Issue 189 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1995 Copyright İ Socialist Review
Lenin's Final Fight
Ed: G Fyson
In 1921 revolutionary Russia was faced with a situation no one could have predicted. It had successfully fought and won a devastating civil war which had decimated the already backward economy, as well as plundering the cream of the Russian working class--the class that had successfully led the Russian Revolution in October 1917. The Bolshevik Party, which had led the workers, was left suspended in government unable to call on this fountain of strength, the very lifeblood of its organisation. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were left in a situation of having beaten the counter-revolution and having to govern the country, desperately hoping and waiting for a revolution in a more advanced industrial country to come to the rescue.
The economic crisis was unbelievably severe--overall factory production had fallen to one third of its 1913 levels, with steel production only 5 percent of the 1913 level. The transport system, particularly the railways, was wrecked and two and a half years of civil war had almost destroyed the fragile alliance between the workers and peasants.
It is because of the Bolsheviks' necessary responses to this situation that a myriad of historians have told us that the rise of Stalinism was an inevitable result of the 1917 revolution. The idea that Lenin led to Stalin is something that socialists have had to battle against for over 60 years. This book is a valuable weapon in that fight.
This collection of speeches and writings from March 1922 up to the stroke that ended Lenin's political life in March 1923 is an inspiration. What strikes you is that despite the terrible conditions, despite the impossibility of implementing the sort of changes the Bolsheviks dreamed of, Lenin refused to give up. These writings show how he faced up to the task of trying to rebuild the economy rouble by rouble without losing the support of the peasants.
Lenin was at his best when he combined his sharp analysis of the world situation with the practicalities that the Soviet government had to deal with. In his speech to the eleventh party congress he defended the New Economic Policy (which reintroduced elements of capitalism into the Soviet economy) by explaining how the peasant masses would only accept the Soviet government if it could prove to run the economy at least as well as pre-revolutionary governments--not an easy task considering the devastation that had been wreaked on it. Lenin explains how, in order to slowly build up the economy, the peasants had to be won to socialism by persuasion and practical example rather than by the sort of coercion that typified Stalin's regime.
Lenin was aware of the dangers of the growth of bureaucracy in Russia and fought to make the state less bureaucratic and more accountable. In the section on the workers' and peasants' inspection he outlines plans to reduce this bureaucracy in number and bring in more non-party worker and peasant members. All the time he was conscious of the need to rid the state apparatus of the professional bureaucrats and the opportunists. Lenin saw how these people were stifling the fight for socialism and struggled against them. It was the interests of these same people that Stalin represented when he consolidated his power after Lenin's death.
Another argument that differentiated him from Stalin was the national question. This book contains writings in which he argued that Russia should respect the rights of the independent republics (Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan etc), 'I declare war to the death on dominant national chauvinism.' It was this battle which Lenin was engaged in when he suffered a stroke which ended his active life.
This book's interest lies in the way it shows Lenin's commitment to socialism and world revolution throughout his life. It shows how he fought for the true hopes of the Russian Revolution, the freedom of oppressed nations, a society run by the masses for the masses and an economy run for need and not profit.
Despite the need for retreat and the terrible conditions of the revolutionary state Lenin never gave in and always recognised that the spirit of October 1917 might inspire workers around the world to unite.
Red Earth and Pouring Rain
Faber and Faber £15.99
Red Earth and Pouring Rain is a remarkable novel. Chandra has spun a web of intriguing stories, exploring the impact of British colonialism on India and the Indian people.
With an overwhelming and often humorous use of symbolism, Chandra deals with events and issues that have shaped India with devastating consequences. Independence, partition and today's communal violence have all sprung from the social antagonisms unleashed by colonisation.
When colonisation of India began, the feudal society of the Indian subcontinent was decaying. Steeped in superstition and racked by war between rival warlords, a very different world arrived in the shape of rationalist science and the dynamic productive forces of British capitalism.
