Fun Facts from the Left… (First of a possibly ongoing series…)

July 21, 2021 at 5:33 pm (Uncategorized)

  • Politics do make strange bedfellows. In 1972, Stan Newins, a Labour MP and a member of Tony Cliff’s Socialist Review Group in the 1950s who died earlier this year, wrote a book called Nicolae Ceaușescu: The Man, his ideas, and his Socialist Achievements. Huh?

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The Curious Case of Socialist Appeal

July 19, 2021 at 7:44 pm (Uncategorized)

According to reports in the British press, the British Labour Party is about to proscribe four groupings within it, leading to the possibility of the expulsion of up to a thousand members of the party. The four groups in questions are Labour Against the Witchhunt, Resist, Labour in Exile Network, and Socialist Appeal (but oddly not the Alliance for Workers Liberty or Socialist Action).

I don’t know the three other potential expellees, but Socialist Appeal has a long history. The group came into existence in the early 1990s as flush with “success” from the anti-poll Tax struggle, the Militant tendency under Peter Taaffe began to abandon its decades long entry strategy within the British Labour Party in favour of an open party organization. Sections of the leadership around Militant founder Ted Grant resisted the change in orientation and were expelled for their trouble. They immediately established Socialist Appeal, and along with their supporters throughout the Committee for a Workers International created the International Marxist Tendency (In Canada, they are known as Fightback!). The IMT and its member sections follow the classic Militant tendency strategy of working within the mass social-democratic (and occasionally bourgois-nationalist) parties organizing as “supporters” of a newspaper.

But here’s the thing. While Socialist Appeal is clearly an entrist organization that sees itself as winning the “mass organization of the working class” to a Marxist perspective, from the point of view of the Labour Party, is that such a bad thing?

Many years ago I had a conversation with a New Democratic Party campaign manager who told me he loved it when the Trotskyists came around to work on campaigns despite the party leadership’s efforts to remove them. At the time, the NDP was attempting to rid itself through individual expulsions of members of the Revolutionary Workers League, the Canadian section of the USFI (in all fairness, I should point out that the RWL had already been banned, but no longer considered itself Trotskyist, being a part of the Pathfinder tendency led by the US SWP and Jack Barnes, but I digress)

The organizer, whose name sadly has passed into the mists of time, noted that the Trotskyists were some of the hardest working and most reliable of the volunteers he had: they always covered their polls, they knew the line better than many other NDPers, and their poll counts were always the most accurate. Now if that meant they also tried to sell the occasional copy of Socialist Voice, then so be it.

Socialist Appeal is no doubt little different. Its supporters are the most pro-Labour Party. Unlike other entrists within the BLP (and the NDP), they will never leave the party or run candidates against it – their origin was to part company with Trotskyists who wished to do just that. While Socialist Appeal often dresses up its arguments in “Marxist” rhetoric, the differences between that an official Labour policy are of degree not fundamentals. So come on Labour, why kick out Socialist Appeal? They’re your biggest fans.

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The Beautiful Game (II)

July 18, 2021 at 3:38 pm (Uncategorized)

Written earlier this week, but oddly enough not published then…

Not so beautiful as it turned out.

Of course I was disappointed that England lost in Sunday’s European cup final to Italy. But what a game. An England goal in the second minute of the game raised spirits, and shocked Italy; it took them almost half an hour before they fully recovered and began to dominate. The equalizer came early in the second half. And yet, while Italy were the stronger team, they couldn’t quite put it away. Ninety minutes, then an extra thirty, and finally the dreaded penalty kicks (the worst way to lose a game). Penalty kicks have such a capricious feel about them, that it might be easier to decide the game on a coin toss. Still, penalty kicks it was, and after the shots, Italy had come out on top. After decades of fair to mediocre play and nostalgia for the glory of 1966, England had a team that looked as if it would capture the cup; it was a team that made people proud, going beyond expectations, but it did not clear the final hurdle.

But then the awful aftermath. The signs were there ahead of time: The booing as players took a knee tacitly endorsed by the government (cultural Marxism can only do so much it seems); the booing of the Italian national anthem; the violence before the game as fans tried to get in without a ticket; English fans setting off fireworks at 2AM on the day of the final near the Italian team’s hotel, and let’s not forget, try as we might, the sight of a fan with a signal flare stuck up his arse belching red smoke. And, as tearing down others is Britain’s other national pastime, it didn’t take long it didn’t take long for racist trolls to begin spitting invective against Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho.

