Issue 237 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
The Balkans 1804-1999
Much of the left internationally responded to the wars and civil wars in the Balkans in the 1990s very much like a hill walker without a map--going round in circles, getting stuck in bogs, marching proudly off in the wrong direction. What they lacked, of course, was not a map of the physical landscape of the Balkans, but a historical and political map showing the interplay of developing class formations, ethnic groupings, national states and Great Power interests. Confused by the lack of such a map, some even threw away the compass and came to believe that north was south, that imperialist bodies like the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA and Nato had humanitarian motives.
Those of us who tried to avoid such traps had to rely on partial maps. We turned to histories of particular states or ethnic groups; but these were invariably distorted by degrees of romantic identification with one or other of the region's nationalisms. We also turned to very old but still very useful maps--Trotsky's journalistic writings on the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. But none of these were a substitute for an overall view of the history and politics of the region.
This Misha Glenny has now attempted to provide. In doing so he has performed a service for anyone who wants to get a deeper view of the problems of the region--and of Great Power intervention in the region--than you will ever get from the tabloid-style articles that fill allegedly serious liberal papers like the Guardian and the Observer.
Three great conclusions emerge from the book. The first is that the peoples of the Balkans are not innately warlike, savage or inhuman. War and civil wars have not been a continual feature of the region over the last 200 years, and when they have occurred it has been for concrete historical reasons. Glenny does not, perhaps, spell this out sufficiently, but he implies that the most important reason has been the fragmented development of rival bourgeoisies. Each has set out to copy the bourgeoisies of western Europe in establishing nation states, but none has been able to do so without vicious clashes with the others and reliance upon Great Power intervention.
The second is that such Great Power interventions have always been motivated by crude calculations of economic and strategic advantage--they have been imperialist in the strict meaning of the term. Glenny describes, for instance, the crude reasoning behind their carving up of the region at the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 and the Yalta Conference of 1945.
Finally, he shows how disastrous the effects of their interventions have always been--whether it was a question of extracting debt repayments and selling arms in the years between 1878 and 1913, or attempts to take advantage of the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1990-91.
There are a few faults with the book. At times it rushes through the history of particular countries at a bewildering pace. There are some small factual mistakes. It often does not spell out sufficiently what an emerging nationalism meant for the mass of ordinary people who accepted it. Above all, it skates over those all-important occasions when social movements emerged which led people to identify themselves in class rather than ethnic terms, and there is little understanding of the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
But despite these problems this is a book we could all have done with during the horrific days last spring when bombers from Oxfordshire were pummelling Belgrade. And it will be just as indispensable if, as Glenny suggests is likely, a further horrific war erupts in the region.
The Lugano Report
Big Business, Poor Peoples
Zed Books £14.99
Suspicion about big business has never been so widespread. So the publication of these books, which go on the offensive against the ideology of globalisation and the free market, could not come at a better time.
John Madeley's book is a sober and factual survey of a world economy dominated by big transnational corporations, or TNCs. He looks at their stranglehold over different economic sectors, and the way they either bend national governments to their will or simply bypass them. Some examples are well known, like the way Monsanto and other agribusinesses try to force farmers to buy their 'terminator' seeds, or the way Nestlé gives free supplies to hospitals to get babies hooked on their nutritionally inferior breastmilk substitutes. Others, like the way TNCs have used their influence to undermine supposedly impartial bodies like the UN and the European Commission, deserve wider publicity.
Susan George's book is rather more ambitious. It is a work of fiction which, as she explains in her afterword, she originally intended to publish as a hoax. A group of world leaders commission a secret working party to look at the problems faced by capitalism in the 21st century and figure out ways to preserve it. The working party finds that the system cannot possibly meet the needs of the majority of the world's people, and will be more and more prone to crises, environmental destruction and social upheaval. Their solution? Get rid of the 'surplus' people--in other words, the ones whom it is unprofitable to keep alive.
With ice-cold logic, the working party looks at methods of population reduction, using the destructive features of capitalism itself to eliminate the people it cannot look after. George's satire is at its most powerful when she has the working party coldbloodedly weigh up the relative merits of Aids, malaria and TB as means of population control.
