Issue 205 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1997 Copyright © Socialist Review



Trial and error

The Crucible

Dir: Nicholas Hytner

In 1952 when Arthur Miller wrote his most famous play, The Crucible, the McCarthyite witch hunts were at their height in the US. The hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee were centred on individuals confessing their Communist past and denouncing others as fellow Communists.

The aim was to destroy the American left and trade union organisation. Some of the most prominent of those questioned, however, were film stars, writers and directors. Those who were testified against or refused to testify faced losing any work, being refused permission to travel abroad and even prison.

Miller set out to write a play which condemned the witch hunts and urged people to stand up against them. When he started to research the witch trials which had taken place in the New England town of Salem in 1692, he had just been told by the director Elia Kazan that Kazan had decided to cooperate with the Committee.

The Crucible tells of the accusations of a group of teenage girls who accused dozens of people in Salem of witchcraft, claiming they had seen them with the devil. According to the law of the time, refusal to confess resulted in execution, while confession ­ coupled with the naming of fellow devil worshippers ­ meant that the 'witches' were saved.

In Salem, 19 people were hanged and many more imprisoned before the witch hunt was brought to an end.

The tale centres around a farmer, John Procter, who has had an affair with his servant, the main accuser of witchcraft, Abigail Williams. Abigail hates his wife and wants her dead, so accuses her of witchcraft. Procter himself is accused and first confesses but then retracts his confession and so goes to his death.

This is the story which has been turned into a film by Nicholas Hytner ­ and very successfully. Films of stage plays are notoriously difficult to achieve. The action all too often remains confined effectively to a stage, so giving the film an artificial feel.

This film manages to avoid such a fate. Miller himself wrote the screenplay and effectively cut his play in half. Much of the action takes place outdoors in a sunny village by the sea ­ a very different setting from the one conjured up by the play. The acting is very strong from Daniel Day Lewis as Procter, Winona Ryder as Abigail and the rest of the cast.

Although we are far removed from 17th century Salem and even quite a way from the hysteria of McCarthyism in the early 1950s, the film carries more than historic references. Here we are in a settlement which has seen much political uncertainty. Massachusetts had been without a governor for several years when the witch hunts broke out, following a revolt in 1688 ­ the year of Britain's Glorious Revolution against James II.

There was also growing social differentiation in the colony, shown in the film and play. Procter complains that he no longer visits church regularly because the minister demands too much money and has replaced the pewter candlesticks with gold. One of the main accusers of witchcraft is Thomas Putnam, whose substantial landowning is increased as he buys up land forfeited by his neighbours who are condemned as witches.

We see the power of the rich and of the state in the form of Judge Danforth, who became assistant governor of Massachusetts and who presides over the hearings. He declares his aim that 'the devil shall not rule over one inch of Massachusetts.' In order to achieve this aim, however, 'we need a confession'.

Danforth is prepared to accept the accusations, even though he must have increasing doubts as to their validity. The original investigator of the charges, the Rev Hale from neighbouring Beverly, switches from supporting the investigation to believing that the accusations are false, but his view is rejected by the judges. When Abigail goes to Danforth and accuses Hale's wife of witchcraft, however, Danforth insists that she must be mistaken. He realises that this is really going too far.

The cynicism of the judges extends way past the time when there can be any question of the validity of the charges. Abigail flees but even then the authorities are ever more desperate for confessions to justify their behaviour. They are willing to accept Procter's even though he refuses to incriminate anyone.

His change of heart and death ­ alongside two respectable old women who also refuse to confess ­ is the triumph of principle over political expediency, of standing up against tyranny rather than capitulating to it.

When the play opened in New York it was not an outstanding success. Probably the message was too unpalatable. Miller describes how one night at the end the audience stood for two minutes silence ­ at just the time that Communists Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were being executed in the electric chair for supposed espionage.

Despite the passage of time, the power of Miller's writing has not diminished, as this film shows only too well. The final shot states that the executions stopped because more and more people refused to make false confessions. A recent review of it claimed that this is a weakness, since the witch hunts would have stopped anyway. This subscribes to the fashionably cynical view that nothing people do to protest at injustice has any effect, and that all will be righted in the course of time. Luckily Miller's writing and this film bear witness to the opposite.

Lindsey German

And the bard plays on


Dir: Kenneth Branagh

Looking for Richard

Dir: Al Pacino

Recently there has been a growing enthusiasm for film versions of Shakespeare's plays, with several receiving critical acclaim and commercial success. Two new films, Al Pacino's Looking for Richard and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, both involve an amazing quantity of acting talent. That is, however, one of the few similarities between these two very different approaches to committing Shakespeare to the screen.

Al Pacino was drawn to making his film by his love of the theatre and his desire to make Shakespeare accessible to wider audiences, especially young people.

The film is structured around shots of the cast rehearsing and arguing about different ways of interpreting the play, cut with explanations of the action and leading up to increasingly powerful performances of the key scenes from Richard III. We get a strong flavour of the play, which explores ambition and the limits of people's submission to tyranny.

