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:

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


Unpicking the Zionist myth / FRFI 214 Apr / May 2010


FRFI 214 April / May 2010

The invention of the Jewish people, Shlomo Sand, translated from the Hebrew by Yael Lotan, Verso 2009, 332pp, £18.99. ISBN 978-1-84467-422-0

‘I could not have gone on living in Israel without writing this book. I don’t think books can change the world – but when the world begins to change, it searches for different books’

Shlomo Sand, 2008

The world is indeed changing. Since the recognition of an Israeli state by the United Nations in 1947 and the extension of its borders in 1967 by war and occupation, Zionism* has demanded and received unconditional support from the US and Europe and silence on its record of oppression of the Palestinian people. Today this collusion is breaking down and the Zionist state of Israel can no longer claim that the exceptional tragedy of the European Holocaust puts it beyond reason and responsibility for its actions. Israel is being ever more exposed as a racist, apartheid state with a record of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Politics and archaeology

At the heart of this excellent book is the thesis that there is no such thing as ‘the Jewish people’. Sand comprehensively unpicks the dominant Zionist narrative, what he calls the ‘mythistory’, by reviewing a mass of historical research, including archaeological finds that were buried, neglected or banished by the Zionists. He describes how in the 1950s and 1960s Zionist archaeologists deliberately configured excavations and discoveries to match the heritage story of the Old Testament. So, for example, Moshe Dayan, Israeli Chief of Staff, minister of defence and amateur archaeologist, collected ancient artefacts, ‘some of them stolen’, and systematically destroyed ‘ancient mosques, even from the eleventh century’, in order to construct a past that matched the biblical text (p113). With carefully referenced evidence, Sand contends that these Zionist investigators knew that the celebrated biblical kingdoms of David and Solomon were relatively small settlements inflated by the foundation myths of the early historical period. Most significantly, he says there is no substantial evidence of a forced exile by the Romans of Jewish people in the first century after the fall of the Second Temple. On the contrary, all investigation supports the view that the majority of the population remained in Judea and Canaan as a conquered people, and lived on through the centuries as peasant farmers. They were converted, willingly or otherwise, to add to the growing numbers of Christians and Muslims, under the powers of the Byzantine and Caliphate Empires.

Khazars and Judaism

The Jewish religion also continued to grow and spread, particularly in the area between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains then known as Khazaria. Judaism was as active and as proselytising a religion as the other two monotheisms, converting many kings and tribal chiefs who in turn imposed their chosen religion on their subjects. Furthermore, a range of different ethnicities and peoples embraced and adapted the Jewish religion into a variety of sects. Records indicate the existence from the fifth century of a great Khazar Empire on the steppes of Asia, ruled by Jewish monarchs who conquered, enslaved and expanded their domain for hundreds of years. The torrential Mongolian invasion led by Genghis Khan in the early thirteenth century swept aside the Khazar kingdom, along with neighbouring societies. This invasion from the east depopulated the steppe lands which perished with the destruction of the ancient irrigation systems that had supported agrarian food cultivation and settlements. A small Khazar community was all that remained and it survives today in the foothills of the mountains of the Caucasus. Khazarians retreated into the western Ukraine, Polish and Lithuanian territories. There, they formed the majority of what came to be known as Ashkenazi Jews, and settled in eastern Europe as a population quite dislocated from the Semitic tribes of the Old Testament.

Arthur Koestler versus Zionist mythistory

The history Sand introduces to the reader is neither original nor new, but one that is authenticated by a historical record that has been deliberately buried. Arthur Koestler, born in Hungary in 1905, was a close supporter of the Zionist right-wing leader Vladimir Jabotinsky in his youth. He joined the Communist Party in Berlin in 1931 and worked undercover for the Comintern in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. He resigned from the Communist Party in 1938 in disgust with Stalin. His popular anti-communist book, Darkness at Noon, was published in 1940 to great acclaim. In 1976 Koestler published The Thirteenth Tribe: the Khazar Empire and its heritage, drawing on the earlier research and collecting together the evidence for the Khazar Empire. Koestler’s study concludes that:

‘The large majority of surviving Jews in the world is in eastern Europe – and thus mainly of Khazar origin. If so, this would mean that their ancestors came not from the Jordan but from the Volga, not from Canaan but from the Caucasus, once believed to be the cradle of the Aryan race; and that genetically they are more closely related to the Hun, Uigur and Magyar tribes than to the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ (cited p239)

The Thirteenth Tribe is focused on the origins of the Ashkenazi, or European, Jews and does not extend to the history of the Sephardic Jewish communities of Spain and Portugal or the Judaised people of Ethiopia and North Africa. Koestler was puzzled by the hostile reception to his book because he remained a Zionist and supported the State of Israel, which he regarded as ‘based on international law’ and not on ‘the hypothetical origins of the Jewish people, nor on the mythological covenant of Abraham with God’ (p239). When the book appeared, Israel’s ambassador to Britain described it as ‘an anti-Semitic action financed by the Palestinians’ (p240)


Sand’s book has much to offer, even to those uninterested in Old Testament stories or who are past caring whether the displacement of the Palestinians is carried out by Zionists of Semitic or other tribal origins. It is a book about history and historical truth in general and readers will find their critical faculties sharpened and understanding deepened by this study. History down the ages informs us not just about the past but also about the historian. Sand says, quoting the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce that ‘any history is first of all a product of the time of its writing’. Historians, as people, as scholars, as professionals, as members of educational establishments or as record keepers, present their work from a contemporary and ideological standpoint. This evaluation of history is known as ‘historiography’ and leads to close examination of the sources, theories, methods of research and writing of historians. Sand subjects the ‘Zionist historiography of the Jewish past’ (p19), to a rigorous examination of the values it promotes and the truths that it ignores or buries.

