Sunday November 23rd, 2014, 5:57 am (EST)

Review

Book reviews and essays

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 |

Mao Zedong: Chinese, Communist, Poet

Mao Zedong, The Poems of Mao Zedong, translations, introductions, and notes by Willis Barnstone (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); 168 pages; $24.95 hardcover, $15.95 paperback.

What are we to think of Chairman Mao? A man of immense contradictions — a nationalist, communist, revolutionary, warrior, as well as the author of The Little Red Book, and the leader for decades of the Peoples’ Republic of China — he was also one of twentieth-century China’s best poets. A new translation of his work provides an opportunity to evaluate him as a writer and as an artist. A reviewer in The Washington Post called Mao’s poems “political documents,” but added, “it is as literature that they should be considered.” Separating the political from the literary, however, isn’t possible. “We woke a million workers and peasants,” Mao wrote in the First Siege, and though all his lines aren’t as explicit about the Chinese Revolution as it is, a great many of them are.… | more |

Slumlord Aesthetics and the Question of Indian Poverty

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (based on Indian diplomat Vikas Swaroop’s novel Q & A) takes the extremely potent idea of a Bombay slum boy tapping into his street knowledge to win a twenty-million-dollar reality quiz show, and turns it into a universal tale of love and human destiny. In the quiz, Jamal is unable to answer questions that test his nationalist knowledge but is surprisingly comfortable with those that mark his familiarity with international trivia. For instance, while he knows that Benjamin Franklin adorns the hundred dollar bill, he has no clue about who adorns the thousand rupee note. This is obviously meant to suggest the irrelevance of the nation to its most marginalized member, but less obviously, also indicates its redundancy under globalized neoliberalism.… | more |

The Rise and Fall of the Third World

Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: New Press, 2008), 384 pages, paper, $19.95.

Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations opens with the assertion that the third world was not so much a place as a project. His goal is to provide an account of the anticolonial and nonaligned movement rather than a full history of the under-developed world in the last half of the twentieth century. However, in this remarkable book, he does both. Born in the wake of the upheavals of the Second World War, the third world movement that took form at the Bandung Conference in 1955 was championed by the likes of Nehru, Nasser, Tito, Sukarno, and Nkrumah. Its leaders collectively called for national independence, economic development, and Cold War nonalignment while basing themselves on the support of millions of followers in the under-developed nations.… | more |

Open Source Anti-Capitalism

Derek Wall, Babylon and Beyond: The Economics of Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Globalist and Radical Green Movements (London: Pluto Press, 2005), 236 pages, paperback, $26.95.

For decades we’ve been told that “there is no alternative” to global capitalism—that trust in the market was the only way to bring progress and end poverty, despite the clear absence of an actual end to poverty. The global financial crisis of 2008 has undermined the rhetoric of inevitability, as even its most prominent practitioners begin to question the logic of neoliberalism. A Washington Post editorial titled “The End of American Capitalism?” quotes the Nobel Prize–winning former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz as saying: “People around the world once admired us for our economy, and we told them if you wanted to be like us, here’s what you have to do—hand over power to the market. The point now is that no one has respect for that kind of model anymore given this crisis. And of course it raises questions about our credibility. Everyone feels they are suffering now because of us” (October 10, 2008).… | more |

The Human Costs of Economic Growth

Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Perilous Passage: Mankind and the Global Ascendancy of Capital (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 395 + xxiv pages, hardcover, $76, paper, $34.95.

The great debate of social science for the last two centuries at least has been how to account for the extraordinary economic growth of the modern world. We all know the basic picture. The overwhelming majority of authors have argued that the story is that of the rise of the West. There have been, however, two opposing versions of this narrative. One is the Whig interpretation of history, which argues that it has been a story of steady social, intellectual, and moral progress whose explanation lies in some particular characteristic of the West (often just of England). In this version, the world is reaching its summit of progress today. The second version is Marxism, which has argued that the rise of the West is part of a larger story of steady dialectical and conflictual historical development. In this version, the present West-dominated world order will inevitably be superseded by another phase of historical development, in which capitalism will be replaced by communism… | more |

