Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Remembering Ralph Miliband

The State and Capitalist Society - Forty Years On
One day conference on Friday 22 May, 2009, Leeds.

Ralph Miliband's The State in Capitalist Society was first published in 1969 and widely acclaimed as a major contribution to the revival of both state theory and Marxist political thought. The book still stands as a key work in the development of social and political theory in the second half of the twentieth century. This one-day conference aims to revisit the arguments that Miliband laid out in the book and evaluate their continuing relevance in the apparently very different conditions of the twenty-first century. After all, people still do 'live in the shadow of the state' and states still operate in capitalist societies.

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Want to campaign against killer pigs?

Now's your chance


Alex Callinicos on J.G. Ballard

'a great subversive, and the world will be duller without him'. See also this piece, an interview from 2008 with James Campbell:

Ballard's conversation, like his writing, is regularly punctuated with inventories of the liberating spirit of technology. But with scarcely a twitch to indicate a change of direction, he explains that his most recent novel, Kingdom Come (2006), "posed the question: could consumerism turn into fascism? The underlying psychologies aren't all that far removed from one another. If you go into a huge shopping mall and you're looking down the parade, it's the same theatrical aspect: these disciplined ranks of merchandise, all glittering like fascist uniforms. When you enter a mall, you are taking part in a ceremony of affirmation, which you endorse just by your presence."

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mike Davis on swine flu

...and why 'the corporate industrialisation of livestock production' is to blame for it:

Animal husbandry in recent decades has been transformed into something that more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in school readers. In 1965, for instance, there were 53m US hogs on more than 1m farms; today, 65m hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities. This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

London Unite Against Fascism Rally

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.
Leon Trotsky, 'What is National Socialism?' (1933).

Public rally, Wednesday 29 April, 7pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL

Speakers include: Christine Blower (NUT), Jerry Bartlett (NASUWT), Glyn Ford MEP, Dr Abdul Bari (MCB), Steve Hart (Unite), Martin Smith (Love Music Hate Racism), Weyman Bennett (UAF). Rally called by Unite Against Fascism, sponsored by the National Union of Teachers

The BNP is trying to get its first MEPs elected on Thursday 4 June. And London is one of its targets. There is a real danger that the BNP could grab enough votes to grab a London MEP at the European elections on Thursday 4 June. They could get in with as little as 8 percent of the vote. London is a multiracial city and the vast majority of Londoners are opposed to the fascist politics of the BNP. We can come together to stop the prospect of a BNP MEP in London. But we need to act now.

Remembering Blair Peach

Blair Peach was a teacher, an NUT member and a committed anti-fascist who campaigned against the National Front in the 1970s. He was on a demonstration in Southall against the NF on 23 April 1979 when he was killed by a blow to the head from a police officer. Thirty years on we still remember him – but we also have to continue his fight by campaigning against the BNP, today’s equivalent of the Nazi NF.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Where are Ipswich Town going?

Or some random thoughts on the further transition of Ipswich Town Football Club from 'gentlemanly capitalism' to military-industrial complex by someone who has long had a soft spot for the club

[Quick warning to those Histomat readers who are not bothered about a Marxist's take on a small English provincial football club in East Anglia - look away now (perhaps go and read Lenin's Tomb or something]

Ipswich Town Football Club rarely makes the news outside of Suffolk, but over the last few days there has been a kind of 'utopian revolution' at the Club which has attracted national attention. A new Chief executive, Simon Clegg, was suddenly appointed by the owner of the club, Marcus Evans, and the next day Jim Magilton, the likeable but ineffectual manager was out and replaced by the 'no-nonsense hard man' Roy Keane. Many Ipswich fans are still in a state of bewilderment - this was definitely a 'revolution from above' - and 'Tractor Roy' may take some getting used to.

When Ipswich was bought by the mysterious Marcus Evans a couple of years ago, I wondered at what might the future hold, given Evans's day job involves presiding over a company which in part organises conferences on 'Delivering Critical and Actionable Information to Assess, Prevent and Respond to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Events' and 'ELECTRONIC WARFARE: Enhancing Warfighter Capabilities Through Technology'.

