Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape

By Steve Hanson

Apologies to Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe. Or maybe not, he lives round here after all.

NORTH YORKSHIRE is so very neat and trimmed. Aldborough, with its maypole, even the ruins look fake. It stinks of money, it absolutely reeks of it, and it is empty most of the time as people are out earning or doing whatever they do, the elite. It was like being in an episode of The Prisoner sometimes. I expected someone to cycle past in a cape and boater, “be seeing you”.
This place is where recirculation should begin. We went to the Treasurer’s House in York. I spoke to a vicar who told me to read James Lees Milne’s diaries on the last owner of the house. “Very racy”, he said. Then he told me that wallpaper was hung loose until around 1800, and pointed out that the floor was effectively hand-axed oak veneer. One room had the wood grain re-drawn on to it. The vicar told me this was “flawless craftsmanship”. It looked like some kids had done it with a felt tip. National Trust properties are often such bizarre collages.
On Wednesday we went to Thirsk, a pretty town, with its Herriot Museum. I find it amazing that it is still there after the popular TV series stopped broadcasting; I thought it would be a dead attraction, at least after its first set of repeats. I can’t get Patrick Wright out of my mind on this trip. The “modern past” is the very fabric of North Yorkshire, its atoms, its dark matter.
Then we set off to Kilburn, to the White Horse, a bit of mid-19th century medieval fetishism, with an airfield at the top. More big toys. We passed the religious college and giant cross at Ampleforth, then went through Byland Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace, with its mock temples for rich dining, then on to Nunnington Hall.
Here were Joshua Reynolds mezzotints, including one of Lawrence Sterne. I wondered what the connection was, but there wasn’t one, the lady just liked to collect them. Reynolds was called “Sir Sloshua” for his supposedly sloppy brushwork. I can’t remember exactly which critic it was, but there’s one bit of information that survived the onslaught of my art school hedonism. The rest of the house is filled with pictures of aesthetic slums, sorry “the picturesque”, and a mezzotint of the Governor of Burma. The Empire looms large here.
There was a tiny “fake” Turner, actually it wasn’t even an attempt to fake one, or I don’t think so, it just looked like his later abstracted seascapes. I don’t care about its authenticity. It’s a good picture, but the volunteer looked puzzled when I expressed this.
On Friday we went to Richmond, to find soldiers, tanks, and a “Gaza Base”. The Empire is still here, in North Yorkshire, with its glimpses of Prisoneresque white globes on the horizon, nuclear early warning systems, to alert The Prisoner villages that they have 10 more minutes to exist.
We passed right through Bedale, as it looked completely boring, so we went on to our pre-arranged visit to Moulton Hall a little early. You have to book, which means phoning the life peer Lord Eccles beforehand to arrange for him to show you around. We get there and he’s gardening, and is quite welcoming. We look at his art collection; he has a Walter Steggles and the influence on John Nash, or vice versa, is clear.
Byron owned the house at one point, as it was his wife’s, Anne Millbanke, who he harassed for a year and then left. Eccles starts talking about form, in regard to the staircase, and I can’t stop thinking about Ada Lovelace and her work on the first machine algorithm. It is unclear if Lovelace would ever have been in the house, but my imagination explodes.
 On Saturday we go to Beningbrough Hall, its snooty staff match the content; at the moment an exhibition of Royal portraits. A huge picture of the Royal Family hangs in the entrance. It tries to show them as a “normal” family, and of course they are not. That is the rhetoric of the image. But the monolithic scale of the picture and the height at which it is hung makes them loom over the viewer, in spite of all the jolly colours and casual poses. Beningbrough houses all of the county’s 18th Century portraits, and so there they are, more Sir Sloshua pieces, and the Kit-Cat club pictures, anti-Catholic “Wits”, all hanging in the half-dark to conserve them.
There are breaks in the rhetoric though, an unfinished sketch of an 18th century noble without the wig, his face suspended in grey. There is something unintentionally active about this. Ultimately though, they just don’t get it here. There is a Warhol of the Queen. They don’t understand that there is nothing more meaningless than an image of the Queen of Britain, which is why Warhol selected the image. But here the Queen is made meaningful again, by the iconic status of “the Warhol”.
Meaning, here, is the snake that eats its own tail. I’ll say it again: North Yorkshire is one of the places on the island where the process of radical recirculation and re-ordering should begin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Eric Hobsbawm: Bourgeois Revisionist

