Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Manchester Calling

March and rally against the Tories as they meet for their party conference in Manchester on Sunday 2nd October

Johann Hari: My Part in his Downfall

Though I have never met the disgraced liberal journalist Johann Hari - see also here, I did have a two minute conversation on the phone with him back ten years ago so I feel it is critical that I share my exclusive insight into Hari with the world.

In October 2001, Hari wrote a distinctly provocative post-9/11 piece in the New Statesman which basically wondered speculatively about the apparent 'affinities' between Al-Qaeda and the anti-capitalist movement, concluding thus:

The anti-globalisation movement has many benign aspirations to enhance participatory democracy and curb corporate power. But it also has some violent and frightening adherents who are capable of the kind of terrorism being visited upon us by Muslim fundamentalists.

The opposition to the west in the 21st century will come from untraceable networks with no leaders and no hierarchies, just a shared interest in attacking American capitalism in the hope that something better will emerge from the ashes.

Hari's argument was, to be kind to him, highly problematic at best and downright insulting to the anti-capitalist movement at worst - and since he had explicitly namechecked one anti-capitalist organisation in his piece which I was a supporter of ('Globalise Resistance') I thought he might like to debate his ideas about 'the anti-capitalist movement post-9/11' at a public meeting to be hosted by our local group of Globalise Resistance. It wasn't difficult getting hold of his number (I imagine it is a bit more difficult tracking him down just now), and he wasn't opposed to the idea of speaking at just such a public meeting in theory - though eventually he claimed he was just too busy (and probably thought himself just a little bit too important to actually have to defend any of his ideas in public) - so this meeting never happened. I don't know whether a two minute conversation with Johann Hari ten years ago challenging him to a public debate about his controversial journalism really counts as playing a part in Hari's eventual 'downfall' (since back then his career was rising inexorably, if inexplicably) but I'd like to think it did - in any case Hari's failure to make time to publicly defend the frankly indefensible aspects of his journalism was more than enough for me personally to find it hard to take him too seriously as a 'public intellectual' after that point...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Commemorating the Battle of Cable Street

What better way to celebrate the fact that the racist EDL were blocked from marching through East London by mass anti-fascist action at the start of this month than by remembering the 75th anniversary of The Battle of Cable Street which blocked Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists attempt to march through the East End on 4th October 1936? To mark the occasion, Philosophy Football have done what they do best and produced a nice T-shirt.

Edited to add: Colin Sparks, Fighting Fascism: The Lessons from Cable Street (1977).


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stuart Hall on the state of neo-liberalism in Britain

An interesting piece, though it perhaps ignores some of the contradictions currently ensuring the Coalition government - with its unpopular agenda of cuts and privatisation - is currently incredibly weak. What is perhaps missing in particular is the most profound contradiction, one with the potential to undermine the neo-liberal economic agenda - the growing signs of a rising arc of class struggle in Britain and internationally - which offers the best hope of resisting not only the Tories but also any attempt to make neo-liberalism 'hegemonic'.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Stop the War statement on 9/11 anniversary

The Stop the War Coalition have issued a statement regarding the tenth anniversary of the terrible terrorist attacks of 9/11 - which you just may have noticed is fast approaching.

I don't really have a lot more to add to that statement, but given pretty much anyone who is anyone has been asked or is giving a statement about what they were doing that fateful day - I may as well add my voice to the chorus. Not of course that I can be as eloquent as Laurie Penny for instance, who we learn 'was in double biology, cutting up potatoes for my GCSE coursework' when the twin towers were hit - nor as insightful as George Galloway, who also in the New Statesman recalls how within 30 minutes he had put pen to paper, writing this article for the Guardian. Incidentally, my favourite post 9/11 Guardian comment piece was 'Samson the Terrorist' by Paul Foot - which amidst the mass of liberalism on offer forcefully and provocatively injected Trotsky's Marxist critique of terrorism into the arguments then raging.

