D.L. Raby, Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today (London & Ann Arbor: Pluto Press; Toronto: Behind the Lines, 2006).
This is a remarkable book, one that could play a major role in shaping the Left’s understanding of the present and the near future. It arrives at a propitious moment, some fifteen years after the demise of first-epoch socialism, just as the contours of a potential second epoch are beginning to come into view. Appropriately enough, the lone collective survivor of the first epoch, the Cuban Revolution, is cast in a central role, along with the most notable harbinger of “21st-century socialism”: the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela. Diana Raby dedicates the book, however, not only to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, but also to “popular movements throughout the world.” She thereby highlights the persistent goal of her argument, which is to overcome the rift between those revolutionary forces that have gained state power -– or that seek to gain it – and those which view such power only in terms of its potential for authoritarianism and betrayal.
The magnitude of the author’s task can be gauged by several phenomena of the past decade. First has been the exceptional resonance of the Zapatista movement, whose emphasis on grassroots organizing has often been presented explicitly -– both by the Zapatistas themselves and by commentators like John Holloway -– as an alternative to any direct contention for state power. Converging with the Zapatista influence has been the broader culture of the Global Justice movement, much of whose energy derives from a new generation of activists attuned to anarchist ideas. The authentic power of grassroots activism has been shown in a number of countries, as described in some detail in S&D’s special issue on Latin America (November 2005) and now also in the present issue’s section on the popular assemblies of Oaxaca. All these experiences represent landmark steps in politicizing hitherto oppressed populations and, in some cases, challenging and even toppling particularly repressive governments. These real and undeniable revolutionary gains, however, have encouraged some of their partisans to distance themselves from any agenda -– whatever its style or tactics -– that might involve party-building or seeking state power.
Raby’s hope is that the Left can build on the energy of such movements without falling prey to their weaknesses. Her critique highlights the importance of leadership. It does so, however, in an entirely fresh way, reexamining all the major revolutionary movements and regimes of the last half-century in terms of their actual performance, without pre-judging them on the basis of their formal structures. Although the two central chapters focus respectively on Cuba and Venezuela, there are frequent comparisons with the experience of movements in other countries -– notably Nicaragua, Portugal, and Chile –- whose goals have gone beyond the overthrow of colonial or settler regimes. The discussion of the various national experiences is in turn framed and permeated by an extensive theoretical argument which brings to the fore, with a sharp present-day focus, the key issues associated with democracy and socialism.
Raby’s critique of liberal democracy (chapter 2) is a masterpiece of basic political education. It incorporates the classic writings in this vein (including those of C.B. Macpherson, author of The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy), but goes well beyond them in its evocation of specific cases. The discussion of pre-Chávez Venezuela, of Brazil under Lula, and of the Bolivian institutions confronting Evo Morales leads inexorably to the conclusion that the goal of truly governing in the interests of the majority requires, with all due respect to ideological pluralism, “a completely new constitutional paradigm” (36). The proposed alternative paradigm, that of participatory democracy, has long been familiar as a slogan and in the form of consensus practices in small communities, but Raby carries it further, challenging us to imagine it being institutionalized at the national level. Cuba, already at this stage of the argument, comes in for serious attention, not as a putatively ideal model, but rather as a groundbreaking experiment -– “institutionalising access to the decision-making process by the underprivileged” (32) -– with a real track-record of grassroots policymaking.
The failure of liberal-democratic regimes -– unequivocal in Latin America by the 1990s -– to allow for even moderately progressive social policies leads directly into a reconsideration (chapter 3) of revolutionary alternatives. Raby again offers a rich blend of theory and history, going back to standard Marxist writings on the state but also taking on the implicit pessimism of world-systems theory and addressing the global context that conditions present-day revolutions. Drawing on recent Latin American experience, her discussion sheds new light on longstanding conundrums of revolutionary strategy. She rejects, for example, the old Trotsky-Stalin dichotomy of “world revolution vs. socialism in one country.” Of course revolution can’t take place everywhere at once, but on the other hand, one should not fall into the trap of attributing long-term viability –- in the form of, e.g., claims to have achieved socialism –- to the very vulnerable condition of being an isolated outpost of counter-power (65f). A related point is that revolutionary hegemony is not an all-or-nothing question. Citing the Venezuelan trajectory in particular, Raby rejects any sharp dichotomy between reform and revolution, arguing instead that “it may be possible, and often more feasible, to take power by stages” (75). What she stresses throughout, however, is the crucial importance of having a popular majority mobilized for each new advance.
The central chapters on the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions, which together take up almost half the book, offer an illuminating synthesis of those epoch-making processes. These chapters are fully accessible to readers with no prior knowledge, but at the same time they offer a further wealth of detail and theoretical insight on the book’s major themes. Raby’s account of the Cuban Revolution reminds us of how much closer it is to its later counterparts (in Nicaragua and Portugal as well as Venezuela) than to the earlier models of socialist revolution guided by ideologically defined parties. She again posits a sharp rejection of stereotypical dichotomies, this time challenging the assumption that there is some necessary incompatibility between strong personal leadership and meaningful popular initiative. A revolutionary period is one of rapidly changing parameters in which immediate responses may have to be improvised on matters that are beyond the deliberative capacity of consensus-oriented bodies. At such moments, however, leading means above all having a deeply felt sense of what the people are ready for and able to act on. This can only come from continuous unrehearsed interactions between the leader and individual members of the populace -– a practice for which Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez have both been, from the outset, uniquely gifted.
The facile equation of a prolonged personal leadership role with “dictatorship” loses much of its force if one factors in this actual practice, which is by no means incompatible with a serious commitment to institutionalization. One of the most distinctive aspects of the Bolivarian Revolution, duly noted by Raby, has been the place of constitutional transformation in the whole process. Upon his first inauguration as president in 1999, Chávez immediately placed the project of a constitutional convention at the top of his agenda. The whole process dramatically broadened mass participation, not only in the fine-tuning of the document but also in its mass diffusion (by the millions, in miniature) and, above all, in its actual provisions, which, as Raby points out, include a number of new institutions whose real purpose is “to promote popular supervision of all government activities” (164).
The “dictatorship” canard also makes much of Chávez’s military background and his role in an unsuccessful coup-attempt in 1992. An understanding of the larger context, however, quickly dissipates the usual stereotypes. Chávez worked, from the beginning of his career, in close collaboration with civilian leftist movements. The 1992 coup-attempt targeted a thoroughly discredited government, against which no constitutional remedies were available. Beyond this, Chávez’s ties within the military later proved critical to his survival in the course of the right-wing coup directed against his own leadership in 2002. This whole remarkable trajectory explodes yet another crude dichotomy, between “violent” and “nonviolent” revolution. By prudently navigating a series of political hurdles, accumulating new mass support at each stage of the process, Chávez has created an entirely original model, of which he can justifiably say, “This is a peaceful revolution, but an armed one” (quoted, 195).
With this achievement, the Venezuelan process has taken a giant step beyond that of Allende’s via pacífica (Chile, 1970-73), whose prospects were undermined, as Raby reminds us, by the fourfold handicap of being led by traditional parties, lacking a charismatic leader (in terms of capacity for one-on-one interaction with his mass base), facing a predominantly hostile military establishment, and never garnering a decisive electoral majority. In Venezuela, the constitutional paralysis has been overcome, an electoral mandate for socialism has been won (December 2006), and a nationwide network of grassroots economic policymaking councils is being put in place. Although the revolution is only in its earliest stages -– with huge economic disparities and severe levels of crime and corruption still evident –- the process now in motion is drawing more and more people into an active role in the day-to-day governance of their communities.
