Roky Erickson in Toronto – A Review

October 29, 2009 at 11:10 pm (Uncategorized)

I think I first heard Roky Erickson’s music when I was working as a DJ at McMaster University’s CFMU in the mid-eighties. It was porblably one of those countless Roky Erickson albums (Maybe Don’t Slander Me?) that were released here and there, but the majesty of Starry Eyes, Bermuda, and Don’t Slander Me grabbed me immediately.  The discovery of the Elevators came later.

When I read about the show, I dropped everything to grab a ticket, reasoning, correctly as it turned out, the show would sell-out. Roky is 62, and this is the first time he has played Toronto. Given his history, I didn’t think it wise to wait for another. I see him as a little like Walter Bishop on Fringe. Brilliant, but sometimes erratic. This was likely to be a once in a lifetime show.  

So down to Lee’s Palace on a wet  Wednesday night. I’ve seen lots of great bands at Lees: Superchunk, Teenage Fanclub, Steve Wynn, Yo La Tengo, Son Volt and many more. But it’s been a long time, and Lee’s has completely changed its layout. Actually, it’s better that I remember. There seems to be more space, and the sight lines are better. 

The Sadies took the stage at 9:15 and played their usual fine set.  If you’ve never seen the Sadies (why not?), then you’ve missed a treat. How many other bands do you know can cover the Gun Club, the Byrds and Elvis on the same album, and still make the songs sound their own?   The only problem with their set was the same one that faces any support band – everyone is waiting for the main event. Still, the brothers Good didn’t disappoint. 

Roky took the stage at 10:30. I had read on the Lee’s site that the Sadies would be his backing band, but no, it was a different set of musicians. A few seconds after hitting the stage, they launched into Cold Night for Alligators from 1980’s Roky Erickson and the Aliens. This period in Roky’s career seemed to focus on aliens, sci-fi monsters and the Devil. In fact, a good deal of the set (see list below) were drawn from this period. The last three songs were a bit earlier: two from the 13th Floor Elevators’ debut and the final song, Two Headed Dog was a 1975 single with Starry Eyes.

At around the one hour mark, the show ended. Roky barked at the audience, his only words to you, and the band left the stage. We waited for what seemed like an eternity for an encore. Thunderous cheering, and then…the house lights came up. Was it us? We cheered pretty hard. Maybe he was just tired. Disappointment set in, and we trudged home.

An amazing  show. Soaring rock ‘n’ roll.   

I never thought I’d see Roky Erickson; this was a night to remember.


It’s a Cold Night for Alligators
Creature with the Atom Brain
The Wind and More
Starry Eyes
Don’t Shake me Lucifer
Bloody Hammer
Stand for the Fire Demon
I Walked with a Zombie *
Night of the Vampire *
The Beast
Splash 1 (13th Floor Elevators)
You’re Gonna Miss Me (13th Floor Elevators)
Red Temple Prayer( aka Two Headed Dog)

All of the above tracks with the exception of the asterisked ones are contained on the two CD set I Have always Been Here. A good investment.

PS My own efforts to photgraph parts of the show, failed miserably. anyone have any pictures to share?

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Roky Erickson tonight in Toronto!

October 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized)


Lee’s Palace  – Bloor and Bathurst

Doors at 8:00

The Sadies at 9:15

Roky and the Sadies at his band 10:15

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Red & Black Notes

October 28, 2009 at 2:09 am (Uncategorized)

I used to publish a newsletter called Red & Black Notes. It ran for 22 issues. In November of 2005, I joined Internationalist Perspective. The final issue appeared a few months later.  I planned to put the final issue up on my web site , but never did. Now Geocites is gone, although the site is archived on libcom and at

Here’s the editorial from R&BN 22 which sort of explains my political history…

On Joining Internationalist Perspective: The Question of Organization 

The decision to join a revolutionary organization is not one which should be taken lightly. In this account of the process by which I came to join Internationalist Perspective, I do not wish to present a simplified straight line leading from Trotskyism through councilism to IP, but rather an examination of my political evolution on key communist questions.   

 The appearance of Red & Black Notes in May 1997 was the culmination of two-year long   process of political evolution away from the Trotskyism, which I had followed for almost a decade. It was also the beginning of a new political odyssey.

