Issue 201 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1996 Copyright © Socialist Review



Double identity


by Diane Samuels

Why have you lost your self?' is the question fired at Eva Schlesinger at the climactic moment in this play. Nine year old Eva is one of 10,000 Jewish children rescued out of Germany on the Kindertransport, (organised by an international charity nine months before the outbreak of the Second World War), leaving their families behind to face the horrors of anti-Semitic persecution.

The play follows her journey out of Hamburg to be adopted by the humorous and affectionate Lil in Manchester. There her cultural identity is gradually worn away and her early childhood memories are obliterated as she is forced to face the terrible fact that her parents will never travel to join her and that her family has been destroyed.

We see her some 30 years later, totally anglicised but still plagued by the events of the past and unable to reassure the scarred and traumatised child within herself. Though she has tried to suppress and forget her experiences, her distress comes out through recurrent panic attacks and bouts of obsessive housework. Her adamant refusal to answer her own daughter's questions about the past is painfully revisited on her as remnants of her journey out of Nazi Germany come to light. We then discover the hidden truth about the interim years and learn of Eva's desperate act of self preservation and revenge.

Dissident psychoanalyst Alice Miller has written about the lifelong emotional and psychological damage endured by such children. She explains how, far from being relieved to have escaped, feelings of overwhelming guilt and anger haunt those who left their loved ones behind. Many never forgive their parents for sending them away, even though they know the 'rejection ' was an act of love and protection. They wish they had stayed and died together and grapple all their lives with the burden.

These destructive feelings do not stay locked within the Kindertransport children themselves. Intent as they are on forgetting the past and preserving the fiction of their new identity, their emotional legacy to their own children is one of fear, mystery and denial. Eva's daughter Faith has grown up believing that she is responsible for her mother's unhappiness and has no idea that her mother was once a Jewish refugee.

There is a contemporary theme in novels, films and plays of secrets within families which are revealed in cataclysmic showdowns. Mike Leigh's recent film Secrets and Lies is an excellent example of this. The theme of truth seeking is a valuable one, but socialists should go beyond the purely personal and psychological. There are concrete reasons why the Kindertransport children have been unable to speak freely about their lives and why individuals have been forced to deal with the fallout from history, alone and behind closed doors.

Children like Eva may have found refuge but the society they entered did not allow them to deal with the truth of their situation. At the time government cover ups about the concentration camps and the policies of appeasing of Hitler meant that there was a lot of prejudice against Jewish refugees. The children's religious and cultural traditions were often mocked, misunderstood or ignored.

After the war was over, the shock of discovering the truth of the camps was soon submerged. Attempts to understand the causes of fascism have been obscured by reactionary myths about 'innate evil' and 'the dark side of human nature'.

In reality, Nazi Germany was a product of capitalism in crisis, the repression and persecution a desperate and ruthless attempt by German capital to defend its interests and prevent revolt. The possibility of fascism always remains while the rigours of the market dominate world societies. Churchill himself sympathised with many fascist and eugenic ideas and King Edward VIII was a great friend of Adolf Hitler. Not long ago the late FranŠois Mitterrand, ex-president of France, was revealed as having a Nazi as a personal friend. No wonder capitalism has failed to cope with the fallout from Nazism. It did after all create it in the first place.

This is a powerful, gripping and unexpectedly funny play about events which cannot and must not be forgotten. I was transfixed by the performances of Julia Malewski and Diana Quick, cast respectively as the younger and older Eva, but who exchange the roles of child and adult between them as fast as the flashbacks which lie at the heart of the plot. The intelligence of the script means that you are more interested in understanding the complexity of Eva's survival mechanisms than you are in sobbing into your hanky.

Nicola Field

Kindertransport plays at the Vauderville Theatre, London.

Experiment in fraud

Blinded by the Sun

by Stephen Poliakoff

Thatcherite free marketeering is one of the themes which lurks in the background of Stephen Poliakoff's latest play, set in the science labs of a major university in England. The rise to power of a relatively ungifted,

administratively efficient member of the department upsets the cosy traditional work practices of the rest of the staff and provides the motor for the action of the play.

Along the way there is an important scientific discovery which turns out to be a hoax. Poliakoff takes a pop at popular science and we are invited to ponder the mystical nature of the creative process. There's a sort of whodunit format to the play which skips along watchably, and a lively performance from Al, the Thatcherite administrator at the centre of the play.

Poliakoff often shines a light, be it at times only a dim one, on contentious contemporary topics. The conflict between academia and the free market priorities which govern its practices today is certainly one of these. But ultimately the play is less than illuminating.

