Music Notes August 2011

August 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Nice things for your ears…

1. The Velvet Underground  – Bootleg Series volume 1: The Quine Tapes

Robert Quine, later of Voidoid and Lou Reed fame was a huge Velvets fan, and this three CD set is a reflection of that. The shows date from concerts in San Francisco in November and December 1969, and while the sound is, well, bootleg, quality, they are listenable. The set lists include fan favourites, but also several songs the band never recorded in the studio. Plus, who’s up for a 38 minute version of Sister Ray? Cool.

2. Link Wray – Some Kind of Nut: Missing Links volume 3

Now without Link Wray, what would music sound like? A lot tamer that’s for sure. This album is like a lot of compilations, some good, some bad, some ugly. Nevertheless, there are a few truly unhinged cuts (“the Girl Can’t Dance”) which make it all worthwhile. I saw Link Wray play at the Horseshoe Tavern in 1996 or so, and he was just amazing. 

3. Kate Bush – The Hounds of Love

Yeah, I remember Kate Bush. Never a big fan, or so I thought, but I knew all the hits (always had a soft spot for “Army Dreamers”). Anyway after both Mojo and Uncut ran big pieces on her, I thought I’d better give this one a second listen. You know what, it’s pretty good. Not just for the hits like “running up that Hill” or “Cloudbusting” but for cuts like the very heavy “The Big Sky.” shed your prejudices and give this a listen.

4. Wire Chairs Missing

I may be developing a Wire thing. Pink Flag, their first, is a great album. Extremely disciplined, stripped down punk. And Chairs Missing, their second is more of the same, and something else. In addition, there’s tape loops, synthesizers, flutes and a more mature songwriting. Not to mention classics like “Outdoor Miner” and “Heartbeat.” Wire never stop moving.

5. The Fall – Grotesque (After the Grammar)

In addition to Wire, I’m spending a lot of time listening to the Fall. Grotesque is a high point (one of many). With “Container Drivers,” “NWRA” and “New Face in Hell” (my daughter hates this song), there’s a peculiar blend of rockabilly (Mancabilly) and Mark E Smith’s eclectic words. Most editions of the album now come with bonus singles. Disturbing and beautiful.

6. Lori Anderson – O Superman

Dunno why, but earlier this month I had an overwhelming urge to hear this song again. Although song might be too strong a word for this eight minute event. Build around a tape loop of huh-huh-huh, the song mixes messages from mum and American war planes.  Hypnotic, but I’m not sure if enjoyable is the word.

7. Adrian Sherwood –Never Trust a Hippy

It seemed odd to think of this release as Sherwood’s debut. After all, Sherwood has been mixing and producing a “sound” since the late 1970’s. This record, under his own name doesn’t stray far from the territory of dub reggae and electronica. Pulls you in by the third song. I don’t expect it made many converts but if you’re a fan of Sherwood it’s worth picking up.

8. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – The Death of You and Me

I’m in the process of making a change in my employment status and as decision time comes closer, I’m having second thoughts. But the output of the Gallagher brothers since the demise of Oasis might make the decision for me. The last few Oasis records weren’t, err, very good, but the Beady Eye debut was pretty listenable, pretty catchy. Now this from Noel, and I think I like the title track better than Liam’s work. Instantly memorable. Nice.

9. The Shadows – Greatest Hits

The Shadows were the British Ventures. They were also Cliff Richard’s backing band, and what was it John Lennon said, before the Shadows they was no British music worth listening to. Surely an exaggeration, but it demonstrated the importance of the band. This collection contains 16 different songs in both mono and stereo (the story behind that is explained in the sleeve notes). The band was a great interpreter of other people’s songs, but sadly, at least by the evidence offered here, their own songs often tended toward the whimsical. Still, that’s no reason not to have their version of “Apache” in your collection.

10.  Teenage Head – Frantic City  

There’s a whole class of bands that should have been stars. Teenage Head must surely be high on that list. Melodic Ramonesy punk-rock ought to have been a recipe for success, but somehow they never quite made it. This one contains classics like “Let’s Shake” and “Disgusteen.”  Lovely.

