Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Richard Seymour Speaks

The caretaker over at Lenin's Tomb will be speaking on 'The Liberal Defence of Murder- the 'pro-war left' and US foreign policy since 1989' - the subject of a book I am meaning to buy and review on this blog at some point - on Monday 1 December 2008, 17:30 - 19:30 in central London. See here for more info. Meeting organised by the London Socialist Historians Group, whose forthcoming conference in January on 1649 I plugged here.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dawn raid

The world can be a confusing place at times. You wake up in the morning to hear on the news 'anti-Government protesters around the People's Alliance for Democracy have surrounded Bangkok airport' and think 'fuck yeah, a revolutionary situation in Thailand' only to listen on and slowly realise that actually the PAD are a reactionary rabble trying to instigate a coup. Other mornings you wake up and hear a voice that sounds distinctly familiar vigorously denouncing the 'Labour regime' only to have a gradually dawning realisation that you are listening to the dulcet tones of none other than the BNP leader Nick Griffin. Fascism is not what anyone needs first thing in the morning, when you are still half asleep, whether you are based in Britain or Thailand...

Why Obama should read Trotsky

'US capitalism is up against the same problems that pushed Germany in 1914 on the path of war. The world is divided? It must be redivided. For Germany it was a question of "organising Europe". The US must "organise" the world. History is bringing humanity face to face with the volcanic eruption of American imperialism.'
Leon Trotsky, 1934. For more on Obama, see this month's Socialist Review, which carrys extensive comment from the likes of Manning Marable, David Hilliard, Noam Chomsky and Gary Younge.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Unemployment sucks...

More info on the struggle to keep the Hoover plant in Merthyr Tydfil (South Wales) open here:

'The government’s priorities are all wrong. It’s bailed out the banks, but the shareholders aren’t playing by the rules. It is nationalisation with no control from the government or ­ordinary people. Working class people are being hammered by this government – it’s a disgrace. Labour needs to get back to its roots. Nowadays all the leaders seem to have been to public school. They’re nothing like us.'

Labels: , ,

Brian Pearce - Revolutionary Historian and Translator

I have just heard the sad news that Brian Pearce, (1915-2008) longstanding Marxist writer (in the Trotskyist tradition), historian and in particular translator, has passed away. RIP. He made a serious contribution to the revolutionary Marxist movement over the course of his life. I will add obituaries etc here as and when. One of my favourite articles by Pearce was written fifty years ago in 1958, The British Stalinists and the Moscow Trials, an absolutely superb historical piece of work which, after reading it, means that one will never look at magazines like the New Statesman in quite the same way ever again.

Edited to add: Obituary by Terry Brotherstone

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Red Letter Day

Saturday 6 December is looking like a good day to spend in London for those who can do so. First up is the National Climate March organised by the Campaign against Climate Change. Be aware that speakers will include Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, but try not to let that put you off. Indeed, rather than spending too long hanging around for the speeches, I'd recommend slipping away to attend 'A World in Crisis: The Socialist Solution' event, also in central London. There will be a range of meetings ranging from the economic crisis to Obama to the state of the class struggle in Britain today, and the excellent range of speakers (including Tony Benn, István Mészáros, Chris Harman, Moazzam Begg, Alex Callinicos, Lindsey German and Paul Gilroy) will not trade in the kind of vacuous platitudes offered by the likes of Clegg. Finally, there is an evening gig with the incredibly talented Cuban violinist Omar Puente and ska legend Jerry Dammers (of The Specials)...

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An apology to readers

This last week I have subjected readers of Histomat to quite appalling images - the faces of two of quite possibly the ugliest politicians in Britain today in every sense - Phil Woolas and Nick Griffin. For this I can only apologise. To try and make amends, I will refer readers to this article, which is almost guaranteed to put some rather different images in your head. Unfortunately the images likely to be conjured up revolve around the third of the 'ugly sisters' of British politics (see below). D'oh...


Friday, November 21, 2008

The very model of a modern bourgeois politician

Any semi-regular readers of this blog might well over time have got the impression that New Labour resembles a despicable bunch of war-mongering, cynical, unprincipled, shameless careerists who have abandoned entirely the egalitarian socialist ideals of the labour movement and sold their souls in pursuit of 'power for power's sake'. How refreshing then to find that, perhaps inspired by Barack Obama's oratory about change and hope,* New Labour seem to recently have made an slight ideological turn in the hope of inspiring young idealists to join them.

