Issue 271 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
New Press, £16.95
Mike Davis brings to each subject a completely idiosyncratic vision, with a huge passion to tell stories, explain and reveal. Dead Cities is a brilliant kaleidoscope of essays. Each section revolves around a different theme, together revealing the power and arrogance of political leaders in cahoots with corporate capital. In the preface, 'Flames of New York', he cites Ernst Bloch's comparison of pre-bourgeois towns with modern cities. It is the Americanised, 'big city' ideology that believes all problems can be technologically solved. But the operations of capital and the market have produced not facile optimism, but radical uncertainty, and this urban-technological 'perversion' is creating the crises typical of much urban life in the US.
Today, faced with what they consider to be 'catastrophic terrorism', the leaders in the US are responding by building the 'Fear Economy and the Fear State'. Anti-Arab racism is now enshrined in laws and statutes, such as the Patriot Act, and the Homeland Defence Command (led by John Poindexter of Watergate and Iran Contra fame) is bolted onto a system that hacks away at any public provision and incarcerates a huge proportion of black and Latino young men. The cities of capitalism's corporate culture will destroy their inhabitants more and more surely. Davis's focus is pitiless. In one of the most devastating essays, 'Ecocide in Marlboro Country', he turns to the 'pulverised landscapes' of Nevada, Utah and Idaho, and writing in accents reminiscent of DeLillo's Underworld, reveals the effects of 60 years of military 'testing'.
But this is no traumatised requiem. Combating the prevailing climate of doom are the protesters. Groups, from Native Americans--Downwinders, the Western Shoshones--to the Utah Progressive Alliance, the Sierra Club or the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, have been mounting increasingly militant campaigns to stop chemical and nuclear waste facilities, prevent nuclear testing and block the opening of further sites. With thousands of troops now massing in the Gulf, the stories about the battles that took place over the use of Dugway, Utah--birthplace of napalm--need to be read. One of the campaigners says, 'If the army's justification for resuming tests at Dugway (in 1990) was the imminent Iraqi bio war threat, then why did the commerce department previously allow $20 million of dangerous "dual-use" biological materials to be sold to Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission? Were we trying to defend our troops against our own renegade bugs?' Gulf War syndrome has still not been officially recognised or explained. The essay 'Berlin's Skeleton in Utah's Closet' is a searing account of the firebombing of Berlin and Tokyo in 1945, and recounts the carnage that was almost enough to dwarf that of Hiroshima!
Much of Davis's work is about Los Angeles, but in this volume he also covers Las Vegas and London. But his range is not limited to urban themes. Not for the first time he integrates new hard science into his work, including here a fascinating and rewarding essay, 'Extreme Science'.
His preface concludes, 'Terror has become the steroid of empire. And imperialism is politically correct. However nervously, the established order everywhere has rallied around the Stars and Stripes. As a gloating, and still undead Henry Kissinger has pointed out, it is the best thing since Metternich last dined with the Tsar.' In this very fine volume Davis forces us to look intently at the chaos, while urging us to participate in the struggle.
Down the Tube
Christian Wolmar is a bit of a Kiley fan--not the former soap actress turned pop star, but the former CIA agent turned transport supremo. There is a touch of Kileymania on the soft left, with the Guardian's Polly Toynbee and London School of Economics 'expert' Tony Travers among the fans. Wolmar quotes Labour MP Karen Buck describing Kiley as 'a wow'. These Kiley fans share both a realisation that the London Undergound PPP is a disaster for the tube, and a real hostility to tube workers. Wolmar describes a tube strike over safety as 'opportunist'. The well-heeled Toynbee and Travers pour bile on striking tube drivers for being 'overpaid'.
Wolmar and co, caught between dislike of the PPP and distrust of the unions, think the issue must be one of 'bad management', and so look to the good manager--Kiley--as a hero. Unfortunately, this means that Wolmar's book is full of details revealing the madness of the PPP scheme, but rambles on without really grasping the whys and hows of the disaster slowly arriving at the platform. Wolmar boasts that he interviewed almost everyone involved, but somehow failed to speak to a single driver, ticket collector or station cleaner or their representatives. The initials RMT, Aslef and TSSA--representing the unions who organise thousands of tube staff--don't even appear in the index. His failure to meet a single worker means the simple truth that everyone from Gordon Brown down wants the PPP to hand a huge public subsidy to private firms and screw the workforce in the process eludes Wolmar. He also fails to notice that the only time the government really deviated from pushing the PPP plan is when the tube staff took limited strike action.
