Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Christopher Hitchens on finding true love...

Now I know that the neo-conservative journalist is not the best loved person on the Left at the moment for very good reasons, but I recently saw an old copy of Hiya! lying around at work, and I was surprised to see that there was an exclusive 'heartwarming interview' with Hitchens in it. Histomat readers might well have already read this, but just in case they haven't, I reprint the Hiya! interview in full below:

When Hiya! caught up with Christopher Hitchens in his busy Vanity Fair offices, he was in full flow on the phone, eloquently defending the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. "The commonest liberal and Tory jeer against Tony Blair—that he is George Bush's "poodle"—is self-evidently false...who leaned on Clinton and Albright to intervene in the Balkans?" He sees us enter, motions to us to take a seat, and then, while we are getting ready, finishes off his conversation. We catch broken phrases of typical Hitchensian ire, "the barbaric invasion of the hand-loppers and diamond-dealers...after Sept. 11, 2001, Blair told Bush that he would send ground troops to Afghanistan even if the United States would not." With that he slams the phone down, brushes his hair to one side, and apologies for only being able to spare us a few minutes. His boyish charm is irrepressible.

We cut straight to the big question. Refering to his previous conversation about Tony Blair, we ask is it really true that you have fallen for him? He blushes, and his eyes glaze over. He nods. "I'm for Tony". But what about the fact that Blair is married, with kids? What about the long distance between them? Or, for that matter, what about Hitchen's relationship with George Bush? Is that now over? At the mention of Bush's name, Hitchens suddenly jumps forward in his seat, his eyes gleaming. "There is", he tells us, "a huge mass of media and showbiz and academic liberals who take the very name "George Bush" as permission to bid adieu to common sense." The pain in his voice suggests that this relationship is clearly still an important one for Hitchens, and he has not yet found closure on it. We move back to the topic of Tony Blair. What do you see in him? "He took a bold stand against the establishment and against a sullen public opinion and did so on a major issue of principle."

This major issue is, of course, the Iraq conflict. Hitchens is sometimes regarded as 'the George Orwell of today', so does Blair then represent a sort of Winston Smith type figure, isolated in his fight against tyranny? Hitchens nods, and indicates that he appreciates the parallel. Who are the forces of conservatism that Blair had to stand up to to go to war, we ask? Hitchens pauses. "Anti-Americanism in Britain has long been a conservative rather than a radical trope, and dislike for George Bush is very common among the aristocratic remnant, as well as among those who are nostalgic for the British empire that America supplanted after the war." After the war, "most of the groaning and sniping about the missing WMDs comes from the hard right, which has a hold on the Tory party and more than a hold on the tabloid press."

But what of the British anti-war movement? After all, didn't most of Hitchen's old comrades in the International Socialists [now the Socialist Workers Party] oppose the war? At the mention of the SWP, Hitchens snorts, and mutters "renegade pseudo-Bolsheviks". He tells me that they are now engaged in an electoral coalition with George Galloway and members of the Muslim Association of Britain. "Thus, the most reactionary forces in British society are fused in their admiration of the one-party state and the one-god movement".With only Blair left to defend individual freedom? What does he think of New Labour? "Blair's Britain is a sort of post-Keynesian full-employment and welfarist society. Its government makes at least the right noises about Kyoto, the U.N., Palestine, and the International Criminal Court."

Our time is almost up, and Hitchens signals to us that we have time for one more question. Is there anything he doesn't like about Tony? Hitchens looks a little taken aback by the question, perhaps shocked that anyone could suggest something like that after the London bombings. Then he recovers himself, smiles, and turns on his boyish charm. "There are things to dislike about Tony...his rather sickly piety is one, and his liberal authoritarianism, on matters such as smoking and fox-hunting, is another. I can't forgive him for calling Diana Spencer "the People's Princess," or for seeking the approval of the Fleet Street rags, and he is one of those politicians who seems to think that staying "on message" is an achievement in itself." However, he is absolutely determined to defend the new love of his life when he debates with George Galloway on September 14th. As we leave, Hitchens notes of Blair that "it is absolutely necessary that his right-wing and clerical enemies be humiliated..." It is a touching and humble statement of utter loyalty, and a sure sign that perhaps Christopher Hitchens may well have found true love at last.

All Hitchens quotes from here.

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New feature on Histomat: Quote me happy!

We set out to establish a democracy, but we’re slowly realising we will have some form of Islamic republic. That process is being repeated all over.
- Anonymous US official, August 2005, speaking to the Washington Post about Iraq’s future.

I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
- Henry Kissinger, June 1970, speaking about Chile. On September 11th 1973, the US orchestrated a bloody military coup in Chile, led by General Augusto Pinochet.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Terry Eagleton on terrorism.

From this weeks New Statesman:

Ever since the London bombings, the question has never ceased to be asked. How could a group of well-educated, comfortably middle-class men perpetrate such atrocities? How could such fanaticism flourish in peaceful suburbia?

Perhaps we will never know what drove them to destroy Fallujah, set up torture camps and leave London so vulnerable to attack. What turned a nice young Harvard-educated failed oil executive into a child-killer? Was it envy of the east, one of the mighty birthplaces of science and medicine, in contrast to the barbarism of Burger King? Tony Blair seemed to have everything to live for - the prospect of a peerage, a wife with an enormous salary - and threw it all away. Did he have these hateful ideas hammered into him at Fettes or Oxford?

There are, to be sure, plenty of explanations to hand: oil, Israel, failing US hegemony, Oedipal vengeance and so on. But plenty of people run out of oil without feeling the need to attach electrodes to other people's genitals. Maybe giving explanations is just a devious way of seeking excuses. Perhaps we should simply accept that such bestial conduct is beyond the comprehension of civilised men and women, and concentrate instead on resisting this violence with all our might. Nobody wants to deport the entire cabinet. Even so, we have to ask some tough questions about whether their liberty is really compatible with our security.

The esteemed Marxist literary critic also has a more philosophical article on 'The Roots of Terror' in this month's Red Pepper.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Anyone for England? Cricket, New Labour and the Ashes of Empire

I have just finished reading Mike Marqusee's entertaining history of cricket Anyone but England, which has just been republished. The title comes from a particularly gruff quote of Dennis Skinner MP, when asked once by Marqusee who he was supporting in the cricket World Cup. Marqusee's latest thoughts on the Ashes are here, but for a bit of background a piece he wrote before the Ashes started - here provides a better context in my opinion about the state of the game today.