Take for example, the heartwarming interview published this week with the new Immigration Minister Phil Woolas. 'I'm trying to heal this country' Woolas said. Stating he joined Labour 'because of racial tension', Woolas declared his complete opposition to racism, and his commitment to helping 'break down racial stereotyping'. Referring to the British Nazi Party, declared 'In a democracy you've got to beat them, and you don't beat them by pandering to them. You beat them by thumping them politically in the face.'

Inspiring stuff. Woolas's political philosophy is all about 'keeping it real'. 'Letting people know that you understand in this modern world is as important as what policy you pursue...It's very important in politics that the public see politicians being real people.' And what does 'keeping it real' mean for Woolas in terms of New Labour policy? Woolas proposes 'a mature debate on immigration'. About bloody time, you might think. For over a century in Britain the body politic has been polluted and poisoned by right wing media racist scapegoating of immigrants and asylum seekers, fueled by opportunistic politicians who should know better. The time for a 'mature' debate on immigration in Britain, which discusses the merits of an open borders policy, is long overdue. As Jeremy Seabrook notes there is a hidden noble tradition up to the present day among ordinary people of welcoming the dispossesed to Britain, which one prided itself as being a beacon of liberty for the world on this question. 'It is easy to harden hearts in a vacuum, especially when created by media owners pursuing some vanished dream of imperial or racial supremacy. Everything depends upon direct experience of exiles' suffering; there is no lack of people in Britain who want to show the world our better selves, and demonstrate to the tormented and persecuted that we are a refuge not a fortress.'

Well, we can dream. In reality, for all Woolas's declared intentions about 'saying the unsayable' and 'thinking the unthinkable', when it comes to immigration, rather than even discuss the idea of open borders, New Labour is unfortunately happy to play the race card in the oldest most traditional fashion of 'divide and rule'. Praising Brown's slogan of 'British Jobs for British workers', Woolas declares his committment to getting his 'hands dirty', and notes of racist voters - 'You have to let them know you know what they are thinking'. As Diane Abbott noted, 'Woolas is peddling every rightwing half-truth about immigration.'

He claims that the government has "to face up to voters' concerns about the level of immigration". But the truth is that the government has done little else but pander to white fears on the subject. Since 1997 the government has passed seven separate pieces of legislation on immigration and nationality, all designed to make the system tougher. Woolas claims that it is "too easy to get into this country". Tell that to my constituents who wait years to be joined by their partners or dependents. Or explain this to the young children detained for months in detention centres for no other crime than being the offspring of asylum seekers. The truth is that the legislation has never been more draconian, and asylum seekers and would-be migrants have never had fewer rights. If the numbers of migrants continue to rise it is because of the "pull factor" of an (up until now) booming but deregulated economy sucking in cheap labour. And there has been a global rise in the millions seeking asylum from war, pestilence and famine. We all know that a recession leads inexorably to a rise in racism and xenophobia, but a cap on immigration is not the answer.

Indeed, that last month, Woolas told The Times that such a cap was necessary as a result of the economic crisis was about as unremarkable as it was possible to imagine. Could you get a more classic ABC textbook Marxist model of the kind of thing a capitalist politician representing a capitalist government might say in the midst of an economic crisis? Rather than allowing working people's anger to explode into righteous indignation at the richest and greediest parasitical bankers and stockbrokers and those in power like Woolas who have just spent billions and billions of tax payers money on bailing out such people, there is an attempt instead to divert attention and bitterness against the poorest and most powerless and vulnerable people in society instead - migrant workers. If New Labour had any kind of social conscience, then scum like Woolas would never have been able to rise inexorably to the top of the Party, and that he has the support of Gordon Brown and the rest of the Cabinet shows only the depths to which this party supposedly committed to 'democratic socialism' has sunk. As you were.

* The reaction to Obama's victory in Britain was quite amusing. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, said the following: 'In these difficult times people everywhere are crying out for change. Barack Obama is the first of a new generation of leaders who will deliver it.' Of course, Cameron offers a similar message of 'change and hope' as Obama in that having an Old Etonian Oxbridge-educated rich white man as British Prime Minister would really constitute something new and inspiring...

