Monday, May 31, 2004

Don't Mention The C Word

"The very idea of class makes Americans, including journalists, uncomfortable. It grates against the myth, so firmly ingrained in our national psyche, that ours is a society of self-made men, with bootstraps. This idea persists even though upward mobility, in any broad sense, is becoming a myth. It adds a moral tinge to discussions of poverty, a notion that the poor must shoulder much of the blame for their plight, and the corollary, that the wealthy should be credited for their success."

Hat tip to Skookum Talk for bringing to my attention Brent Cunningham's article, Across the Great Class Divide,which appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review and where the quote above is originally from.

I think I first realised that class was a thorny subject in America when years back whilst still at school, I remember watching an Oprah Winfrey show - yes, I'm not proud of it but for the purposes of this post I am prepared to admit that I have in the past watched an Oprah Winfrey show all the way through; though if you fling it back at me at some later date I'll just claim false memory syndrome as my defence which I'm a bit of an expert on 'cos Oprah devoted two separate one hour long specials on the subject in series 4 show 17 and 18 back in 1989 - where a mailman on the show described himself as an ordinary middle class kind of guy.

Reading through Cunningham's article it looks like whatever false class syndrome that postie had is ten fold for the majority of Americans. Apparently the majority of America is seen by itself as 'middle class', with the exception of those on one side who can be labelled as the super rich and the underclass/white trash/urban poor on the other side. ("Urban poor is a polite way of saying black or hispanic.) Journalists, according to Cunningham, in America has done very little to challenge this myth because apart from the obvious reasons cited above in the excerpt from Cunningham piece, the working poor are never newsworthy. The right in Britain keep on harping on about middle England that never gets reported on or catered for, and yet from the other side of the pond there is the hidden America, 35 million in poverty according to official statistics, 44 million without healthcare and we can watch re-runs of Friends and Will & Grace on E4 until our lottery numbers finally come up but the C word won't be mentioned in Central Perk or anywhere else.

I'm okay though - I saw through the myth of there being no working class in the United States armed only with some back issues of the Western Socialist in my back pocket and a copy of a well thumbed collection of Raymond Carver's short stories.

I can't get too sniffy about the American view of class anyway. The so called obsession with class that we apparently have in this country is misnamed - we have an obsession with caste. The right schooling, the right breeding and the right sort of credit card and even that is being chipped away with the supposed meriocratic revolution kickstarted by Thatcher and her minions all those years ago. It's not the done thing to refer to yourself as working class nowadays. It's interpreted as being anti-aspirational, not wanting to get on in life, which you can if you work hard enough. People who refer to themselves as working class these days can be placed in two categories: 1) The lefty politicos with a chip on their shoulder - guilty as charged. 2) And what used to be known in my Gran's day as the Nouveau Riche. Various pop stars, actors and footballers who like to refer to themselves as working class 'cos it is a measure of how far they have travelled in life. The Latin term for this phenomenon is Micimus Cainicus , and the suggested family motto to be placed on the ceremonial coat of arms is: Look How Far I've Come Mother.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

A Song That Should Have Stayed Under The Floorboards

I can't believe that I nearly missed this when having a scout around the Respect website.

Not being content with taking Aretha Franklin's great soul classic, Respect, in vain by using it as the name for the politically opportunistic lash up between the Socialist Workers Party and George Galloway, the Respect Unity Coalition have decided to re-record the Erasure *cough* classic, Respect* and push it as their election campaign song. (Aye I know the original song ain't that good and most people know it - if they know it at all - from the Wheatus cover version.)

After reading the following on their website: "Download the MP3 today and make it our theme song in your area. Pound out the message! Rattle the windows! Pump up the volume!" I had to download it. If the trendy vicar who writes the blurb on the Respect website likes it, it must be worth a listen . . .

