Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Friday, May 08, 2015

La Lutte Continue

After the generally disastrous general election, the struggle continues...

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Rage Against The Machine: Voice Of The Voiceless

'It is my contention that if Mumia Abu Jamal dies as a result of the deliberate medical neglect that he is being subjected to, the uprising in Baltimore may well come to look like a tea party' - Tayo Aluko

Monday, May 04, 2015

Kick the Tories Out - but sorry Russell, you are wrong about Ed Miliband

 Kick Out the Tories (Socialist Worker)  badge (black)

The Marxist theorist John Molyneux wrote an excellent piece back in 2013 in which he noted the tendency for the ostensibly opposing political currents of autonomism and left-reformism to come together to find common ground - and how this was because both political tendencies had more in common with each other than they did with any kind of strategy based on working class self-emancipation and building revolutionary democracy based on workers' power - which is at the heart of revolutionary Marxist politics. To quote Molyneux:

  an anarchist/autonomist type strategy which downplays the role of the state (Hardt and Negri) or rejects the taking of state power altogether (see John Holloway’s ‘How to Change the World without Taking Power’) can more easily coexist with a strategy of a reformist government of the left than either of these strategies can coexist with a revolutionary Marxist perspective of building a revolutionary party and smashing the capitalist state. They, the anarchist/autonomists, do their thing at the base, in the localities etc., while the reformists do their thing at the level of government. Two interesting historic precedents for this are: 1) the early 20th century ‘economist’ tendency in Russian Social Democracy who argued that the job of Social Democrats was to restrict themselves to supporting the economic struggles of the working class and not get involved in political struggle which, as Lenin explained at the time, meant leaving politics to the liberal bourgeoisie; 2) the Spanish Revolution where the anarcho-syndicalists refusal to take state power (on the grounds of being opposed to any kind of dictatorship) morphed into support for the bourgeois liberal/ Communist/reformist Popular Front government.

 Russell Brand's dramatic switch from a kind of eclectic autonomism (mixed with spirituality) which was highly critical of electoralist compromises and parliamentary corruption and instead called for a 'Revolution of Consciousness',  to now openly calling for radicals to vote en masse for Ed Miliband's Labour Party (except in Scotland and Brighton where he is obviously happy to go with the tide and support the SNP / Greens respectively) is just one more demonstration of the political truth (or 'trewth' to use Brand's term) highlighted by Molyneux. Another was relayed at a meeting the veteran socialist theorist Colin Barker did in Leeds earlier this year - he recalled meeting a young unknown Spanish anarchist academic who came over to the UK a few years ago to give a talk on Rosa Luxemburg, and who was highly critical of parliamentary politics. When Barker next heard the name of this young anarchist academic he was surprised to learn that he was now an MEP and the leader of the left-reformist Podemos party in Spain - his name was Pablo Iglesias.

 Today serious revolutionary politics - which understand the strategic problems posed by any perspective of the left thinking it can try and take control of the capitalist state as though that state was somehow neutral - are so apparently intellectually unfashionable in Britain that even the likes of Richard Seymour give their support for the left-reformist Green Party (incidentally, in Leeds, many of the 'autonomists' I know personally joined the Green Party during their recent membership 'surge' while one is now standing as a parliamentary candidate for the even less radical single-issue party Yorkshire First).

 And so now we come to the spectacle of Brand endorsing Ed Miliband -  with Miliband being surely one of the very few people who thinks the blood soaked war criminal Tony Blair might still be an electoral asset to the Labour Party - and someone who would apparently prefer a Tory government than going into coalition with the SNP to keep the Tories out - and someone who has just decided to effectively build his political gravestone - sorry 'Ed stone' - which is a pitiful mixture of platitudes ('a better future') and racism ('controls on immigration'). I guess we should be grateful that Ed Miliband didn't raise Gordon Brown's 'British Jobs for British workers' slogan but nonetheless Miliband's vision is so uninspiring he can't even bring himself to write phrases such as 'welfare not warfare' or 'no to privatisation' on his headstone, let alone (God forbid!) the words 'democratic socialism'.