The rise of the nation state

Departments of Jewish History in Israel and universities around the world promote an ethno-national history of Judaism that derives from 19th century Zionism. This was the period when other ‘nationalisms’ arose as expressions of the needs of capitalism or ‘modern industrial societies’ as Sand says (p36). In an interesting review of the rise of modern nationalism, Sand describes the emergence of new nations from the collapsing empires and disintegrating peasant communities as coming from above. Ruling powers employed deliberate, ideological practices, rituals and ceremonies designed to foster an inclusive national identity. Historians justified the new power elites by writing, or re-writing, histories of a national past, reviving and inventing distant figures to serve the present need.

Modern nationalisms, however, are characterised by their inclusiveness. It was their purpose, as it largely remains today, to create a national territory in which all citizens are members of the community, that is, of the state. Modern institutions cut across earlier identities replacing old emotional and historical ties with different structures and beliefs for the new urban and industrial masses. Even the rise of fascism in Italy under Benito Mussolini in the early 20th century continued

the inclusive political nationalism of Italy’s independence heroes, Mazzini and Garibaldi, whose vision of a united Italy swept from the Sicilian South to the Alpine north in the 19th century. It was only in 1938 that Italian fascism added on an ethno-biological antagonism to its population of Jewish and Croatian origin (Sand p59).

Some emerging nationalisms, however, continued to cultivate ancient tribal ethnocentric myths about blood ties and the original ‘race people’, as the core. Political leaders called upon these reactionary myths to dominate the national mood in times of political upsurge and pressure. The rulers of Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia resisted the modernising call for a national identity on the political basis of citizenship. Bismarck’s consolidation of the German Federation into a new Germany utilised the ‘mythistory’ of a ‘people-race’ originating in the distant past to configure a modern military state that had to reconcile Catholics and Protestants, Prussians and Slavs, as well as Jews, within its new national borders. Above all, the state had to stamp its authority on the hopes of a new bourgeois class who demanded emancipation from the relics of feudal control. The wave of revolutions in 1848 led by liberals and radicals in Germany were defeated by violent suppression. Marx, Engels and others in the fledgling socialist movement were imprisoned, persecuted and expelled.

Zionism and heredity

The temporary defeat of class politics in Germany and central Europe ushered in a period of reaction in which the ruling class resorted to a reinvigorated racial nationalism, speaking of ‘blood and soil’. Zionist intellectuals likewise moved the ground of debate to racial lines. The new biological science of heredity was used to promote ethno-biological nationalism. The large Yiddish-speaking communities of east and central Europe became not only the victims of anti-Jewish pogroms, but also the object of contempt from the young Zionist movement. The rich, diverse cultural histories of the people of ‘Yiddishland’ (p247) were enclosed in the pseudoscientific terms of the ‘blood ties that exist in the Israelite family’ (p259). The founders of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Martin Buber and others, spoke about the national identity inherent in man’s ‘blood’. In the words of Vladimir Jabotinsky:

‘It is physically impossible for a Jew descended from several generations of pure, unmixed Jewish blood to adopt the mental state of a German or a Frenchman, just as it is impossible for a Negro to cease to be a Negro’ (p261).

This unapologetic appeal to blood and genetics was, and remains today, the foundation for the existence of the Zionist state of Israel. Indeed, the search for coherent blood lines continues, with efforts to use new DNA investigations to establish a genetic cohesion in the population of Israel. These have failed, of course.

Israel – the ethnic state

Building on his historical review of the emergence of nationalism, Sand concludes that the Zionist state is a nation built on the old ‘mythistory’ people/race model. The state does not act in the interests of all its citizens, and is not accountable to non-Jewish minorities. The Israeli state offers more protection and rights to every Jew in the world under the Law of the Right of Return than it does to Palestinians who are born from the generations that live there. While there are multiparty elections, political platforms are severely limited by a constitution based on blood ties to Judaism. Non-Jews cannot own land, cannot serve in the armed forces and cannot marry a Jew, and there is no civil marriage or burial in Israel. Sand concludes that there is no chance of peace in the future until the mythic race history of the Jewish people is discarded, along with anti-Semitism, in the dustbin of history. A highly recommended read.

Claudia Miller

* The term Zionism is used throughout to signify the belief that the land of Israel is the promised land of God’s Chosen People, the Jewish people. Page numbers refer to Sand’s book.


Yesterday’s opportunism / FRFI 146 Dec Jan 1998 / 1999

FRFI 146 December / January 1998 / 1999

Review: Marxism Today, Nov/Dec 1998 Special Issue, £3.50

As the world capitalist system stands on the preci­pice, ideologues of every description counsel its political leaders as to how they should act to prevent a global disaster, anti the social unrest it will bring. Amongst these are some members of the former Commun­ist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), who after eight years have just republished its theoretical journal Marxism Today. Not that it has any­thing to do with Marxism: all it offers is a rehash of aged social demo­cratic dogma, replete with appeals for governments to regulate the global financial mar­kets, and to reduce the inequalities that have been a product of the last 20 years of neo-liberal­ism. Tired stuff indeed.

