Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Arab Spring Hits Bradford

Histomat salutes George Galloway and Respect for their triumphant and historic win in the Bradford West by-election yesterday - very many congratulations to the people of Bradford West for showing such exquisite political taste and judgement. As Galloway put it, "We have won the most sensational victory in British political history … Labour has been hit by a tidal wave in a seat they have held for many decades and dominated for 100 years. I have won a big victory in every part of the constituency, including in areas many people said I should not even compete..."

Earlier this year I was doing a bit of a spring clean and came across a box of Respect badges under my bed - dating back a few years to when as an SWP member I was part of building Respect*. The box looked kind of sad, and basically redundant. Respect had seemedly all but collapsed as a party itself - and while I did think about posting it off to their national office I gave it to my local SWP organiser in Leeds instead in case he had time to do something with it. Yesterday that very same organiser phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to go over to Bradford to help on the last day of Galloway's election campaign - it was by then clear that he had a good outside chance of winning - or at least polling very respectably. It was a glorious sunny day, I had the time and so for a few hours yesterday I went over to campaign. On the way we popped into a local bookies and put down a cheeky bet on Galloway winning ('a flutter on the GG') - the odds then were 5/1. We thought briefly about betting the whole SWP district finances on Galloway, but decided a) it would be undemocratic to do so and b) the other comrades might not be too happy to hear about this decision afterwards if it went wrong...

Anyway, we got allocated to covering a polling station on Thornton Road in what must have been by the presence of the Tory poll counters at the station one of the supposed 'Tory areas' of the constituency - though this being part of Bradford West it was a largely working class, multi-racial and multicultural area. What was clear was the amount of support for Galloway among voters going in - and from all sections of the community. Every Asian woman - young and old - that passed said they either had voted for Galloway or were voting for Galloway - for some he was their 'hero' - and they mentioned issues like the war (Galloway expressesly declared on his publicity that he was for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and pledged to oppose any new imperialist war on Iran). I did not take them all at face value at first - from past experience campaigning in Bradford for Respect years ago - people might say they were voting for the candidate you were campaigning for to your face but it didn't necessarily mean they would. There was much in the campaign earlier about the strength of 'Bradree' - communal or family loyalties which were apparently rock solid for Labour after years of this kind of paternalist networking - and so I didn't want to get my hopes up. However, by the end of my shift I thought that if indeed every Asian woman at least did vote for Galloway he would at least poll very well.

But it wasn't just Asian women who told me they were voting Galloway - a young Asian bus driver stopped his bus on the road I was on just to collect a flier from me. There was supposed to be an issue about the fact that Galloway was not 'local' - compared to the other candidates - but as Galloway himself declared being a Bradford outsider is an advantage, given the "utter failure" of 38 years of representation by Labour MPs.

"It's no electoral benefit at all to be the local candidate here," he said last week in his campaign headquarters at a Bradford solicitors' office. "People look around them and see a city that's sinking into the big black hole down there in town," he said, referring to an abandoned building site where a Westfield shopping centre was supposed to be built – an eyesore Labour blames on a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in the city council in the first decade of the new millennium. "The city centre is filled with pound shops, pawn shops and payday loan shops. There is mass unemployment. I think somebody coming from outside and offering a new start is an electoral plus." Galloway said that support for him had "flowered like daffodils in spring".

One elderly white woman told me that all the other candidates were local councillors who had done nothing - and she had read what Galloway had written and listened to what he had said and that she agreed with him. I was reminded of the old saying 'sometimes you gotta shake the tree to see what falls out' - well, the tree of Labour-controlled politics in Bradford was given one hell of a shaking by Galloway's campaign and was found very wanting indeed. Galloway's campaign literature spoke of 'a new start in Bradford', 'an industrial policy which will bring jobs back to Bradford', an end to 'tuition fees' and stopping 'the break up of the NHS' - as he put it 'you know that, while standing for Respect, I am the real Labour man in this election. I will be a strong voice for all in Bradford'.

