Issue 180 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review
Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
Michael Joseph £20
The events of 1989-91--the East European revolutions of 1989, the end of the Cold War and of the superpower partition of Europe, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union--plainly marked a watershed in world history. Making sense of the historical epoch that came to such a sudden and dramatic conclusion then may be of use in navigating the uncharted waters in which we now find ourselves.
And who would seem better qualified to perform the task than the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm? Now he has turned his attention to summing up the 'short 20th century', 1914-91. This period can be subdivided in two. There is first what Hobsbawm calls 'the Age of Catastrophe', the years between 1914 and 1945 which saw the long European peace of the 19th century descend into war, revolution, fascism, and depression. The era after 1945, by contrast, was 'welded into a single pattern by the peculiar international situation that dominated it until the fall of the USSR', the Cold War between the superpower blocs.
This subdivision serves to highlight the fact that the most important theme spanning the history of the short 20th century is the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and its fate. This revolution was the decisive upheaval of the 1914-45 'Thirty One Years War'. Its monstrous offspring, the Stalinist regime, was one of the two chief actors during the Cold War. The historian of this epoch must therefore be able to offer a cogent account of October and its consequences.
Yet here Hobsbawm's own history is peculiarly disabling. He has been a particularly eloquent defender of the strategy pioneered by Stalin in the 1930s of building popular fronts uniting the workers' parties with 'progressive capitalists'.
This historical baggage does not mean that Hobsbawm is particularly dishonest in those parts of Age of Extremes devoted to the October Revolution and Stalinism. It is more that the collapse of the political project to which Hobsbawm has devoted his life seems to have left him with no clear understanding of what went wrong. Thus we are told it was the failure of the October Revolution to spread and Stalin's personality and the Leninist tradition which led to Stalinism, without any attempt to weigh the relative importance of these alleged causes. More generally, Hobsbawm often in this book falls into what is sometimes a frenzy of equivocation, apparently bold assertions being so hedged in with qualifications that the reader sometimes loses track of what is being said. The text bears signs of excessive haste, with some cases of repetition and an annoyingly incomplete bibliography.
Age of Extremes is by no means all bad. Hobsbawm is admirably clear about the enormous economic, social, and cultural transformations wrought by capitalism on a world scale as a result of the long boom of the 1950s and 1960s. He argues that this 'golden age' has been followed by a period of economic crisis comparable in many ways to the depression of the 1930s.
But where is the world going at the end of the 20th century? Hobsbawm seems to be struggling through the 'global fog' which he says descended on us after the watershed of 1989-91. The collapse of the Stalinist order has left Hobsbawm brooding pessimistically on a future which may end, according to the book's concluding sentence, in 'darkness'.
One source of this pessimism is a long standing confusion in his historical and political writings about the relationship between the working class and the labour movement. Hobsbawm for example claims that racism has grown thanks to 'the weakening of traditional socialist labour movements ...since these had been passionately opposed to such discrimination, and thus damped down the anti-social expression of racist feelings within their constituency'. So the decline of the Communist and indeed of the social democratic parties has removed a barrier against racism.
The underlying assumption is that the labour movement, the mass organisations of the trade unions and the reformist parties, was the bearer of historical progress. As for workers themselves, they are a raw material which needs to be shaped by these organisations, and protected against their own ugly passions.
Yet it is arguable that Britain in the past generation has seen, despite the decline of the Labour Party and the eclipse of the Communist Party, a weakening of popular racism in its most intense and organised form (the last real race riot, for example, was in Notting Hill in 1958). Mass immigration has created a working class that is often genuinely multi-ethnic. Hobsbawm cannot recognise this more complex issue because he tends--as in his famous lecture 'The Forward March of Labour Halted'--to equate the decline of a particular labour movement with that of the working class itself.
Compromised by his own past and unable to see beyond some historically specific organisational forms, Hobsbawm seems to regard the world at the end of the 20th century as on the verge of a relapse back into barbarism. It is an expression of what is undoubtedly a widespread mood among left wing intellectuals since the fall of Stalinism. It is certainly of only limited use as a source of historical understanding.
The Future of the Trade Unions
Andre Deutsch £9.99
Robert Taylor is labour correspondent of the Financial Times and was commissioned by the TUC to write this book. Rather than the total pessimism of the 1980s we get a reassessment which attempts to look at the figures for trade union decline and put them in perspective. Taylor argues that there has been no massive ideological movement away from trade unionism. Up to three quarters of the decline in trade union density since 1979 can be blamed on the contraction of the manufacturing sector, where trade unions were traditionally strong.
