Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dead King Watch: James I

James I died on March 27 1625, which makes today the 381st anniversary of his death, if my maths hasn't completely deserted me. Born in 1566, James was a direct descendant of Henry VII, through his great-grandmother Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. James ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 until his death, and, from the 'Union of the Crowns', in England and Ireland as James I from 24 March 1603 until his death. FraVernero has made some excellent points in the comments below, written before I wrote what follows, but I want to just briefly run through his life.

James's parents were rather interesting - his mother Mary, Queen of Scots had been married to Francis II of France, but he had copped it in 1560, leaving Mary to return to Scotland alone. However, in 1565, she seems to have fallen for Henry Stuart Darnley, son of the Earl of Lennox, who she described as the 'lustiest and best-proportioned lang man she had seen'. She made him Earl of Ross - which was as good as marriage. However, soon afterwards, she realised Darnley was merely a playboy and utterly useless as a King and consort but by then many Scottish nobles had been appalled at this new attempt by them to jointly rule Scotland, and had unsuccessfully rebelled. Moreover, by then she was pregnant - and it was into this stormy world that James was born.

Yet James was not to know his father Darnley, who was strangled in 1566 ( his mother Mary was executed with the consent of Queen Elizabeth I in 1587) - leaving him James VI, King of Scotland aged 1. James therefore relied on male courtiers throughout his life, and we can see signs of his homosexuality beginning with his relationship when he was 13 with his older relative Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox.

In 1586, aged 20, James VI and Elizabeth I became allies under the Treaty of Berwick. James sought to remain in the favour of the unmarried Queen of England, as he was a potential successor to her Crown. When his mother Mary was executed for her crimes in 1587, her Scottish supporters became weak and James managed to significantly reduce the influence of the Roman Catholic nobles in Scotland. He further endeared himself to Protestants by marrying the young Anne of Denmark — a princess from a Protestant country and daughter of Frederick II of Denmark—by proxy in 1589. At first, James and his new queen were close, but gradually drifted apart. The couple produced eight children, three of whom survived infancy and one who was stillborn.

In 1590, James attended the North Berwick Witch Trial, in which several people were convicted of having used witchcraft to create a storm in an attempt to sink a ship on which James and Anne had been travelling. This made him very concerned about the threat that witches and witchcraft were apparently posing to himself and the country. In 1597, he wrote Daemonologie, a treatise on demonology. As a result, hundreds of women were put to death for witchcraft; their bodies were later found in what was then called Nor Loch (now Princes Street Gardens).

Despite this, James pretended he was an intellectual. He wrote books on what he called kingcraft, stressing the 'Divine Right of Kings' but really all about how to use trickery and cunning to maintain power, such as The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598) and Basilikon Doron (1599). The latter incidently apparently lists sodomy among those 'horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience never to forgive'. This was ironical as by 1603, when, with the death of Queen Elizabeth, James VI became James I, King of England, his homosexuality seems to have become common knowledge. Nonconformists said 'Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen'.

In power, James was indeed different from Elizabeth. As AL Morton notes, James, 'coming from Scotland, with its undeveloped industries and negligible foreign trade, failed to recognise the political importance of the London merchants and quickly alienated them by his cautious and finally pro-Spanish foreign policy.' This infuriated Protestants and merchants and brought no gain to James, as the navy decayed. His only serious concession to Protestant feeling seems to have been bringing in one uniform Bible - the King James version - in 1611.

Moreover, the difference between James and Elizabeth was because of the existence of a Parliament in England - or at least some sort of democracy - which in Scotland James had not had to worry about tremendously. He prefered to get on with his private interests - such as his detestation of the practise of smoking, which he described as 'a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless'.

But now he found others subjecting his policy to scrutiny. This was an outrage to him: 'As to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, so it is sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in height of his power. I will not be content that my power be disputed on'. Parliament responded by affirming its right 'to debate freely on all matters which properly concern the subject and his right or state' - thus prompting James to dissolve it in 1610 and from then until 1621 only one Parliament was briefly called (in 1614).

Moreover, he now needed capital. With the Crown deep in debt, James blatantly sold honours and titles to raise funds. In 1611, he used letters patent to invent a completely new dignity: that of Baronet, which one could become upon the payment of £1,080. One could become a Baron for about £5,000, a Viscount for about £10,000, and an Earl for about £20,000. Blair's 'cash for coronets' scandal, which is brilliantly pilloried by Mark Steel here, can, it seems be dated back to the early 1600s - though to be fair to James, he was a King who thought he ruled with Divine Hereditary Right - not apparently leader of a 'Democratic Socialist' Labour Party.

After alienating the London merchants by making peace with Spain, James did not try to win back their trust. Indeed, things deteriorated. 'Traders complained of the attacks of pirates even in the English Channel. In 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh, the leader of the party pressing for war against Spain, was allowed to go to South America at the head of an exhibition in search of gold. He returned unsuccessful and was beheaded at the demand of the Spanish ambassador to the great disgust of the trading classes who regarded his activities as natural and praiseworthy.'

This turn in foreign policy led to a sea-change in domestic politics - as previously the Catholics had led opposition - even violent terrorism against the Crown - think of the Gunpowder Plot as late as 1605 - now were tolerated and indeed became loyal supporters of the Crown. For Morton at least, this is of tremendous import: 'The Puritans, drawn from the classes which had been the main supporters of the Tudors, were correspondingly driven into opposition to a regime which they believed, not altogether correctly, was working to restore Catholicism to England. In this way opposition to the Crown became identified with patriotism and the monarchy with the section of the population widely believed to be in league with foreign enemies. By their foreign policy the Stuarts abandoned what had been the main source of the Crown's strength - its alliance with the most historically progressive class in the country.'


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Will Hutton: The last Blairista

Has Will Hutton lost it?

'The call for Blair's head betrays motives other than wanting to clean up politics. The right's motives are obvious; mud sticks and if they can force Blair's departure at a time of their choosing rather than his then they will have put Labour on the defensive, a position from which it will be difficult to recover. But I am baffled by the left. By helping create this perfect storm they are ensuring that Brown's inheritance will be irretrievably poisoned. They are joining New Labour's enemies to tar and feather an astonishing political success story because they cannot do it by argument - and in so doing damn the next Labour leader into managing a level of internal toxicity that will be fatally disabling.'

I must have forgotten New Labour's 'astonishing political success story', what was it again?

'Any sustainable left politics has to come to terms with the reality that the good society is plural rather than organised from the top down; that a way has to be found to marry equity and individualism; and that if Labour is to build a majority coalition it must include the rich (and those ambitious to be rich) who also believe in social justice and the public interest. It is possible both to want the best for yourself and for others. This may be new territory for the British left, but it is a winning formula.'

Ah yes, as Peter Mandleson put it, New Labour 'are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'. This was indeed 'new territory for the British Left', who traditionally had been less than relaxed about a section of society getting filthy rich off the backs of the labour of the vast majority of society. But New Labour's 'astonishing achievement' had been to do absolutely nothing to reverse the vast redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest that had taken place under Thatcherism and indeed they let the growing gap between rich and poor continue. Quite remarkable. Well, Hutton thinks so:

Blair 'is right, like Deng Xiaoping, to try to tell his party that it is glorious to be rich. It is not enough to argue abstractly that entrepreneurship is crucial to economic success - you have to embrace it warts and all. Only then can you start to debate how to make capitalism more honest.'

If only the Left understood the need to follow 'Deng Xiaoping thought' like Our Dear Leader Tony. We should all repeat it like a mantra. British schoolchildren should all learn Deng's revolutionary slogans off by heart.

It is Glorious to be Rich.
It is Glorious to be Rich.
It is Glorious to be Rich.
Only Then Can We Make Capitalism More Honest.

Hutton continues:

'Blair's millstone is Iraq, but while I opposed the war I am beginning to revolt against the certainty with which apocalypse is now universally predicted. Democracy does in the long run deliver results; and the West cannot be blamed for the murderous enmity between Shia and Sunni. Democracy may be the best way to mediate it.'

Perhaps children of the Blair Revolution will have another slogan to learn:

Democracy Delivers Results.
War Brings Peace Not Apocalypse.

'The analogy with Vietnam is telling. Today it is becoming obvious that American strategy in Asia from 1945 - seeking communist containment while encouraging democratic capitalism - was right. Vietnam bought a crucial 15 years; when Mao died, Deng Xiaoping won power on a prospectus that China had to follow the success demonstrated by the Asian tigers between 1960 and 1975. As a result, 400 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. History is littered with unintended and unexpected consequences. And in Iraq, today's gloom may prove to be as overdone as yesterday's optimism.'

Wonderful stuff, and more lessons for students of Deng Xiaoping thought:

Vietnam Bought 15 Years.
Deng Xiaoping Brings Success.
Deng Xiaoping Makes Poverty History.

