Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

London Public Rally on Gaza

-All welcome - Public meeting hosted by the Socialist Workers Party

Author, Imperialism and Global Political Economy

Socialist Worker journalist, recently returned from Beirut

Co-author, The Nakba

Student in occupation

Thursday 29 January, 7pm
Small Hall, Friends Meeting House,
opposite Euston Station, London NW1 2BJ

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Winnie the Pooh goes to Stalinist Russia

Vinni Puh Part/Chast 1 - if you are confused then ask Michael Rosen

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Standing Tall in History

When Blair recieved his Presidential Medal of Freedom, George W Bush described him as 'a powerful force for freedom' who will 'stand tall in history'. 'Out of office, but still in public life, Tony Blair remains a man of high intelligence and insight and above all a man of faith, idealism and integrity.'

Well, it's one opinion, though personally, where Blair is concerned, I am rather more sympathetic to the opinion that the great American novelist Mark Twain had of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes:

'He has done everything he could think of to pull himself down to the ground; he has done more than enough to pull sixteen common-run great men down; yet there he stands, to this day, upon his dizzy summit under the dome of the sky, an apparent permanency, the marvel of the time, the mystery of the age, an Archangel with wings to half the world, Satan with a tail to the other half. I admire him, I frankly confess it; and when his time comes I shall buy a piece of the rope for a keepsake.'

If Bush thinks Blair will 'stand tall in history', one can only wish, like Twain wished of Rhodes, that he would instead one day 'hang high' for his historic crimes against humanity. Anyway, I only mention Blair as one wonders what that founding father of the American nation, Thomas Jefferson, would have made of giving a lying war-criminal turned banker with JP Morgan a 'Presidential Medal of Freedom'.

There is a popular quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, along the following lines:

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.

However, I have not managed to find, via a quick google search anyway, hard evidence for that particular quote. However, we do know that Jefferson thought of banking 'that, for the emolument of a small proportion of our society who prefer these demoralizing pursuits to labors useful to the whole, the peace of the whole is endangered and all our present difficulties produced, are evils more easily to be deplored than remedied.' (Thomas Jefferson to Abbe Salimankis, 1810)

To John Taylor in 1816, Jefferson was more forthright (and distinctly prophetic):

'I sincerely believe... that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale...The system of banking [I] have... ever reprobated. I contemplate it as a blot left in all our Constitutions, which, if not covered, will end in their destruction, which is already hit by the gamblers in corruption, and is sweeping away in its progress the fortunes and morals of our citizens.'

Still, while Blair's 'faith, idealism, and integrity' is no doubt appreciated by his fellow bankers, I suppose Blair does deserve some sort of wider recognition for his 'work' towards Middle East Peace. Starting one disastrous war in the region, then restricting Israel to just the two bloody criminal wars while 'peace envoy' to the Middle East takes a rare kind of 'high intelligence and insight' that the rest of us can only marvel at.

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The political economy of law and order

Robert Reiner, a Professor in Criminology at the LSE, is well worth reading on the politics of law and order. This is his response to the news shocker that the current recession suggests that we may, surprise, surprise, see an increase in crime in Britain:

The most disturbing aspect of the political and media discussion of the crime figures is the continuing failure to see the picture for the pixels. The economic collapse of the last 18 months has in most policy areas stimulated discussion of how the overall neo-liberal trajectory of political economy and culture over the last 30 years has had pernicious effects way beyond the financial. But criminal justice policy remains ghettoised within its own narrow law and order discourse. Government and opposition focus only on crime prevention, policing and punishment as the relevant policy responses. But a host of evidence shows that the economic, political, social, and cultural transformation engendered by neo-liberalism over the last three decades has stoked increasing propensity to criminality (assembled in my book on Law and Order, and Steve Hall, Simon Winlow and Craig Ancrum's Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture, for example).

Improved crime control tactics barely kept the lid down on crime levels during the now-departed economic boom. The crash we are facing is likely to unleash increasing crime of all kinds, property and personal. The latest crime statistics offer only some rather tentative harbingers of this gathering storm.