Taylor does come out with some absurdities, for example that 47 percent of trade unionists are middle class. However, his central argument is a welcome change from some of the theories which stress the irreversible decline of the trade unions.
But how do we win a new layer of members to the trade unions to replace those lost through the decline of manufacturing? Taylor's answer is to update some of the old 'new realist' politics to fit the 1990s. He argues that the main job of trade unions is the creation of a social partnership with employers, and the introduction of positive legal rights of representation for all workers.
This social partnership involves a consensual approach, where in return for job security the enlightened union manages change for the company ensuring job flexibility. In return for bosses being fair to workers, involving them in consultation through the various techniques of human resource management, the unions can help workers recognise the importance of profitability.
In today's economic climate this strategy amounts to utopian nonsense. An engineering convenor quoted says 'these days I'm seen to be--and I sometimes feel--that I am just a go-between the management and shopfloor, perhaps even a management mouthpiece.' The convenor then explains young people don't seem to be too interested in the union. It's hardly surprising: who wants to become an activist if your main job is to explain the need for more profitability?
The introduction of positive workers' rights has to be seen in the context of abolition of all anti trade union laws and legal immunity restored to the trade unions. Rather than using the might of the trade union movement to break unfair union laws, Taylor's approach would accept a lot of the anti union restraints in the name of recognising the unions' responsibilities, hoping that in return worker representation would be recognised as a right. Without strong union organisation on the ground, rights such as health and safety, even when enshrined in statute, are often totally ignored. The key task is to give confidence to, and therefore strengthen union organisation below, not look for saviours from Westminster or Brussels.
The greatest criticism of this book is that it practically ignores class struggle. This is important because capitalism is a dynamic system, the structure of our class is always changing. Groups of workers who form the backbone of the unions were unionised in struggle. In the 1950s intellectuals had elaborate theories that explained why workers in light engineering, like car workers, would never fight. Today similar ideas are held about bank or hypermarket workers. Whether these workers recognise their potential power, will in the end depend on the course of the class struggle.
Journey to the Frontier: Two Roads to the Spanish Civil War
Peter Stansky and William Abrahams
The 1930s represent a tumultuous and decisive period in world history. Poverty, unemployment, the rise of fascism and the threat of war were inescapable realities. Journey to the Frontier is a dual biography of two young English poets, Julian Bell and John Cornford, who died fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Stansky and Abrahams cite the war in Spain as 'the event for young men of the left in the 1930s' and they go on to create a fascinating amalgam of personal study, literary history and intellectual change.
The civil war was characterised by an international explosion of enthusiasm and hope. Thousands of (overwhelmingly working class) young men and women joined the fight at the front itself and many more worked feverishly in their own countries to promote the solidarity that could sustain their comrades in Spain.
Both Bell and Cornford came from a progressive middle class intellectual tradition which scorned the excesses of Victorian capitalism and imperialism but which at the same time did not go to any great lengths to change society. They could not remain aloof from the economic crisis of the early 1930s with the poverty, unemployment, Hitler, and the overbearing prospect of another bloody war.
A growing number of pacifists and socialists began to emerge who were not prepared to stand in silence. Bell, a member of the 1930s generation of poets which also included Auden, Day-Lewis and Spender, felt compelled to write that 'it is time to take a hand in the politicians' dogfight'. Art for both Bell and Cornford now needed to serve a purpose as a political weapon.
Bell was representative of his generation in moving leftward away from his pacifist position so that after the election of Hitler he was convinced that 'there'll never be any peace until fascism is destroyed'.
From here it was a short step to accepting that fascism was a result of the same system that bred poverty and unemployment, and that a war against fascism must include fighting to destroy that system. Thousands of young men and women identified with this perspective and like John Cornford they joined the Communist Party to fight fascism and work towards a better society.
Journey to the Frontier is uncritical of the CP and its leaders, but the description of Cornford's involvement in the party, the anti war marches, the breaking up of Mosley's meetings, and his passionate commitment to the cause, provide some of the most inspiring passages of the whole book.
The outbreak of the civil war in Spain was met, in the words of one of Bell's friends, with 'a mixture of relief and apocalyptic hope'. Indeed Spain was not merely the scene of a civil war, but also of a revolution, in which workers were beginning to take collective control of their own lives. The contrast between socialism and barbarism could not have been more apparent, nor the prospect of either more immediate.
