Skip to Content

Book Reviews

Workers' Solidarity

The Unfinished Revolution: South Tyneside 1969-1976. Jack Grassby. TUPS Books, pp. 343, 1999.

The period around the mid-60s to mid-70s was seen by many then as a time of radical change. These were the days of "People Power", of world-wide grassroots political action involving students, trade unionists, claimant groups and all manner of single-issue fanatics. The era was typified by such events as the student protests in the France of 1968, the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movement in the USA and the UK miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974.

Set against this backdrop, Jack Grassby's book is an account of the intensity of grassroots political action from 1969 to 1976 on South Tyneside and in which the author played a key part. A cornucopia of reproduced pamphlets, documents and press reports from the region and period, the book is more a primary source for the political and social historian than any guessed-at academic account of a revolution that failed.

Chapter by chapter, the documents are carefully accompanied by a running commentary which gives a vivid detail of events and feel of the period.

Grassby makes no bold claim for his work and no remarkable political statement. As he sates in the preface, the book has an "objective manner" in which the "political/social significance is left largely to the reader".

Socialists have no objection to grassroots action—i.e. the struggles of claimant groups, students and trade unionists—so long as the struggle for socialism is not side-tracked by the campaigns for individual reforms, the futility of which this journal has been exposing for the best part of a century. And Grassby takes time out in an epilogue to remind us of the pitfall of reformism:

"Few of those involved in those events . . . would claim that their long-term objectives had been realised. Although some local campaigners can claim to have had a limited success—heating allowances for pensioners, social security benefits for students and strikers etc—their success was often transient and was overturned by subsequent government legislation. Even the miners' success was to prove ephemeral."

Grassby's book presents as a fascinating testament of what workers are capable of achieving if enough are prepared to join together in common cause, whilst at the same time standing as a stark reminder of the philosophy of settling for crumbs in a world of abundance. As the title suggests, the revolution is very much "unfinished".

The book is now on website: http://www.unfinishedrevolution.co.uk

JOHN BISSETT

 

Nationalisation

New Realism, New Barbarism. By Boris Kagarlitsky, Pluto Press, 1999.

Socialism has never existed, anywhere. However, Boris believes that socialism did exist in Eastern Europe but has now been replaced by capitalism, so we now have global capitalism. He is a senior research fellow in the Institute for Comparative Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Boris is no government stooge, however. He was a political prisoner under Brezhnev and is currently an adviser to the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia.

Following the collapse of the state capitalist dictatorships in Eastern Europe in 1989 and after, neo-liberal (Thatcherite) "New Realism" became global. The current global system, according to Boris, is a "New Barbarism" wherein the relatively few wealthy countries of the centre exploit the poorer countries of the periphery. Eastern Europe has now become part of the periphery, with debt dependency and declining living standards for many. In Russia the old nomenklatura (ruling class) has become the new capitalist class by converting its political power into money and property. However, the process of change has not been identical throughout Eastern Europe, ranging from civil war in Romania to a change of power witnessed by a largely passive population in Hungary. But the end result was more or less the same: an acceptance (even by the reformed Communist Parties) of market capitalism.

The technological revolution of the late twentieth century is developing according to the same logic as the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so Boris argues. The Internet in particular has important social consequences. The Internet is intrinsically socialist in that its success depends on the free flow of information and data within a non-hierarchical network. But its full development is fettered within global capitalist relations of production. The Internet can only really flourish when free and equal access is established.

Boris claims that unless a socialist alternative "challenges the system of global capital and its local political representatives, it has no chance to change anything." But his "socialist" alternative turns out to be the failed and discredited policies of "nationalisation and redistribution." This conclusion is just as mistaken as his belief that globalisation is a new phenomenon. Globalisation is just another word for capitalism.

LEW

 

Socialism or Zombyism?

Two Hundred Pharaohs, Five Billion Slaves . . . Manifesto. Available from Box 100, 178 Whitechapel Road, London. E1 1BJ.

"In short the conditions already exist for us to build a world better than utopia." This is an inspiring statement for any contribution to revolutionary thought to kick off with, and this manifesto continues in similar style; analysing capitalism's current trends and the prospects for working class revolution and the achievement of the classless society we call world socialism. This is a thought-provoking publication, and one of scope and detail that a review of this length can't deal with satisfactorily.

