Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, August 30, 2013

A quick salutation to Miliband

No, not Ed - but Ralph:

[The] ‘acceptance of the legitimacy of military intervention on the ground of the exceptionally tyrannical nature of a regime opens the way to even more military adventurism, predatoriness, conquest and subjugation than is already rife in the world today.The rejection of military intervention on this score is not meant to claim immunity and protection for tyrannical regimes... Tyrannical regimes make opposition extremely difficult: but they do not make it impossible. And the point is to help internal opposition rather than engage in military ‘substitutism’...

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

A blow to imperialism - and a victory for the anti-war movement!

It looks after Cameron's defeat in the parliamentary vote over Syria as if British troops may well - as when Harold Wilson was forced by the anti-Vietnam war movement to keep Britain out of Vietnam - have been kept out of the looming possible Western military intervention in Syria - what a blow to imperialism and what a victory for the anti-war movement!  As Philip Hammond, the Tory defence secretary, admitted on Newsnight, 'the result shows there is a "deep sense of unease" about involvement in the Middle East to do to with Iraq. It's a "legacy experience", he says. Just as the US took many years to get over Vietnam, Britain will take many years to get over Iraq. Iraq has "poisoned the well" of public opinion, he says (using the phrase Cameron used in the debate)'.

To all those who said the Stop the War movement in Britain achieved nothing - this vote is final vindication that it changed British politics fundamentally - never let it again be said that mass movements from below for change do not make a difference - the past (and present) actions of Stop the War activists were absolutely central to the historic and glorious vote in parliament tonight.  Cameron is now weaker than ever - this is the biggest and most serious defeat Cameron and the Coalition government has  received since coming to office.  Now is the time to go on the offensive and bring this government down - this Saturday's anti-war demonstrations should reinforce the message delivered tonight in Westminster - and everyone should then descend on the Tory party conference in Manchester to protest against the cuts and privatisation on September 29th - and to say 'Welfare not Warfare - it is time for the warmongering Tory scumbag Cameron to go'.

Edited to add: Stop the War Coalition statement
and see also Socialist Worker

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Emergency protest / National Demonstration: No attack on Syria

From the Stop the War Coalition:
No attack on Syria
Protest 5pm, Wednesday 28 August, Downing Street, London

Britain, France and the US are committing to another disastrous military intervention. Apart from the inevitable casualties, any attack on Syria can only inflame an already disastrous civil war and would risk pulling in regional powers further.

Most people in this country have learnt from the disasters of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. According to a Telegraph/YouGov poll on Sunday only 9% of the British public would support troops being sent to Syria, and only 16% support sending more arms to the region. Our politicians however have learnt nothing.

 We need the maximum level of protest to stop them plunging us in to yet another catastrophic war.

 Edited to add:
 National Demonstration: Saturday 31 August, 12 noon, Embankment, London

Edited to also add, read Joseph Daher, Alex Callinicos, Judith Orr and see this statement from Syrian revolutionary socialists.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Statement from the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists on the Cairo massacre

Down with military rule! Down with Al-Sisi, the leader of the counter-revolution!

The bloody dissolution of the sit-ins in Al-Nahda Square and Raba'a al-Adawiyya is nothing but a massacre—prepared in advance. It aims to liquidate the Muslim Brotherhood. But, it is also part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime.

The Revolutionary Socialists did not defend the regime of Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood for a single day. We were always in the front ranks of the opposition to that criminal, failed regime which betrayed the goals of the Egyptian Revolution. It even protected the pillars of the Mubarak regime and its security apparatus, armed forces and corrupt businessmen. We strongly participated in the revolutionary wave of 30 June.

Neither did we defend for a single day the sit-ins by the Brotherhood and their attempts to return Mursi to power. But we have to put the events of today in their context, which is the use of the military to smash up workers' strikes. We also see the appointment of new provincial governors—largely drawn from the ranks of the remnants of the old regime, the police and military generals. Then there are the policies of General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi's government. It has adopted a road-map clearly hostile to the goals and demands of the Egyptian revolution, which are freedom, dignity and social justice.

This is the context for the brutal massacre which the army and police are committing. It is a bloody dress rehearsal for the liquidation of the Egyptian Revolution. It aims to break the revolutionary will of all Egyptians who are claiming their rights, whether workers, poor, or revolutionary youth, by creating a state of terror.

