Sunday, February 21, 2021

For a better tomorrow

 In feudal days everyone knew that virtually all the wealth in the world came from land. That’s why the nobles spent so much of their time killing each other to get more of it. To be fair the lords and clergy who lived off the back of the peasants who tilled it would often pretend to despise the comfort and wealth that came with being a high caste. The nobles claimed they were “protecting” their serfs. In fact, all they were defending were their own privileges while the medieval church, whose clergymen who lived off the fat of the land, would routinely absolved itself by making saints out of those who actually took the teachings of the Prince of Peace at face value by embracing poverty and abstinence.
    The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, began by elevating the “work ethic” in their struggle against the aristocracy and the feudal Catholic church. They turned the Protestant doctrines to their own account to justify their own hegemony and when they won they only reserved the “virtue of work” for those they exploited and oppressed.
    In 1848 the Communist Manifesto told the bourgeoisie that “a spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism” while warning the workers that “all the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies”.
    Though the Paris Commune, the first workers’ state, was drowned in blood in 1871 the spectre came back to haunt the bourgeoisie after the 1917 Russian revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Union, the first workers and peasants republic of the 20th century.
    Fear of workers’ power fired the growth of fascism in Europe and the development of reformist bourgeois economic theories like Social Credit and Keynesianism which sought to tithe the rich during boom times to stave off social unrest by buying off a section of the working class with reforms and state welfare schemes. American New Dealers’ and Nazi economists embraced Keynesianism in the 1930s. This was followed by virtually all the governments of Western Europe after the Second World War and the victorious advance of workers’ power in Eastern Europe that triggered the confrontation between US-led imperialism and the Soviet bloc.
    British social-democracy and the post-war bourgeois consensus Labour helped build revolved around Keynesianism. Now with the end of the Cold War the ruling class have no further use for it. They flaunt their wealth like a badge of honour. They claim that the more they have the better for everyone else. This is the bogus “trickle-down” theory that an American radical journalist, the late William Blum, said was based on “the principle that the poor, who must subsist on table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich bigger meals”. Sadly it is also the belief of the Blairites and those who follow in Blair’s footsteps at the head of the Labour Party today.
    Socialism is just a word Sir Keir Starmer will occasionally use to keep what’s left of the Corbynistas on side during election campaigns. For Starmer & Co socialism is just “a burning desire to tackle inequality and injustice” – a meaningless platitude that is unlikely to turn the heads of those who have abandoned the Labour ship since the fall of Jeremy Corbyn.
    What does socialism mean? First of all it means that the ownership of the means of production — the factories, mines, the transport industry and the land — are taken from the hands of the capitalists into state or collective ownership. The people will take over the banking and finance sector. A people’s democracy will be established that will build a new society with the unions and mass movements. The age of classes and exploitation will be over. The greed, speculation and corruption of the bourgeoisie will end and a new era will dawn.

A Pointless murder?

By Ben Soton

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, Penguin London 2020,Hardback: 400pp; RRP £14.99; Softback: 336pp; RRP £8.99; Kindle: 382pp; RRP £9.99.

