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Germinal (St. Ives)

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The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce
The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce
by Paul Kelemen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading, 24 Jun. 2016
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Given the recent controversy over alleged anti-Semitism towards anti-Zionists within the Labour Party, I was looking for an academic study which tackled the subject and so found Paul Kelermen, a sociologist at Manchester University’s study entitled ‘The British Left and Zionism. History of a Divorce’.

It’s a very good book overall but with some missed opportunities for clearer historical perspectives and is chopped into convenient chapters dealing with differing periods and currents within the British Left. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the issues.

Kelermen starts with the relationship between Zionism and Labour. The Labour Party has always, historically, been pro-Zionist in its orientation and so exploring the origins of why this is the case is illuminating. For Kelermen, as for others, Zionism’s debt to Evangelical Protestantism is clear and this forms a common root with the Labour Party. Labour had proposed a Jewish homeland in Palestine before the Balfour Declaration in its War Aims Memorandum and continued and continues to support Labour Zionism. Before WWII the motives were varied – the belief that Labour Zionism was a progressive social-democratic project, the imperialist belief that British imperialism could bring social-democracy to the inhabitants of the Empire with Labour Zionism as an example, the straightforward idea that British imperialism was a progressive force, the racist belief that there was a hierarchy of races and that Jews stood above Arabs in this hierarchy and a Social-Darwinist belief that Jews were fitter to rule Palestine than Arabs. There were also some pseudo-Marxist ideas that Arab resistance to Zionism and British rule was merely a medieval aristocratic reaction to social-democracy. There was virtually no criticism of the Jewish Labour Only policy of the Zionist Histadrut union in Mandate Palestine.

Kelermen’s second chapter examines how British Jewry reacted to Zionism up to the 1967 War. Zionism has always been strongest among the Jewish middle class and Labour Zionism, in the shape of Poale Zion, found it very hard to compete with the Communist Party amongst the Jewish working class. Post WWII, Britain’s Jewish population became increasingly middle class and assimilated and Zionism came to be accepted not just for the obvious reason of a reaction against the Holocaust but for subtler reasons such as the clerical establishment endorsing Zionism and loyalty to Israel as a means to shore up Jewish identity as an ethnic identity as the confessional nature of the community came under pressure from increased marrying out of the Jewish community.

The next chapter deals with the Communist Party up to 1948. The CPGB followed Moscow’s line with little variation. They argued against British imperialism in Palestine, saw the Zionists as merely the tools of British imperialism and called for unity between Jewish and Arab labour. This changed abruptly in 1947 when Stalin backed the UN resolution to partition Palestine and Czechoslovakia armed Israel and the Hungarian army trained Zionist fighters to be sent to Palestine (a new fact for me). The contortions that the CPGB went through in order to justify the change were laughable and the party never again made much about the Palestine-Israel issue beyond parroting the USSR’s foreign policy of supporting UN resolutions. Here Kelermen missed a chance to explore the allegation that the current Left’s solidarity with the Palestinians and hostility to Zionism has its origins in the USSR’s domestic anti-Semitism – the fact that the CPGB showed no interest in Palestine solidarity clearly indicates no such link.

The chapter on post-war social-democracy starts by tackling the conflict between Labour’s intensely pro-Zionist policies and the more subtle foreign policy objectives of the British state. A more detailed analysis could have been useful here as the needs of British foreign policy – the propping up of Arab clients conflicting with Zionism yet the logic of stymying an independent Arab Palestine leading to a pro-Zionist policy which tied with Labour’s pro-Zionism – to the extent that it was Labour Party policy to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its Arab people. Ernest Bevin’s attempts to weave through this being interpreted as ‘pro-Arab’ by a pro-Zionist Labour Party. Only once we get to the 1967 War and Israel’s territorial aggrandisement do dissenting voices get to be heard in the Labour Party.

Which brings us to the modern Left and its largely anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian policies. Where did this come from? The answer is from the New Left, from the anti-Stalinist reaction to the invasion of Hungary by the USSR leading to a Left which was neither Labour nor CPGB. That was anti-imperialist. That showed sympathy and support to Arab nationalism – especially the Algerian struggle for independence. That coupled the opposition to the US war on Vietnam with support for other national liberation struggles and with the campaign against Apartheid in South Africa and connecting these with Palestinian liberation. It was the Young Liberals, incidentally, who first made the connection. Sympathy for Israel diminished but remained but, by the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Sabra and Chatila massacres in 1982, it had vanished in any meaningful form on the Left. That’s certainly how I also remember it – the Left was finished with Israel and Zionism in 1982.

