Monthly Archives: November 2006

Dear Diary – Maoist Controversies

It has been a strangely volatile and entertaining day so far. First of all Academic board – a pretty dull looking agenda, but the high points were the student intervention by Hannah that crushed a badly thought out proposal on plagiarism (well, crushed isn’t exactly the word, since skillful meeting management deflected any visible crushing, but a victory for the students union in any case) and a report from Warden Geoff (on some Gang of Four-type committee) to advise on the reform of Uni of London that will do away with some superfluous uni-wide forums that probably were once pretty significant – well, if I heard it right amongst the clatter of refurbishment works, this seems like a quiet but major major coup. But that was just my admin stand-in responsibility. The day had started off strange, but it soon got very weird indeed.

So over lunch, a call from Bill Martin who is speaking at the Mao Workshop on friday…

[the details of which are:

Dec 1 2006 – Mao CCS 1-6pm

Centre for Cultural Studies and Department of Politics at Goldsmiths presents:

Mao workshop – Friday 1st Dec – Goldsmiths 1-6pm cinema – all welcome.

Why Mao? Why Now?

Why have a conference on Maoism in a heart of 21st century post-industrial post-colonial European Capitalism? What interest would Maoism hold for an Urban Bourgeois Institution of Intellectuals in an era in which Communism has been historically ‘surpassed’? Two decades after China itself began its ‘De-Maoification’? And why Maoism in particular out of all forms of Marxist-Leninism? Why does Maoism continue to inspire theory and revolutionary struggle far beyond the bounds of China and Chinese Culture, beyond the divisions of East and West, North and South? This small day conference attempts to address those and other questions by looking at different currents of Maoist thought and practice in the US, France, India, China and Nepal…. all welcome]

With Bill as keynote this will be good. He wrote “Humanism and its Aftermath” and very engagingly debated with Avakian in a recent volume that’s at home on my desk (and called “Marxism and the Call of the Future” – it has an intro by Zizek, which is amusing since as I mentioned on the links page of this blog, the human-print-industry that is S/Z is writing an intro now to Mao’s “On Contradiction” essay, from Verso in January). Expect Bill in fine form – come hear him tell the Zizek tale, and of the response they wrote to his forward – such that this workshop is gonna be much much fun. But as I was explaining to him, it is causing a bit of controversy, as well as gathering some enthusiasm.

The first example of enthusiasm today (there have been many) came from an email from a guy who’d been on a road building project with the CPN-M in Nepal. He has a 30 minute video about it that we will have to find time for – our breaks are too short, maybe another day – but his perspective on my rants about the Himalayas would have been good to hear. To be continued… but not now as then an interruption by phone again.

I got a call from a journalist in India who wants to know WHY WE ARE DOING A MAO CONFERENCE IN LONDON???

In response to this, when I told him, the head of the Dept of Politics (co-sponsor of our event) said, ‘well, no one would object if you did a conference on Hitler, so why not Mao?’.

Gulp. I anticipate an interesting day on friday for sure. Co-organiser Maude said that where she’s from a conference on Hitler would also raise eyebrows. Twitch, twitch. Enthusiasm and controversy indeed.

Then, the day got even better. Raymond Lotta got in touch (I think some parts of his informative letter can be shared here):

Dear John Hutnyk,
I will be attending the “Why Mao? Why Now?” conference at Goldsmiths and staying in London through the afternoon of December 6. I am a Maoist political economist based in Chicago. I have written and edited several books, including “America in Decline,” “Mao Makes Five,” and “Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism.” I promote the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, whose chairman is Bob Avakian. I wrote the preface to “Marxism and the Call of the Future” (the dialogue between Avakian and Bill Martin published by Open Court).I was hoping that after the conference—I’ll be staying in London through the afternoon of December 6–it might be possible to get together with you to talk. I have recently become familiar with your work (I am reading and very much enjoying “Bad Marxism”) and I also see from your blog that you have been reading Bob Avakian’s Memoir. It would be highly interesting for me to learn more
your work, your assessment of the radical intellectual-political scene in England, and more on your thinking about the relevance of Maoism to the 21st century. I would also like to share some of what Avakian has been speaking to in his writings and how he is enlarging the horizons of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

A little more about my work. My book “America in Decline” (1984) is an attempt to extend Lenin’s theorization of imperialism. I have written on issues of contemporary trends in the world economy (debt crisis in Latin America, famine in Niger, etc.) and recently done a critique of Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”. I have written extensively on Mao’s approach to socialist planning (politics in command, centralization/decentralization and the “information problem,” and regulation and stability/experimentation and upheaval) and on why “market socialism” represents no alternative to capitalism.

For the last year I have been on a lecture tour entitled “Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World.” This is part of the “Set the Record Straight” project aimed at challenging conventional wisdom about the “first wave” of socialist revolutions (the Soviet Union 1917-56 and China 1949-76)—that is, the idea that these revolutions were utter failures, utopias gone mad, etc. I talk about the great achievements, as well as the shortcomings and problems, and how Bob Avakian, building on but also going beyond these experiences, is bringing forward a radically new model of the dictatorship of the proletariat (I have attached the concluding section of my speech that deals with aspects of this new model). I have spoken at Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford here in the U.S. The idea is to “reopen” what is considered a settled debate and to stir discussion about scholars and professors and the new generation of students. It’s been very exciting and controversial (at UCLA, the sponsoring departments came under attack from reactionaries associated with David Horowitz who has been spearheading a campaign to “purge” radicals from the academy).

