Saturday, August 29, 2015

Marxism in a Lost Century: A Biography of Paul Mattick by Gary Roth (Brill Publishing 2015)

The Charlottenburg branch (Mattick’s) organised the production of the group’s monthly paper, Rote Jugend [Red Youth]. Mattick contributed short pieces and progressively turned his attention to writing. When he withdrew from view, friends assumed it was because he was composing something new. Radicalism meant that politics and creativity were pursued simultaneously, that protest and expression prefigured one another. The youth group publicised open forums through posters pasted on the sides of buildings. If a wall was wide enough, they displayed their entire newspaper. Small teams set out at night, careful not to get caught. Two people would watch for the police at the respective corners while someone else carried the glue pot and another the poster. Wheat paste (flour dissolved in water) was inexpensive, easy to mix, and nearly permanent as an adhesive. Mattick especially liked the easy-going camaraderie where everyone got along.

Financing their paper was a huge challenge. KAPD members like Max Hoelz and Karl Plättner, whose exploits received considerable attention from the bourgeois press during the Kapp Putsch, served as models. Hoelz mobilised a small army of 2500 to help with heists at banks, factory pay windows, and post offices, even commandeering a tank at one point. Plättner, a KAPD member from the beginning, attracted as many as 100 armed adherents, although the core group included fifteen-odd people who weaved in and out of participation. Members received regular wages in order to support their families and also to prevent personal gain and plundering as motivations. Inordinately scrupulous as to the use of force, they often threatened physical harm but never actually committed it. Couriers transferred expropriated funds between the field operations and KAPD colleagues in Berlin, with official receipts and proper paperwork to conduct the transactions. These radical leftists adhered to standard business practices whenever they handled money. Other KAPDists attempted to bomb Berlin’s Siegessäule, the tall victory column erected to celebrate Prussia’s crushing of the Paris Commune (and defeat of the French), albeit without success.

Class-conscious crimes aimed at the business world, the government, and the possessions of the upper and middle classes were considered proper and legitimate activities. The radicals determined from whom and how they would steal by means of a politicised ethics which guided the choice of targets and the possible uses for the proceeds. Mattick teamed up with friends to sneak into the common areas of apartment buildings where they absconded with things like the brass rods used to hold the staircase carpeting in place. Mattick’s expertise in metal recycling, learned during the war, was put to good use. They discovered, though, that much of the brass wasn’t real brass, only brass-plated. With the platinum lightning rods they took off rooftops, they uncovered something similar. Many of them were counterfeit, affording the buildings no protection whatsoever. For all the hoopla about expropriations, all they had done was to mimic everyday occurrences within the business arena. In the real world, theft and commerce were complimentary phenomena. At Siemens, Mattick carted lead, brass, and copper through the factory gates to sell to the salvage dealers, his contribution to the rampant employee theft during this period.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We've been here before . . .

Facial hair - check.
No tie - check.
Looking messianically into the distance - check,
Pointing out the class traitors in the audience - cheka.

Shame on me. Not for the piss-poor Cheka pun but because it's my first mention of Corbyn on the blog, and, then, it's only to post my half-arsed attempt at a political meme.

There is a silver lining, however.  I'm thinking of trying to sell the above pic - with the accompanying bad Cheka joke, naturally. Do you think the Daily Mail and Left Foot Forward might enter into a bidding war for the exclusive rights? I won't sell it for less than $2.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Flawed Genius: Scottish Football's Self-Destructive Mavericks by Stephen McGowan (Birlinn Ltd 2009)

'Big Jock couldn't believe it. "Do you really want to go to that elephant's graveyard?" he asked me.

'But Haldane Y Stewart could sell sand to the Arabs and he'd convinced me I was the best player since Pele.'
Stewart may not actually have believed that much. Within two seasons, however, there were plenty around Greenock who did. Initially, the reception and first impressions were underwhelming. A leaking gas fire created the impression of a gas chamber in the old Cappielow main stand when the new signing arrived on the morning of his debut against a Clydebank side featuring the late Davie Cooper. An air of decay hung over Cappielow and circulated the corridors.

