United We Stand

In November, at the Bussey Building in Peckham, south-east London, the play United We Stand by Neil Gore was produced, directed by Louise Townsend. The cast of writer Neil Gore and William Fox take on multiple roles, but primarily they portray the Shrewsbury pickets Ricky Tomlinson and Des Warren during the 1972 builders strike. It is performed on a set of scaffolding bars which is adorned by strike posters.  A projector shows footage of Tory prime minister Edward Heath, the 1972 Miners' strike, and working class resistance against the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. Heath's term in office was a fiasco for the capitalist class; a seven-week Miners' strike in January-February 1972 was a victory for the NUM, and in July 1972 the Pentonville 5 were imprisoned for defying the Industrial Relations Act which was followed by a near-general strike.

In the early 1970s building workers faced dangerous working conditions, and poor wages. Warren says 'life and limb are cheap on the building sites'. Between 1970-73 there were 242,000 registered industrial injuries but the highest fine paid by an employer was £300 for two deaths. In 1972 'casualisation' was rife in the building industry, where it was known as 'the Lump.' The Lump Labour Scheme institutionalised casual cash-paid daily labour without any employment rights. Building workers were a dispersed force, little unified because of the diverse and transitory nature of their trades, unionisation was weak, and thus they were a section of the working class generally ignored by the labour aristocracy who controlled the trade union movement.


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Strangeways protester Alan Lord tells his story

• Life in Strangeways: from riot to redemption, my 32 years behind bars,

Alan Lord with Anita Armstrong, £7.99, John Blake Publishing, 2015

In 1981, aged 20, Alan Lord was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, following a bungled robbery. Following his release in 2013, Alan has written this autobiography, chronicling his life before prison, years of incarceration, participation in the 1990 uprising at Strangeways prison in Manchester, and eventual path to freedom.

This book is an easy read but not easy reading, graphically detailing beating after beating by violent, racist prison staff: ‘I sometimes regretted my actions in fighting the regime, but I was stubborn to a fault. I could have kept my head down like most inmates do, but it’s just not me. I wanted to make it clear from the start that they could have it the easy way, by treating me with respect as a human being, or the hard way. I always had it in my head that one day I’d beat the system and come out the better man.’ (p37)

Throughout his sentence Alan maintained a strict regime of physical training and Spartan living; on arrival at every new prison – and there were many moves – he would throw out the furniture, bleach the floor and lay a sheet on the floor. In this way he slept every night of his sentence on the ground.


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Review: Brand takes the side of the oppressed

Revolution- Russell Brand, Random House 2014, 372pp, £20

Russell Brand rocketed to public attention far beyond his usual fan base after a BBC Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman during which he called for ‘no vote’ at elections. Brand’s personal life and his politics came under immediate and hostile attention from media commenters. There was outrage that an argument for a ‘no vote’ position should be presented on a major BBC platform. However, as Brand himself says in Revolution, he is neither leading nor following: ‘I think it unlikely that people aren’t voting because I told them not to; it is more likely that they’re not voting because they are subject to the same conditions that led me not to vote. The realisation that it’s bloody hopeless’ (p78).

For successive general elections Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has adopted the slogan Don’t Vote! Organise!, sharing Brand’s view that none of the parties standing for election represent what is needed for the poorest people, the vast majority of the world. Moreover, the election machine itself feeds into a discredited pretence of democracy which sidelines and kills off real political engagement. At the last British General Election in 2010, the turnout of registered electors (which excludes prisoners and homeless people) was 65.09%. The turnout in the May 2014 European elections was 35.05% of those eligible. These figures signify a deep and widespread contempt for career politicians and distrust of their electoral promises and institutions. Growing anger about rapidly increasing poverty, privatisation of the public sector and cuts in public spending is deepened by the charade of parliamentary politics. As Brand says, exploitation has now ‘reached a pitch where the disenfranchised and exploited can look to a culpable minority with vengeful eyes’ (p79).


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Assata: an autobiography

Assata Shakur, (first published 1988), reprinted by Zed Books July 2014, £8.99pbk, 416pp ISBN: 9781783601783

‘No oppressed people ever won their freedom, by hoping their oppressors would change their minds’ Assata Shakur

This book promises an ‘intensely personal and political autobiography’ and ‘a major contribution to the history of black liberation’, and it more than delivers on its promise. This account of the life of Assata Shakur, in her own words, gives us a completely different view of this brave, strong and proud woman so often simply described as the ‘most wanted’ US terrorist.

Black communist Angela Davis has written a brief foreword to this new edition of Assata Shakur’s autobiography along with Shakur’s lawyer Lennox Hinds. The book is enriched by both for different reasons. Angela Davis offers a straightforward account of some of the activities in the 1970s surrounding Assata Shakur. Along with her views on institutional racism this places the book firmly in a political context. A detailed account of one of her own experiences of police racism, abuse of police powers and police intimidation sets the tone, immediately making it clear that this book is not just another story, but one of definite political importance.

Lennox Hinds, as a black lawyer, teacher and student of history, elaborates on the legal cases against Shakur, detailing the inaccuracies of evidence, and the painstaking lengths the state will, can and did go to in order to prosecute black activists who were deemed politically dangerous. He sifts through the masses of evidence to pick out the important facts from many acquittals and her single conviction, raising the question immediately of her innocence and the state’s desperation to contain the black liberation movement at any cost. He describes her story as a struggle for self-determination and for freedom. These forewords prepare you for the intense, personal and moving story of a political activist, black woman, mother, lover and revolutionary, who to this day remains the worst-treated female prisoner in the US prison system.

The book is gripping from the first paragraph, beginning with Shakur’s memories of the shooting on the New Jersey turnpike, in which she is left critically wounded. The first chapter details her hospital ordeal, where instead of receiving decent treatment for her gunshot wounds, Shakur is instead forced to withstand violence, interrogation and systematic abuse as she determinedly fights to stay alive.

The following chapters skip between two timelines, the first from that moment at the turnpike onwards, the other from her childhood up to that point, showing clearly the conditions and racism that drove her actions towards that moment. It is a very personal account written with great honesty.

Her life is detailed simply and without pretention. The book takes you on a journey of the life of a working-class black woman in the US and describes the racism that permeated every sphere of her life. She describes simply but powerfully that journey down a political route, drawing out the issues at the heart of racism and the imperialist US state.

It explores the prison system, the state and institutions like the police and legal system, posing questions on ethnicity, freedom, economic enslavement and justice. This is therefore just a good read and an interesting life of a revolutionary, but has an overtly political message. It leads the reader to the questions that Assata herself faced in her political awakening, as she describes herself as having originally held an anti-communist position formed by the propaganda surrounding her as she grew up. Over time she becomes more and more politically aware and her position changes when questioning the motives of the Vietnam War with other black activists.

This book does not just engage the reader to realise the legal system’s flaws and its institutional racism, or the state’s power, but paints a picture of police brutality, inequality, state control and political repression with every passage leading you to question more and more the charges against Assata and the picture of a violent terrorist that the media would have you believe. By highlighting the lengths the state went to to ensure a conviction and paint her as guilty in the eyes of the public through mass media manipulation.

Every activist living in an imperialist country should read this this book, not just for its lessons on the nature of the state but also on how to organise against it. It inspires the reader to change society, as you see how despite all the hardship and persecution this revolutionary woman remains hopeful that change is possible through the collective action of the people. As she says, ‘a wall is just a wall, it can be broken’.

The book wraps up this inspiring woman in socialist Cuba, where she escaped to and now lives in political exile. She describes Cuba not in an idealist way, ignoring racism or sexism there; but acknowledging it exists, and critically observing it. In 1996, FRFI interviewed Assata Shakur in Havana and she explained how socialism made it possible to tackle racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination:

‘When I came to Cuba I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea. It was clear that a revolution was not a magic wand that you wave and all of a sudden everything is transformed. The first lesson I learned was that a revolution is a process, so I was not that shocked to find sexism had not totally disappeared in Cuba, nor had racism, but that although they had not totally disappeared, the revolution was totally committed to struggling against racism and sexism in all their forms. That was and continues to be very important to me. It would be pure fantasy to think that all the ills, such as racism, classism or sexism, could be dealt with in 30 years. But what is realistic is that it is much easier and much more possible to struggle against those ills in a country which is dedicated to social justice and to eliminating injustice.’ (see full interview at www.tinyurl.com/q6qltsu)

She therefore describes Cuba however as ‘the most progressive place on the planet’ because it actually does have the means and the will to tackle these issues and not ignore or hide them.

It is amazing to think that through all the pain, heartache of separation from her family, loss of loved ones and memories of years of abuse, that she is now is somewhere she considers a progressive home finally safe from the persecution of the US institutions; there is a place in the sun, where there is hope for everyone, and its name is Cuba.

Hands off Assata Shakur!

By D Spencer


Pan-Africanism and Communism/ FRFI 238 Apr/May 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939

Hakim Adi, Africa World Press, Trenton, 2013, 444pp, £28.99.

