Love in Vain

April 30, 2009 at 12:51 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday, I was writing a three-paragraph biography of Robert Johnson for work (not a bad job then). Anyway, as I typed, I decided to dig out the Box set, The Complete Recordings.  

First song: ‘Kindhearted Woman Blues.’ Second song, a different version of ‘Kindhearted Woman Blues.’ Third song, ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom.” About forty seconds into the track, my daughter calls down:

‘Dad, this is horrible. Put something else on.’

‘But, it’s Robert Johnson.’

“Well, he’s not very good.’

I put on Down By the Jetty by Dr. Feelgood. As Wilko Johnson’s driving guitar for Roxette came through the speakers, she sighed, ‘Finally, a good song.’

At work, they agreed with my daughter.

Now, I have to find that Katie Perry song my daughter wants on her Ipod. It’s hard being a parent.

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Crisis, the response of the working class, the role of pro-revolutionaries

April 28, 2009 at 1:13 am (Uncategorized)

The following is Internationalist Perspective’s presentation at the Midland Discussion Forum Meeting, Birmingham, April 25 2009

 There is no need to repeat that capitalism is in its worst crisis since the 1930’s -this has become a mantra in the media. Where we differ, is how we explain this crisis. They say it’s caused by greed, bad management, a lack of state-regulation. But greed is constant in capitalism, while the crisis is not. So this doesn’t explain anything and besides, if the problem is in human nature, there’s nothing that can be done but pray. So what remains as a plan of action is more state-intervention to get capitalism out of its crisis and prevent its reoccurrence. That is the narrative of the left. The right is in retreat for now; it is the left which is at this hour the crucial defender of capitalism. The left criticizes capitalism but its critique is a positive one. It really aims to improve capitalism, to make it, through various reforms, better for everybody. From the Labour party to the extreme left, their recipes vary from moderately increased state-intervention to the nationalization of banks or the entire economy, but their common essence is to make the existing social order better and crisis-resistant.

 

To this positive critique, pro-revolutionaries oppose a negative critique of capitalism. They understand that more regulation, and even the wholesale replacement of private capitalists by well-intentioned state-functionaries, would not stop the crisis. It would not stop the madness, as long as the value-form exists. It is the value-form, defining everything and everybody as a quantity of exchange value, which imprisons human society, which forces it to inflict misery on itself so that value can grow again. The accumulation of value is the real purpose of the capitalist economy, regardless who manages it. We are at a point in history at which, from the point of view of value, far too much can be produced far too cheaply; at which it has become impossible for all of the value that is created to maintain itself as value. According to a recent study, less than 5% of the money that is sloshing around the global economy actually serves to exchange real goods. But all of it demands a share of the profit, of the surplus value that is created in the real economy. This is why capitalism must drag us into ever more misery, war, ecological destruction and other catastrophes, because massive devalorization, massive destruction of existing value is necessary to restore the conditions for accumulation. The negative critique implies that capitalism must be attacked at its roots. The whole interconnected system of wage-labor, money, the market, nations etc. must be eradicated.

 

So the pro-revolutionaries must say NO to a lot. They must attack illusions. Unlike the positive critique of capitalism, the negative critique does not offer practical proposals for concrete improvements here and now, except uncompromising resistance against the misery capitalism in crisis is inflicting on the working class. It is our hope that in this resistance, the working class will transform itself into a class for itself, and thereby free humankind. It is our hope that in its self-organization, the organization of the post-capitalist society will begin to take shape. Despite the urgency of the situation, this is obviously not a short term project. Illusions are still strong in the working class and so is the fear that resistance will make matters even worse. But while there may be pauses, the crisis will continue to deepen. It will move from a crisis of confidence in the financial system to a crisis of confidence in the state. The latter could bail out the banks (for now) but there will be no higher instance that can come to the rescue when even the strongest of states are no longer a safe haven for value.

 

The very events will push the working class to struggle. But if struggle is inevitable, and if it threatens capitalism if it leads to the self-organization of the collective worker, what is the role of pro-revolutionaries? Of course they participate in the struggle, since they are part of the class. But what is their specific role?

 

It must have happened to you too, that you heard someone speak, and that he or she was saying exactly what you were thinking. Only you didn’t realize that you were thinking it, but now you do and that makes you see what needs to be done next. This is what pro-revolutionaries can do. Wipe the dust from the mirror so the working class can see itself. Articulate what is intuitively felt.

