Wednesday, 9 March 2022

A Review-Storming Heaven-Denise Giardina-Ivy Books-1987


A guest article by James McDonald and David Walsh. The original article appeared at

Meeting the responsibilities of historical fiction

Denise Giardina’s novel Storming Heaven (Ivy Books, 1987) is a gripping work of historical fiction set in West Virginia during the first two decades of the 20th century. It takes as its subject the rapacious conquest by coal mining companies of southern West Virginia and the courageous battles waged by miners and their families in defense of their land, their labor and their lives. The novel culminates with the Battle of Blair Mountain, which took place in the late summer of 1921.

Typically in historical fiction, invented characters encounter historical figures, invented places are juxtaposed with actual places and the fictional plot incorporates historical events. In Storming Heaven, Giardina has carefully integrated her characters and the fictitious Justice County, West Virginia, into the landscape and history of the Coal Wars.

Giardina uses four narrators to tell her story, each with an effectively distinctive voice. C.J. Marcum (“Cincinnatus Jefferson, after the two greatest men that ever lived”) becomes the mayor of the fictional town of Annadel, West Virginia. Annadel is a racially integrated community whose previous mayor was the African-American Doctor Booker. Doc Booker is a socialist who befriends C.J. and wins him to the ideas of socialism, though C.J. always falls asleep when he tries to read the books by Karl Marx that Doc lends him.

Rondal Lloyd, a dour, solitary man is nevertheless a thoroughly dedicated union organizer. In fact, he has given up on his thoughts of becoming a doctor in order to organize the mines. Rondal’s life at once reminds a reader of the countless intelligent and promising humans whose dreams are swallowed up by a difficult working class life and of those courageous workers who fight for justice and dignity on behalf of others.

Rosa Angelelli, a Sicilian immigrant brought to West Virginia by her husband Mario, voices a number of short sections in the novel. Desperately homesick, she works as a housekeeper for a wealthy mine operator whose butterfly collection both intrigues and troubles her. Rosa suffers tremendous loss because of the mine, and her fate as depicted by Giardina is genuinely heartbreaking.

Carrie Bishop, whose home is in Kentucky, is a bold and free-thinking girl who as a woman becomes a nurse in a mining town, and she comes to dominate the novel with her compelling voice and story. Hopelessly in love with Rondal Lloyd, and appalled at what she sees of the miners’ conditions, she joins the dangerous, clandestine struggle to bring the United Mine Workers to Justice County. Carrie’s brother Miles, however, has become a representative of “the operators,” which confronts Carrie with conflicting loyalties and hard decisions.

Other notable characters in the novel include Talcott Lloyd, Rondal’s younger brother, who has fought in the Great War and become desensitized to violence, and Isom Justice, scion to Annadel’s wealthiest citizen, is an especially intriguing creation of Giardina’s. Not a miner himself, Isom nevertheless participates in the miners’ cause as a kind of adventure and comes to represent a certain type of middle class activist, individualistic and lacking in political principle and discipline. Albion Freeman, who loves and marries Carrie, is a gentle Hardshell Baptist preacher who does not believe in hell.

Storming Heaven is also peopled by the multi-ethnic miners, the blacks, Italians, Irish, Hungarians and Poles who live in their own impoverished enclaves and look askance at each other until the union movement brings them together, enlightening many of them. Finally, there are the “gun thugs,” the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency goons brought in by the operators to put down the miners’ attempts to organize. True to history, the Baldwin-Felts men in the novel beat, torture and murder suspected organizers. At one point a socialist organizer is thrown into an oven.

Giardina’s narrators, with the exception of Rosa, are highly reliable, Carrie, Rondal and C.J. each being particularly clear-eyed, honest and self-aware. While the novel might sacrifice something in the way of ironic complexity with such narrators, it gains more. The three speak straight and plain, and Giardina speaking through them allows no trace of sentimentality into these hard lives. Love is unpredictable, stubborn and inconvenient as well as beautiful. Fear and spite are given their due, and the thirst for justice is a burning, immediate need.

