Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Election Fever Mounts

How long before a 'Grand Coalition' between the Tories and Labour?

Well, with a week to go, the 2010 British General Election is certainly managing to live up to early expectations as the 'worst election ever'...

On the one hand, we have the Conservatives, whose entire rationale, as the name of the party suggests, is to 'conserve' the existing capitalist status quo on behalf of those whose interests the system serves best. In this election, however, it is trying (and largely failing) to portray itself in an oxymoronic (and increasingly desperate) fashion as the 'party of change' and 'progress'.

On the other we have simply the desperate party of New Labour - whose whole rationale for existence was built around the theory of 'triangulation' to get into power - which meant in practise a steady shift to the right politically on the grounds that its core supporters had nowhere else to go - a strategy that appeared to work well enough, though the resulting compromises in order to maintain power for powers sake led to a complete abandonment of the founding principles of not only the labour movement but the labour party itself. It has long alienated its core support and has managed to also alienate most of its new support and now seems to be in something of an existential crisis. The banal case of 'Bigotgate' reveals much about where following the politics of 'triangulation' tend to lead you...

And then we come to the Liberal Democrats, who despite being one of the oldest parties in British politics have in quite remarkable fashion managed to present themselves in this election as a 'brand shiny new party', completely different to the other main parties - apparently simply because their leader Nick Clegg looked into a TV camera instead of talking to the person he was supposed to be talking to during the first leadership debate, and because it seems very few people watching had ever noticed even his very existence as a human being until this leadership debate.

There is one very good reason why no-one had taken any notice of the existence of Nick Clegg before this moment - there is really no earthly reason why anyone should have. I once saw Clegg sitting in a Starbucks by himself drinking coffee at Manchester Station (he is MP in nearby Salford) a few years ago. It was in the run up to the 2007 internal Lib Dem leadership election, in which Clegg was running against Chris Huhne (pronounced 'Who?'). Clegg looked every inch the typical yuppie businessmen with his suit and posh coffee and he was talking loudly into his mobile phone. No one around him seemed to either know or care who he was, but me being the sad political hack that I am, spotted him a mile off. I was, I'm afraid to admit, a little excited to have spotted him sitting all by himself and even actually - and this reveals the kind of nerd I am - pointed him out to the women working in WH Smith as I went and bought a copy of Private Eye. 'That's Nick Clegg, probably the next leader of the Liberal Democrats'. By the complete lack of interest this little piece of information provoked, I may as well have just as well been asking her where the nearest toilet was. Indeed I think she may well have actually regarded me as a human being with more respect had I asked her where the nearest toilet was.

However, over the last week or so people are talking about Clegg as 'the man', the deal maker, the power broker and so on for any future coalition government in the very likely looking 'hung parliament' that British politics seems to be heading for. As the front cover of this weeks Private Eye, notes, 'Vote Lib Dem, Get either the Labour Party or Tory Party free!' - the most likely coalition government being either a Lib-Lab Pact (with its accompanying distinctive whiff of the 19th century, which would hopefully remind people of the urgent case for independent political representation of the labour movement) or a Lib-Tory administration (which might help New Labour become electable again - not least because there is a chance of PR being introduced which would help minor 'third parties' like New Labour). However, given the nature of the three main political parties, all so similar to one another - all committed to major public service cuts and privatisation and so on - surely - and especially if the Lib Dems do get into power and PR is introduced - it is only a matter of time before we see the spectacle of a 'Grand Coalition' as in Germany between Labour and Conservatives. Won't that be something exciting and new to look forward to? Meanwhile, away from the TV cameras, real politics does, believe it or not, somehow manage to go on...

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Chris Harman on 'the danger of movementism'

'The downturn has also had an effect on the attitudes of activists within revolutionary organisations in many countries. They have seen sudden upsurges in one issue movements while the mass of workers have continued to retreat in the face of capitalist offensives. This was the case with the riots of the ‘marginali’ in Italy in 1977, the growth of the anti-nuclear power movements in France and Germany in the late 1970s, the anti-racist struggle in Britain in 1977 and 1978, the peace movement of the early 1980s. It has been easy to draw the conclusion that you can forget about the working class and just concentrate on these movements.

These movements have drawn into political activity new layers of people. But because the working class as a whole has not been fighting, winning these people to a revolutionary Marxist perspectives has been very difficult.

Often, instead of the revolutionary left winning new people from these movements the reverse has happened – these movements have won members of the revolutionary left to their non-working class approach. Revolutionaries have begun to make concessions to the idea that the movements’ goals can be achieved without working class action.

The situation has been made worse by the inevitable pattern of such movements. They can rise very quickly, precisely because their participants are not rooted in production. But the same lack of roots means they do not have real power. And so the movements begin to go into terminal decline the moment they have reached their peak. They rise like a rocket and drop like a stick.

Revolutionary socialists who put their faith in such movements receive an initial boost, only then to suffer all the demoralisation that comes with the decline.

Then all the pressure is on the movements’ activists to move to the right. They make concessions to existing society because they find they cannot achieve their goals by fighting it. Revolutionaries who have made concessions to the arguments of the movements get drawn along by this rightward pull. It is bad enough dissolving your politics into a movement that is dynamic, enthusiastic and growing. It is even worse doing so in a movement that is tired, demoralised and increasingly inward looking...

You cannot resist the pressures driving former activists to the right unless you start off with a very clear understanding of the limitations of all one issue movements, however vital the issues they try to fight over. You have to be insistent that they cannot win their demands unless they connect with the struggles of the mass of workers. And that means arguing loudly and clearly for a revolutionary socialist organisation that makes such connections, in theory and in practice...

