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Marx’s Ecological Notebooks

This article will be published on February 15th.

Karl Marx has long been criticized for his so-called ecological “Prometheanism”—an extreme commitment to industrialism, irrespective of natural limits. This view, supported even by a number of Marxists, such as Ted Benton and Michael Löwy, has become increasingly hard to accept after a series of careful and stimulating analyses of the ecological dimensions of Marx’s thought, elaborated in Monthly Review and elsewhere. The Prometheanism debate is not a mere philological issue, but a highly practical one, as capitalism faces environmental crises on a global scale, without any concrete solutions. Any such solutions will likely come from the various ecological movements emerging worldwide, some of which explicitly question the capitalist mode of production. Now more than ever, therefore, the rediscovery of a Marxian ecology is of great importance to the development of new forms of left strategy and struggle against global capitalism.… Yet there is hardly unambiguous agreement among leftists about the extent to which Marx’s critique can provide a theoretical basis for these new ecological struggles.… This article… [takes] a different approach… [investigating] Marx’s natural-scientific notebooks, especially those of 1868, which will be published for the first time in volume four, section eighteen of the new Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe(MEGA).

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Clerics and Communists

This article will be published on February 29th.

Rula Jurdi Abisaab and Malek Abisaab, The Shi’ites of Lebanon: Modernism, Communism, and Hizbullah’s Islamists (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014), 350 pages, $49.95, hardcover.

In the West today, political Islam is mostly equated with ISIS’s spectacle of violence, and with the narrow, bigoted understanding of religion and society that inspires it. It will thus intrigue many readers to discover that the legacy of Islamic intellectual and political activity, from the turn of the twentieth century until today, bore the imprint of a complex interaction between Communist and leftist traditions. A recent book by two professors at McGill University, Rula Jurdi Abisaab and Malek Abisaab, takes on the ambitious task of tracing the history of the sometimes symbiotic, sometimes confrontational relationship among Shi’i communities and clerics in Lebanon, along with occasional discussions of related issues in Iraqi politics. Based on a rich set of primary documents from both countries, the authors describe in great detail the rise and fall of the Communist experience in the region, the shortcomings of the left as it was gradually superseded by Islamic party formations, and the deep debt of the latter to the former.

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Cuba’s Medical Mission

This article will be published on February 29th.

John M. Kirk, Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2015), 376 pages, $79.95, hardback.

When the Ebola virus began to spread through western Africa in fall 2014, much of the world panicked. Soon, over 20,000 people were infected, more than 8,000 had died, and worries mounted that the death toll could reach into hundreds of thousands. The United States provided military support; other countries promised money. Cuba was the first nation to respond with what was most needed: it sent 103 nurses and 62 doctors as volunteers to Sierra Leone. With 4,000 medical staff (including 2,400 doctors) already in Africa, Cuba was prepared for the crisis before it began: there had already been nearly two dozen Cuban medical personnel in Sierra Leone.… Since many governments did not know how to respond to Ebola, Cuba trained volunteers from other nations at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine. In total, Cuba taught 13,000 Africans, 66,000 Latin Americans, and 620 Caribbeans how to treat Ebola without being infected. It was the first time that many had heard of Cuba’s emergency response teams.… The Ebola experience is one of many covered in John Kirk’s new book Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism.

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Fictionalizing Radical Activism of the 1960s, a review of Bryan Burrough’s book, Days of Rage

Published in Socialism and Democracy
no. 69 (vol. 29, no. 3), November 2015

Reprinted with permission

Bryan Burrough, Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence
(New York: Penguin Press, 2015)

Reviewed by Dan Berger

True crime traffics in the imagined thoughts, superficial characterization, and high-voltage action of characters rendered unbelievable by the dictates of a Manichean genre. It is a genre of stereotypes, of sexy-but-dangerous villains and tough-but-fair cigar-chewing cops. At its best, true crime spins a good yarn. The bank robber with a heart of gold, the doggedly persistent detective, the seductive temptress—they may be fun archetypes but they do not teach us anything about how history actually takes place. It is a genre premised on thrill and intrigue, not edification. The genre has predetermined conclusions: the good guys—represented by the police, naturally—catch, defeat, or otherwise outsmart the bad guys. Even while allowing for the occasional crooked cop, it is a narrative that reinforces the power of the state over and against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

All this would be enough to disqualify most works in the genre from consideration as legitimate history. But given the many ways in which crime has been understood through race and racist stereotypes, the stock characterizations in true crime stories have ever more damaging implications. Such distortions are more than bad history. They are toxic justifications for continued police brutality, mass incarceration, and the surveillance state in the name of “fighting crime.”