Hutton ends with a wonderful and fitting tribute to Tony Blair, student of Deng Xiaoping thought:

'Blair has overseen a fundamental shifting in British politics to the benefit of ordinary people.'

Perhaps too this will be shortened and written up on classrooms up and down the country:

Blair Brings Benefit to Ordinary People.

'And media critics from the left need to ask themselves precisely why they make common cause with the left's enemies'.

Remember, kids:

To Attack the Leader is to Strengthen His Enemies.

'Blair remains, however battered, the great persuader and the man who created the new coalition. If he's prepared to carry on soaking up the punishment, the liberal left should be grateful. When he's gone he'll be sorely missed.'

Indeed so, but Hutton should take heart. For even though he might one day be gone, Blair's legacy will remain thanks to his understanding and development of Deng Xiaoping thought - which might be shortened to the following simple slogans:

Deng Xiaoping was The Great Helmsman.
Tony Blair is The Great Persuader.
War is Peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.

[[For the Memory Hole:
Tiananmen Square Massacre, Two million dead in Vietnam, Napalm, US bombing of Laos and Cambodia, Pol Pot, etc. etc.
Replace with : 'seeking communist containment while encouraging democratic capitalism was right']].

Labels: ,

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dead Queen Watch: Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603, which makes today the 403rd anniversary of her death. She was born in 1533 and ruled from 1558 until her death. Elizabeth is one of the most popular monarchs in English or British history, and she has been played by many of Britain's most established actresses, from Judi Dench to Helen Mirren, from Miranda Richardson to Cate Blanchett. She even came seventh in the BBC's 'Greatest Britons' poll (2002), outranking all other British monarchs. Given the competition on offer here from other monarchs, this is of course hardly that much of a feat, but I suspect that it is high time that we had another more critical look at the life of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, who he had married once he knew she was pregnant. The court physicians and astrologers all told Henry that the baby would be a boy, and the court was even moved from Windsor to Greenwich, so that the baby could be born where Henry was born. Elizabeth was then born into a world where she was not really wanted - what the Tudor dynasty wanted was a male heir. Her mother accordingly quickly lost favour and in 1536 was to be executed, when Elizabeth was just three years old. It is likely that Elizabeth had no memory of her disgraced mother, though she was now described as a 'royal bastard' and the court discussed the possibilities of marrying her off to some foreign prince or other. When Elizabeth was just nine years old, Henry tried to marry his son Edward to Mary, Queen of Scots and marry Elizabeth off to Lord Arran, but this fell through. Two years later, when she was eleven, it was proposed that she should marry Philip of Spain, son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Again, this fell through.

In terms of personality, Elizabeth grew up an active and intelligent child, far more like her mother than her father though from her father she did inherit his vibrant red hair. Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward VI. Edward VI's Protector, Edward Seymour (Duke of Somerset) had a brother Thomas Seymour (Baron of Sudeley) who now married the dead King Henry's wife, Catherine Parr. Catherine and Thomas, who was also Lord High Admiral, took the teenage Elizabeth into their household at Chelsea. There, Elizabeth learned to speak or read six languages (her native English, as well as French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Latin) and under the influence of Catherine Parr was raised a Protestant. Yet living with Seymour and Parr was a rather dodgy arrangement, as Thomas Seymour seemed to make all sorts of sexual advances towards the young Elizabeth while she lived in his house. She was eventually sent away to Hatfield, as Catherine felt things had gone way too far. Elizabeth's experiences with Seymour may well have been a factor in explaining why she never married as a monarch.

In 1553, when Elizabeth was twenty, her half-brother King Edward died at the age of fifteen, having left a will which purported to supersede his father's. Contravening the Act of Succession 1544, it excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from succeeding to the throne and declared Lady Jane Grey to be his heiress. Lady Jane ascended the throne, but was deposed less than two weeks later. Armed with popular support, Mary rode triumphantly into London, her half-sister Elizabeth at her side.

Mary I contracted a marriage with the Catholic Spanish prince Philip, later King Philip II of Spain, and she worried that the people might depose her and put Elizabeth on the throne in her stead. Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554 sought to prevent Mary from marrying Philip and put Elizabeth and her friend, Edward Courtney, on the throne instead. This was not a successful rebellion and after its failure, Elizabeth was imprisoned by her half-sister in the Tower of London. There were demands for Elizabeth's execution, but few Englishmen wished to put a member of the popular Tudor dynasty to death. Mary attempted to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession, but Parliament would not allow it. After two months in the Tower, Elizabeth was put under house arrest under the guard of Sir Henry Bedingfield; by the end of 1554, when Mary was falsely rumoured to be pregnant, Elizabeth was allowed to return to court at Philip's behest. Philip seems to have been attracted to Elizabeth and, worried that his wife might die in childbirth, wanted to ensure Elizabeth would succeed to the throne rather than Mary I of Scotland. This period of imprisonment and then limited freedom was not a happy time for Elizabeth, who fell ill.

For the remainder of her reign, the staunchly Catholic Mary persecuted Protestants, and came to be known as "Bloody Mary" because of a desire to present her assertion of authority as cruel. She urged Elizabeth to become a Catholic, but the princess kept up a skilful show of allegiance to suit her ambitions while Mary and Philip became more and more unpopular. Then in November 1558, Mary died and Elizabeth, aged 25, finally became Queen.

What was England like in 1558, when Elizabeth became Queen?

Firstly, political life was expressed through religion to a great extent and the Counter-Reformation of Mary Tudor had been deeply unpopular and Elizabeth was determined to try and get some sort of religious settlement - 'The Church of England as by law established'. As AL Morton noted, 'the authority of the Pope was once more abolished, and a slightly modified form of royal supremacy, that is of the subordination of the Church to the State, was substituted. At the same time, the form of organisation existing in the Catholic Church, government by the bishops and an elaborate ecclesiastical hierachy was preserved. The more uncompromising and democratic forms of Protestantism were avoided...Protestantism assumed the form most compatible with the monarchy and with the system of local government created by the Tudors. The parson in the villages became the close ally of the squire and alsomst as much as part of the State machine as the Justice of the Peace.'

England was also country racked by monetary 'debasement' - inflation - which had led to repeated price rises, wage cuts and trade thrown into confusion. AL Morton in his People's History of England noted that one of her first acts of her Government 'was to call in the whole coinage in 1560...this stabilisation, coming at the end of the period of enclosures and of the plunder of the Church, marks a definite stage in the consolidation of the position of the bourgeoisie in England, at the opening of an era of armed struggle with Spain for the more intensive exploitation of the world market'.

The Spanish Armada

Elizabeth's reign was then one beset by the struggle against Spain and so the Catholic Church - and complicated by Mary Stuart in Scotland. While Mary was alive, open struggle was unlikely and instead there were all sorts of 'plots' and Catholic 'risings' against Elizabeth. However, with the death of Mary in 1568, all bets were off. In her will, Mary had left Philip her claim to the English Throne; under force of the threat from Elizabeth's policies in the Netherlands and the east Atlantic, Philip set out his plans for an invasion of England. In April 1587, Sir Francis Drake burned part of the Spanish fleet at Cádiz, delaying Philip's plans. In July 1588, the Spanish Armada, a grand fleet of 130 ships bearing over 30,000 men, set sail in the expectation of conveying a Spanish invasion force under the command of the Duke of Parma across the English Channel from the Netherlands. Elizabeth encouraged her troops with a notable speech, known as the Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, in which she famously declared, 'I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too! And I think it foul scorn that Spain or Parma or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm'.

The Spanish attempt was defeated by the English fleet under Charles Howard, Second Baron of Effingham and Sir Francis Drake, aided by bad weather. The Armada was forced to return to Spain, with appalling losses on the north and west coasts of Ireland; the victory tremendously increased Elizabeth's popularity. The English had lost no more than one hundred men in the whole action. AL Morton notes that 'the defeat of the Armada has often been regarded as something of a miracle: in fact it would have been a miracle if it had succeeded' - as the English and Dutch had developed 'a totally new method of war' - with faster small ships laden with artillery rather than relying on close encounters and 'grappling' - human hand to hand combat with troops - as the Spanish still did.

Yet the defeat of the Spanish Armada was a turning point in English history - both with respect to domestic and foreign policy, as Morton notes. 'Up to 1588 the English bourgeoisie were fighting for existence: after that they fought for power...it was the merchants, with their own ships and their own money, who had won the victory and they had won it almost in spite of the half-heartedness and ineptitude of the Crown and Council.' Morton continues: 'The war with Spain, especially in its earlier stages, was less a national war than the struggle of a class against its class enemies at home and abroad. It was carried on mainly by the English merchant class both against Spain as the centre of the reactionary and feudal forces in Europe and against their allies in England, the Catholic section of the nobility. Nothing is more surprising than the depth and sincerity of the religious convictions of many of the English seamen of the Sixteenth Century. Their Protestantism was the religion of a class in arms.'