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Dave Renton on the pro-war 'Left'

From a review of The Liberal Defence of Murder

Something appears to have overtaken those previously liberal British journalists who in recent years have supported so determinedly the Republican Falange around George Bush. You can think of writers such as Christopher Hitchens, who opened the David Horowitz Freedom Centre in 2006 by telling his listeners that it was a pleasure as well as a duty to kill Muslims; or Nick Cohen, who was invited to meet Paul Wolfowitz and declared him a politician committed to extending human freedom; or Martin Amis, who told The Times in 2006 that perhaps the Muslim community should be subject to deportation, and compelled to undergo strip searches in the street.

The interest in this generation lies not in the fact that its members have gone over to the side of causes that once they fought. (The history of ideas is just as full of apostates as it is of converts, of course.) The more interesting point is that they continue to insist that their exile is in full fidelity with their past principles. Hitchens it seems is incapable of making a public speech without running through a roll-call of his heroes – Orwell, Victor Serge, C L R James – writers, it must be said, who had the chance in their own lives and disdained the journey he has taken.

Richard Seymour has now written a polemic, tracing the emergence of this group of writers and criticising them for supporting military interventions. The enduring folly of the pro-war left, Seymour suggests, lies in a combination of experience and innocence. The experience was the civil war in Yugoslavia. Seeing the great crime of the destruction of Sarajevo, the writers concluded that this was a moment, like the 1930s, to take sides. I remember friends arguing with me at the time: the defence of Sarajevo requires the formation of a new International Brigade. In the absence of volunteers, military action was required, and the glow of existential goodness was then conferred on all Bosnian allies, including the US, which became the main focus of the hopes of this set of progressives, and has remained so through the following decade. The innocence was a naive belief in the capacity of American military power to bring good things to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

A new 'European 1968'?

The wave of student occupations in Britain in solidarity with the Palestinian people after Israel's massacres in Gaza is unprecedented. Already, yesterday's excellent Student special of Socialist Worker is outdated, as last night further occupations took place, including at Cambridge, an occupation which forced the BBC to finally report that 'similar occupations were staged at other UK universities' as well.

Even though the BBC and British Govt are trying to ignore what is happening, coming after the events in Greece, French premier Sarkozy has already warned his fellow rulers of the dangers of a new 'European 1968'. What began at SOAS, has since spread to the LSE, Essex, Kings College London, Warwick, Birmingham, etc etc. Some of these occupations have already won, and as I write the current state of play is this:

Soas (day 2 victory), LSE (day 7 victory), Essex (day 2 victory), Birmingham(day 1 police eviction), Oxford (day 1 victory), King's (day 4), Sussex (day 4), Warwick (day 3), Newcastle (day 2), Manchester Met (day 2), Leeds (day 2), Kingston (day 1), Manchester (day 1), Salford (day 1), Bristol (day 1), Nottingham (day 1), Cambridge (day 1).

The size and scale of these British occupations are uneven, and we are certainly not anything like the levels of Greece or 1968 yet, but they help give the lie to the continuing myth about 'student apathy'. Solidarity with the occupations! Solidarity with Palestine!

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On socialism and the Jewish diaspora

Fascinating comment piece in this weeks Socialist Worker by Dan Mayer discussing two fairly famous grandfathers of his, one a Zionist and the other, Gustav Mayer, a socialist historian, who wrote a biography of Engels and on the English labour movement - the article illuminates the history of the Jewish diaspora in Europe before the Holocaust.

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A People's History of Wales

My week-long visit to Wales when I was about ten years old on a school trip (rock climbing, abseiling, getting rained on, kayaking, watching England crash out of the 1990 World Cup on a tiny hand held television with appalling reception, etc) doesn't for some reason feature in Siân Ruddick's brief introduction to the rich tradition of working class struggle in the country, but given I don't discuss Welsh history much on my blog, I thought I would overlook this fact and link to it none the less...

Raising the Red Flag for Worker's Rights
Unrest rolled out across the valleys
Smashing the myth of a united Wales

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The IS tradition in political economy

Those in London who like Marxist economics might be interested in attending an International Socialism journal seminar with Alex Callinicos, author of An Anti-capitalist Manifesto, The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx and The Resources of Critique on 'The International Socialist tradition in political economy'.