This is what makes Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage not just disappointing but ultimately dangerous. Its genre is history as “true crime.” Burrough chronicles six revolutionary underground organizations from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s: the Weather Underground (WU), which emerged out of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); the Black Liberation Army (BLA), an offshoot of the Black Panther Party; the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), whose best known act was kidnapping heiress Patty Hearst; the New World Liberation Front, a curious sequel of sorts to the SLA; the Puerto Rican independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacio´n Nacional; and a New England group of working-class white radicals that ultimately called itself the United Freedom Front.

These groups and the young people in them, seen through Burrough’s America’s Most Wanted lens, are not activists fighting a racist, bellicose country. They are naïve bad guys and narcissistic thugs in love with violence. Their goal was not revolution so much as it was “killing cops.” Burrough provides a hackneyed depiction of one-dimensional human beings. He relies on the same tired racist and/or sexist stereotypes that lead police every day to stop and frisk, lock up, or kill Black people across the country. To render such stereotypes as history provides a dangerous justification to these forms of violence.

These groups and the young people in them, seen through Burrough’s America’s Most Wanted lens, are not activists fighting a racist, bellicose country. They are naïve bad guys and narcissistic thugs in love with violence. Their goal was not revolution so much as it was “killing cops.” Burrough provides a hackneyed depiction of one-dimensional human beings. He relies on the same tired racist and/or sexist stereotypes that lead police every day to stop and frisk, lock up, or kill Black people across the country. To render such stereotypes as history provides a dangerous justification to these forms of violence.

And what of the history? There is a growing legion of memoirs from partisans of the underground—especially the Weather Underground, which receives the most attention in Burrough’s book—with a few tabloid-worthy revelations about the group’s structure and functioning. There is also a sizable group of historians, amateur and professional alike, who have been researching and writing about these organizations and that time period for years, myself included. Burrough, however, is the first to bring all of these groups together in such great detail. At nearly 600 pages, Days of Rage is a hefty book that moves along at a brisk pace.

A special correspondent at Vanity Fair and the author of several previous books on both finance and the FBI, Burrough aims to tell the story of these organizations and of the FBI agents and police officers who chased them down. Burrough says that he has no ideology to pursue or axe to grind, and that he tried to keep his political judgments “to a minimum.” Throughout much of the book, as well as in post-publication interviews, he has labeled his subject matter “revolutionary violence” rather than “terrorism” to emphasize that the organizations he describes did not target civilians, practice indiscriminate violence, or wrack up a high body count. Rather, he sees his subjects as “young people who fatally misjudged America’s political winds and found themselves trapped in an unwinnable struggle they were too proud or stubborn to give up.”

Presenting the book as free of ideology or even politics, together with the support of a major publisher, might explain the book’s generally favorable mention in mainstream media, including some liberal outlets, by credulous journalists who, like everybody else, enjoy a good story. Burrough has been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air and received mostly positive reviews in publications like the Washington Post, The Nation, and The New Yorker. These reviewers gloss over the fact that the book fails to understand even the most basic elements of 1960s-era social change and what led to the rise of underground movements. His ignorance is especially evident in his discussion of the Vietnam War and the Black freedom struggle. Of the former, Burrough claims that underground movements did not care about the war in Vietnam (or the counterculture), despite ample evidence, presented in the book itself, to the contrary. Following the 1970 invasion of Cambodia, for instance, students at more than 60 college campuses went on strike and numerous ROTC buildings or other military institutions were set aflame. The Weather Underground mentioned the Vietnam War in nearly all of its communiqués and writings; opposition to the war was so central to the group that it tore itself apart not long after the war ended.

