Jim Carroll’s Last work – New York Times report

September 27, 2009 at 8:26 pm (Uncategorized)

A few weeks back, I wrote about the passing of Jim Carroll and mentioned he was working on a novel. Today’s New York Times has an article on Carroll detailing the last few years of his life and mentions the novel. Read the piece here.

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Surrealism at the AGO

September 26, 2009 at 8:54 pm (Uncategorized)

The day after the kids went back to school, I went to see an exhibition entitled “Surrealist Things” at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The exhibition with an emphasis on “things” not painting featured surrealist creations like Dali’s famous Aphrodespiac Jacket, Man Ray’s Cadeau, and many other fascinating objects. Yet as interesting and provocative as the exhibition was, it was disturbing on another level.

The Surrealists argued that “poetry must be made by all.” The point being that art, poetry, the creative side of human activity is often seen as a passive activity: you go to the art gallery. You experience the paintings. You go home.  Art is made by specialists. The Surrealists sought to tear down the barrier, and top make art, the marvellous, part of everyday life.

Dali’s Aphrodisiac Jacket, which featured glasses filled with alcohol attached to the jacket, was orginally accompanied by a bottle of creme de menthe for viewers to drink. Thus the viewer could experience the art and the alcohol. At the AGO, the jacket was safely behind glass. Sadly, there was no alcohol.  As one of the accompanying exhibition texts noted, once surrealism was shorn of its radical political thrust, it became a marketable  commodity. Art was once again a spectacle.

For me though, the weirdest party of the exhibit was witnessing a guided tour of the exhibit. A group of bored tourists followed a guide who provided insights and interpretations about the exhibit. The surrealists would have been appalled: not only were there works exhibited as traditional art, but people were then instructed as to what they meant.

Happily, a book order arrived at home that day containing a collection of surrealist games. Exquisite corpse anyone?

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Internationalist Perspective Public Meeting on the Economic Crisis

September 17, 2009 at 2:31 am (Uncategorized)

Public meeting in New York on October 15.

— Fischer


 The economic crisis will not go away. More stimulus spending or less may alter the pace but not the course. This crisis is more than a conjunctural downturn. It is the fever of a sick civilization. Capitalist civilization is sick of old age but will do anything to survive.

Those who blame capitalism for the crisis, fall into two categories. There are those who tell us we must use the very institutions of capitalist civilization to fight it: its parties and elections, its unions and NGO’s: all will be well when the bad politicians and union-bosses are replaced by good ones, and when the state increasingly intervenes in the economy until it has replaced the private sector. Of course that is the more “radical” version of this scheme; the fiery red as opposed to the pale pink of those who merely advocate the perfect symbiosis between state and private capital as the best of all possible worlds. What all of them have in common is their desire to fix and improve capitalism, their belief that what is needed are better, more unselfish leaders, more state-regulation, the creation of more money. Their critique of capitalism is a positive one. The future they envision is still that of a commodity economy with money, banks, prisons, etc, but all a bit more humane.

In contrast to this outlook, which characterizes the left generally, more and more voices express a negative critique of capitalism. They do not believe capitalism can be made better, or that it can gradually evolve into something else. It can only get worse, lead to more devastation and misery. For them the root of the problem is not bad leaders or a lack of regulation. The root is capitalism itself, its very foundation: the value-form, which turns everything and everyone into a commodity, whose fate is determined by the market. They want a revolution that puts humans in control of their fate. A revolution that uproots capitalism, that comes from below and sweeps away all the building blocks of capitalist society, all the national, ethnic, racial, religious, boundaries that divide us; a revolution in which the self-organization of the working masses in struggle broadens into the self-organization of a society in which things are produced for human needs, not for profit.

This revolution starts from below, with young people in Athens deciding in general assemblies to take back the streets, with workers in China and Korea fighting off the police, with workers in France proclaiming their refusal to accept responsibility for the crisis, with unemployed construction workers in Cleveland entering vacant homes and making them livable for homeless families…In all these examples, laws were broken. Cracks appeared. These cracks will multiply. More important than what is immediately lost, or gained in these struggles, is that they are steps in the development of the consciousness of the necessity and the possibility of revolution. In this process, pro-revolutionaries, those who see that the dynamic of these acts of resistance implies the uprooting of capitalism, are an important component. The clear articulation of the negative critique of capitalism becomes a potent accelerating factor when it is felt in the practical struggle. Pro-revolutionaries must participate in this struggle. Their understanding of the past – the defeats, the pitfalls of the struggle — and of the potential for the future, leads them to speak out.

