Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Springtime of the Arab Peoples

The refusal of the people to kiss or ignore the rod that has chastised them for so many decades has opened a new chapter in the history of the Arab nation. The absurd, if much vaunted, neocon notion that Arabs or Muslims were hostile to democracy has disappeared like parchment in fire.

...If there is a comparison to be made with Europe it is 1848, when the revolutionary upheavals left only Britain and Spain untouched – even though Queen Victoria, thinking of the Chartists, feared otherwise. Writing to her besieged nephew on the Belgian throne, she expressing sympathy but wondered whether "we will all be slain in our beds". Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown or bejewelled headgear, and has billions stored in foreign banks.

Like Europeans in 1848 the Arab people are fighting against foreign domination (82% of Egyptians, a recent opinion poll revealed, have a "negative view of the US"); against the violation of their democratic rights; against an elite blinded by its own illegitimate wealth – and in favour of economic justice. This is different from the first wave of Arab nationalism, which was concerned principally with driving the remnants of the British empire out of the region...

Tariq Ali: This is an Arab 1848

"The workers... battle-cry must be: 'The Permanent Revolution."
Karl Marx after the 1848 Revolutions

Edited to add:
Tuesday 1 March: Solidarity with workers in Middle East and North Africa: 7pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. (Holborn tube) With Billy Hayes, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Katy Clark MP, Wassim Wagdy and others.

Wednesday 2 March: Stop the War Coalition Public Meeting: Where Now for the Egyptian Revolution? Where Now for the Middle East? 7pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square London WC1R 4RL

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Remembering Rosa

Just in time for International Women's Day on 8 March, a series of events in London have been organised to launch The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, part of a new series of her Collected Works.

Edited to add: See this review by Sheila Rowbotham

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Day School:Revolution in the 21st century

Revolution in the 21st Century
A one day special event hosted by the SWP
Sunday 13 March
11am – 4pm
@The Camden Centre, Judd St, London, WC1H 9LZ

Nearest tubes: King’s Cross and Euston
£10 waged, £5 unwaged
Please book your place today.

From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya to Bahrain mass revolts and revolutions are sweeping the Middle East. They are shattering the idea that ordinary people can’t change the world and threatening the hold of imperialism. After decades of dictatorship mass mobilisations and strikes have brought down tyrants. Who says revolution is impossible in the 21st Century!

The unfolding events raise many questions as well as offering inspirational lessons. How can the revolutionary process continue and deepen? Many people in those countries are now pushing for further change. As well as bringing down tyrants is it possible to completely transform society? And the impact is being felt far beyond the Middle East. In a time of revolution how can Marxist ideas help explain the world as well as offering a way forward.

This special one day event aims to enable discussion and debate regarding these momentous events, as well as providing analysis and a chance to discuss revolutionary theory.

Speakers will include:

Eyewitnesses and revolutionaries from Tunisia and Egypt plus
Alex Callinicos author of The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx
Judith Orr, editor of Socialist Worker and eyewitness to the Egyptian Revolution, recently returned from Tahrir Square
Workshops will include:

Permanent Revolution
Imperialism and the Middle East
Plus more . . .

Organised in association with Marxism 2011

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Solidarity with Zimbabwean Socialists

As the Libyan people continue their heroic fight for democracy, out of the spotlight plenty of other dictatorships are now clamping down hard on dissent before the wave of revolution spreads to them - in Zimbabwe for example members of the International Socialist Organisation are currently in detention facing a possible death sentence for treason - and some have been tortured for trying to “organise, strategise and implement the removal of the consitutional government of Zimbabwe...the Egyptian way.”

Rush messages of protest against the arrests


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Partners in Crime

'Tony Blair has an excellent relationship with my father...For us, he is a personal family friend. I first met him around four years ago at Number 10. Since then I've met him several times in Libya where he stays with my father. He has come to Libya many, many times.'
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Colonel Gaddafi, 2010.


John Maclean on the Monarchy

[One hundred years ago, Britain saw not only 'a strike wave spread throughout Britain that saw troops on the streets and a strike committee virtually running a major city' - a wonderful upturn in the class struggle known as the Great Unrest - but also the coronation of George V. In a short article on 'Democracy and the Coming Coronation', the great revolutionary socialist John Maclean penned his thoughts on the role of the monarchy in a modern class society, warned workers not to be distracted from their main aims and objectives by the whole charade and called for a new democratic People's Charter...]