Of course in many places on Thursday radicals and socialists will have to hold their noses and vote Labour to either try to block the Tories or UKIP - or try to punish the Lib Dems - but lets be honest -there are only a handful of Labour MPs and prospective candidates that are actually worthy of the votes of socialists.  In safe Labour seats - what on earth is the point of the Left voting for careerists who like their leader Miliband himself (during the 100 day Care UK strike which took place in his own constituency of Doncaster) - wouldn't go near a local picket line of striking health workers to show solidarity but would find time to travel all the way up to Scotland in an effort to save the Trident nuclear submarines and to save the British imperialist state from breaking up? In Leeds for example we have the likes of Shadow minister Rachel Reeves, who wants to cut benefits for the unemployed, and another Shadow minister Hilary Benn, who was part of Blair's cabinet which took us into the criminal and disastrous Iraq war, surely it is absolutely right for socialists to stand against them as part of TUSC?  And that is before we get to some of the real renegades, racists and charlatans who exist among the roster of Labour MPs standing again as parliamentary candidates, at least one of which (Frank Field) is so right wing he has worked happily with the Tory government as a 'poverty tsar'  and others (like Simon Danczuk) who were considering defecting to UKIP not so long ago...and may well still do so in future if UKIP is not blocked.   My goodness, even Blair's partner in war crime Jack Straw - whose arrogance, ignorance and pomposity are legendary- would have liked to have run for parliament again until his own greed meant he was gloriously hoisted by his own petard recently.

I understand that Russell Brand is still learning about politics - and to be fair to him he is a good learner and no doubt he will ultimately come to chalk this one up to experience and come to realise the error of his ways sooner rather than later after Thursday - so I don't want to be too harsh on the lad - especially given his eloquence and brilliance in using the platform he has as a celebrity to amplify all manner of critical struggles and providing a powerful moral critique of the capitalist system and the destruction it causes to people's lives and to the planet - all of which is so badly needed in the current period - but it is not as if these political questions of revolutionary organisation, strategy and tactics are all completely new - there is a whole history of the Labour Party and what Labour governments are like in power out there on the record - which it might be interesting for Brand to begin to acquaint himself with at some point.   As as aside, one of the limitations of left-reformist thinking is how it is so intrinsically a-historical  - its kind of ingrained - one simply has to place the whole past record of failure where Labour governments are concerned in the 'memory hole' and believe naively that somehow, almost mystically, the next Labour government will be better than the last - just because they can't imagine how it could be any worse.  Even though the record of Labour governments ever since 1945 have all been worse than their predecessors - and a Miliband government will be even worse than Blair's given the scale of cuts and attacks on workers that he will have to drive through given the depth of the capitalist crisis.

Given this, reading some of Ed's dad Ralph for example might be well worth Russell Brand (and others) sitting down and doing at some point - Parliamentary Socialism not being a bad place to start.

'Milibrand' - if only Russell was more into Ralph than Ed...

 When Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour Party - I highlighted some of Ralph Miliband's words which Brand might reflect on if he genuinely believes that Ed Miliband is going to be interested in listening to voices like his - and wider democratic grassroots movements - once he is in power:

 In 1966, Ralph Miliband for example, commenting on Harold Wilson, noted that 'when Mr. Wilson so unexpectedly became leader of the Labour Party, many people on the Left thought that their situation had been drastically changed, and that left-wing voices would at long last be effectively heard at the highest reaches of Labour policy-making.' Such illusions were soon to be proved wrong - not least after Wilson became Prime Minister in 1964.

But for Ralph Miliband, the idea of 'parliamentary socialism' itself brought about through the Labour Party was a flawed strategy - and socialists would be better off trying to build up a socialist alternative to the Labour Party from below:

 'It is absurd to think that the men who now rule the Labour Party, and who will go on ruling it, will ever want, or would agree under pressure, to push the Labour Party in socialist directions, and to show the resolution, single-mindedness and staying-power which such reorientation would require. Carthorses should not be expected to win the Derby. To believe, against all the weight of accumulated evidence, that the Labour leaders can, for instance, be made to adopt a “socialist foreign policy” if it is presented to them in sufficiently alluring terms is pure delusion, on a par with Robert Owen’s hope that Metternich would act on the plan for a Co-operative Commonwealth of Europe which Owen presented to him at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818...'

