Issue 234 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review

Books Review

The heroes of Liberty Hall

A Star Called Henry
Roddy Doyle
Jonathan Cape £16.99

Michael Collins: fighter against the Black and Tans

Roddy Doyle successfully captured the poverty and defiance of the Dublin working class in the early 1990s. His Barrytown Trilogy novels shattered Ireland's picture box heritage image. His new novel, the first of a planned trilogy, attempts to take on different myths--those surrounding the Republican fight against British rule in Ireland. Set amid the turmoil of the years of struggle for Irish independence at the beginning of this century, the novel succeeds both in telling an exciting story and in stimulating discussion about the fight for Irish freedom.
The novel's main protagonist is Henry Smart--the son of a woman who works in a factory making rosary beads and a one legged security guard at a brothel. Henry becomes a socialist, takes part in the 1916 Easter Rising and after the rising's defeat becomes a Republican and joins Michael Collins's 'squad'.
At the start of the novel we see how Henry and his brother chance their luck to survive in the streets and sewers. There are vivid descriptions of the Dublin slums where people are 'choked to death by poverty' and the ravages of TB. 'It was how night-time was measured in the slums, in blood coughs and death rattles.' But, asks Henry, 'did kings and queens cough up blood? Did their children die under tarpaulins?'
We next meet Henry in the throes of the 1916 revolt against British rule--alongside the revolutionary socialist James Connolly and Republicans like Patrick Pearse and Michael Collins. Henry had joined the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, took part in the 1913 Dublin Lockout, and became a proud member of Connolly's Irish Citizen Army. In his descriptions of the rising, Doyle tries to show the antagonisms between the aims of socialists, fighting a class war against the rich, and Republicans fighting for national liberation. For Henry the rising is a class battle: '"We serve Neither King Nor Kaiser". So said the message on the banner that had hung across the front of Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. If I'd had my way, "Or Anyone Else", would have been added, instead of "But Ireland". I didn't give a shite about Ireland.'
He is scathing about the Republican Volunteers, 'the poets and the farm boys' who 'detested the slummers--the accents and the dirt, the Dubliness of them'. The Volunteers are appalled that Irish businesses are being robbed during the rising. But, for Henry, 'I shot and killed all that I had been denied, all the commerce and snobbery that had been mocking me and other hundreds of thousands behind glass and locks.'
After the rising Henry helps train Michael Collins's guerrilla army in their fight against the brutal British 'Black and Tans' terror squad. But as Collins signs the treaty which partitions Ireland, and as civil war erupts--Henry questions what he had fought and killed for and feels betrayed by the Ireland which had been created.
Doyle attempts to bring out the contradictions of the struggle which brought in a new set of rulers and left the poor of the new Republic still poor. Doyle debunks the heroes of the Republican movement. This can at times be hilarious. But there is a danger in the way Doyle tries to debunk Republican myths and heroes.
He portrays those in the Republican struggle as cynical, out for themselves and in some cases full of bigotry. In doing so he skirts over the ideological motivations of Republicans. Perhaps this is why some reviews of the book have hailed it as a condemnation of all political violence and struggle.
I'm not convinced that Doyle is always successful in convincing us of a different socialist vision. That said, the novel is a riveting read, driven by witty dialogue and memorable battle scenes. Working class characters are presented in a completely unpatronising way as ordinary people thirsting for education and change. From beginning to end the novel is shot through with class hatred against the system and bosses of both the British and Irish variety.
Hazel Croft


