Issue 277 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
The anti-capitalist movement is not what it was. From Seattle to Hyde Park, debate has ranged from the neoliberal agenda and all its implications to imperialist wars. In a global day of anti-war protest we have had an inkling of its potential strength. Now many people are arguing that all this energy and organisation must press on for alternatives to privatisation, for social justice and peace. We are not satisfied that 'the only alternative to the market was something worse--Stalinism'. This book reflects a profound shift in the expectations of millions of people. In a sustained assault on the neoliberal agenda Albert describes an alternative in which you and I will decide how work is organised, what is produced and how we are paid. This he calls 'Participatory Economics'--Parecon.
He begins in 'Values and Institutions' by defining and contrasting capitalism, market socialism, centrally planned socialism, bioregionalism and participatory economics. Albert sets out the values to be discussed: equity--how much people should get and why; self management--what kind of say over their conditions people should have; diversity--'should paths to fulfilment be diversified or narrowed?'; and solidarity--should people cooperate or compete?
He argues that the institutions that exist to enable unfettered profit-seeking--the IMF, World Bank and WTO--can be replaced by an International Asset Agency, Global Investment Assistance Agency and a World Trade Agency. These will attain the above values and ecological balance in international financial trade and cultural exchange by being transparent and participatory, with local popular democratic accountability. Albert then details his participatory economic vision which involves social ownership of productive assets, worker and consumer councils, 'balanced job complexes', payment according to effort and sacrifice and finally participatory planning.
His approach reflects his background in anarchism and the experience of the New Left in the 1960s. Quite rightly he lays emphasis on minority rights, though I cannot agree with his example of a workers' council's hiring decision 'that anyone who is strongly opposed can block any proposed hire no matter how many others favour it... She doesn't have to explain why, she gets a veto because being strongly opposed to hiring trumps favouring hiring.' What if the objection is based on racism or homophobia? This detail seems at odds with the concept of participation where everyone at a workplace collectively makes decisions and takes responsibility for them. Even under capitalism many jobs assume feedback will be given to an applicant about why they haven't been hired.
It is partly in the nature of a book like this that readers will respond differently to the concrete examples about how life might look under Parecon. So not everyone will agree with the exact formulation of his 'balanced job complexes' in which every person, including specialists and experts, will do some tasks of the less enjoyable and empowering kind so that 'over a reasonable period the overall average empowerment impact for each job will be the same as that for the other jobs'.
Socialists argue that people change their ideas through the experience of struggle, but even the raised expectations of the participants of a successful revolution will surely pale against the ideas of children raised beyond capitalism. But Albert keeps his feet on the ground and tackles criticisms of Parecon concerning productivity, creativity, meritocracy, privacy, flexibility and human nature.
Albert is clearly aware that many people in the anti-capitalist movement argue that 'vision must replace sectarianism'. He argues that an overarching vision and coherent theory is 'absolutely necessary for activists to guide their choice of social experiment'. There is no discussion here of how to smash capitalism. Indeed Albert describes Parecon communities existing beside non-Parecon communities or countries. However, this book is an important contribution to the imaginative tools for everyone who wants to dismantle capitalism.
Faber and Faber £5
I interviewed the playwright and poet Harold Pinter in November 2001. A story he told me on that occasion came to mind upon reading War, his short collection of eight anti-war poems and one speech.
At a function as part of a human rights delegation to Turkey, he asked a senior Turkish state official why the security forces torture Kurdish 'suspects' by attaching electrodes to their genitals. The official asked Pinter to leave on the grounds that the writer had insulted the official's wife by using the word 'genitals'.
Pinter's revulsion at the moral chasm between the official's indignation at the word and the acts perpetrated by those acting on his behalf became formalised in the extraordinary play One for the Road. This story, which resonates with questions of language and politics, is pure Pinter. There are few writers in the English language more acutely aware of the political power of words to both distort and illuminate the truth.
In War we see him use the most economical and angry language to articulate his rage at US imperialism and British support for it. In the four-line poem 'Democracy' he takes the macho language of the American right wing and turns it back on them:
'There's no escape.
The big pricks are out.
They'll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.'
