Thursday, June 30, 2005

Philip Hobsbaum 1932-2005

The obituary from today's Herald for poet and academic Philip Hobsbaum.
Anyone who played a part, however small, in nurturing the talents of such outstanding writers as Alasdair Gray, Agnes Owens and Bernard MacLaverty deserves to be suitably acknowledged and remembered.
There is also an interesting interview with Hobsbaum here that originally appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of the Scottish-American Poetry Magazine, The Dark Horse.

In Preparation . . .

"Mao killed more people than Hitler. Mao killed more people than Hitler. Mao killed more people than Hitler. Mao killed more people than Hitler."

He's a bit slow in replying to emails, but Bill at Reasons To Be Impossible practices at doing his best Dalek impersonation, whilst reflecting on what Ciliga referred to as 'Au Pays du Grand Mensonge' *
Stanley Johnson also refers to the Chang and Halliday book in today's Guardian. I wonder if it is that Stanley Johnson. It must be.
*Yes, before some pedant points it out; I know Ciliga was specifically writing about the Soviet Union, but I think the term/title is equally applicable to China and elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Otherwise Disposed - Thanks Lisa

Currently preoccupied with watching over and over again that final sequence of This Year's Love where Kathy Burke sings Shine.
Pure Dead Brilliant.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Careerist Opportunities

Christ, if there is one thing lower down the food chain than politicians, it has to be their mini-me children, with their own pretensions of future careers in politics. I'm coming out in a cold sweat just thinking of Blair Junior and this chancer being the dream ticket for Labour in 2025.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"this is happening without your permission"

"Stefani was tilting at windmills. Sexism just isn't that blatant anymore. Sexists bury their opinions in socially acceptable forms of discourse--talk about how feminists are stonewalling scientific exploration of women's inferiority, bullshit theories about how women can't play instruments or simply pulling the Standard Issue Music Critic act and judging women harshly where you'd judge men favorably."
Excellent post from Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon blogging fame on the not-so-recent history of Riot Grrl, and how it was the case that whilst MTV could quite happily put Alanis Morissette on heavy rotation, with lyrics and a persona that Marcotte took exception to:
"I have trouble swallowing the idea that the supposed feminist anthem "You Outta Know", a pissy rant at an ex-boyfriend, has shit to do with feminism and is much closer to the myth that feminism is about individual women's anger towards men for personal reasons instead of a political movement."

. . . The reality was that MTV and the mainstream could not handle the real deal of Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney, with the former " . . . kick[ing] ass because Hanna did more than make a couple boys squirm over how they'd mistreated a girlfriend--she made all men squirm about their attachment to male privilege and she challenged them to make absolute asses of themselves to defend it."

Hat tip to Kara at Radio Active.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Site Meter Sightings - Ongoing Series

Beautiful sunny day today, and I spent most of it in Edinburgh. Christ I love that city. Nipped into Word Power Bookshop - too cramped and too overpriced; Just like every other lefty bookshop I've ever been into.
Back to regular blogging - and replying to comments tomorrow - but I just had to mention the following word search on the Mexican version of google that brought someone to this blog today. Someone typed in: 'engels letters robin williams'.
Now if someone can tell me what the hell that is all about, I'd really appreciate it.

Supermarkets For Goalposts

Articles from the Socialist Standard can end up in the strangest of places. (And yes, this blog post is nothing more than just a case of me ticking over, missing my footie - 2006 World Cup, hurry up and start already you bastard - and the obligatory plug for the SPGB that must appear in every other post on here)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

It's Hot, I'm Bothered.

Following on from my mention of Bill Casey recently, I stumbled across the following obituary on the net, from an old issue of the Western Socialist, for Alex Shepherd, a member of the Socialist Party of Canada.
Why post the link? Well, apart from the obvious of wanting some of the old comrades who done their bit to be remembered, it is also pleasing to read the following:
"Alex was also active in the trade union movement and was a member of the machinists’ Local that triggered the Winnipeg general strike. He became a member of the strike committee, whose authority started and stopped activity in the area, earning for themselves the hatred of those whose exclusive right to issue orders had been for the moment usurped."
It really sticks in the craw to hear or read the caricature of impossibilists not involving themselves in the class struggle. Especially when such bullshit comes from hacks whose idea of involving themselves in the class struggle is carrying a placard, a petition and far too many platitudes.

Rip Van Paps

Surprise, surprise - discovered that I got a couple of comments from Paps today. It can only mean one thing; aye, you've guessed it, the bugger has actually got round to updating A Revolutionary Act, and that's his cryptic way of telling me.
A card would have been so much nicer.


Just when you thought Lee Bowyer couldn't get any more bastard moronic:
"Newcastle midfielder Lee Bowyer turned down a move to Birmingham because he was concerned for his physical safety, according to David Sullivan. "Steve Bruce, we thought, had talked him round," Blues co-owner Sullivan told the Birmingham Evening Mail. "But he was genuinely worried that one night there would be 10 Asians waiting outside his house ready to kick seven bells out of him."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Anarchy In The UK by Ian Walker (New Society 22 November 1979)

Looks like Double-Booked is getting a double mention. As I mentioned in that post, the last book I had re-read was 'The Other Britain', and one of the writers featured in that book, Ian Walker, was the author of one of my favourite books, 'The Zoo Station'.
As with the case of one of my favourite cartoonists, Phil Evans, Walker seems to have been criminally overlooked on the net. To try and redress that imbalance in my own wee fashion, transcribed below is an article of Walker's that originally appeared in the New Society in November 1979, and which was reprinted in 'The Other Side of Britain'.

In truth, I was spoilt for choice in terms of which of Walker's articles I could have chosen to copy from the book - and I still might write others up if I have the time - with other subjects covered in the book including: 'Skinheads: the cult of trouble'; 'The most abused and pilloried community in the world' [about the Protestant community in Northern Ireland]; 'The Jews of Cheetham Hill';  'A quiet day out at the match' [about football hooliganism, amongst other things.], but my reasons for plumping for 'Anarchy In The UK' is simply because it is more in keeping with other subjects covered on this blog, and there is the obligatory left trainspotting thrown in for good measure.

There are a few mistakes that I spotted in the article, and I decided to leave them in. Just for the record, the ones I spotted:
  • Freedom first appeared in 1886 rather than the 1866 quoted in the article.
  • IWW stands for Industrial Workers of the World, rather than the International Workers of the World. Amazing the amount of people who get that wrong.
  • 'Anarchy In The UK' was never a top ten hit for the Sex Pistols, and I'm sure that it was released '76 rather than '77.
  • It was 'Dr Robert' rather than 'Dr Roberts'.
OK, now that I've got my Order of the Leftist's Trainspotter Anorak sorted, I'm sure others better versed in the history of post-war British Anarchism will spot howlers that I've missed. For all that, I don't think Walker's article was ever meant for anoraks like myself. I can almost imagine there being a Donald Rooum Wildcat cartoon at the time - there probably wasn't - depicting all the stock Anarchist cartoon characters complaining about the article. Some, because they were misrepresented in the article, others because they weren't represented at all, and one wee guy in corner muttering under his breath that he is the only true anarchist amongst those assembled.

For all that, I still think it is the strength of Walker's writing that enables him to capture the *cough* milieu of the outer fringes of politics so perfectly, with its - our - combination of ultra-seriousness, rebel romanticism beginning to fray at the edges and, for some, the self-realisation that any moment it can all descend into self-parody. Though the period and the politics are not the same, I can't help but visualise the faces and voices of Cyril and Shirley from Mike Leigh's High Hopes when re-reading the article.

And maybe I'm getting sentimental in my old age, but I think there is a certain sadness when reading the following words that Walker writes when meeting 'Justin' [who from the physical description and the clues scattered about must have been Phillip Sansum] : "Sitting over a pint next to a man who has fought good causes for a good few years - against bombs and hanging, against spies and censorship, torture - you feel humble, and you wonder if you'll have anything to say for yourself when you're 60 and in a pub with someone 30-odd years younger?" Sadly, Walker was die at the young age of 38, but I do hope his writings will be remembered.

Anarchy In The UK by Ian Walker

At the end of Angel Alley in Whitechapel, the name of Kropotkin is written in whitewashed capitals. In a small room on the first floor of this building, eight men are collating the latest issue of Freedom, the anarchist paper founded by Kropotkin himself. An adjoining room is stacked with back numbers of Freedom, going back to 1866, in brown envelopes. There are pictures of heroes on the walls, and a poster: 'All excercise of authority perverts. All subordination to authority humiliates.'