The only other evidence that other parties were even running in the area I was campaigning in was four young Labour-supporting student canvassers who walked past, looked dejected when they saw I was campaigning for Galloway - and a car that passed - also full of Labour activists who booed when they saw my Galloway literature. I think many in Labour secretly knew they were beaten even by that point. But no-one could have predicted the late surge of support - particularly among the young - which gave Galloway to describe the victory as an 'uprising' against the mainstream parties - and to dub this the 'Bradford Spring'. The reality is that support for Galloway came from across the constituency - and from all sections of society - and that is what is so uncomfortable for the mainstream parties about this result - it reveals just how weak the bases of all the mainsteam parties have become - even in their most 'safe seats'.

In many ways the result is a reflection of how volatile politics is in Britain just now - and across Europe as a result of the economic crisis. We see the slow polarisation of politics away from the 'centre' towards the socialist Left (as Galloway here - or look at Greece where the left of Labour parties together are now polling about 40 percent in opinion polls) and far right (eg Marine Le Pen in France). The basic fact is that Galloway won because he promised real opposition to the Tory cuts and attacks on the working class - something New Labour under Ed Miliband can't deliver at all. As one comrade put it to me in a text this morning, 'the Tories have a real opposition now and Moribund et al are in the shit'.

Finally, Galloway's win raises the question about possible future left re-alignment in Britain. Ideally it would I think be great to see a unification of Respect and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition - 'Respect: The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition' anyone? - but this may not happen that quickly. Nonetheless, the echoes of history are here for all to see - the Independent Labour Party had its beginnings in Bradford in the 1890s - lets hope that Galloway's victory in Bradford means that 2012 sees the resurgence of 'independent Labour' - independent working class - politics in Britain again. You can almost feel what the early ILP socialists liked to call 'the rising sun of socialism' again...

Yes, spring is in the air, politics in Britain has just got interesting again after the earthquake that has just hit Bradford - and I am off to Greggs to celebrate my winnings - there are not many times when it feels like you are with the majority of opinion as a socialist - but today is one of those rare moments - and it should be savoured...

*George Galloway in a public meeting once kindly described me as a 'smart cookie', because I was apparently the only person in a room of hundreds of people who knew anything about the political career of one-time Labour Defence Minister Geoff Hoon (a.k.a. 'Geoff Who?')

Edited to add: The comments here seem to be not working so well, so in response to the challenge that this post is too optimistic about the result and its implications, I would say yes, I probably got carried away a bit here by the sunny weather - Galloway is not a revolutionary socialist, and his campaign team was noticeably very male-dominated - though also very well organised it has to be said. Nonetheless, as I think Kevin Maguire has noted, all the other political parties' votes put together couldn't have stopped Galloway here, and I think he will have learnt some lessons from his past experience as a Respect MP that mean he will be more of an asset for the socialist left this time around...

Edited to also add: see Lenin's Tomb for more analysis. The final thing I would say while I am here - and without wishing to stroke the ego of Galloway too much - is that the speed of the campaign and its unexpected victory is a little bit reminiscent of the Cuban Revolution - stealing a march on the American Empire and the British Establishment under their very noses as it were... I'll leave you with that thought...

Edited again to add: Comment from
Tariq Ali, Charlie Kimber for the SWP, and the man himself.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

International Socialism # 134

The latest issue of International Socialism leads with an interview with Panos Garganas, editor of the Greek newspaper Workers Solidarity, about the latest developments in Greece - a country at the cutting edge of the European class struggle. There is also discussion of contemporary anti-capitalist movements. One debate in the US Occupy movement is clearly about the need for a new 'third party' to challenge the two pro-big business and pro-imperialist parties - though the experience of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France has sadly not been particularly auspiciously encouraging. In the upcoming French election, the glimmer of hope for the left has come from the campaign waged by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate of the Left Front - an alliance of former Socialists and the French Communist Party rather than the NPA.
People should peruse the ISJ contents for themselves, as there are plenty of other articles which will be doubtless of interest, ranging from John Newsinger on the decline of the Murdoch empire, Neil Davidson on the politics of Scottish independence, Leo Zeilig on Frantz Fanon, Richard Seymour on Christopher Hitchens, Nicola Ginsburgh on David Roediger, to a review of blogger Scott Hamilton's recent study of EP Thompson - a work which has oddly stirred up a degree of controversy in some quarters. It is worth ending on an optimistic note, with a quote from Mike Davis from a recent New Left Review editorial, the conclusion of which is quoted in full in the round-up of other selected journal articles at the end of ISJ 34:

'Western post-Marxists—living in countries where the absolute or relative size of the manufacturing workforce has shrunk dramatically in the last generation—lazily ruminate on whether or not ‘proletarian agency’ is now obsolete, obliging us to think in terms of ‘multitudes’, horizontal spontaneities, whatever. But this is not a debate in the great industrialising society that Das Kapital describes even more accurately than Victorian Britain or New Deal America. Two hundred million Chinese factory workers, miners and construction labourers are the most dangerous class on the planet. (Just ask the State Council in Beijing.) Their full awakening from the bubble may yet determine whether or not a socialist Earth is still possible...'

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Colin Sparks on the English Republican tradition

The classic 1977 Stuff the Jubilee Badge - order your replica ones (plus mugs!) from Bookmarks

[With the kind permission of Colin Sparks and Socialist Review, Histomat is proud to republish Sparks's article 'The English Republicans' which appeared in Socialist Review, July 1981 in this jubilee year -this article followed another timely article also republished on this blog entitled The horrible history of the House of Windsor].

Scottish, Welsh and, especially, Irish republicans are ten a penny. The English, on the other hand, are allegedly inflicted with some genetic mental defect that makes them cower before crowns and thrones and leap to attention and bare their heads at the sound of the opening bars of the National Anthem. There is, unfortunately, a lot of truth in this: royalism has a deep hold on English thinking and penetrates well into the labour movement. From Ramsay MacDonald to Harold Wilson, Labour Prime ministers have displayed a quite sickening devotion to whichever crowned clown happens to be sitting at the top of the mall. That is not all of the story, though. There is a long and stubborn republican tradition in England. Colin Sparks looks at it.

There have been at least two periods in which republicanism has commanded mass support. On both of these occasions, the leading republican thinkers were the ideological representatives of the bourgeoisie, but in both cases the bourgeoisie itself, once it saw the consequencies of consistent republicanism, backed down and made its peace with royalty. It was left to the plebian, and later proletarian, inheritors to keep up the struggle.

The first mass flourishing of English republicanism was during the English Revolution of 1641-60. For a long time, the leaders of the Parliamentary forces comforted themselves with the notion that they were actually fighting for the King, and only against his advisers who had misled him. A consequence of this was that they did very badly, suffering defeats and missing opportunities for victories. But the dynamic of the war was already forcing new men to the fore, who had far fewer illusions in the King and were determined to beat him.

The best known of these was Oliver Cromwell. He told his troops:

'I will not deceive you nor make you believe, as my commission has it, that you are going to fight for the king and parliament: if the king were before me I would shoot him as another; if your conscience will not allow you to do as much, go and serve elsewhere.'

Once the king had been beaten, there was the problem of what to do with him. The compromisers still wanted to do deals with him, but Cromwell and his independent party controlled the armed forces and suitably intimidated the opposition, telling the special court that: 'We will cut off his head with the crown upon it.'

Charles Stuart was duly judged as a 'tyrant, traitor, murderer and enemy to the country'. Cromwell himself wrote out the death warrant, and on 30th January 1648 the King was beheaded in Whitehall. The regicides had their theoreticians. The best known was the foreign minister and poet, John Milton. Less than two weeks after the execution he published a book justifying it called: The Tenure of Kings and magistrates; proving that it is lawful, and hath been held so through all ages, for any, who have the power, to call to account a tyrant, or wicked king, and after due conviction, to depose, and put him to death.

Milton broadened his ideas to a general statement of republican principles, which he publised as The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, and the Excellence thereof compar'd with the inconvenience and dangers of readmitting kingship in this nation, just before the Restoration of 1660. In this, he argued:

'People must needs be mad or strangely infatuated that build the chief hope of their common happiness of safety on a single person... The happiness of a nation must needs be firmest and certainest in a full and free Councel of their own electing, where no single person, but reason only sways.'