If his discussion of the Vietnam War is an error of omission, Burrough’s discussion of Black radicalism is an error of commission. He says that the Black Panther Party was declining by 1968, when by all accounts (see, for instance, Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin’s Black Against Empire) the organization was at its height, with new chapters forming worldwide. He caricatures the 1970s as a time when people cared about disco, not politics. In disavowing the importance of the Vietnam War and minimizing the transformative vision of the Black freedom struggle, Burrough shows his lack of understanding of the two driving forces of social change inside the US in those years. Such distortions, which appear throughout the book, contravene both history and more than two decades of historical scholarship.

His book thus fails at a most basic level to capture why the organizations it discusses did what they did—meaning both going underground and engaging in armed struggle—when they did, and to what effect. The book is woefully under-sourced and surprisingly ill-informed about its historical context. While this absence of serious analysis seems more naïve than malicious, it forecloses any possibility of helping us better understand its subject-matter. Burrough rests his expertise on the interviews he conducted with participants, but there are serious flaws here. Already, former Weather Underground member Cathy Wilkerson published a letter in the New York Times charging that Burrough falsely claims that she described herself as the group’s “West coast bomb maker” and erroneously quotes her as saying that “all [Black Panthers] wanted to do” was “kill policemen.” Burrough says that David Gilbert, another former WU member, takes credit in his memoir for a bombing that Gilbert does not even mention in his book. The Black Panther Party, a complex organization whose combination of community programs with strident opposition to the US government captured the imagination of the time as did few others, gets reduced to an organization premised on “killing cops.” He describes the Black Liberation Army, a clandestine splinter of the Panthers, as “the first and only black underground of its kind in US history,” overlooking a succession of organized uprisings and self-defense formations throughout African American history, from slave rebellions to Garvey’s African Legion to the Deacons of Defense. Numerous other such errors, some big and others small, run through the book.

Like so many true-crime books, Days of Rage is overflowing with stock characters. Most troubling are the banal ways in which the book justifies police harassment and killings through stock portraits of Black criminality and women’s emotional imbalance. In an era of renewed nativism and explicit white supremacy, Days of Rage may seem tepid in its rhetoric. Yet in the long run, its distortions of history may prove more damaging precisely because it will be taken more seriously than the far-right extremists whose logic it shares.

Throughout this massive tome, Burrough describes white leftists as smarter, more humane, and more interesting than their Black or Puerto Rican counterpoints. He opens the book with a chapter on Sam Melville and Jane Alpert, a pair of bumbling bombers in the late 1960s who Burrough claims started it all (despite the fact that bombings had been happening for years at that point), and follows that through with a rigid focus on the Weather Underground. Indeed, the WU becomes the litmus test against which he measures all other groups: did they bomb more or fewer targets than the WU, did their structures resemble those of the WU, did they think similarly or differently to the WU? Such an emphasis overlooks the political issues motivating Black and Puerto Rican revolutionaries, aboveground as much as underground. The focus remains squarely on white people—even as Burrough claims that the entire underground was motivated by Black radicalism.

His discussion of Black radicalism leaves much to be desired. He describes Black Power as the province of a small group of charismatic men, each one neatly passing the torch to the next after being felled by death (Malcolm X), incarceration (Huey Newton), or, since he doesn’t know why they were so important, irrelevance (Robert Williams, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown). These charismatic men, enjoying fifteen minutes of fame, spread a politics of unbridled “anger” (more on that later). Even more maddening, Burrough views Black organizing as relevant only to the extent that it interested, conned, or was itself conjured by white leftists.

This is most evident in his discussion of the 1970s prison movement. Burrough calls prison activist and bestselling author George Jackson “a thug with a fountain pen.” This is not only demeaning to someone who catalyzed a generation of prisoner rebellion; it is also factually inaccurate in that, like all California prisoners at the time, Jackson was given only a short golf pencil with which to write. The “thug” invective is transparently offensive, but the “fountain pen” reference plays up Burrough’s stereotype of Black radicals as flashy con artists. It is a dangerous dismissal of imprisoned people at the exact moment when, after forty years of unmitigated prison growth, a radical critique of incarceration has resurfaced in part due to the activism of prisoners.

Burrough’s derision of Black radialism continues. The book’s dramatis personae list includes only one Black woman, Assata Shakur. Meanwhile, it lists Twymon Meyers as “probably [the] most violent revolutionary of the underground era” and Sekou Odinga as the “most important black militant of the underground era,” whatever that means. The white radicals listed are exempted from such hierarchical rankings—they are granted more agency of active, intelligent participation.

