Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Thursday, March 04, 2021

World Against Racism - March 20th - UN Anti-Racism Day of Action


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ed Rooksby (1975-2021) - socialist, blogger and political theorist

The tragic and shocking death of British socialist intellectual Ed Rooksby at the young age of 46 after suffering from Long Covid has prompted me to return to this blog after a hiatus. For I had the great privilege of first meeting Ed Rooksby in person probably around the time that I began this blog back in 2005 - and he had also launched his blog International Rooksbyism back in 2004. He later than me realised the potential risks and drawbacks for being too open about his politics online, and soon changed the name of his original blog from the strident sounding name it had originally to the rather more cryptic 'I.R'. to avoid it coming up in search engines too much when he was busy teaching students and trying to get a permanent academic job - which he eventually succeeded at with Ruskin until the managers there decided to 'restructure' and drive through redundancies which left him returning to York University where he was teaching when he died. His blog - both in its original form and then later from 2011 onwards in his own name give a good sense of his talents as a political writer and thinker - while he also made important interventions in various scholarly and the likes of the Guardian against things like Blue Labour (which still refuses to die).

In person, Ed was as witty, unsectarian, self-depreciating, kind, generous, principled and smart a socialist as those who only knew him online can imagine he would be, and it was always great whenever our paths occasionally met, often at some Marxist conference or other. We obviously had a long-running gentle disagreement between us about reform or revolution - both in person and online as bloggers - (and I remember I once wrote a tongue in cheek post critiquing his politics entitled ''International Rooksbyism at the Crossroads...Or, a case study in twenty-first century 'centrism'?'' but he was such a nice guy he always forgave me such slippages into sectarianism. I will treasure the memory in particular of our last meeting, a glorious evening spent in a pub in May 2019 in Oxford, which allowed me the privilege and opportunity to mull over the travails of Corbynism and the general state of the left with him.

Ed would have shaped the lives of hundreds of students through his teaching, and his passing - so sad and shocking - represents a huge loss to the entire British Left. Only a couple of weeks before he died we had corresponded by Whatsapp, and he described his condition - perhaps because it was me, and so knowing I would appreciated the reference to Lenin - as 'two steps forward and one back all the time'. Sadly Ed never made it to the Finland Station. My sincere condolences to all who knew him - and particularly to those friends, family and comrades who were much closer to him than me.

RIP Comrade Rooksby - Viva International Rooksbyism!

Edited to add: A Bibliography of Ed Rooksby's writings


Sunday, April 05, 2020

Arise, Sir Keir!

Leaving Coronavirus and its consequences to one side, let us register that in terms of official British politics once again there is stillness and calm after the recent disturbance of the force.  Order has been restored to the British political galaxy.  The Labour Party - an avowedly democratic socialist party - has ended its experiment with having a sincere democratic socialist for leader and moved on from 'Corbynism'.   Trying to change the system in piecemeal Fabian fashion, boring from within in the most boring fashion imaginable, can recommence with Sir Keir Starmer at the helm, picking up from where Ed Miliband left off.  The bosses of the CBI and media barons can relax and breathe easy, as Labour no longer offers the threat to profit margins they once feared it might.  

When Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour leader back in 2015, I wrote a piece, 'The Spectre of Corbynism'.  Sadly - tragically given the hopes, energy and time invested by so many in so few - it only remained a spectre - not a reality.  On the day of the 2019 general election itself - 12 December 2019 - before the result was known - I wrote the following notes to myself as part of a meeting I spoke at earlier that evening:

'A spectre is haunting British politics — the spectre of Corbynism.  All the powers of the old order have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre:  Republican American President Donald Trump and former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, from Rupert Murdoch to the BBC, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to serving generals who would consider mutiny if necessary to Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6 who has declared Corbyn a threat to national security who is not suitable to be Prime Minister.

Two things result from these facts:

1 Corbyn is the most left-wing leader of the Labour Party ever – there are some parallels with George Lansbury in the 1930s but unlike even Lansbury Jeremy Corbyn has remained on the radical left of the party throughout his whole career and has not had previous experience of government office.  Corbyn unlike Lansbury has managed to survive the attempts by the Labour right to remove him before he has had the chance of fighting not one but now two general elections.

