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 Apr / May 1995

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 / FRFI 152 Dec 1999 / Jan 2000

FRFI 152 December 1999 / January 2000

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.

The first short biography of Karl Marx could be said to have been produced by his great friend and collaborator Frederick Engels on 17 March 1883 in a speech heard by the ten other people gathered together in Highgate Cemetery for Marx's funeral. It offers very clear guidelines to those who would take it upon themselves to write future biographies. Marx, said Engels, was before all else a revolutionary:

'His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival.' So the appearance of yet another biography of Karl Marx, this time by Guardian columnist Francis Wheen1 claiming that 'it is time to strip away the mythology and rediscover Karl Marx the man' (p1), should put us on our guard. For Marx the man cannot be separated from his real mission in life and the dedication and commitment that invariably accompanied it.

Faint praise

A biography like any other 'commodity' has to have a market niche. Another tabloid-style denunciation of the man and his works would have little mileage. Neither would a revolutionary vindication of Marx. Wheen knows his punters -- he writes weekly for them in The Guardian. They reject Thatcherism and a Labour Party gone Thatcherite. They are disturbed by untrammelled market forces, corporate domination, financial speculation and increasing stress and insecurity at work. They are alarmed by environmental destruction and Third World poverty but want well-stocked supermarkets supplied by global markets. They want to see change but not revolutionary change. Wheen's Karl Marx is the man for the job.

Wheen tells us that the more he studied Marx, the more topical he seemed to be. Marx was already on to globalisation in 1848. Long after Marx had been written off by fashionable liberals and post-modernist leftists, a wealthy investment banker, writing in the New Yorker in October 1997, considered Marx to be 'the next big thinker' with much to teach us about political corruption, monopolisation, alienation, inequality and global markets (pp4-5).

The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Wheen argues, reveal the 'workings of a ceaselessly inquisitive, subtle and undogmatic mind'. They demonstrate how alienation and poverty, growing concentration of capital, intense competition and overproduction are ever present features of capitalist society even under favourable conditions of growing wealth (pp68-70). The Communist Manifesto (1848) foresaw globalisation. Wheen quotes liberally from the well-known passages: The bourgeoisie 'has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade'. The exploitation of the world market has given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones (pp120-122). None of Wheen's points are original. They were all made during the many discussions of the Communist Manifesto on the 150th anniversary of its publication in 1998.

The Communist Manifesto was, however, written for the Communist League whose aim, adopted at its second congress, was 'the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of bourgeois society which rests on the antagonism of classes, and the foundation of a new society without classes and without private property (p118).' This, clearly, is far too radical for run-of-the-mill Guardian readers. And yet, it is all there in the Communist Manifesto. 'What the bourgeoisie, therefore produces, above all, is its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable' (p120). And not only there, but also in Marx's major scientific work on capitalist society, Capital, as an historical tendency of capitalist accumulation. 'The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production...Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.'2

Wheen is quick to reassure his readers. With the complacency that hindsight allows, he states that at the time of the Manifesto, what Marx took to be capitalism's death throes 'were in fact nothing more than birthpangs', even though, as Wheen acknowledges, revolution did break out within days of the Manifesto's publication across much of continental Europe. 'But it was doused just as quickly and bourgeois triumphalism began its long reign.' So not to worry dear readers! 'Marx's optimism was misplaced, even though his vision of the global market was uncannily prescient' (pp121-2).

Whimsical tomfoolery

So how could Marx be so wrong and yet so right? Here, Wheen is simply out of his depth and takes refuge in sophistry so reminiscent of his columns in The Guardian. He compares Marx's thinking to that of a chess player who, in working out how he will checkmate his opponent six moves ahead, fails to notice that his opponent can mate him far sooner. It requires the other player to make a mistake if Marx is to win. Propitiously, Marx had similar problems with actual games of chess. In support of his argument, Wheen conjures up a comrade of Marx, Wilhelm Liebknecht, who recalls that, in chess, Marx's technique was to try 'to make up what he lacked in science by zeal, impetuousness of attack and surprise' (no source given), a description, Wheen says, 'that might be applied to the Communist Manifesto' (p123).

