Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Emergency Demonstration against Israeli State Terror

From Stop the War


The killing of at least 10 people and the injuring of many more on board the flotilla taking aid to Gaza is the latest in a series of crimes which should see Israel condemned under international law. The 600 protesters were on a peaceful mission and unarmed. Israel has repeatedly flouted law and public opinion worldwide in its treatmentof the Palestinians. Its bombing of Gaza in 2009 and its continued blockade has caused outrage round the world. The flotilla was an attempt to bring aid to the blockaded population of Gaza. It was supported by many organisations and individuals internationally. The decision by Israel to attack the flotilla with such loss of human life shows its arrogant and deadly intent in opposing any aid to the Palestinians. The British and EU governments should immediately condemn this act of terror and break all links with Israel. The Stop the War Coalition will be joining other organisations at 2pm today to demonstrate outside Downing Street at 2pm.

See video of Israeli assault from Turkish televison: http://bit.ly/aKExFf
For updates see: http://bit.ly/bg5gIu

PROTEST TO FOREIGN SECRETARY WILLIAM HAGUE: EMAIL: msu.correspondence@fco.gov.uk AND/OR private.office@fco.gov.uk AND MSU.PublicIn@fco.gov.uk
LETTER TO: William Hague MP, Foreign Secretary, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AH

CONTACT YOUR MP: http://findyourmp.parliament.uk Ask him/her to contact Hague on your behalf

LETTER TO: Nick Clegg MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Comment over at Lenin's Tomb


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remembering a Revolutionary

Another great, heartfelt tribute to the late Chris Harman by John Molyneux and Andy Durgan, from their obituary in the forthcoming issue of Revolutionary History.

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Socialists and the 2010 World Cup

Four years ago, in the run up to the 2006 World Cup I produced a brief socialist 'Guide to the World Cup', aimed really for football fans based in England of a left-wing, internationalist persuasion. I still hold to the essential argument I made there - one of 'Anyone But England' amidst the tide of corporate-sponsored English nationalism which seems to find expression in crappy little mass produced St Georges flags that are already reappearing across the landscape. This position seems doubly important given we are now under a new 'national coalition' of Tories and neo-Liberals committed to even more attacks on the working class, and which will no doubt see many attempts by 'Posh and Cleggs' to drap themselves in any success the England team do have - and this is before we come onto the likes of the EDL and their plans for racist rampages up and down the country. Some England supporters might point to the relatively high number of black players in the England team - as a defence - but given the changing forms of racism in Britain today have their cutting edge with Islamophobia - unless the England team were almost entirely Muslim I am not sure this argument carries a great deal of analytical weight. The only slight difficulty with holding such a clear internationalist and quasi-revolutionary defeatist position of 'Anyone But England' it seems to me might arise when England - still symbolic representative of the British Empire - play the symbolic representatives of the American Empire on 12 June - but one should I think still hold firm to a stress on 'the main enemy being at home', and perhaps lie back and think of those rich and powerful overlords who own and run BP and damage their oil spill has done and is doing to the US coastline.

Actually, the 2010 World Cup - set as it is in South Africa - gives English socialist football fans a refreshing choice of skilled and tough African teams to cheer on while they are hoping England crash out, including the likes of the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Some English socialists - readers of the Morning Star perhaps - might also point to the quite remarkable presence of plucky little North Korea in the tournament. However, while it would be great to see a World Cup final in which North Korea knock out the USA, such a clash seems, well, unlikely - and any revolutionary democrat could only celebrate such a result in terms of anti-imperialism - not as any sort of triumph of
as such.

Moreover, while the location of the World Cup in South Africa serves to highlight the criminal inequality and exploitation still remaining in that country, the history of anti-apartheid struggle allows socialists space to inject some anti-racist history and politics into the proceedings. And here it is only right to pay tribute to the people over at Philosophy Football, for highlighting this hidden history and producing a 'unique commemorative football shirt' honouring the Makana FA, 'the football association which was formed by prisoners on the notorious Robben Island' - one shirt any self-respecting revolutionary socialist of whatever nationality can proudly wear during the coming month or so. The story of Makana FA is perhaps a little reminiscent of the classic footy film 'Escape to Victory', only immeasurably more important and more inspiring because it is true.