6.30pm, Friday 30 January. Room 629, Birkbeck university, Malet Street, London WC1

'At this, the first in a series of seminars organised by International Socialism journal, Alex will set out the analysis of capitalism first developed by Tony Cliff, Mike Kidron and others associated with the journal. He will consider its strengths and weaknesses in relation to later analyses that emerged from the 1970s onwards, such as those developed by Ben Fine, David Harvey and Robert Brenner.'

For more information phone 020 7819 1177 or email isj@swp.org.uk

Interview with István Mészáros

Since this blog has a quote from the great Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács as a header, I thought I really should link to an interview with one of Lukács's students, István Mészáros, who won the 1971 Deutscher Prize for his book Marx's Theory of Alienation, in this month's Socialist Review. Mészáros's most recent book, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time, was reviewed by Paul Blackledge in a past issue of SR. When asked in this recent interview, 'What do you think the possibilities for change are at the moment?', this was Mészáros's reply:

Socialists are the last to minimise the difficulties of the solution. Capital apologists, whether they are neo-Keynesian or whatever else, can produce all kinds of simplistic solutions. I don't think that we can consider the present crisis simply in the way we have in the past. The present crisis is profound. The deputy governor of the Bank of England has admitted that this is the greatest economic crisis in human history. I would only add that it is not the greatest economic crisis in human history but the greatest crisis in all senses. Economic crises cannot be separated from the rest of the system.

The fraudulence and domination of capital and the exploitation of the working class cannot go on forever. The producers cannot be kept constantly and forever under control. Marx argued that capitalists are simply the personifications of capital. They are not free agents; they are executing the imperatives of this system. So the problem for humanity is not simply to sweep away one bunch of capitalists. To simply put one type of personification of capital in the place of another would lead to the same disaster and sooner or later we'd end up with the restoration of capitalism.

The problems society faces have not simply arisen in the past few years. Sooner or later these have to be resolved and not, as the Nobel Prize winning economists might fantasise, within the framework of the system. The only possible solution is to found social reproduction on the basis of the producers being in control. That has always been the idea of socialism.

We have reached the historical limits of capital's ability to control society. I don't mean just banks and building societies, even though they cannot control those, but the rest. When things go wrong nobody's responsible. From time to time politicians say, "I accept full responsibility," and what happens? They are glorified. The only feasible alternative is the working class which is the producer of everything which is necessary in our life. Why should they not be in control of what they produce? I always stress in every book that saying no is relatively easy, but we have to find the positive dimension.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hold the war criminals to account

There will be more demonstrations this Saturday in London and nationwide.

Watching the coverage of Obama's speech yesterday I was struck by a few things. Firstly, while the two million or whatever who lined the streets of Washington were testament to the historic nature of the occassion, I was reminded of the words of Tariq Ali last November:

'From day one of the Obama victory, which will unleash a wave of high expectations on the domestic and global fronts, activist pressure is crucial to achieve anything. I think antiwar activists should turn up in large numbers to the inauguration with banners reading, "Congrats Barack, now out of Kabul and Iraq!"'

Yet I couldn't see any banners remotely of this nature - only a sea of American flags. I have never been to the US, let alone to a presidential inauguration ceremony, but were there such people with such banners? Or do secret service types just confiscate them? Or did the American Left just not bother to turn up for the coronation of the new Emperor? Or maybe just the bourgeois media chose not to cover that section of the crowd?

But the most poignant thing about watching the coverage of the inauguration for me was when the BBC cut to the scenes of devastation in Gaza to talk to surviving Palestinians among the devastated ruins of what were once homes, schools and hospitals. They - alone among all the people the BBC chose to interview had no illusions whatsoever in Obama - as one of them put it, only 'God and resistance' offered hope to them and to their people. It is up to those of us in the West particularly to globalise the resistance of the Palestinian people in order to hold all those responsible for war crimes in Gaza to account. Just as you cannot create a desert and call it peace neither can you just declare a 'ceasefire' and hope that the flames you have ignited through firebombing will suddenly go out. Only with an end to the occupation and real justice for the Palestinians can one begin to hope for peace.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A quick reminder of the dream of Martin Luther King...