FRFI dealt with this trend many years ago (see ‘New Times, old oppor­tunism’, FRFI 94), showing that their politics ‘codified the standpoint of a privi­leged stratum of the new petit bourgeoisie’ which sought not to destroy im­perialism, but to pacify it. What has changed over the last eight years? Only that the contributors to Marxism Today Mark II are a wealthier, and more openly part of the ruling class, running chat shows on TV (David Aaronovich) or editing national newspapers (Will Hutton, The Observer, Martin Jacques, Independent deputy editor), or writing reglar newspaper columns (Suzanne Moore, Anatole Kaletsky), or even global strategies for insurance companies. Plus a few profes­sors to lend a semblance of academic gravitas. Their role however is to act as a safety valve, transforming con­demnation of the capitalist system into harmless criticism over its lesser aspects. While appearing to be radi­cal opponents of New Labour, in real­ity they support it on anything that really matters.


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Review: Memoirs of a radical lawyer / FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

Michael Mansfield

ISBN 978 0 7478 7864 9. Bloomsbury, London 2009. 496pp, £20

The English legal system, like all legal systems, is an instrument of class rule. Its system of precedents, cases, statutes, its rituals and its personnel reflect this. While the English constitution – unwritten – celebrates the ‘rule of law’, maintaining that all British subjects are governed by the same law equally and impartially, this is only a fiction that the ruling class maintains so that it can bask in the glow of its own righteousness while disciplining the inferior classes. A short visit to any magistrates’ or crown court will show you the realities. Most judges and barristers are toffs. A high proportion of politicians are lawyers. The criminal law is designed to control the working class, the civil law to defend property rights and corporate interests. Working class burglars are imprisoned; banks that specialise in daylight robbery are rewarded. Ordinary folk who deliberately, or even accidentally, cheat the benefit system of a few pounds are vilified; MPs who fiddle their expenses to the tune of thousands get a pension. It is remarkable, then, that among this morass of privilege and double-dealing there are a few decent lawyers. Michael Mansfield QC is one of them.

There is an interesting description in Mansfield’s Memoirs of his education and admission to the Bar. Education for English barristers was for centuries conducted through Inns of Court requiring pupil barristers to eat a large number of meals and train on the job at a set of Chambers with no pay. Only the offspring of the ruling class could either understand the process or afford it. It was only when the Law Society (governing solicitors) instituted exams and proper training, that the Bar Council thought it should train barristers or get left behind. Much of the nonsense and lack of funding remains and consequently barristers are overwhelmingly from privileged backgrounds. Mansfield came from a petit bourgeois family but was educated at private school.  Nonetheless, somehow, somewhere, he learned to care about justice, fairness and human rights.

Mansfield’s Memoirs of his career – he was called to the Bar in 1967 – reads like a catalogue of the most famous, most controversial and difficult cases of the last 40 years. From the Angry Brigade in the 1970s to the recent murder of Jean Charles de Menezes, and much else besides, Mansfield has applied his remarkable legal abilities for the benefit of ordinary people oppressed by the law. In 1973 he represented Irish Republicans Marian and Dolores Price who were charged with bombings in London (which included the Old Bailey and Mansfield’s own car parked outside) at a time when it was almost impossible to find legal representation for anyone accused of IRA involvement. Mansfield led the defence team for the Orgreave riot trial during the miners’ strike 1984-5, and defended prisoners who rose up against the system at Risley (1989) and Strangeways (1990). Most of the major political issues of this era are dealt with.

That is not to say that Mansfield has rid himself of illusions in the system. He thinks that institutional racism may have decreased as a result of the Macpherson Inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence. He has illusions in the effectiveness of international law to right wrongs and protect human rights. It must be galling to have watched former colleagues like Vera Baird QC (Solicitor General) and Keir Starmer QC (Director of Public Prosecutions) accept the Labour government’s shilling to batter working class and oppressed people. It must be infuriating to know that their government has launched a devastating attack on legal aid, at the same time creating hundreds of new criminal laws and devising new systems, like ASBOs, to deprive working class people of access to justice. To give him his due, Mike Mansfield has stuck to his principles and that makes him stand out and makes his book worth reading. There is also, incidentally, a very good Further Reading section!

Carol Brickley


Review of Capitalism: A Love Story, a film by Michael Moore

michael_moore_capitalism_a_love_storyWhat an opportunity! Cinemas full of people who want to see a film about Capitalism! Think of the possibilities: exposing imperialism – how a comparative handful live at the expense of the rest of the world; demonstrating that for two centuries capitalism has shown itself to be inherently crisis-ridden, and at the root of war and social misery; exposing its apologists and petit-bourgeois opponents.

Instead, we get an expose of capitalism’s ‘excesses’ while its essentials remain unquestioned. We have the greedy bankers and estate agents, the cruelty of ‘dead peasant’ insurance (company insurance against the death of its employees), poverty struck airline pilots, ‘excessive greed’ and so on. Of course, Moore gives examples of the misery created by capitalism – lousy wages, foreclosures, firings etc. – and we even get an all too brief glimpse of workers’ cooperatives. And, as always, Moore cannot resist engaging in stunts in front of his own camera, including a rather feeble attempt to stage a ‘citizen’s arrest’ of greedy bankers.


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Unravelling nonsense / 02 December 2009

choonaraJoseph Choonara: Unravelling capitalism, Bookmarks Publications 2009, pp159, price £7.99

This apparent purpose of this booklet is to provide a popular summary of Marx’s critique of political economy and then present an outline of the development of modern capitalism up to the present crisis. What we find is something disjointed and incoherent where the later historical exegesis bears no relation to the earlier part which seeks to follow Chapter 1 of Marx’s Capital. Even worse: Marx’s categories are distorted to justify a reactionary position which rejects the relevance of Lenin’s theory of imperialism for today, and with it, the struggle against opportunism.