By then, there were few to listen to Milton. Cromwell's own generals
negotiated and arranged the restoration of monarchy. Among their reasons was the dangerous implication of the arguments that Milton was using. If the revolution had been led by landlords, merchants, even great nobles, much of the hardest fighting had been done by working men from the towns and fields and, in the course of the war, they developed their own, radical ideas.

The Leveller, Overton, wrote:

'It is naturally inbred in the major part of the nobility and gentry to oppress the persons of such sort that are not as rich and honourable as themselves, to judge the poor but fools and them wise... It is they that oppress you, insomuch that your slavery is their liberty, your poverty is their prosperity.'

Another group of Levellers went even further:

'We were before ruled by Kings, Lords and Commons, now by a General, a Court Martial and a House of Commons; we pray you, what is the difference? ... We have not the change of kingdom to a commonwealth; we are only under the old cheat, the transmutation of names but with the addition of new tyrannies to the old ... and the last state of this commonwealth is worse than the first.'

To the left of the Levellers stood the Diggers, who had a clear idea as to the origin of all this misery and a theory and a programme for righting it.

Diggers and Levellers alike were crushed by the generals, shot at Burford Church for refusing to serve in Ireland or driven from St George's Hill by soldiers. But the idea was there still, rooted in the brain of the common people and rooted in the brain of the rich. It was this that the elegant arguments of Mr Milton led to. Better by far to forget the ideals of republicanism, compromise with a rotten king and a rotten court, lest in the struggle against them there was a loss of all power and privileges.

The next great outburst if popular republicanism was at the end of the eighteenth and the start of the nineteenth century. The monarchy was widely hated on all sides, and new sections of the rich were emerging, an industrial bourgeoisie who wanted their place in the system which the existing set-up denied them. The upsurge was crystallised and given form by the journalist Thomas Paine.

In 1776, Paine published a pamphlet Common Sense, which was an immediate best seller and made him a famous man. The pamphlet is a justification of the American Revolution, but in his argument Paine raised more general questions.

Paine asked what was the origin of kingship:

'... It is more than probable, that could we take off the dark covering of antiquity, and trace them to their first rise, that we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners or pre-eminence in subtilty obtained him the title of chief among plunderers.'

And if kings in general owed their origins to a robber band, the King of England in particular held his title purely by that

'England, since the conquest hath known some few good monarchs, but
groaned beneath a much larger number of bad ones, yet no man in his senses can say that their claim under William the Conqueror is a very honourable one. A French bastard landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original. It certainly hath no divinity in it. That William the Conqueror was an usurper is a fact not to be contradicted. The plain truth is, that the antiquity of the English monarchy will not bear looking in to.'

The American Revolution echoed across the Atlantic. When the British
general Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, he ordered his band to play a tune called 'The World Turned Upside Down'. Before long that choice proved very apposite. In 1789 the people in Paris stormed the Bastille and the French Revolution had begun.

Having seen the birth of two free nations, Paine wished to see the birth of a third - that of Britain.

He wrote The Rights of Man, which became an instant best seller. In this book Paine repeated and developed his ideas about the origins of kingship, and was particularly savage about hereditary monarchy:

'Hereditary succession is a burlesque upon monarchy. It puts it in the most ridiculous light, by presenting it as an office which any child or idiot may fill. It requires some talents to be a common mechanic; but, to be a king, requires only the animal figure of man - a sort of breathing automaton.'

For Paine, the spread of republican principles was the guarantee of a new and better world:

'Never did so great an opportunity offer itself to England, and to all Europe, as is produced by the two revolutions of America and France ... When another national shall join France, despotism and bad government will scarcely dare to appear. To use a trite expression, the iron is becoming hot all over Europe. The insulted German and the enslaved Spaniard, the Russ and the Pole, are beginning to think. The present age will hereafter merit to be called the age of reason, and the present generation will appear to the future as the Adam of a new world.'

The movement which Paine had done so much to inspire met savage repression and was broken. But the ideas of republicanism continued to have widespread circulation. The poet Keats, for example wrote in 1815 a poem On 29 May: the Anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II:

Infatuate Britons, will you still proclaim
His memory, your direst, foulest
Nor patriots revere?
Ah! while I hear each traitorous lying
"Tis gallant Sidney's , Russell's, Vane's
sad knell, That pains my wounded ear.
(Sidney, Russell and Vane were condemned to death by Charles II for having voted for his father's execution.)