The title refers to the situation we are now faced with: that of the subjection of humanity's billions to the class interests of a couple of hundred billionaires: the real bourgeoisie. The vast wealth and power of such a numerically tiny class has been accumulated through the process of turning the world population into an exploitable working class, eradicating the peasantry and locking us into the global factory of world capitalism. This class, as this manifesto points out, has waged war to proletarianise the world, making capitalist relations universal. In doing so though it has created its own gravediggers. That's us: the five billion plus, united by class position and interest, capable of abolishing class society and beginning the beautiful adventure that will be the future human society.

Though we in the Socialist Party would wish some debate on the means by which the working class majority can achieve a transformation of society, there is much here we can agree with. The need, for instance, for revolutionaries to organise openly and democratically, and in complete opposition to the "vanguards" of the Left, who are always on hand to protect and serve the capitalist system. Also, socialists will disagree with the view of "socialism" as some sort of utopian capitalist business strategy rather than a description of a classless society. Nevertheless this is a publication that socialists will find very interesting.

Of great insight, for example, is the analysis of capitalism's efforts to colonise every second of our lives, fully subsuming our "leisure" time as it has our working time:

Of great insight, for example, is the analysis of capitalism's efforts to colonise every second of our lives, fully subsuming our "leisure" time as it has our working time:

"A situation in which every waking moment of a worker's life is an uninterrupted experience of either factory labour (the regimented labour of the office, factory, retail unit or commercial hotel etc.) or intensified shopping."

Epitomising this process is the march of the Mega-Malls, which began with Canada's West Edmonton Mall in 1984, and now includes developments such as the MetroCentre, Bluewater etc. in Britain. The Mega-Mall, an "awesome neon cathedral" of retail and "leisure" is the environment in which we are meant to wander, controlled and spellbound. This it seems is capitalism's vision of the future in its "advanced" nations: a docile, profit producing working class who will revert to being Consumer Zombies when we are let out to play.

 

Shop 'til you drop

Shop 'til you drop

Which is all very reminiscent of George Romero's film Day of the Dead, where the Living Dead converge on The Mall, as it is the only thing they remember from their human existence. But we are not zombies; we are human beings and we need better than this. We can choose life. We can choose revolution.

BM

 

Post-Modernist Monsters

Crass Art and Other Pre Post-Modernist Monsters. By Gee Vaucher. (AK Press, Existencil Press, 1999). 104 pp.)

Gee Vaucher is the artist who worked with the inspirational anarchist music group Crass, producing the striking artwork that accompanied their sonic wake-up call. She also produced plenty of cracking stuff before and after Crass, and produced and illustrated an irregular publication called International Anthem.

As commented on in the foreword to this collection (referring to the title), Gee Vaucher is a pre- (or non-) "post-modernist" artist in that she visibly strives to present a beauty and a meaning in human existence. And, as with the searingly political musical assault of CRASS, her work also seeks to expose the horror of the global system we live under, and show that there is an alternative. Shoulder shrugging is not an option.

"She pulls us apart and puts us together in such a way as to shake us up and wake us up." This is a pretty good description of how Gee Vaucher's artwork works, and works so effectively. Her most overtly social-political stuff uses the method of creating collages—i.e. rearrangements of images from a wide variety of sources (usually from the mass media and advertising) to produce new and confrontational compositions. Anyone with a few Crass records at home will be familiar with this technique. Maybe it's so effective because it takes the images we are bombarded with every day of our lives (politicians, religious symbols, war, consumption), rips them up and makes them into something unfamiliar that is also a comment on the reality we can all recognise. In the words of Pablo Picasso (quoted by Gee Vaucher): "At its best, art is a lie that helps us realise the truth, at its worst, it is a confirmation of the lies that we inherit".

She also uses her great abilities to produce hyper-realistic paintings of her collages, and also combines the two. These works also have the effect of forcefully questioning life in the hideous circus of world capitalism. Her more personal work, often abstract, while less explicitly "political", is also very interesting in its exploration of human experience.

In short, this is surely what good art is all about. In the words of Crass: "Mickey Mouse fuck off".

BM