Issue 272 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
No one is Illegal
Trentham Books £17.99
'Asylum Madness' is the logo the Sun is running above the articles it is pumping out daily against refugees in Britain. In fact it more accurately describes the level of hysteria that the right wing press and politicians have been stirring up. Steve Cohen's book No One Is Illegal: Asylum and Immigration Control Past and Present helps to debunk some of those myths around refugees.
Cohen has been an immigration lawyer and campaigner for refugees for 20 years. His book is a collection of his articles published in various journals and books from 1988 to last year. He concentrates on the treatment and experiences of Jewish immigrants in Britain. The 1905 Aliens Act was the first immigration legislation. It targeted Jewish people. Cohen shows how immigration legislation has not just been about keeping people out. It has also been about discriminating against those who get in.
From the beginning, access to state benefits has depended on immigration status. Jewish immigrants were some of the first targets of the racist scapegoating that has been repeated against each new set of immigrants and refugees. As the Tory MP William Evans Gordon said in parliament in 1902, 'Not a day passes but English families are ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders. The rates are burdened with the education of thousands of foreign children.' Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
In May 1938 visa restrictions were imposed on nationals from Germany and Austria, which hit Jews who were fleeing the Nazis. In the early years of the war Jews were interned in camps in Britain. In the Wharf Mill camp in Bury some 2,000 Jews were imprisoned behind barbed wire. There were no tables or benches, people had to eat standing. There were just 18 water taps in the camp for everyone to use for washing. It's hardly the proud tradition of welcoming refugees to Britain that press and politicians like to talk about while they back ever tougher legislation.
Cohen shows that both Tory and Labour governments have created laws to attack immigrants and refugees. 'British immigration laws split the century in three--the first being controls against Jewish workers fleeing anti-Semitism, the second being controls against black workers leaving the ravages of colonialism, and the last decade being controls against anyone escaping wars and famine,' he says.
New Labour's policy towards refugees has gone a step further. It has created a new poor law, argues Cohen, where the legislation restricted the mobility of the poor inside Britain in the early 17th century. Refugees today are forcibly dispersed to often sub standard accommodation across Britain, or can be dumped in centres with segregated health and education provision.
Cohen's book is a resource for those standing up against the hysteria against refugees. As it's a series of self contained articles there is inevitably a degree of repetition and the argument about why governments have used immigration controls is, unfortunately, broken up throughout the book. But in his conclusion Cohen takes a clear and principled position that it is not possible to have 'fair' or 'non-racist' immigration controls.
He praises two Socialist Worker pamphlets written in 1996 and 1999 for standing up against the attacks on refugees. But he disagrees with the way they use statistics to challenge the myths over refugees. He claims this gives a 'hostage to fortune' and argues that the focus should be on why all immigration controls should be abolished. I think he's wrong on this point. In this climate of 'asylum madness' the real situation about refugees has become detached from reality. Highlighting the facts, figures and concrete examples helps put perspective on the current hysteria and exposes the lies and hypocrisy. In this ideological battle the wealth of historical examples and the unpicking of Tory and New Labour legislation in Cohen's book plays a very useful role.
Cutting the Wire
Sue Branford and Jan Rocha
Latin America Bureau £14.99
The opening demonstration of this year's World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, was dominated by the red flags and banners of the Landless Workers' Movement--the MST. Not all of its one million members were there; not even the 100,000-plus who attend their schools and further education classes. But what they brought to the meetings and the debates was the experience of an extraordinary and in many ways successful movement that in just over 15 years has mobilised and led thousands of land occupations, protests and marches.
The most impressive thing about the MST is that it has mobilised the very poorest sectors of Brazilian society. It grew out of the resistance among rural workers and small farmers to the economic plans imposed by the military governments of the 1970s and early 1980s. In some senses, those plans were a forerunner--almost a rehearsal--for the neoliberal strategies that global capital is trying to impose across the whole region today. As land was taken over for modern export agriculture, hundreds of thousands of people were sent to the hostile Amazon forests or simply abandoned. As they moved from place to place they were met with the organised violence of a landowning class defending its interests with hired guns.
The MST responded with occupations of empty or underused lands, and took on the gunmen and the landowners, though they had no weapons. What they did have--and in huge quantities--was a stubborn persistence. The personal testimonies that the authors use to illustrate this moving history of the MST are incredible stories, like the 1,000-day camp at Encruzilhada Natalino that finally won land rights for thousands of families. The Landless Workers' Movement was born out of Natalino. At its first congress in 1985, people came from all over the vast country (nearly three times the size of western Europe) and they brought a myriad of experiences. But they all had a common thread--the dogged resistance of the poor, the violence of the landowners, and the indifference of the government.
