New (Old) Ultra left site

February 28, 2009 at 5:33 pm (Uncategorized)

Ladies and gentlemen, start your browsers. The fine people at Class Against Class  are back updating their site, and now they have a new web address. 

Inactive for a couple of years, CAC has moved, and added a few new things. In addition, most of the articles are availabvle as PDFs. Nice.  Well worth a look.

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Goodbye Miss Brahms

February 27, 2009 at 10:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Are you being Served?  was probably one of the worst sitcoms of my youth, and yet one with legions of fans (safe in the comfort of middle age, I can falsely claim never to have liked the show, but alas as a child…).

The show was filled with stock characters: the sexually ambiguous Mr. Humpreys (is he gay or isn’t he?), the upper class Captain Peacock, the working class Mr. Mash, the Lothario Mr Lucas, etc (I’m not sure how to categorize Mrs. Slocombe, but no show was complete without a reference to her pussy) Still, I’m sure many watched just for dolly-bird Miss Brahms.

Miss Brahms was played by Wendy Richard who died yesterday from canacer, aged 65.

After Are You Being Served?Brahms appeared on Eastenders, but I was never ever a fan of that. (the truth this time) Worth remembering also is her vocals as the bored cockney teenager on Mike Sarne’s  hit Come Outside.

 It’s funny, how as we age, pieces of our history fall by the side, and we measure of our lives by these milestones.

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Bad link fixed

February 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm (Uncategorized)

The link to Internationalist Perspective’s site in the previous post was inaccurate. I’ve fixed that.

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Alienation, Isolation and Blogging

February 24, 2009 at 2:28 am (Uncategorized)

A few weeks ago in response to a post called Creeping socialism?, I received the comment, Is capitalism worth saving?; Unfortunately, I never got around to posting a response to what I assumed was a rhetorical question. 

For the past thirty years of my life, I’ve consistently held that, no it isn’t: We can do better than a system which, while rewarding the few, offers little more than poverty, racism, oppression and so much less to untold millions. Although my understanding of the problem, and the ways in which capitalism might be abolished and what should replace it have changed, my basic antipathy toward a society based on the law of value has remained constant. I’m currently a part of  an organization called Internationalist Perspective.

So what has all of this got to do with the title of this post? I came across the following cartoon on the delightful From Despair to Where blog, and knew I had to reproduce it here.



When I showed the cartoon to my wife, she said, Huh, that’s you. Not so, not so I protested. A friend at work wondered why people even bother to blog. My brother in law noted, I suppose anyone can find the time to keep up a blog, if they are disciplined enough. The question is not, can they, but why would (or should) they?

For many radicals, the Internet is a godsend. It allows us to accomplish and to communicate so much more.  Documents send and replied to perhaps in minutes rather than weeks or months. When I read Trotsky’s correspondence in the 1930s as he tried to breath life into his Fourth International, I couldn’t help but marvel of the time it must have taken just to get replies.  While even the Internet couldn’t have saved Trotsky’s stillborn international, it would certainly have made the effrot a little easier. However, there’s the downside. Remember Marx’s comments in the German Ideology about the 1840s Young Hegelians: busy creating intricate philosophical systems only so they demolish them theoretically.

As that famous eleventh thesis on Feuberbach noted: Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. Now, contrary to some, Marx wasn’t arguing that philosophy was rubbish, and now the task was to go and change the world. He meant that philosophical contemplation had to be linked to something practical in order to be of a lasting point.

Too often then the Internet and blogosphere serve as substitutes for actual radical action. Alone , we sit at our keyboards.  

Some people suggest though that a blog is a bit like a technologically enchanced zine.  Probably the most famous zine , at least to my generation, was Sniffin’ Glue, The brainchild of Mark Perry. Perry went to a Flamin Groovies show in July 1976 where the Ramones were the support. After the show, Perry went home and typed up his notes. At the next show he sold them. The spontaneous nature of the effort was infectious, and pretty soon, Sniffin’ Glue had spawned its own scene (interestingly my old publication Red & Black Notes  had a similar origin, thought it was political not musical)

There are of course key differences. A zine takes quite a bit of work: There’s the writing, the art design, the production, the distribution, what to do with all of the copies you didn’t sell (I’ve still got boxes of old Red & Black Notes issues in the basement). And there’s the audience. I have a pretty good idea who bought all of the R&BN’s. Aside from some which I left in indie-shops, I sold all of the issues, either in person or mail-order.

