Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Marxism 2006

Like any good historical materialist who lives within travelling distance of London I will be at the Marxism event next month so blogging here may well become less frequent for a short period from now on. You have been warned.


The invention of the 'white working class'

'The Bethnal Green poor...are a caste apart, a race of whom we know nothing, whose lives are of quite different complexion from ours, persons with whom we have no point of contact.'

Which pompous reactionary said this? Was it perhaps some miserable pro-war hack like Nick Cohen, who famously said of 'the Bethnal Green poor' after they dared to vote for the anti-war socialist party Respect, 'once again, we find a slice of the electorate in a poor part of Britain that is so lost in identity politics and victimhood that it will vote for those who stoke their rage, no matter how worthless they are'?

No. The quote in fact comes from the conservative Saturday Review of 16 Jan 1864, so 140 years ago, a time when 'the Bethnal Green poor' was well, on the face of it, almost entirely 'white'. Yes, the rulers of the country at the centre of British Empire may have portrayed itself to outsiders as a white country carrying out 'the white man's burden' of civilising the natives (to quote Kipling), yet when it came to describing the English working class they found themselves quite unable to see them as somehow worthy of being called 'white'. As the writer in the Saturday Review continued, 'the English poor man or child is expected always to remember the condition in which God has placed him, exactly as the negro is expected to remember the skin which God has given him. The relation in both instances is that of perpetual superior to perpetual inferior, of chief to dependent, and no amount of kindness or goodness is suffered to alter this relation.'

Nor was this one bigoted writer alone. As Kenan Malik has shown in his book The Meaning of Race(1996) (where a lot of these quotes are from), one only needs to read some of the Victorian middle class writers on 'the social problem' as they described the state of the poor in cities like London during this period to see the widespread contempt for the English labouring poor. As Henry Mayhew noted in London Labour and the London Poor (1861), the 'street folk' of 'outcast London' were a 'race apart' from the 'civilised' and 'respectable'. The official report on The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain used the same words 'residuum', 'refuse', 'offal' to describe the sewage waste which led to the sanitary problem as well as the human waste which constituted the social problem.

Things got worse after a local uprising against colonial rule in Jamaica in 1865 - the 'Governor Eyre' controversy. As the Marxist historian VG Kiernan observed in The Lords of Humankind, 'discontented native in the colonies, labour agitator in the mills, were the same serpent in alternate disguises. Much of the talk about the barbarism or darkness of the outer world, which it was Europe's mission to rout, was a transmuted fear of the masses at home.' As one writer, Edwin Hood, put it, 'The negro is in Jamaica as the costermonger is in Whitechapel; he is very often nearly a savage with the mind of a child.' Or to quote the Saturday Review again, a black person 'is neither ferociously cruel nor habitually malignant. He often does cruel and barbarous things; but then so do our draymen and hackney-coachmen and grooms and farm servants through want of either thought or power of thinking'.

How positively ghastly it must have been to have had to put up with such servants. The Daily Telegraph on 21 August 1866 certainly thought the working class of Southampton was quite out of control, and had forfeited their right to be considered 'white'. 'There are a good many negroes in Southampton, who have the taste of their tribe for any disturbance that appears safe, and who are probably imbued with the conviction that it is the proper thing to hoot and yell at a number of gentlemen going to a dinner party.'

As the European imperialist 'scramble for Africa' began in earnest, things continued in the same vein. In 1883, George Sims in How the Poor Live noted that there exists 'a dark continent that is within easy walking distance of the General Post Office...the wild races who inhabit it will, I trust, gain public sympathy as easily as [other] savage tribes.' In 1890, William Booth asked 'as there is a darkest Africa, is there not also a darkest England?' Within 'a stone's throw of our cathedrals and palaces' Booth continued, exist 'similar horrors to those Stanley has found in the great Equatorial forest...the two tribes of savages, the human baboon and the handsome dwarf, who will not speak lest it impede him in his task, may be accepted as the two varieties who are continually present with us - the vicious, lazy lout, and the toiling slave.'

In fact, the British working class, the 'toiling slaves', only began to be considered 'white' by the English upper and middle classes during the 20th century - and an outline of how this happened can be found in Alistair Bonnett's excellent book White Identities (2001). In short, after the Boer war showed the physical weakness of many British troops, the imperialist elite realised there was a need for social housing and educational reforms to nurture what Lord Rosebury, leader of the Liberal Party, termed an 'imperial race' fit for fighting colonial wars in the future. Many erstwhile socialists of the Fabian variety also threw themselves into building such a project - as I have discussed on my blog before with respect to the Coefficient Club drawing out some parallels with their latter day equivalents, the Euston Manifesto Group.

As a result, by the First World War, the British ruling class took a different view. Bonnett quotes Lord Milner, who was part of the Co-efficients Club, on seeing soldiers washing during the Battle of the Somme, which took place 90 years ago this week, remarked that 'I never knew the working classes had such white skins'. It was now the Germans in the First World War who were to be portrayed not as 'white' but as some sort of racial 'other', the barbarous 'Hun'.

Bonnett instead locates the rise of the 'white working class' in Britain with the steady rise of state-managed capitalism at the expense of Victorian laissez faire liberalism. The Welfare State in Britain - orientated around ideas of a new 'national community' - was not just a hard won reform won by the working class movement but also a way of Labour politicians articulating welfare in the context of the nation-state.

As Bonnett notes, 'as the chasm of class identities apparent in the Victorian period was narrowed, the marginalisation of the working class from whiteness became untenable. In this new British social formation, racial and national identities once centred on the elite became available to the masses.' Yet the problem was that things like the National Health Service (NHS) which were built up by black migrant labour after the Second World War in Britain could also be 'used' by racists who talked of defending 'our NHS' against 'outsiders' (ie other migrant workers). One sees this today in racist headlines of the Daily Express which declare 'It is the National Health Service - not the International Health Service'. Indeed, Labour politicians also used - and use - racism in this way. 'Immigration has dragged us back twenty years' argued the Labour deputy mayor of Deptford, a working class London borough, in 1964. In February 2005, Roger Godseff, Labour MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath said that 'I don’t believe economic migration is any longer necessary, and I also don’t think it’s going to be good for the future of race relations in this country.' Little changes.

The invention of 'the white working class' therefore cuts both ways today. When capitalism is booming - as in the 1950s after the Second World War - a strong Labour Party benefits as it is able to deliver social reforms which help improve lives for ordinary working class people. The issue of race rarely raises its head. Yet when capitalism stops growing, or goes into crisis, then Labour politicians play the race card against immigrants, declaring that maybe the white working class has been "left behind" by immigration and multiculturalism, which legitimises scum like the Nazi BNP. The result of the BNP being able to pose as champions of the 'white working class' and 'our' council homes against New Labour who are now selling off and attacking the Welfare State is BNP gains in Barking and Dagenham.

Yet the other side to the coin is this. Thinking about 'whiteness' as an invented category allows us to point out how recent the history of the term 'the white working class' is. Of course, as Doug Nesbitt has pointed out, there are fundamental problems with many 'whiteness' historians that Marxists should take issue with. Yet, I believe that Marxists should champion the best of this new 'race history' - as for example Neil Davidson does when he calls Theodore Allen's The Invention of the White Race an 'important work'. As my quote at the beginning about the Bethnal Green poor hopefully shows, fundamentally the rich and powerful - and their defenders in New Labour - detest and fear ordinary people - because if ordinary working people of whatever background realise their collective strength and unite then another world is truly possible. The clear division in Britain - and internationally - today remains that of class not race, despite the disastrous 'war on terror' and its champions such as Nick Cohen. It is up to socialists to show that working class people on estates like Barking and Dagenham have more in common with working class people of Bethnal Green and Bow - and fundamentally more in common too with the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran than they have with New Labour millionaires like Margeret Hodge or fascist scum like the BNP. That is why building a socialist alternative like Respect is so critical in the coming months and years.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dead King Watch: George IV

One French Romantic painter, Gericault's, portrait of young George.

Another portrayal of the Prince Regent with his loyal servants...

King George IV died on the 26 June 1830, which meant the 176th anniversary of his death took place a couple of days ago.

George, the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was born in St. James's Palace in 1762. At the time of his birth, he automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, which doubtless made the people of Cornwall and Rothesay very happy. George, who also became the Prince of Wales, was a talented student, quickly learning to speak not only English but also French, German and Italian. This highlights the effect of inbreeding on the Royal Family - Prince Harry for example had to cheat in order to pass 'A-level' Art, let alone manage a foreign language.

