Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Marxism and Culture seminars in London

Out in paperback soon apparently...


Friday 01 May
Edward Carpenter and the Socialist and Anarchist Movements of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries
Sheila Rowbotham (University of Manchester)

Friday 15 May
The Cinema of John Sayles: From Billy Zane to Brecht and Bahktin, and back again
Mark Bould (University of the West of England)
This seminar is in L103 in the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square

Friday 29 May
Bourgeois Behaviours: Accumulation & Waste in 19th Century Newspaper Consumption
Tom Gretton (University College London)
This seminar will take place in NG15 in the North Block, Senate House

Friday 12 June
Jorg Immendorf’s Cafe Deutschland
Norbert Schneider (University of Karlsruhe)

All seminars start at 5.30pm, and are held in the Wolfson Room (unless otherwise indicated) at the Institute of Historical Research in Senate House, Malet St, London. The seminar closes at 7.30pm and retires to the bar.
Organisers: Matthew Beaumont, Warren Carter, Steve Edwards, Andrew Hemingway, Esther Leslie, & Frances Stracey.
For further information, contact Andrew Hemingway, at: a.hemingway@ucl.ac.uk or Esther Leslie at: e.leslie@bbk.ac.uk


Strike blogs

This is just a taste of the excellent blog by former miner Norman Strike chronicling his experiences of the Great Miners's Strike:

At lunchtime I was persuaded to attend a fringe meeting to be addressed by someone called Tony Cliff and to be about our strike. It was a small room but was packed, and to be honest, when I first saw and heard the guy I thought to myself,"who the bloody hell is this!" He was an old guy, short and stocky with wiry grey hair sticking out from either side of his head, and wearing glasses. He had a strong foreign accent which I found hard to understand at first. However, once I was tuned in I found myself agreeing with almost everything he said. He wasn’t like the other speakers I had heard because he openly criticised Scargill and the NUM leadership saying they were tactically naive! He drew comparisons between the ‘72 and ‘74 strikes and now, saying we couldn’t win this one just by closing down power stations, mainly because of the time of year but also because we would not get support from other trade unionists unless we began campaigning for support now amongst the rank and file. He warned that the other trade union leaders would do to us what they had done to the NGA at Warrington, and the people at GCHQ. They would stab us in the back and leave us to fight on our own. He said our only hope was to appeal to workers directly by going to their meetings and explain exactly what the strike was about. He got a tremendous round of applause and I for one thought what he had to say made sense, even if it did depress me a bit.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Remembering Engels, Forgetting Engels

Tristram Hunt has another piece plugging his forthcoming biography of Engels, The Frock-coated Communist, in History Today. It's not too bad actually, and suggests that Hunt's work will further illuminate the personality and help restore the humanity of Engels himself. He also defends Engels's relevance in the context of the barbarism of actually existing capitalism:

'Engels had a deep feel for the true human costs of capitalism; despite his own exploitation of the Ermen and Engels proletariat, he offered a moral critique of political economy that Marx found hard to rival. And today it is his voice that resonates most powerfully in those countries at the sharp end of global capitalism – most notably the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China. For here all the horrors of breakneck industrialisation – capitalism transforming social relations, destroying old customs and habits, turning villages into cities, and workshops into factories – display the same savagery which Engels recounted in 19th-century Europe. With China now claiming the mantle of ‘Workshop of the World’, the pollution, ill health, political resistance and social unrest prevalent, for example, in the Special Economic Zones of Guangdong Province and Shanghai appear eerily reminiscent of Engels’ accounts of Manchester and Glasgow. Compare and contrast, as the scholar Ching Kwan Lee has done, Engels’ description of employment conditions in an 1840s’ cotton mill –

"In the cotton and flax spinning mills there are many rooms in which the air is filled with fluff and dust … The operative of course had no choice in the matter … The usual consequences of inhaling factory dust are the spitting of blood, heavy, noisy breathing, pains in the chest, coughing and sleeplessness … Accidents occur to operatives who work in rooms crammed full of machinery … The most common injury is the loss of a joint of the finger … In Manchester one sees not only numerous cripples, but also plenty of workers who have lost the whole or part of an arm, leg or foot."

