Issue 200 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1996 Copyright Socialist Review



Man made machine

John Gabriel Borkman

by Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen wrote this play in 1896 at the age of 68 after a working lifetime that spanned the revolutionary upheavals of the 1840s, the Paris Commune of 1871 and the rise of industrial capitalism at the end of the century. It's a stark and uncompromising piece of work, made more powerful by the brilliant performance of Paul Scofield who plays Borkman.

Borkman is a kind of Robert Maxwell figure, a capitalist caught with his hands in the till. After serving five years in jail for fraud he spends another eight in self imprisonment in the top floor of his house, plotting his return to the world of finance. His wife, Gunhild, lives separately downstairs. The two never speak to each other. She listens to him endlessly pacing to and fro above, prowling around like a hungry wolf, a constant reminder to her of the shame Borkman's imprisonment has brought on the family name. Marooned down below, she plans her revenge on the world. With the exceptionally rare visit to the Borkmans' house of Gunhild's never wed twin sister, Ella, also laden down with her own set of grudges and schemes, the scene is set for the final shootout.

The play is about the consequences of the rise of industrial capitalism for human relationships and human beings. What Ibsen shows very clearly is how the capitalists' search for, as Borkman puts it, ,power over power' - the full potential of the capitalist mode of production-reduces everything to the level of the commodity. Emotions, needs, people themselves, become simply other things to be bought, sold and bartered with. There are plenty of direct expressions of this throughout. Ella, who in earlier life had planned to marry Borkman, states bluntly that he has 'used my love as a commodity'. Each of the main protagonists plots to use the Borkmans' young son Erhart for their own ends. Gunhild wants him to avenge her family name, Borkman wants him to carry on. his father's work, the dying Ella wants him to assume her name, wealth and responsibilities, while Erhart's love freely admits that she finds it amusing to own the affections of a younger man.

Erhart's own wishes are completely discounted. There is no rational, objective discussion about what might actually be best for Erhart, simply a rabid, selfish competition over the use of him. It may be that Ibsen harked back to a pre industrial golden age for the upper classes, when fortunes were secure and bonds of kinship enforced a code of moral conduct. But, whatever his motives, from his vantage point and watching industrial capitalism take shape around him, he provides here a stunning insight into the effects of its growth. This is most powerfully the case in the character of Borkman himself.

Borkman is the villain of the piece, whose crimes cause misery for his immediate family and for the thousands of investors whose money he stole. But he is also an utterly tragic figure who gives away what is most precious to himthe love of Ella - in order to attempt to amass more wealth and power. it is as if he had no choice but to do such a thing, as if forces beyond his control were dictating his actions.

Borkman is driven on by the invisible hand of capitalist competition to sacrifice anything, including his personal happiness, to achieve ever increasing amounts of wealth and power. To fully exploit the system, he ditches unnecessary human attributes like humility or the ability to love. He focuses all of his efforts on the pursuit of profit and in the process becomes less of a human being.

If you had watched this play in 1896 when it was first written, you might have concluded that Ibsen was being over-cynical. After a century of mass unemployment, mass starvation, millions dead in world wars, all resulting from the insane pursuit of profit, Ibsen's views are ones we can identify with.

Lee Humber

John Gabriel Rorkman plays at the National Theatre, London, until December


Poetry in motion

Poems on the Underground has brought a wide range of poems to people travelling on London's tube. Despite their popularity the project is now threatened as a result of privatisation. On the project's 10th anniversary we spoke to Judith Chernaik, who first had the idea, about what inspired her to do it and what the consequences have been.

What gave you the idea for Poems on the Underground 'and how did it all start?

It was just a fantasy of mine to start with, but it also came from a feeling about London and about the use of public services. There was also my own attachment to poetry. I was close friends with Gerard Benson and Cicely Herbert who were also active in public poetry and were talking about all the empty spaces on the tube.

So I wrote to various people at London Transport and to my amazement I got a very positive response. I think this has to do with the tradition in London Transport of design and some sense of responsibility to the public. Anybody running a huge public transport system has to have some sense of the needs of the public, not just for safety, but also for the quality of life.

At that time the Arts Council was looking for projects to broaden access to poetry, had a special fund for that purpose and agreed to give us some funding. The publishers were also very helpful and were willing to design the posters. This was the support we had for the first couple of years. Then the public responded very positively.

From the start we had a huge amount of publicity. Poems on the Underground was launched at Aldwych underground station in the Strand. We had a launch party on one of the trains where I think just about every poet in London came. We had people from all over the country inquiring and sending in poems - and this has never stopped. I think there is a great hunger in this country for simple, popular, cheap artistic ventures.

Does it also show the potential of people to be interested in things that they might have found difficult at school, but when presented in an accessible way they find stimulating?

A lot of people are introduced to the arts at school-all you need is one inspired teacher and any subject can take on life for a child. I know that quite a few people were responding to poems that they remembered from their schooldays and this was something they found very pleasurable. The poetry is in a place where it catches the eye. And we ensure we have a lot of humorous poetry.

We mainly use English poetry which is such an incredibly rich field for short poems. Just about every major figure in English literature has written poetry in this form.

What has been the response internationally?

Many people come to London and see the poems. Within a year we were approached by people from other parts of the world. In Dublin they started a wonderful programme on the Dart suburban railway line which is such a beautiful route it doesn't need poetry on it! They have a lot of Irish and international poetry. Then a programme started in Stuttgart with a lot of early romantic German poetry, although not so much modern poetry. There has also been a lot in America-San Francisco, Chicago and New York, and several cities in Australia have taken up the idea. Recently in Scandinavia each capital city has started the poems. They don't have such an old historical tradition as there is here so most of the older poetry is from the beginning of this century.