Kelermen finally deals with the allegation that the Left’s opposition to Zionism is motivated by anti-Semitism and shows considerable irritation with the disingenuousness of the case made that it is. He says: “The research underpinning the historical account in the previous chapter [the New Left’s opposition to Zionism] turned up no evidence to suggest that anti-semitism has played a part in the British left’s change of perception of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Kelermen missed an aspect here. The allegation has been made that anti-Semitism was part of the socialist movement in the nineteenth century and that this forms a residue from which the modern Left’s anti-Zionism springs. Kelermen rightly points out that such currents existed and also rightly points out that they died out when it became apparent that anti-Semitism was a movement of the aristocratic Right in Europe with episodes like pogroms in Tsarist Russia and the Dreyfuss affair in France leading to socialist rejection of anti-Semitism. I feel that he could have added more. Kelermen could have illustrated how the anti-Semitic strain in nineteenth century socialism was combatted by the likes of Bebel, Engels and Belfort-Bax. He could also have pointed out that, after the Russian Revolution, anti-Semitism was integral to anti-communism and hostility to the Left generally and that for the Left to adopt an ideology that, in its essence, is hostile to the Left would be strange indeed.


The 'Russian' Civil Wars 1916-1926: Ten Years that Shook the World
The 'Russian' Civil Wars 1916-1926: Ten Years that Shook the World
by Jonathan D. Smele
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £28.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where are the Revolutions?, 22 Feb. 2016
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This is a decent book which purports to offer a new analysis of the ‘Russian’ civil wars – that the territory of the former Russian Empire underwent a series of civil wars beginning in 1916 and ending in 1926, both ends incidentally in Muslim central Asia, and that some conflicts today are the results of these wars. As such, it forms part of the ‘continuum of crisis’ model currently fashionable amongst academics of the Russian revolutionary period.

The book appears to be pitched at undergraduates, has a good bibliography, some excellent notes and crams 10 years worth of history into 250 pages – somewhat problematically.

So, where does this book fit into a mainstream historiography that has struggled to deal impartially with the Russian revolutionary period? Smele tries here and, to a large extent, succeeds in a number of areas in gaining some balance. There are still a number of problems, however, and the overall ‘continuum of crisis’ model is weak and inconsistently applied.

Areas of past controversy that receive welcome balance or concessions include the variety of controversies surrounding the Kronstadt rebellion and the acceptance that Lars Lih’s position that Lenin’s ‘What Is To Be Done?’ has been misinterpreted by historiography.

That latter concession deals a fatal blow to the ‘continuity thesis’ – that there was an uncomplicated journey from Bolshevism before and during 1917 to the Stalinism of the 1930’s. And yet Smele seems to want to breathe life into the corpse by his espousal of the validity of Erick von Ree’s quixotic interpretation of Lenin’s views on ‘Socialism in One Country’ – that Lenin entertained such a notion and, so, that Stalin’s adoption of the policy did not represent a break with Bolshevism. The cranks of the Stalin Society will be pleased.

Some issues are not handled well at all. Anti-semitism, for example, where Smele spends a bizarre amount of time attempting to build a case for Red anti-semitism, asserting a link between general socialist ideas, antisemitism and Red practice which simply wasn’t there and for which, tellingly, Smele provides not a jot of supporting evidence. Smele quotes Isaac Babel at some length and yet misreads and misinterprets both Babel’s fiction and his diary on the matter of pogroms committed by Polish forces which Smele misattributes to the Red Army. If Smele wanted a good illustration of counter-revolutionary pogromism, which he acknowledges, then he would have done a lot better quoting Vasily Shulgin’s graphic account of a pogrom in Kiev.

