Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Scarface - Part II

He hated the American Dream. With a vengeance.

'Whattaya lookin' at?...You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fucking fingers, and say "that's the bad guy." So, what dat make you? Good? You're not good; you just know how to hide. Howda lie. Me, I don't have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth--even when I lie. So say goodnight to the bad guy. Come on; the last time you gonna see a bad guy like this, let me tell ya. Come on, make way for the bad guy. There's a bad guy comin' through; you better get outta his way!'

Scarface - Part II tells the story of one small time gangster, Mahmoud Alpacinojad, who is determined to rise up the international criminal fraternity.

All I have in this world is my balls, and my word, and I don't break 'em for no one, you understand?

After a rapid rise to fame and power, Alpacinojad soon outmanoeuvres his corrupt and weak rival, Tony Blairino. Unfortunately Blairino has some very powerful friends in New York, including 'The Godfather' himself, Don Aldrumsfeld. After Blairino has tooled up with weapons of mass destruction, he meets the powerful heads of the Five Mafia Families in New York. They decide not only to condemn Alpacinojad but also to try and destroy him once and for all...But Alpacinojad is not one to go down without a fight...

'You wanna go to war? Ok, we take you to war...Say hello to my little friend!'

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The Primitive Persians

Read Terry Jones on the treatment of the detained Royal Naval sailors by Iran...

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

New light on EP Thompson

Another long, detailed and facinating post from maps on the subject of his PhD - the historian Edward Thompson, a towering intellectual figure of the post-War English Left. 'The seed of William the bastard still occupies most academic chairs in history', Thompson is quoted as saying - great stuff. Also Lenin's Tomb seems to be on fire at the moment (metaphorically speaking)...

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Solidarity with Zimbabwean trade unionists

From ISO Zimbabwe:

Mobilise for ZCTU 3 and 4 April Strike!
* Working Class On The Rise
* Street Battles From Bulawayo to Budiriro, Dulibadzimu to Dangamvura
* Prices Rise Daily By Over 1,000% - No To Wage Freeze
* No To Social Contract
* Reverse School Fee Hikes
* ZINWA and ZESA Hike Charges But No Water or Electricity
* Exhorbitant Kombi Fares
* Health Delivery In Shambles
* Councils Deliver Sewerage Pools and Rubbish Heaps in Residential Areas
* Immediate reversal of price increases to Dec 2006 levels. Open The Bakeries
* No to extension of Mugabe’s Presidential term. MUGABE CHIENDA NHASI
* Wages linked to the Poverty Datum Line. GONO CHIENDA NHASI
* Democratic Constitution before any further Presidential or General elections
* Reverse College Tuition Fees and Supplementary Exam Fees. Open The Colleges and Universities. Pay The Lecturers.
* Decommission Riot Water Cannon
* Fire The Entire Cabinet – Including The One Who Hired Them In The First Place


The British TUC is calling on workers to show solidarity with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) during next week’s general strike.

The ZCTU’s two-day general strike, to be held on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 April, comes at a crucial point in the struggle for political change in Zimbabwe.

Assemble at the Zimbabwean embassy, 429 The Strand, London WC2, between 12 noon and 2pm on Wednesday 4 April.


Orwell and the blogosphere

Given this weeks Socialist Worker has an article which suggests George Orwell might well have approved of blogging, I thought I would just put up two great little Orwell quotes, dating from 1939 and typical of his writing in the period just after he had returned to Britain from fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and which I think might illuminate some of the current fraternal debates between those socialists who remain inside the Labour Party in Britain and those of us trying to build Respect as an alternative.

'a Left-wing party, which, within a capitalist society, becomes a war party, has already thrown up the sponge, because it is demanding a policy which can only be carried out by its opponents' (1939).

'Nothing is likely to save us except the emergence within the next two years of a real mass party whose first pledges are to refuse war and to right imperial injustice.'(1939).

