Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lessons of Egypt for Iran

Lessons of Egypt for Iran: A Socialist Worker Forum

07 April · 18:00
School Of Oriental and African Studies, Lecture Hall G2
Thornhaugh Street
London WC1H 0XG

In January 2011 the Egyptian people took to the streets and in just 18
days successfully overthrew the dictator, Hosni Mubarak. In June 2009
a movement for change rocked the Iranian regime but failed ultimately
to remove the leadership. We ask what can Iran learn from Egypt and
how can the movement move forward from here?

With speakers:
Ali Alizadeh - Philosophy lecturer at Middlesex University and a Green
Movement activist
Alex Callinicos - Author of Imperialism & Global Political Economy and Bonfire of Illusions
An Egyptian speaker

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Monday, March 21, 2011

New Book: Lah T. Lih's biography of Lenin

Lenin - Did the British try to assassinate him?

Lenin by Lars T. Lih

Lenin (1870–1924) was the leader of the communist Bolshevik party and founder of the Soviet Union. A key revolutionary thinker who spent much of his 30-year political career in exile, he went from relative obscurity to world fame in 1917 when the October Revolution made his party responsible for Russia's future.

In this book Lars T. Lih presents a striking new interpretation of Lenin's political outlook. The standard view portrays Lenin as a pessimist with a dismissive view of the revolutionary potential of the workers. This book reveals that beneath the sharp polemics, Lenin was more a romantic enthusiast than a sour pragmatist, one who imposed meaning on the whirlwind of events happening around him by seeing them through the lens of his own heroic scenario of class leadership.

This concise biography is based on wide-ranging new research that puts Lenin into the context both of Russian society and the international socialist movement of the early twentieth century. It also sets the development of Lenin's political outlook firmly within the framework of his family background and personal outlook.

Using contemporary photographs, posters and prints, Lih illustrates the emotional and physical features of Lenin's world. A vivid and non-partisan portrait of a key figure in modern history, Lenin will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Lars T. Lih is an independent scholar who has written widely on Soviet history. His books include Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914–1921 (1990), the English-language edition of The Stalin-Molotov Letters, 1925–1936 (1995) and Lenin Rediscovered: 'What is to be Done?' In Context (2006).

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100 Years of Air Strikes

The world’s first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, over Libya...

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Regime Change Begins At Home

To come within the orbit of imperialist politics is to be debilitated by the stench, to be drowned in the morass of lies and hypocrisy...Now, as always, let us stand for independent organisation and independent action. We have to break our own chains. Who is the fool that expects our gaolers to break them?
CLR James, 1935

Sadly, there are one hell of a lot of such fools around at the moment, willing to suspend disbelief and hope against hope that a classic imperialist adventure in Libya can somehow bring liberation, even after the bloody criminal disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars are now clearly to be consigned to the 'memory hole' as if they did not happen or are not still happening. It is as if a tidal wave of forced amnesia has swept over the British political elite and its allies in the corporate media. A Western intervention in the Middle East? Yes, fine, what could possibly go wrong? As the Guardian's Andrew Rawnsley - an ever loyal servant of power - observed of the House of Commons when David Cameron announced the UN was going to war:

After his Commons statement, Conservative MPs saluted their leader. Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne sat on the front bench, nodding approvingly. A Lib Dem member of the cabinet says proudly: "We have taken as forward a position as the Conservatives. We have argued the same way Paddy Ashdown did over Kosovo. To stand aside in this sort of situation would have been unconscionable." Iraq has left deep and still not entirely healed wounds in the Labour party. It would have been less risky for Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, to sit on the sidelines. So they deserve some credit too for putting Labour on the right side when a fascistic dictator threatens slaughter on his own people. Mr Cameron will get a resounding endorsement for his position when MPs vote tomorrow.

The Guardian on Saturday reported just four out of 650 odd MPs supported the Stop the War Coalition's position on this. For all the talk about Gaddaffi as a 'fascistic dictator', it is almost as if we are the ones living in a totalitarian state - yet we are supposed to be the ones bringing 'democracy'. Moreoever, as Robert Fisk notes, 'there is a racist element in all this'.

The Middle East seems to produce these ravers [like Gaddaffi] – as opposed to Europe, which in the past 100 years has only produced Berlusconi, Mussolini, Stalin and the little chap who used to be a corporal in the 16th List Bavarian reserve infantry, but who went really crackers when he got elected in 1933 – but now we are cleaning up the Middle East again and can forget our own colonial past in this sandpit.

For Cameron, an old Etonion brought up on British imperial mythology and legend, this war is a classic means of trying to distract attention away from his failing and unpopular economic agenda of cuts and privatisation at home - in the finest traditions of Margaret Thatcher's 'Falkland's moment'. In trouble at home with lecturer's strikes and looming strikes over public sector pensions, facing a mass demonstration by trade unionists and students in London, what better timing for a war? And just like the British ruling class over a century ago predicted at the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa that 'it would all be over by Christmas', so Cameron reassures us that this war will be speedy. Yet, just as the bloody Boer War was in reality about securing gold and diamond reserves - so this war is a classic imperialist adventure to do with securing Libya's oil.

