The diary of Anne Frank is one of the most enduring voices of the Jews to come from the Second World War. It is the journal of a Dutch girl, starting from her 13th birthday, shortly before she and her family were forced into hiding from the Nazi invasion. Along with her parents and her sister she shared a tiny annexe of rooms above a factory with four other Jewish people.
The diary chronicles the period, from wearing the yellow star and gradually being barred from trams, cinemas and cafes to the fear of being called up to the camps, and the years of confinement and dread. What is so impressive about this book is how normal and enthusiastic a teenager Anne was despite the restrictions on her life. Her quarrels with her parents and everyone else, a preoccupation with how she appeared to others, a developing awareness of her physical changes and her sexuality are all expressed in such a blunt and honest way that the diaries are also a monument to adolescence. In the new version some of the entries referring to her sexuality and arguments with her parents have been put back in. They only add to the sense of a young girl writing down her life as it happens.
The strain of living under a microscope, as it were, with seven others who have little other stimulus but food and each other, also had an effect on the writings. Anne described the endless squabbles, the diet of dried beans and potatoes, the studies they all did to pass the time, the timed silence in the annexe so that they would not be heard while others were in the building. Anne's talent as a writer and her humorous optimism mean that this never becomes boring.
Anne also experienced the emotional turmoil of seeing her friends being marched to certain death and being unable to help. Living in squalor with next to nothing to eat, she battled with guilt over whether those hiding were lucky or impoverished. You see Anne growing and changing her perspective on the war, the future, her life. When the war was drawing to a close and the Allies started to sweep across Europe, Anne was writing about what she would do after the war, her future education and career. It still comes as a shock when the diaries are cut off so abruptly.
The gaping hole at the end, where another life was crushed by fascism, is a devastating reminder of the Holocaust. In the absence of a voice, the unthinkable is what we are left with. This is where the video of Anne's life takes over.
It starts by going over the facts of Anne's life. It shows the actual annexe that the Franks lived in and talks to her schoolfriends who survived. But it also follows what happened to everyone in the annexe. Survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen who were there at the same time as the Franks share their experiences. One woman, Hanneli, was a schoolfriend of Anne's and was sent to the camps before her. Anne dreamed of her starving and pleading for help. Actually Hanneli was not dead. She was one of the last people to speak to Anne.
The video is incredibly moving, and a useful postscript to the book. But it has its omissions. It interviews Miep Gies, who did everything she could for the annexe dwellers, supplying their food, bringing news and books and generally keeping their spirits up. But it barely mentions that 25,000 Jews were kept in hiding in Amsterdam during the warby people who could have been killed for sheltering them. Nor does it mention that there was a general strike in Amsterdam when the first trainload of Jews was sent to the camps, with the strikers only being forced back to work by the army.
Anne Frank's wish was that she would be remembered for her writings. She has achieved that.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, edited by Otto Frank and Mirjam Pressler, is published by Penguin £4.99. The video Anne Frank Remembered, directed by Jon Blair, costs £12.99
Go to see David Hare's new play for a witty, literate evening's entertainment. His story of the relationship between actress Esme Allen (Judi Dench) and her daughter Amy (Samantha Bond) over 16 years is brilliantly acted.
Much of the humour comes from the relationship between Esme and Dominic (Eoin McCarthy), the man Amy marries. From 1979, the year in which the first scene is set, Dominic progresses from innocent if pretentious film student to Thatcherite yuppie media star to 1990s maker of Tarantino-type movies. But humorous though these encounters often are, it is also with this relationship that the play's central failure occurs. The interaction between Esme and Dominic is where Hare pursues the central theme of the playthat high art, in particular theatre, is superior to popular art, in particular television.
Esme's seriousness and sincerity is contrasted with Dominic's superficiality and greed. When Esme's investments in Lloyds collapse and she is forced into appearing in a television medical soap, the same point is rammed hometelevision is tasteless trash.
This theme is not only well worn but it is also unexpectedly poorly treated by Hare. He seems unwilling even to grant the minimal defence of popular culturethat some of it is very good and that some theatre is as shallow and disposable as the worst television soap.