The Judge and the Historian
Carlo Ginzburg
Verso £17

The Judge and the Historian

In July 1988 three important figures from the Italian revolutionary left of the 1960s and 1970s were arrested and charged with murder. The murder in question was that of police chief Luigi Calabresi, shot in broad daylight outside his Milanese home in May 1972.
Since then, after seven trials and numerous judicial judgements, the three men (Ovidio Bompressi, Giorgio Pietrostefani and Adriano Sofri) have been found guilty, innocent, and then guilty again. The three were finally sentenced to 22 years in 1997 and have been in prison ever since.
Last year new evidence was gathered by the men's lawyer which formed the basis of a request for a retrial. After the first request was turned down in Milan, and that sentence overturned again by the supreme court of Italy, a special law was passed which allowed the case to be moved away from the city where Calabresi had been shot. However, the Brescia judges also turned the appeal down, and yet again the supreme court sent the judgement back.
Finally, as I write, the excellent news has come through that a new set of judges (this time in Venice!) have accepted the men's plea for a retrial. The men have all been released pending a new court case, to begin in October. Carlo Ginzburg's marvellous book and his tireless campaigning for the 'Calabresi Three' have been very important to this victory.
This extraordinary (and complicated) case, with its links to the state sponsored right wing terrorist bombing campaigns of the late 1960s and 1970s and the death of anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli in 1969 (Pinelli 'fell' from Calabresi's office window in the Milan police station after three days of questioning linked to the horrific bomb attack in the city), has inspired a series of political campaigners, books and even a loose political organisation known as the Liberi Liberi committees. Verso has now translated the best account of the early part of the case, written by Ginzburg, one of Italy's best known and most innovative historians.
Ginzburg analyses in brilliant and biting detail the so called evidence against the three men. As he points out again and again, this 'evidence' consists almost entirely of the unsubstantiated confessions of Leonardo Marino. Marino is the man who set this whole sorry saga in motion in 1988. An ex-Fiat worker and militant, Marino came forward (it is very unclear how) with a long, confused and rambling confession regarding the Calabresi case, 16 years after the murder itself.
Ginzburg's superb analysis destroys the contradictions, errors and absurdities in Marino's evidence, and exposes the judges who continued to believe Marino in the face of one error after another (and evidence of batched coaching by the police and detectives).
But there are further, and more serious allegations. Are we talking about a conspiracy, and at what level? Marino had been talking to the Italian police for a long time before Sofri et al were actually arrested. Much of the remaining evidence disappeared close to the trial (the most incredible example is the car used by the killers in 1972, 'destroyed in 1988 due to the lack of payment of road tax'). Part of the new evidence which has emerged claims that one eyewitness to the murder was shown photos which matched that of the murder in 1972, and was then asked to keep quiet.
The Italian establishment has never forgiven Sofri and the ex-militants from the 1960s for their campaigns in favour of Pinelli and against Calabresi, and there is a general desire to rewrite the history of that period with terrorism as the dominant force from the start, not mass struggle. There is some evidence that this campaign is working. Many Italian schoolchildren believe that the Red Brigades, a terrorist organisation that only really began to operate seriously in the 1970s and always attacked named targets, were responsible for the 1969 Milan bank bomb which killed 16 customers. This book is a detailed account of an extraordinary case of political and legal injustice.
John Foot


Scotland, Class and Nation
Ed: Chris Bambery
Bookmarks £8.95

Scotland, Class and Nation

Socialists have increasingly had to address the national question in Scotland. Until now there has been a dearth of up to date, accessible literature putting forward the revolutionary socialist position. This book, which is a series of essays based on talks given at last year's Socialism in Scotland event, goes a long way towards filling that gap.
The first three essays are concerned with showing the relevance of the classical Marxist approach to the national question in Scotland. Chris Bambery's introductory essay provides a valuable overview of the development of capitalism in Scotland and the growth of the Scottish working class from its origins to the present day.
On the basis of the Union with England in 1707, Scotland experienced rapid industrialisation, particularly from 1750 to 1780. As well as providing the basis for the Scottish Enlightenment, that industrialisation also gave birth to a new working class. Contrary to some mythologies on the left, however, for most of the 19th century that class was seldom noted for its militancy. It was not until the epic struggles in the engineering factories on the Clyde during and after the First World War that 'Red Clydeside' was born.
If the shipyards and engineering industry were the cradle of socialist ideas and organisation on the Clyde, then it was the decline of these heavy industries in the 1930s that gave rise to modern nationalism. As Bambery says, 'Irish nationalism rose in opposition to British rule. Scottish nationalism was a response to imperial decline.' The alleged inability of Marxism to address this and other nationalisms is the issue addressed by Alex Callinicos. Callinicos shows that only the Marxist approach to the national question, as developed by Lenin, is capable of, on the one hand, grasping the potential of national movements to destabilise imperialism, and on the other, their limits in terms of confining themselves to carving out a national state within the capitalist world order. Failure to grasp this two sided nature of nationalism has led many on the Labour left to demonise Scottish nationalism (in the process often ending up as apologists for the much more pernicious British nationalism), while other socialists have tended to sow illusions in Scottish nationalism by painting it much redder than it is.
Relatively little has been written by Marxists about Scotland's bourgeois revolution and so Neil Davidson's chapter of that title is an ambitious and impressive attempt to begin to fill that gap.
Neil's central argument is that 'the weakness of bourgeois elements within Scottish society, let alone those classes further down the social structure, meant they were never capable of overthrowing capitalism on their own... The Scottish revolution concluded, not in the construction of a capitalist nation state in Scotland, but by confirming the fusion of Scotland with an existing capitalist nation state, England, to form yet another: the United Kingdom of Great Britain.'
As Angus Calder demonstrates in his essay, 'Imperialism and Scottish Culture', the terms of that fusion were in striking contrast to those imposed on England's colonies, including Ireland. Scotland maintained its own established church, its own education system and its own legal system. Through a witty and insightful analysis of the ideas and literature of the writer John Buchan, imperialist adventurer and sometime colonial governor, Angus shows how that privileged place of Scotland within the Union gave rise in the writings of Buchan, Walter Scott and others to a nostalgic Scottish nationalism which could happily coexist with a deep commitment to the British Empire.
The final two essays in the book critically evaluate the poetry and politics of Scotland's two greatest poets, Robert Burns and Hugh McDiarmid. As Jock Morris points out, we on the left have a job to do in rescuing Burns from the many myths that surround him. It was a revelation to discover that anthem of middle class Scotland, 'Scots Wha Hae', was written in solidarity with the radical Thomas Muir, then on trial, with its final lines, 'Liberty's in every blow, Let us do or die', an adaptation of a French revolutionary anthem.
If we can claim Burns for one of our own, the same cannot be said for Hugh McDiarmid, Scotland's greatest poet of the 20th century. As Jimmy Ross shows, McDiarmid should be celebrated for his contribution to 20th century poetry, including much of his political poetry. As someone not familiar with McDiarmid's poetry, I found many of the excerpts selected by Jimmy both moving and exciting. That said, socialists today have little to learn from the grotesque brand of Stalinism and Anglophobia which formed the basis of McDiarmid's politics. It is hard to feel much sympathy for someone who actually rejoined the Communist Party while Russian tanks were crushing the workers' uprising in Hungary in 1956.
Iain Ferguson


