Cultural Dissent

Two decades ago, barely anyone called themselves an ecosocialist. Yet today the term is widespread on the left.

This comes from an awareness that any viable alternative to capitalism must do away with the current destructive relationship between human society and the wider natural world. It also stems from a recognition that too many socialists in the 20th century failed to take environmental issues seriously.

Serenading Adela: A Street Opera is a major new community theatre event now in rehearsal.

It celebrates a colourful protest on January 7, 1918, when, on a hot summer night during World War I, supporters of British-born suffragette and anti-war militant Adela Pankhurst gathered outside the bluestone walls of the Women’s Prison at Pentridge in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.

Adam Mayer’s book on Marxist currents in Nigeria is what it says on the cover — a rich history of Marxist and revolutionary thought and struggles that are little known outside the West African nation.

Margaret Atwood is blessed and/or cursed with the credit for this year’s go-to feminist analogy. Any time an old white man makes it clear that women are best kept silent and pregnant, someone says that it’s “just like The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Nick Cave and his band the Bad Seeds ignored pleas by Palestinians and international artists for a cultural boycott of Israel in protest at its polices of apartheid and occupation, playing two shows in Tel Aviv on November 19 and 20.

Cave also took the opportunity to belittle and denigrate the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. He repeated false claims used and marketed by anti-Palestinian lobby groups to discredit the campaign.

In 1960, trainee priest Thomas Keneally abandoned the seminary at Manly on Sydney’s North Shore without any qualifications other than a Bachelor of Theology and with no skills other than medieval Latin.

His escape from his crisis of confidence in the Catholic Church, says Stephany Steggall in her biography of the Australian novelist, was through writing. This was both Keneally’s attempt to understand, and keep at bay, the “madness and melancholia” of the human lot, and his own course of personal therapy for exorcising the mental demons that haunted him for six years in an uncaring, dogmatic institution with its “anti-human moral code”.

Ignoring a call from more than 170 Palestinian civil society organisations for a boycott of Israel over its policies of apartheid and occupation, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds played two sold-out gigs in Tel Aviv on November 19 and 20. 

Nick Cave and his band also ignored the example and calls by many other musicians organised in Artists for Palestine, such as Roger Walters and Brian Eno among the most prominent voices.

Eleven women from Britain and Germany travelled to the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank in October on a tour of friendship, solidarity and football.

The promise of participants in the “Freedom Through Football” tour was to share with the wider world the truth of life in Palestine. In particular, it was to highlight the story of women who play football in a country where football for women is far from a cultural norm.

Dozens of high-profile musicians, scholars and activists are calling on Australian band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to cancel its performances this month in Tel Aviv.

Of Mice & Men
By John Steinbeck
First published 1937

This year marks the 80th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s great mythic novel of alienation under US capitalism, Of Mice and Men.

On Google Earth, you can see where the Salinas River “drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green”, a few miles “south of Soledad”, the novella’s opening lines.  Clearly, John Steinbeck knew this area intimately to be able to describe it so strikingly.

Malign Velocities: Accelerationism & Capitalism
Benjamin Noys
Zero Books, 117 pages

Benjamin Noys’ Malign Velocities is an attempt to catalogue and describe an intellectual movement within capitalism that’s gaining a new and disturbing influence lately.

You’ve heard of those recessive genes,
And the masterful dominant types?
We could hope Malcolm’s progressive genes
Throve alongside his conservative stripes,
Even if mostly the latter prevailed.
Whereas Abbott’s mix of political genes
Seemed extreme, then more extreme when unveiled.
But Malcolm’s drum-banging terrorism scenes,
“Keeping us safe” (and Muslims uneasy)
By locking up ten-year-olds, now indicate
His progressive genes are feeling queasy.
He’s Abbott without the flags, so to state.

