The Allure of Social Media

January 8, 2017 at 4:43 pm (Uncategorized)

First post of the year.

I’ll be honest, I’m not much for social media. Sure, I’ve run this blog for a while, but beyond that…I had a Face Book account for a while, but I almost never updated it and had no friends. My reasoning was that there was probably a reason I was no longer friends with people I went to high school with.  Occasionally I used the account to enter contests, or to promote an article or review I written here, but it never really grabbed me. After a year or so, I deleted it.

I do have a Linked-in account though (the boring business version of Face Book). A few years back,  I ran into an old girlfriend from university  at a show. We talked, exchanged email addresses (followed one a single ‘how are you doing’ email), but a few days later, I received a request to add her to my Linked-in network. The novelty of it intrigued me, so I created an account. It’s pretty much dormant though I do update it now and then. What is interesting is the “are you friends with” suggestions. Man, some people use inappropriate pictures – this is a business site after all! A guy I was friends with as a teenager in England did look at my page a while back, so I checked his. He’s a cop now.

In November, my old cell phone died. The screen went black. It was eight years old, and it had a good life. So, I upgraded to a smart phone.  the new phone came with a bunch of fun things including Twitter. After some hesitation i activated that account. Initially, I just  followed celebrities I liked (and then unfollowed just as quickly), but after a while, I began to tweet:  Observations, announcements, pictures, re-tweets. Nothing profound, and to a very limited audience. Still, when you click on the app. and “See new Tweets” pops up, it’s exciting. There’s a thrill when someone retweets you, likes your tweet or follows you, along with a sense of disappointment when someone unfollows. Terrifying.

I’m not on instagram or snapchat and it seems unlikely that I will join. Still, here’s a thing. A friend of mine was able to track down a person who works in a store within minutes just by using social media discovering all sorts of details about their life. suddenly the warm and fuzzy aspect takes on a potentially sinister side. Especially when you hear the stories of cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying courtesy of some of the loathsome trolls on the net.  When I was in school, bullies could be avoided by careful strategies and simply by going home. Social media means that the bullies can follow you home.

A few years back, a friend of mine was convinced that the next waves of struggles could be coordinated by social media and was very much enamored by the flash mob phenomenon. Well, the allure faded. But maybe, we can use the master’s tools. And not just to continue a streak.


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Goodbye 2016

December 31, 2016 at 5:27 pm (Uncategorized)

I was joking with a friend that maybe this ought to be “Good Riddance 2016,” but seriously…. This was the year we lost Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Elie Wiesel, Alistair MacLeod, Prince Buster, Carrie Fisher, Gary Shandling, Leonard Cohen and many many more, as well as seeing a boorish, vulgar, narcissistic sociopath chosen to be the leader of the most important country in the world. <sigh>  But, if I’m being honest, I’d admit that most other years suck too. Still, there were things that made it worthwhile, along with family, friends and dog, the following made life a little easier.

1 The Mekons

For those who don’t know, the Mekons are one of the last standing of the class of 77, but what’s cool is unlike some, they continue to make great music that sounds fresh and vital. Saw them at the Horseshoe this year, and they were wonderful. If you can find their newest release Existentialism which comprises a live CD,  and a book of essays, poems and art, get it. Great.

2 Neil Gaiman

One of my favourite fantasy authors. In addition to releasing a collection of essays, The View from the Cheap Seats that sent me scurrying to find new books mentioned, there were radio plays of Stardust and How the Marquis got his coat Back, a reading of Poe’s “The Raven,” and the impending TV adaptation of American Gods. Very cool. And to cap it off, my friend Lindsey bought me an American Gods T-shirt for Christmas.

3. Prince Edward County

I know what Marx said about the idiocy of rural life, but you really should see Prince Edward County. About ninety minutes drive from Toronto, it’s a place where time seems to move a little slower. Beautiful to look at, and filled with interesting things to see, and some very nice wine. Apart from an unfortunate allergy related incident while horse-back riding, a very pleasant week.

