Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Workers' Fightback - Scottish School Sit-in/Iranian Steel/Mexican Standoff

Last year saw a mini wave of school occupations in Britain. A long-standing rooftop protest combined with overwhelming local support kept Lewisham Bridge Primary open, despite Lambeth Council's determination to make cuts and privatise education. In Glasgow, the Save Our Schools group fought against the proposed closure of twenty-five schools and nurseries, staging occupations in the Maryhill area of the city.

The resistance is continuing into 2010, because last week saw a brief sit-in at St Matthew's Primary in nearby Wishaw. According to the 'Save St Matthews' Bebo group:
"Five protesters refused to leave St Matthew’s Primary School in Wishaw. The four parents and a grandmother began the protest just after 3pm on Thursday when pupils left the building for the day and took resident in a parents’ room. They left at approximately 9am on Friday morning."
Short-lived though this action was, it shows that relatives of school children are still looking for ways to resist cutbacks, which often dramatically impact their own lives. We can expect more of the same throughout the year.

Iran is often in the news, usually due to conflicts with or within its ruling class. It far more rare to here about workers organising there, and indeed this is extremely dangerous due to the repression meted out by the clerical government. However, workers have started to organise at the massive Isfahan Steel Company. A translation of their public statement declares that:
"[...] faced with an uncertain future and generally worsening conditions, and mindful of the crushing weight of the economic crisis on the workers’ shoulders, we, a group of ISC workers, have decided to form the “Ad Hoc Council of the Isfahan Steel Workers”, whose mission it is to unify the workers’ ranks and defend their rights."
"Considering the total absence of conditions for open activity, the Council calls upon all workers to set up autonomous labor cells throughout Isfahan Steel. It is our strong belief that without forming these cells, the workers will not be able to advance their aims in any meaningful way. The prime goals of these cells would be to disseminate news and information, to unify the rank and file, and to elect individuals who can represent them and provide leadership for their efforts. These cells could take form on the basis of friendship networks, sports and recreation links, in-house loan associations, etc."
It is not yet clear how successful this organisation will be, or what form it will take, but the statement illustrates the idea that in Iran - as in every country - the true opposition to the government is to be found amongst the working class, not rival sections of the elite.

A long-running saga in the Mexican electricity industry escalated this week, when ex Luz y Fuerza (Light and Force) workers defied their union, and refused to remove barricades around their former workplaces.

Mexican president Felipe Calderón has been restructuring the Mexican electricity sector. Last October, he dissolved the state-run Luz y Fuerza, sacking its workers. Since then, the sacked former employees have been occupying factories. The occupiers claim that another state power company has been 'plundering' turbines from factories, effectively ending the possibility of them being re-opened. So barricades were built, and according to Narco News:
"Representatives from the Mexican Electricians Union (SME) visited the barricades, informed the workers that they were engaging in unsanctioned protest activity, and requested that the workers remove them. Workers at many barricades refused the union’s request, and the union refused to recognize and support the wildcat barricades."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Up In The Air (15)

Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Based on a novel by Walter Kim
On general release from 15th January 2010

This is a fairly decent effort from Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno), which is already getting lots of award nominations. But the impact of the economic crisis on this film is by far its most intriguing element.

Ryan (George Clooney) has a job firing people. Companies hire him to fly in and deliver the bad news, and smooth over the trauma with some patter about moving on and a severance packet. This suits Ryan very well, because he seems to fear emotional intimacy - for reasons which are never explored - and he loves coming "home" to airports. With the global recession biting, he's never been busier (“this is our moment”, his boss claims). But the firing business is subject to the pressures of profit too, and young recruit Natalie (Anna Keener) has a bright idea: why not sack people over the internet?

The rest of the film is taken up with Ryan forming two relationships - a fatherly one with Natalie, who shadows him on one last redundancy tour, and a more romantic one with fellow frequent flier Alex (Vera Farmiga). These test his cold philosophy to the limit.