I am a 'Pointless' person; by which I mean a fan of the television quiz show of that name. The co-host of the show, Richard Osman has recently taken up the pen, or should I say laptop as a novelist. The Thursday Murder Club is his first novel. Set around Cooper’s Chase retirement village in the fictional Kent of town Fairhaven an unusual group of senior citizens get together to discuss murder.
    The group includes a former union leader, a retired psychiatrist, an ex-nurse and the somewhat elusive Elizabeth with a background in the intelligence services. Ultimately what unites them is experience. However, I am surprised by the lack of tension within the group; in particular between the former spook, simply known as Elizabeth, and the union leader Red Ron Ritchie. Anyone with a vague knowledge of the 70s and 80s, not to mention the more recent Spycops’ scandal would know that the security services and the labour movement were not on the best of terms. Meanwhile the investigating officer Donna DeFreitas, who does not take our elderly sleuths seriously is willing to break police procedure and pass them information.
    After the death of a local builder with dubious connections they find themselves aiding the investigation. I have it on good authority that the construction industry has close links with organised crime. In the 1970 trade unionists campaigned against the Lump; un-unionised, non-tax paying, non-national insurance paying labour. Tory governments turned a blind-eye to what was illegal activity while construction firms, often short of money, would sometimes accept no questions asked loans; an effective form of money laundering.
    Osman’s style resembles that of the Tom Sharpe novels of the 1980s; which combine satire, black comedy often with a twist. Meanwhile like any good crime novel Osman is able to discuss relevant issues. Bringing to light connections between the construction industry and organised crime; as well as issuing relating to the aging process and dementia. With much of the novel narrated by Joyce, the ex-nurse, who writes in a confused style in order to show the effects of aging
    If you like a multi-layered story, with a number of twists and turns then The Thursday Murder is well worth reading. I look forward to reading Richard Osman’s next novel.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Joint statement on health, work and workers' rights


A year has passed since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which also acted as a catalyst for the deepening of the capitalist crisis, bringing much suffering to the working class and other popular strata all over the world. More than 100 million people fell sick, more than 2 million people lost their lives, millions more are faced with the dramatic deterioration of their living conditions and the social impasses of capitalism, such as unemployment, the sharpening of exploitation and repression.
    The Communist and Workers' Parties signing this Joint Statement would like first of all to express our solidarity with those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, those who have lost loved ones, those who have fallen sick, and to send our warm thanks to the doctors and nurses, the staff of hospitals and health units who, for a year now, have been fighting this battle, facing great difficulties.
    During this period, the acute problems in primary health care and hospitals, the shortages in medical and nursing staff, Intensive Care Units, and necessary protective means, due to the underfunding, the commercialisation and the privatisation of public of National Health Services and of the medical and pharmaceutical production, which as a trend is expressed throughout the capitalist world, have manifested themselves in a dramatic way. At the same time, monopoly groups and pharmaceutical companies, which have increased their profitability, reap billions, while medicines, medical supplies, vaccines, and research are in the hands of big capital become the subject of profiteering, sharpening inequalities among countries and geopolitical contradictions. The sharpening of competition for the production and distribution of vaccines and medicines, the delays in the necessary vaccination, the exclusions and the non-disclosure of the contracts with the pharmaceutical industries, express the impasses of the capitalist exploitative system that operates on the basis of the profit of monopoly groups. The importance of the struggle for the rights of the workers and peoples, of the necessity of Socialism, which can put contemporary scientific and technological potential at the service of popular needs, is highlighted.
    The Communist and Workers' parties welcome the struggles of the healthcare workers as well as of the workers, the farmers, and the self-employed that demand measures to support their income and protect their health.
    We denounce the governments that in pandemic conditions legislate new anti-popular and anti-labour measures, which once again put the burden of the crisis on the workers' and peoples' shoulders and at the same time suppress their struggle with authoritarianism and in a police-state manner.
    We, the Communist and Workers' Parties, continue our struggle. We demand in each of our countries, public-free and universal health services and substantial measures to address the epidemic, to protect the health and lives of the peoples:
    Immediate strengthening of public health services with state funding, recruitment of permanent medical and nursing staff with full rights. Meeting of all needs in Intensive Care Units and infrastructure required for the full operation of public health care and research services.
     Faster vaccination of people in each country, with effective, safe and free vaccines, without exclusions in the supply of vaccines, as it happens at the expense of the peoples of the less developed capitalist countries. Abolishment of patents for vaccines and all other necessary pharmaceutical products that can help tackle the pandemic.
     Immediate public and universal provision of all the necessary means of precaution and protection (masks, gloves, disinfection gels, etc.), as well as diagnostic tests to the people by the state, free of charge.
     Providing support to the income and the rights of the working - popular strata. Protection of the unemployed, intensifying the struggle against capital and its political spokesmen, who are trying to further trample on wages and pensions, on insurance, labour and democratic rights. Measures to protect workers in the workplaces, public transport, schools and universities.
     No restriction of the democratic rights of the peoples under the pretext of the coronavirus.
     To intensify the struggle against imperialist interventions and to end immediately all sanctions and economic blockade measures, which in pandemic conditions are even more unjust and criminal, such as the criminals blockades against Cuba and Venezuela by US imperialism, and to withdraw the unacceptable action of the USA that places Cuba back on US list of the so-called “state sponsors of terrorism”.
     We say no to imperialist interventions and military exercises, such as those of NATO, and we demand that the necessary resources be provided and that the national public health and social security systems be adequately funded.