The blog is different in key ways. First, the only part is the writing. There’s no production in the same way as a zine. Yes, you can make your blog beautiful, but it’s not the same. Second, blogging is a mass media. Not mass necessarily in the the number of people who read it, but mass in the sense that the audience is unknown. I have no idea who my audience is, and I suspect that this may be found in the portmanteau which is the origin of the word blog: web log. I.e., public diary.

In all too many cases, the blog becomes just that. An airing of whatever comes into the writer’s head; no matter how mundane or trivial. True, zines also served that function, but blogging is sooo much easier.

Take no offence my friends. Judging by the number of hits this blog gets, the number of people interested in punk rock, ultra-left politics, comic books and trashy TV shows isn’t too high either – I’m in no position to judge.

So, my delight is that the Internet and the blog allows us potentially to communicate to greater levels, but my fear is that ultimately, it leaves us more and more isolated. Alienated, isolated, commodified.

Perhaps it comes back to the question I began with: Is capitalism worth saving?  I think not, but another question is what will happen to capitalist technology after the abolition of capitalism. For a long time, the answer has fallen into too groups: the anarcho-primitivists who to some degree or other all reject technology as inhuman, and the other anti-capitalists who said, oh technologies fine, just get rid of capitalism. Brave new world indeed. Perhaps the place to end then, is to consider a discussion about how neutral technology is. But that will come later.

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The Graveyard Book

February 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm (Uncategorized)

A young boy loses his family in tragic circumstances; indeed, he is lucky to remain alive himself. but instead of death, he is granted a second chance, and a second family who raise him and protect him from danger until the day he becomes a man.  It’s a familiar story – in fact it’s The Jungle Book.And yet, Neil Gaiman who opens admit his debt to Kipling’s story, has given a wholly original spin to this story in The Graveyard Book.

I discovered Neil Gaiman almost twenty years ago when he was writing the Sandman Stories (the first one I read was A Dream of Cats). Gaiman’s stories took myths, legends and popular culture and mixed them in wildly original ways. I loved American Gods, my kids loved The Wolves in the Walls, and  The Day I swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish, and my eldest loved Coraline, and now The Graveyard Book.

The Graveyard Booktells the story of Nobody Owens, called Bod by those who know him. One cold night, while he is just a baby, his entire family falls beneath the savage knife of the Man Jack. By an accident of fate, the baby crawls away and into a nearby graveyard. There is is rescued by the ghostly population, protected by the mysterious Silas, and adopted by the Owens family. In the discussion over his name, it is mentioned, he is like Nobody. and thus he is named.

Each chapter details Bod’s growth. His relations with the other ghosts and his education. His mid-adventures in the spirit world and with the terrors that lurk there (be careful of ghoul gates when you visit the cemetery), his relations with humanity, including an abortive attempt to go to school, and finally the mystery of the Man Jack.

Neil Gaiman is a skilled writer.  It’s a rare talent to write for adults and for children. There can be few people, who’ve not said, oh I could write a children’s book, but it’s not that easy. Gaiman doesn’t condescend when he writes for kids, and so people like me, well into life, enjoy it too.

Like Mowgli, Nobody Owens is part of a bigger world. But like him, you are fortunate enough to peek into it with this novel. Off you go now.

(Oh, and it you haven’t read the Kipling Stories, but just saw the film, it’s worth reading them too. )

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Music Notes February 2009

February 19, 2009 at 1:29 am (Uncategorized)

1. The Only Ones

One of my favourite bands in the 1970s. Another Girl Another Planet, whose meaning I didn’t figure out until many years later, is one of the great new wave (to use a much maligned term) songs.  Peter Perrett had a great elegantly wasted look, ala Keith Richards or Johnny Thunders, a thin reedy whine somewhere between Lou Reed and Gordon Gano, and incredible drug problems. (It’s probably no accident Pete Doherty cites him as an influence)There’s a long interview with Perrett on the Mojo Blog this month.

2. Heartless Bastards – The Mountain.

A week ago, I’d never heard of this band, but there was a very positive review on Zoilus, Carol Wilson’s blog. I checked out their myspace page, and bang, I was hooked.  Their new album is full of great blues riffs, and lead singer  Ericka Wennerstrom has a completely compelling voice. If this sounds a little fan-boyish, there’s a reason for it. Check out their myspace page for a preview.

3. Original Seeds

Nick Cave is a towering figure.  Original Seeds is an interesting collection of records which either influenced Cave or he outright covered. Original Seeds comes in two volumes (I got the second last weekend), with songs by Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Gang of Four, Nina Simone, the Stooges and many many more. The cool thing about this compilation is the very detailed sleeve notes, which slots each song into Cave’s continuiioty.  