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Of apologists and apologies

A slave ship - today marks the 200th anniversary of the British abolition of the slave trade

The British intellectual James Boswell, (1740-1795) when remembered at all, is best known for being the biographer of Samuel Johnson, who was inventor of the Dictionary among other things. Indeed, Boswell's 1791 Life of Samuel Johnson is regarded by some as the best biography ever written. Less well known about - indeed there is currently no mention of it whatsoever on his Wikipedia entry (something that I may well get round to fixing at some point) is his defence of the barbaric Atlantic slave trade and slavery. Indeed, in 1791, the same year as his celebrated biography of Johnson came out, he wrote a poem entitled 'No abolition of slavery, or the universal empire of love'. Ostensibly a love poem, its first lines are:

Most pleasing of thy sex,
Born to delight and never vex;
Whose kindness gently can controul
My wayward turbulence of soul.

Yet what follows is really a rant at those abolitionists trying to end the barbarism of the slave trade, as the title suggested. Other passages note:

Let COURTENAY sneer, and gibe, and hack,
We know Ham's sons are always black;
On sceptick themes he wildly raves,
Yet Africk's sons were always slaves;


But should our Wrongheads have their will,
Should Parliament approve their bill,
Pernicious as th' effect would be,
T' abolish negro slavery,
Such partial freedom would be vain,
Since Love's strong empire must remain.

A poem that is ostensibly about the 'empire of love' turns out to be actually about a love of empire. It ends:

My charming friend! it is full time
To close this argument in rhime;
The rhapsody must now be ended,
My proposition I've defended;
For, Slavery there must ever be,
While we have Mistresses like thee!

It is not known whether the one for whom this 'love poem' was intended was impressed by such racist doggerel, but in any case in his Life of Johnson Boswell spelled out his argument in more depth:

'The wild and dangerous attempt which has for some time been persisted in order to obtain an act of our legislature, to abolish so very important and necessary branch of commercial interest, must have been crushed at once, had not the insignificance of the zealots who vainly took the lead in it, made the vast body of Planters, Merchants, and others, whose immense properties are involved in that trade, reasonably enough suppose that there could be no danger. The encouragement which the attempt has received excites my wonder and indignation; and though some men of superior abilities have supported it, whether from a love of temporary popularity, when prosperous; or a love of general mischief, when desperate, my opinion is unshaken. To abolish a status which in all ages GOD has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the African Savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life; especially now when their passage to the West Indies and their treatment there is humanely regulated. To abolish that trade would be to shut the gates of mercy on mankind.'

Today, such past apologetics for the slave trade and slavery are quietly hushed up - the complicity of the whole British ruling class in the affair - the worst crime in British history - is distinctly embarrassing. 'Stop apologising!' screams the Tory commentator Simon Jenkins, describing how he 'cheered when a descendent of the Bristol slaver, Pinney, refused to apologise for the deeds of his forefathers'. What conservatives of all stripes want us to do is forget the whole affair - they know above all that 'Great' Britain, or their green and pleasant land of England, might be tarnished or complicated by such unpleasant and brutal realities. Nationalism is an ideology which has to be constantly produced and reproduced to survive - it depends on myths, on the ideal of national unity - despite that fact that nations are always imagined communities designed to help our rulers shore up hierachical divisions of race, class and power.

Yet we have plenty of modern equivalents of Boswell today, opportunist intellectuals prepared to prostrate themselves before the rich and powerful, even if it means defending the indefensible in the process. In 2003, the Blairite warmonger Denis Macshane argued that 'It is time for the elected and community leaders of the British Muslims to make a choice – the British way, based on political dialogue and non-violent protests, or the way of the terrorists, against which the whole democratic world is uniting.'

The reason why we should remember the horrors of colonial slavery and the barbarism of the slave trade it seems to me - and the reason why the heads of states, and heads of institutions and corporations who profited hugely from the trade should be made to apologise - is precisely because without such collective memories the most pernicious and racist ideals of nationalism can take hold and spread, encouraged by New Labour scum like Macshane. 'The British way' as experienced by millions of Africans and people of African descent for generations was not one of 'dialogue', 'democracy' and 'non-violence' but one of suffering under regimes of state terror. The British Empire was one of the greatest instruments of tyranny and oppression ever - and it was an historic victory for democracy when it was finally brought down. Those who resisted this Empire were demonised as 'terrorists' - and I am sure had Macshane been around in 1819 to hear the son of a Jamaican slave, Robert Wedderburn defend the moral right of slaves to murder their masters to cheers from a British working class audience, he would have defended those who sent Wedderburn to jail for sedition in 1820. Had Macshane witnessed another Jamaican son of a slave, William Davidson, help organise the Cato Street Conspiracy to try to put Wedderburn's ideas into practice, he would have been to the fore in cheering him, along with the countless unknown other slaves who rebelled against slavery, to the gallows to be hung.

