Music Notes April 2011

April 30, 2011 at 5:41 pm (Uncategorized)

 April’s Musical treats.

1. The Kills – Blood Pressures

Ah, the difficult fourth album. After the amazing Midnight Boom, there was a real possibility the next record might be a letdown. The opening cut “Future Starts Slow” is familiar territory, but the single “Satellite” introduces reggae into the mix, and “The Last Goodbye” is a rather lovely piano ballad. It’s not as immediate as previous Kills’ releases, but quietly it grows. The Kills play the Sound Academy tomorrow. Expect a review on Monday.

2. The Pixies – At the BBC

Anyone can like a song by a band. The casual listener picks up a greatest hits package. The fan buys all the albums. The zealot gets the demos, the live recordings and the alternative takes, just so they can have every thing. I can’t imagine the Pixies newbie starting with At the BBC, but it’s nice to hear slightly different versions of those songs.

3. Crass – Stations of the Crass

This was the first Crass album I bought. Stations in its original form was three studio sides and a live concert, a gatefold sleeve packed with collages and the lyrics, and all for under 4 pounds. This version comes pretty close. True, the live side disappears (it’s available as a free download though), as does the untitled song by Steve Ignorant at the end of side 3, but you do get the 79 Peel session, a reproduction of the original sleeve and a book with essays and notes by Steve and Penny.

4. Talulah Gosh – Demos

Newly released by Damaged Goods, it’s four perfect pop songs from Oxford. If you know Amelia Fletcher’s work, you know what this is like; if you don’t what are you waiting for?

5. These New Puritans – “Hologram”

Live cut available as a free download from their site.  My favourite band of the moment.

6. Poly Styrene – Generation Indigo

As is often the way, death brings interest. Poly Styrene’s passing this week seems especially cruel as this record had just been released in the UK and was about to come out here too.  Anyone expecting X-Ray Spex type material is going to be disappointed. The record is much more of a electro-pop style, but it’s full of catchy songs. Worth getting.

7. Girls at Our Best – Pleasure

OK, everyone rips off the Gang of Four now. Not so much the Au Pairs or the Delta 5, and hardly anyone seems to remember Girls at Our Best. True, those who recall the Wedding Present may recall their stirring cover of GAOB’s “Getting Nowhere Fast”  (the original’s better), but this record has pretty much everything you’ll need. The orignal album, singles and some BBC sessions (and a cover of “Bound for Glory”). Post-punk pop.

8. Killing Joke – The Malicious Singles

I was very much into Killing Joke, the six months or so before I moved to Canada. What’s THIS for?  still brutal to listen to. And ‘Requim” can still screw up your day. The six songs on this record aren’t quite as heavy, but you can see where they were going to end up. Crunchy.

9. The Duke Spirit – Ex Voto

Can’t wait for that new Heartless Bastards record? Well, this might tide you over. The Duke Spirit are from the UK, have a bluesy sound and a female singer. Ex-Voto is a punchy little EP, but you can seek out the albums too.

10. John Foxx – The Garden

When someone talks about Ultravox and lists Midge Ure as the singer, I throw up my hands in despair. The first three Ultravox records with John Foxx channelling Bowie and Roxy Music are untouchable. The ones with Midge ure, you wouldn’t want to touch. The Garden was Foxx’s  second solo album was more of the same majestic gothic slender: Music for rainy days. the current version packs on a few B sides and things, but it’s a lovely follow-up to Metamatic. Hey, did you know Foxx is also a graphic designer and did the cover for Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh?

Oh and just because it’s April, we’ll have number 11…

11.  The Fleshtones and…

From Andy Warhol’s TV show. The Fleshtones are grooving, when on walks a slightly dishevelled Ian McKelland and begins to recite Shakespeare’s twentieth sonnet. Odd, let compelling. Watch it on You Tube.

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Bread and Circuses 2011

April 29, 2011 at 11:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Well at least the British got their bread in the form of a four-day weekend for the royal wedding. In Canada, we get the circus on Monday with yet another pointless election. 

