Ian Birchall

Tony Cliff remembered

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

Ten years ago this month Tony Cliff died. Cliff was a founder of the Socialist Workers Party, and, Ian Birchall explains, made a huge contribution to the left in Britain and around the world

Ten years ago this month I was telephoned late one Sunday night to be told that Tony Cliff was dead. I knew he was 82 years old and had recently had a major heart operation. Yet I was devastated to realise that after nearly 40 years I would never again hear Cliff's judgements on events - judgements I had sometimes disagreed with, but which I had always respected as being based on a remarkable political understanding.

The Frock-Coated Communist

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

Tristram Hunt, Allen Lane; £25

Anything that encourages greater interest in the founders of Marxism can't be all bad, and this well researched biography of Frederick Engels is certainly not bad. Tristram Hunt is a Bright Young Thing, successful academic and Guardian contributor, and his book will be widely promoted and discussed. As he points out, Engels' critique of capitalism has acquired new relevance with the current crisis.

U is for united front

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

In 1919 the Communist International was born. Throughout Europe and beyond new Communist Parties were founded, generally by splits in mass reformist parties. As anyone who has been through a split knows, the process left behind enormous political and personal bitterness. Yet within a couple of years the Communist International was urging its members to form united fronts with the reformist parties.

Many Communists were confused. Why should they unite with those they had so recently denounced as traitors? The reason was simple. The revolutionary wave had subsided, and the employers were on the offensive, trying to restore their profit levels. A defensive strategy meant the involvement of the broadest possible movement. As the Comintern's manifesto of January 1922 put it, "No worker, whether communist or social-democratic or syndicalist, or even a member of the Christian or liberal trade unions, wants his wages further reduced. None wants to work longer hours.

The Baader Meinhof Complex

Issue section: 
Author: 

Director: Uli Edel; Release date: 14 November

This film opens with an innocent man being murdered by vicious thugs - the killing of student Benno Ohnesorg by West Berlin police for having the temerity to demonstrate against the Shah of Iran. We then see newsreel footage from Vietnam and the attempted murder of student leader Rudi Dutschke by a right wing fanatic incited by the gutter press.

Algeria: torture last time

Issue section: 
Author: 

When Algerian journalist Henri Alleg published his account of being tortured at the hands of the French colonial regime it became an instant bestseller. Ian Birchall tells us why the book is still as relevant today as it was 50 years ago during the Algerian War of Independence.

More than 50 years ago France was fighting a vicious colonial war in Algeria. The enemy were so-called "terrorists", North African Muslims who wanted national independence. Many episodes from that war have striking parallels with the world today.

Henri Alleg was editor of Alger Républicain, the only daily newspaper in Algeria to oppose the French colonial regime, and a member of the Algerian Communist Party. In 1955 Alger Républicain was banned and the following year it was decided to intern most of its contributors. Alleg went into hiding.

Get the picture

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

It's always been the tradition of SWP publications that they write seriously about serious topics without using the pretentious jargon with which academic Marxists often cover up the fact that they have nothing to say.

So I was a bit perturbed to find a review (Culture, Socialist Review, December 2007) which refers to "Francis Ford Coppola's latest filmic endeavour". As far as I can see this means "movie" - no more, no less.

Do Socialist Review contributors really say, "I'm going to the filmic endeavours this evening"?

Ian Birchall
Enfield

Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism

Issue section: 
Author: 

Eric Hobsbawm, Little, Brown, £17.99

There can be few consolations for being 90 years old, but a long-term perspective on history is one of them. In this collection of articles and lectures from the last decade Eric Hobsbawm rounds off his splendid (though sometimes flawed) histories of the 19th and 20th centuries with a look at the factors that will shape the 21st.

Growing Up Left

Issue section: 
Author: 

Review of 'The Lost World Of British Communism', Raphael Samuel, Verso £19.99

This book, consisting of three articles from New Left Review in the mid-1980s, is a curious hybrid. It is partly a polemic about the deep crisis then tearing the Communist Party (CP) to pieces, partly a fragment of autobiography by the child of a dedicated Communist mother, and partly a study of the sociology and culture of British Communism.

As Samuel shows, men and women committed to a high level of political activism find that it shapes their whole life - the party defines their friendships, their family, and above all their activity in the workplace.

Neverending Resistance

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

Ian Birchall celebrates 300 issues of Socialist Review.

In 1978 Tom Robinson recorded a song called 'The Winter of '79'. In it he imagined someone from an unspecified future (perhaps 2005) looking back on the late 1970s. After recalling that 'A pint of beer was still ten bob [50p]' he described how:

'The National Front was getting awful strong
They done in Dave and Dagenham Ron
In the winter of '79
When all the gay geezers got put inside
And coloured kids was getting crucified
A few fought back and a few folks died
In the winter of '79.'

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Ian Birchall