Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, September 29, 2006

Andrew Roberts: The Historian as Racist

What is it with reactionary British historians and the twentieth century at the moment? This year, we have already had Niall Ferguson's The War of the World; History's Age of Hatred and now we have Andrew Roberts's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900 thrust upon us. This is Roberts promoting his book in The Telegraph:

'In 1956 – half a century ago this year – Sir Winston Churchill published the first volume of his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples . He had won the Nobel Prize for Literature three years earlier, and this new four-volume work rightly won massive critical acclaim. AJP Taylor considered that "it is one of the wisest, most exciting works of history ever written". It was during his Wilderness Years of the 1930s that Churchill had conceived the idea of a book that would, in his words, "lay stress upon the common heritage of the peoples of Great Britain and the United States of America as a means of enhancing their friendship". Publication was delayed, first by the Second World War, then by his war memoirs and later by his peacetime premiership.

Regardless on the thoughts of AJP Taylor on the subject, the fact remains that today no-one reads Churchill's 'History of the English-Speaking Peoples' as it told us only about the rulers rather than 'the people' themselves. Indeed, most of the time it didn't even bother to do that properly. Clem Attlee noted Churchill's History would be more properly titled 'Things in History that interested me'. Roberts - though he did study History at Cambridge - is fundamentally of the same school here - it is interesting to note that after finishing his degree he worked between 1985-87 as a corporate broker at Robert Fleming Securities Limited, before then returning to writing History - and then only to write about the lives of the rich and powerful. For this he gets rewarded by, er, the rich and powerful.

Yet Roberts's work shares with Ferguson's history of the twentieth century one defining thing in common - they have been written to directly tap into the new racism in the US and UK ('the West') against Muslims ('the Other') since the start of Bush and Blair's 'war on terror', and to give some sort of historical justification to the neo-conservative Samuel Huntingdon's 'Clash of Civilisations' thesis. Both historians are vociferous champions of the current imperialist 'civilising mission', regardless of the human cost. Back to Roberts:

Superb though Churchill's volumes are, they stop with the dawn of the 20th century, just as by far the most interesting part of the English-speaking peoples' story was about to begin. Churchill's tale ended with the British Empire and American Republic enjoying peaceful world-primacy, yet they were just about to be subjected to four great assaults: from Prussian militarism, fascist aggression, Soviet Communism and presently from totalitarian Islamic terrorism. In the fourth and latest of these assaults, victory is clearly nowhere yet in sight.

We are back to Ferguson's thesis again - 'good' 'democratic' 'English-speaking' 'people' vs 'bad' 'aggressive' 'militarist' 'totalitarian' 'terrorist' foreign powers. Will the goodies triumph?

In the course of researching my coda to the Churchillian epic, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, I visited the papers of 200 individuals in 30 archives across three continents. While there, I was repeatedly struck by how often common themes from the four great struggles emerged, almost unbidden. We have been here before.

Sorry Andrew, you have looked through the papers of 200 rich and powerful people who lived in Australia, Britain and America and you are able to find 'common themes' and some sort of pattern? Wow - what a fucking genius historian you must be. Lets listen to him telling us what he has gleaned from the archives, what has emerged 'almost unbidden'...

Just as on 9/11, the English-speaking peoples have regularly been worsted in the opening stages of a conflict, often through surprise attack. As Paul Wolfowitz put it at a commencement ceremony in June 2001: "Surprise happens so often that it's surprising that we're surprised by it." The sinking of the USS Maine; the Boer invasion of Cape Colony; the Kaiser's swing through neutral Belgium; the Nazi-Soviet Pact; North Korea's invasion of its southern neighbour; Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal; the attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, which triggered the Vietnam War; the attack on the Falklands; Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Almost all were sudden, unexpected, not predicted by the intelligence services, and left the English-speaking peoples at a disadvantage in the first moment of the struggle.

