Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The War on Democracy

John Pilger is introducing his new film, The War on Democracy for the Socialist Worker Appeal in London on 6 November. Pilger is of course a legend, and The War on Democracy is a great introduction to US foreign policy in Latin America, even if one might quibble with Pilger's description of General Pinochet's bloody dictatorship in Chile as 'fascism'.

The War on Democracy is of course a slightly ironic title for a fundraiser for the Socialist Workers' Party in the current period, given the current 'war on democracy' within the Respect Coalition being waged against the SWP by a clique around the MP, George Galloway. Let us hope that Respect's national conference in a couple of weeks time (a) happens and (b) manages to resolve the current organisational crisis in a democratic and fraternal manner that allows Respect to move forward.

Ipswich Town Enter the Dragon's Den

The news that Ipswich Town has been sold off to one very rich capitalist, Marcus Evans, deserves some comment. Granted, there are probably more important things for Marxist bloggers to be writing about (the growing anger of US and UK troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, Gordon Brown's clampdown on migrant workers, the march of India's landless on Dehli etc etc) but this site never pretended to be Lenin's Tomb...

Anyway, Ipswich Town FC, who are currently 4th in 'the Championship' (the old 'second division' of English football) have been taken over by a guy who according to his website owns a company which hosts conferences for, among other people, arms manufacturers:

'The marcus evans Defense division is a leader in strategic and innovative forums utilized by the world’s most influential defense officials. Our elite events attract high-quality speakers composed of allied militaries and defense related industry. Through strong governmental relationships, marcus evans Defense maintains the highest standards of quality and service in research, technology and product development. This commitment to service and quality is the basis for our reputation as the world's leading provider of unique and informative events.'

Who could be more suitable to own a provincial football club in rural Suffolk than someone who helps organises conferences on 'Delivering Critical and Actionable Information to Assess, Prevent and Respond to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Events' and 'ELECTRONIC WARFARE: Enhancing Warfighter Capabilities Through Technology' I hear you ask...

As the current Chairman, David Sheepshanks, notes 'Marcus Evans' investment is potentially great news for Ipswich Town.' Sheepshanks's assessment seems to me to be appropriate. It is potentially good news for the club in terms of boosting its chances of promotion into the Premiership and then perhaps more critically, the chances of us staying in the Premiership should we qualify.

Indeed, given football is now big business, arguably such takeovers are a fact of life and should be recognised as such even by Marxists. Capitalism is a system based on competition and the drive for profit and this leads to what Marx called 'the concentration and centralisation of capital'. Obviously in the football business, the drive for profits is masked by the fact that in sport, anything can happen on the pitch and indeed one joy of the thing is when a small underdog triumphs over a mighty team full of expensive players. Yet these things have a way of playing out over the course of a season and success on the pitch is in part related to how much a team has to spend on players. Nor should we romanticise the old set up of football ownership just because clubs like Ipswich were once owned by local gentleman capitalists rather than the boss of a multinational corporation. I wrote something about supermarkets on this blog last year in a similar vein here.

Yet if it is pointless pretending Ipswich Town Football Club was once a rural peasant commune, there are clear and present dangers in handing control of a football club over to one rich individual. They will want a quick return on their money, and in general football fans, because loyalty to the brand of a football club is often based on emotion and tribal instincts rather than rationality, are perhaps easier to exploit in this regard by unscrupulous owners than the average consumer. [Obviously while Ipswich Town supporters have an emotional attachment for the club their decision to support Ipswich as opposed to say, Norwich, is also a decision rooted in rationality] It is too early to make a call on Ipswich's future, but it may well mean job cuts at the club, and a situation where managers (and players) are given less time to impress before being told where to go while fans face ticket price rises etc etc. Ipswich Town has entered the Dragon's Den as it were...

Speaking of 'Enter the Dragon', wasn't Bruce Lee a legend? I watched the film 'Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story' a week ago - and now I want to know more about Lee's interest in Hegel - if any readers have any thoughts about Lee's Hegelianism or more info that would be grand...


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pierre Broué: Revolutionary Historian

Revolutionary History, Volume 9, no 4

Pierre Broué: Revolutionary Historian

The latest issue of Revolutionary History is devoted to the memory of Professor Pierre Broué, the Trotskyist historian. Pierre Broué was a prolific writer, and was the author of many substantial books, including biographies of Leon Trotsky and Christian Rakovsky, and histories of the Soviet Communist Party, the Communist International, and Germany during 1918-23. He was also the editor of the prestigious Cahiers Léon Trotsky.

Only a small proportion of Broué’s material has been available in an English translation. This issue of Revolutionary History presents a range of his articles, along with a lengthy biographical essay on Broué, all of which are rendered into English for the first time.