So it appeared to people like Bell and Cornford as a time when anything seemed possible. The reissue of this book is a timely reminder that ideas and people can and do change, rapidly, and in a revolutionary way.
The Haiti Files
Ed. James Ridgeway
Latin American Bureau £9.99
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. The majority of workers in Haiti are on only 14 cents an hour. When a single parent was asked how she made ends meet on $1.11 a day she said that it cost her: 'the US equivalent of 44 cents a day for transportation to and from work--there is no public transportation'. She also spent about 30 cents for lunch. This meant that she went home at the end of a nine hour day with the equivalent of 33 cents in her pocket.
The Haiti Files does more than just expose the dire poverty in the country. Through a series of articles it exposes the reason why that poverty exists. The history of Haiti is traced from its beginnings as a Spanish colony, when it was known as the Pearl of the Antilles because of the massive wealth produced there, to its fight for independence from France and its continuous struggle to remain independent from France, then Britain and then the US.
The United States has had the most influence in the history of Haiti. In the 1915 invasion by the US an internal US marines inquiry revealed the extent of the brutality involved: 3,250 rebels killed and 400 executed. When they finally left 20 years later the structures that maintained future regimes were set in place by the US. These were refined by US puppet Papa Doc Duvalier into his paid thugs the Tonton Macoutes.
This cycle of repression seemed to come to an end with Haiti's first democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. This was short lived. Seven months later the army took power. The coup exposed the inherent US hypocrisy. The then US secretary of state, James Baker, declared 'this junta is illegal', and an embargo was declared. The book exposes very well the contempt the US had for Aristide. At one point the junta had the main highway between Haiti and the Dominican Republic recovered due to the increased traffic that was breaking the embargo.
Aristide, instead of relying on the mass movement which helped him to power, decided to negotiate.
He struck a deal with the junta in which he would return to Haiti as president and the US would install their own puppet as prime minister. This tactic failed when the US failed to implement the plan.
The book also goes through the outrageous policy of the US government towards refugees, on the one hand attacking totalitarian regimes while at the same time using forced repatriation back to Haiti and locking up refugees in Guantanamo military base.
The Clinton administration's policies continue the previous policy of preaching about democracy whilst using every means at their disposal to ensure bloodthirsty dictators remain in power, and promoting the interests of US big business in Haiti at whatever the human cost. This book is a brilliant exposure of American hypocrisy and brutality in Haiti and the failure of Aristide to use the only real weapon he had, the people of Haiti themselves.
In the current climate of bigotry and attacks on 'political correctness', a book which celebrates women as sexual beings is to be welcomed. While veterans of the women's movement such as Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer have shifted to the right (admittedly Friedan didn't have as far to shift as some), saying perhaps feminism has gone too far (Friedan) and revelling in the joys of motherhood, the menopause and celibacy (Greer), Lynne Segal still maintains that women's social and sexual liberation is a necessity.
'Straight feminists', believes Segal, 'have succumbed, by and large, to the pressure to keep silent about their sexual pursuits and pleasure'.
In this book she sets out to re-evaluate women's heterosexuality, and constructs her arguments around what is at stake in women's desire for men, dealing with theories of heterosexuality as the basis of men's exploitation of women.
Segal argues that at the heart of the problem lie the notions of 'gender' and 'sexuality', which link 'masculinity' to sexual activity and dominance, and 'femininity' to sexual passivity and subordination.
She refutes the idea that there is a fundamental difference between men and women, which is the basis for radical feminism. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon believe male power 'authentically originates in the penis' and that to 'give up fucking for a feminist is about taking your politics seriously.'
Heterosexual women should enjoy sex with men, argues Segal, and not feel guilty.
Segal's class politics rear their head when she attacks the Cosmo-type middle class feminism which sees women as having the opportunities to be as successful as men, but that achieving sexual fulfilment and orgasm is the last bastion of women's oppression needing to be conquered. Segal rightly points out that anyone, however alienated or powerless, rich or poor, may have an orgasm, but that women's liberation means much more than the right to have an orgasm.
The backlash against the gains made for women over the last few decades is illustrated by the media attention afforded to the likes of Camille Paglia and Katie Roiphe. Segal rubbishes their arguments that women's oppression no longer exists; that women can and should make it on the same terms as men, and that rape is largely a figment of feminist imagination. This leads to blaming individual women for their own oppression.
