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Germinal (St. Ives)

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Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe
Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe
by Robert Gellately
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

13 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Trash, 24 Feb 2012
I'll start with a confession; I didn't complete the book. It's clearly reheated Cold War era historiography and I tired of that long before the Cold War ended. I only read the first section which dealt with Lenin, the Russian Revolution and Civil War and got bored and irritated with the one-dimensional vision, the exaggerations, the omission of reference to context, the omission of counter evidence, the omission of counter analysis, the mendacious distortion of evidence. It was obvious where the rest of the book was going - to a linear so-called `Totalitarian' analysis where Lenin, Stalin and Hitler get painted with the same brush- and so I saved my time.

Among Gellately's many faults and errors I would mention: his total misunderstanding of the nature of a `vanguard party', sure his portrayal of the concept aids his aim of showing the `evil' `anti-democratic' nature of Bolshevism but it's not an accurate portrayal. How else does Gellately continue his hatchet job? Well, he drags out the charge that the Bolsheviks were financed by the Germans which is a tired old charge that lacks supporting evidence. Lenin is charged with not complaining about anti-semitism when one can read his denunciations and even hear a speech of his against it on the web. Numbers killed by the Red Terror are grossly exaggerated while the causation and greater death toll from the White Terror barely rate a mention. Policy towards the Cossacks is misrepresented leading to an unwarranted charge, a lie in fact, of genocide. Gellately wants to cling to the `continuity thesis', that Lenin lead to and caused Stalin and so the inconvenience of Lenin's Testament where he calls for Stalin's removal is simply brushed aside with no serious engagement with the evidence.

This is childish, non-serious history that seeks to present a neat continuum whereas real history is far more complex and to bolster this simplicity resorts to misrepresentation, exaggeration and, on occasion, outright falsehood.


Churchill's Secret War
Churchill's Secret War
by Madhusree Mukerjee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.73

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of a war crime., 12 Feb 2012
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This review is from: Churchill's Secret War (Paperback)
Madhusree Mukerjee has produced a well researched and well written account describing and analysing the causes and course of the famine that struck Bengal and other areas of India during 1943-44.

Mukerjee manages to weave narrative and analysis together and combine insights from a variety of sources - diaries, unpublished and published memoirs, official records - to present a thorough and in-depth account that must now be the definitive account, atleast in popular format, of the Bengal famine. Indeed, the first person accounts are the great strength of the book; the Indian independence activists, British and colonial officials, the letters home of a British soldier, famine survivors.

The British government knew that famine was a likelihood in Bengal in late 1942 but chose other priorities, including saving face in front of the Americans, above the survival of Bengalis. Warnings were ignored. Offers of assistance were spurned and, when it came to an enquiry into the famine, key evidence went missing and is missing still - presumably destroyed.

The key motive for doing nothing very much seemed to come from the view that India was a country in rebellion, the account of RAF planes strafing Indian civilians is one disturbing episode, and, indeed, the British seem to have regarded India as an occupied nation, combined with Churchill's hatred of Indians and his racist contempt for them together with S-Branch chief Lord Cherwell's eugenicism helps illustrate the ideological background to what can only be described as a war crime.

Mukerjee is careful with regards to evidence throughout the book and the same applies to her conclusions regarding the number of famine victims. These stand at about 3.5 million in Bengal alone without regards to other famine hit areas such as Bihar, Orissa and Madras. Mukerjee doesn't venture to estimate the number of victims from these areas.

Great book. Deserves to be widely read.


'Race' Is a Four-Letter Word: The Genesis of the Concept
'Race' Is a Four-Letter Word: The Genesis of the Concept
by C. Loring Brace
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear argument supporting the fact that "race" is, biologically, a meaningless term., 31 Jan 2012
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Anthropologist C.Loring Brace has produced an excellent study of the way in which 'scientists' have treated the study of human variation and how the assumption, devoid of scientific evidence, of the concept of race has distorted that study and the negative, no, disastrous consequences that have resulted.

The best part of the book is the beginning where Brace argues the case that "race" is a biologically meaningless term. That there are only clines - gradual changes - and that the variable traits displayed by humans, and which supposedly denote race, are not congruent. Depressingly, this is still an argument which has to be won with too many people.