As to the wedding of Kate and William. I confess, I didn’t watch it. No surprise there as I’ve been an anti-monarchist for many long years. (sorry mum, but you know it’s true).  That the royal family and the royal wedding have managed to create such a fuss only   confirms the truth that British continues to limp along on past glories, the continued triumph of style over substance.

When I argue with people about this parasitic institution, two arguments are offered:

1. The existence of the monarchy brings tourist dollars into the country. True, people are inexplicable, to me anyone, fascinated by the royals, but the stately homes and jewels would continue to exist, and I suspect the royal do not come with a financial cost (the millions of dollars in security for one thing)

2. They provide unity. Well, that may have some truth. A few years ago, everyone hated them! William and Kate may have breathed some life into the family business, but a quick round of toe-sucking scandals would easily disappear the current good will.

As for the happy couple, I don’t have any animosity for them. But as for what they represent, perhaps it’s said best on this commentary on K-Punk.

And onto the Canadian Federal election. Why, it’s all turning out as I predicted. Er, sort of. The Conservatives did run a campaign that was mean-spirited and dishonest. The Liberals mumbled about Harper and his hidden agenda, and Michael Ignatiev ran an increasingly ineffective campaign. And the BQ and the Green party made even less of a splash than usual.

What I missed completely, but in all fairness so did they, was the surge in popularity of the NDP and in particular Jack Layton. On one level, it may be understandable; after all, Layton seems the most friendly and trustworthy of the leaders. Given that dislike of the other leaders, Layton may be benefitting  by default.

The paper support does seem to be causing some consternation though. A news report I saw on Wednesday referred to the NDP as socialist no fewer than six times. Now, the tepid pale pink NDP can be accused of many things, but socialist is not one of them. On all the fundamentals, including support for the assaults on Libya, the NDP is a loyal party of capitalism. Yes, Socialist Worker may tell you a vote for the NDP is a vote for the workers, but it just ain’t so.

So it remains to be seem what will happen. Whether Stephen Harper will get his majority. Or will he be denied another time and have the NDP as his ever so loyal opposition?

One thing is for sure, that the fundamental nature of this class society will not changed. And whoever occupies 24 Sussex Drive will not even make a flicker of difference in that regard.

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Poly Styrene R.I.P.

April 27, 2011 at 1:07 am (Uncategorized)

She had a voice that could clean drains. and a fashion sense that could only be described as unique.

Poly Styrene passed away April 25, 2011 from breast cancer at the age of 53.

Likely the first X-ray Spex song I heard was “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo.” It’s not something you forget easily. Breakneck speed, slashing guitars, a wailing saxophone, and Polly. That voice. Just amazing.

X-ray Spex only had one proper album, Germ Free Adolescents and it’s available with various track listings. If you don’t have it, it’s well worth tracking down. I know what I shall be listening to for the next few days.

Really and truly, a loss.

Enjoy, one of Polly’s greatest moments Oh Bondage Up Yours!

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Steve Ignorant in Toronto – A Review

April 23, 2011 at 6:14 pm (Uncategorized)

 

Steve at the Opera House

It seemed only appropriate, given the nature of Crass that Steve Ignorant’s Last Supper was performed in Toronto on Good Friday. The anarchist punk band that still casts such a long shadow.

The first ever Crass song I heard was Mother Earth, a song from the Stations of the Crass record, part of a John Peel session included on the new re-issue of Stations.   I won’t say it changed my life, I was already into punk, but it did lead me further down a path of exploration and questioning. I didn’t always agree with Crass, but like them or not, they made you think.

Perhaps that was what was so intriguing about the band: Their apparent contradictions. The band delivered a stripped down punk that apparently lacked much of the sophistication of their peers. However, if you listened closely, the music was  not so simple. Particularly something like “Walls” on Stations, Crass showed they also possessed sophistication. But it wasn’t just the sound; Crass delivered complicated ideas on topics like racism, sexism, peace, religion, anarchy ands much more. The packaging of their records was always detailed and thought provoking.  

And no less than others, Crass constantly challenged themselves. After the success of Stations, they released Penis Envy which didn’t feature Steve, only Eve and Joy singing. If you’re serious about fighting sexism, they seemed to say, then put your money where your mouth is.