More than this, 'the victory transformed the whole character of the class relations that had existed for a century. The bourgeoisie became aware of their strength and with the coming of this awareness the long alliance between them and the monarchy began to dissolve. It might still need their support but they no longer needed its protection. Even before the death of Elizabeth, Parliament began to show an independence previously unknown. The war with Spain, therefore, can best be understood as the first phase in the English Revolution. First, because it was a defeat for feudal reaction in Europe and consolidated the victory of the Reformation in those areas where it had already triumphed. And, second, because the classes inside England which defeated Philip were exactly those which afterwards led the opposition to Charles. It was a striking fact that at the opening of the Civil War the whole Navy and every important seaport was found to be on the side of Parliament. It was in the war with Spain that these classes had been tempered and mobilised and had developed that sense of being a special people, "the elect", which made their Puritanism so formidable as a political creed.'

Capital, Colonialism and Conquest

Yet what is often forgotten about Elizabeth's life is what the English were doing when when they were not giving the Spanish Armada a damn good thrashing, and this is a story which needs more attention.

Firstly, there was Ireland, which Morton notes 'was the first English colony, the place where they learnt all the tricks of governing subject races.' The Desmond Rebellions occurred in the 1560s, 1570s and 1580s in Munster, a province in southern Ireland led by the Earl of Desmond dynasty and their allies against the efforts of the Elizabethan English government to extend their control. The rebellions were primarily about the independence of feudal lords from their monarch but also had an element of religious conflict (Roman Catholic against Protestant). They were bloodily suppressed and resulted not only in the destruction of the Desmond dynasty and the subsequent plantation or colonisation of Munster with English settlers, but also widespread devastation.

People continued to die of famine and plague long after the war had ended, and it is estimated that by 1589 one third of the province's population had died. Two famous accounts tell us of the devastation of Munster after the Desmond rebellion. The first is from the Gaelic Annals of the Four Masters:

'the whole tract of country from Waterford to Lothra, and from Cnamhchoill to the county of Kilkenny, was suffered to remain one surface of weeds and waste… At this period it was commonly said, that the lowing of a cow, or the whistle of the ploughboy, could scarcely be heard from Dun-Caoin to Cashel in Munster'.

The second is from the View of the Present State of Ireland, written by English poet Edmund Spenser, who fought in the campaign against the Irish:

'In those late wars in Munster; for notwithstanding that the same was a most rich and plentiful country, full of corn and cattle, that you would have thought they could have been able to stand long, yet ere one year and a half they were brought to such wretchedness, as that any stony heart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the wood and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked Anatomies [of] death, they spoke like ghosts, crying out of their graves; they did eat of the carrions, happy where they could find them, yea, and one another soon after, in so much as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of water-cresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able long to continue therewithal; that in a short space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentiful country suddenly left void of man or beast.'

Yet, as Morton notes, 'it proved easier, however, to ruin Ireland than to enrich England by such means...there was neither the surplus capital nor population to permit of large-scale ventures, and what spare capital there was tended to be attracted into trade which promised a far higher return. Consequently, the most significant economic development of the late Tudor and early Stuart period was the birth and consolidation of a number of chartered companies, each engaged in the promotion of trade in a specific area.' Of particular import here was the East India Company, which was given a Charter by Elizabeth in 1600.

The East India Company was, Morton notes, 'the real founder of British rule in India. From the start it was a company of a new kind, better adapted for large scale trade and making a more flexible use of its capital...The East India Company was the first important Joint Stock Company, its members investing so much capital to be pooled and used jointly and receiving a proportionate share of the common profit. At first the shares were taken only for a single voyage, after which the whole proceeds were divided out and fresh shares subscribed for a new voyage. Very soon they were left in from one voyage to another, forming a permanent capital. This gave the Company obvious advantages over the older kinds, allowing a continuous development and making possible large scale enterprises. The Company could afford to wait for a return on its activities where the private trader could not.'

The East India Company had been set up by Sir James Lancaster in response to the Dutch, who were also eagerly establishing themselves in India through control of the spice trade. As Morton notes, 'how important spices, and especially pepper, were to Europe at this time will only be understood when we remember that the whole population had to live on salted meat during the greater part of the winter months...salt being dear and scarce, and, in England, imported from abroad' meant that 'a liberal amount of seasoning was needed to make the meat even palatable. Spices accordingly fetched high prices, and a monopoly such as the Dutch established was extremely profitable to themselves and extremely vexatious to their customers and rivals.'

As Victor Kiernan notes of the Dutch and English in The Lords of Human Kind (1969), it was not long before 'these two rivals represented a new imperialism, not in need of any crusading motives to nerve it for enterprises in continents now relatively familiar, or of any ideology beyond that of the counting house. The Turkish threat to Europe was receding; besides, to Dutchmen and Englishmen, Spain and the Inquisition, not Turkey and the Koran, were the menace. They had no notion of spreading Christianity in Asia; these Protestants kept religion, business and politics in separate compartments. As the natives were going to be roughly handled in either case, it may have been better for Christianity not to be compromised, as it was in America, by getting mixed up in the matter. Anglo-Dutch power in the East Indies, until well on in the nineteenth century, marked the most sordid but least hypocritical phase of European expansion.'

It was not just in India that Morton notes Elizabeth 'like all the Tudors, appreciated the importance of trade and of securing the support of the merchant class'. Typical of this class of privateers was Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595). Hawkins arguably was the founder of the slave trade - what Morton called 'the great trade of supplying the Americas with negro slaves from West Africa.'

In the Spanish West Indies, in little over a generation, the native population had been exterminated by their conquerors through hard work, and the new settlers needed labourers so desperately that they were ready to buy from anyone, from anywhere, in spite of the fact that the Spanish Government decreed this illegal. Hawkins saw the niche in the market - and was determined to fill it.

Hawkins first voyage, of 1562, led three small ships to the Sierra Leone coast in order to capture slaves. He left Africa with a cargo of around 300, having seized them from the Portuguese. Despite having two ships seized by the Spanish authorities, he sold the slaves in Santo Domingo (now Haiti) and thus made a profit for his London investors. His voyage caused the Spanish to ban all English ships from trading in their West Indies colonies.

Yet Hawkins was not to be deterred by the rules of some bloody foriegners, still less when there were some Africans who could be worked to death for these bloody foreigners at some profit to himself. That's the spirit! Here the plucky Hawkins was helped by Queen Elizabeth, 'Good old Bess' herself. In 1564, Elizabeth rented Hawkins the huge old 700-tonne ship 'Jesus of Lubeck', and he set forth on his second voyage along with three small ships. This was a longer and more extensive voyage than the first and the expedition again proved a financial success, although he had to force the Spanish colonies to trade with him at gunpoint.

His third voyage was in 1567. Hawkins again traded for slaves with local leaders, and also augmented his cargo by capturing the Portuguese slave ship Madre de Dios (Grace of God) and its human cargo. He took about 400 slaves across the Atlantic on the third trip. At Vera Cruz he was chanced upon by a strong Spanish force that was bringing the new viceroy to the colony there. Only two of the English ships escaped destruction, and Hawkins' voyage home was a miserable one.

Although his first three voyages were semi-piratical enterprises, Queen Elizabeth I was in need of money and saw such privateers as fighting England's battles at their own cost and risk. Hawkins was duly promoted by Elizabeth to be Treasurer of the Royal Navy by the time of the Spanish Armada. He was indeed, as one recent book by Nick Hazlewood has described him, 'the Queen's Slave Trader'.

Helping conquer Ireland, helping establishing English power in India, sponsoring the first slave traders - it is no wonder that in 2005, in a History Channel documentary, a group of establishment historians and commentators declared Elizabeth 'Britain's Greatest Monarch'. Elizabeth I's 'new imperialism' inspired future British rulers in their 'Empire Building'. It is therefore not surprising that she is remembered with respect by apologists for British imperial power today - though quite why so many of the rest of us seem to think of her so highly is perhaps more difficult to explain.

Labels: ,

I'm lovin' it

This picture made me smile, spotted over at Radical History Review's website. Of course, pedants might argue it should be 'Become an historian'. In other news: Racist lecturer Frank Ellis has been suspended by Leeds University, after pressure from students and staff. Excellent stuff.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

'Well grubbed, old mole!'

The Sunday Times carried an interesting interview with Francis Fukuyama, the neo-con who has now admitted that he was wrong about Iraq and US power. Of the Iraq war, he says this:

'I’m not just shocked, I’m completely appalled by the sheer level of incompetence. If you are going to be a ‘benevolent hegemon’ [a reference to America’s status as the sole superpower], you had better be good at it.'

Fukuyama has split with his former friends, writing a book After the Neocons:

'Most of them are lying low because they realise what they advocated hasn’t worked out at all and they’re just hoping something will turn up...I have concluded that neoconservatism, both as a symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.'