Gaining Ground
Rachel Morris and Luke Clements
University of Hertfordshire Press £17

Gaining Ground

Just as the revolting media hysteria against Gypsies and travellers reached fever pitch last month, a new book setting the record straight should have been hitting the book shops. Gaining Ground: Law Reform for Gypsies and Travellers is an important antidote to the racist headlines, carrying the facts and figures that debunk the racist myths. Yet, amazingly for such a study, preorders from the major bookshops amounted to nil. Perhaps this omission is related to the racism and discrimination that this study by the Traveller Law Research Unit at Cardiff Law School uncovers in every aspect of the lives of Gypsies.
One of the strengths of the study is that time and again it points out that many of the problems Gypsies and travellers face, such as unequal policing, lack of choice in housing, appalling access to adequate healthcare and inability to claim benefits, are not simply the result of discrimination but are problems shared by the settled population and are caused by the structure of power and wealth in society. This encourages readers to see the problem as something which affects us all. Unfortunately this approach is often lost in unhelpful generalisations about the 'settled population' which seem to lump the propertyless in with big landlords.
The study also brings into stark relief how, year by year, the situation is getting more desperate. Safe areas in which travellers and Gypsies can legally camp become scarcer every year as local authorities use the Tory Criminal Justice Act to close down sites and deny planning permission, often ignoring their statutory duties to protect children from harm and to provide basic utilities such as clean water.
The sites that do exist are often on contaminated land, scrap heaps, and under flyovers, making it impossible to live with any decency. Constant eviction and harassment by local bigots make even a family outing impossible as trailers can never be left unattended for fear of damage or eviction. Even if people can go out they can't simply pop into the pub like anyone else. The 'no travellers' signs are the last bastion of confident racist bigotry.
The result of all this is that twice as many low birth weight babies are born to traveller and Gypsy mothers than the national average, and children living on sites are more Iikely to be injured in accidents than would normally be expected.
When it comes to education, at least 10,000 children are without a secondary school place. Again the problem of Sats and league tables making these kids 'undesirable' is a shared experience with other sections of the working class but perhaps affects Gypsy and travelling kids far more as it is easy to simply create rules and regulations that make it impossible for them to feel able to attend school.
This book is useful for getting facts and figures to confront the bigots. Apparently a housing minister said that New Labour could not fund legal, safe and environmentally friendly sites because it did not have the necessary 'pot of gold'. In fact in the 22 years in which local authorities were required to provide sites just £56 million was spent--a mere £2.5 million per year, far less than the annual cost of evicting, jailing and harassing travellers.
However, the book is an academic study and not easy reading unless you already have a basic knowledge of legal and planning issues or an interest in housing policy, teaching travelling kids or social work. This is because it is mainly concerned with concrete proposals for reform and with presenting models of good practice. It is stuffed full of ways that the situation could immediately be improved.
Readers of Socialist Review should try and get the local library to order it, and those who work in schools, health, social work and housing departments should demand their managers buy and study it.
Elane Heffernan


