Issue 283 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review




Nothing left to barter with

Bitter Fruit
Achmat Dangor
Atlantic £10.99

Bitter Fruit

To be in Johannesburg ten years ago during the first post-apartheid elections was a wonderful experience--most of the time. One of the less inspiring moments was watching Pik Botha, one of the apartheid state's most prominent butchers, appear on an Oprah-style show where he oozed about the need for reconciliation and forgiveness. In an extraordinary act of humanity, some black people on the show said how they were prepared to forgive Pik's grievous crimes. But the women in the bar where I was watching were less ready to dispense absolution. 'String him up, string him up,' they chanted.

Achmat Dangor's novel explores the continuing hold of the apartheid years on the lives of South Africans today. Without hectoring, it brings home that although the end of apartheid was undoubtedly a victory it ended in a settlement where the rich 'gave us the government, kept the money'.

Set in the final months of Nelson Mandela's presidency, it takes us into the lives of a 'coloured' (mixed race) family caught up in the 'grey, shadowy morality' of an ANC government 'bargaining, until there was nothing left to barter with, neither principle nor compromise'.

Silas Ali, the father, is an old ANC activist whose government job in the justice ministry is to liaise with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is a veteran of the struggle who has suffered for his commitment, and knows he was right to resist the state, but feels an emptiness about what has been achieved. His life is thrown into new turmoil with the reappearance of François Du Boise, a loutish white security policeman who, 20 years earlier, raped Ali's wife, having thrown Silas into a police van. Du Boise is no longer the arrogant thug who terrorised so many people. He is disfigured by skin cancer and is trying to gain amnesty for his crimes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Silas's wife, Lydia, is also from a 'coloured' family. She was not formally part of the anti-apartheid struggle but now finds a new confidence in her hospital work and the care of her son. But whatever calm she has found is disturbed by the return of Du Boise. In one brilliant scene we read of husband and wife dancing together in apparent serenity until we discover that Lydia is dancing with bare feet on broken glass.

Their son, Mikey, is a child of the 'new South Africa'. But he is also imprisoned by the past. He finds out that he was born because of his mother's rape by Du Boise. Mikey, now pulled towards a group of Islamist activists, feels a certain contempt for his parents' generation: 'The struggle sowed the seeds of bright hopes and burning ideals, but look at what they are harvesting: an ordinariness.'

Dangor grew up in one of the 'coloured' townships of Johannesburg, and saw for himself the racist evictions (forced removals) described in Bitter Fruit. He was active in the anti-apartheid struggle and became head of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa. It is all the more powerful when such a man describes the drab disillusion of the heroism of the ANC turning into a corporate managerial ethos.

Dangor's novel gets better the longer it goes on as it fills out a rounded picture of the remarkable gains of the 'rainbow nation' and how much still needs to be done to reach genuine liberation. It is in the end a story of a family and of personal experience. But it also casts a light on why democratic revolutions that do not transform class relations cannot set the human spirit free.
Charlie Kimber


The Adventure of English
Melvyn Bragg
Hodder & Stoughton £20

The Adventure of English

For a good, highly readable overview of how English developed and where it may be going, Melvyn Bragg's book, based on the TV series of the same name, does the job. Bragg traces the roots of English back to the Frisian and other Germanic languages of those who invaded Britain from the 5th century onwards--the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. He follows the growth of what have become the varied forms of modern English, not only through the familiar paths of the Norman invasion, Chaucer, Shakespeare and so on, but also through looking at other influences on English--the words of the Wild West in America, the Creole languages of the Caribbean, or the vocabulary the British brought from India. Indeed, the lists of words can become overwhelming at times.

His view of English is in some ways very democratic: the role of the ordinary people and particularly the oppressed is stressed, whether through the survival and transformation into Middle English of Anglo-Saxon under Norman French rule or the advance of Australian English. His account of Wycliffe (the first translator of the Bible into English) and his followers the Lollards shows how ordinary men and women were ready to assert their beliefs against a corrupt and powerful church that claimed absolute authority. Wycliffe was condemned as a heretic and his body dug up, but 150 years later thousands of copies of Tyndale's new translation were smuggled round Britain. In the words of Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII's chancellor, he was 'putting the fire of scripture into the language of the ploughboys'. Tyndale burned at the stake, but his words were read every day by millions for hundreds of years.