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Noam Chomsky speaking at Nato Protest

Tens of thousands of anti war protestors will be marching in Strasbourg next year against NATO expansion and the war in Afghanistan. This is the location for the NATO conference on the 60th anniversary of its formation. The anti-war protests will include a counter conference, at which, among many international speakers, will be Noam Chomsky. Stop the War will be building the widest support for these very important protests and is organising coaches to take protestors from Britain. Coach tickets are on sale now. For tickets and more information go to here

Labels: ,

Chickens come home to roost for Nazis

After years of complicity with terrorist websites like Redwatch, the fascist British Nazi Party are up in arms about 'invasion of privacy' after one of their former organisers leaked their entire membership list details on the internet. NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear and other trade union militants have commented on the hypocrisy of the BNP:

'For years we have been demanding Government action to close down websites such as Redwatch which seek to intimidate and silence media by publishing the photos, names and addresses of journalists who expose the criminal activities or racist views of BNP members and other far-right and neo-nazi thugs. Despite innocent people being physically assaulted and threatened after having their details published on these sites, we have never heard a single condemnation of this gross breach of privacy or unlawful harassment and intimidation from Nick Griffin or the BNP. Yet today, they seek to invoke the very Human Rights Act they want to abolish to protect the identity of their members. They have exposed their hypocrisy once again.'
Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists

'If they [BNP members] are ashamed of belonging to such an organisation, they should get out. If they regret being one of this group, they should resign. If, however, they are happy to peddle extreme right-wing racism, they should be happy to be identified as such. I hope that the release of this information will enable other unions to identify and remove individuals who wish to subvert, divide and discriminate.'
Keith Norman, leader of the train drivers' union ASLEF.

Edited to add:
Lenin's Tomb: The class composition of fascism
Socialist Worker: Seize this opportunity to send Nazi BNP packing
Unite Against Fascism: BNP members must be sacked
Jeremy Dear: On reporting the BNP
Amusing pictures of BNP Fuhrer Nick Griffin here


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

John Molyneux on the economic crisis

Written in late October 2008 and republished from here, with some minor edits:

This month it is very hard for a Marxist to write about anything other than the astonishing crisis that has swept through world capitalism in the last six weeks or so...I will offer only some Marxist observations on the situation rather than an overall account. Watching the crisis unfold I have wanted both to laugh and to cry. To laugh at the contradictions and contortions the western ruling classes and their political and ideological representatives have fallen into as they have been forced to abandon all the economic doctrines they have been proclaiming with such certainty over the last twenty years or so. To cry at the misery that, without a shadow of a doubt, will be inflicted on the working people and the poor of the world as we are expected to pay up the bill for their crisis.

There has been plenty to laugh about. For example George Bush’s right wing neo- conservative neo-liberal government being forced into the biggest nationalisation in history, with the takeover of mortgage firms, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, followed by a series of other nationalisations. But isn’t that socialism? Well actually it is state capitalism not socialism but Bush and co. would have denounced it as socialism a few months ago. In Britain it was particularly funny to see the British government complain about the Irish government guaranteeing deposits in Irish banks on one day (unfair competition you know, distorting the market i.e. people would take their money out of British banks and put it in Irish ones), only to complain equally bitterly the next day about the failure of the Icelandic government to guarantee British deposits when the Icelandic banks went bust.

Then there was Alan Greenspan, former head of the US Federal Reserve Bank and the Pope of the free market, admitting there was a ‘flaw’ in his ideology. In truth the whole spectacle of Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, HBOS, Wachovia, - these giants of capitalism, masters of the universe with centuries of accumulation and exploitation behind them - falling like nine pins and going cap in hand to the state has made schadenfreude impossible to resist.

But, of course, we know that their embarrassment is going to be followed by real suffering for ordinary people. Wage cuts and job cuts, unemployment and poverty, house repossessions and homelessness – these are the inevitable consequences of recession. Cuts in welfare benefits and social services, in health and education – these, before long, will be the responses of capitalist governments. In the poorest countries there will be famine and starvation, in the developing countries their development will falter and some will collapse, and even in the richest, most advanced countries the working class will feel the pain.