Logan County Sheriff's deputies during the battle of Blair Mountain

Giardina also has a keen eye for observation and an excellent writer’s touch. Here is a passage from Carrie, describing Justice town where she goes to nursing school:

In Justice town, the houses stabbed pillars of stone and wood into the flesh of the hillside and clung there like a swarm of mosquitoes.

With such crystalline sentences she shows us mining towns and verdant hills, one-room homes, coal tipples, box cars and flat cars and the simple dress of the mining families. One element almost absent from Storming Heaven, however, is the mines themselves. We go down in a mine only twice, early in the novel and briefly each time. Nevertheless, Giardina shows us enough in these scenes to establish vividly the inhuman conditions and mortal danger of the work.

Realizing that any hopes they have of improving their lot will depend on their forcing the coal operators to back down, the miners begin to arm themselves. Led by C.J. Marcum and Doc Booker, a contingent of deputized miners declare their town “Free Annadel.” When Baldwin-Felts gun thugs arrive on the train, Isom Justice, who has been made chief of police, attempts to arrest them. What ensues is Giardina’s fictionalized treatment of the 1920 Matewan Massacre. In Storming Heaven, as in the actual event, two brothers of the co-founder of the agency, Thomas Felts, are killed. One was shot by the actual police chief, Sid Hatfield, who became a hero among mining families.

The miners strike and are immediately turned out of their homes. Scabs are brought in to work the mines, and the striking miners set up a tent city. Giardina conveys the boredom, frustration and discomfort of life in the tents, and with the coming of winter she portrays the horror the miners endured.

The final section of the novel brings the characters to the Battle of Blair Mountain, in Logan County, where over 10,000 armed miners assembled to confront Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin’s force of approximately 2,000 “deputies.” The WSWS in September 2021 featured 100 years since the Battle of Blair Mountain, which made this important point:

What dominated the march on Logan was a spirit of class solidarity, regardless of race or nationality. They marched wearing red bandanas tied around their necks to distinguish themselves from the gun thugs, who tied white handkerchiefs to their arms. The red bandanas, no doubt associated in the minds of the miners and mine owners with revolution and socialism, ironically became the source of the term “redneck,” later used to disparage Appalachian workers as ignorant and backward.

Giardina is careful to portray the leading role socialists played in organizing the miners, though she does not discriminate among those in the novel who call themselves socialists where such discrimination would be useful. For instance, some who identified themselves as socialists among the West Virginia miners in fact subscribed to a nationalism that supported the US intervention in World War I. Then as now, the term “socialism” tended to be eclectically used and abused.

Nonetheless, from Doc Booker to C.J. and Rondal, it is the socialists in the novel who take the initiative in the struggle to organize the miners. A point Giardina seems to want to emphasize is that the miners in the Coal Wars of the early 20th century were both militant and class-conscious.

Ultimately, the miners were defeated, both because Sheriff Chafin had planes drop bombs of explosives and poison gas left over from World War I on the miners and because President Warren G. Harding sent in federal troops. At the end of the novel, characters are left with a sense of waiting for a day that has still not arrived.

At 35, as a picture of the ferocity of the class struggle in the US, Storming Heaven is as compelling as ever. In Alabama, miners at Warrior Met have been on strike for 11 months for better wages and work schedules. The miners belong to the United Mine Workers of America, the same union the miners at Blair Mountain fought and died to join a hundred years ago. Today, the UMWA, with only a fraction of its former membership, is an extension of the company and the government, operating to prevent strikes and, when workers’ determination makes strikes impossible to prevent, as in the case at Warrior Met, to isolate and sabotage them.

Denise Giardina, an American Book Award winner, was born in Bluefield, West Virginia in 1951 and grew up in a small coal mining town in McDowell County. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan College and the Virginia Theological Seminary. According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, she “is an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church.”

Storming Heaven was her second novel, and it was followed by another set in the coalfields, Unquiet Earth (1992), which treats the period from the 1930s to the 1990s.

The West Virginia Encyclopedia also describes Giardina as “a political activist” who “participated in and wrote about Appalachian labor-capital conflicts of her day, including the A.T. Massey (mid-1980s) and Pittston (1989–90) coal strikes.” In 2000, she ran for governor of West Virginia as the candidate of the Mountain Party, the state’s affiliate of the national Green Party, highlighting environmental issues in particular. She was also once a campaign volunteer and Congressional aide for Democratic Rep. Bob Wise (later West Virginia governor).