Language and religion expressed both the 'heart in a heartless world', as Marx explained 300 years later, and the struggles of the time. Bragg describes how the spirituals of black slaves in the American South expressed not simply their hopes for the next world, but also the struggle to escape to the North and freedom. Brought up as a dialect speaker himself, he writes well, too, about the varieties of English and their histories, and shows how the language of ordinary people--whether in the time of Shakespeare or of Dickens--has shaped the language. He also considers the role of English as the major language of international trade and politics.

Bragg does, however, tend to view English, and especially the varieties of English we meet nowadays, as a rich and relatively unproblematic cornucopia, a 'hoard and a history of words whose ingenuity, democratic sourcing, variety, richness, even genius is all but beyond imagination'. This doesn't mean he disregards the key role English has played in advancing British, and later, US imperialism. For example, he quotes Macaulay (writer, historian and member of the Supreme Court in Calcutta) who argued in 1835 for teaching English on the grounds that 'I have never found one among them who could deny that a good shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia'. Gandhi, in contrast, saw the future of India as a country from which English was utterly banished.

However, whatever the more problematic episodes in its past, English in Bragg's view now has something special. In contrast, linguists like David Crystal point to the role of trade and empire, and the huge influence of American English, and deny that English has intrinsic aesthetic or structural superiority. As he points out, this has been claimed for many languages in the past--Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Italian, Chinese and so on. However, the effect of Bragg's outlook is to skate over the way English and particular varieties of English have been and continue to be profoundly oppressive for many people, as Gandhi argued.

One only has to consider New Labour's slavish devotion to testing, and the obsession in SATs with Standard English and linguistic minutiae. As the Russian linguist Voloshinov pointed out, 'The ruling class strives to impart a supraclass eternal character to the ideological sign.' In this way, many working class children find themselves and their language labelled as inadequate: it is not the testing regime but the children themselves who are failing. The question of class and privilege is sidestepped. This of course fits well with Bragg's own political outlook: he is a well-known supporter of New Labour.

The struggle over English is also downplayed, in my view, because English itself has been personified--the book is subtitled A Biography of English. The language is presented as an almost irresistible force, rather than the collective creation of human beings. It is, nonetheless, a fascinating read.
Jane Bassett


A Movement of Movements
Ed: Tom Mertes
Verso £13

A Movement of Movements

This anthology of interviews and essays has its origins in the pages of the journal New Left Review, not perhaps an odds-on favourite to provide an insight into the state of the 'anti-globalisation' movement today. However, while editor Tom Mertes states that though in sympathy with the cause his aim is to 'take the measure' of the movements, he has produced a much more interesting and less bloodless book than this might suggest, explicitly setting a context of the continuing strength of the movement post-9/11, and the challenge of building opposition to 'neo-imperialist ambitions' as well as 'neoliberal goals'.

Contributions range from South African Trevor Ngwane, a former anti-apartheid and now leading anti-privatisation activist, through Immanuel Wallerstein, a doyen of an earlier Third Worldism, to the Zapatistas' Subcomandante Marcos. One of the collection's strengths is that an element of biography, rather than trivialising the issues at stake, actually succeeds in bringing out both the differing backgrounds of the contributors and a number of common concerns.

Familiar issues emerge throughout, including the structure or otherwise of the 'movements', their relationship to existing states and institutions, and to the legacy of the left internationally. The collection successfully goes beyond merely celebrating 'diversity' to addressing some of the problems the movements face.

Michael Hardt, for instance, repeats his conception of diverse movements as a 'multitude', underpinned by what he sees as the irrelevance of old categories of nation-state versus internationalism. Tom Mertes, in his own contribution defending the value of the World Social Forums (around which this collection is loosely based), meanwhile points out the inadequacy of Hardt's response in the face of a real movement, which without structure and organisation can approach neither democratic accountability nor a strategic approach to the huge issues which face it.

One striking thread emerging from both theory and biography is the degree to which a sense prevails that the demise of the Stalinist regimes of the east, and the embrace of neoliberalism by social democratic parties in government (what Wallerstein refers to as 'the classical anti-systemic movements in power'), are part of a crisis of the left's assumptions, particularly in the developing world. This is articulated by Emir Sader and by Walden Bello's explicit rejection of 'Leninism', while the inadequacy of other tendencies, particularly Maoism, is referenced by both Joao Pedro Stedile of the Brazilian MST (the landless labourers' movement) and Chittaroopa Palit, a participant in the campaign against the Narmada dam in India.

