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Mike Alewitz, Labor Muralist

The reappearance of the mural marks the return of painting from the museum to its public role in the human community. The work of muralist Mike Alewitz and the collective character of his projects draw upon centuries or eons of collaborative activity, from cave paintings to Michelangelo, the Dada and Surrealist movements to political graffiti. Alewitz’s approach is ideally suited to the postmodern and post-state socialist era when everything rebellious must be created anew and when “culture” along with “labor” is urgently needed to salvage a world from eco-disaster, perpetual war, and the plundering of human possibility. The art of Alewitz and Co. (with the Co. constantly changing) has already been part of labor’s recovery from decades of poor leadership, part of the struggle for democratic unions in a changing global marketplace and with a rapidly changing workforce | more…

A Collective Past Within Us

Hadassa Kosak, Cultures of Opposition: Jewish Immigrant Workers, New York City, 1881-1905 (SUNY Press, 2000), 163 pages, $50.50 cloth, $17.95 paper.

The scholarly (and popular) subject of American Jewish involvement in the labor movement and the political left is old and familiar, but due for renewal in every generation. And for good political as well as scholarly reasons: every new generation of conservatives (or what we might call Imperial Liberals) seeks to make the radical connections into an immigrant hangover at best, while on the other side scholars dig deeper into the archives for fresh evidence of socialism as a founding faith of the Lower East Side ghetto  | more…

The Myth of the Middle-Class Society

Michael Zweig, The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret (Cornell University Press, 2000), 192 pages, $25 cloth, $14.95 paper.

The claim that the U.S. is a “middle-class country”—which goes back at least to the eighteenth century—has set apart (white) yeoman farmers from the rural or urban poor, and notably from nonwhites. Thomas Jefferson envisioned his ideal nation as the land of, and for, hard-working property holders, free of the turmoil and corruption inevitable in Europe’s aristocratic fixed-class system | more…

The Neglected C.L.R. James

Glaberman, Martin, ed., Marxism for Our Times: C. L. R. James on Revolutionary Organization (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), 206 pp., $18, paperback.

In 1963, when The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Overture and the San Domingo Revolution returned to print in an inexpensively priced paperback, early new left readers discovered (or rediscovered) for themselves a revolutionary classic and a beautifully written account of the first successful slave uprising since Spartacus. The idea that Haitians had not only freed themselves but played a role in the contemporary European class struggles was potent stuff for the emerging Black Power movement | more…

Insurgent Images: The Agitprop Murals of Mike Alewitz

Insurgent Images: The Agitprop Murals of Mike Alewitz

The most prolific U.S. labor muralist since the 1940s, Alewitz follows the traditions of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros as well as the early painters of the Russian Revolution. With a demonstrated blend of artistic integrity and political commitment, Insurgent Images combines grand historical themes with enlivening detail, to illustrate the interplay between personality and event. Alewitz brings to this tradition his own rich sense of irony, humor, and fantasy to illuminate the hidden spaces where connections between the workforce of the U.S. and its extended relatives across the planet are to be found. | more…

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