While we agree with Gordon Downie that George Binettes musings on Joe Strummer (Politics and lure of fame, June 14) offered little more than biographical anecdote and tittle-tattle, we once again find ourselves at odds with Gordons doom-laden critical method.
The problem with punk was that it ultimately became rock music and The Clash, to our eyes and ears, were the runt of the original punk litter. At least the Sex Pistols, partly through Malcolm McLarens filching of situationist ideas and John Lydons stage presence, had some inherent critique before collapsing into a set of rockist clichés. The Clash had the clichés nailed down from the outset.
But the point is that the audience (or parts of a divided audience) or subsequent spectators can work some of this out. You can listen to The Clashs records or watch documentaries and intelligently engage with them. You can unpick the myth of Hey, man, Joe Strummer was, like, great through considering a relatively fixed object such as the Sandinistas album or whatever. In other words, you can think.
This does not mean that you can attain a pure insight uncorrupted by the spectacle, but neither does it mean a reversion to Gordons world, where popular consciousness is only managed by popular culture, or in Downies terms controlled, manipulated and defused. One wonders whether the author of these words has any hope of a genuinely popular revolution or even mass change.
Having read his critique of popular music, I was curious to find out more about Gordon Downie, so looked up his name on the internet and was fascinated to discover that the comrade not only writes about music, but composes it himself too.
Listening to Forms 3: equivalent forms for 13 instruments and Forms 5: event intersection for 30 instrumentalists, available as audio files on his website (www.gordondownie.net), it was a relief to discover that, despite Gordons apparent detestation of any art that is capable of being reproduced and commodified by the capitalist market system, some of his own compositions are really quite catchy if you scratch beneath their avant-garde surface embellishments.
I played these pieces to a DJ friend of mine and he agreed with me that with a gentle bit of remixing here and there, à la Steve Reich, these works could have serious commercial potential.
Die Linke is neoliberal, anti-communist and votes in parliament for German imperialism. Its social democratic programme does not help the Marxists in Germany. It is opportunism, not the communist way. That is the real face of this capitalist project.
If you read about their politics, look at their programme and look at their record in the Berlin city-state coalition government, there is no way you can support these people.
Why do you not report these things (Support Die Linke - but organise to fight, June 21)?
Torab Saleths article totally misrepresents the Socialist Workers Party position in a cynical and demagogic way (Who killed off the movement?, June 21).
There is a very real threat of military action or sanctions against Iran. This would be in the absolute worst interests of the Iranian people and especially their democracy movements. So campaigning against war should be our priority and the Stop the War Coalition is getting bigger again.
The SWP does not support the regime in Iran or apologise for its many human rights abuses. But we shall not line up with the imperialists (surely the biggest enemy of the working class?) and exaggerate the abuses that go on there, because this is all part of the war drive.
Your ultra-left position makes you useful idiots in the hands of Brown and Bush. Its a good job your position is on the very fringes of the anti-war movement in Britain.
While I agree with Simon Keller about what the working class should do if or when there is an attack on Iran, its sad to compare this to reality (Letters, June 21).
Today the position of CPGB allies in Iran differ to their allies in Iraq during the invasion. Then they called for UN troops but without Americans. In practice it appeared they wanted regime change under the protective cover of those responsible for numerous murderous sanctions.
It is not hard to see why these changes in position have happened. Its due to the ferocious resistance of the islamists against the occupiers and also the unappealing sectarian bloodbath. So-called left positions tail islamist activity.
While working class individuals may actually follow Hamas in Palestine, what could (rather than should) the secular, so-called leftists do? Sadly they may form a military bloc (with some political independence) with Zionist forces. Those who point out the financial support given to islamists from the USA decades ago should now recognise this support is given to anti-islamists today.
The so-called left should re-evaluate their theoretical basis and start to genuinely care about and actually fight against all forms of inequality and aggression.
Simon Keller writes in part: Jim [Grant] and I agree that The main enemy is at home is not an appropriate slogan to use in Iran if or when the imperialist attack comes.