The crisis of the project of development based on the nation-state, in its Stalinist or social democratic forms, and the wholesale acceptance of neoliberalism has overwhelmed many on the left. In this collection are voices of those who challenge or attempt to reject that new orthodoxy, on however problematic a basis. This book is subtitled Is Another World Really Possible? Socialists will wish to answer yes, but reading these contributions should confirm for us that it is only by an active and critical engagement with the movements that an audience for the genuine ideas of socialism from below can be won.

The speed with which global events unfold in the current period is such that any collection like this is bound to be dating by the time it is published. Thus the 'war on terror' is not always central and the experience of Lula's Workers' Party in power in Brazil is not explored, despite the importance of the prospect for many contributors. Nonetheless, this is a valuable introduction to some of the experiences and methods of the 'movements', and helps throw light on the ideas and debates thrown up by struggles around the world.
Tim Sneller


Frederick Taylor
Bloomsbury £20


At the heart of Frederick Taylor's new book on the attack on Dresden lies a very simple argument: the bombing of Dresden was justified. For all the pages of new research a very old message lies beneath. It's the same message that was put across by Winston Churchill and 'Bomber' Harris, the man held chiefly responsible for the attack.

Taylor's book is part of a wave of revisionist histories of the Second World War. The war is seen as a moral certainty, a fight between good and evil. But the truth is that the Dresden raid, along with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is clear evidence that the Allies were capable of war crimes too.

Reading Taylor's account of the destruction of Dresden is a sobering experience. He brings the attack on the city to life with devastating effect. On Tuesday 13 February 1945 hundreds of British, and then US bombers pounded Dresden, starting a 'firestorm' that killed tens of thousands of people.

The real questions for Taylor are, why was Dresden attacked on such a large scale with the end of the war in sight? And how many really died in the flames?

For many the destruction of Dresden was made all the more horrific by its image as a 'peaceful' city, packed with art treasures and great monuments. Taylor argues that this picture is wholly inaccurate, that by 1945 the city contained key parts of Germany's war production. As such he sees Dresden and its population as a 'legitimate target' (at one stage arguing that pro-Nazi areas had been hit hardest by the bombing!). Would he say the same thing about the bombing of Coventry and London?

The Dresden raid was by no means exceptional. It went according to the usual Allied plan. By this stage in the war the RAF had turned 'area bombing' into an art form. An exact mix of high explosive and incendiary bombs was used to start the kind of fires that burned Dresden. Such bombing was as much about cracking 'morale' by killing civilians and destroying a city's infrastructure as it was about destroying German factories. This was terror bombing--no matter what spin you try to put on it. Even the US's so called 'precision' attacks would cost thousands of lives through what they described as 'spillage'.

Taylor rubbishes the argument that the bombing was carried out in the knowledge that the end of the war was in sight. Many Allied leaders believed the war with Germany could drag on for months. Therefore they saw a 'military logic' to the bombing. But Taylor does admit that by this stage of the war the sheer amount of money invested in the bomber force had created its own logic. Millions had been spent on building the bomber fleets and training the crews. So why not carry on bombing?

This rationale led the US airforces to continue to bomb Japan until they had all but run out of targets that were still standing!

Some have claimed that up to a quarter of a million people died in the raid on Dresden, making it the 'German Hiroshima'. The Holocaust-denying 'historian' David Irving used the Nazi regime's propaganda figures as evidence of a hidden 'German holocaust'. The Communist East German government used the same figures in its Cold War battle with the West. They argued that the apocalyptic death toll was a warning to the Russians about what Allied air power could do to Russia's cities.

Taylor goes on to argue that the raid was not a 'warning' to the Russians but was in fact probably carried out in cooperation with them. Using newly disclosed records Taylor comes to a figure of between 25,000 and 40,000 killed. The figure is far removed from that quoted by Irving but still a massacre in anyone's terms.

The raid was part of a bombing campaign that all but destroyed cities across Germany. Ordinary workers were just a part of the war machine that the Allies were out to destroy. As such they were not even seen as 'collateral damage' but as 'legitimate targets'.

