Issue 247 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
Articles of resistance
Paul Foot is so well known to us as a writer for Socialist Review and a columnist for Socialist Worker that we are inclined to take for granted both his extraordinary range as a journalist and his impact on other people.
An excitable member of the Labour Party in Yorkshire once informed me that she had it 'on good authority' that Paul was going to join and become an MP. It was like a football fan hearing a rumour about a star signing. That was in 1984, at a time when the Labour left still believed in itself. Later the same year, with the Great Strike in the balance, I remember being with a group of miners discussing the power of the press, the Murdoch papers, and in particular whether Paul's page in the Daily Mirror, where he had the freedom to write about whatever he chose, could survive the Maxwell takeover. In the event he outlasted Maxwell (much as the miners outlasted Thatcher), but the discussion showed two things. First, that the Mirror needed Paul more than he needed the paper. Second, that Paul's reliability, his painstaking concern with the facts, gave him a unique standing as a journalist. People trusted him.
This book brings together 69 articles and essays spanning the 1990s. Scattered through the book like hand grenades are campaigning articles from the Mirror, including Paul's memorable farewell attack on the management, distributed as a leaflet outside the building in March 1993. It was the first and last time they attempted to censor what he wrote. Articles from Private Eye include reports from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and some of the most powerful attacks on Tory sleaze.
Much less familiar to most of us are the longer articles from the London Review of Books. These are far from being just literary essays--although it is good to see that room was found for an article on the vexed question of whether Shelley had sex with Claire Clairmont. Tony Benn's diaries are reviewed, the BCCI scandal analysed, and there is a powerful attack on the myth of independent judiciary.
You might expect that articles from such a range of publications would sit uncomfortably in the same book. It is a reflection of the consistency of Paul's writing that whether it's a popular polemic from the Mirror or Socialist Worker, or a lengthy article from the Observer or the London Review, you can hear the same voice speaking with the same clarity.
It is characteristic of his writing that you can hunt forever for a fancy phrase or a colourful metaphor and scarcely find one. He is sparing with his adjectives and always direct, even when he is piecing a story together from many different sources. In the long Guardian article on the Lockerbie bombing (written in collaboration with John Ashton) Paul unveils layers of doubt to show that the authorities have a great deal to hide. In this, as in his unravelling of the story of Colin Wallace, the MI5 officer who was persecuted and then framed for refusing to take part in a secret dirty tricks campaign against politicians, Paul seems able to let you have the facts almost as he has uncovered them. A lot of journalists give the impression of knowing much more than they really do, especially in the age of the internet when it is extraordinarily easy to carry out synthetic research. Paul is the opposite--he encourages the reader to take part in the process of discovery.
This is one reason to enjoy these articles and essays, especially as many of them touch on subjects that are still hot--BSE, Lockerbie, British complicity in terrorism in Northern Ireland, the Marchioness disaster. Like anyone else Paul is fallible--occasionally he tells the odd story against himself to prove it. But his diligence is such that even when he makes a mistake you feel that he will be the one to uncover it first. Paul is not the only great investigative journalist working today, but he is the most trustworthy and consistent.
The End of the Peace Process
Read this book if you want to understand the new Intifada in Palestine. Edward Said wrote these essays between 1995 and 1999, but in all of them he is clear that the peace process that started in Oslo in 1993 never offered anything serious to Palestinians and therefore had no chance of working.
The limited autonomy gave the Palestinian Authority over 3 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of the Gaza Strip, but this was negated by increased Israeli control over movement between the fragmented areas of self rule and accelerated Israeli settlement in the area. Israel is in charge of security, water supplies and the overall economy in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel's tightened grip on the area has pushed the economy of the Occupied Territories backwards since Oslo, causing spiralling unemployment and desperate poverty. On top of all this, Oslo and subsequent agreements have not even addressed the question of the millions of displaced Palestinians, many of them stagnating in camps around the Middle East, or the central issue of Palestinian control of East Jerusalem.
Said is refreshingly clear and angry about the basic injustices of the situation: 'One cannot expect peace and security while Palestinians continue to suffer and not one word is said about the causes of that suffering.' But he goes further. A good third of the book is dedicated to exposing Yasser Arafat's spineless and self serving leadership. Reported conversations with Palestinian activists show Arafat and his team are notorious as weak and under-prepared negotiators with huge illusions in the role of the US in the region.