Of the two books, The Lugano Report is a more satisfying read, as it squarely identifies capitalism as the problem. John Madeley is scathing about TNCs but tends to see them as parasites on an otherwise benign system. His proposed solutions do not go beyond governmental regulation, consumer boycotts and persuading shareholders to hold their companies to account. Susan George sees this kind of trust in the institutions of capitalism as 'the saddest and most irritating kind of naivety'. However, her own strategy for change is also less powerful than her critique of the system. While she calls for activity and alliances to fight the TNCs, she is hopelessly vague about what kind of action is needed. It seems anything goes, from workplace organisation to consumer cooperatives, or even working with insurance companies which lose money as a result of environmental disasters.
George identifies one key feature of the system, competition for profit, but ignores the other, the division between capital and labour. She sees the working class as one of many pressure groups, rather than the social force that has the potential to organise production for need rather than profit.
The Origin of Capitalism
Ellen Meiksins Wood
Monthly Review Press £10
Ellen Meiksins Wood is an unrepentant Marxist, and she is not the kind of Marxist content to devote herself to historical studies, although she has produced these as well. She has also been an unremitting political critic of those on the left who have bent before the liberal, pro-market ideologies.
The Origin of Capitalism has an admirable goal. It aims to show that capitalism is not some outgrowth of human nature, an inevitable and always present tendency in historical development, needing only to have the restrictions of feudalism removed for it to emerge fully formed at the beginning of the modern era. She wishes to show that capitalism could only emerge in certain specific circumstances, and that it is a relatively recent and by no means 'natural' social form.
The debates about the origin of capitalism have raged for as long as Marxism itself has existed. Maurice Dobb and Paul Sweezy argued the issue through in the 1950s. A second round of discussion, centred on the work of Robert Brenner, unfolded in the 1970s. Certainly a short summary of the arguments --and this text runs to 121 pages-- should be welcome. There is no obvious rival to Ellen Wood's book. Yet The Origin of Capitalism remains unsatisfactory because it fails to do justice to these debates.
The Origin of Capitalism is primarily a work of advocacy, and the case it advocates is that of Robert Brenner. This fact alone need not vitiate the project--many useful introductions to Marxist debates make their partiality clear. But few have done so in quite the bald and repetitive manner that Ellen Wood adopts here.
Practically every historian who has dealt with this question, Marxist or not, is damned with the same criticism. They all, the principals mentioned above as well as figures as diverse as Rodney Hilton, Brian Manning and Perry Anderson, stand accused of failing to properly explain the origins of capitalism because they assumed the very thing they were trying to explain. The idea of a 'rising bourgeoisie', the importance of towns or of international trade are all dismissed as of only secondary importance since they are all compatible with feudal structures and so cannot explain the point of origin of a distinctive and antagonistic capitalist system.
According to Wood all these accounts assume some pre-existing entity (cities, trade or whatever) which would simply grow once the fetters of feudalism were removed. Brenner's account of the origin of capitalism is to be preferred because it does not rest on this kind of circular argument. Brenner's view is that capitalism originated in the countryside. The feudal state in Britain was just centralised enough to weaken the local military power of the landlord, but not so powerful as to prevent landlords and tenants from improving the productivity of the land. This they now had to achieve by economic means since the old military means were no longer viable.
It is clear that this is a different account to those offered by other Marxists, including Marx himself. But it is also clear that it too involves a circular argument. Let us leave to one side the happy coincidence involved in assuming that the English state was of just the right constitution (not too strong, not too weak--a kind of 'Goldilocks state') to allow the development of capitalism. Even then, Brenner's account also seems to assume that 'something' just stepped into the gap so created. What was this something, and where did it originate? This question is never adequately addressed in Wood's account.
The issue at stake here, but which Wood does not fully confront, is the crisis of feudalism. How is it that feudalism, unlike ancient Greece and Rome, gave rise to increasing productivity of labour? And how is it that these changes began to undermine the old class structure and give rise to new social classes?
Wood seems to believe that such considerations are inherently reductionist, although this is patently obviously not the case in the hands of a historian like Rodney Hilton. In trying to avoid them, Wood follows Brenner in positing superstructural factors as the pathfinders for economic forces, but then leaves unanswered the ultimate question of where these economic forces originated. In pursuing the debate in this way Wood diminishes the real achievements of generations of Marxists and brings us no closer to solving the question with which she confronts the reader.
The Cyprus Conspiracy
Brendan O'Malley and Ian Craig
IB Tauris £19.95
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the bitter partition of Cyprus between the Turkish north and Greek south. This extremely well researched book by Brendan O'Malley and Ian Craig adds to our understanding of how this small country could become drenched in so much bloodshed and interethnic strife.