At 5am on 3 October 1935 Mussolini’s fascist army marched across the Mareb River into Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia), opening a war that would see Africa’s oldest independent country turned into an Italian colony. The invasion sparked mass protests across the globe, in many places led by the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), a member organisation of the Communist International (Comintern) which for several years had fought to organise and unify ‘the wide mass of Negro workers on the basis of the class struggle’. In this book, the fruit of a decade of research, historian Hakim Adi provides a detailed exploration of the origins, politics and role played by the ITUCNW and Comintern in the anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles of black people throughout the early 20th century.


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Look back in anger / FRFI 238 Apr/May 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

Look Back in Anger – the miners’ strike in Nottinghamshire, 30 years on

Harry Paterson, Five Leaves Press 2014, 288 pages, £9.99

Harry Paterson’s book is written with class consciousness and engagement. It has a political shrewdness which distinguishes it from some of the more sentimentalised accounts of the struggle of 1984-85. A focus on the Notts miners, in an area where a better-off workforce largely refused to back the strike, evokes the passions and anguish of this huge industrial and political battle. The defeat of the miners, despite their courage, signified a huge blow for the British working class as a whole.

In Nottinghamshire the majority of miners scabbed on the strike. One important reason for this was the Area Incentives Scheme (AIS), promoted by the National Coal Board (NCB) with the deliberate aim of sowing divisions between miners. This scheme was pushed through under the Labour government in 1977, against the wishes of two thirds of miners, but it had the support of right wing NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) president Joe Gormley. The militant Arthur Scargill replaced Gormley in 1982, too late to stop the AIS. Crucially, many miners in the most productive coalfields, such as Notts and South Derbyshire, supported the AIS as it could raise their incomes above the mass of miners in Britain (a short-sighted view, given Thatcher's later plans to shut most pits, including in Notts).

The Tory government of Margaret Thatcher, elected in 1979, set about destroying much of Britain’s industrial base. Ultra-right-wing director ‘Sir’ Ian McGregor was first appointed to smash the British steel industry, reduced in the early 1980s from 166,000 jobs to just 71,000. Before McGregor’s appointment as coal board chief in March 1983, the miners had repelled an early threat of pit closures in 1981. By late 1983 an overtime ban was enforced all over the British coalfields, to reduce stocks in anticipation of a fight for jobs. Even the Notts area supported this ban until almost the end of the strike.

The strike began suddenly in March 1984, when the NCB made an official announcement to close 20 pits, with 20,000 job losses. An early disappointment however was the ballot against strike action in Notts, promoted by right-wing union activists such as Clarke and Liptrott who had links with the British state. Significantly the NCB did not announce any pit closures in Notts until after the strike was defeated. Paterson recalls the visits of Yorkshire pickets to Notts and their astonishment at their high living standards, often living in substantial private houses of a kind not seen in most mining areas. A minority of Notts miners did strike, including about 2,000 until the very end. Paterson’s father-in-law was a striker and picket, and his wife joined Women Against Pit Closures. Women became even more important to the struggle after harsh laws banned their husbands from picketing. The Notts ‘NUM loyalists’ were like partisans fighting behind enemy lines, with their home county sealed off by cops operating checkpoints.

Wider working class support is a crucial factor in any strike. As the government moved to cut welfare payments from miners’ families, which Paterson notes had been planned before the strike began, the question of their subsistence was raised. Donations came from sympathetic unions, such as the firefighters and railworkers and from street collections in working class areas. These were often done by miners’ wives, as in Notts, and by leftist political groups. The author recalls a mostly generous response to these, except in areas like Notts where opinions were influenced by the working miners.

Solidarity strike action could have won the dispute easily, given the possibility of paralysing the capitalist economy. Opportunities were lost, such as the dockers strike in July 1984, when their leaders quickly agreed a temporary deal with a government secretly committed to smashing their union. A basic pact with the railworkers banned the movement of coal by scab labour to build up stocks. The government responded by organising private lorries to carry it. Paterson shows why there couldn’t be a much wider general strike, as had happened in 1926. In 1926 the miners were betrayed by the TUC and left to fight alone and in 1984 the same forces were responsible for the lack of anything broader. The TUC had earlier pledged to oppose the new anti-union laws which outlawed solidarity strikes, by any means necessary, but in 1984, faced with further laws enacted by Tory minister Norman Tebbit, the TUC and the largest unions backed down through fear of having their funds ‘sequestrated’. Widespread support for the miners among the working class meant that TUC treachery had to be disguised with verbal solidarity and cash payments. Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party also played a key role in destroying the strike. Like the TUC’s Norman Willis, Kinnock complained about miners using violence, while faking sympathy for their cause.

Paterson refers in detail to the media distortion of the struggle. The biggest flashpoint was at Orgreave, a coking plant in Yorkshire, where 95 pickets were arrested in July 1984. The BBC showed miners stoning the cops, who were then shown ‘defending’ themselves – the exact opposite of what actually took place. The Daily Mirror became openly hostile to the miners after it was bought by the Robert Maxwell, a man with MI5, MI6 and Mossad links. Media interest switched off after the struggle ended in March 1985 – the decimation of jobs was not newsworthy. In 1984 there were 228,440 NUM members, but by 1994, when the Coal Industry Act paved the way for privatisation, only a few thousand mining jobs remained. Not even the ‘privileged’ Notts miners had been spared.

In concluding his book, Paterson details new information that has come to light since the struggle. This confirms what Scargill and other activists said at the time – the Tories had a secret closure plan; Thatcher did intervene to increase cops’ harassment on picket lines; she did plan to involve the army and declare a state of emergency; and the government was seriously worried about a miners’ victory, especially during the July 1984 dock strike. As Paterson puts it, ‘Arthur Scargill, the most maligned and vilified trade union leader in British history, had been right all along and his nemesis, Margaret Thatcher, had consistently lied and misled both Parliament and the public before, during and after the strike.’

Martin Hope


Dead Prez interview with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

After a storming performance in Manchester on 10 February 2014, revolutionary US rappers Dead Prez met with young supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

M1 and Sticman answered questions about their radical political approach, touching on ideas about racism, capitalism, socialism and the need for solidarity with the people of Palestine. In the first instalment of our interview, Dead Prez discuss how they became interested in political action.


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Justice for the Cuban 5!

What lies across the water, Stephen Kimber, Fernwood Publishing 2013, Can$19.95

Stephen Kimber’s remarkable work is both a forensic expose of anti-communist terrorism and the definitive guide to the story of the Cuban Five. With in-depth analysis of the activities and motivations of many key players in US-Cuban relations over the last 50 years and a detective-thriller writing style it is both highly readable and politically explosive.

In September 1998, five Cuban intelligence agents – Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez – were arrested in Miami. The story of the necessity of their presence on US soil, infiltrating terrorist networks amongst the febrile world of Miami’s rightwing Cuban exile groups, reveals a hidden history of CIA-assisted intrigue. Their trial and the conditions of their imprisonment demonstrate the ruthlessness of the imperialist state and the thinness of the veneer of fairness that covers its oppressive ‘justice’ system.

Kimber reveals the existence of a widespread terrorist conspiracy among Cuban exile organisations. For every successful murderous plot such as the 1976 Cubana Airlines bombing, which killed 73 civilian passengers, or the 1997 Havana hotel bombings, there are many more abortive or less spectacular attacks. Kimber exposes not just the involvement of the key figures of anti-communist terrorism, the real-life movie villains Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, but also the clear trail of money and support for them from supposedly ‘mainstream’, US government-friendly organisations such as the Cuban American National Foundation.


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Brushing away the cobwebs of bourgeois democracy/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

Cuba and its neighbours: democracy in motion,

Arnold August, Zed Books 2013, £16.99

In Cuba and its neighbours: democracy in motion, Canadian journalist Arnold August demolishes the bourgeois propaganda that socialist Cuba is somehow ‘undemocratic’ by examining the very idea of what we mean by democracy.

The first part of this comparative study, ‘Cobwebs around democracy’, is an analysis of the US system. August exposes the deceptive character of the US two-party system as a cover for what he describes as an ‘oligarchic’ state but we would call imperialist. Using Barack Obama as a case study, he shows how a cautious ‘benefit of the doubt’ attitude towards Obama by Latin America faded in the face of a military coup in Honduras, perpetrated with US backing. August points out that ‘a new face’ changed nothing in US relations with Cuba: ‘His role, based on the illusion created regarding the two-party system, was to change tactics because they had failed to reach the same goal of regime change.’

August argues that Obama recreates the chimera of the American Dream at home, while promoting war abroad. The two-party system ‘constitutes the lifeline of maintaining the status quo and averting a crisis in the US political system.’ August shows that this system excludes up to half the voting age population, including convicted felons – the majority black – and those without official papers, such as many Latino immigrants. Thus large numbers of the most oppressed sections in US society are disenfranchised.