But too often those pro-revolutionaries don’t take that responsibility seriously enough. They too suffer the alienation produced by capitalism. Too often they are “selling” themselves, individually or as an organization. They lose themselves in petty squabbles far removed from the actual reality, in rivalry and in competition. This has to stop.

In light of the stakes raised by the present crisis, Internationalist Perspective launched an appeal to all those who share the negative critique of capitalism and thus the same internationalist revolutionary outlook: abandon sectarianism, stop competing, recognize that you share the same goal, recognize that nobody has a patent on the truth, recognize that if you are to really play a revolutionary role, you will need more clarity than you have now; recognize that this clarity requires you to reexamine your dogmas, realize that only by discussing fraternally and working together, can the pro-revolutionary voice become stronger.

To discuss with us the state of capitalism’s crisis, the potential for resistance to it, IP’s appeal and the reactions to it, and more generally the question, “What to do?,” we invite you to come to a


at: TRS suites, 44 East 32nd Street (between Park and Madison), Manhattan.


Other groups who share our negative critique of capitalism are invited to present their views and there will be ample time for general discussion.


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Jim Carroll 1950-2009

September 15, 2009 at 2:02 am (Uncategorized)

Jim Carroll, poet, author, singer-songwriter, died September 11 2009 of a heart attack at his Manhattan apartment.

I was in a book shop in Hamilton, maybe 1982 when I bought a copy of  The Basketball Diaries. An amazing book. I was living in St. Catharines, Ontario at the time. St. Catharines is a small industrial city with a great future behind it. The Basketball Diaries tels of another land. One filled with drugs, music, sex, violence and a coolness that was out of reach. Not necessarily a place you would want to live, but certainly exotic enough to catch the interest. A Catcher in the Rye for a much more fucked up generation.

A year or two later, I got a ticket to see Jim Carroll and Lou Reed give a reading in Toronto. unfortunately, my ride to the show fell apart, and I didn’t get to see it. I still have the ticket.

Forced Entries, a sort of sequel to The Basketball  Diariesis also worth a look. I didn’t care much for Carroll’s musical career (although like everyone else “People Who Died” provides a certain thrill), but those books are certainly worth having.

Apparently, Carroll was working on a novel when he died. It’s a great shame that it was never finished. Carroll was only 59.

Catholic Boy web site

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Eye Mind: Roky Erickson in Toronto

September 14, 2009 at 12:58 am (Uncategorized)

This is the one. One of the originals. Roky Erickson is playing Lee’s Palace in Toronto on October 28, 2009. Got my ticket already. $29.50, but worth it. Don’t be disappointed; hurry, because if you don’t you’re gonna miss him. (sorry couldn’t resist).

I am so excited about this one.

Rocky’s home page

If you haven’t seen it yet you should also check out the movie about Roky, You’re gonna miss Me.   (See the Notes from Underground Review)

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Internationalist Perspective 51-52

September 14, 2009 at 12:35 am (Uncategorized)

The new issue of Internationalist Perspective is now available.

The table of contents is as follows:

Editorial: Prospects for the world Economy

An Appeal to the Pro-Revolutionary Milieu

Reactions to IP’s Appeal 

A Crisis of Value

Class Struggle in Korea

Venezuela and the “Bolivarian Revolution”

On-line at the IP web site, but contact me for details about hard copies

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The Red Army Faction – A Review

September 4, 2009 at 1:35 am (Uncategorized)

The 2008 movie  Der Baader Meinhof Komplex has sparked interest again in the Red Army Faction. Below is a review, written earlier this summer, of a massive new account of the RAF’s history.  


