Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Saturday, July 29, 2006

John Pilger on Empire: war and propaganda

In the New Statesman. It ends: 'I think Orwell got it right in this passage from Nineteen Eighty-Four, a tale of the ultimate empire:

"And in the general hardening of outlook that set in . . . practices which had been long abandoned - imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions . . . and the deportation of whole populations - not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive".'

For further discussion of the American Empire, check out Doug Nesbitt's review of John Rees's Imperialism and Resistance.

On the latest from Lebanon, see Lebanon Updates as well as here, which quotes Dante: 'The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.'

Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University, meanwhile has written a detailed discussion of British sea power: A 21st century question, which looks at Britain's attempt to play its role in this 'New World Order'.

Finally, those interested in Cuba's past and present might be interested in Chris Harman's article in the latest ISJ, as well as Louis Proyect's comments on Sam Farber.

Edited to add details of the next national demo in London:

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Book Review: The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire by John Newsinger

'We want you to get up the arse of the White House and stay there'. Not something that one normally hears in polite conversation, but nevertheless, that was what Christopher Meyer was told by Blair's chief of staff when he was appointed British ambassador to the US in 1997. This was bad enough when Bill Clinton was in the White House, but when Clinton was replaced by George Bush well, one might have thought that it was time for Britain to extract itself from Washington's posterior. Yet, for all his talk of standing 'shoulder to shoulder' with the US, Blair has actually maintained the anatomical position of British foreign policy ever since the disastrous Anglo-French invasion of Nasser's Egypt fifty years ago.

Today as we watch the American Empire reach the limits of its power, few are drawing parallels with the moment the British Empire too faced imperial 'overreach' and then went into its decline and fall. Yet here too, the Middle East played an important role, with a massive popular revolt against British colonial dictatorship in Palestine from 1936-1939. This heroic uprising has been described as 'the most sustained phase of the anti-imperialist struggle in the Arab world before the Algerian war of Independence' and it is just one of the many hidden mass movements against British imperialism that John Newsinger describes in his brilliant new book:

'While the outbreak was inevitable, given the accumulation of Palestinian grievances, what finally precipitated the revolt was an attack by Arab guerillas...on 17 April 1936. A bus was stopped near Nablus and two Jewish passengers were killed. Two days later Revisionist gunmen killed two Arab shepards in reprisal. These sparks were enough to ignite a massive conflagration...a general strike was called and quickly spread throughout Palestine with local committees being formed to supervise the stoppage. This was very much a spontaneous affair...the general strike was to last for 175 days, the longest in history. It was inevitably accompanied by considerable violence and in the countryside armed bands were formed that clashed with the British and the Zionists.'

How did the British respond to this 'outbreak of democracy'? 'The British responded by blowing up 237 houses, ostensibly on public health grounds, leaving thousands of people homeless...with the armed reoccupation of the towns and cities, the revolt's centre of gravity shifted to the countryside where the armed bands were in control. Volunteers came from other Arab countries to bolster the armed struggle...the British responded to what was becoming a guerrilla war with mass arrests, shootings, torture and the blowing up of houses. By the time the general strike was finally called off on 10 October 1936, 37 British troops and police had been killed, 80 Jewish settlers and over a thousand Palestinians.'

Given this British barbarism - what was the response of the Labour Party back in Britain? Did they perhaps condemn the actions of the Tory British Government of the day? Er, not quite. 'With the outbreak of the Great Revolt, Labour took its stand with the Zionist settlers, condemning the general strike and armed insurrection as "fascist" and urging the government to stand firm...Herbert Morrison, one of the party's leaders, was not alone in his enthusiastic celebration of Zionist colonisation: "The Jews have proved to be first class colonisers, to have the real good, old empire qualities, to be really first class colonial pioneers". This Labour support for Zionism was to continue into the Second World War. In 1944 the party was actually to propose the removal of the Arab population from Palestine "on humane grounds...Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in".'

In September 1937, the guerilla war -come- class struggle flared up again after a British clamp down on Arab leaders after the assassination of the district commissioner of Galilee by Palestinian revolutionaries. Throughout the winter of 1937 and into 1938, the countryside was taken by rebels, 'with revolutionary courts set up and a revolutionary administration beginning to emerge at a local level. At the height of the revolt there were between 10,000 and 15,000 rebel fighters in arms. As their hold on the countryside tightened, the rebels moved down into the cities, occupying Jaffa, Beersheba, Gaza, Jericho, Bethlehem, Ramallah and other centres. In October 1938 they took over the Old City of Jerusalem, driving out the police. The rebels proclaimed a moratorium on all debts, something very popular with the poor...'