Think what would have happened to the coherence of his argument, for instance, if Esme's move to TV had involved her with projects such as The Jewel in the Crown or Hillsborough. Or if her return to the theatre had landed her in Cats. Hare's polemic would have ground to a halt with these elementary objections.
Hare's obsession with this particularly shallow version of this debate is one problem with the play, as self-referential as Dominic's art critic.
This broader discussion, taken fragmentarily throughout the play, revolves around the degree to which people have control over their own lives. Hare's left-wing sympathies have certainly abated to the extent that he summarily dismisses the idea that struggle and protest might be a way for people to assert control over their lives.
The language of 1970s agit-prop theatre makes an incongruous return in this most middle class setting when Amy suggests to her mother that 'fighting back', 'forming a protest group' or 'joining a picket line' might help her to fight the ruin that she has endured as a Lloyd's name. Esme's reply, one of the funniest lines of the evening, definitively closes off the prospect of organised resistance: 'I don't think I want to be seen on a picket line with a load of judges and Tory MPs. No thank you. I'll take my punishment and shut the hell up.'
The same scene contains Esme's criticism of the very idea, suggested by Amy, that she 'take control of her life'. Esme blazes in reply, 'What is this claptrap that all of you spout nowadays? Take control! What a meaningless cliché. If you ask me why men make such fools of themselves, it is because they're in love with the ludicrous notion that there's such a thing as to be in control. And now you women want to try it, you want them to peddle this same silly myth.'
If this were simply a statement about the irrationality of a society spiralling beyond control there would be little with which to argue. But it seems Hare means more than thisthat no one can be in control and that to think otherwise is to believe a myth. Esme continues: 'Who's in control? Finally? I ask you. The answer is no one. No one! If you don't know that, you know nothing.'
This is the final irony. Hare rejects postmodern superficialities about art in the name of seriousness, commitment and sincerity, the supposed virtues of the theatre. But the philosophical position that stands behind postmodern attitudesthat the world is an inexplicable and chaotic structure which we can only endure with cynical detachmentis not so distant from Hare's own. Indeed, Amy's View is a triumph where it is most superficial and falls where it tries to be a play of ideas.
The failure of the play, for all its wit and polish, is that Esme and Dominic, Hare and his chosen protagonists have more in common than he realises.
Amy's View is playing at the National Theatre, London
The Anne Frank exhibition currently showing in Walsall is an attempt to explain the Holocaust and to show its relevance today. It includes many photographs, quotes and writings from Anne Frank's family and the people who helped them in hiding. The exhibition also has interviews and stories from many of the people persecuted by the Nazis.
The organisers have put the rise of Hitler's Nazis into the context of events in Europe between the two world warseconomic crisis, mass unemployment and rising inflationand although a major problem with the exhibition is that the Communist Party is portrayed as being the other side of the same coin, the exhibition does acknowledge the forces to stop Hitler existedincluded is a photograph of a mass anti-Nazi demonstration outside the Reichstag in Berlin.
The event is subtitled 'A History for Today'and the exhibition finishes with a section describing events in the world today, with photographs of fascist demonstrations in Europe, descriptions of racist attacks in Britain and a whole section about the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
This exhibition is important, it can help us understand not just the terrible brutality of the Holocaust, but also how vital it is that racism and fascism are confronted today.
The exhibit is at Stables market, Camden Lock, London to 31 August, then at Leicester, Gloucester and Newcastle
Throughout the 20th century Harlem has captured the imagination of artists and writers, but it was the 1920s and 1930s that saw an explosion of African-American talent. A new exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London displays many of the paintings which made Harlem famous as the centre of black culture during the depression, and which remain an inspiration to black talent today. Black artists at the time were determined to challenge the typical image of blacks as being ex-slaves and inferior to white culture. They turned Harlem into a new cultural centre.
Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance is at the Hayward Gallery, London, until 17 August
Adam LeBor's book shows how the Swiss banking system was pivotal to the Nazi war machine. Swiss banks used the cloak of secrecy to accept Nazi gold looted from across Europe, traded with the Nazis, giving loans to fund munitions while claiming neutrality. This allowed the Nazis to launder money through other neutral countries such as Spain, Portugal and Argentina. Even though the Third Reich had gold reserves of $100 million in 1939 and $648 million in 1944 the Swiss still claimed the gold was not looted. In fact the ingots stored in the Swiss vaults even included gold smelted down from the teeth of victims of the gas chambers.
