Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

No to Fascist Le Pen in Oxford

The Oxford Union have chosen to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in a particularly insulting fashion - inviting Marine Le Pen, leader of the fascist Front National - whose father Jean-Marie Le Pen once described the Holocaust as 'a point of detail' in the history of the Second World War, to speak on 5 February - Oxford Unite Against Fascism are organising against Le Pen's visit - see here for more.

See also this Unite Against Fascism Public meeting:
After France: Unity - No to fascism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia - Defend civil liberties. 7-9pm Thursday 29 January, Committee Room 11, House of Commons (via main entrance for Parliament on Cromwell Green). Nearest tube: Westminster Speakers include Diane Abbott MP, Talha Ahmad Muslim Council of Britain, Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, Maz Saleem Daughter of the late Mohammed Saleem, David Rosenburg, Sabby Dhalu & Weyman Bennett UAF.

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Revolutionaries and 'workers' governments'

The very nature of bourgeois government excludes the possibility of socialist class struggle. It’s not that we fear for socialists the dangers and the difficulties of ministerial activity; we must not back away from any danger or difficulty attached to the post in which the interests of the proletariat place us. But a ministry is not, in general, a field of action for a party of the struggle of the proletarian classes. 
 The character of a bourgeois government isn’t determined by the personal character of its members, but by its organic function in bourgeois society. The government of the modern state is essentially an organisation of class domination, the regular functioning of which is one of the conditions of existence of the class state. With the entry of a socialist into the government, and class domination continuing to exist, the bourgeois government doesn’t transform itself into a socialist government, but a socialist transforms himself into a bourgeois minister. 
 The social reforms that a minister who is a friend of the workers can realise have nothing, in themselves, of socialism; they are socialist only insofar as they are obtained through class struggle. But coming from a minister, social reforms can’t have the character of the proletarian class, but solely the character of the bourgeois class, for the minister, by the post he occupies, attaches himself to that class by all the functions of a bourgeois, militarist government. 
 While in parliament, or on the municipal council, we obtain useful reforms by combating the bourgeois government; while occupying a ministerial post we arrive at the same reforms by supporting the bourgeois state. The entry of a socialist into a bourgeois government is not, as is thought, a partial conquest of the bourgeois state by the socialists, but a partial conquest of the socialist party by the bourgeois state... 
 Within bourgeois society the role of social democracy [the socialist movement] as an opposition party is prescribed by its very essence. It can come forward as a ruling party only on the ruins of the bourgeois state
Rosa Luxemburg, 1899.

Although a left government cannot steer a path to socialism, revolutionaries are not indifferent as to whether such a government comes to power. Even though the bourgeoisie has only retreated from the front-line positions and still retains control of the economy and the state, immense possibilities can be opened up.


In both France and Italy, the entry into government of both communists and socialists for the first time since the late 1940s would lead to increased confidence and perhaps, militancy of the workers movement. To this extent the election of a left government provides the possibility of a major advance of the workers’ movement; if the masses take advantage of the temporary confusion of the bourgeoisie. But the advance is not inevitable, the government will be attempting to stabilise the situation, and the bourgeoisie will be regrouping. If the workers fall into the delusion that they have taken power, rather than crossed the first barrier, if, in other words, they rely on the government rather than their own activity, then their advance will be limited to reforms which can be clawed back by a resurgent bourgeoisie.
Hence the all-important paradox: the advent of a left government will only strengthen the workers’ movement inasmuch as the class, or at least its vanguard, do not have illusions in this government. The more independent and strong the workers’ movement is, the more reforms it will force from the government. The more it relies on its own forms of organisation, the more the way is open to a fundamental change in the balance of power between the workers and their allies and the bourgeoisie. But the more it is tied to the structures of state power, the greater is the possibility of bourgeois reaction.
This means that the role of revolutionaries is not to enter such a government ‘in order to accentuate the contradictions within it’, for to do this is to precisely tie the workers to the bourgeoisie.
Rather the job of revolutionaries is to break the illusions that the workers have in a ‘left’ government— and that means taking up all the partial limited struggles of workers, generalising them and leading them even if they conflict with the strategy of the government. In short, it is to organise a left opposition to the government, seeking to replace the reliance on the state with the self-organisation of workers.
Of course, tactically there are times when the revolutionary left defends the left government or perhaps particular measures; when it is open to attack from the right and the bourgeoisie trying to regain positions it has lost. But this should never obscure the fundamental positions that the revolutionary party has to adopt: the strategy of developing working class forms of power, which by definition will conflict with the bourgeois state power still in existence, in order to overthrow the government from the left and replace it with a workers state.
Otherwise, revolutionaries can find themselves in the same situation the Chilean left found itself in occasionally-appearing to defend unpopular governmental decisions against movements of the workers and petty bourgeoisie, so allowing the forces of the right to manipulate those movements.
Chris Harman and Tim Potter, 'The workers' government', SWP International Discussion Bulletin, No.4, 1977 - see also  Paul Blackledge, 'Left Reformism, the state and the problem of socialist politics today', International Socialism, 139 (2013)

