Saturday, 30 March 2019

CfP: Uneven and combined development for the 21st century




Hosted by the University of Glasgow's Socialist Theory and Movements
Research Network in association with Historical Materialism

As recently as the early 1990s, anyone predicting that Trotsky's 'law' of
uneven and combined development (UCD) would soon become a key theoretical
reference point across several academic disciplines would have been treated
with a great deal of scepticism. Yet, less than three decades later, UCD is
regularly deployed in the fields of international relations, historical
sociology, political economy, social geography and–perhaps most
surprisingly–world literature. Not since the vogue for Gramsci's notion of
hegemony in the 1970s and 1980s has a concept from the classical Marxist
tradition enjoyed such widespread academic diffusion. Controversies have of
course abounded: adherents have disagreed over whether UCD is a
trans-historic or trans-modal process, or whether it is one which can only be
found in the era of industrial capitalism; critics have alleged that UCD is
simply a more sophisticated form of Eurocentrism; Trotskyist activists have
complained–with some justification–that UCD has been detached from the
political context in which it was first deployed. There have been some
events focusing on specific aspects of UCD, notably one on culture at the
University of Warwick in 2014; yet, in spite of the rapidly multiplying
literature there has not been an international event bringing together
representatives from all the relevant areas of scholarship to engage in
inter-disciplinary discussion.

This conference will finally provide such an opportunity. Although its main
focus will be on UCD, it will also be open to discussion of two important
related topics, the earlier theory of /uneven development/ and the strategy
of /permanent revolution/, the conditions for which UCD was of course
originally intended to explain. The organisers are pleased to announce that
keynote addresses will be given by Robert Brenner (on uneven development
in the history of capitalism) and Justin Rosenberg (on the relevance of UCD
to understanding contemporary issues like Brexit and the rise of Trump):
other keynote speakers will be announced over the coming months.

The event is being organised by members of the University of
Glasgow's Socialist Theory and Movements Research Network–Neil Davidson
(School of Social and Political Sciences), David Featherstone (School of
Geographical and Earth Sciences) and Vassiliki Kolocotroni (School of
Critical Studies)–in association with Historical Materialism (HM). We
are delighted at the involvement of HM, as the journal has been involved the
debates over UCD–most recently in the symposium on Alexander Anievas and
Kerem Nişancıoğlu's, /How the West Came to Rule/ in issue 26, 3 (2018),
and in the HM book series which includes such pertinent works as Day and
Gaido's collection of primary texts, /Witnesses to Permanent
Revolution/ (2009) and Christie and Degirmencioglu's forthcoming /Cultures
of Uneven and Combined Development/ (2019).

We are inviting academics, public intellectuals and political activists
interested in the debates over UCD and related areas–including those who
are critical of the concept, or at least sceptical of its explanatory
power–to participate in the conference. If you simply want to attend and
take part in the discussion, you can complete the on-line registration form
which will be issued in June. But if you are planning to submit a paper,
please send it to me at Glasgow ( [1]) by the
deadline for proposals of 10 May. You should aim for a maximum of 250 words
for individual papers and of 500 words for panels: panels should not involve
more than three speakers. These proposals don't have to be formal
'abstracts'–we just want to know what you would like to talk about for
scheduling purposes. We're not going to insist that proposals fit into
pre-decided 'streams': we'll instead see what subject areas participants want
to discuss and work from there. The subjects of papers/panels could be
anything from case-studies of UCD in particular nation-states or regions, to
the contemporary relevance of permanent revolution, to the impact of UCD on
the emergence of Modernism–the only criteria for the acceptance of
proposals is that they engage with the themes of the conference and have
something interesting to say about them. We're as open to the extension of
existing arguments as we are in the unveiling of new positions. In
particular, if you are PhD student working on UCD-related themes but have not
yet published, this would provide you with an opportunity to present in an
interested and supportive environment. Unfortunately, we can only pay for
keynote speakers to attend, but the cost of registration will be relatively
low: £20 (employed f/t)/£10 (student, employed p/t, unemployed or retired).

Finally, there are good reasons, one related to its subject, for holding this
conference in Glasgow. We are on the eve of the bicentenary of the Scottish
general strike of 1820–the first such event in history and one generated in
part by Scotland's own experience of UCD from the late 18th century onwards.
Moreover, and bringing things right up to date, it's not clear what impact
Brexit will have on the Scottish independence movement, but it is conceivable
that a new campaign might have begun by then. Non-Scottish participants will
at any rate be visiting Scotland in 'interesting times'!

We'll provide information on the venues, accommodation, restaurants, travel,
etc. when formal registration begins.  


Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The End of the Spanish Civil War - Tom Sibley

[We have been sent this piece and asked to put it up on our blog - any comments or responses welcome - please contact Keith Flett on the address above - thanks]

THE END OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR – THE BETRAYAL OF MADRID - article for the Morning Star by Tom Sibley

This week we mark the eightieth anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War (SCW).  After nearly 3 years of heroic resistance the Republican forces succumbed, facing as they did the combined might of Franco’s Army supported as it was with copious supplies of armed and trained soldiery provided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Until the end of February 1939 Prime Minister Negrin and his only reliable allies, the Communists, were determined to fight on despite a series of crushing military defeats in Catalonia.  The Republicans still controlled a large area of Central Spain and had over 500,000 men under arms.  It was Negrin’s belief that if the Republican side could hold on for a few more months, it was just possible that the gathering war clouds over Europe would force the Western powers to take military and diplomatic action against Franco.  The alternative, an outright victory for Franco was unthinkable given Franco’s track record of revengeful violence and his total disregard for human rights, civil liberties and international law.  The following months and years were to prove that Negrin’s forebodings were well justified.

In early March under the leadership of Colonel Casado, appointed commander of the Republican Army of the Centre the previous year, a group of renegade republican military and political leaders, including well known socialists and anarchists, formed the Consejo National de Defensa (CND) with the intention of deposing the elected Popular Front Government.  The renegades’ actions were informed by virulent anti-communism as were Franco’s in 1936.  They justified their treachery by claiming that the Communist Party, backed by Negrin and  the Soviet Union, was about “to take control of all levers of power in the Republican Zone” and “that Spain was about to fall under a Stalinist dictatorship”.  Given that Franco’s victory was by that time inevitable these claims were absurd.

The CND began arresting Madrid communists and their supporters.  When these actions were forcibly resisted a civil war within the Civil War broke out.  For the first few days communists held the initiative and were on the verge of defeating Casado coalition troops.  But with a nod and a wink from Franco, the 14th Division of the Republic’s Popular Army, controlled by the anarchists and under the direction of General Mera, left an active front in the war against Franco to march on Madrid in order to confront the Republican loyalists.  Faced with insurmountable odds the Communists were forced to leave their strongholds and retreat.  Over a thousand communists and supporters were killed in their last ditch and failed attempt to save the Republic.  Some two weeks later Franco’s army marched unopposed into Madrid.  And all attempts to negotiate favourable peace terms came to nothing as Franco ruthlessly pressed home his military advantage.

At the time many saw Casado’s coup as a cowardly betrayal.  The Author of ‘Homage to Catalonia’ (H to C) George Orwell took a contrary view.  In a review of Casado’s memoirs published in January 1940 Orwell wrote in his usual omniscient style “Considering the actual military situation it is difficult not to feel that Casado was right”.  Yet those on the spot, or at least those who remained loyal to their Republican cause and saw the dangers inherent in a Fascist victory, thought otherwise.  Even Orwell came to recognise the error of welcoming Franco’s victory.  Less than a year after his original review he declared that Franco’s victory was a disaster for the Spanish people.

In the early 1940s, probably influenced by discussions with Negrin who was at the time in exile in Britain, Orwell had second thoughts.  He conceded that the war was not lost because of splits on the left and the suppression of POUM by Popular Unity Government forces. Rather, contra to ‘H to C’, he had come to the view that “the Trotskyist thesis that the war could have been won if the revolution had not been sabotaged was probably false.  The fascists won because they were stronger (militarily).  No political strategy could offset that.”  (“Looking back on the Spanish Civil War” [1943].)   But Orwell made little, if any, attempt to ensure that future editions of ‘H to C’ reflected his true views on POUM and the real reasons for the Republics’ defeat.  He and his publishers preferred to retain the anti- communist and anti-Soviet views expressed in the book knowing that these were in line with the Cold War positions which found favour in the late 1940s with the political establishment of both Britain and the United States.

Although the Republican side was defeated, the stand taken by democratic Spain showed that it was possible to confront the growing threat of expansionist Fascism.  Notwithstanding the adverse balance of military forces, the example of the Spanish Republican Army aided by the International Brigades and supported by the Soviet Union, was to inspire the resistance movement throughout Nazi occupied Europe.  In many respects the SCW was the first battle in the struggle to defeat Nazism.  That the second world war was won owes much to the stance taken by the Spanish people and the International Brigades who showed that it was necessary and possible to stand up to the fascist war machine thus showing up the futility of the appeasement strategy of the western powers before 1939.  But the fruits of this victory were not passed on to the Spanish people.  Over the next 35 years many thousands were to die in Franco’s prisons while the western democracies stood aside, seeing Franco as an important ally in the Cold War against the spread of socialism and national liberation.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Book Review - When We Touched the Sky - The Anti Nazi League 1977-1981

[The post below is copied with thanks from Geoff Brown's blog and since we don't have it on our site and it seems timely it seemed worth reproducing here - if others have book reviews / essays etc from old LSHG Newsletters that are not currently archived on this site please get in touch] 

From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter (Autumn 2006) 

Dave Renton, “When We Touched the Sky” – The Anti Nazi League 1977-1981

We live in a time of revival for the left with new movements finding their way, not least against those who have buckled before Blair, often miserable, seeing it as impossible to win any serious fight, no matter how many are mobilised.