 

It doesn’t mean that they are the only ones who are articulating the revolutionary perspective, the need to attack the value-form. This is happening spontaneously in the resistance to the crisis. There was a recent AFP-dispatch from Cleveland, Ohio, which quoted an official saying that the homeless are starting to act as their own real estate-agents. Unemployed workers, recently laid off in the construction sector, understood how absurd it is that they, after building so many houses for others, were without a home themselves. They understood how absurd it is, that the homeless shelters are bursting at the  seams while, in Cleveland alone, more than 15 000 dwellings are vacant. So they formed a loose group that uses their building skills to fix up empty homes and move homeless families in them. This is illegal, this is an attack on the value-form, as is the resistance against evictions in working class neighbourhoods, which is one of the reasons why the authorities in several states no longer carry out evictions. It’s just one of the ways in which the value-form is starting to crack; one little example that shows how the crisis makes the contradiction between the needs of capital and human needs visible, how the imagining of the possibility of a post-capitalist society begins.

 

At the same time, in this area of housing, there are also organizations at work that tell these evicted workers, we support you, but it will be much more effective if you use the existing channels, if you work through the unions, with the banks,etc. In other words, organizations that seek to encapsulate the resistance within the positive critique. Such contradictory forces are at play in almost every social conflict. Pro-revolutionaries have to be within them, pushing the struggle as far as it can go at any given moment and place.

 

Their ability to do so has been hampered in many ways, of which I want to point out two:

  • – The mistake to think that revolutionary theory is more or less a finished product, that the only task now is to spread it in the class. Against this idea, which has bred theoretical sterility, IP has stressed the incompleteness and shortcomings of our theory, the need for a major theoretical effort in order to understand how capitalism has changed over the last 30 years , how these changes affect the minds of people, the way in which they are subjectified. We must understand how class consciousness develops in the present-day conditions in order to be a factor in it.
  • – Secondly, the mistake of thinking, what the working class needs most of all is an organization like ours but much bigger, and thus seeing the growth of one’s organization as the lynchpin, the overriding priority. This leads to a focus on recruitment, to measuring their own activity in quantitative terms (number of publications, sales, membership…), to seeing other organizations with a similar perspective as competition, to being impatient with debate, to adopt sectarian attitudes.

 

This is why IP, now that the crisis has given new urgency to the negative critique of capitalism, has launched an appeal to the pro-revolutionary milieu:

  • – To focus on their essential task, abandon sectarian habits, de-emphasize secondary quarrels and overcome needless frictions amongst them;
  • – To open themselves to debate in an honest, fraternal way, both to deepen their theoretical understanding and to defend more effectively the negative critique of capitalism in the class.

 

It was not a call for regroupment – and in that sense we don’t support the criteria for regroupment proposed by the comrades of the ex-CBG at this meeting.  Let us see if we can together make a first step forward and take it from there…

 

Internationalist Perspective

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VINYL VICTORIOUS

April 26, 2009 at 9:21 pm (Uncategorized)

On Craigslist earlier this week, a high-school student from Burnaby, B.C., solicited a relic from this parents’ glory days: ‘im looking to buy or trade for a record player and some vinyl records to go with it!’ he wrote.

He offered to swap some of his generation’s survival tools – Nintendo 360 games, electronic equipment, a cellphone – then explained: ‘i hate how stereos and ipods n all that jazz wrecks the quality of music! its so terrible!’

The 18-year-old, who did not want to be identified, is no Luddite: He texts in class, e-mails at all hours, and plans to study computer animation or robotics.

But when it comes to music, ‘old-school’ is cool among a growing number of youth – and that’s driving a vinyl revival.

Merchants and collectors say the surge in record sales, both new and used, is mostly due to people in their teens, 20s and early 30s stumbling across dusty boxes of records in their parents’ basement – then scouring shops and garage sales for more.

While many grew up with the convenience of stereos, iPods and free pirated downloads – and never experienced vinyl during its original heyday – they appreciate its innate qualities, such as large multi-panel artwork, and the warm, intimate sound that wax provides.

‘It’s a softer sound. The CD is shrill,’ says Brian Lipsin of Brian’s Record Option, an independent shop packed floor-to-ceiling with albums in Kingston, Ont. ‘The kids have noticed that. They’ve seen the artwork. A lot of people are buying records just for the covers.’

