Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Spectre of Respect

Tony Benn famously declared on retiring from Parliament that he had left in order 'to spend more time on politics'. I suppose I feel a little that way about my early 'retirement' from the blogosphere, but just as Tony Benn still pops back into the House of Commons tea room on occasion, so I have written a short guest post for Dave Osler's blog on The spectre of Respect, about, er, the Respect Coalition.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Last Post*

Dear brothers, sisters, comrades, friends,

There comes a time when all good things must come to end and this is true of this blog, Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism. As I wrote in my first post, 'I hope that it will strengthen the work of all those involved in recording and remembering the truth, in the face of official apologists for imperial and corporate power.' It is now clear that this mission has been accomplished as we have succeeded in winning the battle of ideas to the extent that now even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has come over to our way of thinking.

As the esteemed editor of the Daily Mail Paul Dacre has noted:

'What really disturbs me is that the BBC in every corpus of its corporate body is against conservatism with a small c...it exercises a kind of cultural Marxism where it tries to undermine conservative society by turning those values on their head.'

There is now no longer any point in trying to keep up a Marxist blog with a cultural bent as one only needs to read the BBC site, particularly its society and culture pages which often represent the Frankfurt School at its best. On the BBC, one can watch and listen to endless discussions of cultural Marxists such as Antonio Gramsci, Theodor Adorno, Britney Spears, Walter Benjamin, David Beckham, Victor Serge, George Lukacs, CLR James, Paris Hilton and Stuart Hall. After all, the fact that Marx was voted the greatest philosopher of our time by BBC listeners surely shows the extent to which the British working class now exercises hegemony over other classes and wider British society through the BBC.

Dacre has also argued the BBC is 'Orwellian' which is really the ultimate tribute one can pay - this blog has always been inspired by George Orwell's 'literary Trotskyism'. One can understand how revolutionary and deeply subversive programmes such as 'Strictly Come Dancing' and 'The Weakest Link' clearly work to spread the Marxist ideas of Leon Trotsky among the British working class. Programmes such as these clearly stand at the pinacle of human culture, working as both politics and art. I will end by thanking all those who have contributed comments to this blog to date, and with quoting from an article by the late Paul Foot on Orwell on the centenary of his birth. Orwell, who once worked of course for the BBC, sadly never lived to see this historic day when cultural Marxism would triumph within the institution. Writing in 2003, Foot noted the following of Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four:

'It foresees a horrific world, divided into three power blocks constantly changing sides in order to continue fighting against each other. The governments of all three keep the allegiance of their citizens by pretending there has only ever been one war, one enemy. "The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control' they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'."

There is doublethink going on now as Oceania (the US and Britain) prepares for war against Iraq. We, the Winston Smiths of today, know that 15 years ago, the US and Britain were in alliance with Iraq. We know that the British Foreign Office sided with Saddam Hussein when he did those terrible things to his own people listed in Jack Straw's recent doublethink dossier. We know that our government changed their own guidelines in order to sell Saddam the ingredients of any weapons of mass destruction he may or may not now have. We also know that the key bases from which US bombers will take off to kill Iraqis are in Saudi Arabia, whose regime is even more dictatorial, savage and terrorist than Saddam's. But where does that knowledge exist? Only in our own consciousness.

Orwell's great novel was not only a satire, but a warning. He wanted to alert his readers to the dangers of acquiescence in the lies and contortions of powerful governments and their media toadies. The anti-war movement is growing fast, in Britain and the US. Fortunately, we can still, as Orwell urged in another passage, "turn our consciousness to strength" and shake off the warmongers "like a horse shaking off flies". If we don't, we are in for another awful round of victories over our own memories and of doublethink.'


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Monday, January 22, 2007

Sasha Simic

There is some unbelieveable dross on the Guardian's Comment is free site sometimes - whether it is Tristram Hunt trying to tell us that Frederick Engels would have saluted the 'revolutionary genius' of the London Stock Exchange today as 'the trading of shares accelerated the concentration of capital' to Nick Cohen regarding Stop the War marchers as objectively pro-fascist and John Harris getting confused as to the purposes of anti-war demonstrations (despite the fact Britain is occupying two Muslim countries illegally and is joining the US in threatening war against a third).