The Prince of Wales turned 21 in 1783, when he obtained a grant of £60,000 from Parliament and an annual income of £50,000 from his father. He then established his residence in Carlton House, where he lived a profligate life of luxury annoying his father who thought more frugal behaviour on the part of the heir-apparent might look better. Yet as Prince Regent he continued to amass enormous debts - for example inn 1796 reaching the extraordinary sum of £660,000 - and Parliament (ie. the British taxpayer) had to bail him out. Being unwilling to make an outright grant to relieve these debts, Parliament provided him an additional sum of £65,000 per annum. In 1803, a further £60,000 was added, and the Prince of Wales's debts were finally paid. See Blackadder III - picture above - for more on his greed.

In 1811, his father's illness got so bad, George had to become Prince Regent. While the Napoleonic wars raged, George took an active interest in clothes. He took matters of style and taste very importantly, and his associates such as the dandy Beau Brummell and the architect John Nash created the 'Regency style'. In London Nash designed the Regency terraces of Regent's Park and Regent Street. George took up the new idea of the seaside spa and had the Brighton Pavilion developed as a fantastical seaside palace, adapted by Nash in the "Indian Gothic" style inspired loosely by the Taj Mahal, with extravagant "Indian" and "Chinese" interiors. Again see Blackadder III for his love of socks.

When George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent ascended the throne as George IV, with no real change in his powers. George's coronation was a magnificent and expensive affair, costing about £943,000. By the time of his accession, he was obese and utterly useless for anything except buying clothes. He was also showing signs of having inherited his father's mental illness.

On George's death in 1830 - having done nothing to improve the lives of his subjects - even the establishment paper The Times commented unfavourably: There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow? [...] If he ever had a friend - a devoted friend in any rank of life - we protest that the name of him or her never reached us.


28 June 1956, Poland: The Poznan Uprising

'We demand Bread'

28 June 1956 in Poznan

Fifty years ago today, Polish workers at the Zispo locomotive manufacturing plant in the city of Poznan led a heroic uprising against Stalinism.

'The factory siren was sounded to announce a strike and workers went out onto the streets. They formed flying pickets, going from factory to factory bringing more workers out. Workers in the print, transport, textile and cigarette industries made their way to Stalin Square in the city centre. Some 100,000 workers and their families gathered on the streets. A police station was taken over and the city’s Communist Party headquarters were trashed. Groups of demonstrators headed for the most hated symbols of oppression – the secret police headquarters and the prison. Workers stormed the prison, released more than 250 inmates and armed themselves with weapons from the prison armoury. When the Polish army was sent in to restore order, workers fought back with petrol bombs, forcing or persuading soldiers to abandon their tanks.

By the next day most of Poznan was on strike. Workers demanded bread and freedom. They also raised slogans such as "Russians go home". Poland was no colony, but Russia dominated the country and had tens of thousands of troops stationed there.
On the second day the workers of Poznan and their families were overwhelmed by military force – 10,000 troops and 400 tanks and armoured vehicles were needed to put down the revolt. It is thought that almost 80 people were killed.'

One of the leaders of the revolt, Karol Modzelewski recalls that 'Poznan had all the features of a classic revolutionary uprising – from general strike to armed uprising. I later met a young worker who had been in the officers’ school during the Poznan events. He was ordered to patrol the city. In his patrol one person had a machine gun and two pistols. They came across some civilians, workers, one person with a machine gun and two with pistols. They saluted and went past.'

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Leon Trotsky on Ignazio Silone and Jack London

In December 1934, Leon Trotsky wrote the following about Fontamara by Ignazio Silone:

'This is a remarkable book. From its first to its concluding sentence it is aimed against the Fascist regime, its lies, brutalities, and abominations. Fontamara is a book of impassioned political propaganda. But in it revolutionary passion attains such heights as to result in a genuinely artistic creation. Fontamara itself is merely a poverty-stricken village in one of the most forsaken corners of Southern Italy. In the course of some 200 pages of the book this name becomes the symbol of agricultural Italy, of all its villages and their poverty and their despair and their rebellion.

Silone possesses an intimate knowledge of the Italian peasants. As the author himself tells us, he spent the initial twenty years of his life in Fontamara. Gaudiness of style and sugary sentimentality are foreign to him. He is able to see life as it is; he is gifted with the capacity first to generalize what he perceives by means of the Marxian method and then to embody his generalizations in artistic images. He tells his tale through the persons of the peasants, the cafoni and the village paupers themselves. Despite the extraordinary difficulty of such a presentation, the author handles it like a true master. This book has chapters of stupendous power.

Has this book been published in the Soviet Union? Has it come to the notice of the publishing houses of the Third International? This book deserves a circulation of many million copies. But whatever may be the attitude of the official bureaucracy towards those works which belong to the genuine revolutionary literature, Fontamara – we are certain – will find its way to the masses. It is the duty of every revolutionist to assist in circulating this book.'

On October 16 1937, Trotsky wrote to Joan London about her father Jack London and in particular his novel The Iron Heel. What follows is a rather poor translation of the original, which appeared in the New Internationalin April 1945.

'Dear comrade,

It is with a certain apprehension that I admit to you that it was only in these last days, i.e. with a delay of thirty years, that I read for the first time The Iron Heel by Jack London. The book produced on me - I say it without exaggeration - a deep impression. Not because of its artistic qualities: the form of the novel here represents only an armour for social analysis and prognosis. The author is intentionally sparing in his use of artistic means. He is himself interested not so much in the individual fate of his heroes as in the fate of mankind. By this, however, I don't want at all to belittle the artistic value of the work, especially in its last chapters beginning with the Chicago commune. The pictures of civil war develop in powerful frescoes. The book surprised me with the audacity and independence of its historical foresight.

The world workers' movement at the end of the last and the beginning of the present century stood under the sign of reformism. The perspective of peaceful and uninterrupted world progress, of the prosperity of democracy and social reforms, seemed to be assured once and for all. The first Russian revolution, it is true, revived the radical flank of the German social democracy and gave for a certain time a dynamic strength to anarcho-syndicalism in France. The Iron Heel bears the undoubted mark of the year 1905. But at the time when this remarkable book appeared, the domination of counter-revolution was already consolidating itself in Russia. In the world arena the defeat of the Russian proletariat gave to reformism the possibility not only of regaining its temporarary lost positions but also of subjecting to itself completely the organized workers' movement. It is sufficient to recall that precisely in the following seven years (1907-14) the international social democracy ripened definitely for its base and shameful role during the World War.

Jack London not only absorbed creatively the impetus given by the first Russian revolution but also courageously thought over again in its light the fate of capitalist society as a whole. Precisely those problems which the official socialism of this time considered to be definitely buried: the growth of wealth and power at one pole, of misery and destitution at the other pole; the accumulation of social bitterness and hatred; the unalterable preparation of bloody cataclysms - all those questions Jack London felt with an intrepidity which forces one to ask himself again and again with astonishment: when was this written? Really before the war?

One must accentuate especially the role which Jack London attributes to the labour bureaucracy and to the labour aristocracy in the further fate of mankind. Thanks to their support, the American plutocracy not only succeeds in defeating the workers' insurrection but also keeping in its iron dictatorship during the following three centuries. We will not dispute with the poet the delay which can but seem to us too long. However, it is not a question of Jack London's pessimism, but of his passionate effort to shake those who are lulled by routine, to force them to open their eyes and to see what is and what approaches. The artist is audaciously utilizing the methods of hyperbole. He is bringing the tendencies rooted in capitalism: of oppression, cruelty, bestiality, betrayal, to their extreme expression. He is operating with centuries in order to measure the tyrannical will of the exploiters and the treacherous role of the labour bureaucracy. But his most "romantic" hyperboles are finally much more realistic than the bookkeeperlike calculations of the so-called sober politicians.

It is easy to imagine with what a condescending perplexity the official socialist thunking of that time met Jack London's menacing prophecies. If one took the trouble to look over the reviews of The Iron Heel at that time in the German Neue Zeit and Vorwaerts, in the Austrian Kampf and Arbeiterzeitung, as well as in the other socialist publications of Europe and America, he could easily convince himself that the "romanticist" saw incomparably more clearly and farthar than all the social democratic leaders of that time taken together. But Jack London bears comparison in this domain not only with the reformists. One can say with assurance that in 1907 not one of the revolutionary Marxists, not excluding Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, imagined so fully the ominous alliance between financial capital and labour aristocracy. This suffices in itself to determine the specific weight of the novel.

