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Nigel Harris

Nasty men

(Autumn 1960)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 2, Autumn 1960, pp. 35–36.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Rebels
Brian Crozier
Chatto & Windus. 21s.

Mr Crozier has done us disservice. He has taken a theme which ought to have been fascinating – the development, causes and result of rebellions since the war. The result is pedestrian. He has managed to make the subject not only dull, but also misleadingly superficial, because he insists on seeing rebellions as things created by individuals (either nasty rebels suffering from unspecified neuroses, or nasty government ministers who just don’t understand how to manipulate people). The background – squalor, poverty, brutal repression – is played down. These things, as is well known, occur mainly in non-British territories. One may be critical about Kenya (the government didn’t understand the specific weirdness of the Kikuyu), but Malaya and Cyprus were obviously the result of wicked plotters. Algeria and Indo-China can be attributed directly to French silliness. And as for Hungary and East Berlin – well, what can you expect when Communists rule a country.

So we have a smug, cosy, liberal-minded handbook, full of little tips on how to rule a subject country and balance the utilitarian odds. True, ‘the Labour Government in 1947 did not avoid bloodshed; but the blood was not shed by British soldiers, and the odium, inconvenience and expense of several colonial wars were avoided’. Mr. Crozier has written an instruction book on how to retain the substance of imperialism while yielding the forms. Actions are generalized in an attempt to find surface resemblances, issues are generalised and are kept firmly in the background – thus trivialising the whole. Do thousands of men really go out to destroy a government just because of ‘personal’ frustrations? Either they do, and the observation is trite, or else they don’t and it is false. Mr. Crozier’s rebellions are content-less, about nothing in particular. The author recommends to those in authority to deflate ‘frustration’ by superficial concessions – because, after all, ‘violence troubles the calm which alone enables the voice of reason to be heard’ (through whose mouth?). Concessions must ensure ‘non-violence for rebels, statesmanship for those in authority’ and should be through the channel of a ‘responsible alternative government’. With enlightened management and gentle workers, Platonic reason will induce harmony. The ‘mentality of rebels’, the crucial issue, can be adjusted gently to the status quo, even that of Mr. Crozier’s own ‘arch-plotters and masterminds’.

The result of Mr. Crozier’s industry is myopia – a close focus is concentrated on the least interesting aspects of each rebellion; the economic and social background is, at best, a fortuitous circumstance, a lucky break for the master-minds. Of course, the brilliant cunning of the ‘international communist conspiracy’ is thrown in for good measure. What a pity so fascinating a theme had to be so pathetically bungled.

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Last updated: 25.9.2013