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The poster children for what they claim to despise

Today I went for a wander around Camden in London, visiting Camden Market, Camden Lock and The Stables, contiguous areas filled to overflowing with small shops and open air stalls selling exotic Goth clothing, lampshades made out of old computer motherboards, Tibetan jackets, New Age crystals, Latex fetishware, fur-lined handcuffs, AC Milan supporters posters, weird furniture made out of tree stumps, flashing clothes with fibreoptic weaving, magic mushrooms to go, bongs, ‘No one knows I’m a Lesbian!’ tee-shirts, and food from West Africa, Morocco, Japan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Korea, Venezuela, France, Italy, China, Jamaica, Thailand, Holland, Scotland and even England.


The political content was endless racks of tee-shirts emblazoned with Che Guevara, Bush=Hitler and McShit Hamburger logos and stands owned the Socialist Worker’s Party and various other fringe folk manned by quixotic and very earnest folks handing out “Bush is the biggest terrorist!” posters.

Now my guess is that 75% of the people who thronged around Camden (the crowds were dense over a very large area indeed) are more or less completely indifferent to those particular the messages and certainly 95% of the stalls and shops were not selling politically oriented things at all. Yet what was available was entirely of the left and almost all of it was either Communist (Che Guevara’s image was widely seen) and/or anti-American.

Right in the centre of the large shopping area called The Stables is a Cuban Restaurant called rather unambiguously The Cuban. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I stuck my head inside as for all I knew the place was owned by some Cuban refugee who had fled Castro’s communist dictatorship. But no. The first thing I see is a large image of Che Guevara. The outside of the building has a sign saying this place brings “The Spirit of Havana in the heart of Camden”…


…which presumably means that criticizing the restaurant gets you dragged off to jail by uniformed thugs as that is truly the spirit of Havana.

Now if someone wants to portray a benign fantasy version of Cuba (“Castro chicken tenders!“), well that is entirely up to them. But the moment I see that Che image up on the walls, The Cuban takes a position on who ‘the good guys’ are and it becomes more than just a Cuban restaurant. Too harsh? Well imagine a German restaurant. Now put a picture of Himmler on the wall of that restaurant and suddenly the entire context of the place changes. I wonder how people would react to a Cambodian restaurant which offered a “Pol Pot Roast” or a “Killing Fields Kocktails!” whilst a smiling image of Pol Pot looked down on the gorging clientele. My goodness what fun that would be. Still, perhaps a closer examination of The Cuban’s menu may reveal such dishes as “Jailed Journalist Jambalyah” or “Dead Dissident Daquiris” whereupon my views of the place would have to change somewhat. I have not looked but somehow I doubt it.

But it got me pondering. I wonder how many of the anti-globalisation activists who probably regard areas like Camden as ‘home turf’ and perhaps even eat at The Cuban realise how the area only looks the way it does because of the global movement of goods within a market economy. Do they seriously think that there is a place like Camden anywhere in Cuba? Do they think the new Age crystals, the fetish shops, the Goth gear purveyors, the mountain bike shops and, hell, even the clothes they wear, the mobile phones they all carry, the iPods they listen to, would all be available in a politically directed command economy? Please, show me such a place.

The thing is, their own lifestyles and environments are examples of the benefits of what they profess to reject. Quite funny really if you think about it.

41 comments to The poster children for what they claim to despise

  • Luniversal

    One does wonder why radical chic is still the only kind there is, 40 years after Tom Wolfe nailed it down. Why doesn’t anyone wear T-shirts with Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand smiling on their chests? How come whenever you see a shirt or poster with Bush, Blair, Reagan or Thatcher, you know it will embody an insult? Where are all the Hollywood libertarians, as opposed to libertines? Is there something in anti-statist attitudes that is irredeemably uncool?

    On the face of it, romantic rebelliousness (the standard ‘yoof’ posture for 200 years now) and being against the multiple infringements of civil and economic liberties we currently face ought to go together. But nobody’s found a way of making a ‘lifestyle statement’ out of individual freedom, except at the trivial level of choosing the product that isn’t (yet) the brand leader.

  • Euan Gray

    Why doesn’t anyone wear T-shirts with Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand smiling on their chests?