That is not to say that the book is only about men. But white men are the only semi-rational actors in Days of Rage. For a history that involved so many women participants and leaders, it is rather remarkable that Burrough so routinely describes them as props. Former WU member Cathy Wilkerson “is a sixty-eight-year-old grandmother now, freckled and still very attractive.” He describes Fay Stender, by all accounts a dedicated attorney and tireless advocate on behalf of incarcerated people who helped make George Jackson known to the larger world, as a “plain woman with a smoldering sexuality.” Stender committed suicide in 1980 a year after being shot by an erstwhile militant, but Burrough sacrifices a genuine opportunity to inveigh against leftwing violence for a cheap catcall.

His puerile objectification of former WU leader Bernardine Dohrn, who went on to a distinguished legal career at Northwestern University, constitutes a narrative thread in itself. He goes out of his way to describe her sexual appeal and (imagined) activities, at one point suggesting that she was “too beautiful to take seriously.” With a barely stifled erection, Burrough quotes FBI agents bragging about having stolen a pair of underwear from Dohrn’s sister Jennifer during an illegal break-in of her apartment. Yet he fails to mention that the Bureau also considered kidnapping Dohrn’s infant son in a macabre plot to force the surrender of the Weather Underground leader. Meanwhile, the women in the United Freedom Front spend most of the book fretting and worrying; they have no politics, no ideas of their own. In the dramatis personae list, they are described only as wives and mothers, whereas their husbands are “charismatic leader,” “radical,” “recruit.”

Given that Burrough sees Black Power as largely a boys’ club, few Black women appear in Days of Rage. Their absence flies in the face of history, as demonstrated through in recent studies such as Sherie Randolph’s biography of Florynce Kennedy, Barbara Ransby’s biography of Ella Baker, and Jeanne Theoharis’s biography of Rosa Parks. It also contravenes the present-day landscape, where Black women lead a host of activist efforts, including the Black Lives Matter movement. The one Black woman who does appear in the book is described by federal prosecutors as the “heart and soul” of the Black Liberation Army: Assata Shakur. In a small sign of the many ways in which Burrough relies almost solely on government sources, he refuses to call her by the name she chose more than forty years ago. Rather, he refers to her exclusively as Joanne Chesimard, the name law enforcement officers and New Jersey officials continue to use in their ongoing effort to apprehend her.

Shakur is, thank God, conventionally attractive. Her arrest on the New Jersey Turnpike in May 1973, after police pulled over the car in which she was traveling (in an incident Burrough acknowledges may have been racial profiling) provided “the first time the press was obliged to introduce and attempt to explain a black revolutionary—and an attractive woman at that—to a mainstream audience.” (Angela Davis, for some reason, just does not rate.) After her arrest, Shakur was charged in a number of unsolved cases. Burrough admits that there was little evidence against her, that police created myths about her to justify their efforts to capture or kill her. And yet, it would seem that Shakur is too beautiful for Burrough to take seriously. He describes her as the “unlikeliest field marshal,” “ferocious,” and “spitting-mad angry.” Her “anger” would seem to make her a perfect fit for the “murderous” group of “thugs” and “gangsters” Burrough describes as the Black Liberation Army.

“Anger” should be listed in the book’s cast of characters. Anger is the structuring trope for Burrough’s engagement with Black and Puerto Rican people, as well as women of all races—there is, after all, a passing reference to the “angry lesbians” of the underground. It is anger without a source, rationale, or end goal. He casts the Black Panther Party as bloodthirsty cop killers and describes the divested education system of the 1970s in Chicago’s Humboldt Park as a “seething cauldron of Puerto Rican resentment.” What can be done with such unrestrained, seething anger? It cannot be reasoned with, cannot be dealt with in any way besides brute force. And that is why the NYPD and the FBI dedicated 150 officers to kill suspected BLA member Twymon Meyers on a New York City street in 1973 and then stationed snipers on rooftops at his funeral in Harlem. According to Burrough, Meyers was simply “cut to pieces” in a “blizzard of bullets” that pre-empted an arrest or trial. Yet Burrough describes the unsolved killing of two police officers, shot eight and six times respectively, allegedly by Meyers and two others, as somehow and without explanation “one of the most gruesome murders in the history of New York.”