4. The Sleaford Mods

No less a person than Iggy Pop proclaimed them one of his favourite bands. Who am I to disagree? Imagine Half-Man Half Biscuit with a keyboard, and a lot more swearing. Definitely NSFW, but  absolutely brilliant. Playing Lee’s Palace in Toronto on April 1st. Got my ticket. Get yours because you’ll be sorry when it sells out.

5. The Exorcist 

I read the book when I was a teen, and even though I was an atheist, I was too scared to see the movie. I still haven’t seen it. The TV series obviously doesn’t compare to the book or I suppose the movie (It’s network TV after all), but it’s one of the most creepy and unsettling things on at the moment. The scene in the first episode in the attic with the possessed daughter is skin-crawling. I can’t imagine how scared I would be if I did believe in God.

6. Kim’s Convenience 

A CBC adaptation of a Soul Pepper play makes for a gentle sit-com. The story of convenience store run by Korean immigrants in the Cabbagetown /Regent Park area of Toronto isn’t ground breaking, but it’s a treat each week.

7. The Royal Ontario Museum

Went yesterday to see the Chihuly exhibit. The exhibit is very cool, although it didn’t move me as some have done. Still, leaving aside the Surrealists critique of museums and art galleries, it’s still a remarkable place to hang out.  Got to pet a live lemur too.

8. Lemur Shirt

And while we’re on the subject of lemurs, I bought a very cool (IMHO) lemur shirt from Frank and Oak – relax, it’s not made of lemurs, it just has lemurs on it. Likewise a camel shirt from the same establishment.


9. At the Existentialist Cafe 

When I was in high school, I read a lot of existentialist literature: Sartre, Camus  and even some of the theory – Being and Nothingness did me in though. Sarah Bakewell’s account of the theory and its leading members is a very readable book, and brought back a lot of happy (?) memories for me. She was even nice enough to reply when I sent her a note.

10. Grand Hotel Abyss

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that it’s going to be increasingly fashionable to mention the Frankfurt School in the same way it was to slip the Situationists into conversation a few years back. I’m currently about half way through Stuart Jeffries’s book, and am enjoying it immensely. The title is from a critical remark  by Lukacs, but not entirely an unpleasant place to spend one’s time.

11. Young Animal

A new imprint by DC comics and curated by former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way. If DC’s Vertigo line was horror, Young Animal is surrealism. So far the YA line consists of Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye, the Doom Patrol (both written by Way), Mother Panic and my favourite Shade the Changing Girl. Highly recommended.

12. Kensington Market

Between Spadina and Bathurst, and bordered by College and Dundas is Kensington Market, one of my favourite areas of Toronto. Rich ion radical histroy (Emma Goldman lived there, and the Communist Party owned buildings), it’s a fascinating piece of life. Constantly under threat of gentrification, the market continues offering cheap and essential goods often unavailable elsewhere. Yes, some will prefer St. Lawrence, but Kensington has a much more vibrant culture.

13. The Beguiling

The best comic shop in the city and beyond (we can argue about that later). I’ve been a regular at the shop since the 1980’s when it was on Harbourd.  The store is currently moving out of Mirvish Village to make way for condos, but has happily relocated to the Northern border of Kensington which will give me more reasons to spend time there. Haven’t been to the new location yet, but soon…

14. Ms. Anti-Matter Science Wear

OK, their web site is down at the moment, but they have a lot of cool science stuff there. I bought a rather nice caffeine tie from them, and they are regulars at Fan Expo.

15. The Museum of Steam and Technology

Travel down to Hamilton, and you can see this pretty cool place. It’s you’re a steam-punk fan or not, it’s worth a trip to see how the mighty engines of steam worked.

16. The tie clip

You can spend a lot of money on a tie clip, but a cool one attracts conversation (for the record, I usually get them at Kensington Market’s Courage My Love). NEVER use a piece of scotch tape to keep your tie in place. You know who I mean.

17. Endnotes

Time was once my favourite political magazines were Internationalist Perspective, Aufheben and Radical Anthropology. I’m a member of IP,RA seems to have stopped publication, and Aufheben has become leftist in its orientation, but Endnotes is a worthy replacement. The journal is published by former members of Aufheben, and is a dense read (imagine if Conrad wrote political theory), and appears sporadically. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it’s essential reading.