However, the reaction by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists in attacking Christians and their churches, is a sectarian crime which only serves the forces of counter-revolution. The filthy attempt to create a civil war, in which Egyptian Christians will fall victims to the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, is one in which Mubarak's state and Al-Sisi are complicit, who have never for a single day defended the Copts and their churches.

We stand firmly against Al-Sisi's massacres, and against his ugly attempt to abort the Egyptian Revolution. For today's massacre is the first step in the road towards counter-revolution. We stand with the same firmness against all assaults on Egypt's Christians and against the sectarian campaign which only serves the interests of Al-Sisi and his bloody project.

Many who described themselves as liberals and leftists have betrayed the Egyptian Revolution, led by those who took part in Al-Sisi's government. They have sold the blood of the martyrs to whitewash the military and the counter-revolution. These people have blood on their hands.

We, the Revolutionary Socialists, will never deviate for an instant from the path of the Egyptian Revolution. We will never compromise on the rights of the revolutionary martyrs and their pure blood: those who fell confronting Mubarak, those who fell confronting the Military Council, those who fell confronting Mursi's regime, and those who fall now confronting Al-Sisi and his dogs.

Down with military rule! No the return of the old regime! No to the return of the Brotherhood! All power and wealth to the people

The Revolutionary Socialists 14 August 2013

Edited to add: A link to the MENA Solidarity Network website, which is useful for updates etc


Tony Cliff on the working class and the oppressed

WHY DID Karl Marx put the emphasis on the working class? It was not because the working class was large in numbers. When Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, the only two countries where the industrial revolution was complete were England and Belgium.

Internationally the working class was tiny. Today there are more workers in South Korea than there were in the entire world in Marx’s time. Even today the working class does not make up the majority of humanity. The majority of the world’s population are peasants.

He chose the working class because the working class is the subject of history, because it is in a collective situation. It is not a collection of people but a collective of people. There is all the difference in the world between these two.

In Russia, for example, the people who really suffered most before 1917 were not the workers. The 40,000 workers in the Putilov armaments factory in Petrograd were on top wages, yet they formed the citadel of Bolshevism. The workers were more cultured than the peasants. Nearly 80 percent of them could read and write.

The main point then was not suffering or deprivation, but the fact that the working class was a collective.

It was for this reason that Marx spoke about the working class as a collective class, as a universal class. It is the class that in emancipating itself emancipates humanity, because where the chains of capitalism are forged, there they have to be broken.

When you look to the oppressed there is a problem: there are far more oppressed people in the world than there are workers. There are thousands of millions of oppressed women. There are a massive number of oppressed blacks and Asians, there are millions of oppressed gays, there are millions of oppressed Jews. The numbers are absolutely massive.

Are they a collective? No. The oppressed do not join forces automatically. The idea of a rainbow alliance of the oppressed wouldn’t stand the test of five minutes of struggle.

It is not true that if you are gay you automatically support blacks, that if you are black you automatically support gays, or if you are gay you automatically support Jews.

If anyone is in any doubt, let us look at the reality. For instance it is simply not true that Jews in Nazi Germany were attacked only by heterosexuals. Among the worst anti-semites were the Nazi gays.

Why? Because to be a homosexual you were inferior in Nazi terms. But if you had a leather jacket, leather boots and a swastika, compared to a Jew or compared to a woman you didn’t feel inferior at all, you felt superior...

Read the rest of the article, the transcript of a talk Tony Cliff gave at Marxism 1987 on 'The working class and the oppressed' here. You can also hear Cliff give another lecture on this topic in his inimitable style in 1994 here

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Some Summer Reading for Revolutionaries

Though there are important looming strikes ahead, as well as protests such as that at Tory Party conference in Manchester on Sunday 29 September, and other events such as the Unite the Resistance conference in October on the horizon, August is a good time to catch up on some reading, and though I am aware that many revolutionaries are busy reading Lenin just now - including One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, I thought I would highlight a few other books that might be of interest to readers of Histomat.