The Second World War wasn't just a war about destroying German fascism. The Allies were out to destroy the German regime in order to control the postwar world. They were prepared to divert huge military resources into shaping that postwar world even if it meant weakening the fight against Germany. Britain sent thousands of troops into Greece to prevent the left wing resistance movement seizing power, and with the US rushed to disarm the left wing movements that had fought the Nazis in France and Italy. But notoriously the Allies, for all their huge air power, were not prepared to divert resources to bomb the railway lines that led to Auschwitz. They could stop Greek Communists but not the death trains.

Taylor's book is well worth reading. Many of the survivors of the bombing speak out in its pages. The interviews with Allied aircrew are fascinating--many of the young men had real doubts about what they were doing. But at the heart of the book is the moral ambiguity of a bombing campaign designed to destroy German fascism that targeted the innocent. For this was not a 'good war' against Hitler. It was a conflict between major powers who were out to dominate the globe.

The bombing of major cities did not contribute the 'knockout blow' that bombing planners like Harris promised. The bombing campaign began as revenge for attacks on cities like London and Coventry. The British military wanted to show it could hit back. But area bombing raids targeted civilians. And the raids came no closer to destroying the German 'will to fight' than did German raids on British cities.

In such a war of revenge attacks ordinary people in enemy countries were not seen as potential allies. They were not seen as an important force that could potentially undermine totalitarian regimes from within. They were legitimate targets. And at the end of that line of logic came Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Michael Bradley


The Colonizer and the Colonized
Albert Memmi
Earthscan £12.95

The Colonizer and the Colonized

First published in 1957, The Colonizer and the Colonized was born out of Albert Memmi's direct experiences in North Africa. At the time Algeria was in flames and the French Empire was disintegrating. Circulated in French colonial prisons, Memmi's work offers a psychological rather than an economic study of the effects of colonialism. In his 1965 preface, Memmi affirms that the 'economic aspect of colonisation is fundamental', yet this is hardly touched on. Instead he provides a portrait of the coloniser and the colonised, the relationships and dynamics between these two groups, and the psychological impact upon the protagonists.

This is a world in which the coloniser enjoys privilege while the colonised live in subhuman conditions and are viewed as a mass. They do not exist as individuals but become objects. They are nothing. As Cecil Rhodes once said, 'I prefer land to niggers.' Not surprisingly, racism became central to the system and not an incidental detail.

Memmi poetically describes how the stranglehold of colonisation leads to the loss of the colonised's history, memory and language. The colonised's native tongue becomes rusted and is neither written nor read. All institutions of power use the language of the coloniser, and so the colonised's institutions become dead or petrified. All progress, including technological advances, becomes associated with the coloniser. As a result the movement against colonisation makes the colonised assert their differences to the coloniser. This results in a return to religion, traditional institutions and culture.

There is not much to disagree with here, and it is in the chapters relating to the colonised that Memmi is strongest. It is in the earlier sections of the book relating to the coloniser that Memmi's analysis is weak. This is already indicated via the new introduction by Nadine Gordimer. It is highly unusual to have an introduction that is so critical.

In these chapters Memmi is scathing of those Europeans who live in the colonies but who do not agree with it. Ultimately he believes that they will either return to Europe or become colonisers themselves. There is no middle ground: 'All Europeans in the colonies are de facto colonisers.' While it is true that Europeans in the colonies had privilege, this does not equate to all of them supporting and upholding the system. In fact there was a minority in many colonial outposts which did not accept the rule of the mother country and supported the colonised in their efforts to liberate themselves. But Memmi goes further: 'Europeans of Europe are potentially colonisers... By their whole weight, intentionally or not, they contribute to the perpetuation of colonial oppression.' This is that age-old argument that all of those living in the west, from the industrialist to the worker, benefit from and support the oppression of those in poorer nations. This is simply wrong.

Later Memmi contradicts his previous statements, and argues that European nationals who do not originate from the colonising country are 'neither colonisers nor colonised'. In fact he asserts that there is a sliding scale of acceptability depending on a white person's country of origin and the way in which they interact with the colonised. For example, 'Italians do not maintain a great distance between themselves and the colonised.' I doubt the Ethiopians would agree! As Gordimer states, this 'didn't apply in any of the African countries I know. In these, if you were white you were welcomed by the colonial government and colonisers to shore up the white population.'

