The Red Sun Lights the Road Forward for Tachai

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Mao during the early 1960s was hanging on to power by a thread. The Great Leap Forward, which was supposed to bring industrialisation to China, had failed. Mao had spearheaded the collectivisation of agriculture and spurious agricultural theories that were supposed to produce a vast food surplus. This abundance of food would then be used to subsidise the development of modern industry and allow China to catch-up with the modern world. That was the theory. The reality was a man-made famine that caused the death of millions.

Much of the Chinese leadership turned against Mao after the nightmare of the Great Leap Forward. The problem was that they couldn’t get rid of him as he was a globally significant figurehead at a time when China was at odds with both its communist allies and the West. To have removed him from power would have been a sign of weakness that outsiders could have exploited. Also, as the charismatic father-figure of the Chinese revolution, who had united the country after decades of war and avenged the wounded national pride of a nation exploited by outsiders, he was immensely popular. In effect, Mao had become a substitute Emperor figure for a country that had been ruled by despotic leaders for millenia.

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So the rest of the Communist leadership cooked up a plan in the early 1960s to slowly and carefully shunt Mao to one side and relegate him to hand-shaking and ribbon-cutting duties. China would be ruled by practical men. A rational authoritarian government would  cautiously lead China from now on. They had tried Mao’s radical ideas and they had led to disaster. There was no way they were doing that again. But Mao struck first. Using his considerable charisma and power, Mao whipped up the youth of China into a frenzy and then unleashed them against his enemies in the Communist Party in what became known as the Cultural Revolution. The result was a decade long descent into near anarchy and social chaos for China.

Mao was a writer and he had produced a considerable body of work explaining his ideas of how revolutionary communism had been successfully adapted for Chinese circumstances. Mao wanted to be regarded as the revolutionary philosopher-king who would inspire the repressed people’s of the world to rise up. His theories even got a fancy name: Mao Zedong Thought. Later, a quick and handy guide to the important bits of Mao’s scribblings entitled Quotations from Chairman Mao, more popularly known as the Little Red Book, was put together by his crony Lin Biao (who later attempted a failed coup and was killed in a plane crash in an attempt to flee the country). The Little Red Book became the bible of the Cultural Revolution. No decision could be made without first consulting your personal copy of the Little Red Book and finding a quote from Mao that told you what the correct thing was to do. The credit for every success was down to Mao. But the flip side was that any failure was your fault; you must not have followed Mao’s teachings correctly. Utter rubbish of course, but in a totalitarian regime questioning nonsense like this can be the difference between life and death.

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But the stain on Mao’s reputation caused by the Great Leap Forward remained. After all, his insane agricultural policies had caused the famine. This was the annoying loose end that threatened to pull down his carefully constructed image as the benevolent all-knowing messiah, adored at home and abroad. A new story needed to be told, one in which Mao emerged as a visionary who could inspire miracles amongst the faithful. The result was Tachai.

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Tachai (now spelled Dazhai – the method by which Chinese characters were translated into the Latin alphabet was changed, hence Mao Tsetung becomes Mao Zedong) was a small agricultural commune in Shanxi Province. Located in the mountains, Dazhai was an impoverished village with poor agricultural land. It first came to prominence after a week of flooding in August 1963 swept away much of the houses, harvest and crops produced by the commune. Instead of asking for help to cope with this natural disaster, the leader of the commune, Chen Yonggui, announced that Dazhai would go it alone. All of Dazhai had read Mao’s writings and decided that it would pull itself up by its bootstraps through sheer hard graft.

By 1964, Mao already hatching his plot to finally overthrow his leadership rivals, had fully embraced Dazhai as a model that the entire country should emulate. The idea that an impoverished group of peasants scraping a living on the side of a mountain could overcome natural limitations through manual labour and wishful thinking became a way of refuting criticism of the nightmarish famine that Mao’s policies had unleashed during the Great Leap Forward. Inspired only by the guidance of Mao Zedong Thought, this commune had triumphed over adversity. So the argument now put forward was, if a group of poor farmers can work miracles on bad land then it proved that Mao had been right all along. He had been correct. Somebody else must be to blame for the failures of the past. And the logical conclusion followed that hidden enemies in the leadership and bureaucracy were the ones to blame for the famine and mass starvation of the Great Leap Forward.

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Published by the Foreign Languages Press in 1969, The Red Sun Lights the Road Forward for Tachai is an exploration of this showcase commune at the height of the Cult of Mao Worship during the Cultural Revolution. The tone, as you’d expect, is decidedly upbeat and cheerful. Beginning with the requisite portrait of Mao followed by dedications by Lin Piao (this was before his attempted coup). The introductory pages show panoramic views of the verdant landscape around Dazhai and the neatly terraced mountainside fields along with the neat new houses built for the commune members. These are contrasted with images of muddy scrub-land and the dilapidated cave houses that had existed only a few years previously.

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Then the narrative moves on to the central reason for this transformation; Maoist ideology. Images of Chen Yonggui (in his trademark white turban) appear showing him leading study sessions of the local communist party branch, reading copies of Mao’s works, putting Mao’s picture up on the wall and taking time out from digging the fields to lecture farm workers. Mao is everywhere. Maoist ideas, quotations and his portrait appear on almost every page of this book. The cult suffocates everything else. Interestingly, in any photograph where a Mao portrait appears in the background, it has been retouched so that it stands out and no distortion whatsoever appears.

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After a brief look at the bad old days when Chen Yonggui lectures the youngsters about just the dark past, we move on to the core ideological message of the book; self reliance, hard work and complete devotion to Maoist ideology will deliver a better world. Meeting after meeting is documented where serious groups of communist cadres and farmers all shown intently studying Mao’s writings. Then we move on to the back breaking labour that was required to transform the landscape itself; unproductive mountainsides are to be turned into terraced fields with nothing more than picks and shovels. Snowstorms will not stop these dedicated true-believers. Any obstacle can be overcome through sheer will power.

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After all that toil we are shown the fruits of victory. The new terraced fields carved into the inhospitable topography of the area are now full of crops. Nature has been tamed by man and the barren landscape made productive. The bountiful harvest is in. Wheat, maize, peas and sorghum now grow upon the once bleak mountainsides. Images of happy farmers inspecting the fruits of their labour prove their success. Their hard work has also paid off in terms of the improved living conditions they now enjoy. Children go to clean and bright schools, they shop in the commune’s department store and modern medical treatment has made life better for all. Things are on the up in Dazhai.

But the broader context is not forgotten. The narrative now reiterates the need for constant struggle and vigilance against enemies. A key double page colour spread shows Mao inspecting Red Guards in Tiananmen Square before we see the conscientious farmers of Dazhai lend their support to the Cultural Revolution by writing posters denouncing in Orwellian terms the President of China Liu Shaoqi. He now becomes the arch traitor and “Capitalist roader” who was conspiring to destroy the paradise they were creating. The loyal farmers of Dazhai are shown as fully united in their active support of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

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The final section of the book deals with visitors coming to view the spectacular achievements of Dazhai and it became a site of pilgrimage. The slogan “in agriculture, learn from Dazhai” became the new mantra. Here we see awe-struck visitors from all parts of China and abroad coming to see for themselves the miracles performed by the Dazhai farmers. Furthermore, they were expected to copy these methods themselves and apply them to their own areas. But the result was yet more disaster. In a country the size of China with a huge variety of climatic, topographical and soil conditions, the simplification of farming to a one-size-fits-all model just does not work. Luckily, famine did not return. But the legacy of Dazhai was long-term environmental destruction in the Chinese countryside as Maoist zealots cut down trees, leading to soil erosion and desertification in futile attempts to increase the harvest.

