Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Monday, June 13, 2011

Topical Pieces of ''Red Labour'' History

If the Arab Spring has been described as an 'Arab 1848', it is worth reminding ourselves of events in Britain in that 'year of revolutions' - and where better to do so than to revisit the late great socialist historian and activist Ray Challinor's 1981 article on Peter Murray McDouall - a 'physical force Chartist'. Murray, being both a doctor and a revolutionary was a little bit like the Che Guevara of his day. Another topical piece of 'Red Labour' history is Ray's article tracing 'the origins of "the tension between the leadership and the rank-and-file"' in trade unionism, though a discussion of 19th century miners' leader Alexander MacDonald, written in 1967. As Ray - whose life and work are being marked at a London Socialist Historians Group meeting later this month - concluded:

Yet, at least in studying the coalminers, the tension between the leadership and the rank-and-file is one of the most vital factors in reaching an understanding of how the movement develops. MacDonald and the militants – the lap-dog or the lion? Did one get a lump of sugar through begging like a well-trained poodle or a hunk of meat by showing the lion’s fangs and being prepared for bloody struggles? That was the question.

It is a question that remains all too relevant for trade unionists today in the context of austerity measures taken by government's trying to force working class people to pay for the crisis and reshape society as a whole in the interests of capital... Later this month, on June 30th, it looks as though 700,000 teachers, lecturers and civil servants will strike back in defence of pensions - everyone who wants a society where people come before profit should support those on strike that day, and socialists will need to help build and encourage much more coordinated strike action like this in future...

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