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain."

- Martin Luther King, 1967.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An unheeded warning

The great historian Isaac Deutscher was initially in favour of Israel. But in his last interview, after the 1967 Six Day War, he gave them a very severe warning. He said, "You have become the Prussians of the Middle East. Be careful, because you may triumph yourselves to death."

Tariq Ali in this weeks Socialist Worker...


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Workers' Power

There was quite a long but readable enough piece in Saturday's Guardian by the Scottish novelist Andrew O'Hagen, bemoaning what he saw as the low level of class consciousness among the English working class. 'The English working class - including their new ethnic groups, out of Asia, Africa and eastern Europe - are less conscious of themselves as a political class than at any time since the mid-19th century. Even then, the English were too willing to lie down in the face of exploitation - they lacked the revolutionary urge - but today the tendency has become nearly sociopathic.'
It is a fashionable refrain, and certainly lack of confidence resulting from the memory of the defeats of Thatcherism coupled with a generally completely craven and cowardly trade union bureaucracy has led to a quite historically low level of strikes in Britain (as a whole, not just England) of late. But O'Hagen's is ultimately an impressionistic piece of work, that ignores the material reality of the experience of work for the vast majority of people in Britain. Indeed, rather than the English working class being 'dead', it now encompasses a larger proportion of the population than it has ever done in the past.

It seems therefore timely to refer readers over to a piece on John Molyneux's blog, 'The Working Class and Social Change', which I will take the liberty of republishing on this blog below:

According to Marx the working class or proletariat is ‘the only really revolutionary class’ [The Communist Manifesto] and ‘The emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working class itself’ [The Rules of the International Working Men’s Association] and between capitalism and socialism there will be a transition which ‘can only be the dictatorship of the proletariat’ [The Critique of the Gotha Programme].

This conception of the revolutionary role of the working class was described by Lenin as ‘historically the main thing in Marxism’ but it is the idea many people find hardest to accept. On the one hand there are intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse and T.W. Adorno of the Frankfurt School who identified with much of Marx’s critique of capitalism but concluded that the working class was hopelessly bought off and indoctrinated by the system. On the other hand there are ordinary people, workers themselves, who simply say, ‘It will never happen’.

This is not surprising. The notion that working class people are obviously not capable of liberating themselves and running society is an absolutely central pillar of bourgeois ideology – the capitalist view of the world that pervades the media, the education system and our whole society. It is an idea that is particularly appealing to middle class intellectuals and is reinforced by their conditions of life. It also reflects much of the life experience of working class people who, from early childhood on, are treated as subordinates and have their confidence sapped.

Nevertheless, Lenin was right; the self emancipation of the working class is the main thing, the key idea in Marxism. Without it all the economic and historical theory becomes at best a passive commentary on the world rather than a means of changing it, or, at worst, as in Stalinism and Maoism, an ideology masking the interests of a different class [typically the state capitalist bureaucracy}.So let us look at Marx’s reasons for identifying the working class as the principal agent of social change and examine whether they still apply today.

We should begin by noting that Marx’s view was NOT based on the existing consciousness of the working class. Marx was well aware that the dominant ideas in society are those of the ruling class and that most of the time most of us are subordinate to them. For the mass of workers it would not be socialist consciousness that produced revolutionary struggle, but revolutionary struggle that produced socialist consciousness. Nor was it based on workers’ suffering and oppression. Of course, workers do suffer grievously under capitalism and Marxists fight against this, but not more so than the peasants, serfs and slaves whose poverty and oppression stretch back to the dawn of civilisation and who history shows were not able to abolish class divisions or create socialism. Rather it was based on their potential power deriving from their economic position in capitalist society that made the working class the revolutionary class.

