Paul Mason: “The end of capitalism has begun”

July 20, 2015 at 6:53 pm (capitalism, capitalist crisis, economics, fantasy, Guardian, intellectuals, Jim D, reformism)

This has been causing some excitement in liberal-left circles, as it apparently means would-be lefties can just wait for “post-capitalism” to happen, while working in retail management or small business:

The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.

…read the whole article here

A comrade comments:
“It’s complete nonsense; not only utopian in the worst sense of the word but also depressingly gradualist and reformist (its central claim is that ‘post-capitalism’ will just sort of emerge as the result of a proliferation of… well, I don’t know what exactly: file sharing?).

“The ‘would-be lefties’ drawing the conclusion that they can ‘wait for post-capitalism to happen’ – i.e., without having to think, or organise, or act, or struggle in any meaningful way at all – seems to me an entirely faithful reading of the article.

“It’s like the worst bits of Owen and Proudhon repackaged for the digital age and dressed up as some amazingly innovative, novel theory. But at least those people (even Proudhon, who was basically a reactionary) had a bit of fighting spirit about them, wanted to build a movement (of sorts), and wanted people to fight the system (in however distorted or misguided a way). What does Mason want us to do? Surf the web?

“It’s actually quite sad from a guy who probably ought to know better, and who only a few years ago was writing books about how the key aspect of contemporary capitalism was the globalisation of the working class. He seems now to have decided that this isn’t really that important after all.”

Permalink 9 Comments

Previously unpublished: Victor Serge on Trotsky’s ‘Their Morals And Ours’

June 24, 2015 at 8:35 pm (democracy, From the archives, good people, Human rights, intellectuals, Marxism, posted by JD, socialism, trotskyism)

Victor serge.jpg
Above: Serge

Unpublished Manuscript on Their Morals and Ours

Translated: for 2015 by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.
Translator’s note: This 1940 manuscript, which we thank the great Victor Serge scholar Richard Greeman for providing us, and which has never before been published in any language, is an essential text in the Serge canon. It demonstrates his distance from what was left of Bolshevism as well as his critique of the dogmatism of Trotsky and Trotskyism. His admission that the germs of Stalinism can be found in even the Bolshevism of the heroic period is a key element in understanding both the Soviet Union and Serge’s development. Of especial interest, as well, are his nuanced comments about the European social democratic parties, a bugaboo of the revolutionary left but which Serge finds to have played and continue to play a valuable role. The illegible sections of the manuscript, as Greeman has pointed out to me, are testimony to Serge’s poverty: he couldn’t afford new ribbons for his typewriter.

The need for this critique recently struck me while translating Leon Trotsky’s remarkable essay Their Morals and Ours. There are surely no other contemporary documents that better express the soul of Bolshevism, by which I mean, of course, the Bolshevism of its great years and also, as we will see, the Bolshevism of its decadence which, while courageously opposing Stalinism, the doctrine of the Thermidor of the Russian Revolution, nevertheless bears its mark. And there is absolutely no doubt that no one will ever write anything comparable on this subject, for the great Russians of the three revolutions of 1905, 1917, and 1927 are dead, and we know all too well what kind of death that was. Trotsky remains the last representative of a great historical event and of the type which was both its product and its highest achievement. The modern world owes these men a great deal; the future will owe them even more. Which is even more reason not to blindly imitate them and to try to discover to precisely what extent the socialism that is on the march owes them its approval.

One is immediately struck by the tone of Trotsky’s book, though not by what is peculiar to it, that is his incisive and clear style , but rather by the domineering tone of Bolshevik speech of the great years, along with its echoes of the imperious and uncompromising style of Karl Marx the polemicist. And this is something of great importance, for this tone is essentially one of intolerance. With every line, with every word it implies the claim to the monopoly of truth, or to speak more accurately, the sentiment of possessing the truth. That this sentiment is born of an assurance that is often useful in combat is undeniable. But that this assurance is at bottom unjustifiable is also undeniable. The truth is never fixed, it is constantly in the process of becoming and no absolute border sets it apart from error, and the assurance of those Marxists who fail to see this is quickly transformed into smugness. The feeling of possessing the truth goes hand in hand with a certain contempt for man, of the other man, in any case, he who errs and doesn’t know how to think since he is ignorant of the truth and even allows himself to resist it. This sentiment implies a denial of freedom, freedom being, on the intellectual level, the right of others to think differently, the right to be wrong. The germ of an entire totalitarian mentality can be found in this intolerance.

