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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