Columns

MRR #434 • July 2019

What’s Left?

When faced with two bad choices, choose the third.

It’s the proverb I try to live by. Most prefer the lesser-of-two-evils approach to things. I prefer tertium quid every time.

Tertium quid started with Plato, who first used the term (triton ti) around 360 bce. In ancient Greek philosophy, it meant something that escapes classification in either of two mutually or more exclusive and theoretically exhaustive categories. What’s left after such a supposedly rigorous, exhaustive division is tertium quid. The third what. The third something.

Post Plato, what was considered tertium quid might be residue, sui generis, ambiguous, composite or transcendent depending on one’s philosophical inclinations. I encountered the concept indirectly via hoary Catholic theology when I briefly met a young heretical Catholic Worker named Alvin in 1969. Inspired by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Alvin was a voluntary celibate who wanted to start a Catholic Worker commune in the Ventura County area. Which was why he was camped out in his VW microbus in the Ventura Unitarian Church’s foothill parking lot, where everything progressive and left-wing eventually wound up in those days. But Alvin was a little too radical even for the Catholic Worker. He was a fan of Paolo Freire and Latin American liberation theology, and he wanted to return to what he saw as the gospel of the early Christian church, with its emphasis on voluntary poverty, communalism, helping the poor, and liberating the oppressed. The latter required solidarity with armed struggles for socialist national liberation according to Alvin. But he was also knee-deep in the Church’s anachronistic fourth century Christological debates, specifically his championing of Apollinarism over Arianism. Both were discredited heretical doctrines, with Apollinaris of Laodicea speaking of Jesus as something neither human nor divine, but a mixture of the two natures, and therefore a “third something.” It was the first time I heard the term tertium quid. Not surprisingly, Alvin grew more personally frustrated being celibate in a time of aggressive hippie “free love,” until one day he suddenly disappeared. A quarter century later I visited San Francisco and ran into him in the Castro wearing the habit of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Last column I described an informal left-wing “third something” I hoped was developing between anarchism and Marxism IRL with the EZLN in Chiapas and the SDF/YPG in Kurdish Rojava. Now, let’s consider a formal right-wing “third something” that disingenuously claims to be “neither Left nor Right.” In other words, Fascism. Fascist ideology was, according to Ze’ev Sternhill, “[A] variety of socialism which, while rejecting Marxism, remained revolutionary. This form of socialism was also, by definition, anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois, and its opposition to historical materialism made it the natural ally of radical nationalism.” (Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France) An Israeli, Sternhell was critical of Zionism as a member of the Peace Now movement. Sternhell’s thesis that Fascism arose in France out of the revolutionary syndicalism of Georges Sorel—which had gained popularity among the working classes in part because of their sociological composition—was criticized for underemphasizing the traditional conservative nature of the French Right and overemphasizing that Fascism was born of a single ideology.

You might say Fascism is revolutionary in form, but reactionary in content. Certainly, much Fascism has emphasized some variation of Sternhell’s argument that it is neither Right nor Left, capitalist nor socialist, pro-American nor pro-Communist, etc. Fascism is notoriously syncretic, polymorphous and hard to pin down, ranging from Traditionalism to fundamentalism, corporatism and Nazism, all held together by a virulent ultra-nationalism. It has nothing to do with the Third Way centrism of the likes of Tony Blair’s social democrats and Bill Clinton’s New Democrats however. It is instead an extremist third way often labeled Third Positionism, with historical roots in Strasserism, National Bolshevism, and other red-brown alliances brought up-to-date with the likes of the Nouvelle Droite, national-anarchism, and various currents in the American alt-right. To understand how slippery and dangerous Third Positionism is, consider the example of Perónismo.

Juan Perón rose to power as part of a military coup d’état against a conservative civilian president in 1943. A colonel serving in a military government with a portfolio in the Department of Labor, Perón promoted a wide range of labor reforms for unionized workers—wage increases, collective bargaining and arbitration, social insurance, social welfare benefits—which made him wildly popular among Argentina’s working classes. With Perón’s other government positions, this support allowed him to win and hold the presidency from 1946 to 1952. So great was Perón’s hold on Argentine politics he served as president intermittently thereafter, from 1952 to 1956 and 1973 to 1974. He carefully crafted a cult of personality in office and in exile which has severely skewed those politics ever since.

Perón epitomized the sort of strong man politics known in Latin America as caudillismo which was imported from Europe and fits nicely within a broader context of military rule defined by coup and junta. With a populist twist. As the strong man leading a strong state, the caudillo acts to rescue capitalism from crisis, bail out and discipline the comprador bourgeoisie, and brutally suppress the rebellious working classes.