There were arguments and debates, of course, at these founding meetings. What should be its relationship to the trade unions, for example? Should it change into a political party? How would it best fight for a 'fraternal society and an end to capitalism' as well as a just distribution of the land? The decision was to create an independent organisation focused on the land question. Its internal life would be open and democratic and based very heavily on a 'vision' (la mística), an idea of a future society based heavily on a mix of radical Christianity and Marxism. Its core was an idea of personal transformation through education, through the building of a community and through the involvement of every section of it--men, women, children, the old. It was a philosophy that was echoed to some extent in the founding documents of the Workers Party (the PT) but it also laid emphasis on its independence from political parties and from the trade union movement, though it would act jointly with both.
The actions and struggles of the MST have spread throughout Brazil--the battles are often still brutal, the landowners still violent and repressive. As of now they have won the legal right to 12.5 million acres of land. Their reputation and the respect it has earned are wholly deserved, as Cutting the Wire demonstrates beyond any doubt.
With the conclusion of the third WSF in Porto Alegre, however, the movement is at a crossroads. The new government, under the presidency of Lula, has promised land reform. The Workers Party and the MST are natural allies. Yet the MST must also now revisit the issue of its relationships with the workers' organisations and with the project for the transformation of the whole of society. And this might also demand a transformation of the MST itself--in its own structures, but also in combining the issue of land with the wider battle for workers' rights, against privatisation, and against the new phase of capitalist globalisation. But it will bring to those discussions a remarkable and inspiring story of struggle documented so carefully in this excellent piece of work--and they can offer the living proof that even the most exploited can find incredible strength when they organise together.
British Intervention and the Greek Revolution
Socialist Historians Society £2.75
The Second World War was fought to make the world safe for freedom and democracy. That is the claim made today, just as it was at the beginning of 1946 when the regiment I was in was posted to Greece. The war being over, troops in the Mediterranean were expected to be sent home and demobilised. They were bemused--but not amused--to find themselves being used to keep in power a right wing government of black marketeers and Nazi collaborators. At the same time they were used in the relentless persecution of the Resistance.
The Resistance had fought against the Nazi occupation for years, eventually driving them out with very little in the way of help from Britain and the Allies. But even before the last of the German forces were withdrawn, the Resistance found themselves fighting for their lives against British troops. Troops were sent in to ensure the destruction of the left wing forces and the return of an authoritarian right wing government, complete with a particularly reptilian royalty. It was a government fully prepared to encourage and protect foreign investments, and to accept British domination.
The Resistance started with numerous small groups who, on the initiative of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), came together in September 1941 to form the National Liberation Front (EAM). It was a broadly based movement committed to a programme of social reform, women's liberation, national liberation and parliamentary democracy. They organised food production, set up soup kitchens, and prevented hoarding and profiteering. Health workers organised healthcare, teachers organised education and, would you believe it, these services all got better without a target, league table or test to be seen.
Unfortunately the politics of the leadership did not match the radical self reliance of the rank and file. They were still tied to Stalin's stages theory whereby a bourgeois state complete with parliament and respect for private property must precede any struggle for socialism. The weakness of KKE politics, however, did not stop EAM growing into the biggest mass movement in Greek history. It claimed a membership of 2 million, almost a third of the adult population, with popular committees organised in every town and village. It established a guerrilla army (ELAS) in the mountains which fought a continuous war of harassment against the German army, eventually taking control of most of the country.
This pamphlet shows what this control meant with a quote from Chris Woodhead, the chief British agent in Greece, and future Tory MP and junior minister: 'They had given it things it had never known before. Communications in the mountains by wireless courier and telephone have never been so good before or since--even motor roads were mended. The benefits of civilisation and culture trickled into the mountains for the first time. Schools, local government, law courts and public utilities which the war had ended worked again. Theatres, factories, parliamentary assemblies began for the first time. Communal life was organised... EAM/ELAS set the base in the creation of something that the government of Greece had neglected: an organised state in the Greek mountains.' It was hardly a socialist utopia, but enough to earn the undying hatred of reactionaries like Winston Churchill. But when I and my fellow conscripts were sent there we were not sent by Churchill. We had a Labour government in power with a massive majority.
How did EAM/ELAS, who had shown such determination and tactical skills in the fight against German occupation, become so hesitant and indecisive that they failed to make any progress against the British? The answer lay in the politics of the Greek Communist Party. In October 1944 Churchill and Stalin had done a deal that accepted British domination over Greece. So instead of carrying out a revolution the KKE argued for a compromise with the British. The EAM/ELAS rank and file were being told to welcome the British army even as that army went in shooting, with the express aim of destroying the Greek left and maintaining in power a right wing government riddled with Nazi collaborators. The Greek working class paid a terrible price for the failure of British Labourism and Greek Stalinism.