By Adrian Chan-Wyles

THE BRITISH “Marxist” historian, Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) died in his 95th year in London. This Cambridge-educated former Communist had a thoroughly bourgeois background, which saw him born to a British father and German-Jewish mother in Alexandria in the British protectorate of Egypt.  He spent much of his youth being educated in Germany, and only left for the UK with the rise of Adolf Hitler.
             His privileged background enabled him to attend the best schools, and enter Cambridge with little fuss in the mid-1930s.  He claims to have been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain for around 50 years, from 1936 onwards. In his 2002 autobiography Interesting Times – a Twentieth-Century Life, Hobsbawm, under the guise of literary honesty, reveals the true nature of his bourgeois upbringing and conditioning through a single paragraph, the revisionist content of which, re-appears throughout the 418 pages in ever-expanded form, so that the reader is left with no doubt that although Hobsbawm made a living out of the intellectual output of Karl Marx, in the final analysis, Hobsbawm was not a “Marxist”, but instead specialised in turning Marx into a “fetish”:

‘The months in Berlin made me a lifelong communist, or at least a man whose life would lose its nature and its significance without the political project to which he committed himself as a schoolboy, even though that project has demonstrably failed, and as I now known was bound to fail.  The dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me, as deleted texts are still waiting to be recovered by experts, somewhere on the hard disks of computers.  I have abandoned, nay, rejected it, but it has not been obliterated.  To this day I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness which I do not feel towards Communist China, because I belong to the generation for whom the October Revolution represented the hope of the world, as China never did.  The Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle symbolised it.’ (Eric Hobsbawm: Interesting Times – A Twentieth Century Life – Pages 55-56)

Eric Hobsbawm, despite claiming to be a Marxist academic, was very popular, and his work was respected throughout the bourgeois academic world – his work also appears extensively in Chinese translation in the People’s Republic of China. Why would an openly Marxist academic be so popular amongst his ideological enemies?  The answer is that despite Hobsbawm’s cursory nod toward the philosophical work of Marx, that is the defining and use of the theory of historical materialism, he was essentially a bourgeois revisionist at heart, which applied a misty-eyed vision, similar to a religious attitude, when interpreting historical events.
 When viewed in this way, a doubt must be assumed when assessing the Marxist validity of all of his historical analysis.  His “age of” historical analysis series contain a vital flaw running through its centre – namely the flaw of bourgeois intellectualism masquerading as “Marxism”.  Applying Marx correctly to Hobsbawm, it is clear that Hobsbawm was popular amongst the bourgeois educational establishment not because of his supposed and professed adherence to Marxism, but because in reality he was presenting a distorted Marxism shot-through with bourgeois sentiment and class bias, for whatever else Hobsbawm may, or may not have been, he remained a bourgeois throughout his life.

His autobiography is nothing more than an apology to his bourgeois class, for his indulgence with Marxism.  It also serves a far more sinister function of warning-off any young people interested in pursuing a Marxist path in contemporary Britain, as a means to combat the injustices current within UK society.  Hobsbawm’s work, although carefully camouflaged in places, nevertheless, reaches precariously beyond and around the Marxist narrative, and introduces an idiosyncratic interpretation that says more about the psychological conditioning of Hobsbawm than it does about the historical subject he is assessing.
This explains why the distorted work of Hobsbawm – as bourgeois revisionist and apologist – is dangerous to the progressive communist cause.  If people are taken in with Hobsbawm’s scattering of sayings of Marx throughout his work, and fail to understand the great bourgeois project he is undertaking, Hobsbawm will succeed in stamping-out the revolutionary heart that beats at the centre of correct Marxist thinking. 