But, though many capitalists and intellectuals were distanced from the idea of monarchy, active republicanism was more and more a prerogative of the newly emerging working class movement. Paine himself had always been a defender of private property, believing that this was the way to establish freedom, equality and plenty.

But the arguments that he used against the idea of monarchy and hereditary government were ones which had dangerous consequences. Consider his crushing demolition of Burke's argument for hereditary legislators:

'The idea of hereditary legislation is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.'

That is a fine and irrefutable argument, but it is open for some wage slave to take it a lot further. What answer comes if we ask what basis there is for any sort of hereditary social power - for example the private ownership of the means of production? By Paine's own logic, the answer is a socialist one.

It is thus that the republican tradition has, since then, been almost exclusively a proletarian one. There have been bourgeois republicans since, and probably many of the capitalists even today consider the monarchy a quaint and outdated institution. Even an editor of The Economist, Bagehot, considered it as 'decorative' rather than 'efficient'. But it was the illegal and working class newspaper The Republican which denounced the Peterloo massacre in 1819, and it was in Julian Harney's The Red Republican of 9 November 1850 that a lead article Manifesto of the German Communist Party, by a certain K. Marx and F. Engels, appeared.

The tradition continued with William Morris. The name of his paper Commonweal harks back to Milton, and it was there that the denunciation of the 1887 Jubilee appeared:

'Socialists feel of course that the mere abolition of the monarchy would help them little if it only gave place to a middle-class republic... Nevertheless, now the monstrous stupidity is on us - one's indignation swells pretty much to the bursting point. We must not, after all forget what the hideous, revolting, and vulgar tomfoolery in question really
means nowadays...'

The modern revolutionary movement is proud to claim to stand in this republican tradition. Of course, the real power of the English crown is feeble today. Charles III will be no despot like Charles I. He will do
exactly what his capitalist masters tell him to do. He will be, in substance, little more than an enormously expensive parasite upon the backs of the working people. But the monarchy is more than substantial
importance; it also carries an enormous symbolic weight. It is one of the key pins of the ruling ideology. The struggle against the monarchy is an important part of the ideological struggle for socialism.

It is a struggle which only socialists can now wage. In previous epochs, like the ones we have glanced at, the monarchy represented the interests of classes, or parts of classes, which were at odds with important sections of property owners. Some of them were prepared to fight the king in their own interests, and others were happy to denounce him. That is not true today. The English throne is linked by chains of gold to the capitalist order. The only class which has an interest in the overthrow of the monarchy is the class which has an interest in the overthrow of capitalism: the working class.

The last words belong to that great republican Thomas Paine. When he wrote them, they were not yet exactly true and he certainly could not foresee what their future meaning would be. But today they are precisely right:

'Monarchy would not have continued so many ages in the world, had it not been for the abuses it protects. It is the master-fraud, which shelters all others.'

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Two Marxist conferences in London

1. Marxism 2012: Ideas to Change the World, 5-9 July, Central London.
Speakers include: Tariq Ali, Gary Younge, Tony Benn, Hossam el-Hamalawy, Gigi Ibrahim, Mark Serwotka, Ghada Karmi, Costas Lapavitsas, Owen Jones, Danny Dorling, Nina Power, Alex Callinicos, Alberto Toscano, Michael Rosen, Haifa Zangana, Ronnie Kasrils, Hamid Dabashi and Rafeef Ziadah
Crisis and austerity have exposed the insanity of our global system. Billions have been given to the banks, while billions across the planet face hunger, poverty, climate catastrophes and war. We used to be told capitalism meant prosperity and democracy. Not any more. Now it means austerity for the 99% and rule by the markets.

But turmoil at the top has been met with resistance from below. Once mighty dictatorships have crumbled across the Middle East and revolts are shaking Europe. Britain has seen its biggest strike since 1926.

Millions are fighting back, questioning this crazy system and searching for alternatives. Marxism 2012 will bring thousands of people together, from across the world, to discuss, debate and organise resistance. Don’t miss it.