Torn between laughter and tears I am reminded of the motto of the great 17th century philosopher, Spinoza, ‘Neither laugh nor cry, but understand!’. And as a contribution to understanding this crisis I want to make three points. First it is not some natural disaster or weather calamity. Greenspan described it as ‘a once in a century tsunami’, and the media is full of phrases such as ‘economic typhoon’ or ‘hurricane’. This is nonsense: the crisis is neither natural nor an act of god but entirely man made; it was, in broad outlines, predictable and predicted for example by Marxist economists such as Chris Harman and Robert Brenner; and, pace Greenspan, these crises recur a lot more frequently than ‘once in a century’.

Second, it is not basically a crisis of confidence. The capitalist media and its commentators always try to suggest that these crises are fundamentally just a question of investors, speculators and even manufacturers’ confidence. Sometimes they try to get away with the old claim that ‘the underlying real economy is sound’. Now obviously confidence does play a role: if you are worried that a bank is going to go bust you will be tempted to take your money out of it, thus making it more likely to go bust. If you anticipate a low rate of return on your investment in a company you are likely to invest elsewhere, and if you anticipate a general recession you will probably put your money in gold, and this in turn contributes to the depth and length of the recession.

BUT this ‘confidence’ or lack of it is not arbitrary or random. It doesn’t just float into the minds of investors from the ether. It is based on evidence and experience from the real world. For example the problems in the US sub-prime mortgage market, which initiated the credit crunch, were not just problems in people’s heads, they were real problems of people who really couldn’t keep up their mortgage repayments, and from the standpoint of the mortgage lenders the real problem of not being able to sell repossessed houses profitably in a falling house market.

One of the great achievements of Marx’s economics was to show that all wealth creation depends ultimately on the application of labour to nature, and all [exchange] value rests on the expenditure of socially necessary labour time. If prices in the elevated worlds of stock exchanges, hedge funds and currency speculation depart too far from these real material values then, sooner or later, they will spring back like overstretched elastic.

Which brings me to my third point, namely that this is not just a crisis caused by greedy bankers and financiers on Wall St etc. This is not to excuse the bankers and financiers who are undoubtedly greedy, and whose greed is an important component of the dynamic of the crisis. But let’s be clear, in their relentless pursuit of maximum profits the bankers were only following the same logic that drives Exxon and Shell, Wal-Mart and Samsung and every other capitalist company in manufacturing, retail or any other sector, i.e. the inherent logic of capitalist competition. ‘Accumulation for accumulation’s sake’ as Marx put it. The over lending by banks is only a variation on the general tendency towards overproduction in booms, long ago identified by Marx.

Moreover the roots of the present crisis lie not just in the financial sector but in the so-called ‘real’ economy. In Britain figures have just been released showing that the British economy moved into recession in the July-September quarter, the quarter BEFORE the financial meltdown. Clearly it has been problems in the ‘real’ economy that have triggered the banking crisis and brought about the loss of confidence referred to above, particularly the underlying decline, in recent, in the overall average rate of profit.

What lies behind all three of these myths- of the crisis as bad weather, as loss of confidence, and as caused by greedy bankers – is the desire of politicians, and of the media and its tame pundits to pin the blame for the collapse on relatively superficial aspects of the system and avoid any analysis which points to capitalism itself as the culprit.

And that reminds us that Karl Marx went one step further than Spinoza when, in 1845, he wrote, ‘The philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways, the point, however, is to change it!’. Changing the world, in the present circumstances, means two things: mobilising the working class to resist the job cuts, wage cuts, house repossessions, welfare cuts, tax increases and all the other attacks that will come our way, and, at the same time, building a movement and a party which understands that the only ultimate escape from capitalist crisis lies in the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by production for need not profit.

Edited to add: Zizek on the crisis

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reflections on HM conference 2008

Well, apparently 500 people attended this years successful and enjoyable Historical Materialism conference in London last weekend. I was fortunate enough to be one of them, attending my second 'HM conference' (as it is known by afficionados, as though Her Majesty had something to do with it). Why is an essentially academic Marxist affair like HM conference growing in popularity? Well, obviously subjectively the organisers behind the thing deserve some credit but I think they are undoubtedly helped by the objective fact that capitalism as a system is, well, hardly conjuring up a vision of sweetness and light at the moment.