So when it all came to an end in 1984, many people thought that was that. Crass was the product of a set of particular circumstances never to be duplicated.

Except that it wasn’t over.  The records continued to sell, the famous Crass symbol is still well known. The legend continued to grow. Then in 2007, Steve Ignorant, who had continued to work in music, performed The Feeding of the 5000 at a show in London. In 2010, a tour was announced, The Last Supper.

It was not without controversy. Some of the members of the band felt that Steve shouldn’t be perfroming those songs again. And when plans were announced for re-issues for Crass’ albums, some within the Crass camp felt this too was wrong (although it should be noted most of those songs are availabe on I-Tunes anyway -why not do something for the fans?).

Apparently much of the exchanges are availabe on-line -you’ll have to look for yourself, I haven’t bothered to find them. 

In March of this year, the tour was supposed to hit North America, but visa problems meant the shows were postponed for a month. (It worked for me, as I was in New york the weekend of the original show). Steve has vowed that when this tour ends in November, he will never play these songs live again. So, last night’s show was historic.

A couple of hours before the show, Steve appeared at Hits and Misses, a record store on Queen Street West. Probably sixty people crammed into the little shop to hear Steve talk about Crass, and his autobiography The Rest is Propaganda (a line uttered by Albert Finney in the film Friday Night, Saturday Morning).

Among the questioners, one Crass fan questioned Steve’s decision to play the tour at “corporate venues” like the Opera House suggesting that this was something Crass would never have done: They would have done it DIY.  Purity however is a often a luxury of the unimportant, and while I sympathize with that sentiment (I’ve often been involved with groups and movements labelled sectarian), the point is that this isn’t Crass. And no one pretends it is. It’s a member of Crass playing songs he wrote or contributed to, one last time.  

The show at the Opera House started around 9:00 with Terminals, a three piece punk band who played a thirty minute set of fairly unremarkable punk: Choppy drumming, fast riffs and shouted vocals.

Perhaps the most memorable thing for me from their set was the appearance of slam dancers. Off topic somewhat, but I’ve never been fond of this fixture of many punk shows. I can’t help but feel that many of those involved in slam dancing got the idea from watching the punk episode of Quincy. (Actually, few of the slammers were born when that episode aired). Still, it seems to play into a kind of violent macho aesthetic which excludes women (at least those who don’t enjoy being bashed into or groped), and quickly leads to frayed tempers – two participants were on the verge of fighting almost as soon as the thing began. One of the last comments from the Terminals singer was to ask the crowd to stop fighting.  

Class Assassins from Toronto were up next. To my ears they were a big step forward. Class Assassins are a five-piece and have a big punk sound which fit more in with Bad Religion or Social Distortion than a strictly hardcore sound.

The band have a couple of CDs out, and were a lot of fun.

After their thirty minute set , I was expecting Goldblade, but they didn’t appear. Not sure why. I was a bit disappointed since they are a fine act, but my evning was already going so well, it was OK.

Last Supper

Steve Ignorant took the stage at 11:00. I never saw Crass, but I imagine that this show was a little bit like being there. The ferocious music was key, but behind the band was a series of slides of political figures (Thatcher appeared often) and others not too known in North America  (Moors Murderer Myra Hyndley was shown throughout Mother Earth), along  with anti-nuclear pictures, peace pictures and lots of shots of Crass and assorted punks. In addition, tapes played between songs, so creating a multi-media experience.

Steve Williams is 53 years old. The spikey hair is long gone, and as he admitted earlier in the evening, the voice is a bit gravelly, but he was clearly enjoying himself. as were the crowd. We sang along, we chanted, we cheered. All the hits and more.

The only down note for me, aside from the continued presence of stage divers and slam dancers, was the sound. The Opera House has never had the best soundsystem, and last night much of Steve’s vocals were lost in the mix. While it’s true we knew all the words, they were important and deserved to be heard. Ironically though, the vocals were much clearer on Eve Libertine’s songs as perfromed by Carol Hodge, and these were among my favourites of the evening (ironic because I usually prefered the ones Steve sang on record).