Last year, Mr. Lipsin sold more records than any other year in 30-years of business, and says sales continue to climb. Used records are particularly hot and he has a waiting list for record players, which he sells on consignment. ‘It’s sort of embarrassing,’ Mr. Lipsin said of his recent good fortune in this harsh economic climate.

To his amusement, Mr. Lipsin has become a minor celebrity among young locals eager to pick up a Led Zeppelin album for under $10. Queen’s University students made two videos about his store and posted them on YouTube. High-school students made a Brian Lipsin fan club on Face book (‘Brian Lipsin is THE MAN! lol,’ wrote the moderator). This Christmas, parents came into his shop with lists. ‘This is for my crazy daughter,’ one mother quipped.

Nielsen SoundScan reported digital downloads were up 32 per cent between 2007 and 2008, which some predict spells the death of CDs. But in a strange way, the digital age has helped his business, Mr. Lipsin says, because youth are more free to explore and experiment with music.

‘They don’t have much money, but with downloading, they’re more intelligent,’ he says. ‘If they’re going buy anything, they’ll buy it on vinyl.’

Sales of new records has also increased as contemporary artists like Radiohead and 50-Cent respond to the vinyl craze by releasing their new albums on vinyl as well as other modern formats, said Steve Lebitschnig of Fascinating Rhythm, a 20-year-old music store in Nanaimo, B.C.

Still, to see young people scrambling for LPs has him scratching his head.

‘Some people just think they’re cool – whereas 10 years ago, it was definitely not cool to have records,’ Mr. Lebitschnig said. ‘What’s with that?’

Sheena Sherwood, 25-year-old from Ottawa, prefers the sound quality on her 300 records compared to her iPod, which she still uses while on the move. She enjoys poking around record stores and flea markets in Ottawa, where she’s noticed more young faces in recent years. ‘It’s just so easy to download something,’ she said. ‘I feel like there’s a challenge [with vinyl]. It’s sort of like a scavenger hunt.’

Thomas Wade-West, a 19-year-old political-science student in Kingston, collects old albums to decorate his bedroom. He feels like he gets added value with the $3 to $20 he forks out for an album. ‘I’ve purchased off iTunes before. I didn’t feel like I got anything. When I purchase vinyl, I have it in my hands, and it has artwork.’

Still, Mr. Wade-West says it’s impractical to lug around hundreds of albums when he DJ’s at local gigs. So instead, he uses digital equipment that allows him to manipulate MP3s when he does shows.

He believes vinyl is a fad like any other. Most of his friends are hipsters, he says, so vinyl comes part and parcel with aviator shades, tight jeans and headbands. ‘I think it’s sort of like a fashion thing. Like, ‘I’m buying vinyl, I’m old-school or whatever,’ he said.

The Burnaby high-school student, who began collecting records as diverse as jazz and Metallica at age 11, hopes his peers move on to something else – soon.

‘They’re using it like a fad,’ he says. ‘Then the people like me, who use them all the time, will be considered douche bags who just use it as a trend, too.’

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Music Notes April 2009

April 26, 2009 at 9:10 pm (Uncategorized)

1 The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

The snazzy new record with a snazzy new sound. The first two records and EPs had a crunchy art-punk sound. Lots of guitars and lots of shouting from Karen O. The new one, hmm, well, it’s different. More keyboards for a start. The songs aren’t quite so immediate, but they sure grow on you.  

POST SCRIPT – Huh? Didn’t notice, I already mentioned this one last month. Oh well. Good record though.

 2. Metric – Fantasies.

OK, OK, so they sound like a smarter version of Martha and the Muffins, but so what? Like the web site says, ‘I love Metric.’ Instantly lovable. Check out the video for ‘Gimmie Shelter’ and download an acoustic version of ‘I’m Alive.’

3. The Dead Weather – Hang you from the Heavens

Ooh, Jack White’s newest side project, along with Alison  from the Kills. A fine garagey debut, with a cover of the old Tubeway Army song  ‘Are Friends Electric?’  on the b-side.