Trotsky confounds under the same rubric and with the same contempt democrats, liberals, idealists, anarchists, socialists, left socialists (the “centrists”), right communists, and even left communists (“Trotskyists”) who offer any objections to what he thinks. Through purely mechanical reasoning he considers that they constitute a united front “against the Fourth International.” The existence of the latter is, however, still only a problem, but even if it were already a reality this way of viewing it would still be surprising because of its disdain for the facts. The anarchist Berneri (and quite a few of his political friends), the Menshevik Rein-Abramovich, the POUM militants Andres Nin, Kurt Landau, Arenillas, Mena and so many others) are dead, along with hundreds of thousands of poor Spanish buggers crushed under the weight of international reaction. Along with Rykov and Bukharin, the right communists in Russia [rest of the sentence illegible]. To say after all this that only the Fourth International “suffers the pressure of international reaction” is truly a bit of swagger. But we can see how this swagger has become possible: however weak it might still be – and this means however far from real political existence it might be – the Fourth International alone is the bearer of revolutionary truth. And so… etc, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment

More “boycott” nonsense from luvvie hypocrites against Israeli film festival

June 10, 2015 at 1:07 pm (anti-semitism, cinema, culture, Free Speech, Guardian, intellectuals, israel, Jim D, media, Middle East, palestine, television)

Largely written by Comrade Matt C, edited by JD:

A number of prominent individuals from the British film and arts world have signed a letter, published in yesterday’s Guardian, calling on cinemas to boycott the London Israeli Film and Television Festival:

The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies. By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalises, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.

The signatories – some of whom are Jewish – include Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, John Pilger, Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes.

The festival’s organisers reply:

“Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented film-makers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.

“Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”

There are, I would suggest, two problems with the boycott call.  First, it is based on confusion between the Israeli government and the Israeli state.  Clearly, the two are not entirely separate but a distinction can be made between the government (that is the policy making executive) and the state more generally.  The state obviously includes some institutions that socialists would wholeheartedly oppose: the military (as we do that of any other state, including our own), Mossad and institutions that reflect religious particularlism.

The Israeli state prioritises the rights of Jewish Israelis over Arab Israelis (and many other states, including Britain, have racist biases), but there are many things that the Israeli state does that are not directly linked to this, such as arts funding.  To a degree, arts funding reflects the character of the state which is often not good (and this includes the British state).  Nonetheless, many of those on the list are happy to take funding from the British state.  So looking down the list: Mike Leigh for many years made dramas for the state-funded and ultimately stated-controlled BBC, and currently has a production of The Pirates of the Penzance running of the English National Opera (state funded through the Art Council); John Brissenden works for the state (Bournemouth University) and presumably accepts its funding for his PhD; Gareth Evans works curates at the Whitechapel Gallery which receives state funding, again via the Arts Council.  I am sure the similar points could be made about most of the signatories.

No doubt the boycotters would reply that they are not “silent accomplices” of the state (as those participating in the London Israeli Film and Television festival are styled in this letter), and their work is not a form of “collaboration” with it.  They would argue, I guess, their work is not compromised by this funding, or at least that they fight against the states restrictions: is a reasonable defence.  The arts and academic research frequently rely on a degree of support from the state, and this is in many ways preferable to the being reliant on the free market.  But it would appear that the boycotters are not prepared to extend the same arguments to Israeli film makers whose work would be unlikely to be seen in this country without the sponsorship of the Israeli arts establishment (which means state support).  The boycotters accept the sponsorship of their own (racist, militarist etc.) state but do not think that others (or uniquely, those in Israel) have the right to do the same.

The second question is: what are these people boycotting?  The point is not whether anyone who opposes the policies of the Israeli state in Gaza and the West Bank would agree with all of the films being offered here.  A socialist and consistent democrat should never be a left-wing censor allowing only views that they endorse to be aired.  The only possible grounds for a supporter of free speech to oppose a cultural festival such as this is that it constitutes propaganda that is the cultural front of oppression (and even then, calling for it to be boycotted would be questionable approach).  Looking at the brochure for the festival it is clearly not such a form of propaganda – even Fauda, a drama about Israeli undercover commandoes targeting a Hamas militant, runs with the current fashion of moral ambiguity rather than being a gung-ho adventure.

