Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Neil Faulkner on the Roman Empire

Insurrection in the cities of Iraq. Mass resistance across Palestine. Foreign troops bogged down and facing defeat. A crisis for western imperialism in the Middle East. This may sound like a description of the world today. But the date was 117 AD and the policies of bull-headed Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) had set the region alight.

More where that came from here. Incidently, Neil Faulkner gave what I thought was a pretty damn convincing talk at this years Marxism festival on how one needed a combination of the Australian archeologist Gordon Childe, the Marxist historian G.E.M. de Ste Croix, author of Class Struggles in the Ancient Greek World and Tony Cliff to understand how a combination of brutal class struggle from above driven by the dynamics of military competition shaped society in the ancient and indeed mediaeval world, but how what Childe called 'progressive social evolution' ensured a level of human progress, against the grain of the imperialism and barbarism of slavery and serfdom, as it were. I think that was kind of the basis of his argument, off the top of my head (apologies if this is wildly wrong). I was convinced, though slightly less so after the discussion which stressed the crucial issue of concrete historical context and the difficulties of making a grand narrative cover the distance of time and space in the way Faulkner was attempting to do. And truth to say, I had developed even more doubts with Faulkner's argument after reading this review of Faulkner's book Rome; Empire of the Eagles by Steve Roskams, which defends the central importance of the profits from slavery to the ancient world. Still, its all good stuff...I'm off now to watch The Dark Knight [not sure why you need to know this last bit, but anyway]...

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Overheard on Test Match Special

'We should never have invaded Iraq in the first place that's pushed out gently on the off side and there's no run.'
Sir Geoffrey Boycott hammers New Labour's warmongering

Monday, July 28, 2008

Selected Works of Tony Cliff

I am not sure if this is helpful or just boosting the profits of one particular capitalist bookseller, but anyone who wants the complete selected works of revolutionary Marxist Tony Cliff (3 volumes) for under 20 quid, might like to check out here. Of course, those socialists who have the money should buy direct from the socialist publisher and bookseller, Bookmarks.


Interesting times

If I mentioned there was a British publication that has recently published articles such as John Pilger on Afghanistan, Richard Seymour reviewing Chris Harman's A People's History of the World, another Marxist Giles Ji Ungpakorn on the contradictions of Buddhism and Owen Hatherley on culture, as well as occasional quite humourous contributions from Ian Birchall you might think I was referring to Socialist Review or something. But no, all this is in the liberal New Statesman. Is their long love in with Gordon Brown finally coming to an end or something?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mugabe, Britain and the Abuses of Anti-colonialism

Good article by Priyamvada Gopal on why Robert Mugabe and Gordon Brown have more in common than they think:

As Zimbabwe spirals into further political chaos, Mugabe and his party’s addiction to power will further indulge an equally self-serving Western appetite for spectacles of Third World despotism. If Mugabe finds it convenient to invoke the demon of colonial oppression (which many Zimbabweans, barely thirty years out of colonial rule, remember all too well), he also enables British politicians to spout pieties condemning violence while their own nation is currently implicated in two dubious and bloody wars. Were the BBC and Channel 4 to show as many close-ups of injured and dead Iraqis as they do of Mugabe’s maimed victims, criticism of violence against innocents might be somewhat more evenly distributed than it currently is. The British government turns accusatory fingers in Zimbabwe’s direction while Mugabe shouts back anti-colonial slogans. It is a perfect symbiosis, a mutually convenient embrace of denunciation, with each party laying claim to the higher moral ground. The only innocents, however, are ordinary Zimbabweans.

Check out also this interview with Mike Sambo of the International Socialist Organisation in Zimbabwe.

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What New Labour told us about Brown

Given the fact that Gordon Brown is on his way out after one disastrous year in power, I thought it would be harsh and cruel of me - but possibly mildly amusing -to compile a list of admiring quotes from one time admirers and sycophants, assuring us of how great Brown would be as Prime Minister. You know the kind of thing 'Brown is an intellectual colossus, a master-strategist, a political titan who will revolutionise Britain', that sort of thing. This is obviously quite a pointless activity, and so I am not going to spend a lot of time on this myself, but feel free to send in quotes...

