Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Histomat's guide to the World Cup.

Or, why English socialist football fans should support 'Anyone but England'

With the World Cup almost upon us, many socialist football fans in England are in a quandary about who they should support. Though it is a 'World Cup', things are of course never quite as they should be under capitalism. David Runciman in an article on the African teams in the New Statesman highlights some depressing statistics.

51 = No. of African sides at the start of qualifiers for 2006
5 = No. of places reserved in finals for African teams

51 = No. of European teams at the start of qualifiers
13 = No. places reserved for European teams

6 = No. of teams from the southern hemisphere.

£676,000 = average income of players in English Premiership
£900 = average income in Togo

Mike Marqusee, an American socialist sports lover, has highlighted the essential fact of the World Cup - the corporate takeover of the sport in general:

'Fifa can offer businesses an unrivalled global platform...It's estimated that $1bn will be spent on World Cup-related advertising, boosting annual ad revenues by a full percentage point...Paradoxically, globalisation turns national identity into a prize commodity. Corporate and media interests in this country will seek to channel emotion (and spending) into support for the England team. Great numbers will follow the event not because they love football but because they have been persuaded that England's World Cup run is important to them. Inevitably, political forces will seek to exploit that heavily hyped attachment.'

As if the corporate takeover isn't bad enough (many firms have produced 'I love England' badges for their employees), then the political consequences don't bear worth thinking about. All of the main three capitalist political parties are doubtless gearing up already to associate themselves with supporting England - and it is likely that Blair will try to use a good Cup run and the associating 'feel good factor' to hang onto power - though one suspects the hapless croquet playing fuckwit Prescott will not be used in too many New Labour photoshoots playing football. Indeed, one expects Prescott will soon be shuffled off to become 'Lord Hull', a fitting end to the political career of a one time union militant who decided the needs of British capital were more important than those of the people who elected him.

Given then the huge corporate drive to get people to support England - which millions of people are so alienated by life under capitalism that it is understandable that they will buy into - it is a little surprising to find socialists so happy to be proud of their support for 'Ingerland'.

Over at the Socialist Unity blog, Andy Newman proudly defends the nationalist position. English socialists should support England because 'England play the type of game we want to watch', we know the players and so 'can identify with them', and logically 'it would be great for the sport of football if England were to win the world cup'.

One sees here some of the advantages of giving up on Marxism as a means to explain the world - you can simply embrace spontaneity and go along with the flow of 'common sense' opinion, 'the day to day ideology of the bourgeoisie' as Gramsci (apparently) put it somewhere, wherever it may take you. It is of course easy to simply support England - but isn't there are problem in lining up with our ruling class, even just on a question of sport? Somewhere?

Ed Rooksby is one non-Marxist socialist who thinks so. 'I'd usually support England, you know. I think, however, that I might just find myself able to leave that football nationalism stuff behind this time...I think I shall support France or Spain - somewhere fairly hip and glamorous...Clearly, I'm going to be careful about this - it's probably best not to walk into a pub full of squaddies and shout 'allez la France!' However, a few well placed anti-patriotisms should provide some considerable source of amusement. I'm going to need some steel though. I hope that some of my visitors here will keep checking up on me to ensure that I've not reverted to England-supportery. It might not be easy. I am weak.'

Anti-patriotism is better than patriotism, but the problem with going for France or Spain is that they too are imperialist countries. But then, as Comrade Rooksby admits 'I'm not really doing this out of principle - I've said before that the whole 'anyone but England as a tool of socialist politics' idea is completely laughable.' Therein lies the source of his 'weakness' - while opposed to the English ruling class, he refuses to cut his ties completely with their ideas - of nations and so nationalism.

Here one has to remember the Marxist Benedict Anderson's point that nations are 'imagined communities', full of invented traditions about their past. People want to identify with a collective of some sort, to avoid the alienation from humanity that they feel from being screwed at work. As Chris Bambery, in an article on Marxism and Sport:

'Even the love of being in a crowd reflects the atomisation and lack of community we suffer under capitalism, a pale reflection of what real human solidarity would be like. The buzz, the excitement, comes because people see it as a break from the mundane reality of everyday life. But the buzz goes quickly and it isn't a break from capitalist reality. Trotsky once had occasion to refer to how the creative potential of working class people is caricatured by popular pastimes. Writing on Britain, Trotsky points out, "The revolution will inevitably awaken in the English working class the most unusual passions, which have been hitherto been so artificially held down and turned aside, with the aid of social training, the church, the press, in the artificial channels of boxing, football, racing and other sports". Elsewhere he adds, "In the sphere of philanthropy, amusements and sports, the bourgeoisie and the church are incomparatively stronger than we are. We cannot tear away the working class youth from them except by means of the socialist programme and revolutionary action".'

Taking a position of 'Anyone but England' during the World Cup does not mean being a killjoy or doing this in an overly dogmatic fashion. One has to be creative about this. Here, Dave Renton offers some good pointers:

'For buried in the worst of it are bound to be some moments worth savouring: the 11 June group match between Portugal against Angola, for example, could easily go the way of 2002 and Senegal's humiliation of France. For five centuries, Portugal were the dominant power in that country. They introduced the Angolans to starvation and slavery. Would it really be so wrong for a left-winger to take pleasure if Portugal lost? It will also be interesting to see how team USA goes down in Germany: a country which once had the last two Michael Moore books at 1, 2 and 3 in its bestseller charts (numbers 1 and 3 were the German editions, an English-language edition was at number 2). And ignoring their odds (which are pitiful) I think a modest socialist case could indeed be made for backing Trinidad and Tobago: the team was built from nothing, and managed for most of the post-war period and until as recently as 1971 by none other than Eric James, CLR's brother.'

Personally, I think every English socialist who supports England when they play teams like Trinidad - former colonies of Britain - or say Iran - which we are gearing up to attack - deserves ridicule if not utter contempt. The position of 'Anyone But England' is only 'laughable' if one thinks that the English working class are somehow too 'backward' or 'ill-educated' to make a socialist revolution here. In fact it is the only principled position one can have - the colour of the socialist flag is red - or, for the next month or so, perhaps red and black:

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Police urged to investigate Blair over 'murder' call

Histomat exclusive:Police urged to investigate Blair over bombing 'morally justified' speech

Prime Minister Tony Blair was facing calls for his expulsion from Parliament and a police inquiry yesterday following an interview in which he said the killing of innocent Iranian civilians by bombing would be "morally justified".

Asked if the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens in revenge for the attacks on September 11th could be justified if WMD were removed in the process, Blair replied: "Yes, it would be morally justified. I am not calling for it just right now, but if it happened I believe it would be of a wholly different moral order to the events on 7/7. It would be entirely logical and explicable. And morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq, as I did earlier."

His comments, in the magazine GQ, were condemned by a representative of the Respect Party as well as a couple of backbench Labour MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, who called on the Commons to pass a motion expelling Mr Blair for a period. He said: "This latest outburst is outrageous, even in comparison with his previously disgraceful comments. It is astonishing that anyone should suggest the murder of thousands of innocent people."

George Galloway, the Respect MP, said he had written to Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, asking for an investigation. Dianne Abbott, the MP for Hackney, said: "These remarks are grossly irresponsible and disgraceful. The question is could they be construed as incitement to murder or glorification of state terrorism."

But Mr Blair, who is visiting America, defended his remarks in an interview on the PM programme on BBC Radio 4, saying: "I fully stand by it." However, Mr Blair reiterated his view, stated in the GQ article, that it would not be right to carry out a nuclear strike on Iran because World War III would strengthen rather than weaken the terrorist camp.

Blair said he would alert the UN if he knew of such a plan for Armaggeddon because it would be counterproductive. "I'm not calling for it and I don't want it to happen," he said. Challenged to state that beginning World War III through launching a nuclear strike on Iran could never be justified, Mr Blair cited remarks made by George Bush in 2002, when George Bush mumbled something about ruling it out for now, or at least until after he was re-elected in 2004.

George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow said: "Blair is disgraceful and twisted. He is low enough to walk under a snake's stomach with a top hat on."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "No politician should give any support to the notion that violence might be justified."


Friday, May 26, 2006

Dead King Watch: Edward VIII - The Nazi King

King Edward VIII died on 28 May 1972, which makes this Sunday the 34th anniversary of his death. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor was born in 1894, the eldest son of The Duke of York (later King George V), and a great grandson of Queen Victoria. Edward VIII was styled 'His Highness Prince Edward of York' at his birth, possibly as his full name was rather long and ridiculous. Indeed, for the rest of his life, he was known to his family and close friends, by his last name, David.

He automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland when his father, George V, ascended the throne on 6 May 1910. The new King created him Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 2 June 1910 and officially invested him as such in a special ceremony in 1911. It must have been difficult for him to keep track of exactly which parts of the UK he was supposed to be a ruler of at this time.