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How the SWP forgot British imperialism

FRFI 164 December 2001 / January 2002

No to Bush’s war – The military face of globalisation. A Socialist Worker’s Party pamphlet £1 (29pp)

This pamphlet contributes as much towards an understanding of the present war in Afghanistan as the Flat Earth Society does to the art of navigation. For instance pages 11-13 list 16 countries under the title, ‘Bush’s bloody allies’. The one country not listed is the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)’s own – Britain. The country which is more bloody than any of them.

Since World War II, British imperialism has aided and abetted every US invasion, adventure and operation, no matter who is in power, Tory or Labour. That is what the special relationship is all about and the SWP is either ignorant of it or covering up for it. As for British imperialism’s own crimes, the map of the British empire stretched from South America to Hong Kong and was drenched in blood. Page 24 argues ‘…the capitalist system that has now brought us a new imperialism – bigger corporations, more obscene weapons, more wars and greater inequality across the globe’. [our emphasis].


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Dude, where’s my country?

FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004

Diego Garcia: still fighting for justice

Dude, where’s my country? Michael Moore, hardback £17.99, published by Allan Lane, 2003

This rapidly-written book by Michael Moore and his support team was published in the month following the invasion of Iraq by the coalition forces. The speed of its publication reflects the urgency Moore feels about the leadership and, indeed, ownership of the USA today. The title means that the interests of the people of North America have been hijacked by a handful of neoconservatives around the Bush family. Their greed, militarism and reactionary social values do not reflect those of the majority of the population who, Moore illustrates with a series of independent opinion poll results, are essentially tolerant and liberal on questions of race, gender and wealth distribution.

Michael Moore’s Stupid white men became an international best-seller with over four million copies sold in 2002-3 and, when his documentary film on gun law Bowling for Columbine won an Oscar, he spoke out against the war on Iraq to a worldwide television audience. As an author, performer, film-maker and television producer Moore has broken through the isolation of progressive forces to win popular acclaim. His work lifts the curtain on the realities of working life for the majority of the people in the USA, the manipulation and control of the media by a handful of owners and the impact of the corporations on domestic and foreign policy. And all this with humour and minutely researched detail.


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‘Pure’ class struggle ignores imperialist reality / FRFI 208 Apl / May 2009

FRFI 208 April / May 2009

The trouble with diversity – how we learned to love identity and ignore inequality, Walter Benn Michaels, Holt Paperbacks, New York 2006, £10.58

When a heartfelt, lively and argumentative book challenges the left for fighting racism, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! is obliged to make our case.

Michaels argues that ‘identity’ politics has replaced ‘class’ politics. He says that religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, age, race, indigenous rights and cultural heritage have displaced economic inequality as the causes of the left. Any complaint arising from identity rights has come to be regarded as progressive. Solidarity is automatically on offer to those who feel themselves to be humiliated, disregarded or discriminated against. Objectivity, he says, has been supplanted by subjectivity and a thing is asserted as true because it is felt to be true. Michaels concludes that the left has been subverted from targeting the real discrepancies of wealth and class and has joined the right wing as the champion of identity rights.


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A master class in socialist economics / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

Che Guevara: the economics of revolution,
Helen Yaffe, London, Palgrave Macmillan 2009, £17.99

by Diana Raby

Helen Yaffe has produced a very important book which can only be described as essential reading for all socialists. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara has been justly admired, indeed romanticised and even idolised, for his heroic role as revolutionary guerrilla fighter, his personal integrity and self-sacrifice culminating in martyrdom. But a vital period of his short life has been inexplicably neglected in previous accounts: the six years in which he served the Cuban revolutionary government, playing a crucial role in the transition to socialism.

As President of the National Bank, Head of the Department of Industrialisation and then Minister of Industries, Guevara was responsible for many of the fundamental decisions in creating a distinctive Cuban model. Despite the importance of Soviet support in providing a lifeline to the young revolution, Che quickly made clear his reservations with regard to economic policies in the USSR. Che’s criticisms gave rise to a public polemic which came to be known as the ‘Great Debate’, and several of the key contributions to this discussion were published in a useful volume edited by Bertram Silverman (Man and socialism in Cuba: the great debate, New York, Atheneum 1971). But we have had to wait until Yaffe’s book for a detailed analysis of Guevara’s arguments and actual policies.

On the basis of 60 interviews with Che’s former colleagues and extensive archival research, including consultation of Guevara’s crucial notes for a critique of the Soviet Manual of political economy, Yaffe gives us unprecedented insight into his vital contribution to the Cuban Revolution and to Marxist theory.

The law of value under socialism
The central issue at stake was the role of the law of value under socialism. Ever since Lenin, communists had recognised that this key component of capitalist economics would not simply disappear overnight and could not be legislated out of existence; in the USSR in the early 1920s, Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) was an explicit tactical retreat which authorised extensive use of capitalist practices and hence the law of value. Although Stalinist collectivisation appeared to eliminate or greatly restrict its operation, in fact it continued and after Khruschev’s reforms in the late 1950s, the law of value was once again explicitly enshrined in Soviet economic manuals.

To Guevara, Soviet technological backwardness was a symptom of the stifling of socialist creative potential by trying to combine socialist planning at national level with capitalist management systems at enterprise level. In technical terms, the key issue was the use of the Auto-Financing System (AFS), promoted in Soviet manuals from the 1950s onwards, as against the Budgetary Finance System (BFS) favoured by Guevara. The AFS encouraged enterprise managers to maximise profits by using market mechanisms to determine prices, financing their own investments through credit and developing autonomous commercial relationships with other public enterprises with little regard for the national plan.