18. Deadpool. 

OK, I had to be convinced to see this one. I didn’t really like the character in the comics, and there’s a lot to dislike about the film: Excessive violence, several ridiculous plot points, the real absence of a plot, questionable C.G.I., and so forth, but for the time Ryan Reynolds is on screen, and he’s on a lot, Deadpool is incredible. Funny as hell. Pure idiot escapism. Can they do it a second time? Probably not, but I can live with that.

19. The Sunshine Grill

My favourite greasy spoon. Apparently, it’s become a chain. I used to go to the one at Yonge and Eglinton, but you can find them across the city and beyond – I took my mum there for Mother’s Day in St. Catharines this year. Cheap, clean and a good selection. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

20. This year’s closing will be short. The final word of Rogue One spoken by Carrie Fisher’s character Princess Leia: “Hope”

Enjoy 2017.



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Music Notes December 2016

December 26, 2016 at 10:49 pm (Uncategorized)

The final notes of the year,a little early. Here goes.

1 Various artists – Sharon Signs to Cherry Red

A magnificent 2 CD set of indie pop, but that’s way too much of an understatement. Over fifty tracks of obscure, often amateurish female singers and bands, and no less wonderful for it. Punk, country, sixties pop. If your grandma gives you some cash for Christmas, use it on this.

2. The Oxford American Music Issue

and if you’ve money left over, this should be your other purchase. A magazine of music writing and  a really terrific CD to go along with it.

3. Cate Le Bon – Crab Day

Poppy, but weird. I know that’s not much if an insight, but Le Bon is a singular talent that’s best appreciated by experiencing rather than reading what I could say about her.

4. Valerie June – “Astral Plane”

New track from Ms. June. New album in the new year, and she’s coming to Toronto in February. Hear it on SoundCloud.

5. PJ Harvey at Massey Hall

I almost missed out on this one. Ms. Harvey will play Massey Hall in April. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this show.

6. Lydia Loveless

Saw her at the Adelaide Hall in November, and I never did write a proper review. Loveless did a solo acoustic set of her own stuff with a few choice covers (Elvis Costello, Justin Bieber) thrown in. An intimate country roots atmosphere. One to watch.

7. Brian Eno – Here Cine The Warm Jets

Eno’s first post Roxy Music album sounds a lot like…Roxy Music. Not entirely surprising as apart from Bryan Ferry, the while band play on it. Still, the more experimental stuff creeps in too. Well worrying seeking out.

8. The Velvet Underground – loaded

Listen to the fully loaded edition on a recent drive to my parents. It seems inconceivable that three years earlier this band made White Light White Heat. Not to diss Loaded but just to note. Still Loaded is a great rock n roll record and you can see why the band broke up when it wasn’t a hit

9. John Critchley – crooked mile

Critchley was the singer and songwriter in 13 Engines a brilliant Toronto band. I believe this was his only solo release. The first half is also brilliant pop rock. Well worth a listen

10. The grim reaper refuses to slow down

In a year where we lost Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen, you’d think that would be enough. Rick Parfitt of Status Quo and yesterday George Michael. Who was the wag who wrote about the only good thing  to happen this year was that Keith Richards didn’t die?

Back in a couple of days with some other stuff from the year in review.




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What Goes Around…

December 16, 2016 at 12:47 pm (Uncategorized)

The latest spin for the Dems loss seems to be that Trump was the recipient of aid from Russia.

But amid the horror that another power interfered in their election, isn’t a little history appropriate too? After all, it’s not unheard of that the US has, er, influenced, the course of elections and politics to get its way

El Salvador
And that’s just in one breath. there’s plenty more. How much time to you have…?




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Lies, Facts and more Lies. And Maybe some truth.

December 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm (Uncategorized)

What was it Churchill said, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts? Guess that’s not true any more.

I’m not sure if I was amused or terrified (maybe both) by Trump spokesperson Scottie Nell Hughes’ statement recently:

“Well, I think it’s also an idea of an opinion. And that’s—on one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go, ‘No, it’s true.’ And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way—it’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”

OK, well, all that proves is that Ms. Hughes doesn’t know the difference between a fact and opinion. But it does have remind me of when Humpty Dumpty“ notes when he uses a word “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Uh huh.

