Sunday April 20th, 2014, 9:22 am (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

Reviving the Strike in the Shadow of PATCO

In the summer of 2011, labor unrest on both coasts provided a sharp rebuttal to the widely held view that the strike is dead (and buried) in the United States. Even as veterans of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) gathered in Florida to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their historic defeat, a new generation of strikers was taking on big private-sector employers like Verizon and Kaiser Permanente. Last August, 45,000 Verizon workers walked out from Maine to Virginia in a high-profile struggle against contract concessions. One month later, they were joined by 20,000 nurses and other union members similarly opposed to pension and health care givebacks at Kaiser Permanente in California. Both of these struggles came right on the heels of last year’s biggest upsurge, the massive series of public employee demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin that included strike activity by local high school teachers.… Like the walkouts of 2011, [the three books under review] remind us what striking looks like, whether it fails or succeeds in a single union bargaining unit, or becomes part of a broader protest movement.… | more |

A Most Reliable Ally

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Unions

Martin Luther King, Jr., edited with introductions by Michael K. Honey, All Labor Has Dignity (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 240 pages, $17.00, paperback.

Many Americans who have failed to look deeply into the career of Martin Luther King, Jr. hold false assumptions about him. One is that he was a moderate solely focused on achieving civil rights for American Negroes (his terminology), and that he had a dream about a country where, as he said in August 1963, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Another is that he held to this vision of working within the system and building interracial harmony—“let us not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred”—until the spring of 1967, when for some inexplicable reason the train flew off the tracks. In his (in)famous Riverside Church speech on April 4, 1967, King came out forcefully against the war in Vietnam, defended the National Liberation Front as a voice for people seeking independence from forces like the United States (whose leaders he accused of saying one thing and doing another), and called for a “radical revolution in values” that put poverty and people ahead of “things.” By the time the sanitation workers struck in Memphis one year later, King seemed to have gotten back on track with a more or less traditional labor support role, albeit a critical one, as the spiritual motivator of the strikers.… | more |

First, They Came for the Sex Offenders

Roger N. Lancaster, Sex Panic and the Punitive State (University of California Press, 2011), 328 pages, $24.95, paperback.… | more |

The Center Will Not Hold

The Rise and Decline of Liberalism

Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 396 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Revenge of the Surplus

Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (London: Pluto Press, 2011), 240 pages, $30.00, paperback.

Hans Fallada’s Anti-Fascist Fiction

In The Diary of a Young Girl—one of the most touching books ever written about life under fascism—Dutch teenager Anne Frank observed, “Extraordinary things happen to people who go into hiding.” Published in 1947 with an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank’s diary awakened the world to the daily lives of Jews hoping to escape concentration camps and gas ovens. Frank’s story was sentimentalized on stage and in the Hollywood movie, but the book itself resonated—it still does—with gritty realism and the kinds of details that just will not die.… That same year, 1947, saw the publication of Every Man Dies Alone, the last novel to be written by Hans Fallada, the lost man of twentieth-century Germany literature. Like Frank’s Diary, Fallada’s Every Man alerted readers around the world to the corrosive force of fascism and the extraordinary things that happen to people in hiding. The main characters are not Jews; they are neither religious, nor do they spout Marx, Engels, or Rosa Luxemburg. Every Man presents a series of interwoven narratives about fascism that do not echo the dominant stories that have been told and retold since the end of the Second World War.… | more |

The Machinery of Whiteness

Steve Martinot, The Machinery of Whiteness: Studies in the Structure of Racialization (Philadelphia: Temple University Press), 223 pages, $25.95, paperback.
Jordan Flaherty, Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six (Chicago: Haymarket Books), 303 pages, $16, paperback.

South Africa—The Left Must Launch a Counteroffensive

Hein Marais, South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The Political Economy of Change (London / New York: Zed Books, 2011), 566 pages, $45, paperback.

The Evolution of Dialectical Humanism

James Boggs, edited by Stephen M. Ward, afterword by Grace Lee Boggs, Pages From a Black Radical’s Notebook: A James Boggs Reader (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011), 424 pages, $27.95, paperback.

Environmental Justice and the Criminalizing of Dissent

Will Potter, Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2011), 302 pages, $16.95, paperback.