Why Orthodox Economics Fails

Reviewed: Michael Perelman, Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 238 pages, paperback, $20.00.
Paul Krugman in Development, Geography, and Economic Theory contends that the reason some economic theories are not widely engaged by economists is because they cannot be modeled mathematically. He goes on to highlight many good ideas that cannot be modeled mathematically. Michael Perelman in Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology argues that there is another reason that economists do not accept these theories: some theories are rejected for ideological reasons because in economics, the orthodoxy is the free market. Perelman quotes Francis A. Walker, the first president of the American Economic Association, who said that laissez-faire “was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all” (102). In other words, to be an economist, especially in the post-Soviet era, requires one to agree with the free market—that is, to believe that the market allocates resources efficiently, and that the job of the economist is to get the prices right… | more |

A Nation Built on the Hierarchy of Race A Practical Guide to Beating White Supremacy

Chip Smith, The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism (Fayetteville, NC: Camino Press, 2007), 466 pages, paper $19.95.

In The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism, Chip Smith has written a historical treatise on white racism in the United States. He provides a well researched, detailed account of the cause and effect of white privilege in the United States. The book effectively examines the influence of racial privilege on a broad range of social relations from an international to a personal level. It targets progressive white people who are consciously anti-racist and provides insights for individual self-reflection and organizational change… | more |

The Fire Inside

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 239 pages, paperback, $19.95.… | more |

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. The cover art of Roots of Resistance is powerful and angry. The stark geometric design, formed by swatches of blazing orange and slashes of smoldering earth tones all descending from cosmos into chaos, highlights abstract images of the suffering, enslavement, and death of the Acoma people at the hands of a Spanish punitive expedition in 1599: falling bodies, inverted crosses, dismembered feet—the punishment inflicted on all the male residents of the pueblo over the age of twenty-five. The original 2005 oil painting by Acoma Indian artist and activist Maurus Chino, titled Acoma 1599, Acoma, Beloved Acoma, Ancient of Days, contains more than enough raw energy to illuminate the history it recalls… | more |

A Revolutionary Identity

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra Years (Boston: South End Press, 2005), 304 pages, paperback, $18.00.

Few U.S. revolutionaries of her generation have “lived to tell the tale” like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, to borrow the title of Gabriel García Márquez’s memoirs. Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra Years is the last volume of a trilogy including Red Dirt: Growing up Okie (University of Oklahoma Press, 1992) and Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years (City Lights, 2001). Although influenced by oral traditions in his “native” Colombian Caribbean, García Márquez has little to say about his own political commitments, or Colombian politics more generally. In contrast, influenced by traditions of storytelling native to rural Oklahoma and Native American communities throughout the U.S. West, Dunbar-Ortiz’s latest memoir puts flesh on the bones of the slogan “the personal is political.” The phrase, she notes, was coined within the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and carried into the women’s liberation and antiwar movements.… | more |

Disaster Capitalism: An Offer You Can’t Refuse—Or Can You?

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007), 466 pages, hardcover, $28.00.

At the crossroads of Buenos Aires’s shopping district sits a posh mall called the Galerías Pacífico, a showcase for global brand names and a playground for Argentina’s rich. One day, a film crew descended to the basement. There they found an abandoned torture chamber, its walls still etched with names, dates, and messages from political prisoners disappeared under the military junta. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein goes digging deep into the basements of global capitalism, from the torture labs of Latin America to the oil fields of Iraq, unearthing the bodies and catching the culprits red-handed. In the process, she demolishes one of the great myths of our time: that free markets go hand in hand with free societies, and that globalized free enterprise brings peace and democracy. Instead, as Klein documents in this definitive history, the new world order is the product of three decades of free-market terror, torture, and shock.… | more |

Never Forget the Class—or the Racial—Struggle

Peter Cole, Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 256 pages, hardcover, $40.00.

Peter Cole has offered an excellent historical examination of a poorly explored moment in labor history. His book, Wobblies on the Waterfront, explores the period (1913–22) when Local 8 of the National Industrial Union of Marine Transport Workers (of the Industrial Workers of the World [IWW]) was the preeminent force on the Philadelphia waterfronts.… | more |

The War for Control of the Periphery

Steven Hiatt, ed., with introduction by John Perkins, A Game as Old as Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption (San Francisco: BK Currents, 2007), 310 pages, paper $24.95.