As Marx showed, workers in capitalism are not just badly paid but exploited. Wealth, Marx called it surplus value, is extracted from their labour. This surplus value is the source of all the profits of the capitalist class and of the bulk of wealth in capitalism as a whole. The bourgeoisie therefore needs the working class (not as individuals, of course, but as a class). The working class is the special product of capitalism and at the same time it is the producer of capitalism.

Exploitation also puts the working class into an antagonistic relationship to capitalism; it creates an ongoing conflict of interest between labour and capital over wages, hours, conditions, and ultimately every other issue in society and this conflict turns into industrial and political struggle which is ‘now hidden, now open’ as Marx put it. Most of the time victory in these struggles goes to the bourgeoisie, who have at their disposal both far more wealth and state power (the law, police, judiciary, army etc) but no matter how many times they defeat the working class they cannot escape their dependency on its labour. As capitalism grows so the working class grows too, until it becomes the large majority of society.

In addition to increasing its numbers capitalism also concentrates the working class in large workplaces and great cities. This gives the modern working class far greater potential political power than the scattered peasantry or the old artisans employed in small workshops.

This is not only a negative power AGAINST capitalism but also a positive force FOR socialism. The working class is, by virtue of its economic and social position, a collectivist class. It can only resist the employers and improve its conditions of labour by collective action and it can only take possession of modern industry collectively i.e. by turning it into social property. When peasants seized the land from the feudal lords they could divide it up into small farms; this cannot be done with modern industry. Moreover, political power in all modern societies is based in big cities where the key means of production are also located. The urban industrial character of the proletariat enables it to exercise political power [the dictatorship of the proletariat] while also remaining the principal producing class. In this way it fundamentally undermines the division between rulers and ruled, thus opening the way to a fully classless socialist society.

Such, in essence, was the case made by Marx more than 150 years ago. Since then there have been many actual instances of the working class playing a revolutionary role, such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the German Revolution of 1919-24, the Spanish Revolution of 1936, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Portuguese Revolution of 1974. However it is clear that there is now no shortage of commentators, pundits and academics eager to pronounce Marx out of date.

As an aside I have to note that when I first became a Marxist 40 years ago the academics and pundits all said Marx was out of date then. But what I’ve never been able to find is a moment when most of these thought he was in date. Nevertheless we should look at the arguments.

They say that the working class has lost its revolutionary character because it is no longer poverty stricken as it was in Marx’s day. It is true of course that living standards have risen substantially for many, though by no means all, of the international working class, including in Europe and South Korea, but what is key is not the absolute level of pay but the conflict of interests involved in securing that pay. Relatively well paid workers can be forced into collective struggle in order to defend their high wages and that struggle can lead to revolutionary action and consciousness.

They also say that with the demise of the old industries such as mining, steel and the docks, the working class in the advanced capitalist countries is fast disappearing and certainly no longer the majority. But this argument is based on a false and superficial view of the working class as defined by certain traditional forms of work In reality what counts is not the nature of the work, manual or white collar, but the relations of production. Employees of call centres, supermarkets, hospitals and schools are just as much forced to live by the sale of their labour power as miners and car workers, are also exploited and also possess great collective power. For example call centre workers and supermarket workers who went on strike could have a devastating affect on their bosses’ profits.

Finally the notion that the working class is disappearing is the reverse of what is happening in the world as a whole. In reality the second half of the 20th century saw a huge spread of the working class in the great cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America such as Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Cairo, Johannesburg, Mexico City and Sao Paulo now even further augmented by the dramatic economic growth of China (and to a lesser extent, India). The global working class is today infinitely larger, more internationally integrated and potentially more powerful than it was in either Marx or Lenin’s day. Now more than ever it is the force than can change the world.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Off with their heads

At a time when that Prince 'All is good in the Empire' Harry continues to try to inspire more young people in Britain facing economic uncertainty, shit jobs and low wages to go and fight and die for the profits of gigantic multinational oil companies and arms manufacturers in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is worth remembering the radical popular traditions of revolutionary democracy that have existed in the past - and continue to express themselves on anti-war demonstrations and the like up to the present day. The following conference organised by the London Socialist Historians Group should therefore be very timely indeed, and should be attended by all those who feel it is not those racists like Prince Harry deem 'ragheads' that are in particular need of a 'civilising mission' but rather the likes of Prince Harry and the British ruling class...

