Snowy Mountains Scheme

The Snowy Mountains River (hydro-electricity) Scheme was a massive building project in the eastern areas of Australia in the 1950s/1960s which, along with steel/shipping projects like Port Kembla, employed my father and lots of other migrants to Australia – a massive industrial hydro project, which redirected rivers and tunneled through mountains, and – more importantly – effectively invented multiculturalism. More than 120 people died in accidents ‘taming’ the river, and some of the left union organisers for the scheme entered politics, and along with people like Al Grassby, who went on into govt in 1972, under Whitlam, their efforts meant Australia was never the same again. Powered up multiculti, Italians, Balts and Ukrainins learning English as in the pic alongside. Ivan Hutnyk was not well served by these ‘lessons’ and said it was mighty cold in the snowy (yes, there is snow in Australia). He didn’t start speaking good ‘strine till the early 60s. Ahh, the lucky country. Well, lucky but not without the hiccups that goofed Gough out in 1975, and led to the scourges we call PM Malcom pantsdown Frazer, PM silver-bodgie Hawke, PM Paul timepiece Keating and, PM John bumbling battler/razor gang Howard, who led the ultra-right resurgence of the dull in the mid 1990s. Rudd(erless) leadership seems set to continue, the old Left orgs have dried up like the river.

“The Scheme also absorbed many of the migrants who were arriving in Australia in response to the Commonwealth Government’s Immigration Scheme in the post-war years. Overall, 100,000 people worked on the Scheme’s construction between 1949 and 1974 two-thirds of them migrant workers. The workforce reached a peak of 7,300 in 1959.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme is widely recognised as the birthplace of multiculturalism in Australia. Workers from over 30 countries including Australia, Austria, Finland, Jordan, Russia, USA, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, Estonia, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Rumania and The Ukraine worked on the Scheme through planning and construction”. Ref

So, of course there have been debates about privatization, ecopolitics of river systems, cheesy films and dodgy poetry, better films, govt reports (and flip flops) and active campaign groups. On the Politics of large dams, see Patrick McCully’s excellent book Silenced Rivers, and an old piece of mine on the Bakun scheme in Malaysia in Left Curve (follow the links from here). The present campaign to restore flows to the Murray river has forced a 6% return. Go fish!


Fire cleanses. Why wash?

Because instead of clarifying matches, Boots, Tescos, Unilever, etc want to sell us soap.

Because soap makes us clean. They say.

Because cleanliness is next to the best way there is to sell more soap to get you more clean.

Because every time to eat off a plate you foul it and Unilever want you to believe that their chemical restores the plate to pristine purity.

Because dirt is alien, to be destroyed.

Never wash. Burn burn burn.

Rock Against Racism

Closet Cleaner: I just thought I might post this in the run up to the 30th anniversary of RAR event next saturday [click here or on the picture]. This is an excerpt from my book Critique of Exotica (2000)but originally written as part of an article with Virinder Kalra and Sanjay Sharma in Dis-Orienting Rhythms (1996) – which really is due for re-release as its out of print and not cheap on the used and abused section of Amazon (note zed folks, how about it?).



Way back in 1976, on stage in Birmingham, befuddled rock star and prime candidate for exploitation agent status, Eric Clapton announced that he supported ultra-racist Enoch Powell and thought Britain was ‘overcrowded’.[1] In the south of London punky anarcho-poseur Johnny Rotten snarled at such dinosaur rocksters to ‘fuck off’ and said he ‘despised’ the National Front, that ‘no-one should have the right to tell anyone they can’t live here because of the colour of their skin’ (Zigzag 1977, no 77: 4) and that ‘England was never free. It was always a load of bullshit … punks and Niggers are the same thing’ (quoted in Gilroy 1987: 124).