What a relief therefore to read socialist Sasha Simic reporting from the World Social Forum in Kenya:

'I got a reminder of how the defeat of an imperial power can echo in the hearts of the oppressed. I was waiting for the march to begin clutching an anti-Bush poster to my chest. A middle-aged man in raggedy clothes on his way to the demo passed me, did a double take and moved towards me. He stretched out his hand and we shook. "My name" he said with pride, "is Vietnam".'

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Controlling the future

In his triumphant tenth year speech this week to New Labour's Party Policy Network Forum, the Great Helmsman of the Blair Revolution, Comrade Blair directed activists attention away from the often troublesome past and present towards the golden future that awaits the Party:

'New Labour is an attitude of mind...Our government should be enabling, empowering...We should be unafraid of the future...We should own the future...As we in New Labour face the prospect of a fourth term, the danger is not a conscious decision to depart from New Labour; but an unconscious decision to cease driving it forward...Fortunately I have no doubt that those who will take on the mantle of leading the party into the next election do indeed want New Labour to remain New Labour.This means "new" New Labour. Standing still means falling back. But it is change because of new issues, new challenges; not a rejection of the past 10 years, just an acknowledgement that it is the past.The attitude of mind stays intact.'

With the correct attitude of mind the One Party State can still be achieved:

'Consider the Tory Party today. They are in a state of deep ideological confusion. Their MPs wander around, uncertain, scratching their heads, some off to the left of us, some off to the right of us. They can unite when attacking us; but ask them where they stand and they have difficulty finding their bearings. They're supposed to be the law and order party; but take a bewildering array of civil liberties positions to oppose tough measures. They now tie up with the left of the unions and the SWP in opposing all reforms in the health service.'

The dangerous counter-revolutionary 'Trotskyite-Cameronite Rightist Bloc' can only be defeated if the disciplined Party embraces the 'aspirant class' of Stakhanovite workers in Britain today:

'Its not about merely accepting the aspirant class, tolerating the element that might vote conservative but we want to vote progressive; its not about being gracious enough to allow their concerns on tax or immigration or responsive public services to intrude on our core cause. It's about a wholehearted embrace of them. It's not enough to be "not against them". We need to be for them, welcoming them, letting them shape and influence our policy. If all of this sounds very unsettling to progressive ears, it shouldn't do. Being in serious politics is always about being in government. That too is an attitude of mind.'

Finally, the Glorious Leader turned to the question of the Party structure:

'Our structures are often old-fashioned. We should be aiming for parties that are not activist-based, though of course we need our activists. They should be stakeholder parties, run on far looser lines, with supporters and members co-existing together and with structures of policy and decision making always reflecting real people's concerns. The pressures within the party should be those that keep us virtuous, in touch with the people, in line with the future. Do this and we can be governing parties.'

Let the victorious banner of Bush fly high over our heads!

Utter destruction to the Trotskyite-Cameronite wreckers!

Death to the Iraqi Resistance!

Long live our glorious motherland!

Under the banner of Bush -onward to victory!

Long live British values!

Long Live the Blair Revolution!

Long Live Comrade Blair!

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Socialist Worker on the 'Indian uprising'

There is a good article in Socialist Worker about how anger against
pig fat, pig-ignorance and racist bullying
led to a rather serious 'diplomatic incident' taking place between Britain and India. Oh, and Yuri Prasad has written about recent events on Celebrity Big Brother...

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

A random conversation

This morning while sitting in bed reading I was disturbed by a knock on the door. I came downstairs, blurry eyed and slightly pissed off and opened the door to find two women in the thirties in long black coats and little name badges. The conversation went something like this:

Woman: [in American accent] 'Hello, we are from your local church and we were wondering if you were interested...'

Me: [biting back the temptation of challenging their dubious 'local credentials' given their American accent] 'Look, I'm sorry I am a Marxist and an atheist...'

Woman:[pause] 'Oh thats...cool. I am sure we share the same hopes...'

Me: 'Yes, I am sure we probably do, though I also think there is little point in me trying to convert you and you trying to convert me to be honest'

Woman: [reaching into her bag] 'Okay then, would you like a copy of American-Indian writings about God from the sixteenth century'*

Me: [kind of intrigued, and perhaps feeling a little guilty about not raising the war on Iraq or the question of Marxism and religion with them - given they thought Marxism was...'cool'] 'Um, ok then...thanks'

Woman: [handing me not some big book but a tiny leaflet advertising 'The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ'] 'Goodbye'.