Like many sons of royalty, he went into the armed services for a 'career'. As of 1911 he was a Midshipman in the Royal Navy, making Lieutenant in 1913. When the First World War (1914–18) broke out Edward had reached the minimum age for active service and expressed keenness to participate. He is rather reminiscent of Prince Harry at this stage - and Edward was allowed to join the army, serving with the Grenadier Guards. Although Edward expressed a willingness to serve on the front lines, the British government refused to allow it, citing the immense harm that the capture of the heir to the throne would cause. Despite this Edward witnessed at first hand the horror of trench warfare, and attempted to visit the front line as often as he could, leading to his award of the Military Cross in 1916. What a hero.

Throughout the 1920s the Prince of Wales represented his father, King George V, at home and abroad on many occasions. Abroad the Prince of Wales toured the Empire, undertaking 13 tours between 1919 and 1935. At home, he took a particular interest in visiting the poverty stricken areas of the country during the Great Depression. Yet in reality, he preferred to hang out with his rich friends - and by the late 1920s had fallen in love with an American woman Wallis Simpson. This weakened his poor relationship with his father, King George V. The King and Queen refused to receive Mrs Simpson at court, and his brother, Prince Albert, urged Edward to seek a more suitable wife.

Edward's affair with the American divorcée led to such grave concern that the couple were followed by members of MI5, to examine in secret the nature of their relationship. A MI5 report detailed a visit by the couple to an antique shop, where the proprietor later noted that: "the lady seemed to have POW [Prince of Wales] completely under her thumb." The prospect of having an American divorcée with a questionable past having such sway over the Heir Apparent filled the Establishment with great misgiving.

King George V died on January 20, 1936, and Edward ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII. His full title now was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, and Emperor of India. It was now becoming clear that the new King wished to marry Mrs Simpson, especially when divorce proceedings between Mr and Mrs Simpson were brought at Ipswich Crown Court. Powerful figures in the British government deemed marriage to Mrs Simpson impossible for Edward, even if Wallis obtained her second divorce, because he had become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England which prohibited remarriage after divorce. Edward's alternative proposed solution of a morganatic marriage (where his wife and any future children would not have recieved any privileges) was rejected by the Tory Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and the Dominion governments.

Yet the real reason King Edward caused unease in government circles were to do with his actions that were interpreted as interference in political matters. His visit to the economically impoverished coal mining villages in South Wales saw Edward call for "something to be done" for the unemployed and deprived coal miners. This went against the Tory 'National' Government's policy of doing absolutely nothing to help the millions of unemployed at the time. Yet there was also a slight difficulty with what Edward favoured as the 'something' that should 'be done'.

Nazi King

King Edward, you see, was a Nazi sympathiser who was quite taken by the Fascist 'solution' to unemployment, being carried out in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany at the time. US FBI agents later interviewed the one time Duke of Wurttemberg, a minor German royal with connections to Queen Mary, the duke's mother, and her brother, the Duke of Athlone, then governor general of Canada. He told them that Joachim von Ribbentrop, then the Nazis' foreign minister - had been Wallis Simpson's lover when he was ambassador to Britain in 1936.

According to the FBI report, "He knew definitely that von Ribbentrop, while in England, sent the then Wallis Simpson 17 carnations every day. The 17 supposedly represented the number of times they had slept together." He also revealed that the Duchess of Windsor had told guests at a Paris party that: "The duke is impotent and although he had tried sexual intercourse with numerous women they had been unsuccesful in satisfying his passions...The duchess [Simpson] in her own inimitable and unique manner has been the only woman who had been able to satisfactorily gratify the duke's sexual desires."

The apparent close links between the Nazi leadership and King Edward were increasingly problematic for the British Government, which increasingly was seeing a rearming Nazi Germany in close alliance with Mussolini's Italy as a potential challenge to British imperial power. On November 16, 1936, Edward met with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin at Fort Belvedere and expressed his desire to marry Wallis Simpson when she became free to do so. The Prime Minister responded by presenting the King with three choices: he could give up the idea of marriage; marry Wallis against his ministers' wishes; or abdicate. It was clear that Edward was not prepared to give up Wallis. By marrying against the advice of his ministers, it was likely that he would cause the government to resign, prompting a constitutional crisis. Edward chose to abdicate and departed the United Kingdom for France, though he was unable to join Wallis until her divorce became absolute, several months later.

His brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York succeeded to the throne as King George VI, with his eldest daughter, The Princess Elizabeth first in the line of succession, as the heir presumptive. On March 8, 1937, George VI created his brother, Edward, the former king, Duke of Windsor. The Duke of Windsor married Mrs. Simpson, who had changed her name by deed poll to Wallis Warfield, in a private ceremony on 3 June 1937 at Chateau de Candé, Monts, France. None of the British royal family attended.

Reunited, that year the Duke and Duchess visited Germany as personal guests of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, a visit much publicised by the German media (see picture above). It is likely that Edward continued to leak secret information to Joachim von Ribbentrop, who had remained in constant contact with him. When the Second World War broke out, the Duke of Windsor gave a "defeatist" interview (calling for the defeat of Britain at the hands of Nazi Germany) that received wide distribution. This served as the last straw for the British government: in August a British warship dispatched the pair to the Bahamas. The Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor, and became the first British monarch to ever hold a civilian political office.

Many historians have suggested that Hitler was prepared to reinstate Edward and Wallis as King and Queen of Britain, if he conquered the country, and is apparently to have said to Wallis, "you would make a good Queen." Many top officers in the British Army, as well as more than a few members of the civilian population, believed that Edward had passed details of the movements of the British Expeditionary Force in France, leading to the disaster at Dunkirk. U.S. naval intelligence revealed a confidential report of a conference of German foreign officials in October 1941, that judged the Duke "no enemy to Germany" and the only English representative with whom Hitler would negotiate any peace terms, "the logical director of England's destiny after the war".

After the war, the couple returned once again to France in Neuilly near Paris, where they spent much of the remainder of their lives essentially in retirement, as the Duke never occupied another professional role after his wartime governorship of the Bahamas. They hosted parties and travelled extensively, shuttling between Paris and New York; in 1951 the Duke produced a ghost-written memoir, A King's Story. Nine years later, he also penned a relatively unknown book chiefly about the fashion and habits of the Royal Family, and their evolution throughout his life, from the time of Queen Victoria through his grandfather, father, and his own tastes. The book is entitled, Windsor Revisited. It seems a suitable time to revisit the Duke of Windsor - the Nazi King - today in the light of Prince Harry's apparent love of German Wehrmacht uniforms - as well as the common belief that British Fascism has some sort of natural constituency in the 'white working class'. On the contrary, British Fascism has always tended to be rather popular among the very 'cream' of society, from where it draws its leaders like Sir Oswald Mosley and Nick Griffin - and would be leaders like King Edward VIII. Racism trickles down from the very top of a rotting capitalist society built on wage slavery at home and imperialist domination abroad.


Dead King Watch: King Edmund I

King Edmund I died on May 26 946, which makes today the 1060th anniversary of his death. Edmund was born in 921, son of Edward the Elder and half-brother of Athelstan. Athelstan died on October 27, 939, and Edmund succeeded him as King. Shortly after his proclamation as King Edmund had to face several military threats. King Olaf I of Dublin conquered Northumbria and invaded the Midlands. When Olaf died in 942 Edmund reconquered the Midlands and then Northumbria. In 945 Edmund conquered Strathclyde but conceded his rights on the territory to King Malcolm I of Scotland. In exchange they signed a treaty of mutual military support. Edmund thus established a policy of safe borders and peaceful relationships with Scotland. During his reign, the revival of monasteries in England began. In 946, Edmund was at a party in Pucklechurch, when he spotted an exiled thief Leofa, in the crowd. After the outlaw refused to leave, the king and his advisors fought Leofa. Edmund and Leofa were both killed. This goes to show why knives should not be carried around in public, especially not to parties...


Dead King Watch: Henry VI

Henry VI was murdered in the Tower of London in late May 1471, which meant this week saw the 535th anniversary of his death. Leon Trotsky once noted that 'naive minds think that the office of kingship lodges in the king himself, in his ermine cloak and his crown, in his flesh and bones. As a matter of fact, the office of kingship is an interrelation between people. The king is king only because the interests and prejudices of millions of people are refracted through his person. When the flood of development sweeps away these interrelations, then the king appears to be only a washed-out man with a flabby lower lip.' Sadly, the flood of development failed to sweep away this interrelations in England in the 15th century, but Henry VI is a good example as any, of the King who in reality was but a 'washed out man with a flabby lower lip'. Ironically for one so personally pious and peace-loving, Henry left a great legacy of strife and civil war. Perhaps his one 'achievement' was his fostering of education for the rich — he founded both Eton College and King's College, Cambridge.