We now also learn that Evans is a supporter of the Liberal Democrats - so a classic modern 'liberal imperialist' then, and the new chief executive Clegg has no previous connection to the game of football - though he was a former major in the parachute regiment. As the BBC note of Evans,

'He has so far done his talking through statements like the one on the club website which is littered with jargon such as "business portfolio" and presenting the club to an "international audience". All that is a far cry from the days when the blue-blooded Cobbold family ruled Portman Road before former Etonian David Sheepshanks took the reins.'

There is something to be said for Keane - my favorite moment in his career was back in 2000 when he lashed out at the way working class Manchester United fans had been priced out of home games to make way for corporate hospitality:

'Some people come to Old Trafford and I don't think they can spell football let alone understand it. As I've said, away from home our fans are what I would call the hardcore fans - but at home they have a few drinks and a prawn sandwich and don't realise what's going on out on the pitch and that's a worry.'

The potential dangers of what the further corporate takeover of Ipswich Town under Evans means are obvious, but the logic of competition in such a highly competitative capitalist industry like modern football means that a smallish club like Ipswich has to either strive to become a club like Manchester United by whatever means necessary or else slowly fade away into obscurity. The fans need to be prepared to fight the prawn sandwich/parachute regiment/electronic warfare brigade as and when. In the meantime we can perhaps savour Ipswich winning matches 3-0 again...

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Remember Blair Peach

Originally there was a you tube version of 'Linton Kwesi Johnson - Reggae Fi Peach 1980' here

Thirty years ago today anti-fascist and revolutionary socialist Blair Peach was killed by the British police

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Ethical Critique of Capitalism

International Socialism journal seminar:
Paul Blackledge on The Ethical Critique of Capitalism

Paul Blackledge, author of Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History and co-editor of a recent collection of writings by Alisdair MacIntyre, will be presenting the latest in our series of seminars. He will speak on “The Ethical Critique of Capitalism”. As background to this talk, those planning to attend may wish to read Paul’s recent article on Marxism and ethics, published in International Socialism 120.

6.30pm, Friday 1 May. King’s College London, the Strand. Room 1B06

For more information phone 020 7819 1177 or email isj@swp.org.uk

Subsequent seminar dates for your diary:

29 May 2009. Gavin Capps on “The Development of Capitalism in the Global South”.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Alice Mahon leaves the 'Nasty Party'

The resignation of Alice Mahon, the former Labour MP for Halifax - one of the few socialist members of Parliament in recent years - from the Labour Party over the weekend is hugely significant in my opinion, and though long overdue she deserves to be congratulated. People who follow British politics on even the most superficial level will not need any elucidation from me about quite how utterly corrupt, intellectually bankrupt and well, 'nasty' New Labour have become as a Party. The economic crisis only further clarifies things - even the trade union bureaucrats who run Unison understand the growing frustration and bewilderment from their members about why they are funding such a Party which no longer has anything to do with either 'democratic socialism' or representing the interests of 'labour' against 'capital' at a time when the need for a mass socialist party in Britain has never been greater. As Unison leader Dave Prentis puts it, 'The rich bankers and greedy speculators who got us into the mess are rewarded with huge bail-outs... while ordinary workers, expecting to put in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, are rewarded with threats of job cuts, low or no pay and privatisation.' Hopefully more of those socialists who are still members of the Labour Party will now finally feel encouraged to follow Alice Mahon's lead, and to further this process I will reprint her heartfelt statement of resignation from New Labour on my blog.

It became clear to me during my 18 years in parliament that, with the phenomenon called New Labour, two things would change the politics of the Labour movement forever.

One, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would adopt with great enthusiasm the free market economics pursued by Thatcher and the US neo-cons. Two, they would have to change the structures and policies of the party to achieve their goal.

A machine was put in place to crush anything remotely connected to Old Labour. Conference was changed beyond recognition, any dissent ruthlessly stamped on by the new spin masters. Delegates were sought out and pressurised into supporting New Labour policies even if they were against what the local party had decided.

This nastiness was a hallmark of New Labour and they exercised it at every level of the movement.

I have stood for conference arrangements committee twice and the party machine has moved in and spent enormous amounts of money supporting the candidates who would always support the leadership's bidding. No expense was spared when it came to defeating an independent voice. Party members have effectively been banned from any decision making.

For those of us on the left, the weekly parliamentary Labour Party meetings were not a happy event.

I remember asking for a two-day debate on the Iraq war and the sky almost fell in. The Blairite foot soldiers ran out to brief the press and sure enough on the front pages the following day it was reported that I and other usual suspects had been ridiculed and "roundly booed" for opposing the leadership position.