The chapter "The Roaring Abysmal Beast" undoubtedly constitutes the focus of the book. At the time when the novel appeared, this apocalyptical chapter must have seemed to be the boundary of hyperbolism. However, the consequent happenings have almost surpassed it. And the last word of class struggle has not been said by far! "The Roaring Abysmal Beast" is the people reduced to the most extreme degree of control, humiliation and degeneration. One would not have to go so far to speak of the pessimism of the artist! No, London is an optimist, only a penetrating and farsighted one. "Look into what kind of abyss the bourgeoisie will hurl you down if you don't finish with them!" This is his thought. Today it sounds incomparably more real and sharp than thirty years ago. But still more astonishing is the genuinely prophetic vision of the methods by which the Iron Heel will sustain its domination over crushed mankind. London manifests remarkable fredom from reformistic pacifist illusions. In this picture of the future there remains not a trace of democracy and peaceful progress. Over the mass of the deprived rise the castes of labour aristocracy, of praetorian army, of an all-penetrating police, with the financial oligarchy at the top. In reading it one does not believe his own eyes: it is precisely the picture of fascism, of its economy, of its governmental technique, its political psychology (pages 299, 300 and notes on page 301 are particularly remarkable). The fact is incontestable: in 1907 Jack London already foresaw and described the fascist regime as the inevitable result of the defeat of the proletarian revolution. Whatever may be the single "errors" of the novel - and they exist - we cannot help inclining before the powerful intuition of the revolutionary artist.

I write these lines with haste. I fear that these extreme circumstances do not enable me to elaborate on my appreciation of Jack London. I will endeavour to read the other works later that you sent to me, and to tell you what I think. You can make of my letters the use that you judge necessary. I wish you success in the work which you are undertaking on the biography of the great man who was your father.

With my cordial greetings.

Leon Trotsky.'

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Dead King Watch: Edward III

King Edward III died on 21 June 1377, which meant the day before yesterday was the 629th anniversary of his death. His reign lasted over fifty years making him one of the longest reigning English monarchs. Ironically, though he lived a long time during his reign saw the Black Death which meant the lives of his subjects was often very short indeed.

Edward was born in 1312, and so crowned aged only 14 in 1327. He got married at 15,
to Philippa of Hainault. The couple produced thirteen children, including five sons who reached maturity. Their eldest son and Edward's heir apparent, Edward the Black Prince (so called because he wore a black suit of armor) who was doubtless an inspiration for the TV character Edmund Blackadder, was born in 1330 and was a famed military leader.

Edward's accession to the English throne was of questionable legality as his father, Edward II, was still alive at the time and was deposed in order for Edward to become king. There is still a debate today whether anyone had the authority to depose him. As Edward was still a teenager at the time the main actors were his mother Isabella of France and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who proceeded to rule the country in Edward III's name. In 1330, the seventeen-year old Edward seized control over the English court, overthrowing Mortimer, who was executed, and removing Isabella from power.

The reign of Edward III was marked by continued war with Scotland, but much more by the war with France - The Hundred Years War. This sounds grand but was really a series of raids along the French coast by English armies. After Edward declared himself king of France on January 26, 1340 the French unsurprisingly decided to fight back and the wars continued sporadically up to the 1450s. While early victories were eventually reversed, English and, later, British monarchs would continue to claim the title "King of France" until the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Edward III quartered his coat of arms with "France Ancient", the Azure semé-de-lis (a blue shield with a tight pattern of small golden fleur de lis of the French royal house), and it remained a part of the English Coat of Arms until removed by George III.

While the king and the black prince campaigned abroad, the government was left largely in the hands of the prince's younger brother, John of Gaunt. Economic prosperity from the developing wool trade created new wealth in the kingdom, but the ravages of the bubonic plague, or Black Death, had a significant impact on the lives of his subjects. Commercial taxes became a major source of royal revenue, which had previously been largely from taxes on land. The Parliament of England became divided into two houses. At the beginning of Edward's reign, French was still the language of the English noblesse, following the Norman invasion, but by the end this had changed - in 1362 English was made the official language of the law courts.

The king also founded an order of knighthood, the Order of the Garter, allegedly as a result of an incident when a lady, with whom he was dancing at a court ball, dropped an item of intimate apparel (possibly a sanitary belt, though sources describe it as being made of velvet). Gallantly picking it up to assuage her embarrassment, Edward tied it around his own leg, and remarked Honi soit qui mal y pense ('Shame on him who thinks evil of it'), which became the motto of the Order of the Garter.

Despite having an unusually happy marriage, and producing thirteen children with Philippa, Edward was a notorious womaniser. After Philippa's death in 1369, Edward's mistress, Alice Perrers, became a byword for corruption. Facing a resurgent French monarchy and losses in France, Edward asked Parliament to grant him more funds by taxing the wine and wool trades, but this was badly received in 1374–1375 as a new outbreak of bubonic plague struck. The "Good Parliament" of 1376 criticised Edward's councillors, including Alice Perrers' family, and advised him to limit his ambitions to suit his revenues.

Edward died of a stroke brought on by severe constipation in 1377. He was said to have been infected with gonnorhoea by Alice Perrers. Supposedly, she was there when he died and removed the rings from his fingers before fleeing. Edward was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son Edward, the Black Prince, predeceased him in 1376, and Edward III was succeeded by his young grandson, King Richard II of England.


Dead King Watch: George I

George was not born in England but came to rule it

King George I died on 11 June 1727, and so it is a little belatedly that I bring up the 279th anniversary of his death.

George Ludwig was born in 1660 in Hanover in Germany, and was born into the ruling class, becoming His Serene Highness, Duke Georg Ludwig of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In 1692, he became Prince Elect of Hanover and then from 1698 his full title was 'His Serene Highness Georg Ludwig, The Elector of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.' His court in Hanover was graced by many cultural icons, such as the mathematician Gottfried Leibniz and the composer Händel. George himself was described by one observer to be 'low of stature, of features coarse, of aspect dull and placid.'

Fine, you are thinking, but how the hell did this dull German prince get to be King of England? Well, his mother Sophia, the daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, was herself the eldest daughter of James I. In 1701, the English passed the Act of Settlement whereby she was designated heir to the British Throne if the then-reigning monarch (William III) and his sister-in-law Princess Anne of Denmark (the later Queen Anne)) both died without issue. The succession was so designed because Sophia was the closest Protestant relative of the British Royal Family; numerous Catholics with superior hereditary claims were bypassed. In England, the Tories generally opposed allowing a foreigner to succeed to the Throne, whilst the Whigs favoured a Protestant successor regardless of nationality. George is said to have been reluctant to accept the English plan, but his Hanoverian advisors suggested that he should acquiesce so that his German possessions would become more secure.

The problem was this pissed off some members of the Scottish ruling class, who thought they had a better claim to the throne of England than some German prince. Yet as Neil Davidson notes, 'The English ruling class wanted Scotland to accept the Hanoverian succession to the three thrones of Britain—essentially to end any possibility of the Scots restoring the Stuart dynasty, which had been overthrown for the second time in 1688 and was now backed by France. The feudal ruling class in Scotland was divided, and the English regime concluded that it would have to incorporate Scotland into a new British state.'

In 1707, the Act of Union was passed; it united England and Scotland into a single political entity, the Kingdom of Great Britain. Davidson again: 'The formation of the British state was part of the conflict for global supremacy between capitalist-constitutional England and feudal-absolutist France...The Scottish bourgeoisie was almost totally opposed to the union of England and Scotland, and so were the popular classes—there was of course no working class at the time. For several months the Edinburgh crowd were in an almost permanent state of anti-union insurgency outside the Scottish parliament. They rightly feared that the union would bring higher taxes and the Anglicisation of the Church of Scotland, virtually their only democratic institution. The riots and demonstrations did not stop the treaty going ahead. But they did manage to get several of the most offensive clauses changed or deleted. In the end, the lords pushed the treaty through parliament because the English regime was prepared to guarantee the preservation of their feudal jurisdictions and legal system—their class position.'

By the time Anne died on 1 August 1714, George's mother was dead and so he was now King of England. The English were singularly unimpressed with their new sovereign. George I was a short, irascible German who did not even speak English and could hardly be bothered to learn the language. He was a man of limited intelligence and aims. Landing in England at Greenwich, on 18th September, 1714, in a thick fog, he was accompanied by his tall, thin and rapacious mistress Mademoiselle Schullenberg. George's other mistress. Madame Keilmansegge, was conversely very obese. The English irreverently dubbed the pair the "the Elephant and the Maypole." Even whilst he was in Great Britain, the King occupied himself with Hanoverian concerns.