2. Historical Materialism Ninth Annual Conference, Central London, 8-11 November 2012

Weighs Like a Nightmare

Has Marx been reanimated once again? From mainstream media to academia, this question hangs in the air. The old ghosts of revolution appear to be shaking off their shackles and getting agitated. What is this spirit? Who are the militants haunting this ramshackle capitalism? Are these new spectres - stalking the streets of Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, Athens, Spain and Wall Street and beyond - or direct descendants of socialist and communist ones? How does the past haunt the present? How might the present haunt the future?

As new conflicts and struggles emerge, the old questions refuse to go away: What type of organisation is needed to sharpen the conflicts, if any? Who are the agents of history and change? Is the scope of political action national or international? What is the political value of alliances and fronts? Does history cunningly work a progressive path through and around the contingencies of struggle? Are the same mistakes to be made, the same failures repeated?

The ninth HM annual conference focuses on the returns and the persistence of political forms and theoretical problems, on the uses and abuses of the history of Marxism in this turbulent present and on the ways and forms in which an inheritance of various Marxist traditions can help us to organise and to act in contemporary struggles.

We invite proposals for presentations or panels (with two or three suggested participants) on topics such as: the echoes of the past in the present; learning or not learning from the past; the reanimation of revolution; history as farce, history as tragedy; historiography and Marxism; cycles; circulation; anti-memory as a political stance; new histories of capital and the labour movement; Marxism and 'deep history'; theory as history; the role of archival sources in history and the place of theory; rhythms of historical development, combined, uneven or otherwise; concepts of pre-capitalism; the question of successive modes of production; historical or other materialisms; the return of radical politics in Eastern Europe and elsewhere; post-communism; the endless afterlives of 'Classical' Marxists and 'Western' Marxist theorists and others who refuse to go away; the reruns of crisis; the role of memory and the revisioning of history; forgotten figures suddenly blasted into contemporary relevance; perma-war; imperial ghosts and their legacies, racism's haunting returns; old and new world orders; old and new cultures; avant-gardes and rearguards; the re-reading of classic texts; the question of Marxism's relation to tradition; ideas of inheritance and 'selective tradition'; recovery; recuperation; periodisation; continuities and discontinuities; narratives of new and old beginnings (of history, of culture, of the Left, of Marxism).

HM will also consider proposals on themes and topics of interest to critical Marxist theory not directly linked to the call for papers (we particularly welcome contributions on non-Western Marxism, history and politics, and on empirical inquiries employing Marxist methods and on Marxism and gender). While Historical Materialism is happy to receive proposals for panels, the editorial board reserves the right to change the composition of panels or to reject individual papers from panel proposals.

Please submit a title and abstract of between 200 and 300 words (or a fully worked through panel proposal) by registering BEFORE 26 April 2012
Deadline for registration of abstracts: 26 April 2012

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

How a socialist paper reported the sinking of The Titanic

The Daily Herald in 1924

Though I am very far from being a 'Titanorac' (someone obsessed with the sinking of The Titanic - the hundredth anniversary of which is fast approaching), I was leafing through Raymond Postgate's biography of left-wing Labour leader George Lansbury, of 'Poplarism' fame, when I was reminded of how the Daily Herald covered the sinking of The Titanic. The Daily Herald was then edited by Lansbury - it tragically later became taken over by Rupert Murdoch and re-launched as The Sun - and at the time was a working class paper. As Chris Harman noted,

'In April 1912, it [the Daily Herald] resumed publication, and although its initial capital amounted to only £300 it enjoyed amazing success for the next two years. Its exact sales are not known, but estimates suggest its circulation ranged between 50 and 150,000. This was not as large as the two most popular dailies of the time, the Mail and Mirror, which sold between 750,000 and one million copies, but it was in the same league as the Express and Telegraph whose sales were 200,000-300,000 – especially since its sales were to manual workers who had not yet normally developed the habit of buying a daily as opposed to a Sunday paper. The Herald’s success is even more remarkable when it is noted that the official Labour Party leadership started a daily of their own in competition with it, the Daily Citizen, with much greater financial backing, in the summer of 1912.