2 He has a chance of actually becoming Prime Minister – and the prospect of a socialist as prime minister terrifies the British and international ruling class – just as it gives hopes to millions suffering under austerity and wanting another more sustainable, just and humane world.  

He represents not the spectre of Communism as such – but merely of social democracy – which was supposed to have been killed off and left for dead amidst the triumph of Thatcherism ('There is no alternative') and then Thatcher's greatest achievement -  Blairism – now its suddenly back from the dead thanks Jeremy Corbyn MP and the movement around him.

I first saw Corbyn speak at a tuition fee demo organised by NUS in the late 1990s – warning that once fees were introduced by the Blair government they would go up as happened in Australia.  His record of anti-war activism, anti-imperialist activism and anti-racist activism speaks for itself.

But there is a problem of base and superstructure – politically and intellectually Corbynism was in many ways great and put the principles of working class struggle and the ideas of socialism out there into the mainsteam - but it lacked an 'economic base' underpinning things - there was just not a socialist movement (or wider mass movements on the streets fighting in defence of the NHS or housing, or mass movements against racism and war and for Palestine and so on)  – nor a sense of a working class confident of acting for itself – but instead just a sense that we could get change by passively voting for Corbyn - reflecting the decades of defeat the British working class have suffered since Thatcherism.

It took 17 general strikes in Greece to elect an anti-austerity government in Syriza – the recent UCU strikes in higher education for 8 days were something but not quite this.

The Labour right have repeatedly tried to grind him down and crush Corbyn - 'Project Anaconda' – it was dubbed – he fought this off to some extent but compromised with the right – eg over Trident nuclear submarines  / Brexit / Palestine / and so on - and so by 2019 he is a much weakened leader....'

That was some of what I felt back in December 2019 - but I felt Labour would do better than expected because of the working class anger that is out there and goes unrecognised by the middle class Guardian commentariat  -and so I thought perhaps Labour would get enought to ensure a hung parliament and form a coalition with the SNP or something - it was as we know not to be.  Charlie Kimber has written a long piece for International Socialism  on why Labour lost that terrible night in December 2019 - and how that working class anger managed to be tapped into by Boris Johnson's Tories as a result of Labour's liberal and elitist position on Brexit - so I am not going to repeat this general argument.

What it means now though is that the so called 'parliamentary road to socialism' is firmly closed.  Sir Keir Starmer - with the support of the Labour right and some useful liberal idiots on the Labour left - played his part in helping close that road above all by leading the charge for Labour to adopt a pro-EU position and disregard the referendum of 2016.  The Labour right and Starmer knew that Labour taking a remain position would either work electorally - in which case they have helped Labour once again become a party that loyally serves the interests of British big business by getting Britain back into the EU - or if it didn't work electorally - which anyone could have guessed would have been the more likely option - then Corbynism would be finished and the period where the hard Left were in control of the commanding heights of the Labour Party would be over.   The latter proved the case - and now the right will let the Starmerite soft left do their work disciplining the hard left, making Labour more 'electable and respectable' and making the party safe for Blairism and capital and empire once again - and then when Starmer fails in the next election - the Labour right will be in prime position to ensure a Blairite retakes the leadership.

That the revolutionary road to socialism still remains open for those willing to embark on it is no doubt small comfort right now for the tens of thousands of socialists in Britain who have seen their dreams and hopes of a Jeremy Corbyn government dashed and now smashed.  But we should take an international perspective at moments of defeat - and look at the recent revolutionary movements across the Middle East and elsewhere - as well as the mass strikes and protests that have rocked Macron's neo liberal government in France over the last couple of years - to see how hope lies not with trying to win internal battles inside the Labour Party anymore - real power lies outside parliament - and building the kind of social solidarity that we are seeing emerge amid the Coronavirus pandemic - and the wider fightback and working class resistance against Johnson's useless and disastrous Tory government.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Mike Davis on COVID-19

The only certainty is that rich countries and rich classes will focus on saving themselves to the exclusion of international solidarity and medical aid. Walls not vaccines: could there be a more evil template for the future? … Access to lifeline medicines, including vaccines, antibiotics, and antivirals, should be a human right, universally available at no cost. If markets can’t provide incentives to cheaply produce such drugs, then governments and non-profits should take responsibility for their manufacture and distribution. The survival of the poor must at all times be accounted a higher priority than the profits of Big Pharma.  The current pandemic expands the argument: capitalist globalization now appears to be biologically unsustainable in the absence of a truly international public health infrastructure. But such an infrastructure will never exist until peoples’ movements break the power of Big Pharma and for-profit healthcare.
Full article here


