Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Middlesbrough cops

Given Blair wants to turn Britain into a police state as part of his 'legacy', I thought I would link to this, which apparently features one of my cousins 'breaking into his own flat in Middlesbrough, and gives part of the answer as to why giving the police more powers is never the solution to anything. For more on the wonders of the British police, see here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Paul Rogers on a clear and present danger

In The fire next time, Rogers notes that the anti-war movement needs to 'be prepared' over the coming weeks:

'To sum up: the US position in Iraq is in trouble, with the surge failing so far to deliver the expected results and a further expansion therefore planned; reinforcements have had to be sent to Afghanistan; meanwhile, the Iranian government is being particularly forceful and US naval forces have moved into close proximity to Iran in the Persian Gulf.

These circumstances will not necessarily result in a tipping-point on the other side of which is war, but at a time of pre-existing tension which they in turn reinforce they do present particular dangers. These are the circumstances in which there is a risk of unexpected events developing rapidly into confrontation, even where the latter is not the intended result. That is the situation the region and the world now faces, and there is little indication that it will ease in the coming weeks.'

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Geoff Eley on 'Writing in Opposition'

[In July 2005, the Canadian journal Left History put together a symposium of leading socialist historians asking 'What is Left History now?', and among the contributions was a short piece, 'Writing in Opposition' by Geoff Eley, who teaches mainly German history in the U.S. at the University of Michigan. Eley is the author of a number of books, including in 2002 Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000, an important work which was reviewed by Colin Barker for International Socialism Journal in issue 101 (online here) - a review to which Eley responded here. While Left History intends to eventually put the entire contents of its print journal online in the future - an admirable ambition which no doubt will strengthen its importance as a very useful resource - Eley and the editors of Left History have very kindly given me permission to put up on Histomat his contribution to that symposium, 'Writing in Opposition' - for which I am very grateful. While I do not agree with every point that Eley makes in 'Writing in Opposition', I do share his opinion that 'new electronic means of communication contain unprecedented opportunities for constructing our own organs of opinion and initiating grassroots political exchange' - and putting this article online will hopefully help in the process of encouraging fraternal debate among those of us interested in 'writing in opposition' to the traditional narratives of the rich and powerful, and reaffirming the importance of socialist history for the 21st century.]

Writing in Opposition by Geoff Eley

What can the purposes of a Left historian be today? My first answer is a very simple one: to write good history. Of course, the boundaries between being a historian and the other things we do are completely porous. But unless those of us on the Left try to write histories that can genuinely have an impact, whether inside the discipline or in some broader kind of public, we might as well be doing something else. We can be of most use for whatever broader political ideals we continue to hold by being as good as possible at what we do. Sometimes, to be sure, the urgencies of political life overwhelm everything else. We might regret Edward Thompson’s long delays in bringing Customs in Common to completion, for example, but who would question his decision during the 1980s to devote himself entirely to the cause of the Peace Movement? The place of politics in the overall balance of our lives, overtly and more subtly, will inevitably rise and fall. But one part of the voice we can have in that respect rests upon the quality of the histories we produce, the respect they acquire, the legitimacy they confer, the opportunities for influence they might provide – and of course the enhancements in the quality of our own understanding they impart. Good history and good politics go together. “The primary Party duty” of Communist students in the 1930s, Eric Hobsbawm remembers, “was to get a good degree.” The primary duty of Left historians today – as historians – is to write the best histories we can.

To some that may seem like the back stairway to the ivory tower. Clearly it can become the short road to quietism, to an inner emigration, or to the armchair consolations which periods of political retreat or duress always invite us to seek. It’s certainly not easy to avoid that logic taking over. These days there are precious few means of keeping us connected to any wider political sphere. To be a Left intellectual in the late capitalist world now describes a profoundly different predicament from the the ones faced by Left intellectuals in earlier periods of duress like the 1930s or the 1950s. For those of us who came of age politically thirty or forty years ago, the organized landscape of politics has changed out of all recognition, although for those growing up since the 1980s, paradoxically, the terms of this contemporary predicament have a much longer familiarity. To put this in a nutshell: there are no parties any more to join. Or at least, there are no national movements of the Left any more with the kind of social and cultural reach – the organized machineries of identification that can build collective and continuous contexts of action and thought – that might be capable of drawing Left intellectuals into their circumference, whether as fully paid-up members, critical supporters, or independent interlocutors. For roughly a hundred years between the 1860s and the 1960s under conditions of constitutional democracy, in Europe and the Americas and some other parts of the world, socialist, Communist, and other radical parties very successfully enabled that kind of participation. Then it was much easier to know how to answer this question of how to become involved. During the 1960s and 1970s the associated political cultures were already eroding, but large mass parties of the kind I’m describing – like the Italian Communist Party (PCI) or the Labour Party or the German Social Democrats (SPD) – still worked as umbrellas or points of orientation, as extraordinarily ramified bridgeheads into society and culture, as ready-made contexts for getting involved, which promised some concrete, articulated relationship to a national or state-centered politics of some plausible effect.

The availability of those parties subsisted on definite histories of capitalist industrialization and class formation, which in the course of hard political struggles had sustained a complex narrative of social improvement – one based in strong institutional structures of local government, expanding public services and employment, the growth of national planning and public investment, the creation of welfare states, collectivist ideals of the public good, and an expansive model of citizenship. Inside this story of unevenly expanding democratic capacities, the presence of a mass socialist party allowed the public involvement of intellectuals some obvious avenues. In practical ways it afforded access to a wider audience, to the means of circulation, and to the world of policy. Within the larger structures of public communication associated with democratic forms of the public sphere, it offered certain institutional outlets of Left intellectual work for those interested in exploring them. In terms of access to power, more ambitiously and usually elusively, it also harbored a promise of coherence, continuity, and meaningful effects.

Within this now-vanished institutional world of politics, even the less attractive and less democratic mass formations defined a space of opportunity. If the Stalinist proclivities of the French Communist Party (PCF) remained a constant source of frustration for even its most incorrigible fellow travellers, to take an obvious example, its place in the political landscape could never be disregarded. For all its hidebound and unappealing rigidities, the PCF provided an essential organized presence on the French political scene between the 1950s and 1980s, which brought with it vital forms of efficacy – whether positively, by building the coalitions and campaigns that others felt able to join, or negatively, by defining the spaces where different and more democratic politics could be imagined. Thus the remarkable influence as a public intellectual exercised by Jean-Paul Sartre during that time was inseparable from either the wider place the PCF had helped establish for Left ideas or its own inadequacies in sustaining them. Of course, such influence as Sartre’s also presumed a particular type of public sphere, which specifically held a place for the kind of public intellectuality he embodied, quite aside from the particular platforms he was able to use.

