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: https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jamie-stern-weiner-norman-finkelstein/american-jewish-scholar-behind-labour-s-antisemitism-scanda . 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
 
9780674016125

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
www.merlinpress.co.uk, £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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Raising the temperature

Fahrenheit 9/11, Miramax 2004, directed by Michael Moore. On general release.

In May 2004, Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival – the first time since 1956 that a documentary has won the top prize. The Disney Corporation refused to distribute it in an election year in the US; worried that an anti-Bush film might endanger the tax breaks Disney receives for its theme parks in Florida where President Bush’s brother Jeb is governor.

When it opened in the US in June, despite playing in only 868 cinemas across the country, it took $21.8 million at the box offices in the first weekend, the best opening for a documentary and also the best for a Palme d’Or winner, beating Pulp Fiction which opened with $9.3 million in 1994.

 

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New threats, old imperialism

Wars of the 21st century: new threats, new fears by Ignacio Ramonet, 2004, available from Ocean Press at www.oceanbooks.com.au

Ignacio Ramonet, editor of the French paper Le Monde Diplomatique and president of the French NGO Action for a Tax on Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens (ATTAC), has written this compelling critique of the current global situation. He links together the main threats facing humanity – war, economic inequality, environmental destruction, unrestricted technological change (such as genetic cloning) and AIDS.

Ramonet sets the stage by reminding us of some unsettling facts, for example that ‘the 225 greatest fortunes in the world is equal to the earnings of the poorest 2.5bn people...that the total wealth of the 15 richest people in the world is greater than the GNP of all the sub-Saharan African countries.’ Ramonet’s ability to gather wide-ranging problems together in such short space without belittling them is excellent, but ultimately his book lacks a clear economic analysis and anti-imperialist understanding.

 

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Imperialism unmasked

Globalisation Unmasked, 2001, 183pp and System In Crisis, 2003, 260pp, both by James Petras & Henry Veltmeyer, Zed Books, £14.95

Globalisation Unmasked, written before 9/11, is a critique of the ideology of globalisation. The authors delve deeper than the rhetoric of ‘the global interdependence of nations’, ‘the global village’ and ‘accumulation on a world stage’ by examining the class forces and relations involved. Imperialism is a better term to use. ‘The concept of globalisation argues for the interdependence of nations, the shared nature of their economies, the mutuality of their interests and the shared benefits of their exchanges. Imperialism, in contrast, emphasizes the domination and exploitation by imperial states and multinational corporations.’

Globalisation ideology promotes the neo-liberal economic agenda throughout the world as a natural unfolding of the market, obscuring the reality imposed on the majority by a tiny minority for selfish benefit. Globalisation was imposed to combat the capitalist crisis, including an over-accumulation of capital with fewer opportunities for investment with acceptable rates of profit and an intensification of international competition. Imposed at the time of, ‘The breakdown of communism, the defeats of the revolutionary left and the subsequent decline in labour and social movements.’

 

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Motorcycle diaries of a revolutionary

The Motorcycle Diaries (15) (Walter Salles, 2004) On general release.

The Motorcycle Diaries is a collection of diary entries and letters written by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara while he travelled through South America for eight months with his friend Alberto Granado. When they set off from Buenos Aires in January 1952, Che was aged 23, a medical student close to graduation. Alberto was 29, working in a hospital in Cordoba, Argentina.

As well as recording their journey, Che’s diary gives an insight into his life, personality and his cultural background. Most importantly Che’s narrative shows ‘the extraordinary change which takes place in him as he discovers South America, gets right into its very heart and develops a growing sense of South American identity which makes him a precursor of the new history of America’. (Introduction to The Motorcycle Diaries, Verso, 1995)

The film of The Motorcycle Diaries is not a documentary but a story inspired by the Argentinians’ experiences. The pair travelled through Argentina, Chile and Peru, under the scorching sun and into freezing snows. They passed through Patagonia, crossing the Andes and the Atacama Desert, entering the Amazon Basin and finally reaching the San Pablo leper colony, near Iquitos in Peru, where they worked for three weeks.

 

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Health for sale

NHS plc: the Privatisation of Our Health Care, Allyson M Pollock, Verso 2004, 271 pages, £15.99.

Allyson Pollock, a public health doctor, is Professor of Health Policy and Health Services Research at University College London. Her book is a powerful and clear description of how a system of health care provision in Britain through the National Health Service (NHS) is being systematically destroyed. Initially, she argues, this occurred covertly through severe under-funding and now it continues overtly with the introduction of the internal market and private-public partnership – the complete abandonment of the NHS founding principles.