Although Jews from across Europe were allowed to deposit money in Swiss bank accounts, over 30,000 Jews were turned away as refugees. In fact the Swiss authorities contacted Berlin to request that German Jews' passports were stamped with a 'J' to make identification easier.
However, LeBor draws a clear distinction between the Swiss rulers and bankers and the rest of the population who he claims were never pro-Nazi. In 1942 when restrictive laws on immigration were brought in to stop the Jews, public outcry was so massive that the government was forced to back down and allow Jewish children and the elderly to seek refugee status.
Banking was considered above the problems of war. The Bank of International Settlements, set up to pay reparations to the Allies for the First World War, had French, British and Italian directors who sat alongside the Nazis and continued to take payments from looted gold throughout the war.
British and US intelligence records clearly showed the Nazis amassing hoards and trading world wide in an attempt to restart a Fourth Reich should the war not go in their favour. The US was more concerned with using the information to set up a ring of spies who would prove a useful nucleus for intelligence after the war.
The Allies needed Swiss banks and their assets to rebuild a wartorn Europe. As survivors tried to find the millions of Swiss francs they knew their murdered relatives had hidden in Swiss banks, the bankers lied that the money did not exist.
The fight now to reclaim the money is embroiled in a mire of renewed anti-Semitism and lies. LeBor believes the Swiss banks have got a good deal. By promising to pay back some money they have stopped a potential US boycott. The banks meantime continue to profit even from Jewish victims who have to pay 100 francs even to start the search for an account.
Tom Bower's book gives a detailed account of the postwar wranglings of the Allies with the banks. From 1945 Swiss banks have followed a policy of delaying and lying to Holocaust survivors. Victims would be told they were not entitled to the assets without a death certificate for relatives who had been gassed. Most cynically, interest was retrospectively removed from accounts that the banks decided were not going to be reclaimed.
The role of the Allies in the negotiations was far from honourable. The main concern in forcing details from the Swiss bankers was to determine a carve up of Nazi assets amongst the Allies. Britain was bankrupt at the end of the war but also had an interest in stopping funds going to Jewish survivors as the Labour government feared the money would be used to increase immigration to Palestine, contrary to British interests. By 1949, with the onset of the Cold War, Switzerland was needed on side and the Allies stopped investigating the Nazi loot.
Whatever money is now going to be forced out of the Swiss banks is disgustingly 50 years late. During these years the Swiss banks have continued to use the money as capital and to lie about it. In February this year the Guardian reported the story of a security guard in the Union Bank of Switzerland who found a whole room of documents relating to the war which were being shredded. He rescued some papers and was immediately sacked.
Both books cover interesting material but they reach very different conclusions. Bower sees the compromises that have been forced out of the Swiss as the result of the decency of Western civilisation which has peacefully persuaded the Swiss they were wrong. LeBor welcomes the struggle that has brought this about. His conclusion is more satisfactorythat the bankers continue to profit and the truth concerning Switzerland and the Allies has not been fully revealed.
This book, which is tied into the recent BBC2 series, is a fascinating read covering one of the most neglected periods in US history. For 13 years, from 1920 to 1933, the sale and public consumption of alcohol was illegal, and even private drinking at home was subject to strict restriction.
Probably the most bewildering question about the whole episode was why it ever took place at all?
Prohibitionists had begun to make their mark in the US from the 1830s onwards. Many pre civil war opponents of slavery were also prohibitionists. Interestingly, though, in the years leading up to and just immediately following the civil war prohibition slipped from the public view as an issue. This leads Behr, in his otherwise excellent account of the issue, to the rather strange conclusion that prohibition became a major factor in US society in the absence of real issues and events of the sorts that convulsed Europe.
This seems to me to be a flimsy impressionist explanation, although a rational explanation for the mayhem of the prohibition years is not that easy to come by. Behr does, however, point to a number of issues that help explain the growth of the movement.
Almost from the beginning prohibition was tied up to hostility to fresh waves of immigration. German beer drinkers, Irish whiskey drinkers, Italian wine drinkers were all greeted with varying degrees of hostility. Frequently the poverty into which they came, the alienation from homeland, the ghettoisation in which they lived lent easily to alcoholic excess amongst a minority.