That discrepant value of human life is the deepest flaw in the book. Yet it is a flaw deeply seated in our society writ large. Burrough had fantastic, even startling (and perhaps, given the outcome, infuriating), access to former members of the underground. He interviewed several participants, seemingly at length, including a number of people who had not shared their stories publicly before. Yet it is the police, especially the FBI, who provide the book’s interpretive frame. It is not only that he relies on FBI agents to fill in the blanks or settle any disputes in the historical record. Burrough is interested in their morale. As with any garden-variety cop show, Days of Rage sees police efforts to capture radicals quelled by government bureaucracy and political correctness, what Burrough absurdly calls “newfound sensitivities about race.”

The “sensitivities” in question are the revelation of the FBI’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), a paramilitary underground set up by J. Edgar Hoover in 1956 to destroy the American Left, focusing especially on Black as well as Puerto Rican and indigenous communities. COINTELPRO included mass surveillance, identity theft, illegal break-ins, physical attacks, specious arrests, direct and indirect assassinations. For a book so interested in the previously undisclosed details of who did which illegal action, Days of Rage fails to give us some much-needed inside scoops: which agents wrote the letters encouraging Martin Luther King to commit suicide? Which agents injected fruit with powerful laxatives in order to sicken antiwar activists? Which agent determined and procured the drug combination used to subdue 21-year-old Black Panther Fred Hampton so that Chicago police could kill him in his sleep? Who drew the cartoons mocking rival Black organizations in order to provoke such rancor that ultimately led to two members of the Black Panther Party being shot and killed on the UCLA campus in January 1969? Who debriefed the informants that set up twenty-one members of the New York Black Panther chapter, helping to concoct fanciful charges to pursue against them that ultimately destroyed the chapter? And how do such dirty tricks show up in contemporary campaigns against anarchists, radical environmentalists, Muslim activists, peace campaigners, and others? There is so much about the state’s clandestine attacks—a kind of underground that has had a far more decisive role in shaping contemporary America than the six radical organizations spotlighted here—that Burrough fails to uncover or much mention.

On the rare instance in which he does mention police violence, Burrough resorts to the passive voice, as if to remove police agency from causing harm. For instance, in describing the 1981 police torture of BLA member Sekou Odinga, Burrough says simply that when “he was escorted from the 112th Precinct that evening, Odinga’s body was covered with bruises and cigarette burns” and that he was “found to have sustained damage to his pancreas.” It would seem a mystery as to how those burns and bruises and pancreatic damage got there, though Odinga walked into that precinct a healthy man. Burrough is unwilling to acknowledge that police hurt people. Yet he quotes an FBI agent’s complaint that the bureau got a bad rap in that time period. Burrough lets stand the agent’s erroneous claim that the Weather Underground set “hundreds of bombs,” even while elsewhere in the book Burrough seems to look down on the group for “only” planting two dozen bombs over a six-year period when other subsequent groups did more attacks. As in so many police killings, the facts get in the way of the narrative of police benevolence.

Other than acknowledging the existence of racial profiling and a general movement concern with repression, Burrough does not discuss violence by the state or by right-wing paramilitaries. Burrough repeatedly cites the frequency of bombings in the 1970s, which the FBI said was a daily occurrence in some years. There were, he quotes a retired FBI agent in the prologue, more than 1,900 domestic bombings in 1972. The implication is that all of those bombs were being carried out by the left-wing revolutionaries described in Days of Rage, or at least people like them, even though a tally of the all the bombings those groups did in twenty years would not approach that number. He makes no mention of the white racists, neo-Nazis, anti-Castro guerrillas, the Jewish Defense League, and other paramilitary forces that carried out a string of attacks in those same years. Certainly the FBI agents he interviewed do not mention them. The implication, then, is that the Left was the only proponent of violence. There is a related implication too, a refrain of the canard that a handful of underground organizations somehow “destroyed” the larger Left and did so all by themselves.