Sunday, February 09, 2020

#WorldAgainstRacism demonstrations on Saturday 21 March

With Trump in the White House, Johnson in Downing Street and the racist and fascist right winning mass support internationally we need to build the resistance. The London and Glasgow demonstrations to mark UN Anti Racism Day are part of a co-ordinated wave of international demonstrations. From Washington to Warsaw we will be marching for a #WorldAgainstRacism

Fb event for the London march on Saturday 21 March https://www.facebook.com/events/518483265364312/

Edited to add - this march has now been postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak - thanks http://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/covid-19-update-un-anti-racism-day-demo-postponed-but-the-fight-against-racism-must-continue/

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Monday, November 04, 2019

Tories out - Corbyn in

If I get more time to write something before the election I will do so - but in case I don't basically lets make history by electing a socialist prime minister and give hope to those around the world - kick the Tories out and get Corbyn in by Christmas!

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HM conference / Marxism in Scotland / Engels in Eastbourne

Some upcoming Marxist conferences in Britain that may be of interest... Historical Materialism - Sixteenth Annual Conference Claps of Thunder: Disaster Communism, Extinction Capitalism and How to Survive Tomorrow 7th to 10th NOVEMBER 2019 @SOAS, RUSSELL SQUARE, CENTRAL LONDON http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/index.php/articles/sixteenth-annual-conference Marxism in Scotland - Ideas to change the world - 9 November 2019 Renfield St Stephens, 260 Bath St, Glasgow, G2 4JP https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/marxism-in-scotland-2019-ideas-to-change-the-world-tickets-66900508221 Call for Papers - Engels in Eastbourne - 23-24 June, 2020, University of Brighton, Eastbourne campus


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Cuba, the Pink Tide and revolution in Latin America

International Socialism is hosting two events on Latin America in late October (London on Saturday 26 October and Glasgow, Tuesday 29 October).
Speakers include a Cuban revolutionary and academic who will be debating the legacy of the revolution.
At the turn of the century, Latin America saw an inspiring rise in popular mobilisations against neoliberalism by workers, peasants and indigenous organisations. A reflection of this was the election of several left wing governments, known as the Pink Tide.
But this mood seems to be coming to an end. Venezuela is in acute crisis and Bolivian and Ecuadorian governments are embracing neoliberal policies.
Worst of all, Jair Bolsonaro is president of Brazil. The far-right leader has opened up protected indigenous reserves in the Amazon to mining, farming and logging, showing how far he will go to further the interests of big business.
The victories of left governments, notably in Venezuela, also gave breathing space to the Cuban regime established 60 years ago. But even the Cuban rulers are seeking to break from decades of isolation by embracing the market. At the same time, Donald Trump is renewing hostilities against the island state.
Come to these one of these events to discuss and debate where next for Latin America.

Full details:
Cuba, the Pink Tide and revolution in Latin America
With sessions on
·         Brazil and Venezuela: the retreat of the Pink Tide
·         60 years on from the revolution: where is Cuba going?

Saturday 26 October, 2pm-6pm.
Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX
Tickets: £6 or £3 unwaged/student
Book tickets online here  or call 0207 840 5640.
Where is Cuba going today?
Tuesday 29 October, 7pm-8.30pm
City centre venue to be confirmed, FB event here

Some suggested reading from International Socialism
Class battles in Latin America, by Andy Brown. (A review of Mike Gonzalez, The Ebb of the Pink Tide: The Decline of the Left in Latin America), http://isj.org.uk/class-battles-in-latin-america/
Where is Venezuela going? By Andy Brown http://isj.org.uk/where-is-venezuela-going/
Brazil: how big a defeat? Interview with historian Valério Arcary http://isj.org.uk/brazil-how-big-a-defeat/
The new Cuba: myths and realities, by Mike Gonzalez (A review of Steve Cushion, A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory), http://isj.org.uk/the-new-cuba-myths-and-realities/
Cuba behind the myths, by Chris Harman (A review of Sam Farber, The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered and Richard Gott, Cuba: A New History), http://isj.org.uk/cuba-behind-the-myths/

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