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P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire)
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Trotsky's Marxism
Trotsky's Marxism
by Duncan Hallas
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Still relevant today, 12 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Trotsky's Marxism (Paperback)
Trotsky is best known for his political activities: firstly as a key leader, alongside Lenin, of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and then later as the leading opponent of the bureaucratic tyranny of Stalin’s regime, which destroyed the fledgling workers’ democracy in the 1920s and forced Trotsky into exile.

Trotsky also made contributions to Marxist thought, for example in his theories of permanent revolution and of “combined and uneven development”. This excellent little book shows how for Trotsky theory and practice were inextricably linked, as they have been for all the great Marxists.

Duncan Hallas discusses Trotsky’s writings under four chapter headings: Permanent Revolution; Stalinism; Strategy and Tactics; and Party and Class. There is then a fifth section on “The Heritage”.

In relation to Stalinism, although he argued for a new revolution by Russia’s workers to overthrow Stalin’s dictatorship, Trotsky clung to the view that Russia under Stalin was a “degenerated workers’ state”. Hallas argues – and I agree with him - that Trotsky was mistaken on this. Much more convincing is the theory that was first fully developed by Tony Cliff: that Stalinist Russia was a bureaucratic state capitalist society, as were the other so-called “communist” regimes that appeared later.

But despite this weakness, Trotsky did keep alive the fundamental Marxist idea that socialism must be based on internationalism and democracy. (The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was meant to mean the DEMOCRATIC control of society by the working class.)

For many years genuine Marxism was marginalised by the dominance of Stalinism on the one hand and the feeble reformism of social democratic Labour-type parties on the other. The long capitalist boom of the 1950s and 1960s also contributed to this marginalisation.

Today the post-war boom is a distant memory. Capitalism has reverted to crisis and threatens us with the dangers of economic collapse, fascism and war, as it did in the 1930s. Humanity today is faced with the same stark choice that the great German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg referred to a hundred years ago: socialism or barbarism. That is why Trotsky’s theories still have relevance today: they help to give us an understanding of the world and how to change it based on the real Marxist tradition.

I’ll end with a footnote on the author. The late Duncan Hallas, along with Tony Cliff, was a founder-member of the small political group in Britain which developed into the present-day Socialist Workers’ Party (Britain), which has links with similar groups in many other countries. Duncan Hallas was my favourite political speaker: he addressed meetings with a marvellous clarity. This book reminds me that this clarity of expression applied to his writing as well as to his speaking skills.

Phil Webster.


Trotsky's Marxism and Other Essays
Trotsky's Marxism and Other Essays
by Duncan Hallas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Still relevant today, 12 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Trotsky is best known for his political activities: firstly as a key leader, alongside Lenin, of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and then later as the leading opponent of the bureaucratic tyranny of Stalin’s regime, which destroyed the fledgling workers’ democracy in the 1920s and forced Trotsky into exile.

Trotsky also made contributions to Marxist thought, for example in his theories of permanent revolution and of “combined and uneven development”. This excellent little book shows how for Trotsky theory and practice were inextricably linked, as they have been for all the great Marxists.

Duncan Hallas discusses Trotsky’s writings under four chapter headings: Permanent Revolution; Stalinism; Strategy and Tactics; and Party and Class. There is then a fifth section on “The Heritage”.

In relation to Stalinism, although he argued for a new revolution by Russia’s workers to overthrow Stalin’s dictatorship, Trotsky clung to the view that Russia under Stalin was a “degenerated workers’ state”. Hallas argues – and I agree with him - that Trotsky was mistaken on this. Much more convincing is the theory that was first fully developed by Tony Cliff: that Stalinist Russia was a bureaucratic state capitalist society, as were the other so-called “communist” regimes that appeared later.

But despite this weakness, Trotsky did keep alive the fundamental Marxist idea that socialism must be based on internationalism and democracy. (The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was meant to mean the DEMOCRATIC control of society by the working class.)

For many years genuine Marxism was marginalised by the dominance of Stalinism on the one hand and the feeble reformism of social democratic Labour-type parties on the other. The long capitalist boom of the 1950s and 1960s also contributed to this marginalisation.

Today the post-war boom is a distant memory. Capitalism has reverted to crisis and threatens us with the dangers of economic collapse, fascism and war, as it did in the 1930s. Humanity today is faced with the same stark choice that the great German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg referred to a hundred years ago: socialism or barbarism. That is why Trotsky’s theories still have relevance today: they help to give us an understanding of the world and how to change it based on the real Marxist tradition.

