Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hands off Gaza Demonstration

Nearest tube Embankment or Charing Cross
For more info see here.
There are also several local demonstrations around Britain that day.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Forget Mitchell and Webb...

Remember Adrian Mitchell and Harold Pinter...

For Pinter's acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, see here

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thinking outside the (post) box

When George Bush a few weeks ago said of all the things he was most proud of while President his fight against 'ideological thugs' was the thing that made him most proud, it was an intensely ideological statement that revealed Bush to be the worst kind of 'ideological thug' out there - one who pretends they have no ideology of their own - they just deal with 'reality' as they find it. New Labour famously prided themselves on their 'pragmatism' of seeking a 'Third Way' between Old Labour's ideological commitment to welfare state capitalism and the New Right's Thatcherite free market capitalist fundamentalism - which allegedly built on the strengths of both and avoided the weaknesses of both. They were 'non-ideological'. They would just do 'what worked'. They would 'think outside the box'.

And so to the decision of Business Secretary Lord Mandleson, New Labour personified, to 'part-privatise' Royal Mail. Apparently, this is not an 'Old Labour' defence of a monopoly - nor full scale Thatcherite 'privatisation' - it is 'part-privatisation' - a nice 'non ideological' compromise plan that will apparently improve the postal service.

There is only one very slight flaw with New Labour's idea. It is bollocks. As well as threatening 50,000 postworkers jobs, as Seamus Milne notes:

'Just as the free market model which spawned a spate of failed and exorbitant privatisations is imploding all over the world, the British government has seized on the idea of handing over a slice of a socially vital national institution to a predatory private competitor...The idea that, in the wake of the biggest failures and frauds in the banking and corporate sector for 70 years, handing over yet more public services and institutions to private firms is going to be a political winner is simply bizarre.'

Moreover, it reveals that New Labour for all their pretence are in reality as ideologically thuggish as they always were - as committed to the corporate takeover of Britain on behalf of their friends in big business as ever - regardless of all the evidence of how disastrous privatisation has been wherever it is tried. The idea that what one needs when one wants to post a letter is a 'choice' of about three or four different post boxs in a row - all owned by different companies competing with each other for you to send your letter through them - is the ultimate in lunacy - but is the logical endpoint of New Labour's way of thinking. What one wants when one posts a letter is simply for it to arrive safely and in reasonable time at the other end. And the existing system delivers that service fine. As one letter writer in today's Guardian notes,

Once again an attempt is being made to privatise the Post Office. Yet, as we are reminded at this time of year, the Post Office works perfectly well. If there is a shortage of funds, maybe some of the sums used to prop up people who have been markedly less good at providing a public service in recent years - the banks - could be used.

Now such an idea really would be 'thinking outside the box'.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

The 2008 Histomat Awards

What a year 2008 has been! We have seen Karl Marx's prophecy of potential capitalist downfall through the system's own internal contradictions once again vindicated, a black guy become the world's most powerful man and one of the leading lights of the European fascist movement, Jorg Haider, make one right turn too many for his own good. And just when you thought 2008 couldn't get more momentous, the annual Histomat awards come around again. Hallelujah! I mean, what are the chances of that happening?

2008 Histomat International Hero(es) of the Year:
The people of Greece for coming closest to paying true honour and respect to the memory of '1968' by having a general strike and rioting against murderous police brutality in the grand style.
Runners up: The people of America for making sure that after a long eight years there is village somewhere in Texas that will finally be reunited with its idiot.

2008 Histomat International Idiot(s) of the Year:
The international banking community should win hands down, but that would let the stockbrokers and the rest of the Western ruling class off the hook somewhat. Hmm, tricky. I think if I had to single out one merchant banker in particular for people to channel their anger against it would be this one...
Runners up: The people responsible for this tragedy at Walmart - a tragedy which illuminates the competitive and alienatiing nature of life under modern capitalism - above all blame here lies with the greedy bosses of Walmart.

2008 Histomat National Hero of the Year:
Tony Benn - an 'ideological thug' if I ever knew one.
Runners up: The Archbishops of York and Canterbury for hammering capitalism while praising Marx.

2008 Histomat National Idiot of the Year:
Its a dead heat between Phil Woolas, (Dumb) and James Purnell (Dumber) - both New Labour apparatchiks with only one thing on their mind - their slimy rise up the greasy pole of political power. Purnell, for those not in the know (and to be honest, you are best off not in the know), wants to force those on incapacity benefit (akin to 'the undeserving poor' in his world view) back to work at a time when anyone watching the news would know that firms are not exactly rushing to take on new staff at the moment...
Runner up: Former London mayor Ken Livingstone for championing first Sir Ian Blair then Cressida Dick for their 'talents' despite their presiding over the Met police slaying of Jean Charles de Menezes.

