Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why we need a socialist alternative to Labour

On 28 September 1864, 150 years ago, a mass meeting was held in St Martin’s Hall in central London to launch a new organisation, the “International Working Men’s Association” (IWMA) - the First International. In the IWMA's Inaugural Address, written by Karl Marx, the group stressed the importance of workers challenging the “criminal designs” of their own capitalist class, their “playing upon national prejudices, and squandering in piratical wars the people’s blood and treasure”.

 Sadly the IWMA fell apart in the 1870s, but the Socialist (Second) International which was formed in 1889 to replace it on paper at least continued something of this honourable anti-imperialist tradition. For example, in 1906 the Labour Party in Britain, an affiliate of the Second International in 1906 declared it was against 'wars fought to make the rich richer,' while 'underfed schoolchildren are still neglected'. Tragically, the Second International famously failed the test of the First World War, as the majority of its affiliate organisations voted to support this bloody inter-imperialist conflict. The leaders of the organisations which make up what is still nominally called the Socialist International - which include the Labour Party in Britain - have not learnt anything from its past mistakes with respect to history, at least not if the Iraq wars past and present are anything to go by. In 2003, a majority of Labour MPs voted to support Bush and Blair's criminal and disastrous Iraq War - with only 139 voted against. In 2006, only 12 Labour MPs voted for an inquiry into the Iraq War. Now with Cameron's current Iraq War, only 23 Labour MPs voted against - and the vast majority of Labour MPs who forgot the lessons of past imperialist interventions from 1914 onwards and voted for war are below:

 The Labour MPs who voted in favour were: Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East & Saddleworth), Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East), Douglas Alexander (Paisley & Renfrewshire South), Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East), Dave Anderson (Blaydon), Mr Jon Ashworth (Leicester South), Ian Austin (Dudley North), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), Willie Bain (Glasgow North East), Ed Balls (Morley & Outwood), Gordon Banks (Ochil & Perthshire South), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Hugh Bayley (York Central), Dame Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Hilary Benn (Leeds Central), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Clive Betts (Sheffield South East), Roberta Blackman-Woods (Durham, City of), Hazel Blears (Salford & Eccles), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East), Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central), David Blunkett (Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough), Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West), Lyn Brown (West Ham), Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East), Russell Brown (Dumfries & Galloway), Karen Buck (Westminster North), Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield), Andy Burnham (Leigh), Liam Byrne (Birmingham Hodge Hill), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Sarah Champion (Rotherham), Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill), Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), David Crausby (Bolton North East), Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Jon Cruddas (Dagenham & Rainham), John Cryer (Leyton & Wanstead), Alex Cunningham (Stockton North), Jim Cunningham (Coventry South), Tony Cunningham (Workington), Simon Danczuk (Rochdale), Alistair Darling (Edinburgh South West), Wayne David (Caerphilly), Geraint Davies (Swansea West), Gloria De Piero (Ashfield), John Denham (Southampton Itchen), Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras), Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline & Fife West), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge), Gemma Doyle (Dunbartonshire West), Jack Dromey (Birmingham Erdington), Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood), Clive Efford (Eltham), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central), Natascha Engel (Derbyshire North East), Bill Esterson (Sefton Central), Chris Evans (Islwyn), Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield), Hywel Francis (Aberavon), Mike Gapes (Ilford South), Barry Gardiner (Brent North), Pat Glass (Durham North West), Mary Glindon (Tyneside North), Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland), Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen & Hamilton West), Kate Green (Stretford & Urmston), Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South), Nia Griffith (Llanelli), Andrew Gwynne (Denton & Reddish), Peter Hain (Neath), Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East), Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham), Tom Harris (Glasgow South), Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney), John Healey (Wentworth & Dearne), Mark Hendrick (Preston), David Heyes (Ashton Under Lyne), Meg Hillier (Hackney South & Shoreditch), Julie Hilling (Bolton West), Margaret Hodge (Barking), Sharon Hodgson (Washington & Sunderland West), Jim Hood (Lanark & Hamilton East), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore), Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Kilburn), Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock & Loudoun), Major Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), Kevan Jones (Durham North), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Dame Tessa Jowell (Dulwich & West Norwood), Mike Kane (Wythenshawe & Sale East), Elizabeth Kendall (Leicester West), Sadiq Khan (Tooting), David Lammy (Tottenham), Christopher Leslie (Nottingham East), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Ivan Lewis (Bury South), Andy Love (Edmonton), Ian Lucas (Wrexham), Steve McCabe (Birmingham Selly Oak), Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow), Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough), Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Jim McGovern (Dundee West), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North), Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham Perry Barr), Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham Ladywood), Seema Malhotra (Feltham & Heston), John Mann (Bassetlaw), Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South), Michael Meacher (Oldham West & Royton), Alan Meale (Mansfield), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), Ed Miliband (Doncaster North), Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port & Neston), Madeleine Moon (Bridgend), Jessica Morden (Newport East), Meg Munn (Sheffield Heeley), Jim Murphy (Renfrewshire East), Paul Murphy (Torfaen), Lisa Nandy (Wigan), Pamela Nash (Airdrie & Shotts), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central), Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock), Albert Owen (Ynys Mon), Toby Perkins (Chesterfield), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South), Stephen Pound (Ealing North), Lucy Powell (Manchester Central), Nick Raynsford (Greenwich & Woolwich), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Steve Reed (Croydon North), Rachel Reeves (Leeds West), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East), Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge & Hyde), John Robertson (Glasgow North West), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes), Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd), Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central), Andy Sawford (Corby), Alison Seabeck (Plymouth Moor View), Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall), Jim Sheridan (Paisley & Renfrewshire North), Gavin Shuker (Luton South), Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith), Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge), Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent), Owen Smith (Pontypridd), John Spellar (Warley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South), Mark Tami (Alyn & Deeside), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury), Stephen Timms (East Ham), Jon Trickett (Hemsworth), Karl Turner (Hull East), Derek Twigg (Halton), Stephen Twigg (Liverpool West Derby), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Valerie Vaz (Walsall South), Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North), Dave Watts (St Helens North), Alan Whitehead (Southampton Test), Chris Williamson (Derby North), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield), Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central), John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness), Shaun Woodward (St Helens South & Whiston), David Wright (Telford) and Iain Wright (Hartlepool).