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London’s Burning – Some Observations

August 24, 2011 at 2:40 pm (Uncategorized)

By a member of Internationalist Perspective

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There’s madness in the air – of rioters and rulers, of quite different kinds, and what’s to be made of it?  The majority of the population looks on with near-disbelief.   But, class activity there is none.  

The extent of the riots – in many major cities – following on from the first in London shows that the social conditions and feelings are widespread throughout this country.   Clearly, the marginalisation of vast swathes of young people provides the condition from which much of the rage and nihilism comes from.   The condition under which they live did not arise from current government policy (as the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harman, said this week) but from decades of successive governments restructuring economic activity and stripping out of social life whatever it could to drive down the social wage.    As everywhere else in the world, this process has ejected millions from the production process in the UK.   So many of our young people see no future in this situation; and they’re right.   At the same time, they see the most egregious displays of wealth, the worship of greed by the bankers, the scams by Members of Parliament syphoning outrageous expenses into their pockets, and most recently the exposure of the hugely profitable relationships between journalists, police, lawyers and politicians; everyone knew they were all corrupt, it’s just that the evidence is all pouring out.   It’s little wonder that looters talked about ‘taking’ just as the rich did.

Many swept on by social adrenaline were caught up in the action.  Rioting and looting are not the same thing.   Youngsters and children involved.   Fights with the police.   Targeting the more impersonal stores; also some iconic brands.   But also a wildness that led to looting of small local shops, setting fire to homes and to killings; effectively turning against their own neighbours.   It wasn’t just unemployed youth and children; those turning up at the courts have included adult employed.

This looting and arson had nothing to do with the social distribution of unobtainable necessities; it was a physical re-enactment of what the bourgeoisie does to society.   So far as I’ve found yet, there was no class content.   Regarding positive collective activity, this could be seen in local people getting together to defend their neighbourhoods.  In other words, they were defending their neighbourhoods, not against the violence of the thugs of a Maghreb state but against the madness of local young people.   However, there was a current of thoughtfulness to which I’ll return.

The madness in the state and in the ruling class is of a different kind – reaching from their side of the streets all the way to the global markets – and shows in the tortuous issues and relationships that entwine the bourgeoisie.   In Tottenham, the current events were triggered in the aftermath of what appears to have been yet another summary state execution in an undercover police operation.   The callousness of the police to the family of the victim was evident – and not that unusual – and certainly riled local people.   In the police reaction then and over the next few days, the already severe tensions between them and the government have only heightened.   On top of the plans for large cuts in police budgets and manpower London’s Metropolitan Police has had its Chief Commissioner and an Assistant Chief Commissioner resign in recent weeks over their roles in the phone-hacking rackets.   The lack of ‘appropriate response’ to the riots, as the politicians now put it, might well be seen as a warning to the government  of the consequences of acting against their interests.   And even now the police spokesmen and the government are still slagging each other off publicly while the embers of the street fires have not yet cooled.

Not that the police are not the only ones pressing on the government.   Industry – particularly the SMEs (small and medium enterprises) – are still complaining vociferously about the behaviour of the banks towards them and the difficulty of getting the kind of financing they need to expand.   They want the government to do more to support this section of industry.   The military rumble on about the commitments they are given while budgets shrink.   The Health Service is being turned into a shambles.   These budget cuts are digging into all aspects of the state and most other sections of capital; the favoured area remains the financial services sector.   Still the government stands on its policy of hard spending cuts to the worry of more sections of the ruling class.   It would seem that its objective is still to look to finance as a way of staving off the effects of the global crisis.   This week the Chancellor, Osborne, was still banging on about the importance of having the world see the UK as a haven, a refuge for global capital.   Of course, the sight of London Burning does not fit the image for a politically and socially stable haven for their capital.  

The recent scandals and the new-found courage of British politicians to criticise the Murdoch empire have provided a smokescreen that has diverted public attention in the UK away from the worsening state of the world economy and the shenanigans in the Eurozone.   Osborne and the other European finance ministers all know that the economic outlook is dire and just don’t know what to do.   They can see that they have no solution – but they have to do something.   They are faced with a system that is awash with money, and it is nonetheless bankrupt.   No wonder they exude a sense of madness.   (The behaviour of the US political class over the debt ceiling legislation shows that the UK bourgeoisie is not alone.)