As Jeremy Hardy noted on Radio 4 this week (and I am paraphrasing here), we used to hear a lot about the wonders of job 'creation' and were told to be thankful to creative businessmen and give praise to the entrepreneurs responsible, but when people are made unemployed, their jobs are just 'lost' as though it was completely by accident and no-one or nothing is to blame - you just turn up for work one day only to be told your job has gone missing. And there are a hell of a lot of jobs going 'missing' - or rather being murdered - just now. 'What all this goes to show,' as Hardy put it, 'is that capitalism sounds a nice idea in theory, but sadly it just doesn't work in practice'.

In fact the system is showing all the signs of behaving rather as Karl Marx said it would; e.g. going into economic crisis of its own internal contradictions. While the devastation and misery to ordinary people created by the crisis is not of course something to be scoffed at, for Marxists, capitalism has been threatening to go into a crisis on the current scale for a while, and a certain degree of vindicationism is inevitable. As the great American Marxist historian Mike Davis noted recently,

Let me confess that, as an aging socialist, I suddenly find myself like the Jehovah's Witness who opens his window to see the stars actually falling out of the sky. Although I've been preaching Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I'd actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent "systemic meltdown". Thus my initial reaction to Wall Street's infamous 777.7 point plunge a month ago was a very 1960s retro elation. "Right on, Karl!" I shouted. "Eat your derivatives and die, Wall Street swine!" Like the Grand Canyon, the fall of the banks can be a terrifying but sublime spectacle.

So inevitably there were a lot of sessions of 'HM conference' devoted to Marxist economics in general and 'finance capital' in particular, and arguments over the exact weight one gives the tendency of the rate of profit to fall over the counter-veiling tendencies within the system at this particular juncture. And all this is of course how it should be. Personally, however, as someone who is quite content to remain in blessed ignorance for the time being about 'the transformation problem' that bedevils Marxist economics, I prefer to just sit back and marvel at the quite exquisite timing of 'The Great Crash of 2008' as far as New Labour in Britain is concerned. In their youth the likes of Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Peter Mandleson used to be socialists who had at least some understanding that capitalism as a system was prone to not only booms but also busts. Indeed, Darling and Mandleson were briefly if not members then fellow travellers of Marxist organisations (the International Marxist Group and the Young Communist League respectively). And yet in the 1990s if not before they all bought into the idea that 'there was no alternative' to liberal free-market capitalism and that the system would grow and grow indefinitely. Effectively crying 'Enrich yourselves!', Mandleson famously declared that New Labour was 'was intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'. And when all three renegades had contented themselves that 'history really had come to a .' and they thought they had safely ensconced themselves permanently in power the world economic system decides to go into meltdown. This was truly the revenge of history, to borrow a phrase from Trotsky.

And it was therefore perfect timing for Rick Kuhn's 'Deutscher Memorial Prize Lecture' on 'Economic Crisis, Henryk Grossman and the responsibility of socialists'. The lecture will itself be published in Historical Materialism journal at some point, which somewhat saves me having to attempt to do justice to what was a timely tour de force reminding us all of the Marxist position on the question of the role of revolutionary socialists at a time of capitalist decline - to take sides in the class struggle and become what Gramsci called 'organic intellectuals' of the international working class movement, and build up revolutionary organisations able to give political leadership and confidence to workers fighting back in the midst of the crisis. Kuhn is of course the author of Henryk Grossman and the recovery of Marxism - reviewed here and here among other places - and I for one was convinced easily enough that by the suggestion that Grossman did for Marxist economics what Lukács did for Marxist philosophy and what Lenin did for Marxist politics.

What Grossman's biographer Kuhn did effectively was also give us an overview of Grossman's fascinating if ultimately rather tragic life, from militant of the early Jewish working class movement in Poland to ultimately lending decoration to the Stalinist state of East Germany. This was an advance on some of the sessions at HM Conference, particularly those organised around the theme of 'International Relations', or 'I.R.' to use the jargon, - not to be confused with this comrade - where sometimes speakers give whole papers on say 'the antinomies of x' while assuming everyone present is familiar with who 'x' is. This would not be a problem if 'x' was at least a semi-famous Marxist thinker but when 'x' turns out to be a current professor of international relations at one or other English university one begins to feel one is intruding on some private party, and one doesn't really want to crash the party by parading one's ignorance in a vulgar fashion and noting that 'you have certainly made some telling criticisms of the problematic nature of x's thought but I'm sorry, who is 'x'?'