This underlines a significant problem with Memmi's analysis. Quite rightly he uses his own experiences in North Africa, but he tries to extrapolate these to the colonial situation across the world. At times this works, but more often his generalisations are crude. For example he states that 'the colonialist never seriously promoted the religious conversion of the colonised'. Really? Why then are the churches of London packed with the descendants of the colonised? Christianity was rammed down their throats--hence the largest number of Christian followers are in South America and Africa, not Europe.

There are numerous other examples where Memmi's analysis does not stack up with historical events. This is disappointing, and as a result he sheds too little light on the heart of darkness, which was the brutal, colonial empires of Europe.
Mubin Haq


A Brief History of the Human Race
Michael Cook
Granta £20

A Brief History of the Human Race

Quite often under capitalism we are presented with a partial picture and this blinds us to what is really occurring. The separation of the academic disciplines can serve this purpose, which is why this book is so fascinating. Cook draws on geography, anthropology, linguistics, genetics, archaeology, politics, religion and numerous other areas to present a picture of the development of the human race, albeit restricted by the limits of our knowledge.

He starts by asking why history happened when it did. From the results of the drilling of the ice core in Greenland he provides us with a plot of the earth's temperature and shows that the last 10,000 years (the Holocene) have been unusually warm and much more stable climatically. Although anatomically distinguishable humans existed for maybe 130,000 years as hunter-gatherers (the period Engels refers to as primitive communism), human history, which according to Cook is founded on farming, began in the Holocene because this was a window of opportunity for making history.

Using the most recent genetic evidence and Darwin's theory of natural selection, he takes on the multiregional origins of humans and argues that all human life stems from Africa. He argues that human beings must be very recent on the planet because not enough mutations have occurred to make us as genetically differentiated as the chimpanzee, which has three distinct subspecies. However, studies of mitochondrial DNA show that the greatest differentiation is among the people of Africa, implying that humans have existed in Africa for longer than anywhere else on earth.

What I like about this book is that it brings alive a picture of a world of floating continents. He takes us to a time when only one supercontinent, Pangaea, existed and shows how this divided initially into two, creating a mid-world ocean, and how fragments of these two landmasses fragmented, allowing India to move north, colliding with Asia to create the Himalayas and Arabia and the fertile crescent where farming first began.

Cook then plots out the developments of early societies in each of the different continents. Using archaeology, linguistics, culture and religion, he shows both when and where human beings would have entered the different continents from Africa and where and when farming, animal husbandry, pottery, writing, etc began, and whether these developed independently or were brought from other early societies.

Although this is an extremely interesting book, making many complex ideas and theories accessible, it does have some weaknesses. Although it has a materialist analysis, Cook's particular fascination is with the development of religions and studying how the worship of many gods is replaced by religions in which one god is worshipped. He does not, however, explain why this occurs.

He describes the development of farming and settled communities but does not broach the subject of why humans might give up their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which was the way in which our ancestors lived for the vast majority of human existence. He says that his intention is to look at the major cultural regions of the world one by one, rather than encounter them as fleeting examples decorating a global narrative. While this has produced an interesting book, its major weakness is its lack of theoretical analysis. In particular he ignores the key element in the development of human societies and in the transition from ape to man--the part played by labour.

Marxism--which clearly Cook rejects as one of those grand narratives--is an essential tool. It understands that history is the product of the activities of ordinary men and women and the activities through which they seek to meet their needs, by acting on and transforming nature. Furthermore it is changes in how men and women cooperate to produce their livelihood which lead to the development of class societies and a history of class struggle.

Without this you can write an interesting book that does help to develop our understanding of the past, which clearly Cook has done, but learning about the past is also about shaping the future. In a world dominated by global capitalism, without Marxism and class struggle, we are left with what I think are extremely pessimistic conclusions: that competition, which Cook appears to see as a feature of our human nature and all human societies, will wipe out all cultural diversity as we lunge forward in a history of 'unintentional consequences'.
Maxine Bowler


Hammer of the Left
John Golding
Politicos £25

Hammer of the Left

John Golding only merits a handful of mentions in the Benn Diaries, yet Golding himself seems to have been positively obsessed with Benn and the Labour left throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. Golding was a central figure in the 'moderate' group of Labour members, loyal to the leadership and desperate to maintain an even political keel. The 'moderates' waged a vicious campaign against the left, smearing and blaming the likes of Benn, Eric Heffer and Militant for all of Labour's woes. The story of how Golding and the 'moderates' managed to destroy the left inside Labour and pave the way for Kinnock and the eventual Blairite leadership is an instructive one for all of us who argue against the possibility of 'reclaiming Labour' and the need to create initiatives like Respect.