Smith, J. and André Moncourt. The Red Army Faction A Documentary History: Volume 1 Projectiles for the People. Kersplebedeb Press & PM Press: Montreal & Oakland, 2009

At the 2009 Montreal Anarchist bookfair, the publishers of this book were scheduled to hold a workshop entitled “Whatever happened to Armed Struggle?” A more accurate title might be whatever happened to leftist armed struggle? Armed struggle has not disappeared, but instead its advocates and most dedicated practitioners are the warriors of Jihad or ‘political Islam.’ In the post September 11 world, it’s easy to forget that once armed struggle was the concern of organizations ostensibly dedicated to a social or even socialist liberation project: The Weather Underground Organization and the Black Liberation Army in the US, the Angry Brigade in the UK, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Revolutionary Cells in Germany, Direct Action in France, and the Fighting Communist Cells in Belgium to name just a few organizations. And there were many more who thought that it was enough for small groups of dedicated individuals to oppose and overthrow capitalism rather than the working class itself.   

But it is the West German Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion – RAF), with the possible exception of the Weather Underground, that long after its dissolution, still sparks the greatest amount of interest. The RAF has spawned a virtual cottage industry of books, from Stephan Aust’s liberal account to Jillian Becker rightist one, and Tom Vague’s situationist account, along with documentaries and feature films like Margarethe Von Trotta’s Marianne and Juliane based on Gudrun Ensslin’s story. The latest addition to this library is J. Smith and André Moncourt’s sprawling The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History. The book is an almost 700 page first (!) volume covering the group’s origins to 1977. A projected second volume will continue the account to its dissolution in 1998. In some ways, it is a difficult task to assess this book. I have little sympathy for the politics and strategy advocated in this book, but the book itself provides a gripping account. Whether or not you accept the politics and strategy of the RAF, and I will discuss these at the end of this article, if you want to read the definitive history of the Red Army Faction, this is the book. It makes available in English, for the first time, an amazingly complete collection of documents from the RAF and its supporters. In addition, the book provides an informative and meticulously documented account of the background to the social milieu from which the RAF emerged, as well as telling the group’s story in a critical essay, which, while not without blind spots,  analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the organization.  

Near the end of the book, the efforts of the RAF to free its leaders are condensed to a  maxim: Daring to struggle, failing to win. Six years after its founding, its leadership was in jail and many of its members were dead. Yet the Red Army Faction was about to be part of a series of events that would become known as the German Autumn, an autumn which would shake the country. What was the context for these events?

West Germany, after the Second World War, was a country of contradictions. Although it had been defeated and divided, it was of strategic importance to the United States and the other western powers in the fight against Soviet Communism. As a result, the allied powers massively aided the reconstruction of the West German economy, leading to a level of prosperity not enjoyed elsewhere in Europe. The West German government too was allowed to practice a level of repression against the left. Such was the confidence of the Adenauer government that the Stalinist Communist Party of Germany, never very radical, was banned in 1956 and not re-constituted until 1968. But if the left was repressed, the right was rehabilitated. After a rather tepid de-nazification, many prominent Nazis once again assumed leading positions in society.

 A generation born too young to remember the war began to wonder just what their parents did during the war. Small wonder, they regarded these policies as the creeping hand of fascism. Then, on June 2, 1967 a spark ignited a fire. The Shah of Iran, no stranger to repression himself, visited West Germany. During a protest, a 26 year-old student Benno Ohnesorg was executed by a police officer, who it was recently revealed was an undercover Stasi agent.  If fascism had seemed to shadow the Federal republic in a nice suit, here was the ugly side revealed.  Talk turned to something stronger.

On April 3, 1968, two department stores in Frankfurt were firebombed. No one was injured, but the flames caused several hundred thousand dollars in damage. Two days later, Horst Söhnlein, Thorwald Proll, Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader were arrested and charged with arson. The four put forwarded a confused defence of ‘solidarity with the Vietnamese,’ which was never fully explained beyond the sense that actions speak louder than words. Incidentally, the authors of the book offer no rationale for the target either. Nevertheless, within the direct action community of the movement, the action was defended and applauded. Among its supporters were the noted journalist Ulrike Meinhoff and the radical lawyer Horst Mahler.

In October 1968, the four were sentenced to four years in prison, but were later released on parole. In November 1969, they were ordered to return to jail, but instead they went underground. Baader was captured in April 1970. 

The Red Army Faction dated its birth to an “act of liberation” on May 14, 1970, when Meinhoff and others helped Baader to escape from police custody. In the course of the escape, an elderly librarian was seriously injured, and the group disappeared into the underground. It was the beginning of the German guerrilla.