Of course, in war it is always useful to make out that British and Americans are the 'helpless victims' and our enemies are always 'the aggressors', but how historically accurate is it? I just raise a question mark here - clearly though the decision of say, the Egyptian leader Colonel Nasser to nationalise the Suez Canal (built by, er, Egyptians in er, Egypt) shouldn't have come as such a massive surprise given the British had historically caught the people of Egypt 'by surprise' by deciding to conquer and establish colonial rule in Egypt in the first place? The bombardment of Alexandria by British 'gunboat diplomacy' certainly saw the Egyptians 'worsted in the opening stages of a conflict'. [Also it is interesting how 9/11 is now portrayed neither as 'an attack on America' nor 'an attack on civilisation' as a whole but an attack on 'the English-Speaking Peoples'. I can't remember Al Qaida describing it as such, but anyway.] Back to Roberts:

The next common factor was how badly the English-speaking peoples were faring even up to three or four years into the first three great assaults on their primacy. The most dangerous moment of the First World War – at least after Paris had been saved by the battle of the Marne in 1914 – came as late as March 1918, when Hindenburg and Ludendorff flung everything into their massive Spring Offensive. By early September 1942 – only weeks before Stalingrad and El Alamein – Hitler seemed to be winning the war both in Russia and the Middle East, while, had it not been for the battle of Midway, the Japanese might well have rolled up the entire Pacific theatre. Three years into the Cold War, 1948 saw Jan Masaryk's suicide during a Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, Mao's victory in China, and the Berlin Blockade.

Right - I think I get some idea of where this is going...ah yes...

Simply because a victorious exit strategy is not immediately evident in Iraq or Afghanistan today does not invalidate either conflict, as so many defeatists and Left-liberal political commentators argue so vociferously. Tony Blair's leadership in the war against al-Qa'eda, the Ba'athists and the Taliban has been nothing short of Churchillian. Far from being George W. Bush's poodle, Blair was advocating the overthrow of Saddam in his Chicago speech of April 1999, 21 months before Bush came to power.

Hmm, but wasn't Blair also telling us just before the war that if it could be proved that Saddam didn't have the dangerous WMD then he could stay in power? And while both Churchill and Blair were warmongers - so Blair is 'Churchillian' in that sense - it always strikes me as insulting to try and compare the threat of al-Qa-eda (before the Iraq War a tiny group of sectarians), Baathist Iraq (a broken weakened third world country) and the Taliban to the threat posed by the industrialised Axis Powers during the Second World War. Back to Roberts:

Bush's foreign policy is denounced as neo-conservatism because of its reliance on pre-emption. Yet was George Canning a neo-con when he destroyed the Danish fleet to prevent it falling into Napoleon's hands in 1807? Was Churchill a neo-con for having bombarded the Dardanelles outer forts in November 1914, before Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire? Or in June 1940, when he ordered the sinking of the French fleet at Oran?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Churchill was a neo-conservative warmonger - the only difference between him and Bush and Blair is that he didn't spend all of his time in power fighting colonial wars against weaker powers but once he led the fight against powers like Nazi Germany which were British Imperialism's own size. Next?

The right of self-protection from Napoleon, Hitler and movements such as al-Qa'eda and its Taliban protectors is, as Enoch Powell pointed out during the Falklands crisis, "inherent in us", since it existed "long before the United Nations was ever thought of".

Ah yes, of course a quote from Enoch Powell (of all people) means that the UN and international law can be ignored if America and Britain want to wage war today against who the hell we like. Quite right, Andrew. And a reference to the English fighting for liberty against Napoleon too? Marvellous stuff.

By far the most justifiable war in recent history is the one we are presently fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the government that hosted and protected al-Qa'eda when it killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – including 67 Britons – on 9/11. Today, that war is principally being fought by 15,000 Americans, 4,500 Britons, 2,200 Canadians, 550 Australians and special forces contingents from New Zealand. Germany has confined its troops to the quiet north, France to guard duty on the Khyber Pass. Once again, therefore, the English-speaking peoples find themselves in the forefront of protecting civilisation.

'Protecting civilisation'? Is that what 'English-speaking' troops are currently doing in Afghanistan? Because it looked rather like, well, the last few times British troops were fighting Afghan rebels to try and conquer Afghanistan to me...

However, the biggest problem with Roberts book is his defence of Churchill's notion that there is a 'racial unity' underpinning 'the English-Speaking Peoples'. As the West Indian historian CLR James - who I suspect will not feature in Robert's History of the English Speaking-Peoples, once noted, 'the race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous...' But who or what are are the 'English Speaking Peoples', particularly in an age when the international language of business and commerce is English? Roberts argues that 'it will be recognised that in the majestic sweep of history they had so much in common - and enough that separated them from everyone else – that they ought to be regarded as a single historical entity, which only scholars and pedants will try to describe separately. A Martian landing on our planet might find linguistic or geographical factors more useful than ethnic factors when it came to analyzing the differences between different groups of earthlings; the countries whose history this book covers are those where the majority of people speak English as their first language.'