Henry was born in 1421, the only child of King Henry V of England and was his heir, and therefore great things were expected of him from birth. This was lucky, as his father died 9 months later and so the baby Henry succeeded to the throne in 1422. Henry was eventually crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on November 6, 1429 a month before his eighth birthday, and King of France at Notre Dame in Paris on December 16, 1431. However, after the death of his father the French kind of grew resentful of being ruled by a young English child and by the time Henry assumed the reins of government properly in 1437, English power in France was on the wane. By 1450, despite marrying a French Queen, Margeret, Henry VI only had Calais left in terms of French land - which was not much to show for the 'Hundred Years War' fought by his forefathers. Henry fell into periodic bouts of mental illness.

Discontent with his disasterous foreign policy grew among nobles - particularly the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury - who in the mid 1450s took matters into their own hands by backing the claims of the rival House of York, first to the Regency, and then to the throne itself. After a violent struggle between the nobles - the houses of Lancaster led by Henry VI and that of York - in the Wars of the Roses, Henry was deposed on March 4, 1461 by his cousin, Edward of York, who became King Edward IV of England. But Edward failed to capture Henry, and so with his Queen he was able to flee into exile abroad. During the first period of Edward IV's reign, Lancastrian resistance continued mainly under the leadership of Queen Margaret and the few nobles still loyal to her in the northern counties of England and Wales. Henry was captured by King Edward in 1465 and subsequently held captive in the Tower of London.

Queen Margeret, exiled in Scotland and later in France, was determined to win back the throne on behalf of her husband and son, and with the help of King Louis XI of France eventually formed an alliance with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had fallen out with Edward IV. Warwick returned to England, defeated the Yorkists in battle, liberated Henry VI and restored him to the throne on October 30, 1470. Henry's return to the throne lasted a very short time. By this time, years in hiding followed by years in captivity had taken their toll on Henry, who had been weak-willed and mentally unstable to start with. By all accounts Henry looked lethargic and vacant as Warwick and his men paraded him through the streets of London as the rightful King of England, and the constrast with the imposing King Edward whom he had replaced must have been marked. Within a few months Warwick had overreached himself by declaring war on Burgundy, whose ruler responded by giving Edward IV the assistance he needed to win back his throne by force. Henry VI was once more imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was murdered on 21st May 1471.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

What a Tristram!

In an article entitled 'Why be shy about our radical past?', the British historian Tristram Hunt once again demonstrates his oft-noted ability to completely misunderstand a question.

Hunt starts off brightly enough, noting the lack of respect in modern British culture for revolutionaries like the Levellers, and perhaps because he has just spent the day with Tony Benn and the Workers' Education Association he correctly puts part of the blame for this on New Labour:

'Last week saw a welter of commentary on Education Minister Bill Rammell's call for teaching 'British values' in schools. The left took it as a cue for more historical self-flagellation; the right for cultural triumphalism. Yet, disappointingly, what Rammell had, in fact, urged was the anodyne incorporation of "modern British cultural and social history into the citizenship curriculum". What he should have demanded is a vigorous exploration of our democratic heritage in schools and communities alike.'

Bill Rammell is a Blairite whose 'Third Way' between 'historical self-flaggellation' and 'cultural triumphalism' is er, cultural triumphalism but with a flaggellation of the historical record. Rammell wants kids to be indoctrinated with a pride in 'British values' in History lessons at school but then not go on to study History at any higher level. Things tend to get more murky then - as students might learn about the exact role that Britain historically played around the world as an imperial power. Worse, they might make a connection between the bloody History of British imperialism in the past and current events in Iraq and Afghanistan. This sort of knowledge does not help create a booming British economy, which is surely what 'citizenship' is all about...

Hunt, as a History lecturer, has his job in Higher Education to justify against the likes of Rammell, so he hits back and calls for 'a vigorous exploration of our democratic heritage in schools and communities alike'. Hunt then gives us a glowing portrait of this 'democratic heritage', and how the British ruling class prefer not to discuss it:

'Democracy has many fathers, but in its modern, Western variety, the British contribution is marked. From the Magna Carta to the Levellers' 'Agreement of the People' to the Chartists and Pan-African Conference, the British experience went on to influence democracy around the world. The US Declaration of Independence was partly born from the democratic ideals of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution.

Yet the difference between us and them is that French and American officialdom nurtures its political heritage. Bastille Day, the Fourth of July holiday, even the veneration given to their written constitutions, point to a public culture which reveres and renews its democratic legacy. In Britain, we are close to amnesiac about the individuals who crafted our political freedoms.

Most of our major cities are replete with statues to generals, dukes and royals, but not to our democratic heroes. Outside his home town of Thetford, the great democrat agitator Thomas Paine is barely remembered. Our democratic sites are equally neglected. The Houses of Parliament contains the most pitiful account of its role in the development of democracy.'

Hunt is wrong about the Magna Carta being a 'democratic' document, but that aside he makes some useful if unoriginal points. Moreover, his prescription as to 'what is to be done' is not totally amiss:

'This contempt for our democratic past cannot be excused by an unwritten constitution. For, as historian Linda Colley has rightly pointed out, constitutional documents, from the Treaty of Union to the Catholic emancipation acts right up to the devolution acts of 1998, all exist in the archives. The challenge is to get them out into the public sphere. And, with them, the stories of struggle, triumph and disappointment they contain: the untold lives of Chartists, suffragettes and anti-colonial campaigners. For the history of democracy is far more than just the story of the ballot; it is also about the growth of public reasoning, a free press and liberal tolerance. This is the legacy which should be highlighted in our schools and museums.'

Yet then Hunt manages to make his fatal blunder, noting that the 'cultural memory of democracy' in Britain 'does not have to be a Whiggish narrative of ever- broadening freedom, nor yet a Marxist account of aristocratic and imperial intransigence. Rather, a complex, conflicting, yet ultimately progressive history of the ebb and flow of democracy and the people who made it happen.' There is a fundamental flaw to Hunt's vision, and it is not simply his dismissal of Marxism as only concerned with 'aristocratic and imperial intransigence'. Hunt's view of the past is trapped within the boundary of the nation state to the point where he reifys 'Britain', which is, after all, in Benedict Anderson's phrase an 'imagined community'. Hunt is concerned with 'our' radical past which is 'ultimately progressive' and 'democratic'.

This is a nonsense, and a dangerous nonsense. As one commentator on 'Comment is Free' immediately countered after Hunt had concluded:

'British Values: - Enslave the Blacks, destroy their land and rob their minerals. - Colonize the rest of the third world, steal their heritage, their treasures, oppress them when they try to resist. - After stealing every piece of art, mineral and human dignity from the indigenous people of your colonies, go back to Britain and declare that the colonialist era is over. - Dont take responsibility for leaving an enormous mess in the Middle East and a devastated Africa. - After committing some of the worst crimes against humanity, start criticize everyone around you and lecture them about morality with as much arrogance as possible.'

There is more than a grain of truth there. What is needed instead of Hunt's vision is a view of History which does not limit itself to fighting the battles over the past, the 'memory wars', within the territory of the nation state or even within an imperial identity such as 'Britishness'. The Right will always tend to win such battles - or rather the Left deserve to lose such battles over who are the real 'patriots'. What is needed instead - and here is where Hunt might learn a thing or two from Frederick Engels (of whom Hunt is currently writing a biography) - is a view of the struggles in the past for progress and democracy - class struggles -that are contextualised in terms of global history - history without boundaries. However, I have the feeling such an internationalist view of the past is just a little too, well, 'radical' for the likes of Tristram Hunt.

Edited to add: For an alternative to Hunt's 'bad History', perhaps check out the following links which I have been meaning to highlight for a while:
- Dave Renton's History of the Anti Nazi League, 1977-1981, When we touched the Sky
- Louis Proyect on Karl Marx and Imperialism
- Lenin's Tomb on Marxism, the bourgeoisie and capitalist imperialism

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Friday, May 19, 2006

2. Introduction to the Industrial History of England

'WE propose next briefly to survey the pre-historic period down to the coming of the Romans, at which time the written history of our country begins. Thus we shall secure a foundation in pre-historic times for all later developments.

Before proceeding to to this, however, and in view of the scanty treatment given to the theory which we found in our last Outline to be correct, it will be well to give a definition of that theory, or mental tool, which we are going carefully and conscientiously to use throughout our lessons. Here is a definition:-

"The materialist conception of history is that view of history which ascribes the driving power of all social change to the economic development of society in production, and exchange, with its creation of classes and the resulting class struggle."