The British were hated and their situation was dire. In an echo perhaps of modern Iraq, Hugh Foot, an assistant district commissioner remembers they were facing 'a full scale rebellion...all ordinary administration ceased. Every morning I looked through a list of disorders and destruction - telephones cut, bridges damaged, trains derailed, convoys ambushed, fighting in the hills. For two years I never moved without a gun in my hand - we soon learned it was useless to have a gun in the holster.'

Once the British under Chamberlain had concluded the Munich agreement ('Peace in our time') with Hitler in September 1938, the British got to work regaining control of the cities through mass arrests, internment without trial, ID cards introduced along with routine torture and collective punishments. As one British policeman wrote home, 'any Johnny Arab who is caught by us in suspcious circumstances is shot out of hand'. Inevitably, 'from late 1938 into 1939 the Great Revolt was relentlessly ground down. Villages were bombed (Arthur Harris of Second World War fame, the RAF Commodore in Palestine, advocated "one 250lb or 500lb bomb in each village that speaks out of turn"). While the fascist bombing of Guernica in Spain caused outrage in Britain, British aircraft were bombing Palestinian villages with hardly a murmur.' Bombing civilians was called 'pacification'. By the end of the conflict, 5,000 rebels had been killed.

This is just one episode out of thousands of equally or even more bloody episodes which shows that the British Empire was no better - or worse - than any other Empire, committed to the military and economic domination of other nations. Yet this fundamental truth is one that a veritable army of apologists for the British Empire continually try to deny. As future Labour leader Gordon Brown noted in 2005, 'We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it. And we should talk, and rightly so, about British values that are enduring, because they stand for some of the greatest ideas in history: tolerance, liberty, civic duty, that grew in Britain and influenced the rest of the world. Our strong traditions of fair play, of openness, of internationalism, these are great British values.'

If the vast majority of people who experienced British colonial rule had been asked what they thought of the 'great British values' of 'fair play', 'openess' or 'internationalism', they would doubtless have replyed as Gandhi did when asked what he thought of 'Western Civilisation' on a visit to Britain: 'It would be a good idea'. Colonial subjects only got a glimpse of the ideas of 'tolerance, liberty, civic duty' when they took up arms against the British. One of the strengths of Newsinger's book is his description of the hidden history of anti-imperialist revolts like the revolt in Palestine above - whether in Jamaica in 1831, or in India in 1857 - as well as his exposite of the bloody hidden crimes of the British in Ireland, China, Egypt, Kenya, Malaya etc etc. It is too easy to forget that while British troops are currently occupying Afghanistan and Iraq - they are only following in the footsteps of other British troops in recent history. Nor, while Britain joins with America to threaten Iran, is this a new development.

Newsinger's book is therefore urgent, essential reading. There is a current campaign in England being promoted around the place by various well meaning celebrities and politicians saying 'History Matters - Pass It On'. Yet one look at the organisers of this campaign - the 'National Trust, English Heritage, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Council for British Archaeology, Heritage Link, Historic Houses Association and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings' - instantly reveal which sort of 'History' the organisers want people to 'pass on'. It is not an internationalist history, one that can help us understand the current world crisis at all - rather it is an attempt to get us to visit more English stately homes and look up to the aristocrats who lived in them as if only the ruling class 'matter'. As John Game has written, there is 'an attempt to transform world history into an adjunct of the British heritage industry' reflecting the 'current crisis of national identity in this rather small country seeking to re-assert its relevence in the era of globalisation. One should take care with such parochial agenda's as we have recently seen where such re-assertions might lead us in both Iraq and Afghanistan.'