However, too much of the book is devoted to a quite abstract dissection of sexuality in the fields of psychoanalysis and sexology. Because the struggles which have taken place in recent years (over the pits, Timex, teachers, signal workers and nurses) have tended to emphasise class unity between women and men, not divisions, the argument that men benefit from, and have a stake in, women's oppression seems to have less of a hold than it once did. But because Segal accepts a variation of patriarchy as partly explaining women's oppression, she has a dilemma as to the relationship between class and gender.
If men bear some of the responsibility for women's oppression, then for socialist feminists this leads at best to a contradiction in attempting to explain who women must fight to end their oppression. As Lynne Segal admits, 'I think that many of us (socialist feminists) did feel undermined and confused, if not guilty, by the accusation that we were "soft on men".'
Women's oppression affects the sexual and personal relationships of everyone. But because it is a result of class society, sexual liberation has to be tied to social transformation. Class is the key. The failure to see this means that although Segal desperately wants to, she can't see a way out of the problems of women's oppression today.
Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me
Marion Brando with Robert Lindsey
The making of films in Hollywood has very little to do with artistic merit or talent. All that matters is that a project makes money.
Central to this is the creation of stars. The lead actors are turned into people to be admired and held in awe. As Marion Brando points out, 'Celebrities of a certain kind are treated as messiahs whether they like it or not'.
Brando has been a part--reluctantly, he asserts--of this myth machine since the success of the stage version of A Streetcar Named Desire catapulted him to fame in 1947.
But Brando is special, not only because of his acting, the length of time that he has been making films or because a number of the films he has made have been controversial.
Since the early 1960s he has taken radical and often principled stands off screen that have led him into direct confrontation with both the Hollywood establishment and the government. He has displayed a healthy disdain of authority and a self effacing modesty seldom seen from 'legends'. How much of this public persona is genuine and how much of it is the created myth?
Coming to New York in 1943 in his early twenties, he found himself amongst a Jewish community swollen by those escaping Nazi occupied Europe. Totally overwhelmed by this cultural and intellectual whirlpool, he not only learnt to act but by 1945 was doing speaking tours to raise money for the Stern Gang.
He wrote later, 'I was outraged along with most people ...that the British were stopping ships from carrying the half-starved survivors of Hitler's death camps to a new life... I did not know at the time Jewish terrorists were indiscriminately killing Arabs and making refugees out of them in order to take their land'.
For much of the 1950s Brando kept quiet during the McCarthy era. Here, he condemns not only the redbaiting witch hunts but also film director Elia Kazan, an ex-Communist who gave evidence to the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee, naming scores of ex-comrades, which resulted in their being blacklisted.
At the time, however, his actions were less damning. Not only did he continue to work with him but starred in On the Waterfront, which Kazan attempted to use as a vehicle to justify his betrayal. However, by the early 1960s Brando was pulled into the radicalisation that began to shake the US.
His description of the notoriety surrounding his film The Wild One should serve as an explanation of his own political development: 'The civil rights movement, rioting in the streets because of racial injustice and the Vietnam War, were just around the corner. A sense of alienation was rising among different generations and different layers of society... Old traditions and venerated institutions were distrusted and the social fabric was being replaced by something new.'
Through the 1960s he threw himself into a whole range of struggles: getting arrested to promote the rights of Native Americans, taking part in Freedom Rides, meeting with the Black Panthers and exposing Third World poverty.
Yet something does not ring true. I think he was genuine. With the explosion of social protests that swept the US into almost open rebellion, Brando was picked up and came out fighting on the right side. However, the fact that he was a multi-millionaire, and always an 'outsider', meant that as the movement fragmented and declined he was left with no gravitational pull that could make sense of the ideas that he had come across.
Something else has to be addressed when reading this, in parts very interesting, if contradictory, book: Brando's attitude to women. He attempts to disguise a nauseating sexist outlook behind a Freudian analysis of rejection by his mother that will simply not wash.
It would seem we are now left with a man who looks at the world through the distorted mirror of an over inflated ego and sees no hope for humanity other than the discovery of DNA which will at some point in the future allow 'a genetic fault that causes errant behaviour or self destruction ...simply [to] be removed'. At times you are left wondering if this garbage comes from the same person. Sadly, I think it does.