Of course, we are on the side of the peace movement against the military establishment; but this does not mean we drop our very hard criticism of the ideas of E.P. Thompson. In the same way, we are on the side of all women who challenge their oppression, but we don’t hold back from relentless struggle against the mistaken ideas of middle class feminism.

Nothing is more dangerous than to put forward verbal formulations that hide the difference between revolutionary Marxists and such people.

It is here that we in the British SWP disagree profoundly with revolutionaries who have put forward organisational formulae which, in our view, are designed to bridge the unbridgeable – the idea of a unified revolutionary party on the one hand and the separatist notions of much of the women’s movement.

They speak of ‘an independent women’s movement’ which ‘must be part of the overall working class movement’, of a movement which is distinct but not separate’ from the revolutionary party, so that ‘we organise independently but are part of the wider socialist movement’.

Such formulations are extremely obscure. Does ‘independence’ mean independence from capitalist society, from reformism or from the ideas of revolutionary Marxism? If it doesn’t mean independence from Marxist ideas, is the revolutionary party then allowed to intervene inside the ‘independent movement’? If not, how does it fight the influence on women’s struggles of bourgeois and reformist ideas?

Does the formulation mean that revolutionary socialists have to organise working class women separately from working class men? If so, it is extremely dangerous indeed. For it means organising them separately from the main struggles of the working glass – struggles which usually involve both women and men (although in different proportions in different industries).

You end up organising working class women in the places where they are least likely to experience the power of collective action and to gain the confidence to challenge the system and its ideas, including the ideas that they have to be subordinate to men. You focus on the home or the community, the places where women tend to be most atomised and isolated, not on the factory or office where they begin to discover collective, class strength.

At best you involve yourselves in movements that are on the up but then find yourself trapped inside them without any other arena for struggle, when they are on the down. You drift into the view that this is the ‘independent women’s movement’, that has to be sustained as a question of principle, regardless of the number of people it really mobilises. In the process you demoralise both yourself and any women contacts.

Revolutionaries who attempt to operate such a perspective can hardly avoid being infected by the attitudes which prevail in what remains of the women’s movement – attitudes which see ideas changing through consciousness raising not through struggle, which substitute personal politics for fighting the system, and which lead to greater and greater passivity...'

Chris Harman, 'Women's Liberation and Revolutionary Socialism', 1984. Edited to add: Video clips from Chris Harman's memorial meeting are on the SWP website

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Right to Work Conference 22 May

Fighting for the Right to Work in the 1970s

Come to the Right to Work conference on 22 May...

Greece is in meltdown as the European Union and International Monetary Fund demand vicious austerity measures. Workers, students and pensioners are on the streets, striking and fighting back.

Events in Greece are a warning of what can happen here as all the main parties champion austerity measures. All political parties are planning harsher and more sustained cuts to public services than those under Margaret Thatcher’s governments, but politicians are keeping the public in the dark about their plans, the Institute for Fiscal Studies claimed on Tuesday.

The Right to Work emergency conference on 22 May aims to plan and co-ordinate resistance to such moves. The National Union of Teachers annual conference voted unanimously on Easter Monday to back the emergency post-election conference Right to Work is organising on Saturday 22 May at Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, central London .

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Tiana Andreou an Executive member of the Greek civil service union and Tiago Gillot, a member of the national leadership of the Portuguese Left Bloc and a pokesperson of Precários Inflexíveis ("Unflexible precarious workers"), will be joining Mark Serwotka general secretary PCS & Pete Murray president of the National Union of Journalists on the platform. The latest speakers to confirm are Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention and Adrian Ramsey Deputy Leader of tjhe Green Party and John McDonnell MP. But in addition to such headline speakers the conference will involve workshops where we can plan action and learn from each other.

George Osborne promises and emergency budget within 50 days of a Tory win. Alastair Darling followed up his budget by promising to *impose "deeper and tougher" spending cuts than those of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s if Labour survives in office. This emergency conference is aimed at developing & co-ordinating the resistance to a cuts package & austerity measures which will follow the general election as surely as night follows day. This conference is aimed at all those who rely on state schools, state pensions and state hospitals.

Its being called under the slogans, "Defend our Services, Fight for Every Job, Organise Solidarity & Resistance." We cannot sleep walk into an election knowing that vicious cuts are coming without organising for resistance. We need to get delegates to the 22 May conference from every possible trade union body, student unions, pensioner’s organisations, local cuts and other campaign bodies.

Edited to add: An injury to one is an injury to all - support this outstanding trade union militant and socialist who has been sacked


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

British police finally admit killing Blair Peach

After a 31 year long state cover-up, the suppressed 1979 police report into the murder of Blair Peach, an anti-fascist protester and revolutionary socialist, has finally been published - admitting that a British cop did indeed 'almost certainly' kill Peach and that a cover up subsequently took place to protect the guilty officer. Finally, some justice for Peach - may all the other campaigns for justice for those many others who have died at the hands of the British police draw some inspiration from the long heroic campaign waged by his family, friends and comrades, which has now been vindicated.