Thus drunkenness was frequently tied into something alien, un-American. Not that the host population had a record of untainted sobriety; but rather like mugging in Britain has continually been sold as a black phenomenon, so drink was an 'alien' problem.
Building on this momentum the Anti Saloon League proved a highly effective lobbying organisation that was increasingly able to influence the political scene, and draw into its orbit an ever growing number of politicians both Democrat and Republican, regardless of their private drinking habits.
As the bandwagon rolled so a whole number of capitalistsFord, Du Pont and Rockefellerbecame enthusiasts, believing they would have a healthier more alert workforce with less absenteeism. They could also blame much of the misery their industrialisation had createdpoverty, slums, diseaseon the feckless drinking habits of the poor.
The turning point came with the US's entry to the First World War. The prohibitionists and their political allies were able to whip up a general anti-German feeling, questioning the patriotism of the German big brewers and tying the whole question in to the banning of drink altogether. So the Volstead act was passed, and an era of corruption, crime and chaos dawned. The very things banning drink was meant to get rid of.
Although drink was now illegal it was easily available. Small time gangland chiefs became masters of huge business enterprises. The vast majority of the specially assembled agency sent to track them down were on the take. Cops and local and national politicians were invariably paid off by the gangsters. The first prohibition administration under Warren Galamiel Harding was totally corrupt. The Attorney General, Daughherty, was taking millions in back handers, as were the health secretary, the war department, and just about every other major cabinet minister.
Harding himself was not on the take according to Behr, but he did have a secret bar in the White House, two private saloons elsewhere, and the Senate gave over a whole area of office space to a secret bar.
Meanwhile the poor were constantly being arrested for being caught in speakeasies. Rather like today's 'three strikes' policy anyone caught breaking the law four times could get life. Invariably it was working class consumers and small time suppliers who suffered such a fate, just as with drugs today.
Behr finishes the book by drawing just such a parallel, pointing to the ineffectiveness of legal prohibition, the fact that most arrests are for users and small time dealers, the often ignorant and ill informed attitudes that accompany the moral panic, and the cowardice of politicians in dealing with the question.
This collection of eyewitness accounts of the Russian Revolution by the Belgian born militant and journalist Victor Serge, appears here for the first time in English.
'During the Civil War' covers a few weeks in May and June 1919 as Petrograd is first threatened with capture by the White Army. 'The Endangered City' covers some of the same ground but in greater depth.
Serge brilliantly captures the mood of the city and an understanding of the role played by Bolsheviks in organising its defence. Encouraged by rumours of White Army victories, the petty bourgeois layers who have acquiesced in the revolution but whose instincts are White now begin to stir. At best they are the passive betrayers of the revolution, at worst they actively sabotage it.
This non-revolutionary population, who constantly rub shoulders with the 'Reds', may outnumber those committed to the revolution. The triumph of the Reds, however, is not simply a matter of heroic will or daring. It is because they represent the class of the future. All the Whites can offer, despite their armies being underpinned by Allied gold and weapons, is a return to the historically obsolete brutality of Tsarism.
By using snapshots of ordinary life Serge wanted to show how the emergence of the Red Terror was forced on the Bolsheviks by the pressure of counter-revolution and civil war. Contrary to those who conclude that Bolshevism was intrinsically anti-democratic Serge argues that without the Red Terror an ever greater terror would have resulted.
It is this clash between a dying order and one that is struggling to be born which explains the difference between White and Red Terror, both in extent and nature: 'In 1918 the White Terror in Finland killed ten to 12 thousand insurgents, and more than 70,000 were tortured in the prisons. White Terror, which is embryonic in the current treacheries and shootings, has the particular feature that it tends to kill its victims all together and that it aims to exterminate the most vigorous and the most conscious element among its opponents. That is the main thing that distinguishes it from Red Terror, which it precedes and is the cause of, and which has no other purpose than to break the resistance of the minority. Hence the latter is far less bloody.'