So far, so not bad, and there are some fairly impressive moments. Kendrick may be in line for a Best Supporting Actress nomination when the Oscars come round, because she performs credibly as a well-written character who undergoes her own changes. But the testimony from real recently redundant white collar workers makes the film, and provides the most human moments.

When Reitman started work on Up In The Air seven years ago, he had the idea that "It seems as if we are more connected than ever - while in reality...we have fewer real relationships". Events have overtaken this rather shallow premise, and literally forced their way into the picture.

Following The Girlfriend Experience and Capitalism: A Love Story, this is the third major film release in which our new economic reality has played a big part. Genuine artists are beginning to take stock, and they are being forced to examine the economic basis of our society, along with the many different relationships of which it is comprised. This bodes well for the future of cinema and all other art forms.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Workers' Fightback - Fire Service Cuts/Fujitsu Strikes/'Fair Work Australia'

2010 will be another dramatic year, with governments and bosses slashing their spending, provoking working class anger and resistance in the process.

It looks like firefighters across the UK will be in the front line of resistance. With central government looking to make massive cuts, the 'independent' Audit Commission wants local fire authorities to reduce running costs by £200 million. This is on top of a £200 million in cuts between 2004 and 2008. Disputes are already bubbling under in Warwickshire, Lancashire, Essex and Cleveland, while Merseyside Fire Brigades Union members are currently on an overtime ban, in protest at Authority plans to axe 104 uniform posts, and 'save' £5 million.

In the summer of 2006, Merseyside firefighters protected frontline services from £3.5 million of proposed cuts. They did this over a month of concerted strike action, which received high levels of public support despite a strong anti-firefighter campaign in the local media. Ultimately, the £3.5 million was still taken off the budget, but changes were made in areas less vital to public safety.

Three and a half years down the line, and the government wants to take away more essential resources. £200 million is a tiny amount when compared to the £850 billion bank bailout, but such cuts would harm the workers losing their jobs, and all the people who rely on their skills and professionalism. Ironically, the economic crisis has increased public need for this service, as people on low incomes are far more likely to experience fires, or suffer physically from their effects. The irrationality of the profit system is laid bare once again.

Fujitsu workers in the Unite union are taking a series of one day strikes, and setting up picket lines despite the freezing temperatures. They have good reason for such determination: the IT business is threatening 1,200 UK job losses, and want to close the final salary pension scheme, which Unite claims would amount to a 20% pay cut for those affected.

However, as with their equivalents in other unions, the Unite bureaucrats cannot be trusted to lead Fujitsu workers. On the contrary, they will try to protect their own interests by seeking a deal with the company, and then enforcing it as best they can.

On 11th January, Unite's national IT officer Peter Skyte claimed: "It appears that a disproportionate number of women, part-time and ethnic minority workers have been made redundant."

At first glance, this seems like a leftish attempt to reach a 'fair' deal, but it is actually a de facto acceptance that redundancies are inevitable, and an attempt to restructure them. Part time workers often more likely to be female and non-white than their full time counterparts, Skyte is actually arguing for more full time redundancies instead, with the axe falling on traditionally more privileged white males, such as himself. But if Skyte gets his way, one major difference between him and the Fujitsu white males is that he will still have a well paid job, whereas they will be making their way to the local job centre.

On the other side of the world, companies have been using the Labor government's new 'Fair Work Australia' legislation to lock out staff attempting industrial action. The latest use of the Rudd administration's anti-worker laws came on the 8th and 9th of January, when Tabcorp’s Star City Casino locked out members of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union. They took one hour stoppages in response to a row over deteriorating pay and conditions. The short walk-outs had been organised by the union leadership, but they are now offering no defence of their membership. Like all Australian union bureaucracies, they have already accepted the terms of the legislation, and will not mount a serious challenge when it is applied.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Spectre Of "Class War" Haunts Westminster

When Gordon Brown claimed the Conservative Party's inheritance tax policy was "dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton", he must have thought he was scoring an easy political point. However, he had touched off a storm which would fascinate politicians and commentators for days, by alluding to the great unmentionable: social class.