There are very few of what I would call real Labour MPs in Parliament.

I stayed in the party hoping that with a new leadership we might go back to being a really progressive and caring party. In the event I could not have been more wrong. Under Brown things are just as bad. The decision to privatise the Royal Mail is inexplicable and simply wrong. We said in our 2005 manifesto we would not privatise Royal Mail; we lied.

That manifesto promised a referendum on the European Constitution, we renamed it the Lisbon Treaty and reneged on that promise also.

Now we find out that a website was to be set up in our name whose sole aim was to smear members of the opposition and their families. Well not in my name and, from the response I am having to my decision to resign, not in the name of many party activists either.

I have spent most of my life working for and representing the Labour Party. I always took the view that I should stay and fight within, but New Labour have done such a good job of demolishing our democratic structure that I realised there was nothing I could say or do to change things from within.

There was only one thing for me to do and that was to resign.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

On Afghanistan

Good, clear, socialist analysis on why the occupation has to end now

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David Harvey on the crisis

The new issue of Socialist Review has an indepth interview with the leading Marxist economist David Harvey on the current crisis which may be of interest.

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Leeds: Live it, Love it, Get Hounded to Death

With murderous British police brutality riding high in the news currently, what better time to read Kesper Aspden on the dark side of the city of Leeds, or how David Oluwale, a Nigerian migrant was hounded to his death at the hands of police in a city whose council, with no sense of shame about its past, currently brands itself to the world under the slogan Leeds: Live it, Love it.

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George Galloway on 'atheist buses'

The atheist buses touring London are quite revealing. "There’s probably no God," reads the hoarding. "Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." There you have it: what is stopping people enjoying life is apparently not war, famine, unemployment, murderous social inequality, or the insecurity and unfairness that arise from a system of global exploitation, but a misplaced belief in God. Some materialism, that!
George Galloway on these

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Franklin Rosemont RIP

Franklin Rosemont (1943-2009), celebrated poet, artist, historian, street speaker, and surrealist activist, died Sunday, April 12 in Chicago. This is a brief obituary from here.:

He was 65 years old. With his partner and comrade, Penelope Rosemont, and lifelong friend Paul Garon, he co-founded the Chicago Surrealist Group, an enduring and adventuresome collection of characters that would make the city a center for the reemergence of that movement of artistic and political revolt. Over the course of the following four decades, Franklin and his Chicago comrades produced a body of work, of declarations, manifestos, poetry, collage, hidden histories, and other interventions that has, without doubt, inspired an entirely new generation of revolution in the service of the marvelous.

Franklin Rosemont was born in Chicago on October 2, 1943 to two of the area’s more significant rank-and-file labor activists, the printer Henry Rosemont and the jazz musician Sally Rosemont. Dropping out of Maywood schools after his third year of high school (and instead spending countless hours in the Art Institute of Chicago’s library learning about surrealism), he managed nonetheless to enter Roosevelt University in 1962. Already radicalized through family tradition, and his own investigation of political comics, the Freedom Rides, and the Cuban Revolution, Franklin was immediately drawn into the stormy student movement at Roosevelt.

Looking back on those days, Franklin would tell anyone who asked that he had "majored in St. Clair Drake" at Roosevelt. Under the mentorship of the great African American scholar, he began to explore much wider worlds of the urban experience, of racial politics, and of historical scholarship—all concerns that would remain central for him throughout the rest of his life. He also continued his investigations into surrealism, and soon, with Penelope, he traveled to Paris in the winter of 1965 where he found André Breton and the remaining members of the Paris Surrealist Group. The Parisians were just as taken with the young Americans as Franklin and Penelope were with them, as it turned out, and their encounter that summer was a turning point in the lives of both Rosemonts. With the support of the Paris group, they returned to the United States later that year and founded America’s first and most enduring indigenous surrealist group, characterized by close study and passionate activity and dedicated equally to artistic production and political organizing. When Breton died in 1966, Franklin worked with his wife, Elisa, to put together the first collection of André’s writings in English.

