Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Solidarity with Egypt's revolutionary journalists

Sign this statement - solidarity with Hossam el-Hamalawy and Reem Maged

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Fire in Babylon

Am a bit gutted I seem to have missed this at the cinema, reviews of this documentary about the glory days of West Indian cricket sound incredible and people tell me it is well worth checking out...

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David Rovics on Pirates

See also his defence of the Pirates of Somalia


Sunday, May 29, 2011

New study of EP Thompson

I have just finished reading The Crisis of Theory: EP Thompson, the New Left, and Postwar British Politics a highly readable new study by Scott Hamilton of Reading the Maps fame. I can happily and heartily recommend it to readers of Histomat as a fine companion volume to Thompson's The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (1978). Hamilton's work comes with what now reads as a rather poignant recommendation from the late socialist historian and EP Thompson's partner, Dorothy Thompson, and overall I found it a fascinating introduction to Thompson the thinker and writer - someone who I didn't know before now was given cricket lessons by Nehru while a boy. Personally would have liked a little more on Thompson the great Marxist historian, but I am aware that would have probably meant a different book - and in any case, myself and Hamilton had a little debate about Thompson and Marxist historiography about five years ago - a debate I am not sure either of us feel the compulsion to return to just now. Many congratulations anyway to Scott on the publication of his homage to EPT.

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John Pilger on neo-colonialism in Libya

When Britain lost control of Egypt in 1956, Prime Minister Anthony Eden said he wanted the nationalist president Gamal Abdel Nasser "destroyed...murdered...I don't give a damn if there's anarchy and chaos in Egypt." Those insolent Arabs, Winston Churchill had urged in 1951, should be driven "into the gutter from which they should never have emerged".

The language of colonialism may have been modified, but the spirit and the hypocrisy are unchanged. A new imperial phase is unfolding in direct response to the Arab uprising that has shocked Washington and Europe, causing an Eden-style panic. The loss of the Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak was grievous, though not irretrievable: a US-backed counter-revolution is under way as the military regime in Cairo is seduced with bribes, and power is shifting from the street to political groups that did not initiate the revolution. The western aim, as ever, is to stop authentic democracy and reclaim control...

Libya is the immediate opportunity. The Nato attack, with the UN Security Council assigned to mandate a bogus "no-fly zone" to "protect civilians", is strikingly similar to the final destruction of Yugoslavia in 1999. There was no UN cover for the bombing of Serbia and the "rescue" of Kosovo, yet the propaganda echoes today. Like Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar al-Gaddafi is a "new Hitler", plotting "genocide" against his people. There is no evidence of this, as there was no genocide in Kosovo. In Libya, there is a tribal civil war; and the armed uprising against Gaddafi has long been appropriated by the US, French and British, their planes attacking residential Tripoli with uranium-tipped missiles and the submarine HMS Triumph firing Tomahawks, in a repeat of the Iraq "shock and awe" that left thousands of civilians dead and maimed. As in Iraq, the victims, including countless incinerated Libyan army conscripts, are media unpeople...

Gaddafi is a Bad Arab. David Cameron's government and its verbose top general want to eliminate this Bad Arab, much as the Obama administration killed a famous Bad Arab in Pakistan recently.

The crown prince of Bahrain, on the other hand, is a Good Arab. On 19 May he was warmly welcomed to Britain by Cameron with a photocall on the steps of 10 Downing Street. In March, the same crown prince slaughtered unarmed protesters in his country and allowed Saudi forces to crush the Bahraini democracy movement. The Obama administration has rewarded Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive regimes on earth, with a $60bn arms deal, the biggest in US history. The Saudis have the most oil. They are the Best Arabs.