'I remember meeting my great boyhood hero, the former Motherwell striker John Goldthorpe, as I walked in.

' "Andy, what you doing down here?" he asked me.

' "I'm playing against Clydebank tonight, John," I replied.

' "You're whit?" he asked me. "What? Are you down on loan?"

' "Naw," I said, "I signed for Morton this afternoon."

' "What the f*** did you sign down here for?" he asked me. That wasn't the best of starts.

'But the real culture shock arrived on the Saturday, when we went to Love Street to play St Mirren, our greatest rivals. We lost 5-1 to a team managed by a certain Alex Ferguson. That Saturday night, I drove home saying to myself, You'd better get your finger out; you don't want to be hanging about here too blinkin' long.'

Yet when the goals started flowing with a double against Montrose the following Wednesday, including a trademark free-kick, Ritchie settled. So well, indeed, that within weeks Celtic - unbeknown to the great man himself - tried to take him back for £170,000.

'Had I known at the time, I would have created merry hell to secure my return to full-time football. It was only many years after I had finished as a football player that I even learned of the bid from Sean Fallon, Jock's old assistant.

'As part of the deal, Morton would be duty bound to clarify that I had only ever been on loan. It's difficult to explain in words how I felt about it years later. I just wish to Christ I had known at the time.

'I quickly realised at Morton that I had never really wanted to leave Celtic. But Brings had gone so far, relations had soured so badly, that I had to. I was putting pressure on myself to succeed and I had to get away, to reinvent myself.'

To a large extent, he succeeded brilliantly. After scoring the goals which took Morton to the Premier League in a season-and-a-half, Ritchie became that rarest of entities: a Player of the Year plying his trade outwith the Old Firm.

When he earned his accolade from the Scottish Football Writers' Association in the Albany Hotel, Glasgow on an April night in 1979, he was just 22. The pride he took from having his father and grandfather in the grand room that evening was palpable. By his own admission, however, the award prompted a downward spiral rather than an unstoppable ascent.

In the days before footballers enjoyed rock star status, the celebrity that followed was difficult for a young working-class man with an attitude and a healthy slice of self-conceit to absorb.

'Things began to change after that,' he recalls. 'I parked my car outside a primary school in Greenock one day and young boys were playing football in the playground. One of the lads scored a screamer past the obligatory fat kid in goals. And as I turned the lock in my car door, I heard the shout, "And Ritchie scores!" I thought he was taking the piss. He wasn't, the kid hadn't even seen me. But at that time my reputation was growing all over the place. I was being recognised everywhere I went, from Laurencekirk to Lochee.'

What had also changed was Ritchie's attitude. The good habits bred at Celtic had flown out of the window to be replaced by heavy drinking, major gambling and a 40-a-day nicotine addiction. By his own admission, he played many of his best - and worst - games nursing a hangover. Friday night sessions in the Windmill Tavern in Lanarkshire would be followed on Saturday morning by a panicked search for the family car, a missing wallet and a phone call to an obliging teammate to get him to Greenock for the prematch meal, where manager Benny Rooney would be pacing around a hotel foyer checking his watch.

'I always remember Johnny Goldthorpe driving me to training at Morton one evening in our promotion season in 1978.

'Johnny was 32, had been a good pro and knew a thing or two. I had always looked up to him until the day he turned to me in the car and said, "You'll not last until you're 27 in this game."

'I was angry, furious in fact. I wasn't having that, not even from Johnny Goldthorpe. I was only in my early twenties at that time and I was flying. I was scoring goals, winning rave write-ups and was the best player in the country. What did this old fella know? Well, one thing he did know was the smell of drink - and I was in that car passenger seat steaming drunk. I'd been drinking all afternoon, and some of the morning as well. And that wasn't especially unusual for me. I'd still be stinking of drink when I played games. And somehow I was still scoring goals.

' "I'll do whatever the f*** I want," summed up my attitude best.

'Big Jock Stein had told me towards the end of my time at Parkhead - because I had begun to develop an opinion - that the best thing I could do was take the cotton wool out of my ears and shove it in my f****** mouth.

'Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed every minute of all that. I didn't do it to blot out any pain or any crap like that. But I saw no need to change. I had been boozing, gambling and doing whatever and we had still gone to the top of the league.'

Morton finished seventh in the Premier League that season, after leading before Christmas. Part-time football remained a constant despite promises from the chairman, Hal Stewart, to go full-time. To the more ambitious members of the playing staff, it was a betrayal.

Desperate to play for Scotland and increase basic earnings of £50 a week bolstered by a new contract and an afternoon job as a Morton Lottery Ticket salesman, however, Ritchie wanted out. With his gambling now out of control, he needed out.

in the morning news

They just played the opening riff of The Jam's 'In The City' on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe'. The day won't get any weirder.

This song:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Rejoice, Rejoice!: Britain in the 1980s by Alwyn Turner (Aurum Press 2008)

With a few exceptions – the anonymous narrator of Raymond’s Factory novels, Rankin’s John Rebus exploring the seedier side of Edinburgh with ‘its crooks and bandits, its whore and gamblers, its perpetual losers and winners’ – these characters primarily inhabited the small towns and middle-class world that had characterized the golden age. Even in Taggart, firmly located in Glasgow, the murderers whose stories were told in the first three series included a couple of small businessmen, a guest-house owner, a doctor, a philosophy student, a dentist and an ex-probation worker, as well as a group of bereaved parents meting out justice to the drug dealer responsible for their children’s deaths. Despite the urban setting, this is a world away from The Sweeney; there are no car chases, just Sgt Livingston running after teenagers and getting bitten by the occasional dog, and there is little suggestion of a criminal class separate from society: these are just ordinary, respectable people caught up in their own lives. And, at the other extreme of television detection, there was Jim Bergerac, investigating much smaller problems on Jersey and learning ‘to take the smooth with the smooth’.

Though the backdrop might have suggested a retreat from the city to the closed communities of Agatha Christie (encapsulated by Colin Watson as Mayhem Parva), there was an edge, to the literature at least, that was far removed from the cosiness of Miss Marple, an engagement with society, a desire to comment on contemporary mores. And although the likes of Morse and Dalgliesh spent much of their time behaving as though they were still autonomous detectives in the tradition of Holmes and Poirot, capable of solving any case through the exercise of their intellect, the central characters were still police officers, and couldn’t fail to notice the changing role of the force in the modern world. In one of Rendell’s novels, Inspector Burden initiates the putting of coloured lights in the tree outside the police station ‘in the interest of promoting jollier relations with the public’. His boss, Wexford, disapproves of the gesture, but it’s revealing that there was a perceived need for such a move: ‘surely you couldn’t go on feeling antagonistic towards or afraid of or suspicious about a friendly body that hung fairy-lights in a tree in its front garden?’ Elsewhere Peter Robinson’s character Inspector Banks was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the new role of the force: ‘he had many objections to the way the government seemed to look upon the police as a private army of paid bully boys to pit against people with genuine grievances and a constitutional right to air them.’ He consoles himself with the thought that he’s a detective ‘and he didn’t have to go on crowd control, bashing the bonces of the proletariat.’ But even detectives are affected by the rise of what Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel refers to as ‘porkism’, as his own sergeant concludes: ‘A man’s got to be mad to stay in a job where the public hates you and Maggie Thatcher loves you.’
Most political of all was Derek Raymond’s detective sergeant, who reflects on the police powers promised in a new piece of legislation (presumably inspired by the controversial Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984): ‘It was what I thought of as banana laws – the law of a society in the process of breaking down. Once properly tightened up, it would have meant that I could stop and arrest a man in the street simply because I didn’t like the look on his face, or the way his pockets bulged. It would have synchronized nicely with the plastic ID cards that every citizen would be required to carry by then, and before long we would have turned the country into a birdcage.’

Monday, August 03, 2015

"I'm doing this for my mother . . ."

Incredibly powerful speech from Joe McDonald from the CFMEU trade union on a motion about domestic violence at the Australian Labor Party Conference:

If there was any justice, it would go viral.

Hat tip to Mike B. for the video.