Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

David Cameron - Tory slave driver

Mr Cameron, too, is revealed to have slave owners in his family background on his father's side. The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Mr Cameron's first cousin six times removed. Sir James, who was the son of one of Mr Cameron's great-grand-uncle's, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica. 

 Another illustrious political family that it appears still carries the name of a major slave owner is the Hogg dynasty, which includes the former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg. They are the descendants of Charles McGarel, a merchant who made a fortune from slave ownership. Between 1835 and 1837 he received £129,464, about £101m in today's terms, for the 2,489 slaves he owned. McGarel later went on to bring his younger brother-in-law Quintin Hogg into his hugely successful sugar firm, which still used indentured labour on plantations in British Guyana established under slavery. And it was Quintin's descendants that continued to keep the family name in the limelight, with both his son, Douglas McGarel Hogg, and his grandson, Quintin McGarel Hogg, becoming Lord Chancellor. 

Dr Draper said: "Seeing the names of the slave-owners repeated in 20th‑century family naming practices is a very stark reminder about where those families saw their origins being from. In this case I'm thinking about the Hogg family. To have two Lord Chancellors in Britain in the 20th century bearing the name of a slave-owner from British Guiana, who went penniless to British Guyana, came back a very wealthy man and contributed to the formation of this political dynasty, which incorporated his name into their children in recognition – it seems to me to be an illuminating story and a potent example." 

Mr Hogg refused to comment, saying he "didn't know anything about it". Mr Cameron declined to comment after a request was made to the No 10 press office.
Britain's colonial shame - see also this piece by historian Catherine Hall.

 Another reason then to detest Cameron - and a good time then for those fighting back against the Tories - whose workfare programme amounts to forced 'slave labour' for the poor - to remember figures from history such as Toussaint Louverture, leader of 'the only successful slave revolt in history'...


Edited to add: William Dalrymple on Cameron and the Amritsar massacre

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Towards a peopled historiography of the far left

'This sketch simplifies the arguments, the details and dilemmas, the complexities and intractabilities of life as it is lived; it cannot do justice to the texture of [Tony] Cliff’s sixty years as a revolutionary. [Ian] Birchall’s book does. Written by a long-time member of the IS/SWP it is nevertheless no prolegomenon for a canonization. Birchall is unlikely to agree with many of my judgements; yet he places a range of criticisms of Cliff on the record. If we are usually left in little doubt as to where the author stands on these issues they are explained rather than dismissed or in some cases upheld. His text is exhaustively researched, elegantly composed and critically empathetic; it employs an authorial self-awareness some biographers of mainstream political figures and ‘official Communists’ could usefully emulate. Trotskyism has been part of the left and of the experience of many of its adherents. 

This volume, the most comprehensive account we have of a leader of the British far left, his politics and organizations, suggests that it deserves enhanced attention from scholars; it illustrates that objectivity and partisanship are not incompatible in the writing of revolutionary history. It demonstrates once more that historians can recuperate with profit what dominant assumptions marginalize as blind alleys and lost causes – if we address their protagonists critically but as serious actors, and in terms of their own preoccupations. It affirms the potential for a peopled historiography of the far left which weighs agency and circumstance and eschews hagiography, on the one hand, and teleological social-democratic parables on the other...'

 John McIlroy, 'A Trotskyist's Tale', History Workshop Journal (online, 2013), a review of Ian Birchall, Tony Cliff: a Marxist For His Time, London, Bookmarks, 2011, 664 pp - for more on writing the recent history of the British far left see here

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Dublin Lock-Out of 1913 remembered

The Dublin Lock-Out from August 1913 to January 1914 is one of the most momentous events in Irish and British Labour History.

The 100th anniversary is being widely marked in Ireland and with some events in the UK - see here

The London Socialist Historians Group is holding an afternoon event at the centre of UK research history, the Institute of Historical Research in London, to both recall the Lock-Out one hundred years on and to review the current state of historical research on it - for more details see here

The event is on Saturday March 2nd 2013 from Midday at the Institute of Historical Research in central London

Areas covered may include the role of James Larkin and James Connolly in the Lock-Out; the importance and impact of the ideas of revolutionary syndicalism; The formation of the Irish TGWU and the Irish Labour Party; Links between socialists in Ireland and the UK and the role of the British TUC; The successful organisation of impoverished and unskilled Dublin workers in trade unions; The short and longer term impacts of the end of the Lock-Out.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tony Benn & Duncan Hallas: Lessons of 1926 General Strike

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ernest Mandel interviewed

'A man called Ernest Mandel' is now online and is, as Louis Proyect once noted is 'a film that runs for 40 minutes and consists of an interview given to Frans Buyens in 1972, at a time when Mandel was at the height of his fame and his power. It is a remarkable display of his intellect and forceful personality'. One might quibble with certain formulations of Mandel in the interview - for example over the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions and so on - but overall the interview gives one a great sense of Ernest Mandel as an inspiring and important twentieth century revolutionary Marxist theorist.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stop the War protest on 15 February

