Politics

Some Personal Thoughts on Anti-Semitism and The Left.

To my mind, there’s no link between serious left wing thinking and anti semitism. Resisting anti-semitism is a key plank of all socialist politics. The socialist movement in Europe rests disproportionately on the shoulders of the Jewish working class and their struggle for freedom.

However, there is a clear link between the fringe of radical movements and crank politics, which grew up to unacceptable proportions in the “wilderness years” of the past three decades – in which many of the best minds on the left where numbed by constant defeat and took themselves elsewhere.

It is in the nature of cranks to go on wild, conspiratorial intellectual goose chases – and most of the wild conspiracies out there are filled with anti-semitic tropes, and therefore act as a back entrance into genuine anti semitism.

Throw into the mix the contradiction between the natural socialist urge to support third world liberation struggles (such as the rights of the Palestinian people) and the fact that sometimes oppressed people can be associated with reactionary movements in their own right (such as the jew hatred of some in the arab world) and we have a political minefield. The line between “fair criticism” and “another kind of bigotry” gets badly blurred. As if pointing out that the Israel/Palestine conflict was a political minefield was at all necessary.

I am not Jewish, but my life is enriched by the friendship and love of many who are. The Labour movement will emerge stronger than ever if we all turn to our history books, as well as to the experiences of our loved ones, and learn from them.

Many of the attacks on the Labour Leadership are politically motivated, but if they become an exercise in political education for the membership and community outreach for the party, they will ultimately strengthen, not weaken the movement.

Now is an excellent opportunity to purge the Labour Party of the kind of cranks who’s tactics of failure have deliberately sabotaged British socialism for generations, and educate ourselves to be better socialists going forward into the future.

¡No Pasarán!

¡Venceremos!

Advertisements
Standard
Politics, Reviews

Impressions of Cuba

Here are a few words about my recent trip to Cuba with my partner Claire. Although it was just a holiday undertaken in a personal capacity (not any kind of political delegation or solidarity mission), standing in the last great cold war city west of Hanoi I found myself coming away with some strong impressions, political and otherwise.

We don’t speak Spanish beyond asking for basic directions and ordering a beer (and even then, poorly) so the level of insightful conversation we managed was fairly limited – although plenty of people were willing to chat with us as best as we could manage.

As tourists, we mostly interacted with extremely cosmopolitan Cubans and we didn’t exactly travel out to any rural sugar plantations to get the unvarnished opinions of the agricultural working class. So some of the impressions described below will be coloured by the kind of people we met in Havana, Santiago and on the paradisiacal Holguin coast.

Via Cuba’s many museums and sites of historical interest we learned a great deal of their history, and its really impossible to make sense of anything in Cuba without having some appreciation of it.  So this is where I’ll begin, apologies to those well versed in Cuban history, just skip down a bit!

 

The Origins of the Cuban Nation

Since its discovery in the very late 14th century by Christopher Columbus and right up until the turn of the 19th, Cuba was a colony of the Spanish Empire. In true imperial form, the Spanish successfully butchered the indigenous peoples down to the last man, woman and child, proceeding to use Cuba as a clearing house for slavery, a plantation for tobacco and sugar and a naval base to threaten Spain’s British and French military rivals in the Caribbean – a fact attested to by Havana’s awesome colonial fortifications, which are the largest of their kind in the whole of the Americas.

The Spanish population in Cuba became divided between imperial loyalists and those that began to see themselves as Cubans and over the centuries an independence movement emerged. After years of bloody struggles a coherent movement began to form around the political ideas of exiled dissident and poet, José Martí. Similar to Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar before him, Martí developed a strong sense of Latin American and Cuban identity – around which a unified independence movement could coalesce.

Martí and his followers did indeed succeed in returning to Cuba, raising up a bloody rebellion and kicking out the Spanish, for which he is venerated as Cuba’s first and greatest national hero, both by the current communist regime as well as those opposed to it. In many ways, he takes the place of Lenin in Cuba’s communist mythology. Despite being governed by a Marxist-Leninist one party system, it is images of José Martí that appear everywhere in Cuba, from giant monuments to friendly murals, not Marx and Lenin.

Despite it’s eventual victory in 1898, Martí’s rebellion left Cuba a smouldering wreck, its economy destroyed and its population exhausted. Martí himself died heroically while charging towards Spanish artillery in his trademark black suit and on his huge white horse. The USA, keen to see the imperial Spanish driven as far away from their territory as possible vocally supported the new Republic, although provided little physical or military aid during the war itself. However, they were able to exert considerable influence over the vulnerable new state and insisted that their founding constitution exempt the USA from rules of national sovereignty, effectively turning the island into an American military base.

Although spirited attempts were made to create a functioning democracy – and the early Cuban governments were deeply progressive compared to the reactionary Spanish – the requirement for American approval for any kind of serious decision making quickly turned Cuba into a puppet state, its leadership degenerating into a brutal and corrupt class of landowners, untouchable as long as they acted on behalf of American interests. A similar story that would play out again in South Vietnam some 50 years later.

A famous high point of this era is the 1946 conference of the North American mafia, under the pretext of a Frank Sinatra concert, hosted by Havana’s Hotel Nacional with the blessing of Cuba’s then dictator, Fulgenico Batista.

This era of Cuba being used as a shared playground for both the American mafia and military, while its own leadership inflicted political repression, exploitation and misery on the semi-literate working class proved absolutely intolerable to many Cubans. Most especially to one idealistic young lawyer, Fidel Castro.

 

Revolution and the Birth of Modern Cuba

There’s tonnes of material out there already on the Cuban revolution and the exploits and adventures of Fidel Castro and his loyal second-in-command, Ernesto Che Guevara, so I won’t go into any detail here. Suffice to say they succeeded in turning a small guerrilla war against their own government into a full blown uprising and revolution. One subtle but extremely important point is that this was not a communist revolution – it was a nationalist one. Although Che had long been a committed Marxist, and Fidel also converted to socialism through his political life leading up to the revolution, the basis of the war itself was one of national liberation from United States imperialism, with a strong current of pan-Latin American internationalism thrown in for good measure. Unlike in earlier revolutions in Europe, which were planned and lead by established communist parties, the Communist Party of Cuba was formed nearly two years after the revolution had been won. This goes some way to explain the Cuban government’s strenuous efforts to draw a direct link between José Martí and themselves, with the heroic image of martyred Che Guevara (which is almost as omnipresent as the image of José Martí) providing a constant assertion of this legacy.

Cuba’s early alignment with the Soviet Union was partly ideological, and partly pragmatic. The USA couldn’t countenance the existence of the new socialist government, and began a long period of subtle and not so subtle aggression. This included assassination attempts, sabotage, invasion, trade embargo, the introduction of diseases into food and tobacco crops and the occupation of the far eastern corner of the island – an occupation which goes on to this day in the form of the American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Although the young Cuban government would have benefited hugely from a good relationship with the superpower on its doorstep it found itself forced into deep military and economic ties with the distant Soviet Bloc. During this period Cuba also maintained a strong sense of its own place in the world, playing a leading role in third world liberation struggles via organisations like OSPAAAL and its support for Latin American and African liberation struggles, up to and including taking part in a land war against apartheid South Africa in defence of Angola.

Cuba’s strong sense of both nationalist self determination and ideological internationalism combine to create a very strong impression, even today. Having never been a oppressor country, Cuba’s deep patriotism has a progressive flavour unattainable to the old imperial powers. It does provide an example of what separatist movements like those in Scotland and Catalonia might aspire towards however.

Although communism is the guiding ideology behind the Cuban system, and the government is organised on Leninist principles, it draws its legitimacy from its revolutionary legacy, as well as by the sweeping reforms brought about by the revolution. These include the transfer of both land and homes from landlords to tenants, massive anti-illiteracy drives (Cuba went from some of the lowest to the highest literacy rates in the whole world in a very short time), improvements in hygiene, huge advancements in racial and gender equality and the rapid creation of comprehensive and universal healthcare, education and social security systems. This was accompanied and paid for by mass nationalisations, especially of the holdings of American companies and the assets of the small landowner class – in an unsurprising parallel with the problems of inequality in today’s global order, over 70% of Cuban land was in the hands of about 5% of the population during the time of the revolution.

 

The Fallout of the Special Period: Eating Out in Modern Cuba

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the enduring hostility of the USA caused Cuba to go into what it refers to as “the special period”; a protracted period of austerity and self reliance undertaken in an attempt to survive the loss of its main economic benefactor. This caused enormous hardship upon ordinary people, and set back the course of development and modernisation by decades. The scars of the special period are still there to see today, most strikingly in the form of the dysfunctional railway system, which they had neither the fuel nor industrial capacity to maintain during the special period and have yet to properly revive.

Another legacy of this period is the bizarre cuisine. Despite being an extremely fertile island, much of Cuba’s collectivised agriculture is invested in the production of cash crops like sugar and tobacco. Its lack of agricultural diversity and subsequent reliance on foreign trade for food caused enormous shortages during the special period, which lead to rationing and deprivation.

Although food and fresh produce is now relatively plentiful, packaged goods fill up supermarket shelves, outdoor markets are piled high with meat and veg and a huge chain of state bakeries provides daily bread, Cuban cuisine is still mostly dull and uninspiring. Although there are plenty of innovators and pioneers in this field, and we ate some fantastic meals served by talented and enthusiastic Cuban hosts, the overall culture towards food is still overwhelmingly bland (ketchup is not a garnish, no matter how artfully you decorate the plate with it, comrades). Although Cubans are now free to travel abroad as they please, a long period of restriction on foreign travel and a lack of meaningful inwards immigration means that Cuba hasn’t benefited from the culinary delights of multiculturalism. There’s not even much influence from other Caribbean island cuisines.

One feature of our trip was our regular visits to state owned canteens, which serve almost nothing other than ham sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, “Cuban Specials” (ham and cheese sandwiches) and soggy fried chicken. These places are plentiful and utterly unpretentious, existing solely to keep the population well fed on the cheap. Whether you see this as a marker of the banality of communist failure, or a triumph of the will to survive is really up to your own prejudices.

A particular highlight of the socialist dining experience was our visit to the Coppelia ice cream parlour in Havana. A large, open-plan restaurant ringed by a massive bar with tall chairs arranged along the inside edge. Cubans from all walks of life queue up to enter the enclosure and take a seat at the bar, which serves ice cream of various flavours so cheap it may as well be free. Afterwards they sit in the shade of the palm trees in the large courtyard or the surrounding pedestrianised area, kicking around balls, listening to people performing music and chatting among themselves. Although socialism has yet to deliver the staggering diversity and wasteful abundance of the free market it does provide other unique forms culinary experience, of which Coppelia is a particularly joyous example.

A008707-R1-05-21

Cuban Democracy Today: General Election 2018

We actually arrived in the middle of a general election, between votes being cast a few days before and the results coming in.

In western democracies we view political parties as representing different policy platforms based on one ideological premise or another, on a broadly left/right axis. The central democratic principle behind a communist state is the idea that political parties actually represent the interests of antagonistic class forces. This idea was objectively true in the age of Marx and Lenin (when people would discuss the “propertied interest versus the labour interest) and arguably true today, depending on your view of the world.

Following this logic, a society which has eliminated conflicting class forces and installed a government of the working class (“dictatorship of the proletariat”) has also eliminated the need for oppositional party politics. The one party state can work as a collaborative venture for the shared interests of the whole of society. A communist would look at the democratic system in the USA and conclude that it is also a one party state, representing the interests of capital (“dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”), for which elections were just noisy factional disputes at best, but more like empty propaganda in reality. Since the USA has never had a non-millionaire President, and doesn’t have a dedicated party of labour, it’s hard not to sympathise with this view.

Cuban democracy is considerably healthier than what used to take place in the former Soviet Union. Cuba began its democratic development in the mid 1970s, waiting over a decade after the revolution to allow for reconstruction to take place: “If we had an election today, who and what would we vote for? We need to build a country first” Fidel Castro remarked when quizzed by an American journalist about how quickly he would call a general election after his victory.

Cubans vote for delegates from their local area to send to the “National Assembly of People’s Power”. This assembly is the supreme legislating body that signs off on new laws and policy. It also elects the President, so although Cuban people do not elect their leader directly, they elect the assembly that then elects the government (this is more or less what we do in Britain too by the way).

Delegates to the assembly are not paid and membership is a responsibility – not a job. Election campaigns are forbidden and election funding is especially forbidden. Candidates are required to post their biographies on public noticeboards for the electors to review and base their decision upon. A candidate has to be endorsed by over 50% of the electorate to take their seat in the assembly, if they cannot get that then the seat is left empty. Cuban democracy is therefore a much quieter and arguably a more dignified affair than that which takes place in the west.

Most of the possible candidates in the polling district of central Havana were members of the Communist Party, although the two youngest candidates were recent graduates and not full members. One suspects this is because they had some way to go before qualifying for full membership, rather than because they had refused it.

Political change in Cuba is slow and measured, often taking one tentative step forward and  then a quick half a step back. However reforms do happen, as evidenced by their steady transition from state sponsored homophobia to being the most LGBT friendly place in whole Caribbean (and possibly the whole of the Americas). The National Assembly boasts of having recently welcomed its first transgender delegate.

This democracy looks and feels nothing like our own, and is based on principles we more readily associate with the sham electoral systems of the old Eastern Bloc. However, democracy is indeed happening in its own unique way. Raul Castro has announced his intention to retire this year, so it will be up to the new assembly to install new leadership, which may have profound consequences on the future economic and social policy direction of the island. There is a certain amount of speculation that the next president will be a woman, as both Raul’s and Fidel’s daughters have strong political records of their own (Mariela Castro was the driving force behind Cuba’s progressive change in direction regarding LGBT issues), although whether or not Cuba will welcome a third consecutive Castro into the highest office remains to be seen.

 

Dissent 

Although Cuba has long since given up the habit of imprisoning dissenters, the system leaves few avenues open for directly oppositional political expression. However, a keen eyed observer looking out for such things will notice the occasional Orwell reference crammed between the more enthusiastically socialist street art, as well as people defiantly displaying their religious identity despite the state’s officially atheist policy.  Havana does boast an absolutely massive statue of Jesus occupying a commanding view of the city though. Finished in 1958 and blessed by the Pope himself, the completion of the Havana Jesus rather unfortunately coincided with the advent of communism. Whether the decision to leave it standing was out of tacit respect for the people’s religious feeling, or simply because communists love a good statue is unknown.

A008707-R1-13-13

Of course there are also the “ladies in white”, a conspicuous religiously aligned protest movement agitating for greater political freedom, who can be seen going about their business in Havana quite regularly but reportedly often receive official and semi official harassment.

A huge portion of Cuba’s landowning class fled the island to the USA after the revolution, especially those descended from slave owning or criminal families, who had retained much of their hoarded wealth up to that point. This initial exodus, combined with Cubas historical restrictions on foreign travel, have been used strongly in evidence that Cuban people are entrapped, with parallels being drawn between modern Cuba and what used to be East Germany. However, travel restrictions have been lifted for over a decade now, and no significant emigration has taken place. Maybe its national pride, maybe its communist brainwashing – or maybe leaving Cuba’s strong social safety net to live in squalor as second class citizens in the USA, alongside the descendants of traitors, isn’t so appealing in big 2018.

 

The CDR: Your Friendly Neighbourhood Stasi

Soviet secret police forces traditionally represented themselves as The Sword and Shield of the Party. The Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (the CDR) can likewise be recognised by its emblem of a figure brandishing a Cuban flag shield and a large sword. However, this is more or less where the similarities begin and end. Like many aspects of Cuban culture, there appears to be an element of implicit good humour in it and the figure is waving a slightly absurd pirate sabre above its head. Rather than a terrifying and secretive bureaucracy, the CDR is organised along the lines of a neighbourhood watch. It’s purpose is to maintain and promote the values of the Cuban revolution at a grassroots level and members paint the logo on their front doors or on the sides of their houses. One particularly charming example I noticed in a very working class district had the letters “C D R” picked out in seashells on the front garden path. Tellingly, they were facing inwards, giving the impression they were picked out in pride by the householder rather than to intimidate the rest of the neighbourhood.

