“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Friday, 31 October 2008

Barclays to offer interest free loans.

When Barclays Bank turned down the offer of a government bail out it ensured that there would be no threat to the bank's independence or to senior management's richly deserved bonuses. It did not mean of course that Barclays was not as deeply in the shit as any other bank, just that they would have to look elsewhere for a financial leg up. Enter the Royal Families of Qatar and Abu Dhabi who are now set to bail out the High Street bank to the tune of 7 billion quid in return for 32% stake in the operation. So far so good. Barclays are saved and members of the board will not be reduced to doing the Christmas shopping at Woolies
But hang about. I thought that usury was forbidden  under sharia law and that Islamic banking involved no interest charges. Does this mean that Barclays will be bound to offer interest free loans if the Middle Eastern investors ever end up with a controlling stake? 
Islamic banking seems like a pretty good idea as it goes and more along the lines of a mutual society than the city spiv flogging mortgages of the back of a lorry that we have grown used to. However, I'm not an expert on banking or sharia law and if you really want to find out about Barclays new line in interest free loans I suggest that you trot down to your local branch and ask at the desk.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Ross,Brand and a very silly idea.

I don't know if the Jonathan Ross / Russell Brand fiasco has been deliberately engineered to take our minds of the impending recession but it might as well have been. I'm prepared to accept that both Ross and  Brand are overpaid tossers, reproductive parts of the first water and a general waste of space but aren't we making just a bit too much fuss about all this?
Meanwhile, the prize for dim idea of the week goes to DEFRA who announced that in future schools and charities that have a compost heap (it's not clear yet if that includes allotment societies) will have to pay an annual £50 fee to be exempt from a recycling license. This master-plan will be administered by the Environment Agency who will also be responsible for INSPECTING THE SITE OF EVERY COMPOST HEAP.  Sometimes I feel like I'm losing the will to live.

Monday, 27 October 2008

It goes to show you never can tell.

When Ariane Sherine and her mates launched the Atheist Bus Campaign with the support of the British Humanist Association, they were asking to raise five grand to advertise on a few buses for a few weeks. It just seems to have captured peoples imaginations and last time I checked the kitty stood at well over £100 000 !! It's time that we took a stand against religious loonies of all persuasions. If ever there was a time to put across an anti-religious, anti- capitalist and pro collectivist  message that time is now. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Shipping News

 If you thought that hedge fund managers were scum you should meet shipowners. The attitude of this bunch of undesirable aliens toward employees was best summed up by the late, unlamented Lady Astor when she suggested that merchant seamen should be prepared to work for free as they got to "see the world at others expense". The only honest shipowners were the pirates.
Now comes the news that shipping costs have been slashed by a massive 80%. That's right, if you want to charter a container ship it will cost you just one fifth of the rate for this time last year. So think of the profits they must have been making. And still they scour the world for yet more impoverished people to crew their rust buckets. Bastards, all of 'em.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Who is that masked man?

The masked man has long been a favourite character in popular culture. In Victorian "penny dreadfuls", comic books and films,the Lone Ranger, Zorro and that perennial anti-hero Dick Turpin have all swung from chandeliers,fought their way out against seemingly overwhelming odds, leaped from the balcony onto their trusty steeds and rode off to do battle against the forces of darkness once more. I suppose that there was a kind of historical inevitability about the emergence of masked wrestlers. It's as if the mysterious heroes and villains of pulp fiction had been waiting all along for that call from the wonderful burlesque world of professional wrestling.  It was a match made in heaven.
Well actually, as far as I can tell, it was a match originally  made at New York's Manhattan Opera House in 1915 on the occasion of an international tournament that had been set to run for a couple of weeks. Many of the top American and European names were there including Alex Aberg, Ben Roller, Wladek Zbyszko (brother of the more famous Stanislaus),  Strangler Lewis and a host of lesser grapplers. It should have been a sell out but for whatever reason the old luvvies just weren't  getting the bums on seats and at one stage it looked like the wrestlers might be in danger of outnumbering the punters. Something would have to be done.
One evening, just as proceedings were about to get under way, a man stood up and announced that the gentleman sitting next to him, a gentleman who he had the privilege of managing and who was, at this moment in time wearing a  black mask, this gentleman was in fact a wrestler of such outstanding quality that not one of the assembled athletes would be able to prevail against him if only the powers that be would give him a chance. It was an outrage that this great wrestler was being barred from the tournament just because of the need for him to remain anonymous.
Eventually the Masked Marvel (for it was he) and his manager were escorted from the building,only to repeat the performance the next night, and the next. When the promoters relented and allowed the mystery man to compete it was standing room only. Night after night he played to a packed house and never looked like being beaten. Toward the end of the run the Masked Marvel was finally defeated and forced to reveal his identity. The audience waited with baited breath. Did the mask hide hideous disfigurement? Was our hero an estranged member of the British Royal Family? He turned out to be one Mort Henderson a jobbing wrestler from the Midwest. 
 In the the wonderful smoke and mirrors world of professional wrestling, Mort Henderson deserves a nod of recognition as the founder of a tradition that has endured to this day.  A tradition that has reached it's final, if not necessarily logical, conclusion in Mexico where all wrestlers wear masks. Mexico was also the home of the most famous of all masked grapplers. A man who during a fifty year career became a national hero, as well as the hero of thousands of matches not to mention countless B movies and comic books; El Santo.
The masked wrestler was always a favourite with British promoters. Apart from the obvious  marketing appeal it also had the advantage of allowing a wrestler to work twice on the same bill: once as himself and later, after a quick cup of tea and a fag, as the Red Scorpion or whatever. There have been many notable British masked warriors. Count Bartelli stood the test of time. Kendo Nagasaki had a nice line in mysterious occult knowledge and random bits of martial arts equipment, but for me the one who stands head and shoulders above the rest was the one and only Doctor Death. There was a real air of menace about the Doctor. Mind you, coming from Hollywood as he did it was good of him to make the effort to get over here and work Walthamstow Town Hall as frequently as he did. Doctor Death's alter-ego was in fact well known wrestling promoter, owner of the famous Two i's Coffee Bar and Tommy Steel's first manager, Paul Lincoln.  Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

