Tuesday September 2nd, 2014, 5:30 pm (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

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

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 |

Red Cop in Red China: Qiu Xiaolong’s Novels on the Cusp of Communism and Capitalism

Qiu Xiaolong’s Novels on the Cusp of Communism and Capitalism

The books reviewed here are Qiu Xiaolong, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), 464 pages, $14.00; A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), 360 pages, $14.00; When Red Is Black (2004), 320 pages, $13.00, all published in New York by Soho Crime; and A Case of Two Cities (2006), 320 pages, $13.95; Red Mandarin Dress (2007), 320 pages, $13.95; The Mao Case (2009), 304 pages, $13.99, all published in New York by Minotaur Books.… | more |

Qiu Xiaolong—the prolific Chinese novelist born 1953 in Shanghai and a resident of the United States since 1988—has made a fetish of the word and the color red, not surprisingly, since he writes about Red China. Three of his innovative novels include red in the title: Death of a Red Heroine (2000), When Red Is Black (2004), and Red Mandarin Dress (2007). In all three of these books, the main character is a sensitive, poetry loving, yet tough-minded police inspector who works for the Shanghai Police Bureau; he’s on the city payroll and doesn’t work as a free-lance private eye for hire… | more |

Our Last Chance to Save Humanity?

James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 320 pages, $25.00, hardcover.… | more |

James Hansen, one of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, has written an important book about the threat posed by climate change. The title, Storms of My Grandchildren, refers to the prediction of more powerful and more damaging storms in a warmer, future earth. Subtitled The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, the book is written for a lay public and is certain to be controversial… | more |

A History of the Great Bust—Still With Us

Michael Perelman, The Confiscation of American Prosperity. From Right-Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 239 pages, $30.00 hardcover.… | more |

Yves Smith, Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 362 pages, $30 hardcover.… | more |

Some forty years ago, the American business empire viewed itself as under siege as a result of government interventions threatening its freedom of action, demands for annual wage increases in the face of declining corporate profitability, import penetration of its home markets, as well as by loss of global hegemony symbolized by defeat in Vietnam. The empire struck back. A conglomerate of right-wing forces proceeded to declare war on the social reforms and institutions that had taken shape since the 1930s under the wing of an expanding federal government… | more |

Time to Pay the Piper

Ariel Salleh, ed., Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology (New York: Pluto Press, 2009), 324 pages, $34.00, paperback.

In 2001, Wilma Dunaway wrote that the “tentacles of the world-system are entwined around the bodies of women.” Yet her literary analysis revealed a profound silence about the role of women in reproductive labor, subsistence households, and commodity chain analysis. Dunaway characterized this omission as, “the greatest intellectual and political blunder” in her field.…Nearly ten years later, Ariel Salleh has answered this unspoken call with the resounding voices of seventeen feminist scholars who address transdisciplinary issues of global political ecology.… | more |

Sartre: Conversations with a “Bourgeois Revolutionary”

John Gerassi, Talking with Sartre: Conversations and Debates, edited and translated by John Gerassi (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 336 pages, $20.00, paperback.

“I want to know, Sartre, how a bourgeois like you—and you, Sartre, no matter how much you hate the bourgeoisie are still a bourgeois through and through—became a revolutionary.” In this way, John Gerassi once informed an audience of Jean-Paul Sartre scholars and aficionados about what to expect from the 2,000-plus pages of edited transcripts of his conversations with Sartre, taped from 1970 to 1974 and recently deposited in the Yale University library.… | more |

U.S. Terrorism in Vietnam

Bernd Greiner, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam, translated by Anne Wyburd and Victoria Fenn (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 518 pages, $35.00, hardcover.

In late 1970, prompted by the debate over the exposure of U.S. atrocities in the village of Mỹ Lai, an anonymous GI wrote a letter to Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland, claiming to have witnessed hundreds of acts of terrorism by U.S. soldiers during Operation Speedy Express. The campaign, intended to reclaim portions of the Mekong Delta, purportedly killed over ten thousand enemy but seized only seven hundred weapons.… | more |

Know Thine Enemy

Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009), 356 pages, $26.95, hardcover, $16.95, paperback.

Kim Phillips-Fein has provided us with a very fine account of how we got where we are—in a stranglehold of big business conservatism that has by no means been broken by the liberal electoral victory of 2008. She has not only absorbed a considerable amount of secondary literature, but has also combed through the archives, combining her impressive research and insights with a well-paced narrative populated with a variety of interesting personalities—all quite well-to-do, all white, almost all male, and yet a very diverse and interesting lot.… | more |

The Rise and Fall of the United Farm Workers

Miriam Pawel, The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 372 pages, $28.00, hardcover.