 These pro-war Labour MPs have let down themselves and their voters very badly indeed - sanctioning a return of Western imperialism to the scene of its greatest crime in recent memory - and all of them deserve to face a left wing challenge to them in the general election. All socialists in Britain should surely now work together - whether in TUSC, Left Unity, Respect or whatever - to unite and rally around credible candidates in each area who can stand against as many of these people and raise the banner of 'Welfare not Warfare - Stop the Cuts - Stop the Bombing of Iraq'. Organising to stop the war in Iraq and organising for an anti-war left wing challenge in the 2015 general election is the best tribute we can pay to those pioneers - including Karl Marx himself - who formed the First International 150 years ago - and restore some honour to the words 'socialist internationalism'.

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1,000 Stand Up to UKIP in Doncaster

One bit of good news on an otherwise quite depressing weekend - the importance of building anti-racist organisations like Stand Up to UKIP cannot be overstated as the UKIP bandwagon continues to roll on, taking the rest of mainstream official politics in Britain even further to the right...

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Greatest Movie Never Made?

Though it was sadly not mentioned in a recent book, The fifty greatest movies you will never see, one film project that has a very good claim to be included in that category was the planned project to make a film about the Haitian Revolution starring Paul Robeson by the great Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein during the interwar period (another would be Eisenstein's plans to make a film of Marx's Capital).  The latest issue of History Workshop Journal has an interesting article entitled Sergei Eisenstein and the Haitian Revolution about this thwarted project, which might be of interest to readers of Histomat...

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National Stop the War Demonstration on 4 October

From the Stop the War Coalition:

Stop the bombing of Iraq - don't attack Syria
National demonstration, Saturday 4 October

Assemble 1pm, 
Temple Place, 
London WC2R 3BD

Parliament has voted for the third Iraq War. The last two have brought almost unimaginable suffering to the people of Iraq and have helped to create the current chaos, driving the country to the brink of break up.

They claim this is a humanitarian operation to defeat Isis. In fact Isis is backed by various middle east powers and a new aerial bombardment will not defeat it. It will however kill innocents, further fragment the country and inflame violence. 

The record of the west's wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya show that as well as creating misery and mayhem, western military interventions make the world a more volatile, dangerous place.  

Cameron's new war has built-in mission creep. Discussions are already underway for Britain to join the bombing of Syria, and there are growing calls for boots on the ground.