An A in a circle, spraypainted on walls in city streets, is the nearest most citizens come into contact with anarchism. The media spectacle that the anarchists themselves find comic and tragic, has no room in its schedules for the ideas and actions of the anarchists. But they have chosen to live on the margins, in a kind of political exile, and that is the way it must be. The support group set up on behalf of the five anarchists now facing conspiracy charges at the Old Bailey is called, appropriately, Persons Unknown. Marxists say that anarchists don't live in the real world. But a lighthouse is as real as a supermarket.

Some of those who shop in the supermarket of ideas are attracted to anarchy, but most aren't. It does not have the academic respectability of Marxism. (Students, after all, answer questions on alienation under examination conditions.) Yet the anarchists have always had an influence, even in Britain, out of all proportion to their numbers. William Morris, Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Edward Carpenter, Herbert Read, Augustus John, were all anarchists of sorts. Over the last 15 years, anarchist ideasand methods of organisation have had an impact particularly on the 'alternative society' of lifestyle politicos, on the women's movement, on squatting and other forms of community activism, on punk.

I have been speaking to different kinds of anarchists. Orthodox ones like members of the Freedom and Black Flag editorial groups. Unorthodox ones like a punk band called Crass, and an electrician who produces a libertarian motorcycling magazine, On Yer Bike, in his spare time. I went along to a meeting organised by a libertarian group called Solidarity, and to the Persons Unknown trial.

The weight of ideology and history hangs as mustily in the atmosphere at the Old Bailey as it does, in a different way, at Freedom's HQ.

'I said, "Are you denying you're an anarchist?" "No!" he said.' A Policeman is giving evidence. He has a working class accent - unlike the barrister questioning him, who possesses the voice which seems to fit the oak and wigs and the motto on the crest which says DIEU ET MON DROIT.

Two of the defendants, Iris Mills and Ronan Bennett, were active in Black Flag, I am told by two members of Black Flag I meet in a pub. This is the 'organ of the Anarchist Black Cross'. It is a paper set up by Stuart Christie after his release from a Spanish jail, where he was serving time for an alleged attempt on Franco's life. Christie is now up in the Orkneys, running a publishing house called Cienfuegos Press.

Rob is 28, and Kate 31. They speak with pride of two anarchist veterans still active in Black Flag: Albert Meltzer and Miguel Garcia. Garcia fought in the Spanish civil war (always called the Spanish Revolution by anarchists) and was imprisoned for 20 years. 'Black Flag has got people throughout the world, helping political prisoners where they can,' says Kate, who has not lost her Australian accent. She is a friend of Iris Mills. 'I met Iris in Australia. She stayed in the same house. That's how I first got involved in anarchism.'

Ronan Bennett was in Long Kesh, awaiting trial, when he first came across Black Flag, which is sent out free to prisoners who request it. 'He wrote to Black Flag,' Kate says, 'and Iris wrote back to him about anarchism. That is how they first made contact.' Mills and Bennett were subsequently charged with 'conspiring with persons known and unknown.'

Rob and Kate seem unaffected by recent movements in libertarian politics. Kate brushes aside feminist critiques of language: 'I think it's a load of shit myself. I call people "chairman".' They cling to the anarchist eternities.

Marxists and Trotskyists are every bit as much their enemy as capitalists. 'Even groups like the IWW [International Workers of the World] in Oldham,' Rob says. 'They're trying to revive syndicalism, but we couldn't work with them due to the corruption of international socialism.'

They proceed to list the atrocities committed by socialists against anarchists: the suppression of the Krondstadt revolt and the execution of anarchists after the October revolution, Communist Party manipulation of the war in Spain. Here in this saloon bar, too: the weight of history. Showing in Kate's face as she rages about these events which occurred before her birth.
I ask Kate how she feels about the current political situation. She says she feels very depressed. We all go our separate ways.

Another night, another pub, and another anarchist view of life from Michael, who says he gets less outraged and more cynical as he gets older. He is only 29, but has been through a number of things, including the Harrogate Anarchist Group, the Stoke Newington 8 defence committee and the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists. Michael has been up at the Old Bailey himself, charged with 'conspiracy to effect a public mischief'; but these days he has withdrawn from what he calls ' official anarchist politics'. He now works for On Yer Bike, is an electrician for a housing co-op in north London, and an active trade unionist.

Michael started out in politics in 1968 with the Young Communist League. 'They were still living in the cold war,' he says. 'Read your Lenin, be a good boy, live cleanly.' But it was not just the YCL's ascetism which turned Michael off. 'I alsocame to believe that being a socialist entailed notions of equality which all hierarchical structures contradicted. That's what led me to anarchism.'

Michael rolls his own cigarettes, has one ear-ring and a skinhead haircut. He says he got his haor cropped because he was working on a co-op that was full of 'squatters-army types', with hair down to their shoulders. 'They think I'm strange. Last job I had was a straight job; those people thought I was strange, too. Blokes I used to work with, when they stuck up tit-and-bum pics I used to tear them down.'

He says that most ordinary life is about observing conventions, and he enjoys flouting them. 'I ignore hierarchies. say you get some cretin of a supervisor who wants to be called Mr Blah - you call him "Squire".'

The capitalist, in Marxist cartoons, is a fat man with a fat cigar; the workers are puppets in his pudgy fingers. The anarchist has more sense of the comic absurdity of those who crave wealth and power. The anarchist, too, has confidence in his/her personal ability to resist the diktats of the leaders. 'Ain't no fucker going to grind me down.' The anarchist must be an egoist of sorts.

Two of the people Michael has tagged 'suatters army types' come into the pub, sit at our table. One has hair down to his waist. The other speaks very slowly, this slowness as a result of ECT treatment he received ina mental hospital. 'I worked down t' pit, in Wakefield, for six month,' he says. 'Fucking murder, man. I'm not doing that again.'

Six punks walk into the pub, and the landlord refuses to serve them. One of the women, bleached hair and black leathers, jumps up and down singing, 'We're too dirty. We're too dirty.' They leave and are followed out by another dozen who quickly quaff their drinks and walk out in solidarity. Michael takes the piss out of the man with long hair. 'Didn't refuse you a drink did they? See, it's respectable now.'

For Michael, anarchy is 'a way of living your life'. He lives in a squat, is not married, and says that he never will get married. The feminist message that 'the personal is political' has led Michael, like many anarchists, to experiment with life: anarchists are to be found these days around whole-food co-ops, housing co-ops and squatting groups, libertarian cafes, anti-nuke protest, animal liberation, cmmunity newspapers, women's aid centres.

Hundreds of thousands of words produced for publication by this libertarian movement have been typeset by Ramsey, a worker at the Bread 'n Roses co-op in Camden Town which, he says, is 'the premier left typesetter'. But Ramsey, after a long involvement in anarchism, has now turned his back on it. 'It's the politics of individual paranoia.'

He now believes what most Marxists believe, that anarchism is an idealist philosophy. 'It's rooted in ideas of wouldn't it be nice if . . . Instead of saying, this is the present, this is how we got here, this is how things change, the whole materialist approach. On the continent, anarchy is a more collectivist, class-based politics. Here anarchy was to do with the youth revolution, and the consumer society of the fifties and sixties.'

The most imaginative of the critics of consumerism, as Ramsay prints it, were the Situationists (who were the catalyst for the events of May '68 in France). 'They turned Marx on his head. Instead of saying that consciousness was determined at the point of production, the Situationists said it occurred at the point of consumption: this is the consumer society, the society of spectacles, spectacular commodity production. But there's not many Situationists left. It fizzled out when the boom ended, and there was no longer any scope for talking about never-ending commodity production.'

Nicholas Walter, whose grandfather was a middle-class dropout who met Kropotkin at an 'at home', disagrees with the idea that the Situationists are burned out: 'I think we're much more Situationist now. This new book on poverty [Peter Townsend's] shows how definitions of poverty have changed to include anyone who doesn't have a television. Give them the dole and put lots of crap on the telly . . . And that lovely American cartoon showing a bombed-out landscape and a man walking across it with a TV set trying to plug it in. Of course, the Situationists themselves were part of the spectacle. Especially in France in '68, there were TV cameras all over the place.'