The new version of the Herald unashamedly used the latest techniques of popular newspaper production. So its third issue quite naturally had the banner headline, ‘TITANIC FLOUNDERS’. But the techniques of sensationalism were, as often as possible, turned against the existing system. And so day after day it asked questions on its front page as to the circumstances of the sinking – safety precautions in the ship, the conditions of its crew, above all why the male first-class passengers were allowed into the lifeboats while women and children steerage passengers were forced to remain on the sinking vessel.

But the most marked feature of the Herald was not its use of these techniques, but the way it combined them with a close identification with workers’ struggles. It was known as the ‘rebel paper’ because, as George Lansbury put it, ‘it always found itself supporting workers who were out on strike ... All men and women struggling to better their conditions instinctively turned to the Daily Herald in those first years ...’

Anyway, what follows is a short extract from Lansbury's book
The Miracle of Fleet Street: The Story of the Daily Herald which records how the Herald broke the news about what really happened when the Titanic went down:

As the first issue of the Daily Herald went to press on April 15, 1912, the Titanic was sinking. The ship had been pronounced unsinkable. On this first voyage it was trying to make a speed record with the Chairman of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, on board. At first faked messages of 'all's well' were sent out, but it was soon realized that 1,300 persons were drowned. As soon as it realized this, the Daily Herald struck a distinctive note. W. R. Titterton was sent to Southampton to meet the rescued seamen and passengers. On April 18 the following appeared: 'Mr Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line, has been saved … Why is it that so few of the steerage passengers have been saved?'

It was not till the 26th that the full story was known, and then, under the 'streamer': 'Women and Children Last!' the Daily Herald published a biting analysis. It pointed out the 121 steerage women and children were saved, 134 were drowned; 246 first and second class women and children were saved, and only twenty drowned; fifty-eight of the 173 first-class men passengers were saved. More than half the steerage children were drowned. The following biting words were printed: 'Where were those fifty-three steerage children, Mr Ismay, when you saved yourself?' The White Star Line's profits were pilloried as follows: 'They have paid 30 per cent to their shareholders and they have sacrificed 51 per cent of the steerage children. They have gone to sea criminally under-equipped with means of life-saving; they have neglected boat drill; they have filled their boat with cooks and valets, with pleasure gardens and luxurious lounges; they have done all this to get big profits and please the first-class passengers.

And when the catastrophe came they hastened to get their first-class passengers and their Chairman safely away. Fifty-three children remained to die. They were steerage passengers! One hundred and thirty-four women and children were slain. They were steerage passengers!'

Anticipating what was to come, the Daily Herald denounced firstly the Board of Trade for its criminal negligence, and the appointment of Lord Mersey (previously named Bigham) to head the British Inquiry, which was delayed and dragged out interminably. It recalled Lord Mersey's behaviour in the Penruddock case: 'That was a case of infamous cruelty to a child. The cruelty was undoubted, the infamy glaring. The sentence was nominal. The defendant was a woman of good station. A first-class passenger … Here is a case of steerage children dead and a rich company on its defence. What is likely to be Lord Mersey's judgment here?'

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

London Trade Union and Socialist Coalition Public Rally

Public rally to launch London TUSC campaign
Wednesday 21 March 7.15pm
235 Shaftesbury Avenue London WC2H 8EP
Speakers include:
Bob Crow, general secretary rail union RMT
Alex Gordon, president RMT & TUSC candidate
Ian Leahair, firefighters’ union FBU national executive & TUSC candidate
April Ashley, Unison national executive & TUSC candidate
Jackie Turner, doctor and health campaigner & TUSC candidate
Chaired by TUSC candidate Nick Wrack

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The most damning book review ever written?

This week's New Statesman carries a damning review by historian Richard J Evans on A.N. Wilson's new biography of Adolf Hitler - it is well worth checking out as the review is a fine lesson in the value of history and the role of historians in society - as is indeed most of Evans's writing for the New Statesman.