Yet in 1715, when not even a year had passed after George's accession, he was faced with a Jacobite Rebellion, which became known as "The Fifteen". The Jacobites sought to put Anne's Catholic half-brother, James Francis Edward Stuart (whom they called "James III", and who was known to the English as the "Old Pretender") on the Throne. The Pretender instigated rebellion in Scotland, where support for Jacobitism was stronger than in England. John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar, an embittered Scottish nobleman who had previously supported the Glorious Revolution, led the rebels. The Fifteen, however, was a dismal failure; Lord Mar's battle plans were poor, and the Old Pretender had not arrived in Scotland in time. By the end of the year 1715, the rebellion had all but collapsed. Faced with impending defeat, Lord Mar and the Pretender fled to France in the next February. After the Fifteen was crushed, the British government dealt with the insurgents harshly. Several prisoners were executed; the remainder were enslaved in the colonies. Numerous Scottish noble families lost their estates.

Davidson describes Jacobitism thus: 'Jacobitism was a counter-revolutionary political movement whose formal goal was to restore the Stuarts. Behind this, however, lay a deeper motivation. Although the union was deeply conservative in Scottish terms, it did open up the country to greater capitalist development, through trade with the Americas (which had previously been illegal), the beginnings of agricultural improvement, and so on. The Jacobite social base was among the lairds (equivalent to the gentry in England) and some of the great magnates who were unwilling or unable to make the transition to capitalist production. Unlike every other feudal class west of Poland they still had the power to raise their tenants to fight, but they also relied on support from the Britain’s European rivals.'

Several members of the Tory Party sympathised with the Jacobites. George I began to distrust the Tories, and power thus passed to the Whigs. Whig dominance would be so great under George I that the Tories would not return to power for another half-century. In general power passed from the Crown somewhat in this period to instead his chief minister Sir Robert Walpole. During one of his frequent visits to his beloved Hanover, George I suffered a stroke and died at Osnabruck on 11th June, 1727, he was buried in the Chapel of the Leine Schloss


Annual Histomat CEO report

On behalf of the board of Histomat directors it is my responsibility as Histomat Chief Executive Officer to present the annual Histomat report to shareholders to you today. It is indeed one year since 'Histomat' was born into the blogosphere, and I am pleased to announce that have already established ourselves a niche among those interested in 'English', 'Socialism', 'UK' and 'Marxism'. Shareholders will be pleased to note that our profile among such blogs is very high indeed.

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These are no small achievements and it is no surprise that investors in blogs have picked up on this. See the report online here as well as our rising share price in the graph above. Some might wonder at the blip which coincided with our rebranding exercise in November 2005, but with hindsight it is clear that this really added to our corporate image and we have given ourselves bonuses in line with the going rate for corporate executives as a recognition of this achievement. We remain committed to not only delivering a high rate of return to our shareholders but also acting in the best interests of our customers looking for high quality socialist history in the blogosphere as well - and accordingly we always remain open to new ideas and suggestions that can take Histomat forward in the coming year. In the words of Che Guevara, Forever onwards Towards Victory! Hasta la Victoria Siempre!


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Blair Force One Leaves Airstrip One


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Davidson on Ferguson

Following on from my little effort, a brilliant Marxist critique of reactionary historian Niall Ferguson from another Scottish historian Neil Davidson here. Historian Mike Davis, author of many works, is also interviewed in this weeks Socialist Worker about class, urbanisation and the environment here, which is discussed further here. Meanwhile, Doug Nesbitt has a good take on Robert Fisk.

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Time for Marxists to 'get behind' England?

This made me smile I must say...

It appears I have badly, badly misjudged things as a Marxist with my defence of the position of 'Anyone but England' with respect to the World Cup. Recently Martin Wisse explictly attacked my argument.

"Even worse is being anti-England out of a misplaced sense of anti-imperialism: Blair's policies will not change because the SWP does not support England! It just seems like yet another form of identify politics, a way to show how socialist you are without, you know, doing anything about it."

Then my position was implicitly criticised by another leading Marxist blogger. It is not often that Meaders can describe a Respect meeting and have a supporter of the Zionist AWL cheering on his comments like a deranged loon, but I guess there is a first time for everything. This is Meaders on how why revolutionaries should just sit out of the debate:

"I find the argument that socialists should actively oppose England slightly tiresome: there seems to be no quicker way to have a futile and bitter argument with precisely the people we should be trying to win over...I can't think of a single instance - indeed, I'm fairly certain there isn't a single instance - where anybody-but-England has advanced the cause of socialism...disentangling the threads of identity, culture, and recognition that lead people to support England is not going to be done through bloody-minded opposition."

Such criticism hurts - I guess feel a bit like Michael Owen must be feeling at the moment. However, I want to say two things in my defence.

Firstly, I never said that Marxists should 'actively' go out and oppose England in a 'bloody minded' manner - I explained why as Marxists we understand why ordinary people do support England in the football in their millions and millions and that advancing 'Anyone but England' as a position should be done creatively and sensitively. Nor did I say that it would lead to a change in Blair's policies or 'an advance for socialism' - though I still think the sooner England gets out of the world cup the sooner Blair will go from power.

Secondly, I do think Marxists in England should 'patiently explain' (to quote Lenin) to those around us at times like this that our position is one that does see 'England' as an imagined community that exists to strengthen the grip of the bosses and their ideas over us all and therefore that is why we are not therefore going to rally around the St George's flag.

This is actually a question which shows the division between reformist and revolutionary socialists completely and utterly. Reformists believe the national state can be taken over and used to deliver 'socialism' - so therefore reformist socialists tend to support England when it comes to football (there are some honourable exceptions of course like Marquesee and Ed Rooksby). Reformists believe the capitalist state is inherently benign as an institution. This is where I agree that Meaders was absolutely right not to make this an issue at a Respect meeting - which is a united front of reformists and revolutionaries based around a common aim of building a left alternative to New Labour. To bring up Marxist 'shibboleths' like 'Anyone but England' would be extremely sectarian in such an environment.

However, revolutionary socialists (Marxists) do argubly have a duty in their own publications/blogs to challenge such arguments when they come up. The alternative is to legitimate things like the English National Anthem 'God Save the Queen'

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen

Not in this land alone,
But be God's mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world o'er.

From every latent foe,
From the assassins blow,
God save the Queen!
O'er her thine arm extend,
For Britain's sake defend,
Our mother, prince, and friend,
God save the Queen!

Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the Queen!

I can understand why some pro-imperialist 'socialists' like the AWL would enjoy singing along with this shite about how we need to 'crush' rebels against the British Empire - but should the rest of us really just sing along with 'Wayne [Rooney] the Warrior'? Personally, and as a Marxist, I would much rather listen to this.

Finally, it looks as though the argument why English socialists should not support England may well soon be an immaterial one - lets face it, England's performances on the pitch (Joe Cole and Gerrard aside) have been dire. C'mon Ecuador - you can do it!

Edited to add: Check this: Anyone but England

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dead King Watch: William IV

William IV

David Cameron

William IV died on 20 June 1837, which makes today the 169th anniversary of his death. The current leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, is a distant relative of William IV, so it might be worth looking at the life of William IV to see if it sheds any light on what sort of man Cameron is...

Prince William
William was born on 21 August 1765 at Buckingham House, the son of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He had two elder brothers (Prince George, Prince of Wales and Prince Frederick, Duke of York), and so was not expected to inherit the Crown. At the age of thirteen, he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, and aged 15 was present at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent against the Spanish in 1780. He served in New York during the American War of Independence, trying to retain the colony for the British. While the prince was there, George Washington approved a plot to kidnap the prince, writing to congratulate the cunning behind it. "The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause, and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct." The plot sadly did not come to fruition; the British heard of it and doubled the prince's guard.

William became a Lieutenant aged 20 in 1785 and a Captain the following year. In 1786, he was stationed in the West Indies. Horatio Nelson wrote of William, "In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the [Naval] list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal." What a grovelling sycophant Nelson was. What were the Royal Navy doing in the West Indies at this time, one might be prompted to enquire? Ah yes, overseeing a slave system that saw millions toil and labour to death in order that rich British merchants might profit from the production of sugar.