Bell's Eye
Steve Bell
Methuen £12.99

Bell's Eye

This is Steve Bell's best compilation so far. It provides a fascinating and very readable potted history of the last 20 years of British and international politics as seen through the eyes of Britain's most savage and funniest political cartoonist.
Bell is that rarest of creatures, a politically committed left wing satirist--and he's funny too! In recent years Steve Bell's cartoons seem to be all that's left of the left in the Guardian, and I'm sure that for many people this must be one of the few remaining reasons to read it.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the way you can trace the artist's development in his approach to the technical problems of presenting his ideas as drawings and you can see his increasingly sophisticated political analysis.
I use the word analysis because this book provides some of the best political commentary available. If you want to get a feeling of how Thatcher could possibly have emerged out of the radical 1970s then Bell will provide you with that explanation with a few very well chosen words and some extraordinary drawing.
What is amazing about Bell's drawings is that they are apparently innately comic. He has such an eye for the visually comic that he arrives at a synthesis of form and content that is sublimely unmatched. But it would be wrong to suggest that Bell's drawings are simply comic. He has handled tragedies and injustices with exactly the right touch of sympathy and outrage and he's done it consistently for 20 years. During those 20 years there have been some fascinating developments, like the strange case of Thatcher, who in the earliest drawings presented a difficult problem. She obviously was a monster but still didn't seem to look like one.
You can sense that to a great extent artists like Bell have an influence on our visual and metaphorical images of such politicians. In the case of Thatcher we can see how the transformation from blonde housewife to riddled raving lunatic takes place. It's almost like The Portrait of Dorian Gray--only in this case both the painting and its subject grow hideous and corrupted at the same time. Steve Bell played an enormously important role in showing us exactly what the reality was. He has so consistently produced cartoons which when you look at them you say, 'Yes, that's absolutely right.'
A word should be reserved for another of Bell's great political insights--John Major's pants. If anything stopped that self important little Tory assuming the rank of statesman then it was his pants. This was an inspired observation which Steve Bell, quite rightly, milked for all it was worth.
Tim Sanders


History of the Present
Timothy Garton Ash
Penguin £20

History of the Present

Old Marxists were fond of quoting the Dutch philosopher Spinoza about the aim of writing history being 'neither to laugh, nor to cry, but to understand'. Timothy Garton Ash is one of the most eminent English liberal historians and the aim of his new book, as its title indicates, is to treat contemporary events as if they were history. The focus is to explain the developments which have shaped the new states in eastern Europe after the collapse of Stalinism.
In fact the real aim--hardly disguised--is to champion the idea of a new extended liberal democratic Europe 'to consolidate Europe's liberal order and to spread it across the whole continent'. That the author remains hopeful about this outcome is testimony to his optimism and general goodwill, but also reflects his obsession with the role of the intelligentsia and the middle class, and his blind spot when it comes to the economic forces in play.
Most of this book is good journalism rather than history, not surprising as it is basically a revised version of articles previously published in the New York Review of Books. This partly explains the author's habit of writing as if he was compiling a dinner party list. I read the first half of the book with mounting irritation, as the references to all his important friends piled up. He also has a tendency to engage in 'literary' arguments that are tedious to anyone outside the charmed circle. He asks if an intellectual can be a politician, and ponderously debates the subject for page after page. As if 'intellectuals' don't also compromise their ideals and lie through their teeth.
His view of Poland is utterly one dimensional, right down to his adulation for the pope. You would almost think that Solidarity had been a movement of the Warsaw intelligentsia (a view assiduously cultivated by some of its members, it should be said). There is not a whiff of the workers' vodka. Similarly, the impact of mass unemployment in East Germany is almost entirely missing, as is the impact of economic collapse in Yugoslavia.
But halfway through this book I there is a sudden change, because when Timothy Garton Ash is confronted with war in the Balkans, rather than salon life, he speaks with a different voice. The eyewitness account of how the Croats drove the Serbs out of Krajina is a model of war reporting and a story conveniently buried by those who want to pin all the blame on Milosevic: 'The Krajina, an area the size of several English counties, has literally been picked clean. This was not random looting. The plundering and burning has been done quite systematically... Before the war, some 37,000 people lived in Knin, now even the local government claims only 2,000.'
Later, in Bosnia, he reports how: 'We have been told that Tuzla is an island of liberal, multiethnic, multicultural coexistence. The reality is more complicated. One reason, perhaps the main reason, why Tuzla is still relatively tolerant of ethnic diversity is precisely that it was such a strongly Communist Yugoslav industrial city.'
To his credit, he reports much earlier than others, and much more perceptively, on the looming crisis in Kosovo--a 'frozen war', as he calls it--and shows how it was the Dayton deal in Bosnia that paved the way for disaster. Above all he tries to explain the crisis from the point of view of all sides, and that is no small achievement. All the more frustrating then that his 'solution' appears to be to accept ethnic cleansing as inevitable and to put his faith in 'separation as a path to integration'.
Dave Beecham