In this explanation of history the mode of production and exchange is taken as the basis of all social relations, and therefore private ownership of land and capital being general in historical times, all history is made up of contests between slave and slave-owner, capitalist and feudal-lord, and wage-slave and capitalist. History, then, is a record of class struggles, and these struggles occur over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. When man was in a savage state (i.e., when he had not developed his tools) his ideas, like his tools, were crude. He worshipped the sun and other physical phenomena because, as yet, the natural laws behind these things were undiscovered. When he understood, he no longer worshipped or sacrificed to the sun-god, with its warm and shining face. With the beginning of tools, man interposed between himself and the natural world something which had infinite results, for in changing external nature man changed himself. The early sailor and the modern factory hand are very different in their mental outlook. One was often superstitious; the other is not. That is because the sailor came into contact with Nature under conditions which have not yet been fully understood and controlled. The sudden storm, the vast expanse of waters, the great waves and winds buffetting him at their will, determined his ideas. In the factory the means of production - the material conditions - have been more developed. The natural forces have been harnessed, and the wheels start and stop at the wish of the master. Reflection furnishes other examples of how man's ideas are determined by his existence.

The Relativity of Beginnings. - Before dealing with the divisions of pre-historic and historic times we should clearly understand that beneath all the divisions there is a vital interconnection. The Evolution idea, i.e., "Nothing is - everything is becoming," should help us to understand how period gradually merges into period. "Nature knows no leaps." Night gradually becomes day. The discovered missing links reveal how slowly man himself has evolved. We cannot share the view of Dr. Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, who, in the 17th century, computed that "man was created by the Trinity on the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning." So right throughout our studies, when dealing with different systems and movements, let us remember that they slowly evolved as the conditions suitable for their existence ripened. But let us also remember that the often slow evolution does culminate in revolution; the day of Capitalism is fundamentally different from the night of Feudalism.

Three Epochs of Time. - Time has been divided into three periods. The following method of division is used by Ablett in his Easy Outlines of Economics: -

1. The Geological Period or Inorganic Period. - In this period the development from the nebulous whirl to the earth, as we now know it, took place. Changes were caused by the elements struggling together. The Making of the Earth, by Gregory, [Home University Library. 1s. 6d.] is a book giving some very interesting information about development in this period. On a clear star-light night, we can all turn our eyes skywards and see worlds in the making. It is possible "mentally" to separate man from the earth, but the earth is the indispensable premise of all life. Life itself has been described as differentiated matter, and there are some things, crystals for example, which are missing links between the inorganic and the organic divisions, which are difficult to define or to place in either category.

2. The Biologic Period. - In this period the amoeba became man. Life, which is never seen or felt apart from matter commenced; and the period finishes with the commencement of society. Struggle again takes place in this period - a struggle for subsistence, not only between different species, but also between individuals of the same species. The fittest to the environment of course survived. Now this fitness is determined by the "physiological" differences of the animals. If the land sunk below the sea-level, then the water animal would survive. If the land arose, then the land animal would be triumphant, because it had the necessary limbs, covering, and organs necessary for land existence. If the change was slow and the organism not too complex, gradual adaptation to enviroment was possible. Animals may use, but never make, tools.

3. The Sociological or Economic Period. - The cleavage between this period and the second period plays havoc with, and renders invalid, all those analogies and arguments which certain writers are so fond of using. Society cannot be considered as an "organism" in the biological sense of the word. The difference between men is not a physiological, but an "economic" one. Kings and scavengers are born alike, and, indeed, with a little training, the former could do the latters work. Man is the tool-making animal. And the difference between a navvy and a clerk is made by the different tools they use. We noted struggle in the preceding periods. Now in this division we get the "struggle between classes"; the class which owns the tools or has discovered new means of production. This importance of technique is clearly shown by other methods of classification, though the users of those methods, while recognising the consequences of the use of new tools in the past, are often conveniently blind to the consequences, not of tool-using, but of tool-ownership in the present. Before dealing with them, we may remark that the chief sources of our information about pre-historic times are:-

(1) A study of contemporary peoples still in a barbaric state, e.g., the Tasmanians who, when discovered by travellers, had a great difficulty in kindling a fire, and whose limited vocabulary needed the aid of gesture and facial expression so much that they could not converse with each other in the dark.

(2) The findings of Archaeology, i.e., that science which discovers and studies ancient remains. Human skulls and bones, ancient tools, utensils and dwellings are amongst its finds.

The Archaelogical Classification. - This classification is as follows: - (1) The Old Stone Age, when unsharpened flints were used; (2) The New Stone Age, when the flints were sharpened; (3) The Bronze Age; and (4) The Iron Age, when man is on the threshold of civilisation.

The Ethnological Classification. - The science of Ethnology (which treats of racial diversities and characteristics) has supplied another classification which is also based upon technical progress. Lewis H. Morgan, whose best work, Ancient Society, has been epitomised by Engels in his Origins of the Family, divides up human development thus: - (1) Savagery; (2) Barbarism; and (3) Civilisation. The first two periods he subdivides into Lower, Middle, and Upper Stages. His conclusions were based upon life-long investigations. In the Lower Stage of Savagery the race was in its gibbering infancy, "with foreheads villainously low," and very different from that "noble piece of work" which Hamlet eulogised. The Middle Stage of Savagery, he says, was reached with the discovery of the use of fire. It does not need a very fertile imagination to realise what this discovery meant to early man in the way of warmth in colder climates; in protection from animal foes, and in cooking his food. In Greek mythology Prometheus stole fire from the gods in heaven for man's use. The Upeer Stage of Savagery was reached with the utilisation of the bow and arrow, which would be of great use in hunting and fighting. Savagery saw also promiscuity in sexual intercourse make way for various family forms.

The Lower Stage of Barbarism was arrived at with the making and use of pottery. It is interesting to notice how man's power over his environment grows. When he had vessels he could store his food and drink and live farther away from where they were procured. The Middle Age of Barbarism was reached with the taming and tending of animals and the beginnings of agriculture. Man now had a surer supply of milk and meat than in his hunting days. Agriculture, again, would gradually lead to settled life. The Upper Stage of Barbarism comes with the utilisation of iron, which has continued up to our own Iron and Steel Age.

Civilisation comes in with the discovery of the art of writing, this probably evolving from picture writing. Longfellow, in Hiawatha, gives in poetic form the old Indian legends of how their great chief, among the other benefits he bestowed upon his people, discovered picture writing.

England's Earliest Inhabitants. - Some traces of Paleolithic man, who lived in the Old Stone Age, have been found here. This division is divided into two - the River Drift Age, when man lived chiefly in the open; and the later Paleolithic, when he sheltered in caves. "By the time Neolithic man appeared, England had assumed the features of its climate and insular position, which is characteristic of England today. One hundred thousand years is a moderate estimate of the time since the beginning of the Neolithic Age."

The Coming of the Celts. - This race is a branch of the Aryan stock, which is supposed to have come west about 4,500 years ago. The Teutons, Greeks, and Latins belong to the same stock. The Celts dispersed the older inhabitants, and settled in tribes in England. Here they were found in a state of barbarism by the Romans in 55 B.C. Next we shall deal with the effects of the Roman invasion and occupation of Britain.

BOOKS OF M.C.H [Materialist Conception of History] - Marx's 18th Brumaire for application, Huxley's Man's Place in Nature (Everyman Series) and Hird's Easy Outlines of Evolution (Watts & Co. 9d., paper), and his Picture Book of Evolution (Watts, 2 vols., 6s.) will supply interesting information on Evolution. There is a fine comparison made between Marxism and Darwinism in a pamphlet written by Dr. Anton Pannekoek (published by Kerr & Co. Chicago. 5d.). McCabe's Pre-Historic Man (Milner, 1s. 3d.) is another useful book on the early development of the race. Engel's Origin of the Family, and Morgan's Ancient Society are published by Kerr & Co., at 1s. 6d. and 4s. 4d., respectively.'

From A Worker Looks At History, by Mark Starr.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

One Way Ticket To Hell...

I have just noticed that Histomat has hit the 20,000 'hit' mark, and to mark this truly historic occasion I have decided to draw up another tedious 'Top Ten' list. Sorry about that. However, this is a top ten with a difference - as rather than being a top ten of things I like (revolutions, books about revolution, etc), this is a list of ten 'things' of which I am, er, less fond:

1. George Bush, Snr - International war criminal. Born 1924.
2. Jean-Marie Le Pen French Fascist leader. Born 1928.
3. Henry Kissinger International war criminal. Born 1923.
4. Sir Ken Morrison - British Supermarket boss. Born 1931.
5. Rupert Murdoch. Austrialian media tycoon. Born 1931.
6. Ian Paisley -Unionist bigot. Born 1926.
7. Augusto Pinochet - Chilean dictator. Born 1915.
8. Pope Benedict XVI - Aka Ratzinger the reactionary. Born 1927.
9.Ariel Sharon- Israeli War criminal. Born 1928.
10. Margeret Thatcher. British Baroness who gave birth to Blairism. Born 1925.