Have you always wanted to make poetry accessible to ordinary people and bring it to a wider audience?

I do feel that the arts should be in the public domain. When the arts are divided, into who can and cannot pay for them, it can be very alienating. Anything that helps the arts get as wide an audience as possible is important.

I am very uneasy about the lottery money because it is going to enterprises that require huge administration and investment. Money should go to artists who, I think, are excluded. This has a very low priority. Areas such as full time residences for libraries and schools should have a lot more funding.

How do you choose which poems you reproduce?

A lot of thought goes into the choice and the popularity of the programme has a lot to do with the choice of poem. Three of us work as a committee to choose a group of poems that will appeal and be accessible, but we also choose poems that say something of consequence.

Poetry is a mode of communication which gives a lot of food for thought of the most meaningful kind. So we try to include some poems that are profound-that speak to the human condition. Then we try and have some poems that make people laugh. We are limited by length, and we also want contemporary poets to be represented. The whole idea of the programme is to show that poetry is a living art-living and continuously changing. The older poems are very important because if you have only contemporary poetry you are cutting yourself off from this supposedly dead stuff. But if you have them side by side people respond to the language and what is being said. We try to look at each poem as it would appear on the tube, as people would read it, people who may or may not have encountered poetry before.

You chose 'Ozymandias' which is one of Shelley's most political poems-did you do that deliberately or just because you felt that It would appeal to a wide audience?

'Ozymandias' is firstly a wonderful poem, and secondly it is appropriate for the tube because it is about travelling. And the moral is universal-it is political but it is also something that people can take on at any level-time, power and what happens to power, how the mighty have fallen. So in all ways it was just the perfect poem.

The other thing about Shelley is that he has such a burning desire to speak to the world and humanity, to have his words reach the hearts of millions. Shelley had so much to say to the world, to tell people about the conditions that they were living under. It was only after his death that he became part of every socialist movement all over the world, and his works were translated into every language. His poems became part of the vocabulary of socialist progress and hope.

This is not just true of Shelley, it's been true of poetry at many times and many places. We've just published a poem by Osip Mandelstam-a Russian poet in exile- who knew he didn't have long to live. All he had was his words-this was the only thing they couldn't destroy. So there is a serious subtext to poems sometimes. It is possible to speak about the human condition, to posterity, to people who do not have easy access to education. Words are very powerful as a means of raising consciousness and changing the world. And even if the world changes in a way we don't like we still have the words.

The other side is that everybody can write poetry and everybody has thoughts and feelings to express. But the greatest poetry, the greatest human achievement, reaches a level that people can gain from even if they cannot write like that.

Do you have a favourite poem?

There is Shelley, but there are also the Robert Burns poems. Here is another popular poetBurns is still the poet of Scotland. He took poems from the folklore and changed a word here and there but it was part of the old tradition and folk poetry. This feeds into a more literary tradition, particularly in English poetryShakespeare used popular poetry and made fun of it, so did Chaucer. Our literature draws on every level of speech and experience and this is a source of vitality. As to my favourite - I like Western Wind'. It is such a mysterious and strange poem but it has to do with a feeling of separation, longing, love, being at the mercy of the elements. But I tend to get attached to the most recent poems that we have chosen. I have also discovered a lot about contemporary poets there is a huge range of very fine and interesting poetry around.

How do you see the future for Poems on the Underground?

The high point was when we had 4,000 spaces on the underground all year round in the early days. That lasted for two or three years. We are now down to three displays a year for one month at a time. We also have to pay for some of the space. We used to have what was called 'filler space' but there is very little of this now and we are charged for it. Therefore we recently had a very successful poetry competition in which we raised funds to pay for one month for the autumn display. And last year the British tourist authority paid for one set of poems. We have been told we must raise sponsorship but I hope we don't have to do this. I'll be very happy for Poems on the Underground to go on but if it comes to an end then I'm pleased with what we have done.

Poems on the Underground! (5th edition) is available from Cassell price 6. 99 and the 10th anniversary edition for 12.99 in October


An exhibition called New Labour explores Issues raised by Labour's shift to the right. One of the works. by Brian Deighton, is an installation in which the words 'the working class' are stencilled on the floor so that visitors can walk over them. Another. by Rod Jenkins, called *Failing Man' is a disturbing Image of a man falling through the air with no safety net, Gill Calvert said her painting The Dignity of Labour'(right) was a comment on the difficulty of speaking openly - as exemplified by Clare Short's demotion-in both the political and artistic arenas. 'The art world covers everything up in irony to make it safe, just like the Labour Party covers everything in mediaspeak' she said.

Organised by Peter Kennard, this exhibition contains work from a variety of London artists, some more critical of Labour than others. Kennard says. 'New Labour has displaced Labour. How do artists make work in response?... The artists show work as citizens desperate for a change of government but deeply worried that the change could he a mere blip on the surface of society.'

New Labour by the Riverside Artists Group is at the Riverside Studios Gallery,


Refugee status

The Perez Family

Dir: Mira Nair

Mira Nair is known for the films Mississippi Masala and Salam Bombay. She specialises in films that depict incongruous clashes of culture, and brilliantly portrays the contrast between immigrant views and culture and the new culture they are faced with when they arrive in a different country.

