On the 21st January we launch our new, semi-regular club night at the Half Moon in Putney (tickets here). We’ll be playing our Socialist R&B. The Nuns will be doing their all-girl tribute to The Monks. Nylons and Baby face from Thee Faction will be DJ-ing, along with a special set from legendary disc-spinner Billy Reeves, veteran of every fashionable club you can think of. It’s a chance for left-leaning grown-ups to drink and dance and discuss. It is going to be fantastic. If ever we needed an evening of diversion from the misery of Cameron and Clegg’s austerity, it’s now. So we thought we’d provide you with one.
This much is clear. However, other things seem not to be. We are being deluged with questions. Those who have been comrades of ours for decades know that nothing we do is without symbolic import, and no decision is pragmatic. There is method in every moment of our madness. So, as you’ve all been asking, we’ll answer the three questions that seem to be pre-occupying you all.
Q1: Why the 21st January?
Everyone knows we never choose these dates randomly. So there must be some vital significance to the date. Indeed there is. There are several reasons why we chose 21st January, which has always been a key date in Thee Faction’s calendar. Here are the main ones:
- On January 21 1793 Louis XVI went to the guillotine. In the Place de la Revolution, Paris. Need we say more?
- On January 21 1882 Marx and Engels wrote a preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto. In it they stated that: “Russia forms the vanguard of revolutionary action in Europe”. How prescient that statement was to prove.
- On January 21 1921 the PCI (Partito Communista Italiano) was founded. It was the result of a split, as you know, from the PSI. Who led the faction which formed the PCI? Yes, Antonio Gramsci – he who, along with GDH Cole, probably forms the major post-Marx influence on Thee Faction’s work.
- On January 21 1924 the man who did most to combine theory with practice died, prematurely, causing a crisis of succession which culminated in the rule of Stalin and the exile and assassination of Trotsky. Yes, it was on this day that VI Lenin died.
- Finally, January 21 1950 was the day that one of Britain’s finest socialists died. When we say Blair, many might think Tony. We think Eric. On the launch night of the DDR of R&B we will be commemorating 60 years to the day since the death of George Orwell.
We hope that answers that question, comrades. We should also add that January 21 lies midway twixt the birthdays of Nylons and Baby Face and, though birthdays are bourgeois and individualist, we do like to mark the occasion because it always represents a chance for an evening of comradeship, drinking and dancing. So, if the five key political reasons for coming to the DDR of R&B on the 21st January don’t appeal to you, perhaps you just like the idea of celebrating the twin SG attack of Nylons and Face.
Q2: Why Putney?
A significant number of the questions we’ve been fielding about the launch of the DDR of R&B have focussed on this point: Thee Faction choose their venues carefully. So, why Putney?
This one surprised us, because we assumed you would all be aware of Putney’s revolutionary and socialist heritage. But it seems not all comrades are up to speed on this, so here is a tiny selection of reasons why it had to be Putney:
- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was a long-term resident. Daughter of a political philosopher and a feminist pioneer, she married PB Shelley (don’t believe the Romantic hype on Shelley, comrades – the man was a staunch socialist. If you don’t believes us, read Paul Foot’s ‘Red Shelley’), and wrote Frankenstein. Years before Comrade Gramsci wrote of a war of position, Comrade Mary was writing numerous articles on how cooperation and solidarity would form the basis of a reformed civil society. And she wrote ‘em in Putney.
- Thomas Cromwell was born and bred there too. Now, we don’t view Cromwell entirely uncritically. Indeed, he got involved in all manner of Machiavellian nonsense. But the break from Rome, the destruction of the power of the Church in England and Wales, and the first steps towards ending the weirdness of feudalism and ushering in the first signs of modernity can be laid at his door. Well, it can be laid at the dialectic of history’s door, but he was one of those that facilitated history taking its course. And he was from Putney.
