Issue 169 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1993 Copyright © Socialist Review
Murder at the Farm
Penguin £5.99 (£4.75 in Bookmarks club)
Anyone tempted to believe that Michael Howard's aim to 'make it easier for the courts to convict the guilty' has anything to do with dispensing justice should take a look at the Carl Bridgewater case.
Four men were convicted of the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater on the flimsiest of evidence and surrounded by a hail of publicity in 1979. Three of the men--Jimmy Robinson, Vincent Hickey and Michael Hickey--are still languishing in prison for a crime they did not commit. The fourth, Pat Molloy, died within two years of his conviction.
The men have protested their innocence relentlessly through 14 years of captivity. Before he died Pat Molloy worked furiously to establish his confession was false. Michael Hickey spent 89 gruelling days on the roof at Gartree prison, supported by fellow prisoners, in 1983-4. This year Jimmy Robinson demonstrated on the prison rooftop for 81 days.
Anyone who has followed the case is convinced of the men's innocence. But the government--panicked by the embarassing deluge of high profiled miscarriages of justice from the Guildford Four to the Taylor sisters--has refused to budge. Kenneth Clarke, then Home Secretary, refused to allow the case to the appeal courts last February.
This revised edition of Murder at the Farm is a timely exposure of the routine corruption at the heart of what passes for justice in Britain today.
Paul Foot tears apart the prosecution's case piece by piece. There was no forensic evidence that could link the men to Yew Tree Farm, the scene of the crime. None of the prosecution witnesses agreed on the make, size or colour of the vehicles they sighted near the farm. All the evidence presented at court was circumstantial, unproven and based on the testimonies of uncredible witnesses and their contradictory statements. Evidence which could have provided definite alibis for the men was deliberately kept from the defence.
The most damning part of the police case at the trial was provided by the forced confession of Pat Molloy--vigorously denied after the trial--in which he implicated the other three and which turned the jury in favour of the police story.
Paul Foot leaves no piece of evidence, no possible interpretation of events uncovered. His book makes absorbing reading, including an account of the murder at the farm next door to the scene of Carl's killing where Hubert Spencer--a suspect the police dismissed in the Bridgewater case--shot dead farmer Hubert Wilkes. Foot provides compelling evidence of Spencer's involvement in the affair and it is now widely believed that Spencer was Carl's killer.
In 1987 the case finally reached the appeal courts. New witnesses gave Robinson and Pat Molloy an alibi for the time of the murder; several witnesses admitted they lied in the original trial under police pressure; Hubert Spencer's original police statement linking him with Yew Tree Farm and the Bridgewater killing all came to light. The prosecution was left without a case. And yet the three judges ruled against all the men, including Michael Hickey who could not be proved to be connected in any single way to events at Yew Tree Farm except that he knew Vincent Hickey--introducing what Foot describes as 'an interesting new rule of evidence in British law: that a man is guilty if his cousin is.' Foot fumes against the 'mendacity' with which the appeal court judges dismissed all the new evidence:
'These judges had pretended to reach their decision through objective assessment of the evidence and rational argument. What they had done seemed to me a shocking mockery of rational or intellectual process. No lurking doubt when at least two key witnesses for the prosecution had gone back on their evidence, when the garage alibi had been resurrected, when almost every jot of new evidence produced to the court argued that the men in the dock had never been to Yew Tree Farm? No lurking doubt? If there was no lurking doubt, then words had lost their meaning.'
Murder at the Farm is investigative reporting at its best. It is also a tribute to the resilience and determination of Ann Whelan, mother of Michael Hickey and the driving force of the campaign to free the men, who fought on despite the bitter blow inflicted by the failed appeal. A catalogue of new evidence has since been uncovered.