Personally - because, then, you know it is so important to state exactly what one was doing at the precise moment one learned something quite extraordinary was taking place in the US - embarrassingly enough I may as well admit I was doing something quite perfectly bourgeois - playing tennis of all things (perhaps I can cite Geoffrey de Ste Croix, Fred Perry and a few other tennis-playing socialists in my defence here, but it is a pretty weak defence). The muttered under her breath remark of the mother of the person I was playing tennis against while the Twin Towers were still falling was to give a small indication of the wave of latent Islamophobia that was to bubble up out into the open like a cesspit overflowing in the days, weeks, months and years to follow: 'It bet it was some bloody Arabs'.

In response I cited automatically such injustices and instances of Western state terrorism such as the oppression of the Palestinians, the UN slaughter of Iraqis in the Gulf War and then the million odd Iraqi children killed by UN sanctions in Iraq during the 1990s and indeed any number of reasons people in the Middle East might have to hate the West (the failure to understand such imperialist oppression before 9/11 and why young people might have been prepared to turn to terrorism and kill themselves in such a manner is the key thing 9/11 conspiracy theorists consistently fail to understand). However, while I understood that 9/11 did not come from a clear blue sky, given it was the World Trade Centre that had been hit, I have to admit that my initial feelings were to also raise an anti-capitalist argument by way of explanation for such an attack alongside an anti-imperialist one. Before 9/11 the anti-capitalist movement had been on a kind of rising crescendo - and I tended to also cite the massive gap between rich and poor on a global scale and other such obscenities to explain the kind of potential for such targetting of bastions of Western capital as the WTC.

The flood of Islamophobia - whipped up as ever by the capitalist press and racist warmongering politicians - was given respectability and legitimacy the moment it was clear that the threat of war by the US in Afghanistan, on one of the poorest people on the planet, was definitely on the cards. Probably the proudest Socialist Worker sales I ever did were agitating against war in the days following 9/11 - Socialist Worker that week had a defiant frontpage - see here and a lead article - 'Bitter Fruit of US Policy' and I vividly remember an Asian taxi-driver giving us a huge grin and thumbs up as he swung by our stall.

That almost ten years exactly on from 9/11 we have seen exactly where the hatred of Islamophobia leads in the Norwegian Nazi atrocities - will hopefully mean that the 9/11 anniversary will have a slightly more sophisticated and less racist discussion of what 'terrorism' is than it might otherwise have had. However, more critically - as both Mike Davis in his article 'The Embers of September' and Alex Callinicos in his article 'Power Failure' note, the real story of ten years since 9/11 is just how weak US Imperialism is after ten years of bloody war - and now also global economic crisis. As Callinicos notes,

'The “war on terrorism”, which was supposed to entrench US global hegemony, has merely accelerated decline. The global economic and financial crisis is widely seen as the breakdown of Anglo-American free-market capitalism, which the Bush administration had proclaimed the “single sustainable model of national success”. More important, the recent stagnation of the US economy has contrasted sharply with the rapid recovery of China—now the world’s second biggest economy. The crisis has speeded up a realignment of global geopolitical relationships to accommodate Chinese power...Meanwhile, democracy has come to the Middle East—not thanks to either the US or ­Al Qaida, but through revolutions that overthrew Western client regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. The Nato intervention in Libya is a desperate, almost certainly unsuccessful attempt by Washington to regain the initiative. Obama’s determination to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan reflects among other things a recognition that US global strategy must focus on countering China’s rise.'

As Mike Davis observes:

Someday—perhaps sooner than we think—a new Edward Gibbon in China or India will surely sit down to write “The History of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire”. (Hopefully it will be but one volume in a larger, more progressive oeuvre — “The Renaissance of Asia”, perhaps — and not an obituary for a human future sucked into America's sinking void.)

Lets indeed hope and organise so that the story of the 21st century is one where humanity does indeed forge a genuinely democratic future amidst the barbaric violence of imperial decline - but for that to happen we need to make sure that 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire' leads not simply to just 'the Renaissance of Asia' (with the potential for new empires to replace the ashes of the old) but the Renaissance of Socialism.

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