The potentially transformative character of this process is well appreciated by Diana Raby, who with admirable concreteness insists at every juncture on the interplay between forceful leadership and respect for popular autonomy. Her book deserves to be widely studied and discussed. It represents a peak of understanding to which future discussions of Left strategy will need to refer.
Review by Victor Wallis
Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow, Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out (New York: Nation Books, 2005).
Think the movement died in the 70s? Think that there are no young people actively organizing to end the multitude of oppressions that still exist in our society? Well, think again. Thanks to a new generation of young activists, the Movement continues, vibrant and strong.
In Letters from Young Activists, Berger, Boudin, and Farrow — all activists themselves -– introduce us to a new generation of people organizing across the country, as well as internationally, for social justice. The book came into being because, as the editors state in the introduction, “Our generation of activists needed a platform to define ourselves” (xxvii). The writers in Letters from Young Activists do this by examining how their activism is shaped by their multiple identities, which vary immensely in race, gender, class, and sexuality. These young activists invite you into a conversation that bursts with honesty, passion, hope, and rage.
Letters from Young Activists was first assigned to me as course material for a graduate class. The format immediately put me at ease and I found myself reading anywhere I could carry the book with me – on the bus and on the train, in bed at night, out loud to my students. The format of Letters from Young Activists welcomes us to join in the conversation about radicalism, social justice, and activism. As the editors state, “By doing a book of letters, we hope to create spaces for all activists, especially those not traditionally looked to for social or intellectual commentary. The following letters have a range of approaches and voices, but the format itself introduces the possibility for dialogue to take place. Letter writing is one of the oldest traditions of story telling; blending the personal and political, they offer the greatest potential to speak to the widest range of people” (xxviii). Importantly, Letters from Young Activists breaks down the academy/activist dichotomy that exists today. In his letter, Kevin Etienne-Cummings writes, “Academic language can become a tool of marginalization, especially for the young scholar from a low-income or first generation college, or first generation graduate-school background” (191). No one is left out of this conversation; Letters from Young Activists will speak to you whether you are in the academy or not.
As a young activist, I feel like my work is, at times, invisible. The racism, poverty, sexism, and homophobia that I work to end seem so immense that they become the objects in focus, not my activism and certainly not me. In the preface to Letters from Young Activists, longtime activist Bernardine Dohrn writes, “This volume… arrives at a moment of U.S. triumphalism, permanent war, global domination, and reactionary fundamentalism so deliberately intimidating, so insistent, so totalizing that we are meant not to see” (xiii). One place we fight invisibility is within the media. In his letter to James Baldwin, Mervyn Marcano writes, “All my life, I’ve been faced with the alleged worthlessness of my own body. Most Black men can say the same, and we are constantly reminded of this farce through our nonexistence in the media landscape” (106). But Letters from Young Activists reminds us that while at times it may seem like we are invisible, we are actively fighting against the powers that try to leave us –- and our work -– unseen. We are organizing in our high schools, on college campuses, in our communities. We work at women’s shelters and homeless shelters. We organize to raise class-consciousness and anti-racism. Letters from Young Activists creates a space for a new generation of activists to be recognized.
But is it really surprising that we are activists? Dan Berger writes, “For as long as I’ve been alive, then, the mainstream U.S. political climate has been one long succession of small-scale wars, callous individualism, and blunted dreams” (230). Our society has set us up for war. Our fight to combat that war comes out of a deep need for peace and a genuine compassion for humanity. Dara Levy-Bernstein writes, “I can’t pinpoint the exact moment; it must have been in sixth or seventh grade, when I realized I cared about the world a whole lot more than most people knew” (220). In many cases, our activism is not a choice. Rather, we become activists because our life and our survival demand it. Sara Marie Ortiz writes, “We are the children of survivors. We are the children of activists, artists, and literary figures of the American Indian Rights Age. You thought the movement was over? Nah… Ours is a collective memory, and we remember all of it” (78). Ortiz goes on to write, “Once you recognize your responsibility to change the world for the people you came from – for the people who have given you every good, human thing about you – you don’t question it. You just do it” (80).
Because so many young activists are often alienated from their families due to their activism, Letters from Young Activists also offers us a place to call home. It allows us to be who we are without apology, giving us a space to critically examine our goals and strategies while building on movements that came before us. As the editors explain, “Although young people play leading roles in these movements, they are fundamentally multigenerational -– as is the Movement itself” (xxxi). Letters from Young Activists reminds us that we need to learn from the past in order to effectively envision a more just future. In a letter to an older activist, Chris Dixon writes, “Yet I also see that, in general, younger radicals lose out when they don’t have access to the lives and experiences of older radicals, and, in turn, older radicals lose out when they don’t have access to the imagination and energy of younger radicals” (52). In this relationship between past and present we are able to work together for a just society.
And we have so many movements to learn from. As today’s young activists, we’ve inherited tactics and strategies from older generations of activists who participated in the Civil Rights movement, the Multiracial Feminist movement, the labor movement, and the Native American movement, just to name a few. Marc Washington, in a letter to an older activist, writes, “I feel I inherited the spirit of activism. I know its spirit is alive and well because it is both a part of my consciousness and the consciousness of others. Activism is alive and well within many of us!” (62). Having older generations of activists to look to allows us space and guidance to examine our own identities and activism. Eboo Patel writes, “I was raised in a devoted Muslim family. My heroes include a Hindu (Gandhi), a Catholic (Dorothy Day), a Jew (Abraham Joshua Heschel), a Baptist (King), and a Buddhist (Thich Nhat Hanh). Studying their lives has encouraged me to find social justice resources in Islam” (95).
While Letters from Young Activists offers us a space to honor the struggles and successes of older movements, it also allows us a chance to critique them. As young activists, we know that activism doesn’t just occur during protest marches or rallies. While there are important parts to the variety of causes we stand up for, we have found other ways to become activists. We actively teach anti-racism in our classrooms. We actively parent our children to become socially responsible beings. Michelle Kuo writes, “But it was here, in this classroom, that I felt my most genuine understanding of activism” (218). We know the impact teaching and mothering can have because we have felt it in our own lives and seen it often go unrecognized as activism. In Letters from Young Activists, the writers broaden the definition of activism.
Letters also gives us a space to critique the current movements we participate in. Without hesitation, these young activists delve into the consequences of contradictions and oppression within the Movement. Here, we find young activists’ voices compelling, angry, and articulate. One person active in the labor movement describes her inability to dress as she desires because of gender constrictions in the work place. Another points to the contradictions within the Gay Marriage and Pro-Choice movements that often leave out an analysis of capitalism. There are letters urging us to global action, as well as bringing feminist consciousnesses with us into all our work. Laurel Paget-Seekins writes, “Sexual assault and domestic violence happen in every community. And if we’re going to stop them we have to be talking about them in every organization we belong to, every school, every neighborhood, and every church” (108).
Matching rich metaphor and description with wisdom, the writing in Letters to Young Activists is thought-provoking and compelling. Eugene Schiff writes, “As an activist who is used to making demands, I realize that consciousness, knowledge, and commitment to social change also must be nourished” (157). Myron Strong writes, “If you are going to be an activist, be an activist wholeheartedly; anything else only exploits the efforts of others” (212).
Not only will Letters from Young Activists leave you with the hope these activists share of creating a just world, but it will also inspire you to action, reminding you that “There is no time like the present to act” (xxxii) while enticing you to examine, as Kat Aaron writes, “What are you for – not generally, but exactly?” (171).
