Issue 227 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
Operation Foxley: The British Plan to Kill Hitler
Public Records Office £9.99
Britain's Secret Propaganda War
Paul Lashmar and James Oliver
These two books offer a fascinating insight into the British secret services, their aims and achievements.
Operation Foxley is a reproduction of the documents of the entire 1944 British Secret Service study on the possibility of assassinating Hitler, with a foreword by Ian Kershaw, author of the biography, Hitler. Two key points emerge from the dossier--the sharp disagreement between secret service officers about the desirability of killing Hitler, and the staggering amount of detailed information available to them about the Nazi leader.
One group of secret service officers argued that by 1944 Hitler's strategic judgement was so flawed he was worth more to the allies alive than dead. They also feared that Hitler's assassination might turn him into a martyr and prolong the war. Others argued that the German war effort would collapse if Hitler was killed.
The stakes were high. If the war had been shortened millions would have been spared the horror of the gas chambers, hundreds of thousands would not have been butchered on the battlefields, and the obliteration of German cities like Dresden might have been avoided. However, by June 1944, when Operation Foxley was seriously discussed, the Allies had successfully landed in Normandy and the Russian army was advancing in the east. The days of the Nazi regime were numbered and the plan was soon shelved.
The documents reveal the minutiae of Hitler's daily routine, including his eating habits, detailed maps and photographs of his alpine retreat at Berchtesgaden and exact details of Hitler's guards. The quality and quantity of information in the Operation Foxley file shows exactly what the British and US governments knew. It puts much else into perspective. We are still told, for example, that the Allies knew nothing of the horror of Hitler's gas chambers until the tanks rolled through the gates of Belsen. But if the secret services knew the exact constituents of Hitler's breakfast, they certainly knew about the movement of millions of Jews to the gas chambers.
Britain's Secret Propaganda War is a fascinating account of what one section of Britain's secret services did after the war. The propaganda arm of the wartime Special Operations Executive in 1948 was transformed into the Information Research Department (IRD), a secret cold war department charged with spreading anti-Communist material, defending the empire and rolling back the left in the workers' movement around the world.
For 30 years the IRD used an enormous variety of techniques to try and influence opinion, both in Britain and abroad. It planted work in newspapers and magazines, subsidised and even set up news agencies, as well as subsidising book publishing, academic journals and radio stations. The BBC was a particular target and usually a willing recipient of IRD attention. MI5 vetted all BBC staff for 'subversives', from the corporation's inception in the 1930s until 1985 when the practice was uncovered. The news agency Reuters was another IRD favourite, receiving subsidies while its correspondents were used to gather information and pass on propaganda. The Economist magazine provided work and cover for IRD freelancers, as the secret services set out to cultivate a group of tame journalists who were spoonfed stories.
In 1976, when the IRD was well into its decline, it had 92 journalists on its circulation list, including staff working on the Observer, Guardian, Financial Times, Times, Telegraph, Mail, Mirror and Sunday Express. Perhaps the best known was Woodrow Wyatt, the former right wing Labour MP who ended up an ardent devotee of Margaret Thatcher.
Academics were cultivated and supported. Robert Conquest, now regarded as a leading academic authority on the USSR, and the author of The Great Terror, a best selling account of Stalinism, is one of the best known. He was on the staff of IRD from 1946-56.
The IRD tried to get the TUC to take a more active role in combating the influence of the Communist Party in the trade unions. The TUC's future general secretary Vic Feather was a close IRD associate. However, other sections of the TUC bureaucracy scuppered the IRD's plans. One IRD memo complained bitterly: 'We have had a dismal experience trying to induce the TUC to take some action. We shall never get any satisfactory results out of the TUC alone: they are too cumbersome, too unpublicity minded and too short staffed to make a significant contribution.'
However, while the IRD's propaganda could fuel ethnic tensions in Britain's colonies, it could not save the empire. The IRD's tame liberal intellectuals did battle with Stalinist ideologues, but they could not stop the spectacular resurgence of genuine revolutionary socialist ideas in 1968.
The IRD could wage war against Communist Party trade union leaders, but it was powerless in the face of workers' militancy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was responsible for lies and dirty tricks in Northern Ireland, but it could not break the IRA's support among the Catholic minority.
The last Labour government eventually disbanded the IRD in 1977. It had clearly lost the plot when it began to smear Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a Communist. However, the secret services do still indulge in dirty tricks and propaganda.
Books like Britain's Secret Propaganda War are important because they reveal the mentality and mechanisms used by those who launch such attacks. They show the secret workings of the state and just how small is the fig leaf of democracy worn by our rulers. The authors conclude, 'Although the IRD was closed in 1977, its spirit lives on in many ways at the intersection between politics and the media,' in the spin doctors and the lazy journalists who feed off them. But there are more important conclusions--that propaganda cannot overcome the contradictions in the real world and that the state is not all powerful.