Davidson's speech in court was superb, and his words ring down the ages to us today with all their power:

'It is an ancient custom to resist tyranny... And our history goes on further to say, that when another of their Majesties the Kings of England tried to infringe upon those rights, the people armed, and told him that if he did not give them the privileges of Englishmen, they would compel him by the point of the sword... Would you not rather govern a country of spirited men, than cowards?'

It is not too difficult to imagine how today's Blairites might answer that one.

Some further reading on slave trade abolition

The revolt against slavery - an excellent Socialist Worker supplement featuring articles by Adam Hochschild, Charlie Kimber, Yuri Prasad and Marika Sherwood.
Slaves and Slavery 1807-2007 by Marika Sherwood.
CLR James and The Black Jacobins by David Renton
Why I am saying sorry for London's role by Ken Livingstone.
Man's unconquerable mind by Paul Foot
Anti Slavery International on the slave trade
A Free Man - Toussaint L'Ouverture by Laurent Dubois

My past posts on the topic

Who abolished the slave trade?
On remembering Toussaint L'Ouverture
Winston Churchill on the benefits of slavery
Blair and the anniversary of abolition
Eric Williams on Emancipation

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Blair: 'I would have ordered Charge of the Light Brigade'

Following Blair's shock admission that he would have fought the bloody Falklands War, he has further angered what liberal opinion is left within his Party by his boast that the Crimean War (1854-1856) was also 'justified', and he would personally have been happy to order - but not actually lead into battle himself - the infamous and disastrous 'Charge of the Light Brigade'.

Blair admitted that the Crimean War took 'a lot of political courage' to fight but he would have done the same thing in Lord Palmerston's shoes because it was 'the right thing to do'.

Speaking to Simon Schama, the TV historian and lecturer at Downing Street, in a podcast for the No 10 website, the prime minister expressed his support for the historic decisions taken just over 150 years ago.

'When I look back, I mean I was much, much younger at the time I read about it at school obviously, but when I look back, yes, I have got no doubt it was the right thing to do,' Blair said. 'But for reasons not simply to do with British sovereignty but also because I think there was a principle at stake which is that, you know, a land shouldn't be annexed in that way and people shouldn't be put under a different rule in that way...unless, of course, it is us and our allies who are the ones doing the invading and occupying.'

Mr Blair also expressed his astonishment that more British lives were lost in that conflict than have been lost in Iraq or Afghanistan.

According to the Wikipedia website, the 2 year long Crimean war claimed the lives of 17,500 Britons, 90,000 Frenchmen, 35,000 Turks, 134,000 Russians and Bulgarians and 2000 odd Sardinians.

'It is astonishing,' Mr Blair said, 'when you think about how few British soldiers have died in Iraq in comparison'.

Schama retorted that Blair had killed more Iraqi civilians recently than the total dead in the Crimean war.

'That is for sure,' replied Mr Blair. 'But am I bovvered? Do I look bovvered?'

Schama acknowledged that the Prime Minister did not in fact actually seem that 'bovvered'.

However, others were angered by Blair's statement. Lord Tennyson, aged 197, denounced Blair for lacking any sense of history, and reminded him of a poem he had written at the time. Lord Tennyson argued that Blair had sent British soldiers 'into the valley of the shadow of death' in Iraq and 'into the mouth of Hell' in Afghanistan. From his conversations with serving British soldiers, Lord Tennyson felt they were not 'dismay'd' by being sent to fight a criminal and disastrous war though 'the soldiers knew someone had blunder'd' somewhere' and most of them felt that 'someone' was in fact Blair himself.

However, Blair was unrepentant. Quoting from Lord Tennyson's poem, Blair said he liked the passage about British soldiers which noted 'Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die' and thought his critics - inside and outside the armed forces - might like to think about this in future.

Edited to add: When questioned further about his retrospective support for ordering the Charge of the Light Brigade, Blair commented 'Hey, look, y'know, people who know me know that I'm a pretty straight charge sort of guy...'

