Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

International Socialism 151 out now



Issue 151 of International Socialism includes Alex Callinicos’s analysis of the crisis in the Tory party caused by the referendum (written before the result - a different version will appear online soon), Eduardo Albuquerque on Brazil, Ralph Darlington on the fight against anti-trade union laws in the past and today, Ron Margulies on Islamophobia in Turkey, Camilla Royle on the Anthropocene and Max van Lingen on the Dutch Socialist Party plus John Newsinger on 'imperial silences from Rhodes to Surabaya'...

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Where next after the Leave vote?


Celebrating Cameron's resignation - 'Oh my God, the quarterback is toast!'

After the historic EU vote and the fact that Cameron is now toast, come and discuss where next at Marxism 2016...

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Paul Foot on why socialists oppose the EU

[In his last posthumously published book, The Vote (2005), the campaigning socialist journalist Paul Foot stressed that the EU was part of the infrastructure of international capitalism like the IMF and World Trade Organisation, just another a 'capitalist bureaucracy' counter-posed and quite hostile to 'popular democracy' from below. As Foot wrote, 'The bureaucrats who put together the Treaty of Rome were at best uninterested, at worst downright hostile to extending democracy’, as the new political structure enshrined ‘an appointed Commission, with a huge supporting bureaucracy far out of the reach of any electorate’. ‘The plain fact [was] that membership of the European Community meant a transfer of power from elected Parliaments to the unelected European Commission’ while the European Parliament was actually completely powerless and open to corruption, as ‘the MEPs power and authority went down almost as fast as their salaries and expenses went up’. Writing in the Guardian on the EU in 2004, in what must have been one of his very final pieces of writing, Paul Foot re-emphasised why socialists stand against the EU. The essential truth of his argument, that while 'Another Europe is possible, another EU is not', it seems shines through as clearly and cogently as it did then - which is arguably why those socialists who rallied around the independent banner of a left exit - or #Lexit - this time around were right to do so]: 

I voted no in the 1975 referendum on EEC entry and will do so again in the European constitution referendum - whenever that finally happens. In 1975, I was uneasy about some of the company I was keeping. Very rightwing Little Englander Tories for instance, not to mention fascists. But the class lines were clearly drawn. The rich, almost without exception, were for a yes, the workers and the poor for a no. The Labour party and the TUC were for no on two solid grounds. First, the EEC was a capitalist club designed to cut down the influence of the workers. Second, its institutions were created by capitalists for capitalists and were therefore less democratic and more corrupt even than the parliamentary democracies of its member states. Those objections seem just as powerful today.

The basic class issues may be the same, but the party lines have shifted. The bulk of the Tory party, which, under Thatcher, called for a yes vote, now calls for a no. So does its new lunatic and xenophobic fringe, Ukip. In 1975, the yes campaign spent much more than the no. That may not happen again. All sorts of millionaires are throwing their ill-gotten gains at the no campaign. On the left, the bulk of the parliamentary Labour party (better known as the war party) is for a yes. Some trades unions are still doubtful, but the TUC general council is already starting to bow and scrape to Blair on the issue, and will probably end up snivelling surreptitiously for a yes.
In these circumstances it is vitally important that those of us on the left who want to vote no keep our distance from the rightwing campaign. Internationalists, socialists and greens who oppose the European constitution because it will drag us further down into the corporate whirlpool, emasculate trade unions and further deregulate an already rampant private enterprise, are a million miles away from the narrow nationalism of Michael Howard or Robert Jingo-Silk. We cover a wide spectrum. Even those who favour the mildest Keynesian economics, or the right to organise and strike against capital, or the right to speak out and vote for social democratic policies, will find themselves in opposition to the proposed constitution.
We must not allow our voices to be confused with the clamour of the Murdoch press. Our votes may end up in the same place, but the reasons for those votes need to be spelled out independently and separately...

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

#Lexit: The Left Case Against the EU

Saturday, May 28, 2016

#HistoriansforLexit



I was very disappointed to see so many otherwise decent progressive - some even radical and socialist - historians lining up with reactionary, pro-imperialist and racist historians like Niall Ferguson and Michael Burleigh* to sign this letter in the Guardian this week:

As historians of Britain and of Europe, we believe that Britain has had in the past, and will have in the future, an irreplaceable role to play in Europe. On 23 June, we face a choice: to cast ourselves adrift, condemning ourselves to irrelevance and Europe to division and weakness; or to reaffirm our commitment to the EU and stiffen the cohesion of our continent in a dangerous world.