By now, though, the prevailing political environment under capitalism has been profoundly transformed. The former Communist and socialist parties have either disbanded, decayed, or moved drastically to the center or the right; their relationship to popular constituencies has atrophied; their old machineries of organized loyalty and identification have crumbled apart. The overall structure of public communication has likewise been decisively reconfigured: access is hopelessly impeded by new monopolies of ownership and control; older pluralist conventions are under attack; print media and public broadcasting are in decline; the democratic possibilities of the internet and other electronic media have only unevenly translated into concerted political effects. Ease of access to the internet has yet to compensate for the loss of the classically structured public sphere and the absence of the organized collective agency of a party or movement. The new electronic means of communication contain unprecedented opportunities for constructing our own organs of opinion and initiating grassroots political exchange. But the resulting circuits of activity remain highly individualized, locally bounded, episodic, fragmented, and largely hidden from conventional public visibility.

In seeking to have an effect amidst this dispiriting contemporary conjuncture, and in trying to find an audience larger than one’s own classroom or specialized field, it’s not easy to see where and how to intervene. In the present world of multi-media marketing, literary agents, and celebrity hype (and in the absence of book topics like wars, dead presidents, Nazism, or the Holocaust), unfortunately, it’s hard for Left historians not to feel confined to a margin. To use myself as an example, I recently published a general history of the Left in Europe, conceived as a study in the development of democracy, which I hoped at the very least might engage the Left itself in debate about the character of contemporary transformations and might even help claw back some of the ground of democratic discourse from the Right. Yet none of that happened. Predictably perhaps, the book went completely unnoticed by the quality press and political weeklies in the English-speaking world (in contrast, for example, to Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, and Brazil). More depressingly, with the exceptions of Tikkun, Dissent, and In These Times, it was reviewed in none of the Left’s own magazines or journals. It went unnoticed by The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, New Statesman, London Review of Books, Red Pepper, Soundings, openDemocracy, Renewal, and New Left Review (or for that matter by periodicals like Historical Materialism, Socialist History, Labour History Review, Socialism and Democracy, Rethinking Marxism, Radical History Review, or indeed Left History). In terms of any aspiring political effect, the book sank like a stone.

In other words, to write as a historian of the Left these days has become a surprisingly academic and lonely exercise. I cite my own experience not solipsistically or out of sour grapes (I hope), but because it illustrates the difficulties not only of bringing one’s work into any wider public circulation, but even of moving the Left itself into a discussion of its deeper and more recent pasts. This seems very different from an earlier time. During the 1970s it was still possible to find easier points of connection to larger institutional fields of politics and the associated sites of the public sphere. In my own case in Britain, those ranged from the local branches of national campaigning organizations, trade union affairs, and the associated meeting culture of committees and public platforms to the national scene structured around the left of the Labour Party, the Communist Party, and other socialist organizations, including the conference calender of History Workshops, Communist Universities, and so forth. Of course, it’s notoriously hard to make this kind of argument without seeming to slide into generational nostalgia of a better-knowing and admonitory kind (we knew how to do it better, once upon a time), and that’s certainly not my intention. But the contrast does help us to think about the ways in which the conditions of politically engaged intellectual work have changed. It helps bring into relief the specific and novel arduousness of trying to make a difference as a Left historian now.

While this contraction of access to the wider means of political communication remains profoundly disabling and dispiriting, it doesn’t exhaust all we can say about the politics of knowledge Left historians might be able to pursue. What it means, I think, is the need for taking a realistic but sanguine view of the forms of efficacy available to us in our immediate working lives. In doing so, we might also bring what we know from other periods of conservative ascendancy and Left political retreat about the ways in which oppositional ideas can be kept alive. In that latter respect, we might well consider the complicated relationship of the counter-revolutionary 1850s to the pan-European political mobilizations and constitution making of the 1860s, for example, or the relationship of the 1870s and 1880s to the following two decades in much of western Europe, or the relationship of the 1950s to the 1960s, and so forth. In each of those cases, critical and oppositional thought was nurtured without much evident or practical articulation to the given pathways of political influence or institutional infrastructure of public power. In each case, indirectly and in hidden and subterranean ways, the production and circulation of ideas as such acquired efficacy.

There are many ways of conceptualizing the coalescence of those spaces of experimentation and dissidence where opposition might be nurtured – spaces, that is, which are capable of sustaining a relationship to an earlier experience of radicalism while enabling possible futures to be imagined. Some of those spaces might be situated inside the institutional worlds of politics themselves. Some might be found mainly in the networks of critical intellectuals and the ideas and books they produce. Some might be found in the distinct public spheres of the arts, some in the oppositional and dissentient parts of popular culture, some in the new electronic commons of the cyberspace. Some can be found in the quite localized and apparently isolated efforts at oppositional world building. Some are certainly to be found in the social movement politics of the past quarter century. The role of cultural and aesthetic avant-gardes in holding a place for radical imagining, in sharpening the critical edge of oppositional culture, in inventing new languages and practices of dissidence during times of increasingly coercive normativity, and in making available the forms of radical sensibility so essential to broader-based political insurgencies when they eventually occur, is especially interesting in this respect. How exactly all of these continuities get reproduced is extremely complex. Gramsci’s extremely utopian ideal of the party as the “Modern Prince” provided one highly articulated version of how a concerted intelligence or strategic political agency might help such continuities to converge or coalesce. But if the social histories that might have sustained that particular model of the mass party are now definitively a thing of the past, as I’ve argued above, then that doesn’t mean that oppositional impulses are not being generated. To my mind the relationship of Situationism to the radical explosions of 1968 is always a salutary example here: the Situationist milieu consisted of extremely small networks of individuals, after all, but the political languages associated with the new mass radicalisms of the late 1960s were pervasively indebted to the forms of analysis, modalities of action, iterations of utopian desire, and general oppositional sensibility the Situationists had produced.

In these brief comments I’ve chosen to focus not on particular subject matters and genres of history-writing, but on the issue of the Left historian’s possible connectedness to politics and the public sphere. I’ve been concerned with the question: how can the historian’s knowledge become useful for politics? That seems to me a more decisive set of criteria than any particular range of subject matters or methodologies and approaches in defining what Left history might be, although the ethico-political principles moving the history we write will also clearly be at the core. A set of critical, oppositional, democratic principles have to be essential to how Left historians practice their history. In these respects there would be an enormous amount to say about interdisciplinarity, the relationship of theory to history, and the forms of the politics of knowledge embedded in the kind of historiographical differences and innovations we pursue. There would also be a lot to say about particular historiographical controversies and their pertinence for politics. The necessity of working toward types of democratic practice for the classroom, the seminar room, and everything that composes the public sphere of the discipline (the wider constellation of conferences, journals, newsletters, professional associations, and so forth) would also need a lot of attention. All of these comprise arenas in which Left historians can be active and have an effect. So that brings me full circle to the comments in my opening paragraph: above all else, Left history has to be the best history. During a bad conjuncture that is where we will have to begin.

[This article will be published in the future on the Left History website - anyone else wishing to republish this article online ought to check with Eley and the editors of Left History first.]

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The Dutch Revolt and early modern nation-building

Long, beautifully illustrated post about the Dutch Revolt at Lenin's Tomb:

The revolt, with its various layers, dimensions and stages, certainly freed an extraordinarily advanced commercial economy from a horrendous economic, political and spiritual burden. It was certainly, in its way, the first 'modern' national war of liberation - yet this merely raises the extent to which 'modernity' is a problematic ideal-type, for in so many ways, the Dutch Republic retained pre-modern forms.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Four London conferences

Just a quick mention of four conferences coming up in London which might be of interest to Marxist academics/readers of Histomat who live in London/have time/money to burn...