The hapless Clegg's Liberal Democrats, in supporting the racist Tory warmonger Cameron, are following more than just the tradition of Paddy Ashdown - they are standing in the dishonourable traditions of the racist warmongering Liberal Lloyd George , who once noted in his diary in 1932 after an attempt by some in the League of Nations to outlaw aerial bombardment, that the British Empire 'reserves the right to bomb niggers'.

And as for Ed Miliband's parliamentary Labour Party - well, what does one expect now from such a party? Despite Ed Miliband's claims to have 'learnt lessons' from Iraq, it is now manifestly clear that he and his party have learnt next to nothing. The silence of the likes of Diane Abbott is thunderous - political power and patriotism before principle it seems is the order of the day. Even some ordinary Labour Party members who on any other day would proudly wave the red flag of socialism are now lining up under the likes of the Stars and Strikes and the Union Jack. So David Osler tells us that 'once in a while there is a more or less accidental coincidence between what the US wants to see happen in a country and the interests of working people that live there. Libya, here and now, is one of those times.'

History here goes out the window. Can he give us any previous examples of such halycon days when 'what the US wants to see happen in a country and the interests of working people that live there' coincided?

Instead Osler tells us that 'the stark fact is that without external support, the forces that have put their lives on the line in the current uprising against Gaddafi face certain defeat, and a reactionary regime will brutally and triumphantly consolidate its rule, perhaps bringing the revolution in North Africa and elsewhere in the Muslim world to a total halt.'

The 'certain defeat' of the Libyan Revolution was far from certain - Gaddaffi's forces would have found it almost impossible to take and hold a city like Benghazi - and would have faced guerrilla war across Libya even if they did - while it is not only Gaddaffi's regime but the US and its allies that have a material interest in 'bringing the revolution in North Africa and elsewhere in the Muslim world to a total halt'. As Tony Blair puts it, the Western ruling class 'cannot be a spectator to the Arab Revolutions' - what he means is that they have to get in there and stop this 'outbreak of democracy' spreading further across the region - which is why Blair is so proud of Cameron for embracing 'the principle of intervention'.

Socialists have to maintain our independence from such imperialist politics - soaked as they are in blood and oil - and stress instead that the No Fly Zone Is No Way to Free Libya - liberation and emancipation can only come from the mass actions of the oppressed and exploited themselves -as the Arab Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have so beautifully demonstrated up to now. For those of us in the West, Regime Change Begins At Home - and in Britain that process of transformation has to begin on March 26th - Turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square!

Edited to add:
Richard Seymour: A Humanitarian Intervention?
Karl Sharro: 'The No-Fly Zone in Libya: Hijacking the Arab Uprisings'

Edited to add:
* Protest on Budget Day. This Wednesday March 23rd Stop the War and CND are participating in a protest outside Downing Street on budget day. We will be demanding David Cameron stops pouring money into yet another futile and destructive foreign war at a time when he is trying to force through the most drastic programme of spending cuts in generations. Welfare not Warfare - protest on Budget Day
Assemble 5pm Trafalgar Square and March to Downing Street.

* Come to the Public Rally - Hands off Libya, Hands off the Middle East. 7pm Wednesday March 30th.
Conway Hall, Red lion Square, London WC1
Speakers include Tony Benn, Lindsey German, Sami Ramadani, and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Stop the War statement on UN's war on Libya

From the Stop the War Coalition

A new war has been declared in the Middle East. With the bloody and failing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan still in place, the USA, Britain and France are now committed to an escalating armed intervention in Libya.

The decision to attack Libya and impose regime change – for that is what the UN resolution means – may have been authorised by the Security Council. But it was instigated by the despots of the Arab League, desperate to secure deeper western involvement in the region to save them from their own peoples. And it will be implemented by the same powers which have wreaked such mayhem throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds over the last ten years and longer.

The imposition of a “no-fly zone”, air attacks on Libyan defences and Gaddaffi’s troops, and naval bombardments will not bring peace to Libya nor a resolution to the conflict there. They will, however, cost more civilian lives and they will set Britain and the world on an escalator of military intervention which risks ending up with an occupation of at least part of Libya.

While few people are admirers of the Gaadaffi regime, the experience of Iraq underlines the dangerous futility of trying to impose “regime change” from without. It also reminds us that genuine democracy and freedom cannot grow from aerial bombardment and foreign occupation. Attacking Libya and sponsoring the Gulf oligarchies’ invasion of Bahrain to prop up the threatened monarchy there – under the noses of the US fifth fleet- are of a piece. They represent a concerted effort by the western powers to first control and then bring to a halt the Arab revolutions, leaving the essentials of imperial power in the Middle East in place.

David Cameron’s decision to place Britain in the vanguard of efforts to topple the Gaddafi regime is dictated by the same considerations which led Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to embrace that same regime – a desire to maintain BP’s profitable access to Libyan oil.

