Issue 172 of SOCIALIST REVIEWPublished February 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review


Out of the ghetto

It is always to be expected that a Marxist interpretation of history will meet with hostility in most bourgeois journals. A socialist periodical, however, could be expected to produce at least a reasoned summary of its arguments, whatever criticisms there may be.

Nick Howard's review of my Politics of Continuity (a title he forgot to include at the heading of his review, so the readers were only given its subtitle: British Foreign Policy and the Labour Government 1945-6) was not unfriendly, but unhappily failed to provide a synopsis of what the book was about.

Thus he might have mentioned that my first 80 pages--'The Mind of the Foreign Office '--is the first detailed account by a socialist historian of the political attitudes and policies of the top levels in Whitehall and the diplomatic service; or that Attlee had serious political differences with Bevin, his senior officials and the Chiefs of Staff over the Middle East; or that I try to connect economic factors and problems with international relations.

I leave aside a number of the mistaken summaries of my argument, although I am surprised how many there were, and just add that I found his review dispiriting because it could have been written 30 years ago out of the broad generalisations that have continued since to serve some sections of the left.

Not all are wrong, but what he does not seem to appreciate is not only that we have to continue to educate ourselves, but our crucial problems are to break through the intellectual and political ghetto into which we are all being constantly pushed as well as to recognise the formidable task of convincing the great majority of the labour movement of the illusions of Labour--socialism. And we cannot do this without accepting Gramsci's insistence that it is the major intellectual and political strong points we have to confront, and this means serious research and constant argument.

What Nick Howard did not recognise in his review is that the majority of Labour supporters still regard 1945-51 as a golden period of achievement and that there is no understanding of the connection between the reactionary foreign policy of 1945 and succeeding years, and the economic decline of British capitalism in the second half of the 20th century.

It was my purpose to provide a large mass of new material on these matters, and I regret that I have failed to convince my reviewer of what I was about.
John Saville

The title of John Saville's book in January's SR was omitted due to a subbing error. We offer our apologies to John Saville and Nick Howard.

Breaking new ground

Nick Howard's review of John Saville's new book on the foreign policy of the post-1945 Labour government gives a balanced account of the book's strengths and weaknesses. But there is a key point of context which he misses.

Although members of the Communist Party Historians' Group, of which Saville was a member up to 1956, often talked of the need to 'become historians of the present too' they totally failed to carry this into practice. The problem of explaining what had happened in Russia and the endless twists and turns of Stalinist politics held them back.

Saville's work is in fact the first sustained piece of historical research into a post1945 subject ever carried out by someone from the Historians' Group and Saville deserves credit for making the break from examining the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, important though work in these areas, including Saville's own, has been.
Keith Flett
North London

A monstrous tale

Commenting on the 'Frankenstein's monster' of Ulster unionism (December SR), Chris Harman indulges in a nationalist polemic he would deride in any context but Ireland. The result is the usual travestied history which, while it may satisfy the 'anti-imperialist' fury of the English left, is worse than useless as a guide to organising on the ground.

It is a truly monstrous tale. Playing the 'Orange card', British capital dupes industrial workers into supporting a partition which secures the interests of a 'traditionally "ascendant" aristocracy', only to recognise (decades down the road) that, divorced from political reason and economic logic, the 'loyalism' it conjured no longer responds to command.

As in all Republican (and Orange) lore, a corpse is being dragged across the pages of history. Electoral and agrarian reforms had retired the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy decades before the partition crisis.

Why the canard of landlordism? Because it sustains the inference that in the North minimally progressive--not to say socialist--politics embraced the national cause.

For 70 years the British left has accepted the Connnollyite case for an all Ireland secession. Yet Connolly (unprepared, perhaps, by British education) never really came to terms with a national society constructed (post-famine) through the progressive agency of the Church and on the basis of a vigorous class of farmer owners.

Instead, in search of a non-sectarian, non-bourgeois basis for a common identity, he followed his fellow expatriate patriot, the Englishman 'Padraig' Pearse, into the Gaelic mists (the same chronicles the UDA now ransacks in search of an Ulster 'nation').

The current case for completing 'British withdrawal' (Westminister's exclusion of the North from British party politics compromised the Union long before the Anglo-Irish Agreement), is not advanced by dismissing the objection of Protestant workers as mere 'sectarianism'--Sinn Fein has come that far.

Nor is there hope for 'socialist politics' through common economic struggle, if it is imagined that this implies opposition to 'the British state'. The two thirds of Northern Catholics who, in a recent Irish Times poll, rejected a united Ireland as their first choice political solution are as conscious as anyone of economic reality.
Manfred McDowell

How big a menace?

The election of hypernationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky in Russia places the finishing touches on the long standing Western strategy of developing a nuclear armed fascisto-Communist threat to take the place of the old Cold War red bogey.

Citing demagogic threats by Zhirinovsky to launch nuclear attacks against Japan and Germany (both of them at present non-nuclear states), emphasising also the willingness of the reconstituted Russian Communist Party to collaborate 'on specific issues' with Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, much of the mainstream media has hastened to reinforce the impression of the 'red-brown alliance' as the number one menace to the future of Europe.