Language experts--including Dr Eric Shepherd, a Home Office forensic psychologist--have publicly stated that Pat Molloy's damaging 'confession' could not have been written or dictated by Molloy himself. The television dramatisation of the case, Bad Company, brought forward a new wave of support for the men, including a statement from the foreman of the jury at the original trial renouncing his guilty verdict. In June, Private Eye published even more damning evidence in a statement by Mike Chamberlain about his friend DC John Perkins, whom he claimed boasted that he had beaten the confession out of Pat Molloy.
The system which has cynically condemned these men despite all the evidence was summed up by Jimmy Robinson immediately after the original trial: 'You see what's sickened me is that the thing you and I and thousands of others have always believed to be the best in the world and above corruption--British Justice--is just a sham. It only applies if the "establishment" isn't threatened. The two laws apply every time, the haves and the have nots.'
That system has never been held in such wide contempt. A new application for appeal is already with Michael Howard. Which way he will jump will depend on the pressure we can mount against his attempts to claw back the ground for his class. That task will be aided by the republication of this book.
Double Jeopardy: The Retrial of the Guildford Four
When the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to defend the appeal of the Guildford Four in October 1989 he was carrying out a damage limitation exercise. Had there been a full hearing of the evidence, not only would the four have been incontrovertibly proved to be innocent, but the conduct of the high ranking police officers involved in the frame up would have become public knowledge.
This book looks at how the case of the three police officers finally charged with 'perverting the course of justice' took place against a background of a whispering campaign designed to undermine the appeal decision. The shift in the tone of the media coverage since the four's release is significant.
Initially papers were rightly outraged at the injustice suffered. For instance, the Daily Express declared that 'those responsible for robbing them of 14 years should be punished'. Yet, almost imperceptibly at first, suggestions, hints, rumours that there was ground for doubt crept into the coverage--particularly once the police were on trial.
Bennett's account shows just how unashamedly biased the legal system is when its own representatives are in the dock. The judge had no intention of letting the jury give a guilty verdict. In fact, at the end of the prosecution case he told them that he already 'had a view' and that if they did too they could send him a note during lunch and the case would be dismissed!
The book counterposes this to the physical and mental torture meted out to the Guildford Four to extract confessions, and the farce of their trial. However, by the time the police were predictably aquitted the Daily Telegraph felt confident to state of the Guildford Four, 'This raises the disturbing possibility that the real miscarriage of justice in their case occurred when they walked free'!
Far from the forces of law and order being convicted for their actions we now see their innocent victims recriminalised. In recent weeks the police accused of beating confessions from the Birmingham Six had their trial stopped because publicity meant they could never get a fair trial. No serious attempt was made to convict them.
Double Jeopardy would make a good stocking filler for the sceptical.
Harper Collins £16.99
When I started work at Frickley Colliery as a young lad in November 1974, my union and political education began. On my first shift I was put to work with two old colliers who had come off the face through injury. Both men in their sixties, they had been miners since they were 14 years old.
The first thing to hit me was how much they loved Arthur Scargill, the new Yorkshire president, and how much they hated the then national president Joe Gormley.
The miners saw in Scargill someone who wouldn't sell out, who was honest and who could talk in front of a camera without being flustered. They saw in Gormley someone who had squandered the miners' power for his own privilege, who'd been on television at a race meeting with the queen mum. After bringing the government down, Gormley never got them 'protection of earning', which meant if you got injured and had to come off the face your money was dropped accordingly.
'We've had enough of traitors,' I was told. This was a general feeling throughout the pit. Now, 19 years on, at the same pit, the words traitor, sell out or collaborator are never used whatever criticisms there are of Scargill. He has stood by his principles and this is what Paul Routledge hates.
This book is a disgusting attack on Scargill. It starts painting a picture of Scargill as a 'mother's boy', bullied at school and not to be trusted. Most of this is just petty vindictiveness. When Routledge covers the 1972 and 1974 strikes, including the famous Saltley Gate picket, which for miners personified this period of militancy and successful mass picketing, he implies Scargill was just grabbing the headlines.