The Perez Family is a love story. It chronicles the life of Juan Raoul Perez, a Cuban landlord whose life changed when he was thrown into jail after the overthrow of the corrupt dictator Batista by Fidel Castro's forces in 1959. He was held in prison for 20 years, removed from his family and his wife, Carmella (Angelica Houston). During all that time he held on to two things in order to survive: his status as a landowner which led him to believe he is better than other people, and his love for his wife, who waits for him outside.

Eventually, he is released along with 150,000 others allowed out by Castro on condition they leave for America as refugees. He sees this as a chance to build his life anew in the 'land of the free' and longs to reunite with his wife. But he soon finds out that life for an immigrant in America is not all apple pie and easy living when he is interned almost as soon as he gets off the boat.

His attempt to hold on to his dreams despite the misery that surrounds him and his refusal to let go of his humanity form major themes of the film. However, the changes in his life as he is essentially pushed down towards the working class lead him eventually to a new understanding based on hope for the future, rather than memories of the past.

His companion in all this is a former prostitute called Dotty whom he meets on the boat. They are both forced to come to terms with the reality of America, or rather the unreality of the American Dream. Ironically, they are interned in that emblem of the American Dream, the Orange Bowl football stadium. Dotty wanted to come to America because she thought it was the land of John Wayne and Elvis Presley. Only when she gets there does she find that both of them are dead.

For Juan, who is forced to accept that his old sense of high status means nothing any more, the process is slightly different. As his relationship with Dotty develops it is she who teaches him how to survive. She learns about America faster than he does, because she does not hold on to impossible dreams. From her he learns that love is something that is living and not something that belongs to the past. Throughout the film, reference is made to his wife's experience, as she herself was changed by her struggles to break out of her old family mould and to have a life of her own as an independent and strong wornan- albeit by forming a relationship with an FBI agent.

The film has some funny moments as it takes a swipe at American gun culture and the fear of crime. More importantly, this is a brave film because it deals with Clinton's act of trying to close Cuba and at the same time stop Cuban refugees reaching the United States. The film gives life and depth to Cuban refugees while attacking the promised land ethos that leads many migrants to go to the US. It is well acted, full of life and colour. If there is a criticism, it is of the ideas that 'we were poor but we were happy' and that love conquers all. It helps, but much more is needed. This is a good film. Go and see it.

Weyman Bennett

New town grit

Boston Kickout

Dir: Paul Hills

According to the press release the local council in Stevenage, where this film is set, made 'strenuous efforts' to stop filming taking place. It is easy to see why- footage of the queen inspecting the town's newly built 'ideal family homes 'from the 1950s is included in the film to provide a shocking contrast with Stevenage in the late 1980s.

The main character. Phil, leaves school and finds himself stuck in a depressed, poverty stricken suburb from which decent A level results and a university place will be his only means of freedom. Phil and his friends deal with this situation in a variety of ways. Bob, for example, expresses his frustration through random bouts of gratuitous violence: he tries to convince Phil to take part in an armed robbery and beats a passer by to the ground with a golf club to prove he hasn't lost his bottle'.

One thing this film does very well is expose the reality of family life under capitalism. The family, far from being a haven from the alienation and violence experienced by the teenagers every day, is seen to intensify their misery. Phil's father attempts suicide, whilst his friend Steve suffers a nervous breakdown and ends up participating in Bob's armed robbery. He points a gun at the local policeman, who happens to be his father.

Family life in Stevenage is a world in which parents hardly know their kids and relationships are distorted beyond recognition by poverty and insecurity. in fact, the only way to escape such conditions seems to be to move as far away from home as possible. Ted, for example, becomes so frustrated that he drives his car through a shop window, packs a few things and leaves town. The next time his friends see him is on television news coverage of the attempted military coup in Moscow. Despite the fact that he is covered in blood and surrounded by corpses. his friends celebrate wildly because he has managed to escape from Stevenage!

Phil, meanwhile, fails in love with his visiting Irish cousin, Shona, whose enlightened views cause him to question the sort of life he leads and the people he hangs around with. When two of Phil's friends announce their intention to get married, Shona simply asks, Why?' However, Phil's impulsive decision to follow her back to Ireland leads him to discover that she has children, lives with her strict Catholic parents and only wanted him for a bit of holiday fun.

Shona is the only woman in the film whose character the writer has seen fit to develop, and in general the portrayal of women leaves much to be desired. The sexism and the other backward ideas represented in the film tend to go unchallenged. Even Shona appears firstly as the mysterious object of an adolescent fantasy and then as an unfortunate diversion.

The film rightly identifies the alienation and misery produced by the system under which we live, but portrays the working class as a collection of passive victims of that system, a sort of underclass. Characters are not developed and there is little direction to the plot. instead we are offered a series of events and episodes which demonstrate the harshness and futility of the characters' everyday lives. All this is done without the wit and absurdity of Trainspotting or the anger and sensitivity which made La Haine so inspiring. Boston Kickout succeeds in being gritty, but in the end this is just not enough.

Alex Wood

A legal matter

A Time to Kill

Dir: Joel Schumacher

A Time to Kill is the latest film to be based upon one of John Grisham's books. Typically, then, the film is set in Mississippi, and much of the plot is set around the deep seated racism, the racist past and the tradition of America's South.

The book on which the film is based is the most political of Grisham's novels, and this is reflected in the film, which makes it well worth seeing.

