crocuses. See you next year.

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