Tuesday 28 November 2023

Comment: Postal Workers Rank-and-File Committee meeting on Sunday, November 26 .

Sunday’s Postal Rank and File online meeting was one of the most important for two reasons. Firstly, it comprehensively nailed the lie that Falconer Review has delivered “justice” for reps and members victimised during the year-long dispute at Royal Mail.

The Communication Workers Union(CWU) has openly lied to its membership. As a victimized CWU rep has said on the wsws.org, the union has trampled on the time-honoured principle “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

The second reason is that it discussed the question of leadership. Leadership is an art and takes time to develop. It will not happen overnight. It is clear from the meeting and the numerous articles on wsws.org that the CWU is now an arm of corporate management. The betrayal carried out by the CWU is unprecedented in the postal worker's history. It will undoubtedly become a template for other union bureaucracies to carry out similar betrayals. The question posed in the meeting is what can postal workers do about it.

Again, as was raised in the meeting, it is not a question of lack of fight. The numerous votes for official and unofficial strike action proved that postal workers were itching to prosecute a fight against Royal Mail but were saddled with leadership from day one that worked to betray the strike.

This brings me to the point raised by Simon that postal workers were “sheep” unthinkingly following their leadership. Leadership is a complex matter. As the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote, “Our author substitutes mechanistic determinism for the dialectic conditioning of the historical process. Hence the cheap jibes about the role of individuals, good and bad. History is a process of class struggle. But classes do not bring their full weight to bear automatically and simultaneously. In the process of struggle, the classes create various organs which play an important and independent role and are subject to deformations.

This also provides the basis for the role of personalities in history. There are naturally great objective causes that created the autocratic rule of Hitler, but only dull-witted pedants of “determinism” could deny today the enormous historical role of Hitler. The arrival of Lenin in Petrograd on April 3, 1917, turned the Bolshevik party in time and enabled the party to lead the revolution to victory. Our sages might say that had Lenin died abroad at the beginning of 1917, the October Revolution would have taken place “just the same.” But that is not so. Lenin represented one of the living elements of the historical process.

He personified the experience and the perspicacity of the most active section of the proletariat. His timely appearance in the arena of the revolution was necessary to mobilise the vanguard and provide it with an opportunity to rally the working class and the peasant masses. Political leadership in the crucial moments of historical turns can become just as decisive a factor as the role of the chief command during the critical moments of war. History is not an automatic process. Otherwise, why leaders? Why parties? Why programs? Why theoretical struggles?[1]

To conclude, Postal workers work extremely hard and are a very disciplined bunch of workers. They have not always followed their leaders and have on numerous occasion sought to break the strangled hold of the bureaucracy but to no avail. The meeting posed the question of a new type of leadership. The CWU is dead. It is just that nobody has buried it yet. It is down to the most politically conscious workers to create a new leadership. Those in attendance in the meeting must now give that lead.

[1] The Class, the Party-and the Leadership-https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/party.htm

Thursday 23 November 2023

The Sisterhood: Big Brother is watching. But they won't see her coming. -Katherine Bradley-Hardcover – Simon & Schuster UK (16 Mar. 2023)

While it has been seventy-three years since the death of George Orwell, there appears to be no let up in the substantial publication of books about him or what seems to be a popular new genre of rewriting his most famous works, Animal Farm and 1984.[1]

It must be said Katherine Bradley's new book is a substantial improvement of what has been a relatively bad bunch. What marks Bradley’s book out is it retells the story of Julia from Orwell's book 1984 from a far more left-wing and even working-class perspective than even Orwell contemplated. Julia and her fellow members of the Sisterhood organisation try to reach a common platform with their male counterparts in the Brotherhood to launch a joint campaign against Big Brother. This cuts across the current right-wing MeToo movement's insistence on keeping women's struggle separate from their male counterparts. For them, this is just “a feminist retelling of Orwell’s beloved story, this time written from Julia’s perspective.”

Mainstream media platforms have largely ignored the book, and it has come under attack from more right media outlets, such as the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Jessa Crispin wrote in the Telegraph, “We have, whether we like it or not, entered the second wave of rewriting classic tales to align them with modern-day social sensibilities about women, people of colour, and other marginalised groups who were prevented from writing and publishing their own stories for too long. People are rewriting “Little Red Riding Hood” like Angela Carter never happened. The latest in this soon-to-be-remaindered trend is Katherine Bradley’s The Sisterhood, a feminist update on George Orwell’s more referenced than read (and let’s be honest, for good reason) 1984.”[2]

The response from working-class men and women has naturally been very different. The book has been well received. Writing on Goodreads, Shelves_by_sim wrote, “This book was riveting, haunting, exceptionally well-written, terrifying and fantastic. Not only was the story brilliant from the beginning, but the entire book was so metaphoric it made my hair rise! Julia's thought process was so cutthroat and straight to the point. The story was the right amount of intriguing, captivating and utterly horrific. The author wrote at the end that she hoped George Orwell would have approved, and I think he certainly would have. The characters! The plot twists! The hope! The shock! The horror!! I loved the read. I don't read much dystopian, but this book was phenomenal.”[3]

This is well worth a read, and previous knowledge of the work of George Orwell is a must but I would highly recommend this book.









[1] See http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2023/11/julia-1984-by-sandra-newman-published.html and http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2023/09/wifedom-by-anna-funder-penguin-books.html

[2] This feminist update of 1984 won’t bother Big Brother- https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/sisterhood-katherine-bradley-review-feminist-update-1984-.