Imprisoned because of their opposition to Apartheid, playing football, organising their own league and cup competitions as the Makana FA the game became a symbol and tool of the prisoners refusal to surrender their human dignity to the prison authorities. Yet this FA never had their own strip, now they do.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Geopolitics of Capitalism

International Socialism journal seminar series

The Geopolitics of Capitalism
with Gonzalo Pozo Martin (International Socialism and Historical Materialism journals)

Tuesday 8 June, 6.30pm
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),
Russell Square Campus, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG,
Room B102 (Brunei Gallery building, first floor) MAP
Free entry / All welcome
For more details contact isj@swp.org.uk or call 0207 819 1177
Other forthcoming events:

Research on Money and Finance (RMF) at SOAS and the Birkbeck Institute
for the Humanities are organising a roundtable on

'Eurozone in Crisis: Reform or Exit?'

The event will explore themes from the widely read RMF report
'Eurozone in Crisis: Beggar Thyself and Thy Neighbour'. It will also
contribute to the debate on the social, political and economic aspects
of the Eurozone crisis that was launched by the Birkbeck Institute for
the Humanities. Since the start of 2010 the Eurozone crisis has become
progressively deeper, threatening the existence of the euro as well as
the coherence of the European Union. The crisis poses questions of
economic malfunctioning and austerity policies imposed on several
European countries, but also of democracy and state relations within
the European Union. The roundtable will consider these issues from a
variety of radical perspectives.

Participants include

Costas Lapavitsas, SOAS, 'Reform or Exit from the Eurozone?''
George Irvin, SOAS, 'Costs and Benefits of Default'
Costas Douzinas, Birkbeck, 'The Democratic Deficit within the Eurozone'
Stathis Kouvelakis, King's College, 'The Eurozone Crisis as a Crisis
of the State''
Alex Callinicos, King's College, 'Political Implications of the
Eurozone Crisis'

CHAIR: Larry Elliott, Guardian Newspaper.

Date and Time: June 2nd, 6-8
Venue: Rm B33, Birkbeck College, Mallet St. WC1

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Support the Anti-Academies Alliance

No more Academies - No 'Free' Schools - Defend State Education

The Government's Academies Bill is being rushed through Parliament. It proposes that all 'Outstanding' Schools are given the automatic right to become Academies, following a vote of the Governors. They will not be required to consult parents, teachers, school support staff or the local community. All other schools are also invited to apply to become Academies.

At a stroke this could take hundreds of the most successful schools out of local authority control. This would leave local authorities managing the schools with the most difficulties, with diminishing budgets.

Michael Gove has written to every school in the country. In it he offers
* freedom from local authority control;
* ability to set your own pay and conditions for staff;
* freedom from following the national curriculum;
* ability to change the length of terms and school days;
* having greater control over school budgets; and
* freedom to spend the money the local authority currently spends on your behalf.

In reality this means the end of the state education system as we know it. In every city and town we need to start to prepare to resist these proposals.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reminder: Marxism 2010

I am sure readers of Histomat have long registered already for this, but just a quick note to say that the full timetable for Marxism 2010 in London in early July is now online, and looks pretty damn impressive - indeed unparalleled - in terms of the range of meetings and the sheer quantity and quality of what is on offer. It is hard to pick out particular highlights, but I guess mention might be made of Tariq Ali on the perils of Islamophobia, Tony Benn on democracy, Sheila Rowbotham on women's history and a roundtable on the 'idea of communism' with Alex Callinicos, John Holloway and Slavoj Žižek. Also worth noting is the fact that the deadline for submission of abstracts for Historical Materialism London Conference 2010, 'Crisis and Critique'. Thursday 11th november to Sunday 14th november is June 1 - not long away.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Before the Deluge

If you are feeling in anyway down about, say, the new Lib-Con coalition government in Britain, then either the storming of British Airways Acas Talks by Right to Work demonstrators chanting 'Willie Walsh, who are you? We support the cabin crew!' or the skewering of Christopher Hitchens by Decca Aitkenhead while trying to promote his memoirs may provide some amusing distraction...

Do you think, I ask him, you're a show-off?

"No, I don't. I don't. But obviously I wouldn't be the judge."