In Perón’s case, he instead championed Argentina’s descamisados, the “shirtless ones,” the working classes which he bought off with money and social reforms like a Workers’ Bill of Rights, all while promoting economic industrialization and nationalization. Perón came to exercise increasing control over the leadership and direction of the assorted trade unions, as he did over universities and newspapers. Socialist and communist resistance to Perónismo was smashed. The state became the foremost arbiter of Argentine life and Perón became the personal arbiter of the Argentine state. This was justicialismo which Perón considered a “third ideological position aimed to liberate us from [individualist] capitalism without making us fall into the oppressing claws of [communist] collectivism.” He also encouraged Argentina’s economic and political independence from the United States and challenged America’s hemispheric domination under the Monroe Doctrine. Finally, Perón attempted from 1944 onward to steer a neutral international course between what the French fascist Robert Brasillach called the two poetries of the twentieth century—Communism and Fascism—as well as between the Cold War’s “Free World” and Soviet bloc.

This is the bare essentials of what Perón called justicialismo domestically and the Third Position internationally, twin aspects of Perónismo. But it was clear from the start which side of the Left/Right divide Perón favored. While the Soviet Union sent aid and advisors to Cuba in the 1960s, Perón’s Argentina protected Nazi war criminals. To be fair, Perón granted immediate full diplomatic recognition to Castro’s Cuba and never fomented anti-semitism or attacked Argentina’s large Jewish community. Perónismobecame an ideology unto itself well before Perón died and Evita was overthrown in a military coup backed by elements of the Argentine bourgeoisie and the CIA.

The military junta that took over in 1976 as the National Reorganization Process was anti-Perónist, instigating a vicious “dirty war” from 1974 to 1983 in which the military, security forces, and right-wing death squads kidnapped, tortured, murdered and “disappeared” students, trade unionists, artists, writers, journalists, militants, left-wing activists and guerrillas numbering some 30,000. The guerrilla component was comprised not only of Marxist-Leninist groups like the People’s Revolutionary Army/ERP and the Liberation Armed Forces/FAL, but also a highly splintered Perónist guerrilla insurgency ranging from Leninist/Perónist hybrids like the Revolutionary Armed Forces/FAR, through left-wing groups like the Perónist Armed Forces/FAP and the Catholic Perónist Montonero Movement/MPM (Montoneros), to the outright antisemitic, fascist Tacuara Nationalist Movement/MNT modeled after the Spanish Falange. (As the MRNT under Joe Baxter, Tacuara renounced anti-semitism and became progressively Marxist.) Most presidents since the military junta relinquished power have been Perónist, including Menem and Kirchner.

Perón said “[o]ur Third Position is not a central position. It is an ideological position which is in the center, on the right, or on the left, according to specific circumstances.” In exile eventually in Franco’s Spain, Perón met secretly with various leftists in Madrid like Salvador Allende and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Of Che, Perón said: “an immature utopian—but one of us—I am happy for it to be so because he is giving the yankees a real headache.” Yet, in his final days in power in Argentina, Perón also cordially met and negotiated with Pinochet. Perón’s red-brown alliances of convenience internationally and his domestic worker-oriented populism caused headaches for the Left both in Latin America and worldwide. It still does as an exemplar of generic Third Positionism, what with the global upsurge of the alt-right and its claims to go “beyond Left and Right.”

It might be argued that Perónismo is socialism with Argentine characteristics—Perón being a precursor to left-wing military rule like Bolivia’s National Revolutionary Movement or Portugal’s Carnation Revolution—and that the Argentine military junta were the real fascists. But it was clearly charismatic national fascism versus faceless client-state fascism. When faced with two bad fascist choices, choose actual socialism.

Blank Generation

The weirdest thing happened to me. After school one day, I was checking my email, and I see a message titled “BBC Interview Request: Maximum RocknRoll.” Yeah, that BBC. Like, what the fuck? Is this even real? Well, it was real. The BBC is putting together a radio documentary of the end of the print edition of our beloved magazine, and they wanted me to be on it. That’s pretty wack.

What makes this even more surreal is that two of my biggest musical heroes are going to be on it. One is Ian MacKaye. If you saw my last column, you know how much of a FUGAZI nerd I am. When I was an awkward little middle schooler just figuring out how DIY punk works, FUGAZI showed me an example of a band that had good values and stuck to them. Plus, they’ve got the tightest rhythm section in punk rock. The other one of my heroes in this doc is Larry Livermore. That man is a total genius. Working or starting a record label is something I’d love to do someday. And fuck you, I love GREEN DAY.

Even though I’m beyond pumped about this, it’s also one of the weirder things that has happened to me. I did the interview a few weeks ago and I still kind of can’t believe it. The radio documentary is coming out around the end of April, so by the time you read this, you’ll probably be able to listen to it. So check it out if you want to hear what really influential punks and also normal people like me have to say about MRR.