The Global Gamble
Peter Gowan
Verso £13

The Global Gamble

Peter Gowan's book is a welcome addition to the continuing debate over globalisation. He sets out his analysis of what he has called the 'Dollar-Wall Street regime'.
Gowan offers us the hard evidence to illustrate the dominance of the US banks, the IMF and the World Bank and, ultimately, US imperialism over the world economy. He argues that the US, in an alliance using the political power of Bill Clinton with the economic power of the banks, engineered the collapse of the south east Asian economies to ensure world domination. Unfortunately, his belief that the collapse of currencies and the movement of the market are determined solely and rationally by the dominant powers hampers his analysis. At times reading The Global Gamble is like flicking through a John Le Carré novel or reading the latest exploits of KGB spies. It is full of unproven conspiracy theories.
It would be wrong to conclude, as Gowan does, that individual capitalists, banks or the state have 100 percent control over the market. Rightly Gowan, like Will Hutton and Larry Elliot, points out the measures that, if enacted, could control sleaze and corruption--like regulation of the stock market and greater control on companies and banks. But, he says, 'just as capitalism found a way out in the end from the crisis of the 1930s and the war, a way out that offered a greatly improved deal for a large part of humanity, so I believe it could, in principle, again. But I doubt that it will, not because of the nature of capitalism as such, but because a solution would require a tactical radicalism and an intransigence of political will which is difficult to imagine European social democracy as being capable of.'
Here he ends up appealing for a left reformist solution, similar to that of Hutton and Elliott. Much of this appeal is based on contemporary conditions, but his solutions fall flat. His hopes are resting on the shoulders of the now ousted Oskar Lafontaine, the German finance minister who was forced out by the combined forces of big business and the right wing of the SPD: 'But the new German finance minister, Lafontaine, is certainly different. He raises the possibility of a Keynesianism not so much rooted in the Keynes of redistributing income in the national economy to boost effective demand but in the Keynes of ideas for organising the postwar international economy for growth. The Keynes who sought to propose the kind of "financial repression" and status development strategy for the world, placing productive growth in the saddle and organising euthanasia for the rentier.'
On eastern Europe he examines the development of the reorganised Communist Parties and indicates that the failed economic input from the west after the fall of the Berlin Wall has resulted in wild political fluctuations, with the very real threat from right wing extremists and Nazi parties.
But he harbours a belief that somehow eastern Europe can automatically resist any imposed political or economic domination, particularly from the US.
His illusions in left reformism, Keynesianism and the former eastern European states spoils his powerful arguments against US imperialism.
He ends with an essay on Nato and the EU where he says, 'We had thought that interwar capitalist society was a thing of the past, a deviation overcome by postwar social progress. But it turns out that the postwar social gains were the deviation and the interwar state and society is again the norm... Europe seems to be drifting toward a divided, turbulent and ugly future.' The Balkan War showed how right Gowan is. It was a bloody and horrific demonstration of how US imperialism will stop at nothing to remain the world economic and political power.
Unfortunately, The Global Gamble does not hold the answers to how we effectively challenge this domination, but it does offer useful information and many a debating point.
Julie Waterson


How Brains Make Up Their Minds
Walter Freeman
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £14.99

Sexing the Brain
Lesley Rogers
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £14.99