Miliband went on:

'What this amounts to is that the Labour Party is and will remain as much of a non-socialist party as it has ever been, with its leaders providing a Lib-Lab, non-socialist alternative to the Conservative Party. This does not mean that the two parties are now “the same”. They are in fact very different, in terms of the kind of people who mainly vote for each party, in terms of their membership and the aspirations of their activists. But the parliamentary leaders of the Labour Party (and the point applies, though to a lesser degree to the leaders of the Conservative Party) have always been able to attenuate the political expression of these differences to the point where they do not, in concrete terms, endanger the “neo-capitalist” framework which both party leaderships now accept as permanent... This reproduces, though at a different level, a situation which endured for the best part of the nineteenth century as between the Tory and Liberal parties. These parties were not by any means “the same”; but, as Lord Balfour noted in a famous Introduction to Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution, their “alternating Cabinets, though belonging to different Parties ... never differed about the foundations of society”...'

The task for radicals and socialists in the current period is surely not to line up behind Labour ala Brand but to try and unite to build a genuine socialist alternative to this cosy capitalist consensus - and prepare for the class struggles to come whoever wins on Thursday. The more votes that the genuine socialists, radicals and revolutionaries like TUSC get the stronger the Left will be to fight austerity and cuts after the election. Our slogan should be - 'Vote to Kick the Tories Out - but vote Left to build the socialist alternative where you can'.

That said and done, I should really stop blogging about Brand and get out there campaigning for TUSC myself.  I will leave you with some more reading which is timely - a critique of the first five years of Tony Blair's government from 1997-2001 (so pre-Afghan and Iraq wars) by the late socialist journalist Paul Foot - Why You Should Vote Socialist (2001).

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Base and Superstructure

Friday, April 24, 2015

Migrant Lives Matter protest

Protest at the EU London HQ:

The death of 950 African migrants in the latest loss of a ship crossing from Libya to Europe has exposed the appalling human cost of the 'Fortress Europe' immigration policy imposed by European Union and the British government.

Anti-migrant rhetoric of the establishment politicians, UKIP and the Katie Hopkins obsessed media has lead to thousands of people, many of whom are fleeing nations torn apart by Western intervention, drowning
in the sea.

In the first quarter of 2015, approximately 1,700 migrants have already drowned, 30 times as many as in the same period of 2014, leading to fears of a record death rate this year. Last year nearly four thousand bodies were recovered from the Med, and that figure is just those that were found. The EU needs to change it's policy to stop this and restart the rescue.

Protest called by the Movement Against Xenophobia, supported by:
Stop the War Coalition
BARAC UK (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts)
Global Justice Now Global Justice London
Stand Up To Racism

Time: 1pm.

Date: Saturday 25th April

Place: European Commission, 32 Smith Square, Westminster London, SW1P 3EU (nearest tubes Westminster or St James')

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Historical Materialism Duncan Hallas

Friday, April 17, 2015

Vote TUSC against CUTS - TUSC election broadcast

International Socialism #146

As well as a shiny new website, the latest issue of International Socialism is now online - the main contents are below - but there are also book reviews etc etc - well worth checking out...

The interminable catastrophe

Alex Callinicos

Syriza and the crisis

Interview with Panos Garganas

After the Paris attacks: An Islamophobic spiral

Jim Wolfreys

Islamophobia: the othering of Europe’s Muslims

Hassan Mahamdallie

Racism and resistance in the US after Ferguson

Megan Trudell

Marx rediscovered

Sheila McGregor

Africa rising? The economic history of sub-Saharan Africa

Biodun Olamosu and Andy Wynne

Bureaucratic mass strikes: A response to Mark O’Brien

Dave Lyddon

An elusive independence: Neocolonial intervention in the Caribbean

Kevin Edmonds

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Histomat guide to the General Election