The central theme that emerges is this. Ever since the late Trinidadian intellectual CLR James's classic work Beyond a Boundary in 1963, many Marxists have seen cricket with new eyes. As a leading member of the Trotskyist movement, James met Leon Trotsky in April 1939 in Mexico to discuss 'the Negro question' in America. But in the week he spent in Coyacan, James also had time to discuss his beloved game of cricket with the 'Old Man'. 'Trotsky had said that the workers were deflected from politics by sports. With my past I simply could not accept that...' Growing up in a British Crown colonial dictatorship, the democratic 'British' notion of 'fair play' that epitomises cricket (or rather, defines what is 'not cricket') meant that for James as well as many other Trinidadian fans, cricket matches between the teams of the rich white colonial elite and those of the poor black working class were intrinsically endowed with wider political significances.

By the time James came to write Beyond a Boundary in 1963, he had broken with orthodox Trotskyism and took sport to be a crucial part of popular culture, which in itself he insisted deserved serious study from Marxists. Cricket was about more than a game, it was an art form to be wondered at, and James argued that what happened on the pitch was intrinisically linked to the wider context of society and nation, what happened 'Beyond the Boundary'. James paraphrased Rudyard Kipling's cry 'What do they know of England who only England know?' and asked 'What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?'

James's theory was refined and updated by Marqusee, (just as say, Robin Blackburn in his works on The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery updated CLR James's panoramic account of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins (1938)) in 1995. Marqusee pointed to the crisis of English cricket in the early 1990s and linked it to, among other things, the crisis-ridden and hated Tory Major Government. Moreover, he argued that the roots of the crisis of English cricket not only lay in the fact that it remained under the control of an Old Boys network of elitist 'gentlemen' but also in the crisis of English nationalism that followed the 'End of Empire' by the 1960s. English nationalism as an ideology has been so embued with the British Empire and justifying an essentially white supremacist colonial order that the radical democratic strains of English nationalism had been irreplaceably lost. England as a nation is in decline - globalisation is making us increasingly weak as a world power in economic terms and, under capitalism, as a people we are forever doomed to look backwards and inwards - so therefore English cricket is terminally fucked. That is basically the James - Marqusee thesis laid out - and at least in my lifetime of following the game (from a distance) - it has fitted reality well.

The fact that the 2005 Ashes Test is seeing a revival of sorts in the fortunes of English cricket makes these interesting times indeed. Are we as a nation doing well under Tony Blair? Is Blair's Britain moving us as a people forward? That is the heretical thought that is lying at the back of many English socialist's minds at the moment. It should not stay there long. New Labour don't like cricket and have done nothing to be seen as associated with it - unlike Blair's craven support for Beckham and the English football team. Cricket is hardly 'Cool Britannia' - in fact the long Test matches bring to mind a time when life was slower. This is not surprising - cricket as Marqusee shows has some of its roots in pre-capitalist English society, the 'Merrie England' of legend. I suspect it is this aspect of the Test matches that has made cricket appeal to so many people discovering it for the first time at the moment, in a country with a brutalising culture of long working hours.

Yet there is a more fundamental point here that Marxists should make. The James - Marqusee cricket thesis, for all the brilliant insights into the game it gives, is arguably ultimately flawed. This is not just because it sets itself up to be defeated should England actually be doing well internationally at cricket at a time when socialism in England is not making equally dramatic breakthroughs (though Marqusee rightly points in his article linked to above that growing corporate control of the game will make it very hard going for cricket ever to seriously take off at a popular level). It is that its division of the world up into nations with separate 'national cultures' ultimately confuses more than it explains.

Marqusee argues in Anyone but England that there was a 'democratic', progressive and radical English nationalism associated with the English Revolution and the Chartists that once existed but once the British Empire came along this was lost forever as racist and statist ideological constructs became hegemonic. This is better than the Billy Bragg view which sees English nationalism as something that progressives can and should 'reclaim' today. At least Marqusee does not argue that the Left should try to 'reclaim' the St George's Cross.

But it is still wrong. The vision of a radical progressive democratic 'English' tradition stretching all the way from the Peasants Revolt through the English Revolution to the Chartists as a continuous thread is historically deeply problematic - despite Tony Benn's eloquent insistence otherwise. Of course there have been revolts against oppression and exploitation, and inspiring English radicals and revolutionaries, but they have to be seen in their own specific contexts. Neil Davidson, author of Discovering the Scottish Revolution, in a recent SW article convincingly rejects the idea that 'the left needs to create an alternative national history to counter that of the right — the people’s story as a counter to our island story. This is a strategy that has always proved disastrous in that it remains fixated on the nation'.

Davidson continues:

The definition of a national culture as “a whole way of life” was introduced by the brilliant but deeply reactionary poet and critic, T S Eliot. It was taken up by the socialist writer Raymond Williams. It is, however, an incredibly dangerous idea for the left to embrace... cultures have never been purely national, less so than ever today. Why should they be anyway?

In conclusion, international socialists should not judge Blair's Britain today from the sixes 'Freddie' Flintoff hits. Unless, of course, England go onto to lose the remaining Test matches to Australia - at which point I will declare the James thesis infallible and join in the chorus of those arguing that English cricket is fatally doomed to eternal defeat unless we make a socialist revolution...

Edited to add a link to a recent article on English cricket by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, who, while not a Marxist, also predicts its death here, and also this article by a Marxist cricket lover who reserves particular hatred for the WG Grace impersonator used by Channel Four to advertise the Ashes.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Paying homage to Tom Maguire

Tom Maguire (1864-1895) was born of poor Irish parents on The Bank of East Leeds. In a short life, terminated in poverty by pneumonia, he became an influential socialist and trade unionist. He was a friend and adviser of the likes of William Morris, was a co-founder of the Leeds Socialist League and the architect of the famous Leeds Gasworkers strike of 1891. Dave Renton has written an excellent short piece about his politics here.

Maguire is, then, someone to be remembered. Or at least that is what you might have thought. In Leeds, the Ford-Maguire society had managed to get a plaque put up to him in the centre of the bus station (an area of Leeds where he lived and worked), which I had often passed and admired. It is not usual that plaques are put up to people who deserve to be remembered, let alone socialists. However, over a year ago, the bus station was refurbished and the plaque vanished.

Today, comrades, I decided to do something about this injustice! I wrote the following email to Leeds City Council (currently run by a 'rainbow coalition' of Tories, Liberals and Greens - and it ain't a pretty sight)...

