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Germinal (St. Ives)

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The Conundrum of Russian Capitalism: The Post-Soviet Economy in the World System
The Conundrum of Russian Capitalism: The Post-Soviet Economy in the World System
by Ruslan Dzarasov
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.69

4.0 out of 5 stars The failure of capitalism in Russia., 22 April 2014
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This is an interesting book on a number of levels.

Firstly, it's marvelous to get a book written about Russia by a Russian from a Marxist perspective. Not only that, but from a perspective which adopts an analysis that owes so much to the outlook of Leon Trotsky and his analysis of the USSR and the degeneration of the Russian revolutionary regime. That does lead to some problems, however.

Dzarasov argues that the USSR was not socialist and not capitalist and yet seeks to argue that Russian capitalism today is a continuation of the Stalinist system. In Marxist terms, the terms in which Dzarasov wishes to argue, that doesn't work at all and Dzarasov would have been much better going with the far more incisive analysis of the USSR as a state capitalist system - an analysis that he seems completely unaware of - as other analyses of Eastern Europe such as `First the Transition, then the Crash' show that such approaches are superior.

Secondly, the analysis of Russian capitalism is devastating for those ideologues of free market capitalism who sold the idea that Russia would enter a capitalist utopia as a result of their prescriptions. Living standards, life expectancy and wages are still, nearly a quarter century later, much lower than in the USSR. Russian industry is much less competitive now than in the USSR - in the USSR, productive technology was updated, on average, every ten years, today that has doubled to twenty years.

This is the `conundrum' of the title. Russian capitalists do not make long term investments and do make inferior investments - so new productive technology is usually second hand Western equipment rather than new.

Dzarasov locates this within the nature of Russian capitalism and how the capitalists simply seek to get rich via what Dzarasove refers to as `insider rent' and either protect their capital from take over by potential rivals or seek to take over rivals themselves in a corrupt and unstable environment where getting rich quick and concealing ownership and control of business via myriads of cover companies and other businesses `owned' by relatives etc is the common practice.

Thirdly, Russian capitalism is placed firmly within an analysis of trends of global capitalism, especially the financialisation of global capitalism which reinforces the trend away from long term and towards short term investment. Although, again, Dzarasov would have been on stronger ground if he'd located this trend with the trend of falling profit rates in the world economy.

Anyway, utterly damning verdict on the Yeltsin/Putin neo-liberal catasrophe.


Workers Revolution in Russia, 1917: The View from Below
Workers Revolution in Russia, 1917: The View from Below
by Daniel H. Kaiser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent short corrective to misleading accounts, 7 April 2014
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This is a really useful short volume, in fact a collection of short essays, that acts as a welcome corrective to misleading interpretations of the Russian Revolution.

It starts with Ronald Grigor Suny looking at the dominant hisoriography which claims that the October Revolution was not popular and was a coup and announcing that this volume will challenge that dominance. Sadly, this was back in 1987 and things haven't changed much since then - which is probably why this volume still has a freshness to it even though it was written 27 years ago.

Essays follow from James H Bater looking at the state of the working class in Moscow and Petrograd prior to the revolutionary year of 1917, Steve Smith looking at the fact that in Petrograd the revolution was certainly something which came `from below' and Diane Koenker doing the same with regards to Moscow. William Rosenberg looks at how the Bolsheviks lost some support amongst the working class in the year following October 1917 but here the weaknesses of `history from below' become apparent as the impact of bigger picture political events - civil war, blockade, foreign intervention etc - don't feature in the analysis although Rosenberg clearly locates the regimes problems in an escalating economic collapse dating back to before the February Revolution - far more than the dominant view is prepared to concede.

As the centenary of the revolution approaches, we can be guaranteed a distorted picture will be presented from much of the mainstream media and historians. This small volume is great place to start for a corrective.


1688: The First Modern Revolution (Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture & History) (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-century Culture & History)
1688: The First Modern Revolution (Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture & History) (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-century Culture & History)
by Steve Pincus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1688 - all that and more, 7 April 2014
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I think this is a really interesting book - over long, not well written, vastly over evidenced - but definitely interesting.

Pincus is concerned with taking on both Whiggish, conservative and revisionist historians interpretations of what 1688 was about and where it sits in the long view of English, British, European and world history. This he succeeds in doing for the most part.

Pincus argues that 1688 was not a coup, was not a foreign invasion, was not motivated by religion, was motivated by opposition to an absolutist vision of the state, and, so, was European in outlook, but that Tory and Whig visions of the alternative to absolutism would be played out over the coming decades and that 1688 set England and Britain on the road to being a modern capitalist, manufacturing society.