Inside Palestine, Arafat has concentrated almost all his resources on internal repression. He has set up 13 different security agencies that routinely spy on, terrorise and even torture dissidents. Combined with a bureaucracy that delivers virtually no services or public works, Arafat's security apparatus employs 90,000 people, giving him a power of patronage as an alternative to popular support.
Said's essays are full of exasperation at a Palestinian population that seemed to be taking all this lying down. He didn't predict that what seemed to be apathy would explode into action, but you can be sure that Said is overjoyed at the new round of resistance. But his sense of frustration has deeper sources as well. He is clear about the solution in the area--not separate nations, but a democratic society in which Jews and Arabs live together in equality. The question he grapples with is, what forces can move things in that direction?
Said is always looking for allies amongst the Israelis, but he is contemptuous of the Peace Now liberals who claim to want equal rights for all but become incensed whenever Palestinians actually start fighting for justice. He has no time for the brutal Arab governments across the region which are more interested in pleasing Washington than standing up for Palestinians. He ends up demanding honest debate and new ideas from Arab intellectuals and activists. The sense of political purpose in this book is one of the most impressive things about it.
But the intifada itself has suggested some outline answers to Said's questions. For all the cowardice and betrayal of the Arab leaders, once again the Palestinian question has galvanised millions of poor and working class Arabs into action. Popular politics in the area are in turmoil, and there is no doubt the Arab masses have the power to turn the region upside down.
Dave Lyddon and Ralph Darlington
Driving my car down the busy Marylebone Road in 1972, suddenly all the street lights went out. Today you would sigh and blame the privatisation of the electricity industry, but then I knew the miners' strike was biting. This is a book that lays out in great detail each of the great upheavals of 1972. As the authors write, 'For over eight months there was the smell of workers' struggle in the air, punctuated by the sweet smell of victory.' We are always told about 1979 and the winter of discontent but no one, not even the union leaders, wants to remind us of the summer of 1972 and the battering the British ruling class received at the hands of the organised working class.
Ted Heath is regarded today as some old one-nation Tory. But in the 1970s his government was every bit as nasty as Thatcher's in the 1980s.
The organised working class had to be taken on. The government's main weapon was the law, in the form of the Industrial Relations Act. Facing them were the union leaders and rank and file workers The law was a big threat to the trade unions because it attacked their funds, but pressure from below forced some resistance from union leaders in the form of non-cooperation with the law.
But the central objective of this book is to focus on the actions of the rank and file. You are reminded of the sheer scale of the revolt. The miners' mass pickets that moved across the country like a well drilled army stopped crucial supplies of everything into power stations. They were also welcomed by other organised workers with amazing acts of solidarity.
The dockers' struggles against the Industrial Relations Act led to the jailing of five dockers. The solidarity that sprang to the support of them forced the government to release the men. Thus the Tories had been forced to abandon their wretched anti-union laws.
If I have any criticisms of this splendid book it is about the role of the Communist Party (CP). It would have been useful to examine the party's role more deeply. In all these struggles the CP militants played a major role. The CP was a big organisation that had a network of activists as members and could draw many non-members around itself. But its politics were dreadful, going no further than left reformism. This translated into campaigns for the election of left officials in the unions. Once the struggles started this led to conflicts between those who wanted to pursue independent action and those who wanted to deflect criticisms of the union officials.
The central question of rank and file organisation is the battle for political leadership. Every rank and file organisation has some form of political leadership, and the politics of this leadership can help determine how the struggle is conducted and how successful it is. On the one hand there is the fight against the employers and government, but on the other there is also the fight against the passivity of the union leadership. The ability of the movement to deal with these problems is at the core of the success of the struggle. Glorious Summer shows this when it compares the strategy of the miners and the engineers. The relatively greater independence of the miners led to greater militancy, while for the engineers the greater dependency on the officials created more passivity. The CP did have the organisation and indeed many of its members were in the front of all the major battles, but its politics limited the movement. So after the highpoint of this great year--the freeing of the five dockers--the CP had no way of taking the movement forward or raising the question of driving the Tories out of power.
This book shows that the British working class can be as militant as the French. But it is not a question of national honour--it is the lessons to be learnt. Darlington and Lyddon have given us an important part of our history to cherish and to use.