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Thursday, March 22, 2007


I watched Amandla! ('Power!') (2002) last night for the first time, and I just thought I would quickly recommend it to readers of Histomat as a brilliant introduction to the history of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Subtitled 'A Revolution in Four Part Harmony' it is about how music was the lifeblood of the African liberation movement - but it also shows how the music evolved in step with the struggle as it developed. Basically, forget going and seeing racist films like 300 - watch this instead!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Socialist Challenge for Scotland

2007 marks not only the bi-centennary of the abolition of the British slave trade but also the ter-centennary of the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland, and the spirit of Scottish independence is in the air as the May elections approach. I came across a fine article about politics in Scotland the other day, entitled 'The Socialist Challenge', outlining the way ahead for the working class movement - and so I decided to put parts of it up on my blog. The article began by stressing the stakes ahead:

'The irresistable march of recent events places Scotland today at a turning point - not of our own choosing but where a choice must sooner or later be made. A resurgent nationalism which forces onto the agenda the most significant constitutional decisions since the Act of Union is one aspect of what even the "Financial Times" has described as "a revolt of rising expectations". But the proliferation of industrial unrest and the less publicised mushrooming of community action also bears witness to the sheer enormity of the gap now growing between people's conditions of living and their legitimate aspirations.'

The article goes on to list what it calls 'Scotland's real problems - our unstable economy and unacceptable level of unemployment, chronic inequalities of wealth and power and inadequate social services' and asks bluntly:

'Who shall exercise power and control the lives of our people? How can we harness our material resources and social energies to meet the needs of five million people and more? What social structure can guarantee to people the maximum control and self management over the decisions which affect their lives, allowing the planned co-ordination of the use and distribution of resources, in a co-operative community of equals?'

The answer is clear:

'Scotland's social condition and political predicament cries out for a new commitment to socialist ideals, policies and action emerging from a far reaching analysis of economy and society; a bringing together of the many positive insights, responses, and analyses to break through the deliberate separation of issues and the consequent fragmentation of people's consciousness; and a searching for the new social vision for Scotland which begins from people's potentials, is sensitive to cultural needs, and is humane, democratic and revolutionary.'

Indeed so. But there is more - we need to 'transcend that false and sterile antithesis which has been manufactured between the nationalism of the SNP and the anti-nationalism of the Unionist parties, by concentrating on the fundamental realities of inequality and irresponsible social control, of private power and an inadequate democracy. For when the question of freedom for Scotland is raised, we must ask: freedom for whom? From what? For what?'

The author continues:

'The social and economic problems confronting Scotland arise not from national suppression nor from London mismanagement (although we have had our share of both) but from the uneven and uncontrolled development of capitalism and the failure of successive governments to challenge and transform it. Thus we cannot hope to resolve such problems merely by recovering a lost independence or through inserting another tier of government: what is required is planned control of our economy and a transformation of democracy at all levels.

We suggest that the real resources of Scotland are not the reserves of oil beneath the sea (nor the ingenuity of native entrepreneurs) but the collective energies and potential of our people whose abilities and capacities have been stultified by a social system which has for centuries sacrificed social aspirations to private ambitions. It is argued that what appear to be contradictory features of Scottish life today - militancy and apathy, cynicism and a thirst for change - can best be understood as working people's frustration with and refusal to accept powerlessness and lack of control over blind social forces which determine their lives. It is a disenchantment which underlines an untapped potential for co-operative action upon which we must build.

The vision of the early socialists was a society which had abolished for ever the dichotomy - the split personality caused by people's unequal control over their social development - between man's personal and collective existence, by substituting communal co-operation for the divisive forces of competition. Today the logic of present economic development, in inflation and stagnation, and at the same time the demand for the fullest use of material resources, makes it increasingly impossible to manage the economy both for private profit and the needs of society as a whole.

Yet the longstanding paradox of Scottish politics has been the surging forward of working class industrial and political pressure (and in particular the loyal support given to Labour) and its containment through the accumulative failures of successive Labour Governments.

More than fifty years ago socialism was a qualitative concept, an urgently felt moral imperative, about social control (and not merely state control or more or less equality). Today for many it means little more than a scheme for compensating the least fortunate in an unequal society. We suggest that the rise of modern Scottish nationalism is less an assertion of Scotland's performance as a nation than a response to Scotland's uneven development - in particular to the gap between people's experiences as part of an increasingly demoralised Great Britain and their (oil-fired) expectations at a Scottish level. Thus, the discontent is a measure of the failure of both Scottish and British socialists to advance far and fast enough in shifting the balance of wealth and power to working people and in raising people's awareness - especially outside the central belt of Scotland where inequalities are greater - about the co-operative possibilities for modern society.