I have also been taking on “Mao: The Unknown Story.” I been on the radio about the book; and last month, I presented a critique of the book at a graduate seminar lecture series at the University of Chicago. Part of the reason I am coming to England is to talk with people about the prospects of a high-profile debate with Chang/Halliday—either in London or New York, or both cities. I really hope to ratchet up the level of debate. .. What is most important…I look forward to attending the “Why Mao? Why Now” conference and meeting you and others who will be there.
Yours in solidarity,
Raymond Lotta

So, all in all friday for the Mao Workshop is going to be great – Sukant worries there will be too many mad Maoists; others worry there won’t be enough, or they won’t be mad enough; still others were concerned at the idea of glorification of it all. The line up is: Alpa Shah on Naxalites (see my take on them here), Michael Dutton on China, Alberto Toscano on French theory, Sukant Chandan on the Black Panther Party. Bill Martin as keynote, and a panel at the end. Maude’s intro is going to be great (I’ve seen a draft), so I am sure all the contributions, those from speakers as well as those from the floor, will provoke. In general I am looking forward to debate debate debate.

Then next week we are going to have lunch with Raymond and hear a talk from him on tuesday evening (to be confirmed, but probably 6.30 in the cinema). Slowly we are surrounding the city, a protracted insurgency, but a lively one…

Red Salute

For Sunita Narayan

In solidarity with bookseller Sunita Narayan, this is from WTW:

“India: What is a “terrorist” book?

20 November 2006. A World to Win News Service. A contingent of 70 armed police invaded the Chandrapur Book Fair and surrounded the stall of the publisher Daanish Books 15 October. They made a list of some 200 books they found “objectionable” and “anti-national”. Among the authors were Clara Zetkin, Bhagat Singh, Che Guevara, Baburam Bhattarai, Li Onesto, Anand Swarup Varma and Vaskar Nandy. These books are not banned in India; they can usually be bought anywhere. Yet the police surrounded the bookstand for three hours. On the initiative of the Superintendent of Police, they returned the next day to seize 41 titles and arrest the owner, Sunita Narayan.

She was interrogated for 14 hours and finally charged under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a law passed two years ago when the new government came in that was presented as a step away from the widely hated (and US/UK-inspired) Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The section under which she is charged states, “Whoever conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or incites or knowingly facilitates the commission of, a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” The authorities have made it very clear that her “terrorist act” was publishing progressive books.

Although Narayan was released three days later, after protests locally in the state of Maharashtra and on the national level, she was given written notice to present herself if and when the police summon her.

At a 20 October press conference at the Press Club of India in New Delhi, a dozen independent publishers, half a dozen organizations and individuals condemned this arrest. In their statement, they pointed out that this was not an isolated incident:

“Similarly, a few weeks back, the performance of a play dealing with the history of Mumbai mills was forcibly stopped in Nagpur and the theatre group harassed.

“We are also concerned with the increasing menace of vigilantism by right wing groups in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Orissa, and the tacit or open support provided to them by the state agencies. This spells danger to the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to read, write, publish, disseminate and perform.”

end item”

So now we at Goldies anticipate controversy over our Mao Workshop even though we are not selling any of these revolutionary books by old retired Naxals and Che etc – but we already had some curious mail, including from India wondering why we were doing a conference on Maoism (a journalist from The Telegraph). Timely though – yesterday I was slightly dismayed to see that already the publishing machine that is Slavoj Zizek is introducing a new edition of Mao’s “On Contradiction” in January with Verso – in some small way our efforts will help prepare the ground for that I guess, and Verso will profit – I am remembering with poignancy that it was the Black Panthers 40 years ago today that sold the Little Red Book as a fundraiser… in these times commodification of Mao expands exponentially.

Come to our workshop. Details here.

Pantomime Terrors – DIY Cookbook

After friday’s absolutely great Dis-Orient X event which went off so well – thanks to ALL concerned… now I’m on the way to Magdeburg to talk about the new Fun-Da-Mental video, so, a few more notes (actually these were nutted out on the way to Stockholm last week – added to the ever growing file)…

A discussion of new work by diasporic world music stalwarts Fun-da-mental and the drum and bass outfit Asian Dub Foundation, relating to insurgency struggles, anti-colonialism and political freedom in the UK. The presentation will argue for an engaged critique of “culture” and assess a certain distance or gap between political expression and the tamed versions of multiculturalism accepted by/acceptable in the British marketplace. Examples from the music industry reception of ‘difficult’ music and creative engagement are evaluated in the context of the global terror wars.