This blog was started almost ten years ago, just after the 2005 general election - so I didn't comment so much about that election, but you can read some of my thoughts before and after the 2010 general election here, and its result here. This time round, my brief guide to the state of play is below (those wanting a more indepth Marxist analysis of what is going on should read Alex Callinicos in the latest International Socialism journal) - anyway, my take on it here:

The Tories: ''The government is led by a clique of toffs who have neither respect for their colleagues, nor empathy with the average voter. Their born-to-rule mentality means they have a greatly over-inflated view of their own capabilities, which deafens their ears to the advice and warnings of others who might actually know better. They are nothing like as good at governing as they think they are. And this...is now inflicting serious harm on the country...'' - this was the view of Tory MPs about the leaders of their party - back in 2012 - and little over the last three years has changed this basic reality. Remember that David Cameron is so posh that his career with the Conservative Party began with the help of a phone call from Buckingham Palace saying "I understand you are to see David Cameron ... I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man." It will be interesting indeed if we are faced with a very close election result - as looks likely - whether Cameron will just refuse to face reality and try to hang onto office as long as possible simply because as a leading member of the ruling class - related to the Queen - he just thinks that he is somehow entitled to remain in office in a position he thinks he was born to have - regardless of the small matter of the electorate.

 More critically, how can 'a clique of toffs' - who have waged open and blatant brutal class war on behalf of the rich who run Britain against the working class (both in and out of work) through austerity, massive cuts to the NHS and welfare state, and presiding over growing inequality and attacks on workers pay - still be in with a reasonable chance of remaining in office and making up the government after 7 May, five years on? Basically, because the Tories have relatively successfully pushed 'divide and rule' at every point over the past five years - dividing public sector from private sector workers, the able from the disabled, those in work against those out of work, and increasingly scapegoating immigrants in a racist fashion. Why have the Tories been relatively successful in this pernicious campaign? The answer here is...

The Labour Party, who have instead of standing up for the working class - ie. doing its supposed job as the party of 'labour' - instead gone along the 'austerity myth' and accepted the need for cuts - and more critically, gone along with every 'divide and rule' policy of the Tories - and echoed Tory rhetoric and logic - including when it is racist (eg see the Labour 'control immigration' pledge / mug). The only positive pledges of reform offered by Labour - eg scrapping the bedroom tax - have generally only come about because of the pressure of grassroots campaigners below - often undertaken against local Labour councils.   Ed Miliband's supporters and defenders will try and point to times when Ed has 'stood up' to the rich and big business - but every time Ed has say, criticised Rupert Murdoch, the right wing press have just gone on the attack the next day, and Ed has retreated and returned to eg. proudly holding up copies of the Sun. The only two people Miliband has effectively sacked from his Shadow Cabinet remember were Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry - both essentially to appease racist voters. If Miliband is this weak in standing up to racists, rich and big business before he is elected - imagine how weak he would be once he was Prime Minister - with all the closer links to the capitalist state etc that would follow from that position - unless there was serious major pressure on his government from trade unionists etc below.

 More critically, it is important to see Labour's weakness historically, as Mark L Thomas does here, pointing out that Tony Cliff once noted that 'Since the Second World War every Labour government has been more right wing than the one before'. In fact, given the level of cuts that a Miliband government would try and carry through amidst the capitalist crisis, it is quite likely that this sorry story would continue under Miliband - even if his foreign policy would be a slight break from Blair (though the fact that Miliband is happy to have Blair himself involved and sponsoring Labour's election challenge this time around does not bode well at all). And if we do have a weak Miliband government making cuts, then only people likely to be smiling are the racist populists of UKIP - just look at the Hollande government in France and how the fascist Front National has flourished.

However, it is wrong to suggest - as Richard Seymour seems to do here - that Labour's commitment to cuts means that what we are already seeing is its 'Pasokisation' - ie like Pasok in Greece, facing its electoral demise because of its pro-austerity politics. We are not quite at this stage yet. As Mark L Thomas notes, 'millions of workers will still vote Labour — not because they love austerity but because they hate the Tories and desperately hope Labour will blunt the worst of the attack'. Labour has not (yet?) done what Pasok did in Greece and entered a 'grand coalition' of austerity with the Tories (and a UKIP style party). A 'grand coalition' of austerity in Britain might possibly be on the cards after the election (its interesting that neither the Tories or Labour have definitely ruled out going into coalition with each other) - but it seems rather unlikely as the level of the capitalist crisis is not as severe as all that (yet). However, Labour's leaders could well consider a coalition with the Lib Dems which brings us onto...