The rest of the book is a history of the concept of race, of the "scientists" who have developed and used the concept, there is a succession of potted biographies, their influence and consequences. Brace is ruthless, and at times very witty and sarcastic, in exposing the lack, or complete absence, of scientific methods deployed by a number of luminaries and the outright fabrication of evidence in some cases. Brace documents the flaws in this tradition and why theories associated with climatic determination or the 'Bell Curve' are just plain wrong, indeed cannot possibly be right.

Perhaps because Brace is an anthropologist, his focus seemed to me to be a little narrow. Certainly he acknowledges the role of colonialism in creating racism but I feel that he could explore the role of slavery in particular in generating the concept of race in the first place. There could have been a broader look at economic and political factors in the rise of racism. Nevertheless, anyone interested in race and racism, where it comes from and why it relies on a string of fallacies will find Brace's book valuable.


Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed
Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed
by Paul Mason
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meltdown, 16 Jan 2012
Economics is difficult for most of us and so a book that clearly explains theories and stops in mid flow to interpret jargon into plain English is welcome. That, for me, is the main strength of Mason's 'Meltdown' - he's provided an explanation of the current economic mess that everyone can understand.

It's a sophisticated analysis as well. History, social conflict, politics as well as economics and business play their role in Mason's work. This is a work of political economy and, as Mason says, political economy is back.

Recommended reading on the current crisis and then followed by David Harvey's 'The Enigma of Capital'.


The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848 (World History Series)
The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848 (World History Series)
by Robin Blackburn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.66

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard going. But brilliant., 4 Jan 2012
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Robin Blackburn's 'The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848' is a masterpiece. It's not an easy read and Blackburn is not an easy writer to read. The text is dense, the ideas and the information flow thick and fast. This is a book that makes you work hard to read it.

That effort is worth it. Blackburn's Marxist method means that the dialectical interplay of factors is highly complex and the argumentation measured and subtle.

Blackburn contends that colonial slavery (mostly) came to be overthrown due to an interplay of factors; political crises which marginalised slaveholders and gave rise to new types of state. The actuality or prospect of slave revolt. Social mobilisations encouraging the partisans of reform or revolution to rally popular sentiment with anti-slavery acts.

The scope of the work, as a result, is immense: America, Spain, France, Portugal, Britain, the colonies of the Caribbean, North and South America, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution, British oligarchy, anti-slavery agitators, democratic activists, Jacobins, maroons, rebels, Christian missionaries, Muslim slave rebels, Brazilian imperialists, Baptist preachers, the rise of capitalism and market economies, the onset of the bourgeois age, the fall of the Absolutist age and, above all, the Haitian Revolution all impact upon one another in a text which never dares to produce a defnitive conclusion because the narrative and analysis have been too complex and nuanced to warrant such rashness.

Hard going. But brilliant.


Cult, Ghetto and State: Persistence of the Jewish Question
Cult, Ghetto and State: Persistence of the Jewish Question
by Maxime Rodinson
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars An assault on 'ideological delirium'., 31 Dec 2011
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In 'Cult, Ghetto and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question', Maxime Rodinson takes aim at Zionism, Stalinism, anti-Communism and nationalism generally.

Jewish history has, according to Rodinson, been subject to much 'ideological delirium' - that is the history of the Jews has been slanted by ideological bias. Rodinson aims to work towards redressing the balance.

The book is a series of lucid essays on nationalism and how Zionism and anti-semitism have created the notion of Jews as a nation, the nature of anti-Jewish feeling in the Arab world and the historiography of the Jews with an introductory critical essay looking at Abram Leon's 'The Jewish Question'.

Readers of Shlomo Sand's 'The Invention of the Jewish People' and Gilbert Achcar's 'The Arabs and the Holocaust' will enjoy this book as well.


THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 2: THE JACOBIN REPUBLIC, 1792-1794.
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 2: THE JACOBIN REPUBLIC, 1792-1794.
by Marc (trans Jonathan Mandelbaum). Bouloiseau
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Jacobin Republic, 21 Nov 2011
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This is a reasonable account of the period of the French Revolution when the Jacobins were dominant.

This is the second in a three volume series, with each volume written by a different author. This means that there is a break in style and Bouloiseau isn't as good a writer as Vovelle, the author of Vol1. Bouloiseau's style is one of short, factually based sentences which are not that readable.