Hitchens would be the first to agree he cuts a less dashing figure than the beautiful young firebrand who illuminated the pages of the New Statesman in the 70s. As he dodders round his ex-wife's kitchen in west London, I wonder what that young self would have made of the man he is today.

"Well, I've done better than I thought I would. I've made more money than I ever thought I would. I've got more readers than I ever thought I would, and more esteem." He now earns "several hundred thousand dollars a year" – but claims his wealth hasn't influenced his opinions at all.

Does he think wealth ever affects people's opinions? "Well, yes, I'm a Marxist, after all." So why would his own opinions be mysteriously immune to his bank balance? "Well, because I can't trace any connection."


Friday, May 21, 2010

New issue of Revolutionary History on Iran

Revolutionary History, Volume 10, no 2 - The Left in
Iran, 1905-1940

The latest issue of Revolutionary History is now available, and is concerned with the history of the left-wing movement in Iran from 1905 to 1940. It will be of particular interest on account of its coverage of the relationship between the Iranian socialist organisations and those of the Russian Empire, and the impact upon Iranian Communism of the diplomatic dealing between the Soviet Union and the Iranian government after 1917.
This issue of Revolutionary History has been edited by Cosroe Chaqueri, a leading authority on the history of Iran, and the author
of The Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran: Birth of the Trauma (Pittsburgh University Press, 1995). Over its 400 pages, Professor Chaqueri has provided a number of detailed essays on the Iranian left-wing movement, and assembled a collection of over 40 documents from Russian, US, British and French official archives and journals, the majority of which have never previously appeared in an English-language publication.
These documents include correspondence between Iranian socialists and their counterparts in Tsarist Russia; reports showing the involvement of Russian revolutionaries in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution; the rise of realpolitik in Soviet relations with Tehran that led to Moscow's abandonment of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran in 1921; and Moscow's close supervision of the Iranian Communist Party.
For ordering Revolutionary History, Volume 10, no 2, The Left in
Iran, 1905-1940, please contact Merlin Press

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Hung, Drawn and Quartered

I am not going to comment much here about the General Election 2010 - Socialist Worker and Lenins Tomb have extensive rolling election news, analysis and coverage - only to say, all in all, it was not anything like as bad as I feared it would be. In fact, the election proves the British people - against all the odds (9/10 major national newspapers in Britain backed the Tories or Lib Dems) - still remain fundamentally wedded to social democractic values and the welfare state - and delivered a hung, drawn and (if you count the triumphant entry of Caroline Lucas and the Green Party) quartered parliament which gave no main party a mandate for the cuts they all agreed was necessary - a desperately disappointing blow to all three main parties.

The Lib Dems and Tories are currently trying to cosy up to do some deal as I write - which kind of vindicates my slightly moody response when I bumped into some Lib Dem students canvassing yesterday (I described Clegg as a neo-liberal privatising warmonger about whom it seemed the only difference between him and other leaders was that he was probably better at sex than the other two. The Lib Dem students protested, 'But what about PR?'. 'Yeah, Clegg's a PR man, alright - he's very good at Public Relations' - I shot back). The whiff of a possible Tory-Liberal coalition is not edifying - on Leeds city council their attacks on refuse and bin workers pay provoked a gloriously victorious 12 week long all out strike - one possible future to come. The only thing anyone could realistically 'agree with Nick' Clegg on in the election campaign was his point that if the Tories implemented cuts Britain could soon have Greek style riots - well, if the Tories and Lib Dems implement cuts then Clegg's warning will be equally valid.

Though not all the local council results are in (Barking council in particular), the Nazi BNP were humiliated in their 'target seats', above all Barking and Stoke - though they still picked up worryingly high votes generally. It is always inspiring to see the Nazis lose - and speaking again of Leeds City Council, the city is now 'Nazi free' having just lost their one councillor there. But surely - and this is my last point - the real fight starts now - whatever the ultimate outcome of this election. In places like Barking for example - its great Labour so convincingly trounced the BNP fuhrer Nick Griffin and Margaret Hodge was able to tell him to effectively 'pack your bags and go home - you are not welcome here' - but the Nazis still got 6,000 votes or so in a working class area. Surely in such places - and indeed across working class areas across Britain - the work now has to begin in earnest to regroup and unite the Left around something like TUSC in order to be able to more effectively fight the coming cuts and offer working class people a genuine socialist alternative amidst the economic and political crisis and turmoil now beginning to engulf us all.