Review by Shannon Farrington, Graduate student, Gender & Cultural Studies
Simmons College, Boston
Mike Davis. Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2006).
In this sweeping account of macro-order global transformation, Mike Davis zeroes in on the urban slum as the key protagonist of postcolonial political economic processes. Planet of Slums spells out the apocalyptic prevalence of slum living, arguing that this portentous trend deserves the world’s full attention:
Thus, the cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood.… The one billion city-dwellers who inhabit postmodern slums might well look back with envy at the ruins of the sturdy mud homes of Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia…. (19)
From the collapse of the waste disposal infrastructure in Kabul to the natural disasters that threaten settlements around Caracas and Manila, Davis takes in a panoply of woes threatening the poor in the “global south.” Effectively incarcerated in poverty, slum populations face a nauseating complex of obstacles to human rights and social reproduction: substandard housing, endemic disease, stymied employment and educational opportunities, disproportionate risk of natural disaster and environmental pollution, political repression (including projects of “urban renewal” or “beautification” that displace entire communities), shriveling entitlements to social welfare, and the privatization of vital resources like public toilets and fresh water. In the summary of a Baghdad slum-dweller, slum existence is “semi-death”: millions of people worldwide, having been made redundant, have been semi-murdered.
Historicizing and politicizing the development of slums throughout the Third World, Davis sheds light on the obscure and maligned particulars of life in these landscapes, tracing a litany of appalling statistics to structural adjustment and “shock therapy” of the 1970s and ‘80s, failed or corrupt governments, and the brutally indifferent self-enrichment of local and global elites. Planet of Slums insists on placing the margin at the center: in Davis’s formulation, the slums of the global south stand at the heart of the postmodern global economic order. The grim forces in the lives of slum-dwellers index the betrayed promises of anticolonial revolutions, neoliberal markets, and what Rita Abrahamsen calls an “iron triangle” of “transnational professionals based in key government ministries… multilateral and bilateral development agencies and international NGOs” (76).
Davis is frequently tagged as a “maverick scholar” for his lack of institutional affiliation and his partisan, expressionistic prose style; his work is more emotionally wrenching than many mainstream academic and policy works that address poverty. He is also impressively omnivorous in his selection of source matter, citing anthropologists, public policy and public health experts, historians, politicians, economists, and novelists to produce a multiperspectival portrait of “bare life” as it takes shape on the ground.
It may also be said that Davis writes fast and loose. Staying away from case studies, Planet of Slums skips around the globe, citing an example in Cité-Soleil, Haiti, touching down in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, and then passing on to the “New Fields” in Rangoon (143f). While this style can leave the reader with the impression of well-researched scholarly buttressing at the global level, it sometimes veers towards the slapdash, with a slum in Bangalore registering as the rhetorical equivalent of a slum outside Mexico City or Beijing. He touches on a host of contemporary concerns: urbanization, neoliberal economic reform, privatization, social stratification and urban planning, HIV/AIDS, gentrification, squatting, gated communities, transportation, pollution, corruption, the casualization of labor and the rise of informal economies, the militarization of borders, and the feminization of poverty, each of which holds the reader’s attention for no more than a few pages.
Despite its occasional breeziness and relative brevity, Davis’s is a convincing introduction to framing and theorizing a phenomenon of irrefutable significance. While the power of the prose almost equals the despair it describes, Planet of Slums avoids any portraiture of sublime, exoticized poverty; nor does Davis present slum dwellers as pathologized or pitiful. Instead, he frames slum and city as constituent parts of a political, economic, and environmental ecosystem. As in the case of a potentially globalized epidemic of avian influenza, the First and Third Worlds are in the same boat. In spelling out the ominous trends that shape the lives of slum-dwellers, Davis does more than catalogue the morbid effects of globalization’s “race to the bottom.” Unveiling the regime that is creating the slum and its Others, Davis exposes the unplanned side-effects of neoliberal policymaking, adding a profoundly spatial dimension to analyses of global trends in poverty and populations. Beyond those substantial accomplishments, Planet of Slums strips away the cosmopolitan reader’s sense of well-insulated distance from raw poverty, leaving troubling questions about one’s consumer freedoms and the ramifications that they entail worldwide.
Review by Martha Lincoln, Graduate student in Cultural Anthropology
City University of New York
Michael Perelman, Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006).
As a discipline, mainstream economics has been perhaps the most successful ideological tool to justify the maintenance of the capitalist system in the past century. Many of the arguments that we hear in support of “free market methods,” “deregulated competition,” and “property rights” are grounded in ideas derived from the so-called “science of economics.” Michael Perelman’s latest book, Railroading Economics, draws out some of the compelling history of the creation of “free market mythology” by looking back at the important economic debates that took place in conjunction with 19th-century US capitalist development. In particular, it focuses on the rise of the seldom-discussed conservative critique of the market that gained notoriety during this period as well as its eventual dissolution in favor of the pro-market theories that we have become all too familiar with in the present.
As for the legitimacy of neoclassical economics, Perelman’s position on the matter is not unlike that of most radical economists. He explains from the outset that “economics purports to be scientific because it grounds its ideology on a rigorous theoretical foundation, but this foundation rests on wildly unrealistic assumptions” (17). The actual title of Perelman’s book has multiple meanings and refers to the “ideological straitjacket of modern economics” (9) as well as the experiences of the “railroad economists” who were involved in analyzing the economic effects of the railroad industry on US society. These economists were far from radical but stood against the standard doctrine of economics which used idealistic and unrealistic theories to justify market forces. Officially, they were for capitalism but against the idea of unbridled competition, for it was this competition that was wreaking havoc in the railroad industry. This led to an argument against the “laissez-faire” model of capitalism in favor of the “corporatist” model, which posited that the sure-fire way for corporations to protect themselves against the market was to form monopolies, trusts, and cartels.
The major point of contention for this group was the marginal price structure proposed by conventional economics. Assuming this type of structure, in a competitive capitalist economy, businesses must set their prices equal to the cost of producing more units of whatever is being sold. But the railroads were not your average industry; they required large investments in fixed capital to get up and running. The real costs for the railroad companies were in building the actual railroads and making them functional, not in carrying one extra passenger or one extra load of freight. Therefore, in the context of the railroad industry, with its large portion of “sunk costs,” the theories of marginalism made no sense. If each company set its prices according to marginal price theory, they would never be able to recoup their initial costs and bankruptcy would soon follow.
Perelman begins his book with a nice discussion of the fundamental problems of conventional economic theory. In creating complex and abstract models of our world (specifically, those reflecting the various realms of exchange), mainstream economists have been institutionally trained to master the methods of their inherently uncritical discipline, which assumes a great deal in theory and demonstrates very little in reality. The strategic focus on professionalizing economics in the attempt to gain scientific legitimacy (on par with that of other academic disciplines) has required that economists learn the delicate art of reifying their theories and using them to explain the world without revealing or accounting for the many (often unrealistic) assumptions embedded in their theoretical models. For example, according to Perelman, “modern economic theory generally evades wrestling with the thorny subject of the accumulation of long-lived fixed capital” (50). This type of capital sets limits on a company’s ability to change its methods and processes of production in response to new opportunities. Conventional economic ignores this problem and simply assumes that companies can somehow transform their capital goods whenever necessary.
