Tag Archives: class war

Tintin: Breaking Free of Class-Only Politics

By Hugh Goldring | @ooHugh

“The Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free” is a comic about class war. If that doesn’t sound quite like Tintin’s typical adventures through Orientalist portrayals of the 1930s, there’s a reason why.

Published under the pseudonym J. Daniels, ‘Breaking Free’ expropriates Hergé’s classic images of the reporter turned adventurer and remakes him as the central protagonist of a general strike. Featuring a cast of familiar faces in entirely unfamiliar roles, ‘Breaking Free’ is as much a blueprint towards revolution as it is an exercise in wishful thinking.

BF_cover

Title: Breaking Free / The Adventures of Tintin
Author: ‘J. Daniels’
Illustrator: ‘J. Daniels’
Original Release: February, 1992
Published: Attack Intl (UK)
Other Spec’s: Softcover, 176 pages, black and white interior.
Of central interest is that, for a comic about class war, ‘Breaking Free’ has a lot to say about other struggles: the fighting proletariat are not all gruff blue-collar blokes in flat caps, though there’s no shortage of them here. But the story teems with the diversity of the systemically oppressed: housewives tired of devalued housework, lesbians running away from intolerant homes and elderly being driven out of their communities by gentrification. The idea that all our struggles are connected is intimately threaded through the narrative of the general strike, driving the strike on by recognizing that all are allies in the fight.

Before the strike begins, Tintin and his uncle (a transformed Captain Haddock) head out to take in a football match. In the crowd outside, a fascist is selling a newspaper. As this excerpt shows, this is no crude caricature of a fascist. Employing language about safety and economic security, the fascist organizer plays on the worst fears of the working class. But the Captain is no stranger to solidarity, and makes the left-wing argument very ably: black or white, it’s us against the bosses.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The Captain aptly deconstructs the notion of a ‘white’ race in simple terms, demanding to know which sort of immigrant the fascist descends from. In the sincerity of its depiction of fascism and nuance of the Captain’s arguments, the comic treats the issue of race seriously. Certainly more can be said on the tendency of white men to dominate within even progressive social movements, but at least it addresses the issue seriously.

The question of women’s roles in the struggle also crops up, as in this excerpt, and gets a broader showing than race. Tintin treats Mary as little more than a domestic servant, prompting a well deserved dressing down.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Mary emphasizes that she’s neither swayed by lesbians nor middle class feminists, debunking those chauvinistic myths about feminism by speaking from her own experience. Rather than be easily persuaded, Tintin flies off the handle, and needs time to cool off before coming around to understanding her point of view.

In just a few short pages, the comic covers domestic work, working class feminism and sexual assault. These are not abstract problems for academics to write endlessly on – they are issues affecting left-wing organizing in the 21st century. Tintin later puts in his time as a babysitter so that some of the women can get out to the strike meetings.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Although Tintin wises up about feminism quick enough, he still has some internalized homophobia to deal with. Rather than coddling him, his squatter neighbour Nicky puts it to him very frankly. Tintin is just as guilty of breaking society’s rules, and all Nicky asks is that he live and let live. If his acceptance seems to come a little too easily when she forces him to admit that homophobia is one more way the rich divide us, Tintin is not completely reformed.

But Tintin learns, albeit slowly. When Nicky and the rest of a queer contingent at the strike are hassled by a protester who quickly resorts to homophobic slurs, Tintin turns up out of the crowd to tell him off.

Breaking Free of Ignorance

The point the comic is making is twofold – first, that gay and lesbian people have as much of a stake in the class struggle as anyone else. Fairly elementary stuff, all told. But the more radical insistence is on visibility – not only are they welcome, but their banner demonstrates public support of the strike, reflecting both diversity and solidarity.

Granted that the origins of many liberation movements are in fact decades older, Breaking Free came out in 1992, at a time when intersectionality was still working to get a foothold in leftist organizing, particularly within the realm of labour. It is a great read for anyone involved or interested in progressive organizing.

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Great Moments in Satire: A Love Note To The Haters

With over 2,000 likes on Facebook (where it is glibly listed under  the category “Wine / Spirits”), many may still be unfamiliar with Great Moments in Leftism, an amateurish strip by a self-confessed bad artist.