In contrast to this, under the BFS, goods exchanged between public enterprises were transferred without payment; a cost price was administratively determined and the relevant adjustments were made in the respective enterprise accounts in the Treasury. Incentives were based on micro-
management of costs and production contracts (determined by management consultations at all levels, with direct worker input) regulating quantity, quality and punctuality.

Che’s argument for the BFS was that under socialism, the entire Cuban economy was essentially one big public enterprise, and therefore exchanges of products within it were not commodity transactions; there was no transfer of ownership and therefore no purchase or sale. Costs had to be recorded to prevent waste, but incentives for increased quantity or quality of production should be based on the collective interest and not market forces.

This principle of socialist exchange, in which the law of value does not operate, could not be applied to foreign trade with capitalist countries, where imports were necessarily priced according to the law of value. It followed that goods produced in Cuba with imported inputs (raw materials or machinery) would have to reflect the law of value in their pricing. Indeed, one of Che’s major criticisms of the Soviet Bloc was the extent to which they applied capitalist market prices in their international trade.

The transformation of Cuba
It is fascinating to see how Guevara applied these abstract principles in practice to the management of the Cuban economy, at the same time that he was wrestling with all kinds of mundane practical problems. The nationalisation of virtually all large-scale enterprises in only two or three years, together with the sudden loss of Cuba’s traditional commercial ties to the US and the need to replace American with Soviet technology, threatened to bring about complete economic paralysis.
What Helen Yaffe’s book shows in this respect is how Che’s extraordinary revolutionary dedication enabled him to deal with this daunting situation. While her discussion of the BFS refutes the widely-held myth of Guevara as a pure voluntarist and idealist, her account of his practical administrative work shows how his personal will and commitment drove him to find solutions to apparently insoluble problems.

Yaffe gives amusing examples of the improvisation and spontaneity which characterised the revolution in its early years, such as Che’s appointment as President of the National Bank despite having no economic training or experience and his decision to appoint his maths lecturer, Salvador Vilaseca (who was equally inexperienced) as his deputy; and the appointment of 200 teacher trainees, aged 15-20, as managers of nationalised enterprises.

These examples confirm the tendency to improvisation and spontaneity which characterised the revolution in its early years, and while such rash decisions sometimes had disastrous consequences, it is remarkable how often these young and inexperienced revolutionaries succeeded in their new tasks. The reason for this almost certainly lies in the dedication which Guevara (and Fidel and many of their associates) brought to everything they did, and the practice of giving real decision-making power to shop-floor workers.

Study and scientific rigour
The myth of Che as impractical idealist is further undermined by his respect for science and his quest to apply the most advanced scientific knowledge in all spheres. Whenever he assumed a new responsibility, he immediately began to study the relevant scientific disciplines, systematically and intensively – and he insisted on his subordinates doing the same.

This combination of dedication, theoretical rigour and attention to practical detail also characterised Che’s approach to issues of workers’ participation and socialist consciousness. His insistence on the crucial importance of developing consciousness – the ‘New Man’ – was not just a matter of propaganda and exhortation. All kinds of mechanisms were introduced to promote workers’ initiative and participation: Committees for Spare Parts, the Movement of Inventors and Innovators, Advisory Technical Committees, Production Assemblies and Committees for Local Industry. Most important, the human side of workers’ involvement was a central concern.

Thus the encouragement of voluntary labour and moral (as opposed to material) incentives was accompanied by measures which showed a growing understanding of workers’ practical problems. Health and safety were recognised as important issues, and ‘burnt-out’ workers were given entitlement to rest and recuperation in holiday resorts. Guevara’s medical training made him sensitive to workers’ problems of stress and self-esteem, and of psychological issues in general; and he was forced (with some difficulty) to recognise the problematic impact of his own explosive character.

The critique of the Soviet manual
Guevara’s contribution to socialist theory is summed up in an incomplete study which he was working on in 1965-66, before leaving for Bolivia. These notes, which amount to a comprehensive critique of the Soviet Manual of political economy, and which were so contentious that for 40 years they were kept under lock and key by Che’s deputy Orlando Borrego Diaz, are analysed in Yaffe’s chapter 9.

Guevara’s ideas are certainly controversial, and a breath of fresh air for anyone familiar with the fossilised formulae of ‘orthodox’ communist (and in many cases also, Trotskyist) exegesis. He argued that in the USSR the NEP (which Lenin would surely have abandoned had he lived longer) had entrenched the structures of pre-monopoly capitalism, but centralised planning had prevented competition (and the law of value) from operating freely. The result was the worst of both worlds: technological stagnation and a situation in which ‘man neither develops his fabulous productive capacities, nor does he develop himself as the conscious builder of a new society’. Stalinist dogmatism had frozen the system but had since been replaced by inconsistent pragmatism, which in turn would lead more and more towards capitalist restoration, pure and simple.

But Guevara’s criticisms went far beyond this. He also rejected the Soviet Manual’s acceptance of the idea of a peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism in some countries; condemned the working class in imperialist countries as accomplices of the system; identified landless peasants as the truly revolutionary force in most countries; and condemned the USSR for replacing internationalism with chauvinism, forcing other socialist countries into submission.

