Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, November 30, 2007

Histomat Exclusive: Blair's Memoirs leaked

[Histomat has been first with many exclusives in the past, including recently being leaked an early draft of Gordon Brown's speech to this years Labour Party conference, but this time we have perhaps our most incredible exclusive yet - an extract from the memoirs that the whole world is apparently waiting for - Tony Blair's My Struggle [German edition: Mein Kampf]. Naturally, I disagree with the contents, but public interest has to always come first on matters such as this...]

From My Struggle by Tony Blair

Chapter Two: The Rebel Without a Cause

My leadership skills were evident early on - I was made captain of the school football team

Whenever I think back to growing up in the 1960s, and my schooldays in particular, what always amazes me is two things. Firstly, how relatively uninterested by politics I was compared to some of my contemporaries. I mean, the Vietnam War was going on and lots of my friends were discussing and debating things like 'American Power' and 'Imperialism'*, and idolising Che Guevara, but to me that stuff seemed just way too heavy - way too serious. For me, the 1960s meant standing out from the crowd and kind of going away from what everyone else was doing - breaking convention and going against 'the norm'. I kind of identified with the 'counter-culture' side of things to some extent - learning to play the guitar - growing my hair - that kind of thing. I was a rebel, but a rebel without a cause.

But also what strikes me, looking back, is something else. You see, I was always a bit suspicious of just following the crowd. If everyone else my age was wandering around with peace symbols and putting up Che Guevara posters - I thought, hang on, - isn't to be a real rebel to, you know, think for oneself? Being popular for the sake of popularity isn't everything, you know. And, to be honest, I couldn't really see much of a problem with the Vietnam War at the time. I mean, looking back after the event, I suppose one can see it as a bit of a disaster, but then it seemed like quite a good idea. Why shouldn't the US fight to at least try to defend democracy from those who want to spread totalitarianism and dictatorship around the world? And hang on, weren't the Americans our allies during the Second World War? If we had built an alliance with the Americans to deal with the evil of fascism, then what was so wrong in continuing to ally with them to deal with the evil of Communism? Surely there was a struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, going on here somewhere, and well, I mean, come on, shouldn't we be taking a stand? Indeed, when I come to think of it, maybe if Britain had stood shoulder to shoulder with our Atlantic allies on this one, and sent British troops into Vietnam, maybe there would have been a different outcome to the war...

I suppose this is why I wasn't attracted to politics or to a 'cause' as such then - all the political parties in Britain at the time - the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Labour Party - they all seemed rather similar, old dull men in grey suits sitting around, often corrupt and without any real principles or passion (How things have changed since then!) But the fashionable 'causes' of my generation also left me a bit cold. Whatever had happened to all the heroes, as the Stranglers** later put it?

When I was young, I had read of the British imperial heroes of old - Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Horatio Nelson, right up to Sir Winston Churchill. But when Churchill died in 1965, there was a sense that something else had died as well. I was only twelve at the time, but it hit me hard. Churchill had given his life fighting for Britain and for her great Empire, had built up the special relationship with America, and in doing so had saved the country and the world almost singlehandly from fascism. Yet my contemporaries at school showed little respect for any of this. One of them even said Churchill was a 'war criminal'. I was horrified and didn't know how to respond at the time.***

I remember wondering of Churchill - would we ever see his like again? Would we ever see such a great man as him on the scene of British politics again? And if we ever did, would we recognise such a great man amid our midst? Or would they too, like Churchill after he finally left parliamentary politics, be left out isolated in the political wilderness instead of being celebrated as a popular hero? Would they be ungratefully reviled by the people of Britain instead of being knighted for their services to the Empire and decorated with honours? Would they really go down in history as 'war criminals' instead of envoys of peace? Would the popular press and popular historians only describe them as a 'Man of the Century' after they had died instead of bestowing such titles on them while they were still alive and had memoirs to sell and expensive lectures to give? These are the kind of questions I had growing up - but it was only later, much later, that I would be able to come up with some answers.

