Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

British solidarity with Palestinians

Gaza demonstration
150,000 rally for Gaza in London on 9 August 

London sees its biggest ever demonstration in support of Palestinians - on solidarity in Egypt, see also this piece 'The road to Jerusalem goes through the Arab capitals - and it's a two-way street' by Hossam El-Hamalawy in Cairo.  Even today in Leeds, amidst torrential weather conditions, despite the fact that the planned demonstration had been postponed to next week, I was able to take this picture of a few brave souls who had turned up anyway to say 'Free Palestine!' 


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Frank Rosengarten

I was very sorry to learn of the passing of Frank Rosengarten, a respected American scholar of Antonio Gramsci and C.L.R. James (he once wrote a great article exploring the similarities and differences between the two of them) , who I only had the good fortune to meet with twice.  I remember best my first meeting with him back in 2009 at a conference in Canada, and this was in the aftermath of my recently publishing a rather critical review of his latest book.  I was therefore in a bit of trepidation about us meeting, as why would a highly respected professor even want to meet a lowly PhD student who had just critiqued a book he had spent years researching and writing?  Yet after meeting and discussing my review of his book over a coffee, I was struck by his lack of rancour with me, which might well have been justified, and his complete lack of any arrogance or egotism whatsoever (sadly something sometimes in short supply among academic Marxists) and we were able to have a very fraternal and friendly discussion, even if the different Marxist political traditions we came from meant there was never exactly going to be any complete meeting of minds.  As others who knew him better have all attested, there was just something very warm and gentlemanly about him, and my sincere condolences to his family, friends, comrades.

Edited to add:  Details of Frank Rosengarten's memoir, Through Partisan Eyes: My Friendships, Literary Education, and Political Encounters in Italy (1956-2013). With Sidelights on My Experiences in the United States, France, and the Soviet Union:

Frank Rosengarten’s Through Partisan Eyes is a remarkably powerful antidote to the pervasive view of Italy as a museum. His memoir brings poignantly into relief a vibrant scene of intellectuals (in the capacious definition of the term that encompasses scholars, artists, and many others who help shape a society’s self-representation and its broader world view) grappling with urgent social and political issues of national and international import. From as far back as his graduate student years at Columbia University, through the decades he spent as a university professor, to his current activities as a remarkably productive independent scholar, Rosengarten’s thinking, research, and writing have always been ineluctably intertwined with a deep concern for social justice and what in today’s parlance one would term the plight of the subalterns. He has never adopted the stance of the scholar gazing at his/her object of study with aesthetic detachment or moral indifference — nor has he ever tried to. It is, precisely and paradoxically, because he views and engages the world around him “through partisan eyes” that Rosengarten’s recollections of and reflections on his life, career, friendships and encounters differ refreshingly and, often, strikingly from what one normally expects to find and frequently encounters in memoirs of scholars and academics. Whereas most Americans are drawn to Italy as a museum of past glories and masterpieces, for Rosengarten, the museum, the archive, the literary canon stimulate meditations on the living material situations and conditions of people hankering for social justice and equity.
Joseph A. Buttigieg, University of Notre Dame

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Eugene V Debs Reader

THE EUGENE V DEBS READER:Socialism and the Class Struggle
Edited by William A Pelz
With an introduction by Mark A Lause and an original introduction by Howard Zinn

