Wednesday April 16th, 2014, 12:20 am (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

Wake Up and Smell the Oil

The Grass-Roots Struggle Against the Oil Plunder in Iraq

Greg Muttitt quotes an Iraqi friend who pointed out that there would be two phases to the war in Iraq: first the U.S. invasion and occupation, and second the struggle over the gas and oil. Ten years after tanks rolled across the border from Kuwait, the second phase continues.… There is still no oil law, which the United States has pushed hard to get passed since 2007 and the Iraqi Parliament has no desire to pass soon. This means that the oil rush by the multinational oil companies goes on in a legal vacuum. While the international press blames sectarian strife for holding up the law, it is, in fact, due to a broad people’s struggle for sovereignty.… | more |

How Can We Combine Direct Support Work with Political Analysis?

Harsha Walia, Undoing Border Imperialism (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2013), 321 pages, $16.00, paperback.

One December day in 2007, two thousand people showed up at Vancouver’s International Airport. Unlike other days, these particular people had not come to catch a flight; they were there to stop a person from boarding one. Laibar Singh, a paralyzed refugee from India, was facing deportation. On the day he was to leave, those two thousand people, mostly Punjabi elders and aunties, shut down the international terminal, causing the cancellation of dozens of flights. They formed a protective circle around Singh for hours, finally forcing immigration enforcement to back down.… “This historic blockade in December 2007 is the only documented time in recent North American history that the violence of deportation has been prevented through the power of a mass mobilization and direct action,” wrote Harsha Walia, one of the organizers responsible for this mass mobilization and the author and editor of Undoing Border Imperialism. … | more |

Plastic Plague

Charles Moore with Cassandra Phillips, Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans (New York: Penguin Group, 2011), 358 pages, $16, paperback.

Four decades ago, when most greens were blaming pollution on population growth and personal consumption, socialist-environmentalist Barry Commoner showed that neither could account for the radical increase in pollutants since the end of the Second World War. In The Closing Circle, he argued that “the chief reason for the environmental crisisis the sweeping transformation of productive technology since World War II.” In particular, he pointed to dramatic increases in the production and use of materials not found in nature, such as synthetics that do not degrade and therefore become permanent blights on the earth.… Bottles and bags—together with blister packs, polystyrene tubs, foam peanuts, bubble wrap, styrofoam trays, candy wrappers, and a multitude of other forms of packaging—now account for a third of the plastic produced each year worldwide. It is a bizarre and extremely irrational process: producing products that are designed to be thrown away but are made from materials that never die. The second of Barry Commoner’s famous Four Laws of Ecology is: everything must go somewhere.… In his remarkable book Plastic Ocean, Charles Moore (with Cassandra Phillips) reports on the part of the “unstoppable avalanche of nonessentials” that ends up in the oceans, where it chokes and poisons fish, mammals, and birds, and endangers human life.… | more |

Unearthing Woody Guthrie’s Lost Novel

In 1937 Woody Guthrie wrote a letter to his friend, the actor Eddie Albert, asking for a loan. He needed cash for a special project—around $300 for building materials. Guthrie had lately become fixated on the idea of building an adobe house. He had just read U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 1720, The Use of Adobe or Sun-Dried Brick for Farm Building, by T.A.H. Miller, and he was inspired.… It is not clear if Albert ever came through with the loan, but Guthrie never built the house.… [However] Guthrie never got over those adobe houses. A decade after leaving Pampa he completed House of Earth, a novel that celebrates adobe and relates it to a broader vision of solidarity and struggle.… | more |

Three Cheers (Almost) for Gus Speth

Gus Speth, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 272 pages, $18, paperback.

The phrase “you’ve come a long way, Gus” kept bouncing around in my head as I read Gus Speth’s surprising new book America the Possible (Manifesto for a New Economy). The man whom Time called the “ultimate insider” tells how he was arrested in front of the White House in August 2012 and spent a couple days in the District of Columbia jail for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.… There is little that is completely new in America the Possible for long-term Monthly Review readers, but Speth’s breathtaking admission of the futility of expecting change from working inside the establishment is totally believable. Who, after all, could be better qualified to say “Been there, done that?” What is the most useful in Speth’s book is the detailed catalogue of specific proposals which, if implemented, would revolutionize (not Speth’s word) U.S. society from top to bottom.… | more |

Prashad at Large

Vijay Prashad, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (New York: Verso, 2012), 280 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sets the tone in his introduction to The Poorer Nations, arguing that the moment has arrived for scholars from the underdeveloped world of plundered resources and impoverished people to make the necessary statements themselves, rather than leaving that work to the first world left. Boutros-Ghali makes one other important point: that Prashad is hard at work rediscovering the hopes of earlier decades, the moment of anti-colonialist hopes, of common feeling among various nationalities and nations freeing themselves and looking forward to a kind of communitarian developmental process that was, often enough, called “socialism.”… | more |

Rebellious Cities

David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to Urban Revolution (New York: Verso, 2012), 208 pages, $16.95, paperback.