Nonetheless, the details he uncovers are pretty easy to decipher: Wolmar shows that Steve Robson, the civil servant behind the privatisation of British Rail, was responsible for first starving the tube of resources and then proposing the PPP. Wolmar describes Robson as 'one of the number twos at the Treasury', which sounds like a polite way of saying he's a shit, but is actually a description of his position. Wolmar also shows that Geoffrey Robinson, a businessman embroiled in scandals who became a minister embroiled in scandals, is also one of the privatisation's parents. Robinson in turn brought in Malcolm Bates, an executive of Balfour Beatty, to plan the privatisation. Bates then became head of London Transport while Balfour Beatty snapped up contracts in the privatisation. Wolmar also shows that when Prescott tried to negotiate with Kiley over the tube deal, the government's team consisted of accountants from KPMG, not Labour loyalists. As Wolmar revealed, consultants, lawyers and accountants have made £400 million in fees from the PPP before it is even signed.
Wolmar is continually bemused that anyone committed to better transport in London could back the deal, which will pour millions into the hands of private firms while leaving the tube in a Railtrack-style mess. He claims it is all a 'cock-up', a series of accidents. The real truth is the PPP's backers have no interest in trains. All the privatising civil servants, subsidy-hungry contractors and accountants Wolmar shows at work see the tube as a cash cow to line their pockets. If some passengers need to be squeezed down those funny holes in the ground along the way, well OK, but that's not really the point of the exercise.
Artists on the Left
Yale University Press £35
|'That's the Man' by Philip Evergood|
In the heart of San Francisco's city district can be found the popular tourist attraction Coit Tower. Lifts take you to the top, from which you get a magnificent bird's-eye view of the bay. Once a week, for a few brief hours, the stairwell is open to the public. Inside is an Aladdin's cave full of some of the finest murals in America. Inspired by the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, artists like Clifford Wright, Bernard Zakheim and Victor Arnautoff have created a stunning series of wall paintings depicting life in the US.
Just like Coit Tower, Andrew Hemingway's fascinating and meticulously well researched new book Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement 1926 -1956 takes you back to that period when the left was a major influence on American culture.
Although Andrew Hemingway concentrates on the art world, the left played a major influence shaping music, film and theatre during this period. This was an artistic movement revolted by fascism and unemployment and prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting back against oppression.
For better or worse, the most powerful ideological and organisational force was the American Communist Party (CPUSA). The CPUSA was a mass of contradictions. On the one hand it contained some of the best working class activists, and on the other it slavishly followed the political line of Stalin. Throughout the 1930s the CPUSA made a number of sharp political U-turns. This took the party on a journey from a refusal to work with reformists (the Third Period from 1928-35), the infamous Popular Front period (1935-39) in which the CPUSA was uncritical of reformists and Democrats, and the disastrous Nazi-Soviet pact. Despite all its political weaknesses the CPUSA did pull into its ranks hundreds of artists and entertainers.
Partly as a result of the momentous struggles taking place, and partly because of the encouragement given to them by being in the CPUSA, artists began to use their work to inspire and enrich working class struggles and explore the contradictions of US society. Others, not formally members of the party, became influenced and drawn into the debates taking place in and around the CPUSA artistic circles. Some artists came together to form debating groups like the John Reed Club and later the Marxist Critiques Group. Hemingway gives a fascinating account of the artistic and political debates inside these groups and their attempts to create a new artistic identity. It also makes inspiring reading to see how artists strived to get their work shown to working class audiences at workers' clubs and trade union halls.
Visually this is a stunning book, full of beautifully reproduced pictures, which help to illuminate Hemingway's arguments about the artistic merit of many of these works. This is important because in doing so he smashes a very common belief which characterises much of the art produced in this period as just crude propaganda controlled by the soul-destroying whims of Stalin.
