Martin Smith

Boardwalk Empire

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At the stroke of midnight on 16 January 1920 the US went dry. For the next 13 years Prohibition made it illegal to buy or sell alcohol.

Yet rather than discouraging drinking, it had quite the opposite effect. Thousands of illegal drinking dens opened. The "Roaring Twenties" had begun. The capital of all this hedonism was Atlantic City in New Jersey - a Las Vegas before Vegas was even invented.

Prohibition had another spin-off: it provided a bonanza for Italian, Irish and Jewish street gangs who came to control the supply and distribution of alcohol. It became a multimillion-dollar business and gave birth to the modern Mafia.

Fighting racism on two fronts

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When the racist English Defence League (EDL) announced it was going to hold a demonstration in Luton on 5 February everyone knew that it was going to be a big test for both the anti-fascist movement and the racists.

In the run-up to the demonstration the EDL boasted that it was going to put 8,000 people on the streets. But on the day it claimed 2,500 turned up.

However, anti-fascist protesters outnumbered the EDL two to one. Around 2,000 activists gathered at the official Unite Against Fascism (UAF) rally in the town centre and up to 3,000 people joined the joint UAF/community protest in Bury Park, the predominantly Asian part of the town.

Musical revolutionary

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What makes someone a great artist? Surely one of the criteria has to be to what extent they have revolutionised their art form. On that measure alone the trumpeter Miles Davis must be regarded as one of the most innovative and creative musicians of the 20th century.

At the age of 18 he played an important part in the musical revolution called bebop. Throughout his 50-year career he released many outstanding records but in 1959 he surpassed any of his previous work with the release of Kind of Blue. Modal jazz was born. Again in 1970 Davis released another era-defining and path-breaking album Bitches Brew (that Davis used the sexist word "bitch" in the title, as a term for excellence, clearly taints the album).

Standing on the shoulders of jazz giants

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New Orleans is often regarded as the birthplace of jazz. Martin Smith spoke to jazz musician Christian Scott about growing up in the city, the devastation after Katrina and making music to move the listener.


A young 27 year old black man found himself driving alone through New Orleans on his way back from the Mardi Gras at around 2am one night. As he looked in his rear view mirror, he saw a car tailing him with its lights off. For eight blocks the blacked out car followed him. His life flashed before him: was it a gang out to rob him, or, even worse, a lynch mob?

Doing Porridge

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Porridge was a wonderful 1970s sitcom about life in prison.

Each episode began with a judge making the following proclamation: "Norman Stanley Fletcher, you are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences - you will go to prison for five years."

Everything to play for

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In the wake of the TUC congress, Martin Smith argues that the conditions are ripe for a fightback, while
Mark Campbell reports from the conference floor.


The overwhelming decision of delegates at this year's TUC conference to support coordinated action to fight the austerity measures and to call a national demonstration against the cuts in March 2011 means the battle lines are now drawn.

On one side you have a nasty but clearly nervous Con-Dem government.

Striking a note of resistance

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Earlier this summer I found myself walking around the Pilsen district of Chicago. Migrant Mexican workers settled in the neighbourhood in the 1960s.

There you can see hundreds of murals and mosaics. These works of street art depict the daily life of the migrant Mexican community and their struggle for civil rights. Many of these works are clearly influenced by the Mexican muralists of the 1910 Revolution - Diego Rivera and José Orozco.

EDL - racist leagues on the defensive

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After taking a short break to allow their friends in the Nazi British National Party (BNP) to have a free hand in the general election, the racist English Defence League (EDL) are once again back on the streets.

But one thing has become very clear: things are not going as planned for the EDL.

The first protest they called after the recent general election was in Newcastle on Saturday 29 May. The EDL organisers of the protest told the police they expected 5,000 people to attend. On the day they could barely claim a tenth of that number. Greeting them was a thousand-strong Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-demonstration, supported by a large number of trade unionists and local Muslim people. The day ended with Newcastle and Sunderland EDL supporters fighting each other.

The soaring beats of Flying Lotus

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All of a sudden the stage lights went out, police sirens wailed and their lights flickered across the stage. Slowly emerging from the dry ice stood six silhouetted Black Panther type figures carrying rifles. Then, like a thunderbolt, the band launched into "Countdown to Armageddon".

The band was Public Enemy and the venue was the Electric Ballroom in Camden in 1988. It was one of those musical experiences that will live with me for the rest of my life.

Readers of this column will have their own musical highpoints and lows. For some it will be when Elvis Presley swivelled his hips to "Heartbreak Hotel", for others it will be when the Sex Pistols spat out the words to "God Save the Queen" on Top of the Pops and for younger readers it may have been Jay Z at Glastonbury.

EDL divisions develop

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Two important protests, in Bolton and Dudley, have taken place since Socialist Review published the article "English Defence League Uncovered" in March.

Bolton was the most serious. Up to 3,500 anti-fascists confronted around 800 English Defence League (EDL) supporters. What marked Bolton out from the 13 other counter-EDL protests of the last eight months was the ferocity of the police. For hours they attacked Unite Against Fascism (UAF) supporters, using police dogs and horses (see Frontlines last month).

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