Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 2009 Histomat Awards

After The Battle of Seattle a decade ago, I remember Socialist Worker had as its front page something like 'after a century of war, barbarism and crisis, Seattle shows the hope for the new century'. Well, as once again world leaders responsible for war, poverty, hunger and economic crisis find themselves holed up behind lines of riot police, besieged by anti-capitalist and environmental protesters in Copenhagen, it is clearer than ever that the only real hope for humanity in the next decade lies in building a mass movement against the system from below.

In short, we need to, ahem, Rage Against the Machine. Karl Marx understood this very well because he understood the barbaric consequences of the inequality resulting from the relentless capitalist drive for profit above everything else.

'Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time the accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole'

On the one hand one gets websites and magazines such as How to Spend It, designed to help the infinitessimily small minority of super rich - whose wealth rises year upon year at an almost exponential rate - spend some of their vast ill-gotten wealth and 'Christmas bonuses'. On the other hand, among the billions of people around the world who actually produce this fantastic wealth, the question that comes to mind is 'How to Spend What Exactly?' Millions upon millions go hungry, or die from starvation, wars and climate catastrophes. Billions suffer exploitation and bullying at work from managers determined to exert their 'right to manage' or else experience the one thing worse than having a shit job - not having one and the misery of unemployment. Millions in any case end up so alienated that 'celebrity culture', Simon Cowell and X-factor seems to represent something akin to the culmination of thousands of years of human civilisation.

I'd rant further, and more eloquently, but I have gone down with a nasty cold and just want to summon up the energy to get this post done before I can retire to my bed with lemsip. But lets just say, in a nutshell, that this year, basically, has been shit on so many levels - and small mercies such as the war criminal Blair being blocked from winning the position of President of the EU don't really make up for just how much shit has taken place. Still, roll on 2010 - and let's hope the new year is a happier one for socialists than the last year has been...

2009 Histomat International Hero(es)/Heroines of the Year: The people of Iran for rising up against a brutal regime in a valiant attempt to commemorate the Revolution of thirty years before.

Runner up: Malalai Joya, anti-war Afghan MP

2009 Histomat International Idiot(s) of the Year: Well, always a tricky one this - so many strong contenders. I was going to give it to the international banking community again for even imagining they could get away with waging a campaign to retain their bonuses this year - a campaign they seem to have won against all odds - but then I read about the growing racism in Switzerland and so in a slightly unsatisfactory compromise I decided to give it to 'Swiss bankers'.

Runner up: Whichever idiot thought it appropriate to give Obama the Nobel Peace Prize amidst the unfolding nightmare of Afghanistan.

2009 Histomat National Heroes/Heroines of the Year: The people around Military Families Against the War, particularly Joe Glenton and Peter Brierley

Runners up: Those workers who have so inspirationally fought back this past year in Britain - from Visteon to Vestas to the Lindsey oil refinery workers to Tower Hamlets lecturers to the Leeds bin workers to the BA Cabin staff and every other small struggle in-between - finally a bit of serious class struggle in Britain...

2009 Histomat National Idiot(s) of the Year: The Members of the British Parliament - particularly the Labour MPs - with perhaps a handful of exceptions. As John Newsinger noted,

'at last Labour MPs are beginning to revolt. Unfortunately, they are not revolting against union busting in the post or at the disgracefully low level of unemployment benefit. And they are not revolting at Brown’s proposed assets sale, at the obscene bonuses still being paid to bankers – or even at the Afghan war. Instead, they are revolting against having to pay back some of their fiddled expenses. Has there ever been such a contemptible shower? Revolting is the right word.'

Runner up: The BBC for inviting 'Nazi Nick' Griffin onto Question Time and so allowing a British fascist party perhaps the greatest ever single dose of mass publicity since the Daily Mail had a frontpage in 1934 saluting the British Union of Fascists under the banner 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts!'

2009 Histomat Socialist Bloggers of the Year: John Molyneux / the late, great Chris Harman, who will be sadly missed.

Runner up: Norman Strike.

