Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Pierre Broue, revolutionary historian, R.I.P.

Histomat has been criticised of late for generally being 'bone idle' and failing to celebrate the deaths of Fascist John Tyndall and Tory Ted Heath in a suitable manner. I can only plead guilty - and apologise. Similarly, and more seriously, in the aftermath of the bombings, I have also been criticised for not commenting on the British state's murder of the young Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes. He was killed for simply doing what we would all do when confronted with what must have looked like a group of violent psychopathic muggers wielding guns - run for your life. He never made it.

But the writer of this blog is unfortunately not going to be able to comment on current events as they happen. If you want such a blog, go to something like this If you want to know more about what to do about this, go to here or here

However, there is one recent death that has provoked me to comment - that of French Trotskyist historian Pierre Broue. He was 79, and had fought in the French resistance against Nazism in the Second World War. After passing through the Young Communist League, he became a Trotskyist and remained a revolutionary Marxist until the end. The French historical school of revolutionary history is one of the finest in the world, with a tradition going back to Jules Michelet, and Pierre Broue deserves to be remembered alongside such figures as Louis Blanc, Jean Jaures, Albert Mathiez, Georges Lefebvre, Albert Soboul, Aulard, Daniel Guerin. Yet while they dwelt on the Great French Revolution, Broue, ever the internationalist, defended the historical record against the 'Stalinist school of falsification' for the social revolutions of the Twentieth century in Germany, Russia and Spain (see in particular his joint work with Emile Temime, The revolution and the civil war in Spain). Personally, I will always hold Pierre Broue in my memory as I once wrote a 12,000 word dissertation on Stalin's Terror, an attempt to try to further explore an idea in an article by Broue on the '1932 bloc'. I fear I failed to do him justice, and my dissertation was not well recieved by my (conservative) tutor in any case, but I still maintain that Broue's argument is worth exploring and indeed holds the key to understanding why Stalin's Terror went deeper than Stalin's paranoid psychology. The Russian historian Rogovin, author of 1937, Stalin's Year of Terror, has written about Broue's thesis in depth - and one of Rogovin's speeches on the topic, for those interested, can be found
here Broue identified with those genuine communists who resisted Stalinism even in the darkest period of the Twentieth century, just as he always stood with those on the recieving end of counter-revolutionary brutality. I will put up more links/tributes/obits to this inspiring scholar and heroic revolutionary as they appear.

SW Obituary

Ian Birchall

Broue history archive

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Top Marx for Karl - Philosopher of revolution

Karl Marx has recently been voted the Greatest Philosopher of Our Time by Radio Four listeners. If it was not such an 'un-Marxist' thing to do I would just gloat and say 'Hume are ya?' 'Hume are ya?' like a deranged loon. As it is, I will simply put up a link to a speech I saw the late Paul Foot give to a day school in 2004 to celebrate the reprinting of Alex Callinicos's The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx. I aim to write in more detail about Marx and the modern world on this blog when I have more time, but for now let us salute the Old Man.


The roar of bombs and the deep sleep of England

The seventh of July ("7/7") will be one of those dates that remains engraved on the consciousness of British people for the foreseeable future at least. Everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing when the London bombs went off. Personally, I was on a train from Colchester to London Liverpool Street station at the time. No one knew what was happening, but there was talk of a 'power surge' and then a train crash of some sort. The train stopped at Chelmsford, then turned back.

The London bombs were the bitter fruit of British foreign policy with respect to the Muslim world, in particular in the Middle East. If you are going to declare a war on 'terrorism', then it is probably important to avoid acting like a terrorist state yourself. If you are going to bomb another country, then don't be surprised or shocked if you get bombed back. Blair's regime can blame 'evil' Islamists to its hearts content for the attacks, but it is only doing so to avoid taking its fair share of the blame for what happened.

It is not surprising that the British Government and mass media want to divert attention from what is going on in Baghdad and towards what is going on in Beeston. What is now happening in Iraq, where deaths from bombings happen on a daily if not hourly basis, gives the lie to the myth that the 'British tradition' is somehow free from violence and oppression, a myth that is being pumped out today by politicians and media commentators. The Queen declares 'our way of life' will not be disturbed by the bombings, as if the lives of British people was only one of sitting around drinking tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Blair talks of British 'civilisation', and the bumbling idiot Boris Johnson talks of the need for the 're-Britannification of Britain'. In the Telegraph, Johnson complained that if only more British teenagers knew more about British history, then school kids would not become suicide bombers as they would be 'proud' of Britain's achievements. He thought it a real problem that so few school kids knew which 'great Briton' defeated the Spanish Armada. Yeah, because Francis Drake's moral vision ("There is plenty of time to win this game, and to trash the Spaniards too") is such a helpful one in the twenty-first century.

In fact, if more school kids did learn about the real history of British imperialism they might actually have a better hope of understanding the present crisis. When asked what he thought of 'Western civilisation' on a visit to Britain in 1931, Gandhi, who had been imprisoned by the British for demanding Indian independence, said he thought it would be a good idea. Yet Gandhi did find a spirit of solidarity with his struggle in Britain. It was not to be found among the ruling elite of Britain, still less among the then Labour Government which offered fine words but little else, but among ordinary people such as the cotton workers he visited in Lancashire.