Edited to add: For Blair Peach, a little justice

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Monday, April 26, 2010

International Socialism # 126

The latest issue of the journal International Socialism is now online: As usual there is something for everyone, but highlights include the proprieter of 'Lenin's Tomb', Richard Seymour on the changing face of racism, and articles on Venezuela, climate politics after Copenhagen, C.L.R. James's classic history of the Haitian Revolution The Black Jacobins, 25 years since The Great Miners' Strike in Britain and Leo Zeilig on how Tony Cliff's theory of Defelected Permanent Revolution better fitted the reality of decolonisation in Africa than Trotsky's predictions based on the Marxist theory of permanent revolution itself, despite Trotsky's profound contribution to developing that theory. There is lots of other great stuff one might want to get through of course - for example since this blog might be said to have made a small 'Debsian turn' of late, I will highlight John Newsinger's review of a new work on Eugene V Debs by Ernest Freeberg, Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene Debs, the Great War and the Right to Dissent".

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

This Machine Kills Fascists

Check out the Hacker Cyro-Histomat Mx2 people...

The Guilty Men

There is a classic scene in The Godfather, where Don Vito Corleone sits down for a meeting with the other heads of the Five Families, and agrees to make the peace if only it is guaranteed his son Michael is safe from reprisals for killing a police captain. As Don Corleone warns though,

'I'm a superstitious man -- and if some unlucky accident should befall him -- if he should get shot in the head by a police officer -- or if he -- should hang himself in his jail cell -- or if he's struck by a bolt of lightning -- then I'm going to blame some of the people in this room. And that, I do not forgive.'

In a similarish spirit of unforgiveness, it might be worth compiling a list of the top ten people who are worthy of blame should the worst case scenario happen and the British Nazi Party either take control of a council or even take a seat in this general election. Of course, as a Marxist, I understand that it is not the fault of individuals if a fascist party makes any kind of breakthrough - rather one should blame a crisis prone system of exploitation in which people are forced to compete with each other for jobs, the racism against migrant workers that results combined with the past failure of any British government to ever fully come to terms with the legacy of empire, the recent invasions and occupations of Muslim countries and concurrent rise in Islamophobia, the 13 years of attacks on the working class made by a so-called 'Labour Government' and so on and so forth. Nonetheless, individuals do play a role as well, and while theoretically every single member of Parliament who fiddled their expenses deserves to be on this list, this post aims to highlight the ten key individuals who I personally will not forgive should the fascists make any kind of breakthrough in two weeks time...

1. Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC - for giving the Nazis unprecedented favourable and largely uncritical media coverage in the run up to the election - essentially he (like most others on the list) might properly be regarded as 'an appeaser of fascism'.
2. Jeremy Paxman, BBC Newsnight presenter - for giving 'Nazi Nick' Griffin some of the most friendly and cosy interviews imagineable (eg on Newsnight on 24/4/10).
3. David Dimbleby, BBC Question Time Presenter
4. Tony Blair, former PM and war criminal.
5. Gordon Brown, current PM for his obsession with 'Britishness' and spinning the racist 'British Jobs for British Workers' line in 2007
6. Jack Straw MP - for both trying and failing to beat Griffin in public debate
7. Margaret Hodge MP (not strictly a 'guilty man' but an appallingly useless)
8. Peter Hill (editor Daily Express) - for relentlessly whipping up racism against migrant workers
9. Dominic Mohan (editor The Sun) - ditto
10. Paul Dacre (editor, Daily Mail) - ditto

Feel free to suggest others I have missed out etc... How for example did racist Immigration Minister Phil Woolas slip under the radar? Should Rod Liddle have made it on? What of Martin Amis? Or the likes of Nick Cohen and others on the pro-war 'Left' who gave intellectual legitimacy to racist terms such as 'Islamo-fascism'?

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Historians Behaving Bizarrely

What is going on with modern British historians today? Why can't they just concentrate on er, writing and teaching history?

Exhibit 1: 'A fascinating book...beautifully written, it is a rich and deeply moving history, which leaves the reader awed, humbled, yet uplifted … Figes visits their ordeals with enormous compassion, and he brings their history to life with his superb story-telling skills. I hope he writes for ever'
Orlando Figes reviewed by, er, Orlando Figes

Exhibit 2: Tristram Hunt tries to get himself elected in a previously 'safe Labour seat'

Perhaps one possible explanation is that, thanks to postmodernism, some of the latest fashions and trends in cultural history have taken a turn into places and areas that few other historians really want to follow. Take for example, this new work On Farting, which has garnered the following appreciative review (though one that is at least not written by the actual author):

'Allen takes the fart seriously, refusing to see it either as a marker of abjection or as mere rudeness but also managing to tread the fine line between the portentous and the jeu d'esprit. The book is witty and learned: a tour de force of scholarship and cultural history. The tone is perfectly judged. Allen argues for the fart as a threshold between nature and culture, audible and smellable, and therefore material and bodily, but also roguishly invisible: a challenge to the primarily visual emphasis of contemporary culture. Allen's book savours the power of the fart to call in question not only the canons of good taste but bad taste too, transmuting the whiffy and ineffable into the fresh and audible'

If this is the direction academic history is currently going, we can only expect more idiocy and egotistical attempts to make new careers elsewhere from professional historians. After all, if one wants to get paid to talk shit - then a career as a parliamentary politician offers far more remunerative possibilities...


Different Class of Election Broadcast

Fans of Pulp in particular may well enjoy watching this...


Friday, April 23, 2010

In defence of anti-fascism

Over at a newish blog that I have came across today, Necessary Agitation, there is a post arguing 'Is anti-fascism a waste of time?'