Yet 'history' and 'materialism' were not too hard to find at this years 'historical materialism' conference. There was a useful session for example on 'early modern capitalism' where Pepijn Brandon, a brilliant young Dutch historian, expanded on his analysis of the Dutch Revolt as a bourgeois revolution with an exploration of how Marx's writings on the topic differed from the likes of Adam Smith. I will quote from his conclusion:

'Of course Marx did not have, somewhere up his sleeve, a developed analysis of Dutch history. But when he read the same limited sources that Adam Smith had used to come to his conclusions about the "Dutch miracle", he did have different questions to ask. Maybe they were the same class-biased questions that led him, in a youthful article, to overlook the self-righteous staalmeesters, and note with wonder that "Rembrandt painted the mother of God as a Dutch peasant woman."'.

I also attended insightful sessions on 'Utopianism', 'Bolshevism', and 'Marxism outside the "West"' and took lots of now quite illegible scribbled notes while Alex Callinicos was speaking on 'Imperialism and global political economy' (the title of a forthcoming book). Callinicos covered the strengths of the classical Marxist view of imperialism (an explanation of geopolitical competition located in a new phase of capitalism - what Hilferding called 'Finance Capital' - together with a focus on the uneven economic development of capitalism) but also its weakness as a theory historically limited in part to the early twentieth century. He then looked at the specificities of British and American imperialism (discussing how Britain was among other things a pioneer of 'informal empire' - non-territorial empire building of the kind beloved of the US) before ending with a discussion of the new great rivalries emerging today, and noting that Obama aimed to rebuild US hegemony. I would elucidate more on all of this, but my appalling handwriting means I would not be an altogether trustworthy guide. However, I did also learn that Adolf Hitler admired the 1930s British imperialist propaganda film The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, which is obviously a fact of great importance.

However, the highlight of the conference for me was Peter Linebaugh's lecture 'Mrs. Gertrude Kugelman and the Five Gates of Marxism'. I had never before heard Linebaugh speak and like most of those in the audience had no idea what the lecture would be about. One other bloggers report of HM conference was distinctly dismissive of this meeting:

'The final plenary I attended was Peter Linebaugh's Mrs. Gertrude Kugelman and the Five Gates of Marxism. This was a vatic performance, which as one conference-goer commented would not have been accepted if it had been given by a woman. Taking Marx's statement from the Manifesto that 'The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims' as a mantra Linebaugh ranged over reproduction - both intellectual, productive, and of children - law, primary accumulation, and the defence of the commons...More impressive in the prepared elements, the slightly revival-meeting style grated with your truly.'

Personally, I couldn't really disagree more - I thought that Linebaugh's presentation style had something of the genius of Tommy Cooper about it - and okay, Linebaugh could have condensed what he had to say into 20 minutes instead of taking up an hour with his long pregnant pauses - but even these (surely there in part for comic effect) together with his disgressions and tangents only added to the power of the lecture as a whole. To paraphrase is to denigrate, but he would say something like 'So I went to the British Library 'Taking Liberties' exhibition...[long pause]...I saw the Magna Carta, half hidden in darkness and written using azure from Persia and inks sold from West Africa...[long pause]...I am sure someone with some postmodern wit could make something out of that'.

A student of EP Thompson, who Linebaugh described as a 'great peacenik', what this lecture had was real historical depth. Essentially, what Linebaugh did was returned to the birth of Marx's magnum opus Das Capital, and described the labour - intellectual, moral and material - and birth pains that went into the writing of that classic. Mrs. Gertrude Kugelman was a member of the First International - and her businessman husband lent Marx the capital necessary for him to finish Capital Vol. 1. (I think she might have played some role in proof-reading the work - again my illegible hadwriting proves a handicap here). Linebaugh situated historically the publication of Capital with the other great events of 1867 and the 1860s in general such as the American Civil War.