4. Billy Bob Thorton vs. , er Canada

Perhaps, Billy Bob was right about the play this got, but boy was it odd for a couple of days. As most everyone knows, Thorton’s band, (or is it, the band of which Thorton is a member?) appeared on CBC’s Q to be interviewed by ex-Moxy Fruvious member and International Socialists sympathizer Jian Ghomeshi. Various accounts of what was agreed to as fit interview subjects are available, but it seems Billy Bob was unhappy when Ghomeshi mentioned his movie career. Pretty much from the start, Thorton was petulant and childish, while his band mates attempted to conduct the interview, all the way wincing at his performance. Big star pulls temper tantrum: is this news? Unfortunately, Thorton made remarks about Canadian audiences, and then the nationalism took over.  Lots of silly remarks about Americans ensued.

A friend of mine , who plays in a local blues band, and who was at the Massey Hall show where the Boxmasters opened for Willie Nelson, wrote:

Yes, Billie Bob was in fine form on Wed. night. After, virtually

ignoring Jian Ghomeshi for mere mention of his acting career, he took time out from his set on Wed. night for a shout-out to some film Cronie he recognized sitting in the front row. After introducing him to the audience, he proceeded to brag about the number of movies they’d worked on together. Is he insane? You can’t have it both ways buddy!

As we played to little or no audiences this Easter weekend, my musician friends and I analyzed his behaviour, agreeing that after trading in his lucrative film career, the grim reality of being a no-name musician has finally set in.

Anyway, Willie was great to see. He is definitely one of a kind, and there aren’t many of his caliber of songwriter left. He’s also an incredibly original guitarist.

Nuff said?

5. MP3? CD? Vinyl?

My nephew laughs at me sometimes. In a respectful way of course. ‘I never buy CDs’  he says. Like many, he downloads all the music he likes. Fair enough. I can’t quite let go for the physical for the virtual though. (Not to mention, sound quality)

I still have stacks of vinyl in boxes in the basement, but alas, no turntable at the moment. I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class last week, and was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a turntable on it. Lots of kids stared at the shirt, so I asked those who did, if they knew what it was. Lots of blank looks. I tried to explain it to one kid. ‘Is that where you put the CD?’ she asked. ‘Er, no. Ask your parents,’ I said.

 Then the Globe and Mail ran this story last week. (I’m going to post it later, as Globe stories disappear quite quickly from the site)

6. Phil Ochs – There But for Fortune

Last week at work, a few songs sounded over the PA in honour of Earth Day. The first was Amy Grant’s vastly inferior version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi.’ Ho hum, I continued what i was doing. Then came Joan Baez’s version of Phil Ochs’ ‘There but for Fortune.’  I couldn’t continue. I just stopped what I was doing and listened. I hadn’t heard the song in a while, and it just froze me. Baez is a better singer than Ochs, but it’s the words which grab you. When I spoke to person, responsible for the selection, I discovered she didn’t know who Phil Ochs was. Now, that’s a shame. Ochs was one of the great singer-songwriters from the 60s folk movement. A contemporary of Dylan who was never as successful, but the writer of brilliant, witty and poignant songs. Dead by his own hand more than 30 years, Ochs deserves to be remembered.

7. Rock Star Commercials

I can respect a person who sells their name on a commercial on two grounds: just starting out and washed up. You have bills to pay. Yeah, yeah, I can be a purist; no one is going to ask me to sell out. Gotta love these two cereal ads though:

Rolling Stones and Rice Crispies

John Cooper Clarke and Sugar Puffs

8. Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts

It’s a lazy cliche to say that Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts is the great lost punk album, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I’ll go one step further, and say that the Adverts are the great lost punk band, and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth either. Aside from the punk-shock horror of Gary Gilmore’s Eyes in the summer of 1977, the Adverts never truly made an impression, but a quick listen to their back catalogue will convince most unbiased listeners that theirs was not to be missed.

The Adverts formed in 1976 by Tim, later TV, Smith and Gaye Black (nee Advert). Their first single appeared on Stiff, and for a tour featuring the Adverts and the Damned, the wags there had it, ‘the Adverts know one chord, the Damned know three. Come and see all four at…’

The debut album (with a title suggested by the legendary Jane Suck,) came out too late. By 1978, things had cooled, and the album’s brilliance was overlooked. All the themes are there: alienation, youth identity, anger. Mixed with driving catchy music and you’re set. The album has been re-issued several times, each adding B-sides, and now a great live set. Well worth tracking down.

9. The Decemberists

Taking time out from their ‘feud’ with Stephen Colbert, the Decemberists make great music. While their last album, The Crane Wife was described by one as the best Jethro Tull album since Heavy Horses, it’s still a keeper. Quietly crafted intelligent pop. Worth getting is the I-tunes session. The only disappointment is it’s too short.