Well, while this may well be 'scholarly' or 'pedantic' of me, it seems that if we are going to divide up the world along the lines of nations in order to study History, the idea that British History has so much in common with American History and very little in common with European History seems to me fundamentally flawed. America began as a colony of the British Empire - at a time when the British Empire was competing with other European Empires for global supremacy. Now the American Empire rules - and British Imperialism finds itself again roughly in a comparable position to say French Imperialism.

Moreover, if a Martian landed they may well find linguistic or geographical factors more useful than 'ethnic factors' - but they might also find 'class' or material factors to be even more useful when it comes to 'analysing the differences between different groups of earthlings'. The Martian might even see a tiny elite of rich people ruling globally while the vast majority of humanity pines in pain. That toiling majority deserve 'people's historians', yes - but who, unlike Roberts, do not glorify the ruling class and their prejudices.

At one point in this book, Roberts declares that 'Superb, inspired amateurism [is] in the finest traditions of the English-speaking peoples.' If so, then they in particular deserve far better than Roberts, whose historical writings, far from being superb or inspired are infact deeply racist and stem from the most well established traditional school of history. That Roberts, unlike his hero Churchill, is a professional historian - indeed chair of the Conservative Party's Advisory Panel on the Teaching of History in Schools - only damns this work further. However, that such a reactionary warmongering elitist like Roberts should be so feted of course speaks volumes in itself.

Edited to add: A review of the book in the Liberal Observer, which notes that 'this is the sort of history that makes Arthur Bryant read like an academic monograph...in many ways, Roberts has written a most unEnglish book. Its rhetorical insistence - "In the last century, the Union Jack has flown on Everest and the Stars and Stripes on the Moon" - drowns out the reasoned and discriminating judgments, the measured understanding of the other sides' perspective, that are the best of English virtues'.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The awful truth about Gordon Brown

...is that Blair and Brown are two cheeks of the same arse - as George Galloway puts it. Or as Quentin Tarantino once noted:

'...Yeah yeah but "Mr. Brown", that's a little too close to "Mr. Shit"...'


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book Review: Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History by Paul Blackledge

If there is one thing that any student of History is taught today, it is that Marxist interpretations of the past are now 'dead' or 'outmoded'. As a first year undergraduate, I remember returning from the token lecture on 'Marxist history' (given by the department's token Marxist historian) and our tutor - a right-wing military historian - asking our class if it wasn't now time to consign Marxism 'to the dustbin of history'? When I made a feeble attempt to defend the continuing relevance of the work of Marxist historians, my tutor's immediate response to me was short but memorable. 'In ten years you will have grown out of it', he declared with a self-satisfied arrogance - and that was the end of that conversation. (Incidently, he may still be right - though if I am still a Marxist when the ten year milestone is reached, I look forward to passing him on the good news).

Over the last twenty or so years, postmodernism has swept over the historical profession, declaring that 'real' events cannot be known outside written sources, and so as part of this 'cultural turn', a literary obsession with texts has replaced any sort of attempt to systematically and theoretically try and understand historical contexts. Karl Marx's insistence that all history was 'the history of class struggles' is therefore just another 'grand narrative', as outdated as the Whig historians of Victorian Britain faith in the steady march of 'Progress'. There is no universal 'History' any more, just lots of 'histories' with each little narrative as equally relevant and important as any other narrative. Relativism rules and anything is as open to study as anything else (apparently, someone recently did a History PhD on the changes in 'matchbox design in England in the nineteenth century').

What is 'good' history now is being able to tell a good story - so as long as you a good storyteller then you will do well as an postmodernist historian. Works like Simon Schama's history of the French Revolution, Citizens and Orlando Figes's A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution are lauded for describing the revolution through telling the stories of individual lives of people and how it effected them as they experienced the revolution. As a result their works are able to avoid thinking about the wider causes and consequences of the revolutions as historical movements, but instead revel in the drama as if they were writing a historical novel. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm describes Schama's Citizens as merely the latest version of a pornography of the Terror stretching back to Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities or Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, and notes Sharma's 'choice of narrative focused on particular people and incidents' and so 'neatly sidestepped the problems of perspective and generalisation'.