Edited to add: further congratulations to all the anti-fascist campaigners in Barking and Dagenham: local council results - Labour 51: BNP: 0

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

John Pilger on the warmongers wanting your vote

Here in Britain, Polly Toynbee anoints the war criminal Tony Blair as "the perfect emblem for his people's own contradictory whims". No, he was the perfect emblem for a liberal intelligentsia prepared cynically to indulge his crime. That is the unsaid of the British election campaign, along with the fact that 77 per cent of the British people want the troops home. In Iraq, duly forgotten, what has been done is a holocaust. More than a million people are dead and four million have been driven from their homes. Not a single mention has been made of them in the entire campaign. Rather, the news is that Blair is Labour's "secret weapon".

All three party leaders are warmongers. Nick Clegg, the darling of former Blair lovers, says that, as prime minister, he will "participate" in another invasion of a "failed state" provided there is "the right equipment, the right resources". His one reservation is the standard genuflection towards a military now scandal­ised by a colonial cruelty of which the Baha Mousa case is but one of many.

For Clegg, as for Brown and Cameron, the horrific weapons used by British forces, such as cluster bombs, depleted uranium and the Hellfire missile, which sucks the air out of its victims' lungs, do not exist. The limbs of children in trees do not exist. This year alone, Britain will spend £4bn on the war in Afghanistan. That is what Brown and Cameron almost certainly intend to cut from the health service.

Edward S Herman explained this genteel extremism in his essay "The Banality of Evil". There is a strict division of labour, ranging from the scientists working in the laboratories of the weapons industry, to the intelligence and "national security" personnel who supply the paranoia and "strategies", to the politicians who approve them. As for journalists, our task is to censor by omission and make the crime seem normal for you, the public. For, above all, it is your understanding and your awakening that are feared.

John Pilger on the warmongers running for Parliament who may not have 'broken Britain' but who collectively have done a pretty good job of 'breaking' both Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Save Middlesex Philosophy

Okay, its not quite Greece, but at Middlesex University, the students have already occupied in solidarity with their philosophy lecturers, and there is an online petition to sign


Dreamers of a New Day

Melissa Benn in the New Statesman reviews Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the 20th Century by socialist feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham. Sheila Rowbotham will be speaking at Marxism 2010 in London in July.

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Most Bizarre Quotes of the Election Campaign

'We need to turn Oliver Letwin's Hegelian dialectic into voter-friendly stuff.'
Conservative Party strategist

'It is simple. Vote for what you believe in. If you think their polices are good, vote for them, but if you don't, don't'
Tony Blair advises wavering voters which way to vote

'[David Cameron is] 'the prime minister Britain needs at this time...[he has] 'the substance and the stomach to navigate us through difficult times...I like him. I trust him'.
Multimillionaire entrepreneur Simon Cowell finally decides to plump for supporting David Cameron, the multi-millionaire leader of the Conservative party (offering tax cuts for multimillionaires to encourage more people to become multi-millionaire entrepreneurs) in The Sun, a newspaper owned by a multi-millionaire entrepreneur, Rupert Murdoch. Bet that was a tricky choice, Simon.

Grace Lee Boggs on 'Requiem for Detroit'

I while back on this blog I noted catching some of the excellent documentary 'Requiem for Detroit’, and so it is nice to note that the veteran thinker and activist Grace Lee Boggs, who was interviewed by the show has written about her take on it as well:

Requiem for Detroit aired March 13 on BBC2. But I didn’t view it until last week when I received the DVD (with a thank you note) from Julien Temple, the director, and George Hencken, the Films of Record producer.

In 1960 Edward R. Murrow’s Harvest of Shame was a turning point in American consciousness because it forced us to recognize that the food we enjoy is picked by migrant agricultural workers living and working under unspeakable conditions.

Requiem for Detroit can play a similar role in this period of transition from an increasingly destructive industrial culture. The documentary makes very clear that Detroit’s notorious devastation is not a natural disaster but a man-made Katrina, the inevitable result of illusions and contradictions in our insane 20th century pursuit of unlimited economic growth. We witness auto workers reduced to robots to produce Henry Ford’s Model Ts, and then struggling to reclaim their humanity by sitdown strikes and battling Ford’s goons at the overpass.