Active in the 1960s with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Rebel Worker group, the Solidarity Bookshop and Students for a Democratic Society, Franklin helped to lead an IWW strike of blueberry pickers in Michigan in 1964, and put his considerable talents as a propagandist and pamphleteer to work producing posters, flyers, newspapers, and broadsheets on the SDS printing press. A long and fruitful collaboration with Paul Buhle began in 1970 with a special surrealist issue of Radical America. Lavish, funny, and barbed issues of Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion and special issues of Cultural Correspondence were to follow.

The smashing success of the 1968 World Surrealist Exhibition at Gallery Bugs Bunny in Chicago announced the ability of the American group to make a huge cultural impact without ceasing to be critics of the frozen mainstreams of art and politics. The Rosemonts soon became leading figures in the reorganization of the nation’s oldest labor press, Charles H. Kerr Company. Under the mantle of the Kerr Company and its surrealist imprint Black Swan Editions, Franklin edited and printed the work of some of the most important figures in the development of the political left: C.L.R. James, Marty Glaberman, Benjamin Péret and Jacques Vaché, T-Bone Slim, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, and, in a new book released just days before Franklin’s death, Carl Sandburg. In later years, he created and edited the Surrealist Histories series at the University of Texas Press, in addition to continuing his work with Kerr Co. and Black Swan.

A friend and valued colleague of such figures as Studs Terkel, Mary Low, the poets Philip Lamantia, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Dennis Brutus, the painter Lenora Carrington, and the historians Paul Buhle, David Roediger, John Bracey, and Robin D.G. Kelley, Rosemont’s own artistic and creative work was almost impossibly varied in inspirations and results. Without ever holding a university post, he wrote or edited more than a score of books while acting as a great resource for a host of other writers.

He became perhaps the most productive scholar of labor and the left in the United States. His spectacular study, Joe Hill: The I.W.W. and the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture, began as a slim projected volume of that revolutionary martyr’s rediscovered cartoons and grew to giant volume providing our best guide to what the early twentieth century radical movement was like and what radical history might do. His coedited volume Haymarket Scrapbook stands as the most beautifully illustrated labor history publication of the recent past. Indispensable compendiums like The Big Red Songbook, What is Surrealism?, Menagerie in Revolt, and the forthcoming Black Surrealism are there to ensure that the legacy of the movements that inspired him continue to inspire young radicals for generations to come. In none of this did Rosemont separate scholarship from art, or art from revolt. His books of poetry include Morning of the Machine Gun, Lamps Hurled at the Stunning Algebra of Ants, The Apple of the Automatic Zebra’s Eye and Penelope. His marvelous fierce, whimsical and funny artwork—to which he contributed a new piece every day—graced countless surrealist publications and exhibitions.

Indeed, between the history he himself helped create and the history he helped uncover, Franklin was never without a story to tell or a book to write—about the IWW, SDS, Hobohemia in Chicago, the Rebel Worker, about the past 100 years or so of radical publishing in the US, or about the international network of Surrealists who seemed to always be passing through the Rosemonts’ Rogers Park home. As engaged with and excited by new surrealist and radical endeavors as he was with historical ones, Franklin was always at work responding to queries from a new generation of radicals and surrealists, and was a generous and rigorous interlocutor. In every new project, every revolt against misery, with which he came into contact, Franklin recognized the glimmers of the free and unfettered imagination, and lent his own boundless creativity to each and every struggle around him, inspiring, sustaining, and teaching the next generation of surrealists worldwide.

Edited to add: 'Remembering a Wobbly Surrealist'

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

No Justice, No Peace

Just got this on email:

Demonstration to protest the killing of Ian Tomlinson called by G20 Meltdown: Easter Saturday, assemble 11:30am, Bethnal Green, East London.

Ian Tomlinson was killed during one of the G20 demonstrations last Wednesday. Footage and eye-witness reports have now been released showing riot police attacking the bystander from behind just moments before he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

This is yet another example of police brutality against a civilian. From Blair Peach to Jean Charles de Menezes, Alexis Grigoropoulos to Ian Tomlinson, we need to stand up for those killed by the state.

In Greece the killing of a school student became the focus of a much wider revolt over police repression, the tory government’s corruption and their feeble response to the economic crisis. Saturday’s protest will take place with the backdrop of job losses and illegal wars, a wave of student occupations, mass demonstrations and factory occupations.'

For more on the latter see this week's particularly excellent Socialist Worker - the 'summer of rage' against the murder of jobs, a murderous system and now murderous police brutality looks set to continue...

