gramsci

Interview with Baby Face in R2 – Rock’n’Reel Magazine

Have we posted this before? If not, here’s an excellent interview with Baby Face from the latest issue of R2 – Rock’n’Reel Magazine. This represents an important moment in the war of position. Gramsci spoke of earthworks and ramparts. We see features of both in this interview.

 

 

Don’t forget to come and see us this week or next. This week it’s the DDRofRnB – London’t finest club for socialists, at the Half Moon in Putney (27/10). Next week (4/11) it’s Core Arts in Hackney – a free gig promoting positive mental health. Come to both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GDH Cole and Guild Socialism. A Beginner’s Guide

A lot of you who have bought At Ebbw Vale have been asking who GDH Cole is. He gets mentioned on the sleeve, and is, apparently, a bit of a mystery to many of you. For his low profile you can blame an array of people. The Left in the 60s didn’t think he was very sexy – when you’ve got Marcuse and co to market, a rather stuffy old Brit who did a sideline in detective fiction doesn’t quite have the caché you’re looking for. The Labour Party never thought he was very sexy either. He knew all the right people, and was a prominent Fabian, but his blueprints for a better tomorrow weren’t quite in line with the democratic socialist orthodoxy of the moment. He was talked about as having a ‘Bolshevik soul in a Fabian muzzle’. Not the kind of guy the Labour Party were likely to make a song and dance about (though, weirdly, Labour List has published a piece about him today, pointing out that Cameron’s Big Society is just a bourgeois version of GDH Cole’s Guild Socialism). And the rest of the British left simply never knew how to categorise him. He was non-communist, but clearly Marxist in his analysis. That didn’t appeal to the CPGB. He was against a strong state, and had no truck with State and Revolution type thinking, so the Trots didn’t like him much either. Overall, there was no one who was likely to keep the GDH Cole momentum going after he’d left us.

We, of course, have always tried to. We’re a Socialist R&B band. We employ a Marxist analysis of history. But our vision of a better tomorrow is not necessarily informed by communists. Indeed, we have always seen history like Marx, the immediate struggle like Gramsci, and the vision of a better tomorrow like GDH Cole. The three pillars of Thee Faction’s thinking.

You all know how to apply Marxism as a critical tool. You all understand the nature of the war of position, as outlined by Gramsci. But the release of At Ebbw Vale has shown us that you don’t, necessarily, know your way around GDH Cole. So here is the briefest of guides to his way of thinking. There’ll be more of this, should it interest you, in the weeks and months to come. Think of today’s post as a very simple beginner’s guide.

GDH Cole was born in 1889. Between then and his death in 1959, he effectively did all the things you’d expect a man of the British Left to do. He wrote for the Guardian, the Left Book Club and the New Statesman, he ran the Fabians, he was huge in the cooperative movement, he was a Professor at Oxford, he taught Wilson and Gaitskell (not well enough, of course), and he was the inspiration behind Professor Yaffle in Bagpuss (if we tell you that his wife was Margaret Postgate, that might explain why). But so far this is a fairly standard portrait of a solidly Establishment British left-winger of the Webbs, Orwell, HG Wells, GB Shaw type. What separated Cole out from the rest of the gang?

The answer is: Guild Socialism. A million and one blueprints for socialism exist. Most lead unavoidably to Stalinism, because they hand everything over to the State. Guild Socialism doesn’t. That whole area of life that exists between the individual and the state is what needs to be democratised: Civil Society. So where Stalinism destroyed all the space between the individual and the State, ensuring that the State was everything, Guild Socialism offers a path to a socialism where the State is almost nothing.

Guild Socialism is a libertarian socialism for democrats. It’s a way of democratising civil society. The emphasis is on democratising the workplace, and all the other associations we find ourselves a part of when we walk out of our front doors. We self manage everything. Yup, there’ll still be a State. But it won’t have that much to do – just mediate between the different guilds and deal with criminal law. It’s the logical conclusion to the British cooperative movement. It’s socialism as it should be. Imagine – your workplace is democratised. As is the bus service to your workplace. As is the club you drink in after work, and the library you get your books from after that. All of which must work out ways of organising society to make sure all can thrive.

A month or three back we recommended that you read Darrow Schecter’s Radical Theories. There’s great stuff in there on Guild Socialism. But if you can get your hands on any of Cole’s original stuff, read it. It’s great. Avoid his detective novels, mind. They’re deadly dull, as befits a man who Beatrice Webb reckoned had no sense of humour.