The 'five gates of Marxism' then were the historical and 'empirical' chapters of that work that so often are passed over by political theorists and academic Marxists in search of 'the logic of Capital' who prefer not to examine in detail the hard material reality of class formation and class struggle brought to life in the work:
1. Chapter 10 (The Working Day)
2. Chapter 14 (Division of Labour and Manufacture)
3. Chapter 15 (Machinery and Modern Industry)
4. Chapter 25(The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation)
5. Part VIII - Chapters 26-33 ('Primitive Accumulation') - or what Linebaugh argued we should call 'Primary Accumulation' because of the unsavoury connotations of the word 'primitive').

There is some reading for people to be getting on with anyway - one only hopes the German comrades who I bumped into at the event who told me excitedly about the 'Capital reading groups' they were setting up do not simply pass over these chapters as so much 'emperical English history' - Marx was trying to give voice here to the struggles and stories of the voiceless - and those - like Mrs. Gertrude Kugelman herself - who remain so 'hidden from history'.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Short History of Economics

With Anindya Bhattacharyya:
1. Discovering the source of wealth
2. How the cover up of exploitation began
3. The ruling class are running out of answers

Labels: , , ,

An Alternative People's Summit on the Crisis

On 15th November, the leaders of the 20 most powerful nations will meet in Washington to decide global economic priorities. Instead of their agenda of bailing out the banks and shoring up profits, the Alternative People's Summit will call for a united campaign to save jobs, defend living standards and oppose war. The platform speakers will be joined by activists engaged in issues such as housing, climate change, pensions, students, defence of the NHS, global poverty and union rights, to make the People's Summit a tribunal of the system that has failed the vast majority of the world's population. Called by UCU London Region and supported by FBU London Region, John Denton (CWU London Secretary pc), Mark Baulch (CWU NEC pc), People before Profit Charter and activists in the FBU, PCS, NUT and other unions.

An Alternative People's Summit on the Economic Crisis
With Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Toby Kearns (CWU (pc)), Sasha Callaghan (UCU) and activists from UCU, CWU, PCS, FBU, Unite and others.
Monday 24th November 7pm
ULU, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

George Monbiot on the barbarism of WWI

The First World War was an act of social cannibalism, in which statesmen and generals on both sides murdered their own offspring. How could it have happened?

Well, George, the short answer was provided by two Russian Marxists Lenin and Bukharin: Capitalist Imperialism.

Edited to add: Armistice Day, remembrance and the 'glorious war' by Neil Faulkner

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 10, 2008

Yeah, but can Zombies run?

For those who have not been avidly reading the Guardian of late, there is a critically important debate running between Charlie Brooker - writer of the quality recent TV show Dead Set (which was basically Dawn of the Dead meets Big Brother only with a touch of dark humour) and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) over whether Zombies can run or not. Pegg defends the classic traditional view of the matter with Zombies as incredibly slow stumbling mumbling and shuffling creatures while Brooker is more revisionist, defending the idea of diversity among breeds of zombie. If I get time this week I will write a brief review of Historical Materialism conference 2008, but I'm sorry folks its zombies or nothing for the time being.

Labels: ,

Under Siege (without Steven Seagal)

SATURDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2.0pm - 6.30pm All Welcome

The Media Workers Against the War conference in London on Saturday 15 November, which is open to all, has a very impressive list of contributors. Titled UNDER SIEGE: ISLAM, WAR AND THE MEDIA, contributors include PETER OBORNE from the Daily Mail, NICK DAVIES, author of Flat Earth News, MOAZZAM BEGG, ex-Guantanamo prisoner, LOUISE CHRISTIAN, civil liberties lawyer, EAMONN McCANN, author and journalist, among many others. The conference will examine how the media has been poisoned by the islamophobia associated with the "war on terror". It will also discuss new flashpoints, such as the unreported war in Somalia, the crisis in Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan and the growing tension in the Caucasus. Last year's conference was packed and a great success.
Booking in advance this year is highly advisable to ensure a place.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Leo Zeilig on the crisis in the Congo

The history of the UN in the Congo is a story of complicity with imperialism. The UN’s first military intervention was in the Congo in 1960. The country’s first prime minster, Patrice Lumumba, hoped that the UN would force foreign mercenaries to leave the country. Instead it collaborated in his assassination. The UN is not the solution to the fighting. Nor is the "responsible investment" advocated so adamantly by the NGOs that have detailed the human rights abuses in the eastern DRC. Further involvement and "investment" from Western companies would be a disaster. The war has been fought by armed groups connected to a globalised market of looted minerals bought and traded by multinationals in the West.

