Workers' Liberty #64


Quangos rule - UK

Ruling By Task Force: Politico's guide to Labour's new elite, by Tony Barker with Iain Byrne and Anjuli Veall. Politico's/Democratic Audit.

Reviewed by Matt Cooper.

In 1997-8 the New Labour Government set up no fewer than 295 'task forces' to review and propose official policy. They had 3,103 members. Of those just 2% were trade unionists. Thirty-five percent came from the managerial hierarchies of private industry. Of the rest, 12% were 'experts', mainly academics, 7% came from local government, 15% from consumer groups, 4% from professional bodies and 25% from the upper echelons of the public services. Groups like Tenants' Associations and Parent Teacher Associations were almost entirely unrepresented.

From the '40s to the '70s, not only Labour governments but also the Conservatives used bodies such as the National Economic Development Council to try to balance between capital and labour, or at least make a show of doing so. The Blairites consult only capital. This shift parallels the driving-out of the organised working class from policy formation in the Labour Party itself. The bourgeois-packed Task Forces are another lever for Blair to raise New Labour away from any fear of influence by the working class.

The process also raises questions of democratic accountability. The Nolan Rules require that appointments to permanent bodies - such as Quangos - now be advertised and that ministers be accountable to Parliament for who they appoint. Temporary bodies, which nearly all Task Forces are, are not covered. So ministers appoint who they want and are accountable to no-one for it. Power has been taken away from the representatives closest to the electorate, in the Commons and in local government, and handed to ministers and their unelected and unrepresentative big-business cronies. No task force meets in public.

Matt Cooper

History of the Cuban Trotskyists

The Hidden Pearl of the Caribbean, by Gary Tennant. Revolutionary History, Vol 7, No3 (2000).

Reviewed by Pablo Velasco.

Cuban Trotskyism had emerged from the Cuban Communist Party in the early '30s, first as an opposition group expelled from the party, and later as an independent party, the PBL, which included in its ranks some of the most widely respected militant workers in Cuba. At its peak in 1933, the organisation had perhaps 1,000 members. It was one of the largest groups of Trotsky's supporters in the world, and it had substantial influence in the labour movement.

The Cuban Trotskyists could have developed into a leadership capable of leading the workers to power. They were heavily repressed by the state and vilified by the Stalinists, but their central failure was in their politics - principally, their misunderstanding of the centrality of an independent working class line in the theory of permanent revolution.

Gary Tennant has carefully reconstructed the weaknesses in their analysis, especially their view that there was a separate 'democratic, anti-imperialist' stage to the revolution which justified subordinating themselves to the nationalist forces which were then dominant. Likening this to the mid-'20s Stalinist view which betrayed the Chinese revolution, the author has in fact identified a tendency within early Trotskyism which would ultimately consume its successors in the '50s and '60s.

As Cuban Trotskyism declined as a force capable of giving leadership to the working class, so indeed did the militant Cuban labour movement. By 1938 Cuban Trotskyism could count no more than 100 members; by 1948, only 20. Having lost the ideological-political battle for working class leadership, it then successively lost its organisational independence and its political clout, leaving it impotent in the face of one despot (Batista), and then another (Castro). It disappeared altogether as an organisation in the early 50s. Some Cuban Trotskyists did reorganise themselves after 1960, only to be suppressed by the Castroites by 1965. Their final demise was a barometer of the Stalinisation of the Cuban revolution, and one reason why Cuba cannot be considered any kind of workers' state.

No go logo

No Logo, by Naomi Klein. Flamingo.

Reviewed by Lisa Le Feuvre.

'Branding' seems to be everywhere. Big transnational corporations have shifted from making 'things' to making 'ideas of things'. A move to concepts rather than commodities, and a change from manufacturing to marketing, is an alert to the process of branding that Klein sites at the core of modern capitalism.

The conversational tone of No Logo makes for a rapid read, even if it is sometimes repetitious or overly polemical. This is an informative publication that encourages readers to actively question the products in our environment.

Citing case studies of major corporations - including Levi's, Gap, Starbucks, Nike and Shell - Klein argues that this insidious branding results in further alienation of consumption from production. At its best when describing the human rights violations in the factories of the clothing industry, No Logo gives us examples of Western multinationals sub-contracting the production of goods to non-unionised factories in Asia and South America. Klein describes working environments that mirror the sweat-shops against which workers fought for and won major employment reforms at the start of the last century in Europe and North America.