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/147376927-shelves-by-sim

Sunday 19 November 2023

The Centenary of Trotskyism: Leon Trotsky and the Struggle for Socialism in the Twenty-First Century.

On Saturday, November 18, I attended the above meeting called by The Socialist Equality Party(UK). It was my first major meeting in five years, and I picked a good one. The meeting was safe professionally organised with a good bookstall.

SEP Assistant National Secretary Tom Scripps chaired the event. This was the second meeting held by the SEP to discuss what political fight is necessary to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

The lecture was given by David North, the chairman of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site and national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States. North is a leading expert on Leon Trotsky.

The meeting was originally called to launch the UK North’s recently published book, Leon Trotsky and the Struggle for Socialism in the Twenty-First Century. However, given the gravity of the situation in Gaza North correctly departed from his original subject matter to give a complex and detailed report on the events in Gaza from a Marxist perspective.

North pointedly said that this was not so much a war but a one-sided massacre. North’s lecture was complex and well-researched. He provided a detailed account of the current situation, which included the brutal murder by the IDF(Israel Defence Force) of thousands of men and women and the deaths of 4000 children.

North’s lectures on the Gaza massacres have been complimented by the extraordinary articles from the World Socialist website (wsws.org), many of which have been put into pamphlet form.[1]

North, while noting that the war/massacre has produced a significant amount of emotional outpouring, his lecture series have sought to place the event in a more objective context, saying:  “We have been asked why we have not condemned Hamas for the violence of October 7. The answer is that we will not participate in or lend any legitimacy to the reactionary cynicism and hypocrisy that condemns resistance to oppression or draws an equal sign between the episodic violence of the oppressed and the far greater, relentless and systematic violence of the oppressor.

The death of so many innocent people is a tragic event. But the tragedy is rooted in objective historical events and political conditions that made such an event inevitable. As always, the ruling classes oppose all references to the causes of the uprising. Their massacres and the entire bloody system of oppression over which they preside so ruthlessly must go unmentioned.

Why should anyone be surprised that decades of oppression by the Zionist regime led to an explosive eruption of anger? It has happened in the past, and as long as human beings are oppressed and brutalised, it will happen in the future. Those who suffer oppression cannot be expected during a desperate rebellion, when their own lives hang precariously in the balance, to treat their tormentors with tender-hearted courtesy. Such rebellions are often marked by acts of cruel and bloody vengeance.”[2]

From a personal standpoint, I thought North’s research into the anti-working class and anti-socialist origins of Zionism to be very important as North writes, “The creation of the Zionist state was the direct outcome of the defeats of the working class in the 1920s and 1930s because of the betrayals of Stalinism and Social Democracy. Without the mass of displaced persons, survivors of Nazi concentration camps, and without the political demoralisation and loss of confidence in the perspective of socialism, the Zionist leaders would not have had at their disposal the numbers of people required to conduct a terrorist war against the Palestinian people, expel them from their homes and villages, and create, through essentially criminal methods, a Jewish national state.”

North spent a considerable time opposing the vile slander that criticism of the Zionist-led war in Gaza constituted antisemitism. North, in his previous lecture, cited the attack on the musician Roger Waters, saying, “Throughout his recent world tour, the legendary musician Roger Waters has been under relentless attack and accused of antisemitism because he has dared to defend the Palestinian people. Everyone who knows the work of Roger Waters knows very well that he is one of the most significant artists at the forefront of the fight for human rights and that his opposition to the policies of the Israeli regime has absolutely nothing to do with antisemitism.”

North took questions from the floor. Only two were noteworthy. The first came from someone who did not declare their political affiliation. At the same time, ignoring most of what North spoke about, he accused the lecturer of carrying out over “30 minutes of hate.” His remarks were a little insulting and quite bizarre. His jibe about hate came from the novel 1984 by George Orwell.

Orwell wrote, “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds, any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”[3]

North rejected that there was anything hateful about his lecture and countered by saying the remarks echoed those who have the audacity of attacking the Zionists as anti-semitic.

My question was about Daniel Goldhagen. North had written a brilliant critique of Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners. I asked him if he had heard what Goldhagen had said about the war/massacre in Gaza.

[1] Stop Israel’s Genocide-£2.00 Mehring Books UK


[2] Socialist internationalism and the struggle against Zionism and imperialism- The  lecture was given by World Socialist Web Site International Editorial Board Chairman David North at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, October 24.

[3] Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell : chapter1. 

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Gerald Aylmer on the Crisis and Regrouping of Political Elites in England between the 1630s and the 1660s

Gerald Aylmer was a distinguished historian of Stuart England. He had been an undergraduate and postgraduate at Oxford, a lecturer at the University of Manchester, head of the History Department at York and, finally, Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford. His major contributions covered the bureaucracies of mid-seventeenth century England but he was also a careful contributor to specialised debates on the more technical issues of the period as well as being the author of a valuable textbook.

I was fortunate enough to meet him in Balliol in the autumn of 1967 and to correspond intermittently with him until the mid-1980s. What he had to say was always well-informed and instructive. Coming across his contribution to the volume on three British Revolutions published in 1980 reminded me of these virtues. He was concerned with changes in the composition of political elites in England between the period of Personal Rule in the 1630s to that of the Restoration in 1660 and just afterwards. Inevitably, even in a relatively short piece, he had observations to make on the debates amongst early modern historians on subjects like Court versus Country conflicts, on the role of localism, on a fundamental breakdown at the centre and the significance of religion as causes and explanations of the English Civil War.

