Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy new year

The good people over at the Marxist Internet Archive have produced a neat selection of Communist quotes, no doubt as a happy new year present to Marxists with internet access and a penchant for quotes the world over... I picked a few at random out below...

The slave frees himself when, of all the relations of private property, he abolishes only the relation of slavery and thereby becomes a proletarian; the proletarian can free himself only by abolishing private property in general.
Frederick Engels, The Principles of Communism (1847)

War unleashes – at the same time as the reactionary forces of the capitalist world – the generating forces of social revolution which ferment in its depths.
Rosa Luxemburg, In the Storm(1904)

Everybody talks about imperialism. But imperialism is merely monopoly capitalism.
V I Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It(1917)

Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for an harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion.
Leon Trotsky, Art and Politics in Our Epoch(1938)

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Colin Wilson on Michel Foucault

This book would make an ideal X-mas present for Conrad Black...

Good short intro to Foucault's philosophy of history here

Foucault’s ideas are radical but not Marxist, which helps explain his current prominence. His ideas fit a time when Marxists are a minority and non-Marxist radicals such as Noam Chomsky are greatly respected.

Foucault’s approach leads to some serious problems. He rightly rejected both capitalism and Stalinism. This was a necessary first step, but he never explained how ideas relate to the material reality of society – where ideas come from, or what role radical ideas can play in changing the world.

The closest he comes to an overall explanation of society is in his writings from the 1980s about “power”.

By “power” Foucault means all non-economic forms of social domination. But he describes power as existing everywhere – so you cannot say that one group of people has it and another does not. Foucault was right to stress the importance of non-economic factors, but his explanation is too vague to be useful.

In practice Foucault’s politics were a blend of more or less radical versions of liberalism and anarchism.

This is why Foucault’s ideas can be used by both the left and the right. He gained huge prominence in the early 1980s, a period when the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s had just been defeated. Some people joined the Labour Party, while others looked to separate struggles of oppressed groups such as women, black people or lesbians and gays.

Foucault’s ideas were used to justify these shifts to the right and away from a unified movement. Marxism was portrayed as old-fashioned and crude. If power was everywhere, resistance could be everywhere – in isolated struggles by women or black people, for example.

Instead of a Foucauldian focus on the fragment, Marxists need to defend the validity of total history, and of revolutionary history that understands the centrality of class struggle to changing the world.

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The strange murder of liberal Britain

John Pilger exposes the lie of 'social liberalism' under Blair and Brown. My comrades over at Through the Scary Door probably rightly accuse Pilger of 'ultra-left moralism' for among other things, quoting the late Norman Mailer's view of contemporary America as 'pre-fascist', but I like the way Pilger always effectively exposes the limitations of capitalist 'liberal democracy' by judging it on its own terms, ie. by the professed ideals of liberalism and democracy.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

The 2007 Histomat Awards

Yep, its time to hand out this years Histomat Awards - possibly the most prestigious awards going in the Marxist corner of the blogosphere...

2007 Histomat International Hero(es) of the Year:
The people of Burma, Pakistan and Egypt for courageously fighting against brutal Western-backed dictatorships. (Runner up: The people of Australia for finally dumping Tory warmonger John Howard in spectacular fashion.)

2007 Histomat International Idiot of the Year:
Whichever very sick individual it was who thought Tony Blair perfectly fitted the job description of international 'peace envoy' to the Middle East (Runner up: Whichever sick individual it was who thought Al Gore deserved the Nobel Peace Prize)

2007 Histomat National Hero(ine) of the Year:
The students who defended democracy by storming a Nazi infested Oxford Union (Joint Runners up: Karen Reissmann, mental health nurse sacked for campaigning against NHS privatisation / George Monbiot, campaigning environmentalist)

2007 Histomat National Idiot of the Year:
Nick Cohen for writing the quite abysmally dire What's Left? (Runner up: Margaret Hodge)

2007 Histomat Socialist History Blogger of the Year:
Reading the Maps (for among other things putting two huge chunks of his PhD on EP Thompson online) (Joint Runners Up: Lenin's Tomb/ Louis Proyect)

2007 Histomat Most Idiotesque Blogger of the Year:
Oliver Kamm. (Runner up: The horrendously mis-named 'Socialist Unity' blog).

2007 Histomat Most Incredible Quote of the Year:
George W Bush on the inspiration of the victorious American war of Independence: 'We were a small band of freedom-loving patriots taking on the most powerful empire in the world.'

2007 Histomat Most Idiotesque Quote of the Year:
David Lammy who said of Tony Blair: 'In highlighting slavery in the way he did the Prime Minister struck the right tone and showed tremendous courage. He showed leadership but more importantly enabled us to move on. I feel very strongly that he follows in the tradition of Nelson Mandela who talked about peace and reconciliation.'


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Terry Eagleton on the barbarism of the West

'what I object to is the dangerous fudging of the line between the Muslim world and the Taliban, and the easy moral superiority that leaves us blind to our own crimes, or the crimes done in our names. It is an obvious point, but one still worth making, that it was our own barbarism and colonialism in the Middle East that has helped to create these situations in the first place. Amis and Hitchens have become perversely silent on the crimes of Western civilisation. Western civilisation has produced enormous advances, but not to see the darker side of that, not to see the barbarism of the West, and not to see that at a time when we are killing thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, seems extraordinarily naive.'

Read the full interview here.