Alasdair MacIntyre's Revolutionary Aristotelianism: Ethics, Resistance and Utopia, Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July 2007.

James Baldwin: Work, Life, Legacies, June 28-30 2007.

Marxism 2007, 5-9 July 2007, which I mentioned here (and is rather cheaper than the others)

The 2007 Historical Materialism Conference, 9-11 November 2007. 'Organised with Socialist Register, the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize Committee and the Politics Department of York University, Canada, will take place between 9 and 11 November 2007 in the School of Oriental and African Studies, Central London. As usual, this will be an interdisciplinary conference, but strands of meetings will include Gramsci, the Grundrisse, the Russian and Spanish Revolutions, and contemporary debates in labour studies. Further details will be circulated soon.'


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Labour officially declare 1997 'Year Zero'

Jim Callaghan - now safely filed away into the memory hole

Now I now this is not really much of a story, but the Labour Party official website has now completely scrapped its 'Our history' section. It has just vanished into the memory hole. New Labour are now are officially a Party without a past - at least no past before Blair. All one gets now is this page: 'Labour in Government', which reads like something the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia might have put out in about 1937.

Our party has been in power now for ten years - something Labour has never come close to achieving before. And though it’s been tough at times and there are still big challenges to overcome, we can be hugely proud of the progress we have delivered together for the country.

It is easy to forget what Britain was like in 1997 - the NHS on its knees, schools crumbling, crime doubled and millions of families still scarred by unemployment over three million and interest rates still recovering from hitting 15 per cent on Black Wednesday. And while we know that everything is not perfect now, Britain is, without doubt, a better, more prosperous and fairer place.

Our economy has enjoyed the longest period of growth for 200 years. There are 2.5 million more people in work. Living standards have risen. There are more nurses and doctors in a transformed health service. More teachers in modernised schools. More police on our streets and tougher action against anti-social behaviour.

The result is that crime is down 35 per cent. School standards have never been higher. While once patients routinely waited over 18 months for treatment, no one now waits over six months. Families and pensioners are being given more support. Our towns and cities are being transformed. We’ve introduced the minimum wage and dramatically extended maternity leave and pay.

All the progress we’ve seen is the result of the hard work and commitment of millions of people. But our party in Government and Labour councils have played a huge role in bringing it about.

We’ve shown, too, that Labour is the party of fairness and aspiration - that you don’t have to choose between economic prosperity and social justice. In doing so, we have shifted the ground of politics and caused a serious identity crisis in our opponents.

I am not sure if British school students study the concept of 'propaganda' in English lessons anymore, but if they do then this would make an ideal case study. Of course they were not going to mention the Iraq war or New Labour's 'ethical foreign policy' in general, nor say Blair's boast that he would end sleaze and restore 'trust' to the political process. But what they do mention is just lies piled upon half-truths. To take just one example: their claim that 'Our economy has enjoyed the longest period of growth for 200 years'. As Chris Harman notes, 'There was a far longer period of uninterrupted growth, lasting 25 years, from 1948 to 1973. It was also at a faster rate than we have known under New Labour. The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain reported that "from 1949 to 1973, the UK economy grew at an average rate of 3.0 percent per annum." Growth has only been at an average of 2.3 percent since 2000, according to National Institute Economic Review (NIER) figures.'

Harman goes on to show how inequality has also risen under New Labour:

'More important to people's lives than economic growth and productivity is how much of the increased output feeds into living standards. These standards doubled in the 1950s and early 1960s, which is why economists often refer to the period as "the golden age of capitalism".

The situation under New Labour has been very different. Average household income, after adjusting for inflation, has risen by only 0.35 percent per year since 2001-2, and is actually falling slightly at the moment, according to the Financial Times' Expenditure and Food Survey.

But average income alone can conceal more than it reveals, since rich and poor are lumped together. One undeniable continuing trend has been a rise in inequality. Income inequality rose enormously under Margaret Thatcher and John Major - more than in any other advanced industrial country. Today it is even greater. The incomes of the top 1 percent of people have nearly doubled in real terms under Gordon Brown. Slow average growth of income with increased inequality equals increased poverty.

In 1979 about 5 percent of people lived in poverty (measured as less than half the national "median" income). Today the figure stands at about 9 percent. This is the same proportion as in the last two years of John Major. They have to survive on less than £180 a week before tax and housing costs, with half getting less than £144 a week.

Over the last year poverty has started growing - 30 percent of children, a quarter of parents of working age, and more than one in six non-parents live in relative poverty. That's 12.7 million people, or a fifth of the population. For all the Blair-Brown talk of a wonderful economy, child poverty fell by just one eighth between 1997 and 2005 and began to rise again last year. When politicians say poverty can't be solved by throwing money at it they are deliberately ignoring the reality that "throwing" one thirteenth of the money of the top 10 percent of households would double the incomes of the lowest 10 percent.'

Will 'Our history' make a return at some point, once the Party historians have got around to writing things the way Gordon Brown wants them? Or will New Labour from now on just pretend that 'Old Labour' never existed?

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From Toussaint L'Ouverture to Hugo Chavez

With a little help from Danny Glover...

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

New Labour Minister calls for 'Rights for Whites'

I know there is an established tradition of 'New Labour, new racism' when it comes to migrant workers, but surely Blair must sack Margaret Hodge after this? Or will New Labour's Industry Minister defect to the BNP first?

Edited to add: Socialist Worker nails Hodge's racist lies about housing

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Mark Steel on the Deputy Labour Leadership election

Thanks to Ellis Sharp who spotted this article by Mark Steel on the campaign to be deputy leader of the Labour Party. This bit is still relevant:

'That's a splendid achievement by the Labour Party to assemble such a bunch of candidates for the deputy leadership. Because nowhere else could you gather together six different people, and find they all support the war in Iraq and think Tony Blair is a marvellous bloke...

Many Labour members are terrified that any hint of disunity will make them unpopular, so it's best to get behind the new leader, no matter what he says or does. Because then the voters will say: "They may have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, but at least they all went along with it"...

So even the election for deputy leader is pointless, as all the candidates agree about everything. Not one mentions the war, the decline in membership of 200,000, the record low turn-out, nothing. Instead Hazel Blears said: "The strength of Labour is when we're in touch with people's concerns." And Harriet Harman replied: "We must renew the party and rebuild the confidence and trust of the British people." Maybe Peter Hain will chip in with: "I think the British people are people." Then Alan Johnson will intercept: "Hmmmm, British people," until there's a hustings with all six yelling "people" and the loudest is the winner.'


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Should Prince Harry go (and get a job)?

