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Book Review Old rebels in new guises

A book that encourages latter day Robin Hoods to terrorise the capitalists will hopefully be welcomed with open arms, hopes JAMIE JOHNSON

The Cuckoo Cage
edited by Ra Page
(Comma Press, £12.99)

BASED on an idea that the cultural roots of modern-day superheroes can be traced back to the folklore of British social and political protest, 12 authors breathe new life into some of our lesser-known home-grown forces for good in this collection of short stories.

Following the traditions of righting wrongs when democratic means have been exhausted or usurped, these respawned crime fighters deal with issues that bear some relation to their origins and underline the depressingly long-standing nature of many of the struggles we face today.

It reminds us that the Luddites and their successors fought against what we now know as zero-hours contracts, surveillance of workers and punitive social security sanctions. Campaigners against genetically modified food can also trace their organic roots to Luddism.

The links to the past might seem tenuous in some of the tales but the background historical information and analysis that supplements, and helps to decode, each chapter is a strong selling point for The Cuckoo Cage.

Lady Skimmington is evolved from the 17th-century Western Rising, with the power to freeze and rewind time to lead an assault against contemporary gentrification and theft of common land.

An updated Cassivellaunus, who originally fought against Caesar’s invasion, takes the role of “Malcolom X with a Yorkshire accent” to fight against corrupt elites.

The Hermione Mutineers are transformed into part of the civil refugee rescue fleet and an updated Captain Swing is betrayed by an agent provocateur spycop.

The Midlands Revolt against the “encroaching tyrants who would grind our flesh on the whetsone of poverty,” originally crushed with over 40 protesters massacred in Northamptonshire, is commemorated as a seed of hope.

While the crooks and charlatans continue to rule the roost it’s appropriate to be reminded of our duty to emulate the Kingswood Miners, “an ungovernable people,” fearful of neither god nor man, and especially active in resisting the introduction of tolls.

This book is motivated by the times when shared pseudonyms were common tools of resistance. It celebrates the histories of the many Jack-a-Lents, Captain Pouches and Ned Ludds who rose up to fight the power.

Collective bargaining by mass, usually violent, direct action, has been a crucial tool when effective political representation is unavailable.

It may well become an essential part of the people’s armoury once again as so-called food “riots,” legitimate and rational common protest against hunger and poverty, increasingly stalk our world.

Anything that encourages latter day Robin Hoods to terrorise the capitalists will hopefully be welcomed with open arms by all of those who find themselves averse to today’s governing and opposition parties.


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