They might have over-reached themselves on the new album, but I’m still tempted to get tickets for the Toronto show with the Heartless Bastards.

10. The Kills  – May 7 at the Phoenix in Toronto. Can’t wait.

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Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

April 20, 2009 at 11:58 am (Uncategorized)

I finally got around to seeing the Joe Strummer documentary, The Future is Unwritten;  only two years after it was released.  It’s simply a marvellous film.

The Clash were,  for many years, my favourite band. I only saw them once, in Toronto in the Summer of 1982, but I bought all their records. I still remember the day in December 1979 when I went down to the local record store in Wantage to buy London Calling the day it came out (it was raining). 

The Sex Pistols were the originators. It was seeing the Sex Pistols that led Strummer to realize the 101ers were the past. Yet, the Clash were the heart and soul of punk.  When I read Joe Strummer had died, I felt a real sense of loss. Someone close to me was gone.

The Future is Unwrittentraces Strummer’s life story  through the use of archival footage, and also interviews (often around a campfire), interspersed with music and clips from Strummer’s radio show on the BBC world service. .

What struck me about the film  apart from the style (similar to The Filth and the Fury, was the amount of archival footage, director Julian Temple was able to unearth. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about punk, but there is a wealth of material in this I’ve never seen before. I wonder just how much other video is sitting in company or personal vaults gathering dust. If I had one complaint, it was that very few of the people interviewed were identified – some are instantly recognizable (Don Letts for example), but others like Palmolive were virtually unrecognizable.  

You can guess what I’ll be listening to this week.

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Things to do in Baghdad

April 19, 2009 at 8:38 pm (Uncategorized)

I read the print edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail, but there’s no Sunday edition, so we get the New York Times then. I laughed out loud when I came across the quotation below in today’s paper in an article, entitled

Secure Enough to Sin, Baghdad Revisits old Ways

One police detective said he would not dream of enforcing the law against prostitutes. ‘They’re the best sources we have,’ said the detective, whose name is being withheld for his safety. ‘They know everything about JAM and Al Qaeda members,’ he said, using the acronym for Jaish al-Mahdi or Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia.

The detective added that the only problem his men had was that neighbors got the wrong idea when detectives visited the houses where prostitutes were known to live. They really do just want to talk, he said.

‘If I had my way, I’d destroy all the mosques and spread the whores around a little more,’ the detective said. ‘At least they’re not sectarian.’

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w.o.r.k.n.o.

April 19, 2009 at 8:28 pm (Uncategorized)

Is it true, as some wag put it,  that work is the curse of the drinking classes? Ask anyone which night is the best of the week, and the answer is always Friday. The worst? Sunday? It’s a combination of trying to forget last week, trying not to think about next week, and dealing with the realization that the weekend is done, and it’s another five days until the next.

It seems appropriate then, that I write this post on a Sunday when I don’t have to work until Tuesday.

What’s wrong with work?

How many times do we sit around the house moaning, I’m bored. there’s nothing to do. And yet, when we work, we constantly complain about not having free time.  Is it the abolition of work we seek, or the abolition of wage labour?

Think about this example.

I spent my Saturday afternoon weeding and working in the back garden. At the end of the afternoon, my back is aching, my fingers are sore, I’m dirty and I’m tired. But I’m happy. I look out over the work  I’ve done and I’m satisfied.

My neighbour looks over the fence, commends me on a good job, and offers me $50 to do the same in her garden next weekend. I accept.

At the end of the afternoon, my back is aching, my fingers are sore, I’m dirty and I’m tired. But I’m happy. I look out over the work I’ve done and I’m dissatisfied.

Why? Well, as we used to say in the old days of the critique of political economy, alienation. 

 When I work for myself in my garden. I can control what I make, but more importantly, there’s no exchange. No commodity production. When I do the same task for my neighbour, it’s entirely different. I don’t get to keep what I’ve made, I only receive payment for my time.  My time is commodified, and mt neighbour is now at employer.

The relationship changes everything. Remember, that joe-job you had in the summer, and how your buddy changed from being a goof-off to a jerk when he was made supervisor. Same thing.  

In the mid 1990s, there was a real interest in anti-work movements. The Situationist critique of work, was named dropped (along with people like Bob Black). Kamunist Kranti, an Indian left communist group, published a much talked about Ballad Against work, which appropriately I read while at work. 