A major flaw centres on the character of Al. The author confuses cost cutting, job slashing Thatcherism in the colleges with the popularising of science. Al reorganises the science department, sacking old friends along the way, uncovers fraud and writes popular books which bring complex ideas to a mass audience. Centring all three of these largely unconnected themes in one character fatally muddles consideration of each.

Poliakoff seems to be suggesting that popular science somehow flows from the distortion of scientific research by free market values. But the two are incompatible. A look at some of the great popularisers of science ≠ people like Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Rose, Richard Lewontin ≠ reveals the most vigorous and informed scientists at the forefront of scientific research.

That such people routinely attack others in the mainstream of their field and long held scientific taboos is scientifically progressive, not sensationalist profiteering.

The usually brilliant Frances de la Tour plays Elinor, the reclusive old school scientist in the white coat. Her character is so laconic, cold and emotionless ≠ one step down the logical ladder from Star Trek's Mister Spock ≠ as to become meaningless.

The other erstwhile member of the staff ≠ the exposed fraudster ≠ spends the second half of the play wandering around in a self obsessed, half stoned dream world, endlessly telling us that everyone's looking at him. A great deal has been made in the trendy press ≠ who have largely raved about the play ≠ about the nature of fraud in science. Can we actually know what is fraud and what isn't, they ask? There are lots of these unanswered conundrums in Blinded by the Sun.

Maybe there was a scientific fraud perpetrated in the play, maybe there wasn't, the author clumsily and rather patronisingly asks in the dying minutes. Can we actually know?

'Can we know anything?' is the postmodernist flaw at the heart of this piece of work. The play provides a warm bed from which we can endlessly pontificate about how mysterious and unknowable all the world ≠ even science ≠ is. It's why the trendies liked it and I didn't.

Lee Humber

Blinded by the Sun plays at the National Theatre, London.


Money to burn

Dead Presidents

Dir: Allen Hughes and Albert Hughes

'It's not about greed, it's about need.' That is the underlying sentiment in this excellent film about the struggle for survival by three young black men in 1960s and 1970s America.

The story opens with the friends discussing their hopes for the future and how to escape the grinding poverty of the Bronx, New York. Our hero, Anthony, hustles to get by and is taken under the wing of a Korean veteran who runs the numbers game and whose customers include the corrupt New York police.

Anthony is in love with Wonita, but decides to enlist in the marines and go to Vietnam. He spends a last night with her but has to flee when her mother returns from work. He escapes through the backyards. The film cleverly cuts to the scene of Anthony running through the Vietnamese jungle on a reconnaissance mission. From being like any ordinary kid in the Bronx he is suddenly exposed to the brutality and alienation of the war, portrayed in the film with disturbing violence.

On returning, Anthony lives with Wonita and her child and struggles to support his family. All the promises of a better life, the reward for serving one's country, dissolve.

The political radicalisation of the period is peripheral to Anthony and the film, although we see Panthers distributing leaflets and discover that Wonita's sister has become an activist. Out of desperation the three friends and the sister plan a heist. A security truck regularly takes millions of old dollar bills (the 'Dead Presidents' of the title) to be incinerated. How is it, Anthony asks, that the US government can burn money when he is fighting to keep his family alive?

The heist goes disastrously wrong and one by one Anthony and his friends are rounded up. The final scenes are all the more tragic because we see the futility of their struggle.

The title itself suggests that we are witnessing a moribund and decaying society. Also worthy of mention is the soundtrack. It is a fantastic collection of soul and funk which provides the film with a genuine sense of time and place. There may be little cause for celebration at the end, yet the film is engrossing, stylishly made and rails against the poverty and injustice of American society.

Alasdair Paterson

Marriage guidance


Dir: Douglas McGrath

The Jane Austen fever that swept the country last spring shows no signs of abating. The latest offering is a widely praised film version of Jane Austen's Emma, a novel originally published in 1816, a year before Austen died. When she wrote Emma, Austen joked that she wanted to create 'a heroine that no one but myself would like', and Emma is very different from all Austen's other leading ladies. She is not in need of a husband, being extremely rich and independent. She is not undervalued or neglected; in fact she is almost universally spoilt and admired. She inhabits a world which is privileged but also extremely restricted. Emma's compensation is the power of her imagination: gossiping, inventing romances and matchmaking for her friends.

Gwyneth Paltrow's portrayal of Emma captures both sides of the character brilliantly. She is at times irritatingly smug and cringingly snobbish; at others, she is witty, ironic and endearingly well meaning. In order to make a happy marriage for herself, she must first acquire greater self-awareness and humility. Her lack of judgement is exposed, and she learns what it is like to feel jealous of other women, even women whom she considers to be her social inferiors. While the development of Emma's character dominates the film, it is set against a web of social relationships that collide and complement each other. The whole range of characters Austen created are brought vividly to life by the supporting cast, especially Juliet Stevenson and Sophie Thompson.