Other items on the programme more obviously address the human dimension of the Israeli-Palestine conflict (Dancing with Arabs, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem) and the influence of religion on aspects of Israeli life, although many other offerings are more mainstream films and TV dramas.

It is certainly possible to criticise both the selection of material to be shown at the festival and the Israeli media industry behind it since there are no films, as far as I can see, made by Arab-Israeli film makers.   But this is hardly the point.  Rather, those who call for a boycott demand (it would seem, uniquely) that film makers from Israel should only be allowed to show their productions in Britain if they do so without any association with the state in which they live.  Given the nature of cultural production and its reliance on state support, this is a call for a boycott of all but the most independent of film and TV producers and, in reality, amounts to a total boycott of all Israeli films and art. It is a ridiculous, reactionary stance that will do the Palestinian cause no practical good whatsoever, while alienating mainstream Jewish opinion in Britain and fuelling an insidious form of anti-Semitism that is becoming more and more “acceptable” in British liberal-left Guardianista circles. In truth, this boycott call (like the entire BDS campaign) only makes political sense if you wish for the ‘delegitimisation’ and, indeed, destruction, of the Israeli state: something that most of the signatories would, I’m pretty sure, deny they advocate.

Permalink 8 Comments

Rushdie slams “pussies” who won’t defend free speech

April 27, 2015 at 6:28 pm (apologists and collaborators, democracy, Free Speech, intellectuals, islamism, Jim D, literature, satire)

The world is turned upside down: Amnesty’s conference recently voted against condemning anti-Semitism, and now PEN members refuse to defend free speech:

Salman Rushdie slams the “pussies”, some of whom are (or were) friends of his:

“If PEN as a free-speech organisation can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name,” Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

This speech is simply superb:

Permalink 42 Comments

Günter Grass on Israel: what Norm said at the time

April 13, 2015 at 8:09 pm (anti-semitism, blogosphere, censorship, From the archives, history, intellectuals, iraq, israel, literature, poetry, posted by JD)

The announcement today of the death of Günter Grass brings to mind the late Prof Norm‘s wise words following the Israeli government’s decision to declare Grass persona non grata in the light of the poem published below. This row erupted in 2012 – six years after Grass confessed to having been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager.

What Must Be Said

by Günter Grass

But why have I kept silent till now?

Because I thought my own origins,

Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,

meant I could not expect Israel, a land

to which I am, and always will be, attached,

to accept this open declaration of the truth.

Why only now, grown old,

and with what ink remains, do I say:

Israel’s atomic power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what must be said

may be too late tomorrow;

and because – burdened enough as Germans –

we may be providing material for a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

wil not be expunged by any

of the usual excuses.

And granted: I’ve broken my silence

because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;

and I hope too that many may be freed

from their silence, may demand

that those responsible for the open danger we face renounce the use of force,

may insist that the governments of

both Iran and Israel allow an international authority

free and open inspection of

the nuclear potential and capability of both.


Wisdom from Norm on the  Günter Grass row:

Yesterday Eamonn McDonagh posted about the Israeli government’s decision to declare Günter Grass persona non grata. With the aid of a couple of counterfactual analogies, he argued that Israel was ‘entirely justified’ in excluding Grass from its territory for representing the country as a danger to world peace. As Eamonn also wrote:

There’s no reason for the victims of genocide and their descendants to feel themselves obliged to allow Grass or anyone with a similar history or views to enter their country to lecture them on their immorality and how they continue to pose, just like when he was a young man, a special danger to the world.

Also yesterday, Nick Cohen put up a post of contrary tendency. ‘The only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’, Nick wrote, ‘is if his words will be a direct incitement to crime.’ It was, he added, an insulting assumption on the part of the Israeli government that its citizens ‘cannot listen to arguments they do not like and respond to them with better arguments’. This was a logic of censorship and cultural boycott:

To the Israeli government’s mind, Grass is wicked and therefore cannot be heard.