We are a creative species. We want to create. We want to be active, and yet we really don’t want to work. Why: Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift. The poets know. The artists know.  We know.

If work were really such a good thing, the wealthy would keep it for themselves. Be careful.

——————————————-

My wife forwarded this to me.

The Center for Disease Control has issued a medical alert about a highly contagious, potentially dangerous virus that is transmitted orally, by hand, and even electronically. This virus is called Weekly Overload Recreational Killer (WORK). If you receive WORK from your boss, any of your colleagues or anyone else via any means whatsoever – DO NOT TOUCH IT!!! This virus will wipe out your private life entirely. If you should come into contact with WORK, you should immediately leave the premises. Take two good friends to the nearest LCBO and purchase one or both of the antidotes – Work Isolating Neutralizer Extract (WINE) and Bothersome Employer Elimination Rebooter (BEER). Take the antidote repeatedly until WORK has been completely eliminated from your system. You should immediately forward this medical alert to five friends. If you do not have five friends, you have already been infected and WORK is controlling your life.

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Dancin’ in the Streets

April 15, 2009 at 2:30 am (Uncategorized)

Here’s a review of the book mentioned below and orginally published in Red & Black Notes in 2005. The title, aside from being a great record, is a great tribute to the authors.

On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much in common between the Industrial Workers’ of the World’s revolutionary unionism and the surrealists’ project of recovery of the unconscious, Yet, as Franklin Rosemont, the co-editor of this collection notes, he and his friends joined the IWW because it was the only group around which wasn’t boring.

Rosemont joined the Chicago IWW branch in 1962 at the age of 19, shortly before he wrote his first letter to Andre Breton in Paris. As the youngest member of the group, forty-something Carlos Cortez was next youngest, Rosemont found himself saddled with the job of producing the local newsletter. The Rebel Worker lasted for seven issues running to a couple of hundred pages along with pamphlets and other documents. During its existence, The Rebel Worker also collaborated with a group of British revolutionaries who produced their own journal Heatwave for two issues before becoming the British section of the Situationist International.

If the popular image of the 1950s has been stifling conformity, then that of the 1960s has been resistance. And while the issues that the ‘old left’ sought to address, such as class were still there, many felt the economic focus was insufficient. The grouping which produced The Rebel Worker grasped this and anticipated the Situationist International’s emphasis on ‘the revolution of everyday life,’ when they argued for the need to be ‘revolutionary in everything.’

This criticism was directed not only at the broader left, but also at the organization to which they belonged, the IWW. In the comprehensive introductory essay to this collection, Rosemont describes The Industrial Worker of this period as ‘an embarrassing anachronism aimed at a readership of retirees.’

By contrast, The Rebel Worker was aimed squarely at a hipper audience. The first issue contained several articles on work and struggle not out of place in an IWW periodical, but the second featured Bob Potter from Solidarity (UK) on bureaucracy, The third contained an article on children by A.S. Neill, as well as poems by Benjamin Peret, Franklin Rosemont’s analysis on mods and rockers, and Penelope Rosemont’s review of Andy Anderson’s marvellous book on Hungary 1956.

The only magazine similar to The Rebel Worker at this time was Solidarity, which was produced in London; indeed, The Rebel Worker group saw themselves as the US Solidarity group.

In 1966, Franklin and Penelope Rosemont took a trip to Europe and visited a number of continental revolutionaries including Andre Breton.

After Breton, they met Guy Debord of the Situationist International and brought back hundreds of copies of SI material to the US (for a long time the Solidarity Bookstore in Chicago was the only place to get SI material in the U.S.)

Later on the same trip, the Rosemont’s visited the UK, where there was a mysterious falling out with the Solidarity group. While in the UK, they published the sixth issue of The Rebel Worker in May 1966 with the assistance of Charles Radcliffe.

Two months later, Radcliffe was instrumental in publishing what they considered to be the UK version of The Rebel Worker, Heatwave. Like Rosemont, Radcliffe has also contributed a long essay to the book explaining the background and history of the Heatwave group and in particular its relationship to the SI, of which it was briefly the British section. Radcliffe and Christopher Gray joined the SI shortly before the publication of the second issue in October 1966 and that was that. Radcliffe resigned from the SI the following year and the British group was excluded later. Gray later published the first book length collection of SI material in English, Leaving the Twentieth Century. Gray was also involved with the King Mob group and had the idea for creating a totally unpleasant pop group; group, and may have influenced King Mob sympathizers Jamie Reid and Malcolm McLaren with his idea of creating ‘a totally unpleasant pop group.’ But that’s another story.