Almost a year later, in April 1971, the communiqué, “The Urban Guerrilla Concept” which outlined the philosophy and strategy of the group, supplemented by generous helpings of Mao, was published. And while it was conceded that Germany was not in a revolutionary situation, it argued the goal of the guerrilla was to:

Attack the state’s apparatus of control at certain points and put them out of action, to destroy the myth of the system’s omnipresence and invulnerability.    

During the repression the state practiced in its struggle against the RAF, novelist Heinrich Böll characterized the RAF’s struggle as a war of six against sixty million. In this, he sought to criticize the state’s repressive actions as an unnecessary over-reaction. Yet, while his overall point was correct, his math was faulty. The leaders of the RAF were not rootless. They came from existing social movements. They had roots in the student, leftist, and squatters’ struggles. These were abandoned. As they noted in their initial communiqué, individuals could not combine the legal and illegal struggle. The legal struggle was reduced to support for the guerrilla struggle. As it began its life, the RAF severed its links with its base. For all the RAF’s subsequent talk about “serving the people,” its strategy essentially dictated to “the people” what their role would be. 

The year following the publication of “The Concept of the Urban Guerrilla” was intense.    On July 15, 1971, nineteen year-old RAF member Petra Schlem was killed in a shoot-out with the police. Soon after, three more RAF members were killed by the state, while many others were arrested and received heavy prison sentences. At the same time, the RAF began to put its urban guerrilla politics into practice: Banks were robbed, bombings took place at US army barracks, the Springer Press, and the assassination of a federal judge was attempted. 

In June 1972, just a few months after the RAF’s initial bombs were detonated, almost the entire original leadership of the group including Baader, Ensslin, Meinhoff and Holger Meins were captured. They would never be free again. It was these crucial arrests that changed the focus of the RAF for the next five years as the organization was now forced to react to the fate of its leaders. While the organization’s members continued to produce a stream of letters and communiqués, they only produced only two major documents; one, on the Palestinian Black September organization, and the other, which dealt with political rights for imprisoned workers.   

The RAF leadership was kept in Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart. Stammheim was a newly constructed high security Federal prison where the state was able to test out various psychological and physical tortures. These included: isolation cells where prisoners were cut from all human contact, as if the intention was to induce madness; cells where lights were never turned off; not to mention the suspension of regular privileges. When the prisoners responded with hunger-strikes, they were force fed. On November 9, 1974 Holger Meins died while on a hunger strike. Over six feet tall, Meins weighed just 92 pounds at the time of his death.                

But in the guerrilla organization, those who die as martyrs can be useful as a way to motivate others. Hans Joachim Klein, later one of the Revolutionary Cells members who participated in the attack in an OPEC meeting in Vienna a month after Meins’ death, famously wrote, “I have kept this picture [of Meins’ emaciated corpse] in my wallet to keep my hatred sharp.”  A few months later, in April 1975, the Holger Meins Commando seized the West German Embassy in Stockholm to demand the release of the RAF prisoners. Within a day, the operation failed. One RAF member was killed and another critically injured, dying a few days later. It was a humiliating failure.

In May of 1976, Meinhoff was found hanging in her cell. The official verdict was suicide, but independent investigations reached other conclusions. In an almost comic after word, one doctor who examined Meinhoff concluded that her actions may have been the result of brain surgery she received a decade earlier for a tumour: rebellion against the state equals mental illness. Of course, this kind of ‘medical’ diagnosis was actively pursued in East Germany too.  

In April 1977, the RAF leadership was convicted of the charges against it, and the four prisoners were sentenced to life imprisonment. The German Autumn loomed. Five months later, on September 5, 1977, Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the president of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations was kidnapped by the Siegfried Hausner Commando (Hausner being one of the RAF members killed in the Stockholm embassy occupation). Freedom for the RAF prisoners was the price of his life. Schleyer was not an accidental victim. Months before his eighteenth birthday in 1933, Schleyer joined the SS. He was a young and enthusiastic partisan of fascism. After the war, he served three years in prison as part of the de-nazification process. However, upon his release, Schleyer played the role of the unapologetic face of German fascism, fiercely opposed to workers’ rights. His kidnapping was strategic; a call to the original goals of the RAF and the leftist movement.

