Friday, October 30, 2009

Marx and the Mazurka?: Dancing with the First International

The International Working Men's Association (later know as the First International) was established in 1864, with its famous statement 'That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule'.

The following year, the International Working Men's Association held a conference in London
as part of which, on the the 28th September 1865, they held a soiree at St Martin's Hall in Long Acre. According to the programme, the aim was 'To celebrate the foundation of the Association; to welcome the Continental delegates; and to congratulate the people of America on the abolition of slavery, and the triumph of the Republic. It promised 'Tea on the table at half past seven. During the tea the band of the Italian Working Men’s Association will perform', speeches in English, French and German, and songs from The German Chorus.

Then it was time for dancing, with a challenging international programme of dance styles. The programme continues:

'At half past 10 dancing will commence:

1st. — Palermo Polka — Canti
2nd. — Quadrille
3rd. — Schottische
4th. — Valse — Godfrey
5th. — Lancers — Albert
6th. — Mazurka
7th. — Caledonians — Cootes
8th. — Varsovienne — Tonatta
9th. — Polka Italia — Martini

An interval of 20 minutes for refreshment and, promenade


1st. — Parisian Quadrille
2nd. — Schottische
3rd. — Lancers — Albert
4th. — Valse — Godfrey
5th. — Polka la bella — Gigogine Giorgi
6th. — Caledonians — Cootes
7th. — Mazurka
8th. — Quadrille
9th. — Varsovienne and Gallop

Cards of membership can be obtained in the Committee room, under the platform. Enter by the left hand door. FEMALES are eligible as members. Annual Subscription, 1s. 1d. Address and Rules, 1d. Wines, spirits, ales, stout, tea, coffee, &c., at tavern prices'.

The event was reported in the Workman's Advocate No. 135, October 7, 1865:

'The hall was most appropriately decorated with flags of the different nationalities, the place of honour being assigned to the Stars and Stripes of America. The soirée served a threefold purpose — first, to celebrate the anniversary of the Association; secondly, to welcome the Continental delegates; and, thirdly, to adopt an address to the people of America congratulating them on the success of the Federal arms and the extinction of slavery. Over 300 sat down to tea, the social qualities of which seemed equally to be appreciated by the Continental delegates and their English friends.

The speaking was interspersed with music and singing by the Garibaldian Band and the German Working Men’s Choir, which gave the Marseillaise and other pieces with much effect.
The hall was then cleared for dancing, which amusement was followed up with much spirit for some hours. At two o’clock the Committee and delegates assembled in the Committee room, where Citizen Cremer was most warmly received, and the thanks of the delegates accorded to him for the able manner in which the soirée had been got up and the splendid success they had that night witnessed'.

Karl Marx was certainly present at the conference, whether he was up for the four hour dancing session I do not know.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Victorian Mandolins

In the late nineteenth century a mandolin craze swept America and Europe, leading to the formation of numerous mandolin orchestras with mainly classical repertoires - I'm not quite sure how this fits in with my emerging theory of the counter-cultural underground of portable stringed instruments, but the craze wasn't confined to middle class drawing rooms.

In the novel Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (London, Virago, 1998), Nan King, oyster girl turned music hall star turned rent boy, catches her first sight of her future lesbian lover in a house opposite her lodgings, listening to a friend playing the mandolin: “Someone had begun to strum some kind of sweet, twangy instrument - not a banjo, not a guitar - and a lilting gypsy melody was playing upon the bare evening breezes... The player of the instrument - it was, I now saw, a mandolin - was a handsome young woman in a well-tailored jacket, a white blouse,a neck-tie and spectacles”. In this novel the mandolin takes its place amongst upper class saphhists, music hall mashers (women dressed as men), prostitute guardsmen and socialist rallies as a component of 1890s London life.