Despite stoking the fires, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel both issued statements deploring the racist outbursts. However, a more telling incident involved a Conservative MP from Dover, Natalie Elphicke. After the loss, Elphicke tweeted, “Last night I shared the frustration and heartbreak of millions of England fans. The team gave their all. Congratulations and onwards to the World Cup!”

However, at the same time in a Tory chat group of over 200 MPs, she wrote “They lost. Would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.” Soon afterward, one of her colleagues leaked the offending text (the right wing rag The Daily Mail suggested Elphicke had been “forced” into a “grovelling apology,” indicating they agree with the original comment) Elphicke’s apology read in part, “I regret messaging privately [Emphasis added] a rash reaction about Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and apologise to him for any suggestion that he is not fully focused on his football.”

I like the beautiful game, but it does not exist in a vacuum outside of and separate from the society in which it is played. The ugly nationalism, the racism, the desire to win at all costs, are not separate from the class society in which the game is played. As Orwell once noted”

On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue….Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

George Orwell, “The Sporting Spirit” (1945)

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The Beautiful Game

July 5, 2021 at 4:58 pm (Uncategorized)

“Every football club has its ‘supporters’ and a supporter can be someone who has never kicked a ball in his life. He goes to the match in his car, or by bus or the metro. He participates in the action and plays sports via an intermediary. He quivers with enthusiasm, he fidgets frenetically, but he never moves from his seat. A curious kind of ‘alienation.’ Sport is an activity which is apparently incompatible with illusion, and yet in fact it confronts us with a reverse image, a compensation for everyday life.

-Forward to The Critique of Everyday Life

If you’re playing some kind of trivia game, you want me on your team. No brag, but my head is filled with trivia and stuff that has no use except for competing in trivia contests. However, I have a blind spot: Professional Sports. This wasn’t always the case. When I was younger I loved tennis, and like every British schoolchild, I loved football. All you needed was a place to play, a couple of mates to divide into teams, coats or school bags to serve as goalposts, and a ball. I supported Arsenal, but never saw them play in person. When I moved to Canada in 1981, my interest waned. Sure, if there was a match on, or an international competition I might watch, but it was no longer fever pitch.

In 1998, I worked at an international ESL school in Toronto during the World Cup. After the first couple of days of play, the school re-arranged its class schedule because none of the students were coming to afternoon classes when the games were on (didn’t matter who was playing). Bowing to an unstoppable force, the school moved one of its big TVs into the common area so any student who wanted could watch the game (and they wanted!) Students would ask me if I was a big England fan – I told them I was, but it usually didn’t require much long-term commitment.

When football it played well, it truly is the beautiful game. But there’s so much baggage that goes along with it. In the passage quoted above Lefebvre noted the displacement by sport, similar to the Surrealists’ critique of museums. of watching, but not doing. This voyeurism reaches its illogical (or perhaps logical) conclusion with the various unboxing videos that fill YouTube channels.

In 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series (so named for a competition in which the teams are almost exclusively from one country). The streets overflowed with people. It was a remarkable moment of public joy. (A similar event took place in 2019 when the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship) . And yet…most people did not the know any of the players personalty, and the players themselves were not from Toronto. In addition, the team that won the second championship was significantly different in membership that the first. No one offered to buy me a drink because I was from Toronto. And yet “our” team had won.

And there’s that…”Our team.” English football fans have a long and largely deserved reputation for bad behaviour, but they are no means alone. The “wars on the terraces” has a long and ugly international history, between clubs, between countries, and of course if you throw race into the mix…. the fascists of the National Front and the British Movement actively recruited in the stadiums, and a quick scroll through any social media reveals the racism directed against players who do not fit the “proper” profile (admittedly, if they are responsible for a victory, this ugliness ebbs only to return in the event of a defeat). Listen to the boos as players take a knee – though a number of waggish commentators have noted that England’s recent performances have dovetailed the practice, leading some to speculate, did England have to adopt Marxism to be good again?

So to the European Cup. At time of writing, England are in the semi-finals against Denmark on Wednesday. I’ve watched all of the England games, and have thrilled as they triumphed. But I haven’t succumbed to appeals to the Spirit of 66, the year England won the World Cup (I was two years old, and none of the current team were born, not even manager Gareth Southgate). I’ll be disappointed if England lose to Denmark or either Spain or Italy, but I won’t be committing acts of violence if they do. After all, it’s just a game.

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Music Notes: June 2021

June 30, 2021 at 2:30 pm (Uncategorized)

New Music for the summer.