As the compiler of the official Dead King Watch, you can imagine how often I am asked by journalists to comment on matters concerning the royal family. The recent controversy over whether or not Prince Harry should serve in Iraq is obviously a question which is close to my heart. According to many bourgeois historians - to pick one at random, say, Tristram Hunt, Harry should go as after the Royal Navy's hostage fiasco, a bit of 'gung-ho militarism' could restore a bit of 'lost mettle...a touch of Old Britain might not come amiss.'
The young aristocrat certainly symbolises the Old British imperial spirit alright - ever since he attended a 'colonials and natives' party (dressed in a tasteful German Nazi desert uniform and a swastika armband in the run up to Holocaust memorial day) - there have been no worries on that score. Whether the presence of Harry's 'gung-ho militarism' would have been enough to turn the tide in Iraq is more questionable. Yet the fact that Harry is not now due to go to Iraq does indeed raise some awkward questions, one of which Hunt did put his finger on - if Harry had gone, this would have shown 'not only that there remains a continuing connection between monarchy and militarism but that the wider royal family still has a purpose. For if he can't join his fellow Sandhurst cadets in the back of a Scimitar, what can he do?' Indeed - Harry is now 21 years old and despite the most privileged education he hasn't actually ever really had a job - though there is form here among the upper class and particularly the monarchy. But more to the point, the whole catastrophe of Iraq and the fact it is 'too dangerous' for Harry to go surely underlines the need to bring all the British troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan now - unless we really do want them all to come back in bodybags. Socialists in Britain need to be agitating through the Stop the War Coalition and making sure that if it is 'too risky' to send a rich braindead drink-sodden ex-Nazi little shit like Harry to Iraq, then it is also too politically risky for Brown to act as an imperial overlord and maintain New Labour's disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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My top ten Marxists

To celebrate breaking through the 100,000 unique hits counter on Histomat, I have decided to put together my top ten Marxists of all time. I expect this may well be quite a controversial affair - but it is a personal list and I have five minutes to spare so here goes. Feel free to suggest people who are more worthy of 'top ten status' - I am sure there are plenty (Bukharin, Kautsky, Plekhanov, etc. etc.)

10. Isaac Deutscher - His three volume biography of Trotsky remains an inspirational classic, even if Blair likes it too.

9. C.L.R. James - 'a towering intellectual of what has come to be known as "the black Atlantic" and also one of the outstanding anti-Stalinist Marxist theorists of the 20th century' - International Socialism. Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Black Jacobins - see here.

8. Tony Cliff - The only Marxist listed here who I had the fortune to meet. I never actually spoke to him personally - but I attended quite a few student meetings he spoke at before the end of his life. Firstly, it was clear he was an outstanding 'populariser' of Marxism -after hearing him speak you felt really confident as though you now grasped the essence of what Marx was saying however little you had actually read. And yet secondly, as a perfect compliment, I remember him clearly imploring us students to 'read, read, and read' - he did not want us to take what he was saying on trust - he wanted us to discover why this was the case for ourselves. And his theoretical writing was of course of vital importance for classical Marxism in the post-war world, particularly his magnum opus, State Capitalism in Russia.

7. Georg Lukacs - I like his literary criticism as well as his Marxist philosophy. I recommend reading Michael Löwy, Georg Lukacs - From Romanticism to Bolshevism (London, 1979) - or indeed anything else by either Michael Lowy or Georg Lukacs.

6. Antonio Gramsci - 'The violent conquest of power necessitates the creation by the party of the working class of an organisation of the military type...capable of wounding and inflicting grave blows on...the bourgeois state apparatus...at the decisive moment of struggle.' - Antonio Gramsci to a fellow prisoner of Mussolini in the early 1930s. You tell 'em, Antonio. None of this 'reclaim Labour' nonsense for him.

5. Frederick Engels - 'The people that fought and won on the barricades is an altogether different people from the one that assembled before the castle on 18 March to be enlightened about the meaning of the concessions obtained, by the attacks of the dragoons. It is capable of altogether different things, it has an altogether different stance with relation to the government. The most important conquest of the revolution is the revolution itself' - Engels defends the German Revolution in 1848. Respect to Engels.

4. Rosa Luxemburg - 'In Rosa Luxemburg the socialist idea was a dominating and powerful passion of both heart and brain, a truly creative passion which burned ceaselessly. The great task and the overpowering ambition of this astonishing woman was to prepare the way for social revolution, to clear the path of history for Socialism. To experience the revolution, to fight its battles – that was the highest happiness for her. With a will, determination, selflessness and devotion for which words are too weak, she consecrated her whole life and her whole being to Socialism. She gave herself completely to the cause of Socialism, not only in her tragic death, but throughout her whole life, daily and hourly, through the struggles of many years ... She was the sharp sword, the living flame of revolution.' - Clara Zetkin.

3. Leon Trotsky - His whole life was shaped by the rise and fall of the Russian Revolution - as well as being one of its leaders he remains the definitive historian of that Revolution. 'For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try and avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth. Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.' (Trotsky's testament, 1940).

2. Vladmir Lenin - leader of the Russian Revolution - Lenin was a highly original thinker who probably added more that was new to Marxism than any other Marxist after Marx. 'It is more pleasant and useful to go through the "experience of revolution" than to write about it', he noted in 1917 at the end of his classic The State and Revolution, 1917. His understanding of the need for a Revolutionary Party to overthrow capitalism was particularly important but it is also the most misunderstood aspect of his thought. As John Molyneux notes:

'What was distinctively Leninist was a new conception of the relationship between the party and the class. This conception was not arrived at by Lenin in a single moment of theoretical inspiration, nor is it systematically set out in any single Lenin text. Rather it was developed in practice, by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, before it was expounded theoretically. With hindsight we can say that this conception rested on the combination of two key principles:

-The independent organization of a party consisting wholly of revolutionary socialists

-The establishment and maintenance of the closest possible links between the independent revolutionary organisation and the mass of the working class.

What Leninism brought was the idea that the revolutionary left should separate from the reformist right and the vacillating centre, and organize independently. What was really at stake here was the role of the reformist leaders. Marx and Engels and the young Luxemburg and young Trotsky were all revolutionaries, not reformists, but they tended to assume that once revolution broke out the reformist and centrist leaders would either be swept along with the movement or swept aside by it.' Lenin rightly made no such assumptions. Also read John Molyneux on Lenin's What is to be done?.

1. Karl Marx - the Daddy. 'Whereas for the conspirators and the Utopians change was to brought about from above, for Marx change was to come from below, made by the workers themselves. "The emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working class itself", he wrote.'. For an introduction, read Alex Callinicos's The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx, but better still, read some of Marx himself. I quite enjoy his history of the 1871 Paris Commune, The Civil War in France.


Tariq Ali on the crisis in Pakistan

Veteran socialist Tariq Ali has an article on the crisis in Pakistan in today's Guardian. As Ali notes, 'There is something delightfully outmoded and old-fashioned about this struggle. It involved neither money nor religion, but principle'.