Throughout his text, Perelman places a large emphasis on the role of the increase of fixed capital, which became “a substantially more important factor in the structure of production” (65). The development of the railroad industry as the largest industrial sector in the US and “the preeminent form of big business” (66) relied heavily on an increase in fixed capital, as its companies required enormous investments in order to get up and running. Despite considerable government subsidies, over-hyped speculation in the industry led to several company bankruptcies after an initial boom period, typically reflective of a capitalist business cycle. These events and other economic crises in the late 19th century called into question the common understanding that “the market” was and should always be the universal answer to all economic activities. Though they are virtually forgotten today, individuals such as David Wells, Charles Francis Adams Jr., and Arthur Twining Hadley began to understand that there was a serious gap between standard economic theory and the reality of the railroad industry. This led the eminent John Bates Clark to eventually support inter-industry attempts to reduce competition through corporate consolidation. This new “corporatist” position argued that the formation of monopolies, trusts, and cartels would in fact make the economy “more efficient” as a whole; therefore, the previously cherished concept of “competition” was viewed to be the cause of -– and not the solution to –- American economic ills.
Perelman is sharp to point out that at a very basic level, “the corporatists and the socialists had much in common” (93). Both groups had a serious distrust of the market and some socialists (most notably, Lenin) looked favorably upon corporatism as an initial move towards the socialization of the capitalist economy. That being said, there were obviously major differences between these two groups, the primary point of separation being the nature of the capitalist class structure with its unequal ownership of wealth and the increasing dominance of wage-labor. Corporatist economists, unlike the major 20th-century socialist theorists, failed to account for the role of finance in the modern economy. In the struggles between industrial and financial interests, there was large-scale competition between the likes of Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. Each of these individuals symbolized a different type of capitalism, the first being a competitive, productionist one and the second being a “Morganized” corporate version. Both models contained distinct but faulty assumptions about the nature of firms and their capitalist players, which led to different beliefs about the nature of competition and the role of the large-scale corporation. These inter-capitalist conflicts over the best way to maintain a system of private ownership continued into the early 20th century.
Perelman goes on to describe how corporate leaders in the early decades of the new century felt a need to justify their power and wealth to the public. Their goal was to convince citizens that their seemingly “robber baron” interests actually benefited the general public. The need for this sort of justification spawned an early form of “welfare capitalism,” based on the rather dubious notion that “socially conscious” industry leaders could create a society based on workers’ prosperity and social justice, all the while remaining private and socially-stratified in its structure and organization. While Perelman does not make the explicit connection to the present, welfare capitalism has continued to remain the “great hope” for contemporary reformist thinkers opposed to the newest shifts toward neoliberal capitalism.
As expected, much of the rhetoric of welfare capitalism conveniently disappeared when the Great Depression hit, as it was “merely a tactic to hold workers’ militancy in check rather than a true pact between labor and capital” (157). Economists were forced to resort to a “blame game” and had to scramble to explain why such a collapse of the US market had taken place. Regardless of what was blamed for the downturn -– be it interference with market forces, the Federal Reserve Board’s move to increase interest rates, enormous technological changes, or the allegedly “high price of labor” -– the economy had most certainly moved away from the supposedly always-stable equilibrium. A lot of damage control was needed from mainstream economists. The book concludes with an interesting discussion of the “Golden Age” of 20th-century American capitalism, prompted by World War II (“a godsend for industry”) and eventually ending with the inevitable rebuilding of competitor national economies. Of course, crucial to the new characteristics of the US economy in recent decades has been the development of financialized corporate capitalism, which began exercising itself heavily in the 1980s.
Perelman’s most important conclusion should be emphasized: “modern economists suffer under the delusion that competition is an unmitigated good for society” (199). Modern economics exists primarily to justify a particular way of organizing society and the economy. The corporatists of yesteryear were right in pointing out the contradictions inherent in the “free market” ideology, but they were never able to actually renounce the system itself. Perelman encourages us to do exactly that. In the final pages, we are reminded that a complete rejection of the system in place is not about “being a utopian.” After all, “Utopia” is a Greek word meaning “nowhere”; a new society needs to be “somewhere.” With this in mind, Railroading Economics convincingly makes the case that the present organization of the capitalist economy is unacceptable and that we must continue to struggle for a better world, one that is not based solely on the interests of the small minority of individuals that own the majority of our society’s wealth. This starts with, in Perelman’s words, a call for “the end of economics and the beginning of something better” (203).
Review by Andrew Michael Lee
York University, Toronto
James W. Russell, Double Standard: Social Policy in Europe and the United States (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).
For those already sympathetic to the cause, James W. Russell’s Double Standard offers much to confirm suspicions and support intuitions. The “cause” in question is the role of state institutions in providing various social services to the public. Arguing that “the state is the only institution strong enough to counter the market’s natural tendency to heighten inequality” (68), Russell advocates inclusive social policy along the lines of Western European countries. Taking as his focus the United States and the original fifteen members of the European Union, plus Switzerland and Norway, Russell traces the developments and outcomes of social policy on unemployment, health care, education, immigration and, among others, crime.
Although Russell could have gone further in analyzing differences between European and American social policy, the book nonetheless can serve as a valuable introductory resource. Double Standard is generally well written, clear, and, particularly in its latter two-thirds, effectively presents and contextualizes data on Western European and US social policy. The criticisms that can be levelled at the book have more to do, perhaps, with what it leaves out than with what it includes.
The meat of Russell’s argument really begins in Chapter eight, “Social Cohesion and Inequality” (nearly half way through the book). In this chapter he argues that “a capitalist society can function quite well with equality of opportunity; it could not with equality of outcome” (65). The general idea here seems to be that capitalism can, in theory, accommodate a situation wherein all start from relatively equal positions – having the same opportunities for education, employment, access to services and so on. What individuals do with such opportunities, according to the free market advocate, determines (often unequal) outcomes. Of course, one of the necessary features for the initial equality would be a lack of class distinction, and all that accompanies it, yet such distinctions are part and parcel of a capitalist socio-economic order. The point here is that inequality is endemic to capitalism; in order for there to be “winners” there have to be “losers.” Capitalism may be able to accommodate a theoretical starting point featuring equality of opportunity (think of John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” for example), but it certainly cannot maintain it. Laissez-faire capitalism not only exacerbates such inequality, but thrives on it and this, in Russell’s view, is one of its primary failings.
Russell explores several policy alternatives aimed at reducing and redressing such inequalities. In some sense, these all amount to various forms of income redistribution. Noting that income inequality is lower for public-sector employees (whose wages are set by the state), Russell argues that Western European countries experience less differential because of larger public-sector work forces. From this, Russell moves on to discuss other direct state interventions, such as minimum wages and labour laws, eventually concluding that “the mixed nature of economies in Europe and the United States constrains the power of the state to directly regulate pay and income differentials” (70). The more easily implemented and universal “solution” is increasingly socialized consumption of needed goods and services. The idea is that social goods, such as health care, education, or child care, should be decommodified and, rather than being sold on the open market, offered to workers as part of a “social wage.” This is financed via an increasingly progressive tax system that redistributes income from the highest paid to the lowest. It is this latter model that has been largely adopted in Western Europe, rejected by the United States, and which Russell advocates.
This chapter exemplifies Russell’s book at its best. In it, the author briefly sets the historical stage, provides the relevant ideological framework, and then presents a compelling argument anchored in supporting data. In contrast to these strengths, Double Standard does suffer from at least three significant difficulties. The first is perhaps best described as conceptual, the second methodological, and the last ideological.