There is actually at last a bit of a backlash now against postmodernism in History - at least among the more brighter of the historical profession - as the postmodern interpretation of History is unable to effectively combat 'historians' with racist or fascist agendas who are quite happy to lie in order to tell pernicious stories about the past. Most worryingly there was the case of David Irving and the issue of Holocaust Denial - which those with an extreme postmodern relativist view where 'there is nothing [real] outside the text' were unable to combat theoretically. Indeed postmodernism taken to its logical conclusion, for all its talk of challenging power through studying how power operates through discourse, actually is a kind of historical perspective which would be very well suited to any sort of totalitarian state. In Orwell's 1984 it notes: 'The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon.' The idea that past events 'have no objective existence' may appeal to postmodernists, but even if there are few if any written records directly linking Hitler to the Holocaust, and even when the last survivor of the camps die and with them dies the living human memory of the Holocaust, the murder of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazis remains a fact. Past events do have an 'objective existence'.

The question therefore is should historians just abandon postmodernist relativism and return to some kind of empiricist bliss, where as Leopold Von Ranke put it, historians should just 'tell things as they are' with reference to 'the Facts'. Yet letting 'the Facts' speak for themselves is no real help either - as 'the Facts' tell us nothing in themselves - every historian needs some sort of framework to sort out which 'facts' matter and which do not. Otherwise the existence of 'Google' would mean that there is no longer any need for anyone to ever write any more History - since every 'fact' worth knowing is apparently widely available in seconds. But Google might tell us what happened say at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513 - it cannot tell us whyit happened that the English routed the Scots. That depends on analysis and analysing the different sources available to come to a judgement and conflicting interpretations inevitably arise.

If it is agreed we therefore need a theory to understand the past, what theory is therefore best? In his new book Reflections on the Marxist theory of History, Paul Blackledge defends the relevance of Marxism - albeit a classical Marxism that has nothing whatsoever in common with the Stalinist caricature of 'historical materialism'. As he puts it:

'Marx and, later, Marxists offer three key contributions to historiography through which we might develop a sophisticated answer to the historical relativism associated with post-modernism, without collapsing into the naive empiricism of traditional history. First, Marxists have elaborated an anthropology and a corresponding theory of language through which we might grasp, contra the post-modernists, the nature of the real world. Second, Marxists have developed a scientific method through which we might enquire into the nature of the world beyond language. Third, Marxists have developed a series of concepts through which this scientific enquiry could adequately be realised.'

This is not the place to go through all of the arguments Blackledge makes here, which range from the development of historical materialism from Marx and Engels through the Second and Third Internationals, to debates over modes of production and structure and agency, but I just want to pick up on his insistence that Marxists have a theory of language that better grasps the nature of the real world. Blackledge notes that it is not the case that Marxists have not been interested in discussion of language and the meaning of words in their own right. It is that Marx and Engels showed in The German Ideology not only how humans distinguished themselves from animals through reason and langauge, but that the reason humans invented language had to do with changes in humans activity - in particular the moment they began to 'produce their means of subsistence' - which made language necessary in the first place. As they put it 'the production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life...Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence'. Blackledge then outlines the contributions to developing a Marxist interpretation of language made by Voloshinov in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Blackledge quotes Christopher Hill on how the word 'revolution' went from meaning a simple 360 degree rotation (revolving) to turning 'the world upside down' as a result of a revolution in the real world - the English Civil War. As Hill noted, 'things precede words...new words were needed because new things happened...men groped for new words to describe what they were experiencing.'

Blackledge's book has many, many strengths, and it is full of discussion of different Marxists and their contribution to the theory of history, from Lukacs to the [British] Communist Party Historians Group. There are little facinating portraits of Marxist historians, which will tell even the most seasoned Marxist something new. For example, I for one had no idea that Geoffrey de Ste Croix, author of The Class Struggle in the Ancient World in 1929 played tennis on the centre court of Wimbledon, beating the great Fred Perry in the process!