'The question for me, at least, is with the limited energies and numbers of those on the left, is anti-fascism a good use of our time? My answer is no. Further, I would even say it is counterproductive to the cause—it confirms the liberal media and elite’s perception of a valid role for the radical left, which is, predictably, a total dead end as far as overthrowing capitalism in the 21st century is concerned.'

The blogger goes on to give the following reasons - which I will try and counter briefly in turn.

1) In present conditions, groups such as the BNP and EDL have no supporters within mainstream government. They are not the militant wing of fascist tendencies within government. In fact, they are reviled by the elite. The kind of racism one finds within the liberal parties is truly awful—scapegoating immigrants and so forth—but is qualitatively different to BNP style racism. As such, they do not pose any real threat. A victory for one of their candidates would certainly make a local community more unpleasant, but that is about it.

Leaving aside the question about whether or not the BNP and EDL really are reviled by all of the 'political elite' (which seems debatable), is not the fact that 'a victory for one of their candidates would certainly make a local community more unpleasant' enough? Evidence suggests that racist attacks rise in areas where there are BNP successes electorally, and with the danger of a BNP controlled council in a couple of weeks time in Barking and Dagenham, the likelihood is that black, asian and Jewish people in that area are going to be under intense pressure and victimisation at the very least - if not, as is more likely, actual physical danger. If you are black/asian or Jewish or just happen to vocally disagree with the BNP then actually it does matter or not if fascists have taken control of your local town hall.

2) There is no transformative potential in anti-fascism. Anti-fascism is a static affair that adopts an entirely defensive posture. Its activities have no transformative potential for the properly revolutionary aim of overthrowing capitalism. There have been, in the past, periods in which it has played a vital roll in the struggle; today it merely saps energy.

Not true - as anyone who attended say watched the likes of The Clash storm Rock Against Racism carnivals in the 1970s up and down the country - or has attended some of the excellent Love Music Hate Racism gigs being held of late - anti-fascism remains incredibly 'potentially transformative' and energising for a whole number of young people in particular.

3) Anti-fascism leads to complacency. With such a clear enemy as the BNP (hated not just by the radical left, but much of the left and centre of the political spectrum) a certain moralising complacency can be allowed to prevail at the expense of making those hard choices that face the radical left. Since we on the radical left currently face a crisis of both communicating our ideas and attracting people to the cause, the hard thinking that needs to be done around these issues is obviated by investing in tribal warfare with the far-right. I won’t deny the fun of it; but particularly around election time, the sentiment which still prevails around most of the left and labour movement (vote for Lab or Lib Dems as a lesser evilism to keep the Tories out) should be the target of our ire. Unless we can shift most of the left and its natural constituency away for this kind of thinking there will never be any change.

I agree about the dangers of complacency, but what is really complacent is simply thinking that the threat from the fascist right does not matter and anti-fascism is therefore just a matter of 'fun' and 'tribal warfare'. Reformist and Labourist ideas within 'the wider labour movement' won't just fall away if the revolutionary Left simply puts more effort into challenging them - they have deeper roots within the system and the history of the British Labour movement than that - and the 'wider Labour movement' will certainly not abandon their support for say the Labour Party for a left alternative if they think 'the Left' and those arguing for building a socialist alternative to New Labour do not, for example, take the menace of the far-right more seriously than the current Labour leaders.

4) Anti-fascism in ineffective. I haven’t seen any proof, or indeed, any logical arguments, for showing why anti-fascist rallies are effective. Surely it just demonstrates that there is a militant core opposed to them who can make a lot of noise too? In terms of denting support for the BNP, I have serious doubts it does much good.

Well, to answer this one only has to compare the situation in Britain with that of most of continental Europe - particularly Eastern Europe. The fact that organisations like Unite Against Fascism exist in Britain and the likes of the Anti-Nazi League before them mean that the BNP have as of yet found it harder to make the kind of breakthrough into the mainstream than their fascist counterparts elsewhere (eg France). Bitter experience from elsewhere shows that waiting until Nazis have made a breakthrough into the mainstream before begining the work of trying to counter them means that it is then a much harder task that confronts anti-racists. On this question, one can do no better than quoting Adolf Hitler himself after his Nazis had taken power in Germany: "Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement".


George Barnsby, 1919-2010

George Barnsby, socialist historian, anti-fascist and at the time of his death surely one of the oldest bloggers in the blogosphere from his base in the Black Country, has sadly died aged 91. There is a great tribute online to him by his friend, Nazir Khan.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Love Music Hate Racism Carnival 2010

With the danger of the Nazi BNP succeeding in replicating the recent successes of other fascist parties in Europe in two weeks time, the Love Music Hate Racism Carnival in Barnsley on Saturday May 1st could not be more timely or important - see also the days of action being organised in areas such as Barking and Stoke that are being targeted.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

On Christopher Hitchens and Orwell's Animal Farm

'The most blatant of these [alterations of the historical record in Orwell's Animal Farm] concerns the character of Napoleon. It is clear that Napoleon represents Stalin, just as Old Major is Marx and Snowball is Trotsky. Who then represents Lenin? Since Orwell depicts the Rebellion as led by two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, one is forced to the conclusion that Napoleon also represents Lenin. Thus in Animal Farm the figures of Lenin and Stalin are merged into one character. This is of enormous ideological significance. The dominant orthodoxies both West and East have always insisted, each for its own reasons, on the continuity of Leninism and Stalinism: the former to discredit Marxism and the revolution itself as the inevitable prelude to tyranny, the latter to claim for themselves the heritage of the great revolutionary....If Animal Farm had contained a separate Lenin figure, this would not in itself have resolved the matter (any more than it does in real life), but it would at least have permitted the continuity to have been questioned within the terms of the text. As it is the merger of Lenin and Stalin in Napoleon forecloses on this possibility, and greatly strengthens the impression of a smooth and inevitable degeneration into dictatorship'.
John Molyneux, 'Animal Farm Revisited', International Socialism journal 44, (Autumn 1989).