I have intimated here that the feature of Grass’s poem that was most repugnant was not the world peace stuff but his suggestion that Israel might be contemplating an attack on Iran which could wipe out the Iranian people – so making the Jewish state, on the basis of nothing but his own fancy, an agent of nuclear annihilation. In any case, in what follows I shall argue – though not in this order – that the Israeli government should not have banned Günter Grass as persona non grata; but that Eamonn is right (subject to one reservation) and Nick is wrong on the fundamental principles at stake.

Let’s begin with the opinion of someone else altogether – Salman Rushdie, who said on Twitter:

OK to dislike, even be disgusted by #GünterGrass poem, but to ban him is infantile pique. The answer to words must always be other words.

This sounds good, and of course it’s only a tweet, which doesn’t allow room for contextualization and qualification; but it isn’t true. Generally it is a good principle to meet words with words, and governments certainly shouldn’t prohibit people’s views (unless they incite violence) simply on account of disliking them. But there are other ways that people may legitimately choose to deal with opinions they find odious: for example, they may decline to keep company with those who propagate such opinions, decline to host them in their homes, decline to publish their writings when they have this power of decision, and so forth. Not every exclusion of someone from a space – whether physical, literary or virtual – amounts to censorship.

A government should not ban opinions which don’t constitute incitement; but, to the best of my knowledge, the Israeli government has not done this with respect to Günter Grass’s views. It has not done it on its own territory, where presumably anyone is free to articulate those views, publicize them, support them, criticize them, or whatever; and it has not done it anywhere else for obvious reasons, since it does not have that authority. It has simply declared that Grass is no longer welcome in Israel – and this is a matter that Israel may, with perfect legitimacy, decide. When Eamonn says, therefore, that Israel has no obligation to admit Grass, he is right: as a country it has a definite right to decide on who is and who isn’t welcome to visit. This is not the same thing, however, as saying that Israel is entirely justified in excluding Grass. It has a right to exclude him, but there may be reasons why it should not do so nonetheless (reasons I will come to shortly). It’s the same as saying that someone has the right not to let another into her house, but that she was wrong on the specific occasion to insist on her right, because (say) the putative visitor was cold, wet and exhausted and needed shelter for a short spell to get out of the raging storm.

On the other hand, Nick’s ‘only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’ – namely, direct incitement to crime – applies to the opinions that should be expressible within a government’s territorial jurisdiction, but not necessarily to the admissibility of persons. It strikes me as not at all unreasonable for national communities to decide that there are individuals whose ideological track record renders them unwanted as guests. At the same time, contrary to what Nick suggests, by the exclusion of Grass the Israeli government is not preventing its citizens from listening to arguments they do not like or suppressing Grass’s views. Neither is his exclusion from the country comparable to the logic of cultural boycotts. The latter target whole categories of people independently of anything they have done or of what they have said or may think, simply on the grounds of their national identity.

Why, then, do I say that the Israeli government is wrong to have declared Grass persona non grata? I say this because it has made it a matter of authoritative political decision who is welcome as a guest in Israel, when (or at any rate so I assume) it does not actually know whether there would be a national consensus to this effect. If it had security and intelligence reasons for the exclusion that it could not disclose, this would be a relevant consideration. But I cannot believe Israeli intelligence would back the view that a visit from Günter Grass could pose a serious threat to Israeli society or public order. In free and democratic polities, who may be invited into the country as a guest is generally left to private individuals and organizations. The interests of Israel would have been better served by leaving it so in the present case. If some group of Israelis should be stupid enough to think the opinions expressed in Grass’s latest ‘work’ are worth hearing out of his own mouth, then bevakasha, let them host him and enjoy the privilege of hearing him malign their country, just like numberless Jew-haters the world over, as exterminationist and genocidal. The political health and reputation of Israel will likely suffer less from indulging this stupidity than from putting in place a ban which may be entirely pointless anyway.

Permalink 19 Comments

Pierre Rousett on the Charlie Hebdo killings, Islamism and related matters

March 17, 2015 at 12:43 am (anti-fascism, France, humanism, intellectuals, internationalism, islamism, Marxism, Pabs, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", trotskyism)

The author is a leading member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, an organisation that has not always been clear-cut in its analysis of Islamism, so this article is of great significance. It first appeared in International Viewpoint:

After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket: thinking through the new and rethinking the old

By Pierre Rousset

We should start with a worrying observation.