Still, to the main point then,

Anyway Alex Ross’ piece  “The Frankfurt School knew Trump was coming,” has a nice quotation.

 Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no one can say whether he died or escaped, survives. (Adorno)

The whole article is found on the New Yorker’s web site and it makes me want to seek out the new book on the Frankfurt School by Stuart Jeffries Grand Hotel Abyss now half-price at Verso’s site.

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Bob Dylan’s Nobel Acceptance Speech

December 14, 2016 at 1:17 pm (Uncategorized)

And here’s the speech. Dylan’s acceptance speech was read aloud by United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji.

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

 I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

 When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

 But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

 My best wishes to you all,

Bob Dylan

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Music Notes November 2016

November 30, 2016 at 11:43 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m a bit pressed for time this month, so I’ll say, if you’re doing your holiday shopping early, you could do a lot worse than these folks.

  1. Norton Records – kicks just keep getting harder to find
  2. Ace Records – Reissues you never knew you needed.
  3. Third Man Records -Hello Jack White
  4. Merge Records – Superchunk, superchunk, superchunk
  5. Captain oi – For all your punk rock needs

Get shopping!

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Internationalist Perspective on the US Elections: This is What Democracy Looks Like

November 27, 2016 at 11:18 pm (Uncategorized)

Hey, I just read how Trump is claiming he won the popular vote too. If you subtract the “illegal” votes that is. 🙂

Now read this…



A few questions linger after these elections. Such as: is the new US president a psychopath or is he a sociopath?

Whatever the correct diagnosis may be, it can’t be denied that his election testifies to a considerable increase of discontent, disaffection and anxiety in a broad swath of the American population. Trump won, by adding to the traditional Republican votes, those of many in the white working class, who in previous elections voted for Obama or not at all. Let’s not exaggerate his appeal: only a quarter of the eligible voters voted for him; his opponent in fact got at least a million votes more than him but, as you know, he won in the Electoral College. ‘That’s what democracy looks like’, as protesters (unintentionally ironically) shout in American streets, while they’re being chased by the armed protectors of the democratic state.

There are good reasons for discontent, disaffection and anxiety in the American working class. Because of the sharp competition on the global labor market and the unstoppable march of automation, more and more people are unsure whether they will have a job tomorrow, and in what conditions. Hidden unemployment is rampant. The gap between rich and poor grows. Around the world, wars and poverty create an endless stream of refugees. Climate disasters become worse and more frequent. And it won’t get better any time soon. According to a recent study, poverty and insecurity will increase sharply in the US in the coming years. [1]

One would think that this would make fertile ground for the left. But it is the right that conquers the imagination of the masses. The right, in an anti-elitist disguise. Of course, Trump did not appeal to the working class alone. He made sure to make enough reactionary promises to satisfy the core voting blocs of the Republican party, and enough assurances to the owners of capital (the stock market went up after his election). His authoritarian appeal cut across class divisions. Rampant anxiety and worries about globalization are not limited to the working class. The influx of migrants (which is the result of the poverty and disintegration that capitalism creates), terrorism (which is part of the wars capitalism generates), the rise of chaos and despair generated by this system in crisis, create fears that are fanned and exploited by politicians like Trump. In times of great confusion, decisiveness becomes very appealing to many. Decisive leaders rise to the top, because their belief is so strong that it inspires trust. But as the writer Kurt Vonnegut pointed out, these decisive leaders, “unlike normal people, are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don’t care what happens next.” That explains the success of madmen like Trump, Erdogan, Duterte, Orban and so on. Of course, Trump cares what happens next. He cares what happens next to Trump, but not what happens to you and me.