ISBN 0 9551127 3 7, ISSN 0953 2382



Vincent Présumey, Pierre Broué (a biographical essay)

Articles by Pierre Broué

1. Remarks on the History of the Bolshevik Party

2. Spartacism, Bolshevism and Ultra-Leftism in Face of the Problems of the Proletarian Revolution in Germany (1918-1923)

3. Five Years On (the Bolshevisation of the Comintern)

4. The ‘Bloc’ of the Oppositions against Stalin in the USSR in 1932

5. The Socialist Youth in Spain (1934-1936)

6. Kurt Landau

7. In Germany for the International (Leon Sedov’s work in Germany)

8. Jean Van Heijenoort

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Saturday, October 20, 2007


Control, about Ian Curtis - the leadsinger of the band Joy Division - is a superb and engrossing film, even if you are like me someone who comes to the film knowing little of Joy Division already. Though hardly an enjoyable movie to watch(themes of depression, illness, etc kind of run throughout), there are moments of lightness and outstanding acting throughout - check it out anyway.

The reason I went to see it I suppose is because one of my minor claims to fame is that I have met Sam Riley, who played Curtis himself, and indeed saw his own band, the now defunct '10,000 things' play a few times live. Listening now back to the single of theirs I bought a while ago, they sounded a bit like the Rolling Stones - and they certainly were quite a lively decent band live. So what, you might well ask.

Well, to cut to the chase, a few years ago one evening I was working part-time behind the Deli counter in Somerfields and Riley wandered up to the counter where I was working and wanted to buy something or other. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: [kind of knowing the answer already] Hi, are you Sam from 10,000 things?
SR: [a bit surprised to be recognised] Yeah...have we met?
Me: Not really [I once had a really brief conversation with him in a crowded bar before one of his gigs about doing something for Love Music Hate Racism but I didn't think he'd have been likely to remember that] but I've seen the band a few times...How's it all going? SR: Well not too good...we have just been dropped from our record label actually.
Me: Shit, sorry to hear that...
SR: Cheers...
Me: What are you going to do now?
SR: Not sure.
Me: [Jokingly] So I'll see you working here next week then...
SR: [Grinning] Yep...probably.

That was it really - he then ordered some olives/cheese/ham or something and left. Sometime later I bought NME one day and saw his face and a little notice saying he had won the part of playing Curtis in a film about the singers life. The rest as they say is history...

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jacques Roux on capitalist democracy

'Freedom is nothing but a vain phantom when one class of men can starve another with impunity. Equality is nothing but a vain phantom when the rich, through monopoly, exercise the right of life or death over their like. The republic is nothing but a vain phantom when the counter-revolution can operate every day through the price of commodities, which three quarters of all citizens cannot afford without shedding tears.'
Jacques Roux, Manifesto of the Enragés, 1793.


A Conviction Politician

"it is precisely the surging forward of demands by trade unionists for real control over the decisions affecting their livelihood that will be the departure point for socialists...Workers' control on an international scale is clearly an alternative to nationalism"
Gordon Brown, 1975.

"not something we can condone nor can we stand idly by and say it is an acceptable form of behaviour. I want these people back at work."
Gordon Brown on the current strike by members of the Communication Workers Union, 2007.

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International Socialism 116

The new issue of International Socialism is now online - highlights include Neil Faulkner on Marxist archeologist Gordon Childe, Pepijn Brandon on The Dutch Revolt, Kevin Murphy on the Russian Revolution, Ian Birchall on Regis Debray and Chris Harman on Lenin Reloaded, a book I advertised on Histomat here.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Marcus Rediker Speaks

Marcus Rediker, who not only has to be one of the coolest socialist historians in the world but also has one of the coolest websites in the world full stop, is on tour speaking in the US and the UK, speaking about his new book on slave ships. This tour includes London on November 6th, where he will give a paper on 'The Slave Ship and the Memory of Terror'. Highly recommended.

Edited to add: Duncan Hallas's review of Rediker's first book Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Brown's Short Course History of the Labour Party

After Brown's decision not to call a General Election (why bother fighting elections in Britain when the American Empire is still looking for a fight with Iran?), it is good to see that he has found some work for his bureaucrats revising the Labour Party's official history, 'Our History'. This, if you remember, was first launched under Blair then removed from the website completely as Blair was replaced with Brown and 'Year Zero' declared. Now however, it seems that Brown's shiny new version is ready to be unveiled. Its aim of course is to help in the task of helping the British people learn to love the Party and especially Big Brother Gordon.