1649 and the Execution of King Charles

30 January 1649 is the day when King Charles 1st was beheaded and the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, the foundation of modern Parliamentary democracy, came into effective being. It was a revolutionary moment and it brought onto the historical stage people, ideas and movements that went well beyond anything that Cromwell and the senior leadership of the New Model Army had in mind. Brian Manning in his seminal book on 1649 notes that this was a year when popular mobilisations did not happen. There was no popular uprising to mark the Commonwealth, and no popular protest at the execution of the King. There was however an Army revolt at Burford, also celebrating its anniversary this year, which was brutally put down by Cromwell. 1649 was also the year when Cromwell landed in Dublin to initiate brutal episodes in Ireland. This conference will look at the liberties and democratic practices
ushered in by 1649 and at those who wanted to take them further.

1649 and the execution of King Charles

Saturday 7 February 2009
Venue: Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London.


9.30 – Registration (Wolfson Room)

10.00-11.15 Welcome and Keynote addresses (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Keith Flett, LSHG
Geoffrey Robertson, author of The Tyrannicide Brief
John Rees, author of A Rebel's Guide to Milton, forthcoming

11.15-11.30 Coffee

11.30-12.30 PANEL ONE: Cromwell's coalition and its critics (Wolfson Room)
Chair: David Renton, LSHG
Martyn Everett, 'The Agitators – between Rebellion and Reaction'
Dr. Ariel Hessayon, Goldsmiths College, 'Early modern Communism: the
Diggers and community of goods'

11.30-12.30 PANEL TWO: 1649 in contemporary eyes (Pollard Room)
Chair: Tobas Abse, LSHG
Claudia Guli, University of Melbourne, 'Historical Precedent in
Contemporary Justifications of the Trial of Charles I'
Ángel Alloza, CSIC (Spain), '"An Outrageous Incident": the execution
of Kings Charles seen from Abroad'

12.30-1.30 Lunch

1.30-2.30 PANEL THREE: The regicide, terror and Restoration (Pollard Room)
Chair: David Renton, LSHG
Jerome de Groot, University of Manchester, '"Original Villany":
Foundational Terrorism'
Alan Marshall, Bath Spa University, 'The Trials of Thomas Harrison, regicide'

1.30-2.30 PANEL FOUR: The Republic and something more (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Paul Burnham, LSHG
Alejandro Doering De Rio, Queen's College Cambridge, 'James Harrington
as a theorist of political of equality'
Dr John Seed, Roehampton University, 'The politics of remembering: the
execution of Charles in C18 England'

2.30-2.45 Coffee

2.45-4.00 Closing Plenary (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Keith Flett
Norah Carlin, author of The Causes of the English Civil War
Geoff Kennedy, author of Diggers, Levellers and Agrarian Capitalism

£10 waged, £5 unwaged. Order from Keith Flett keith1917@btinternet.com

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Solidarity with Palestine

From Auckland to London (see pics above) to Barcelona, Paris and the US, to say nothing of Norway, Greece, Malaysia, Sweden, Bosnia, Lebanon, Thailand, South Korea and India, people marched yesterday, often on Israeli embassy's, in outrage at Israel's barbarism and to say 'in our thousands and in our millions we are all Palestinians'. As usual Lenin's Tomb's coverage is superb, including as it does the text of a new poem by Michael Rosen, while I also liked Tariq Ali's quote when asked about the potential of violence on the London demonstration (violence that did actually take place when the police went on a riot): 'You always have on any demonstration a group of people who get very angry and sometimes that comes out in violence, but for me the most appalling violence is happening in Gaza. A few punch-ups outside the Israeli embassy is neither here nor there.'