Stop the War believes that there should be no external military intervention in Libya. In supporting the Arab revolutions, we believe that these will be strangled, not supported, by western military action. We call on the British government to keep its hands off the Middle East and demand that it refrain from all involvement in military action in Libya or elsewhere in the region. We urge the anti-war movement to campaign throughout the country to arrest and reverse this slide to war and British participation in it.


Socialist Worker: Twelve Reasons to Oppose Air Strikes

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fascism and Big Business: The Case of Coca Cola


Given that the Klan often reflected a cross-section of the community, its members were often deeply embedded in the local power structure. In Atlanta, Georgia, the Klan pervaded the political and legal system--Klansmen filled prominent positions in the police, the courts, and the city government. Newspapers sanctioned their activities and important local businesses like Coca-Cola advertised in their publication.
'Making the Invisible Empire Visible:The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s'

The men in white emphatically embraced an emergent consumer culture, made prominent links with business, and never missed a trick on the merchandising front. Robes and paraphernalia were mass-produced in factories, and gimmicky, KKK-themed advertising surrounded the movement at every turn.
Interview with Craig Fox author of a new work 'Everyday Klansfolk: In Search of the Mainstream KKK'

While Coke was storming through Europe in the 1940s supporting American GI's , Coca-Cola GmbH (Germany) was busy collaborating with the Nazi regime. The company advertised in the Nazi press, thus financially supporting it. It built bottling plants in occupied territories. Then in 1941, when Coca-Cola GmbH could no longer get the syrup from America to make Coke, it invented a new drink specifically for the Nazi beverage market, out of the ingredients available to it. That drink was Fanta. Yessiree! Fanta is the drink of Nazis!
Mark Thomas in the New Statesman

Thank goodness Coca-Cola don't back any dodgy people or terrorist organisations today, hey?

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Arguments for Revolution in Britain

Joseph Choonara, one of the authors of Arguments for Revolution puts the case for 'regime change at home'...

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stop the War Protest at Downing Street

Join the day of action this Saturday March 12th – Downing Street 2pm in London - called by Stop the War Coalition, CND and the British Muslim Initiative

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Keith Flett on Britain and the 1848 Revolutions

With the inspiring events in the Middle East, comparisons have been made to 1848, a year of democratic revolutions throughout Europe. Those revolutions were mostly defeated over the following two years by a vicious and bloody wave of reaction. But there was unfinished business in Poland and Ireland and political democracy was left firmly and unavoidably on the agenda for the decades to come.

Britain however is often cited as an exception to this.In my view what is known by historians as ‘exceptionalism’ that is the argument that this or that country or movement is somehow unique is nearly always just bad history. As a matter of fact there was no revolution in Britain in 1848 but the underlying trend was actually very similar to the rest of Europe...

Read on here

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London protest in solidarity with Zimbabwean socialists

From here:

Please join the protest outside the Zimbabwean embassy this Friday 11 March, 12 noon – 1.30pm, Zimbabwe Embassy, 429 Strand, London, WC2R 0JR.

Six socialist activists in Zimbabwe face the death penalty for watching a video about the revolt in Egypt. Munyaradzi Gwisai, Hopewell Gumbo, Antonater Choto, Welcome Zimuto, Eddson Chakuma and Tatenda Mombeyarara are charged with treason. Treason is punishable by death.

Charges against another 39 people who attended the meeting were dropped this week.

A new website has been set up for the Free the Zimbabwean Treason Trialists campaign. Go to www.freethemnow.com

The campaign urgently needs money. Make payments to:

Account: CDL– MINE-LINE Worker Solidarity Fund,
Deposit reference “Zimbabwe Treason Trialists Solidarity Fund”,
NEDBANK, Killarney Branch, Johannesburg.
Branch code: 191 60535,
Current Account number: 100 185 3784,

When you make a donation please email us at zimtreasontrial@gmail.com to tell us who it is from and how much it is

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New Film: The Labour Leader's Speech

...From the makers of the award-winning The King's Speech...

...Starring Oscar winner Colin Firth as Ed Miliband...

...Charlie Sheen as George Osbourne...

...Teri Hatcher, Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson in Ed Miliband's dreams...

...and Ralph Miliband spinning in his grave

Comes the eagerly awaited... THE LABOUR LEADER'S SPEECH
The incredible story of the quiet man who found himself accidentally becoming leader of the Labour Party instead of his brother and was accordingly expected as the alleged official 'leader of the Opposition' to give voice to the hopes of millions on the TUC backed mass 'march for the alternative' on 26 March in London...will Ed make it to the march? Will he actually speak on the demo?

'I can't wait to hear Ed speak...the excitement and anticipation is unbearable'

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The Big Society is coming to town

On Saturday 26 March in London, the 'Big Society' will be taking over the streets of London in the first national demonstration organised by the trade union movement against the cuts and for alternative solutions to getting out of the deficit crisis - there is even talk of the Big Society staying on the streets and going on strike to bring down the Government. Anyway, to mark the glorious 'coming out' of the Big Society Philosophy Football have done what they do best - produced a T-shirt...