On the surface the film shows an idyllic, rural England, governed by strict social conventions, a world in which everyone knows their place. However, Emma is not simply a costume drama romance celebrating marriage. The film captures the pragmatic spirit of Austen's attitude to marriage; it is 'wrong to marry for money, but silly to marry without it'. No one can marry outside of their social status. Love affairs are inhibited by poverty, greed and ignorance, and the spectre of impoverished spinsterhood hovers close.

Beneath the gorgeously filmed social life of the rich families in the village of Highbury, there are intrigues and deceptions, making Emma a kind of detective story. The character of Frank Churchill introduces an element of threat into the neatly ordered world. He is attractive, flirtatious, a Regency dandy who plays with Emma's affections. Frank represents the corruption of sophisticated society, a hint of the possibility of dissolute behaviour encouraging a French style revolution. This is what is at stake when, under his influence, Emma is rude to Miss Bates and thus steps over the boundaries of the duty owed by the responsible gentry to their tenants.

The greatest strength of the novel is the way that the inner life of individual characters is revealed through social occasions. At her best, Jane Austen gives us dramas of great psychological penetration and relationships that expose something of the society in which they are shaped, the naked materialism, a sense of social decay. The weakness of this otherwise very enjoyable film is that it has too little contrasts. The film captures all the sunshine, wit, intrigue and humanity, but too little of the shade, the sense of threat, the possibility of social crisis averted by proper marriage settlements.

Another slight problem is that the male characters in the film are never as interesting as the women; Ewan McGregor is an improbable Beau Brummell figure and Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightley is never more than husband-in-waiting for Emma. Nevertheless, this is a funny, witty and interesting film ≠ don't let the nauseating advertising campaign put you off.

Judy Cox


Harvest of death

Timewatch (BBC2)

Bomber Command (C4)

Representations of the war machine in the media once went through a phase of being critical, even cynical. Feature films such as The Red Badge of Courage, MASH, Catch 22 and the deeply disturbing Johnny Got His Gun made no bones about it: war is horrible. Now that officers are also gentlemen and every boy wants to be a 'Top Gun', the steady drip of establishment politics is accepted without question. In recent weeks television has churned out War Walks, Farnborough '96, Soldier, Soldier and assorted paeans of praise to weapons technology.

The recent Timewatch programme served up a chunk of history that drew an analogy between Hannibal's victory over the Romans and the Gulf War. General Norman Schwarzkopf delivered his authoritative analysis of Hannibal's success which he admiringly attributes to a 'strategic objective'.

In a bit of casting worthy of Hollywood, elephants stood for modern tanks, Hannibal played Saddam Hussein while Schwarzkopf put his own face to the might of the early Roman Empire. Hannibal's hatred for Carthage's rival, Rome, led to the audacious plan to attack his vastly superior enemy on its own turf using elephants as a secret weapon. Hannibal's forces crossed the Alps in only 15 days and won spectacular victories.

The Romans learnt every lesson except how to finish him off. Hannibal's strategic skills elevated him to the status of a demi god with the luck of the devil, and all the Romans could do was chase him across Europe while he harried them at every opportunity. Finally, ousted by rivals at home, abandoned and isolated, Hannibal took his own life to avoid capture. So furious were the Romans that they levelled Carthage to the extent that it took 250 years before anyone even knew where to dig for it. Is Norman trying to tell us something?

The tale was peppered with such banalities as, 'You have to get inside the mind of your enemy if you want to know what decisions to make.' Norman is the hero who reassured an anxious world that only bad people got hurt in the Gulf War because 'we' had god in the form of superior technology on our side ≠ but neglected to mention that only a minuscule proportion of allied weaponry consisted of so called 'smart bombs' while the rest were old fashioned 'dump bombs'. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqis were described by him as 'collateral damage' while murderous objectives meant no one would ever want to be 'taken out' again. Why is this blatant warm up act for the latest Gulf conflict being put out by the very same BBC accused by Norman Tebbit of 'being run by pinkos'?

Meanwhile, over on 'progressive' Channel 4, Arthur 'Bomber' Harris was defending his deliberate targeting of German civilians in the Second World War blanket bombing of German cities in Bomber Command: Reaping the Whirlwind. Because they sowed the wind Harris intended that the Nazis should reap the whirlwind. Unfortunately, it was the ordinary people of Nuremburg, Dresden and Hamburg who did the harvesting.