Heads of state understood the importance of the events of January. Representatives of “democracies” and dictatorships alike, they came to Paris and locked arms together to show solidarity “at the highest levels”. A spectacular gesture if ever there was one!

On the other hand, a significant segment of the radical Left thought it was just business as usual. To be sure, some organizations published declarations of solidarity (and deserve genuine thanks for this) as well as articles grappling with the significance of the events. But many others felt it was enough to score debating points, correct as they may have been (against cross-party national unity, for example); or had as their first concern the need to distance themselves from the victims (declaring “Je ne suis pas Charlie” [“I am not Charlie”] in flagrant disregard for the message intended by those saying “Je suis Charlie” [“I am Charlie”]); or, far worse, felt the urgent task was to assassinate morally those who had just been assassinated physically.

Soon after the events, I co-wrote an article with François Sabado in which we specifically sought to understand what was so unique about the event and its implications in relation to our tasks. [1] No doubt, much more needs to be said on that score, but I’d like the text that follows (and which deals in large measure with the state of radical-Left opinion) to be read in conjunction with the previous one to avoid pointless repetition.

The unique character of the event

I’ll be referring in particular to an interview with Gilbert Achcar, with which I agree on many points of analysis, but which also contains a number of surprising blind spots. The first of these has to do with the unique character of the event. Gilbert seeks to trivialize the whole affair. “The reaction [to the attacks] has been what anybody would expect. […] These were quite similar reactions from appalled and frightened societies [the USA after 911 and France now] — and, of course, the crimes were appalling indeed. In both cases, the ruling class took advantage of the shock […] There is nothing much original about all this. Instead, what is rather original is the way the discussion evolved later on.” [2]

Gilbert is quite right to point out [elsewhere in the same interview] that it is extremely exaggerated to place the Charlie Hebdo attack and the September 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers on the same footing. And yet millions of people spontaneously took to the streets following the French events, unlike what happened following previous no less atrocious attacks, such as the murder of children in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 4 Comments

Kenan Malik on Islamism and racist populism as identity politics

March 1, 2015 at 9:32 pm (intellectuals, islamism, Jim D, populism, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", religion, terror, youth)

Kenan Malik

“Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam.

“These developments have shaped not just Muslim self-perception but that of most social groups. Many within white working-class communities are often as disengaged as their Muslim peers, and similarly see their problems not in political terms but through the lens of cultural and ethnic identity. Hence the growing hostility to immigration and diversity and, for some, the seeming attraction of far-right groups.

“Racist populism and radical Islamism are both, in their different ways, expressions of social disengagement in an era of identity politics. There is something distinctive about Islamist identity. Islam is a global religion, allowing Islamists to create an identity that is intensely parochial and seemingly universal, linking Muslims to struggles across the world, from Afghanistan to Palestine, and providing the illusion of being part of a global movement.

“In an age in which traditional anti-imperialist movements have faded and belief in alternatives to capitalism dissolved, radical Islam provides the illusion of a struggle against an immoral present and for a utopian future”.

Kenan Malik is always worth taking notice of. He was obviously too bright to stay with those idiots calling themselves the ‘Institute of Ideas’, and now seems to have broken with them and become a free-lance intellectual of considerable force. His article on Islamism in today’s Observer is outstanding, and if you haven’t already done so, you should read it now.

Permalink 5 Comments

Norman Field on the correct key for Armstrong’s Cornet Chop Suey

December 13, 2014 at 5:30 pm (good people, history, intellectuals, jazz, New Orleans, posted by JD)

I met up with my old friend Norman Field yesterday, and – as is invariably the case with this extraordinary autodidact – had a wonderful time. The conversation ranged from nineteenth century European history, to contemporary jazz-scene gossip and Birmingham local history. Along the way we touched upon Thatcher and the Falklands war, the arranging skills of Fud Livingston and the reason(s) why Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra left Victor records and joined Columbia 1928.