But Routledge saves his most vicious attacks for the 1984-85 strike. He makes out that Scargill planned the strike. He justifies this by pointing out precautions that the NUM were taking as the strike loomed. And yet he describes the Tories' own detailed plans to provoke a pit strike, going back as far as 1978 and the leaks of the Ridley plan on now to smash the miners, including recruiting non-union lorry drivers to move coal. Routledge, though, takes the line that it was the Tories who didn't want a pit strike. He preaches about democracy, condemning Scargill for not having a ballot for the strike, then sneers at the 80 percent strike vote in Yorkshire over pit closures two years earlier--which still stood.
But let's put the record straight about the ballot. There was a simple principle involved. Someone at a safe pit had no right to vote on the closure of somebody else's pit. You had a straight choice: join the strike or go to work. In fact 140,000 miners went orr strike and about 30,000--mainly in Nottinghamshire--scabbed during the strike. Routledge mentions a 6,000 strong 'Right to Work' march by Notts miners, but fails to tell the reader that the demonstrators had police protection, free transport, a day off work with pay. On the same day strikers were stopped, searched, thrown off buses, beaten up and arrested.
In 1984 we faced a choice to enter into a fight which we did not choose and stand by other miners who were going to be sacked, or to stand back and let the Tories destroy our industry. We did the right thing.
This book is more than an attack on Scargill. It is an attack on all workers who want to stand up and fight for a better world. Routledge would much sooner see us licking the bosses' boots and--as demonstrated by his recent grovelling apology to the queen--he feels more at ease when everybody's on their knees.
At a time when workers seem ready to shake off the defeats of the 1980s, this book discredits those who want to fight. Luckily not many people will have £17 to spend on this trash.
A Nation of Change and Novelty
The timing of the publication of the paperback version of this book is extremely apt given the recent discussion about the Thatcher years. The book considers the effect of the Thatcher project on historians of the time and their efforts to 'revise' interpretations of the English Revolution, indeed their efforts to write the word 'revolution' out of the 17th century altogether.
Throughout the 1980s historians like Conrad Russell, John Morrill and others built up reputations trying to show that the English Revolution had no long term causes, no long term effects, had few profound political and ideological consequences and produced few radical ideas or individuals. Hand in hand with Thatcher's efforts to attack socialist ideas, revisionist academics attacked the Marxist analysis of history.
Now Thatcher is no more, the revisionists are not quite so cocky. A whole number of articles appeared in various history magazines attempting to reassert the usefulness of the Marxist interpretation. English Revolution academics have often been forced to look up from their study of parliamentary papers to consider other sources. Most now admit that the reasons for the civil war can be traced back way beyond Charles I and Archbishop Laud.
Economics has always been at the heart of Marxists' analysis of the English Revolution and Hill takes this opportunity to restate the arguments as a thrust against the revisionists. With England deep in an economic crisis in the 1620s and 1630s and Charles attempting to build up an openly royalist state, the emerging bourgeoisie found their financial and political progress blocked. This was even more frustrating for them as the chances of English economic advancement were huge. England's great colonial rival, Spain, had overtaxed itself through its involvement in the Thirty Years War and its empire was wide open to plunder. Charles and his predecessor, James, had consistently refused to provide the military might to do this, and had in fact cuddled up to the Spanish absolutist king.
As Hill states, 'A revolution was necessary before England possessed a government committed to aggressive commercial imperialist policies, and able to raise adequate taxes to implement them.' It was after the revolution, with a bourgeois state set on expansion, that England began its reign as the major imperialist power.
Hill gives some great advice on historical method as well as some shining examples of this technique in action. His attack on Colin Davis's attempts to write the Ranters out of history is one, constituting one of the most thorough demolitions of the revisionist project written over the past few years.
The book gives a very broad picture of the England of the 17th century, taking in politics, economics, literature, religion, radicalism and a lot more. It is an essential part of any socialist's understanding of the period.