The pillage of the African continent is accelerating. The scramble for mineral and oil wealth is the product of a renewed round of imperialist competition. Multinationals and governments from the US, the European Union and China are competing for access to the continent’s extraordinary wealth. This is a disaster for millions of people across Africa.

Weeks before he was murdered by Belgian and Congolese agents, Lumumba wrote:

"History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the UN will teach… Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity."

This alternative looks to the resistance of those living in the region, free from the intervention of the West.

Read the full article

Labels: ,

Peter Linebaugh Speaks

As well as speaking on Sunday 9 November at SOAS in central London at the Historical Materialism conference, Peter Linebaugh is also talking on 'The Invisibility of the Commons'
at Goldsmiths College in London on Tuesday 11 November. Organised by the Xenos Research Group, Department of Sociology, and the Department of Anthropology 5.00pm - 7.00pm, Tuesday, 11 November 2008 Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths, University of London, Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW
If you wish to attend please contact Alberto Toscano: xenos@gold.ac.uk

Peter Linebaugh is Professor of History at the University of Toledo.
He is the author of The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the
Eighteenth Century
and coauthor (with Marcus Rediker) of Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic.

From reviews of The Magna Carta Manifesto(2008):

"This is an original, powerful and ground breaking book. It is utterly fascinating and charts a path that gives me, and will give others, hope for a better future. Linebaugh sends an important message to a world that increasingly believes that private ownership of our resources can make us more prosperous. As we struggle to regain lost liberty The Magna Carta Manifesto makes us understand that freedom is about guaranteeing the economic and social rights that allow all of us to partake of political freedom."
- Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights

"Ideas can be beautiful too, and the ideas Peter Linebaugh provokes and maps in this history of liberty are dazzling, reminders of what we have been and who we could be. In this remarkable small book, he traces one path of liberty back to the forests and the economic independence they represented for medieval Britons, another path to recent revolutionaries, another to the Bush Administration's assaults on habeas corpus, the Constitution, and liberty and he links the human rights charter that Magna Carta represented to the less-known Forest Charter, drawing a missing link between ecological and social well-being."
--Rebecca Solnit, author of Storming the Gates of Paradise

"There is not a more important historian living today. Period."
- Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"Ranging across the centuries, and from England to Asia, Africa and theAmericas, Peter Linebaugh shows us the contested history of Magna Carta--how the liberties it invoked were secured and (as today) violated, and how generations of ordinary men and women tried to revive the idea of the commons in the hope of building a better world."
Eric Foner, author of The Story of American Freedom

Edited to add:

The Magna Carta Manifesto book launch
With: Peter Linebaugh
When: 8.30pm, 11 November, 2008
Where: Upstairs at the Tipperary pub, Fleet St, London, EC4
Admission: Free /
All welcome

Event 1: Forever Blowing Bubbles?

A walking tour and talk in the City of London, taking in landmarks of capitalist crisis past and present - organised by Mute magazine

(Writer) Fabian Tompsett and (Historian) Peter Linebaugh will guide a tour around the City relating the contemporary financial crisis to those of previous eras (such as the 1720 South Sea Bubble), using the urban fabric as text.
When: 3-5pm, 12th November, 2008
Where: Meet 3pm at front entrance to the Royal Exchange, Threadneedle Street, London EC1
Nearest Tube: Bank
Admission: Free / All welcome

Related Talk
Radical historian Peter Linebaugh will give a talk related to the walking tour.
When: 6pm, 12th November, 2008
Where: The Rising Sun (upstairs), 61 Carter Lane, Fleet Street EC4
Admission: Free / All welcome

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A change is coming...

War, budget cuts and austerity we can believe in

Edited to add: 'But it is a leap forward in class consciousness'. And it does feel damn good. Two final words to George W Bush, who I know reads this blog avidly: Black. Power.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel (1912-2008)

The struggles of working people in America are often ignored. One person who devoted his life to recording the voices of the voiceless was Studs Terkel, peoples oral historian of America, who has sadly died aged 96. In 2006, the veteran radical gave this interview about his life to Ed Rampell. RIP.

Labels: , ,