Aylmer was clear that the events of 1640-1660 did constitute a revolutionary upheaval. But there were then areas - e.g. about demographic changes, on the development and size of the economy, and on popular opinions - upon which knowledge was lacking. Even so, it was evident that the composition of the ruling elite changed. By and large, most peers and upper gentry had either been excluded or withdrawn by 1649. Men of lower status - parish gentry or yeomen - were in charge of local government in the counties. Army officers were important too in local and national affairs. After 1660, however, there was a new ruling coalition composed of Royalists and former political Presbyterians in the main. Puritanism, republicanism and military rule were totally discredited. There was deep hostility on the part of the Church of England towards Nonconformists as heirs of the Puritans. Control over the press and censorship was more stringent than it had been in the 1630s. Local government too was more readily manipulated by the Privy Council than thirty years before. And there was no return to the levels of spending and taxation experienced in the 1640s and 1650s until after 1688-1689.

Much of this analysis remains sound. But the historiographical debates have moved on. Significantly more is now understood about population changes and popular opinion thanks to the work of CAMPOP  and the studies of historians like John Walter. But it is less clear that Aylmer, who appears, prima facie, to have been influenced by the speculative works of Lawrence Stone, was right about the fortunes of the landed elite.  It is arguable that the peers and upper gentry were in a better position in 1640 than they had been in 1560 or 1600. If so, then on the basis that political arrangements necessarily reflected underlying economic realities, then the restoration of the monarchy and its attendant institutions in 1660 was to have been expected. (Marxists and other determinists shy away from addressing this issue.)

Nor is it readily apparent that central control over local government was less effective in the 1630s than post-1660: local officials like the Justices of the Peace or Lords and Deputy Lieutenants were engaged in bargaining and negotiations with their rulers at the centre in both periods. Apart, moreover, from one reference to Scottish resistance to Charles I’s rule, the problems of ruling ‘multiple kingdoms’ which faced Charles I, the Commonwealth and Protectorate and Charles II and which now figure prominently in British and Irish historiography, were missing. Perhaps, in an essay on political elites in England composed in c.1979, that is comprehensible. Personally, I am doubtful about whether the term ‘Revolution’ is the right one for the uprisings - les grand soulevements - of the 1640s and 1650s. But that cannot detract from the abiding interest of Aylmer’s observations.

Monday 6 November 2023

Julia 1984 by Sandra Newman- published by Granta (£18.99) 2023

Newman hasn’t proved herself a worthy successor to Orwell; she’s outclassed him, both in the knowledge of human nature and in character development. “Julia” should be the new required text on those high-school curricula, a stunning look into what happens when a person of strength faces the worst in humanity, as well as a perfect specimen of derivative art that, in standing on another’s shoulders, can reach a higher plane.”

Bethanne Patrick

“If there was hope, it must lie in the Proles because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, eighty-five per cent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated."

George Orwell 1984

"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."

George Orwell 1984

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

George Orwell

” Orwell’s vision may have been inspired by the USSR, but the rest of the world has become more Orwellian in the years since. “It actually is frightening,” says Newman. “We live in a world where if you walk down the street, there are screens everywhere that are filming you, in New York at least. We’re living in a Nineteen Eighty-Four in which we get to choose the government.”

Sandra Newman

“Julia” is Sandra Newman’s retelling of George Orwell’s classic “1984. The book is well written and researched; remaking a classic is no mean feat. The Orwell Estate commissioned the book. Although The main executor of the Estate is Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, he did not make the final choice of author. It must be said that the Estate has not always acted with the utmost generosity. In 2015, it notified CafePress that it had infringed copyright by having T-shirts with 1984 written on them.

TorrentFreak, the company that produced the T-shirts, said, “First off is the irony of the Estate of George Orwell being all Orwellian, but second is that you can’t copyright a number. This is a blatant abuse of the copyright system, and, more often, it’s a ridiculous attempt to control something that needs no control. I am in the process of having this image retouched and added to the store on my current site, as I will not allow this kind of abuse of authority to stand.”[1]

Although since 2021, the Orwell Estate has lost the copyright to the book 1984, it is still a big deal that it asked the writer Sandra Newman to give the book a “feminist” slant. Newman says, “people are re-examining his legacy” in light of the MeToo movement – it seemed inevitable that somebody would produce a feminist take on Nineteen Eighty-Four, with or without the Estate’s approval, so, “I think they had decided almost that time had run out on not doing it.”

Newman is not alone in rewriting classic books. Many contemporary publishing houses are retelling classic stories from women’s perspectives. Apart from Sandra Newman’s feminist retelling of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Katherine Bradley’s novel The Sisterhood is also a feminist retake of 1984, published in March this year. Other non-Orwell books include Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Helen Oyeyemi’s Snow White, and Barbara Kingsolver’s recent Charles Dickens Demon Copperhead.

But who knew there was a literary term for it? The academic term “anastrophe” refers to the technique of reversing word order in a sentence for effect. It means taking one author's work to produce another relatively new work.

The Orwell Estate must have come under extreme pressure from elements of the right-wing MeToo movement to sanction this piece of “anastrophe”. The right-wing fanatics that make up the MeToo movement believe Orwell was a misogynist. Daisy Lafarge says  “Julia” would appear to “fix” Orwell’s novel for a contemporary feminist readership.

This is not to say that the book is worthless. As Natasha Walter writes in her Guardian review, “In the most basic way, Julia is a satisfying tribute act. Newman has deeply considered the language and culture of Orwell’s novel, which created its future setting by way of early 20th-century Britain and takes us carefully through its familiar landscape. Indeed, these scenes are so well-trodden for many of us that re-entering each one, from the grim windowless factory floor of the Ministry of Truth to the fragile respite of the room above the junk shop to O’Brien’s luxurious but threatening sitting room, can feel almost like encountering scenes from your memories.”

