Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New edition of Marx's Political Writings

'The best hated and calumniated man of his times’
Frederick Engels on Karl Marx, 1883.

'The author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital may be the godfather of more misery, death and criminality than any other figure from the last 200 years...'
Michael Gove, current British Education Secretary, 2005..


Volume 1: The Revolutions of 1848
Volume 2: Surveys From Exile
Volume 3: The First International and After

By Karl Marx
Edited by David Fernbach
Published 4 October 2010

Karl Marx was not only the great theorist of capitalism, he was also a superb journalist, politician and historian. In these brand-new editions of Marx's Political Writings we are able to see the depth and range of his mature work from 1848 through to the end of his life, from the Communist Manifesto to The Class Struggles in France and The Critique of the Gotha Programme. Karl Marx studied law and philosophy at the universities of Bonn and Berlin, completing his doctorate in 1841. Expelled from Prussia in 1844, he took up residence first in Paris and then in London where, in 1867, he published his magnum opus Capital. A co- founder of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864, Marx died in London in 1883.



To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Verso is publishing new editions of Marx's Political Writings. Join us at the Marx Memorial Library to launch the books with a talk from the editor, David Fernbach, on editing Marx in 1970 and 2010.

Wednesday 10 November, 7-8.30pm, Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R ODU

Admission is FREE, all welcome.



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Literary Trotskyism of Stieg Larsson

Basically, it seems the late Swedish novelist was a bit of a legend politically, and not just for his anti-fascism...

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sack Osbourne, not Public Sector Workers

Young Gideon George ''It's not as if I grew up in a stately home with a deer park" Osbourne

Those depressed by by the Tories' declaration of class war yesterday might derive some joy from a superb piece of investigative journalism by Simon Basketter into the lifestyles and background of David Cameron (fifth cousin, twice removed, to the queen) and Gideon George Osbourne (heir to the baronetcy of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon, County Waterford). Fortunately the fightback to save jobs, services and defend the welfare state from these Tory 'class warriors' has begun...

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'Crisis and Critique' - Historical Materialism conference 2010

Details of this years annual Historical Materialism conference in London on 11-14 November are now online here. Speakers include Robin Blackburn, Alex Callinicos, Patrick Bond, Alex Callinicos, Lars Lih, Jim Kincaid, Paul Mattick (junior), Jairus Banaji, John Holloway, Julian Stallabrass, Stathis Kouvelakis, China Mieville, Esther Leslie, Richard Seymour, Bill Dunn, Kevin Anderson, Judith Orr, Immanuel Ness, David McNally, Paul Blackledge, Neil Davidson, Joseph Choonara, Mike Haynes, Paul Kellogg, Seamus Milne, Hilary Wainwright, Leo Panitch, Charlie Hore and Andrew Milner - and topics range from everything from the capitalist crisis to Bolshevik History to Marxism and the Global South and more cultural topics (as well as esoteric topics such as 'Althusser and the Aleatory Encounter', though don't let the latter put you off attending some or all of the event if you can).

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

International Socialism 128

'Not paying the debt, nationalising the banks, introducing capital controls, programmes of public investment—all these are necessary in order to address the needs of the vast majority in economies wrecked by speculation and slump. But implementing them would involve a massive confrontation with the existing structures of economic and political power. It therefore points towards, not a reconstruction of capitalism, but a move beyond it...'

International Socialism 128 is now online, with analysis of alternatives to the crisis and the BP oil spill, Tom Hickey & Phil Marfleet on the BDS campaign against Israel, Jamie Allinson on Hamas, Christakis Georgiou on the crisis in the Eurozone, Jane Hardy on Central and Eastern Europe, Jairus Banaji on Indian Maoism, John Molyneux on Michelangelo, Neil Davidson on uneven and combined development, Simon Pirani on the Russian Revolution, Jess Edwards on the sex work debate and reviews from Esme Choonara, Estelle Cooch, Beccy Reese and Gareth Dale. Plus Pick of the Quarter.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Some Greatest 'Hits'