On the subject of the barbarism of Western civilisation, can contemporary British popular culture, and I use the word 'popular' advisedly, possibly sink to any lower depths than this? The very thought of crossing 'Little Britain' with 'Big Brother' to form 'Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack' or some such shit makes me nauseous. The recruitment team over at Al Qaeda must be rubbing their hands with glee...

Edited to add: Indeed, given the choice between watching five minutes of 'The Very Best of Little Britain' or being subjected to watching Blair singing the praises of Bush's two pet dogs for 24 hours in a locked room, I would choose 'Congratulations Barney and Miss Beazley on becoming Junior Park Rangers' every fucking time...

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The crisis last time

Maps seems to have put another huge chunk of his PhD on EP Thompson online - which is nice. Entitled Yesterday the Struggle, he discusses EP Thompson, WH Auden, George Orwell and the fight for the meaning of the 1930s in terms of literature and poetry...

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Meet the future imperial overlords

John Pilger exposes the British-American Project for the Successor Generation (BAP), who recently met in Newcastle at a conference on 'Faith and Justice'. The particular 'faith' of this transatlantic elite seems to be a devotion to further the interests of the American Empire and global capitalism in general, while as for 'justice', Pilger writes that 'the values shared are those of rapacious power and wealth, with democracy and human rights irrelevant, as the bloodbath in Iraq and the suffering of the Palestinians attest, to name only two examples.' Their official website is here.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

''No-one is above the law''

Even Gordon Brown, who comedian Mark Thomas is trying to put in the dock for breaking New Labour's repressive 'Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005' which includes a ban on making 'an expression of opinion' within the confines of Parliament Square. Brown seems to have broken this when he unveiled a statue of Nelson Mandela in front of a crowd recently - arguably making a political statement in the process. On Radio 4, Mark Thomas explained that he was entitled to also bring charges against Nelson Mandela himself (who attended the event), but he thought Mandela had done more than enough time in prison in his life already. However, there is the possibility that Mandela knew that he would be breaking the draconian SOCAP Act of 2005 when he attended the unveiling of his statue and thought that, well, if there is an unjust law, then it must be broken by whatever means necessary...

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ben Harker on Ewan MacColl

Ben Harker, author of an excellent new biography of the Communist folk singer Ewan MacColl, Class Act, is interviewed here.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Charlie Brooker on the threat to world peace

'[Bush] says that since the [US intelligence] report indicates that Iran halted its weapons programme in 2003, there's a clear possibility it could start it up again. The very fact that the Iranians don't have a nuclear bomb proves they might still develop one. Therefore, Iran is dangerous.

That's a clever thing to say, because a) the future is unknowable, so it's impossible to tell him he's wrong, and b) the more he says it, the more likely it is to come true. Since Bush has shown that he'll view Iran as a nuclear threat regardless of whether it's got the bomb or not, the Iranians might as well build one. What have they got to lose?

Also, the report doesn't say whether the Iranians are developing a giant laser beam capable of sawing the sun in two, but that's no reason to assume they won't be starting work on it next week. Picture a world in which Ahmadinejad holds us to ransom by threatening to plunge one sawn-off half of the sun into the Atlantic, sending 900ft waves of boiling water rushing toward our shores. We can't let that happen. We've got to get in first: drive a space shuttle into the sun and blow the damn thing up before the enemy get their hands on it. It might solve global warming too. Let's hope the Pentagon is across this. Don't let us down, guys. Knock that baby out.'

From here.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

The death agony of academic Marxism

Interesting post from Doug, a Canadian post-graduate student, on his experiences of being a revolutionary Marxist in the world of academia here.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Jesus Christ

Was both more and less a revolutionary figure than Lenin and Trotsky. Discuss.

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George Monbiot on fighting climate change

When you warn people about the dangers of climate change, they call you a saint. When you explain what needs to be done to stop it, they call you a communist.

Quite. Those in the UK this Saturday might also consider attending this


The World Against War Conference Declaration


Agreed unanimously by 1200 delegates from 26 countries attending the World Against War Conference on Saturday 1 December 2007.

This conference of delegates from peace, anti-war, anti-imperialist and liberation movements across the world declares its opposition to the "endless war" prosecuted by the US government against states, peoples and movements in all parts of our planet. We oppose the interference of the US and its allies in sovereign states, and assert the right of all peoples to self-determination. We support all people fighting for peace and against imperialism. In particular, we demand:

* An immediate end to the illegal military occupation of Iraq,which has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and displaced millions of people, a withdrawal of all foreign troops and the full transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people and their representatives.
* A halt to all preparations for an attack against Iran, and a commitment to solve any issues through exclusively diplomatic means.
* A withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, allowing the Afghan people to determine their own future.
* Justice for the Palestinian people, and an end to Israeli aggression throughout the Middle East.
* An end to plans for US missile defence, and that all states actively pursue nuclear disarmament. We affirm the solidarity of all those fighting for peace, social justice and self-determination worldwide, and commit ourselves to strengthening our unity and developing new forms of co-operation. We therefore designate the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq as a worldwide day of action in support of the demands NO ATTACK on IRAN and TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ / and AFGHANISTAN and call on all national anti-war movements to hold mass protests and demonstrations on that day.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

George Bush - the intellectual's intellectual

The president is vague about his own future. When he leaves office he hopes to shave some time off his 90-minute bike ride, and maybe build a freedom institute: "an institute that really, you know, just kind of imparts knowledge and deals with big issues". He's discovered reading, too. When he was governor he was fond of saying that he learned by "doing", not reading, but now he consumes history books voraciously - "I'm on my 87th book this year".

From here.