I increasingly find it problematic to write analytically about “diaspora and music” at a time of war. It seems inconsequential; the culture industry is not much more than a distraction; a fairy tale diversion to make us forget a more sinister amnesia behind the stories we tell. This paper nonetheless takes up debates about cultural expression in the field of diasporic musics in Britain. It examines instances of creative engagement with, and destabilisation of, music genres by Fun^da^mental and Asian Dub Foundation, and it takes a broadly culture critique perspective on diasporic creativity as a guide to thinking about the politics of hip-hop in a time of war.
Pantomime Terroisms:

Thinking about pantomime terror deserves a little historical play. The popular christmas and summer holiday entertainment form has roots in vaudville and melodrama and might also be traced back through French mime, Italian Commedia dell’arte, or even to Roman mythology and the flutes of the god Pan.[1] A more detailed history of course would have to contend with the relation of the Pied Piper of Hammelin to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with issues of role reversal, double entendre, drag, slapstick, superstitions (left side of the stage for demons, right side for fairy princesses), and theatre ghosts if not more. The trajectory within the pantomime archive that I find most relevant here would start with Scheherezade and the stories of A Thousand And One Nights, the first ‘proper book’ I owned as a child – illustrated with lavish pictures of Sinbad the Sailor, various alluring princesses on flying horses or magic carpets, Alladin and his lamp, and of course Ali Baba and the forty thieves. That Sherezade had to tell devious stories to evade death at the handsof the despotic King Shahrya is only the first of the points at which Edward Said-style critiques of Orientalism would need to be deployed. Wicked and conniving traders outfoxed by fantastically beautiful maidens told as fairy tales to children but barely disguising the violence at the heart of the stories themeselves did certain ideological duty. My problem with Said however has always been that these effects are not just literary and historical, even as a wealth of historical research was released in the wake of Said’s texts. Today however pantomime seems to play an even more sinister role.

The ghost that is ‘behind you’ in today’s panto is the sleeper cell living and working amongst us, travelling on the tube, preparing to wreak havoc and destruction unannounced. Ali Baba is the despot holding the west ransom to the price of a barrel of oil; Sinbad is Osama, with a secret cave to which only he knows the secret opening code words: ‘open sesame’. The fears that are promulgated here are of course childish terrors and stereotype, but the problem with sterotype is their maddening ability to transcend reason and keep on poping back up to scare us. This is not a place for thinking, its theatre. We might consider the repetition of the historical as seen in Marx’s study of Louis Bonepart in the Eighteenth Brumaire: the second time history repeats it returns as high farce.[2] The need for someone to write the brumaire of Blair is pressing. It suggests to me a speculative dream version of sheherezade; who has been detained, rendered and interned in Guantanamo. Kept on her own in a cell except for a daily interrogation when she is brought before her captors who demand a story. She obliges them with the production of a narrative that provokes ever more draconian civil liberties crackdowns and higher and higher terror alert ratings in the metropolises, but the production of this narrative can never set her free and she will never become queen (Blair and Bush are already hitched to each other, and perhaps to history in the same way Nixon was to Watergate and defeat in Vietnam). Although, my dreaming of Sheherezade is only a conceit – yet a thousand and one terrors assail us all.


In the video for DIY Cookbook, pantomime characters make the argument. There are three verses. The first entails a cross-of-St-George-wearing youth constructing a strap-on bomb from a recipe downloaded from the internet. He is dressed as a rabbit and as a lizard in parts of the verse, playing on childlike toys and fears; the second verse references the Muslim scholar and the figure of the armed guerrilla as the character relates a more cynical employment as a mercenary making a ‘dirty bomb’ with fission materials bought on the black market in Chechnya or some such; the third pantomime figure is the respectable scientist discussed in RamParts by Dave, here the scientist in a lab coat morphs into a member of the Klu Klux Klan and then a suited business man, building a neutron bomb that destroys people ‘but leaves the buildings intact’. Pantomime allows Aki to point out the hypocrisy of an Empire with no clothes. The terrors we are offered every night on the news are pantomime terrors as well, a performance melodrama, operatically grandiose. The scale they require – weapons of mass destruction; Saddam’s show trial – is exaggerated in a way that welcomes oblique internalization. These figures are patently absurd, yet all the more effective as incitements.

See the video here:
Fun-da-Mental – Cookbook D.I.Y by bbpradi0

[1] James L. Miller 1978 ‘Review of Roman Pantomime: Practice and Politics by Frank W. D. Reis in Dance Research Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1/2 (1978-1979), pp. 52-54
[2] Marx’s Eigtheenth Brumaire is by far the most eloquent articulation of class and ideological politics available – the classic phrases are well known ‘they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’, ‘potatoes in a sack’, let the dead bury the dead’ and so on. See the translation by James Martin for Pluto Press 2002.

Global Warming in New Cross??

Neil of New Cross writes on Notes from an Island (a forum that will no doubt be one of those blogs eventually bought up by the multinational corporation that is Lonely Planet – we should start writing the people’s own travel guide now, beachfront development plans are clearly afoot…) …

We like to think of the Island as a place which has abolished work, but the other day we did come across somebody in a fluorescent yellow jacket clearly engaged in paid employment there. He appeared to be counting the traffic passing the Island, with others of his colleagues sitting on the corner of Pepys Road doing the same. In a recent chat with Ken, landlord of The White Hart, we discovered that there is a proposal to change the traffic flow and possibly even join up the Island with the mainland by the pub. Presumably then it wouldn’t be an Island anymore. We would be prepared to surrender this sovereignty in the interests of reducing traffic accidents, but only if the conditions on the Island can be extended to the New Cross mainland – no borders, no prisons, no violence, lots of flowers…”

Visit the Island, virtual tour.

Words of Advice For Young People

“The gadgets are gone!” – Burroughs Adding Machine Ad.

I have long been misguided by the wise counsel of Bull Lee, whether it be on school, school recess, or the world of gainful employment. Viddy these links below to see-hear his routines on America, world, atomics… the fight against control is sure to leave you in hearty cheer.