Clearly some artists did produce poor art, which was defined by crude notions of Socialist Realism. But what this book clearly demonstrates is that many artists both in the CPUSA and outside refused to be shackled by one school of art, and instead fought to create radical art in both form and content. The book is full of pictures that reinforce this--such as Philip Evergood's pencil drawing 'That's the Man'. It shows a young black man being lynched while in the background a US marshal looks on laughing. It is both a powerful drawing in its own right and a hard-hitting statement against racism.
Secondly, much of the work featured in the book shows the power of good propaganda. Take a look at the striking portrait of a worker by Hugo Gellert on the cover of the New Masses or the famous Mischa Richter drawing of the fat capitalist outlawing sit-down strikes. These are fantastic images. I think we are witnessing a similar growth in radical culture today inside the mass movements that are springing up against the war on Iraq and fascism.
The long economic boom, disillusionment with Stalin's Russia and most importantly the witch-hunts lead by Senator McCarthy led to the collapse of these artistic and cultural movements. Andrew Hemingway states that he wants his book to contribute 'to the ongoing struggle to redress America's recurrent amnesia regarding their radical heritage'. In my opinion he has succeeded.
Caught in the Crossfire
We read about politics, we participate in demonstrations, strikes and all sorts of other activity in opposition to the system. But how different people react to it in all aspects of their daily lives is something beyond our immediate experience, except for a particular oppression we may personally suffer. But an insight into these real life experiences and emotions, which can dominate people's lives, rounds out and enriches our intellectual and political understanding. That is where novels come in. They play out our politics through our emotions, thus forming an important part of an active person's view of life.
Caught in the Crossfire is a novel for all ages but mainly for children and examines the organisation of a BNP branch (called the Patriotic League in the book) in a northern town like Oldham, its attitude to the Muslim community, the repercussions thereof and the riots that ensued. The story is built around the Nazi characters, whose leader comes from out of town specifically to build the Patriotic League branch and participate in the local elections, and two families. One consists of an Asian taxi driver married to a white English woman who have a twin teenage son and daughter, the other of a bigoted drunken local man who beats his wife, and their two teenage sons.
The story centre on the different attitudes of the four youngsters, one of whom is attracted to and joins the Patriotic League, while his brother falls in love with the 'Asian' girl, whose twin brother plays a leading role in the Muslims' fightback.
There are many ramifications--the relationship of the parents to one another, the attitude of the parents to their children's activities, how the youngsters got caught up in their different political movements, the love of the two youngsters trying to work its way through the complex racial situation, the contradiction between the Patriotic League's attempt at respectability for electoral purposes, and the violence committed by the League's youngsters who refuse to be committed to respectability, and the developing tensions and animosities inside the Nazi organisation.
The story outline is explicitly political, covering the events around the racism fostered by the Patriotic League and the riots they engendered, all of which is recent history, and still being played out in some northern towns. But what engrosses one is the behaviour of the characters in the novel, who are so real, so human, that one could expect to meet them at any time. As the complications, the animosities and solidarities develop towards the outbreak of the riots it is difficult to put the book down. The ending is a dramatic climax.
This book is a worthy accompaniment to the fight being put up against racism and the growth of the Nazis in Britain.
Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921
University Of Illinois Press £16.99
This book is a welcome addition to US labour history at a time when some labour historians find psychological explanations of racism fashionable. For some an emphasis on 'whiteness' is preferred to materialist explanations. In the hands of the 'whiteness' approach white supremacy has become a benefit for white workers, while the real beneficiaries--the white elite--are ignored. That racial antagonism exists between black and white Southern workers cannot be denied, but for Kelly the main instigators of racial oppression were not white workers, but the white elite.
The struggle to unionise the Alabama coalfields from 1908-1921 provides an effective rebuttal of the theory that white workers benefit from racism. Black and white miners working in the Alabama coalfields were poorly paid, often captive in company shanty towns, suffering numerous accidents and deaths. In the face of the ferocious, and sometimes violent, opposition of the coal operators, black and white miners struggled to build the United Mine Workers of America (UMW).