Klein describes Gap T-shirts and Nike trainers being produced by disenfranchised individuals whose weekly wage would not cover the retail cost of a single item that they have produced.

Klein presents statistics that are incredibly emotive and, although she moves on to describe various strategies that activists have employed to voice their resistance to this tide of branding, gives the reader few suggestions for an alternative. Looking to the activities of Reclaim the Streets, the McLibel campaign, Adbusters, Culture Jamming, as well as to the power of consumer boycotts and the refusal of cultural sponsorship as political tools, Klein encourages the reader to be aware of the methods that lead to the production of items that we often unquestioningly buy into.

No Logo asserts that individuals need to stand up against these unacceptable working conditions, rather than regard them simply as an inevitable cost of capitalism. Klein suggests that by turning the logo back on to itself we can use the very strategies of the multinational corporations to protest against their activities, and perhaps ultimately make some kind of difference. Reconnecting brands to work and being aware of global connections, for Klein, holds the possibility of questioning power relationships between producers, consumers and those tools of production known as employees.

Fighting the power?

Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties, by Mike Marqusee. Verso.

Reviewed by Francis Lawn.

As I was writing this review, Ali appeared on TV, along with the usual 'galaxy of stars', at a dinner to honour President Clinton. He has been brought back into the fold of corporate America, and is now almost an establishment figure. But that was far from the case when, after beating Sonny Liston to become the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, he announced in the company of Malcolm X that he was involved with the Nation of Islam.

Redemption Song is a useful and readable book, taking us through the twists and turns of Ali's association with Malcolm X and the Nation and his refusal to take part in the Vietnam War. Despite being criticised by other black sports stars such as the first black player in major league baseball, Jackie Robinson, who also testified to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee against Paul Robeson, regretting it in later life Ali became a representative of Black America loved by many.

Marqusee uses anecdotal evidence from writers and acquaintances from around the world to argue that Ali was a symbol of protest, and attributes Ali's phenomenal popularity to this. Whilst there is no denying that Ali's political actions did affect his popularity, I think many people just loved him for his courage and skill in the ring and for his charm and humour. Boxing was hugely popular at the time, and a heavyweight boxing match was a much more important event than it is now.

Marqusee does draw attention to a number of things about Ali that are less well known his lack of support for the civil rights marches, his dropping Malcolm X when Malcolm fell out of favour with Elijah Muhammad, the fact that but for Ali there would be no Don King but he seems to excuse these as incidental. One of the more distasteful things was Ali accusing other fighters of being Uncle Toms for no other reason than to gain an advantage in a fight or to gain publicity.

Marqusee calls Ali an imperfect hero. He describes a pan-African alliance across the Atlantic, citing examples of artists such as Robeson and Louis Armstrong visiting Europe and Africa, African intellectuals such as Nkrumah studying Black American music, and the Bandung conference attended by Nasser, Nehru and Sukarno. He argues that Ali's actions placed him in this lineage. I am not so sure. Furthermore, the politics of Stalinism, bourgeois nationalism and police-state dictators are not ours!

Marqusee places Ali's actions in the context of the Civil Rights Movement and popular culture (there is a needless hagiography of Bob Dylan). Here and in the way Marqusee links Ali to 'pan-Africanism' I think he treats the Black Atlantic alliance as if it were a revolutionary force. Sadly, it was not that.

I have always had a really soft spot for Ali both for his boxing (which I'm not so sure about any more, either) and for his refusal to fight in Vietnam. It took courage to do that, but I don't feel that he really engaged in the political struggle.

The fate of Pauline Hanson

The Rise and Fall of One Nation, edited by Michael Leach, Geoffrey Stokes and Ian Ward. University of Queensland Press.

Reviewed by Jeff Payne.

Preaching a potent mix of racism, identity politics and nationalism, Pauline Hanson shot onto Australia's political landscape. Three years later the party she founded had largely disappeared, burned in the fire of its own creation.

On 10 September 1996 a nervous, almost tearful voice was heard across the chamber of the House of Representatives. The speech bemoaned the spending of taxpayers' money on 'servicing Aboriginals, multiculturalists and a host of other minority groups'. The contents of this speech dominated the political scene for the next three years.