"To the extent that one can see into the future on the basis of Gordon's record as chancellor, I do not see any reason to believe that he will not be a very effective communicator as a prime minister. His record as chancellor is second to none. It is the best record by a million miles that any Labour chancellor has ever had. It stands pretty good comparison with the chancellor of any political party for 200 years, and that cannot be achieved without an ability to communicate."
Charles Clarke, 2003.

'[Brown is] supremely well-qualified to build on the huge achievements of Tony Blair's premiership, to keep the Labour Party united, to give us a strategic vision to take on and defeat the Tories at the next election and, above all, to show the strength of leadership our nation demands. It will be a personal pleasure for me to help ensure that Gordon Brown becomes our next prime minister and continues the positive transformation of the country which Labour has secured since 1997.'
Jack Straw, 2007.

'[Brown is] the right man for 2007, 2008 and 2009. And I think the judgement I made, which is that he's got the values and the determination and the experience to make a difference to the country, is absolutely right and nothing has happened to make me change my mind.'
David Miliband, 2007.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

New Batman film set in Glasgow City

Will the dangerous and psychologically flawed clownish control freak known only to the public as 'the Joker' succeed in his plot to terrorise the good people of Glasgow City?[Spoiler: No.] Is it all over now for 'the Joker'? [Spoiler: Yes]


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paul Foot on Margaret Thatcher (1985)

[The news that Gordon Brown is considering splashing out, not of course on public sector workers pay or on pensions, but on a state funeral for Margaret Thatcher of all things has prompted the bourgeois media to engage in another bout of beloved nostalgia towards the former Tory Prime Minister and her reign in power. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian for example praised Thatcher as a 'revolutionary'. Given this, I thought it timely to remind ourselves of the reality of what Thatcher 'achieved' - which was of course if anything closer to a counter-revolution in Britain than a 'revolution', by reposting extracts from an article written by the late revolutionary journalist Paul Foot from Socialist Worker in February 1985, entitled succinctly 'Thatcher: class warrior']

Thatcher-worship, which goes on all the time in a continuous Mass in T, will rise to a crescendo in the next few weeks. A new excuse to sing the praises of the Prime Minister in otherwise difficult times comes with the tenth anniversary of her becoming leader of the Conservative Party.

A suitable prelude is an article in the Mail on Sunday's colour magazine by the reactionary critic, Anthony Burgess. His piece, gloriously entitled 'The Sexuality of Power', ends by comparing Margaret Thatcher to Venus de Milo. He makes the subtle point that whereas Venus had no arms, Mrs Thatcher has plenty.

Grateful and sycophantic press barons will be eager to impress on their readers that Mrs Thatcher is a wonder woman, her political intelligence and grasp far greater than anything else seen in Britain (or any other country) in the postwar period. Above all, she will be heralded for her convictions and her passions, which, it will be argued, contrast magnificently with the dull pragmatism of her two predecessors, Heath and Macmillan...

Mrs Thatcher's real skill comes from her deep sensitivity to the ebbs and flows in the fortunes of her class. She is a class general, who knows no sentiment in the struggle.

The old aristocratic leaders of the Tory Party believed they were superior to the lower orders chiefly through divine intervention or God's will. They were therefore inclined to dilute their class passions with occasional bouts of compassion, doubt or hesitation.

Margaret Thatcher and her arrivistes, people whose parents had to hang on by their fingertips to stay in the ruling class at all, believe that they are superior because they are superior. There is, therefore, in their class war strategy not a hint of doubt or guilt. They have a better sense of the state of the battle, and a stronger will to win it.

Unlike Macmillan, Thatcher was deeply suspicious of the Keynesian economics and full employment of the postwar years. She sensed that although these things could not be reversed at the height of the boom, they were fundamentally corrosive of her class. Long before most Tory leaders she sensed an ebb in that confidence, and she seized the time.

She knew that mass unemployment breeds despair in workers, and that that despair would breed its own confidence among her people. She knew that trade union leaders were only powerful as long as they were allowed to seem so. She sensed the union leaders' special weakness, their suspension between the two classes, and their unwillingness to side with either. She reckoned that if the union leaders were expelled from the corridors of power, they would be reduced to pleading to be allowed in again.