Imagine for yourself the kitsch Euro-pop hits from the eighties, such as Nicole's A Little Peace; Ryan Paris's La Dolce Vita; Matthew Wilder's Break My Stride and Sabrina's Boys Boys Boys: Now scrub that lot from your mind 'cos this download is ten times sodding worse. There will be rejects from Pop Idol who will listen to it and piss themselves laughing that such cheesy rubbish has been released in good faith. It's like K-Tel never went away.

Didn't Erasure also release a single called Ship of Fools?

* There has been an unconfirmed reporting of a press statement issued by Gil Scott-Heron's manager, in which the following passage has been widely quoted: "Gil's family and myself would like to thank the Respect Unity Coalition for not following through with their original choice of re-recording The Revolution Will Not Be Televised for their election campaign song. After hearing Respect re-recording of Erasure's Respect, we recognise that such a cover version could have propelled Gil back into the abyss of substance abuse to dull the pain of them murdering his classic protest song.

We offer our condolences and deepest sympathy to the families of Vince Clarke and Andy Bell. There but for the grace of god . . . "

If He Was Made of Chocolate He Would Eat Himself . . .

George Galloway, former Labour MP until his expulsion from the Labour Party and now leading member of the Respect Unity Coalition, has released a statement to inform his Glasgow Kelvin constituents that he he won't be standing at the next General Election in the newly merged Glasgow Central constituency. The typically self-effacing George had the following to say: “I won’t be standing as a candidate in that constituency because to do so would mean that I’d be contesting against Mohammad Sarwar (presently the Govan MP) who, as well as being a close friend, is Britain’s first Muslim MP,” said Galloway. “I introduced Sarwar to politics and I’m not going to do anything which might result in his removal, particularly if it allowed the SNP to take the seat.” " . . . introduced to politics"? Such humility from George nails the lies of his critics who label him Gorgeous George. Further on his statement, he writes: “I’ll still be very much involved in campaigns and I do intend to return to mainstream politics there in the future, although I have nothing planned.” "There" being Scotland, and perhaps a wee hint of an indication that Galloway has his eyes on regaining his membership card in the post Tony Blair Labour Party. And there was all you cynics out there who presumed that the shotgun marriage between Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party was nothing more than cynical political horse trading between Galloway, who is using the SWP as the bodies on the ground to do the canvassing and to provide the organisation to organise the meetings and rallies, etc, and the SWP leadership who is using Galloway as the face, leading voice and charisma - and christ they need the charisma - of their final attempts to locate the missing million and half marchers from last year who should have gravitated towards them in their capacity as one of the leading organisations in the Stop the War coalition.

New Year's Revolution - Part Two

It was a bit amiss of me to post a link to the The Boondocks cartoon without any other reference to where it was from and who it was by, so if you want the S P, just click on this.

New Year's Revolution

I don't think I ever had this much fire in my belly.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

'I can see dystopia on the map, where the fuck's utopia?

Clicking on the Books section of the Guardian's website, I see that the latest in the regular series of Top Ten book listings is Toby Green's top ten utopias and dystopias.

In the main, I've tended to shy away from this genre of literature, though I would always recommend Marie Louise Berneri's 'Journey Through Utopia' as an excellent primer on utopias and dystopias, from the Ancient Greek world up until the immediate post World War period which is when Berneri's book was written, being posthumously published after her premature death in 1949.

Looking at the list itself, I can only admit that I've only ever read one of the books in the list all the way through, Zamyatin's 'We' and even that - which though undoubtedly a masterly novel - was a bit of a grind to get the whole way through, what with the deliberately dehumanising aspect of Zamyatin not giving his characters names but coded numbers in his dystopian fantasy. I guess I should get round to reading at least another four of the books on the list but I know it is not going to happen between now and me getting a ten stretch in a Prison with a top of the range of library.

Why mention this particular top ten, then? Well, apart from using it as an excuse to post another message to the blog and give the illusion of industry, I guess I have always been fascinated with this genre of literature in connection to the revolutionary politics I support. What's the connection? Well, William Morris's 'News From Nowhere' gets the obligatory mention in the top ten (make it a fifteen year stretch in a Open Prison to get me round to finally ploughing through that particular book.)