It is a structure designed to hook a sceptical viewer, to guide them through the barrier of Shakespearean language and intricate plot to the drama and huge range of emotions at the heart of the play. The excitement, imagination and humour necessary to perform Shakespeare shine through. The film also reveals a lot about Al Pacino, who is funny, dynamic and over the top even when he is just being himself. All this adds up to an interesting, original film.

However, Pacino does not exploit all the possibilities that the play's imaginative structure makes possible. Crucially there is not enough discussion of why the play is still capable of moving us, or why Shakespeare's villain still shocks us even though we have witnessed greater horrors than Shakespeare could have imagined. There is no attempt to put Shakespeare in his context at the dawn of capitalist society where a class was emerging which, like Richard, recognised no ties of tradition or affection, but only self advancement at any cost.

If Looking for Richard was made, as Pacino says, in the 'spirit of experimentation', then Kenneth Branagh's four hour, grand scale Hamlet was made along more traditional lines. Richard is constantly bustling and plotting, whereas Hamlet is almost paralysed by events, unsure how to act or who to trust. Hamlet is driven towards madness by his realisation of the corruption, deception and intrigue of those around him.

Hamlet confronts great issues: whether to suffer stoically or revenge himself, his fear of both desire and deceit, the inevitability of death and decay. Thus the play explores these universal human concerns. But like Richard III it also has specific relevance to modern audiences: 'There is something rotten in the state of Denmark', and it is the royal family, destroying itself by its greed, weakness and cruelty, and thus laying the basis of revolt and foreign invasion, in Shakespeare's prophetic vision of ruling class decay.

Branagh's Hamlet has both strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, the 19th century setting gives the play a fresh connection with doomed archdukes and tsars of the last century; Ophelia's unusually explicit sensuality gives extra meaning to her later madness and most of the acting is very good. On the down side, Branagh's direction is occasionally dizzying, but more often pedestrian, and there are too many lingering indulgent close-ups of Branagh himself. And yet despite these criticisms, and the hostility that Kenneth Branagh arouses in many people, it is worth seeing this film. Whatever weaknesses there are, they do not obscure the power and beauty of the language and the drama and emotion of the play.

Judy Cox

Caught in the swamp


Dir: Patrice Leconte

As discontent with politicians, businessmen and the whole sorry mess grows apace, Patrice Leconte's stylish costume drama Ridicule dissects the dynamics of a decaying ruling class that cries out for comparisons with the present.

Appalled that the local peasants are succumbing to pestilence and disease, the idealistic Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling) seeks a royal commission for his ambitious engineering project draining the Dombes area of France. His plans take a knock when he finds Louis XVI's court at Versailles to be a moral swamp every bit as foul as the marshlands of his home.

The year is 1780 and the nobility have congealed into an unpleasant scab on French society, cut off from the masses who support them and are positively gagging for a revolution. Privileges are a scarce commodity and those who seek to stay in favour are forced to jump though intellectual hoops to impress the king and his bored aristocrats. Savage competition results in lives made or broken according to how well the social climbing elite can navigate their way around invisible but deadly codes. A single elegant put-down means elevation to legendary status, while the dull witted fall prey to the ridicule of the film's title and plummet from starry heights in an instant.

Once he has gained entry, Ponceludon chips away at the system but is literally seduced by it in the form of the ruthless courtesan, Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant). While she devours him, life outside the court is put on hold as he forgets why he is there in the first place.

The sole member of the court who doesn't function as if he is outside history ­ and whose awareness eventually leads him to escape to England with his head intact even if it means putting up with the dreaded English humour ­ is Ponceludon's newly acquired sponsor, the Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort), also an enlightened doctor. His daughter, Mathilde (Judith Godreche), has been 'born in the age of Rousseau' and so provides more than just the love interest of the story.

Dedicated to her scientific learning, Mathilde provides a healthy counterweight to the self-indulgent fripperies of the court. What makes her even more of a heroine is that she sees the system as corrupt beyond mere repair and it is her outlook that helps restore Ponceludon's integrity, purpose and perspective in time for the revolution in 1789.

Ridicule is the latest in a string of French successes including Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources and Germinal, able to grip and move at the same time as saying something of significance. Helped by Remi Waterhouse's clever script, Leconte's accomplished movie won recognition as an official selection at the 1996 Cannes film festival. They have given us a cautionary tale for anyone with hope of changing the system from the inside, and as good an argument for revolution over reform as you can get.

Anna Chen


The beat is on

Popular dance is currently enjoying huge success. Riverdance, with its fusion of Irish, flamenco, tap and Eastern European dance has attracted a live audience of over 1.5 million. Now flamenco is set for wider exposure. Flamenco's shared roots with Middle Eastern and Indian dance with which it has striking similarities are obvious. It flourished in Andalucia in southern Spain which still bears Moorish influence 500 years after the reconquest by the Catholic kings.

Yet flamenco as we know it is little more than 130 years old. It arose in the working class singing cafes of southern cities like Málaga, Sevilla and Cádiz at a time of rapid social change. In a process not unlike the development of jazz and blues, performers reached back into an old cultural form to create new means of articulating the experience of urban workers, many only recently torn from their rural roots.

