Issue 228 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
Pluto Press £12.99
The Business School of the University of Chicago is a long way from the makeshift torture chambers in Santiago football stadium. Academic economists are not often cited as accessories to mass murder. Yet for all that, the ultimate aim of General Pinochet's terror in Chile was the forcible imposition of a programme of economic liberalisation straight from the textbooks of Friedman and Hayek. The brutal overthrow of Allende's government was the first step in a process designed to transform the Chilean economy. The cost of this transformation was borne by the working class--unemployment rose to 30 percent of the workforce and real wages fell by 20 percent. Despite this, the Chicago School's economic prescriptions achieved very little. Manufacturing declined and Chile's dependence on exporting raw materials left it vulnerable to falling world commodity prices during the 1980s.
Walden Bello's book makes clear that Chile is not an isolated example of the brutality of the market. In fact Chile's experiences have been repeated in every continent as the 'structural adjustment programmes' of the IMF and the World Bank. Sub-Saharan Africa's per capita income declined by 2.2 percent a year during the 1980s, wiping out the meagre gains of the three previous decades. 'Structural adjustment', far from kick starting struggling economies, has left a trail of destruction--stagnation, declining native industries and growing inequality.
One of the strengths of this book is that it does not simply divide the world between rich north and poor south, but also examines the impact of 'adjustment' in the heart of the richest nation on earth, the United States. Here too the poor have seen living standards drop to Third World levels. So 25 million Americans are receiving federal food stamps and infant mortality rates are higher than in Jamaica. The Reagan offensive did not simply affect an isolated 'underclass', but involved a full scale assault on the working class, using lockouts, union bashing and 'downsizing'. For Bello, these different cases of 'adjustment' have a common pattern. They are part of the same process--a methodical attempt by the US ruling class to 'roll back' the gains of the poor in the name of corporate profit. The weak and the debt ridden were punished with 'structural adjustment', while the strong faced harsh trade policies.
The problem with Bello's analysis is that his arguments are based on a shallow understanding of the roots of economic crisis. The book fails to explain why the US ruling class abandoned Keynesianism in the first place. In fact Bello implies that, left alone, Third World countries could have continued with the development plans of the 1960s, as profit rates fell and trade deficits soared. This was what pushed the ruling class, both north and south, to ditch their previous policies of state intervention in favour of the free market.
This new edition adds little to the original. Many of Bello's arguments from 1994 have proved resilient, such as the analysis of the structural weaknesses of the 'Asian Tigers' and his examination of the role of US trade policy as a weapon of economic warfare. Despite this, the new edition makes no mention of developments in trade regulation, such as the foundation of the World Trade Organisation, and the section on the East Asian crisis is tacked on to the end of the book.
The book's original final chapter ended with a rousing call for working class solidarity and struggle. The new edition's epilogue finishes the same way, but offers rehashed Keynesianism as the mechanism for change. Bello quotes Rosa Luxemburg's famous comment that humankind faced a choice between socialism or barbarism. However, she also pointed out that those who choose the path of reform are not opting for a more tranquil road to socialism, but a different goal altogether.
Famine, Land and Politics
Irish Academic Press £39.50
There has been a determined attempt by revisionist historians of Irish history to downplay the great famine of 1845-50, and to assert that Britain was not to blame. Peter Gray's study of the response of British governments to this tragedy is a welcome addition to a number of recent books which have sought to restate the full horror of what happened. Although the book is written in an academic style and often leaves things somewhat understated, it is a damning indictment of British government attitudes.
Revisionist histories have not only sought to deny or underplay the famine but have resurrected the idea, propagated by the British ruling class at the time, that these feckless Irish peasants were unable to help themselves and got what they deserved. As Peter Gray points out, the key problem in Ireland was that the landlord class invested little or nothing in their lands and were content to subdivide it into small patches in order to draw as much rent as possible. This stemmed from the 'settlement' of Ireland following William of Orange's military victory and the creation of a Protestant Ascendancy which monopolised the land. By the 1840s the Ascendancy had lost much of its political power and comprised largely absentee landlords.
Both Sir Robert Peel's Tory government and Lord John Russell's Whig governments approached the question of Ireland in the belief that it was possible to bring the agricultural system into line with England through the creation of yeoman farmers. This was economically and politically desirable. But Irish agriculture had already entered an economic crisis in the early 1840s. As Gray points out, landlords resorted to mass evictions prior to the coming of the potato blight. The demand for land reform fuelled the monster rallies for repeal of the union between Ireland and Britain which Daniel O'Connell organised in 1843.