  • CP of Albania
  • CP of Armenia
  • CP of Australia
  • Party of Labour of Austria
  • Democratic Progressive Tribune - Bahrain
  • CP of Bangladesh
  • CP of Belgium
  • Brazilian CP
  • CP of Brazil
  • CP of Britain
  • New CP of Britain
  • CP of Bulgaria
  • CP of Canada
  • Socialist Workers' Party of Croatia
  • CP of Cuba
  • AKEL - Cyprus
  • CP in Denmark
  • CP of Finland
  • German CP
  • CP of Greece
  • Hungarian Workers' Party
  • Workers' Party of Ireland
  • CP of India (Marxist)
  • Kurdistan Communist Party- Iraq
  • Tudeh Party of Iran
  • CP (Italy)
  • Jordanian CP
  • Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan
  • Socialist Party of Latvia
  • Socialist Party (Lithuania)
  • CP of Mexico
  • New CP of the Netherlands
  • CP of Pakistan
  • Palestinian CP
  • Palestinian People's Party
  • Paraguayan CP
  • PKP-1930, the Philippine CP
  • CP of Poland
  • Portuguese CP
  • Romanian Socialist Party
  • CP of Russian Federation
  • Russian Communist Worker’s Party
  • CPSU
  • CP of Swaziland
  • Syrian CP
  • Communists of Serbia
  • New CP of Yugoslavia
  • CP of the Workers of Spain
  • CP of the Peoples of Spain
  • Communists of Catalonia
  • CP of Sri Lanka
  • Communist Party of Sweden
  • CP of Turkey
  • CP of Ukraine
  • Union of Communists of Ukraine
  • CP of Venezuela

Other Parties

1. Union of Communists in Bulgaria
2. Communist Front (Italy)
3. Pole of Communist Revival in France
4. Galizan People’s Union
5. Party for Socialism and Liberation
6. Party of Communists, USA

