Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Blair's Short Course History of the Labour Party

I don't spend a lot of time looking at the official website of the Labour Party, but this did catch my eye. This is the new official history of the Labour party, updated to take in the 2005 election. Now I wasn't expecting them to mention the Iraq war nor their 1997 commitment to an 'ethical foreign policy', nor was I expecting them to comment on Iraq WMD and Blair's pledge that 'I'm a pretty straight sort of guy'. However, I didn't expect it to read like something Stalin might have commissioned in 1935 to celebrate the achievements of 'Socialism in one country'. Aren't Labour supposed to be the party of 'Democratic Socialism', not dictatorship? Yet throughout it, the 'great leader' is held up, and the costs of any notion of democracy in the party (let alone social democracy or even socialism) spelt out. 'The lessons we should draw from our history are not all positive. Labour was in government for just 23 of its first 100 years. On occasions we have also been the victim of division and disunity which, as we all know, has cost us dear in electoral terms.' Obey the leader - or else!

We hear how 'the Labour Party was created in 1900: a new party for a new century. Its formation was the result of many years of hard effort by working people, trade unionists and socialists, united by the goal of changing the British Parliament to represent the interests of everybody.' One instinctively blinks at the last sentence. 'To represent the interests of everybody'? Capitalists and all? I thought the Labour Party was formed to represent the interests of labour - otherwise it would have been called the 'Everybody party', surely?

Of particular interest is the way that the betrayal of Labour leader and Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald in 1931 is covered. We hear how 'unemployment caused a crisis within the cabinet. Politically unable to either cut benefits or increase taxes to deal with the financial problem caused by high unemployment, the government was split and fell. Yet MacDonald did not tender his resignation to the King, but instead offered to form a National Government with Liberals and Conservatives. From being one of its founding fathers, Ramsay MacDonald had turned his back on the party and was seen to have betrayed Labour.' 'Was seen to have betrayed Labour' - a nice way of putting it. Perhaps Blair thinks abandoning Labour and joining the Conservatives was not really much of a betrayal...

What is most interesting is what is left unsaid - or rather who has become erased from Labour's 'new history'. There is no mention of Tony Benn, nor Benn's hero Nye Bevan. I suppose they are lucky not to be declared 'Trotskyist wreckers' or somesuch. Yet the 'unpeople' also include the likes of James Callaghan and Keir Hardie! It ends with a homage to the 'great leader', Tony Blair.

'The 1997 election campaign saw the Tories in decline - over sleaze, tax rises and division. Labour's campaign, by way of contrast, was smooth and efficiently run. ...As a Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair has given new direction to the country and begun to build a better Britain... On 7 June 2001 Tony Blair led Labour to a second successive victory in a General Election, winning by another landslide...Four years later, on 5 May 2005, Labour achieved a first in its history: a third consecutive term in government... On the steps of Downing Street the next day, Tony Blair said: "It's a tremendous honour and privilege to be elected for a third term and I'm acutely conscious of that honour and that privilege.When I stood here first eight years ago I was a lot younger but also a lot less experienced. Today as well as having in our minds the priorities that people want, we, I, the government, has the knowledge, as well as the determination and commitment, to deliver them."'

Read the quote at the end carefully - Tony Blair is not celebrating the Labour Party getting a Third Term in Government - it is Tony alone that won! 'I, the Government'...he sounds like Louis XIV, the 'Sun King' who once said 'L'etat, c'est moi!' We should not be surprised - Blair is the new 'Sun King'. Glory to the leader! Oh Tony the sun shines brightest when it shines on you!

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

McShit advert

Boy in street on phone: 'I'm just outside McDonalds. Would you like anything?'
Girl at home on phone: 'You know what I like...'
Cut to Boy returning with McDonalds bag.
Girl: '...I'd like you to stop going to McDonalds.'

The Economic Cost of the Iraq War.

As we approach the first anniversary of the 'handover' of power in Iraq, few will be celebrating, at least in Iraq. I suppose the 'handover of power' on June 28th 2004 was an 'historic' event, but perhaps in the sense that only historians will remember it in the future. For those that have already forgotten this is how the BBC reported it at the time. It was the one where US administrator Paul Bremer had to get the hell out two days early on a plane in Tet offensive chic style because the US had by then long lost the battle for 'hearts and minds' in Iraq.

Anyway, putting the disasterous humanitarian costs of the Iraq war to one side for a moment, a British Professor of Economics, Keith Hartley, has just estimated that the total economic cost of the Iraq war has now hit the US$ 1 trillion mark. That's one thousand billion dollars. See
here. In the words of Bruce Forsyth, 'Didn't they do well?' Tony Blair is hoping that the British tabloid press don't stop blaming refugees and asylum seekers for the state of our crap public services instead of his criminal wars on Iraq and elsewhere. George Bush is probably wondering if he gets some sort of prize. Remember that for just US$ 80 billion a year, the UN estimate that they could save the lives of the 50,000 people who die each day directly as a result of poverty. I could go off on one here, but sometimes it is best to let the facts and figures speak for themselves. Those facts and figures should arguably be on the front pages of every newspaper.

Edit to add: On a BBC programme entitled 'If we stopped giving aid to Africa' on this evening, someone was complaining that the total amount of aid to Africa since 1960 amounted now to US$ 1 trillion. Perhaps the BBC should run a programme 'If we hadn't invaded Iraq'. Perhaps they will...