'Our protest against the mockery of the coming monarchical mummery should take the form of a demand for more political freedom for the masses instead of a direct demand for the establishment of a republic...

We Social Democrats, Republicans though we may be, have been essentially responsible for teaching the people that the real political enemy our class is not the king; but the propertied class that, out of the plunder taken from us, is prepared to spend the sum needed to maintain the Royal Family.

The capitalists cheerfully pay out this sum, as the maintenance of Royalty at this critical juncture in the country’s history seems to them necessary as an agency that helps to cover over with superstitious ornament the class war between the capitalists and the workers, and which thus helps to stave off those demands for political equality that would naturally ensue upon the establishment of a republic.

The capitalists cannot afford, then, to dethrone the monarch in this country, especially on account of their supreme control of the political machinery of the land and on account of their fear of the people’s desire for participation in the gentle art of law making and administration. And, on account of their propaganda, the people are conscious that the social inequalities in the land are in no way due to the crowned head...

But the workers are ripe, and over ripe, for the passing into law of a new political People’s Charter...And in our efforts we need place no reliance on the Labour Party... The consciousness now prevalent amongst the masses that their real wages are considerably below those obtained when the Labour organisation came into existence, the further consciousness that the Labour Party has failed to defend the workers, when on strike against reduced wages or oppression, and the fact that the Labour Party has made no real outstanding fight for the workers at all since it began its Parliamentary career, warns us to place no reliance for support on these slippery eels of statesmen whose chief end in life seems to be the destruction of Socialism.

Let us directly appeal to the people, and with our clamour, widespread and prolonged, let us drown the chorus of false praise that will herald the approach of the nearing comic opera. Thus will we make history and perhaps march a stage nearer our goal.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Know Your Enemy

A quick reminder about the upcoming London Socialist Historians Group conference on Making the Tories History on 26 February in London. For some preliminary/background reading on the history of the Conservative Party, see Simon Basketter's fairly recent four part online series which starts here

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gotcha! Tariq Ali on the fall of Mubarak

'A joyous night in Cairo. What bliss to be alive, to be an Egyptian and an Arab. In Tahrir Square they're chanting, "Egypt is free" and "We won!"

The removal of Mubarak alone (and getting the bulk of his $40bn loot back for the national treasury), without any other reforms, would itself be experienced in the region and in Egypt as a huge political triumph. It will set new forces into motion.

A nation that has witnessed miracles of mass mobilisations and a huge rise in popular political consciousness will not be easy to crush, as Tunisia demonstrates...

The show of popular strength was enough to get rid of the current dictator. He'd only go if the US decided to take him away. After much wobbling, they did. They had no other serious option left. The victory, however, belongs to the Egyptian people whose unending courage and sacrifices made all this possible.

And so it ended badly for Mubarak and his old henchman. Having unleashed security thugs only a fortnight ago, Vice-President Suleiman's failure to dislodge the demonstrators from the square was one more nail in the coffin. The rising tide of the Egyptian masses with workers coming out on strike , judges demonstrating on the streets, and the threat of even larger crowds next week, made it impossible for Washington to hang on to Mubarak and his cronies. The man Hillary Clinton had referred to as a loyal friend, indeed "family", was dumped...The age of political reason is returning to the Arab world. The people are fed up of being colonised and bullied. Meanwhile, the political temperature is rising in Jordan, Algeria and Yemen.'

Full article here, while also see him speak on the Egyptian Revolution via this video here
Edited to add: Another solidarity T-shirt offer from Philosophy Football to raise funds for pro-democracy groups in Egypt.

"You are the generation that will overcome defeat" Arab poet Nizar Qabbani
Philosophy Football's T- shirt is produced in association with the publishers Verso. It will raise funds for Egypt's pro-democracy campaign groups. Groups already active in solidarity with Egypt, Stop the War and others, as well as Verso authors who know the protest movement very well, including Tariq Ali, will be asked to nominate recipients who will make the most effective use of the resources. And generosity is rewarded with the offer of The Verso Book of Dissent at half-price, usual price £12.99, when bought with the shirt.