Russia under the Bolshevik Regime (1919-1924)
One of the most prominent right wing historians of the Russian Revolution, Richard Pipes, looks at Russia during the three years of Civil War which followed the 1917 revolution, and the years up to Lenin's death in 1924. This was an extremely tragic period, in which the hopes were pushed aside by the realities of fighting a bitter war. All the resources of the new workers' state were thrown into fighting for survival.
A central theme of Pipes' approach is a defence of the old order. Most historians, despite their criticisms of the Bolsheviks, have little sympathy for the autocratic monarchy which existed until 1917 and have a similar distaste for the anti-democratic and anti-semitic views of the White armies who fought to bring back the old order.
Pipes stands out because he is firmly on the side of the counter-revolutionary Whites. In the first section on the Civil War, he denies that Western powers played a significant role in the White attack, as if the hundreds of thousands of guns sent by Britain alone were of no importance. Later, however, Pipes states that 'without foreign intervention ...there would have been no Civil War'. The Western governments made their support for the Whites conditional on a recognition of the independence of Finland and an abandonment of the monarchy. This is condemned by Pipes as undemocratic!
During their campaign, the Whites made systematic use of anti-semitism and murdered somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Jews in pogroms. Yet Pipes devotes considerable time trying to prove that this was not condoned by the White generals, and quotes General Denikin saying that any attempt to condemn pogroms 'will only make the situation of Jews harder'. This sordid attempt to absolve the White leaders of responsibility for mass murder sits uneasily next to the fact that Admiral Kolchak's favourite reading was, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion--a textbook of anti-semitism.
In an effort to produce a decisive demolition of socialism, Pipes moves outside the period of 1919-1924, leading to misleading implications that the 1928 policy of labelling social democrats as 'social fascists' was in place during Lenin's life. The 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact 'took shape in the early 1920s, when Lenin was alive and in charge'. We are told that Lenin and Mussolini had a 'similar' attitude to the First World War (similar in that one supported it while the other opposed it). Pipes even speculates that if the Tsar had not brought Russia into the war, the Bolsheviks would have agitated for war so as to create the conditions for revolution (yet not a single piece of evidence is produced).
This book by a former National Security Adviser for Ronald Reagan ignores recent historical research on 1917 on the grounds that the revolution was a product of a Bolshevik conspiracy and so is not related to workers' attitudes. Socialists need to know about and understand the degeneration and bureaucratisation that occurred in this period, the fight against which Lenin and Trotsky began. Pipes' book won't provide this but this is as much a polemic against socialism as it is a history of the Civil War.
The Heart of it
Michael Joseph £14.99
The 1984 miners' strike was an epic struggle between labour and capital, a real life Germinal.
But for the most part, as far as novels are concerned, it's the greatest story never told.
So it's good to see Barry Hines, author of the brilliant A Kestrel for a Knave, which became the film Kes, attempt to redress the balance.
It's no wonder right wing critics panned it. The Heart of It is an unequivocal defence of the year long strike.
The stories in this book not only ring true. Many of them are true and memorable for those of us who lived through the miners' strike.
Those picket line battles that saw miners take on the full might of the British state come alive again through the return to his pit village roots of wealthy film scriptwriter, Cal.
Cal has changed his name from Karl to get back at his dad, Communist Party member and diehard Stalinist, Harry Richards, who was union branch secretary at the now closed local colliery.
Cal lives in France with rising film actress Helene and dog Bruno and writes shitty scripts for even shittier films. But he reinvents himself after coming home to see his father, seriously ill and barely able to speak following a stroke brought on, his mother is convinced, by Harry's arrest and jailing in the strike years before.
Cal, who was in the United States at the time of the strike and has hardly seen his parents since, knows nothing of the struggle and sacrifices that went on.
He finds out the truth as he talks to old school friends and his mother who, like many working class women in those 12 months, was transformed by the heat of the battle into a working class agitator.
She had become an orator, speaking and raising money for the strike at home and abroad. But she also later reveals an even deeper secret.
His father is a dyed-in-th-ewool Stalinist. He is an unbending follower of the party line, left a broken reed by the collapse of Russian communism. But he also embodies the best of that distorted tradition in his hatred of the bosses, a working class fighter who has lost his way.
Cal has sold out, but gradually the spirit and integrity of working class people shining through the poverty and degradation all around them, shatters his smug world.
Barry Hines has admitted that his book will be familiar to the thousands who witnessed the daily onslaught against the miners by the combined forces of the Tories, police and media.
There were a million strike stories and many survive in the book.