John Murray £25
With Inspector Morse finally killed off, readers of Socialist Review could have some fun on winter evenings playing detective with the fact and fiction in Gregor Dallas's broad sweep, 1918.
A year described by Dallas as 'a great turning point in history' at its outset, it may seem like hair-splitting to quibble over whether 1917 is actually a more significant year. But, as it turns out, he is no fan of the Russian Revolution.
At first, though, it seems a laudable intention to attempt to contextualise the Paris peace treaties that followed the armistice in the framework of what had gone before. And, though hidden in an often muddled chronology and a bizarre reductionism that comes from spinning history as part yarn, implicit in his overview is a sense that those treaties were the same war continued economically.
In his preface Dallas tries to assert himself apolitically: 'I am a local historian by taste and training...the shape of the hills, the bends in the rivers, the shape of the coast, the way in which the towns are settled are what fascinates me...when historians abandon these basic facts for the abstract global systems of economy, of politics, of social class or military manoeuvre, they open themselves to error.' Such taste and training could have him a member of the Countryside Alliance, and his obsession with topography, meteorology and the miltary manoeuvre (he doesn't espouse it as much as he thinks) makes you wonder whether he belongs to the Society of the Sealed Knot. Neither does he actually abandon economy, politics and social class. They are ever present in the tales he relates. Though he concentrates on the 'great men'--Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin--the social unrest that had most of Europe on the brink of revolution is always there.
But with a mind closed to almost any notion of class struggle, Dallas never really manages to square the circle of his personal struggle to understand how and why armistice came about in November 1918. Like Morse's sidekick Sergeant Lewis he stands with the evidence staring him in the face, and though he records it, its significance escapes him: strikes in the munitions factories of France in 1917; Austro-Hungarian Kaiser Karl withdrawing from the war in September 1918 because starvation and famine had brought his empire to the point of collapse, and his people to the brink of revolution; 'military indiscipline' (mutiny) of German troops and more tales of strikes, starvation and (god forbid!) socialists in German towns; Kaiser Wilhelm conceding the need for 'a revolution from above' before he was got by the one from below; the bad harvest and factory unrest in Britain.
Though buried really deep in the text, you even find evidence that the Russian Revolution of 1917 may have been the beacon from which the bonfires of revolt across Europe were lit: 'Internationalism and "national self-determination" proved a very seductive mix for the young war generation. That was the very crux of Leninism.' Dallas himself is more in accord with the Allied military high command, who believed that war would continue until at least the summer of 1919, and despite his inventory of the balance of class forces in November 1918, he sees the ceasefire of 11 November as a result of military serendipity on the part of the Allies--completely overlooking the revolution in Germany which he himself dates as 9 November.
Like Sergeant Lewis, Dallas spends too much time on the trail of red herrings--his vitriol for Lenin in particular. A scathing attack on liberal historians who regard the New Economic Policy as a necessary retreat and a description of Trotsky's memoirs as an unreliable source reveal him to be in the same right wing revisionist camp as the sources he trusts--Norman Stone, Robert Service and Richard Pipes. There is not a single bibliographical reference to any original source material by Lenin or Trotsky.
But don't be like Lewis and throw the baby out with the bathwater. While this book is coming recommended with a health warning for a lot of its style, much of its content and most of its conclusion, it contains nuggets to warm the cockles of red hearts everywhere: tales of French socialists winning an argument that French troops not be used to invade Bolshevik Russia; his description of Marcel Cachin's speech that war may be over 'but the class war now extended from the Rhine to the Urals'; the world's first ever food relief programme, launched by the US to stem the spread of revolution; the Allies' willingness to prop up regimes they had described as bankrupt during the war; and tales of internationalism that saw the postwar trade unions demanding Wilson's League of Nations be a league of workers' nations can fuel the anti-capitalist mood in all of us.
A People Betrayed
In 1994 in Rwanda, between 6 April and 18 July, 1 million Tutsis and pro-democracy Hutus were killed. They were hacked to death with machetes or shot by gangs of Hutu militia. The killings were egged on by the RTMLC radio station, which broadcast lists of those to be hunted down.
At the time in the west the genocide was dismissed as 'civil war' or 'ethnic clashes' between the Hutu government and the largely Tutsi resistance movement. But, as this book demonstrates, western governments were aware, or at least should have been, that the Hutu 'interim government' was attempting to annihilate all Tutsis in the areas it controlled.