Newsingers book The Blood Never Dried is not a comprehensive history of the British Empire, just as his work on George Orwell, Orwell's Politics, was not a comprehensive biography. Yet like his work on Orwell, it is valuable - indeed essential, just the same. There has always been a disgusting history of support for Empire from some 'socialists' in Britain, from the Fabians to the leaders of the British Labour Party, a tradition which has reached its nadir in Tony Blair. It is often said that the British Labour Party was influenced more by Methodism than by Marxism. This is very true, but it is also the case as the legendary Trinidadian and Pan-Africanist George Padmore once noted, the Labour Party was always influenced 'more by Rudyard Kipling than Karl Marx'. With Blair's talk of spreading 'civilisation and democracy' through waging what Kipling called 'the savage wars of peace', New Labour is truly taking up the 'White Man's burden' with a vengeance. Newsinger shows that support for the war crimes of the British Empire has run throughout the history of the British Labour Party, both Old and New.

Newsinger returns to another tradition on the British Left which has always opposed the British Empire and its lies. The title itself comes from the inspirational Chartist leader and socialist Ernest Jones, who when supporters of the British Empire boasted that it was an Empire 'on which the sun never set', added '...and the blood never dries'. This tradition was championed by the great socialist novelist William Morris, who when the British were losing in Sudan to the Mahdi in 1885, wrote to his daughter that 'Khartoum has fallen - into the hands of the people it belongs to'. Throughout, Newsinger takes inspiration from those who resist Empire - including, and perhaps most importantly, that resistance inside the metropolis itself. I will end with another quote from William Morris:

'England's place­ - what is England's place? To carry civilisation throughout the world? Yes indeed the world must be civilised, and I doubt not that England will have a large share in bringing about that civilisation... I begin to doubt if civilisation itself may not be sometimes so adulterated as scarcely to be worth the carrying­ and how it cannot be worth much, when it is necessary to kill a man in order to make him accept it.'

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I predict a riot

60,000 demonstrate for democracy in Manchester 1819.

The latest email from the UK Stop the War Coalition, reminding us of the coming demonstration outside Labour Party conference in Manchester on September 23rd, has the following 'historical footnote' attached:

'The TIME TO GO demonstration will surround the GMEX arena, which is where the Labour Party conference is being held. GMEX is built on the site of St Peter's Field, where in 1819 60,000 working people gathered to demand that they have the vote, so they could have a political voice in a society which was then monopolised totally by the aristocracy. On 23 September 2006, we will be gathering at the same spot to insist that the vote that was denied to all but a small rich minority nearly 200 years ago, must now be shown to mean something in today's so-called "democracy". Tony Blair, with less than a quarter of the electorate voting for him, has taken Britain into illegal wars against the wishes of the majority of British people. He must be shown on 23 September that it is TIME TO GO from all his wars and his slavish obedience to George Bush's "war on terror".'

Indeed so, but lets not forget that the 1819 demonstration ended in a massacre as cavalry charged the crowd, leaving eleven dead and hundreds injured. Personally, I predict a riot at this coming demonstration, again started by the forces of 'law and order', but hopefully less like the one at Peterloo in 1819 and more like the one outside the Democratic national Convention in Chicago in 1968. The Whole World Will be Watching Manchester on 23 September...

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On 'Islamo-fascism' (again)

I have touched on 'Islamo-fascism' once before on my blog, but I am prompted to do so again after making the awful mistake of going over to Harry's Place, the Glorification of State Terror and War Crimes by Israel Blog, which was making much of the picture below, allegedly of 'the young Nazis of Hezbollah'.

As the HP blogger comments, 'the most chilling thing about this Hezbollah ceremony is that it took place just across the border from Israel-- the houses in the background are in the northern Israeli town of Metullah. Are people like Galloway even capable of imagining what an elderly Holocaust survivor who happened to glance across the fence might have felt?'

Well, firstly, I doubt very much whether any Israeli citizen would have been able to 'glance over' as it is not just 'a fence' but a very high, concrete wall designed to perpetuate an apartheid system.

But the main question I want to ask is this - is it enough for Harry's Place to keep showing pictures of Islamic group Hezbollah members giving Nazi style salutes, to have proved that there is such a thing as 'Islamo-fascism' and for them to then start giving lectures on why the Israeli State therefore is fighting 'fascism' and why progressives in the West now have to rally behind George Bush as our saviour against 'Muslim totalitarianism'?