Early days for Joe Biden

THE LABOUR movement in the USA largely backed the Democrat drive to dump Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, and their leaders welcomed the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in January. Getting rid of Trump was, of course, a victory for American workers.
    The march of the most reactionary and racist elements of the US ruling class and the degenerates they mobilised to build the Trump movement has been stopped – at least for the time being – by the mass movement that grew from the Black Lives Matter movements and the rage on the street at the Trump government’s indifferent response to the coronavirus plague that is sweeping through the USA.
    Reversing Trump’s immigration laws and re-joining the Paris agreement on climate change may have won the praise of the environmentalist lobby, but on the left, few seriously expect much from the new administration apart from the usual platitudes that the Democrats dish out to keep their blue-collar voters sweet.
    The new US administration is naturally focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed some 480,000 American lives whilst the stimulus plan seeks to revive the country’s ailing economy. Whilst there are some very modest concessions to the working class, Republican Senators, with Democratic support, have stalled the proposed plan to double the minimum wage – which now looks likely to be replaced with staged increases over the next four years.
    On the world stage, Joe Biden clearly wants to continue where his predecessor, Barack Obama, left off. His first task is to restore US imperialism’s hold over its European NATO allies to restore US hegemony throughout the capitalist world and lead a global imperialist front to confront Russia and People’s China.
    Although talk about “regime change” is no longer fashionable in Washington, the Americans haven’t abandoned the dreams of world domination that they once called the “new world order” or “globalisation”.
    The US-led economic blockade of Cuba and Democratic Korea continues, and new sanctions are applied to Russia and China. American dollars prop up puppets in Ukraine and the Caucasus and the reactionary separatist movements in China.
    In the Middle East, Biden tells the Palestinians that he supports a “two state” solution and that the USA is ready to resume aid that Trump cut to their “autonomous” government in the West Bank. He tells Iran he wants to revive the Iran nuclear deal that Trump tore up in 2018.
    But Biden wants the Iranians to agree to new terms and conditions before lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic and tells the Palestinians that he will not reverse Donald Trump’s contentious US embassy move to Jerusalem.
    Biden’s team no longer call for the outright overthrow of President Assad’s popular front government in Syria – Russian intervention put a stop to that nonsense a few years ago. Now they seek to partition the country through a bogus “federal” plan that would legitimise the US occupation of the Kurdish region in eastern Syria.
    They’ve changed tack on Yemen. Trump backed the disastrous Saudi intervention in the civil war. Now Biden says he’s going to end all US support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales. But he’s only doing this because the Saudi intervention has backfired, bringing death and destruction to Saudi Arabia that threatens the House of Saud and the vast oil industry that serves US imperialism.
It is indeed ‘business as usual’ in Washington these days.

Retailing and Capitalism

THE DEMISE of Topshop, the clothing retailer whose boss once said it supplied suits for young men making their first appearance in court, is only the latest of many retail casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. Anything that remains of Topshop will be online, and we can be sure that the number of jobs moving online will be much smaller than those that are gone forever. Conditions in warehouses serving online retailers are usually worse.
    The coronavirus is not the only cause of Topshop’s fall. It was part of the Arcadia empire owned by Philip Green. This also included British Home Stores (BHS), which earlier vanished because its owner was uninterested in developing the business and merely used it as a milch cow to purchase lavish yachts.
    It is not good enough, however, simply to blame bad management for the collapse of such chains and praise those that have survived and even thrived for their greater wisdom in developing online services, or more commonly by exploiting workers more brutally or by squeezing their suppliers more effectively. Many of the failures were in reality making buckets of money for their owners, who have little interest in the long-term future of the business.
    This was just one case, when more often than not the actual shops are owned by chains of companies doing nothing but collecting “management fees” with the ultimate owner being a brass plate affixed to a wall in a sunny tax haven. To reduce taxation, separate companies are set up to trade artificially with each other so in theory profits are reduced until paid out in the tax haven.
    Another lesson of the crisis is that customers have come to notice that many of the various chains that seem to compete with each other actually have the same owner. A harsh lesson in monopolisation for the masses.
    The working class has been very unsentimental about retailing. It let the Co-operative movement go down the plughole whenever the opportunity arose for tuppence off a loaf in the nice shiny new American-style supermarket. Although it is a comparatively small issue, too many customers like to take advice about major purchases from shops such as John Lewis and Mothercare before ordering them from cheaper online warehouse retailers on their mobile phone outside the shop door, if they can wait that long. A few months later they lament the departure of their favourite window-shopping establishment.
    Whilst Amazon has no qualms about selling Marx’s Capital and more modern books on how to overthrow capitalism, potential purchasers ought to show more discrimination about to whom they hand over their hard-earned cash.
    Members of shop-workers’ union USDAW have borne the brunt of the crisis rather than shareholders. Last year saw the loss of 180,000 retail job losses and about 20,000 store closures. Trade bodies expect the present year to be worse.
    The union wants to see the extension of the business-rates holiday and a moratorium on shop evictions for non-payment of rent. It wants a one per cent levy on online sales and amendments to lease arrangements. All modest reforms that will benefit private companies more than workers. It also notes that over the last 20 years online Amazon has paid a total of £61.7 million in corporation tax, whereas bricks and mortar Marks and Spencer paid £3.3 billion on a smaller turnover. Clamping down on that sort of tax avoidance would be a great step forward and the proceeds could be used to meet the unions’ other demands for union learning and high-quality apprenticeships and the introduction of a real living wage with guaranteed hours and improvements to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
    In Chartist days workers often organised boycotts of bad shopkeepers. That would be difficult nowadays – but if working class solidarity means anything it ought to be brought back whenever shop workers have a fight with their employers.