Mrs Thatcher is not an intellectual giant, nor has she risen to such heights through her beauty or her oratorical skills. She is a new-fashioned two-nation Tory who understands the simple truth, which evades far too many of us: that class confidence comes out of class strength, and that her class can win only if the other class loses.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mark Steel on Barack Obama

There's no way of saying this without sounding a bit pretentious, but I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. And the most instructive person I met may have been a frail old black woman in a newsagents, who picked up a newspaper with a photo of Barack Obama on it, and thrust it under my nose.

"See him," she said, "He's in town today – Barack Obama, in town today." And she had such a gleam of pride I wondered whether he was her son. When you're used to British politicians this behaviour seems staggering. Supposing you were the most imaginative person in the world, creator of award-winning science fiction full of planets run by giant centipedes and made out of beetroot, you still wouldn't be able to imagine anyone gleefully grabbing a stranger and saying "She's in town today – Hazel Blears," even if she was their daughter.

More here.See also Gary Younge's analysis here and here.

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On knife crime

Is this socially responsible behaviour? The Queen presents one young potential killer with a sword to carry around...

Useful comment on knife crime from among others Darcus Howe and Gus John.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Who was the worst ever British monarch?

Apparently English Heritage want to know who was the worst British monarch ever. Still, I guess it makes a nice change from the recent media fawning over Princes Harry and William on the grounds that they have now apparently at long last started 'working'. The problem of course in choosing the worst ever British royal is knowing where to start amid the incompetent, corpulent, tyrannical, pretentious, tight-fisted, greedy, war-mongering, despotic, pompous, cruel, militaristic, imbicilic, power-hungry, blood-thirsty, flatulent, imperialist, greedy, half-witted, obnoxious, warmongering, murderering, slave-trade sponsoring, Nazi-supporting bastards.

Still, at least one of them was held to account, and next year in February 2009 the London Socialist Historians Group are holding a conference to mark the 360th anniversary of that glorious moment in British history.

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John Pilger on imperialist Britain

Of course, the image of militarist Britain clashes with a benign national regard formed, wrote Tolstoy, "from infancy, by every possible means - class books, church services, sermons, speeches, books, papers, songs, poetry, monuments [leading to] people stupefied in the one direction". Much has changed since he wrote that. Or has it? The shabby, destructive colonial war in Afghanistan is now reported almost entirely through the British army, with squaddies always doing their Kipling best, and with the Afghan resistance routinely dismissed as "outsiders" and "invaders". Pictures of nomadic boys with Nato-roasted skin almost never appear in the press or on television, nor the after-effects of British thermobaric weapons, or "vacuum bombs", designed to suck the air out of human lungs.

Full article here.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

International Socialism 119

Contents include:

John Molyneux: More than Opium - Marxism and Religion
Carlo Morelli: Behind the food price surge
Leo Zeilig: Zimbabwe - imperialism, hypocrisy and fake nationalism
Charlie Hore: China, Tibet and the left
John Rose: Marx, Abram Leon and the Jewish Question
Feedback from Jim Kincaid, Fred Moseley and Chris Harman on economics
Interview with Panos Garganas on the class struggle in Greece
Charlie Kimber: Livingstone pays the price for triangulation
Chris Nineham: Walter Benjamin's emergency Marxism
Analysis: Politics of a double crisis

To browse the content, go to here
To order copies (£5 plus P&P) or to subscribe, phone 020 7819 1177 or e-mail isj@swp.org.uk


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Another intermission

Am away at Marxism 2008 over the next week or so, so this blog may well go rather quiet for a bit. Sorry about that. If you are not going to Marxism, I suggest you make do with reading, or perhaps rereading, Charlie Brooker on Dave Cameron until I get back. If you get through all that, and for some reason are still hanging around this blog in a state of expectation or a state or absolute boredom, then, I don't know, go and read some Karl Marx or a novel or something. Maybe a classical novel by Leo Tolstoy or Jane Austen. Yeah, go and read some Tolstoy or Austen. Or just find another blog to read. Or just do or read something else. It shouldn't be that hard.

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