Respected authority on anarchy (?), Nicholas Walter is now editor of the New Humanist and still a prolific writer for anarchist newspapers and magazines. He was introduced to the Freedom group by his grandfather. 'I haven't changed my mind in 20 years. I'm just more pessimistic now.'

What are the highlights of his anarchist career?

'Spies for Peace in 1963. And the Brighton church demonstration in 1966, when I was one of the members of the group which carried out the interruption of the church service before the Labour Party annual conference. Also, the reproduction of James Kirkup's poem, "The love that dares to speak its name", when Mary Whitehouse prosecuted Gay News in 1976. I reckon I circulated more copies than anyone - even though I think it is a silly poem - on the libertarian ground that anything anyone wants to ban should be criticised.'

Anarchy in the UK was a Top Ten hit for the Sex Pistols in 1977. It introduced the word 'anarchy' to a new generation. It became fashionable again, for a time, to say you were an anarchist, to spit in the face of the normaloids. But most punk bands who attached themselves to anarchy were merely boarding the gravy train. That is why I went over to a cottage in Essexto talk to one punk band, Crass, who seemed to have thought more seriously about their anarchism.

A man in black with dyed blond hair - his name is Pete - pours tea for an old farm worker in the living room. Someone upstairs has Dr Roberts, by the Beatles, at high volume. We're waiting for the rest of the band to come back from wherever it is they are; and when the farm worker has gone, Pete explains the various activities they have going here at Dial House. One of the women, he says, is away in New York, printing the latest issue of their magazine, International Anthem. Two other publications produced here are called The Eclectic and Existencil Press. A film maker lives and works in the cottage.

There is, too, what Pete calls a 'graffiti operation'. He says they have taken over a section of the Underground. 'We don't just rip the posters down or spray them. We use stencils, neatly, to qualify them. Especially sexist posters, war posters and the sort of posters for sterile things like Milton Keynes.' He spits those two words out.

'A few of us going round and spraying with stencils reaches more people than the band ever could. It gives the people the feeling that something is going on; that there's a possibility of something happening; that things aren't all sewn up. You're bombarded with media which you don't ask for when you go from A to B and a lot of it is insulting and corrupt.'

'But what have you got against Milton Keynes? What's wrong with it?' I asked.

'I was actually working on the plans for the place. I started discovering what a complete shithole the place is. Cardboard houses, no facilities. It's just a work camp, totally sterile, offers nothing.'

It was Steve who was playing the Beatles. He cpmes downstairs, runs his fingers through his Vaseline-spiked hair as he tells me he ran away from home seven years ago, and has lived in this cottage for two years. A woman who drifts in says that her name is Eve and that she sings in the band.

We talk about the various gigs that Crass have done - for Person's Unknown, the Leveller, Peace News, Birmingham Women's Aid - and the violence that has plagued their gigs of late. The band, it seems, has developed a following among British Movement skinheads. But Crass blame this on Rock Against Racism which, they allege, has polarised youth. 'If you're not in RAR then you're a Nazi. Now we're sandwiched between left-wing violence and right-wing violence.'

The rest of Crass show up: Andy, Phil and a man called Penny Rimbaud. Two children appear at the door and look around with interest. 'Racism and mohair suits,' says Steve, who has not said much up to now. 'That's the difference in punk music. Two years ago, you had Johnny Rotten standing on stage saying, "I am a lazy sod." So where's it all gone?'

What's wrong with mohair suits, and anyway why is everyone in this room clothed in black? 'Lots of reasons,' Pete says. 'Convenience. Anonymity. I'm doing the washing at the moment; it's very convenient.'

We're drinking tea in his room, which is filled with books, and I'm wondering which writers have influenced . . . 'Zen and all its offsprings,' interrupts Penny. 'Existentialism.'

'Zen and punk,' smiles Andy.

'The American beat movement,' continues Penny. 'Kerouac or Ginsberg.' Pete says he hasn't read Kerouac or Ginsberg. Andy goes off to make another pot of tea and when he comes back announces that, 'Anarchy to me means living my own life, having respect for other people, respecting their right to do what they want to do.'

This is a long way from Black Flag, Freedom and anarcho-syndicalism. I doubt if Andy has read many books on anarchism, but he speaks of the kind of anarchy which has always been at the heart of rock'n'roll. It's my party. Do anything you want to do. I can go anywhere, cha-chang, way I choose. I can live anyhow, cha-chang, win or lose. Anyway, anyhow, anywhere I choose . . . Take your desires for reality and make your reality your desires was, I think, one of the slogans of the Situationists.

One man who has remained true to himself through war resistance, two prison sentences, public-speaking campaigns on a long trail of causes, is Justin. Now, at 63, he is still active in Freedom. I met him over the road from the British Museum.

'For me it all started with the Spanish revolution, grew with war resistance. And then you realise that war grows out of certain things in capitalist society. So you have to oppose the whole bloody lot. Nothing that's happened since has made me change view.' Justin is bearded, wears a black peaked cap, and a cord jacket. He drinks whisky.

'A lot of intellectuals supported the movement in those days. People like Herbert Read, Alex Comfort, Ethel Mannin, all rallied round marvellously when Freedom was attacked in 1945 by the Special Branch. We were charged with disaffection of the forces; mustn't tell the soldiers the truth about the war.' He got nine months, and served six.

'When I came out, the Special Branch tried to do me again for refusing to serve in the forces, tried to make me take a medical. I refused that and got a further six months, of which I did only six weeks because quite powerful papers like the New Statesman started to huff and puff.'

Justin remembers the days in the 1950s when he used to speak three times a week: once at Tower Hill, once at Hyde Park Corner and once at Manet Street in Soho. He remembers demonstrating at the Shaftesbury theatre when a dance troupe came over from Francoist Spain and he remembers occupying the Cuban embassy. 'We just wanted to show everyone we were as opposed to the communist regime in Cuba as we were to the Americans in Vietnam. Plus the fact that Castro, as soon as he'd gone into power, had begun to lock up all dissident leftists. Same old story: use all the anarchists and libertarians to make the revolution; then get rid of them.'

He remembers a libertarian literary quarterly called Now, edited by George Woodcock and contributed to by George Orwell, who also wrote occasionally for Freedom when he came back from the Spanish civil war. 'Orwell didn't really agree with the anarchists, 'says Justin. 'But when we were attacked, by God, he came out and supported us; spoke at Conway Hall in 1944, a meeting on free speech. I chaired it. He was a straight man, straight as a bloody die. He respected the anarchists, because of what he'd seen in Spain.'

He remembers Spies For Peace too, and the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty ('The anarchists kicked off that campaign and I'm particularly proud of that').

Justin remembers enough things to fill a book, which is why he's going to write one, when he retires in three years' time. But most fondly of all, it seems, he remembers the Malatesta Club in Soho, which was run by the London Anarchist Group from 1954-8, seven nights a week. Habitues used to write songs and poetry and perform them at the club, which also had a resident jazz band. 'I used to make up songs - sort of sing and shout, to a drum. Couldn't play anything used to hammer away on the drum . . . it was really something, all run completely voluntarily.'

The anarchists' coffee house (it never had a licence) was called the Malatesta because he was the only anarchist writer the group could agree on. 'Some were Kropotkinists and some were Bakuninists, but we all agreed Malatesta was a good guy.'

'There's a man used to be in the anarchist movement in wartime.' Justin is pointing at a man who's just walked in, a woman on his arm. 'Hello,' says Justin to this old comrade, who smiles back briefly but doesn't pause to chat.

I ask Justin if he's ever doubted his views? 'Towards the end of the war, when we saw the pictures of the Nazi camps, we wondered whether, after all, we had been right to oppose the war. But then the war ended with an atrocity from our side, Hiroshima. You can't choose between any of those bastards.'

Sitting over a pint next to a man who has fought good causes for a good few years - against bombs and hanging, against spies and censorship, torture - you feel humble, and you wonder if you'll have anything to say for yourself when you're 60 and in a pub with someone 30-odd years younger? But there is one last question: does he still, deep deep down, believe that some of what he has fought for and dreamed about will ever come true?

'You've got to think your ideals have got a chance before you'll give your life to it.'

