Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

Base and Superstructure

Friday, April 24, 2015

Migrant Lives Matter protest

Protest at the EU London HQ:

The death of 950 African migrants in the latest loss of a ship crossing from Libya to Europe has exposed the appalling human cost of the 'Fortress Europe' immigration policy imposed by European Union and the British government.

Anti-migrant rhetoric of the establishment politicians, UKIP and the Katie Hopkins obsessed media has lead to thousands of people, many of whom are fleeing nations torn apart by Western intervention, drowning
in the sea.

In the first quarter of 2015, approximately 1,700 migrants have already drowned, 30 times as many as in the same period of 2014, leading to fears of a record death rate this year. Last year nearly four thousand bodies were recovered from the Med, and that figure is just those that were found. The EU needs to change it's policy to stop this and restart the rescue.

Protest called by the Movement Against Xenophobia, supported by:
Stop the War Coalition
BARAC UK (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts)
Global Justice Now Global Justice London
Stand Up To Racism

Time: 1pm.

Date: Saturday 25th April

Place: European Commission, 32 Smith Square, Westminster London, SW1P 3EU (nearest tubes Westminster or St James')

Labels: , , ,

Historical Materialism Duncan Hallas

Friday, April 17, 2015

Vote TUSC against CUTS - TUSC election broadcast

International Socialism #146

As well as a shiny new website, the latest issue of International Socialism is now online - the main contents are below - but there are also book reviews etc etc - well worth checking out...

The interminable catastrophe

Alex Callinicos

Syriza and the crisis

Interview with Panos Garganas

After the Paris attacks: An Islamophobic spiral

Jim Wolfreys

Islamophobia: the othering of Europe’s Muslims

Hassan Mahamdallie

Racism and resistance in the US after Ferguson

Megan Trudell

Marx rediscovered

Sheila McGregor

Africa rising? The economic history of sub-Saharan Africa

Biodun Olamosu and Andy Wynne

Bureaucratic mass strikes: A response to Mark O’Brien

Dave Lyddon

An elusive independence: Neocolonial intervention in the Caribbean

Kevin Edmonds

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Histomat guide to the General Election

This blog was started almost ten years ago, just after the 2005 general election - so I didn't comment so much about that election, but you can read some of my thoughts before and after the 2010 general election here, and its result here. This time round, my brief guide to the state of play is below (those wanting a more indepth Marxist analysis of what is going on should read Alex Callinicos in the latest International Socialism journal) - anyway, my take on it here:

The Tories: ''The government is led by a clique of toffs who have neither respect for their colleagues, nor empathy with the average voter. Their born-to-rule mentality means they have a greatly over-inflated view of their own capabilities, which deafens their ears to the advice and warnings of others who might actually know better. They are nothing like as good at governing as they think they are. And this...is now inflicting serious harm on the country...'' - this was the view of Tory MPs about the leaders of their party - back in 2012 - and little over the last three years has changed this basic reality. Remember that David Cameron is so posh that his career with the Conservative Party began with the help of a phone call from Buckingham Palace saying "I understand you are to see David Cameron ... I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man." It will be interesting indeed if we are faced with a very close election result - as looks likely - whether Cameron will just refuse to face reality and try to hang onto office as long as possible simply because as a leading member of the ruling class - related to the Queen - he just thinks that he is somehow entitled to remain in office in a position he thinks he was born to have - regardless of the small matter of the electorate.

 More critically, how can 'a clique of toffs' - who have waged open and blatant brutal class war on behalf of the rich who run Britain against the working class (both in and out of work) through austerity, massive cuts to the NHS and welfare state, and presiding over growing inequality and attacks on workers pay - still be in with a reasonable chance of remaining in office and making up the government after 7 May, five years on? Basically, because the Tories have relatively successfully pushed 'divide and rule' at every point over the past five years - dividing public sector from private sector workers, the able from the disabled, those in work against those out of work, and increasingly scapegoating immigrants in a racist fashion. Why have the Tories been relatively successful in this pernicious campaign? The answer here is...