Looking to the future, the author calls for 'A Planned Economy' as there is a 'necessity for social control of the institutional investors who wield enormous financial power both in fostering privilege in our social security system and in controlling the economy...public control of banks, insurances and pensions companies, could have a two-sided effect: creating greater social justice in the social services and providing substantial resources for industrial development':

'Such a policy could be enacted without compensation and would in itself constitute a major erosion of the power of the British upper class. Public control to end the manipulative stranglehold of the monopolies would require a strategy to end the power of the British, American and European multinationals over the Scottish and British economies and in the event would require controls over foreign investment and trade, accepting a disengagement from a committment to the free movement of capital in Europe.'

The author therefore advocates 'Worker's Power' as 'the demand for the economy to be directed according to people's needs requires that the need for meaningful work be prioritised':

That involves a new and creative relationship between work, education and leisure which breaks down the existing division of mental and manual labour and the extention of self management at the workplace. What has often been cited as the irreconciliable clash in socialist theory between regulating material production according to human needs and the principle of eliminating the exploitative domination of man over man can only be met through producers controlling the organisation of the productive process.

Thus it is precisely the surging forward of demands by trade unionists for real control over the decisions affecting their livelihood that will be the departure point for socialists...Workers' control on an international scale is clearly an alternative to nationalism...we would be wrong to underestimate the experience and the education which has led particularly the industrial workers of Scotland to reject implicitly if not explicitly the values of a capitalist society.

The article concludes with a look at The Way Forward.

'There are as many Scottish roads to Socialism as there are predictions of Britain's economic doom - but most of them demand three things: a coherant plan for an extension of democracy and control in society and industry which sees every reform as a means to creating a socialist society; a harnessing of the forces for industrial and community self-management within a political movement; and a massive programme of education by the Labour Movement as a whole.

Gramsci's relevance to Scotland today is in his emphasis that in a society which is both mature and complex, where the total social and economic processes are geared to maintaining the production of goods and services (and the reproduction of the conditions of production), then the transition to socialism must be made by the majority of the people themselves and a socialist society must be created within the womb of existing society and prefigured in the movements for democracy at the grass roots. Socialists must neither place their faith in an Armageddon or of capitalist collapse nor in nationalisation alone. For the Jacobin notion of a vanguard making revolution on behalf of working people relates to a backward society (and prefigures an authoritarian and bureaucratic state), then the complexity of modern society requires a far reaching movement of people and existing conditions and as a co-ordinator for the assertion of social priorities by people at a community level and control by producers at an industrial level. In such a way political power will become a synthesis of - not a substitute for - community and industrial life.

This requires from the Labour Movement in Scotland today a postive commitment to creating a socialist society, a coherant strategy with rhythm and modality to each reform to cancel the logic of capitalism and a programme of immediate aims which leads out of one social order into another. Such a social reorganisation - a phased extension of public control under workers' sustained and enlarged, would in EP Thompson's words lead to "a crisis not of despair and disintegration but a crisis in which the necessity for a peaceful revolutionary transition to an alternative socialist logic became daily more evident."

But the dynamic must come from the existing layer of thousands of committed socialists in Scotland today, firstly through a more obviously democratic and accessible Labour Movement co-ordinating its work with the trade unions (beginning with factory branches) and with street committees, and secondly, through a concerted programme of political education. The early Scottish socialists believed that the bridge between their utopian ideals and the practical politics under which people suffered must be built in a massive programme of education and propaganda. Today in Scotland we have no daily or weekly specifically Scottish political newspapers, no socialist book club, no socialist labour college, no workers' university, and only a handful of socialist magazines and pamphlets. We need all of these now.

It is only within a reinvigorated socialist strategy that we can appreciate the possibilities of existing and proposed structures of government. Devolution has been all things to all people - the halfway house between Westminster rule and a Scottish independence that will take us from rigs to riches; the insertion of a sixth tier of government which threatens to make us the most overgoverned country in Europe; and a fundamental extension of democracy whose every detail is of prime concern and importance...

