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Fuck your way to the revolution - click opera
February 2010
 
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Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 09:15 am
Fuck your way to the revolution

I was a Little Red Schoolbook kid. At the age of eleven I read an article in the London Times about this revolutionary and shocking guide for children and begged my parents to get me a copy. Fashionably permissive, they agreed, and with true egalitarianism ordered a second copy for my brother. When I got sent off to boarding school in Scotland the manual was in my luggage. It didn't last long; housemaster Quack Mendl (once a famous cricketer) recognised the Schoolbook as a work of subversive literature. He confiscated it, and I never saw my copy again. It stayed with me, though; in 1998 I named an album after it.



The story of the Little Red Schoolbook -- told by Jolyon Jenkins in this week's In Living Memory on BBC Radio 4, available online for another five days, and also in a downloadable Australian documentary made in 2006, The Book That Shook the World -- is a dark tale of institutional paranoia, control freakery, authoritarian skulduggery and mistrust. It's a tale of conservatism at its worst.

What was it about the Little Red Schoolbook that caused all the hullaballoo? Well, quite a lot, actually. The book, written by two Danish educators, Soren Hansen and Jesper Jenson, talked about sex, drugs, rights, agitation, peaceful protest, abortion. It told kids how to get their way with the "paper tigers" who controlled their lives in the classroom and at home by organising collectively. It said that homosexuality and heterosexuality were equally valid options, and it said that nothing sexual was wrong if it didn't hurt anyone. It appealed to me because it was the first book I'd read which treated me, a child, as a responsible citizen able to act politically in the world. Its attitudes seemed as modern and as rational as Danish furniture. The book's tone was one of calm sanity, but the reaction to it was a kind of insanity -- an object lesson in how the authorities think, and why you shouldn't trust them.



Problems began immediately. The first set of Danish printers wouldn't print "den lille rode bog for skole-elever" (the little red book for school pupils). The Pope condemned it from the Vatican. British morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse alerted the Department of Public Prosecutions even before the first British edition hit the streets, and publisher Richard Handyside found his Stage 1 publishing house raided by Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Squad. Handyside lost a magistrate's court case against the Crown, was fined £50, and appealed. Despite being defended by John Mortimer, Handyside lost the appeal too. Witnesses for the prosecution paraded (as the Radio 4 documentary shows) dubious "expertise"; one spinster testified that masturbation (which the book told children was harmless) actually made intercourse more difficult. All of this was completely unscientific, but it swung the case against Handyside and the book.

Even the European Court of Human Rights didn't support Handyside or the Danish authors. In 1976 it ruled in favour of the British government, finding that banning the book and charging Handyside was "not out of proportion in a democratic society".



So what did the Little Red Schoolbook say about sex? Here's a section of the chapter that so shocked the morality campaigners. "The usual word for a boy's sexual organ is cock or prick. The usual word for a girl's sexual organ is fanny or cunt. Many adults don't like these words because they say they're "rude". They prefer words like penis or vagina. When boys get sexually excited, their penis goes stiff. This is called having an erection or "getting a hard on". If a boy rubs his prick it starts feeling good and he reaches what is called orgasm. This is called masturbation or wanking. When a boy puts his stiff prick into a girl's vagina and moves it around this is called having intercourse or making love or sleeping together (even if they don't sleep at all). The usual word for intercourse is fucking."

The usual word for police vice squads seems to be "corrupt". That certainly turned out to be the case with Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Squad. As this account reveals, "the Schoolbook raid was later proved to have been part of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy involving members of Obscene Publications Squad, who targeted high-profile Underground publications like Oz, International Times (IT) and Frenz, in order to divert attention from the endemic corruption in the Squad. A later inquiry revealed that many senior members of the Metropolitan Police, including the head of the OPS, Detective Chief Inspector George Fenwick, were receiving regular and substantial payoffs from Soho pornographers in return for protection, and Fenwick was subsequently jailed for ten years as the “chief architect” of the corruption ring."