Whether or not the CDR is an admirably open and tolerant expression of political commitment and vigilance, or just another sinister expression of communism’s totalitarian instincts is once again down to your own preconceptions.

A008706-R1-09-18.JPG

 

Social Attitudes

Cuba is described with extraordinary rhetoric by hysterical foreigners, but in reality Cuban attitudes can broadly be summed up as moderate and progressive. Despite the complete absence of a free press, Cubans are well informed about the state of the world and under few illusions about the issues of their own society. In fact, so calm and measured are they that you start to wonder how much positive influence our reactionary, cartel owned “free” press is even bringing to our own society.

The two main narratives projected onto Cuba is that is either a heroic worker’s paradise, defiantly standing up to a hated American enemy, or that it is an oppressed slave state who’s population is desperate to open its arms to capitalistic freedom. The truth is actually rather more sane than either, although possibly closer to the first than the second. Cubans recognise their economic problems and many wish for more rapid development in many areas, however they take a deep, nearly spiritual pride in their social achievements, particularly around education and health and would not like to see their society made less compassionate by the ravages of the free market.

Anti imperialism and Latin American unity is still a dominant theme in Cuban politics, although most regular Cubans hold the USA itself in no great antipathy and there are signs that some Cuban youth culture fetishises hispanic Americana.

Without wishing myself fetishise action driven by lack of means, there is something heroic about the innovative spirit of Cuba. In Havana classic American cars from the 1950s are still kept lovingly on the road and in splendid condition, alongside vintage heavy trucks, Czech motorcycles with side cars, Soviet Ladas and a smattering of modern imports.  The architecture of the colonial era is maintained in a sort of permanent managed decline, giving the overall impression of being in the whole of the last hundred years of history all at once.

Cuban society, lead by the communist party, takes women’s issues extremely seriously. Like many third world countries in which women participated in an armed struggle, revolution brought instant leaps forward in gender equality. That said, many feminists of the new left in the 1970s remarked how quickly business as usual was implemented with regards to gender roles in socialist countries. In her 1970 polemic The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer goes as far as to quote Fidel Castro imploring woman to take the greater part of the burden of domestic duties and child rearing as an example of such regression. However, in modern Cuba no such rhetoric is now present – the government’s central newspaper calls for the advance of woman’s rights as “the revolution that continues within the revolution” and woman make up 50% of the public sector, both in menial and management roles – which in a communist country is the majority of the workforce! In a country in which public advertising is almost non existent, the billboards that line the approach to Havana instead show campaigns against domestic violence. Pornography, like drug use, is completely illegal and from what I could tell the official position of the PCC is to treat woman in prostitution as victims in the first case.

Having not lived a life as a working woman in Cuba, I can’t really comment on the real day to day experience of sexism there. However Claire remarked on more than one occasion that the overall climate felt much less sexist than in the UK, with no intrusive attention on the streets or in shops and no apparent discomfort seen on the faces of woman going about their business. I am given to understand that domestic violence is more of an issue in the rural heartlands, where some tobacco and sugar farmers are known to drink rum like it was water all day while working, and then mistreat their families upon returning home.

Additionally, as of the 2018 general election I understand that Cuba is now the second nation in the world to elect a majority female government, although I have yet to see the official statistics to confirm that.

Police are very present in large numbers on the streets, although unarmed. Gun crime is almost non existent and we didn’t even see a gun in the hands of soldiers – other than the ceremonial AK47 held by the guard outside Fidel Castro’s tomb.

Sport is incredibly important to Cuban people and, like politics, it is illegal for it to be undertaken professionally. This is a double edged sword in many ways – high participation in the national sports of boxing and baseball by huge numbers of the population mean that Cuba produces some of the best sportspeople in the world, and access to high level training is available at small scale clubs on street corners and in parks. On the other hand, a lack of commercial funding means that clubs are often under resourced and have to make do, as Cubans so often do, and high level players are regularly poached by other nations offering massive salaries in return for their prowess.

A008707-R1-15-11

A neighbourhood boxing club, kids in training after school

For a nation often depicted as a brutal military dictatorship, progressive politics and peaceful coexistence abounds, both officially and in the attitudes of citizens. Community values are cherished, and no one seems particularly overworked. At 5pm each day, the streets of Havana turn into bustling street parties, with people playing ball games and hanging out of doorways and balconies to drink and talk together. Internet access is easily available, but not in people’s homes. Most urban dwelling Cubans have smartphones and wifi can be accessed in parks and town squares – so although Cubans can be seen busily conducting their online business in public, the vast majority of life is conducted away from the glare of a screen.

Private Enterprise and Public Infrastructure

Somewhat ironically, its on this communist island fortress that expressions of capitalistic initiative most closely match capitalism’s own preferred self image. With the commanding heights the economy in public control, private business is small in scale, owner operated, highly enthusiastic and resourceful. In the west, capitalism’s chief virtues often negate themselves – the family business becomes the faceless corporation and the children of pioneering business owners form a new class of lazy aristocrats, indolent and useless with their piles of inherited wealth. No signs of this are yet present in Cuba.

There is much apprehension both in the capitalist world and within Cuba itself about what large scale changes economic liberalisation will wreck on Cuba’s unique society, with many people telling me that I was “lucky to be going before it changes too much”. However my impression is that economic reforms are being undertaken cautiously and strategically with the specific aims of improving living standards without impacting on the wealth of the public realm as well as diversifying the nation’s revenue streams of foreign currency, shielding it from any potential fluctuations in the value of its primary exports of sugar and tobacco. There is some talk about plans to improve the financial position of the working class by unifying the dual currency system, merging the low value “national” peso used for domestic economic affairs, with the internationally convertible peso, which carries a much higher value. I won’t go into the mechanisms and rationales behind the dual currency system here, as even if you’ve got this far, I doubt you’re up for a long discussion on the financial systems of command economies by this point.

For all the progressive attitudes, safety, highly educated population, beautiful cars and general lack of squalor it’s sometimes easy to get carried and forget that Cuba is still part of the third world. However in those areas that require more industrial and financial resources than can be provided by the good will of the citizenry its still painfully obvious that Cuba has some way to go, and has suffered from its isolation from more heavily industrialised economies. You can’t drink the tap water, and you are encouraged to fold toilet paper up and use the little bins to be found even in the poshest bathrooms, rather than risk clogging the inadequate sewer system. Although constant construction work, repair teams and general activity gives Havana the air of a city on its uppers, the streets are still potholed and some buildings are visibly crumbling.

None the less, there is enormous national pride, collective spirit and a general feeling of  cautious optimism. Signs of (slow) development overwhelmingly outnumber the signs of decay. In today’s world of dangerously unsustainable economic advance, built on the brutal exploitation of the environment and the worker, at the expense of social security, its hard not to feel the Cubans are forging ahead on the better path.

¡Viva la Revolución!

¡Viva Cuba!

 

A008709-R1-02-25

Standard
Reviews

Live Review: Insecure Men, The Scala, London, 9/03/18

In a museum in Berlin there’s a replica of a flat from the communist era, designed to demonstrate to tourists how sparse and unfulfilling life in the East used to be. If you look at the expressions of the young people, you can see them doing the maths in their head – and coming to the conclusion that between a job for life with a medium sized flat, or living in a shoebox and working for an app, they’d take their chances with the Stasi.

The world was supposed to be better, technology and modernity was going to save us. In the future (about 10 years ago) war and want would be over and a united mankind would be on its way to the stars.

Instead it stayed just as bad – got worse even – but in new and dispiriting ways. Instead of the workers “holding the country ransom” with their unions, its the corporations and their algorithms holding the gun to our back. Even more depressing, we’re now expected to like it.  Free at last from stifling conformity and an overbearing public realm (or “nanny state” as we’re now obliged to call it), we’re dying of loneliness in a sea of meaningless individualism.

Western capitalism has finally crushed its old rivals in the socialist world. It stands alone and victorious, riven with parasites and infections of its own making, lashing out at its own shadow – from the Middle East to the East End of London. Private interests are God and the struggle for the collective good is the sin of our fathers, to be cast off and forgotten.

With a drabness deliberately crossing over into the uncomfortable, Insecure Men are an appeal to the bad old days. In both their lyrics and imagery, they contrast scenes of boring everyday life with jarring fascism, machismo and sleaze. Images of smiling children are placed suggestively next to writhing child abusers. Worn down, decaying council housing is framed lovingly next to glossy corporate advertising, sinister by comparison.

Insecure Men know the world is bad and they know it has always been bad. They write semi-sincere love songs to a time when society’s sickness was borne as an open wound, before the cancer grew up in the heart and lungs and mind – harder to see, but infinitely more deadly.

Their performance at The Scala last night was a stroke of genius. A genuine work of art presented through the medium of pop music. An eight piece band turned the lethargic, delicate album tracks into expansive, immersive pools of sound. The music is neither aggressive nor imposing, it just hangs over you and around you like a smog, or like a feeling of sadness that you just can’t shake.

If this ironic humour and resigned attitude to the failure of modernity is the spirit of our age, Insecure Men are the right people in the right place at the right time.

Standard
Politics

Ultra Leftism! What it is and how to avoid it.

2016’s vote to leave the European Union has shed some long overdue light on the priorities of Britain’s liberal left. As one political earthquake follows another we are called upon to articulate clearly what it is we actually believe in, many for the first time. As the yawning gap opens up between the two main parties, sanctimonious cries of “they’re all the same” no longer hold water – in an era defining clash of ideologies, your vote matters once again.

The crushing of working class militancy, mass privatisations and steady reversal of redistributive fiscal policies that occurred since the end of the 1970s was followed by a long period of capitalistic growth: “The end of boom and bust!” claimed a young Gordon Brown. This, plus a large variety of other factors, resulted in the slow abandonment of the traditional left to a group of dedicated ultras, characterised more by their intellectual wildness than by the actual threat they posed to the established order.

Radical thinking has an essential place at the vanguard of every political movement, it is vital to generating fresh ideas to replace failed orthodoxies. Ideas that were once considered lunatic come, in time, to be viewed as fundamental – gay rights being one obvious example. However, if allowed to become an end unto itself, in which competing “radical” egos continually disrupt the collective discipline of the movement, ultraleftism must be either abandoned or repressed.

Below are a few areas in which ultraleftism can be observed in this day and age, with some proscriptions for its avoidance.

THE EU

Despite the many sensible reasons to object to the European Union, there’s no denying that the campaign for Brexit was visibly spearheaded by some of the most reactionary elements of British civil society: an unholy alliance of xenophobes, nationalists and globalist financiers, for whom even the most basic regulatory proscriptions were too much to bear.

None the less, the time has come again for the left to once more examine its position on neoliberal Europe. For those that believe that the competitive forces unleashed by the free movement of capital and labour are the genuine engines of progress, the argument stops here. This article isn’t aimed at Tories. Let us examine instead the tempting “left” justifications for unconditionally going out to bat for European capitalism.

1. All borders are fundamentally evil, and free movement in Europe is the first step to a borderless world.

This has a nice feel to it, doesn’t it? It falls down in two fundamental ways though. Firstly, we already live in a borderless world, if you are wealthy and powerful enough. While the nation state has remained the basic unit of democratic power, the erosion of its integrity has resulted in ever more influence being handed to those global elites that are able to function outside of the realms of democratic (and legal) accountability. The implicit understanding that the forces of globalisation are operating primarily in elite interests is what has pushed so many voting populations into the poisonous embrace of the only groups that are even willing to acknowledge that fact.

Want to #StopTrump? Stop pretending that capitalistic globalisation is an irresistible fact of life and start taking the democratic integrity of your own nation seriously.

Secondly – even if you do wish to take the hardcore anti-borders position – that isn’t the purpose of free movement of labour in Europe anyway. It’s a market for increasing the competition between workers for jobs and wages, to the benefit of bosses. It is not some kind of moral commitment to liberty, as the mountain of corpses at Europe’s borders attests to. Maybe there would be greater consent for the humane treatment of those fleeing war if the workers of each country hadn’t become convinced immigration was being used as a tool to increase precarity, wage competition and outsourcing.

Great Britain has absorbed wave after wave of enriching immigration, from Jewish refugees fleeing the pogroms of Tsarist Russia to the West Indians that sailed here aboard the Windrush nearly 100 years later. Free movement of labour is by no means an essential prerequisite for a liberal and humane immigration system, and if it radically decreases the democratic consent for a live-and-let-live attitude towards newcomers, its can be viewed as an actively racist policy.

2. We’re helping improve the lives of people from low wage economics, by allowing them unrestricted access to working in Britain.

There is so much wrong with this methodist, charitable approach to working class emancipation its hard to know where to begin.

For a start, we’re allowing our own government to abdicate responsibility for investing in the education, skills and infrastructure needed to power the engine of our own economy. We’re effectively outsourcing training and using the investment of other, poorer nations as a resource. It is right to celebrate the contributions of  migrant workers to our public services, especially in the NHS, but it is also important to join the dots between unlimited access trained nursing staff across a whole continent and the fact that our government has managed to get away with eradicating nursing bursaries here.

Using low wage economies as workshops for outsourcing our productive industry while importing workers to plug the gaps at the very bottom of our own labour market – that might otherwise be filled by offering higher wages – is the opposite of sustainable economic practice for the UK.

More fundamentally, this bleeding heart mindset ignores the role of the national governments and trade unions of developing economies in improving their own living standards. The fast tracked absorption of the Eastern Bloc into an integrated European economic zone has been dressed up in leftist language by the anti-socialist right, who’s primary motivation was to profit from the rape of the collapsing Soviet economy. In doing so, they’ve duped many western liberals into supporting them. These same liberals are the first to express shock and outrage when the Eastern populations turn away from the corrupt lickspittles installed to facilitate this process and instead look to reactionary strongmen promising a return to national self assurance and dignity. Once again, an ultra leftist view is revealed to prop up an extremely right wing agenda on both sides of the divide!

We’ve stumbled onto a rather neat definition of ultra leftism:

A position so wild, unreasonable and detached from reality that it facilitates the opposite situation in practice to the one it claims to support in theory.

You can apply this definition to the Militant Tendency in the 1980s, screaming at Labour to nationalise the top 200 companies while Thatcher convinced the electorate to support the total destruction of the public realm. You can apply it to the campus radicals and postmodernists of the new left in the 1960s and 70s and even go right back to the Spanish Trotskyists and Anarchists of the 1930s, who spent their time creating chaos in the dying Republic’s rear, while Franco’s fascists marched to victory on every front.

THE NEED TO ALWAYS BE THE OTHER

The other prominent trend on the ultra left in this day and age is the desire to always represent yourself as a radical, oppressed minority, boldly speaking truth to power. In some ways, there’s nothing wrong with this approach, especially for those embarking on a career in the arts or standup comedy. For a long time this type of attitude was represented almost exclusively in those areas, to great effect, resulting in conspiracy theories about “cultural marxism” from a disorientated right who, although they found themselves winning the economic argument, kept losing the social one . Upon the curtailment of Margret Thatcher’s tenure in office, her husband Denis remarked that she’d been “stitched up by the poofs and trots at the BBC”.

Although the fight for social and economic justice is its first priority, the organised left is not a coalition of the oppressed. The reason the working class are the focus of Marx’s theory of history is because they are the most powerful section of society, not the weakest. Ultimately it is our combined labour, not the capitalist’s money, that actually creates the wealth upon which we all thrive and that is the source of our collective power, if we can find the tools to wield it.

This is diametrically opposite to the radical individualism which consistently attempts to usurp the position of socialism as the public face of the left. The appropriation of liberation struggles as a vehicle for building a radical self image is one of the most destructive manifestations of ultra leftism. Unlike the pseudo-liberalism described in the paragraphs above, this political practice doesn’t simply prop up a right wing agenda indirectly, it attacks the organised left directly from within, like a cancer.

In its most mild form, this manifests itself by the overuse of exclusionary, academic language. Where the great socialists of the last century strove to break down the enormously complex forces of their age into compelling, comprehensible arguments, sections of today’s left seek to dress up the simplest of ideas in impenetrable language. This is because they – like the new oligarchs of Silicon Valley – were asocial nerds at school. Bullied relentlessly, they now seek to wreak vengeance on their former tormentors by exercising their supposedly superior intellectual power. Although this is an understandable impulse, it has no place on a picket line and therefore no place in a socialist party.

