Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

International Socialism # 127 online

This issue leads with an article on "Marxism and feminism today". Neoliberal capitalism promised women genuine equality and personal fulfilment. But the realities of women’s oppression persist, reinforced by a debased culture of lap-dancing and cosmetic surgery that has taken the transformation of women into objects to new extremes. This has provoked a new wave of feminism in reaction.

Judith Orr gives the new feminism a critical welcome, arguing for a materialist analysis of the relationship between women’s oppression and class exploitation. Genuine liberation, she concludes, is inseparable from the struggle against capitalism.

The issue also includes interviews with Shlomo Sand (author of The Invention of the Jewish People) and Richard Wilkinson (co-author of The Spirit Level). John Newsinger looks at the great wave of sit-down strikes in the mid-1930s that broke bosses’ resistance to the unionisation of basic industry in the United States. Gonzalo Pozo looks at the theory of the permanent arms economy developed by Tony Cliff, Mike Kidron, and Chris Harman. The late French Marxist philosopher Daniel Bensaïd is remembered in an article by Sebastian Budgen. Plus analysis, feedback, reviews and pick of the quarter.

To order, contact the office on 020 7819 1177, email isj@swp.org.uk or visit the website at http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?s=buy

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Monday, June 28, 2010

..they think its all over...it is now!

Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Lance: What?
Kilgore: The smell of deflated national vanity, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. [kneels] I love the smell of deflated national vanity in the morning. You know, one time England lost 4-1 to Germany. When it was all over, I walked around. We didn't find one synthetic England flag up, not one stinkin' England flag up. The smell, you know that smell...Smelled like [sniffing, pondering]... victory...

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Friday, June 25, 2010

We Are Many website

We Are Many is kind of like an American counterpart to Resistance MP3, a great resource for socialists internationally.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eamonn McCann and Kevin Ovenden to speak at Marxism 2010

Though this year's Marxism festival in London in July can't promise Terry Eagleton outlining his controversial thesis on the World Cup, it does include critical eyewitnesses to two bloody massacres resulting from modern Western state terrorism - Eamonn McCann, veteran Irish revolutionary socialist and civil rights activist, will speak on 'The Bloody Sunday Inquiry' while Gaza Flotilla-survivor Kevin Ovenden will be participating in a meeting entitled 'Palestine’s fight for freedom'.

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Protest on Budget Day against Con-Dem Cuts

“If this government picks a fight we will be fierce defenders of our members and the services they deliver. We will organise public meetings and street demonstrations.”
Dave Prentis, Unison union general secretary.

Unfortunately it is not a question of 'if' but 'when', and we already know the date of that - Tuesday 22 June, as the chancellor George Osborne delivers his Budget of savage cuts - which as well as being a profound injustice in themselves can only further deepen the already grotesque social inequality in British society. To take just one day earlier this month, 9 June, one can read how the disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Fred Goodwin, already one of Britain's richest individuals and one of the complete and utter bankers partly individually responsible for the current crisis, splashes out on £3.5 million on a new veritable mansion while trying to get by on his £16 million pension (a pension paid for by the taxpayer) - while the same day it is announced a scheme costing £8.4 million to give free meals to primary school children in Bradford will be axed. While I am reluctant as a Marxist to 'get biblical' here, the age old law of class society, expressed in the 'parable of the talents' seems to have returned with a vengeance with these Tory cuts: 'For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him'. It is on Budget Day then that the public resistance against the Con-Dem's programme of misery and impoverishment for the many and riches for the few has to begin in earnest - fortunately the Right to Work campaign has already begun to organise protests which people should try and join if possible.