After reading The Union of Their Dreams, Miriam Pawel’s exceptional account of the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), I reread an article I wrote for The Nation in November 1977. In “A Union Is Not a Movement,” I leveled some harsh criticism at the UFW and its famous leader, Cesar Chavez. In response, the Union’s chief counsel, Jerry Cohen, one of the major characters in Pawel’s book, threatened suit against the magazine. At the time I was upset, thinking that maybe I should have been more careful in what I had said. However, as The Union of Their Dreams makes clear, I need not have been concerned, since everything I said was true. And then some.… | more |

Margaret Randall’s Years in Cuba

Margaret Randall, To Change the World: My Years in Cuba (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009), 256 pages, $24.95, paperback.

Margaret Randall has always been too much of a feminist for the socialists and too much of a socialist for the feminists. She is one of the foremost oral historians of recent revolutionary history and, more specifically, of the history of women in revolutions. Yet her work has been consistently undervalued. Her memoir…is a rare double opportunity: an intimate look at the Cuban Revolution from 1969 to 1980, and a fascinating portrait of the development of a historian, poet, and political thinker.… | more |

Exploring the Dialectic of the Bolivarian Revolution

Iain Bruce, The Real Venezuela: Making Socialism in the 21st Century (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 240 pages, $27.90, paperback.

“When Chávez speaks, we listen. But we don’t listen to those around him.” This comment by a community activist interviewed by Iain Bruce, and integrated into his wonderful exploration of the Bolivarian Revolution from below, points to an essential characteristic — the unique link at present (“por ahora”) between Hugo Chávez and the exploited and excluded of Venezuela.… | more |

Gramsci’s Grandchild

Michael D. Yates, In and Out of the Working Class (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2009), 217 pages, $19.95, paperback.

Okay. Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way right now. I am a longtime fan of Mike Yates. A big fan. I have used his materials with community and labor activists, made some contributions to a few of his works, and answered his call to write for Monthly Review on other occasions. So it will come as no surprise that In and Out of the Working Class did not disappoint. This personal reflection and journey through the world of Mike Yates from the early 1950s to the present has made me an even bigger fan.… | more |

Gouldiana Rising

Warren D. Allmon, Patricia H. Kelley, and Robert M. Ross, eds., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 400 pages, $34.95, hardcover.

Stephen Jay Gould, best known to the general public for his nearly three decades of regular essays published in the popular magazine Natural History, was prolific and, although he always emphasized that he was a tradesman, specializing in paleontology and evolutionary theory, he was nonetheless a polymath, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of art, literature, philosophy, history, and a variety of sciences, both social and natural. The vast body of work he has bequeathed to the literate public — the Republic of Letters, as he affectionately called us — is filled with gems of insight, fascinating observations, and no shortage of controversy. No one who has read Gould with care can avoid noticing his abiding love for learning and teaching, his unbridled enthusiasm for grappling with nature’s mysteries, and his fascination with humanity in all of its many forms. In many ways, Gould’s writing was deeply personal, demonstrating one man’s struggle to understand the natural world and our place in it. However, in other ways, Gould, the man, remained elusive and inaccessible to those who only knew him through his writing.… | more |

A Theory of Globalized Capitalism

William I. Robinson, Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2008), 412 pages, $55.00, hardcover.

Latin America and Global Capitalism delivers a scathing indictment of neoliberal globalization from an explicitly anti-capitalist perspective. Its scope is theoretically and empirically ambitious, beginning with a wide-ranging treatment of structural shifts in global capitalism since the early 1970s, before turning to rigorous examination of a range of themes in Latin American political economy in light of these global changes. Robinson then brings these threads together with an argument that neoliberalism entered its twilight phase in the region beginning with the recession of the late 1990s and early 2000s, as extra-parliamentary mass movements concomitantly exploded onto the scene and a variety of self-described left governments took office. The focus then tightens, with conjunctural analyses of the current upsurge in indigenous revolts, the immigrant rights movement in the United States, and the complicated and contradictory processes of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.… | more |

Indigenous Resistance in the Americas and the Legacy of Mariátegui

Marc Becker, Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 356 pages, $22.95, paperback.

Following the 2005 election of the first Indigenous president of any country in the Americas—Evo Morales in Bolivia—I commented in MRzine on the fact that many were taken by surprise by this seemingly sudden occurrence out of nowhere, but only because they had not been paying attention to the development of the international Indigenous movement over the past three decades.… | more |

Unions Must Move Left, They Have No Alternative

Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Fernando Gapasin, Solidarity Divided (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 324 pages, $17.95, paper.

Through the 1980s I was a union organizer and activist in our Bay Area labor anti-apartheid committee. As we picketed ships carrying South African cargo, and recruited city workers to support the African National Congress (then called a terrorist organization by both the United States and South Africa), I looked at South African unions with great admiration.… | more |

Don’t Pity the Poor Immigrants, Fight Alongside Them

David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 261 pages, $25.95, hardcover.

In this compelling and useful book, David Bacon lays to rest the anti-immigration arguments of the xenophobes and racists who bombard us every day in the press, on television, and on radio talk shows with the vicious assertion that immigrants, mainly those from Latin America, are the cause of all our economic and social problems.… | more |