Of course, as Alex Callinicos has pointed out, Fukuyama is no anti-imperialist. Yet this is not the first time Fukuyama has been wrong about something. In 1989, Fukuyama put forward his famous 'End of History' thesis. This is not the place to deal with that argument in detail, but key to it was the argument that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, 'Communism' could no longer mount any serious ideological or political challenge to Western liberal capitalism:

'Marx, speaking Hegel's language, asserted that liberal society contained a fundamental contradiction that could not be resolved within its context, that between capital and labor, and this contradiction has constituted the chief accusation against liberalism ever since. But surely, the class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the West. As Kojève (among others) noted, the egalitarianism of modern America represents the essential achievement of the classless society envisioned by Marx. This is not to say that there are not rich people and poor people in the United States, or that the gap between them has not grown in recent years. But the root causes of economic inequality do not have to do with the underlying legal and social structure of our society, which remains fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributionist, so much as with the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up, which are in turn the historical legacy of premodern conditions. Thus black poverty in the United States is not the inherent product of liberalism, but is rather the "legacy of slavery and racism" which persisted long after the formal abolition of slavery.

As a result of the receding of the class issue, the appeal of communism in the developed Western world, it is safe to say, is lower today than any time since the end of the First World War. This can he measured in any number of ways: in the declining membership and electoral pull of the major European communist parties, and their overtly revisionist programs; in the corresponding electoral success of conservative parties from Britain and Germany to the United States and Japan, which are unabashedly pro-market and anti-statist; and in an intellectual climate whose most "advanced" members no longer believe that bourgeois society is something that ultimately needs to be overcome. This is not to say that the opinions of progressive intellectuals in Western countries are not deeply pathological in any number of ways. But those who believe that the future must inevitably be socialist tend to be very old, or very marginal to the real political discourse of their societies.'

At the time, many people, including many 'Marxists', more or less believed Fukuyama as pessimism engulfed much of the Left and optimism swept over the Right. Of course, people didn't tend to openly endorse him (Thatcher famously said 'The End of History? Beginning of nonsense') but there was a general feeling that he had 'put his finger onto something'.

Yet if proof was needed about just how wrong he was not just about Iraq but about 'the end of History' - the last few days have shown it. The idea that 'the class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the West' seems a little odd given that on March 28th there looks as though there might be a General Strike in France and the biggest industrial action in Britain since our General Strike in 1926. On top of this we have had an international day of protest against the occupation of Iraq and tremendous street battles in Paris including a student occupation of the Sorbonne.

'Is it 1968?' I was asked the other day. 'No, its 2006 you fool' I replied. History never repeats itself exactly. But one thing is certain. If you want to understand the world today then you write off Marx and his understanding that society is shaped by class struggle at your peril. The Red Mole of History is back.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dead King Watch: Henry IV

Henry IV died on March 20th 1413, which makes today the 593rd anniversary of his death. Henry's life is actually quite illuminating with respect to the monarchy - and Shakespeare's work about him is considered one of his most successful historical dramas.

Henry was born in 1366 at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, hence he became known as 'Henry of Bolingbroke'. His father, John of Gaunt, a fabulously wealthy noble, was the third and oldest surviving son of King Edward III of England, and on Edward's death in 1377, became effective ruler of England given the young age of the actual King Richard II, Gaunt's nephew. Henry was about the same age as Richard and being first cousins had grown up childhood playmates with the future King. Henry grew up to be tall, well built and an excellent jouster, becoming Earl of Derby. In 1380, Henry married Mary de Bohun, and they had two daughters and four sons.

In 1386, Richard, who had by now assumed more power for himself, dispatched John of Gaunt to Spain as an ambassador. However, crisis ensued almost immediately, and Henry involved himself in the Lords Appellant's rebellion against Richard. John of Gaunt returned to restore order through a compromise between the Lords Appellant and King Richard, ushering in a period of relative stability and harmony. Henry remained still relatively favoured by Richard, who promoted him to be Duke of Hereford.

However, this relationship broke down in 1398, when Henry got involved with a blood feud with Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk who was rumoured to be plotting to oust Richard. Bolingbroke and Mowbray got ready to have a fight to the death and each went to the top armourers around to get 'tooled up'. Richard had a dilemma - if his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke won then Henry would be extremely popular and so a potential threat to his power - but if Henry was killed by Mowbray then John of Gaunt (Henry's father) was hardly going to be happy about it. Richard stopped the fight - banishing Henry into exile for ten years and exiling Mowbray for life. Richard now made a bid to establish even more power - assuming that he had got rid of his potential rivals with one fell swoop.

Henry took up residence at the French court, nursing his grievance. In 1399, his father John of Gaunt died and Bolingbroke stood in line to inherit the vast estates of Lancaster. However, Richard was now a power hungry warmongering bastard and cunningly decided to take John of Gaunt's land for himself while extending Henry's exile for life. Henry, quite understandably, was hardly best pleased at this - and swore revenge on his cousin.

In 1399, while Richard was busy killing peasants in Ireland, Henry saw his chance and after some hesitation, Henry met with the exiled Thomas Arundel, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who had lost his position because of his involvement with the Lords Appellant. With Arundel as his advisor, Henry Bolingbroke returned to England and began a military campaign, confiscating land from those who opposed him and ordering his soldiers to destroy much of Cheshire. Quickly, Henry gained enough power and support to take control, imprisoning King Richard. He was at the zenith of his power.

From Bolingbroke to King Henry IV - 'Uneasy is the head that wears the Crown'.

However, there was a slight problem of legitimacy if he was going to now be King as his power rested on his popularity and military strength. Richard’s son and heir, Edmund de Mortimer, had a better claim to the throne than Henry - and indeed Richard was still alive himself. Yet Mortimer was only seven and Henry went ahead with the coronation, on October 13, 1399, which is notable as being the first time following the Norman Conquest that the monarch made an address in English. He tried to make things appear as natural as possible, yet even on this occasion, there was a shadow over proceedings. Despite excellent health up to know, Henry now got a severe case of head lice.

More ominously, a series of revolts in favour of Richard now broke out - which further challenged his claim to be on the throne. Henry would have been happy for Richard to live in retirement in prison, but now he thought that if Richard was dead this problem might be resolved. In 1400, Henry seems to have given the tacit consent to the murder of his cousin in prison.

Henry knew that Richard had lost support of many people through being an autocrat and so Henry consulted with parliament far more frequently, but was sometimes at odds with them, especially over ecclesiastical matters. Indeed, AL Morton notes that because he could hardly claim Divine Hereditary Right Henry IV 'was thus committed to a policy of conciliating the gentry and the town middle class, and during his reign Parliament reached its high water mark for the Middle Ages.' Yet they were hardly years of religious toleration - Arundel was restored to Archbishop of Canterbury and on his advice, Henry was the first English king to allow the burning of heretics, mainly to suppress the Lollard movement.

However, Henry's reign was brief and troubled. Scottish incursions were continual, as they would be for most of the century. France harried the south coast with impunity, while Wales was in revolt under Owain Glyndwr who declared himself Prince of Wales in 1400. Moreover, if Henry was to have the support of Parliament he had to challenge what Morton calls 'the anarchy of the great nobles'. But they had helped Henry into power and so were resistant. Glyndwr's rebellion was therefore complemented by English revolts led by the Lords and centring on Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland; the three men were related by marriage but also were keen rivals for power. Henry's reprisals - aided by his eldest son - were effective but brutal; in 1406 he executed the Archbishop of York, who had denounced him as a usurper. That year English forces kidnapped the future James I of Scotland, who was held in England for 18 years; Northumberland died in 1408, and Glyndwr's rebellion collapsed soon after.

The later years of Henry's reign were marked by serious health problems. He had some sort of disfiguring skin disease, suffered epileptic fits (possibly from too much jousting when younger), and more seriously suffered acute attacks of some grave illness in June 1405, April 1406, June 1408, during the winter of 1408–09, December 1412, and then finally a fatal bout in March 1413. Many in England at the time saw his illness and subsequent death as divine retribution. More importantly, Henry IV's life reminds us that many monarchs got their hands on the Crown not through some God given right passed down through the generations but through armed might and sheer will to power.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Some advice for Tony...

'You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!'

Oliver Cromwell addressing the Rump Parliament, April 1653.

'You are pitiful...isolated...bankrupt...your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on - into the dustbin of history!'

Leon Trotsky, addressing the Mensheviks, October 1917.

(Given reading about Trotsky helped Blair decide to 'enter politics', is it too much to hope that Trotsky's words might help him decide to leave politics as well?)