We meet southern Blacks who relish the “freedom” of Northern cities but also experience the racial tensions that exploded in 1943 and 1967.

Cars that grow the profits of the auto industry speed by on freeways which destroy neighborhoods to provide escape routes to the suburbs.

Neighborhoods are turned into war zones as the drug trade replaces jobs that have been exported overseas.

This documentary is the Odyssey of how a mode of production and transportation, once celebrated as the height of human creativity, morphed into a dehumanizing consumerism at the expense of human beings and other living things.

A number of Detroiters, Black and white, comment throughout. But the only named cast members are white-bearded John Sinclair, poet, former MC5 manager and White Panther Party leader; Martha Reeves, Motown’s earthy, gospel-infused singing star; Heidelberg Project community artist Tyree Guyton; and me.

John Sinclair recalls the glories of the last century as he drives through disintegrating neighborhoods. An exuberant Martha Reeves helps us understand how the distinctive Motown sound emerged from the “this is my country” euphoria of Blacks who had left behind them the sharecropping and lynching culture of the South. Tyree Guyton explains that he created the Heidelberg Project to depict the destruction of his neighborhood. He also describes today’s rising hope as neither a white or Black thing but “I” becoming “We.”

My closing comments make clear that the new American Dream emerging in Detroit is a deeply-rooted spiritual and practical response to the devastation and dehumanization created by the old dream. We yearn to live more simply so that all of us and the Earth can simply live. This more human dream began with African American elders, calling themselves the Gardening Angels. Detroit’s vacant lots, they decided, were not blight but heaven-sent spaces to plant community gardens, both to grow our own food and to give urban youth the sense of process, self-reliance and evolution that everyone needs to be human.

That’s why growing numbers of artists and young people are coming to Detroit. They want to be part of building a Detroit-City of Hope that grows our souls rather than our cars.

I hope Requiem for Detroit will be shown at the 2nd USSF meeting in Detroit June 22-26 . It is the story behind the USSF mantra:

Another World is Necessary. Another World is Possible. Another World is happening in Detroit!

Viewing it can help Detroit’s mainstream media become less shallow.

It can deepen the imagination of the new generation of media makers attending the annual Allied Media Conference which precedes the USSF.

These young people need this deepened imagination to do justice to the present escalating struggle between the Bings and Bobbs, scheming to gentrify Detroit by closing down neighborhood schools, and grassroots Detroiters who are organizing not only to save our schools but to bring the neighbor back into the ‘hood by inventing new forms of education that motivate schoolchildren to learn through community-building activities.

For more about "Requiem for Detroit"




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Monday, May 03, 2010

Wanted: A Modern Robin Hood

'Geoffrey Trease's novel Bows against the Barons [1934] had Robin and his "comrades" leading a (failed) peasant uprising'

With social inequality in Britain at its greatest levels since records began (after 13 years of New Labour government), it is timely that Ridley Scott has decided to make a new film about the legendary 'social bandit' Robin Hood, even if from what I have seen of the film (which stars Russell Crowe as Robin) so far makes it look rather like a remake of Gladiator set in mediaeval England. Anyway, The Guardian had an interesting article in it on Saturday by Adam Thorpe on representations of the enduring heroic symbol of peasant resistance in TV, literature and film which is worth a quick read. Though the article notes the Robin Hood Tax campaign, it seems to me that a truly modern Robin Hood that would actually genuinely fight for a massive redistribution of wealth and power from rich to poor would look more like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition than anything else currently fighting this election campaign. Indeed, arguably, a 'modern Robin Hood' would represent a mass revolutionary socialist party standing in the tradition of Lenin's Bolsheviks - though I guess that whether that is the conclusion the majority of people who see Ridley Scott's film will draw after seeing the film seems unlikely.