Britain took over the administration of Cyprus from the ailing Ottoman Empire in 1878. It then annexed the island in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. Cyprus remained a British colony until 1960. Very quickly the British administration faced a movement for Cypriot independence. The Greek Orthodox archbishop, Makarios, came to symbolise this movement in the 1950s. The British government responded by deliberately fanning ethnic hatred to stabilise its rule. It played upon the fears of the Turkish minority in Cyprus to undermine Makarios's movement, which had the backing of the Greek Cypriot majority. The policy was closely modelled on the attempt to weaken Ghandi's Congress movement in India in the 1930s and 1940s by encouraging the rival Muslim League. The result in both India and Cyprus was partition and communal violence when the British were forced to grant independence. In India the separation was immediate. In Cyprus it took 14 years.
However, British, and later US, interference in Cyprus did not end when the Union Jack was lowered at Government House in Nicosia on 15 August 1960. The island remained strategically vital to the West throughout the Cold War. This book explains the frantic intrigue by the British and US governments to secure access to military bases and listening posts on Cyprus.
The strength of this book is that it firmly locates the tragic events in Cyprus in the manoeuvrings of the Great Powers and in the rivalry between Greece and Turkey. It also provides new material which challenges the opposing myths about the partition in 1974 which help to sustain Turkish and Greek chauvinism today.
Turkish nationalists claim Bulent Ecevit, the current prime minister of Turkey who also held the post in 1974, invaded Cyprus to defend the Turkish minority there from communal violence. In reality, Ecevit used Cyprus to bolster his own position at home and to secure closer ties with the US.
Greek nationalists claim that the US has always sided with Turkey and that therefore rallying around the Greek flag and integrating Cyprus into Greece is not about dominating Turkey, but is in some sense a challenge to US global dominance. The truth is that US policy over Cyprus, Greece and Turkey has been highly pragmatic. It backed the 1967 military coup in Greece and armed the colonels' dictatorship for the next seven years. It was the overthrow of that dictatorship in July 1974 which prompted the US to tilt towards tacit support for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus weeks later in the hope it could prove more reliable than the Greek colonels.
The Turkish army drove tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots from their homes in northern Cyprus, creating a public outcry which forced the US Congress to impose an arms embargo on Turkey. Outrage in Greece forced the government to withdraw from Nato. But by 1980 Greece was back in Nato and the US was arming it and Turkey.
This book squarely blames Britain and the US for fuelling tensions in the area. It also hints at the political weaknesses in the movement for Cypriot independence in the 1950s and 1960s which gave such scope to those forces which sought to play upon ethnic divisions.
Makarios's movement never shed its 'pro-Greek image'. It did not raise the kind of social demands which could have won over the Turkish Cypriot minority. To Makarios's right stood the right wing guerrilla leader George Grivas, who spent more time terrorising Turkish civilians than fighting the British. The lesson of the last four decades of imperialist intervention in Cyprus is that the only politics which can hope to unite people in the region is one which breaks from all forms of nationalism.
In 1933 Eugenio Pacelli, then Cardinal Secretary of State at the Vatican, agreed his long sought-after 'Reich Concordat' between the papal state and Germany. Hitler declared, 'A sphere of confidence has been created that will be especially significant in the urgent struggle against international Jewry.' Pacelli, future representative of god on earth as Pius XII, had not only supped with the devil but had helped prepare the feast.
Hitler's Pope has invoked fury amongst the Catholic establishment on both sides of the Atlantic. The book has set ablaze the long argument over the wartime role of Pius XII and fuelled demands that the Vatican opens its archives.
The conservative Catholic establishment has long sought canonisation (sainthood) of Pius XII as part of its crusade to reverse the 'progressive' turn of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. This internal conflict is having explosive repercussions far beyond the confines of the church. The politics of wartime collaboration again threaten to cast their dark shadow over a hallowed institution and a venerated figure of the postwar establishment.
The real strength of Cornwell's argument lies in the way he situates Pacelli's anti-Semitism, and his rise as pontiff, against the church's struggle to reforge itself as a bastion of ideological reaction, first in the new conditions of rising industrial capitalism and emergent nation states, and then against the threat of socialist revolution.
The Catholic church was implacably hostile to the new nation states that emerged during the 19th century, especially the new Italy. The new rulers stripped the church of its powers and dominions and excluded it from secular affairs. Simultaneously, a rapidly rising industrial capitalism was creating a working class ever more open to socialist ideas.