I think not. To see why this is the case I think a historical parallel might be usefully drawn with the movement that formed around the politics of Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), (pictured right, below)

Garvey, born in Jamaica, was an opponent of colonial rule and became the founder of the 'Back to Africa' movement which took black America by storm after Garvey went on a lecture tour to the US in 1916. Garvey took pride in race so seriously that his organisation to some extent was a stylistic pre-cursor of the European Fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Garveyites dressed up in military uniforms, and marched around as if they were storm troopers. By 1920, Garvey's group had over one thousand branches in more than 40 countries. Garvey himself approved of the American white supremacist terror group, the Ku Klux Klan (the KKK), because it sought to separate the races. 'On one occasion in early 1922 Garvey went to Atlanta, Georgia for a conference with Edward Young Clarke, Imperial Giant of the Ku Klux Klan, to see whether he could hope for Klan support for his Back to Africa program.'

Yet here's the beef. Garvey was a follower of Christianity who was happy to make kind remarks about Fascism at times - yet why didn't the vast majority of anti-fascists at the time not denounce his Universal Negro Improvement Association as 'Black Fascism', or a 'Christian totalitarian movement'? Why didn't 'progressive', 'decent' 'secular Leftists' condemn Garveyism as 'Christiano-Fascism'?

Might this have been because it was so patently obvious that the reason why black Americans (and black people internationally) rallied to Garvey was not because of his dodgy remarks about the KKK but because of oppression? It was not that they particularly wanted to go 'Back to Africa' - but because here at last was someone who talking about 'Black Power' at a time of racial segregation and massive racism in the US. Indeed, Garveyism is today recognised and seen as the most significant black nationalist movement of the twentieth century and, as such, the sheer organisational achievement of Garvey - for all his grotesqueries and appalling politics - has to be marvelled at. One gets some sense of his importance by seeing how much he was demonised and detested by the Western ruling class throughout his life.

If one really wants to understand Hezbollah's popularity, and the massive support for its leader Nesrallah, similarly, surely one has to look at the long history of state terror waged by Israel against Lebanon and the glorious history of resistance to that terror led by the group? Surely a child of five can grasp that young Lebanese men want to join Hezbollah not because they get the chance to do the odd Nazi style salute, but because it is a mass movement of resistance to occupation and the most brutal oppression imagineable?

Mind you, when it comes to those who try to justify and cover up the lies and crimes of Imperialism, it is no wonder that simply putting on a blindfold on to such realities and simply shouting over and over again that 'Israel has a right to self-defence' and that Hezbollah are 'Islamo-Fascists' is the easier option. If one says anything enough times, and with enough conviction, one tends to believe it as the truth in the end.

Edited to add: Justin Horton on HP.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Western Imperialism and Western Marxism

Imperialism: On the latest from Lebanon, Lenin's Tomb is, as usual, excellent.

For an online discussion of 'Western Marxism', see here

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Friday, July 21, 2006

RIP Ted Grant, Trotskyist

Just read that Ted Grant, a leading member of the British Trotskyist movement since arriving from South Africa in the 1930s, died yesterday. Whatever the political differences between Grant and the IS tradition, revolutionary Marxists today owe pioneering Trotskyist militants like Grant who stood up for the truth against Stalinism at a time Victor Serge described as 'Midnight of the Century' a debt of honour.

Edited to add: Obituary in SW

Edited to add: Obituary in Guardian

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blair and 'the spirit of internationalism'

Tony Blair has made the following speech on the seventieth anniversary of the Spanish Civil War:

"There are few alive today who fought in that war but I want to pay tribute to those who did decide to risk so much in the fight against dictatorship - from the writers like George Orwell to the trade unionists like Jack Jones. They lost that war, though the greater cause - the defeat of fascism - was finally won.

"Today Spain is a strong democratic state and a strong partner for Britain in Europe. Its example shows that even after the most oppressive periods and the greatest suffering reconciliation and democracy can flourish.

"The legacy of the conflict, one where the spirit of internationalism shone through, has lessons for us all today."

The mendacious hypocrisy of a war criminal like Blair invoking a passionate opponent of British imperialism like George Orwell to give us all moral lessons on 'internationalism' has left me quite unable to comment any further just now. Spanish Republicans believed in an internationalism spread through the solidarity of working class people - not in 'spreading democracy' through raining down 'smart bombs' on innocent civilian populations.

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Silence amid violence

I have been sent the following poem from an anonymous reader.

'Ode to Aaronovitch, Cohen, Geras, Hari, Kamm'.

Oh silent lambs of the blogosphere
what hath struck thy tongues so dumb?
I hear no words on bombing and war,
not one.