    Because (a) nobody would recognise the statement being made, (b) even if it was recognised the vast majority would disagree with it, (c) they are not exactly romantic folk-hero types and (d) they are ugly and hence unfashionable.

    Is there something in anti-statist attitudes that is irredeemably uncool?

    Yes. The anti-statist is seen (rightly or wrongly) as a capitalist version of Fred Kite. The “I’m all right, Jack” attitude, particularly when coupled with a perceived moneyed disregard for the unfortunate, rankles.


  • Jacob

    Tha Cuban restaurant is a good example of capitalism at work: it prospers by giving people what they like, it attracts clients by displaying what they love – Che pictures. You get rich by selling people what they like, not what you like.

  • John K

    Someone should tell the magic mushroom vendors that their merchandise has just been classified as a Class A drug, and they can get 14 years for it.

    I know the present Home Secretary looks like Fungus the Bogeyman, but I did not expect him to move so quickly to protect members of his extended family from such commercial exploitation.

    Doesn’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy that NuLabor has found yet another thing to ban?

  • Ian Rowan

    “(a) nobody would recognise the statement being made, (b) even if it was recognised the vast majority would disagree with it, (c) they are not exactly romantic folk-hero types and (d) they are ugly and hence unfashionable.”

    Being willing to allow an image of a person to serve as a springboard for further discussion rather than any singular statement; not giving a rodent’s posterior about B; noting that C is a matter of taste and opinion; and finding a very flattering picture of Alice Rosenbaum which makes her look like a silent movie star, were all reasons behind my making a shirt with her image. I definitely don’t wear it unless I’m in a mood to politely answer when someone inevitably asks, “Who is that?”

    (The gory details of her own inconsistencies merely serve as an object lesson that honesty, with others and oneself, is always the best policy.)

  • Della

    Why doesn’t anyone wear T-shirts with Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand smiling on their chests?

    Milton Friedman T-Shirts

    Margaret Thatcher t-shirts

    Ayn Rand T-Shirt Alternate

    Bill Gates T-Shirts

  • Yeah, it’s funny, in a way, but it’s also sort of poignantly depressing.

  • veryretired

    Those of us who find the history of the 19th and 20th centuries’ excursion into utopianism and totalitarianism to be a descent into a pit of evil will never fully comprehend the continuing dalliance with collectivism. It is, in its own way, as distant as the Mayan practice of cutting out hearts to appease the gods who brought the rising sun each day. And, therein, is the key.

    Collectivism is not a political program in the sense we are used to thinking about political relationships. It is a religious mythos, a secular creed complete with saints, infallible doctrines, sacred texts, and an unrelenting demand that its followers believe. The demand for faith acknowledges no failures, no shortcomings, no quarter for the enemy, and no heresy.

    I often see the various strains of collectivism and their adherents criticized for being irational and illogical, as if there was any point at which they were not. It is the veneer of rationality and scientific foundations which disguises the true nature of the creed. Once one sees through this, the deeply emotive, irrational nature of the collectivist belief system can be ascertained.

    If you are waiting for the faithful to come to their senses, don’t bother. When a person commits their heart and soul to a mystical belief in paradise on earth, it is no different, or less all-encompassing, than being born again. It isn’t surprizing they want their saints on the walls and on their tee-shirts.

  • Winzeler

    Euan, being a moderate, how do you perceive anit-statists?

  • Tip from me: nobody will sleep with you if you wear a Milton Friedman t-shirt.

  • guy herbert

    Could it be Perry’s being a bit hard on The Cuban? (I’m tempted to try it.)

    There’s no reason to suppose the owners are ideologically committed, just supplying a market niche for a Ché Guevara T-shirt wearers’ restaurant in a place heavily frequented by such.

    Even if it were elsewhere (though I wouldn’t recommend a Miami branch if the owners value their personal safety), how many other Cubans have you heard of apart from Ché and Fidel?

    Without recourse to references I can manage:

    Batista (nasty dictator)
    Capablanca (supercool world chess champion)
    Cabrera Infante (novelist who just died of hospital infection in the Chelsea & Westminster)

    Not completely sure I’d recognise any of them on a T-shirt. One of the irritations of the market is it is usually easier to get more of what’s already common than it is to get something new or in minority taste. That goes for ideas as well as T-shirts.