Me: [closing door] 'Yeah, see you'.

[*I think that was what she said but apologies in case I heard this wrong and have just accidently insulted 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints'].

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Dead King Watch: George V

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the death of King George V, who reigned as King of Britain and 'King-Emperor' of India from 1910 until his death in 1936. Born on 3 June 1865, his official biographer gives a good insight into what he was like as a young man: 'He did nothing at all but kill [i.e. shoot] animals and stick in stamps.' In 1901, Queen Victoria died, and George's father, Albert Edward, ascended the throne as King Edward VII, and when he died in 1910, George became King George V.

In 1911, the new King and Queen travelled to India where they were presented to an assembled audience as the Emperor and Empress of India. In India, George took the opportunity to indulge in hunting tigers, shooting 21. On 18 December 1913 George shot over a thousand pheasants in six hours at the home of Lord Burnham, later acknowledging that 'we went a little too far' that day. Perhaps so.

The outbreak of World War I was difficult for the Royal Family, as they were kind of on the 'wrong side'. George had many German relatives and the family name was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The German Emperor Wilhelm II was the king's first cousin, 'Willy.' The King had brothers-in-law and cousins who were British subjects but who bore German titles such as Duke and Duchess of Teck, Prince and Princess of Battenberg, Prince and Princess of Hesse and by Rhine, and Prince and Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sønderburg-Augustenberg. It is not therefore surprising writer H G Wells wrote about Britain's 'alien and uninspiring court'.

King George V's first cousin was Russian Tsar Nicholas II (their mothers - Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom and Empress Maria Fyodorovna of Russia - were sisters)and when so the Tsar was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of February 1917, it came as a bit of a shock. The British Government offered asylum to the Tsar and his family but worsening conditions for the British people, and fears that revolution might come to the British Isles, led George to think that the presence of the Romanovs might seem 'inappropriate' under the circumstances. However, they decided in 17 July 1917 to change the name of the British Royal House from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the House of Windsor.

During and after World War I, many of the monarchies which had ruled most European countries fell. In addition to Russia, the monarchies of Austria, Germany, Greece, and Spain also fell to revolution and war, although the Greek monarchy was restored again shortly before George's death. Most of these countries were ruled by relatives of George.

To get some idea of how his subjects came to view King George's time in power, it is hard to do better than quote from a 1935 pamphlet - The Jubilee-and how - written by the British Communist writer T. A. Jackson to counter the rubbish coming out at the time of the Silver Jubilee held to celebrate twenty five years of King George's reign.

'On May 6th we shall all have a holiday. For most of us this will be without pay; but all of us will be (officially) expected to rejoice! Why? Because King George the Fifth has kept his job for twenty-five years. To hold a job in a competitive market market for a quarter of a century, is nowadays, no small feat. And although the post of King can hardly be said to fall within the competitive category, there have been in the past twenty-five years so many cases of Kings deposed, dethroned, and otherwise placed on the retired list that we can well understand why King George and all his fans find the occasion one for sincere gratitute and rejoicing.'

After noting the fall of the Kaisers in Germany and Austria, the Tsar of Russia, the Sultan of Turkey, the Emperor of China, the Kings of Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Shah of Persia and the King of Siam, Jackson notes that the Jubilee was however a 'trade stunt'. 'Selling' Royalty to the Public began with the cunning Disraeli 'advertising' Queen Victoria, which was useful as people needed to be 'persuaded that but for the King and the Royal Family the world would stop spinning on its axis and the British Empire would blow up with a bang!' Queen Victoria was made out to be 'just like us' but at the same time always achieving 'more than we could do' - 'her domestic virtues were exploited to the full...her bourgeois respectability and the piety and diligence of her spouse were of immense importance in the period when all the thrones of Europe were rocking under the impact of the forces generated by the Industrial Revolution.' Victoria was 'a petty bourgeois monarch around which was organised the cult of Empire worship' - becoming Empress of India in 1877 and then Jubilees were organised in 1887 and 1897 to celebrate her reign.

The Jubilee then was not really for the monarch - who had no power - but to 'hide the reality of the capitalist plutocratic dictatorship of Government', a 'Lord Mayor's show on a world scale'. What exactly are we celebrating 25 years of?