Norman is (was?) a fantastic clarinet and sax player but has now – for reasons best known to himself and which I would not presume to cross-examine him over – more or less given up playing in public. Suffice to say that people who know about hot jazz (Keith Nichols, Scott Robinson, Richard Pite, to name but three) regard him as a master and oracle. Scott Robinson, having heard Norman play at the Whitley Bay classic jazz festival a few years ago, described him as a “f****n’ genius.”

I should add that Norman made me a clear plastic 78 rpm record (of Jimmy McPartland with the Original Wolverines) in the course of our meeting!

Norman’s commitment to serious jazz research is demonstrated by this article, from his website. It’s reproduced here with his permission:


Louis Armstrong’s ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ (1926): What key is it in?

Above: Armstrong’s Hot Five

By Norman Field

This article could not have been written without the generous help of Michael Kieffer, to whom many thanks. Other acknowledgements will be found at the foot of the text.

Over the years, I had occasionally heard that some doubt existed as to the correct key for Louis Armstrong’s tune of this name. The doubt specifically concerned the original version of it, which he had recorded with the Hot Five for OKeh early in 1926. This problem had apparently been around for some years. It had been discussed in the correspondence columns of Jazz magazines; possibly articles had been written about it, and it had certainly been talked about quite a bit. I understood that well known trumpet players had gone into the problem, and that, surprisingly, there was still no general agreement.

A few years ago, I became interested in selecting the correct pitch for early Jazz and dance band records, and found that by applying a few simple tests, it was – usually – possible to be fairly sure of the correct speed at which to play a 78 rpm record, so that it would come out at the correct pitch.

However, these tests were only valid for Jazz and dance records made in the U.S.A. and Britain in the 1920s through to about the mid-1930s; and even then, only when the band included a piano. It primarily rested with the piano, of course, and the assumption that this would be tuned to a standard pitch. I asked the late John R.T. Davies, the doyen of 78 rpm record restorers, whether this assumption was acceptable. He agreed strongly, pointing out that the major record companies (Victor, HMV, Columbia, Brunswick, Vocalion, Odeon, OKeh &c.) were large concerns, recording the most prominent international artistes, and the use of first-class pianos was to be expected, and therefore, for pitching purposes, that assumption was valid, tenable; indeed, unavoidable.

Of course, there are instances of ‘below-par’ pianos to be found on some Jazz and dance records of this period. However, these are probably pianos that are simply rather out of tune (with themselves), and sound ‘ploingy’ as a result. This is quite a different thing from the piano being tuned to the wrong pitch altogether. (See appendix 1.) 

So in general our assumption that the pianos are tuned to standard pitch is valid as a starting point. In any case, if for example, a piano had been allowed to become very flat in pitch, it would be difficult for wind instruments – the clarinet in particular – to ‘get down’ to the pitch of the piano without becoming out of tune with itself. And if a piano had somehow been tuned very sharp, a clarinet would simply not be able to get up to that pitch at all. Overall, the statement: ‘Pianos in recording locations, whether permanent or temporary, were, in general, tuned to standard pitch’ is a reasonable one, and likely to be true far more often than not.

And what actually is this standard pitch? As far as the U.S.A. goes, the note A (the one above middle C on the piano) should be 440 Hz, usually written as A=440. And the standard pitch used in Britain for orchestral and dance music at that time (circa 1900 – 1945) was A=439, a fairly trivial difference, so that the same tests can be used pretty safely for both countries. (See appendix 2.) 

As for other countries, and other styles of music, and indeed those artists and ensembles in the U.S.A. and Britain not using a piano, the application of ‘The General Rule Of The Piano’ must – in the first instance – be assumed to be inapplicable and, consequently, conclusions from it non-viable. I am not qualified to comment further on these musics; but certainly commend those who may be interested in them to pursue their own researches on these fascinating topics. Perhaps they will be able to derive some simple tests to help ensure correct pitching of old 78 recordings of e.g. a Javanese gamelin orchestra, or a Cantonese instrumental ensemble? After all, the correct pitching of any and every ‘78 rpm’ record is an essential part of properly preserving, for posterity, the information contained on it.