2008 Histomat Socialist Blogger of the Year:
As always this is such a close call, but I am going to give it to Hossam el-Hamalawy for not only running the best blog about labour struggles in Egypt but for initiating the Lenosphere project earlier this year...
Runners up: Ady Cousins/ Resistance MP3 for their services to the international proletariat. Check out audio coverage of recent Marxist day schools on the economic crisis.

2008 Histomat Most Idiotesque Blogger of the Year:
'Harry's Place' for among over things launching a nasty McCarthyite witch-hunt against cultural critic Owen Hatherley.
Runner up: As controversial as this sounds, I have to say that for all the massive attention that the blog initially rightly attracted when set up, George Orwell has been slightly disappointing as a blogger so far. Okay, the guy is new to the blogosphere, and needs time to find his feet, but his blog has rarely been worth dropping the dead donkey over (despite his interesting location in Spanish Morocco amidst the dying embers of the Spanish Civil War). We have however learnt a lot about Orwell's taste in food (he is partial to an egg or two a day), and we have had insight into his love of nature and fascination with the animal kingdom - which no doubt helped shape his great novel Animal Farm. I still have high hopes that Orwell will develop as a blogger over time, even though he is not quite currently living up to my initial billing (as a 'very much needed new presence in the blogosphere given the kind of idiocy which currently dominates it, not least from those who claim to stand in his legacy yet cheer on imperialist war' - like 'Harry's Place' - above)

2008 Histomat Most Incredible Quote of the Year:
George Bush admitting his biggest regret of his time in power was a 'failure of intelligence'. Yeah, like that was ever on the cards once he became President...
Runner up: David Blunkett on Clem Attlee: 'In freeing hundreds of millions of people from imperialism after the war (not least in India), he laid the foundations of a commonwealth of equals.'

2008 Histomat Most Idiotesque Quote of the Year:
'It was absolutely brilliant...an Obama moment a la Britain.'
Ian Gibson, Labour MP on, er, Gordon Brown's speech to this years Labour Party conference.
Runner up: George Galloway's idea that the world economic crisis means that the left has to stop talking about 'dead Russians'. Presuming Galloway is talking here about the likes of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin rather than say Leo Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, the argument is still idiotic. As someone once put it, 'those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it' and while of course the Left should always be doing far more than simply arguing the toss about the Russian Revolution and how it was lost ad infinitum, the destructive historical legacy of Stalinism cannot just be wished away by socialists - and those who stand in the real revolutionary democratic vision of 'socialism from below' still have much to critically learn from the likes of Lenin and Trotsky.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Solidarity with the Greek Protests

Place: OUTSIDE THE GREEK EMBASSY, 1A Holland Park, London W11 3TP (Nearest tube is Holland Park)

Statement from the Greek comrades:

Down with the government of murderers!
Our answer will be to resist and to keep fighting to overthrow the policy of police oppression, austerity and racism

We, the organizations of the anticapitalist Left that sign this text, want to condemn the murder, in cold blood, of 16 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos by a police special guard in the evening of December 6th. We salute the demonstrations against the government of murderers all over Greece.

In our opinion the reason for what happened is not the “extreme zeal”, or the “loss of temper” or the “lack of training” of a police special guard but the whole policy of the New Democracy government. It is a policy that not only reinforces police oppression and legitimizes the use of lethal weapons against demonstrators, but also privatizes the Ports and Olympic Airlines, attacks social security and the rights of students. It is the policy of police beatings of students, of the kidnappings of immigrants from Pakistan, of illegal interceptions of phone communications and of racist attacks that lead to the death of refugees that came here looking for asylum and a better future.

It is the policy of special “antiterrorist” legislation, of full compliance to the measures adopted by the EU against democratic liberties and against immigrants. It is the policy of the new legal framework for the Universities, of legalizing Private Universities. It is the policy of lower wages and rising taxes.

Amidst an economic crisis the government is trying on the one hand to offer billions of euros to the Banks and on the other to find scapegoats either in radical youth or in immigrants.

After the brutal murder the government has chosen the path of police repression. That is why police anti-riot squads attacked those who were demonstrating. The Socialist Party, PASOK, has offered his consent to this policy. The message is simple: the government will enforce its policy at any cost, a policy that will make the workers pay for the economic crisis, by means of austerity, flexible work, privatizations, implementation of the EU policies.