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European Radical Left Statement on the Crisis

Statement on the European crisis

The global economic crisis continues. Massive amounts of money have been injected into the financial system – $14 trillion in bailouts in the United States, Britain, and the eurozone, $1.4 trillion new bank loans in China last year – in an effort to restabilize the world economy. But it remains an open question whether or not these efforts will be enough to produce a sustainable recovery. Growth remains very sluggish in the advanced economies, while unemployment continues to rise. There are fears that a new financial bubble centred this time on China is developing. The protracted character of the crisis – which is the most severe since the Great Depression – reflects its roots in the very nature of capitalism as a system.
After a harsh wave of job cuts, in Europe the focus on the crisis is now on the public sector and social welfare system. The very financial markets that have been rescued thanks to the bailouts are now up in arms about the increase in government borrowing this has involved. They are demanding massive cuts in public expenditure. This amounts to a class attempt to shift the costs of the crisis from those who precipitated it – above all, the banks – to working people – not just those employed in the public sector but also all those who consume public services. The demands for austerity and public sector ‘reform’ are the clearest sign that neoliberalism, intellectually discredited by the crisis, nevertheless continues to dominate policy-making.
Greece is currently in the eye of the storm. It is one of several European economies that are particularly vulnerable, partly because of a buildup of debt during the boom, partly because they find it hard to compete with Germany, the giant of the eurozone. Under pressure from the financial markets, the European Commission, and the German government, the government of George Papandreou has torn up its election promises and announced cuts amounting to four per cent of national income.
Fortunately Greece has a magnificent history of social resistance running back to the 1970s. Following on from the youth revolt of December 2008, the Greek workers’ movement has responded to the government’s cuts packages with a wave of strikes and demonstrations.

We also welcome the example of the Iceland referendum in which people rejected debt refunding imposed by the banks.

Greek workers need the solidarity of socialists, trade unionists, and anti-capitalists everywhere. Greece is simply the first European country to have been targeted by the financial markets, but they have plenty of others in their sights, first of all, Spain and Portugal.
We need a programme of measures that can lift the economy out of crisis on the basis of giving priority to people’s needs rather than profits and imposing democratic control over the market We need to stand for an anti capitalist answer: our life, our health, our jobs before profits.

All cuts in domestic public expenditure to be halted or reversed: stop pensions ‘reform’; health and education are not for sale;
A guaranteed right to work and a programme of public investment in green jobs – public transport, renewable energy industries, and adapting private and public buildings to reduce carbon dioxide emissions;
For a public banking service and financial system under public control!
No scapegoating of immigrants and refugees: legalize them!
No to military expenditure: Withdrawal of Western troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, drastic cuts in military spending, and the dissolution of NATO
We resolve to organize European solidarity activities again cuts and capitalist attacks. A victory for Greek workers will strengthen resistance to the cuts elsewhere.

Greece: Aristeri Anasynthes, Aristeri Antikapitalistiki Syspirosi, Organosi Kommuniston Diethniston Elladas-Spartakos, Sosialistiko Ergatiko Komma, Synaspismos Rizospastikis Aristeras;
Portugal: Bloco de Esquerda;
Austria: Linkswende;
Belgium: Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire – Socialistische arbeiderspartij;
Britain: Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Resistance;
Croatia: Radnička borba;
Cyprus: Ergatiki Dimokratia;
France: Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste;
Germany: internationale sozialistische linke, marx21, Revolutionär Sozialistischen Bund;
Italy: Sinistra Critica;
Ireland: People Before Profit Alliance, Socialist Workers Party;
Netherlands: Internationale Socialisten, Socialistische Arbeiderspartij;
Poland: Polska Partia Pracy, Pracownicza Demokracja;
Russia: Vpered;
Serbia: marks21;
Spanish State: En lucha/En lluita, Izquierda Anticapitalista, Partido Obrero Revolucionario;
Switzerland: Gauche anticapitaliste, Mouvement pour le socialisme /Bewegung für Sozialismus, solidaritéS;
Turkey: Devrimci Sosyalist İşçi Partisi, Özgürlük ve Dayanışma Partisi.
Cyprus: Yeni Kıbrıs Partisi
Czech Republic: Socialistická Solidarita
Sweden: Socialistiska Partiet

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Ian Birchall on Robert Service's Trotsky

I commented a while back on Robert Service's forthcoming take on Leon Trotsky, but it is nice to note that the latest newsletter of the London Socialist Historian's Group has a quite detailed critical review of Service's award-winning biography by historian Ian Birchall, entitled simply and aptly Out of Service. Well worth a look.