The ruthless mind that led to 900,000 dead and 1 million severely injured, and gave the world the firestorm, turned out to be more than capable of sacrificing his own men according to the repeat showing later that night of Death by Moonlight: Bomber Command. Against all advice, Harris insisted that his Canadian crews bomb Nuremburg, 'that most German of cities', in cloudless skies illuminated by a full moon, 'almost daylight'. 'It was like shooting geese,' said one German ace when he met two of the surviving pilots in 1994. On that one mission alone Harris lost 96 bombers and 540 air crew. Perhaps that's because he possessed what Schwarzkopf esteems as a 'strategic objective'.

The Canadians weren't only concerned for themselves. Recalling the bombing of Hamburg when 42,000 perished in one firestorm, one of them asked, 'If we had satellite televisions and could have gone back home and watched the flesh burning off human beings, how many of us could have continued the bombing?'

How will the heroes of the Gulf War look back on their hour of glory in 50 years time? Unless the western media take a leaf out of the Canadian filmmakers' book and stop blindly accepting the official version, probably with just as much self veneration as the general himself.

Anna Chen


Unreliable witness

A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924

Orlando Figes Cape £20

The history of the Russian Revolution is regarded with confusion and Orlando Figes has written a massive new history that will add to the mess. For Figes the problem is not that the revolution ultimately failed to dethrone wealth, power and privilege but that anyone ever tried to do so in the first place.

In fact this is a dreadful book, based on lamentable scholarship which, despite its claims to archival research, adds nothing substantially new but draws for effect on hostile gossip and anti-Bolshevik accounts which previous and better historians treated with caution.

Throughout 1917 Russian workers grew in self confidence to challenge not only capitalism in Russia but a world system that was killing someone in a world war every 15 seconds. In its place they wanted to build a united socialist world in which real expression could be given to the best human wants and desires.

Figes, however, tries to negate this in four ways. Firstly, he systematically eliminates the international elements, reducing the revolution to narrowly Russian confines. Secondly, he all but eliminates capitalism and the role of the bourgeoisie in Russia. Thirdly, he paints a picture of a revolutionary movement built on excesses with Lenin bent on power. This involves some breathtaking distortions. To show how evil terrorism was in Russia before 1914 he compares it with Northern Ireland since 1968. Five times more killed and wounded (even though Russia's population was over a hundred times greater!). Then there are the flat contradictions. Typically the evil Lenin's whole strategy is to use the soviets as a front to seize power while later on in the book it's to ditch the soviets when they stand in his way. Finally, he paints a picture of the popular movement in 1917 as one driven by class conflict but one in which only a few reach class consciousness. In his view, the majority of workers, peasants and soldiers merely have their bloodlust awakened and, legitimised by Bolshevik support, descend into an orgy of mob violence.

The next step is to make the civil war unravel as a consequence of this. Once again the crucial role of imperialist intervention in giving men, supplies and, most importantly, confidence to the counter-revolution is minimised. So too is the question of international revolution ≠ it gets a few paragraphs. The result is that the terrifying losses of the civil war ≠ some 10 million dead (mostly of disease and hunger though with bitter atrocities as well), and the Volga famine of 1921 fall on the shoulders of Russians. Where better historians try to trace the spiralling dynamic of war and terror, Figes simply jumps from one point to another, connecting them in a straight line supported by his continuing emphasis on popular bloodlust which by 1921, in his analysis, has even developed into a cannibalistic craving for human flesh. Causation is lost, context is destroyed and circumstances are stripped away. Quotations are chopped, changed and shifted willy nilly. Take a good one from 1921 and make it appear in 1918 as he does with Shliapnikov's famous comment that at the end of the civil war the Bolsheviks were the vanguard of a non-existent class, and so created the idea that all popular support evaporated within a few months.

And although the violence of both sides is condemned, so far as cause is concerned that of the Whites is whitewashed as a reaction to Bolshevik provocation.

Not surprisingly, then, Figes' version of the revolution and civil war has few constructive elements even if this too creates absurdities. Take the issue of women. What about the fact that women's liberation was an important aspect of the revolution, that Alexandra Kollontai became the first woman in world history to be officially a government minister? Well, if you wait until page 689 women get a mention there (it's a disparaging one). Wait until pages 740-741 and women get several paragraphs more which give Figes an opportunity for more sarcasm about Kollontai's sex life. But the real gem is something else.

