Mike Marqusee z”l

I was sad to hear that Mike Marqusee died before Christmas. I didn’t know him personally, but coincided with him in the Socialist Alliance and in the Social Forum movement, in both of which the democratic politics that he represented were stitched up by the Stalinist tactics of the Socialist Workers Party. I disagreed with him on lots of topics, but he was a fine writer and,  I believe, a person of integrity. The Guardian published an excellent obituary. Here’s a tribute from Pluto Press. My thoughts are with Liz, his partner.

Here are some of his articles:

   “On the left we see ourselves as makers of the future fully engaged with the present. We look ahead, not behind, and we resent the charge that we are ‘wed to outmoded doctrines’ and in particular that we have failed to adapt to the changes of the past 30 years. But we should not be ashamed of being ‘conservative’ in defending rights won in previous generations or communities threatened by ‘development’…

[Walter] Benjamin says our task is ‘to brush history against the grain’. An example of this in our own moment is the 23‑year campaign for justice for those killed at Hillsborough. Though justice itself has yet to be done, much of the truth has now been established. This was achieved only because the families and their supporters defied the massed chorus telling them their quest was futile, emotion-driven or vindictive. Their sense of duty to the dead was not diverted by appeals to pragmatism and the virtues of adjustment, of ‘living in the present’. As a result, they succeeded in recovering a suppressed history which, in turn, becomes an active element in our present and future.

In Spain, the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory aims to document the fate of Franco’s victims and to excavate and identify their bodies, including the tens of thousands dumped in mass graves. To do this, the association has had to defy the ‘pact of oblivion’ that smoothed the transition to democracy by shielding members of the old regime from accountability. In this case, a sense of obligation to the dead, to those who were on the losing side, was not a ‘backward-looking’ indulgence: it was a social necessity. We can’t decipher the present without examining its foundations in the battles of the past, acknowledging losses as well as gains.”
  • Let’s talk utopia July 2011:   “Utopias provide a perspective from which the assumed limitations of the present can be scrutinised, from which familiar social arrangements are exposed as unjust, irrational or superfluous. You can’t chart the surface of the earth, compute distances or even locate where you are without reference to a point of elevation – a mountain top, a star or satellite. Without utopias we enjoy only a restricted view of our own nature and capacities. We cannot know who we are.”

   “Flamenco is abrupt and angular, frequently harrowing, sometimes ecstatic, always spontaneous and at the same time deeply meditative. There are no choruses, refrains or hooks. It’s headlong and forceful, marked by dramatic shifts in mood, volume and tempo.

Flamenco demands attention and empathy. It casts its own mood and brooks no compromise. It’s a popular music utterly alien to ‘pop’ as we know it. ‘Deep song,’ said the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, ‘is a stammer, a wavering emission of the voice, a marvellous undulation that smashes the resonant cells of our tempered scale [and] eludes the cold, rigid staves of modern music.'”

   “When C L R James’ Beyond a Boundary was first published 50 years ago, the sociology of sport and the politics of popular culture had no place in the academy or on the left. The book had to create its own subject, define a new field of intervention. James aimed to establish cricket as worthy of serious study and to expose the failure to study it as an unacceptable omission. As he says at the start of the book, he could no longer credit an account of Victorian society that found no room for W G Grace. Like that other seminal work of 1963, E P Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, James’ book aimed to rescue the culture created by the lower orders from ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’.

…His publications already covered a wide range – history, philosophy, literature, politics – through which could be charted his developing anti-Stalinist Marxism, as well as the vast expense of intellectual energy in years of factional struggle in the Trotskyist movement….

I owe a huge personal debt to James, for many reasons. What now seems to me most important in his legacy is the example he set, more than any of his theories. It’s the virtue summed up in the title of his masterwork: thinking and living beyond boundaries, whether they’re the boundaries between cricket and the wider world, the boundaries that separate discourses and disciplines, or the boundaries of race, class and empire.”

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