The Lib Dems: What is there to say here? Its worth remembering that liberals (eg the Guardian, Laurie Penny etc etc) urged the Left to vote for the Lib Dems in 2010 in order to keep the Tories out. That worked out well. However, Nick Clegg's basic 'category error' when forming a coalition with the Tories was that he thought he was still living in the 19th century - when an electorate might well have looked more kindly on a Tory - Liberal coalition forming in the 'national interest' (code for the interests of the British capitalist class) - because the electorate back in the 19th century was essentially just rich men of property. However in a mass democracy when rich men of property are a minority of the electorate, the Lib Dems face being punished very harshly for Clegg's basic category error here - and rightly so. I would love to see students in Sheffield Hallam flood to the ballot box to 'decapitate' Clegg himself in 2015 - this really would be a highlight of the election night if it happened...

As a postscript, it is worth noting that if Labour go into coalition with the Lib Dems, that will go down very badly with the trade union leaders who fund Labour so generously - and could lead Unite union for example to end their funding of Labour - which all bodes well for...

The Green Party / SNP / Plaid Cymru: The 'new kids on the block' as it were, even if none of them are particularly new parties. The rise in popularity for these currently effectively social democratic parties have been a very welcome and refreshing new addition to British politics, given how far the Labour Party has moved away from not just socialism but just basic social democracy over the years. The 'election debates' on TV have been actually almost watchable affairs in this election precisely because of the inclusion of these party leaders and their rhetorical attacks on austerity and the racism of UKIP - which have pulled the whole tone of the election debates at least to the Left (even if the corporate media ensures that a right wing narrative dominates in the press - see Richard Desmond of the Express giving £1 million to UKIP and pushing UKIP propaganda in his 'paper').

However - with the possible exception of Plaid Cymru about which I know little - while the Greens and SNP have challenged the need for cuts in their official policy - they have both implemented Tory cuts at a local level over the last five years (eg cutting council jobs in the case of the SNP - and attacking refuse workers in the case of the Greens in Brighton council). Though some socialists - like Richard Seymour - urge the Left to vote Green in this election, and while some Greens are excellent socialists - in reality the Greens are not a socialist party who can be guaranteed to fight for workers - in Leeds where I live for example, it was not so long ago that the local Green Party councillors joined the Tories and Lib Dems in a 'Rainbow coalition' which attacked refuse workers pay - forcing them to take strike action (as in Brighton more recently). The Greens have apparently ruled out joining a Tory coalition after May 7 - which is very good - but socialists should only vote Green if there is no socialist candidate standing, if the local Green candidate is worth voting for, and actually better than say the Labour Party candidate - not all Greens are.

UKIP: Essentially right wing Tories, but more dangerous as the growth of this racist populist party has followed wider European trends which has seen the growth of racist and fascist parties - and UKIP have pulled much of official British politics to the right - as the mainstream parties go out of their way to try and 'out UKIP-UKIP'. The importance of building opposition at the grassroots like Stand Up to UKIP are doing will be critical in the weeks, months and years ahead.  The long term division and crisis of Conservatism over the European Union means that UKIP are sadly likely to be around for a while (however many times their leaders and candidates shoot themselves / machine gun themselves in the foot through idiotic beliefs and grotesque behaviour flowing from their blatant and disgusting racism / sexism / homophobia etc). The rise of UKIP is also dangerous in that it will give confidence to the currently very fragmented and splintered British fascists - and give them an audience and milieu around which to try and re-group and re-organise - which is why there can be no complacency about the threat and potential threat they pose.