Yet the way in which capitalism was dispatched to the subcontinent was absolutely brutal. The British East India Company and its army destroyed the old society, and in the ruins of this carnage capitalist exploitation and profits for the company began to grow.
As capitalism took root, many local rulers and merchants began to see the benefits of the new ways of production and became members of the new capitalist class.
Chandra deals impressively with the contradictions of the old and the new. His portrayal of the old feudal society is never overly romantic, yet in his criticism of its backwardness he is uncomfortable.
Undoubtedly this feeling comes from the impact colonisation had on the identity of the Indian people, something that Marx observed:
Paris After The Liberation: 1944-1949
Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper
On 16 August 1944 posters appeared across German occupied Paris calling for a general strike and 'l'insurrection liberatice'. They were issued by the Communist led resistance, the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans.
They were pushing ahead for an insurrection to liberate the city despite instructions from General Charles de Gaulle, head of the exiled National Committee for the Liberation (effectively the pro-Allied government in exile), that they were to make no move without his authorisation.
They were also acting with fewer than 15,000 resistance fighters in the French capital with enough arms for just 2,000 and they faced a German garrison of 16,000. Yet many of the Paris police force were ready to join this call to arms--in part because this offered them an escape from allegations of cooperating with the Nazi occupation.
The day after the posters appeared firing began in central Paris and the French flag was flown from public buildings.
At the end of that first day's fighting 40 Germans were dead at a cost to the resistance of 125 killed and nearly 500 wounded, and nearly all their stocks of ammunition were exhausted.
After the more right sections of the resistance movement brokered a truce with the Germans, the Communists succeeded in winning its renunciation and dragging de Gaulle's supporters in their wake. On 22 August posters appeared demanding 'Tous Aux Barricades' (Everyone To The Barricades).
The authors of Paris After The Liberation begin with this dramatic uprising--which came just two weeks after the Warsaw Uprising. They point out, 'Hardly any barricades were erected in the fashionable districts--the 7th arrondissement, the 8th and the 16th; the greatest number were in those quarters around the north and east of the city, which had voted overwhelmingly for the Popular Front [the bloc of left wing and liberal parties] in 1936.'
To read of this moment in August is to capture an atmosphere of carnival, of real liberation, a moment when the workers of Paris stood together with the cream of the capital's intellectual world (the writer Albert Camus who edited the resistance newspaper Combat, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the writer Simone de Beauvoir and the exiled Spanish painter Pablo Picasso).
It was the awareness of this mood, and that Paris was being liberated by its own working class, which prompted the Allies and de Gaulle to act. Hurriedly plans were scrapped and two columns of Free French tanks were dispatched from American lines to the city.
Their dispatch--which meant a change in the Allied battle plan--was designed to ensure de Gaulle was installed in the French capital and to guarantee the succession of power to someone who would maintain the status quo. This book starts with that heady spring moment and also explains why the hopes of liberation were dashed.
Six days after Paris was freed from occupation the central committee of the French Communist Party met. The party's acting leader, Jacques Duclos, (the general secretary, Maurice Thorez, was still exiled in Moscow) argued for avoiding any clashes with de Gaulle and the Allies, even if this meant disarming the Communist led resistance forces.
This was in line with Stalin's agreements with Britain and America which accepted that France and Western Europe were part of the Anglo-American zone of influence. Duclos prevailed over those Communist leaders more directly involved in the resistance, in insisting that arms would be handed over and that resistance units would be stood down or incorporated into the regular army.
Artemis Cooper's grandfather, Duff Cooper, was the British ambassador in Paris immediately after the liberation. That allows the authors some insights but also means the book is rather weighted to the social whirl at the top of French society.
Yet it's a good read detailing the extent of ruling class collaboration with the Nazis and how little was done to punish it.
No Man's Land: An Investigative Journey Through Kenya and Tanzania
Sometimes it is almost as if we have to grow extra fingers to keep count of the disastrous consequences of (post-) colonialism: cash crops, child prostitution, massive debts, military regimes, cultural death by tourism. Even aid and development programmes, we now know, are often flawed or contain a catch.