As it reaches critical mass online, this impulse becomes a malevolent shibboleth – vampirically sucking the energy out of any remotely normal person seeking to become politically active, with constant denunciations, cry bullying and hyperbole. Remember comrades, referring to people as “normal” is ableist against the mentally ill, workplace organisation is exclusionary to the disabled and having meetings in pubs is racist against people with anxiety disorders. The best thing you can spend your time doing is arguing with other lofty minded ultra leftists on twitter.

Ceding the territory of liberation struggles to those most inclined towards self aggrandisement, faux-victimhood and politics-as-performance-art once again conforms to the ultra left modus operandi of making themselves useful idiots to the right. Hardcore capitalists maintain a veneer of progressiveness by tacking towards these operators, as they perceive that this rabid individualism is in no way incompatible with their own piratical agenda. It is a smokescreen behind which a hollowed out centre left is transformed into the neoliberal right. Not only this, but it acts as a foil to emerging mega-reactionaries such as the neo-nazi alt right. It’s part of the reason why Trump’s brand of barely disguised fascism was still allowed to present itself as having more in common with the American working and middle class than the Democrats, who are have traditionally been supported by labour unions and blue collar workers, as well as educated professionals and minorities.

A CONFESSION

For most Labour voters, working class politics are instinctual and don’t require any kind of dressing up in socialist theory. For many young people however, growing up in the new, precarious economy with expensive educations, huge piles of debt and little hope of substantial assets or opportunities, socialist ideas are something we learn over time. Those great ideas that shook the world throughout the First Red Century are intoxicating, exciting and intellectually thrilling. There’s a tendency to read half a pamphlet of Lenin quotes and subsequently make a Marxist analysis of what you had for breakfast. I’m more guilty of this than most.

The feeling of having your mind opened by radical ideas, that reshape your understanding of everything around you is a thing bordering on ecstasy. The world can be a confusing, demoralising place and finally having a mental toolbox for comprehending it is extremely powerful – but it is just the first step. The sword sheathed is often more effective than the sword brandished, and stepping back from the ledge of political exhibitionism is the next challenge for the new generation of 21st century socialists trying to wrest power from the corrupt, the privileged and incompetent. The task ahead will require clarity of thought, unity of purpose and strategic moderation, as well as unvarnished radicalism, if we are to win through.

Standard
Politics

Representation, the false god?

Feel free to read this while listening to the latest Heavy Leather Mixtape.

By the peak of the civil rights movement in America, a powerful strand of black nationalism had emerged. It argued that black Americans would never be represented adequately in white society and it was impossible to be fairly compensated for generations of barbaric exploitation. Even if they did find a form of inclusion, the total erasure of their history would mean they would be integrated on the white man’s terms, forever impostors in the land built on the backs of their ancestors.

Some of these nationalists argued that America should be partitioned, and a new black state should be founded. This would be built with liberated black labour on the principle black self determination. There were plenty of legitimate criticisms of this plan from within the civil rights movement itself. Even Malcolm X argued that it would be financially untenable. He pointed out that although black America represented a huge portion of the national wealth, that wealth was tied in too heavily to the white economy to be extracted for use in nation building. That’s leaving aside the potential for a military conflict with that section of white America unwilling to be annexed into the new nation.

Whatever criticisms the likes of Malcolm X had of this plan, it was nothing compared to the objections of the white American body politic. When black separatism began to emerge as an actual possibility, they heavily softened their stance on black representation. Martin Luther King became a national saint, partly because of his genuinely heroic struggle, and partly because he represented a way of nullifying the more radical demands of the black movement.

Although these ambitions seem ludicrous in hindsight, are they so different from the demands which gave us the Muslim state of Pakistan, or the Jewish state of Israel?  Does it have a parallel with the struggle taking place right now for a free and independent Kurdistan? Maybe not so fanciful after all, but consigned to the dustbin of history none the less.

The point of all this exposition on black nationalism is to ask a broader question: Is representation a false god? Does it serve the oppressor by giving his institutions legitimacy, while giving the less courageous among the oppressed a way out of a potentially painful, but necessary confrontation?

This question has plagued subjugated people, and therefore the political left, for generations.

A similar conundrum faced socialist parties in the early 20th century. Did they militate for new forms of working class government, or did they contest seats in the parliaments of the ruling class, which had so long excluded and exploited them? Many Suffragettes argued that the first act of women upon enfranchisement should have been to withhold their votes, and refuse to legitimise a single male politician or party so heavily invested in a system which still treated woman like second class citizens.

This isn’t to say that immediate revolutionary action is always the best path for the oppressed class – many is the failed revolutionary that would have benefited from a long term strategy for reform, often realising this too late, as the latest reports of massive crop failure come in from the provinces… or as the firing squad takes aim for their forehead.

On the other hand, timidity (or even out right treachery) has often lead progressive forces to squander historically important opportunities. Many members of the British Labour Party will bitterly recount the many times they’ve finally been in a position to reform the balance of power in favour of the working class once and for all, but capitulated most decisively to the forces of capital at that very moment. Let’s not forget it took David Cameron and George Osbourne barely 6 months to undo nearly all the work of the most electorally successful social democratic government in British history.

So what’s my point? My point is that although representation of the historically unrepresented is hugely important, it is not always the cure it appears to be. In fact, those that cheer for representation the loudest are often those that have reached the limit of society’s tolerance for the misdeeds they’ve been gladly perpetrating for years. They realise that by allowing a section of the exploited up to the top table, they can save their own sorry skins and continue their nefarious activities in some new form.

Every single political choice is a calculation between what is ideologically desirable and what is strategically achievable – anyone that tells you any different is probably either a swivel eyed lunatic or a quisling bastard. However, before unthinkingly cheering on a *black* president bombing kids in the Middle East, or a *female* CEO extracting punitive rents from the families of the poor, ask yourself: is representation furthering the cause of humanity, or validating the institutions of the enemies of progress?

Too often, liberalism represents the capture of progressive demands by the forces of capital and reaction. Never allow someone with more money and power than you to try and convince you that you have more in common with them than the people you work with every day. Never allow yourself to be conned into thinking they will fight for your economic interests over their own, even if they look and sound like you.

By all means celebrate the achievements of those who have succeeded against all the odds their race, gender or economic background have thrown against them, but do not be conned that just because someone wins the lottery, you will too.

Combat liberalism. Rise with your class, not over it.

 

**note on the choice of image**

Despite not being a black American, I’ve decided to take a risk and illustrate this piece with the image above. The reason I’ve picked this photograph is because of the way it is used in Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do The Right Thing. A slightly simple character carries this photograph around with him throughout the film, as it depicts both of his heroes smiling beatifically at each other, and gives a glimpse into the world which he desires, and his reduced mental faculties believes to be possible.

The reality, however, is that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were often bitter foes in their visions for the progress of the civil rights movement – each believing that the other’s methods would bring disaster to the black race in America. In a bitter reminder that despite these antagonisms, we often have more in common than divides us, both men ended up murdered for what they believed in – leaving those that survived to face the impossible choices they faced.

Standard
Audiophile, Cassette Archive

Mixtape – Good Sound

LISTEN HERE

It’s hard to overstate the severity of the damage done to recorded music during in the first decade of the twenty first century. In times to come, the strata of fatally damaged recordings will be viewed much like a fine layer of radiation blasted ash, such as marks out an apocalyptic meteorite strike in the geological record.

A perfect storm of new technologies, changing consumption habits and rapaceous profiteering in an era of sharp decline saw a race to the bottom in the quality of recorded music. Not simply in terms of the information being stored (the MP3 etc) but the artisanship that went into preparing the music for release.

Buy a cult record from the UK in the post-punk era and you’re likely to see “A Porky’s Prime Cut” scratched into the run out groove. This was the signiture of record cutting engineer George Peckham, who’s diligence and skill in producing top quality master discs for vinyl  production meant that even the most DIY 7″s of the 1980s have more depth and longevity than much of the expensive trash churned out in the last few decades.

Good sound is a combination of ingenuity, excellent equipment and technical skill, although the first can often compensate for a lack of the second.

Different genres require different treatment. In classical or jazz, you might want to capture the breadth and scope between the virtuoso’s lightest touch and the full band’s thundering crescendo. In rock and roll, the producer might seek to evoke the intensity and saturation experienced when facing off against a band in a jam packed concert hall. Both require entirely difference approaches and skill sets, neither requires a one size fits all deformation of the master wave form into one uniformly loud sausage.

This tape was made for me by Terminal Gods singer and close friend, Robert Cowlin. He put it together a few years ago at the height of his crusade against badly mastered and remastered recordings. I felt at the time that his obsession with the shape of the wave form was distorting his ability to hear the shape of the song. Although he was somewhat overzealous, in hindsight I’ve come to agree with him. Once you can identify this vandalism for what it is, its hard to un-hear it. The idea that, for all our advancement, we seem incapable of making anything that sounds even remotely as good nearly anything from the mid 20th century is almost offensive – a metaphor for late capitalist decline.

Never one to admit defeat on a technicality, he can take some satisfaction in knowing that this wonderfully compiled (and indeed, good sounding) tape made his point neatly.

Cowlin now works as an audio archivist for the British Library. Never was a person so well suited for such a role.

 

1. Miles Davis – So What
2. Tom Waits – Waltzing Matilida
3. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane
4. John Foxx – Europe After The Rain
5. Morrissey – November Spawned A Monster
6. Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue
7. Al Green – Let’s Stay Together
8. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
9. Talking Heads – Psycho Killer (Live)
10. The Sisters of Mercy – Neverland (A Fragment)
11. The Fixx – One Thing Leads To Another
12. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – A Woman In Love
13. Iron Maiden – Can I Play With Madness?
14. The Beatles – Flying
15. The Beatles – Blue Jay Way
16. Dave Brubeck – Take Five
17. Lou Reed – Andy’s Chest
18. War On Drugs – Under The Pressure

Standard
Politics

Trans Comrades are Comrades: Stepping Back from Transphobia.

“Just because everyone agrees to call a tree a rock, doesn’t mean a tree is made of stone

For a long time, this pretty much summed up my entire attitude towards transgender people. I understood the theoretical difference between sex and gender – although sex is defined by your biological functions, gender is really just an elaborate socialisation drilled into your subconscious from the moment you are born. From the moment a gushing adult simpers “who’s a pretty princess?” or “who’s a smart lad?” to the brand new you, and at nearly every point in your life from then on.

Despite having grasped this idea in theory, as far as I was concerned that was just too bad. Just because you didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that wasn’t the way it was. I’d be full of “stands to reason” arguments along the lines of “if a girl likes to climb trees then she’s a boy then?”. I was totally convinced that the existence of trans people could be explained away by sexism and homophobia – the idea that the world made it so hard for some people to be the man or women they were, they became somehow confused, convinced they were in fact a different gender than they actually were.

I felt like Britain’s celebratory gay culture had suddenly appropriated the steely puritanism of its old conservative rivals. Everyone and anyone who isn’t willing to say two plus two equals five is now a class enemy and a monster.

Add to the mix the weird combination of queer theory and youth culture pouring out of our art schools and university campuses –  simply getting a haircut seemed to mean you now belonged to five different distinct gender categories – and I was on the edge of working up the full Peter Hitchens, a proper old school moral panic.

Time to take a step back, stop and breathe.

Is hatred of a tiny minority group really the hill I want to die on? Surely not. Did I actually know any trans people in a meaningful way? Was my daily intake of internet horror stories about people self identifying as disabled and deliberately blinding themselves starting to warp my view of reality? (If you start expressing anti-trans views online, facebook’s algorithms will start feeding you masses of information that will confirm your most deranged fears, by the way.)

The fact is, moral panic is all it was – nothing more. There’s no substance behind it. Trans people, like all people, come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of different ways of thinking. They aren’t a homogenous group of avant-garde cultural assassins trying to destroy the fabric of society and redefine gendered pronouns as hate crime. Like the vast majority of people, they just want to get on with their lives in a way they feel comfortable.

If you want to break down a socially constructed set of behaviours and live your life honestly to yourself, why shouldn’t you? Do we demand that all black people walk around speaking patois and listening to reggae just because they’re black? Of course not. Even if you are totally and utterly convinced that the biological reality of having male or female sex organs is the bottom line on gender, its plain-as-day that the despotic rule of gender norms tyrannise us all from time to time. Why not allow that trans people might feel that weight heavier than others and are just trying to fit into the world in way that mitigates that burden? It’s not like they aren’t as fully aware of what body they were born in as you are of yours.

Even if you want to take a firmly materialist approach (which many on the Marxist left take so much pride in) the fact is, being suicidally depressed (and the suicide rates among trans people are staggeringly high) is all too often reality to them. Most trans people aren’t demanding a total restructuring of society, they are simply asking to be allowed to slot into the world without fear of mistreatment. In many ways, their demands are significantly less radical than those of even the most moderate socialist.

But what if a man identifies as a woman in order to escape male prison, or worse still…. get on a Labour Party All Women Shortlist? These harrowing examples of why the existence of transwomen might attack the interests of “real” women can be worked up into theoretical nightmare situations. The fact is, all processes of this kind are subject to case-by-case analysis and all sorts of other checks and balances. It’s not easy to spend years of your life transitioning to a different gender, its even less easy to simply walk out of one prison and into another. Might it be that the people in charge of making these kind of decisions might also be able to make them soundly? Leaving the complex issues of prison to one side, can’t a CLP be trusted to make sound democratic choices? If someone really did abuse Labour’s progressive attitude to trans rights in order to unfairly worm their way onto an AWS, are we really saying that the women of that CLP would be oblivious to it and vote for them blindly? If a transwoman can overcome all the obstacles to being accepted in a world that often hates her, take part in a fair democratic process and win – well, maybe they bloody well deserve to share a platform with their cis-gendered comrades.

This isn’t intended as an authoritative exposition on gender theory. It’s my personal understanding of the issues and how they’ve lead me to changing my attitude towards trans people.

Ultimately, I’m a bloke weighing in on women’s issues and am aware that to many, this contribution is going to be unwelcome – even offensive. If you are a cis-gendered woman who sees women as a sex-class –  for whom every oppression ultimately stems from their position as child bearers – then being told to “calm down dear” by just another man isn’t going to fly.

And you see all oppression of women as sex based, then maybe the suffering caused by gender constructs is irrelevant to your feminism – especially when expressed by the traditional male adversary.

Regardless of who controls the means of reproduction, the material world can be just as unkind to trans people as it is to woman. I don’t personally believe that any transwomen would want to attack the hard won protections which women have fought and died for over the centuries. Even if some people on the fringe of gender-theory seem to be frothing at the mouth to rip up the fragile safe spaces which women currently do have, all the trans people I have actually met (especially in the Labour Party) have been decent people who would stand on the right side of a picket line to defend the interests of their class – whether that’s workers in a pay dispute or cis-women fighting to protect their reproductive rights.

There’s plenty of reasonable sounding transphobia out there if you look for it, some of it from well respected thinkers. There’s also lots of very weird pro-trans media which can be comprehensively off-putting to people with more conservative sensibilities. But ask yourself, have you actually ever been negatively impacted by a trans person? Have you ever sat down and shared a comradely drink and tried to understand their point of view? Have you ever considered that all the moral outrage might not outweigh the reality of our shared humanity.

Is this, really, the hill you want to die on?

Standard
Politics

The Strangely Avant-Garde World of Politics Online

What do a Slovenian Rock Band, Pepe The Frog and a Small Gang of British Railway Workers all have in common?

Art-collective-come-avant-garde industrial rock band Laibach have been walking the fine line between pop-culture and totalitarianism since their inception in Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1980. Despite layers of irony, weird eroticism and pastiche, never once in their three decade career have they so much as cracked a smile. Although the audience is almost entirely sure they’re taking part in a clever critique of totalitarianism as a pop band, there’s always the uncomfortable possibility that they’re actually taking part in a clever critique of pop bands by totalitarians.

