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.

Advertisements
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 humoured, fatherly patience of economics heart-throb Yanis Varoufakis, Ann Pettifor’s no-fucking-around hardcore 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
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