These people all have lots in common - they are all outstandingly loyal and devoted servants to the global capitalist system. Yet they also all share one thing in particular - they are all rather er, close to 'shuffling off the mortal coil'. Your (rather morbid) task then, should you wish to accept it, is to list the order in which you think World Civilisation will be cruelly robbed of these Very Important People. It is not, heaven forbid, a question about who one might like to shuffle off the mortal coil first. If any person guesses the order correctly they will get a prize - I will plug that person's blog or a website of their choice (if they do not have a blog) on Histomat. [If this blog has not been shut down for 'glorifying terrorism' by the UK Government before then, that is...].


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

1. - A General Introduction.

'INDUSTRIAL History deals with the history of the Labour Process. Therefore we workers, by studying it, learn how, under various systems of society, the Labour Process was carried on. Too long we have been stuffed with "drum-and-trumpet history, Royal amours, Court intrigues, the romping of armies over the Continent," and the like. Shoving aside this superficial shoddy we wish to find out the status and conditions of the workers of other times. And we do this, not because of any love for the antique, but because, wishing to raise our class, we wish to learn how other classes found the road to power; looking backward to understand the present, and in order to march forward.

Theory and Practice.- "Man makes his own history," that is agreed; but when we come to discuss "how he made or makes it," then various conflicting theories or explanations are offered. Before dealing with the chief of these explanations, it is necessary thoroughly to understand what a theory is, what its use, and what its test. To listen to most people, one would think that theory and practise lived in worlds apart, and were in violent contrast to each other; whereas, in truth, theory and practise are inseparable. Perhaps the hypothesis (i.e., the advanced, partly proved theory) is too often confused with theories about which no doubts exist, e.g., Water is wet. The purely practical man is as impossible as the purely theoretical. To theorise is to generalise from experiences, e.g. the theory that "water puts out fire" has been gathered or generalised from experiences when water did quench fire. Theories are indispensable mental tools. Thus we all theorise, but the trouble is that we do no theorise consciously. To enable the worker to gain a true knowledge of the hard facts of life, to aid him consciously to generalise his theory therefrom, and then to act in accordance with the theory thus gained - these are the aims and uses of education.

Now, every person has an experience of his own which he cannot share with any other person. Theory, however, is different, for it can be shared, and the advantage of theory is that it saves the repetition of experience. Our mothers gave us the theory that "fire burns fingers"; this saved us from finding this out for ourselves. Of course, if we wished to prove the theory, the fire was always handy. Theories then, save us time and trouble, and they can be conveyed to other persons by teaching, oral or otherwise. Only centuries of stored accumulated theories give modern man his superiority over the animal and the savage.

Another use of theory is that by it we can forecast our future experience. I can say with indubitable certainty that if I burn my fingers in the fire in 1925 I shall recieve a burn. So, theory is a guide to practice, and it is important that we should get true pictures of all the facts and draw from them correct theories.

The test of the truth of a theory is "Will it explain the facts?" If we ever come across a kind of fire which did not burn fingers, our theory that fire did burn fingers would be proved untrue, and would have to go. The theory may be wrong, the facts never. And it will help us to get true theories if we remember that the world is continually changing and constantly demanding that we should revise our theories and bring them "up to date". It will be interesting to apply this test to the historical theories with which we will now deal.

1.The Theistic Conception of History. - History, under this theory or conception, was thought to be the work of a supernatural power which controlled and governed all men. Every nation has its gods, pixies, goblins, fairies, etc., which protect or afflict it. But a close study of religion reveals that it is the changed and not the changer. When a nomadic people adopt a settled life, then they need new gods. Before, they needed a portable god; in settled life they build temples. We need not examine in this Outline this theory at length. It certainly is not "up to date". No educated person, for example, will ascribe the present European War to the doings of a supernatural power. "The stage of History is not a Punch and Judy show".

2. The Great Man Theory. - The supernatural theory having failed to explain the facts, the theory that history was the record of the doings of great men was made - the "hero" was trotted out as the dynamic of progress. Carlyle's name is prominent in connection with this gospel of "hero-worship." But, alas, the greatness of all Carlyle's heroes can be explained by the material conditions of their times. Luther only moved when Indulgences were sold in his own parish, and if he had lived ten years earlier he would have been the central performer in a heated controversy at the stake in the market-place - another "burning question" would have been settled. "Men are the creatures and not the creators of their age." And what applies to Luther applies also to other great men - to the Cromwells, the Napoleons, and Kaisers of history - even to Lord Rhondda, over whom the press has so recently been slobbering. "No man is so great as to merit deification. No man is so commonplace as to merit damnation." Even the greatest personality fails if he battles to retain that which evolutionary forces have made obsolete. "He who labours in harmony with evolution, him we may modestly call 'great.' Let us all be great."...We suggest that this theory will not stand the test. History is not explained by great personalities.

3. The Climate, Food and Soil Theory. - This theory cannot be understood apart from the time in which it was made - the middle of the 19th century. The general principles of evolution were being proved by their individual application to biology. Law and order were being introduced into the other sciences. Many were the various idealist theories applied to history. In opposition to these idealists, who thought that material changes were caused by changes in ideas, arose other thinkers, who maintained the opposite view, i.e., that ideas arose from, and were governed by material conditions.

Buckle was one of these latter thinkers, and in his History of Civilisation, (Vol. I, Chapter 2) he wrote that the character of a people or a society was determined by the climate, food, soil, geographical position, etc., of the country in which it lived. This theory seems to explain the facts. A desert land would breed a race of nomads; an island people would become a mercantile nation; a hilly country would produce bands of raiders; civilisation would first spring up where Nature was kind and genial, and where food was procured easily. These and many other very interesting examples he adduces to prove his theory. Undoubtedly in the infancy of the race natural environment largely influenced society; e.g., in England Buckle's factors have remained unchanged since the Romans, and yet vast developments have taken place; and so, applying our test, we find that this theory does not explain the facts. Factors which do not change cannot cause change. We will now pass on to deal with the theory outlined by Marx and Engels (Engels, however, gives Marx the chief credit), which succeeded in explaining the complexity of history.

The Materialist Conception of History. - This theory of history shows that the change which preceeds all changes in the superstructure of society, in politics, morals, laws, religions, etc., is a change in the economic foundations of society, "the means and methods of wealth production and distribution." If the reader possesses a copy of Marx's Critique, he will find, on pp. 11, 12, the basis of this theory stated. It is only the workers who dare accept this theory of history, for the evolutionary forces are now on our side. Capitalism having solved the problem of production is now a fetter, and it has brought into existence its grave-diggers. This theory is the tool which we shall consciously apply in our industrial history studies, and not only will it help us to explain past history, but it will enable us to make it in the future.

The following pamplets will furnish interesting light upon this conception of history:-
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific(Engels). 2d. S.L.P.
Historical Materialism (Engels). 2d.
The Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels). 2d.
Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History (Kautsky. 1s. 6d.)'

From A Worker Looks At History by Mark Starr.


Author's Preface

Author's Preface [to A Worker Looks At History].

'These Outlines would never have been written but for the fact that the writer, in the autumn of 1915, was fortunate to come into contact with the Central Labour College and the Plebs League, through being awarded a scholarship tenable at the C.L.C., by the Rhndda No. 1 District of the S.W.M.F. [South Wales Miner's Federation]. Then, for the first time, he saw the need of Independence in Working-Class Education, and the immense potentialities it possessed for those members of his class who, like himself were sound at heart yet muddled in head; lacking in knowledge of things as they are, and awaiting "the delivering power" of clear thinking and the new idea in order to secure the surest, quickest way of advance.

After an all too short and somewhat disturbed stay at the College, circumstances forced a return to work in August, 1916. The Aberdare Miners' District took up the provision of classes in Social Science, and the teaching of the Industrial History classes became part of my work. The suggestion was made to the Merthyr Pioneer that it should publish Outlines of the lessons given, in order to help the class students and others unable to attend; and to persuade outsiders of the benefits to be gained by the workers taking up the study of Industrial History from a definite working-class viewpoint. The kind consent of the Editor enabled us to follow the example set by the Railway Review and the London District Council of the N.U.R.[National Union of Railwaymen], in the case of W.W. Craik's articles. The Outlines served their purpose: general appreciation was expressed, and they even attracted the notice of a Times Special Correspondent (22/11/16).

To attempt full acknowledgement of all sources of information would be too large a task. Readers of Kerr & Co.'s publications will doubtless recognise information and ideas which have unconsciously become my own. The Bibliography might well be doubled, but the books mentioned have been selected with the limited money, time, and energy of the worker in view; and they include, in connection with some of the Outlines, works of fiction which contain interesting sidelights upon certain periods, and which may be read when the work-tired brain is unattracted by the text-books proper; though it is hoped these latter will be consulted also, as an Outline is only suggestive and needs filling in.