For British politicians like the Whig Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Wood, the potato blight was a gift from god which would remove the Irish peasantry whom he regarded as being addicted to government aid. It was a common view amongst the British ruling class. The response of Sir Robert Peel's Tory government was little enough but the Whig regime which replaced it was worse. Its every action was judged through the rigidity of political economy, evangelical Christianity (which saw the Irish peasantry as subhuman and expendable) and a determination to spend as little as possible on famine relief. Public work schemes, food imports and soup kitchens were all scrapped. The only relief was through the Irish Poor Law scheme which was already grotesquely inadequate--just £132,000 was given over from government funds for famine relief in 1847-48, only 2 percent of what had been spent in the previous year. Gray points out that 'the total state expenditure for Irish famine relief in 1845-50 amounted to around £8 million (over half advanced as loans), a fraction of the £69 million expended on the Crimean War of 1854-56.'
Underlying the British government's approach to the famine was the fear of revolution in Ireland and, although it's never quite clearly stated, the implication is that this would have happened at a time of European revolution and when the Chartist movement had revived in Britain.
The image associated with the famine is one of helpless victims starving to death or being herded onto the emigration ships. But the British government carefully monitored rural unrest. So in 1846 Peel's government imported maize after food riots in Tipperary and Kilkenny. These were known as centres of agrarian rebellion and were also grain growing regions where the victims of the famine could see convoys removing grain for export. In the winter of 1848-49 there was a revival of armed resistance to mass evictions. Unfortunately the republicans grouped in Young Ireland who led an abortive rising in 1848 did not try to ally themselves with these rural rebels.
Peter Gray is also good at analysing the often contradictory connection between the developing middle class nationalist movement and agrarian unrest. Daniel O'Connell relied, as did Charles Stewart Parnell, on the threat of agrarian revolt to force concessions from the British state. The land question also provided the means with which they could build popular support. But at the same time agrarian revolt threatened the Catholic upper classes and was something that had to be reined in. The fortunes of the alliance between O'Connell and the British Whigs also determined the rhetoric of Irish nationalism. For much of his time in parliament O'Connell and his supporters operated as Whigs. But when they felt excluded they could trot out militant rhetoric to force concessions from their erstwhile allies.
Peter Gray has written a welcome book which reminds us of the horror of the famine and the complicity of the British government in it.
Pluto Press £13.99
The internet has arrived in a big way. Almost every day in the
Guardian or Observer there is an article associated with plugging the internet in some way or other. Links to web sites are now published as if they were books in libraries and e-commerce has become another buzzword. Every week on television there is another programme about how the internet is revolutionising our lives. And some of the companies which sell products on the internet have reached share price valuations of astronomical proportions.
It is tempting to turn off from all this, but there are questions socialists need to address. It is now common practice for employers to read employees' e-mail. Access to the world wide web is restricted. Law enforcement agencies are campaigning to try and stop coding of messages and are demanding the right to be able to read everyone's e-mail.
This book attempts to address some of the questions posed to civil liberties by the internet or rather by governments' attempt to regulate it. The book contains fascinating information about how various governments are going to try and intercept everyone's e-mail and about how the internet service providers (ISPs) who provide access to the internet are going along with them.
There is a great deal of fuss about encryption, which allows someone to code a message that cannot be read by anyone else except the receiver. The state doesn't like not being able to read people's mail. So the director of the FBI says, 'If the FBI and the local police were to lose the ability to tap telephones because of widespread use of strong cryptography, the country would be unable to protect itself against violent crime, terrorism, foreign threats, drug trafficking, espionage, and other crimes.'
We should be against the various attempts by governments--by legislation or coercion--to try and stop people sending private messages. However, the opponents of this come from an unlikely source--big business, which wants to make as much money as possible out of the internet. In order to do so it has to find a safe way to encrypt messages. E-commerce--the ability to sell products over the internet--relies on messages being encoded and no one else being able to read them. So there is a tendency both to introduce heavy handed regulation and to strike it down.
Using the internet at work is important--only 18 percent of households have access to the internet. At work it has been used by trade unionists to help organise and circulate messages. Workers often see it as a way of relieving the boredom of work. Yet the tendency has been for companies to clamp down.
