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Review

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.

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.

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.

Repressing Social Movements

Amory Starr, Luis Fernandez, and Christian Scholl, Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 207 pages, $23.00, paperback.

Shutting Down the Streets is not an ivory-tower book, situated a safe distance from its subject; the first appendix lists the seventeen anti-globalization summit protests which were directly observed by the book’s authors. And just as the authors were participants and not just spectators, they also refrain from merely presenting a comparative analysis of policing and repression at these summits. Examining the existing academic literature on social control, dissent, and social movements, they argue that existing works on repression mainly concentrate on protest policing. Instead they aim to develop a broader framework that examines social control by extending the object of analysis from the policing of protest events to the effects of social control on dissent, while also arguing that the unit of analysis needs to be changed from individual protests to the wider one of social movements. Repression then is not just police violence and coercion at protests but also includes a host of other methods of “soft” repression, such as psyops (psychological operations), infiltration, and surveillance.

Whiteness as a Managerial System

Race and the Control of U.S. Labor

David R. Roediger and Elizabeth D. Esch, The Production of Difference: Race and the Management of Labor in U.S. History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 296 pages, $34.95, hardback.

In this highly original book historians David Roediger and Elizabeth Esch probe deeply into the relationship of institutionalized racism to the management of labor in the United States. As they emphasize, “race management” has been a much neglected topic in the social sciences. Focusing on the century from 1830 to 1930, they accent the interesting and accurate idea of “whiteness as management”—that is, of labor management theory among white employers and experts as honed within the arena of persisting white-racist framing and action. Among other key points, we see here how capitalistic employers long used the racial and ethnic differences among workers to divide and conquer them. The “scientific” management of workers and the white-racist framing of society evolved together over this long century they examine, as well as over subsequent decades.

The Psychology of Culture

Making Oppression Appear Normal

Carl Ratner, Macro Cultural Psychology: A Political Philosophy of Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 544 pages, $69.95, hardcover.

Psychologists engage in a number of practices that, mostly unwittingly, help to sustain the cultural distortions of the ruling class and hence their exploitative rule. One of these practices is to treat human behavior as primarily driven by biology. This leads, for example, to the medicalization of mental illness.… It also supports one of capitalists’ favorite ideological ploys: individualism. We are the masters of our own fate, not society and its culture. If we fail, it is our own fault. We simply did not try hard enough or follow the right path. Individualism favors self-blame and a refusal even to look for social causes. Ratner instead argues that humans are qualitatively different from all other species precisely in terms of how culture, not constant biological traits, shape their behavior. He points out that even our closest relatives, the great apes, have not developed culture, institutions, science, religion, etc. We are truly unique.

Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball and the Plague of the 99%

On his most recent album, Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen crafted a powerful statement of support for the working class, the existence of which barely penetrates contemporary art or politics. This is not an accident: the growing power of capital over public discourse has provided it a forceful means through which to shape individual consciousness, and establish an apolitical and at most technocratic understanding of power.… Even in the cultural realm, the art and voices of the working class are sidelined and squelched. Working people thus become invisible.

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