My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Which Side are you on, Boys?

Eric Hobsbawm's passing away the other day - I wrote at obit over at Jacobin magazine - reminds us of another age. There's plenty we'd do well to regret in Hobsbawm's adherence to the Communist cause. His Cold War politics has little relevance now. However, as Corey Robin wrote sometime back in the London Review of Books, there was a price to pay for its passing:
For all its violence and misery, the Cold War had the virtue of imposing on Western intellectuals, Communist and anti-Communist alike, the duty of historical intelligence. ...  But [with] the collapse of Communism and disappearance of Marxism, [and] with the market – and now religion – displacing social democracy as the language of public life, writers are no longer compelled by the requirements of the historical imagination. Facing a new enemy, which does not make the same demands that Communism once did, today’s intellectuals wave away all talk of ‘root causes’: history, it seems, will no longer be summoned to the bar of political analysis – or not for the time being. Mimicking the theological language of their antagonists, contemporary writers prefer catchwords such as ‘evil’ and ‘Islamo-fascism’ to the vocabulary of secular criticism. Their language may be a response to 9/11, but it is a product of the end of the Cold War. When Marxism was banished from the political scene in 1989, it left behind no successor language – save religion itself – to grapple with the twinned fortunes of the individual and the collective, the personal and the political, the present and the past.
That's very well put. I'm not sure that serious work can avoid much of what made Hobsbawm's work so valuable. It's interesting that his putative successor - and I admire his work, particularly this - is Niall Ferguson. Here's what Ferguson has to say on class analysis:
[Hobsbawm] and I shared the belief that it was economic change, above all, that shaped the modern era. The fact that he sided with the workers and peasants, while I side with the bourgeoisie, was no obstacle to friendship.
 Here's Billy Bragg singing Which Side are You On? Also, have a look at this by Bhaskar Sunkara at Jacobin.

(I wrote my own book, so far as I was able, to avoid 'taking sides' as such. It was written in the History mode: " I [have not] written this book as an exercise in polemic or political advocacy. The models I employ I do so because I find them useful and interesting; they do not imply moral judgements one way or another. I am taking an argument and using it to make one kind of sense of a stretch of modern history.")


  1. His most politically influencial text was 'The Forward March of Labour Halted?', which is also his weakest piece of analysis.

    Despite all his implicit and explicit rejection of base-structure determinism in his other work, when it came to trying to explain the crisis of British Labourism he opted for a rather crude and reductionary sociology of occupational change. The Labour right was effectively absolved of any responsibility for the decay of post-war working class politics and the rise of the New Right, while the Labour left was demonised for attempting to battle an 'inevitable' shift to the right allegedly driven by structural economic change. Needless to say, Kinnock et al were deeply impressed by his analysis - which gave them the intellectual ballast they were looking for to justify their increasing embrace of managerialism.

    Leo Panitch dismantled Hobsbawmn's analysis in Socialist Register. Worth re-reading.


  2. Hi Michael,

    What you say is right.

    From memory his main point wasn't actually the decline of the proletariat per se, but rather the sectionalism of the trade union movement, and the bifurcation of the class into private and public sector; also those with strong leverage in the labour market, and those with weak leverage. A kind of pan-working class identity, he thought, was in decline.

    Of course, all this was of a piece with the neo-Popular Frontism of eurocommunism.

    I haven't read Panitch's response. Will have to look it up.

    You bought my book yet? eh? eh? ...

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