About three years ago, I heard of the existence of a CD set of early Louis Armstrong classics that included the 1926 Hot Five ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ twice. Once in the key of E flat; and also in the key of F. This was because, in the opinion of the compilers of the set, there was still no general consensus on which key it was in. To include it, therefore, in both keys was certainly very commendable. But I was puzzled that a record could be attributed to two keys so much as a tone apart. Not merely a semitone, but a whole tone: really a very large interval! In theory at least, it should have been fairly easy to decide which was the true one. The trumpet players who disagreed on the key of the piece may have (I don’t know…) played the tune over on their trumpets (or cornets) in both keys. And then used, as a basis for their conclusion, the fingering of their horns indicating one key rather than the other because one key ‘fell more naturally under the fingers’ than the other. At least, I assume that this is what they did. If my assumption is correct, then I have to say that that approach might at times be deceptive. As a clarinet player, time and time again, I have tried to find out exactly what Johnny Dodds or Don Murray played on their clarinets back in the 1920s, and the more I learn, the more I distrust what seems logical on the surface. Also, as the decades pass, it becomes ever more difficult to even attempt to analyse the ‘mindset’ of a 1920s virtuoso player. Certainly, Dodds and Murray were both virtusosi of the clarinet. They could play anything they mentally conceived… and usually did so. Perhaps intuitively, they ‘eliminated the instrument from the equation’: the music that appeared in their consciousness was the music that straightway sounded in the club or the ballroom in which they were playing. There was no intervention of any ‘problem of execution’ on their instrument. If – as I suspect – they (along with most other top musicians) did this, they were rather in advance of their time. They did not need to read treatises on the psychology of musicianship, the bulk of which have proliferated in the last 50 years. They just did it anyway.

If Dodds & Murray could do that, how much more could Louis Armstrong do it? Louis, from his first startling appearances on disc in 1923, was manifestly a very special case. On this basis, Louis’s cornet fingering patterns, I thought, might be rather unsusceptible to logical analysis. I’d found exactly the same in trying to play Dodds’s clarinet solo on ‘Potato Head Blues’ by the Hot Seven on a clarinet in C, in case he was playing one of those, instead of the normal B flat clarinet. Both fingerings, I found, were pretty equally plausible.  Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment

The Anti-Imperialism of Fools: A Cautionary Tale for the Brit Anti-War Left

December 8, 2014 at 8:47 pm (Chomsky, ex-SWP, imperialism, intellectuals, internationalism, islamism, israel, Marxism, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Shachtman, solidarity, stalinism, trotskyism)

Above: about as “anti- imperialist”-foolish as you can get: Rees, Murray and Galloway

By Camilla Bassi

‘The Anti-Imperialism of Fools’

The day after 9/11 I attended a local Socialist Alliance committee meeting in  Sheffield, England, as a representative of the revolutionary socialist organisation,  the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) comrades  present discussed the 9/11 attack as regrettable in terms of the loss of life but as  nonetheless understandable.They acknowledged the attack as tactically misguided, yet refused (when pressed to do so) to condemn it. Later, in November 2001, at a public meeting of the Sheffield Socialist Alliance, I shared a platform with a then  national committee member of the SWP to debate the US and UK war in Afghanistan. Besides from agreeing on opposition to the imperialist war onslaught, I was alone on the platform in raising opposition to the Islamist Taliban rule and in arguing for labour movement solidarity with forces such as the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which resist both imperialism and  Islamism and demand a rogressive, democratic secular alternative.

The SWP  comrades present, both on the platform and from the floor, alleged a political error  on my part and those who argued along with me. Their rationale was that, to fully oppose the War on Terror, we had a duty to oppose the main enemy and greater  evil – US and UK imperialism – and this alone. Anything else, they argued, would  alienate the masses of disillusioned, angry British Muslim youth that socialists needed to win over.

The SWP’s dual camp of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ (a socialistic inversion of imperialist war discourse of ‘the status quo versus  regression’) came to dominate England’s anti-war movement. They publicly  launched their initiative the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten days after 9/11, with the aim of mobilising a broad political grouping against the War on Terror.