What I am in fact waiting to be written is the utopian socialist novel that deals with such fantastic flights of fancy as a quorate Branch meeting; a Party Conference without handbags at ten paces; a public meeting organised by the SPGB that doesn't mention Tony Turner*; and - and this pushes the proposed book into the realms of magic realism - an SPGB candidate retaining his or her deposit at a Parliamentary Election.

I know - all fanciful stuff:

"You may say I'm a dreamer,

but I'm not the only one.

A saved election deposit,

And Peter Snow will exclaim: the SPGB are more than just a bit fun"**

*Tony Turner, a SPGB member who was considered one of the best outdoor speakers - bar none - in his heyday of the thirties and forties, especially at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. Sheila Lahr, in her online memoir, wrote of him: "Tony Turner, the Socialist Party of Great Britain speaker, who always has the highest platform and the biggest and most attentive crowd in the Park. He silences any would-be hecklers with wit. When, during the war, a soldier took exception to some of his remarks and shouted at him "I’m fighting for the likes of you!" Tony replied calmly "I give you my full permission to stop fighting for me this instant!"

** I couldn't get "Peter Snow's swingometer" to rhyme with anything - damn.

Friday, May 28, 2004

For God and Country

Q: I would like to go back to the first incident, when the survivor asked why did you kill his brother. Was that the incident that pushed you over the edge, as you put it?

A: Oh, yeah. Later on I found out that was a typical day. I talked with my commanding officer after the incident. He came up to me and says: "Are you OK?" I said: "No, today is not a good day. We killed a bunch of civilians." He goes: "No, today was a good day." And when he said that, I said "Oh, my goodness, what the hell am I into?"

Reading the excellent Whiskey Bar blog, I stumbled across an interview with Marine Staff Sergeant, Jimmy Massey, that originally appeared in the local American newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, and from which the quote above is an extract from.

In the interview, Massey explains how he, a soldier who served twelve years in the US Marine Corps, went from being someone who unquestioningly went to war in Iraq, believing the official line of it being a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein's attempts to build up a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, to someone who felt:"I was like every other troop. My president told me they got weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam threatened the free world, that he had all this might and could reach us anywhere. I just bought into the whole thing."

Reading Massey's interview reminded me of the oft-quoted statement from Smedley D. Butler, a former Major-General of the Marine Corps:

"There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its 'finger men' (to point out enemies) its 'muscle men' (to destroy enemies) its 'brain guys' (to plan war preparations) and a 'Big Boss' (supernationalistic capitalism).

"It may seem odd for me, a military man, to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to do so. 1 spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service as a member of our country's most agile military force - the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to major-general. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

"I suspected I was just a part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession, I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

"Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped to make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that the Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

"During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals and promotions. Looking back on it, I feel that I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. I operated on three continents." (Quoted in the Western Socialist, November, 1961).

As indicated above, this forty year old quote from Butler is quoted from the Western Socialist, the old journal of the World Socialist Party of the United States It's a quote I read many years ago and the initial surprise and shock of reading such candour from someone who knows how and why the capitalist strings are pulled have diminished over the years through nothing more than over familiarity with the quote. However, it regained its contemporary relevance because, despite the impact of reading Massey's interview, where he discloses what was really happening to the 'grunts' on the ground and how it went against everything one read in the mainstream press at the time (admittedly there were exceptions amongst the press), and how he now understood that he served in a war fought for reasons that he neither understood nor supported, it is the case that his objections to the war are laid squarely at the door of George W. Bush and his administration. The 'Great Man of History' and its counterpart, the 'Great Villain of History' idea is something that socialists should always warn against and, from his quote, it is self-evident that Butler saw the bigger picture if only because of the length of time that he served, and because of the more senior position that he held, with the American Military - therefore being able to have the greater overview of American Foreign Policy.

This is no slight against Massey's experience and the account recounted in his interview: Just the recognition that unfortunately the majority of the material and arguments against this war are still limited within the scope of attributing its cause to the work of a particular partisan section of the political elite and their own personal motives.