As a Trotskyist, I had upheld the key Leninist ideas of the importance of the vanguard party, the nature of the trade unions as workers’ organizations and the non-capitalist nature of the Soviet Union. When I left the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) in 1995, I only doubted the first of these; my organizational break with Trotskyism was not a political, nor a methodological break. I left the IBT convinced that the problem was not Trotskyist ideas, but the way in which they were ‘sold’ to the working class. In this sense, I still saw politics as an ideological commodity and the working class as passive consumers.

After leaving the IBT, I began to re-study and reflect upon many of the basic texts of both Marxism and also anarchism, as well as to try to understand more deeply actual working class struggle.  I came in contact with libertarian communist organizations, and what is sometimes referred to as councilism, which stressed both the spontaneous creativity of the working class, but also a strong distrust of self-appointed saviours of the working class. For those seeking a non-Leninist, but still Marxist revolutionary vision, the ideas of councilism are an attractive fit. In addition to these ideas, the original intention in publishing R&BN was to make contact with others who held similar perspectives, and to work through these questions for myself. 

Almost two years after I left the IBT, the first issue of R&BN appeared,  containing three articles: “May Day – A Traditional Workers’ Holiday”, “The Origins of May Day”, and excepts from the Solidarity (UK) document “As We Don’t See It.” By this time, I was in contact with Collective Action Notes, Echanges et Mouvement and Ken Weller of the Solidarity group. All three groups, although differing in analysis and emphasis would be identified by some as ‘councilist,’ stressing the self-activity of the working class and downplaying the political organization. It was through these groups that I was introduced to the ideas of the Dutch-German communist left.  

In the first issues of Red & Black Notes, the goal of the publication was not to lay down a line for the working class to follow (or more likely ignore), but rather to try to explain, and to let workers draw their own conclusions. In this sense, I sought not to create a pole of regroupment or a cadre, but rather to put forward a position which seemed all too absent in political discourse. In abandoning the vanguardist perspective, the Echanges document Presentation Pamphlet was a major influence in that it saw workers as being in control of their destiny and in making rational decisions. It also explained why the ‘vanguards’ had so little influence in the class, and why it did not matter. In line with this perspective was a concentration on puncturing the pretensions of the vanguardists. I once annoyed a supporter of the IBT by insisting I had as much influence in the working class as his organization did. Of course, this was untrue, but in a larger sense we had about the same impact of the struggle of the class. 

In publishing R&BN, I was able to fully understand the reasons for distancing myself from Trotskyism. In re-examining the question of the political form, it was inevitable that this would lead to questioning other Trotskyist beliefs. When I pulled on the string, the sweater began to unravel. In R&BN #5, I published two original articles by Cajo Brendel on council communism and on the Russian Revolution. Although I had begun to question the Trotskyist theory of the former Soviet Union as a workers’ state, I had not published material reflecting that skepticism (although a reading of Maurice Brinton’s book The Bolsheviks and Workers Control had gone some way in that direction.).

Several Trotskyist currents such as the International Socialist Tendency and the League for the Revolutionary Party had already identified the statism inherent in Trotskyism even if they were incapable of drawing the logical conclusions. By examining state capitalism as a global phenomena, I was able to see that Trotskyism in  supporting various   national liberation movements was choosing sides in these moments in the class war, and thus represented an objectively pro-capitalist albeit state capitalist current. 

While the pretensions of the vanguard organization were abandoned along with the workers’ state theory, I retained at least a semi-Trotskyist position on the unions. I no longer believed they could be conquered or transformed, but saw them as working class organizations that could, on occasion, be used by the working class. Following Echanges, I felt that workers would use them for their needs or not. I did not recognize however, that unions were primarily instruments of control. In retrospect, the events of Ontario’s Days of Action movement against the Progressive Conservative government were an instrument point. That struggle, whose full story has yet to be told, was a classic example of how a genuine anger from significant sections of the working population was successfully contained and derailed by the union movement. It should be noted that the Echanges group was much clearer than I was on this question, and their ancestors in the Dutch-German left were among the first to develop these positions.