Féderico García Lorca ­ the great Spanish poet and dramatist ­ was struck by the similarities between black music and dance and flamenco when he visited New York in 1930. After seeing the legendary tap dancer Bo Jangles he described dance as 'the art of the oppressed'. Whilst never formally repressed, the vitality of flamenco was at odds with the stultifying conservatism of Franco's regime, adding to it a flavour of resistance.

Flamenco binds guitarist, dancer and singer to each other in a tightly disciplined structure dominated by the highly complex syncopated rhythms to which each contributes. Like jazz, brilliant individual improvisation builds on this structure. The dance brings to life desires and passions that clash with the social structures in which they arise. Most famously this concerns sexual feeling, for the vibrant expression of which flamenco is renowned. Perhaps most striking is the powerful representation of female sexuality. But flamenco does not depend solely on its young stars. Nearly all the great singing, and some of the most poignant dance, comes from older performers who rely not on pyrotechnics, but on profound expressions of 'duende' ­ what Lorca described as 'the emotions awakened in the deepest dwellings of blood, the emotion of all that is dark'.

In the tension between desire and the social norms that frustrate it, Lorca saw tragedy and death. Two flamenco masterpieces, Blood Wedding and Carmen, collaborations between film maker Carlos Saura and dancer Antonio Gades, that demonstrate this, are available on video. For a taste of live flamenco check out veteran guitarist Paco Peña's dance company ­ a night of flamenco is rarely less than memorable.

John McLoughlin

Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company is playing at Sadlers Wells, London, 4-23 February


Dark side of life

Dark Odyssey

'Class division flourished in Britain and continues to do so. The restless many struggle in imposed poverty while the opulent few are firmly in control of their own destinies. Everywhere wealth is concentrated in fewer hands than ever while the population is duped into believing the converse.'

'In war, truth is almost inevitably the first casualty. Lies are as indispensable as ammunition.'

These are a few of the captions written by and accompanying the photographs of Philip Jones Griffiths, currently on display in Cardiff. 'Dark Odyssey' traces Griffiths' view of the dark side of the great postwar boom ­ from his working class roots in south Wales, through the horrors of American imperialism in South East Asia, to the impact of Western 'civilisations' on the few remaining undeveloped areas of the world.

The images of American imperialism from Vietnam to Grenada and the Gulf form the core of this exhibition. The captions take you into the pictures themselves...the little boy chained to a bed, mad since his mother was shot down by a US helicopter gunship as she held him in her arms...the woman crying alone in a field accompanied by the quote from US General Westmoreland, 'The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as the Westerner ­ life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient.' These, and many others, make it hard to drag your eyes away from the personal tragedies of America's bloody wars.

Other areas are covered: Northern Ireland, the anti-nuclear movement, the disempowering effect of religions ­ all from a standpoint of both anger and humanity. Photography has contributed some of the most horrific and most inspiring images of our times ­ like the lone protester standing up against Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square ­ and Griffiths' work stands in this tradition.

Socialists should see the exhibition. It is a timely reminder of the reality of what US intervention around the world really means. It is also a graphic reminder of why we must change the world.

Neil Harrison

Dark Odyssey is at the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff, until 2 March


House of horrors

The White Devil

by John Webster

The first performance of Jacobean playwright John Webster's play The White Devil was held at the Red Bull in Clerkenwell in 1612.

Unlike the present version of the play, which you can see at the Barbican, it was not well received. In fact it was such a flop that Webster was stung into penning an attack on the venue and 'those ignorant asses' who made up the audience. Ever since that time The White Devil, and its author, has split the critics. Bernard Shaw dismissed Webster as 'Tussaud laureate' but the poet Swinburne compared Webster favourably to Dante and Shakespeare.

After seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company's excellent production of the play you have to come down on Swinburne's side ­ this is a striking piece of drama that resonates with contemporary themes. The plot, as befitting a Jacobean tragedy, is labyrinthine and gory to the extreme. Webster based The White Devil on a true story.

In 1585 a juicy piece of gossip broke about bloody goings on in Rome. The Duke of Brachiano had lusted after the wife of the nephew of reigning Pope Sixtus. But Vittoria refused his advances and so Brachiano had her husband murdered. Having got the husband out of the way Brachiano again approached Vittoria, but again she refused him because he was a married man. So the duke, obviously not one to be deterred, had his own wife disposed of. At that point Vittoria finally agreed to marry her pursuer. This whole affair set in motion a Tarantino style bloodbath that put paid to the ill starred pair and all those associated with them.

Watching the production it reminds you of nothing so much as those Mafia stories where the transgressors are horribly murdered, followed by their entire family and associates, and the bodies disposed of in various imaginative ways.

Webster heightened the original story. He makes Vittoria into an adulteress and willing accomplice to Brachiano's murderous deeds. Indeed in an early scene in the play Vittoria, while in the duke's arms, urges him on to kill her husband. Webster also adds another character, an amoral fixer for the pair, in the guise of Vittoria's wayward and penniless brother Flamineo. Webster's times were full of morality tales, by which those who attempted to upend the established order of things were punished with death and sent packing straight to hell.

On the surface The White Devil seems to conform to this worldview. Brachiano, Vittoria and Flamineo all meet bloody ends. And so society has purged itself and the hierarchy of the established order reasserts itself all the stronger.

