Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Queen

[Yesterday I was browsing through 'Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)' by Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, as you do, and I came across the following story. Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael - one of the key figures associated with 'Black Power' in 1960s America - was invited over to London in May 1967 to speak at the 'Dialectics of Liberation' conference. His presence in Britain was not tolerated by the Labour Government of the day, and he was soon deported, but at the conference he met a fellow Trinidadian 'Michael X', who seems to have thought of himself as a kind of British version of Malcolm X, and was incidently the first person prosecuted under the Race Relations Act (typical British law - introduce a piece of legislation to tackle racism and then prosecute a black guy). Anyway to get to the point, I'll let Stokely tell the story of his encounter with 'Brother Michael.']

'I was there, talking with some students, when I noticed this short, muscular, redbone-looking brother coming toward us. You couldn't help noticing him. Something about him set him apart from the students. Something a bit too flashy in his clothes or his style? Or his walk, not exactly a swagger or a strut, but vaguely and unmistakeably "street".
"Oh, oh, there's that Michael X", a Jamaican sister said, not entirely approvingly, adding with a grimace, "The press calls him the British Malcolm X." I'd heard about the brother. I began to really check him out. By some accounts he was of "unsavoury charcter" and something of a player. And, as I quickly learned, a performer. When our eyes met, he broke out this beaming, wide smile and threw his arms wide.
"Oh, God, Brother Carmichael, is you? You the very man I come to see, boy. The very man, oh God, boy, oh God, boy."
There was nothing British - much less Oxford - in the brother's accent. It was pure San Fernando, back o'bridge. I felt like it might have been deliberately exaggerated to mark not only our common Trinidad origins, but his own class distance from the "bourgeois" students standing around.
"Yeah, boy, I does need your advice for true. I believe I jus' mess up bad bad, man. Oh, God, boy, listen this." By which time he had, as intended, commanded the attention of everybody and launched into a story about a meeting he'd just attended with "some decent, very respectable people, boy" on solutions to "the growing racial problem in Britain."
These "respectable people" included an Anglican bishop, assorted vicars, an Oxford don, some retired colonial civil servants, and a sprinkling of highly respectable and accomplished coloured folk, even a black baronet...Sir Learie Constantine, a great West Indian cricketer who'd been knighted.
These good people, deeply distressed by the increasing racism being directed at the growing immigrant community by the British public, had been meeting over tea to explore initiatives to try to counter this.
"So now they come up with this plan which they think is good. But see they don't want to go forward with it before, and unless, checking it with the masses, we common folk, eh? So they invite me to tea. I guess the street militant, yes. The bishop's wife, she ask the name of my organization. I say, 'RAAS.' She look shock. 'That's the name of the organization, ma'am. RAAS [The Racial Adjustment Action Society]. 'Oh,' she say.
"They all now looking at me right strange. So I say, 'Well, yes. I certainly agree that this racism is deplorable. Quite unworthy of the British people, yes. But I glad such distinguished people taking an interest, eh. Gives one hope, eh, what? I real honoured to be there.' I cock my little finger, sip my tea, and try to look serious an' respectful.
"Well, they say. After much thought and discussion they arrive at a proposal which had possibility. They had concluded that the situation was sufficiently grave, that the sovereign herself should intervene. Oh, God, I thinking, the queen? What that ol' bat goin' do? You ever hear she talk, boy? Give a speech, eh? But I jest sip my tea and look interested.
"Yes, we believe it is incumbent on Her Majesty to set the tone. An example to the nation. A gesture simple yet direct. Dramatic and unmistakeable yet appropriate. But what form should this take?
"'Well, yes', I say. 'Is a brilliant idea for true.' But in truth, boy, I now wondering the same thing. What form? They all smile and nod agreement.
"'Well', the bishop wife say. 'As you know, Mr. X, the very best ideas are sometimes the simplest.' They pretty sure they have such an idea, but they want to run it by me, so, as it were, to benefit from my unique and valuable perspective.
"'Okay,' I say. 'Be happy to help if I can.'
"'What we were thinking, are thinking,' say the bishop, 'is that perhaps, we here acting as a body, might, privately of course, prevail on Her Majesty to adopt a black child. Would that not be salutary? A splendid example, what?'
"They all looking at me now. I now look pensive, boy. I sip my tea, screw up my face, and grunt, 'Yeah.' I mutter. 'A black child, uh-huh.' Finally they say, "Well, Mr, ah, X, what do you think?'
"'Oh, is brilliant,' I say. 'Absolutely inspired.' They begin to beam and smile.
"'Only one thing,' I say. 'It might could be better.' They all stop smiling and look puzzled. 'How so?' they ask.
"'Well...I thinking now. The queen, she still quite a young woman, yes?'
"'Yes, relatively speaking. Perhaps, but why...?'
"'Well, instead of advising Her Majesty to adopt a black child...why don' we...why ain' we just go ahead and ask her to go on and have a black baby, eh?'
"Talk about a long silence, boy. Then...
"'Good heavens, man. You can't...you can't mean actually...actually...um...giving birth?'
"I say yes, tha's exactly what I saying. Ain' you looking a striking example of racial tolerance? This'll be an example not just to the nation, but to the world.
"Boy, the meeting break up just so. I doubt they go ask me back. But tell me, Bro Stokely, you think I wrong?"
Then he cracked up, enjoying himself shamelessly. That was our first meeting. I'd figured the story was a tall tale in the Sterling Brown tradition, but later other people would assure me that such a meeting had indeed taken place.'