In response Pius IX issued his 'Syllabus of Errors', which denounced 80 'modern' propositions including 'progress, liberalism and modern civilisation'. The ideological rot set in train by the French Revolution was to stop. The First Vatican Council which Pius convened in 1870 imposed a rigid application of doctrine and, after initial opposition, conferred absolutist powers on the papacy. 'Papal infallibility', far from being a direct inheritance from the past, was a reaction to the the modern era.
Overcoming the crisis of authority that beset the church was no easy matter. Eight years after the First Vatican Council the funeral cortege of Pius IX was attacked by the crowd, and only the arrival of the militia saved the coffin from being thrown into the Tiber.
Eugenio Pacelli was born into a family of Vatican advocates who were at the forefront of reforging the papacy as a force for ideological reaction. They were instrumental both in drawing up the codes by which papal diktat was imposed throughout the entire church and in drawing up the Vatican 'concordats', or treaties, with reactionary states in Europe. These were mutually advantageous in that the Vatican won recognition of its autonomy in religious affairs, particularly education, whilst the church acted as an ideological bastion for the regimes and an implacable foe of socialism.
Pacelli's anti-Semitism stemmed directly from these roots. He and his contemporaries detested the French Revolution, blaming the Jews for its incitement in their search for civic equality.
At the end of the First World War Pacelli was appointed archbishop in Munich, where in 1918 he watched with horror as the German Revolution broke. He returned to Rome determined to bolster reaction in Germany, a project he would never jeopardise. In the face of anti-Semitic pogroms by the Nazis he agreed that 'Jews can take care of themselves'. Only when under pressure from the actions of lay Catholics or priests did he even make a token gesture. He never publicly referred to the Jews by name for the duration of the Holocaust, which he claimed was 'exaggerated'.
Cornwell is no socialist and has nothing but contempt for the left. He tries to steer clear of the broader political implications of Pacelli's actions. But as he pursues his battle against the 'conservative' resurgence within his church, the material he marshals as evidence continually outflanks him. The result is that he leads us on to fascinating territory.
1937: Stalin's Year of Terror
Vadim Z Rogovin
Mehring Books £19.99
This volume, one of a series of six, describes in meticulous detail developments in Stalinist Russia from August 1936 to June 1937. Rogovin, a Russian historian, has used recently opened archives, memoirs of those who amazingly survived the purges, and the writings of Stalin's opponents--Victor Serge and above all Leon Trotsky. In over 500 pages he accumulates detail which reveals the degree of terror and human degradation under Stalin's rule.
Many historians have seen Stalin's actions as irrational, the behaviour of a man driven mad by paranoia. For others Stalinism illustrates a universal law that revolutions devour their own children. Rogovin advances a more plausible argument. Stalin had to launch the most brutal and ruthless repression because there was a very real threat to his power. Rogovin shows that there were a number of forces threatening Stalin's power in 1936-37. The whole body of old Bolsheviks, those who had made the revolution, were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Stalin. Hence Stalin's demagogic and patronising appeal to the so called 'little people'--a call to young careerists to denounce their elders and take their jobs.
Secondly, the army posed a real threat to Stalin. Thousands of its leading personnel had served under Trotsky in 1918-24. Moreover, the rank and file were drawn mainly from the peasantry, and the discontentments of that class were widely felt.
Thirdly, Stalin was deeply concerned by the international situation. He seriously feared that western workers might be attracted by the Fourth International. In particular the revolution in Spain opened the prospect of the emergence of a mass revolutionary movement independent of Moscow. In the face of that danger Stalin regarded a fascist victory as a price well worth paying.
Above all, Stalin feared Trotsky. The grotesque charges of collaboration with the Gestapo were invented because Stalin could not allow any element of Trotsky's real programme to be discussed in the courtrooms, for fear that it might prove attractive to those listening. While defendants were falsely accused of conspiring with Trotsky, Trotsky's actual followers did not appear in court. These heroic oppositionists, unbroken by savage interrogation techniques, could not be allowed in the dock for fear they would use it to propagate their ideas. Rogovin presents new eyewitness accounts of the continuing resistance of the Trotskyists in the camps until their final murder.
There are weaknesses in Rogovin's account. In particular he tends to cite Trotsky as though he represented revealed truth. Rogovin avoids the question of Trotsky's claim that Stalin's Russia, although monstrously distorted, remained a workers' state. Yet on his own evidence the state machine that conducted the trials and purges could not in any conceivable sense have been an instrument of workers' power. Russian workers are not in their present plight because they rejected 'socialism', but because they were disgusted with an atrocious tyranny posing under the name of socialism.