The Labour Party, who have instead of standing up for the working class - ie. doing its supposed job as the party of 'labour' - instead gone along the 'austerity myth' and accepted the need for cuts - and more critically, gone along with every 'divide and rule' policy of the Tories - and echoed Tory rhetoric and logic - including when it is racist (eg see the Labour 'control immigration' pledge / mug). The only positive pledges of reform offered by Labour - eg scrapping the bedroom tax - have generally only come about because of the pressure of grassroots campaigners below - often undertaken against local Labour councils.   Ed Miliband's supporters and defenders will try and point to times when Ed has 'stood up' to the rich and big business - but every time Ed has say, criticised Rupert Murdoch, the right wing press have just gone on the attack the next day, and Ed has retreated and returned to eg. proudly holding up copies of the Sun. The only two people Miliband has effectively sacked from his Shadow Cabinet remember were Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry - both essentially to appease racist voters. If Miliband is this weak in standing up to racists, rich and big business before he is elected - imagine how weak he would be once he was Prime Minister - with all the closer links to the capitalist state etc that would follow from that position - unless there was serious major pressure on his government from trade unionists etc below.

 More critically, it is important to see Labour's weakness historically, as Mark L Thomas does here, pointing out that Tony Cliff once noted that 'Since the Second World War every Labour government has been more right wing than the one before'. In fact, given the level of cuts that a Miliband government would try and carry through amidst the capitalist crisis, it is quite likely that this sorry story would continue under Miliband - even if his foreign policy would be a slight break from Blair (though the fact that Miliband is happy to have Blair himself involved and sponsoring Labour's election challenge this time around does not bode well at all). And if we do have a weak Miliband government making cuts, then only people likely to be smiling are the racist populists of UKIP - just look at the Hollande government in France and how the fascist Front National has flourished.

However, it is wrong to suggest - as Richard Seymour seems to do here - that Labour's commitment to cuts means that what we are already seeing is its 'Pasokisation' - ie like Pasok in Greece, facing its electoral demise because of its pro-austerity politics. We are not quite at this stage yet. As Mark L Thomas notes, 'millions of workers will still vote Labour — not because they love austerity but because they hate the Tories and desperately hope Labour will blunt the worst of the attack'. Labour has not (yet?) done what Pasok did in Greece and entered a 'grand coalition' of austerity with the Tories (and a UKIP style party). A 'grand coalition' of austerity in Britain might possibly be on the cards after the election (its interesting that neither the Tories or Labour have definitely ruled out going into coalition with each other) - but it seems rather unlikely as the level of the capitalist crisis is not as severe as all that (yet). However, Labour's leaders could well consider a coalition with the Lib Dems which brings us onto...

The Lib Dems: What is there to say here? Its worth remembering that liberals (eg the Guardian, Laurie Penny etc etc) urged the Left to vote for the Lib Dems in 2010 in order to keep the Tories out. That worked out well. However, Nick Clegg's basic 'category error' when forming a coalition with the Tories was that he thought he was still living in the 19th century - when an electorate might well have looked more kindly on a Tory - Liberal coalition forming in the 'national interest' (code for the interests of the British capitalist class) - because the electorate back in the 19th century was essentially just rich men of property. However in a mass democracy when rich men of property are a minority of the electorate, the Lib Dems face being punished very harshly for Clegg's basic category error here - and rightly so. I would love to see students in Sheffield Hallam flood to the ballot box to 'decapitate' Clegg himself in 2015 - this really would be a highlight of the election night if it happened...

As a postscript, it is worth noting that if Labour go into coalition with the Lib Dems, that will go down very badly with the trade union leaders who fund Labour so generously - and could lead Unite union for example to end their funding of Labour - which all bodes well for...

The Green Party / SNP / Plaid Cymru: The 'new kids on the block' as it were, even if none of them are particularly new parties. The rise in popularity for these currently effectively social democratic parties have been a very welcome and refreshing new addition to British politics, given how far the Labour Party has moved away from not just socialism but just basic social democracy over the years. The 'election debates' on TV have been actually almost watchable affairs in this election precisely because of the inclusion of these party leaders and their rhetorical attacks on austerity and the racism of UKIP - which have pulled the whole tone of the election debates at least to the Left (even if the corporate media ensures that a right wing narrative dominates in the press - see Richard Desmond of the Express giving £1 million to UKIP and pushing UKIP propaganda in his 'paper').