If a reader were to look through the issues of R&BN, it is the question of organization which figures more prominently than any other. In addition to the published issues of R&BN, there were two versions of the pamphlet Spontaneity and Organization which contained several articles dealing with this question. Despite an earlier, disavowal of this point, I began to seek out collaborators. In the anti-globalization movement, I co-signed a leaflet with two other now-defunct magazines The Bad Days Will End and Collective Action Notes.   Although it came to nothing, we hoped to move toward the beginnings of some kind of structured council communist tendency. But what sort of tendency and what would its practice be?

In my travel from Leninism, I came across a quote by Paul Mattick which I thought captured the essence of the council communist perspective:

 “The ‘consciousness’ to rebel against and to change society is not developed by the ‘propaganda’ of conscious minorities, but by the real and direct propaganda of events…So long as minorities operate within the mass, the mass is not revolutionary but neither is the minority. Its ‘revolutionary conceptions’ can still only serve capitalistic functions. If the masses become revolutionary, the distinction between conscious minority and unconscious majority disappears, and also the capitalistic function of the apparently ‘revolutionary consciousness’ of the minority.”

 Here, I thought Mattick had perfectly explained why political minorities were isolated, and why the desire to become mass parties under capitalism was impossible. Of course, as I ignored the fatalism of the quote, I failed to note that it contradicted Mattick’s own work. The implication is that conscious revolutionary minorities can do nothing at all. Mattick was an activist, a polemicist and certainly aspired to spread his thoughts through the working class. It seemed to me that it some ways, as Gilles Dauvé and others have pointed out, the Leninist and the ultra-left traditions had become mirror images of each other. While the Leninist saw the working class movement outside of the party only as the thing which would allow them to rise to power, the councilist position, in its most extreme versions became a contemplative group.         In moving away from Mattick, I drew upon an idea by Dauvé, who wrote in his famous book, The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement, while we should not seek to build the party, we should not fear to build it. While this latter formulation is better, it too contains a contradiction. The error was not to see revolutionaries as a part of the class, but something outside. Revolutionaries do not bring that knowledge and experience as something outside of the class, but as something within it. While distrustful of anyone who wanted to be the leader of the working class, I came to realize the role a revolutionary group could play in developing that leadership, and how that leadership differed from my previous political conceptions.

So then, what was to be done? For a number of years R&BN had operated as a lone wolf, working with whomever I wished, but theory and organization requires more than an individual effort. Marx wrote Capital as part of the workers’ movement of his day, not as an isolated individual.  

 Red & Black Notes first met International Perspective in the late 1990s through a supporter living in Vancouver. A year or so later, the Internationalist Discussion List was set up. The list was an English language version of a similar list established in France to promote discussion and debate within the left communist milieu, and which included former supporters of the International Communist Current. While seldom as vigorous as the French list, the English list carried on important discussions on a number of important political issues such as class consciousness, terrorism, and the formal and real domination of capital. Through this forum, I became more familiar with the history and political views of IP. I met members of IP in the summer of 2003, and attended their conferences in 2004 and 2005.

            Internationalist Perspective left the ICC in 1985, as the External Fraction of the ICC, publishing a magazine of the same name in English and French. Initially the EFICC saw the ICC as revising its position on class consciousness, and sought to defend the platform of the ICC. However, by 1994, it had concluded that the ICC’s platform was inadequate, and that key sections of those ideas, and indeed the historical legacy of the Communist Left, needed to be re-examined. These conclusions were published in two documents “Balance-sheet for a new start: Internationalist Perspective,” and “The World as we see it: Reference Points.” Both of these appear in Internationalist Perspective #27 (the latter document is available on the IP web site). In the same year, the organization changed its name from the External Fraction to that of the magazine.

 As I became familiar with IP, through its publication, through correspondence, and through meetings, I was impressed by both the theoretical perspective in explaining the continued development of capitalism, and also their commitment to discussion and development of theory. I reprinted several documents for distribution.

The Communist Left, though pre-dating the Bolshevik Revolution, was shaped by the Bolshevik orthodoxy and the emergence of state-capitalism in the Soviet Union. The Left Communists, principally in Italy, Germany and Holland advanced new theories, but paid a high price in isolation. Where IP disagrees with the historic Communist Left is that it recognizes the dangers of viewing insights from the past uncritically, and the dangers of those insights freezing into dogma. The Communist Left clearly drew a class line that was absence in the Trotskyism I had once endorsed; however, many of its descendants have failed to grasp the development of capital in the latter part of the twentieth century.