Che’s legacy
Yaffe recognises that Che’s ideas have not been fully applied in Cuba since his departure and death, but neither have they been simply abandoned. Rather, she argues, the country’s subsequent history ‘can be portrayed as a pendulum swinging between what is desirable and what is necessary – with Guevara’s ideas being associated with the vitality of the Revolution’. She also correctly draws attention to the importance of the new relationship with Venezuela and the ALBA, in which international exchanges take place on a non-commodity basis. She quotes favourable comments by Hugo Chavez on Che’s ideas and the adoption by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela of ‘the strategic objective of neutralising the operation of the law of value’.

What this book has achieved, then, is to demonstrate that Guevara’s greatness lies at least as much in his contribution to socialist thought as in his heroic example as a guerrilla leader. This does not mean, of course, that his ideas should be accepted uncritically; indeed that would itself be totally un-Guevarist. In the humble opinion of this reviewer, two questions immediately arise. First, if the BFS is a desirable mechanism for avoiding the operation of the law of value at enterprise level, does it not create an enormous danger of bureaucratic centralism stifling workers’ democracy and initiative? And secondly, while it may be desirable to view the entire economy of a social-ist country as one single enterprise owned collectively by the working people as a whole, does this not pose a serious problem of the potential disparity between ideal and real possession of the means of production: ie workers may well feel that they are the owners of their particular workplace, but do they really feel – and do the objective conditions exist for them to function as – owners of the entire economy?

One thing is certain: for anyone engaged in the struggle for a better world, the thought of Che Guevara is a fundamental point of departure, and this book is an essential work of reference.

Diana Raby is a research fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Liverpool, a National Council member of the Respect Party and author of Democracy and revolution: Latin America and socialism today, Pluto Press 2006


The State We're In: The political economy of the new middle class

FRFI 124 April / May 1995

'The starting point of the English revolution...the nearest we will get to a Keynes for our time', said Labour MP Denis Macshane in the New Statesman and Society, 'Heady, dangerous stuff...provides powerful ammunition for Labour spokesmen with no new ideas of their own' warned the Daily Telegraph, a 'ferocious polemic...too bleak to please or persuade' cautioned the London Evening Standard. All are speaking of The State We're In* by the Guardian's economic editor Will Hutton.


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KARL MARX 1818-1883

Before all else a revolutionary

The millennium is possibly the emptiest of bourgeois celebrations. It marks the supposed anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, but the ruling class is unsure how to mark the occasion: millennium domes, fireworks, ferris wheels – all the trash of the theme park. The bourgeois media have trailed the last thousand years in search of the greatest this or that with little meaning or purpose. In a society where the highest ideal is to make more profits, the bourgeoisie sees the millennium as another money-making opportunity while the vast majority of humankind has little to celebrate. As communists, we mark the new century and the new millennium with a tribute to Karl Marx whose work, alongside Frederick Engels, gave hope that society can be changed to meet the needs all humanity. Such a change would really give all of us cause for celebration.

Marx described communism as a 'spectre' haunting the bourgeoisie. That spectre is still haunting, and even 117 years after his death, the ruling class would like to trivialise Marx's life and thought. Below we review their latest attempt, a 'biography', and offer our readers a selection of ideas which express the Marxist purpose.


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New imperialism – old opportunism

Socialist Register 2005
The Empire Reloaded
Edited by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, Merlin Press 2004 £14.95.

‘Let us rebel against poisonous academics and their preposterous claptrap of exclusion’
Robert Fisk The Independent
14 May 2005

Imperialism has re-emerged in the common vocabulary of the left and progressive movement since the US-British war on Iraq. However there is a great deal of confusion over what the term means. The academic editors of Socialist Register set about addressing this in a series of articles, which extend over two issues of Socialist Register. The New Imperial Challenge (NIC) in Socialist Register 2004 deals with the overall nature of what the editors call the ‘new imperial’ order and The Empire Reloaded (ER) in Socialist Register 2005 offers an analysis of finance, culture and how the new imperialism is penetrating major regions of the world. What characterises both volumes is a rejection of classical theories of imperialism, with the articles by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, academics at York University, Canada, creating the ideological framework for the analysis.


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The Age of Anxiety / FRFI 143 Jun / Jul 1998

FRFI 143 June / July 1998

Insecurity has been a permanent feature in the lives of the vast majority of working class people throughout the history of capitalism. This also has been true, outside the exceptional three decades of the post-1945 boom, for large sections of the working class in the rich western imperialist countries. So when two Guardian economic journalists write a book on the 'deep-rooted insecurity affecting our lives in an age of untrammelled finance', their primary concern is not with the working class. The Age of Insecurity1 gives political expression to the anxiety of growing numbers of the commercial and professional middle class threatened with proletarianisation by the neo-liberal policies of Blair's Labour government. David Yaffe examines yet another attempt to forge a political economy of the new middle class.


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Review: Memoirs of an opportunist

I’m not the only one, George Galloway, £10, Penguin Books 2004, 184pp

George Galloway has played a leading role in the anti-war movement and more recently in the Respect coalition. What strikes one in reading his book are the frequent expressions of shallow opportunism: the legacy of a career spent covering up for Labour. If the reader expects a coherent anti-imperialist statement, he or she will be disappointed.

Of course there are sections which have a certain strength, as when he describes the effect of sanctions on Iraq. Yet he does not mention that many of his current allies such as Tony Benn and CND supported these sanctions in 1990 in the lead up to the first Gulf War. Later he speaks of his admiration for Fidel Castro and the gains of the Cuban Revolution. But for many years he remained a member of the Labour Party which has always been a determined opponent of revolution. And now his principle ally in Respect, the SWP, is virulently hostile to both Cuban socialism and Fidel Castro. On the one hand an alliance with progress, on the other an alliance with reaction.