'For a Marxist, Orwell's depiction of the rise and fall of the Russian Revolution in 'Animal Farm' is rather problematic due, in part, to his apparent conflation of Lenin and Stalin into one character - Napoleon - or rather the absence of a 'Lenin' character altogether. This implies Leninism led to Stalinism in a crude and ahistorical manner.'
'Snowball', 'A quick question about George Orwell', Histomat blog, 22 August 2005.

'There is, however, one very salient omission. There is a Stalin pig and a Trotsky pig, but no Lenin pig...Nobody appears to have pointed this out at the time (and if I may say so, nobody but myself has done so since; it took me years to notice what was staring me in the face).'
Christopher Hitchens, 'Where is the Lenin pig in Animal Farm?', The Guardian, 17 April 2010.

I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions from the above. However, if Hitchens is worried about the omission of a 'Lenin pig' in Animal Farm, it is interesting to note Hitchen's piece contains no discussion of the pig 'Squealer', the intellectual who prostrates his talents by making propaganda on behalf of the ruling class. One might conclude from this that perhaps Hitchens, an intellectual who has of late acted as a hired prizefighter and defender of the likes of Bush, Blair and Obama maybe found discussing the character of Squealer rather too painful a procress...

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Peter Gowan Memorial Conference

A one-day conference to discuss the contribution and ideas of Peter Gowan (1946-2009), author of The Global Gamble, founding editor of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, long-standing editor of New Left Review, and Professor of International Relations at London Metropolitan University.

Saturday, 12 June 2010, 10.00 to 5.30
School of Oriental and African Studies, Room G2


10.00 – 12.30
Introduction: Tariq Ali
Session 1: Eastern Europe
Speakers: Gus Fagan, Marko Bojcun, Catherine Samary

12.30 – 1.30 lunch

1.30 – 3.00
Session 2: Imperialism and American Grand Strategy
Speakers: Gilbert Achcar, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Susan Watkins

3.00 – 3.30 coffee break

3.30 – 5.00
Session 3: The Dollar-Wall St Regime
Speakers: Robin Blackburn, Robert Wade, Alex Callinicos

5.00 – 5.30
Mike Newman: Peter Gowan as an educator
Awarding of the Peter Gowan Prize

The Conference is sponsored by Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and Historical Materialism. gus.fagan@ntlworld.com

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New book: Neo-Liberal Scotland

NEOLIBERAL SCOTLAND: Class and Society in a Stateless Nation
ISBN 97814
Edited by Neil Davidson, Patricia McCafferty
and David Miller
Academic Publishers

ISBN 9781443816755 470pp £24.99/US$34.99

Neoliberal Scotland argues that far from passing Scotland by, as is so often claimed, neoliberalism has in fact become institutionalised there. As the mainstream political parties converge on market-friendly policies and business interests are equated with the public good, the Scottish population has become more and more distanced from the democratic process, to the extent that an increasing number now fail to vote in elections.

This book details for the first time these negative effects of neoliberal policies on Scottish society and takes to task those academics and others who either defend the neoliberal order or refuse to recognise that it exists. Neoliberal Scotland represents both an intervention in contemporary debates about the condition of Scotland and a case study, of more general interest, of how neoliberalism has affected one of the “stateless nations” of the advanced West.

Chapter One takes an overview of the origin and rise of neoliberalism in the developed world, arguing that it repudiates rather than continues the thought of Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment.

Part One addresses the fundamental issue of social class in Scotland over three chapters. Chapter Two attempts to locate the ruling class both
internally and externally. Chapter Three explores the changing nature of working class membership and its collective experience. Chapter Four follows the working class into the workplace where heightened tensions in the state sector have provoked an increasingly militant response from trade unionists.

Part Two engages with the broader impact of neoliberalism on Scottish society through a diverse series of studies. Chapter Five assesses claims by successive Scottish governments that they have been pursuing environmental justice. Chapter Six examines how Glasgow has been reconfigured as a classic example of the “neoliberal city”. Chapter Seven looks at another aspect of Glasgow, in this case as the main destination of Eastern European migrants who have arrived in Scotland through the international impact of neoliberal globalisation. Chapter Eight investigates the economic intrusion of private capital into the custodial network and the ideological emphasis on punishment as the main objective in sentencing. Chapter Nine is concerned with the Scottish manifestations of “the happiness industry”, showing how market-fundamentalist notions of individual responsibility now structure even the most seemingly innocuous attempts to resolve supposed attitudinal problems. Finally, Chapter Ten demonstrates that the limited extent to which devolved Scottish governments, particularly the present SNP administration, have been able to go beyond the boundaries of neoliberal orthodoxy has been a function of the peculiarities of party competition in Holyrood, rather than representing a fundamental disavowal of the existing order.