Would any seriously progressive, radical or socialist historian sign such a statement?  Lets deconstruct it a little:

We believe that Britain has had in the past, and will have in the future, an irreplaceable role to play in Europe.

Yes - certainly since becoming a major imperial power in the 18th century, Britain has played an 'irreplaceable' role in Europe - that much is true in the sense it is historically accurate. Will it have an 'irreplaceable' role to play in Europe in the future?  Well, as one of the world's richest countries and still an imperialist power in its own right, it seems destined to have such a role in the near future - whether we leave or remain in the EU - simply because we tend to follow America in terms of our foreign policy and so while America remains a dominant (but declining) imperial power on the global stage, all this seems true.  In the long term, Britain's role in Europe depends on our economic and military might - but this looks unlikely to fade away in the short to medium term, whether we stay or leave in the EU.  What any of this has to do with progressive, radical or socialist thinking however is another question.

On 23 June, we face a choice: to cast ourselves adrift, condemning ourselves to irrelevance and Europe to division and weakness...

Would Britain  really be so 'adrift' and 'irrelevant' - and Europe even more 'divided' and 'weak' if Britain left the EU - given the balance of forces in terms of British capital / imperialism vis a vis European capital?  

...or to reaffirm our commitment to the EU and stiffen the cohesion of our continent in a dangerous world.

Again, is there anything inherently progressive, radical or socialist about reaffirming one's commitment to the EU - part of the infrastructure of capitalism like the IMF or World Bank?  As for 'stiffening the cohesion of our continent in a dangerous world' - again - what is progressive about this?  It implies the rest of the world outside of Europe is 'dangerous', while 'our continent' needs strengthening - this seems to me to rest on some appeal to ideas of white European supremacy against the 'darker nations' of the world which are rooted in racist and colonialist discourses.  How is stiffening the cohesion of European identity going to bring down the borders of Fortress Europe?  How is 'stiffening the cohesion of European identity' going to block the rise of dangerous and poisonous racist and fascist parties within Europe such as in Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, etc etc?    

I do wish most of the historians who had signed this statement had read it properly and not signed it - even if they do believe in remaining in the EU.  There is nothing internationalist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist or even just vaguely progressive about this statement at all.  By signing it they have been recruited into an argument between different sections of our ruling class - and so lined themselves up alongside the likes of Niall Ferguson and Michael Burleigh and so behind the American Empire and the vast bulk of international and British capitalism who know that it is in their interests for Britain to stay in the EU.   What is needed is at the very least for socialist and radical historians to be making their own arguments for or against the EU independent of our ruling classes - and ideally for socialists and radicals to be making the case that 'Another Europe is Possible - but another EU is not' - and for a genuinely internationalist and anti-racist argument against the EU - in other words a campaign of #HistoriansforLexit.   

* On Michael Burleigh, remember Eric Hobsbawm even refused to speak to him.

Edited to add: Keith Flett on why EP Thompson would in all likelihood vote #Lexit

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

International Socialism #150 out now



The latest issue of International Socialism journal is out now, with articles including Nicolas De Genova on 'Towards a Marxist theory of borders', Megan Trudell on 'Sanders, Trump and the US working class', and Shaun Doherty on the Irish Easter Rising plus discussion of Podemos, Shakespeare, Pakistan, the German Revolution, and Marxism and women's liberation.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Marxism and History



The two classic essays by Chris Harman collected together in the very useful volume Marxism and History (1998) are now both freely available online at the Marxist Internet Archive - the 1986 essay Base and Superstructure (which drew comments in response from Colin Barker, Alex Callinicos and Duncan Hallas - you can also listen to a debate on the topic here) - and the 1989 essay From feudalism to capitalism . Those interested in further discussions of Marxism and History might also like to check out these two conferences coming up in London in late June / early July - 'Radical Histories' and 'Marxism 2016'.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Refugees welcome here - Stand Up to Racism national demonstration


Refugees welcome here now! UN Anti-Racism Day national demonstration - Saturday 19 March - London, Glasgow, Cardiff

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