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Reasons to Hate the Daily Mail # 94: Hitler-worship

[With its notoriously right wing columnists - including now also Nick Cohen - aside, there are lots of well known reasons for democrats, radicals and socialists to despise the Daily Mail - a paper founded in 1896 as its founder Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe) stated to help foster 'the power, the supremacy and the greatness of the British Empire'. When Lord Northcliffe died in August, 1922, the Daily Mail 'newspaper' was taken over by Lord Rothermere, who in the 1930s famously gave support to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists - writing an infamous article, 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts', in January, 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his 'sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine' - sort of a pre-runner to the Daily Star's recent love-in with the English Defence League. Yet less well known is Lord Rothermere's admiration for Adolf Hitler, who he met several times before his death in 1940 and described as 'a human being of great culture'. For a paper that is so obsessed with the personal lives of the rich and powerful it is odd that there was little on the Daily Mail's own website about this particular relationship - and so I thought I would bring it to wider attention here -hopefully to help cut the sales of the Daily Mail itself but also as it sheds light on the admiration shared by many in the British ruling class for Adolf Hitler and fascism more generally during the 1920s and 1930s - as well as Hitler's own admiration and respect for the white supremacy represented by the British Empire].

Lord Rothermere and Adolf Hitler - The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name
Lord Rothermere and Adolf Hitler

Lord Rothermere used The Daily Mail to argue for Hitler's policies long before Hitler actually got to power - but abruptly withdrew his support in 1930. Later that year, Rothermere told Hitler that Jewish businessmen had withdrawn advertising from the newspaper and he had been forced to 'toe the line'. Hitler began to leave out anti-Semitic comments from his speeches during elections, but once in power Hitler began to express anti-Semitic ideas again.

In his 1939 book Warnings and Predictions, (only online on a pro-Nazi site so I won't link to it) Rothermere explained what he had first seen in Hitler:

When Herr Hitler took open power in the January of 1933, I realised that his psychology was very different from that of our own statesmen and very different from that of the men who had led the German republic. Here was a man whose life had been hard. In boyhood and youth he had been poor and thwarted. In early manhood he had been a serving soldier performing the most dangerous of front-line tasks, those of a battalion runner. He had been decorated for gallantry, had been wounded and gassed. In the years of later manhood he, with other ex-servicemen, had seen his country thrust down into the very mud of world disrepute. He had suffered from the ineptitude of those charged with the Government of his country. He had been affronted by the spectacle of members of an alien race flourishing in Germany and Austria while his own countrymen were in penury. He had attained power only by the use of force combined with a new application of rhetorical and propagandist powers.

With Hitler in power, Lord Rothermere publically declared his renewed support. Writing in The Daily Mail on 10th July, 1933, he praised Hitler's new regime which had stopped Germany 'rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements' - Jewish people - and urging 'all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany'. Adolf Hitler in a letter to Lord Rothermere on 7th December, 1933 relayed his thanks to Rothermere for 'the wise and beneficial public support' the Daily Mail had given him so far.

In his book, Lord Rothermere stressed that both himself and Hitler had a mutual hope for a deeper more meaningful relationship between not just themselves but between Britain and Nazi Germany. 'In an interchange of views about the possibility of Anglo-German friendship that I had with him [Hitler] not very long after his coming to power, he [Hitler] wrote:

"I have derived from fate the heavy task of giving back again to a great people and State by every means its natural honour. I see in this one of the most essential preparations for a real and lasting understanding, and I beg you, Lord Rothermere, never to regard my work from any other point of view. The feelings and views of Parliamentary demagogues are liable to rapid and unexpected changes. The world may, however, for what I care, reproach me with what it will. One reproach they certainly cannot level at me: that I have been vacillating in my views and unreliable in my work. If an unknown man with such weaknesses set out to win over a nation in fifteen years he would meet with no success. Herein resides, perhaps, the faith—exaggerated, as many believe—in my own personality. I believe, my dear Lord Rothermere, that in the end my unchanging standpoint, undeviating staunchness and my unalterable determination to render a historically great contribution to the restoration of a good and enduring understanding between both great Germanic peoples will be crowned with success. And believe me that this is the most decisive contribution to the pacification of the world. An Anglo-German understanding would form in Europe a force for peace and reason of 120,000,000 people of the highest type. The historically unique colonial ability and sea-power of England would be united to one of the greatest soldier-races of the world. Were this understanding extended by the joining-up of the American nation, then it would indeed be hard to see who in the world could disturb peace without wilfully and consciously neglecting the interests of the White race.'

However it was only in 1938 that the relationship advanced to a whole new level. In telegram to 'my dear Fuhrer' Adolf Hitler on 1st October, 1938, Lord Rothermere would declare:

My dear Fuhrer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher.

As Lord Rothermere explains in his 1939 book about the changed mood in 1938:

'While I have always understood the British antipathy to the use of physical violence, I have equally understood the causes of its use in countries abroad of different circumstances from our own. I understand it there, just as I understand the causes of the violence shown to the rebels in India when the Sepoys were blown from the guns after the massacre of British women and children at Delhi. I deplore the use of concentration camps in Germany and Italy to-day, just as I deplored Kitchener's use of them in Africa at the beginning of the century, but in each case I have understood their evil necessity.

