Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Leon Kuhn, Colin Gill - Topple the Mighty

If, like me, you enjoy walking around the streets of London looking at sites of historic importance, then you will have often raged at the statues to extremely wealthy, reactionary members of the ruling case. Often what distinguishes these people is not their work for the greater good, but their ability (or sometimes inability) to create and defend the immense wealth of the tiny strata at the top of society. Some of them so eager to protect this system of inequality they put tens of thousands of ordinary people to the sword.

This book is a breath of fresh air; the first part looks at the people behind a number of statues in London - war criminals like Bomber Harris and rich wastrels like George IV. The stories are well illustrated by Kuhn’s artwork caricaturing the statues and in the case of Nelson’s column, imagining the crowd that will one day pull down that ugly edifice.

But it’s on the subject of destroying statues and icons that this book really comes into its own. When May Day protesters attacked the statue of Winston Churchill in parliament square, labelling him an anti-Semite and a murderer, they were the latest in a long line of ordinary people, who destroyed the icons of hated monarchs and religious figures.

This little book brings that history alive, through the story of the English revolution and other revolts and in doing so reminds us that history isn’t the story of a few great men, but about working people struggling for justice.

So I hope this book encourages a few alternate historical walks through London. Indeed, I’m off to Holborn viaduct, where there is a statue to the man who killed Wat Tyler during the peasants’ revolt - something that really ought to be removed.


More information about some of the statues, and a walk through London with the authors, at Socialist Worker's website here.


orangeguru said...

Sound like the perfect tour guide for London! It should come with some dynamite ...

maeve66 said...

Wow, I love the mohawk!

Louis Proyect said...

Check out James W. Loewen's "Lies Across America". Here's a writeup from amazon.com:

Little seems to delight historian James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, more than picking apart the cherished myths of American history. Few Americans study history after high school--instead, Loewen writes, they turn to novels and Oliver Stone movies to learn about the past. And they turn to the landscape, to roadside historical markers, guidebooks, museums, and tours of battlefields, childhood homes, and massacre sites. If you were to trust those sources, Loewen suggests, you would learn, erroneously, that the first airplane flight took place not at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but at Pittsburg, Texas. "It must be true--an impressive-looking Texas state historical marker says so!" Loewen chortles.

In these entertaining pages, Loewen takes a region-by-region tour of the United States, pointing out historical oddments as he travels. For example, a massacre of white pioneers by Indians commemorated in Almo, Idaho, never took place, Loewen continues; neither did many other such events. Indeed, he insists, "throughout the entire West between 1842 and 1859, of more than 400,000 pioneers crossing the plains, fewer than 400, or less than .1 percent, were killed by American Indians." And if you were to visit Helen Keller's Georgia birthplace, over which a Confederate flag flies, you would get the impression that Keller had been an unreconstructed daughter of the Old South, whereas she was in fact an early supporter of the NAACP. And so on.

After finishing Loewen's alternately angry and bemused exposé, readers will likely never trust a roadside historical marker or tour guide again--which may prompt them to turn to history books to check things out for themselves. As well they should. --Gregory McNamee