The Billonaires’ Club: The Unstoppable Rise of Football’s Super-Rich Owners
James Montague
Bloomsbury, 2017
330 pages

At this stage of the 2017 English Premier League (EPL) season, it looks like one of the two Manchester teams will win the championship — and with barely a Mancunian between them. Both Manchester United and Manchester City have overseas owners, overseas managers and overseas-dominated player lists.

There has been a flurry of articles recently proclaiming that NFL player protests against racism and police brutality were winding down and entering a new stage: what a spokesperson for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had branded moving “from protest to progress”.

Then along came Bob McNair.

Over the past three decades, US-based Marxist journal Monthly Review has stood out as a major source of ecosocialist analysis. This has been especially evident in recent months, with the publication by Monthly Review Press of three pathbreaking books:

Cyril Lionel Robert James, best known as CLR James, was a Trinidadian-born, Black socialist whose work spanned many of the great struggles of the 20th century and across many continents.

A life-long anti-Stalinist, he died in 1989 just as the Soviet Union was beginning to break up – something that brought him joy. 

Now his remarkable life has been captured in a new documentary Every Cook Can Govern.

Climate & Capitalism editor and author of A Redder Shade of Green: Intersections of Science and Socialism Ian Angus takes a look at six new books on Marx’s ecosocialist views, climate change and health, theory and action, inevitability versus contingency in evolution, new politics and the meaning of Marx’s Capital.

Former top dog at the Health Services Union (HSU) Michael Williamson used to joke that “nothing’s too good for the workers – and their representatives”, as he brazenly defrauded the union to the tune of $5 million.

Just one lavish, boozy lunch with his cronies would burn through the annual dues ($600) of one of his low-paid union members – hospital cleaners, orderlies, clerks, porters, etc – writes journalist, Brad Norington, in Planet Jackson.

Those smirking denigrators of the “nanny-state” who gripe about “occupational health and safety gone mad” would do well to read Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls. It details a time when a nasty industrial poison, unregulated by business-friendly governments, destroyed countless US women’s lives.

Born in 1872 to a wealthy land-owning family, Alexandra Kollontai was raised in both Russia and Finland, acquiring an early fluency in languages which served her well in her later revolutionary work. She began her political work in 1894, when she was a new mother, by teaching evening classes for workers in St Petersburg.

Through that activity she was drawn into public and clandestine work with the Political Red Cross, an organisation set up to help political prisoners. In 1895, she read August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism, which had a major influence on her ideas about the emancipation of women.

United States President Donald Trump has tried to focus the nation’s ire on anti-racist Black athletes. He tried to demonise them on the highest possible stage, calling for them to lose their jobs.

His transparent aim was to find a bogeyman to distract people from a cascade of scandal and failed legislation, and his administration’s disastrous response to the suffering in Puerto Rico.

Well, the results of this idiotic effort are in.

About 250 people packed into Leichhardt Town Hall in Sydney on October 7 for the fifth annual Green Left Weekly comedy fundraiser — with this year’s event being the first all-women line up.

The theme, “Feminists Laugh Back”, comes in the context of the misogyny pushed from the White House to the mainstream media, while the all-women line-up comes in the context of the widely noted male-dominated nature of the comedy scene.

Antonio Gramsci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), suffered and died in Mussolini’s prison system. In jail, he wrote his famous Prison Notebooks — more than 3000 pages long — in which he theorised a unique revolutionary Marxist alternative to Stalinism.

Ian Parker has a track record as an ecosocialist political activist in Britain. He is a committed but non-dogmatic Marxist and a psychoanalyst so, unsurprisingly, anything he writes is likely to be serious and challenging.

Despite a strong theoretical and academic background, however, Parker writes in a very engaging and interesting fashion.

Dave Randall is an activist and guitarist with the band Faithless and his own band Slovo. He is the author of the recently released Sound System: The Political Power of Music. Green Left Weekly’s Barry Healy spoke to him about music and politics.

The award-winning Netflix animated black comedy show BoJack Horseman follows the misadventures of BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), an anthromorphic horse and washed-up former TV star trying to remain relevant in Hollywoo (formerly Hollywood, until the “D” on the famous sign gets stolen).