Neil Davidson is a Senior Research Fellow with the
Department of Geography and Sociology at the University of
Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

Patricia McCafferty is a Lecturer in the Department of
Geography and Sociology at the University of Strathclyde in
Glasgow, Scotland, and Associate Lecturer with the Open

David Miller is a Professor of Sociology with the Department
of Geography and Sociology at the University of Strathclyde in
Glasgow, Scotland

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New work on Karl Marx

Karl Marx: a Bibliographic and Political Biography

Frank Thomas Walker (1918-1996) had a lifetime interest in Karl Marx. During his working years he would spend most of his leisure time reading, researching and writing about Marx and he continued with this interest after his retirement. He continued to revise and add to his research until his death. Living in London until 1976, Frank was a well known visitor in many libraries including the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell where he spent many hours. He also frequented the many second hand bookshops throughout London including the bookstalls in Farringdon Road (now gone) and he was able to build up a large library of books and other materials to aid his research. He engaged the assistance of his family to obtain access to and photocopies of additional materials from library resources around the country and abroad, and he made effective use of his membership of the British Library. He corresponded with like minded individuals in Germany, France and Italy to further his research. Frank appreciated that he needed to be able to read the literature not only published in English but also that published in French, German and Russian and, like Marx, taught himself these skills. His library of well over 3000 items, contained books, journals, copies of letters, and pamphlets in all these languages and formed the basis for his research materials. His library was split up when sold after his death. This book was written by Frank over many years and revised by him several times. He never felt it was finished and never looked to publish it during his lifetime. Whilst pertinent personal information is included, the biography concentrates on Marx’s writings, his contemporary radical thinkers and activists, and his influence on the main political events happening in Europe during his lifetime. Some of the information contained within should be familiar to readers already knowledgeable about Marx, but there will also be fresh gems of information and interpretations of events that will add to the knowledge of Marxist scholars everywhere. The actual manuscript was in the form of typewritten sheets with a large number of hand written amendments and additions and it has taken a long time for a publishable version to be prepared. At last it is complete and all Frank’s research can now be accessed by academics and anyone with an interest in Marx. This work will be welcomed by everyone interested in Marx’s life, work and times and would be a useful addition to many libraries. Published as an e-book on CD-ROM, 2009, 410 pages.


Canada HM conference

Historical Materialism 2010, York University, May 13-16

Dear friends, We are fast approaching the second Historical Materialism Conference to be held at York University in Toronto. With over 250 papers and speakers from eight countries, it is shaping up to be an exciting event for critical theory and practice. Our plenary speakers include Terry Eagleton, Andrea Smith, Vijay Prashad, Johanna Brenner, Aziz Choudry, Dorothy Smith, Kevin Anderson, and David McNally, among others. Plenary topics include “Marx and the Global South,” “Global Crisis, Working Class Households and Migrant Labour,” “Capitalism, Race and Colonialism,” and “Is Marxism a Theodicy?” We will also be running a four-part course on Marx’s Capital. Details on registration, accommodation and the conference program are available at www.yorku.ca/hmyork. To see the preliminary list of panels, click on the Program tab, then click on “Themes.” Please spread the word about the conference. We look forward to seeing you at York in May!
The Historical Materialism Toronto Conference Organizing Committee


Thursday, April 15, 2010

On the Tories and 'People Power'

The current election posters dotting the British landscape urging 'Vote People Power' on first sight do indeed seem refreshing - until one reads 'Vote Conservative' in small print at the bottom. What ought to be remembered amidst all the Tory rhetoric about the empowerment of voluntary grassroots organisation and the 'big society' is that the single biggest collective group of voluntary organisations symbolising 'people power' in British society are er, trade unions, and the relationship of the Conservative Party to the trade union movement, past and present, kind of speaks for itself... As Seamus Milne notes, the Tory Manifesto is 'a people power fraud that promises mass privatisation: The reality of Tory Big Society rhetoric will be corporate control of schools and the breakup of the welfare state...' That David Cameron, an immensely personally rich Tory, who is solely devoted to boosting the wealth and power of other rich people, can even dare to pitch himself as the champion of 'people power' and 'working people' in this election is of course an indictment of the current intellectual, moral and political bankruptcy of New Labour. However, the Left in this election can't just condemn New Labour for its crimes and failings in the intellectual manner of a Tony Wood in the New Left Review or a Ross McKibbin (see his otherwise excellent series in the London Review of Books) and then just say 'Labour deserve to lose'. They do deserve to lose - in fact half of their leadership deserve to be in prison - but neither do the Conservatives 'deserve to win' - and the awful truth of the matter is that the Left will have to reluctantly vote Labour where there is not any kind of left alternative like TUSC standing in this election, if only to wipe the smug smiles off the face of David Cameron and his friends in the City of London. Real 'people power' however lies on the streets and in the workplaces - not on any parliamentary ballot paper.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Socialists, Blogging and the election

It was noticeable that when Labour launched their election manifesto, Gordon Brown was introduced by a young blogger who apparently runs a blog called 'the stilettoed socialist'.

She told the gathering how the election would be fought not just through traditional mediums like posters and TV, but via blogs, YouTube and Twitter. "We are asking our supporters not just to have a look at our manifesto but to share it with their friends and we're making it easier than ever to do so."

Quite what the 2010 Labour Party Manifesto (which begins with a foreword from the Great Leader praising a criminal and disastrous illegal military occupation of an impoverished country before declaring 'I love Britain') has to do with socialism remains rather unclear. Indeed, the last time Gordon Brown wrote or said anything about or to do with socialism was probably before 'the stilettoed socialist' or myself were even born - and to be honest, if you ask me Brown's 'socialism' began to go downhill after this early piece from 1975.