 A collection of writings and speeches by one of the most radical of America's early 20th century labour leader which brings to life a once powerful Socialist movement. Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926), one of America's most famous socialists, was an important political figure on the American political landscape in the early 20th century. He ran as the Socialist Party's (SP) presidential candidate five times and obtained nearly a million votes in 1912 and 1920. Debs was born into a family from Alsace and started on work on the railways. He was an elegant and fiery writer and orator. His literature is a pleasure to read. Throughout the book, Debs rails against the injustices of capitalism, arguing for a socialist system based on political and industrial democracy. He defends workers and trade unions that are being assaulted by employers while advocating the formation of industrial unions and rejecting craft unions that only included skilled workers. At a time when Blacks faced segregation and hostility from whites, Debs, in several speeches and articles, makes it clear that class and not skin colour was the only important factor. "Foolish and vain is the working man who makes the colour of his skin the stepping stone to his imaginary superiority," laments Debs. His writings witness to a broad and tolerant socialism. In "Sound Socialist Tactics" he opposes the SP leadership's attempts to limit debate. In "A Plea for Solidarity" Debs believed that the anarchist-led Industrial Workers of the World (for whom he had great respect) and their campaign of direct action and industrial sabotage alienated workers. The book is biographical in the sense that the speeches and articles paint a broader canvass of Debs' life. He writes that it was during his first time in jail, in 1894 for leading a strike of railroad workers, that he was led to become a socialist.

Eugene V Debs on War

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Megan Trudell on the real legacy of WWI

Understanding WWI - How revolutions ended the war

Understanding WWI - Why did the world go to war?

Empire and revolution: A socialist history of the First World War - Dave...

No More War

‘War is organised murder and nothing else....politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder’
Harry Patch, last surviving British soldier from the First World War (who passed away in 2009, aged 111)
Harry Patch (left) in 2004 shaking hand with Charles Kuentz (right), last remaining German soldier from the First World War at Ypres

‘It means an awful lot to me, these small gestures are the things that encourage friendship between peoples, so that we will never again fight wars against each other.’
Charles Kuentz, after meeting Patch, 2004

No Glory in War, 1914-2014
John Newsinger on the First World War - just war or imperial conflict?

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Friday, August 01, 2014

The future of Palestine - Ghada Karmi

Israels assault on Palestine - John Rose & Wassim Wagdy

National Demonstration for Gaza - London 9 August

Gaza Demonstration

Saturday 9 August - 12 noon, London - Next national demonstration for Gaza

No excuses. This must be the largest ever UK demonstration for Gaza.

No excuses. Transport must be organised now from every corner of the country, bringing everyone who is outraged by Israel's barbaric onslaught to London, in an expression not just of our outrage, but also of our solidarity with the people of Gaza, who need to know they are not alone, as they face Israel's crimes against humanity.

No excuses. Everyone must now mobilise wherever they are in Britain, spread the word as widely as they can -- among family, friends, in their workplaces, colleges, community.

No excuses. Over the past three weeks, London has held the biggest demonstrations for Gaza in the world, twice mobilising over 50,000 protesters. But on Saturday 9 August we need to fill the streets of London with a huge outcry at the carnage being perpetrated by Israel with the support of David Cameron and his government.

No excuses. 25 days of the world's fifth most powerful military force bombarding an area no bigger than the Isle of Wight has killed 1,500 Palestinians and injured 8000 more. No one and nothing is safe from Israel's war crimes: 80% of the dead are civilians, over 250 of them children -- women, the disabled, the elderly, the infirm, all slaughtered by Israel's indiscriminate bombing with missiles and shells.

No excuses. Hospitals, schools, power stations, sewage works -- Gaza's infrastructure is being turned to rubble. Israel has declared more than half of Gaza a no-go area, effectively announcing it will make Gaza a free-fire zone, when it knows full well there is nowhere for its people to move that is safe, with the borders sealed by Israel and Egypt's inhumane siege.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Palestine Solidarity protest this friday

From the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

Protest outside the Israeli embassy this friday

Our next protest outside the Israeli embassy in London will be on Friday 1st August, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.
Please be there if you can.
Nearest tube: High Street Kensington (turn right out of the tube and walk for three minutes to the protest)
For events around the country, please check the events section on the PSC website: http://www.palestinecampaign.org/events/ 


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

David Rovics on tunnels, past and present

Over 1,100 Palestinians killed, overwhelmingly women, children and the elderly. Several dozen Israelis killed, almost all of them soldiers. Killed by people coming out of tunnels. Tunnels that the soldiers are bombing and blowing up…

In my mind I keep coming back to the tunnels. Tunnels are such a powerful image, with so much history. The Vietnamese won the war against the US invaders partially through the widespread use of tunnels. Of course Kissinger would complain incessantly of Soviet aid to the Vietnamese guerrillas being the problem. That sounds much better than admitting that you're facing a very poorly-armed enemy that's beating you through sheer determination, ingenuity and courage, despite all your weapons of mass destruction.