Recently I reached 500,000 'original hits' on Histomat, and as you might expect, accordingly I have been deluged with correspondence from far and wide congratulating me, and wondering if I might mark the historic occasion in any particular way. This blog has been going just over five years now, and so to have supposedly had 500,000 people read this blog in five years is well - a piddling 'achievement' in comparison with some of the best known left wing blogs, but still noteworthy in a sense. In previous junctures such as this, I have done top 'ten lists' about various things, so I figured a top ten list of some of my favourite posts ever - my 'greatest hits' as it were - might be appropriate. Okay, then here we go:

10. Book Review: Adventures in Marxism by Marshall Berman - see also here
9.Dead Queen Watch: Queen Elizabeth I
8. Anyone for England? Cricket, New Labour and the Ashes of Empire see also here
7. Book Review: Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History by Paul Blackledge - see also here
6. Blogging: New Commentariat or New Grub Street?
5. Book Review: A People's History of the British Empire by John Newsinger
4. The Romantic Anticapitalism of Iron Maiden
3. From Hegemony to Hot Fuzz: The 'Marxism' of Simon Pegg
2. Book Review: The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker
1. This Battle of Trafalgar Nonsense

However, I would have also like to have included for example my takes on Gosford Park, Phil Woolas, Marxism and Religion, the 'white working class', Oliver Kamm and the Euston Manifesto Tristram Hunt, the '7/7 bombings in London', Niall Ferguson, and The Decline and Fall of the English Murder but I guess one has to stop somewhere. Anyway, that gives people bored enough to visit here something to read - and if you think I have missed something out then please feel free to let us know. Cheers.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Big Society Bull Shit and Liberal Skidmarks

One of the best letters in Socialist Worker recently was short and to the point.

'David Cameron talks about the “Big Society”, but what does that mean? For me, it means BS. If you don’t know what BS stands for, then you don’t know what Cameron is talking.'

There is probably more to the Tories Big Society agenda and idea than meets the eye, but at least as the Con-Dem cuts begin to come thick and fast (and while the cuts can't really get much 'thicker' than they already are, they are unfortunately set to come 'faster' next week), the current state of British politics begins to become clearer than ever. It is not a pretty sight. Just as Mark Twain once noted that 'it could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class, except Congress', it is without doubt that the front benches of the British Houses of Parliament will go down in history as the scene of all manner of crimes, many of them being currently committed on a daily basis.

However, the fact that it is the Liberal Democrats who are currently so fervently fronting the most vicious criminal Tory attacks waged on behalf of the richest people in the country against the very poorest is providing some grim humour amid the carnage being inflicted on Britain's social fabric. Loathe as I am as a socialist to quote a capitalist overlord on the disaster now unfolding,Alan Sugar (of 'The Apprentice' fame) probably reflects the views of many:

'One thing that's for sure, this coalition thing is an absolute joke. It's got to be sorted out. It can't last for long with these Lib Dems and all that. These two people, [Nick] Clegg and [Vince] Cable, in their heart of hearts never thought they would get into power, now it's as if [low level football club] Leyton Orient suddenly found themselves in the Champions League. Fish out of water! Unbelievable! They don't know what they are doing! I think Cable should ... he should just give it up. They should put him in a field somewhere and give him a bit of hay.'

While it is manifestly the case that the former Labour councillor turned Business Secretary for the current Tory coalition Vince Cable, despite his oddly quixotic attacks on 'capitalism', is no Marxist, there is one thing from Marx that he seems to have taken to heart. 'Politics', Marx once noted, 'is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.' That was Groucho of course - rather than Karl - but it seems to accurately sum up the current pathetic political disposition of the Liberal Democrats in power, and Cable in particular, as they embrace wholeheartedly the Tories austerity agenda and betray an ever-increasing number of their pre-election manifesto pledges in the process - above all most dramatically over tuition fees. It is true that, as Cable stated in parliament, 'The road to Westminster is covered with the skid marks of political parties changing direction', but wasn't this coalition meant to be allegedly about 'new politics' rather than 'power-for-power's sake', and all about 'honesty', 'fairness', 'transparency', accountability'? If the Liberal parliamentarians are largely 'Yellow Tories', one should also not forget the 'Red Tory' scum working with the government either, the likes of Lord John Hutton, Frank Field and Alan Milburn - all still nominally members of the Labour Party. One cannot fail but be reminded of the point the great Marxist historian CLR James once made, that Liberals and Social Democrats were 'the comedians of the modern political world'.