            For me, and IP, one of the key recognitions in understanding the developing of society in the twenty first century is the importance of the theory of the formal and real domination of capital, a more nuanced theory of decadence, as well as the notion of the recomposition of the working class. Without adding to the breakthroughs of the Communist Left, that insight becomes dogma.  While not abandoning the Left Communist tradition, one of the goals IP has set for itself is “to go beyond the weaknesses and insufficiencies of the Communist left through an effort of incessant theoretical development.”  R&BN invites readers to be a part of this process of discussion as a way to contribute to the development of working class political theory and for a better tomorrow.


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Music Notes – October 2009

October 25, 2009 at 7:18 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, OK, nothing about Roky Erickson or the Stone Roses this month. It’s very hard though, especially when neither Now or Eye list this week’s Roky show at Lee’s Palace as a must-see gig.

Oh, and happy birthday to my son who turns six today.

1. It Might Get Loud

I’m not a fan of U2. I can take or leave Led Zeppelin, but I do like the White Stripes. Given that, a documentary about the Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White might not seem like my cup of tea. That would be wrong though.

I saw the film last weekend, and it’s definitely worth seeing. The documentary explores the back story of all three guitar players, and culminates in a sit-down discussion/jam session between the three. I’m not a guitar player, so perhaps I was unable to appreciate all of the technical points, but there are plenty of moments for the average music lover. Check out the moment where Page casually plays Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love while White and the Edge look on in awe. Worth seeing, and seeing again when the DVD comes out.

2. Elvis Costello – Live at El Mocambo

The same day I saw It Might Get Loud, I picked up Elvis Costello’s Live at El Mocambo CD. The show was recorded and broadcast on Toronto’s CHUM-FM just a few days before Costello’s second album This Year’s Model was released. The sound is a little flat, but it works: you can imagine you’re in the audience at the Elmo. The set list is drawn from Costello’s first two albums, but the songs are played a lot harder than on record – just listen to the version of Miracle Man that the attraction play to death (far better that the version recorded with Clover, although the version on the Live Stiffs album is even better – worth looking for) . BTW, how can you tell when it’s a real live album, not one with applause inserted between songs? The audience yells during the songs. Such is this. A magnificent new wave band, even before the term existed.

 3. The Raveonettes

If you’ve listened to the last couple of Raveonettes releases, you know the pattern now: The Jesus and Mary Chain meet the Everly Brothers as recorded by Phil Spector. Love it or hate it, they seem to have found something which works for them. The new album is more of the same (good as far as I’m concerned). If you get the I-tunes version, there’s a 20 minute film about the making of the album.  

4. LCD Soundsystem – Bye Bye Bayou

New release from LCD Soundsystem. Officially out in November, it’s already all around. An Alan Vega cover. The band gave away 20,000 downloads (sorry – all gone! I got mine!)  through their mailing list, but you can hear it on their myspace page. ) New album in 2010.

5. Skiffle

Skiffle? Yeah, the last great British innovation before Merseybeat. Except that it wasn’t. as usual, an American idea the Brits stole and sold back. I picked up 2 2-CD volumes called As Good as it Gets. Probably everything you need, with generous helpings of Lonnie Donegan, the Vipers, Chris Barber and many more. Mixing country, jazz, bluegrass and folk in a D.I.Y. fashion that punk took up two decades later, skiffle was simple, stripped down music. Sad that it’s all but forgotten.

6. Goodbye 20th Century

It was a biography of Sonic Youth, it had a great, vaguely Situationist title, and it was in the sale bin at my local bookshop. What reason was there not to buy? Haven’t started it yet (it’s  reading matter on a plane trip next month), but a thumb through reveals it’s worth having for the pictures along. Author David Browne also wrote a biography of Jeff and Tim Buckley.

7. Buzzcocks – Time’s Up

Buzzcocks are known, of course, for the outstanding singles compilation Singles Going  Steady. But they were so much more. They released on of the first punk indie records, the Spiral Scratch EP on their own New Hormones label.  Just as they were building, singer Howard Devoto quit and formed Magazine. Time’s Up are the demos recorded before he quit. Slightly different versions of the songs on the EP along with covers of the Trogs and Captain Beefheart. Mine had a video of Boredom done live. Close your eyes and remember those perfect moments again.

