Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Leo Zeilig on Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon by David Macey who sadly passed away this year

Leo Zeilig, author of a forthcoming study Frantz Fanon: The Militant Philosopher of Third World Liberation remembers the life and work of Frantz Fanon one of the greatest anti-colonial revolutionary humanists of the twentieth century, the Caribbean intellectual who went to fight for the Algerian Revolution, and who died fifty years ago this month. Zeilig concludes:

Today revolutionary change has shifted again to North Africa. We should once more return to Fanon for his extraordinary insights into revolutionary change and his insistence on waging a relentless battle against the "caste of profiteers" who seek to control and break our movements...

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The 2011 Histomat Awards

Firstly, an apology for barely keeping this blog ticking over the last year - in my defence all I can say is that this failure has in part been for good reasons; namely, a slow awakening of the British working class movement amidst a year of riots, resistance and revolution has inevitably meant an intensification of the level of activity (by which I mean offline 'real life' political activity) for any Marxist who takes what Marx said about the point being not simply to interpret the world but to try and change it seriously. Another slight problem, as Andy Zaltzman noted, has been that 2011 has been a relatively difficult year to satirise: 'For satire, as the rogue bastard offspring of news, it's been a year in which jokes have scarcely dried in the notebook before being rendered obsolete by the breakneck speed of More Stuff Happening.'

'It's been a year in which – with riots, revelations of the full grotty extent of the phone-hacking mega-blooper, and the continuing failure of those most responsible for the economic crisis to eat their share of the blame cake – Britain's moral compass has been spinning frenziedly...At the centre of it all, driving the economic vortex that is controlling public life, are "The Markets", a merciless, amoral, almost mythical force, behaving with the irrational self-indulgence of a particularly obstreperous Greek god. Politicians seem resigned to the fact that there is nothing they can do to appease the monster in our midsts, other than pray for mercy and occasionally sacrifice things to it (money, dignity and principles, mostly). All of this has made for rich, if unsettling, material. But perhaps the greatest challenge facing the satirist this year is how to satirise a world that seems so intent on satirising itself.'

During the phone-hacking scandal, for example, I was trying to think of one person in the UK who would be safe from the 'criminal-media nexus' that is News International so I could spoof that - and settled on the Queen - thinking surely the News of the World wouldn't risk daring to try and do over the official head of state - only to find that, yep, they tried to do over even Queenie. I then thought about doing a whole series on the Murdochs as the Corleone's in a new Godfather-esque series, but then even the decline and fall of the Murdoch Empire seemed suddenly old news as the Eurozone imploded and riots erupted. Anyway, there are still certain things that I feel I owe to the readers of this blog - and one of them is the annual Histomat awards...

2011 Histomat International Heroes/Heroines of the Year: The people who fought and died - and continue to fight and die - for democratic rights across the Middle East and North Africa this year - in particular Mohammed Bouazizi, the guy whose self-immolation in Tunisia last December inspired a wave of political revolutions which have themselves inspired millions more...

Runner up: The international Occupy Movement which has grown this year out of the inspiration of Tahrir Square - once again proving in style that at the start of the 21st century, anti-capitalism is definitely an idea whose time has come...and whose popularisation of slogans about the 99% vs the 1% have put the question of class division and injustice at the centre of that movement.

2011 Histomat International Idiot(s) of the Year: Those neo-liberal politicians across the US and Europe who continue to insist against all the evidence that worshipping the free market, enforcing austerity packages and making structural adjustment programmes make any economic sense as a way of getting out of the current capitalist crisis.

Runner up: Anders Brevik, Nazi terrorist and mass murderer.

2011 Histomat National Heroes/Heroines of the Year: Those 2.6 million public sector workers - mainly low-paid women - who struck on November 30 in the biggest strike Britain has seen for decades - delivering the ultimate lie to the idea that the organised working class no longer has relevance or power - even though it is increasingly clear that one one-day strike will not in itself be anywhere near enough to win on the question of defending pensions.