End Israel's Barbarism Now

Israel is the Terror State

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Emperors New Sweater

Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen and inspired by this exchange:

Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes and bomb innocent people under the guise of fighting 'terrorism'. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people. Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. One foreign scoundrel, Blair, (who was well known for his lies) who had heard of the Emperor's vanity, decided to take advantage of it. The scoundrel introduced himself at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.

"I am a very good tailor and after many years of research have invented a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. I call it WMD. As a matter of fact WMD is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."

The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel's strange story and sent for the court chamberlain, Powell. Powell ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the scoundrel.

"Besides being invisible, your Highness, this WMD will be woven into a sweater in colors and patterns created especially for you." The emperor gave the man a bag of gold coins in exchange for his promise to begin working on the sweater immediately.

"Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you." The scoundrel asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then pretended to begin working. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary sweater, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called up Powell, who was considered by everyone as a man with common sense.

"Go and see how the work is proceeding," the Emperor told him, "and come back to let me know."

The chamberlain was welcomed by the scoundrel.

"I've almost finished, but I need a lot more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!" Powell bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric called WMD that was not there. He felt cold sweat on his forehead.

"I can't see anything," he thought. "If I see nothing, that means I'm stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!" If he admitted that he didn't see anything, he would be discharged from his office.

"What a marvelous fabric, he said then. "I'll certainly tell the Emperor." The scoundrel rubbed his hands gleefully. He had almost made it. More thread was requested to finish the work.

Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the tailor had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new sweater.

"Yo, Blair. How are you doing?" the Emperor asked. Even as he bowed his head, the scoundrel Blair pretended to be holding large roll of WMD fabric.

"Here it is your Highness, the result of hard labour," the scoundrel said. "I have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is." Of course the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, he felt better. Nobody could find out he was stupid and incompetent. And the Emperor didn't know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing.

The farce continued as the scoundrel had foreseen it. Once he had taken the measurements, he began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with the needles an invisible cloth.

"Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes to try on your new sweater." The scoundrel draped the new sweater on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed but since none of his bystanders were, he felt relieved.

"Thanks for the sweater it's awfully thoughtful of you".

Blair replied that "It's a pleasure".

"I know you picked it out yourself. This is a beautiful sweater and it looks very good on me," the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. "You've done a fine job."

"Oh, absolutely", Blair replied.

"Your Majesty," Powell said, "we have a request for you. The people have found out about this extraordinary fabric and they are anxious to see you in your new suit." The Emperor was doubtful showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent.

"All right," he said. "I will grant the people this privilege." He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. Surrounding the procession was a group of the Imperial Guardsmen, toting weapons in order to shoot any possible troublemakers. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. An applause welcomed the regal procession. Everyone wanted to know how stupid or incompetent his or her neighbor was but, as the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd.

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new sweater. Its beautiful!"

"What a marvellous sweater!"

"And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!" They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see any WMD for themselves, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the scoundrel had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

"The Emperor is naked," he said.

"Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:

"The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!" "Where is the WMD?" they asked.

The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He though it better to continue on with his procession and his wars under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see that WMD existed was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.

Those in the crowd that day who had shouted out the truth were later detained under the new anti-terrorism legislation. The boy was taken off to the appropriately titled 'Camp X-ray' where he was tortured, and remains detained there without a trial to this day.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Reflections on Marxism 2006

I promised to write a quick report on this years Marxism conference in London, which I thought was excellent overall, noticeably younger than previous years and I thought with a good friendly atmosphere created among those attending.

The opening rally, which happened to be held on the evening before the first anniversary of the London bombings, saw Hassan Jumaa, a trade union leader from the oil workers union in Basra (under British control) invite us all to visit Iraq - once it was free after the brutal US/UK occupying forces had been kicked out. Councillor Oliur Rahman from Respect pointed out that Britain spends something like £2.3 million pounds a day occupying Iraq, while pensioners live in poverty. The themes of imperialism, racism and resistance kind of ran throughout the whole event - one student from Hong Kong who I spoke to thought issues resulting from the 'war on terror' had perhaps too high a profile among the meetings - but when one watches the current Israeli bloody aggression in the Middle East on the news it would have been more odd I feel had this not been the case.