– with the testimony of a Chinese migrant worker in Shenzhen in 2000:

"There is no fixed work schedule. A 12-hour workday is minimum. With rush orders, we have to work continuously for 30 hours or more. Day and night … the longest shift we had worked non-stop lasted for 40 hours … It’s very exhausting because we have to stand all the time, to straighten the denim cloth by pulling. Our legs are always hurting. There is no place to sit on the shopfloor. The machines do not stop during our lunch breaks. Three workers in a group will just take turns eating, one at a time … The shopfloor is filled with thick dust. Our bodies become black working day and night indoors. When I get off from work and spit, it’s all black."

Friedrich Engels, a child of the Industrial Revolution, speaks now with remarkable authority and insight to our own global age of exploitation and immiseration. It is his impassioned criticisms of the market model in action which should echo down the decades. Engels is an essential part of our newly acknowledged truth.'

There is just one fatal flaw with Hunt's article summarising the life and work of Engels, and I suspect this flaw will also be found in his full biography. That is the simple truth - a truth unacknowledged by Hunt - that Engels did not just analyse and critique the capitalist system as though he was a professional sociologist - he was also a revolutionary activist who worked and laboured for its overthrow. As Tony Cliff noted, 'you cannot speak about Engels without remembering that Engels was a man of action:'

'You know what he was called in Marx’s family? He was called "The General". Why was he called that? The answer is that while Marx was writing many marvellous articles (during 1848), and so on, it was Engels who was there on the barricades. It was Engels who was fighting in the army. It was Engels, the man of action. And for the rest of his life he was a man of action.

Quite often, because he was a man of action, he lacked the clear picture that Marx gained through having been a little bit distant from events. I am not saying that theory develops just in direct relation to action. If you have a too direct relationship to the action, you do not have the distance. Marx had that distance; Engels sometimes missed it. For example, during the American Civil War, the fight between the North and the South, Engels thought that the South was going to win. Why did he think this? He put forward a whole number of reasons: the South was better organised (that is true); all the army colleges, like Sandhurst in Britain, were in the South; the best generals were in the South; the best officers were in the South; and there is no question that the South, to begin with, was doing better than the North. Yet Marx said, no question about it, the North is going to win. Why? Because wage labour is more productive than slave labour. Full stop! That is the first thing that you can notice. Therefore New York is more advanced than Texas, and therefore the North is going to win. Not only this. Look at the most oppressed section of society – the black slaves. Where did they run to and where were they running from? Did they head from the North to the South, or from the South to the North? From the South to the North. They preferred the North. So despite all Engels’ technical military expertise Marx was right about the war, while Engels was wrong.

...One good thing about Engels is that he was very active. This was when Marx was alive and, even more important, after Marx died. Between 1883 and 1895, the 12 years when he was on his own, you read again and again that revolutionaries and trade unionists from all over the world were contacting Engels to ask for advice. And Engels was absolutely generous in giving that advice. He was involved in the French socialist movement, in the German, in the Russian and, of course, in the British – in every mass movement.

He was not only an internationalist in word. He was an internationalist in practice, and you can see it from what he was reading. I have the list of what he read every day. He looked at seven daily papers, three in German, two in English, one Austrian, one Italian, and 19 weeklies in a variety of languages. Now Engels himself knew 29 languages. To read a language is much easier than to speak it. I do not say that Engels knew how to speak 29 languages, but he could read them, because he wanted to know what was happening. He wanted to know what the Russians were doing. There were only a few Russian socialists at the time, and you could not follow the movement unless you read Russian. So he studied Russian specially for that. Now that is an achievement.

His contribution and his devotion to the cause were absolutely astonishing. These can be summed up in Engels’ own words. This was his speech at Marx’s grave:

For Marx was above all else a revolutionary. His real mission in life was to contribute in one way or another to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being. Fighting was his element.