Their liminal nature affords Laibach a shield from criticism. Overtly attack the extremist implications of their message and you risk appearing to have missed the point. However, the same artistic construct that has immunised them against liberal denouncement has also allowed them to become the first ever western band to perform in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, partly on the grounds of their apparently strict adherence to Leninist disciplinarianism.

150821114350-north-korea-laibach-5-super-169

Laibach’s Milan Fras, Pyongyang, 2016.

Although the reality behind Laibach’s complicated facade is a deeply intelligent, refined and (probably) progressive outlook there’s absolutely no reason why the tools they’ve crafted throughout their long and prescient career couldn’t be employed with much more malicious intent. Few things in the current political climate exemplify this better than the Alt-Right – and their de-facto mascot, Pepe.

Pepe is a meme-image of a crafty looking frog making a slightly outrageous statement in the conspiratorial tone of one using humour to give voice to what everyone is really thinking.  Nothing Pepe says is ever serious, it’s just the pissing around of those well placed enough to be in on the joke. Arguing with Pepe makes you look both sanctimonious and idiotic in equal measure. The Alt-Right, through Pepe, took up the role of the jester – with the jester’s privilege of speaking truth to power – to give themselves an authenticity that the swivel eyed right wing headbangers on the mainstream conservative (“cucksurvative” in alt-right speak) had lost in a culture dominated by the values of liberal identitarianism, especially in areas of high economic activity.

 

However, it became increasingly clear that Pepe was clearing the ground for a much deeper, more radical politic. Whether or not the original milieu of 4chan users who incubated the culture of the alt-right ever intended it to develop in the way that it did is still very much up for debate, if such a disparate, nihilistic community could ever have a unified set of intentions at all. However its potential as a vehicle for taking reactionary politics all the way into the corridors of power, even as it seemed like traditional conservative values were on the decline, was astounding. Although there’s no one deciding factor in the rise of Trumpism, there can be little doubt that the alt-right sowed the seeds of fascism into soil made fertile by decades of alienation, inequality and industrial decline. Replacing jack boots and brownshirts with irony and humour gave it all the camouflage it needed to pass undetected through the social safeguards against such politics that have been in place since WWII. The incident in Charlottesville last year, which much more closely resembled the traditional face of fascism, probably set the project of the alt-right back years.

161202-irving-alt-right-tease_a4dhfl

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ELIZABETH BROCKWAY/THE DAILY BEAST

In a recent article for the Guardian, columnist Rafael Behr wrote about the strange dissonance in finding lifelong anti-capitalist John McDonnell making the case for a reformed version of social democracy at the Word Economic Forum at Davos, Europe’s largest conference of financiers, bankers and other pillars neoliberalism. Yet for anyone following John McDonnell’s aesthetic journey from revolutionary firebrand to concerned bank manager, this won’t come as any kind of surprise. Behr goes on to accuse followers of the Labour leadership of adhering to a form of vague anti-capitalism born of scepticism of corporate power but lacking any firm ideological demands for its replacement.

This is probably a fair analysis, but what Behr declined to comment upon is the potential of such a large pool of vaguely interested people for real politicisation. With all their attention focused on hunting the ghosts of Citizen Smith and the mad trotskyist radicalism they grew up with on campuses in the 1960s and 70s, Britain’s media class have consistently failed to notice the rise of something altogether more modern emerging on the left. Take a scroll through Red London, an entertaining meme page run by a group of anonymous young railway workers, which appears to advocate rigid 1930s Marxism-Leninism and Corbyn’s softcore parliamentary social democracy as if they were interchangeable. To a baffled observer this looks like a deranged misunderstanding of both world history and the current political moment, but that in itself is a misunderstanding.

Red London has a dizzyingly large following considering its apparently niche politics and even more niche aesthetic. They’re not seriously advocating a return to Year-Zero Stalinism (at least, probably not, you never can quite tell), and the more dire warnings mainstream liberals and conservatives give to that effect, the more moronic they look in the face of Red London’s barrage of irreverent and genuinely funny Soviet idolatry. They paint an intelligible, good natured picture of far left politics, embracing rather than avoiding its more absurd aspects, and form part of the online ecosystem turning Rafael Behr’s great mass of vague anti-capitalist youngsters into a generation equipped with a broad working knowledge of socialist theory.

25289356_2423108741247836_3884181475850937065_n

A Red London meme typical of their heady mix of Soviet fetishisation, easy humour and drive to educate and drive up the militancy of their audience.

While the technocratic centre ludicrously argue that nationalisation of the railways will lead people blindly into gulags, it is perhaps the opposite which is true. After being given a tour through to the whole gamut of historical leftism, with its triumphs and tragedies, a public stake in public services seems a mild idea indeed. Armed with that awareness, the mainstream’s objections to policies like public ownership cease to look like common sense, and are increasingly revealed as openly hostile ideological positions.

In a media age dominated by corporate forces presenting themselves as unambiguously benevolent, but consistently behave in a nightmarish and dystopian fashion, the surest route to power will be a subversion of this approach. If semi-ironic and humour is the shield of the movement, then growing surety of purpose will be the sword.

Standard
Cassette Archive

Mixtape – Extremely Heavy Metal

LISTEN HERE

No long exposition with this one today.

This is a mix I compiled for my other half, Claire, for Christmas. She’s a big deal in the metal world, thus the title of the tape. The joke is that there’s no extremely heavy metal on it. It’s a running joke in our relationship where I pretend to be confused as to why “metal” is always heavier than “heavy metal”. She doesn’t find it very funny, but that hasn’t stopped me persisting with it as if it was the wittiest observation ever made.

The cover is from a 1930s Jewish Labour Bund poster imploring the members of the Bund to fight the rising tide of fascism. I picked this art work because I had just finished reading a history of Jewish radicalism before I started making the tape.

Standard
Politics, Reviews

Book Review: Ann Pettifor – The Production of Money (Verso 2017)

Going out on a limb, I’d guess that most people who don’t work in the banking sector (and maybe even some that do!) don’t actually understand what “monetary policy” actually is. I certainly didn’t.

In The Production of Money, Ann Pettifor painstakingly spells out the need for the layperson to have a basic working knowledge of monetary policy, especially if we are to save our democracy from the despotism of global finance. She observes that the financial elite – and many of the academic economists who enable them – deliberately propagate a distorted view of the money system, as if it’s behaviour was an immutable law of nature, rather than a carefully rigged arrangement designed to maintain the dominant position of finance over governments, industry and workers.

She dispels the myth that credit is the loaning out of existing, hoarded wealth as if we still lived in the age of robber barons sitting on piles of gold. Money is debt, and credit is the production of debt from thin air. A calculated gamble that it will generate enough new value in order to pay itself back and more.

In a healthy economy, each unit of money conjured up goes towards generating value – by creating employment and enabling productive activity. Thus, the invented credit money has truly become real value.

In an unhealthy economy, dominated by the desire of financial speculators to generate profits at maximum speed with minimum risk, this credit will be used to inflate the value of assets and the ability to extract the highest rent or interest from them. After a given point, if enough of the money in the system hasn’t generated any value in the real economy via productive enterprise, then a simple default at the bottom of the chain of rent generating assets causes the entire scheme to collapse.

You won’t be surprised, then, to hear that Ann Pettifor is one of the few economists who predicted the great financial crash of 2007/8.

Monetary policy relates to the rules set by governments, implemented through a central bank, that control the creation of new money via the issuing of credit by private banks, as well as the rate of interest offered on government debt or loans.

Pettifor argues that the best way of directing monetary policy for the greatest social good is by making credit relatively hard to get, but very cheap (i.e. at low rates of interest). This “tight but cheap” money will mainly be dished out as loans to people with a believable plan to invest it in a productive fashion, and its cheapness will enable that productivity to more easily become profitable.

She argues that we live in an age were the opposite is true – in which we have access to “easy but costly” credit. This means it is easy to become indebted by using accessible credit for consumption or to purchase assets (mortgages and credit cards for example). Credit issued in this way directs people to invest in property instead of business or industry, so they can begin to charge rent immediately in order to pay off the interest, which is in itself a form of rent (you pay rent to the owner of your house, who pays rent to the owner of his debt, and so on). The growth generated by the extension of this easy but expensive credit enriches those with large asset portfolios, but does nothing to improve the economic situation of workers, entrenching inequality.

She also argues that the free movement of capital, which bankers have so very carefully branded as a progressive development for humankind, is nothing of the sort. It has in fact simply made it easier for financiers to invest their money anywhere in the world where rent seeking is most profitable. This means draining potentially productive capital from developed economies to exploit poor – or “sub-prime” – borrowers who can be charged inflated interest as security against their lack of collateral. This sub-prime borrower might be a poor homeowner in Detroit, or an entire nation without a sound financial and industrial infrastructure of its own. Alongside “tight, cheap credit”, dis-incentivising the free movement of capital by taxing it when it moves across borders (“capital controls”) will promote the reinvestment of a greater share of the wealth generated in a particular country into its own real economy, giving greater power to democracies to direct their own development for the greater good.

The Production of Money is a fantastic, informative guide for anyone on the left looking to boost their understanding of money, interest and credit – especially if they already have a fair grasp of more tangible economic activity such as taxation and public spending. However, it doesn’t go much in for visual metaphors or allegory. Although it breaks down complicated financial concepts to an extent, it assumes a fair bit of prior knowledge from the reader.

Pettifor does not hide that she is attempting rehabilitate the the theories of legendary British economist John Maynard Keynes and demonstrate their particular applicability in the post 2008 world. Neither does she shy away from attacks on “orthodox” or “classical” economics, which she regards as a great sham perpetrated by a combination of ruthless vested interests and academic useful idiots. This book is therefore quite a difficult read if you’re not already comfortable enough with the premises behind Keynesianism or Classical Economics to know why they need scrutiny! Although the book is concise, it could possibly use a few primer chapters at the beginning to get the reader up to speed on what it is they are learning to oppose.

If you’ve come to enjoy the good humoure of economics heart-throb Yanis Varoufakis, Ann Pettifor’s no-fucking-around intellectualism is going to feel like a slap to the face. However, The Production of Money is no dry economics text book; it’s a furiously argued, passionate polemic, full of burning rage at the criminality of the financial class and a desperate desire to empower regular people with the knowledge to take back control of a society subjugated by the tyranny of global finance.

Standard
Cassette Archive, Politics

Heavy Leather Mixtape: Darker With The Day

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD HERE

From Elvis’s swinging hips to white America’s fear of the black man’s sexuality, an atmosphere of sexual menace has hung over rock and roll since its inception. From the mid 1950s onwards, the offer of promiscuity, intoxication, homosexuality and who-knows-what other forbidden pleasures have enticed generations of young people away from the dour, protestant values of their parents. The apparently anti-sex attitudes of the last generation to be born before the invention of the teenager (which occurred shortly after world two) were considered synonymous with all manner of other reactionary, outdated beliefs – and rock and roll was here to usher in the new world.

Flash forward to 2018 and the position of rock and roll is entirely more suspect. Not only did punk prove it to be very much the running dog of consumerism in the Keynesian age, but throughout the Thatcher years the individualist ideology of rock fitted seamlessly with the prevailing economic wisdom  (to the great irritation of many of the actual proponents of the art form). Perhaps more importantly, its legacy as a sexual liberator has been called into question. In a world where men hold so much power – which they constantly demonstrate willingness to abuse – is sexual menace such a good look after all? Did all those women that charged gladly into the sexual revolution get what they paid for, or did they just fall into a trap of being ever more atomised subordinates in a new version of the same old male fantasy?

Rejecting the racism of their parents was key in the beat generation’s attraction to jazz. As the more visceral loathing of black culture faded away and jazz entered its maturity, the genre faded away from the night clubs and drug dens and settled down to a happy existence in the hands of enthusiasts*, specialists and specialists. Maybe rock and roll, having done its job, should content itself with a long, fruitful retirement and cease trying to claim the centre stage in our culture. Is there anything left of value in its original offer of titillation and trepidation or does clinging onto the cock swinging machismo of rock’s halcyon days make you a reactionary old goat? I’m looking at you Bono.

The future is female. Not just morally but also from an economic standpoint (the old industries and old ways of waging war which provided the basis of male power are all but dead in the western world), and so women will decide what will be carried forward into that future, and what will be left behind. Will rock’s inherent dark side be successfully amputated, or will the baby have to be thrown out with the bathwater? I suspect the latter.

The internet makes it ever easier to shine a light on the moral failings of our compatriots. Our ability to expose the venal, vain and violent for the dogs that they are – and challenge their right to positions of authority and influence – is unparalleled. It also allows us to flaunt our own personal virtues and achievements, actively placing us in a marketplace for self esteem. However, characteristics like loyalty, discretion, discipline and integrity are harder to prove in a soundbite or viral video. Even though these are far more desirable than a good PR image, they’re also the least rewarded by the ultra-fast-broadband, trial by media age in which we live. Just ask Gordon Brown I guess.

One of the great tropes of story telling is tale of redemption, in which man slowly sees his evil nature for what it is, painfully transforming himself through humility and self sacrifice. The media age allows us to cast the unworthy down from their pedestals, it remains to be seen if it can offer them redemption afterwards.

1. Badfinger – Baby Blue
2. Clarence Cater – Patches
3. Sly & The Family Stone – Underdog
4. Tina Turner – Nutbush City Limits
5. Amy Stewart – Knock On Wood
6. Lionel Ritchie – Hello
7. Morrissey – You Have Killed Me
8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow
9. Leonard Cohen –  Hallelujah (Live 1988)
10. Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence
11. Nina Simone – Sinnerman
12. Laibach – Life is Life
13. The Mission – Deliverance (12″ Mix)
14. Queen – Sail Away Sweet Sister
15. Talking Heads – Heaven
16. Don Mclean – American Pie
17. Elvis – Can’t Help Falling In Love
18. James Ray & The Black Hearted Riders – Tupelo Tree
19. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Darker With The Day

*Note from Heavy Leather admin, Rob Cowlin: Typical RM generalisation.
Throughout the 20s-70s African American jazz musicians struggled whilst their white counterparts were backed by the mainstream (FM radio in particular). See the popularity of Brubeck’s Time Out, not even Miles could compete with that.
The jazz spots of New York were swept away under a wave of gentrification, putting hundreds of musicians out of work. Thankfully, our black jazz heroes weren’t loathed in Europe or Japan, where they enjoyed considerable fame, playing theatres and festivals

Standard
Politics

“How to hedge your finances against a future Corbyn government”

Despite some people on the left assuming they are the propaganda organ of the ruling capitalist class, The Financial Times consistently comes out with frank, honest and informative analysis of political events, with more consideration for social justice than you’d expect from a broadsheet largely concerned with the movement of money.

I was particularly intrigued with this long article on the potential impact of a Corbyn government on the very wealthy, especially those with large amounts of hoarded assets or involved in high level investment markets.

I was struck throughout how beautifully it illustrated some of the main (and most obviously Marxist inspired) aspects of the Labour Manifesto by describing the opposition people might have to it.

Here’s my “translation” of the piece, based on my own (limited) understanding of the issues involved:

 

 

“a quick scan of the party’s election manifesto will make uncomfortable reading for wealthy over-40s who have amassed assets”

Amazing that this should be news really. The idea that you can redistribute masses of wealth to those that need it without significantly disenfranchising those that have hoarded masses of wealth that they don’t need is pretty laughable. This is why the theory of class struggle is so important. At some point it will come down to “which side are you on?” when deciding on the merits of one policy or another.

 

“Labour party statements make it clear that those earning more than £80,000 can expect to pay higher income taxes under a Labour government.”

Many will have little option but to pay more. “In the long term, there is little that can be done to reduce this burden, unless people consciously work less hard, move down the jobs ladder or emigrate”

The assumption here is that people earning that amount of money are being fairly and proportionately rewarded for the actual amount of work they do. Has the management executive who bags himself an extra £10k bonus, worked 10,000x harder than the cleaner who cleans his office, who had a real terms wage cut?

Even if we accept the premise that disproportionately high wages are fairly earned, do we accept the premise that the only solution to avoid taxation is to work less hard? Why not encourage the company to invest its profits in wage increases more evenly across the higher and lower pay grades, so that instead of panicking about how to avoid paying too much money to your top level employees, you boost the earning power of the whole company?