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

National March against Fascism and Racism

'Democracy will only survive when it can surpass fascism not by lofty principles and empty words but by the ruthless will to fight to the end'

Arthur Rosenberg, 1938.

On Saturday 21 June there will be a march and parade against the British Nazi Party in London - see here and here


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On James Joyce

Occasional Histomat commentator Roobin has written a substantial summary of the most important works of James Joyce over at Lenin's Tomb, in the process helping that site to make a 'cultural turn' of sorts. Whether Lenin's Tomb 'needs' a cultural turn or not is of course quite a touchy issue which I am not going to broach.

I have read next to nothing of Joyce personally,* and while Roobin's post does not rise to the heights of Marxist literary criticism, it does give you a flavour of what Joyce is about, and so is highly recommended on that score. I was particularly fascinated by the reference to the influence of Giambattista Vico, author of Scienza Nuova (The New Science, 1725), in the discussion of Finnegan's Wake. Vico of course influenced the early thinking of several great historians like Jules Michelet, and also great Marxists like Antonio Gramsci, while great Marxist historians like EP Thompson would always also pay their respects to Vico - so the fact that Vico influenced Joyce is I think interesting. On Vico, Trotsky's summary is useful:

The theory of the repetition of historic cycles – Vico and his more recent followers – rests upon an observation of the orbits of old pre-capitalist cultures, and in part upon the first experiments of capitalist development. A certain repetition of cultural stages in ever new settlements was in fact bound up with the provincial and episodic character of that whole process. Capitalism means, however, an overcoming of those conditions. It prepares and in a certain sense realises the universality and permanence of man’s development.

*I do intend to at some point, honest.


Monday, May 26, 2008

The Living Dead

After the strange death of New Labour at the Crewe and Nantwich General Infirmary, prepare to witness the nightmare of the living dead...

#1. David Miliband

'I couldn't hear what he was saying, but something about his face - just his sodding face - revolted me on a deep and primal level. It was chilling, unsettling - like watching a haunted ventriloquist's dummy slowly turn its head through 360 degrees. "Who is this grinning homunculus," I thought, "and what does he want from me?"'

#2 Gordon Brown

'Ghastly and nightmarish though Miliband may be, he's got nothing on gloomy Gordon Brown, who increasingly resembles a humourless, imposing old butler slowly creaking the mansion door open in a Frankenstein movie. Prime Minister Igor, the shuffling fun-free zone.'

#3 Jack Straw

Aka The Demon Headmaster

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Friday, May 23, 2008

New Labour R.I.P.

Here lied New Labour (1994-2008).

Yesterday it was announced at Crewe and Nantwich General Infirmary that the New Labour Party has been officially pronounced dead.

