Defeating imperialist intervention

A Nasty Little War: The West’s Fight to Reverse the Russian Revolution

By Anna Reid

Published by John Murray Press, 2023, £19-95

Reviewed by Oscar Parry

Anna Reid’s history of the ‘intervention’ in Russia after the 1917 revolution, when 180,000 troops from imperialist powers were sent to support the counter-revolutionary ‘White’ armies, is meticulously researched but politically bereft. Reid fails to link the crushing defeat of the capitalist armies in the ensuing civil war with the popularity of the October revolution amongst the working class and peasantry – both in Russia and abroad. She attempts to portray the Bolsheviks as authoritarian and violent throughout the book, but undermines her own arguments with her descriptions of the brutal massacres initiated by the White forces.

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Miners’ strike: The power of photography

Martin Parr Foundation exhibition: One Year! Photographs from the miners’ strike 1984-85

Featuring works by: John Harris, Chris Killip, Jenny Matthews, Brenda Prince, Neville Payne, Howard Sooley, John Sturrock, Roger Tiley, Philip Winnard and Imogen Young

Reviewed by Roger Thomas

For the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strike, the Martin Parr foundation in Bristol,
has hosted an exhibition that looks at the pivotal role photography played in the year-long dispute.

The exhibition looks at the images created and how they were used and disseminated through the visual media of the time. While one side sought to use these images to highlight the chaos on picket lines and to heighten the image of an enemy within, those in support of the strike attempted to undermine this picture, highlighting instead the violence of the state on picket lines, the economic hardship endured, and especially the solidarity and collective strength of a working-class community under siege.

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Alan Hardman, 1936-2024: an appreciation

January brought the sad news of the passing of Alan Hardman, a long-standing member of the Socialist Party and its predecessor, Militant; becoming, indeed, the organisation’s first printer.

Alan will be known to many as an acclaimed cartoonist, for the Militant newspaper and its successor, the Socialist, and the countless posters and agitational leaflets that his work appeared on (and still does to this day). An obituary was published in issue 1260 of the Socialist, including a tribute by Linda Taaffe and Peter Taaffe, the founding editor of the Militant.

But Alan was also a keen enthusiast for Socialism Today and, before that, the Militant International Review, on both of which I had the privilege of working with him as he sought to use his unique artistic vision and technical talents to promote the broader ideas of Marxism.

He was conscientious and exacting in all respects, wanting to make sure that he was accurately presenting our position in the magazine cover designs he prepared. I often felt I was spending more time discussing an article with its cartoonist than its author! But most often his images had at least equal impact, sometimes greater, in conveying the essence of an issue in its immediate aspect.

A quality hardcover book collection of Alan’s cartoons, under the title, Need Not Greed, is currently in preparation by the specialist social documentary publishers Bluecoat Press. To finance its production a Kickstarter has been launched, through which pre-orders of the book can be made (at https://www.kickstarter.com/discover/advanced?ref=nav_search&term=Alan%20hardman). But in the meantime, published here, is a selection of just some of the many covers he did for us in his life-long fight for a new, socialist world.

Clive Heemskerk, Socialism Today Editor

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Understanding the miners’ strike

The great miners’ strike of 1984-85 changed the political landscape in Britain, and its defeat had a devastating effect on the coalfield areas and the generations who grew up afterwards. But, as DAVE GORTON argues, those seeking answers from Robert Gildea’s new book as to why it was defeated will be very much disappointed.

Backbone of the Nation: Mining Communities and the Great Strike of 1984-85

By Robert Gildea

Published by Yale University Press, 2023, £25

The 1984-85 miners’ strike was a political watershed in twentieth century Britain. Not for nothing was the Socialist Party’s book on the strike, written on the twentieth anniversary by Ken Smith, called A Civil War Without Guns. The strike was deliberately instigated by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government as a way of breaking the strength of the trade union movement.

Just a few years previously, the mass strike wave against the then Labour government’s attempt to hold down wages way below inflation – with the agreement of union leaders – had shaken capitalism to its bones. Culminating in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-79, ordinary workers had fought tooth and nail for their own livelihoods, and in so doing had signalled the end of the Labour government, which had sought to do the ruling class’s dirty work for them.

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The fight for workers’ politics now

Keir Starmer is on his way to Downing Street this year. The two most recent by-elections, Wellingborough and Kingswood, where Labour overturned large Tory majorities, were the continuation of an established trend. Of the ten by-elections with the biggest swings to Labour in history, five have been in the last year. The Wellingborough swing was the second largest since 1945 which, if repeated in a general election, would leave the Tories with just a handful of seats.