Edited to add: The Trotsky I refer to in this post is not to be confused with this one

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Charlie Brooker on 'Bigotgate'

The press held up Brown's Bigotgate outburst as evidence that he's two-faced and contemptuous of everyday people, especially those who mention immigration, a subject so taboo in modern Britain that even fearless defenders of free speech such as the Mail and the Express only dare mention it in hushed capitals tucked away on the front page of every edition.

Two-faced contempt is the basic mode of operation for many newspapers: mindwarping shitsheets filled with selective reporting and audacious bias. The popular press is a shrill, idiotic, bullying echo chamber; a hopelessly poisoned Petri dish in which our politicians seem resigned to grow.

Pretty much spot on
See also Alex Callinicos and John Molyneux

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

On Tristram Hunt and Champagne Socialism

Sorry, back once more to Tristram Hunt, I'm afraid. Profuse apologies. When his biography of Engels was published in the US it was titled 'Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels'. In Britain, it appeared as the slightly less strident 'The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels'. However, dedicated followers of young Tristram might have noticed that the new Penguin edition now has the title 'The Frock-Coated Communist: The Life and Times of the Original Champagne Socialist'. Even the slightest whiff of revolution or class war has been safely removed from the title, something no doubt not unconnected to his current attempt to enter Parliament as a Labour MP.

Yet what is quite amusing about the new book cover is that the new title makes no mention of Engels's name itself - so one might think that the work was actually an autobiography of Tristram Hunt himself - 'the frock-coated communist', the 'champagne socialist'. It goes without saying that Tristram, close friends of Peter Mandleson, knows more about champagne socialism than revolutionary politics - or at least he certainly will once he is a Labour MP. Moreover, as a historian, I am a little dubious about the new claim that Engels was 'the original champagne socialist'. Not only is it more than a little insulting to the old man himself, can we be so sure that say, Robert Owen for example never once even tried champagne?

Edited to add: Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson in a recent issue of Tribune on Tristram Hunt at the 1997 Labour Party conference (from here):