The cause of death has still yet to be confirmed, and some fear that one Mr. T. Blair and one Mr. G. Brown may be guilty of having rather a lot of blood on their hands, but in any case a long history of addiction to a culture of lying, hypocrisy, arrogance and permanent war together with an extreme dependence on US imperialism and an intensely relaxed attitude to the rich becoming filthy rich certainly took their toll over the years. In the last few days, the New Labour Party machine was in a state of some crazed delirium, ranting and raving in a deeply racist fashion about the hospital ward in Crewe and Nantwich and terrifying many of the other patients.

The funeral will take place sometime from 9-16 June in London. The few remaining friends of the late New Labour Party such as George W. Bush are expected to fly in to attend the ceremony, and a march will be held.

The last even slightly comprehensible dying words of New Labour were recorded as follows:

'The message that we have got is that people are concerned. They are concerned about rising food prices, rising petrol prices. People are concerned rightly about gas and electricity bills, they are concerned about the economy, and I think the message that I have to get to people is this: that we are unequivocal and clear in our direction, that we are going to address and are addressing these problems, we will continue to do so, and my task is to steer the British economy through what have been very difficult times in every country in the world, and that I will continue to do with a direction and clear direction that shows that we will address all of the problems that people are facing. I think people know that the task ahead is to take the British economy through what are very difficult times, difficult times in every country, and I think the message from voters is very clear. It's that people want us to address what are very real challenges, challenges of rising petrol prices when people go to the petrol station, challenges at the supermarket when people see rising food prices, gas and electricity bills that have gone up as a result of oil prices going up, and we will address these problems and the message that I think is absolutely clear and unequivocal is that the direction of the Government is to address all these major concerns that people have, and the task that I have is to steer the British economy through these difficult times. The task I have been entrusted with is to make sure that we can come through the difficult economic times we face, and when I hear what people are saying - and I go round the country a great deal and I understand people's concerns - people are worried after 10 years in which standards of living have been rising, we have a problem because of rising oil prices, with petrol prices, with food prices, with gas and electricity prices. Although it's happening in every country of the world, I understand that the message of the British public is clear and unequivocal. They want us to address these challenges and I believe that I can do so, and that is the task that I have set for myself that we take this economy through difficult times into a future where we have both fairness for all and prosperity for the British people and that is the challenge that I am going to meet for the British people.'

At that point it was unanimously agreed there was nothing else that could be done for the patient, who was clearly not only very sick but in a state of heightened self delusion, and the life support machine was switched off.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In defence of Animal Farm

My good comrade over at 'I.R.' has written an entertaining and typically witty post on the apparent problems confronted by a socialist when teaching George Orwell's fairy tale Animal Farm in school. The crucial passage is as follows:

Nevertheless, it is hard to escape the conclusion that, despite Orwell's protestations to the contrary, Animal Farm is, at root, a profoundly conservative book. It is impossible to ignore the central message of the story - the one that overwhelms the reader - i.e. that radical social change is bound to end in disaster because the irredeemably selfish, scheming, power-hungry and callous nature of human beings always asserts itself in the end. The pigs - Napoleon and Squealer, particularly, turn nasty for no reason other than the fact that this is, somehow, in their natures. The pigs, of course, are us - or, at least, us given the slightest sniff of power. There is no serious reference to the various concrete material factors that may have constributed to the rapid degeneration and failure of socialism in Russia. Things go wrong in Animal Farm because it is pre-ordained that they go wrong. It is written in the genes. My personal opinion is that Animal Farm is an awful book - it's philosophically and politically simplistic, resting on hand-waving appeals to some odd, half-articulated, semi-metaphysical entity, stuffed to the seams with conservative normative assumptions, called 'human nature', and it's horribly mean to pigs.

