Sunday March 29th, 2015, 4:51 pm (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

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 |

She Challenged the Rules

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press, 2003) 470 pages, cloth $34.95.

Ella Baker was known and revered by a generation of Southern civil rights organizers. Her name is virtually unrecognized by political activists today. Yet she persisted as a Southern African-American woman in male-dominated national organizations, working as an organizer/educator for five decades to help transform the poisonous U.S. landscape of white supremacy. She was a founding mentor of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who nurtured a radical democratic practice: that the black sharecroppers and most oppressed rural poor could resist oppression, challenge power, and speak for themselves. Leadership for the black community must emerge, she insisted, from the courage, experiences, suffering, and understanding of ordinary, often illiterate, people in the Mississippi Delta, in Lowndes County, Alabama, and in Albany, Georgia. Students might spark the flame: the Freedom Rides, the voter registration drives, and Mississippi Summer were staffed with young volunteers, but Baker taught them to learn from—and be transformed by—grassroots leaders and to respect their wisdom in a dynamic, group-centered manner. Never fixed or finished, she remained a work in progress; she encouraged a spirit of radical, democratic humanism that influenced the black freedom movement, labor, the women’s movement, the student antiwar movement, GIs and veterans, prison and solidarity work, and community organizing for decades to come… | more |

Back to the Motherland: Cuba in Africa

Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–1976 (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 576 pages, cloth $34.95, paper $24.95.

Angola is by most accounts a decimated, nearly hopeless land, ruined by more than three decades of war. But there was a moment in the mid-seventies when this former Portuguese colony shone as a beacon of hope for all Africa. It was here that the mythic power of white military supremacy was smashed by black troops from Angola and Cuba. And though the role of Cuban volunteers in this victory inspired Africans and left internationals everywhere, the details of the story have remained largely hidden and even in Cuba, uncelebrated… | more |

Dispatches from Durban

Eric Mann, Dispatches from Durban: Firsthand Commentaries on the World Conference Against Racism and Post-September 11 Movement Strategies (Los Angeles: Frontline Press, 2002) 245 pages, $14.95, paper.

It was as if someone pushed a giant delete button. The United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), held August–September 2001, was one of the most important conferences and social mobilizations to take place in years. Voices from the global South decried the continued presence of racism and xenophobia. Thousands of people assembled in Durban, South Africa with great symbolic importance after the successful anti-apartheid struggle… | more |

Global Capitalism and Israel

Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, The Global Political Economy of Israel (London and Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press, 2002), 407 pages, cloth $75.00, paper $24.95.

One of the characteristics of much academic writing is an obsession with theory at the expense of empirical investigation. It is rare to find a book that combines genuinely novel theoretical exploration with rigorous empirical study, the more so in fields such as political science where abstraction seems to have become the norm. It is for this reason that The Global Political Economy of Israel is such a gripping read. A remarkable investigation into the concrete workings of the Israeli and U.S. economies that avoids the fatuous generalities of much of the globalization literature, it presents a challenging theoretical framework that not only clarifies the past but also seeks to understand the present… | more |

The Philosophy and Politics of Freedom

Raya Dunayevskaya, The Power of Negativity: Selected Writings on the Dialectic in Hegel and Marx, edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002), 386 pages, $100.00 cloth; $24.95 paper.
August H. Nimtz, Jr., Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2000), 377 pages, $71.50 cloth; $24.95 paper.
John Rees, The Algebra of Revolution: The Dialectic and the Classical Marxist Tradition (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 314 pages, $85.00 cloth; $26.95 paper.

In these terrible times, to believe in the possibility of helping to make the world a better place, and to commit ones life to that, makes one a revolutionary. Over the years, some of us have been inclined to embrace Karl Marx because he was on our side—the side of labor, of the oppressed, of the working-class majority—and provided invaluable intellectual tools for understanding and changing reality. Others, in this dangerous time of intensifying capitalist “globalization,” are also reaching out to what Marx has to offer. With his comrade Frederick Engels he produced enough material to fill the numerous volumes of their Collected Works of which the final volume is due in 2003. A number of helpful books are now appearing that contribute to the collective process of understanding and utilizing this legacy for changing the world. Those who can offer some of the most fruitful insights will be those who, following the example of Marx and Engels, have committed themselves politically in their own lives. Which brings us to the works under review… | more |

Occupation’s Mixed Legacy

Eiji Takemae, Inside GHQ: The Allied Occupation of Japan and Its Legacy, translated and adapted by Robert Ricketts and Sebastian Swann with a preface by John W. Dower (New York and London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002), 751 pages, hardcover $40.

Eiji Takemae, the doyen of Occupation studies in Japan, first wrote in 1983 in Japanese this fascinating account of how the United States, over a brief space of time, “dramatically rewove the social, economic and political fabric of a modern state, resetting its national priorities, redirecting its course of development.” It is now available in a substantially revised and enlarged English edition. This major contribution is accessible to the general reader with little or no background in these important events—which brought New Deal reform to an essentially feudal country, and in what became known as the reverse course, restored important elements of the Old Order as part of a Cold War turnaround. While right-wing Japanese then and now present the democratization process as the imposition of a victor’s peace and cultural imperialism, for most Japanese it was liberation from repressive militarist autocracy… | more |

Don’t Mourn, Organize

Joe Hill's Children

From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization, Benjamin Shepard and Ronald Hayduk, eds.