4. The Gun Club – The Fire of Love

The years after punk were in some ways, even more interesting than punk. Punk was a much needed reaction to the bloated excesses of 70’s rock. But quickly, the reaction became reactionary. A new orthodoxy was proclaimed. So often the most interesting music was being made by people who said let’s keep the revolution going or those who said we love punk, but we love other music too.

Jeffrey Lee Pierce of the Gun Club loved reggae, punk, Blondie and the delta blues. How many punks covered Robert Johnson on their debut records?  The Fire of Love, almost thirty years after its release still sounds fresh. Gripping, terrifying music.   

5.  M.I.A.’s clothes

Like a public Dorian Gray, Maya M.I.A.  Arulpragasam’s records get better and better. Her first album Arular was an amazing debut – a glorious mix of hip hop, electronica and pop. Her second Kala was even better. A global mix of all of the above, and third word sounds. Who knows what the next will be like.

But the picture in the closet, or out of the closet, is her wardrobe. As M.I.A.’s star has written, her sense of dress seems to have disintegrated. I don’t know what she was thinking at the Grammys last week, before or during her stage show, but honey it doesn’t work.  Was that mean? No more What Not to Wear for me. ( Hey I’m not alone – check Go Fug Yourself)

 5. The Priscillas

Long live the garage! The Priscillas are another fine all-girl indie band from the UK. I article I read somewhere suggested they might be the kind of people the Cramps would invite to a party. Have a listen at their site, and download a megamix of the new album.  

6. Neko Case

Wow. I remember when she was the drummer for Cub. Then Meow. Then a solo career with her boyfriends. This month I’ve read flattering profiles in Oxford American and the New York Times . New CD on March 3, but you can download the new single People Got a Lotta Nerve from Anti The New York Timesarticle reports that for every blog which reports this offer, Anti will donate money to an animal charity Case supports. The offer ran from January 14 to February 3. The Times issue appeared February 15. Go figure. Maybe it’ll do some good anyway.

7. Buddha Machine

I saw this piece in the New Yorker, and it’s just too weird too ignore.  FM3 an ambient duo based in Beijing have created essentially an ambient 8-track. The nine tracks on the thing range from 5 to 45 seconds and loop over and over again. The New York Times called it beautifully useless. How could you not want one in your house? Soundscapes in Toronto sells them.

8. Lunafied

Old news, old news. But it’s funny how a band can do covers. I’ve always thought there’s little point in recording a cover version if it sounds more or less the same as the original. Make it different. Put your stamp on it. The best covers do that. Everyone remembers Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower, although I still prefer Dylan’s (call me crazy). Remember the buzz about Uncle Tupelo’s cover of I wanna be your Dog. Virtually unrecognizable, but brilliant. Johnny Cash had the incredible talent of recording songs which then sounded as if he had written them. This tended to overshadow his own songwriting talents, but so it goes. Luna’s covers album is another instance. They all sound like Luna songs now. One complaint – where’s the G ‘n’ R cover gone?  

9. Bring the Noise

Simon Reynolds wrote the best book about post-punk, Rip it Up and Start Again. A delightful, incisive read which brought back lots of memories. He has a new book out Bring the Noise about hip hop. Probably worth a look.

It’s a short month, so it’s a top 9.

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The Cramps in Bollywood?

February 16, 2009 at 2:33 pm (Uncategorized)

A comment on The Cramps: An Appreciation suggested that although this track wasn’t ever covered by the Cramps, it wouldn’t have been out of place. Can’t disagree with that.  Jaan Pechechaan Ho was recorded by Mohammed Rafi. This video is from the 1966 film Gumnaam. It’s also used in Ghostworld

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The Cramps – An Appreciation

February 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm (Uncategorized)

Last week’s passing on Lux Interior essentially means the end of  the Cramps. Lux and Poison Ivy were the original members, and the only two constants during the groups three decades of existence.

The Cramps’ origins began in 1972 in Scramento, Ca., when Erick Purkhiser picked up Kristy Wallace when she was hitchhiking.  In 1975, they moved to New York and became part of the emerging punk scene there. But they were unique. They weren’t exactly punk like the Ramones and the Dictators, and they weren’t the literary rebels like the Talking Heads, Television or Patti Smith.  