This is correct, as Iran isnt an imperialist country. The main enemy is at home is a slogan which we use during an inter-imperialist war, where we never take a side. Its a defeatist position, where we agitate against the war in each imperialist country, even if this means the military defeat of that country. We dont want workers slaughtering one another in the interests of their capitalist ruling class.
To the workers in country A we say, your main enemy is your own bourgeoisie. To the workers in country B we say the same. Its a tactic.
A quick clarifying note on Simon Kellers letter last week: although we do appear to have reached an agreement (or at least discovered that our positions were not so different in the first place), his language implies that I have also adopted the military/political bloc dichotomy, which I havent.
I see Simon Keller thinks the slogan, The main enemy is at home, would be inappropriate in the event of an imperialist invasion of Iran.
I could not disagree more. I shall be calling for the defeat of imperialism. I also want the defeat of the Iranian state by the working class. It is not only possible to fight on two fronts: it is also necessary. I like the fact that comrade Keller insists on the working class being independently organised, but to bloc militarily with a class enemy which desires the complete subjection of the workers carries the obvious risk of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
Of course if the invasion happens the actual balance of forces will have to be taken into account, but the workers should not put themselves in a position where they are at the mercy of the ayatollahs, because they will receive no mercy. A more probable scenario than invasion, however, is a terroristic bombing campaign. On no account should the workers come to the aid of the state, but should treat the imperialist terror campaign as a disaster brought about with the aid of the accursed ayatollahs and an opportunity to get rid of them.
Ideally the working class should seize the leadership of the anti-imperialist resistance and put the blame for the imperialist invasion squarely on the islamists and their sub-imperialist posturing. Posturing designed to consolidate their own reactionary power over the people of Iran.
The Iranian masses are struggling for their rights and despite repression they are gaining ground. There is hope for a real, democratic solution, which cannot be achieved by an American-led bloodbath. In fact it is Americas plans for aggression that are helping the theocrats hold onto power.
We should be assisting Hands Off the People of Iran to get this message across, not kidding ourselves that the theocratic regime can be an effective bulwark against imperialism.
Saddam was a tyrant. It is good that he is gone. But since the American and British-led invasion in 2003 a once prosperous nation has been reduced to chaos, impoverishment and terror.
Despite the countrys immense oil wealth, mass unemployment and poverty are now the norm. In many regions, public utilities and welfare provision have collapsed. Much of the country is blighted by war, mob rule and sectarian violence. Most people live in a state of permanent insecurity and fear.
Suicide bombings, assassinations and death squad killings are daily occurrences. Some of this indiscriminate violence is perpetrated by foreign al-Qaeda terrorists and sunni insurgents, including loyalists to Saddams now defunct Baathist regime. But many of the killers are linked to leading shia parties in the western-backed Iraqi government, in particular to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its armed wing, the Badr militia. Other killers belong to the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to firebrand fundamentalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Both these shia militias have instituted a reign of terror, often aided and abetted by Iran. Despite their differences, Sadr and Badr share the common goal of establishing an islamist dictatorship. Under their brutal, perverse interpretation of islam, sunni muslims and other religious minorities face harsh persecution; as do women who refuse to wear the veil and who refuse to submit to male domination.
Also targeted by the Sadr and Badr killers are lesbian and gay people, women who have sex outside of marriage, and anyone who wears jeans or shorts or who listens to western music. Having a stylish haircut, drinking alcohol or wearing jewellery can get you branded as an infidel and result in a bullet in the back of the head.
Saddam was evil. But even under his savage regime everyday life and personal relationships were never subjected to such extreme moral policing and violent repression. For women and gay people, and for muslims who follow the wrong interpretation of islam, the clock is being turned back to the dark ages.