On the face of it Serge was an unlikely defender of the Red Terror. His background and experience inclined him towards anarchism. Though he joined the Bolsheviks as soon as he arrived in Russia in early 1919 Serge wrote as something of an outsider to Bolshevism and against the grain of his longstanding sympathies. This gives weight to his wholehearted but not slavish support for the regime.
But Serge also challenges the politics of the anarchists. He pays tribute to the best of them for their fighting commitment. The only way, however, that they (and we) can arrive at the final goal of the revolution, the withering away of the state, is via what Serge calls a 'fearsome chain of necessities'. He attributes these not to any Bolshevik 'sin' of authoritarianism but to the logic 'of a struggle to the death by a revolutionary minority against a reactionary minority'the consequences of social disintegration and national and international class war.
Serge does not glory in this stern judgement. He pleads for the preservation of a libertarian spirit. Sometimes his argument is dubious, as when he argues that anarchism must propose a morality because the Marxist theory of the class struggle does not. But it is absolutely clear which side Serge is onand it is not that of the anarchists.
This volume, with an excellent introduction to Serge's life and analysis of the historical situation, should be on every socialist's bookshelf.
'There are too many brain boxes/Taking the fun out of poetry', complains Benjamin Zephaniah in the first poem of his new collection, School's Out: Poems not for School.
It is probably true that school and college students are trained to be 'brain boxes', destroying their own and others' enjoyment of poetry in order to measure a poem against some fixed rules or sterile critical theory. Zephaniah's new collection offers those who have been trained in this way a chance to play truant or otherwise break the rules of official poetry. As he declares in the first poem, 'Introductory Chat', 'Poems in School's Out should be read out.../ Poems in School's Out should be fun.' Or, as he asks in another poem, 'Wot's Wot', 'Wot haz riddim got tu do wid time/ Wot haz reason got tu do wid rhyme.'
But School's Out is not just a brick lobbed through the window of the educational establishment. Many of these poems express a reasoned and timely protest against the irrational and obsolete system under which we are forced to exist. Again in 'Wot's Wot' Zephaniah asks, 'Wot's de Rich got against de poverty/ Wot's de judge got against Liberty/ Wot have we got tu do wid dem'. In 'Follow the Leaders' he exposes the double standards of the moral minority who rule over us, whether Tory politicians or bishops:
'PM said "Go back to Basics" MP caught in tights and false tits That's him, But he won't admit Hypocrites they are. Preacher said "Don't use a condom" He himself never put one on Hid the baby and the child's mom, Then he said have faith.''Room for Rent' contains anger against racism and homelessness. But the poem goes beyond these issues, and becomes a condemnation of that most vicious of parasites, the private landlord. It begins with its speaker applying for a room:
'There was this big tall white man, He looked afraid of me, I told him I was homeless, He said the room had gone, so try next door...'Having been turned down twice on account of his skin colour, the speaker applies to a black landlord, only to be turned down because of his Rasta appearance'landlords make me mad' the poem concludes.
'Adult Fun' describes the miseries of childhood from the point of view of a child who has adults' unhealthy idea of fun imposed on him. The poem is partly about the conditioning little boys receive in order to become 'men':
'I went "Bang bang, you're dead", My brother held his head He fell onto the bed "I don't like this" I said, "I want to be a nurse And stop things getting worse", My Dad said, "Kill him first It's real life son, rehearse".'More generally the poem declares war on the way children's minds are warped by a violent society:
'I think it is insane To play a causing pain I think it leaves a stain That can damage the brain.'Zephaniah's poetry is certainly more fun than what normally goes as 'real life'.
This is a book I heartily recommend, charting the rise of the IRA and its war against British control of Ireland between 1919 and 1921.
What the author does is to show the dynamics of how the Republicans moved from the side stage of history to the centre stage. They did so through a series of crises which shook Irish society; in reaction to the opposition of the Ulster Unionists and the Tories to Irish Home Rule immediately before the First World War, in the aftermath to the repression of the 1916 Easter Rising, the threat by Britain to introduce conscription to Ireland in 1918 and finally, the discrediting of the pro Home Rule Irish Parliamentary Party by its acceptance of partition.
The Irish National Volunteers was founded in November 1913 to counter the Ulster Volunteer Force which was arming to block Home Rule. The initiative came from the Republicans grouped in the Irish Republican Brotherhood but they operated behind the scenes in a way which allowed the leadership of the parliamentary party to take control. The Volunteers mushroomed to 160,000 members within a few months.
