Thoughts on British Maoism

by Bob Pitt

The recent publicity over the disturbing events in Brixton, among a group of people originating in a Maoist collective headed by Aravindan Balakrishnan, inspired me to take out my copy of the We Only Want the Earth CD, a collection of Maoist propaganda songs from the 1970s by Cornelius Cardew. (I would stress that Cardew can’t be held responsible for Balakrishnan’s group. His lot expelled “comrade Bala” in 1974.)

Cardew was a member of a Maoist organisation called the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), who stood in the 1978 Lambeth Central by-election under the name of the South London People’s Front. In support of their candidate, the RCPB(ML) put up posters around Brixton reading “Down with the revisionist Three Worlds theory. Victory to the revolutionary people of Albania”. They got 38 votes. (Which to be fair is 13 more than TUSC got in a recent by-election in Stoke.)

Perhaps this comes under the heading of guilty pleasures, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Cardew’s Maoist songs, not least because of their unabashed absurdity. A particular favourite is “Smash the Social Contract”, which sought to rally the working class against the agreement the TUC reached in 1974 with the then Labour government to implement a policy of voluntary wage restraint.
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Protest music ain’t dead

This is a guest post by York-based radical singer-songwriter, student and Green Party activist, Josiah Mortimer; see below for details of a Young Greens music event in London this week

Woody Guthrie [Getty images]What do you think of when you picture ‘protest music’? It’s probably a combination of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg knocking out ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ and ‘Which Side Are You On?’ to a crowd of ragged Marxists. But if you try to think of protest music today it becomes a little more difficult. We have no major modern-day political folk heroes – no civil rights movement to throw working-class strummers into the mainstream, no mass student movement to muscle maverick musicians onto the stage.

Instead we have the aberration of Nick Griffin declaring his love of English folk music – to the disgust of Kate Rusby and others in his affection.

Though the right don’t have any clear rising stars either – except perhaps Eton-educated Frank Turner – this is little consolation to progressives, who’ve traditionally drawn our life-blood from four-chord angsty epics.

Despair not though, comrades. Protest music is actually alive and well.
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Pistol Annies: Hush Hush

I know that many of you will be impatient for my promised tribute to George Jones, following the great man’s recent death; and I am working on it.

But in the meantime, the release of Pistol Annies second album, Annie Up, is worth mentioning. Featuring country royalty, Miranda Lambert, alongside Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, the singing trio build on Miranda’s edgy appeal.
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Donna Summer – Love to Love You Baby

The sad news of Donna Summer’s death is an opportunity for reflection on her towering talent. Paradoxically, a religious and conservative woman, she was uncomfortable with the overt sexuality of her breakthough performances, never thinking that they would be either so lasting nor so influential.

Disco was an important form of popular music, revelling in both its urban roots, and also its playful inventiveness. While much popular music has involved a quest for the illusive concept of “authenticity”, being able to pull down the authority of being rooted in earlier popular music cultures; the very concepts of authenticity and tradition are exclusive ones that militate against oppressed minorities who constantly need to reinvent themselves to conform to adapt to stereotypes and perceptions imposed upon them by a prejudiced and discriminatory society.

It is no surprise then that Disco became popular with blacks, gays and assertive young women in the 1970s, for whom “tradition” refelected their own subjugation in a monochrome world of social conformity. Disco represented escape, where peer group recognition in the sub-culture scene gave a validation that mainstream society denied them.

The work of Donna Summer is amongst the best of Disco, and she will be remembered fondly.