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stathis Kouvelakis on international solidarity with Greece

Greece has a very rich tradition of social struggle. What differentiates solidarity with Greece from previous forms of solidarity is that now it is not about expressing solidarity with countries that are geographically very far away and have major differences in terms of social structure and level of development...Greece is a periphery, if you like, but it is the periphery of Europe. Political processes happening in Greece have an expansive capacity, which is far superior and more direct in this part of world than the Latin American ones, because the Greek crisis is part of the bigger crisis of European capitalism. And Europe, despite its current position — which is very different from the position it held in the past — is still one of the major centers of the world capitalist system... What we need is some form of a new international, something more solid in terms of an international network. Without being megalomaniac, or hellenocentric, I think that with a Syriza government, Athens can become a center for political processes at a European and international level. What is needed in the case of a Syriza government would be a major political gathering in Athens — not just to support Syriza but to seriously discuss and to go beyond what we have now in terms of political tools, which is not much ...essentially what is necessary is to connect the fragmented forces of the radical left in each country and make progress on strategic and programmatic issues...
Read the full interview with Kouvelakis - a leading Syriza member - here, see also this eyewitness piece from Greece in the run up to the elections which features interviews with members of Antarsya

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Appeal for solidarity by Austrian anti-fascists

Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache and his team of lawyers are trying to silence the anti-fascist movement by pressing charges against the socialist paper Linkswende in several law suits.

Read more here

Friday, January 16, 2015

France: The Republic of Islamophobia

The persistent targeting of Muslims is preventing the effective management of diversity in French society. It is exacerbating tensions and obscuring the fundamental social and economic problems besetting France. It is encouraging the growth of the Front National. The only way to escape this vicious circle is to target and isolate the very real threat posed by the FN. The principal obstacle to this remains Islamophobia, in all its guises.
Jim Wolfreys, 'The Republic of Islamophobia', Critical Muslim, 13.

Edited to add: Tariq Ali on Charlie Hebdo, see also this and this - two good responses to an unconvincing attempt to defend the publication from the charge of racism.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

International Socialism # 145 out now

Cover of issue 145
In the latest issue of International Socialism, Anne Alexander puts forward a Marxist analysis of ISIS, Philip Marfleet surveys the Palestinian movement in an era of neoliberalism and revolution in the Middle East, Ron Margulies looks at the Kurdish struggle in Turkey and we carry an article on sectarianism and nationalism by Lebanese Marxist Bassem Chit who died tragically young in October. 

Simon Joyce asks why there are so few strikes in Britain today and Chris Fuller looks back at the mass strikes during the First World War. Plus analysis by Alex Callinicos on the crisis of the political system in Britain and by Spanish activists on Podemos, feedback on anti-politics and on the dialectics of nature and book reviews on the Haitian Revolution, the Comintern and the African Atlantic, climate change, Leninism and more.  People can subscribe to the journal at www.isj.org.uk or email isj@swp.org.uk for more information. 