Two days later in the Drill Hall, just off Tottenham Court Road, the question under discussion is not so much about whether the ideals have a chance, but more what are the ideals? The meeting was organised by Solidarity, a libertarian group who draw on themes first developed by the 'Socialisme ou Barbarie' group in France. About 50 people are sitting on the floor, listening to a man called Akiva Orr, who says he is an 'ex-Israeli'. He has no notes and uses his hands theatrically as he speaks. His cigarette, too, he holds as if he is on the stage.

The emphasis has shifted from the exterior to the interior, that's it. Suddenly there's an awareness that life, reality, meaning, dadadada, it's all in there.' His finger a gun to his head. 'Used to be a time when meaning was all up there,' he points to the ceiling. 'Or out there,' he gestures to the streets below the windows. 'Now it's shifting, it's in here . . . There's a jungle out there,' he pauses for dramatic effect. 'I mean in here,' putting his hand to head again.

'All I can say is that we've got to develop answers in this battle for the interpretation about what is real. We are the meaning-making animals.'

Someone sprawled on the floor drawls that he needs a coffee break. On the stairs leading down to the cafe a woman wearing a yellow T-shirt which says I AM A HUMOURLESS FEMINIST tells someone that her father-in-law is a judge.

Outside these windows, people are buying new stereos on the Tottenham Court Road; people are standing on football terraces; watching the TV; cleaning the car; knocking up shelves, watering the plants - whatever the hell it is people do in an attempt to relax on a Saturday afternoon. 'The central human question,' says a man in a black leather jacket, 'is how to be happy without hurting people.'

The various critiques are over. Time for Akiva's reply. He has great style, and he knows it. He has this audience in his hands. 'We could expend a lot of time and energy discussing Marx. We want to discuss ourselves,' he says, his hands pointing elaborately at his chest. 'What do you want to smash when you say you want to smash capitalism? The police stations? Parliament?'

'Yeah,' someone shouts from the floor.

'You must smash structures which are abstract, too,' Akiva continues. 'You won't find them. They aren't lying around. You have to construct them. Fuck the historical process. I want to construct a model which is enjoyable for me.' He lowers his voice now to say, 'But it's not an easy task.'

The anarchist who wanted to smash up the police stations interrupts again. He is, someone tells me, a postman. There is a heated exchange between him and Akiva: the young activist versus the older intellectual. 'I have a friend,' says Akiva. 'He spent the first half of his life constructing socialism in Czechoslovakia, the second half of his life dismantling that structure he spent the first half of his life building. The system has smuggled itself into your mind.Your own system will be a mutant of that system you set out to smash.'

Discussion over. Some will stay in the Drill Hall for the social tonight. There will be a real ale. I go out to watch Alien, and remember a drawing by an artist called Cliff Harper. It shows a spaceship landing in London. The Houses of Parliament have toppled from the impact of the laser beam attack. A woman holding a ray gun steps out of spaceship. 'Take me to your anarchists,' she says.
22 November 1979
Endnote to the article
The trial of anarchists at the Old Bailey, before Judge King-Hamilton, ran from September to December. The case became a 'cause-celebre' when it was learnt that the police vetted potential jurors politically. Despite the vetting, all those who pleaded not guilty (including Iris Mills and Ronan Bennett) were acquitted.

Mr Smith Goes To Bedfordshire

Reidski, by way of making Patti Smith's number one fan extremely jealous with his report of attending last night's Meltdown to see Patti Smith and Steve Earle in concert, mentions bumping into Martin Smith, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, who apparently is an old college chum of Reidski's. (Who do you support in the Boat Race, Reidski?)

Maybe Reidski sank a few too many beers with Martin reminiscing about various sit-ins from their college days - think Porterhouse Blue with a Billy Bragg soundtrack - so I'm sure he will correct the mistaken impression given in his post that the picket outside Bookmarks was in protest at the SWP's supposed promotion of Zionism. It was in fact a protest organised by the group Jews Against Zionism against the SWP decision to give Gilad Atzmon, someone who has: " . . . distributed Holocaust Denial literature by Paul Eisen (‘The Holocaust Wars’) which clearly supports the view that there was no deliberate extermination of the Jews or anyone else by the Nazis." a platform at both Bookmarks and their forthcoming Centrism.

Interesting to note that Martin Smith dismisses the protestors as nothing more than "ultra-left nutters". One of the people protesting outside Bookmarks at the SWP's decision to invite Atzmon was Hilary Rose. Mmm, I wonder if this is the same Hilary Rose who, alongside her partner Steven Rose, speaks most years at the SWP's annual Recruitathon, and who was mentioned as recently as the June 4th in the pages of the Socialist Worker in positive terms, in connection with a debate organised in Leeds between Norman Geras and herself over the issue of whether or not the AUT should boycott certain Israeli universities?

Martin Smith's name rings a bell as well. Once I had established it wasn't this Martin Smith (that's especially for Will Mackem) I suddenly remembered where I had spotted his name before. This wee gem from the vaults of the Weekly Worker where Martin interviews Eric really does go down as a classic in my ongoing compilation, provisionally entitled: 'If the SWP didn't exist, Chris Morris would have to invent them.'
Martin Smith: "This is not a court and I won’t have this minuted."
Absolutely brilliant.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Mugging Normski

I'm not waiting around on my haunches for this survey to eventually come my way like I did with this one, so despite the danger of being accused that this blog is nothing more than a series of surveys - its collective term being a 'banality of memes' - here comes yet another post where I inflict my taste on an unsuspecting internet population:
1. The total volume of music on my pc: Not much at the moment, as a few months back I burnt most of it onto discs, but at times in the past it was something like 7GB.
2. Songs playing right now: John Cooper Clarke's Readers' Wives
make a date with the brassy brides of britain
the altogether ruder readers' wives
who put down their needles and their knitting
at the doorway to our dismal daily lives
the fablon top scenarios of passion
nipples peep through holes in leatherette
they seem to be saying in their fashion'
I'm freezing charlie - haven't ya finished yet?'
cold flesh the colour of potatoes
in an instamatic living room of sin
all the required apparatus
too bad they couldn't fit her head in
in latex pyjamas with bananas going ape
their identities are cunningly disguised
by a six-inch strip of insulation tape
strategically stuck across their eyes
wives from inverness to inner london
prettiness and pimples co-exist
pictorially wife-swapping with someone
who's happily married to his wrist
Part of the reason I seized the opportunity of doing this survey is because I was going to cut and paste the lyrics above as a post anyway. I can't believe that I have had this track burned onto a CD for a couple of months now, and it is only just now that I have discovered how absolutely brilliant it is. Literally discovered it this morning.
Though I've always been aware of Cooper Clarke; from seeing the two minute splenetic blast of 'I Don't Want To Be Nice' on a Best of the Old Grey Whistle Test special to my exclaimation of: "Who the fuck is the anoxeric Mike Scott advertising Sugar Puffs alongside the Honey Monster?" he only really registered with me a few years back when I was listening to the Mark Radcliffe Show on Radio One late one night. I loved John Peel to bits, but I always preferred the music that Radcliffe played on his show, and this particular night he played The Kinks Dead End Street and Cooper Clarke's Beasley Street back to back. I hadn't heard either song before and both songs totally blew me away. Definitely one of those special musical moments.
3. Last albums I bought: Gang of Four's Shrinkwrapped.
4. Five songs I've been listening to a lot: Josef K 'Sorry For Laughing'; John Cooper Clarke's 'Readers' Wives'; Kathryn Williams 'No One Takes You Home'; Magazine 'Model Worker'; Human League 'Empire State Human'.
5. Passing this along to: Kara, Victor and Lisa (Reidski, you'll tell me anyway, whether I ask you or not ;-)