8.  John Cooper Clarke – Twat

I love John Cooper Clarke. I still use his poem I Wanna be yours in class. Here’s a clip of him reading Twat for Australian TV. Check out the honey monster clip too.

9. Madonna’s Glee

I hear that Madonna has cleared her catalogue for use in Glee. Smart move. Can’t wait to see the results.

10. Vortex Records

Long the best used record store in Toronto. On my last visit, I picked up an autographed Dean and Britta CD and Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain. They have a new website and blog which is worth bookmarking (best place to hear about sales )

UPDATE – I was so taken by my comments about skiffle, that I dug out the CDs mentioned above. I was about three-quarters of the way through the first one, when my wife reminded me we were not living in the Ozark Mountains. Ouch!  Still, if you want a nice introduction pick up the 2000 Van Morrison Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber collaboration The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast. A treat.

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Ssangyong Workers Update – The Empire Strikes Back

October 19, 2009 at 8:49 pm (Uncategorized)

Earlier this year I posted several articles about the strike at the Ssangyong Motor Company. In July, the strike ended in defeat.  Here is a brief update on the state’s viciousness in the aftermath of the strike. The new issue of Internationalist Perspective also has a short report.

(Yonhap) — A mid-ranking official with Ssangyong Motor’s labor union was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on Friday for masterminding a months-long demonstration that paralyzed South Korea’s smallest automaker earlier this year.

The defendant, identified only by his surname Kim, was accused of organizing a prolonged occupation of the company’s only plant in Pyeongtaek, 70km south of Seoul, that halted production in May and June.

The protest was marked by violent clashes that left dozens injured.

The Suwon District Court convicted Kim of incurring 2.29 billion won (US$1.96 million) in damages to the automaker and destroying 10 million won worth of office furniture.

The court also sentenced another Ssangyong union member to a one-year prison term, suspended for two years, for similar charges.

Unionized workers launched the violent strike to protest management’s restructuring plan that called for reducing the company’s workforce by 36 percent. Ssangyong came under court receivership in February.

The 77-day occupation of the automaker’s key facilities by hundreds of unionized workers ended in early August after the union agreed to the company’s reduced layoff plan.

The unrest was estimated to cost Ssangyong over 300 billion won in lost production.

Police arrested a total of 79 workers and outside labor activists on charges of participating in the violent rallies.


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The Socialist Party of Great Britain – One Hundred Years

October 19, 2009 at 12:39 am (Uncategorized)

 The following post was first published in the fall of 2004 in Red & Black Notes #21. I’m re-posting it here as a more general criticism of the SPC’s politics (although it was aimed at their sister organizion in the UK). The Red & Black Notes site should be on-line for a few more weeks before Geocites disappears.

UPDATE: Just noticed there’s some discussion about this article at Libcom.


The Socialist Party of Great Britain celebrated its centenary in June 2004. The party was founded by former members of H.M Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation after a struggle in that organization. The founding conference adopted a declaration of principles (which still appears in every issue of its journal) and began to publish the Socialist Standard two months later.

From its inception, the SPGB was determined to forge its own course. The new party refused to join the Second International on the grounds that it admitted reformist parties. While it had some relationship with the British followers of Daniel DeLeon in the Socialist Labour Party (the SLP was also founded by ex-SDFers), the SPGB regarded every other political organization as an enemy to be fought. Often referred to as imposssiblists, the SPGB and its companion parties have steadfastly preached the gospel of socialism for the last hundred years.

And yet, the SPGB resembles nothing so much as the proverbial stopped clock that is right twice a day. While they offer some socialist truths about the nature of socialism and the futility of reformist struggles, their politics appear to be frozen: An example of its conception of how capitalism has remained unchanged and the tactics of a socialist organization.

The SPGB holds that socialism will involve electing a socialist government and allow for the machinery of government to be “converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation.” (Declaration of Principles). The election of a socialist government however is premised upon the vast majority of the population coming to accept, presumably, the party’s position. While the SPGB claim that its actual belief is that “socialist consciousness develops out of the workers’ class experience of capitalism and its problems” (Socialist Standard August 2004), the party’s propaganda suggests the necessity of educating workers about the virtues of socialism. A cartoon on the SPGB web site had a party representative sighing that socialism was such a good idea, but it was a shame no one believed it.