For this reason, and because I knew the man, I felt constrained, when Herr Hitler was being roundly abused by the English Left-wing Press, to tell the British public what I knew of him. In two issues of The Daily Mail in May 1938 I wrote of him what I now gladly put on more permanent record:

"Great numbers of people in England," I wrote, "regard Herr Hitler as an ogre, but I would like to tell them how I have found him. He exudes good-fellowship. He is simple, unaffected and obviously sincere. It is untrue that he habitually addresses private individuals as if they were public meetings.

"He is supremely intelligent. There are only two others I have known to whom I could apply this remark—Lord Northcliffe and Mr. Lloyd George. If you ask Herr Hitler a question, he makes an instant reply full of information and eminent good sense. There is no man living whose promise given in regard to something of real moment I would sooner take.

"He believes that Germany has a divine mission and that the German people are destined to save Europe from the designs of revolutionary Communism. He has a great sense of the sanctity of the family, to which Communism is antagonistic, and in Germany has stopped the publication of all indecent books, the production of suggestive plays and films, and has thoroughly cleaned up the moral life of the nation.

"Herr Hitler has a great liking for the English people. He regards the English and the Germans as being of one race. This liking he cherishes notwithstanding, as he says, that he has been sorely tried by malicious personal comments and cartoons in the English Press.

"I was talking with Herr Hitler some eighteen months ago when he said, 'Certain English circles in Europe speak of me as an adventurer. My reply is that adventurers made the British Empire.'"

To this I added some details of a conversation I had had with him about relative air strengths, and the following week, in response, as will be seen, to the interest my picture of the man had aroused, I wrote further:

"My remarks about Herr Hitler last week aroused a great deal of interest, apparently, among readers who hitherto have had to form their idea of him from newspaper comments and caricature.

"Herr Hitler is proud to call himself a man of the people, but, notwithstanding, the impression that has remained with me after every meeting with him is that of a great gentleman. He places a guest at his ease immediately. When you have been with him for five minutes, you feel that you have known him for a long time.

"His courtesy is beyond words, and men and women alike are captivated by his ready and disarming smile.

"He is a man of rare culture. His knowledge of music, painting and architecture is profound."

Many people seemed to find difficulty in reconciling the conception of a man of culture with a man of resolute action.

Why this should be so, I do not know. British 'Christian Generals' like Havelock and Gordon had the same mixture of traits. General John Nicholson, one of the heroes of the Indian Mutiny, was a man of great culture and personal piety, but he was relentless not only with the enemy but with his own colleagues if he esteemed them weak. Almost his dying words when he learnt that his successor in command was showing an unwise softness to the enemy were, "Thank God, I still have strength enough left to shoot him!"

...Whatever means the new regime in Germany found necessary to establish itself, it is undoubtedly true, as I wrote on May 20th 1938 in The Daily Mail that: "Herr Hitler's policy is achievement without bloodshed.''

Were I to make public some of the communications which I have had from Herr Hitler, in a correspondence bridging now several years, it would be apparent that one of his dearest hopes, cherished, as he himself has told me, long before his advent to power in Germany, is that Germany and Britain should stand side by side in amity.

One sentence I may quote, for it is in no way different from some of his public utterances. It is this: "Whatever may happen, I want to assure you at the conclusion of this letter that I firmly believe that a time will come in which England and Germany will be the solid pillars in a worried and unstable world."

On another occasion Herr Hitler said to me, "If to-day I stand for an Anglo-German understanding, this does not date from yesterday or the day before. During the last fifteen years I have spoken in Germany at least 4,000 to 5,000 times before small, large and immense mass audiences. There does not, however, exist a single speech of mine, nor a single line ever written by me, in which I have expressed myself contrary to this opinion against an Anglo-German understanding. On the contrary, I have during all this time fought for it by word and in writing."

Despite the necessity for subordinating nearly everything to the gigantic task of rearming his country, Herr Hitler has a reasoned, as well as a temperamental, aversion from war. Some six years ago he expressed to me the belief that a methodical, scientific examination of European history over the last three hundred years would show that nine-tenths of the blood-sacrifices of the battle-fields was shed entirely in vain—that is to say, in vain measured by the natural interests of the participating nations.

He made no exception in the case of Germany. On the contrary, he insisted that his people in those three hundred years had lost at least twenty to twenty-five million souls, probably even more, in wars which had been essentially profitless to the nation, measured not in terms of a questionable fame but of practical profit.

As I have said earlier, people have accused Herr Hitler of megalomania. That, of course, is always the charge levelled against a man who emerges from the ruck and takes and wields power. It was said of Caesar, it was said of Napoleon, it was said of Rhodes.

That Hitler has a great and even mystic faith in his destiny is true. It would be strange, in the light of his achievements, if he had not...

I know that when the Anglo-German Trade Agreement was reached, Herr Hitler's belief was that it might well pave the way to a wider and better understanding.

In one of his addresses to his own people, Herr Hitler declared that his true wish was to see Germany freed from the necessity of wrangling with her neighbours, that he might pursue his work of rebuilding the nation not only metaphorically but actually.

