Friday, 5 February 2010

Tristram Hunt : Historian in the Service of New Labour.

Tristram Hunt is a British Historian who is intimately tied to the apron strings of the British Labour Party. While I am in general not against political historians, it is, after all, useful as E H Carr was fond of telling people to take note of the bees buzzing in a historian's head.

But when a distinguished and serious historian starts passing off past articles as nothing more than party propaganda for a very right wing Labour government this is then a different matter and deserves comment.

Despite his or her political views, a serious historian should have a large degree of objectivity and an independence of spirit. Hunt has none of these. In fact, he is in a very great danger of becoming severely compromised by his association with the Labour Party.

Many of his articles are often flippant and shallow in analyzing his chosen subjects. Hunt is part of a new group young historians. In fact to call some them historians would be stretching things as they are nothing more than glorified story tellers most of whom were born with silver spoons in their mouths and have been given their positions in life without much of a real struggle.

His biography in Wikipedia makes interesting reading “born 31 May 1974) is a British historian, broadcaster and newspaper columnist. He also lectures on Modern British History at Queen Mary, University of London.Tristram Hunt read history at Trinity College, Cambridge and the University of Chicago, and was for a time an Associate Fellow of the Centre for History and Economics at King's College, Cambridge. His Ph.D., Civic thought in Britain, c.1820- c.1860, was taken at Cambridge and was awarded in 2000. Before this, Hunt had worked for the Labour Party at Millbank Tower in the 1997 general election; he also worked at the Party's headquarters during the following 2001 general election.

“Hunt was a fellow of the Institute for Public Policy Research and is on the board of the New Local Government Network (2004). He has made many appearances on television, presenting programs on the English Civil War (2002), the theories of Isaac Newton, and the rise of the middle class, and makes regular appearances on BBC Radio 4, having presented broadcasts on such topics as the history of the signature. Hunt is an active New Labour supporter and Trustee of the Heritage Lottery Fund and has a column with the UK Sunday paper The Observer. He wrote an essay in the New Statesman comparing Cromwell's Republic to the Islamic fundamentalism dominant in Afghanistan at that time.”

It would seem that his main agenda is to defend Social Democracy from its opponents both left and right. He is hostile to Marxism and is joining a long list of historians seeking to discredit its ideas under conditions of growing capitalist instability and social inequality. Fearing that once again the ideas of Marxism could gain a powerful hold on the working people.

Hunt and New Labour.

He makes his admiration for the Labour Party well known. He fails to see the contradiction in his writing on figures and movements that led to revolutionary change. Does he actually see the Labour party as a vehicle for this kind of change? The transformation of the Labour Party, into an openly capitalist party, was completed some twenty years ago.

Over the Iraq War Hunt, right-wing proclivities come to the fore as he seeks to defend the British state from its detractors over the Iraq war. In a nasty piece entitled Why Britain is excellent published 01 August 2005 he further elaborated his defense of the British State

In the article, he praises David Blunkett MP as “One of the few politicians brave enough to confront this dilemma has been David Blunkett. The teaching of citizenship in schools, the introduction of citizenship ceremonies, and the publication by Bernard Crick of an official history of Britain have served to return the emphasis to British values. Meanwhile, Blunkett himself has happily broken with the left's usual reserve on these matters, speaking of his patriotic ardor for English music, poetry, drama, and humor”.

This supposed defense of English culture is nothing more than an excuse to wrap himself in the union jack. Does Hunt’ really believe that Blunkett's tacky and clumsy appeal to British nationalism against the ‘Muslim Hoards’ is progressive? Historically Hunt is not the only historian to promote the so-called British values of Justice and fair play, but he does so to empty any class content behind these slogans. After all, these concepts were espoused by a ruling elite that has a lot of blood rather on its hands and has routinely cloaked their imperialist adventures in such terms. Finally, on this matter, Hunt’s attempt to justify his defense of British imperialism predatory aims in the garb of the Enlightenment is a somewhat disgusting spectacle.

On Engels

The writer joins a growing number of British historians who have written biographies of leading Marxists figures to discredit them. While his biography of Engels is better written than most of them, it sets out to discredit Engels and what he stood for.

Hunt sought to make Engels more human but has only done so to attack his politics and that of Marxism.

While he correctly points to Engels book on the Conditions of the English Working Class he says "The power, incisiveness, and prescience of Engels' polemic remain undiminished. And, 150 years on, it speaks to our age with painful prescience - not only in its critique of the free market and the structural inequalities of British society but in its unrivaled depiction of the inhumanity of capitalism."

Despite at sometimes a begrudging respect for his topic he still lacks a rudimentary outstanding of the history of the Marxist movement and ends up giving a superficial and sometimes inaccurate, understanding of the ideas of Engels.

On the English Revolution 

According to John Adamson another revisionist historian who shares Hunt’s view Cromwell, it can be argued could be better understood as a representative of the declining gentry rather than the rising bourgeois. Adamson believes that Cromwell never intended a revolution and come to think of it neither did those around him but“ wished merely to restore what they believed to be the ancient constitution of the kingdom. The whole unpleasant episode could have been avoided if only Charles II had been a little wiser”.

This revisionist line has to be countered by a few historians one such Norah Carlin said in fact "The real meaning of the English Civil War is that it brought the capitalist class to power, and removed all obstacles to the expansion of trade and manufacture which led to the industrial revolution,."

Hunt is opposed to the concept that the war was an expression of a changing society. In the four-part series on the civil war, his central argument was that the civil war was really a war about religion.
He is also no supporter of Oliver Cromwell who he presents ludicrously "the man who banned Christmas," as he also makes the childish claim as the leader of "Britain's very own Taliban."

Hunt seems to be a subscriber to the Whig interpretation of England’s historical past that was free of social upheaval and when it did have a revolution that Hunt admits to it was an orderly one such as the glorious revolution of 1688 but as Ann Talbot points out. “The sense that in Britain things were done differently and without continental excess was not entirely new. Burke had expressed it in his Reflections on the French Revolution, but there were plenty of voices to gainsay him and the social disturbances in the years of economic upheaval that followed the Napoleonic wars were a testimony to the contrary. Luddism, anti-corn law agitation, the anti-poor law movement, strikes and most of all Chartism demonstrated that Britain was not an island of social peace.


"Nonetheless the Whig interpretation of history had deep roots in the consciousness of the British political class. The visitor to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire can still see in the grand entrance hall a fireplace inscribed with the legend “1688 The year of our liberty.” It refers to the “Glorious Revolution” when James II quit his throne and his kingdom overnight, and William of Orange was installed as king. This was the kind of palace revolution that the British ruling class increasingly preferred to look back on rather than the revolution in the 1640s when they had executed the king, conveniently overlooking the fact that James would not have run if he had not remembered the fate of his father—Charles I”.
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