Secker and Warburg £8.99
There is a current within Scottish writing, theatre and art which portrays the Scottish working class (especially in Glasgow) as dignified and morally upstanding, firmly rooted in the tradition of John McClean and Red Clydeside. In his debut novel, Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh blows this image apart.
Set in the late 1980s in Edinburgh, its characters are trying to make it through another recession. On the dole, with few prospects, they survive (just) on drink, drugs and stealing. The social problems portrayed here can be found on any rundown housing estate, but they are in sharp contrast to the Edinburgh the visitor sees: Edinburgh, the beautiful festival city or Edinburgh, the one time financial capital.
By the late 1980s, however, Edinburgh had acquired the rather more dubious honour of being the 'Aids capital of Europe'. At one time it had the highest rate of HIV infection in Britain, with over 60 percent of new cases in Scotland coming from the Edinburgh area. In its decaying housing schemes the use of drugs, particularly heroin, was widespread. In the 'shooting galleries' that appeared young people shared their smack and their needles. Edinburgh still has an above average percentage of intravenous drug users who are HIV positive.
This is the background to the book's setting. It shows the darker, disturbing side of life that can grow out poverty. No solidarity of dignified workers here. There are precious few jobs, people are simply doing what they have to do to get by.
Sounds depressing? To some extent, yes. The characters' lives are often harrowing, but once you get to grips with the Edinburgh accent (which most of the book is written in) it can be really funny. It's not the 'laughing in the face of adversity' image of the working class, but realistic episodes described in hilarious detail, such as a parents' attempt to get their son off drugs by locking him up, feeding him mince (he's a vegetarian) and taking him to the social club for a night of bingo.
Welsh makes no attempt to judge, pity or denounce the characters. He describes an existence, often with venom and in the hard, uncompromising language of the streets and pubs.
Trainspotting will make you laugh, it will make you sad, but above all it will make you angry. 'Rents', 'Sickboy' and 'Spud' are 'Thatcher's children', the generation who left school in the 1980s who didn't get jobs and were left to rot before they reached 20.
Just a few weeks ago numerous Tories stood up at conference and pinned the blame for Britain's decline on single mothers, benefits fiddlers and young offenders. All appear in this novel. The only crime is poverty. Although Welsh may not offer any solution the conclusion is there: the blame lies with those same Tories who have created the poverty, unemployment and urban decay.
Europe's Inner Demons
A great witch hunt took place across the 16th and 17th centuries in every country in Europe. Tens of thousands, mainly women, were cruelly tortured and burnt alive.
Norman Cohn seeks to explain the atmosphere in which this could happen by examining the history of the persecution of religious groups and the demonisation of those who criticised the Church.
In ancient Rome, Christians were accused of cannibalism and infanticide. Confessions were secured by horrific torture, but were then accepted as statements of fact. These accusations of cannibalism, infanticide and sexual debauchery were revived and applied to heretical religious sects in early medieval Europe. Groups of religious dissenters were persecuted viciously.
The Waldensians and the Fraticelli were groups who rejected the worldliness and hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They lived lives of poverty and abstinence and were hunted down by the authorities, and tortured until they died or confessed.
The confiscation of all the property of so called devil worshippers meant that greed fanned the flames of many witch hunts. Through the centuries, secular authorities became involved in witch hunts, and each bout of 'confessions' and 'accusations' fed the belief in witches.
Isolated witch hunts in the 13th and 14th centuries were motivated by fanaticism, greed and the need to enforce the authority of the Catholic Church. At their height such sprees could strike terror in the hearts of whole communities.
The scale of the Great European Witch Hunt was only possible because the idea of devil worship and witchcraft had been used to justify persecution for centuries. By the 15th and 16th centuries, witches supposedly met in organised sabbats, could fly and could perform maleficium (anything from causing floods, killing neighbours' cows to causing impotence in an unfaithful lover).
Amongst peasants the fear of witches was widespread. It sprang from ignorance of the workings of nature and rising social tensions caused by economic changes such as the enclosures of the land.