The Victory of Democracy

British children celebrating Comrade Brown's election triumph

Comrades! This is a glorious day for democracy, and for Democratic Socialism! Comrade Brown has been elected the new leader of the Labour Party with a staggering 104% of the vote, in a record turnout! Comrade Brown was naturally unopposed, as has long been the tradition of the Party when it comes to leadership elections. Our new beloved Leader, responsible, let us not forget, for such fine achievements as the development of the Workers' nuclear missile defence programme (Trident) and the Party's industrialisation programme, which has brought such widespread prosperity to the British people, is humble to the last about his victory and has decided to travel around the country to 'listen and learn' from the People. Already one group of loyal citizens is organising to make sure that Comrade Brown gets the reception from the grateful People he deserves! Everyone who can should come and meet the new Leader of the Party, the new Leader of the People as he passionately explains his programme of Democratic Socialism for the years ahead. Comrade Brown will be in COVENTRY (20 May), BRISTOL (26 May), BRADFORD (27 May), LEICESTER (30 May), GLASGOW (2 June), NEWCASTLE (3 June), LONDON (6 June), CARDIFF (9 June), OXFORD (10 June), LONDON (16 June), before ending his grand tour in MANCHESTER on Sunday 24 June.
All hail Comrade Brown and his victory!
Long live the Democratic Socialist Revolution!
Long live British values!
Long live the People's Party, the Party of the Revolution, the Labour Party of Great Britain!

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

All change at the Labour School of Falsification

A few commentators have noticed the change to the official Labour Party website since Blair's resignation and Brown's arrival - with 'New Labour - New Britain' replaced by simply 'Labour', but also interesting is the fact that the official Short Course History of the Labour Party - entitled 'Our History' - has temporarily vanished. All interested readers of the Party website get at the moment is What is the Labour Party?:

'Labour has only been in government for four short periods of the 20th century. However its achievements have revolutionised the lives of the British people. The values Labour stands for today are those which have guided it throughout its existence.

• social justice
• strong community and strong values
• reward for hard work
• decency
• rights matched by responsibilities.'

I like the vague commitment to 'decency' and 'strong values' (whatever they are), but those trying to then follow the following link: 'Our history tells you about the party's origins and achievements' are simply returned to the homepage.

No doubt the offical historians of the Party are hard at work as we speak - the last version of the Short Course History of the Labour Party is going to need a good deal of rewriting to be honest, praising to the heavens the Dear Leader Tony Blair while ignoring completely figures such as Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan. No doubt under Brown, such figures will no longer be 'unpeople' but be rehabilitated again - and it will be fascinating to see how Brown's historians describe Blair. Speaking of Brown's historians, this blog has always kept an eye on the career of Tristram Hunt, currently composing a hatchet job on Frederick Engels while angling for a career with New Labour as a MP. No doubt someone as subservient towards the powerful as Hunt could always be employed to come up with the necessary updated official history of the Party if that was required...indeed, I expect he would enjoy such a task...

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

John Pilger on the myth of Robert Kennedy

In my preview of Gordon Brown's new book Courage, I criticised Brown's selection of Robert Kennedy, a 'liberal anti-Communist', as a 'hero'. However, to be honest, my knowledge of 'Bobby' Kennedy was quite poor, so I am relieved to read a piece by the legend that is John Pilger, a journalist who knew Robert Kennedy, which confirms my worst suspicions about the man. Here is an extract:

'As a witness to such times and events, I am always struck by self-serving attempts at revising them. The extract from Gordon Brown's book Courage: eight portraits that appeared in the New Statesman of 30 April is a prime example. According to the prime-minister-to-be, Kennedy stood at the pinnacle of "morality", a man "moved to anger and action mostly by injustice, by wasted lives and opportunity denied, by human suffering. [His were] the politics of moral uplift and exhortation." Moreover, his "moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence".

In truth, Robert Kennedy was known in the United States for his lack of moral courage. Only when Senator Eugene McCarthy led his principled "children's crusade" against the war in Vietnam early in 1968 did Kennedy change his basically pro-war stand. Like Hillary Clinton on Iraq today, he was an opportunist par excellence. Travelling with him, I would hear him borrow from Martin Luther King one day, then use the racist law-and-order code the next.

No wonder his "legacy" appeals to the Washington-besotted Brown, who has sought and failed to present himself as a politician with enduring moral roots, while pursuing an immoral agenda that has privatised precious public services by stealth and bankrolled a lawless invasion that has left perhaps a million people dead.'

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Histomat exclusive: Gordon Brown's 'secret speech'

In an astonishing speech to Party activists, Gordon Brown, the Stalinist bureaucrat widely expected to replace Dear Leader Blair, today denounced what he called 'the cult of the individual' which had grown up within the Party and called for 'a new leadership' with 'new ideas' for a 'new time'. We have been fortunate enough to have seen the full transcript of this explosive speech, and now are proud to publish it for the first time on our blog:

'The cult of the individual' by Gordon Brown, delivered to the 200th Congress of the Labour Party of Great Britain, London, May 11 2007.

Comrades! In the meetings of the central committee of the Labour Party of Great Britain, quite a lot has been said about the cult of the individual and about its harmful consequences. After Blair's departure, the committee began to implement a policy of explaining concisely and consistently that it is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Democratic Socialism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics, akin to those of a god. Such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behaviour.

Such a belief about a man, and specifically about Blair, was cultivated among us for many years. The objective of the present report is not a thorough evaluation of Blair's life and activity. Concerning Blair's merits, an entirely sufficient number of books, pamphlets and studies had already been written in his lifetime. Blair's role in the preparation and execution of the 'Blair Revolution' (as it was called), in the construction of the millennium dome, and in the fight for the construction of socialism in our country, is universally known. Everyone knows it well.

At present, we are concerned with a question which has immense importance for the party now and for the future - with how the cult of the person of Blair has been gradually growing, the cult which became at a certain specific stage the source of a whole series of exceedingly serious and grave perversions of party principles, of party democracy, of international legality regarding issues of war and peace.
[Commotion in the hall]

Because not all as yet realise fully the practical consequences resulting from the cult of the individual, the great harm caused by violation of the principle of collective party direction and by the accumulation of immense and limitless power in the hands of one person, the central committee considers it absolutely necessary to make material pertaining to this matter available to the 200th congress of the Labour Party of Great Britain.

We have to consider seriously and analyse correctly this matter in order that we may preclude any possibility of a repetition in any form whatever of what took place during the life of Blair, who absolutely did not tolerate collegiality in leadership and in work, and who practiced brutal violence, not only toward everything which opposed him, but also toward that which seemed, to his capricious and despotic character, contrary to his concepts.

Blair acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed these concepts or tried to prove his [own] viewpoint and the correctness of his [own] position was doomed to removal from the leadership collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation. This was especially true during the period following the 170th party congress, when many prominent party leaders and rank-and-file party workers, honest and dedicated to the cause of communism, fell victim to Blair's despotism. Remember Robin Cook, Mo Mowlem, Donald Dewar? All potential leadership rivals who at one time or another expressed doubt towards Blair. We all know what happened to them.

We must affirm that the party fought a serious fight against the Trotskyites, trade unionists and bourgeois nationalists, and that it disarmed ideologically all the enemies of Democratic Socialism. This ideological fight was carried on successfully, as a result of which the party became strengthened and tempered. Here Blair played a positive role, driving wreckers like George Galloway out into the wilderness, but not at that time actually murdering such 'enemies of the Party'.

But it was in particular when it came to spreading the revolution internationally, Blair abandoned the method of ideological struggle for that of administrative violence, mass repressions and terror, in Serbia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and, last but not least, Iraq. He acted on an increasingly larger scale and more stubbornly through punitive organs, at the same time often violating all existing norms of morality and of British and international laws.