Anyway, hope that clarifies things on the GDH Cole front. When you hear about the Big Society, or other daft attempts by the bourgeois state to abdicate responsibility for what goes on in civil society, remember that there is a way of doing just that, but without the abdication of state responsibility, without the moral abacus of the market, and without it being a patronising, top-down gesture. It’s called Guild Socialism, and it rocks like a motherfucker.

Eyes left. We describe ourselves as a Guild, see. Because we try to run ourselves along Guild Socialist principles. Relations between Thee Faction and Soviet Beret are a superb example of life under Guild Socialism. Things are not always harmonious. But they are democratic, and we’re all empowered. Can the same be said of Sony Records and its music-making-minions?

Guild Socialism. Get ready for it, cos it’s on its way brothers and sisters.

A Proletarian Tea Party? Think again, comrades

Comrades. Capitalism is tapdancing on my balls, and the dull compulsion of the economic, as Engels put it, is forcing me to engage in the most alienating of labour rather than hurling myself into creative, Thee Faction-based, labour. Yes, even members of Thee Faction are subject to the rule of capital. That’s why we’re in Thee Faction.

So there is little time for blogging today. All I can do is hurl a handful of things in your direction, and you can turn them into a coherent political argument. Do this, and by the end of today, you will have all the ammunition you require to dismantle the Tea Party. You need an analysis. Under normal circumstances we would give you one. Today is DIY analysis day.

So, Exhibit A:

 

I know I bang on about Thomas Frank a lot, but that is largely because Thomas Frank is as good as it gets in today’s world of political, economic and cultural criticism. The Baffler was (is?) the New Left Review or Neue Rheinische Zeitung for our generation. Thomas Frank is its Marx.  Anyway, I have no time to explain this – I’ve blogged about Frank before. Point is, if you want to understand why the Tea Party movement does, undoubtedly, contain huge numbers ofworking class people who consider themselves  to be seekers of a radical solution, and who are ready to work for a vision of a better tomorrow, then you could do a lot worse than read What’s the Matter with Kansas?    Because these people are genuine working class radicals. It’s just the radical solution on offer isn’t one that is ultimately going to be better for them. Their vision of a better tomorrow has been orchestrated and designed by the ones who really stand to benefit from it.

Which brings us to Exhibit B: George Monbiot’s piece in today’s Guardian. Now, I don’t always have time for George Monbiot. But recently he has become much better, particularly since he accepted the lunacy of some of the numbers he has been hurling around for years about how much food and water it takes to produce animals for eating (I keep meaning to alert Billy Brentford to this piece). So, the new improved George Monbiot begins his piece on the Tea Party movement todaay with these three sentences:

“The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects. It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen – and the biggest Astroturf operation in history. These accomplishments are closely related.”

What’s the link between this and Frank’s book? What looks like a grassroots movement, emerging from hotbeds of working class radicalism (like Kansas) is, in fact, just astroturf; grass with no roots. Monbiot goes on to show that “the biggest company you’ve never heard of” – Koch Industries – is bankrolling and orchestrating the whole thing. And they’re doing it in the interests of the Koch brothers who run it, and their cronies within big business. Surprise surprise, comrades.

Monbiot finishes with this:

“Astroturfing is now taking off in the United Kingdom. Earlier this month Spinwatch showed how a fake grassroots group set up by health insurers helped shape the Tories’ NHS reforms. Billionaires and corporations are capturing the political process everywhere; anyone with an interest in democracy should be thinking about how to resist them. Nothing is real any more. Nothing is as it seems.”

As always with Monbiot, he offers superficial observation, but no depth of analysis. So you need to read Thomas Frank to understand how and why, and Monbiot to see what is going on right now.

But for what to do, we have to go to Exhibit C: Karl Marx’s On the Jewish Question. This is an often massively misunderstood piece of work (read it in full here). It is a response to Bruno Bauer, I think, who had been arguing for civil rights for Jewish people in Germany, so long as they dumped their religion. Marx wrote his piece to make it clear that civil rights are, to a great extent, a bourgeois sham, and that the only emancipation that counts is real emancipation. He was making a point about the nature of civil society, and its possibilities as a battlefield (see Gramsci for the extension of this metaphor into the mid-20th Century). There is also ten tons of stuff on the separation of church and state in the US and beyond – perhaps Christine O’Donnell should have read it? Now, a lot of people shy away from this piece of work – Marx’s finest in my opinion – because of rumours of anti-semitism. You will find no anti-semitism here. Instead you will find a glorious description of the relationship between state and civil society, and a dismissal of the state-based route to freedom. It is economic inequality that forms the greatest barrier to our freedom, whether we are an oppressed minority, as the Jews were in 19th Century germany, or part of the ‘majority’ which organisations like the Tea Party or the EDL claim to represent. We are only going to be free when we destroy what stops us being free. Capitalism.