His plans for the replanning of the great German cities are very dear to his heart. It can never be for-gotten, when one enjoys his personal hospitality, that in the days of his extreme youth, and extreme poverty, his aspirations were purely artistic and architectural. Those aspirations were thwarted by circumstances, but the inner spirit which inspired them has not really changed.

He has in him something of the dual nature of our own General Wolfe, the conqueror of Canada, who, as all schoolboys know, said he would rather have written Grey's 'Elegy' than take Quebec. If ever, by the grace of God, Europe enters upon an era of dependable peace in his life-time, it is quite certain that he will show in sociology the same drive and vision that he has hitherto shown in international and internal politics.

This is a side of his character which is rarely shown to the British public by those who comment upon him. It is, probably, a side completely overlooked by our diplomats in their dealings with him.

In writing thus of Hitler, the man, I have no desire merely to 'glorify' him or to seem to condone some of the acts and measures which he has found necessary during the six years of his autocracy to bring his people from the slough of odium and distress to their old position as a great nation able to bargain on terms of equality with their neighbours. My only desire is to give a sound perspective to the portrait of him in British minds, and to show that the ogre is, as I wrote a year ago, a human being of great culture.

In early 1939 after Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia Rothermere wrote 'a very indiscreet letter to the Fuhrer congratulating him on his walk into Prague' and urged Hitler to follow up his coup with the invasion of Romania. In June 1939, with war clouds gathering, Lord Rothermere wrote to Hitler, 'My Dear Fuhrer', again - a final love letter as it were - before war and Lord Rothermere's death signalled the end of their relationship:

"My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country...The British people, now like Germany strongly rearmed, regard the German people with admiration as valorous adversaries in the past, but I am sure that there is no problem between our two countries which cannot be settled by consultation and negotiation."

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Tony Cliff on the revolutionary roots of International Women's Day

This year marks the centenary of International Women's Day, now celebrated across the world on 8 March - and still of critical importance today given the continuing reality of women's oppression. Tony Cliff, author of among other things a 1984 work on Class Struggle and Women's Liberation, once described how International Women's Day originated with the German revolutionary Marxist Clara Zetkin at a 1910 international conference of socialist women in Copenhagen.

'Zetkin proposed the adoption of 8 March as International Women’s Day. (Both the date and the idea were taken from a demonstration of American socialist women in New York on 8 March 1908 in opposition to the bourgeois suffrage movement there.) The proposal was approved with enthusiasm by the conference. Beginning in 1911 and continuing until the outbreak of the war, International Women’s Day demonstrations were organised in practically all the main cities of Europe. (Of course the most important one was the single one which took place during the War – in February 1917 – and launched the first Russian revolution of that date.)'

In a 1981 article on 'Alexandra Kollontai: Russian Marxists and Women Workers' from International Socialism, 14 (Autumn 1981) (not yet online but see here), Cliff described how the day took roots in Russia before the 1917 February Revolution:

An International Women's Day was held on 8 March every year since 1911 in a number of countries. The first time the event was observed in Russia was in 1913. It was not held on 8 March but a little earlier, on 17 February, because of fear of police interference. To commemorate the day a special six-page issue of Pravda was published. It contained articles about women workers, the significance of International Women's Day for the socialist movement, and pictures of leading revolutionary women like Clara Zetkin, Eleanor Marx, and Vera Zasulich.

Celebrations took place in five cities: St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Samara and Tblisi. The largest celebration was in St. Petersburg. It was organised by a group of women textile workers and Bolshevik activists such as KN Samoilova and PF Kudelli, who were part of a special holiday committee set up by the Bolshevik-controlled Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP. The main meeting of the day was held in the great Hall of the Kalashnikov Exchange. The Police were there in full force. At the entrance both mounted and regular patrols were stationed. Inside, police occupied the first two rows. Exactly at one o'clock, they closed the doors of the hall and would not allow even those with tickets to enter. Despite this, over one thousand people managed to crowd into the hall. One of the main speakers, a textile worker, Ianchevskaia, summed up the meaning of the assembly thus: 'the women workers' movement is a tributary flowing in the great river of the proletarian movement and giving it strength.'

These words and the general spirit of International Women's Day grated on the nerves of the bourgeois feminist Dr Pokrovskaia. She wrote: 'As we expected, the women workers' day did not protest at all against the subordinate position of wives in relation to their husbands. They spoke primarily of the enslavement of the proletarian woman by capital, and only in passing mentioned domestic subservience... Does personal freedom really have such paltry significance in the eyes of proletarian women that it is not even worth talking about? That is inconceivable! When that same proletarian woman sets up her own women's day, she will give voice to protest against such laws, her resentment of them, and demand t abolition. At the meeting Mme Kudelii was wrong in asserting economic interests are the most important for the woman worker. Personal freedom stands higher. The pet rooster is always full, and the wild eagle is often hungry. All the same, we prefer eagles.'

Her conclusion was simple: all men benefitted from male privilege; women must join together to fight it.