Duke of Clarence.
Yet while life on the sea was all very well, William did think life would be more comfortable if he could become a Duke and sit around doing nothing back in England. Accordingly, in 1790 he ceased active service in the Navy and became Duke of Clarence. He was promoted to 'Rear-Admiral' upon retirement - presumably because title befitted someone whose preferred position during battles was to sit very far behind the lines of the actual conflict while the poor seamen did all the actual fighting and dying. Yet when the French Revolution developed into a mass popular uprising against privilege, symbolised by the regicide of Louis XVI in January 1793, William's anger against this new dangerous 'democracy' boiled over. When England declared war on revolutionary France in 1793, William was anxious to do his bit for those fighting to restore monarchy and privilege. Yet, despite his position as 'Rear-Admiral' during this war, William decided his military 'talents' - remember Nelson's words 'in his professional line William was superior to two thirds' - could be best employed in the, er, House of Lords. There William Duke of Clarence defended the exorbitant spending of his greedy brother, the Prince of Wales, who had applied to Parliament for a grant for relief of his debts. In Parliament he also spoke in favour of slavery, a system which the English at the time were desperately involved in trying to extend through military force to former French colonies like San Domingo whose slaves had risen up against their oppressors. In 1811, having clearly proved himself worthy of the job through such clearly vital work in Parliament William was appointed Admiral of the Fleet. In 1827 he became Lord High Admiral where he commissioned the first steam warship.

In 1830, aged 64, he became King when George IV died without surviving legitimate issue, and so was the oldest man ever to assume the throne. Unlike his extravagant brother, William was unassuming, discouraging pomp and ceremony. In contrast to George IV, who tended to spend most of his time in Windsor Castle, William was known, especially early in his reign, to walk, unaccompanied, through London or Brighton. He was initially apparently quite popular, probably because those he succeeded had been so bad.

Yet once more, Revolution was in the air in England following a political revolution in France and the English ruling class were in trouble. Parliament at that time very clearly represented only property, not the people at all. One third of MPs represented tiny constituencies of a few rich aristocrats, and one little village in Suffolk had two MPs while some huge growing Northern industrial cities had no political representation at all. In 1832, the rich Whigs realised unless they carried out a reform of this system there would be revolution - which as EP Thompson has shown, there very nearly was. Yet the 'Great' Reform Act of 1832 only gave the vote to men (not women of course) and only if they were rich - so only one in seven adult males got the vote. Nor were the constituencies now of an equal size. Whereas 35 constituencies had less than 300 electors, Liverpool still had a constituency of over 11,000. Yet William never quite got the idea of 'democracy' - and in 1834 when he didn't like the Prime Minister Melbourne he simply got rid of him and replaced him with Sir Robert Peel.

Yet something had changed as a result of the Act - the principle that the people should have some political power had been reaffirmed - even if in practise it was still to be denied. The resulting reduction in the influence of the Crown was clearly indicated by the events of William's reign, especially his dismissal of the Melbourne ministry. During the reign of George III, the King could have dismissed one ministry, appointed another, dissolved Parliament, and expected the people to vote in favour of the new administration. Such was the result of a dissolution in 1784, after the dismissal of the Coalition Ministry; such was the result of a dissolution in 1807, after the dismissal of William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville. But when William IV dismissed the Melbourne ministry, the Tories under Sir Robert Peel were not able to win the ensuing elections. Thus, the King's ability to influence the opinion of the people, and therefore generally dictate national policy, had been reduced. None of William's successors has attempted to remove a ministry and appoint another against the wishes of the people. Then again, the Labour Party have always been so craven in the face of authority and hereditary rule that the rich have never felt their power threatened enough to feel it necessary to use the monarchy in this way.

One nice postscript is that a long arc of heroic slave revolts across the Caribbean following the Haitian Revolution and going on up to 1831 in Jamaica finally succeeded in overthrowing colonial slavery in the 1830s - which hopefully provided such a shock to William IV that it led to his death through cardiac failure in 1837.

Overall, William's life was spent defending the interests of the privileged and looking out for the interests of the British Empire. So quite, quite different from David Cameron's 'modern, compassionate conservatism' then...

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Soweto uprising

Today marks 30 years after the Soweto uprising against apartheid South Africa. In this weeks Socialist Worker there is a good article by one of the activists involved, Bruce George. Here is an extract:

'Soweto, an abbreviation for the south western townships of Johannesburg, was a sprawling black city of between 1.5-2 million inhabitants. It was lacking in most facilities. Some 86 percent of homes were without electricity, 93 percent without a shower or bath. In early 1976 its unemployment rate was 54 percent. In 1973-74, the government spent 17 times more on educating a white child than on a black child.

This reflected former prime minister Verwoerd’s observation that, "There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice." The only prospect for young blacks was either unemployment or starvation wages. Being forced to learn the oppressors’ language was just too much. At the end of 1975 and early 1976 students from schools in Soweto met and organised action against the teaching of Afrikaans.

They set up the Soweto Student Representative Council. The students decided to organise a demonstration on 16 June calling on the government to withdraw its proposals. When the police opened fire on the demonstration it started a wave of rioting that spread over a period of 18 months to every black township. The riots lasted until early 1978 in the Eastern Cape.The rebellion was the work of black youth in the townships. They seized and maintained the offensive in Soweto and Cape Town. They called for, and organised, two massive solidarity strikes in late August and mid-September in the areas where the youth movement was strongest. They organised demonstrations, sit-ins, school and bus boycotts and the township youth were engaged in constant battles with the police.

In the Cape it was the mixed race youth, dubbed “coloured” by the apartheid regime, who swept into the leadership of the rebellion. Under apartheid they were defined as a separate race, but by proclaiming their unity with their African brothers and sisters they nullified the regime’s efforts to buy them off with a status slightly higher than Africans and Indians. Their status was being undermined by measures such as the reintroduction of influx controls for coloureds, the imposition of forced labour for coloured youths, as well as the massive removals of coloureds in the Western Cape.

The movement rejected the leadership of the black middle class, particularly those who were engaged in running the townships – the Bantu Administration Boards were staffed in the main by those who collaborated with apartheid for their own personal gain. The movement’s anger was aimed not only at the property of the Bantu administration, but also at the organs of black collaboration. The puppet parliament of the Bophuthatswana Homeland was burnt down in Mafeking.The fires of revolt burned on for well over a year. The youth overturned the stooge council responsible for running Soweto in June 1977. This was a great achievement but the regime was gradually able to reimpose control by wholesale repression. Seven hundred recorded deaths, mass detentions and the suppression of October 1977 finally broke the back of the black consciousness movement.'

Today the South African Government of Thabo Mbeki are commemorating the uprising, but its pro-business policies offer little hope to young South Africans today. It is not surprising that 'many of the youngsters appeared to lose interest as Mr Mbeki's speech continued, and started drifting towards the gates.' The struggle continues.

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Histomat vindicated?

Back in March, in my article Tony Blair: Rock Star, War Criminal and Trotskyist? I argued that Blair was a red mole working inside the Labour Party to destroy it and encourage working class people to join revolutionary socialist organisations. It appears there is new evidence coming out which supports this hypothesis...

In 1982, the young Blair wrote to Michael Foot. Clearly to work his way up the Labour Party Blair has to give some praise to Foot's radical social democractic perspective but he can't help but reveal his Marxism:

"In this I can't help feeling the continual association of Marxism with Socialism is in part to blame. Like many middle-class people I came to Socialism through Marxism (to be more specific through Deutscher's biography of Trotsky). The trouble with Marxism is that it is fine if you make it your political servant but terrible if it becomes your political master. I actually did trouble to read Marx first hand. I found it illuminating in so many ways; in particular, my perception of the relationship between people and the society in which they live was irreversibly altered. But ultimately it was stifling because it sought to embrace in its philosophy every facet of existence. That, of course, is its attraction to many. It gives them a total perspective on life. But that can simply become an excuse to stop searching for the truth. Political thought didn't begin nor should it end with Marx. Yet it is impossible to understand the 20-40 age group in today's Labour Party without understanding the pervasiveness of Marxist teaching. For me at university, left-wing politics was Marx and the liberal tradition was either scorned or analysed only in terms of its influence on Marx. It is so abundantly plain to me when I read D of H that there is a treasure trove of ideas that I never imagined existed. We need to recover the searching radicalism of these people."

See also here

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Rise of the Machines

I am aware that 'the Terminator' Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Governor of California and an influential Republican politician, but I was still quite shocked to read in this weeks New Statesman a worrying article by Stephen Graham, Professor of human geography at Durham University, on 'America's Robot Army':

'War is about to change, in terrifying ways. America's next wars, the ones the Pentagon is now planning, will be nothing like the conflicts that have gone before them. In just a few years, US forces will be able to deal out death, not at the squeeze of a trigger or even the push of a button, but with no human intervention whatsoever. Many fighting soldiers - those GIs in tin hats who are dying two a day in Iraq - will be replaced by machines backed up by surveillance technology so penetrating and pervasive that it is referred to as "military omniscience". Any Americans involved will be less likely to carry rifles than PlayStation-style consoles and monitors that display simulated streetscapes of the kind familiar to players of Grand Theft Auto - and they may be miles from where the killing takes place.The real aim, however, is not to expose flesh-and-blood Americans on the ground, but where possible to use robots. That way there will be no "body bag problem"; and in any case machines are better equipped than human beings to process and make use of the vast quantities of data involved...