In the sleeve notes to How to Make a Monster, Lux mentions he once told a friend his band was like Carl Perkins mixed with the Shadows of Knight. “that sounds horrible!” was the response. But for more than three decaces, the Cramps blend of rockabilly, punk, horror, sci-fi and B-movies served us very well.

Here’s a few high points.

Gravest Hits 

 A five song EP containing Human Fly, Jack Scott’s The Way I Walk, Domino,  the Trashmen’s Surfin’ Bird and Ricky Nelson’s Lonesome Town. They were, as Lux proclaimed on Garbageman, the hottest thing in the north to come out of the south. Jack Scott’s The Way I walk was a Cramps live favourite, then one night Lux turned on the TV, and saw Robert Gordon performing the song. He was bitter. The Ramones cover of Surfin bird was cool ‘because they asked us first.’

 Songs the Lord Taught Us.

The first full length record. Highlights:  the whole damn thing. Covers of the Sonics, Johnny Burnettee, Peggy Lee, and more. I was a Teenage Werewolf neatly incorporated Link Wray’;s Rumble. I got this for Christmas in 1980, and played the thing to death. Today, it’s available with extra tracks. If you’ve seen the great 80’s vampire movie Near Dark, remember the bar scene? That’s the Cramps version of Fever playing during the slaughter.

After Songs the Lord Taught Us, the Cramps and IRS owner miles Copeland hada falling out over royalties. For a couple of years, they didn’t record and when they did, they had a new guitarists. Kid Congo Powers, formerly of the Gun Club and later of the Bad Seeds. Kid Congo was a great guitarist and had co-written ‘For the Love of Ivy, ‘ on the Gun Club’s Fire of Love  but he wasn’t as weird as Bryan Gregory.

Consequently, the second album, Psychodelic Jungle sounded , well, restrained. Make not mistake, it’s still a lot of fun: Goo Goo Muck, the Crusher, and Green Door are inspired, but overall they can’t match the dementia of STLTU. Psychodelic Jungle was repackaged with the Gravest HitsEP. It’s value for money, but you can’t help but notice the difference between the two recordings.

Smell of Femalewas a welcome return to form. The risque title, Ivy in a cat suit on the cover, and pow! a great live recording of all new songs. Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Call of the Wighat, and many more including the Count 5’s Psychotic Reaction. My only complaint, is it’s too damn short. The CD version adds three tracks – two from the concert, and Surfin Dead which appeared in some mid-eighties zombie movie.

And that’s it for me. I like the other Cramps records, but these ones are extra-special. OK, I do have to mention How to make a Monster which was released on Vengeance in 2004. Monsteris 2 CDs of questionable quality home recordings, demos and live versions. For the Cramps fan though, it’s a treasure trove. You can really trace the development of the songs. The bulk are from the early days, some even feature Kicksfanzine editor and A-Bones drummer Miriam Linna on drums. Almost all of the early ones have Bryan Gregory. Pretty much everything on this record is unreleased, and there is a very nice booklet with many many cool pictures – including a couple of Ivy when she worked as a dominatrix (Focus! Focus!)

I saw the Cramps live three times. Always outstanding.  If you never saw the Cramps live there’s plenty on You Tube, but seek out this concert from Napa, a state mental home. 

It just about sums things up.

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Creeping Socialism?

February 15, 2009 at 3:57 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve spent a couple of days (OK minutes over  a couple of days) looking for a quotation, but alas, no luck.

The quotation went something like. The Rich are in favour of socialism; but for themselves. The rest of get capitalism.

I saw a clip on the Inveresk Street Ingrate  blog from Glen Beck. Beck is outraged that Obama has made the mildly populist, and politically astute proviso that CEO salaries in firms which receive bailouts should be capped at $500,000. For Beck, this is evidence of the creeping socialism in Obama’s government. Oh Glen, that’s not socialism. The purpose of the bailout is to save capitalism.

I received a letter from my bank a few days ago telling me that the little RSP payments I make every year to get a bigger tax return are worth a little less than they were when I started this particular plan about four years ago. The letter went on to inform me that this was perfectly normal and a part of the regular business cycle. Now, if you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ll know I don’t regard this particular crisis as a normal part of the business cycle, but something deeper, more fundamental. But even if I did accept the notion that this was normal, and my little losses are part of a greater good, I haven’t seen any corporations lining saying: it’s OK, our bankruptcy is for the greater good of capitalism. No no, cap  in hand they come until the cheque clears. The story of Merill Lynch handing out $700 million in bonus as the firm tanked is only the most  current example.