In 1914 it was decided to celebrate International Women's Day with large open meetings in the larger workers' quarters of St. Petersburg. Unfortunately these plans were blocked by the authorities. Ten meetings were requested, but the Government granted only one.

On the 23 February extra detachments of police were on the streets; there a large crowd at the one legal meeting; instead of five speakers there were only two. The others had been arrested on that day, and the police had forbidden substitutes. Many of those present, disappointed and angry, spilled out into the streets, singing revolutionary songs, but they were eventually dispersed by the police, who carried out mass arrests.

Both in 1913 and 1914 deep differences manifested themselves between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks regarding the celebration of International Women's Day. The Mensheviks wanted only women to participate in the celebrations, while the Bolsheviks insisted that International Women's Day should be celebrated not only by working women but the entire working class.

During the war it was far more difficult to celebrate International Women's Day. In 1915 and 1916, despite a government ban, the day was commemorated by small meetings and celebrations.'

However, it was to be International Women's Day in Russia in 1917 that remains the high point, as Cliff noted:

In January 1917 a police report noted that

'the mothers of families, exhausted from endless standing in line at the stores, tormented by the look of their half-starving and sick children, are very likely closer now to revolution than Messrs Miliukov, Rodichev and Company, and of course, they are more dangerous because they represent that store of inflammable material for which one spark will set off a fire.'

It was the women workers of Petrograd who started the revolution of 1917. On 22 February (7 March) a group of women workers met to discuss the organisation of International Women’s Day the following day. V. Kaiurov, the worker-leader of the St Petersburg district committee of the Bolshevik Party, advised them to refrain from hasty action:

'But to my surprise and indignation, on 23 February, at an emergency conference of five persons in the corridor of the Erikson works, we learned from comrade Nikifer Ilyin of the strike in some textile factories and of the arrival of a number of delegates from the women workers, who announced that they were supporting the metal workers. I was extremely indignant about the behaviour of the strikers, both because they had blatantly ignored the decision of the District Committee of the party, and also because they had gone on strike after I had appealed to them only the night before to keep cool and disciplined. With reluctance the Bolsheviks agreed to [spreading the strike] and they were followed by other workers – Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. But once there is a mass strike one must call everybody into the streets and take the lead.'

Not until 25 February did the Bolsheviks come out with their first leaflet calling for a general strike – after 200,000 workers had already downed tools!

The massive wave of strikes and demonstrations was the culmination of years of accumulated anger. As one witness later recounted:

'The working women, driven to desperation by starvation and war, came along like a hurricane that destroys everything in its path with the violence of an elemental force. This revolutionary march of working women, full of the hatred of centuries of oppression, was the spark that set light to the great flame of the February revolution, that revolution which was to shatter Tsarism.'

It was the women workers in the textile industry who elected delegates and sent them round to neighbouring factories with appeals for support. Thus was the revolution detonated. It was, as Trotsky said,

'... a revolution begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organisation, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the working class – the women textile workers.'

It was these same women who fraternised with the soldiers, persuading them to disobey the orders of the officers, and to hold fire:

'They go up to the cordons more boldly than men, take hold of the rifles, beseech, almost command: “Put down your bayonets – join us”. The soldiers are excited, ashamed, exchange anxious glances, waver; someone makes up his mind first, and the bayonets rise guiltily above the shoulders of the advancing crowd. The barrier is opened, a joyous and grateful “Hurrah!” shakes the air. The soldiers are surrounded. Everywhere arguments, reproaches, appeals – the revolution makes another forward step.'

The newly resurrected Pravda acknowledged the revolution’s debt to women in an editorial:

'Hail the women!
Hail the International!
The women were the first to come out on the streets of Petrograd on their Women’s Day.
The women in Moscow in many cases determined the need of the military; they went to the barracks, and convinced the soldiers to come over to the side of the Revolution.
Hail the women!'

Edited to add: Alexandra Kollantai on International Women's Day

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

A Black Radical's Notebook

Interview with the editor of Pages from a Black Radical’s Notebook: A James Boggs Reader

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Rally to defend multiculturalism

Don’t let Cameron divide us!
Weds 9 March
7pm, Friends Meeting House,
Euston Rd (near Euston St)
Hosted by Unite Against Fascism and One Society Many Cultures.
Speakers: Peter Hain MP, Billy Hayes (CWU general secretary), Mehdi Hassan (Journalist), Edie Friedman (Jewish Council for Racial Equality), George Galloway, Dilowar Khan (Executive Director of East London Muslim Centre), Zita Holbourne (TUC Race Relations Committee and BARAC), Jerry Dammers (ex-Specials/ musician), Weyman Bennett (UAF joint secretary), Martin Smith (Love Music Hate Racism), Kanja Sesay (NUS Black Students’ Officer), Sean Vernell (UCU London region), Mike Rosen (broadcaster/poet), Avaes Mohammad (spoken word poet). Chair: Sabby Dhalu (One Society Many Cultures/UAF joint secretary) and Hassan Mahamdallie (author)

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Solidarity with Middle East and North African workers network

