Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Thursday, April 07, 2011

International Socialism #130

The new issue of International Socialism leads with Alex Callinicos on 'The return of the Arab Revolution' with features on Tunisia and Egypt, but seems to have gone to press before the Libyan Revolution was hijacked by Western imperialism. Speaking of Libya, it seems Tony Blair has answered the question vexing some about whether the war in Libya can be seen as a 'humanitarian intervention' or not. As Blair told Danish TV,

'The thing about Libya is that potentially it is a goldmine of a country – it has got fantastic financial resources, it has got amazing tourist sites...If it opened up its economy and opened up its society and takes that route of reform once they change government, then Libya will be a phenomenally successful country but we need to be there to partner them to do that.'

Blair did however warn that some anti-Gaddafi rebels may not be totally happy about seeing their oil and natural resources asset stripped by neo-liberalism to boost the profit margins of Western multinational capital if they are victorious.

‘I know quite a lot about what makes up the different compositions of the rebel groups – some will be people we would want fully to support, others would have a somewhat different view as to how Libya develops’

Ah, the difficulties of find local allies when waging neo-colonial warfare. Still, I suppose we should be grateful to Blair for being honest for once about what this latest imperialist adventure is all about. Anyway, back to International Socialism journal - which among other things has a detailed analysis of social media and social movements by Jonny Jones, the British student movement, John Riddell on the United Front, and pieces on 'The Tories, Eton and public schools' and 'The London Crowd, 1760-2010' by Dave Renton and Keith Flett respectively, members of the London Socialist Historians Group.

Incidentally, speaking of the London Crowd, it made a glorious return to the streets on March 26th at the TUC demo a couple of weeks ago. I am sorry not to have got round to blogging about that day - but it was a truly great demonstration which was a fantastic response to the myth that the organised working class movement in Britain is somehow defeated and can never rise again. My personal highlight was talking to a Tunisian socialist who had come down from Newcastle with a homemade banner which declared 'It all started with us!'

The American Marxist Christopher Phelps, now based in the UK, despaired of the way the media coverage was hijacked by 'a few hundred anarchists, many dressed in black, [who] trashed businesses and clashed with police on Oxford Street and in Trafalgar Square. The anarchists, calling themselves the black bloc, stole the headlines from the 500,000 other protesters who'd travelled from all over the UK to express the refusal of millions to accept austerity as the consequence of a crisis they did not create.' I sympathise with his despair at the way the media focussed their attention on 'a tiny violent minority', but I think that his critique of anarchists is a little on the 'vulgar Marxist' side. When I popped down to Trafalgar Square, what I saw was basically just young people trying to occupy/liberate Trafalgar Square because they were inspired by the events in Egypt's Tahrir Square. They may have thought their actions alone could help bring about revolutionary change - yet the banner I saw that summed up what I guess most of these school and college students were thinking was 'Give Us Back Our Future You Bastards' - a reference to the grotesquely high levels of youth unemployment currently in the UK and the commodification of higher education by the Con-Dems through tuition fees. If Marxists join with the Tories, Liberals, Labour leaders and the trade union bureaucracy in attacking the 'violence' of anarchists instead of the violence of the state (why doesn't Ed Miliband stop supporting the Con-Dem government casually lobbing £30,000 pound cruise missiles into Libya if he is so concerned about violence?), then Marxism is hardly going to be taken seriously as a revolutionary theory by such young kids.

The arguments about Marxism and autonomism and anarchism are not going to go away anytime soon - but the more pressing question is what next after March 26th? How can we bring down the Con-Dem Government? As my good friend Paddington - who I sadly failed to meet up with on the march itself as it was so huge - noted:

A march or demonstration that is reasonably well-attended can lull you into a false sense of security. I’ve been on plenty which, however well-organised, have hardly set the world on fire and, surrounded by people with the same unshakeable faith, I have come away feeling ever so slightly complacent. We came, we protested, we conquered, we went home with a fuzzy glow.

The fact that Saturday’s march against the Coalition’s cuts was so well-attended – and for half a million people to travel the length and breadth of the country in order to walk uncomfortably slowly in the drizzle is a really extraordinary thing – means such complacency is impossible. I did not go home with a fuzzy glow (though two and a half pints in the Shakespeare at Victoria afterwards did give me a fuzzy head). In fact, we stayed up until late worrying and deliberating about where this protest should go next – such is the massive opposition to the cuts, a general strike is an absolute minimum.

But any such conversation inevitably proceeds from opposing the cuts to opposing the whole structural framework of society. A long and sorry saga tells of how the global economy got into this current mess, but while the politicians and business people still desperately cry “business as usual,” I really think that most people who were marching on Saturday – and many people across the country and the world who did not march – were marching for a new society.

The size and energy and spirit of optimism and unity on the demonstration certainly raised the question 'who governs?' - and a general strike would indeed pose such a question directly. Agitating for such co-ordinated strike action by trade unions in the coming days, weeks and months ahead in the face of the cuts is critical - even while socialists should seize on any other sparks of resistance and manifestations of dissent going in order to try and stop the cuts going through in the meantime. Finally, when it comes to debating what a new society would look like and how to get to it, one of the very best places to have such a debate is among 'the London Crowd' that will be gathered at Marxism 2011 from 30 June - 4 July.

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