Arbitrary behaviour by one person encouraged and permitted arbitrariness in others. Mass arrests and deportations of many thousands of people, execution without trial and without normal investigation created conditions of insecurity, fear and even desperation. And all this in the guise of fighting against 'terrorists'!

This, of course, did not contribute toward unity of the party ranks and of all strata of working people, but, on the contrary, brought about annihilation and the expulsion from the party of workers who were loyal but inconvenient to Blair.

Our party fought for the implementation of plans for the construction of socialism. This was an ideological fight. Had Socialist principles been observed during the course of this fight, had the party's devotion to principles been skillfully combined with a keen and solicitous concern for people, had they not been repelled and wasted but rather drawn to our side, we certainly would not have had such a brutal violation of revolutionary legality and many thousands of people would not have fallen victim to the method of terror. Extraordinary methods would then have been resorted to only against those people who had in fact committed criminal acts against the British system.

It is clear that here Blair showed in a whole series of cases his intolerance, his brutality and his abuse of power. Instead of proving his political correctness and mobilising the masses, he often chose the path of repression and physical annihilation, not only against actual enemies, but also against individuals who had not committed any crimes against the party and the British Government. Here we see no wisdom but only a demonstration of the brutal force which had once so alarmed his predecessors.

Blair, using his unlimited power, allowed himself many abuses, acting in the name of the central committee, not asking for the opinion of the committee members nor even of the members of the central committee's civil service; often he did not inform them about his personal decisions concerning very important party and government matters.

Considering the question of the cult of an individual, we must first of all show everyone what harm this caused to the interests of our party. In practice, Blair ignored the norms of party life and trampled on the Socialist principle of collective party leadership.

There is no clearer example of this than war on Iraq which resulted in the deaths of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 innocent people, who were branded 'enemies'. This was the result of the abuse of power by Blair, who began to use mass terror against ordinary people. What is the reason that mass repressions against innocent people increased more and more after the war on Serbia and then the war on Afghanistan? It was because at that time Blair had so elevated himself above the party and above the nation that he ceased to consider either the central committee or the party.

Blair still reckoned with the opinion of the collective before achieving full power in 1997. After the complete political liquidation of the Trotskyites and other trade unionist wreckers from the Party, however, when the party had achieved unity, Blair to an ever greater degree stopped considering the members of the party's central committee. Blair thought that now he could decide all things alone and that all he needed were statisticians. He treated all others in such a way that they could only listen to him and praise him.

When he passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act, this directive became the basis for mass acts of abuse against all legality. During many of the fabricated court cases, the accused were charged with "the preparation" of terroristic acts; this deprived them of any possibility that their cases might be re-examined, even when they stated before the court that their "confessions" were secured by force, and when, in a convincing manner, they disproved the accusations against them.

Mass repressions had a negative influence on the moral-political condition of the party, created a situation of uncertainty, contributed to the spreading of unhealthy suspicion, and sowed distrust among socialists. All sorts of slanderers and careerists were active in the Party.

The power accumulated in the hands of one person, Blair, led to serious consequences during the Terror War on the people of Iraq.

When we look at many of our novels, films and historical-scientific studies, the role of Blair in the Terror War appears to be entirely improbable. Blair had foreseen everything, including the danger of Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction. When Saddam was removed from power and it was declared 'mission accomplished' in Iraq, this was seen as being completely due to the strategic genius of Blair.

We have to analyse this matter carefully because it has a tremendous significance not only from the historical, but especially from the political, educational and practical points of view. What are the facts of this matter?

Before the war, our press and all our political-educational work was characterised by its bragging tone: When an enemy violates the holy American soil, then for every blow of the enemy we will answer with three wars, and we will battle the enemy on his soil and we will win without much harm to ourselves. But these positive statements were not based in all areas on concrete facts, which would actually guarantee the immunity of our borders.

We now know however that all the experts were telling Blair: 'Saddam has no Weapons of Mass Destruction - Attacking Iraq will create more terrorists as it will create only more hatred towards the West'. As we see now, everything was ignored by Blair: warnings of certain army commanders, declarations of deserters from the enemy army, and even the open hostility of the enemy. Is this an example of the alertness of the chief of the party and of the state at this particularly significant historical moment?

And what were the results of this carefree attitude, this disregard of clear facts? The result was that now the enemy in Iraq has destroyed a large part of our air force, our artillery and other military equipment, and killed well over 100 British soldiers into the bargain. Therefore, the threatening danger which now hangs over our country in the initial period of the war was largely due to Blair's very own faulty methods of directing the nation and the party.

In the same vein, let us take for instance our historical and military films and some [of our] literary creations. They make us feel sick. Their true objective is propagating the theme of praising Blair as a military genius. Everything is shown to the people in this false light. Why? To surround Blair with glory - contrary to the facts and contrary to historical truth.

We must state that, after the war, the situation became even more complicated. Blair became even more capricious, irritable and brutal. In particular, his suspicion grew. His persecution mania reached unbelievable dimensions. Many workers became enemies before his very eyes. After the war, Blair separated himself from the collective even more. Everything was decided by him alone without any consideration for anyone or anything.

Comrades! The cult of the individual caused the employment of faulty principles in party work and in economic activity. It brought about rude violation of internal party and British democracy, sterile administration, deviations of all sorts, cover-ups of shortcomings, and varnishings of reality. Our nation bore forth many flatterers and specialists in false optimism and deceit.

We should also not forget that, due to the numerous arrests of party, political and economic leaders, many workers began to work uncertainly, showed overcautiousness, feared all which was new, feared their own shadows, and began to show less initiative in their work.

Take, for instance, party and parliamentary resolutions. They were prepared in a routine manner, often without considering the concrete situation. This went so far that Party MPs, even during the smallest sessions of Parliament, read [prepared] speeches. All this produced the danger of formalising the party and political work and of bureaucratising the whole apparatus.

We have seen how Blair, abusing his power more and more, began to fight eminent party and government leaders and to use terrorist methods against honest Iraqi people.

Comrades! So as not to repeat errors of the past, the central committee has declared itself resolutely against the cult of the individual. We consider that Blair was extolled to excess. However, in the past Blair undoubtedly performed great services to the party, to the working class and to the international workers' movement.

This question is complicated by the fact that all this which we have just discussed was done during Blair's life under his leadership and with his concurrence; here Blair was convinced that this was necessary for the defence of the interests of the working classes against the plotting of enemies and against the attack of the terrorist camp.

He saw this from the position of the interest of the working class, of the interest of the labouring people, of the interest of the victory of socialism and communism. We cannot say that these were the deeds of a giddy despot. He considered that his wars should be done in the interest of the party, of the working masses, in the name of the defence of the revolution's gains. In this lies the whole tragedy!

Comrades! We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all; we must draw the proper conclusions concerning both ideological-theoretical and practical work. It is necessary for this purpose, in a Democratic Socialist manner, to condemn and to eradicate the cult of the individual as alien to Democratic Socialism and not consonant with the principles of party leadership and the norms of party life, and to fight inexorably all attempts at bringing back this practice in one form or another.

