Fiction and reality in Putin’s Russia

The Wizard of the Kremlin

By Giuliano da Empoli

Published by Pushkin Press, 2024, £16.99

Reviewed by Clare Doyle

On April 5 Vladimir Putin was ‘elected’ as president of Russia for a fifth six-year term. One or two other candidates were on the list, but by the time the election was held, Putin’s nearest rival, Alexei Navalny, was dead and an anti-war candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, had been disqualified for allegedly being nominated by ‘dead souls’, like those in the famous Gogol novel of that name.

All other expressions of opposition to the war, let alone for genuine democracy and socialist change, are ruthlessly crushed. In an atmosphere where even the moderate left academic, Boris Kagarlitsky, has been locked up in prison for five years, the prospect of another two terms for Vladimir Putin looms large. If he survives, he will have lasted longer even than the dictator, Stalin. Such is Putin’s authoritarianism that he has come to be known in some circles as ‘The Tsar’.

Read more

Building on Rochdale

“Beyond alarming” is how Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak declared George Galloway’s victory in the Rochdale by-election, at a specially convened press conference on the steps of Downing Street. Labour leader Keir Starmer appeared equally alarmed as he apologised for having to withdraw support for the Labour candidate in the by-election, giving Galloway an easier path to victory.

Clearly, George Galloway and the Workers’ Party’s campaign in Rochdale succeeded in shaking the establishment. Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems were only able to muster a combined 26.7% of the vote. The by-election was a graphic illustration of bone-deep disillusionment with all the mainstream pro-capitalist parties. Galloway was victorious with almost 40% of the vote, and the second place candidate, with 21%, was an independent campaigning to reopen maternity and A&E services in the town.

Read more

Unite and the anti-war movement

Representatives attending the March Unite national executive council, the first quarterly meeting of the union’s governing body of 2024, were met with a small number of trade unionists, mainly from Unite, protesting at the union’s alleged lack of action against the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza. The executive had before it three motions, including a critical one from the London and Eastern Regional Committee, which is under the leadership of the United Left (LU), an organised group within the union.

The United Left was set up after Unite was formed and played an important role in the election of Len McCluskey as general secretary in the first leadership election of the newly merged union in 2010. At that stage, the Socialist Party was part of the UL. However, after Len’s retirement and in the wake of the defeat of Corbynism within the structures of the Labour Party, the UL has developed into a conservative wing of Unite and opposes the industrially militant ‘transformation’ agenda of Len’s successor as general secretary, Sharon Graham.

Read more

Militant Mick: Drawing up a balance sheet

The RMT transport workers’ union general secretary Mick Lynch has been a central figure as the working class has re-established its central position in society over the past twenty months or so in the most extensive strike movement for over 30 years. Midlands supporters of The Red Line, the bulletin of Socialist Party members in the RMT, examine a new biography of Mick and assess his role.

Mick Lynch – The Making of a Working-Class Hero

By Gregor Gall

Published by Manchester University Press, 2024, £20

Mick Lynch – The Making of a Working-Class Hero is a new biography of the general secretary of our union by the left academic Gregor Gall. Bob Crow – Socialist, Leader, Fighter, published in 2017, was Gall’s previous venture into analysing the RMT. Superficially the two general secretaries are of a type. Both Londoners from working-class backgrounds. Both seen as among the most combative union leaders of their generations. However, this second volume, published a decade after Bob’s untimely death, elaborates some of the important differences between them.

Read more

Galloway’s credo

George Galloway’s spectacular victory in Rochdale has sparked discussion about what role he could potentially play in the building of a new mass party that can provide a political alternative to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. In a contribution to that debate we reprint a review by JIM HORTON of Galloway’s 2004 book, I’m Not the Only One, first published in Socialism Today No.86, September 2004, which asks, what does George Galloway stand for?

I’m Not the Only One

By George Galloway

Published by Allen Lane, 2004, £10

George Galloway’s book presents a seething indictment of the war and continuing occupation of Iraq, and he is scathing towards all those New Labour MPs who sheepishly voted for the conflict. But his criticisms are not restricted to Iraq. He rightly condemns New Labour’s attacks on trade unionists, especially the despicable assault on the firefighters, and the government’s policies on pensions, tuition fees and the privatisation of public services. He scorns New Labour’s big business links and the cultural politics of spin, and mocks Tony Blair’s prostration at the feet of George W Bush.

Read more

Introducing Marxism: The causes of the post-war boom

The post-war economic upswing in the countries of ‘the West’ was an unprecedented era of capitalist development rooted in a unique combination of economic and geopolitical factors that cannot be repeated, argues ROBIN CLAPP, in our latest instalment in the Introducing Marxism series.

In this era, convulsed with economic, social, political and environmental crises, capitalism is not able to play even a relatively progressive role in advancing the needs of humankind and, indeed, the planet itself. Increasingly sclerotic, it can neither take full advantage of the marvels of Artificial Intelligence (AI) nor implement multilateral action programmes that alone can effectively begin to counteract potential risks from future pandemics or catastrophic climate change.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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 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

Read more

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.

Read more