The treatment of Terror is also problematic. Firstly, Smele, like too many authors, concentrates on Red Terror and neglects White Terror. Smele shies away from discussing figures for massacres committed by counter-revolutionaries yet not so for the Red side. The figures which Smele cites for Terror victims is also highly problematic and contradictory – he cites a figure of 500,000 victims of the Red Terror in his text yet also cites approvingly in his notes a claim for 1.2 million victims. Given that even the vehement anti-Communist Cold War warrior Richard Pipes dare not cite more than 140,000 victims lends something of a delirious air to such figures.

There’s also a weakness to the central thesis of ‘continuum of crisis’ and its inconsistent application. Firstly, the idea that Russia underwent a continual crisis is so obvious that it doesn’t merit the label of a hypothesis. Nor is it in any way new. Anyone familiar with Trotsky’s concept of ‘uneven and combined development’, and a professional scholar of Russian history should be, would recognise that Russia’s late arrival at capitalist and industrial development had been an ongoing crisis since the Crimean War, was illustrated again in the war with Japan in 1905 and reached catastrophic proportions in World War One.

The inconsistency of application manifests itself when it comes to the analysis of War Communism and the collapse of urban population and industry in the civil war period. Smele blames War Communism – or, as he himself accurately prefers to think of it, as a regime of forced requisitioning – for the collapse of industry and the depopulation of urban Russia. Yet a consistent application of his own approach would acknowledge that the Soviet application of a ‘food dictatorship’ followed attempts to tackle the very same issues that faced both the Provisional and Tsarist governments as well, it might be added, for the Central Powers who also resorted to requisitioning in the areas of the former Russian Empire that they took after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk – areas which, together with economic blockade and occupation by Entente powers, explains the economic collapse and the response of War Communism. Smele, here, gets the cart before the horse and doesn’t apply his own theory to the problem at hand.

Nor does he consider the effect of urban population collapse upon the very organisation which was based upon the urban working class population - the Bolsheviks – and how this fed into the increasing bureaucratisation of their party and state beyond the short analysis of the Workers Opposition.

At other points, Smele contradicts himself. In the main text, for example, he accepts that the Soviet retreat of New Economic Policy (NEP) was a sincere move and not a piece of political trickery and yet intimates the opposite in his conclusion.

But the biggest problem by far of the whole ‘continuum of crisis’ approach is the relegation of revolution to mere episodes in that continuum. This is certainly not how they were seen at the time. The February Revolution overthrew a Tsarist autocracy that had ruled Russia and been a major international factor for centuries. The October Revolution brought to power a socialist workers government that galvanised the other world powers to destroy or contain it. Both of these were world shattering events yet they barely feature here.

All said, though, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Russian revolutionary period. Perhaps it represents the first in a series of works marking the centenary of the events of 1917. If so, then it’s a decent start but, given the generally poor state of the historiography around this topic, I fear it may be downhill from here.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 30, 2016 2:41 AM BST


The Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity (Keep Calm and Carry On)
The Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity (Keep Calm and Carry On)
by Owen Hatherley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ministry of Nostalgia, 4 Feb. 2016
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This is an enjoyable rant about manufactured nostalgia that also has some serious political points to make.

I'll get my two criticisms out of the way first though: a serious look at manufactured nostalgia, and with it manufactured history, would look beyond the architectural sphere, and to a limited extent the cinematic arena which Hatherley inhabits and encompass music, literature, TV etc. For instance the role of Brit-Pop and Cool Britannia to the way that the Blairite era saw itself with nods to late 1960's fashion and music Secondly, the book has the feel either of an essay stretched to book length or of a splicing of a number of articles.

Nevertheless, Hatherley hits his target enough times with his main theme that the nostalgia for 1940's era austerity themes coincides with the Cameron era austerity reality and reinforces, especially via 'Keep Calm and Carry On', the idea that 'we are all in it together' when, in fact, the vast majority of us experience austerity while an elite enriches itself. The irony of this is driven home by the obvious, yet necessary point, that the gains of the 1940's austerity era in terms of the welfare state are precisely those legacies being destroyed today in the name of 'Keep Calm and Carry On'.


One Day In My Life
One Day In My Life
by Bobby Sands
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.50

4.0 out of 5 stars One Day in My Life, 26 Jan. 2016
This review is from: One Day In My Life (Paperback)
Gritty account written while Sands was engaged in the so-called 'dirty protest' in order that IRA prisoners regained the status of political prisoner. Very readable, honest, emotional. The brutality of the sectarian regime is what strikes the reader the most.