The Links Effect

I've been slacking again, and I had promised I wouldn't. The 'Worth A Gander' section - stage left - has taken on some new names, but apologies to two of the three bloggers newly added for the delay in adding their links. The blogroll looks as if it is on random select at the moment, and really does need an overhaul but fear eats the soul when I even contemplate rejigging the blogs listed. Sometime soon a skip will be placed next to the blog, and a few of them will be drop kicked in. The rest will get reshuffled to give some semblance of order.
Isn't It About Time We Had Socialism? is the blog of a fellow SPGBer, Gray, who operates out of Denmark. A kindred spirit of sorts, in that he is one of those all too rare SPGBers who actually likes sport, and he can even contemplate the existence of sport in a socialist society. (From my experience, quite a few SPGB members must have been the last to be picked when it came to School footie games, and this has coloured their outlook on the question of sport in a socialist society.) However, he goes and spoils it by supporting Gillingham FC, and having a fascination for Rugby Union. I'll stick to reading his blog for the politics. ;-)
Piers is another SPGBer armed with a blog. Border Fever operates out of Cumbria, with a socialist spin on Carlisle, Cumbria and the World.
What do I know about Carlisle? Well, they have a footie team, who spent about two minutes atop the old First Division back in the mid-seventies. Their star player at the time was Chris Balderstone, who was one of the last breed of professional footie/cricketers (Andy Goram doesn't count). They were last seen being promoted back into the football league after spending some time in non-league football. By all accounts the fans are gutted that they won't be playing Accrington Stanley next year.
What do I know about Cumbria? Apart from travelling through it from time to time when going between Scotland and England, my main experience of Cumbria was attending a Socialist Party meeting in Barrow back in about 1990/91. I was part of a Lancaster Branch contingent that sought to provide support for a couple of comrades seeking to generate some activity in the area. My memory of the meeting is a bit hazy, but I remember that the local comrades were a tad over optimistic in the size of the venue they booked, a middle aged cynical CPGBer done the 'What about human nature?' objection routine that had probably been done on him a hundred times before, and the pub/Labour Club we went to after the meeting was one of those: "We only like locals in here type" places.
What do I know about the World? It's small, but I still wouldn't want to leaflet it.
Fear in the City of the Living Dead is the blog of Buff, a good friend of Kara's from back home in Indiana. He writes like a dream on such varied subjects as films, censorship and porn (erm, isn't that basically David Cronenberg's Crash?),and this recommendation is being typed in green-with-envy ink through gritted death. He is a seriously funny writer, and now that he has escaped from MySpace to write in the outside world I can no longer get away with lifting his jokes and passing them off as mine. If another friend of Kara's from MySpace, Abby, decides to set up a blog, then I will be really stuffed for material to fill this blog.
All three blogs are well recommended, and I'll be sure to click on their links 25 times a day when I should be doing more important things like playing solitaire on the computer, downloading Ed Harcourt tracks off the internet and putting in bogus bids on ebay.

A Message For The Passing Sightseers From Harry's Place

As a result of this post being referred to on Harry's Place, my sitemeter is currently going like the clappers. Past experience of such phenomenon tells me that the visits will be brief, fleeting and the buggers won't even sign the guest book.
However, I would be failing in my revolutionary duty if I didn't take the opportunity to do a bit a bit of product placement for the benefit of those two or three who decide to linger on the blog longer than the usual 0.00 seconds. Sit back, here comes the adverts:

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Gilad Atzmon at Bookmarks - Addendum

Mark Elf's notes and comments on Roland Rance's account of last night's picket of Bookmarks. A brilliant riposte in response to the SWP's attempts to restrict those who could attend the meeting:
"The problem was not with the lease on their building, but with the Arnold Leese in their building . . . "

Gilad Atzmon at Bookmarks

Cut and pasted below is Roland Rance's account of the picket and protest that took place last night outside Bookmarks - the SWP's bookshop in Bloomsbury, London - at the SWP's decision to invite Gilad Atzmon to speak on the subject of ‘My One And Only Love’ and on the deconstruction of the Zionist Identity'.
Much has been written on the net and elsewhere about the controversial decision taken by the SWP to invite Atzmon to speak both at Bookmarks and their forthcoming Marxism event (he has spoken at Marxism twice before), and naturally many people who have an axe to grind with the SWP - yes, I'm a natural member of that bloc - have obviously waded in with both boots to call them on it, but if you want an inside account of the protest - on the whys and wherefores - against the views expressed by Atzmon, then I would suggest that you check out Mark Elf's blog jews sans frontieres for a pretty thorough trawl through all the claims and counter-claims. An alternative take on the matter of the rights and wrongs of protesting against Atzmon can be read on the Counterpunch website here.
From the UK Left Network discussion list:
About 30 activists turned out to protest the talk by Gilad Atzmon at Bookmarks bookshop, significantly outnumbering those who actually went in tothe meeting. Several of these had attended for the express purpose of denouncing Atzmon and his views, and it is clear that very few attended in order to listen to and learn from him. Numbers of attendees were further restricted by the (unannounced) decision to make the meeting ticket only,those preventing even some of their own members from attending. Of course, none of the pickets was allowed to attend.
Although some of the audience took our leaflets, and a few engaged in debate with us, the SWP's leadership treated us with arrogant contempt, refusing even to acknowledge, let alone touch, the leaflets; and, in some cases, aggressively pushing us aside without even asking us to move.
Despite earlier attacks by the SWP that, by calling the picket, we were"lining up with the AWL", they, and other sectarians and Zionist apologists were totally absent, and the protesters were all clearly opposed to Israel and its Zionist practices. We were further admonished that "reasionable people" like Hilary Rose and Moshe Machover opposed the picket. In fact,Hilary turned up and stood with us in the protest, while Moshe, who was unable to come, sent the SWP a letter strongly supporting and endorsing the picket.
It's clear that the SWP had no idea of the extent and depth of revulsion atAtzmon's ideas, and the anger at them for giving him a platform. They have been given something to think about.
After the picket, most of us went for a drink, and were later joined by sympathisers who had attended the meeting. We learned from them that Atzmon had not been received well, that no-one had sppoken in his defence, and that several SWP members were apparently in dismay at the views they heard, and the damage they have done to the party's image. Our shouts, and the many speeches through the megaphone, were heard clearly throught the meeting. Apparently, Atzmon devoted a large part of his talk to discussing the highly controversial theories of Otto Weininger (who, as Atzmon himself admitted, was Hitler's favourite Jew), who, in his work Sex and Character, characterised the Jew as "feminine, and thus profoundly irreligious, without true individuality (soul), and without a sense of good and evil . . . The decay of modern (ie early twentieth century) times was due to feminine, and thus Jewish, influences - see here. Atzmonalso propounded his own highly sexist theory of gender, before giving a rambling account of his own views, and expressing his bemusement at the picket. In the ensuing discussion, he was roundly denounced by several speakers; John Rose of the SWP reportedly made a particularly powerful and effective response.
Members of the SWP who did not know at the beginning of the meeting, certainly realised by the end what an error they had made. However, we must still marvel at their stupidity in even inviting Atzmon in the first place, as well as expressing our anger at the contempt we faced from some SWP leaders, notablty their national secretary Martin Smith, who refused (unlike most of his comrades) to exchange even one civil word with us.
All in all, we are pleased with our efforts, which in a short time mobilised a large and vocal protest, and which confronted the SWP with a reality they wished to ignore -- that they cannot hold a meeting with a racist and expect it to pass quietly, and that you cannot defend Palestinian rights if you accept the Zionist paradigm which identifies all Jews with Zionism.
Roland Rance

A Smug Git Writes (Part Two) . . . .

Right - now I've reached 14,000 individual visits. OK, I'll shut up now.

Friday, June 17, 2005

A Smug Git Writes . . .

Cheers to whoever it was who accessed my blog via SIAW at about half seven this evening. You took my site meter to 25,000 page views. OK, granted that is the number of page views that such and such might get in the space of a wet afternoon, but I never thought bad jokes, obscure ultra-left politics and excellent taste in music could travel so far.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sim Card

Still smarting from the suggestion from this bloke on an aforementioned socialist discussion forum that blogging is little more than vanity publishing, it's nice to link to a proper article written by a blogger, Michael Brooke, who blogs regularly at Mischievous Constructions.
I can't kid on that I'm a regular reader of Sight & Sound. If memory serves me right, I've only bought it the once, and that was only because Gong Li was on the front cover but if the articles are regularly up to the quality of Michael's piece on Alistair Sim then I will have to start sending out begging letters to rich relatives, asking for a subscription to it for my forthcoming birthday.
I always loved the old Sim films, especially Scrooge and Green For Danger, but I would love to see the film Climbing High where, according to Brooke, Sim does a comic turn as a disaffected communist. From what info I can glean about the film from the internet, it doesn't seem to be considered a great film by any means, but what with it being directed by Carol Reed and also starring Michael Redgrave and Jesse Matthews, it must definitely be a curio.