I’ll end with a footnote on the author. The late Duncan Hallas, along with Tony Cliff, was a founder-member of the small political group in Britain which developed into the present-day Socialist Workers’ Party (Britain), which has links with similar groups in many other countries. Duncan Hallas was my favourite political speaker: he addressed meetings with a marvellous clarity. This book reminds me that this clarity of expression applied to his writing as well as to his speaking skills.

Phil Webster.


Class Struggle and Women's Liberation: 1640 to Today
Class Struggle and Women's Liberation: 1640 to Today
by Tony Cliff
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Marxism, feminism and women’s liberation, 29 Jan. 2015
This classic book was published over 30 years ago and is currently only available from second hand dealers, but it is still well worth reading.

Cliff opens his Introduction starkly with the following passage:

“Two different movements have sought to achieve women’s liberation over the past hundred or more years, Marxism and feminism. Both wish to eradicate women’s unequal and oppressed position in present-day society, and to replace it with the full and genuine equality of men and women. However, they explain women’s oppression in very different ways, and pursue strategies which are quite opposed to one another.”

Does this mean that Marxists are not feminists? Well, the problem is that different people use the word to mean different things. If you are just using the word “feminist” to mean a person who fights for equality for women, then Marxists are by definition feminists.

However, as Cliff points out, the word is usually associated with some form of “patriarchy theory”. Patriarchy does not just mean sexism and women’s oppression; it means “rule by men” or “male power”. The problem with this is that it tends to lead to the conclusion that all men are the problem and that all women, whatever their class, should unite to fight against male power.

But society is not ruled by all men. It is ruled by the capitalist class. Cliff shows that it is capitalism, not the whole male sex, which benefits from the oppression of women. Indeed gender inequalities have always been linked to class divisions, ever since the rise of class societies.

Working class women have nothing in common with ruling class women. Ruling class women suffer from sexism, of course, but with their nannies and cleaners they do not face the “double burden” that working class women face. In fact ruling class women are involved in the exploitation of working class women (and working class men). They are not the “sisters” of working class women.

Marxists agree with all the various types of feminists that women are oppressed, and they have an excellent record of fighting alongside these feminists in campaigns against the various manifestations of sexism and women’s oppression. But when it comes to understanding what CAUSES women’s oppression and what is the best way to END this oppression, Marxists have a distinctive position, which is outlined in this book.

Cliff shows that we need to fight sexism in the here and now, but also that the only way to end all types of oppression for good is for the working class – women and men – to unite in struggle and get rid of capitalism.

Some feminists claim that by focusing primarily on class conflict, Marxists do not take the fight for women’s equality seriously enough. Cliff shows that this is not the case. Some feminists also dismiss Marxism because the oppression of women continued in the so-called “communist” countries such as China and the former USSR. But these regimes are/were actually bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies, not socialist or communist in the genuine sense. Cliff mentions the fantastic steps towards women’s liberation that were taken following the Russian Revolution of 1917, but he also shows that these gains did not survive Stalin’s counter-revolution in the 1920s.

The author, the late Tony Cliff, was a founding member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (Britain).

Phil Webster.


Sexism and the System: A Rebel's Guide to Women's Liberation
Sexism and the System: A Rebel's Guide to Women's Liberation
by Judith Orr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marxism, feminism and women’s liberation, 28 Jan. 2015
This excellent little booklet outlines the continuing fight against sexism in today’s society and shows how that fight is inextricably linked to the struggle against capitalism.

The author is a Marxist, and there has been a lot of debate about the relationship between Marxism, feminism and the struggle for women’s liberation. Some feminists claim that by focusing primarily on class conflict, Marxists do not take the fight for women’s equality seriously enough. Judith Orr shows that this is not the case.

Marxists agree with all the various types of feminists that women are oppressed, and they have an excellent record of fighting alongside these feminists in campaigns against the various manifestations of sexism and women’s oppression. But when it comes to understanding what CAUSES women’s oppression and what is the best way to END this oppression, Marxists have a distinctive position, which is outlined in this book.

Now what about this word “feminism”? Are Marxists like Judith Orr “feminists”? The problem is that different people use the word to mean different things. If you are just using the word “feminist” to mean a person who fights for equality for women, then Marxists are by definition feminists.