In contrast, August shows how the participatory democracies of Bolivia, Ecuador and particularly Venezuela are transforming the lives of the poor. In his examination of the Bolivarian Revolution’s transition towards ‘21st century socialism’, August describes the ‘missions’, inspired by Cuba, that bring social change into the barrios, incorporating ‘Venezuelans into a growing, parallel, state-sponsored economy that competes with the traditional private sector and ultimately seeks to supplant it’. He shows how the country’s constitution was drafted by the people themselves, and writes: ‘This participatory experience contrasts significantly with how the US constitution came into being: exclusivity based on the protection of the unlimited accumulation of private property.’ He does not brush aside the challenges of attempting to develop such an explicitly socialist democracy when capitalist relations are still the dominant mode of economic activity, but says because of the development of popular power, ‘The elections are…a vehicle that drives the Revolution, and the grassroots are the fuel. Participatory democracy is a daily way of life for a growing number of people.’

August shows how in both Bolivia and Ecuador a similar, although less developed, process has taken place. Bolivia’s Movement towards Socialism (MAS) mobilised more than 80% of the population, including campesinos and indigenous groups, for the 2005 elections; its constituent assembly represented a significant move towards developing participatory democracy in the country. Led by Evo Morales, the new government enabled one million Bolivians to escape poverty in six years. Morales’ election signified an end to the ‘apartheid that had marginalised the majority of the indigenous population since the Spanish conquest’. However, as August says, ‘the future of Bolivia’s fledgling participatory democracy depends on the capacity of MAS and its leadership to resist pressures and interference from the right-wing, tied to US interests’. He points out, too, that such democracy is not static but constantly evolving.

In Ecuador too, August shows, there has also been successful movement for the rights of the most oppressed sections of society, including the enshrining of indigenous peoples’ rights and the stipulation that the natural resources of the country are the patrimony of the people.

August rounds up part one by analysing the progressive Latin American alliances of ALBA and CELAC and their key role in opposing US imperialism by building co-operation amongst member countriesagainst ‘US centrism’ and its attempts to impose its own limited concept of democracy on the continent.


The bulk of the book deals with the democratic system in socialist Cuba. As well as a detailed explanation of how the electoral process itself functions at municipal, provincial and national level, with all Cubans automatically registered to vote at the age of 16, what is most valuable is his exploration of how the state functions between and alongside the formal electoral process. August shows how since the Revolution the system has been through a consistent process of renewal: he describes the rectification campaign of the 1980s against bureaucracy and corruption which renewed the relationship between the people and the state, and looks at the changes that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Particularly interesting are the local gatherings in 2007 that followed a key speech by then Vice President Raul Castro, in which he detailed economic and social concerns of the people and welcomed everyone to ‘the daily battle’ – to discuss ‘difficulties, successes, strong and weak points in the revolutionary process’ in their workplaces and educational centres, which were then presented to local Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. It was this process of popular power through national debate that led, for example, to the distribution of uncultivated land rent-free to individuals to increase food production and lower prices.

The Congress of the Cuban Communist Party took on board the proposals of these national debates, leading to a final drawing up of 313 guidelines. The measures addressed every area of life and are described in detail in the book. The fact that this revolutionary renewal was possible is because, as August says, ‘there is…a dialectic bond between the leadership and the people. A continual, reciprocal, bottom-up and top-down process takes place.’ August praises this creative and flexible process, although warns that the outcome of the changes is yet to be determined.

August writes as an academic rather than as a socialist, and there are places in the book where one could take issue with him. But overall, Cuba and its neighbours provides meticulously-researched ammunition for all those fighting in defence of a socialist system of participatory, working class democracy and exposes the bourgeois democracy defended by the United States as a sham.

Nazia Mukti


Marx in Soho - a play by Howard Zinn

Directed by Comrade Sergio Amigo with Daniel Kelly as Karl 

Wednesday to Sundays till 13 October
The Calder Bookshop and Theatre, 51 The Cut, London SE1 8LF

Tickets £10 (£8 concessions) To reserve a ticket call 020 7620 2900
or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Also two nights at The Marx Memorial Library
Tuesday 22 and Wednesday 23 October 7pm
37A Clerkenwell Green, London, Greater London EC1R 0DU

Howard Zinn’s play has Marx fighting in heaven for the right to return to Soho (unfortunately he ends up in New York Soho rather than his old London haunts) and prove that his ideas are not dead but still relevant in the 21st century. ‘Why must they declare me dead, again and again?’ He is allowed only an hour on earth and a wonderful hour of theatre it is.


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Celia Sanchez and the Cuban Revolution

Review: One day in December: Celia Sanchez and the Cuban Revolution by Nancy Stout

Monthly Review Press, New York, 2013, 457 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58367-317-1

Nancy Stout has treated the reader to an exhilarating biography of Celia Sanchez, recording her vital contribution to the revolutionary struggle and the socialist state in Cuba. This is long overdue. While many supporters of the Cuban Revolution will have heard about Celia and her close relationship with Fidel Castro, few will have understood or appreciated the role she played. Celia’s great political and revolutionary strength lay in her organisational capacity, as well as her sacrifice and commitment. As novelist Alice Walker says in her foreword, the book offers: ‘A clear vision of what balanced female leadership can be; and, even more to the point, what a truly egalitarian revolutionary leadership of female and male partners might look like.’


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The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield – A prison diary

[Published by Myrdle Court Press, 2013]

On 7 April 2012, Trenton Oldfield disrupted the Oxford vs Cambridge University Boat Race in the River Thames in protest against elitism, inequality and government cuts and surveillance. He was arrested and initially charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which does not carry a custodial sentence. Following a politically instigated CPS review, this was then changed to ‘causing a public nuisance’, for which he was sentenced on 19 October 2012 to six months’ imprisonment. He served a month and a half of this in Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, before being released on Home Detention Curfew electronic tagging. Trenton – an Australian who has lived in London for ten years – is now fighting an attempt by the British Home Office to make him leave the country on the basis that his presence here is ‘not conducive to the public good’.


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Gangsterismo: The United States, Cuba and the Mafia: 1933 to 1966

By Jack Colhoun, OR Books, New York, 2013, 361 pages, £17.

Paperback ISBN 978-1-935928-89-8. Ebook ISBN 978-1-935928-90-4


Jack Colhoun is a journalist and archive researcher with a distinguished record of investigating US foreign policy in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Middle East and publicising the impact of special interest lobbies on domestic politics like the Obama Healthcare legislation. He was the leader of the draft and military resistance registers exiled in Canada during the Vietnam War.


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Ken Loach and The Spirit of ’45

In this period when the living standards of the working class in Britain are being attacked, there is a rise in the call for new organisations and strategies to take a stand against the ruling class. FRFI is as committed as any in this country to the desperate need for a new movement to take a stand against the privatisation and destruction of the welfare state, the control of the corporations and the banks and the increasing poverty that have gained speed over the last 20 years under Labour and ConDem governments alike. It is not possible, however, to build resistance to the regime of austerity launched by the capitalist class without an honest political understanding of the forces at work against the people. This must include an honest record of the role of the British trade union movement and the Labour Party and their historic collusion with the state.


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Review: Refugees, capitalism and the British state: implications for social workers, volunteers and activists

Review: Refugees, capitalism and the British state: implications for social workers, volunteers and activistsReview: Refugees, capitalism and the British state: implications for social workers, volunteers and activists, Tom Vickers, Ashgate Publishing, Surrey, 2012, £55 (website price £49.50)*


This is a book that delivers what is promised in the title and much, much more. Tom Vickers combines a detailed overview of current immigration policy at the legal and managerial levels, as it has emerged from successive British governments, with a Marxist understanding of the state. Refugees, capitalism and the British state is a work of direct significance to workers in the field of refugee experience and to all those who wish to understand the origins and significance of immigration in the context of the globalised power and financial structures of today.


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Hip hop rebellion is alive and kicking – October 2012

Review:            The Coup, Jackson's Pit, Oldham, 26 October

                        Immortal Technique, Manchester Academy 2, 28 October

We are living in a time of unstoppable capitalist crisis. The crisis has sent shockwaves through the finance capitals of the world in Europe and the US, as imperialist politicians, bankers and corporations gamble and rob in order to save their sinking ship. Millions of people around the world are being forced into dire poverty as ruling classes bring in austerity measures to cut spending on welfare, and unleash savage warfare on the peoples of already impoverished and oppressed countries. In times like these, signs of resistance are emerging and in music, the voices of resistance are getting louder. FRFI attended two political hip hop gigs in Manchester, featuring US artists The Coup and Immortal Technique.


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Black Bolshevik. Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 4 May/June 1980

black_bolshevikHarry Haywood. Liberator Press, Chicago, Illinois. 1978.

This is a big book by a big man. Born in 1898, the son of slaves, Harry Haywood was for 36 years a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America, the CPUSA. The history in this book, the history of a lifetime’s struggles, the history of the CPUSA is the history of 20th century America.

It was in the 1890's that American imperialism really took off. The Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rica, much of South America and most Caribbean countries were conquered by American imperialism within a decade. When Harry Haywood speaks of imperialism he knows exactly what it means. The looting and stealing of the wealth of other countries, the political control by force of other countries, and the deliberate restriction and prevention of the economic development of national economies is the character of US (as well as British) imperialism.