First up, some black history (on which subject see this blog post for other suggestions on 'radical black reading')*. In the superb Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, Christoph Waltz's character - a German dentist turned bounty hunter called Dr. King Schultz challenges the Leonardo DiCaprio's slaveowner character Calvin Candie about the fate of one of his slaves, D'Artagnan while in Candie's private study: 

Candie: Are you brooding 'bout me getting the best of ya, huh?
Schultz: Actually, I was thinking of that poor devil you fed to the dogs today, D'Artagnan. And I was wondering what Dumas would make of all this.
Candie: Come again?
Schultz: Alexandre Dumas. He wrote The Three Musketeers. I figured you must be an admirer. You named your slave after his novel's lead character. If Alexandre Dumas had been there today, I wonder what he would have made of it?
Candie: You doubt he'd approve?
Schultz: Yes. His approval would be a dubious proposition at best.
Candie: Soft hearted Frenchy?
Schultz: Alexandre Dumas is black.

While it is always good to read the great Dumas himself, the author Tom Reiss has recently published a Putlizer prize winning book - The Black Count: Napoleon's Rival and the real Count of Monte Christo about General Alexandre Dumas, father of the famous novelist - and a heroic black general who was born in what became Haiti and rose to command revolutionary armies during the French Revolution and who inspired many of the stories of daring-do in Dumas's novels. The work has been widely reviewed - including here and here, but in short you will be hard put to find a more gripping page-turner of a biography relating to race and revolution this year. I really cannot recommend this book enough. 

On the subject of racism, I have already mentioned Brian Richardson's excellent edited collection Say it Loud! Marxism and the Fight Against Racism on my blog (it is also reviewed here), but another edited volume from Bookmarks also deserves attention, Capitalism and Sport: Politics, Protest, People and Play edited by Michael Lavalette.  Full of wide-ranging essays on all manner of sports, there really will be something for everyone here and the book is packed full of eye-opening facts from history that will come as a surprise to all but the most well-read socialist sports fan.

 I have been meaning to mention another edited volume Marxism and Social Movements, co-edited by Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky and Alf Gunvald Nilsen, which is at the moment a very expensive hardback with Brill only but next year will be appearing in a more affordable paperback with Haymarket.  Nonetheless, some of the contents of the collection are available online on one of the editors blogs here - worth checking out.  On the subject of Marxism and social movements, the meetings from Marxism 2013 are now online to either listen to  here while some are available to watch here.

Finally, I have just finally got around to reading The Great Gatsby which I thoroughly enjoyed (but have still to see the new film).  As F. Scott Fitzgerald  once commented to his daughter in a letter only days before his death in December 1940: “Sometime when you feel very brave and defiant and haven’t been invited to one particular college function, read the terrible chapter in [Marx’s] Das Kapital on ‘The Working Day,’ and see if you are ever quite the same.”  At a time of Tory austerity, where zero hour contracts afflict the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, suggesting people read (or re-read) Marx himself seems as good a way as any to end this post. 

 * Edited to add: I forgot to mention Footprints, a collection of poems by the black Barbadian Communist Peter Blackman (1909-93), and edited by Chris Searle - whose introduction to the volume has been reprinted in the latest issue of Race and Class.  This is a very nice little collection by a forgotten activist - who clearly deserves to be remembered as a significant Caribbean poet.

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Tony Blair on the "Spirit of '45"

Labour in 1945 combined idealism and practicality in equal measure to lead a national crusade for a Britain based on social justice, equality of opportunity and social solidarity.  Out of the ruins of war, the 1945 Labour government set out to fulfil the age-old promise of a "land fit for heroes".  To a remarkable extent, it succeeded.
      The Second World War was a people's war, fought in the name of democracy and humanity against fascism.  Labour promised a people's peace.  It delivered a national insurance system to provide security against unemployment and old age.  It established a national, integrated rail system.  It was instrumental in the establishment of international institutions - like the UN, born in London in 1948.  And it set up the pride and joy of British socialism - the National Health Service.   What is more, at the end of its period in office, the Labour government secured the largest vote ever achieved by the Party.
       [1945 was] a remarkable political era ... it summons up the spirit of hope, expectation and - in the cases of defeated Tory candidates - bemusement that marked the 1945 General Election.  The lesson of 1945 should be clear: democratic socialism can be both practical and popular.
Tony Blair, 'Foreword', to Austin Mitchell, Election '45: Reflections on the Revolution in Britain (London, 1995), p. 7. 

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