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Paddington at play

After becoming Histomat's Latin American correspondent, and reporting from Argentina here and here, as well as Paraguay, 'Paddington' has, on his return to Britain (and after a great deal of deliberation), decided to set up his own blog. I guess he maybe got tired of sending me great links, such as Chomsky's recent interview where he talks of the hopeful signs emerging from the new social movements sweeping Latin America, only for me to continue to piss about writing about long dead and long forgotten English monarchs.

Anyway, Paddington's long awaited blog is called Homo Ludens, which apparently means 'The Playful Man' or 'Man as Player'. According to Wikipedia, 'Homo Ludens' was the title of a book written in 1938 by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, which apparently 'discusses the importance of the play-element in culture and society'. However, whatever the exact inspiration for the title, and without further ado, it is an honour to be asked to introduce Homo Ludens to my friends and comrades in the 'blogosphere'. Paddington - welcome to the twenty-first century 'Grub Street'.

Labels: ,

Dead King Watch: Saint Edward the Martyr

Edward the Martyr was sadly murdered on 18 March 978, which makes today the 1018th anniversary of his death.

Edward was born in 962, in Wessex, first son of newly crowned King Edgar. King Edgar's reign really was the high point of Anglo-Saxon England and was generally a peaceful one. However, on Edgar's death in 975, there was a power struggle between Edgar's first wife Ethelfleda (mother of Edward) and his second wife Elfrida, (who wanted her son with Edgar - the young Ethelred to take over).

One doubts the two half-brothers really gave that much of a shit about which one of them became King - in 975 Edward was only thirteen years old and Ethelred was only seven. Yet, perhaps given the slight advantage in age - and the crucial support of Archbishop Dunstan - Edward was duly crowned King.

On King Edward's accession to the throne a great famine was raging through the land and prominent rich nobles led violent attacks against the monasteries (which had been given land by Edgar). Many monasteries were destroyed, and the monks forced to flee. Archbishop Dunstan persuaded the young King to stand firm in defence of the Church and the monasteries - but this obviously made him powerful enemies among the nobles.

With hindsight, it is easy to see this was a mistake. I mean, if you are a weak King - surely it is better to make enemies among the clergy (who are at least supposed to live up to some sort of pretence to be 'men of peace') rather than the nobles who tend to have gangs of armed men at their beck and call. Anyway, poor Edward was not to know this - nor that the nobles were plotting to remove him and replace him with his younger brother Ethelred who still only a child would presumably be more, er, 'accommodating' to the feelings of the nobles.

On March 18, 978, young King Edward was hunting with dogs and horsemen near Wareham in Dorset. Leaving his retainers, he decided to make a personal visit to his young kid brother Ethelred who was being brought up at Corfe Castle, near Wareham. Whilst still on his horse in the lower part of the castle, Ethelred's mother Elfrida welcomed him and offered Edward a glass of mead, which the young King took (underage drinking was clearly encouraged at this time). According to Henry of Huntingdon, who sounds like a reliable sort of chap, Edward's 'stepmother, that is the mother of King Ethelred, stabbed him with a dagger while she was in the act of offering him a cup to drink.' Immediately following the murder, the body of the murdered king slipped from the saddle of his horse and was dragged with one foot in the stirrup until it fell into a stream at the base of the hill upon which Corfe Castle stands. Elfrida then ordered that body be hurridly hidden in a hut nearby. Nice.

The strange afterlife of Edward.

However, the hut was inhabited by a blind woman and, according to Catholic mythology, that night 'a wonderful light appeared and filled the whole hut and struck with awe, the woman cried out: "Lord, have mercy!" and suddenly received her sight'. Either that - or else she noticed that a wet and smelly body had been dumped in her front room and screamed bloody murder. Whatever exactly happened here, the point is that at dawn Elfrida learned of the 'miracle' and 'was troubled' and again ordered a better disposal of the body, this time by burying it in a marshy place near Wareham.

A year after the murder however, in 979, 'a pillar of fire was seen over the place where the body was hidden, lighting up the whole area'. Perhaps I am being too cynical here, but this sounds a bit like a lightning strike to me - a storm in a tea cup as it were. Anyway, this 'pillar of fire' was seen by some of the inhabitants of Wareham, who raised the body. 'Immediately a clear spring of healing water sprang up in that place'. Hmm. Accompanied by what was now a huge crowd of mourners, the body was taken to the church of the Most Holy Mother of God in Wareham and buried at the east end of the church. This took place on February 13, 980.

On the account of a series of subsequent 'miracles', what was left of the body was moved to the abbey at Shaftesbury. On the way from Wareham to Shaftesbury, a further 'miracle' had also taken place; two crippled men were brought close to the bier and those carrying it lowered the body to their level, 'where upon the cripples were immediately restored to full health'. In Shaftesbury, the relics were received by the nuns of Shaftesbury Abbey and were buried with full royal honours on the north side of the altar. In 1001 the tomb in which Edward's body lay 'was observed to regularly rise from the ground'. King Ethelred was filled with joy at this and instructed the bishops to raise his brother's tomb from the ground and place it into a more fitting place. As the tomb was opened 'a wonderful fragrance issued from it' - such that all present 'thought that they were standing in Paradise'.

Given these slightly spooky goings on, and his earlier defence of the monasteries which had got him killed in the first place, the bishops decided to make Edward a 'Saint' that year, in 1001. It was the least they could do really. King Edward was now described as 'a young man of great devotion and excellent conduct. He was completely Orthodox, good and of holy life. Moreover, he loved above all things God and the Church. He was generous to the poor, a haven to the good, a champion of the Faith of Christ, a vessel full of every virtuous grace.' Doubtless he was 'a young man of great devotion and excellent conduct', but given the control of Archbishop Dunstan over him and his tragic early murder aged only sixteen - after reigning for less than three years - it is hard to see how he was ever really going to be anything else.

Labels: ,

International Rooksbyism at the Crossroads

...Or, a case study in twenty-first century 'centrism'?


'I've always been a cautious hedger of bets. I'm instinctively a left wing social democrat. In a nutshell, I'm unhappy with certain aspects of Marxism as a theoretical tool and, in particular, highly uneasy with the revolutionary political practice to which it leads. Sorry, but there you go. I never considered myself to be a revolutionary, so perhaps the alteration here would not appear to be such a great one to any observer, but my (epiphanaic) final realisation that I am constitutionally, by nature, in my bones, a (left) reformist (that most despicable of all creatures) has had quite a powerful impact on me which it's quite hard to convey here...suffice it to say that I recoil from the idea of revolutionary change and realise that I always have. No use pretending.'

Ed Rooksby, 'Liberals', 12 January 2006.

...or Revolution?

'Unlike those undisciplined, emotional, permanently unsettled types in continental Europe, the British don't go in for coups, revolutions and the like. Of course not. We don't do political enthusiasm. Britons favour rational, consensual, measured, cautious evolution and sensible, constitutional change. Radicalism does not run in our blood - we like cricket, cups of tea, stiff upper lips and artfully meaningless conversations about the weather, whereas the Italians, the French, the Germans and so on get rather over-excited about things, gesticulate wildly when talking and, before they know what they're doing, are storming the Bastille or burning down the Reichstag.

Complete shite of course. One can only hold to such a nonsensical view of British history if one conveniently forgets such episodes as the Civil War, the removal of King Charles' head from his royal shoulders and the appearance on Britain's streets of tanks, armoured vehicles and machine gun nests during the General Strike.'

Ed Rooksby, 'We Don't Do That Sort of Thing Round Here', 15 March 2006.

Er, surely some mistake?


Friday, March 17, 2006

Dead King Watch: Harold I 'Harefoot'

Harold I was King of England for three years from 1037 until his death in 1040, 966 years ago today.

Harold was born in Denmark in 1012, the son of Canute and Canute's first wife, Aelgifu of Northampton, an Anglo-Saxon woman who Canute had met while he was busy helping his father conquer England around this time. When Canute himself became King of England in 1016, one might have thought things would be looking good for the young Harold.

However, Canute now left Aelgifu and married the old English King Ethelred's widow, Emma of Normandy, (daughter of Richard the Fearless, duke of Normandy) in order to strengthen his claim to the English throne and neutralise the possibility of an invasion from Normandy (where Etherlred's sons were in exile). This also helped to strengthen political and commercial ties between England and Normandy - though it left Harold no longer the main heir to the throne after Emma gave birth to Harthacanute in 1017. Nevertheless, Harold grew up quite skilled in hunting, and he was known as 'Harefoot'* for his speed.

In 1035, Canute died, having established his reign over not just England but Denmark and Norway as well. Harthacanute took over running the show, but soon Norway rebelled and so, with Harthacanute busy with affairs in Denmark, in 1036 Harold was made regent in England.

However, effective control was still in the hands of Harthacanute's mother, Emma of Normandy - and so Harold, together with his mother Aelgifu and the English Earl Godwin united to install Harold King of England in 1037 in a sort of coup. Now at last, aged 25, he had some real power!