As we don't see it.

In 1967 the Solidarity group published a summary of their views entitled As We See It and some years later, in an effort to clear up any ambiguities or misunderstandings went on to publish a more detailed, but still short, statement called As We Don't See It. I recently came across my old copy and sat down to re-read it. Even after all this time, and in spite being written against a background of the Cold War and a very different world, it remains in my view one of the clearest pieces of writing to come out of the  libertarian movement. Well worth the effort of trying to get hold of a copy at the Anarchist Book Fair.

Monday, 13 October 2008

On being serious in the city.

I'm getting to know that triangle of ground in front of the Royal Exchange quite well. Today it was a "don't bail out the bankers" protest called by London Shop Stewards Network. I think that I was the only Freedom Pass Anarchist in attendance but there was no shortage of Trots who looked like they were well past the first flush of youth.
I got talking to a nice lady flogging The Socialist and after commenting on the poor turn out I said that  hoped that they would create as good an impression on The City as the kids did on Friday. She explained that unlike Friday's young insurrectionists she represented a serious organization and went on to tell me that she had been a member of Militant (Socialist Party) since the 60's. She seemed like a good soul and I didn't want to be rude or sectarian. Didn't ask about when the correct historical moment was likely to arrive or make any of my usual smart arse comments. Just smiled weakly and made my excuses. I suppose this is where I've been going wrong all these years. Just not serious enough you see.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

We Live In Interesting Times

Interesting times indeed. The past week has seen the economic crisis deepen dramatically. Things are happening at an accelerating pace and who knows what the next couple of weeks will bring. Some of us have maintained for years that running the world economy like a bookies was bound to end in tears before bed time but no matter. We need to raise the game a bit. Extend the rhetoric beyond "I told you so". People are worried about their savings, their homes and their jobs. How will they respond to this? That is the critical question. Will the crisis bring people together or force them to retreat into the isolation of the family? 
From this mess we can build something better. I know we can.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Martin Rowson at the RSA

I don't know why but the Royal Society of Arts has never really appeared on my radar before today. I suppose that I had just assumed that it was part of the establishment and nothing to do with me. However, when I was told that Will Self was introducing a talk by cartoonist Martin Rowson on "The Power of the Political Cartoon" it sounded too good to miss and I duly trotted off to RSA HQ in John Adam Street. It turned out to be one of the most interesting and entertaining gigs that I have been to for some time. The main thrust of Rowsons argument was that humanity has been around for about a hundred thousand years and that for almost all of that time lived in non-hierachial hunter/gatherer societies, with social elites only developing with the dawn of agriculture. Nothing very new so far but Rowson then went on to suggest that the main tool used by hunter/gatherers to prevent the emergence of an elite is mockery. Nothing punctures the inflated ego of the potential leader like having the urine extracted at length. Political cartoons are an honourable continuation of that ancient tradition.
Martin Rowson is not just a brilliant cartoonist, he is also a very amusing speaker. If all the RSA's talks are as good as this I might become a regular.