White miners were accused of conceding 'social equality' to the 'negro', but at the same time the white elite claimed they were the black miners' friend. Acting paternalistically, they gave small benefits to black miners, such as advances of wages, and emphasised that they were prepared to employ the 'Negro'.
The UMW always ensured that a white miner was the president of district organisations, even when black members were in a majority. They admitted challenging the economic exploitation of black miners, but denied the accusation of promoting social equality. Yet mixing of black and white was a fact for the UMW, even if it lacked the confidence to articulate it. For down the mine, on the picket line, and at union rallies and meetings, black and white miners gave each other solidarity.
Nor did black miners exchange one form of paternalism for another. Black miners--in opposition to their own 'race' leaders--often initiated joining the union and involvement in strikes. The black elite in Alabama was as keen as the white elite to keep black miners out of the union. Using the ideology of Booker T Washington's accommodationism black businessmen and preachers warned black workers off the 'white man's union'.
In spite of this black miners were often the most ardent advocates of the UMW. The white elite were furious that a black vice-president of a UMW local had his words taken down by white stenographers who called him 'mister'. Such examples of equality filled the employers with dread.
This is one of many examples where racial boundaries in the white supremacist South became blurred--unfortunately there are other examples where they didn't. During the long, drawn out strike of 1920 the union sent impoverished miners of one district 80 pairs of shoes--only 13 pairs went to black miners.
The coal operators moved in black scabs from further south to break the strike. There is little evidence that white miners resorted to racism--indeed they had to be mindful of the thousands of black strikers alongside them. Instead they tried, sometimes successfully, to persuade black miners to leave the coal camps, whenever possible providing food, clothing and the fare home.
In early 1921, with the union running out of funds, the coal operators employing thousands of scabs, and the lynching of union militants, the decision by the Alabama supreme court to uphold the eviction of miners from company homes saw UMW officials sue for peace. After six months of striking the operators had imposed substantial wage reductions. The defeat of 1921 was severe and it would not be until the 1930s that attempts were made to rebuild the union would begin again. Kelly concludes that the most forward thinking Southern elites hoped to reduce racial friction while leaving the structures of exploitation and racial oppression intact. Black accommodationists believed that by persuading ordinary blacks to accept their exploitation and keeping them out of the 'white man's union' they could create space for their own progress within the confines of a segregated South. Only the racially mixed UMW aimed at something different, for black and white miners had no material interest in perpetuating Jim Crow.
This inspiring book is a must for all those interested in US working class struggle, and proof that black and white can unite and fight, even in circumstances as grim as the Alabama coalfields of 1920.
Labour Party Plc
Mainstream Publishing £15.99
Which party received more million-pound donations in 2002: Labour or the Tories? Ten years ago, when Tony Blair was still a shadow cabinet minister, this would have been a strange question to ask. Now, to know for sure, you would have to wait until they both published their accounts, and then ask about all the information not contained there. While political parties have to disclose who donates more than £5,000, they don't have to disclose the total amount they raise.
Labour Party Plc tracks the party's relationship with business from the early steps made by Neil Kinnock, to John Smith's more overt flirting, to the love that dared speak its name under Tony Blair. David Osler looks in turn at funding of the Labour Party by rich individuals and big business, the scramble for lucrative government contracts once Labour was in office, and the way that business has been invited to help formulate government policy.
Osler suggests that one key turning point was Black Wednesday in 1992. On that day the pound was kicked out of the scheme that was the precursor to the euro and the Tories looked like they might never win another election. John Moores, director of Littlewoods football pools, described the motivation of big business in forming closer ties to the Labour Party during this period: 'Since Labour is going to form the next government, it's worth getting to know them.' Another executive was more explicit in saying why he supported a New Labour initiative before the 1997 election: 'Some of those involved are clearly dedicated Labour supporters. But most, like us, simply want to influence policy.'
This new receptiveness on the part of business was only part of the picture. Former leader John Smith signalled Labour's desire to court business with a series of meetings with people from the City of London--dubbed the prawn cocktail offensive. Up for discussion were not just policies on the economy and companies, but also anything that might upset the wealthy.