Now these words are exactly the words that fit Frederick Engels. Engels was a fighter. He was not an abstract scientist. His science was simply a weapon in the fight for socialism. The idea of unity of theory and practice is not, as it is sometimes presented, that someone writes a book – that is theory; and you read the book – that is practice. No. The unity of theory and practice is the unity of theory with the class struggle.'

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The return of anti-capitalism

Good article by New Internationalist editor Katherine Ainger in today's Guardian about the forthcoming G20 protests in London, which will see a real return of the anti-capitalist movement onto the streets. It concludes by noting that:

At the end of this year, almost exactly 10 years to the day since Seattle, this new incarnation of the movement will be on the streets during the Copenhagen climate summit demanding real climate justice that does not rely on the current "business as usual" proposals. Perhaps anticapitalism had the right idea at the wrong moment in history. Perhaps its moment has come.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

London seminar on the balance of class forces in Britain

Seminar: In the balance—the class struggle in Britain
With Charlie Kimber

Economic crisis can lead to outbursts of anger, but it can also lead to demoralisation. What is the balance of class forces in Britain today? And what impact can the left have on the course of the struggle?

Charlie Kimber will present a seminar based on a major forthcoming article in International Socialism journal.

6.30pm, Friday 27 March. King's College London, the Strand.
For more information phone 020 7819 1177 or email isj@swp.org.uk

Future seminar dates for your diary:
⦁24 April 2009www.isj.org.uk
⦁29 May 2009

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I spent about 5 hours over the weekend in a darkened cinema in the company of Che Guevara, or rather Benicio del Toro doing a damn good impression of Guevara, via the two-part film 'Che' directed by Steven Soderberg. It is definitely worth seeing them together - indeed part two would I think be quite disappointing if you just saw that by itself. Louis Proyect is as usual well worth reading on the film, and there was a slightly more sympathetic article in Socialist Worker a few months ago. Personally, I am glad I saw the films, not least for the landscape and scenary of jungles in Cuba and Bolivia - three not particularly deep thoughts struck me after seeing it.

1) The film does succeed in bringing alive a sense of the personality of Che, as an 'incorruptible' revolutionary with a high moral code (and asthma). As Soderberg notes after interviewing people who knew him, he got the sense that personally Che 'was not embraceable, really.'

'The word "warm" never came up. He was a caring person, especially when he was doctor mode, but there was also a distant quality to him. How much of that is his personality and how much of it is a function of him becoming Che and a leader, I don’t know, but you could tell that these people cared for him a great deal and there was a lot of emotion in the way that they talked about him, but you could tell he was difficult. He didn’t have an off switch. The guy never dropped the revolutionary code of behavior, at no point was that relaxed.'

2) The first part is about the making of the Cuban Revolution by Castro's small group of Guerillas - and then the second part is Guevara's tragically doomed and ill thought out attempt to spread that revolution using exactly the same tactics in Bolivia. It was a reminder that while Che thought that 'if one is a revolutionary, then make a revolution', in reality revolutions are not made in a subjective manner by a few professional revolutionaries - they are made in certain objective circumstances by the activity of the many in society, even though they are often not even fully conscious of the fact that they are making a revolution. Moreover, while it is one thing 'to make' one revolution, spreading it elsewhere is a much harder affair - not simply because the objective conditions are often different but also because the forces of counter-revolution are far more prepared and organised subsequently. There are faint echoes here - and I would not want to push the parallels too far - between the October Revolution led by Lenin's Bolsheviks and then Luxemburg's group's failure to make the German Revolution of 1918 into a success - and the brutal rise of fascism as a response to the threat of socialist revolution spreading in Europe.

3) Regarding the strategy of guerilla war, watching Part 2 brings to mind the current situation in Northern Ireland - the utter futility of attempting to take on and defeat a professional army in armed combat with a handful of fighters. Louis argues that

'About part two of "Che", the less said the better. Like Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ", it is pretty much two hours of fairly graphic suffering, all intended to resonate with the popular image of Che Guevara as martyr to the cause. I only sat through it because I felt obligated to review both parts of the movie. But all in all, part two did not have anything to say that wasn’t already said in the 1994 documentary "Ernesto Che Guevara, The Bolivian Diary" that is a nonstop nightmare of asthma attacks, betrayal, and futility.