Now I’m going to change the subject to say I’ve decided to stay at MRR. I was pretty bummed out and kind of pissed off when I first found out it was moving online. The communication between higher-ups at the magazine and everybody else has been piss poor. I heard tons of rumors, some of them pretty troubling, and I didn’t know who to believe. The first real explanation I saw of the whole situation was in Joan DeToro’s column in issue #430. I now understand how much things sucked. Although I love print media with all my heart, I want to keep talking about stuff that doesn’t get mentioned as much as it should, and MRR seems like it’s going to continue to be the platform for me to do so. I mean, if I hadn’t been offered a column out of the blue, I wouldn’t be writing about music at all. And I wouldn’t be on the BBC, giving the adults I know hope for my future. I bet some really cool stuff is going to at MRR happen soon. If interviews are still going to be thing online, then I’ve got some rad things to submit. Coverage of honest punk rock matters whether it’s being broadcast to a million people by the BBC, read by the 12 people that buy someone’s first fanzine, or consumed by an abstract amount of humans and robots on a website.

As always, my email is carmenservon@gmail. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or nerdy ideas about music.

A Day Without Music? A Lifetime? Unthinkable!

Earlier this year, I needed to get some repair work done on our dishwasher. I asked a good friend who runs a record label near our house if he could recommend anyone, since he’d help us find repair people in the past and I trusted his opinion. He said he knew a guy who had been involved in the Boston hardcore scene in the early ’90s—I don’t think they’d known each other back then but met through their children, who go to the same grade school. Something like that. Anyway, my friend told me that the repair person wasn’t interested in music anymore and I found that rather puzzling. I figured there might be some bonding over his hardcore background, at least. Perhaps I’d get a “scene discount” for old-times sake.

So the guy came over to look at our dishwasher and I mentioned that my friend had told me about his hardcore roots. He said that he didn’t really get into hardcore for the music but for the fighting. He loved the fact that it enabled him to get into the pit and beat the crap out of people and that it wouldn’t have mattered what was playing along with it. But he eventually outgrew it and now he’s a responsible family man and business owner. He said that he wouldn’t care if music just disappeared completely. It served no purpose to him.

I was really taken aback by that. I didn’t press the issue that much but told him about music’s importance in my life and how I couldn’t imagine living even one day without it. I talked about my friend’s success with his label. He didn’t seem all that interested in continuing the conversation so I let him get to work. I should mention he didn’t really fix the problem but did find a little debris in the disposal and cleared that out. The total: $97 down the drain (literally), not bad for about a half hours work. So much for scene discounts. I could have used that money—to buy more records, of course! By the way, if you’re curious, we ended up replacing the dishwasher because it was apparently leaking. I didn’t ask the plumber who installed the new one about his musical taste.

But, yeah, that was a puzzler. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wasn’t into any music whatsoever, not even as a passive thing. It’s true that most people have abysmal musical taste (except for my MRR compatriots and you, dear readers) but they at least like something. My dad wasn’t a music junkie by any stretch, but he got good use out of his stereo—and discouraged me from putting my hands on it (I did, anyway). He liked light classical, Mitch Miller (ask your grandparents) and organ music. He loathed 99.9% of the music I listened to but I remember he did somehow end up with one of my records. My dad fixed stereo and audio-visual equipment as a side business. A lot of the stuff came from the local school system, including record players. Anyway, he used my old record to check and see if the record players were working again. It was by a studio band called the SUPER DUPERS and it was a collection of music inspired by comic book and TV superheroes. There was one really cool track called “March of Tarzan” and it was an instrumental that featured loud organ and fuzz guitar—kind of a garage/psychedelic combination. I suppose he was drawn to the organ sound and probably didn’t think of it as rock ‘n roll. He was good at fixing things because I heard that song playing triumphantly from our basement on many occasions. Incidentally, the uncredited band members included the ALLMAN BROTHERS and LEON RUSSELL and it was recorded in 1966. You can find it on YouTube. After he passed away, I inherited my parents’ record collection and it was still there. Not exactly pristine but it’s on the shelf next my SUPERCHUNK albums. I even did a digital rip of a few songs on the album.

Speaking of digital, that’s the way most people experience music these days, mainly through streaming. According to a 2018 Forbes article, “people have stopped purchasing music, as it’s available to them on a number of other easily-reached platforms at a fraction of the price. Sales have been falling for years…” So while more people stream, they’re not buying digital downloads. People would rather buy music on vinyl or CD (although the latter’s sales continue to plummet), if they’re going to own the music.