The question is not how men and women can be fitted to the needs of the system - but how the system can be fitted to the needs of men and women....Scotland's socialist pioneers, Hardie, Smillie, Maxton, Maclean, Gallacher, Wheatley and others, knew that socialism would not be won until people were convinced of the necessity for social control. The Scottish Labour movement is uniquely placed today to convert the present discontent into a demand for socialism: we will fail only if we ignore the challenge.'

The author of this fiery and eloquent argument for socialism? Perhaps Tommy Sheridan MSP, the leader of Solidarity in Scotland? Perhaps the Scottish socialist George Galloway? No, in fact (as some of you undoubtedly have already guessed) the author of this piece is in fact Gordon Brown, the current Chancellor and destined to be the new Prime Minister of Britain in a few months time. It was written in 1975, as the introduction to The Red Paper on Scotland, a collection of essays by Scottish socialists. I rather like his attack on Leninism, 'the Jacobin notion of a vanguard making revolution on behalf of working people relates to a backward society (and prefigures an authoritarian and bureaucratic state)' - thank goodness 'authoritarian' and 'bureaucratic' are not words which could ever be used to describe New Labour in power...

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eric Williams on the 'Emancipation Complex'

Capitalism and Slavery (1944) by Eric Williams - A classic.

[In 1938, Trinidadian historian (and later Prime Minister) Eric Williams wrote the following short article for 'The Keys', journal of the League of Coloured Peoples on the centenary anniversary of the abolition of colonial slavery in the British Caribbean. Entitled 'That Emancipation Complex', I think it is worth putting online as Williams makes a number of pertinent points relevant to the bicentennial anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade this month]:

That Emancipation Complex by Eric Williams.

In 1833 the British Parliament passed a law providing for the abolition in 1838 of slavery throughout its territories. This measure was accompanied by a provision for the payment of an indemnity of twenty million pounds to the slaveowners. The "freed" slaves were left to fend for themselves - propertyless, uneducated, destitute, and almost naked, they stood on the threshold of a new era gazing wistfully into the future. The so-called emancipators having relieved their consciences of the "sin" of theoretical slavery were not prepared to carry their idealism into the realm of the practical and actual abolition of slavery. The "emancipated," left to themselves and compelled by the force of economic facts to work for their former masters, who now opposed their progress at every turn, were yet spirited enough to accept the challenge and to carve out for themselves and their children some sort of place in the scheme of things.

Since for the past hundred years the possessors of the "emancipation complex" have been engaged in spreading persistent propaganda to the effect that the abolition of slavery was a gift from heaven due to the efforts of a few reformers, we feel it to be our duty to prick the "emancipation bubble".

With all due respect for the idealism that inspired the "abolitionists," we call attention to the fact that such reformers have existed in all ages and throughout all periods of human history; also that it is only when the socio-economic relations of a given period demand it that any attention is ever paid on the part of the "powers that be" to the desires and counsels of such persons. The West Indies at the time of "emancipation" no longer provided a secure field for the successful investment of British capital. Many of the leading supporters of abolition themselves possessed substantial trading interests in the East India Company which was then busily engaged in the exploitation of black and brown labour in the East. At the same time multitudes of white "slaves," including tiny boys and girls and women, were being mercilessly exploited in the fields, mines and factories of Britain; and the protagonists of the abolition of black slavery merely winked an eye at such "necessary" evils. Similarly in our time effusive and self-congratulatory speeches are delivered on "emancipation" anniversary days by pharisaical patriots while Africans are being daily robbed of their lands by such gentlemen, and reduced to a level of living far lower in many respects than that which obtains in chattel slavery.

In the face of these facts we are forced to conclude that there can be no place for sentiment in a just consideration of the "emancipation" question. The discovery of America and the consequent investment on a large scale of European capital in this new land brought with them a demand for cheap labour. Millions of native Indians were enslaved and worked to death by the masters of capital. White European slaves of whom there were many thousands in the West Indies - men, women, boys and girls - proved incapable of working sufficiently well in the hot climate. Hence the demand for sturdy Africans who became the prime object of attention on the part of the capitalist slave-masters encouraged by their respective governments which incidently also reaped a rich harvest from the profits of the slave trade. The great civilisation of West Africa, as represented by the Songhay Empire, was then in decline, and the resulting disunity and chaos made of this section of Africa a tempting field for the unscrupulous capitalist adventurer. It was to this part of Africa that the slavers directed their efforts. A parallel to this state of things could be seen a few years ago in the case of China whose citizens, after the disintegration of their empire as a consequence of the imperialist attacks of the Western powers, were sold as indentured slaves in the South American and Caribbean countries. This practice was to some extent countered by the attitude of the Japanese government which sternly opposed the exportation of orientals into slavery in the West. Here it may also be mentioned that in the earlier part of last century during the period of German disunity thousands of indentured German slaves were worked to death in the forests and swamps of South America.