- Just decades later, along came another resident of Putney: Thomas Hobbes. Now, the 17th century was when it all happened in England, political thought-wise. And the key reason (which most of you will already have guessed) for us choosing Putney would probably not have happened without the great work Hobbes did. Social contract theory is at the heart of liberal thought. But it is way more radical than that. Hobbes reasoned that, at some point in history, humans must have placed subsumed their own interests to those of a commonwealth, or state, which, in exchange for a slice of human ‘liberty’, put an end to the war of all against all, and allowed a passage out of the ‘state of nature’, where life was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. That is to say, by agreeing to live under a state, in an ordered society, man could have a better life. Now, we have all manner of problems with Hobbes’s analysis, but what he outlined were essential principles of modernity from which you can trace many of the origins of Marxist political thought. We don’t see subsuming our interests to those of an omnipotent sovereign as the end of history, but we certainly recognise that moment as a key one in getting to where we want to go. And a political philosophy where a divine being was effectively absent was a brand new thing, and without it, none of the key debates and events of the 17th and 18th centuries would have happened in the way they did. And Hobbes came straight outta Putney.
- But the main reason why we chose Putney was that it was there that the Putney Debates happened. In 1647 the New Model Army was headquartered in Putney. And at St Mary’s Church (the church by the river, next door to the cinema) the soldiers and officers embarked on a series of debates which gave rise to some of the most radical plans for the future ever to have been outlined. What had, perhaps, started with Cromwell and Hobbes (both of Putney, remember) culminated here in The Levellers. They demanded universal (male) suffrage, sovereignty to lie in the elected chamber of Parliament, and the power of the Lords and King to be eradicated. Religion would be removed from public life, and religious duty to be removed from society. In short, The Levellers envisaged a modern state – one that Britain still has not achieved. In Thee Faction’s view there has never been as significant a political moment in Britain as the Putney Debates, and they happened 100 yards from where we are launching the DDR of R&B on the 21st January. This is no coincidence, comrades.
- Oh, lest we forget, Clement Attlee was a Putney boy. Born and bred. The man had his faults, but he led that 1945 government that gave a whole country hope, and gave them good reason to believe that, far from being something to fear or something which only sorted out problems, a state could provide more than just a safety net. The state could aggregate a vision of the good life, and could deliver it, to all. Attlee led a socialist government, including genuine socialists within it, and went some way to delivering on a vision of the good life which Thee Faction believes in. And he started off in Putney.
So you’re right, comrades. The choice of Putney was far from random. To be honest, there was nowhere else in London we could have chosen. The closest contender was Staines – for in Runnymede did Magna Carta come into force. But Putney’s credentials were that much stronger. So we had a meeting, and the DDR of R&B was delivered to SW15.
If you get to Putney early, we implore you to visit the Putney Debates exhibition at St Mary’s Church. You really do owe it to yourselves to see it.
Q3: Why the Half Moon?
OK, so it had to be January 21st, and it had to be Putney. But there are plenty of possible venues in Putney. Why choose the Half Moon?
The answer to this one is incredibly simple. Is there a more R&B venue still operating in London than the Half Moon? There might have been contenders, had the Station Hotel or the Marquee or the Eel Pie Hotel still been in operation. But they’re not. And the Half Moon has hosted all the greats. Champion Jack Dupree, Geno Washington, The Pretty Things, Arthur Crudup, Memphis Slim, Dr Feelgood, The Rolling Stones, Eddie Floyd – they’ve all played there. And it is still where the kings of R&B play when they come to town. If you want to see Wilko Johnson in London, you’ll seek him out at the Half Moon.
So there was no competition. It had to be the Half Moon. It is a superb venue. As you will see on January 21st.
So, we hope that answers your questions. Do get in touch if you have more. We’re really looking forward to the DDR of R&B at the Half Moon on the 21st January. We will see you there. Please wear your best clothes: you owe it to your comrades to make the effort. That’s what solidarity is about.