Presumably John Newsinger wrote this pamphlet as an answer to Louis de Bernieres' Captain Correlli's Mandolin, a pathetic work of fiction which seeks to justify British intervention against the Resistance. This intervention made Greece the only country in Europe where Nazi collaborators were rewarded while Resistance fighters were faced with imprisonment and even execution. He tells the true story brilliantly in this pamphlet.
In Black and White
Books about sporting celebrities rarely capture the attention of socialists, and perhaps rightly so. The vast majority are instantly forgettable chronicles of 'glory days' ghost-written for performers with no obvious talents beyond their speed, strength, stamina or agility.
There are, of course, some honourable exceptions. CLR James's Beyond a Boundary, which examines the role of cricket in colonial West Indies, is a good example. The appeal of these books is that they do not simply rerun sporting events. Rather they seek to examine the contradictory role that sport plays in society. The Olympic Games or football World Cup are spectacles that provide genuine excitement and pleasure to the watching public. At the same time they are major capitalist jamborees producing huge profits for the organisers and sponsors.
Donald McRae's Dark Trade was a thoughtful insight into the psychology of boxing. He has repeated the trick with In Black and White, which chronicles the lasting friendship between Jesse Owens and Joe Louis and the discrimination faced by a generation of black sports stars.
McRae's starting point was the revelation that Owens, the reigning Olympic sprint champion, had once run against and lost to Louis, the heavyweight boxing champion. He discovered that the lives of these two great athletes had followed a remarkably similar trajectory. Born within months of each other to black Alabama sharecroppers, they both died at the age of 66. Similarly, the moments of their greatest sporting triumphs were fuelled with racial and political connotations.
Owens's tale is perhaps the more famous. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, in a stadium bedecked with swastikas and in the presence of Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and a crowd of 100,000, he ran and jumped his way into sporting legend with a set of performances that won him four gold medals and humiliated his hosts. Two years later Louis achieved his finest victory in an extraordinary fight against the German boxer Max Schmeling.
|Black Power at the Olympics|
The US media and politicians were quick to spot the propaganda potential of these victories. Yet even at this time their racism and hypocrisy was palpable. When describing Owens the US Olympic sprint coach suggested that 'the Negro athlete excels because he is closer to the primitive than the white athlete. It is not so long ago that his ability to sprint and jump was life and death to him in the jungle.' Similarly, after Louis's first major victory in 1936, one journalist reported, 'Something sly and sinister and perhaps not quite human came out of the African jungle tonight to strike down Primo Carnera...'
Within weeks of his Olympic feats, Owens's career was in tatters. His mistake had been to turn professional and seek some financial reward for the talents that others had been so willing to exploit. The race against Louis was a fix, with Owens stumbling theatrically to defeat as planned by the sponsors. And yet it must be regarded as one of his lesser humiliations. By this stage he was more used to racing against greyhounds and horses than human beings. Louis's career lasted longer and the material rewards he received were better. Ultimately however, hangers-on and the taxman gobbled his wealth up, while Louis ended his days addicted to drugs and incarcerated in psychiatric institutions.
McRae does not portray Owens or Louis as great rebels or political activists. What he does is restore their dignity and humanity. He does the same for their competitors and the ordinary Germans that witnessed Owens' legendary performance. In the midst of the long jump competition, Owens's German opponent Lutz Long offered advice that helped Owens to beat him into second place, and the rivals shared a warm embrace in the moment of Owens's victory. Theirs was to prove a lasting friendship. Meanwhile the watching crowd defied their Nazi rulers and saluted Owens's victories not with a stiff arm, but with a crescendo of adulation.
As McRae's outstanding book shows, and as the defiant examples of Muhammad Ali refusing to serve in Vietnam and the athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics also illustrate, some of the most vivid episodes in sporting history are ones from which we can draw inspiration.
Ed: Peter Phillips
Seven Stories £12.99
The US media sank to new depths in the aftermath of 11 September 2001. The major networks dropped even the pretence of objectivity and neutrality in favour of naked, shameless patriotism. Dan Rather, the prominent CBS newscaster, recently admitted, 'It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it.'
In another particularly revealing episode, during the scare over coded terrorist messages, all the media corporations attended a conference called by Condoleezza Rice. The New York Times reported that they agreed to censor any language the government deemed inflammatory. It was, the paper noted, the first time the networks had agreed to 'limit their prospective news coverage'.