Using parliament to establish socialism when it serves as “the executive committee of the bourgeoisie”; reducing socialism to an ideal which reality will have to accept rather than “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things”; educating the workers when it is “essential to educate the educator.” The disappearance of permanent opposition organizations of the working class over the last century in the face of the deepening of the real domination of capital seems to have gone unnoticed by the party.


As Marx noted in The German Ideology:


Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alternation of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alternation which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution.


For a socialist organization to survive for a century is impressive; however, to refuse to see how capitalism has changed in that century certainly cheapens the achievement.

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The Impossiblists

October 19, 2009 at 12:35 am (Uncategorized)

The Socialist Party of Canada is arguably the oldest socialist organization in Canada. I say arguably because although the organization was established in 1905, the party disbanded in 1926, only to re-establish itself in 1931. The new organization contained some of the former members, but its politics were now more closely aligned with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a group the SPC had once had strong disagreements with. Even today, within the organization, the  debate continues as to whether the SPC is a reboot of the original SPC or a  new start.

Nevertheless, the SPC’s contribution to socialist politics in Canada is usually forgotten after the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 and the founding of the Communist Party in 1921. But that’s pity because the organization is worth learning about, if only as a counterweight against the Leninist tradition.

Peter Newell’s book, The Impossiblists is a good place to start. It’s probably the best book ever written on the subject. The SPC began in in the impossibilist tradition. Essentially, within the Marxist movement in the latter part of the 19th century, there emerged two trends: the  possibilists,  who sought a betterment within the capitalist system eventually expecting this would lead to the transformation of the system into its opposite socialism. (eventually however, the possibilists  made their peace with the system,  and exist today in social democratic movements.)  The Impossibilists,  however sought socialism. they rejected all reforms and argued that only socialism could make such reforms permanent. The most famous exponent of this tradition is the Socialist Party of Great Britain

The Canadian party was quite influential. It elected members to provincial  legislatures in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, and its members were influential in the unions.  The party’s most important moment was during the Winnipeg General strike where several  members of  the party played important roles on the strike committee (and several went to jail for it). The defeat of the strike and the founding of the Communist Party of Canada is 1921 proven insurmountable for the party

Newell’s book provides an amazing account of these early years and is easily the best account written. However, the book is not without its flaws.

There’s a general tendency to insist the SPC was right at every turn. Now it’s a partisan text of course, and thus forgivable to show the party as right overall, but to admit no mistakes makes the reader suspicious. The only thing where the party seems to go wrong is in the sometimes bitter factionalism.

It’s impossible too not to notice the change in focus after the SPC’s refounding.  In the SPC mark I years, the emphasis was on the party’s interaction with the world. True, the book details fights within the party, but the narrative was focused on the outside world. In the second part, the narrative changes to what was happening inside the SPC. The SPC’s influence declined and so the party had less of an impact on the outside world, but instead of detailing how the party deals with this, Newell writes things like, between 1965 and 1970, there wasn’t much socialist activity in Canada. A similar claim is made for the years before the second Iraq war, when Newell reduced socialist activity in Canada to the SPC’s distribution of several hundred(! ) leaflets and an appearance on a radio programme. Despite the fact the SPC published a French journal, the October Crisis and the War Measures Act aren’t mentioned.  In fact, a lot of things that the party might logically have commented on aren’t mentioned.

A curious reader would also have to search for how the SPC’s programme of using the ballot to elect a socialist governement which would then introduce socialism might be put into practice. Newell rarely explains these ideas,  although the party’s programme is reproduced.

Lastly, it might be because Newell lives in England that he was unable to always consult first hand materials, but when you list a Time Life History of Canada as a source reference, doubt appears over other areas. 

As I noted earlier, this is probably the best book written so far on the organization. a huge number of names and events left out of history are re-written into the record. It’s well worth a read. The narrative is crisp and there are lots of interesting details; however, the superlative book on the SPC is still waiting to be written.


The book is available from the Socialist Party for $12.