Written in response to this year's invasion of Iraq, the poem relates back to a brilliant piece he wrote in 1991, at the time of the first US/British assault on Iraq. In 'American Football', also included here, he took a US pilot's comparison of a bombing raid on Baghdad with his first college football game and created an obscene, powerfully satirical critique of the war. 'We blew the shit out of them./They suffocated in their own shit!' says the imagined US airman. 'Hallelujah./Praise the Lord for all good things.'
This is poetry of the most unpretentious, excoriating, yet carefully measured kind. Pinter's writing exhibits an almost obsessive dedication to the exact use of language. It has been said that he is a great remover of words, and one senses here that the visceral political power of the poems lies to a great degree in his paring them back to create the sharpest literary weapon possible.
The verses bristle with anger, despair, mourning and defiance. In 'God Bless America' he writes, 'The gutters are clogged with the dead'. In 'Meeting', written after the Afghan war and as a premonition of the coming invasion of Iraq, he imagines 'the long dead' (perhaps from Vietnam, Hiroshima and Auschwitz) walking out to embrace 'the new dead'. In 'Weather Forecast', the most subtle of these poems, he greets the putative 'New American Century' with an apocalyptic vision in which the banality of everyday life is punctured by the realisation that: 'This is the last forecast.'
Accompanied by Pinter's brilliantly and uncompromisingly political speech in Turin in November of last year, this booklet of poems is a powerful expression of the anti-imperialist rage felt by millions around the world.
Reclaim The State
Radicals in Power
Zed Books £14
The leaders of the anti-capitalist movement seem to have fallen in love with Brazil. For years it was impossible to find a single news item about the country from one month to the next. Now every debate about the future of the movement, and the kind of world we want to build, seems to refer to Porto Alegre. Partly that is because the first three World Social Forums were held there. More importantly, though, it is because Porto Alegre has operated for more than ten years a 'participatory budget'. Organisations would meet to discuss what the spending priorities for the city would be and the municipal government would implement them.
A lot of people were very excited about this. Hilary Wainwright was one of those who saw in it a picture of things to come, a model for a genuine popular democratic form of government. The political organisation behind the experiment was the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), whose leading figure, Lula, assumed office as president of Brazil at the beginning of this year.
Perhaps there was a hope that what had been tried locally could now be transferred to the national arena. It would certainly have been hugely inspiring had the new PT government initiated a system of grassroots control over the economy and the society. The real experience of his eight months in office, however, has thrown up much more fundamental questions. Not surprisingly, the powerful global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank turned out to have far greater power in a global capitalist system, and it is their priorities and demands that are shaping Lula's policies.
Hilary Wainwright looks at Porto Alegre alongside several British experiments in local activism--east Manchester, Newcastle, Luton's Marsh Farm Estate. She examines each of them as models of a new and different kind of democracy in what for me is too much detail. And she is right to see each experience as evidence of the capacity of the most marginalised people to struggle and organise--to realise their own potential. Yet they seem to me to be examples of functioning local government where the old municipal structures are breaking down, rather than a new form of power.
In the case of Porto Alegre, Hilary can at least make a connection between the local and the national, in the sense that the PT is now in the presidency. Yet already that hope is unravelling. Baiocchi's collection of essays is really directed at readers with a specific and specialised interest in Brazil, reporting as it does on a series of Porto Alegre type experiments elsewhere in the country. His rather hopeful title Radicals in Power begs the key question, though--and it is one that Hilary Wainwright acknowledges several times in her book. As she says, 'Community self-help on its own leaves untouched the wider inequalities that often lie behind a locality's problems. All too often it becomes self-exploitation.'
There is no sidestepping the fact that the 'participatory budget' was a way of deciding how the amount allocated by central government was to be distributed. The issue was how to share out the crumbs, not how to seize the bakery!
Obviously the whole discussion is linked to the question of democracy--probably the most important issue that the anti-capitalist movement faces. Hilary is dismissive of what she calls the 'mainstream left' for its failure to face the question. And she is right that much of the left has either promised reforms through parliament that never materialised, or argued that manifestly undemocratic societies like those of Eastern Europe or, indeed, Cuba could somehow be described as socialist.