Mass picket of coal miners during the A.T. Massey strike of 1984-85 — UMWA president Trichard Trumka's betrayal of this strike paved the way for a wave of union-busting and state violence against the miners.

Both the AT Massey and Pittston strikes were sold out by the UMWA. In the former strike, five miners were framed up and sentenced to decades in prison. In 2010, the WSWS noted that the union’s betrayal of the A.T. Massey strike “set the stage for a wave of violent union-busting, frameups and the murders of militant miners over the next decade. Time and time again, from the 1989 Pittston strike, to the frame-up of the Milburn miners, to the 1990 murder of former A.T. Massey miner John McCoy, to the 1994 frameup of striker Jerry Dale Lowe, the pattern was the same—the UMWA left its members defenseless and collaborated with management and the state authorities against them.”

Giardina’s novel is artistically and socially valuable and moving as a presentation of the class struggle in the early 20th century. Readers of Storming Heaven will be drawn into the lives of the characters and inspired by the courage of the miners. They must look up from the book, though, and see that the unions that coal miners and others fought to build in the early 20th century no longer exist as workers’ organizations.

Moreover, the crisis of American and global capitalism is profound and systemic, demanding new types of organization and a socialist and internationalist perspective. If the novel’s rose-colored view of militant trade unionism and elemental solidarity was made into a program and applied to present conditions, it would prove wholly inadequate.


Sunday, 6 March 2022

Historians capitulate to war propaganda over Ukraine

David North@davidnorthwsws

Mar. 4 2022

This article was initially posted as a thread on Twitter. It is a guest article by David North. The original article can be seen at

The war is having a devastating impact on historians. There are entirely principled and leftwing grounds upon which the Russian invasion of Ukraine should be opposed and which do not require adapting to the US-NATO coverup of fascism in Ukraine's past and present. But, unfortunately, even historians who have written major works on the fascist Stepan Bandera, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) are renouncing their own scholarship to suit the needs of the US-NATO propaganda campaign.

The "Statement on Ukraine by scholars of genocide, Nazism and WWII" is a disgraceful example of the intellectual and moral capitulation of significant segments of the academic community to the demands for historical falsification.

The statement begins with reference to World War II, bizarrely attacking Putin for being "obsessed with the history of that war," as if it is abnormal for a Russian president to be "obsessed" with a catastrophe that cost the lives of approximately 30 million Soviet citizens.

One must assume that the statement's signatories, who have devoted their professional lives to the study of genocide, are also "obsessed with the history of that war," whose central event was the Holocaust in which Bandera and OUN-B played a critical role. The statement's signatories declare: "We do not idealize the Ukrainian state and society. Like any other country, it has right-wing extremists and violent xenophobic groups. Ukraine also ought to better confront the darker chapters of its painful and complicated history."In the context of its history, this statement is indeed an idealization of the Ukrainian state and society. Ukraine is not "like any other country" which has "right-wing extremists and violent xenophobic groups."

Supporters of far-right parties carry torches and banner with a portrait of Stepan Bandera reads 'Nothing was stopped the idea when its time comes' during a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)As the historians know, despite the horrific genocidal crimes committed by the OUN, under the leadership of their "Providnyk" (fuehrer) Stepan Bandera, the legacy of the fascist nationalists continues to exert an immense political and cultural influence in Ukraine.

Among the statement's signatories is the historian Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, who is the author of an important 652-page scholarly work, titled Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist—Fascism, Genocide, and Cult. Rossoliński-Liebe's book, Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist - Fascism, Genocide, and Cult. This book not only documents the crimes committed by Bandera's movement. Rossoliński-Liebe also examined his cult-like status among broad segments of contemporary Ukrainian society.

In the aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR, he writes: "Many monuments devoted to the victims of the Ukrainian nationalists or to heroes of the Soviet Union were replaced with monuments devoted to Bandera and the OUN and UPA' heroes.'"Bandera and Ukrainian revolutionary nationalists again became important elements of western Ukrainian identity.

