Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I am afraid I haven't really got time for a long blog at the moment - to be honest I haven't really got time to blog at all - but I would just like to comment briefly on a couple of forthcoming elections, the American elections and the London GLA/Mayoral elections. Both of them are quite similar in a way, and what seems to apparently matter in each is the personality of the candidate rather than any politics - about which we hear little.

Firstly, regarding this years American elections - about which I finding it hard to get that excited about given the choice between the main frontrunners ain't much of a choice at all, there was a mildly diverting article in last week's New Statesman by a Tory called Tara Hamilton-Miller who writes about how many Conservative MPs are falling over themselves to court the US Democrat Party.

'It is difficult to generalise as to whom Conservative MPs and voters would support. Some of the most right-wing have been seduced by Barack Obama. [David] Cameron himself seems rather smitten, commenting: "I must say, I think he's compelling. I think we need the same sense of possibility here." The old-fashioned view that the right would always side with the Republicans no longer stands.

Although McCain would appear to be the natural choice for Conservatives, many Tory MPs are either "out" Democrats or at least considering it for the first time. A shadow minister sums it up: "I was going to say it was because I know so little about Romney and Huckabee, but that's not the reason. I'm bored by the Republican candidates and fascinated by the Hillary/Obama show. Who wouldn't be?"'

I think socialists and those on the left who are falling over themselves in uncritical adulation of Obama and the Democratic Party in general might want to take a bit of a reality check when they see who else is 'facinated' and 'compelled' by the Democratic Party frontrunners.

Meanwhile back in LabourPartyCapitalistBritain.com, the left blogosphere is in a mild turmoil about the London Mayoral Elections coming up on May 1. In brief, Ken Livingstone, the current Labour Party's London Mayor, was criticised in some witch-hunting TV documentary made by embittered former lefties for being - shock horror - a bit of a lefty in the past, still a bit of a lefty on some issues in the present, and appointing lefties as advisors to him. Nick Cohen began the McCarthyitesque campaign with a lazy crude 'cut and paste' job from his book - an article which did not tell you very much about why Ken Livingstone was apparently 'unfit to be Mayor' but did tell you everything you need to know about why Nick Cohen was unfit for journalism. Cohen was unable to even get the most basic facts straight. To take just one minor example from the very first paragraph:

'To understand why Ken Livingstone is unfit to be the Labour candidate for mayor of London, you have to grasp that he has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left...Ken Livingstone began by travelling with the sickest sect of them all: the Workers' Revolutionary party.'

In fact, Ken Livingstone in fact did not begin political life by 'travelling' with the now defunct WRP, but remarkably the first group he identified with was the now defunct decidedly 'libertarian socialist' group Solidarity, as recorded in Who's Afraid of Margaret Thatcher?: In Praise of Socialism; by Ken Livingstone and Tariq Ali, (Verso Books, 1984,) before making the odd choice, in 1968 of all years, of joining the Labour Party.

Anyway, the real problem with Livingstone, as Respect mayoral candidate Lindsey German points out, is not that he is too left wing, but he is nowhere near left wing enough.

'The claim that Ken Livingstone's advisers believed they could create a socialist city state will come as a surprise to his friends and enemies alike. They certainly haven't succeeded...any socialist who enters government at local or national level has to judge his or her impact by one criterion: is their holding of office making life better for working people?

Any serious attempt to do so means challenging some of the vested interests: the property developers who are doing so much to despoil London for the benefit of their shareholders; the City of London whose recent reverses come after years of huge salaries and bonuses; the employers who are making people work longer and harder for low wages.

Livingstone and his advisers have not done that. Instead they have taken the view that development and a booming city had to be encouraged in order for that wealth to trickle down and for jobs to be created. Far from challenging these unelected interests it has often meant encouraging them, no doubt in the interests of the long term project of socialism in one city.

The idea that this theory has something to do with Leon Trotsky is bizarre. Before the Russian revolution Trotsky was exiled in London, Paris, New York and Vienna. He made history in St Petersburg in 1917. But he famously rejected the view that socialism could be built in one country, let alone in a single city. The idea of flourishing city states has more to do with the Medicis than with Marxism.'

Thank goodness that someone like Lindsey German is standing for London Mayor and offering a clear socialist alternative to New Labour - just as it is good that there are at least some on the American left who understand the importance of trying breaking the political monopoly of the two main big-business parties. Such candidates can never stand in such elections because they can win - though there is a possibility Lindsey German could get elected onto the GLA - but in order that, come election time, people can see that there is resistance to the neoliberal agenda even at that most unlikely of places - the ballot box. If socialists can find an echo there for the arguments of people over profit, for the millions rather than the millionaires, that can only give confidence to the real living movements against capitalism and war outside.

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