The biggest single reason given for this is not controlling workers or stopping union rights, but pornography. It is estimated that porn is the single biggest product on the net, taking between 15 and 25 percent of web space.
The best article in Liberating Cyberspace is about censorship and sexuality. It shows that the argument about restricting porn is a red herring for a number of reasons.
What people look at in a collective work environment is very different from what they may look at in the privacy of their own home. People who may well read pornographic magazines generally don't make it their lunchtime reading. More crucially, the arguments against people reading porn at work or putting up girlie calendars put forward by socialists and trade unionists are the same arguments that stop people using porn on the internet. A workplace which has the Sunday Sport all over the walls is much more likely to have people looking for porn on the net than one in which men and women see each other as equals rather than as sex objects.
The way to stop sexism is not by restricting access and employing company snoops to read workers' e-mail. Restricting access to the internet is about management control, not about rights for women.
The hype about child pornography being distributed across the internet sometimes leads to a situation in which the moral majority tries to restrict access to sexuality. So when the Metropolitan Police produced a list of 133 sites they wanted to block, page one was a list of child porn sites while on the back of page two was a list of sites belonging to lesbian and gay organisations. CompuServe closed down a website which produced material on sexuality by the Terence Higgins Trust.
One of the most absurd claims about the internet is that it would lead to global electronic villages in which people would be able to communicate at will and order all kinds of products without leaving their room. The reality is somewhat different. The Guardian did a survey of MPs and e-mail. It found that, firstly, in the same way that the secretaries opened their post they opened their e-mail, and secondly, the length of time taken to reply was the same. Tony Blair may go online for a discussion on the internet, except that it isn't very much different from a radio chat show. Tesco may have internet shopping but you have to pay for the privilege and so far it is only available in middle class areas.
Despite all the interesting issues Liberating Cyberspace raises, it feels very unsatisfactory. Too many of the articles are written in too technical a language. While some of the articles are very good and interesting, some seem pointless. Above all the book fails to answer the questions it seeks to raise. To understand the internet and how to respond you have to look beyond computers and civil liberties.
Having None of It
On the Move
Ed: Natasha Walter
'In the late 1990s feminism has a new spring in its step.' This sentiment, from one of the contributions to On the Move, reflects the number of articles and books recently published on the subject. Yet much of this work concentrates simply on 'reclaiming', 'redefining' or simply reinventing feminism with anecdotal accounts from limited numbers of women often taking the place of serious research.
Suzanne Franks' book on 'women, men and the future of work' looked more promising. Unlike the post-feminists, she is clear that women are still oppressed and looks at the material reality of that oppression--the fact that the average woman working full time earns only three quarters as much as the average man; that according to government research, 'poverty of expectation' amongst young women with little or no qualifications is linked to teenage pregnancy, that three quarters of all those earning less than £4 an hour are women.
There are also useful facts about the increasing income gap between the minority of highly educated women and the majority of women--some 90 percent--who occupy insecure and low paid jobs. In the UK the bottom 10 percent earn the same as 20 years ago, while the top 10 percent have seen their income grow by 50 percent. Class differences show through on every page.
Yet because Franks doesn't see class as being key both to the experience of women's oppression and to its solution in the form of class struggle the issues behind such examples are not explored.
Ultimately the fundamental weakness with both these books is that feminism, in any of its various forms, sees gender as the central divide in society. So Franks looks at women who are 'poor' or 'marginalised' as being women with the worst deal, not as workers with the potential to combat their oppression. This book cries out for a socialist analysis which both explains how women's oppression evolved with the rise of class society and, most importantly, how it can be eradicated by the overthrow of that society.
The lack of such an approach leads to a whole number of contradictions, and in some cases plain reactionary views, such as those expressed in one essay in the Walter collection on the effect of Thatcherism on women. This claims Thatcher made it legitimate for women to love power--with her 'free market feminism', she 'feminised' the economy as men lost jobs and women took them...the list goes on. That this passes for feminist analysis is a sign of the paucity of current writing. At least in this collection there are some bright points. 'Feminism and the class ceiling' is one, and a piece by Katherine Viner, editor of the weekend Guardian, is a cutting attack on the 'irony' of lads' magazines and post-feminism.