But in The White Devil all is not what it seems. In fact Webster succeeds in subverting the order of things. The tragic figures are not kings, princes or lords, they are Vittoria, a woman labelled as a whore, and Flamineo, a minor court figure, dissolute rogue and murderer.

The court (especially the papacy) is portrayed as rotten to the core. Although there is an outward show of high morality, every figure of power is corrupt. For instance the Cardinal Monticelso, who later becomes pope, conducts a kangaroo trial against Vittoria.

In a magnificent scene Vittoria, helpless but defiant before the cardinal, conducts her own defence ­ charging the court itself with immorality. 'Yes you have ravished justice, forced her to do your pleasure,' she accuses Monticelso.

Webster shows us a woman literally sold into a loveless marriage. Her attempt to break out of the constrictions of her allotted role forces her to transgress the moral code and to rely on intrigue, desperate measures and the actions of others.

We know that Vittoria is doomed to suffer the ultimate penalty. But Webster makes it clear that those with power are not fit to judge her. We later find out that Cardinal Monticelso has a black book of every corrupt official, petty criminal and hitman in the city. The inference is that he uses all these people to get his way and dispose of his opponents.

What springs to mind are today's corridors of power, today's dictators, today's hypocrites, bigots and warmongers and the faceless men that do their bidding.

By the end of the play you sympathise with the white devils ­ Vittoria and Flamineo ­ despite all they have done. They have fallen because they have no power in a world where power defines 'morality'. Vittoria and Flamineo are the only recognisably human figures. Webster deliberately fleshes out their characters, giving them all the grand sweep of emotions usually reserved for portrayals of ruling class figures.

We find nobility in unexpected quarters. As Vittoria says to her accusers, 'Know this, and let it somewhat raise your spite, "Through darkness diamonds spread their richest light".'

The Barbican production has the pace of a modern thriller, which makes the play very accessible. And the smallness of the Barbican's studio theatre helps conjure up the dark intensity of this turbulent play.

Hassan Mahamdallie

The White Devil is at the Barbican, London, until 29 March

Home sweet home

The Homecoming

by Harold Pinter

The character of Ruth in this modern drama has troubled critics over three decades since The Homecoming was first produced in London in 1965.

What sense can be made of this character? She arrives with her lecturer husband Teddy to meet his family. Loathsome and cruel father, Max, Uncle Sam and brothers Lenny and Joey all live together in the family home in North London. Cool and reserved, Ruth deflects razor-sharp Lenny's menacing interrogation, reduces Joey to a painful and embarrassed silence and keeps Teddy at arm's length with his patronising and pathetic protectiveness. She remains silent and detached when Max calls her a 'tart' and shows no fear as he lashes out in violence when anyone dares challenge him.

However, by the end of the play, she has had open sexual contact with both Lenny and Joey and elects to stay with the family and work as a prostitute to support them, leaving Teddy to return home alone. There are hints of mental breakdown, of her unhappiness as an academic wife, and of a past job as an erotic model. But none of this turns Ruth into a character as believable as the male characters in this powerful exploration of male rivalry, sexuality, bullying, violence and the suffocating resentments of family life.

In this production Keith Allen transforms Teddy from an insufferable bore into an almost sympathetically hopeless and ineffectual character. He's developed a successful career in another country. His life is apparently worlds away from the claustrophobia of the home where he grew up. But the moment he walks back into the house, after many years absence, he is derided by his father, viciously taunted by Lenny and irritated by Uncle Sam's unwanted adoration. When he first arrives he is delighted to find that his key still fits the lock and his bedroom is unused. As time goes on, he discovers that it really is as though he's never been away.

An important aspect of Pinter's work is revealing the distortions of human relationships through the language of the everyday. So familiar phrases and clichés take on a sinister quality through repetition, truncation and intimations of intimacy. The jokes are funny and frequent but they escalate rather than release tension, provoking an atmosphere of horror.

This production is impressive, with a fascinatingly dingy set and a brilliant cast. Watching the play is a compelling, chilling and occasionally baffling experience.

Nicola Field

The Homecoming plays in repertory at the National Theatre, London


The centre cannot hold

The French National Front

Harvey G Simmons Western Press £13.50

France's National Front poses the most serious threat of the Nazi parties which have grown in Europe in recent years. Its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen got 15 percent of the vote in the 1995 presidential election. In municipal elections the same year the National Front won 1,075 local councillors. In three towns in the south of the country, Orange, Marignane and Toulon, National Front members became mayor.

Le Pen routinely appears on the television and radio. National Front events and demonstrations often take place with little direct opposition. The Front has also begun to establish wider roots in local housing and tenants' groups, established its own organisations inside the police and prison union, and even taken similar initiatives in more orthodox trade unions too.

Though Le Pen is as yet a long way from the possibility of taking power, he and his party are a real threat. In this context Harvey Simmons's new book is welcome. Simmons has done serious work from which everyone who wants to understand and so better fight Le Pen can benefit. It is the most informative book yet to appear in English on France's Nazis.