Runner up: PJ Harvey, whose anti-war album Let England Shake deservedly won this years Mercury Prize. I also have a soft spot for the comedian Jonny Marbles, for managing to pie Rupert Murdoch at his parliamentary hearing.

2011 Histomat National Idiot of the Year: David Starkey seemed to have this in the bag until Jeremy Clarkson stole it from him late on. As I think Ed Byrne first noted, Clarkson really deserves be taken out and shot in front of his family as a nice Xmas present to them. Speaking of public executions in Britain - and other 'national idiots' - the Met police have again really excelled themselves this year with the killing of several black people - including Mark Duggan - whose death sparked the riots in August.

Joint Runners up: David Cameron - incidentally also part of the Clarkson/Murdoch/ Tory super rich 'Chipping Norton set' - for his 'active, muscular liberalism' which seems to mean declaring war on workers and Muslims at home and Afghans and Libyans abroad - and also Nick Clegg, for going along with pretty much all of Cameron's shit without so much as a whimper over the last year.

2011 Histomat Socialist Bloggers of the Year: When I wrote about Arthur Ransome and the question of journalists and revolution back in early January, it all seemed a bit abstract. Then the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions exploded, and since then numerous revolutionary journalists have come into their own - but the award has to go once again to the comrades in Egypt for their work in the last year reporting from the frontline of the struggle - a struggle that still continues - and the team behind the MENA Solidarity Network

Runner up: Lenin's Tomb - another sterling year's work.

2011 Histomat Most Incredible Quote of the Year: ''a force of nature, a phenomenon, a great man" - Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove on Rupert Murdoch even after the phone hacking scandal broke

2011 Histomat Most Idiotesque Quote of the Year: ''No riots here, just quiet, ever-deeper misery'' - headline of Nick Cohen's Observer column on August 7th discussing the state of politics in the UK - the day, er, riots erupted.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens - A Commissar of the West

From International Socialist...
...to Neo-Conservative Warmonger

Flicking through a collection of Leonard Cohen's poetry the other day, one phrase of Cohen's in passing caught my eye - 'Commissar of the West'. I immediately thought of Christopher Hitchens - one of the most militant, passionate and fervent intellectual champions of Western imperial power - who has now passed away. Those with strong stomachs can look at the kind of tributes that have flooded in from the American and British literary and political establishment for 'Hitch' - this by Denis MacShane is typical: "Christopher just swam against every tide," he said. "He was a supporter of the Polish and Czech resistance of the 1970s, he supported Mrs Thatcher because he thought getting rid of the Argentinian fascist junta was a good idea .... He was a cross between Voltaire and Orwell...''

In fact, Hitchens - rather than 'swimming against every tide' as he loved to present himself as doing in 'contrarian' style - after abandoning his youthful revolutionary Marxism was ultimately part of the 'great moving right show' that accompanied the defeat of the radical student, worker and wider liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s that had first pulled him into politics. He may have evolved from a young eloquent, flamboyant firebrand to an old bigoted reactionary far slower and in a far more interesting fashion than his brother Peter - but ultimately such a shift right was about as cliched a political and intellectual evolution as one can get.* Though it would be crude to reduce matters to economics alone, the material benefits that come from making such a transition for a petit-bourgeois intellectual like Hitchens should not be ignored - and in his case were not insubstantial and quite transparent - particularly after his move to America.

Worse than this, with 9/11 Hitchens consciously decided to use his polemical talents and literary flair in the service of great power and appalling acts of Western state terrorism and violence - a betrayal of the very ideal of the role of the liberal intellectual in society - and became one of those Marx once described as the 'hired prizefighters' of the ruling class and someone whom Voltaire and Orwell would have detested. Another of Hitchens's heroes, the great anti-imperialist writer and historian C.L.R. James, once wrote that 'to come within the orbit of imperialist politics is to be debilitated by the stench, to be drowned in the morass of lies and hypocrisy' - and this was to be fate of Hitchens in the last decade of his life as he descended into racist hysterical ranting in support of the 'war on terror'.