Postscript to a Postscript

Or, even more on EP Thompson and William Morris...

Maps discusses EP Thompson's early 1952 piece 'The Murder of William Morris' and his 'Postscript: 1976' to the revised edition of William Morris...well worth a look.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fellow Worker Sagittarians, Beware!

'People even of supposedly "normal" mind are prepared to accept systems of delusions for the simple reason that it is too difficult to distinguish such systems from the equally inexorable and equally opaque one under which they actually have to live their lives'
T Adorno, ‘The Stars Down to Earth: the Los Angeles Times Astrology Column’, in The Stars down to Earth and Other Essays in the Irrational in Culture, edited with and introduction by S Crook (London, 1994), quoted here

As a Marxist, unsurprisingly I don't take a great deal of notice of horoscopes, though a quick glance at today's 'Metroscope' in Metro did make me wonder a little more than I have done in the past about quite what their function in society exactly is. Take today's entry for me, a 'Sagittarius', which starts reasonably enough:

Not one of your best days at work, as your're finding it hard to concentrate and essentially you just want some time for fun.

Perceptive enough so far, I'm pissing about blogging about horoscopes when I have a list of 100 and 1 other things to be getting on with, which must say something. However the second half (at two sentences, these free newspaper horoscope things are not very long) seems to have a slight hidden ideological agenda to it...and not in a good way:

Understandable, but don't neglect your duties while the boss is around. Your're vulnerable just now.

Eh? I am not currently at 'work work', so there is no chance of 'the boss' catching me blogging when I should be doing something else. But more to the point, in what way are Sagittarians uniquely 'vulnerable just now' among the many people who are not having 'one of their best days at work'? Are Sagittarians at work today supposed to be like fucking grateful to the writer of 'Metroscope' for telling them to do their 'duty' rather than finding some time to avoid the worst aspects of alienated and exploited labour in what ever way possible? One can but conclude either that the 'Metroscope' astrologer, one 'Nikki Harper' (about whom a quick google search reveals 'qualified' at 'the world-renowned Mayo School of Astrology in Truro, Cornwall') inculcated so much capitalist propaganda that she likes telling her working class readers to work harder - or that she has genuinely had some kind of premonition after looking up at the stars and using all the skills she has learnt at the 'the world-renowned Mayo School of How to get Paid for writing Bullshit' that of all the millions of people facing the very real dangers of unemployment and economic insecurity just now that today, of all days, Sagittarian workers are most in danger and she felt compelled to warn us all out of the goodness of her heart... I have a kind of idea about which one of these options is most likely (and the fact that there is not even a pretence of astrological 'evidence' to back up her assertions, like 'the Moon still being in Virgo' or something, only confirms my worst suspicions in this case). However, in case I am completely and utterly wrong about this I am happy to pass on the warning to my fellow Sagittarian workers around the world...I hope you treat it in an appropriate manner.

Incidently in the same 'Metroscope', I 'learn' that Arians are 'desperate for some "me" time', Virgo's 'social life is picking up nicely' while Geminis are 'spending far too much time tilting at windmills and not enough time taking care of things you can influence'. Those born under the star of Leo today 'can look back at where you've been and ahead to where you are going but where you actually are is a little bit harder to spot'. As if that is not profound enough, Leos are told to 'see the bigger picture, yes, but what about the here and now?' Its a good point, and clearly the kind of thing that could not ever be said about those born under any other star sign at any other point in time. Still I suppose I should be grateful I am not an Aquarius, as it looks like they clearly failed to pay enough attention to an earlier 'Metroscope' and accordingly seem to be uniquely bearing the brunt amid the recession:

You have to get your spending under control today, Aquarius. And if you think you already have, that's indicative of an even bigger problem. Money is vanishing at an astonishing rate around you. Nip it in the bud.

Thank my lucky stars I am not an Aquarius...better get back to work now and keep on the good side of my boss. That is guaranteed to protect me in the credit crunch. Phew, thanks a lot, Metroscope.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

International Socialism 122

New issue out now - highlights of issue 122 include:
Charlie Kimber: In the balance: the class struggle in Britain
Terry Eagleton: Culture and socialism
John Newsinger: 1934 - year of the fightback
Jane Hardy: Migration, migrant workers and capitalism
but there is much more including Alex Callinicos hammering mainstream economics and also rethinking Europe's radical left in the light of the success of the New Anticapitalist Party in France and so on...