However, the word is usually associated with some form of “patriarchy theory”. Patriarchy does not just mean sexism and women’s oppression; it means “rule by men” or “male power”. The problem with this is that it tends to lead to the conclusion that all men are the problem and that all women, whatever their class, should unite to fight against male power.

But society is not ruled by all men. It is ruled by the capitalist class. Orr shows that it is capitalism, not the whole male sex, which benefits from the oppression of women. Indeed gender inequalities have always been linked to class divisions, ever since the rise of class societies.

Working class women have nothing in common with ruling class women. Ruling class women suffer from sexism, of course, but with their nannies and cleaners they do not face the “double burden” that working class women face. In fact ruling class women are involved in the exploitation of working class women (and working class men). They are not the “sisters” of working class women.

Orr shows that we need to fight sexism in the here and now, but also that the only way to end all types of oppression for good is for the working class – women and men – to unite in struggle and get rid of capitalism.

One final point needs to be made. Some feminists dismiss Marxism because the oppression of women continued in the so-called “communist” countries such as China and the former USSR. But these regimes are/were actually bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies, not socialist or communist in the genuine sense. Orr mentions the fantastic steps towards women’s liberation that were taken following the Russian Revolution of 1917, but she also shows that these gains did not survive Stalin’s counter-revolution in the 1920s.

The author, Judith Orr, is a leading member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (Britain). She is the editor of the SWP’s weekly newspaper, Socialist Worker.

Phil Webster.


Building the Party: Lenin 1893-1914 (Vol. 1) (Biography of Lenin)
Building the Party: Lenin 1893-1914 (Vol. 1) (Biography of Lenin)
by Tony Cliff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Building the Bolshevik Party, 28 Jan. 2015
This book was originally published as the first part of Tony Cliff's biography of Lenin. It looks at how Lenin (and others) built the Bolshevik Party in Russia in the years leading up to the First World War.

Tony Cliff is best known as the Marxist who fully developing the theory that Stalinist Russia and the other so-called "communist" states were actually forms of bureaucratic state capitalism. Cliff showed that these Stalinist tyrannies had/have nothing in common with genuine socialism or communism, and nor were they even "degenerated" or "deformed" workers' states, as the orthodox Trotskyists claimed.

But Cliff also dedicated his life to the building of a revolutionary Marxist party, and he believed that lessons for today could be learnt from Lenin's party-building. Cliff's politics are embodied in the Socialist Workers' Party (Britain) and its sister organisations in other countries. So, of course, those on the Right or the Stalinist or sectarian "Left" who are hostile to the SWP will be equally hostile to this book.

For Cliff, building a party was one of what he called "the four key pillars of Marxism". (For more on this, see my Amazon review of Ian Birchall's biography of Cliff.) Cliff emphasised the need for a revolutionary Marxist party rooted in the working class which could win the leadership of that class by involving itself in working class struggles. The ultimate aim is to win the majority of the working class to support this party, as the Bolsheviks did in Russia in 1917.

For Marxists (but not for Stalinists, of course) the revolutionary party must be democratic. And Cliff shows that the Bolshevik Party was indeed democratic, and not the undemocratic monolith under Lenin's total control that it is usually painted as being. Lenin also believed that the democracy of a workers' state would be based on the "soviets" (originally highly democratic workers' councils). The revolutionary party should compete with other parties to win the majority on the soviets. The fact that the soviets later ended up as being a one-party system was a sign of the FAILURE of the revolution: it was not what Lenin had intended.

It is claimed by anti-Marxist historians that Leninism led directly to Stalinism. But Stalin actually had to DESTROY the last vestiges of genuine Leninism in order to consolidate his counter-revolution. Incidentally, given that it was the isolation of the Russian Revolution which ultimately led to its demise under Stalin, it was not the politics of Lenin's Bolsheviks which led to Stalinism, it was the LACK of mass Leninist parties in other countries.

I first read this book when it was originally published in the 1970s. That was the period when capitalism was reverting to crisis after the long boom of the post-war years. Today the crisis has got even worse. In the 1930s the crisis of capitalism led to economic collapse, fascism and war. We are now faced with the same dangers again, and that is why the politics of Lenin (and Cliff) are still very relevant.

Phil Webster.