I guess maybe one might reconcile one's commitment to socialism with the Labour Party Manifesto of 2010, if by socialism one actually means 'saving capitalism from itself'. In which case it is possible that what is exciting about the Labour Manifesto 2010 is less the Manifesto itself but simply the act of 'sharing' the manifesto with friends through social networking sites and blogs simply because sharing is vaguely socialistic in some sense...

But more importantly, the launch of the new 'easy to share online' Manifesto raises the question of how important the internet actually is to political organising and campaigning in the modern world. Some erstwhile socialists have argued that in the 21st century the simple rule should be 'Newspapers out, websites in'. As someone who has been kind of making a vague pretence of running a socialist blog over five years or so, I think it is worth quoting a piece by Jonny Jones in this weeks Socialist Worker, who argues against this.* Jonny notes that 'the internet can be a great tool for activists — but it is worse than useless if people start to believe it can be a replacement for real members and work on the ground'. It's a slightly provocative point, but one that I fully concur with.**

* For the classic defence of 'the revolutionary paper', see The Revolutionary Press by Chris Harman.

**But then again, what do I know? I mean, I hadn't even heard of 'the stilettoed socialist' until earlier this week and her exciting blog has been busy sharing all the tons of good and exciting news about New Labour since as far back as 2008...how on earth could I have missed it before now?

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TUSC Election Rallies

Come and hear the likes of PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka putting the case for campaigning and voting for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in this election, as part of a wider fightback in defence of jobs and public services...

London: Tottenham - Vote Jenny Sutton
TUSC election rally with Jenny Sutton, Mark Serwotka, Mike Rosen
Tue 27 Apr, 7pm West Green Learning Centre,
West Green Rd, N15 3RB

Manchester TUSC rally - Vote Karen Reissmann and David Henry
With Mark Serwotka, David Henry, Karen Reissmann. Chair Ameen Hadi
Thu 15 Apr, 7.30pm
Mechanics Institute, 103 Princess St (Major St Entrance), M1 6DD

Sheffield TUSC rally - Vote Maxine Bowler
With Maxine Bowler, Sue Glenton, Chris Searle, Michael Lavalette
Tue 27 Apr, 7pm
Burngreave Vestry Hall, Burngreave Rd,
S3 9DD


Regime Change Begins At Home

As John Pilger notes, 'in the coming election campaign in Britain, the candidates will refer to this war only to laud "our boys". The candidates are almost identical political mummies, shrouded in the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. As Blair demonstrated a mite too eagerly, the British elite love America because America allows them to barrack and bomb the natives and call themselves "partners". We should interrupt their fun...' The Stop the War Coalition has a few ideas about how to use the election to begin to go about this...

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Seminar on the Greek Crisis in Salford

University of Salford Centre for Democracy and Human Rights

The Greek Crisis in Context:
De Te Fabula Narratur!

In his preface to the first volume of Capital, Karl Marx declares to his German readers that, although England is used as the main illustrative case, de te fabula narratur (the tale is told of you)! To think of England as some anomalous case would be to severely misread the global scale of the forces in play; England was, for Marx, a precursor of what the future held for Germans and many others.

This seminar takes the same position vis-à-vis the Greek crisis. To treat it as a product of forces unique to Greece itself, or even to the entirety of Southern Europe (the PIGS as those peoples are labelled by many), is to misread the significance of the crisis toward capitalism and liberal democracy more generally. Through a series of roundtable discussions, three key sets of questions will be examined: what the crisis reveals about the fragility and character of the European project as it is presently constituted; the class character and stakes of current developments and struggles in Greece and beyond; and, most centrally, the possibility that the Greek case is simply an early example of a much deeper and wider crisis of the capitalist state.

Participants will include:
Peter Bratsis (University of Salford)
Costas Douzinas (Birkbeck College, University of London)
Carlos Frade (University of Salford)
Bob Jessop (University of Lancaster)
Stathis Kouvelakis (Kings College, University of London)
Dimitris Papadimitriou (University of Manchester)
Spyros Sakellaropoulos (Panteion University)
Konstantinos Tsoukalas (University of Athens)

Tuesday May 4th, from 2-7pm
Clifford Whitworth Library, Conference Room
For further information please contact:
Dr Peter Bratsis (Tel. 0161 295 6555 or p.bratsis@salford.ac.uk)

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New Book: Marx at the Margins

Kevin B. Anderson: Marx at the Margins:On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies

In Marx at the Margins, Kevin Anderson uncovers a variety of extensive but neglected texts by the well-known political economist which cast what we thought we knew about his work in a startlingly different light. Analyzing a variety of Marx’s writings, including journalistic work written for the New York Tribune, Anderson presents us with a Marx quite at odds with our conventional interpretations. Rather than providing us with an account of Marx as an exclusively class-based thinker, Anderson here offers a portrait of Marx for the twenty-first century: a global theorist whose social critique was sensitive to the varieties of human social and historical development, including not just class, but nationalism, race, and ethnicity, as well. Marx at the Margins ultimately argues that alongside his overarching critique of capital, Marx created a theory of history that was multi- layered and not easily reduced to a single model of development or revolution. Through highly-informed readings on work ranging from Marx’s unpublished 1879–82 notebooks to his passionate writings about the antislavery cause in the United States, this volume delivers a groundbreaking and canon-changing vision of Karl Marx that is sure to provoke lively debate in Marxist scholarship and beyond.