I don't fully agree with this - we heard in the film about the militancy and repression of the miners of Bolivia throughout - and we even seemed to have another possible strategy based around the activity of the organised working class and less atomised peasants seemingly counterposed to that of Che's strategy by the Stalinist leader of the Bolivian Communist Party, who he tells Che in quite uncompromising terms how bankrupt his strategy for revolution is. I'll leave readers to decide whether emerging from the cinema with a slightly higher respect for Bolivian Stalinists is an entirely healthy thing or not...

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The People's Charter

As well as the Put People First and Stop the War demonstrations coming up in London to counter the awful stench of hypocrisy and self-righteousness that will be emanating from the G20 summit, a People's Charter, 'A Charter for Change' has also recently been launched, and Histomat encourages those among our thousands of loyal readers who are based in Britain to sign up...

Britain is in the grip of an economic crisis. So is the world. Every time there is a slump the politicians and financiers seem mystified as to how the system has failed. But boom and bust is the way it works. It's not stable.

When the economy grows, banks, corporations and speculators, driven only by greed, gamble other people's money in their global casino. When they lose 'confidence' in their profit making schemes and panic, the bubble bursts and we pay the price. Redundancies throw hundreds of thousands on to the dole. Savings are lost. Homes are repossessed. Pensions lose value. Workers are put on short time. Wages and conditions are cut. Public services are slashed.

Government is spending billion of pounds of our money bailing the banks and big business out of their crisis. It's not right and we didn't vote for it. Those £billions are our money. And our children's. We want that money better spent. We have launched a People's Charter. It sets out what must be done to get out of this crisis and put the people first, before the interests of bankers and speculators.

We need one million signatures to show we mean business. So sign and support the Charter - on line, at work, in your community. Together we can get the changes we need.

Can we do it? Yes we can!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Materialist geography


Monday, March 09, 2009

Viva Palestina convey arrives in Gaza

Just received the following email about the humanitarian convey of aid which has been travelling from Britain to Gaza:

'After a difficult time in Egypt in which they were attacked (see Al Jazeera or Viva Palestina websites for info), they have made it! The convoy is IN GAZA NOW! George Galloway is being interviewed for the TV - a battery of microphones in front of him, but none of them carry the label 'BBC'...'

Congratulations to Viva Palestina!


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Paul Foot on Unemployment in Britain

From 'Why You Should Be a Socialist', 1977:

Employers and television commentators have a word for the chaos into which we are being plunged. They call it "crisis". "Britain is in a crisis", they say. "This is the worst crisis since the 1930s." They talk of the crisis as though it were a feature of the weather; as though it had blown up suddenly over a calm sea. Politicians, economists and businessmen often use the language of meteorology to describe the crisis. For instance, Michael Foot, then Minister for Employment, told the 1975 Labour Party conference:

"We are caught up in an economic typhoon".

In the House of Commons in October 1976, Mr James Callaghan, Prime Minister and a former petty officer said: "We shall weather the storm and bring the ship home to port".

These people tell us that the only answer is sacrifice. If we all make sacrifices, grin and bear it in the spirit of Dunkirk, then one day, perhaps, the typhoon will go away and the sun will come out once again.

Working people have been quick to respond to this call for sacrifice. They have agreed to wage limits for 1975, 1976 and 1977 which have cut their standard of living for the first time since 1950. Pensioners and the poor have made sacrifices. Public service workers have in many places agreed to the run-down of their services and the loss of jobs. There were less strikes in 1976 than any other year since 1953. But now, after the first year of sacrifice, the crisis doesn’t seem to be going away at all. It’s intensifying, And as it intensifies, people who shouted for sacrifice last year call for more sacrifice this year. In 1964, the Tory Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home called on British workers "to work one per cent harder". They did – and it didn’t make any difference. In 1968, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins called on British workers for "two years hard slog". They gave it, and found themselves with a Tory government demanding more sacrifices in terms of legally-imposed wage limits.

