Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The hypocrisy of the West over Syria

 In 1970 the Senate reported: "The US has dumped on Vietnam a quantity of toxic chemical (dioxin) amounting to six pounds per head of population." This was Operation Hades, later renamed the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand – the source of what Vietnamese doctors call a "cycle of foetal catastrophe". I have seen generations of children with their familiar, monstrous deformities. John Kerry, with his own blood-soaked war record, will remember them. I have seen them in Iraq too, where the US used depleted uranium and white phosphorus, as did the Israelis in Gaza. No Obama "red line" for them. No showdown psychodrama for them.
The sterile repetitive debate about whether "we" should "take action" against selected dictators (ie cheer on the US and its acolytes in yet another aerial killing spree) is part of our brainwashing. Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and UN special rapporteur on Palestine, describes it as "a self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence". This "is so widely accepted as to be virtually unchallengeable".
It is the biggest lie: the product of "liberal realists" in Anglo-American politics, scholarship and media who ordain themselves as the world's crisis managers, rather than the cause of a crisis. Stripping humanity from the study of nations and congealing it with jargon that serves western power designs, they mark "failed", "rogue" or "evil" states for "humanitarian intervention"...
  From John Pilger 'The silent military coup that took over Washington'

The problem for America in all of this is that its capacity to impact diplomatic negotiations is limited by the fact that its record of asserting its military power stands squarely at odds with its pretensions of moral authority. For all America's condemnations of chemical weapons, the people of Falluja in Iraq are experiencing the birth defects and deformities in children and increases in early-life cancer that may be linked to the use of depleted uranium during the US bombardment of the town. It also used white phosphorus against combatants in Falluja.
Its chief ally in the region, Israel, holds the record for ignoring UN resolutions, and the US is not a participant in the international criminal court – which is charged with bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice – because it refuses to allow its own citizens to be charged. On the very day Obama lectured the world on international norms he launched a drone strike in Yemen that killed six people.
Obama appealing for the Syrian regime to be brought to heel under international law is a bit like Tony Soprano asking the courts for a restraining order against one of his mob rivals – it cannot be taken seriously because the very laws he is invoking are laws he openly flouts....
From Gary Younge, 'The US has little credibility left'

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The Other 9/11 - Forty years after Pinochet's coup in Chile

Allende can no longer hope to satisfy the owners of industry and the working class. He will have to choose to side with one or the other.
But one side is armed, the other not. And Allende shows no inclination at all to break his pledges to the middle class of a year ago not to “interfere” with the state machine.
Instead he will probably use his influence, and that of the bureaucrats within Chile’s working-class based parties and trade unions, to persuade workers to put up with harsh conditions and an erosion of last year’s reforms.
Such a course will tend to create confusion and a lack of direction among many workers. But it is not likely to lead to any great loss in the spontaneous militancy in the factories and mines. Because of that it will not satisfy those who continue to hold real power in Chile. In the past we have seen a number of examples of regimes in some ways similar to Allende’s.
After a period their mass support became demoralised and the government themselves were easily overthrown by right-wing military coups.
Socialist Worker, 20 November 1971

Tragically, that analysis of 'the Chilean road to socialism' as led by Salvador Allende was proved correct and forty years ago today - as the current issue of Socialist Worker reminds us - on 11 September 1973, the Chilean military led by General Pinochet organised a bloody military coup and killed some 30,000 people as it overthrew Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) government - killing Allende himself.  Like the Egyptian military takeover recently, this had the blessing of the United States.  As Henry Kissinger had famously put it in June 1970,
I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
 The lessons of Chile remain important - if contested ones  - for the coup is a classic demonstration of the classical Marxist analysis of the state machine as fundamentally an instrument of class oppression and domination designed to defend the rich - and a reminder of the fallacies behind the notion of a 'parliamentary road to socialism'.  As Ian Birchall and Chris Harman noted in September 1973 just after Pinochet's coup,

The lessons of the Chilean experience, are not particularly original ones. They were first drawn by Marx, at the time of the Paris Commune more than 100 years ago, and they were reiterated by Lenin writing ‘State and Revolution’ on the eve of October: there is no way of carrying through a socialist transformation of society without first destroying the old state apparatus, with its standing army, its police, its judiciary, its bureaucratic hierarchy. In its place has to be established the rule of directly elected and recallable workers’ delegates, backed up by a workers’ militia.
Many would-be marxists have claimed that under modern conditions the bourgeois state can be reformed peacefully, at least in countries with strong parliamentary traditions.
These were the arguments used by Allende and the Communist Party in Chile. They are also the arguments of the labour left and the Communist Party in Britain. The Chilean coup has proved their fallacy. The ruling class will not just sit back and accept in-roads into its privileges, however ‘constitutionally’ reforms are carried through or however deep-rooted parliamentary traditions. The state machine in even the most democratic bourgeois states is built on strictly hierarchic principles, with control over the activities of the army, the police and the civil service concentrated in the hands of the relatives and friends of those who hold economic power. And the ruling class will use this state machine to re-establish its own, untrammelled domination the moment it feels the balance of forces are favourable to it.