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In a very effective piece of design, quotations from Mao are printed in white text on revolutionary red boxes which has the effect of making them really stand out. Furthermore, any sayings or other Mao quotes used in the captions appear in bold text. The result is to distance Mao from the everyday world. The words of mere mortals are of no consequence. He stands above his people as a quasi-divine being whose every utterance is treated as a direct message from God. Horizons are narrowed. Mao Zedong Thought simplifies the world. All problems, no matter how layered or complex they are, can only be resolved through the correct application of Mao’s sayings. Images of the industrious farmers of Dazhai consulting their copies of the Little Red Book appear again and again throughout the narrative.

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Most of the imagery in the book consists of black and white photographs documenting the everyday life of this agrarian paradise. These are punctuated periodically by vibrant colour images that help to produce a very rosy view of this utopian paradise we are viewing. When combined with the bold red blocks of Mao quotations, the net effect is to produce a sense of energy and dynamism to the narrative. The sense of frenzied fervor in the book is something that a cult leader would approve of.

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After Mao died in 1976 the truth slowly emerged. Dazhai was a complete fraud. It was not some magical fairyland where nature could be overcome by wishful thinking. The bountiful harvests claimed by Dazhai were not the result of hard work and reading the Little Red Book. Huge amounts of state aid had been secretly funnelled into Dazhai and the army had been drafted in to provide the vast labour power needed to transform the mountainsides. The harvest figures were fabrications. There was no magic, only lies. Mao’s ideas were the delusions of a paranoid madman, a tyrant intoxicated by power and utterly divorced from reality.

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PLEM 1909-1959

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Our dependance on energy has never been greater. While we may complain about the costs (financially and environmentally) electricity imposes upon us, the fact is that ready access to vast quantities of energy has transformed our lives to an unimaginable degree. Both as individuals and society we are addicted to the stuff. Without it, our technology is worthless junk. Similarly, the utopia promised by pundits of the digital revolution is dead in the water without a reliable supply of massive quantities of electrical power. It truly is one of the essential building blocks of life as we know it today.

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Like many other countries, electricity generation in the Netherlands first began at a local level with private companies competing amongst each other for business. But economies of scale meant that this could not last. Originally founded as the Limburg regional electricity company in 1909, the Provinciale Limburgse Elektriciteits-Maatschappij was a semi-state company based in Maastricht. PLEM retained it’s distinct identity until 1992 when it became part of Mega Limagas and later Essent. This book, simply titled PLEM 1909 – 1959, was published to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the company in that year. Overseen by Dick Elffers, and using a lot of top-quality Dutch photography talent of the time, this book is an excellent example of that particular country’s talent for combining various design elements to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. The various aspects of the design and more background about the individuals involved can be found on the excellent Bint Photobook site.

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So how do you visualise something invisible like electricity? Photography is great at showing tangible objects but once the subject matter becomes more vague and abstract then you need to come up with a new strategy. In terms of electricity, the obvious answer is to focus on the production and consumption sides (the power station and the person using the electricity). Unlike the invisible products of work today (e.g. data) large scale electricity generation requires imposing industrial structures and lots of machinery. This is visually impressive when recorded on camera. It is then a relatively straightforward process to contrast these images with photographs of the banal domesticity of the everyday user as they bask in the glow of the power generated far away.

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For a designer, how do you make your book stand out from the crowd? How do you show us something different about a subject that has been done many times before? Simultaneously, you also have to ensure that the people funding the book are happy with the final result. This can be a challenge when it comes to corporate publications as, usually, the people who sign off on the book are not particularly visually literate. So as a designer you have to bring them with you rather than suddenly present them with a final book which might not meet their expectations. The company will have it’s own agenda and reasons for producing a book of this nature which a designer must be aware of. As long as the agendas of both the designer and the company are compatible, then the project has a good chance of working out successfully. Otherwise there will be problems.

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Roughly about a third of the book is devoted towards the historical aspects of the company. There are the usual introductory texts by the corporate bigwigs extolling the virtues of the company and the great strides it has made over its fifty years of operation. As this is a company that prides itself on its roots in the local community, the positive impact they have had on the area is heavily emphasised in this introductory section. The book even starts with the Limburg anthem (Limburg mijn Vaderland) also composed in 1909. Electricty generated by PLEM is presented as being at the heart of all the great modernising strides the region has made since the early part of the century. Graphs and charts show the expansion of electricity production over those years while images of street lights demonstrate the tangible benefits of electricity for the people. Picturesque colour images of farms and the agricultural landscape are used to stoke both regional pride and also convince readers that modernisation would not pose a threat to their regional identity and the traditions they hold dear.

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This first section of the book appears in a muted colour palette – the archival images are stiff and static, heavily laden with serious looking groups of dignitaries. Dark suits and respectability predominate. This is the past. Once they become established, corporations, then as now, like to tell their foundation myths. These usually take the form of a small group of courageous visionaries, the struggle to be taken seriously, the overcoming of obstacles, the battling of challenges, the gradual growth of the company and it’s ultimate success as a leading player in the field. These stories are usually just that, stories. But they are used to get new employees to buy into the corporate culture of the organisation in order to try to make them feel as if they are part of something larger and that they too are helping to create history. These foundation myths also add a layer of gravitas and tradition to an organisation that makes them appear trustworthy.

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We now move on to images of the landscape transformed by electricity. Streetlights illuminate the picturesque buildings and streets of the region as the old and the modern harmoniously come together in order to produce a better future for all. Blocks of colour are used to produce a sense of energy and dynamism that was absent in the previous historical section of the book. Here, electricity poles run alongside roads bringing power to towns and villages.The metal skeletons of pylons loom above the camera lens as the viewer gazes skywards in awe to the immense power that courses through the cables above their heads.

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The quasi-religious symbolism continues in the next section of the book, which deals with the construction of the Masscentrale Power Station near Roermond. Built between 1951 and 1960, this “temple of energy” was PLEM’s greatest achievement to date and they were keen to show it off. The cult of technological progress that has dominated Western thought for at least two centuries finds expression in this imposing structure. Size matters and by emphasising the scale of the plant they are signifying just how important the company has become, as well as the awesome nature of the power harnessed by mankind. Unlike the historical section of the book, which consisted largely of the upper managers huddled around bits of new machinery looking dignified, the images in this section reflect the social changes of the time. Now it is workers and builders who dominate the photographs. Like many of the communist publications I have reviewed on this blog, much of the imagery has a distinctly heroic quality to it. Once more the use of blocks of colour with photographs adds a sense of energy and dynamism to the narrative. A vast new building emerges from the ground. Again, the images used emphasise the immensity of the project, designed to produce a sense of awe in the viewer as we gaze in wonder at this immense cathedral of power.

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Now we delve deep into the bowels of this vast structure. Images of pipework and circuit boards form geometrical patterns, abstract images of technological progress and power. Similarly, substations stand ready to convert and transmit this raw power on its journey to the final user. The overprinting of black and white images with blocks of colour again add vibrancy and interest to what would otherwise be relatively straightforward industrial images.

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The final section of the book brings it all back home with images of industrial equipment, trains and factories all powered by electricity, helping develop the industrial base of the region. A simple but effective message is sent: with electricty comes progress and a better life for all. Limburg’s happy future is assured. By repeatedly using blocks of colour, the book produces a sense of rhythm that assists the narrative flow and connects the various sections together.