Nevertheless, this is a good volume for getting to grips with the Jacobin Republic for those with some existing knowledge of the history. The analysis of how the leading Jacobins, Robespierre & St Just, tacked between left wing and right wing forces is quite good. The treatment of The Terror is refreshingly non-hysterical. Less convincing is the analysis of the causes of 9 Thermidor. There is a good section on the way the state drove forward all sorts of modernising measures around supplying the military.


The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 1921-1929
The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 1921-1929
by Isaac Deutscher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best history books ever written., 13 Nov 2011
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Although written more than 50 years ago, 'The Prophet Unarmed' is still vibrant and fresh. Deutscher's prose is of the highest order, his turn of phrase can, at times, combine the poetic and the dialectic and this is high literature as well as high history.

It's also a fairly searing critique of Trotsky and all his missed opportunities to halt the rise of Stalin, the "gravedigger of the Revolution".

Deutscher subtly weaves the internal political, social and economic issues in Russia, the international situation, especially the Chinese Revolution, with the politics internal to the Communist Party in the USSR and how these conflicts worked upon each other and on the power struggles within the party.

My only criticism would be that Deutscher, like Trotsky, believed that if property remained state owned then it was not capitalist and that the bureaucracy did not constitute a social class. This leads Deutscher to give the impression that he believes that Stalin was always striving for dictatorship rather than, like other protagonists, responding to events. But this is minor.

This is one of the best books, never mind one of the best history books, ever written.


Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat
Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat
by Israel Getzler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £36.82

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disservice to Martov., 12 Oct 2011
Israel Getzler's biography of Martov appears to be the only available one devoted to such a significant figure. That's a shame because the work is essentially flawed.

Getzler's work is a hatchet job on Lenin, Bolshevism and the October Revolution using a biography of Martov as a cover. In fact, the subtitle of this book could easily be: 'The Trial of Julius Martov' for Getzler seems to regard Martov as having failed in what Getzler imagines should have been Martov's historical mission - to oust Lenin from socialist politics in Russia, to stymie the rise of Bolshevism and thus prevent October 1917 from ever happening - and this book sets out a prosecutorial case as to how and why Martov 'failed'.

Getzler misrepresents Lenin and the Bolsheviks political position at every key moment from the unwarranted charge of wanting an elitist party as opposed to Martov's vision of a mass party, itself a distortion of Martov's position, at the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party through to October insurrection, the subsequent walk out of Martov from the Congress of Soviets and beyond. So inaccurate is Getzler's portrayal of Bolshevism that the reader is left wondering whether his protrayal of Martov is in any way accurate. So consistent is Getzler's misrepresentation, that it must be deliberate. Fortunately, a reader informed of the history of Russian Marxism and the Russian Revolution can pick some value and some new insight from Getzler's book in the clear explanation of Martov's position and the impression gained that, ultimately, he was a brilliant but flawed idealist. It comes as no surprise that Getzler lands on Martov's Marxism as the ultimate reason for his failure.

Oddly enough, I'd recommend this book as an example of the lengths that ostensibly respectable historians will go to in order to distort the record for their own political purposes and particularly in the case of the historiography of the Russian Revolution.


A History of Modern Lebanon
A History of Modern Lebanon
by Fawwaz Traboulsi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really well focused history of Lebanon., 7 Oct 2011
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This is an excellent history of Lebanon.

The real strength comes from the way that Traboulsi weaves the social, economic, political, confessional and international together into a coherent whole.

In more mainstream accounts, Lebanon is a confessional patchwork and that is the root of it's problems. What that obscures, and what Traboulsi reveals, is that this confessionalism has social and economic roots mirroring the divisions of social class and that no Christian or Muslim army marched against one another in Lebanon until foreign powers attempted to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean in the nineteenth century. The impact of the capitalist world on to Lebanon's feudal world and the relationships that formed out of this is really story of how Lebanese conflicts were born. This view builds upon that of Kamal Salibi's 'A House of Many Mansions' and, at times, is reminiscent of the incisive social analysis of Hanna Batatu - that is high praise.

Traboulsi's account of the Lebanese civil war is the clearest I've yet seen of what can be a very confusing conflict and, apparently, Traboulsi is engaged in writing a longer history of that war - something that we can really look forward to.

Thoroughly recommended.


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