Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Alex Callinicos on the Syrian revolt

The fighting bears all the hallmarks of an improvised and desperate armed rising. We can argue over whether it was wise politically for the rebels to militarise their struggle so quickly. We may regret the absence of the independent working class action that has been so important in the Egyptian revolution. But the way that its Syrian counterpart has so rapidly developed into a civil war doesn’t alter the fact that its roots lie in popular revolt.

Full article here, see also Richard Seymour and this piece looking at the social roots of the Arab Spring by Simon Assaf.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Obama really is one sick Joker

"Now, even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorise their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living," Obama said to strong applause. "If there's anything to take away from this tragedy it's the reminder that life is very fragile."
Barack Obama after the tragic Colerado shootings, 20 July 2012

It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.

“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges. “If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.

The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total....

The very first strike under his watch in Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, offered a stark example of the difficulties of operating in what General Jones described as an “embryonic theater that we weren’t really familiar with.” It killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents...Today, the Defense Department can target suspects in Yemen whose names they do not know.
Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, New York Times, 29 May 2012.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

James D Young - Socialist and Historian

I have posted a quick tribute to the late Scottish socialist historian James D Young, with whom I was fortunate enough to have some brief correspondence with sometime before his sad recent passing, on behalf of the London Socialist Historians Group on their blog - my condolences to his family, friends and comrades. 

Speaking of socialism and history, I recently came across a quite amusing interview with Terry Deary of the Horrible Histories fame, and one thing he said stuck out memorably:
"I don't want to write history," he says, firmly. "I'm not a historian, and I wouldn't want to be. I want to change the world. Attack the elite. Overturn the hierarchy. Look at my stories and you'll notice that the villains are always, always, those in power. The heroes are the little people. I hate the establishment. Always have, always will."

This is wonderful sentiment in many ways - and no doubt helps explain's some of the power and popularity of Deary's series. But it raises the serious question - can one be a radical or socialist and a historian? This is where it is critically important to remember the long rich tradition of radical, socialist and Marxist historiography that exists. Young - briefly a member of Tony Cliff's 'Socialist Review Group' (later the International Socialists/SWP) from 1955 until the early 1960s - (there is a PDF of an article he wrote in 1995 on 'Socialist Review and Libertarian Marxism' here) and a lifelong activist stands firmly in this tradition of socialist historiography.  For all one might wish to quibble at time with some of the finer details of Young's arguments, his life and work is testament to the fact that it is possible to both hate the ruling class and capitalist system with a vengeance, wish to see its downfall and also make a contribution towards that end by producing provocative, thought-provoking and often pioneering historical writings.

It is to be hoped that at some point someone will create a page about him up on Wikipedia/the Marxist Internet Archive which will allow more people, in time, to properly get some sense of his life and work, but for now it might suffice to simply quote the words of Ray Challinor - his friend and another late great socialist historian - who described Young simply as 'a socialist in the same mould as Hal Draper, a believer in socialism-from-below, [who] feels his duty is to recount the past struggles of working people to create a new society.' There are doubtless many socialists and historians who will feel they owe a certain debt to Young for undertaking his duty with such passion, energy and resolve over the course of his life.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

International Socialism # 135

Anti-capitalism really is an idea whose time has come. Back in 2000, when I joined a march outside the World Bank as they gathered to meet in Prague, one slogan we chanted was 'Our World is Not for Sale - Put the Bankers into Jail!' Back then - at a time when the system seemed to be apparently booming - such chants drew odd looks from passers by - us anti-capitalists were in a tiny minority. Today, when one raises a slogan such as 'Jail the Bankers, Nationalise the Banks', people will respond 'Jail them? We need to get guns - they want shooting'. Anyway, those who take their anti-capitalist theory seriously - and particularly those inspired by the recent rise in interest in Marxism - will be interested to know that the new issue of International Socialism is out now. Contents include Alex Callinicos on 'the second coming of the radical Left', Jim Wolfreys on France after Sarkozy, Jonathan Maunder on the Syrian Revolution and Colin Barker on patterns of revolution over the past 25 years. There are also a number of other more historical articles, on for example the Jewish Labour Bund, the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, while Marxist sports writer Dave Zirin is interviewed about the Olympics...


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

New issue of Revolutionary History

The latest edition of Revolutionary History is now available to order:

European Revolutionaries and Algerian Independence, 1954-1962

This summer will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Algerian independence. Anyone who has seen the film Battle of Algiers may well see certain clear parallels between past events and the present: “terrorism”, torture, organising anti-war activity in workplaces and the armed forces, attitudes to a Muslim-led nationalist movement, etc. Both the similarities to and the differences from the current situation are instructive. The war remains a question of current interest in France, and full information about the role of the French state, notably in the October 1961 massacre, has only recently been available. The book considers the course of Algerian War 1954-1962, and the response of the French left. It will give the fullest account in English of the role of the revolutionary left in giving political and practical solidarity to the Algerian liberation struggle. It presents substantial extracts from Sylvain Pattieu’s, Les camarades des frères (Paris 2002), and will gives the fullest account of the role of Trotskyists in this period, drawing on documents and interviews with participants. An Appendix considers how the war has been reflected in fiction.

Contents: Introduction, Translation of Sylvain Pattieu: The Comrades Of The Brothers, Chapters 3-6, with summaries of the other chapters. Additional documents: Article by Lambert, 16 December 1955; Article by Lambert, 17 October 1957; Note on the Comité pour la Libération de Messali Hadj ; Review from Lutte Ouvrière, 22 December 1979, of Les Porteurs de valises; Extract from a text presented at an Lutte Ouvrière public meeting in March 1985; Socialisme ou barbarie; Interview with H & C Benoîts; Letters from La Vérité des travailleurs, October 1955, on conscript resistance; Article from Vérités Pour on Lenin and desertion; Article from Vérités Pour on desertion; The MNA; The role of François Mitterrand; Austria; John Baird; Report to North African Interfederal Communist Conference 1922; Reply by Hadjali 1923; Reply by Robert Louzon 1923; Algeria and 1968; Bibliography; Appendix on fiction; Cover illustrations from woodcuts of Otto Rudolf Schatz Other Contents: Work in Progress, Obituaries, Reviews. Letters.

Market: General, Undergraduate and Post-graduate; Student Reading List; Library Keywords: Colonialism, Anti-colonial struggles, Left, France, Algeria Bic: HBTQ, HBTV, JPFF, 1DDF, 1HBA 234x156 mm; approx. 410pp ISSN 0953 2382 Pbk ISBN 978 0 85036 665 5 GB Pounds £20.00

Edited to add: Ian Birchall, editor of this volume of Revolutionary History will be speaking about 'European Revolutionaries and Algerian Independence' at Marxism 2012, which will also see another meeting - 'Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence' with Samir Amin, Ian Birchall & Hamza Hamouchene

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