It starts with the horrific rape and near murder of a ten year old black girl by two racist redneck white men. Because the two men fail to kill the girl, they are immediately caught and are about to be tried, when they are killed by the victim's father.

Completely central to the whole film is the endemic racism of the US legal system. Although the killing is shown by the lawyers to be about revenge and justice, it is clear that the father only takes the law into his own hands as a last resort. He knows that his daughter's rape will be treated completely differently than the rape of a white girl by two black men would be. Whether you are black or white determines how you will be treated. This is shown well when the lives of the lawyer and the father are compared by showing the differences in their houses and lifestyles.

There are, however, some parts of the fi1m which are rather annoying. Most obvious is the portrayal of the idea that the way to change things and to make a difference is by fighting within the legal system. What is never portrayed is any idea that most white people can be won away from racist ideas. So even the white good guys, who are very few and far between and who take the side of the black father, tend to only be the lawyers.

There didn't seem to be much tension present as to what the outcome of the trial would be. But I'm not sure if this was because I had read the book already. It is also here that the film differs slightly from the book, which is another reflection of its central weakness in its approach to fighting racism.

Sharon Geoghegan


Whose interest, whose choice?

Abortion: Between Freedom and Necessity

Janet Hadley Virago 16.99

Rethinking Abortion, Equal Choice. the Constitution and Reproductive Politics Mark A Graber Princeton University 20.95

In the last couple of months the issues of abortion and foetal rights have been debated throughout the press. In the light of the decision to destroy thousands of unclaimed human embryos and the case of a woman who chose to selectively abort one of the twin foetuses she was carrying, the old arguments about abortion on demand and a woman's right to choose have been thrust to the top of the agenda.

The doctor who broke the news of the selective abortion initially said that the woman was young and felt unable to cope with the financial pressures of twins. When it later came to light that the woman was in her thirties and relatively well off, the antiabortionists had a field day.

But why should it matter what the reasons were for the woman concerned feeling unable to proceed with the twin pregnancy? She did not want two children and both she and her doctor felt it was in her best interests to abort one of the foetuses. No woman should be forced to continue with a pregnancy against her will.

The fight for a woman's right to choose was central to the early women's liberation movement. Across the world the battle is still far from won. Even women from Ireland can't obtain a legal abortion in their own country and are forced to travel to Britain for help. Taking on the bigots is essential in continuing the fight to improve and extend abortion rights.

Janet Hadley takes up many of the issues currently being debated in the media. She looks at such questions as foetal rights, the way abortion has become a battleground in the US presidential elections, the attempt by some men to use the courts to demand abortion rights for fathers and the experience of backstreet abortion around the world.

Hadley debunks one of the most common anti-abortion myths, the idea that the innocent foetus must be accorded rights in order to protect it from dangers in the womb. In recent years the antiabortionists have tried to insist that the foetus can have rights that override those of the pregnant woman. Hadley outlines how women in America have 'undergone forced caesarean deliveries or been jailed while pregnant because of drug abuse or alcohol problems. But at the same time as pregnant women are being harangued in restaurants for daring to order a glass of wine with their dinner, millions of pregnant women in poverty receive no ante-natal care at all.'

The pregnant woman has the rights, not the embryo. A foetus is only a potential life, and no woman should be made to believe that a foetus has any rights independent of her own. The antiabortionists constantly attempt to make women feel guilty for the choices they make. Their slogan, 'Abortion makes you the mother of a dead baby', is just one of the ways they scapegoat women.

The religious anti-abortionists in the United States are eroding women's access to abortion. This is a theme that is taken up in another new book, Rethinking Abortion, Equal Choice, the Constitution and Reproductive Politics by Mark A Graber. Graber's book is useful but less accessible than Hadley's and it focuses mainly on the history of abortion law in an attempt to argue that abortion should remain legal.

Every year across the world about 50 million women have an abortion. Around half of these are carried out illegally. The World Health Organisation estimates that somewhere in the region of 200,000 women die every year from the effects of unsafe abortion. In Latin America abortion is the second most common cause of death among women of childbearing age. Yet abortion should be a quick and relatively simple procedure. In Britain or America it is possible to have an abortion under 14 weeks of pregnancy without the need for a general anaesthetic or an overnight stay in hospital. But still women are being turned away by doctors and left to fend for themselves.

Hadley sees the fight for women's rights very much in terms of wrenching control away from men, whether they be doctors, fathers or lovers. But it's not individual men who are to blame for preventing women having access to abortions. Working class men also suffer when their partners, daughters or sisters are denied the right to make choices about their own bodies. We have to look at in whose interest it really is to deny women the opportunity to control their own fertility. it's only when you put reproductive rights in the context of a class society that oppresses and exploits all working class people that you can see not only how to fight the bigots in the here and now but also how to fight to change society once and for all.

Despite the recent flurry of activity from the anti-abortionists the biggest obstacle to getting an abortion in Britain today is still cutbacks in the NHS rather than pickets outside abortion clinics. Family Planning clinics are under threat of closure and budget holding GPs are denying women access to abortions because of cost considerations.

Women have fought long and hard, often side by side with men, to win the few rights we have today. There is no reason why we should give an inch to the sort of bigots who want to see women reduced to wives and mothers with no effective control over some of the most important areas of their lives.

Andrea Butcher

Southern belle?

Imagineering Atlanta

Charles Rutheiser Verso 13.95

'It's impossible for us not to achieve an overwhelming success because this is the United States of America.' They were the words of Billy Payne, president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Under Payne's stewardship this year's games were turned into a showpiece for American free enterprise.