The turn to clandestinity was, and remains, a controversial decision. There is a lot to criticize about the sectarianism and violence that accompanied it—as well as the sectarianism and state violence that precipitated it. Burrough is not up to that task, however. Perhaps the most troubling thing about Days of Rage is the way it justifies state violence in the present, with Burrough attributing the rise of the American security state as a response to these groups. He cannot conceive of the state as already having a monopoly on violence that it has consolidated even further. Burrough notes that, for all the bombings, the revolutionary underground killed few people. The same cannot be said for the heroes of Days of Rage: the police. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that police have killed at least 38,000 and perhaps as many as 52,000 Americans since 1973. The Counted, a new database maintained by The Guardian newspaper, reports that police have killed 572 people in the first six months of 2015 alone. Put another way, American police kill more people in a week than six underground groups did in more than twenty years. Days of Rage profoundly misses both the source and substance of violence.

Burrough says the underground was motivated by the “plight of black Americans,” yet it is a plight he fails to engage or understand. The few Black Americans he discusses are “bloodthirsty cop killers,” “thugs,” and, of course, bizarrely “angry.” It is the same doubletalk used by commentators who today bloviate about “black on black crime” and “inner-city thugs” when confronted with examples of police violence. Collectively, they refuse to see the many ways in which police violence structures and eliminates life in the United States. But it does. They refuse to see the many ways people stage creative, life-affirming forms of resistance to state murder. But they do.

Dan Berger is Assistant Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington at Bothell and Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at the University of Washington at Seattle. His work focuses on race, prisons, and social movements in U.S. history.

No Vacation from Politics

Blessed were the times when a man’s decision about his fate lay in his own hands. Blessed were the times when he relied upon himself and was under no one’s direct command and formed his life through his direct relationship to nature. These were times of transparent clarity; these were times of child-like belief in God; these were times of inner peace. The environment [Umwelt] of the man of that time existed outside of his horizon; its events passed him by or broke into his life naturally, suddenly, overwhelmingly. Wars and starvation, epidemics and bad harvests stood on the same plane—they were to man equally strange, equally incomprehensible, equally remote.… This assault of his environment into his existence, these catastrophes which from time to time would bring his life into turmoil, man could not explain to himself. For they were of a different type than he was; for they were covered by a thick impenetrable shroud…. Faith replaced knowledge at that time; prayer replaced action, and fear replaced circumspection.

Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, But Mostly Conversation

Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, But Mostly Conversation

Forthcoming in August 2016

Studs Terkel was an American icon who had no use for America’s cult of celebrity. He was a leftist who valued human beings over political dogma. In scores of books and thousands of radio and television broadcasts, Studs paid attention—and respect—to “ordinary” human beings of all classes and colors, as they talked about their lives as workers, dreamers, survivors. Alan Wieder’s Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, But Mostly Conversation is the first comprehensive book about this man.

Drawing from over fifty interviews of people who knew and worked with Studs, Alan Wieder creates a multi-dimensional portrait of a run-of-the-mill guy from Chicago who, in public life, became an acclaimed author, raconteur, while managing, in his private life, to remain a mensch. We see Studs, the eminent oral historian, the inveterate and selfless supporter of radical causes, especially civil rights. We see the actor, the writer, the radio host, the jazz lover, whose early work in television earned him a notorious place on the McCarthy blacklist. We also see Studs, the devoted husband to his adored wife, Ida.

Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, But Mostly Conversation allows us to realize the importance of reaching through our own daily realities—increasingly clogged with disembodied, impersonal interaction—to find value in actual face-time with real humans. Wieder’s book also shows us why such contact might be crucial to those of us in movements rising up against injustice. The book is simply the best introduction available to this remarkable man. Reading it will lead people to Terkel’s enormous body of work, with benefits they will cherish throughout their lives.

Praise for Alan Wieder’s latest MRP book, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid:

A truly remarkable work. Alan Wieder shows himself as a writer equal to their life story, their inspiring bravery in action and self-analysis.

—Nadine Gordimer, author, activist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Alan Wieder is an oral historian who lives in Portland, Oregon. He is distinguished professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina and has taught at the University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University in South Africa. In the last fifteen years, he has published three books and numerous articles on South Africans who fought against the apartheid regime. The latest book, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid, was published in 2013 by Monthly Review Press.

The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?

The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?