David Cameron responded by complaining that the "petty, spiteful, stupid" line marked the start of a Labour Party-led "class war" against the wealthiest in society, and pundits speculated that Chancellor Alistair Darling would use his pre-budget report to launch swingeing attacks on those at the top of the tree. In the event, he merely proposed a one-off tax on banker bonuses over £25,000. Considering the government has already spent £850 billion bailing out the banks, the £550 million he forecast this would bring in amounts to just a drop in the bucket. Even so, he provided sufficient loopholes to protect bankers from even this puny infringement on their enormous wealth, and increased VAT, which disproportionately hits the poorest. Normal service had resumed.

The media still fretted though. As could be expected, the Tory-supporting papers made a furious defence of Cameron and his shadow cabinet, of which seventeen members were privately educated. Harry Phibbs of the Daily Mail attacked Brown for his "desperate, divisive tactic" of drawing attention to the truth. But even more interesting was 'civil liberties defender' Henry Porter, in the supposedly 'progressive' Guardian. "As a nation we’ve always been more interested in character", he announced, so "...the better part of each one of us knows that class is an obstacle to understanding someone’s character, and is certainly no way of assessing a potential leader.”

It is at best naive - or in Porter's case it is deliberately deceitful - to suggest that an individual's socio-economic background has no impact on their personal politics. On the contrary, getting to grips with someone's apparent material interests is the only way of getting to grips with them as a 'character', or public figure.

Cameron is a distant relative of Queen Elizabeth, and a direct descendent of King William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan. His family made their money in finance and grain. He attended Heatherdown Preparatory School, Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford. His wife Samantha is the daughter of a baronet and a viscountess, and the Mail has estimated the Camerons' combined wealth at more than £30 million. After graduating, he joined the Conservative Research Department, at the height of Thatcherism and the uproar over the Poll Tax. Throughout his life, Cameron has known both that he is extremely wealthy, and that this wealth must be extended and defended from those who create it. In this context, his policies of class war against the poor make a lot of sense.

Unlike some within his cabinet, Gordon Brown was not born into such great extravagance. The son of a Church of Scotland minister, he was accepted into the University of Edinburgh aged just sixteen, due to his exceptional academic ability. He wrote his PhD thesis on James Maxton, a fiery Scottish parliamentary socialist, who once called a Tory MP a "murderer" when the government withdrew school milk. However, Brown needed to pragmatically sell out his youthful idealism in order to climb the greasy pole of 1980s and 90s Westminster politics. He did so, becoming - alongside Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson - a key architect of the anti-worker New Labour project. Attacking the working class of the UK and other nations has apparently become a kind of second nature to him, even though he rose from its ranks. No less than Cameron, he now understands that his advancement must come at the expense of those Maxton sought to represent.

In 1999, then Prime Minister Blair used his party conference speech to declare that class war was "over". So far as official circles were concerned, that was supposed to be that, at least in terms of people fighting back. A decade later, with the chasm between the elite and the rest of us still widening by the day, we are beginning to see the first signs of resistance. In the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, and with a massive post-election offensive planned by the ruling class, it is considered extremely dangerous for a politician even to vaguely hint at class divisions. The people who own the economy - or at least some of their paid scribes - know a powder keg situation when they see one.

Also published in issue 10 of The Commune.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

2009 Through My iPod Earphones

It was an intriguing year in music, as artists started adjusting to the turmoil that the world is now undoubtedly in, particularly since the 2008 Wall Street Crash. A decade of depression seems to lie ahead, with war of one kind or another on top of that. So how has that changed the musical landscape?