List of Abbreviations
1. Colonial Encounters in the 1850s: The European Impact on India, Indonesia, and China
2. Russia and Poland: The Relationship of National Emancipation to Revolution
3. Race, Class, and Slavery: The Civil War as a Second American Revolution
4. Ireland: Nationalism, Class, and the Labor Movement
5. From the Grundrisse to Capital: Multilinear Themes
6. Late Writings on Non-Western and Precapitalist Societies
Appendix. The Vicissitudes of the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe from the 1920s to Today

Kevin B. Anderson is professor of sociology and political science at the University of California–Santa Barbara and most recently, with Janet Afary, the coauthor of Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Ian Birchall remembers Tony Cliff

The new issue of Socialist Review has a short article on the founder of the International Socialist Tendency, Tony Cliff (1917-2000) by Ian Birchall - at work on a forthcoming biography of this critically important twentieth-century revolutionary Marxist thinker.

Edited to add: See also Sabby Sagall on the British actor and revolutionary socialist Corin Redgrave (1939-2010)

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Michael Rosen on a visit to London's Jewish Museum

I'm the result of a few families out of the 150,000 people who came to Britain from Russia, Romania and "Russian Poland" around 130 years ago. Beginning with the Norman invasion and ending recently, other kinds of Jews are on display, too - Spanish, Portuguese, Indian - as well as converts: in the entrance foyer, a Chinese woman talks alongside a Hasidic rabbi and Jonathan Freedland. Jewish multiculturalism, even.
My parents grew into something else: Jewish internationalism. I see it on a trade-union banner. Across the top it reads: "The London Jewish Bakers Union". Across the bottom: "Workers of the World Unite". In the middle: "Buy bread with the union label". On the reverse, not visible when I visited, it says the same in Yiddish. So, these bakers seemed to think that they could speak their own language, bake Jewish bread, have a Jewish trade union and yet also say: "Labour is international."

Read the full article here

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Charlie Brooker on the wonder of Mad Men

Though he doesn't make any kind of comparative reference to the novels of Richard Yates, author of the classic Revolutionary Road and 'the most perceptive author of the twentieth century' according to The Times, Charlie Brooker's discussion of Mad Men is still evocative enough of why the series is worthy of all the critical adulation it has garnered over its first three series.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

General Election 2010: It's time for class war

Following a recent post on Marxism and Anarchism and then one heralding the anniversary of the Poll Tax Riots, one might think that heading a post with the title 'It's time for class war' might lead some readers of Histomat to wonder exactly if this blogger is about to join one of the minuscule anarchist grouplets in the UK or something. Actually not, but anyway those currently shouting loudest about 'class war' are, as ever, those who for decades have been loudly cheerleading a war of the very richest in society against the poorest - the Daily Mail, whose headline today screams NOW THE CLASS WAR BEGINS.

What does this refer to? News of a much needed escalation in the current BA strike perhaps? No, that's too much to hope for - on every level. Actually, the Mail's headline in fact refers to Gordon Brown's banal declaration that he was from 'an ordinary middle class family in an ordinary town', which - the Daily Mail seizes on with horror - an implicit reference to the fact that Tory leader David Cameron is the son of a stockbroker and actually a related to the Queen, being a descendant of William IV while Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is the son of a banker 'and his aristocratic grandmother fled St Petersburg after the tsar was ousted' by the Russian Revolution.

Actually there is a serious need for a real return to the question of class and yes, class struggle in British politics today - as Socialist Worker's excellent election coverage makes clear - given the grotesque poverty and inequality in modern British society - and given the devastating cuts that all three parties want to impose on public services by way of making 'ordinary' people (to use Gordon Brown's phrase) continue to pay for the capitalist crisis. The fact that Cameron, a rich white Old Etonian aristocrat trying to pass himself off as a British Barack Obama waving the banner of 'change', is a man who sits on a personal wealth of about £30 million and yet is leading this charge for public service cuts in the name of 'everyone tightening our belts' as 'we are all in this crisis together' is nauseating enough without the likes of Brown and Clegg following in his wake. Thank goodness that amid this election campaign - 'the worst election ever' according to one commentator, dominated by pro-big business parties offering either cuts or racism (or both), at least one party in this election is offering a socialist alternative and is prepared to not simply talk about the need for 'real change' but is actually seriously committed to it as well. The Daily Mail may well have to get used to screaming about 'Class War' in Britain for some time to come.

Edited to add: Right to Work is organising an emergency post-election conference on Saturday 22 May in central London:

An age of austerity is what all three established parties are promising after the forthcoming general election. All are pledged to cutting public services in order to pay for the public budget deficit. Ordinary people are being asked to pay for a deficit caused by this government nationalising the gambling losses run up by the bankers.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund are demanding cuts. In Greece these same unelected officials are demanding savage cuts in pensions and wages plus cuts in services. There workers, students and pensioners are fighting back.

The vicious attacks on striking BA cabin crew reveal nervousness among politicians about how working people will react to being asked to making sacrifices to pay a crisis they did not cause.

We cannot sleep walk into an election knowing that vicious cuts are coming without organising for resistance. We certainly cannot simply hope that if Gordon Brown is re-elected he might go back on pledges to cut spending. Cuts are already taking place and BA cabin crew, PCS members, UCU lecturers and Network Rail workers are already taking action to defend jobs, services and living standards.

This conference aims to unite trade unionists, students, pensioners, local campaigns and all those who rely on state schools, hospitals and services. Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Pete Murray, vice-president of the NUJ are among the confirmed speakers. We are also inviting speakers from Portugal , Greece & Italy so we can learn from the strikes and protests there.

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