Central London 11 am Downing Street
North London 12 noon, Whittington Hospital, 5pm, Islington town hall
Hackney 6pm, Hackney town hall
Lewisham 6pm, at the clock tower
Lambeth 6pm, Lambeth town hall
Southwark 5.30pm, Elephant & Castle
Manchester 6pm, Piccadilly Gardens
Newcastle 5pm, the Monument
Leeds 6pm, Victoria Gardens
Birmingham 5pm, Government House
Sheffield 5pm, town hall
Bolton 12 noon-2pm, town hall
Southampton 5.30pm, town hall
Glasgow 3pm, onwards, George Sq
Edinburgh 6pm, City Square
Cardiff 5pm, Welsh Assembly
Liverpool 5pm, Town Hall
Camden 6pm, Town Hall
College North East London 12.30
Nottingham 5pm, Market Square
Cambridge 5.30pm, Cambs Guildhall
Luton 12 noon, town hall steps
Dundee 5pm, City Square
Portsmouth 12.30, Victoria Park
Ramsgate 12.30pm, Town Centre
Canterbury 5.30pm, Canterbury Library
Medway 5.30pm, council offices

For further info visit: www.righttowork.org.uk


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Selected Writings of George Rawick

A New Book from Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company

Edited by David Roediger with Martin Smith
Charles H. Kerr | 194 pages | 2010
To order send $12.00 plus $2.00 shipping to:
Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company
1726 West Jarvis Avenue
Chicago, Il 60626

This volume offers the first major collection of the wide-ranging and revolutionary writings of the late George Rawick, a leading figure in both radical history and Marxist sociology. Personal assistant to C.L.R. James, comrade of Marty Glaberman and Selma James, and friend of C. Wright Mills and Michael Harrington, he influenced such leading scholars as Noel Ignatiev, Robin D.G. Kelley, Peter Linebaugh, Rosemary Feurer, Huw Beynon, Margaret Washington, Bruno Cartosio, Nando Fasce, Peter Rachleff and John Bracey and organizations like Students for a Democratic Society and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Rawick was a rarity who contributed decisively to African American history and to the study of white workers. His exciting scholarly and activist writings are generously represented here and put in context by David Roediger's extensive introductory essay on Rawick's life, thought, and politics.

"This is the best thing I have read on slavery in general and in particular in the United States. [It] will make history."
C.L.R. James on reading George Rawick's FROM SUNDOWN TO SUNUP

From the Afterwords:

"George Rawick could never accept the satisfied moralism of the Cold War dominant paradigms in social sciences. He moved from place to place. His many removals were part of his fight for freedom of speech and for intellectual honesty."
Ferruccio Gambino (University of Padua)

"Rawick was a white man who knew where he stood in respect to racism. Through his activism and his scholarship, he battled white supremacy, not solely out of sympathy for aggrieved others, but also because he wanted to respect himself."
George Lipsitz (University of California at Santa Barbara)

"He charged scholars to abandon the established academic tendency to dichotomize this proletariat as the regularized Sambo and marginally deviant Rebel; and to recognize these not as two different personality types, but rather as ambivalent, contradictory personalities struggling within the millions of subjectivities formed by radicalized and racist class society."
Enoch Page (University of Massachusetts)


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Sunday, June 06, 2010

John Newsinger on British Imperialism

What it is important to recognise is that Britain’s Imperial adventures have always met with domestic opposition, that there have always been individuals, organisations and sometimes mass movements that have opposed the Empire. One thing I tried to do in my book was to make clear that there was always opposition to Empire in Britain. What history shows is that it is when the British working class is fighting in its own interests that you get British workers beginning to identify with other people’s struggles.

Clearly we face an uphill struggle today as far as arguing for recognition of the realities of Empire is concerned. This is demonstrated most clearly by the new government’s intention to involve Niall Ferguson in developing the history curriculum for schools. But growing resistance both at home and abroad will strengthen our arguments, will make our words flesh, so to speak.

A timely interview with the author of The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire

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Charlie Brooker on the World Cup

I wish I enjoyed the World Cup, if only for some fleeting sense of common unity with the rest of humankind. But I simply don't get it...What puts me off isn't the game itself, but the accompanying patriotism; or, more specifically, the hollow simulation of patriotism used to hawk products throughout the contest.