Dorothy Thompson

Dorothy Thompson, who sadly died recently, was a great socialist historian of Chartism - see these tributes by Sheila Rowbotham, Keith Flett and Owen Ashton and Scott Hamilton.

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Egypt, Tunisia and Revolution in the 21st century

From: International Socialism:
A seminar hosted by the quarterly journal of socialist theory

Egypt, Tunisia and Revolution in the 21st Century

Revolution in the 21st century is a reality. In less than two months, two dictators have been overthrown. In both revolutions, the entrance of the working class onto the stage of history proved decisive. The myths that the Arab world is incapable of democracy and that regime change can be achieved only through foreign intervention lie in tatters.

In this seminar, Gilbert Achcar and Anne Alexander will discuss the processes that led to recent events in the Middle East, the prospects for the future, and the implications for capitalism, imperialism and socialism in the 21st century.

Gilbert Achcar
(Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, author of The Arabs and the Holocaust and The Clash of Barbarisms)

Anne Alexander
(Research fellow at the University of Cambridge, author of Nasser: His Life and Times and contributor to Egypt: the Moment of Change)

Tuesday 22 February, 6.30pm

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church,
235 Shaftesbury Avenue,
London, WC2H 8EP

Near Tottenham Court Road Tube — MAP
Free entry – All welcome – Please forward
www.isj.org.uk * isj@swp.org.uk * (020) 7819 1177

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

It's Capital - not multiculturalism - that fails us now...

‘I don’t want to just try to win good headlines by saying I’m going to hammer these guys’, David Cameron mused about the bankers recently - after all these are rich and powerful and he knows many of them from his days at Eton. Instead Cameron has decided - in the most time-honoured ruling class traditions of divide and rule - to aim to win support from racists by declaring that instead of hammering bankers he is going to hammer one of the poorest and most powerless groups of people in Britain, and a group he knows next to nothing about: yep, you guessed it, the Muslim community.

We get deeper insight into Cameron's 'active, muscular liberalism' - as opposed to the supposed 'passive tolerance' of old - with his plans to try and abolish May Day - international workers' day - something not even Thatcher seriously attempted to do. It is clearer than ever what is the only thing Cameron really cares passionately about - the profits of the rich. As Madeleine Bunting notes, 'the "vision of society" that Cameron urges as necessary is in fact already in evidence – in a million versions of consumer capitalism 24/7, and it promotes acquisitiveness'. It is precisely this system - not 'multiculturalism' - which is currently failing in Britain and internationally. It is critical that socialists unite and throw themselves into helping build the working class fightback against this rotten government and the system it serves.

Edited to add: Sign this petition and see this appeal

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Ten Days That Shook the Arab World

''What is happening today is the largest popular revolution in the history of our country and of the entire Arab world. The sacrifice of our martyrs has built our revolution and we have broken through all the barriers of fear. We will not back down until the criminal 'leaders' and their criminal system is destroyed.''
From the Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists Egypt

"People have changed. They were scared. They are no longer scared. We are not afraid of Mubarak's system any longer and when we stopped being afraid we knew we would win...We will not again allow ourselves to be scared of a government. We will not be afraid to say when we think the president is wrong or the government is bad. This is the revolution in our country, the revolution in our minds. Mubarak can stay for days or weeks but he cannot change that. We cannot go back."
Mahmoud, a 35-year-old Egyptian teacher

''I was in Alexandria meeting some comrades on Monday of last week. I was followed by plain-clothes police who questioned the café owners about me, saying I was not from there. Only days later we can sit in the open talking about revolution and socialism, and no one is watching...''
Sameh, Egyptian revolutionary socialist

''The people that fought and won on the barricades is an altogether different people from the one that assembled before the castle on 18 March to be enlightened about the meaning of the concessions obtained, by the attacks of the dragoons. It is capable of altogether different things, it has an altogether different stance with relation to the government. The most important conquest of the revolution is the revolution itself...''
Frederick Engels in revolutionary Berlin 1848