Corporate sponsorship and private profit making reached astounding new levels. Preparations for the Olympics by Atlanta's business leaders and politicians were what prompted Charles Rutheiser to write his absorbing new book on the city. It tells of the 'boosters', the PR men who try to sell the city to investors and tourists by creating and recreating myths about the city's past.

With the backing of the white business elite and the largely black political establishment the boosters have crafted an image of Atlanta as a bright, shiny city of the future; a city that is hospitable, progressive and racially harmonious.

We see how this imagery denies the city's racist past and obscures the conflict between two of the city's most famous offspring the Ku Klux Klan and Martin Luther King. As Rutheiser writes, 'One did not have to look far beneath the shiny surface of the booster's celestial Atlanta to discover what was actually one of the poorest and most racially segregated cities in the United States.'

Rutheiser traces Atlanta's history as the capital of what became known as the 'New South' following the end of the civil war. It was a city that was industrialising with the help of Northern capital but was run by unrepentant white supremacists. He puts their image and vision alongside the experience of the immigrant labourers who built the city and the black former slaves who settled there.

Rutheiser picks through the images most associated with the city, like its burning to the ground at the end of the civil war as depicted in the film Gone With The Wind. He argues that as well as the film's nauseating images of the Old south, Margaret Mitchell's novel was based on mythical stories passed down to her by old relatives. She even once admitted she was ten years old before she realised the Confederacy lost the war!

But images of plantation life in the Old South are somewhat contradictory to those who wish to sell Atlanta as a modern bustling city. This may explain Atlanta's business leaders' hesitancy over plans for a Gone With The Wind theme park, which were eventually shelved.

Imagineering Atlanta also looks at the political, economic and social make up of the city today. There is detailed analysis of the different areas of the city, the gerrymandering of political boundaries, the development of segregated residential districts.

It traces the experience of so called 'urban renewal' and how in the 1960s one third of the city's housing stock, and a larger percentage of its low income units, were demolished. One in seven people were displaced.

Then in the 1980s the city's government went along with redevelopment schemes that resegregated some of the city's desegregated areas and launched huge schemes to sweep the homeless off the streets.

The book ends with a fascinating chapter tracing the crises, scandals and protests that surrounded the city's preparation for the games. The bright, shiny images of the city's boosters are left well and truly demolished.

Sam Ashman

Pioneer country

Reform and Revolution

William Morris, John Carruthers, Fred Henderson Thoemmes Press 9.75

It's a good time to re-examine the early debate about reform and revolution. Unfortunately, although editor Stephen Coleman admits to admiring the idealism of the socialist pioneers, he can't help concluding that Morris' and Carruthers' rejection of parliament was flawed and not quite practical.

Morris's attitude to parliament was a fact based on sound principles: 'Was not the parliament on the one side a kind of watch-committee sitting to see that the interests of the upper classes took no hurt; and on the other side a sort of bind to delude the people into supposing that they had some share in the management of their own affairs?'

Morris and his comrades made a vital break with the support for Liberalism that plagued the working class movement from the 1850s through to the 1880s, and they stood out courageously against the rising tide of reformism in the 1890s.

These essays do show up weaknesses in the detail of the early revolutionaries' arguments that left them open to attack as ultraleft, and disoriented them tactically. Part of Morris's objection to reformism was that he believed limited improvements 'palliatives' as he called them might blind workers to their overall interests. This meant that in the 1880s he called on workers not to vote, and more seriously he tended to be sceptical about the value of 'partial' trade union struggles for reforms from below.

It is hardly surprising the pioneers of revolutionary socialism in this country made tactical mistakes. We should learn from them but we should not allow anyone to try to turn Morris and his comrades into 'idealistic visionaries' or 'ethical socialists'. As well as spending years building revolutionary organisations they grappled with the theoretical problems of revolution. Morris had the amazing foresight to predict the development of parallel 'labour parliaments' in periods of social crisis, which would be much more democratic than the Westminster charade. And his understanding of capitalist society was both more profound and more realistic than those who believed in gradual change:

'Those who think they can deal with our present system in this piecemeal way very much underrate the tremendous organisation under which we live, and which appoints to each of us his place, and if we do not change to fit it, grinds us down until we do so. Nothing but a tremendous force can deal with this force.'

The Independent Labour Party member Fred Henderson's faulty account of how capitalism works suggests that exposing injustice is not enough to overcome it, but on the whole this is a useful reminder that the socialist tradition in this country was founded in the main by people who wanted to smash capitalism.

Chris Nineham

Killing fields

Opium A History

Martin Booth Simon & Schuster 17.99

The opium poppy has been cultivated since at least 3400 BC. Since 1989 the US government has been waging a high profile war on it with no discernible impact. The reasons for this declaration of hostilities and the unwillingness of the plant to submit to overpowering force should form the central thrust of any serious attempt to analyse the history of opium. Regrettably, this book adopts a non-partisan, neutral approach to its subject.

Opium A history, however, is solidly researched and makes enthralling reading. Booth is particularly effective when describing the scale and scope of the illegal drugs industry worldwide. He estimates that world annual turnover is $750 billion and in 1995 over $350 billion was laundered through the US alone, while the amount of dirty money circulating worldwide makes this particular financial market the third biggest in the world after currency dealing and oil!

In human terms the figures are even more overwhelming: 10 percent of Colombia's workforce is employed in the drugs trade and, before his demise, the drug baron Pablo Escobar was the largest single employer in the country. The cost of all this can be witnessed in the 40-50 million drug addicts worldwide.