The Real Rights of Man
Britain in the 19th century was the most advanced capitalist economy in the world. It brought enormous wealth for the ruling class and utter misery and destitution for workers. It was a period which saw the decline of craft guilds and the erosion of the artisan. In their place came greater competition, deskilling and less protection for wages and the price of goods. All of these changes culminated in the growth of factory production and the rise of a potentially powerful working class who only had their labour power to sell.
During the early to mid-19th century there were unprecedented levels of working class agitation and activity. There was a growth in trade union membership and a vibrant working class press. During this time Marx and Engels developed their theories of how capitalism worked, the need for revolution and the power of the working class.
They were not the only ones to condemn capitalism and seek an alternative. This book provides us with an excellent introduction to some of these other ideas. The book derives its title from Thomas Spence who wanted common ownership of land to rid society of the landowning 'tyrants' and 'oppressors'. Spence used this title for a pamphlet in reaction to Tom Paine's Rights of Man. Spence said that 'real rights' could only come about if people also possessed economic power. Without economic control, the political rights that Paine talked about-liberty, equality and fraternity-were mere rhetoric.
Other 19th century political economic writers included in the book are Cobbett, who wished to get rid of the 'self interested money grabbers' at the heart of government; Thomas Hodgskin, who demanded that all produce should be in the hands of workers because they alone produced all the wealth; Robert Owen and Williarn Thompson, who established cooperative communities; and Gray and Bray, who desired a planned economy where the means of production were owned collectively. What all these had in common was their condemnation of capitalism. Yet they had very different opinions on why the system was rotten and how change would come about.
Marx and Engels were sympathetic to some of their ideas. For example, Marx thought highly of Hodgskin's theory of labour, saying, 'Here at last, the nature of capital is understood correctly.' But they were also critical. For example Engels understood the major weakness of Robert Owen's 'villages of unity and mutual cooperation' when he says, 'English socialism arose with Owen, a manufacturer, and proceeds, therefore, with great consideration towards the bourgeoisie.'
The book describes the main theories of each writer clearly and also offers a succinct critique. However, the author does not include Marx and Engels in his account of the political economies for the working class and does not attempt to compare the ideas of Marx and Engels with other 19th century thought. I would therefore advise anyone to read some works from Marx and Engels and only afterwards read this extremely useful book. Only then will you be able to see why the theories of Marx and Engels are those that workers around the world will grasp in the 21st century to rid us of capitalism once and for all.
The Dark Side Of Camelot
Harper Collins £8.99
The advantage of Hersh's book is that he is a Washington insider with an amazing range of contacts. Hersh interviewed not only Kennedy's advisers and sycophants, but also the secret service agents and college friends who Kennedy used for arranging his prostitutes, and for undertaking secret contracts with foreign diplomats.
Kennedy had charisma which mesmerised both the intelligent and the gullible. Those who come off worst in this book are the journalists who knew of the three generations of corruption of the Kennedy clan but who still ignored anything approaching objective reporting. Instead there was intense competition to be seen in the company of JF Kennedy or to receive a telephone call from him. Grandfather Fitzgerald had been ejected from congress for corruption; father Joseph worked with the Mafia during Prohibition; and JFK used the Sinatra connection with the Mafia to help him win the 1960 presidential campaign.
Clinton faces impeachment over one sexual encounter, but Kennedy had hundreds of partners, as was commonly known in Washington. Twice in 1959 Kennedy gave Judith Exner bags containing $250,000 to hand to Sam Giancana, head of the Chicago Mafia, who was helping Kennedy buy electoral support. Hersh notes that Kennedy and Giancana had much in common: 'Each was obsessed with women; each was fascinated by Hollywood; each learned to operate in secrecy; and each could rigorously compartmentalise his life.' Hersh spoils the effect by saying that Giancana was a 'foul mouthed Mafia murderer, while Kennedy was a brilliant politician'. Ironically enough, Bobby Kennedy's immediate reaction on learning of the death of his brother was to suspect Giancana, as the latter believed he had been double crossed by the Kennedys.
The Kennedy brothers had an obsession with the need to kill Castro, especially after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Once again, the Mafia was deeply involved in the CIA plans involving Cuba. At the same time, Bobby Kennedy was making lots of noise about bringing Mafia members to trial. Kennedy liked to boast of his victory over Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The reality was that Bobby Kennedy had hatched a secret deal with the Russian ambassador, whereby the US would remove its missiles from Turkey in return for the Russian removal of missiles from Cuba. In public JFK denied he had made any concession to the Russians.
Almost every aspect of the Kennedy myth was cloaked in deceit, from the alleged speed at which he read, to the Pulitzer prize for the book he did not write. In 1947 Kennedy married a Protestant who had just divorced for the second time. Joseph Kennedy insisted on an immediate divorce and arranged to expunge all records. On at least one occasion, Kennedy the 'devout Catholic' insisted that a girlfriend had an abortion.