But what of Capital? Can that be dismissed so shamelessly? Here Wheen simply threshes around like a drunk unexpectedly fallen into a swimming pool. 'More use-value and indeed profit can...be derived from Capital if it is read as a work of the imagination: A Victorian melodrama, or a vast Gothic novel whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created...; or perhaps a satirical utopia like Swift's land of Houyhnhnms...' (p305) He goes on to say that the absurdities in Capital while reflecting the madness of the subject, not the author, should be treated like a shaggy-dog story. The first chapter should be regarded as a 'picaresque odyssey through the realms of higher nonsense'. It reminds Wheen of the last lines of Marx's beloved Tristram Shandy:

'– L—d! said my mother, what is all this story about?
– A Cock and a Bull, said Yorick; – and one of the best of its kind ever heard.' (p307) It is not Capital which is full of 'abstruse explanations and whimsical tomfoolery' (p308) but this biography of Marx that has got out of its depth.

Wheen makes great play of the influence of Marx's extensive literary reading on his work. But like the nonsense above overplays his hand. The opening passages of the 18th Brumaire were taken, almost word for word, from a letter Engels wrote to Marx on 3 December 1851 and were not directly connected with a passage from Marx's 'humouristic novel' written under the spell of Tristram Shandy (p26). 'Estrangement' and 'alienation' of human labour in Marx's economic writings had roots in German romantic idealism and later Hegelian philosophy. Such literary parallels as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a monster which turns against its creator, were used by Marx in his letters and writings as a literary device to illuminate his point (p71). This has been noted, without the exaggeration and hyperbole of Wheen, in a serious work of scholarship, Karl Marx and World Literature by S S Prawer (1976), a book Wheen refers to only once and briefly.

...and the victory of the proletariat?

At the beginning of this biography, Wheen tells us how his many friends regarded him with pity and incredulity for wanting to write a biography of such an apparently discredited, outmoded and irrelevant figure as Karl Marx. Countless wiseacres, after all, had declared that we had reached the end of history and communism was as dead as Marx himself. They see the blood-curdling threat with which Marx concluded the Communist Manifesto as no more than a quaint historical relic: 'Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries unite!' And they add: 'The only fetters binding the working class today are mock-Rolex watches, but these latter day proletarians have much else they'd hate to lose – microwave ovens, holiday timeshares and satellite dishes. They have bought their council houses and their shares in privatised utilities; they made a nice little windfall when their building society turned into a bank. In short, we are all bourgeois now. Even the British Labour Party has turned Thatcherite.' (p4)

Despite all this, the steadfast Wheen carried on to write this biography, although he appears to share the disparaging view of the 'countless wiseacres' about the proletariat, at least in countries like this one. 'In the England of today toffs and workers alike buy their food from Tesco superstores and watch the National Lottery draw on Saturday nights' (p206). At the same time, towards the end of his book, he makes an intelligent defence of Marx's position on the 'progressive immiseration' of the proletariat in the chapter on the General Law of Capital Accumulation, pointing out that the pauperism referred to is not of the entire proletariat but the '"lowest sediment" of society – the unemployed, the ragged, the sick, the old, the widows and orphans.' These are the 'incidental expenses' which must be paid by the working population and the petty bourgeoisie. And, he asks, can anyone deny that such an underclass still exists? Likewise, he states, Marx was predicting a relative decline of wages when he wrote 'in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse' – a point self-evidently true. But, other than saying Marx's definition of poverty is as much spiritual as economic, this is all hanging in the air and in no way contributes to an understanding of the political role of the working class. (pp299-301)

Wheen tells us that even Marx's view of the English proletariat 'oscillated between reverence and scorn'. So Marx could laud the British workers' support for the North in the American Civil War and, after a Hyde Park demonstration in July 1866, rail against their moderation in a letter to Engels, arguing that only after a really bloody encounter with the ruling powers would 'these thick-headed John Bulls' get anywhere. Wheen cannot throw any further light on this. Ridiculously, he quotes the historian Keith Thomas who suggests that 'the preoccupation with gardening, like that with pets, fishing and other hobbies...helps to explain the relative lack of radical and political impulses among the British proletariat.' (p206) Yet the very writings and letters of Marx and Engels which Wheen cites hold the key to an understanding clearly beyond his grasp.