They may have no solution to their problems but the UK ruling class – like all others – will have to follow some course of action, part of which will be to face up to the social disaffection across the country.   When they have sorted out their disputes with the police, whatever else, they will turn on the streets and we’ll all be targets.   It will be soon.

I said there is evidence of a current of thoughtfulness.   Although the media has focussed on ‘mindlessness’ and ‘criminality’ and continues to set up interviews to denounce or to drown discussion into moralistic pap, some people on the streets have had sound reflections on the events.   It was impressive how many people – some were victims of specific actions – said that they were against the actions but could see where the young people were coming from and why they had erupted.   Others asked ‘why were we looting shops? – in Egypt they went for the government’.   There were also insightful social critiques accompanied by a sense that this was not the way forward; these, of course, are a minority voice on television.

Anger is necessary to want to revolt against the system, but this mix of rage and opportunism had no perspective.   For me it shows the absolute necessity for a class expression that can provide a context for the development of consciousness, and a focus for collective action.   Outside of this, explosions of anger can be dangerously self-defeating.   I don’t know how this is to come about, and it has been frustrating not to have seen more explicit political expression.   It certainly shows that immiseration on its own doesn’t generate consciousness.   We’ll see what develops in the aftermath.

Marlowe / 12 August 2011

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Afterword

The judicial conveyor belt is running at full speed:  over 1400 people have been sentenced so far as the courts stay open day and night.   Exemplary sentences are being handed out to rioters and looters not only pour décourager les autres but also as a ‘respectable’ vent for the bourgeoisie’s own anger.  

The riots have been a godsend to the police as they fight against the budget and manpower cuts the government wants to make and hostilities have been open over the past couple of weeks.   Exchanges of blows and insults have been overt and covert.   Cameron has taken on the American ‘supercop’ William Bratton as unpaid advisor onto the UK government concerning gang violence; the Independent (sic) Police Complaints Commission exonerating the recently-resigned Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and others from misconduct over the phone-hacking scandal.  More hidden arguments are taking place within the appointment process for the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

Other sections of the bourgeoisie are groping for the public explanation for the riots.   ‘Sheer criminality and nothing else’, goes one refrain.   Cameron has resurrected his ‘broken society’ bleat, a more difficult metaphor for his right wing to deal with given the actual experience of the riots.   Both he and Miliband, the Labour opposition leader, talk of the moral decay in British society; Blair now enters the domestic scene arguing against his classmates to appeal for a focus on dealing with people who are ‘beyond the pale’.   Decoded, the argument is about how much is to be dealt with by modified social policies and how much by state repression. To date, they seem to be searching for some background set of conditions that can be superficially addressed with legislative measures and – in the foreground – a gang culture that can be explicitly targeted by the police.   All the arguments about what are the appropriate cuts and expenditures takes place in the context of the austerity promoted as a result of the global crisis.  

But not only is this the context within which the ruling class in the UK has to decide how to deal with economic problems and social challenges, it is the context for all the social processes taking place today.   There have been decades of corrosion of social and individual worth by the relentless development of the value-form exacerbated by politico-cultural specificities in different parts of the country.   In Northern Ireland, the violence of the para-militaries is again on the streets – with bombs and bullets – showing up the so-called peace process for what it is.   In Scotland, sectarian hostilities have been intensifying and they are again on the devolved national agenda.   The explosion of anger seen on the English streets a few weeks ago has its specificities – including the police activity in major cities against young people, and especially against racial minorities.   Also, in vast swathes of the country – particularly in Midlands and Northern areas of England – that were at one time based on heavy industries and have little perspective for future employment or re-building..

As Marxists, we always look for expressions of the development of consciousness within activity that is directed against the structures of capitalist society.   What do we see here?   The riots were inchoate, the looting directed towards expensive personal consumer items with no political project and did not show any challenge to capitalist norms.   No class struggle is ‘pure’, without the accompaniment of ‘rioting’ and ‘disorder’ to a greater or lesser extent in the wider society.   But, if the riots cannot be considered as ‘just gangsterism’ even if there were gang elements present, neither was there a conscious class dimension.   And to my mind, the idea of an unconscious rejection of commodity relations implicit in some critiques is a non-starter.   All of the social unrest we see across the world has roots in the deepening crisis of capitalism and with it has come substantial variations in political consciousness.   The English riots share the same roots and illustrate the futility of reaction when there is no expression of communisation and a political project.   There were a few brave souls within the mayhem who called for a redirection of energies (see Youtube for examples); future confrontations with the state will need a very different expression.