It is difficult to determine just how Russell conceives of his project and to what audience the work is directed. In the preface, Russell concedes that “socialism is off the present world stage as a complete model” (ix). From this the reader can gather that Russell’s intended audience is not dyed-in-the-wool socialists, but rather reformers of various stripes, such as those who have given up on the revolution or, perhaps more importantly, those of a liberal capitalist persuasion. In the case of the latter group, some of Russell’s basic assumptions certainly need further explication and defence. In particular, the assumption that “social inclusion” is a generally shared goal seems somewhat problematic, especially in the United States, where, as Russell himself suggests, there is a widespread view “that people are fundamentally responsible for their fates in the competitive struggle” (83).
The second major difficulty in Double Standard is frequent and sometimes repetitive forays into intellectual, political, and economic history. Of course, this is not to say that such history is irrelevant, but Russell’s asides offer little that is new, and are in some cases misleadingly cursory, overlooking important questions that his project raises. The most pressing of these is why it is that, drawing on the same intellectual tradition (as Russell describes it), the United States and much of Western Europe came to such startlingly different conclusions on matters of social policy. Russell cites Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and others, all Europeans, linking their thought to current ideology, but provides little in the way of explanation as to how the same tradition produced two competing and in many ways opposed ideological perspectives. Russell does mention, along Weberian lines, the influence of Calvinism in America (48, 60), as opposed to the legacy of Catholic-dominated hierarchy including the notion of noblesse oblige in Europe. However, he also argues that much of the immigration to the United States has been from “developing” nations, rather than from predominantly white, largely Calvinist or Protestant European regions. While early immigrants and policymakers in the United States may to some extent have been guided by Calvinist doctrine, Russell’s own figures suggest this is no longer the case and has not been for quite some time. In light of this, some deeper explanation of the ideological divergence is needed.
Lastly, I see an ideological dilemma in Russell’s book. As noted above, social inclusiveness forms a major plank in his platform, but there are at least two points on which he treads dangerously close to policy that would likely reduce inclusiveness. On the issue of increasing public-sector employment, Russell notes that “in both Europe and the United States, public wage differentials are significantly lower than private employment differentials” (68). He makes a strong argument for the benefit of increased public employment, while also arguing the inescapability of private employment. However, if public employees enjoy less income differential and, therefore, more social inclusion, what becomes of private sector workers, particularly those not belonging to unions? The danger seems to be that the public sector as a whole may come to constitute an elite relative to the majority of the labour force.
A similar critique can be made of Russell’s seeming endorsement of elitist university education. On the question of education in the United States, Russell wonders “whether it is necessary for a majority of post-secondary students to attend universities” (112). Necessary for what? In simply economic or production terms, it is not necessary, but, as Russell is at pains to demonstrate in a previous chapter on unemployment, finances are not the only means of exclusion. If, as Russell argues, one of the significant impacts of unemployment is the feeling of social exclusion (96), similar problems seem likely if individuals are denied the ability to participate in the intellectual life of their society. Even if most Americans who seek higher education do so largely for the sake of higher incomes, barring access to would-be students hardly seems a means by which to increase social inclusiveness.
Despite its problems, none of the above criticisms detract from the importance of Russell’s overall project. Though flawed or perhaps incomplete in some respects, Russell’s analysis makes a valuable contribution to this body of literature, particularly for readers new to the topic. The book is broadly accessible, interesting, and thought-provoking. Double Standard answers several important questions and, perhaps equally important, helps to pose even more.
Review by Cory Fairley, PhD student in History
University of British Columbia
Ali Abunimah, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).
Virginia Tilley, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).
In her book, Virginia Tilley maintains that “the one-state solution is not an option to be argued. It is an inevitability to be faced” (87). The evidence provided in Ali Abunimah’s and Tilley’s books suggests that the window of opportunity for a viable Palestinian state has long passed. The one-state solution is the only one on the table, and for Abunimah, Tilley, and a growing number of activists and intellectuals, the question remains whether it will be a repressive sate, tethered to an imperialist project and based on exclusionary Jewish nationalism -– or a secular, democratic state with full rights for all.
Both Abunimah and Tilley rest their cases on the geographic and demographic “facts on the ground.” Abunimah’s first chapter details the 1947 Partition Plan. In that year, Jews constituted only one third of the region’s population. Though Zionists had long attempted to purchase land in Palestine, Jews legally owned less than 6% of the land. Yet the UN Partition would give the Jews 55%, containing most of the arable surface. The two states would have to be cut awkwardly in terms of geography, and nearly half the inhabitants of the proposed Jewish state would be Arab –- “raising fears among the Palestinians that the Arabs whose homes were inside the designated Jewish area might be forcibly removed as the Peel Commission had recommended” (23f). Moreover, why -– as Abunimah’s father put it at the time -– would you partition what’s yours? Given these geographic and demographic realities, it is not surprising that the Arabs rejected the Partition Plan. War ensued, and the terrorism of the Israeli forces, the Irgun and Stern Gang in particular, resulted in the displacement of 700,000 to 900,000 Palestinians into the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and surrounding countries. 78 percent of the territory was now in Israeli hands.
The late Tanya Reinhart suggested through the title of her book Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, based on a quotation from Ariel Sharon, that subsequent Israeli policies represented a continuation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine undertaken during the ’48 war –- confirming the fears of Palestinians that Partition would merely serve as a foothold for the Zionist enterprise of extending an exclusively Jewish state throughout “Greater Israel,” a task impossible without the removal of non-Jews. The 1967 war -– the “Six Day war” –- ostensibly resulted from Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, but was a calculated attempt by Israel, with backing from the United States, to punish the Arab nationalist Nasser and grab more territory. The ’67 war resulted in the further displacement of 100,000 Palestinians and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip/Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, and Jerusalem. Months later, Israel began moving Jewish settlers into the West Bank and Gaza -– a policy in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Tilley’s book discusses in depth the Israeli settlement policy, a major barrier to a two-state solution. Contrary to the notion that the settlements are mobile, easily dismantled outposts populated only by extremist Zionists, Tilley describes as typical “a two-story town of hundreds or thousands of stone residences draped along a neighboring hillcrest, its outer edifice forming a continuous defensive stone bastion, with tendrils of new construction stretching toward the neighboring settlement” (19). The larger settlements have other markers of permanency: “major shopping malls and cinemas, full school systems, recreation centers and parks, synagogues and cultural centers, and adjacent industrial zones with factories representing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments” (19f).
The settlements –- Jewish-only enclaves –- that pock-mark the West Bank, often cited as the locus for a future Palestinian state, further divide the land with roads and transportation infrastructure which are only available to Jews, as well as roadblocks and checkpoints for Palestinians. The separation wall now being built by Israel is illegal, according to a July 2004 International Court of Justice ruling, because it creates “a fait accompli on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case… [it] would be tantamount to de facto annexation” of vast swaths of Palestinian land (Abunimah, 34). Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is not evidence that the settlements can be abandoned. Rather, the Gaza pullout was quite advantageous to Israel since it provided a diversion from increased settlement activity and construction in the West Bank, and foisted responsibility for controlling the impoverished Gaza onto the Palestinian Authority (Tilley, 30). Meanwhile, Israel has virtually sealed off Gaza, preventing food, medicine, money, and people from entering or leaving, thereby creating massive humanitarian, economic, and political crises.