Slow motion disaster

A GRIM milestone was reached on Tuesday when it was announced that that the death toll from COVID-19 passed the round figure mark of 100,000, a statistic proportionally amongst the worst in the world. Johnson got his retaliation in first by saying he took “full responsibility for the government’s actions”, adding: “We truly did everything we could.” At the same time, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for England warns that the death rate is likely to fall only “relatively slowly”, adding that the lockdown was only “just about holding” in lowering infection rates.
    On the same day, predictably dire unemployment figures were announced. One would have thought that an opposition party would be way ahead in the polls by now, but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is not. This is because he has not been doing any of the opposition that is the duty of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, a fact that even Johnson made fun of when being “grilled” by Starmer in the Commons.
    Starmer does of course have other matters on his plate, such as persecuting his predecessor and his followers out of the party allegedly to make it more electable. This has not proved very successful. His opposition to demands from the education unions that schools be closed to stop the spread of infections did not do anything to distance him from the Tories.
    The Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has just resigned over his Government’s handling of the crisis that which has resulted in 85,000 dead. Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis was not exactly successful and did much to contribute to his electoral defeat, but Johnson survives in office. The fact that he almost became one of the 100,000 British fatalities might have done him some political good just as the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan boosted his popularity to unprecedented heights.
    Even former Tory Chancellor George Osborne has mocked Starmer for his ineffective opposition, whom he criticises for his constantly changing demands about who should be the top priority for vaccination according to whatever press release was issued that day. This is from a man who unsurprisingly welcomes Starmer replacing that “dangerous Marxist” Jeremy Corbyn, and who is critical of Johnson’s Government for having presided over a public health and economic disaster.
    Despite the fact that health matters are in the hands of the devolved assemblies, there have been only cosmetic differences in approach and with broadly equal outcomes as regards both the health and economic matters, despite the enormous public relations efforts made to convince us otherwise. The only positive achievement of the SNP Health Secretary has been to make the Tory one look like a genius in comparison.
    It is not always sensible to take every word of advice from doctors too seriously. After all, medical advice about eggs changes on an almost weekly basis from being a health food to a poison. This crisis is one of the occasions that medical advice needs to be listened to however, especially as they have more experience than even just a few months ago.

Outright deniers of the existence of the coronavirus and opponents of vaccination are mercifully rare in Britain compared with the USA, but the recent outbreak of violent protests in the normally boringly sensible Netherlands prove they are a factor to be taken into consideration and need to be opposed before they do any more damage. Those who cannot resist a good party are another danger and need to be dealt with.

For decades people have been fed rubbish by the bourgeois media, so in some cases it is not surprising that they do not always believe what comes from officialdom until it is too late. The task for communists is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and not leave
 it to ‘the great and the good’.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Salute the Paris Commune!

 The NCPB joined other fraternal movements in endorsing this commemorative statement on the 150th anniversary of Paris Commune that was published by the Arbeiterbund für den Wiederaufbau der KPD (Workers League for the restoration of the Communist Party of Germany) in January 2021.


Monday, February 08, 2021

A jaunt into Saxon England

by Ben Soton

The Evening and The Morning
by Ken Follett,  Publisher: Macmillan (2020). Hardback: 832pp, RRP £25. Paperback: 912pp, RRP £9.99. Kindle: 712pp, file size 1203 KB, RRP £9.99.

