Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is turning rebellion into money courageous?

Why is it Gordon Brown has to try and make money out of everything? Is nothing sacred? Apparently not, if his soon to be published book Courage: Eight Portraits is anything to go by. This is apparently about Gordon Brown's political heroes, but it seems to me to more about cashing in on his rise to fame and power than anything else. Still, lets hear him out.

As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by men and women of courage. When I was 10, I was given an encyclopedia of 20th-century history. In it were recorded great deeds: the daring of Shackleton, the sheer determination and inspired improvisation that took his expedition across the Antarctic; the bravery and ill-fated amateurism of the Mallory and Irvine attempt on Everest in 1924; Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1912, and Captain Oates and his last sacrifice. All of them I admired'

What sort of 'encyclopedia of 20th century history' was that? The Boys Own guide to plucky British adventurers in the age of Empire? However, though he is not mentioning it now, Brown soon discovered socialism and with it a set of Scottish heroes and heroines. In his twenties, in 1975, he wrote an article of which I put extracts up on my blog, The Socialist Challenge, where he praised 'Scotland's socialist pioneers, Hardie, Smillie, Maxton, Maclean, Gallacher, Wheatley and others' - indeed he even wrote a biography on James Maxton based on his PhD research. All of them, even the beloved Maxton, are forgotten now by Brown.

Who are his heroes now?

Edith Cavell, a British nurse executed by the Germans during WWI.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was killed by the Nazis for opposing them.
Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish capitalist who saved Hungarian Jews from the Nazis before dying in Stalinist Russia.
Martin Luther King, black leader of the American Civil Rights movement, assassinated in 1968.
Robert Kennedy, American liberal anti-Communist politician, also assassinated in 1968
Nelson Mandela, leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
Cicely Saunders, British founder of hospices.
Aung San Suu Kyi, fighter for democracy in Burma today.

One should salute Brown's internationalism, and his inclusion of three women on one level I suppose, and he is right to describe these people (with the exception of Robert Kennedy - still it could have been worse) as 'men and women of courage...Their stories live on and inspire us...They were prepared to endure great sacrifices and persist, some of them for many years, against the odds and in the face of the greatest adversity.' The Guardian seems ecstatic at the prospect of the book. Catherine Bennett gushes 'The most appealing thing about this book is its wonderful unflashiness; that it could never have been written by Tony Blair or David Cameron.'

There are several things of interest about Brown's choices, but I want to touch on just three things - nation, class and politics.

On nation, what is most obvious is that there is not one person on the list of Brown's heroes who challenged tyranny or injustice when it was carried out by the British. The only two British figures are nurses, (perhaps this is a sop to today's undervalued nurses - 'I will cut your pay today, but I really appreciate what you do, honest'). Brown's beloved 'Britishness' remains uncomplicated by any questions of empire or race. Martin Luther King is saluted for leading the American Civil Rights movement - but the 'British Civil Rights movement' remains safely out of sight and out of mind (no Suffragettes or anti-colonial activists here). We should not be surprised. As Brown boasted to the Daily Mail recently: 'The days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over. We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it.'

On class, while the Chartists are forgotten, it is interesting that not one trade unionist makes it onto the list. Brown will celebrate capitalists and capitalist politicians - but those who were imprisoned, deported or killed fighting for rights at work - forget it.

Finally, we come to the hypocrisy of Brown, 'paymaster of the Iraq bloodbath' as John Pilger calls him. Who is he to give moral lectures on anything, let alone 'courage'? As one Guardian reader pointed out:

'Did he stand up to Blair and Bush over Iraq? As a cabinet minister he would have known the evidence for WMD was flawed. Did he stand up to the frivolity of the Millennium Dome? Did he do his best to prevent Trident's progress (Scotland-based Trident will presumably not be in his beautiful backyard as pictured on your front page). Has he admitted his PFI initiatives are spiralling out of control? Does he do all he can to prevent people being deported to countries with violent regimes?'

Writing an awful book will not cover up the awful truth about Gordon Brown.

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