Regretfully, I have to take issue with the assessment of Animal Farm as 'an awful book'. In terms of literature, as a novel, it is incredibly readable and has carefully, well drawn memorable characters, while politically it stands as a devastatingly powerful satire on Stalinism, and totalitarian rule in general. Personally, looking back, when I read it at school as a young anti-capitalist - and I was not taught by a noticeably left wing English teacher - I like to think it helped in some way shift me from my early sympathies for the former USSR and former Eastern bloc - towards Trotskyism. This is not to say there are not weaknesses, relating to the isolation and disillusion with the possibilities for revolutionary change of Orwell himself at the time of writing. As I pointed out on this blog back in August 2005, (crudely paraphrasing an article by John Molyneux on Animal Farm from an old issue of International Socialism):

For a Marxist, Orwell's depiction of the rise and fall of the Russian Revolution in 'Animal Farm' is rather problematic due, in part, to his apparent conflation of Lenin and Stalin into one character - Napoleon - or rather the absence of a 'Lenin' character altogether. This implies Leninism led to Stalinism in a crude and ahistorical manner. Orwell's failure to acknowledge the devastating impact of the Russian Civil War is also relevant here, to say nothing of his pessimism about the possibilities of working class resistance under Stalinism. However, 'Animal Farm' is a novel - if you want to know more about the Russian Revolution read Trotsky himself as well as Tony Cliff's 'State Capitalism in Russia'.

Indeed, it is redeemable as a book if only for a conversation I overheard a few years ago on a crowded bus through town. Two young women students were quite loudly discussing Animal Farm which they were obviously studying for something or another, and while neither of them had any particularly deep understanding of the Russian Revolution, one of them did correctly note that 'Snowball' was meant to be 'Leon Trotsky.' At that moment, it dawned on me that if it was not for the teaching of Animal Farm in school, in all likelihood almost all schoolkids in Britain would emerge without ever having even heard of one of the most important revolutionary Marxists of the twentieth century. Indeed, in what other possible context would the name Leon Trotsky just come up in an everyday conversation? For that reason alone, socialists today surely stand indebted to George Orwell and to Animal Farm.

PS. Quite irrelevant really, but there was a quite interesting article about Orwell and hypocrisy in politics in the Guardian over the weekend. As Orwell was quoted as saying (from a defence of PG Wodehouse), 'All kinds of petty rats are hunted down, while almost without exception the big rats escape.' When I read that quote, I instinctively found myself thinking of the pro-war 'left', which claims to stand in Orwell's tradition of radical journalism but is purely concerned with hunting down petty rats while letting big rats like Bush and Blair escape their crimes.

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On civilisation and culture

Terry Eagleton has a long and thought provoking article on civilisation and culture in today's Guardian.

The political currents that topped the global agenda in the late 20th century - revolutionary nationalism, feminism and ethnic struggle - place culture at their heart. Language, identity and forms of life are the terms in which political demands are shaped and voiced. In this sense, culture has become part of the problem rather than the solution, as it was for Matthew Arnold and FR Leavis. In traditional forms of political conflict, working people have proved most inspired when what was at stake was not just a living wage but (like the mining communities) the defence of a way of life. The political demand our rulers find hardest to beat is one that is cultural and material.

Ever since the early 19th century, culture or civilisation has been the opposite of barbarism. Behind this opposition lay a kind of narrative: first you had barbarism, then civilisation was dredged out of its murky depths. Radical thinkers, by contrast, have always seen barbarism and civilisation as synchronous. This is what the German Marxist Walter Benjamin had in mind when he declared that "every document of civilisation is at the same time a record of barbarism". For every cathedral, a pit of bones; for every work of art, the mass labour that granted the artist the resources to create it. Civilisation needs to be wrested from nature by violence, but the violence lives on in the coercion used to protect civilisation - a coercion known among other things as the political state.

These days the conflict between civilisation and barbarism has taken an ominous turn. We face a conflict between civilisation and culture, which used to be on the same side. Civilisation means rational reflection, material wellbeing, individual autonomy and ironic self-doubt; culture means a form of life that is customary, collective, passionate, spontaneous, unreflective and arational. It is no surprise, then, to find that we have civilisation whereas they have culture. Culture is the new barbarism. The contrast between west and east is being mapped on a new axis.

The problem is that civilisation needs culture even if it feels superior to it. Its own political authority will not operate unless it can bed itself down in a specific way of life. Men and women do not easily submit to a power that does not weave itself into the texture of their daily existence - one reason why culture remains so politically vital. Civilisation cannot get on with culture, and it cannot get on without it.