Ken Follet’s latest novel, The Evening and The Morning is a prequel to his 1989 book The Pillars of the Earth. The two novels have both obvious similarities as well as differences. The Pillars of the Earth was set in the early 12th Century and focused around the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge in south-west England. It was set to the backdrop of the Anarchy, a civil-war between rival claimants to the English throne; where the god-fearing people of Kingsbridge were caught in the middle.
    The Evening and The Morning is set in the same location but almost two hundred years earlier starting in 997AD. This was the end of the Dark Ages, a period when Anglo-Saxon England was still suffering from Viking raids and the feudal system was not fully developed. Social relations were somewhat confused. Slavery still existed; whilst there was also evidence of men having multiple wives (polygamy) and women with multiple husbands (polyandry). The latter being a feature of primitive communism. Meanwhile the power of the Church had not been fully established; which explains the tolerance of a variety of marital practices. England was in a process of cultural shift; from part of Scandinavia towards Continental Europe; a process completed by the Norman Conquest in 1066.
    Follet’s politics are that of the Extreme Centre; which ranges from the Blairite and now Starmerite wing of the Labour Party to the pro-Remain wing of the Tory Party and encompasses miscellaneous grouping such as the Lib-Dems and Change UK. They accept the system has one or two faults which can be rectified if you had more honest and competent people running it. Sometimes better people should be allowed to rise up through the ranks replacing less competent people at the top. However, under no circumstances should the system itself be challenged. This world view is regularly represented in his novels.
    The author successfully describes 10th Century England; the brutality of slavery, hypocrisy on the part of some of the clergy, rampant corruption and constant fear of attack. This is the world the three main characters find themselves drawn into. Ragna, a Norman noblewoman married to an Anglo-Saxon lord; Edgar, a craftsman with entrepreneurial skills and Aldred, a monk with a desire to root out corruption with the Church. These three characters find their own ways at improving the system from within. As the story progresses, they find their lives increasingly draw together.
    The Evening and The Morning can on one hand be seen as Game of Thrones set to the backdrop of actual historical events. Equally it has parallels with more modern stories of uncovering corporate malpractice and putting things to right; without actually challenging the corporation itself. Little do the participants of this story know that in less than a century the corporation known as Anglo-Saxon England will soon be subject to a hostile takeover in the name of the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

True crime in Thailand

 by Ben Soton

The Serpent,TV mini-series (2021). Currently showing on BBC1, Sundays at 9pm, also available on BBC iPlayer. Stars:Charles Sobhraj, Jenna Coleman, Tahar Rahim, Billy Howle, Ellie Bamber. Writer: Richard Warlow.

Maybe I am too old, maybe I was always boring but I have never understood the attraction of wandering around Thailand with a rucksack, smoking soft drugs and claiming to be discovering myself. However, the Serpent, BBC1’s latest Sunday night drama would put off the most hardened backpacker. It is the story of the fraudster and serial killer Charles Sobhraj, played by Tahir Rahman. Sobhraj, born in Saigon in 1944 was the son of a Vietnamese shop worker and Indian businessman. His early years were arguably a product of the French colonial rule in Indo-China.
    Sobhraj, by the mid-1970s, lived in Thailand with his French-Canadian girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc, played by Jenna Coleman. The duo financed their lavish lifestyle through diamond smuggling with Sobhraj using his victim’s passports as part of their operation. He has been known as the Bikini Killer, due to his victims’ attire and The Serpent, as a result of his cunning.
    The drama depicts an era, although almost fifty years ago that is still recognisable today; a time of global travel, casual dress and casual sex. This lifestyle came to be known as the Hippie Trail, which still exists today, or existed before the Covid-19 pandemic. It was these young people; easily trusting, somewhat naive and unworldly who became Sobhraj‘s victims. I have to ask myself, why would a complete stranger offer you free board and lodging, when in all likelihood you have sufficient monies of your own and at the same time insist on looking after your passport.
    Although there were obvious similarities this was an era when crime detection was still carried out using paperwork, communication was still done using letters and even e-mail was unheard of. As regards crime-detection the local police take little interest in the disappearances. The only person who appears remotely interested is Herman Knippenberg, a Dutch diplomat, played by Billy Howle. Knippenberg, as well as encountering indifference on the part of the local police, is advised by his superiors not to interfere. He is assisted by his highly supportive wife and gets limited help from Paul Siemons, played by Tim McInnery. An example of well-paid functionaries more interested in attending cocktail parties than looking after their citizens travelling abroad.
    The drama contains sufficient suspense enabling making it a potentially successful crime thriller set in the past. A search on Wikipedia will inform you of Sobhraj’s fate although the site will not tell you the fate of every character in the drama; giving added suspense to the drama.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Paris: Darkness and Light