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The late fifties was a time of hope. Postwar austerity and the all-consuming effort to rebuild the shattered lives and countries left in ruins had largely been completed. Optimism returned. Modern technologies promised new ways of living and working that would produce a better world. Clean and cheap electricity would fuel the labour saving devices that promised to consign everyday drudgery to the past. Colour and brightness has returned to life.

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Epopee Pe Somes

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Nicolae Ceausescu is best remembered for his brutal demise. At a time when the various Communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe were crumbling due to peaceful protest and people-power, his was the only one that collapsed into violence. Largely hated in his own country by the late 1980s, Ceausescu presided over an impoverished police state where people didn’t have enough to eat. The economy had all but collapsed and the use of blood transfusions as a state-supported policy to make up for lack of baby food left a horrendous legacy of HIV infection. The hasty execution of both him and his wife was the result.
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But it didn’t start out like this. Ceausescu had once been seen as a figure of hope. He emerged from the shadows of the communist bureaucracy because of his public opposition to the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. The rare sight of a Communist leader standing up to the Soviet juggernaught inspired popular support at home and abroad. Ceausescu played off both sides in the Cold War, courting both East and West for his own ends whilst simultaneously building an all-encompassing personality cult for both him and his wife.
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Western companies, suffering from recession, leaped at the chance to trade with the newly emerging country that was asserting it’s independence. Massive loans were advanced to the Romanian government which they used to buy vast quantities of industrial equipment and modern technology from the West. This seventies spending spree ultimately created the seeds of Ceausescu’s violent downfall as he imposed crushing austerity on the population in the 1980s in order to pay back his lenders. The terrible human costs imposed in doing this undermined his legitimacy and created the sense of anger that was unleashed once fear of his police state collapsed in 1989.

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This book, Epopee Pe Somes (The Poem of Somes), is from the early part of Ceausescu’s rule. Summer 1970 saw severe flooding in Romania with the death of over 200 people and making over 200,000 people homeless. There was significant loss to both agricutural and industrial production as a combination of heavy rain and a heat wave (that melted snow in the Carpathian mountains) led to rivers bursting their banks. This book deals with one incident in this broader natural disaster; the flooding of the county of Satu Mare by the Somes River.

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Published by the Propaganda Section of the Satu Mare regional Communist Party, the book follows a fairly standard narrative structure in how it depicts the flooding. First we see images of the doomed battle against the floods as people pile sandbags in a desperate attempt to hold back the water. Then we see the flooding itself – towns, villages, factories all submerged underwater all depicted by blurred images taken in less than ideal conditions.

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Boats appear on the streets and survivors wade through the floodwaters trying to find help. We are then shown images of the devastation left behind once the water recedes. The palpable human tragedy of the event is emphasised as traumatised survivors pick through the wreckage of their former lives desperately looking to salvage what they can and find some sort of shelter in aftermath of this natural disaster.

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The narrative moves on. We now have the arrival of the benevolent messiah, Ceausescu, who tours the devastated area, inspecting for himself the extent of the damage. Unlike later publications where the Ceausescu personality cult consumed everything, his presence is relatively restrained and limited to a small section of the book. Here the wise leader comes to witness what has happened, sympathise with his people and direct the recovery effort. Like all such dictatorial regimes, the leader is presented as a substitute father-figure who knows how to direct his otherwise helpless children.

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After Ceausescu tours the area and meets survivors, the forces of the Romanian state swing into action. Guided by the local communist party administration, they soon provide all the assistance needed. Temporary accommodation is constructed for homeless people, the army provides logistical support, aid comes from all corners of a country united in its determination to assist the flood victims. somes17

Finally, as this is a communist regime where faith in man’s ability to overcome whatever nature throws at him and create a better future remains unquestionable, we are shown the rebuilding effort. New towns and factories are being built to replace the old. Construction cranes dot the skyline. Concrete tower blocks will replace traditional buildings.

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The flood has become an opportunity to replace the past with a brighter future. Just as Ceausescu would later deliberately sweep away vast swathes of Bucharest in order to build his megalomaniacal new capital, so the flood has erased the historical baggage of the past that had held Romania back. Under Ceausescu’s wise and benevolent guidance a new and brighter future for all was on the horizon.

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In the broader context, the damage caused by the flooding enabled Ceausescu to cement his leadership position. The flooding prompted increased national unity in the face of a crisis which has the effect of blunting all debate or criticism from alternative voices and prevents political challengers from emerging. Shrewd politicians can exploit events for their own advantage. By being seen to handle the crisis decisively, Ceausescu consolidated public support for his leadership which laid the foundations of the grotesque personality cult that of the 1980s.

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Choice – the first casualty of Brexit

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I read this article in the New York Times by Tony Blair avidly.

Let me state clearly my views about Blair: in my personal estimation he has the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands. Along with George W Bush he cynically exploited public shock in the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity to pursue a fantasy of perpetual Anglo-American global dominance through trying to assume control over a region that contains most of the world’s oil supplies. In this he was aided and abetted by numerous corporate bodies and other powerful interests who all stood to reap untold rewards from this empire building project.

It failed. The carnage was immense. Vast numbers of people were killed. Millions of people were left with ruined lives, scarred forever thanks to what he set in motion. They will have to live with the horror of what happened to them for the rest of their lives. It is utterly appalling. I loathe everything he is and what he stands for.

What he helped orchestrate is unforgivable.

Tony Blair is a war criminal.

Tony Blair is a monster.

This was the view I held until last Thursday, prior to the results of the Brexit referendum.

Now, I agree with Tony Blair wholeheartedly.

He is absolutely right. I fully support his views. I need to do whatever I can to back Tony Blair and others like him.

There is no other choice.

I can hear you all shouting at me. I am over-reacting during a period of political turmoil and uncertainty. I have succumbed to the collective panic. I am being sensational. I am just courting controversy. I am trying to write an article that will go viral and raise my profile. I am playing some sort of angle for personal advantage. I am utterly cynical. I have lost my moral compass. I have no principles. I am a fool.

I fully accept that many people reading this will think those things of me. I am ok with that.

The internet is full of voices pandering to our emotions and cynically exploiting sensation for personal gain. We have become accustomed to it. Everything in the online world is taken with a pinch of salt – it’s all just marketing and branding really. Otherwise it’s just exaggerated scare-mongering put together by attention seekers. Why should this article be any different?

Give me the chance to try and explain how I arrived at this position. This is going to be a long post and the internet does not encourage you to read a 6,000 word article. But please stick with it. Give it a go. It will only take a few minutes. That’s hardly a great sacrifice is it? You’re obviously interested in the topic or you wouldn’t be reading this. Perhaps there might be something useful in here even if you disagree wholeheartedly with my position.

If, after reading this, you still think me a fool then at least you will have been entertained by the knowledge that I have spent a lot of time and effort demonstrating that fact to you.

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Firstly let’s step back. Brexit – Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum last week.

Big deal. I mean it’s not as if they declared war. They are just going to take down that blue European flag. It’s yards, miles, inches and pints all the way from now on! There will be no more messy red tape and pointless bureaucracy from Brussels which is a great thing for the real economy. More money can be spent on hospitals and the other things that will make life in the UK fairer and better for everybody, particularly those who got a raw deal. Ok, so you’ll need to show your passport going in or out between the UK and Europe – a slight inconvenience. The same with trade. But all those other countries aren’t going to suddenly stop buying and selling things. They need the UK as much as the Britain needs them. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot just because Britain left the European Union.