To order copies (£5 plus P&P) or to subscribe, phone 020 7819 1177 or e-mail isj@swp.org.uk

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Not Great

'Politics really matters, but a lot of what goes on is not great'
- Tony Blair from a recent £182,000 speech entitled 'The Leader as Nation Builder in a Time of Globalisation'.

'Deceit and conspiracy for war, and providing false news to incite passions for war, causing in the order of one million deaths, four million refugees, countless maimings and traumas'
- The first indictment of the Blair War Crimes Foundation


Saturday, April 04, 2009

That all new 'New World Order' in full

Your exclusive 'print out and keep' guide to the world-historic turning point signified by the Group of Twenty Great Leaders meeting last week:

How The G20 Has Changed The World Economy Forever

Out: Nasty old failed neo-liberal capitalism based around the 'Washington Consensus' and involving discredited institutions such as the IMF forcing through attacks on the welfare state and wages and other barriers to 'free trade' in order to further enrich an engorged tiny minority of greedy bankers and bosses whose relentless pursuit of profits before everything has plunged the world into economic crisis.

In: Brand shiny new neo-neo-liberal capitalism based around the 'Global Consensus' and involving $1 trillion being taken from the poor and given to beloved institutions such as the IMF so that they can continue to force through attacks on the welfare state and wages and other barriers to 'free trade' and so try to keep confidence up among the engorged tiny minority of greedy bankers and bosses. This 'stimulation' is important so that the relentless pursuit of profits continues amid the world economic crisis. Bureaucrats will be appointed to 'regulate' this relentless pursuit of profit and this new regulation involved in neo-neo-liberal capitalism will, we are reassured, 'prevent such a crisis ever happening again'.

Overall Change: More bureaucrats

How International Relations Has Been Revolutionised

Out: The nasty old neo-colonialist 'war on terror' based around the interests of the American Empire and involving criminal bombing raids and then prolongued disastrous occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and involving such outdated imperialist institutions as NATO.

In: The redesigned and relaunched neo-colonialist 'war on terror' based around the interests of the American Empire will be taken 'to a new level' and in a novel touch now involve new criminal bombing raids on Pakistan by US drones. The disastrous occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq will continue, and a new role will be found for such ever-relevant institutions as NATO in the brave new world.

Overall Change: More drones and more deaths.

Conclusion: More bureaucrats + More drones + More deaths = A triumph for Gordon Brown (The G20 was 'a huge personal triumph for Gordon Brown. His force of character and political capital ensured...a successful outcome' - Tristram Hunt)

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Homage to E.P. Thompson

Another fascinating post over at Reading the Maps about the experience of 'life writing' (or undertaking biographical research, in this case for a phd) about the great Marxist historian E.P. Thompson, and the importance of 'dialoguing with the past'. Among other things he remembers asking Thompson's friend and former member of the Communist Party's Historian's Group John Saville about the anti-Stalinist George Orwell ('John nearly jumped out of his chair, exclaiming "George Orwell – he was a shit! A real shit!" But when I asked why Orwell was a shit, John could only reply "I’m sorry, I know I should remember why Orwell was a shit, but I don’t. He was a shit though."), but the post as a whole is a joy to read. This is an extract:

'It is hard to believe now, but EP Thompson never intended to become a historian, and didn’t even consider himself a historian until at least halfway through his remarkable life. As a young Communist in the years after World War Two, Thompson joined the party’s literary organisation, not the legendary group of historians that included Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, and John Saville. Until the late 1950s, at least, Thompson considered his main vocation to be poetry. Thompson came to history accidentally, as a result of his research into the great English painter, poet, and designer William Morris.

Thompson was a huge fan of Morris, and in the late '40s and early '50s he was appalled by the way that both sides of the Cold War were turning the man into a weapon in the battle between Moscow and Washington. Moscow’s allies in the leadership of the Communist Party of Great Britain claimed Morris as a communist, even though Morris advocated a decentralised, democratic form of socialism that had little in common with the society Stalin was creating in the Soviet Union. Conservatives in the West, on the other hand, saw Morris’ socialism as a childish mistake, which should be discussed separately from his art and literature.