To these, according to George Monbiot, an academic who could never be accused of ignoring primary sources, must now be added the conservationism of the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS): the establishment of huge reserves has left one important animal out of the equation--the human.
The Maasai, nomads who tend herds in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania, do not wander haphazardly, but follow routes which take advantage of what is offered by different areas in various seasons--as do the other peoples whose plight is the material of this convincingly argued book. In this way the savannah is allowed to recover from grazing. Moreover, wild animals have rarely been a threat to the cattle and so are never killed wholesale.
The extermination of wildlife came with the European settlers, but it is the Maasai, excluded from their habitual grazing lands, who are being punished. Tourism, an avowed priority of the KWS, only wants to see tribe members in mock-up villages.
The Maasai are turning to agriculture, suited neither to their lifestyle nor the soil, and poaching, 'Conservation... had turned the friends of nature into its enemies.' The people, excluded and assaulted by park rangers, humiliated by tourism ('the world's most volatile trade'), are watching their own culture dying as steadily as the grasslands they once roamed.
In Tanzania, the Barabaigs, considered irrelevant to economic revival, are also victims of violence; their grazing lands have been turned over to wheat production, with disastrous consequences for the soil (wheat is not a native crop) and the people. The agricultural project is funded by the Canadian government--it is carried out on a North American scale--and the long term benefits for Canadian exporters are obvious. Amidst all this fecundity the Barabaigs are starving.
In central Kenya the Samburus (who fought for the British in the Second World War) are also starving, victims of drought and the corruption which ensures that famine relief goes to those with wealth and power. (Perhaps one of the most distressing consequences of all these man made tragedies is the creation of a class which unscrupulously exploits its own people.)
The author is no naive romanticiser of tribal lifestyles, but it is clear that thousands of years of survival had produced social cohesion and self respect. Now nomads are forced into alien urban territories, where all too often poverty and brutal alcoholism erode native pride.
Warfare between tribes has a long tradition, with rustling and wife stealing an ever present threat, but the survival of any one tribe or clan has rarely been threatened--until now, with the arming of the North Kenyan Toposas by the Sudanese for political ends. Their traditional enemies, the Turkanas, fear extinction--as do the Kenyan Somalis in the East, an inconvenience to the government who are routinely slaughtered by the military. The author cites the nomads' hardiness and adaptability as grounds for optimism, but the picture is a depressing one.
This purposeful book is largely free of the self indulgence of travel writing and the voyeurism of anthropology.
But the writing is colourful and seductive, with the occasional tantalising personal revelation and touch of humour; some of the events and images will stay in the reader's mind forever.
It is worth noting that Monbiot is involved in land rights issues in Britain, and some of his observations have implications which go beyond the borders of the countries he visits in this book.
Who Gets What? The Hardening of Class inequality in the Late 20th Century
Top capitalists have become household names in recent years. Everyone knows the going rate for Cedric Brown and the £3.5 million share options for PowerGen directors.
Hardly anyone in British society can miss the existence of a greedy, parasitic and extremely rich ruling class.
This perception is a relatively new phenomenon, according to John Westergaard. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he argues, conventional wisdom had it that not only were workers becoming middle class, but that there was no longer an identifiable upper class.
Today no one dares put forward such a view. Instead a different theory has developed. Now we are told that most people are becoming better off, and are therefore increasingly separated from the 'underclass' at the bottom of society--the unemployed, single parents, those dependent on benefits. The wealth of the very rich has in part trickled down to the rest of us.
Westergaard's book demolishes this view. He shows how various figures showing growth of average real incomes are misleading.
Figures produced by the DSS in 1993 show, for example, that 'disposable post-tax incomes fell by fully 14 percent in real terms for the poorest one-in-ten of all households over the years 1979-90/1; stayed level without gain for the next-poorest tenth; but rose by well over 30 percent "on average" across the population as a whole.