Sure, the financial markets are messed up at the moment so that’s not good. The pound is low which is a bit of a worry for some and an opportunity for others. Some jobs will probably be lost so that’s also a bit of a worry. But other people tell us that new jobs will be created to replace them down the line. It’s nice to see all the politicians squirming around bickering among themselves. Serves all those Oxbridge cretins right. And it’s great to see the all big banks that caused the crash in 2008 freaking out like this. All those arrogant, overpaid London tossers living in their million-quid apartments who thought they were better than everybody else have been well and truly screwed over.

It feels good.

This is payback for all the years of austerity, all the cutbacks and all the injustices that have been visited on all the people who have suffered since 2008. Let’s see how the rich like it now!

But sooner or later things will come back to normal. It might be a bit messy for a few years but then it will settle down and things will go back to being the way they always were. I mean, really what’s the big deal about all this stuff? The UK has just taken back control of its future from a bunch of grey bureaucrats and meddling foreigners. Maybe it might even make society a better and fairer place in the long run?

You’re wrong.

So very wrong.

So very, very wrong.

We are in the very early stages of what could quickly turn into a massive global crisis. The ramifications of this has the potential to dwarf anything that has happened since the Second World War.

Your initial reaction will be that this is a big claim to make. This is just more sensationalist rubbish and scare mongering.

Let me try to explain my reasoning.

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At the time of writing, the UK is leaderless. The Tories are fighting amongst themselves about who gets to be Prime Minister while Labour is imploding. UKIP are jubilant. The Scots are jumping up and down about a new referendum. Northern Ireland is frightened.

Half the British voting population are delighted to be free from the EU. They are overjoyed. People power has triumphed. This is real democracy in action not all that tedious Punch and Judy show rubbish you see in Westminster. England is great once more. Now money can be spent on practical things that really people need.

The other half of the population know that something big and potentially terrible has just happened. They are in still in shock, disturbed by the collective hysteria they see around them. But they haven’t really figured out exactly what has happened. The world has shifted under their feet somehow.

There are a number of various coping mechanisms that usually to arise in such situations.

After the initial shock fades, the dominant response will be to ruminate on the personal impact of Brexit. How does this new reality affect me? What about my job? My pension? My mortgage? My career? The future of my kids? These are all perfectly understandable and predictable responses.

Others will shrug their shoulders and switch off completely. This is just far too big and too complicated to bother with. They are going to crack some jokes and try to get on with things as normal and hope that all this crazy stuff will sort itself out soon without causing too much upset to their own personal arrangements. There are holidays and summer trips away coming up. Retreat into escapism will be the tactic of many as Brexit news-fatigue quickly sets in and the volume of information threatens to overwhelm their capacity to process it all.

On the flip side, others will become utterly obsessed about it and spend hours poring over every scrap of information they can find. They will get lost in a maze of details and confused by the sheer volume of frenzied voices screaming at them telling them contradictory things. They are desperately struggling to understand what has happened. They want an explanation and they can’t seem to put their finger on it. This is very frustrating and the longer this frustration goes on, the more appealing the loudest voices become. At least they are providing an explanation of some sort. Perhaps it might be worth considering?

Others will produce elaborate conspiracy theories that explain what is happening. They will develop complex arguments that weave together nuggets of information into something that appears to be a convincing theory. The basic premise underlying all these theories is that shadowy figures or organisations stood to gain from this chaos and have somehow deftly masterminded and manipulated everything and everybody in order to perpetrate a staggering power-grab. The fact that many powerful individuals and organisations will undoubtedly benefit from the crisis in the short-term only adds a layer of proof to their claims. Similarly, evidence of opportunism on the part of powerful groups and political figures as they stake claim to the new reality will be used to prove the theory that they must have been instrumental in the plot to create it. At the heart of all such theories is the idea that somebody or something is in control. There has to be a logical explanation for the situation we all find ourselves in now.

Many business leaders will lament the closing of borders and the possible impact on trade. They will fear the loss of their livelihood and the businesses they have built up over many years. They will be in shock and grieve for their losses or devote all their energies to saving what they can.

For many other people, they will see only opportunities. Freed from the shackles of the EU, they will preach new and exciting ways to make money – every crisis presents us with new challenges but innovation can overcome them. Disruption is the way forward. That will be all they will talk about in the coming weeks and months. They will be disturbingly optimistic, gleefully salivating over the untold riches to be gathered from the streets in the newly liberated Britain. Many others will latch on to the glimmer of hope they offer during this period of uncertainty.

Many, perhaps the majority, will just keep their heads down as the instinct for self-preservation takes over. These are turbulent times so it is wise to play it safe. They will spend their time constantly sizing up the situation and see which way the wind is blowing, ready to duck and dive as their workplaces start to reorganise to cope with the aftermath. Maybe they live in an area where everybody else voted to Leave – better not stand out from the crowd so it’s smart to keep your mouth shut and go with the flow. Determined to survive no matter what happens, it is response of this group that provides the illusion of inevitability to the final outcome of a crisis once it has been transformed into a historical narrative.

Later, a wave of reports will be produced by interest groups and industries analysing the impact of Brexit on them. These will swamp the news media. The airwaves will be filled with calls for the government to understand the uniquely special position in society every single interest group or industry has. They will all call for specific policies to be urgently introduced to protect them. The fact that it will not be possible to do this will fuel anger amongst those who are dependent upon them. This will help to create a widespread atmosphere of bitterness and rancour.

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For a lot of people, this will be the limit of their horizons. They will see only what is in front of them and lose all sense of perspective. To quote another odious British politician, there is no such thing as society. We now live in an age of pure individualism. Narcissism is rampant. Celebrity culture has triumphed. Money is the only measure of success. Social media has simultaneously connected and isolated us like never before. All the old fashioned jobs have all gone to China so we all need to work smarter not harder. Innovation and technology are the way forward so we all need to embrace them without question. Clichés and buzzwords abound. The shady practices of the financial services sector and the big corporates are the dark side of this new world. We don’t like that. Neo-liberalism unsettles our innate human sense of justice and fairness.

Lots of people in the UK got a raw deal in this new global order. Older people who couldn’t cope with technological change were left far behind. Similarly, areas of traditional manufacturing industry were devastated during the 1980s as Thatcher dismantled everything in a doomed attempt to reverse the decline of British importance as Britain struggled to reconcile itself to the loss of Imperial power. A small army of Filofax wielding crooks in red braces divvied up the proceeds and left social carnage in their wake. Afterwards, all the national eggs were put into the one London basket as the financial services sector became more and more important.

The excessive displays of arrogant bankers provided us with role models to either emulate or despise.

Understandable anger and resentment built up as inequality grew and significant sections of society were left further and further behind. This was bad enough before 2008, but the crash imposed cutbacks and austerity on those who could least afford to cope with it. Impotent rage against those who held power grew in many of these areas.

Politicians were increasingly viewed with complete cynicism. They were opportunists and liars. The news showed us how they fiddled expenses and engaged in freakishly bizarre sexual activities. Politicians are all just a bunch of corrupt and sleazy wierdos. They played their games while the poor were forced to endure more and more cuts to their basic standard of living and you couldn’t trust anything these pathological political liars said or did. They preached one thing in opposition but went back on their word as soon as they took office. It didn’t matter what party they were from – they are all the same and nothing ever changes. There was no point in voting. Why bother?

During this period of prolonged economic collapse and uncertainty, people searched for a concept or a big idea that provided some degree of comfort to them. Our age is utterly cynical. We believe in nothing. The ultimate symbol of this age of individual success, money, offers no solace when you have none. Then it produces only envy.

Neo-liberalism has discredited everything apart from unfettered capitalism, which disproportionately benefits those who have lots of money already. People searched for something that gave them hope as they silently raged against all the rich and powerful who got away with it.

