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Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid reviewed in Z Magazine

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, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Book Review

Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid

By Alan Wieder

Monthly Review Press, August 2013

Review by Seth Sandronsky


Ruth and Joe, white secular Jews in apartheid South Africa, did not have to fight against that society of skin-color privilege. Yet they did because that social system doomed scores of people to lives of misery and poverty.

We discover the complexities of place, space, and time in Ruth and Joe’s lives among those with and without name recognition to overthrow white-minority rule in South Africa. Sadly, Ruth and Joe did not survive to see their long-distance fight bear fruit. The survivor’s role in political negotiations away from apartheid rule sparkles, with in-depth accounts from varied viewpoints of the arduous process. One gets a sense of an immovable object meeting an irresistible force. Against that backdrop, Wieder’s narrative is rich in context and details of Ruth and Joe’s activism as interviews with family members and friends highlight the duo’s union, “partnered and separated.”

Wieder’s work situates Ruth and Joe’s decades of anti-apartheid work amid the Cold War—Joe travels to and from the former Soviet Union and works closely with a colleague there. A parallel structure in the book evolves between the Cold War and Ruth and Joe’s lives. Their revolutionary actions evolve on the stage of what world system theorist Immanuel Wallerstein argues is a system of core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral nations locked in competitive conflict imbued with class struggle.

Ruth and Joe clash, as do their comrades, over what did (not) happen in the former Soviet Union and central and eastern European nations. Her sense of Soviet communism turns out to be spot-on. In the meantime, Ruth and Joe build and maintain solidarity and unity with apartheid opponents against an adversary with an overwhelming military advantage. Nobody achieves such progress without allies and tenacity and Wieder’s account of the ebbs and flows is fascinating…

Read the entire review in the November 2013 issue of Z Magazine

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