Eagleton's points certainly cast light on the activities of Margaret Hodge, Britain's Culture Secretary, who is busy trying to get everyone to submit to the power of New Labour's Corporate State though the cultural medium of 'Britishness'. As Hodge puts it,

'I know that across the political spectrum there are powerful advocates for the creation of a renewed and re-invigorated sense of Britishness.

No - the people who want a 'renewed and re-invigorated sense of Britishness' do not come from 'across the political spectrum' - they come from the Right wing of British politics - the Tories, the BNP, the Lib Dems and of course New Labour.

Actually it’s not that new. Enabling people and communities to form positive personal and common identities across the traditional boundaries of class or faith has always been central to progressive thought.

Has it? Why then did the Labour Party when it was set up call itself 'the Labour Party' rather than 'the British Party' if it wanted to form an identity 'across the traditional boundaries of class'?

But we know that simply talking about the concept of values that may embody Britishness on its own, means nothing to the good burghers of Barking. Those values need to be lived out in ways that mean something for real people in real places.'

And how are the philistines in New Labour going to make 'Britishness' real to the good burghers of Barking? Ah yes, set up Armed Forces Day - a really original idea.

Still, there are some dissidents - . Quoted on the BBC website was one Albert Beale, of the pacifist Peace Pledge Union, who said he disagreed with the concept of an Armed Forces Day. "The idea that we celebrate the fact that people go around killing one another is just an anathema to me," he said. Welcome to 'culture' and 'civilisation' under capitalism, Albert.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thought for the day


Twentieth Century Communism

There is a new 'journal of international history' coming out soon called Twentieth Century Communism. It has a blog here, which isn't very 'twentieth century' but looks as though it will be useful for historians of Communism none the less.

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Marxism 2008

The full timetable for Marxism 2008, which is in London from 3-7 July, is now online here. For those who have never sampled Marxism, the festival remains of course a veritable cornucopia of historical materialism served up by the British SWP in a form unrivalled on the British left, with a range of top speakers such as David Hilliard, Tariq Ali and Tony Benn accompanied by an impressive and generous garnishing of culture...


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Unforgiving Years

Unforgiving Years, described by one reviewer as 'probably [Victor] Serge's best novel', is now in English for the first time. Surely an indispensable read for any revolutionary socialist...and it seems perhaps also fans of The Wickerman film...


La Commune (Paris 1871)

For those interested in films about workers' revolution, in London on
Sunday 18 May, from 12-8pm, there will be a screening of the epic La Commune (Paris 1871) (2000) dir. Peter Watkins, 345min with breaks.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV: A Marxist Analysis

Well not quite - I'm sure someone could do one but it ain't going to be me I'm afraid. My housemate has it, but I have only played it for about 20 minutes and all I accomplished was getting arrested for driving over a policeman's foot or something. If anyone wants to write a Marxist analysis of GTA4, I'll publish it, or if anyone knows of anyone that has written one, I'll link to it, but in the absence of one, I'll link to a defence of the game by Charlie Brooker. As Brooker notes,

'[T]here's a wealth of incredible detail and some surprising moments of satire. For example, Liberty City has its own TV networks, which you can sit down and watch if the mood takes you. One channel, Weazel, is a thinly-veiled parody of Fox that features shows such as Republican Space Rangers (a fascistic cartoon in which dimwitted right-wing hicks roam the galaxy exterminating peaceful life forms)'....

Personally, I can't really comment on such matters I'm afraid as I am currently still at 'the learning to drive the car stage'...


Friday, May 09, 2008

John Pilger on the privatisation of the British postal service

'The whole wilful destruction is a new Labour classic and shows why, in a nutshell, even the ever faithful have turned on them. Having already closed 6,000 post offices since it came to power in 1997, more than any other government, it issues press releases saying it wants to "help the Post Office modernise, restore profitability...invest in new products and look at innovative ways to deliver services". We know what this means. It was left to a member of the Scottish Parliament, Fergus Ewing, to say it: "Senior management are preparing the ground for a huge sell-off of the postal service."...While new Labour is happy to subsidise [greedy Royal Mail boss] Crozier's fortune, a failed bank [Northern Rock], colonial bloodbaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and a culpably useless Trident nuclear weapon system costing up to £20bn, it refuses to subsidise a true public service that costs, in relative terms, peanuts.'