If there are any quibbles to be had, they are that the discussion of debates among Marxist historians are generally Euro-centric and perhaps even Anglocentric. It is a bit rich for me to be making such a complaint on my blog I know, but for example it is noticeable there is little discussion on say, Marxist debates on slavery in the US or the contribution of Marxist historians like Genovese, Aptheker or Rawick. Perhaps this is inevitable in any such work - and in any case it is true that British Marxist historians have made a notable contribution to Marxist historiography more generally. It is also true that to ask for a book which goes through all the controversies among Marxist historians, or all the contributions of Marxist historians throughout history, would be rather a tall order...

The other perhaps slightly disappointing thing is that there is no 'Marxist' analysis of how Marx and Engels arrived at historical materialism (in particular the influence on them of French historians writing between 1815 and the 1840s), which would have showed how working Marxist historians since Marx have always been reliant and have always tried to build on the best of bourgeois historical thought. As Kautsky noted, by the 1840s 'all the essential elements of the materialist conception of history had been supplied' and were just waiting for a genius like Marx to fuse them all together. However, the book is titled 'Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History' so it is perhaps unfair to pick Blackledge up for not discussing bourgeois historians like Thierry, Guizot or Michelet.

Overall, this is not only an excellent introduction to the Marxist theory of History which would be of use to any student of the subject as well as the general reader, but also an important defence of the usefulness of Marxism to historians at a time when bourgeois historical thought is in something of an ideological crisis as a result of the growing reaction against postmodernism within the profession.

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T-shirts against the Nazis

Rather cool T-shirts to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, available from here, spotted here.

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Manchester against New Labour

My prediction about the 23rd September anti-war protest outside Labour Party Conference in Manchester I made back in July may have been a little out, but as 'Lenin's Tomb' reports, it was an excellent day out.

However, writing in today's Observer - a paper which all but ignores the protests - Tristram Hunt argues that it is not the 50,000 protesters who surged through Manchester's streets yesterday that represent the best traditions of 'Britain's premier socialist city'. Apparently following in the footsteps of the likes of slave abolitionists, Chartists, suffragettes, Pan-Africanists and even Frederick Engels, for Hunt it is none other than Tony Blair who is one of Manchester's 'true sons'.

This, Hunt notes, is because of the cities historic contribution to not only working class politics but also middle class Liberalism - 'the Manchester School' - which he describes as 'the free-market, less government liberals who did so much to define Victorian politics. Its heroes were Richard Cobden and John Bright, men who believed in the unalloyed power of commerce to deliver progress.' As Hunt therefore goes on to note, 'this cityscape of socialism and liberalism, of Peterloo and Free Trade Hall, provides an especially fitting backdrop for Tony Blair's last conference. For what has New Labour been other than an attempt to reunite those competing, progressive traditions under one banner?'

Well, I can think of quite a few things that New Labour has been other than attempt to 'reunite' socialism and liberalism actually. Firstly there is very little 'liberal' or 'socialist' about New Labour, which is inherently authoritarian, anti-democratic, and relentlessly anti-working class. Indeed, as someone pointed out to me this weekend, it would be amazing if New Labour moved left to discover 'One-Nation Toryism' let alone anything so radical as liberalism, social democracy or socialism.

Leaving aside Hunt's obscene idea that the spirit of Frederick Engels or other revolutionaries and rebels might be somehow found inside New Labour's Conference, what might the Liberals Richard Cobden or John Bright have made of Blairism?

Well, as a Quaker Bright was opposed to the aggressive foreign policy of Lord Palmerston and joined with Richard Cobden to campaign against the Crimean War (1854-1856). The two men were much abused by the press and some MPs even accused them of treason - and their anti-war stance cost them their seats in the 1857 General election. Even if Bright and Cobden were alive today and had joined New Labour because of its love of promoting capitalism, they would doubtless have been expelled from the Party like George Galloway and Clare Short for their opposition to Blair's warmongering.

Hunt does admits 'there is another Manchester' to the city of Liberals and socialists which is 'at odds with this pure Labour lineage. In Salford, powerful breweries and anti-Irish prejudice ensured a rock-solid Tory vote'. It is, I suspect, this racist Tory side of Manchester which New Labour - with its craven love of the rich and powerful and its simultaneous demonisation of the poor and powerless, whether Muslims or refugees - best epitomises. The true sons and daughters of Manchester were not to be found writing Conference speeches designed to appeal to Tory voters - but those on the streets demanding peace, justice, equality and an end to Blairism.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tony Benn on Paul Robeson

'The establishment still distrust him, because he was a socialist and an internationalist, even in death he's still regarded in the United States as a suspect figure'. Tony Benn pays tribute to Paul Robeson.