Although Newman’s new book is not a direct attack on Orwell’s reputation, it is nonetheless a by-product of a growing assault on his reputation. Newman's half-hearted defence is quite touching: “I don’t fully understand those who are judgemental to such a degree that they think somebody should be erased from the book of life posthumously,” she says. “It’s not like we’re giving money to George Orwell and rewarding him for being a misogynist.”

It seems a host of new books and articles have one goal: to bury the already long-deceased author under a mountain of dead dogs and, therefore, destroy the reputation of one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.[2]

While Newman’s book complements the original, she has none of Orwell's highly developed political or historical understanding. At the same time, Newman writes of a future beyond Orwell’s ending. She prevents Julia from saying anything about the political developments after 1984. Newman is not interested in placing Julia in the context of today's political developments. As Lafarge writes, “The novel was written in direct response to Stalin’s regime, yet the motives of “Julia” don’t seem to be concerned with the differences between Orwell’s period and our political moment. Instead, its main project seems to be redressing the gender balance in Orwell’s fiction. As a result, claims for its “timeliness” can only lead to vague generalisations about women’s oppression rather than examining the political structures imposing it. For contemporary readers, whose reproductive rights are being encroached on by the right, the novel’s simplistic depiction of amalgamated socialist evils may feel somewhat out of step with present affairs.”[3]

George Orwell’s “1984” was published in 1949 with its Newspeak and Ministries of Truth, Peace, Love and Plenty, “doublethink” — “Truth is Hate, Peace is Hate. Love is Hate”  — “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” we are back with a contemporary bang. It does not take much imagination to easily recognise a description of “Oceania” or any of the terms above as having a very contemporary resonance. The futuristic dystopia immortalised by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four exists in today's capitalist society.

Richard Mynick is spot on when he writes, “The novel’s police state bore an obvious resemblance to Stalin’s USSR. Coming from Orwell—a self-described democratic socialist who was deeply hostile to Stalinism—this was unsurprising. But while Orwell was too clear-sighted to conflate Stalinism with socialism (writing, for example, “My recent novel [‘1984’] is NOT intended as an attack on socialism…but as a show-up of the perversions...which have already been partly realised in Communism and Fascism.…”, his Cold War-era readership was often blind to this distinction. His cautionary notes (“The scene of the book is laid in Britain…to emphasise that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism…could triumph anywhere”) were largely overlooked, and in the public mind, the novel’s grim prophesy (“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever”) attached itself mainly to political systems seen as enemies of Western-style capitalist “democracies.” Yet Nineteen Eighty-Four was no endorsement of the West. It posits only an unaccountable elite that rules in its interests and maintains power by taking state-run mind control to its logical extreme. It examines what’s operationally involved in compelling a population to submit to exploitative rule—without regard to the nominal form of economic organisation. Put a bit differently. The book considers the psycho-social machinery of unaccountable state power in general—regardless of whether it originates from a ruling bureaucracy or finance capital. It explores the general problem of maintaining social stability in a highly unequal society, which can be done only through some combination of repression and controlling the population’s consciousness.”[4]

Newman has written an interesting and competent book but does not have a single inch of subversiveness. In this age, to be subversive is to be revolutionary. As Richard Mynick writes, “Early in the novel, Winston undertakes to commit a subversive act: he begins writing a personal diary. He wistfully addresses it: “To the future or the past, to a time when thought is free.” Orwell has elsewhere been credited with “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Assaulted by the Newspeak of the US political class, we manifestly live in a time of universal deceit. We are all Winston Smith and must look to revolutionary acts of telling the truth to light the way to a time when thought is free.”

[1] George Orwell's estate denies 'Big Brother values' after challenge to 1984 merchandise-https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/28/george-orwell-estate-disputes-allegations-orwellian-cafepress

[2] See book review-Wifedom by Anna Funder-Penguin Books Ltd, £20-http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2023/09/wifedom-by-anna-funder-penguin-books.html

[3] A New, Feminist Retelling of ‘1984’-www.nytimes.com/2023/10/24/books/review/julia-sandra-newman.html

[4] A comment: Revisiting George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 2010Richard Mynick- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/06/1984-j12.html

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Revolution: The Rise of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal by Charles Watts is published by Harper Collins, £20


“All great football managers are revolutionaries at first. Take Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. Appointed in 1996, he was Leon Trotsky: the general brimming with new ideas, ferocious energy and seemingly countless different ways of doing things. By the time Wenger was eased out in 2018, he was north London’s Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet A revolution in a particular area of human activity is an important change in that area.”

“ A revolution in a particular area of human activity is an important change. The nineteenth century witnessed a revolution in ship design and propulsion....the Industrial Revolution. Synonyms: transformation, shift, innovation, upheaval. More Synonyms of Revolution.”

Collins Dictionary

The title of Charlie Watts's new book is Revolution. The word means many things to many people. In the context of this book, it is about a football manager who turned around a failing club by initiating a revolution. Harper Collins has called this book a “first of its kind.”

The writer of Revolution is Goal’s Arsenal correspondent Charles Watts. The biggest challenge facing any writer about football is to tell us something we did not know, which is very difficult given the scrutiny every club gets from the media. To his credit, Watts does exactly that. A significant part of the book concentrates on how the new Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta, managed to change the toxic culture at the club and reconnect with the fans.

