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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 |

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.

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

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 |