  • John J. Coupal

    Has anyone asked any proud wearer of a Che teeshirt who Che was and what he did?

    I assume the blank stare that the questioner would receive indicates the emotional allegiance of the wearer.

  • Has anyone asked any proud wearer of a Che teeshirt who Che was and what he did?

    I assume the blank stare that the questioner would receive indicates the emotional allegiance of the wearer.

    T-shirts? Jeez, I’ve asked people with Che tattoos the same question and got the same response.

  • guy herbert

    Tip from me: nobody will sleep with you if you wear a Milton Friedman t-shirt.

    Perhaps, though untangling cause and effect may be a tough one. Nevertheless I’d like them to be free to choose to do so–or not.

    If it avoids awkward conversations with Ché worshippers at the breakfast table, maybe it is a reasonable precaution.

  • sark

    Che pictures. You get rich by selling people what they like, not what you like

    Which is why we need more articles like this one which point out that Che was a mass murdering who wanted to wipe out society and impose a command economy bastard and not Robin Hood figure. I read the commenters here and realise the importance to taking back the culture more every day.

  • Dave Meleney

    If we wanted to attract bold young graphic artists and other style leaders what might we want to do? Libertarians often think so much we have difficulty grasping how others navigate by feelings much of the time. It’s wonderful to see this post and comments — to see libertarians struggling to grasp why so many are attracted to Che and not to Friedman or Rand.

    Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s books which now sit atop the NYTimes lists for both hard back and paperback. Some excerpts are at his website: http://www.gladwell.com/

    Here in Denver the mayor gave him such an over-the-top introduction Gladwell could only quiet the applause by firmly denying that his ideas were responsible for the mayor’s election and marriage. But after the mayor’s detailed description of his first date with the lady he later married, no one believed the denial, especially since we had all seen the mayor’s most unusual TVads and his campaign which came out of nowhere.

    Gladwell is the first near-libertarian I’ve taken my daughter to hear where she said afterward: “Dad, he’s simply fantastic!”

  • It’s cool to advocate radical change and radical change needs a powerful agency to effect it. The State is the most powerful agency in the lives of modern Westerners. They are so poorly educated that they only know what they have experienced directly and that does NOT include the 20th Century examples of the misery and chaos caused worldwide by powerful states. I think Adam Smith, Tom Paine, Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper T-shirts are not a bad idea. They may or may not get you laid, but they may start a discussion which could transform someone’s life. That person might be the very one who makes a difference.

  • Luniversal

    I don’t think anyone has yet given a wholly convincing answer to my original question. Despite all this psychobabble about statism being a religion, the fact is that most people do not think the State is omnicompetent or particularly admirable. Moaning about lazy civil servants, officious traffic wardens, council tax, lying politicians etc etc is very much the thing to do among the highest and the lowest alike. But this never concretises into a general distrust and dislike of national collectivism: an understanding that voting out one set of masters for another changes nothing.

    Libertarians have failed to catch the spark of disillusionment with statism and fan it into a comprehensive rejection of collectivist nostrums. Maybe it will take a Gandhi-esque movement of passive resistance– a simultaneous unilateral declaration of autonomy on the part of thousands– to get things rolling. Beginning with mass burnings of ID cards? That WOULD be a spark…

    Meanwhile, for pity’s sake don’t dirty your hands with the piece of toilet paper called the ballot. A turnout of under 50% would be a shot across the bastards’ bows.

    PS: I don’t buy the theory that people only wear T-shirts with non-mingers on them. I’ve seen plenty with Mao and Lenin.

  • James

    How about a “Ming the Merciless supports fair trade” T-shirt? Really screw with their minds.

    Sometimes, you just have to butcher their concepts.

  • James

    Or better yet, a T-shirt with Che’s picture on it that actually lists his odious doings. And a big red crossed circle over him.

    Hell, I’m sure there are some choice Che quotes that might make the softies uncomfortable.