Friday, January 09, 2009

International Socialism # 121

Like the forthcoming issue of Socialist Review, the new issue of International Socialism went to press before Israel decided to try and wipe Gaza off the map, but it has had time to respond properly now to what it calls the 'trillion dollar crash' of last year, with a lead article by Chris Harman on The Slump of the 1930s and the crisis today. There are also a host of other articles ranging from Megan Trudell on Obama's election (and also one on what Leon Trotsky might have made of it) to Bill Dunn on myths of globalisation, plus others article ranging from classical music to the early Marxism of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. Last but very far from least Neil Davidson responds to Chris Nineham on the small matter of Walter Benjamin.

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John Pilger on the destruction of Gaza

'In Gaza, the enforced starvation and denial of humanitarian aid, the piracy of life-giving resources such as fuel and water, the denial of medicines, the systematic destruction of infrastructure and killing and maiming of the civilian population, 50 per cent of whom are children, fall within the international standard of the Genocide Convention. "Is it an irresponsible overstatement," asked Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and international law authority at Princeton University, "to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not." In describing a “holocaust-in-the making”, Falk was alluding to the Nazis’ establishment of Jewish ghettos in Poland. For one month in 1943, the captive Polish Jews, led by Mordechaj Anielewicz, fought off the German army and the SS, but their resistance was finally crushed and the Nazis exacted their final revenge.'

Full article here. For analysis of what causes lie behind this unfolding tragedy see here

Edited to add: Robert Fisk in the Independent.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

The End of the Warsaw Ghetto [1943]

'The battle of the Warsaw Ghetto lasted for forty-two days and nights, beginning on the first Seder night, April 19, 1943...on that first night all of the forty thousand Jews still left in the ghetto after the wholesale deportations and massacres, went out to fight with weapons in their hands...
The next morning the Germans opened the great battle. The ghetto was surrounded on all sides by tanks and cannon which subjected it to enormous fire. The Germans were determined to bombard the ghetto until it surrendered. In this, however, they failed. The German tanks and cannon were showered with bullets and bombs from the houses and streets of the ghetto. The special suicide squad of the Jews broke through the lines and wrought ruin among the enemy. Disguised in German uniforms they crawled under the German tanks and blew them up with hand grenades, losing their own lives in the fire which killed the Germans. Such was the havoc wrought by this method that the Germans were careful not to place groups of cannon behind tanks. Thus passed the day of the desparate battle. The Germans realised that they would not be able to vanquish the ghetto without heavy sacrifice. Hundreds of German soldiers lost their lives and splinters of German tanks and guns were mingled with the debris of ruined houses at the gates of the ghetto.
The German command then issued an order to have the whole ghetto blown up by incendiary bombs. A night of inferno then descended on the ghetto. All night incendiary bombs rained on it and fires broke out in many places. Houses came crashing down and among their ruins were heard the cries of wounded men, women and children. Many brave fighters perished among those ruins.
In the morning the ghetto stood in a sea of flames. The survivors, numbering some 30,000, began reorganising for defence. The houses on the outskirts were vacated and the arms taken to the centre of the ghetto. Also the food which could still be saved was taken away. Special squads of the fighters fortified themselves again in the remaining buildings. When the enemy again attacked in the morning, he was confronted by stiff and desparate resistance at every step, near every building. The battle lasted all day long, and the Germans had to fight for hours before capturing a single house, even if it but was a ruin. In the evening the Germans managed to penetrate deeper into the ghetto and to capture a few of the taller buildings.
After the Night of Inferno and the ensuing battles on the following morning the leaders of the ghetto saw that the end was near unless no new methods of warfare could be devised. They tried to reach an understanding with the Polish Underground and suggested that the non-Jewish population of the city rise against the Germans thus forcing the Germans to fight on both sides. But the Poles replied that the time had not yet come for a general uprising on their part. Under these circumstances the fighters of the ghetto abandoned their defence tactics for acts of terror and revenge. Groups of fighters went out of the ghetto, attacking and killing German soldiers. The Jewish heroes fought the Germans until they themselves were killed. Other fled to the woods and joined the Polish guerrillas. Many perished on the road, fighting German soldiers. Many others surrendered to the Germans, having hand grenades hidden in their clothes with which they later killed their guards, losing their own lives in the explosions.
After a few more days of fighting the Germans realised that they would have to contest every house in the ghetto. Every building now became an even more fortified stronghold. Whenever Germans appeared in front of a house they were fired on from the windows, from the garrets, from the roof, until they managed to blow up the house, and its heroic defenders perished in the ruins. In the last house were gathered all those who had survived and were still carrying on the fight. During the last few days the situation was horrible. There was hardly any food left and water could not be brought in because it was impossible to go out on the street. The Nazis committed terrible atrocities, bringing captured Jews and hanging them on the posts of the ghetto and otherwise exceeding their own record for brutality in all the years of their occupation.
On the forty second day of the uprising there was only one four-storey building left in the centre of the ghetto over which the blue-and-white flag waved. For eight hours a battle raged over that house and by midnight the Germans captured it. Every floor, every step was hotly contested. When all defenders at the gates fell, the Germans entered the building, encountering the fierce resistance of those on the ground floor. When the first floor was taken, the second floor was contested just as desparately, and so on from floor to floor. The blue-and-white banner held by a young halutz was carried by the survivors from floor to floor. Late at night it fluttered from the top story where a desparate struggle was still going on.
When the shooting was over a crash was heard. The young halutz hurled himself down wrapped in the blue-and-white flag which he had guarded for forty two days and nights. The flag was red with the blood of the martyr, the last fighter of the ghetto, who ended his life in this heroic manner.
The next morning the Germans "triumphantly" announced that the ghetto of Warsaw no longer existed. Thousands of German soldiers paid for that "victory" with their lives. The heroes of the ghetto fought and died like saintly martyrs.'