How Brains Make Up Their Minds

The question of how a lump of squishy grey matter generates such a dazzling array of thoughts and feelings is one of the major unsolved problems of biology. At present the dominant metaphor for the brain is that it is like a very sophisticated computer. But, as How Brains Make Up Their Minds points out, there are significant and fundamental differences between the brain and a computer. Unlike the on-off binary switches that every programmable digital computer is composed of, each nerve cell receives around 10,000 input connections from surrounding nerve cells. Nerve connections are also in a state of continuous flux, being shaped by learning. Finally, the nerve networks are so structured that they create global patterns that integrate and direct the activity of the brain as a whole.
Until recently such a sophisticated view of the brain has been difficult to explore experimentally. Fortunately, two exciting developments have made it feasible to start exploring the brain's true complexity scientifically. One of these is brain imaging, by which the patterns of activity of the whole brain can be observed in a living person. The second is chaos theory, which makes sense of natural phenomena that were once thought to be merely background noise but now have been shown to be highly complex and ordered patterns.
The picture of the brain that Freeman describes is a welcome antidote to the oversimplified models that in the end leave us just as much in the dark about the material roots of consciousness. He argues against the idea that our behaviour is merely in our genes, and instead provides a physical basis for the fact that changed circumstances can lead to changes in people's ideas. Despite its valuable message, the main problem with Freeman's book is its accessibility.
A far easier read is Sexing the Brain, in which Lesley Rogers addresses the question of whether behavioural differences between men and women are primarily cultural or whether they are rooted in fundamental biological differences in brain structure and function.
One of the main justifications today for saying that there are significant biological differences between men and women's brains is the assertion that the development of the brain is influenced differently by the sex hormones in the foetus. However, as Rogers points out there is little direct evidence for such a causal link.
Obviously there are hormonal differences between the sexes. But the situation is far from clear cut. Testosterone, the hormone we associate with men, and oestrogen, the so called female hormone, are in fact present in both sexes. While, on average, males have more testosterone and women more oestrogen, there is considerable overlap. Subtle sex differences in the chemical make up or the electrical activity of the brain have been detected. However, there are major problems in interpreting their significance. It is often assumed that such differences must be the cause of the different ways in which men and women think and behave in present society. Yet given the ample evidence presented in these books for the environmental plasticity of the brain, coupled with the fact that boys and girls are treated and expected to behave differently from birth, it seems equally likely that many sex differences may be consequence rather than cause.
A worrying number of studies mentioned in Sexing the Brain seem to be merely setting out to confirm stereotypical assumptions about women--such as they are more emotional, worse at problem solving, more irrational and less careerminded than men. Given these flaws, one might wonder why these studies continue to receive so much attention and funding. In fact they play a deeply ideological role in keeping women in their place. In the past, they have received most publicity at times when women have fought back against sexism and inequality.
John Parrington


Through The Minefield
David McKittrick
Blackstaff Press £11.99

Through The Minefield

David McKittrick is one of the few Northern Ireland based journalists who has reported for the British press. For most of the duration of the Troubles he has been worthwhile to read, except for a brief hiccup when he joined in attacking Paul Foot over the Colin Wallace affair.
Through the Minefield is a collection of McKittrick's reports for the Independent, from the aftermath of the breakdown of the first IRA ceasefire with the Canary Wharf bombing, through the Good Friday Agreement, the horrors of Drumcree and the Omagh bombing, to the assassination of Rosemary Nelson.
McKittrick is no left winger. But what he does do is give an excellent snapshot of particular episodes in the rollercoaster ride that is the Northern Ireland peace process. So it is that he explains why the Republican leadership have recognised that the armed struggle cannot win, and have for more than a decade been edging closer to entering straight parliamentary politics. Yet all the while they have been careful to take their supporters with them and so avoid any major splits. McKittrick says that the logic of the Good Friday Agreement is that Gerry Adams and another Sinn Fein member will serve in a cabinet administering Northern Ireland under the leadership of the Unionist David Trimble. For Sinn Fein that represents a massive retreat. At the same time McKittrick explains the general desire for peace which exists at a grassroots level among both Catholics and Protestants. This was most evident following the Omagh bombing, which has made it terribly difficult for Republicans, or anyone else, to restart the armed struggle.
Then we have David Trimble himself. Elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party as a hardliner, he signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. Yet all the time Trimble is looking over his shoulder at his opponents in the Unionist camp. McKittrick points to the way that Unionism has decomposed over the last three decades, throwing up a mosaic of competing parties and leaders. That in itself has created uncertainty and disillusionment among those who traditionally voted Unionist.
Finally, this book pulls no punches concerning the inability of John Major and the Tories to develop the peace process during their final days in office. The impetus came largely from Gerry Adams, John Hume of the SDLP and the Dublin government. Major was ready to drop the thing right up until the eve of the Downing Street Declaration in 1993 which paved the way for the first IRA ceasefire. The book is less critical of Tony Blair's government. But that might change in the next collection of reports, which I suspect and hope is in the making.
James Barr