Highlights for me included 'The Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East', where a young Egyptian socialist passionately described their attempts to organise under conditions of a dictatorship (backed by the West) and the state repression routinely dealt out against them. I am a sad bastard and so also always enjoy going to watch 'left celebrities'. I went to hear the speeches at the big John Rees - George Galloway 'Respect rally', where Galloway brought us news that Blairite Stephen Byers has taken a lucrative job as an oil trader in Iraq, before quipping 'I thought that was my job'. The academic Paul Gilroy warned that Britain is 'only a charismatic personality away' from serious problems around the issue of race given by the Islamophobia and rising racism in British society because of the aforementioned 'war on terror'. Tariq Ali (who always gets a cheap laugh by pointing out Blair's lack of sense of History) brought our attention to the Second World War as an inter-imperialist conflict rather than as Blair puts it 'a war to save the Jews' - if that was the motivation for the war then the Allies did not 'win the war' - they lost it. I saw Ken Loach speak about the making of his classic film about the Spanish Civil War, 'Land and Freedom' - and get questioned by an audience who wondered why he hadn't got round to making films of the Haitian Revolution and the Russian Revolution yet. Loach explained that getting a few blokes to run around on Irish bogs for his award winning 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' took enough trouble as it was - and getting the material resources to make films is not easy. Tony Benn, who I did not go to see for once this year, actually came up to me for a change - but sadly only to ask me where the toilet was. Still, a claim to fame of sorts I suppose...

In any case, not all the meetings were about Empire - at least, not directly. Ian Birchall, who has compiled a bibliography of the writings of the late, great Tony Cliff, described Cliff's early life in colonial Palestine. My knowledge of American novelist John Dos Passos has gone from 'didn't he write a novel about American society?' to 'I really ought to read USA at some point - it sounds cool'. Alex Callinicos introduced a great meeting on 'Do socialists have to be atheists?' - but which as I suspected quickly got onto the facinating question of the relationship between Marxism and religion. Callinicos noted at one point that he thought the idea of 'agnosticism' was a ridiculous notion, only to be challenged from the floor by a member of the SWP who thought that Marxists who proudly declare their atheism risked just sounding 'conceited' and 'arrogant'.

Still, the best thing about Marxism are the people who go - and the chance to meet both old friends and new. With respect to the IS blogging fraternity, I succeeded in at last hunting down the elusive 'Lenin' of Lenin's Tomb in Bookmarks, which was no small achievement I thought, while I had the piss taken out of my T-shirt by Meaders of Dead Men Left. I also had a lovely morning spent with someone really special but who will remain anonymous listening to discussions of culture and resistance from modern art such as Libera's Lego concentration camp, one for minifig there perhaps, to photomontage with Peter Kennard, from which I learnt, among other things, that John Heartfield was a genius.

The final rally was inspiring, with Trevor Ngwane from South Africa and Oscar Olivera from Bolivia on top form. Perhaps most encouraging for me was seeing Azzam Tamimi, a British Islamic intellectual, giving a powerful speech attacking war and the hypocrisy of Western politicians like Bush and Blair. A few years ago - even before the London bombings - I saw Tamimi address a local Stop the War conference in Leeds where his speech was extremely moderate, with barely the mildest criticism of the political elite. Yet through his involvement over the last couple of years in the anti-war movement his confidence to resist the appalling ongoing racist backlash against the Muslim community has come on in leaps and bounds. I paraphrase, but his speech included something like the following. 'If standing up for justice and peace means we are labeled "extremists", then I am proud to be an "extremist"! If supporting those resisting Zionist occupation in Palestine and American occupation in Iraq means we are "terrorists", then I am proud to be a "terrorist"!' It was brilliant, hardcore anti-imperialism and it is no wonder that he - like Olivera and Ngwane - got the standing ovation he deserved. Martin Smith, national organiser of the SWP, however went one better than Tamimi, making a joke which I wish I could remember but I'll leave it to your imaginations to play with. Basically it revolves around two things - Tony Blair, on the one hand - and Bush's sick ideology which states that if one hangs oneself, one is surely only doing it as "PR stunt", to garner popularity if one finds oneself deeply unpopular. I think the punchline was something like 'Go and hang yourself, you warmongering bastard'. But, as I say, I can't quite remember how it went.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

International Socialism 111

The latest issue of International Socialism is now online. Go read!

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pierre Broue's The German Revolution

An advertisement I'm afraid, but given this blog has paid tribute to revolutionary historian Pierre Broue in the past, one we are happy to make.

