Monday, August 29, 2005

London Review of Books Sept 1st 2005

The latest London Review of Books (Vol 27, 17; Sept 1st 2005) contains much of interest. Neal Ascherson reviews Patrick Cockburn's account of his book on the polio that afflicted him in the Ireland of the 1950s. Saree Makdisi has a critical account of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Sheila Fitzpatrick writes about Moshe Lewin's career via review of his The Soviet Century. R.W.Johnson makes some piquant points about the career in intelligence of Guy Liddell as revealed by his Diaries from 1939-1942, including a reference to 'heart-to-heart' chats with Harry Pollitt and Oswald Mosley in 1940. Andy Beckett reviews Simon Reynolds' Rip it Up and Start Again: Post-Punk 1978-84.

Andy Beckett is very impressed by Reynolds and starts with a recapitulation of the brief and incandescent phase of Pil as the leading edge of avantegardism before settling for conventionality and buffoonery for John Lyddon. This is taken as an archetypal story of post-punk, which Reynolds sees as being "way more interesting" than punk. Beckett does have some criticisms of Reynolds, including a revisionist social and political contextualization:
'He also pays less attention than he might to the idea that post-punk was outflanked by bigger social and political trends. At the end of the 1970s, when most of the post-punk bands started, it was possible for pop musicians (and a lot of other people) to believe that Britain was in terminal crisis, and that the times called for appropriately bleak, iconoclastic music. By 1982 or 1983, with a conspicuous minority of Britons doing well out of Thatcherism – sailing round the country for his book Coasting, Jonathan Raban noted the number of new yachts – the apocalyptic sound and rhetoric of post-punk seemed out of date.'
There is a point to be made about the success of Thatcher is winning the 1983 election, but Beckett forgets the miners strike of 1984-85 and the continuedivisionsns and contradictions in society. But he also gos on to make a point about the 'pragmatic musicians' making 'more profitable careers in the pop mainstream during the mid-1980s'. Human League, Paul Morley and Frankie Goes to Hollywood and most interestingly Scritti Politi get attention, including Green Gartside's recent sleeve notes on his earlier music. The whole thing reinforces the sense of the interest and importance of this book and reminds me that I failed to mention the brilliant polemical and unfair review by Ben Watson in Radical Philosophy 132 and to which I must return.

Saree Makdisi's piece on the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, 'Closed off, Walled in' is very good. The author makes the point that the withdrawal is designed to serve Israel's interests, that - despite some relief - Gaza will still be isolated and still subject to Israeli power. The situation of the Gazans remains horrible and precarious - in contrast to the Israeli settlers. The aim is to shore up Israel's overall position, protect its settlement of the West Bank and the dArabizationon of Jerusalem. Genuine peace remains a distant prospect. Makdisi comes across as a very interesting academic and his books about romanticism and imperialism suddenly seem very interesting.

Sheila Fitzpatrick's review of The Soviet Century (Terkinesque) provides a useful account of Lewin's career (perhaps based on the interview in the old Visions of History collection from Radical History Review) : born in Poland in 1921, active as a left-wing Zionist (supporting a bi-national state), fleeing from the Germans into the USSR in 1941, eventually training as aOfficercr after developing an identification with Vasili Terkin, eponymous hero of the Alexander Tvardovsky poem. In the 1950s Lewin was in Israel (I'll have to go back to the book, if I can find it, for what happened to him at the end of the war), still an idealistic Zionist, but of sympathy with the actually existing Israel and becoming a Marxist academic. In France in the mid-60s he produced Russian Peasants and Soviet Power and Lenin's Last Struggle, before shifting to Birmingham and then Pennsylvania. His reputation as a pro-peasant anti-Stalinist historian was made in this period - such a long time ago now. Lenin's Last Struggle still remains important for its defence of Lenin and distanciation of him from Stalin, while his work on thpeasantryry fitted in with the interest in the politics of Bukharin as an attractive and possible alternative to Stalinism, along with the Bukharin biography by Stephen Cohen. Lewin's take on Bukharin was made explicit in Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debate and in the next decade The Making of the Soviet System and The Gorbachev Phenomenon added to a reputation as an unconventional Marxist rooted in sympathy with the Soviet masses. Russia-USSR-Russia and The Soviet Century continue a larger than life attitude to writing Russian history.

Sheila Fitzpatrick is no Marxist and makes criticisms of Lewin - she finds Robert Service on Lenin and Stalin much more persuasive than Lewin. He is still a Leninist and an opponent of thbureaucracycy and Stalinism and of the 'Stalinization' and 'toitalitarianisation' of the whole history of the Soviet Union. 'Bureaucratic absolutism' seems to be the term he likes to describe the post-revolutionary period. Fitzpatrick also notes that Bukharin and Gorbachev have fallen out of Lewin's favour. All-in-all sounds very interesting. I saw Lewin speak once, back in the days of Gorbachev and remember most forcefully the way he talked about the 'killing rage' of the peoplagainstst the system. Lewin also did a talk at Marxism 2005 which I now regret missing, but the CD should be available from Bookmarks.


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23 October 2005 at 22:17  
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31 October 2005 at 15:40  

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