In the Latest Issue of Organise

Found via a comrade's post to the World Socialist Forum, details of obituaries for John Crump and Chris Pallis/Maurice Brinton -page 25 - in the latest issue of Organise, the journal of the Anarchist Federation.
Interesting to read in the Pallis/Brinton's obituary that Bob Pennington broke for a time from Trotskyism in the early sixties. From reading Sean MaxShachtmanna* obituary of Pennington in an old issue of the Workers' Liberty magazine, I can't remember any indication of Pennington erring from the true path. Not like Sean to forget stuff like that. Also fascinating to read the rumoured anaecdote that Rudi Dutschke wouldn't trust anyone other than Pallis/Brinton to remove the bullet from his head when he was operated on in Britain.
I haven't had a read through the latest issue of Organise yet - hate reading PDF journals on the net at the best of times - but it is interesting to note the the AF can actually bring themselves to mention the SPGB in print for a change. Is this a thaw of sorts? Have the two leading members of the AF finally had a change of heart? Do the two leading members of the AF have hearts? Sorry - excuse my descent into sectariana.
* Hat tip to the late Jim Higgins for that great joke.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Wearing Badges Is Not Enough . . . "

Good post from Bill at Reasons To Be Impossible. In fact, Bill has been in good form in recent weeks, and back to blogging regularly, on such subjects as George Bernard Shaw and Ireland; George Bernard Shaw and the tyranny of a Standing Army (admit it Bill, you picked up a cheap secondhand copy of Viking's Portable Bernard Shaw.); and even a couple of film reviews thrown in for good measure.
If you want to read an SPGBer blogger who actually blogs about politics, then you can't go far wrong on bookmarking him. I can't guarantee that he has as good a taste in music as me, though.

"Yep, for a player billed as having all the finishing skills of a toddler with a plate of broccoli . . . "

James Richardson has his own unique take on the season just past in Serie A in today's Guardian.
I don't know how I'm going to survive without my regular dose of footie. The managers of top clubs keep banging on these days about the need for big squads; if that's the case, they should be playing competitive games twelve months a year.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Double Booked


Hello there.

Nice of you to drop in. Enjoy the stay - however brief it may be.

I'm second guessing that you've found this six year old post because you've been looking on the net for information about the late, great British journalist Ian Walker.

First of all, I'd like to congratulate you on your excellent taste in journalism. However, I know, I understand, there's not a lot out there about him or his work on the net.

Fret no more. Click on this link for a selection of Ian Walker's journalism from the pages of New Society. Also, if you scroll down to the comments on this post, you'll find further information about Ian Walker's life and work.


Stuart of From Despair To Where has thrown me a book survey meme. I've been looking longingly ay this survey doing the rounds in blogland for a few days now, but no bugger up to now had the good grace to think of me when passing it on. I'll remember you bastards when I'm Commissar of Catchcart.
1. Total number of books I own.
Tricky one. 'cos they are in at least three different locations. I would guess at about 1200. Like everyone else that has done this meme, I do try and do a cull every once in a while. That usually means that unless it is a novel that I especially like, I will pass on a lot of my fiction onto the nearest charity shop. Strange that I think it is more acceptable to get rid of fiction over factual books - especially when I consider that it is particular novels and collections of short stories that have had the greater impact on me down the years, but I guess I rationalise matters by thinking that I will always be more likely to find those books again on my travels, either in libraries or secondhand bookshops. I can't say the same for some of the more obscure lefty stuff.
I also used to collect political pamphlets and journals, and I have about 500 knocking about but I'm not obsessive about these things, and now that so many of these texts are online, I don't feel the need to get my grubby little mitts on the hard copies.
2. Last book I bought, and why.
John Sutherland's 'Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? Further Puzzles In Classic Fiction'; 'A Spiel Among Us: Glasgow People Writing'; & 'Edinburgh Review: Tom Leonard Number' (Has an interview with Mario Vargas Llosa in it.). Why these three books? Three ex-library books for a pound from my local library. God bless the non-reading public of Fife.
3. Last book I read.
I recently relocated a load of books from there to here, so I have been indulging in the pastime of re-reading old favourites. One of those books being 'The Other Britain', edited by Paul Barker; published in 1982, it is a collection of articles that originally appeared in the now defunct New Society magazine. A wonderful, wonderful book that I have read many, many times over the years. Featuring such inspiring writers as Jeremy Seabrook, Angela Carter and the late - and truly great - Ian Walker, as the blurb on the back of the books says: "This collection of social observations and reportage is written by some of the best of the younger generation of descriptive writers. All are associated with the magazine New Society in whose pages the essays first appeared and whose 20th anniversary is marked by the publication of this book. Together they document the way we live now, not just describing the 'problems' but celebrating the strength and variety of Britain and its people."
4. Five books that mean a lot to me.
Like Stuart, I probably covered a lot of this when I did this survey. I would in all probability include both Bulgakov and Gaitens in my top five, but rather than repeat myself, I will list five different books that mean a hell of a lot to me.
i) The Monument: the Story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain by Robert Barltrop
Stuart's already listed this - Christ, it was me that sold him his copy. He could have namechecked me ;-) - but there is no denying that reading this book had a formative influence in my becoming a member of the SPGB. It's a strange thing to admit, because in no way could it be described as a polemical or analytical work that can somehow prompt a person into becoming a revolutionary socialist. However, I do think that it contributed to me looking at the SPGB in a light in which I thought that this was an organisation I could be a part of. Barltrop is a wonderful writer - his biography of Jack London is also recommended - and though I've since learnt the strange history of the manuscript, and how it was the case that he was settling a few scores in the book along the way, I would have no hesitation in recommending the book to anyone wanting to get some sense of what the SPGB is, and the people who made it. Just bear in mind the subheading of the book; it's a 'story' rather than 'history' of the SPGB.
ii) The Zoo Station by Ian Walker
I love Walker's writings. As mentioned above, I discovered them via The Other Britain, and then spent many an afternoon going through old back issues of the New Society in college libraries when I should have been studying. I admired Walker's writings so much that years ago, when I had some spare money, I paid an arm and a leg for a load of old copies of seventies radical magazine, The Leveller, because I knew that he had been one of its star writers. I'd read about Zoo Station, his account of his time spent living in the divided Berlin in the early eighties, but I had never been able to get a hold of a copy until I found it on sale for fifty pence in Watford Market about ten years ago. Just the opening paragraph gives some flavour of his writing style:
"The maroon-and-caramel train ran all day back and forth between the systems, capitalism-communism-capitalism-communism the rhythm of the iron wheels lent itself to any number of repitive lyrics. I looked out the dirty window. A girl was waving. I waved back. There was something about trains that caused children to wave spontaneously at the passing faces, some idea that the strangers at the window were bound for adventure or romance, some idea about stories starting in trains."
Sadly, I couldn't find much on the net about either the book or Walker himself, but the link provided above - and the contrasting views about the book - give some sense of the book and Walker's style of writing. I think it was Walker's humanism - to borrow a term from Orwell, his "essential decency" - that resulted in Walker impacting as much as he did on me when I first read him.
Sadly he died much too young, and tragically just when he was about to reach a much wider audience. I remember that when Roy Greenslade took over as editor of the Daily Mirror in the late eighties or early nineties he hired both Walker and the late John Diamond as columnists. Walker died within weeks of penning his first column, and for reasons I now forget, Greenslade was removed as editor of the Mirror soon after. Shame that, I think that the Mirror would have been much the better paper for writers such as Walker, Diamond and Greenslade. I did have the cutting of Walker's obituary that appeared in the Mirror somewhere amongst my papers, and if I ever come across it again I will be sure to scan it in and place it on the blog. He is a writer that should be remembered by more people.
iii) Catch-22 by Jospeh Heller
Cue violins - we didn't have a lot of books in the house when I was growing up. I seem to remember a sideboard where in amongst the liquors, the ornaments and the LPs, there was a wee section given over to books. In amongst the handful of books, there was a biography of Elvis, a couple of Time Life books on Cowboys and Indians and a couple of Kojak novels that were obviously tie-ins with the TV series. I got into Orwell big time around about 1985/86, 'cos a lot of his books were republished after 1984 but, aside from Orwell, the number of novels I read before the age of 16 I could count on the fingers of one hand.
One of those five books I was fortunate enough to read was Heller's Catch-22. My sister's boyfriend of the time had bought it for her, and I ended up picking it up after she read it. I can't claim to have fully understood Helller's biting satire first time round, but re-reading it two times since I've come to enjoy the novel more at each time of reading. I'm always a bit wary when someone describes a book as 'anarchic', but in this case the label fits.
I can still remember laughing for ten minutes solid after reading a passage in the book that featured Doc Daneka. I mean real tears of laughter, where I ended up aching with pain. I don't usually laugh for that length of time unless it is one of my own jokes, so it must have been a good one.
I would recommend all of Carr's books, but I have a real soft spot for this novella because of its final few pages. I can't remember being affected so much by any other piece of writing before or since. The film adaptation isn't bad but it isn't a patch on the book itself.
An excellent primer on the majority of the currents that make up, in the late John Crump's words, "the thin red line of revolutionary socialism". Betraying its Eurocentric roots, there is no chapter on De Leonism or the Revolutionary Unionism of the IWW but, for all that, a very readable and accessible introduction to ideas that have hitherto been consigned to the footnote of history.
(Apparently it's for sale on Amazon for a minimum of $78 - the Monument not much cheaper. I think I have finally found my pension plan.)
5. Tag five more people
Fellow SPGBer, Piers, at Border Fever. It will be nice to meet you at the G8 thingymijig; Kevin the Scottish Patient. If he can't do this meme, he should hang his laptop in shame; Harry at Harry's Place. Not because I think he will get round to doing it but because he may mention me in passing un his blog - "An ultra-leftist is harrassing me. Call the cops." - and I could do with the hits. Glaikit Feartie as my random act of blogging kindness. No idea who they are, but I love the name of the blog; and, as an innovation, I'm going to offer a guest blog to Julian from the World in Common group. The bugger did have a blog, and it looked like a goodie but he came up to the notorious: 'Fourth post writers block syndrome'. Myself and others who have been through the same process tried to advise him on how best to get through the pain barrier: "Just link to a Steve Bell cartoon for chrissake." - "Lift a quote from Oscar Wilde, and call it your 'Thought for Today'." "Do a sub-Hornbyesque post where you recount in great detail your feelings when Terry Fenwick scored that goal for QPR in the 1982 FA Cup final." But to no avail, he's happier in his procrastination by reading - and understanding, the freak - John Hollway's writings; listening to sub Sub Pop records; and propping up bars in West London, where for a white wine and some pork scratchings, he will regale you with a stream of consciousness on where he was when Terry Fenwick scored that goal for QPR in the 1982 FA Cup final.
The blog floor is open to you, Julian.