It is this spirit of internationalism, solidarity and tolerance that has defined ordinary people in Britain at their best. We saw that spirit on the streets of London during the huge anti-war protests in 2003, and actually there is every chance that we will see it again in the aftermath of the bombings. Indeed, if the media told the real story about what was going on now in Beeston, they would report of 300 hundred local people at a vigil to commemorate the victims of the bombings on Thursday lunchtime. The worlds media were there, but few reported their two minutes silence. Why? Because it showed Muslims and Christians, black, asian and white, all united together as a community. If the racist backlash against Muslims is to be resisted, then such unity from below will be of critical importance. New Labour, with their talk of 'rooting out' the 'evil' in Muslim communities, can only further spread mistrust and suspicion.

More importantly, the new unity from below after the bombings can be the bedrock for a new unity for peace and justice. As Seamus Milne pointed out in the Guardian, the disasterous war on Iraq is key to understanding why London was targeted, something only really George Galloway has so far articulated among the members of Parliament. Another George, George Orwell once warned of the 'deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.' We have heard the bombs roar. The political establishment desperately hope that ordinary people stay 'asleep', without raising awkward questions about why what happened happened. But the necessary drastic change in British foreign policy that is so badly needed can only come about as a result of us asking such questions of authority again and again in our millions.

Edited to add a couple of links relating to the aftermath of the bombings in Leeds - see here and

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

One Harry Potter, two trainspotters and a demonstration of people power; Dispatches from the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh

'It's about telling the leaders we want the debt to be cancelled, that we want trade to be fair, but its also about showing solidarity with people in Africa, standing up for people who have been ignored for hundreds of years'. Those words of Caroline, 20, a voluntary worker in Leeds summed up the feelings of many people I spoke to on the journey up to Edinburgh. Like many others on the train, she had come with friends from her Church, and all of them were committed and passionate about 'making poverty history'. Gareth, a young worker, optimistically spoke of the public reaction surrounding the MPH campaign. 'Its just cool to see people getting hold of something. It takes an event like todays to get people to think "Lets do something here".' The Christians on the train ranged from members of the Mother's Union to young students who had 'took a bit of time off school' in the build up to the war on Iraq in 2003. There were many families, and almost everyone was dressed in white. Many of them had taken part in the protests at Birmingham in 1998 when the G8 last met in Britain, but for others it was their first national demonstration. A group of young school students, their faces painted with slogans, represented the real spirit of this new generation, shattering the stereotypes of young people as 'anti-social yobs' as they are often portrayed by the media and politicians. One of them, Elinor, 17, noted that when the politicians were kids, 'there were things for them to do - our generation is left with a kind of hopelessness, but I think its really wonderful that so many other young people gave up their Saturday and are making the effort to go up to Edinburgh.'

The train itself was described as 'heritage', which meant it was quite slow and often stopped for apparently no reason in random places. Yet when we finally reached York, the two trainspotters who were there (at 7am Saturday morning!) couldn't believe their luck, manically taking pictures. Apparently, the train had been used in the Harry Potter movie and had a 'Hogwarts' template on the side as well. Yet the train was not just full of Harry Potter reading families on what Gordon Brown called a 'moral crusade'. There was a group of Ethiopians, for example and I spoke to two mature African students living in Leeds, Furious Chitongo from Zimbabwe and Fideus Chebe from Cameroon. Furious was highly critical of the role of multinational capital in Africa, noting that the IMF met with Mugabe last month to discuss business. It was good that the G8 leaders were talking about debt relief but she felt 'they may be doing it for their own hidden agendas'. Fideus said 'we have to reconceptualise what poverty is - it is not just about money, not just about gift aid, it is about justice, democracy, decency, human rights and freedom.' He felt that 'real politics' was 'people power', not what the politicians did and said.

Also on the train up was Juan Carlos Galvis, a human rights officer for SINALTRAINAL, a Food and Drink Workers Union in Columbia. He was in Britain as part of a speaking tour for the Columbia Solidarity Campaign and to raise awareness about the human rights abuses there, including assassinations and intimidation of trade unionists. In Columbia, an average of 19 people, many civilians, die in political violence every day. 'There is no justice, impunity reins' as a result of state sponsored terrorism. Right wing paramilitaries were rampant. He wanted in particular to raise the issue of the international boycott of Coca- Cola, and their day of action coming up on the 22nd July. I asked him what he thought of Coke's attempt to sponsor Live Aid. He said it was an 'amoral calculation' but he was not surpised as the company do the same in Columbia. 'They sow terror inside the plant while using its money to sow a good image outside.' His message for those also protesting against the G8? 'In order to oppose globalisation we have to globalise our solidarity. We have to take the initiative into our own hands. We can build a better world than the one dictated to us by multinational companies.' The magificent demonstration of people power in Edinburgh, as about 300,000 people marched in possibly the biggest demonstration in Scottish history, shows once again that another world is possible.

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