Sunday December 21st, 2014, 12:16 pm (EST)

Review

Book reviews and essays

A Wisconsin Enigma

Mass Struggle, Then What?

Michael D. Yates, editor, Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012), 282 pages, $18.95, paperback.
John Nichols, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (New York: Nation Books), 117 pages, $18.50, paperback.

It is curious as well as enormously exciting to be surrounded by a mass movement, full of enthusiasm, energy, and eagerness to adopt labor slogans and labor songs, almost as if the 1930s and ‘40s had come back. And it is all the more curious because the emergence of the movement seemed so spontaneous and unexpected, taking every Marxist (and any other) would-be savant by surprise, your reviewer most definitely included. Eighteen months and a major electoral defeat later, the “Wisconsin Uprising” goes on, with dampened spirits but a continuation of innovative extras. One small example is the “Overpass Light Brigade,” a group of urban guerillas who hold LED-lit slogans in various spots of the state, ridiculing Governor Scott Walker and his lackeys, until the cops arrive. But where is it going?… | more |

Medicine and Empire

Howard Waitzkin, Medicine and Public Health at the End of Empire (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011), 256 pages, $25, paperback.

For the past three decades Howard Waitzkin has been (along with Vicente Navarro) the leading social medicine theorist in the United States. Medicine and Public Health at the End of Empire provides a superb sampling of Waitzkin’s wide-ranging work, and a readily accessible introduction to the searching insights offered by a Marxist view of medicine.… | more |

An Important Time Recalled

Robert Bone and Richard Courage, The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932–1950 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 336 pages, $29.95, paperback.

The late Robert Bone had a socialist background which impelled him to study African-American history and literature long before those subjects became fashionable. From the 1950s on his pioneering work in this field included The Negro Novel in America (1959) and Down Home: Origins of the Afro-American Short Story (1975). He had planned, and partially researched and written, a study of the Chicago African-American Renaissance of the 1930s and later. When his health began to fail, he gave his notes to Richard A. Courage, author of many articles on African-American narrative and visual arts. Courage completed Bone’s research, and the result is a compelling book which will be a standard in its field for many years to come.… | more |

Petroleum and Propaganda

The Anatomy of the Global Warming Denial Industry

James Powell was inspired to write this important new book because of a remarkable paradox: among climate scientists, there is a near-unanimous consensus that global warming is occurring now, is largely manmade, and will cause very severe environmental problems if humanity continues business as usual. However, among the lay public the picture is much more mixed: only about half of the U.S. public agrees with the climate scientists. Why the enormous discrepancy?… The Inquisition of Climate Science explains in detail how the global-warming-denialist ideas that serve the interests of the oil companies (and fossil-fuels industry) become sincerely held beliefs for a significant fraction of society.… | more |

Who Killed Che?

How the CIA Got Away With Murder

Ratner and Smith have done it again! Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder is their second bombshell book dealing with Che Guevara and the U.S. government’s frequent use of illegal and criminal political assassinations and routine whopper lies in its foreign policy, all in the name of “defending freedom”…. In their new Che book these two prominent civil liberties lawyers present forty-four previously classified documents released under the Freedom of Information Act to show—quite meticulously and colorfully, as if in a courtroom drama—how the CIA, in concert with the White House, masterminded the murder of Che and then tried to cover it up.… For some readers this may seem like an old story, since the U.S. government now openly proclaims the legitimacy of assassinating foreign leaders and even U.S. citizens during its hypocritical “war on terrorism.”… But as Che himself once said in words that Libya’s murdered leader Muammar Qaddafi might have done well to heed, “You cannot trust imperialism, not even a little bit, not in anything.” And there, indeed, is the rub.… | more |

A Red Robin?

In his estimable Robin Hood: People’s Outlaw and Forest Hero, it is Paul Buhle’s contention that in the almost eight centuries of his legendary existence, Robin has had his time come periodically but seldom more than now. With barbarians, foreign and domestic, at the gates whenever they are not in the palaces, the need for heroes to rise from the ranks of the masses is at least as urgent as it was in Robin Hood’s day.… Buhle argues that the world needs Robin Hood now more than ever. “We need Robin because rebellion against deteriorating conditions is inevitable.”… | more |

Fredric Jameson on the Reserve Army

In the opening pages of The Limits to Capital, published in 1984, David Harvey jokes that everyone who reads Marx’s Capital seems bound to write a book about it. In 2012, we might well ask: Just one? Last year, many of the long-standing academic Marxists unleashed new introductory works, including Terry Eagleton, David Harvey, Eric Hobsbawm, and, unsurprisingly, Fredric Jameson. In Representing Capital, Jameson has written the best of the bunch: a surprising, energetic, and concise representation of the “totality” of capital.… | more |

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 |

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