However - with the possible exception of Plaid Cymru about which I know little - while the Greens and SNP have challenged the need for cuts in their official policy - they have both implemented Tory cuts at a local level over the last five years (eg cutting council jobs in the case of the SNP - and attacking refuse workers in the case of the Greens in Brighton council). Though some socialists - like Richard Seymour - urge the Left to vote Green in this election, and while some Greens are excellent socialists - in reality the Greens are not a socialist party who can be guaranteed to fight for workers - in Leeds where I live for example, it was not so long ago that the local Green Party councillors joined the Tories and Lib Dems in a 'Rainbow coalition' which attacked refuse workers pay - forcing them to take strike action (as in Brighton more recently). The Greens have apparently ruled out joining a Tory coalition after May 7 - which is very good - but socialists should only vote Green if there is no socialist candidate standing, if the local Green candidate is worth voting for, and actually better than say the Labour Party candidate - not all Greens are.

UKIP: Essentially right wing Tories, but more dangerous as the growth of this racist populist party has followed wider European trends which has seen the growth of racist and fascist parties - and UKIP have pulled much of official British politics to the right - as the mainstream parties go out of their way to try and 'out UKIP-UKIP'. The importance of building opposition at the grassroots like Stand Up to UKIP are doing will be critical in the weeks, months and years ahead.  The long term division and crisis of Conservatism over the European Union means that UKIP are sadly likely to be around for a while (however many times their leaders and candidates shoot themselves / machine gun themselves in the foot through idiotic beliefs and grotesque behaviour flowing from their blatant and disgusting racism / sexism / homophobia etc). The rise of UKIP is also dangerous in that it will give confidence to the currently very fragmented and splintered British fascists - and give them an audience and milieu around which to try and re-group and re-organise - which is why there can be no complacency about the threat and potential threat they pose.

TUSC / Left Unity / Scottish Socialist Party / Respect - Almost if not quite as fragmented as the far-right, the socialist left in Britain is nonetheless mounting a timely and important (if inevitably rather ignored by the state and corporate media) challenge as 100 percent anti-austerity parties in this election, with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) leading the charge with a remarkable 136 parliamentary candidates, 600 local council candidates and an election broadcast - the sixth biggest party in this election. It remains shameful and tragic however that the left is not stronger and more united so that radicals and socialists could raise the red banner of resistance and hope amidst the prevailing cuts, misery, racism and despair even higher and in every constituency. However the crisis and debate over the lack of working class representation in Britain is not going to go away - and indeed is likely to intensify after May 7th - and the fact that there are quite a few joint 'TUSC / Left Unity' joint campaigns underway in this election shows the potential exists already to begin to form a more united left after the election. This is surely the task for revolutionary socialists in Britain in this election - building independent working class organisation and building the vote for the Left - not tailing the SNP or Greens.  Whoever wins on May 7 - the cuts will continue to come - and the need for a united working class fightback in response will be as great as ever - voting for TUSC and the wider Left will send a clear signal that the mood to resist is there.

 Watch the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition broadcast on Friday April 17th..... BBC2: 5.55pm... ITV: 6.25pm... BBC1: 6.55pm... Channel4: 7.55pm - and join the TUSC campaign on the streets!

Labels: , , , ,

Austerity and Socialist Strategy: Historical Materialism London conference 2015

As well as Marxism 2015, coming up in July, I may as well circulate this call for papers for Historical Materialism conference in London from 5-8 November.

The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born: States, Strategies, Socialisms Twelfth Annual Historical Materialism Conference School of Oriental and African Studies, Central London, 5-8 November 2015