The Linda Lindas – The Linda Lindas
You probably saw the film of the Linda Lindas at the LA Public Library performing “Racist, Sexist Boy.” (with a drummer wearing a Bikini Kill t-shirt no less!) Their debut 4-song EP is more pop-punk but just as wonderful

Faye Webster – I know I’m Funny HaHa!
When I first brought home a Hank Williams album, my dad was pretty shocked. Heh, country music has its charms. And around the same time I discovered Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. Faye Webster’s fourth album may be more folk than country but it pulls from both traditions. Great songwriting and delivery.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
Any band that takes its name from an Angela Carter story is worth a closer look. This third album is a brilliant piece melding pop, rock and alt sounds.

The Kills – “Cosmic Dancer”
New single from the band which hopefully means more new music soon. A cover of the old T-Rex song. It’s pretty good, but my heart is currently lost to Nick Cave’s version.

Griff – One Foot in Front of the Other
Not the kind of thing I usually recommend, but this mix-tape is a perfect summer pop release. I can’t say any more than that. (OK, “Black Hole” is absolutely marvellous)

The Black Keys – Delta Kream
I’ll be honest, I’m pretty up and down with the Black Keys. Some of their stuff is really amazing, but other things don’t move me as much. Delta Kream is in the first group – a great collection of interpretations of old country blues songs. Fantastic

Various artists – The Problem of Leisure
A tribute to the late Andy Gill. There’s a lot of stuff here, and some of it is great. But like Gang of Four’s own material, it’s not equally great. Worth a listen though.

Various Artists – Angel Headed Hipster
No question Marc Bolan deserves a tribute comp. Nick Cave and Joan Jett among others are great, but I could do without U2 and Elton John.

Birds of Maya – Valdez
Completely new to me, but reminiscent of the sluggy blues jam of Endless Boogie (while being completely original). Psychedelic jams. Really great for long drives on the highway.

Paul Weller – Fat Pop (Volume 1)
What can be said about Paul Weller? I missed the Jam, and never saw the Style Council either. Did catch him a couple of time live. Weller is one of the few still standing from the class of 77 who is turning out new music rather than retreading the past. Another great record.

Till next time.

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The Joy of the Pamphlet

June 29, 2021 at 1:26 pm (Uncategorized)

I was moving some things around in my basement, and came across a box of old pamphlets. Such memories. Long before I began to experiment with indie-publishing I began to collect pamphlets. There’s something marvellous about them.

I attended the Montreal anarchist bookfair for almost two decades (along with similar ventures in Toronto and Hamilton), and the best seller items were always pamphlets. Sure, sure, people wanted some of the books I sold (used, as well as by PM Press, AK Press, Charles H Kerr and others), but a pamphlet had two advantages.

It was cheaper. Pamphlets are fairly DIY . Any word processing program has some version of a program that will allow you to print pamphlet-style pages. As a result I could do layouts myself. My only costs were the heavier card cover and photocopying (yeah, I had to buy a long arm stapler too). As a result, I could price the pamphlets between one and three dollars. Compared to some of those lovely titles from PM or AK which often ran to $25 plus, a pamphlet was an easy investment.

Second, the social investment was less. If I buy a $25 book and don’t read it, it sits there on my shelf or bedside table as a reminder of a wasted acquisition. Taking up space. But a $1.50 pamphlet? If I don’t read it, so what? It was only the price of a cup of coffee.

It’s also less intimidating to read. This summer’s project is The Critique of Everyday Life. I bought the 3-in-1 Verso edition, and it’s over 1000 pages. That’s intimidating. A 30 page pamphlet? I can read it on the bus on the way to work.

Actually, Marty Glaberman once told me that when the Correspondence group published pamphlets, they made them longer and narrower in order that you could fit them in your jacket or your back pocket of your trousers. When you got a break. You could take them out and have a read. You can’t do that with the Critique.