*Whatever the hell 'Imperialism' is when it is at home! I was never one for political theory - unlike Gordon of course. Gordon liked all of that stuff. I remember once looking at a copy of a book by Lenin that was in the school library. 'Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism' it said. Inside it was all dry boring economics - I couldn't get past the first page. Never did me any harm though, eh?

** I think it was this Stranglers song 'No More Heroes' that first led to me to read about Leon Trotsky (see Chapter 3: The Making of a Political Hero)

*** Even after studying law and becoming a barrister, I have to admit that I still can't quite get my head around the notion of anyone who believes in fighting for democracy and civilisation being described as a 'war criminal'. What the hell is a 'war crime', in that context?

This is me playing 'air guitar' later on

Copyright, 2007. T. Blair.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

The ABC of Anti-Imperialism

Good points, well made.

For more on the dangers of war on Iran, see Lindsey German's article in the December issue of Socialist Review

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Nazis humiliatated by mass direct action in Oxford

Congratulations to the Oxford students who struck a blow for humanity and decency by using direct action to defend the longstanding National Union of Students principle of 'No Platform' - which has been one important reason why fascists in Britain have always been historically weak at colleges and universities in comparison to the rest of Europe - by blocking the attempts of right wing middle-class poseurs to help the British Nazi Party gain 'respectability'. Histomat salutes you!

Edited to add: The Uprising Against Fascism
Eyewitness account
Why there must be no free speech for Nazis


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Black Jacobins Conference

The banner of the Haitian revolutionary armies in 1803

In autumn 1938, the late great Trinidadian Marxist historian Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901-1989) published his magnum opus The Black Jacobins - which has become the classic history of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, and stands as one of the great works of revolutionary history. As James wrote in his preface:

The revolt is the only successful slave revolt in history, and the odds it had to overcome is evidence of the magnitude of the interests that were involved. The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organise themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement. Why and how this happened is the theme of this book.

The Haitian revolt was not just of local relevance to the Caribbean - it was one of the great world-historical revolutions, and indeed it was intrinsically intertwined with the Great French Revolution. Not only did the revolt lead to the establishment of the world’s first independent black republic outside of Africa but it was central to the destruction of the entire Atlantic slave trade. The heroic enslaved black Africans - led by Toussaint Louverture - were central to the revolt and the people of Haiti have never been forgiven by the great imperialist powers for their part in the dismantling of this highly profitable enterprise - the fact that Haiti today is one of the world's poorest places on earth gives you some idea of the revenge that has been taken since then. All the more reason then to remember this great anti-imperialist liberation struggle and, to mark the seventieth anniversary of the publication of James's epic work, on 2 February 2008, the London Socialist Historians Group have organised a conference to try and do just that. The provisional programme is here, and keynote speakers include Darcus Howe, Selma James, Bill Schwarz, Marika Sherwood and Weyman Bennett. Highly recommended.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Respect: Going Back to the Future

The founder of the British Socialist Workers Party, Tony Cliff, when asked about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the U.S.S.R), used to make the point that it was 'Four words - Four lies'*. In other words, it was not a 'Union' since Stalinist Russia controlled the satallite states around it in the manner of Imperial Russia, it was not 'Soviet' as there were no longer any Soviets (Workers' Councils) there, it was not 'Socialist' since the working class no longer had any democratic control over industry or society but instead bureaucratic state capitalist, and it was not a 'Republic' since the nominal leader (from Stalin onwards) had all the autocratic power of old Tsars (Emperors). Recently, it might seem that the 'Respect: the Unity Coalition' is in fact 'Three Words: Three lies' since its recent split - George Galloway's recent remarks about the SWP (describing us as 'Russian Dolls' and 'juvenile dwarves' while telling members in Tower Hamlets - including his former election agent to 'fuck off') certainly show a certain lack of 'Respect' and there sadly seems to be little possibility now of 'Unity' or 'Coalition' between the Gallowayites and the rest of Respect. Yet I would argue that what is left of the Respect Coalition - despite the departure of the Gallowayites - shows that, for all its weaknesses, it still remains the single best vehicle for uniting the left to build a socialist alternative to New Labour.