The energy and commitment that Hilary identifies in many grassroots and community organisations are the most compelling evidence that a genuine and active democracy from below is possible. But the reality she describes also shows that it can only grow and thrive where all of society's resources are controlled from below. And that inescapably brings us to the question of the state--or, to put it another way, the structures and organisations through which the capitalist class defends its power.
The most profound democratic experiences have been those moments when working people seized control of their society directly. The unspoken question through Hilary Wainwright's book is how we coordinate and combine our power and strike at the way in which power and resources are distributed globally. And that is a question of revolution.
Discovering the Scottish Revolution
Pluto Press £17.99
Neil Davidson's new book has sparked debate on the Scottish left. It covers the period when Scotland moved from a backward feudal society to one of the most dynamic centres of emergent capitalism--a bourgeois revolution that most historians fail to recognise.
Davidson argues it was not the Act of Union in 1707 that sparked this rapid transformation, but the last Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Its defeat was decisive and not just for Scotland: 'Events in Scotland were integral to the survival and consolidation of British capitalism and consequently to the phase of world history which its expansion and imitation initiated. If the word "revolution" retains any meaning, then this process is surely one to which it can be applied.'
The bourgeoisie had already triumphed in England and crushed Ireland. The Scots played a role in this--by the early 17th century Ulster was a Scottish colony. Davidson shows how a kind of proto-British imperialism and an embryonic British army were operating before the British state formally existed.
The Treaty of Union of 1707 was the start of a long partnership in crime. It was not designed to transform feudal social relations in Scotland but to preserve them. Yet the transformation soon began to happen: 'The Treaty of 1707 seemed to guarantee the Scottish nobility a preservation order in perpetuity but it could not prevent the subtle corrosive influence of commercial society from undermining the basis of their noble rule.'
The way forward was to become capitalist landlords. But only the most powerful could take this road. The supporters of Jacobitism were the group of declining lairds and great magnates who looked to the past. The Stewart cause ended in defeat at Culloden in 1746. More Scots fought for the British state. It was a turning point in Britain's development and helped lay the basis for the first industrial revolution.
Between 1750 and 1780, Scotland compressed into 30 years of development the economic growth that in England had spread over two centuries. It was Scots who pioneered Britain's industrial revolution and spearheaded empire. It is quite wrong to portray them as a junior partner in the union.
What nationalism remained was no threat to the British state. It became a component part of an all-British nationalism--a tartan gloss on Britain's imperial adventures. The prominent role played by Scottish regiments in the occupation of Iraq is just the latest example.
Some on the Scottish left have difficulty recognising this Scottish bourgeois revolution. As Davidson explains: 'For Scottish socialists the Scottish Revolution cannot occupy the same place that comparable events do for socialists in England or France--or even socialists in Italy and the USA. The key turning points do not involve the revolutionary crowd storming Edinburgh Castle or a levée en masse overwhelming royalist armies against all the odds, but deals struck in snuff-filled rooms off Edinburgh High Street and Royal troops hunting down defeated peasants across Culloden Moor.'
What has this go to do with today? Scots may well have a degree of national consciousness, but for the majority this has never been transformed into support for nationalism as a political movement. That's because the Scottish identity was largely shaped after the Act of Union and within the context of the British state. It was really only after 1746 that a unified Scottish nation could emerge. But it did so as part of another nation--Britain.
Neil Davidson argues this has enormous consequences for the struggles of today:
'The formation of the Scottish working class was, at the same time, part of the formation of the British working class. This makes it unlikely, whatever the nature of any subsequent constitutional changes, that there will ever be a second proletarian Scottish revolution separate from one in Britain as a whole. Whether or not the Scottish working class will eventually participate in such an event is still open to question. If it does we can be certain of one thing: the revolution that it helps to make will be quite unlike the one that brought it into existence.'
Anyone who wants to understand Scottish history and the limits of Scottish nationalism should read this book.
Oxford University Press £35
George Lansbury was one of the most popular figures on the left of the Labour Party. Consequently he is still patronised and reviled by newspaper columnists, and Historian AJP Taylor claimed Lansbury's Lido on the Serpentine was the only lasting achievement of the 1929 Labour government. Given that the current government will leave the derelict Dome as its only memorial, Lansbury's open air swimming pool looks more impressive.