Seeing as how we’re stuck here kicking our heels in the crematorium car park until the hearse arrives, I might as well tell you a little story from the days when New Labour was in its pomp. It was at the 1997 Party Conference in Brighton, which for all the world was more like Versailles-sur-Mer for the duration of this week-long festival of Blairite self-congratulation. I was at some knees-up or other, in conversation with Tribune’s then editor Mark Seddon and my Tory chum, the journalist Peter Oborne, and we were, most likely, talking complete bollocks in the way you do when someone else is buying the drinks. Even so, we didn’t take too kindly to being interrupted by a tall, rather patrician youth who was gallumphing round the venue, repeatedly telling anyone who couldn’t make good their escape that, and I quote, albeit from memory, "Peter Mandelson is the most important fucking minister in this fucking government!"
Mandy was then Minister without Portfolio, so the youth’s assertions seemed slightly exaggerated, even though he was, we discovered, from the Young Fabians, then (and possibly still now, for all I know or care) a Mandelsonian glee club. Anyway, as he wouldn’t go away, and Seddon, Oborne and I had lost the thread of our conversation, I foolishly engaged with him, disputing his claims. What, I asked, about Gordon Brown? What, for that matter, about Derry Irvine? "Derry fucking Irvine?" he replied with contempt, waving his bottle of Mexican beer at me with what might, in different circumstances, have passed for menace. "Who the fuck’s Derry Irvine? And who the fuck are you anyway?" When I told him, the youth sneered "Martin fucking Rowson? So who the fuck’s Martin Rowson?"
By this stage Seddon had, I think, wandered off, but I was getting distinctly riled, so I gently took hold of the youth’s security pass hanging round his neck. Once I’d discovered his name, I’m afraid I played dirty. "Ah ha!" I exclaimed. "Tristram! Now there’s a name that rings down the annals of Labour History! A name to stand equal with Nye or Clem, eh?" At which point Dr Tristram Hunt, not yet a TV historian, sneered a final "fuck off!" at me and lurched away into the melee to annoy someone else.
And that would have been that, if a few minutes later he hadn’t returned, all smiles, to apologise. "Sorry! I didn’t realise who you were!" he said jovially, and thereby added being a creep to the already existing charge of being a drunken braggart and bully.
Well, good luck to him, though I can’t help feeling that the good people of Stoke Central deserve better. That’s not a reflection on either Dr Tristram Hunt or his many doubtless estimable qualities; but it still seems a shame that New Labour, even in its death throes, can’t quite kick the habit of treating the membership of the Labour Party as non-speaking extras, just there to provide some vaguely believable background atmosphere. Then again, in retrospect the kind of internal, backstairs courtier politics of the kind that has, for now at any rate, benefitted TV’s Tristram Hunt, is the only kind of politics New Labour has ever been really interested in, or actually any good at. Remember, the much vaunted "tough decisions" which Tony Blair would tell us he was so uniquely capable of making almost always rebounded on the Labour Party, on the rare occasions when they weren’t aimed directly at it in a pathology of serial abuse, in order to strip it of its rules, its principles, its policies and its dignity.
That, of course, was all necessary to make Labour electable. We all know that, don’t we?
But as I’ve said over and over again, New Labour’s greatest sin was that it turned a tactic into a strategy, which then ossified into principle. And where has that combination of rigid discipline and complete timidity got us? Apart, that is, from that bloke off the telly splitting the Labour vote in Stoke and heralding in the possible election of a Nazi? I write this the day before we all presume the General Election will be called for May 6th, and my heart sinks at the prospect. That’s not just because of the real prospect of the Tories winning, but because I find it so hard to convince myself that Labour deserves to beat them. Even when you factor out all the authoritarianism and croneyism, once more an election will be fought across a tiny ideological arc, on the one side by smirking Thatcherite throw-backs, and on the other ("our" side, God help us) by neo-Thatcherites who had a golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fundamentally to change an economic system which had collapsed under the weight of its own repulsive contradictions, but instead saved it and then, yet again, grovelled at its feet.
Well, by the time you read my next column, it’ll all be over. Personally, I’d prefer it if everyone turned out to vote, and then spoiled their ballot papers; failing that, a hung parliament would do nicely, with the Tories winning badly, but well enough to screw things up for six months before another election consigns them to the political wilderness for another generation.
But who knows? Ooh look, here comes the hearse at last. Hey, shall we have a peek in the coffin to see who it is? My money’s on Tristram Hunt. No? No, you’re probably right. That would ruin the fun...

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Gary Younge on the British General Election

Most of the election conversations I hear are not about whom people would most like to vote in but whom they would most like to keep out. No longer are they being advised to wear a clothes peg on their nose to avoid the unfortunate odours emanating from the party they'll vote for, but to take the peg off so they can remind themselves just how bad the stench is on the opposing side.

For all the excitement about who will win, it is generally agreed the outcome in terms of people's lives will be fairly similar regardless. This is not particularly news to me, either. What seems different are the stakes involved regarding what comes next.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies we face austerity measures that will see massive attacks on public services and swingeing cuts in public sector jobs. The Conservatives would deliver the harshest cuts since the second world war; Labour the Liberal Democrats the deepest cuts since the seventies. the difference between the parties is a difference in scale and pace underpinned by a consensus in direction. As events in Greece, Spain and Portugal have shown this week it won't be the voters or the politicians who decide the extent of these cuts, but the markets.

A Financial Times/Harris poll last week found the country divided about cuts, with only half agreeing the public sector should be cut back. But the overwhelming majority, two-thirds, think they will happen regardless of which party is in office. This is an election about who wins, not what changes. People may want new politics but what they're going to get is a new government with a different mix of parties and maybe a different electoral system.

Full article here.

Chris Morris's Four Lions

The latest issue of Socialist Review has a brief review of the eagerly awaited film Four Lions - a comedy film coming out soon by Chris Morris. Oddly enough, despite the fact that Morris of Brass Eye fame is widely and rightly regarded as a subversive comedy genius - indeed perhaps Britain's leading subversive comedy genius - and the film had been five years in the making, the BBC and Channel Four for some reason didn't want to go anywhere near it. I really can't imagine any possible reason why...


May Day Greetings

May Day greetings to all Histomat readers!
Worker-writers of the blogosphere Unite!
You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Google-Ads!
You Have a World to Win!

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