Booth's brief outline of working class opium habits in Victorian England is fascinating. Opium was more widely available in 1870 than tobacco was 100 years later, studies indicating, unsurprisingly, that the greater the poverty the greater the desire to consume the drug. In 1868, for example, one East End chemist was reported as having 209 one penny customers for opium-containing preparations in three and a half hours. In the previous year a chemist in King's Lynn sold 170 pounds of solid opium, 6 gallons of laudanum and 6 gallons of opium based calming cordial for infants in 12 months.

Booth looks at the shameful role of British and American imperialism which sits at the heart of the present crisis. It begins with the enforced trading of opium to a reluctant China in the 19th century, continues with two imperialist 'opium wars' and culminates in the forcible addiction of millions of Chinese to a drug which by 1887 was contributing 20 percent of India's GNP. By the same year 70 percent of the adult males in Szechuan province were said to be addicted.

After 1945, in the cold war against communism, the US viewed drugs as the lesser of two evils. In 1950 the CIA backed the Corsican mafia in Marseilles where they were used to break the communist led dock strike and subsequently ran the notorious French Connection. Over the decades, the CIA have run opium for guerrillas in Laos on the services of Air America, organised arms related opium deals in Burma for the remnants of Chiang Kai-Shek's army, laundered drugs money for Mujaheddin insurgents in Afghanistan and used narcotics sales to provide support for the Contras in Nicaragua.

The book is frustrating as it downplays material considerations when analysing the impact of the heroin trade. Why no mention of the impact of IMF 'adjustment' policies on third world countries, for example? The weaknesses of the book are encapsulated in the author's conclusions when he asserts that 'what really has to be addressed is an ingrained cultural attitude In short, drugs make a statement.' These reservations aside, Booth's book can be recommended.

David Jenkins

Working for the rat

Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World The Project on Disney

Rivers Oram 12.95

Disney World is the American family holiday destination. This book sets out to explain the Disney experience: why people visit Disney World, and what they get out of it.

The authors describe Disney World as absolutely soulless. It's one big shopping mall. There's no spontaneity, no intimacy. And the sights and the rides present an endless stream of conservative or reactionary messages. Most of the time, visitors only have a role as consumers. There's a huge General Motors exhibition, with rooms and rooms of technological exhibits, all describing the endless human march towards 'progress' (ie, the motor car). The ride ends in a (real) General Motors showroom: you've seen the experience, now you can buy it.

The most interesting chapter in the book is based on interviews with people who work in Disney World. They call the job 'working for the rat'. It's almost impossible to get a permanent contract. Nearly everyone is on just $5.60 (3) an hour. The managers use internal promotion to encourage cliques and to force workers to spy on each other. There is an incredible atmosphere of suspicion.

The workers dressed up as Disney characters take amphetamines to last through the long shifts (if you don't do a 16 hour shift, you don't get overtime rates). The costumes are heavy and painful. Every day, dozens of workers pass out in the heat.

Unfortunately, most of this book is about 'play' at Disney, not about 'work'. So there's no description of the strikes that have taken place at Euro Disney, against exactly the conditions that the authors describe in Disney World.

Also, the book's written in a sort of academic cultural studies jargon. That means that there's a lot of 'theory': clever references to writers like Althusser and Baudrillard. Even Marx gets in, but only as a sign that the authors are aware that what they're talking about has something to do with 'capitalism'.

Because the authors have such an abstract set of ideas, they are far too pessimistic. They describe a world in which every Disney symbol is triumphant, and every reactionary message wins. I'm sure that the reality is more complicated: that the people who go to Disney are capable of taking out messages quite different from those that Walt Disney intended. As one of the authors points out, 'One doesn't have to be in Disney World too long before beginning to wonder why it is that we always have to be reminded of how free we are.'

Dave Renton

Any answers?

Socialist Register 1996: Are There Alternatives?

Leo Panitch (ed) Merlin 12.95

The current issue of Socialist register seeks to provide a response to Margaret Thatcher's famous declaration that 'there is no alternative' to free market economics. But the contributors are better at documenting the dire consequences of accepting the proposition than at offering alternatives. Thus two interesting pieces demonstrate the dangers involved in the strategy of 'progressive competitiveness' the idea, with which Will Hutton is associated in this country, that the left should come up with ways of rebuilding their national capitalism to make it at once more efficient and more humane.

Paul Burkett and Martin Hart-Landsberg demolish the notion that Japan offers a model of 'stakeholder capitalism' superior to the free market Anglo-American variant. Similarly John Wiseman surveys the failure of the Australian Labor Party's attempt to reconcile internationalising what had been a highly protected economy with preserving the ALP's working class base. But if we reject these versions of 'progressive competitiveness', what are we to put in their place? We are given only the vaguest of replies.

Some contributors would, in fact, be happy with a more progressive version of 'progressive competitiveness'. Colin Leys, in an otherwise excellent survey of the 'modernisation' of the British Labour Party, draws a brief but tantalising distinction between a 'market driven society', which he rejects, and 'one that accepts but seriously regulates markets', which by implication he supports. And how would the latter differ from the kind of Keynesian social democracy based on national management of the economy that is generally agreed to have failed? We are not told.

Others would like to regard themselves as more radical. South Africa has been a popular venue for those seeking reformist solutions in recent years. They have been disappointed yet again. It has taken the African National Congress barely two years in office to dump the reforms promised in its Reconstruction and Development Programme and adopt a policy of privatisation, labour flexibility and deficit reduction.