John Shepherd's biography shows Lansbury's achievement went well beyond his Lido. Most importantly, Shepherd restores Lansbury's role as a campaigner and fighter as well as minister and party leader.
Lansbury was first politically active in the Liberal Party. The sometime charcoal factory hand, railway checker, coal hauler, coffee bar manager and wood veneer dryer, educated in east London at a cost of four pennies a week to his mother, became a successful agent for Liberal MPs, backing 'Lib-Lab' politics, where a few trade unionists were allowed to sit in the Commons as Liberals. He was angered that leading Lib-Labbers like Sidney Webb thought the eight-hour day must be held back 'until the iron and coal masters of the north had been won over'. Believing 'liberalism would progress just so far as the great capitalist money bags would let it' Lansbury joined the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party.
Lansbury's parliamentary socialism meant more than just getting elected: He used mass extraparliamentary action to get the wheels moving. Lansbury led a number of 'mass deputations of working women' to Westminster demanding better relief for the poor in the 1900s, and took part in Ramsay MacDonald's 'Right to Work' demonstrations in the same period. When elected to Poplar council, he led a rates rebellion. He and his fellow east London councillors went to prison rather than cut back welfare spending.
As a minister in the 1929 Labour government, Lansbury saw the weakness of parliamentary reform close up. He reported that 'there were four ministers and again about two dozen civil servants. Not a single one of the latter was in favour of Labour's policy to extend pensions and raise the school-leaving age... This is just where the whole policy of a Labour government depending on civil service experts to determine whether socialist policy is right or wrong must break down.' He saw extraparliamentary pressure as a counterbalance to this conservative deadweight.
Lansbury's campaigning spirit owes something to a decade's membership of the Social Democratic Federation, a Marxist party--years that Shepherd's biography brings back into focus. Henry Hyndman, a top hat wearing toff who led unemployed demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, led the SDF. It provided a training school for many of the left wing leaders of the next century. Lansbury was the party's organiser for ten years, and travelled in the same circles as Eleanor Marx, Tom Mann and other prominent 1880s socialists.
Lansbury helped found two newspapers, the campaigning Daily Herald (later sold to the TUC which sold it on to become the paper it is today--the Sun) and Labour Weekly. Through these papers Lansbury led the 'Hands off Russia' campaign. It defended the new revolutionary Russian government from allied military intervention, a campaign which culminated in East End dockers refusing to load the SS Jolly George with guns for Polish anti-Bolshevik forces. Lansbury's newspapers also powerfully backed--but did not lead--the industrial unrest leading to the General Strike.
Lansbury unexpectedly became Labour leader when MacDonald's defection to the National Government decimated the parliamentary party. He resigned in 1935, when the party turned against his pacifism as an inadequate response to the rise of European dictators. Ernie Bevin accused him of 'hawking [his] conscience around' peace conferences while fascist aggression threatened. The Labour right nostalgically returned to Bevin v Lansbury most recently as a justification for Blair's warmongering.
Lansbury was, as Shepherd's subtitle suggests, 'at the heart of old Labour', but he shows too that he was 'the only recognised left winger' in the 1929 Labour government, as the rotten heads of Old Labour--Macdonald, Snowden, Clynes--dominated the party.
Serpent's Tail £10
Watching the BBC's Asylum Day recently was a whole evening of incredibly depressing viewing. Apart from the refugees and liberal vicars making a brave stand against the gutter racists, the only other infrequent interruption to the myth promotion was the voice of a former immigration officer and debut novelist, Tony Saint.
His thriller Refusal Shoes goes a long way to transforming the image of immigration officers in the way the police have evolved over the years from the harmless, friendly PC Plod in Dixon of Dock Green to The Sweeney and the odd hard but stupid bastard in The Bill. And what a lovely number Saint does on the drunks, thieves, bigots and psychos who make up the staff at Terminal C. Anyone who ever believed that you could have friendly and fair immigration controls that didn't discriminate on the grounds of race can be put straight by Saint's hero, the disillusioned immigration officer Henry Brinks: 'At Terminal C, where people are segregated by nationality only, you're in the real world; it spins by you every day and you understand what really makes it go round. In the real world hatred is the only thing we do have in common. And the immigration service runs on it. It is character building when it comes to this kind of work; it is positively encouraged... Hatred breeds hatred, feeds off itself until the point where it engulfs you the second you walk through the door and you begin to carry it home with you. The art of the others is to take that hatred and redistribute it on the arriving passengers.'