Franks' book is more substantial but this only makes its weaknesses all the more glaring. On the family she initially challenges the view of LSE lecturer Catherine Hakim that most women would rather stay at home with their children than work. She then claims that evidence supports Hakim's argument because 'many women work only through financial necessity'! Franks is obviously more familiar with the minority of women who don't need to work but nevertheless choose to.
Franks repeatedly refers to the transformation in women's lives during the 20th century which has seen, for example, women now the majority of those training to be doctors and lawyers, jobs that had been the preserve of men for generations; women entering parliament in record numbers; and up to 20 percent of women born in the 1960s choosing not to have children (government predictions say this will rise to 25 percent of women born in the 1970s), compared to only 10 percent in the 1940s. The fact that despite these massive changes women are still held mainly responsible for raising children is a contradiction that Franks exposes but can't explain.
In fact the ruling class benefits from the influx of women workers but doesn't want to pay for work traditionally done for free by women in the family--child care, looking after sick or elderly relatives, cooking and cleaning--so it is useful for ruling ideology to stress that these obligations are still women's. This means that women are often flexible workers in order to live up to the expectations that they have to take responsibility for the home as well. So the contradiction between the reality of many women's lives and the ideology means women are more likely to accept lower pay, worse conditions and awkward shifts.
Franks has to curtail her enthusiasm for some women's solution to this problem--those who 'downshift' (work less hours to spend time with their children), admitting that it is 'likely to remain a minority fad' for 'anyone at the bottom cannot shift further down'. Instead she concludes by saying that the 'deregulated market economy...will have to rearrange its priorities before women (or men) will be able to live fully rounded lives.' The rather important question of just how international capitalism will be persuaded to so change its priorities is left unanswered.
The Politics of Racism in France
Peter Fysh and Jim Wolfreys
Whilst we can watch with glee as Europe's biggest fascist party is riven by internal disputes between Le Pen and his deputy Bruno Mégret, here at last is a book which nails Le Pen's National Front (FN) in France for what it is. And what's more, it is a comprehensive study of racism in France explaining clearly how the FN has come to be such a threat.
Le Pen's Nazi party, an irrelevant and nasty little sect in 1981, was able to field nearly 25,000 candidates in local elections in 1995. Setting out how Le Pen united the fragmented postwar fascist groups in the early 1970s, Peter Fysh and Jim Wolfreys distinguish this new fascist movement from the right wing and xenophobic elements which have tended to plague French history for the last century.
This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the left in France has singularly failed to stop the rise of Le Pen precisely because it argued that the FN was no different from the right wing populists that preceded it. Secondly, by looking at the relative failure of these individuals and lunatic fringe groups of French xenophobia, royalism and nationalism, anti-racists have tended to believe that, if ignored, Le Pen and his followers will simply disappear. Without overestimating the threat, this book shows how clever, organised and skilful Le Pen is in achieving his aim of a renewal of fascist ideology. Whether poaching activists from conventional conservative parties, building links with rich bosses, or giving coded messages to Hitler saluting cronies, this one time torturer has put on a mask of respectability whilst keeping the thugs with him.
Crucially, the authors also question certain assumptions about Le Pen's electoral success. It is not a simple case of a protest vote by workers and the unemployed. Though one secret of the FN's success has been its ability to attract votes from across the social spectrum, this is highly volatile. The hard core of Le Pen's voters comes from the classic fascist constituency: lower middle classes, small business owners, the self employed, workplace supervisors, and heavily represented in the south of France, where a number of councils are run by FN mayors.
The other strength of the book is its history of immigration into France. It is not simply North Africans who have borne the brunt of discrimination and persecution. Successive waves of migrant workers have been used by bosses for decades in France for cheap labour, war efforts and convenient scapegoats. This fact is important in undermining the republican argument used by both the right and the left in France when it comes to racism. The republican tradition argues that every citizen is equal, and that non-French elements should be 'integrated' into the republican system. This has meant that many anti-racists have failed to defend the most basic of demands for cultural differences for immigrants (most famously in the 'Headscarf Affair' of 1989 and 1994). Or it has meant that anti-racism is tied tightly to the parliamentary system and electoral strategies; for example, the initially successful 'SOS Racisme' campaign in the 1980s pinned its fortunes to those of an increasingly bankrupt and compromised President Mitterrand. Disastrously, the Communist Party has tried to take votes from the FN by appearing more 'nationalist' and by suggesting that immigration is a 'problem'.