These geographic and demographic realities are the product of Zionist ideological imperatives and conscious political planning. Abunimah’s book, unfortunately, provides only minimal examination of politics and ideology, but Tilley delves more fully into the former. Tilley points out that support for Israeli expansion and settlement is not limited to hard-right Zionists. Both left- and right-wing Zionists support the settlement project, and settlement construction actually accelerated under the “dovish” Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The settlement economy is bound up with the larger Israeli economy, particularly with regard to water and natural resources and as a captive market: in 1999, Israel accounted for 71% of West Bank imports and 97% of West Bank exports (Tilley, 44f). Finally, Israeli law recognizes only “Jewish” as a national identity, and significant portions of state resources, such as land, are designated for Jewish-national use (46). The privileged status of Jewish national identity means that any Jew in the world can immigrate to Israel and immediately claim citizenship, but Palestinians are denied the UN-promised right of return to their homes, sometimes mere miles away. Zionism as an ideological and political project is predicated on a Jewish demographic majority. Achieving this feat in a place where Jews were a minority required the transfer of Palestinians, as Zionist leaders acknowledged from the beginning. Israel has attempted to continue this transfer through military, geographic, and political methods. The notion that Zionists would grant the Palestinians a viable, sovereign state is fanciful.
Abunimah’s and Tilley’s accounts provide convincing arguments for the one-state solution based upon the impossibility of an equitable and sovereign Palestinian state. However, both books lack a sustained argument against Zionism as an ideology, primarily articulating the one-state solution as a pragmatic measure. Joel Kovel’s recent book Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine goes further. Kovel supports a one-state solution not just because it is the only satisfactory option remaining, but because it exemplifies the universalistic aspirations of humanists and socialists.
Also missing from both Abunimah’s and Tilley’s books is any sense of the political perspectives necessary to achieve a secular democratic state in Palestine. Tilley, like Abunimah, pays scant attention to Israel’s role as regional watchdog for US imperialism and as a strategic ally in the “war on terror.” Tilley devotes only a small section to the US-Israel “special relationship,” in which she overemphasizes the role of the so-called “Israel Lobby” –- as distinct from geopolitical drives -– in shaping US foreign policy. This approach not only provides an opening to the anti-Jewish canard of global Jewish domination, but leaves activists in a theoretically impoverished position for confronting US imperialism.
In an exchange in New Left Review, Yoav Peled chides Tilley for the assumption “that the one-state solution ‘would resolve the entire conflict in one magisterial gesture.’” Peled charges that Tilley wants to have it both ways: to have one secular, democratic state, but one in which Zionism and the “Jewish National Home” are preserved. Peled maintains that “no peaceful solution to the conflict is possible without the assent of at least a sizeable majority of Israeli Jews, practically all of whom are ardent Zionists.” Abunimah’s One State shares Tilley’s idealistic approach. Abunimah cites a Fatah statement calling for “a multi-racial democratic state… a state without any hegemony, in which everyone, Jew, Christian or Muslim will enjoy full civic rights” (108), but he fails to explain in what way this statement can be understood as reflecting more than a moral position, made without taking into account the political context.
The implementation of the one-state solution will not come through policy-making or simply persuading all concerned parties with moral and intellectual appeals. Achieving a secular democratic state requires the self-organization of Palestinian workers resisting Israeli occupation, and other people throughout the Middle East opposing corrupt, pro-Israel, US-backed regimes. Peled is correct that the persistence of Zionism among ordinary Israelis is a barrier to the one-state solution. But, as Tilley points out in her rebuttal, Peled’s “response seems to suggest that all views [regarding Zionism] are set in stone and, effectively, that no solution is imaginable.” People’s ideas and consciousness change on a wide scale not through persuasion alone, but through experience in mass societal upheaval. Although ordinary Israelis benefit in some material ways because of the occupation, there are tremendous economic and social cleavages and contradictions in Israeli society which, in conjunction with Arab mass movements, have the possibility of shifting Israeli workers away from identification with Zionism and their own ruling class. Finally, activists in the United States can lend solidarity and political support to the Palestinian and Arab resistance, and work at home to weaken the US imperialism which keeps the Zionist apparatus afloat. Only through these political struggles from below can true democracy in Palestine be won.
Review by Matthew Richman, PhD student in History
University of Pennsylvania
Paul Buhle, Tim Hector: A Caribbean Radical’s Story (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006)
This book offers both less and more than its title would suggest: less because the author presents what he has to say about the Antiguan radical Tim Hector in a somewhat scattered and fragmentary manner; but also more, because the book summarizes and comments on many of the personalities, events, and ideas that have marked Caribbean history since the end of World War II. While mainly interested in Hector’s contribution to Caribbean socialism, Buhle also reviews that of such figures as Walter Rodney of Guyana, Maurice Bishop of Grenada, and Michael Manley of Jamaica. What these thinker-activists had chiefly in common, as Buhle describes them, was their vision of socialism as springing not from the will of a vanguard party but from the struggles of the “self-empowering” popular masses.
Two themes run throughout Buhle’s book. One is the “tragic” failure of the Caribbean Left to resist the encroachments of American and British imperialism – a precondition for building a society of, by, and for the people. This failure resulted from the collusive relationship between the US State Department and bourgeois Caribbean politicians whom Hector, in a remarkable essay of December 14, 2001, in the Antiguan newspaper Outlet, characterized as “the new, formerly anti-colonial leaders [who] merely took over the positions in the State left by the Colonizers” and who “proceeded to plunder the wealth of their countries, in association with the financial and corporate interests of the industrialized world” (233).
The second of the book’s major themes reflects Buhle’s previous studies of the life and thought of the Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James, to whom all three of the leftwing leaders mentioned above owed some of their basic political values and aims. Among radicals and socialists of his generation, Hector was probably the most profoundly affected by James’s teachings. Indeed, James’s influence on Hector is such a pervasive leitmotif of the book that one almost gets the impression that the best way to learn about Hector is to read James. James is amply cited throughout the book, while Hector is not allowed often enough to speak with his own voice. The only sustained passage from Hector’s writings appears in an Appendix, where Buhle allows us to appreciate the intellectual brilliance and breadth of vision that informs the above-mentioned 2001 essay, which Hector wrote less than a year before he died of a heart ailment at the age of sixty. James’s presence in the book sometimes overwhelms that of Hector, almost compelling the reader to view the younger man through the prism of his mentor’s ideas. Hector, like Manley, Bishop, and Rodney, was not one but two generations younger than James, and therefore came to political consciousness in very different circumstances from those that faced his mentor: James was born in 1901, Hector in 1942.
Buhle does, however, make clear in his Introduction, especially in an incisive opening epigraph taken from one of Hector’s essays, “The Black Condition, Here and Now,” that Hector was not simply a replica of James. James belonged to a generation of Caribbean leftists that spent most of their lives anticipating and struggling for the end of colonialism in the Caribbean, which coincided with revolutionary movements in Africa, Cuba, Europe, and the United States. Hector’s great strength lay, as Buhle points out, in his ability “to look unflinchingly in the face of [the] regional catastrophe” that followed hard upon the seeming victories of the 1950s and early ‘60s. Here is a key passage where Buhle focuses on Hector as a representative but highly original member of a generation forced to take the measure of defeat at the hands of a resurgent “neo-liberal” and “neocolonial” order:
Over thirty years, as the saga was played out, Hector offered up a vision to his readers and listeners as a gift. The passing of regional giants supplied a decisive moment for reflection and interpretation. He looked centuries backward at the slave past, fast forward to vapid consumerism and reacceptance of the status of third-rate citizens, no longer of Mother England, but of an extended American imperium. The hopes and bitter disappointments of Pan-Africanism and the Third World at large stood revealed in Hector’s columns as nowhere else. (5)
As this passage makes evident, Buhle has tremendous admiration for Hector, with whom he had a close personal friendship and a similar political perspective. He makes no attempt to assume the mantle of scholarly objectivity. Tim Hector: A Caribbean Radical’s Story is an intensely partisan book; Buhle identifies himself with his subject and, while celebrating his accomplishments, laments his passing from the scene as an irreparable loss to the interdependent causes of regional federation and socialism in the Caribbean.