If you’re a small business owner, why not employ someone? There’s lots of things you can do to distribute excess profits other than “work less hard or emigrate” and nearly all of them are good for the economy.

 

“we hear far greater interest about lifetime tax planning — for example, gifts of assets to children being made sooner rather than later — so that parents’ asset values are reduced before a wealth tax or land value tax takes force.”

So they’re saying that taxation which punishes people for hoarding assets might cause them to release those assets to other people currently locked out of the market? Sounds like they’ve just acclaimed Labour’s 2017 manifesto for saving capitalism from itself.

 

“Labour would also expand the existing UK stamp duty on shares into a broader financial transaction tax. Avinash Persaud, chair of Intelligence Capital, a financial advisory firm, is a champion of the proposed tax which would “bring strength and stability to our markets”.

He says it would not cost jobs, although critics are less sure. Dan Neidle, partner of Clifford Chance, a law firm, says it would “create a strong incentive for funds, investors and traders to migrate from the UK”.

An FTT prevents financial trading from being automatically more profitable than real investment, Avinash Persaud is worth looking into on this.

What Dan Neidle is saying that if Labour takes a rational, sane measure to direct wealth from where it isn’t needed to where it is needed, the people who create that wealth will hold the entire economy to ransom.

Isn’t this suspiciously similar to what the Trade Unions were accused of doing in the 1970s? Wasn’t this given as justification for their almost complete dismantling?

Back to the idea of class struggle again now. What we saw in the 1970s was one group of people (wage earners) exercising their power over the economy (their right to withdraw their labour) to enfranchise their section of society. People would argue that class struggle is irrelevant in today’s world of white collar workers and home owners, but surely when a group of investors attempt to threaten the economy into behaving on their own terms, that’s class struggle – just the top class struggling against the bottom rather than vice versa. Which side are you on?

 

“Labour has said it wants to see the public disclosure of trusts, which it describes as “a key vehicle for tax avoidance and illicit financial flows”. The industry says HMRC already has access to this information and making it public would put beneficiaries in a vulnerable position.”

Mr Stovold says people avoiding tax by using trusts would fear “trial by media”. “It would be a witch hunt,” he says. “People might want to consider unwinding those structures.”

If the media scrutiny of your financial activities would ruin your business, your business deserves to be ruined. Once again, the FT seem to be suggesting that Labour are on the verge of literally saving capitalism.

 

“Whatever the long-term outcome of Labour’s policies on UK stocks and bonds, the election of Jeremy Corbyn would initially be likely to push down the price of UK gilts, take a toll on domestic UK stocks and result in a slide in sterling”

Have you ever compared the stock market to wages? The day to day value of the stock exchange has literally no impact on the overall prosperity of the people who are actively involved in the process of working, especially if they don’t have the kind of Trade Union power dedicated to carving them out a share of that growth.

A slide in sterling has no direct negative impact on people earning and spending money in the UK (i.e. nearly everyone), other than when on holiday. In fact, a slide in sterling means that British products will become cheaper to purchase from abroad, meaning businesses will find themselves a more viable choice of supplier for foreign businesses, actually putting money into the economy and stimulating productive business in the UK. The only people that lose out from a slide in the sterling are people spending a lot of money abroad, i.e. very wealthy international investors in search of a profit.

It may also make it more expensive to import essential goods like fuel, food, and manufactured items like cars, driving up the cost of living for the average household. But that also acts as a direct incentive for investment in renewable energy, supermarkets to return to buying from British farmers and increasing the viability of manufacturing firms (like car factories) still based in the UK. If investors refuse to play ball and waterboard the average wage earner with higher living costs, it adds weight to the argument for more public provision that Labour are making.

 

“Very obviously domestically-facing sectors such as housebuilders and UK retail would be likely to underperform, particularly as housebuilders had a very good run in 2017,” says Tom Stevenson, investment director at Fidelity Personal Investing.”
More specifically, Labour’s plans to nationalise railways, water, energy and Royal Mail would take a toll on those segments of the market. And Mr Corbyn’s aim to intervene more heavily in areas such as energy could drag on the dividends paid by those companies and investment funds.”

Well, duh. People running public services in the interest of private profit in a time of increasing fuel poverty and transport extortion might find themselves inconvenienced by an economic principle based on the idea that people should have a right to access the essentials of life, regardless of profitability.

The fact that the house builders had a very good year in a period in which working people experienced a massive housing crisis is very telling about how unrelated “most profitable” and “of most benefit to society” can be. This is a key plank in Labour’s argument for more economic planning and intervention at a government level.

 

“Sectors including utilities and energy companies are high dividend payers and whether it’s nationalisation or increased regulation and price caps, the outlook for higher and sustainably high dividend incomes looks under threat under a Corbyn government,”

Your need for running water makes you a cash cow. Nationalise the lot.

 

“And Labour’s plans would also mean a big expansion of debt, which would be bad news for bond markets,” he says.”

One thing about about public debt is that in a system with (theoretically) a finite amount of money, more government debt means more people are holding credit. Public debt takes the form of low return but stable investments called bonds. It’s a bit like taking out a savings account with the government. More people with their savings tied up in government, which in turn will spend that money on long term investment like roads or other essential investments like child care, means that this money is being used to the benefit of all, without even having to pay tax (indeed, they make a profit on it!). Low public debt means that people’s savings are probably tied up elsewhere, such as the kinds of hedge funds which trade financial products without creating anything of real value to real people.

Another great thing about public debt is that the growth in the economy that it fuels actually helps pay it off. People need to stop thinking of public debt as a payday loan being spent on bills by a desperate single parent, and view it as more like asking your family to chip in for a sharp suit, a car and a smart phone on the day you get the big job offer.

 

“the resurgence of support for Labour and wider geopolitical uncertainty — has already led some buyers of high-end property to reconsider their purchases.

Simon Gammon, managing director of mortgage broker Knight Frank Finance, says some buyers in London had decided to rent rather than buy, in the belief that house prices were unlikely to rise further under the influence of these factors and homeowners might well face higher annual taxes on their properties.

“There are examples of people agreeing longer than normal lets — three to five years rather than six months — and sitting it out. There’s a cost to that, but their perception is that it will be more than outweighed by any fall in the value of property,”

So what we’re saying here is that the impact of a Labour government is tenancies become more stable and prices on high end housing drops so that people previously excluded from ownership will be able to get on the ladder, and less likely to be bought by a landlord or investment fund as a financial asset. Damn.

 

“You don’t need to be a high net worth individual to have a second home abroad,” says Mr Bertin. “If you need to think about meeting future expenditure needs on a property in France or Spain the question is how do you get the currency overseas? It could be more expensive if there’s a change of administration and issues around Brexit. At worst, it could be difficult to get money out of the country.”

The worst case scenario is making is harder for people to pull their money out of the British economy the second any measure is taken to help people get on the housing ladder. Policies that have this effect are called “capital controls”, which are essential measures for preventing the owners of large amounts of capital running out of town as soon as a democratically elected government tries to implement its manifesto.
Capital controls, like “trade unions” and “nationalisation” are the kind of hard left economic madness you will be warned about in the coming years. Learn about these things, read about their benefits as well as their costs and then when your douchebag cousin tries to pass of their infantile love of money as good economic sense at the next family dinner, you can now calmly demonstrate this piratical view of the economy for what it is: Not common sense, but class struggle.

When the government of East Germany began to spend huge chunks of its national wealth to train doctors and scientists to rebuild a war wrecked economy, West Germany realised that it was actually cheaper to spend their American aid on hiring those people the second they’ve been trained, at a net loss to East Germany. It’s not hard to see why the Berlin Wall suddenly appeared.

This is not unlike the “we need freedom of movement to have enough nurses to run our NHS” fallacy. Immigration is absolutely an invaluable and desirable aspect of the economy, as well as to the culture, but if access to highly trained people from low wage economies is acting as a subsidy to your own domestic education program, you are effectively robbing poor countries while stealing education from your own children too.

One of the problems with socialism is that it is hard to play fair when the other side is richer than you, willing to cheat and wants to see your way of life smashed. The Brexit voting working class recognise this as surely as the East Germans did.

 

“Buy-to-let landlords — already under pressure from increased tax and regulation of the rental sector — are also considering how a future change of government might affect them. Advisers say some are seeking to move ahead with partial sales of a portfolio”

Landlords releasing their stock onto the market will decrease the size of the private rental centre (which can then be taken up by social housing and housing association co-ops, both another platform of the Labour plan) and increase the supply of houses to buy, decreasing costs to the first time buyer.

 

Standard
Politics

I’m a Labour and Momentum member – and I support harsher purges of anti-semites.

I’ve sat on this piece for a while, but in light of the issues surrounding anti semitism and the left that have raged throughout the media this week, I’ve decided to publish it now.

Following a succession of high profile allegations of anti-semitism throughout 2017, the Labour Party engaged in an enthusiastic cull of members deemed to be extolling not only conspiracy theories, but out and out racism. A charge which most of those expelled vigorously deny.

In January this year I attended a special meeting of the group “Labour Against The Witch Hunt” in order to judge for myself the extent of the issue. This group is composed of  people expelled by the Labour Party administration, keen to clear out the tiny minority of anti-semites which do so much damage to the cause of the party.

After arriving at the originally advertised venue, I noticed several medium sized groups of late middle aged men and women exchanging information and sneaking off out in groups. After a few moments I gathered they’d performed a venue switch. Possibly as part of a factional manoeuvre to gerrymander the meeting , or possibly, because the original pub wanted nothing to do with them – I don’t know.

Once settled into the new venue, the farce began. In time honoured tradition they opened the meeting by proposing motions and counter motions for the structure of the meeting itself. Watching this group of red faced, blustering old men (and it mostly was old men) work themselves up into a lather over who had the right to hold the chair made for amusing, if incredulous, watching. After years of inflicting insufferably boring arguments about procedure on decent, ordinary Labour and Trade Union branch members, they were determined to take the opportunity to exercise this particular perversion in the company of fellow enthusiasts.

This is a group of people that have all found themselves on the wrong side of Labour’s compliance unit and expelled, many for belonging to various proscribed organisations which, although separated by minute variations in revolutionary theory are all too often linked by one over arching theme: the stink of anti-semitism.

The purpose of Labour Against The Witch Hunt was to create a coherent organisation that could lobby the Labour Party for readmission of expelled members and disprove the allegations against them. They immediately ran into the issue that several of the major factions composing the group were actively involved in the publishing and dissemination of anti-semitic views. These mostly revolve around a belief in a conspiracy of jewish billionaires and media moguls manipulating the policies of the American government, using Israel as the outpost of a Middle Eastern empire:

America is the foot and Israel is the boot!” passionately exclaimed one participant.

The function of this particular meeting was for those ostracised Labour members who aspired towards a modicum of respectability (headed up by prominent trotskyist Tony Greenstein and disgraced former Momentum activist Jackie Walker) to formally exclude those currently involved in the publishing anti-semitic views from their campaign. Specifically, to pass a motion to exclude Socialist Fight from LAW, a one man organisation composed entirely of a person called Gerry Downing, from their group.

The meeting quickly descended into attempts to redefine anti-semitism to such an extent that their shared delight in Jewish conspiracies might no longer technically count as racism. Those in favour of the expulsion read out numerous quotes of the accused and their close associates, to accompanying cries of “McCarthyism!” or “Guilt by association!“. The overarching theme was that although everyone agreed the Zionist Conspiracy existed within the American/Israeli ruling classes, as well as within the the media and the banks, some of these truthers might be able to enter back into the mainstream if they could disassociate themselves with those that didn’t even bother to disguise their hysterical views in careful language. I have to admit to even being slightly impressed at hearing terms like “Judeo-Marxists” uttered with no irony whatsoever, as if it this really was a meeting of the NSDAP.

26696667_10155435751738983_809276666_n

“Yes this is Socialist fight, to whomst am I speaking?”

At first it was funny, then infuriating, but in the end it was all rather heartbreaking. As the meeting wore on it became clear how vulnerable and unstable many of these people were. Watching one man with shaking hands and hopeless eyes hurriedly correct himself from using the term “jews” to the term “bankers”, it was hard to even feel angry with him.  The same man had claimed earlier he had been expelled from a CLP he’d been an activist in for 20 years, but he couldn’t even remember which one it was. He was quite sure of which trotskyist group he was in though, which had caused him to become a “victim of the zionist purge“.

In many ways, mainstream Labour figures were right to warn of the dangers of trotskyist entryism. Unlike newcomers to the movement, they had seen first hand the damage that any association with these people could wreck. Equally, those skeptical about the nature and internal make up of Momentum were justified in their cynicism, as a frank look at this hideous milieu reveals what kind of organisation it might have been, had they been allowed to infiltrate its structures. Just as they’ve ground down and destroyed every attempt to create a coherent left wing voice in Britain for decades, they would undoubtedly have brought the same fate upon Momentum given half the chance.

jon-lansman

John Lansman, founder of Momentum and himself a Jewish Labour member, has played an instrumental role in excluding many of the unsavoury characters that make up Labour Against the Witch Hunt from Momentum.

The mere presence of over 60 bewildered activists at this meeting, all recently expelled from the Labour Party, attests to the vigilance of both the Labour and Momentum leadership against such harmful characters. Although the meeting eventually decided to exclude Socialist Fight on grounds of anti-semitism, the fact it took two solid hours of hysterical arguing about the jewish problem suggests that none of them are fit for readmission into Labour. Astoundingly, the sheer number of both racist and clearly anti-semitic contributions from both those supporting Socialist Fight’s expulsion and those opposing it seemed of no consequence to anyone in the room. Despite literally stating in the meeting that the American government was controlled by jews who are “over represented in the billionaire class“, no one had the guts to label Gerry Downing a racist himself, settling for labelling his front organisation anti-semitic. Other highlights included chief accuser and chairperson Tony Greenstein screaming at someone to “shut up, shut up!!!” until he was literally red in the face (glad all those motions on procedure paid off Tony) and another participant becoming confused as to whether America controlled Israel or Israel controlled America.

image-1

Downing has never been shy about his unconventional views, openly stating them in the public domain at any opportunity.

That nobody had the self awareness to realise their very participation in the meeting incriminated them irrevocably is equally bizarre. Despite the heavy air of decay that hung over all concerned, they honestly seemed to believe they were making political headway of some kind. If these people had indeed been allowed to take over Momentum, as so many people assumed they would, I have no doubt they would have bypassed the general election in favour of arguing among themselves. Such is the nature of British trotskyism.

In order to preserve their legitimacy as a political force, mainstream Conservatives have long maintained a wide stretch of deep blue water between themselves and the swivel eyed racists that make up the lunatic fringe of the right. Isolated, demoralised and far from power, the left of the Labour Party has, in the past, found itself backed into a corner and forced to exist in a space dominated by the lunatics and degenerates that now make up LAW. For most people the rise of Corbynism and socialism’s advance towards government has brought optimism, not to mention an escape from the culture of misery and failure perpetuated by warring grouplets of these so-called revolutionaries.

I still wholeheartedly believe that the socialist transformation of the Labour Party is packed with positive potential. That every effort has been made to clear out this miserable group of yesterday’s men is a sign of a mass party in rude health, serious about rising to power and creating a radical, transformative government for the many, not this sad, demoralised few.

 

Standard
Cassette Archive, Politics

Mixtape – Machine Beats 2016

LISTEN HERE

Walking down the stairs to a warehouse-esque party on the last night of Labour conference last year, I couldn’t have been any happier. The authoritatively cool sensibilities of counter culture were being brought into the mainstream political realm and seemed wonderful, especially to someone like myself, brought up on a diet of pop culture and middle class permissiveness.

The comrade next to me wasn’t so sure:

“I dunno, it looks a bit zaney to me”

It had literally never occurred to me that being obtuse, transgressive and edgy didn’t automatically carry some kind of inherent value, and the realisation hit me like a jolt. Ever since the late 1960s, the prevailing wisdom has been that orthodoxy, blandness and conformity are the tools of reactionary power and that any counter-cultural challenge to this blandness is fundamentally progressive.