It starts with a knock on the door. FBI agents threaten to put journalist Will Potter’s name on a terrorist watch-list for leafleting. They want him to inform on his friends in the environmental justice community. They threaten to show up at his work, to ruin his career, his education, and make other threats. Potter refuses to collaborate, and never hears from the agents again, but the incident leaves him changed. “I do not know it right now, but this experience will mark the beginning of both a personal and a political journey. After the initial fear subsides, I will become obsessed with finding out why I would be targeted as a terrorist for doing nothing more than leafleting”…. Potter chronicles his journey, attempting to unravel why the non-violent animal rights and environmental movement is the federal government’s number one domestic terrorism priority. From the front lines of an activist campaign in New Jersey to the halls of Congress and beyond, Potter documents how this movement is persecuted by law enforcement and legislative action for its political and moral beliefs in defense of animals and the environment.… | more |

The Emperor Has No Clothes But Still He Rules

Moshe Adler, Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science that Makes Life Dismal (New York: The New Press, 2009), 224 pages, $24.95, hardcover; David Orrell, Economyths: Ten Ways That Economics Get It Wrong (Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2010), 288 pages, $27.95, hardcover; Yanis Varoufakis, Joseph Halevi, and Nicholas J. Theocaratis, Modern Political Economics: Making Sense of the Post-2008 World (New York: Routledge, 2011, forthcoming), 536 pages, $165.00, hardcover, $65.00, paperback.

Science is often thought to proceed from a theory to experiments that test its predictions. If new data are discovered that cannot be explained by the theory, eventually a new theory arises to replace it. If the new theory can explain everything the old one did plus the new phenomena, sooner or later every scientist will adhere to the new paradigm.… Neoclassical economics is taught in every college classroom in the United States and in almost every country in the world. Graduate students learn no other approach to economics. They are taught that neoclassical economics is a science, on a par with physics and the other natural sciences. There is even a joke that when good neoclassical economists die, they are reincarnated as physicists, but bad ones come back as sociologists.… | more |

Labor’s Love Lost: War Among the Unions

Steve Early, Labor’s Civil Wars (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011), 440 pages, $17.00, paperback.

Leadership driven union density or membership driven mobilization? Labor activist and writer Steve Early chronicles the divisions that opened up in a labor movement desperate to curb decline during the first decade of the 21st century. Divisions that led to a split in the AFL-CIO and in the largest US union, SEIU. Early’s detailed knowledge of the issues and players makes for a fascinating trip through labor politics, largely ignored in the mainstream media.… | more |

Labor Revolts in the 1970s

Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Cal Winslow, editors, Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and the Revolt from Below During the Long Seventies (New York: Verso, 2010), 472 pages, $29.95, paperback.

Rebel Rank and File is a collection of articles that surveys the building, heydey, and decline of rank and file workers’ movement in the fields, mines, auto plants, schools, trucking and phone companies in the late 1960s through the 1970s. What makes this book so valuable is that the first half is devoted to detailing the context of these struggles—the political economy in which they were set. It begs the reader to look deeper into the basis of the book—bureaucratized unions, with leaders hell bent on maintaining power no matter the cost, who serve as buck privates in the Democratic Party army, and who need a compliant base every bit as much as the employers. The authors develop a number of interconnected themes: the single minded union strategy based on endless capitalist growth, parochialism, the private welfare state, pragmatism, anti-communism, influence of anti-war, black power and women’s movements—all of which then help the reader to see similarities of the different rank and file experiences, no matter the work or union.… | more |

The Jack O’Dell Story

Nikhil Pal Singh, editor, Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O’Dell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 298 pages, $34.95, hardcover.

The story Jack O’Dell is one of the least understood but most important stories in the last half-century of the American Left; important because O’Dell, in his organizing and his writing for Freedomways magazine, contributed in crucial ways to the struggle against racism. But also little understood because the taboo on American Communism and Communists has prevented individual stories from the surrounding milieux to be appreciated and understood. This review-essay brings O’Dell back to light.… | more |

Woody Guthrie: Redder than Remembered

Woody Guthrie: Redder than Remembered

Will Kaufman, Woody Guthrie, American Radical (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011) 264 pages, $29.95, hardcover.