Accusations of witchcraft often stemmed from rivalry between peasants as old kinship networks of support were torn away. Cohn argues that the scale and severity of the witch hunts would have been impossible without the role of the authorities, with their inquisitorial method of investigation. For them, witches embodied subversion and were a threat to the whole of society.
The strength of this book lies in its historical detail of the needless suffering in the name of Christianity and the heroism of dissenters who died rather than denounce others or renounce their beliefs.
The weakness of his account is the lack of explanation of social and economic changes that were shaping people's lives, especially during the 17th century when the witch hunt was in full swing. Cohn explains the witch hunt in terms of a history of ideas about witches. He does not seek to explain how the crisis of religious ideas and established ways of living must surely have contributed to the persecution of so many women, who were becoming a burden because of the break down of old village life.
A better account of the terror and hysteria witch hunts caused in isolated rural communities is Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.
The Queen and I
To play the king
The crisis in the monarchy has started to produce a number of best sellers which consider the establishment of a republic.
Sue Townsend--best known for Adrian Mole--describes in The Queen and I how the royals would cope in a republic. The Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Charles, Di, and the corgi are all forced to live on the dole on a West Midlands council estate.
The result is at times very funny. The ludicrousness of the scroungers being forced to give up their life of luxury combined with an insight into how ordinary people get by on run down council estates produces some moments of hilarity. My own favourite is when the Queen, forced to get an emergency dole payment, walks the corgi six miles only to find the dole office shut. There is little royalist fever when the royals' money is spent on schools and jobs.
Michael Dobbs, author of the brilliant House of Cards, has turned out a sequel. Francis Urquhart, the new Tory prime minister, comes into conflict with King Charles the Third. As in House of Cards, Dobbs is brilliant at describing the ruthlessness inside the Tory Party, the attempt to manipulate the media, the use of spin doctors by political strategists. He shows how opinion polls can be manipulated at will. The stories ring very true from someone who used to work at Tory Central Office.
Although the books are very different they have common themes. The monarchy is portrayed as an institution under threat, ordinary people are shown as disillusioned with royalty. The description of the monarchy's wealth, decadence and uselessness are a breath of fresh air compared to the sycophancy found in so much popular writing. However they also have a common weakness.
They portray the royals as Spitting Image characters. So the Queen Mother is pictured as a gambling drunk. The Queen is shown as an ordinary person who could adapt to life in a council estate eventually and is really no different from any OAP Charles is portrayed as an eccentric left wing environmentalist. The effect is to create an image of the royals as somehow in opposition to the Tories.
In the Townsend book the royals refuse to back royalist counter-revolution and end up preferring life as ordinary poor citizens. In Dobbs's book Charles comes out in support of the homeless and attempts to frustrate Urquhart's right wing plans. I suspect the truth is different.
If threatened with being forced to leave Buckingham Palace they and their supporters would get very nasty indeed. One only has to look at the Charles and Di separation to get a taste of how unpleasant the royals can be.
Finally both books, despite being very good and readable, have been overtaken by events. Both echo a pessimism of any left wing shift taking place. The poll tax is no more because the sort of people in Townsend's council estate didn't pay it. The royal family is falling apart partly because of the bitterness millions of people feel towards a bunch who asked for £60 million towards the upkeep of Windsor Castle. It won't require either Dobbs's Tory prime minister or Townsend's manipulation of subliminal television images to get rid of the royals.
The Latin American Left
ed Barry Carr and Steve Ellner
Westview Press/Latin America Bureau £12.99
The Latin America Bureau has a good and largely deserved reputation for publishing critical and original work. This book sets itself the ambitious task of analysing the challenges facing the Latin American left 'from the fall of Allende to Perestroika'--from the Chilean coup of 1973 to (roughly) 1991. Unfortunately it fails.
