Book Reviews

Empire and Revolution: a socialist history of the First World War, Dave Sherry, Bookmarks
(9781909026629, £7.99)

Reviewed by Gordon Morgan

This history of the causes, course and aftermath of the 1914 to 1918 war focuses upon the increasing resistance to the war amongst civilians and troops in each of the main protagonist countries and the reasons these revolts were largely contained. The savagery of the warfare and its casualties are described but as a counterpoint to the social and political developments.

It is a readily accessible, concise book (200 pages) with many pertinent referenced quotations. Its fourteen chapters each deal with an aspect of the war and could be rewardingly read separately, perhaps in a study syllabus.

Sherry quickly demolishes several myths propagated by named historians such that the duration and savagery of the war was unforeseen (Engels in 1887 and Warsaw financial analyst, Ivan Bloch, in 1899 both predicted a long war killing millions) or that war was inevitable as one ‘side’ Germany, was more barbaric and militaristic than the other (given that Britain’s butchery in Sudan, Ireland and in the Boer war belie this.) The origins of the war in the imperialist stage of development of capitalism are well argued.

The opposition to war by all the social democratic parties and their leaderships’ collapse into actually supporting their war leaders in each of their countries is documented. More significantly the less well known strikes, occupations and mutinies across each country are detailed. Particular attention is given to Maclean, the Glasgow rent strike and the unionisation of women, the shop stewards movement across the UK, and Connelly, the Dublin rising and its international impact.

As the war progressed, opposition grew and these developments in Britain, France, Germany and, of course, Russia are described as are the development of revolutionary currents in each country, notably Germany, Italy and Russia. The mass revolts, desertions and insurrections which effectively ended the war are described country by country as are the accidents, lack of organisation, illusions, betrayals by union leaders and political representatives and use of force which ultimately prevented the successful spread of revolution beyond Russia. How close European wide revolution was in 1918-1919, even in Britain, has been effectively suppressed. Here, the veil is lifted.

Gordon Morgan is a longstanding member of the Scottish Left Review editorial board

World in Chains: the Impact of Nuclear Weapons and Militarisation from a UK Perspective, Angie Zelter (editor), Luath, 2014, 9781910021033, £12.99

Reviewed by Malcolm Balfour

I found this to be a very educational and enlightening book. The direction of many of the contributors was interesting. I found both chapters 4 and 7 to have a direct link when you look at both. They appear to have a link to money and military. By this, I mean that in chapter 4 where both industrialisation and the military build-up of nuclear weapons are linked to climate change, we then must look at the reasons behind this for surely it is not only about ‘boys and their toys’ but more about the rise of big companies who want to dominate the globe in their own fields.

This can be seen in chapter 7 where we learn who really profits from the build-up of WMDs for it is not just individual nations and their leaders that do so but more importantly the companies who supply them for it is no longer countries like North Korea, Israel, India or even Pakistan that we need to fear – it is those who profit that we must worry about because profit now comes before people.

As for the rest of the book, we learn a lot about the problems of people being oppressed in their own countries torture. And, rape and genocide would seem to be the norm in some countries. However, whilst agreeing with many of the points produced in this book and given that all right thinking people would agree that they must be addressed, for me it did not give a clear solution to how we do so.

But perhaps a meeting between the contributor and a pulling of their ideas may result in a book or plan that may point our global masters in the right direction. In conclusion, this is an informative book but information and education alone do not give all the answers to the problems contained within it.

Malcolm Balfour is an SNP councillor in Glasgow

Scotland’s Democracy Trail, Stuart McHardy and Donald Smith, Luath, 2014, 9781910021675, £6.99

Reviewed by Andy Sanders

It was Chick Murray, iconic comedian who spent most of his life in Edinburgh, who coined the phrase, ‘The best way to walk’, the prescribed method being to place one foot in front of the other. Now you may not believe that such advice could be bettered, especially when walking in that city but it can be simply by carrying a copy of Scotland’s Democracy Trail with you. McHardy and Smith have provided a compact guide which covers the history and politics of Edinburgh and of Scotland, which will be of enormous interest to both Scots and to visitors to Scotland who wish to understand this country and how it has reached the position in which it now finds itself.

The authors have packed an amazing amount into the 125 pages, which includes a map of the trail as well as 36 photographs, poems, songs and quotations from plays and speeches. In addition, its final pages contain a Timeline from the 16th century to the present day which ‘mature’ readers – like myself who were taught little of Scottish history – will find useful.

There is so much information within its pages that it would be perhaps be advisable to read the text before setting out on the trail, then have a second look at the appropriate pages while actually on it. And, you may want to make more than one visit, although the distance involved could be covered in a day. So if you come across a wee Glasgow man who, like yourself, is studying the appropriate pages at one of the sixteen locations detailed on the map, it will most likely be me – I can’t wait to get going!

Andy Sanders is a former teacher and a lifelong socialist