US imperialism abroad was also carried on within the US. Just as imperialism oppresses external nations, so it keeps the black Americans, and other minority groups, in a position of special oppression. In the Southern States black people were excluded from basic democratic rights by the Jim Crow system, dating from the Hayes-Tilden Gentlemen's Agreement of 1877. This baldly stated that no black person has any rights that need be recognised by white persons. In the industrial North of America, black labour was excluded from the trade unions, from the more skilled jobs, from housing, and pushed into ghettos. Black people were used as a pool of reserve labour - to be hired last and fired first, and brought in to break strikes. This was US imperialism on the home front. Many of the laws which were used to specifically oppress and exclude black people have been thrown out. This gain was won by the heroic struggles of the black masses in the 1920s and 1930s and again in the 1960s. But the legal victories which cost so many lives and so many years of struggle are only a limited gain, like the independence of a country from Britain or the US which is independent in name only because it is still dominated by Western capitalism. American black people know that this legal equality is a pretence. The reality was shown by the ghetto rebellions, 24 in 1964, 38 in 1966 and in 1967 128 and in 1968 131.


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Communist, internationalist and fighter for women’s rights: the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst /FRFI 226 April/May 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

Communist, internationalist and fighter for women’s rights: the legacy of Sylvia PankhurstSylvia Pankhurst: Everything is possible

Produced by WORLDWrite,

directed by Ceri Dingle and Viv Regan, 2011

www.worldwrite.org.uk/sylviapankhurst/ DVD: £20, plus p+p


‘To British manhood: comrades, how much longer will you be willing to fight, work and pay for the war which the British capitalists are making on the working people of other countries?’ (Sylvia Pankhurst, Workers’ Dreadnought, May 1920)


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Charles Dickens (1812-1870) a nationalist treasure

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

charles dickens e1487098571626 500x263

Even in this bicentenary year when media corporations are investing a lot of money, talent and time into celebrations of the great writer with events, films and television shows, the name of Dickens summons up feelings of unease when growing austerity and class divisions mark these years. The term ‘Dickensian’ still implies dire poverty, slum conditions and child labour which, however modified, are all present in Britain today.

The reputation of Dickens the man has undergone a reassessment recently following the publication of several new biographies and studies of the writer and his circle, including fellow novelist Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White), his wife Catherine and his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan. New research shows that he was a man with many of the peculiarities and flaws that he gives his great cast of characters, over 400 in all, who feature in his novels. His relationships with women were particularly intense and his treatment of his wife, who was banished from the family home and her ten children, and Dickens’s public statement on this in The Times newspaper in 1857, have all the sensational elements of one of the author’s own plots.


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Building solidarity with Palestine / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

Gaza: Symbol of Resistance, ed Joyce Chediac, World View Forum 2011, $15.55. The full text is also available at gazaresistancebook.com

Targeting Israeli Apartheid: A Boycott Divestment and Sanction Handbook can be downloaded as a pdf or bought for £10 at www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4103

On 29 December 2011, Benny Gantz, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), marked the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, describing the massacre as ‘an excellent operation’ during which the IDF operated in ‘a determined, decisive and offensive manner against terrorists in the Gaza Strip’. He warned that ‘sooner or later, there will be no escape from conducting [another] significant operation’.

Gaza: Symbol of Resistance, edited by Joyce Chediac, covers events in Gaza between 2006 and 2010 as reported in US newspaper Workers World, and serves as an excellent introduction for anyone new to the issue, as well as providing essential facts for activists. It starts with the 2005-06 elections in Gaza – ‘among the most heavily monitored ever by international observers’ – in which the people chose the ‘wrong’ party, electing Hamas with 73% of the vote. The consequence was a campaign by the US and Israel to destroy Hamas and punish the Palestinians by imposing a siege on Gaza, the prelude to Operation Cast Lead. The book explains that even with 1,455 Palestinians killed, and thousands injured, Hamas’ organisation remained intact after the invasion, with Gaza ‘bloodied, but unbowed’.

Chediac argues the vital importance of Gazan resistance and the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. ‘Support for Gaza is not charity... it is mutual solidarity with the heroic Palestinian struggle against the common enemy.’ As the capitalist crisis deepens and repression against the working class increases worldwide, resistance has to be anti-imperialist: ‘The workers have begun fighting defensive battles and can identify with the defensive struggle of the Palestinians.’

Gaza: Symbol of Resistance focuses on US imperialism’s support for the repression of the people of Gaza; a recent Corporatewatch report addresses British imperialism’s role. Targeting Israeli Apartheid calls itself a ‘boycott, divestment, and sanctions [BDS] handbook’. Corporatewatch says that ‘the direct action of ordinary people is vital for the success of the Palestinian struggle’. Examining the connections between the Israeli economy and Britain, the report illustrates the impact that an effective BDS campaign can have on Israel’s $55bn export market, citing a survey which reports that 21% of 90 Israeli exporters questioned had experienced a fall in demand due to boycotts in Britain and Scandinavia.

The Israeli economy is dominated by a small number of holdings companies which control huge amounts of Israeli capital. The banking sector plays a crucial role in maintaining the Israeli state, with foreign banks allowing it access to bond markets, and Corporatewatch shows how the favourable loans and mortgage rates offered by Israeli banks are fuelling the expansion of illegal settlements. British banks are at the forefront: both HSBC and Barclays run branches in Israel, with Barclays having ‘significant investments’ in eight Israeli companies ‘complicit in Israeli militarism, colonisation and apartheid’.

British arms companies make a significant amount of money from sales to Israel and enable its continuing military domination. For example, BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest arms company, supplies Israel with navigation systems for F-16 jets which continue to bomb Gaza. The report describes the complicity of British state: its ‘policy on arming Israel in the last 10 years has been simple: to allow as much as possible, the unfettered export of weapons components bound for Israel from British companies and, in the face of growing public opposition and resistance, to create the false impression that arms exports are subject to strict controls’.

‘All major UK retailers sell Israeli goods, and most sell produce from illegal Israeli settlements’: the links between Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, and Waitrose and Israeli apartheid make them targets for BDS campaigns. Then there is Marks & Spencer’s political and economic support for Zionism: it continues to sell huge amounts of fresh produce from Israel, including dates from Israeli company Hadiklaim which are grown in the settlements and packaged as M&S own-brand. M&S has been the target of a sustained campaign by supporters of FRFI as the biggest British corporate sponsor of Israel. Together, these two new books provide an invaluable resource for building a movement against Zionism and its imperialist backers. They are both recommended.

Isolate Israel! Freedom for Palestine!

Toby Harbertson


Occupy Wall St: from the horse’s mouth – book review


Occupying Wall Street by Writers for the 99%

OR Books, February 2012, paperback £10/$15 ISBN 978-1-935928-68-3/ e-book £7/$10 ISBN 978-1-935928-64-5

This is a book about Occupy Wall Street (OWS) by participants, not outside reporters. It therefore gives an inside view of the protest, by some of its supporters. It recounts all the major milestones on the timeline of the New York protest and describes the major incidents of police harassment. It describes in detail the procedures for conducting a General Assembly and identifies the various working groups and components (library, medic tent etc) which are core to the occupation. It is a useful handbook for anyone who wants to set up another Occupy protest, with all the templates included.


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The murky world of tax havens / FRFI 221 June/July 2011

tresure_islandFight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World

by Nicholas Shaxson, Bodley Head, London 2011, 329pp, £14.99

Capitalism in its imperialist phase is a decaying and parasitic system. It is a global system of national oppression and of financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the world by a small number of imperialist countries. The needs of millions of human beings are brushed aside as multinational corporations, banks and rich investors seek whatever means are available to augment their profits and wealth. The book Treasure Islands dramatically exposes some of the secretive, devious and corrupt mechanisms now employed to achieve these ends.


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Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot That Never Was

ricinThis book provides a definitive guide to the much hyped ‘terrorist threat’ known as the ‘ricin plot’, which was used by the British government and media to scaremonger the public into backing the brutal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In January 2003 police raided a flat in Wood Green and arrested six men on suspicion of manufacturing the poison ricin for use in a terrorist attack.  Other arrests followed in London and Manchester.  A month later US Chief of Staff Colin Powell cited the ‘UK poison cell’ in his appeal to the UN to back the invasion of Iraq.  In 2004 and 2005 the criminal trials of the ‘ricin plotters’ fell apart as it was clear there was no case against them.

Lawrence Archer was a jury foreman at one of the trials. The experience changed his life and led him to co-author this book, which explains how not only was there no ricin poison manufactured in the so-called ‘factory of death’,  but how the prosecution were unable to provide  any evidence that the defendants were an organised terrorist cell or had any connection to Al Qaeda.

To get hold of such information to tie the five together, the British police relied on details of Algerians in London, extracted from main suspect Mohammed Meguerba, while he was being tortured in 2002 in Algeria.