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am just emailing to enquire about the blue national heritage plaque to
commemorate the Leeds socialist and trade unionist Tom Maguire that used to
be up in Leeds Bus Station. Since refurbishment, it seems to have
disappeared - but perhaps it has been put up somewhere else. It was right
that Leeds should remember Maguire when the plaque was put up, and it is
surely right that our city continues to remember his pioneering role in
representing working class people over a century ago.

I recieved the following reply:


Thank you for your enquiry, which has been forwarded to the relevant department who will reply to you in due course.

Customer Service Officer
Leeds Corporate Contact Centre

But then I got a better reply!

Thank you for your enquiry which has been passed to us by the Council's One Stop Centre.

I have contacted the Tom Maguire Society to see if they have any information about the whereabouts of the plaque and have received the following response

'A sore point!

I have written to the Bus-station management twice asking after it but
with no reply.

Time is short so I have not followed it up; I strongly suspect they
have shelved it to make way for vending machines :-(.

Anything you could do to provoke a reply from them would be
appreciated -


PS: It was a RED plaque! We were (are) very proud of that.'

and then finally a further email from the council:

Hello again,
I left a message with Leeds Metro and have just been contacted by someone in their offices.
She tells me that they still have the plaque and have every intention of putting it back on display as soon as a suitable spot is found. They also have to wait for a workman to come and put it up.
Let's hope it sees the light of day again soon.

A victory? Lets hope so indeed! If Metro fail to restore the Red plaque to socialist Tom Maguire then that will further show up the consequences of handing over everything to private companies, and it will be an indelible stain not just upon Leeds City Council - but on New Labour's policy of privatisation as well. I will report further on developments.

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Charles Clarke: Anti-imperialist fighter?

According to the FT, Blair's Home Secretary Charles Clarke thinks those who are opposing his plans to deport turbulent priests are guilty of 'latter-day imperialism'.

I'm speechless.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

A quick question about George Orwell...

...and it's not, how fucking prophetic was this guy? No, I recently read Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) by George Orwell for the first time - and I can recommend it, like most of his stuff, as a great little read to Histomat readers. I found 'Paris' far more entertaining than 'London' in Orwell's account, but that is neither here nor there really.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, it suddenly hit me, why did Orwell chose the name 'Snowball' to represent Trotsky in Animal Farm? In 1984, 'Goldstein' is clearly Bronstein - Trotsky's original surname. In Animal Farm Old Major as Marx is fairly clear (Marx was often called the 'Old Man' or 'Old Moor'), Napoleon as Stalin fits well enough for fairly obvious reasons, but Snowball? Snowball is random as fuck.

This matters to me as I chose the name 'Snowball' as a blogger. 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. Orwell's failure to acknowledge the devastating impact of the Russian Civil War is also relevant here, to say nothing of his pessimism about the possibilities of working class resistance under Stalinism. However, 'Animal Farm' is a novel - if you want to know more about the Russian Revolution read Trotsky himself as well as Tony Cliff's 'State Capitalism in Russia'.

But back to the question - why did Orwell chose the name Snowball to represent Trotsky? Was Orwell saying something about his attitude to Trotsky? Was Trotsky for Orwell a potent weapon against Stalinism but one who ultimately had melted away to nothing (as in Animal Farm)? Or was Orwell trying to say something positive about the Trotskyist movement, hoping that it would 'snowball' in size, and grow rapidly into something substantial? Anyway, answers and thoughts on a postcard to the usual address - the best response might well recieve some sort of reward...


Monday, August 15, 2005

1905 - 2005: The Colonial genocide in Namibia remembered

Just watched a horrific documentary on BBC2 'Namibia: Genocide and the Second Reich', about the annihilation of three quarters of the population of Germany's South West African colony, through the use of concentration camps and slave labour. I urge readers of Histomat to read more about this forgotten brutal act of colonialism at the Peace Pledge Union website, here. Hitler's Nazis therefore did not carry out the first genocide in German history - but followed in a national tradition - and obviously drew on far older discourses about race in German nationalist thought, especially notions of 'lebensraum' ('living space'). But the implications of the genocide in Namibia go much wider than Germany, something the documentary did not explore. One thinks of how Belgium murdered ten million Africans in the Congo in twenty years (see Adam Hochschild's work King Leopold's Ghost ), but lets not forget the real bloody 'Scramble for Africa' took place between Britain and France. Following the slave trade, this new 'Imperialism' continued to ensure life for most Africans was 'nasty, brutish and short'. Fascism in the twentieth century emerged as an ideology out of the 'heart of darkness' of European civilisation itself.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Don't mention the War...of the Classes

After white-washing the British Empire and its bloody past wars, perhaps it is only appropriate that the historian Niall Ferguson now has set himself the task of ideologically waging the new battle for its future. With Steven Spielberg's remake of HG Well's classic The War of the Worlds (1898) currently showing in cinemas, Professor Ferguson thought it timely to ponder in the Daily Telegraph on 'The War of the World' today. 'It is now more than a century since H G Wells published The War of the Worlds' the Professor notes, 'and once again London is under attack.'

Ferguson tells us that 'Wells's story is much more than just a seminal work of science fiction. It's also a work of astonishing prescience. For so much of what it describes was to happen time and again throughout the 20th century...in the century after the publication of his book, the scenes Wells imagined became a reality in cities all over the world - not just in London, but in Sarajevo and Smyrna, in Nanjing and Shanghai, in Warsaw and Berlin, in Hiroshima and Phnom Penh.'

The twentieth century was indeed a bloody century of total war and barbaric destruction. But had cities never been destroyed by invading forces before then? Perhaps HG Wells had been 'inspired' by say, the bombardment of the Egyptian city of Alexandria by British naval warships ('gunboat diplomacy' as it was euphemistically called) in 1882? Ferguson does not ponder such possibilities. In his latest book, Colossus, he argues that the US Empire today can learn a lot from the 19th century British Imperialists about how to rule the world. Indeed, for Ferguson, the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 is one of his models for what the US ought to do in Iraq: act unilaterally and announce that troops will soon be evacuated, but keep them there indefinitely.

However, as Joel Beinin has argued, Ferguson's version of Egyptian history 'is about as reliable as Secretary of State Colin Powell's account of Iraq's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction delivered to the UN Security Council in February 2003'.

As Beinin argues 'Col. Ahmad `Urabi did not simply overthrow the Egyptian ruler, Khedive Tawfiq, in 1882, as Ferguson begins the story. Tawfiq had been installed in 1879 by the European powers in order to ensure the payment of Egypt's foreign debt. He refused to allow the newly established cabinet or the reconstituted Advisory Council of Representatives to exercise any restraint over his powers, especially in financial matters, and he rejected the principle of accountability of cabinet ministers to the Council.