George V's reign saw the bloody First World War which left one million British troops dead and a further million wounded - while elections were suspended at home, followed by economic crisis, high unemployment and repression in the colonies. From the Black and Tans in Ireland, the Meerut Trial in India, as well as events in Egypt these years are marked by a fear of nationalist revolution. And now we have seen the rise of Fascism - 'Hitler's "Aryan" dominance myth is simply the practice of British Imperialism' together with 'bogus science and developed to its logical absurdity'. And now we have the new threat of war.

'To celebrate the Jubilee is to rejoice over the fact that whereas the reign began with the British Government in general sympathy with the Tsar and the Kaiser, its twenty fifth birthday finds it in no less sympathy with Mussolini and Hitler' [His successor, Edward VIII would take 'sympathy' for Mussolini and Hitler to even greater heights]. Jackson noted it is not a question of the personality of the monarch - 'so far as essentials are concerned George V has had no more to do with determining the historical sequence of events and their economic and political outcome than you or I. To blame George V for the present situation at home and abroad would be as foolish as the praise lavished upon him by the press hirelings of capitalist imperialism and by its political mouthpieces'. 'The Jubilee celebrations are deliberately determined to divert public attention - particularly that of the workers from realities to fake issues. They constitute as a whole one elaborate "circus" staged expressly to divert attention from the fundamental rottenness of the social structure for which the British monarchy serves as a single figurehead' - the monarchy is but 'a puppet of Finance State Capital'.

Of the Silver jubilee King George could not really understand why there was so much to celebrate about his reign either, saying in response to the crowd's adulation, 'I cannot understand it, after all I am only a very ordinary sort of fellow.' The shock of war and revolution did seem to take its toll on George's health, which now began to deteriorate. He had always had a weak chest, a weakness exacerbated by heavy smoking. A bout of illness saw him retire to the sea, by Bognor Regis in West Sussex. A myth later grew that the King's last words, upon being told that he would soon be well enough to revisit Bognor Regis, were "bugger Bognor!" In the evening of 15 January 1936, the King took to his bedroom at Sandringham House complaining of a cold; he would never leave the room alive. The King became gradually weaker, drifting in and out of consciousness. The diary of his physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, reveals that the King’s last words, a mumbled "God damn you!", were addressed to his nurse when she gave him a sedative on the night of the 20 January.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Max Weber on revolution

'Politics...takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth - that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible'
- Max Weber.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Which way forward for socialism?

To stop war for good we need to stop the system which breeds war, but how?

If the choice ahead for humanity is socialism or barbarism, and it will be easier for me if you simply agree for now that it is, then the question becomes how do we get socialism? Canadian blogger 'Victor Serge' has been giving this question - arguably the question for socialists - some thought recently on his blog here and then here, while Alex Callinicos has a short article looking at the challenges ahead for socialists in Europe here.

Edited to add: Mike Davis, the brilliant American Marxist writer and historian, is speaking in London on race and class in the US at an event organised by Bookmarks on Thursday 22 February 7.30pm - while the July Marxism 2007 London festival has got itself a website.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stalingrad on the Tigris

...Coming to a cinema near Baghdad soon...

...Surge productions present...

...another Bush-Blair disaster movie which will chill your blood...

...a film which took 21,000 lives in the making...

...from the award-winning makers of 'Apocalypse Now', 'Armageddon', 'Cannon Fodder II' and 'Honey, I think I just started World War III'...

...and from the legendary director of 'Star Wars missile programme', 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'My daddy was a killer II' George Bush...


Starring Robert Gates as the US army's top problem shooter, Margaret Beckett as a beautiful British diplomat, and Bob Hoskins as the Iraqi general Moqtada al-Sadr...