Patrick Bond and Mzwanele Mayekiso acknowledge this, but obscure it in waffle. The problem derives, they explain, from 'this unanticipated dilemma holding the reins of the state does not mean holding power.' In what sense was this dilemma unanticipated? The fact that reformist governments hold office rather than power has been pointed out on many occasions, and not least by one of Socialist register's founding editors, the late Ralph Miliband.

To their credit, Bond and Mayekiso don't like this situation. They want 'non-reformist reforms', whatever they are. How are these to be achieved? Not through 'the emergence of strong working class parties that have more consistent political trajectories', but through 'building and maintaining a class conscious civil society in oppressed communities', ie the community based civic associations. Bond and Mayekiso skate over the actual record of the civics, devoting only a rather sheepish footnote to the dubious role played by the South African National Civic Organisation in the government sponsored campaign to end the township rent and rate boycotts. A political alternative is unnecessary since 'most SACP leadership and cadres recognise the folly of the ANC's official turn to neoliberalism'. The SACP Central Committee's endorsement of the ANC's new macro-economic policy document hardly supports this piece of wishful thinking.

The closest to an actual engagement with the problems of socialist strategy comes in an exchange about the future of the British left. Barry Winter takes issue with Hilary Wainwright's call in the previous Socialist Register for the left to break with the Labour Party. Something of the quality of Winter's argument is conveyed by the way in which he immediately follows a perfectly valid criticism of Wainwright's rather rose tinted picture of the state of the British left 'It's more like a battlefield after a major defeat', he says with the claim that we should be 'building and revitalising the Labour left'.

As my old logic teacher would say, there seems to be a premise or two missing here. Wainwright responds spiritedly enough, but her credibility is undermined by her well known propensity to combine calls for a new socialist party with denunciations of anyone (for example, Arthur Scargill or the SWP) who actually tries to build one.

The entire collection is pervaded by a sense of dislocation, of disconnection from any political practice. It is now edited from Canada, but the reader would get from it no sense that Ontario has been thrown into turmoil by the election of a rabid right wing Tory government and the working class response of a series of city wide general strikes.

That what we are offered here is the view from left academics is predictable enough. What is far more unexpected and outrageous is that this issue should include a piece by Peter Gill which breezily accepts the British state's need for security and intelligence services and proceeds to consider how a Labour government might modify these, chiefly by scrapping MI5 and leaving it to those nice people in Special Branch to spy on us. The late Edward Thompson, one of Socialist Register's most distinguished contributors, wrote some memorable denunciations of the 'secret state'. Imagining what he would have made of Gill's piece was the only real pleasure that reading this collection gave me.

Alex Callinicos

Criminal justice

The Camorra

Tom Behan Routledge 25

The Camorra is to Naples what the Mafia is to Sicily. Tom Behan provides a fascinating study into the rise of organised crime in the Italian south, and he consistently argues that it can only be understood by recognising its continuing roots in social conditions of mass poverty and mass unemployment. His overall argument is convincing: organised crime is so deeply rooted in the development of southern post fascist capitalism and politics that its eradication requires socialist revolution.

This is an argument which, as he shows, is not too distant from those offered by growing numbers of ex-Camorristi:

'Can't you see the state Naples is in? If you don't change this social reality, if you don't get at its roots, how do you think you're going to beat the Camorra?'

By the late 1980s the Camorra was just as deadly and just as wealthy as the Mafia. Its leading figure, Carmine Alfieri, is reckoned to be Italy's richest criminal, with $1,200 million of personal assets. But the Camorra is different from the Mafia in important aspects. The Mafia is highly centralised with a hierarchy based on family membership. The Camorra is decentralised, with its estimated 100 plus gangs acting independently, often dissolving and quickly reconstituting as a result of bloody gang warfare. This makes it much more difficult to destabilise simply by removing its leaders.

While the Camorra probably had its origins in the early 19th century, it was in the post Mussolini period that organised crime became the ubiquitous and powerful force of today. Unlike in the Italian north, fascism in the south was not overthrown by a popular insurrection. Instead the occupying US forces were faced with a political vacuum and a disintegrating local state. Their response was to turn to the Mafia to provide order and stability. Consequently the pro-American Christian Democrats, who quickly came to dominate southern politics, were from the start shaped by the existence of a strong and politically embedded Mafia and willing to run a local state with criminal foundations.

Behan presents a picture of Camorra development and growth since the 1970s as it has moved from smuggling to building business empires, and during the 1980s, when it penetrated politics at the highest level.

The Camorra got its biggest lift in the aftermath of the 1980 earthquake. 'Of the $40 billion spent on earthquake reconstruction, an estimated $20 billion went to create an entirely new social class of millionaires in the region, $6.4 billion went straight into the pockets of the Camorra and $4 billion went to politicians in bribes.' Since this period it has been in the area of public sector contracts that the Camorra have found the richest pickings which meant gaining an ever increasing hold over the political process.

Tom Behan rightly spends much time asking the question: who can stop the Camorra? He convincingly shows that all levels of the Italian state, including the judiciary are sufficiently corrupt and in hock to the Camorra as to make all reformist solutions bankrupt. So great are the pressures on any reformist party attempting to govern legally and therefore take on the Camorra and the Mafia that using the existing apparatus will lead to an accommodation with organised crime. This happened to the Socialists from the 1960s onwards and the Neapolitan Communist led council of the 1970s and it is happening to the ex-Communist PDS during the 1990s. Instead, Behan is right to point to the periodic mass protests in the south, such as in 1982-83, as the beginnings of a real challenge to the pervasiveness of crime, the fear it brings, and the misery and desperation of poverty on which it feeds.