The post 1960s culture of radical transgression grew from a rejection of both the pre-defined capitalistic modes of behaviour and the societies of socialist world, which were increasingly seen as oppressive and unsupportable by a left disorientated by the economic and cultural boom of capitalism’s post war years.

However, the genius of capitalism is to absorb what it can’t suppress, and it didn’t take long for the symbols of youthful rebellion to be reduced to a series of garish consumption options, a fact that any long time fan of punk rock will regretfully admit.

Perhaps the only surprising aspect of all this is that it took the reactionary right to discover that anti-authoritarian rebelliousness could be an equally effective weapon in their own armoury, as Angela Nagle wearily illustrates in her recent polemic “Kill All Normies” – a text that added another nail to the coffin of my faith in transgression.

All this poses some fairly unpleasant questions about the politics of pop culture and rock and roll in particular. If the whole thing is not, in fact, a redemption for a sick society, but an agent of that sickness, is there a way out? Is there an escape other than nihilistic capitulation to the system, or disappearing down a poisonous rabbit-hole of sectarian insanity? This dichotomy is visible on the left today in the antagonism between dead-eyed Blairites and the foaming-at the-mouth Trotskyists who hate them.

My hope is to trust in the dialectical proposition that everything contains the essence of its opposite. In that spirit please enjoy this 2016 mixtape of retro electro and quasi-industrial deep cuts. A mixtape of songs as bleak, claustrophobic and antagonistic as the societies that spawned them. Even if they fail to signpost the way to a better world, maybe they can shine a light on the one in which we live.

Track List

The Human League – John Peel Session 1978

Cabaret Voltaire – John Peel Session 1984

Ministry – Primental (Live 1982)

James Rays Gangwar – Absolutely Free

The March Violets – Deep (Radio Session, 1984)

The March Violets – Face of the Dragonfly (Radio Session, 1984)

Miserylab – Children of the Poor

Miserylab – People 

TV Baby – Wild Joy

TV Baby – New York is Alright

Victories At Sea – Up

Genuflex – Lotus Eats Pale Receipts

Genuflex – Bludevotion

Genuflex – Black Sails

The Sisters Of Mercy – Comfortably Numb/Some Kind of Stranger (Live 1993)

Standard
Cassette Archive, Politics

Heavy Leather Mixtape: Podcast Episode 1 – No Revisionism, Yes Disco!

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST

What makes a successful society? Is it a dazzling array of consumer products? Is it a baffling quantity of TV channels, or social media platforms, such that more and more of our ever decreasing leisure time is spent in mute panic, paralysed by the illusion of choice? Were the vast efforts in the fields of education, working class housing, free healthcare and socially owned industrial development that typified the grey dystopia to be found just on the other side of the iron curtain an evil to be washed away by consumer society?

This year Spotify ran an advertising campaign which – while attempting to be funny and personal – actually revealed the astoundingly sinister level of corporate surveillance which we’ve welcomed into our lives.

“To the person in LA who listened to the “forever alone” playlist for 4 hours on Valentine’s Day, are you ok?”

“To the 1235 guys who loved the “Girl’s night out” playlist this year, we love you”

…and so on.

Via their various motion and activity tracking applications, Apple even know your heart rate and location at any given time of day. They can pinpoint, with an astouding degree of accuracy, whether you’re at work, going shopping, taking a dump or making love. They can then feedback all this information into your ubiquitous consumption of their products, to shape your behaviour more effectively and profitably.
The combined data sets of a just a few companies, themselves mostly part of the same few mega-corporations, paints a more total picture of your public and your secret life than the Stasi state managed at the height of their powers – all without having to spend a penny on anything so impractical as a subsidised public service. Thank god for liberal democracy.
This tape is, loosely, a round up of last couple of years – both literally and autobiographically. It starts with the rock and roll funeral march of early 2016, winding its way through the strange rediscovery of retro electro and finishing with a bit of a bubblegum synthpop twist. In dialectical materialism, every crisis or conflict contains the seeds of its own solution, as we’ve watched the bad future roll out over the last few years we’ve also experience an upsurge in optimism for the better world to come. This mixtape is the musical backdrop to this emotional state.

image1

Standard
Politics, Reviews

Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece in Capitalist Realism.

 

In a recent speech, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson caused uproar with the comment “Libya has the potential to turn the city of Sirte into the next Dubai, once it has cleared the dead bodies away.” Despite the faux outrage this generated across the higher minded sections of the chattering classes, this is actually one of the most refreshingly honest and useful appraisals of how our system actually works. Throughout its long history, Anglo-American capitalism has manifested as everything from the slave trade to the unchallenged doctrine of the free world. It exists simultaneously as a liberator, pulling huge swathes of people out of theocratic, subsistence level misery while flattening entire surplus populations at the slightest tremor in the global oil market.

Alongside the collapse of any large scale alternatives, capitalism’s awesome flexibility and ability to incorporate (almost) any aspect of the changing world into itself has left most of us unable to meaningfully comprehend (let alone strive for) a new way of organising society: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world itself than the end of capitalism”.

Blade Runner 2049 is a majestic, visionary film that explores this idea to the absolute fullest, without once breaking into cliché or sanctimony. You can view the entire movie as nothing more than a fresh take on the cyber punk aesthetic, or as a series of moving personal stories, and enjoy every moment. Looking at some of the reactions and reviews its generated to date, that seems to be the way its been initially received. This, however, demonstrates an inability (or unwillingness) to read the main message of the film, in much the same way as a fish is unable to perceive the water in which is swims.

A recent BBC documentary saw Reggie Yates uncovering the scandal of illegal – but widespread – corporate dumping of waste electronics. The audience watch on in fascinated horror as millions of tonnes of this waste accumulate in the African nation of Ghana, powering a dystopian economy in which people live in a brutal pecking order based on their ability to profit from the breakdown of the rubbish. The audience is saddened that such a world exists, in which children and adults alike spend endless hours burning the plastic coating off copper wires and performing countless other hazardous tasks, without even the simplest health and safety equipment, let alone the education to understand that the fumes they breath freely every day are killing them, quickly. We accept that although tragic, its an explicable and predictable underbelly to a global market economy in overdrive. We’re sad, but ultimately we’re not surprised.

Which probably explains how quickly we acclimatise to the scenes of horizon filling landfills just outside the boundaries of Blade Runner 2049’s Megacity One version of Los Angeles. In a world made barely inhabitable by war and climate disaster, but still controlled by hegemonic corporate powers, why wouldn’t such scenes still exist on unfathomably large scales? A regular science fiction movie would wow us with dazzling images of spaceships and star battles, but Blade Runner instead takes us to the wasteland “orphanage” operating semi-illegally as a primitive recycling factory, in which hundreds of children work all day stripping the urban garbage for traces of nickel that will go on to be used in the building of spaceships. “The closest to going off world me or any of these kids will ever get”, notes the brutish overseer character. The presence of this workhouse custodian, played by a black actor, overseeing his overwhelmingly white charges serves to subtly point out that freedom from racial subjugation is a hollow victory if the institution of slavery continues regardless.

blade-runner-20491

The backdrop of Blade Runner 2049 is the constant juxtaposition of huge, anonymous corporate super structures (Sony, Peugeot and Jonny Walker whisky all get conspicuous placements) with the ubiquitous presence of the engineered slave race of replicants. The arch villain Mr Wallace even goes so far to explicitly state that “no great leap of civilization has been achieved without a huge disposable population, its just unfashionable these days if it hasn’t been manufactured“. And yet, the only thing that really seems to distinguish the replicants from any other working class participant in this society is the prejudice directed at “skinjobs” by “real” people. A not so subtle metaphor for the way oppressed populations can turn to racism to position themselves into a place of relative power against another, even more oppressed group.

In a brief scene highlighting the fundamental failure of this hi-tech capitalist liberation, the sinister chief of staff for the replicant making Wallace Corporation (herself a high end replicant with unusual levels of autonomy) is selling the owner of a drilling company (played by a middle aged black women) an array of potential replicant slaves. She suggests low intelligence workers as standard, but throwing in a few good looking pleasure models for herself, if desired. The scene is treated as incidental to the plot, but once again reveals the fundamental message of the film – that you can have as many layers of personal liberation as you want, but it all comes out as dystopia if the subjugation of one class by another is perpetuated as the basis of that liberation. Shocking then, that some of the initial audience reactions to this insight were “the film needs more black slaves and more female slave owners”. Shocking and pathetic.

Despite all these wonderfully Marxian assessments of the inhuman resilience of big capitalism, perpetually reasserting its dominance despite generating ever greater social meltdowns, the most interesting character by far is Joi, the holographic AI programmed to act as the perfectly domesticated female archetype. A pure, loving being, a good soul trapped at the very bottom of a megalith of nightmarish oppressions.

On the surface, Joi is nothing but a sexist product of male fantasy. She was literally designed to be anything her (male) owner wants her to be. Although she has the artificial intelligence similar to that of a replicant, she’s denied even a physical body. Owned by our replicant hero, K, she is analogous to the working class housewife, placed at the very bottom of the class hierarchy by fact of her gender. The question the audience is invited to ask is whether she even exists as a character, or is she simply a product of her programming? This question isn’t so different to the questions we’re posed by the breakdown of traditional gender roles in our own society. To what extent are any of our life choices our own, and to what extent are they sum total of everything our gender, job and media environment have made us? Viewed in this light, Joi is the true hero of the story. Despite having every aspect of her existence pre-conditioned, she still ends up making the choice to break her chains to the greatest extent she’s able, by asking K to transfer her out of her main database into a portable version and permanently break the connection between the two, facing up to the prospect of her own death in the process.

Blade-Runner-2049-4-1024x426

You can interpret Joi’s every action as a perfectly programmed reaction to K’s own desires, a selfless machine for simulating love in K’s own loveless world, or you can choose to view Joi as a metaphor for the struggle that we all face – to find purpose, happiness and autonomy in a world determined to dictate our every choice. In this way Blade Runner 2049 bridges the gap between the personal and the systematic and, along with its flawless directing and a perfectly conceived score, is a masterpiece of our times.

thatcher_halftone_900

 

 

Standard
Reviews

Review: Alex Cameron – Forced Witness

alcam

“Well it’s hard being a liar, I don’t know who’s supposed to be on my mind. ‘Cause I love my little darling, but I also love these women online…”

Alex Cameron made a name for themselves throughout 2016/17, touring the hell out of their debut album Jumping the Shark (Alex Cameron is a guy, but its also the name of the band formed around the core duo of Alex Cameron and his business partner and saxophonist Roy Molloy). The record’s stripped back mix of character acting and repetitive electronica formed a neat bridge between earnest pop singers like Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen and the No Wave freakary of acts like Suicide.

Forced Witness is a massive musical and artistic leap. They’ve ramped up the production values, the variety of instrumentation and the complexity of the arrangements to something much more conventionally pop. The contrast feels something like the difference between Simple Minds’ Empires and Dance and their later super-hit, New Gold Dream.

The album is front loaded, with all three previously showcased singles (Candy May, Stranger’s Kiss, Runnin’ Outta Luck) appearing on the first side. If you’ve been anticipating this record with baited breath, this might take the wind out of your sails somewhat. All the big hitters are over before you get half way through and you might be tempted to think old Al Cam and Roy are runnin’ outta ideas.

This would be a big mistake. The album is put together like a true classic, rewarding repeated listening from different perspectives. They demonstrate their radio songwriting chops early on – enough to keep any hard drinking dancefloor junkie satisfied – and then consciously push other elements to the front of their musical brew.

By the time we get to the jarringly titled Studmuffin96 we’re presented with a seriously disconcerting set of lyrics juxtaposed over a fairly inoffensive musical backdrop. If you’re not paying attention, this might be the point at which your attention starts to wander, but don’t be tempted by the sweet nothings in your groupchats, or the lewd messages from your online lover. Jumping the Shark was full of sparse, mean tunes with vague but menacing themes, Forced Witness opts for a bigger, brighter presentation but much more explicit content. This is American Psycho to Jumping the Shark’s The Shining.

Forced Witness has the feel of Paul Simon’s Graceland, Leonard Cohen’s Various Positions or even The Sisters Of Mercy’s Floodland. On the one hand it’s all about the fabulous songwriting and performances, but on the other hand it allows itself to drift around a bit, showcasing the engineering and production flourishes that have gone into it. Like all great pop records, it pulls together a broad swathe of musical influences and outputs them as something deeply slick and pleasing on the ear yet disquieting to the soul.

Despite the long list of retro reference points, each song deals with a set of experiences which are uniquely post-digital revolution. The alienation of life and love in the online age hangs deeply over the entire piece, as well as multiple explorations on the theme of being a young man in a time and place that increasingly has no use for the norms of your gender. This record demonstrates both confidence and vulnerability – Alex Cameron clearly knows how to put on a  great show of bravado, yet doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with it. This is music for cocksure millennials, starting to grow up and beginning to feel the panic set in.

CNV00022

Standard
Politics

So you want to build a progressive alliance?

Judean People's Front

During the lead up to this General Election campaign there have been multiple calls for an anti-Conservative “progressive alliance”. It’s a strong message with a simple aim that will appeal to most people on the left of politics.

However, before you get too excited and declare it a simple matter of intelligence and resolve – and start condemning your MP for standing in the way of progress – there are a few things worth considering:

The Other Parties

The Liberal Democrats have actively demonstrated that they would prefer to work with a Conservative government than a Labour one. Something Tim Farron has since publicly restated. So the first issue is the assumption that the Liberal Democrats want to remove the Tory government, or that they would prefer to work with a Labour one.

Also remember that on many issues, the Liberal Democrats are a lot closer in policy to the Conservatives than to Labour. Question exactly makes you think the Lib Dems are a progressive party in the first place.

In some ways, the SNP benefit from a Conservative government. It makes them look strong and oppositional and keeps separatist feeling in Scotland high – which gets them closer to independence. A good Labour government in England which offered a decent devolution deal would make their dream of independence much less achievable.

The SNP also now have nearly every single seat in Scotland. What incentive do they have to cut a deal with Labour? What does Labour have to offer them? What incentive does Labour have to cease campaigning to regain its historical political heartland? Do we intend to disband the entirety of Scottish Labour?

The SNP spent decades working towards an electoral takeover of Scotland. Many of their best people have given their entire lives to this cause. Now they’ve achieved it, what is the likelihood of them giving any ground away to a defeated Scottish Labour at this stage in the game?

No one wants to see Caroline Lucas removed from parliament, but even if you added the entire Green vote to Labour’s, we still wouldn’t have enough votes to form a government. How many seats would Labour have to effectively give away to the Green Party in order for them to suspend their entire national effort? Asking the Greens to cease trading in key marginals is certainly a worthwhile argument, but are they willing? And if we take, we will also have to give, which brings us to…

The Labour Party

The Labour Party *is* a progressive alliance between people with radically different political views. From hard socialists on one end to liberals on the other. If you admit we need to form alliances with different parties, you nullify the one basic principle keeping all those people united in one party in the first place.

The other parties in this proposed rainbow alliance have run some very unpleasant campaigns against Labour over the years, and continue to do so. Anyone remember how Peter Tatchell was defeated in 1983 by another gay man standing for the Liberals? A gay man who chose to hide his sexuality and run a deeply homophobic campaign against Tatchell? Many in Labour still do.

In order to get a progressive alliance through The Labour Party, you would need to win the active consent of people that have been opposed, slandered and abused by the other parties all their political lives. You can’t just wish to Jeremy Corbyn to make it happen, you need democratic consent within the party at large. Calls for the progressive alliance  are often viewed by councillors, activists and party officers as the childish demands of clicktavists who have never bothered to do the actual work of building a Labour government from the ground up.

Lastly, but perhaps most crucially, The Labour Party constitution expressly forbids its members to support an opposing party candidate. It also requires all local Labour Parties to provide their communities with the option for Labour representation. If a local party does decide to support a different candidate, they cease to be recognised as a CLP under the terms of the Labour rulebook.