However, if taking power was one thing, he now had to hold onto it. First, Emma's other two sons Alfred and Edward invaded to try and regain the throne but Harold outmanouvred them, blinding and then killing Alfred. In 1039, Harthacanute finally forced a peace in Scandinavia and could at last turn his attention back to English questions. Harthacanute prepared an invasion fleet set for England to depose Harold, arriving at Bruges in Flanders, where his exiled mother was.

However, at this point, in March 1040, Harold died in Oxford - leaving only an illegitimate son, Elfwine, who fled to became a monk on the continent. This must have been quite gutting - Harold was only 28 years old. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Harthacanute then landed at Sandwich on June 17 ('seven days before Midsummer'), with a fleet of 62 warships. Being unable to exact vengeance upon his treacherous half-brother while he had been alive, Harthacanute had the dead Harold exhumed, beheaded and then 'thrown into a fen'.

* 'Harefoot'. The story of Harold's short life actually reminds me a little of the legendary rabbit folk hero in Richard Adam's novel, Watership Down, 'El-ahrairah', the 'Prince with a Thousand Enemies'. 'All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you'.


Festivals of the oppressed and carnivals of reaction

Apologies for a quiet week's blogging from yours truly, but then you should know by now that Lenin's Tomb - which now comes recommended by George Galloway MP as well as Socialist Worker - is a far better place than here to keep abreast of the latest developments in the class struggle.

Amid the ongoing violent and bloody 'carnivals of reaction' unfolding in the Middle East - particularly in Iraq and Palestine - there are signs of hope. As well as the timely anti-war demonstrations taking place this weekend, there have been some mini 'festivals of the oppressed' already this week. My favourite took place at Leeds University, calling for the racist lecturer Frank Ellis to go. This is from today's Leeds Student:

'Yesterday over 200 students and lecturers called for the dismissal of the lecturer who said that he believed black people were genetically inferior to white people and that feminism was "corroding" Britain. Ellis's students recieved an email the day before stating his lectures would be cancelled. The protest started slowly in the snow outside the Michael Sadler building with a crowd shouting chants, calling for Ellis to be sacked. Placards bearing slogans saying "I have half a mind to believe Frank Ellis...half a mind is all you need" and rally cries over magaphones shouting "Ellis, Ellis, Ellis - Out, Out, Out" blocked the path to the lecture theatre...Gospel Ikpeme, MA student in the School of Education, said: "When we were chanting, I thought we were casting out a demon."'

The sooner this demonic and demagogic white supremacist is cast out of academia the better as far as I am concerned.

On the subject of racism, and to go, er, forward to the past, I thought I would quickly second Chris Brooke's recommondation of Dave Renton's latest thoughts on defining fascism as a political movement. I would also second Par En Bas's recommendation of Neil Davidson's article on 'Islam and the Enlightenment' in this month's Socialist Review - which is very timely in the light of the furore following the publication of the Danish cartoons.

And on the subject of feminism, I thought I would draw Histomat readers' attentions to the latest 'History Carnival' - hosted by Rob over at History: Other, which takes as its theme Gender and History. As the compiler of 'Dead King Watch', I felt compelled to draw attention to the online diaries of 'a lady of quality', Miss Frances Williams Wynn, especially when she comments on the madness of King George III. On the subject of monarchs, my Dead ones are all rulers of England (though of course, most of them are hardly 'English' themselves) , but dead nineteenth century Queens of Madagascar should not be forgotten either, particularly if like Ranavalona, they succeed in helping keeping their country independent from the envious preying colonial eyes of Britain and France.

Moving into the twentieth century, - and away from questions of gender - there is an article here about how the CIA helped Nazi war criminals reconstruct their lives after the Second World War, while there is also a slightly more uplifting story about resisting racism in sport with respect to apartheid South Africa and rugby in New Zealand here. Last but not least, my favorite from this selection - apart from a brief review of Jim Sharpe's book on Dick Turpin, The Myth of the English Highwayman, there is a post about the birth of a nation - Algeria - here. History helps show that there is hope amid our present carnival of despair if you look hard enough for it - lets have more History Carnivals.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Oliver Kamm: Is he Superman?

Clark Kent: Is 'Oliver Kamm' just a mask for Superman?

Histomat exclusive: Oliver Kamm exposed as International Superhero!

Cast your minds back a year or so ago. Dark clouds were gathering over the metropolis of London. The ordinary people were living in fear under the ever present threat of terror masterminded by the evil genius Bin Lex Luthor. Noone seemed to know how to fight the growing menace of Luthoran totalitarianism. Political leaders such as the brave Prime Minister Tony Blair had declared a 'war on terror' but to no apparent avail. These wars didn't kill the totalitarian monster, which seemed to grow stronger, its tentacles spreading further, feeding off hatred.

Enemies of the British metropolis - appeasers of this Luthoran totalitarianism - began to grow in confidence and discord spread among the population. A 'Stop the War Coalition' formed but really they were 'less anti-war' than 'anti-American and anti-British'. They only gave the evil Luthorans more and more confidence. What is more is that they told lies to the people about the war on terror, confusing them.

Then suddenly, people started to feel a new hope. A battle was finally won in the long war on terror. After years of war, one of Bin Lex Luthor's minions, Saddam, was finally captured. Billions of people worldwide who had been living in the shadow of Luthoran totalitarianism rejoiced - was there a way this totalitarian monster could be stopped? It seemed that perhaps some supernatural force was now intervening on the side of good in its battle against evil, helping civilisation to overcome barbarism. The political leaders of America and Britain put this down to the fact that 'God' was on their side - but the ordinary people believed instead that it was because a 'Superman' of some sort had appeared and was living among them, protecting them now from Bin Lex Luthor.

The tabloid media in particular was seized with stories all adding grist to the rumour mill - stories of how Luthorans had been foiled at the last minute by some strange 'Superman' who appeared out of nowhere - but who was this guy? Who was this brave hero fighting the tide of jihadist Luthoran totalitarians? Rumours spread that the 'Superman' was called 'Cam' or something like that - and instantly politicians with similar sounding names put themselves forward - pretending to be, if not 'the Superman' then just like him. First there was David Cameron of the Conservative Party, who proclaimed himself 'modern, compassionate' - just like the Superman - or 'Super - Cam' as the tabloids now dubbed him. Then Sir Ming 'Cam'-pbell was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats as they tried to gather up some of the magic around this seemingly mythical figure that had appeared.

Yet noone until now has suspect that the real Superman is none other than Oliver Kamm - an obscure blogger turned Times columnist. Histomat was first to tell you about Blair's hidden Trotskyism - and now we are once again first with the story that Oliver Kamm is actually Superman!

This is our carefully collected evidence - which we hope you'll agree is pretty overwhelming - if not conclusive:

1. He is a nerdy figure in the world of journalism who no-one would suspect of being an international superhero in his spare time. Think of Clark Kent - wasn't he also a nerdy figure in the world of journalism? Hmm.

2. He is called 'Kamm' - aint that a bit too close to 'Cam'?

3. He has written a book attacking Bin Lex Luthor - the evil mastermind genius - which shows how brave he is (his book is called 'Anti-Totalitarianism: the Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - the title alone reveals that he is truly an intellectual powerhouse of the first degree - he went to Oxford University don't you know? ).

4. He wrote an article in today's Guardian which seems to hint that he is actually part of the struggle against Luthoranism and not just an ordinary journalist reporting on the struggle from the outside. It is titled 'We were right to invade Iraq' and he talks about noting that 'We at least have the advantage in that struggle of having confronted Saddam at a time of our choosing'. It seems almost certain that Kamm has been fighting the Luthoran totalitarian menace on the front line - he is a true action hero.

5. He seems to speak with the voice of someone who has seen Lex Luthor and his minions up close and personal - because he is their sworn enemy and indeed the only one who can save us from them. 'Containment would have meant persisting with what most outraged Osama bin Laden [Lex Luthor]: western troops in Saudi Arabia - and Bin Laden [Luthor] urges "Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorise the enemies of God"'. Or how about this: 'Saddam allowed intrusive inspections only because of the threat of force.' Wow!

6. Last but not least - he seems to be able to see into the future. 'Had we not overthrown Saddam, Iraq today would be far from tranquil. Many argue that the absence of WMD shows that western policy had been working. It was in reality unravelling fast, and few opponents of war treated the problem seriously.' Talk about superhuman abilities! What a superhero Kamm is!

Overall, while some readers will feel that by exposing him in this way we put Oliver at risk and so put the struggle against global Luthoran totalitarianism back, I think you'll agree that the public has a right to know things like this. Isn't there something Kamm ought to be telling the rest of us? Will the real 'Super-Kamm' please stand up?


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Good News from Iraq, part 94.

British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells is currently in Iraq and has given an interview to BBC Radio 4.