Carol Hodge

So, almost thirty years after I moved to Canada and almost thirty years since Crass broke up, I got to see those songs played live. I bought a copy of Steve’s book and got it signed (in a fanboyish moment, I got my picture taken with Steve too), and had a great time at a gig I never thought I’d see. Not a bad evening.

Set list ( which may not be 100% accurate)

Punk is Dead
Do they owe us a living?
End Result
They’ve Got a Bomb
Big Man Big M.A.N.
Mother Earth
White Punks on Hope
Bata Motel
Systematic Death
Time Out
Securicor
How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead?
Fight War Not Wars
Where Next Colombus?
Rival Tribal Rebels Revel
G’s Song
I ain’t thick, It’s Just a Trick
The Gasman Cometh
Heard Too Much About
Darling
Berketex Bride
Chairman of the Bored
Tired
Big A Little A
So What
Banned from the Roxy

Encore

[ Couldn’t read my handwriting ]
You’ve Got Big Hands
Shaved Women
Bloody Revolutions

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Steve Ignorant: Globe and Mail Article

April 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm (Uncategorized)

 

I’d have to say, I’m pretty excited about Friday’s Steve Ignorant show in Toronto. Especially since Goldblade are opening. There’s a Q and A at Hits and Misses on Queen at 6PM, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that. Anyway, here’s an article from today’s Globe and Mail.

 ——————————-

In 1978, the band Crass declared that punk was dead. Apparently it isn’t

Robert Everett-Green

April 20, 2011

On the line from England, Steve Ignorant sounds a little dazed by the thought that people in Montreal, a city he has never visited, are so eager to hear him sing 30-year-old punk songs that the promoter had to bump the gig up to a club with space for 2,000, including soft seats in the balcony.

“It’s pretty astonishing,” says Ignorant, the original lead singer for Crass, which gave its last show in 1984. “I thought we’d be playing really small venues.”

“We” does not mean Crass in any form – the current North American tour, which begins in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Wednesdayand reaches Montreal and Toronto on Thursday and Friday, is billed as Steve Ignorant Presents the Last Supper. The band is history, he says, but the songs are still now.

Crass was never as famous as the Clash or the Sex Pistols, but its music has shown staying power that few might have guessed when the band issued its first record in 1978. “Punk is dead,” the band declared on that disc, referring to the decay of the genre into “another cheap product,” but punk has continued, most vigorously in the left-leaning, anti-war, anarchistic mode that Crass pioneered.

Despite its name, Crass promoted a literate, focused and even poetic assault on authority. Asylum, the first song on that debut disc (which bore the biblical title The Feeding of the 5,000), blasted Jesus for allowing the Holocaust, alluded to the anti-war poetry of Wilfred Owen and contained such nuggets as: “The cross is the mast of our oppression.”

Crass (whose other leading member was performance artist Penny Rimbaud, a.k.a. Jeremy Ratter) also produced tape collages and Gee Vaucher’s political street stencils – decades before Banksy – and engaged in other direct-action tactics. With the Slits, Crass was one of the few early punk bands in which women played a major role: Penis Envy (1981), its third album, focused on feminist issues and was sung by Eve Libertine (Bronwyn Lloyd Jones) and Joy De Vivre.

The current once-only tour grew out of two London performances of The Feeding of the 5,000 in 2007. Word got out that Crass songs could again be heard live, someone remembered that the band had sold 1.5 million albums and bookings began to appear across Europe and in places such as Gainesville, Fla.

“I can’t hit the high notes, but then I never could,” says Ignorant, who is now 53 and still speaks in a voluble Cockney. “I thought I’d be dying for breath every night.”

An exercise regime helped, as did the convenient fact that Crass shows were mostly stand-and-sing affairs to begin with. He never had a problem with relearning the band’s often verbose lyrics. “Those lyrics have been in my head, in my subconscious mind, ever since we wrote them,” he says. “Once we started rehearsals, it all came flooding back.”

Ignorant thought of revising a few – “for about 30 seconds. But the things happening in the world are still the same. The songs are very specific, but, in another way, they’re timeless.”

As for changing the arrangements, the musicians he recruited to play the songs were dead against any kind of tampering. What the all-ages fans have been hearing so far, Ignorant says, are very much like the album versions, with better amps and instruments.

