Sunday, April 30, 2017

History – it’s how you look at it

by Ray Jones

Review: Sweet William or the Butcher?: The Duke of Cumberland and the '45
Author: Jonathan Oates (2008), 224pp. Publisher: Pen Sword & Military. ISBN: 9781844157549

As Karl Marx said, it’s the material world that forms consciousness not the other way around. Ideas and concepts arise from our interaction with the world and most fundamentally from how humans make their living – how they survive.
And as they only survive by working together, collectively in societies, the ideas that predominate among people will be the ideas that are the main ones created by the economic/political type of society in which they live. For example, slave society, feudal, capitalist or socialist.
            It is rarely simple because in all societies there are divisions, tendencies, classes that interact with each other, they clash and cooperate in many ways. And within these they may have their own divisions.
The ideas of the fractions, while having many similarities with those of the dominant forces, will not be the same and will often contradict them. If not for these differences (contradictions) nothing would ever change.
This can make the study of history complex. But when evaluating historical events and processes (evaluating, not merely recording) Marxists must keep the main division in society, the division that defines them, in the front of their thoughts.
That is the class division, the different relationships to the means of production. Those who own the land, factories, machinery and so on, and those who don’t. We must always see things from the view of the working classes and oppose their oppressors.
Just as with ‘democracy’ when we always ask “democracy for whom?”, when evaluating history we must always ask “which class does it serve?”
To try and stand aside and be ‘objective’ is not only impossible but almost always leads to a reactionary position in the end.
The idea for this opening came to me as I was reading a book by Jonathan Oates called Sweet William or ‘the Butcher’?
This is an attempt to rescue William, Duke of Cumberland (second son of George II), from the nickname ‘the butcher’, which became attached to him after his part in putting down the Jacobite rising in the battle of Culloden in 1746 and its aftermath.
In spite of proclaiming his aim from the start, Oates still attempts to appear objective.
Oates summarises the cases historians have made for and against Cumberland and I will summarise his summary.

For Cumberland:
·        Many of the stories of terror are lies told by Jacobites.
·        The social context: it must be taken into consideration, eg the amount of violence in society, wide spread hatred of Jacobites amongst English and Lowland Scots..
·        ‘Necessity’: the ruling group needed finally to end the long-standing threat of Jacobinism. William as a member of the Hanoverian dynasty had a personal investment in this.

Against Cumberland:
·        Prior to Culloden, the decisive battle, he urged civilians to kill Jacobite stragglers.
·        After Culloden he allowed his troops to kill wounded Jacobite troops on the battle field and his cavalry showed no mercy to those fleeing.
·        After Culloden his campaigns in the Highlands killed Jacobite sympathisers and destroyed property, stole and killed cattle; the results of which have been called ‘genocide’. Even non-Jacobites were sometimes affected.