Much of the hardware and software already exists and the race to produce the rest is on such a scale that US officials are calling it the "new Manhattan Project". Hundreds of research projects are under way at American universities and defence companies, backed by billions of dollars, and Donald Rumsfeld's department of defence is determined to deliver as soon as possible. The momentum is coming not only from the relentless humiliation of US forces at the hands of some determined insurgents on the streets of Baghdad, but also from a realisation in Washington that this is the shape of things to come. Future wars, they believe, will be fought in the dirty, mazy streets of big cities in the "global south", and if the US is to prevail it needs radically new strategies and equipment...

In one sense, robots are not new: already, armed drones such as Predator, "piloted" by CIA operators from screens in Florida, have been responsible for at least 80 assassination raids in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan (killing many civilians as well). Defence contractors have also developed ground-based vehicles capable of carrying cameras and weapons into the battlefield.

But this is only the start. What will make the next generation different is that they are being designed so that they can choose, all on their own, the targets they will attack. Operating in the air and on the ground, they are being equipped with Automated Target Recognition software capable not only of comparing signals received from new-generation sensors with databases of targets, but also of "deciding" to fire guns or launch missiles automatically once there is a good "fit". Automated killing of this kind hasn't been approved by anyone yet, but it is certainly being planned. John Tirpak, editor of Air Force Magazine in the US, expects initially that humans will retain the last word, but he predicts that once robots "establish a track record of reliability in finding the right targets and employing weapons properly", the "machines will be trusted to do even that".

Planners believe, moreover, that robot warriors have a doomsday power. Gordon Johnson, a team leader on Project Alpha, which is developing robots for the US army, predicts that, if the robot's gun can return fire automatically and instantly to within a metre of a location from which its sensors have detected a gunshot, it will always kill the person who has fired. "Anyone who would shoot at our forces would die," says Johnson. "Before he can drop that weapon and run, he's probably already dead. Well now, these cowards in Baghdad would have to pay with blood and guts every time they shoot at one of our folks. The costs of poker went up significantly. The enemy, are they going to give up blood and guts to kill machines? I'm guessing not."'


Salute to the Soca Warriors

A quick salute to the Trinidad and Tobago team - and to the legend that is Shaka Hislop in particular - after Saturday's inspirational draw with Sweden. If they can get a result against England then they have an excellent chance or progressing through to the Second Round. Bring on Thursday!


Friday, June 09, 2006

Dead King Watch: Harthacanute

I don't think this coin shows his best side, to be honest.

Harthacanute (sometimes Hardicanute, Hardecanute; Danish Hardeknud, Canute the Hardy) died on June 8th 1042, which made yesterday the 964th anniversary of his death.

He was born in either 1018 or 1019, the only son of Canute the Great and Emma of Normandy, and succeeded his father as King of Denmark and England in 1035, reigning as Canute III, but conflict with Magnus I of Norway prevented him from sailing from Denmark to England to secure his position there. Consequently, it was agreed that his elder illegitimate half-brother Harold Harefoot would be regent in charge of England.

Harold took the English crown for himself in 1037 — Harthacanute being 'forsaken because he was too long in Denmark'. After Harthacanute had settled the situation in Scandinavia through an agreement (in 1038 or 1039) with Magnus in which they agreed that if either of them should die without an heir, the other would be his successor, Harthacanute prepared an invasion of England to depose Harold. In 1039, he arrived
at Bruges in Flanders, where his exiled mother was, but before he could invade Harold died in March 1040. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Harthacanute then landed at Sandwich on June 17 with a fleet of 62 warships. Being unable to exact vengeance upon his brother while he was still alive, he 'had the dead Harold dragged up and thrown into a fen.' Nice.

Harthacanute was a harsh and very unpopular ruler: to pay for his fleet, he severely increased the rate of taxation, and perhaps the most notable event of his reign in England was a revolt at Worcester in 1041 against these high taxes. This revolt was crushed, with the near-destruction of Worcester. The story of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry to persuade the local earl to lower taxes may come from the reign of Harthacanute.

Harthacanute invited his half-brother Edward the Confessor (his mother Emma's son by Ethelred the Unready) back from exile in Normandy to become a member of his household, and may have made Edward his heir. Harthacanute was unmarried and had no children. In June 1042, he died at Lambeth. Apparently, he 'died as he stood at his drink, and he suddenly fell to the earth with an awful convulsion; and those who were close by took hold of him, and he spoke no word afterwards...'. He was buried at Winchester. Edward assumed the throne on Harthacanute's death, restoring the Saxon royal line for his lifetime.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Niall Ferguson: The Historian as Warmonger

After glorifying the British Empire, Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and an unrepentant champion of American power around the world, is back with a new book, The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred. I say he is back but in fact Ferguson 'wrote' his latest book with the help of fourteen (count 'em) research assistants - and couldn't even manage to come up with the title himself. 'We struggled and struggled to find the right title. For a long time it was just 'The War'...In the end, it was one of the young creative hotshots at Penguin who came up with The War of the World, inspired perhaps by the Spielberg movie based on Wells's The War of the Worlds'. Perhaps that was the inspiration, yes.

Anyway, the Right wing pro- war press have already wet themselves in excitement. 'This is a big, bold and brilliantly belligerent book (the Sunday Telegraph), 'It is Niall Ferguson's masterpiece' (Penguin books), 'Ferguson more than justifies his lofty reputation in a book that fizzes with revisionist insights... it is wonderfully bracing, provocative stuff...Brilliant...revealing … something challenging, amusing or fresh on almost every page' (Daily Telegraph), 'Well researched, highly readable and occasionally deeply revisionist... Ferguson's writing is full of epigrams, witticisms and thought-provoking paradoxes and ironies,' (FT Magazine). The Times describes Ferguson as 'The most brilliant British Historian of his generation … he writes with splendid panache and seemingly effortless, debonair wit'.

Debonair wit - but also a profound modesty. Faced with such reviews Ferguson simply claims that 'The War of the World is the Everest of my career...the most important book I've written so far.' Surely such an eminent historian would not just say such a thing to boost sales, so what is it about? It is, in short, an overview of the twentieth century. Here is an extract:

'The hundred years after 1900 were without question the bloodiest century in history, far more violent in relative as well as absolute terms than any previous era. Significantly larger percentages of the world's population were killed in the two world wars that dominated the century than had been killed in any previous conflict of comparable geopolitical magnitude. Although wars between 'great powers' were more frequent in earlier centuries, the world wars were unparalleled in their severity (battle deaths per year) and concentration (battle deaths per nation-year). By any measure, the Second World War was the greatest man-made catastrophe of all time. And yet, for all the attention they have attracted from historians, the world wars were only two of many twentieth-century conflicts. Death tolls quite probably passed the million mark in at least a dozen others.* Comparable fatalities were caused by the genocidal or 'politicidal' wars waged against civilian populations by the 'Young Turk' regime during the First World War, the Soviet regime from the 1920s until the 1950s and the National Socialist regime in Germany between 1933 and 1945, to say nothing of the tyrannies of Kim Il Sung in North Korea and Pol Pot in Cambodia. There was not a single year before, between or after the world wars that did not see large-scale organized violence in one part of the world or another.'

*The Mexican Revolutionary War (1910-20), the Russian Civil War (1917-21), the civil wars in China (1926-37), the Korean War (1950-53), the intermittent civil wars in Rwanda and Burundi (1963-95), the post-colonial wars in Indochina (1960-75), the Nigerian Civil War (1966-70), the Bangladeshi war of independence (1971), the civil war in Mozambique (1975-93), the war in Afghanistan (1979-2001) and the on-going civil wars in Sudan (since 1983) and Congo (since 1998).'

We know this already - one might be thinking - after works like Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes. But why was the twentieth century so violent? Might it have had something to do with the domination of global capitalism around the world in the twentieth century, spread by powerful nation states? No, says Ferguson. No, no, no. Capitalism had nothing to do with it. As Tristram Hunt - yes, the Tristram Hunt - notes, 'the old textbook explanations of economic crises, class warfare, nationalism or ideological fervour' don't get a look in.