  • Steve P

    Some time ago I once watched a TV programme in which battery hens were being released from their cages. Most of them simply sat there, reluctant, or perhaps frightened, to leave the tiny enclosure they’d known all their lives. I suspect that although most people have have a general dislike of the state and what it stands for, perhaps they have become so used to having it run their lives that they too are afraid to emerge, blinking, into the sunlight.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    Indeed. I always marvelled at the stunningly large number of people who, throughout the 20th century, not only left everything behind but risked life and limb to escape places like Cuba, East Germany, the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea, Albania and every other outpost of the grand socialist experiment. And all to reach a capitalist destination. Many perished, most never looked back. Over the century, they number in the tens of millions.

    Yet how many took the same risks and made the same move in the other direction, fleeing the brutal, unjust burdens of capitalism for the better world of the popular republics ? How many allegedly socialist westerners have left family, career and more to move to Cuba ? How many intellectuals moved to Moscow or Pyongyang and remained there to live happily ever after ?

    Virtually none. Whether in Camden, at The Cuban, or The Pravda in Dublin, those so inclided essentially worship a Disneyland socialism that never existed anywhere. I, for one, wish I were a better actor and could make a good living pretending to be one of those ‘socially aware’ ‘progressive’ types. Because there is obviously a huge profit to be made exploiting their fashionable, self-conscious – self-centered even – intellectual proclivity.

    As Michael Moore’s success amply demonstrates, this crowd is most definitely not opposed to skillfully engineered global American brands taking over large chunks of their local market. And since I can’t for the life of me think of more satisfying an occupation than parting those fools of the money they love to despise, I can only look on in jealous envy.

  • Julian Morrison

    Steve P: why are you so insulting to other people as to assume they’ll behave like habituated chickens? Seriously, there seems to be quite a strain of contempt for humanity running through a lot of Libertarians’ theories. Just as with our opponents: there’s much commonality between “we need to control all the bad, stupid people with a state” and “they’re all bad or stupid, so they like to be controlled”.

  • Daphne

    Hell, I’m sure there are some choice Che quotes that might make the softies uncomfortable.

    “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the paredon (The Wall)!”
    -Ernesto “Che” Guevara

    That might work.

    Also, I’ve always wanted a t-shirt that said simply: “Adam Smith was right”

  • I once bought a Lenin medallion from a street pedlar.

    I thought of the purchase as a slightly more socially acceptable version of taking the scalp from the corpse of my enemy.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    Natalie, similar motive here. I occasionally wear USSR soccer shirts. Because they do look cool, in a retro sort of way, and having grown up with the cold war I just can’t get over the fact that all that’s left of it is a bunch of cheapo capitalist fashion doodles.

    And then I ended up in D.C., waiting in line for the Vietnam War Memorial on a warm Sunday morning in October of last year. It took me a while to connect my attire with the waiting vets’ disapproving looks. That was so f***ing embarrasing I doubt I’ll ever wear the darn thing again.

  • I find it hard to believe that on the topic of T-shirts, no one has pointed to the Bureaucrash store.

    The Che worship is at its peak on American college campuses. I would love a Rand t-shirt, although the prospect of being told by everyone I encountered “I grew out of my Rand phase years ago” would be aggravating, to say the least.

    Samizdata needs to put together a Popper t-shirt.

  • mike

    “Samizdata needs to put together a Popper t-shirt.”

    DIY anyone? Simply buy a £5 T-shirt, find an image of Popper or whomever on the web, then take t-shirt and CD with saved image along to your local print/copy shop and voila! – for another £10 you have the T-shirt of your dreams. Come on people.

    What Daphne said re Adam Smith. I’d prefer just the image of whichever illuminary with no accompanying text. Let them ask.

  • Robert

    …on Earth Day I could not find parking anywhere. I had to drive round the parking area so many times that I finally gave up and went home. Next Earth Day, I hope they have a Valet Service so I can have someone park my Gas-Electric vehicle.

  • Luniversal

    I can’t help wondering if the Popper who was so keen on ‘piecemeal social engineering’ would be as anti-State as all that in 2005. I suspect he’d be rooting for the Lib Dumbs.

  • mike

    Luniversal: surely all government legislation is an attempt at some sort of social engineering? Even legislation with the aim of reducing the scope of State power is a kind of social ‘engineering’ is it not – by virtue of the fact that it seeks to effect changes in social affairs?
    IIRC, Popper wrote a draft letter (and it remained a draft) of commiseration to Thatcher, after she had been dumped by her cabinet, in which he stated his support for her economic policies. That doesn’t sound very Libdem to me, and I don’t see why he’d have changed his mind 15yrs later.