This is obviously a fictional account, but there is a nice story in the South London Observer of a servant getting ideas above her station by learning to play the instrument: ‘The Servant’s Mandolin’ (South London Observer, 6.5.1899) tells of a court case in 1899 where the father of Agnes Reid, aged 18 and ‘in service at Camberwell’ was sued by Miss Rosina Love, a Peckham music teacher. The cause was Agnes’ failing to pay for her mandolin lessons, but the fact of her learning to play the instrument was seemingly cause for comment. The Judge asked her father 'what induced your daughter to learn the mandoline' to which he replied ‘One of the other servants put her up to it. I know no other reason’. Judge Emden of Lambeth County Court concluded: 'I do not say that a servant should not play the mandoline if she does not annoy the people in her mistress’s house by so doing. But she must pay her music teacher'.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Peace Dance, War and the Noble Savage

War dances are well-known, but what of peace dances? The above photo, taken in 1905, show a peace dance in the Andaman islands. An account of the dance states that 'fighting was male business, making peace the women's task':

'the dancing ground is prepared, and across it is erected what is called a koro-tsop. Posts are put up in a line, to the tops of these is attached a length of strong cane, and from the cane are suspended bundles of shredded palm-leaf (koro). The women of the camp keep a look-out for the approach of the visitors. When they are known to be near the camp, the women sit down on one side of the dancing ground, and the men take up positions in front of the decorated cane. Each man stands with his back against the koro-tsop, with his arms stretched out sideways along the top of it. None of them has any weapons.

The visitors, who are, if we may so put it, the forgiving party, while the home party are those who have committed the last act of hostility, advance into the camp dancing, the step being that of the ordinary dance. The women of the home party mark the time of the dance by clapping their hands on their thighs. I was told that the visitors carry their weapons with them, but when the dance was performed at my request the dancers were without weapons. The visitors dance forward in front of the men standing at the koro-tsop, and then, still dancing all the time, pass backwards and forwards between the standing men, bending their heads as they pass beneath the suspended cane. The dancers make threatening gestures at the men standing at the koro-tsop, and every now and then break into a shrill shout. The men at the koro stand silent and motionless, and are expected to show no sign of fear.

After they have been dancing thus for a little time, the leader of the dancers approaches the man at one end of the koro and, taking him by the shoulders from the front, leaps vigorously up and down to the time of the dance, thus giving the man he holds a good shaking. The leader then passes on to the next man in the row while another of the dancers goes through the same performance with the first man. This is continued until each of the dancers has "shaken" each of the standing men. The dancers then pass under the koro and shake their enemies in the same manner from the back. After a little more dancing the dancers retire, and the women of the visiting group come forward and dance in much the same way that the men have done, each woman giving each of the men of the other group a good shaking. When the women have been through their dance the two parties of men and women sit down and weep together. The two groups remain camped together for a few days, spending the time in hunting and dancing together, presents are exchanged, as at the ordinary meetings of different groups. The men of the two groups exchange bows with one another'.

I came across the photograph, and mention of the Andamanese peoples, in 'War and the Noble Savage: A critical inquiry into recent accounts of violence amongst uncivilized peoples', a copy of which I picked up from the author (Gyrus of Dreamflesh) at last weekend's anarchist bookfair in London. The book provides an overview of the debate about the extent of violence amongst so-called primitive people, the two poles of which are often taken to be the notion of the noble savage living peaceably in the state of nature (attributed to Rousseau) and the notion of the state of nature as a war of all against all from which the development of the state saved humanity (attributed to Thomas Hobbes). One of the first tasks Gyrus undertakes is to question whether Rousseau and Hobbes really did hold these views, concluding that both were undertaking political-philosophical thought experiments rather than describing actual societies. Nevertheless the question continues to be very much a live one for anthropologists and others.

The conclusion is that it is impossible to be conclusive about many different societies spread over the world and many thousands of years. Nobody who has seriously looked at the matter suggests that hunter-gatherer societies have been violence-free - the anthropologist Donald E. Brown includes conflict and 'male coalitional violence' on his list of Human Universals observed in all known human societies. However Brown also includes co-operation and mediation of conflict on this list (as well as music and dance incidentally). The balance between war and peace seems to often been as much a function of environmental factors, such as resource shortages, as of the form of social organisation. Gyrus is sceptical of an over-romantic description of 'primitive' life, but sympathetic to the view that active warfare is comparatively rare in small hunter-gatherer groups characterised by egalitarianism and face to face decision-making.