Comparisons are being drawn between the climate of Weimar Germany and the climate of present day Russia. In Russia Yeltsin's prime minister Gaidar has called for the formation of a 'broad anti-fascist alliance', including Communists.

Analysing the plausibility of the threat from Zhirinovsky we must distinguish the several components in it. Firstly the nationalism: there is no doubt that Zhirinovsky and his party are nationalist, anti-Semitic bigots.

They differ however from the fascists of the 1930s in that they do not question the multiparty parliamentary framework in which they are operating. This is a significant difference between all species of present day European fascists and the anti-parliamentary fascists of the 1930s.

Second the question of nuclear weapons. Zhirinovsky has a big mouth and is very free with his promises to launch future Hiroshimas and Chernobyls. However, one very pertinent question which must be raised concerning the Russian nuclear arsenal is to what extent it is in fact controlled by Russians.

The testimony by the last head of the KGB at the recent trial of the August 1991 putschists has revealed that the first group of plotters against Gorbachev were motivated very largely by concerns that the United States was beginning to gain control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. The role of Russian nuclear weapons in American long term strategic planning probably has very much to do with their potential as an instrument of coercion against the Communist leadership of China.

Political conditions are doubtless not yet ripe for them to be deployed for this purpose. For a start, Russia is not yet a member of NATO. Their interim function seems to be to assist the revival (on a selective basis) of Cold War stereotyping so as to facilitate the imposition of bloc discipline on the populations of the NATO member states.

Russia is going to have to earn its membership of NATO by demonstrating willingness to direct its nationalist hatreds eastwards rather than westwards.

Revolutionary socialists have nothing to gain from joining in the chorus of horror at Russian red-brown fascism. Instead of denouncing Communists as allies of fascists, socialists should be urging them to respond to Yeltsin's and Gaidar's invitation to join the 'anti-fascist alliance'. The Communist condition for joining in the fight against the fascists should be for Yeltsin and Gaidar to agree to the destruction of the Russian nuclear arsenal.
Wayne Hall

Fringe benefits

The Briefing on housing (January SR) was good, but I thought I'd say a few things about housing benefit. Firstly, the local council never pays out the amount needed to cover your rent. For instance, if your bedsit costs £45 per week excluding bills they would probably only pay out £35 a week. A tenant usually has to fork out a tenner from his or her dole money to top up the rent.

Secondly, because of understaffing local councils always have a big backlog of housing benefit claims. In London it is not uncommon to find people waiting four months for their 'rent' to come through. Even in Inverness it takes at least five weeks. My advice for readers who haven't yet experienced the marvels of the housing benefit system? Don't!

You are right about empty Ministry of Defence housing--I lived throughout my childhood on RAF estates teeming with unoccupied homes.
Philip Wilson

Cause for concern

I disagree with Adam J Powell (December SR) who says 'the BNP has every right to march'. I make no apology for saying the fascists have no right to march on our streets, they have no right to intimidate immigrants and they have no right to speak for working class people. I make no apology for saying we must confront the BNP on the streets.

The reason is simple. The BNP is a fascist organisation. It denies the Holocaust. It says that 6 million Jews were not murdered by fascists in the Second World War. The BNP is not marching for democracy: it is marching to deny us democracy.

When Adam J Powell asks the question, 'Who are the real fascists?' I agree with his explanation for the increase in sympathy for the BNP in certain areas, but this does not make the people of those areas fascists. The BNP do not say to people, 'Vote for us, we are fascists, we want to take away your democratic right to vote.'

I must ask him, why are we fighting fascism again across Europe when our parents' generation fought in a war that they were told was against fascism? The answer is, although the Allied governments 'won the war', they were not interested in ending forever the conditions which breed fascism: poverty, unemployment, bad housing, a run down welfare state.

Adam J Powell says that violence does nothing but discredit the anti-fascist cause, that we should show concern for deprived people in Millwall and that this will end fascism. Concern is not much help to the people who have already died as a result of racist attacks.

Concern does not end unemployment, bad housing, homelessness, poverty nor does it give us back a decent National Health Service. Concern is patronising and will not end fascism. Uniting to end the iniquitous policies which allow millions of pounds to be poured into Canary Wharf while there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people in London will do more to show up the real enemy than love or concern.

Just because the BNP has won the respectability of an elected councillor does not make it democratic. If we allow the BNP the 'right to march' it will not stop there.

It will continue to scapegoat the group it considers to be the weakest and most vulnerable, the Bangladeshi immigrant community in east London. Wherever and whenever it suits the fascists they will pick on Jews, blacks, trade unionists, gays and lesbians, and every other group that they believe they can use to divide us.

After the election of the BNP councillor in east London and the horrific attack on Quddus Ali, one of the best anti-fascist demonstrations in the Brick Lane area was led by young men from the local Bangladeshi community. Weak? No, strong and united marching together, Asian, black and white 'concerned' people quite prepared to show up the BNP for what it is, quite prepared to fight them on the streets where they terrorise people and peddle their fascist filth.

Mealy mouthed concern, liberalism and pacifism won't stop the fascists. Fighting back together will.
Janet Evans
North London

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