The assault on Libya, a crime under the Nuremberg standard, is Britain's 46th military "intervention" in the Middle East since 1945. Like its imperial partners, Britain aims to control Africa's oil. Cameron is not Eden, but almost. Same school. Same values. In the media pack, the words colonialism and imperialism are no longer used, so the cynical and the credulous can celebrate state violence in its more palatable form...
Full article here

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Owen Hatherley on Marx, Eagleton, Lenin and Lih

As [Eagleton] acknowledges, our age of no-strings-attached state handouts to banks and punitive cuts to social services has embraced a form of capitalism so grotesque that it resembles the caricatures of the most leaden Soviet satirists. Eagleton presents his book as the fruit of "a single, striking thought: what if all the objections to Marx's thought are mistaken?" In order to demonstrate this, each of the chapters of this erudite yet breezy (occasionally too breezy) tract begins with a series of assertions about Marx and Marxism, which Eagleton then proceeds to debunk, one by one.
From Hatherley's review of Eagleton's Why Marx was Right and Lih's Lenin. Personally I disagree very slightly with Hatherley's conclusion, at the end of his discussion of Lih's biography of Lenin:

Yet what really endures here is the sense that, for Lenin, a revolutionary leader has a duty to lead the working class into revolution, and all the theory in the world won't help if the political and economic conditions are missing. Lenin believed that the first world war offered a real chance to destroy capitalism, and when – in 1919, as revolution briefly engulfed Europe – he seemed to be proved right, he felt vindicated, even relieved. He learned his mistake, and died deeply troubled by it.

Yet Lenin was not 'mistaken' when the world revolution failed to triumph outside of Russia post First World War - the conditions did exist for the successful socialist revolution in Europe - not least in Germany which underwent two revolutionary situations in 1918 and then again in 1923. Lenin knew that making the revolution in Russia was a gamble, but, he wagered, it was right to make that gamble - a gamble after all that was critical to ending the bloodshed of the First World War and, everything taken into account did demonstrate the possibilities for socialist revolution in the 20th century. As Rosa Luxemburg noted,
'Everything that a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness, and consistency in a historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky, and the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honor and capacity which the Social Democracy of the West lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honour of international socialism.'

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

LSHG Newsletter online

The new issue of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter is now online - highlights include Ian Birchall on Ray Challinor and the 1965 Courtauld Strike in Preston. While I am here, I notice Richard Seymour has a long article on How Can the Left win?, which looks like required reading.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Never say never again

'Asked on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show whether he could ever envisage joining the Conservatives - and perhaps taking a Tory peerage - Mr Clegg replied in shocked tones:

"Join the Conservatives? No, never. I am not a Conservative - never have been, never will be. Never, never, never. I am a Liberal Democrat to my core. I will be carried out in my coffin as a card-carrying Liberal Democrat."'

Going by his track record, this is probably the clearest indication we have to date that Nick Clegg is indeed intending to join the Conservative Party - and, going by this statement, sooner rather than later. The only possible question to speculate on now is when. One year? Two years? Four years?


Monday, May 09, 2011

Gary Younge on Obama's war in Libya

...The clearest explanation of the war aims has emanated not from Britain, or indeed Europe, but the White House. While Britain has blundered (William Hague suggested at one point that Muammar Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela) and Nicolas Sarkozy has blustered (starting the bombing without telling his allies), Barack Obama has offered the most lucid justification for military intervention.

The trouble is that at each moment the goals of the intervention not only changes, but also contradict any justification given earlier. Shortly before the no-fly zone was imposed, Obama assured a bipartisan group in Congress that the action would take "days not weeks". More than a week after the bombing had started he told the nation the aim was limited to purely humanitarian ends. "I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action," he said.

He also stood steadfastly against regime change. "If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter." Two weeks later, in a joint letter signed by David Cameron and Sarkozy, he brazenly conceded it is about regime change. "It is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power."

Assassination is now, apparently, the foreign policy du jour. On Sunday, the British defence secretary, Liam Fox, insisted: "Nato does not target individuals." Instead they go for families. Just over a week ago, they killed Gaddafi's son and three of his grandchildren.

So here we are with a conflict that was supposed to last days and was not about regime change that has gone on for six weeks and won't end until the regime has changed. Even as the west prepares to negotiate a truce with the Taliban, Gaddafi's offer of a ceasefire has been rejected summarily. In the name of humanitarianism, the war must be prolonged.

The problem is not mission creep, it's the mission. There are only so many times their governments can reasonably keep doing the same thing and expect different results and there can be only so many times liberal hawks can "trust" their governments to do differently....We've seen from elsewhere that the most successful way to build democracy in the region is by ordinary, local people from below, not by foreign precision bombs from 50,000 feet above...

