Ian Birchall

Well Meaning but Misguided

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Review of 'The Terror', David Andress, Little, Brown £20.00

From the learned disquisitions of François Furet to Carry On Don't Lose Your Head, the French revolutionary Terror of the 1790s is a familiar theme, usually with the attached warning, 'Try to make a revolution and this is what you get.'

So anything that helps to understand these events is valuable. David Andress's new book is of some help, but unfortunately not an awful lot. It is thorough and well researched, but alongside useful information contains many trivial anecdotes.

Blast from the Past

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Review of 'Life of an Anarchist', editor Gene Fellner, Seven Stories Press, £10.99

As Howard Zinn points out in his brief introduction to this volume, Alexander Berkman is one of the 'lost heroes of American radicalism'. The history of the US is a history of brutal class rule and imperialism, but also the history of those who fought back.

Democracy: Revolution Alone Can Save the Earth

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Paul Foot's final book The Vote: How It was Won and How It was Undermined is a splendid piece of historical writing, says Ian Birchall.

Paul Foot's death last year was a terrible personal loss to all who knew him. But as the months have gone by the extent of our political loss has become clear. We have watched the charade of the US presidential election, Labour's assault on civil liberties and the attempt to foist 'democracy' on Iraq by force of arms. How we needed Paul's majestic contempt for the rich, the powerful and the stupid (often the same people), and his unquenchable enthusiasm for the victims of oppression and injustice.

No Smoking Provokes Ire

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Having parked himself in a place previously occupied by a disabled person, Andrew Stone ('The Drag Factor', December SR) proceeds to use the back page to demand special lanes on the pavement for 'slow pedestrians'.

Just as most victims of smoking are working class, so most 'slow pedestrians' are sick, disabled or, above all, just old. Perhaps Andrew knows the poem by Enoch Powell that starts 'I hate the old, the sick, the lame' (or something like that; I don't keep Powell's verse to hand). Powell was minister of health when he wrote it.

If Andrew blamed blacks, gays, Muslims, women or Jews for clogging up the pavements, his career as a columnist would be limited. But ageism is the last resort of the bigot.

Path of Greatest Resistance

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Bush and Blair's denunciation of Iraqi insurgents as 'criminals' and 'terrorists' recalls the experience of the French Resistance and the Algerian war of independence.

There is nothing new about the situation in Iraq. Ever since imperial powers have imposed their rule on other peoples, there has been resistance. And since the occupying powers have superior weapons, those fighting back use unconventional methods, breaking the rules that their oppressors would like to force on them. This meant guerrilla fighting of some sort. Already in the 1840s a British military commander in India moaned that rebels were 'cruel bloodthirsty cowards' who hid and ran rather than give the British 'a little honest fighting'.

Death of a Party

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Review of 'Endgames and New Times', Geoff Andrews, Lawrence & Wishart £15.99

This is the final book in Lawrence & Wishart's six-volume history of the Communist Party. It has been a long time coming. The first volume, commissioned in the aftermath of the 1956 events, appeared in 1968. Written by James Klugmann, it was a work of considerable dishonesty, aiming at preserving the party's honour against all comers. Now the party is long dead, so Andrews can write much more freely. Sadly he has not done the job very well.

All Along the Watchtower

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Review of "The Prophet Armed", "The Prophet Unarmed" and "The Prophet Outcast", Isaac Deutscher, Verso £15 each

In my first term as a student I attended a Labour Club meeting about the 1958 South Bank building workers' strike. The right wing argued that we shouldn't support the strike as it was led by 'Trotskyists' (sound familiar?). I was bewildered, and next day went to the library and took out the first volume of Deutscher's Trotsky biography. I shall always be grateful to Deutscher for introducing me to one of the great revolutionaries of the 20th century.

Chile 1973: The Other 11 September

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Thirty years ago the left wing government of Chile was drowned in blood. Ian Birchall tries to draw lessons from the tragedy.

On 11 September we shall be urged to remember the dead of the World Trade Centre in 2001. Many socialists will also remember another massacre, the Chilean coup of 1973. The important thing is not to mourn, but to learn. The best tribute we can pay to those who died is to draw the lessons from the mistakes they paid for so dearly.

Workers to Rule

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Graeme Kemp and Alan Woodward (May SR) are quite right that my short piece on workers' democracy (April SR) left many questions unresolved.

Hopefully there will be further discussion of this central question at Marxism 2003 and in the SWP press. For those who want to go further, I recommend 'The Western Soviets' by Donny Gluckstein, and 'Revolutionary Rehearsals', edited by Colin Barker.

Three brief points for further discussion:

(1) There is no guarantee *in advance* that any future revolution will not be bureaucratised. We shall need permanent vigilance and constant efforts to spread democratic involvement.

People Power

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Workers' power is far more democratic than parliament.

When I went to live in Tottenham in 1964, I was surprised to learn that local people had elected a Tory MP. Walking through the relentlessly working class streets, I could not understand how the people had elected a Tory. Then I discovered that they hadn't. A left wing Labour MP elected in 1959 had 'changed his mind' in 1960 and crossed to the other side. The voters of Tottenham could do nothing until the next general election. This illustrates one of the great defects of parliamentary democracy.

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