Blair pledged to keep top-rate income tax at 40 percent in the 1997 election manifesto. Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, after his £1 million donation had been returned following a scandal over tobacco advertising, explained that his gift was a result of Labour's pledge not to raise income tax. 'As a substantial contributor to the Inland Revenue, I have clearly benefited from this decision,' he wrote. After all the questions about the possible link between party donations and government policy, such an explicit connection did not merit many column inches.
This is a book about changes in British society and politics, not just about Labour's internal transformation. Private companies are building hospitals and are being asked to run schools. Making financial gifts to a government that hands out such contracts seems, for them, only common sense.
Small anecdotes in the book can be as telling as better known cases. For example in 1999 Labour brought in a private contractor, Sema, to run the party's own membership services. Twelve party employees saw their performance market-tested and were given a choice--work for Sema or take voluntary redundancy.
This book details the process by which Labour has become a second party of business, rather than discussing further issues such as the political implications of this for socialists or the link between New Labour and the unions. You might think a book about party finances is not ideal bedtime reading. You might be surprised.
China's New Rulers
Eds: Andrew J Nathan and Bruce Gilley
In November 2002, the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elected China's new 'fourth generation' of leaders. Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin represented the first, second, and third generations of China's leaders respectively. The fourth generation is headed by Hu Jintao as general secretary (nominally the most powerful position in the CCP). This book is a translation of leaked confidential party documents on the history and political viewpoints of China's new leaders, which have been published as Disidai (The Fourth Generation) and serialised in Hong Kong newspapers.
Hu Jintao was the first party secretary to quell unrest in Tibet by declaring martial law in March 1989. This was a foretaste of the methods employed by China's ruling class at Tiananmen, in June 1989.
Zeng Xinghong is a private capitalist who explains why China's increased inequality is good.
'Privatisation...allowed entrepreneurs, many of them ex-officials, to get rich. China's Gini coefficient--a measure of income inequality in which 0 represents perfect equality--rose from 0.15 in 1978 to about 0.43 (in 2000), according to both Chinese and World Bank figures,' write the authors. The private capitalists are now referred to as 'advanced elements' and are welcomed to join the party. Zeng comes from a longstanding class of capitalists whose wealth and power derive from their control of Chinese public and private global corporations.
Wu Bangguo oversaw the Three Gorges dam project that forcibly removed millions of Chinese from their homes. Luo Gan, who heads the security apparatus, is proud that the police and courts executed more than 60,000 criminals from 1998 to 2001. He is also directly responsible for the suppression of the Falun Gong. Li Changchun presided over the cover-up of a government-caused Aids epidemic in Henan province where unscreened contaminated blood products spread the virus. The official figure was 1,500 Aids/HIV patients while unofficial estimates put the number at close to a million. So far, none of this was confidential, so why, on 2 November 2002, did the Chinese authorities detain a senior Communist Party elder statesman suspected of being the source leaking this information?
The files as detailed in this book reveal a CCP obsessed with secrecy. This obsession stems from the nature of the decisions it makes, which are on behalf of a dominant class in the pursuit of accumulating wealth and power. This is in conflict with the interests of China's peasants and workers. It is not aberrant behaviour--it conforms to the norms of western corporations and governments (think Enron or the Official Secrets Act).
The Chinese capitalist class is united in its exploitation of ordinary Chinese workers and repression of the consequent conflict that arises. But they are also in competition with each other over dividing the fruits of that exploitation. For example, the liberal and conservative wings may differ over the pace and the areas of the Chinese economy that should be integrated into the global markets, but neither is prepared to countenance freedom for the Tibetans or the Muslim people of Xinjiang.
The CCP is the party of the Chinese ruling class, equivalent to the Conservative Party in Britain or the Republican and Democratic Parties in the US. Hence, it calls upon the army in times of crisis to restore 'order', as during the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen protest, but subsequently reins in the army's power because the generals form only a small section of China's capitalists. This explains the machinations within the CCP to retire leading generals such as Yang Shankun after 1989.
If today we have a Chinese Communist Party running a capitalist market economy, could it not have been running a state capitalist economy in the past? Working out the answer to this helps us explain how ex-officials transformed themselves into entrepreneurs. It also helps us dispel the myths about the Cultural Revolution, as well as work out what a future socialist society should be like.