Earth's Deep History: How it Was Discovered and Why it Matters
Earth's Deep History: How it Was Discovered and Why it Matters
by Martin J.s. Rudwick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.58

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time! - Time! - Time!, 1 Jan. 2015
There are three main themes that run through this interesting and informative book. Firstly, there is the importance of the discovery of Earth's deep history. Rudwick begins his story in the seventeenth century. At that time people generally believed that our world was only a few thousand years old and that humans had lived in that world throughout its history, except for the very brief period of the first few days before God created humans on the sixth day of Creation.

As Rudwick writes, "A world without human beings would have struck them as utterly pointless, except as a brief setting of the scene for the human drama to come."

The book shows how geologists eventually came to understand not only that the Earth is billions of years old but also that for most of that time humans did not exist. Rudwick traces the development of the understanding of Earth's history by looking at the work and ideas of scientists such as Steno, Hooke, Buffon, Hutton, Deluc, Scrope, Cuvier, Buckland, Lyell, and many others.

Rudwick quotes Scrope, writing in 1827: "The leading idea which is present in all our researches, and which accompanies every fresh observation, the sound of which to the student of Nature seems continually echoed from every part of her works, is - Time! - Time! - Time!"

The second theme of the book is the importance of understanding that geology is a HISTORICAL science, with much in common with the study of human history. "The Earth's deep history turned out to have shared the messy unpredictable contingency of human history, rather than the astonishingly precise predictability of, say, the motions of the Moon and planets in relation to the Sun."

Even the methods adopted by geologists and historians have parallels. Rudwick uses a nice quotation from Buffon from 1778: "As in civil history title deeds are consulted, coins are studied, and ancient inscriptions are deciphered in order to determine the epochs of human revolutions and to fix the dates of human events, so also in natural history it is necessary to excavate the world's archives, to extract ancient monuments from the Earth's entrails, to collect their remains, and to assemble in a body of evidence all the marks of physical changes that are able to take us back to the different ages of nature."

The third theme of the book involves the relationship between science and religion. Rudwick has no time at all for present-day Creationists, and he demolishes their views in an appendix. But on the other hand he asserts that the view that there is, and always has been, an ongoing conflict between science and religion is a "discredited stereotype". This reminds me of the view held by Rudwick's friend and colleague, the late Stephen Jay Gould, that there is no necessary conflict between the two, as long as each keeps to its own sphere. I can only go part of the way with Rudwick on this issue. Indeed, although I am a great fan of Gould, I think that he too was rather soft on religion at times.

It is true that the stories told of the conflict between religion and science are often over-stated and over-simplified. For example, Galileo continued to be a Christian throughout his life, as did many of the geologists discussed in this book. But on the other hand, Galileo WAS prosecuted by the Church and forced to recant, and his book WAS placed on the Index of Prohibited Books. Over-simplified it may often be, but the conflict between science and religion does exist.

Rudwick even shows sympathy for Archbishop Ussher, who in the 1600s calculated that God had created the Earth in the year 4004 BC. Rudwick says that Ussher does not deserve to be ridiculed, because although he was wildly wrong he was at least trying to establish a chronology of the Earth, using the only sources available to him at the time. (Though the fact that Ussher claimed to have tied Creation down not just to a particular year but precisely to the 23rd October (the Jewish New Year) of that year seems to me to be inviting ridicule.)

Rudwick also equates "modern atheistic fundamentalists" with religious fundamentalists, implying that they are both as bad as each other. I presume that his target here is people like the vocal atheist Richard Dawkins. Although I am an atheist myself, I do think that Dawkins's atheism is a very crude one. He has no real understanding of the social roots of religion. But you cannot equate the atheistic refusal to believe in things that there is no evidence for with the Creationists' refusal to face up to a massive amount of evidence.

The reason for Rudwick's uncritical approach to religion becomes clear in his conclusion, where he explicitly mentions his adherence to a "theistic tradition". (I also noticed the words "Deo gratias" on his dedication page.) Whether you are a believer, an agnostic or an atheist, if you are interested in how scientists have come to an understanding of the Earth's history, you will enjoy this book. But you do need to keep in mind that the book has a slant which reflects Rudwick's (non-Creationist) religious views.

Finally, I would like to recommend something else on this subject, and that is Mark Twain's brilliant and amusing essay, "Was the World Made for Man?", in which he demolishes the idea that the whole of Earth's history was just paving the way for us humans. (Twain's essay is available in The Faber Book of Science.)