On the subject of great book reviews in general - that are online - check out Duncan Hallas on Martin Bernal's Black Athena, and Alex Callinicos on EP Thompson's The Poverty of Theory and Christopher Hill's The Experience of Defeat


Notes from the left blogosphere

Two one-time stalwarts of the left blogosphere - the respective custodians of the much missed blogs If there is hope... and International Rooksbyism are now, it seems, back blogging again at, respectively, Student Syndicalist and this eponymous effort. Which is great, though it does suggests that being a blogger is a bit like being in the mafia, and it is difficult to give it up for any real length of time once addicted. 'Every time I try to get out they pull me back in...'


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Tony2012 initiative: Video about a war criminal goes viral

The Tony2012 initiative, supported by the non-profit group Stop the War Coalition, demands the trial of leader Anthony 'Tony' Charles Lynton Blair head of the Tony Blair Foundation, who has terrorised villagers in at least two Middle Eastern countries for nearly a decade.

Stop Tony
He stands accused of overseeing the systematic killing of countless Iraqi and Afghan children and brainwashing young working class British boys into fighting for him. His forces are believed to have slaughtered tens of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tony should have been wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2001 on charges that include crimes against humanity. He has been living as an international 'peace envoy' to the Middle East since that time, but it is feared that he favours more bloodshed in Iran and must be stopped before he kills again...
see more here and here


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Cathy Porter on Alexandra Kollontai

Personally Kollontai experienced severe isolation. She was isolated from her class as an aristocrat who was a Marxist. And she was isolated from her sex because she was one of a very small number of intellectual women in the Bolshevik underground.

In exile after the defeat of the 1905 revolution she wrote about how social relations changed in revolution—and how Marxists had to bring these issues into an analysis of class relations.

She was utopian about morality and believed a new self-sufficient and independent woman could be born of class struggle. She had read Frederick Engels, Karl Marx and August Bebel. But she wanted to go further to write about a new sexual morality.

She talked about free love and free unions—and showed how the working class was already freeing itself from the shackles of bourgeois marriage.

Change was only going to be possible if women received support from the state for the responsibilities of motherhood and other domestic functions.

When Kollontai’s work was reprinted after the 1917 revolution it had a new resonance and became concrete. It formed the basis of her work as the only woman member of the Bolshevik ­government after the revolution.

Reading Kollontai today, her writings seem timeless and modern.

Full article here for more on Kollontai see here and this is Kollontai on International Women's Day

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Paul Le Blanc interviewed on revolutionary socialism today

Full interview here, but an extract:

How might a revolutionary Marxism of the 21st century differ from what we saw in the 20th century?

Lessons and developments of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will certainly need to be integrated into the Marxism of our time. As already indicated, these include learning from the devastating dead-ends and sterility both of Stalinism and social-democratic reformism.

Related to this, there has been a general tendency toward dilution and erosion of internal democracy in the labour movement, the expansion of bureaucratized hierarchies that have disempowered workers within their own movement, alienating them from their own organizations. The Marxism of the present century will need to wrestle with and help overcome such realities. A genuinely revolutionary democracy, and a radical conceptualization of freedom (which includes the freedom to disagree, as Rosa Luxemburg emphasized) will have to be restored and emphasized as being at the heart of any genuine Marxism.

The changing nature of the working class will also have to be factored into the Marxism of our time. It is bigger, more occupationally diverse (particularly with the dramatic proletarianization of “professions” and state employment), more clearly influenced by different racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identities, and more intensively “globalized”. Cultural challenges will also be inseparable from twenty-first century Marxism, for example: dealing with the complex corruptions of popular cultures by capitalism; developing a multi-faceted labour-radical subculture that will nourish conscious resistance to oppression and exploitation; struggling for broad, diverse, free cultural expression for all.

One of the greatest challenges facing us is the erosion of conditions allowing for what has been called “the thin film of life” on our planet. The environmental damage generated by more than two centuries of unbridled industrialization and “generalized commodity production” will not be easily halted or reversed. It is crucial that such ecological awareness and sensibilities and commitments become a salient feature of the Marxist project from now into the future.

What is required in defining the necessary qualities of twenty-first century Marxism, however, is the engagement of new layers, younger layers, of critical-minded activists, who will draw upon their own experiences and insights to define and develop what the Marxism of the future must be and do. To accomplish that, one naturally must know something of what comrades like Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky actually had to say...

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