Monday, 6 October 2008

On Blogging

Three months into my career as a blogger it's maybe time to pause and take stock a bit. It was suggested to me that I do a blog long before I actually got down to it. I had resisted mainly because I was, and to some extent remain, a bit suspicious of the whole blog media. What concerns me is the picture of thousands of bloggers typing away, legends in their own bedrooms and inhabiting a virtual world that they have confused with actual practise. It was interesting to hear Martin Wright, during the recent Ian Bone interview, express similar concerns regarding the possible isolating effect of the internet.
I eventually decided to bite the bullet and join in for one very simple reason. I enjoy writing. For most aspiring writers the options are limited. We can keep a journal with no intention of seeking publication. To some extent this appeals and I see myself complete with quill and dipping ink writing these masterly observations of the world for future generations to pore over. In reality it ain't going to happen.
A second option is writing for occasional publication in papers, journals etc. The third option, the self or group publication, and worse still, distribution of magazines, papers and leaflets is one that I think I wont be taking part in again - but I take my hat off to those that do. That,for me at least, leaves blogging.
A few random thoughts on the blog. I struggle a bit with the technology, find it a bit boring to be honest, but hope to improve and add graphics and so on.
Are their any women bloggers, or have they all got better things to do?
Does anyone read it? Probably not judging by the lack of comments, but what the hell. For someone who paid their dues cranking a duplicator, this is a piece of piss.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The ongoing debate (slanging match) about life-style versus class struggle anarchism seems set to run and run. It's been going for the last forty years to my certain knowledge, and if recent posts on the anarchobloggesphere are anything to go by, seems set to see me out. Of course the roots of the problem lay deep in the history of the European socialist movement, Marx and Prouhdon both having had a bit to say on the matter. By the 1940's George Orwell was having fits about sandal wearing beardy-wierdy vegetarians getting us all a bad name. In such august company it seems unlikely that I will be able to add much of value but for what it's worth here are my thoughts on the matter.
For a long time now there has been a connection (and at times a confusion) between radical left politics and the bohemian life style. This connection is hardly surprising, as someone challenging the bourgeois mode of production may well also reject what is perceived as a bourgeois life style, even see this rejection as an integral part of their politics. So the two things, bohemian and lefty, are certainly not mutually exclusive BUT neither can we assume that a person who is the one will also be the other. We are all familiar with the hip capitalist, or the eco-facist for that matter.
A lot of the problem comes down to what I call "throwing the baby out with the bathwater". What I mean by this is that very often, in the quite legitimate attempt to call everything into question, comrades can reject a great deal that is useful and authentic and even adopt a spurious alternative. Our project is to supersede capitalism not to reject out of hand all the product of capitalist art and science. We don't need to develop an anarcho/communist alternative to the law of gravity. Don't need to confuse rebellion with the uncritical acceptance of every kind of mumbo-jumbo.  My generation, in throwing out the attitudes of our parents with their demob suits and uncool "make do and mend" approach to life, also threw out their collectivist/distributive world that they had fought so hard for. In the sixties and early seventies we struggled to make our politics relevant to every facet of our lives. We were right to make the personal political, to take up the struggle for sexual liberation but in doing so many of us ended up with an austere, miserableist politics. Punk was in many ways a rejection of this no fun approach to life and politics. "Revolution is a carnival or it is nothing" but as usual much that was of value was thrown out along with the dross and soon we were left with nothing but the cult of celebrity fashion. What I am saying is that in all the above cases the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.
So where to with this class struggle/ life style split? To start with I have always felt that I had a bit of a foot in both camps, certainly when I was younger, and have been happy to have pretty straight industrial militants and extreme space cadets as my comrades. I certainly don't have any solutions but would just like to propose the following. Maybe we could even talk about it without referring to each other as wankers.
For a start "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that class analysis" and by class analysis I don't mean anything more intellectually demanding then simply knowing who's side you are on. As we judge each others politics let's use the criterion, "who's side are they on".
The libertarian strand of socialism is not just about the redistribution of wealth and the abolition of privilege, it is about the discovery of a new and authentic life and while it is wrong to think that it is possible to build that life alongside (as an alternative to) capitalism, it is equally absurd to demand that every effort to live a different life is wrong, that we must wait until "after the revolution". To know that capitalism is able to recoup everything and sell it back to us does not mean that we sit frozen, like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Part of the reason why the anarchist/libertarian socialist movement has been dogged by disagreements is that the very nature of our politics has allowed the development of a huge diversity of emphasis and opinion. It's a diversity that we should cherish, that we should be proud of. I'll try and remember that next time some vegetarian eco-mental gets up my nose!