That said, as the Chilean socialist Mario Nain notes today, if Pinochet's Chile was subsequently the laboratory for testing the ideas of 'neoliberalism' in practice, then in recent years anti-capitalist resistance and revolt have swept the country, led by new generations of workers.  If there is hope today in Chile after the memories and legacy of Pinochet's tyranny, it lies with them.

Edited to add: See the Chile 40 Years On website for some anniversary events etc in the UK around this.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Solidarity with Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt: Freedom for Haitham Mohamedain

We condemn the arrest and detention of Haitham Mohamedain by the Egyptian army on 5th September in Suez. Haitham is a well known labour lawyer and revolutionary activist who has represented hundreds of workers arrested on picket lines or facing court hearings as a result of victimisation by their bosses or assaults by the police. 
Just two weeks ago he was in Suez defending steel workers whose strike for higher wages was broken up by the Army. As a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists, Haitham has also been one of only a small number of revolutionary activists prepared to publicly condemn the brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by the Army in recent weeks, including the killing of hundreds of protesters on 14th August. 
We call for Haitham’s immediate release and the withdrawal of any charges against him.
 Add your name to this solidarity statement and read more about the case here

Edited to add: Protest works -  Haitham has been released!

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

On the Thomas Paine Trail in Thetford, Norfolk

Thomas Paine on the official sign of Thetford - not many places in Britain honour revolutionaries on their town signs. As an Ipswich Town fan, I rarely venture into Norfolk if I can help it, but recently I made an exception to visit Thetford (a town on the Norfolk-Suffolk border) to undertake the 'Thomas Paine Trail'. Thomas Paine - as readers of Histomat will recall - was one of the greatest revolutionaries during the age of bourgeois-democratic revolution from 1775-1848, was born in this little East Anglian town in 1737 (see this piece by Peter Linebaugh for more about Thetford's historic significance). I like to see Paine - who once gave a toast 'to the world revolution' - as one of the finest people to ever come out of East Anglia (rather than say, let him be claimed by Norfolk alone), but I am basically just happy that the good people of Thetford - as well as others - have honoured Paine over the years - as this post will hopefully go some way to show. Statue of Thomas Paine, erected in 1964 in Thetford town centre and designed by Sir Charles Wheeler. Words from Paine's The Rights of Man, on the front of the plinth - 'My country is the world, my religion is to do good'. Paine's statue has him holding The Rights of Man, though the book is upside down - apparently intentionally in order to get local people talking about Paine and the book. There is lots of writing around the plinth of the statue - mostly quotes from Paine's The Age of Reason. Sadly if perhaps inevitably, most of Paine's most radical stances for his time - against slavery and for women's liberation for example - are not recorded on the stature - and there was a distinct lack of really radical quotes - for example Paine's thoughts on the monarchy (eg. 'Monarchy would not have continued so many ages in the world, had it not been for the abuses it protects. It is the master-fraud, which shelters all others.' or perhaps this: 'Monarchy is a silly stupid thing. A play thing for the rich and a menace for the poor'. Quotes like this would really I think get the local people of Thetford talking... This avenue is not that far from the house where Thomas Paine was born... This nice little plaque marks the birthplace of Thomas Paine (the original home has long gone, so instead it can be found on the wall of what is now the Thomas Paine Hotel. This plaque - also on the side of the building that is now the Thomas Paine Hotel - was put into place in 1943. The inscription reads: "Journalist, Patriot and Champion of the common man. Thomas Paine, son of a humble Thetford staymaker, was born near this house. From his talented pen came the voice of democratic aspiration of the American Republic, though such splendid writings as 'Common Sense', 'Crisis' and 'The Age of Reason'. Buried in New York, this simple son of England lives on through the Ideals and Principles of the democratic world for which we fight today. In tribute to his memory and to the everlasting love of freedom embodied in his works, this Plaque is gratefully dedicated through the voluntary contributions of Soldiers of an American Airforce Group." The plaque was then placed here as a tribute from the American aircrew of a B17 named "Thomas Paine", based at nearby Knettishall during the Second World War. The aircraft bore the legend ”Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered”, - a quote from the first of Paine’s American Crisis papers, which maintained American morale during the War of Independence. The aforementioned Thomas Paine Hotel in White Hart Street - start of the official 'Thomas Paine trail' (though disappointingly the pub hardly advertises this fact). The Ancient House Museum - just a little bit down White Hart Street - is a decent little museum and an essential place to visit on the 'Thomas Paine trail' - with a room dedicated to Paine, where you can watch a little introductory film about his life, see a few artefacts (including his 'deathmask') and buy a nice little postcard with a portrait of Paine. Paine died in 1809 - twenty years after his death in 1829 an iron bridge was built in Thetford - this is only relevant because Paine himself liked iron bridges and was a designer of them. But it is a nice old bridge. Thetford Grammar School (still in existence) - really quite close to where Thomas Paine was born and where young Thomas went to school. Thomas’s father, Joseph Paine, a master stay or corset maker, was a freeman of the Borough of Thetford which entitled him to have his son educated at the Grammar School, at reduced fees. Thomas later wrote, "my parents were not able to give me a shilling beyond what they gave me in education, and to do this they distressed themselves." He probably attended the school between the ages of eight to thirteen years. On leaving school, he was then apprenticed to his father - so Thomas was definitely something of an autodidact... There were other things to see on the Thomas Paine trail, but to be honest I think I have covered the main things - others I leave to who make the time to visit to see for themselves. I should mention two other things about Thetford that are apparent from a brief strole through the town. There is a statue up here to Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of the Sikh empire before colonisation by the British East India Company in the 1840s - and who ended up living just outside Thetford for a large part of the nineteenth century. It is also impossible to miss the fact that a lot of 'Dad's Army' was filmed around Thetford - and so there is a 'Dad's Army trail' running parallel to the Thomas Paine trail. A couple of photos below by way of evidence of this in case any fans of the show read Histomat (the statue is of Captain Mainwaring): In conclusion, sad to say, I guess far more British people who visit Thetford today as tourists do so in order to visit 'The Dad's Army Museum' and go on the 'Dad's Army trail' than go like me in order to pay homage to Thomas Paine - but if just a fraction of those who go to Thetford for 'Dad's Army' leave Thetford wanting to learn a bit more about Thomas Paine - a heroic revolutionary figure and democratic thinker who has never recieved the attention he warrants in Britain itself - then that in itself is surely cause for cheer.