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

How the rich make poverty of History...

Last week two activists from the 'autonomist' Dissent network, Kay Summer and Adam Jones, had a decent enough piece in the Guardian about the coming G8 protests, and how the rich have tried to hijack them. As they noted, 'Blair and Brown do not want a repeat of Seattle, or Genoa, or any of the other summits that have been accompanied by mass acts of disobedience. They want a stage-managed, benign spectacle, and so they play along with Live 8 and Make Poverty History, creating the world's first "embedded" mass protest.'

Is this really the first time that an elite has used its power to try to turn mass protest into a spectacle? I remember reading about how Coca-Cola wanted to sponsor German student leader Rudi Dutschke in the midst of the turmoil of 1968, offering him money if he would speak at teach-ins with a bottle of Coke visible. Dutschke, perhaps remembering how how Coca Cola backed Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany, turned them down. Since then, Coke of course have been busy killing trade unionists in Columbia. Yet they have not lost their 'cheeky' side as a company, even trying to sponsor Live 8. Now, Bob Geldof may have ridiculous gullibility when it comes to Blair, and he may be 'doing a Basil Fawlty' and not mentioning the Iraq war in the run up to the G8, but he is not that stupid. However, Geldof should know that not long after Dutschke turned down Coke, he was shot by a right wing fanatic. Now, I am not saying that Coke were responsible for shooting Dutschke - just that Sir Bob ought to take care of himself...

Anyway, to return to the question - is this really going to be 'the world's first 'embedded' mass protest'? Arguably, all huge popular movements, that is to say, movements that have been led by leaders outside of the elite, leaders that have emerged out of the mass struggles, have faced attempts to be co-opted by existing rulers throughout history. One thinks for example of how during the English Peasants Revolt of 1381, King Richard met the peasants in person and told them he would carry out their demands if they promised to disperse from London, which they had occupied, and go back to the villages. Bedazzled by the 'power spectacle', the peasants did so and then the King got together an army and smashed their movement. There is absolutely no reason why it should be any different for the contemporary anti-capitalist movement. Rulers rule by fraud as long as they can, and then when that fails they are prepared to use the full power of the state to maintain 'law and order'.

Given this, we can only agree with our two autonomists who wrote in the Guardian that 'if we are serious about wanting to change the way in which the world works it is essential that we do not make poverty of history in attempting to do so.' One hopes that they themselves will look closely at the history of social movements in the past. Is a celebration of a loose 'multitude' enough to really confront the power of the modern capitalist state? One of the writers is active in a social centre in Leeds. Such 'autonomous spaces' should not be mocked lightly - but again, where have cooperatives such as these avoided becoming either businesses (in order to pay the rents and survive) or being raided and shut down by the state for some minor infringement of the law? Can we really change the world without taking power?

Yet perhaps such questions are best debated on the streets and in living struggles, not impersonally on the internet. For now, let us celebrate the 'good sense' that lies behind their thinking - an outlook that is completely the opposite to that of those who run our education systems and the corporate media. As Summer and Jones note, 'we need to ask ourselves: who have, historically, been the agents of change? And, importantly, who has the ability to change the way in which the world works today? The answer, of course, is not Bob and Bono. But neither is it Blair and Brown. It's ordinary, everyday people. It's us. It's you. Those who have the power to not only make poverty history but to make history itself are the same as they always have been: ordinary people who do extraordinary things.' Tous a Edinburgh!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Welcome to 'Adventures in Historical Materialism', or 'Histomat' for short

Firstly, a necessary preface. This blog does not aim to monopolise, centralise, control or exert any form of hegemony over the work being done by Marxist historians on the web. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, there are currently still not that many socialist historians with their own websites or blogs that one could try and dominate even if one wanted to. Arguably, there are far too few socialist historians who are even aware of the full potential of the web - and I place myself regrettably in that camp. I resist trying to utilise new forms of technology - and then struggle to use them once I have decided that they should be used. Setting up this blog was a battle of sheer will over intellect, but now it is born! I am more than happy for advice on how to 'blog', and I will place my email address in this first post in case I do not manage to set up a 'links' page for a while. You can contact me at histomat@hotmail.co.uk .

I chose the word 'Histomat' for this blog as I felt that it was time that this word was retrieved from the dustbin of history, where it was lying, covered in the dust of Stalinist misuse and abuse. Perhaps one day, 'Diamat' will be used again as short hand for 'Dialectical Materialism', as Marxism used to be known. Historical Materialism is one of the most misunderstood theories of historical change that exists, yet it is my belief that without an understanding of how society has changed in the past, there is no hope for changing society in the present. I am no expert, and hopefully I will learn as much from those who read and comment on this blog as they do from me.

Anyway, 'Histomat' is born now - I hope that it will strengthen the work of all those involved in recording and remembering the truth, in the face of official apologists for imperial and corporate power. But if it was simply a serious, intellectual exercise then it might resemble the dusty second hand books by Stalinists littering up the few remaining independent second hand bookshops left in the country. That would be worse than a blunder, it would be a crime. Histomat aims to be a place for adventures and tangental paths off the well worn beaten tracks of historical materialism, a space for me at least to escape from the political for a period. That said, I am now off to watch the cricket.

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