But to extend his appeal to the working class, his anti-elitist stance was essential. “This is not just a campaign”, Trump repeated over and over, “it is a movement. It is a revolt against the elite. We’ll drain the swamp in Washington”. Never mind that he himself is a proud member of the 1%, even of the 0,001%. So much the better, because it means “I know the system better than anyone;” as he often proclaimed, “that makes me into the only one who can fix it”. But he stood outside of it, so he proved with his language and attitude. He insulted the party bosses, he was rude, unpolished in a calculated way. Trump successfully framed the elections as a choice between an anti-politician and a paragon of the power-structure, between a real person and a professional liar, between change and continuity. In this election, almost all the flaws of the winner worked to his advantage. His lack of political experience, his limited knowledge, his crudeness, his prejudices, his boasting, his aggressiveness, his sexism and racism, his unfiltered emotional outbursts, his chilly relation with his party-leaders, his political uncorrectness, it all heightened the contrast with Clinton, that polished product of the Washington establishment, supported by Wall Street, by most of the media, by the movie and music stars, by the experts and most generals, by the trade unions and scores of other institutions.

The bulk of the American left supported Clinton as well, led by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Moore. Many were motivated by their revulsion of Trump’s sexism and racism. Still, it was remarkable how arduously the left campaigned for the candidate of Wall Street. Some on the left even uncritically circulated Democratic propaganda “proving” that, contrary to Trump’s claims, Americans never had it so good. Which alienated them even more from those who, in their own life, experienced something else.

Yet the same left helped to prepare the way for Trump. For many years, the unions have been saying that the root of all problems is not capitalism but unfair foreign competition. Opposition to trade-agreements was the main theme of Sanders, as it was for Trump. No wonder almost a fifth of those who voted for Sanders in the primaries later chose Trump. Sanders’ message, just as much as Trump’s, was “America First”. Let’s keep our factories to ourselves. Despite all their differences, Trump and Sanders share an essentially capitalist, nationalist vision, based on the conflict of interest between “our” capital and theirs. [2]

It may have been that Sanders would have won if he would have been Trump’s opponent. His angry tone, his unpolished demeanor, his message of “change” might have fared better than Clinton’s promise to keep up the good work. But, despite the fact that Sanders would have been as little a threat to capital as Tsipras in Greece, the time for a left wing president in the US had not yet arrived. There were no mass movements to contain, no mood of class revolt to be calmed. The Democratic machine felt sure that the center would hold.

Trump’s triumph sowed panic in the left. “It’s the end of an era!” “Within a year, America will be a smoldering ruin!” “It won’t take six months before he starts a war!” and other dire warnings circulated wildly on ‘social media’. Even a pro-revolutionary group like the Marxist Humanist Initiative was caught up in the anti-Trump hysteria. “The whole world has been turned upside down”, it proclaimed on its website, exhorting its readers to fight, not against capitalism but against “Trumpism”.

Let’s take a deep breath.

Trump made a lot of promises. To the working class, he promised to bring back “the good jobs”; stable, well paid employment “like it used to be”. He promised good times, not just in the metropoles of the East and West coasts, where economic conditions have somewhat improved, but in the rust belt, in the vast areas of the country were the prospects of working people are somber. How is he going to do that? By scrapping trade-agreements, raising tariffs, deporting undocumented immigrants and launching infrastructural projects such as his famous wall on the border with Mexico. Indeed, a distasteful recipe. But will the soup be as hot when it’s eaten as when it was served during the campaign?

The president of the US is a powerful person and yet also nothing more than a cog in a machine. He can’t change the inherent dynamic of the machine. That’s why globalization and automation will continue under president Trump as well. Capital seeks profit. That is the ground principle that every manager of capital must heed. Globalization and automation are the means to increase profits in our times. But they also bring capitalism’s crisis to the fore: its productive capacity outruns its capacity to consume productively, its drive to lower labor costs tendentially reduces the source of its profit: the exploitation of labor power. Crisis is the result, as well in the form of sudden collapses with paralyzing effects as through a slowly creeping erosion of value, including the value of workers. With devastating effects. No wonder there is nostalgia, and not just in the working class, for a time when globalization and automation were not yet buzz words, for those prosperous post- world war decades, which Trump so skillfully exploited.