Take the current Carlsberg campaign featuring an insanely jingoistic dressing room "pep talk" which blathers on and mindlessly on about national pride. "Know this," the voiceover whispers portentously, "that shirt you're wearing? Your countrymen would give anything to put it on." Really, Carlsberg? I wouldn't put down a sandwich to lift the World Cup, let alone pull a sweat-sodden sports jersey over my head. And would even the most committed fans really do "anything" to wear it? Would they saw their own feet off with a bread knife dipped in cat piss? No. They wouldn't. So stop lying.

Having grossly overestimated the cachet of said hallowed shirt, the ad treats us to a cameo from virtually every notable English sporting hero of the past 50 years, pausing briefly for a patronising moment of silence for Sir Bobby Robson, before depicting an ethereal Bobby Moore, bathed in heavenly light at the top of the tunnel, standing proudly beside a lion. The whole thing plays like a masturbatory dream sequence for Al Murray's Pub Landlord character, the punchline being that the whole thing is a sales pitch for a Danish brewing company. The tagline should be: "Carlsberg: as English as Æbleskiver"...There are other adverts of course: Coca-Cola, Nike, Pepsi-Cola, BP, Blackwater Security, The Tyrell Corporation, Damien Thorn Enterprises and so on. All hitting the same phoney note of concord, all somehow cheapening the fun that millions will extract from the tournament itself...

Encapsulates much more eloquently and accurately what I was trying to argue here

Edited to add: See also Mike Marqusee

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John Pilger on the 'master illusions' of our age

How do wars begin? With a "master illusion", according to Ralph McGehee, one of the CIA's pioneers in "black propaganda", known today as "news management"...The Israelis have played this murderous game since 1948. The massacre of peace activists in international waters on 31 May was "spun" to the Israeli public for the better part of the week, preparing them for yet more murder by their government, with the unarmed flotilla of humanitarians described as terrorists or dupes of terrorists. The BBC was so intimidated that it reported the atrocity primarily as a "potential public relations disaster for Israel", the perspective of the killers, and a disgrace for journalism...

In Britain, we have our own master illusions. Imagine someone on state benefits caught claiming £40,000 of taxpayers' money in a second-home scam. A prison sentence would almost certainly follow. But David Laws, chief secretary to the Treasury, does the same and is described as follows: "I have always admired his intelligence, his sense of public duty and his personal integrity" (Nick Clegg). "You are a good and honourable man" (David Cameron). Laws is "a man of quite exceptional nobility" (Julian Glover, the Guardian), and "a brilliant mind" (BBC).

The Oxbridge club and its associate members in politics and the media have tried to link Laws's "error of judgement" and "naivety" to his "right to privacy" as a gay man, an irrelevance. The "brilliant mind" is a wealthy, Cambridge-groomed investment banker devoted to the noble task of cutting the public services of mostly poor and honest people.

Now imagine another public official, the force behind one of the great war criminals and liars. This official "spun" the illegal invasion of a defenceless country that resulted in the deaths of at least a million people and the dispossession of many more: in effect, the crushing of a human society. If this was the Balkans or Africa, he would very likely have been indicted by the International Criminal Court.

But crime pays for the clubbable. In quick step with the Laws affair, this truth was demonstrated by the continuing celebration of Alastair Campbell, whose frequent media appearances provide a vicarious thrill for the liberal intelligentsia. To the Guardian, Campbell is "bullish, sometimes misdirected, but unafraid to press on where others might have faltered". The Guardian's immediate interest is its "exclusive" publication of Campbell's "politically explosive" and "uncut" diaries. Here is a flavour: "Saturday 14 May. I called Peter [Mandelson] and asked why he didn't return my calls yesterday. 'You know why.' 'No, I don't.' He said he was incandescent at my Newsnight interview . . .'"