One spectacular and emotional way he has done this is using the English singer Louis Dunford’s song The Angel as an anthem played and sung at the beginning of every home game. Dunford was born and raised in north London, released a single called 'The Angel' in February 2022, and Gooners have picked up the chorus, which goes:

North London Forever

Whatever the weather

These streets are our own

And my heart will leave you never

My blood will forever

Run through the stone

The new Arsenal Football Club manager, Mikel Arteta, was a former Arsenal captain from the Basque region of Spain. His first coaching job was under Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola. He has been compared to Arsenal’s former great manager, Arsene Wenger. Like Wenger, Arteta has revolutionised this old club.[1] In a limited sense, Watts is correct in saying that Arteta would prove to be a revolutionary, and the results of this Revolution are showing in his new team now.

Charles Watts is a man of many sides. He is part of the Arsenal press pack and has been a fan since 1989. A year in which all Arsenal fans cherish the memory of. [2]Although close to the Arsenal establishment, his book does not glorify the club or its personnel. Nor is it a biography of Arteta, as it contains little of his life or upbringing. It concentrates on how Arteta has continued the legacy of Wenger. Arteta acknowledges the past by displaying a giant Wenger picture and quoting Wenger at Arsenal’s London Colney training complex. He also invited Wenger to return as a spectator to the Emirates last Boxing Day.

Arteta, like Wenger, lives and breathes football. Both are highly intelligent men. According to Watts, outside of his family and football, Arteta has little other interest except barbecuing. Even in a bitter London winter, he uses these to bond with his staff and players leading former Arsenal player Bacary Sagna to say, "Before I could say hello, he was hammering me about formations. All I was doing was looking for the snacks.”

Perhaps the book's most interesting and insightful parts are when Watts examines the nuts and bolts of Arteta’s Revolution. Watts is more a chronicler than an interpreter of events. Most Arsenal fans would have seen much of Arteta’s Modus Operandi in the extremely interesting 2021-22 Amazon Prime Video’s All Or Nothing series. Arteta operates on very simple principles revolving around “non-negotiables”. These are chiefly mutual respect and taking responsibility on the pitch. He sees Arsenal as a collective rather than a set of disparate individuals.

A brutal example of how Arteta applies his method is the treatment of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. When his captain and leading scorer missed a COVID test, broke lockdown regulations by having a tattoo, and arrived back late from compassionate absence. Auberyang already had a catalogue of poor timekeeping. Arteta was ruthless. He even compiled a dossier of Aubameyang ‘s misdemeanours for the Arsenal legal team. The £56 million player man left on a free transfer to Barcelona.

As was said earlier, Watts is not completely in Arsenal’s pocket and to his credit, as Dan from the website Just Arsenal writes:

“He puts any connections to one side and gives both sides of an argument. Other journalists would have feared impacting their relationships with the club and/or Arteta, but Watts doesn’t only write what those two want to hear. For example, he strongly implies the belief held by many that Ozil was dropped for non-football reasons, giving strong facts to back up that theory. I won’t give spoilers, but it’s fascinating how, essentially on Zoom, the squad were asked to agree to a wage reduction to save staff jobs during the pandemic. When Arsenal couldn’t get the 75 per cent agreement they needed (Arteta steps in and convinces some to change their mind), Watts asks why Ozil was the only name leaked to the press. He bravely points out that Arsenal lied. 55 staff were still made redundant despite their employer being worth 6.3 billion! He also questions why Matt Smith was on the bench in the Cup Final at the expense of Ozil purely for footballing reasons. (Smith would never kick a ball for our first team).[3]

While Watts is a gifted writer and communicator, he shies away from examining  Arteta and the club in the context of the growing financialisation of football. Football is big business. FIFA, the world governing body, controls a budget of 4bn Euros. Although he briefly mentions that Arsenal was involved in the attempted creation and debacle of a European Super League, his analysis is superficial. As Robert Stevens writes, “The corporate interests in control of the ESL clubs misjudged the popular mood. They were surprised by the backlash against their proposals—reflecting the growing anger against the parasitic billionaire oligarchy and the capitalist system that sustains it. But they remain determined to press ahead. Perez declared on Thursday, after nine of the 12 founding teams had withdrawn, “We're going to continue working… the project is on standby.”Plans for a Super League are not an aberration. It, or something like it, is the logical next step in a sport increasingly dominated by giant corporate and financial interests. The conflict between UEFA and FIFA on the one hand and the ESL founder owners on the other is a competition between two business models, each designed to ensure the lion’s share of revenues for the top clubs.[4]

Watts's book is one of the better footballing books. A must for any Arsenal fan and a very good Christmas present. As Watts writes: “Arsenal’s rise back towards the summit of English football under Mikel Arteta has been a journey that has captivated the fanbase and brought an energy to Emirates Stadium that hasn’t been seen since the move from Highbury in 2006. Arteta has made some difficult decisions and faced some massive challenges during his short time in north London, but in doing so, he has changed the culture of a club that just a few years ago seemed to have totally lost its way.“Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, Arsenal are back on track and in Arteta, they have one of the sharpest minds in European football pushing the club forwards. I’m excited and privileged to tell this story.”



[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenal_F.C.