Criticism of three of his major works can be easily summed-up using Marxist analysis:

The Age of Revolution 1789-1848
Most years between the French Revolution (1789) and the 1848 revolutionary movement across Europe, when taken as a world perspective, (rather than following Hobsbawm’s scheme of limiting his analysis to western Europe), had no more, or no fewer “revolutionary” movements than any other historical period.  Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution is an arbitrary sham, masquerading as historical and dialectical materialist analysis.

The Age of Capital (1849-1875
This is perhaps the easiest of Hobsbawm’s work to see through, as he obviously is using the productive period of Karl Marx – particularly from his move to London – where Marx wrote many (but not all) of his most influential works, including Das Kapital, his superb and often meandering analysis of the capitalist mode of production; its origin, perpetuation, theory of labour and surplus value amongst many other important issues.
Three more volumes were published after his death in 1882.  This time period, regardless of any assessment made by Hobsbawm, (which is, in any case, an analysis made after the event), is only the “age of capital” because the genius of Karl Marx made it so through his assessment.  There is no originality in Hobsbawm simply taking the subject of Marx’s analysis and distorting it into an “epoch”.

The Age of Empire (1875-1914)
Hobsbawm, brought-up as a secular Jew in Germany heading toward Hitlerism, makes much of his “Britishness” and refuses to accept in his biography, that his move to Britain was inspired by the excesses of early Nazism.  He would have the reader believe that his “Jewish” family moved on the cusp of Nazi persecution, not because it made sense to do so, particularly as he possessed a British passport, but rather that such a move was purely coincidental and linked entirely to his uncle’s migrating business interests.
Hobsbawm has written that he, and his family were not German-Jewish refugees escaping Nazism, but gives the impression of holidaying bourgeoisie, who casually float from one country to the next.  Hobsbawm’s Eurocentricism is palpable.  His “age of empire” is actually the age of the British Empire, the establishment of which he firmly joined in the 1930’s.  A “floating” member of the international bourgeois, who swapped the German Empire for that of the British Empire.

Hobsbawm’s work is popular throughout the bourgeois system because it undermines the very Marxism it claims to represent, through the careful and clever presentation of many small, but important misrepresentations of Marxist philosophy and its application.  The over-all effect of this policy is a movement away from a correct Marxist analysis and toward a thoroughly (and for Hobsbawm a comfortable) bourgeois interpretation.
His deliberate and illogical separation of the Russian Communist Revolution from that of the Chinese Revolution is bizarre in its certainty, and smirks of Eurocentric bias bordering on the racist. Whatever Hobsbawm’s motivation for this flawed analysis, it is obvious that he does not adhere to the Marxist principle of internationalism.
What Hobsbawm fails to acknowledge is that Marx eulogised the Paris Commune of 1871, and that the hammer and sickle flags flies just as equally over China, as it does over north Korea and many other former Soviet Republics, and is not limited in its meaning to the ethnocentric bias Hobsbawm appears to be exhibiting.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is exactly this Asian Communism that is giving hope to many who hold leftwing views in the West.
After-all, it is in these countries that a living Communist government continues to exist. Communists are internationalists and derisive historians such as Hobsbawm should not be allowed to drive a wedge in the sense of collective, unfolding history. Marxists must acknowledge this weakness in Hobsbawm’s work, as well as any strengths, but must not allow correct historical interpretation to be clouded by the smoke and mirrors used by the bourgeois establishment to peddle its sub-standard wares.              

Monday, April 07, 2014

Joint Statement on 65 years of Nato

For Peace! No to NATO!