This also means that it will become quickly clear that Trump’s promises are nothing more than cynical lies. The “good jobs” he promised to coal miners, auto workers and steel workers, are not coming back. There is more steel being produced in the US than ever, but with only a small fraction of the work force than before. There’s no turning back. Neither will the undocumented immigrants disappear. They are too valuable as a cheap labor source. Who else will wash the windows of Trump tower or mow the grass of his golf courses or make the beds in his hotels for a measly wage? Even his great wall will probably never be built.

What promises will he keep? Even under the unlikely assumption that he meant everything he said during the campaign, his dependence on the Republican establishment, dominant in Congress, would prevent him from major deviations from the bipartisan common course, such as pulling out of NATO, scrapping NAFTA, or becoming too cozy with Russia.

Some lesser changes are possible of course. He may resist new free trade-agreements. He may cut a deal with Russia on Syria and may become more confrontational with China. He may weaken the already very weak measures taken on climate change. When he scraps TPP and takes measures to boost domestic manufacturing, the left will be in the embarrassing position of having to applaud him.

Trump, Sanders and Clinton all promised a major increase of spending on infrastructure. Trump also promised tax cuts, especially to the rich. This means a continuation, even an increase, of budget deficits. It shows capitalism has nothing new to offer to address its crisis. More debt will be piled on the existing ones, the can will be kicked down the road. A new “great recession” is probably not far away.

It seems likely that there will be a lot of turmoil in both major American parties. To the degree Trump would stray from the Republican mainstream, conflicts within the party would multiply. The Democrats will be divided as well, like the Labour Party in the UK: its left wing, unrestrained by governmental responsibility, will feel free to “radicalize” in an attempt to shore up its image. Others, the more “moderates”, will see an opportunity in the rightward swing of the Republicans to occupy the center and reconquer power.

Demonizing Trump will be one of the ways in which the left will put on a radical face. Some of them are comparing Trump to Hitler, warning that this could be the last election in the US, like Hitler’s was the last one in Germany. But Trump is no Hitler. Not even a Mussolini, although his facial expressions sometimes bear an uncanny resemblance to those of Il Duce. There will be more elections. Trump is a democrat, and we don’t mean that as a compliment. Democracy is the most fitting form of government for a developed capitalist society.

A better comparison would be Andrew Jackson, the US president from 1829 to 1837, which also was a time of great turmoil. Jackson, aka “Old Hickory,” campaigned as the embodiment of the backwoodsman “cracker” spirit, as his critics put it, even though by the time he was elected he had become a slave-owning planter just like the wealthy elites who had bamboozled or bullied so many freeholders out of their small plots. He lacked “statesmanlike qualities” but the fact that “Jackson did not look or act like a conventional politician was a fundamental part of his appeal”, the historian Nancy Isenberg writes [3]. “He was boastful and overbearing, not “a government minion or a pampered courtier,” an outsider who promised to clean up Washington corruption by the bluntest methods available. As one of his enemies wrote, “boisterous in ordinary conversation, he makes up in oaths what he lacks in arguments.” He was “quick to resent any who disagreed with him,” and “eschewed reasoned debate in favor of challenging his opponents to duels”.

Sounds familiar?

Just like Trump he was anti-political correct, a megalomaniac, crude and aggressive. Like Trump, he won thanks to the support of white working class voters. Like Trump, he was generous with populist promises which he neither could nor wanted to fulfill.

To keep the support of his working class voters when it became clear that he had sold them out, Jackson needed an enemy, an “other” to scapegoat, to unite the country against. The victims at hand were the native Americans, those “barbarians”. His brutal Native American removal policy, in which thousands died, made him popular again.

It is not too far-fetched to expect Trump to choose the same tactic when the emptiness of his promises becomes clear. There are plenty of potential targets to canalize the frustrations to, as Trump already demonstrated during the election campaign. It remains to be seen which one becomes Trump’s favorite enemy. And it remains to be seen whether the Jackson tactic will work today.

Trump’s success is not a uniquely American phenomenon. But his victory encourages brutal leaders around the world and gives wind in the sails to right wing populists in Europe and elsewhere, who ride the same wave of anxiety and discontent. Meanwhile, the left in power, ranging from the “socialist” Hollande in France to Tsipras in Greece and Maduro in Venezuela, amply prove that they have no solutions either for the cataclysms generated by capitalism’s crisis.