Phil Sharpe has hit the nail squarely on the head in his excellent article, How to build Marxist unity (June 21), which exposes the Kautskyite (pre-1917 Trotsky) reality behind the CPGBs calls for a Marxist party:
...the CPGBs main aim seems to be the conciliation of British Menshevism in the name of a platonic ideal - the unconditional unification of all groups in one organisation. This would not be a mass Marxist party, and neither would it be a genuine workers party. Instead we would have the recipe for another Respect, but without the populism. Such an organisation would be a true halfway house that lacked revolutionary aims and principles. Reformism in the name of Marxism.
I have recently made the same point on the UK Left Network email discussion list, to be met with a resounding silence from CPGB members, and indeed I raised the same issue on these letters pages on June 14 - again with no reply: But, bizarrely, he [Mike Macnair] then goes on to include the Socialist Workers Party in the list of organisations he thinks should be in an organisation uniting all Marxists. How exactly does the SWP qualify as having a commitment to working class political independence, given its popular frontist Respect project?
They can easily ignore me, but I wonder how the CPGB will respond to comrade Sharpe? If comrade Sharpe was able to win a majority in the Campaign for a Marxist Party to his perspective, then it could well become a useful vehicle for a regroupment of the fragmented Bolshevik grouplets (the real Marxists in Britain today) instead of following the CPGB in tailing the SWP on its rightward evolution.
The CMP meeting on June 23 showed a real need for unity amongst communists. This was revealed more clearly by the full-blown arguments that broke out from time to time.
Some members of the CMP clearly felt alienated by the fact that CPGB members, who were about half the turnout for the meeting, were voting and helping to make decisions in what they seemed to view as our party. This kind of attitude will not help the CMP to develop.
Comrades must learn to be communists first and Marxists or Trotskyists or any other group second, because ultimately we are all striving for the same goal: the defeat of capitalism and the rise of the proletariat.
Gordon Downies letter concerning Joe Strummer and punk rock reminded me of some of the dumbest diatribes of music snobs who failed to understand the nature of that music (Letters, June 21). He is certainly correct in pointing out that most rock journalism is devoid of any critical concern for the music itself. But his snobbery in stating that in substance popular music has remained more or less unchanged since Bill Haley is risible in its sheer ignorance of popular music forms.
All popular music forms in the developed world owe a great deal to the forms developed by blues musicians nearly a hundred years ago, but only a philistine could confuse Dizzee Rascal or Sunn O with Bill Haley or Robert Johnson. As for popular music forms in the former colonial world, they too owe a great deal to the blues of black America, but the idea that Tinariwen sound anything like Beyoncé Knowles is plain daft.
In his elitist arrogance, Downie writes that, In terms of formal and harmonic organisation, despite myriad stylistic evolutions in substance, popular music has remained more or less unchanged. Quite frankly, who gives a shit if popular music forms are limited in the sense that Downie lambasts them for? After all, this is a popular music that must be accessible to large numbers of people and must exist in a world dominated by the market. Is this ability to produce music that appeals to masses something to be lauded rather than denigrated by Marxists? Or should Marxists ape official bourgeois culture in its lack of relevance to the lives of the masses?
Downie also disrespects punk rock for its limited musical palate. That is true - at least it is true of some forms of punk - yet it should not be denied that these limitations enabled large numbers of young people, for the most part young workers, to express themselves by making music. It is an act of grotesque snobbery to castigate such efforts at artistic expression.
Moreover, Downie is factually wrong in stating that punk was only able to express a primitive anarchist politics. In fact, it was at the beginning open to expressing a range of political views from anarchism to fascism, although most punk bands were, if anything, lacking in any political expression at all. The reason why punk became dominated by a confused leftist ideology was rooted more in its being a vehicle for young people who were denied access to the workplace and were forced as a consequence to discover or create an ideology that could express their concerns.
Downie has much to say about the musical failings of popular music and in its many forms it is indeed lacking in the complexity that he would seem to hold in high esteem. Yet it should not be denied that even so it has proven vastly more dynamic and open to new technologies than the subsidised musical forms favoured by the bourgeois establishment. Its very simplicity has proven to be a strength in so far as it has enabled successive generations of workers to make and remake it as their own creation, despite the market forces which acted as its midwife.