I am also indebted to W.W. Craik's unpublished Lectures-by-Post, and to his series of articles in the Railway Review - since republished, though (regrettably) condensed, in book-form; [Outlines of the History of the Modern Working Class Movement.(Published by London Dist. Council, NUR)] as well as to his oral instruction for much of the information, method of presentation, and illustrations used in these Outlines. The worth of the Sub-Warden of the Labour College to the working-class movement - and that of many other past and present scientific Socialists who have freely given their brains, and lived laborious nights and days for their fellows - has not yet been fully recognised. (Not that such individuals are anxious for any such recognition, believing as they do that the movement, not the man, is what matters, and that - "Never mind who gets the credit so long as they work is done").

Those students who kept cuttings of the original Outlines will notice alterations in their present form. Expansion of the earlier and some condensation of the later chapters has been attempted for reasons of proportion. This was made easier, and also necessary, because, when the Outlines were appearing, W.W. Craik's above-mentioned book had not been published. In preference to omitting the Outlines partially covered by his book, and thus breaking the continuity of the lessons, an effort has been made to deal here with certain points only briefly dealt with by him. The two books should, therefore, be read together when the later Outlines are being taken in the classes which this book endeavours to serve. The alternative groupings of the periods of Trade Union history need not prevent this; and the unanswerable case for Industry Unionism and its history, given in thirty pages of Craik's book, makes further emphasis superfluous in these Outlines.

Written by a wage worker for the use of other wage-workers, by one alternately using a mandrill and a pen, these Outlines were composed in weekends, evenings, and other intervals snatched from time occupied by classwork, and the getting of a living "by helping to milk the black cow". While the disadvantages of such conditions are obvious, yet they have had their compensations in keeping the writer close to the objective world of reality, often ignored by college professors, which will have to be faced and altered by the workers before they have the sufficiency of means, time and energy to demand for themselves books giving a more adequate treatment of the history of the Labour-process.

The 19th original Outline has been omitted. It dealt with the three varying phases of Capitalism and attempted to popularise the conclusions of a book [Boudin's Socialism and War] now more easily accessible than then; also, our comrades, J.T.W. Newbold & W. Paul, have, in pamphlets, given us special treatment of this subject [Politics of Capitalism (1d.), B.S.P, 21a, Maiden Lane, Strand, WC, and Labour and Empire (2d.), S.L.P., 50, Renfrew Street, Glasgow). Hence, the original 20th may be divided into two, and the theory stated by Boudin used in a general fashion in the previous Outlines.

My thanks are due to J.F. Horrabin for much advice regarding necessary re-drafting, and also to the same friend for correction of proofs; and to the Editor of the Merthyr Pioneer for permission to reprint.

Before the science of navigation was developed, the compass used, and continents and currents discovered, the early mariners could only sail within sight of the little land they knew. Before a clear knowledge of social science, leading on to a conscious control of social forces, was sought and found, we of a newer day in the Labour Movement (without disparaging any of the work of our fellows and their leaders in the past) feel that they, too, were forced to sail only in sight of the well-known lands of their limited experience, and to steer by rule of thumb and precedent. But when the science of society is developed, when we have the compass of working-class education, and when we have estimated the strength of the currents and mapped out the social world, then, in the same way, we as mariners of the organised Labour ship will be able to launch out across hitherto uncharted oceans and explore new worlds, where the workers will control the conditions of their life, and wage-slavery be but a memory. The purpose of this book is to aid the rapidly growing working-class movement, which gives fair promise to provide society with a chart and steering skills for future voyages.

Mark Starr.
November, 1917.

The success of the 1st edition proves encouraging. Several minor improvements have been made from the helpful criticism given. Thanks are especially due to G. Sims in this connection. Circumstances, however, prevent an expansion of the book and a full use of the suggestions made.
March, 1918.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Foreword

A Foreword to A Worker Looks At History, by Mark Starr.

'This little book will be welcomed by the many students of the Central Labour College Classes, and the thousands of intelligent young workers who are seeking knowledge of Industrial History.

The enlightenment the worker needs is coming to him, and coming much quicker than is generally discerned. It is coming not from class-biased University professors, but from men of his own industrial organisation. The industrial worker of the coming generation will be intellectually equipped, not for "Collective Bargaining" with his employer, but for taking over and controlling his own industry.

Our author has well qualified himself for the work he has undertaken. He has specialised on his subject, he is teacher of Industrial History in the Central Labour College classes in his own locality. He therefore knows what information the worker needs, and has provided it. These classes, Mr.Times Man, are producing the "Ferment of Revolution" you so much dread - a revolution of the most fearsome type for the Capitalist and the Bureaucrat; a revolution from ignorance to knowledge - the most potent form of revolution conceivable. This change is taking place right under our very eyes; silent, yet the most powerful in history. This book will hasten it. As one of the Old Guard to one of the New, I wish his venture good speed, and congratulate the author on his successful achievement.

George Barker,
Miners' Agent, Abertillery, Mon.
22nd October, 1917.'


A Worker Looks At History

Today he is a forgotten figure, but Mark Starr (1894-1985) was a pioneer in the development of the idea that the working class movement should create a system of independent education, free from capitalist ideology. A brief biography of his life is available online:

'Mark Starr was a major figure in the Plebs League and The National Council of Labour Colleges in Britain before emigrating to the United States in the late twenties.

He was born in Shoscombe in the Somerset coalfield in 1894 in an area which was both radical in politics and Methodist in religion. After leaving school in 1907,he worked as a builder’s mortar boy for a year before working as a coalminer in the local mines at Radstock. In 1913 he moved to South Wales and soon after won a Rhondda Miners’ Scholarship to the Central Labour College in Earl’s Court, London. His study was interrupted by the first world war; registering as a conscientious objector he was allowed to go back to the mines rather than the armed forces in 1914 but in 1917 he was arrested and sent to Wormwood Scrubs and Dartmoor. On his release, in 1919, he was allowed by his union to finish his Labour College course.

From 1921, he was one of two divisional organizers for the National Council of Labour Colleges, working in the Eastern Counties Region. His working week involved Sunday classes in Norwich, Ipswich and Felixstowe, Monday in Colchester, Tuesday in Braintree and then later in the week, he taught Esperanto in Bethnal Green for the London County Council. In 1922 and in 1924, he was Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon in the national elections. He was a prolific propagandist, writing A Worker Looks at History, in 1917, based on articles he had written for the Merthyr Pioneer, A Worker Looks at Economics (1925) and most important of all, Lies and Hate in Education (1928), a polemic against patriotic, nationalist education and a valuable sourcebook of information on education in the twenties. He was a correspondent for a Ukranian Esperanto journal in the twenties (Pedagogia Revro) and when later he worked at Brookwood, the New York Labour College, he was a correspondent for the paper of ‘One Big Union’, based in Winnipeg.

In 1928, he began working at Brookwood, teaching courses on the history of British labour in exchange for his board. In 1935, he became the educational director for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York and after his retirement in 1960 he became Chairman of the Esperanto Information Centre, acted as an advisor on workers’ education internationally and still teaches Esperanto in New York.'

A article Starr wrote in 1950 on American educationalist John Dewey is available here, but to my knowledge the rest of his work is hard to get hold of. This is a shame. As Duncan Hallas noted, 'the role played by the Labour College Movement in its various manifestations (Plebs League 1908-27, Central Labour College 1909-29, National Council of Labour Colleges 1921-64) was, on the whole, a very positive one. Look at the publications of the Plebs League and the NCLC. Mark Starr’s A Worker Looks At History, WW Craiks Outline of a History of the British Working Class Movement, Tom Ashcroft’s History of Modern Imperialism stand out among many others, as basic Marxist texts.'

Accordingly, I have decided to undertake a project to type out Mark Starr's A Worker Looks At History (1917) onto Histomat so it is available online. This will take some time, but it is not a long book and I feel it is worth doing. Works like this are more than just of historical interest - they remind us of the fact that before Labourism consolidated its grip, Marxism did have real roots among ordinary workers in Britain. To quote Hallas again:

'It is no exaggeration to say that the whole ideology of labourism...could never have arisen in the form it did except as a reaction to working class Marxists who fought the TUC leaders (often Liberals for the most part) on the basis of class politics.

Of course, these predecessors of ours had many faults. Their Marxism was fairly primitive. Anyone who reads today Mark Starr’s A worker looks at history (1918), which was a most influential text (10,000 sold on first printing and nearly 30,000 before 1925) can pick holes in it. But why were so many sold? Because, between 1910 and the foundation of the CPGB in 1920, a layer of working class militants looked for and found, in Marxism, an alternative world view to the dominant Liberal-imperialist ideology of British capitalism (which the Labourites accepted, albeit critically).

They had practically no help from any bourgeois intellectuals. Why not? From around the time of Engels’ death "Marxism", of some sort or another became the majority or a big minority in the workers’ movement of much of Europe. This, in turn, produced an important bourgeois intellectual reaction (Weber, Pareto, Saussure and so on). Why did this not happen in Britain? For the obvious reason. The European bourgeois intellectual reaction against "Marxism" however defined, was a necessary reaction against the growth of working class movements which had a "Marxist" flavour.