Following the meeting on Tuesday attended by Billy Hayes, Katy Clark MP and many trade unionists, this group has set up a website. This will have regular reports of workers' activity, and it also has six suggestions for solidarity and the founding statement of the group.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

For liberation from below in Libya

One might have thought that neo-conservatives would be maintaining a decent, respectful silence of late, as their elitist and ultimately racist belief that democracy and liberation from tyranny in the Middle East was only possible though Western military action and 'humanitarian intervention' received - after the criminal disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan - the final glorious refutation as the people of the region themselves took to the centre stage of world-history, making their own reality by bringing down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. As Medhi Hasan noted,

far from retrospectively vindicating the unilateral, aggressive and militarised approach to democratic reform favoured by the Bush administration in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt vividly illustrate the way in which democratic change can come from within, from "people power". The US approach - "bomb, invade, occupy" - has been made irrelevant. The Tunisian and Egyptian protesters were supported by Facebook, Twitter and al-Jazeera, not tanks, planes and "shock and awe".

Yet if one hoped for a period of silence and reflection - just one minute silence for their victims maybe on behalf of the neo-conservatives, one hoped wrong. Take, for example, the British 'History Tsar' Niall Ferguson, currently busily promoting his new book and TV series.

Ferguson's new work Civilization: The West and the Rest, is essentially like all his other books - about narrating the story of money and power in order to make himself money and power. However, this time around he wants to focus on making the rise of Western imperialism seem acceptable to British schoolkids by taking out the nasty bits of exploitation and oppression associated with it. 'It is partly designed so a 17-year-old boy or girl will get a lot of history in a very digestible way, and be able to relate to it'. For Ferguson, the rise of 'the West' then came about because of something apparently innate about those he calls 'Westerners' and missing from those he calls 'resterners': Basically, 'Western civilisation' magically developed six 'killer apps': competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic, while 'the rest' presumably were some essentially lazy, primitive, backward 'other' - who apparently not only did not help to develop any of these 'killer apps' - but were somehow essentially predisposed not to do so.

Stop me if any of this story sounds in any way familiar. Yep, well done - this racist framework sounds familiar as it was essentially how world history was taught to Ferguson himself when the British Empire was still in full swing, and generations of British schoolkids before him. Yet Ferguson's essentially racist historical philosophy is not only fully in keeping with the 'muscular liberalism' espoused in David Cameron's recent attacks on 'multiculturalism' at home - but also those trying to find intellectual support for the idea of military intervention in Libya and abroad today. For Ferguson, clearly the West has not brought enough death and destruction and carnage to the Middle East in the past - it is clearly high time the West now thought about a new imperial 'civilising mission' as the 40 million or so 'poor, ill-educated young men' of the Arab world are only capable of making 'large-scale and protracted violence'. Indeed, for Ferguson, 'the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East could turn much more violent, with a death toll running into tens or hundreds of thousands. Then they could spark a full-blown war, claiming millions of lives.'

The 'large scale and protracted violence' on display so far in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya has come from the old ruling dictatorships trying to maintain its grip on power using Western arms. Still, I guess its nice for Ferguson to warn of the dangers of a 'full-blown war' in the Middle East which could claim millions of lives - though perhaps such a warning is a bit rich coming from an unrepepentant champion of Bush and Blair's bloody Iraq war.

Rather than the likes of war-mongers like Ferguson giving lessons on winning democracy to heroic Arabs fighting and dying for it in the streets of Tripoli, we should perhaps listen instead to their voices: 'We are against any foreign intervention or military intervention in our internal affairs,' said Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga in Libya’s second city Benghazi last Sunday. 'This revolution will be completed by our people with the liberation of the rest of Libyan ­territory.'

Edited to add: Stop the War statement on Middle East revolutions

There must be no US or British intervention in Libya: the future of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen must be determined by the people of those countries alone.

The uprisings sweeping the Middle East deserve the support of all progressive people. They are directed against autocracies which have denied their people basic rights and the possibility of a decent life.

These autocracies have also, for the most part, depended on the self-interested support of the big powers, the USA and Britain first of all. Western governments have prioritised cheap oil, arms sales and support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians above the rights of the Arab peoples.

The response of the British government to the events of the last month exemplifies this hypocrisy. David Cameron has prioritised arms sales to the region. And the clamour to intervene in Libya has more to do with control of that country’s oil resources than with support for Libya’s people.

The Conservative-Liberal Coalition has followed Tony Blair’s lead in seeing the Middle East entirely through the prism of the interests of BP and British Aerospace. Any British intervention in the region would be directed to furthering those interests, not the freedom or democracy which can only present a challenge to western domination of the region.

Stop the War Coalition is clear that there must be no US or British intervention in Libya or anywhere else in the Middle East under any pretext whatsoever. Such interference over the last century is the root of the region’s troubles, and its continuation will solve none of the difficulties there.

The future of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and all the other states facing popular uprisings must be determined by the people of those countries alone. Solidarity with those fighting for their democratic and national freedom is our obligation.

We can best discharge it by demanding that the government at long last takes its hands off the Middle East and its people, leaving them to settle accounts with their own rulers.

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