Full article here


1968: "The world is on fire - just follow the light"

In 1968, Jean Paul Sartre declared that "The world is on fire" - and so I thought I would just put up extracts from the memories of activists around at the time from a special edition of Socialist Review which give a sense of 'May 1968'.

'[T]he student movement, with their own demands, led the struggle. During the night of 10 May the barricades went up, with some workers joining them. The battle between the demonstrators and the police lasted for four hours. There was massive repression and the next morning the CGT called a one-day general strike for 13 May to protest at police violence. So on 13 May workers protested across France. This one-day strike was very strong in Paris and in the other big cities.

We started the occupation of our factory at Renault Billancourt on 16 May. We held meetings every day where workers could vote on the continuation of the strike. Workers at Renault had a long history of great struggles and that's why it was so important to have these meetings.

I was 25 years old at that time, and we were occupying the factory every day and night. This movement was exhilarating for us young people.'

Michel Certano, carworker, France

By 1968 it seemed the war had been going on my whole life. When the US was defeated in 1975 I felt I had won. All my friends and I felt like we were actually fighting the war alongside the Vietnamese.

Sheryll Yanowitz, Berkeley

1968 showed that the cracks in state capitalist power were widening, and that revolutionary struggle was back on the agenda, big time. That was where my future lay.

Eddie Provost, docker, London

For me 1968 was about the birth of the civil rights movement. Originally a campaign for basic demands, it stands out as a significant moment in the narrative of Irish history. The black civil rights movement and Martin Luther King earlier in the 1960s had excited the imagination of people here. The influence of the student movement and reports of militancy from around Europe were also in the mix - Northern Ireland is not an isolated place.

Eamonn McCann, Derry

'My officials came to me and said, "There'll be a demonstration [against the Vietnam War] in London and they might try to take control of this department." I said, "I've been trying to get control of it for several years!"'

Tony Benn, British Cabinet Minister

The New Statesman also has some pieces by Eric Hobsbawm and Noam Chomsky but both of those figures were quite mature and set in their ways by the time 1968 came around. Chris Harman, a review of whose book on 1968 by John Molyneux is online here was rather younger in 1968 and provides a better analysis of the radical change in consciousness that took place:

'[Things] began to change with the May events in France. People suddenly saw the possibility of revolutionary change much nearer home and one which came from below, involving the mass of people. The media concentrated on the student battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris. But by the third week of May the spectacle of the working class holding to ransom the government of a major capitalist country had an impact on those fighting back against the system everywhere.

Great revolts cause a fantastic widening of people's horizons. Those who would have laughed at the idea of revolution in 1966 - or at least deemed it impossible - were taking it seriously in the summer of 1968. When Britain had its biggest Vietnam demonstration, in October 1968, the most popular slogan alongside "Victory to the NLF" (the Vietnamese liberation movement) was "We will fight, we will win, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin"; the most popular placard was of a clenched fist with a spanner and the words "Workers' Control".'

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Monday, May 05, 2008

All hail the Great Benefactor!

The One Party can still go on to win a historic fourteenth year in Government despite their drubbing on Unanimity Day, Justice Secretary JS-1968 declared yesterday.

JS-1968, an Inner Guardian, appeared to initially suggest that the people had wanted to "punish" the Great Benefactor himself - before hurriedly correcting himself to say "punish us" - The One Party as a whole - for the scrapping of the 10p tax rate.

"They wanted to punish him - or punish us in respect of the 10p," he told The One State Gazette. "Those it has affected, it has affected adversely and those people are understandably very upset about why it is that a Government that has cared and continues to care very much about lower-paid people should be doing this."

JS-1968 warned that the Government must make "fewer mistakes", but at the same time he stressed that it should not allow itself to be blown off course by the will of the people.

"What we have to do is actually maintain the strategy that we have followed because it is a strategy that has produced much more effective management as a whole over the last 11 years," he said.

While he insisted that The One Party would emerge triumphant at the next Unanimity Day, he appeared to indicate that the Great Benefactor would now cancel next years Unanimity Day as a result of the apparent ingratitude of the people this time around. The people would not be allowed to show such ingratitude on Unanimity Day in 2010. "I am very clear that the situation in two years time will be different from where we are today," he said.