  • Actually Ben, I am wearing a Bureaucrash ‘skeletal Che: communism kills’ tee-shirt as I type this comment 🙂

    And my buddy the mighty Dissident Frogman does some pretty cool anti-commie designs too (including some of the bureaucrash ones).

  • Well Perry, you are a luckier man than I.

    As tempted as I have been to order one of those shirts, my wife (dedicated to the maxim that it is never appropriate to wear one’s beliefs on his sleeves) would never allow it. Or, at the very least, the ‘domestic’ price I would have to pay wouldn’t be worth it. 😉

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Dissident Frogman has been out of action for a long time. What’s he up to, Perry? It’s about time he started posting again!

  • Re: Dissident Frogman… We are keeping him too damn busy doing…things… so blame us

  • Luniversal

    Mike: I didn’t know that Popper had become a Thatcherite in his dotage, but I do know that in The Open Society he denied the need for class warfare and revolution by arguing that Marx’s objectives (as laid down in the Communist Manifesto) had largely been obtained by peaceful parliamentary methods.

    Popper did not say that the objectives themselves– statist interventions to redistribute income and impose supposedly desirable social outcomes– were an illegitimate interference with individual freedom. His approach can be summed up as ‘Let’s go there, but more slowly and without bloodshed, undeceived by historicist mysticism.’ Popper never struck me as an instinctive libertarian; indeed, he seemed more state-minded than Hayek, Maggie’s lodestar.

  • Lee

    For a UK exile it’s really quite lovely to see the streets of London, the Union Jack fluttering in the distance and the maintained trend of fin hairstyles.

  • toolkien

    Collectivism is not a political program in the sense we are used to thinking about political relationships. It is a religious mythos, a secular creed complete with saints, infallible doctrines, sacred texts, and an unrelenting demand that its followers believe. The demand for faith acknowledges no failures, no shortcomings, no quarter for the enemy, and no heresy.

    Despite all this psychobabble about statism being a religion,

    I didn’t make the original post which made the above statement, but I will defend it.

    How else does one explain how a remote, yet robust, state comes into being? I assert that there is a very similar disconnect on the part of the masses who buy into a massive state bureaucracy as to that of religion. Both require a great deal of abstraction and faith to propel them. Both require a rejection by individuals of basic economic realities. Both contain the ‘A is A’ in Randian parlance. Both are repositories of Hope and Faith in their absolute sense.

    A State such as the Federal Government of the US is pretty much nonsense, as a cursory review of the ‘financial statements’ for 2004 indicates (the one which has ~$1.4 trillion in assets and ~$47 trillion in debt and present value ‘responsibilities’). If such nonsensical portrayals of ‘finance’, which continually rejects basic economics simply because ‘governments are different, different rules apply’, isn’t quasi-religious, then I don’t know what right and wrong, up and down, are.

    In a nutshell, the behavior of individuals within a religion and those in a Grand State are pretty much the same. Both are the results of the superstitious nature innate in the masses (what else can explain why people are willing to send 30% of their income/labor to the government level furthest away and send only ~4% to two government units (county and municipal) closest to them?).

    People seek to create a level of government that is removed from their reckoning, one that they can invest with whatever they need to to make their lives comfortable, and cannot be contradicted by proofs. Peoples’ faith in the State is just and unconquerable as that of the Church. Both provide a crutch for those who cannot handle reality.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Like a couple of commenters above, I very much doubt whether the average young person sporting a T-shirt with some dead Commie on it has a faintest idea about what such said dead Commie did. It is all about a vague sense of being “cool” and rebellious. But as Luniversal says, it seems rather odd given that libertarian ideas seem far more radical than anything you get from the scruffy types around Camden.

    I rather like my Frontsight firearms academy T-shirt. I may wear it up in Phoneyland sometime.

  • Duncan Sutherland

    I play in a band and wear this shirt to just about evey performance.

  • Mary Contrary

    So, Perry, on the subject of leftist glorification of Che Guevara, what do you make of this?