So your project for today is to read Thomas Frank’s book, George Monbiot’s article, and Karl Marx’s essay. In that order. By the end of which you will have the analysis you need. Apply this analaysis to all situations – that’s the beauty of marxism as a critical tool. And while you’re doing your reading and forming your analysis, you’ll need a soundtrack. Can we humbly suggest At Ebbw Vale by Thee Faction? Buy it here – for £8.50 you get a beautiful piece of vinyl, a CD, and postage and packing. Not owning At Ebbw Vale is bourgeois. Fact.

Dai Nasty’s Fine Dai-ning: Gazpacho a la Gramsci


With the nights drawing in Mrs Nasty and I like to tuck into this classic Spanish cold soup to remind us of summer. There are many recipes out there but this is my favourite and it’s also the most left-wing:

 

  • 1kg ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 2 ripe red peppers (roast them first under a hot grill and remove the blackened skins)
  • 1 large cucumber, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (like the proletariat under the iron jackboot of the Cameron/Clegg junta)
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2tbsp sherry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

 

Put the above in a blender and blend until smooth, then adjust the salt, pepper and vinegar to taste and stir well. Finally, chill the gazpatcho in the fridge. Serve cold.

The Baffler

At the DDRofR&B we spend a lot of time reading, and talking about what we’ve read. While we were going through, and polishing up, the tapes of At Ebbw Vale last week, Dai Nasty mentioned an essay by Steve Albini that appeared in The Baffler about 17 years ago. You probably know the one – where he employs the analogy of a trench full of shit and uses it to explain the whole ‘band meets A&R man, band gets signed, band records record, band gets dropped’ saga that happens to everyone who chooses the major label route to misfortune.

Anyway, I suddenly realised that the essay in question has been reprinted a million and one times, in a million and one places. So, though you’ll all doubtless have read it, you may not have read it in The Baffler. Indeed, you may not be aware of The Baffler. And you really do need to be aware of The Baffler.

The Baffler is probably the finest journal of our times. Under the stewardship of Thomas Frank, it explores the themes that Frank’s own work, both scholarly and popular, has always explored: that of the business of culture. Back in the early 80s people never understood why Thee Faction had no interest in being co-opted into the culture industry, despite the recording contracts, music press cover stories and concert promotions everyone assumed we would take ‘advantage’ of. An issue or two of The Baffler should help you understand why we steered well clear.

Between 1988 and now, The Baffler has been irregularly published, hard to get hold of – even from the leftest of left wing news stands – and under horrific financial pressures – not least when its offices mysteriously caught fire about 10 years ago. But every time you’ve been able to get a copy, you’ve been provided with an absolute treat. The culture industry, the culture of business, the business of culture – each has been picked apart by a posse of the finest minds the American left has to offer. And, in the tradition of Marx, they don’t just moan or mock – they look at how the world might be, and what we need to do to get there.

At the root of Frank’s work, and that of The Baffler, is a pretty simply premise: rebellious consumption is nigh on impossible. All that counter-cultural stuff that you buy into? It’s The Man’s idea. He’s planned it, promoted it, and now reaps the benefits of it. A flick through Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool – a scholarly work, impeccably referenced, which rips apart the myth of the counter-culture – gives you a clear idea of what to expect. You can read Chapter One of it here. If you bought into punk, as brought to you by Virgin, CBS and McLaren, or grunge, as brought to you by Geffen and MTV, or if you have been buying into Wired’s high-tech utopia, you might not fancy delving too deeply into Frank and friends….you’re going to be pretty disappointed in yourself. But be brave. We were, thanks to a recommendation from Comrade “Doc” Fraser back in the early 90s, and since then we’ve redoubled our efforts in this war of position we find ourselves in.

Thee Faction have made no secret of their aim of building a genuinely counter-hegemonic movement – one that can’t be co-opted or bought by The Man. It’s possible. The contributors to The Baffler know it’s possible. But it’s very hard, and it requires us all to stay one step ahead of The Man at all times. Thomas Frank and his huge team of comrades help us do that, by giving us a much clearer understanding of how The Man works, and how to spot bogus counter-cultural activity from a  mile away. It is essential reading for all of you, brothers and sisters.

It’s pretty difficult getting hold of copies of The Baffler. But you should be able to find yourself a copy of the first compendium of Baffler articles, from the first 9 years of the magazine (from 1988 to 1997). It’s called Commodify Your Dissent, is published by Norton in the UK, and is full of brilliant articles that make you simultaneously: hate yourself for caving in to The Man in your weakest moments, clutch your head at the sheer brilliance of what you are reading, and hurl the book down, pick up a pick axe handle, and staff a barricade.