After all, when the ground shifts beneath you, the old certainties and formulas are no longer enough. If you want to say something of importance, you are challenged to paint the world as you now see it, so you must take stock before hitting the studio. If you want to indulge in escapism...well, there is a (now much smaller) market out there, but I haven't got time for you.

Of course, all this takes some time to work its way through. Albums that came out in 2009 may have been in the pipeline for a few years, and so the change in new music has not been dramatic as yet. Even now, the seismic scale of the collapse is obscured by government bailouts of the super-rich, and the inspirational factor of mass opposition has yet to emerge. However, as a general rule I can say that the soundtrack to my 2009 was the music which said most about this new world, in which we must be very brave indeed.

1) Muse - The Resistance
Download: Resistance, United States of Eurasia (+ Collateral Damage), Unnatural Selection
Counterbalace the commotion/We're not droplets in the ocean/We're the ocean

Listening to this, Muse's best album, I can feel my brain expanding, like the universe. Only a great band like Muse can successfully meld together so many music styles on one album, without sounding even slightly contrived. So far, so awesome. But maybe, inspired by the cataclysms to come, they will invent an entirely new style of music. I can definitely see it happening. In the meantime, raise your fist to the agitrock of Uprising, swoon to the romantic Nineteen Eighty-Four references of Resistance, and gaze out into the unfathomed mystery of space during the Exogenesis triptych. Music hasn't been this exciting for many years. This band could be your life.

2) Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
Download: Murder City, Restless Heart Syndrome, American Eulogy
I can hear the sound of a beating heart/That bleeds beyond a system that's falling apart/With money to burn on the minimum wage/Well I don't give a shit about the modern age

Billie Joe Armstrong got a lot of criticism from radicals in 2008, when he got swept up in the enthusiasm for the Obama presidential campaign. A year on, and the society described so well on 21st Century Breakdown has 'change'd for the worse, at least for the overwhelming majority of people on the planet. I will eat my hat if he doesn't support the working class resistance when it properly gets organised. One or two riffs are familiar from the last couple of albums, but things like that can easily be forgiven when they are crafted into such perfect guitar pop, and the words demonstrate absolute sympathy with the kind of people who put the band in their elevated position.

3) Street Sweeper Social Club - Street Sweeper Social Club
Download: Clap For The Killers, Megablast, Promenade
Slumlords of the world have united/And they announced a world tour/You are hereby cordially invited/To the third world war

So, Rage Against The Machine got a Christmas number one, but still haven't announced any work on a new album. Tom Morello is great as The Nightwatchman, but acoustic folk isn't for everyone. So what to do? Well, listen to Street Sweeper Social Club for a start, because it features Morello, as well as the ridiculously talented Boots Riley from The Coup on vocals. Boots doesn't sound as angry as Zack (who does?), but he's one hundred times the poet, and he has a certain warmth and love for his people that we definitely need in times like this. In a war situation, Zack would definitely have your back, but Boots would help keep up your morale. We are in a war situation.

4) Metric - Fantasies
Download: Sick Muse, Gold Guns Girls, Stadium Love
Every living thing/Pushed into the ring/Fight it out to wow the crowd/Guess you thought you could just watch/No-one's getting out

Metric are a strange group, because they really sound like they might get on commercial radio, they never get on commercial radio. Yes, they may be slickly polished, and their songs are built on catchy sing-along choruses and easy hooks, but playlist compilers must fear that their lyrical content is far too thinky, even if subtely so. Emily Haines has long been a cut above, mixing existential enquiry into the nature of things with warmth and humour. On Fantasies, everything is stepped up a gear, and the result is about as good a Metric album as I could have hoped for. Philosophy you can sing along to; more pop needs to be like this! I suppose Metric must be 'un-pop'...