'Yet no category in the entire lower half of the population gained anything like that national-average improvement of material living standards.'
Other figures show that the Thatcher years gave the top fifth of householders a 50 percent growth in real incomes, and over 60 percent for the richest 10 percent. The gains made from changes to taxes and benefits during the 1980s went to the already best off: 46 percent to the richest 10 percent and another 34 percent to the next third.
This book demonstrates the inequalities structured into class society, and reiterates points which are often forgotten: that pensioners' poverty has much less to do with old age than it has to do with class, and that workers' wages tend to remain static or fall as they get older, whereas the incomes of the middle classes tend to rise as they get older.
The argument also current in the Labour Party, that the prosperity gap between households is between the 'work-rich' (with two jobs) and the 'work-poor' (where both partners are unemployed), is seen as ignoring class.
Westergaard argues instead that class is still the major factor in understanding the level of household incomes, rather than the 'domestic strategies' (ie whether to have children) chosen by men and women.
Who Gets What? also shows how many of the attitudes towards social questions such as housing are class based. And Westergaard concludes his book with a warning that Labour should not move too far to the right in its bid to occupy the so called centre ground.
There are, however, big flaws in his analysis. He rejects a Marxist view of class as based simply on production, not distribution. Yet the distribution of wealth inside capitalist society is intimately connected with where people stand in relation to the means of production--as he says elsewhere in the book.
He also seems to at least partly accept some of the more ludicrous sociological theories, such as the idea that many marriages cut across classes.
The book is also written in a style which makes it inaccessible to many readers, and it is priced out of many people's range. For these reasons I would not recommend it generally. But for anyone studying class on sociology courses it is a welcome antidote to the underclass and two thirds one third theories which have mushroomed in recent years.
Brazil-Carnival of the Oppressed
Sue Branford and Bernando Kucinski
Latin American Bureau £10
The Workers Party (PT) was established amidst mass strikes in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, centred in industrial Sao Paulo. These provided the biggest challenge to Brazil's military dictatorship in its 20 year reign.
This had been an era of unprecedented economic growth. The newly emerging unions and their leaders rejected the regime's denial of democratic rights. Creating the PT was a clear break from the dead ends of populism and Stalinism, which both tried to mobilise workers behind sections of the 'progressive bourgeoisie'. The new party drew in radical trade unionists and intellectuals, and also Catholic activists from the impoverished countryside and shanty towns. As the birthplace of liberation theology, Brazil's church had often served as a shelter for local resistance, although it has now moved back to the right under Vatican supervision. Some small revolutionary groups and former guerrillas backed the project, and were later joined by feminist, gay and environmental movements.
Participation in local government has allowed the PT to enact some real reforms in living conditions. But managing scant municipal resources under capitalism often means it is the PT which has to refuse to raise the poverty wages of public employees to match rampant inflation while it struggles to bring sanitation to the slums. In some areas the balance has been enough to keep the party in office.
Yet in its Sao Paulo birthplace a strike breaking PT administration lost the 1992 local elections.
To their credit the authors of this work raise many of the questions currently being debated inside the PT, as electoralism increasingly dominates its aspirations. And the chapter on the country's 'social apartheid' is statistically chilling--Brazil is the only country in the world not at war to list violence as the main source of death for teenage boys.
But if Carnival of the Oppressed provides valuable ammunition to fire at the barbarism of Brazilian capitalism, the authors' solutions tend to be the same policies that have failed so many European social democratic parties.
My main grumble, however, is that the authors fail to interview any workplace activists. This helps to reinforce a misguided sense that workers' own struggles are not central.
This book largely accepts the reformist politics of the PT leadership. But as an honest and well written account of a party at the centre of left wing politics in Latin America it is well worth a read nonetheless.
Harvester Wheatsheaf £10.95
Arguably Georg Lukács was the greatest, if most flawed, Marxist philosopher this century. He came from a privileged Jewish background and had already made a name for himself in intellectual circles with his deeply pessimistic books on literature and culture.