By 1881, dissatisfaction with the khedive's deference to European bondholders' interests led to the formation of a National Party, which combined elements from the army, members of the Advisory Council of Representatives, which Tawfiq had dissolved, and Muslim, Christian and Jewish intellectuals. `Urabi was the leader of a group of Arabic-speaking Egyptian officers who objected to the reservation of the highest ranks for Turkish speakers and opposed Tawfiq's cuts in the military budget to raise funds to pay European creditors. `Urabi and his allies raised the slogan: "Egypt for the Egyptians." Khedive Tawfiq was forced to appear to acquiesce by appointing `Urabi minister of war.

Behind the back of his government, Tawfiq called in the British and French, who sailed their fleets past Alexandria in June 1882. In response, the people of the city rioted, killing about 50 foreigners. Knowing that Tawfiq was collaborating with the British, `Urabi declared him a traitor and took control of the government. The British fleet bombarded Alexandria in July, after `Urabi refused to remove the cannons in its harbor. In August, a British army invaded Egypt, where its successors remained until 1956.'

In 1956, of course, they got kicked out by a mass struggle for national liberation (led by Col. Nasser) - something we can only hope happens to the US and UK today in Iraq - and 'Iraq for the Iraqis' would be quite as appropriate a slogan as any.

But back to Ferguson and his forthcoming book, 'The War of the World'. Ferguson is obviously a great supporter of the war and occupation of Iraq - and he does not want us to pull troops out. Given this, his response to the new 'attack' on London is to not damn the Government for its criminal and disasterous foreign policy - but to damn the Muslim community. In the kind of (racist) spin on HG Wells that you would expect from a neo-conservative reading of the novel, Islamic terrorists are now apparently like the alien Martians. 'We must expect the shadowy figures who lie behind these vicious deeds to try again in the not too distant future...As Wells said of the Martians, "intellects cool and unsympathetic" regard us "with envious eyes, and slowly and surely draw their plans against us".'

Yet Ferguson finds that the British people 'remain perplexingly calm. Financial indicators of volatility and confidence were only momentarily affected by the 7/7 bombings...Yet, re-reading Wells, I am struck by the close resemblance between our present unruffled state of mind and the mood of confidence - not to say complacency - he depicted in late Victorian England on the eve of the Martian invasion.'

Perhaps the good Professor should look beyond 'financial indicators'. But moreover, perhaps the people of England can see something that the Professor apparently cannot - that the reason we are now getting bombed is because the British Government has a history of going and bombing other people? But just as Ferguson chooses not to see the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882, so he chooses not to see the bombardment of Baghdad in 2003 or the bombardment of Fallujah in 2004. There are none so blind as those who choose not to see. The rest of Ferguson's vitriol against Muslims in the article is the sort of racist fare that the Daily Telegraph have a history of publishing, and I am loathe to publish it on this site. In essence, Ferguson seems to have bought into Samuel Huntingdon's Clash of Civilisations theory - and for him, the coming battle between the 'West' and 'fundamentalist Islam' is the coming 'War of the Worlds'. He fears that the West is 'divided' by the Muslim enemy within - and so he compares them to aliens because he wishes they could be treated as the English army in HG Well's War of the Worlds tried to fight off the Martian threat. It is worth remembering that Ferguson is no isolated figure outside the mainstream of contemporary academic debate - he is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard - and has been described by The New York Times as "the greatest British historian of his generation".

The media hysteria and hatred of Muslims is now at the level that it was after September 11th 2001, as the intellectual apologists for Empire try to soften us up to the need for this new war our rulers want to wage on Islam. Sir John Keegan, the Daily Telegraph's defence editor, argued in similar vein on the 8th October 2001. "Westerners fight face to face, in stand-up battle and go on until one side or the other gives in . . . Orientals, by contrast, shrink from pitched battle . . . preferring ambush, surprise, treachery and deceit . . . This war belongs within the much older conflict between settled, creative productive westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals." See here. The likes of Keegan and Ferguson can whip up hatred free from fear the fear that they might be arrested or deported for doing so under Blair's proposed new laws. They can carry on 'condoning', 'justifying' and 'glorifying' acts of state terrorism in the time-honoured British tradition.

What is the alternative to this barbaric 'Clash of Civilisations', this racist 'War of the Worlds' that our rulers so desperately want?

It is, to point out, as Chris Bambery does in this weeks Socialist Worker, that 'there is a clash of cultures in Britain. It is between working people and those who take us into imperialist wars and who impose neo-liberalism at home and abroad'. In short, quite simply, we have to act to defend our multicultural society against the racists, we have to act against the war and we have to support working class people resisting exploitation.

We cannot hold out hope that Steven Spielberg, having remade the British socialist HG Well's The War of the Worlds, will now turn his attention to say American socialist Jack London'sThe War of the Classes. Hollywood has made films of Jack London's novels about wolves (The Call of the Wild, etc), but is not about to make a film about one of his ones about class struggle, despite it being the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World. The class war, that has been viciously waged for some time now by our rulers from above, is another war that it is definitely preferable to avoid mentioning if at all possible. Yet it is this war - the War of the Classes - that is the real 'War of the Worlds'.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Romantic anti-capitalism of Iron Maiden

In keeping with the new 'cultural turn' on Histomat, I have decided to attempt to explore from a Marxist perspective a band closer to my heart than Oasis - Iron Maiden. To the best of my knowledge, Marxist commentary on Iron Maiden has been slim, yet again this is a band that has been going, in one form or another for thirty years now, and deserves some sort of critical appreciation. Iron Maiden always stood apart from the mainstream of metal bands which came to prominence in the 1980s - being distinctive both musically and lyrically. This is not the place to go through all the diverse influences and interests of the band - in particular the main songwriter Steve Harris - which range from GK Chesterton and a concern with English nationalism, to a kind of religious millenarianism, obsessed with the Book of Revelations, prophesy, and witchcraft. In the 1980s, as a band they were clearly influenced by the peace movement and the dangers of nuclear holocaust, and an anti-war message runs though many of their songs as a constant (see The Trooper, Two Minutes to Midnight, Paschendale).

In this post, I want to highlight the strand of 'Romantic anti-capitalism' that runs though Iron Maiden, as I feel this has often been overlooked by socialists, who tend to just see the mythicalism and mysogynism of the band and turn away. To be fair, songs with titles like 'Charlotte the Harlot' and 'Bring your daughter... to the slaughter' hardly bring to mind Marx's sublimation of the Hegelian dialectic, still less say Rosa Luxemburg on women's liberation.