The dominance of the Parliamentary Party ensured the Volunteers split on the outbreak of the First World Warwith the party supporting Britain's war effort. The anti-war Irish Volunteers were decimated with just 350 members in Dublin. Yet they were able to rebuild their strength to 1,500 in the city by the end of 1915. Nationally by the time of the Easter Rising they had 15,000 members.
Sinn Fein grew from 11,000 members in July 1917 to 66,000 members in December and then 100,000 in April 1918. The Volunteers claimed 390 units in July 1917. What created this groundswell of support was the British government's threat to introduce conscription to Ireland.
But there were, as Augusteijn explains, clear differences as to the way ahead. Many looked to a purely political approach, centring on looking for American support for an independent Ireland in a postwar settlement. Others looked to a conventional military campaign in the future, while others already saw the way forward in terms of guerilla war.
As the First World War ended there was an expectation that the British government would grant Home Rule. The dashing of these hopes edged Ireland closer to war. In December 1918 Sinn Fein swept the board in the general election. Its representatives met on 21 January 1920. On the same day Volunteers killed two policemen in County Tipperary. The action was not sanctioned by headquarters and met widespread resistance in Sinn Fein.
Despite lack of arms the military struggle began to develop through 1920. As it did more IRA (as the organisation was now named) volunteers were forced to go on the run. This acted to stiffen military capacity and determination. In county Mayo that year the number of volunteers grew from 2,362 to 6,608.
The killing of 12 British intelligence officers on Bloody Sunday, 21 November 1920, marked an escalation of the fighting. In Dublin a full time Active Service Unit of 100 men were ordered to engage the British on the streets of the capital. In addition each city unit had to mount a weekly patrol in its area confronting any security forces whenever they encountered them. Between January and May 1921 there was a tenfold increase in IRA actions in Dublin.
Meanwhile in Munster full time IRA flying columns had taken the field. By 1921 flying columns were operating in south and west Mayo and in County Derry. Each IRA unit was ordered to set up flying columns.
This book shows how what was a relatively small cadre of IRA volunteers was able to develop a full scale guerilla campaign against the British. They were able to do so because between 1916 and 1921 a widespread sense of nationalist identity was radicalised by the actions of the British government. That created a large sea in which the guerrillas could operate. The actual fighting escalated in a very short space of time. In the 12 months up to July 1921 the security forces lost 1,545 men.
Why is this important? This book shows the conditions which created a situation whereby the British ruling class were forced to concede that they could not defeat the IRA. In its study of the IRA's capacity it moves away from focusing on individuals like Michael Collins. It gives a clear analysis of how the IRA could attract popular support and explains the conditions fuelling popular support for Republicanism. Lastly, in the scale of the fighting, the numbers involved and level of popular support the IRA, then, is a million miles away from the ability of the present IRA to wage a military conflict.
In Aijaz Ahmed's book In Theory he describes how a layer of South Asian academics in North America act like almost professional Indians who claim they can offer a greater understanding into 'post-colonial' theory.
You can't help but think of this when reading Snakes and Ladders, a collection of essays by Gita Mehta about India since it won independence from Britain 50 years ago.
Mehta is a journalist, film maker and author who was educated at Cambridge University. So, to crudely paraphrase Ahmed, you smell a rat when you read nationalist and mystical cliches like, 'I am not sure what India is,' or, 'The present rulers of India struggle to centralise a land that has no centre but is only a field of experience.'
What exactly does she mean when she asks, 'Can Indian culture really withstand the twin challenges of electronic communications and marketing...when peasant farmers possess cellular telephones; when satellites are proliferating over our skies?' Would it be better if the millions living in rural India remained entirely cut off from the rest of the globe?
But all this is to make the book sound rather worse than it actually is. The essays are short, easy to read and occasionally mildly amusing.
There are glimpses of what Indira Gandhi's 'Remove Poverty' campaign in the 1970s amounted to when Mehta talks to rag pickers who moved to Delhi because of years of drought in their villages.