Marlowe

 

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Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary

August 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm (Uncategorized)

In the course of his account of his life in Vietnam, Ngo Van remarks of a time in jail in 1945.

Around forty people were held in this prison-church., including some former officials of the colonial regime. One pleasant old fellow said to me, “You were a prisoner of the French, and now under the Vietminh you are still in prison. How can this be?”

How indeed?

Ngo Van’s tremendous book, In the Crossfire – Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary tells the answer. Ngo Van was born in Vietnam in 1912 , but left for France in 1948. In the book, he tells the story of his life as a Trotskyist militant in Vietnam, first struggling against the French colonial regime, and then against his former allies in the Vietminh  who saw it as their duty to annihilate any and every Trotskyist they could (regrettably they were largely successful in this task) .  By  some miracle, Ngo Van escaped the slaughter of the Trotskyists and made it out of the country.

Later when he came to France, Ngo Van became part of a circle around Maximilian Rubel (Marx without Marx) and came to develop a critique of Trotskyism that led him to call himself a council communist.  (A part of the reason was that the Trotskyists, despite the Vietnamese Stalinists” murder of hteir comrades continued to support the Stalinists, ahem, militarily) The group around Rubel eventually came to work with the ICO group and later with Echanges.

The bulk of Ngo Van’s book is devoted to his life in Vietnam. Only twenty or two pages deal with his break from Trotskyism. It’s my understanding that at the time of his death Ngo Van was writing a second volume which would take the story up to the present time. as it is, readers will have to be content with two slim chapters and a few leaflets included at the end of the book. . Those who read French however can read the many articles he produced.

It’s an incredible story, and well told. And for $20, AK Press deserve our thanks.

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Hands off …my entitlements

August 13, 2011 at 12:23 am (Uncategorized)

Yeah, yeah, I know that at its heart,  Jon Stewart’s critique’s of the Republicans is just empty liberalism, but sometimes it’s pretty funny.

The bash of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly for example.

Megyn Kelly, for those like me who live outside of the U.S and don’t follow the various Fox News personalities, is a right wing commentator. This year she had a daughter and took three months maternity leave. When she returned, her attitude toward maternity leave appeared to have shifted. Arguing with a conservative radio host who suggested maternity leave was a “racket” Kelly shot back,  the United States, as “the only advanced country that doesn’t require paid leave,” is  “in the Dark Ages.”

To account for her shift from the position of “let the free market decide”  Stewart concluded:

“They’re really only ‘entitlements’ when they’re something other people want. When it’s something you want, they’re a a hallmark of a civilized society, the foundation of a great people. ‘I just had a baby, and found out that maternity leave strengthens society, but since I still have a job, unemployment benefits are clearly socialism.”

Watch the clip here (unless you live outside of the U.S. , and then it’s just a google search away)

As enjoyable as watching hypocrisy being exposed is, it ignores a fundamental truth if we explain it as simply hypocrisy.

The truth is that the state is not going to disappear and a “free” market has never existed (nor will it) . For all the anti-government talk of the Tea Party advocates, Republicans or even Democrats, the modern capitalist state is an essential  part of modern capitalism. 

In fact, despite the tarring of socialism as pro-big government  (thank you again Stalinism),  we live in an era of state-capitalism, where as Bordiga noted and I’ve quoted before, it’s not the state that takes over the corporations, but the corporations that take over the state.

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A New Definition of Communism

August 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm (Uncategorized)

A few years back when I used to publish Red & Black Notes, I reprinted a chapter of Gilles Dauve’s Decline and Re-Emergence of Communism as a pamphlet called What is Communism? 

In it, Dauve wrote contrary to the various Leninist party builders,  “Communism is not a programme one puts into practice or makes others put into practice, but a social movement.”