'According to Ferguson, the 20th-century bloodbath was down to the dreadful concatenation of ethnic conflict, economic volatility and empires in decline. Despite genetic advances that revealed man's essential biological similarities, the 1900s saw wave upon wave of ethnic strife thanks (pace Richard Dawkins) to a race "meme" entering public discourse. Across the world, the idea of biologically distinct races took hold of the 20th century mindset to deadly effect. Tensions along increasingly conscious ethnic faultlines (in regions such as the eastern edges of Germany) frequently spilt over into conflict during periods of economic volatility...When ethnicity and financial turbulence then occurred in the context of retreating or expanding empires - British, German, or Soviet - the capacity for bloodshed proved even greater. And, as a final thought, the 20th century witnessed not the triumph of the west, but its inexorable descent...The War of the World ends predictably with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and (inevitably) China.'

Here we get onto the real agenda of Ferguson - and see why he is so fetted by the rich and powerful in America and Britain. He is not only trying to feed off the popular race hatred of Muslims - he is also consciously stirring up new forms of racism against the Chinese. Actually, he is simply updating the notion of the 'yellow peril', tapping into fears that long haunted British colonial officials and arguing they should now give us new nightmares today. Tristram Hunt - incidently a member of New Labour - doesn't think Ferguson's thesis is racist at all - indeed he praises Ferguson's work as 'deftly paced', 'continent-crossing' and in 'good historical fashion'.

Ferguson spelled out how he sees the new century ahead in an article for the Telegraph earlier this year - entitled 'The Origins of the Great War of 2007' - 'the Great Gulf War' Here Ferguson brought together all the themes that concern him, spelling out the dangers of conflict if the West dropped its white man's burden of civilising the new barbarians:

'With every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the combustible ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and scope than the wars of 1991 or 2003 - were in place...the breakneck growth of the Asian economies had caused a huge surge in global demand for energy... While European fertility had fallen below the natural replacement rate in the 1970s, the decline in the Islamic world had been much slower. By the late 1990s the fertility rate in the eight Muslim countries to the south and east of the European Union was two and half times higher than the European figure...This tendency was especially pronounced in Iran, where...by the first decade of the new century, a quite extraordinary surplus of young men. More than two fifths of the population of Iran in 1995 had been aged 14 or younger. This was the generation that was ready to fight in 2007...This not only gave Islamic societies a youthful energy that contrasted markedly with the slothful senescence of Europe. It also signified a profound shift in the balance of world population. In 1950, there had three times as many people in Britain as in Iran. By 1995, the population of Iran had overtaken that of Britain and was forecast to be 50 per cent higher by 2050...The ideological cocktail that produced 'Islamism' was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic...Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the hero of 2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on explosives. His decision to accelerate Iran's nuclear weapons programme was intended to give Iran the kind of power North Korea already wielded in East Asia: the power to defy the United States; the power to obliterate America's closest regional ally.'

What to do about Iran?

'Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad's ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981. Similar strikes against Iran's were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they argued, was perfectly placed to carry out such strikes. It had the bases in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. It had the intelligence proving Iran's contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy.'

Peaceful diplomacy thus leads to war, predicted Ferguson:

'So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country's treaty obligations and armed for war...As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking... So in Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran....This gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation, already interrupted by Israel, Pakistan and India, was definitively shattered. Now Teheran had a nuclear missile pointed at Tel-Aviv. And the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had a missile pointed right back at Teheran....The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the Middle East. Both sides would threaten war - and then both sides would blink. That was Secretary Rice's hope - indeed, her prayer - as she shuttled between the capitals. But it was not to be. The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite population overran the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran. Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened.'

If only the West can muster up the moral courage and willpower to wage war on Iran - then we would have global peace. This is Ferguson's argument - and his intellect and logic here is truly dazzling. Yet this racist pro-war fantasy underpins Ferguson's new book, and so The War of the World helps set humanity up for yet another bloody century of imperialism and war. Still, I expect Ferguson will do alright out of it, as wars sell racist pro-war books like his. It is not surprising to learn that Ferguson's next work will be a biography of, yes, you guessed it - Henry Kissinger. Given Ferguson's The War of the World is being made into a TV series, perhaps the same thing will happen to his biography of war criminal Kissinger. Then again, perhaps we don't need to see Ferguson on our TV screens praising warlords like Kissinger. After all, we already have a show called 'The Apprentice'.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

No future in England's dreaming

Anyone for croquet? Prince William visits the England team

I know, I know. There are far more important things to discuss than the football. Female readers of Histomat (there must be some) may well be viewing the blogosphere debate about who socialist English footie fans should support in the World Cup as essentially less about the politics of football and more about asserting masculinity (with 'macho' hardmen declaring how much they want to see England victorious with a kind of sneer at those lily livered comrades pissing about with the likes of Paraguay).

My initial defence of the line of 'Anyone but England' has been met with an eloquent and sustained challenge. This has taken two forms, essentially.

Firstly, the argument is made that football is a question of culture and so one's taste in team (like one's taste in music) should not be determined by matters of politics. 'Lets keep politics out of it, and choose our team purely on aesthetic grounds' goes the argument in its various forms. Unfortunately, while I have some sympathy with the problems of 'morality' described by GOM, the fact is that the 'moral' and political questions are already part of the tournament. As Dave Zurin and John Cox have argued, in an article entitled 'Using Soccer to kick Iran':

'Politics cannot be separated from the World Cup any more than it can be from the Olympics...German and US politicians have seized on the tournament to intensify the saber rattling aimed at Tehran. Citing Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear program and the anti-Israel pronouncements of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, several leading politicians in both countries have called for the Iranian team to be banned from the World Cup. In this spirit of tolerance and peace, Berlin's liberal daily Der Tagesspiegel ran a cartoon in February that depicted Iranian soccer players as suicide bombers....Italian reform minister Roberto Calderoli of the anti-immigrant Northern League called on the international soccer federation (FIFA) to exclude Iran and other "rogue states," and in recent weeks British Conservatives--perhaps distraught over their own team's dwindling prospects, after an injury to their best player--have gotten in on the act...Back in Germany, some Christian Democrats have further upped the ante by invoking the specter of Iranian terrorism at the games, asserting that Tehran will slip some suicide bombers disguised as regular fans into a game. Calls for a ban, or at least for a travel ban against the Iranian president, have intensified in Germany as the games approach. Leading Conservative and Social Democratic officials are now quoted almost daily decrying a possible visit by Ahmadinejad. And in early May, a German newspaper reported that officials of Germany, France and Britain are hoping to orchestrate a travel-ban scheme through the European Union that would prevent high-ranking Iranian officials from attending any of the games...In the most recent gambit, on May 12 a group of European Union representatives presented a letter to FIFA demanding that Iran be evicted from the games. To its credit, FIFA has rejected all of these demands, and seems unlikely to budge. But much of this anti-Iran campaign has less to do with the unrealistic goal of banning the top-level Middle Eastern team than with grooming public opinion for aggression.

In short, unsurprisingly, the World Cup does not take place in a pure cultural and moral vacuum but as part of a wider society distorted by anti-Muslim racism and global 'war on terror'. That context has to be remembered - however much we wish it didn't and we could all really just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Accordingly, Mike Marqusee has argued, persuasively in my opinion that while supporting England 'doesn’t make anyone a xenophobe or racist...in the unlikely event that England win the cup, we would witness a self-consciously national celebration, some of it spontaneous, but a great deal orchestrated from above. In the context of the war on terror, attacks on asylum seekers, Islamophobic arguments about who does and doesn’t belong, this would feed...not just the flagrant chauvinism of the far right, but the packaged, consumerist variant of Blair and Brown'. Socialists who think England doing well or even winning the World Cup would be 'a victory for football' or 'a good thing' in general need to think very hard about which political forces would also benefit.

The second argument revolves around 'Englishness' as a contested identity, and so therefore one which the English Left should engage with in order to shape into a progressive one. Perhaps the best known advocate of this is Mark Perryman, but with the likes of Billy Bragg and Andy Newman in tow. Here is Perryman:

'Inner city England is already redefining what England means. Those flying the flag or wearing the England shirt are now as likely to be black or Asian as white. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the flag has lost its imperial or martial baggage overnight, but it does suggest that the present and future won’t necessarily be determined by our past either. Whenever leftists turn their back on England, they ignore this transformation of our national identity. New left thinkers including Eric Hobsbawm, Raymond Williams and Christopher Hill all understood the necessity for accounting for the formation of national identity. What did EP Thompson call his pathbreaking work? The Making of the English Working Class. Eric Hobsbawm was one of the first to spot how football and nation were becoming hopelessly interconnected, summing up how "an imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people"...St George is not a blank canvas, but to deny us the possibility to shape its current and future meaning is to deny us our nationality.'