Friday 15th February protest: 
Stop Western Intervention in Syria - Western Troops Out of Mali

The war on terror is in danger of spreading once again, with continuing threats of increased intervention in Syria, the ongoing war in Mali and a possible attack on Iran. Join us to say Stop Western intervention in Syria, Western troops out of Mali, Stop the spread of War.
  • Tomorrow, Friday, 5.30pm
  • Opposite Downing Street on Whitehall, London
  • Share the Facebook event with your contacts
  • Call 020 7561 9311 or email office@stopwar.org.uk for more information
Action Alert

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Monday, February 11, 2013

The Origins of British Bolshevism

Those interested in revolutionary history will be pleased to know that one of the most important works by the late, great socialist historian Raymond Challinor is now being put online at the Marxists Internet Archive. The Origins of British Bolshevism (1977), a history of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP - formed in 1903), was reviewed here at the time in International Socialism, and John McIlroy notes the following:

The militancy of the 1960s and 1970s impelled labour historians searching for useable pasts to look at the years between 1910 and 1926 which witnessed a growth in class combativity and consciousness and intensifying conflict with the state. The Origins of British Bolshevism filled a gap left by earlier work, notably Walter Kendall’s The Revolutionary Movement in Britain and James Hinton’s First Shop Stewards’ Movement. These books discussed the tiny Manichean SLP and its role in the unrest. British Bolshevism’s unquestionable achievement was to present a fully-fledged, meticulously-researched history of the party, its policies and practice, from its formation in 1903 to its split over the creation of the CP and its decomposition in the 1920s. Its significance was acknowledged even by those who felt labour history devoted too much time to revolutionary marginalia.
The problems stemmed from its under-development of its central thesis: that SLP members were British Bolsheviks. Russian Bolshevism was a phenomenon both the SLP and even British historians of the 1970s knew too little about. Hinton had insisted that what was primary in the trajectory of the shop stewards’ movement was not so much the issues of war and internationalism as the interaction between socialist groups and industrial militancy. Distilled in the arguments of J.T. Murphy prioritising workers’ councils, and personified in his enrolment in the SLP, this led key stewards towards sovietism. British Bolshevism’s expansion on the SLP’s determination to smash the state, its ‘democratic centralism’, its stress on Marxist education and opposition to the war did not satisfactorily establish with sufficient specificity that the SLP had developed on Bolshevik lines. As distinct from embracing 1917 and, on the part of some, a Russian model. Far from fully internalising Bolshevism, many SLP members recoiled from it as it was then understood when they were faced with the practical consequences in the form of the CP.
The SLP’s economic reductionism and what Ray described elsewhere as its ‘dull and fatalistic Marxism’ arguably had more in common with the Second International than the infant Third. His conclusion that Lenin was less than infallible about British labour was justified. On the key question of the Labour Party, his criticism of Lenin’s stance was contentious. The assertion of an SLP Bolshevism which flowed into the CP, only to be sidelined by ‘bureaucracy’ and then Stalinism, was under-argued. Some former SLPers, notably MacManus and Murphy, espoused, and others such as William Paul accepted, most of the changes in the CP’s line through the 1920s. The political path of most of them is difficult to distinguish from that of many comrades who joined the CP from the British Socialist Party or the ILP. The conclusion that the SLP was a model for revolutionaries was questionable...

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Some reasons to be cheerful

One, Two, Three...

Edited to add: And four - Victory to the Sussex University Occupation against privatisation!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

New Book: Arms and the People

Mike Gonzalez & Houman Barekat (eds.), Arms & the People: Popular Movements & the Military from the Paris Commune to the Arab Spring
Pluto Press, 292pp, £17.50, ISBN 9780745332970

Looking at a range of global historical experiences, Arms and the People examines the relationship between mass movements and military institutions. Some argue that it is impossible to achieve and protect a revolution without the support of the army, but how can the support of the army be won?

Arms and the People explores the impact of profound social polarisation on the internal cohesion of the state’s ‘armed bodies of men’ and on the contested loyalties of soldiers. The different contributors examine a series of historical moments in which a crisis in the military institution has reflected a deeper social crisis which has penetrated that institution and threatened to disable it.

With a range of international contributors who have either studied or been directly involved in such social upheavals, Arms and the People is a pioneering contribution to the study of revolutionary change and will appeal to students and academics in history, politics and sociology.

'A most revealing study of some of the most dramatic moments of modern history, from the people in arms in the Paris Commune to today’s headlines. Often beaten back but even then leaving a legacy of achievement and understanding to carry the struggle forward.'
Noam Chomsky

 Read a review by Ian Birchall here

and also one by Estelle Cooch here

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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Maya Deren - The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

If you have an hour free and are interested in Haitian history and culture, this film is well worth a watch.  

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