In the summer of 1975, Prime Minister Harold Wilson called on British workers to "give a year for Britain". They did, and now, with rising food prices, more unemployment and worse public services, they are asked to make sacrifices once again.

The first remarkable feature about these calls for sacrifice is that they scrupulously ignore the people who can most afford to make sacrifices...The truth is that we are not "all in it together". We live in a society which is divided into classes. It is split from top to bottom between those who have property and wealth on the one hand yet produce none; and those who have none, yet produce it all. The bare statistics of inequality in our society are almost incredible...But the argument doesn’t stop at inequality. It’s not just that there are a handful of very rich people who make money for nothing living alongside poor and hungry people.

The point is that the rich parasites control society. They decide what’s produced, when it’s produced, how it’s produced. They decide what services are run. They decide who works where and for what rewards. They decide how many houses are built. They decide all these things according to whether or not they make a profit: that is whether or not they expand the wealth, privilege and power of the minority who already have it...

Why do farmers sell their beef into cold storage rather than feed the hungry? Because the store pays higher prices, which the hungry can’t afford. Why do American farmers destroy food rather than ship it to Bangladesh? Because they have to keep the price up to make a profit, and the price can be kept up by creating scarcity. Better a profit from a small sale than a loss from masses of hungry people eating. As John Pilger demonstrated in a television programme in September 1976, they are spending more in America on the promotion of a new moist lavatory paper than is needed to provide every peasant in the whole of South American with the money he needs to produce the food for the hungry round about him. Why? Because selling moist lavatory paper in America renders more profit than expanding agricultural production in the underdeveloped world.

How was Centre Point, a 29-storey office block in London, built and left empty for more than ten years, while there are 100,000 homeless in the same city? Because building houses for the poor is not profitable; but office values rise so fast that you can always make a profit from selling an office block, even if it’s always been empty!

Why do drug companies spend more on promotion than they spend on research? Why do the government plan to rip up 2000 miles of rail track and build 1,000 miles of motorway? Why is there tax relief on company cars to the tune of £600 million a year? Why are half the hotel bedrooms in London empty? Why did the taxpayers pay for the Concorde when never more than 0.5 per cent of taxpayers will ever be able to fly in it?

Because of profit, profit, profit. Because the privileges and unearned income of a minority are more important than the lives of the majority...We must have more profits, continue the wealthy, because without profit there won’t be any investment and without investment there won’t be any jobs. And we, the wealthy, are the only people qualified to decide whether there should be any investment and what it should be...

The entire economy is bent and twisted to provide more profit for the class who have the wealth. All the exhortations and policies of government are directed towards this aim. As a result, profits are expected to be £12,000 million – four thousand million more than last year. But investment in industry and service will go up at most by £800 million. Where will the other £3000 million go? The Financial Times gives a clue when it says that much of the rest is going in "speculative investment overseas". Even more will simply be lent to the government at huge rates of interest. We can look forward to another round of property speculation or commodity speculation, or financial dealings. No doubt in two years, as we count the cost of another fruitless boom, there will be "inquiries" into companies which today are being recommended as "good investments".

The damage has been done however and will go on being done as long as freedom to use the resources of society is handed over to a handful of wealthy men with no social responsibility and over whom there is no social control.

The "men of initiative and dynamism" waste the surplus wealth which they seize as though it were "theirs". But their central crime is far worse than that.

They cause the economic crisis.

The employer, always wants to keep wages as low as possible. The lower the wages, the higher the profits. But low wages brings another set of problems to the employers. If wages are low, who is going to buy the goods which come out of the factory?

That’s the central problem for the capitalist. He can let wages rise as long as they don’t seriously interfere with his profits. But when wages do interfere with his profits, he prefers to close down his factory or sack large numbers of workers.