Today, there's a peculiarly mixed reaction to the book; it's considered laughably tame and obvious by some, more dangerous than ever by others. Hilary Benn, New Labour's Environment Secretary, actually contributed to the British edition of the book as a child, but declined to be interviewed by the BBC about his role. Publisher Richard Handyside thinks that if he released the same book today the reaction would be worse. The Danish authors, on the other hand, told the Australian film crew "People would just laugh. It wouldn't cause any trouble. Nothing would happen."

"It's a very attractive idea, a Freudian Marxist idea," says Australian contributor Beatrice Faust, describing the book's underlying premise. "If you released your sexuality you would somehow overwhelm or undermine capitalism... fuck your way to the revolution." Oddly enough -- if the contradictory reactions of the British publisher and the Danish authors are anything to go by -- in the years since 1971 that battle has been won... and lost.

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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 07:51 am (UTC)

Hats off to the Danish blokes. I reckon all children need a book like that. I reckon Handyside is right, though - the reaction would be worse today. While attitudes towards public morality have relaxed for adults in the last few decades, radical conservatism seems obsessed with infantilising youth - the phrase "will no one think of the children?" became a cliche for a reason.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 08:48 am (UTC)

"Must we fling this [responsible common sense] at our kids?"


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 08:21 am (UTC)
titilitimomus -boost the ratings

so regular blog like holiday postings from Shetland not stirring up much enthusiasm on the comment front so time to wheel out something "controversial" to get the peeps commenting. Really this is no better than Channel 4 programming....titilitimomus


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
Re: titilitimomus -boost the ratings

Well, I really wanted to write something about the Radio 4 doc about TLRS, and this piece represents a "back to normal Click Opera service" statement after a week-long hiatus during which the blog was actually going to be totally blank.

The end of that holiday actually co-incides with a week in which a radio producer from German public radio is following me around recording my encounters, making a horspiel about how I find subjects for Click Opera. So it would certainly be very useful to get some conversations going again after the break. Content here has been thin for a couple of weeks now as I struggled with journalism deadlines and recording a new album, but we're back!

I don't mind the C4 comparison; there's nothing wrong with trying to find interesting subjects -- and even controversial ones -- for your readers. Here, of course, I have no commercial reasons for doing that. And, by the same token, no commercial reasons for not doing it; no advertisers to offend.


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zdover
zdover
Zac
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)

Thank you for this post. This is precisely what I want to read on the internet: something very interesting to me that I didn't even know about and so of course didn't know was interesting. I read this post the way you listen to a song that you've never heard that immediately grabs you and makes you spend the next 48 hours repeatedly listening to it with a guitar in your hand, getting all the little nuanced diminished chords just right.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 09:26 am (UTC)
Marxist scouting movements

There have been some 'leftism for kids' groups set up to counter Baden-Powell. The alumni are impressive, although they seem to have crept towards environmentalism these days.

Kindred of the Kibbo Kift
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbo_Kift

The Woodcraft Folk
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodcraft_Folk



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desant012
||||||||||
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 06:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Marxist scouting movements

haha, don't forget the classic "leftism for kids" organization the YCL. Notable alumni include Green Gartside, and myself.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 09:44 am (UTC)

So girls don't wank and clitorises don't exist? Intercourse is penetrative and heterosexual?

HOW NOVEL AND PROGRESSIVE.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 09:46 am (UTC)

Oh sorry, I meant FUCKING is penetrative and heterosexual. Don't want to be ~*~twee and conservative~*~ of course.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)
Turing

I'm reminded, for some reason, of what happened to Alan Turing:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=g7_WzNzHwJY


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tinyfolk
tinyfolk
xxxx
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)

if I had kids I'd love to have something like that for them to read.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 01:37 pm (UTC)
Momus a "ponce"

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/06/who_is_the_worlds_greatest_lyr.html


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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Momus a "ponce"

Aye, *in the comments".


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ohayo_sakura
ohayo_sakura
sleepy chan
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)

great post!
i'd never heard about this before...
i wish i'd read it as a kid, i'm quite sure it would've blown my mind at that time... (living in a conservative catholic household).
oh i'm going to have to find a copy of this somehow and read!


