Friday October 24th, 2014, 8:48 am (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

Vietnam War Era Journeys

Recovering Histories of Internationalism

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 346 pages, $26.95, paperback.

The cover of Judy Tzu-Chun Wu’s Radicals on the Road features a sepia-toned photograph of Eldridge Cleaver raising his fist in a Black Power salute behind three Vietnamese women in combat helmets, one of whom is kneeling behind an anti-aircraft gun. While you have probably seen a similar photograph of Jane Fonda from her North Vietnam trip in 1972, images like that of Cleaver are less common, if circulated at all. In this second book by Wu, she documents three sets of journeys, like Cleaver’s, that have remained at the margins of both the scholarship and the popular memory of the antiwar movement.… | more |

New this week!

E.P. Thompson: A Giant Remembered

Cal Winslow, ed., E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left: Essays & Polemics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2014), 333 pages, $23.00, paperback.

It is surely difficult for young people today to grasp that thirty years or so ago, radical historian-activist Edward Thompson was by opinion polls intermittently the second or third most popular person in England, just after the Queen Mother. This was despite the British establishment, to say nothing of U.S. Cold Warriors (liberal or conservative), slandering him for decades—and why not? He had led massive protest movements of ordinary people against their government. Worse, in cloistered academic quarters he was viewed as having reorganized the whole idea of social history and turned it over to ordinary people! More than anyone else in the English-speaking world, he made the history of such people important.… | more |

A Defining Moment: The Historical Legacy of the 1953 Iran Coup

Ervand Abrahamian, The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations (New York: New Press, 2012), 304 pages, $26.95, hardback.

The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States began in earnest as soon as the Second World War ended, shaping most of the remainder of the twentieth century. The U.S. doctrine of “containment” required confronting the Soviets at every point of contact, accompanied by the claim that lasting peace could be reached only through the establishment of an international order based on national states which enjoyed a U.S.-defined political liberty and a capitalist economic order. The Soviets bolstered their security through providing support to countries seen as friendly and close to their borders. Therefore, maintaining influence in Iran was a goal of Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East. U.S. foreign policy was shaped by its own state interests and ideology and driven by the American postwar, worldwide systems of military bases.… It is this turbulent period of geopolitical maneuvering that Ervand Abrahamian’s The Coup revisits. Yet, unlike other books on the 1953 events in Iran, Abrahamian locates the U.S.-backed coup less in the Cold War ideological confrontation between East and West than in the conflicts which opposed imperialism and nationalism; between the center of world capitalism and the underdeveloped economies heavily dependent on exporting raw natural resources.… | more |

Living in the (Right-Wing) Media Glare

Bill Ayers, Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013), 240 pages, $24.95, hardcover.

In this beautifully written memoir, Bill Ayers recounts his bizarre and unsettling experience as a “public enemy” during the 2008 presidential election. An unlikely grouping of right-wing web sites, Fox News, liberal foundations, George Stephanopolous, and even university faculty and presidents did their part to portray the then-Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago as a veritable mad man, someone profoundly immoral whom any self-respecting public figure or institution should immediately disavow. This suggests the salience of two phenomena: first, the perennial appeal of demonizing the U.S. left (especially—but not only—its militant wing), and the ready availability of a variety of tropes to do so.… Second, the incidents reveal a dark region of U.S. political culture striving to influence the mainstream. Many Americans were unsettled at the prospect of a black president, and they have displayed their fears, hatreds, and anxieties in various ways ever since.… | more |

How We Found Out About COINTELPRO

Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 544 pages, $29.95, hardcover.

Activists in the anti-war, civil rights, and New Left movements in the 1950s and ’60s were sure they and their organizations were being spied on by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. …. But there was little hard proof of a wider strategy to destroy deliberately entire organizations by the use of completely illegal methods. That was soon to change.… In late 1970 [William Davidon] recruited seven other anti-war activists, mostly pacifists, into a secret Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI. On March 8, 1971, the night of the Mohammed-Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight match, they broke into the unprotected offices of the FBI in Media, Pennsylvania and made off with all the files, on the assumption that they would find evidence of the FBI’s systematic spying on Americans. They had no idea that what they had in their hands would soon expose much more.… | more |

Flying Patterns

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 464 pages, $16.99, paperback.

Life is no crystal staircase for Dellarobia, the main character in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior. It is a stirring read, but not as much as her 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible, a powerful female-centric story set in the Belgian Congo.… In Flight Behavior, Dellarobia is rearing two small kids in a low-income household, and living in the “right-to-work” (at low pay) state of Tennessee. She is alienated from herself, her husband, and especially her mother-in-law. In an era of U.S. working-class demobilization, Dellarobia is adrift in a loveless marriage. She and her husband Cub married young and became parents before fully getting to know each other.… Dellarobia’s angst develops within monopoly-finance capitalism. Kingsolver, like Emily Dickinson before her, shows and tells the story slant. … | more |

Our Feminist Poet on Che

Margaret Randall, Che on My Mind (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 160 pages, $19.95, paperback.

If you have not been thinking about Che, now you will. Our gifted poet, feminist author, and revolutionary thinker has given us a spare and ethical meditation on the lingering life and death of Ernesto Che Guevara. With infinite care and honesty, Margaret Randall circles deeper and more fully into the liberation ideas and actions that she, and our era, were inspired by and sought—as manifest in the young doctor from Argentina who joined the revolutionary struggle for a liberated Cuba, encouraged and supported rebel forces across the continents of South America and Africa, embodied the hope and anti-imperialism of the third world project, and improbably initiated and fought guerilla armed conflict in the Congo and then Bolivia, where he was killed.… | more |

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 |

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