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SUS: British police – racist police!

sus_dvdA review of SUS (2010) by Barrie Keefe, directed by Robert Heath, available on DVD

Director Robert Heath revives writer Barrie Keefe's stage play in a new film depicting a harrowing case of police racism and brutality, set during the election night of 1979. Clint Dyer plays Delroy, a black man who is held in custody on suspicion of murdering his wife, during which time he is humiliated and beaten by police officers Karn and Wilby in order to extract a confession by any means.


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South of the Border, Oliver Stone, 2010

oliverSometimes a film is of such extraordinary quality that you can be captivated by it before seeing it. So it was for me in the case of Oliver Stone’s latest documentary, South of the Border, about the latest wave of anti-imperialist struggles in Latin America. Stone was planning to introduce the film in person but his views were deemed so threatening to the ruling class on both sides of the Atlantic that the British government wouldn’t let him in. Meanwhile, reviewers castigated Stone for being biased in favour of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela; needless to say, few if any of these reviewers saw anything wrong with being biased in favour of imperialism. For a film to antagonise so many reactionaries so quickly…what was there not to like?


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Malcolm X: revolutionary voice for our epoch / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

Malcolm X, Black liberation and the road to workers’ power Jack Barnes, Pathfinder Press 2009, £15

This book, by the leader of the US Socialist Workers Party, is a timely analysis of the contribution by Malcolm X to the black liberation struggle in the United States.

Barnes takes us from Malcolm’s early years, including attacks on the family home and eventually the murder of his father by white racists, through his attempts to make a living in Boston from petty crime, to his conversion in prison to the Nation of Islam. From mid-1953 he was a full-time organiser for the Nation and became its most prominent public face, even more so than its leader Elijah Muhammad, who maintained absolute power within the organisation.

Conflict was inevitable as Malcolm came up against the bourgeois limits of the organisation’s programme. ‘The Nation leadership sought to carve out a place for itself within the US capitalist system. Malcolm, to the contrary, was being politically drawn more and more toward the rising struggles for black freedom in the United States and revolutionary battles by the oppressed and exploited the world over’ (p78). In 1960, when Fidel Castro first came to address the UN General Assembly and discovered that Manhattan hotels were refusing to accommodate the Cuban delegation, it was Malcolm who arranged for them to stay at Hotel Theresa in Harlem (p109). Malcolm noted that Castro had come out against lynchings in the US, and was promoting equality for black Cubans. So important was that alliance to the Cubans that on 19 September this year, 50 years after Castro first came to Harlem, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez participated in a commemoration event just yards from where Hotel Theresa used to stand and told the crowd that support from Malcolm and other black leaders in 1960 had ‘forged a lasting bond between Cuban revolutionaries and the African-American progressive people’.

Over time, Malcolm’s disillusionment with Elijah Muhammad’s leadership grew as he struggled to get the Nation to take an active role in the civil rights struggles. But ‘the organisation wouldn’t do that because the stand it would have to take would have been too militant, uncompromising and activist, and the hierarchy had gotten conservative’ (Young Socialist interview, January 1965; Barnes, p46). To make matters worse, Malcolm learned – from Elijah Muhammad himself – that the Nation’s leader was sexually abusing women members. Finally, in November 1963, Elijah Muhammad publicly silenced Malcolm for remarking, after the assassination of John F Kennedy, that ‘the chickens have come home to roost’.

In March 1964, Malcolm announced his break with The Nation and the formation of the Muslim Mosque Inc, which would take a more active role in the civil rights struggle. But he quickly realised that a strictly religious organisation could not lead the mass actions for which it had been formed, and established another, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).

Over the next few months Malcolm embarked on a tour of recently-independent African countries. He had for years been strongly anti-imperialist; now he was also overtly anti-capitalist and pro-socialist, inspired by the examples set by the Cuban revolution and the Algerian government of Ahmed Ben Bela. Previously, as Malcolm told Jack Barnes and Barry Sheppard in the Young Socialist interview, he had considered himself a black nationalist, this being ‘the idea that the black man should control the economy of his community, the politics of his community and so forth’ (p47). Not any longer. ‘If you notice, I haven’t been using the expression for several months’ (p48). Malcolm’s bottom line was simple: whatever his colour, the Algerian Ahmed Ben Bela, like Castro and Che Guevara, was among the true revolutionaries, dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation ‘by any means necessary’ (p47). When asked his opinion of the worldwide struggle between capitalism and socialism, he replied that capitalism was ‘like a vulture…it’s only a matter of time, in my opinion, before it will collapse completely’ (p56).

There is much to support Barnes’ contention that ‘if Malcolm is to be compared with any international figure, the most striking parallel is with Fidel Castro’ (p41). Barnes believes that Malcolm was converging with communism (definitely), specifically with the SWP. I am less convinced of that, although Malcolm maintained good relations with the SWP over his last year, praising its newspaper, The Militant, as ‘one of the best anywhere you go today’ (p34).

But the theory that there was any convergence between Malcolm X and the leadership of the civil rights movement, especially with Martin Luther King, is demolished here. For example, in June 1964, Malcolm sent King a telegram on behalf of the OAAU saying that if the government wouldn’t defend activists who had been beaten by the Klan and arrested for organising civil rights protests, ‘just say the word and we will immediately dispatch some of our brothers there to organise self-defence units’ (p126) – an offer King rejected as a ‘grave error’ and ‘an immoral approach’.

On 15 February 1965, he revealed for the first time why the Nation of Islam had stopped attacking the Klan. As far back as 1960, the Nation’s leadership had been negotiating with the Klan on Elijah Muhammad’s instructions – talks that Malcolm had taken part in, something he was now ashamed of.

By now, Malcolm was receiving constant death threats and on 21 February 1965, he was gunned down as he stood up to address an OAAU rally in New York in an assassination Barnes concludes could equally have been organised by the cops, elements within the Nation – or both (pp147-50).

I would have appreciated more analysis of the Black Panthers, an avowedly Marxist-Leninist organisation which put into action Malcolm’s slogan of black self-defence. But overall this is an excellent introduction to the place of Malcolm X in the struggle for black liberation as part of the socialist revolution in the key citadel of world imperialism – a struggle that has lost nothing in urgency through the installation of a black front man for the capitalist rulers in the White House.

Mike Webber


Revolutionary Cuba: saving lives across the globe / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

cuban_medical_internationalism_origins_evolution_and_goals Cuban medical internationalism, origins, evolution and goals

John M Kirk and H Michael Erisman, Palgrave Macmillan 2009, £57

‘The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth . . . Far more important than good remuneration is the pride of serving one’s neighbour.’

(Che Guevara, 1960, On Revolutionary Medicine)

The phenomenal achievements of Cuba’s health system are recognised throughout the world, even by critics of the socialist island. What is perhaps less discussed is the impact of Cuba’s health interventions throughout the underdeveloped world. With a population of just 11.3 million, Cuba punches above its weight in the international health arena: it has 40,000 medical staff engaged abroad and the largest international medical school in the world; since 2004, 1.5 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have had their eyesight restored for free by Cuba. As Wayne Smith, director of the Cuba Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington put it: ‘Cuba is credited with saving more lives in the developing countries than all the G8 countries together. How has it done this?’ It is both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ that Erisman and Kirk have set out to explore here, bringing together four years of research to begin to provide the answers.

This book brings together data covering the 50 years since the 1959 Revolution to show the extent to which Cuba’s health programmes have resulted in ‘better life and indeed life itself for dispossessed people all over the world’.

Cuba’s health initiatives, they show, outstrip the contribution of the World Health Organisation and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Cuba’s medical teams are working in 80 countries, caring for approximately 70 million people.

Cuba sent its first international health brigade to Algeria in 1963. Since then, over 124,000 health professionals have worked in 103 countries. As well as Comprehensive Medical Programmes set up at the request of the home country, Cuba continues to send emergency brigades, for example to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to Haiti after Hurricane George in the same year, despite aid groups saying it was too dangerous.

Haiti is a good example of the impact of Cuban medical intervention. By 2004, Cubans were providing health care to 75% of its 8.3 million people, contributing to a fall in infant mortality from 80 per 1,000 live births to 28; 247 students were studying at a medical school founded by the Cubans. By 2005, 600 Haitian students were studying medicine in Cuba, and the first group of Cuban-trained Haitian doctors had returned to work in Haiti. The president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, told US president George Bush in 2007 that ‘if Cuba were to withdraw their doctors from Haiti, their health system would collapse’. Since the book’s publication we have of course witnessed the vital role played by Cuban doctors in Haiti in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in January 2010.

The authors detail the many countries, from Gambia to East Timor, where Cuban health professionals have worked and continue to work, underpinned by many useful tables. But they also examine the rationale for Cuba’s approach, and compare it with what they call the ‘First World’. In the first place, the aid they offer actually arrives, unlike most of the developed countries, which are quick to promise much and slow to deliver anything.

Cuba’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM) provides free education to international students from poor countries, who then return home to practise. Cuba also trains medical staff in the countries where it operates. For example, by 2007, there were 20,000 Venezuelan medical students being trained by Cubans in Venezuela and 2,400 Venezuelan medical students in Cuba. Over the next decade, Cuba and Venezuela intend to train 200,000 doctors. Cuba is contributing to the ‘brain gain’ rather than the brain drain through which developed countries poach doctors trained in oppressed nations.