Year One of the Russian Revolution
Year One of the Russian Revolution
by Victor Serge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant corrective to distorted views., 22 Dec. 2015
Victor Serge's `Year One of the Russian Revolution' was written in the late 1920's and first published in 1930. It is not only one of the best books available on the revolution but is one of the great history books.

Serge represented the real Marxist, anti-Stalinist tradition that was being marginalised and crushed during the 1920's and would be killed in the 1930's. His history of `Year One' was written in the atmosphere of the rise of Stalinism and is reflected by that in that the chapters are short and punchy, designed to be stand-alone articles that were taken singly out of Russia to avoid the gathering censorship. This, coupled with Serge's style, makes for an extremely readable book.

There are two sets of people who won't like this book. The first are the Stalinists. Stalin himself barely features in the revolution or in the vital first year. Stalin's later picture of himself as the man who stood at Lenin's right hand in the revolution does not appear, precisely because he never existed. In Serge's account there are two individuals who count in the revolution, whom both the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries regard as vital personalities - Lenin and Trotsky.

The Stalinists will also not like the fact that the revolution and the Bolshevik Party are portrayed as being vibrant, active, popular, democratic. This latter point will also displease mainstream historians who have spent the last six decades trying to convince the world that the opposite was true. The revolution appears, not as the result of a dark conspiracy, but as a popular movement at the head of which stands the Bolshevik Party.

Serge does not neglect the international context as many mainstream historians do. He is quite clear, and backs it up with numerous quotations, that the Bolsheviks knew that the revolution in Russia could only survive if there was a revolution abroad.

The same treatment is given to the start of the Red Terror and the civil war. Serge is quite clear and, again, provides numerous examples to illustrate the point, that the Reds started by being magnanimous whereas the Whites started by being violent and terroristic. Many mainstream accounts either portray these events in reverse or even omit any reference at all to the White Terror. The role of foreign powers is also shown in their arming, financing and conspiring with the White forces.

So, Serge's account is one where the narrative and analysis are interwoven in the best tradition of historical writing. Serge also provides short pen-portraits of some of the characters in the drama.

A word should also be said about the footnotes which the modern editors added. These are excellent. They frequently back up Serge's writing with more more modern academic research showing that although Serge was a pioneer historian of the revolution he was, in the vast majority of cases, a very accurate comentator.

Serge left the USSR in 1936. Shortly before he left the GPU (the forerunner of the KGB) stole his manuscripts. Somewhere in the KGB archives should be the manuscript of `Year Two of the Russian Revolution'. A gem awaiting discovery.

Read `Year One' for a better understanding of what the Russian Revolution was actually about.


The Invention of the White Race Vol. 1
The Invention of the White Race Vol. 1
by Theodore W. Allen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Invention of the White Race Vol 1., 21 Dec. 2015
Theodore W Allen was a remarkable figure, he was a former miner and trades union activist who was a self-taught scholar. Allen’s concern was to oppose racial discrimination in American labour relations, to oppose the notion that racism is natural, to oppose the notion that ‘race’ or racism is defined or understood phenotypically and to understand and identify the origins of such ideas.

In a nutshell, it is Allen’s thesis that racial oppression, and the notions of racial privilege, are mechanisms of ruling class social control – a means to ‘divide and rule’ labour.

Volume 1 concerns itself mainly with Ireland and with Irish immigrant experience in the USA. Allen examines closely the process by which British rule in Ireland established a racial hierarchy based not just upon national origin but on religious supremacy, the Protestant Ascendancy, whereby the Catholic Irish became second class citizens in their own country and how the Protestant working class, via Orangeism, held a privileged position with regards to the Catholic Irish. Allen documents how legislation to enforce Protestant supremacy in Ireland were mirrored and followed in American colonies with regard to skin colour.

To reinforce this point, Allen then examines how the Irish immigrant experience in America assimilated the Irish to the ranks of the ‘white race’. That the Catholic Irish, as ‘white workers’, were seen to gain some sort of privilege in contrast to ‘black workers’, to oppose the abolition of racial slavery, to reject the calls for opposition to racial slavery made by Irish nationalists in Ireland who would make the comparison between the fate of Irish Catholics in Ireland and ‘black labour’ in America. Allen ties this in with Jacksonian Democratic politics, New York Tamany Hall politics and the link between elements of big business in New York and the Southern plantocracy as well as the conservative Catholic establishment in America.