How worrisome is this rightward swing?

It is not the lack of success of the left that is worrisome, but the lack of real resistance where it counts: in the work places, the schools, the streets.

The capitalist class keeps us mesmerized by its awesome battles between left and right and center, by the spectacle of democracy. This year: more gripping than ever! You can’t look away! Every vote counts! Regardless of the outcome, the elections were “a great teaching moment”, as Obama said. A great propaganda campaign for democracy, which reduces the possibility of real change to the ballot box, which can only produce different managers of capitalism, but never end capitalism, while capitalism is the root of the problems which those managers pretend they will resolve.

Real change can only come from resistance to capitalism, from refusing its logic. This decade started hopefully, with the Arab Spring, the strike waves in Asia, in Greece and in France, the movements of the indignados and Occupy…. Despite their weaknesses, they testified to a growing belief in the possibility of an alternative to the horrible, insane world we live in. The tide was turned through outright repression, and the whole toolbox of capitalist propaganda: nationalism, ethnic pride, religion, racism, democracy and fear. The very effects of capitalism (war, poverty and the resulting rising stream of refugees) proved helpful in making people accept the strengthening of the capitalist state.

Poverty, wars, dislocation, massive migration will continue, since they are the logical outcome of the inherent dynamic of capitalism. But that they would continue to be as useful to divide the exploited and the oppressed, is not a given. History does not follow a straight course. We may be “in the calm before the storm”, in which the will to survive will overcome the divisions created among us. It’s not a certainty. But it’s a possibility.



[1] See: .

[2] Similarly, “Occupy Wall Street”, that is the leftists who still use the name of the movement, even though it is a mantle on a corpse, devoted at least 95% of its mailings in the past years to opposition to the TPP free trade-agreement.

[3] Nancy Isenberg: WHITE TRASH: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Viking 2016

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Notes on Trump : Insurgent Notes

November 20, 2016 at 8:18 pm (Uncategorized)

There’s a lot more that could be written about the US election and “Trumpism.” Internationalist Perspective will have something out shortly, and instead of adding more of my own comments,  I thought I would post links to some of the other things being said. There will be much I don’t agree with, but they are worth a look.

This piece was published by the online review Insurgent Notes in October: President Trump?  

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Leonard Cohen and Me

November 20, 2016 at 8:05 pm (Uncategorized)

A week has passed, and I’m still sad.

I first heard of Leonard Cohen in an English class in Grade 13. For some or other reason, I wasn’t able to make the regular English class fit into my schedule, but my guidance counselor suggested a class called Canadian English. OK, I’m game. We read Mordecai Richler, Gabrielle Roy, David French and more, and in the poetry section Irving Layton (we went to see him read) and Leonard Cohen.  Our teacher, Mrs. Hayes I think, showed us a grainy black and white film about Cohen from the CBC, and we read a few of his poems in the class. Maybe it was being a moody teenager just getting into folk music, but something about Cohen’s work struck a note.

A few days later, I was in a used bookstore in St. Catharines and found a copy of Let Us Compare Mythologies , which is still a favourite. After hearing “Susanne” in the classroom, I bought Songs of Leonard Cohen and listened to it over and over again.  I read his first novel The Favourite Game, and loved it. I found Beautiful Losers difficult. A few years later, for our first Christmas together, I gave my wife Cohen’s new work,  The Book of Mercy.

I saw Cohen perform live only once; at the O’Keefe Centre around 1993. I was a great show although in all honesty, I prefer the stripped down Cohen accompanied only by an acoustic guitar rather than the later period full arrangements.  The first Leonard Cohen tribute has a great selection of songs, but who can deny that Nick Cave’s version of “Tower of Song” and John Cale’s “Hallelujah” are better than Cohen’s? (OK, some will)

For me, Cohen was always about words. It’s where his “true”voice was. And now that voice is quiet, it’s likely we’ll only come to appreciate it more.

I haven’t listened to his new record, but the reviews suggested it’s one of his best. I’ll get around to it. For now, I think I’ll have another crack at Beautiful Losers.

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