Revolutionary Charisma: Blake, Avon and The Fight Against Fascism

(by Patricia Carter Email:

There are seasons, in human affairs, of inward and outward revolution, when new depths seem to be broken up in the soul, when new wants are unfolded in multitudes, and a new and undefined good is thirsted for. These are periods when . . . to dare is the highest wisdom.

--William Ellery Channing

A recent discussion of the B7 episode "The Way Back" on the Space City Mail List has really reminded me of why I was at first and continue to be so taken with the entire concept of Blake's 7 in the first place. And that reason has to do with its overtly political -- and more specifically antifascist -- overtones. I have always been inclined to view B7 as a serious political allegory of the radical, revolutionary left. The Federation, as a kind of Brave New World meets 1984, is, plain and simple, a fascist regime. As political allegory, I believe that B7 has the rare ability to speak volumes about the plight of real, ordinary people in their various historical struggles for freedom (however they understood that concept) both in the past and the present.

A little while ago there was another discussion on the list about charisma and yes, Roj Blake certainly has it, though it's obviously not the same kind of sexual charisma of say, third and fourth season Avon. But what fascinates me most about Blake's charisma and what I think makes him so effective as a revolutionary leader who can so easily draw people to himself and his cause is the fact that Blake has that rare capacity among human beings in a technologized, dehumanized, amoral fascist world, to inspire them to be more fully human -- at least in the sense of thinking and acting beyond the narrow, selfish individualism of their own needs and desires -- in the interests of safeguarding all of humanity's well-being. For lack of a better phrase, I will refer to this kind of charisma which yokes social transformation with personal change as "revolutionary charisma."

I think that Blake's "revolutionary charisma" inspires an inner debate within people's conscience, such that their normally selfish tendencies are posed sharply in contradiction with their unselfish, more collective tendencies. Avon, I believe, is a case in point. Yes, there is some serious selfishness here in his impulse toward greed and self-preservation at the cost of other lives. But the power of Blake's influence on Avon is that despite this strong streak of cynicism and greed, Avon's less developed instincts of unselfish concern for others manifest themselves at a greater level than they would have without Blake's influence. Remember, this selfish, cynical Avon, who can neither believe in the good of himself or of other people, still takes up and pursues the "good fight" against the Federation, against fascism. Remember here also that this is the same Avon whose initial crime of bank fraud was not intended as an overt political act, but as a means to further his own selfish end of achieving wealth and individual independence. Still, in Blake's presence, Avon's actions work toward a goal far larger than his own selfish desires. The fact that he never professes even the most superficial belief in this goal (but instead openly mocks "the cause") shows the sheer power and effectiveness of Blake's influence, of this brand of transformative charisma, I believe. And, I don't think Blake could have accomplished half of what he did in those first two series without Avon's efforts or his expertise.

I see the discovery of Star One and the threat of the Andromedan War as watershed events in terms of the escalation of contradictory impulses in Avon's consciousness. For in both these cases, at Blake's urging, Avon's impulses toward preserving collective humanity triumph over his own selfish individual desires. And this is why Avon's relationship with Blake is so intense, and so taxing to Avon himself. Blake, in exascerbating the key tensions at the foundation of Avon's consciousness, his psyche, his very soul, if you will, is demanding a hell of a lot from Avon, without ever acknowledging it. He is demanding that Avon and the other "criminals" who make up his crew work through those contradictions and in doing so transform themselves by evolving to a higher level of humanism, of humanity. Again, the work of self-transformation here occurs simultaneous with the work of societal transformation. Avon, too fearful to believe in the goodness of himself or in others, fights Blake every step of the way. But I think seasons one and two show Avon still doing the "good" thing in terms of safeguarding other people, the crew and all those who have to benefit from the Federation's overthrow.

Of course, the only way Avon can resolve his contradiction and choose more collective action is by believing that the spur to such collective action is really his own narrow, selfish individualism. But that doesn't quite have the ring of truth to it to me. I also get the definite sense from the incidents on Gauda Prime that Blake may never really have been aware that he expects so much so quietly from Avon, or of the effort it took Avon to just be with Blake in this respect; i.e., I don't think Blake was ever truly cognizant of the truly awesome and awful power of his charismatic effect on others, particularly Avon.

So, I like the character of Blake because he has the awesome ability to inspire others around him to be better people than they themselves ever intended -- or even -- desired to be, all in the name of some "greater good," some larger struggle for humanity. This doesn't mean that Blake himself is free of faults or narrow individualism. As Avon realizes, Blake's leadership, seemingly democratic on the surface, is still very much a hierarchical one with him deciding for the most part what to do, when and where (though he is very open to suggestions as to "how.") And many of us are all too familiar with many fans depiction of Blake as manipulative, especially of Avon. Blake also has a certain degree of ego involvement in his cause (given what the Federation has done to him, how could he not?), and one could certainly detect not a small degree of selfishness, specifically, in the form of an impulse towards selfish self-vindication in his desire to destroy Star One. Recall the scene when he, Avon and Gan first reach the deserted room that was supposed to be Star One, and Blake's first reaction is "We did it! I did it!" Recall also the look on Cally's face when Blake answers her question about whether or not destroying Star One is the right thing to do.

Still, I feel, my reading of the power of Blake's revolutionary charisma has made me grasp more intensely, so much more tragically, the pain and trauma of that final scene on Gauda Prime. Fourth season Avon, a seasoned and weary "terrorist," has been too long without Blake in the sense of having his initial urges toward cynicism and selfishness countered by Blake's unwavering commitment to achieving collective "good" for humanity. Thus, given Avon's third season discovery of Anna's betrayal and the emotional devastation this wreaks, when the merest whisper of betrayal surfaces about Blake, how could Avon not respond in that old cynical fashion of utter belief in the "evil" and manipulative self-interest of human beings? What's worse, the fact that Avon continued the fight after Blake's disappearance, even after losing the Liberator, shows the extent to which he had been changed by Blake, and that he really did possess impulses and potentialities to be something other than selfish and cynical. (Of course, he was also fighting for his own self- preservation against the Federation's attempts to kill him.) And now to see the cause of his intensely painful self-rending, namely Roj Blake (who is not doing a very good job of allaying Avon's cynical suspicions) under the rumor of betrayal -- well, how could things have ended any differently?

The pathos of that final scene, that penultimate video frame haunts me still: Avon, deeply broken and immensely scarred human being that he is, facing a Roj Blake for whom he obviously has bonded with in an intensely emotional way despite or because of Blake's having personally turned him inside out, and who, to Avon's mind, seems at the moment of betrayal to have been capable of far less of an emotional attachment to him. Yes, Avon had to kill him then. The pain was too unbearable. And of course in destroying Blake, he destroyed much of his own potential to give in to the unselfish and uncynical impulses so hidden within his own flawed humanity. This is human tragedy writ large.

In the end, I guess I wrote all this to say that I take B7 seriously politically, particularly in the tradition of the so many real men and women who gave their lives to the struggle against fascism and social inequality from the Spanish Civil War to the fight against Hitler, on down to the US Civil Rights Movement, and stretching even farther back into history. All of them, like Blake and his crew, were reluctant revolutionaries, all deeply flawed, all not without a lot of personal baggage and selfish desires. But in striving to do their parts in a struggle against fascist oppression that was so much bigger than their individual selves, they all, I believe, were made into better human beings.

Viva Blake and Avon!

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Last changed on 12th of April 1999