In a promotional interview with the Guardian, Campbell dispensed more of this dated incest, referring just once to the bloodbath for which he was a principal apologist. "Did Iraq lose us support in 2005?" he asked rhetorically. "Without a doubt . . ." Thus, a criminal tragedy equal in scale to the Rwandan genocide was dismissed as a "loss" for New Labour: a master illusion of notable profanity.

The full article is online here. I couldn't unfortunately make the 'End the Siege of Gaza' demonstration in London yesterday, part of a world-wide day of action, but a flavour of the mood of defiance can be got from George Galloway's announcement at the rally that a further convoy of aid to Gaza will be launched:

"On the day after Ramadan [expected to begin on 11 August] two mighty convoys one by land and one by sea will begin. We will enter together for the mightiest breach of the siege there has ever been. We will end the siege that day. This wall is now tottering we have to break it down ourselves."

Edited to add: Check out Mark Steel on Israeli propaganda

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Terrell Carver on The Frock-Coated Communist

From Marx and Philosophy's Review of Books (well worth a look), Terrell Carver has a pretty damning review of Tristram Hunt's 'biography' of Frederick Engels:

The tone – in my blunt and no doubt ‘academic’ judgement – is relentlessly trivial and trivialising, scornful and dismissive, anything-for-a-laugh and hypocritically judgmental...In sum, I did not like this book. And I do not like the genre. Calling it ‘popular biography’ is perhaps too kind. I’m not at all sure that turning lives into trivialising gossip and shock/horror sensation is really biography at all. It is more like the Anekdota of Procopius, his ‘secret histories’ of the Byzantine court – but at least he knew the people involved, had a stake in it all and took the risks. Let us hope that Hunt finds better things to do on TV than bring this book to a wider audience.

Speaking of Hunt now 'finding better things to do on TV', rumour has it that after making 'The Joy of Motoring' the new Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central is now working with Peter Mandleson on a TV programme entitled 'The Joy of Parachuting'. Speaking of Engels, Gareth Jenkins is doing a meeting on his life at Marxism 2010

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

In Defence of History

The news that the Tories are going to put the Tory pro-imperialist ideologue Niall Ferguson in charge of re-writing the national curriculum for history in British schools is not altogether such a surprise, but it does signal how the current age of permanent war we live in has come to shape and disfigure not only the present but risks now shaping and disfiguring how we all think about the past.

Traditionally, the British national curriculum brought in by Thatcher during the 1980s seems to have been largely about cultivating 'Little Englander' nationalist sentiment - leaving one with the impression that while the rest of Europe experienced 'totalitarianism' and dictatorship, and the most barbaric forms of exploitation and oppression (lots of learning about Hitler's Nazis and Stalinist Russia) somehow Britain was destined to rule forever in peace and quiet through parliamentary democracy (indeed as Thatcher herself believed, Britain had apparently already enjoyed a 'thousand years of British democracy'). The old curriculum did not focus on British imperial history at all - because that might bring up some slightly awkward facts - the glaringly obvious decline of Britain as a world power by the 1980s for one, but more importantly the fact that the British Empire had very little to do with 'British democracy' but quite a lot to do with the imposition of dictatorship and 'totalitarian' forms of rule, and indeed barbaric exploitation and oppression. Indeed, as one Pan-Africanist critic, George Padmore, put it during the 1930s, 'The British Empire Is Worst Racket Yet Invented By Man'.

New Labour in power did not challenge this lack of focus on the empire in the curriculum at all, though as they waged neo-imperial warfare abroad increasingly their leaders did what they could to encourage imperial nostalgia - and a revival of the old 'imperial spirit'. Gordon Brown in 2004 declared 'We should be proud . . . of the empire' and in 2005 while in East Africa told the Daily Mail that 'the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over' - and essentially re-introduced 'Empire Day', though Gordon Brown had to settle for it being called 'Armed Forces Day' instead of his more imaginative 'British day'.

