Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Monday, May 25, 2009

From the memory hole

'I had never heard of the book before, so I took it away on the Easter holiday. It turned out to be the most relentless and comprehensive attack on the theory and practice of the New Labour government I have ever read. It mocks the government's supposed commitment to education, complaining bitterly that its "crucial requirement is not a broadly educated workforce of the many but the visionary entrepreneurship of the few: an individual combination of energy, initiative and drive for selling or trading that thrives in a kind of caricature economy more like the rag trade than the real thing". As for transport, "almost everyone except government ministers recognises there is a need for an integrated transport system, and such a system would be a more efficient use of national resources. Yet since the government abandoned the idea of co-ordinated transport planning, the transport system has become increasingly chaotic."

The book points out that the government's election manifesto "said little about privatisation", yet ministers promptly embarked on an orgy of privatisation. "The main beneficiaries of privatisation," it reminds us, "have been the City institutions which organised the sales and the top executives who now run the privatised companies." Then comes a familiar question: "And what about the workers? They have done less well. No dramatic pay rises for them and not much pride of ownership either."

Are there any real advantages in privatisation? "There is little evidence," the book proclaims, "to justify the automatic benefits of privatisation." On the contrary. "Privatisation has been a costly experiment whose benefits have been at best dubious." And yet "there is no declared limit to the government's privatisation plans. One government minister has suggested that the boundary between private and public sector should be refined so that only defence, law and order and some basic regulatory tasks should escape privatisation. Grey areas where the private sector would become increasingly involved included, in his view, health and education, and already such developments are taking place."

All this happened against a background of growing inequality. "The distribution of income in Britain has now become so unequal that it is beginning to resemble that of a third world country." Who has gained? "The real beneficiaries of tax reforms have been the few at the top of the scale. Not only income tax changes have favoured the very rich. Changes in capital and inheritance taxation have helped them too, making Britain's inequalities even greater."

The author was infuriated by the inherent contradiction in the government's attitude towards rich and poor. "How is it that incentives for the rich and poor are so very different? How can it be that for the rich the only stimulus to economic endeavour is that the rewards become increasingly lavish, while the poor are in continual need of the spur of their poverty?"

I hope I've given you enough of a taste of the book's socialist inspiration and its indignation at government policies. Sadly, though, you might find it hard to get hold of a copy. It is entitled Where There is Greed, a spoof quotation mocking Margaret Thatcher's stomach-churning reference to St Francis of Assisi when she went into Downing Street. The book was published by Mainstream in 1989. Its author was a dynamic Labour MP called Gordon Brown.'
Paul Foot, 'New Labour's Hypocrisy', The Guardian, 17 April, 2001

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tariq Ali on the political impact of the crisis in Europe

From a recent interview:

'[The economic crisis] is a big crisis of perspective for the capitalist and neoliberal parties of Europe. And all the social-democratic parties of Europe, which had become neoliberal parties and defended the Washington consensus quite openly, are now in severe crisis. The British Labour Party, "New Labour," to begin with is completely bankrupt, like the economy it’s been promoting for the past 12 years.

Labour’s first response to the financial meltdown was to blame the United States, saying "it’s all Wall Street’s fault" — but people responded, "what about the City of London?" My colleague Peter Gowan had a very funny response: The City of London was the Guantanamo of Wall Street capitalism, because every kind of abuse was permitted.

The problem we face in terms of the Labour Party is that there was such a clean sweep by (Tony) Blair and (Gordon) Brown that they effectively destroyed it as a political party. They changed its structure, so that everything is top-down almost like a Stalinist sect. There’s no internal life, they’ve lost tens of thousands of members, the trade unions have put up no serious fight. It’s a big mess, and the only people who have benefited are the Conservatives, who are positioning themselves as more human than Labour, sometimes even attacking from the left.

The left as a whole in Britain is incredibly weak. In the rest of Europe it’s somewhat uneven. In France the unions weren’t defeated or smashed, the public sector unions put up a big fight, and Sarkozy couldn’t put through all the neoliberal reforms he wanted. When asked about it, he said "I don’t forget what country I’m living in. The people who smile today at me and my beautiful wife can set up street barricades tomorrow."

In France the largest far-left group (Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, LCR) has set up a new anti-capitalist party. It hasn’t yet attracted many other groups, but in many towns quite a number of people have joined from the anti-globalization movement and from the Communist Party. The new party’s leader Olivier Besancenot has a higher popularity rating than the official leader of the Socialist Party. This is an interesting phenomenon.