The Italian left communist Amedeo Bordiga once noted that state capitalism wasn’t the state taking over business, it was business taking over the state.

Socialism is the abolition of value production and wage labour.

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The Duel

February 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm (Uncategorized)

Every little while, Tariq Ali writes the same book about Pakistan. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – time passes, and the account needs to be updated. In 1970, he wrote Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power, in 1991 Can Pakistan Survive? and in 2008, Ali has written,  The Duel.  Ali writes in a clear and  entertaining style, with an insider’s knowledge, which occasionally comes across as namedropping, but unfortunately many of the stories Ali tells, are becoming a little too familiar

Tariq Ali was born in 1943 in Lahore, India, now a part of Pakistan.  Ali’s family was a part of Pakistan’s intelligentsia, and it’s clear in the various accounts of his life he has published, they were well connected. As such, Ali is well situated to write this account.  

The Duel is an account of Pakistan’s history from its origins within sections of the Muslim middle class to the post-Musharraf intrigues.  Ali makes clear repeatedly throughout the book that Pakistan’s rulers have been less concerned with creating a land of pure than enriching themselves. 

Ali argues that the origins of the drive for Pakistan was among sections of the Muslim elite who feared that in an independent India, they would lose out to the Hindu majority. This manifested itself after partition when the Pakistani ruling class made clear that, unlike Israel which advertised itself as a Jewish homeland, it was not to be a Muslim homeland.  Muslims in India were encouraged to stay…in India.

After the death of the founding father Jinnah, Pakistan fell prey to a succession of corrupt civilian rulers before the army took over. Alternation between corrupt military leaders and corrupt civilian politicians seems to be the pattern since then.

Ali is also clear though that despite the venality of those who find themselves in office, the aspirations of the masses are the same as elsewhere. Education, health care, some sort of accountability in government.. Although Pakistan is often seen as breeding ground for political Islam, Ali argues that the fundamentalists have never had the popular support of the country and that it is the government which has supported and nourished these creatures.  At a speech in Toronto a few years back, Ali suggested there were more fundamentalists in Israel and the U.S. than in Pakistan, which for many is a somewhat Polyannaish appraisal.  

Ali does an especially effective job on demolishing the democratic credentials of the Bhutto family. Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father, whom Ali knew, may have employed a radical vocabulary, but his conduct towards what was then East Pakistan showed his true colours. Ironically, it was Bhutto in the mid-seventies who began the pandering to the Islamic fundamentalist community with the banning of alcohol and a prohibition of an unimportant  Islamic sect long viewed as heretics by some zealots.  

After her father’s death, Benazir took up his democratic rhetoric. When Benazir became Prime minister in 1988, her mild efforts to reform Pakistan were stymied by the conservative elements in the country, but she quickly became absorbed into the culture of graft. Her marriage to Asif Zadari, later known as Mr. Ten per cent, which was allegedly his cut of any financial maters going through his office, deepened her difficulties. Most terrifyingly, Ali provides an account of the possibility of Benazir’s complicity in the death of her brother Murtaza who was gunned down by police in 1996. (this account is supported by Muttaza’s niece Fatima who now lives in the U.S.)

Ultimately, the final nail in the democratic mirage of the PPP is that in her testament, Benazir simply willed leadership of the party to her son. No election, no discussion. Becuase of  her’s son’s youth, and utter inexperience, her husband Asif Zardari. Ali disputes that Pakistan is a failed state, but insists it is a dysfunctional one. The Duel is a compelling and informative account.

Of course, it is the conclusion where Ali stumblers. In his youth, Tariq Ali was a leader and shining star in the Trotskyist United Sectariat of the Fourth International and its British section the International Marxist Group. In 1981, when the IMG dissolved and entered the Labour Party, Ali broke with the USec, later referring to himself as being more influenced by the dissident Trotskyist historian Isaac Deutscher. A few years later, Ali wrote an apostate novel Redemption which satirized and poured scorn on the pretensions of Trotskyism.

I’m not aware of whether or not Ali still refers to himself as a socialist. I suspect he does, but his entire political framework is as a radical democrat. Like many leftist political writers, Alexander Cockburn and Doug Henwood come to mind, he is eminently skilled at demolishing an opponent’s arguments and pointing out the hypocrisies in others. Where he stumbles is when he puts forward his own programme, which contain democratic reforms, but seem unwilling to address the larger issues of class within the entire sub-continent.  These points aside, The Duel is a solid overview of the issues, problems and dangers of the sub continent.

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