Not the least of the propaganda used against the revolution was that it was undermining families. Spoof decrees circulated as black propaganda retailing the nationalisation of women. They were widely used in the west to attack early Communists. But for Figes even black propaganda is okay if it damns the Bolsheviks and so he falls for them hook, line and sinker and throws them in. And since he falls for this why should we expect him to be reliable on anything else? Look at the dreadful music of the time ≠ including Shostakovich's second symphony, actually written in 1927. Zamytin's We was written in '1924', allowing Figes to link it to NEP discussions of Taylorism ≠ it was actually written in 1920 but if it helps rubbish the revolution who cares.

Finally a word to those readers who left school early, mature students and other late developers ≠ Figes thinks you will appreciate his subtleties even less than this reviewer, 'When people learn as adults what children are normally taught in schools, they find it difficult to progress beyond the simplest abstract ideas making them resistant to the subsequent absorption of knowledge on a more sophisticated level.' And so the snootiness of the Cambridge intellectual merges with the disdain of the Russian intelligentsia towards the workers and 'lumpens'. Class, it seems, is not just alive as a social power in 1996, it is alive as social prejudice, linking the common rooms of the dreaming spire universities with the crumbling academic institutes of Moscow. To which there is only one reply ≠ confirm though it will Figes' disdain for the left and the idea that ordinary people can take control of their own lives and make their own history ≠ 'Workers of the world unite!'

Mike Haynes

Race through time

The Meaning of Race

Kenan Malik Macmillan £12.99

It is strange to find a book on race that makes no mention of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X and that does not look at apartheid. When on top of this, it dismisses the Anti Nazi League as patriotic and anti-German because it uses the term 'Nazi' and accuses it of exaggerating the fascist threat, it is perhaps asking to be dismissed as unserious when it comes to the fight against racism.

Nevertheless it would be a mistake to ignore it. It is an ambitious work, aiming 'to tease out the meaning of race through studying the interaction of intellectual and social developments over the past two centuries'. Though his history is unreliable and the book ends in a welter of philosophical abstractions, Malik does show how the meaning of race has changed over time.

He starts with the Enlightenment, the great 18th century revolution in ideas. Most of its leading thinkers believed in equality and the unity of humanity. The bourgeoisie of the time needed these ideas to help break the rule of the old ruling classes. The dominant meaning of race at the time was based not on colour but on class. The original 'inferior races' were the lower classes whose poverty had to be explained as natural. Tom Paine wrote, 'The great mass of the poor in all countries are become an hereditary race.' Though there were racist justifications of slavery, it was often justified through economic utility, not racial ideology: only slaves would do manual labour in the heat of the tropics. In England most people opposed slavery. Thus in 1771, when the owner of an escaped slave was put on trial for trying to drag the slave onto a boat on the Thames, the jury found against the owner, despite the judge's direction. In France in 1793 the revolutionary assembly declared not only against 'the aristocracy of the blood' but against the 'aristocracy of the skin'. The revolution was nevertheless led by those who believed in private property and, as industry and the working class expanded enormously through the 19th century, so did the 'fear of the masses'.

In response came new efforts to justify the growing gap between rich and poor. The rich were rich, it was argued, not because they were exploiters but because they were biologically the most successful. Social Darwinism, the idea of 'the survival of the fittest' (completely distorting Darwin's own theory) led to the rise of 'scientific racism', supported not just by conservatives but by many liberals and socialists as well. Only with the rise of empire and the development of an organised working class, argues Malik, was it necessary to centre the idea of racial inferiority on black people rather than the lower orders.

Though biological theories of social inferiority are still with us, the experience of Nazism discredited 'race science'. Since the Second World War the dominant form of racism has been the idea of cultural differences.

'Multiculturalism' has become the official expression of much anti-racism, but Malik argues, 'The multiculturalist approach overestimates the homogeneity and autonomy of the various ethnic groups and underestimates the degree to which all groups are reciprocally implicated in the creation of cultural forms within a common framework of national, political, social and economic institutions.' In his characteristically wordy and pompous way, Malik is right.

But where, oh where, are some practical conclusions? When Malik writes in the last sentence of the book, 'To transcend the concept of race we need not just an intellectual revolution but a social revolution', he places himself squarely in that category of philosophers who have interpreted the world but have nothing to say about changing it.

Geoff Brown

Heart and soul


Rickey Vincent St Martin's Griffin £10.99

Up until recently funk music appealed to only a small number of people. With the growth of rap music, samples of obscure funk tracks are now being heard on national radio stations. This has led to a whole generation of people buying original or reissued LPs

CDs. However, unlike other black music styles, for example, jazz and soul, there has been no serious study of the development of the music. This is why Rickey Vincent's book should be welcomed.

The strength of the book is that it locates the growth of funk music in America's economic and political upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The pioneer of this new music form was James Brown.