We must return to and actually practice in all our ideological work the most important theses of Democratic Socialist science about the people as the creator of history and as the creator of all material and spiritual good of humanity, about the decisive role of the Labour party in the revolutionary fight for the transformation of society, about the victory of communism.

In this connection we will be first forced to do much work in order to examine critically from the Democratic Socialist viewpoint and to correct the widely spread erroneous views connected with the cult of the individual in the spheres of history, philosophy, economy and of other sciences, as well as in literature and the fine arts. It is especially necessary that in the immediate future we compile a serious textbook of the history of our party which will be edited in accordance with scientific Socialist objectivism, a textbook of the history of British society, a book pertaining to the events of the Great Terror War.

Second, to continue systematically and consistently the work done by the party's central committee during the last years, a work characterised by minute observation in all party organisations, from the bottom to the top, of the Socialist principles of party leadership, characterised, above all, by the main principle of collective leadership, characterised by the observance of the norms of party life described in the statutes of our party, and, finally, characterised by the wide practice of criticism and self-criticism.

Third, to restore completely the Democratic principles of British Socialist democracy, expressed in the constitution of Great Britain, to fight wilfulness of individuals abusing their power. The evil caused by acts violating revolutionary socialist legality which have accumulated during a long time as a result of the negative influence of the cult of the individual has to be completely corrected.

Comrades! The 200th congress of the Labour party of Great Britain has manifested with a new strength the unshakable unity of our party, its cohesiveness around the central committee, its resolute will to accomplish the great task of building Socialism.

(Tumultuous applause.)

And the fact that we present in all their ramifications the basic problems of overcoming the cult of the individual which is alien to Democratic-Socialism, as well as the problem of liquidating its burdensome consequences, is evidence of the great moral and political strength of our party.

(Prolonged applause.)

We are absolutely certain that our party, armed with the historical resolutions of the 200th Congress, will lead the British people along the Socialist path to new successes, to new victories.

(Tumultuous, prolonged applause.)

Long live the victorious banner of our party - Democratic Socialism!

(Tumultuous, prolonged applause ending in ovation. All rise.)

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Greatest Country on Earth

'The English State then, in what direction and towards what goal has been advancing? The words which jump to our lips in answer are Liberty, Democracy!...If we stand aloof a little and follow with our eyes the progress of the English State, the great governed society of English people, in recent centuries, we shall be much more struck by another change, which is not only far greater but even more conspicuous, though it has always been less discussed, partly because it proceeded more gradually, partly because it excited less opposition. I mean the simple obvious fact of the extension of the English name into other countries of the globe, the foundation of Greater Britain. There is something very characteristic in the indifference which we show towards this mighty phenomenon of the diffusion of our race and the expansion of our state.'
Imperial apologist Sir John Robert Seeley The Expansion of England, 1883.

'This country is a blessed country. The British are special. The world knows it, we know it, this is the greatest country on earth.'
- Imperialist politician Anthony Charles Lynton Blair announcing his resignation, 2007.

'I think Tony Blair will go down in history as a great prime minister... after 9/11 he stuck to the war on terror and had the guts to support America when America most needed it. He had the guts to stick with that support and not resile from it, even though he came under enormous political pressure to do so. I admire him for that and think history will too. Time gives you perspective and you don't worry about things peripheral to the central issue. The central issue is foreign policy, which has been unlike normal Labour foreign policy. It's been a breath of fresh air to see Labour stick up for freedom around the world, as Blair has.'
Imperial apologist Andrew Roberts, author of A History of English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, 2007.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Hobsbawm on Blair

Eric Hobsbawm, the most distinguished Marxist historian on the planet and soon to celebrate his 90th birthday, gives his verdict on Tony Blair in this week's New Statesman. He is too kind, I fear, to the lying mass-murdering war-criminal, but I will put up his comments anyway:

'Tony Blair, a gifted but unthinking politician perfectly suited to the media age, will be remembered for winning three elections, for failing to build "New Labour", for Iraq, and – not impossibly – for breaking up the United Kingdom. In spite of a very respectable domestic record, his period of government demoralised Labour's traditional supporters and antagonised the liberal/progressive educated classes.'

Edited to add: Hobsbawm has also commented on Blair for the Guardian, when asked how Blair would be remembered. This time he talks more about Iraq, but is still far too kind on Blair's support for PFI, PPPs and basically the corporate takeover of Britain in general. Still, here goes:

'Well, in the first place, he's definitely going to be remembered, unlike other prime ministers who are only known by those doing PhDs. That's not only because he won three elections, although that is something that interests the media a lot. It's mainly because he represents a certain post-Thatcher period.

In many respects, the government's domestic record is pretty respectable - due to people around Blair, as much as him. If not for Iraq, the critique of the government would have been that it carried on a Thatcherite tradition at the expense of Labour ideals.

He, and his administration, had three great domestic failures: in the first place he failed to create, or even renew, New Labour. He essentially created his government from people who had come to the fore under Kinnock, with the odd exception like Miliband. This left him with no successor but the one he clearly did not want - Brown. Second, his was the first government that completely subordinated governing to the needs of the media. He introduced an era where future prime ministers will be judged mainly on how they look on screen. Third, he continued to weaken the structure of British governance by short-term initiatives with unconsidered long-term implications (Scotland, Wales, the Lords) and headline-grabbing snap legislation which was poorly thought through.

The major positive is Northern Ireland. Blair is mainly responsible for what looked like an armistice turning into a lasting peace.

Except for Iraq, he would have been remembered as a reasonable PM, about the same level as Harold Macmillan. But Iraq wasn't an accident. He stopped being the brilliantly successful intuitive vote-getting politician and developed a missionary conviction for saving the world by armed interventions, most catastrophically with Bush. As Eden is remembered for Suez, Blair will be remembered for Iraq.'

On the subject of Blair, check out this

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British and French elections: A tale of two countries

People in both Britain and France have gone to the polls over the last week or so, and it is perhaps worth briefly comparing and contrasting the outcomes of both elections, as there are interesting parallels between them both.


On the face of it, the winners seem to be the mainstream Right, with Tory toff David Cameron winning hundreds of council seats and control of plenty of new councils in England and Sarkozy's triumph in France. Both Cameron and Sarkozy often try to come across as populists who stand for the poor and oppressed of each country, especially when garnering votes, but both of them also played the race card against migrant workers during these elections - one factor in the marginalisation of the fascist Right. Local Conservative election leaflets for example in Britain led with the liberal caring 'compassionate Conservatism' on the front pages, before discussing immigration and population numbers on page three.

Aside from the Scottish National Party, whose anti-war credentials and credibility of their leader Alex Salmond helped them to hammer New Labour in Scotland, the only other real noticeable group who saw their votes in general rise beyond expectations were the far Left, for reasons which hopefully regular readers of this blog will understand (widespread anger with neo-liberal economic policies and neo-colonial wars). In Britain, the results for Respect and Solidarity are online here, and were highly impressive given the media blackout of their campaign - for Respect bloggers reactions see here and here though the sad loss of Tommy Sheridan remains a body blow for all Scottish socialists. In France, the results for the LCR's Olivier Besancenot in the first round of the Presidential elections show the potential for the far Left to continue to advance electorally in the coming period in both Britain and France.