The annual report from Project Censored, a media-monitoring scheme based in the US, describes last year as one of the worst on record. Robert W McChesney, an American academic and author, argues in the introduction that the US news media failed to properly address the three most significant issues of last year: Bush's 'war on terror', the Enron scandal and the presidential election.
Mainstream coverage of the 'war on terror' ignored the deeper, more profound, questions. Journalists did not examine the effectiveness of military action as opposed to other responses, the issue of international law and the problematic definition of terrorism. McChesney blames self-censorship and reliance on official sources rather than meddling corporate owners for the poor state of reporting. He suggests that journalists report, on the whole, what those in power say and what those in power debate. Consequently the news has an establishment bias.
News editors would probably respond that they rely upon official sources because they are democratically elected (although many branches of government are not). But if the parameters of news are set by the establishment, especially when the so called opposition is indistinguishable from the government, the people have 'no way out of the status quo, no capacity to criticise the political culture as a whole.' Furthermore the 'democracy defence' is hard to maintain when only about 50 percent of the population vote and powerful corporations manipulate the entire democratic process--Enron, for example, donated huge amounts of money to both the Democrats and Republicans.
Censored 2003 is an attempt to document the most important stories that have been under-reported, misrepresented or simply ignored by the corporate media.
As is inevitable with such an ambitious venture, the reports featured are occasionally enlightening and occasionally dull. They range from the ongoing relationship between Al Qaida and the US-supported Kosovo Liberation Army, to the systematic abuse of horses by pharmaceutical companies. Academics and media activists, centred on Sonoma State University, select the articles democratically and collectively.
One of the most striking stories is the allegation made by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, both French intelligence analysts, that the Bush administration prior to 11 September 2001 hampered investigations into Al Qaida in order to safeguard the US's relationship with the Saudi royal family. According to the former FBI deputy director, John O'Neill, 'The main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were US oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia.'
The Guardian picked up on the story, but it was ignored by the US media. As a result, whatever the merits of the allegation, the American people never had the opportunity to judge for themselves.
The book ends with an impassioned call for media activists everywhere to build a grassroots news movement of pirate radio stations, alternative internet sites and radical publications. With war looming on Iraq it is needed now more than ever.
Marx and Anglo-Russian Relations and Other Writings
D B Riazanov
Francis Boutle Publishers £10
During the 19th century, constitutional Britain and despotic Russia had one common and abiding interest--the defeat of revolution. In 1848, when the Tsar sent his army to crush the Hungarian Revolution, Lord Palmerston, Britain's foreign secretary, murmured to the Russian ambassador, 'Get it over quickly'. Although Britain and Russia clashed during the Crimean War of 1854-56, the war had a sham quality because Britain sought not to destroy but to contain Russia, so as to save Tsardom for the cause of counter-revolution.
Karl Marx repeatedly lambasted leaders like Palmerston for their servility to Russia and condemned the 'Anglo-Russian slavery' that bound Europe in chains. In 1856 he spent much time researching not only the origins of this Anglo-Russian collusion, but also Russia's rise to power. The result was a pamphlet entitled Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century. Shortly before the First World War, the Russian Marxist scholar, David Riazanov (1870-1938), Trotsky's ally and later Stalin's victim, wrote a critical appreciation of this work. His analysis forms the main part of this interesting book, expertly translated and edited by Brian Pearce.
Riazanov's main criticism is that Marx exaggerated Britain's role in Russia's rise to power. During the Great Northern War (1700-21) between Peter the Great of Russia and Charles XII of Sweden, Marx argued that Britain stayed neutral despite its defensive treaty with Sweden because it colluded to give Russia control of the Baltic, a decisive step in the advance of Tsardom westwards.
Riazanov's counter-argument is that Britain tried to avoid antagonising both Sweden and Russia because it was fighting France in the Wars of Spanish Succession (1700-14). Russia was also Britain's most important source of shipbuilding raw materials, which made a sustained alliance with Sweden difficult. Nevertheless, Riazanov points out that Britain repeatedly rejected Russia's overtures for an alliance, much to Peter the Great's anger. In fact, the first alliance between them was in 1742, when Britain proposed it, by which time Russia had already emerged as an equal member of the Concert of Europe. In short, Riazanov rightly argues that Britain turned to Russia for an alliance only when Russia was already strong.