Yet now under the old Etonian David Cameron and his merry Oxbridge men including Nick Clegg and Michael Gove, it is clearly high time for the Empire to Strike Back with a vengeance - and they have hired the arch-imperialist Tory historian Niall Ferguson to ditch what he calls 'junk history' (he highlights in particular teaching kids about the black civil rights leader Martin Luther King) and try and cultivate the kind of 'proper traditional history' designed to serve the interests of the rich and powerful that Cameron, Clegg and Gove themselves learnt at public school. Ferguson is famous of course for not just being nostalgic for the British Empire of old (he remembers fondly his 'magical' childhood growing up in the former British colony of Kenya during the 1960s) but also being sycophantic about the new masters of the universe - the American Empire. Currently it seems the need is to ratchet up the propaganda level of the war on terror so that the idea of fighting and dying in Afghanistan for the profits of multinational oil and arms companies can be made more appealing to British working class kids. According to the Guardian, at the Hay festival, Ferguson declared that his new 'grand narrative' would mean not simply imperial nostalgia for the British Empire but that British children should be taught that the 'big story' of the last 500 years 'is the rise of western domination of the world'.

This should not surprise us - as historian Stephen Howe has noted of Ferguson, his whole 'world view' flows from two inter-linked assertions.

'Some people – mostly poor and dark-skinned ones – need to recognise that they are conquered, accept the fact, indeed realise that it’s in their own best interests to be so. And other people, especially Americans, must know and accept that they are conquerors and imperialists, shoulder the accompanying burdens, understand that such a role benefits everyone. As Ferguson says in the introduction to Colossus (2004): "Unlike most of the previous writers who have remarked on this, I have no objection in principle to an American empire. Indeed, a part of my argument is that many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule."'

Planning to produce a guide and materials for 'a four-year history syllabus on the west and the world', Ferguson declared the big question the course would attempt to answer, he said, was how in 1500 'the small warring kingdoms of Europe, which looked so feeble compared with the Ming or Ottoman empires, got to be so powerful'. He said the syllabus was 'bound to be Eurocentric' because the world was Eurocentric.

Yet as Howe notes, it is Ferguson who is irredeemably Eurocentric in his narratives of empire.

'The fact is that Ferguson systematically bypasses or blanks out every source which analyses or presents the perspectives of the colonised. There thus emerges a consistent pattern of distortion or one-sidedness: a pattern which tends to reinforce the prejudices of those he seeks to influence. Much of the impact Ferguson’s writing has had on public debate, especially in the US, stems from his being perceived as an expert historian whose arguments about policy are based on specialist knowledge. Ferguson is indeed a proficient historian with a great deal of accumulated learning at his disposal. But his authority does not extend to the histories of any part of the non-European world. When he makes claims about these, they must be evaluated as the arguments of a talented, opinionated amateur, not a scholar.'

It is doubtful therefore for example that anti-colonial struggles, revolts or even just the critics of empire, the likes of George Padmore et al, will be included on Ferguson's syllabus (will the likes of Padmore ever be on a British school curriculum syllabus?) - yet there are bigger issues at stake. For example, a related 'big story' to that of the 'rise of the West' is the accompanying rise of racism towards the 'other' over the past 500 years - something that originated with the barbaric criminality of the slave trade and colonial slavery at a time when ideas of 'liberty' were becoming fashionable in European metropoles. Dealing with this is critical, not least because outside Eton and Oxbridge, Britain is itself now a modern multi-racial and multicultural society, and some of the black and asian kids being taught Ferguson's 'new imperial history' in particular might not appreciate being told to simply kneel down and worship at the shrine of Western imperial power. Yet as I noted on this blog in a critique of Ferguson back in 2006, Ferguson writes racism out of the story of the British and American Empires.