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The condition of the working class in the United States

An organizational split in the trade union movement; a brutal, predatory, imperialist war; a massive and systematic assault on civil rights; the largest mass mobilization of workers ever on a directly political issue; a steady erosion of abortion availability; a vicious onslaught on workers’ rights and conditions; and, underneath it all, deepening economic contradictions – these developments beg, demand, nay scream for an anti-imperialist analysis of the condition of the working class in the US and the way forward for it. So, when Monthly Review (MR)1, the influential US socialist magazine, devotes its July-August 2006 issue to ‘Aspects of Class in the United States’,2 we are entitled to expect some insights. After all, as editor John Bellamy Foster writes: ‘By focusing on class and class struggle our underlying purpose is clear: not simply to interpret the world but to change it.’


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War & Revolution: a review of the 20th century

A century of war and revolution passes. Sacrifice on a scale unimaginable at the start of the twentieth century has failed to deliver the planet from capitalism. Valuable experiences have been achieved with lessons for the century to come. Socialism has raised its banner, only to have it torn down. For as long as capitalism exists it will deny the achievements of socialism in the twentieth century, but they will haunt it, until finally capitalism is surpassed by socialism. TREVOR RAYNE examines the lessons of 100 years of struggle.

The dazzling scientific advances marking the nineteenth century continued into the twentieth century. This terrific resource and creativity has produced a century exceeding all others in wars – 250 – and war dead: over 110 million – six times as many as killed in wars in the preceding century. Human productivity has accelerated beyond anything recognisable in earlier epochs. In 1900 world gross domestic product stood at $1 trillion; today it is approximately $40 trillion (at 1990 $ prices). In the first 50 years output quadrupled, in the last 50 years it has grown tenfold. Amidst this vast production of wealth, 80 countries – almost half the countries of the world – are getting poorer. One billion of the planet's six billion people cannot meet their daily needs to survive; one in five have to live on less than a dollar (62 pence) a day. Half the world lives on less than $2 a day. In 1820 people in Britain had six times the income per head that people in Ethiopia have today. Almost 200 years ago, before most of the great benefits of empire and industrial revolution, British people's incomes exceeded the incomes of one third of the world's countries today. To talk of progress, of development for much of humanity in this century is a lie.


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Review: The Holocaust Industry: the exploitation of Jewish suffering

Noman Finkelstein has recently given a powerful interview attacking the Labour Party 'apparatchiks' exploiting the Holocaust to attack solidarity with Palestine and to secure their own positions. This has been an important intervention in the Zionist witch-hunt which has been launched in the Labour Party with accusations of 'anti-semitism' against anyone who has openly challenged Zionism. The full interview can be read here: . Below we republish a review of Finkelstein's important 2000 book, The Holocaust industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering, which appeared in FRFI 157. (May 2016).

Norman G Finkelstein

The Holocaust industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering
Norman G Finkelstein, Verso, 2000, £16 (HB), 150pp

In his tightly-argued book, The Holocaust Industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering, Norman G Finkelstein makes three points: the true horror of the Nazi holocaust is lost in the inflation of the numbers of those who survived and the refusal to acknowledge non-Jewish victims; the compensation industry for the victims has been used to justify uncritical support for the state of Israel; huge sums of money remain in US banks under the control of wealthy and powerful Jewish groups. 

Aficionados of detective fiction everywhere learn early that it is often the most obvious things which are the hardest to see. Finkelstein draws our attention to one such fact: at the end of World War II all authorities agreed that no more than 100,000 Jews had survived the concentration camps. Fifty years later, given average mortality rates, the number still alive would be around 25,000. Yet, according to those mounting claims for compensation, the number is said to be nearer one million. These survivors have not merely survived, they have gone forth and multiplied. They have achieved, it would appear, immortality. 

The reasons for this are simply our old friends cash and carry. The more survivors, the more money that can be extorted on their behalf from anyone and everyone deemed 'guilty' by the self-appointed bodies running the compensation business which Finkelstein calls The Holocaust Industry. This industry has created a fiction called The Holocaust which is quite distinct from the historical event which is the Nazi holocaust. 

This capitalised Holocaust - and that pun is intentional - is the creation not of National Socialism but of the Jewish lobby in the United States. It tells us a great deal about the USA and nothing at all about what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Here is a terrifying insight into the darkest heart of the capitalist adventure known as the American dream. It shows us how well-to-do, successful and highly integrated and compliant Jewish elites came to realise how they could make financial and moral capital out of the past sufferings of poor, European Jews. and that these victims were not the embarrassing losers they appeared to be. 


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Republican voices: ‘Was it all worth it?’

FRFI 164 December 2001 / January 2002

Republican Voices edited by Kevin Bean and Mark Hayes, Seesyu Press 2001, 142 pp. Available from Republican Voices, PO Box 31, Belfast BT 12 7EE. £5 or I£7.50 (plus £2 p&p)

‘Was it all worth it? When we bring about the removal of the British and a democratic socialist thirty-two county Republic, when the wealth of this country is handed back to the people, when there is justice, freedom and equality – then I’ll say it was worth it’ Brendan Hughes

The political context in Ireland has changed since this short book was published in August 2001. The most recent phase of resistance to British imperialist rule in Ireland is over for now but Republican Voices

The major strength of this book is that it records, in a very readable format, the views of working class men who joined the fight against British rule. The book consists of a series of interviews with six Republicans who were directly involved in the struggle. These men received their political education on the streets and, above all, in the gaols. ‘You were politicised as a Republican every three or four weeks when the Brits would come to your house and beat the shite out of you’, says Tommy Gorman.