So if life in the Paleolithic wasn't so bad, why did most of humanity settle down into sedentary lifestyles? Gyrus quotes from Steven Mithen's discussion of the Natufian people of the Middle East, believed to have been one of the first groups to give up hunter-gathering some 12,000 year ago:

'It is possible that the Natufian... people were prepared to suffer the downside of village life... to enjoy the benefits. Francois Valla... believes that the Natufian villages simply emerged from the seasonal gathering of the Kebaran people. He recalls the work of social anthropologist Marcel Mauss who lived with hunter-gatherers in the Arctic at the turn of the century. Mauss recognised that periodic gatherings were characterised by intense communal life, by feasts and religious ceremonies, by intellectual discussion, and by lots of sex. In comparison, the rest of the year, when people lived in small far-flung groups, was rather dull',

So perhaps it was our taste for partying, for large scale sociability and conviviality ('intense communal life'), that led most of the human species into the decidedly double-edged adventure of civilization, agriculture, states and urbanisation. In any event, there's no going back to hunter gathering for most of us - but as Gyrus concludes the existence of such societies can still 'inspire new stories of human potential'.

The book is available here for £4; Gyrus is launching the book with a talk tomorrow night (Tuesday 27 October) at the October Gallery in London.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nancy Spero (1926-2009)

Nancy Spero, Artist of Feminism, Is Dead at 83 (NY Times, 19 October 2009)

'Ms. Spero was active in the Art Workers Coalition, and in 1969 she joined the splinter group Women Artists in Revolution (WAR), which organized protests against sexist and racist policies in New York City museums. In 1972, she was a founding member of A.I.R. Gallery, the all-women cooperative, originally in SoHo, now in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn. And in the mid-1970s she resolved to focus her art exclusively on images of women, as participants in history and as symbols in art, literature and myth.

On horizontal scrolls made from glued sheets of paper, she assembled a multicultural lexicon of figures from ancient Egypt, Greece and India to pre-Christian Ireland to the contemporary world and set them out in non-linear narratives. Her 14-panel, 133-foot-long “Torture of Women” (1974-1976) joins figures from ancient art and words from Amnesty International reports on torture to illustrate institutional violence against women as a universal condition. Ms. Spero considered this her first explicitly feminist work. Many others followed, though over time she came to depict women less as victims and more often as heroic free agents dancing sensuously...'

Images: top - 'The Dance' by Nancy Spero; bottom - 'Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers' by Nancy Spero, mosaic on 66th Street/Lincoln Center Subway Station, New York City (1999, installed 2004).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lenore Kandel (1932-2009)

San Francisco Chronicle reports the death of Lenore Kandel, belly dancer, beat poet, Digger and radical:

'Lenore Kandel hung out with Beat poets and was immortalized by Jack Kerouac, wrote a book of love poetry banned as obscene and seized by police, and believed in communal living, anarchic street theater, belly dancing, and all things beautiful...

"I met Lenore in 1965 at a citywide meeting of artists opposed to the war in Vietnam," said actor Peter Coyote. "Lenore was physically beautiful and physically commanding. She had this voluptuous plumpness about her and an absolute serenity." Coyote, Ms. Kandel and her then-boyfriend Bill Fritsch - a poet and Hell's Angel - became fast friends. "She was working as a belly dancer and would sew these beaded curtains to make money on the side," said Coyote, a founder of the Diggers, an anarchistic group supplying free food, housing and medical aid to the needy in San Francisco. "We would sit around and smoke dope and talk about philosophy and art. She was an enlightened person, a great being...

Her book of poetry "The Love Book," published in 1966, was deemed pornographic and the famed Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street where it was sold was raided by the police. Copies were confiscated on the grounds that their display and sale "excited lewd thoughts" and the store's owners were arrested'. (Read more)

One of her 1960s Digger episodes is recalled here (Marx Meadow is in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park):

'So one time, Lenore Kandel thought it would be the greatest idea in the world to hang 500 sets of glass, Chinese chimes in every bush around Marx Meadow -- that if we did that, people would discover them, take them home with them, play them and be entertained and felt elegant for the event. So, we went in and asked Tosh for 500 sets of Chinese chimes. He said, "Sure. Just take them."... And Lenore spent hours stringing them up in the trees'.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stonewall 2009: Police raid gay bars in Texas and Atlanta

40 years ago this summer police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York, prompting a gay riot and a new phase in the gay liberation movement. On the 40th anniversary itself, June 28th 2009, police and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission staged their own re-enactment of the Stonewall raid, when they raided the Rainbow Lounge, a gay dance club in Fort Worth.