I like having the best of all worlds. When I’m out and about, it’s cool having over 20,000 songs to pick from. But, of course, nothing will ever replace the experience of pulling a record out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable and sitting down between the speakers. It’s a ritual I’ll never tire of. I did recently buy a Bluetooth receiver for my main stereo so I can wirelessly play the music on my phone through it, mainly for the music I don’t own physically. There’s definitely a difference in sonic quality, though. The other night I started playing an album I owned on vinyl and, about 30 seconds in, I was already heading upstairs to get it.

Still, vinyl doesn’t hold the same sentiment for everyone, including people whose lives have been immersed in music. Clint Conley from MISSION OF BURMA is one of those people, apparently.

He recently wrote a piece in the Boston Globe about how he’d decided to give away his entire record collection to his bandmate Peter Prescott. Clint writes, “when my wife and I moved from an apartment to our first home in the early ’90s, the big, bulky stereo system with heavy speakers never made it out of storage. The records — so crucial, so cherished, so much a part of my identity — were consigned to a closet ‘temporarily,’ and those of secondary importance were relegated to racks in the garage. And there they stayed. Decade after decade, in silent judgment of their unfaithful owner. I am loath to admit it, but the last time I played one of my LPs was over a quarter century ago. Today I do almost all of my listening on Route 128, through streaming services in the car. A total and abject cave to convenience.” He also appeared in the recent documentary Records Collecting Dust II (I also appeared in it), where interviewees discuss the importance of records in their lives, which ones shaped them, which three records they’d take if their house was on fire and so on. The second installment featured people from Boston, NYC and DC. Clint essentially said the same thing, that it’s easy with the digital stuff both in the car and in the house. He even says, “sort of pathetic, isn’t it?”

I discussed this online and some people said they kind of saw Clint’s point. Clint had mentioned not wanting to burden his family with having to get rid of his collection if he passed away. Others said the same thing. One said that he sold his collection when he was 27 or 28 because he realized that act of collecting mattered very little to his actual enjoyment of the music. And he posted a picture of what he got rid of. I’m sure more than a few jaws dropped when viewing that.

I love having my collection—sure, there’s a show-off factor, a bit, but I actually play them. I’ll play original copies of NEGATIVE APPROACH, MECHT MENSCH or MOB 47 on my radio show—I want my listeners to experience the music the way I am… of course, they’re either streaming it or downloading it but I hope, when they’re not doing that, it encourages them to listen to music the old-fashioned way.

By the way, for those of you getting any funny ideas, I’ve already made arrangements regarding my collections. So don’t think you’re going to be able to go through my trash or show up at a yard sale with dollar bills and get your dirty paws on them.

DAVEY G. JOHNSON, R.I.P.
Davey G. Johnson, a longtime automotive writer for Car and Driver and other outlets, recently died, due to an accidental drowning. He was test-driving a motorcycle and stopped for a swim and his body was found in the Mokelumne River, near Valley Springs, CA. He was only 43 years old. I actually didn’t know about his current writing career. We were Facebook friends but you don’t always catch everyone’s updates or read everything on their pages.

Davey had a punk background, though. I first got to know him when we were both at Hit List magazine in the late ’90s/early 2000s. For those of you who don’t remember Hit List, it was founded by Jeff Bale, who was also one of the founders of this ‘zine, before having a falling out with Tim Yohannan. Jeff’s political views had taken a sharp turn to the right, which put him squarely at odds with Tim, of course. Jeff’s a college professor and I think a lot of what fueled his changing views probably had to do with his disdain for the academic left. Hit List fashioned itself as a cantankerous, “non-PC” alternative to MRR. The thing was, even though I don’t embrace his philosophy, he still brought me on as a columnist because we shared a passion for aggressive, attitudinal rock ’n’ roll. And, to his credit, he never censored or changed anything in my columns.

Anyway, Davey’s title was “art misdirection/layout” and, by the end of the magazine’s run in 2003 (after which editor Brett Mathews started AMP magazine, another publication I wrote for), his title was “scamboogery.” I’m not sure if that represented a promotion or not.

I got to meet Davey and Brett in Berkeley in 2002. We went to some café along with Ellen and our friend Anna. Somehow, the talk turned to SLAYER and we broke into a spontaneous a capella version of “Raining Blood,” where the lead guitar parts were vocalized while the drum pattern was tapped out on the table. Ellen and Anna looked like they wanted to get as far away from us as possible. Definitely one of the highlights of that trip. He was a real character.

I think I’ll be playing “Raining Blood” on the radio show this week and maybe tapping out the drumbeats while vocalizing at least one of the guitar parts. I’m not sure if there’s a heaven or not but, if there is, I hope Davey can arrange some thunder effects to begin the song. We didn’t have that in 2002… R.I.P.

Al Quint, PO Box 43, Peabody, MA 01960, subvox82@gmail.com, subvox.blogspot.com, sonicoverload.net