People can read reports of the recent Respect conference in Socialist Worker and on Lenin's Tomb, and since I was not at the conference I can add little to those very positive and excellent reports. What I want to do here is try to explain a little about why the split has taken place for readers of Histomat who are outside either Britain or Respect itself and are wondering what on earth is going on. My previous brief post on the issue may have made it seem all there was to it was George Galloway's ego, which is a superficial explanation and rather unsatisfactory from a Marxist point of view - which places the role of the individual within wider politics and society and places emphasis on social production and the collective power of social movements rather than the psychoanalysis of the personalities of politicians in order to explain social change. Only time will tell whether George Galloway is the new Robert Kilroy-Silk.

Indeed, and this is where my argument kind of starts, I think it is perhaps interesting to compare and contrast Galloway's 'Respect Renewal' project to Neil Kinnock's project of 'renewing Labour', a project which ultimately gave birth to 'New Labour'. Only in this case, obviously Galloway is trying to 'renew Respect' so that it becomes something like 'Old Labour' or what he would call 'real Labour'. This was, to be fair to him and others within Respect who also had/have this vision for Respect, a legitimate political project and one that could arguably have been worked for within the initial Respect Coalition as formulated - which brought together both old Labourites like Galloway alongside revolutionaries like the SWP to work to build a left alternative. And indeed, there are no doubt still people within the Respect coalition who have this vision for Respect who I hope still feel able and happy to work for it within Respect. But the point was, that the Respect Coalition was precisely that - a coalition with people with different visions for what Respect should become. For Galloway, the hope was to build up another Labour Party to replace the hideous rotting putrid fungoid bureaucratic lump which bears the indelible stain of dead children from Iraq and Afghanistan and which still goes under the name of the Labour Party despite its open support for neo-liberalism and imperialism.

There were also of course those of us within Respect like the SWP which had a different vision for Respect - for us 'Labourism' (and to be frank 'Parliamentary Socialism' in general) as a political tradition was bankrupt and indeed an historic obstacle to the development of a militant working class culture within Britain - and we hoped that the development of Respect could help to undermine the power of Labourism over the British working class movement by giving militants and socialists an alternative political home to the rather unsatisfactory 'home' offered by the powerless Labour Left since the demise of Bennism. But the important thing to remember was that Respect did succeed in bringing together people despite their alternative strategic visions for the future on the key issues - opposition to the 'war on terror', opposition to the rise in racism and Islamophobia that war set in motion, and opposition to the corporate takeover of Britain and the world that neo-liberalism represents. That unity was of course forged through struggle in building the anti-war movement in Britain around the Stop the War Coalition, a unity which remains as important as ever as Brown eyes up war on Iran (or failing that perhaps war in somewhere like Sudan) to try and restore the prestige and glory of British imperial power (sorry of 'Western humanitarian intervention') after the catastrophic disaster of Iraq.

What went wrong?

Historians of the future will no doubt argue long and hard about exactly why this unity within Respect broke down, and I don't want to attempt a full analysis of this - which will bore many readers of Histomat - even if such a full analysis is even possible at this stage. However, as Dave Renton pointed out to me, the split essentially took happened in three places - Tower Hamlets, Birmingham, and on the National Council of Respect itself. One might want to add a fourth place where the split took place - the blogosphere - where there was also a split among the blogs which supported Respect - and now noisy pro-Galloway blogs continue to pump out their propaganda like there is no tomorrow.

Perhaps the decision of Gordon Brown to move towards calling an early General Election in August this year prompted Galloway, fearful of losing his Parliamentary seat, to attack the SWP so that should he lose he would be able to have a scapegoat to blame - if he had not made some sort of criticism against the SWP before he lost then any attack post election would seem rather weak. We can only speculate about Galloway's 'thinking'. Nevertheless, once he made his attack on the SWP he decided to use it as part of a wider attempt to shift Respect decisively onto the road of 'renewal' - ie to turn Respect from a Coalition of reformists and revolutionaries into an openly reformist Party on the Labour Party mould. Just as Neil Kinnock when 'renewing Labour' decided to purge the Labour Party of the Militant Tendency so Galloway decided to try and do the same - at least in the few areas of the country where this might be possible thanks to recent electoral success - Tower Hamlets and Birmingham and there was a significant block of 'others' who might be his allies. This witch-hunt was necessary as the apparent problem with Respect for Galloway was that SWP support was seen as an electoral liability and apparently Respect was seen as too 'socialist' - exactly the same kind of arguments used by Kinnock of course when purging Labour of Militant.

Galloway's problem of course was that the SWP in Respect was rather more significant in both size and influence than the Militant Tendency was in the Labour Party in the 1980s. This is why Galloway's 'witch-hunt' never really got off the ground - there was very little material base for it within Respect. For example, where I am in Leeds, the number of potential supporters for a witch-hunt of the SWP is well, pretty close to zero. I doubt whether anyone seriously thinks Respect in Leeds would be viable or possible without the SWP - to put it bluntly. This is why the Gallowayite blogs continually scream that they are not involved in 'witch-hunting' the SWP - yet just because the witch-hunt has very little support within Respect doesn't mean that essentially it is still that - a witch-hunt.

When Galloway realised that his witch-hunt had failed - and that he would not be able to win a vote for expelling or removing SWP members from leading positions within Respect democratically at national conference - he had one option left - which he has taken. To split his supporters off into a separate organisation where they can try and relate to the desire for a left of Labour political organisation in Britain without the SWP. Instead of the need for sizeable numbers of rank and file activists and the labour movement norms of democracy, Galloway's 'Respect Renewal' project will be built as 'New Labour' was built - from above - using the mass media, spin doctors, celebrity supporters, rich backers, etc etc. If the development of New Labour was tragedy - then the development of 'Respect Renewal' truly is farce - this is indeed the Eighteenth Brumaire of George Galloway!

The future

Fortunately - what is now 'Old Respect' or 'real Respect' does have not only a future - but more of a future than 'Old Labour' seems to be having at the moment. People are tired of Brown's 'Labour Party Capitalist Britain', they desperately want an alternative which fights for the things that Respect stands for - Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community and Trade Unionism. The potential to build a grassroots democratic socialist alternative to Labourism in Britain from the bottom-up, which bases itself on the mass movement and whose elected representatives never try to rise above that movement for the purposes of making a political or media 'career', is greater than ever. Respect to Respect!

*A pedantic point I know, but an anarchist once told me that the phrase originated not with Cliff but with Cornelius Castoriadis. This is highly possible, but I do not know one way or another - if any readers know more about this then please clear up this matter of undoubtedly burning relevance for the contemporary international working class movement.

**Ever since the days of norse mythology, dwarves have had a place in in the literary imagination of some, and is it now possible that the term 'juvenile dwarf' might replace the [quasi-racist] term 'political pygmy' as a derogatory term for one's opponent in political discourse? Quite why first pygmies and now young dwarves deserve being invoked in this manner is however another question...

Edited to add: Witches and Russian Dolls: The Crisis in Respect

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Friday, November 16, 2007

New film: American Gangster

Coming to a cinema near you soon...

Starring Dubya, Washington, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

'This epic portrayal of the rise and fall of the Bush family as a crime syndicate was reminiscent of The Godfather' - EMPIRE


Monday, November 12, 2007

Deutscher on the importance of class struggle

'On both sides of the great divide, a few ruthless and half-witted oligarchies – capitalist oligarchies here, bureaucratic oligarchies there – hold all the power and take all the decisions, obfuscate the minds and throttle the wills of the nations... The peoples have been silent too long. We can and we must get back to class struggle. It's all dignity. We may and we must restore meaning to the great ideas. The conflicting and partly conflicting ideas by which mankind is still living. The ideas of liberalism, democracy and communism. Yes, communism.'

Isaac Deutscher, 1965.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Madeleine Bunting on the disaster of Iraq

Good article in today's Guardian:

Can we claim innocence of the chaotic violence of Iraq now normalised into the background of our lives? Suicide bombs have long since become routine radio noise. We're numbed to the atrocities; except for some stalwarts, the initial anti-war activism has been crowded out by other responsibilities. Life goes on, even if in Baghdad it frequently doesn't.

And to accompany the indifference is the creeping denial of responsibility. Government ministers now talk of Iraq as a tragedy, as if it was a natural disaster and they had no hand in its making.

Edited to add: The following letter in response to Bunting the next day:

Madeleine Bunting (Comment, November 5) overlooks some others who might examine their actions in the making of war on Iraq: the Stop the War Coalition. It is likely that Saddam Hussein saw TV news reports and used them to judge the popular mood around the world on his refusal to allow WMD inspections. And what would he have seen? Millions of people marching in support of Stop the War. Might he not have thought "they won't invade - their voters would never forgive them". In the latter he was right, but in the former most tragically wrong.
John Goldman

Lets get this right - so the people to blame for the criminal and disastrous war on Iraq were not the warmongers themselves but er, the millions who marched against the war on the grounds that it was not only criminal but would lead to disaster? I am sorry but words kind of fail me at this point...

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Galloway: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

A Matroyshka from Semyonovo - Russian dolls are highly controversial things apparently

I will write a longer post about George Galloway's decision to 'do a Kilroy' and abandon a democratically structured organisation to form a new party around his own ego and media profile later, but for now the best perspective for how Respect can move forward can be found here...

Edited to add: The Record: The SWP and Respect

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'Our History' online

The British Communist Party Historians Group was one of the most important intellectual inspirations behind the rise of 'social history' in the world of academic history in the 1960s, including among its number such luminaries as Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, George Rude, John Saville, A.L. Morton, Victor Kiernan, Rodney Hilton, Raphael Samuel and Maurice Dobb. After 1956, most of these historians left in protest at the Stalinist suppression of a workers revolt in Hungary, and the CPGB Historians Group was never the same again. Yet it continued on against the odds, and from 1956 onwards produced a series of short mongraphs called 'Our History', which are slowly being made available online. These monographs should not be written off as 'vulgar Stalinist historiography' without value (well perhaps a few should), but as a resource for Marxist historians to use and build on today, - some of them indeed are very important and still pioneering efforts - and those putting them online should be congratulated for making them accessible.