Paul Brook

Sphere of influence


Iain M Banks Little Brown 15.99

Iain Banks is an exciting novelist who has brought us such literary delights as The Wasp Factory and Complicity. But in order to flex his fertile imagination he became Iain M Banks and wrote a series of futuristic novels of which Excession is the fourth.

There have been attempts by the literary establishment to separate the 'serious' Iain Banks from the 'frivolous' Iain M Banks. But Banks' science fiction gives a new succulence to his other work because it gives it greater imaginative breadth and more acute social depth. It should not be separated from his other novels.

In Excession Banks has created 'the Culture' which is a vast sprawling civilisation where all things are available in abundance to all its members food, warmth and freedom in every sense. Freedom to change your sex at will, to live on vast conglomerations with your mates, or to create your own environment and live in isolation.

But this paradise is disrupted by the appearance of a small black 'Sphere' which represents a grave threat to the Culture. All attempts to attack the Sphere, or even understand it, go disastrously wrong. The Culture faces the threat that there exists a civilisation that is technologically superior also that they are being studied and watched by the Sphere.

Most of Excession centres upon the Culture's attempt to locate the only woman who knows something about the Sphere.

The novel revolves around the subtle subterfuges the Culture goes through to convince this woman to leave her self imposed exile, such as sending her reluctant ex-lover to argue with her.

Science fiction books like Excession usually fall into two categories. Some are critical of present society but see the future as a continuation of capitalism, such as Bladerunner, for example. Others retain their critique of present society but also give a brighter, broader vision of the future. This novel falls into the latter category.

In many ways Excession is like William Morris's News From Nowhere, which also has a positive view of the future. This is because Banks presents the Culture as a kind of socialism in an extraterrestrial setting where humans and all other forms of life coexist without social antagonism. That is not to say this novel is as great as News From Nowhere, but Excession is written not at the end of the 19th century, but at the close of the 20th century, after two world wars and the Holocaust. This is reflected in the darker elements in the novel.

This book is very hard to put down once you start it. This is because, unlike most science fiction novels, it portrays a funny, fully realised and rounded view of the future. The best part of this book is the powerful characterisation.

The themes it deals with are all too human unrequited love, personal betrayal, the individual versus the social. You don't have to have read all of the Culture novels to understand Excession. It is self contained and easy to understand a truly compelling read.

Gaverne Bennett

The sky's the limit

Contest for the Heavens

Claus Jensen Harvill 18

On 28 January 1986 the space shuttle Challenger was launched from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Just 73 seconds into its flight a fuel leak from one of the booster rockets caused an explosion that killed all seven crew.

Claus Jensen provides not only the background of the disaster but also a comprehensive history of America's space agency, NASA, itself. His story begins with the US procurement of German rocket scientists at the end of the Second World War, continues through the Cold War and ends in the present. Furthermore, the subject is examined in the context of economics, politics and, to a certain degree, the social relationships within the corporate structure of NASA.

Until 1958 aerospace and rocket research had been carried out by the military, where internal rivalry and duplication of work hampered the attainment of what Lyndon B Johnson referred to as 'the ultimate position from which total control of the earth may be exercised'. The creation of NASA in that year meant a civilian organisation under direct control of president and Congress, while the Pentagon could use the new body as a cover for the development of new intercontinental rocket systems and spy satellites.

The beneficiaries of this development were companies such as Boeing, Grunman and McDonnell-Douglas, and the subcontractors 90 percent of NASA's funding wound up in the private sector. Companies were quick to jump onto the gravy train and were not overly concerned with financial scruples. Jensen reports, 'The press recounted grotesque tales of nuts and bolts for which NASA had to pay Rockwell $120 but which could be bought at any hardware store for $3.28. But what could you do when such powerful forces were at work?'

By the end of the 1960s, under the shadow of the war in Vietnam, the golden years of NASA had come to an end. In spite of successful moon landings the agency now had to fight hard for funding; the card up its sleeve was the proposed shuttle programme. In the field of commercial satellite launches shuttles were to be a cheaper alternative to expendable rockets, and NASA gave wildly optimistic estimates of cost and carrying capacity.

The emphasis on cost cutting was intensified by the Reagan administration's policy of privatisation. This led to a situation where the demands of management, rather than conscientious attention to technical detail, became the criteria for a launch.

In practical terms this meant death for the seven Challenger astronauts. The shuttle was launched in abnormally cold temperatures while many scientists and engineers had serious doubts as to whether the vital 'o' rings would be able to perform effectively under such conditions.

Even more basic flaws had been inbuilt from the start. One example was the retention of a computer programme that was already ten years out of date. The process of designing the shuttle itself saw science stood on its head; in engineering terms the engine comes first and the airframe is designed around it. In this case, however, it was payload capacity that dictated the craft's final form. Profit rather than technology was the guiding principle.

The material for this book has been thoroughly and extensively researched. There are one or two criticisms to be made, however. Hardly any attention is paid to the conditions of the workers in the plants who built these spacecraft, and Marxist analysis is dismissed as 'simplistic', whereas the book absolutely begs Marxist questions. Despite this, Jensen's book is valuable material for the argument that tragedies such as Challenger are symptomatic of a system that puts profit first.

Rick Wood

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