Edited to add: Robeson and India

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Revisionism and the New Imperialism

There is an excellent short article by historian Neil Faulkner in the latest newsletter of the London Socialist Historians Group, entitled 'Revisionism and the New Imperialism', which I am going to republish on my blog (in part as I am too busy/lazy to bother writing anything original myself):

'The ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme has highlighted the extent to which revisionist academics are rewriting the history of imperialism and war in the twentieth century. The BBC’s drama-documentary shown on 2nd July comprised 50 minutes of fairly conventional description of the slaughter followed by a final, rather bizarre 10-minute homily in which we were assured it was all worthwhile because the British Army learnt the tactics needed to beat the Germans two years later. This represents the popular cutting-edge of a formidable new right-wing consensus among military historians.

Partly in response to this challenge, Pete Glatter and I have begun a major research project: we are working towards a grand narrative account of the global crisis of 1914-1921. Though I am an archaeologist first and historian second, much of my fieldwork is now focused on the archaeology of the First World War. This kind of modern conflict archaeology involves an intimate engagement with historical sources. In any case, as an active socialist and anti-imperialist, my aim would always be to place such archaeological work in a wider historical context. Pete, on the other hand, is an historian first and foremost, and one with a record of first-class work in foreign language sources. His The Russian Revolution of 1905: change through struggle (Revolutionary History, Volume 9, No 1) is a superb collection of, and commentary on, participant testimonies.

We aim to draw on a wide range of sources to produce a comprehensively international history. We plan to weave together traditional political history, military history, and revolutionary history. And we hope to integrate history from above and from below in an effective synthesis. Along the way, we will be asking many colleagues and comrades for help, advice, and criticism. I am sure, moreover, that Pete would be pleased to hear from anyone who feels they may have special knowledge of, or access to, valuable primary material.

What is the nature of the revisionist challenge? There seem to be three main arguments – perhaps best represented in the work of Gary Sheffield (The Somme and, with John Bourne, Douglas Haig: war diaries and letters, 1914-1918)– summarized here in ascending order of importance. First, the First World War generals were not the ‘donkeys’ of popular stereotype, but competent commanders grappling with unprecedented and exceptionally difficult strategic and tactical problems. Second, the conflict was unavoidably a ‘war of attrition’, and that therefore a long struggle involving high casualties and a total-war economy was a matter of ‘necessary sacrifice’. Third, and most important, the war was in essence a struggle between democratic states (Britain and France) and a ‘rogue state’ (Germany) that was militaristic, aggressive and expansionist, such that the ‘balance of power’ and ‘world peace’ were threatened. The war was therefore justified.

The third strand in the argument links First World War revisionism with the right-wing paradigm popularized by Niall Ferguson. The essence of Ferguson’s position – represented in all three major TV series and books (Empire, Colossus, and The War of the World) – is that there are ‘good’ empires and ‘bad’ empires. Good empires are characterized by parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, liberal policies, and a desire to enlighten and improve; their rule is therefore progressive. Bad empires are autocracies that act in especially ruthless, repressive, even murderous ways, and have no mission to advance the interests of their subjects. Britain and America are especially good empires. Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Imperial Japan are all bad empires. Ferguson’s arguments, it goes without saying, represent a rewriting of imperial pasts to accommodate the New Imperialism of Blair and Bush. What is now clear is that right-wing revisionism has sunk deep shafts into the historiography of the bloody 20th century. Nothing is secure; no atrocity or insanity too awful not to be a potential candidate for rehabilitation. Suddenly, as living memory dies, battles like Verdun, the Somme and Passchendaele, symbols of the horror, waste and futility of imperialist war for almost a century, are being repackaged as democracy’s fields of glory.

There is an obvious link, too, with traditional right-wing approaches to the Bolshevik Revolution. The revolution has, of course, long been caricatured as a coup by a fanatical sect who immediately established a tyrannical regime that culminated in the mass murders of the 1930s. The role of the revolutionary wave of 1917-1921 in both ending the war and showing in practice that another world was possible has become almost invisible in academic and popular accounts of the period. With the dichotomies that the struggles of 1917-1921 represented – between capital and labour, war and revolution, barbarism and socialism – effectively erased, the ground is cleared for the alternative dichotomies of the revisionists – that of good and bad empires, democracies and autocracies, nice people like Churchill as against nasty people like Hitler.

