The Prometheus Revolution


Keith Burstein

A moment of transformation is in full flight across the world. It’s barely possible to keep up.No sooner have you absorbed the shock of the public lynching of George Floyd than the President is hiding in a bunker, the uprising of outrage is taking hold everywhere on the planet and even the BBC is intoning about monuments being “unacceptable”.

 The dashing of the statue to slaver Colston in Bristol was cited by Al Sharpton in his eulogy at the funeral.
The toppling will be remembered down the centuries as a symbol of emancipation.
The young people who rolled the statue into the water immortalised themselves.
For many of us there is a sense of deja vu. We thought this change of values 
might come through a political party. Many in the UK hoped it might be delivered by Jeremy Corbyn.
Then there was the setback at the General election and it seemed those hopes were again extinguished. 
But what we are watching is not the result of a movement, its the cumulative energy of centuries, of millennia even.
It’s unstoppable in the way that moral energy can be when its harnessed to the right purpose. The purpose is the ending of racism, the scourge of Humanity, and the single biggest obstacle to progress in the world. If we cannot overcome the ancient curse of racism, we cannot survive as a species;its as simple as that.
Who can say what originated this blight of racism on humanity? Homo Sapiens arose in the East of Africa. We were one of many different types of Human tried out by Nature. We were not the most intelligent type.
Apparently Neanderthals had larger brains. But we were maybe the most curious, and – most likely, as all the other types of Human have disappeared, the most aggressive. About 100,000 years ago we began to leave Africa and explore other areas. In that short time we covered the whole planet.
We exterminated life as we spread. You can follow the route by following the path of the extermination of life as we migrated. We killed everything in our way- other Human types, of which there were at least ten, the large animals and then went to war against each other which we’ve been doing ever since. We seem to have a pscycho genome. We are psychopaths, all of us.Those who settled in the north became pale. With our built in hatred of ‘the other’ we despised the ’blacks’.
They were regarded as sub human.
“We hold these truths to be self evident;that all men are created equal”.
But lets be clear- thats all whites – and men only, who own property, – not the natives of North America.As George Washington the slave owner said,
“The native is but as the animal in the tree.” and referred to his slaves as “a species of property”.
Lincoln was also a racist. He wanted to deport the Africans. He was later persuaded to abolish slavery as the North could not compete with the South economically. That was the reason, not a moral reason.
The public lynching of George Floyd revealed that the US is still driven by the Ku Klux Klan value set. The Klan is not an eccentric extremist throwback – it is the nuclear core of the culture, it is the throbbing engine of the national identity, the source of all energy and all power in America .This is the key to Trump. He is the Grand Wizard.
Here in the UK, in a sleight of hand only the Norman ascendancy could bring off, the abolition of slavery became the national narrative instead of the fact that the British Empire had carried out a crime against Humanity that outdid even the Holocaust in the number exterminated over centuries. When abolition came it was motivated by the same economic imperatives as in the US, hidden beneath hand wringing and bleeding hearts. The slave owners were compensated, not the slaves, and Britain became a moral hero, instead of seen as a mass murderer.
Because the imperative was money not morality, the temper and tone of society remained unredeemed. In the US the Klan remained in power. Here,the values of Empire remained in place up to the present. We saw it in the response to 9/11 when war on Iraq was launched with the same spirit of ‘Christian’ zealotry as the Crusades, and with equally ugly outcomes.
Throughout the Anglo Saxon world the implicit systemic racism emanating from slavery still applied.Look at Windrush, Stephen Lawrence and many, many other examples. But the writing was on the wall since 9/11. This was the critical moment of radicalisation, the politicisation of an entire generation.
The 2003 march showed it – an unprecedented event replicated round the world. Then the 2008 systemic crash of the banking system- which was itself a kind of aftershock from 9/11,and from which the global economy has never fully recovered,  then the rise of the Occupy Movement and the revelation of the 1% of the 1% owning the world. Suddenly even owners of five bedroom houses on Clapham Common realised they were ‘poor’ compared with the 1%. Their children, and those from every social group, camped outside St Pauls and around the globe. They elected Jeremy Corbyn leader of the Labour Party- an unthinkable event – and he nearly became Prime Minister in 2017.
We thought the subsequent election defeat of December 2019 was a setback- but actually it was just a quirk of Brexit and the moral energy just kept rising. Now, under the pressure cooker of lockdown this moral energy has exploded out globally.
What will define this movement? Well for a start, not being led by middle aged white men.But what is striking about the demos is that it is a rainbow amalgamation of every possible type of person.
Has Humanity finally thrown off the ancient curse of racism? I would like to think so.
In 2018 my opera The Prometheus Revolution was premiered at the Arcola Theatre.
It dramatises the moment of an uprising in Britain when the values of Humanity, acceptance of diversity and mutual respect and love for all replace those of war, greed, destruction and racism- a moment uncannily like now.
I called it Prometheus revolution because of the redolence in the name of suffering humanity, of a humanity chained by fate, suffering and yet never yielding, forever aspiring and struggling against oppression.
I was already known to Jeremy Corbyn as the composer of political opera. In 2008 he defended me in Parliament by organising a press conference for me there when I was forced to sue the Daily Mail Group for libel for accusing me of glorifying terrorism through my opera Manifest Destiny – which imagines would be suicide bombers renouncing violence and becoming peace makers.
By the time of The Prometheus Revolution premiere two years ago in 2018 my work in political opera had also caught the attention of John McDonnell and he attended the premiere.
John arrived a little late at the performance, just as the revolutionaries, locked in prison by the ancient regime, are told by their leader Peter, a rich banker with radical sympathies, that he had already, before their arrest, transferred two trillion pounds out of the City and redistributed it to every adult in the country.
Yet the fight lives on….
…..lives on the street amongst the people.
Aaron, our time is coming, victory’s in sight,
can’t you see?
We are in prison, we have no power.
Yes, we do;I have transferred from the Regime to the People
two trillion pounds…in our hands, two trillion pounds…two trillion pounds…two trillion pounds!
Wona, Des. Aaron,
What!… How!?
The entire wealth of the Despots has been transferred to the Revolution.
Then we have real power!
Then we’re in control?
That’s right, we’re in control.
I really enjoyed John walking in at that moment. You can still see him do it on the video.
Sometimes you need serendipity.
At that moment in the drama the Prometheus myth is fulfilled as Peter has stolen the fire from the Gods and gives it to the mortals, transferring full power away from the elites and giving it to the people. The world is transformed instantly.
These are the crucial lines from the libretto-
Our dreams of Humanity, and of dignity, of justice,
our endless quest for knowledge, and for freedom
to think…..
……Our dream of the equal worth of every Human in the world
of whatever creed or colour or type they are….
Peter/ Wona
….. now comes to pass, now opens before us.
We led the way, now we’ve cleared the path….
Maybe George Floyd just cleared the path for us out of the blight of racism and into the light of a new world.
Keith Burstein. 10.06.20

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