With an accompanying blog that only dates back to April, this nascent phenomenon in left-loathing has yet to let the echoes of the internet bring its natural audience out of hiding in the squats, university classrooms and purposeless circle-marches that constitute their natural habitat. But with a willingness to speak truth to power, albeit in a state of relative anonymity, it’s only a matter of time before strips from Great Moments in Leftism make their way onto Facebook pages and the doors of grad students’ shared office space everywhere.

Activist affiliations are as logical and easy as checking a couple of boxes! It's funny because... it's true?
Activist affiliations are as logical and easy as checking a couple of boxes! It’s funny because… it’s true?

Although the acid tone mocks leftist tropes and organizations with enthusiasm, the author demonstrates such a familiarity with their subject that they must either have a background on the radical left or be a singularly dedicated hater. Just about every left group is sardonically skewered by the author, with many comics fixing a single organization – the IWW, Kasama Project or the International Socialist Organization – in the crosshairs. The best comics, however, identify tendencies on the broader left and cast them in the awkward limelight of absurdity.

I'm an organizer!
I’m an organizer!

For example, the man in the above comic (complete with creepy John Waters moustache) identifies as an organizer. That this role seems to consist mainly of insular participation within existing activist circles, falling short of actually organizing any communities, seems lost on him. The buttons on his chest demonstrate the easy retail nature of the activist identity, advertising to like minds that here is a person who has dropped by the bucket of pins offered at their student union and fished out the best of the bunch. Left implicit is the idea that the ‘organizer’ identity is so insular that it precludes the possibility of actually organizing anyone who doesn’t already attend your reading circle, punk show or vegan potluck.

What are you thankful for, Grandma?
What are you thankful for, Grandma?

The theme of the activist as The Other makes another appearance in this comic. A cross section of apparent radicals at their respective Thanksgiving dinners are seen scolding the rest of the table. The politics of the comic as a whole suggest that the author is sympathetic to critiques of colonialism and consumerism such as those offered in the comic. But the implicit critique in the previous comic – that activism is an insular, primarily social activity with no potential for mass struggle – is made all the more evident. Not for nothing does Google turn up 13 million search results for ‘surviving Thanksgiving’, many of which emphasize the importance of avoiding politics. Whether the author thinks activists should hold their tongues or seek more constructive engagement on holidays, the contempt for humourless blathering is everywhere evident.

One Day Strike

If the left misses opportunities to engage with a broader community, as the author sometimes seems to suggest, there are evidently reasons why. In this comic, a smug union staffer is seen explaining to a handful of labour protesters agitating for higher wages. Even the status of the protesters as workers or merely fellow activists is left ambiguous, but one thing is not: the character of the event as a stage-managed show for the media. As the union staffer makes a self-congratulatory exit, he reflects happily on his prospects for career advancement. The theme of careerism in the left is a frequent subject of criticism, and while it is often directed at those who put financial advancement ahead of the movement, it is sharpened here to demonstrate that certain types of organizing may do more for the organizers than any intended beneficiary.

United Front

Of course, even organizing ‘the left’ to come out in any collective capacity is like herding cats. The point is ably made in this comic, where a group of leftists holding a banner calling for left unity scowl at one another. Barely able to share a banner, how are these men meant to accomplish its stated purpose and unite the left? The fact that they are all men does not seem incidental, as the comic does regularly feature women. Without knowing for sure if the decision is deliberate, it seems unlikely the endless echoes across the radical left that feminism is divisive would have escaped the artist’s notice. But then, the idea that misogyny is the real divisive force on the radical left never quite occurs to figures like the ones in the comic.

Occupy_ClassStruggle

MJ's take on MJ.
MJ’s take on MJ.

“Whither the left?” seems to be the snarky inquiry on the tip of the artist’s pen. The answer that flows forth is left to the individual interpretation of the reader, but a common theme seems to emerge: we are going in smug circles. The idea is perhaps most succinctly captured in this comic. A man in a flannel shirt and flat cap holds a sign denouncing capitalism, with the initials of the International Socialist Organization on it. When the last panel closes on his face, he reflects contentedly that he’s in the class struggle, though by all accounts he appears to simply be at a protest. This is the recurrent theme of many of these strips: whatever our grouping or politics, we have become content with the ritualized politics of symbolic dissent. To many, there would be nothing immediately laughable about the man’s belief he is in the class struggle, and a few comments on the Facebook page complain of not getting the joke. Maybe the best explanation is the commenter who simply said “Still feels damned good.” True as that may be, Great Moments in Leftism seems calculated to disrupt our pleasant reverie and ask the uncomfortable question: What are we doing wrong?