'Now available from Haymarket Books in paperback in English for the first time!

The German Revolution, 1917-1923 (Historical Materialism Book Series, Vol. 5)

by Pierre Broue้

with Introduction by Eric D. Weitz

Edited by Ian Birchall and Brian Pearce

"Germany 1917-1923 was the scene of the greatest working class revolutionary upsurge ever in an advanced capitalist country. With the old order disintegrating under the hammer blows of military defeat and economic collapse, parties and groupuscules, trade unions and factory committees, battled employers, the government, and paramilitaries to inaugurate a new proletarian order. In his monumental classic, Pierre Brou้ follows the revolutionary process from the standpoint of the revolutionaries and their multiple organizations, strewn across Europe and Russia, as they struggled to impose conceptual order on the unprecedented cataclysms unfolding before them, to frame strategies and tactics, and to win over the mass movements, in intense competition with their communist, socialist, and anarchist rivals. Brou้ enables us to feel that we are actually living through these epoch-making events, not just by virtue of his brilliant narrative, but, even more so, through his ongoing analysis and critique of the revolutionaries' intra-party debates, sectarian maneuvers, and all too often catastrophic decisions. As an introduction to revolutionary theory and practice, for then and for now, this book is in a class by itself."
--Robert Brenner, Professor and Director, UCLA Center for Social Theory and Comparative History

"Broue้ does full justice to the importance of his subject. This is a work conceived on an epic scale, comprising 900 pages of carefully researched text, plus a chronological table and biographical notes. The editors are particularly to be congratulated for giving up to date English references for Brou้'s original Russian and German sources wherever these were available... Brou้'s magnificent work is imbued with the spirit of this moment."
--International Socialism Journal

A magisterial, definitive account of the upheavals in Germany in the wake of the Russian revolution. Brou้ meticulously reconstitutes six decisive years, 1917-23, of social struggles in Germany. The consequences of the defeat of the German revolution had profound consequences for the world.

Pierre Broué (1926–2005) was for many years professor of contemporary history at the Institut d'études politiques in Grenoble. A world renowned specialist of the communist and international workers' movements, he is the founder of the Cahiers Léon Trotsky, editor of Leon Trotsky's writings in French, and the author of many books, including Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (with Etienne Témime, 1961), Le Parti bolchévique. Histoire du Parti communiste de l'URSS (1963), Les Procès de Moscou (1965), La Question chinoise dans l'Internationale communiste (1965), Le Printemps des peoples commence à Prague (1969), La Révolution espagnole (1972), L'Assassinat de Trotsky (1980), Trotsky (1988), Staline et la Révolution. Le cas espagnol (1993), Rakovsky ou la Révolution dans tous les pays (1996), Histoire de l'Internationale communiste, 1919-1943 (1997), and Communistes contre Staline. Massacre d'une generation (2003).

Publisher: Haymarket Books
Subject: History
ISBN: 1931859329
Trade Paper: 6 x 9, 980 pages
Price: $50.00

Distributed in: Canada & the United States
Pub Date: :05/01/2006

Available in the United Kingdom from Merlin Books
http://www.merlinpress.co.uk/acatalog/ THE_GERMAN_REVOLUTION__1917_1923.html

Hardcover edition available from Brill:

About the Historical Materialism Book Series:

Series editors: Paul Blackledge (Leeds), S้ebastien Budgen (Paris), Michael Krไtke (Amsterdam), Stathis Kouvelakis (London), Marcel van der Linden (Amsterdam), China Mi้eville (London), Paul Reynolds (Lancashire), Peter Thomas (Amsterdam).

More than ten years after the disappearance of Marxism as a (supposed) state ideology, a need for a serious and long-term book publishing programme on Marxism has risen. Subjected to the whims of fashion, most contemporary publishers have abandoned any of the systematic production of Marxist theoretical work that they may have indulged in during the 1970s and early 1980s. The Historical Materialism Book Series addresses this great gap with original monographs, translated texts and reprints of "classics."'

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A new novel by 'Paddington', of Homo Ludens fame, is now available to read online here. I have read some of 'Drift' in proof and am very happy to recommend this work of socialist historical fiction to readers of Histomat.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

There'll always be an England...

...coming home early from international football competitions.

Karl Marx pays tribute to 'Ricardo’s great service'

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