The First World War shook him to the roots and converted him to revolutionary politics. His conversion catapulted him into the maelstrom of social upheaval in Central Europe. Having joined the newly formed Hungarian Communist Party in December 1918, he served as a commissar in the short lived Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 and was then forced into exile.
His writing was transformed in the process. His collection of essays written between 1919 and 1921, and later published under the title History and Class Consciousness in 1923, attempted to tackle in philosophical form the problems thrown up by the ideological collapse of the Second International at the outbreak of war in 1914--namely the relationship between class consciousness, revolution and the party.
Like Lenin he tried to reformulate the relationship in a way which avoided the consequences of the Second International's disastrously passive and reformist politics. That meant for Lukács (as it had for Lenin) the abandonment of mechanical determinism and the rediscovery of dialectics--the active, shaping element in the historical process.
Socialism was not the inevitable product of the collapse of capitalism. The working class had to become conscious of its role and fight for change. Only if it became the subject rather than the object of history would socialism be realised.
History and Class Consciousness was condemned at a meeting of the 1924 Communist International in Moscow. This had less to do with its merits than with the anti-Trotsky struggle being waged by the increasingly bureaucratised International.
Lukács accepted the criticism and for the rest of his life accepted the legitimacy of Stalin's leadership. He spent from 1933 to 1945 in Moscow and turned to writing on literature.
Taking his cue from Marx and Engels he developed the theory of realism. Novels, he claimed, were great in so far as they attempted to express in concrete artistic form the underlying dynamic of social development. The high point of this development coincided with the period when the bourgeoisie was still a progressive class in the way it looked at the world.
After the revolutions of 1848, when it was threatened from below by an independent working class movement, it retreated into forms of thinking designed to make its position appear 'natural'.
Economics ceased to be scientific in its understanding of the sources of profit and became an apology for the status quo. Art ceased to be a critical exploration of bourgeois society and became decorative and tame.
From attempting a total way of understanding reality, culture turned to partial and undialectical ways of looking at the world.
As far as Lukács was concerned, all round realism in the novel gave way to forms of writing whose one sidedness limited their value. Certain kinds of fiction could be brilliantly faithful to the surface detail of society but suggest the individual's subordination to things as they are is unalterable.
Other kinds of fiction could explore new forms of perception and feeling but in the very process suggest that only the inner world is a source of renewal.
It's not difficult to see that this view of realism led Lukács to reject the experimental writing which dominated the early 20th century. Much of his writing is a sustained polemic against the leading modernists of the period. By and large, this is not the crude affair his pro-modernist critics often accuse him of.
It is clear that he rejected the bulk of socialist realist novels as worthless propaganda. He saw that having the right line is no guarantee of producing great art any more than the opposite prevents artists producing major work.
This little book aims to give a fairly straightforward account of Lukács' thought. The only controversy it deals with substantially is the Lukács-Brecht debate of the 1930s over whether realism had to incorporate aspects of modernism or not. Stuart Sim tends not to explore any of the problems and controversies Lukács' writings raise.
His detachment from Marxism as any living form of thought means he accepts the fashionable idea that with the collapse of the Soviet empire it is in terminal decline. This in turn leads him to a rather bizarre view that Lukács can now be appropriated as a kind of pre-postmodernist, more interested in the method of Marxism than as a means of understanding the world.
Quarto Books £10
This autobiography is an eloquent and graphic account of an extremely depressed young woman. Wurtzel steers us through the hazy painful experience of her parents' divorce as a young child, through interminable summers spent at 'Kids' Camp Lake Seneca', where she is too depressed to get out of bed and makes her first suicide attempt with a bottle of hay fever tablets. Later she describes lying on her bathroom floor clutching a grapefruit knife to her wrist as her friends try to wrestle it off her.
During the first three quarters of the book it is very hard not to feel sympathy for someone suffering as much as Elizabeth obviously is. But as you read on you realise that while she is getting off her face on whatever drugs were available (prescribed and otherwise), slipping into weeks of black depression and attempting suicide, she is also studying at Harvard and working as a journalist during the vacations.