The phrase 'Romantic anticapitalism' was used by Hungarian Marxist philosopher Georgy Lukacs to describe his 'pre-Marx' period before the First World War.

'Originally, say in the young [Thomas] Carlyle or in [William] Cobbett, this was a genuine critique of the horrors and barbarities of early capitalism — sometimes even, as in Carlyle’s Past and Present, a preliminary form of a socialist critique. In Germany this attitude gradually transformed itself into a form of apology for the political and social backwardness of the Hohenzollern empire.'

The period that Romantic anti-capitalism emerged was therefore the period of the first half of the nineteenth century, during what Eric Hobsbawm has called the 'dual revolution'. In the aftermath of the political French Revolution that erupted in 1789, and in the context of the economic 'industrial revolution', many people across Europe experienced huge changes in their lives. Capitalist relations of production spread, peasants were kicked off their land and moved to the industrial centres to look for work, and new urban centres emerged. A new historical consciousness emerged among many intellectuals as the old religious concepts and explanations of society in terms of the actions of just Kings and Queens no longer were able to explain the popular revolutions that were taking place. But while class conflict was recognised by some for the first time as being central to explaining historical change, a new interest in 'people's history' was also sparked by the rise of nationalism.

There was therefore always a tension in 'Romantic anti-capitalism' - it hated the new system of wage slavery but had no idea about what to replace it with and so just idealised pre-capitalist relations of production, harking back to a mythical 'golden age' where everyone supposedly lived together in harmony and peace.

The romantic anti-capitalism of Iron Maiden can be seen in one of their best known songs - Run to the Hills, about the destruction of the native American Indians by the invading European colonial settlers.

Run to the Hills (Harris)

'White man came across the sea
Brought us pain and misery
Killed our tribes killed our creed
Took our game for his own need

We fought him hard we fought him well
Out on the plains we gave him hell
But many came too much for Cree
Oh will we ever be set free?

Riding through dustclouds and barren wastes
Galloping hard on the plains
Chasing the redskins back to their holes
Fighting them at their own game
Murder for freedom a stab in the back
Women and children and cowards attack

Run to the hills run for your lives
Run to the hills run for your lives

Soldier blue on the barren wastes
Hunting and killing their game
Raping the women and wasting the men
The only good Indians are tame
Selling them whisky and taking their gold
Enslaving the young and destroying the old

Run to the hills run for your lives'.

Maiden's sympathy is overwhelmingly with the 'redskins', the victims of 'modernisation', but their desire for 'historical realism' forces them to try to understand what motivated the new settlers to commit genocide (hence the switch in narrative in verse three). A clearer example, The Clansman, which tells the story of the barbaric Highland Clearances in the 18th century, places full sympathy with the Scottish clans.

The Clansman (Harris)

'Wake alone in the hills
With the wind in your face
It feels good to be proud
And be free and be a race
That is part of a clan
And to live on highlands
And the air that you breathe
So pure and so clean
When alone on the hills
With the wind in your hair
With a longing to feel
Just to be free
It is the right to believe
In the need to be free
It's a time when you die
And without asking why
Can't you see what they do
They are grinding us down
They are taking our land
That belongs to the clans
Not alone with a dream
Just a want to be free
With a need to belong
I am a clansman...Freedom

It's a time wrought with fear
It's a land wrought with change
Ancestors could hear
What is happening now
They would turn in their graves
They would all be ashamed
That the land of the free
Has been written in chains
And I know what I want
When the timing is right
And I'll take what is mine
I am the clansman
And I swear to defend
And we'll fight to the end
And I swear that I'll never
Be taken alive
And I know that we'll stand
And we'll fight for our land
And I swear that my bairns
Will be born free
And I know what I want
When the timing is right
And I'll take what is mine
I am the clansman'

Once again Iron Maiden are on the side of the victims of capitalist 'modernisation' and 'progress', even if what they are celebrating instead is a Clan system of feudal hierachy which was also exploitative and oppressive for the peasants. Yet this song in particular is firmly in the tradition of 'romantic anti-capitalism', undoubtedly inspired by Sir Walter Scott's novels (or perhaps the Mel Gibson film BraveHeart).

Yet while Iron Maiden can rage against the world system, they have absolutely no idea about how to change things. This is not something to be surprised at, or to criticise them for - they are ordinary people like anyone else and do not pretend to be politicians. However, their songs also do give a very good insight into what Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci called the 'contradictory consciousness' of working class people under capitalism, which is the norm outside of periods of high class struggle or for those who are not members of collective class conscious organisations. One song off their latest album epitomises where not just Maiden, but also millions of working people in Britain today are at now, politically speaking.

Age of Innocence (Harris/Smith)

I can't be compromising in my thoughts no more
I can't prevent the times my anger fills my heart
I can't be sympathizing with a new lost cause
I feel I've lost my patience with the world and all

And all the politicians and their hollow promises
And all the lies, deceit and shame that goes with it
The working man pays everything for their mistakes
And with his life too if there was to be a war

So we can only get one chance can we take it
And we only got one life can't exchange it
Can we hold on to what we have don't replace it
The age of innocence is fading.......like an old dream

A life of petty crime gets punished with a holiday
The victims' mind are scarred for life most everyday
Assailants know just how much further that can go
They know the laws are soft conviction chances low

You can't protect yourselves even in your own home
For fear of vigilante cries the victims wipe their eyes
So now the criminal they launch right in our face
Judical system lets them do it, a disgrace

Despondent public worries where it will all end
We can't protect ourselces our kids from the crime trend
We cannot even warn each other of evil in our midst
They have more rights than us, you cannot call that just

So we can only get one chance can we take it
And we only got one life can't exchange it
Can we hold on to what we have don't replace it
The age of innocence is fading.......like an old dream
The age of innocence is fading like an old dream'

This song reflects both the 'common sense' of the British working class today (a fear of violent crime out of control, essentially hysteria whipped up by the right wing tabloid press) but also what Gramsci called the 'good sense' of the working class. 'I can't be compromising in my thoughts no more', 'I can't prevent the times my anger fills my heart', 'I feel I've lost my patience with the world and all' - all this reflects the feelings of millions of people in Britain today - tired of a failing neo-liberal economic agenda which always puts big business first and ignores the needs of ordinary people around the world.

'And all the politicians and their hollow promises
And all the lies, deceit and shame that goes with it
The working man pays everything for their mistakes
And with his life too if there was to be a war.'