As austerity tightens its grip around the throats of the peoples of Europe, but also rears its ugly head in Brazil and elsewhere, we are forced to recognize that it is not the mere byproduct of the « economic crisis » but a political project in its own right, one whose aim is to deepen and consolidate the most uncompromising forms of neoliberal capitalism. It cannot be said that this project has hitherto been met with passivity, even if social movements of resistance have been mostly far from strong enough to halt its advance. Yet something is perhaps beginning to change, namely the emergence of counter-austerity projects that have pitched themselves at a political - even electoral or governmental - level. With all their weaknesses, hesitations and contradictions, the chinks of light in Southern Europe, amongst others, should compel Marxists to pose a whole series of 'old' strategic and theoretical problems in new garbs and new configurations, ​but perhaps also to retire some of our dear fetishes and shibboleths, and to experiment with forms and strategies adequate to our present. Among the themes that have returned to the agenda are: the relationship of movements and parties of the radical Left to states and governments; the need for a political response to how class power is enmeshed with forms of domination that have gender, race, imperialism or sexuality as their axes; possible « socialist » futures and the « transitional » mediations implied by them; the guiding dichotomies of left thought: reform and revolution, revolution and revolt, state and movement, parties classes and masses; the link between the limits to capital and the limits of politics.
At this year’s Historical Materialism Annual Conference in London, 5-8 November 2015, we would like to encourage papers on these and other topics, with a particular focus on Greece, Spain and Latin America as laboratories for these experiences and debates. Among the themes we would like to explore are:
  • Dual Power and Socialist Transition
  • Communisation, Accelerationism and their limits
  • Transitional Programme Redivivus?
  • The European Union as a Class Project
  • Greece and Spain as Laboratories of Change
  • Latin America - What Follows the Pink Wave?
  • Cultural and Aesthetic Representations of Crisis
  • What Is Populism?
  • The Reformist Hypothesis
  • Right-wing Strategies in the Crisis 
Other themes we would like to see are:
  • Nietzsche and Marxism (to celebrate the publication of Domenico Losurdo’s book on Nietzsche in the HM Book Series)
  • History and Actuality of the first four congresses of the Communist International
  • Social Reproduction
  • Race and Capitalism
  • Capitalism, Logistics and the Sea
  • The Legacy of Nicos Poulantzas and Left Eurocommunism
  • Capitalism and Global Inequality: Keynes or Marx?
  • Marxist Thought in the Arab World
  • China: Is the Miracle About to Crash?
  • « Leninism » and its Discontents
  • Strategies of Counter-Revolution
  • Culture and State Building
  • Rebuilding Communities and the Battles around Housing.
  • Technologies and Culture


Sunday, April 12, 2015

The secret history of Monopoly

The capitalist board game's left wing origins

Labels: , ,

Gary Younge on the killing of Walter Scott

The cold-blooded killing of Walter Scott, who was shot eight times in the back as he ran away from a policeman in North Charleston, South Carolina, is not news in the conventional sense. Such shootings are neither rare nor, to those who have been paying attention, surprising. Sadly, they are all too common. It is news because, thanks to the video footage, we have incontrovertible evidence at a moment when public consciousness has been heightened and focused on this very issue. While in this case the policeman involved has been fired and charged, such a degree of proof is no guarantee of justice. There was video evidence of police choking Eric Garner to death in Staten Island while he protested “I can’t breathe”, and his killers were acquitted; there was video of evidence of Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles, and his assailants walked free. But in an era of 24-hour news and social media, video guarantees attention.  Black people have been dying for this kind of attention for years...
Full article here

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Stand Up to UKIP national day of action 11 April

Don't believe Farage's racist healthcare lies - Support the Stand Up to UKIP day of action on 11 April!

Labels: , ,

Paul Mason on Game of Thrones

...If you apply historical materialism to Westeros, the plot of season five and six becomes possible to predict. What happened with feudalism, when kings found themselves in hock to bankers, is that – at first – they tried to sort it out with naked power. The real-life Edward III had his Italian bankers locked up in the Tower of London until they waived his debts.
But eventually the power of commerce began to squash the power of kings. Feudalism gave way to a capitalism based on merchants, bankers, colonial plunder and the slave trade. Paper money emerged, as did a complex banking system for assuaging problems like your gold mine running dry.
But for this to happen you need the rule of law. You need the power of kings to become subject to constitutional right, and a moral code imposed on business, trade and family life. But that won’t happen in Westeros, where the elite lifestyle is synonymous with rape, pillage, arbitrary killing, torture and recreational sex.
So what Westeros needs is not an invasion of werewolves from the frozen north, but the arrival of a new kind of human being: they should be dressed in black, with white lace collars, stern faces and an aversion to sex and drink. In a word, Westeros needs capitalists – such as those who frown puritanically at us from Dutch portraits in the 17th century. And they should, as in the Dutch Republic and the English civil war, launch a revolution.
But that can’t happen in the secondary world of fantasy fiction. The thinning process can never be allowed to end; it must be perpetual for the conceit of the drama to work.
There is a reason so much fantasy fiction adopts the conceit of a feudalism that is always in crisis but never overthrown. It forms the ideal landscape in which to dramatise the secret desires of people who live under modern capitalism...


Making the TUSC Election Broadcast 2015