Since then the SWP vanguard of the StWC has, at critical moments, steered the political course that England’s anti-war protests have taken. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 4 Comments

Oxford University Palestine Soc: “We are All Hamas”

October 20, 2014 at 6:49 am (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Guardian, intellectuals, islamism, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, reactionay "anti-imperialism", students)

I have been asked, by a regular reader, to carry more material explaining our position on antisemitism – and, in particular our allegation that a lot of contemporary antisemitism comes from the “left” and takes the form of Palestinian solidarity (a cause that, in principle, Shiraz supports). I intend to write at some length on this subject soon, but as a starting point I’d refer readers to Galloway’s recent refusal to support Palestinian statehood (and his explanation, here) and the following account of a meeting at Oxford University. Note that one of the main speakers is an Oxford academic who frequently writes for the liberal-left Guardian. In other words, these people are not fringe elements within the pro-Palestinian movement in the UK. Support for the total destruction of Israel (ie the Hamas position) and  casual comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, are now commonplace in the pro-Palestine movement. Even placards stating “Hitler was Right” are allowed on pro-Palestine demos, apparently unchallenged by the organisers or other marchers. As usual, when we re-publish material, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all the article’s contents or endorse all the politics of the author.:

From Richard Black (via Facebook)

15 October 2014:

Tonight I had the misfortune to attend the inaugural Palestine Society event here in Oxford. I went with Sapan and Jonathan out of a mixture of open mindedness and intellectual curiosity.

What I heard and saw genuinely shocked me. I’ve heard a lot in my time but this was by far the worst event I have ever attended. I can only describe it as a two hour hate fest of the variety described in George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ It went from the downright idiotic to the explicitly anti-Semitic – and often both. I heard a girl complain about the evils of ‘Zionist’ control in her native America – she even attacked ‘Zionists’ for controlling the make up she wore! No one challenged this girl’s delusions: they only reassured her that fighting Zionism must remain paramount. I heard numerous people glorify the ‘right of the resistance’ and reject non-violent tactics, even including an Oxford academic on the panel (Karma Nabulsi).

I had a question of my own. I read to the panel a quotation from John Molyneux, a theorist from the Socialist Workers’ Party;

“To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate, conservative, superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).”

I then added – “I’d be interested to know what the members of the panel think about this mode of analysis. Do they support what I consider to be a totally irrational – and dangerous – position?”

Not only did the panelists evade my question – Avi Shlaim, Karma Nabulsi and Barnaby Raine – to my horror, they actually agreed with its sentiment. Mr Raine, a student at Wadham College and a student activist, mocked me by saying that “anyone would stand up for the oppressed against an oppressor.” It should also be noted that Mr Raine noticeably hesitated when I put up my hand – he looked everywhere around the room before reluctantly taking my question. This person excuses the most morally reprehensible actions. He practically fetishises totalitarianism.

It got worse. Near the end of the talk, a local PSC activist defended Molyneux’s remarks by arguing that he’d rather be a Medieval, backward Chassidic Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto than a cultured German in a Nazi uniform. A sizable proportion of the room – hundreds of people – applauded this awful anti-Semitic distortion of history and trivialization of the Holocaust.

I am aware this status is long and most students couldn’t care less about student politics. However, I think it’s important that all students know that here, in 21st Century Britain, at one of the best universities in the world, political extremism is flourishing. Whereas far right fascists are, rightly, tarred and made into social pariahs, their equivalents on the far left get away with it time and time again. These are the totalitarians in our midst.

I have done what I can. I tried exposing rampant anti-Semitism in the Palestine Society at the start of this year and I was treated with ridicule. It’s time to take this stuff seriously. I saw many freshers at this event – freshers whose minds have been poisoned and given a wholly false narrative which demonises one people at the expense of the other, one that demonises the forces of peace and rewards the actions of hate and terrorism. I saw a room of intelligent, perhaps highly naive students, express the most hideous and morally warped trash. I saw no effort to condemn outright anti-Semitic prejudice when it was expressed. I saw pure intellectual fascism – people attending a talk to confirm their prejudices, and actively ostracising those that disagree with them.

I cannot think of a worse introduction to Oxford for incoming students to this University. Anyone who genuinely cares about Palestinians – whether in the West Bank or Gaza, or elsewhere in the Middle East or the diaspora – should stay the hell away from Oxford University’s Palestine Society. And remember that all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

Permalink 20 Comments

Next page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 564 other followers