Tuesday September 2nd, 2014, 7:33 am (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

The New History of the Weather Underground

Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity(San Francisco: AK Press, 2006), 450 pages, paperback, $20.00.

Despite its many detractors and small numbers, the Weather-man/Weather Underground Organization has emerged in the past ten years as a major topic in the growing history of the 1960s. Many of those who knew the group during its existence—personally or in name only—often wonder why this is so. After all, goes this train of thought, Weatherman/Weather Underground represented all that was wrong with the movement against the war in Vietnam and against racism. The group encouraged violence and represented the epitome of arrogance. What about the rest of us? … | more |

Capitalism Is Rotten to the Core

Immanuel Ness, Immigrants, Unions, and the New U. S. Labor Market (Temple University Press, 2005), 230 pages, cloth $59.50, paper $21.95.
Howard Karger, Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy (Berrett~Koehler Publishing, 2005), 252 pages, cloth $24.95.

The widening and deepening of capitalism, which many economists misname globalization, has had traumatic impacts on workers. Sped up by what has been called neoliberalism (basically, the political program of modern global capital), the growing penetration of capitalist production and consumption relationships around the globe has literally pitched workers from pillar to post. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants and wage workers to abandon their home country and migrate to the United States. Similarly, government austerity and “free market” programs—curbing food and health subsidies to the poor, closing and selling state enterprises, suppression of worker and peasant protests, and the like—in countries like India and China have deprived many workers of what security they had attained and pushed peasants from their land into cities… | more |

The Hidden History of the Americas

Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 480 pages, hardcover $30.00.

Countless, almost perfectly round, forested islands dot the remote, watery plain of the Beni in eastern Bolivia. A millennium ago the islands were linked by causeways, parts of an intricate landscape management system tended by thousands of highly organized workers. These mounds do not have their origins in geo-morphological forces, but originate instead in human logic, in anthro-morphology. For even simple excavation reveals that they are built from broken pottery. Each pile, and there are hundreds, is larger than Monte Testaccio, a hill of broken pots southeast of classical Rome, serving as a garbage dump for the imperial city. Simply extending from the volume of ceramics piled on the Beni suggests that the plain was home to a highly structured society. Beginning three thousand years ago, an Arawak-speaking people created a civilization that, at its height, was populated by a million people walking the causeways wearing “long cotton tunics, [with] heavy ornaments dangling from their waists and necks” (12). The Beni was one of humankind’s greatest works of landscape artistry. Yet it was unknown until recently even by its contemporary inhabitants, the Siriono. For the builders of the mounds and the caretakers of the dikes disappeared just before the Spanish invaders arrived. Its discovery awaited Bill Deneven, a geography graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, who flew over the area in 1961 and was astonished to see great regularities in the landscape that could only be human in origin… | more |

Rebellion of a New Generation

Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow, eds., with preface by Bernardine Dohrn, Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out (New York: Nation Books, 2005), 256 pages, paperback $14.95.

One frequently comes across handwringing articles in the mainstream media decrying the supposed apathy of my generation. Too often these are written by older liberals, nostalgic for their own bygone days of protest (and forgetful of the years of small-scale organizing that led to the social upheaval of those days). Sometimes they are written by young people, who believe themselves alone in their dissent. Ironically, these lamentations never seem to recognize what those of us who are involved in social movements today can see quite clearly: that there is a growing sense among many young people that something is deeply wrong with the society we live in—and more and more, that such knowledge comes with the desire to take a stand… | more |

The Bread of Conquest

Richard A. Walker, The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California (New York: The New Press, 2004), 382 pages, hardcover $27.95.

The agony and the ecstasy are intertwined in California’s countryside. Artichokes, freestone peaches, and Gravenstein apples are but a few of the vast number of crops grown in the Golden State, which were it a country, would be the sixth leading agricultural exporter in the world. For the workers whose hands create wealth out of nature, the agony has been ever-present, from the bloody repression of the 1913 Wobbly-led Wheatland hop pickers strike to the recent attempt by Southern California grocery workers to hold onto their health care and pensions.… | more |

Planting Seeds

Eve S. Weinbaum, To Move a Mountain: Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia (New York: The New Press, 2004), 320 pages, hardcover $25.95.

It’s easy to feel discouraged about the state of the left today, especially in the United States. While there are a number of exciting victories to be found, it feels like defeat is much more common. But as Eve Weinbaum argues in To Move a Mountain: Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia, there is a difference between “successful failure” and “failed failure.” Failure is an integral part of any social movement, so we need to find ways to make some of that failure part of a longer-term organizing project… | more |

Heroes and Villains in the Cold War Battle for the United Electrical Workers

John Hoerr, Harry, Tom, and Father Rice: Accusation and Betrayal in America’s Cold War (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), 344 pages, cloth $29.95.