Nationalism.

Nationalism provided hope.

Nationalism would somehow reassert control over what had become a very confusing and frightening world for many on the margins. It was no mere coincidence that the Leave side kept talking about taking back control. For many of their supporters it meant not only taking back the power to make decisions in British interests, but also to reassert control over a society that had alienated them completely.

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With some terrible exceptions, the continent of Europe has been free of conflicts between nations since the Second World War.

It appeared that nationalism had been tamed and controlled. It had been consigned to the football terraces or to that ultimate spectacle of camp, the Eurovision song contest.

We have forgotten just how destructive it can be.

There are no boundaries with nationalism.

There are no limits.

None whatsoever.

Once you unleash the forces of nationalism, it corrupts everything it touches. It brutally simplifies all situations. Nationalism allows no grey areas. There are no nuances.

Nationalism transforms everything into a simple Them and Us situation. If you are not one of Us, you must be one of Them.  If the crisis is large enough, or emotions run high enough, often They become less human than Us. The normal rules no longer apply. As They are a threat to everything we stand for then any action we take, no matter how extreme, is completely justified.

Nationalism is a form of virulent racism that blinkers how we see the world. Difference is everywhere. Categories of superiority and inferiority are unconsciously internalised and are deeply embedded in all aspects of culture and discourse.

So the Brexit side won. The forces of English nationalism triumphed. They have a new spring in their step. Now they will seek to implement their vision of a Britain outside the European Union.

Unfortunately, forty-plus years of membership of the EU has meant that it is impossible to make a clean break. Everything is interconnected to everything else in our globalised world so it is impossible to take back control unless you are willing to turn the UK into a Europeanised North Korea. Thinking that you can turn the clock back to 1973 and expect that everything will stay the same, or get better, is utter fantasy.

Again, because everything is so interconnected and woven together in the increasingly complex fabric that holds society together, it is impossible to predict the results of a sudden dramatic shock to the system. All sorts of unpredictable consequences will arise that will produce ripple effects of their own. These mini-shock waves will then produce unanticipated changes in other variables. And so on. The cumulative effect will be to produce a palpable sense of society being in a state of flux. Nothing is settled, the boundaries are in the process of being redrawn and our sense of control has been lost. There will be widespread anxiety during this process because it is bewildering. This will create and sustain a prolonged climate of anxiety and all pervasive dread.

As has already become very evident, the Leave side made promises that they knew to be utterly false. Lies. They promised that by voting Leave there would be more money for healthcare and less immigrants coming to Britain. But the costs of implementing these policies are just too high. These promises cannot be kept unless the North Korean option is pursued.

Those who voted Leave solely based on these promises will be heavily disillusioned. Their support for the Leave agenda will melt away. That is because this section of the vote made a choice that they thought would produce a better society or they stood to gain personally. Essentially they sincerely believed that they were doing the right thing by voting Leave. They are also in a state of shock, stunned by the fact that they have been duped by yet another group of lying politicians. This group of people will become increasingly angry and bitter.

The other main group who voted to Leave based their decision based on the idea of recreating British/English greatness and/or screwing over the establishment. Members of this group will be far less inclined to reappraise their decision. Their vote was essentially based around deep seated negative emotions. The euphoria of victory and being part of a marginalised group that has taken control for the very first time will be intoxicating. The fear or hatred that others will show towards them will only serve to make them feel stronger. In a society undergoing a traumatic shock the old rules no longer apply to those who think that power has shifted into their hands. It is from this group that the racist attacks reported will probably have come from. This group of voters will be the most resistant to coming to terms with the fact that they have been duped. In many cases, they will simply not care. This new situation is exciting and they will search out new opportunities for conflict in order to experience the rush of power once again. Any attempt to change the referendum result will only increase their sense of anger.

Some who voted Leave will have been motivated to do so because they thought it would further a very different political agenda. In a brilliant leap of counter-intuitive cunning, they will have thought that by aligning themselves with the forces of nationalism they could exploit the forces of the radical right to drive social and political change in the opposite direction. In full knowledge that the promises offered were utterly fanciful, they assumed that they could at one stroke discredit the nationalists. Then opportunities would arise to exploit the resulting disillusionment of the Leave voters. In the aftermath, the sheeple would have an epiphany and finally wake up and discover where their best interests truly lay. Thus, they conclude, it will be possible to create a fairer and more just society once it has been freed from the stifling control of undemocratic elites in Westminster and Brussels. This group are blinded by their own ideology and worldview. They will be unable to grasp the fact that their contorted scheming has helped create this crisis. Instead, they will rail against the sheer stupidity of the population who cannot see the better world that they were trying to create for them.

At the same time, the Remain voters will start to feel increasingly angry. They will rage against all those who voted Leave. In the tense pressure cooker of a society in transition, everybody who voted Leave will become an Other. They will all be transformed into racist bigots or deranged ultra-right wing lunatics. The sheer number of Leave voters will produce a sense that they had been blind for years about the uniquely thuggish nature of British society. Disgust and revulsion towards the group who voted Leave, alongside their grief over their personal losses, will produce bitterness and anger.

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When politicians and commentators use bland terms like polarisation what they really mean is that society has become a powder-keg ready to explode. Anger is everywhere. Defusing all this rage is a very difficult and complex process that requires calm and a willingness to compromise with your bitterest opponent.

That is because the consequences of not defusing all that anger are very dangerous indeed.

Any attempt to not follow the democratically expressed will of the British people to leave the European Union is in danger of providing the one spark that can destroy everything.

If the anger reaches boiling point then a potential cascade effect occurs. All options disappear. If calm vanishes then panic will rush in to fill the vacuum. Panic will lead to increased economic turmoil, leading to even more political and social chaos. This has the potential to add fuel to the smouldering fires of barely suppressed fury. These will inevitably burst into a conflagration. Violence will erupt. Under these circumstances, the risk of this spreading is very high. If it does then the authorities will struggle to contain it. In these circumstances, their only priority will be to reassert order and control over an unruly and resentful population. If the violence grows too large the normal rules will be dispensed with and some form of mild quasi-authoritarian rule will have to be imposed, at least on a temporary basis to deal with particularly troubled regions. This will only serve intensify the mood of national crisis and will sap the energy of political leaders who will struggle to negotiate with all the other European leaders and institutions from a position of strength.

Fear will then start to spread to other countries as they quickly scramble to protect themselves from what appears to be utter chaos in Britain. With a weak and distracted British leadership trying to desperately cope with social turmoil at home there will be no choice but to largely accept conditions imposed by the EU and other countries. Foreign governments will be keen to cut some sort of a deal quickly in order to limit the damage to their own economies and societies. The actual details of the deal won’t really matter. The ultimate result will be wounded howls of betrayal from all sides in Britain. Large numbers of people in a highly emotionally charged state will react angrily to the fact that foreigners have forced them into signing a deal that impoverishes them. The cry of treason will be heard.

In these circumstances, the only way to assert long term control over a deeply wounded and traumatised population will be through nationalism. Political parties will have no choice but to embrace policies and ideas they once vehemently opposed. All the latent anger in society will be directed towards outsiders and foreigners. They are the ones who conspired against Britain and punished it for voting the wrong way. The result will be a sudden lurch to the right in mainstream social attitudes. Nationalism will have become normalised. As time passes, it will seep into every pore of society. What it means to be British or English will be very narrowly defined and allow for no ambiguities. Tolerance and openness will slowly seep away because they pose a threat to the new national identity being constructed. Even if many do not privately believe in this new ideology, the peer pressure to conform and outwardly express such attitudes will all operate to maintain and perpetuate the façade of a unified nation standing alone in the face of adversity. Cultural values will now be defined in opposition to outsiders. British exceptionalism will be stressed. Foreign countries and their populations will be defined using terms that present them as untrustworthy rivals or enemies.