1 The Class Struggle in Local Affairs (part 1)-(part2)
2 Luddism in the period 1779-1830 (part 1)-(part 2)
3 The Struggle For Educational Opportunity
4 Some Dilemmas For Marxists 1900 - 1914
5 Labour - Communist Relations 1920 - 1939
6 The Tradition of Civil Liberties in Britain
7 Enclosure and Population Change
8 Land Nationalisation in Britain
9 Cromwell in the English Revolution (Tercentenary)
10 Social conditions in the Early 19th Century
11 Town Privileges and Politics in Tudor and Stuart England
12 The Working Week
13 The Historical Novel. Jack Lindsay & Diana St.John
14 Africa in World History
15 Party Politics in the 19th Century - " Namierism "
16 John Burns' Library. Yvonne Kapp
17 Chartist Literature. Y.V. Kovalev
18 Sheffield Shop Stewards 1916 - 1918 Bill Moore
19 An S.D.F. Branch 1903-1906. Andrew Rothstein
20 The Common People 1688-1800.
21 Diary of Ernest Jones 1839 - 47. (Chartism)
22 The General Strike In The North - East. R.Page Arnot et al.
23 Pages From a Worker's Life 1916 - 26. Bob Davies
24 The Lancashire Cotton Famine 1861 - 65.
25 Thomas Bewick 1753-1828; Artist, Naturalist, Radical
26/27 Tom Mann 1890-92. Dona Torr and E.P. Thompson
28 The Lesser Fabians. E.J. Hobsbawm
29 Transition From Feudalism to Capitalism. Maurice Dobb
30 Songs of the Labour Movement. John Millar
31 Chartism and The Trade Unions.
32 The World Of Homer. R.F. Willetts
33 Shakespeare's Idea of History. A.L. Morton
34 Houses of The People. E. Mercer
35 Slave Society : Some Problems. R. Browning
36/37 Prints of the Labour Movement. (From the James Klugman collection)
38 Tom Mann in Australasia 1902 - 1909. Dona Torr
39. The Organisation of Science - Science as social activity.
40. Chartism in the Black Country 1850 - I860. G.Barnsby
41. Problems of The German Anti-Fascist Resistance. A.Merson
42. Class and Ideology in Bath 1800-1850. R.S.Neale
43. The Easter Rising as History. C.Desmond Greaves
44/45. History and Social Structure on the East African Plateau.
46. A Contemporary View of the Napoleonic Wars. Frida Knight
47. The Second Reform Bill.
48. Alexander Macdonald and the Miners. Raymond Challinor
49/50 The Revolt in the Fields in East Anglia. Alf Peacock
51. Leveller Democracy- Fact or Myth ? A.L. Morton
52. German Imperialism and its Influence in GB. A.Rothstein
53. The Nations of Britain: The Making of the Union. B. Ruheman .
54. Since the Ind. Revolution. A.Jenkin.
55. Social Control in the 19C Black Country. G.Barnsby
56. Europe's 17th Century crisis - A Marxist Review. D.Parker
57. Nazis and Monopoly Capital. Allan Merson
58. The Miners of Kilsyth and 1926. Paul and Carol Carter
59. The S.D.F, and the Boer War. Bill Baker
60. Time and Motion Strike, Manchester 1934-7. Mick Jenkins
61. Middle Class Opinion and the 1889 Dock Strike. G.Cronje
62. 1945 - Year Of Victory. George Barnsby
63. On the Origins of Capitalism. Alexander Chistozvonov
64. Imperialism and the British Labour Movement. (l920's) S.Macintyre
65. The 1926 General Strike in Lanarkshire. J.McLean
66. Feudalism, Capitalism, and the Absolutist State. Reviews of Perry Anderson by E.J.Hobsbawm and Douglas Bourn.
67. Spain Against Fascism 1936 - 1939. N.Green and A.M.Elliot
68. Worker's Newsreels in the 1920's and 30's. Bert Hogenkamp
69. Rank and File Building Workers Movements 1910-20. P.Latham
70. The Struggle against Fascism and War in Britain. Mike Power
71. From Radicalism to Socialism - Paisley Engineers 1890-1920. J.Brown
72 People's Theatre in Bristol' 1930 - 1945. Angela Tuckett
73. T.A. Jackson - A Centenary appreciation. Vivien Morton & S.Macintyre
74. The National Question in Cornwall. Royston Green
75. The 1842 General Strike in South Wales. Heather Jordan
76. Armed Resistance and Insurrection: Early Chartism. J.Baxter
77. Appeasement. Bill Moore
78. The Making of the Clydeside Working Class. Shipbuilding and Working Class Organisation in Govan, Calum Campbell 79. 1688: How Glorious was the Revolution? by A.L. Morton
80. London Squatters 1946 ed. N. Branson
81. The Anti-Fascist People's Front In the Armed Forces eds. Bill Moore, George Barnsby
82 Labour-Communist Relations Part I ed Noreen Branson/Bill Moore
83 Labour –Communist Relations Part II ed Noreen Branson/Bill Moore

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