A relative newcomer, only having spent five years as an immigration officer, Brinks tries to hold on to his sanity against a whirlpool of ambition, competition, drink and drug-fuelled disappointment, backhanders and bribes. Knock-offs (refusals) and bounces (putting those refused entry on a plane) need to be high to survive the immigration canteen culture atmosphere, higher still to progress to chief immigration officer or a more lucrative posting. If that doesn't get you noticed, you can always supplement your civil service pension with backhanders or, as in the case of another main protagonist Ed Thorogood, sell safe passage to a criminal gang. If you've worked in an office for any length of time, you'll recognise the 'cover your back at all costs' intrigue between Brinks and Thorogood that makes this such a fascinating thriller. If you've worn the wrong shoes and have the wrong skin colour as far as these excuses for humanity are concerned, then you'll probably recognise the characters who mete out the humiliation and racist abuse.
Refusal Shoes is also a very useful resource, quoting and explaining, as it does, salient pieces of the Immigration Act (1971), such as the section which gives immigration officers powers that 'would make your average South American generalissimo froth with envy'. Anyone coming into contact with an immigration officer 'can be detained without charge for an indefinite period, for entirely arbitrary reasons which do not have to be disclosed outside the environs of the service... Leaving the decision to withdraw somebody's liberty to as maladjusted a group of power-crazed bigots as these may seem perverse, but then nobody bargained for the fact that to detain, to bang up, has been a totemistic practice among immigration personnel, priapic proof of dedication to the cause. To them, the thought of one empty immigration detention space is an abhorrent vacuum. As fast as more spaces are found, as more detention centres are built, they are filled. The spillover winds up in prison accommodation, some poor bastard spending months behind bars without charge because an amoebic life form down the food chain of the public service decides on a whim that they would not comply with temporary admission.'
The whole system of immigration in Britain is perverse, and things have only got worse since Blair and Blunkett took the helm. Groan if you like, but this book proves that the lunatics are still in charge of asylum.
Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge
Yale University Press £25
For most people the history of Cambodia is the history of the killing fields and the murderous rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Few remember that after the Vietnamese invaded and Pol Pot was kicked out of Cambodia that he still received the support of the US. Evan Gottesman looks at the years from the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 until the signing of the 1991 peace accords and UN-administered elections in 1993. This period of Cambodian history was dominated by the Cold War politics.
When the US started building bridges with China, Vietnam felt threatened as it was allied to the USSR. Fearing an invasion by the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Gottesman shows the disgusting tactics of the US, which supported the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot when they fled to the Thai border and became known as the 'resistance'. The UN voted to recognise the Pol Pot regime as the legitimate representative of Cambodia. Both the US and Britain voted in favour at a time when the true horrors of the killing fields were being exposed to the world.
The US backed this up with an embargo on aid and an economic boycott against a country where an estimated 3 million people had been murdered or starved to death. The US State Department also walked a fine line in its criticism of the Khmer Rouge, carefully avoiding the word 'genocide'. Gottesman describes the total chaos which greeted the Vietnamese and how impossible it was to rebuild the country. Cambodia was, as Gottesman says, 'a blank slate', with no infrastructure, bureaucracy, school system or legal system. Following the depopulation of the cities and the forced collectivisation only 15 percent of 'intellectuals' remained alive following the fall of the Khmer Rouge. 'Intellectuals' were classed as people educated to high school level.
Gottesman shows how from the invasion by Vietnam to the present day the same people remain in power in Cambodia. As early as the end of 1979 Khmer Rouge officials and soldiers, regardless of their role in 'offences against the people', were welcomed into the new regime as long as they had 'reformed'. 'The regime did not collapse; it negotiated the terms of its survival,' he says. The promised trials of the murderers in the Khmer Rouge never materialised and only two officials were tried. Many were absorbed back into the system. Cambodia is now dependent on foreign aid and assistance. While the ruling class profits, women work for $1 a day in garment sweatshops owned by companies such as Gap. Sex tourism is on the increase as the problem of HIV and Aids escalates.