According to the New York Times (5 July 2009):

'Several witnesses said six police officers and two liquor control agents used excessive force as they arrested people during the raid. Chad Gibson, a 26-year-old computer technician from Euless, about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth, suffered a concussion, a hairline fracture to his skull and internal bleeding after officers slammed his head into a wall and then into the floor, witnesses and family members said... Another patron suffered broken ribs, and a third had a broken thumb, said Todd Camp, the founder and artistic director of Q. Cinema, a gay film festival in Fort Worth. Mr. Camp, a former journalist, said he was celebrating his 43rd birthday in the bar when the police arrived at 1:05 a.m.

The officers entered the bar without announcing themselves, witnesses said. Earlier in the night, they had visited two other bars looking for violations of alcohol compliance laws. Those bars do not cater to gay patrons, and the officers had made nine arrests at those establishments on public intoxication charges, officials said. “They were hyped up,” Mr. Camp said of the officers in the Rainbow Lounge raid. “They came in charged and ready for a fight. They were just telling people they were drunk or asking them if they were drunk, and, if they mouthed off, arresting them.” More than 20 people were taken out of the bar for questioning, handcuffed with plastic ties and, in some cases, were forced to lie face down in the parking lot, witnesses said. Five were eventually booked on charges of public drunkenness, the police said... The raid prompted swift action. Hours later, more than 100 people were protesting on the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse'.

In a similar incident last month, police in Atlanta, Georgia, raided a gay bar called The Eagle. Mike Alvear has a detailed account of the raid, which took place on September 10 2009. Here's a few extracts:

'“Shut the fuck up!” a cop yelled at one of the bar patrons who asked why they were being forced to lay face down on the grubby floors. An acquaintance saw the police shove an 80 year-old man to the ground because he was moving too slowly... “I hate queers,” a cop said. Other officers–some plain-clothed, some uniformed– walked around the bar demanding to know who was in the military, threatening to report them to their commanding officers. “This is a lot more fun than raiding niggers with crack!” Du-Wayne Ray heard one white officer say this to another; other cops were high-fiving each other. For almost two hours, Mark Danack, Nick Koperski, and sixty other gay men were forced to lay face down on the bar’s filthy floors. The drivers license screening revealed nothing. Sixty two men and the cops didn’t find a suspended license, a criminal prior, nothing. Not even a parking ticket. The search and seizure uncovered nothing. No drugs. Not even a joint. Finally, the men were ordered to leave but without their cell phones, wallets and other personal belongings'. The only arrests were eight staff members, who were detained for the crime of 'Dancing in their underwear without a permit'.

Unlike Stonewall there were no riots this time, but as in Fort Worth there have been a number of protests in Atlanta.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

(P.B. Shelley, 1818)

The abandoned ruins of Mr Blobby theme park after ravers trash site (Daily Mail, 14 October 2009)

'He attracted nearly 17 million television viewers at the height of his fame, and even had a number one hit, but today Mr Blobby's empire is a mere shadow of what it once was. New images of what was the Mr Blobby theme park in Somerset show a depressing ruin covered in weeds and trashed after all-night raves. The park closed its doors in 1999, after the popular Saturday night television show Noel's House Party on which Mr Blobby featured was axed by the BBC. Now in a state of total disrepair, buildings are covered in moss, while windows and furniture lie broken after all-night raves that take place on the site. The entrance to Mr Blobby's home, named 'Dunblobbin', is surrounded by dead trees and a carpet of decaying leaves'
Same story in The Sun:

'The home of kids' telly favourite Mr Blobby lies in ruins - reduced to a waterlogged wasteland. Excited youngsters once flocked to the Blobbyland theme park to see the make-believe cottage of Noel Edmonds' famous character. Now it is more like Soggyland - overgrown and strewn with fallen leaves and mud. The house, named Dunblobbin, and its gardens opened in 1994 in Cricket St Thomas, near Chard, Somerset. But it closed after two years as fans lost interest. Since then, ravers have used it for all-night parties. Doors have been ripped off, windows and furniture smashed, mattresses burned and the interior wrecked (The Sun, 14 October 2009)

For readers lucky enough not to have been exposed to Mr Blobby, 'he' was an ubiquitous 1990s British TV phenomenon, a pink thing launched on an unsuspecting public by Radio DJ and TV presenter Noel Edmonds (the two of them standing with those poor kids in the top photo). The Daily Mail's attempt to put a 'broken Britain omg ravers are out of control' angle on this is absurd - the place has been abandoned for ten years so of course it's in decay - but I like the idea of people partying in the ruins of '90s TV culture. Both papers seemed to have sourced the story from a blog - a blogger called Captain Stealth is quoted - but I can't find any trace of the original blog post via Google. Anybody know where it is?

(Thanks to John Eden for spotting this)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dorothy Coonan Wellman (1913-2009)

'Dorothy Coonan was one of Busby Berkeley's principal chorus dancers who had performed in such films as Whoopee! (1930) and 42nd Street (1933) when she met the director William Wellman, who cast her as the female lead in his film Wild Boys of the Road (1933). She then became Wellman's fifth wife, and remained happily married to him for over 40 years until his death in 1975... Wellman cast Coonan as the female lead in his next film, Wild Boys of the Road (1933, titled Dangerous Days in the UK), a brilliantly effective drama of teenagers whose fathers have lost their jobs in the economic depression, hopping freight trains in their efforts to seek a better life. Coonan gave a superb performance as a tomboyish young girl who dons boys' clothing and a cap to ride the rails with a bunch of youths. Her appearance is uncannily similar to that of Louise Brooks in her earlier incarnation of a freight-hopper in Wellman's Beggars of Life (1928). Coonan also performs a lively tap routine near the film's end' (Full obituary in today's Independent)

The 1933 trailer for Wild Boys of the Night is great: 'the living truth about 500,000 wild boys... innocent girls... driven to vagrancy... crime... fates worse than death... Jolting facts about humanity's shame... the abandoned generation... as tender and human as it is startling and real... shocking enough to make the very earth tremble in terror' (Coonan is the character in the trailer who has her cap pulled off revealing she's a girl, also pictured left in the photo above)

There's a nice video put together by family members which includes some footage of her dancing:

Dorothy Coonan Wellman Memorial-The Last Busby Berkeley Dancer from Robert D. Lawe on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jiddish Partizan Marsh: Song of the Partisans

Yesterday's post on mandolins and anti-fascist resistance in Warsaw has prompted this response from Ruin Gebirk in Berlin:

"I read your story about the mandoline, it was interesting, I too have a strong interest in the jewish resistance history and I am specially fascinated by the "little" stories. When I was young we were singing the jiddish songs of Hirsh Glik and others... since I know about your electronical music background I wanted to share my new track with you: I called it jiddish partizan marsh, it's based on the melody of Sog nit kejnmal als du gejst den letztn".

Nice one, check out the track here:

There's more detail on the song from which this track's melody comes in this article on Music of the Holocaust: 'News of the Warsaw ghetto uprising of April 1943 inspired the Vilna poet and underground fighter Hirsh Glik (ca. 1921–ca. 1944) to write Never Say That You Have Reached the Final Road (the Yiddish title is often shortened to Zog nit keynmol). With a melody taken from a march tune composed for the Soviet cinema, the song spread quickly beyond the ghetto walls and was soon adopted as the official anthem of the Jewish partisans. Glik was later deported to an Estonian labor camp and is presumed to have lost his life during an escape attempt. His song remains a favorite at Holocaust commemoration ceremonies worldwide'. This site also includes a recording of the track - which is also known as the Song of the Partisans - by Betty Segal.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Mandolin Kills Fascists

Posted last week on Marek Edelman and the 1943 resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto. Surviving this, he later took part in the following year's wider anti-nazi uprising in the city. From the latter episode I have come across this interesting tale in 'The Recollections of Witold Górski – 1944 Warsaw uprising' (for some reason there is a mistake on the webpage and it says 1994 - but clearly it's about 1944):