In fact Brown's Short Course History of the Labour Party has changed little from the version under Blair. The only noticeable difference is that Keir Hardie and James Callaghan are no longer 'un-people' as they were under Blair. Hardie now gets the barest of mentions, while 'Callaghan presided over one of the most difficult periods of Government for Labour, with rampant inflation, crippling industrial action led by increasingly militant trade unions, and culminating in the disastrous 'winter of discontent' on 1978-9, when rubbish went uncollected and dead bodies unburied.' Nice - the Labour Party waits until Callaghan is safely dead and buried and unable to answer back and then they hammer him. The fact he deserves such a hammering is neither here nor there - the real 'lesson of history' is clear - strikes by workers against a Labour Government are evil - and so thank God for the 'new leader' Thatcher who soon put a stop to 'increasingly militant' trade unionism in Britain.

Ramsey MacDonald is still described as having been 'seen to have betrayed Labour' when he joined the Tories in a coalition - rather than having actually betrayed Labour. Nye Bevan and Tony Benn are still written out of the official history completely, there is no criticism of Thatcherism, and it was only 'the 1997 election campaign [that] saw the Tories in decline - over sleaze, tax rises and division' - which kind of excuses Neil Kinnock's failure. Kinnock is praised to the rafters for purging the Labour Party of the hard left - 'Kinnock first sought to sideline the extreme left within the party, such as the group Militant, and then to restore Labour's image with the general public. His speech to the 1985 Party Conference, where he attacked Militant from the platform, was seen as a sign of the new Labour leader's courage and commitment to change.' Indeed, Kinnock and Blair come out smelling of roses, the Iraq war is still well and truly in the memory hole while the whole whitewashed story ends with a paean of praise for New Labour.

The only real surprise is that it does not end with the Great Helmsman himself. I imagine this is only an oversight on the part of whichever underling had the task of coming up with this 'history', and it is only a matter of time before Brown appears, as if by magic, and 'The End of History' can finally be declared.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Marxism and ornithology

The Owl of Minerva...it only flies at dusk you know

While I cannot claim a particular interest in ornithology myself, for some reason as Rick Kuhn has noted, the relationship between Marxism and birdwatching has not recieved as much attention as it perhaps deserves.

One interesting Marxist ornithologist that Kuhn, author by the way of a recent and well regarded work on Henryk Grossman, missed out was the early British Trotskyist Denzil Dean Harber (1909-1966). 'From a very early age he developed an interest in many aspects of natural history including reptiles, butterflies and moths, fossils and birds...By 1937 Harber had revived his interest in natural history and in particular in ornithology. In Sussex he started to contribute to the South-Eastern Bird Report. That for 1939 records his sighting of a Snow-Bunting at Birling Gap near Eastbourne on September 24th of that year. For the next ten years he combined political activity with ornithology' and then 'abandoned active politics (though not his political beliefs) in favour of ornithology.'

'In 1948 the Sussex section of the South Eastern Bird Report became an independent publication The Sussex Bird Report under the editorship of Grahame des Forges. In 1949 Harber became the report’s co-editor and from 1956 its sole editor, a position he held until 1962 when he relinquished control to the newly formed Sussex Ornithological Society. In 1963 his and des Forges’s A Guide to the Birds of Sussex was published.

Very early in his ornithological career Harber had come to the conclusion that a series of rare and exotic birds allegedly shot in an area around Hastings between 1903 and 1916 (the so-called Hastings rarities) were forgeries and the manuscript to the Guide to the Birds of Sussex rejected them. By the time the Guide was published a full exposure of the forgery had been published in British Birds(magazine) (1962 vol 55 8 283-349).

Harber’s reputation as an ornithologist increased over the years. In 1955 in an extended review of The Birds of the Soviet Union for British Birds he brought together his knowledge of Russian and ornithology. Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s he was invited to join the British Birds Rarities Committee – the official adjudicator of rare bird records in Britain and in 1963 became its Honorary Secretary.'

To quote Michael Caine, not a lot of people know that.


New Socialist Review

While sometimes the monthly Socialist Review can feel a little lightweight, the latest issue which has just been put online is really worth a look. Among the many interesting articles, I would just highlight Paul Gilroy talking about the new book, Black Britain; A Photographic History, an interview with Naomi Klein and a review of a new book on History and Revolution. Speaking of revolutionary history, I would also highlight the Lewisham 77 blog, which commemorates the smashing of the National Front thirty years ago, and also fact that the latest newsletter of the London Socialist Historians Group is online now, and has been critically reviewed already here. Finally, those in London in November might be interested in registering for the 2007 Historical Materialism Conference, at SOAS, 9–11 November, which I plan to attend this year for the first time...

Edited to add: A quick reminder about this: