Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We Shall Fight, We Shall Win - Paris, London, Athens, Dublin

It is not everyday one gets the honour and privilege of being invited to do a Socialist Worker Student Society meeting on 'May 1968 - The Fire Last Time' amidst an actual student occupation (see also here), still less one amidst one of the largest and most significant waves of student revolt to hit University and College campuses in Britain in my living memory - see here and here. Admittedly, it would have been nice to have had more than 10 minutes notice before being asked to do the aforementioned meeting - and it would have been a bonus if the meeting had then happened at the time agreed (10pm) rather than er, just after midnight - but I guess this is the glorious messiness of real life struggle - and if twenty or so students after about 30 hours of maintaining an occupation are still up for a discussion about revolutionary politics from about half twelve until half one in the morning then who am I to refuse them such an opportunity?

Whether the student revolt in Britain has had its 'Grosvenor Square' moment - when 80,000 students protesting against the Vietnam War in March 1968 clashed with riot police outside the US Embassy yet or not is debatable, but certainly the demonstration of 50,000 students which ended with the trashing of the Tory HQ at Millbank - followed up with Day X's display of civil disobedience and mass direct action in which students were charged by the London Met's mounted police division has certainly brought student protest to the attention of the mass media - and their revolutionary spirit has acted as a beacon of inspiration and hope to millions of working people up and down the country in the face of the Tory onslaught of cuts and attacks. Britain is now well and truly part of the wave of resistance to austerity that has already been witnessed across the rest of Europe.

Theoretically, according to bourgeois social science, at least in its postmodern forms - the student revolt just shouldn't be happening. The marketisation and commodification of higher education that tuition fees represents should mean that students have lost any sense of collective identity and are now just individual consumers, buying a 'product' from The University Plc. The revolt shows students aren't prepared to just accept commodification passively, but are active agents of their own destiny - capable of raising the argument that 'another education and another world is possible'.

Just as the student revolt in 1968 detonated a wave of working class struggle, so the student revolt in Britain today is already making a political impact - what with the National Union of Teachers and the UCU lecturers union balloting for strike action in the new year, and public sector trade union leaders are making increasingly militant and fiery speeches against the government at a mushrooming number of anti-cuts meetings. Even Labour leader Ed Miliband is now, wait for it, 'listening' to the students sympathetically and, get this, is ''tempted' to maybe, possibly, even one day actually support them. The students are set to walk about again next Tuesday and again on the day the proposed massacre of higher education is voted on in Parliament. The task for socialists is to make sure that the students are not now left to fight on alone - which would see their struggle rise heroically and spectacularly like a rocket but then come down miserably like a little stick - but that when they next walk out, increasing numbers of workers are encouraged to also walk out, and stand and fight alongside the students - and ever growing numbers of networks of solidarity between students and workers are built. Building such networks would not only begin to encourage the kind of mass strike action British society so desperately needs if the Con-Dem led capitalist juggernaut is to be stopped in its tracks and British society shifted to the left politically - but such direct action by workers at the point of production can also begin to paralyse and undermine capital itself. As the great revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg put it - 'where the chains of capitalism are forged, there they must be broken'.

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Marxism and the Alternatives to Crisis

International Socialism
A seminar hosted by the quarterly journal of socialist theory

Marxism and the Alternatives to Crisis

It has been three years since the economic crisis first manifested. The credit crunch has given way to financial crash and the Great Recession. The ruling classes of Europe, faced with a growing crisis in the eurozone, have embraced austerity and cuts in order to shift the cost of the crisis to workers, students and the unemployed. In response, we have seen movements of resistance right across Europe. In countries like Greece, France and Ireland, strikes and protests have been complemented by alternative programmes and debates about the way forward for the movement. In Britain, the student revolt has marked a turning point in the struggle. This seminar will bring together academics and activists to discuss the current situation and what lies ahead.
Alex Callinicos(Editor of International Socialism and Professor of European Studies at Kings College London)
Jane Hardy (Author of Poland’s New Capitalism and Professor of Political Economy at the University of Hertfordshire)
Stathis Kouvelakis (Author of Philosophy and Revolution and lecturer at Kings College, London)
Costas Lapavitsas (Member of Research on Money and Finance and Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies)

Tuesday 7 December, 6.30pm
Brunei Lecture Theatre,
School of Oriental and African Studies,
Russell Square campus,
Free entry – All welcome
www.isj.org.uk * isj@swp.org.uk * (020) 7819 1177

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rosa Luxemburg by Paul Frölich

New from Haymarket Books

Rosa Luxemburg by Paul Frölich (1940)

Written by a contemporary of (and sometime collaborator with) Rosa Luxemburg with an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the German Social Democratic Party, this biography strikes the right balance between personal insight and political analysis. Tracing Rosa Luxemburg’s development from a humble Polish girl with a keen interest in herding geese to the most important leader of the German Communist Party, the image that emerges from Frölich’s narrative is that of arguably the most remarkable woman ever produced by the international socialist movement.

PAUL FRÖLICH (1884—1953) was a member of the German Social Democratic Party from 1902 until 1918, when he, along with Rosa Luxemburg, became a founding member of the German Communist Party.

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I read the news today (oh boy)

Sorry, I've been out of things of late - but I gather from reading the news this week a 28-year old man who lives in the London region is to marry a 28-year old woman or something.

History Workshop Online

The History Workshop Journal editorial collective is launching History Workshop Online, a website devoted to the practice of politically-engaged public history. Affiliated to the journal but entirely separate in its content, the site will serve as a forum, laboratory, and virtual coffeehouse for participants in radical public history projects worldwide. In the spirit of the original history workshop movement, we're keen to explore the diverse (and now multi-media) ways in which progressive history is being "done", in and out of universities and the museum and heritage sector.

We welcome all pertinent contributions: reports on public history initiatives; multimedia essays and articles; flagged events for our noticeboard; fulminations, rants, and raves. For further information please contact the site’s editor, Marybeth Hamilton, at marybeth@historyworkshop.org.uk

Editors point: Socialist Historians in the UK might also note, if they have not already done so, the existence of the London Socialist Historians Group and Socialist History News.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grace Lee Boggs on why Obama was shellacked

Two years ago, in the fall of 2008, over a million citizen activists of all ethnic groups, mostly young people, often accompanied by middle-aged or elderly independents, went door to door, urging voters to go to the polls and elect Barach Obama to the White House.

We/they did this because we believed and hoped that this charismatic black man could bring about the transformational changes we urgently need at this time on the clock of the world when the U.S. pursuit of unlimited economic growth has reached its social and ecological limits.

In 2010, despite the impassioned appeals of Barack, Michelle and Democratic Party stalwarts, many of us didn't even go to the polls ourselves on November 2, let alone urge others to do so, Ralph Nader estimates there were 28 million NoShows.

We need to probe the lessons of this experience, shared by many millions directly or indirectly.

The main lesson, I believe, is that the tremendous changes we now need and yearn for in our daily lives and in the direction of our country cannot come from those in power or by putting pressure on those in power.

We ourselves have to foreshadow or prefigure them from the ground up.

Civil and Voting rights for blacks didn't come from the White House or from masses demonstrating in front of the White House. They came after the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-6, the Freedom Rides in 1961, the 1963 Children's Crusade in Birmingham, Mississippi Freedom Summer and Freedom Schools, and the 1964 Selma to Montgomery March.

In other words, they came only after hundreds of thousands of black Americans and their white supporters had accepted the challenge and risks of ourselves making or becoming the changes we/they want to see in the world...

Full article here - see also this piece by Charlie Kimber. The struggle against Obama's and Cameron's imperialist war in Afghanistan continues this Saturday with a demonstration in London, Afghanistan: Time to Go

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sous les pavés, la plage

'Let's say a Conservative government announced, in that sort of macho way: 'We're gonna slash public spending by a third, we'll slash this, we'll slash this, we'll do it tomorrow. We have to take early, tough action...I think if we want to go the direction of Greece, where you get real social and industrial unrest, that's the guaranteed way of doing it.'
Nick Clegg, March 2010

Probably the only thing I have ever agreed with the duplicitous Nick Clegg on was his pre-election prediction that savage cuts in social spending would lead to 'Greek style riots' in Britain. This week - and thanks largely to Nick Clegg's support for the Tories savage cuts in higher education spending - we saw the closest thing in Britain for twenty years to a 'Greek or French style riot' when a National Union of Students and University and College lecturers Union demonstration entitled 'Demo-lition' actually lived up to its name and saw, er, the demolition of part of the Tory HQ at Millbank.

Those on the 'demolition demonstration' deserve to be heartily congratulated for such a heroic and inspiring and much needed manifestation of civil disobedience and resistance - and solidarity has to now be built as the state machine seeks to exact its bitter revenge - urged on by hypocritical Tory politicians.

'A riot', Martin Luther King once said, 'is at bottom the language of the unheard'. Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine once poetically riffed off this, noting that 'the riot be the rhyme of the unheard'. The point is I guess that riots are not something that are organised at will by tiny minorities of 'Middle Class Braindead Anarchists' (copyright - the Daily Mail) - rather as Chris Harman once noted, they tend to come about in rather more unexpected and spontaneous fashion:

'Those without hope are capable suddenly, virtually out of nowhere, of shifting from apathy to anger. And that anger can break through all the restraints that education within capitalist society is supposed to build into people’s consciousness. The local streets suddenly take on the aspect of a revolutionary battleground, with barricades and burning cars and instant solidarity against the state.'

It is true that have not yet got to the levels of the 1981 Riots or the Poll Tax Riots of twenty years ago, though the mass militant direct action of students - and particularly young school and college students - this week certainly marked a turning point in British politics and showed beyond any doubt that the raw class anger on the European continent against austerity cuts exists here as well.

If the education cuts are going to be successfully resisted, the student and lecturers militancy now needs to be generalised across campuses in Britain - with occupations and the like - as seems to be beginning to happen already in some places. If the wider cuts are going to resisted, then the revolutionary spirit of the glorious Millbank occupation needs to find its way into workplaces up and down the country. To generalise this fightback and to win a new young generation to revolutionary socialist politics - that is the task of Marxists in Britain today.

Education Activist Network coordinating meeting: Where next after the national demo? Monday 15 November, 6pm, King’s College London.

The case for revolution. A London-wide meeting organised by the Socialist Worker Student Society. Mon 22 Nov, 6pm, Clement House, LSE, London. With Alex Callinicos (King’s College lecturer and author of the Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx), Mark Bergfeld (NUS NEC) and Fraser Anderson (Oxford University student)

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Noam Chomsky on higher education choices

I had a startling experience a few weeks ago. I travelled to Mexico City for talks at the National University, an enormous and very impressive institution with high standards of achievement and scholarship. Entrance is selective, but the university is virtually free. I then visited an even more remarkable institution, the college in Mexico City established by former mayor Lopez Obrador. Again, the facilities and standards are quite impressive. It is not only free, but has open admissions, though sometimes that requires some delay and sometimes assistance for students lacking adequate preparation. Shortly after I went to San Francisco for talks, and learned more about the California institutions of higher education. They have been at the very peak of the international higher education system. By now tuitions are quite high, even for in-state students, and cutbacks are affecting teaching, research, and staff. It would be no great surprise if the two major state universities, UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles, will soon be privatized while the remainder of the state system is reduced considerably in scale and level. Needless to say, Mexico is a poor country with a struggling economy, and California should be one of the richest places in the world, with incomparable advantages. I mention these recent experiences only to emphasize that the recent cut-backs in higher education seen in much of the world cannot simply be traced to economic problems. Rather, they reflect fundamental choices about the nature of the society in which we will live. If it is to be designed for the wealthy and privileged, mostly engaged in management and finance while production is transferred abroad and most of the population is left to fend somehow for themselves at the fringes of decent and creative life, then these are good choices. If we have different aspirations for the world of our children and grandchildren, the choices are shameful and ruinous.
Noam Chomsky, November 2009 - those who can should join the demonstration in London today called by the NUS and UCU - the revolt against Tory cuts to education has to begin today


Friday, November 05, 2010

Revolutionary new cure for insomnia found?

Do you suffer from insomnia?

Fear not, a revolutionary new cure for insomnia may just be around the corner!

For years Dr Gordon Brown has dilligently been working at finding a cure for insomnnia. Over the years many thousands of people who suffer from sleep deprivation have found some relief from Dr. Brown's tireless labours in this field - and many hundreds of people have already bought such tried and tested products such as Courage, Britain's Everyday Heroes as well as such classic products as Moving Britain Forward: Speeches 1997–2006 and The Change We Choose: Speeches 2007-9.*

But now Dr. Brown thinks he may have found the perfect formula for tackling insomnia - and next month will see the exciting new release of Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation which promises to be the most comprehensive one-dose treatment for sleep deprivation ever put onto the market!**

'He has an incredible legacy: he improved the lives of millions of people here and around the world.'
One happy amnesia sufferer, Mr. E. Miliband pays tribute to Dr. Gordon Brown

*32 copies sold to date!

**Important Health warning. May have unexpected side-effects. Previous medicinal treatments of Dr. Brown's have induced nausea and vomiting. Moving Britain Forward: Speeches 1997–2006 for example may have included traces of such toxic ingredients as "No Return to Tory Boom and Bust under New Labour" and his speeches to City bankers: "You are the wealth creators, the men and women who make our nation more prosperous'', and "What you, as the City of London, have achieved for financial services we, as a government, now aspire to achieve for the whole economy". His Speeches 2007-9 may have included traces of the old British Union of Fascists' favourite "British Jobs for British workers" and, in another speech to bankers, "The financial services sector in Britain and the City of London at the centre of it, is a great example of a highly skilled, high value added, talent driven industry that shows how we can excel in a world of global competition. Britain needs more of the vigour, ingenuity and aspiration that you already demonstrate that is the hallmark of your success."

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Protest against housing benefit cuts

From Defend Council Housing

Join Tenants Protest at Parliament 9 Nov

Tenants will protest outside Parliament next week against attacks on our rents, security and rights.

DCH and tenant groups are calling the lobby and protest at:

5.30pm Tuesday 9th at College Green Westminster.

Tenants oppose Government plans to cut Housing Benefit, erode secure tenancies and affordable rents,breaking pre-election promises. MPs will vote on a motion opposing Housing Benefit cuts on 9th.

The changes proposed in the June Budget and last month's Spending Review affect council, housing association and private tenants. They will devaste lives, increasing debt, evictions and homelessness, while cutting investment in existing and new council housing.

Eileen Short, chair of Defend Council Housing says:
'We demand MPs and councillors stop these attacks on tenants, and instead curb high rents and build secure affordable homes for rent. Tenants have defeated such attacks on our tenancies and rents by previous Governments. Now we need to stand together with trade unions, politicians and campaigners, to defeat these attacks.'

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Goldsmiths students occupy against the cuts

Why doesn't the National Union of Students follow this lead and call for and organise a national wave of occupations to defend education?

On the subject of students, ee also this powerful video highlighting police brutality against students protesting for free education in Dublin - also available here


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Rally against racism this Saturday

“Peace is impossible without justice and equality — and the presence of racism is a barrier to achieving it. I hope that people will turn up in large numbers on 6 November.”
Tony Benn on why people should attend the National Demonstration against Racism, Fascism and Islamophobia - kind of like the British equivalent of the recent 'Rally for Sanity' in America - in London this Saturday, called by Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism, and backed by the TUC among others.


Charlie Brooker on Nick Clegg

Governments around the world must be studying the coalition [government in Britain] and working out how to get their own Clegg. He's the coalition's very own Pudsey Bear: a cuddly-but-tragic mascot representing the acceptable face of abuse. But unlike Pudsey, he actually speaks. Immediately following each unpleasant new announcement, Cleggsy Bear shuffles on stage to defend it, working his sad eyes and boyish face as he morosely explains why the decision was inevitable – and not just inevitable, but fair; in fact possibly the fairest, most reasonable decision to have been taken in our lifetimes, no matter how loudly people scream to the contrary.

It's hard not to detect an air of crushed self-delusion about all this. At times Clegg sounds like a once-respected stage actor who's taken the Hollywood dollar and now finds himself sitting at a press junket, patiently telling a reporter that while, yes, on the face of it, his role as the Fartmonster in Guff Ditch III: Fartmonster's Revenge may look like a cultural step down from his previous work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, if you look beyond all the scenes of topless women being dissolved by clouds of acrid methane, the Guff Ditch trilogy actually contains more intellectual sustenance than King Lear, and that all the critics who've seen the film and are loudly claiming otherwise are misguided, partisan naysayers hell- bent on cynically misleading the public – which is ethically wrong...

From this article noting the tactical nouse of the Tories having the Lib Dems fronting their cuts. As Ed Miliband noted, Clegg has all but successfully destroyed a 150 year tradition of liberalism in just five months... On the subject of resisting the cuts,
there are a couple of decent videos on you tube - a song here while for chat show host Paul O'Grady's rant see here. Plus the new issue of Socialist Review leads on austerity and resistance, while Socialist Worker has all the latest on the crucial firefighters, London underground and BBC strikes in London...