5) Eels - Hombre Lobo
Download: In My Dreams, The Longing, Ordinary Man
My love is always just as she seems/A force of nature on her own/To be reckoned with/Whatever's wrong with me/Her kiss redeems/And it's all there/In my dreams

Well something very different must have happened to Mark 'E' Everett's romantic life, because his usual small man in a big world sounds gave way to "12 Songs of Desire", the album's subtitle. From the testosterone-charged stomp (I can hardly believe I'm writing those words about Eels) of Tremendous Dynamite and Prizefighter, to the agonising longing of...The Longing, to the poetically described horniness of Lilac Breeze, it's very apparent that someone special came into his life. Unfortunately, having heard his even newer album End Times, that person left as quickly as they came. Poor thing!

6) Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way To Blue
Download: A Looking In View, All Secrets Known, Your Decision
No-one plans to take the path that brings you lower/And here you stand before us all and say it's over

It is fifteen years since arguably the most under-appreciated of the Seattle grunge bands released their self-titled final studio album. It's also nearly eight years since lead singer Layne Staley died from a drug overdose. Given all that, it would have sounded false if they'd tried to copy their early to mid-nineties sound. As it is, Black Gives Way To Blue is just different enough to represent a good progression, and Staley's 'replacement' William DuVall complements Jerry Cantrell very well. Gone is the talk of self-disgust, self-abuse and self-medication, and it's replaced with philosophical meanderings about motivations and moving on with your life. Cantrell seems to be trying to put his younger self in perspective; that's a very healthy thing, and makes for a compelling listen.

7) Kreator - Hordes Of Chaos
Download: Hordes Of Chaos (A Necrologue for the Elite), Radical Resistance, Demon Prince
All addicted to the dark side of life/Cast out but not alone/We're the ones that will not compromise/Antidote to slavery, suffering and war

This unfolding era holds specific challenges for eighties thrash metal bands. Acts such as Kreator, Metallica and Slayer have been providing headbangers with blood and guts for more than a generation. Born of fire in Cold War paranoia and Reagan's neoliberal onslaught, how much more can be said? As Metallica retreat to egos the size of their mansions, and Slayer regress to ever more empty sadistic fantasies, Kreator frontman Mille Petrozza invokes Seung-Hui Cho, the 2007 Virginia Tech slayer (Amok Run). Petrozza was also inspired to write by the 2006 student protests and riots in France (Radical Resistance), and the "everyone against everyone against everyone against everyone" culture of millennial capitalism (Hordes of Chaos). Not coincidentally, this album fucking rocks.

8) Katatonia - Night Is The New Day
Download: Onward Into Battle, New Night, Inheritance
My beloved one/There is swirling dark/Shrouding my freedom

I first heard this by the sea, as the sun set beyond the cliffs. That was a very good decision, because it nicely fitted the sense of gathering gloom which pervades the entire album. The metal is heavier than in more recent Katatonia releases, but the main difference is the foreboding in Jonas Renske's gorgeously plaintive whine. Few specifics are mentioned in the lyrics, but it's overwhelmingly apparent that Renske intensely feels the tension from the build-up of socio-political stormclouds, and fears for the future of humanity. And of course he is right to do so.

9) Comrade Malone & DJ Downlow - Spontaneous Revolt
Download: One Single Frequency, Throw The Molotov, In The End
Feel the fire in my heart when I write my songs/I reach earth for the freedom I was here to get/In the end I don't wanna have regrets

North London council estates, homelessness and the spontaneous school protests at the start of the Iraq invasion shaped this young rapper's politics, and it very much sounds like it. Over a backdrop of some seriously dirty beats, Comrade Malone spits about the inevitable corruption of politicians, the indignity of life in poverty, and wanting to start his "own Lockheed Martin" in the class war. There is much pain in his vocals, but it's hurt that has used to clarify his own thinking about his place in the world. There's swagger and sensitivity, laddishness and intelligence. A full picture of a furious yet down to earth guy emerges.