For those of you who (wrongly) think reading the classical texts is a bit boring, or for those who (equally wrongly) feel that the old guard (Marx, Trotsky, Gramsci and co)  are a bit outdated and don’t really address contemporary capitalism, this is the stuff you need to be reading. Seriously. Read it now. Cos this speaks to you, directly, about the era of capitalism we live in, now, and about the kind of future we should be planning for, tomorrow. And it does it in a funny, biting, satirical way, in exactly the language you and your friends dissect the state and civil society in around pub tables before a Thee Faction show.

You genuinely need to read as much of this stuff as you can. Now. The future depends on it.

Rocking the State

As most of you know, we’re not allowed to say too much about what happened to us on our Eastern European tour back in ’85. But you don’t need to know about us. Obsessing about what Thee Faction did is akin to buying into some sort of ‘Great Men’ theory of history. We all know that’s not how it works. The shifting of the tectonic plates of history never comes down to individual agents. But it can come down to mass movements.

That’s why we recommend this book: Rocking The State – rock music and politics in Eastern Europe and Russia. It’s edited by Sabrina Petra Ramet and was published by Westview in 1994. Don’t know if it’s still in print – we got ours back in 1995.

The trick, when overthrowing regimes and systems, is to take over civil society first. Once you’ve got that, the state topples pretty painlessly. That, in a nutshell, is why most of the Central European revolutions in 1989 were fairly bloodless. Civil Society had been lost by the State in the decades leading up to 1989. In one of my favourite remarks by Antonio Gramsci he points out why the Bolsheviks had to attack the State in 1917, rather than win hearts and minds in civil society. There was no civil society:

“In the East the state was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was a proper relation between state and civil society, and when the state trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks”

Rock music played a huge part in taking over the fortresses and earthworks of civil society in the years leading up to 1989. Civil society was still massively under-developed in Central and Eastern Europe – indeed, strip out the Anglo-Saxon propaganda of the time and you’ll see that very few people wanted a capitalist economy. They wanted freedom within civil society. Freedom to negotiate. Freedom to aggregate public opinion. Freedom to express themselves. That’s what the movements we knew were all about – they were building civil society, creating a space between the individual and the state, an oppositional space where, safe from state interference, people could express themselves . Everyone knows about Solidarnosc, or Charter 77. Fewer recognise the part that Polite Refusal, Televizor, Bravo or any of the other revolutionary rock bands played in creating this space.

This book documents all of that, and brings perfectly to life the history, and the possibility, of rock bands embedding themselves within a counter-hegemonic movement, and being a joyful part of its fulfillment. Thee Faction aren’t mentioned directly – perhaps surprisingly – but there are enough oblique references to us to leave you in no doubt of our role.

Beg, steal or borrow a copy, and witness how rock music can not just fight, but beat, the power. And then join Thee Faction in helping history to repeat itself: this time in the West.

There is also, incidentally, a fascinating chapter on Dean Reed, the American singer who chose to live in the German Democratic Republic.

Rise up with violence?

Many of you will remember a song we used to do, back in 1984, called ‘Rise Up With Violence’. And you’ll probably remember that, after a few airings, in November that year it suddenly became ‘Don’t Give Up, Rise Up’. Everyone used to ask us why.

We shied away from explaining it, back then. Events were too recent and too uncomfortable, and the sentiment of the whole song remained the same – just the first line of the chorus changed to reflect a change in our thinking. Of course, we accept that there might be a defining moment of revolutionary change.  But we acknowledge that the counter-hegemonic ‘hearts and minds’ approach leading up to that, as outlined by Antonio Gramsci, is not just the most attractive, but will prove the most successful means to achieving our end.

We knew this back then, of course. But the events of November 84, when two comrades from the NUM dropped a concrete post onto a taxi carrying two miners intent on crossing the picket line and returning to work, clarified our thinking. What did it accomplish? The death of a taxi driver and the imprisoning of two comrades, all from an act of violent desperation when a hearts and minds approach didn’t seem to be working.

That re-adjusted our focus on what needed to happen for revolutionary change to come about. Individual acts of terrorism, or Boys’ Own plans for armed insurrection, are an infantile way forward.  Counter-hegemonic struggle is about the transformation of common sense. It doesn’t happen overnight. But when it does happen, the ‘violence’ is a single moment, when one class symbolically takes power from another.  By the time that moment happens, the revolution has already occurred.

Our role is to play a small part in the facilitation of that counter-hegemonic struggle.  Don’t give up: rise up.