On Greece the story is darker, outright police oppression against the desperate protesters, even the tax collectors, in the demonstrations . There is only a sketch on the events of 2008 but the neglect of history runs throughout the book and is an integral fault. The on-going nature of the political crisis in Greece has been examined elsewhere and we can only await developments.
The situation in the Philippines revolves round some urban "slums" in Manila, their astonishing solidarity and again a fight against local bureaucrats for their very existence. Here the resistance is piecemeal and fractured – apart from some brave community leaders – and the author is reduced to interviews with sympathetic professionals , priests and ‘ liberal’ city bosses. Even the erstwhile militias get no more than a brief mention without any talk of precedents. The example of these poverty stricken city dwellers is perhaps typical of new immigrants to urban life across the world but I would have like more information on this It could be said that the book in these sections presents merely an alternative travelogue rather than a proper journalist analysis .
This section around the present revolts is curtailed by the method. Syria and Libya came too late and other pockets are excluded by the personal approach of this section. Personally I would have like a bit more on the events of the early 20th century when the communists were at their best with resistance . It is difficult sometimes to recall the era of outright oppression by fascists and absolute monarchs, and there is not much to thank the communists for after the suppression of the 1917 Russian workers councils, but the history of the period has some really heroic accounts of the efforts of pioneer communists in these countries. Just Egypt and Greece alone have such narratives [Perrault on Curiel]. Of course , subsequently their subservience to Moscow wrecked their credibility and support [Potter] This is all part of the inheritance and could be examined by the diligent reader.
Moving on from the factual pages to his general paragraphs, numerous themes can be identified but four are selected :
- the role of modern technology,
- historical precedents and references to Mason’s core beliefs in marxism
- economic causes of the crisis
- the exposure of British social democracy, in the form of the Labour Government , an event which has monumental political implications
Mason is enthusiastic about the use of modern communications technology, as a key theme. He quotes some bloggers at great length and records, especially in Egypt, the extensive use of the text messaging service. There is no doubt that protestors and demonstrators clever use of this technology has enabled them to outwit the authoritarian and bureaucratic police services on many occasions. Even the State shut down of the internet in January 2011 came days after the crucial 25 January protests. Events had their own momentum by then. He digresses at length into the networked revolution, a quite new ingredient, and one that for now we can note, as no doubt the security force are also doing.
So just how significant are mobile communications in political events ? It is not enough to compare overall numbers to the population as Mouvement Communiste do – and dismiss it all - but equally, to elevate a method to a key element as Paul Mason does, seems to prejudge examination.
Precedents and explanations
In a preliminary historical analysis, the author believes that certain past periods allow strong comparisons with the immediate past decade. His points are mainly a recent rapid advance in technology, and the raised level of inflation in food prices. On this basis, he identified the 1848 revolutionary year and develops his point convincingly. A second period which he suggests invites comparison is that of the pre world war one, the great unrest up to 1914. The brief paragraphs are a useful insight but insufficient as conclusive evidence, and the comparison need further evidence.
Next Mason next leaps to political conclusions and tries to draw lessons from the early writing of Karl Marx before 1848 .Readers may recall that the philosophical explanations of society, based on the concept of alienation contained in marxist writings, were subsequently jettisoned in favour of massive economic research on the mechanics of capitalism. Marx and Engels also later clarified their beliefs and, drawing on other writers, structured them into a theory of ‘scientific socialism’ about the key role of the State and its associated political role for workers. It was this second point that led to the titanic battle with more libertarian forces of Proudhon and Bakunin . It was this concern with the latter’s prediction of a State and Party based revolution and its degeneration into a new totalitarian regime, that created division. For many, post 1917 Russia confirmed the prediction. The conflict lives on to the present.
The Collapse of the British Labour Party ‘s government and the future
Mason dissects the effect of the crisis on a government that boasted it had abolished ‘boom and bust’. The powerful pressure to cut back on spending to pay for the debts the bankers had incurred was disastrous for Labour . In the past , along with the Tories, they had announced that it was greedy workers and their pay claims , egged on by trade unions , that created the problem for capitalism. Since the miners strike - and other factors like mass unemployment – this facile excuse could no longer be used . The blame sat squarely with capitalism itself and now the compensating policy of welfare benefits and services were now to be removed as well.
He charts already the rise of the political rightwing , the Tea Party in the USA, many workers voting BNP in the UK and his picture of the possible developments are alarming to say the least. He does not cover the German led resistance to new capitalism and its insistence on State intervention but how strong that will prove in the wake of the Euro zone problems remains to be seen. This option appears as the only option for Labour, if it can take it.
What next ?
Hence the likely political implications for the decades to come expose the ideological ranting of David Cameron and associated Tories. To say their policies are futile seems an underestimate right now and the contributions of Nick Clegg just laughable. It could be speculated what effect political warning like this volume could have had if it were published in 1920 – could it have prevented mass misery and war and the killing of millions ? Probably not, and there is every indication that capitalism will again ignore perceptive commentaries of this sort and press on with more accumulation, money , profits , dividends and the like in the age old way. Mass resistance , workplace occupations and the move for a new society is the only alternative – and prospects for that seem bleak
Political perspectives and Conclusions
Tragedy however followed. The revolution was hijacked by fundamental Islamic groups who got rid of the original revolutionaries by various means and installed a new tyranny - religious in this case . Shuras/Councils were taken over, individuals arrested and a new state representing fundamental Islam put in place. This was a crude but similar event to the leninist subversion of the 1917 Russian revolution and the repression of the people has continued ever since. While the above summary has the main facts, Assef Bayat’s book gives chapter and verse of the whole relentless process. Persecution continues to date.
The Cairo masses continue to show their disagreement with the modest new government and there could be further movement either towards a genuine collective structure, or more worryingly, towards an emerging muslim state. From reports by Paul Mason subsequent to the book, it is clear that many of the insurrectionaries have noted the Muslim alliance with the Army and continue to struggle on regardless [Guardian] . The danger remains of a new fundamentalist regime, and it is likely to be similar to the present repressive Iranian one. Also, one of the springs of resistance to the undoubtedly radical uprising in Syria is that many are apprehensive about the nature of a replacement new Muslim state , and that is perceived to be hostile to christians for example. The memory of the Iranian workers’ councils remains in the people’s awareness, despite the Tehran tyranny.
Paul Mason is reported to have been active in the Leicestershire Miners Support Committee and the marxist grouplet Worker Power in the past, but now holds the significant position of Economics Editor of BBC2 ‘s Newsnight. Viewers can hear his concise and non technical reports most evenings. His first publication Live Working or Die Fighting – how the working class went global presented a round up of journalist- type reports of key strikes or insurrections in history and links each of these to a recent or current event from the ‘third world’. It is probably the best available introduction to subjects like insurrections and workers councils etc. His second book Meltdown is an explanation of the causes of the present crisis, and he has also written a fiction volume, Rare Earth.
The present volume arose from meetings with libertarian occupiers in London, and of course he has spoken at the ever popular London Anarchist Bookfair. He still leans heavily on marxist writings. The book however deserves a full recommendation, despite its ahistorical approach, with its summary of the state of play in the various countries. it was published in January 2012 but an edited reprint will make interesting reading later on.