Ever since it was created, 65 years ago, NATO has been an imperialist political-military bloc, a key element in its strategy of domination and exploitation, and of confrontation with the then USSR and socialist countries.
NATO is responsible for the unending arms race, and the USA and its allies are responsible for over two thirds of the planet's military expenditure.
The USA and NATO countries promote the expansion of their world-wide network of military bases, and seek to extend their zones of influence.
Procliaming its overtly offensive strategic concept, NATO has extended the territorial scope of its actions of interference, aggression and occupation, thereby deepening its role as the armed wing of the big transnational monopolies.
The USA and its NATO allies are responsible for numerous crimes and great destruction, for brutal aggressions – as in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya – and interferences – as those carried out against Syria – or threats – as those against Iran.
The USA, NATO and the European Union – its European pillar – are responsible for the growing militarization of international relations and the promotion of an escalation of tension and war against the sovereignty of peoples and the independence of States, whether in the Middle East, Africa, the Far East or in Latin America.
At the time when 65 years have elapsed since the creation of NATO – in a world situation marked by the crisis of capitalism, by imperialism's  exploitative, anti-democratic and aggressive offensive, by complex processes of realignment of forces on a world level, and by the resistance and struggle of the workers and the peoples –,
  • We demand the dissolution of NATO and support the sovereign right of all peoples to decide to disengage their countries from this aggressive alliance;
  • we reaffirm our opposition to the expansion of NATO, the militarization of the European Union and its militarist and interventionist policies;
  • we demand an end to the arms race, the deployment of the new US and NATO 'anti-missile system' in Europe, nuclear disarmament, the complete destruction of weapons of mass destruction and an end to foreign military bases;
  • we demand the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan and other countries under imperialist aggression;
  • we reaffirm our solidarity with the peoples that resist imperialism's occupations, aggressions and interferences;
  • we call upon the workers and the peoples of the whole world  to strengthen the struggle for peace, against war and NATO, for the construction of a future of peace, progress and social justice, where each people may freely decide its own future.

Subscribers till the moment:
Algerian Party for Democracy and Socialism, Algeria
Workers Party of Belgium
Communist Party of Belgium
Communist Party of Bangladesh
Workers Party of Bangladesh
Communist Party of Brazil
Communist Party of Britain
New Communist Party of Britain
Workers Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Communist Party of Canada
Communist Party of Chile
Socialist Workers Party of Croatia
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, Czech Republic
Party of the Progressive Working People, Cyprus
Communist Party in Denmark
Communist Party of Finland
Unified Communist Party of Georgia
German Communist Party
Communist Party of Greece
Hungarian Workers Party
Communist Party of India
Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Tudeh Party of Iran
Communist Party of Ireland
Communist Party of Israel
Party of the Italian Communists
Lebanese Communist Party
Communist Party of Luxembourg
Communist Party of Mexico
Popular Socialist Party, México
New Communist Party of the Netherlands
Party of the People, Panamá
Palestinian Communist Party
Communist Party of Pakistan
Peruan Communist Party
Communist Party of the Phillipines – 1930
Portuguese Communist Party
South African Communist Party
Communist Party of Spain
Party of the Communists Catalunya
Comunist Party of the Peoples of Spain
Sudanese Communist Party
Syrian Communist Party
Communist Party of Sweden
Communist Party of the Russian Federation
Communist Party of Turkey
Communist Party of Uruguay
Communist Party USA
Communist Party of Venezuela
Pole of Communist Revival in France
Union of the Galician People
Danish Communist Party

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Scottish Labour Party Conference