The fight over Morris reflected the politicisation of the past during the Cold War. When George Orwell wrote "he who controls the past controls the present" he might have been describing the mindset of the ideologists of Soviet communism and Western capitalism, who were determined to reinterpret the past to justify their poliical positions.

Thompson dived into the archives, and found the real William Morris there. The result was a nine-hundred page biography, which was published in 1955, at the height of the Cold War. William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary failed to satisfy either communists or conservatives, but in the more tolerant climate of the 1970s it was adjudged a classic, and reprinted. Today it remains a much-loved book.

‘When I wrote William Morris...the material took hold of me’ Thompson once said. Throughout his career as a historian, Thompson emphasised the importance of careful research amongst primary sources - of 'listening' to the voices left in letters, diaries, court records, and even the reports of spies. In a 1976 interview he explained that:

I think it is like being a painter or a poet. A poet loves words, a painter loves paint. I found a fascination in getting to the bottom of everything, in the sources themselves...[the scholar] has got be listening all the time. He should not set up a book or a research project with a totally clear sense of what he is going to be able to do. The material itself has got to speak to him. If he listens, then the material itself will begin to speak through him. And I think this happens.

Thompson’s argument that the scholar should not begin a research project with a completely clear idea of where he or she wants it to go is an important clue to his practice as a historian. For Thompson, documents like letters, diaries, and court transcripts mustn’t just exist to furnish prefabricated arguments with convenient examples and quotes - they must be allowed, or rather enabled, to speak to us, to challenge the prejudices we bring to them and, where necessary, to force us to change our interpretations of the past.'

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Marxism today

This protester knows where it is at...

I should probably reassure older readers of Histomat that my use of the phrase 'Marxism today' as the title of this blog post is not in any way a reference to the ubiquitous Martin Jacques, former editor of the long defunct journal of that name, who after helping to wind down the old Communist Party of Britain because well, Marxism had become rather unfashionable, is now busy popping up everywhere to patronisingly deign to inform the rest of us that, er, actually, 'if the recession turns into a depression, Marx will once again become required reading'. This post is actually just a plug (and yes, sorry for just plugging stuff of late - I promise to write stuff again on this blog at some point)for three timely Marxist conferences coming up this year for those who want to take the old chap a little more seriously than the likes of Jacques ever did. All of them are in London.

1. Economic Crisis, Imperialism and Revolution: A day school on Marxism, Sunday 10 May.

2. Marxism 2009: A festival of resistance, 2-6 July. Highlights include: Alex Callinicos vs Slavoj Zizek – a debate on “What does it mean to be a revolutionary today?”, David Harvey on Marx’s Capital and debating Chris Harman on “The crisis of neoliberalism”, Tariq Ali on Pakistan’s deepening crisis, Terry Eagleton on “Socialism and culture”, Sheila Rowbotham on pioneering gay rights campaigner Edward Carpenter, Gary Younge on Obama’s rise to power, Ghada Karmi participates on Palestinian liberation, Michael Billington and Sam West remember Harold Pinter, Bernadette McAliskey speaks 40 years on from her election to parliament and the Battle of the Bogside and John Bellamy Foster on “Marx and Darwin” and Marxist ecology. Other participants include: Tony Benn, Paul Gilroy, Eamonn McCann, Mark Serwotka, Sally Hunt, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Nick Broomfield, Michael Rosen, Istvan Meszaros, Roy Bailey and David Ferrard, Pat Devine, Danny Dorling, Zoe Williams, David Edgar, Haifa Zangana, Steven Rose, Ambalavaner Sivanandan, Ben Fine, Ron Oppenheim and Natalie Adler, Jeremy Dear, Ludi Simpson, Leo Zeilig, Graham Turner, Chris Searle, Adam Tooze, Costas Lapavitsas, Omar Puente and many more.