Le Pen's career is charted in detail. It begins with his days as a young Nazi thug with a reputation for street fighting. It continues through his role in the right wing Poujadist movement in the 1950s and his involvement in torture while in the French army during the brutal colonial war in Algeria. Le Pen even flirted with right wing forces plotting a military coup to overthrow de Gaulle, the French leader who eventually realised Algeria had to be given up. Years of patient work in the then fringe world of Nazi groups culminated in Le Pen founding the National Front in 1972.

Simmons also records all the key statements by Le Pen and his supporters, from the infamous reference to the Holocaust as a 'detail' of history to other less well known but equally chilling comments.

The book charts how the National Front moved from being a small fringe group to make a breakthrough in the early 1980s. This came when the Socialist Party government betrayed its promises of reform and turned on the people who looked to it for some improvement in their lives.

The speed of that breakthrough was dramatic. In 1981 Le Pen failed even to secure enough signatures to stand in the presidential election. Within two years Nazi candidates began to be elected to councils.

Simmons also shows how France's Tory parties have been prepared to make deals, and outright alliances, with the National Front. The detailed material presented here is a powerful argument against anyone who thinks the Tories can be relied on to stop the rise of the Nazis.

The second part of the book examines in some detail the ideas and organisation of the National Front, and the strategies its leaders have followed to build the influence of both. Much of this material is again fascinating. The centrality of anti-Semitism to the ideas of Le Pen and his supporters is convincingly demonstrated.

One of the most interesting sections deals with the ideological war the Nazis have waged. Key National Front leaders like Le Pen's deputy Bruno Megret have worked with real success, and often alongside right wing Tories, inside a range of intellectual 'clubs' to make Nazi ideas more acceptable in society.

But though Simmons's book is very useful, and often excellent, there are some serious weaknesses. One is that he shies away from labelling Le Pen and the National Front as the Nazis they are. To be fair, he comes as close as possible without actually saying it, but that last step is important.

He also repeats the claim that Le Pen won more votes from workers than anyone else in the 1995 presidential election. According to exit type polls 27 percent of voters who called themselves 'manual workers' had voted for Le Pen, compared with the 21 percent of such voters who said they had voted for the Socialist Party candidate, Lionel Jospin. This omits entirely that 15 percent of manual workers who voted for the Communist Party candidate Robert Hue, and a further 7 percent for the revolutionary socialist Lutte Ouvrière candidate Arlette Laguiller. So 42 percent of manual workers, as compared to Le Pen's 27 percent, backed left wing candidates.

Simmons also flirts with the notion that Le Pen's 'worker' voters are often former Socialist or Communist voters. Yet recent studies such as that by French political scientist Henri Rey conclude that such claims are simply 'without foundation'.

Simmons starts from a notion that the best possible form of society is a liberal, pluralist democracy ­ with the unstated assumption that capitalism and the market go hand in hand with this. Anyone who challenges this is seen as an 'extremist' ­ hence the subtitle of the book, 'the extremist challenge to democracy'. This leads him to equate right wing 'extremism' with left wing opposition to the existing order.

He does not grasp that it is the very liberal democratic system, and the capitalism that he simply takes for granted, that inevitably produce the social conditions which breed Nazis.

There is little or no discussion of the National Front's attitude to workers, strikes and organisations such as trade unions. This is not difficult to find and its omission reflects Simmons's views rather than Le Pen's silence on the subject. The strike wave in France last December was denounced by Le Pen as the 'revolt of the privileged' and he demanded that the leaders of the two main trade union federations be jailed.

Simmons's answer to how the Front can be broken is to reinforce a 'centre ground' that in the vice of social crisis simply cannot hold. So there is no discussion of the fact that despite Le Pen's attack on last year's strikes a majority of those who had voted for him only a few months earlier also backed those strikes. This holds one of the keys to breaking Le Pen. The other lies in the kind of mass confrontation with the Front which Simmons would no doubt consider 'extremist'.

Thankfully recent months have shown signs, with a rash of large anti Le Pen protests such as the 20,000 strong march in Grenoble before Christmas, that French workers and anti-racists may have a better understanding of how to beat the Nazis.

Paul McGarr

A tour of capitals

Collected works vol 35: Capital vol 1

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Lawrence & Wishart £45

This volume brings closer to completion one of the most ambitious and rewarding publishing ventures of the century ­ the production in a uniform edition of everything that Marx and Engels ever wrote, for the first time enabling English speaking readers to study in depth the development and ramifications of their ideas.

But this particular volume is not the best buy if you simply want to get hold of Capital. It reprints a translation that has long been available, more cheaply, from Lawrence and Wishart, with the one addition of a chapter Marx himself decided not to publish but which is available elsewhere.

The translation was carried out just over a century ago under the personal supervision of Frederick Engels by his friend Samuel Moore, and Edward Aveling, for many years the partner of Marx's daughter Eleanor. A second translation was made in the 1920s by Eden and Cedar Paul and published by Everyman, but was in no way an improvement on Moore/Aveling. Finally, in the 1970s, Penguin produced yet a third translation, by Ben Foulkes.

Foulkes claimed he produced his translation to update the English in the Moore/Aveling translations and to restore some of 'the German philosophical terms repeatedly used by Marx'. Foulkes complains Moore and Aveling 'watered down' these on the advice of Engels so as to make the work more popular with an English speaking readership.