The image still haunts me: a man in his thirties, eyes glassy, blood streaming from a head wound. A foot soldier in the domestic Cold War, this union stalwart had been beaten by anticommunist thugs who imagined that changing unions in the Westinghouse Electric plant in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania would be a blow against Stalin. Mistaking assault on a volunteer organizer for damage to a Soviet leader is just the kind of tragically stupid error one might expect in a period generally befuddled by fear. Fifty-five years later, confusion as to the meaning of these events continues to hang over the era like an early-morning fog… | more |

Lost and Found: The Italian-American Radical Experience

Philip V. Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, eds., The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2003), 346 pages, cloth $79.95, paper $29.95.

When, almost ten years ago, I came from Italy to study in New York I was shocked by the discrepancy between Italian-American and Italian politics. To my amazement, I discovered that the left, which has always played, and still plays, an important role in Italian politics, occupies a marginal, if not nonexistent, place in Italian-American political culture. Even worse, I learned that Italian Americans are perceived as a basically conservative group, whose only ties to Italy appear to be the Mafia and food. How did Italian Americans end up identifying themselves, and being identified, with such conservative values and reactionary political forces? Why did their political consciousness diverge so markedly from their Italian counterparts?… | more |

Welcome to Wal-Mart: Always Low Prices, Always Low Wages

Liza Featherstone, Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 282 pages, cloth $25.00.

In 1999, Wal-Mart became the largest private employer in the world. If it were a country, its annual sales would make it approximately the twentieth largest economy. The company is notoriously anti-union, but it has become increasingly a focus of attention for the labor movement around the world. Recent proposals by U.S. unions regarding major changes in direction have included a proposal for a $25 million per year Wal-Mart campaign. These are only some of the reasons why Liza Featherstone’s Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart is a timely and necessary book… | more |

Bound for Glory—Indeed!

Ed Cray, Ramblin’ Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 488 pages, cloth $29.95.

Ed Cray’s new biography of Woody Guthrie marks another step in a growing interest in the left-wing Okie troubadour. In 1997, historian Charles J. Shindo published Dust Bowl Migrants in the American Imagination, which includes analysis of Woody Guthrie’s work along with that of John Ford and John Steinbeck. Joe Klein’s enthusiastic biography of Guthrie, first published in 1980, was reissued in 1999, the year after Ed Cray began the new biography. Elizabeth Partridge’s book for young readers, This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie was published in 2002… | more |

Committed Chronicler: Eleanor Marx’s Biographer

Yvonne Kapp, Time Will Tell: Memoirs (New York: Verso, 2003), 296 pages, cloth $25.00.

Yvonne Kapp is best known for her biography of Eleanor Marx (1855–1898). Published in two volumes in 1972 and 1976, it rescued the youngest daughter of Karl Marx from the obscure corner she occupied in biographies of her famous father and restored her to a position of prominence among the major players in the development of late nineteenth-century British socialism. In bringing her subject to life, Kapp manages at the same time to provide a panoramic view of the rise of the progressive movement, in all its variety and complexity. Upon its release, Eric Hobsbawm praised the work as “one of the few unquestionable masterpieces of twentieth century biography.” Verso has now reissued the books in one volume and has published this memoir of its author for the first time… | more |

Inspiration from Behind the Walls

David Gilbert, No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner (Montreal: Abraham Guillen Press, 2004), 283 pages, paper $15.00.

David Gilbert is serving a seventy-five year to life prison sentence for his participation in the 1981 holdup of a Brinks armored truck in which three persons were killed, two police officers and a security guard. The attempted robbery was an effort to raise money for the Black Liberation Army (BLA), an underground offshoot of the Black Panther Party. By the time of the Brinks events, David had been a committed revolutionary for nearly twenty years. In 1965 he founded the Committee Against the War in Vietnam while a student at Columbia University; he was a founding member of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1967; he was a leader of the famous student strike at Columbia in 1968; and he was an early member of the Weathermen faction of SDS in 1969, whose members soon went underground to wage war against U.S. imperialism and racism, renaming themselves the Weather Underground. They hoped to support all those around the world actually fighting against U.S. imperialism and even to ignite a popular uprising in the United States through a series of spectacular bombings of government facilities (including the Pentagon) and corporate offices and banks, as well as by written propaganda and analysis… | more |

A Man for All Seasons

Carl Marzani, The Education of a Reluctant Radical, Book 5, Reconstruction (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001), 285 pages, cloth $24.95, paper $16.95.