This argument is going to run and run. It is fuelled by three things. First, at the same time as living memory comes to an end, the centenary of the war and revolutions of 1914-1921 is approaching. We can expect a huge outpouring of books, TV shows, exhibitions, and public events. Second, the New Imperialism, though riddled with contradictions, though bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, remains an immensely dangerous global force – a force which could yet unleash the ultimate horror of a war between superpowers. And third, there is the global protest movement against war and neo-liberalism, which constitutes a huge and growing audience for radical interpretations of the past, including a people’s history of war and revolution in 1914-1921, not least for the lessons it can teach for today’s struggles.'

Neil Faulkner can be contacted at neilfaulkner2000@yahoo.co.uk
Pete Glatter at member@pglatter.fsnet.co.uk.'

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

All hail the triumph of Blairism!

'Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war. That is a prize beyond value'

Tony Blair, May 1997

'The [Human Rights] Bill marks a major step forward...it stands alongside our decision to put the promotion of human rights at the forefront of our foreign policy'

Tony Blair, October 1997.

'Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education'

Tony Blair, April 1997.

Remember how excited you were when Tony Blair came into power in 1997? The hope, the optimism, the sense of expectation that at last New Labour had triumphed? No? Well, don't worry as the Government are on hand to help the more forgetful among you - or perhaps those who were unfortunately too young to remember not only the dark years Before Blair.(B.B.) but also the glorious early Years of the Blair Revolution.

The Party's memo 'Reconnecting with the public - a new relationship with the media' has doubtless drawn the usual sniping from the enemies of the Party, but I feel that it is a fitting way for our Dear Leader to depart - if indeed He really has to go. The Party's memo calls for a rebirth of the spirit of Year Zero and the final glorious victory of the Blair Revolution over its enemies:

'His genuine legacy is not the delivery, important though that is, but the dominance of new Labour ideas...the triumph of Blairism.'

Comrades we have not only just delivered on the targets set by the Party's Plans, but the end of the ideological struggle is in sight! The hegemony of New Labour ideas over society has been achieved! All hail the final and irrevocable victory of Blairism in One Country!

The memo continues, rightly proud of the achivements of Our Dear Leader: 'As TB enters his final phase he needs to be focusing way beyond the finishing line, not looking at it. He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end he must focus on the future.'

How noble is Our Dear Leader? To put aside all talk of say, relaxing to write his memoirs and then selling them off to the highest bidder for millions but instead to focus on helping the Party prepare for the difficult future After Blair (A.B.)?

The memo talks of how the Party can remind the people of what has been achieved by the Blair Revolution, but also the challenges that remain: 'As much as possible a farewell tour, looking to the future, making sure the party is in the right place and the public remember him as he should be. He needs to embrace open spaces, the arts and businesses, he needs to be seen to be travelling on different forms of transport. He needs to be seen with people who will raise eyebrows. He needs to travel around the UK to be carefully positioned as someone who while not above politics, is certainly distancing himself from the political village. He should be dropping references in all that he does which reflect his energy and enthusiasm.'

Wonderful! Wonderful! But what of the Party's enemies - the Islamo-Trotskyist-Fascist wreckers who still remain skulking in our midsts, still bitter about things like the Party's interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan (which lets not forget happened long ago in the past and in countries after all which are very far away).

Here the memo is at its most defiant about the Party's achievements in bringing about a stable and orderly transition to democracy. While the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people remain 'the elephant in the room,' the Party memo argues 'let's face up to it.' After all, the Party's mission was accomplished, wasn't it? Weren't the totalitarian rulers of those countries defeated? Histomat calls on those of its readers who can make it to the last Party Conference under Our Dear Leader Tony Blair to join what I expect will be a huge historic spontaneous gathering of the People to hail the all conquering Hero.

The details of the coming Party Conference are below:
Saturday 23rd September - Manchester. Coaches are already being booked from across the country thanks to these friendly people so don't miss the chance to be able to tell your grandchildren that you did your bit in the historic farewell celebrations. Lets all come together to give Tony Blair the send-off he deserves.