Oh and the box, here’s some of my favourites (Not for content, but just the idea)

  • Healy “Reconstructs” the Fourth International – the pamphlet that got the late Ernie Tate beaten to a bloody pulp by Healy’s goons after they objected to him selling it outside one of their meetings.
  • Problems of Entrism – the hush-hush ultra-secret document published by the pre-Militant tendency Grant group in the British Labour Party
  • Party and Class – A reprint of a Chris Harman article with faux-cyrillic lettering by the Independent Socialists (shortly after they changed their name from the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada to the International Socialists
  • For an Independent and Socialist Quebec – Published by the League for Socialist Action in 1971, a handwritten note by Ian Angus has it it was “the first copy of this pamphlet sold in Canada.”
  • Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism – Mini biographies of Bakunin, De Leon, Gorter, Dietzen, and others by Guy Aldred from 1940
  • As We Don’t See It – A piece from Solidarity London, some of which was re-published in the very first issue of Red & Black Notes
  • The Russian Revolution – An article by Trotsky published by the British Revolutionary Communist Party around 1944

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Back to Regular Updates (or Not)

June 29, 2021 at 1:25 pm (Uncategorized)

June was busier than usual, so this blog was pretty quiet. As the month ends, my time has freed up and I hope to be back to a more regular schedule. We shall see. There’s a few half-finished pieces which will appear soon, Trump is back on the circuit playing the hits, and there’s sort of a return to normalcy in life, so with a bit of luck, more comments and stuff.

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A Word about Work

June 13, 2021 at 9:58 pm (Uncategorized)

Back in the 1990s, and certainly both before and after, I read a number of books and articles about the abolition of work. We can argue and disagree about what work is and what it might look like under a future society, but it should be possible to agree that under capitalism work is something that is imposed upon us.

I remember a great joy during a soulless temp job reading Kamunist Kranti’s A Ballad Against Work when I was supposed to be doing whatever bullshit task I had been assigned. (A similar joy is to go to the movies during the work day on a day off or even better when you’ve called in sick: enjoying whatever pop culture distraction when others are toiling. )

A quarter of a century later, I’m still working. (although retirement looms large now). I work in a job which pays relatively well, and it’s one that for the most part I enjoy. One of the most enjoyable parts is that I work with people, but for the past year and a half I’ve been working from home. I still have contact but it’s phone, text, email, zoom, google meet or some other e-communication. Not the same.

I’ve got some holidays coming in a while and I’m certainly looking forward to them – a chance to read a book, do some gardening, get involved in unalienated activities (or at least less alienated) . Yet, I have to admit a part of me is looking forward to going back to work in the fall at my old workplace. We are social creatures. Imagine what it would be like to be engaged in activity, call it work it you must, that was free of the alienated structures imposed upon us.

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From the Desk of FischerZed…

June 13, 2021 at 9:56 pm (Uncategorized)

I write in absolutely certainty that not a single one of my 1,200 plus posts here received as many clicks as any of Trump’s on his recent blog. But I’ve been doing this blog since around 2008, Trump didn’t last a month. Ha!

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Music Notes : May 2021

May 31, 2021 at 7:56 pm (Uncategorized)

Some things then.

  1. Wayne Kramer – The Hard Stuff
    Warts and all autobiography from the former MC5 guitarist. Pretty compelling stuff.
  2. Zoundz – The Curse of Zounds
    Anarchist pop-pop on the Crass label. Bought their first single about four decades ago, and it had a poster with a quotation by Proudhon. Huh. Still irresistibly catchy after all these years.
  3. Louder than War is the magazine/web site managed by John Robb of the Membranes. They’ve had some hard times lately, and are looking to build their subscriber base along with a tiered structures for supporters. Worth giving a few bob.
  4. Olivia Rodrigo – “Driver’s License”
    OK, teen pop, but way more bitter. Give it a listen.
  5. Geoff Pevere – Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story
    One of the great shames of my life, and there have been many, is that I never saw Teenage Head. Not ready sure why, as I lived in Hamilton in the eighties. Just never happened. Well, there’s always those great records, and there’s also this bio by the also great Geoff Pevere.
  6. Can – Tago Mago
    Spending a lot of time listening to the new Can live album, but this old classic keeps finding its way into the rotation as well.
  7. Teenage Fanclub – Endless Arcade
    One of those bands. You know how some bands suffer from the law of diminishing returns? A great record, and then a series of not so good ones. Then there are bands who effortlessly turn in brilliant albums. Guess which category TFC falls into?
  8. Paul Humphrey
    Humphrey has the singer for Toronto new wave band Blue Peter. Great band with some very catchy songs (“Factory Living,” “Take me to War” and “radio Silence” among my favourite). Passed away last month at the age of 61.
  9. “The End of the World”
    It’s a real kick hearing that old nugget in the new Eternals trailer. Not sure whether I prefer the Skeeter Davis original or the version Sharon Van Etten recorded for the Man in the High Castle soundtrack,.
  10. Bob Dylan.
    He turned 80 last week. It’s been a long road, and I haven’t enjoyed everything, but Dylan is probably the greatest American songwriter of the 20th century. Many happy returns.

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