Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"Marxists" (2006)

Book Review from the August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Phil Rees: Dining with Terrorists. (Pan, £7.99.)

When I listen to BBC correspondents talking about 'Marxists', which they frequently find in remote jungles and other desolate places on the planet, I am tempted to think of Cyril.

Cyril and I were young together; he was academically bright, knowledgeable and had even what is now called 'street cred', virtues which earned him considerable grudging respect among us, his peers. His virtues became past tense, however. One summer's evening when four of us, coincidentally apprentices in Irish 'terrorism', were sitting around an open fire where we were camping outside the coastal village of Cushendall in County Antrim.

 Probably the subject led to it, I don't remember exactly, but Cyril announced with profound authority that he not only believed in fairies but that he had actually seen and heard fairies! It cost him his credibility; all his intellectual capability was eclipsed by that single absurdity.

 The author of Dining with Terrorists, Phil Rees, was, and maybe still is, a BBC journalist who has worked on Correspondent and Newsnight and who has spent gruelling spells in many of the world's trouble spots. He has dined with people who have killed their political enemies or who have - rather like Bush and Blair - set in train such killings and who for so doing or allegedly doing have become known to us through the media as 'terrorists'.

 From his experiences he gives us graphic word pictures of fearsome characters and to his credit he tries to tell their story within the context of what we have been told about them by the western media.

 Indeed that is the raison d'etre of Rees's work. It is his effort to define in 'moral' terms the meaning of the word 'terrorist' in light of the awesome legal violence used by and in the control of the modern state, and the brutal reaction that violence frequently spawns. It is a theme often pursued in the Socialist Standard and one expressed in the aphorism 'One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist'.

 Given such honesty of purpose it is regrettable that the author demeans his work by the undefined abuse of the term 'Marxist': throughout the entire book he uses the word as though it was an essential pre-fix to the words 'terrorist' and 'terrorism' that so confuses him.

 In the fashion of the BBC and its journalists, he makes no attempt whatsoever to outline what he perceives to be Marxist or Marxism. Doubtless if he knew, he would realise just how ridiculous it is to suggest that, for example, FARC nationalists in Columbia are killing in order to establish a wageless, moneyless society of common ownership and production for use.

 Away from the often-repeated nonsense about Marx and terrorism the book is both interesting and informative but the informed reader will find Rees's belief in fairies more than a little distracting.
Richard Montague

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