Cut ups yes hello

Ah Pook nuke

ah pook 2


My favourite Burrough’s quotes include (do the drawl):

“I don’t know if its Marxist or not, but its the truth”

“We are all black centipedes at heart”

“Words of advice for young people”
(check this out on the Disposable Heroes mix on “Spare Ass Annie”)

“A Johnson minds his own business”

The accompanying picture is of Grandpa Burroughs’ 1954 version of the Adding Machine. The text says:

“Because it’s built with a “memory,” here’s a calculator that does for you what a calculator should do. The all electric Burroughs Calculator with Memory Dials gives you instantaneous answers in one register, and automatically accumulates those answers in a second register (the Memory Dials) – for grand totals or net results. There’s no rehandling of figures …no chance for pencil and paper errors.
But that’s not all. This new Burroughs calculator has the distinctive advantage of combining this answer – saving feature with the day in, day out advantages of a simplified, instant – action keyboard. The gadgets are gone! Every key is “live” and every key stroke counts. Finally, this truly extraordinary calculator has a very ordinary price tag. It’s as easy to buy as it is to operate – just call your Burroughs man. Or write to Burroughs Corporation, Detroit, Mich”.

Queen’s speech or reading news – you decide.

People will have noticed (but will they, its a bolgospheric doubt we must often have) there are a bunch of alternative news sites linked in the left column of my tawdry souvenirs site. But for the really keen reader, here below are a few more good links from the great great journal Left Curve out of Oakland. These are more or less US/UK specific, but important nevertheless. So, when the Queen’s speech gets you down, click the links… but why is there still a Queen at all? Parasite. At least in Australia we were stupid enough to vote her in – the alternative was snivelling scuzz bag John Howard choosing a head of state for us (join the Government-in-exile, SouthLondonPacific bar Kennington for politburo meetings). We voted for her (democrazy rocks), but in England the Queen is there by default. Nobody voted her in here, but the bills she and her gilded spawn run up have been paid for 50+ years, and she is a major shareholder in dodgy profiteering death-mine-murder-kill outfits like Riotinto. Time for Regime Change in these unfair isles. Of course this should occur along with the impeachment of Blair – and after last night’s Olive Till ‘debate’, the seemingly very nice but ultimately not-that-much-to-say Stephen Frears should also be impeached. If not for Beautiful Laundrette having including a love story about a fascist (Johnny), then certainly for not committing treason-by-popular-demand by having Helen Mirrin abdicate. Three cheers for Olive Till though, and for MA student Carrie-Anne who was the highlight of the night when she thanked Olive’s son for the bursary cheque – not a dry eye in the house. OK, emotive bit over, now to read the news:
axis of logic
dissident voice
Ed Strong Blog
Thomas Paine’s Corner

Long Sunday

This blogger blogging on blogety bloggery is elegant at the end, and starts off with choice Teddy, the cuddly critic who is always super sharp, like the razor’s used so well on Sunday Too Far Away.

short sunday long – by CR

“jane dark’s sugarhigh not only has some swift Adorno for us (especially good for LS) -

“The consciousness of the unfreedom of all existence, which the pressure of the demands of commerce, and thus unfreedom itself, does not allow to appear, emerges first in the intermezzo of freedom. The nostalgie du dimanche is not a longing for the working week, but for the state of being emancipated from it; Sunday fails to satisfy, not because it is a day off work, but because its own promise is felt directly as unfulfilled; like the English one, every Sunday is too little Sunday. The man for whom time stretches out painfully is one waiting in vain, disappointed at not finding tomorrow already continuing yesterday”.

- but there’s also a new term for us to learn today:

“The anxiety of having to pay the rent, having to show up for work on Monday, is now only a start. There is a new anxiety into which that anxiety now hemorrhages. It’s no longer enough to find happiness is being always at work; that fades over the long Sunday. One must place that work within the space of flows, within the interlocking, competing and colluding organizations of interstatal politics and transnational capital, and this knowledge comes with a price: weltsystemangst, ‘world system anxiety.’”

The pleasure of the world-wide accessibility of your texts. The sense that you type into Burma, Moscow, Brazil’s backwater-ranches, Central Park West. The unbearably light weight of the whole that you move with your insomniac fingers. The job well down, everywhere all at once. And what drives it, what need it fulfills, what hole it fills.

The international-access – and international-labor – of the blog (especially as voluntary work) remains under-theorized…

Whatever. I must admit, I fantasize at times about international business travel. That I will be called to present in Sao Paolo, Cape Town, Copenhagen, and yes, above all, Shanghai. That it will be all Lost in Translation, all the way down. Laptoping myself towards the sublime.”

Thought Crime – its a joy!

At dinner the other day, KK told the story of his recent meeting with a ‘community copper’ on a bicycle who accosted him walking along the street. KK was wearing a beard and a back-pack, and the accusation was “you’e looking a bit serious, lad”. He was in fact thinking of buying fireworks, it being Diwali in England, so perhaps… but no, I think it indicates that everyday life is so much worse than the days when the standard bobby rap of “ere ere ere wots all this then?” would just make us laugh. Times have changed.