Other Inner Guardians also rallied to the Great Benefactor's defence. Chairman of The One Party, TL-1956 said, "There isn't, outside of those who have their own personal malice towards the Great Benefactor or indeed the odd ones with personality defects, a challenge against the Great Benefactor."

[Apologies to Yevgeny Zamyatin]

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Happy Birthday to Karl Marx

On this day 190 years ago, Karl Marx was born. In this short article, Alex Callinicos looks at why his ideas still matter.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

In the Blue House

'Come on you blues!' the text from a former housemate and fellow Ipswich Town Football Club supporter said.

'Yes, indeed. Bring it.' I replied. Today was the day of our big match with Hull City FC - we needed to win to have a fighting chance of getting into the playoffs and so into the Premiership.

And then I remembered something. The ex-housemate was a bit of a Tory boy - indeed I think he now works in The City doing something. I don't know exactly what he does in The City, but I get the distinct impression it involves enriching himself massively at the expense of the proletariat in some way or another. I decided to send him another text.

'PS. I hope you were referring to itfc and not to david cameron's tories...'

'Ken had to go, brown is a disaster. Cameron is the only viable alternative and will be the next pm like it or not'.

I didn't bother replying. Ipswich did indeed manage to beat Hull, but failed to qualify for the playoffs, and so are destined to remain in the Championship for another season. Its probably for the best, but at the moment it just adds to what is turning out to be a pretty dismal weekend.

I have often noticed this - ones own personal and political hopes and dreams are often mirrored by the destiny of the football club one supports - when they seems to be winning, things seem to be going well and vice versa. I am sure if I spent time tracking this in terms of the recent history of the SWP and Ipswich Town FC for example I could find some sort of pattern. Noone can deny for example that thirty years ago in 1978, just after the original and awesome Rock Against Racism Carnival in London, which starred The Clash, Ipswich Town went on to win the FA Cup.

I know some would argue that surely things like this are matters of coincidence, and I am aware as a Marxist there can be no rational explanation, but the fact remains.

Before my more materialist readers desert this blog forever, however, I will just link to another interesting post over at Reading the Maps on EP Thompson and one aspect of 'the making of The Making of the English Working Class'. It doesn't make for that cheery reading either, but this probably isn't really the best place to come for that at the moment.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Against the New Nationalism

I haven't really got much idea who Genevieve Maitland Hudson is, but reading this article of hers on Englishness was an incredibly refreshing change to the stream of false consciousness on the subject (I am being polite) recently from the likes of veteran lefty singer-songwriter Billy Bragg and Paul Kingsnorth - who I consider 'the poor man's George Monbiot'.

The recent nationalist turn is nothing more than an emotional means of stirring up patriotic spirit against excessive corporate growth, and there is nothing innately left-wing about that. The English organic movement, after all, was the brainchild of the far right. In short, the New Nationalism is really very like the old. It tends towards the parochial, the middle-class, the rural and the safe but it cloaks this unsurprising bent in the language of environmental politics. We ought not to let this deceive us.

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Brown in the brown stuff

There is socialist analysis of the disastrous election results for New Labour in London and nationally over at Lenin's Tomb and in more detail here. Briefly, thanks to Gordon Brown's government's arrogant contempt for, and relentless attacks on, the working class, Labour voters in their millions sat on their hands at home in protest at a government which has presided over growing levels of social inequality. As a result, the Labour Party took one of the biggest electoral hammerings in its history, and even Ken Livingstone went down to defeat because of his ties to Gordon Brown. Worse, Gordon Brown and New Labour's attempt to blame the economic crisis not on rich bankers but on migrant workers (with racist rhetoric stolen from the fascists about 'British Jobs for British Workers') in the climate of permanent war and Islamophobia has, lo and behold, led to the British Nazi Party getting a seat on London's GLA. Given Brown shows little sign of doing the decent thing and resigning - but rather seems content to try to shove more neo-liberal shit down the throats of everyone, the following points made in a statement by the Left List seem worth reiterating:

'The period opening up is in some ways like that at the end of the 1970s. Then a tired Labour government also paved the way for Margaret Thatcher by adopting anti-union, socially conservative agenda at a time when it was also attacking working class living standards.