10) Porcupine Tree - The Incident
Download: Drawing The Line,Time Flies, I Drive The Hearse

But after a while/You realize time flies/And the best thing that you can do/Is take whatever comes to you

Like everything he creates, the prolific Steven Wilson's latest composition is thoughtful, literate, and full of yearning for...something indefinable. Something better. Perhaps the concept of looking at life-changing moments doesn't fully come off, and maybe some of the songs run into each other a little too unmemorably (especially in comparison to 2007's Fear Of A Blank Planet). But this is a splendid soundtrack for those moments of yearning, and goodness knows, I've had enough of those this year!

The others...

And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - The Century of Self
A welcome return to form in the realm of intelligent and ambitious experimental rock.

Brett Anderson - Slow Attack
Another decent solo effort from the former Suede frontman, but his life clearly isn't that interesting anymore, and his musicianship is not quite enough on his own.

Candlemass - Death Magic Doom
How can doom be downright boring? In 2009, this is how. "If I ever die", indeed. You will die. Deal!

Dead Prez - Pulse of the People
Another thoughtful, angry and inspiring listen is let down by an excremental final track, which undoes much of the previous good work. Still, its social commentary is the most up to the minute of all this year's albums.

Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe
This band have been treading water for a while now, and this is their worst release in a while. The blueprint desperately needs to be broken.

Dinosaur Jr - Farm
Another band that doesn't seem to vary their style much, but their twee, pathetic indieish grunge is of a consistently high quality.

Disbelief - Protected Hell
It sounds like the title of a concept album about how a 'hell' might be 'protected' or something. It isn't that, but never mind, because some days a shuffle shot of Disbelief is just the seething thing.

Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top
This is a concept album, and it's a sensitive depiction of an unidentified man's journey through life, with all the highs and lows that can entail.

Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know
An almost classic album from the artists formerly known as Black Sabbath, and hopefully Ronnie James Dio will get to eat some more cannibals.

KMFDM - Blitz
KMFDM are really half-arsed. They've said and done it all before, and it shows.

Leafblade - Beyond, Beyond
Celtic and medieval acoustic ballads are not normally my thing, but Danny Cavanagh out of Anathema's side-project will chime with anyone who likes nature and stuff.

Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers
The fraught intellect and imagination of dear departed Richey Edwards, as filtered through the comfortable ennui of the contemporary 'Manics'.

Marilyn Manson - The High End Of Low
Brian Warner's life isn't nearly as interesting to the rest of us as he seems to think it should be. A few great songs though.

Morrissey - Years of Refusal
What do get if you take the wit, poetry and passion out of Morrissey? Moreover, why would anyone want to undertake such an experiment?

My Dying Bride - For Lies I Sire
Some very decent songs, but taken together they are less than the sum of their parts. And when compared to the back catalogue... There's enough suffering in the world for Aaron Stainthorpe to examine, without making up his own.

Napalm Death - Time Waits For No Slave
It's a Napalm Death album.

Novembers Doom - Into Night's Requiem Infernal
Ever-so-heartfelt gloom from the incorrectly-punctuated Chicago doomsters.

Paradise Lost - Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us
A mixture of all the styles they've ever done, but not as continuously intriguing as In Reqieum, or indeed as the title of this effort would suggest.

Pearl Jam - Backspacer
Self-satisfied, Obama-happy limousine liberals of grunge sound ridiculously enthused about hope and change and shit.

Placebo - Battle For The Sun
Yet another 1990s band retreating into themselves, and yet another half-hearted attempt at whatever it was they used to do.

The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die
A mostly uninspired outing from an outfit who were once the edgiest of the edgy, in their own particular way.

Rammstein - Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da
More sinister naughtiness, in the German industrialists' first album for four years. Not earth-shattering, but very decent.

Sepultura - A-Lex
Without any Cavaleras, this really isn't Sepultura, and neither is this A Clockwork Orange concept album particularly interesting...except for the extraordinary Ludvig Van.

Serotonal - Monumental: Songs Of Misery And Hope
An excellent debut from Liverpool's own Serotonal, a band whose musical and lyrical ambition is far, far bigger than the local scene.