From our Scottish Political Correspondent

ON THE 11th May 1559 John Knox preached a sermon in the fair city of Perth which marked the start of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland.  Roused by his oratory over the next two days the townspeople ransacked the city’s wealthy friaries. Four-hundred-and-fifty-five years later Johann Lamont’s leader’s speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference in the same city had no such dramatic effect on sudden wealth redistribution but it marked a decisive bid to put clear red water between Labour and the nationalists.
Denouncing the “seven years of nationalism in Scotland – and not one policy which redistributes wealth from rich to poor” she promised to restore the 50p tax rate on incomes over £150,000 and strongly attacked First Minister Alex Salmond for planning to offer “multinationals and millionaires a bigger cut in corporation tax than anything the Tories could contemplate”.
Lamont also promised to “reverse the SNP's centralisation with a radical transfer of power to communities and people”. But apart from promising more powers to the island authorities, she made no specific promises to reverse the centralisation of the fire and police services, which have been taken out of local authority control by the SNP government.
Some of the victims of the SNP’s policies are fighting back. Police civilian workers are to ballot on strike action after relations with Police Scotland broke down. As a result of the creation of a single Scottish police force four command and control centres, which field 999 calls across the country are facing closure. The first, in Dumfries, is scheduled to shut by the end of May, with the loss of 34 jobs. Control rooms at Aberdeen, Stirling and Glenrothes face an uncertain future and police staff have had redundancy terms reduced. 
At the conference George McIrvine, the Unison branch secretary representing civilian workers in the police force, said that the SNP “crow on about how well policing in Scotland is performing, with a 40-year low in crime. I remember last year it was 38-years record low, the year before was a 36-year low. Even their sums don’t add up in accounting for crime”.
Bashing the SNP over its social policy comes easy for Scottish Labour leaders, who have difficulty in recalling that for the first 10 years of devolved rule the country was governed by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.
This amnesia is clearly selective. Labour’s national leader, Ed Miliband, could remind delegates of role of John Smith, the Labour leader who led the party in opposition until his sudden death in 1994, but say nothing about another fellow Scot, Gordon Brown, who led the last national Labour Government.
Naturally Miliband attacked the Nationalist record in government, claiming that history had "enabled us to fight for equality and social justice" and called for a No vote in the forthcoming independence referendum.
“The SNP have no plan for social justice. Remember the ‘progressive beacon’, they were going to be?” he said. “They can’t say that any more. The SNP had to be dragged kicking and screaming to abolish the Bedroom Tax. It was Labour’s campaign that forced them to do it.”
Miliband says that retaining the parliamentary union is the "right choice" because of the "bonds and the history we share across the UK" – a theme amplified by many in the Scottish labour movement who argue that breaking the link would weaken the collective strength of the unions north and south of the border.
But this argument has been considerably weakened by the way that the employers walked all over the biggest union in the country during the Grangemouth dispute and because Labour nationally does little to promote trade unions rights and is currently working to marginalise their organisational role in the party that is still overwhelmingly funded by them.
The real threat, of course, is to Labour’s seats in the Westminster Parliament. And this was bluntly spelt out by Glasgow MP Margaret Curran, who said: “The only thing that the SNP’s plans guarantee is uncertainty in Scotland and permanent Tory government in what is left of the United Kingdom.” Though quite why Labour thinks it cannot win majorities in the English heartlands with its vast working-class cities is never answered.
Labour’s alternative to Scottish independence is the promise of greater home rule and this was developed by former Scottish Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, during a packed fringe meeting debate with Allan Grogan’s dissident Labour For Independence Group (LFI).
McLeish led the Scottish government from October 2000 until his resignation the following year amid a scandal involving allegations he sub-let part of his tax-subsidised Westminster constituency office without declaring it. He now plays no part in mainstream Scottish politics but he returned to the fray to oppose independence while calling for more devolved powers than those Labour is currently offering the country.
He also called on Scottish Labour to "stop hating Salmond and the SNP" in the debate with Grogan, who said: "Labour For Independence consists of members, voters, supporters, former voters who felt the party had left them and not the other way around, trade unionists, councillors, former Lord Provosts and former chairs of the late Scottish Labour Party.
"We believe in the ideals and principles of the Labour Party, but we also believe that independence is the best way forward for Scotland."
As for the “unity” Grogan said: “Let me begin by asking the question to all those waiting for the British road to socialism. How close are we to achieving this? I have campaigned for a better society within the UK and there are many here today who have spent a lot longer doing so than I, and yet we seem to be further and further away from making this a reality.”
But Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Anas Sarwar, the MP for Glasgow Central, says the LFI is just an SNP front – a claim denied by Grogan who did, however, admit last August that only 40 per cent of his group’s 80-odd members are actually in the Labour Party.
Scottish Labour is "on the way back," Anas Sarwar told delegates in his closing-conference appeal. He said Labour was on track to win next year's Westminster election and the 2016 Holyrood poll, reversing shattering defeats in the two parliaments in 2010 and 2011.
Labour is, indeed, set to win next year’s general election if the opinion polls are anything to go by. But that is largely due to the collapse of the Liberal-Democrat vote and the rise of the far-right UK Independence Party.
Miliband’s strategy from the beginning of his tenure has been to rely on these factors to send him to Downing Street rather than adopt a working class agenda that Labour’s traditional core voters and the unions want. Labour cannot take them for granted and neither can Scottish Labour.