 by Theo Russell

City of Darkness, City of Light
by Marge Piercy, London:Michael Joseph,1997; 496pp.

Marge Piercy, born into a working-class family in Detroit, was an activist against the US imperialist war in Vietnam in the 1960s and a self-declared Marxist. Her 1997 book Paris, City of Darkness, City of Light, a novel covering the entire period of the French Revolution, brilliantly depicts life in France at the time from top to bottom.
    Piercy says that both modern feminism and modern politics (such as the notions of “left” and “right”) began with the French Revolution, and the book shows how, unlike the English Revolution of a century earlier, the working class women of Paris were a driving force in the many twists and turns of the English Revolution between July 1789 and October 1795. This is a common feature with the February 1917 revolution in Petrograd.
    In those days the price and availability of bread was the main problem for the working masses of France, especially in the cities. It was precisely this same problem which led to the first major protest in Petrograd in February 1917, when the women of the Russian capital marched demanding bread.
    Another remarkable similarity with the Russian Revolution is that, even before the storming of the Bastille in July 1789, each working class district in Paris had already formed committees and armed militias with banners, commanders and regular drills.
    From the beginning of the revolution the working people of Paris established their own district organisations, predecessors of the Russian worker and peasant soviets of 1905 and 1917.
    In one episode the militias march to Les Invalides, the home for injured veterans of the endless wars waged by the French kings and nobles, to obtain guns and gunpowder for the storming of the Bastille. The veterans, whose lives had been destroyed as young men in wars which brought nothing but misery for the common people, willingly allowed the militias to help themselves from the armoury.
    The book follows the lives of key figures in the revolution including Robespierre and Danton, as well as those of three women who played prominent roles. It brilliantly depicts the cruel and barbaric nature of life for the poor which can still be seen in parts of Africa and Asia today, when women could be treated like slaves, married off to wealthy men or banished to convents.
    It also brilliantly recounts the complex shifts in class allegiances as the revolution moved from a united front to bring down the feudal monarchy towards the eventual supremacy of the bourgeoisie over the young republic.
    Piercy shows how Robespierre, a victim of his own limited understanding of politics (remember the teachings of Marx and Engels had yet to appear), transitioned from the dangerous underground revolutionary idolised by the working masses to an unwitting agent of the bourgeoisie.
    Thus the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women led by Pauline Leon went from the vanguard of the revolution to being crushed by the very same Robespierre Leon had idolised earlier in the revolution.
    One fascinating detail is the popular cult which developed around Robespierre, with prints, paintings, mugs and tea towels bearing his image on sale in every Paris market. Another is the bands of fascistic lower middle class thugs the bourgeoisie deployed to terrorise the working class elements in the later stages of the revolution.
    Remarkably, Piercy’s account of the various stages of the revolution closely matches the relevant section of the Soviet Short History of the World published in 1974.
    For anyone who loves today’s Paris, Pierce’s masterpiece brings to light the vibrant life and culture of all levels of society, while also depicting the barbaric lives of the exploited and crushed rural peasantry.
    We all need literature and culture in our lives along with our facts and theory, and this is a superb historical realist novel which helps satisfy that need.