In September of that year, Rock Against Racism was formed as a response by concerned activists to the racist comments of Clapton and other musicians, and the perception of an increasing turn towards racism and fascism within some sections of British society. Tony Parsons, writing in Zigzag, reported that the National Front ‘intended to ban all music with black origins from the airwaves and replace the “jungle music”, as they put it, with some Great British marching music’ (Zigzag 1977 no.76: 4). At the conjunction of music and politics, two trends of music history are often associated at the birth of RAR in the available record: the anti-everything anarchism of punk and the prominence of reggae with its anti-Babylon, anti-capitalist slacker messages. It is always difficult to assess political content and context for popular cultural forms, and never more so for those formations which attracted the moral panic that punk and Rastafari generated. Nonetheless, with many punk and reggae bands on the bills, Rock Against Racism managed to organise almost 800 events in Britain between 1976 and 1979. The largest of these ‘carnivals’ in collaboration with the Anti-Nazi League attracted 80,000 people in May 1978 (Gilroy 1987: 132) and 100,000 in September 1978 (Anti-Nazi League education pack).[2]

Paul Gilroy argues that the formation of a mass anti-racist movement in Britain ‘has passed largely unacknowledged’ (1987: 134).[3] It would be inappropriate to place too much emphasis on the lack of readily available histories of Rock Against Racism and the ANL, but the proliferation and significance of histories of the poll tax campaigns, anti-roads protests, and of the miners’ and docker’s strikes (from both anarchist and socialist presses) as documentations of counter-hegemonic struggle remind us it is important to recuperate multiple versions of what goes on in anti-racism in Britain. There are various interpretations of why the Rock Against Racism/Anti-Nazi League assemblage is important. One suggests that RAR and the ANL ‘gave expression to the feelings of young people who had seen the inadequacy of racist explanation [and] revealed for all to see the implicit politics of youth cultures which were defined by and often copied from Black forms and traditions’ (Gilroy and Lawrence 1988: 146). The SWP orthodoxy is that ‘Rock Against Racism aimed at promoting racial harmony through music, and was one of the first organisations to mix black and white bands at gigs’ (Anti-Nazi League educational pack), and with the ANL showed the way, indeed the ‘lesson’ of how, to fight fascism. More extravagant and optimistic assessments can be arrayed alongside these orthodoxies – most famous amongst them Tariq Ali’s proclamation at an early RAR event that ‘Lots of people will come for Rock Against Racism today and will see that it should be Rock Against the Stock Exchange tomorrow’ (NME 6 May 1978).

Although conjunctions of punk and reggae music inspired activists, it was the case that RAR remained mostly white boys’ adventure rock for both organisers and performers – the Buzzcocks, the Clash, Tom Robertson. With the exception of lesser known and often obscure local reggae outfits, and perhaps Marion Elliot, aka Poly Styrene, from X-Ray-Specs (Marcus 1989: 77), RAR was into a more mainstream form of cross-over like UB40 and ‘stars’ like Elvis Costello and the Attractions, than a forum for local black cultural productions. It is worth noting that the British bhangra (Indy-pop) scene was running parallel to these developments, but there was no involvement of Asian bands in RAR. Bhangra bands were playing the circuits of weddings and community events in a context largely neglected by the organisers of RAR. Politically oriented Asian musicians, for example from the Indian Workers Association, might have been invited to events, but as the imagined Other were inaccessibly beyond translation.[4] In one example the RAR organisers abandoned plans to stage an event in Southall with Asian bands on the bill (Street 1986: 78­–9). The potentially huge Asian audiences that might have been reached were all but ignored.[5] The diversity of the RAR crowds were often declared: ‘punks with green and pink hair mingled with skins, hippies, students, and the occasional lonely representative of the middle-aged middle classes. A lot of black kids too, though fewer Asians’ (NME 30 September 1978).

Political Front or Popular Struggle?