And then a former student, now a journalist in Russia, wrote to ask a few questions:

I want to know what you think it’s like working as a lecturer, in terms of motivation, work load, environment and general job satisfaction? Also, I was wondering if you thought there were any qualities that are desirable for people who want to pursue an academic vocation?…

I guess part of me feels a lot of academic research tends to be a bit removed from what’s actually going on now and this may sound a little stupid, but I’m not really sure why or for whom it’s done. But at the same time I’m constantly infuriated at the lack of time for reflexivity in my current job where everything has to be new and glossy so you often seem to churn out the same old bullshit… it would be great if you could give me some idea about what your job’s like and maybe some reasons why people do research in Cultural Studies?

Z, you are asking absolutely the right questions but its almost impossible to reply in anything less than 10,000 words.

I like Gayatri Spivak‘s take on what she does – she sees her teaching as an effort of working to try and change minds – or maybe better said, as Spivak also does (most recently in Naked Punch), as persistent teaching to try to rearrange desires. The first desire that needs rearranging from where I am is the special privilege well-meaning westerners have in desiring to ‘help’ people by intervening in their lives in ways that perhaps do not help so much at all – everyone from Madonna with child to backpackers doing charity work in Calcutta seems to be on a mission… and sometimes (too often) this includes bombing them to ‘help’ them onto the path of democracy. Well that’s a sure fire good example to convince people of the wisdom of our ways…

Does cultural studies help with that? – usually not. But trying to learn to think differently, to think, to think critically, about everything, is the basis of my approach to what I do as well. Or at least as often as I get a chance – in between bullshit production, (blogging; the publication machine) and routinised desk work. Teaching a Marx course that does not look for ‘the answer’ in Marx is a key part of my effort, and I am motivated by, and do enjoy, doing that. Old Beardo says there must be a ruthless critique of everything. This would have to include a critique of teaching too. I mean, how many minds are really changed? There are a lot of people in my class, they seem very enthused, we proceed apace. Yet the Democrats are the alternative to the Republicans in the US and the Tories here in the UK are back on the Immigration warpath. Chavez is only in Venezuela.

And then there is the whole thing about how the university system is a major impediment to any sort of critical intelligence, even as it is perhaps its last refuge. More and more mad administration forms; repetitions of bureaucratic procedure that make triplicate look like the good old days; vocationalisation that turns everything into a line on a CV, a phrase in a job reference, or a network meeting (rather than an exchange of ideas). The privatisation of education is well well well underway. Critical thinking is an endangered species, hidden amidst the overgrowth of accountancy. There is plenty I would like to do, and I write often along those lines in mad experiments which – probably for the better – never seem to work out (see here). But the effort is not unrewarding. I just wish there was some chance to say, sometimes, that things will get better than this. Every now and then it does seems possible – running down the street with a red flag at the head of a 2,000 strong demonstration; celebrating with friends the interventions and minor victories against the horror of mugwump corporate culture (see DisOrient X) … in between there are inspirational talks like that of Michael Taussig’s one on Colour and Terror here last tuesday.

Trouble is that there is never enough time, even to answer let alone ask all the questions (or verse vicer), and I do have to get to the pub, and to get ready for a visit to Sweden to give a talk on the great new Fun^da^mental video, which you can see here.

All good, be well. J.


Gagarin grooves

This looks like space-fun for every day of the week, not just Sundays:

++++++++++++++++ ++++++++++++++++
Sunday 19th November 6pm – 1am Radio Gagarin: Experiments in Sunday Socialism
+++++++++++++++++++ +++++++++++++++++++
Notting Hill Arts Club, 21 Notting Hill Gate, London W126pm – 1a.m. £5.

London’s only Balkan/Russian/ Baltic/Gypsy/Klez/ Mash/Thrash/ Trash/KULTURKlash!!!

Radio Gagarin’s’ bi-monthly Experiments in Sunday Socialism sessions fill Notting Hill Arts Club to overflowing with a tundra melting mix of live music, digital DJ prowess, performance art, east European cinema, poetry, puppetry, poverty, latkes, blinis and vodka. Live acts have included Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, Oi Va Voi, DJ Shantel, Sophie Solomon, Nayekovichi, Babar Luck, Mama Matrix, Luminescent Orchestrii, Geoff Berner, Ghetto Plotz & Mukka. The Commissar continues to pledge exclusive new music from DESTROYERS -100% Balkan Mania, EMUNAH …The Cut Chemist Crew of NW London’ and The Langham Research Centre Musique Concrete, performance from Friends of Gagarin, Marxist-Leninist alienation from art/animation/video installations for the Proletariat from state artists Adrian Philpott & Cathy Gale; frozen vodka & rakiya galore and resident DKs (Dancefloor Komissars) Max Reinhardt & Misha Maltsev sweating it out in the Gypsy Diskoteka til’ the road of excess has led us to the place of wisdom. Early evening come to feed your soul with autumnal home-cookin in the Kitschen and take a rest from your fight for Revolutionary Determinism for a few moments in the Kinodrom with new and classic shorts from Eastern Europe.
Co-Produced by YaD Arts / Adrian Philpott/ Oi Va Voi / The Shrine
For more info: tel 020 7629 5555 trotsky/works

Transcult Brit…

This should possibly go in my what’s on section, but as its also an ‘interest’ and a cite, its here.

Transcultural Britain is the 17th annual conference of the Association for the Study of British Cultures. Its held in Magdeburg at:

Universitätsbibliothek (Gebäude 30)
lat:52°08’20″N long:11°38’50″E
[I do like that they broadcaast their location in the way that boats signal distress!]