However, the troubles besetting the FN, the return to militancy of the French working class, and the increasingly organised anti-fascist work at grassroots level is certainly cause for optimism. But the thorny question of how to build a united front, as the Anti Nazi League has managed in Britain, is still to the fore. The book could have done with a brief outline of Trotsky's theory of the united front, not to mention the best example of it--in France in February 1934, where workers, both socialist and communist, smashed the Fascist Leagues in a brilliant display of unity.
Nevertheless, let's hope this book makes it swiftly into a paperback edition, as well as a French translation.
Long Night of Waiting
Ed: David Treece
Brazil Network £4
Brazil has suddenly made a reappearance in the world's headlines--not because of the systematic abuses of human rights but because of the dramatic economic crisis in this huge economy that threatened the world's financial system.
All the talk is of 'economic solutions'--but this timely publication is a reminder of who will bear the cost of those solutions. We already know that the rainforest has been targeted by ruthless developers; it may be less common knowledge that child labour, discrimination against women and blacks, and the organised violence of the police against the poorest sections of society were also part of the 'Brazilian miracle'.
In two essays, Sue Branford finds the roots of that violence in Brazil's long history of slavery and exploitation; other contributors trace their consequences in the continuing oppression of women and blacks. What is absolutely certain is that if the recently re-elected government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in which so many had placed their hopes for change, failed the first time around, it will certainly not address these issues now. On the contrary, the conditions attached to the various World Bank rescue packages will create conditions in which exploitation can be intensified.
In her introduction to this pamphlet Jan Rocha makes the key point about the struggle for human rights--that they are not granted, but won. An interview with a leading activist and the lyrics of protest songs that link each essay suggest how resistance can be organised. Brazil has given us appalling examples of capitalism in its most ruthless manifestations, but it has also produced inspiring examples of struggle and resistance: the great union battles of the mid-1980s, which eventually helped to bring down a military dictatorship; the Workers' Party, which opened up a vigorous debate about the fight for change just when Stalinism was collapsing; the Landless People's Movement, nearly a million of the most oppressed members of Brazilian society taking on the most powerful and ruthless interests.
When the World Bank imposes its conditions of survival, it is only the organisations on the ground that will defend what has been gained and continue a battle that must confront the greatest violator of the rights of men and women--capitalism itself.
Dr Strangelove, I Presume
The world is a dangerous place. Michael Foot's new book leaves you in no doubt about that. It is a detailed account of the insanity of the nuclear race--a race that is intensifying.
At the last count Russia had 11,000 warheads, the US 8,500, the Ukraine 1,500, France 800, Kazakhstan 600, China 300, Britain 300, Israel 100, Belarus 36, and India and Pakistan are resuming testing. In a century which has been seared by the horrors of nuclear warfare and nuclear 'accidents', any contribution to sounding the alarm bells must be welcome.
The book is a chronicle of parliamentary debates, charters and treaties, and the lame utterances of politicians who profess to want to rid the world of nuclear weapons while they continue to arm their states to the teeth. So Foot eulogises Indira Gandhi's 'clear and comprehensive warning of how nuclear weapons threatened the annihilation of the human species' at a conference in 1983. Has he forgotten that 40 pages before he records the detonation of a nuclear device in India just nine years earlier? And the prime minister at the time? Indira Gandhi.
Foot continually looks to the problem and hopes to find a solution. All he can come up with is more of the charters and treaties which have abjectly failed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He calls for more 'instruments of inspection' which 'expose the horror' and can 'help point the road back to safety'. And finally this strange list: 'It is a step by step process, indeed, but one in which, thanks to CND, Gorbachev, Rajiv Gandhi, McNamara and a few others, we can now take some great healthy strides.' He neglects to say where.
The dead end that Foot reaches is because of his adherence to the reformist politics. He can't ask where war comes from because it comes from the very system which he has chosen to work within--capitalism.
Foot's book begins with a letter from a 12 year old school girl in India to the prime minister in protest against the recent developments: 'All the money that is being wasted in making nuclear weapons and keeping our soldiers up in Siachen can be used to provide better living conditions for unfortunate people or to educate children who can go to a school instead of wiping cars at crossroads...look into the wretched conditions that millions of your fellow countrymen live in.' It is a much better proposition than Foot manages to put in the following 200 pages.