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC)

I'm not deriding your post - which is actually in itself interesting - but it's curious how The Little Red Schoolbook sounds exactly as conceptually dated as the reaction to it.
If sex were really to overthrow capitalism we should in this era of any-old-sex-everywhere by now be living in a communist shagtopia.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC)

I think that, while Beatrice Faust's quote oversells the sex-as-revolution angle (the authors were much more interested in that Protestant thing of "questioning authority"), the book does embody the classic 1960s confusion between sexual libertarianism and party discipline. Freud and Marx do not mix easily; the id is not the proletariat.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 07:19 am (UTC)
Gorillas contra Guerrillas

Here in newly Maoist Nepal (as of the April elections, which finally toppled the 250-year-old Monarchy), the erstwhile jungle-dwelling "Maoist guerrillas," still deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S., despite Jimmy Carter's appeals, face their most hostile rivals in the form of Nepal's established communist party——the Unified Marxist Leninists (UML), whose influence the Maoist leader Prachanda ("The Fierce One") is attempting to minimize or eliminate during the present phase of drafting a new constitution (and afterward a new National Anthem, which I hope to write). All of which, combined with your post, brings to mind my bedroom in Santa Barbara, circa 1972, when I was eight. It was shared with my 14-year-old brother, and on the interior of our door (until our parents noticed, and we were busted) was a large black-and-white poster of Chairman Mao. Carefully hidden on a bookshelf was Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (The Little Red Book). I remember my brother speaking disparagingly of The Little Red Schoolbook, which he had heard or read about during its censorship trials, explaining that it sounded like some rascals' attempt to hijack the West's paranoid hoopla surrounding Mao. I do not think that he had seen the book itself, though, and I've completely forgotten about it until now. It is an almost interesting post, thank you——will check a local book store that seems to specialize in pirated editions.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 09:20 am (UTC)
Re: Gorillas contra Guerrillas

Greetings, David, glad you found the post "almost interesting"!

We also had Mao's Little Red Book on our shelves at home, a gift from one of the first communist Chinese student groups allowed out of the country, taught at my dad's language college. I certainly read it, but it didn't speak to me quite as profoundly as the Danish book. Mao didn't tell you where babies came from (though more recent biographies of the man suggest he knew -- he apparently spawned thousands of illegitimate offspring).


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slowtiger
slowtiger
Sun, Jun. 22nd, 2008 08:25 pm (UTC)

I must have been about 10 when I discovered "das kleine rote schülerbuch" between my parents' books. I read it again and again, it impressed me a lot. I still own that copy. When more than 30 years later by accident I worked as a teacher for some time, I found a book like this to be in great need. It still is necessary to encourage pupils and students, it still is common teacher's practice to alienate and humiliate them.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Nov. 13th, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
I read this at age 11 also...

It gave me, (at the time a victim of childhood sexual abuse and an adoptee) almost a right, nay a command to rebel against ALL authority. Parents, teachers, any adult, Police, Magistrates, Prison guards... all were to eventually witness or become victim themselves to my newly found, and sado-masochistically released male ego. Such ego that extended to pronounce permission to take a life in order to feed my right to self determination and to challenge 'the order of societal morality' which repressed me from being anything I could be.

No wonder then, after many years of maximum security detention, I ponder what would have befallen my life's path had I not glimpsed the pages of this subversive, seditious tome???


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mintness
mintness
Martin
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)

Rock on. Discovering, as a just-about-still-prepubescent boy, the Little Red Schoolbook wedged in among thicker, weightier tomes on my old man's bookshelves provided me with many important and lasting insights: that calling things by a real name, whether capitalism or the cunt, was not only feasible but to be encouraged; that the nascent homosexuality tingling in my loins and my brain and my heart was acceptable even back in the Olden Days when the book was first published; and, not least, that my born-in-48-student-in-68 dad was, at least once upon a time, actually cool. (All grown up now, I realise he always has been and always will be.) Lovely piece.


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