'As shocking and barbaric as anything you will see this year' - TOTAL FILM

'What the fuck was Bush thinking when he made this?' - US EMPIRE magasine

'Glad I wasn't there!' - Jonathan Ross

'Read George Lukacs rather than sit through this latest offering from George Lucas' - Historical Materialism

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Somalia 1920s, Somalia 2007

''Whatever happens we have got the AC-130 gunship and they have not'' (apologies to Hilaire Belloc)

Somalia, 1920s - The Royal Air Force bomb Islamic resistance to British colonial occupation

Given the frequency and virulence of the Ethiopian raids, it was natural that the first pan-Somali or Greater Somalia effort against colonial occupation, and for unification of all areas populated by Somalis into one country, should have been directed at Ethiopians rather than at the Europeans; the effort was spearheaded by the Somali dervish resistance movement. The dervishes followed Mahammad Abdille Hasan of the puritanical Salihiyah tariqa (religious order or brotherhood). His ability as an orator and a poet (much-valued skills in Somali society) won him many disciples, especially among his own Dulbahante and Ogaden clans (both of the Daarood clan-family). The British dismissed Hasan as a religious fanatic, calling him the "Mad Mullah." They underestimated his following, however, because from 1899 to 1920, the dervishes conducted a war of resistance against the Ethiopians and British, a struggle that devastated the Somali Peninsula and resulted in the death of an estimated one-third of northern Somalia's population and the near destruction of its economy. One of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in the annals of sub-Saharan resistance to alien encroachment, the dervish uprising was not quelled until 1920 with the death of Hasan, who became a hero of Somali nationalism. Deploying a Royal Air Force squadron recently returned from action in combat in World War I, the British delivered the decisive blow with a devastating aerial bombardment of the dervish capital at Taleex in northern Somalia.

Somalia 2007 - The US Airforce bomb Islamic resistance to the American Empire

Two US air strikes on sites in southern Somalia, thought to be the hideouts of al-Qaida suspects, have left "many dead", reports said today. The attacks yesterday, by a heavily armed gunship, allegedly targeted Islamists wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in other African countries...Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said: "We don't know how many people were killed in the attack but we understand there were a lot of casualties. Most were Islamic fighters." Speaking to Reuters, a senior government official said: "I understand there are so many dead bodies and animals in the village."

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Gordon Brown's politics and the power of hypnosis

Are you feeling tired? Worn down at work? A little bit sleepy perhaps? Oh well, never mind. Take a seat, make yourself comfortable and just try to relax. Forget about all your problems and when you are quite relaxed Uncle Gordon will be along to explain all about his exciting new settlement he has in store for us all. Won't that be nice? You know Uncle Gordon don't you? Yes, that's right, he is that friendly man who lives next door to Mr Blair. A lovely man. Smiley. Sleepy. Uncle Gordon will explain about the mistakes Mr. Blair made but why everything will be alright now. Time for sleep. Yes, you can close your eyes if you wish. Just listen to his words. Ah, here he is now, I'll leave you in his capable hands...

Sleep sleep the state as servant sleep sleep sleep sleep a brilliant Prime Minister and an excellent leader of the Labour Party (who) has taken very brave and difficult decisions on so many occasions for which he should be applauded sleepy sleepy sleepy stuck in a rut in Iraq sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep Even those people, unlike me, who are in favour of capital punishment found this completely unacceptable and I am pleased that there is now an inquiry into this and I hope lessons in this area will be learnt, as we learn other lessons about what has happened in Iraq sleep sleep sleep deplorable sleep sleep sleepy unacceptable sleep sleep sleep There will always be reviews into what happened. The lessons we have got to learn are two-fold. One is that in Iraq itself there is absolutely no doubt - and I think people will agree on this in time - that the passage of authority to the local population should have begun a lot earlier, so they had to take more responsibility for what was happening in their own country sleep sleep sleep sleep a Government of all the talents sleep sleep sleep Political Quarterly Vol. 63 Issue 4 October 1992 THE SERVANT STATE: TOWARDS A NEW CONSTITUTIONAL SETTLEMENT by GORDON BROWN MP sleep sleep sleep sleep government sleepy sleepy sleepy sleepy a new kind of politics in this country...a new style of government in the future sleep sleep sleep sleep If you believed in the past that you could have a top-down approach and a Government that simply pulled the levers, that is not how it is going to work in the future sleep sleep sleep I would see the state as the 'servant state'. I would see Government as serving people. I would see the service emphasis of Government as being incredibly important sleep sleepy sleep You have got to listen and then you have got to be prepared to talk, consult and debate. I don't think it is a change of style for me. I think the issue is that the challenges of the future demand something quite different from the past sleep sleep sleep sleep stability sleep sleep stable and orderly transition sleep sleep sleep prudent sleep sleep prudency sleep sleep sleep the slavery of ignorance sleep sleep sleep the ignorance of slavery sleep sleep sleep freedom is slavery sleep sleep sleep war is peace sleep sleep sleep ignorance is strength sleep sleep sleep sleep Trident sleep sleep sleep sleep ID cards sleep sleep sleep nuclear power sleep sleep sleep precarity sleep sleep sleep 1984 sleep sleep sleep Big Brother sleep sleep sleep sleep

One for the memory hole: The Trident nuclear missile programme is 'unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound' - Gordon Brown, 1984.