Yet what is also apparent is that while British politics looks set to revert at the next election back to a two-party affair between Labour and the Tories whatever Labour do between now and then, up to now the new leaders of the Labour Party have really failed to effectively hammer either the millionaire Tories or the skidmarking Liberals. This is largely because so many of them are Blairites through and through (witness Tessa Jowell's pretty abysmal performance on Question Time this week) and so can't effectively oppose say the marketisation of higher education as they were the original architects of that policy. As one Labour MP noted, the new Labour shadow cabinet 'is packed with the Blairite Tendency, several of the militant brand, and their influence is not to be under-estimated...There is not a single person in the Shadow Cabinet who could be described as a natural left-winger'.

Fortunately, a rising mood of militancy is developing in the British trade union movement, at least among the rank-and-file. Moreover, while the trade union leaders are verbally committed to organising co-ordinated resistance - in some cases they are actually now doing so - for example the NUS/UCU demonstration for education on 10 November in London promises to be huge. Such sparks and flames of resistance have to be fanned by socialists over the coming weeks in months if we are to get anything approaching the general strikes and general level of struggle of say France and Greece. Moreover, if we do not try and organise collective mass resistance to the Blue, Yellow and Red Tory scum amidst this economic crisis, and leave people to try and survive the onslaught on public services and accompanying jobs massacre in their own individual ways then a recent poll in Germany reminds us of the continuing danger of the rise of fascism on the back of racist scapegoating of immigrants and Islamophobia. A study published this week saw one in 10 Germans profess they would like a "Führer" figure to "govern Germany with a hard hand", while 35% said they considered the country to be "dangerously overrun" with foreigners. The national demonstration and carnival against racism, fascism and Islamophobia called by Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism and backed by the TUC and the Muslim Council of Britain should also be a date in people's diaries to try and help stop similar sentiments taking hold here. Things are more unstable and uncertain in British politics right now than in my living memory at least, and there are openings emerging for socialists that provide opportunities to make our case for a new society based on people's needs rather than private profits that have not existed for a very long time, and we need to make the most of them.

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John Pilger on Chile's ghostly silences

The rescue of 33 miners in Chile is an extraordinary drama filled with pathos and heroism. It is also a media windfall for the Chilean government, whose every beneficence is recorded by a forest of cameras. One cannot fail to be impressed. However, like all great media events, it is a façade...The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile, but the inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Copper is Chile's gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits.

For all the media circus at the rescue site, contemporary Chile is a country of the unspoken. At Villa Grimaldi, in the suburbs of the capital, Santiago, a sign says: "The forgotten past is full of memory." This was the torture centre where hundreds of people were murdered and disappeared for opposing the fascism* that Pinochet and his business allies brought to Chile. Its ghostly presence is overseen by the beautiful Andes, and the man who unlocks the gate used to live nearby and remembers the screams.

Full article here

*Whether Pinochet's bloody dictatorship was 'fascist' as Pilger claims or not is debatable in my opinion. The fact the world was celebrating smiling miners on the week of Pinochet's good friend Margaret Thatcher's 85th birthday was however quite fitting in its own way, and hopefully contributed to her feeling too ill to celebrate...

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Socialist Register

The new issue of Socialist Register - a journal founded by Ralph Miliband, is out now - and with its theme on capitalism in crisis (it is titled The Crisis This Time) it will doubtless make for insightful and important reading for socialists internationally.