[From The Extermination of 500,000 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: The American Council of Warsaw Jews and American Friends of Polish Jews, 1944).

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Gaza Killing Fields

More from Stop the War:

(Nearest tube Marble Arch)
Rally & speakers in Hyde park
High St Kensington,
London W8

Anyone with a shred of humanity who watches the video we feature below will do all they can to join the national demonstration in London this Saturday 10 January, and will encourage everyone they know to be there too. In the video a Norwegian doctor working in a Gaza hospital he calls "Dante's Inferno, hell", describes how Palestinians - particularly the children, who are 50 percent of the population - are dying and suffering horrific injuries for the crime of being civilians living in Gaza. "They cannot flee as other populations can in war time because Israel has them trapped in a cage," he says. WATCH THE VIDEO HERE http://www.stopwar.org.uk/ OR HERE http://tinyurl.com/9d572c Over 600 Palestinians have been killed and over 3000 injured. The numbers are rising sharply following the ground invasion. If Britain with a population of 60 million was Gaza, the proportionate number of deaths would be 24,000, with over 120,000 injured. Israel has also systematically destroyed Gaza's infrastructure. Two thirds of the people have no electricity and 750,000 have no running water. Hospitals are running on emergency generators, which are expected to fail at any moment. There is a desperate shortage of essential medical supplies. Many people are on the brink of starvation because the United Nations, on which 80 percent of the population depends for emergency food, has run out of many supplies and because it is too unsafe to transport what is still available. As the Norwegian doctor in the Gaza hospital says, "This cannot go on. It is an all out war against the civilian population." Please do all you can to communicate the same message as widely as possible and help make Saturday's demonstration the largest ever mounted for Palestine in this country.

* Get publicity materials from the Stop the War office (postcards) or website (leaflet to download and copy). Distribute them among your friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, fellow students etc. Encourage them to join the demonstration and spread the word among their own contacts. Order postcards: Telephone 020 7278 6694 Download leaflet: http://tinyurl.com/6svbt7

* There are local Stop the War groups across the country who will be doing all they can this week to mobilise the widest possible support for the demonstration. If you would like to help, contact the Stop the War office to see if there is a group in your area.

* Donate to the Stop the War Emergency Gaza Fund: http://tinyurl.com/3dhzpn


COACHES FROM OUTSIDE LONDON Towns and cities across Britain are organising coaches to bring protestors to London. Details are on the Stop the War website: http://preview.tinyurl.com/8r8s8y If you are organising a coach for your area please email the details to the national Stop the War office: office@stopwar.org.uk