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Terence Ranger and Mike Marqusee

I was very sorry to read of the recent passing of both the English historian of colonial Africa Terence Ranger and also the American socialist journalist Mike Marqusee. There is a fascinating interview with Ranger about his life and work here while I once engaged with some of Marqusee's ideas on cricket on my blog here.  Both of them were thoughtful democrats and humanist thinkers who made important contributions to the fight against racism and imperialism over the course of their lives - and who could be counted on to side with the oppressed and exploited.  They will be missed - and my condolences to their friends and comrades.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Resist the racist offensive against Muslims



As well as Hassan Mahamdallie on levels of Islamophobia before the horrific Paris attacks (in this month's Socialist Review), see this week's  Socialist Worker for the anti-racist arguments more necessary now than ever to challenge the rising racist backlash underway - while there is also some useful commentary on Charlie Hebdo itself here, here and for some essential historical background see Robert Fisk - while on a related point Jim House and Neil MacMaster's work, Paris 1961: Algerians, State Terror and Memory recovers some of hidden history of another Paris massacre - one which saw 200 Algerian protesters killed by the police in Paris.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Conference - Unite against racism and fascism

9.30 – 4pm Saturday 21 Feb 2014, TUC Congress House, Great Russell St, London
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Speakers announced:
Diane Abbott MP,
Emily Thornberry MP,
Ken Livingstone,
Shahrar Ali Deputy Leader Green Party,
Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets
Dr. Shuja Shafi Secretary General MCB,
Billy Hayes General Secretary CWU,
Mark Serwotka General Secretary PCS
Sabby Dhalu and Weyman Bennett, Joint National Secretaries, Unite Against Fascism (UAF)
This year far right and fascist groups advanced across Europe. The whipping up of racism against immigrants, black communities, increased Islamophobia and Antisemitism has been its cutting edge. The racism of UKIP has been mainstreamed and looks set to worsen with major parties launching a war to outbid each other on attacking immigrant rights. The recent cuts to search and rescue operations for refugees in the Mediteranean epitomise how chilling this agenda has become. The revelations of spying on families of those murdered in racist attacks correlates with the injustice felt around the world following the deaths at the hands of the police of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and other black people in the US.
UAF played a leading role in electorally defeating Nick Griffin in his MEP seat this year but we cannot be complacent. The far right violent EDL continue to target the Muslim community and are mobilising around the country. This conference is a timely opportunity to discuss the way forward for challenging racism and fascism, bringing together the trade unions, faith and black communities, anti-racist and anti-fascist activists, LGBT representatives, students and young people for this major anti racist and anti fascist annual conference.
There will also be a workshop organised by Stand Up to UKIP at this conference, while see also the national Stand Up to Racism and Fascism demonstrations on UN Anti-Racism Day, Saturday 21 March  - in London, Cardiff and Glasgow.

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Panos Garganas on the looming struggles in Greece

As the Greek government falls, how can workers win?

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Conference: The Arab Uprisings Four Years On

The Arab Uprisings Four Years On
A conference organised by MENA Solidarity, Egypt Solidarity Initiative and BahrainWatch
6-9pm Friday 13 February – 10-5pm Saturday 14 February
School of African & Oriental Studies, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG 
£5 student or unwaged / £10 waged
Four years after uprisings swept the Middle East millions of people still struggle for freedom and social justice. In 2011 dictators fell and new movements emerged in countries from North Africa to the Gulf. Their demands won support worldwide and inspired a host of campaigns for radical change.
Challenged by the prospect of democracy, regimes have since attempted counter-revolution. Some have used extreme violence; some have encouraged sectarian division or attempted to co-opt and control organisations of the mass movement. Activists across the Middle East nonetheless continue to work for change.

This conference addresses achievements of the revolutions and the challenges that now confront them:
  • what can we learn about struggles from below and the responses of the state?
  • have attempts at counter-revolution been successful?
  • how are activist networks sustained – and how can we support them?
The conference will draw on experiences in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Morocco – and other countries in which activists have attempted to launch movements for change. It will consider the centrality of Palestine for movements across the region – and the impact of the uprisings within Palestine. Speakers will include activists from the front line, with assessments from academics, human rights experts and media analysts.

Speakers include: Ali Abdulemam – Gilbert Achcar – Anne Alexander – Miriyam Aouragh – Joseph Daher – Kamil Mahdi – Nadine Marroushi – Sameh Naguib – Ala’a Shehabi and others.

Sessions include:
  • Revolution and counter-revolution: the people and the state
  • Neo-liberalism and struggles for change
  • Sectarianism
  • Gender matters: women and the movements
  • The workers’ movement and social justice
  • Democratic agendas
  • Solidarity and regional links
  • Palestine and the struggle for liberation in the Arab world

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