This is in part because crucial events are simply omitted. You could not guess from the chapter on Chile that the Pinochet regime stumbled into a massive crisis in 1982. The Pinochet period is portrayed as one long, dark night. Yet the key force within the Chilean working class--the copper workers--began actively to resist the regime as early as 1978. By the end of the 1980s the copper workers had rebuilt their organisation. Yet the left has utterly failed to relate to this or to the new working class which emerged in the Chilean boom.
The result of this sort of blinkered view is a confused pessimism which permeates several contributions. The chapter on 'Trade Unions, Struggle and the Left' concludes that 'the profound changes of the past two decades' mean 'there are no ready-made answers'. Of course, there are never 'ready-made answers'--the class struggle is a living, changing process. But this conclusion is in reality a thinly disguised apology for those advocating 'new alliances' and a social pact with the middle classes.
This leads directly to an absurd optimism about other events. 'The Salvadorian Left', we are told, 'ended 21 years of struggle and 11 years of war with a political victory at the negotiating table'. This victory amounts to a UN brokered settlement which leaves the power of the Salvadorian ruling class untouched. The probable outcome is a Christian Democrat government. To speak in terms of the 'triumph of the Salvadorian revolution' is grotesque.
When it comes to Brazil and the Workers' Party (PT), the account is dated (to put it kindly), if not simply dishonest. 'In the long run, the PT strives to build socialism from the day-to-day struggles of working people in Brazil.' Could this be the same PT which breaks strikes in Sao Paulo and supports the present Brazilian government as a 'loyal opposition'? This contribution (from a prominent member of the PT leadership) ends with an enthusiastic endorsement of electoral alliances.
There are one or two good things in this book. James Dunkerley, as usual, writes perceptively on Bolivia and there is an interesting chapter on Venezuela. But much of the other material falls a long way short of LAB's best standards.
Soho Square 6--New Writing From Ireland
Ed: Colm Toibin
The outpouring of Irish literature that started in the late 1960s seems to be continuing unabated. Some of the most vibrant work written in English is still coming out of a country with a population, both North and South, of around half that of London.
In this anthology Colm Toibin, himself one of the best of these emerging writers, has collected together poems, short stories, essays and extracts from novels and screenplays that point to the rich diversity of contemporary Irish writing, whilst also showing that it has no single tradition other than, as Dermot Bolger has put it, 'generally using the English language far better than anybody else'.
There are excellent pieces from lesser known writers, especially women (one of the strengths of this collection), such as Mary Beckett.
Neil Jordan, whose films include Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, has an article about the unreality of Hollywood. 'I drive a convertible car with the hood down. The hood is down because I don't know how to get it up.' But writing from and about the North is less well covered, with the exception of Michael Longley's poems and Eoin McMamee's chilling story of sectarian attacks in Belfast.
The writers deal with topics well beyond the immediately Irish, but if there is a picture that emerges of Ireland today it is one that is far from the postcard images of donkeys and turf piles, something that is starkly reinforced by Tony O'Shea's photographs of his father in his final years. With around half the population of Ireland under 25 and rather more than half living in the city this generation lives in a very different country to their parents.
The new writing, while not necessarily reflecting that change, is a product of it. Unfortunately this anthology somehow fails to grasp this and therefore fails to give a general representation of what is happening in Irish literature.
In contrast Dermot Bolger's recent anthology--The Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction--was able to do exactly this, making his a much better book for the money.
Manchester University Press £40
Harry Pollitt joined the infant British Communist Party at its inception in 1920. He was at that time a sincere and committed revolutionary.
By the late 1920s he had become the party's leader. Pollitt's tragedy, and the tragedy of the party itself, is that they so closely paralleled the events of the 1917 revolution--from socialism from below, to Stalinism and dictatorship from above.
Of course, the British party never had the same influence among workers that the Bolsheviks enjoyed in Russia. One crucial reason for this is the role played by Stalinism in influencing the British party's development. As such the CP is a good lesson in how not build a revolutionary party--and that is the real purpose of studying Pollitt.