A key issue of interpretation that impinges upon evaluations of the nature and usefulness of this mode of cultural work which is discussed in the available histories rests on the relation between the Anti-Nazi League as organised mainly by Socialist Workers Party cadre, and the Rock Against Racism collectives working throughout the country. While RAR was formed some time before the ANL, and organised many successful local gigs, it was when the two organisations joined forces to promote the large London marches and carnivals and a three-day ‘festival’ in Manchester that the movement gained widest public prominence.[6]

Gilroy’s suggestion is that the difficult cross-over of punk and reggae,[7] manifest as a broad anti-capitalist anti-racism, dissolved in the face of the organisational bureaucracy of the Anti-Nazi League. He offers two explanations for this, both of which seem to have resonance in general black organisation complaints about the white left. First of all ‘an emphasis on neo-fascism as the most dangerous embodiment of contemporary racism inevitably pulls discussion of “race” away from the centre of political culture and relocates it on the margins where these groups are doomed to remain’ (Gilroy 1987: 148). Second, the neo-fascist use of the British flag and patriotism spawned an equally suspect nationalism on the part of the ANL (written elsewhere, but reclaimed?). ‘The idea that the British Nazis were merely sham patriots who soiled the British flag by their use of it was a strong feature of ANL leaflets’ (Gilroy 1987: 131). With the ANL’s appeal to older voters with the slogan ‘Never Again’, an appeal to put Britain first and above the interests of ‘foreigners’ was not far behind.

The first of Gilroy’s criticisms might be questioned on the grounds that the intention of the ANL/SWP was indeed to bring a version of RAR anti-racism to a wider constituency, although it is conceded that their methods and tactics were insufficient as they clumsily grasped the symbolism of Nazism, and therefore an anti-Nazi politics, and made it stand for anti-racism. The second criticism, of a nationalist undercurrent within the ANL itself, is difficult to refute since in the second manifestation of the ANL in the 1990s this tendency could again be found. The way in which the SWP’s Chris Bambury claims the ANL organisation and the lessons of the 1970s are ‘the model of how to organise against the Nazis’ (Bambury 1992: 34) might be questioned when he even goes so far as to recommend an ANL structure to French anti-fascists, along with a large dose of anti-communist sectarianism. This might raise suspicions that there is more hype in the SWP/ANL front than content – and especially so for those exposed to increasing racist attack on UK streets. Support for Gilroy’s analysis could be found in the work of Bonnett who summed up: ‘Unlike anti-Nazi anti-racism, the radical anti-racist perspective is firmly committed to some form of anti-capitalist critique’ (Bonnett 1993: 120).

A common black criticism of organised left groups like the SWP and ANL was that they arrive with leaflets and resources to impose a different agenda upon local struggles which then develop in ways which are sometimes at odds with the broad aims of black groups. Writing of black mobilisations against racism in the aftermath of the Notting Hill ‘riots’, Farrukh Dhondy warned that ‘there are well enough anti Nazi fronts in existence with well organised badges, posters and marching orders’ (Dhondy 1978: 85). These fronts were otherwise characterised as ‘a rag bag of local letterhead processors … and project hatchers’ (Bengali Housing Action Group 1978: 109). Although the sincerity of many of those SWP members who did get involved in local manifestations of anti-Nazi anti-racism could not be faulted, it is clear that often the limits of this perspective caused resentment and disruption to other anti-racist concerns. Describing such worries as ‘hysterical’, Graham Lock summarised: ‘the argument goes that the ANL is merely a front for the Socialist Workers Party’ (NME 30 Aug. 1978, italics in original). In Sounds the ‘smiling, laughing, dancing, happy’ carnival-ists gave ‘the lie to all those cynics who try to paint the ANL as some sinister Socialist Workers Party plot’ (Sounds 30 September 1978). In a less credible association, the ANL/RAR was described as ‘a wide ranging celebration of solidarity for freedom and against uniformity and bigotry, fired by the same spirit that fires dissidents in Russia and trade unionists in Chile’ (Sounds 30 September 1978).