3. Historical Materialism's Sixth Annual Conference, 27-29 November 2009: 'Another World is Necessary: Crisis, Struggle and Political Alternatives'. They have put out a call for papers:

'The world economy is traversing a sweeping crisis whose outcomes are still uncertain, but whose scope is undeniable. The name of Marx is now occasionally, if nervously, invoked in the financial press. The neo-liberal project is being reconfigured, and some have even rushed to pronounce it dead. Imperial strategies are being redrawn, while ecological and food crises deepen on a global scale. This situation of instability and uncertainty unquestionably lends itself to incisive analyses drawing upon and critically innovating the traditions of historical materialism. Critical Marxist theorists have already shed considerable light on the mechanisms and tendencies underlying the current crises and emphasised the conflicts and contradictions that are emerging as they develop. Following upon previous annual conferences which worked towards a recomposition of an international Marxist intellectual sphere, this year’s Historical Materialism conference hopes to serve as a forum for papers and debates that will gauge the capacity of contemporary Marxism to confront this critical conjuncture and its multiple facets, both analytically and politically. We hope that the conference will serve not only as a collective investigation into the numerous global scenarios of capitalist crisis, but also as the opportunity to inquire – drawing on the political and conceptual reservoir of many Marxist traditions – into the class formations, political forces and organisational forms capable of responding combatively and inventively to the current situation. While the hegemony of a one-dimensional neo- liberalism demanded the affirmation that other worlds were possible, the current crises require arguments to demonstrate how we might achieve the other world that is now more than ever necessary. In keeping with the multi-disciplinary and exploratory character of the journal, we welcome abstracts on any matter of relevance to critical Marxist theory, but will especially welcome papers responding directly to the call, or dealing with some of the following issues • Theories of crisis, and their history• Neo-liberalism in retreat?• Histories of class struggle, crisis, and revolution• Socialist Feminist Responses to Crisis• The future of the new imperialism• ‘Neo-Keynesian’ responses to the crisis• Environmental crisis and eco-socialism• Left interventions in the crisis• Utopian and non-utopian Marxisms• Political agency and subjectivity• Theories of political organisation• Political economy and labour in contemporary cultural theory• Class struggle and class composition today• The geography and urbanisation of contemporary capitalism• Non-Marxist traditions on the Left• Marxist perspectives contemporary art, art history and visual culture• Displacing crisis onto the Global South• War, militarism, insecurity, and violence• Immigration, migrant labour, and anti-racism• Socialism in the Twenty-First Century.


Victory to the Visteon workers

Visteon car parts workers in Enfield, Basildon and Belfast have occupied their factories after they were sacked without notice or redundancy pay. The occupation at Basildon has ended, but Enfield and Belfast are going strong, and need full support. This is a crucial struggle, the first occupations in England over job cuts as a result of this crisis. If Visteon workers win, then it could act as an inspirational catalyst to workers everywhere to fight back. Send messages of support to bobenham1@msn.com (Bob is a steward in the Enfield occupation but can get email). Copy it to stevehart@unitetheunion.com Steve is the official dealing with this.


Revolutionary History 10:1

Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political and Literary Writings
Author: Rosa Luxemburg
Guest Editor: Mike Jones

Rosa Luxemburg, perhaps the most remarkable and original figure among German Marxists thinkers and activists, was one of the earliest victims of fascism, murdered in Berlin, in 1919. This volume presents selected political essays, writings previously unavailable in English. They reveal Luxemburg's aversion to splits in the Labour movement, particularly in Germany and Russia, and aspects of her thinking about culture, nationalism and women's rights. Each essay is annotated,
introduced and placed in context.

* In Defence of Nationality, a defence - against Germanification - of the use of Polish in Prussian schools, which has some interesting comments on German class structure;
* On the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz;
* A book review: Franz Mehring's Schiller for workers;
* Tolstoy as a Social Thinker;
* After 50 Years, an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding, in 1863, of the Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein (German General Workers' Union);
* Russian Party Conflicts, insights on the SDKPiL's perspective on Russian factionalism and the 1905 RSDLP congress;
* On the Split in the SD Duma Group, writing for the SDKPiL, Luxemburg comments on RSDLP reunification of the RSDLP;
* Observations on the ISB session, December 1913;
* The Female Worker, women's rights can only become reality as part of the proletariat's victory;
* Peace, the Triple Alliance and ourselves), written on the eve of WWI.;
* On Splitting, Unity and Resigning, against walking away from the degenerate of the
SPD, a critique of sectarians;
* On the Situation in the Russian Social Democracy, an argument written in 1911 for the SDKPiL Executive, against splits in the RSDLP. It illustrates the thinking on
currents in the Russian party, particularly Lenin.

Revolutionary History Series: Volume 10, Number 1.
Includes notes on: work in progress, archives, books and persons.
PBK: ISBN 978 0 85036 693 8 £14.95 (GB Pounds 14.95)

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