As a result, there’s even less wages around to buy goods from factories, so the slump careers on downwards. When wages have been forced down low enough, the capitalist starts investing again, and the wretched cycle starts again. But as investment and technology becomes more expensive, and each machine employs less men for more production, so each boom gets shallower and each slump deeper.

For a long time after the war, it looked as though the profit system had found a way out of its difficulties. For twenty-five years there was never as many as a million unemployed; and there was a gradual growth in production and the standard of living.

How did they do it? The answer is that "they" didn’t "do" anything. The enormous government spending on arms and military hardware ensured that millions of workers were being paid money for making goods which they didn’t have to buy.

The economist Keynes once argued that the only way to solve the central problem of the profit system was to pay large numbers of workers wages for digging holes in the ground and filling them in again. The trouble is that the people who control society will never agree to pay taxes for that. But they do agree to pay taxes for guns and tanks and bombs to fight off any other group or class which might want to come and take their wealth from them.

War spending, amounting to seven per cent of everything produced, was forced on the British ruling class after the war. It had never been anything like as high before in peacetime. And it helped to stabilise the economy and pay out money in wages for goods which workers were not buying.

But the same old devil re-emerged. Arms became more and more expensive. The state had to pay out increasingly huge sums to "maintain defences", but less and less of this money went in wages, more and more of it in missile technology. So the pumping out of large sums into munitions workers’ pockets slackened, and, as it slackened, the old boom/slump cycle re-emerged.

At the bottom of each slump, unemployment was always higher than before – 700,000 in 1967, a million in 1972; a million and a half in 1976 – and who knows how many next time – or how soon next time will be?

During the "good old days" of the 1950s and 1960s, the people with property were very confident. They allowed the growth of spending on social services. Similarly, they promoted "liberals" into their political party: the Tory party. They believed it when they said they wanted a "free and easy society". As long as it was easy to make profits, they liked things to be easy for everyone.

But when the profits became more difficult to make and when the society fell into crisis, the mask slipped. The liberals were packed off to the universities. Cuts were demanded in every form of public spending which did not produce instant profits. The unemployed were hounded as "scroungers".

From 'Can Labour bring jobs?', 1994:

Everyone agrees that unemployment is a bad thing and should be banned. All governments would like to ban it, but it has an irritating quality of not being susceptible to bans.

Indeed there is a pattern in the politics of this century which suggests that the more anxious politicians say they are about unemployment the more it flourishes when they are in office.

This is especially true of the Labour Party. The Labour Party, since it gets its votes from the working class, has an obvious interest in preferring work and wages to dole and poverty.

In the election of 1929 every other policy was subordinated to the single specific aim of reducing unemployment. Jimmy Thomas MP, the railway union leader, was adamant that all socialistic nonsense should be rejected in favour of the practical business of getting the one million unemployed back to work.


A Labour government was elected and Thomas became Lord Privy Seal with special responsibility for the unemployed. The unemployment figures tripled in two years and Thomas, perhaps logically, joined the Tories.

John Prescott cites the post-war majority Labour government as the model of how unemployment can be wiped out. It was wiped out during that government but so it was for the next 13 years or so – under a Tory government.

The first substantial rise in unemployment after the war happened under a Labour government – in 1967. Then in 1972 unemployment reached a million under the Tories.

Labour was furious. It patented a slogan: "Back to work with Labour." Under the Labour government which followed, unemployment soared to one and a half million.

The new Tory leader, Thatcher, became a champion of full employment. Then she got into office and we were back to four million unemployed.

The level of unemployment has never this century been set by the government. It has been set by the level of industrial activity, which in turn has been decided by the unelected people who own and control the means of production.

The "free market" has been left free to rise and fall as it suits its controllers. If government wants to insist on full employment, therefore, it must nationalise, control and interfere with the free market in a manner which John Prescott is not prepared even to contemplate.