The Spartacist League’s pamphlet Militant Labour’s Touching Faith in the Capitalist State, as already mentioned, slated ‘the tradition of the ANL’ popular-frontist practice of linking up with ‘Anglican vicars and Labourite politicians’ to confront fascism with dances. Spartacist assessment of the ANL in the late 1970s deserves consideration: ‘When the fascist National Front marched through the East End in 1978, the ANL organised an ‘anti-racist’ carnival ten miles across town [SL italics], deliberately preventing thousands of anti-fascist militants from confronting and defeating the National Front’ (Touching Faith 1994: 4). Lock, in the NME, reported that repeated calls at the carnival for ‘volunteers to defend Brick Lane elicited little response. People preferred to lie in the sun and enjoy the music’, and speculated that perhaps the absence of an Asian contingent at the carnival was thus explained: ‘maybe they were in Brick Lane, or maybe it is their culture tends to get overlooked on occasions like this. Where are you now Ravi Shankar?’ (NME 30 September 1978). Other reports suggest that the SWP leadership intentionally ignored the Asian activists (and some SWP cadres) who had assembled to confront the fascists in Brick Lane. In this scenario the SWP central committee actively worked to close out those SWP local branches with tendencies towards ‘squadism’ (organised militant anti-fascist squads). Subsequently, many of these cadres broke with the SWP into other formations and micro-sects.[8] The Spartacist Touching Faith pamphlet pointed out that ANL equivocation was not confined to the 1970s, and had continued into the 1990s – going on to record that although the large October 1993 anti-fascist rally was a significant event (known as the Welling Riot by readers of The Guardian), the follow-up ANL carnival at Brockwell Park was nothing more than a rehearsal of this populist avoidance (more on this below).

Gilroy, writing with Errol Lawrence, characterised as ultra-leftist those criticisms of the RAR/ANL that argued it was mere ‘fun music with no political connections beyond the private affiliations of the musicians’. A ‘chorus of professional revolutionaries’ (Gilroy and Lawrence 1988: 147) insisted that RAR had to be structured with delegates, conferences and cadres. That this ‘ultra-leftism’ did not organise RAR and that instead the SWP/ANL moved in with a popular front anti-Nazism does not seem an important distinction at this distance. Nevertheless, the calls of the Spartacist League for Workers’ Defence squads as a response to the Nazis, and those of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency and other revolutionary communist groups, and the editorial collective of Race Today, for ‘community defence’ groups to combat racist attack, are considerably different from what the ANL offered.

Jump to 1991. The SWP moved to re-establish the ANL in the face of renewed awareness of increasing racism in Britain and escalating racial terror in Europe. Fascists were again standing for political positions and the British National Party was successful in gaining a council seat in one London Borough. In the face of this resurgent threat the SWP declared that Nazism was again an issue – the ‘lessons of the 70s’ (Bambury 1992) were to be rehearsed once again. Yet old problems remained, and the ANL was without, on this occasion, a national network of grassroots activists, previously provided by RAR, able to give organised left politics a hip edge. Where previously ANL/RAR rallies had been flamboyant affairs, the 1990s versions were still further dominated by the mass-printed bright yellow lollipops. This was seriously uncool. Nevertheless, the popular support for anti-racist expression did draw considerable numbers to ANL rallies and the Welling demonstration in October 1993 was a success in terms of numbers mobilised, although police protection of fascists and confrontational tactics led to some disarray.

[1] Fighting the Nazi Threat, Anti-Nazi League educational pamphlet.

[2] An SWP pamphlet claims each event attracted 100,000 (Bambury 1992: 33), Sounds reported an estimate by Lambeth Council of 150,000, ITV news said 60,000. Who knows?

[3] Much of the material for discussion of musical anti-racism is found only in obscure pamphlets, the left press and in forgotten histories, but Paul Gilroy’s 1987 book There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack usefully refuses to allow Rock Against Racism to be forgotten. David Widgery’s study Beating Time: Riot n Race n Rock n Roll (1986) has been out of print for several years;, histories of punk only offer brief reminiscences, and histories of reggae and ‘Two-Tone’ remain either unwritten, or focus solely on the reggae of Anglo-British bands like The Police and associated personalities. Widgery was a co-founder of Rock Against Racism and member of the Socialist Workers Party, and though his book was described by Jon Savage in England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock as ‘full of insults for the groups who supported RAR’ (Savage 19911: 484), it was the best of a small lot.