Those headlines, however, while highlighting the depth of visceral anger at the Tory Party, do not tell the whole story. Labour is being swept into power on a wave of disillusionment. Labour canvassers in the by-elections told the press “voters hate all of us”. Labour’s total number of votes in Wellingborough was only 107 more than it achieved in 2019 under Jeremy Corbyn, and 4,275 less than in 2017. In Kingswood, Labour’s 11,176 vote in the by-election was over 4,000 fewer even than 2019.

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Greenlashed! Capitalism and steel

Tata Steel has announced a plan to close the blast furnaces at its Port Talbot plant in South Wales and instead concentrate production based on electric arc furnaces. The company plan will end the production of new steel at the plant and in the UK, and, with the loss of nearly 2,000 relatively well-paid jobs, will devastate the local economy and communities. In most of the South Wales region, these were built around coal and steel production. As British industry has declined those communities have been abandoned to their fate, condemned to high poverty and social decline.

The partial closure of the Port Talbot steelworks would feel like the final few nails in the coffin of Welsh industrial employment. The local community is united in fighting for the plant because it can see its possible future in the Rhondda and valley towns in the coalfields where jobs were wiped out by the Thatcher government, creating all the social problems associated with that.

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Defending women’s rights today

We have recently seen significant victories for women internationally, such as the mass movements in Latin America, which forced governments to legalise or relax restrictions on abortion. But at the same time, rights have been rolled back in many countries around the globe. In the first of three articles commemorating International Women’s Day (8March), AMY SAGE asks, how far can the backlash against women’s rights go?

A report published this year by the United Nations predicted that it could take another 286 years to close the global gender gaps in legal protections for women and girls. Internationally, particularly since the start of Covid, there has been an acute rolling back of the rights and legal protections for women. In July 2022, the Supreme Court in the United States overturned the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling which recognised the constitutional right to an abortion. This represented the biggest attack on women’s rights in the US for the last 50 years.

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Women and the revolution

The Communist Women’s Movement inspired tens of thousands of women following the Russian revolution. CHRISTINE THOMAS looks at the latest volume in an ongoing series regarding the Communist International that pulls together previously unpublished material about this relatively unknown international women’s movement in the period 1920-22.

The Communist Women’s Movement 1920-1922: Proceedings, Resolutions, and Reports

Edited by Mike Taber and Daria Dyakonova

Published by Haymarket Books, 2023, £40

“On the evening of 30 July 1920… a chorus of women’s voices singing The Internationale fills the streets of Moscow. Women proletarians, in an orderly and elated procession celebrate the opening of the International Conference of Communist Women at the Bolshoi Theatre. At about 8 o’clock that evening, the hall is filled from top to bottom… The stage is occupied by women delegates from Germany, France, Britain, the United States, Mexico, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Finland, Norway, Latvia, Bulgaria, India, Georgia, the Caucuses and Turkestan, as well as representatives of various organisations and institutions welcoming the First International Conference of Communist Women”.

It’s hard for us today to appreciate the profound international significance of the Russian revolution in the immediate post-revolutionary period, but this report gives a glimpse of the inspirational effect it had on socialist women. Those in capitalist countries struggling to end their double oppression as workers and as women now had a living example of what the overthrow of capitalism could achieve.

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Women fighters of the 1871 Paris Commune

In the Paris Commune in 1871, for a brief but heroic few weeks, the working class took power for the first time in history. In the immortal words of Karl Marx, the masses ‘stormed heaven’. In extremely hazardous circumstances, Parisian workers attempted to re-organise society, to abolish exploitation and poverty, before falling beneath a vicious counter-revolution. CECILE RIMBOUD, Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI France) outlines the key role that working-class women played in this historic struggle.

If the development of a society can be judged by the extent to which women are involved in it, that is certainly the case with a revolution. In 1871, women – especially women workers – played a huge role in the Paris Commune, despite significant hindrances. These heroic women workers swept aside forever the idea that their emancipation could happen outside of the class struggle.

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Inside Sinn Féin

Now the biggest party in the North of Ireland, in the aftermath of the next general election in the South Sinn Féin – the party once synonymous with a paramilitary campaign – could be in power in both jurisdictions. With the spotlight increasingly on Sinn Féin, NIALL MULHOLLAND reviews a recent book promising a “groundbreaking telling of contemporary Ireland’s biggest and most elusive political story”.

The Long Game: Inside Sinn Féin

By Aoife Moore

Published by Sandycove/Penguin, 2023, £17.99

While true revelations are thin on the ground for anyone who has followed Sinn Féin’s trajectory, The Long Game does provide illuminating interviews with former and current members of the party, the IRA, and from the broader Irish republican movement. Although Sinn Féin refused to cooperate on the book, and most of those quoted do so anonymously, the Long Game often underscores the analysis of the republican movement made by the Committee for Workers International (CWI) over decades.

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