'People describe Iraq as a mess...but it is a mess that can't launch an attack now on Iran; a mess that won't be able to march into Kuwait; it's a mess that can't develop nuclear weapons. So yes it's a mess but it's starting to look like the sort of mess that most of us live in.'

Well that is good news. What a relief Iraq can't 'launch an attack on Iran' eh? Now Iranians have only got to worry about being attacked by er, the United States of America. But whose bothered by those guys?

And thank goodness Iraq can't 'develop nuclear weapons'. I mean, what civilised nation in the world would want to waste billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction that could be spent on things that people need like schools and hospitals? (Oh, apart from the US, UK, Israel, France, Russia, etc. etc.)

Yes, the new Iraq is really starting to 'look like the sort of mess that most of us live in' in Britain. Their rulers are puppets of the Americans - and our rulers are puppets of the Americans. Their public services are being privatised and sold off to greedy multinational corporations - and our public services are being privatised and sold off to greedy multinational corporations. Well done Tony and New Labour.

A Blairite against 'swivel-eyed right wing Americans'.

Kim Howells also dismissed recent complaints by conservative figures in the US, like Francis Fukuyama, who were now critical of the war on Iraq:

'I would never take my guidance from swivel-eyed right-wing Americans and I'm surprised that anybody ever did. I do not look to them to continue the fight for democracy and to rebuild a nation in Iraq any more than I would look at some left-wing loony...this is a job that has to be done; these are the materials we have got to deal with; and they are great materials. We've just got to get on with it now.'

Yes, if there is one thing that the Blair Government has consistently done, it is that it never took any guidance from 'swivel-eyed right-wing Americans'. I am surprised as well that anyone ever did look for guidance from such people around the Project for the New American Century when it came to the fight for democracy and nation building in Iraq. Thank goodness that instead we went along with clear sighted Americans like Dick Cheney. Nothing wrong with his vision is there? Yes, by joining together with people like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and George W Bush in invading first Afghanistan and then Iraq, the British Government truly rejected the right wing lunatics around PNAC and kept their ideas confined to the margins of politics. We truly do now have the 'great materials' at hand we need to 'get on with the job'. Perhaps soon the whole Middle East will be the 'mess' that we currently see in Iraq and everyone will live happily ever after.

Edited to add: Respect MP George Galloway now has a Radio show on TalkSPORT on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Tonight he is discussing the West's new plans for a war on Iran...

Labels: ,

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gordon Parks, 1912-2006

Malcolm X, photographed by Gordon Parks, 1963.

As well as directing the pioneering black film Shaft, Gordon Parks was a legendary photographer for LIFE magasine among other things. There is an interesting site with lots of his photos here, with comments about the featured photos. It also includes some biographical details. 'At 16, Parks found himself homeless and did everything he could do make money, from waiting tables to playing piano in a brothel to mopping floors. As Parks tells it, his first foray into photography came after he found a magazine left behind by a passenger on a train. A portfolio inside the magazine, documenting the terrible living conditions of migrant workers inspired Parks to buy his first camera, a Voightlander Brilliant, at a pawnshop in Seattle. "I bought what was to become my weapon against poverty and racism"'

Once established, Parks 'worked tirelessly and singlemindedly, and from the Forties through the Seventies he covered the major themes of each decade for LIFE magazine: social injustice, overwhelming poverty in the U.S. as well as in Brazil and Portugal, gang violence, the civil rights movement, and segregation in the Deep South. Though Parks's awareness of race, racism and hatred is a constant thread found through much of his work, this theme was juxtaposed early on with his expanding talent as a fashion photographer for Vogue, where he covered the Paris shows for several years. "The camera is not meant to just show misery," Parks says. "You can show beauty with it; you can do a lot of things. You can show things you like about the universe, things you hate about the universe. It's capable of doing both."'

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, March 09, 2006

'Bruschetta orthodoxies'

Some Bruschetta, yesterday.

Blairites and other pro-war commentators often like to delude themselves into thinking that ordinary working class people in Britain don't really care about international political events like the war on Iraq, and it is only the 'chattering classes' who make the case against it at their 'dinner parties'. Just before last years General Election, for example, David Aaronovitch railed against the liberal 'dinner party set' for whom opposition to George Bush and Tony Blair were 'bruschetta orthodoxies'.

Leaving aside the merits of this argument (which I fear are not great), I thought I would just describe to you some snatches of conversation I overheard on train journey today. A group of six American women tourists - some middle aged, some a little older - boarded the train and sat down a few seats away from me. They proceeded to talk, discussing films and their accomodation etc. etc. They mentioned Josh Hartnett and Kevin Spacey. I got back to reading a book.

Then they got onto more interesting matters. These women - or at least the majority of them - were working class and all white. One of them mentioned her husband who had 'been in Iraq three times', had been in special forces for seventeen years and was now retired 'and I want to keep him retired'. They discussed how badly paid the National Guard and American troops in general were.

Then they got onto the war. 'I don't mind them going to war but this war is wrong' said the first woman. 'You don't go into somewhere without any idea of how you are going to get out. Afghanistan was one thing, we should have stayed there and finished there before starting somewhere else. You don't fight a war in one place when you are still fighting a war in some other place'.

Maybe this isn't quite verbatum, she mentioned Al Qaida as well but I didn't catch that bit, but that was the general drift of what she was saying. The others seemed pretty much agreed. The most elderly woman in the group chipped in, saying 'well, we have been here before' (I guess she was alluding to Vietnam). The first woman continued, attacking the Republicans and also mentioning someone she knew who was addicted to Fox TV. Fox TV - like the Republican Party in general - did not seem to impress these women. They commented on the joke made at Dick Cheney's expense at the Oscars ceremony, which was 'the best bit' of the Oscars.

Then they moved onto motives for the Iraq war. The first woman said, 'we all know why it started, it was about George going on where his father left off', a settling of family scores for the Bush family. Then one woman who had been previously silent challenged this. 'If one towel headed Arab [I presume she was referring to Saddam Hussein] had annoyed your father, wouldn't you want to go and fight him?' The first woman then came back on this immediately: 'Yes, George could go and fight him, he could send his daughters there, [but] why should he send our boys [to do his fighting for him]?'

This questioned remained unanswered as the train pulled into its destination, and after a period of silence, the conversation went back towards discussing the four day trip they had ahead of them.

My point I think is this. While the war might not generally come up spontaneously in conversation among British working class people in the same way, it is not because people in Britain are pro-war. I think it is just that the number of troops the US has and the high casualty rate it is experiencing makes the war a central issue for ordinary Americans in a way in which it is not here in Britain, the experience of military families against the war aside. However, it is clear that the longer the troops stay out in Iraq the more popular such 'bruschetta orthodoxies' will become. As Trotsky apparently once said, 'you might not be interested in war, but war is interested in you'.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Histomat celebrates International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, which has been celebrated by women since 1909 following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. One of the major weaknesses of Histomat so far has been its almost complete lack of attention paid towards questions of women's oppression and women's liberation - and a tokenistic post on International Women's Day does not really make up for that. Apologies. There is a great post full of helpful links about Women's History over at Early Modern Notes, while over at Marxists.Org there is a wonderful collection on 'Women and Marxism'. Worth checking out in particular are A History of the Modern Women's Liberation Movement, in their own words and this glossary of Women's Liberation. Finally, for an article on why women are still paid lower than men today, see here, while I did enjoy Ed Rooksby's post about Tessa Jowell, which reminds us that the life of a New Labour Cabinet Minister is very far from the reality of life and work for the vast majority of women in the UK today.

Labels: , ,

Winston Churchill on 'the sinews of peace'

Winston Churchill: Bush and Blair make this warmonger look like a peace-nik

On March 5th 1946, Winston Churchill made his famous 'Sinews of Peace' speech at Fulton, Missouri, which as it happened signalled the first warning shot in the Cold War. There has been a lot of pieces in the media commemorating the 60th anniversary of this speech, which is remembered for this famous passage:

'From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow...'

Most of these pieces, in Britain and the US at least, have been full of praise for Churchill and his pledge that the US and Britain would fight for 'freedom' against 'tyranny'. Typical here is a gushing piece of good old-fashioned 'hero-worship' by the BBC European Affair's correspondent William Horsley, entitled 'Churchill Speech: A lesson for the present', which concludes:

'After all these years Churchill's Iron Curtain speech reads like an example of true statesmanship, and perhaps the most memorable "wake-up call" in post-War history. It also displays the genius with words that would later bring Churchill yet another honour - the Nobel Prize for Literature. In an age of great uncertainty it projected Churchill's iron conviction of purpose. His core beliefs were in the special bond between America and Britain, the need for the United Nations to be "a force for action and not merely a frothing of words", and the duty of the Western democracies to stand up for freedom and against tyranny. Sixty years later, there are more democratic governments in the world than ever. Yet such moral certainty is rare, and the authority with which Churchill's expressed it is surely rarer still.'