Slayer - World Painted Blood
An essentially empty album from a band that hasn't progressed one note since Seasons In The Abyss. Their bloody shtick is polished to perfection, however, and Tom Araya sounds far hungrier than his years and the lack of invention would suggest.

Sonic Youth - The Eternal
They may not be breaking down barriers these days, but they are still very, very good at crafting a certain kind of melancholic, genuinely alternative rock.

Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
The combined talents of Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones end-up sounding like Queens of the Stone Age.


Grieving Age - In Aloof Lantern, Thy Bequeathed A Wailer Quietus
This two (very long!)-track EP has received very favourable views from around the world, and if the idea of Saudi Arabian doom metal appeals to you, you will certainly be rewarded for giving them a go.

The Ruby Kid - Winter In The City EP
If this release were just slightly longer, then this extremely exciting young poet would be very near the top of my album list. Read my full review here, and look out for more in 2010 and beyond.

Written in Red: Selected Poems of Voltairine de Cleyre

Gods of the World! Their mouths are dumb!
Your guns have spoken and they are dust.

But the shrouded Living, whose hearts were numb,
have felt the beat of a wakening drum
Within them sounding — the Dead men’s tongue —
Calling : "Smite off the ancient rust!"
Have beheld "Resurrexit," the word of the Dead,

Though far less well known than her contemporary Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre made a significant contribution to the development of anarchism as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth. Before dying of meningitis at the age of forty five, de Cleyre lived a life of struggle against the brutal conditions which constantly surrounded her, and this shaped her speech-making, essay-writing, and not least her poetry.

Voltairine was born into a family of poor Michigan radicals in 1866, and named after the 18th century Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. The de Cleyres had been part of the Abolitionist movement, and were linked to the Underground Railroad. However, the family's progressive ideals had retreated by the time by the time Voltairine was packed off to a Catholic convent school. She didn't exactly enjoy the experience, and tried to escape, before eventually describing how "it had been like the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and there are white scars on my soul, where ignorance and superstition burnt me with their hell fire in those stifling days". De Cleyre's poetry is shot through with the language of Catholicism, from her initial struggles with her faith ('The Freethinker's Plea' versus 'The Christian's Faith', through to her emphatic renunciation of it ('The Burial of My Past Self'), and beyond.

After leaving the convent, she got involved with the 'freethought' movement, and it was through these meetings that she became influenced by thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine. But just as with Goldman and many others, it was the frame-up and execution of the Haymarket martyrs which led her to anarchist conclusions. Haymarket and its repercussions are the focus of numerous de Cleyre poems ('At the Grave in Waldheim', 'Light upon Waldheim').

Initially upon conversion, de Cleyre upheld the individualist strain of anarchist thought. This was one contributing factor to a rivalry with Goldman, who she saw as being too communist. At this stage, the former's poetry concentrated on the apparent irrationality of certain institutions, and the church in particular. Later on, de Cleyre became an early 'anarchist without adjectives', defended Goldman in her writing, and ultimately contributed to her journal, Mother Earth.

Towards the end of her life, de Cleyre's poetic output acquired a strong social materialist element. Pieces such as 'The Suicide's Defence' and 'Nameless' explained why acts considered immoral by religious opinion - suicide and prostitution respectively - may be seen as a rational choice in certain circumstances. The contrast between the realities of working class life and the supposed ideal of religious 'purity' is shown most starkly in these passages.

De Cleyre's style varied greatly. Many of her works are discursive, and take the form of prose more than poetry as it is normally considered. On the other extreme, some are very rhythmic and lyrical, and I believe 'The Feast of Vultures' in particular has the qualities the qualities to be found amongst the best in modern day rapping.

The 'Written in Red' selection was made by Franklin Rosemont, a poet, surrealist, labour historian and Industrial Workers of the World member, who sadly died in April 2009.

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