[2] www.amazon.co.uk/89-How-Arsenal-did-impossible/dp/B075G6J28L

[3] www.justarsenal.com

[4] Billionaires’ European Super League proposal shelved amid mass opposition from football fans

Robert Stevens-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/04/24/supe-a24.html

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Comment sent to the WSWS.ORG

I strongly condemn the imperialist-backed Zionist onslaught against Gaza! The deliberate blockade of basic resources such as water and electricity is a war crime. In a densely populated area of  2.3 million people, the prospect of mass deaths is only a few days away. The deliberate targeting of health workers in Gaza hospitals and the murder of Gazan health personnel.is an unspeakable act of barbarism. I call on all workers, including postal workers in Britain and worldwide, to oppose this slaughter and demand that Israel and its partner in crime, the United States, end this brutal war and keep its greedy hands off the Middle East.

Saturday 7 October 2023

Comment by David Unger

 I very much enjoyed reading your essay, Keith Livesey and you certainly summarized MVL drift to the right. Still, it was surprising to hear MVL characterize Arbenz as a great democratic leader whose agrarian reform included compensation.

 I do want to say that Bernardo Arevalo might not be willing to undertake the economic and social reforms you feel are necessary to even the playing field, but given the depth of corruption in Guatemala his election, if it comes to fruition, bodes well for the future of the country. He is honest, thoughtful, talented and knows how he got to this place.

It's heartening that the indigenous population of Guatemala, 60%, believe he can make a difference. If only.... Thanks for this.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Harsh Times: A Novel, Mario Vargas Llosa; translated by Adrian Nathan West, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 304 pp., $28.00, November 2021

The ability to persuade us of ‘truth,’ ‘authenticity,’ and ‘sincerity’ never comes from the novel’s resemblance to or association with the real world we readers inhabit. It comes exclusively from the novel’s own being, from the words in which it is written and from the writer’s manipulation of space, time, and level of reality.

Mario Vargas Llosa

What is Art? First of all, Art is the cognition of life. Art is not the free play of fantasy, feelings and moods; Art is not the expression of merely the subjective sensations and experiences of the poet; Art is not assigned the goal of primarily awakening in the reader 'good feelings.' Like science, Art cognises life. Both Art and science have the same subject: life reality. But science analyses, Art synthesises; science is abstract, Art is concrete; science turns to the mind of man, Art to his sensual nature. Science cognises life with the help of concepts, Art with the aid of images in the form of living, sensual contemplation.

A.Voronsky-Art is the Cognition of Life

“Truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.”

― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

“The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the coming of the dusk.”

― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right

Whether or not you agree with Noble laureate Mario Vargas Llosa’s political outlook, his novel Harsh Times about the Coup in 1950s Guatemala is a cracking read. According to  Edward Docx, “It speaks to our times”. However, the general reader would do well to delve into the history books of this period, especially Guatemala's history, to fully appreciate the novel's power.

As Docx correctly states, “In many ways, he is the embodiment of what a great novelist should be: unafraid to write panoptic political novels about the fate of nations and the clash of political ideologies; intellectually capable of encompassing such scope; artistically skilful enough to suffuse it with resonance, torque and drama; and all of this without losing the immersive kinesis of individual stories taken from all points on the compass of the human character.”

Vargas Llosa stays very close to some facts, but not all of them. However, he manages to weave a path to the lives of real and fictional characters. Vargas is not a stranger to writing novels that include historical events in Latin America. His tendency to reduce the ideological battles of the Cold War to little more than a minor deviation of “a democratic ideal” is a dangerous simplification of complex historical processes and tends to downplay the role of U.S. imperialism in the tragic events in Guatemala. Perhaps more damaging is Vargas’s insistence that the novelist has no obligation to represent historical facts.

As Ivan Kenneally writes, “ In a lecture he delivered on his own, The Real Life of Alexandro Mayta, Vargas Llosa maintained that the novelist bears no responsibility to represent historical facts at all faithfully. The events as they truly transpired—to the extent that this can be objectively determined—furnish only the “raw materials” for the construction of a novel, the initial “point of departure,” a contention he emphatically espouses discussing another of his works, The War of the End of the World. The singular obligation of the novelist is to be persuasive, to imaginatively materialise a world that does not reproduce but rather negates the one normally inhabited by the reader, a substitution of such force it can induce joy, despair, and revelation. This “sleight of hand replacement of the concrete, objective world of life as it is lived with the subtle and ephemeral world of fiction” is the fulcrum of the novelistic enterprise. Its believability has nothing to do with a humble obeisance to fact. Still, it is a function of the “ponderous and complicated machinery that enables a fiction to create the illusion that it is true, to pretend to be alive”.

Llosa’s playing fast and loose with historical truth is dangerous and has political and historical consequences. His viewpoint is opposed by Kenneally who writes again “If the authoritative power of literature is disconnected from its relation to reality, then why write a historical novel at all? Why should the novelist not manumit himself from the “raw material” supplied by documented history? If the point is to enact the “illusion of autonomy,” the “impression of self-sufficiency, of being freed from real life,” why choose a genre that insistently invokes the irrepressibility of extra-literary existence?[1]

Like many of his generation Llosa began his early career somewhat sympathetic to the revolutionary left’s ideals. The glorification of revolutions such as the Cuban was not confined to a generation of Latin American intellectuals such as Llosa. Several petty-bourgeois radical groups, such as the Socialist Workers Party (U.K.) complemented them. Bert Deck writing in the International Socialist Review said  “The Cuban revolution has shattered the old structure of radical politics in Latin America by providing a new example to follow. New currents and tendencies are emerging. Two roads present themselves to the Latin American revolutionists: “The Guatemalan Way” or “The Cuban Way.” Fidelismo, a more revolutionary alternative to the Communist parties, already exists. The possibility of avoiding the trap of popular front politics has been improved immeasurably. In this new, open situation, the Marxists have an unprecedented opportunity to win support for a consistent revolutionary program. In the complex process of political realignment within the workers movement lies the hope of avoiding future Guatemalas – the hope for a Socialist United States of Latin America.”[2]