The rubric for the conference begins: “More often than not, discussions of multicultural Britain have focused on ethnic minorities and migrant or diasporic communities in their difference from and – tense or productive – relation to the dominant ‘white’ British culture. However, what exactly does that presumed core culture consist of? Does ‘British culture’ really exist as that self-enclosed, autonomous formation which its advocates try to propagate? Has it ever existed in history? Our conference starts from the assumption that Britishness has emerged through histories of cultural transactions with multiple others: colonial, Celtic, continental, trans-Atlantic, diasporic … These others were, and are, constitutive in the process of consolidating the myth of a purist national culture that paradoxically has, at least from the Renaissance onwards, continuously been characterised by the incorporation of ‘foreign’ cultural inputs. Britishness, in short, is itself fundamentally hybrid. However, one of the most striking responses to this condition seems to consist in the intensification of efforts at re-essentialising cultural identities in terms of ‘race’, ethnicity, religion, region, nationality”.

My talk for it is:

Topic: “Diasporic Music in a Time of War: from the trade in hybridity to the tirade of Terror”

Abstract: A discussion of new work by diasporic world music stalwarts Fun-da-mental and the drum and bass outfit Asian Dub Foundation, relating to insurgency struggles, anti-colonialism and political freedom in the UK. The presentation will argue for an engaged critique of “culture” and assess a certain distance or gap between political expression and the tamed versions of multiculturalism accepted by/acceptable in the British marketplace. Examples from the music industry reception of ‘difficult’ music and creative engagement are evaluated in the context of the global terror wars.

Sputnik Monroe

I had to repost this from comrade Renegade-Eye – I normally never notice wrestling news (that will surprise some of you) but its a sport with heros, and here clearly is one of them. Good for Elvis-Sputnyk-pretty boy – etc etc.

And so thanks Renegade Eye for the obituary – sure its sad to only hear of him now the old bloke has gone, but still instructive, and he does look a bit like my dad…

“Afro-Americans in Memphis often have three portraits hanging in their homes, Jesus, Martin Luther King and wrestler Sputnik Monroe.

The wrestling legend who was born with the name Rocco Monroe DiGrazio, died on Friday in a Florida nursing home at 78 years old. He had been ill several years, including having half of his lungs removed. His father by blood died in an airplane crash before he was born. His mother remarried, and at 17 years old, he became Rock Monroe Brumbaugh.

His first wrestling name was Pretty Boy Roque, when he started grappling in 1945. His first gimmick was using the name Elvis Rock Monroe. If you say it fast it is Elvis Rock-N-Roll. Once on the way to a booking, he picked up an Afro-American hitchhiker, and brought him to the arena, where he was wrestling. He was walking arm and arm with him. A racist fan saw that, and called him names. The wrestler kissed the Afro-American hitchiker on the lips. The worse thing she could call him was Sputnik. It was the time the Russians sent Sputnik into space. The promoter kept the Sputnik name, for cold war heat reasons.

It was wrestling in 1957 Memphis, Tennessee where he made history. Until the late 1960s, professional wrestling in the southern USA, was segregated. Afro-Americans only wrestled others. The Afro-American fans sat in the bleachers. According to National Public Radio “Sputnik wasn’t about to change anything about himself but his name. He continued to build friendships within the black community, and soon had a huge following. He was a heel, or a bad guy in wrestling parlance, but to his fans, he was a hero. Walking into the ring at Ellis Auditorium in downtown Memphis, he would be booed by many whites, but as soon as they were finished, Sputnik would turn to the top seats, the segregated top balcony, raise his arms, and bring down a groundswell of cheers. Sputnik wanted more of his fans to get into the auditorum, so he bribed a door attendant to miscount the number of African Americans admitted. Soon, there was no place else to sit but in the white section. Whether fans were black or white, promoters could see nothing but green, and with little fanfare, seating at Ellis Auditorium was integrated. Later, he tag-teamed with an African American, Norvell Austin. Many fans said it was the first time they ever saw a black wrestler in the ring.”

His 1959 feud with Billy Wicks, set attendance records in Memphis that were never broken until recently.

His work against segregation was honored by the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum. They have one of his ring outfits on display

Sputnik was an authentic tough guy who boxed, wrestled in carnivals and in arenas. He had his last match at near 70 years old. He never left an opponent feeling better after a match with him. He made Memphis better.

Addendum: In the 1960s on television was a western called “Bat Masterson”, starring Gene Barry. He was a gambler, and outlaw fighter who wore a derby and carried a cane and a Derringer pistol. Sputnik was in attendance, when the actor was doing a personal appearance. The wrestler took the cane, and broke it”.

See: Sputnik Monroe on NPR


Whaddayamean Cultural Studies?

I’ve been reading Andrew Ross’s “Low Pay High Profile” and enjoying it very much, even in its earnestly worthy moments and tone. Am I getting mellow? Can’t say there is a huge amount of it that is going down as notes to use later, but it’s a good book and I’m glad to have put it on my reading list – and not only as compensation for the less favourable review of something else of his that you can find included in its text file pre-published version below.