Unfortunately, Foulkes himself did not improve on the Moore/Aveling edition any more than the Pauls did. Comparing text for text, the Moore/Aveling one flows marginally better. As for Engels' alleged popularisation, it was Marx himself who amended the first German edition so as to make the work more accessible to workers intent on obtaining a serious scientific understanding. And some of Foulkes' translations in fact obscure rather than clarify ­ as when he translates the German verb meaning 'to expand in value' by a French word which does not exist in English, 'valorisation', rather than the absolute clear expression used by Moore, with Engels' assistance, 'the self expansion of value'. The issue is not trivial, since for Marx 'self expansion of value' is the motive that leads capital to enter into production, and to translate this as 'valorisation' is to mystify the process completely.

What is more, Foulkes's habit of putting the original German in brackets at various points can simply add to the widespread prejudice that Capital is an intrinsically difficult work to understand ­ although, in fact, it is much easier to follow than virtually any standard textbook of bourgeois economics.

There are two abbreviated editions of Capital which attempt to make it easier still ­ an OUP paperback edition by the non-Marxist Marx expert David McLellan and a Student's Capital from Lawrence and Wishart by the Marxist Chris Arthur. Both prune sections of the Moore/Aveling translation. Arthur also removes the footnotes, while McLellan puts them in an appendix.

Some people argue that any cutting back of Marx's text is sacrilege and has to be opposed. The omitted passages and footnotes are important to anybody who wants to study the development of Marx's thought in relation to the 18th and 19th century tradition of 'classical' political economy. But they do tend to bog down readers not acquainted with a tradition that is rarely taught today.

Both editors do succeed in making the task of approaching Capital a little easier. But Arthur's introduction is not for the first timer, since it adopts a philosophic language that many will find difficult to follow, whereas the non-Marxist McLellan does outline quite well what Marx attempted to do.

Welcome the collected works edition of Capital as part of a great scholarly enterprise. But shop elsewhere if you want to get hold of the book for the first time.

Chris Harman

Malthus and mammals

The Song of the Dodo

David Quammen Hutchinson £20

The Song of the Dodo takes us on a wonderful journey through the development of island biogeography from its early pioneers such as Darwin and Wallace to its latest theories. Quammen illustrates evolution in action with many examples such as the tenrecs who are an extraordinary family of small mammals, related to the otter shrews of Africa, but only found in Madagascar. They have adapted to every habitat niche possible, thus avoiding direct competition with each other.

Quammen shows how the creationist argument fell apart as naturalists such as Darwin and Wallace discovered more and more species.

'God had supposedly stopped creating after the sixth day. But now as the wider world opened to the taking of a more thorough biological inventory, it seemed that God had stayed busier than anyone had dreamed.'

He also describes the wonder and scepticism with which people, during the early days of capitalism, encountered new species such as the Australian wallaby, 'a large pouched mammal in upright posture, bouncing around on two oversized feet, with a face like a deer and ears like a rabbit.'

Quammen creates a picture of an ecosystem as a complex of interrelationships between its various components. He laments the loss of species, investigating particular individual stories, such as that of the dodo.

Quammen tells us the story of Tasmania and the effects of European colonisation. He describes how the Tasmanian thylacine was hunted to extinction after being accused of killing sheep. He exposes the absolute brutality of the colonial ruling classes in their genocide of the Tasmanian Aborigines. This was done in order to destroy the Aborigines' claim on the land.

But the book is very pessimistic. Quammen is cynical about humanity and blames overpopulation and human nature for an imminent sixth 'mass extinction'. He offers no solution other than individual self sacrifice.

'The number of children you produce, the number of miles you drive, and your yearning for a home in the country...all have their impacts on jeopardised populations of other species and on the cohesiveness of ecosystems.'

This book gives Malthus a new coat. Not only is human population outstripping resources but we are outstripping land availability.

Quammen concentrates on examples of species under threat and the reasons associated with this. For him it is a problem of education and awareness. He does not look at, for example, the robbery of South American Indians' land so that big business can clear forests for timber and cattle grazing; the impact of big business and uranium mining on American Indian land; the impact of Shell in Nigeria; the waste of food by dumping and burning it in order to keep prices up. All these activities are backed up by governments and laws which support the capitalists in their freedom to exploit and destroy resources where and how they please.

Fiona Prior

Double standards

The unknown Lenin

Ed: Richard Pipes Yale University Press £18.50

The archives, AJP Taylor used to say, have few real secrets. Anyone reading this collection of some 120 documents from the closed Lenin archive in the hope of finding something dramatic is likely to agree with him. This, however, is not how the book is presented by its editor ­ Richard Pipes, the notorious right wing historian of Russia. He sees the book as proving that Lenin was worse than Stalin ­ his favourite son; that he had plans for the armed conquest of Germany and Britain in 1920; that he was a cynical mass murderer.

In an introduction Buranov ­ the head of the Moscow archive which provided Pipes with most of the material ­ says that 'the interpretation of the documents is a matter of the creative and scholarly assessment' of Pipes. 'Creative' the interpretation certainly is. scholarly is another matter.