Before funk, it was rhythm and blues (R and B ≠ known today as soul music) that was the cutting edge of black music. Motown was undoubtedly the record label others tried to copy. For the first time it opened up black music to mass white audiences. However, by the late 1960s the music began to lose its edge both musically and politically. By 1968 the fight for equality had moved from the South to the cities and ghettos of the North. Audiences no longer wanted to hear Diana Ross singing 'Baby Love', The Temptations doing the sideways shuffle to 'My Girl' or James Brown fainting as he sang 'Try me'. They wanted something that reflected their experiences.

They got it when, under pressure from the rest of his band and his fans to write a song about the riots, Brown released 'Say it Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud'. It ushered in a whole new generation of musicians producing a sound with a more urban, raw and aggressive feel.

Rickey Vincent looks in detail at the new funk bands like the JB's, Kool and the Gang and many others. He also looks at the transformation of many of the early R and B artists such as Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers and The Temptations as they also began to take up social issues.

Funk music is the most rhythmically complicated popular music form that has been produced. It not only built on other black American music forms such as jazz and soul, but it also introduced extended musical workouts, new African rhythms, percussive beats and instruments.

The stagnation of jazz by this time meant that the more experimental musicians ≠ Miles Davis, Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock ≠ incorporated funk into jazz, helping reinvent the music . Also with funk's downfall Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Tom Browne and many others reverted back to their jazz roots.

There are a few minor problems with the book. Firstly, Vincent's explanation for the drift of funk into disco is that white people attempted to undermine black culture. While those who run the music industry have clearly done this, this was not the main driving force behind their decisions. They were motivated by profit. They diluted the music to make it more accessible and sell more units. Secondly, it was not a white versus black 'thing'. In search of the dollar many bands went along with the move. One listen to Kool and the Gang's 'Celebration' makes this point clear. Thirdly, with all its faults disco had brought together black and white people in clubs and put black music into the national charts. It also became a very important form of expression in the gay scene.

Throughout most of the late 1970s and much of the 1980s funk (with the exception of Clinton's P Funk movement) remained underground. Some bands still retained the spirit ≠ such as Prince and Cameo. However, rap music has brought about the rebirth of funk as many groups have gone back to sampling the great funk bands for their musical backdrop.

Vincent's book is not as good as Gillet's (The Sound of the City) or Guralnick's (Sweet Soul Music) but it is good to see a book at last on funk and it is definitely worth reading.

Martin Smith

No alternative to pessimism

The Controversy of Zion

Geoffrey Wheatcroft Sinclair Stephenson £17.99

The effective collapse of the Middle East peace process as Israeli jets bombed Lebanese refugee camps earlier this year should have made Zionism harder than ever to defend. Yet it is still taken for granted by mainstream commentators that Israel is 'the Jewish state' which anyone who is not an anti-Semite must support.

This book takes a timely look at the origins of Zionism ≠ the movement for a Jewish state ≠ and the arguments it provoked among Jews. Wheatcroft rightly says that, while Judaism had always spoken of a return to Zion, nobody seriously suggested setting up a Jewish state until the 19th century. The background to this was the failure of liberal democracy to truly liberate Jews: while the French Revolution and its aftermath had removed feudal restrictions and religious intolerance, the 19th century saw the growth of modern racism, with Jews redefined as an inferior race. Meanwhile the crisis of the old Tsarist empire in Eastern Europe led to a wave of pogroms. Theodor Herzl argued in The Jewish State that there was no hope of liberation, that anti-Semitism was natural and eternal, and that the only solution was for Jews to set up their own state.

Wheatcroft's book is a wealth of facts and quotations to show that until the Holocaust most Jews regarded Zionism as madness. Jews in the West wanted to stay there, while Jews fleeing persecution in the East believed that 'America is our Zion'. He refers in passing to the rich tradition of Jewish socialism, although he could also have mentioned the honourable role of non-Jewish socialists, from the Bolsheviks to British Communists in the 1930s, in fighting anti-Semitism.

Where the book falls down is its acceptance that anti-Semitism has always existed, and that any analysis of its roots in class society is flawed simply because nationalism often seems stronger than class consciousness (in one passage he puts Marx's theory of socialist revolution down to his having a complex about being Jewish!).

Because Wheatcroft has no alternative to Herzl's pessimism, he falls into one liberal clich« after another, alternately being shocked by and making excuses for acts of barbarism. After describing the 1945 Labour government's callousness towards survivors of the Holocaust, he feels the need 'to be fair to the British' as they had a hard time too! He excuses the collaboration of Jewish Councils with the Nazis (far more generously than Jewish resistance organisations who also had to fight the Jewish Councils). He describes the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacres by Israel's client militia in Lebanon but then tries to make us feel sorry for Israeli leader Menachem Begin, who 'was not emotionally invulnerable'.