ADDICTED . . . . .

. . . once again to Big Brother. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I'm a sad bastard.
Some people use the summer months to watch the cricket; others use it to top up on their tans in Cuba, but for me summer has to be about watching paint dry televised and asking myself, and others around me, such philosophical questions as: "Who's this year's Jade?; What possessed me to once think that Dermot O'Leary seemed like a decent bloke?; Where do they find this shower of spoilt brat, self-seeking wankers?; & If I could only batter one of them senseless, which one would it be?*"
First night of this year's Big Brother, and watching the thirteen wannabes in search of an equity card enter the house, I thought I would be able to escape its grips this time round. I wasn't interested - and I said as much. They all seemed like too much of a muchness, and I was even able to stop myself from watching any of the first week when, by all accounts, Makosi was brilliant, when part of her task to avoid nomination for eviction was to wind up as many housemates as possible. (She succeeded.)
However, as the days have passed, slowly but surely I've been getting sucked in to the point now that I know that I will have to watch it regularly for the next four or five weeks or so. (It's the same pattern every year. I'm interested until it is down to the last four or five, and then I can't be bothered until the final night itself.) I've already got my favourites - Maxwell, Roberto and Makosi - the one's I love to hate, - Derek, Science, Craig and Derek again, and the ones who if they were sitting in front of me right now, I wouldn't recognise - Vanessa, Anthony and the one that keeps telling the diary room she is so much more intelligent than everyone else in the house.
I'm sure the plastic toff Derek debated with the old Islington Branch of the Socialist Party way back in the eighties, and I'm sure he's the same bloke who was written about in the old Scallywag magazine in connection with Portillo, when the latter was still reading Adam Smith Institute pamphlets in the closet. A bloke who revels in his friends nickname of him of Golly, every time I watch Derek do his pre-prepared, but supposed off the cuff state of the nation impromptu speeches whilst sitting on the couch, I suddenly remember that I'm Old Labour enough to know that, bottom line, I still effin' despise any choob wearing blue rosetted underpants. Long may that continue.
Oh, and Maxwell to win this year's Big Brother.
*Derek with one of Science's severed limbs.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Quote of the Day

"The only way to guard against throwing your vote away is to vote for the party that stands for what you stand for. To vote for something that you don't want in order to avoid something else that you don't is to do worse than throw your vote away".
Eugene Debs, writing in the pages of The Call, circa 1908.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Roux Boy

"If there is an equivalent in the English game now, it might be Worksop Town - about the same level, about the same size. And if Worksop win the Premiership-FA Cup double by 2050 and play in the Champions League, you'll have an idea of what Guy Roux has achieved."
Lovely wee article from today's Observer about the redoubtable Guy Roux. For what he has achieved with Auxerre over the last forty odd years is difficult to comprehend from a British perspective. As the article itself indicates, the nearest British equivalent is Cloughie but, for all that, you can't really make a comparison between the two. Derby and Notts Forest are much bigger clubs, though the story of Roux putting his hand on the bonnet of players cars to gauge whether or not they have been out on the booze sounds so much like the sort of thing that Cloughie would have got Peter Taylor to do in their heyday.

Do The Bump

Bill Casey - Part Two
Reproduction of Bill Casey's obituary with its mention of the old IWW songs reminded me that Casey himself was well known for writing the odd Wobbly song. The most famous of which is 'Bump Me Into Parliament'; the lyrics of which are reproduced below.
The site which reproduces the lyrics mistakenly refer to Casey as a one time member of the IWW, but as Bill Clarke's obituary indicates, for a variety of reasons, this is understandable mistake.
Bump me into Parliament
Come listen all kind friends of mine
I want to move a motion
To make an Eldorado here
I've got a bonza notion
Bump me into parliament
Bounce me any way at all
Bang me into parliament
On next election day
Some very wealthy friends I know
Declare I am most clever
While some can talk for an hour or so
Why I can talk for ever
I know the Arbitration Act
As a sailor knows his riggins
So if you want a small advance
I'll talk to Justice Higgins
I've read my bible ten times through
And Jesus justifies me
The man who does not vote for me
By Christ he crucifies me
Oh yes I am a Labor man
And believe in revolution
The quickest way to bring it on
Is talking constitution
I think the worker and the boss
Should keep their present stations
So I will surely pass a bill
'Industrial Relations'
So bump them into parliament
Bounce them any way at all
Bung them into parliament
Don't let the Court decay

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Pages From Our History

Discovered the following on an old floppy disc recently. Originally published in the Western Socialist, the old journal of the World Socialist Party of the United States, in the late forties (exact date to follow),it's an interesting piece for the insight and background history it gives on an early pioneer of what is now the World Socialist Party of Australia, companion party of the World Socialist Movement. I find it especially interesting because it goes some way in correcting the old myth that members of the SPGB/WSM are not, and never have been active trade unionists, 'cos as the caricature goes: "If it doesn't involve the abolition of the wages system, you lot aren't interested."


Your many readers will regret to hear of the loss of a pioneer of the Socialist Movement in Australia. There have been many pioneers in the Socialist Movement and the Old World has been rich in them; but down her in Australia, we have not been so fortunate. On the 19th. Oct. last, Bill Casey died in the Brisbane General Hospital.

Bill Casey, who hailed from Manchester, arrived in Australia some years before World War I. Almost immediately he became involved in industrial activities and participated in some of the most historical disputes recorded in this country. Ever on the move, he spent much of his time in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. During the First War he played a leading part in Queensland industrial affairs and was active in the strikes on the Cane fields and the Meat Industry. On more than one occasion he had to run the gauntlet of Labor Party Police, who spurred on by Labor Governments, dealt ruthlessly with those who championed the workers cause.

Job conscious Union officials and Big Businessmen on one occasion urged his deportation from the local township because of his union activities. When war-time Labor Prime Minister, Wm, Morris Hughes, tried to enforce conscription in 1916, anyone who opposed the move was branded "traitor", "Seditionist" or "I.W.W." But the anti-conscription campaign grew and the Labor Party split on the issue. The chief opponents were the "Wobblies" (I.W.W.) and their supporters. Casey, who had experienced the persecution of the I.W.W. in America, threw himself into the fight and became one of the most active and enthusiastic members of the Anti-Conscription Army. When we point out that the anti-conscription campaign left an indelible mark on the history of Australia, it will be easier to understand the significance of our reference to in this obituary.