"Not only far-right activists but also the mainstream of western Ukrainian society, including high-school teachers and university professors, considered Bandera to be a national hero... whose memory should be honoured for his struggle against the Soviet Union." Rossoliński-Liebe made the following significant and troubling observation: "The post-Soviet memory politics in Ukraine completely ignored democratic values and did not develop any kind of non-apologetic approach to history." How is this damning commentary on the post-Soviet intellectual life of Ukraine reconciled with the statement's cynical and historically apologetic reference to "independent and democratic Ukraine"? Rossoliński-Liebe also called attention to the significant international connections forged by Bandera's followers with the United States and other imperialist powers during the Cold War.

Iaroslav Stets'ko, who "had written letters to the Fuhrer, the Duce, the Poglavnik [the top Croatian Nazi], and the Caudillo [Franco], asking them to accept the newly proclaimed Ukrainian state, was in 1966 designated an honorary citizen of the Canadian city of Winnipeg." The historian continues: "In 1983 he was invited to the Capitol and the White House, where George Bush and Ronald Reagan received the 'last premier of a free Ukrainian state,'" i.e., which had existed under the control of the Third Reich. "On Jul. 11 1982," recalls Rossoliński-Liebe, "during Captive Nations Week, the red-and-black flag of the OUN-B, introduced at the Second Great Congress of the Ukrainian Nationalists in 1941, flew over the United States Capitol.

"It symbolized freedom and democracy, not ethnic purity and genocidal fascism. Nobody understood that it was the same flag that had flown from the Lviv city hall and other buildings, under which Jewish civilians were mistreated and killed in July 1941..."

Given the history of Ukrainian fascism and its truly sordid contemporary significance, the apologetics in which the historians are engaged is as contemptible as it is cowardly. The Russian government is engaged in its own propaganda-style falsification of history, which must be exposed. Putin—a bitter opponent of the internationalism of the October Revolution—counterpoises Russian nationalism to Ukrainian nationalism. The competing nationalist narratives must be exposed—in the interests of uniting Russian and Ukrainian workers in a common struggle against the US-NATO imperialists, their fascist allies within Ukraine, and corrupt regime of capitalist restoration in Russia.


David North has played a leading role in the international socialist movement for 45 years. He is presently the chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site and the national chairperson of the Socialist Equality Party (United States).

Vitalis, Robert. 2020. Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security that Haunts U.S. Energy Policy. Stanford University Press; pp. ‎ 240 pages; Paperback: $22.00; Hardcover: $22.47; ISBN-10 :1503632598; ISBN-13: 978-1503632592

The premise of Vitalis' book is that oil cannot be the bloodline of the U.S. economy, least of all, of U.S. national security. There are several minerals (a little over seventy) which the industrial world badly needs a constant and secured supply of and which civilization itself cannot do without, but they are not treated as important as oil. Such a state of affairs serves us in questioning contents spread by news cartels! At least, the average observer has never heard that this or that country has waged war or is willing to wage one to ensure reliable shipments of aluminium or copper. What is it so special, then, with oil? Precisely, what is at stake when it comes to oil?

According to Vitalis, oil is less the story of oil, the crude matter, and more the story of cooked data and produced-under-demand type of evidence. Powerful interest groups and lobbies inside the U.S. corridors of power steer such data and evidence toward selling the myth which nearly all people are born to embrace as self-evident. Indeed, the fear of failing to ensure a constant supply of oil (and strangely only) from the Persian Gulf is supposed to spell a trauma. The myth sits on another no less powerful and enduring myth. Both science and reason ensure that there has never been a dwindling supply of oil or any other natural resources. As technology advances, enough reserves of all types of minerals are constantly discovered. The only way to free the U.S. democracy, nay, the very political system and ensure a solid role model for the rest of the world is to shed off these myths. They cripple U.S. policy planners and ruin the U.S. reputation in the world.  

The book comprises five chapters wherein the first serves as an introduction and the last as a conclusion. Chapter One "Opening" sets the stage for revisiting President Bush's conquest of Iraq in 2003. Since both then and now, the argument goes that the U.S. acted on behalf of large Oil conglomerates. If so, Vitalis rebuts. The proper and easiest way for the U.S. to access that oil was to lift its own 1990s sanctions on Iraqi exports. Like this, oil companies would have entered the market and the problem resolved. Besides, with the rise of prices in the early 2000s, the abundance of hydraulically-fractioned oil has made the U.S. a major producer of oil itself. The U.S. import of oil from the Middle East is around 18 per cent.