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Ed Rooksby on Equality

Inequalities of wealth and economic power entail, after all, inequalities in political power. Why doesn't the ambit of democracy – equal liberty amongst citizens to exert control over social processes – extend into the economic sphere? Doesn't equality (and liberty), socialists ask, require economic democracy? This, however, would be incompatible with capitalism. Beyond a certain point, then, the dialectic of struggle for the extension of liberal ideals of liberty and equality becomes a definitely socialist struggle.
full article here
Incidentally, it is amazing the number of socialists who now have 'Comment is free spots' - for example see here, here, here, and here - and I am sure there are plenty of others...

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Looking for Eric

There are several new books of interest out now - for example Owen Hatherley's Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain and an edited collection on William Morris in the Twenty-First Century look intriguing, but it is pleasing to see that someone has finally attempted a full length study of Eric Hobsbawm's life and work:

Hobsbawm: History and Politics
Gregory Elliott

Pluto Press, 12/7/2010
ISBN: 978-0-7453-2844-7, ISBN10: 0-7453-2844-X,
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 160 pages,

Historian Eric Hobsbawm is possibly the foremost chronicler of the modern age. His panoramic studies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, stretching from the French Revolution to the fall of Soviet communism, have informed the historical consciousness of scholars and general readers alike. At the same time, his writings on labour movements and socialist politics have occupied a central place in left-wing debates. Despite this, no extended study of Hobsbawm's work has yet been attempted. Gregory Elliott fills this gap in exemplary fashion.

Elliott analyzes both the scholarly record of Hobsbawm and the intellectual and political journey that his life represents. In doing so, he seeks to situate Hobsbawm's thought within the context of a generalised crisis of confidence on the Left after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Rich in content and written in Elliott's authoritative and highly readable style, this book is a must for anyone with an interest in Hobsbawm and the crisis of the Left.

"The remarkable and prolific works of Eric Hobsbawm have gone too long without a serious critical analysis which treats them as an evolving whole. In a closely argued and highly readable account, Gregory Elliott sets out to fill this gap. Reviewing Hobsbawm's intellectual and political formation, his contributions to both academic and political debates, and his climactic interpretation of 20th century world history, Elliott provides not only a summary of each in turn but also a revealing exploration of the light they shed on each other." --Justin Rosenberg, Reader in International Relations, University of Sussex

Gregory Elliott is a Visiting Fellow at Newcastle University. His books include Ends in Sight (Pluto, 2008), Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History (1998) and Althusser: The Detour of Theory (2nd edition, 2006).

Table of Contents
1 Formative Experiences, Refounding Moments
2 The International and the Island Race
3 Enigmatic Variations
Conclusion: The Verdict of the World

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Jack London on the historic failure of the capitalist class

There are many counts of the indictment which the revolutionists bring against the capitalist class, but for present use only one need be stated, and it is a count to which capital has never replied and can never reply.

The capitalist class has managed society, and its management has failed. And not only has it failed in its management, but it has failed deplorably, ignobly, horribly. The capitalist class had an opportunity such as was vouchsafed no previous ruling class in the history of the world. It broke away from the rule of the old feudal aristocracy and made modern society. It mastered matter, organized the machinery of life, and made possible a wonderful era for mankind, wherein no creature should cry aloud because it had not enough to eat, and wherein for every child there would be opportunity for education, for intellectual and spiritual uplift. Matter being mastered, and the machinery of life organized, all this was possible. Here was the chance, God-given, and the capitalist class failed. It was blind and greedy. It prattled sweet ideals and dear moralities, rubbed its eyes not once, nor ceased one whit in its greediness, and smashed down in a failure as tremendous only as was the opportunity it had ignored.

But all this is like so much cobwebs to the bourgeois mind. As it was blind in the past, it is blind now and cannot see nor understand. Well, then, let the indictment be stated more definitely, in terms sharp and unmistakable...The capitalist class has mismanaged, is to-day mismanaging. In New York City 50,000 children go hungry to school, and in New York City there are 1320 millionnaires. The point, however, is not that the mass of man kind is miserable because of the wealth the capitalist class has taken to itself. Far from it. The point really is that the mass of mankind is miserable, not for want of the wealth taken by the capitalist class, but for want of the wealth that was never created. This wealth was never created because the capitalist class managed too wastefully and irrationally. The capitalist class, blind and greedy, grasping madly, has not only not made the best of its management, but made the worst of it. It is a management prodigiously wasteful. This point cannot be emphasized too strongly.