However, Kevin Morgan's biography has major failings. Chief among them is that he is largely uncritical of Pollitt.
Pollitt's political life can be outlined quite briefly. During his rise to the leadership of the party, the CP recruited among the best of a generation of working class militants and intellectuals. The material for a genuine revolutionary party was present. What was lacking was the correct perspectives and political will--due simply to the rampant Stalinism of the organisation. The CP moved from real internationalism--being an ally of the Russian Revolution--to becoming nothing more than an arm of the Stalinised party and, under Pollitt, a craven supporter of Russian domestic and foreign policy.
Pollitt, for instance, was one of Britain's most rabid supporters of the Moscow trials, when Stalin liquidated his political opponents.
Pollitt's greatest hour, well documented here, came shortly after the trials, when Russia entered the Second World War. Suddenly patriotism and a liking for Stalin were mutually conducive.
The CP's curve of influence began its slow decline at the end of the war. Whilst the growth of Stalinism in the East ensured the party a degree of stability, the re-strengthening of social democracy, in particular the Labour Party, in the West meant it was cut off from real influence. At this crucial point the party, with Pollitt firmly in control, wrote its own suicide note. The adoption of the new programme, The British Road to Socialism, meant the party formally renouncing the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. This document is claimed as Pollitt's unique contribution to British Communism. In fact most of it was drawn up in Moscow under the direct influence of Stalin.
From now on the CP looked purely to cross class alliances and electoral politics as the only way to win power.
Pollitt ended his days as CP general secretary at a crucial turning point for the party, and for Stalinism itself--1956. Khrushchev made his speech partially denouncing Stalin's crimes. Pollitt, true to his master, tried to hush it up.
Kevin Morgan's book begins to pull some of these events together, and the book is well worth a read, though far too expensive. But hopefully better is to come. The CP's archives are now open and a really critical and thorough study of the party is needed. This book is rather too uncritical.
The history of Harry Pollitt is the history of the British CP itself--the wasting of thousands of working class militants and a dream betrayed.
The Impact of Structural Adjustment on the Population of Africa
Ed: Aderanti Adepoju
James Currey/ Heinemann/ United Nations £9.95
Over the last two months the struggle of Nigerian workers culminating in a three day general strike has shown once again the potential power of organised workers, even in countries with a large farming sector. Adepoju's book sketches the background to this and other African workers' movements. It shows how ordinary people's living standards have been sacrificed under economic programmes run by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
An almost identical recipe of so-called 'structura adjustment' measures has been applied to every single one of the countries involved. The intention has been to increase national economic output, combat inflation and generally spend only what the country earns through various taxes and exports. Usually some of those goals have been reached, but for the mass of people this has caused a return to living conditions normally associated with those of European workers in the early stages of the industrial revolution.
In Ghana the introduction of hospital user charges has led to outpatient attendance dropping by two thirds.
Sierra Leone's population has a life expectancy of 38 years, and out of 1000 children born, 200 die before their first birthday. The Zambian government's cutbacks in health meant that 'all the operating theatres were closed down... As they had become a health hazard to both medical personnel and patients.'
This book gives a picture of how one half to three quarters of sub-Saharan Africa's populations came to live below the poverty line in the 1980s compared to 30 to 40 percent in the mid-1970s. However, it has some serious shortcomings.
The most obvious one is its complicated academic style--it is supposed to 'be of particular value to government officials and policy makers, to donors'. More importantly, though, most of the authors agree that some structural adjustment is needed--only it should be made more humane.
There is hardly any critique of relying on exports of raw materials to earn money for development, even though most African countries were dumped into economic crisis because world market prices for their products collapsed.
Worst of all, class struggle and its potential for restoring decent living standards is, at best, found between the lines.
This book makes almost no mention of the only solution to the devastation caused by IMF-type policies throughout the 1980s. African workers are not waiting for the trickle of wealth that may or may not reach them, but are using their already huge muscle to take it themselves.