Gottesman had access to previously undisclosed documents from minutes of Communist Party meetings. He covers in incredible depth the occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam and the detail is overwhelming. However no book on Cambodia can hope to explain the history without reference to the US bombing. Gottesman only makes one reference to this atrocity. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger authorised B-52s to drop tens of thousands of tonnes of bombs on Cambodia at a cost of $7 billion dollars. This devastation of Cambodia is fundamental to a clear understanding of the situation the Vietnamese found themselves in. The US had bombed Cambodia into the Stone Age.
Reading this book in 2003 you are constantly reminded of the parallels with Iraq. Once again the US is in position as destroyer. This time however, like the Vietnamese, they are also the occupiers who must rebuild the country.
Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Norman G Finkelstein
The Palestinian question is the key political question of our time. The nature of the Israeli state and its relationship to the rest of the world is central to US imperialism. Israel is the linchpin of the Project for a New American Century. Consequently the arguments burn with a ferocious intensity.
Both Politicide and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict are worthy studies, weighing in on the anti-Zionist side. Of the two Politicide has more literary value. Author Baruch Kimmerling coined the term to mean 'the dissolution of the Palestinians as a legitimate social, political and economic entity'. It's a neat reduction of the phrase 'ethnic cleansing'.
Politicide is a history of Israel interwoven with a biography of Ariel Sharon. No biography is abstract from a wider picture and bigger narrative. However, 'King Arik', folk hero to many in Israel, has a leading role in the saga. Since the formation of Israel in 1948 he has played a significant role in episodes of military aggression and direct politicide against the Palestinians.
The book opens with a short introduction, outlining Israel's 'drift towards fascism', citing reductions in freedom of expression, increasing military involvement in politics, the centralisation of executive power, and the institutional demonisation of Arabs and in particular Palestinians as 'the other'. While I don't think these add up to a classical definition of fascism, it is a vital snapshot of a society closing down. Day to day life for Palestinians is easily the more harrowing, but as a safe haven for Jews Israel is the last place anyone would want to resettle to. For a self proclaimed 'Israeli patriot' trying to 'open the eyes of a benevolent and humanistic people' it must be all the more distressing.
Ariel Sharon first rose to prominence as an officer in the Israeli army in the 1950s. He was active during the Suez crisis in 1956, and the 1967 and 1973 wars. He became known as a gung-ho commander with more than half an eye on his own personal glory. During the 1973 conflict it was his ambition to cross the Suez Canal that led to many Israeli casualties but boosted his fledgling political career. He was minister of defence during the second Israeli attempt at politicide, the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which culminated in the massacre of civilians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps by the Christian Phalange militia, overseen by the Israeli army.
The outcry all over the world, including in Israel, at the slaughter of Palestinian civilians led some to favour 'the apartheid option', as Norman G Finkelstein describes it, over expulsion and politicide.
Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict is a demolition job on Zionist theory. The bulk of the book is dedicated to smashing particular Zionist studies and assumptions. In many ways it's vital reading. Finkelstein's attack on Joan Rivers' From Time Immemorial, which tries to prove by manipulation and selective reading that the majority of Palestinians by 1948 were in fact Arab immigrants is well argued. However, in another sense, it's about as gripping as an argument over population statistics can be.
More satisfying are the chapters giving an overview of the conflict, in particular the introduction that comes with the new edition. We discover details of the mighty alliance protecting Israel in the UN--where the US lines up with Nauru, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. We hear gruesome accounts of Operation Defensive Shield, where ambulances, medical staff and children were shot 'for sport', where Palestinian males aged 15 to 50 were rounded up and arrested, where the Palestinian ministry for education was broken into, everything destroyed, and urine and faeces left everywhere. The most incredible, eye-popping part is a quote from an Israeli soldier who operated a bulldozer during the Jenin massacre: 'I wanted to destroy everything. I begged the officers...to let me knock it all down, from top to bottom... For three days, I just destroyed and destroyed...'
Image...was written in 1995 and ends with a description of the 'Bantustanisation' of the remnants of Palestine. Since Ariel Sharon's rise to power it seems politicide may be on the cards once more.