Kirk and Erisman contrast the overall ethos that underpins Cuba’s attitude with that of, specifically, the United States. While recognising that Cuba’s efforts have ‘brought tremendous diplomatic benefits for the island’, they stress that ‘Cuban medical internationalism is not used solely to score political points abroad’ (p181, authors’ emphasis) and dismiss accusations that Cuba’s approach is selfish or cynically motivated by a wish to promote its pharmaceutical products abroad. They cite instead, the Cuban Constitution’s commitment to ‘proletarian internationalism…cooperation and solidarity with the peoples of this world, especially those of Latin America and the Caribbean’ (p182). Their book, they say, illustrates the application of that ideological framework. By contrast, they mention a 2005 US medical diplomacy effort in Panama which had one simple objective: ‘Challenging the socialist campaigns of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and winning over people’. ‘“Too little, too late”’ would appear a fitting commentary on the US approach to gaining regional support through medical aid’, they conclude. They condemn, too, the US’s ‘Cuban Medical Professional Parole’ programme, which seeks to persuade health professionals on international missions to defect to the US. However, only some 500 have ever taken up the offer.

Cuba’s ethos of providing help is detailed: training people to do it for themselves, supported by a literacy campaign; involving the community; what they call the Cuban model of ‘doing more with less’. ‘The secret lies in the development of a totally new form of revolutionary physician, ably described by [former] Cuban vice president Carlos Lage (himself a paediatric cardiologist), “A revolutionary physician is a person for whom a sick person is not a client, but a patient…The objective of a revolutionary physician is not to earn money but to save lives”.’

The authors are of course writing as academics rather than Marxists, and fall down a little when trying to label Cuba’s approach to international health. They categorise it as an example of ‘soft power’, popularised by Joseph Nye – the idea that rather than using carrots and sticks to exert power, a country can use the ‘attraction’ of its culture, geography or ideas to influence others. But readers of FRFI can recognise socialism when we see it, and what Kirk and Erisman have produced, overall, is a excellent handbook on the nature of a socialist and revolutionary approach to medical internationalism – get your library to order it now.

Hannah Caller and Cat Wiener


The limits to opportunism / FRFI 216 Aug/Sep 2010

FRFI 216 August/September 2010

The limits to opportunism

Kautskyism past and present, Alec Abbott


Kautskyism past and present is a three-volume study of the nature, origins, growth and spread of Kautskyism. Volume 2 will be posted on the internet towards the end of summer 2010, and Volume 3 in 2011. The following review focuses on Volume 1, ‘Modern-day Kautskyism’.[1]

Abbott begins with a brief account of Kautsky’s 1914 standpoint, his prediction that the world’s finance capitalists will resolve their differences by uniting in a gigantic, all-embracing trust. Abbott then turns his attention to current debates by examining the standpoints of Antonio Negri, a prominent anarchist in the anti-capitalist movement, and Alex Callinicos, the SWP’s leading theoretician. Whereas Negri and his followers maintain that capitalism has evolved along the lines indicated by Kautsky, the SWP insists that a single world trust is a fallacy. Capital, as Callinicos never tires of telling us, can only exist as many capitals.

And so Abbott goes on, for some ten pages, leaving readers wondering what the connection is between Kautsky’s theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ and the SWP’s ‘many capitals’ argument. Does Abbott reject the SWP’s criticism of Kautskyism, or does he simply look upon it as inadequate? It is at this point that Abbott makes an important contribution to our understanding of Kautskyism. Kautsky, he informs us, held to a number of theories of ‘ultra-imperialism’, including the ‘single world trust’ and ‘many capitals’ variants. This may well come as a surprise to many readers.

By now readers are back on track, eager to learn more of Kautsky’s different theories of ‘ultra-imperialism’. Abbott takes us through them briefly, providing us with enough information to arrive at an important conclusion, which is this: by associating Kautsky exclusively with the ‘single world trust’ idea, the SWP is able to smuggle in its own brand of Kautskyism on a seemingly anti-Kautskyite platform. Though supposedly critical of Kautskyism, the SWP leaders are actually the purveyors of Kautsky’s pre-war theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’.

From this point on, the Negriites and SWP opportunists are as putty in Abbott’s hands. He demonstrates how each set of opportunists adopts the other’s standpoint whenever the need arises. Thus Callinicos, the man who prattles on about competition among ‘many capitals’, asserts that Cuban socialism is not viable because it faces a unified and indivisible global bourgeoisie. Similarly, Negri, in a desperate attempt to obliterate the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations, maintains that international capitalism is an essentially competitive system, one that has eliminated nationally differentiated profit rates.

In the second chapter, Abbott gives an account of yet another variant of the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’, that of ‘hegemonic ultra-imperialism’. I would urge readers to pay close attention to this chapter, as it reveals the fundamentally social-chauvinist content of the writings of such erudite luminaries as Perry Anderson, Leo Panitch and Robert Brenner. These opportunists view the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq as an expression of capitalism’s historically progressive character. Abbott scathingly dubs them ‘hegemonists’.

All too often, socialists hurl epithets at one another, using labels as a substitute for analysis. But there is nothing crude or simplistic about Chapter 2. With analytical precision, Abbott reveals the connection between the hegemonists’ theory of imperialism and their social-chauvinist practice. When the hegemonists declare that the US acts, not in its own, predatory interests, but in the interests of capital in general, they give strength and succour to the American neo-conservatives. Yet these are the ‘Marxists’, the ever so nuanced and refined ‘Marxists’, who condescendingly dismiss the RCG as Stalinists. The RCG, of course, is not a Stalinist organisation.

In Chapter 3, Abbott drops another of his ideological bombshells. The proponents of the theory of ‘hegemonic ultra-imperialism’ pride themselves on their critical prowess, going so far as to chide Kautsky for not recognising that a ‘hegemonic’ power like the US can fulfil the same function globally as states fulfil domestically. Unmasking their pseudo-critical posturing, Abbott explains that the theory of ‘hegemonic ultra-imperialism’ was devised by JA Hobson as long ago as 1911. No less importantly, he shows that Hobson’s 1911 theory was adopted by Kautsky, who continually shifted his allegiance from one ‘hegemon’ to another, as the circumstances required. Abbott predicts that our modern-day opportunists will undergo similar shifts.

In Chapters 4 and 5, Abbott swings his analytical scythe in the direction of the SWP once more. He does so in order to bring into the open the affinity between the SWP opportunists and the hegemonists. This is no mean feat, since the SWP opportunists dabble in the language of Leninism, so detested by the hegemonists. First Abbott shows that the SWP’s core theories – notably those of ‘state capitalism’ and ‘the permanent arms economy’ – are founded on shifting sands, utterly devoid of consistency and coherence. Then he demonstrates, step by step, how the SWP has adapted its standpoint to accommodate the hegemonists’ anti-Leninist sensibilities.

By the end of Chapter 5, readers will have little difficulty grasping what the above opportunists have in common. Without exception, they believe a) that capitalism has yet to exhaust its progressive potential, b) that parasitism is no longer a feature of imperialism, and c) that the US has, in the words of Callinicos, ‘creatively knitted together’ the world’s many capitals. The following editorial comment by the SWP sums up the opportunists’ outlook: ‘though a “supremely good theory in its day”, [Lenin’s] analysis is no longer tenable... [T]he politically enforced transfer of wealth from a dependency to an “imperialist” power... is no longer central to the survival of capitalism, nor is the export of capital from advanced to backward countries.’[2]

It is certainly true that colonialism is now the exception rather than the rule; but so too is it true that ‘usury imperialism’ has supplanted ‘colonial imperialism’ as the dominant form of super-exploitation. Since both the hegemonists and SWP opportunists deny the prevalence of parasitism, they have nothing worthwhile to say about imperialism in general or British imperialism in particular.

In Chapter 6, Abbott explains how Britain underwent the transformation from ‘colonial imperialism’ to ‘usury imperialism’, a transformation that has profoundly affected all aspects of British life. He further argues that, this side of socialism, British ‘usury imperialism’ is as irreversible as it is unsustainable. In the near future, as Europe and the US square up for a war over the redistribution of the global loot, Britain’s financial oligarchy will be faced by a thorny choice, that of integrating itself into Europe or becoming a financial-military outpost of the US.

Chapter 6, with its stark predications about the future of British imperialism, is likely to be highly controversial. Yet whatever socialists conclude about Britain’s standing in the world, the reality of British ‘usury imperialism’ must never be denied. By incorporating the Leninist concept of different imperialist types into his analysis, Abbott has made an important contribution to our understanding of the evolution of British imperialism. Ever since its inception in the 1970s, the RCG has been virtually alone in this country in bringing to light the parasitism in which British imperialism is necessarily steeped.