The one about the police chief angrily attempting to demolish a snowman built around a block of solid concrete is a legend.
But no matter how many times you've heard them, they remind you of a fight that could have been won, except for the failure of the TUC to deliver solidarity action and the treachery of Kinnock's Labour Party.
That is one of the book's weaknesses. The general political message is that if only miners, especially in Nottinghamshire, had united they would have won. But miners could never have won on their own.
The overall impression is of the dignity and determination of the working class to fight back. But this is spoiled by the rather cliched main character of a writer who's turned his back on his roots only to rediscover them again. Cal is as shallow as the unnecessary sex scenes, which seem only to be included to intensify the reader's loathing for him.
Hines is better trying to capture the life and language of working people. But here again the dialogue is often wooden and reduced to caricature. Sometimes it feels as if we are in the middle of one of Cal's scripts, something the book itself parodies.
But the gallows humour shines through in the ex-miner doing four jobs to make ends meet and another who extends his hobby of keeping exotic fish to survive.
There is a marvellous inspiring speech by Cal's mother, Maisie, at the father's funeral. In it she says that while the collapse of Russia may have broken him, the Russian revolution still represents the struggle of the working class everywhere to free themselves.
It is an uplifting end that really does put the struggle at the heart of it.
'We already produce enough food to feed every starving child on earth... Starvation's caused by debtor countries having to abandon their indigenous foods to grow cash crops to keep the World Bank or the IMF or Barclays happy, or to service debts run up by murdering thugs who slaughtered their way into power and slaughtered their way through it, usually with the help of one part of the developed world.'
Not a bad motive for the murder of various arms dealers, businessmen and donors to the Tory party. Deep down we've probably all hoped that there is a real life 'terminator' out there who will do us all a favour and go and wipe a few of them out. Well this is exactly what happens in Iain Banks' latest novel, Complicity.
The story centres around Cameron Colley, a reporter on an Edinburgh newspaper who spends his time chasing up politically sensitive information from an unknown source. Cameron leads a life of insecurity--into drugs and alcohol, an alienated person who, in between time, plays computer games and has an affair with his friend's wife. Yet he believes that through reporting and 'good journalism' some of the rottenness of the system can be exposed.
As the novel starts he's into a great story about corruption in the Scottish whisky industry. Meanwhile a Steven Hawking like voice keeps giving him tip offs about various murders.
And what gruesome murders they are. I won't spoil the fun by going into the graphic details, only to mention that some nasty people get a dose of their own medicine--including a politician, a child pornographer and an arms dealer. But as the story progresses Cameron becomes implicated in the murders. And it then becomes a battle for him to prove that he was not at the scene of the crimes when they were committed, and to help try and find the real murderer.
What adds the extra twist to the story is the relationship of Cameron to his best friend Andy. We get a glimpse of their childhood as the story progresses, and it is clear that Cameron, in a number of ways, let his friend down in their childhood days, so much so that Andy nearly lost his life by drowning and was raped by a stranger. The closeness of the friendship with Andy becomes a strength in Cameron's attempt to convince the police of his innocence.
But the strength of the novel lies in its politics. It's clear that the generation of people who did so well under Thatcher are the enemy, bitter and twisted, hell bent on making as much as possible--there is no sympathy for those who meet a nasty death at the hands of our 'terminator'.
This is a novel the 1980 'yuppies' will hate--it despises their lifestyle, their money grabbing, 'don't care who you screw values'.
The alternative, however, tends to be a form of cynicism--which is even reflected in the sexual relationships.
We identify with Cameron who reveals at the end the disappointment he felt when, on the greatest assignment he had in his journalistic career--reporting the horrors of the Basra Road at the end of the Gulf War--he is completely numbed by the experience: 'I was reduced to a numb, dumb realisation of our unboundedly resourceful talent for bloody hatred and mad waste, but stripped of the means to describe and present that knowledge.' Fortunately though, Banks doesn't disappoint us and we get a feel of the horror of it all. It's a novel worth reading. It's exciting, fast and the politics are good.
Anyone but England
Cricket books are generally works of astonishing tedium. They can list every shot in a player's career but forget to mention he was a close friend of Oswald Mosley and flew in bombing raids with the Luftwaffe.
If you enjoy cricket but despise the stripey tie world of the cricket establishment Marqusee's book is what you've been waiting for. Its beauty and originality is its insistence that it is possible to love the game while understanding that it is a game, nothing more or less.