The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War
Frank Cass £18.50
Whenever the left meets to discuss the current political situation, the conversation inevitably centres on postwar Iraq and the strategy of US imperialism. There seem to be three key questions that most exercise comrades' minds: is US power invincible? How did the US gain such power? And why does Tony Blair stick like dogshit on George Dubya's cowboy boot? While reading Hugh Wilford's excellent and well researched book, these three questions kept flooding into my consciousness. Wilford focuses his attention on the cultural war between the US and what he mistakenly refers to as Communism, ie state capitalism.
He begins with the end of the Second World War in 1945. When Labour was elected there was a fantastic feeling of optimism among socialists and social democrats, who Wilford refers to as the non-Communist left (NCL), on both sides of the Atlantic. They saw it as a chance to create a third force between capitalism and Communism.
Vehement anti-Communists, including many ex-Communists, both in Britain and in the US began to take a great interest in the British Labour Party. Thus began a dialogue between ex-Communists and New Dealers in the US and social democrats and ex-Communists here in Britain. Their hatred of Stalinism led them to throw their lot in with the US state and its allies. According to Wilford it was the NCL that first initiated this Faustian pact. Their collaborative effort was directed at the penetration of all areas of cultural life in response to Communist cultural activity.
Russia had begun to organise front organisations around the theme of peace between the peoples of the world. Together with its Communist party connections around the globe, it began to organise peace rallies and cultural exchanges involving workers, artists and scientists.
In the first exhilarating days after the end of the Second World War, internationalism became a major theme--never again should the world be plagued with fascism and war. This was particularly true among the working class. Responding to this mood of internationalism, trade unions around the world came together to form the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). With the onset of the Cold War the US and its friends began to target the WFTU through its contacts in the US trade union movement and in the TUC. There were two trade union centres in the US, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrialised Organisations (CIO). These, together with virulent anti-Communist like Arthur Reakin, general secretary of the TGWU, and Ernie Bevin, the previous general secretary, who was now the British foreign secretary, organised a breakaway from the WFTU and formed a rival trade union centre, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
Another target for US funds was the Labour Party itself, to which money was provided to set up literary and political magazines staffed by anti-Communist literary intellectual figures. This wasn't difficult because many of the revisionists who wanted to 'modernise' the Labour Party had themselves served in intelligence during the war. Now the joint editors of Encounter began to commission articles by selected people to direct a subtle form of psychological warfare against the views of the rank and file of the labour and trade union movement, which still supported CND, public ownership and was against entry into the Common Market, the forerunner of the EU.
Whatever happened politically to those virulent anti-Communists? Wilford's book unequivocally demonstrates that when you shake hands with the devil, you don't change the world for the benefit of humankind, you change the world for the benefit of you. The proof of this lies in the book's pages, for many of those ex-Communists turned into today's neo-conservatives. Perhaps if they had concentrated their efforts on the working class, they might still be socialists.
Today's socialists should read this book not just to satisfy their own curiosity. For if knowledge is power then this book provides some extremely explosive ammunition in the class struggle. If we are to wipe the ever-present smile from the face of Richard Perle, then we are in great need of the powerful weapons which the information contained in this book provides.
Home is a Place Called Nowhere
Oxford University Press £6.99
Home is a Place Called Nowhere is a story of a 12 year old girl called Amina who has run away from her home. She has travelled to London searching for her mother and to try to find out about her past. Her only clue is a necklace that she has always worn. In her quest to find her mother she is befriended by other Londoners and refugees. She also comes across the immigration authorities and racists.
Her story is very moving because she was abandoned in Dover when her mother was taken away to a detention centre. Amina does eventually discover where her home is, only to learn 'it cannot be found on any map'.
This is one of many refugee stories we have read and even though it is not the best it is certainly worth reading. This book makes you think about what refugees go through and why you should stop it. The story is simple but it shows you how they live.
The story focuses on Amina rather than how much hard work it is to try to get support for refugees. In the book they have a demonstration outside the detention centre in a few weeks, but it says nothing about how they organised it. We know how much work it takes to get a protest to happen because we have helped organise many protests and lobbies for this sort of thing. Recently we have been trying to get support for Shahin Portohfeh, an asylum seeker from Iran.
Other children should read this book because it is easy to understand and very descriptive.
Amy Hicks (aged 8)
Rory Hicks (aged 12)