Just before John Perkins, author of the bestselling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, decided it was no longer possible to remain silent about his intimate involvement in the economic warfare waged against the Global South, he sat despondently before the ruins of Ground Zero, totally incapable of visualizing the tragedy: all he could see was a U.S. contractor delivering millions of dollars of weapons to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Perkins understood himself—a former economic advisor for a multinational utilities contractor, similar to Bechtel—and others like him, to be products of a “system that promotes the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever witnessed.” Mainstream commentators addressing Perkins’s book ignored the vivid recounting of his own personal involvement as an economic hit man. This is undoubtedly because Perkins used this experience to emphasize the substantial connections between U.S. intelligence agencies, multinational corporations, and political elites of the Global South, laying bare the true motives of “development.” As an “economic hit man,” Perkins fabricated nearly every economic forecast he was asked to produce—as his bosses clearly expected him to do. This led him to repeatedly attack U.S. economic dogma in Confessions… | more |

Reclaim the Neighborhood, Change the World

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 448 pages, hardcover $27.95.

In 1988, the National Urban League reported, “More blacks have lost jobs through industrial decline than through job discrimination.” For a civil rights organization, this was a remarkable observation. Born in the era of Jim Crow racism, the Urban League championed the aspirations for upward mobility among urban African Americans. When banks refused to lend money to black entrepreneurs or when municipalities failed to service the black community, the Urban League intervened. One of the demands of the Urban League was for public goods to be shared across racial lines. While the organization was not on the frontlines of the civil rights struggle, it would have been a major beneficiary of the movement’s gains. But the tragedy of the civil rights struggle was that its victory came too late, at least thirty years late. Just when the state agreed to remove the discriminatory barriers that restricted nonwhites’ access to public goods, the state form changed. Privatization and an assault on the state’s provision of social welfare meant that it was not capable of providing public goods to the newly enfranchised citizens. At the same time as the state retreated from its social welfare obligations, the industrial sector in the U.S. crumbled in the face of globalization. Industrial jobs, once the backbone of the segregated black communities, vanished… | more |

Nepal’s Geography of Underdevelopment

Baburam Bhattarai, The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis (Delhi: Adroit Publishers, 2003), xx, 540 pages, hardcover, Rs 600 ($14).

Emerging from a middle-peasant family background in Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai excelled at school and then, with a Colombo Plan scholarship in hand, studied architecture and planning in India. By the early to middle 1980s, the theoretical structure of spatial and regional planning studies had changed—in a Marxist direction. Bhattarai wrote his doctoral dissertation at one of the centers of political-theoretical ferment—the Centre for Study of Regional Development, at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi—finishing in 1986. While he was a student, Bhattarai was president of the All India Nepalese Students Association on its founding in 1977. He joined the illegal Communist Party of Nepal (Masal) in the early 1980s. Returning to his native Nepal in 1986, he was the spokesperson of the United National People’s Movement during the 1990 uprising, and from 1991 the Coordinator of the United People’s Front Nepal, the legal front of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre), which in turn gave birth in 1995 to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN[M]). Bhattarai served prominently in the Peoples’ War 1996–2006, and is now de facto second in command of the CPN(M). As of the date of writing preparatory negotiations for Constituent Assembly elections are still taking place, with the fate of the monarchy and the future direction of Nepalese society to be decided in the continuing struggle… | more |

Hippocratic Hypocricy in the War on Terror

Steven H. Miles, M.D., Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror (Random House, 2006), 240 pages, hardcover $23.95.

When he saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib, medical ethicist and practicing physician Steven Miles immediately wondered: Where were the doctors, nurses, and medics while these abuses were happening?… | more |

Venezuela: Who Could Have Imagined?

Michael A. Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 127 pages, paperback, $14.95.

This short work consists of two parts: analytical and programmatic. The analytical emphasis is upon the most important crime of capitalism: namely–its dependence upon alienation/dehumanization… | more |

U.S. Imperialism and the Third World

Carollee Bengelsdorf, Margaret Cerullo, & Yogesh Chandrani, eds., The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 630 pages, paperback $26.50, cloth $69.50.

In his life, Eqbal Ahmad was a venerable icon in many left circles, not least in the United States. This was showcased at the conference organized in 1997 to mark his retirement from Hampshire College. There to honor Professor Ahmad were some of the most eminent radi- cal thinkers and activists from around the world. A list of the confer- ence speakers read like a Who’s Who of the global left… | more |

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