Nothing better sums up the state of the NHS today, she argues at the start of the book, than the people who run it. A significant proportion of the senior managers are people with no training or experience in public health or the principles of health care delivery – arts graduates, ex-army officers and people who want a change from private enterprise. There are virtually no doctors or nurses or public health specialists in these posts.

 

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Principles of black struggle in the US

• Revolutionary integration: A Marxist analysis of African American liberation, Richard Fraser and Tom Boot, with introduction by Guerry Hoddersen, Red Letter Press 2004, $17.95

The first half of this book, ‘Dialectics of Black Liberation’, written by Richard Fraser for the 1963 USA National convention of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) at a time of increasing black struggle, calls for ‘revolutionary integration’. The SWP refused a proper debate so in 1966 Fraser and others set up the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP).

The second half, ‘Revolutionary Integration: yesterday and today’ by Tom Boot, was adopted by the 1982 National Convention of the FSP. It reviews the black struggle and the left in the previous 17 years and confirms the correctness of the revolutionary integration principle.

 

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Gott’s Cuba: a pessimistic swansong

• Cuba: a new history by Richard Gott, Yale University Press 2004, £18.99

Gott’s new history of Cuba is painted on a broad canvas, encompassing 400-odd years of history in 325 pages, from Cuba’s pre-Columbian Indian settlements to the 21st century, taking in Spanish colonialism, British occupation, slave rebellions, piracy, US neocolonialism and the complex internecine political faction-fighting that ensued, as well as the Revolution and the following 45 years. This is a well-researched, erudite epic that is valuable for locating key events in Cuba’s history against an international political and economic background.

Nonetheless, the book is fundamentally flawed by Gott’s refusal to understand the dynamic of a socialist revolution or to explain any post-revolutionary developments in those terms. He sees Cuba’s proclamation of socialism as simply a necessary sop to the Soviet Union to ensure economic and political support; Castro’s famous ‘I am and always have been a Marxist-Leninist’ is dismissed as an opportunist move to ingratiate himself with Brezhnev.

 

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Anti-Apartheid a study in opportunism

Anti-Apartheid. A history of the movement in Britain. A study in pressure group politics.
Roger Fieldhouse. The Merlin Press,
ISBN 085036549X, 2005, 546pp, £20

Fieldhouse recounts: on 1 January 1960 a special Cabinet Committee chaired by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and attended by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (the Earl of Home), the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Ian Macleod), the President of the Board of Trade (Reginald Maudling), the Minister of Labour (Edward Heath), met to discuss the newly-formed British Boycott Movement which had declared its intention to build a consumer boycott of South African goods. Despite the fact that the Labour Party and TUC had publicly announced their support, the Tory government was reassured to hear from Heath that the TUC had privately told him that they had no intention of calling for industrial action. On this basis the Committee concluded that the campaign posed no real threat. The TUC’s assurance and a private word in Lord Home’s ear from one of the campaign’s founders led the government to tell the South Africans that the boycott was ‘no more than an irresponsible political manoeuvre’.

 

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‘We are all foreign scum’

• Bloody Foreigners – the story of immigration to Britain
Robert Winder; Little, Brown 2004,
ISBN 0-316-86135-9, £20

As the main parties in the British general election fine tune their racist policies in the battle for votes, we publish a review of a book which charts the history of immigration and immigrants in Britain showing that in an imperialist nation, the state’s immigration policies are necessarily racist.

The good news about this excellent book is that it is due to be published in paperback in June 2005 at a more affordable price. We recommend everyone to beg, borrow or steal a copy, for Winder’s book not only describes the sweep of British history from pre-Celtic times to modern day with humanity and fascinating detail, but he also arms the reader with the politics to stand firm against racism and xenophobia (hatred of foreigners).

 

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History from below

Down With The Fences, South London Radical History Group, 2005

Dotted across south London, as with many other places in Britain, is a network of parks, commons and woods, some mere patches hemmed in by houses, roads and railway lines, others extending over many square miles. This network is what remains of the great wilderness of uncultivated land which once covered huge swathes of the country, providing a valuable resource to the poor, affording grazing for livestock, a supply of firewood, a place to grow vegetables. Many people squatted on these commons. From the 16th century onward, however, landowners began enclosing the commons for intensive agriculture or building. As enclosure increased, so did resistance to it. Later, when the agricultural and industrial revolutions had forced hundreds of thousands into towns and cities, these commons came to provide a meeting place for the lower orders to talk politics, to agitate and to air their grievances. As conditions for the urban poor worsened and agitation grew, so there was another impetus towards the regulation of public space, into fenced off, well-ordered public parks.

 

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