With impeccable trade union credentials (union membership since adolescence, rising to full time political officer) and a working class background, Golding became a solid figure inside the Parliamentary Labour Party. He suffered from all the delusions that this brings with it. In supporting every anti working class twist and turn manoeuvred by successive Labour governments in the 1960s and 1970s, Golding rose to become a prominent figure in the 'moderate' wing of Labour. Like many inside the Labour Party, Golding's ideology was fuelled by the insistence that only by shoring up the leadership, no matter how rocky the situation, can the 'true' goals of Labour--social justice through redistribution--be brought about. So when the left dared to criticise the premiership of James Callaghan, Golding and his 'moderates' swung into action.

The Labour left at this time consisted of two major sections. There were those around Tony Benn, the committees for 'Labour Democracy' and the 'Campaign Group' whose basic aim was to replace the 'moderate' leadership with Benn and his allies so as to use Labour for its initial aims. The second group was Militant, who believed that a 'socialist' parliament is a precondition for revolution. These two groups often fought together on common ground, criticising and resisting the rightward creep of the leadership. This was too much for Golding. It became essential to silence these voices and maintain a solid, if ineffectual, leadership.

At conference after conference, meeting after meeting, the left would flood the place with critical resolutions and amendments. The mastery of bureaucracy is a refined art and it became increasingly difficult to prevent the critical voices from being heard. So Golding played them at their own game: planning, caucusing, presenting rival motions, restricting and reordering order papers. On top of this, smear was used to attack the left. It seems that spin didn't arrive with Mandelson and Blair, but was a child of necessity for the right wing of the Labour Party a few years before.

In this way Golding and the 'moderates' not only helped to keep Benn from the party leadership but whipped up a massive scare over the aims of Militant. Callaghan and Michael Foot initially resisted any moves to expel Militant from Labour, but the pressure and scaremongering moved the party machine into action. Innumerable investigations into the activities of individual members, wards (the smallest organisational grouping) and even sitting MPs amounted to a witch-hunt against the group. In the book Golding recounts with unrestrained glee the defeats of Benn (who he likens to Toad of Toad Hall) and the expulsion of Ted Grant and other leading figures of Militant from the party.

Although the content of the book cannot be easy reading for anyone with sympathies on the left, it is an essential counterposition to the Benn Diaries. Many of the stories are told with humour and a level of self knowledge sometimes missing in other accounts. More than any of this, Hammer of the Left is an important contribution to the history of the Labour Party and clearly shows the difficulty, if not impossibility, of organising a reclamation of the party for socialist principles (or any principles at all). Nonetheless Golding, a Labour loyalist and trade unionist first and foremost, would have been disgusted with the behaviour of the present Labour government--but do we think the gamekeeper would have turned poacher?
Tom Unterrainer


How to Build a Nuclear Bomb
Frank Barnaby
Granta £9.99

How to Build a Nuclear Bomb

On the day that I write this review, the Guardian's front page headline reads 'Blair Admits Weapons of Mass Destruction May Never Be Found'. Inside it reports French police foiling a 'chemical or biological attack' plot by Al Qaida and documents plans by the German government to protect nuclear power plants from terrorist destruction.

Since 11 September 'weapons of mass destruction' (WMD) is a phrase never far from the pen of headline writers or the lips of politicians.

In his introduction the author writes, 'It is impossible to judge the threat of WMDs unless we know the answers to some key questions.' In the face of government lies and spin, this is a valid point and Frank Barnaby, a nuclear physicist who witnessed one of Britain's atomic weapons being tested in 1953, tries to answer basic questions about WMDs to help us to judge the threat.