[4] This point is emphasised in Kalra (2000a).

[5] Doubtless this occlusion should not be overvalued since part of the explanation for the distance between bhangra and ‘mainstream’ English music culture was an intentional and organisational separation. It is worth mentioning that this continues today in bhangra, despite occasional major label signings.

[6] Critical discussion of the relation between the ANL/SWP and RAR is important because it illustrates a difference of political practice that is common to the relations between the white and liberal left and  Black political activity. It is not without recognising this tension that Gilroy points out that RAR had an element of anti-capitalist critique which was effectively curtailed by the anti-Nazi focus of ANL Gilroy writes that ‘Rocking Against Racism had allowed space for youth to rant against the perceived iniquities of “Labour Party Capitalist Britain”. The popular front tactics introduced by the ANL closed it down’ (Gilroy 1987: 133). In contrast the SWP claim that the ANL support of Rock Against Racism was ‘important in building support for anti-racism in schools, workplaces and the community, as well as exposing the Nazis of the National Front’, and ‘Of course this did not mean that institutionalised racism … or racial harassment was stopped’ (Anti-Nazi League educational kit). In reply to Gilroy’s criticisms, Alex Callinicos says: ‘It is in the nature of a united front that it brings together divergent political forces which are prepared to work together around a single issue, in this case combating the Nazis’, and shows that he is aware of the need to shore up criticism of this single issue focus when he adds that ‘Focusing in this way on the fascists wasn’t a retreat from the more general struggle against racism’ (Callinicos 1993:64).

[7] Gilroy claims that the general anti-capitalist orientations of RAR came mostly from reggae and some aspects of punk rebellion, although this latter with ambiguities since some punks flirted with the iconography of the National Front . A June 1977 editorial in the punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue had characterised the National Front as ‘crud’, but also linked them with the ‘commies, the Socialist fuckin’ Workers, the head-in-the-sand brigade and the poxy Evening News’ (Sniffin’ Glue 10, June, 1977). Whatever the status of the Nazi symbols, it is acknowledged that punk brought an anti-authoritarian and anti-state orientation that complemented reggae’s evocation of Black urban militancy Gilroy points out that the Notting Hill Carnival uprising coincided with the emergence of punk (Gilroy 1987:125) and so RAR came together in a way that broke from what was considered a ‘dour and self-defeating’ approach, ‘devoid of fun’ (Gilroy 1987: 127). An organiser of RAR commented in the NME that ‘for some reason or other the British left have always thought that anything electric couldn’t possess any true political awareness and that acoustic folk was the only possible music they could ally themselves with’ (NME 6 May 1978). There was no doubt that ANL and RAR were part of a moment in the political history of Britain that, alongside tumultuous musical developments, heralded a comprehensive change of tempo.

[8] The more interesting of these are Anti-Fascist Action, Red Action and the Colin Roach Centre (see ANL-Critical Examination Pamphlet, Colin Roach Centre 1995).

Check the book for full refs.

Away With All Gods

Bob Avakian has written the first book in years that makes me actually want to re-read the Bible, but this time as freaky horror show, weirded out fiction and gothic nightmare.