The African, like the Briton, like the Chinaman, like the Indian, like the German, was thus a victim of socio-economic conditions inherent in the contradictions of a system of society which employed him for the making of quick and handsome profits. For those who understand the real nature of slavery there can be no "emancipation complex". Emancipation should mean freedom to compete successfully - and therefore with equal instruments - with ones fellow-citizens in every branch of endeavour. In the West Indies, as elsewhere, the appalling conditions of today are the direct result of the "emancipation" so fervently acclaimed by the theoretical eulogists of imperialism.

For the benefit of those who are yet victims of the "emancipation complex," we quote the following from the Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 23; 14th Edition. Pages 537-538:-

"One of the most important developments in the history of the West Indies was the abolition of slavery. In the French, British, Dutch and Danish islands the negro and mulatto element had become so numerous that it was no longer possible to hold them in bondage. Long continued agitation and repeated revolts, particularly in the French colony of Haiti, where the white population was nearly exterminated, made it necessary to remedy the evil. In 1838 the British freed all slaves in their West Indian possessions, the French and Danes following ten years later."

For which let us thank such leaders as Toussaint L'Ouverture, Henri Christophe, and countless unknown heroes.

Congratulations on "emancipation" are quite out of place in a world in which so much remains to be done.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Comic relief from David Lammy

Readers of this month's BBC History Magazine (not online) will doubtless read with a certain astonishment the thoughts of British Culture Minister David Lammy on the subject of Blair's apology for Britain's role in the slave trade:

'In highlighting slavery in the way he did the Prime Minister struck the right tone and showed tremendous courage. He showed leadership but more importantly enabled us to move on. I feel very strongly that he follows in the tradition of Nelson Mandela who talked about peace and reconciliation.'

'Peace' and 'reconciliation' are perhaps not the first words which spring to mind whenever one thinks of Blair. Still, at least comparing Blair to Nelson Mandela shows a certain level of original thinking from a Blairite which has to be congratulated I suppose. And after all, the only real difference is that Mandela began his political career being regarded as a terrorist only to be eventually recognised as a freedom fighter - while Blair chose to do things the other way around. Only a minor difference though, ain't it David?

Still, it is hard to work out whether this is any more or less remarkable than Gordon Brown's claim that his coming reign of terror/power will follow in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi. One quote from Gandhi may serve Brown well when it comes to drumming up support for the 'war on terror': 'What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?' Or perhaps Gordon will prudently put that particular quote away for safe keeping...

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

W. E. B. Du Bois on communism

'Accomplish the end which every honest human being must desire by means other than communism, and communism need not be feared. On the other hand, if a world of ultimate democracy, reaching across the colour line and abolishing race discrimination, can only be accomplished by the method laid down by Karl Marx, then that method deserves to be triumphant no matter what we think or do.'

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963), c1945. One of the greatest African-American scholars of his time, author of such works as Black Reconstruction; An essay towards a history of the part which black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America, 1860-1880, Du Bois died aged 95 a citizen of Ghana - which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its independence last week - after having moved there on the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah in 1961 to work on compiling an Encyclopedia Africana.

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Gosford Park

'The favourite sport of the British "gentleman"', the Marxist writer F.A. Ridley noted in 1938, 'has always been killing - foxes in England, workers everywhere else'. I was reminded of that quote not simply by news that Conservative leader David Cameron seems to enjoy shooting deer just as much as Anthony Charles Lynton Blair relishes 'civilising' Iraqis and Afghans, but also by watching Robert Altman's film Gosford Park (2001), which was on TV over the weekend. While I had seen it before, I thought it really does deserve a mention on this blog as it is one of those films that repays repeated viewings and gets better each time you see it.