Add to this the fury in Scotland and their demand for an immediate independence referendum. This is a perfectly understandable reaction on the part of many in that region. After all, why should they go down with the sinking ship? This adds to the overall pressure and sense of crisis as the anger builds and builds. Anger will be directed towards the distant Westminster elites who are holding them back from their national destiny. Scottish nationalism will deepen and intensify. England will become the enemy and in the terrifying logic of nationalism, Scotland will, in turn, become England’s enemy. Compromise completely disappears and bitterness takes root.

If Scotland is frightening, Northern Ireland is terrifying. Despite almost 20 years of peace, deep divisions lie at the heart of this society, still deeply traumatised by the collective memory of bloodshed. It would not take much to tip this society over into war once more. The wounds are still very raw.

Then we have the Republic of Ireland, my own country. In theory what happens to the UK should not affect us to the same degree. But we are tied too closely together to fully escape being dragged into the maelstrom. We will find ourselves in the same terrible position as the Remain supporters do now, except we will be incandescent with rage. This had nothing to do with us whatsoever! The British did this to themselves! Why should we go down with them? People died so that we could have our freedom! It’s just not fair.

The Republic has its own landmine to contend with; the politically poisonous issue of abortion. Right now the nod-and-a-wink compromise is that pregnant women travel to the UK in order to get an abortion because it is constitutionally prohibited in Ireland. This touches on the two core issues of the Leave campaign: travel to the UK and the health service.  You can draw your own logical conclusions from that.

Irish Republicans, buoyed by the centenary commemorations of the Blood Sacrifice that was the 1916 Easter Rebellion, will see this as an opportunity to complete the job of reclaiming Northern Ireland. After all, they will cry, England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity. This rhetoric will only stoke fears amongst the Loyalists of Northern Ireland. Doomsday scenarios of ethnic cleansing will grip their imaginations. They will feel that they are on the cusp of being betrayed by Westminster and abandoned to their fate as a weakened Britain falls to pieces. They will therefore feel that they must lash out and assert their power before they are overwhelmed by events. In another horrible coincidence, 2016 is also the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, an integral part of the Loyalist foundation myth. They proudly commemorate the slaughter of their ancestors in defence of Britain during the First World War, a stark contrast to the treasonous back-stabbling Easter Rebellion that their enemies perpetrated. A further complicating factor is the imminent arrival of Marching Season in July, a prolonged period of volatility and violence at the best of times.

Events in Gibraltar or the Falklands/Malvinas could similarly lead to instances of conflict and a wounding of British national pride.

Tensions like these all darken the mood and push everybody to extremes.

That is why the Remain side needs to get over its loss quickly. It needs to accept the referendum outcome and salvage what remains of social solidarity. Calm must prevail. Everybody needs to take a deep breath and somehow build bridges that will heal divisions.

We in Ireland need to do the same. We need to accept what has happened and try to act together in order to salvage what we can.

It’s not fair. I know that.

But there is no other choice.

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Those who live in other European countries have their part to play in how the crisis unfolds.  The confusion about what Brexit will mean to those who live in the 27 other countries of the EU adds even more fuel to this very volatile situation. Just as in the UK, millions of people will be frightened about how Brexit will impact upon their jobs and futures. They can see more cutbacks on the horizon as the markets go crazy. A period of recession and despair will loom large in their imaginations. They will be afraid. Events are beginning to get out of control. Can we really limit the damage being done to us by Brexit?

Fear will quickly turn to anger as economic prospects decline and the future looks increasingly bleak. National governments and the EU institutions will be under pressure to cut a quick deal with Britain just to cauterise the gaping wound and limit the damage.

People in Europe will be angered by the kid-gloves treatment that Britain appears to be receiving. We will understand that things appear to be going badly there, but that is still no excuse for giving them too many concessions while we get nothing but cutbacks in return. After all, Britain voted for this. Now they must accept the consequences.

How could the British have done this to us? How could they have been so selfish and arrogant to think that they could stick two-fingers up to the rest of us and just walk away?

Bastards, the whole lot of them.

To control this growing public outrage European governments be forced to direct it where it will do least damage. Otherwise the potential for social turmoil throughout Europe will grow. They will have no choice but to play their own nationalist cards. They will have no other option but to point towards Britain and scream that the inhabitants of that island are to blame for everything.

And most people will believe them because it appears to make perfect sense.

Over time, other European countries will lurch to the right as nationalism becomes increasingly normalised. We will need to protect whatever remains of our jobs and economies so we must look after our own interests first. Fear and insecurity will become the norm and in response we will accept less accountability from our national governments and the European institutions. The alternative is complete chaos.

The collapse of the European Union or the Euro would unleash hell on earth if the forces of nationalism rush in to fill the vacuum.

We all need to prevent this from happening at all costs. Calm needs to prevail. The British are not our enemies. We need to help them to salvage their society so that they can retain their dignity and national pride. We need to accept the new situation and work together to rebuild. There must be a functioning civil society left if all the inequalities and festering social injustices that lie at the root cause of this crisis are to be addressed. The rest of us living in the EU need to forgive and forget, just as the British must learn to heal their own internal divisions make unpalatable compromises with their political opponents. They are a proud country with a long history that is an integral part of their psyches. The sudden and irreversible decline in their global status and power will be a bitter pill for them to swallow. As a nation they will grieve for this loss. We need to understand that.

Furthermore, Donald Trump needs to be defeated by a large margin in a scrupulously fair presidential election. The views of his supporters must be respectfully disagreed with. Then Trump needs to become a figure of gentle ridicule and mockery before fading into absolute obscurity.

In this crisis it is essential that democratic values and the rule of law survive intact. With those in place it is possible to rebuild.

Without them, we have entered a very dark place indeed.

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So I’ve set out my stall and tried as best I can to explain my reasoning. I fully admit that much of this is based on speculation and I outline a scenario that I hope and pray will never happen. This is all based on my own reading of events and my interpretation of human nature and the dynamics of crisis situations. But there are a myriad of other variables that can intervene to change predicted outcomes. These variables are utterly impossible to account for. Predicting the future in such circumstances is impossible for anybody. Everybody is just guessing.

On a more positive note, the world has emerged intact after calmly dealing with far more serious crises. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the USSR were terrifying moments in recent history. Yet we emerged from them bruised but largely intact.

So I will ask you to assess what I’ve written. Look for gaps in my logic. There must be some. After all this is just my interpretation of one possible outcome based on sketchy information during the early stages of a fast moving and evolving situation. I will probably have missed something. Or maybe I have misread everything completely. But it is the logical progression of what may happen once options are narrowed.

Perhaps your scepticism is due to your proximity and familiarity with the stable world that has just passed. Anarchy, martial law and violence were something that belong to thinly-plotted Hollywood action movies or on TV news reports from some distant country. In the twenty-first century, it is simply inconceivable that such things could happen in a highly developed and tolerant society.  Utterly impossible. Is it?

Let me ask you a question. Take a deep breath and use all your common sense, instincts, life experience and all your critical skills before you answer this. Think long and hard for yourself rather than being swept along by the background noise that feeds the emotional roller-coaster of everyday life.

Can you tell me that something like the scenario outlined above coming to pass is completely out of the question?

If so, why?

If there is even the remotest possibility that a fraction of what I have outlined might come to pass then that should jolt you.