In Germany you have the most significant party to the left of social democracy, Die Linke. It’s now doing well in the west (i.e. beyond the eastern base of the former PDS) — it got a good vote in Hamburg and other cities. It has a major leader from the Social Democrats, Oskar Lafontaine, a left socialist who’s given the party enormous credibility in western Germany. This party strongly opposes the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan; they demand an independent foreign policy.

The biggest German bank, Deutschebank, was heavily entangled in the whole subprime mess; but the state banks are severely regulated and reasonably healthy, so the Germans haven’t suffered to the same degree as others. Even Angela Merkel said, thank god we didn’t go down the Anglo-Saxon road. So there’s a lot of support in Europe for state control. But the biggest problem is the weakness of the left on a Continental level, despite the better situations in France and Germany.'

Tariq Ali is speaking on 'The American Empire in Crisis' at Marxism 2009 in London in July.

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Meanwhile back in revolutionary Spain...

I haven't checked the Orwell Diaries for ages, but it doesn't look like I have missed a great deal (May 1939 finds him to be back in Britain and thinking about manatees of all things). Perhaps of slightly more interest is a forthcoming book by Christopher Hall, 'Not just Orwell’: The Independent Labour Party Volunteers and the Spanish Civil War. As the author notes,

Until now the role of the ILP contingent in the Spanish Civil War has been overshadowed by the fame of George Orwell, and any examination of the ILP volunteers has centred on him. This book includes a brief biography of Orwell as his book Homage to Catalonia is still a major source for any discussion of the ILP contingent. Orwell’s account also provides invaluable descriptions of the way the Spanish militias were organised, trained and armed. As its title clearly states, this book is not solely about Orwell but about the volunteers who served with him.
The book provides the first full account of the ILP contingent’s role in Spain, alongside a list of those men who served in the contingent and their experiences. Stafford Cottman became a friend and advisor to the film director Ken Loach when he was making his 1995 film ‘Land and Freedom’, which was loosely based on Cottman’s experiences. According to his wife, Stella, Cottman attended a film premiere in Bath for ‘Land and Freedom’, and afterwards said: "George Orwell always said, ‘The truth about what happened to the republican cause in Spain will never be told.’ But now it has been." I hope in some small way this book has a similar impact and changes people’s perception of the role of the ILP in the Spanish Civil War.

According to the books publisher, I also learn that in Cannes 'a film adaptation of Homage to Catalonia has been announced to star Colin Firth and Kevin Spacey...'

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Love Music Hate Racism Festival

Pete Doherty is co-headlining the Love Music Hate Racism festival in Stoke on Saturday - the place the fascist BNP describe as their 'jewel in the crown'. Hopefully this Carnival will help begin the process of kicking the Nazis out of Stoke...

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Why read Marx's Capital today?

A book launch with Joseph Choonara, author of Unravelling Capitalism: A Guide to Marxist Political Economy
Karl Marx was the greatest critic of capitalism. Yet his ideas are widely dismissed or misunderstood. But Marx is indispensable for anyone who wants to grasp why capitalism is a system of exploitation, instability and repeated crises.
Joseph Choonara introduces Marx’s approach to understanding capitalism—developed above all in the three volumes of Capital. He also outlines how this can be applied to capitalism as it has developed since Marx’s time.
Thursday 28 May, 6.30pm, Bookmarks bookshop, London

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Queen not amused by expenses scandal

The Queen has informed Gordon Brown that she is 'deeply troubled' by the expenses scandal gripping Parliament. According to one source, 'She won't discuss individual MPs but she feels this scandal has done a lot of long-lasting damage. She is aware the public feel repulsed by this sort of thing. She is conscious there is a recession on.' Perhaps remembering the time she made a trip to the US costing £400,000 pounds and took a helicopter to the Kentucky Derby at a cost of £22,000 in 2007, she posed the pertinent questions everyone is asking: 'Whoever heard of dredging one's moat at taxpayer's expense? What contribution do these parasites living in luxury at the public's expense actually make to society? What do they actually do all day?'

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Coming soon...

Formerly known as 'the next General Election'...

Who wants to be a Millionaire MP?
New bonus Westminster feature: The stench of shameless corruption and rank hypocrisy, coupled with the nauseating spectacle of some MPs who have lived the high life at tax payers expence for years now proudly waving around cheques made out to the taxpayer for small amounts and claiming they have some sort of moral high ground (for example Tory MP David Willetts is to refund £115 (plus VAT) bill for changing a light bulb, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is to pay back an £82 phone bill, and shadow chancellor George Osborne will hand back £440 for a taxi bill etc etc)


Would you buy a used war from this man?