Nevertheless, "Junk social science" (p. 5) keeps the scary narrative aflame. In a context where luminaries and public intellectuals are fixated on their myth of 'oil-as-power', the term 'oilcraft' recalls witchcraft more than statecraft. Vitalis' analogy is a call towards dispelling confusion and talismanic obsession by promoting a rationalized understanding of decisions about energy policy. When the only evidence 'junk' social scientists provide is the rising of prices, then one comes face to face with what Roger Stern ably calls 'oil-scarcity ideology' (p. 6). Vitalis stresses the method whereby every statement we encounter in the archive should be taken with a grain of salt.

To counter such an erroneous methodology, he proposes that readers must not overlook three facts: 1- the world is rich in minerals; anyone has access to raw materials. The possibility of oil-as-weapon is at best incorrect and a 'chimaera' (p. 14). Instead of embracing the confirmation bias, the abondance should incentivize us to question what lies beyond the phenomenal; 2- the imagined threats to oil supply—even when real—cannot be addressed militarily; 3- oil prices are dependent on other raw materials. A simple comparison of oil prices against other minerals in the long durée—as Roger Stern does—will conclude that oil cannot be the lifeblood of the American way of life.     

Chapter Two, "Raw Materialism", posits that the idea of a single source being of critical importance for a given national economy is reductionist at best and misleading at worse. Vitalis brings to evidence proponents of the early twentieth century Columbia School (scholars like Edward Mead Earle and William S. Culbertson) wherein the latter notes that U.S. policy since 1918 has been rooted in "bogeys" ranging from rapid depletion of natural resources to British monopoly of these resources (pp. 26-7). Back then, like now, there existed an industry behind the studies fueling these bogeys, infuriating the public and policymakers alike about such imagined threats. Vitalis finds that the idea of " 'control' of foreign oil fields" (p. 29) becoming a priority for the U.S. economy has been sown in Americans' unconscious fairly recently, during the 1990s. Culbertson finds that wars do not emerge from the need to control or ensure extended supplies of raw materials but from the need for markets to commercialize industrialized commodities. (p. 32) That is how embracing mid-nineteen century protectionism triggers bouts of scarcity syndrome. But a generation or two later, these findings made during the 1920s were all forgotten. The Cold War context made it more likely that the Soviets could threaten U.S. access to Middle East oil. Vitalis adds that even Noam Chomsky falls into confirmation bias wherein "the progressives of the 1970s were a pale imitation of their 1920s ancestors." (p. 55) as they just kept parroting criticism of American foreign policy without registering the immanent discourse on oil or where that criticism might be heading.

Chapter Three, "1973: A Time to Confuse", rereads the much-mediated event of October 17, 1973, or the alleged OPEC oil embargo. Upon checking the evidence, Vitalis finds the event was anything but a spectacle. Under no stretch of the imagination, the event can be seriously called or even approximated to a threat of cutting supplies, let alone an embargo. Back then, "only 7 per cent of U.S. oil imports originated from the Middle East" (p. 57). Besides, Arab nationalists only expressed a half-hearted and face-saving gesture in the wake of their humiliating defeat against Isarel in June 1967—gestures meant for popular consumption at home only.

Nevertheless, the scarcity-thesis driven by media and the cult of trusting experts and intellectuals for gaining monopoly made it look as if scarcity is imminent and can usher at the end of the world. Vitalis discusses the five hundred pages report by David S. Freeman's A Time to Choose, released when Americans were experiencing long lines in gas stations. The report makes it super easy to jump to the conclusion that the long queues were a reverberation from the much-publicized shock that spelt serious disruptions of supply and all presumably orchestrated by the Arab Embargo. In reality, though, OPEC "sought a fairer share of the windfall." (p. 64) In its effort to protect local crude producers from the effects of the unstable market, the U.S. government used a preferential tariff with local crude producers. However, the Nixon Administration decided in 1971 to reverse the preferential tariff policy and open the U.S. market to non-American producers. This new policy, not OPEC's action, explain the interruption in supply and long queues; the embargo was only a surrogate. Far from disrupting supply, Arabs were terrified of losing their market shares.