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A Visit to Highgate Cemetery

Karl Marx Herbert Spencer (definitely the odd one out here) Claudia Jones Ralph Miliband Chris Harman and Paul Foot Eric Hobsbawm

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Monday, September 02, 2013

EP Thompson on why history is a weapon

Listen to this, part of the famous plenary debate which included Thompson at History Workshop 13, on the subject of 'People’s History and Socialist Theory', which took place between 30 November and 2 December 1979 at Ruskin College Oxford.

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Fascist EDL not welcome in Tower Hamlets

From Unite Against Fascism:

The fascist English Defence League (EDL) has announced plans to demonstrate in East London on Saturday 7 September.
They have attempted to march in Tower Hamlets three times before. On each occasion trade unions, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, other faith, LGBT communities, local elected politicians and many more stood together and prevented them from entering the borough. Now more than ever it is crucial we stand together again. The EDL is trying to stir up racial hatred following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in May, we must not let them.
Wherever the EDL go attacks on Muslims and other communities occur. In June, a Muswell Hill mosque and community centre was burnt to the ground and ‘EDL’ was found painted on the walls.
In July, three mosques in the West Midlands were subjected to bomb attacks shortly before the fascists mobilised several hundred in Birmingham. We want to show that the EDL and their fascist ideas are not welcome in Tower Hamlets or any other part of London. We need a vibrant demonstration of multi-cultural East London.
Unite Against Fascism and United East End are urging all antiracists and antifascists to join a demonstration opposing the EDL on Saturday 7 September 2013. We must stop these racist street thugs from dividing our communities.
EDL not welcome in Tower Hamlets – Don’t let the racists divide us
Saturday 7 September
Assemble 11am
Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel Road, London E1.
Called by Unite Against Fascism

Supported by:
United East End (UEE),
Trades Union Congress (TUC),
National Union of Teachers (NUT),
Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS),
Unite the Union,
Communication Workers Union (CWU),
University and College Union (UCU),
National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT),
Tower Hamlets Unison,
Tower Hamlets UCU,
East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre,
Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE),
Tower Hamlets Labour Party,
Green Party Trade Union Group,
Green Left,
Searchlight magazine,
Love Music Hate Racism.

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