In most of these arguments, Pincus succeeds. There are places where he doesn’t succeed. I don’t think that he makes a case for a genuinely popular revolution, at least not one where lower classes develop political agendas independently of higher social classes. Pincus also suffers because he views James II’s absolutism and the opposing Williamite vision as both being ‘modern’ without addressing how absolutism really fitted into societies with emerging capitalism and was essentially conservative.

All the way through the book, the revolutionary events of 1640-60 assume ‘elephant in the room’ proportions and eventually, in his conclusion, Pincus addresses how England’s two revolutions relate to one another. Unfortunately, this analysis is quite superficial and Pincus is quite dismissive of the mid-century events but does concede that 1688 was not possible without 1640 to 1660.

There's lots to chew over and anyone interested in how changes in modes of production interact with changes in political/state structures will be interested in what Pincus has to say......even though he says it ever so stodgily.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2015 10:08 AM BST


Victor Serge: A Biography
Victor Serge: A Biography
by Susan Weissman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Victor Serge: A Political Biography, 1 April 2014
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I enjoyed Susan Weissman's 'Victor Serge: A Political Biography' but, at the same time was unsatisfied by it.

It's well written, quite readable and the politics and history are well explained. If someone was unaware of Victor Serge or new to his ideas or politics then I think that this would be a good introduction.

However, how many people are there out there who are interested in Serge and yet have not read anything by him and would, therefore, look to start with this book? Precious few I would have thought. And that's the problem. For readers already familiar with Serge's life story and politics, this biography provides little that is new or insightful or that could not be gleaned from Serge's own 'Memoirs of a Revolutionary'. For those familiar with his fictional, literary output there is hardly any discussion at all and for those unfamiliar with it, there is little to hook you in.

I feel that a better approach would have been to cut down on stuff that is in 'Memoirs', as most readers of this book will have already read that, concentrate more on assessments of Serge's literary output, his personal and family life and his political legacy and where it fits in the ongoing tradition of anti-Stalinist Marxism.


The History of Democracy: A Marxist Interpretation
The History of Democracy: A Marxist Interpretation
by Brian S. Roper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

4.0 out of 5 stars No socialism without democracy, no democracy without socialism, 18 Mar. 2014
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As a socialist, I have always believed that there can be no socialism without democracy and, more importantly, that there can be no democracy without socialism. With this in mind, I was pleased to see a history of democracy from a Marxist perspective as it fills an important gap.

Roper distinguishes between three different models of democracy. The classic Athenian model, the more recent and dominant liberal one and a socialist or Marxist view of democracy. Roper makes the point that liberal interpretations of democracy tend to try and assimilate earlier democratic practices into its own model even though they were distinct, time specific and historically contingent.

Roper's point is that Athenian democracy remains the model for popular workers democracy from below, and the chapter on Athenian democracy is eye opening, whereas Roman democracy is the one favoured by those who see democracy, in a more limited and controlled form handed down from above. The 1688 Revolution in England is an example suggested.

I found the chapter on the American Revolution illuminating. It is well furnished with quotes from the framers of the US constitution that show that representative democracy was clearly designed to keep power in the hands of a rich, property owning oligarchy and away from the mass of ordinary workers or farmers - let alone the slaves owned by the Founding Fathers.

The book is divided chronologically and is an excellent text for anyone seeking to understand a historically grounded socialist point of view, and then read on further. There are suggestions for more in depth reading at the end of each chapter.

Roper proceeds from Athens, via the transition from feudalism to capitalism on to capitalist democracy itself and concludes with two examples of socialist democracy in practice -- the Paris Commune and the first years of the Russian Revolution from 1917.

If I have a criticism, then it would be that not enough space is devoted to the struggle for democracy such as The Chartists.

Our society suffers a democratic deficit and many people are increasingly aware that this is the case. At the same time, the Left is in crisis and seemingly unable to offer an alternative to an increasingly crisis prone and undemocratic capitalism. Roper's book goes some way to providing us with a historically grounded understanding of where socialists should stand with regards to democracy.


Glenfarclas 12 Year Old / 70cl
Glenfarclas 12 Year Old / 70cl

4.0 out of 5 stars Great everyday dram, 2 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Glenfarclas 12 Year Old / 70cl
New to the UK market, this 12 year old from Glenfarclas would make a great everyday dram.

Deep gold in colour, the aroma is sweet and fruit cakeish, you get a full mouthfeel of smooth fruity sherryness and a decent length finish.