In recent years four remarkable and quite disparate stalwarts of the left have died, but not without each leaving his own quintessential and characteristic hallmark. Although each was profoundly different from the others, they had much in common for, as I will argue, their core was identical… | more |

Perpetual War for a Lasting Peace

Thomas P. M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004), 320 pages, hardcover $26.95.

The geopolitics of war are theorized in a Pentagon-centered system of war colleges, defense universities, academic departments, institutes of strategic and international studies, and quasi-private think tanks. Together these make up a powerful, rightist military-ideological complex. For the most part, waging war is discussed behind closed doors by people sharing similar attitudes, beliefs, and values—of patriotism for their beloved country, and antagonism toward its circle of enemies, real and supposed… | more |

Havoc, Inc.: Running Amok with Uncle Sam

Larry Everest, Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and The U.S. Global Agenda (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2004), 391 pages, paperback $19.95.

The Second World War is seen as the worst disaster in history; what is barely understood is that after the war the United States was the only nation with significant economic and military power and that, tragically, the stage had been set for an immeasurably worse chain of disasters—of which the Iraqi war is neither the last nor the worst, unless “We the People” make this our country.… | more |

Black Radical Enigma

Amiri Baraka, The Essence of Reparations (Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi Publishers, 2003), 44 pages, paper $15.00.
Amiri Baraka, Somebody Blew Up America and Other Poems (Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi Publishers, 2003), 57 pages, paper $15.00.
Jerry Gafio Watts, Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual (New York: New York University, 2001), 604 pages, cloth $50.00.
Harry T. Elam, Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2001), 208 pages, cloth $55.00, paper $20.95.
Komozi Woodard, A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1999), 352 pages, $49.95 cloth, $19.95 paper.

At seventy years of age, Amiri Baraka is no stranger to controversy. From his pioneering stage plays to his legendary journalistic assaults on mainstream black politicians and former allies alike, Baraka has often inhabited the space between trenchant critique, radical honesty, and venomous rhetoric. His 2002 appointment as poet laureate of New Jersey and the subsequent demands for his resignation by everyone from then-Governor James McGreevy to Elie Wiesel again placed Baraka in the limelight. This latest firestorm stemmed from his poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which reminds us of America’s history of domestic anti-black terrorism but also alludes to the cyberspace conspiracy theory alleging Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon possessed prior knowledge of the September 11 terrorist attacks and forewarned Jewish employees at the World Trade Center… | more |

Washed Up on Long Island: Urban Renewal at the Beach

Lawrence Kaplan and Carol P. Kaplan, Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway, New York (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 237 pages, paper $37.50.

The postwar fate of Rockaway, Queens, may well have been sealed when it was swept into the great consolidation of towns and boroughs that became New York City in 1898. An eleven-mile-long pencil-thin peninsula, Rockaway faces Jamaica Bay along one flank and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Blessed by its natural resources and fairly isolated from the stresses of city life, it enjoyed a very long run as “New York City’s favorite beach resort” with day-trippers pouring into Jacob Riis Park by the tens of thousands. But by the end of the 1940s, its glory days were fading, and it was on the way to becoming an exclusively year-round community… | more |

Self-Reflection and Revolution

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–1975 (San Francisco: City Lights, 2002) 411 pages, $17.95 paperback.

This summer I moved into an old house in the Catskills full of the random possessions of those who have used it as a retreat since it was built in the 1920s. With most of my books in storage and no television I entertained myself by reading a stack of Time magazines from the late sixties and early seventies that I found in a trunk in the small attic. Flipping through them nearly every evening, I enjoyed countless articles about the hippies, the Yippies, Richard Nixon, the Black Panthers, and the inevitable revolution on America’s horizon. I read the ongoing coverage of the Chicago Eight (turned Seven) trial, sensational portraits of California’s fringe cultures, and panic-stricken reports of the now too-often forgotten wildcat strikes of the early seventies… | more |

NAFTA’s Knife: Class Warfare Across the U.S.-Mexico Border

David Bacon, The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 348 pages, cloth $27.50.

I once heard a discussion about the first sentences of books and those sentences that were among the most famous and most powerful. The opening of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was among the most popular. David Bacon’s first sentence in chapter one of his book must now rank among the most gripping: “NAFTA repeatedly plunged a knife into José Castillo’s heart.” … | more |

Manufacturing the Love of Possession

Michael Dawson, The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 203 pages, cloth $26.95.

In 1877, speaking at the Powder River Conference, Chief Sitting Bull of the Lakota nation said of the European invaders who were destroying his people and their way of life, “[T]he love of possession is a disease with them.” Disease is an apt term, because it does not necessarily imply that the love of possession was inherent in the nature of the invaders, but rather that the affliction may have been acquired. Thus, any scholar wishing to locate the origin of the affliction should, like an epidemiologist, search out its sources and possible transmission vectors… | more |