ON 24 October 1929 the US stock exchange crashed. The Great Depression spread around the world. Countless workers' lives were wrecked as firms went bankrupt. Unemployed workers, angry that they were paying the price of the failure of capitalism, marched and rioted in many cities.
MANY BELIEVED that after Germany, France would also go down the road of fascism. This was a particular fear after the far right tried to launch a coup in 1934. A general strike was called. Workers united in a spontaneous show of unity against the fascist threat. In June 1936 France was rocked by a massive wave of strikes and occupations after the election of a left of centre Popular Front government.
In February 1936 in Spain a Popular Front government was elected by a radicalised working class. People hoped it would be a bulwark against fascism. Fascist General Franco launched a coup in July. He was beaten back by Spanish workers who mobilised to defend the republic. Civil war raged.
THE DEFEAT of the anti-fascist movements had the most horrendous consequences. With the Second World War came the horror of the Holocaust. Some of the great technological advances of the century were turned into instruments of slaughter. Tens of millions of people faced occupation under Nazi rule. That meant repression, hardship and death. In Poland over five and a half million people were killed-some 16 percent of the population. Across Europe, Jews were herded into ghettos from 1939, and from 1942 they were exported to the death camps. In all, the Nazis killed six million Jews.
ACROSS EUROPE the end of the war meant workers had high hopes that society would change for the better. In Britain that was seen with the election of the first majority Labour government under Attlee. It was under pressure to deliver reforms like the welfare state and nationalisation of key industries.
A WORLD divided by the Cold War also saw outbursts of struggle East and West. In Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 workers rose up against the Stalinist regimes, and battled against Russian tanks. In France in 1968 and Portugal in 1974 there were powerful mass movements that challenged the existing order. The long post-war boom had raised people's expectations of a better life. Many were prepared to fight to realise those aspirations.
THE FIGHT for civil rights in the US had been sparked off in 1955 with the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery in the Southern US. There was increasing discontent amongst many black workers in the North who were living in the same cities as white workers yet were denied the same rights. Throughout the 1960s many cities like Detroit exploded in angry riots.
THE 1980s were characterised by the dominance of Thatcher and Reagan, rabid supporters of the market. Workers were hit by recessions and a ruling class eager to ram through attacks on union organisation. There were important struggles in the 1980s-in Poland the Solidarity movement sparked a wave of protests in Eastern Europe that shook the regimes to the core.
SO FAR £157,271.78 has reached the appeal office. One last push would reach our target. Readers in many areas are continuing workplace collections and also organising fundraising social events in the run up to the Christmas holiday. Thanks to everyone who gave to the appeal last week and please keep the money coming in. Post early to avoid the Christmas rush.
"GET OUT or die." That was the barbaric message from Russian forces to people in the Chechen capital, Grozny, this week. Russia is waging a savage war to crush people in the tiny republic in the mountainous Caucasus who are fighting for independence from Russian rule.
DEPUTY PRIME minister John Prescott is under intense pressure. The attacks come from the Tory press, but also from sections of the Labour leadership and from papers that usually support Labour. The focus of the row is transport. The government's transport policy is in chaos on the roads, the rail and in the air. Last week John Prescott unveiled Labour's long-awaited transport bill. It represents surrender to big business, the pro-roads lobby and those who want more privatisation.
THE MEDIA AND POLITICIANS ARE SAYING THAT THOSE WHO TOOK PART IN THE SEATTLE PROTEST HAD NOTHING IN COMMON. IS THAT TRUE?
"THOSE WHO were arguing they were going to shut the WTO down were in fact successful today." That was the frank admission of Seattle police chief Norm Stamper on Tuesday of last week.
"THE DAYS of Miss World are numbered. Miss World is a reactionary, backward looking contest. Women should not be forced to look a certain way or be a certain shape. We're not animals in the marketplace." That was how Sue, a student from east London, described why she had joined the angry demonstration outside the Olympia exhibition centre in London last Saturday.
DONATIONS THIS week bring the total raised to £149,250.58. Thanks to everyone who has given to the appeal in the last week.
WORKERS EVERYWHERE are under pressure. We face heartless managers, constant demands to work harder and insulting pay, no matter what industry we are in. Bitterness is rising even though all too often it does not surface in collective action. Last week, in three different areas, it did.
This Saturday we will be subject to the degrading spectacle of the Miss World contest on television. Women will be paraded, ogled at and inspected like so many pieces of meat. They will be judged for the size of their breasts, the shape of their legs or the smoothness of their skin. A "bubbly" personality or an interest in "children or current affairs" may be an asset, but only if the contestant matches up to a stereotypical and sexist image of what is "beautiful".
"WHEN KEN Livingstone was in charge of the Labour Party in London we were a byword for extremism. We were unelectable as a political party. I never want to go back to those days again." This is Tony Blair's central argument why people should not back Ken Livingstone as Labour's candidate for mayor of London. It is a complete reversal of the truth.
WORKERS "have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries, unite!" So rings out the magnificent internationalist declaration at the end of The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 150 years ago. It is a message more relevant than ever today. Politicians are always trying to divide workers on the basis of "race", religion, "ethnic group", or some other supposed difference.
Most people know about Charles Dickens even if few have ploughed through his novels. They have heard of Oliver Twist, the little orphan boy who asked for more food, or Ebenezer Scrooge, the skinflint employer who dismissed time off for Christmas as humbug.