Marx and Engels' relations with the Chartist leader Ernest Jones deteriorated when Jones called a conference between the Chartists and bourgeois radicals to bring about political reform. Eventually they broke off relations with him when he failed to take their advice that such alliances would disorganise the Chartist movement and lead to its demise. Engels' letter to Marx on 7 October 1858 about Jones's action is quoted by Wheen, but he misses out a crucial section. Engels said that Jones's new move, together with other more or less successful attempts at such an alliance, is bound up with the fact that 'the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat as well as a bourgeoisie.' Wheen quotes this (p206) but then stops, missing the real significance of what comes next. Engels continues: 'For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable. The only thing that would help here would be a few thoroughly bad years, and since the gold discoveries these no longer seem so easy to come by.' [my emphasis] Here Engels associates opportunism, 'bourgeois infection' (p206) within the working class movement, with Britain's domination of the world market. He gives it a materialist foundation.

This significant point was developed by Marx and Engels in their later writings and the importance was particularly drawn out through their remarkable political work on Ireland in the First International, later the inspiration for Lenin's writings on imperialism.3 From this we can appreciate Marx's remarks at the Hague Congress of the First International (1872), which Wheen thinks were unproductive or even sectarian (p343). They concern the attempt by some English representatives to deny credentials to Maltman Barry on the grounds that he wasn't 'a recognised leader of English working men'. Marx replied that 'it does credit to Barry that he is not one of the so-called leaders of the English workers, since these men are more or less bribed by the bourgeoisie and the government.'4 This accusation has been substantiated (see Royden Harrison's Before the Socialists 1965). The possibility of bribing the upper strata of the English working class movement to take the side of the bourgeoisie and the government came from the profits from Britain's monopoly of the world market and the colonies. Engels' comments on the state of the organised working class movement, in a letter to Kautsky on 12 September 1882, make this clear:

'You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy. Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general: the same as the bourgeoisie think. There is no worker's party here, you see, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers gaily share the feast of England's monopoly of the world market and the colonies.' Marx and Engels' work on Ireland is totally left out of Wheen's discussion of the First International. Nor is there a considered discussion of British colonialism or any reference to imperialism. This is hardly surprising from a writer who recently took the side of imperialism in the war against Yugoslavia, supporting NATO's bombing of Serbia under a cloak of humanitarianism and writing an article in The Guardian 'Why we are right to bomb the Serbs' (7 April 1999).

Today we live in a world of imperialist domination, obscene inequality and threatened ecological disaster. It is a world where a small minority of humanity, mainly living in the western imperialist countries, wallow in extreme wealth, while the vast majority, including growing numbers of people within the wealthy imperialist countries themselves, are denied their basic needs. A new biography of Marx could only do justice to his life's achievement and work if it started from a commitment and determination to change this state of affairs. Building on Marx's own political thought and action, it would have to show how, and under what conditions, the working class will take up the political fight again to overthrow capitalism, a fight, as Engels stated at his funeral, that was Marx's mission in life.

Wheen could not write such a biography. He is too committed to a status quo which, in spite of its inequity, serves him and the class he represents rather well. As a consequence his biography has created a Marx without revolutionary significance.

David Yaffe
  1. Francis Wheen Karl Marx Fourth Estate London 1999. Page numbers in the text refer to this book unless otherwise stated.
  2. Capital Vol 1, Collected Works Vol 35 p750.
  3. See David Reed, 'Marx and Engels The Labour Aristocracy, Opportunism and The British Labour Movement' in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 27 March 1983 and David Reed Ireland, the key to the British revolution Larkin Publications 1984. For a discussion of the British Labour movement and imperialism see R Clough Labour: a party fit for imperialism Larkin Publications 1992.
  4. The Hague Congress of the First International (1872), Minutes and Documents, Lawrence and Wishart 1976 p124, p37 and p702.