'One of the central theses of the 'Oxford school' that Ferguson represents is that there is no link between Empire and the rise of racism. The two have to be distinguished completely and utterly. Which explains why Ferguson insists it is with the decline of the British Empire at the start of the 20th century that racist killing comes into its own - and suggests that only a strengthening of American imperial power in the 21st century can allow humanity to avoid new holocausts. Unfortunately for Ferguson, and his supporters, there is a quite clear link between American imperialism and racist massacres - as testified by, for example, Haditha'.

Overall, Ferguson's 'new history' offers us a return to the most traditional oldest forms of history, ones where myths about Western cultural 'superiority' and uniqueness were taken for granted and are now propagated again only with just a little more subtlety and sophistication. Ferguson in particular seems to have bought into Samuel Huntingdon's notorious Islamophobic thesis about 'the clash of civilisations'. The War on Terror is regurgitating some of the oldest racisms associated with empire in a new form, and just as the historians most favoured by the British political establishment at the high point of the British Empire were the most utter reactionaries available, so pro-imperialist, warmongering propagandists such as Niall Ferguson are promoted and fettered today among the academic and political establishment as Western imperial power finds itself in retreat and decline amidst some of the most disastrous wars in imperial history. This latest propaganda offensive by our ruling class has to be resisted alongside all the other cuts and attacks being waged on education in Britain by the Con-Dem administration, and in the name of history itself all those concerned with teaching history - whether amateur or professional historians or history teachers themselves - need to try and find ways and means of organising to resist this new attack. Ordering copies for yourself and your school/college/university library of John Newsingers The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire might be one good place to start.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Crisis online

Those interested in the history of black struggle in the US might be interested to know that a run of [the NAACPs/] W. E. B. Du Bois’s journal The Crisis from 1910 through 1922 is now being put online. The issues for the first six months, when circulation rose from 1,000 to 10,000, are now online. See here

National Demonstration - Gaza Flotilla March - London

More from Stop the War:


The astounding turnout at Monday's emergency protest, when at only a few hours notice, thousands laid siege to David Cameron's residence in Downing Street and then marched to the Israeli Embassy (see http://bit.ly/aEMHws), was a reflection of the intense rage at Israel's deadly attack on the Gaza flotilla, felt by millions worldwide. Ours was just one of hundreds of protests that took place in towns and cities across the globe. A national demonstration in London this Saturday 5 June has been called by Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, CND, BMI and Viva Palestina. The Gaza Flotilla March will assemble at Downing Street at 1.30 and march to the Israeli Embassy (note below changed details for the Islamophobia conference). Monday's emergency demonstration showed how fast we can mobilise if we use all available means to spread the word as fast as possible. Please do all you can to publicise the demonstration among your friends, in your workplace, in your trade union, in your college or school, in your community group etc.

We urge all local Stop the War groups and trade union branches affiliated to Stop the War to bring their banners on the march. FOR UPDATES, PLEASE GO TO THE STOP THE WAR WEBSITE REGULARLY: http://bit.ly/aEMHws LONDON STOP THE WAR GROUPS AND SUPPORTERS: Please note there is a protest today 1 June at 5.30pm outside the Israeli Embassy, High Street Kensington.


The conference timetable has been slightly adjusted to ensure that all those attending will be able to join the national Gaza flotilla demonstration (see above). This is a highly important conference, given how it has become open season for anti-Muslim attacks by the government, the media and now, most ominously, by the English Defence League. A very impressive list of speakers will lead sessions discussing how we can counter the escalating demonisation of Muslims in our society. These include, Daud Abdullah, Muslim Council of Britain, Tony Benn, president Stop the War Coalition, Moazzam Begg former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Salma Yaqoob, Respect Party, Seumas Milne, The Guardian, Peter Oborne, Writer and broadcaster and Dr Robert Lambert, former head of Scotland Yard's Muslim Contact Unit. The conference will now begin at 9.30pm and end at 1.00pm, when we will all go to Downing Street where the national demonstration is assembling. Changes to the conference agenda will be distributed soon. Please check the Stop the War website for updates