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.”