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Review: Stupid White Men

FRFI 167 June / July 2002

Stupid White Men, Michael Moore, Regan Books, 2001, £12.99

Written before 11 September, this book was not allowed on sale until early 2002 and immediately became a bestseller in the USA. Michael Moore, author of Downsize This! and co-author of Adventure in a TV Nation is also a producer who directed Roger and Me, about the devastating unemployment in his home town of Flint and TV Nation, a television series that has been shown on British TV late at night. Moore is hitting the headlines just now at the Cannes Film Festival with a documentary film Bowling for Columbine which examines North America’s obsession with firearms starting with the Columbine high school massacre.


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Cuban Revolution: the urban underground

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the urban underground
Julia E Sweig, Harvard University Press 2002, £20.50

Julia Sweig’s book, the result of eight years of research with access to newly declassified documents, exposes the myth that the Cuban revolution was imposed by a dozen middle-class, bearded rebels in the mountains, and challenges three pieces of conventional wisdom: 1) that there was a rivalry between the rural Sierra wing of the revolutionary Movement of 26 July (M267), and the urban Llano wing, 2) that 1959 was the most important year of the Cuban revolution and 3) that the initiative for the disastrous general strike in April 1958 came from Fidel Castro, in order to destroy the Llano and take control of the M267.


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A world to save

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

World Rescue, Nares Craig, Housman Bookshop Publications 2002, 52pp, £1.50

This small and affordable pamphlet aims to become an easy source of reference for those who have taken it upon themselves to put the dire state of our planet at the top of their agenda.

Having lost all faith in the governments of today, Craig cites what appears as almost their desire for the destruction and desertification of developing countries through the use of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its tried and tested plan for destroying the infrastructure of many countries and forcing them to rely on expensive exports that are of no great use to them.

He also mentions the US government’s role in being the most prolific producer of emissions of carbon dioxide gas, the main reason behind the crisis of global warming. And, perhaps more disappointingly, the consistent rejection of all environmental treaties, most notably the Kyoto Agreement.


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The anarchist school of falsification

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

Libertarian anti-militarism, then and now, edited by Anna Key. Published by No War but the Class War

This collection of articles, dating from 1896 to 2002, covers the usual anarchist nonsense on the state and some rabid anti-communism. Ms Key even reproduces an article from the Makhnovists’ paper The Road to Freedom, which calls on Red Army soldiers to desert. The Makhnovists were a peasant-based military force, led by the anarchist Nestor Makhno, who during the Russian Civil War (1918-21) joined with counter-revolutionary White and imperialist armies against socialist Russia. This band of brigands also carried out pogroms against Jewish communities in the Ukraine.

In an article entitled ‘Against war and capitalism’ they deny the existence of imperialism. They should try to explain that to the starving masses in Africa or Asia, or war-ravaged Iraq, or blockaded Cuba. The writer of this article – which is dated 2002 and unsigned – claims that anti-imperialists supported the Taliban. This is a lie! The truth is that it was anarchists, with Tony Benn, the Trotskyist SWP, the CIA and the British bourgeoisie, who celebrated the defeat of the progressive government in Afghanistan by the Mujahideen. It was this defeat which paved the way for the murderous, misogynist rule of the Taliban.


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George Orwell and the limits of individualism

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

George Orwell (1903-1950) is celebrated on the centenary of his birth as the author of two novels that achieved iconic status and sold a million copies each in ten years: the revolution betrayed in Animal Farm (1945) and Big Brother totalitarianism in 1984 (1948). But his real significance is as the most powerful creator of the myth of English socialism – or rather, the English socialist. He has come to represent the ideal socialist – essentially patriotic and aloof from compromise and commitment, except to his own conscience and moral standards. Indeed, much of Orwell’s writing, outside of the two commercially successful novels, is about his own personal integrity. His emphasis on personal and political independence attracts the left-leaning middle class who were largely deprived of influence in British universities during the 18 years of Thatcherite reaction but today have a place in the left-of-centre media.


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Marianas in combat

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

Tete Puebla and the Mariana Grajales Women’s Platoon in Cuba’s Revolutionary War 1956-58, edited by Mary-Alice Waters, Pathfinder 2003, £9

This lengthy interview with Tete Puebla, now a brigadier general in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, highlights the struggle of Cuban women before the revolution and provides a powerful insight into how they won the right to take part in combat and play a major role in Cuba’s revolutionary war.


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Denying the imperialist reality - Brothers under the skin - A history of Zionist brutality

Socialist Register 2004 – the new imperial challenge, available from Merlin Press, £14.95, 280pp.

Most of the British left have been denying the existence of imperialism for years, so we welcome any opportunity to further a Marxist understanding of imperialism, not just for ideological clarity, but to focus the actions of the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements. Socialist Register 2004 is made up of 13 essays, written by academics. The first essay by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin claims: ‘The left needs a new theorisation of imperialism, one that will transcend the limitations of the old Marxist “stagist” theory of inter-imperial rivalry, and allow for a full appreciation of the historical factors that have led to the formation of a unique American informal empire.’ This ‘new theorisation’ consistently either ignores or denigrates Lenin’s contribution to Marxism and understanding of imperialism. Consequently these essays overlook and deny the reality of inter-imperialist rivalry centred on the US, Europe and Japan. There is no mention of a labour aristocracy, generated by and tied to imperialism, that must be fought and overcome if imperialism is to be challenged. Nor is there any call for solidarity between socialists in the oppressor nations and all those fighting imperialism in the oppressed nations. Gone are the prospect and reality of revolution.


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