It’s a well-argued and evidenced thesis.


Men in Prison: (Spectre)
Men in Prison: (Spectre)
by Victor Serge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Men In Prison, 30 Oct. 2015
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‘Men in Prison’ is the first novel in Victor Serge’s ‘witness’ cycle. It is a work of fictional literature but reads like a memoir and is based upon Serge’s experience of being in prison in the years just before and during World War I.

It is what says on the cover – a book about men in prison. It is possibly the most oppressive work I have read. The short chapters, especially for the initial two-thirds of the book, concentrate on the isolation of the prisoner, the system, what Serge calls ‘the machine’ or ‘The Mill’ – prisoners are thrown in and, like corn, ground down – are incredibly dark.

The mood lightens comparatively when the prisoners are at work, in Serge’s case in the prison printshop. Then there is resistance to the Mill – small acts that enable the imprisoned to retain their humanity and dignity. Prisoners long to be in the infirmary but the infirmary is a place of death and suffering.

Even what should be hope, the release from prison, sees the newly released prisoner face-to-face with a soldier from the trenches – another prison.

It’s a great book but is too dark to actually admit to enjoying.


Russia Goes to the Polls: The Election to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, 1917 (Studies in Soviet History and Society)
Russia Goes to the Polls: The Election to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, 1917 (Studies in Soviet History and Society)
by Oliver H. Radkey
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Russia Goes to The Polls., 22 Oct. 2015
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Most discussions about Russian revolutionary history usually discuss the elections to the Constituent Assembly. Usually it is dealt with in a perfunctory manner and a narrow perpsective offered. Oliver Radkey's study - actually there are two separate studies contained within this volume - is therefore helpful in that both a broader and deeper analysis is offered. This is especially interesting in relation to the vote for the Social Revolutionaries who received more votes than any other party - Radkey's exploration of the SRs as a party, their divisions and how they related to their social base in the peasantry and the dynamics of how this played out in a revolutionary situation is, therefore, especially useful.

The book can be read in an evening and anyone serious about the Russian Revolution should read it.


Highland Park Einar Single Malt Scotch Whisky 100cl
Highland Park Einar Single Malt Scotch Whisky 100cl
Price: £57.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Einar, 13 Oct. 2015
Aroma of smoke, oak and gentle peat.

Very woody taste - in a good way. Very smoky notes. A little sherried fruityness. Noticeable peat.

A medium finish of damp wood - which is actually quite pleasant even though the description doesn't suggest it.

Good value for a litre of decent Scotch.


History of the Russian Revolution
History of the Russian Revolution
by Leon Trotsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius, 29 Sept. 2015
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This book has a strong claim to being the best history book ever written. Why? Well Trotsky was a genius and he could write brilliantly and engagingly and with humour. Combine that with the fact that it's a history of a major historical event written by one of the key participants in that event and the theoretical insights that Trotsky brings to his work and you have the makings of a classic work of history and of historiography.

The book is actually three volumes in one and was written by Trotksy in 1930 when in exile and confined to the Turkish island of Prinkipo, under threat from Stalin's spies, assassins and saboteurs - the house where Trotsky and his family were living was the subject of a fire which was probably the result of an arson attack. The first volume considers the February Revolution which overthrew the Tsar and brought into being the Dual Power of the Provisional Government and the Soviet. The second the period covering the July Days and the attempted coup by Kornilov. The third covers the October Revolution.

It is a work of genius. The prose flows - it's great literature and, as others have said, in a parallel universe somewhere there is a giant of 20C Russian literature called Lev Bronstein. The historiographical insights based upon Trotsky's analysis of Russian society hold true, particularly the concept of uneven and combined development which places Russian economic development into the context of a global system and are great historiographical insights that are universally applicable. Trotsky's breadth of reading from documents he had gathered in his personal archive taken with him into exile on Prinkipo is impressive. The insights into historical controversies that still cause debate today are fresh and informative.

It's a real shame that Trotsky did not providing notes to the text - a lot of the time Trotsky uses the voices of others to write the story and follow up reading would have been appreciated.


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