Will Kaufman’s new book, Woody Guthrie, American Radical, describes how Guthrie’s life-long radicalism shaped his music and evolved over time—from the Great Depression to the Second World War, from the Popular Front to the McCarthyite witch hunts, and into the folk music revival of the 1960s. Kaufman argues that Guthrie’s work must be understood in the context of its time, but also in light of Guthrie’s commitment to socialist politics and his unrelenting opposition to capitalism and fascism.… | more |

Asia and the Great Financial Crisis

Michael Lim Mah Hui and Lim Chin, Nowhere to Hide: The Great Financial Crisis and Challenges for Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010), 200 pages, $39.90, paperback.

Nowhere to Hide by Michael Lim Mah Hui and Lim Chin is another book on the financial crisis, although with added attention to Asia. In addition to the regional implications of the crisis for Asia, what makes this volume different from so many others is its critical perspective.… The book thus reflects an insider’s view of the banking system that is informed by a critical, political-economic perspective. As such, Nowhere to Hide makes a good companion to Monthly Review’s own The Great Financial Crisis by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff. Indeed, there is a close connection between these works, symbolized by the incorporation of Foster and Magdoff’s title into the subtitle of Nowhere to Hide.… | more |

Cannabis Goes Communist

T.A. Sedlak, Anarcho Grow Pura Vida in Costa Rica (Madison, WI: This Press Kills Fascists Publishing, 2010), illustrated by Leslie LePere, 235 pages, $14.95, paperback.

Anarcho Grow Pura Vida in Costa Rica is a modern story that carefully blends author T.A. Sedlak’s knowledge of Costa Rica and cannabis cultivation with socialist ideals in an American capitalist dominated world.… Protagonist Ben Starosta travels through Latin America under the guise of teaching English while helping small agrarian communities develop illicit crops and reach new markets. His expertise in the risky cannabis trade funds community projects like schools and libraries, and earns him the loyalty of the communities he helps. Tension builds, as his dedication to the people is viewed as dangerous criminal activity by the CIA agents assigned to his case.… | more |

Heinberg’s New Coal Question

Richard Heinberg, Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2009), 208 pages, $18.95, paperback.

Coal today lies at the very center of the world predicament over the future of energy and the climate. An indication of this can be found in the November 18, 2010, issue (vol. 468) of the leading scientific journal Nature, which includes an article by Richard Heinberg and David Fridley entitled “The End of Cheap Coal.” The article opens with the startling words: “World energy policy is gripped by a fallacy—the idea that coal is destined to stay cheap for decades to come.” What follows is a short, dramatic discussion of problems (geological, economic, and environmental) constraining future coal production and consumption. Heinberg and Fridley’s argument here has been developed more extensively in Heinberg’s recent book Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis, which provides us with yet another indication of the momentous challenge and burden of our historical time.… | more |

The Indiscreet Banality of the Bourgeoisie

The Church of LEED, Passive House, and the Dangers of Going Green

Pat Murphy, The Green Tragedy: LEED’s Lost Decade (Yellow Springs, OH: The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, 2009), 96 pages, $12.95, paperback.

Pat Murphy’s new book, The Green Tragedy: LEED’s Lost Decade, is a dry but worthwhile effort to debunk the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) claims regarding its flagship LEED program. Anyone interested in solid accounting of the shortcomings of the LEED rating system and the buildings it certifies will find his book compelling.… While his critique of LEED is valid, Murphy alternatively advocates for the hyper-rationality of the Passive House as a response to the ecological crisis, failing to understand that the crisis is social in origin.… | more |

Free-Market Feminism

Hester Eisenstein, Feminism Seduced: How Global Elites Use Women’s Labor and Ideas to Exploit the World (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2010), 272 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Feminism Seduced, written for a general audience, presents a powerful, historically grounded critique of liberal feminism. Drawing on three decades of writing by socialist/Marxist feminists and women-of-color feminists, Eisenstein weaves a compelling account of how the central ideas of “hegemonic feminism” have legitimized the corporate capitalist assault on the working class in the United States and on small farmers and workers, both urban and rural, in the global South.… However, when Eisenstein moves from critique to offering an alternative strategy, she only recycles dualisms that have, as she acknowledges, bedeviled the women’s movement for well over one hundred years.… | more |