TUSC / Left Unity / Scottish Socialist Party / Respect - Almost if not quite as fragmented as the far-right, the socialist left in Britain is nonetheless mounting a timely and important (if inevitably rather ignored by the state and corporate media) challenge as 100 percent anti-austerity parties in this election, with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) leading the charge with a remarkable 136 parliamentary candidates, 600 local council candidates and an election broadcast - the sixth biggest party in this election. It remains shameful and tragic however that the left is not stronger and more united so that radicals and socialists could raise the red banner of resistance and hope amidst the prevailing cuts, misery, racism and despair even higher and in every constituency. However the crisis and debate over the lack of working class representation in Britain is not going to go away - and indeed is likely to intensify after May 7th - and the fact that there are quite a few joint 'TUSC / Left Unity' joint campaigns underway in this election shows the potential exists already to begin to form a more united left after the election. This is surely the task for revolutionary socialists in Britain in this election - building independent working class organisation and building the vote for the Left - not tailing the SNP or Greens.  Whoever wins on May 7 - the cuts will continue to come - and the need for a united working class fightback in response will be as great as ever - voting for TUSC and the wider Left will send a clear signal that the mood to resist is there.

 Watch the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition broadcast on Friday April 17th..... BBC2: 5.55pm... ITV: 6.25pm... BBC1: 6.55pm... Channel4: 7.55pm - and join the TUSC campaign on the streets!

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Austerity and Socialist Strategy: Historical Materialism London conference 2015

As well as Marxism 2015, coming up in July, I may as well circulate this call for papers for Historical Materialism conference in London from 5-8 November.

The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born: States, Strategies, Socialisms Twelfth Annual Historical Materialism Conference School of Oriental and African Studies, Central London, 5-8 November 2015

As austerity tightens its grip around the throats of the peoples of Europe, but also rears its ugly head in Brazil and elsewhere, we are forced to recognize that it is not the mere byproduct of the « economic crisis » but a political project in its own right, one whose aim is to deepen and consolidate the most uncompromising forms of neoliberal capitalism. It cannot be said that this project has hitherto been met with passivity, even if social movements of resistance have been mostly far from strong enough to halt its advance. Yet something is perhaps beginning to change, namely the emergence of counter-austerity projects that have pitched themselves at a political - even electoral or governmental - level. With all their weaknesses, hesitations and contradictions, the chinks of light in Southern Europe, amongst others, should compel Marxists to pose a whole series of 'old' strategic and theoretical problems in new garbs and new configurations, ​but perhaps also to retire some of our dear fetishes and shibboleths, and to experiment with forms and strategies adequate to our present. Among the themes that have returned to the agenda are: the relationship of movements and parties of the radical Left to states and governments; the need for a political response to how class power is enmeshed with forms of domination that have gender, race, imperialism or sexuality as their axes; possible « socialist » futures and the « transitional » mediations implied by them; the guiding dichotomies of left thought: reform and revolution, revolution and revolt, state and movement, parties classes and masses; the link between the limits to capital and the limits of politics.
At this year’s Historical Materialism Annual Conference in London, 5-8 November 2015, we would like to encourage papers on these and other topics, with a particular focus on Greece, Spain and Latin America as laboratories for these experiences and debates. Among the themes we would like to explore are:
  • Dual Power and Socialist Transition
  • Communisation, Accelerationism and their limits
  • Transitional Programme Redivivus?
  • The European Union as a Class Project
  • Greece and Spain as Laboratories of Change
  • Latin America - What Follows the Pink Wave?
  • Cultural and Aesthetic Representations of Crisis
  • What Is Populism?
  • The Reformist Hypothesis
  • Right-wing Strategies in the Crisis 
Other themes we would like to see are:
  • Nietzsche and Marxism (to celebrate the publication of Domenico Losurdo’s book on Nietzsche in the HM Book Series)
  • History and Actuality of the first four congresses of the Communist International
  • Social Reproduction
  • Race and Capitalism
  • Capitalism, Logistics and the Sea
  • The Legacy of Nicos Poulantzas and Left Eurocommunism
  • Capitalism and Global Inequality: Keynes or Marx?
  • Marxist Thought in the Arab World
  • China: Is the Miracle About to Crash?
  • « Leninism » and its Discontents
  • Strategies of Counter-Revolution
  • Culture and State Building
  • Rebuilding Communities and the Battles around Housing.
  • Technologies and Culture