It would need a very long review to correct every point, so I will take just a few. First, a letter from June 1918 to 'an unidentified person' in which Lenin, panicking that Baku might fall to the enemy, says that the Bolshevik supporters would be prepared to burn the city to the ground in the event of attack. For Pipes such a call is 'reminiscent of the age of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane', which calls forth at least four comments. First, what is the status of the document given to 'an unknown person'? Secondly, since Baku was never burned to the ground Pipes clearly has difficulty in distinguishing the thought from the deed. Thirdly, the tactic sounds very much like a standard tactic in modern warfare and hardly one that Pipes can condemn unless he also wishes to condemn Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and other consummations in flames of towns and their populations which did happen. But fourthly, delicious irony, he appears completely unaware that the British force in Baku was also instructed to torch the oilfields, which would not have left much of Baku itself, not in a letter 'to an unknown person' but in an official instruction from Whitehall.

Take another claim ­ that Lenin demanded the exclusion of Jews from the Ukrainian government in 1919 and that this followed the practice of the viciously anti-semitic Whites. Firstly, the relevant part of the document concerned does not refer to the Ukrainian government but 'government agencies'. Secondly, it ought to be clear from the context of the document that the fear is that the middle class and petty bourgeoisie will evade military service and economic work through getting safe positions in the state apparatus. Thirdly, lest there be any doubt that the document might be an attack on Jews as a whole, Lenin himself corrected it to read not 'treat the Jews' but 'treat the Jewish petty bourgeoisie and urban inhabitants in the Ukraine with an iron rod...under class control.'

Three other points are worth making. Firstly, in the former Eastern bloc the image of Lenin was closer to that of Mother Teresa than a revolutionary. Therefore the evidence that brutal decisions had to be taken in brutal situations has been far more shocking than it has been in the West to those well aware of the horrors of international and civil war. Secondly, to maintain this image Soviet historians and archivists simply mined sources for every positive quote, stripped of context, that fitted their needs. Now Lenin as icon is dethroned they pursue exactly the same approach: source mining and context stripping for all the bad things. Pipes endorses this approach and demonstrates a similar inability to distinguish between source mining, genuine research and documentary presentation.

Finally, why were these documents kept secret so long if there is so little in them? Pipes provides the answer in his introduction when he quotes a 1990 decision of the previous regime in Russia to keep the documents secret ­ namely that as well as contradicting the image of Lenin as icon they might disrupt the foreign relations of the USSR as so many are concerned with revolutionary 'subversion'. For socialists this is hardly a shocking thing. It was only for the leaders of a conservative state that had grown up on the basis of the destruction of the revolution from below that some of these documents remained an embarrassment.

Mike Haynes

Moving pictures

Danziger's Britain: a Journey to the Edge

Nick Danziger Harper Collins £18

Danziger's Britain is a compelling piece of social documentary and photography investigating the lives of working class communities.

It contains shocking accounts such as that of the elderly who are forced to sell their prescribed drugs to supplement their meagre pensions in Glasgow.

It also highlights the increasing gulf between 'the haves and the have nots.' He draws parallels with the time of Charles Dickens where he saw in the inner cities children as young as 12 years old forced to work or steal in order to eat.

The chapter on Halifax was particularly poignant given the recent debate over the Ridings school and exclusions. With very few contacts, Danziger relies on chance meetings. He quickly gains their confidence illustrated by the often sensitive, sometimes comical, photographs. Through interviews with one of his ex art students there is a vivid description of life on the estates with people desperate to escape the 'orgy of destruction'.

The collapse of industry, mainly the mills, has meant unemployment is twice the national average. School kids are left with the ever increasing reality of a jobless future. He describes why the young turn to crime: 'Breaking windows was not just a means of venting their anger, their sense of exclusion and bitterness at how they had been failed, but a sign of their resolve to be counted and noticed.'

Danziger makes a clear case against exclusions arguing that the market is to blame for the crisis in education, not the teachers or the students.

The market, especially the global economy, features largely in his analysis of the immiseration of the British working class. Danziger lays the blame with the system rather than the individual. However, he falls into the trap of romanticising the past. He glorifies workers' struggle and collectivity to the extent that his analysis is reduced to a defeated and divided working class. High unemployment and the destruction of traditional British industry have created whole communities that he argues have been 'de-classed'.

Further he believes in the concept that communities have been thrown into a cultural abyss, with a new cultural identity being formed through the negative influences of drugs and alcohol. These conclusions are formed by cynicism arrived at through a lack of understanding of the changing nature of the working class.

Danziger's book concentrates on the old manufacturing industries, ignoring, for instance, the growth of service industries which now bear the brunt of the bosses' attacks. He sees his subjects as victims instead of people who have the potential to change and shape the world.

There is a contradiction in his writings. So for example he is surprised to find youth in an ex-mining town in south Wales where there is 95 percent unemployment describe how they kick the Ku Klux Klan out of their town.

Danziger's Britain is a chilling indictment of 18 years of Tory rule. In the sentiment of one Glaswegian, 'There'll be anarchy... I hope there'll be trouble. I'm all for a revolution!'