Noting the global rise in urban social movements from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring that are challenging the present global order, David Harvey asks in his new book Rebel Cities: “Is there an urban alternative and, if so, from where might it come?” In answering these questions Harvey explores the critical role of the city in the reproduction of capital and birth of radical social movements. He argues that many theorists and activists interested in broad-based social change have largely overlooked cities, despite the historical and growing importance of metropolitan centers in all aspects of human affairs.… | more |

Labor Divided

Zak Cope, Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012), 387 pages, $20.00, paperback.

[Zak] Cope argues that the seemingly pervasive racism and cultural chauvinism in the global North is not the result of false consciousness, misinformation, indoctrination, or ignorance (at least to the extent that much of the political left assumes). Rather, racism and cultural chauvinism are the expression of economic interests shared by a variety of social strata in the global North, all of whom have an interest in exploiting the global South. Central to this argument is the idea that the labor aristocracy—the relatively privileged global North working class—developed as a result of the exploitation of the global South, and therefore has a material interest in continuing this exploitation.… | more |

Zionism, Imperialism, and Socialism

Moshé Machover, Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 327 pages, $24.00, paperback.

Moshé Machover is a mathematician and political activist who was born in Tel Aviv in 1936 and has lived in London since 1968. He is a co-founder of the radical left Israeli Socialist Organization (ISO), which is better known by the name of its journal Matzpen (compass). The book under review is a collection of thirty-five essays written by Machover, sometimes in collaboration with other members of ISO, and dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The earliest essay in the collection appeared in 1966 while the most recent one was published in 2011. Perhaps the best known article is “The Class Nature of Israeli Society,” which appeared in New Left Review in 1971. Taken together, these essays provide an original and often compelling Marxist analysis of Zionism and its relationship to the Arab world. The ideas contained in this book, Machover says, are a collective product of the ISO. He is merely the carrier.… | more |

Radical Internationalist Woman

Barbara Ransby, Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 424 pages, $25, softcover.

Eslanda Robeson’s robust life and political actions spanned two-thirds of the twentieth century, from the Harlem Renaissance to the London theatre, from studies with students from the British empire’s colonies to travels to the rural villages of Uganda and the Congo, through anti-fascism and the Second World War, across the Cold War and African decolonization, from the Soviet and Chinese revolutions to the founding of the United Nations, from fearlessly challenging McCarthyism to attendance at the All-African Peoples Conference in Ghana, from Jim Crow to the surging of the Black Freedom Movement. Her life as an internationalist, Africanist, political radical, writer, anthropologist, journalist, acclaimed speaker and, oh, yes, did I say the wife, sometimes partner, and enduring political comrade of actor, singer, and militant activist himself, Paul Robeson, spanned virtually every continent and every struggle for equality, peace, and liberation.… | more |

More Powerful Than Dynamite

Explosive Storytelling Illuminates Our Present Moment

Thai Jones, More Powerful than Dynamite: Radicals, Plutocrats, Progressives, and New York’s Year of Anarchy (New York: Walker and Company, 2012), 416 pages, $28, hardback.

The setting of Thai Jones’s wonderful book will be all too familiar to those involved in direct action politics: a liberal urban administration, a radical protest movement, disparities of wealth deepened by economic crisis. A series of incidents sets off a new phase of demonstrations, with demands from the city’s elites for a restoration of order. The radical protests become disruptive, challenging the “progressive” administration’s commitment to free speech and the right to protest. Strident radicals, bent on revolution over reform, become objects of fascination for the press, and a political tennis ball for the city’s governing class. As it happened in 1970 and 2011, so it was in 1914, New York City’s “year of anarchy” in Thai Jones’s talented telling. The parallels to the protest waves of the past, particularly the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and the recent Occupy phenomenon, are obvious, and most reviewers of Jones’s fine work have highlighted these connections. Jones himself makes this history relevant to our own times, but perhaps not in the more obvious ways.… | more |

Identity Politics and Left Activism

Grace Lee Boggs, with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 256 pages, $20.95, paperback.

The biggest internal debate absorbing the world left for at least the last seventy-five years has been whether identity is a left concept and therefore a left concern. In 1950, most activists on the left would have said no. Today a majority would say yes, indeed. But the debate remains fierce.… | more |

Yesterday Shows Another Day Is Here

Once you were children. If you did not read The Carrot Seed or Harold and the Purple Crayon, probably your children or your friends’ children did. You might have learned internationalism from The Big World and the Little House, or cultural relativism from Who’s Upside Down?, or freethinking and obstinacy from Barnaby. If you did not, it is likely your friends and future comrades did. What you might not have learned is that all these children’s books (and many other progressive favorites) were authored by one or the other or both members of a couple whose left politics inflected their work.… Philip Nel—the editor, with Julia L. Mickenberg, of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature…—has devoted himself to rescuing twentieth-century radical children’s literature and its authors from relative oblivion.… | more |