Finally, in Chapter 7, Abbott tackles David Harvey, one of the few opportunists to acknowledge the existence of parasitism. According to Harvey, Marx’s ‘falling rate of profit argument’ is a convincing one, since it explains the tendency towards the ‘overaccumulation of capital’. His ‘Marxist’ credentials thus established, Harvey goes on to argue that profit rates may fall for a variety of reasons, including a rise in the organic composition of capital, working class combativity (which ‘squeezes’ profits) and declining living standards.

Having reduced Marx’s crisis theory to a medley of disjointed assertions, Harvey turns his attention to imperialism. He uses fiery expressions such as ‘predation’, ‘fraud’ and ‘thievery’ to describe the financiers’ conduct, but then hastens to cleanse his work of any radical content. He does this in the classical Kautskyite manner, by drawing a false dichotomy between ‘vulture capital’ and ‘productive capital’. The former, he insists, though ‘dialectically’ related to the latter, is not a necessary feature of imperialism. On the basis of an ongoing alliance with capitalism’s progressive supporters (including the likes of George Soros, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz), the workers will be able to clear the way for ‘a far less violent and far more benevolent imperial trajectory than the raw militaristic imperialism currently offered up by the new-conservative movement in the United States’ (quoted in Abbott, p233).

As always when unmasking the modern-day opportunists, Abbott delves deeply into the past, this time drawing our attention to the writings of William Clarke, an early Fabian. Like Harvey, Clarke railed against the nasty financiers who, he claimed, were recklessly imperilling the real economy through their self-seeking, profiteering activities. The only difference between Clarke and Harvey is that the latter sweetens his reformism with Marxist phrases.

Since Abbott wrote his work, Harvey has continued to proffer a heady brew of eclectic formulations. In his latest offering, The Enigma of Capital, he reiterates that the limits to capital are many and varied. Heading his list are capital scarcities, labour problems, mismanagement, disproportionalities, natural limits, indiscipline in the labour process and lack of effective demand.[3] There is method in Harvey’s eclecticism. In the 1970s, when the workers’ were fighting to preserve their living standards, he advanced the reactionary ‘profit squeeze’ argument. Later, following the neo-liberals’ triumph, he opted for a milder version of opportunism, attributing declining profits to the workers’ underconsumption. The instant the workers begin to recover lost ground, we can expect Harvey to switch theories again (in a ‘dialectical’ manner, of course).

In marked contrast to many opportunists, Harvey holds to the view that economic recessions are not only inevitable in the capitalist system but also ‘necessary to the evolution of capitalism’.[4] Actually, there is nothing particularly radical about such a perspective. Even avowed Thatcherites acknowledge the crisis prone nature of capitalism. Thus Ian Grigg-Spall, writing of the current global crisis, stated: ‘A crisis in capitalism serves an essential purpose. It wipes out the least healthy companies allowing the most healthy to thrive.’ (The Guardian, 24 November 2008)

Marx’s Capital is more than just an explanation of the necessity of booms and slumps. As Abbott reminds us, Marx’s great work is an analysis of ‘the origin, existence, development, and death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher organism’ (Abbott, p256). The immanent laws of accumulation and the recessions they repeatedly engender necessarily gave rise to imperialism, the epoch of dying capitalism. This is something that neither the crude Thatcherites nor the refined ‘Marxists’ will ever acknowledge. Like all opportunists, Harvey denies that imperialism is the highest and final stage of capitalism.

Few books have dissected Anglo-American opportunism as systematically and thoroughly as Abbott’s has. He not only demonstrates the many different ways in which an adherence to Kautskyism leads to the undermining of proletarian and anti-imperialist struggles, but also penetrates to the core of opportunist ‘theories’, revealing what the parallels and non-parallels between them are. In the coming years, as crises deepen and revolutionary struggles intensify, opportunists are likely to shift their allegiance from one brand of opportunism to another, in an attempt to maintain a semblance of ideological coherence. With the aid of Abbott’s work, reviewers will be able to swat the opportunist flies as they flit from one rotten ‘theory’ to another.

Peter Howell

1 Volume 1 was completed in July 2007 and posted on the internet in May 2010.

2 Introduction to the second edition of Michael Kidron’s ‘Imperialism: Highest Stage but One’, International Socialism, No 61, 1973, p1.

3 The Enigma of Capital, David Harvey, Profile Books, 2010, p117.

4 ibid.


Strangeways protest dramatised / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

Crying in the Chapel by Stafford, Clarke and Coghill, produced by Fink On Theatre company at the Contact Theatre, Manchester 26 April-9 May 2010

On 1 April 1990, when over one thousand men in Strangeways Prison in Manchester decided that they had suffered enough mental and physical brutality at the hands of the prison system, it is unlikely that any of the prisoners involved would have predicted that their actions would still be of such great interest, intrigue and inspiration 20 years later. Although probably unexpected, it is not at all surprising that Crying in the Chapel received standing ovations from audiences and was sold out by its second week. This story of an uprising that started within an institution designed to represent complete control over the working classes shows concretely what can be achieved.

Crying in the Chapel tells the story of the Strangeways revolt of 1990 from the perspective of the prisoners involved and the ex-sufferers of the abusive penal system.  Refreshing in its accuracy and attitude, the play captures the spirit of the prisoners with compassion and honesty. Instead of simply presenting the revolt as an abstract occurrence of anger and violence, Crying in the Chapel manages to give a concrete insight into the conditions suffered by Strangeways inmates who went on to cause the uprising.

The Strangeways that is described by most ex-prisoners was a jail of overcrowding and severe brutality. 1,647 men in a prison built for a maximum of 970, constant beatings, the liquid cosh (a drug used to sedate inmates who weren’t easily ‘controllable’), 23 hours in a cell and the list goes on. A ‘screws nick’ where even the governors had no control, with everyone that worked within the prison colluding with this system of abuse. For those aware of the conditions it was less a shock to see the prisoners protesting on the roof and more of a shock that it had taken so long.

The script for Crying in the Chapel was partly devised by actors at workshops preceding the original performances of the play in 2000 and partly based on the Larkin Publications book Strangeways 1990: a serious disturbance by Nicki Jameson and Eric Allison. The recent production differs from the original by putting an actor portraying Eric Allison on stage as a narrator of the events that unfold. He ends the performance by describing today’s prison system, where although conditions have improved as a result of the 1990 protests, overcrowding and mistreatment of people with mental health problems continue to be rife, and warns that it is only a matter of time before protests on the scale of Strangeways shake the system once again.

Rebecca Rensten


Sons of Cuba / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

sons of cuba poster

Sons of Cuba - Fighters for socialism

Sons of Cuba, film directed by Andrew Lang, released March 2010. For details of screenings go to: www.sonsofcuba.com

Cuba has won 62 Olympic Medals in boxing in the last 40 years. British director Andrew Lang was inspired to make this film about young Cuban boxers after reading double Olympic winner Mario Kindelan’s explanation of their success: ‘Cubans are fighters in all walks of life. Ours is a small country, but we live to fight’.

The US-imposed blockade, the millions of dollars spent yearly on attempts to sabotage the Revolution, and the ever-present military threat, have indeed turned the Cuban people into fighters. Sons of Cuba focuses on three young boxers training for the Under-12s National Championships at the Havana Boxing Academy. The academy is a boarding school for gifted young boxers, who combine school work with training. It is a significant achievement that a poor country, suffering immensely from the blockade, can offer all its young people equal access to sport and culture.

In Cuba, personal ambition combines with that of the whole nation. The film observes the boys attend a May Day Parade, watch a televised address by Fidel Castro after he is taken ill during filming in 2006, and talk about their feelings about the national situation. It is heart-warming that young people have such a strong awareness of the importance of the whole nation working towards a common goal. The boys express surprising maturity by considering the feelings of their opponents, and shedding tears for team mates who do not qualify for the National Championships. This solidarity, encouraged by enthusiastic coach Yosvani Bonachea, shows the consciousness fostered by growing up in a socialist society. Reassuringly, the ill-health of Fidel Castro, the ‘Champion of Champions’, is met with sadness and concern, but not the kind of alarm, or expectation of change, that the right-wing media would have you imagine. The training goes on, life goes on, socialism continues to be constructed.

Training is demanding. The boys rise early to practise before school. They are motivated by the dream of becoming international champions and bringing honour to their small island. In a world dominated by economic, military and cultural hegemonies, amateur sporting victories can inspire the entire nation. An ex-champion lives in the same way as the rest of the population, a fact much derided in the western media – yet this only makes the astronomical salaries of European football stars seem more outrageous. A few individuals may be tempted by the fortunes offered to them as professionals in the US, but the majority decline these bribes in favour of inspiring the next generation of champions in the country of fighters they are so proud of.