Chapter Four, "No Deal", elaborates on the motoring principle behind the myth that stipulates the invisibility of oil for the American policymaker. It is the key chapter as it uncovers the motive behind portraying oil as the bloodline of the American economy. Vitalis notes that this myth could not become as intense as now without the fantasy-embraced-as-history. Given their nefarious stature in consequence of 9/11, the Saudis, or Al Saud, more exactly: the ruling oligarchs of Saudi Arabia, have invested heavily to paint themselves as peace-loving and reliable suppliers of oil for the U.S. economy. They invented a genesis for a presumed memorandum of understanding or a deal between King Ibn Saud and President Franklin Roosevelt on board the destroyer U.S.S. Qunicy near the end of World War II. The presumed deal which the author finds no trace in the archives or the records hypothetically listed that the Saudis will ensure reliable shipments of crude and the U.S., on its part, will guarantee the protection of the king and his dynasty after him. Vitalis adds: "The only problem is that no account of U.S.-Saudi relation for the next fifty years said any such thing." (p. 87), underscoring a situation that leads anyone to conclude that "The Saudis, the P.R. firms, and their many friends in Washington would milk the meeting with F.D.R. for all it was worth after 2001". (p. 91) Indeed, Vitalis is aware that this Saudi fabrication counts among the latest in the arsenal of forgeries specifying the invisibility of oil. Differently put, the deceit and the fable could not go unnoticed without interest groups at home. These interest groups profit from recycling oil dollars in the U.S. economy through purchases of U.S. treasury bonds, consumer goods and, of course, armament bills with astronomical price tags attached to them. That is how it is for the long-term interest of the U.S. to distance itself from a retrogressive and degenerate monarchy. That proximity does considerable damage to the status of the U.S. as a superpower. The crumbling of the Saudis' rule will be an event that will boost, not hinder, U.S. supremacy or at least its leadership credentials.

Chapter Five, "Breaking the Spell", concludes Oilcraft by reclaiming each chapter's key pieces of the argument. Vialis starts with underlying that "[p]opular and scholarly beliefs about oil-as-power also have no basis in fact" (p. 122). But the irony that the myth posits is that policymakers who sincerely want to break from this fixation can do little to break the immanent structure whereby oil is received as invisible. The assumptions are that powerful that any attempt to go against them ends in discrediting, if not ridiculing, the credible policymaker. Hence, the first step of leaving that fixation starts with getting the scholarship correct, never allowing unchecked opinions to go for knowledge. Knowledge starts by first making sure that crude producers have no choice but to sell their outputs. Before harming the U.S. economy, cutting supplies will strangle their economies and destabilize their hold on power. Second, one needs to be certain that besides the fact that deploying an army to protect crude supplies cannot be tenable and efficient, the deployment itself raises tensions and causes supply interruptions. Third, the Middle East is a volatile space, and it does not behove a superpower to be constantly dragged into the mess out there. Fourth, by the same depleted logic of scarcity, why does not the U.S. go and chase bauxite, tungsten, tin, rubber lest other powers appropriate them? Fifth, there lies the fallacy with which the degenerate left sells its credentials: as soon as the U.S. steps out of the Middle East, "the fossil-capital-led order" will fall all on its own hence an era of plenitude automatically emerge. In the end, Vitalis notes that "Oilcraft today [has] hijack[ed] the mind of the scientifically literate" (p.128), speaking less of the average person whereby oil passes as an explanation for almost every that is wrong with the world today. Sixth, Saudis' money should not be allowed to finance studies. Funding (Vitalis rightly calls it "the paid-to-think-tanks" p. 131) will only bring about pseudo-science whose consequences are more confusion and befogged policies, but the propaganda which the funding generates will cover for the asphyxiation of liberties in the Middle East and the world at large. In the end, Vitalis rightly addresses the U.S. policymaker: "why fear an Arabia without Sultans?" (p. 133)

Vitalis finds that well-intentioned and respectful policymakers and advisers stay disabled in the face of the enduring myths. Over the decades, these myths have taken a larger dimension than life. He is correct that the journey to undo their effect starts with unbiased research. But there are instances where Vitalis' reliance on Posen's suspicion of the ideology that oil is all but powerful recalls the theory that colonies cost metropolitan centres more than what the latter could squeeze value out of them. But his subsequent elaboration that correlation does not necessarily lead to causation lifts the confusion.