What this book does show is that there have always been Jewish anti-Zionists. There have also been anti-Semites who supported Zionism, both because it accepted that Jews and Gentiles couldn't live together and because it put itself at the service of imperialism in the Middle East. Wheatcroft is clearly uneasy with Zionism but also respects it.

The socialist tradition has a more principled record: we have always fought against all forms of racism and oppression, never apologised for the oppressors, and always insisted that we can build a world without racism. The barbarity of imperialism in the Middle East makes that fight more urgent than ever.

Jake Hoban

Fashionably cynical

Eureka Street

Robert McLiam Wilson Secker and Warburg £15.99

Eureka Street is Robert McLiam Wilson's third novel, and if the reviews it has received so far are anything to go by it is likely to be as big a hit as the first two, one of which won the Irish Book Award while the other was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award. The setting for Eureka Street is Belfast prior to the 1994 ceasefires and follows the lives, loves and fortunes of Chuckie Lurgan (who lives with his mother on Eureka Street), Jake Jackson and their entourage of friends and acquaintances.

This book does have a better feel for the geography of the city and how people live there than many of the novels, television dramas and movies which have been set in Belfast over the years. The story begins with Jackson working as a bailiff repossessing televisions, fridges and other goods from desperately poor families on Protestant and Catholic housing estates, which can be distinguished only by the graffiti rather than the level of poverty. Wilson also has an eye for the irony of many of the changes Belfast has undergone in the 1980s and 1990s ≠ for example, the yuppification of the city centre pubs and restaurants to cater for an increasingly well off middle class who live in the leafy suburbs.

But Eureka Street is a disappointing read. Parts of the book are quite funny but it is spoilt by the author's cynicism and lack of understanding of the politics and violence which are used as a backdrop to the story. This leads him to describe incidents that clearly would not have happened ≠ for example, the UVF and IRA joining forces to kill an American diplomat, 'because the Irish didn't want him persuading them away from their war'.

More importantly, Wilson sees the causes of the violence not in oppression, discrimination poverty or the presence of British troops but as some unexplainable phenomenon. Basically the troubles are merely about the activities of the 'IRA, INLA, IPLO, UVF, UFF and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A whole horde of dumb fucks with automatic weapons.'

The only character who is actually political is a middle class Republican consumed by hate of all things British, who has had little experience of the oppression about which she complains and whose Irish name Wilson finds terribly amusing. In fact she is little more than a familiar right wing caricature often directed at socialists, feminists and trade union activists. The central characters of the book are not much more convincing. Wilson does describe the poverty and living conditions of both Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, but I found it difficult to tell whether the author was simply wringing his hands at the hopelessness of people's lives there or engaging in a prolonged sneer at them.

The advance publicity for this book states that Wilson's ideas about life are acutely original. In fact the story of love across the Belfast barricades has been told many times before and all Wilson has done is add a dash of the fashionable notion that you shouldn't even bother trying to explain why the barricades are there.

Martin Valentine

Wind from the future

Dangerous Love

Ben Okri Phoenix House £15.99

Omovo is a young man on the verge of adulthood. He lives with his father in a poor neighbourhood of Lagos. With his talents as an artist he aspires to a better life. But what kind of life will that be? His college friends use the opportunities offered by education to improve their material position. Omovo, though, is dissatisfied. He wants to paint pictures that show the corrupt and oppressive reality of Nigeria in the aftermath of civil war. He wants greater personal and emotional freedom than anything he sees in the tense and destructive pattern of his own family life.

This is the theme of Ben Okri's impressive new novel. It is also a love story ≠ Omovo is in love with an unhappily married woman, Ifeyiwa ≠ in a setting which makes the tragedy of their relationship part of a broader movement of loss and change. For this is the Nigeria of newly industrialising independence, which has sucked peasants off the land and packed them into the sprawling slums of the capital. They struggle to survive in a world made miserable by petty officialdom, corrupt police officers and shady businessmen. Their sometimes violent lives exude the stench of crushed hopes and opportunities.

Ifeyiwa's love for Omovo is a protest against her loveless marriage. In a rural environment the wife might have had some recourse to tradition to limit her husband's power. But here in the city marriage is an unending source of physical and mental cruelty perpetrated by a husband himself twisted by the alienation of slum life. Ironically, not even the countryside provides an escape, for it is in her village, which she hopes will provide a refuge for her, that she meets her fate.