Power and Resistance in the New World Order
This is a collection of articles by an academic based in Canada who has written about both neoliberalism and the anti-capitalist movement's response. Rewriting Samuel Huntingdon, Gill refers to this battle as the 'clash of globalisations', and it is this clash which will shape the future of the 21st century.
For Gill, neoliberalism is about the class power of capital. What he calls 'disciplinary neoliberalism'--with its emphasis on privatisation, deregulation and competitiveness--is about extending the market and commodification into wider areas of social life. This is producing a global 'market civilisation' through a combination of market discipline and direct state power.
One consequence of the spread of the market is that, 'despite enormous increases in global output and population since World War Two, a significant polarisation of income and of life chances has been central to the restructuring process of the last 20 years'. Gill has used this framework to explain the explosion of resistance.
In an article following the anti-globalisation protests at Seattle Gill argued that the new movement was underpinned by four contradictions. Firstly, there is a contradiction between big capital and democracy which can be seen in the extension of binding trade and investment agreements like Gatt, Nafta-FTAA and the power of organisations like the WTO to institutionalise rights for big corporations and strengthen particular class interests.
Secondly, there is the increasing rate of exploitation, intensification of discipline on labour and falling real incomes which disciplinary neoliberalism produces, and which in part explain the involvement of organised labour, peasants and small producers in a number of protests.
Thirdly, there is the increasing burden placed on women by structural adjustment as health, welfare and educational provision has been reduced and the impact has disproportionately fallen on women. And fourthly, there is the contradiction between diversity and monoculture: sociocultural and biological diversity is being replaced by corporate social and biological monoculture which is linked to a loss of food security and increased health risks from genetically modified crops, privatised water supplies and patented seeds.
The global justice movement is emerging because of these contradictions, and the new protests 'contain innovative conceptions of social justice and solidarity, of social possibility, of knowledge, emancipation, and freedom'. So here is a serious attempt to engage with the world from a class perspective and on the side of those who are resisting.
Gill is one of a number of 'neo-Gramscians' who are inspired by the writing of Robert Cox, who has applied the concept of hegemony to try to understand world order. This use of Gramsci is much more productive and true to Gramsci than the Marxism Today-inspired Gramsci of the 1980s. In Cox and his followers the basic unit of analysis is class, and world hegemony is 'an outward expansion of the internal (national) hegemony established by a dominant social class'. But it shares with its 1980s forerunners the view that Gramsci is the key reference point within the Marxist tradition because he is regarded as less economistic than his predecessors.
To avoid such economism, Cox distinguishes between three different levels--the organisation of production and the social forces it generates, the state-forms and the specific relationships to civil society that they embody, and world orders, 'the particular configurations of forces which successively define the problematic of war or peace for the ensemble of states'. The problem with this approach is that these three levels interact without any one having priority, and Marx's emphasis on the structural constraints imposed by the global process of capital accumulation is sidelined.
But despite this general weakness, and specific arguments that one can take issue with, the main drawback with this book is that it is a collection of articles written over quite a long time span, which doesn't allow for a sustained picture or a coherent view of the new world order to emerge. This is a shame because, despite a fair amount of theoretical fog, Gill has some really interesting things to say.
The Wilderness Years
TC Campbell and R McKay
TC Campbell and Joe Steele were jailed for life, in the mid-1980s, for the notorious mass murder of the Doyle family.
It was alleged that the pair had firebombed the Doyles' Glasgow home in a bid to gain control of the city's lucrative ice cream runs--which were a cover for the distribution of drugs and money laundering. However, what was intended as a 'frightener', suggested the prosecution, turned into something else entirely.
The fire claimed the lives of six members of the Doyle family, including a young child. It was a vile and cowardly act, but not one perpetrated by Campbell and Steele. The two men steadfastly maintained their innocence throughout the trial, but they were convicted on the evidence of one witness, William Love, who supposedly overheard the two men planning the crime. The judge advised the jury that the whole case depended upon the testimony of Love, as there was no other evidence linking the accused to the scene. Later it emerged that this star witness was a serial perverter of justice, who now admits to lying at the trial in exchange for immunity from other unrelated charges. A defence campaign sprang up which attracted the support of Tommy Sheridan, the Scottish Socialist Party MSP, and the BBC screened an 'Ice Cream Wars' programme.