Your patience just about runs out when she skips college and flies off to England allegedly to cure her depression and to be shown the sights by a rich ex-boyfriend.
Despite the attention and money which she has lavished on her she remains miserable. As a middle class college student and wannabe music journalist, Elizabeth would appear to have everything to be optimistic about but she is unable to rid herself of her depression.
After trying every form of medication and therapy, eventually she is put on Prozac which was still on trial in 1988. Where everything else fails Prozac succeeds and Elizabeth is cured.
It is not surprising to learn that Elizabeth Wurtzel is a music journalist. The book reads at times like a screwed up rock musician's egotistical ramblings and is peppered with references to bands she reviewed and musicians she got off with.
Part of Elizabeth's problems surely stem from the fact that she actually quite likes this angst ridden persona of hers.
The most interesting part of the book by far is the epilogue where she talks about the 'Prozac Phenomenon' currently sweeping the States. As Elizabeth is forced to admit, when her friend's cat is prescribed Prozac for an obsessive cleaning habit, things have gone way too far. In fact 11 million people have taken Prozac, the universal panacea for happiness.
It is the second most prescribed drug in the US today. Journalists have filled acres of copy with articles singing its praises. The New Yorker even printed a cartoon of Marx declaring, 'Sure! Capitalism can work out its kinks!'
But, as Wurtzel says, all this coverage is not just about Prozac. A staggering 12 million people in the US are said to be suffering from mental illness. People born after 1955 are three times more likely than their grandparents to suffer depression. And this trend is global. Wurtzel is correct about one thing--practitioners give Prozac to patients without much thought.
A recent survey showed that more than half of patients prescribed Prozac had been with their doctor for three minutes before he reached for the prescription pad. The drug company that manufactures Prozac has got a vested interest in keeping the prescriptions flooding in. There are millions being made that could be spent on finding some real answers.
The attempt by the media to rationalise this 'Prozac Phenomenon' has been to talk of the depression that they tell us is gripping America. Wurtzel tells us that it is a perfectly natural reaction to a world that seems to be lacking in the basic guarantees that we would have expected 30 years ago--a marriage that would last, secure employment and sex that wasn't potentially deadly.
While on the surface this may have a ring of truth to it, there would be a lot less people reaching for the Prozac if the society we live in provided people with some basic needs--a job, a home and free health care.
Who's who 1995:147th annual edition
A & C Black £90
Who gets into Who's who? Go on, have a guess. The famous? The successful? No, I'm sorry, you're not even close. The typical kind of people who get in here are members of the aristocracy, top judges, senior civil servants, army generals. In short, almost every serious member of the ruling class will have their name in here.
This is where they all parade the clubs they belong to as a badge of their class status, and where they can snow paper over the bits of their past that they don't want people to know about. It's an object lesson in class consciousness.
To be sure, the book is padded out with the names of many eminent scientists, artists and public figures, but don't imagine that this includes any old riff raff.
Top TV personalities, game show hosts, soap opera stars, names known in every working class household don't appear in Who's who. Being rich doesn't count for everything.
I looked in vain for the names of Eric Clapton and Paul Weller--evidently they haven't yet been fully accepted by the 'establishment'. Even some Olympic gold medallists don't rate an entry, and Britain doesn't have too many of those!
I hope that I haven't put you off this fine book. There is much that working class men and women can learn from it. For example, take the entry for Sir Richard Greenbury, author of the recent Greenbury report into top executives' pay.
Sir Richard is chairman and chief executive of Marks & Spencer, and is also a paid director of ICI, Lloyd's Bank and Zeneca. From 1976 to 1987 he was a non-executive director of British Gas, the company now run by Cedric Brown. Intrigued? Well, Sir Richard's address, according to Who's who, is 57 Baker Street, London W1A 1DN. Why not drop him a line? I'm sure he'd be delighted to hear from you.