The Stop the War Coalition is asking every one of its supporters to throw themselves in to the campaign against the insanity of another war on Iraq. Spread the word everywhere about next Saturday's demonstration.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ten reasons why the British parliament should vote no to war on Iraq and Syria

Don't Attack Iraq and Syria - lobby your MP and join the protests

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Vote Yes - Make Britain History

Ruling classes rarely like mass popular participation in any kind of political activity - it smells too much of real, direct democracy for them.  So news that 97% have registered to vote in the Scottish referendum is terrifying the British ruling class, raising as it does the all too real spectre of a 'Yes' vote for independence that not once of them had conceived as being possible just a month or so ago.  Now in desperation, David Cameron is urging ordinary people in England and Wales to engage with this political process and 'love bomb' Scots through social media etc to try and persuade them to do what he and his fellow politicians from the 'Better Together' campaign could not do - and vote to 'stay together', and so while I have not said anything really about Scottish independence to date I thought as a blogger I should now also say something about this question.   So this is for my thousands of Scottish readers, who have doubtless been patiently waiting and wondering to see what my thoughts on this question were before they arrived at their final position...

For Marxists, the question of Scottish independence is not an issue of principle (that needs to be raised at all times and in all places) but rather a tactical question - but in the current period and climate the case for agitating for a Yes Vote seems to be a no-brainer for any anti-imperialist, let alone a Marxist.  One only needs to see the unholy alliance of forces opposed to the break up of the British state - from the rulers of the American and Chinese empires, to champions of British imperialism old and new, to see why the majority of revolutionary socialists in Scotland have thrown themselves into the 'Yes' campaign, and they have played a small but significant role in making the rallying cry 'Another Scotland is Possible' one which has tapped into working class communities and ethnic minorities.  Just watching one of Tommy Sheridan's speeches for independence on You Tube - speeches which have attracted audiences of hundreds of people - gives a sense of the mood of hope and optimism in radical politics being fired up by the referendum.  What has been propelling the mass movement and campaign for Yes has been these aspirations of dreams long deferred among millions.

The chance to deliver a body blow to British imperial power by the closing of the Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane is in itself reason enough to vote Yes - but a Yes vote would also throw Cameron's Tories into chaos and further infighting and have many other repercussions and reverberations that are impossible to predict as yet.  Though in itself, a Yes vote for Scottish independence cannot be the end of the story, given Alex Salmond and the SNP's cosy relationship with Scottish big business, NATO and the British Crown, such a vote on 18 September would enable the Left in Scotland to begin to make the kind of demands - such as nationalisation of banks and energy companies - that would make the idealism of 'Another Scotland is Possible' into reality - and find a mass popular audience for such a radical vision for the first time in decades.  This would give hope to trade unionists and socialists in England and Wales in the wider fight against austerity and the likes of Tories and UKIP.   So my 'love-bomb' to Scottish readers of Histomat goes something like this:  Yes to Independence, No to Nationalism - Fight for Socialism!

Edited to add - in the aftermath of the No vote, an analysis of the vote and where next by Keir McKechnie and Charlie Kimber - see also this piece by Irvine Welsh.

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The passion of Ed Miliband

SPEECH: Ed Miliband yesterday told an audience in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire that a Labour government was coming. Picture: Getty

Ed Miliband rarely shows any passion about anything - so to see him revealing his passionate desire to preserve the unity of the British imperialist state while giving a speech in Scotland warning against independence - came as a bit of a shock to the system.  It is a damning indictment of Miliband that he refuses to show 0.0001 percent of the same passion when it comes to supporting striking Care UK workers in his own constituency of Doncaster, which he refuses to do despite the fact these workers are victims of NHS privatisation, which Miliband is supposed to be passionately against...  perhaps the reason he shows such newly discovered passion about the Scottish referendum is because his own job as Labour leader will be threatened if Scottish people vote Yes?

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

John Newsinger on Owen Jones

Guardian columnist Owen Jones was recently described by comedian Russell Brand as 'Our generation's Orwell' in an endorsement for Jones's new bestselling book The Establishment. It is therefore perhaps only fitting that John Newsinger, author of Orwell's Politics and a general authority on Orwell was asked to review Jones's book in the latest Socialist Review. The review itself is well worth reading and a good analysis of Jones's politics - check it out here. My personal wish with respect for Owen Jones is for him to at some point explain to the rest of us exactly how he sees the transition to socialism coming about through Ed Miliband's Labour Party, given its history as - in the words of Ed's dad Ralph - being at best 'a party of modest social reform in a capitalist system within whose confines it is ever more firmly and by now irrevocably rooted' and Ralph Miliband's argument that 'the belief in the effective transformation of the Labour Party into an instrument of socialist policies is the most crippling of all illusions to which socialists in Britain have been prone' ...

Edited to add: Another review of Jones's book by Paul Blackledge in Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

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