In short it is a Agatha Christie style 'Who Dunnit' murder mystery, set - like most classic Agatha Christie stories - among a small party of the English upper class at a country house in the 1930s. Yet for a change, the servants of the upper class while regarded as 'nobodies' by their rich masters and mistresses, are the real subjects of the whole affair. Class antagonism - what Marx called the 'uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight' between classes - is therefore the backdrop to Gosford Park, and this is brilliantly brought out in the wonderful script by Julian Fellowes, and helped by an all star cast. There was a good review of the film by Hazel Croft in Socialist Review, and she noted that:

Robert Altman made it policy while shooting to only film the rich upstairs if there was a servant present. The rich are shown lazing around, languidly lying on sofas, waiting for their every need to be met, while the servants hover in the background ready to jump to attention. In contrast, downstairs is a hive of activity, with servants rushing about, never getting a break in the military-style operation which is involved in meeting the whims of upstairs.

What I want to focus on in my post however is the way in which fading British imperial power is brought out in the film. After the First World War, the British Empire, as Chris Harman notes, suffered several damaging assaults.

The first serious blow to the empire was in its oldest colony, Ireland. The British ruling class had long been divided over whether to agree to limited reform ("home rule") to placate the nationalist movement, but both sides were insistent that Ireland had to be subordinate to the financial and military requirements of the British state. But in the summer of 1920, they came to the sudden realisation that their attempts to smash a huge mass movement of resistance to their rule might backfire terribly on the forces of occupation. The army, the cabinet secretary told the premier, David Lloyd George, would "bend and probably break" unless some other method of dealing with the unrest was found. Twelve months followed of intense debates in the British cabinet and vicious repression in Ireland. Finally Britain's rulers felt compelled to abandon more than three centuries of colonial rule.

The fact that by the 1930s the balance of global power had now shifted to the rising economic power of America is reflected in the film by the presence of an American film star Ivor Novello and a film director at Gosford Park. Both are studiously ignored and frowned down at by the vast bulk of these 'naturally superior' English aristocrats - particularly the Jewish director Weissman who gets a cold shoulder throughout.

The British Empire once guaranteed jobs for rich thick upper-class types in its bureaucracy (and also of course a way of making lots of money for investors and so on) and one down on his luck typical individual, Anthony Meredith, is trying to interest the very rich Sir William McCordle in one such scheme in Sudan, then of course a British colony. At dinner, he brings this into his conversation with Sir William's daughter, Isobel ( the script is online, fortunately):

- Isobel, did you know that William and I are going into business together in the Sudan?

- No, I didn't know that.

- It's quite exciting. What's happened is, apparently, there are hundreds and hundreds of Sudanese native soldiers, entire regiments wandering around the desert, willy-nilly, without any thing on their feet, which causes some hardship, I imagine. There's a large market in modernising the armies in the Sudan and providing them with boots.

However, it soon transpires that Isobel doubts Sir William is interested and indeed looks likely to pull out of this deal, prompting Anthony's concern:

- You mean you think he's losing interest in that sort of thing?

- Well, not just that. The whole Empire. I think he said the steam's gone out of it.

- William? That's not true, is it -- that you think the Empire's finished?

Sir William doesn't answer, but another character does, noting:

- Well, the Empire was finished after the war. Well, because of the war. It changed everything.

At this point Sir William himself finally joins in the conversation, killing with one line the dream of Anthony's African get-rich-scheme, by referring instead to the famous picture house in London.

- Empire Leicester Square?.

At this point the conversation inevitably comes round to the First World War itself, and the tensions between Sir William and his wife Lady Sylvia come to the surface:

---Well, I don't care what's changed or not changed. As long as our sons spared what you all went through.

-- Oh, not all. You didn't fight, did you, William?

--I did my bit.

-- Well, you made a lot of money, but it's not quite the same thing as charging into the cannon's mouth, is it?

Overall, watching Gosford Park in my opinion is an excellent antidote to the current monarchist guff around Helen Mirren winning an Oscar for The Queen. While I haven't seen that film, Mirren's character in Gosford Park reveals something of the real history of England, just as the film itself succeeds in illuminating the 'dark heart' of English civilisation.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blair is a Wanker - Official

Finally, proof - if proof was needed.


Mumia Abu-Jamal -- When Democracy Equals Empire