Sadly, there is little in this book about domestic political issues, in particular trade unions or civil rights. Kennedy's main attitude to the poor and blacks seems to have been 'poor bastards'. The book gives chapter and verse about how the FBI and CIA protect the rich and powerful in the US while helping to maintain US hegemony abroad.
Global Capitalism versus Democracy: Socialist Register 1999
Eds: Leo Panitch and Colin Leys
Socialist Register is an annual collection of essays by left wing academics. Unfortunately, the defeatist tenor tells us more about the state of mind of the left than it does about the outside world.
Most of the contributors attack neo-liberal economic policies, detailing the devastation they have caused around the world. The best of them go further and point out the growing problems of alternative stakeholder models in Germany and Sweden. But despite the spreading economic crisis, the revolution in Indonesia and growing workers' militancy in a host of countries from South Korea to the US, there's a pervading sense that socialist ideas and organisation are in retreat. In the final contribution, Sheila Rowbotham speculates that 'capital, it seems, has had the last word'.
Perhaps in their defence the authors would point to unfortunate timing. Many of the articles seem to have been written before the markets staggered last autumn. But the real problems go deeper. First, the bulk of contributors swallow the bosses' triumphalist rhetoric of globalisation. Hugo Radice's opening essay unconvincingly attempts to take apart all the arguments against globalisation theory. NT Soukala argues that the pressures of the world market have reached such a pitch that the 'national bourgeoisie' has become 'so fractured it may be doubtful whether the term corresponds to a specific social reality'. This leads to deep pessimism, not just about prospects for state led reform but also about the possibility of workers mobilising around national policy issues.
Overawed by the rhetoric of globalisation, no one here seems to pay much attention to glaring evidence of capitalism's malaise. There is no mention of the fragility of Wall Street's debt driven surge, little sense of the ruling classes' autumn panic, and European social democracy's comeback is put down exclusively to its accommodation to neoliberalism.
None of the contributors have any belief in workers' ability to mount effective resistance, despite the evidence of renewed militancy in France, Greece, Italy and elsewhere. Many of these essays barely consider socialist solutions--at best, we get a few lines tacked on to the last page containing halfhearted generalities like, 'Only on the basis of empowering people in the various social spheres will it be possible to design an alternative economic model.'
Two essays stand out though. Ursula Huws does an excellent job of debunking the myth of the weightless economy--the fashionable idea that information is the driving force of the modern economy, and that because it is not produced but transferred or transmitted we are moving beyond a traditional 'Fordist' capitalist economy. Huws shows how the information industry has created huge new concentrations of workers all around the world in call centres and microchip factories. She argues that, as well as hawking existing products, one of the roles of the information industries is precisely the commodification of knowledge, for sale in packaged chunks on CD-Roms or on tap on the Net.
Boris Kagarlitsky's contribution is a welcome relief because it exposes the ideological role of globalisation theory, the way it is used to justify cutbacks for us and tax cuts for the rich. He argues that states are more powerful and richer than ever. He points out that even the biggest transnational companies rely on their home state to develop their global structures and that international financial agencies are themselves the creatures of the leading powers, particularly the US. Infuriatingly and illogically he tries to use the argument that states play a crucial role in capital accumulation to make the case that socialists should try to use the state as a tool for democratisation and progress!
If this book is a snapshot of left thinking in the academies, it is not very flattering. It should serve as a warning that even at a time of capitalist crisis we need clear correct theory to arm us in the fight for an alternative.
Fatherland or Mother Earth?
Pluto Press £9.99
Löwy's admirable intention is to demonstrate that Marxism can explain nationalism. He also wants to show that internationalism is at the core of Marxism and is more relevant than ever in a world of bitter national conflicts.
This slim book is a collection of essays written over a 20 year period and they are of varying political quality. It is quite good at assembling the early Marxist tradition. How refreshing to read Marx from as early as 1845: 'The nationality of the worker is neither French nor English nor German; it is labour, free slavery. His government is neither French nor English nor German; it is capital.'
Löwy points out that from this staunchly internationalist beginning Marx developed a clear distinction between the nationalism of oppressor nations and the nationalism of the oppressed. He believed that colonialism and imperialism not only caused immense suffering in the subject countries but also weakened the working class in the oppressor nations.
But Löwy is much less helpful for understanding the arguments between Marxists in the 20th century and he is positively dangerous when analysing the national question today. He wants us to reassess the work of Otto Bauer, the Austrian Marxist who wrote a 'classic' work on nationalism in 1907. Löwy argues that Bauer managed to combine internationalism with a sensitive recognition of the power of national feeling and that he was able to extract what was positive about such feelings.