This shows the 'romantic anti-capitalism' of Maiden at its best - articulating the feelings of millions of working class people in Britain after Blair's criminal and disasterous war on Iraq. George Lukacs before the First World War, as Alex Callinicos notes, 'saw the position of humankind as a tragic one, caught up in a fragmented and meaningless modern world from which any sense of understanding things as a whole had been lost. His astonishing rapid conversion to revolutionary Marxism in 1918 led Lukacs to see the proletariat as the source of this missing totality. Initially this led him into what Michael Löwy calls a kind of revolutionary 'messianism', in which the proletariat functions as a kind of seventh cavalry.' One suspects that, should the Iraq war continue to descend on its current bloody spiral, then global capitalism might have a legion of very angry Iron Maiden fans to deal with. The Age of Innocence is over.

For Maiden lyrics to analyse to your hearts content, see here

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The Utopian Socialism of Oasis

Firstly, yes, this post is indeed a further step from my original intention with Histomat to have a blog that celebrated glorious moments in past class struggles. I am aware that from discussing Galloway to discussing the Gallaghers might well seem a bridge too far for many Histomat readers. However, Marxism does have something to say about culture, even though the exact relationship between Marxism and art is a matter of quite considerable debate. Leon Trotsky in Literature and Revolution put it like this:

'It is very true that one cannot always go by the principles of Marxism in deciding whether to reject or to accept a work of art. A work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art. But Marxism alone can explain why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a given period of history; in other words, who it was who made a demand for such an artistic form and not for another, and why.'

There is a danger though when analysing popular culture of either stating the obvious or coming across as ridiculously pretentious and missing the bloody obvious. I ought to admit here that I am not a massive Oasis fan, that I find their music lacks originality, and if you want an expert's analysis of Oasis you will need to look elsewhere. That said, their new album does seem to mark a 'return to form' for the Gallagher brothers and in particular, their latest single 'The Importance of Being Idle' stands out, for me passing 'the law of art'. It is a great song and the video is not bad either - and it is really this song that I want to look at. I will put up the lyrics:

Oasis - The Importance Of Being Idle

I sold my soul for the second time
Cos the man, he don't pay me
I begged my landlord for some more time
He said "Son, the bills waiting"

My best friend called me the other night
He said "Man, are you crazy?"
My girlfriend told me to get a life
She said "boy, you lazy"

But I don't mind
As long as there's a bed beneath the stars that shine
I'll be fine
If you give me a minute
A mans got a limit
You cant get a life if your hearts' not in it

I lost my faith in the summertime
Cos it don't stop raining
The sky all day's as black as night
But I love complaining

I begged my doctor for one more line
He said "Son, words fail me"
It ain't no place to be killing time
But I guess I'm just lazy

I don't mind
As long as there's a bed beneath the stars that shine
I'll be fine
If you give me a minute
A mans got a limit
I cant get a life if my hearts' not in it'

This is about a far a cry from the 'Cool Britannia' that saw Noel Gallagher shake hands with Tony Blair in 1997 as you can get. This is a song about the bitter class reality of life in Blair's Britain today, where the only jobs available pay you shite and the only thing worse than not having a 'McJob' is not having one, and having to trawl around agencies feeling worthless.

The song is clearly inspired by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), and not only in the title. The first lines, 'I sold my soul...cos the man, he don't pay me' bring to mind Wilde's 1891 essay on 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism', which begins:

'The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody'.

One thinks too of Wilde, in the lyrics 'As long as there's a bed beneath the stars that shine I'll be fine', in particular his famous quote about how 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.' Wilde dreamt of another world, a future socialist society where machinery would serve human needs and human's would flourish as creative individuals. Marxists have traditionally regarded Wilde as something of a 'utopian' socialist, for daring to imagine what socialism would like. From Marx onwards, Marxists felt socialism would not be about the moral dreams of a few thinkers, which would be inevitably limited by the horizons of their imagination, but would be built by a world working class itself, acting for itself and in control of its own destiny. What mattered now was how to get there - 'what is to be done?' as Lenin put it.

Yet there have always been a few Marxists who tried to fuse the new 'scientific' and the old 'utopian' socialism. Karl Marx's son-in-law, French socialist Paul Lafargue for example in 1883 wrote a popular pamphlet, The Right to Be Lazy. Dave Renton has written about this work far better than I could, but needless to say the theme is very similar to that echoed by Wilde and now Oasis. Work under capitalism is not just a tyrannical process, working for some totalitarian corporation where democracy is an anaethema. It is also a profoundly alienating experience, working for 'the man' as a cog in a machine until work ends and you can escape and go back to doing what makes you feel human again. Yet often what you do 'outside work' is 'work' of a sort - but it is enjoyable as you have control over the products of what you have done.

Anyway, what to make of Oasis then? It would be wrong to make them out to be as consciously socialist as say, Wilde or Lafargue. However, The Importance of Being Idle does reveal a utopian socialist strand to the Gallagher brothers that I suspect could be traced back through much of their back catalogue. It should be remembered that Oasis have supported workers struggles (like the Liverpool Dockers) as well as campaigns (Unite Against Fascism). This is not to say that there are not other far less progressive strands influencing Oasis as well, but that is, in a sense, irrelevant. What Marxism should attempt to explain is less the nuanced political leanings of Noel and Liam Gallagher, reactionary or progressive, but why they have grown to huge popularity and mass success in Britain and internationally. Here, the fact that they are culturally working class artists, even if they are now multi-millionaires, is of central importance. Their remarkable success is in part because their songs speak of life as it is for millions of people, who have been on the recieving ends of a vicious class war waged from above over the last twenty or so years. At a time when working hours in Britain have soared to record levels yet real pay has stagnated, Oasis in their best work have related to the feeling of what it is like to live dominated by the experience of working for 'the man'. The sky may be as black as night, but there are always some who look at the stars.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Then they came for George Galloway...

Blair's new proposed legislation against 'extremism' is another massive attack on civil liberties, the Muslim community and freedom of speech in general. 'Condoning', 'justifying' or 'glorifying' acts of terrorism will become criminal offences as Britain gets its own version of the Orwellian sounding 'Patriot Act'. But one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. And equally, one person's freedom fighter is another's terrorist. Perhaps Max Hastings will be prosecuted for defending those who ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Max Hastings in the Guardian last week played down President Truman's need to counter the imperial ambitions of the Soviet Union in the Far East as the key motive for this act of terror that killed 140,000 innocent people sixty years ago. No, it is not military historians who casually condone, justify and glorify the deaths of millions in wars, still less those politicians who wage such wars today who will be targetted. Blair is coming for Muslims and anyone like Galloway who dares to speak the truth to power. New Labour promised us a 'New Britain' - they are building us a police state.