The Many Seats Of Power

It’s a mistake to view power in the United Kingdom as resting solely in Westminster. Power is wielded in lots of ways by many different groups – just ask a Trade Unionist or a corporate CEO! Governmental power is weirdly most directly by local councils. The leader of Islington Council arguably has more power to improve the lives of Islington citizens than their MP does, even as leader of the opposition. Campaigning for a Labour MP in your local area increases the strength and visibility of your local party and potential council candidates. Even if you don’t knock off that nasty Tory MP this time, you are helping to empower Labour to implement socialist policies via local government. Aspiring and sitting councillors are often the hardest working campaigners at a local level, and asking them to stop campaigning for Labour is not only asking them to hijack their own political careers, but to also hijack Labour’s ability to form strong councils, which are often the last line of defence against malicious Conservative governance. Although MPs have the most celebratory status, and ordinary members are the most vocal on social media, it is Labour councillors who form the heart of the Party’s day to day activity, so any progressive alliance will have to be built with their consent too.
Although Labour currently hold 46 out of 47 seats on Islington Council, this didn’t happen because of a natural right to govern. In 2006, while Labour were sitting in office in Westminster, Islington Council was controlled by the Liberal Democrats – who used their local power to happily sell off and privatise as many of the council’s assets as possible. It’s through a decade of hard work that activists and councillors have been able to regain absolute control and undo much of the damage that was done – all the while bolstering Jeremy Corbyn’s position as an MP in what is now one of the safest seats in the country.

 

Despite all this, I still want to build a progressive alliance – what should I do?

The first thing you can do is join the Labour Party. There are plenty of people within Labour that believe a progressive alliance is a good idea. They point to the fact the first ever Labour government was formed via an electoral pact between Labour and The Liberal Party, and many suspect that there was indeed some behind the scenes discussion with the Liberal Democrats in the lead up to Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.

There are also many cases in which bad Tory MPs have been unseated when Labour members and voters quietly chose to stand aside to give a powerful local Liberal Democrat a shot at the money – Zac Goldsmith’s recent thrashing in Richmond might be considered an example of this.

Within Labour there are many political pressure and policy groups, which lobby around a particular set of ideas within the party and movement. You may have heard of Momentum or Progress, but if cross party centre-left consensus is your main concern, you should consider joining COMPASS, which campaigns heavily on this issue.

If you are a member of Labour you could also petition the National Executive Committee (the NEC, not the leader’s office, is the ruling body of the party) to change the rules, allowing individual CLPs to democratically decide to not stand a candidate if they believe it would be the best thing to do to allow another party to unseat a local Conservative MP (and ultimately bring Labour closer to forming a majority government). As it is, even if a CLP wished to do such a thing it would be a gross violation of the party constitution and a candidate would be imposed upon them by the national party.

A progressive alliance isn’t a simple proposition to be pulled out of the hat once a General Election is underway. It’s a deeply complicated issue that confronts over one hundred years of political history. The intention is noble, but like all things worth doing, it will take commitment and will have to overcome innumerable challenges.

Everyone who values equality and justice will find periods of Conservative government frustrating at best and, at worst, deeply damaging. But the first step towards banishing the Tory menace, whether you want to build a progressive alliance or not, is to join your local Labour Party and start campaigning with them – street by street and door by door.
Standard
Reviews

Book Review: The World According To Xi by Kerry Brown

Despite being the guiding ideology behind the world’s most powerful economy, Chinese communism (or “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”) remains an enigmatic and misrepresented force here in the West. Although we vaguely understand that China’s impact on the global order in the 21st century will be enormous, we tend to put it in the same category as the moon and the tides. A distant fact of nature, so huge as to be mostly imperceptible and irrelevant to our daily lives.

Critics of China’s belligerent insistence on maintaining itself as a one party communist state perform the most bizarre mental acrobatics in order to cope with the fact of its existence. Everyone knows that communism is a failed system that collapsed decades ago, incapable of generating and sustaining wealth and modernity. Thus, the Chinese system must simply be a hoax, or a red veneer disguising a fundamentally late capitalist society. Maybe we expect the 88 million members of the Communist Party of China, with its origins in Revolution and a leadership baptised in the fires of Maoism, to simply yell “surprise!”, put on top hats and admit they’ve believed in western capitalism all along.

In this wonderfully concise and accessible book, Kerry Brown gives us a short overview of the global outlook of modern China. For those struggling to draw a line between the enduring images of the Maoist era and our current conception of a superpower which is capitalist in all but name, and then again struggling to understand why such rapid development has produced the neo-authoritarian figure of Xi Jinping, rather than the liberal democratic reforms that were so complacently predicted, this book is an essential crash course.

The book is especially poignant in an era when the western systems which we had assumed China would one day seek to emulate appear to be falling apart. European capitalism is straining under pressure of internal forces which range from progressive separatism to barely disguised fascism. The American empire also appears to be collapsing under its own weight, unable and unwilling to sustain its oversized presence in the world and turning to deeply disturbing political obsessions at home.

Kerry Brown’s analyses of the implications of Xi Jinping Thought (a body of political theory recently added to the Chinese constitution in the tradition of Mao Tse Tung Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory) is engaging but professionally dispassionate. The book neither advocates nor criticises Chinese governance, offering a digestible explanation of the current reality and allowing the reader to make their own moral and political judgements.

Although The World According To Xi is plainly intended as a short primer, there were many areas I felt could still have been discussed in greater depth. Brown confines himself to describing China’s huge economy as “complicated”, but we  might have benefited from some illustrative examples demonstrating how the relationship between the state, private business and workers actually functions. Although we learn a fair bit about the wider political context in which Xi Jinping exists, we’re no clearer on what party political mechanisms are actually at work. Brown talks a lot about China’s variously hot and cold relationship with Marxism-Leninism, but assumes a great deal of knowledge on behalf of the reader in terms of what Marxism-Leninism actually is. We also get a broad look at how China views itself and its own ascension to superpower status, and some discussion of how this may relate with existing global systems, but we get almost nothing on China’s relationship with its communist neighbours – Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.

The World According To Xi is a fantastic report on the current outlooks and attitudes of the People’s Republic of China under Xi Jinping. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to improve their knowledge of the subject quickly. For those not especially interested in the nuts and bolts of China’s political economy, this book will provide more than enough information to satisfy. However, if you’re looking for a comprehensive answer to the question of what the PRC really is, it barely scratches the surface.

Standard
Audiophile, Terminal Communications

Ten LPs That Changed My Life

YOUTUBE PLAYLIST

By Robert Maisey. In biographical order…

afa7b61787f4ae5ea245b927aa301ab3a1f263c7Queen – A Night At The Opera

Queen were the first band I ever loved. At about age 13 (around 2002) they ignited my joy in music. My parents bought me the Platinum Collection after I came home singing the Bicycle song after hearing it at school. A Night At The Opera was the first album I tracked down and bought for myself and it was my best friend for years. I listened to this album the way only a teenager can listen to an album, lovingly pouring over every detail – which in the case of this monumental rock epic is rather a lot of detail! I’d probably cite the harder rocking Queen I and  Queen II as my favourite Queen albums now, but A Night At The Opera gets the spot for how throughly it rocked my world when I first heard it. I also loved to listen to A Day at the Races alongside it, which had obvious aesthetic and musical similarities, but also felt like a more mature piece to enjoy after one had been thoroughly inducted to A Night at the Opera. I was very lucky to have an older friend named Luke, who kept a big brotherly eye over me and would lend me CDs whenever I showed curiosity (including the entire Queen back catalogue). He lives in Plymouth and has a family these days and I don’t see him as much as I’d like too, but I still consider him a great friend and a very formative influence.

 

 

1200x630bb

The Darkness – Permission To Land

This record followed pretty hot on the heels of my discovering Queen. Coming out in July 2003 it seemed like manna from heaven for a kid with a new found mania for screachingly camp hard rock. In hindsight, Permission To Land is naff as hell and utterly derivative – but lacking the context of any wider musical knowledge at the time, I loved it. I still love it to be honest and regularly return to it, guilt free.

Honourable mentions at this point go to Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell – which I pilfered from my Mum’s record collection – and to my new (at the time) friend Shelley, who was already an expert in all forms of music ever made in my eyes. Spotting a burgeoning rock fan, Shelley introduced me to loads of albums that would be on constant rotation for me in my early teens, including  Nightwish – Once and Mortiis – The Smell of Rain, the last of which I still listen to all the time and maintain is one of the best electro-goth albums ever made. I didn’t have very many friends at school to be honest and Shelley was the first friend I ever made based on shared interests. I was in awe of him then – and very grateful to him for sharing his musical knowledge with me – and I’m in awe of him still. He’s grown up to be a very refined, complicated and good humoured man who I still learn from all the time.

 

 

first-and-last-and-always_1426323527_crop_560x550.0The Sisters of Mercy – First and Last and Always

This was probably the first album I got into that Shelley hadn’t vetted first, and really set the tone of my own personal musical self identity. The older I got, the deeper my appreciation of this very fine record became. What started out as theatrical gothic soundtrack evolved into druggy invitation into subculture, which become a complex criticism of rock music and then finally morphed again into just a solid pop record, as I started to level out as a human being. Honourable mentions at this point go to The March Violets – Natural History which I never found as emotive, but did find more fascinating, The Mission – God’s Own Medicine, which probably pushed the same buttons in me as The Darkness, Fields of the Nephilim – The Nephilim, which I found extremely immersive with its rich production and occult obsessions, Ghost Dance – Gathering Dust which, like First and Last and Always, hides a heart of pure pop brilliance under fuzzy post punk pretence and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Talk About the Weather, which still feels intimidatingly strung out at the end of its tether. Another honourable mention here goes to one Robert Cowlin, who I first met in 2006 in the queue to see The Sisters at the London Astoria and who has been one of my closest musical allies and respected friends ever since. He and I are in the habit of jumping into Hussey and Eldritch personas when we’re together – which is occasionally tortuous for us both, but mostly good fun and artistically fruitful.

 

 

1f60f2e8458d86411d7810fd50daf12d.jpgVNV Nation – Empires

My gang of collage friends was about as much like Breakfast Club gang as you could possibly wish for in the mid ’00s. There was my first love, Hazel Kenway, who was avant-garde as fuck for a 16 year old, there was Cyber Chris, who was the most thrilling person I had ever met (not only was cybergoth  – a brand new idea at that point – but he was also the first out-of-the-closet homosexual I’d ever been friends with) and there was Tara Allen, the ultra cool girl who dated older boys, was already tired of “the scene” and knew literally everything about sex and drugs that it was possible to know. I shared my love of 80s goth bands with them, Hazel taught us all about Kraftwerk (I lost my virginity to Minimum/Maximum!) and Chris and Tara introduced us all to pounding pounding EBM music and nightclubbing, by way of the infamous Slimelight.  Of all the stuff I listened to in this period, Apoptygma Berzerk‘s first two albums, Soli Deo Gloria and Seven still get regular rotation and pretty much everything VNV Nation did up to 2005’s Matter+Form I still regard as essential, although Empires is by far my favourite.

 

 

R-27704-1284252029.jpegThe Human League – Reproduction

By this point (I guess around age 17) I was starting to develop a pretty inflated sense of self regard, in the way of all young people who have had their first taste of serious drinking, consumption of illegal drugs, a small variety of sexual partners and have stayed up all night on more than one occasion. I was ready for music as clever as I was, and The Human League was definitely it. I’d started buying music on vinyl, in accordance with how clever and refined I was definitely becoming – and the proprietor of 101 Records in Farnham had my number straight away. He recommended I purchase this weird and wonderful album – which I believe is the the original and best British synth pop record ever made. Honourable mention also goes to The Human League – Travelogue, their second and equally bizarre album, and final LP before they disbanded; Phil Oakey carrying the name forward to make a breakthrough alongside Martin Rushent with DARE. This period of ego inflation also saw me getting wildly into Depeche Mode – Violator, which was the most sophisticated thing I’d ever heard.

 

 

Rosetta_Stone-An_Eye_For_The_Main_Chance-FrontalRosetta Stone – An Eye For The Main Chance

My deep, deep obsession with Rosetta Stone started around the time I started my first band. It was the distillation of all the things I’d grown to love over the previous 5 years or so and it consumed me for a very long time. I would listen to Rosetta Stone every single day, and did my best to track down live recordings and demo versions so that I could listen to every possible iteration of every track. An Eye For The Main Chance is the greatest purposefully recorded Goth Rock album ever made. Every single note is sculpted to absolute perfection. Choosing to create music within a genre often draws critical scorn (“have they no ideas of their own?!”) but the results are immensely satisfying to enthusiasts. The love and dedication that plainly went into every single aspect of this LP is bolstered by the awesome technical ability of the musicians. This record doesn’t do much, but what it does do, it does better than anyone else. This marks the beginning of several years of committed goth rocking on my part, which lasted my entire period studying at university. Other records I was into during this time that still receive near constant rotation include Children On Stun – Tourniquets of Love’s Desire and Dream Disciples – Asphyxia. A very special mention goes to Pretentious, Moi?, who’s self titled album inspired my first tattoo and who’s mastermind, Tim Chandler, produced the first Terminal Gods 7″: Electric Eyes/God Child.

 

 

thestooges-rawpowerIggy and the Stooges – Raw Power

Towards the end of university, around the time I moved to London and formed Terminal Gods I had something of a revelation. I discovered, for the first time since I was a school kid, ROCK MUSIC. I’d gone along with the post-punk view that all-out rock and roll was passé nonsense, but Iggy Pop changed all that. This album reset everything and sent me spinning back to first principles. This revelatory moment goes a long way to explaining the persona of Terminal Gods as a struggle between a snobbish goth band and an extremely obnoxious rock band. Around this time I also got heavily into Motörhead and The Ramones, the latter introduced to me by Jake Griffiths, the bartender at the restaurant in which I worked for my first full time job after graduating. He couldn’t believe I’d got to something resembling adulthood and had never even listened to The Ramones, so he leant me their first 4 albums there and then. Needless to say, Jake is now one of my most trusted friends. My favourite Stooges album is actually Funhouse, and my favourite Iggy Pop album is Blah, Blah Blah, but Raw Power was the record that blew the world open for me, yet again.

 

 

a1487697532_10Ulterior – Wild In Wildlife

I discovered Ulterior in 2009, around the time they released the 10″ single Sister Speed. Up till then, my music taste had been entirely retro – I’d come to terms with being an anachronism and that modern music just didn’t do it for me (although looking back, there’s loads of stuff that came out around those years that I overlooked because of this retromania). Ulterior were the first band in the here and now that I became really obsessed with. They had such awesome power and attitude and were just everything I wanted to be. They screamed into my life like a great leather and chrome juggernaut and their delirious machismo informed nearly all my tastes over the next few years. They turned me on to all sorts of amazing electro rock n roll, especially Suicide and A.R.E. Weapons. I also developed a serious hard-on for Big Black and James Rays Gangwar around this period, both of whom embodied a particular brand of techno and amphetamine infused guitar noise that I have loved like an addiction for the entire subsequent decade.

 

 

R-483725-1124699640.jpgLeonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate

My infatuation with Leonard Cohen began in earnest only a few years ago, and represents something of a coming down from the extended high that filled the 10 years between my Rosetta Stone and Ulterior obsessions. Cohen’s songs were the first that didn’t have to have a solid backbeat going at 110mph for me to get sucked into them. I also simultaneously started getting seriously involved with Nick Cave and David Bowie around the same time. Although this period represents a serious mellowing out in my tastes and lifestyle in general, it also represents the introduction of complexity into my artistic horizon and self doubt into my self perception. Everything before this point had, more or less, been simple. I was into bold colours, high contrast, metal and monochrome. I was into self satisfaction, self realisation and ignoring the opinions of others. Although I sometimes miss being that guy,  I’ll happily sacrifice a bit of lunatic self assurance for a bit of dignified introspection if that’s what it takes to be an adult.

 

 

R-101831-1445625302-3074.jpegLaibach – Nova Akropola

You’re not going to like this album at first, its really unmusical, but I want you to persist with it“.