However, the reality behind the rhetoric of 'true statesmanship' and 'moral certainty' is rather different, as historian Ian Birchall has argued:

'If Europe was divided by a sinister iron curtain, then one of those chiefly responsible was Winston Churchill...In October 1944, Churchill visited Moscow and met Stalin. Churchill wrote on a half sheet of paper a proposal for the post-war division of Europe. He pushed this over to Stalin. In Churchill’s own words: "There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all done in no more time than it takes to set down." The carve-up was modified at the end of war conferences at Yalta and Potsdam, but in essence the agreement that Russia should have control over Eastern Europe as its share of the war booty remained.'

As for Churchill's 'genius with words', Birchall notes that 'the phrase "iron curtain" had first been used to describe revolutionary Russia by Labour Party writer Ethel Snowden in 1920. More notoriously, it had been used by the Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels in 1945, predicting the consequences of a German defeat: "The Soviets, according to the agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, would occupy all of east and south east Europe along with the greater part of the Reich...An iron curtain would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered."'

As for 'the most memorable "wake up call" in post-War history' and the 'special relationship' between America and Britain, in fact the speech showed Churchill in his true light - a warmonger concerned above all with preserving the power of the British Empire and the power of the rich as a whole. As Churchill argued, "Communist fifth columns are established and work in complete unity and absolute obedience to the directions they receive from the Communist centre...The Communist Parties constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilisation."

Yet as Birchall notes, 'the Communist Parties [in Western Europe] were indeed under Moscow’s orders – but those orders were to do nothing to upset the balance of power. In France and Italy, Communist ministers were serving in coalition governments. Their parties opposed all strikes. In Britain, before the 1945 election, the Communist Party called for a continuation of the war time coalition – including Churchill. It was the right wing Labour leaders who saw they could win the election on their own.'

In fact, the threat of 'Communism' was needed to justify massive spending on weapons programmes by the US and Britain. 'Stalin was not a man of peace. He was a murderous thug. But there is no reason to believe that he had further territorial ambitions. To have taken over Western Europe with its well developed working class movement would have been more trouble than it was worth.' Evidence for this view can be seen from looking at a speech Stalin himself gave a month before Churchill's, in February 1946 in Moscow:

'The Second World War against the Axis Powers, unlike the First World War, assumed from the very outset the character of an anti-fascist war, a war of liberation, one of the tasks of which was to restore democratic liberties. The entry of the Soviet Union into the war against the Axis Powers could only augment -- and really did augment -- the anti-fascist and liberating character of the Second World War. It was on this basis that the anti-fascist coalition of the Soviet Union, the United States of America, Great Britain and other freedom-loving countries came into being and later played the decisive role in defeating the armed forces of the Axis Powers.'

Nowhere in Stalin's speech is any suggestion that he was thinking about further toppling Western capitalism, bar a bit where he talks vaguely about the long term inevitable collapse of capitalism under the weight of its own contradictions through economic crisis. Indeed, he even describes the US and Britain as 'freedom-loving countries' interested in 'democracy' and 'liberation'.

However, there are passages in Churchill's speech - which was actually titled 'The Sinews of Peace' that do make interesting reading as lessons for today in the light of Bush and Blair's plans to bomb Iran as part of the 'war on terror':

'What then is the over-all strategic concept which we should inscribe today? It is nothing less than the safety and welfare, the freedom and progress, of all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands...To give security to these countless homes, they must be shielded from the two giant marauders, war and tyranny. We all know the frightful disturbances in which the ordinary family is plunged when the curse of war swoops down upon the bread-winner and those for whom he works and contrives. The awful ruin of Europe, with all its vanished glories, and of large parts of Asia glares us in the eyes. When the designs of wicked men or the aggressive urge of mighty States dissolve over large areas the frame of civilized society, humble folk are confronted with difficulties with which they cannot cope. For them all is distorted, all is broken, even ground to pulp. When I stand here this quiet afternoon I shudder to visualize what is actually happening to millions now and what is going to happen in this period when famine stalks the earth. None can compute what has been called "the unestimated sum of human pain." Our supreme task and duty is to guard the homes of the common people from the horrors and miseries of another war. We are all agreed on that.'

It is also interesting to note Churchill's praise for the UN in the current age of unilateral US/UK intervention:

'A world organization has already been erected for the prime purpose of preventing war, UNO, the successor of the League of Nations, with the decisive addition of the United States and all that means, is already at work. We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can some day be hung up, and not merely a cockpit in a Tower of Babel. Before we cast away the solid assurances of national armaments for self-preservation we must be certain that our temple is built, not upon shifting sands or quagmires, but upon the rock. Anyone can see with his eyes open that our path will be difficult and also long, but if we persevere together as we did in the two world wars - though not, alas, in the interval between them - I cannot doubt that we shall achieve our common purpose in the end.'

Tell that to John Bolton.

Churchill also has some words of warning about the importance of upholding civil liberties - which make interesting reading in our brutal age of Guantanamo Bay, torture at Abu Graib, etc:

'But we must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence...Here are the title deeds of freedom which should lie in every cottage home. Here is the message of the British and American peoples to mankind. Let us preach what we practice - let us practice - what we preach.'

If only the US and UK did 'practise what they preached' with respect to 'freedom'. Overall, that today George Bush and Tony Blair can almost make Churchill look like some liberal UN-loving peacenik arguably tells us much about the dark times we are living in today.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dead King Watch: William III

William III died on 8th March 1702, which makes tomorrow the 304th anniversary of his death. William or rather Willem Hendrik - was born in 1650 into the Hague into the powerful House of Orange-Nassau, an important Dutch aristocratic family which had helped unite the various provinces into the Dutch Republic. Given his father had died only eight days earlier, on his birth he became 'Prins van Oranje' or 'Prince of Orange'.

The future's bright, the future's Orange?

Unfortunately all was not well with the aristocratic House of Orange at this time - it was out of power and instead the Dutch Republic was ruled by an oligarchical group of powerful merchants - the Estates. Unbeknown to the young Prince, a quarrel about his education arose between his mother Mary (who wanted her son to have a 'modern' English education) and his grandmother Amalia (who wanted an education which was pointed at the resurgence of the House of Orange to power). In the event, the Estates meddled in the education and made William a 'child of state' educated by the state and very docile to rule of the regents and the Estates. This was the worst of both worlds - William was isolated from England and English culture, where after 1660 Charles II his uncle had become King - and yet also grew up a kind of token figure without real power. The regents even abolished the post of Stadtholder - military leader - that had been his fathers.

Then suddenly, in 1672, disaster struck the Netherlands, as it was invaded by France, (under Louis XIV), who had the aid of England, Münster, and Cologne. The French army quickly overran most of the Netherlands, though Holland managed to remain safe behind the Dutch water line. The Orange party managed to get rid of the old regents who had been so inefficient in waging war and William was elected Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, and appointed Captain-General and Admiral-General of the Netherlands. William III, who seems to have been quite talented in military affairs, continued to fight against the invaders from England and France, afterwards allying himself with Spain. After admiral Michiel de Ruyter had defeated the Royal Navy, William made peace with England, in 1674. To strengthen his position, he endeavoured to marry his first cousin Mary, the daughter of James, Duke of York (the future James II of England). The marriage occurred on 4 November 1677; and I have written about much of the rest of William's life, including the Glorious Revolution under my entry for Mary. In short, in 1688 William embarked on a mission to depose his Catholic father-in-law from the English throne. He and his wife were crowned King and Queen of England on April 11, 1689. With the accession to the English throne he became the most powerful sovereign on Earth, the only one to defeat the Sun King. Many members of the House of Orange were devoted admirers of the King-Stadtholder afterwards.

Although most in England accepted William as Sovereign, he faced considerable opposition in Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish Jacobites— those who believed that James II was the legitimate monarch — won a stunning victory on 27 July 1689 at the Battle of Killiecrankie, but were nevertheless subdued within a month. William's reputation suffered following the Massacre of Glencoe (1692), in which almost one hundred Scots were murdered for not properly pledging their allegiance to the new King and Queen. In Ireland, where the French aided the rebels, fighting continued for much longer, though the Protestant William decisively defeated Catholic James II after the Battle of the Boyne (1690). After the Anglo-Dutch Navy defeated a French fleet at La Hogue in 1692, the naval supremacy of the English became apparent, and Ireland was conquered shortly thereafter.

William died childless after a horse riding accident on March 8, 1702. It was believed by some that his horse had stumbled into a mole's burrow, and as a result many Jacobites toasted 'the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat.' William's death left England to Anne, and the House of Orange extinct. However, 'Orange' lives on - in the twentieth century the Orange Order in Northern Ireland saluted Willem of Orange as 'King Billy' as though instead of being a warmongering Dutch aristocrat he was some sort of British hero. Today, we associate 'Orange' with a global mobile phone company.