Perhaps what remains missing in Vitalis' discussion of Columbia scholars' findings of the 1920s regarding those in favour of open trade and their opponents is how during the time where capital expansion needed nationalism, oil was treated (and for good reasons) as the lifeblood. Vitalis indirectly calls for updating sedimented thinking since capitalistic growth since the 1920s (exactly after WWI) is not conditioned on the old mystique view of oil-as-bloodline, given the abundance of supply. Producers cannot afford to withdraw crude from buyers lest they risk losing their share in a highly competitive market. Similarly, no major power can hinder access to oil because oil remains evenly available everywhere.

At play, there have been two temporalities of capital accumulation, not one: formal and real dominations. The two temporalities explain why Moon notes the necessity (which is, in fact, Karl Marx's) that animate these temporalties wherein occupying a colony becomes financially inhibitive after WWI. Self-less or anonymous capital is self-regulating at an advanced stage of primitive accumulation. Differently put, during the era of real domination (post-1918), there cannot be a need for a class of bourgeois pioneers to intervene. That explains why the bourgeois class has disappeared. In its place, there emerged a capitalistic class who controlled nothing yet. They pretend they are in charge of managers/administrators (C.E.O.s) appointed by shareholders to speak on behalf of the latter interest. Hence in this context, we read of Parker T. Moon's quote where "raw materials are colour-blind." (p. 36) and that colonies are a burden to maintain.

Likewise, Vitalis' analysis in Chapter Four dwells on the corruption of the Saudis, and their dizzying pace of change 'from camels to Cadilliacs' (p. 95) paid for by oil rent may sound racist stays inconsequential in the overreaching impact of oil wealth. For that, oil wealth decides less their conservative outlook but more significantly intensifies their adamant predisposition against the founding of the semblance of an egalitarian polity all over the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) region. The counter-revolution that quelled the uprisings of the Arab Spring both in 2011 and 2019 have been fueled and financed by their medieval outlook. On the aside, Vitalis notes that with recycled petrodollars, the Saudi acquired F-15 jets that have been since March 2015 bombing civilians in Yemen. But he could have pushed his liberal outlook a little further by noting that worse than the F-15s lies the regressive and ultra-conservative brand of the faith whose sole agenda appears to be the crashing all social movements that promised to propagate towards a lifestyle free from the dictatorship of oil.      

Overall, there are instances where Vitalis' debunking of myths such as 'oil-as-power' falls into the right, and there are other instances where the same debunking falls more into the left. Still, sometimes he can be counted even as a devout communist. But the undecidability of classification is the quality of great scholarship, where he passionately elucidates his points regardless of class or ideology. Indeed, Vitalis embraces his mission to eradicate facile portrayals because masquerading beneath so-called 'self-evident conclusions' lies not only the perpetuation of mistaken decisions but the squandering of the U.S. taxpayers' savings as well subaltern of the MENA chances for a future in dignity.   


Fouad Mami

Université d’Adrar (Algeria)



Tuesday, 1 March 2022

The Great Post Office Scandal: The fight to expose a multimillion-pound IT disaster which put innocent people in jail by Nick Wallis, Bath Publishing, £25 544 pages

 'I WANT someone tried and jailed like I was, then I am settled,'

Harjinder Butoy,[1]

'All who were convicted following a trial had grim punishments imposed upon them, including in some cases immediate sentences of imprisonment. Lives were ruined, families were torn apart, families were made homeless and destitute.'Reputations were destroyed, not least because the crimes of which the men and women were convicted – theft, fraud, and false accounting – all involved acting dishonestly. People who were an important, respected and integral part of the local community that they served were in some cases shunned.

Jason Beer QC

Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.


The Great Post Office Scandal, a door stopper of a book weighing in at 544 pages, catalogues at great length the numerous campaigns and legal cases that finally made the Post Office admit there was the elephant in the room. Post Office executives spared no cost in defending their position of prosecuting innocent people for crimes they did not commit.