Forewarned is forearmed! I’ve listened to this album several times a week, and some weeks daily, since it was bought for me as a Christmas present by Stacy Picard in 2016. It’s not only opened my mind to how much enjoyment can be got out of seriously abrasive music, but how perfectly a band can be grafted onto a much larger artistic and political message. Over the last few years, I’ve begun to have a serious crisis of faith in rock music as an answer to complicated questions posed by society and politics. Having invested a lot of my personal identity in my artistic choices, I find myself wanting and at a loss to explain the world. Consuming niche cultural products in an attempt to accumulate social capital is hardly a heroic achievement in the great scheme of things. I’ve been finding both Laibach and Einstürzende Neubauten incredibly soothing in this context, as I feel like their struggle to make sense of the late Cold War world mirrors something of my own confusion at the late capitalist one. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Public Enemy, who’s assaults on the racial and class fault lines in American society are equally compelling. My top recommendation for an album which suits the mood of our current moment is Alex Cameron – False Witness (which I talk about in depth here), which captures the ironic self awareness and earnest radicalism of the social media generation.

 

 

Standard
Cassette Archive

SOFT RIOT PRESENTS: White Belt Hardcore/Improvised Waves

LISTEN HERE LISTEN HERE LISTEN HERE LISTEN HERE LISTEN HERE

Early influences and electronic education

by Jack Duckworth:

WHITE BELT HARDCORE (Side A)

This mix is a balance between being about influences, about being a bit autobiographical and also about documentating bands in a general nation-wide “scene” I was in at the time. It starts off with some key influencial bands for me that were more in the early 90s punk/hardcore scene and then newer bands that appeared in the fold that shifted things in a more post-punk and synth direction out of the more “punk” sound they had been more associated with years earlier. A lot of these bands were favourites of mine, or I vaguely knew some of the people involved. Overall, I felt it was important to provide notes for each entry as the whole playlist would actually make no sense to anyone who didn’t grow up without knowing at least half of these bands.

IMPROVISED WAVES (Side B)

I thought originally about doing an wave/synth mix for the “un-educated” but there’s soooo much stuff out there and I really wanted to avoid all the standard bands. Although I kept it to bands from way back in the day, this mix is actually a lot more random and unplanned than how I’d approach doing an educational mix. It’s stuff I’ve listened to recently, or stuff I found scouring through records or old mixes or just chucked in for no reason. The mix does however work more coherently than I’ve described in this overview.

SIDE A

Fugazi “Walken’s Syndrome” (In On The Kill Taker — Dischord 1993)

I always pin this one is the first record I actually planned to buy as I bought it shortly after it’s release date. I was 15 and already a fan of their previous albums which older friends introduced me to. This is a decidedly more expansive and “darker” record than their previous output as well as being a bit more discordant and noisy. Fugazi never were as big in Europe (especially the UK) as they were in North America and most people will associate them with Ian Mackaye or their infamous politics. Fugazi however for me was more about the other foil and vocalist Guy Picciotto, who was an absolute force in the band and the main attraction for me. This track features Guy on vocals and one thing I always note in this track is riff around the 1 minute mark and switches to a tight 7/4 time signature. I like the subtle, unexpected harmonics the muted guitar and bass create in this section. Over the years I found out that the title and lyrics to the song reference Christopher Walken’s performance in the film Annie Hall, quoted by the lines: “Can I confess something? I tell you this as an artist, I think you’ll understand. Sometimes when I’m driving. . .on the road at night. . .I see two headlights coming toward me. Fast. I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The. . .flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.” — this sample was used in a track by the punk band Jawbreaker as well.

Nation Of Ulysses “A Comment On Ritual”(Plays Pretty For Baby — Dischord 1992)

Through Fugazi I started digging through a lot of releases on the Dischord label at the time, all the way back to 80s classics like Rites Of Spring, Grey Matter, Embrace and Ignition to the current stuff happening in the early to mid 90s. Nation Of Ulysses stood out from the politically correct atmosphere of early 90s punk and hardcore with their slightly tongue-in-cheek far-left situational politics and unique fashion sensibilities at a time when fashion was sort of looked down about (but aren’t we all into fashion, whether it’s “anti” or not?). Their live shows were were to be reckoned with although I never actually saw them. Their influences came from the Motown and funk/soul groups of the 60s and 70s but imprinted in a noisy, post-hardcore format. Ian Svenonious, their singer and “mouthpiece” for the group is still active today having fronted groups like The Make-Up, Weird War and more recently Chain And The Gang. He’s authored several books on “rock n’ roll” and politics which are genuinely entertaining. Moreover, he’s carried on his unique identity, showmanship and personality for close to three decades now. Quite impressive.

Antioch Arrow “Picnic Pants” (Gems Of Masochism — Amalgamated 1995)

While Nation of Ulysses were turning things up on the east coast, their attitude and direction started triggering new bands elsewhere, including Antioch Arrow on the west coast. Part of the infamous Gravity Records-based “San Diego” sound of the early to mid 90s, Antioch Arrow polarised many in the scene at the time and got a lot of flack from the “PC hardcore” types at the time. But they certainly shook things up! They started out as more of a conventional hardcore band and quickly progressed into something far more manic, pretentious and weirder when how they started. This track comes from their third and final album released posthumously in 1995 called “Gems of Masochism” — the title and album cover are as ridiculous as the music itself. Here they started merging in a lot of “gothic” influences, most notably the Birthday Party, Christian Death or The Damned. This particular tracks sounds like the Birthday Party on high-grade amphetamines. I love how it sounds like it’s going to fall apart or crash at any minute and no real coherence except for some vague melodies from the distorted organ and at times the vocals. It’s like the soundtrack to falling down several flights of stairs very quickly or briefly turning on a broken industrial vacuum cleaner (check out some of the archived live clips on YouTube for a better idea). It packs in so many riffs and ideas within the 2 minute span that this song runs, and sort of crumbles nicely at the end.

Shotmaker “Failure” (Mouse Ear [Forget-Me-Not] — Troubleman 1996)

Shotmaker were a Canadian hardcore band from Ottawa and well-known in the underground and with friends of mine in the scene at the time. For me they’re one of the select bands from my youth I can still listen to and get energised when I listen to them. I think this in part has to do with their rhythm section. Whereas most hardcore drummers lifted their chops from the metal or 80s punk they grew up with, Shotmaker’s Matt Deline used mostly a four-on-the-floor kick drum within synchopated beats, making the music sound a lot more propulsive and primal. Add this to Nick Pye’s gain-heavy, rumbling bass and they were a rhythm section to contend with. They released a few albums in the mid-90s, this being from their last which was released on Troubleman Records, a record label got more attention paid to it starting in the 2000s as it was the launching pad for acts like Glass Candy, Black Dice, The Walkmen, Zola Jesus and more. I should also note that I think this is the first LP I bought where the band put an internet website URL in the liner notes for more information, which was the catchy and memorable “http://wabamiki.carleton.ca/~tmckeoug”

Unwound “Corpse Pose” (Repetition— Kill Rock Stars 1996)

I think across the board I think Unwound might be the post-hardcore band that I grew up with in the 90s that ticks all the “boxes” for me. I still listen to them often. Their tracks could range from noisy bursts, hypnotic grooves to more expansive, darker plotting dirges. Again, this is band with a great, unique rhythm section made up of drummer Sara Lund and bassist Vern Rumsey. I like how their sound locks together mechanically and even myself working within synth music these days I’ll reference their compositions at times when writing for that reason. It’s hard to pick a favourite album of theirs — it’s sort of a split between 1994’s “New Plastic Ideas” and 1996’s “Repetition”, the latter from which this tracks is from an more tighter and focused. This track is more “Hypnotic Groove” Unwound. Some great guitar figures here and Sara and Vern’s locked rhythm in this track is still a bit of an enigma to me even after over 20 years since first hearing it.

The Audience “Love A Doorframe” (Das Audience— Hymnal Sound 1997)

I was really into the final album by the San Francisco-based hardcore band Portraits Of Past that was released on the Ebullition label in 1996. After that band split up most of the members re-surfaced to form The Audience which was a total shift in direction. I have no idea how to describe this record but they adopted an overall glam/proto-goth image, incorporated analogue synths and what might be loosely described as new wave — at least that’s what people were calling it at the time. It’s post-punk, a bit goth, a bit no-wave and overall really dissonant. You really have to listen to it yourself. It released on Hymnal Sound (San Francisco), which was run by a guy I used to know called Julian and that was the label that The Rapture put out their first releases on. One of my old bands played our first show with them in 1998 in Vancouver. At that point they were starting to shift to a more garage rock sound and later morphed into Vue, who released a few records on Sub Pop back in the early to mid-2000s. This record I guess foreshadowed some of the post-punk revival that would come into swing a few years later.

Six Finger Satellite “Babies (Got The Rabies)” (Severe Exposure— Sub-Pop 1995)

The first album “The Pigeon Is The Most Popular Bird” is one of my all-time favourite records. It still totally freaks me out when I listen to it and sounds totally fucked and alien for when it was released in 1993 — sort of like atonal, cyborg-esque no-wave disco but with no synths used at all. The guitar work is insane on that record and both guitars are panned completely left and right for maximum disorientation. However, this track is actually from the following record which on the surface was a little more “straight forward” sounding but it was when the band started to incorporate analogue synths into their sound; probably one of the first punk/post-punk bands to do so in a revival sense. It was noted by me at the time when I was a teenager, hearing synths used in that timeline of music i was listening to.

Satisfact “Life Abroad” (7” single— Up Records 1995)

When I listen to Satisfact now I’m amazed at how this first wave revival record was released in the tail end of the first half of the midway point (is this making sense?) between right now and when the original “new wave” started coming out in the late 70s. They were a band from Seattle that were loosely affiliated with the Olympia K/Kill Rock Stars scene (Bikini Kill, Unwound, etc.) at the time. It’s a 90s indie/post-punk band with heavy influence from new wave — Gary Numan and Ultravox come to mind. I’m sure their influences weren’t as specific as many current listeners with a good internet connection and time to read obscure music blogs that exist nowadays. Satisfact put out a few records in the mid-90s then split. Their drummer played in the far more well-known indie group Modest Mouse as well.

The VSS “Lunar Weight” (Nervous Circuits— Honey Bear 1997)

Whenever I get asked about my “top 5 influences” or whatever this record is always on the list. I own the original pressing on Honey Bear when it came out as well as the CD and vinyl re-releases that were released in the late 2000s and early 2010s on the Hydrahead and Sergeant House labels. Again, this was a band that started out as more of a noisy hardcore band on their initial 7” singles and then they dropped this as their last release and was a pretty bold statement for the time, especially the “wet” style production more associated with the 80s, totally at odds with the school of production that was more in vogue in the 90s (read: Steve Albini, Bob Weston, Don Zientara, Steve Fisk, etc). I can’t describe this one really: bits of Public Image, Gary Numan and horror sci-fi analogue synth texture. Very tense and alien. You just have to listen the whole album to get the vibe and I admit, it’s not for everyone, especially if you have no context not being involved that general scene at the time. Sonny Kay’s lyrics are totally way out there and reading them on their own makes for some interesting poetic prose. It was one of the key records I was listening when my tastes turned more out of punk and into discovering classic synth and post-punk bands leading to what I’m doing musically and listening to today. Unfortunately I never saw them live and missed out on chance to see them in Seattle when I was 19. Oh well.

Long Hind Legs “A Curtain Is Drawn, A Veil Is Worn” (s/t— Kill Rock Stars 1996)

This two-piece band was a side-project of Unwound’s Vern Rumsey. I don’t think they actually played live but just released a couple of records in the 90s with a bit of that bedroom-recording aesthetic that was popular at that . There’s a lot of influences from the previous decade on this album, most notably with the use of drum machines, effected guitars and sullen vocals. With this track Jesus and Mary Chain, Psychedelic Furs of House of Love come to mind. This is one of the more “pop” tracks which balances out some of the more odd, experimental tracks that have a slight Coil feel to them.

The Faint “Victim Convenience” (Blank-Wave Arcade— Saddle Creek 1999)

When I first heard about The Faint I was already well into listening to a lot of the bands that were formative influences for this band. As they were from a more punk background their initial reviews were in magazines like Punk Planet, resulting in major confusion or severe backlash from the purists. This is probably one the key records that triggered the synth revival of the 2000s: a nice mix of the hedonism of early Duran Duran with some post-hardcore grit. I’ve seen them an many occassions around this time and shared a few stages with them in old bands I was in. This is a standout track for me. One “easter egg” for me on this record is how they use one riff in two tracks if you listen carefully: “Call Call” and “In Concert”. I found that pretty clever and have always wanted to do that myself.

Beautiful Skin “Sex Is The Triangle For the Perfect Square” (Sex Is The Triangle For the Perfect Square/Work Will Set You Free 7”— GSL 1999)

Sonny Kay from The VSS had started the Gold Standard Labs label sometime in the early 90s and by the late 90s it was thee “go to” label for all things post-hardcore that involved a revival of synth, new wave and post-punk styles. I always thought he had a good balance between putting out the releases that would sell to “the kids” but also taking a chance on some more daring stuff. Beautiful Skin was such the case, who formed by Nick Forté (guitarist from the early 90s hardcore band Rorschach) and Ross Totino, an analogue electronics guru from Brazil. This band sounded nothing like them, opting for an analogue-synth heavy sound remiscent of “154”-era Wire, John Foxx or even “minimal wave”, before the term was created retrospectively years later and got rediscovered by a larger audience. They released the “Revolve” album in 2000, did one short tour and that was it! A unique blip on the post-punk revival radar. It’s hard to find any info about them online, as it is with many bands from this time in the few years proceeding the social media/YouTube explosion.

Glass Candy & The Shattered Theatre “Metal Gods” (Metal Gods 7”— self-released 2000)

Before the far more well-known Glass Candy that we know today, there was Glass Candy & The Shattered Theatre who were DIY road warriors constantly playing small venues and basements across Canada and the US. I’m trying to remember how I found out about this band but I do remember buying their first 7” in Portland in 1999, on the recommendation of this guy Mark Burden, who was the drummer on the first record and later in Get Hustle (with members of Antioch Arrow, covered earlier). Anyway, this was a more synthier number from their early theatrical glam/no-wave phase. It’s great seeing where they started and where they’ve got to over the years. Much deserved.

Adult. — Lost Love (Resuscitation— Ersatz Audio 2001)

Closing off this playlist is a track of the Adult. release that put them on the map I guess, that being 2001’s Resuscitation. It was mainly an LP collection of their early singles and more. This was probably one of the first current bands at the time I got into that was purely electronic. I think their sound was right at the time; they had a punk approach and incorporating the darker, cold electronic sounds that appealed to people like myself that sort of avoided the whole EBM, rave, industrial scenes of the 90s so they had some wider appeal. And they’re still going today, now as strong as ever.

Closing out this side is one of the more dronier, abstract tracks from Labradford’s “A Stable Reference” LP (Kranky, 1995). It is one of my usual top 5 LPs and had been a large influence I suppose. Most of the tracks have reverb saturated guitar and bass but I used this track to drone out side A. I didn’t get this one in the mix as it didn’t really fit the program I had set out for with the mix.

SIDE B

SIMPLE MINDS – “Citizen (Dance Of Youth)” (Reel-To-Real Cacophony – Zoom Records, 1979)

MARTIN DUPONT – “He Saw The Light” (Hot Paradox – Facteurs d’Ambiance, 1987)

PARADE GROUND – “Gold Rush” (Dual Perspective EP – Play It Again Sam Records, 1987)

HELEN – “Witch” (Witch 12” – ZYX Records, 1983)

NOVEMBER GROUP – “Put Your Back To It” (Work That Dream – A&M Records, 1985)

ROBERT GÖRL – “Darling Don’t Leave Me” (Night Full Of Tension – Mute Reocrds, 1984)

JYL – “Mechanic Ballerina” (Syl – Inteam GmbH, 1984) 8. SHOCK – “Dynamo Beat” (Dynamo Beat 7” – RCA, 1981)

HARD CORPS – “Je Suis Passée” (Je Suis Passée 12” – Polydor, 1985)

SHINOBU – “Ceramic Love” (Ceramic Love 7” – Kang-Gung Records, 1984)

ANNA – “Systems Breaking Down” (Systems Breaking Down 12” – RCA, 1982)

SECOND LAYER – “Fixation” (World Of Rubber – Cherry Red, 1981)

Standard