Among a number of contemporary science and speculative fiction writers who identify as left-wing, China Miéville stands out, not only for the quality of his literary production, but also for the critical character of his political commitment, dedicated equally to socialism and to fantasy. In addition to his fictive works, he has written articles and given lectures on the nature and value of speculative and fantasy fiction; edited a collection of essays on Marxism and fantasy in an issue of the journal Historical Materialism; and, not least, published a list of “Fifty Sci-Fi and Fantasy Works Every Socialist Should Read.” I wish to discuss here the form and thematics of the early novels known (after the alternate world in which they are set) as the Bas-Lag trilogy—which remains, if you take it as a single work, his most ambitious and memorable achievement. But since Miéville is a serious critic and advocate of fantasy fiction, I will approach the books with a brief discussion of his aesthetic positions and program, gathered from essays and talks as well as from his literary works.
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.
Forthcoming in September 2015
In early 1917, as Britain was bogged down in a war it feared would never end, Alice Wheeldon, her two daughters, and her son were brought to trial and imprisoned for plotting the assassination of Prime Minister Lloyd George, who they believed had betrayed the suffrage movement. In this highly evocative and haunting play, British historian and feminist Sheila Rowbotham illuminates the lives and struggles of those who opposed the war. The Wheeldons’ controversial trial became something of a cause célèbre—a show trial at the height of the First World War—based on fabricated evidence from a criminally insane fantasist, “Alex Gordon,” who was working for an undercover intelligence agency. It was a travesty of justice. Friends of Alice Wheeldon is combined here with Rowbotham’s extended essay, “Rebel Networks in the First World War,” that gives a historical overview of the political and social forces that converged upon the Wheeldon family and friends.
In this essay, I look at the problems facing progressives and those on the political left in the United States in participating in political analysis and debate in mainstream journalism and the news media. I focus on radio broadcasting, as this is where much of political discussion takes place in the United States. Radio broadcasting is the least expensive of the media for production and reception, is ubiquitous, has adapted itself to the Internet, and is uniquely suited for locally based programming.… I look specifically at my own experience hosting a weekly public affairs program on an NPR (National Public Radio)-affiliated radio station in Illinois from 2002–2012. This was, to my knowledge, the only NPR series hosted by a socialist in the network’s history.
Marsh identifies four sources for our contemporary malaise (death, money, sex, democracy) and then looks to a particular Whitman poem for relief from it. He makes plain what, exactly, Whitman wrote and what he believed by showing how they emerged from Whitman's life and times, and by recreating the places and incidents (crossing Brooklyn ferry, visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals) that inspired Whitman to write the poems. Whitman, Marsh argues, can show us how to die, how to accept and even celebrate our (relatively speaking) imminent death. Just as important, though, he can show us how to live: how to have better sex, what to do about money, and, best of all, how to survive our fetid democracy without coming away stinking ourselves. The result is a mix of biography, literary criticism, manifesto, and a kind of self-help you're unlikely to encounter anywhere else.
Pete Seeger was bigger than life. And like a character in a mythological tale, before long his shoe size will grow to such a degree that he will scale snowy mountains and wade across oceans. He will look over the tops of Redwood trees and when he dips his hand down into the Hudson River, the water up to his elbow, his fingers will reach down to the bottom of the deepest pool and pull up a giraffe and a baby grand and we will forever sing about the magic river.… This mythology will be enjoyed by the living for generations to come. A next generation of troubadours will sing deep into the little faces who, with wide eyes, imagine such a music man.
In the many accolades Pete Seeger received…after his death, there was often something missing—as absent in tributes from admirers who share his revolutionary politics as in those aiming to reclaim him for respectability. That absence is Seeger’s role as an organizer, and, more broadly, the role of music (and other kinds of cultural work) as organizing, which his life exemplifies.… Seeger’s work as an organizer may have been most obvious, its goals most blatant, in the field…. But his work, as a singer, as a song-collector, as a song-teacher, was not any less a labor of organizing in the concert hall. And that’s not exceptional. That…is what makes someone a radical cultural worker. What’s exemplary about Pete Seeger is how damn good at it he was. What we need to pay attention to and learn from is how he did this important work so well.
I attended Camp Woodland, a progressive summer camp in upstate New York, for four summers starting in 1955 when I was ten years old. When Pete died last year, it was my fellow Camp Woodlanders that I most wanted to connect with.… Fortunately, a camp reunion in 2012 had revived many old friendships. “Pete’s music was the soundtrack to our lives,” one former camper reminisced on the camp listserv. “Pete modeled our values and transformed how we lived in the world, just like at camp,” another wrote.
In the late 1950s, Pete Seeger received a letter from his manager, Howie Richmond, begging him to write a new hit song. … [Richmond] believed that “protest songs” were not marketable. Seeger was angry—he had a new song in mind, with words from a poem that he had set to music, and he believed it was, in a deep and significant sense, a song of protest.…. The song, of course, was “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season),” which continues to be performed and recorded by many artists, and most famously became a huge folk-rock hit for The Byrds. It was as though, despite himself, Seeger produced a hit song, even when commercial popularity was the furthest thing from his mind—an example of how inseparably his songwriting talents and political principles were bound together.
In this concise and detailed work, Salim Lamrani addresses questions of media concentration and corporate bias by examining a perennially controversial topic: Cuba. Lamrani argues that the tiny island nation is forced to contend not only with economic isolation and a U.S. blockade, but with misleading or downright hostile media coverage. By focusing on eight key areas, including human development, internal opposition, and migration, Lamrani shows how the media systematically shapes our understanding of Cuban reality. This book, with a foreword by Eduardo Galeano, provides an alternative view, combining a scholar's eye for complexity with a journalist's hunger for the facts.
In the United States and much of the world there is a palpable depression about the prospect of overcoming the downward spiral created by the tyranny of wealth and privilege and establishing a truly democratic and sustainable society. It threatens to become self-fulfilling. In this trailblazing new book, award-winning author Robert W. McChesney argues that the weight of the present is blinding people to the changing nature and the tremendous possibilities of the historical moment we inhabit. In Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century, he uses a sophisticated political economic analysis to delineate the recent trajectory of capitalism and its ongoing degeneration.
Life is no crystal staircase for Dellarobia, the main character in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior. It is a stirring read, but not as much as her 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible, a powerful female-centric story set in the Belgian Congo.… In Flight Behavior, Dellarobia is rearing two small kids in a low-income household, and living in the “right-to-work” (at low pay) state of Tennessee. She is alienated from herself, her husband, and especially her mother-in-law. In an era of U.S. working-class demobilization, Dellarobia is adrift in a loveless marriage. She and her husband Cub married young and became parents before fully getting to know each other.… Dellarobia’s angst develops within monopoly-finance capitalism. Kingsolver, like Emily Dickinson before her, shows and tells the story slant.