Phil Webster.


The Perry Mason Book: A Comprehensive Guide to America's Favorite Defender of Justice
The Perry Mason Book: A Comprehensive Guide to America's Favorite Defender of Justice
Price: £3.74

4.0 out of 5 stars All you ever wanted to know about Perry Mason, 28 Dec. 2014
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This is a reference book for the dedicated Perry Mason fan. It tells us everything we could want to know about Perry Mason: the books, the author, the characters, the TV series, the films, the actors etc.

Davidson is obviously a great fan: he founded a Perry Mason fan club; he has met a lot of people involved in the TV shows (including Raymond Burr); and he has done a massive amount of extremely thorough research.

This is not a book that most of us would read cover to cover. It is something to be dipped into, browsed through, and used to look things up as required. As such, I would have preferred a traditional book that I can flick through, rather than a Kindle version, but it only seems to be available in Kindle form. Having said that, once I found the index and got used to navigating my way around the book, I found the Kindle format to be quite satisfactory.

Erle Stanley Gardner wrote over eighty Perry Mason books and I’ve read about three quarters of them. They are amongst my favourites when it comes to a bit of light, escapist reading. I have found that most are very good, a few are really excellent, and just a few are disappointing.

Davidson acknowledges that critics have said that these books are not great literature. There is not much depth of characterisation; sometimes the plots have weaknesses; and Gardner certainly does not waste any time on the sort of long, descriptive passages that you get in Raymond Chandler’s writing.

But if you want briskly paced page-turners, these are the books for you. They do not feature the grim blood, gore and “darkness” of so much modern crime fiction. Instead they grab our attention and give us enjoyment through Perry Mason’s quick-wittedness and the brilliant and fast-paced dialogues, especially the courtroom dialogues. And despite the alleged lack of depth of characterisation, I feel that I “know” the central characters well.

The early TV series are great entertainment, too. They are different in some ways from the books, but I personally do not have any problem reconciling the Perry Mason, Della Street and Paul Drake of the TV version with those in the books. (The TV Hamilton Burger, though, is quite a different character from the one in the books.) Unfortunately, in Britain at the moment, we can only get the first two seasons on Region 2 DVD, and there aren’t any TV channels that show these old gems. We’re deprived over here!

Phil Webster.


The Case of the Substitute Face (Perry Mason Series Book 12)
The Case of the Substitute Face (Perry Mason Series Book 12)
Price: £4.66

5.0 out of 5 stars One of Gardner's best, 27 Dec. 2014
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Erle Stanley Gardner wrote over eighty Perry Mason books and I've read about three quarters of them. They are amongst my favourites when it comes to a bit of light, escapist reading. I have found that most are very good, a few are really excellent, and just a few are disappointing. I rate this as one of the best.

Critics have said - rightly, I suppose - that these books are not great literature. There is not much depth of characterisation; sometimes the plots have weaknesses; and Gardner certainly does not waste any time on the sort of long, descriptive passages that you get in Raymond Chandler's writing.

But if you want briskly paced page-turners, these are the books for you. They do not feature the grim blood, gore and "darkness" of so much modern crime fiction. Instead they grab our attention and give us enjoyment through Perry Mason's quick-wittedness and the brilliant and fast-paced dialogues, especially the courtroom dialogues.

In this book we see some classic examples of this brilliant dialogue and of Mason's quick brain. We also see the disappearance of Della Street and Mason dragging a reluctant Paul Drake into a bit of house-breaking. Despite the alleged lack of depth of characterisation, I feel that I "know" these central characters well.

Incidentally, Series One and Two (from the late 1950s) of the TV Perry Mason are available on DVD. They too make for a great bit of relaxing entertainment.

Phil Webster.


The Fourth Secret (The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
The Fourth Secret (The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
Price: £2.84

4.0 out of 5 stars A short but enjoyable Montalbano story, 18 Dec. 2014
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Montalbano fans may already be familiar with the plot of this novella-length story, as it formed the basis of one of the TV episodes of "The Young Montalbano". (It was transformed from "The Fourth Secret" to "The Third Secret" in the process.) But for me, despite the shortness of the book and the fact that I already knew the plot, it was still a good read.

The story follows the usual enjoyable formula for Camilleri's Montalbano books: we have Montalbano's endearingly quirky personality; the interplay between him and his team; lots of humour; and the occasional critical social comment from Camilleri's left-leaning perspective. (In the TV version we also get the beautiful Sicilian scenery.)