There are of course real differences in the processes of class formation in nations -just as the balance of class forces in each country needs to be accounted for with reference to past struggles as well as the present. Of course an imagined community seems more real as a team of 11 people - one can look at a team in one game and quickly form an opinion or identity with them in a way that one can never quite do with a nation of millions of people the vast majority of whom you will never meet. Yet here we come back to for me the key question - do we want to reclaim 'Englishness'? Aren't we supposed to be for international socialism, not 'socialism in one country'? Marqusee notes:

'In its time, the patriotism of the English Jacobins carried a radical thrust – championing the people, the vast majority, against a self-interested clique. But they soon found that turned against them when the rulers rallied the populace for war against revolutionary France. Even with identities of resistance, clawed back from the oppressor through struggle, such as those shaped by African-Americans or Dalits in India, there’s a double edge. With Englishness – handed down to us by the oppressor – the edge cuts mostly the wrong way. The right didn’t appropriate patriotism merely because the left was indifferent or snotty. Its an ‘ism’ of national unity: for anyone seeking to obstruct class conflict or critical thinking, it’s a logical resort. ‘Englishness’, in particular, blurs the ethnic and the national (‘English’ often being a synonym for ‘native born white English’). That remains problematic.'

Marqusee concludes that for him 'Anyone but England' is a position that is logical for him to take because of his personal experiences: 'As someone who lives happily with no sense of national identity (born and raised in the US, lived in London 30-odd years, worked in south Asia, internationalist by inclination), I have the luxury of choosing and altering my sporting allegiances (really that’s open to everyone, if the environment is free enough to permit it).' But while he notes that 'my watchword in the ‘World Cup’ will remain "Anyone But England"...I don’t prescribe that to others – telling people who they should or shouldn’t support is a violation of the game’s precious triviality.'

Here, my initial post perhaps might be criticised for putting things too strongly, arguing 'English socialists should support "Anyone but England"', though I did say that this position should not be done 'in an overly dogmatic fashion...One has to be creative about this.' Still, as this drew the grand Gladstonian wrath of GOM (and no doubt others) I think I owe it to readers to spell out more about what I think this might involve. Marqusee argues that 'a left politics of sport that requires people to renounce the national team is a non-starter.' I agree that no Marxist who understands why nationalism remains such a powerful pull for people under capitalism would want to construct an unnecessary boundary between working class people and the organised Left (for want of a better phrase). Far too many such unnecessary boundaries already exist (thanks in part to socialists who insist on stressing their ideological 'purity' at every stage) without creating even more.

Yet my argument is that English socialists - ie. not the English people as a whole - should support the position 'Anyone but England'. I think it is important - indeed essential - for socialists to be internationalists regardless of whether or not they have the personal international experiences of the likes of Marqusee. It is more possible than ever thanks to the internet for socialists in advanced capitalist countries to traverse national boundaries and become 'Citizens of the World'. Lets remember the words of that great English radical Thomas Paine, who incidently was born near Norwich, in Thetford: 'My country is the world, and my religion is to do good'.

Edited to add: Read about the Soca Warriors - also backed by Darcus Howe.

'Many doubted us before
But they can't do this no more
Respect to the max I'm sure
They know what we got in store'
From Victory, by Maximus Dan

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A reader writes...

[My post on the World Cup has drawn many impassioned responses, but 'GOM', one long standing reader of this blog (who incidently I would usually defer to automatically on questions of sport, especially football) was so provoked by my argument that he emailed me his take on the competition. Histomat is a Marxist blog, but Marxists should always try to relate to the best of bourgeois liberal thought and so I am happy to reprint GOM's defence of supporting England in full below. I naturally reserve the write to a rejoinder in response at a later date - Snowball]

'There have been many things I have read on this blog that I have enjoyed, laughed at and agreed with.

There has been one posting that I have disagreed with profoundly. The issue of who to support at the World Cup prompted me to respond at such length that I thought I'd offer it as a posting in its own right.

Pointedly not supporting England at the World Cup is as silly and posturing a point of view as standing outside a Bierkeller with a flag of St George screaming the national anthem at German shopkeepers.

I shall be supporting England because, for better or worse, that is where I am from, I know more about the players than any other country and its fun to support a team in the World Cup. No-one has told me to support England, especially not Tony Blair or Coca Cola and it is rather patronising to suggest that vast swathes of the population have all been hoodwinked into following one team in some grand conspiracy to print money. Of course greedy companies try and capitalise on the popularity of the World Cup, just as they constantly try and make money out of sex, crime and death. However, long before soft drink, car and shaving cream manufacturers realised that there was money to be made by getting David Beckham to do keepy-uppy with a crisp bag or whatever goes on these days, people all over the world loved football and loved the World Cup. They didnt need encouragement then and they don't now.

If one was to apply an entirely Marxist or socialist view, then no team is worthy of support as football is just another attempt to undermine class consciousness and dilute revolutionary feeling. As has been said by past left wing writers, football is part of the capitalist system and does a very good job of keeping people quiet and amused. I was once shown an article which set out to prove that organised sport in any form whether at school or between countries is morally wrong.

According to the standards being set here, I should not be allowed to support my own local town football team. Apparently setting one small crummy market town against another creates unneccessary and fake divisions in the working class and distracts from the real enemy. I cannot accept this point of view. Attending football matches and playing in them is an expression of who people are, where they come from and what they enjoy doing. Should I be embarrassed about wanting to thrash the other crummy market town up the road ? No, I should revel in it just as I should revel in the prospect of giving the Germans a good seeing to in the second stage.

There is nothing wrong with supporting other teams at a World Cup. Anyone who had a pleasant holiday in a part of the world represented in Germany should feel entirely comfortable hoping they do well. If someone wants to support them against England, well, thats up to them, just don't expect many people to follow them - that is until we all go on holiday there.

There are so much better reasons to support other teams at this World Cup than some urge to feel morally superior. I will always have a soft spot for the Dutch after Dennis Bergkamp's amazing last minute goal against Argentina in 1998 - a stunning moment I'll never forget while the South Koreans did so well last time that you can't fail to admire their achievements against all the odds. Who knows who else I'll have a soft spot for this time around. Maybe Australia will pull off a shock and reach the latter stages and when Costa Rica play more or less anyone (except I'll admit, England) I'm sure I'll be rooting for them.

The concept of supporting "ethical" teams who have suffered at the hands of imperial oppressors is also problematic. Surely the people of Trinidad and Tobago shouldn't be organising themselves into football teams to take part in the biggest tournament in the world with all of its corporate trappings - instead they should be railing against the injustices committed against them over hundreds of years and fermenting revolutionary ideas to make sure the sort of abominations carried out against them can never happen again. Should they be chided, as we are, for being sucked in to a global corporate scam ?

Its also a hugely patronising to present yourself to true supporters of teams such as Iran or Trinidad and Tobago and say, "I'm supporting you due to your downtrodden status and the fact that people who looked and sounded an awful lot like me spent a long time enslaving your people. I can't possibly support the country I come from because they're such awful people and they go around getting drunk and starting fights. I know you probably won't win but its making me feel morally superior to feel like this. Best of luck." I wouldn't be surprised if you got told to fuck right off.

Imagine if you will that an American swans round your house tomorrow, throws a friendly arm round your shoulder and exclaims that "due to the collapse of your manufacturing infrastructure, your loss of world power status, the fact we kept having to bail your economy out for most of the last century and because your government does everything we tell it to do, I thought I'd cheer you guys on in the soccerball this summer. Good luck with those pesky penalty kicks!" You'd boil him, or her for that matter, in their own oil.

Your point about nationalism is well made. It is very often a construct put in place to exercise control over people and the England team is clearly an embodiment of English nationalism. However, the concept of Englishness is so misinterpreted and misunderstood to the point at which its rather difficult to explain. The England team is one of the few things that exclusively unites the people south of the Scottish border and west of the Welsh border - very little else does. The element of control excerised by what you would term the ruling class is done so through Britishness - British borders, the British pound, the British veto, army etc and if you will the British way of life. It is also fatuous to characterise the English and Englishness as some sort of smouldering pile of fascist hooligans who want to drink, fight and paint the world with a big red cross. The north of England has been screwed by the South of England for hundreds of years. I will be supporting England because that's where I'm from. Not because we used to rule the waves, or because we won two world wars or because foreign food tastes a bit funny. If East Anglia was in the World Cup I'd probably support them.

So anyway, support who you like, I don't care. Whoever you support, I hope they give you something to remember this world cup for. Don't criticise anyone else for their choice of team. Instead, critisise racism, people who cause trouble, cheating and pomposity from those who try and turn the World Cup into some sort of political message. Most of all, ignore the adverts, the gimicks and the idiots and enjoy the wall to wall tv coverage, the stunning goals, the wonderful players and the great moments any and every world cup provide. I don't think England will win it but I'm looking forward to seeing them try.