For an interesting interview with George Galloway, see here

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Point of departure: Robin Cook and the politics of socialism from above.

Three words will always be associated, for better or for worse, with the name of Robin Cook - 'Ethical', 'Foreign' and 'Policy'. Of course, what Cook apparently actually argued for in 1997 was an 'ethical dimension' to foreign policy, one where human rights would be a central priority, but that is now by-the-by. He became Foreign Secretary after a record of principled opposition to nuclear weapons and the Tory policy of 'Arms to Iraq'.

Hopes were high, but were quickly dashed. One of the first demonstrations I ever went on was a lobby of Labour Party conference in 1998. I distinctly remember carrying a placard 'Solidarity with East Timor - Arms Sales [to Indonesia] = Blood on Blair's hands'. The profits of the likes of British Aerospace came before those people unfortunate enough to suffering under Suharto's dictatorship.

The next year, things got worse. 1999 was the year that 'humanitarianism' adopted a 'military dimension', as Clinton and Blair decided to use the plight of Kosovan Albanians under Milosovic as a pretext for bombing the people of Serbia. Of course, the British Government cared so much about the Kosovan refugees that we took only one twentieth of the amount of refugees taken by Germany, and those we did take were soon deported back out of Britain to return to homes bombed out and covered with depleted uranium. Yet the mass media echoed the idea that Milosovic was a 'fascist' and so once again we went to war.

Throughout this time, of course, the Blair regime had been at war with the Iraqi people - a hidden war of bombing them to enforce 'no fly zones' and also throttling them to death through (United Nations) sanctions. If you suffer from withdrawal symptoms for Bill Clinton (a rare condition, I know), remember the one million Iraqi people killed throughout the 1990s by these genocidal sanctions - 500,000 of them children. That's about ten times the amount killed so far by George Bush - or at least twice the amount killed by him and his dad, George Bush senior, put together.

Cook of course famously resigned from the Blair regime before the war on Iraq 'proper' began, and became of the most eloquent critics of 'The War Against Terrorism'(TWAT)(now rebranded as the 'Struggle Against Violent Extremism'(SAVE)) - to his credit. But lets not forget what he was doing while Foreign Secretary. Blair's wars did not start in 2001 or 2003 - they began in 1997.

Two things in particular need to be noted here. Firstly, as anyone who as much as glanced at Mark Curtis's excellent book, Web of Deceit, will know, this all fits into a far older pattern of British imperialism, allied to American power, dating from the end of the Second World War. Cook's belief that he could make a difference to this well entrenched military-industrial complex with a few choice words shows enormous naiveity bordering on the irrational. Yet it was the logical route to follow for someone who believed that the British state could act in an 'ethical' fashion if only the right people were 'in charge'.

The second thing to note is that the dictatorships in Indonesia and Serbia were not toppled by military action waged by the West (who had previously propped up said dictatorships) - but by revolution from below - by the ordinary people of those countries themselves rising up together in an unstoppable movement for democracy. This happened in Indonesia in 1998, and Serbia in 2000. Those revolutions were not expected or planned by the West - they were spontaneous outbreaks of real democracy. For the Blair regime, the people of countries such as Serbia were regarded as at best 'victims' - at worst racist nationalists - but never as agents of change in their own right. That is why they 'needed' to be bombed, so they could be 'saved'.

The real tragedy is this. As a young socialist intellectual, Robin Cook had a choice. For someone his age, who undoubtedly became radicalised politically by the events of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, the US Civil Rights movement, 1968 and all that, that choice was brilliantly set out in a 1966 pamphlet by American Marxist Hal Draper, The Two Souls of Socialism.

Draper noted that 'there have always been different ‘kinds of socialism,’ and they have customarily been divided into reformist or revolutionary, peaceful or violent, democratic or authoritarian, etc. These divisions exist, but the underlying division is something else. Throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between socialism-from-above and socialism-from-below.

'What unites the many different forms of socialism-from-above is the conception that socialism (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite which is not subject to their control in fact. The heart of socialism-from-below is its view that socialism can be realised only through the self-emancipation of activised masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history. ‘The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves’: this is the first sentence in the rules written for the First International by Marx, and this is the first principle of his life work.'

Draper concluded by noting that 'the fact is that the choice between socialism-from-above and socialism-from-below is, for the intellectual, basically a moral choice, whereas for the working masses who have no social alternative it is a matter of necessity. The intellectual may have the option of ‘joining the establishment’ where the worker does not; the same option holds also for labour leaders, who, as they rise out of their class, likewise confront a choice that did not exist before. The pressure of conformity to the mores of the ruling class, the pressure for bourgeoisification, is stronger in proportion as personal and organisational ties with the ranks below become weak. It is not hard for an intellectual or bureaucratized official to convince himself that permeation of and adaptation to the existing power is the smart way to do it, when (as it happens) it also permits sharing in the perquisites of influence and affluence.'

Cook took the road of 'socialism-from-above', and by the time of his death, even though a leading critic of the war, was unwilling to return to the politics of building a mass movement against militarism - something he had done in the early 1980s as part of the Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament. He had become 'bourgeoisified'. At a time when the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq is a matter of urgency, the loss of someone like Robin Cook is a blow to everyone in the anti-war movement. We should not, however, forget the ideal of an 'ethical foreign policy' as something to aim for. But surely we should be more realistic and pragmatic than Robin Cook when it comes to the question of how to get such a policy? A real ethical foreign policy will not come from some well meaning socialist Labour MP (are there any still left?) climbing up the greasy pole of power to deliver us from evil - it can only come from below, from ordinary people, us, ourselves, building up the links between each other internationally, and together struggling for peace, equality and social justice.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Great minds think alike...

Police in Beeston shut down a bookshop full of anti-war literature including Socialist Worker last month. Nice. See here


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tristram Hunt - what a...

...Blairite bastard. In the latest issue of the New Statesman, Cambridge University historian Tristram Hunt has an cover article 'Why Britain is great'. Hunt begins badly, talking in a racist fashion about 'Islamo-fascism claiming lives in London, Madrid, Amsterdam and elsewhere.' 'As I write, highly educated if wholly uncivilised human beings are travelling underground, trying to kill me. But their aim is to murder more than just me, or you. Despite the appeasing rationalisations of John Pilger - that it wouldn't happen if only we cut and run from Iraq, or if we stopped supporting Israel - these terrorists are engaged in an assault on our way of life. As the Prime Minister has rightly suggested, British values are the true target of the terrorists.'