In spite of the book’s title, Oates never seriously thought that ‘Sweet William’ was an accurate term for Cumberland and concludes that Cumberland may have been harsh but, all things considered, he does not deserve the name ‘butcher’ either. What should Marxists make of all this?
            Well, they would be interested in any new facts but Oates does not really produce any.
But his type of arguments are interesting. They could be called ‘relativism’.
Cumberland should not now be called a butcher, he argues, because by the standards of his time he should not have been. If he behaved that way today it would, presumably, be all right to call him one.
The gaping hole in that argument in the case of Cumberland is that he was called a butcher at the time and not just by Jacobites. His own elder brother was part of the campaign against him.
But, more importantly, if we accept relativism it leaves historians as mere collectors of facts, unable to make judgements.
Relativist arguments are often used by liberals not liking some events but unwilling to condemn them. Ritualised cannibalism in tribal societies is perhaps a common example. But they can be used for reactionary purposes as Oates shows.
The opposite position to that of relativism however, is ‘absolutism’. This is when the historian starts from a preconceived set of principles and judges historical events by them – ignoring the social context. So when in some societies some babies were killed at birth this was evil, no matter what the circumstances. Some things just are wrong and that’s all there is to it.
But of course that’s not all there is to it. Many absolutists are coming from a religious position that itself has historical and social roots. Often their positions are reactionary but sometimes positive, depending on the circumstances.
Both relativism and absolutism are approaches that are often used, consciously or unconsciously, for a political purpose.
It must be recognised that individuals cannot step aside from their society and upbringing and be totally unbiased, we see things through our experiences, culture and education – we can do no other.
Marxists, through their experiences, choose to see things from the view of the working class. They see that the working class is the progressive class and what is best for it is the best, in the long run, for humanity.
Early on in his book Oates mentions other writers. One of these is John Prebble and his book Culloden, which he dismisses in a couple of paragraphs although he admits it is a powerful work and probably the most influential on the subject.
Prebble was a member of the old Communist Party (CPGB) until after the Second World War, and the contrast between his approach to history and Oates’ is stark. Prebble sees things in terms of class conflict and openly chooses a side – the side of the working people, of the oppressed.
He doesn’t support  ‘bonnie Prince Charlie’ or the ‘butcher Cumberland’. but paints them from the view ordinary people.
I think his book is an example of how you can write good history, full of emotion and colour, and not pretend to be writing looking down from some god-like position.
Of course this Marxist approach, which is neither relativist nor absolutist, should not just be applied to history. It is the core of Marxist ideology. Whatever we do, whatever we study, we should approach it from a class view.
All this is not to say that individuals play no active part in the making of history. It’s not all about the working of universal laws.
Masses of individuals make up the forces of history – there are no forces outside or beyond them.
And within these masses there are individuals who played more of a role than others. We can all think of examples – Cromwell, Marx and Engels. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung and many others.
But even the most gifted individuals cannot work successfully against the historical laws explained by Marx.
As G Plekanov says, they cannot “foist on society relations which no longer conform to the state of the productive forces … or do not yet conform to them.”
In other words, you cannot retreat to a rural tribal idyll from advanced capitalism, or spring to socialism from tribalism.
The very gifted person understands the direction society is moving, is embedded in their class, they “possesses qualities which make them most capable of serving the great social needs of their time, needs that arise from general and particular causes.” And they can have great influence.
But I would like to emphasise the words ‘most capable’ because, with the aid of Marxism-Leninism and as a part of the revolutionary party and the labour movement, we can all play a part. We are not just cogs in a machine.
There is a world to win and we can help to win it!