Reading the Massey interview, and previously watching the news footage surrounding the scandal of what happened at Abu Ghraib jail, where especial interest was focused on Lynndie England, one of the American soldiers that was implicated in the abuse of Iraqi detainees in the jail, and how by all accounts she signed up to the American army as much for economic reasons as for reasons of patriotism it reminded me of the following dialogue from Lone Star, written and directed by the brilliant John Sayles I don't have the necessary eloquence to explain why this excerpt is so powerful - John Sayles dialogue is eloquence enough - but I think it says so much for why so many men and women do sign up for 'God and Country' ('Queen and Country' for the tea drinkers reading). It is to the credit of Sayles as a writer that the dialogue of the two characters in the scene is not simply put in place to make a cheap point against people who serve in the military, and to his further credit that these two characters, as the case with all the characters in his films, are something much more than ciphers in the film. People always have their reasons.

Athena stands at attention as Del sits at his desk, reviewing her record. He lets her stand for a long time before speaking--

DEL- Private Johnson, are you unhappy in the Army?

ATHENA - No, sir--

DEL - Then how would you explain the fact that out of one hundred twenty people we tested, you're the only one who came up positive for drugs?

ATHENA - I'm sorry, sir.

DEL - When you were given the opportunity to enlist, a kind of contract was agreed upon. I think the Army has honored its part of that agreement.

ATHENA - Yes, sir--

DEL - Do you believe in what we're doing here, Private Johnson?

ATHENA - I-I can do the job, sir.

DEL - You don't sound too enthusiastic.

ATHENA - I am, sir.

DEL - What exactly do you think your job is, Private?

ATHENA - Follow orders. Do whatever they say.

DEL- Who's "they"?

ATHENA - The--the officers.

DEL - And that's the job? Nothing about serving your country?

Athena is confused, hesitates to speak--

DEL - These aren't trick questions, Private. You'll be given an Article 15 and be going into the ADCAP Program one way or the other. What happens after that is up to you. I'm just trying to understand how somebody like you thinks.


DEL - Well?

ATHENA - (Hesitant) You really want to know, sir?

DEL - Please.

ATHENA - It's their country. This is one of the best deals they offer.

Del knows he asked for it, but doesn't like the answer--

DEL - How do you think I got to be a colonel?

ATHENA - Work hard, be good at your job. Sir. Do whatever they tell you.

DEL - Do whatever they tell you--

ATHENA - I mean, follow orders, sir.

DEL - With your attitude, Private, I'm surprised you want to stay in the service.

ATHENA - I do, sir.

DEL - Because it's a job?

ATHENA - (Struggling) Outside it's--it's such a mess--it's--

DEL - Chaos.

Athena is sure she's overstepped her rank--

DEL - Why do you think they let us in on the "deal"?

ATHENA - They got people to fight. Arabs, yellow people, whatever. Might as well use us.

DEL - Do you think you've been discriminated against on this post?

ATHENA - No, sir. Not at all.

DEL - Any serious problems with your sergeant or your fellow soldiers?

ATHENA - No, sir. They all been real straight with me.

Del stands, thinking, trying not to bullshit her--

DEL - It works like this, Private--every soldier in a war doesn't have to believe in what he's fighting for. Most of them fight just to back up the soldiers in their squad--you try not to get them killed, try not to get them extra duty, try not to embarrass yourself in front of them.

He is right in her face now--

DEL - Why don't you start with that?

ATHENA - Yes, sir.

DEL - You're dismissed, Private.

ATHENA - Thank you, sir.

Athena salutes, steps out. Del looks out the window, troubled by the encounter.