So what am I doing resuscitating another old thing from the battered filing cabinet? Partly pressure of work means me posting here less often than I might like of late, partly it is to clear out that closet, and partly to refresh memories and a sense of a mission – this was a review of an important book. I had read Tricia Rose’s incredible “Black Noise” and so stumped up money for this one. Andrew Ross later went on to write the “Celebration Chronicles” which was based on a year or so of fieldwork in the Disney town of Celebration – a special kind of torture. Thing was, “Black Noise” and “Microphone Fiends” were part of the blackground for my own forays into the world of music and politics. This even led to my own editing adventures (Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music – eds Sharma, Hutnyk, Sharma). So the questions asked below to Ross were really questions asked to myself – what are you doing editing a book on music??

Well, that was then – the book I helped edit was published ten years ago this month, and so we are having a party (or a wake) to celebrate that fact – come along to the New Cross Inn on 17 November 06 – see the Dis-Orient X flyer Anamik has prepared. There is a workshop on beforehand at Goldsmiths to discuss the changed circumstances in which now the war of terror, the demonization of Muslims, and shoot to kill on the streets/tube etc etc all make the anti-racist, anti-imperialist themes of that book still more relevant, and more necessary to update, than ever.

[Other editing moments from the zone of “music and politics” included:
‘Music and Politics’ special issue of “Theory, Culture and Society” Vol 17 no 3, 2000 (co-ed Hutnyk and Sharma).
‘Music and Politics’ special issue of “Postcolonial Studies” Vol 1 no 3, 1998, (co-ed Hutnyk and Kalra).]

*Whaddayamean Cultural Studies? So hip it hurts to dance*
by John Hutnyk (1994)

Review of Ross, Andrew and Rose, Tricia “Microphone Fiends: Youth Music, Youth Culture” Routledge: New York. 1994, 276 pages ISBN 0-41590908-2 (PB)

Andrew Ross – is he groovy or what? Is he just another one of those writers whose name seems to be always associated with the more interesting interventions in cultural politics, or is he a hyperreal self-cloning media machine? Either way he seems always to be at the forefront of each new fab fad presentation-volume of *culture-interests* to hit academic bookstore display tables. In the latest glossy version of this commodity form he begins his Introduction to the collection *Microphone Fiends: Youth Music, Youth Culture* with a very astute observation. Indeed an astonishing cultural paradox (ma-an). That a recent mainstream hip hop magazine Vibe (Time Publishing) offered “twelve lavish pages” of lifestyle advertising, followed, in one of those “bone-crunching contradictions of postmodern youth culture”, by a “swinging assault” on hip hop commercialism in a feature-length article (Ross 1994:1).

In my view it is possibly also quite contradictory that a cultural critic and baby-boomer like Ross is the one who introduces a work on Youth Culture and Hip Hop. His short essay deserves separate attention as it offers a commentary on a wide range of contemporary cultural problems (much in the same way that Brian Massumi introduced *The Politics of Everyday Fear* in 1993) and is, I think, indicative of a particular malaise that affects academic work in the otherwise excitingly productive era of desk-top/Mac-virtual publishing and consequent proliferation of writing styles. This malaise is one of a verbose and vacuous gee-whiz criticism, fascinated with moments of irony and political curios, but lacking in any deeper analysis or program.

Introductions such as this one entail a proliferation of generalisations (elsewhere in the book another boomer-commentator, Larry Grossberg, who also has a discipline-shaping role as editor of the journal *Cultural Studies*, proclaims the validity of generalities, but I will ignore his paper here in order to concentrate my abuse of Ross), almost as if the time has again come where ‘public intellectuals’ are called upon to provide opinions and views on all manner of things (echoes of Sartre, Marcuse, Adorno and Benjamin very much in fashion). The new popularity of criticism, after years of specialisation, offers a return to earlier times, and to the styles of the cafe or salon. Generalities? Andrew Ross asks, for example, in this collection of fine writing on youth culture, the question “What then is popular music good for?” (Ross 1994:3).

Surely we agree it is important to recognise the “level and attention and meaning invested in music by youth” (Ross 1994:3), even if it’s unclear why mild ironies about the use of Fleetwood Mac songs by a campaigning US President might be relevant in a book about youth culture, hip hop and dance. (I think Ross actually likes Clinton; well, I can’t tell if he hates him or not). But then I was also annoyed by Ross’s first words which address themselves to northern hemisphere types who identify parts of the year with the word ‘Fall’. Its all well and good for subcultural entrepreneurs like Ross to write about the fabrication and commercialisation of categories like ‘Generation X’, but to then present Beavis and Butthead, The Simpsons, Roseanne and other manifestations of post-Brady Bunch middle-class entertainment as providing “a genuinely critical response to the simple functionality of the American family” (Ross 1994:5) is too much. In my view, despite Ross’s dismissal of the show, watching Beverly Hills 90210 is an experience which evokes critical thinking in a way that the sit-com rehearsed transgressions of Simpsons et al do not. (Surely everyone recognises 90210 as satire?). It was the cartoon rebellion of Bart himself which became clear to me after hearing a trade union speaker from Thailand talk of her experience leaping from the third story of a burning factory onto the bodies of her fellow workers, who had been forced to jump before her and who cushioned her fall and saved her life. These women, aged between forteen and twenty-eight, had been locked into their mass production factory for fear that their low wages would otherwise encourage them to run off with the merchandise – they were making plastic Bart Simpson dolls for export. Sentimental, perhaps, this story even brought tears to the eyes of Mr John Halfpenny, the tired reformist leader of the Victorian trades hall, at the meeting where the Thai worker was speaking – showing that there is yet a point where such life experiences cut through the crap that is televised sedation.