In those days, much of the I.W.W. propaganda took the form of parodying of popular songs. To the tunes I.W.W. rhymsters would fit words ridiculing and satirising their opponents. Most meetings opened up with "Doxology"

"Praise Boss when morning work-bells chime,

Praise him for bits of over-time,

Praise him whose wars we love to fight,

Praise Him. Fat Leech and Parasite,

Oh Hell".

Meetings would be held up awaiting some subtle satire from Casey on the topic of the day. Couriers would run from the press, with literally red-hot jingles copies of which were passed round the audiences who lustily chorused the latest ditty, much to the discomfiture of "Law and Order". So popular did they become that friend and foe alike eagerly awaited the latest lampoon. Politicians shrunk from his satire but ever many of them, years afterwards, openly boasted acquaintanceship with "Bill Casey."

Back To Sea

Returning to sea, Casey played a big part in the Seaman’s strike of 1919. Just about this time he chummed up with Jack Temple who had recently arrived from Scotland after some years in Canada. Temple who had been active in the S. P. of Canada and had some connection with the S.P.G.B. played a big part in weaning Casey from the I.W.W. viewpoint. It may be pointed out that though Casey had leanings towards the "Wobblies" he was not a member although he was generally regarded as such.

Very soon Casey was expounding the S.P.G.B. position and as the Bolsheviks had just gained control in Russia, he lost no time in analysing the position. Probably aided by articles in the "S.S.", he became a caustic critic of the "Neo-Communists." He was delegate to represent the Seamen at an International T. U. Conference in Moscow. This, being one of the earliest "Missions to Moscow" was beset with difficulties all the way. Passports were forged; passages were "stowing away," Dutch, German, Polish and Russian frontiers had to be "hopped." Guides were often un-reliable; "go-betweens" were often in the pay of both sides; sometimes both had to be discarded until bona-fides were definitely established, a delicate job under the conditions then prevailing on the continent.

The ultimate arrival in Moscow, after much suffering, danger and perseverance, was hailed as a masterpiece of undercover work. Once at the gates of the Kremlin, most delegates became insufferable Bolshevik "Yes-men" whereas Casey and his co-delegate, Barney Kelly (another adherent of the S.P.G.B.) soberly tried to obtain a truthful estimate of the position. A few days sojourn in Moscow drew the following observations from Casey: "Production was in a straight-jacket, lethargy and indifference permeated the whole economy; the people were entirely lacking in a sense of time. Without the normal industrial development of production and some measure of buying and selling (war-communism was the order of the day) drift and indifference would gradually strangle the economy of the Soviet". These observations were greeted with disgust and dismay by the other delegates.

However, before they left Moscow, Lenin introduced his "New Economic Policy" which, in essence, provided for the very things which Casey opined was needed to stabilize the Russian economy. In contrast to their hostile reception of Casey’s prognostications, the "yes-men" cheered and echoed Lenin’s belated pronouncements.

Back in Australia, he submitted his report to Tom Walsh (then a leading Communist and foundation member of the Australian Communist Party), General President of the Australian Seamen’s Union. Walsh rejected the report and refused to publish it on the ground that it criticized the Bolsheviks and the Russian system. After spending some time in Melbourne, Casey proceeded to Sydney where he again crossed swords with Walsh who, carrying out the policy of the C.P. was endeavouring to get the Seamen to affiliate with the A.L.P. (Australian Labor Party) from which body the Seamen had seceded because of the anti-working class role of Labor Governments and politicians during the Seamen’s strike of 1917 and 1919.

With Jacob Johnson (Assist. Sec’y. Sydney Branch of the Seamen’s Union) and a handful of supporters, Casey pursued the fight against affiliation with the Labor Party. This fight continued up to 1925 when an un-expected walk-out of British Seamen, who left their ships tied up on the Australian coast, over-shadowed the affiliation dispute. Incidental to the British Seamen’s strike, both Walsh and Johnson were arrested, brought before a tribunal set up under special legislation, and sentenced to deportation from Australia. We knew, at the time, that Walsh wanted to be deported and was to be given a job in England with Havelock Wilson. Casey worked unceasingly to prevent the deportation. Those who were associated with Casey believe that his activities on behalf of Johnson were the most brilliant of his career. An appeal was made to the High Court of Australia. He marshalled facts, ferreted information, countered the sabotage of Government henchmen, suggested successful points of law, and finally his subtle optimism triumphed. Dr. Evatt, one of Johnson’s counsel, (now Attorney General and ex-president of U.N.O.) unstintedly praised Casey’s remarkable accomplishments. Many barristers have openly acknowledged him to be "the cleverest lay-man they ever met." The High Court held the Tribunal’s decision to deport to be ‘ultra vires’: Walsh and Johnson were released from the Naval prison on Garden Island where they had been held while awaiting deportation.

Following the release and the settlement of the British Seamen’s strike, the fight around affiliation with the Labor Party again assumed an important place in the Seamen’s Union. Finally Walsh’s move was defeated and he was deposed from his position as G. P. Later a high officer of the N.S.F.U. visited Australia and reported that Havelock Wilson had sent over £3,000 to help Walsh in the fight against Johnson and Casey. In justice to this official, let it be said that on hearing the facts of the case, he urged that no more money be sent from the English Seamen’s Union for this purpose.

During these periods, Casey consistently carried on Socialist propaganda. He debated almost every "leader" in the Communist Party. He represented the S.P. of A. in debates with the Henry George League, the Labor Party, the Communist Party, Currency Experts, and host of others. He trounced Individualist A.D. Kay who after losing his seat in Parliament and on the Meat Board, went to England to be given later, a job by Churchill during the last war. Casey conducted Speakers’ Classes, Economic classes, open air and indoor meetings for the S.P.A. Prior to the formation of the S.P.A., he, together with Moses Baritz struck terror into the hearts of the professional "revolutionaries" of the C. P.

The anecdotes about them would fill a book; Moses, bombastic, merciless, ruthlessly capable in expounding the Socialist position; Casey, puckish, simple, unsurpassed as a teacher of young fellows, flashing with satire and armed with a power of mental penetration that pierced the armor of the most hide-bound opponent of Socialism.

For many years he held official positions in the Seamen’s Union. He was Secretary of the Brisbane Branch when he died. For many years he found it difficult to get jobs on ships. Victimised, he battled around on scanty food, a few beers and a bit of tobacco. Long speels of unemployment meant more time for Socialist activities. He never went short while his friends had a few bob. His knowledge of philosophy, economics, political and industrial history was amazing and his uncanny ability to interpret industrial awards, surmount legal difficulties with regard to the Merchant Shipping Act, The Australian Navigation Act and the various Compensation Acts, redounded to the benefit of his ship-mates. He was known as the Seaman Philosopher. So much, and yet so little, of that side of his life.

Personally, Casey was the finest friend ever a man could wish for. His loyalty to friends and principles was universally acknowledged. A little, broad-shouldered fellow, quietly spoken, with impish grin, happy and humming some simple Old-country folk song. It was a pleasure to be in his company. Ever ready to quaff a pot. A lover of children, he was always the butt of their frolicking at some friend’s family gathering. He was popular in the truest sense of the word. His friendship never wavered.

Now Casey is gone and comrades, all over the world, will regret his passing. He died of cancer. The working class has lost a champion; the Socialist Party has lost a great pioneer in Australia. A fellow member of the S.P.A. gave the final address at his cremation; a sad task but a privileged one. Casey’s life was devoted to the life of establishing a new social order. For while the sands were running out, in a recent letter to the writer, after describing his suffering, he concluded thus:

"I wish nothing better to anybody than good health, except a better system in which to enjoy it".

The memory of Bill Casey will sustain us in our future struggles.

W. J. C. (Sydney)


As a comrade mentons in the comments box, the obituary is from the Nov-Dec 1949 issue of the Western Socialist. It also transpires that the obituary has been reproduced on the net here. I think I may be getting old, because in all probability it was me who sent it to them, or at least it was the obit that I had scanned in that had been sent on by someone who I had sent it to but, for the life of me, I can't remember.