Unlike the densely poetic style of The Famished Road, which won him the Booker Prize in 1991, the writing in this novel is altogether sparer and more stripped down. Maybe this is because the struggles which have taken place in Nigeria over the last few years have made Okri unhappy about a style which could have become mystically detached from reality.

Dangerous Love brings out the destructiveness of individual lives caught in the maelstrom of change in a third world country. And for all its concern with individual lives, the novel is intensely political, though never heavyhandedly. Take, for example, the following description of the room where Omovo's college friend lives (the windows are kept permanently shut to keep out the smells of sewage):

'On the blue wallsthere was a picture of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, hand raised in a revolutionary gesture. Next to the poster was an Airways calendar with bright pictures of London, New York, Paris, and Amsterdam. The calendar was two years out of date. A large bed occupied most of the living space. There was a small round table next to the bed. There were two chairs. On the floor were scattered pairs of shoes and slippers. At the foot of the bed was a clothes rack, weighed down with the latest fashions. Omovo sat at the only big table in the room, on which an impressive stereo stood. The rest of the space on the table was taken up with application forms, cassettes, keys, address books, brochures of American universities, and correspondence course booklets.'

The details capture the contradiction of the newly educated would-be elite, attracted to revolutionary politics out of resentment at the country's position in the world, yet also drawn towards the glitter of consumerism symbolised by Western and, in particular, American society.

At the end of the novel, his life shattered by personal and family disaster, Omovo is sceptical when his friend Keme claims that 'we have to sort out the mess our parents made of the country, the opportunity we missed, the oil boom that they pocketed'. Nevertheless, Omovo, 'shuddering, as if he felt a wind from the future', senses new if difficult possibilities lying before him. It is this sense that the past is not doomed to repeat itself which gives the novel its power.

Gareth Jenkins

Red Shirts and Black

Dave Renton Ruskin College £4

In May 1933 the British Union of Fascists (BUF) had around 100 members in Oxford. They held public meetings introduced by leading members, including William Joyce and Oswald Mosley. They even enjoyed enough support to disrupt a National Unemployed Workers' Movement meeting. Yet, as Dave Renton explains, 'by 1936, the character of Oxford politics was reversed. An isolated left was able to oppose and undermine the formerly confident BUF.' How this turn was to occur is the subject of this pamphlet.

The social composition of the BUF in Oxford reflected the classic fascist pattern: substantially middle class and ex-military, with a more socially marginal membership. 'The typical recruit came from the children of the insecure middle classes, the sons of an artist, a retired company manager, a brigadier and a schoolmaster.' The BUF never made any real inroads in the town. Its main focus was around the university.

This is significant, for as Dave demonstrates, when it came to the strike at Pressed Steel of July 1934 ≠ 'the moment when Oxford became a union town' ≠ not only was the strike successful but the Communist Party was instrumental in that victory. The strike brought together the Communist Party and individuals from the Labour Party and student left in a united front that held joint meetings and raised substantial amounts for the strike fund. Pressed Steel was Oxford's largest industry and all workers' organisations benefited. The TGWU recruited 1,000 members including 100 from the Morris Motors plant where the owner was anti-union and a subscriber to The Patriot, the BUF's paper. He had donated £50,000 to Mosley's New Party, the forerunner of the BUF, in 1931.

The Communist Party was transformed into a party of workers. It had recruited inside the factory including five or six stewards. This was instrumental in organising and mobilising against the BUF.

Dave focuses his pamphlet around 'The Battle of Carfax', a BUF public meeting with Mosley on the platform. The 'battle' has been compared to the Olympia meeting where Mosley tried to pose his organisation as strong and disciplined, capable of 'dealing' with the working class. In the event the brutal handling of hecklers at the hands of the fascists saw Mosley lose, rather than gain, backing ≠ including that of Lord Rothermere who had previously run a front page headline in the Daily Mail, 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts'.

Likewise the Carfax meeting was to address the likes of factory owners, councillors and prominent Conservatives. It ended in disaster for the BUF. The Communist Party demonstrated outside the meeting and was joined by local striking bus workers.

The meeting itself degenerated into a fight. A heckler was 'ejected' but the brutality of the act angered workers who 'were there to defend anyone being "attacked" by stewards.'

The press turned against Mosley. 'Thank God, Oxford is not likely to be impressed by the mechanical bleatings of this gimcrack fencing master.' Dave argues it was the role of the Communist Party and other anti-fascists who organised against the fascists which was key to smashing them. It is such organisation that remains key today. This little pamphlet is an enjoyable read and a useful supplement to the literature available on the fight against fascism in Britain.

Unjum Mirza

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