Ross also provides cartoon explanations of the origins of Hip Hop in the Bronx and of the entrepreneurial independent record sector which “exploits social prejudice – as nasty as they wanna be – as unscrupulously as the lords of narcotraffic exploit poverty and social despair” (Ross 1994:6-7). This ‘lords of narcotraffic’ stuff would qualify Ross for membership in one of the late 80s Nancy Reaganite stormtroop patrols marching double-time through the backstreets of urban suburbs in riot gear chanting ‘War on Drugs, War on Drugs’ (apologies to Thomas Pynchon). Little here of the larger institutional and economic interests behind these scenes. Certainly the fact that some few black males in America can eke out a career in music or in the informal economy, or end up dead or in jail at a rate of one for every four in the twenty to thirty age group (“In other words they can rise to the top or crash to the bottom” (Ross 1994:7)) seems no justification for the comment that “the gap in opportunity between youth of colour and white youth is not as wide as it used to be” (Ross 1994:7). What is Ross trying to say here – that Clinton, Fleetwood Mac and the glories of capitalism are eroding racial inequality? All the throwaway lines in the world about the dead-end nature of jobs in the fast-food industry could not redeem the placatory republicism of this suggestion that things are getting better (they are not), or that Black males are not subject to continued capitalist exploitation (they are).

To me, Ross seems intent on leaving the system intact. There is a case for suggesting that cultural studies, with all its guerilla tenured (ex)Marxists, does little more than offer palliative support to a reconfigured but unchanged system. This might be elaborated again in the contemporary period: “in its monopoly stage, capitalism needs sociologists as critics even more than in the former role of apologists and ideologists” (Piccone 1976:137). There is less need for ideological legitimation where oppositional thought has been discredited – so we don’t need comprehensive ‘theory’ – and yet the decline of the national market as regulation in a context of internationalisation means it becomes useful to support a regulatory criticism for the time being – an internal control mechanism, also prefigured in the Westminister Democracy as the notion of the Loyal Opposition, now generalised to all aspects of culture. This of course can be permitted to appear, in its most ‘radical’ forms, at best in social democratic and revisionist manifestations, but more often than not it is a celebrated lifestyle leftism, repleat with dark glasses, sportscar, and invitation to all the right parties (champagne ones, not Leninist). All this happens in cartoon form and on MTV. Full integration of the global order may again obviate the need for this tolerance of hip sociology – cultural studies – but for the time being it exists as repository of a dissenting view that is corraled in such a way that it provides no threat, and rather maintains the system through a role similar to a dysfunctional steam valve.

It is, however, insufficient to think that the new productions of pop sociology, critical anthropology and cultural studies, et. al., are merely ideological and/or co-opted components of bourgeoius life. In a letter to a newspaper (‘On Proudhon’) in 1865, Marx pointed out that economic categories were “theoretical expressions of historical relations of production corresponding to a particular stage of development of material production” (Marx 1865/1950:356). It is today clear that the interests of the culture industry – both academic and commercial, if there is a difference – must still be considered in the same way. The poverty of philosophy, which in the guise of Proudhon imagined theoretical categories to be eternal and preexisting ideas, remains a relevant accusation – impoverished – as a corrective to the ways we think of culture today. Complacently, within the frame. Get with the program. Museums and satellite television, coffee table reproductions, critical conferences. The new cultural studies seems very much like the old salon of the ancien regime, where booty plundered by imperial adventurers was shown for the edification of select guests in bourgeois drawing rooms. This is an inadequate, and elitist, forum which offers little hope for political intervention. We need to do far more than point like grinning monkeys at the ironies of the cultural system that attends global exploitation (hitherto cultural studies has done little more than this, anthropology hasn’t even come close).

I’d like to know how they let this guy loose as co-editor of an otherwise interesting collection of papers? He doesn’t contribute anything other than the introduction, while the other editor, Tricia Rose contributes both an article and an interview. The interview is great stuff, an expose of the music industry – indeed, the whole book is good, and it would be disastrous if anyone was put off by the intro. The ‘editor’ Ross has made some good choices. advised no doubt by Rose, but good nonetheless. Perhaps he just rushed the first bit. Whatever. All this makes me wonder how contracts for edited volumes are awarded today? Who gets the funds? How the work gets divided up? (Who are the people mentioned in the acknowledgements – students? and what parts of the production process were theirs?). Having done a similar job myself, all this makes me suspicious of the role of an ‘editor’ – which seems to me to sometimes border on that of the pimp, at least of the broker, and too often the real estate agent. I wonder what this does for one’s career – to write a book about hip hop without writing on hip hop; or to write a book with Andrew Ross; or to be shelved in the library as author (is this still important for tenure? Or research grants?). The importance of how these cultural artifacts circulate today, under whose auspices and patronage, and to what ideological and political gain, I wouldn’t want to guess. It would of course be very mean to underline the subcultural ‘contacts’ afforded to Ross as Director of the American Studies Program at New York University. But there you are: he is the man with his finger on the pulse. Hola.


Massumi Brian (ed) 1993 “The Politics of Everyday Fear” University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.

Marx, Karl 1865/1950 ‘On Proudhon’ in “Selected Works Vol 1”, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow.

Piccone, Paul 1976 ‘Review of Helmer, The Deadly Simple Mechanics of Society’ in “Theory and Society” 3(2):135-8



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