After Crass ended, Ignorant performed with a few other bands, then spent a decade as a traditional Punch and Judy performer, with his own papier-mâché puppets. The shift from punk to Punch was really a change of means, not ends, he says. “Punch and Judy really used to frighten me as a child. But it was mainly a show for adults. It was very political in the 1800s, with lots of anti-government statements.”

As with Crass’s song catalogue, he didn’t think that Punch’s violent skits needed updating. “I stuck very rigidly to the original story from Victorian times,” he says. “If you overpoliticize it, it loses its freshness.”

He may go back to being a “Professor” (the traditional name for a Punch performer), though his original puppets have become quite fragile from use. He also has a solo show in mind, mainly spoken word with music, based on his autobiography, The Rest Is Propaganda.

As for Crass’s original recordings, those were rescued by Penny Rimbaud a few years ago from deteriorating two-inch tape, and remastered for reissue on Southern Records, a label associated with the band from the beginning. But one former member refused to give his consent.

“It turned into a big bloody argument,” Ignorant says. “It was quickly apparent that it was about far more than business, it was about personal histrionic issues.”

The reissues went ahead anyway, and damn the torpedoes, but since Crass was always an equal-shares venture, the absence of unanimous approval means that the proceeds of sales are frozen by the Performing Right Society. If unclaimed, the money will eventually be shared out in proportion to performers’ global sales, which means that Elton John and Andrew Lloyd Webber may profit more from Crass than any member of the band.

“How ironic is that?” Ignorant says. Or as he sang, very presciently, in 1978: “The living that is owed to me I’m never going to get.”

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At the Toronto Anarchist Bookfair 2011

April 19, 2011 at 9:18 pm (Uncategorized)

This year’s Montreal anarchist bookfair is the 12th. Every year it seems to have gotten bigger. After the third year, they needed to move to a bigger location. Last year, the bookfair was held on two days, and attendance remained strong on for both.

The Toronto bookfairs have been a little rockier. Three bookfairs were organized in the mid-2000’s (two of them at the 519 Church Community Centre) and then it just ran out of steam. Then two years ago, they began to be held at the Steelworkers Hall. I missed the first one, but tabled last year. .

However, this year, through no one’s fault but mine, I ended up, tabling not at the Steelworkers Hall, but at the Bahen Centre several blocks north. I somehow missed finding out about it until a few days before the event (thanks Karl!), emailed them and was told, sorry we’re full but you can have space at Bahen, where the workshops are being held (thanks Tammy!)

I was grateful, but wondered if it would be worth it, and the torrential downpour didn’t make things look better.

In the end I was very glad I went. I didn’t really get a sense of how many people showed up, but the bookfair seems better and bigger, at least in terms of its ambition. The main hall, while not full, had new tables and groups, the food looked good, and a series of interesting workshops on mostly familiar topics gave the day a well-organized day flavour.

I had some interesting discussions about voting, about unions, and about various ultra-left traditions. Strangely though, a lot of the conversations involved Crass and the upcoming Steve Ignorant show.

See ya in Montreal.

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Farewell Elisabeth Sladen

April 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m not sure if Dr. Who is something you have to watch from childhood or you can grow into it later. I fall into the first group, and started watching with the third doctor, Jon Pertwee. I have vague memories of the second doctor Patrick Troughton, but I think the TV must have been on rather than me watching it.

I think the first companion I saw was Katy Manning as Jo Grant, but she was replaced by Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith from 1973 to 1976.  (I’m still spooked by the Planet of the Spiders episodes)

So, I was saddened today to hear of Sladen’s passing at the age of 63.

I never watched the spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures, but I really liked the David Tennant episode School Reunion which saw Sarah Jane and the Doctor brought back.  Of course it was bittersweet since he was still young, and she was thirty years older. Even a time Lord can’t stop the passage of time.

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Toronto Anarchist Bookfair 2011 (update)

April 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm (Uncategorized)

So, I will have a table at the bookfair after all.  However, it’s not in the main building.

The bookfair is running Saturday and Sunday from 10-6 at the Steelworkers Hall at 25 Cecil Street (South of College, east of Spadina). I registered late, and so that space is all gone.