Tony Abbott cannot take a trick.

First, Abbott condemned the NRL for “politicising” sport — for having US hip hop performer Macklemore as its pre-show entertainment for the October 1 grand final. But far from the NRL backing down, all the ex-PM achieved was sending Macklemore’s 2013 song in support of marriage equality “Same Love” to number 1 on iTunes — four years after it originally hit number 1 on the ARIA charts.

At Tsarskoe Selo, the Romanov monarchy’s palatial rural retreat where the former “Tsar of all Russia”, Nicholas II, was detained after being forced to abdicate by the February 1917 revolution, the once all-powerful autocrat found much to get annoyed about.

In particular, Nicholas disliked the military bands that serenaded him with rousing renditions of the anthem of liberation, The Marseillaise, and, with black humour, Chopin’s Funeral March.

Ian Angus takes a look at five new books of interest to ecosocialists, looking at urban climate change, past mass extinctions, tropical rainforests, religious anti-science, and the end of Arctic ice. Angus is the editor of Climate and Capitalism, where this list first appeared, and author of the new book A Redder Shade of Green.

One Song One Union
Phil Monsour
www.philmonsour.com

In August 2015, 97 wharfies employed by Hutchison Ports in Brisbane and Sydney awoke to emails and text messages informing them they were sacked. Not enough work to go around, the company said.

Within 24 hours, trade unionists had established community picket lines at both ports and the Maritime Union of Australia was in court seeking reinstatement orders. As news spread, supporters began making their way to the picket camps.

Creating Freedom: Power, Control & the Fight for our Future
By Raoul Martinez
Cannongate Publishing, Edinburgh
2016, 496 pages

“Free markets, free trade, free elections, free media, free thought, free speech, free will. The language of freedom pervades our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the deepest questions about who we are and wish to be.”

Sound System: The Political Power of Music
Dave Randall
Pluto Press Left Book Club, 2017
210 pp, $38.99

As a teenager, British writer and musician Dave Randall unwittingly attended a music festival in his home town where he heard the Special AKA sing “Free Nelson Mandela”. He experienced an epiphany.

“I had no idea who Nelson Mandela was,” he writes, “but I knew by the end of the first chorus I wanted him to be free.”

Miss Muriel Matters
Robert Wainwright
ABC Books, 2017
376 pages

In 1909, Muriel Matters planned to rain on the parade of King Edward VII to the ceremonial opening of parliament. She aimed to drop a shower of “Votes for Women” leaflets on his head from a chartered air balloon trailing streamers in the white, gold and green of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL).

Women footballers in Australia, playing in the W-League, will receive a sizeable pay rise and improved employment conditions after a landmark collective bargaining agreement announced on September 11 between Football Federation Australia, W-League clubs and the players’ union, the Professional Footballers Australia (PFA).

There were innumerable horrors committed by El Salvador’s right-wing death-squad government during the civil war that raged from 1980 to 1992. Alongside the peasants and workers killed or disappeared and the nuns raped, were the priests who were executed. The most sensational execution of all was the murder of Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero, gunned down while celebrating mass.

Regular readers of Green Left Weekly will sometimes admit their favourite part of the paper is Carlo’s Corner, the semi-regular satirical column by comic writer and performer Carlo Sands.

In a paper filled with heavy and even gloomy topics, people appreciate the chance to laugh — especially at the seemingly all-powerful forces who presume to be our betters yet cause so much pain.

“No joke can change the world, or really anything at all,” Sands says, ahead of his stand up show Inspired? at the Sydney Fringe Comedy Festival.

Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons & the Transformation to Postcapitalism
By Massimo De Angelis
Zed, 2017
456 pp, $20.76

Massimo De Angelis, an Italian academic based at the University of East London, has produced a thought-provoking guide to “commons” as a means of transforming and ultimately displacing capitalism. Commons, referring to collective forms of ownership, are increasingly seen as a way of moving beyond both oppressive states and exploitative markets.

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