The main losers were mainstream parties of the centre - Blair's New Labour (if that can be classed as 'centre' still) and Ming Campbell's Liberal Democrats in Britain and the French Socialist Party. 'The centre cannot hold', as Yeats I think put it. Polarisation towards Left and Right are the order of the day. Though here again it is interesting. The far Right - the Nazis - had a bit of a nightmare to be honest in both countries. Le Pen seemed to be a threat at one point early on - well enough of a threat to pull lots of socialists into voting for Royal in the first round of the Presidential elections - but he is so old now that many racists looked to Sarkozy instead of him. The British Nazi Party have a more youthful leadership but really failed to advance at all in these elections - I think a high turnout and useful work carried out by anti-fascists in groups like Unite and Love Music were important here. However, their votes remained worringly high in several areas and there is no room for complacency.


The Guardian reported that small parties like Respect had 'little, if anything, to cheer' after the election results. Yet what was most encouraging to me as a socialist about the British elections was the fact that where the far Right were confronted with a radical left alternative like Respect, nine times out of ten it was the people who talked about peace, equality and putting people before profit who appeared most attractive to those working class voters who have been betrayed by 'their' Party and were looking to try and punish Blair. Those worried about the rise of the BNP - and no doubt they are still on the rise - should take comfort from these elections and draw the lesson: Respect can fill the political vacuum in British politics, we can offer hope where there is currently only hatred and despair, - we just need more socialists to put aside infighting and introspection and get involved in the task of building a serious, united socialist alternative. If neither McDonnell or Meacher succeeds in getting onto the ballot paper in the battle inside Labour to challenge Brown, then doubtless many of those few remaining socialists worthy of the name still inside New Labour will look around elsewhere. In those areas where Respect is strong - in places like East London, Birmingham and Preston - the natural home for such people already exists. Reports of Respect's looming death on the pro-war "Left" blogosphere have once again been found to be exaggerations. Respect no longer has to prove to anyone that is the best weapon English socialists have got come elections - it now has to grow nationally and build on these electoral successes at a council level in order to be able to fight for places in the European Parliament, in the GLA in London and in the Westminster Parliament over the coming years. Yet as the results, particularly the glorious result in Bolsover showed, we now know that it can be done!

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Alan Johnson - a New Labour lieutenant of Capital

Former trade union bureaucrat Alan Johnson, standing to be deputy leader of New Labour, has recieved £5,000 towards his campaign from Baron Sainsbury of Turville, an old Etonion billionaire owner of the supermarket chain Sainsbury's and one of the many rich people who have given money to the Labour Party and been rewarded with a position of political power (Baron Sainsbury sits in the House of Lords). On the one hand I suppose this is a beautiful marriage of labour and capital - a partnership that epitomises the whole ideology of New Labour. In return, Alan Johnson now has this to say to those in the labour and trade union movement: 'The notion that Labour was in the pocket of the unions, or vice versa, did damage to both' - no doubt Johnson is proud of the fact that after ten years of New Labour, the Tory anti-trade laws remain in place and trade union rights remain incredibly weak compared to Europe. However, despite this, Johnson wants Trade Union leaders to be even more loyal to Brown than they were to Blair, despite the fact that Brown is showing no signs of letting up in his attack on public sector pay and conditions at work. 'Labour ministers shouldn't be made to feel like recalcitrant mill owners' by Trade Union leaders who 'must do their bit' towards creating a harmonious relationship to New Labour. But surely if Alan Johnson no longer wanted to be made to feel like a recalcitrant mill owner in the future, one option might be to refuse to take money from recalcitrant supermarket owners - and to support those resisting Gordon Brown's attack on public sector workers' pay?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sergei Eisenstein on filming 'Capital'

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936) - a classic film satirising capitalism.

The outstanding Soviet film maker Sergei Eisenstein, whose life and politics are discussed here, was a towering artistic genius of the twentieth century responsible for classics such as October, Strike! and Battleship Potemkin. In the 1920s, he dreamed of turning Marx’s Capital into a film. When he initially mentioned his plan to an audience and was asked what it would be like, his inspired response was: 'It's a factory secret!'. However, in a lecture in Paris in 1930 he revealed more when set out his new method of film making - 'cinedialectic', the film of the future:

'My new conception of the film is based on the idea that the intellectual and emotional processes which so far have been conceived of as existing independently of each other —art versus science— and forming an antithesis heretofore never united, can be brought together to form a synthesis on the basis of cinedialectic, a process that only the cinema can achieve. A spectator can be made to feel-and-think what he sees on the screen. The scientific formula can be given the emotional quality of a poem. And whether my ideas on this matter are right or wrong, I am at present working in this direction. I will attempt to film Capital so that the humble worker or peasant can understand it.'

Sadly, this was just one of many films Eisenstein dreamt of but was never made, largely due to the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia. I don't think Stalin would have particularly been in favour of a film attacking the dark side of capitalist industrialisation somehow, espcially not if it was coming out at the precise moment he was trying to build up 'Socialism in One Country'.

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Marxism and Children's Literature conference

I have been sent an email informing me that China Mieville, interviewed about his new book for kids Un Lun Dun here and here, will be speaking at a conference on children's literature on Saturday June 9 at Senate House, University of London alongside other speakers including Michael Rosen. Registration details etc are still to be confirmed, but I will also advertise a new book on my site which may be of interest to Histomat readers who, like me, will sadly be unable to make the conference.

Children's Literature Some Marxist Perspectives
University of Hertfordshire Press;
ed. Plastow, Jenny

Paperback; 108 pages | ISBN: 1902806654 |

Children's literature is often viewed as a comfortable field, but there are many grittier perspectives to be explored and interest in these is growing. "Children's Literature - some Marxist Perspectives" is the first of a planned series of volumes which will explore different approaches to children's books and periodicals. This first volume is introduced by Michael Rosen, author, poet, broadcaster and researcher. Marx and Marxism, supposedly dead and buried, seem to find ways of staying alive. Recently Marx was voted as number one philosopher by listeners to Radio 4's "In Our Times" programme, and there is a constant stream of books, articles, conferences and productions influenced by Marxist ideas. This collections of articles explores how some of these ideas might offer useful ways at looking at children's literature. Contributions include views of children's books and periodicals written in Britain during the Great War and a thought-provoking paper on Walter Benjamin, as well as a view of children's periodicals in 1930s and 40s Turkey.

University of Hertfordshire Press | 1 February 2007
Available from Bookmarks.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Preston Respect: George Galloway Speech 24th April 2007

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day Greetings

Solidarity greetings. 'At its best 1 May, May Day, is about the unity of socialist politics and the power of the working class. A hundred years ago the Second International grouping of socialist parties called on all socialists and trade unionists in every country to "demonstrate energetically" each 1 May "for the legal establishment of the eight-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace." The greatest May Day moments have reflected the merging of immediate class demands and a vision of a better world free of capitalism and imperialism.' Victory to the striking civil servants in Britain - Victory to those fighting the American Empire in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and internationally.