The implication is that we should abandon the excesses of nationalism but also be proud of national culture and traditions. But he both underplays the virulence of Bauer's defence of nationalism and ignores the crushing arguments against it which were marshalled almost a century ago by other Marxists such as Lenin and Kautsky.
Bauer did not simply enjoy folk dancing or quaint accents, he argued that the nation is 'a community of culture' and 'a community of destiny'. He believed that national cultures were so strong that socialists had to make concessions towards them. Rather confusingly he combined this with a belief in the desirability of large states for economic progress and therefore advised Marxists to push for full freedom of national culture but not for the break up of empires.
Against this Lenin argued that the nation was a product of capitalism and is always about the organisation of capitalist society. Socialists do not stand for the defence of 'their own' national culture but for drawing together the best from every culture into an international human culture.
Lenin defended the right of oppressed nations to self determination and separation and he insisted on total opposition to imperialism. But he also warned against adapting to the ideology of national movements or pretending they were the same as socialist movements when they were not.
Löwy fails to apply Lenin's central theme, that socialists must look at the national question within the wider context of the struggle for proletarian revolution. It is not a matter of drawing up abstract rules for 'getting nations right', it is about understanding how the fight against imperialism and national oppression meshes with the battle for socialism.
The failure to put this into practice means that Löwy appears to defend the right of Israeli Jews and the Protestants of Northern Ireland to self determination, to the right to form their own states, whatever the consequence for oppressed Palestinians or Catholics and whatever the boost for imperialism.
The end of the book is a rather embarrassing defence of liberal internationalism where Löwy pins his faith in a combination of the workers' movement, ecological organisations, anti-racists, feminists against 'the traditional patriarchal culture of aggressive nationalism', radicalised Christian activists against Third World poverty, Christian socialist networks, gays and lesbians... and a reformed European Union.
This all seems rather a long way from the starting point of Marxism.
The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain
Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia
In the October 1919 issue of the radical black newspaper The
Crusader a tiny advert appeared:'Mr Cyril Briggs, Editor of The Crusader announces the organisation of The African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption. Membership by enlistment. No dues, fees or assessment. Those only need apply who are willing to go to the limit'. People wrote in from across the US, the Caribbean and Central America. Winston James, whose book examines Caribbean radicalisation in early 20th century America, says that many who wrote in were black First World War veterans.
They had enlisted in the Great War, in the hope that their show of allegiance to the US and British ruling class would be rewarded with at least the promise of equality at home. They were bitterly disappointed on every front. When they came back they found that not only was racism still rife, in the northern cities of America it had manifested itself in race riots.
In July 1917, for example, white mobs in East St Louis had attacked and murdered black residents with impunity, while police and the national guard stood by.
Winston James has done us an immense favour in unearthing the activity of black radicals in the first couple of decades of this century. The story of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) is especially vital. This small but influential organisation was the historical bridge between the struggles for black liberation that came out of the American Civil War and the Communist Party activity in the 1930s in places such as Harlem, which we are more familiar with.
The ABB started off as a militant black nationalist organisation, but then under the influence of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia moved sharply to the left. By the end of 1923 the organisation had voluntarily dissolved itself into the US Communist Party, providing the cadre central to the party's impressive activity in the 1930s.
The Russian Revolution held out hope for a world without racism and oppression, with the working class as the agent of change. After the Bolshevik Revolution pogroms against Jews were no more, whereas in the US lynchings and race riots were burned into the consciousness of blacks. The comparison was stark.
In 1921 the poet Claude McKay fired off a letter to the Negro World--the newspaper of Marcus Garvey's 'Back to Africa' movement: 'Every Negro who lays claim to leadership should make a study of Bolshevism and explain its meaning to the coloured masses...Bolshevism has made Russia safe for the Jew. It has liberated the Slav peasant from priest and bureaucrat who can no longer egg him on to murder Jews to bolster up their rotten institutions.'
McKay went on to show how, similarly, a revolution in the US could free the 'cracker' (poor white racist) from being a tool of the bosses and how 'then the artificial hate that breeds lynchings and race riots might suddenly die'.
There is much more in James's book, including the experience of black solders in the First World War.
I have only one gripe. James has done himself a disservice in framing the book into trying to prove that blacks from the Caribbean who came to the US were somehow innately more radical than their US born counterparts. It is true that many of the black radicals who headed the movement were from the Caribbean islands. It is true that the level of racism they found in the US shocked them and pushed them into action. But how far does this analysis get you? James's theories of 'peculiarity' become mystical at points, and at points banal--such as saying that travel broadens the mind!
It tends towards a kind of Caribbean chauvinism--that those from the islands were somehow 'special' and more advanced than blacks in the US. This theory can feed into the general myth that US blacks were somehow passive in the face of their oppression. All this is a shame, because Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia is a fascinating and useful book.