One tells her, 'The politicians said they would remove poverty and give us jobs, so we voted for them. But when we got here they didn't want to meet us. We managed to feed ourselves working on building sites. Carrying bricks. Mixing concrete. We lived in huts made from things that other people had thrown away. Then the country's bosses decided Delhi must look beautiful. From "Remove Poverty" their slogans changed to "Remove the Poor". While we were at work the bulldozers flattened our huts with all our possessions inside them. We were put in buses and taken 30 miles out of town where there is no work. No water. No food.'
But other essays are almost repellent. She writes as a (part time) member of India's emerging small yuppie class who is describing coming to terms with the economic liberalisation which, since 1990, has opened up the Indian economy to the world market.
She describes being at Cambridge in the 1960s and how, as Indian students were only allowed to take the bare minimum of hard currency to cover tuition fees, she looked enviously on the rich Pakistani students who had no currency restrictions and who showed off their wealth with polo ponies and stylish clothes.
She compares this with the way the market is 'finally releasing India's immense commercial energies' and has given rise to 'our new and booming urban middle class' which she mistakenly numbers around 250 million.
Mehta does not wish the poor to be left behind, but she naively hopes that rapid growth rates will turn India into an Asian tiger, double the size of the middle class and create an enormous market place for consumer goods. A recent Indian think tank, however, found only 29 million householdsout of a population approaching one billionbuy the bulk of consumer goods marketed in India. That is an awful lot of people being left behind by the free market.
While the British Communist Party never reached the size of its counterparts on the Continent, it had a huge influence. Noreen Branson's new book is volume four of a history of the party. The CP attracted many of the best workers in Britain, but policy was mainly dictated from Moscow to serve Stalin's foreign policy.
In 1941 the Hitler-Stalin pact was in place, and the CP's Daily Worker was banned for 'fomenting opposition to the war', which the party opposed as an imperialist war. Then on 22 June 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Communist Parties leapt to defend the USSR and supported the war effort.
Now backing the war effort, the CP exposed the hypocrisy of the British ruling class, who were more interested in the empire than fighting fascism. Millions of workers hoped to see Nazi Germany defeated. With the Soviet Union doing nearly all the fighting, sympathy towards the CP rose. Combined with the easing of repression, this helped the CP grow from 22,000 members at the end of 1941 to 53,000 just four months later. In the course of the war, with no unemployment, workers won improvements in working conditions. Huge numbers of women were drawn into the workplaces, and put the issue of equal pay on the agenda. The book describes the squatting campaign after the war, when 45,000 people occupied disused military camps and fought for proper services. The CP also organised widespread squatting in London.
Union and Labour Party leaders went to incredible lengths to limit the influence of the CP. In 1934 the Labour Party had adopted a rule that 'united action with the Communist Party or organisations ancillary or subsidiary thereto is incompatible with membership of the Labour Party'. Many organisations appeared on this 'proscribed list'.
Towards the end of the 1940s, people started to realise that all was not well in the party. Tito, having taken power in Yugoslavia, fell out with Stalin, and a new round of show trials began in Moscow. Before the war, the CP advocated the abolition of the parliamentary system, to replace it with more democratic workers' councils. The party's new 'Britain for the People' programme abandoned this in favour of reforming the existing state machine. This represented a public acknowledgement of the shift to electoral politics.
The book describes a fascinating period, and I enjoyed reading it, especially the sections on the fight for equal pay, and class struggle during the war.
Children of the Revolution is a collection of accounts by the children of CP families growing up in the 1950s. Some of these (Alexi Sayle, Michael Rosen, Nina Temple, Martin Kettle) are well known now. Having been indirectly part of a political tradition which collapsed, one theme of this book is the attempts by the individuals to come to terms with the political failure of Stalinism. Many of the accounts reflected this in a pessimism and cynicism about politics. Others had tried to analyse why Stalinism failed.
Any active socialist knows the tensions between social or family life and political commitments. Some of the writers seem resentful about the time their parents didn't spend with them. This feeling was exacerbated by the unequal position of women at the time, as male comrades often left their wives to look after the kids. Though the CP fought for equal pay and argued for equal access to jobs and education, these children grew up before the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when inequality within the family was largely taken for granted. The book does make you think about the relationship between individuals and class struggle, but many readers would be frustrated by the pessimism of an old, declining left.