Forthcoming in July 2016

On May 25, 2012, President Obama announced that the United States would spend the next thirteen years—through November 11, 2025—commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, and the American soldiers, “more than 58,000 patriots,” who died in Vietnam. The fact that at least 3 million Vietnamese—soldiers, parents, grandparents, children—also died in that war will be largely unknown and entirely uncommemorated. U.S. history barely stops to record the millions of Vietnamese who lived on after being displaced, tortured, maimed, raped, or born with birth defects, the result of devastating chemicals wreaked on the land by the U.S. military. The reason for this appalling disconnect of consciousness lies in an unremitting public relations campaign waged by top American politicians, military leaders, business people, and scholars who have spent the last sixty years justifying the U.S. presence in Vietnam.

A devastating follow-up to William L. Griffen and Marciano’s 1979 classic Teaching the Vietnam War, The American War in Vietnam seeks not to commemorate the Vietnam War, but to stop the ongoing U.S. war on actual history. Marciano reveals the grandiose flag-waving that stems from the “Noble Cause principle,” the notion that America is “chosen by God” to bring democracy to the world. The result is critical writing and teaching at its best. This book will find a home in classrooms where teachers seek to do more than repeat the trite glorifications of U.S. Empire. It will provide students everywhere with insights that can prepare them to change the world.

Marciano has written a newer history of the war that provides analysis and perspective on how the war ought to be remembered—and how it is being misremembered and misused. I am eager to add it to my curriculum!

—W.D. Ehrhart Ph.D., editor, Carrying the Darkness: the Poetry of the Vietnam War, author, Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir

John Marciano, Professor Emeritus at SUNY Cortland, has been an antiwar and social justice activist, author, scholar, teacher, and trade unionist. He is the author, with William L. Griffen, of Teaching the Vietnam War (1979) and Civic Illiteracy and Education: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of American Youth (1997). From 2004 through 2008, he taught community courses for adults in Santa Monica, CA on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and Empire as a Way of Life, based on the work of William Appleman Williams.

Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History

Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History

Forthcoming in April 2016

The 1959 Cuban Revolution remains one of the signal events of modern political history. A tiny island, once a de facto colony of the United States, declared its independence, not just from the imperial behemoth ninety miles to the north, but also from global capitalism itself. Cuba’s many achievements—in education, health care, medical technology, direct local democracy, actions of international solidarity with the oppressed—are globally unprecedented. And the United States, in light of Cuba’s humanitarian efforts, has waged a relentless campaign of terrorist attacks on the island and its leaders, while placing Cuba on its “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list.

In this updated edition of her classic, Cuba and the United States, Jane Franklin depicts the two countries’ relationship from the time both were colonies to the present. We see the early connections between Cuba and the United States through slavery; through the sugar trade; Cuba’s multiple wars for national liberation; the annexation of Cuba by the United States; the infamous Platt Amendment that entitled the United States to intervene directly in Cuban affairs; the gangster capitalism promoted by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Battista; and the guerilla war that brought the revolutionaries to power.

A new chapter updating the fraught Cuban-U.S. nexus brings us well into the 21st century, with a look at the current status of Assata Shakur, the Cuban Five, and the post-9/11 years leading to the expansion of diplomatic relations. Offering a range of primary and secondary sources, the book is an outstanding scholarly work. Cuba and the U.S. Empire brings new meaning to Simón Bolívar’s warning in 1829, that the United States “appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.”

Whether one reads it as a history, or keeps it handy as a ready reference…this is a book that no serious student of U.S.-Cuba relations can afford to be without.

—Philip Brenner, American University

A marvelous work that puts the U.S. government’s outrageous aggression into stark and stunning context.

—John Marciano, State University of New York

This chronology provides scholars with an essential and long overdue research tool.

—Louis A. Pérez, Jr., University of North Carolina

Jane Franklin has been an internationally acclaimed historian and peace and justice activist since 1960. The author of several books on Cuba and Panama, she has published in various periodicals including The Nation and The Progressive, and appears frequently on radio and TV as a commentator about U.S.-Cuba relations. Some of her work is available at

Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism

Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism

Forthcoming in June 2016

Out of early twentieth-century Russia came the world’s first significant effort to build a modern revolutionary society. According to Marxist economist Samir Amin, the great upheaval that once produced the Soviet Union also produced a movement away from capitalism—a long transition that continues today. In seven concise, provocative chapters, Amin deftly examines the trajectory of Russian capitalism, the Bolshevik Revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the possible future of Russia—and, by extension, the future of socialism itself.