Karl Marx
Francis Wheen
Fourth Estate £20

Karl Marx

'The somewhat thick set man, with broad forehead, very black hair and beard, and dark sparkling eyes, at once attracted general attention. He enjoyed the reputation of having aquired great learning.'
This description of the young Karl Marx seems quite agreed upon.
'Karl Marx from Trier was a powerful man of 24 whose thick black hair sprang from his cheeks, arms, nose and ears. He was domineering, impetuous, passionate, full of boundless self confidence,' wrote another early aquaintance.
Marx is caricatured as either a wild eyed revolutionary lunatic or a dry academic who spent his life in the British Museum. He was, of course, neither.
He did spend many years researching political economy, but his life was also punctuated by intense periods of political activity. He was hounded from country to country because of his agitation in support of the democratic revolutions of 1848. When the Prussian authorities closed down the newspaper Marx was editing, the final issue was printed in defiant red ink and announced that 'the last word everywhere and always will be: emancipation of the working class!'
The defeat of the revolutions of 1848 was a turning point which affected the whole working class across Europe. Marx withdrew from active politics for much of the dismal 1850s as a consequence. But he sprang back into activity with the revival of radical politics in the 1860s.
The formation of the International Working Men's Association in 1864 ushered in a period of frenetic activity. Marx was the central figure of the International until its demise following the defeat of the Paris Commune of 1871.
Marx hated 'hypocrisy, stupidity, gross arbitrariness' and 'bowing and scraping'. He found it frustrating to be forced to 'fight with pinpricks instead of clubs'. When Marx's children submitted him to a parlour game questionnaire, he responded that his idea of happiness was to fight, his idea of misery was submission and the vice he most detested was servility.
Francis Wheen is well known for his Guardian column, which he has often used to attack establishment figures under both Tory and Labour governments. Unfortunately he recently used his column to argue for support for the Balkan War and to attack those who were in vocal opposition.
Nevertheless, Wheen has produced a sympathetic and enjoyable account of Marx's life, in which he praises the prescience of The Communist Manifesto. He describes The Civil War in France--Marx's pamphlet on the Paris Commune--as 'one of Marx's most intoxicating tracts'.
He also sees Marxs relevance for today. Wheen writes, 'The more I studied Marx, the more astoundingly topical he seemed to be. Today's pundits and politicians who fancy themselves as modern thinkers like to mention the buzzword "globalisation" at every opportunity without realising Marx was already on the case in 1848.'
To those who reject Marx's economic analysis he cites the 'boom-bust cycles of western economies in the 20th century', and the 'globe girdling dominance of Bill Gates's Microsoft'. And he urges Marx's critics, including Tony Blair, to read Marx's Paris manuscripts, which 'reveal the workings of a ceaselessly inquisitive, subtle and undogmatic mind'.
Wheen is less good when explaining Marx's ideas. They are all too often trivialised instead of seriously examined. Most readers will be left mystified by the two paragraph long explanation of how Marx developed a dialectical framework from Hegel: 'An idea, stripped naked, has a passionate grapple with its antithesis, from which a new synthesis is created; this in turn becomes the new thesis, to be duly seduced by a new demon lover. Two wrongs may make a right--but, soon after its birth, that right becomes another wrong which must be subjected to the same intimate scrutiny as its forebears, and thus we go forward.'
Wheen's jocular style similarly affects his treatment of Marx's writings on alienation that describe powerfully how workers are robbed of the products of their labour.
In Wheen's hands this becomes, 'rather as an intelligent chicken (if such an unlikely creature existed) would be most conscious of its impotence when at its most fertile, laying dozens of eggs only to see them snatched away while still warm'.
Wheen defends Capital from some of its critics, but rejects the idea that Marx provided a scientific understanding of the workings of capitalism, preferring instead to see it as a 'Victorian melodrama, or a vast Gothic novel whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created'.
Thus there is a separation between the story Wheen tells of Marx's life and the development of his ideas. Wheen adopts a mocking tone towards Marxs involvement in politics, scoffing and sneering at the groups and individuals with which he was involved without seriously elaborating the political arguments involved.
He even damns Marx as a 'sadistic intellectual thug' who 'disliked organisations or institutions he couldn't dominate'.
Yet Wheen cannot help but like and admire old Moor, as Marx was known to his friends. Much of his picture of Marx corresponds to that provided in other biographies, like the first volume of Yvonne Kapp's study of Marx's youngest daughter Eleanor.
Wheen describes with admiration Marx's famous drinking bouts along Tottenham Court Road, where the plan was 'to have at least one glass of beer in every pub between Oxford Street and the Hampstead Road'. After smashing a number of street lamps with stones on one occasion, Marx showed great agility when fleeing from an irate young constable, a scene no doubt familiar to many comrades.
Sam Ashman