The SPC’s review of the book appears in their journal Imagine, Winter 2009. (on the SPC site)

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CLR James conference in Ottawa

October 15, 2009 at 2:21 am (Uncategorized)

This Friday and Saturday the University of Ottawa’s Law Faculty is sponsoring a conference to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of CLR James’ American Civilization.

James was a huge influence on my political development, and despite its flaws Facing Reality is still worth reading.

As Marty Glaberman once said, everyone has their own CLR James, and this one might not be yours. At first glance, it seems to lead toward the literary and anti-colonialist James rather that the ultra-left spontaneist (my James). Nevertheless, there’s more than enough stuff to make it worth a trip to Ottawa.

Details at

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Reminder: Internationalist Perspective public meeting in New York

October 15, 2009 at 2:14 am (Uncategorized)

Just a reminder to anyone in the New York area that Internationalist Perspective is hosting a public meeting to discuss 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? ”

The meeting takes place on Thursday October 15 at 7PM 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”

for more information see our blog

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Using the Master’s Tools – Reflections on a post by Sketchy Thoughts blog

October 11, 2009 at 10:10 pm (Uncategorized)

There’s an interesting post at the Sketchy Thoughts blog called Using the Master’s Tools on the effects of internet technology on activism. The piece offers some observations and technology and activism. 

I got my first email account in 1994 and used the net for the first time the same year. My initial feeling was that this was a tremendous asset for radicals. Imagine, being able to send documents and communicate across the globe in second, free of charge., It made the possibility of international organization and more importantly collaboration a reality unlike at any time in the past: I was a member of Trotskyist organization at the time, and email and the internet (such as it was at the time) essentially allowed us to plan international meetings and function as a collective organization. I recall reading Trotsky’s volumes of correspondence with his followers and imagined how difficult it was to sustain using snail mail along. 

When I began to publish Red & Black Notes a few years later, a lot of the early ‘filler’ content was acquired through the internet. In addition, discussion lists like aut-op-sy and others allowed me to make contact with a wide number of activists and similar thinkers.  

This exchange of information led to a massive availability of ultra-left material on the web. Once upon a time, these documents were only available as yellowing archives; now anyone could discover them.

As a digression, I should say that Geocities should get a lot of credit  – many of us used its pages to post material. With its disappearance later this month, it si a real loss – fortunately Lib com has archived much the material)

The internet nad email certainly has use as an organizing tool. Shortly after I started R&BN, I worked on a solidarity tour with the Women of the Waterfront, a support group for striking Liverpool dockers. Eugene Plawiuki n Edmonton, TJ Baker in Vancouver, Bruce Allen in St. Catharines and me in Calgary largely put the thing together. This is probably immodest, especially as many more were involved in Ontario. Nevertheless, the point is that we were able to organize the thing with the use of this fairly new technology.

However, around the same time people also began to talk about cyber-picket lines. The idea was that cyber-blitzs and I suppose hacking and crashing sites could be an effective tool for activism. Unlike email, I was a little more skeptical about this. Call me old fashioned, but class struggle, strikes, demonstrations etc, exist in a real world not a virtual one. And this is the seductive danger of the internet, the notion that this can replace actual struggles. (the notion of the armchair revolutionary is replaced by the keyboard communist)

It’s easier to bang out something on the internet than to engage in person. Discussion lists, flames and the like are so much easier to wage from the comfort of one’s keyboard. And, on a purely financial note, I should mention that when I wound up R&BN in 2005, the significant part of the production cost was the mailing.

Sketchy Thoughts points to the re-emergence of the flash-mob as a possible organizing tool. Maybe. I remember a friend arguing about eight years ago that the flash mob was the next big trend, only to see it disappear. It seems to me that the flash mob type of action can be very useful as emergency happening, although it seems to be nothing more than a more efficient version of the phone tree.  I don’t know of any leftist groups using twitter 🙂  But maybe I’m wrong.

Rejecting evolving technology  leads into dead ends. Technology is not  neutral, yet, we cannot ignore it. As Sketchy Thoughts note, sometimes it’s a question of how to use the master’s tool.

PS. I am reminded of an issue of the now defunct De Leonist Society Bulletin. Shortly before the year 2000, they published an article about Y2K and noted they were not particularly concerned. Probably because their leaflets were still produced on a typewriter. Not a healthy indication.

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