You may be surprised to find how easy it would be to make a nuclear bomb, or for terrorists to produce enough chemicals to poison your town. However, the likelihood of a terrorist group being able to obtain the materials for WMDs has in no way been hindered by the actions of governments over the last few decades.

This is particularly clear when it comes to the possibility of terrorists manufacturing a 'dirty bomb' or, worse, a fully-fledged nuclear weapon. Barnaby explains how the basic radioactive components for such weapons are the by-products of nuclear power plants and explains that 'the sheer amount of plutonium in the world itself is an incitement to nuclear terrorism.'

It's a frightening fact that no one really knows just how many nuclear weapons were produced by the former Soviet Union (even the bureaucrats of the time didn't bother to record them all), and it is very likely that material has fallen into the wrong hands.

The clear, concise information in this book is a real strength. But there are a number of flaws. The author sees terrorists armed with some form of WMD or similarly armed 'rogue states' as the future's biggest threat. Yet time and again he rightly refers to the WMDs held by major governments--in his introduction he describes how the US's strategy to combat WMDs envisages nuclear weapons being used not as a deterrent, but as 'America's war-fighting strategy'. Similarly, when looking at urgent measures to combat terrorism, he calls for a strengthening and improvement of international treaties regarding WMDs, even though earlier he has shown how ineffective these can be, with major governments ignoring their legal obligations.

It seems to me that the very real threat of terrorists getting hold of WMDs should be put into the context of the huge stockpiles already in existence in the hands of governments, like our own, who are prepared to use them. Yet Barnaby's demands to oppose terrorism aren't matched by calls for arms reduction.

While reading How to Build a Nuclear Bomb, I was reminded of another attempt to educate people about the threat of WMDs. As cruise missiles were deployed in Britain in the 1980s, a short book Protest and Survive was written by EP Thompson and others. Its very title showed that the authors believed that ordinary people had a role in getting rid of WMDs. Unfortunately Frank Barnaby doesn't and so while his book provides a useful service to all those who want to create a world free from WMDs, it doesn't offer us any strategy for doing it.
Martin Empson


Tell Me Lies
Ed: David Miller
Pluto £12.99

Tell Me Lies

The war in Iraq has been unlike any other for the media. On the one hand, 17 media workers went missing or were killed in the war, mostly by US forces, making it the most dangerous war for journalists ever. At the same time 600 journalists, more than ever before, were embedded with the British and US forces. While surveys have shown the BBC to be the most pro-war broadcaster, BBC staff have walked out in defence of the corporation's right to criticise the government on its reasons for going to war with Iraq.

Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq couldn't have come at a better time. It is a timely reminder that the media, far from being anti-war, in the main colluded with the government in its propaganda war during the invasion of Iraq.

This is a wide-ranging book covering everything from government propaganda and media ownership, through media coverage of child victims of war, to the internet. It has contributions by big names like John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, as well as lesser known experts, activists and journalists, all of which provide considerable insight into the workings of the media and propaganda machine, as well as how it influences the population at large. The book is thus very successful in its aim to counter the lies and misinformation dominating most of the mainstream media, but it goes further.

The last section of the book is entitled 'Alternatives', and points to ways of confronting and bypassing the propaganda put out by the mainstream media. It includes essays from the NUJ and Media Workers Against the War. In this way the book avoids leaving the reader with the common impression that the media is one big unchangeable monolith.

There isn't much that is not covered by this book, except the issue of class in the media. This is a fundamental issue that explains the contradictory nature of the media, and its omission is disappointing. After all, there were probably more media workers who attended anti-war demonstrations against the Iraq war than any previous conflict. Yet the anti-war argument was basically ignored on the news during the war. It is only when you look at the action of managers inside the media that things become a little clearer. The likes of Greg Dyke did not attend the anti-war demonstrations. In fact it was Greg Dyke who, having failed to stop BBC staff from attending the 15 February demonstration last year, sacked two Arab journalists only days later and informed the Foreign Office. When you also take into account that BBC managers have buckled under pressure from the government after the Hutton report, while it is BBC workers who have maintained the fight against government interference in the corporation, it becomes clear that the main division inside the media is class.

Despite this omission this book is both interesting and enlightening, and is well worth a read by all anti-war activists. It is also essential reading for media workers who wish to arm themselves with the arguments needed to challenge those with a pro-war agenda.
Shabnam Yazdi

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