Wednesday, November 29, 2017

All about anarchism in Tancrède Ramonet's fine French TV doc, NO GODS, NO MASTERS

As good an overview of and introduction to the ideas, philosophy and history of anarchism throughout much of our world over the century-plus that spanned 1840 until 1945, NO GODS, NO MASTERS (Ni dieu, ni maître, une histoire de l'anarchisme) is a thorough and eye-opening 160-minute documentary made for French and Swiss television that is now available in a two-disc, dubbed-for-English-speaking-audiences version from Icarus Films Home Video. This very necessary documentary is a singular treat, important in a number of ways.

The work of writer/ director Tancrède Ramonet, shown at left, the three-episode series tracks the history of anarchism throughout the world, western and eastern, via its various philosophies and the actions stemming from those ideas.

Many of us grew up with the idea planted in our collective head that anarchism stood only for violence and chaos and thus could never be allowed to take the upper hand. One of the great strengths of this documentary is how it demolishes that idea. Yes, violence was sometimes part of the anarchist plan but this was never, ever toward chaos. Instead, it was always with the idea of bringing the working class into the sphere of power and influence commensurate with justice.

This series may very well leave you feeling that Communism has utterly betrayed the very ideas and philosophy of the betterment of the working class that it constantly espoused and then undercut at almost every opportunity via its insistence on hierarchy coupled to abuse of power.

From Pierre Joseph Proudhon (above) -- said to be the only 19th Century revolutionary theorist to actually come from the working class -- to Prince Peter Kropotkin (the Libertarian Communist whose books on revolution and anarchy were translation into many languages) to Sacco and Vanzetti (below), the series covers the well-known to the not-so-known figures who carried anarchist ideas into the mainstream.

And, yes, these ideas were indeed mainstream during the 19th and even into the 20th centuries, which will probably come as much of a shock to some viewers, as it did to TrustMovies. Those ideas were then too-often co-opted by the Communists, and not only during and after the Russian revolution but especially during the revolution in Mexico and later in during the Spanish Civil War.

How all this happened is made clear by No Gods, No Masters in a forthright and entertaining manner. The documentary is so full of information that you will occasionally want or need to rewind a bit to hear something again. My biggest complaint about this English "translation" is that the original language has been "overlayed" or maybe over-dubbed in such a way that you can still hear the French, Spanish or Italian language being spoken underneath the English translation. This is unwieldy at best and actually makes it more difficult to fully understand the English, which should be louder on the soundtrack and the original language either much softer or maybe blotted out entirely. (I don't understand why English SDH subtitles were not provided, which would have solved both this problem, as well as making the series accessible to the non-hearing population.)

In any case, No Gods No Masters proves to be a combination of narration divided between a number of talking heads (historians and philosophers, one of whom is shown below) and archival photos and film (much of which I had not previously seen). The content of both narration and film is what keeps the series not merely afloat but deeply and consistently interesting, allowing us to see and understand how, as just about always since the Industrial Revolution, the proletariat has been kept in its place via Capitalism, assisted by government and either (or often both) the police or the military.

The manner in which anarchism insisted upon dispensing with religion and hierarchical power structure is at the core of the doc, and this is brought home time and again, in differing ways throughout. Anyone viewing this series can only think about, remember and despair at the constant struggle of the world's masses to share in the well-being that the rich and powerful continue to hoard.

Part One: The Passion for Destruction (1840-1906) details the history of the movement in the face of the Industrial Revolution, along with the various attitudes of anarchists that range from focusing on labor and the working man to violence and assassination, as capitalism grows ever more intent on destroying anything that stands in its way.

Part Two: Land and Freedom (1907-1921) focuses on the revolutions in Mexico and Russia, with a multitude of wonderful archival footage, and how Communism tried to supplant and finally destroy anarchism.

In Part Three: In Memory of the Vanquished (1922-1945) we watch this supplanting and destruction continue, as anarchism seems come apart, even while Communist movements around the world grow stronger. The Spanish Civil War, with its struggle between anarchists and Communists, is of particular note here.

M. Ramonet does not whitewash anarchism's tendency toward violence, but he offers a wealth of other information that gives a broader, deeper and more realistic picture of the movement, its goals, and its accomplishments. Nowhere are these accomplishments clearer than during the Spanish Civil war, when whole communities demonstrated that they could work and prosper without obeisance to hierarchy, religion or government control.

Overall, the documentary is hugely informative, and ought to provoke much thought and discussion from those who view it. It's a wonderful contribution to history, philosophy and, we hope, progress. It may also make you wonder if the very term anarchism, with all this word would seem to represent, was not the best choice for a progressive movement. Ah, well: water under the bridge at this point.

From Icarus Films Home Video, running two and one half hours, and complete with a set of Bonus Features that anyone who sees the documentary will want to additionally view, this two-disc set is available now for purchase (and, I hope somewhere, for rental). It is certainly a don't-miss video.

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