The belief of the cricket establishment, whether in the form of the MCC, counties, publications or commentators is that cricket is much more than a game. Indeed it's a symbol of a time when English values of fair play and tea in the afternoon ruled the world. We kept the natives as slaves and in return taught them Christianity and cricket. What could be fairer than that?
Even Marxist cricket lovers have seen the game as embodying a moral superiority. CLR James in Beyond a Boundary cites W G Grace as a heroic leader of forward looking Victorian Britain. And claiming that cricket is not a sport but an art he makes statements like 'the modern angular jerk through the covers off the back foot is not alien to a generation that has experienced Cubism.' Seeing cricket as occupying an almost spiritual high ground he backed tours to apartheid South Africa and praised the aristocratic system of amateurs and professionals.
Marqusee, however, portrays the English game's rulers as 'a mirror of the country's ruling class', whose agenda is clearly more than just sport. Lord Harris used the playing fields of Eton to prepare an officer class for the 'more dangerous pitches abroad', while today some of the game's most influential posts are held by a field marshal, a governor of the Bank of England and a founder of the National Association for Freedom.
He charts the process by which English cricket authorities tried to undermine the boycott of South Africa, quoting apparently affable old sticks like commentator Trevor Bailey: 'Socially the most enjoyable of all cricket tours were those to South Africa. The hospitality was unequalled elsewhere.'
He analyses cricket's place in the world as a history of empire. For instance America's rejection of the English game following Lord Palmerston's support for the South in the civil war.
But most striking is that in a sport whose writing is dominated by snobs like Christopher Martin-Jenkins here is something for the supporter on the bench, not the executive box.
If you just take cricket at face value you're left with a pointless game. But surely the whole point of being socialists is that one day we may live in a world where the essential is attained easily, while for most of our lives we're free to pursue the pointless. And there's little more wonderfully charmingly pointless than cricket.
The Politics of Cruelty: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisonment
As you read this, someone, somewhere is being tortured by government officials. If they survive, they may spend the rest of their lives in solitary confinement. Nearly half of the 154 countries of the UN currently practise torture on political prisoners.
Kate Millett's The Politics of Cruelty is at its best, and most harrowing, when dealing with the resistance and heroism of individuals: Henri Alleg, a journalist in Algiers, who withstood months of electric shock and beatings to safeguard his associates and eventually published material that helped topple the French rulers; the Kenyan writer Ngugi who kept his sanity by writing novels on toilet paper while locked in a small cage for a year. Solzhenitsyn, Primo Levi, and other magnificent people describe how they endured pain, mutilation, isolation, and the murder of their families, some by escaping into an imaginary world, some by meditation, some by sheer, stubborn conviction.
Sadly, little is said about collective resistance: uprisings in concentration camps, organised prison protests, or the international solidarity that freed Mandela. Millett's antagonism towards armed struggle also shows through in her description of schoolchildren in Soweto killing a black policeman, but examples of peaceful mass resistance are also lacking.
At times, Millett becomes enmeshed in the apparent logic of torture as a method of gaining vital information, although elsewhere she concedes that torture is inefficient and expensive, that confessions can easily be fabricated and that the purpose of state cruelty is to suppress and decimate opposition through terror.
Millett's style is personal and compassionate, but often disorganised, her own emotional reactions to the art and literature of torture mingling with fragmented analysis. In one chapter, Millett blames 'Special Powers' legislation such as Britain's Prevention of Terrorism Act for facilitating secret brutality. In another, torture is a parallel of patriarchy: state pornography, state rape. In another, institutionalised religious fanaticism is to blame.
Millett does not think working people should have much part in getting rid of torture, nor, surprisingly, as a pacifist and feminist, is she keen to develop ideas of non-violent action or women's struggle. Instead, awareness must be raised by writers and journalists; non-governmental, organisations like Amnesty must campaign, and eventually torture will be abolished.
Because of her distrust of action by ordinary people, Millett hangs on to the dim hope that we can get rid of torture by changing the law! By ignoring class, she can only see the excessive power of the 20th century state as an aberration, which can, she tentatively hopes, be curbed by an otherwise fair system. She fails completely to show that such a state is essential for all ruling classes to hang on to their power and wealth in a grossly unequal world.
This book is a reminder of the barbarity of the capitalist state, and the necessity of resisting all increases in its powers to arrest, detain and brutalise, but offers no suggestions on how to organise in opposition.