To coin a phrase, without Kautsky, no Weber. But the British working class movement, for good, Marxist reasons, lacked that colouration. Hence, before 1917 it neither produced first class intellectual opponents nor many "renegade" bourgeois intellectuals (the only sort that, broadly speaking, existed).

And so Marxism in Britain was, as MacIntyre says, a “proletarian science”. Think of the outstanding theorists: John Maclean, James Connolly, J.T. Murphy, Tom Bell, Willie Paul and the rest. All of them passed the great test of 1914 – they opposed the imperialist war. All of them passed the test of 1919 (except Connolly who was shot by a British imperialist firing squad in 1916) and supported the Communist International. All, except Maclean, went into the CPGB in 1920 and sought to build a Leninist Party in Britain.' Tragically, the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into Stalinism perverted that dream, but today, with Labourism clearly dying in Britain, it is arguably timely to look again at the writings of working class intellectuals like Mark Starr, to see if they might still have some relevance for our struggles.

A Worker Looks At History
Being Outlines of Industrial History specially written for C.L.C.-Plebs Classes.
By Mark Starr (S.W.M.F.[South Wales Miners' Federation])
With a Foreword by George Barker (Miners' Agent, Abertillery, Mon.)
Second Edition. Published by the Plebs League, 176 Springvale Road, Sheffield. 1918.
Two Shillings & Sixpence.

A Foreword.

Author's Preface.

The following Syllabus of the classes in English Industrial History, conducted by the author in the Aberdare District (S. Wales Miners' Federation), may - besides serving as a Summary of the Contents of this book - be useful to other classes printing similar synopses of courses of study.

Text-books:- Industrial History of England (Gibbins), and History of Modern British Working Class Movement (Craik).

1. A GENERAL INTRODUCTION. - The scope of Industrial History. Benefits obtained from its study. Theory: What it is, its use and test. Various historical theories. Theistic; The Great Man Theory; The Climate, Food and Soil Theory; and the Economic Theory or Materialist Conception, outlined by Marx in the preface of his Critique of Political Economy.
2. AN INTRODUCTION TO ENGLISH INDUSTRIAL HISTORY. - The relativity of all beginnings. The evidence of Geology. Early traces of Man. The Ice Age. The evidence of Ethnology and Archaeology concerning the slow advance. Their different methods of classification based upon the Labour process. The chief sources of information. Probable origins of the Celts. The coming of the Romans (55 B.C.). Its effects.
3. FROM MARK TO MANOR-The evidence of the existence of the Mark. Parallel examples of communism in other lands. The various Invasions of Great Britain. The Anglo-Saxon Manor. Its method of land ownership and cultivation. The evolution of the chief, soldier and priest.
4. FEUDALISM - How it arose. The division between the farmer and the fighter. Its reorganisation in England by the Normans. The Hierachy in Church and State. The land basis of society. The information furnished by the Doomsday book.
5. THE SLAVE, THE SERF, AND THE MODERN WAGE-WORKER- A comparison of their lot. Chattel Slavery: Its origin and history.
6. TOWNS AND TRADE IN THE MIDDLE AGES.-How towns originated in markets, fairs and shrines. The decay of the self-sufficing community. The growth of Luxury. Early traders. The increasing use of money and its consequences.
7. THE GUILDS.Their origin. Differing types. Merchant Guilds. Exclusive control of Craft Guild over production. The Guild-worker's status. The strife between town and country.
8. THE FALL OF FEUDALISM.Commutation of labour rents. Effects of internal and external wars. The Crusades. Castles and Gunpowder. The Black Death. The Peasants Revolt. The subsequent Temporary Golden Age of Labour.
9. THE RISE OF THE MERCHANT CLASS. Early merchants. The 16th century growth of foreign trade. The English wool. Rivalry between national merchants under the Tudors. The merchants and the guilds. Mercantile economy and the precious metals. The methods of accumulation of wealth.
10. THE CREATION OF THE PROLETARIAT. Enclosures for sheep farming. The divorce from the means of production. Vagrancy and the Poor Law. The rise of the manufactory.
11. THE RENAISSANCE FROM MEDIEVAL NIGHT. Examples of mediaeval superstition. The new inductive method of Bacon and others. Printing and the revival of learning. The economic causes behind the awakening.
12. THE BEGINNINGS OF MODERN CAPITALISM.- Its general nature and other systems of production. Its various stages up to the Industrial Revolution. The fight for markets. Division of labour inside workshop. Its philosophy as expressed by Adam Smith.
13. THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE OF THE CAPITALIST CLASS. The right of taxation. The Revolution culminating in 1688. Uses of political power. Further progress until 1832.
14. THE BEGINNINGS OF TRADE UNIONS. Comparison with other labour associations made. Their battle for a legal existence. Their structure and policy outlined from 1700 to the time of Robert Owen.
15. THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. From the tool to the machine. The gradual destruction of handicraft. The three stages of Power. Manufacture becomes Machinofacture. Inventions an sources of Power discoveries. Developments in textile, mining and transport industries. How England outdistanced her competitors.
16. THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION AND THE WORKERS. Early horrors. The Factory legislation. The new industrial centres. The Chartist movement. The Repeal of the Corn Laws. The succeeding "grand era of capitalist expansion".
17. TRADE UNIONISM FROM 1830 TO 1900. Attempts at Federation. Its revolutionary hopes. The building of stable organisations after 1850. Structure and bargaining policy of the Model Unions. The New Unionism of 1880. Propaganda bodies and their influence.
18. THE TRADE UNIONS FROM 1900-1916. Formation of a political Party and its activity. The Labour Unrest and its causes. The present position; and modern methods of organisation, structure and policy.
19. IN CONCLUSION: A SUMMARY. The logic of the machine. The effects of women's increasing entrance into industry. Modern Movements. The need for working class education in Scientific Socialism. A forecast of the future.

A Worker Looks At History is not a big book, so it shouldn't take too long, but I am not going to spend a lot of time typing it up so do not expect it to appear in full for some time. I will update this page accordingly.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Another Zimbabwe is possible

It was announced today that inflation in Zimbabwe is now running at 1,000 percent, and 18 May marks the first anniversary of Operation Murambatsvina, which has been described as 'Zimbabwe's Tsunami' because it has been so devastating. A campaign spearheaded by movements and organisations who are members of the Zimbabwe Social Forum has launched 'Anti-eviction Action Day' and is calling for international support. The following is their launch declaration:

'We, the people of Zimbabwe, do solemnly declare on this day that we shall forever remember with heavy hearts and burning anger, the atrocious brutality visited upon the poor people of this nation by the government of Zimbabwe under the so called Operation Murambatsvina (which translates as "Drive out the Filth").

We mourn those who lost their lives at the hands of overzealous state agents carrying out this operation. We grieve with the thousands of Operation Murambatsvina victims who today are still in dire need of humanitarian assistance. We are traumatized with those thousands of families evicted from their dwellings who are today homeless and denied the very basic right to earn a living and to have a roof over their heads. We endure with boiling anger the sight of displaced AIDS patients now condemned to fast-tracked death, because they can no longer carry on with treatment.

We struggle together with the woman who daily braves police brutality and outright looting as she sells tomatoes on the streets so that she can feed her kids and send them to school. We salute those brave enough to resist this dehumanisation by an exhausted regime. In the environment of a shattered economy with 80 percent unemployment we ask the same question as every informal trader: “Why are we denied the right to trade, the right to our only source of livelihood?”

Today we remember the 700,000 people who were evicted and displaced by Operation Murambatsvina, we remember the 300 000 kids who were forced to drop out of school, we remember the 25,000 vendors who were arrested and had their goods looted by corrupt and callous police officers who acted with total impunity. We remember everything we lost, the trauma and the tears we had to shed at the hands of a heartless regime that has lost the support of the people and now rules by force.

For trampling on our dignity and reducing us to a nation of beggars, all in the name of the paramountcy of political survival, we hold the government of Zimbabwe guilty. The government is guilty along with its functionaries and proxies and the political elite who are determined to hold on to power regardless of the cost to the economy and to the population – guilty of crimes against humanity, under both local and international law – for deliberately destroying our dignity and rights. We shall be unrelenting in our quest for justice.

We condemn the government of Zimbabwe’s neo-liberal economic agenda whose failure has impoverished the vast majority of Zimbabweans. We also condemn the widespread corruption by functionaries of the government of Zimbabwe and those in the private sector. Accordingly we call for a people centred economy in which the people shall govern and are guaranteed of basic socio-economic rights and dignity.

Today we remember the millions of impoverished Zimbabweans who are victims of Operation Murambatsvina and rededicate ourselves to the struggle for social justice and democracy.

Importantly we want to recognise that evictions, harassment and criminalisation of the poor is not confined to Zimbabwe alone. It is an international crisis. Accordingly we call on all progressive forces globally to immortalize our struggles against such shameful state barbarism in declaring 18 May an International Anti-Eviction Day.