Friday, January 05, 2007

International Socialism 113

Richard Seymour of the inimitable Lenin's Tomb blog has a timely article 'In the name of decency: the contortions of the pro-war left' in the latest issue of International Socialism, which has just come online. I like this bit in particular: 'A new initiative called ‘The Euston Manifesto’ was launched by bloggers and commentators from the soft left in April 2006. Its pioneers formulated their creed in a pub in Euston, and it shows.' Among what look like several other excellent articles, Hassan Mahamdallie's look at Muslim working class struggles in a twentieth century British context should also be read by those confused by the current climate of Islamophobia - while Neil Davidson looks back at the Great French Revolution.

While I am here, I may as well plug a London Socialist Historians Group conference coming up in February on The Cold War Sixty Years On which is being held in, er, London of all places.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

V for Vendetta

Finally got round to seeing V for Vendetta, and while it does romanticise Guy Fawkes as an revolutionary icon and possibly sows illusions in substitutionalism vis a vis revolutionary organisation, it is also possibly one of the finest films I have ever seen about a future British revolution, made against a fascist dictatorship. Indeed, I am still a little stunned that it got made to be honest - it is quite simply superb, and the acting/casting is excellent. The other outstanding film I saw recently was Lars von Trier's 'Mandalay' - which together with his Dogville - contitutes one of the hardest hitting demolitions of the racism of modern American society that exists on film. One can only hope von Trier turns his attention to British colonialism at some point in the future.


New Years Revolutions

Ninety years ago, in early January 1917, while in Switzerland, Lenin gave a lecture on the l905 Russian Revolution at a meeting of young workers in the Zurich People’s House. In it he concluded with the following comments:

'We very often meet West-Europeans who talk of the Russian revolution as if events, the course and methods of struggle in that backward country have very little resemblance to West-European patterns, and, therefore, can hardly have any practical significance. Nothing could be more erroneous.

The forms and occasions for the impending battles in the coming European revolution will doubtlessly differ in many respects from the forms of the Russian revolution.

Nevertheless, the Russian revolution—precisely because of its proletarian character, in that particular sense of which I have spoken—is the prologue to the coming European revolution. Undoubtedly, this coming revolution can only be a proletarian revolution, and in an even more profound sense of the word: a proletarian, socialist revolution also in its content. This coming revolution will show to an even greater degree, on the one hand, that only stern battles, only civil wars, can free humanity from the yoke of capital, and, on the other hand, that only class-conscious proletarians can and will give leadership to the vast majority of the exploited.'

In other words, the Russian Revolution of 1905 was to be of enormous significance for the coming European revolution - which Lenin expected as a result of the First World War.

'In Europe, the coming years, precisely because of this predatory war, will lead to popular uprisings under the leadership of the proletariat against the power of finance capital, against the big banks, against the capitalists; and these upheavals cannot end otherwise than with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, with the victory of socialism.

We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution. But I can, I believe, express the confident hope that the youth which is working so splendidly in the socialist movement of Switzerland, and of the whole world, will be fortunate enough not only to fight, but also to win, in the coming proletarian revolution.'

Famously, one month later - after declaring that he himself 'may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution' - the European Revolution began - and began with another revolution in Russia that brought down the Tsarist dictatorship. The point about revolutions is that they always everyone by surprise when they come, even the revolutionaries. They sneak up on everyone 'like a thief in the night', as [apparently] Marx once noted.

None of this is to say that in one months time we will see revolution in Europe - despite the crisis posed for say the British ruling class by imperialist war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are none of the signs of an impending revolutionary situation developing at the moment, far from it - though obviously outside Europe, in Venezuela for example, things are more interesting.