The final issue of The Rebel Worker appeared in December 1966. After that, the group sustained itself with leaflets, but according to Rosemont the group was starting to come apart. In August 1968, when Franklin and Penelope came to the Solidarity Bookshop for their regular shift they found the locks had been changed. They were later denied new keys.

Dancin’ in the Streets presents a fascinating snap-shot of a long gone period in radical history. Its shortcomings are those of the Surrealist Movement and the IWW themselves. While rightly pointing to the need to take a radical critique beyond simple point of production issues, especially with the vast expansion of the reach of the law of value over the twentieth century, both these movements occasionally fall into a kind of volunterism which suggests that people should simply liberate themselves, without an analysis of why people don’t.

But this shortcoming isn’t a reason to avoid the book. Along with the texts and introductions, the book contains poems and drawings, and is a pretty funny read. About four years ago, I was staying with the editor of the now defunct journal The Bad Days Will End, and the subject of The Rebel Worker came up. Both of us had heard scattered references to the surrealist IWW journal from sixties, but neither knew where to obtain it. Charles H. Kerr has provided a valuable service in filling this gap.

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Franklin Rosemont

April 14, 2009 at 10:19 pm (Uncategorized)

Chicago poet, surrealist, wobbly, author, historian, bookseller, and so much more Franklin Rosement died on Sunday April 12 from a stroke he was 65.

I met Franklin only once. I was in Chicago in the summer of 2003 visiting family. We had lunch at a local cafe and then went back to the Charles H Kerr headquarters. I met Franklin’s partner Penelope there.

I can’t add much to what will doubtless be said more eloquently by people who knew him better than me. 

I will recommend that people who didn’t know Franklin, seek out any one of the amazing number of volumes he produced. My own favourites are Dancin’ in the Street! Anarchists, IWWs, Surrealists, Situationists and Provos in the 1960s, and Surrealist Subversions.

Amazing. A loss. A real loss.

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Conspiracy TV

April 13, 2009 at 12:42 am (Uncategorized)

Years ago, I had a flickering interest in conspiracy theory. Ryerson University used to run a show on Sunday mornings with tapes from people like John Judge, Fletcher Prouty, and Dave Emory. I recall John Judge explaining once how conspiracy is from Latin. spiros means to breath together, and con means with. In other words to breath together (Latin scholars, please feel free to correct me!). Judge would then joke, and some people have bad breath.

Fair enough. Conspiracy theory, for all its railings out the government and the Nazis, or whatever version you prefer (communists, bankers, Jews etc etc), was ultimately self defeating. It you accept the theories, you eventually came to the conclusion that they were all powerful, and there was nothing you could do. Better to keep your head down and hope for the best.

It’s a silly theory. One that I reject. I do believe that people are capable of creating a better world. and I’ve spent approximately the last thirty years of my life involved in various projects to that effect.

Conspiracy theory got a real shot in the arm after Oliver Stone’s JFK  (OK, I admit it, it sparked my interest), but it seems to be making a come back in TV.

One of my favourite shows is the  FX drama Damages.Aside from the outstanding performances from the stellar cast, and it’s compellingly structured plot, the thing I take away is TRUST NO ONE. EVERYONE IS CORRUPT. (Hmm, everyone’s got something to hide except me and my monkey?) In the case of Damages, it’s business. Season one, the villain was a capitalist who dumped his own stock to make a killing before his company tanked and wiped out his employees savings. Season two is an energy company with a corrupt robber barron CEO poisoning water in Virginia. But even the good guys,  er girls, are not exactly saints. Crusading lawyer Patty Hughes plays all sorts of dirty tricks, including trying to have one of her own star lawyers murdered. REMEMBER TRUST NO ONE.

Flip then to 24, which I almost stopped watching because I felt it was getting too left wing (oh, that’s a a joke! ). Again,  TRUST NO ONE. It’s business again, but it’s also government.

And my new fave Dollhouse, which is really blossoming into something wonderful, TRUST NO ONE – NOT EVEN YOURSELF. The Fox site has a feature entitled What would you do if you found out you were a doll?

Man, it’s a sad world when you can’t even rely on TV to re-assure you 🙂

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