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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…

Hillbilly Nationalists and the Making of an Urban Race Alliance

Chicago is famed as a city of neighborhoods. Its reputation as such makes it seem like an adorably homey place to live or, as people are fond of describing it to visitors and friends alike, as a “big city with a small-town feel.” But the city’s open secret is that it does not just operate as any small town, but as a small town in the 1930s, with a segregation so deeply felt and embedded that it needs to be called out for what it is, a form of racism that surveils ethnic and racial populations to ensure they do not stray from their designated borders. The city’s increasingly ramshackle and inefficient public transportation system was designed along racial lines, with a system that makes it difficult for mostly white northsiders and mostly black southsiders to commute easily between their neighborhoods. On the west, areas like Humboldt Park and Pilsen are mostly Latino/a…and similarly cordoned off as ethnic enclaves.… Amy Sonnie and James Tracy are, doubtless, unsurprised by any of this. Their book Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power recovers a long-forgotten history of urban organizing by focusing on five groups: Jobs or Income Now (JOIN), the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), and Rising Up Angry in Chicago’s Uptown, along with White Lightning in the Bronx and October 4 Organization (O4O) in Philadelphia.… | more…

Why Whiteness Is Invisible

Look, a White! [by George Yancy] was written to share a way of looking at records, new ways of bringing attention to what has become the norm, business as usual. Yancy’s objective is to “name whiteness, mark it,” to share a critical view on it.… This book is a much needed, insightful look at the ideological construct of race. Since the invention of scientific racism in the French academy in the early nineteenth century, race has applied to every group but to whites. Thus, whiteness was made into an invisible trait of racist thinking and definitions.… | more…

Dispelling Three Decades of ‘Educational Reform’

One of the more remarkable public relations successes of the past two decades can be seen in the way neoliberals, and other supporters of an unfettered market economy, have portrayed their school reform efforts as in the interest of people otherwise excluded from the economy and the political process. A widely viewed film like Waiting for Superman, with its vilification of educators and public schools, suggests that only through the expansion of competition and privatization can the children of black and Latino working-class families be given learning opportunities that will allow them to participate in the American Dream. Thirty years ago, it was progressive educators and policymakers who stood by this constituency, arguing that schools were not fulfilling their social responsibility in providing an equitable education for all children. Now such educators and policymakers are portrayed as the defenders of a status quo that has failed to meet the needs of lower-income and non-white students.… Pauline Lipman’s 2011 volume, The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City, with its careful, on-the-ground examination of recent school reform efforts in Chicago, provides a comprehensive and illuminating analysis of how this has happened along with ways to circumvent policy initiatives that are eroding the integrity of an educational system that for a century-and-a-half has been a defining feature of U.S. life and democracy.… | more…

Listen to Your Gut

When confronted with any big decision in life, I hear my mom’s voice telling me to listen to my gut. This has worked for personal adventures ranging from backpacking to parenting, even though at times it can be hard to quiet the social noise that prevents us from “hearing” what our instincts have to say. In Greed to Green, Charles Derber explores a new twist on the familiar “listen to your gut” adage by framing climate change inaction as the collective problem of not having a gut feeling about this planetary threat. Rather, he explains that we as a society have cordoned off knowledge of climate change as an intellectual concept, and have not allowed it to migrate to the realm of the gut truth.… | more…

The Fall of Libya

Maximilian Forte, Slouching Towards Sirte (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012), 341 pages, $27.95, paperback.

Perhaps no war in recent memory has so thoroughly flummoxed the Euro-Atlantic left as the recent NATO war on Libya. Presaging what would occur as U.S. proxies carried out an assault on Syria, both a pro-war left and an anti-anti-war left [gave] endless explanations and tortuous justifications for why a small invasion, perhaps just a “no-fly-zone,” would be okay—so long as it didn’t grow into a larger intervention. They cracked open the door to imperialism, with the understanding that it would be watched very carefully so as to make sure that no more of it would be allowed in than was necessary to carry out its mission. The absurdity of this posture became clear when NATO immediately expanded its mandate and bombed much of Libya to smithereens, with the help of on-the-ground militia, embraced as revolutionaries by those who should have known better—and according to Maximilian Forte, could have known better, had they only looked.… | more…

Memories of the Afro-Caribbean Left

Clairmont Chung, editor, Walter A. Rodney: A Promise of Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012), 117 pages, $17.95, paperback.

The name “Walter Rodney” has receded from public memory in the last few decades. Only yesterday, it seems to this reviewer, Rodney was the most promising young political scholar of Afro-Caribbean origin, influential from parts of Africa to Britain and North America, not to mention his home Guyana, as well as Jamaica, Trinidad, and other anglophone islands. He was revered: great things were expected of him, as great things were expected of the new phase of regional history in which independence had been achieved and masses mobilized for real change.… | more…

The Man Who Was Over the Rainbow

When I was a lad, I wrote amorous ditties, To Judy, Aleine, Edelina, and Sue. But now that I’m gray, I’ve abandoned those pretties, I’m singing my songs to the MONTHLY REVIEW.… So sang E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, to the tune of “The Streets of Laredo,” at Monthly Review’s fifteenth anniversary party. Accompanying him on piano was my late wife, the Judy to whom Yip wrote ditties. You will not find her or Aleine Mufson mentioned in the pages of this biography. Nor will you find cited any who, because they rubbed elbows or other body parts with Harburg, could lead the reader to the fullest possible understanding of who he was.… | more…

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