 

Toronto city councilor Georgio Mammoliti yesterday proposed a new definition though.  Mammoliti is a former Canadian Union of Public Employees leader and a former New Democratic Party member of the provincial legislature who sits on the right-wing council. (Mammoliti became a pariah within the NDP for his anti-same-sex rights stance –  this trait has carried over into his new position where he was seen video-taping lesbians at the Gay Pride march in June – long story)

Mammoliti yesterday launched a Facebook site to give voice to the “silent majority” (ah, them again) who didn’t come to the all ngiht meetings on cuts in the city budget. Mammoliti dismissed those who did come as layabouts and communists.

When pressed, he offered this definition: a Communist is “anyone who is able to work , doesn’t want to work, and wants everything for free.”

Red-baiting has a long history in Canada, but given the long existence of the eminently moderate social-democratic NDP (now the official opposition in Ottawa), the charge often seems anachronistic.

Moreover, I suspect that if you conducted a poll based on his definition, Mammoliti  would find a lot more communists than he imagined.

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Insurgent Notes #4

August 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm (Uncategorized)

New issue of the on-line journal Insurgent Notes out now.

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Communism and the Summer

August 1, 2011 at 8:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Simcoe Day   Named for the first Governor-General of Canada, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada,  but in the course of doing some reasearch for this post, I discovered, today is sometimes called Emancipation Day because slavery was abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1934 (although Upper Canada, now Ontario, abolished slavery  in 1793) . As good a day as any then, and perhaps better than most for this post. to

Summer time is sometimes what I imagine communism to be.Yes, actual communism, not that state-cap stuff that used to be passed off as the worker’s paradise. 

I work in a sector that means I don’t really work in the summer, so I’ve been, erm, underemployed for about a month now, and while that means I’m short of cash and I do have to spend some time thinking about work, it means I have a great deal more freedom.  

I usually wake between 530 and 6:30. When I was working, I got up around that time to let the dog out and get ready for work.  Now, the dog, whose name is Lester,  doesn’t know it’s summer time, so he still likes to get up early. But you know, getting up at 5:30 when it’s light out and the day is not too hot is not such a bad thing.

I get up, let the dog out. Feed the dog. Have a cup of coffee and breakfast. Then walk the dog.  Come home, have another cup of coffee, read the paper and do the puzzle (a morning ritual there even when I’m at work). I check my email. Do a little writing. etc. Do some work around the house. Think about what I’ll need to get to cook dinner.

Then it hits me. This is what unalienated labour is like.

Let me give an (imaginary)  example.

One weekend, I get up early to do some gardening. I spend my Saturday engaged in fairly monotonous toil, but at the end of the day, my lawn is weed-free and my seeds have been planted. My back aches, my neck aches, and I’m fairly sure that I’m in for some form of skin cancer, but I’m happy.

My next door neighbour looks over at my garden and asks if I can do the same for her next week. I agree and she insists she pay me. I refuse, but eventually accept some token payment. The pattern repeats, and at the end of the day, my neighbour has a lovely garden while I have the same aches and pains and some small payment.

Which made me happier? Which would make you happier? Not hard is it? Without delving into complex economic or philosophical theory, I was happy the first time because I controlled the product of my labour, whereas in the second example I didn’t.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that the answer to life’s problems to start your own business, and then you’ll be happy.  The problem is that my example breaks down when you enter into market relations. And unless you want to live a la Robinson Crusoe you end up in operating under the law of value ( co-ops and ‘the islands of socialism’ argument will have to be dealt with another time) .  

For now, I’ll say, you can’t really escape the law of value; it, it must be abolished.

And the summer is when I get more of that time to see the little cracks. Sure, we see examples of a big scale during moments of the class struggle (the recent events in Greece spring to mind), but  

I’m sure some that read this will dismiss the argument saying communism is tyranny. Well, if you mean the old regimes of Eastern Europe, you won’t get any argument as to their tyranny. Communism? No, I think not; instead a rather backward capitalism.

Others will say, communism isn’t in human nature – we’re greedy. Well, people do all sorts of unselfish things. In my gardening example above, I really wouldn’t have accepted any money. Just like when we sweet our neighbours steps in the winter. Firefighters, teachers and many other professions involve a huge amount of work that is not rewarded. people do it because it’s necessary. And Marty Glaberman and other compiled a huge amount of documentation of how workers help each other in the workplace. 

So why not? From each according to ability; to each according to need.

On a hot summer’s day with a glass of cold beer, I’ll drink to that.

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