Trade liberalism, globalisation and an increasingly competitive society had small landowners and the lowest paid manual workers feeling betrayed by the Conservatives and the Australian Labor Party respectively. Some of these people believed 'others' were making the important decisions that affected their lives. 'Lefties', academics and career politicians were seen as the driving forces of an inequality that advantaged Aboriginals and immigrants at the expense of Anglo-Australians. Achieving 25% of the vote in the Queensland State election of June 1998, One Nation secured 11 seats.

Even with electoral success One Nation's demise had already begun. In the Queensland state election the popularity of the party had been built around the belief that it would represent those who had lost their voice in political debate, the so-called 'forgotten majority'. What is not addressed in the book is that it was an impossible task to empower Hanson's supporters with representation and overcome the divisions in their various aspirations. One Nation could not cross class boundaries and satisfy both the interests of workers and landowners. The desire for more meaningful representation by One Nation's members contradicted the undemocratic party structure and the autocratic style that arose to suppress 'natural' class divisions that existed within the Party.

The space established for Hanson by the other political parties and the mainstream media in helping to create One Nation's short-lived success are often ignored in the book. Both the major political parties in Australia have long insinuated that the causes of the problems in our society are the result of immigration and the non-participation of the unemployed and Aboriginals. In implicit but full support of these claims, the media regularly ran stories (and still does) on the supposed cost of Aboriginal 'welfare' and the flood of immigrants. Throw in with these arguments a failing education system, which is becoming increasingly expensive to participate in, and the outcome is One Nation. If it were not for the scapegoating of immigrants and 'bludgers', then people would be forced to address the real issues that are causing hardship. These are indications of the inability of bourgeois society to remedy the problems of capitalism.

The Rise and Fall of One Nation is an academic account of the social and economic forces which created and finally destroyed Hanson. The reader must go beyond what is written to see that it is an example of the inability of bourgeois solutions to overcome the social and economic dilemmas of capitalism.

The Mensheviks and 'new class' theories

From the Other Shore - Russian Social Democracy after 1921, by Andre Liebich. Harvard University Press.

Reviewed by Paul Hampton.

This book is a tremendous piece of scholarship, charting the evolution of the Russian Menshevik leaders during 40 years of exile and their influence within the wider social-democratic parties, especially in Germany and Austria.

Their newspaper Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik (Socialist Courier), published from February 1921, using a wide network of contacts, including Bolsheviks high up in the government, was able to print reliable accounts of the economic situation, as well as political developments. Despite huge political disagreements with them, Lenin read the paper and the Soviet government seems to have provided funds for it. Later, the paper was the first to print a range of authentic documents and revelations, including Lenin's Testament and some of Bukharin's last reflections before his execution.

After Stalin had snuffed out the last remnants of workers' power and established his dictatorship, Trotskyists drew on Menshevik sources as they developed their analysis of the USSR. Contacts with Leon Sedov in Paris seem to have been particularly close. Later, in the '40s, Max Shachtman wrote some of his best pieces of analysis whilst borrowing explicitly from Menshevik sources, in particular by Schwarz on the bureaucracy and the working class, and Dallin on Russian imperialism and forced labour.

The Mensheviks were not simply useful sources of information. They were among the first to theorise both state capitalist and 'new class' theories of the USSR, and the first to develop the 'planlessness' thesis now associated with Critique. Kautsky's bitter reflections on Russia and Hilferding's influential article 'State Capitalism or Totalitarian State Economy?' owed much to the Mensheviks.

Theories which saw the Stalinist USSR as progressive also often owed much to the Mensheviks. They split in 1940 because one wing had become qualifiedly pro-Stalinist while the other had developed a view sharply rejecting the USSR as 'totalitarian'.

Like many other tendencies within the socialist movement, the Mensheviks were torn apart politically by the two-camp world that emerged after 1945. They were unable to develop an independent working class line between Washington and Moscow. Nevertheless, for uncovering the extent of their influence and the significance of their analyses, Professor Liebich deserves our gratitude.

Back to the contents page for this issue of Workers' Liberty

Back to the Workers' Liberty magazine index

[ Home | Publications | Links ]