The Wilderness Years, the follow-up to Campbell's last book Indictment: Trial by Fire (also co-written by Reg McKay), traces his struggle for justice through various different prisons, solitary confinement, hunger strikes, violent beatings and his eventual release last year, pending an appeal.
His experiences at the isolated Peterloo prison or, as he dubs it, 'Peterhell', are particularly shocking. Campbell's refusal to submit to brutal authority, to knuckle down and do his time, provokes countless violent confrontations.
The abiding impression left by the book is the way the prison system reduces prisoners and screws to animals. It also shows the way in which prisoners collectively resist the inhumanity of it all. Campbell explains, for instance, that riots are a demand for the prisoners to be treated like 'people. Not fucking lab rats'.
Unfortunately for such promising material The Wilderness Years is in many respects a disappointing read. It is littered with hackneyed phrases and lazy commonplaces. Campbell and collaborator Reg McKay repeatedly fall back on such cliches as 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned', and pepper their prose with references to the Bible, Pink Floyd and Campbell's own not very good poetry. But Campbell's determination, courage and sheer guts save the book from dull unoriginality.
Campbell and Steele are not saints but neither are they murderers. The case against them, as this book makes clear, is a tissue of lies. After 17 years of imprisonment they are now free--all that remains is for their names to be cleared.
Ed: David L Hoffman
The history of the revolution in Russia in 1917 and its ultimate defeat provide important lessons for those seeking a socialist alternative to capitalism.This textbook, intended for students, is a collection of 12 essays from leading international Russian historians. The aim is to provide different interpretations for the rise of Stalin. In particular it seeks to address why the October Revolution led to a dictatorship instead of a communist utopia.
Martin Malia's essay 'The Soviet Tragedy' analyses socialist ideology to understand the origins of Stalinism. He argues that the suppression of private property, profit and the market meant that socialism or 'non-capitalism' was achieved in Russia. Stalin had delivered 'the instrumental programme of socialism', but lacked the moral programme of equality and material abundance socialism had promised. This, we are told, meant that Lenin and Stalin continued of the legacy of the Russian autocracy.
In fact the consolidation of Stalinism from the late 1920s saw Russian class relations based on the same exploitation we see under capitalism. Private property was legally abolished, but exploitation and the accumulation of profit continued. This was a form of capitalism, only the state acted in the place of individual capitalists to control production. It was state capitalism. The possibility that the 1917 revolution was overturned and Stalinism was a break from Lenin and the gains of the revolution is hardly entertained in this book.
An essay by Gail Lapidus called 'Women in Soviet Society', discusses the consequences for women and national minorities under Stalin. This essay is by far the best of the book. One important aspiration for women was liberation from the bondage of the family. The Russian Revolution saw men and women unite in the struggle as a class. The gains of the revolution for women cannot be understated. For example, the right to abortion and divorce--a demand passed through soviets (workers' councils)--was unparalleled anywhere else.
By the time of the First Five-Year Plan and collectivisation, when the Stalinist bureaucracy was consolidated as a class, there was little social provision for childcare. The author demonstrates how Stalin used the rhetoric of emancipation to make women work, and consciously reinstated the family. Women were subordinated to reproducing a new labour force by the demand for rapid industrialisation. The right to abortion was revoked as women's role in industry mushroomed. The regime calculated that this double burden of work and child-rearing would be the bedrock for the expansion of industry in Russia.
Stalin was able to forge a bureaucracy around him that began to act as a class in the 1920s as the revolutionary tide in Europe receded, destroying all the gains of the revolution. This book fails to provide interpretations of why the revolution was defeated and Stalin formed a dictatorship. For example it doesn't look at the possibilities of a different outcome had the German Revolution succeeded. Nor does it examine Trotsky's and the Left Opposition's fight against Stalinism.
You will have to look elsewhere to find a real explanation for the rise of Stalinism as this book mystifies the question of revolution, and does not help us to draw the lessons against counter-revolution.