Try to think clearly for yourself. Use your brain. Do not be somebody who gets swept along by the whirlwind of instant outrage and shrill voices. Think.

I thought long and hard before writing this article. This is my own way of coping during this time. After all to write about panic and sketch out bleak apocalyptic futures during a time of crisis runs the danger of actually intensifying the panic I am trying to calm. It created a moral dilemma for me that I justified by reasoning that the only people who are likely to have such a reaction are the kinds of people that we all need if we are to avert chaos. To use a cliché, if you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. If you’re part of the problem you’ll just fling abuse at me in the comments section below.

But how can I, a mere powerless individual, do anything to avert this collective sleepwalking? It’s all too much.

To that I answer; this crisis was caused by the actions of millions of people who set a train of events in motion that they did not fully understand.

This crisis will only be stopped by the actions of millions of people who collectively act together in order to maintain calm.

To further assuage my moral dilemma, I will therefore make some very simple suggestions for you to think about. Come up with something better yourself – I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Remain calm. Don’t give into anger and bitterness. If you lash out in anger then the middle ground disappears and options evaporate. An angry reaction now will defines all the future choices you have left.

A simple anaolgy: Your boss is being a pain. You’ve had enough. This is a terrible place to work! You’d be able to find a better job in an instant! You jump up tell him to stick it and walk out the door. That felt good. All the simmering resentment you felt towards your obnoxious boss has been released in a single burst of anger. Power momentarily shifted into your hands. You are also chuckling to yourself about how bad your boss will look to the top management. Ultimately, of course the company will survive. Or it might not. But that will not matter to you anymore. The chain of events you have set in motion through acting out of anger now takes on a momentum of its own. You are now unemployed. How are you going to pay the rent? How are you going to buy food? You need to live. And it’s suddenly very scary. Everything feels different now. But because of your anger you can’t go back. Your old job is gone. This is the new reality. And the really terrible thing was that your boss really was a pain. He asked you to do stupid things. You were in the right. Your boss was in the wrong a lot of the time. But none of that matters now. You are in a new situation. You veer between optimism and dread because everything has changed. It’s confusing. But options have been closed off. Choices are stark. Now you need a job – any job is better than nothing. You begin to panic. Your entire future is in jeopardy because of that single event. You start lament all the things you once took for granted in the recent past. The old job was bad but at least you knew where you stood. There were lots of other important issues you cared about back when you were in your job; the environment, education, poverty, the injustice in the developing world. All these things mattered to you and you felt strongly about them. But now you don’t have time to think about them. Everything is uncertain and your only concern is to find a job. It’s been a long time since you were out looking for a job. You didn’t expect things to be so tough. Everything is different now and it’s hard to adjust. You start thinking that your old job wasn’t all bad. There were good things to working there. Maybe if you’d stayed calm you could have figured out some way to make things better in your old job. You get angry with yourself and lose focus on what’s important. People exploit your vulnerability because they know that you have no options. You have burned your bridges. You have no choice except to accept the sweatshop conditions on offer in the only job you can find. This is the reality. That single event has changed your life forever. But you cannot be bitter or angry about it because that will lead you nowhere. You need to stay calm and think things through. If you start beating yourself up about how stupid you’ve been you’ll drive yourself crazy. You’ll get distracted by stuff that doesn’t really matter. Instead you need to calmly figure out how to improve this situation and build a better future for yourself, your family and all the other issues you cared about.

A second referendum is not going to happen because there is a new reality now. There is no going back.

Do not overreact to those who disagree with you – we will need to work with them in the future. If you act in anger you are not only closing off your options but theirs also. They will have no choice but to respond to your anger with anger of their own and positions become more and more extreme. If somebody is pushing your buttons or provoking you, just walk away. Let it go. Many people will be suffering from shock – they will need time and sympathy to come to terms with the new situation they find themselves in.

Accept what has happened and try to do something positive. This is part of the new mindset we all need to develop in response to what has happened. It’s better than nothing. Reconciling yourself to new alliances will be more difficult but it must also be done. We need to return to a world where options and choice are open to us again. Once this happens it will be possible to address the festering injustices that underlay how the new reality came into being.

If we succeed, history will forget us all. In the years to come the stories and drama will all revolve around Cameron, Farage, Johnson, Merkel and all the other main actors. There will be heroes and villains. That much is inevitable. We will forever remain anonymous bit-players in a vast historical drama.

At least this way you get to play some tiny part, however insignificant, in influencing how the drama ends.

In fifty or a hundred years time lets hope that “2016” or “Brexit” will be the answer given to some light-hearted trivia question on the equivalent of whatever passes for a daytime TV game show in the future.

This is why I am forced to fully agree with what the murderous war criminal Tony Blair says in the article I mentioned at the beginning. If I can agree with him on this one specific issue then the forces holding back the rush pressing us all forwards towards a less-democratic world are strengthened ever so slightly. Later, when calm returns, I will have the luxury of being able to criticise him for the horrors he unleashed. But for now, as Blair states:

“The center must regain its political traction, rediscover its capacity to analyze the problems we all face and find solutions that rise above the populist anger. If we do not succeed in beating back the far left and far right before they take the nations of Europe on this reckless experiment, it will end the way such rash action always does in history: at best, in disillusion; at worst, in rancorous division. The center must hold.”

There are no other choices. There are no other options. The crisis has removed all nuance. We live in a time of stark binary choices. Unpleasant alliances must be made with those we once disagreed with. We all need to adapt quickly and accept the new reality in order to work positively for the future.

There is no alternative.

If you still think me a fool after reading this, so be it.

 

The Brexit Power Vacuum

unionjacklampThe globe is undergoing a seismic shock at the moment. As I wrote previously, the world has changed utterly. Much of the UK population seem to be exhibiting signs of collective trauma – they are angry, bewildered and fearful about the future. All the old certainties have disappeared overnight.

At the same time you have a political power vacuum as both the main British parties have gone into complete meltdown.

British politicians and parties are more concerned about protecting their careers and maximising their electoral success. They have completely lost sight of the big picture.

Events are slipping away from them. Instead, it’s business as usual for political figures who do not really appeared to have grasped that the world has shifted under their feet.

This is an extremely dangerous time.

Right now, the panic is contained. But this situation may not last for long. The continuing uncertainty about the future direction of the UK is absolutely toxic. Time is not on the UK’s side. Big decisions need to be made and policies formed immediately.

The longer this British power vacuum lasts, the greater the panic it may produce. Once it reaches a certain point then other countries and institutions will be forced into adopting positions in order to protect their own interests. All other options will have been removed from the table.

This will not only be bad for Britain but intervention like this will undermine the democratic values of the European Union. We all need those to survive intact after this crisis has passed.

For other governments and institutions, the immediate need to deal with the crisis will trump any consideration about the potential long term consequences of decisions made in haste.

In the middle of a massive crisis situation like this the horizon shrinks. Everything is devoted to surviving today. Tomorrow is an eternity away. Next year does not even exist.

Right now there is a window where there is the ability to calm things down. Cool heads need to prevail. The UK needs to produce a credible leader fast and formulate some sort of policy. Right now. It needs to strike a deal with the EU and bring a degree of certainty to the whole Brexit aftermath. If it does this soon it will retain some ability to control events and salvage something from this mess.

The longer the period of uncertainty goes on, the more corrosive it will become and the weaker the UK’s position will be.

If the UK does not act quickly then it will have no choice but to accept whatever policies are dictated to it by others.

That would be the worst possible outcome from all the bad options available.

Brexit – the EU response

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Europe changed last Thursday.