First the Transition, Then the Crash: Eastern Europe in the 2000s
First the Transition, Then the Crash: Eastern Europe in the 2000s
by Gareth Dale
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Eastern Europe's neo-liberal nightmare., 2 Jan. 2014
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72% of Hungarians believe they were better off under so-called 'communism'. Similar disatisfaction is expressed elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The global capitalist crash hit the region hard in 2008 onwards. Increased 'prosperity' and economic growth had been paid for by borrowing and the resulting debt came crashing down harder in CEE than elsewhere. Devaluation of currency meant that debt soared in the Baltic states. That was coupled by a slump in demand for exports leading to a collapse of investment, production and, consequently, employment. GDP fell more sharply in CEE than elsewhere in Europe, with partial exception in Poland and Czech Republic, as property bubbles burst and exports, in export oriented economies, fell.

The economic collapse has seen a rise in racism and right-wing nationalist politics across the region.

This book is a series of essays which examine the capitalist crisis since 2008 in CEE. They show that economic growth was often speculative and that neo-liberal reforms actually made these economies more vulnerable to crisis. As with any book of essays, there is variation in quality. Those authors who understood the former Eastern Bloc as having state-capitalist economies have a much more certain grasp on the transition to market economies than those who see them as having a non-capitalist past and, consequently, the analysis of what has gone wrong is stronger.


Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness
Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness
by Rashid Khalidi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.56

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shatters some myths, 20 Dec. 2013
In popular discussion there is still, amazingly, an argument as to whether the Palestinians exist as a people. It's a sad reflection of this fact that Rashid Khalidi has to still tackle the fraudulent arguments made by Joan Peters in `From Time Immemorial'. Needless to say, they are soon disposed with.

Of far more interest is the way Khalidi approaches what he sees as the formation of a distinct Palestinian identity that stretches back to the middle of the Eighteenth century, developed during the Nineteenth century, emerged as something that could be identified as a distinct nationalism in the early years of the Twentieth century and came into full form in the years 1918-23, launched it's bid for national freedom in 1936-39, was defeated in 1947-49 and re-emerged from that defeat in the 1960's to put the Palestinian issue back on the international agenda. Cultural, religious, political and economic factors combine and act upon one another to form this identity. The location of the origins of Palestinian identity to the era prior to the start of the Zionist colonisation of Palestine thus deals with the notion that Palestinian identity is merely a knee-jerk reaction to Zionist colonisation as some have suggested. What Khalidi does do is relate how reaction to Zionism did develop the urgency of the case for Palestinian nationhood.

Khalidi also locates the emergence of Palestinian nationalism in relation to the other emergent `isms' of Middle Eastern identities in the imperialist era; pan-Syrianism, pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism and concludes that many Palestinian nationalists could quite easily accommodate multiple identities as Palestinians, Syrians or Arabs without any contradiction. He thus deals effectively with any possible criticism from these ideological quarters that may challenge the existence of the Palestinians as a distinct people.

Especially interesting is Khalidi's focus on the press as a source for how educated Palestinians were feeling and how they were articulating their concerns.

All in all, an excellent book for anyone genuinely interested in the Palestine question and who wants to get beyond the commonly held myths.


Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic
Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic
by David Caute
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting.....but what is this book about again?, 4 Nov. 2013
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This is a strange book. The ostensible topic is the claim that Isaiah Berlin blocked Isaac Deutscher's appointment to Sussex University, but this issue only appears after some 270 pages - Berlin was guilty, by the way. The vast majority of the book is about other issues entirely.

This doesn't mean that the book isn't entertaining - it is. It's well written. Caute is adept at making caustic asides at the work of both Deutscher and Berlin and, even if some of these miss their mark, the ones that hit raise a chuckle. Also, for anyone interested in the conflict between Marxism and Liberalism, the book offers a fair number of insights and Caute manages to get both points of view right most of the time.

So, Caute romps through a range of issues upon which Berlin and Deutscher disagreed throughout the Cold War. Berlin kept insisting that Deutscher was a 'falsifier' of evidence but no evidence to support his allegation was ever produced. In the end, Belin blocked Deutscher because Deutscher was a Marxist and was critical of Israel and Berlin was initially piqued because Deutscher heavily criticised one of Berlin's books. The episode is illustrative of the cowardice and hypocrisy of Cold War liberalism.

Good read, but doesn't contain what it says on the cover.


The Far Left in the English Revolution
The Far Left in the English Revolution
by Brian Manning
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Short masterpiece, 22 Aug. 2013
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Brian Manning's 'The Far Left in the English Revolution' completes the 5 books Manning wrote analysing the English revolution.

It's excellent, short and punchy and has one of the clearest (and brief) explanations of fundamental Marxist concepts, including exploitation, surplus labour, class and the mode of production.

This is followed by excellent analysis of Thompson's Leveller revolt of 1649 and Venner's Fifth Monarchist revolt of 1657 and where they sit with the radical ideas and movements of the era generally.


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