Strike! Demonstrate! Get the Troops Out of Afghanistan Now

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The British Way of Death

Between 1969 and 1999 over 1000 died in police custody in Britain. Film maker Ken Fero, who made the classic film Injustice, writes on domestic British state terror in the new Socialist Review

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Know Your Enemy # 94: Neo-cons in Europe

The Neocon Europe site looks like a potentially useful resource, tracking for example country by country the 'useful idiots' of the American Empire: here for example are the British contingent.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Place of the Celebrity in Late Capitalism

The celebrity, then, is a bundle of paradoxes. It has no function other than as an appendage to the process of capital accumulation and no meaning or significance other than as a vehicle for capital at a certain stage in its circulation - and yet, celebrities are also the focus of wish-fulfilment and projection on the part of great swathes of the population. They are invested with all kinds of concentrated, intensified meanings and significances on the part of the voyeuristic-oppressed consumers of the celebrity commodity and yet in order to function properly they must function without meaning other than the circular, sui generis logic of accumulation for accumulation's sake.

Full article here

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

HG Wells against racism

'I am convinced myself that there is no more evil thing in this present world than race prejudice; none at all. I write deliberately - it is the worst single thing in life now. It justifies and holds together more baseness, cruelty and abomination than any other sort of error in the world. Through its body runs the black blood of coarse lust, suspicion, jealousy and persecution and all the darkest poison of the human soul...It is a monster begotten of natural instincts and intellectual confusion, to be fought against by all men of good intent, each in our dispersed modern manner doing his fragmentary, inestimable share.'
HG Wells, 'Race Prejudice', The Independent, 14 February 1907, quoted in Jeffrey B Perry (ed.), A Hubert Harrison Reader, p. 57)
The quote might complicate traditional thinking about the Fabian socialist and science fiction writer HG Wells, and the subject of race and racism, a little maybe at least.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Registering the Visteon Victory

'There will be two versions of how, in 28 days, 600 Visteon workers brought one of the world’s biggest firms to its knees. The official version will say the Unite union used its industrial strength to force a deal out of Ford. But the real story of Visteon is how the workers themselves inspired solidarity from thousands of fellow workers. The dispute quickly became one of the most militant and sustained rank and file campaigns in my memory.'
John Tipple reports from the heart of the struggle.

Unite the union have organised a demonstration to fight for jobs in Birmingham on Saturday 16 May. Every socialist who can get to Birmingham that day should do so.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The BNP's 'final solution' to the economic crisis

British Nazi Party führer Nick Griffin proudly unveils the party's new 'patriotic' Euro-Election campaign slogan...
"British Gas Chambers for British Workers!"


Monday, May 04, 2009

Albert Einstein on the Case for Socialism

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules...I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured? Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition.

From Albert Einstein, 'Why Socialism?' (May, 1949)

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Reasons to be cheerful

One, Two, Three...

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Ten May Day Commandments

[The following is the credo of a Red Sunday School in Glasgow, drafted on May Day 1917, in the midst of imperialist war, quoted from Ralph Samuel's article on 'British Marxist Historians', New Left Review, 120, (1980). Happy May Day people!]

1. Thou shalt inscribe on your banner: "Workers of all lands unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains: you have a world to win".

2. Thou shalt not be a patriot for a patriot is an international blackleg. Your duty to yourself and your class demands that you be a citizen of the world.

3. Thou shalt not usurp the right of any man or woman, nor shall you claim for yourself any natural advantage over your fellows; for every man and woman has an equal right to an equal share in the product of their collective labour.

4. Thou shalt not take part in any bourgeois war, for all modern wars are the result of the clash of economic interests, and your duty as an internationalist is to wage class war against all such wars.

5. Thou shalt teach Revolution, for revolution means the abolition of the present Political State, and the end of Capitalism, and the raising in their place an Industrial Republic.

6. Thou shalt demand on behalf of your class, the complete surrender of the capitalist class and all the means of production, distribution and exchange, with the land and all it contains, and by doing so you shall abolish class rule.

7. Thou shalt wage the class war, by pointing out that the history of recorded societies is a history of the Class Struggle, and that the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery must be brought about by themselves.

8. Thou shalt take part at all times in the political and economic struggles of the working class. Thou shalt renounce craft unionism, and work for the organisation of the working class into one vast industrial union, to take and hold the means of life.

9. Thou shalt perform a mission in society by achieving an ideal of a fuller and higher life for all, in the abolition of classes, and by the regulation of industry by the Industrial Republic, which shall end the Political State.

10. Thou shalt remember that the economic structure of Society determines the legal and political super-structure, and the Social, Ethical, Religious, and intellectual lifeprocess in general. It is not men's consciousness which determines their life; on the contrary it is the social life which determines their consciousness.

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