Hillbilly Nationalists and the Making of an Urban Race Alliance

Chicago is famed as a city of neighborhoods. Its reputation as such makes it seem like an adorably homey place to live or, as people are fond of describing it to visitors and friends alike, as a “big city with a small-town feel.” But the city’s open secret is that it does not just operate as any small town, but as a small town in the 1930s, with a segregation so deeply felt and embedded that it needs to be called out for what it is, a form of racism that surveils ethnic and racial populations to ensure they do not stray from their designated borders. The city’s increasingly ramshackle and inefficient public transportation system was designed along racial lines, with a system that makes it difficult for mostly white northsiders and mostly black southsiders to commute easily between their neighborhoods. On the west, areas like Humboldt Park and Pilsen are mostly Latino/a…and similarly cordoned off as ethnic enclaves.… Amy Sonnie and James Tracy are, doubtless, unsurprised by any of this. Their book Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power recovers a long-forgotten history of urban organizing by focusing on five groups: Jobs or Income Now (JOIN), the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), and Rising Up Angry in Chicago’s Uptown, along with White Lightning in the Bronx and October 4 Organization (O4O) in Philadelphia.… | more |

Why Whiteness Is Invisible

Look, a White! [by George Yancy] was written to share a way of looking at records, new ways of bringing attention to what has become the norm, business as usual. Yancy’s objective is to “name whiteness, mark it,” to share a critical view on it.… This book is a much needed, insightful look at the ideological construct of race. Since the invention of scientific racism in the French academy in the early nineteenth century, race has applied to every group but to whites. Thus, whiteness was made into an invisible trait of racist thinking and definitions.… | more |

Dispelling Three Decades of ‘Educational Reform’

One of the more remarkable public relations successes of the past two decades can be seen in the way neoliberals, and other supporters of an unfettered market economy, have portrayed their school reform efforts as in the interest of people otherwise excluded from the economy and the political process. A widely viewed film like Waiting for Superman, with its vilification of educators and public schools, suggests that only through the expansion of competition and privatization can the children of black and Latino working-class families be given learning opportunities that will allow them to participate in the American Dream. Thirty years ago, it was progressive educators and policymakers who stood by this constituency, arguing that schools were not fulfilling their social responsibility in providing an equitable education for all children. Now such educators and policymakers are portrayed as the defenders of a status quo that has failed to meet the needs of lower-income and non-white students.… Pauline Lipman’s 2011 volume, The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City, with its careful, on-the-ground examination of recent school reform efforts in Chicago, provides a comprehensive and illuminating analysis of how this has happened along with ways to circumvent policy initiatives that are eroding the integrity of an educational system that for a century-and-a-half has been a defining feature of U.S. life and democracy.… | more |

Listen to Your Gut

When confronted with any big decision in life, I hear my mom’s voice telling me to listen to my gut. This has worked for personal adventures ranging from backpacking to parenting, even though at times it can be hard to quiet the social noise that prevents us from “hearing” what our instincts have to say. In Greed to Green, Charles Derber explores a new twist on the familiar “listen to your gut” adage by framing climate change inaction as the collective problem of not having a gut feeling about this planetary threat. Rather, he explains that we as a society have cordoned off knowledge of climate change as an intellectual concept, and have not allowed it to migrate to the realm of the gut truth.… | more |

The Fall of Libya

Maximilian Forte, Slouching Towards Sirte (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012), 341 pages, $27.95, paperback.

Perhaps no war in recent memory has so thoroughly flummoxed the Euro-Atlantic left as the recent NATO war on Libya. Presaging what would occur as U.S. proxies carried out an assault on Syria, both a pro-war left and an anti-anti-war left [gave] endless explanations and tortuous justifications for why a small invasion, perhaps just a “no-fly-zone,” would be okay—so long as it didn’t grow into a larger intervention. They cracked open the door to imperialism, with the understanding that it would be watched very carefully so as to make sure that no more of it would be allowed in than was necessary to carry out its mission. The absurdity of this posture became clear when NATO immediately expanded its mandate and bombed much of Libya to smithereens, with the help of on-the-ground militia, embraced as revolutionaries by those who should have known better—and according to Maximilian Forte, could have known better, had they only looked.… | more |

Memories of the Afro-Caribbean Left

Clairmont Chung, editor, Walter A. Rodney: A Promise of Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012), 117 pages, $17.95, paperback.

The name “Walter Rodney” has receded from public memory in the last few decades. Only yesterday, it seems to this reviewer, Rodney was the most promising young political scholar of Afro-Caribbean origin, influential from parts of Africa to Britain and North America, not to mention his home Guyana, as well as Jamaica, Trinidad, and other anglophone islands. He was revered: great things were expected of him, as great things were expected of the new phase of regional history in which independence had been achieved and masses mobilized for real change.… | more |

The Man Who Was Over the Rainbow

When I was a lad, I wrote amorous ditties, To Judy, Aleine, Edelina, and Sue. But now that I’m gray, I’ve abandoned those pretties, I’m singing my songs to the MONTHLY REVIEW.… So sang E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, to the tune of “The Streets of Laredo,” at Monthly Review’s fifteenth anniversary party. Accompanying him on piano was my late wife, the Judy to whom Yip wrote ditties. You will not find her or Aleine Mufson mentioned in the pages of this biography. Nor will you find cited any who, because they rubbed elbows or other body parts with Harburg, could lead the reader to the fullest possible understanding of who he was.… | more |