The titles of the book’s five chapters reveal the general drift of Buhle’s argument. After setting “The Caribbean Context” in chapter 1, and explaining “What Makes Antigua Different” in chapter two, he moves on in chapters 3, 4, and 5 to consider “Independence and Neocolonialism,” “The Great Moment Passed By,” and the events that led “Beyond Tragedy.”
A strong feature of chapter 1 is Buhle’s account of labor history in the Caribbean, from the early years of the 20th century through the 1930s and on to the present moment. Much of this chapter is taken up with examples of labor militancy in the Caribbean. Along with this account, Buhle touches on the various political movements and organizations that were dedicated to “the mixture of Garveyism and Marxism that became Caribbean nationalist politics” up to World War II (48). Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago were the most important sites of these struggles, which were led or inspired in the 1940s by some of the same political leaders who later collaborated with the American Institute for Free Labor Development in thwarting the radical agenda on the table in the first two decades after the war: Norman Manley of Jamaica, Grantley Adams of Barbados, Vere Bird of Antigua, and others. These men helped to organize the Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC), which Buhle credits for advancing an “aggressive program of socialistic reforms aimed at regional unity” (59). This claim is followed by an even larger one, when in arguing that the CLC “did not fall of its own weight,” Buhle asserts that “the CLC had for a moment represented, in and through the trades unions, the regional socialist dream.” Had the CLC been able to reject the Cold War liberalism of the State Department, which strengthened the hand of the region’s “paternalistic” and opportunistic native ruling classes, the “tragic failure” that ensued might have been averted.
It isn’t easy to determine exactly what meaning Buhle attributes to the phrases “socialistic reforms” and “socialist dream” to characterize the work of the CLC and other organizations within the Caribbean labor movement. If his premise is that Hector and other likeminded leftwing intellectuals were “socialists” who accepted the need for tactical “socialistic” compromises, then he is on safe ground, especially in light of the fact that, as Buhle indicates on several occasions, their common maître, C.L.R. James, a self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist, made the same type of compromise from the late 1950s practically to the end of the 1960s. For close to a decade, James advocated a social-democratic and “national-popular” program for the Trinidadian political parties of which he was an exponent in those years: the People’s National Movement founded in 1956 by Eric Williams, and the Workers and Farmers Party, which James founded together with George Weekes and Stephen Maharaj in 1965.
Another important feature of the book’s first chapter is its discussion of culture as central to Hector’s political work in Antigua, and more generally to the activities of the Left throughout the Caribbean region. The term culture, as Hector used it, embraces not only literary and artistic expressions of “high culture” but calypso and reggae, carnival and the steel bands, as well as religious movements such as Rastafarianism. Religious rituals and folk customs were of deep interest to Hector and his comrades.
Chapter 2, “What Makes Antigua Different?”, is a useful and depressing account of why, in Antigua as in other small Caribbean islands such as Grenada and Dominica, “the great regional rebellions of the 1930s did not occur” (69; emphasis in original). Nor did they occur in subsequent decades, at least not until the 1970s, when in Grenada the New Jewel movement, led by Maurice Bishop, Bernard Coard, and a small group of their co-militants, brought about a revolutionary change which, however, as Buhle explains, was foredoomed to failure by its inability to engage the masses in its program. Buhle agrees with other scholars on the Left who have argued that the Grenada revolutionaries succumbed to deadly internal discord, followed by an almost unopposed intervention by US marines, when they lost touch with the people on whose behalf they had carried out their seizure of power. Cuban volunteer airport workers were virtually the only ones to mount an armed resistance to the invasion.
But the main emphasis in this chapter is on the reasons why Tim Hector’s almost four decades of political work from the 1960s to the 1990s proved unequal to the task of overcoming the ills of a society “soaked in ignorance and parochialism”: Both were products of a centuries-old caste system that benefited the sugar-rich white colonial minority and a class of “free coloreds.” Antigua did not have the benefit of a dynamic and enterprising stratum of workers and middle-class merchants and professionals pushing aggressively towards modernization and a functioning infrastructure of social and health services.
Chapter 2 also deals with Hector’s formative experiences. Buhle takes pleasure in recounting young Tim’s love of music, the close relationship he had with his leftist grandfather, his interest in the teachings of Islam, which he later rejected, and his literary talents and precocious reading of American and Caribbean writers. These were steps along the way to a crucial period in Hector’s life story: his years of university studies as a scholarship student at McGill University in Montreal during the 1960s, when he belonged to a small circle of students that gathered around C.L.R. James, who was living intermittently in Canada at that time. These Canadian years marked Hector’s first and decisive encounter with Marxism, which influenced his decision in 1966 to return to Antigua instead of remaining in exile. Had he chosen the latter course, he would probably have had wider latitude for personal advancement, but much less direct involvement in the destiny of his country.
Chapter 3 traces the experiences and forces that impelled Hector to move in a more and more radical direction after his return home in 1966. The high points of Hector’s life from the late 1960s on were his intellectual contribution to the Antigua Workers Union, his editorship of the newspaper Trumpet, and his steady opposition to the electoral and administrative machine of Vere Bird. Hector credited Bird with some real accomplishments, but disagreed with the methods used by the longtime Antiguan prime minister, which he, Hector, judged to be self-serving, undemocratic, and frequently corrupt. Buhle makes it clear that what distinguished Hector’s political work from the late 1960s on was his internationalism. This found expression in the leadership he exercised in the Afro-Caribbean Movement (ACM), formed in 1968. The ACM renounced all forms of parochialism to embrace “the black revolution worldwide.” Buhle refers to an essay Hector wrote in 1969, “The Caribbean: Yesterday Today and Tomorrow,” as “the defining document of the ACM.” One wishes that he had included a few extracts from this essay, which Paget Henry describes as “a masterful synthesis of Marxism (James style) and black nationalism.” (149) Buhle returns to this essay in chapter 4, where he speaks of its indebtedness to C.L.R. James and Eric Williams. “Drawing upon James and Williams, among others,” Buhle tells us, “[Hector] recalled the slave uprisings and their contemporary counterpart in Black Power, defined in strictly socialistic terms, [as] the ‘cooperative and collective control of resources by the people’” (176). The words cooperative and collective may have been Hector’s way of combining, yet distinguishing between, the “socialistic” and the “socialist” components of the ACM’s political strategy. In this sense, cooperativism could be taken to mean socialistic, while collectivism connoted its socialist aims. But this distinction is not clarified, if that was indeed Hector’s (and Buhle’s) intent in juxtaposing the two terms. The problem is that cooperativism, after all, has been a cardinal element of democratic socialism and an aspect even of Soviet-style state socialism (which James called “state capitalism”). Buhle would have done well to clear up these ambiguities.
Was it a typo, or was it Buhle’s aim, in chapter 4, to characterize the American grip on Trinidad in 1970 as “vicelike” rather than “viselike”? In any event, his discussion in chapter 4 of the failed Trinidadian insurrection of 1970 serves as a disquieting prelude to his account of “the great moment passed by.” This was a period that saw the British and the US governments intervene heavy-handedly into Caribbean politics. In Guyana Cheddi Jagan and Walter Rodney both suffered defeat, which was punctuated in 1980 by Rodney’s assassination. Chapter 4 provides a good panoramic review of the events that gave the decades of the 1970s and ‘80s their “tragic” stamp. Buhle’s analysis of the Grenadian New Jewel movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s is sympathetic but unflinchingly critical. Although committed to a popular socialist democracy, Buhle avers, the New Jewel movement carried out its revolution “from above,” and failed to actively engage the ordinary people of the small island in its agenda for transformative socio-political change. It is painfully ironic that Hector himself suffered a personal tragedy during this period when his first wife, Arah Weekes, with whom he had a close political as well as intimate relationship, was murdered by a former prisoner whom the couple had hoped to rehabilitate through their personal sponsorship of his reintegration into civilian life.