With the natural resources of the world, the machinery already invented, a rational organization of production and distribution, and an equally rational elimination of waste, the able-bodied workers would not have to labor more than two or three hours per day to feed everybody, clothe everybody, house everybody, educate everybody, and give a fair measure of little luxuries to everybody. There would be no more material want and wretchedness, no more children toiling out their lives, no more men and women and babes living like beasts and dying like beasts. Not only would matter be mastered, but the machine would be mastered. In such a day incentive would be finer and nobler than the incentive of to-day, which is the incentive of the stomach. No man, woman, or child would be impelled to action by an empty stomach. On the contrary, they would be impelled to action as a child in a spelling match is impelled to action, as boys and girls at games, as scientists formulating law, as inventors applying law, as artists and sculptors painting canvases and shaping clay, as poets and statesmen serving humanity by singing and by statecraft. The spiritual, intellectual, and artistic uplift consequent upon such a condition of society would be tremendous. All the human world would surge upward in a mighty wave.

This was the opportunity vouchsafed the capitalist class. Less blindness on its part, less greediness, and a rational management, were all that was necessary. A wonderful era was possible for the human race. But the capitalist class failed. It made a shambles of civilization. Nor can the capitalist class plead not guilty. It knew of the opportunity. Its wise men told it of the opportunity, its scholars and its scientists told it of the opportunity. All that they said is there to-day in the books, just so much damning evidence against it. It would not listen. It was too greedy. It rose up (as it rises up to-day), shamelessly, in our legislative halls, and declared that profits were impossible without the toil of children and babes. It lulled its conscience to sleep with prattle of sweet ideals and dear moralities, and allowed the suffering and misery of mankind to continue and to increase. In short, the capitalist class failed to take advantage of the opportunity. But the opportunity is still here. The capitalist class has been tried and found wanting. Remains the working-class to see what it can do with the opportunity...
Jack London, 'Revolution', 1905

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John Lanchester on the Cuts to Come

The coalition – which, in practice, in this instance, means the Tory party – is attempting to create what political wonks call an "inflection point". They want to make a fundamental change of direction in British politics. There have been two of these in the last decades, the first of them Thatcher's election in 1979 and the second Tony Blair's in 1997. The election of 2010 wasn't an inflection point, not least because it didn't produce a majority government. So the Tories put into effect what was obviously a plan to create their own inflection point through Osborne's emergency budget. The idea, I think, is to change the British political ecology. Public sector workers, in particular, are supposed to be scared into malleability. The idea is that instead of being grumpy that some of them have lost their jobs, everybody who is still in work will instead be grateful, relieved and suitably cowed. It will be a change in direction for the British state, and will give a clear way forward for the Conservative party as it returns to its traditional identity as the party of the smaller state. "If they can't do it now," a Tory friend told me, "when can they do it?" In other words, there will never be a more opportune moment for the party to set out its stall to cut spending. Hence the tearing-off-the-arm eagerness to seize the opportunity.

So the politics of this makes a depressing kind of sense, from a rightwing perspective. What is much less clear is whether the economics of the cutting makes as much sense... A strongly negative trend in British life over the last 30 years, and one that unfortunately continued during Labour's tenure in office, was the increasingly sharp division between winners and losers. That tendency is set to become even more marked. We are heading back to the bitterly divided politics of the late 1970s and early 1980s, except with our newly sky-rocketed levels of inequality. So 20 October is going to be a hugely important day for Britain. I have in the past predicted anger, as the consequences of the recession for public spending become clear; I think the process of expressing that anger has barely begun.

Full article here - see also Richard Seymour on the problems ahead for David Cameron. Fortunately, the anger and resistance has already begun - as Labour MP John McDonnell put it at the Right to Work demonstration outside Tory conference, "I’ve got a warning for the Tories — if you come for us, we will come for you, with protests, strikes, occupations, civil disobedience and direct action. This is no time to stand on the sidelines."

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