We the people of Zimbabwe and those of us in principled solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, declare that "another Zimbabwe is possible"- in our lifetime.'

Please send your messages of solidarity to antievictioncampaign@yahoo.com.

Spotted here

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Good news

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Strictly business

The knives are out for Don Blairino. He knows that when his enemies come, they will come as his friends, with smiles on their faces. That is why loyal lieutenant 'Jack the knife' had to go, that is why 'Fungus the Bogeyman' Clarke had to go. And that is why the man who would be Don, Gordonio, looks so bloody miserable the whole time - if he smiled, well, that would be the last time we heard of him too...

Yet the reason why no one has yet stuck the knife into Blairino is not so clear. Many suspect it is because he has one last trick up his bloody sleave - one 'secret weapon' with an intellect so overpowering, and the mere mention of whose name strikes fear into all who cross his path, the man known to the wider world as 'Denis MacShane'. Denis is just about the only backbench MP left who still shows Tony any respect, and he thinks other should do the same. As Denis the Enforcer puts it, rather euphamistically, 'A little loyalty and a few more zipped mouths would be welcome.'

For those Labour MPs who continue to take sides against 'the family', Denis has three ways of making them show 'a little loyalty'.

For those who are basically loyal, but prone to listening to 'voices' telling them that it is time to renew New Labour by replacing Blairino with Gordonio, Denis just gently suggests to them that they might be losing their grip on reality. In the nicest possible way, of course. 'Have my fellow Labour MPs lost their senses?' he quietly suggests. He tells them how the local elections, rather than being any sort of disaster, were a wonderful vindication of Blairism's popularity: 'In the local elections on Thursday, Labour lost 300 councillors...Compared with the Tory tsunamis that won every major city in 1968, Blair has done well.' Ah yes, of course, losing 300 councillors and getting the worst results since 1982 is 'doing well'. After all, we all remember the 'Tory tsunamis of 1968' like they were yesterday...

Secondly, for more retiscent Labour types who seem to be turning against Blair, Denis warns them that Tony believes in God and God is on Tony's side: 'Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make into Labour MPs...'

Thirdly and finally, for those whose detestation of Blairino has reached the point of no return, Denis warns them that if they bring Blairino down then then things will get violent. 'Whoever pours poison into the wells of Labour's citadels with the kind of briefings in every paper this weekend will inherit a witches' brew... Attempting to end Blairino's reign will mean 'the mutually assured destruction of the collective achievement of this reforming government'.

So what happens now? Will Don Blairino manage to make Gordonio yet another 'offer he can't refuse' and so hang on to power? How long will it be until Gordonio tells Tony that 'its nothing personal' as he stabs him in the back? We can only be sure of one thing. While John Prescott may like sleeping around, politically speaking it will not be long before Tony Blairino sleeps with the fishes.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dead King Watch: Edward VI

Today marks the 453rd anniversary of the death of King Edward VI. There is not really that much to be said about him to be honest. He was born in 1537, son of Henry VIII and on his father's death ten years later he became King. As he was only ten, real power lay elsewhere - not least because Edward was a very sick little child - and he died in 1553, when he was sixteen. Although his father and predecessor, Henry VIII, had broken the link between the English church and Rome, it was during Edward's 'reign' that the decisive move was made from Catholicism to a form of Protestantism which came to be known as Anglicanism.

However, there were a couple of heroic peasant rebellions of note that happened during his 'reign'. Firstly, there was the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, centered in Devon and Cornwall. On the face of it, this was a religious revolt organised by Catholic reactionaries against the introduction of the book of Common Prayer in English (they wanted to keep the Latin texts). Yet, under the slogan 'Kill all the gentleman and we will have the Six Articles up again and ceremonies as they were in King Henry VIII's time', thousands of peasants rioted against the power of the gentry in general and ended up being brutally killed by armies composed mainly of German and Italian mercenaries in order to 'keep the peace'.

The rebels were largely farmers armed with little more than pitchforks and the mercenary arquebusiers killed over a thousand rebels at Crediton. 1,300 died at Sampford Courtenay and 300 at Fenny Bridges. Further orders were issued on behalf of the King by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Somerset, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the continuance of the onslaught. Under Sir Anthony Kingston, English and mercenary forces then moved into Cornwall and executed or killed many people before the bloodshed finally ceased (someimes referred to as the Cornish Holocaust). Proposals to translate the Prayer Book into Cornish were also suppressed. In total 4,000 people lost their lives in the rebellion.

Secondly, and less well known about, was the Norfolk rising, also of 1549. Morton notes that this was 'quite different in character' and 'after the revolt of 1381, the most important of all the English peasant wars. Norfolk was probably the most Protestant county in England and the rising was entirely directed against the Enclosures.' Thomas More, in the first part of his Utopia, in 1516, described for all time what the enclosures he witnessed meant for England.

"For look in what parts of the realm doth grow the finest and therefore dearest wool, there noblemen and gentlemen, yea, and certain abbots, holy men no doubt, not contenting themselves with the yearly revenues and profits that were wont to grow to their forefathers and predecessors of their lands, nor being content that they live in rest and pleasure—nothing profiting, yea, much annoying the public weal—leave no ground for tillage, they inclose all into pastures; they throw down houses; they pluck down towns and leave nothing standing but only the church to be made into a sheep fold. . . . They turn all dwelling-places and all glebe land into desolation and wilderness. Therefore, that one covetous and insatiable cormorant may compass about and inclose many thousand acres of ground together within one pale or hedge, the husbandmen be thrust out of their own, or else either by cunning and fraud, or by violent oppression, or by wrongs and injuries they be so wearied, that they be compelled to sell all. By one means therefore or another, either by hook or by crook they must needs depart away, men, women, husbands, wives, fatherless children, widows, mother with their your babies, and their whole household small in substance and large in number, as husbandry requireth many hands. Away they trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no place to rest in. . . . And when they have wandered abroad till the little they have be spent, what can they then else do but steal, and then justly be hanged, or else go about a begging. And yet then also they be cast in prison as vagabonds, because they go about and work not: whom no man will set a work, though they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto. For one shepherd or herdsman is enough to eat up that ground with cattle, to the occupying whereof about husbandry many hands were requisite."

The Norfolk rising was led by Robert Ket, a landowner who gathered up a 20,000 strong army to march on Norwich in June 1549. 'For more than six weeks the power of the landlords was broken round Norwich, their enclosures were stopped, and the hope of better things filled the hearts of the peasants'. In July 1549, Norwich had been taken and an army of 1,200 men under the Marquis of Northampton routed.

'It is plain from Ket's speeches to his men, and from "The Rebels' Complaint," which he published at this time, that to Robert Ket the rising was not only to put down enclosures, its aim was rather to strike at the root of the evil and to put an end to the ascendancy of the landlord class, and make England a free common wealth. Either the people must put down landlords, or very soon the landlords would have the whole land in their possession, and the people would be in hopeless and helpless subjection....Ket's speech at Eaton Wood is a fierce attack on the landlords, and a reminder that having ventured so far, the peasants must advance yet further:

"Now are ye overtopped and trodden down by gentlemen, and put out of possibility ever to recover foot. Rivers of riches ran into the coffers of your landlords, while you are pair'd to the quick, and fed upon pease and oats like beasts. You are fleeced by these landlords for their private benefit, and as well kept under by the public burdens of State wherein while the richer sort favour themselves, ye are gnawn to the very bones. You tyrannous masters often implead, arrest, and cast you into prison, so that they may the more terrify and torture you in your minds, and wind our necks more surely under their arms. And then they palliate these pillories with the fair pretence of law and authority! Fine workmen, I warrant you, are this law and authority, who can do their dealings so closely that men can only discover them for your undoing. Harmless counsels are fit for tame fools; for you who have already stirred there is no hope but in adventuring boldly."

'The Government prepared a great army of 12,000 under the Earl of Warwick, known later as the Duke of Northumberland, a capable general and perhaps the greatest scoundrel who ever governed England. After a battle lasting two days Warwick's German cavalry broke the peasants and Ket and his brother rode out of battle, leaving the followers to shift for themselves. The remnants of the rebels drew together behind a barricade of wagons and held out so stoutly that they secured a personal undertaking of safety from Warwick before laying down their arms.'

'The Kets were pursued, taken and hanged, as were hundreds of others. The Norfolk gentry who had been terrified at the open class character of the rising clamoured for a wholescale slaughter and not even Warwick's brutality could satisfy them. The chronicle which tells the story of the revolt says that he was forced to remind them that the rebels were the source of all their wealth, asking [the gentry] pointedly, "Will ye be ploughmen and harrow your own land?"'

'Though suppressed, the rising had some striking results. It helped to stay the process of the enclosures and to give East Anglia the predominantly peasant character which it long preserved and which made it a stronghold for Parliament and of the advanced section of the New Model Army in the Civil War.'