Riazanov's other main criticism is that Marx placed too much emphasis on the impact of the Tartar yoke on Russia's rise to power. The Tartars appeared from the East in the 13th century as part of the great Mongol invasion. They overwhelmed Russia and subjected it to the Tartar Khans, whose rule was characterised by the unbridled exercise of supreme power (unlike western feudalism, where the monarch's power was limited by nobles). In his pamphlet Marx traced this Tartar legacy to the 17th century, where he linked it to the rise of Russian absolutism under Peter the Great.
Riazanov's counter-argument is that Russian absolutism had similar origins to those of European absolutism, which leaned on the rising bourgeoisie to raise the monarch into absolute power over the nobility. He therefore makes much of the penetration into Russia in the 17th century of Dutch and English merchant capital. For Riazanov, the Tartar Khans were not behind Russian absolutism but Anglo-Dutch capital.
Neither view, however, is satisfactory. Marx certainly exaggerated the role of the Tartar yoke (just as Russian populists and anarchists did later) but Riazanov exaggerates the role of Anglo-Dutch capital. Peter the Great's absolutist state was a reaction to the rise of capitalism in the west. But the impact of capitalism made itself felt in Russia mainly through military competition and war with its more advanced neighbours. Russia had to modernise to wage war but, as it lacked a bourgeoisie capable of economic development, the state, suitably invested with absolute power, performed this role instead.
The final two sections of this book address Marx and Engels' views on Poland and the Balkans. Riazanov's essay on Poland is valuable because he shows how Marx and Engels continually adapted their views. However, Riazanov makes a bad mistake when he maintains that Marx and Engels supported the national struggle of the Balkan Slavs of the Ottoman Empire. As Brian Pearce points out, except for a brief moment in 1853, Marx and Engels flatly opposed the struggle of the Balkan Slavs because it played into Russia's hands--just as in our times the struggle of the Kosovan Albanians played into the hands of the United States. This is a valuable book but only if it is read as critically as Riazanov read Karl Marx.
Bluecoat Press £7.99
|The Arandora Star which was torpedoed in 1940|
This interesting book deals with the immigration and life of an Italian community that settled in Liverpool in the years 1870 to 1904. Now the site of the Liverpool John Moores University, the area was then known as Little Italy.
The Italians were determined to get to Liverpool, recognised as the gateway to America, en route to a better life in the 'New World'. Many of these impoverished people arrived (after walking most of the 200 miles from London, selling their wares and entertaining people with their music), full of hope and optimism, only to find they could not afford the passage across the Atlantic. Forced to share the accommodation and appalling conditions of the local community, they were initially provided with food by earlier settlers and friendly Liverpudlians.
Many were accomplished musicians. The author tells us that on a sunny Sunday morning, Gerard Street resembled a typical little Italian town with the chirping of caged birds, the sounds of violins and mandolins and the smell of mouth-watering Italian food.
There is a whole chapter on boxing. The tough neighbourhood spawned many boxers who went on to achieve wider recognition as professionals at the sport. Dom Volante, Tony Butcher, Joe Curran and others all receive detailed treatment within the book along with other sportsmen well known at the time.
In the 1920s and 1930s, when thousands of men tramped the streets looking for work, some 'handy lads' earned a few bob going a few rounds at the old Pudsey Street Stadium. Promoters were never short of stand-ins who were known for their fearlessness and the punishment they could endure for very little reward.
By 1930, following the Gerard Street slum clearance and rebuilding programme, people were generally content in their new high-rise homes, even though the close-knit and caring nature of the older community had disappeared by 1935. Unfortunately, some had failed to apply for British citizenship and this was to cause many difficulties in the years ahead. When the war started many young men enlisted in the armed forces and the merchant marines. Few, if any, had sympathy with Mussolini.
The book describes the measures taken by Churchill to have police round up and question people of Italian descent who had been resident for less than 20 years; how internment camps were established in Huyton and how many were transferred to camps in the Isle of Man.
The ship Arandora Star left Liverpool landing stage in 1940, bound for Newfoundland and carrying, among others, 738 Italian male internees who were to be transferred to camps in Canada. Their average age was over 60. The ship was torpedoed off County Donegal and the book describes the heroic and partly successful rescue attempts. Some 868 survivors were taken ashore and as a result of this episode it became government policy to limit internment to Britain.
Cooke brings out the horror of war. Heavy bombing wiped out whole streets and generations of families--125 were killed by one parachute mine on the shelter of Holy Cross School.
The book contains many interviews with the descendants of the original community, who relate colourful memories of characters and activities from the early part of the 20th century. There are parallels to be drawn with present day Britain. After all, we live in a country with many mixed communities and face the possible consequences of government internment policies, resulting community unrest, and the threat of war with a distant land. For this reason and for many more, I found it difficult to put down this absorbing book.