Missing In Inaction

Oops - nearly a month since my last post. No, the May Day march didn't take that long - though some of the speeches at Trafalgar Square seemed longer - just a combination of bare arsed laziness and a computer virus banjaxed my commitment to regularly updating this blog. I think I will ease myself back into the swing of posting by just doing a few short posts for the time being, until inclination or alcohol prompts me into another bout of writing diarrhea. Flicking through a collection of James Cameron's journalism from the seventies and the eighties, I chanced upon the following quote from the great Studs Terkel, when commenting on the Presidential contest between Reagan and Carter back in 1980: 'If I had a thimble and poured into it the difference between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, I would still have room for a double martini.' A beauty of a quote that can be used for all occasions - just delete the two names above and insert the names of Bush and Kerry for this year, and keep it in cold storage for 2012 when you can insert the names of Jeb Bush and Hilary Clinton. And it makes a nice change from always using the Tweedledum and Tweedledee analogy. Get behind me Lewis Carroll.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

May Day - International Workers Day

Cut and pasted below is the text of the leaflet that SPGB members will be distributing at May Day events this coming weekend in various places around Britain. I'll be attending the official TUC march in London and falling as it does this year on a Saturday, there is a strong chance that the numbers will be up on previous years on those people attending. It's probably best if I leave any reflections on attending the event until after I've actually been and gone to the event. ;-)

A Socialist Message to the Workers on May Day

Today's march has a long history. It is well over a century since the TUC began to organise May Day demonstrations in Hyde Park. The main objective was to advance the interests of all workers through stronger trade unions and in time this achieved some success. But there was more to it than the struggle for higher wages and the removal of legal barriers against union action. There can be no doubt that in the minds of many who first marched was an idea of a new and better society - Socialism!

So what has happened since that time? Those earlier campaigns were against the conditions of the capitalist system and today's repeat event shows that nothing has basically changed. For all the great speeches and fine rhetoric, the countless miles marched and the many times of bitter struggle, to secure a living we still have to sell our labour to employers to make profit for a few. This is our only means of getting a living for ourselves and our families.

What does this hold for the future? World wide, the capitalist system is bigger and stronger than ever. It goes on dragging more and more people into its machinery of exploitation. Does this mean that even at the start of this new century there is only the prospect of world domination by global capitalism?

We in the Socialist Party say – no! It is tragic that the TUC became linked with the Labour Party. This was based on the false idea that socialism meant nationalisation. It was even worse when "socialism" was used to justify the tyrannies of state capitalist regimes in Russia and other places. Socialism means none of these things. Before it was corrupted, "socialism" had a clear meaning that we in the Socialist Party still uphold. It means common ownership where all means of life are held in common by all people. It means running the world through voluntary co operation. It means production directly for needs with free access to goods instead of the market system with its buying and selling for profit. It means workers of all countries uniting to work for their common interests. It means organising for a system of true democracy.

The voice of this demonstration is the voice of labour and wherever we look we still see labour in economic shackles. It suffers the waste of unemployment and the miseries of poverty. Its use is distorted in a world armaments industry. As part of the means of human destruction, hundreds of millions are under arms. The work of providing for needs takes second place to making company profits.

The history of May Day shows that protest is not enough. If the millions of workers throughout the world who, over the past century marched against the conditions of capitalism, had joined the work for socialism the capitalist system would have been consigned to history. We would now be living in a world of co-operation, peace and material security. What this means is that the capitalist system will continue indefinitely until we can build a strong socialist movement based on socialist principles that will not be compromised.

The Socialist Party was founded in 1904. We have never been diverted from presenting a clear choice between Socialism and capitalism. We have never given up. Sadly, since then we have seen the continuous rule of reformist governments which have perpetuated the rule of the owning class. The consequence has been the most destructive century in history.

This need not go on happening! What this demonstration should be demanding is free access to all means of production and all resources based on common ownership. These are the natural inheritance of labour. Everything that is best in this inheritance has only one source which has been useful work in all its variety. Generations of working people have built up immense powers of production. The vital demand should be for their take over by the whole community for the benefit of the whole community. World socialism will operate with one simple and ordinary human ability which is universal – the ability of every person on the planet to co-operate with others in a world wide community of interests. Why not make the first step to help bring this about and contact us using the details below.