Jess Hurd

New dynasty for old

God's Chinese son

Jonathan Spence Harper Collins £20.00

(paperback edition £9.99, due in May)

The Taiping rebellion of 1850 to 1864 was the greatest mass uprising of the 19th century, yet its history is little known today. Jonathan Spence's book is to be welcomed for providing a clear and detailed history of the rebellion.

Rural rebellions were endemic in imperial China, but the Taipings' dwarfed all others in its scale. At the height of their power they controlled most of five provinces in central-south China (an area bigger than France and Germany combined), and their capital at Nanjing held out against the imperial armies for 11 years.

Hong Xiuquan, the Taiping leader, was a Christian convert who became convinced that he was the son of God (hence the title). By 1850, his cult had built up a substantial following in northern Guangxi province, where the rebellion began.

The causes of the rebellion are unclear, but its roots lay in the economic crisis and general lawlessness that had engulfed China since the 1840-42 Opium War with Britain.

The opium trade and growing Western influence led to great economic disruption in what was already one of the poorest areas of China. Local militias, bandit groups and secret societies all vied for greater power and skirmished constantly with imperial armies. Hong's religious sect were prime targets for persecution.

Armed confrontations escalated until the sect was forced into open rebellion. After initial setbacks their progress was stunning. Within six months, an army of some 40,000 had crossed a bleak mountain range to reach the Yangtse River Valley, and advanced swiftly up the river, recruiting heavily as they went.

Though at first they were simply fleeing repression, by the time they reached the Yangtse, Hong had a clear aim: to take Nanjing, China's ancient capital. This they achieved in 1853.

That was their high point. By 1860 China's rulers, aided by Western arms, had the upper hand, though it took them until 1864 to finally defeat the Taipings. It was a hollow victory. The cost of the war and the sheer devastation it caused only deepened China's crisis.

The Taipings are often described as a peasant movement, but this isn't strictly accurate. Large numbers of their followers were rural workers and from market towns.

Small scale capitalism had been growing fast in China over the previous 100 years, uprooting people from the land. The impact of Western imperialism greatly accelerated this process, and it was the combination of impoverishment and fears of rapid and uncertain change that provided a mass audience among the poor for the taipings and the secret societies.

But the Taipings brought nothing better. Their society was a dictatorship whose laws looked back to the oldest Chinese dynasty. Although they drew on a deep hatred for the existing system, they offered nothing more than a change of dynasty.

Jonathan Spence is among the most stimulating of Chinese historians, but he is not primarily concerned with social history. His primary focus is the Taipings' ideas, which he discusses at great length. While this is useful for understanding the leaders' inspiration, he doesn't look at what their ideology really meant to the hundreds of thousands of people who followed them. As a result, the origins of the rebellion and the ideas behind it remain rather disconnected.

For all that, it's well worth reading. But this is not just ancient history. Once again south central China is undergoing rapid economic and social changes which are impoverishing many people. And once again religious groups and secret societies are recruiting among the poorest and most desperate people in the region. Of course history will not repeat itself, but the example of the Taipings shows how much China's rulers have to fear from rural rebellions.

Charlie Hore

Under the skin

Travels in the Skin Trade ­ Tourism and the Sex Industry

Jeremy Seabrook Pluto £9.99

Ever since American GIs stationed in Vietnam visited Bangkok for 'rest and recreation', a media image has been created of a Thai economy based on sex tourism. In this, his latest book, Jeremy Seabrook cuts through this image and attempts to untangle the complex social and economic forces that have created and maintained the Thai sex industry.

Seabrook spent three years getting to know those in the sex industry, and aims his anger not at individuals but at an economic system that creates devastation both in whole societies and individual lives.

The book is best when those involved in the sex industry speak at length about their lives and the situation they find themselves in. Both tourists and workers are interviewed, as are academics and activists in local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) giving support and advice to sex workers.

Accounts of the impact of HIV/AIDS in Thailand are chilling, with official predictions of between two and four million people being HIV-positive by the end of the century.

If the lives of those in the book are tragic, then the conclusions Seabrook draws are downright depressing. There is no hope in this book. Even the services set up by activists in the NGOs are clearly just sticking plaster trying to mend gaping wounds. The basis of Seabrook's analysis is that the Thai sex industry is a product of the inequalities of North and South, with poor Thais attempting merely to survive in the face of social disintegration created by economic development. Neither the Thai nor western governments are interested in doing anything about it.

This is a common theme of Seabrook's books and articles, in which he presents the poor only as victims and looks back to an idealised rural past. While there is no disputing the impact of economic changes on the lives and communities of the rural poor and urban workers, this analysis misses the collective power and interest that these groups have in fighting back.

Seabrook originally went to Bangkok to study the processes of industrialisation and migration in Thailand, which also feature in the opening chapters of the book. He writes about the squalid conditions that workers endure in the factories and in their tenement blocks, but not about their struggles.

There is no mention of the week of street fighting in May 1992 that saw workers, students and NGO activists bring down the government of General Suchinda Kraprayoon.

At a time when workers in the 'Asian Tiger' economies are in revolt, the 11 million workers of Thailand have the power to surprise Jeremy Seabrook and offer a solution to the horrors and misery depicted in this book.

Andy Player

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