The anger of the demonstrators is fuelled by the policies of the government, of the forces of capital, of the EU. That is why the protest must grow stronger. We must meet in the streets with the struggling workers, farmers and students. We will not pay for their crisis.

Today anger is not enough. What is needed is collective and militant struggle in every workplace, every neighborhood, in order to transform them into places of resistance and overthrow the government and its policy.

Down with the New Democracy government of murderers and its policy
Capital must pay for its crisis, not the workers and youth.
Let’s escalate the struggle for our rights
The ministers that are responsible must resign
The police must be disarmed, police forces must keep away from demonstrations, and Police Special Forces must be disbanded.
Release all people arrested during the demonstrations.
Repeal ‘antiterrorist’ and authoritarian laws

The organizations of the Greek anticapitalist Left.
ARAN (Left Recomposition), ARAS(Left Anticapitalist Group), EKKE( Revolutionary Communist Movement of Greece), EK (Workers Revolutionary Party), OKDE, OKDE-Spartacus (4thInternational), SEK (Socialist Workers Party ), NAR-N.K.A. (New Left Current-Youth Communist Liberation), K.O. Anasyntaxi(Communist Organization Regroupment), K.A.(Communist Renewal), EN.ANTI.A (United Anticapitalist Left), ME.R.A. (Front of Radical Left)


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Waltz With Bashir

Last night I went to see Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir and as a film in general (and about the horror of war and the dynamic nature of memory as told through the bloodshed and war crimes of Israel's bloody 1982 war in Lebanon in particular) it is impossible to really recommend it highly enough. There is a short review here, and a slightly longer review by Sasha Simic in Socialist Review - both of which rightly end with a simple call which I am more than happy to just echo: Go and see this film.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Happy birthday John Milton

Milton did more than hymn the praises of revolt, as Blake and Shelley did. He was also a political activist and propagandist, an architect of the modern liberal state. As a militant ideologue in the defence of liberty, he assisted in the revolutionary upheaval that brought modern Britain to birth - a revolution all the more successful for us having quite forgotten that it ever happened.
Terry Eagleton on Milton

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Reasons to be cheerful # 94

One of the few positive things about the global capitalist crisis is that it has led to the resuscitation of some superb Marxist blogs which had gone somewhat quiet of late but have now returned with a vengeance. Take for example, Monuments are for Pigeons, by the Canadian socialist 'Victor Serge'. As well as posts on the capitalist crisis, there are ruminations on why localism is no challenge to global capital, discussion of the politics of Barack Obama, reflections on what its like to go on strike as a low-paid part-time lecturer when its cold, and even a review of 'Rock the Dock' a (worthy but slightly uneven in quality if I remember rightly) album produced at the height of Britpop in solidarity with the Liverpool Dockers who went on strike in 1997 and were ultimately sold out by the trade union bureaucracy in league with New Labour. Oh, and there are some other reasons to be cheerful in the midst of the crisis - it is not just part-time lecturers in Canada who are striking back - the Greek working class is starting to fight back big time...

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Tariq Ali on the assault on Mumbai

Why should it be such a surprise if the perpetrators are themselves Indian Muslims? Its hardly a secret that there has been much anger within the poorest sections of the Muslim community against the systematic discrimination and acts of violence carried out against them of which the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in shining Gujarat was only the most blatant and the most investigated episode, supported by the Chief Minister of the State and the local state apparatuses.

Add to this the continuing sore of Kashmir which has for decades been treated as a colony by Indian troops with random arrests, torture and rape of Kashmiris an everyday occurrence. Conditions have been much worse than in Tibet, but have aroused little sympathy in the West where the defense of human rights is heavily instrumentalised.

Indian intelligence outfits are well aware of all this and they should not encourage the fantasies of their political leaders. Its best to come out and accept that there are severe problems inside the country. A billion Indians: 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims. A very large minority that cannot be ethnically cleansed without provoking a wider conflict.

None of this justifies terrorism, but it should, at the very least, force India’s rulers to direct their gaze on their own country and the conditions that prevail. Economic disparities are profound. The absurd notion that the trickle-down effects of global capitalism would solve most problems can now be seen for what it always was: a fig leaf to conceal new modes of exploitation.

Full article here. See also here and here.
Edited to add: Good article by Priyamvada Gopal
Edited to add: Arundhati Roy on Mumbai

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