Unless accompanied by a warning about the need to fight the priorities of capitalism all talk of a "commitment to full employment" is so much old fashioned moonshine.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

On the New Anti-capitalist Party in France

The new Socialist Review has an article by Jim Wolfrey's reporting on the founding conference of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France last month, and of the hopes generated by its formation:

The formation of the NPA is an exciting development for the left internationally. What was clear from its conference is that the party's orientation is not simply going to be focused on the electoral terrain. Nor is this another attempt to reconstitute a reformist current in the space vacated by the major social democratic parties. The project has grown out of the struggles of the past few years, struggles that have thrown up new forms within which activists have attempted to fight the neoliberal offensive.

The significant audience that the NPA has attracted to a radical political outlook gives it the potential to have an impact on these struggles. There are still many issues that will need to be debated in the new organisation. The LCR has seized the opportunity to translate bold declarations of intent into political reality and has a chance to make Marxism relevant and effective as a tool for a new generation. This will demand resourcefulness and creativity if the distinctiveness of Marxism and its heritage is to be asserted within the broader revolutionary culture.

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Remembering the Great Miners' Strike

When a Tory Lord dismisses an account of the Great Miners' Strike of 1984-5 by Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and a symbol of socialism and class struggle in Britain, as 'total rubbish', you can safely surmise that Scargill has just highlighted a very great truth that simply has to be denied because it is too unpalatable for the British ruling class and its lackeys in New Labour to handle.

That truth is that the Miners Strike which began 25 years ago very nearly won - and if it had won it would have brought down Thatcher at the very height of her power. As Scargill notes, 'Over the years, I have repeatedly said that we didn't "come close" to total victory in October 1984 - we had it, and at the very point of victory we were betrayed'. It is a truth that as Mike Simons and Owen Hatherley point out, is supported by the new information turned up in a new history of the strike, 'Marching to the Fault Line: the 1984 Miners’ Strike and the Death of Industrial Britain' by Francis Beckett and David Hencke, even if the authors of that book wrongly chose to blame Scargill himself for the defeat rather than the failure of the official Labour Movement in Britain to rally enough solidarity with the miners. As Scargill rightly and eloquently concludes about the real lessons of the dispute to be learnt,

'A full account of the strike of 1984/85 is still to be written. However, we have learned more and more about the then Labour party leader, Neil Kinnock's treachery, the betrayals by the TUC and the class collaboration of union leaders such as Eric Hammond (the electricians' EETPU) and John Lyons (Engineers and Managers Association), who instructed their members to cross picket lines and did all they could to defeat the miners.

We have also seen how many who, like Kinnock, bleated constantly about the need for a ballot during the miners' strike didn't call for the British people to have a ballot in 2003 when Tony Blair took the nation into an unlawful war and the occupation of Iraq.

During the past 25 years, many who have attacked the NUM, and me, about the need for a ballot, or argued that we selected the wrong targets have done so to cover their own guilt at failing to give the miners a level of support that would have stopped the Tories' pit closure programme and thus changed the political direction of the nation. Britain in 1984 was already a divided and degraded society - it has become much more so in the 25 years since.

The NUM's struggle remains not only an inspiration for workers but a warning to today's union leaders of their responsibility to their members, and the need to challenge both government and employers over all forms of injustice, inequality and exploitation. That is the legacy of the NUM's strike of 1984/85, a truly historic fight that gave birth to the magnificent Women Against Pit Closures and the miners' support groups. I have always said that the greatest victory in the strike was the struggle itself, a struggle that inspired millions of people around the world.'


Friday, March 06, 2009

Robert Brenner on the world economy

Long and wideranging interview with American Marxist economist Robert Brenner in the most recent Against the Current. This is just from the conclusion:

Do you expect that there will be an opening for progressives in a world with recent failures of neoliberalism?

RB: The defeat of neoliberalism is definitely creating major opportunities that the left did not have before. Neoliberalism never much appealed to large parts of the population. Working people never identified with free markets, free finance and all that. But I think that large sections of the population were convinced of TINA, "There Is No Alternative."

But now the crisis has revealed the total bankruptcy of the neoliberal mode of economic organization, and you can already see the change very powerfully manifested in the opposition by American working people to the bail-outs for the banks and financial sector. People are saying today is that "We are told that saving the financial institutions, the financial markets, is the key to restoring the economy, prosperity. But we don’t believe it. We don’t want any more of our money going to these people who are just robbing us."