Everyone should read Away With All Gods because it is necessary, critical and timely, but also because it is a book written with joy and humor. Avakian has a whole lot of fun mocking the absurdities of those who should be called `god-botherin fools’ – never better than when he retells old Richard Pryor routines about Cleveland or reminds us of the hypocrisy of Ronald Reagan as Christian leader while wife Nancy reads the tarot. The trouble is that the people who go in for this religious-fantasy foolishness are serious, and they must be stopped. Avakian shows how and why. Pointing out that the myth that Zapata had not been killed and would return to fight again some day was flawed because it overlooked the fact that he was just as dead as was the resurrected Jesus; showing that Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ’ movie perpetuates an anti-Jewish slander that the mob killed the son of God; equally critical of contortions such as the one where the Quran is as fair to women thieves as it is to men (`cut off their hands’ if they do not repent); and skewering Christopher Hitchens’ whose critique of religion is just as much an anti-Muslim tirade (‘God is not great’) as is the US War on Terror; Avakian eviscerates all manner of soft thinking on issues that have a mysterious afterlife in popular thought today.

Avakian has answers as to why religious fundamentalism (Christian or Islamic) is on the rise, and he does this not with candles and mirrors, dark robes and incense, but rather a philosophico-political analysis and a program for change. These are things we really need to hear.

Its even for sale here


Attack the Headquarters

Rethinking CCS?? A message for Goldsmiths CCS students:

In summer term at Goldsmiths we in CCS will have a series of workshops (three x 4 hours) at which some of the PhD students and staff of CCS will present 15 minute provocations on research futures for CCS – the idea being that we will think about organizing a new cultural revolution, inside CCS and for the wider reinvention of cultural studies more generally (slogan: attack the headquarters!). The aim is to begin rethinking and redesigning what Cultural Studies in the UK can and could be. So in your spare moments please also start thinking about that – activism, critique, practice, adventure, engagement, philosophy, technologies, transformation… Make notes, plan to speak, talk about what might be needed.

The idea is that we spend some time reconsidering the kind of “New Cultural Studies” (if we can call it that at all) that we practice at Goldsmiths. Practice based work, activism, philosophy, engagement, criticism are put into play as broad topics. How can we both track the ways cultural studies works through attachments to existing forms of disciplinary production and how do we constitute cultural studies as an open cross-disciplinary space?

The format of each afternoon (dates to be confirmed, but most likely Tuesday afternoons, in summer term, (scheduled for 14th May [was 13th] , 27th May, & 3rd June) would involve presentations by past and current PhD students to start off the first 2 hour session, and presentations in the second two hour session will also include contributions from staff of the Centre.

If we support a global, international, practically grounded/activist/theoretically-engaged strain of cultural studies, what kinds of teaching does it require? How should research be developed and managed? We are interested in tackling these questions speculatively and concretely and at all scales, in the way the Centre works, in what Cultural Studies and what it does in the world.

We have already scheduled most of the days, but offers of short punchy questioning reflective provocations are welcome – please get in touch with John or Matt asap. The event is open to CCS staff, CCS students past and present, and I guess anyone who already has an established association with us – do get in touch [its not a general call as we don’t have huge amounts of space, and we are not so absurd as to think we are going to change Cultural Studies everywhere… – though that too might be suggested by some, and we could indeed do some events like this publicly when we get to the ten year anniversary of CCS at Goldsmiths next year – stay tuned].

[Also note: The ‘Cinema Division’ series will continue to screen at 6 on tuesdays (details here)]

Journal of the moving image

jmi-logo-copy_1.jpgYou can find my tactless trashing of televisual tourism and our ‘national treasure’ Michael Palin in one of the issues of the Jadavpur Uni Film Studies journal that have just been put online . Thanks Abhijit Roy.


“Journal of the Moving Image (JMI) is the annual journal of the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, published by Jadavpur University, Kolkata. It was launched in print format in 1999. The print and the online versions will now co-exist.

JMI seeks to represent critical work on the state of contemporary screen cultures. There are many regions in the world with large viewing populations, often with vast production infrastructures for film and television; but corresponding institutions or forums for critical engagement with such audio-visual regimes are still highly inadequate. JMI seeks to address a broad set of issues ranging from formal properties of the moving image to the social foundation of its production, transmission and reception. There will be a special focus on India and South Asia, and on issues of transnational media transactions, but we would like to offer a wider range of discussion on film and television from various parts of the world made from different perspectives”