2009 Histomat Most Incredible Quote of the Year:
'The banks are fucked, we're fucked, the country's fucked.'
A Labour Cabinet Minister reveals the awful truth, January 2009

2009 Histomat Most Idiotesque Quote of the Year:
'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.'
- George W Bush awarding Tony Blair a Presidential Medal of Freedom

Runner up:
'I want to thank my good friend Tony Blair for coming today, somebody who did it first and perhaps did it better than I will do. He has been an example for so many people around the world of what dedicated leadership can accomplish. And we are very grateful to him.'
- Barack Obama on Tony Blair


Subscription offer

I take it many readers of Histomat already subscribe to journals such as International Socialism, but I thought I would just pass on this email advertising a deal for those taking out subscriptions to
Historical Materialism
journal as well...

Dear Friends and Comrades,

to celebrate Historical Materialism's recent successful conference in
London, our publisher Brill is offering a special offer for new
individual subscribers: for 55 euros (or the equivalent in dollars or
pounds), you can subscribe for 2010 and get the whole of 2009's issues
for free.

This offer will end on 31 December 2009, so to take up the offer,
please write to: historicalmaterialism@soas.ac.uk


The Editors
Historical Materialism
Faculty of Law and Social Sciences
SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG,
United Kingdom




Monday, December 14, 2009

Fight for the Right to Work conference

A conference of resistance and solidarity

Saturday 30 January,
Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester

Fight for every job
Organise to stop the cuts
Defend services and pensions
Unite the public and private sectors
Demand a million green jobs
Jobs not bombs
Defend migrant workers – jobs for all
Speakers include:
Mark Serwotka (PCS), Sally Hunt (UCU), Tony Kearns (CWU), Jeremy Dear (NUJ), Jerry Hicks (Unite), Mark Smith (former Vestas worker), Paul Brandon (bus worker), Nahella Ashraf (chair, Greater Manchester Stop the War ), Clara Osagiede (RMT cleaners’ secretary), and speakers from Royal Mail dispute, Brighton bins dispute, BA cabin crew, Superdrug… and many more.

Supported by UCU nationally and 35 union branches so far.

There’s a deep economic crisis – and the bosses and the politicians want us to pay for it. It’s bad now, and an avalanche of cuts is coming after the election. But there’s also a fightback, and we need more of that.

Whenever there’s resistance, then we need solidarity. Many working people rallied round the postal workers’ national fight. And many have also backed the Leeds bins workers, the BA workers, the Superdrug workers and other groups who have taken action.

This conference is designed to bring together those networks of resistance and to make them stronger. This is a brilliant chance to learn from one another and spread the lessons of the fightback.

It’s not just for trade unionists, and it won’t just be about workplace struggle. We are having speakers and workshops on issues like the war in Afghanistan, anti-racist battles, decent housing, and so on. We want students, unemployed workers, anti-war activists, pensioners, campaigners for green jobs, housing activists and anti-racist activists to come.

It won’t be a talking shop. We want to organise initiatives from the conference. For example, some people have suggested a day of action around welfare ‘reform’ or a coordinated push to unionise in specific areas, or action to defend and organise migrant workers. We want to people to bring their own ideas to the conference and to go away with stronger organisation.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lenin's Tomb on Alasdair MacIntyre

While this blog goes through something of a hiatus, I guess people may be interested to read this blog post about the early Marxism of moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. I have nothing to really comment about MacIntyre, but this snippet from Tariq Ali, reminiscing about the year 1968 in an obituary of Peter Gowan, is quite amusing:

I offered Peter [Gowan] his first job as Distribution Manager of the new Black Dwarf. He moved to London immediately, found a squat, and took to his task with gusto, delivering copies of the paper to bookshops in a beat-up van. My fondest memory of him from that period is his returning to our Soho offices at 7 Carlisle Street (a floor below the New Left Review) one day and laughing with delight. That issue had carried an acerbic piece by Robin Blackburn defending Herbert Marcuse against Alasdair MacIntyre, who had written an ultra-critical political biography of the us-based German Marxist for Fontana Modern Masters. We found a photograph of Marcuse, his fist raised as he stood on a platform with Black Panther members. The piece was titled: ‘MacIntyre, The Game is Up’. Peter had just delivered the issue to Collets, the radical bookstore on Charing Cross Road that took a hundred Dwarfs each fortnight. As he was about to leave he saw the great philosopher stride through the door. MacIntyre went straight to the pile, lifted a copy and began to flick through until he came to the offending headline. Peter described watching him as he pored over Blackburn’s assault, turned puce, threw the paper back on the pile and walked out. We were thrilled. It was rare to witness the immediate impact of a text on its target.