The transformation of mass consciousness represented by the Egyptian Revolution is truly the most remarkable aspect of the revolt so far - a matter of days ago people in Egypt may have had a so-called 'democracy of newspapers' of sorts where people could criticise pretty much anything as long as nobody mentioned Mubarak - the hated dictatorial tyrant currently still hanging onto power - and if they did they faced imprisonment, torture or even death at the hands of the secret security services. Now they openly burn effigies of him in Tahrir Square and call for him to not simply go but face punishment for his crimes. Yet the revolution is still in the balance - and events continue to change fast -for updates from the frontline see Hossam's blog. Those of us in the West can best help above all by building solidarity - as John Molyneux notes:

As someone who has often visited Egypt and has many friends in Cairo I appeal to everyone everywhere who reads this blog to do everything they can to mobilise support for the ongoing and embattled Egyptian Revolution. Demonstrate, picket your Egyptian embassy, organise meetings, whatever you can do.

Above all it is necessary to combat the idea that the Egyptian people are divided or that it is just chaos and confusion. What has happened is an organised attack by plainclothes police, paid thugs on behalf of a brutal dictator and his regime to attempt to crush the amazingly heroic uprising of the Egyptian masses. Mubarak must not be given another 6 months to scheme, kill, and shore up his position.

Come to a Socialist Worker forum with Tariq Ali, Egyptian activist Wassim Wagdy, Judith Orr and a Tunisian speaker. Wed 9 Feb, 7pm, Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
Edited to add: A special solidarity T-shirt produced by Philosophy Football:

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Socialism and Democracy journal

No. 54 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
November 2010
Marx for Today
Part I: Re-reading Marx in 2010 Articles by Kevin Anderson, Terrell Carver,Paresh Chattopadhyay, George Comninel,Michael Lebowitz, Marcello Musto,Victor Wallis, and Rick Wolff
Part II: Marx’s Global Reception Today Review essays on Marx scholarship inHispanic America, Brazil, the Anglophone world,France, Germany, Italy, Russia, China, Korea, and Japan

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Noam Chomsky on the Egyptian Revolt

'The Arab world is on fire," al-Jazeera reported last week, while throughout the region, western allies "are quickly losing their influence". The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator's brutal police.

Observers compared it to the toppling of Russian domains in 1989, but there are important differences. Crucially, no Mikhail Gorbachev exists among the great powers that support the Arab dictators. Rather, Washington and its allies keep to the well-established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives: fine in enemy territory (up to a point), but not in our backyard, please, unless properly tamed.

One 1989 comparison has some validity: Romania, where Washington maintained its support for Nicolae Ceausescu, the most vicious of the east European dictators, until the allegiance became untenable. Then Washington hailed his overthrow while the past was erased. That is a standard pattern: Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo-hwan, Suharto and many other useful gangsters. It may be under way in the case of Hosni Mubarak, along with routine efforts to try to ensure a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path. The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist General Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt's vice-president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself.

Full article here - and see also Chomsky's piece here. There will be an eyewitness to the Egyptian Revolution speaking at the People's Convention on 12 February in London.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Robert Tressell Centenary T-Shirt

From Philosophy Football:
100 years ago today Robert Tressell, author of the inspirational The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists died. Posthumously published, his book was described by Robert on the title page as "Twelve months in hell, told by one of the damned." A tale of agitation and organisation, battling against the tide of apathy, confronting the small-time capitalists who seek to keep their employees in line. The main character of the book, Frank Owen, seeks over and over again to win his fellow workers to the socialist cause, most famously with the 'money trick', perhaps the best, certainly the most entertaining, explanation of Marx's theory of surplus value! Owen doesn't always win the argument but he never gives up believing in "the Golden Light that will be diffused throughout all the happy world from the rays of the risen sun of Socialism."

To celebrate the centenary, T-shirt makers Philosophy Football have produced an original design of a 'Paintbrush & Sickle' combining the tradition tool of the trade of Tressell's hero, Frank Owen, painting and decorating with a hint of Lissitsky's clasic 'Red Wedge' and a suggestion of the spirit of a joyful socialism which paints the town red.

Edited to add: Those near Hastings might be interested in this commemorative event this Saturday, - see also Tony Benn's thoughts.

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