A good moment then to publish a history of the Anti Nazi League, a story of real political courage, of a mass movement that drew hundreds of thousands into activity and did achieve its goal, the destruction of the National Front (NF).  Indeed, with fascism once again a significant element in British politics as also in FranceItalyAustria and elsewhere, there is an obvious need for the left to be clear about what fascism is and how it can be stopped.

Here Renton’s book makes a very valuable contribution. In particular, he takes care to explain details that a younger generation has no memory of. At the same time, it must have taken some courage to write this book as many readers will have memories of their own involvement in the ANL. Rarely can a history have so many potential eye-witness critics!

The homework, however, has certainly been done with scores of participants interviewed. The narrative chapters in the book read well: the battle of Lewisham that triggered the founding of the ANL, the meteoric rise of the ANL in the following months, the giant carnivals of spring and summer 1978, the battle of Southall in April 199 where the police murdered Blair Peach.  Renton spells out how in the aftermath of Lewisham, the ANL was created as a single issue united front, committed to mobilising the largest possible numbers.  This it did, calling protests, large and small, wherever the NF showed its face.  In the process huge numbers were organised, in local groups, in the unions and in affinity groups, such as Skins against the Nazis, School Kids against the Nazis and so on.  Each group identified with its own badge, you couldn’t walk across any sizeable town in Britain without seeing people wearing ANL badges.  Establishing such a mass presence put relentless pressure on the fascists.

The chapter on Rock against Racism, founded a year before the ANL in response to racist remarks made by Eric Clapton, is penned with enthusiasm by Renton, not least as a serious fan of punk music. RAR had an anarchic quality, its impact spread in ways that are hard to trace, through many hundreds of gigs, with a vast array of musicians, some politically excellent, some far less so. With a big presence in the music pres, RAR made an impact on young people that was powerful and in some way new.  How exactly was and still is a constant source of argument  It was never going to be easy to write this chapter., not least as the old joke “If you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there” works with RAR, only more so.  How music and politics relate is always going to be contested.  Nevertheless, Renton does get across clearly the scale of RAR’s impact as an anti-racist force. And, as Renton says, if you want more on RAR, there is always the spectacularly written and produced Beating Time by Dave Widgery.

On the key question of the united front, one which has lost none of its relevance, the arguments are explained well. The ANL was born of a clear understanding of two things. First, the need to prevent the NF having a political presence – on the streets, in public meetings, in the media – and being prepared, where necessary to use physical force to achieve this. Second, the importance of mobilising the largest possible number to stop the fascists. The mobilisations could take many forms: thousands of local people in Lewisham to stop a march, hundreds or more in pickets of NF meetings or a TV station when it allowed an NF speaker. And always looking to gain mass support in workplaces, colleges, unions etc. hence the millions of leaflets and bucket loads of badges. And so it was possible to have carnivals with numbers into the hundreds of thousands, the fullest expression of this commitment to mass mobilisation.

The narrative becomes less sure when looking at the political roots of the ANL. The ANL was a Socialist Workers Party initiative which could only work properly if the much larger Communist Party came on board. It did, despite the CP’s detestation of the SWP, because large chunks of the Labour left and trade union bureaucracy had already decided to support the ANL. To stay out would mean the CP risking political isolation.

Renton’s suggestion that

The Communist Party had the numbers to build the mass movement but many of its activists still believed rock music was a US weapon in the Cold War. The theory of state capitalism protected SWP members from the kind of knee jerk anti Americanism that the CP encouraged.

is off the mark. For one thing, the CP was rightly proud of its anti-racist traditions presented by American singers such as Paul Robeson. For another, more importantly, the difficulty the CP had in mobilising lay in its politics closer to home. It was desperate not to upset any of its friends in parliament and the TUC General Council. As Renton recounts, Michael Foot was only one of a number of leading lefts who denounced the SWP after Lewisham. The CP was increasingly losing its ability to mobilise on the ground, particularly among young people, very few of whom were in the CP.

Renton’s encouragement to those who were involved to record their own memories and add their own perspectives is welcome. There is more to be written. Not least an explanation of how the ANL could be successful at the same time as government and employers were relentlessly rolling back the victories won by workers against the Heath government.  In the big picture, this was the main battle. Renton attempts an explanation but is wrong on some points. He exaggerates the incorporation of radical shop stewards into the bureaucracy and is wrong to imply that the SWP subordinated the industrial struggle to building the ANL.  More importantly, in retrospect we can see that Wilson and Callaghan’s implementation of the IMF’s instructions in 1976 to cut government spending was the beginning of the neo-liberal offensive continued by Thatcher.  The results have decisively shaped the world we live in. We need to be clear about what went wrong.  History from below is not enough.  The context of the ANL’s success has to be got right.  To repeat, there is more to be written and if the lessons are to be learnt properly, it has to be the full picture.

Geoff Brown

ANL organiser, Greater Manchester, 1977-1979