However, I got a table up at the Bahen Centre (40 St George – approximately a block and a half north). It’s the building where the workshops are taking place.

Come by and say hi. I’ve got new stuff from AK and PM Press, as well as a few new pamphlets. Also new issues of Aufheben, Radical Anthropology and Internationalist Perspective.

I can’t stay all day because of another committment, but I should be there until at least 1 PM.

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Steve Ignorant in Toronto

April 15, 2011 at 2:57 am (Uncategorized)

Now how’s this? Earlier this year, I missed Steve Ignorant because I was in New York the weekend his show was in town.

I pick up one of the local entertainment weeklies and learnt that the show was postponed because of visa problems and the show is next Friday. A couple of clicks, some egregious service charges and I have a ticket to Steve Ignorant with Goldblade next Friday at the Opera House.

I was a big Crass fan. I guess I still am.

http://steveignorant.co.uk/

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Hey Laotian working Class, Good News! (Trotskyist Follies part 2)

April 14, 2011 at 12:50 am (Uncategorized)

Another exciting installment in an ongoing series.

The current issue of the Spartacist League (U.S.)’s newspaper Workers Vanguard has a series of letters about the class character of Laos.

Seems that very recently the International Communist League, the SL’s international organization, decided that they had been wrong about Laos. It turned out that instead of a grubby backward barely capitalist, brutal dictatorship, the fact that the state owns much of the meagre means of production means that it is in fact a deformed workers state (see below for terminology) This change in policy was announced without any fanfare in an article in Australia Spartacist a little while back, thus prompting letters from rather puzzled readers.

Now, for those not familiar with Trot-speak, the Russian Revolution was a healthy workers revolution, but by the time Stalin rolled around, it was deemed by many to have degenerated. Now with the expansion of Stalinism after the  Second World War, orthodox Trotskyists, i.e., those dwindling bands of Trotsky’s followers who still saw something progressive in the Soviet Union were faced with the problem of a whole number of societies more or less identical to the soviet Union, but which were established by the so-called Red Army rather than by any genuine workers uprisings. Hmm, the circle was squared and these states were proclaimed to be deformed workers states.

The British Militant group’s historical leader Ted Grant once suggested that whenever Soviet Army boots touched the ground, the state magically transformed into a workers state. OK, he didn’t put it quite like that, but I’m not exaggerating by much. In any event, Militant bestowed the hallowed, but somewhat tatty title of workers state on Burma at one point.   

In the case of Laos, here’s what the SL has to say:

Laos is based on a collectivized economy but ruled by a nationalist bureaucratic caste under the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. While in recent years the Stalinist regime has enacted a series of “market reforms” following the examples of China and Vietnam, the class character of the state remains the same.

The idea that China or Vietnam constitute any sort of gain for the working class might strike many as a bit odd given the super-exploitation that exists in these societies, but apparently it doesn’t bother the SL. 

 Although the article is about Laos, less that half of it deals with Laos. The rest focuses on Cambodia, which the SL uses to characterize as a really deformed workers state. Until 1998 or so, then they began to argue that Cambodia’s insane Khmer Rouge regime was intent on destroying the means of production and therefore could not be classified as a workers state (oh well, that’s a relief.) Now, it’s characterized as a bourgeois state with a monarchy.

 What motivated this change of line on Laos, retroactive to the mid-70s is unclear.

I always wonder though about those Catholics who did time in purgatory or wherever those sinners went for eating meat on Friday before Vatican Two OK’d it. Is there some sort of Trotsky hell dimension where people end up for these sort of sins of haivng a line too early?  (Insert name of organization most closely resembling Trotskyist hell dimension here)

So good news Laotian working class, you have the honour of being part of a select group of deformed workers states which gets you exactly what again? The SL will surely defend you against imperialist attack, although their dubious Maoist “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” ideology would have allowed that anyway (“Libyan workers stop fighting  for or against Gaddafi – fight the imperialists instead to militarily defend Gaddafi” …huh?) But in real terms, it doesn’t seem to amount to very much.

On the other hand, the issue was dated April 1, and although the Spartacists are not usually known for their sense of humour, you never know…

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