What is necessary now is not a left that runs the line 'Labour at any cost' but a left that stands by working class people and struggles alongside them.

This will not necessarily be a primarily electoral struggle. It will be an industrial struggle, an anti-war struggle, an anti-fascist struggle and a struggle on many other fronts that we cannot foresee. This is especially true at a time when the extra-electoral struggle is not declining, as it was in the late 1970s, but rising. But there will still be an electoral dimension.

The Left List votes outside London showed some good examples of effective campaigning. In Preston we got 37 percent and missed electing a second councillor by 70 votes. In Sheffield we came second with 25 percent of the vote. In Manchester we won 12 percent and, in a newly contested ward, nearly 10 percent. In Cambridge and Bolton the vote was around 15 percent.

The Galloway operation in contrast has reduced itself to a local party in a couple of areas without even the pretence of being a national organisation. Galloway will not be able to win a seat in the general election if he cannot win more than 11.3 percent in East London. And although Salma Yaqoob's Sparkbrook ward returned another councillor the vote went down in the neighbouring Sparkhill and Kings Heath wards, both of which would need to see increased votes for her to win the whole parliamentary constituency of which they are a part.

The Left List does have serious trade union support and a nationwide presence. We must now use this to assist in the rebuilding of an alternative to New Labour that will not be derailed by the surge in Tory and Nazi support at the ballot box.'

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Random thoughts on Boris Johnson

'He may seem like a lovable buffoon but you know he wouldn't hesitate to line you all up against a wall and have you shot'
Jeremy Hardy

'Boris Johnson [is] known as the thinking man's idiot'
The late Humphrey Lyttleton

'He's the sort of person who 200 years ago would have died aged 30 leading a cavalry charge into a volcano'

Frankie Boyle

'People always ask me the same question: "Is Boris a very, very clever man pretending to be an idiot?" And I always say, well, "No."'
Ian Hislop

'Boris Johnson is the person to lead this country back into the 17th century'
Paul Merton


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mark Steel on 1968

'Clearly something big and exciting was happening, yet the most common appraisal of the time now is to dismiss it as a frivolous episode involving a few hippies and students. Partly this is because many of the articles are written by posh ex-radicals, who fill magazines with pompous drivel like, "For I and my fellow compatriots of the Harrovian Order of Revolutionary Iguanas, it was a time of infinite mental universalness. We'd read Pitkin's essays on biscuitology, we staged a production of The Tempest in which all the characters were spring onions and debated 'This House supports Woldemort's theories of elongatable pugnocity' with such vivacity we had to capture the cleaner and bury him alive in the forest to calm ourselves down."

Another problem is that some figures from the time are now prominent members of the establishment. And they try to claim they're still pursuing the egalitarian ideals of their youth, but in a modern globalised setting, which is why they're thrilled to have landed the contract for selling land mines to the military police in Burma...

Yet all this courage and imagination is dismissed by so many, such as one columnist who recently derided the whole movement as "self-loathing twaddle." So Martin Luther King and the protesters in Prague and the French strikers could have stopped themselves getting so worked up if they'd just learned to enjoy a little "me" time. And then the Viet Cong could be laid out one by one, while a shrink said gently, "So when your family owned half an acre of a rice field and shared a mule, and then the mule was napalmed – did this make you angry in any way?"

Another writer complained that 1968 was a vile year because it had saddled us ever since with "horrid anti-authoritarianism." Because life's so much less horrid if people just put up with having tanks roll over them or with being made to wait for a blacks-only ambulance without making a fuss.

The other accusation made against 1968 is that it made no difference. But in one regard it must have done, because from the anti-war movement and gay liberation campaigns to its wildest hippiest forms, the events of that year suggested to a generation that if you're unhappy with the unfairness of the world, the best thing to do is something yourself. Alternatively you could hope it's put right by Gordon Brown, or David Cameron, or that other one.'

Full article here

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Solidarity Greetings on May Day

May Day originated as a workers' day in Australia in 1856 apparently...