Melvern describes how, months in advance, funds from the World Bank and IMF were diverted to buy weapons from countries like China, Egypt and France. These weapons were stockpiled around the country, so that when the signal was given bands of unemployed youth could be armed in order to begin the slaughter. The radio station that coordinated the genocide was powered from generators in the presidential palace. This was not ethnic conflict but a desperate attempt by a ruthless clique to stay in power.
Melvern exposes how the bureaucrats in the United Nations, and the leading politicians in the United States, Britain and France, sat on their hands and did nothing despite increasingly desperate appeals from the commander of the UN troops on the ground.
When France eventually did send troops, it was to prop up its allies in theHutu 'interim government', to delay the invasion of the opposition forces, and to allow the escape of those responsible for the genocide.
The author is very critical of the United Nations, but nevertheless sees this organisation as our only hope to prevent events like those in Rwanda happening again. But for me this book exposes the UN, and the leaders of the western democracies, as unreformable. It is not just the representatives of the great powers who turned away from the genocide in Rwanda. The day to day running of the UN is in the hands of the general secretary, at the time Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He had inside knowledge of Rwandan politics. As the Egyptian deputy prime minister for international affairs he had earlier played a major role in securing Egyptian weapons for the regime. During the entire Rwandan crisis he was unavailable at the UN headquarters because he was touring in Europe. He made no attempt to make the Security Council take action.
Despite differences of analysis about the UN this is an extremely important book.
The Celtic Tiger
Manchester University Press £13.99
Back in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned, and even back in 1968 at the start of the most recent 'Troubles', Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland kept up a constant refrain that the Irish republic was a backward, underdeveloped, priest-ridden state in contrast to the industrialised North. Despite the exaggeration such claims carried an element of truth, but today that is no longer the case. During the 1990s the Irish republic was the world's fastest growing economy, creating the so called 'Celtic Tiger'.
Kieran Allen's book examines the contradiction at the heart of this growth, the massive expansion of wealth at the top of society, and the creation of visible discontent at the bottom. The Irish economy has boomed on the back of US investment. Today Ireland has found its place in the top 25 richest nations. Between 1988 and 1998 manufacturing output increased by 9 percent. Much of the enormous profit being made by multinational corporations (five times more than in Britain) is going abroad into financial speculation and in high dividend payouts.
Champions of the neoliberal agenda, and even many of its critics, believe that we live in a two thirds, one third society. Two thirds are, it is claimed, middle class, and the one third are the residual poor. This conjures up a world where, it is claimed, universal benefits and pensions are not necessary, but rather should be targeted at the poor through means testing. In reality, Kieran Allen argues, globalisation has created the reverse--a discontented majority who suffer from job flexibility and insecurity plus stagnating or even falling living standards. Ireland has seen growing unionisation among people who have traditionally identified themselves as middle class.
Since 1987 the Irish unions have stuck to a social partnership with the government that has held down wages and led to acquiescence in reduced public spending. The claim is that this will help foreign investment and benefit all in the long term. This is a myth Kieran demolishes.
Since 1987 the government of the Irish republic has followed policies at the heart of today's global neoliberal economic consensus--reduction in public spending, tax cuts for the wealthy, and reduction in wage costs and union power. A Fianna Fail government under the then prime minister, Charlie Haughey, introduced these measures. Today Ireland comes second only to the US in having the highest percentage of low paid workers in the developed world. Fewer workers have pensions or fixed contracts, and the gap between rich and poor is growing. Ireland is spectacular proof that even when the market is successful it does not benefit the majority. Increasing the growing sense of injustice are a series of scandals which have exposed a world of crony capitalism. Politicians like Haughey were on the take from big business and the banks. He has walked free from a series of official inquiries which exposed this.
The Celtic Tiger has undermined all that seemed to be stable about Irish society. For 80 years two pro-business parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, dominated Irish politics. The former had a populist agenda based on national progress that meant most Irish workers voted for it. This political consensus has now been broken, and Fianna Fail's working class base has eroded. More spectacularly the power of the Catholic church has been largely broken with church attendance plummeting. On issues like divorce and abortion there has been a sea change in attitudes. This book is hopeful about the prospects for the Irish working class. It is also a powerful blow against the harsh realities of neoliberalism in what seems a success story for its apostles.