The public line was the Vietminh was a small part of the population that needed to be dealt with. That if they could just destroy their infrastructure, the invaders would win. Secretly the American leadership knew this wasn't true. They knew their enemy was the people of Vietnam, and they prosecuted their war with this in mind, targeting broadly all of the civilians of that poor country, and their neighbors as well.

But destroy the infrastructure – they did that, too. And what was that infrastructure? Planes, helicopters, tanks? No. Rocket launchers? A few. Antiquated rifles? A few more.

Tunnels. Mostly tunnels. And courageous, desperate refugees. Refugees living in a walled-off ghetto, subject to an almost complete embargo, with no electricity, overflowing sewers, very little food, who are being incessantly bombed.

When facing a determined opponent, “infrastructure” or the “infrastructure of terror” has a very different meaning than how the term is usually understood.

The infrastructure, the Israelis now admit, is not the ineffective, home-made rockets. Not the paltry collection of guns. The infrastructure are the homes that people live in. Especially the ones around Gaza's inland perimeter, which the IDF is now annexing with tanks and bulldozers. The infrastructure is the homes, and the tunnels beneath them.

The thing about fighting a determined enemy in an urban setting is you can only make the best use of your superior firepower if there aren't any buildings in the way. People can hide behind buildings. So you have to destroy them all, which is what the Israelis are doing. Which is what the US did in Fallujah, and in Hue, and is what the Nazis did in Warsaw.

I'm no military expert or anything, but I am a history buff, and I believe the main difference between Fallujah, Hue and the Warsaw Ghetto is in Fallujah the resistance didn't build tunnels prior to the battle. In all those cases, though, the only way to win the battle was to completely demolish the cities, one building at a time.

In Warsaw, after the buildings were all burned to the ground and the ghetto was nothing but rubble, the resistance continued, albeit on a small scale due in part to a complete lack of food or firearms. The reason any resistance was able to continue was down to the tunnels.

Tunnels are a bit like buildings that way. You can hide behind a building, and if you're really lucky, you can ambush soldiers when they come around the corner. If you're really, really lucky as well as very skillful, you might get close enough for hand-to-hand combat. Which is necessary when the other side has all the firepower.

You can also hide in tunnels, before you come out and engage in your mission to attack the enemy before the enemy inevitably kills you in return. It's almost always a suicide mission. You show yourself, you die, but maybe you kill first, if you're ready to die, and very lucky and very skilled.

In Warsaw, the tunnels were how some of the ancestors of some of those IDF soldiers survived the Nazi Holocaust. The tunnels were how they managed to get some food into the ghetto from outside the ghetto walls. And even a few guns, and very home-made bombs. Beneath any well-stocked kitchen sink are the explosives necessary to have your own little “infrastructure of terror,” after all. Even in Warsaw, 1943. If you went outside the ghetto, where such chemicals could be purchased.

So, destroy the buildings, destroy the tunnels, and face the conundrum that as long as people are able to buy food, fertilizer, gasoline, and Draino, they'll be able to make explosives. As long as there are people there will be terrorists.

So “gas the Arabs” becomes the natural conclusion. It's the only way to have security. If you don't want to give them sovereignty, you have to kill them all. How close to “kill them all” are the Israelis willing to go?

Full essay here, while for more analysis of Israel's barbarism and how to fight it, see here

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