Saija Lukkaroinen


POA: a history of repression / FRFI 214 Apr / May 2010

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

The Everlasting Staircase: A history of the Prison Officers’ Association 1939-2009, David Evans with Sheila Cohen, Pluto Press in association with the Prison Officers Association, 2009, £20

‘The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.’ Leon Trotsky What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, 1932

In August 2007 the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) staged a one-day national strike in defiance of laws outlawing industrial action by prison officers. This and subsequent wildcat actions were eagerly seized on by the selection of British left groups which had long been courting the POA and generally applauding the ‘struggles’ of ‘workers in uniform’, including the police. Foremost among the cheerleaders is the Socialist Party (SP) and in September 2009 POA General Secretary Brian Caton announced his defection to the SP from the Labour Party. Caton is now a prominent speaker for SP-backed electoral grouping the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

The Everlasting Staircase is written for the express purpose of positioning the POA in the leadership of ‘militant’ trade unionism in Britain in the face of mounting public sector cuts and privatisation. Its authors are Caton’s predecessor as General Secretary and an academic specialising in trade union history. It was commissioned by the POA itself and does not purport to be impartial.

FRFI has been among the few voices on the British left consistently to point out that it is nonsense to simply view police and prison officers as ‘workers in uniform’. Engels and Lenin* explained the creation of ‘special bodies of armed men’, such as police and prison officers, as an intrinsic part of the apparatus constructed alongside the division of society into antagonistic classes. Trotsky agreed, although many of his followers today do not, clinging instead to examples of armies and police that have gone over to the side of revolutionary movements. While it is true that in a revolutionary situation this would be both necessary and inevitable, Britain today is so far removed from such a situation as to render these examples entirely irrelevant.

‘A union which has given true leadership to the whole working class movement’

The Everlasting Staircase chronicles the POA’s development from 1865, when the Prisons Act officially defined the role of prison warder, through the years of pre-union staff associations and underground organisation to its official formation in 1939 and right up to the 2008 TUC conference, where Brian Caton spoke emotively in support of low-paid public sector workers and against anti-trade union laws, exhorting the supine TUC to strike against the government’s ‘unacceptable pay restraint on public sector pay’. The book ends quoting him:

‘The POA will continue its campaign and fight to get the whole of the Labour Movement to straighten their spines and stand up for new laws that take away the restrictions on strike and industrial action.

‘Our simple message to other unions is “Don’t think that your members cannot deliver on strike action – they can.”

‘Please recognise that if you don’t ask them – they never will.


In the eyes of the book’s authors, this call to arms demonstrates that ‘the POA stands proud today as a union which has given true leadership to the whole working class movement.’

Trade union history

Read on its own terms, the account is of some historical interest. The problems of prison staff in relation to pay, staffing levels, housing and prospects of promotion are documented, as are the machinations of successive governments to prevent industrial action by prison staff. Initially prison officers were treated in the same way as the police and banned from forming trade unions; however in the early 20th century an underground prison officers’ union was gradually formed and made links with militant trade unionists in the civil service. Eventually, the POA was created, with the government of the day concluding that treating prison officers as civil servants was a preferable way of dealing with them.

The book takes us through the period of Thatcher’s attack on the unions (including an account of the POA taking court action against the Tory Party following a party political broadcast which gave the erroneous impression that it had supported a motion put to the TUC by Arthur Scargill! – p106), to the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which made it illegal for prison officers to strike. The Labour Party promised to overturn this if elected, just as it promised to end prison privatisation. It reneged on both. The POA then signed a ‘voluntary no strike agreement’ in return for pay claims being dealt with by a succession of unsatisfactory review board mechanisms. Why exactly the ‘militant’ POA signed this agreement at all is a matter for speculation; however relations between the union and the Prison Service became rockier and ultimately broke down completely, resulting in the strike action of 2007.

The other side of the story

This is all very well, but even during its pre-history while the union was being formed in secret, the POA’s ‘militancy’ was couched entirely in terms which depended on depicting prisoners as wild and dangerous and liable at any moment to get uncontrollably ‘out of hand’ (p51).

This potential violence of prisoners is the POA’s main leverage and it plays on and exaggerates the threat at every opportunity. This has led it to oppose any reform of the system or relaxation of the strictest rules. Well before the introduction of the current dispersal system or close supervision centres, the POA ‘had been agitating for years in favour of the segregation of troublemakers in a small prison on their own’ (p62). In Scotland prison officers went on strike against the closure of the barbaric Inverness cages (p94). In relation to the north of Ireland we read of the ‘solidarity’ shown in the 1970s by prison officers from England, Scotland and Wales, who volunteered to be transferred to help staff internment (pp97-99). In the late 1970s and 1980s the POA campaigned for more weaponry and riot training, resulting in the introduction of the infamous MUFTI squads which were deployed to attack protesting prisoners (p130).

The POA opposed the abolition of the death penalty on the basis that convicted murderers serving life sentences would be difficult to manage and it would lead to an increase in the murder of prison officers. The second certainly did not transpire – outside the north of Ireland only one British prison officer was killed by a prisoner in the whole of the 20th century, while many prisoners have been killed by staff

POA supporters point out that it has long opposed ‘slopping out’ and overcrowding. This is true. Although debatable in whose interests this opposition was mounted, the POA opposed slopping out from the early 1980s (p127) and in the early 1990s took direct action to ensure that no more prisoners were crammed into overcrowded, insanitary prisons by simply locking the gates and not letting any more in (p173). What happened to those locked out is not explored, but the likelihood is that they were detained in even more unsuitable conditions in police stations. The POA does not argue for fewer people to be sent to prison, but for more staff to police those who are there and more spaces in which to detain them.

The book is revealing in relation to the contradiction posed for the POA by prison reform. While the union has consistently opposed any prison regime not strictly based on punishment and containment, whenever any moves are made towards the introduction of more activities, the union also argues for its members to be the ones staffing them, claiming that their daily contact with prisoners gives them an understanding not shared by the ‘“new breed” of liberal-minded governor grades, most of whom were fast-tracked university graduates with little experience of working on the landings of a prison’ (Caton, p198).

Prisoners’ struggles for their rights

David Evans was POA General Secretary from 1982 to 2000. This period includes the miners’ strike and the biggest spate of prison uprisings ever to shake the British prison system. You would hardly know this from the book though, as although a picture of the wrecked Strangeways prison features in the illustrations, the events of 1990 are mentioned only in passing. Likewise, although there is considerable material about prisons in the north of Ireland, and in particular about prison officer casualties of the war, there is hardly any mention of the hunger strikes or protests, other than a quote from the 1979 May Report to the effect that ‘The most stressful present custodial work undoubtedly involves the staff responsible for the three H blocks in The Maze prison which house the non-conforming prisoners...the nature of these inmates’ protests is bizarre in the extreme and the filth associated with it abhorrent and degrading’ (p99).

For prisoners and their supporters, The Everlasting Staircase – ironically titled in reference to the treadmills prisoners were once forced to walk endlessly – reads like a text from a parallel universe. We see a system of mass incarceration of men, women and children, who are overwhelmingly poor and working class and disproportionately black or minority ethnic, and whose oppression in prison sometimes drives them to band together and fight back. But this piece contains no analysis of who is actually in prison and the authors appear to see all prisoners as little more than wild animals, who can be kept reasonably docile if not given too much freedom, and to view any protest action as inexplicable and frightening. For example, the conscious political prison protests of the 1970s organised by PROP (Preservation of the Rights of Prisoners) are described as part of ‘turbulent years, when Britain...was swept by a... wave of strike action’ in which ‘prisoners themselves caught the protest “bug”’. A POA official complains: ‘Governors, with no inkling of what to do, met with prisoner deputations who gained in importance, thereby undermining the authority of staff’ (p83).

Similarly, for us the name of the POA is synonymous with thuggery and bullying and the stories of violence by prison staff are legion. But Evans and Cohen’s account is virtually silent on such accusations, with even POA members’ well-documented mistreatment of imprisoned fellow trade unionists glossed over and the disgraceful conduct towards the Shrewsbury Two in 1973 put down as some kind of misunderstanding (p83).

In 1998, horrific details of staff brutality at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London emerged, resulting eventually in a series of criminal prosecutions and civil claims for compensation. This is not mentioned anywhere in this account, At the time Evans publically refuted any wrongdoing by any POA member, to the extent that he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ‘In all my years that I have been in the prison service I’ve never known a single occasion where prison officers have interfered with mail.’ Hundreds of thousands of complaints submitted by British prisoners and hours of court time attest to the ludicrousness of this statement.

POA – policing class-divided society for the ruling class

We do not subscribe to the view that trade union organisation is by definition progressive. There are countless examples of reactionary trade union activity: the strike by loyalist workers in the north of Ireland against power-sharing with Irish nationalists in 1974; the pro-capitalist Solidarnosc in Poland in the 1980s; the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela which supported the US-backed coup in 2002. The fact that the POA is strident and well organised in its own interests is not sufficient to make it progressive.

The Everlasting Staircase sets out to make the case for the POA against those who would say it is not a ‘real’ trade union and, further, to put forward its credentials as a leading force in a resurgence of trade union militancy. However, it succeeds only in underlining that the role of prison staff in capitalist society is to police the working class and oppressed on behalf of the ruling class. The authors aim to show us a vanguard of class warriors, but succeed in showing us a bunch of chauvinist thugs.

Nicki Jameson

* See Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State and Lenin, State and Revolution


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