Full article here - see also Richard Seymour on Imperialism and Revolution in the Middle East in the latest Socialist Review

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

It's okay Tony, we haven't forgotten about you

'The operation shows those who commit acts of terror against the innocent will be brought to justice, however long it takes.'
Tony Blair on the killing of Bin Laden

While Blair is of course wrong that the killing of Osama Bin Laden represents justice instead of an act of vengeance, he surely has a point about the necessity of bringing those who commit acts of terror against the innocent to justice for their crimes. Blair may have slipped the mind of the Royal Family recently, but some of us will not forget about Blair's state terrorism so lightly. His day of reckoning will come one day for sure, 'however long it takes'...


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Upcoming Marxist conferences in London

1. Marxism 2011
Ideas to change the world - A five day political festival from
30 June to 4 July in central London hosted by the SWP with eyewitnesses and revolutionaries from Egypt and Tunisia as well as Tariq Ali, Tony Benn, Terry Eagleton, Paul Gilroy, Laurie Penny, Nina Power, Alex Callinicos and many others - full timetable now available to download here

What is Marxism 2011?

Crisis and austerity have exposed the insanity of our global system.
Our rulers have handed trillions of pounds to banks while billions of people across the planet face hunger, poverty, climate catastrophes and war. Despite unprecedented wealth and technology we are told capitalism can provide even less for us than before.

But a world in crisis breeds an ideological crisis. Austerity has generated resistance. Revolution has shaken the Arab world. Students have shaken the Con-Dems. Millions are fighting back, questioning this crazy system and looking for alternatives.

Marxism 2011 will bring thousands of people together from every continent and every arena of struggle to discuss, debate and organise resistance. With over 200 workshops, panels, film showings and rallies it is the biggest event of its kind in Britain and one of the biggest in the world.
Don’t miss Marxism in the year of revolutions.

2. Eighth Annual Historical Materialism Conference

Central London

10–13 November 2011

Spaces of Capital, Moments of Struggle

The ongoing popular uprisings in the Arab world, alongside intimations of a resurgence in workers' struggles against 'austerity' in the North and myriad forms of resistance against exploitation and dispossession across the globe make it imperative for Marxists and leftists to reflect critically on the meaning of collective anticapitalist action in the present.

Over the past decade, many Marxist concepts and debates have come in from the cold. The anticapitalist movement generated a widely circulating critique of capitalist modes of international 'development'. More recently, the economic crisis that began in 2008 has led to mainstream-recognition of Marx as an analyst of capital. In philosophy and political theory, communism is no longer merely a term of condemnation. Likewise, artistic and cultural practices have also registered a notable upturn in the fortunes of activism, critical utopianism and the effort to capture aesthetically the workings of the capitalist system.

The eighth annual Historical Materialism conference will strive to take stock of these shifts in the intellectual landscape of the Left in the context of the social and political struggles of the present. Rather than resting content with the compartmentalisation and specialisation of various 'left turns' in theory and practice, we envisage the conference as a space for the collective, if necessary, agonistic but comradely, reconstitution of a strategic conception of the mediations between socio-economic transformations and emancipatory politics.

For such a critical theoretical, strategic and organisational reflection to have traction in the present, it must take stock of both the commonalities and the specificities of different struggles for emancipation, as they confront particular strategies of accumulation, political authorities and relations of force. Just as the crisis that began in 2008 is by no means a homogeneous affair, so we cannot simply posit a unity of purpose in contemporary revolutions, struggles around the commons and battles against austerity.

In consideration of the participation of David Harvey, winner of the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, at this year's conference, we would particularly wish to emphasise the historical and geographical dimensions of capital, class and struggle. We specifically encourage paper submissions and suggested panel-themes that tackle the global nature of capitalist accumulation, the significance of anticapitalist resistance in the South, and questions of race, migration and ecology as key components of both the contemporary crisis and the struggle to move beyond capitalism.

There will also be a strong presence of workshops on the historiography of the early communist movement, particularly focusing on the first four congresses of the Communist International.

The conference will aim to combine rigorous and grounded investigations of socio-economic realities with focused theoretical reflections on what emancipation means today, and to explore – in light of cultural, historical and ideological analyses – the forms taken by current and coming struggles.

Deadline for registration of abstracts: 1 June 2011



Sunday, May 01, 2011

May Day Greetings

For details of several May Day 'Marches for the Alternative' to cuts and war in Britain, see here