Nick Wallis's book highlights the shocking and criminal actions of the Post Office, who deliberately prosecuted Postmasters and Postmistresses despite knowing full well that their Horizon computer system was faulty. The Post Office bosses jailed, ruined the lives of and caused the suicides of many people in a manner that would not look out of place in a Nazi courtroom.

As Rory Cellan-Jones said in his review, "hundreds of sub-postmasters have had their reputations besmirched, their livelihood and liberty taken away and been sent into a spiral of depression that has in one instance ended in suicide, all because of a misplaced faith in the wisdom of computers".[2]

In 1999 The Post Office introduced a computer system called Horizon designed by Japans Fujitsu. It sought to revolutionise how Post Offices worked, but in reality, it produced a nightmare that made Dante's Inferno look like a tea party.

During the four years after its introduction, the system miraculously began to find incredible levels of fraud. Instead of investigating whether the system was malfunctioning, the Post Office went to extraordinary lengths not only to cover up the fault but by 2014 had 736 people prosecuted. Both the Post Office and Fujitsu lied through their teeth to protect a malfunctioning computer system, even denying that Fujitsu employees had any power to intervene with branch transactions. The Post Office deliberately withheld evidence that prevented workers from having a fair trial.

The book is meticulously researched and well written. Wallis's tenacity in pursuing the Post Office is a sight to behold. The book is an engrossing account of how the Post Office was forced to admit that it deliberately ignored and covered up Horizon's malfunction. The Post Office's hands are dripping with the blood of many workers.

Wallis did not break the story, but he was one of the few brave souls to break the wall of silence surrounding the scandal. Initially contacted by Davinder Misra, the husband of Seema, who was pregnant and in prison. She was accused of a shortfall in her account of £74,000, and was jailed for 15 months for theft.

Trade Union and Labour Bureaucracy

The reason the Post Office could jail people like Seema and many more is down to the fact that the Labour and Trade union bureaucracy never lifted a finger to stop it. At no stage did the unions involved either the Subpostmasters trade union or the CWU(CommunicationWorkers Union) call for strike action to prevent people from being jailed for crimes they did not commit. At no stage did the CWU expose the rotten Labour governments that presided over this miscarriage of justice on a grand scale.

This crime against the working class began under the Blair-Brown Labour governments. Gordon Brown became PM of the Labour government on 27th June 2007.

The union bureaucrats of the CWU fully shared the essential thrust of Blair and Brown's right-wing policies. They shared Labour's pro-business agenda, which included allowing innocent workers to be jailed and ruined by a Government-owned company without lifting a finger to help.


The Great Post Office Scandal is not an easy read, not just because it is too heavy. I hope it gets a wide readership. Wallis will donate money from the sales to fund the court cases still to be undertaken. Aside from that, it is an important book. It is conversational and contains many interesting vignettes, sometimes making it read like a crime novel.

The book works on many levels. It is attractive for the general reader, and academics will find much that interests them. From a legal standpoint, many lawyers will find this a goldmine.

While this scandal could be compared with other crimes against the working class like Enron, Theranos, Wirecard that has devastated so many lives in the pursuit of profit, it would be a mistake to believe that the Post Office is just a bad apple in an otherwise healthy basket. The decisive question that is not raised in the book, let alone answered, is what driving forces within the capitalist economy could have led to the situation where The Post Office could pursue and jail innocent people and act with impunity.

What was the role of the Labour and Trade Union bureaucracy in allowing the Post Office to act with such impunity? The answer to these questions will not be found in the book or in the current enquiry, which will be another will be a whitewash.

Why has no Post Office executive has been held personally accountable, let alone jailed? The Post Office Chair and CEO are still in their jobs, and the previous CEO, Paula Vennells, was given a CBE and a cushy job as Chair of Imperial College NHS Trust. CEO Paula Vennells was given a £5 million golden handshake and a CBE for "services to the Post Office and charity". Workers must reject this phoney enquiry and must demand a worker's inquiry.


[1] Harjinder Butoy was given the longest prison sentence at three years and four months, was wrongly convicted and jailed for stealing £208,000.