'I was involved in transporting guns, in a mandolin.., a stringed instrument vaguely similar to a guitar. The notes it produced when played under such circumstances were atrociously off key. The conductor of the streetcar I was riding with my illicit cargo was in on the secret. When he sensed that the streetcar was about to be stopped and searched by the Germans, my dreadful playing gave him an excuse to grab me by the scruff of the neck and throw me off the vehicle. That way, while the Germans were searching the streetcar passengers for weapons and contraband, I was able to walk calmly by. Further on, there would be a street musician playing a similar mandolin. It was to him that I was to deliver the gun by somehow swapping mandolins'.

I love this as it combines my interests in both militant anti-fascism and mandolins, and adds further credence to my slightly romantic but not unfounded 'notion of the portable, guerrilla instrument... a hidden history of itinerant strollers, refugees, prisoners, wobblies and other malcontents making music on small stringed instruments like ukuleles, fiddles, mandolins and the Greek baglamas' (see earlier post on the ukulele underground).

Friday, October 09, 2009

She dances for her own delight

Before the mirror's dance of shadows
She dances in a dream,
And she and they together seem
A dance of shadows,
Alike the shadows of a dream...

The orange-rosy lamps are trembling
Between the robes that turn;
In ruddy flowers of flame that burn
The lights are trembling:
The shadows and the dancers turn.

And, enigmatically smiling,
In the mysterious night,
She dances for her own delight,
A shadow smiling
Back to a shadow in the night.

Text: from La Melinite: Moulin Rouge (1895) by Arthur Symons;
Photo: by Luba Roniss (2009) at Flickr.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Nat Finkelstein, 1933-2009

Photographer Nat Finkelstein died last Friday. He was best known for his documentation of Andy Warhol's factory scene in the 1960s. Finkelstein was responsible for many iconic images from the period, including this classic shot of Edie Sedgwick with The Velvet Underground:

This shot is of a dancer somewhere in New York in the late 1960s - don't know who, where, or when, but it's very evocative:

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Marek Edelman, Ghetto fighter

Marek Edelman died last week in Poland, a last link with the Jewish fighters who fought against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. Edelman was a member of the Jewish socialist Bund movement, and became a key member of the ZOB (Jewish Battle Organisation) which it established with other Jewish groups to stage armed resistance against the Nazis (not to mention the Polish, Ukrainian and Latvian forces who assisted them, and indeed the Jewish police whose leaders the ZOB accused of collaboration).

Edelman's own account of the struggle was first published in 1945 as The Ghetto Fights. One of the striking things for me is that amidst the terror and fighting, they managed to maintain a rich cultural life. In the early days of the occupation, Edelman writes,

'the Bund was quite a large organization, considering the clandestine working conditions. More than 2,000 people participated in the festivities occasioned by the Bund's 44th anniversary in October 1941. These meetings were held in many places simultaneously. On the surface nothing was discernible, and it was difficult to realize how great the number of small groups - dispersed "fives" or "sevens" meeting in private apartments -really was...

In 1941 a Youth Division was established at the Jewish Social Mutual Aid Organization and the Zukunft became one of the Division's important contributors. We were able to reach large numbers of young people. Our lecturers took charge of numerous youth groups, which were at that time established under the House Committees in every apartment house. There was the choir with its active programme (public concerts were given in the Judaistic Library). School-age youth was also being organized. The SOMS (Socialist School Students' Organization) was re-established, and numbered a few hundred members after a very short time. Comprehensive political education and cultural activities were carried out. At the same time the Skif, whose activities were until then limited to securing financial help for its pre-war members, started large-scale work among children of school and pre-school age. A so-called "corner" was established in every house, where children found a home for a few hours every day. The Dramatic Club, led by Pola Lipszyc, gave performances twice a week. During the 1941 season 12,000 children attended these performances

Even in the last days of the Ghetto in May 1943, as they fought in the ruins of buildings burnt down by the Nazis, they found time to celebrate May Day:

'The partisans were briefly addressed by a few people and the Internationale was sung. The entire world, we knew, was celebrating May Day on that day and everywhere forceful, meaningful words were being spoken. But never yet had the Internationale been sung in conditions so different, so tragic, in a place where an entire nation had been and was still perishing. The words and the song echoed from the charred ruins and were, at that particular time, an indication that socialist youth was still fighting in the ghetto, and that even in the face of death they were not abandoning their ideals'.