This time the social criticism relates to the large number of deaths on building sites every year that are caused by employers who put profit before the safety of their workers. (Although it soon emerges that in this case a couple of the deaths are actually deliberate murders in the legal sense rather than murders in the moral sense caused by negligence.)

Catarella plays quite a big part in this story, and the translators (although different ones from the usual Stephen Sartarelli) do a good job on his mangled words. (Catarella gets "commotional" when Montalbano shares secrets with him.)

Incidentally, there are a few errors in the text, but these seem to be printing or transcription errors rather than the fault of the translators.

At his best, Camilleri is brilliant, but some of the Montalbanos have disappointed me. The mood of "The Age of Doubt" was dismal; "The Treasure Hunt" was spoiled by a distastefully grim scene; and a couple of the books have irritated me when Camilleri has brought in premonition-type paranormal episodes, such as the telepathic twins in "August Heat".

This one, too, contains a premonition-dream, but it was a small enough part of the story to make it just a minor irritation rather than a major annoyance.

This might not be one of the very best Montalbanos, but neither is it one of the disappointing ones. It is well worth buying.

Phil Webster.


1960s Britain (Shire Living Histories)
1960s Britain (Shire Living Histories)
by Susan Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars OK for some basic facts on the "Swinging Sixties", 7 Dec. 2014
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I have wavered between three and four stars for this book, but I've come down on the side of four because the book basically does what it sets out to do, which is to pack lots of facts about 1960s Britain into a small book. It does so with chapters on: family; food and drink; shopping and fashion; home and neighbourhood; education and social services; transport; relaxation and entertainment; work; and health.

The facts given are sometimes important and sometimes interesting but relatively trivial. So, on the important side, I was surprised to learn that although the contraceptive pill came into use in 1963, by the end of the decade "only one woman in ten had ever taken the pill." And on the more trivial side we learn that Fulham's top footballer Johnny Haynes became the first player to receive a wage of £100 per week in 1962, while by the end of the decade George Best was being paid £5000 per week.

I did, however, notice some factual errors. Kim Philby was employed by MI6, not MI5, while he was secretly working for the Russians. The first James Bond film, Dr No, came out in 1962, not 1963. The TV series "The Saint" began in 1962, not 1966. And when the author says that "... snow fell from the end of December 1963 until March 1964..." I presume that she is actually referring to the "Big Freeze" of December 1962 - March 1963. However, given the amount of information packed into this little book, I suppose that a few errors are bound to creep in.

I also think that if you want a book that gives a FEELING of what it was actually like to live through the sixties in Britain, you would be better off with Alison Pressley's book, "The 1950s and 1960s: The Best of Times". Pressley's book might not contain as much factual information as this one, but it has more humour, lots of amusing anecdotes, and a greater number of interesting illustrations. As someone who was in my late childhood and teens during the sixties, I actually enjoyed Pressley's book more.

As for in-depth analysis, well that is not really what this book is about. But it does make the serious point that not everyone in the 1960s was enjoying affluence and a "Swinging London" lifestyle. For example, Cohen shows that there was a lot of poverty and that there were some areas with an unemployment problem, despite the generally low level of joblessness. She also gives examples of the appalling racism and sexism that were widespread at the time.

The information contained in books like these also needs to be put in the wider economic, social and political context of the times. Firstly, the fifties and sixties were the period of capitalism's long post-war economic boom. We took it for granted that everyone would have a job, that living standards would rise every year, and that we would have free education and health care, paid for by progressive taxation.

Secondly, there was a widespread political mood in the sixties of support for the idea of social justice, and growing opposition to racism, sexism, class inequalities, wars, famines, etc.

Thirdly, in the sixties we really thought we were THE rebel generation, with our music, our fashions and our rejection of old-fashioned attitudes. (Even those of us who lived in small towns in the North of England!) Of course this was largely the arrogance of youth: every generation feels like that to some extent, and our rebellious youth sub-cultures were no real threat to the status quo. But on the positive side, at least it left a lot of us with a healthy disrespect for the powers-that-be.

When the 1970s came along and capitalism reverted to economic crisis and started to take away from ordinary people many of the post-war gains, it's not surprising that some of us, influenced by the three factors above, moved politically to the left.

Phil Webster.


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