Friday, April 21, 2017

President Kim Il Sung and Britain

by Dermot Hudson

The highly significant 105th anniversary of the birth of the great Korean communist leader, comrade Kim Il Sung, is a reminder of how important it is to reflect on the relevance of his teachings and ideas to Britain. How are the ideas of Kim Il Sung applicable to Britain?
Firstly, the great Juche idea is applicable to Britain because it teaches that every country and every people should be independent and masters of their own destiny. The Juche idea is expressed in practical terms as Juche in ideology, independence in politics and self-reliant in defence. These are policies that a new progressive government could and should implement. Although Britain is an imperialist country it is at the same time deeply subordinate to US imperialism and pursues the so-called special relationship.
A new government in Britain could apply Juche by leaving NATO and kicking out
US troops. This would be a basic prerequisite to achieving independence in politics. Kim Il Sung understood the need for capitalist countries to be independent, saying:  "Ours is an era when the people demand independence. Today even the people of the capitalist countries, to say nothing of the socialist countries, want to take the road of independence and especially the people of the Third World who were exploited and oppressed by the imperialists over a long period are advancing under the uplifted banner of independence."
            Kim Il Sung showed the way to independence for the peoples of the capitalist, socialist and Third World countries. Indeed, the Juche idea reflects the aspirations of the peoples of all countries for independence – this is an undeniable fact.
            To establish Juche and achieve both political and economic independence, Britain would need to break with international capitalism and imperialism by leaving the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The British people recently voted, decisively, to leave the hated EU. President Kim Il Sung condemned the predecessor of the EU, the Common Market, pointing out that: "The ‘European Common Market’, the ‘integration of the world economy’ and the like, loudly advertised by the imperialist powers today, all pursue the heinous, aggressive aims of strangling the economic independence of the newly independent states and subordinating these countries to their rule."
Indeed, as Britain prepares to withdraw from the EU the teachings of Kim Il Sung on building an independent national economy are highly relevant to the British people. When some big power chauvinists and revisionists tried to force the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to join the former Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA or COMECON), a Soviet-led economic bloc dominated by the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies, this was opposed by President Kim Il Sung. The leader of the Workers Party of Korea upheld the banner of self-reliance and the independent national economy, saying later that: "It has become more clear today that our decision to build socialism by our own efforts on the principle of self-reliance and not enter the CMEA was quite correct."
He defined the building of an independent national economy as: "Building an independent national economy means building a diversified economy, equipping it with up-to-date technology and creating our solid bases of raw materials, thereby building up an all embracing economic system in which every branch is structurally interrelated so as to provide domestically most of the products of heavy and light industry and the agricultural produce needed to make the country wealthy and powerful and to improve the people's living conditions."
            Instead of trying to strike free-trade deals with countries such as the USA (who will only exploit and plunder Britain through so-called ‘free trade’) and lowering wages in order to be 'competitive', Britain could take on board the Juche idea, the line of self-reliance, and build an independent national economy like the DPRK.
              The example of Juche-based socialism, which is the fruit of the leadership and teachings of the great leader Kim Il Sung, is an inspiration to the people of Britain in their fight for socialism. Democratic Korea has provided people with the right to work, housing is provided at a very low cost or even totally free (one could only sigh when you contrast this to the recent headline about house prices in London going up even faster). Education is also free up to all levels, including university and post-graduate study. School clothes and other things for children are either free or sold at 50 per cent of cost price. Mothers with more than three children can work a six-hour day but be paid for eight hours. The retirement age is 60 for men and 55 for women. Taxation, including local autonomy tax, was abolished in 1974.
            Free medical care was introduced in 1953 and buttressed by further legalisation in 1960 and 1980. All treatment including medicine is free and the state even pays travelling expenses to the sanatorium!
Such measures have not been taken in all socialist countries nor in rich countries, but have been taken in the DPRK because of the profound concern of the great leader comrade Kim Il Sung for the people and the belief that the country should shoulder full responsibility for the destiny and well-being of the people. President Kim Il Sung made sure that improvement of the people’s living standards was enshrined in the principles of both the Workers Party of Korea and the DPRK. Juche Korea became the model of socialism for the world, including Britain.
            Lastly, President Kim Il Sung always supported the struggle of the working people of the capitalist countries, including Britain, for their rights and for socialism. In 1983, for example, he declared: "firm solidarity with the working classes and peoples in the capitalist countries battling against oppression and exploitation by capital."
            At a time when many British progressives and communists had lost heart because of the overthrow of socialism in the USSR and the people’s democracies of eastern Europe, the DPRK stuck to the socialist road, showing that socialism was alive and not dead!
President Kim Il Sung met with a delegation of the New Communist Party of Britain in 1990 and also with a delegation of the Communist Party of Britain at a later date, as well as a leading British social scientist. Twenty-five years ago on the 20th April, 1992 President Kim Il Sung unveiled the Pyongyang Declaration: Let Us Defend and Advance the Cause of Socialism, which was adopted by 70 parties. Now over 258 parties, including five British communist parties, have endorsed it.
            In conclusion, the revolutionary activities and teachings of the great leader comrade Kim Il Sung are vitally relevant to British people today. The Juche idea authored by comrade Kim Il Sung lights the road of independence for the British people.