The negotiations dragged on, when on October 13, a month after Schleyer’s kidnapping, a Lufthansa jet was hijacked. The hijackers were members of Waddi Haddad’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Organization, which since 1972 had been separate from the better known Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The demand of the hijackers, although they were personally unconnected to the RAF was for the release of its prisoners. The plane was refuelled and moved several times as negotiations were conducted, but the plane eventually landed in Mogadishu. On October 19, the plane was stormed, and all but one of the hijackers were killed. The same evening, Baader and Jan-Carl Ruste died from gunshot wounds, while Ensslin was found hanging in her cell (reminiscent of Meinhoff’s death a year earlier and a grim foreshadowing of the fate of Ingrid Schubert). Irmgard Möller was stabbed in the chest four times. According to the authorities, the deaths were the result of a suicide pact. As in the case of Meinhoff’s death, the official story had glaring inconsistencies. Smith and Moncourt present compelling evidence in support of murder. They conclude by quoting the Frankfurter Rundschau: “The Parliamentary Commission is faced with…three sorts of witnesses: those who know nothing, those who don’t want to know anything, and those who aren’t allowed to make a statement.”

Shortly after the news was made public, Schleyer was shot and killed and his body was dumped near the border with France. Smith and Moncourt’s narrative ends with the Stammheim deaths. While the RAF continued its existence for another two decades, its first phase was over.

The Red Army Faction is destined to become the definitive work on the group. Certainly nothing exists in English, perhaps any language, with such a detailed history of the organization.  Readers can judge the organization by both their deeds and by their words. Although, the authors defend the RAF against the slanders and outright falsehoods manufactured over the years, their account is not uncritical.  However, despite these criticisms, the biggest weakness is that the overall thrust of the group’s politics and its strategy are never seriously questioned.

Despite their origins within an anti-authoritarian or anarchist milieu, the RAF saw themselves as Marxists. Marxism is a libratory social theory based upon the destruction of the law of value. The RAF’s theory, while it mentioned socialism, the working class and opposition to imperialism had an extremely flawed conception of what these things actually meant. Despite its assertion that “the urban guerrilla is a weapon in the class war,” there is no evidence that the RAF had a working class orientation of any kind. In addition, the RAF’s endorsement of what it called anti-imperialist politics had little to do with proletarian internationalism. Every revolutionary must be opposed to imperialism, but the theory of anti-imperialism is merely leftist cover for smaller nationalisms. The RAF’s anti-imperialism was support for the nationalism of the “oppressed peoples,” particularly the Palestinians and the Vietnamese; in other words, support for the establishment of independent capitalist states against larger ones. The RAF also identified repressive state-capitalist regimes like China, North Korea and even the Soviet states like East Germany as some form of socialism. The words of Mao and even Kim Il Sung litter the RAF’s documents. To be fair, although some at the time realized and criticized the hollowness of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, tens of thousands of leftists in the west were fooled into believing that it was genuine. Forty years on, the squalid truth of China’s revolutionary credentials have been documented for all who have eyes to see. These regimes and politics were not working class or proletarian internationalist – they were anti-working class. No amount of ‘revolutionary’ sounding phrases will alter that fact.

The subtitle of this first volume is “projectiles for the people,” and it is the second part of this sentence which is troubling. One of Mao’s most famous utterances is that “political power flows out of the barrel of a gun.” He went on, “but it is the party which must control the gun.” And who controls the party?  When you are used to looking down the barrel of a gun, the things you most often see are targets. Instead of serving the people, the guerrilla viewpoint is in fact an extreme vanguardist notion of leading the people: after all, aren’t the guerrilla fighters willing to die for the cause? But rather than a revolutionary conception, this is a liberal conception; the notion of a small group leading the way, stepping out of the crowd, and by eliminating elements of the ruling class, by propaganda of the deed, imperialism will be defeated. The working class does not need people to serve it. It doesn’t need handfuls of ‘urban guerrillas.’ It must the class for itself.     

The original leadership of the RAF spent a little more than two years as urban guerrillas. After their capture, the final years of their lives were spent in brutal conditions. Those that followed them had their lives cut short through the state’s bullets or prisons. Those that supported them accepted the pessimism inherent in their worldview. Smith and Moncourt have produced an outstanding history. Yet, as good as this book is in documenting its subject, it will no doubt strengthen the mystique of groups like the Red Army Faction.


July 3, 2009

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