Patrick Ward

Obituary: Iain Banks

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Patrick Ward, who interviewed author Iain Banks for Socialist Review in 2008, looks at his life and work

Iain Banks, who died last month at the age of 59, was a towering figure in both mainstream and science fiction. His 27-book legacy provides a mixture of both genres (occasionally within one book) and is run through with a ribbon of hope for a better world.

The Spirit of '45

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There are more than a few awkward moments in the official accounts of Britain's glorious history. For example, we have always loved our royal family - but we were also the first country in Europe to embrace the act of regicide, in 1649. And our empire was a force for peace and civilisation in the world, for which our subjects were eternally thankful - until they ungratefully rose up and turfed us out.

Another of these awkward moments was when beloved wartime leader Winston Churchill was defeated resoundingly in the 1945 general election, which took place just months after the end of the barbarism of the Second World War.

So why did voters flock to the polls in such huge numbers to evict History's Greatest Briton from Downing Street? Hadn't he just won a war for them?

Joe Bageant (1946-2011) Redneck revolutionary

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It was difficult not to take an instant liking to Joe Bageant.

Soon after Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential elections, Socialist Review called him up for his opinion on the matter: "I always say that if Obama was delivered to the White House with Jesus Christ, a five-piece band and six gilded seraphims holding up his fucking balls he still won't be able to do anything because the country's broke and Congress is bought and sold."

It was with that one long, angry sentence, I became an admirer of this "redneck revolutionary".

Jailhouse rock

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Security contractor G4S has released a charity song to show that there's a softer side to it than just providing armed guards to Western oil firms in Iraq and electronically tagging prisoners.

Last year G4S carried out the botched forced deportation of Angolan Jimmy Mubenga, who was heard to scream, "Don't do this" and "They are trying to kill me", as he was restrained by three G4S guards. He then lost consciousness and died.

Is this the spirit in which the song, named "Securing Your World", was written?

Aristocrap: the royal wedding

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With the impending wedding of well-known aristocrats William Windsor and Catherine Middleton, it's a shame that other events took priority in this month's Socialist Review.

Thankfully, the more patriotic end of the media spectrum is keeping the nation informed with all the important developments - such as the Daily Telegraph headline last month: "Kate Middleton tosses pancake in Northern Ireland".

Weddings are expensive, so some people are tempted to cash in on the big day - people like Middleton's family.

Eric Hobsbawm: half Marx

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Eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm's latest book champions Karl Marx as capitalism's great critic, but he argues that Marx's alternative to the system has failed. Patrick Ward looks at why it is wrong to abandon Marxism as a project for transforming the world


The financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2008 has a fed a renewed interest in the ideas of Karl Marx. The latest book from respected Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World, is a welcome addition to this resurgence.

City sleazers

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It isn't just London's estate agents who are popping champagne corks this month.

"People are feeling better about life... City folk are getting their bonuses again, we see a lot bankers in here these days". So said the head of the Spearmint Rhino chain of strip clubs in Britain, John Specht, last month. "We took just shy of £500,000 in January, traditionally a quiet month, around double what we generated at the same time in 2009."

Morally Bankrupt

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The "talented" Chris Huhne has made it clear he's no enemy of rich bankers.

"I am not against - whether they are footballers or bankers - people who have particularly high skills or talents, being paid whatever you can get in the marketplace," said Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Huhne last month. Huhne should know, having used his (presumably) high skills and talents to make his estimated £3.5 million fortune in the City before joining the commoners in parliament.

No wretched apology from Tony Blair

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From one whitewash to another. The Iraq Inquiry heard more evidence from Tony Blair.

The Wikileaks cables have already told us that Britain reduced the scale and scope of the inquiry so as not to embarrass the US. We now know that Blair privately told George W Bush that he could "count on us" for support for the invasion, and that Britain should be "gung-ho" about doing so.

He then expressed some sort of regret for the small fact that the invasion and occupation left over a million dead, but qualified this by saying that Britain should abandon its "wretched policy of apology" over the war.

A law unto themselves

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Israel's attack on the Gaza-bound aid ships in international waters which left nine activists dead last May was perfectly legal - according to Israel.

This is the result of an Israel-commissioned inquiry into the attack, which concluded, "Overall, the Israeli Defence Force personnel acted professionally in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence."

Hardly far-reaching, you might think - but you'd be wrong. The inquiry also found time to rule that Israel's siege of Gaza is legal under international law.

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