The British Trotskyists from the Socialist Labour League opposed this political line saying “Even if Castro and his cadre were “converted” would that make the revolution a proletarian revolution? … If the Bolsheviks could not lead the revolution without a conscious working class support, can Castro do this? Quite apart from this, we have to evaluate political tendencies on a class basis, on the way they develop in struggle in relation to the movement of classes over long periods. A proletarian party, let alone a proletarian revolution, will not be born in any backward country by the conversion of petit-bourgeois nationalists who stumble “naturally” or “accidentally” upon the importance of the workers and peasants. The dominant imperialist policy-makers both in the USA and Britain recognise full well that only by handing over political “independence” to leaders of this kind, or accepting their victory over feudal elements like Farouk and Nuries-Said, can the stakes of international capital and the strategic alliances be preserved in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.[3]

Over time, politically, Llosa began shifting further to the right. During the 1980s, he became a champion of free markets and political liberalism, standing as a centre-right presidential candidate in the Peruvian presidential election in 1990. More recently, his rightward drift has become more open. In 2014, he joined the Mont Pelerin Society, the organisation founded by Friedrich Hayek in 1947 that has become famous for neoliberalism.[4]

Llosa’s sharp shift to the right coloured his analysis of the early Cold War period. He lamented that the C.I.A.-sponsored Coup against Arbenz had caused too many young people in Latin America to turn towards communism and that the United States had crushed “the liberal democratic aspirations” of the people.

His book faithfully reconstructs the events in Guatemala that began with the 1944 October Revolution and ended with the Coup in 1954. The election of Jacob Arbenz. Welcomed by many left-leaning media outlets who hoped that the election of the liberal Arbenz would bring about a new “democratic spring,” Arbenz’s election was met with uncontrollable rage by American Imperialism.

Even the so-called “democratic spring” under J.J. Arévalo and his successor Jacobo Arbenz, who, unlike Bernardo, came to power based upon a program of democratic, agricultural and social reforms, proved most fundamentally that there is no peaceful or reformist road for the masses in Guatemala and other semi-colonial countries to secure their democratic and social rights.

In 1954, the United States carried out a coup d’état to remove Guatemala’s President Jacobo Arbenz from power, cancelling land reforms. The elected government of Arbenz  by introducing a limited agrarian reform that infringed upon the vast holdings of the politically influential United Fruit Company drew the wrath of U.S. Imperialism.

Dwight Eisenhower would later acknowledge, “We had to get rid of a Communist Government which had taken over.” Llosa, the book stops at the 1954 coup. The Coup led to decades of dictatorships, The subsequent Guatemalan elites murdered over 200,000 Guatemalans, most of whom came from the indigenous Mayans.

Eduardo Galeano characterised the decades of dictatorship that followed in his book Open Veins of Latin America: “The World Turned its Back while Guatemala underwent a long Saint Bartholomew’s night. [In 1967,] all the men of the village of Cajón del Rio were exterminated; those of Tituque had their intestines gouged out with knives; in Piedra Parada they were flayed alive; in Agua Blanca de Ipala they were burned alive after being shot in the legs. A rebellious peasant’s head was stuck on a pole in the centre of San Jorge’s plaza. In Cerro Gordo the eyes of Jaime Velázquez were filled with pins… In the cities, the doors of the doomed were marked with black crosses. Occupants were machine-gunned as they emerged, their bodies thrown into ravines.”

As Hegel said, “An idea is always a generalisation, and generalisation is a property of thinking. To generalise means to think”. Whatever its faults and many, Llosa’s new book certainly makes you think, and it does “ speak to our times”. It is perhaps an irony of history when the latest election occurred in Guatemala this year. Bernardo Arévalo, a candidate promoted by the pseudo-left and U.S. imperialism, won the election. Juan José Averalo's son Arevalo was president after the 1944 October Revolution. There is absolutely no basis for describing Arévalo as a left, democratic or progressive alternative to the clientelism of Guatemala’s ruling elite, whose subordination to foreign capital and U.S. imperialism is the main cause of the rampant poverty, inequality, authoritarianism and corruption that characterise Guatemalan social life.

[1]Mario Vargas Llosa: Harsh Times and the “Fantastical Repudiation of Reality”

March 10, 2022 Ivan Kenneally-https://openlettersreview.com/posts/mario-vargas-llosa-harsh-times-and-the-fantastical-repudiation-of-reality

[2] Guatemala 1954 – The Lesson Cuba Learned: International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.2, Spring 1961, pp.53-56.

[3] Letter of the NEC of the Socialist Labour League to the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party, May 8, 1961 – Trotskyism versus Revisionism, Volume 3.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Pelerin_Society 

Sunday 17 September 2023

Wifedom by Anna Funder-Penguin Books Ltd, £20


“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

— Oscar Wilde From the Preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray

 “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.”

“ Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

Proverbs 26:4-5

This is a very bad book. It is both tedious and confusing, which takes some doing. Funder’s main aim seems to be to destroy the reputation of one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century. The book is neither a biography nor a novel. Large swathes of the book are completely made up, and her conclusions are predicated on using just six letters written by Eileen O'Shaughnessy to a friend.

While stating Orwell was her “hero," Funder uses him as a conduit for her attack on “the Patriarchy, " which she does not define or offer any objective or scientific evaluation of the term. Far from “fixing sexual relations”, Funder and her allies in the #MeToo movement are out to destroy any progress made over the last 100 years and further muddle one of the most complex relationships among humans.