There is an ideological vacuum, consquently there is an opening for left ideas. The problem is that there is very little organization of working people, let alone any political expression. One can say there is a big opportunity created by the change in the political environment, or the ideological climate, but by itself that will not provide a progressive outcome.

So once again, the top priority for progressives — for any left activists — to be active is in trying to revive the organizations of working people. Without the recreation of working- class power, little progressive change will be possible, and the only way to recreate that power is through mobilization for direct action. Only through working people taking collective mass action will they be able to create the organization and the power necessary to provide the social basis for a transformation of their own consciousness, for political radicalization.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Brown Plague and how to fight it

A couple of years before Gordon Brown, 'World Statesman of the Year' according to Comic Relief - sorry the 'Appeal of Conscience Foundation', began borrowing from the slogans of the 1930s British Union of Fascists for soundbites for speeches to Labour Party Conference, ('British Jobs for British Workers'), his unhealthy obsession with 'Britishness' was already on full display. In 2005, Brown famously glorified the British Empire on a trip to Africa, declaring the 'days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over...We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it'. Back in the 1930s, high days of white colonial power, when Britain ruled a vast swathe of the African continent as well as huge chunks of Asia and the Middle East, celebrating the greatest empire the world had ever seen was distinctly 'respectable' politically. This is what one famous German politician of the inter-war period, who in his autobiography had declared 'I, as a man of Germanic blood, would, in spite of everything, rather see India under English rule than any other', had to say in a speech in the Reichstag of 28 April 1939:

'During the whole of my political activity I have always expounded the idea of a close friendship and collaboration between Germany and England...This desire for Anglo-German friendship and co-operation conforms not merely to sentiments which result from the racial origins of our two peoples, but also to my realisation of the importance for the whole of mankind of the existence of the British Empire. I have never left room for any doubt of my belief that the existence of this empire is an inestimable factor of value for the whole of human cultural and economic life. By whatever means Great Britain has acquired her colonial territories - and I know that they were those of force and often brutality - nevertheless, I know full well that no other empire has ever come into being in any other way, and that in the final resort it is not so much the methods that are taken into account in history as success, and not the success of the methods as such, but rather the general good which the methods yield. Now there is no doubt that the Anglo-Saxon people have accomplished immeasurable colonizing work in the world. For this work I have a sincere admiration. The thought of destroying this labour appeared and still appears to me, seen from a higher human point of view, as nothing but the effluence of human wanton destructiveness.'

The politician in question was of course Adolf Hitler.* No wonder the British Nazi Party are looking such a threat in the coming Euro elections this June - almost a dozen years of New Labour trying to shove nationalist ideas imbued with connotations of race and empire down the throats of the rest of us - together with vigorous modern day acts of neo-colonialism and barbarism - are bound to have dangerous consequences. Oh yeah, and as Richard Seymour recently noted, 'I don't know if you saw it or not, but there's apparently this huge crisis in the capitalist system right now' going on as well. In my opinion, if humanity is going to do the whole '1930s thing' again, lets organise to try and make the rich and powerful - not the rest of us - end up paying for their crisis this time around. And that means building solidarity with the small number of factory occupations already underway, such as the workers in Dundee who yesterday decided to defiantly and gloriously occupy their plant rather than simply passively succumb to the idea that there is nothing we can do in midst of a jobs massacre of epic proportions. An international wave of 'sit-down strikes' such as those which swept America, France and even the Caribbean during the 1930s would rapidly transform the current political situation, and send out a beacon of hope to millions that 'another world is possible'. Such a strike wave would also do something else - it would begin to undermine the very social logic of the whole rotten system from within. Indeed - it is the only thing that can. As Rosa Luxemburg - who knew a thing or two about mass strikes - famously once put it, 'Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there they must be be broken'.

*From N Ferguson, Empire, (Penguin 2004), pp. 335-6.

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