Yet what is also always interesting to think about - as Alex Callinicos does in the latest Socialist Worker, are the new forms of independent collective democratic organisation thrown up during such revolutionary upheavals.

Throughout the twentieth century - and beginning with the Russian Revolution of 1905 - workers' struggle during social revolutions threw up soviets - workers councils. The St Petersburg Soviet during 1905 brought together factory delegates from across the city. Of such councils, Callinicos notes:

'These would cut across existing divisions – linking different crafts and industries, uniting trade unionists and unorganised workers, and drawing together those with different political allegiances and with none. These class-wide organisations would be based in workplaces.' Such organisations reappeared during the February 1917 revolution in Russia, and also arose at other high points of struggle as the century progressed (inspiring one new revolutionary tradition to emerge briefly during the 1920s - 'Council Communism').

By themselves, Workers' Councils - based on the collective economic power of the working class - historically existed uneasily alongside other forms of power - in particular state power - political power - which remained outside workers control. So the February Revolution created a state of what Lenin called 'dual power' - where a new Parliament (Duma) - the 'Provisional Government' - represented the Russian capitalist elites while Soviet power grew in the workplaces of the towns and cities of Russia. In almost every case historically, eventually the workers councils have either been crushed by elites or have collapsed due to other pressures - and dual power therefore does not last long (hence the problem with simply espousing 'Council Communism'). The only exceptional breakthrough as Callinicos notes came in Russia in October 1917. 'Here the Bolshevik party, informed by Lenin’s analysis, won the debate within the soviets, persuading them to overthrow the provisional government and take power. This has made the October Revolution a model for revolutionary socialists ever since.'

Yet as Callinicos asks, in the twenty-first century, given the changes in global capitalism under neo-liberalism over the last twenty years, which are continuing, will we see classical Soviets in future social upheavals? Even in advanced capitalist countries, 'big industrial workplaces have become more dispersed geographically, as firms shift production to “green field” sites. The big cities have been de-industrialised, their workforces dominated by office and shop workers. These changes may mean that new explosions of working class insurgency take different forms.'

These, he notes, drawing on examples from Bolivia today, may be more akin to the Paris Commune of 1871. 'Karl Marx and Frederick Engels hailed the Paris Commune of 1871 as the first workers’ state. But the Commune was organised on the basis of neighbourhoods, not workplaces. This made sense in a city economically dominated by small workshops.' City wide Communes certainly seem as though they could be more appropriate for what Mike Davis calls 'the planet of slums' developing in much of the Third World.

Clearly, with respect to say, a country like Britain of the US, one cannot rule out the possibility of more classical workers councils controlling cities in a future situation of dual power - but again there are changes. For example, in Leeds, there are apparently fifty thousand students - and one part of the city is essentially a huge student hall of residence (with a few local people too). This 'student quarter' may well throw up a new organisational form based on territoriality though doubtless still linked to struggle around the University, as a workplace.

Anyway, I think the article is worth thinking about, perhaps alongside the following article by Adam Webb, which also ponders the question of what global revolution might look like in the twenty first century.

Some bloggers - unlike me - clearly have been hard at work writing stuff over the break. Maps has written a facinating defence of EP Thompson and the first new Left which deserves reading - even if one disagrees with argument made relating to Thompson and Trotsky, while Louis Proyect has written at length about Marx and religion. And on Marx, I doubt many Marxists have read this.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ambition and compassion

In his heartwarming New Years message Our Dear Leader Tony Blair noted that the Glorious Party holds two things very close to its heart - 'ambition and compassion'. A pity of course that the only thing New Labour are ambitious about is power for power's sake and compassion for the richest and greediest people in society. Still, at last they are committed to 'seeing through' the civilising missions in Afghanistan and Iraq - it always brings a tear to one's eye to see those who were corrupted by power brought to account.

However, on an altogether different topic, one mindless thought criminal has succeeded in lodging a petition on the official Prime Minister's website noting that "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Stand charged at the International Criminal Court with War Crimes committed in the illegal war on Iraq." This proposterous and disgusting allegation is of course so unbelieveable that it is in no danger of undermining the spontaneous mass popular celebrations that the Party is organising to commemorate the end of Blair's decade in power, but the Party must be ever vigilent. I urge Histomat readers, when making their new year's resolutions, to ponder about the sort of message such a petition sends out at this time, and to warn people not to sign it.

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