If this was not bad enough, the book has encouraged an avalanche of articles[1] that labelled Owell a sexual predator who preyed on vulnerable women, stole their ideas and used them to write books.

Despite the tedious and confusing nature of the book, Funder does, on a limited basis, rescue George Orwell’s wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, from the condescension of history. O'Shaughnessy was a highly intelligent and complex woman who has been largely airbrushed out of history. Her relationship with Orwell, both sexually and politically, was complicated. Their marriage was an “open “one, and both had affairs. According to Guardian journalist Rachel Cooke, “When she (O'Shaughnessy) followed him to Spain in 1937, where he was fighting the fascists during the civil war, she had a fling with his commander, George Kopp, while he was away at the front. Other affairs would follow.”[2]

Funder has an unhealthy interest in the sex life of both Orwell and, to a lesser extent, O'Shaughnessy, much to the detriment of the complex political relationship between the two. It is no accident that Funder started her book in 2017, which was the beginning of the right-wing MeToo# movement. One of the primary roles of the book seems to be, in the words of Vladimir Lenin, “to shout down the truth,[3] to prevent a more objective account of Orwell’s work and his relationship with O'Shaughnessy from being heard. Funder and others drown the truth in a torrent of abuse and shouts to prevent an open elucidation of the facts.

As Rebecca Solnit points out, “Being a moralist is a particularly fun and easy pursuit when it comes to the past because pretty much everyone from the past comes up short when measured by present-day standards. Virtually no one in 1973, let alone 1923, had 2023 values about race, gender, sexuality and the rest, any more than they had search engines or Twitter accounts. It’s not our individual virtue, but our collective receipt of humane and egalitarian ideas worked out in recent decades that gives us our presumably splendid present-day beliefs.”[4]

It seems clear that Eileen shared a significant amount of Orwell’s political beliefs. Travelling to Spain with him as both wife and comrade took enormous courage and political agreement. In some respects, she seemed far more alert to the dangers of the Fascists and the Stalinists when it came to their attempts to kill them both.

One of the more outlandish accusations supported in the book and made by a few other writers is that Orwell “stole” the ideas for his two major works, Animal Farm and 1984, from Eileen O'Shaughnessy. Although you do not see this in the book, it would appear that Orwell had a dialectical relationship with his wife. Like all great writers, if someone has a better idea, you turn it into a piece of art or, in this case, two of the greatest books of the 20th Century. If anything, Orwell’s 1984 was heavily influenced by the novel We, written by the Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1934, which Funder does not care to mention in case it interferes with her hatchet job on Orwell.

In other words, it has been standard practice for authors the “steal” from others. As Sir Isaac Newton said, If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Orwell saw further than O'Shaughnessy and, for that matter, Yevgeny Zamyatin

One of the more disturbing aspects of this slandering of Orwell is that it has gone largely unanswered. Oliver Lewis from St Catherine's College, Oxford, is the only brave soul to stick his head above the parapet. Writing on the Times Literary Supplement’s (TLS) letter page, Lewis wrote, “Eileen O’Shaughnessy’s school poem about an authoritarian future may have been a contribution to the concepts in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it is not possible to argue that Orwell’s most significant work was simply the genius of others. I am concerned that, by assuming that the sum of Orwell’s work is ascribable to other people – who all happen, in the view of Eileen M. Hunt (August 11), to be women – some observers are depriving the author of the right to respect that he and his work deserve. Hunt makes a plea for “argument and significance” in newly published works about Orwell, but seemingly only when they comply with her theory-driven narrative of the world. This is clearly one based on gender, namely her belief in the “patriarchy” (of which, as a male, she accuses me of being a part, as the author of one of the books under review, The Orwell Tour: Travels through the life and work of George Orwell).[5]

Another disturbing aspect of this book is the absence of any analysis by Funder of any of Orwerll’s major works. Take, for instance, one of Orwell’s most important works, Homage Catalonia. Aside from Funder intimating that Orwell had homosexual tendencies, she says nothing of worth about this great book. As the Marxist writer Vicky Short points out, “ George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is an inspiring book by a gifted and honest writer committed to exposing the truth. Written in 1937, it is a moving account of the heroic revolutionary struggle of the Spanish people against fascism and Socialism. Above all, it provides irrefutable proof by an independent living witness to the crimes committed by the Stalinist bureaucracy in Spain and its betrayal of the Spanish Revolution. Orwell’s account was a vindication of the analysis that had been made by Leon Trotsky and the International Left Opposition to the Soviet bureaucracy, whose policies had by then become utterly counterrevolutionary on a world scale.”[6]

Reading this book left a bad taste in my mouth. Aside from it being both tedious and confusing, Funder's main purpose seems to lead a right-wing attack on the work and character of George Orwell using the cover of a biography of Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She has merely made a literary fool of herself and all those who have written glowing reviews of a very bad book.


[1] See-The biography that destroys George Orwell: from thief of ideas to sexual predator www.tellerreport.com/life

[2] Eileen: The Making of George Orwell by Sylvia Topp – review- https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/10/eileen-the-making-of-george-orwell-sylvia-topp-review

[3] A Partnership of Lies- www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/13c.htm

[4] George Orwell in an age of moralists- Should we stop measuring the great English writer by today’s standards?


[5] https://www.the-tls.co.uk/categories/regular-features/letters-to-the-editor/

[6] George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, Stalinism and the Spanish revolution

April 11 2002