Yet Hitchens was never just another boring Islamophobic megaphone endlessly blaring out state propaganda - because of his superior knowledge of radical politics and revolutionary history he had the skills to help to shape the form that propaganda took. When George Bush attacked what he called 'totalitarian...Islamic fascism', he was drawing on the critique of 'totalitarianism' with a long pedigree and heritage dating back to anti-fascist writers like Orwell in the 1930s - a critique that had been honed by the likes of Hitchens to ensure that 'anti-totalitarianism' no longer included opposition to the totalitarianism of Western state power, multinational corporate power, and imperialism as a system in general. The dedication and seriousness that Hitchens devoted to this task of mutating 'anti-totalitarianism' from something once firmly rooted in an anti-Stalinist left-wing intellectual mileu into something that could be invoked and used by even George W Bush's speechwriters to serve the interests of the most right-wing American administration in recent memory for its 'Project for the New American Century' helps explain the acolades now being bestowed on him. As Alex Callinicos notes in his obituary of Hitchens, 'he died firmly in the embrace of the establishment, a literary celebrity lavished with praise by mainstream non-entities. This is a sorry end for someone who, at his best, could articulate much nobler aspirations'.

* Hitchens's quick wit never completely deserted him - this is what he thought of David Cameron when asked about him in 2010: "He seems content-free to me. Never had a job, except in PR, and it shows. People ask, 'What do you think of him?' and my answer is: 'He doesn't make me think'"...)

Edited to add: See Dave Renton's article 'Christopher in Khaki' and also Ian Birchall's comment below:
It is interesting to compare him with Paul Foot. Both had the same public school/Oxford training, and used the literary and oratorical skills they had acquired from it. But Foot had a solid core of principles which stayed with him to the very end - and which certainly made him less successful, in terms of official recognition, than he otherwise might have been. Hitchens, even in his left-wing phase, was always much more committed to his own career and to staying within the bounds of the mainstream. I knew him when he was a member of the Hornsey International Socialists in 1974, and I have to say I never liked or trusted him very much. That is only a personal reaction, of course, but I always felt the commitment to his personal advancement was greater than his commitment to the socialist cause.
Edited to also add: George Galloway says farewell...


Saturday, December 10, 2011

John Molyneux on 2011: A Revolutionary Year

2011 will go down in history as a revolutionary year akin to 1848 and 1968: a year in which ordinary people round the world rose up against their governments and ruling elites – their respective 1%s...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Roundtable on the Eurozone crisis


Friday 9 December, 2011
Doors open at 6 pm; the panel will begin at 6.30 pm
Brunei Gallery Theatre, SOAS , WC1H 0XG

Join us for a timely and urgently needed discussion over the future of
the eurozone, the possibility of exit, and what it will all mean for
the people of Europe . Bringing together leading economists, political
scientists and financial journalists, the discussion will play a
critical role in setting the terms of the debate for the tumultuous
period that lies ahead.

The panel includes:
- Costas Lapavitsas, professor, department of economics, SOAS, and
lead author of a series of groundbreaking reports on the eurozone
crisis from the Research on Money and Finance network.
- George Irvin professor, department of development studies, SOAS, and
author of 'Super Rich: the Growth of Inequality in Britain and the
United States '.
- Paul Mason, BBC economics editor and author of 'Meltdown: The End of
the Age of Greed'.
- Stathis Kouvelakis, reader in political theory, King's College London.
The panel will be chaired by Seamus Milne, associate editor at The

Please register your participation (see link below or visit the RMF
website) and arrive as early as possible.

Read the latest RMF report on the eurozone crisis: www.researchonmoneyandfinance.org
Register: https://docs.google.com/a/soas.ac.uk/spreadsheet/viewform?hl=en_US&formkey=dDRpWjBGaXNhTmxyb3lLUUFQdnRvcmc6MA

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