Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Exclusive Offer: The Royal Warrior Celebration Plate

Barbarism: A village in Afghanistan

By exclusive appointment, Royal Doulton are pleased to announce the limited edition The Royal Warrior Celebration Plate, lovingly made to commemorate HRH Prince Harry's ten week tour of duty during the Fourth Anglo-Afghan War. This is a limited edition plate and only 4,000 will be made. Issued to commemorate the inspiring heroism of His Royal Highness the Prince Henry Charles Albert David as he singlehandedly takes on 'Terry Taliban', it will allow you to remember forever the unforgettable highlights of HRH Prince Harry's tour of duty...from the daily ritual of a morning kickabout after breakfast...to calling in his first airstrike on an Afghan village from a fortified position miles away before lunch...driving a Spartan tank around the base camp during the afternoon...to hosting his famed 'colonials and natives' themed dinner parties in the barracks in the evening.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Western Civilisation comes at last!

Cry God for Harry, England and St George!

The Royal Warrior Celebration Plate measures 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter and weighs unpackaged approximately 375 grammes. Don't miss this exclusive opportunity - contact us while stocks last.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Castro and the ''professional dangers'' of power

There is a useful article in this week's Socialist Worker on the political legacy left by Fidel Castro. Whenever I think of Castro, I am always reminded by the Manics Street Preachers comment on him, a lyric from the song 'Baby Elian': 'You don't just sit in a rocking chair, When you've built a revolution'. The notion of revolutionary leaders sitting around in rocking chairs once in power is of course hardly a new story. Historically speaking, a quick read through Christian Rakovsky's 1928 article 'The "professional dangers" of power' reminds us of that. Rather than deploying the moralism of the Manic Street Preachers, as a Marxist Rakovsky was trying to come to terms with the material roots behind the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy after the Russian Revolution, in part drawing instructive parallels with the Great French Revolution.

More than once Robespierre warned his partisans against the consequences which the intoxication of power would bring. He warned them that, holding power, they should not become too presumptuous, "big-headed", as he said, or as we would say now, infected with "Jacobin vanity". However as we shall see later, Robespierre himself contributed largely to the loss of power from the hands of the petty bourgeoisie which leaned on the Parisian workers.

Rakovsky identified with Babeuf's critique of how the militancy and revolutionary creativity of the Parisien masses died away once the Jacobins were in power:

Babeuf, after his emergence from the prison at Abbaye, looking about him, began by asking himself what had happened to the people of Paris, the workers of the faubourgs St Antoine and St Marceau, those who on 14 July 1789 had taken the Bastille, on 10 August 1792 the Tuileries, who had laid seige to the Convention on 30 May 1793, not to speak of numerous other armed interventions. In one single phrase, in which can be felt the bitterness of the revolutionary, he gave his observation: "It is more difficult to re-educate the people in the love of liberty than to conquer it".

We have seen why the people of Paris forgot the attraction of liberty. Famine, unemployment, the liquidation of revolutionary cadres (numbers of these had been guillotined), the elimination of the masses from the leadership of the country, all this brought about such an overwhelming moral and physical weariness of the masses that the people of Paris and the rest of France needed thirty-seven years’ rest before starting a new revolution.

Babeuf formulated his programme in two phases (I speak here of his programme of 1794): "Liberty and an elected Commune".

Of course there are differences between the French, Russian and Cuban Revolutions. Each revolution has to be studied, explained and understood on their own terms, but generalisations from the experience of revolutions are also possible and necessary.

There is also a more general lesson about class struggle that has to be remembered and if necessary relearnt anew. That is, understanding that there is a temptation for every popular leader of a progressive or radical movement to just sit around once even a small victory has been won, particularly if that victory is won on the field of electoral politics. In America today for example, while I am pleased to see that Ralph Nader has decided to run for President again, it is not surprising that his campaign seems to be finding it harder to really take off this time round. After his triumphant and inspiring securing of almost 3 million votes in the 2000 elections, he seemed to have sat in a rocking chair rather than doing the kind of campaigning work necessary to keep the momentum up, appearing only at election times to do what he does best - highlighting the way in which both the Democratic and Republican Parties only serve the American Empire and the interests of multinational capital. The long fight for political representation for working people in America requires surely something more than this.

And while I certainly do not want to turn this blog into the 'George Galloway Ate My Hamster' blog, the 'professional dangers' of power also apply in Britain as well. 'You don't just sit around as a radio talk show host when you become the first left of Labour MP to be elected for sixty years' might not be the most beautiful lyric ever crafted in the world - indeed it would almost certainly be in the running for the most ugly lyric ever written - but for all its moralism it would perhaps contain an important truth about politics within it nonetheless.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

On Marxist criticism

Though he didn't have 21st century Marxist bloggers in mind, in 1928 Anatoly Lunarcharsky posed the interesting question, 'Are sharp and bitter polemics to be allowed?' His answer:

Generally speaking, sharp polemics are useful in that they keep the reader interested. Polemical articles, especially where both sides are wrong, all other things being equal, have more influence on the public and are better understood. In addition, the martial spirit of the Marxist critic as a revolutionary leads him to express his thoughts sharply, but at the same time it should be mentioned that to camouflage the weakness of his arguments with polemical brilliance is one of the critic’s greatest sins. Generally, when there are not many arguments but a multitude of various scathing remarks, comparison, mocking exclamations, and sly questions, then the impression may be gay but not at all serious. Criticism must be applicable to criticism itself, for Marxist criticism is at the same time scientific, and, in a way, artistic work. Anger is not the best guide in criticism and often means that the critic is wrong.

Admittedly, sometimes biting sarcasm and tirades are torn out of the critic’s heart. The more or less discerning ear of another critic, reader, and particularly writer can always distinguish between natural anger and mere malice. In our constructive effort there must be as little malice as possible. It must not be mixed with class hatred. Class hatred strikes with intent, but like a cloud over the earth it is above personal malice. By and large, the Marxist critic, without falling into cheerful indulgence, which would be very wrong on his part, must be a priori benevolent. His supreme joy must be in finding the positive and revealing it to the reader in all its splendour. Assistance must be another of his aims – to channel and to warn – and only rarely should it be necessary to attempt to undo the villain with the piercing arrow of laughter or contempt or with overwhelming criticism, which can easily annihilate any puffed-up nonentity

All worth thinking about, certainly, even if Histomat personally falls very short of this ideal. Anyway, after a brief plug for Anindya Bhattacharyya's article on 'culture, commerce and class society' and Sadie Robinson on the roots of reformism, I thought I would just highlight a few excellent little articles on the Marxist blogosphere which I found while pissing about during my lunch hour. First up, Ed Rooksby blames capitalism not the working class for the current credit crunch, Richard Seymour writes on apartheid in South Africa, and finally Louis Proyect writes on Herman Melville and indigineous peoples. I also came across a new Adorno-esque blog entitled Futures and Pasts, which I thought also deserved a mention.

Edited to add: Stuart Hall on Raymond Williams (1988)

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The future in the present

'Tony Benn...told us a cheery little story. When Alastair Campbell's book came out last year, Benn hurried to Waterstone's to buy a copy. He expected huge queues, but there were none. So he went up to the assistant and asked: "Do you have a copy of The Blair Years?"

"How do you spell Blair?"'

From here.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Queimada / Burn!

Marlon Brando and Evaristo Marquez in Queimada (1969)

For some reason there are not many films about Caribbean slave revolts against European colonialism, but by far the best I have ever seen is this anti-imperialist classic starring Marlon Brando and directed by the late great Gillo Pontecorvo. It also has a terrific score by Ennio Morricone. As one film buff notes, the film demonstrates

Pontecorvo's blending of cinematic romanticism with an analysis of black revolutionary struggle which is part Marx and part Franz Fanon. Unlike The Battle of Algiers, which made use of a cinema vérité style to tell the story of an actual liberation struggle, Burn! is a political allegory, styled like a costume action-adventure picture. The setting is a fictional sugar cane-producing Caribbean Island named Queimada...


Leon Trotsky on love, life and literature

'To love life with the superficial affection of the dilettantes and there are dilettantes of life as well as of art is no great merit. To love life with open eyes, with unabating criticism, without illusions, without embellishments, such as it is, whatever it may offer, and even more, for what it can come to be that is a feat of a kind. To invest this love of life with artistic expression, especially when this is concerned with the very lowest social stratum that is a great artistic achievement.'

Leon Trotsky on Jean Malauais, 1939. For some more literary criticism by Trotsky, see here.

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Hallas on Lukacs on Lenin

Well worth a look, as you might expect, as of course is Lukacs's Lenin itself.

Edited to add: Ian Birchall on Lukacs on Goethe and other literary criticism of Lukacs.


Friday, February 15, 2008

The World Against War

Today marks the fifth anniversary of one of the most glorious days of my life - the mass Stop the War demonstration in London on February 15 2003. The sheer numbers of people on the streets of London was remarkable - a magnificent manifestation of 'people power' - power that day really did lie in the streets (the London Metropolitan police were stretched so thin that huge swathes of the march took place without a single policeman in sight). It was bitterly cold, but the fraternal spirit among those marching kept people warm. The sheer weight of numbers meant that the march was one of the slowest I have ever been on - it took ages to get to Hyde Park and for me to catch Jesse Jackson, Ms Dynamite and Tony Benn speaking. On anti-war demonstrations in Britain up to that point, official Stop the War and Socialist Worker placards tended to dominate, but on this day there were firstly not enough placards of any description to match the demand for them, and as well as a multitude of fantastic and imaginative home-made ones, mainstream parties like the Liberal Democrats and mainstream newspapers were desperately trying to get in on the act. Daily Mirror placards saying 'No War' were most common, but even the reactionary and pro-war Daily Mail tried to jump on the bandwagon, producing a special issue of their paper to give out free to those protesting, highlighting that the demo proved that apparently 'the silent majority was on the march'. In fact, from the mass of Daily Mails later seen floating down the River Thames, it seems that the 'silent majority' found their voice on that day - and spoke loudly and clearly against the warmongers and racists. It was a truly historic day, not simply the biggest public demonstration but the biggest act of mass civil disobedience and mass direct action in British history, and one to remember and draw inspiration from still. Nor, contrary to rumours that have been greatly exaggerated, has the anti-war movement died since then - indeed in a month's time, on March 15 to March 22, to mark the fifth anniversary of the war on Iraq, there will be international demonstrations under the banner The World Against War, calling for the troops to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and for solidarity with Palestine. Everyone should try to do something that day to remember the innocent victims of the bloody 'war on terror' and to make sure that the Project for the New American Century continues to falter and fail, as it deserves to.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Britain's forgotten crimes in Australia

Excellent article by Geoffrey Robertson in today's Guardian about the role the British Empire and then elitist Fabian state-capitalist intellectuals obsessed with eugenics played in the racist genocide of Australian Aborigines.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Paul Foot Speaks (1980)

In March 1980, after the recent election victory of Margaret Thatcher's Tories over a Labour Government led by James Callaghan - a Labour Government which had fundamentally betrayed the interests of the working class whilst in office - a debate was organised between the Labour Left and the revolutionary Left in Britain. Heralded modestly as 'The Debate of the Decade', Tony Benn MP, Stuart Holland MP and Audrey Wise put the case for socialists joining the Labour Party whilst Hilary Wainwright (now editor of Red Pepper), Tariq Ali (then of the International Marxist Group) and Paul Foot (Socialist Workers Party) put the case for building a socialist alternative based on the power of the movements and struggles outside Parliament. Chairing the debate was one Peter Hain, who later edited the speeches into a book - entitled 'The Crisis and Future of the Left' but it is extracts from Paul Foot's speech that I want to put online, as they may still be of some relevance to socialists experiencing another Labour Government pursuing Tory policies with a vengeance. Foot goes through some of the history of the Labour Party and Labourism, the rise and fall in membership and so on, and stresses throughout a vision of socialism from below, coming through agitation, education and organisation. It is interesting in particular to note Foot's reference to Peter Hain mid-way through his speech...

Comrades...we have a Tory government rampaging through the country, slashing and stabbing whereever they can as though they were an invading army and we have a rotten opposition to it. Look at the places that people look to for opposition to the Tory government; its not coming from there. Whenever you see a Labour minister in Parliament attacking the Tory government they get the same reply; the reply is: 'You did it too.'

...Everywhere you look the parliamentary opposition is frustrated by these replies and the industrial opposition is frustrated too. The industrial opposition...we can see that being split. Why? Because for five years under a Labour Government they were treated by their leaders as a stage army, told they couldn't go for more than the particular amount of money that was laid down by trade union leaders operating with the Labour government. And the stage armies, when called upon to fight for the very basic liberties that keep the whole trade union movement together, the stage armies aren't prepared to come out any longer...

And therefore the question comes out clear. It screams from all of this experience of the last five years, screams at us, that it is the foundations of the movement that are rotting and it's no good, when the foundations of the movement are rotting, mucking about with the superstructure. We've got to get back to where the power is, not where it isn't, not in parliament, not in trade union offices but where it is - on the shop floor, in the rank and file...and we need socialist agitation at the rank and file more than we ever did before, because in the fifties and sixties militancy was enough, it was enough to say that we must be militant to gain more from a boss. Now that isn't enough. Now if you ask why...the answer is that there is a fear in the movement now, a fear of the whole prop of existence, the job, the whole security of existence being knocked out from under you and the argument that comes and is so cleverly used in all the Tory media is - 'what's the point of making steel when nobody buys steel, what's the point in that?' There's only one reply to it - the reply being: 'why is there a steel recession in the first place, why is nobody buying steel? Is it because nobody needs steel; is it because the whole of India, South East Asia, Africa is so stuffed with steel products that they don't need any more? Is that the explanation?' No, obviously it's not the explanation. Running side by side you have on the one hand the tremendous capacity to produce, the capacity to feed the world not once but twice over, the capacity to produce everything that people need and yes, everything that they want, that's there, available to us now. But on the other hand there is this increasing poverty and desperation all the time matching the ability to produce and the increasing poverty running side by side. Why? Because the society is divided up, controlled by people only interested in their property and privileges and splitting the society and exploiting the society and stumbling from boom to slump. The socialist argument is only powerful in the rank and file where it can give force and power to the people who've got the power to change the society - that's where we have to do the agitation and that's where we have to do the organising...

[But] there is a very powerful and attractive argument, the argument goes like this: 'Yes we need rank and rile agitation, we need more socialists in the rank and file, we need more extra-parliamentary activity...we need more of that today and we need to forge it into a powerful Labour Party which will go alongside radical socialist politics and which will protect the next Labour government from the ravages of bankers, industrialists judges and all the rest of them.'

Now that's what the argument is and it's a very attractive one and I reply to it like this. That we see the two traditions of activity, the extra-parliamentary rank and file organisation if you like on the one hand, and the parliamentary organisation on the other. We see them as two different roads running in different directions...when it comes to the crunch again and again running into one another. That is something that you can't fudge, that you have to choose between them...and to demonstrate what I mean I want to talk a little bit about the Labour Party itself. You see, it's true that when Labour had to win the workers' vote, when it had to win the vote from the Tories and from the Liberals, to win people's minds away from all that old obsequiousness to the boss which they had then and their obsession with the Liberal Party - to do all of those things they required agitation - mass agitation.

One of the first jobs I did was to be a reporter in the by-election at Bridgetown in the East End of Glasgow in 1961. I read up on the history of that period, I read about the history of when they first elected an I[ndependent] L[abour] P[arty] candidate in Bridgetown in 1922. In that area of Glasgow then, the whole place ran with agitation. In every close mouth there was an ILP representative, in every street an ILP bulletin and that was reflected all over the country. All the way through the period of winning the vote for Labour through the twenties, thirties, forties yes, right up until 1950. There were newspapers for instance, national newspapers with massive circulation. The Daily Herald for most of it's life was owned or controlled by the Labour Party or the TUC. The Cooperative Party, which was part of the Labour Party, owned or controlled the News which was read by hundreds of thousands of workers on Sundays, and there were libraries created, all the way through Britain especially South Wales, massive working class libraries, books lovingly collected out of the pennies of workers in which people were taught to read about their own literature, literature that came out of their class, not the crap that they got in school or on the radio. And there's a whole history there of agitation in order to win the vote.

But the point about this history of agitation is that all of it was linked to the parliamentary process, all of it was linked to the business of winning the vote and it followed then as night followed day that as soon as the vote was won, as soon as it became clear that millions of people, almost by automatic reaction, were going to vote Labour, then the agitation collapsed and since 1951 or 1952 you have an absolutely irretrievable pattern of the collapse of agitation, and the collapse of involvement in the Labour Party. The newspapers that I've mentioned were either sold or closed. The libraries have all been sold off to dealers. The whole business of local activity and local discussion has collapsed. Individual membership in the Labour Party has declined by something quite extraordinary and all of it is a process that is inevitable because the thing was attached only to that little slender little bit of democracy which was voting MPs into Parliament.

Then there was another process and we've seen a bit of that process today, that every time a Labour government faltered or every time it was beaten you had another process of agitation coming into the fore. You had the Labour left in one form or another coming and saying: 'Now comrades we've lost or we've faltered. Now we need a bit of agitation. Come on out all you extra-parliamentarians, let's debate with you in the Central Hall, let's have a discussion, let's get you working again because that's the only way we'll ever get into office again. Come on let's get moving.' They may mean it sincerely. Let's bind together as I've described earlier. This goes way back. In 1925, the Lansbury Clubs; in the 1930s the Socialist League - Stafford Cripps and Aneurin Bevan; in the 1940s, the Keep Left group organised by that well known revolutionary and fellow columnist of mine on Daily Mirror newspapers, Woodrow Wyatt; in the 1950s, Victory for Socialism; in the 1960s, Appeal for Unity - all different attempts in opposition or when the government was faltering to bring together extra-parliamentary agitation; to try and raise again socialist consciousness in the rank and file, to try and lift what Shelley called the 'spirit that lifts the slave before his Lord', trying to do that again through the Labour Party and in the Labour Party. But because that was where they operated, first of all each group was weaker than the last - the Labour Coordinating Committee is at the end of this line - I don't mean in terms of winning votes on the Labour Party National Executive but weaker in mass terms; and the other thing about it is that as it got weaker so it was less and less able to have any effect. And, secondly, on each occasion the agitation was neatly packed away in time for an election, and everyone was called on to make 'a united heave' to get Labour back into office. All this was quite logical. Why? Because it was all happening apart from the things that are going on in the outside world, always going on separate to all the activities and struggles that are happening in the strikes, the agitation and all the things that I was talking about earlier, those things are separate to how the Labour Party conducts its agitation and that's why we say, we say that the Labour Party process in linked inextricably to the passivity of the masses, that the masses have to be passive in those circumstances and all the people who join the Labour Party as agitators to change the world, all of them become not changers of the world but changed themselves in the process. Lansbury, Cripps, Nye Bevan, Wyatt, Sidney Silverman, Lord Greenwood, Peter Hain - where is he going to be - will he join this list or will he help us build an alternative?

That's the question we want to put tonight. What I am saying is this. What is the alternative?

Let me talk a little about the alternative. And how I see the alternative...because of the way society is constituted, a socialist society is not going to be just won by 'decent' processes; that those people who have property will not surrender that property, they will not surrender it even in events where parliamentary legislation threatens their power. If parliamentary legislation threatens their property then, and we have the example of Chile staring at us down the barrel of a gun, they will shoot the opposition rather than give power to it...

...What sort of socialism are we interested in? Is it just a question of more state control, dictatorial, tyrannical, what about Russia, is it like the sort of society that we have in Czechoslovakia and Russia today? And I believe that if you say to people 'look, we'll do it for you, you keep quiet and we'll do the job for you' then the suspicion, the suspicion that exists in people's minds that socialism is something dictated from above, the suspicion increases, it becomes more rigid. Now if you say we have to get it from below, we have to organise from below that there's more socialism in a strike committee at Stocksbridge working out the hardship fund, there's more socialism there than in all the plans of the Labour Party, then you begin to see a new and different form of organisation, an organisation which is tied to people's activities.

First of all the important units are not geographical, the important units are industrial, where people spend most of their active lives - the industrial unit being the important one where people spend most of their working lives, where they co-operate most together, where they contribute most together and where, because they produce there, they have the power. The important units of organisation being there and the activity of the organisation corresponding to the aspirations of where people are fighting, where they are battling. It is not just a question of where they're on strike but where they're fighting, all the thousands of little agitations that take place, I don't know, housing, the no-disconnections campaign, yes, the Irish campaign to get the troops out of Ireland, to free the Irish political prisoners, all those hundreds of agitations that go on day by day. The Party has to be organised around those agitations...not in parliament, not in trade union offices but where people are beginning to fight.

That's really a form of organisation which is not something that is a corollary to parliamentary organisation but something which constantly runs against it, constantly clashes with it. You constantly find the parliamentarians trying to put down that organisation, that's the history of our movement. There are always such clashes, you have to realise that. Rosa Luxemburg was shot not by a Tory government but by a Labour government and by the orders of a Labour government. What happened in Portugal in 1974? The great bursting, enthusiasm of workers in Portugal in 1974 was held back and sucked dry by this parliamentary process and we say therefore that there are two different traditions, two different forms of organisation...

Now what I do when I speak up and down the country is end up by calling on people to join the Socialist Workers Party and I mean that. I do that again tonight. But I don't want to end just by calling on people to join the Socialist Workers Party because I like the spirit in which this meeting has been called. I think it has been called in a fraternal spirit and a spirit which really is worried, as we're worried, as everyone else is worried, about the state of opposition to the Tories and what happens in the future. I also recognise that, and it would be stupid for anyone not to recognise, that we in the Socialist Workers Party and more so the other organisations in my view are still haunted by the spectre of sectarianism that hangs over us, this awful bigoted, certainty and arrogance that we have all the answers conducted in a sort of language which other people don't understand. Now we've been trying for years and years to get away from that, and we're still trying, and we are interested in coming together with other people in the fight against the Tories. But we're interested in coming together not in words, not even just in debates, but in activity. We're interested in united activity, united activity against the union bill, against the cuts, yes, united activity to get those troops out of Ireland and those political prisoners out of the prisons there.

If each of you tonight were to think where it is that they could do something to change the world we live in and to roll back the priorities of the Tory government and no doubt of the next Labour government, no doubt of the next Labour government, then I believe the meeting will have achieved something and I believe that if you do those things then I'm quite confident that we will win the argument in the end in that activity...

I'll leave you with a quotation from the famous black freedom fighter, Frederick Douglas, in America. When they told him: 'Fred, come on we've found a new way of winning freedom for black people - we can go into the nice houses of nice educated Americans and they will win nice educated freedom for the blacks by nice educated legislation', Frederick Douglas had a very, very simple answer to that: 'Without struggle there is no progress, and those who profess to favour freedom yet deprecate agitation - Why? They want the crops without digging up the ground; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters.'

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Feel the hate...

Are you white, male, over fifty and running a small colonial outpost of the American Empire?

Is your electorate tiring of The War Against Terror and your unflinching support for it?

Are you facing the prospect of an economic downturn or an election anytime in the next year or so?

Is your Government mired by allegations of sleaze and corruption and full of idiotic incompetents and mindless mediocrities?

Have you got anti-war protesters still marching against your Government year in year out?

Are you finding it hard to cover up the fact that your administration is running out of new ideas fast?

If the answer to any or all of these questions is 'Yes', then help may be at hand thanks to Humanitarian Anti Terror Equipment (H.A.T.E.). H.A.T.E. offers you and your Government a range of tried and tested 'Divide and Rule' products designed to help you in your time of need. Since 2001, our 'Islamophobia' range has been especially popular and includes:

1.The Three Minute HATE: We release a grainy video of someone doing a passable impression of Osama Bin Laden onto the internet. 'Bin Laden' is pointing out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been disastrous defeats for the West and laughing in an evil manner at the fact he still eludes capture.
Benefits: Reminds people why The War Against Terror is still going on, even when it has now lasted longer than the Second World War. Takes the failings of your administration off the front pages for a day.
Costs: Reminds people that The War Against Terror has failed in its stated principle aim, to bring Bin Laden to justice, even though it has now lasted longer than the Second World War. Also please see Warning below.

2. The Three Day HATE: We help advise a minor junior minister in your Government, typically some eminently forgettable non-entity like Phil Woolas, to come up with some outrageous comment about the Muslim community in your country.
Benefits: Distracts attention away from the failings of your administration for several days at least while the papers discuss these comments.
Costs: When the allegations are digested and proved to be racist you may have to face down some calls to dispense with the services of the aforementioned minister. Also see Warning below.

3. The Three Week HATE : We can help orchestrate a 'Trial by Media' or 'Witch-hunt' of some leading public figure - for example, the Mayor of London or the Archbishop of Canterbury, for making any mild anti-racist or pro-Muslim comments.
Benefits: Distracts public attention away from the failings of your administration for three weeks while the media goes into hyperdrive demonising the aforementioned individual.
Costs: Remarkably few - but see Warning below.

Plus New for 2008:

The Three Month HATE: Currently being launched in the US, the Three Month HATE is a grand 'Show Trial' of prisoners of war who after years of torture have 'confessed' to committing acts of terrorism and face military tribunal followed by the Death Penalty.
Benefits: Enables you to declare another historic victory in The War Against Terrorism.
Costs: Some outcry from the 'civil liberties/human rights lobby'. Plus see Warning below.

HEALTH WARNING: The long term side-effects of public exposure to products from H.A.T.E. are unpredictable and potentially very highly dangerous. All H.A.T.E. products are poisonous, and so harmful to the political culture of your country. Repeated use has been shown to lead to a rise in racism, a rise in racist attacks, and a rise in support for racist and neo-fascist political parties. H.A.T.E. advises our products are only administered in limited doses and are used in moderation by responsible experienced politicians only. H.A.T.E. takes no responsibility for the misuse or abuse of any of our products.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Charlie Brooker on Unvalentine's Day

'As well as celebrating the death of existing loves, Unvalentine's Day can also accommodate all the loves that never were: the thwarted crushes, unrequited yearnings, and hopeless unspoken dreams. So if there's a friend you're desperately holding a candle for, even though they've pointed out time and time again that it's never going to happen, this is your "me-time": you're permitted to call them up and howl down the phone for half an hour, or stand pleading outside their window like a sap. And for one day only, it's illegal for anyone to pity you.

In summary, Unvalentine's Day promises to be the most coldly practical celebratory festival in history - a far healthier affair than Valentine's Day itself. True love is so uncontrollably delightful, there's no need to set aside a mere day in its honour. As for love's torments - well, it's probably best to compress and release them in a single, orderly burst, once a year. And that day is February 15. Mark it in your diary.'

Full article in all its glory and bitterness here. Under socialism, I am sure a Government of Workers Councils would vote to unceremoniously consign Valentines Day to the dustbin of history and institute an Unvalentines Day - until then I suppose the profits of florists and card manufacturers have to be artificially maintained somehow...

Friday, February 08, 2008

There may be trouble ahead...

Whenever an economic crisis beckons, and politicians either blame 'global economic trends' or unforeseen developments, or perhaps in a racist fashion desperately look around for scapegoats to blame, it is always worth reminding oneself of the arrogance of the self same politicians before the crisis hit. For the last ten years, while Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain, Gordon Brown was always stressing how it was his skilled helmsmanship which was solely and entirely responsible for economic stability and success - and so he should therefore quite fairly take full credit for the fact. 'I may be boring and miserable, but judge me on my record as chancellor', Brown would seem to say, while he and New Labour steadily accumulated political and moral capital in the process from the media and commentators as people who supposedly knew what the hell it was they was doing with respect to the economy. Brown's 'prudency' and 'genius' was widely heralded by economists. In the latest Socialist Review, Chris Harman has a quick look at what Brown actually was up to:

Gordon Brown's policy over the past 11 years has been to compensate for the continued destruction of industrial jobs by trying to make London the centre of the world's financial system. As a result the financial crisis can have a proportionately bigger direct effect on jobs here than elsewhere. At the same time, he has less room for manoeuvre than the US government when it comes to trying to keep the economy up by substituting government spending for private borrowing. He began increasing government spending six years ago (after cutting it to the bone in the previous four years), as a way of trying to sustain electoral support and limiting the impact of the last US recession. He is now under pressure to cut spending.

His response so far has been based on his faith that the market can work wonders providing he can keep capitalists happy. Hence his offer of vast amounts of money for a "public private" solution to the Northern Rock disaster. Hence too his insistence on holding down public sector pay.

Such measures are not going to be sufficient to protect British capitalism if the storm brewing in the US comes to a head this year. But they are going to deepen discontent with his government. They can also open many people up to arguments about the insanity of an economic system driven forward by the drive for profit.

The last point is crucial. In general, 'the economy' tends to be portrayed as something above the rest of society, somehow removed, reified and supposedly beyond the comprehension of all except the 'experts' and 'managers'. Trust in the likes of Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling who look suitably serious and dull in grey-suits and all will be well. Bow down to those in power - they know what they are doing.

In a more general sense however, what is striking is that if you have an anarchic system like capitalism, driven solely by competition to relentlessly accumulate profits, then really no political party or politician can take either credit for when capitalism is doing well or blame when capitalism goes into crisis. The free market system is ultimately about luck - Blair and Brown were lucky for ten years or so - but like gamblers ultimately their luck was always going to run out. This is not an argument to say that revolutionary socialists shouldn't fight for social democratic reforms in the face of capitalist crisis, for nationalisation and for democratic public ownership over failing banks like Northern Rock for example - of course we should. Nor should we not hold the likes of New Labour to account for steadily removing the few democratic controls over the economy that did exist and handing them over to unelected central bankers. Rather it is to say that there is no point whatsoever in the politics of social democracy and reformism in general - trying to make capitalism work - we need instead to fight for a completely new way of organising society based on collective democratic planning by those who produce all the wealth in society. And in fighting for such a socialist society we should remember that 'the economy' is always what we as human beings choose to make it - there is nothing that makes capitalism 'eternal' or the free market 'natural'.

To change the subject completely, I would also like to quickly celebrate two facts - firstly, Ipswich Town's historic first away league win of the season, and secondly, the fact that someone has finally come out and said something I have long believed - that the Super NES is the greatest computer console of all time...

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Fourth Anglo-Afghan War

...looks like it will go the same way as the past three - down to defeat for the West. As Seamus Milne notes, 'it seems the western powers are going to have to learn the lessons of the colonial era again and again'.

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