It doesn’t matter that the result was very close.

It doesn’t matter that Cameron has resigned or who gets his job next. The Machiavellian schemes of Tory politicians are no longer of any consequence. Ditto the Labour party meltdown.

It doesn’t matter if millions of British people sign petitions, if the referendum is run again, or not adopted by the British Parliament.

It doesn’t matter if the UK breaks up or if Scotland gains independence.

For the rest of the world, what happens next to Britain is now utterly irrelevant.

It is just local news.

Right now the only thing that matters is shoring up the Euro and preventing another currency crisis. Protecting the interests of the 338 million people in a very bruised and battered Eurozone area from the ripple effects of Brexit is the only priority.

That’s it.

Every other European country will have no choice but to adopt policies that will do just that. The dynamics of the situation allow for no other alternative. And if that means giving Britain a very raw deal then they will have no hesitation is doing that. Protecting their own national interests is all that matters for the rest of the world now.

Britain has long defined itself as a major power and for much of history it skilfully used divide and rule tactics, playing one country off another, in order to maximise its influence over the various European powers.

That game is done.

Every Eurozone country has an interest in stopping contagion and preventing the Brexit result from causing another currency crisis. The sense of barely suppressed panic is palpable. There is real fear throughout the rest of the EU, and beyond, about what might happen next.

In this situation, firm leadership will be demanded and expected from national leaders and the various European institutions.

Real power will be wielded with a firm hand without the slightest compunction. There is no other option.

The details can be tidied up by lawyers at some later date.

Britain can howl with protest and complain bitterly about the unfairness of its treatment. It can call for more time to sort everything out in advance of negotiations and get a new prime minister. The Daily Mail can rant all it wants about foreigners trying to destroy the UK.

Nobody’s listening. Nobody cares.

Right now, Britain has no power, no friends and no influence. Zero.

The economic, physical and psychological trauma will be immense. Over time, of course, things will settle down. The crisis will play itself out and everybody will adjust to the new reality. Trade deals will be struck and geographical proximity means that it is in no one’s best interests to prolong the pain for any longer than necessary. Britain is too big and too important to ignore in the long term.

But right now for the EU and the Eurozone, it is a matter of existential survival. The pressing issue of reform and the many, many dismal failures of the EU that contributed to this crisis are irrelevant at this point in time.

In order to stave off disaster, the EU and the Eurozone countries have no choice but to be seen to be strong, decisive and united in the face of this crisis.

Anything less would make them appear weak and vulnerable. They are not going to let that happen.

 

The Moskvich Automobile Factory (Автомоскбиц)

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Cars are powerful symbols of progress and modernity. As well as symbolising personal freedom and choice for individuals, they also conveyed an aura of industrial sophistication, national pride and power for countries that were able to produce them. In the Soviet context, the crash industrialisation of the 1930s and the demands of war production during the 1940s meant that making automobiles for ordinary people was not a priority. Cars were reserved for important officials, not mere mortals.

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That all changed after the death of Stalin in 1953. People were sick of unrelenting terror and exhausted by hard-work and violence. They wanted to see the tangible results of all the sacrifice, death and destruction that had occurred over the past two decades. The idea of scrimping, saving and making-do in order to help build some glorious communist future had lost its appeal to a new generation. People wanted the good things in life and they wanted them now. This became all the more evident as consumer culture took off in the West and began to slowly seep in through the cracks of the Iron Curtain. Thus car production served as a way to demonstrate that life was getting better and it was capable of competing with the shiny wonders being churned out in the West.

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As part of the reparations after the Second World War, much of the Opel factory and machinery was dismantled and taken back to the USSR where it was used to update the MZMA car that had been turning out copies of Ford Model A cars and vans since 1929. The new German equipment was used to update the line and the factory soon began to turn out rebranded copies of 1930s Opel Kadett’s, now called the Moskvich 400, for the Soviet market. From this a new line of models evolved during the next four decades of the USSR’s existence. Moskvich cars were small, rugged and cheap, designed for the average respectable Soviet citizen who didn’t rock the boat. In a society where money had little meaning (because the dysfunctional Soviet planned economy was incapable of producing things people actually wanted, there was nothing much to buy in the shops) the possession of consumer goods signified your importance and status in Soviet society. It showed that you were well connected and had influence. Ever since they were invented, cars have always been a very public way of showing off to the neighbours.

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The book has a traditional company photobook format: it’s designed to showcase the product, the modern, efficient factory and the good care it takes of its employees. Published by the Ministry of Automobile Production, the cover of red leatherette with the company logo stamped into it is designed to impress. As part of a corporate rebranding exercise in the late 1960s, the MZMA name was ditched and an equally awful name chosen – AZLK (Avtomobilny Zavod imeni Leninskogo Komsomola or Leninist Communist Youth League Automobile Factory). Sadly the rest of the book design does not do such a good job. Using randomly chosen bright primary colours as page borders and for text printed over the photographs doesn’t work very well. The word kitsch springs to mind. I’m tempted to suggest that these represent the different colours the car was available in but somehow I don’t think so. The cars depicted appear to be the final model produced, the Moskvich 412, which rolled out of the Moscow factory between 1967 and 1976 before production was transferred to the huge IZHMASH weapons and motor manufacturing plant. No details of the photographers or even the date of publication is given but a photo caption proudly states that the 16 of August 1974 saw the 2 millionth Moskvich produced.

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Beginning with a lineup of the different models produced over the years, the book moves into the factory itself. Here we see industrious workers and supervisors presiding over all aspects of the production within a bilious green environment. Once we move into the assembly line the colour palette lightens, helped by the addition of brightly coloured car bodies that serve the same purpose as the strategically placed figure in the red jacket used by postcard photographers of old. Like most company photobooks, the shop floor in such imagery is remarkably spotless; not a hint of clutter or rubbish that might hint at problems. The vastness of the factory is continually emphasised in the images to show the power and might of this industrial powerhouse. Everything is neat, tidy and clinically efficient and many of the images are remarkable for the absence of people in them, all adding to the hi-tech feeling the book tries to convey. Once the final cars roll off the line, a disapproving image of Lenin glowers down from above, undoubtedly dismayed at the sight of such consumerist frippery.

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Just like corporate propaganda in the capitalist world, it’s important in such photobooks to have a section showing how well the company looks after it’s loyal workers. Again, we see interior shots of bright, clean and modern dining areas, corridors, classrooms full of eager young workers ready to do their bit for the glory of socialism. A couple of pages later we get to the middle management who look a decidedly more serious bunch, shown doing serious party political work that culminates in a trip to the war memorial to lay a wreath. Images of swimming pools, sports facilities, kindergartens and toy Moskvich pedal cars rolling off the production line are all used to show that a Soviet company, unlike those in the West, really cares about it’s employees.

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The 1970s were a pretty miserable decade for design all round but Soviet products of that era are particularly crude. Everything from cameras to cars became clunky, blocky objects as if they’d been designed by a kid in a kindergarten using crayons. In fairness, the Moskvich wasn’t as ugly as the Lada which really just looked like a cavity block on wheels. But the wider point is that any attempt at making an object look aesthetically pleasing disappeared. In part this was down to the creeping malaise that took hold in the USSR during the Brezhnev era. Everybody just stopped caring during this prolonged period of economic and social stagnation. This book with its brightly coloured borders, full of images of cleanliness and order tries hard to project an aura of success at a time when the whole system was slowly rotting away from the inside.

P.S. The AZLK company went bust following the collapse of the USSR and the factory was abandoned. Some urbex photos of the site can be found here.

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