May 12, 2013
Tower Hamlets Council have announced that the church of St. John, Wapping, will finally receive a heritage plaque for the gravesite of Thomas Rainsborough (1610-1648).(1) As acknowledged leader of the Leveller cause within the Putney Debates, he became known as Colonel Rainsborough in Cromwell’s New Model Army, where he served with great courage and distinction, finally being killed in a commando raid to seize him at the siege of Pontefract (1648). At the Putney Debates, held in 1647, the constitutional structure of the England that was to come was decided – it represented the fighting out of the different ideological positions among the coalition that formed the rebel forces of what kind of cause they were truly fighting for. As has often been remarked in the historiography of the English Civil War, like with any revolutionary cause the rebels soon split between a radical and a more reformist wing. Unlike in the case of the later French or Russian Revolutions, it did not wholly come to force to decide the matter between them, but the Putney Debates foreshadowed the dominance of the reformist wing against the radical – perhaps inevitable given how much some of the radical demands were ahead of their time. Read the rest of this entry »
September 14, 2012
In my previous article on Marxism and religion, I argued the general theoretical case Marxism makes both for understanding religion as a social phenomenon and for arguing against it. In a sense, this could rightly be accused of ‘kicking in an open door’ (as we say in the Netherlands), as it expresses a view widely spread among the radical left today. As secularization has progressed, not even just in Western countries, left and liberal forces have by and large in their theoretical writings cut down reference to religion and spiritual revelation to negligible amounts, and practically it becomes a question of political mobilization more than one of the practice of belief. However, the counterexample often cited by those on the radical left inclined to a more sympathetic stance towards religion (organized or otherwise) is the case of ‘liberation theology’, the explicitly socio-economically radical, pro-poor interpretation of (Catholic) Christianity that established a strong ideological foothold in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s. The concerted efforts of the Vatican to stamp it out and the fall of the Soviet Union – threatening to relegate Central and South America once more to the United States’ unruly back garden – have seriously reduced its ideological and political power, but as a phenomenon it is worth exploring more systematically from the point of view of Marxism. After all, it is not often one finds pro-religious sentiment and radicalism combined in such a theoretically reflective manner, and it has done much to affect the traditionally strongly secularist tendencies among Marxists in both the First and Third Worlds. Read the rest of this entry »
June 22, 2012
Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, 2012. London/New York, NY: Verso Books.
Within Marxist economics, David Harvey has made himself a specialist in questions of space, place, and geography, and this book is a specific application of that body of thought to the urban. Previously, Harvey had written on the history of Paris as the development of modernity, on spatial differentiation of global capitalism, and similar topics; now, he has turned his eye on the city in the modern day, and the role of urban struggle in the struggle against capitalism more generally. In so doing, he makes a number of very valuable points of analysis. While he is at times, especially in the first chapter, somewhat vague in his summaries of (financial) capitalism generally, he is excellent when it comes to explaining the significance and particulars of the spatial dimension and the way it applies to the city. Harvey’s analysis focuses on the city in two ways: first, as site of the generation of rents, and the role that rent plays in the accumulation of capital; and secondly, as a commons, created by the collective physical and symbolic production of its inhabitants. Read the rest of this entry »