Social Theory
Alex Callinicos
Polity £14.99

Social Theory

Sociology has been through a lean time in recent years. Its growth in British academic life corresponded with the expansion in higher education in the 1960s. It was the high point of postwar welfare reformism. Social problems could be analysed and investigated within the context of a variety of sociological perspectives and social policy solutions put forward. The current crisis of traditional reformism, signified by the rapid shift to the right of social democratic parties and the embracing of the free market, has been one of the factors in the current 'crisis' in academic sociology. Sociology was thrown onto the defensive in the 1980s by the development of postmodernism, which entailed a retreat from any attempt to construct theories of society, as these would necessarily represent yet another oppressive 'grand narrative'.
Alex Callinicos's Social Theory: A Historical Introduction will no doubt outrage those still wedded to postmodern sensibilities. The fashion in much current academic writing is to avoid any overarching analysis and explanation in favour of specific localised studies. Callinicos, on the contrary, provides an analysis of a range of key thinkers from the Enlightenment through to the founding fathers of modern sociology, and beyond.
The book also defies current received wisdom by making clear connections between sets of ideas. So, for example, Callinicos traces the lineages of theory from the work of the German philosopher Nietzsche through the works of Max Weber and on to postmodernists such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.
On one level Social Theory works as the dream textbook. However, it would be mistaken to see it merely as a textbook. For over 20 years Callinicos has sustained a critical engagement with contemporary theory from the standpoint of classical Marxism. Some of the material covered in Social Theory is developed in greater detail in Callinicos's other work. So, for example, much of the chapter on postmodernism covers arguments which mere taken on to such effect in Against Postmodernism. Social Theory provides a far broader canvas across which we can trace the historical development of key debates and concepts.
The final chapter provides a useful insight into some of the current debates in social theory. Callinicos looks in some detail at the contemporary work of Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck. Giddens will be known to many as the most prominent sociologist in Britain and one of the key intellectuals of Blair's 'project'. Beck's notion of the 'risk society' has been an important influence on the development of Green politics in Germany. Both are thinkers who argue that 'late modernity' represents a distinctive break with earlier phases of capitalism. For Giddens, this has meant an enthusiastic embracing of Blair's 'Third Way'. For Beck, it has meant an insistence that both historical materialism and class politics are outdated. Callinicos provides a systematic and clear refutation of these positions and concludes with a (rather understated) reassertion of Marxism's validity.
Social Theory is primarily aimed at an academic audience, but it deserves a wider readership. As we can see from the case of Giddens, ideas which develop within the academic world permeate quickly into the realm of public policy. To be fuIly armed to take on and expose the rhetoric of the pro-market orthodoxy which permeates much of official political culture we need to be able to engage with its theoretical roots. Social Theory will be a crucial weapon in that task.
James Eaden


China on the Brink
Callum Henderson
McGraw and Hill £18.99

Despite Callum Henderson being a true believer in the power of capitalism, he has produced a useful book. As he puts it, the failure of market methods in China marks not only a defeat for market socialism, but also a fundamental defeat of market ideology. China is now the third biggest economy in the world. Henderson wants to abuse the 'snake oil' economists who refuse to 'discover the faultlines, the fissures which lie beneath the surface.'
When China escaped most of the worst aspects of the Asian crisis in 1998, pundits responded by saying that China was different. Henderson explains that this is far too superficial--the crisis had simply not reached the same level in China. In the Tiger economies the selling of the currencies led to their devaluation, but debt repayments were in US dollars. This led to defaults. China was buffered from this effect because the state has complete control over all currency dealings.
Henderson further points out that the Asian crisis will affect China fundamentally--60 percent of China's goods are sold in east Asia. China is suffering from deflation--a clear indication of overcapacity--and the four main banks are effectively bankrupt.
The key reason why China is likely to go into crisis is that the state organised enterprises (SOEs), which comprise 30 percent of industry, are bankrupt and kept afloat by loans from the state banks. The SOEs employ 47 percent of the urban population--55 million of whom are 'surplus to requirement'. Official unemployment stands at 30 million, but the real figure is closer to 150 million. This is without the restructuring that the Chinese economy needs to become internationally competitive.
The most interesting part of the book is when Henderson focuses on the world's biggest working class and its response to boom and crisis. He reminds us that the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 were a response to austerity measures. He fears the wholesale restructuring of the state-organised enterprises could lead to an eruption of class struggle. He cites the continuous rise of strikes, riots and workers' demonstrations across the industrial regions in China. He tells of workers' sit-in strikes in Acheng, of 20,000 workers besieging the City Hall in Nanchong for 30 hours and winning their demands, and of the formation of the laid off workers' committees which have organised political demonstrations.
Henderson argues that this is a war between the haves and the have nots. He shows that inequality has increased massively. The disparity between the rich and poor in China is greater than in the US. Progress means poverty to millions of Chinese workers, yet they are the only ones with power to bring real change.
Weyman Bennett

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