Amin manages to combine an analysis of class struggle with geopolitics—both crucial to understanding Russia’s complex political history. He first looks at the development (or lack thereof) of Russian capitalism. He sees Russia’s geopolitical isolation as the reason its capitalist empire developed so differently from Western Europe, and the reason for Russia’s perceived “backwardness.” Yet Russia’s unique capitalism proved to be the rich soil in which the Bolsheviks were able to take power, and Amin covers the rise and fall of the revolutionary Soviet system. Finally, in a powerful chapter on Ukraine and the rise of global fascism, Amin lays out the conditions necessary for Russia to recreate itself, and perhaps again move down the long road to socialism. Samir Amin’s great achievement in this book is not only to explain Russia’s historical tragedies and triumphs, but also to temper our hopes for a quick end to an increasingly insufferable capitalism.

Praise for Samir Amin:

What is splendid in Amin’s writing … is his lucidity of expression, his clear consistency of approach, and, above all his absolutely unwavering condemnation of the ravages of capital and of bourgeois ideology in all its forms … Amin remains an essential point of reference, and an inspiration.

—Bill Bowring, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

Samir Amin was born in Egypt in 1931 and received his Ph.D. in economics in Paris in 1957. He is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal. His numerous works include The Law of Worldwide Value, Eurocentrism, The World We Wish to See, and The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism.

The United States and the 1965–1966 Mass Murders in Indonesia

On October 1, 1965, the teletype in the White House relayed the account of a supposed “coup” by a group of Indonesian army officers calling themselves the September 30th Movement. In Jakarta the movement, which had begun the night before under the alleged leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Untung with the kidnapping and killing of six generals of the Indonesian Army High Command, was already unraveling. The September 30th Movement was a relatively small-scale affair. It was poorly planned and so clumsily executed that it seemed almost preordained to fail. Major General Suharto…took control of the army, and blamed what he labeled a “coup attempt” entirely on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Within two weeks, a much more momentous army-led and U.S.-backed movement to exterminate the PKI and its supporters was under way. Working with Muslim organizations, student groups, and other anti-Communist organizations, the army proceeded over the next five months to murder hundreds of thousands of unarmed, alleged PKI members. The slaughter paved the way for the army’s ouster of Sukarno in March 1966, its ascension to power, and the reconfiguration of Indonesian politics and foreign policy.… The liquidation of the PKI in Indonesia was “perhaps the greatest setback for Communism in the Third World in the 1960s” and an event with enormous implications for each of the Great Powers.

Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties: How American Indians were Displaced by White Settlers in the Cuyahoga Valley

Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties: How American Indians Were Displaced by White Settlers in the Cuyahoga Valley

Forthcoming in November 2015

Long before the smokestacks and factories of industrial Akron rose from Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley, the region was a place of tense confrontation. Beginning in the early 19th-century, white settlers began pushing in from the east, lured by the promise of cheap (or free) land. They inevitably came into conflict with the current inhabitants, American Indians who had thrived in the valley for generations or had already been displaced by settlement along the eastern seaboard. Here, on what was once the western fringe of the United States, the story of the country’s founding and development played out in all its ignominy and drama, as American Indians lost their land, and often their lives, while white settlers expanded a nation.

Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic

Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic

 Forthcoming in October 2015

The Haitian Revolution, the product of the first successful slave revolt, was truly world-historic in its impact. When Haiti declared independence in 1804, the leading powers—France, Great Britain, and Spain—suffered an ignominious defeat and the New World was remade. The island revolution also had a profound impact on Haiti’s mainland neighbor, the United States. Inspiring the enslaved and partisans of emancipation while striking terror throughout the Southern slaveocracy, it propelled the fledgling nation one step closer to civil war. Gerald Horne’s path breaking new work explores the complex and often fraught relationship between the United States and the island of Hispaniola. Giving particular attention to the responses of African Americans, Horne surveys the reaction in the United States to the revolutionary process in the nation that became Haiti, the splitting of the island in 1844, which led to the formation of the Dominican Republic, and the failed attempt by the United States to annex both in the 1870s.