Where were you during the “Battle of Seattle” in late November 1999? Due to my teaching schedule, I wasn’t able to be there, but like many other activists young and old around the world who weren’t there, I was thrilled, jumping with joy in front of my television watching CSPAN while listening to KPFA-Pacifica reporters on the ground, running to my computer to look up the latest IndyMedia news. I knew for sure that nothing would ever be the same. Not even the events of September 11, and their fascistic fallout have shaken that certainty. However, since September 11, I have felt the need for some evidence and encouragement, and I found it in From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization, a collection of compulsively readable analyses, first person stories, and interviews of forty-one activists brilliantly edited and introduced by Benjamin Shepard and Ronald Hayduk.… | more |

A Student-Worker Alliance is Born

Liza Featherstone and United Students Against Sweatshops, Students Against Sweatshops (London and New York: Verso, 2002), 119 pages, paper $15.00.

Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was that capitalism was so completely triumphant that we were at the “end of history.” So strong and seemingly obvious was this view that many progressives embraced it. People’s imaginations shrunk and only the smallest and most local kinds of change appeared possible… | more |

A Remarkable Journey

Doris Haddock (with Dennis Burke), Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year(New York: Villard Books, 2001), 285 pages, $21.95, hardcover.

Doris Haddock is a retired shoe factory worker and a member of the Episcopal Church in Dublin, New Hampshire, where her grandmother came in the nineteenth century to work in a textile mill. Doris married young, raised a family, and has twelve great-grandchildren… | more |

Sweatshop Labor, Sweatshop Movement

Miriam Ching Yoon Louie, Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers Take on the Global Economy (Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 2001), 306 pages, $18.00 paper.

The reemergence of sweatshops in the United States has taken many people by surprise. It was commonly assumed that sweatshops disappeared years ago and that their presence would no longer be accepted. This proved to be fatally wrong… | more |

Unusual Marx

Karl Marx, Kevin Andersonand Eric Plaut (editors), and Gabrielle Edgcomb (translator), Karl Marx on Suicide (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1999), 147 pages, $49.95 hardcover and $14.95 paper.

There is a rather unusual document among Marx’s writings. It is titled, “Peuchet: vom Selbstmord” (Gesellschaftspiegel, zweiter Band, Heft VII, Elberfeld, Januar 1846), and it is composed of translated excerpts from Jacques Peuchet’s Du Suicide et de ses Causes (a chapter from his memoirs). The book under review is an English translation of this document, combined with introductions by editors Kevin Anderson and Eric Plaut. As we shall see, this small and almost forgotten article by Marx is a precious contribution to a richer understanding of the evils of modern bourgeois society, of the suffering that its patriarchal family structure inflicts on women, and of the broad and universal scope of socialism… | more |

Antiwar Movements, Then and Now

Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days: A Memoir (Beacon Press, 2001), 292 pages, $24.00 cloth.

“It is difficult to communicate at a distance the sense of helplessness and suppressed rage we all felt by the end of 1967,” historian David Schalk recently recalled of the sixties U.S. antiwar Movement. I certainly would not know. I was not even born then. Yet, if organizing meetings held after September 11 are any indication, the legacy of just this movement looms large. Seattle veterans have started talking about a global peace and justice movement. A recent e-mail even proclaimed, “you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.” And one wonders if it’s time for a pause to consider the story of the underground struggle against the Vietnam war… | more |

Taking Exams, Taking on Capitalism

Bertell Ollman, How to Take an Exam…& Remake the World (Montreal and New York: Black Rose Books, 2001), 191 pages, $19.99 paper.

Bertell OIlman’s How to Take an Exam … & Remake the World has a double agenda, which OIlman candidly acknowledges: to offer advice about studying (which the student wants) and to make a powerful plea for socialism (which OIlman wants). As a study guide, the book offers suggestions for exam preparation that are mostly serious (persistently reminding the student of the importance of advance preparation and offering guidance about how to do that), sometimes cheeky (pre-exam sex is okay, drugs and cheating not), sometimes subversive (in the advice on how to get over on the professor), and at bottom deeply crit- ical of exams as a genre, especially the ones that discourage thinking. OIlman argues that the function of exams is to train submissive work- ers, a trenchant assessment that grows increasingly explicit as the book develops. These exam tips and observations form less than half the story of the book, which scatters them amongst a devastating political analysis. While his experience as a professor makes him a good adviser for exam taking, his commitment to progressive politics and his deep knowledge of Marxism and capitalism make the political and economic material the more powerful part of the book, as he intends… | more |

Wealth Gap Woes

Chuck Collins, Betsy Leondar-Wright and Holly Sklar, Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap (Boston: United for a Fair Economy, 1999), 94 pp., $6.95 paper.

It is a telling historical fact that during both the lean times of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the boom times of the 1990s, one thing has remained relatively constant: economic inequality in the United States has been increasing. During recessions it is workers who are asked to tighten their belts and who have to cope with falling wages, shrinking fringe benefits, or even massive layoffs, while everything possible is done to preserve corporate profits and income that is derived through ownership. During times of expansion one might expect the incomes of both owners and workers to increase. However, in the boom of the 1990s, while income derived through ownership increased, wages for most workers continued to stagnate and fringe benefits continued to be whittled down. About the only thing that kept the poverty rate at a respectably low level was the low unemployment rate. The boom now seems to have ended without workers ever making substantial gains… | more |

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