Edelman was one of the few survivors, and went on to be a cardiologist and later a member of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s. His death represents a lost connection not only with the heroism and tragedy of the Polish Jews during the Holocaust, but with the whole Jewish culture of central Europe more or less wiped out in that period. Few of the Jews from that part of the world who survived stuck around, most not unreasonably preferring to take their chances in Israel, the United States or elsewhere.

With every witness that passes away, perhaps the danger grows that the memory of these events will be distorted, if not lost. The hard revisionist 'Holocaust never happened' line is pretty much universally discredited, and held by only a few far right fruitcakes (in both their Anglo-Saxon Nazi and Islamist incarnations). Much more widespread is a kind of soft revisionism which seeks to relativise the Holocaust, downplay its specific horror, and deny the role played in it by right wing nationalists of many countries, not just Germany. Just look at some of the UK Conservative Party's friends in Poland and Latvia.

As Edelman concluded in The Ghetto Fights: 'On May 10th, 1943, the first period of our bloody history, the history of the Warsaw Jews, came to an end. The site where the buildings of the ghetto had once stood became a ragged heap of rubble reaching three storeys high. Those who were killed in action had done their duty to the end, to the last drop of blood that soaked into the pavements of the Warsaw ghetto. We, who did not perish, leave it up to you to keep the memory of them alive - forever'.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Greek singer attacked by neo-nazis

A Greek singer is in hospital after being attacked by members of the Golden Dawn neo-nazi party in Athens last week. Sofia Papazoglou (pictured), a popular folk singer of the "entehno" genre known for her progressive politics, was attacked on Thursday 1st of October outside the metro station of Katehaki, in Athens, by ten members of the neo-nazi party Golden Dawn when she threw election leaflets handed to her in the garbage. The singer remains hospitalised with serious burns from use of unidentified acid spray and with impaired vision (more at libcom)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Michael English (1941-2009)

Obituary of Michael English, graphic artist, who died last month. English was one half of Hapshash and The Coloured Coat, along with Nigel Weymouth. They designed some of the iconic images of 1960s UK psychedelia, including these posters for The Soft Machine, the 1967 Liverpool Love Festival and the UFO Club in London, not to mention an early ecological plea 'Save Earth Now'.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Dancing the Hangman's Jig

It must presumably have been the sight of prisoner's legs swinging as they were publically hanged that invited the comparison with dancing, hence the expression doing or dancing the hangman's jig. The dance needn't be a jig of course - there's also the popular fiddle tune The Hangman's Reel, or La Reel du Pendu in its French-Canadian version.

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

(Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol)

Image is of John André, hanged in New York state in 1780 as a British spy.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Franco Rosso's 1980 film Babylon returned to its South London roots with a showing at the Deptford Albany this week:
'In Babylon, the racist brutality of the streets is contrasted with the (intimately shot) spaces of respite where black people come together - sound system nights, engagement parties, churches and Rastafarian gatherings. In all of these sanctuaries music is central. It may not offer magical protection - the tensions of survival still explode along the competitive edge of the soundclash - but it inspires and acts as a rallying point. The film ends with the sound systems hastily packing up as the police raid, leaving Blue standing firm and chanting over the closing credits; 'Babylon brutality, We can't take no more of that.'

Babylon is an important social document, but it would be a mistake to view it as a straightforward representation of reality. It is after all a story, and just as the sharp eyed will spot some of the editing tricks (people skipping between locations shot in Brixton and Deptford in the course of a single scene) those who were there at the time will no doubt have their own take on the accuracy of the film's characters and dialogue.

But at the very least it directly connects, via the real people and places it includes, with the lived histories of the period. A time when the National Front was confronted as it marched through New Cross (1977), and when both the Moonshot (1977) and the Albany (1978) were set ablaze in suspected fascist arson attacks' (more here on its SE London locations)