In the book’s last chapter, “Beyond Tragedy,” we see Hector emerge as a fully developed socialist who, in a manner reminiscent of both C.L.R. James and the young Antonio Gramsci, described socialism as “the independent creative spirit of the mass of the population given the room and the opportunity to create new institutions at work, for the reorganization of production in the interests of the majority of the toilers and so creating popular democratic organs of self-management and therefore a new culture” (212f).
Through this comprehensive political biography of Tim Hector, Buhle has made an important contribution to the history of several fundamental currents of thought and action in the Caribbean Left during the past five decades. His book has few if any equals in recent historiography in its mixture of partisanship and thoroughness. Whatever its deficiencies, which include sentences that occasionally veer off into obscurity and shapelessness, it will certainly serve for a long time as a guide to the politics of a region of the world that has had more than its share of soaring hopes and bitter disappointments.
Review by Frank Rosengarten
Professor Emeritus, Queens College and The Graduate School
City University of New York
Christine Lattek, Revolutionary Refugees: German Socialism in Britain, 1840-1860 (London & New York: Routledge, 2006).
Worker migration is a well established phenomenon, and it has often led to conflict, something which is certainly not unknown today. This is probably the reason why historical migration research has gained new popularity. Frequently, an interface exists between the findings of worker migration studies and studies of working-class political movements and organizations. The emergence of the German (and international) labor movement from around the 1830s on has been treated extensively in literature, particularly in German. Since 1990 new material has become available from previously inaccessible archives. Comprehensive collections of documents, for example, about the Communist League, are now available, as well as a complete collection of the surviving correspondence of Marx and Engels, which has been published in the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe.
In her present book, Christine Lattek has made extensive use of this material, but has, at the same time, taken a new approach. As her point of departure she has chosen the German “colony” in London. The reason for this choice is twofold: 1) Labor organizations in London, i.e., especially the German Workers’ Educational Society -– better known under its later name, the Communist Working Men’s Club -– and the Communist League with their predecessors were, for a time, of decisive importance for all of the newborn German labor movement, not only because of their cooperation with Marx and Engels; and 2) the split between the Social and the Liberal Democrats in London following the defeat of the German Revolution in 1848-49 was a pre-determinant for the crucial split between bourgeois and socialists in the formation of German political parties in the 1860s. Certainly these two points are relevant, but Lattek tends to overestimate the importance of developments in London, especially in connection with the Communist League. With Martin Hundt’s thesis on the entire history of the League, an analysis is available which shows that Lattek fails sufficiently to coordinate specific events (in London) with general trends in the League’s other centers of activity.
Lattek analyzes the development of socialist (communist) fundamental viewpoints among German workers in London from around 1840 and their relationship with especially British Chartists and French socialists (including Blanquists). The other subjects in which she takes an interest are the development of Liberal Democracy among German refugees after the defeat of the 1848-49 German revolution, and finally, the connection of the German Liberal and labor movements with the “colony” in London up to approximately 1860. It is regrettable that Lattek did not have the opportunity to use a recent collection of the correspondence of German Liberals from that period, in which the vast majority of the letters emanate from Liberals domiciled in Germany. The fact that Lattek did not know of this correspondence leads her to overestimate the impact of the London Liberal Democratic movement on the discussions among German Liberals.
Lattek demonstrates unambiguously that the illegal German workers’ organization in London developed independently. Discussions in the League of the Just (the secret German workers’ organization existing in various European cities) took a different direction in London than in cities (particularly Paris) where the organization adhered to Wilhelm Weitling’s craft-communism. Lattek sees the discussions in London as an independent development among workers who subsequently got in touch with the Communist Correspondence Bureau in Brussels, i.e. especially Marx and Engels. In this process the two strands mutually influenced each other, and on the basis of discussions between Brussels and London the Communist League was born. The League broke with the existing form of organization as a secret society and developed a new politico-theoretical understanding which found expression in the Communist Manifesto. Lattek clearly attributes more significance to the contribution of the London group than to that of the Brussels communists. This, however, leads her to postulate a divergence between intellectuals and proletarians. Such a divergence is likely to have existed, but it is less one-dimensional than she supposes. Also she fails to problematize that Schapper, the spokesman for the London branch, was by no means a worker (the same is true of the subsequent split in the Communist League in 1850: Schapper’s co-spokesman, Willich, was a former army officer and subsequent general in the American Civil War).
Another important element is the description of the conflicts within the Communist League which already arose during the Revolution 1848-49 especially concerning any cooperation with democratic Liberals, conflicts which deepened substantially after the defeat of the Revolution. There were several reasons for these conflicts. In a number of the League’s branches positions existed which were not in keeping with the new scientific basis of the political stance of the League, but remained based on utopian socialism. The Brussels communists had accepted that the League could make room for divergent positions. These divergences broke out after the defeat and following the return to an exile existence in London on the part of a large number of the League’s members. In fact, the League split into two groups, and the majority of the London members joined the Willich-Schapper organization (the Sonderbund). Whereas the “Marxists” quickly understood that the Revolution had been defeated, the Sonderbund believed that it could be resurrected on the basis of military actions. Lattek deals thoroughly with the Sonderbund’s activity and final decline in 1853. Here she provides us with new insight, as this part of the history of the Communist League has not, to my knowledge, been analyzed in such detail before.
In addition to the League, London had a Workers’ Educational Society for German workers, whose membership at times reached several hundred. This body constituted a kind of external organization for the Communist League. Here also we find new material. 1861 saw the enactment of an amnesty in Prussia aimed at most of the participants in the 1848-49 Revolution, which meant that many of them could now return home. This led to a major shift in the development of the socialist and the liberal opposition. The “colony” in London lost its importance for developments in Germany, something which, in turn, changed its character –- it was no longer a politically dominated exile group with its face turned towards Germany, but a group of immigrants which, in the longer term, was integrated into British society.
In a final chapter Lattek outlines the course of events among Germans in London up to 1914, including, in particular, the role of the German Workers’ Educational Society. To a certain extent this latter organization gained new importance in the period 1878 to 1890, a period during which the labor movement in Germany suffered serious repression. The German Social Democratic Party published an illegal weekly during those years, initially in Switzerland, but following its ban there, in London (1888-90). Also Johann Most lived in London from 1879 to 1883, after which he and his weekly, the Freiheit, went to the United States where he became a leading anarchist.
The book’s argument is sometimes insufficiently clear. For example, in describing developments within the Communist League and the German Workers ‘ Educational Society, the author often fails to pinpoint which of them is specifically meant (e.g. pp. 122, 124). In other passages the author’s line of reasoning is ambiguous, and unfortunately the work contains a few errors relating to persons. A comparison with other cities having numbers of German emigrants could have provided greater depth.
The book makes much new material available to readers who do not master the German language and is also important in that it reminds us that the links between political emigrants and worker migrants, epitomized in the German workers’ organizations in London, may influence developments in their country of origin. Other more recent reminders of this are the liberation processes in, for example, South Africa or Chile, as well as the ongoing struggles elsewhere.
Review by Gerd Callesen