So for Hunt, we are right back to the 'Blitz' again, with Muslims as Nazis, anti-war voices as 'appeasers of fascism', and Blair as Churchill. Oh dear. Its like a neo-con wet dream. But why then haven't we evacuated London as they did during World War II? Why haven't gas masks been issued? Why aren't British Jews fleeing to America for safety?

Hunt continues, arguing the left in England can no longer refuse to 'engage with the virtues of nationhood'. Here he invokes the spirit of Orwell's The Lion and the Unicorn (1940) to help him out. 'It was, of course, George Orwell who famously pointed out the prevarications of British intellectuals over patriotism. In his essays he ridiculed their embarrassed avoidance of nationalism while he revelled in England's invincible suburbs, its old maids, its pillar boxes and pigeon-fanciers.' A little unfair to Orwell it might be suggested. Orwell was a far more complex thinker than Hunt suggests - see for example Orwell's essay 'Not counting Niggers' in 1939, where he hammered the fact that those who celebrated 'Englishness' had to ignore those in British colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, who had a rather different view of what English 'democracy' meant.

Hunt's 'progressive' vision of Britishness 'beyond the conservative trinity of royalty, church and army' that he thinks we 'desperately need desperately to defend' is revealing. 'Like other western and non-western nations, we have a history of promoting the type of gender, racial and sexual equality reviled by misogynistic mujahids. From the Married Women's Property Act 1882 to the Race Relations Act 1976, Britain has progressively advanced the cause of personal equality.' What a Whiggish view of the struggle for equality! How progressive our politicians have been! How grateful we should all be! Forget the Chartists, the suffragettes, the civil rights movement in Britain - we are so enlightened as a nation we recognised black people as equals in law as early as...1976. And if Hunt thinks we are such an enlightened society, perhaps he should go and talk to the parents of murdered black teenager Anthony Walker in Liverpool. I am sure they will have a rather different view of 'Great Britain'.

Hunt describes 'a stirring list of progressive British attributes: political pluralism, rationalism and radicalism, nonconformity and anti-clericalism, representative democracy, technological inventiveness, entrepreneurialism, religious tolerance (seen to such effect in differing attitudes to the hijab in France and Britain) and moral internationalism, from the anti-slavery movement to Make Poverty History.' Fine - one wonders just quite how 'British' some of these are - are they not universal progressive values? For example, leave aside whether 'enterpreneauralism' is 'progressive, just how British is it? I am reminded of something George Bush once said: 'The problem with the French is that they have no word for "entrepreneur"'...

The hypocrisy of what Hunt is saying becomes apparent when he argues that 'Unfortunately, our otherwise progressive government has not always acted to protect these cultural traditions.' Too right. Perhaps he is referring to the Terrorist legislation, Shoot to Kill etc, all of which erode ancient civil liberties? But no, Hunt is referring to, er, Fox Hunting. 'The French newspaper Le Figaro rightly remarked on the irony of MPs outlawing fox-hunting - a historic component of British culture in art, literature and the very contours of our natural heritage - while happily allowing in Muslim clerics committed to destroying British values.' You what? The 'British' value of free speech can be torn up and destroyed if Muslim preachers attack British foreign policy in their speeches, but Fox Hunting epitomises 'the best of British'?

Hunt then makes possibly the most amazing statement in the whole article. 'By bending over backwards to accommodate the cultures and religions of migrant communities, we have been in danger of undermining the very ideals that attracted immigrants here to begin with. One of the few politicians brave enough to confront this dilemma has been David Blunkett...Blunkett himself has happily broken with the left's usual reserve on these matters, speaking of his patriotic ardour for English music, poetry, drama and humour.' Humour? David Blunkett? David Blunkett as cultural critic? Perhaps Hunt ought to be reminded of Blunkett's statement echoing Margeret Thatcher by talking of immigrants 'swamping' our culture. That was real funny. Perhaps Hunt ought to read more about Babar Ahmed - a British citizen in Belmarsh prison without having a fair trial because the US think he is a terrorist. Is this about the British values of 'fair play'? One wonders quite why anyone would want to come to Britain today...

Having celebrated David Blunkett, it is not surprising that Hunt goes on to echo racist fears about immigration and asylum. 'It is often suggested that a central component of Britain's history is its openness to radicals and insurgents. Turning the capital into "Londonistan" during the 1990s was, we are assured, no different from Victorian London welcoming in Marx and Engels. But the critical difference was that both of those men adored England. Engels loved English poetry - entertaining guests with his rendition of "The Vicar of Bray" - and chose the coast near Eastbourne as his final resting place. Marx was never happier than in sleazy Soho dens, walking on Hampstead Heath or retreating to the British Library.' Right, so migrant workers and political refugees can come to Britain, but only if they 'adore England'. How tolerant we are! But did Marx and Engels really 'adore England'?

Here is Frederick Engels on the English middle class, the class lauded recently on television by one Tristram Hunt. 'I have never seen a class so deeply demoralised, so incurably debased by selfishness, so corroded within, so incapable of progress, as the English bourgeoisie; and I mean by this, especially the bourgeoisie proper, particularly the Liberal, Corn Law repealing bourgeoisie. For it nothing exists in this world, except for the sake of money, itself not excluded. It knows no bliss save that of rapid gain, no pain save that of losing gold. In the presence of this avarice and lust of gain, it is not possible for a single human sentiment or opinion to remain untainted. True, these English bourgeois are good husbands and family men, and have all sorts of other private virtues, and appear, in ordinary intercourse, as decent and respectable as all other bourgeois; even in business they are better to deal with than the Germans; they do not higgle and haggle so much as our own pettifogging merchants; but how does this help matters? Ultimately it is self-interest, and especially money gain, which alone determines them. I once went into Manchester with such a bourgeois, and spoke to him of the bad, unwholesome method of building, the frightful condition of the working-peoples quarters, and asserted that I had never seen so ill-built a city. The man listened quietly to the end, and said at the corner where we parted: "And yet there is a great deal of money made here, good morning, sir." (Frederick Engels, The Condition of the English Working Classes, 1845 - here) Today Tristram Hunt makes a great deal of money by passing off racist lies about Muslims as intelligent comment, while praising a Government that wages criminal and disasterous wars that kill thousands of Muslims abroad. He certainly does the English middle class proud.

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