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NEW! Until We Fall: Long Distance Life on the Left

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Offers vivid first hand accounts of encounters with fellow socialists following the fall of the Soviet Union

Most westerners glimpsed the breakup of the Soviet Union at a great distance, through a highly distorted lens which equated the expansion of capitalism with the rise of global democracy. But there were those, like Helena Sheehan, who watched more keenly and saw a world turning upside down. In her new autobiographical history from below, Until We Fall, Sheehan shares what she witnessed first-hand and close-up, as hopes were raised by glasnost and perestroika, only to be swept away in the bitter and brutal counterrevolutions that followed.

In Until We Fall, we come along on Sheehan’s travels as she tracks the fallout from the transition from flawed forms of socialism to a particularly predatory form of capitalism. As a sequel to Navigating the Zeitgeist — which captured 1950s cold-war America, the 1960s new left, the 1970s social movements and communist parties of Europe — Until We Fall takes us through Eastern Europe from the 1980s onward and moves on to offer vivid accounts of encounters with fellow socialists in many other places, such as Britain, Greece, and Mexico. It includes an entire chapter on South Africa, where Sheehan participated in its political and intellectual life for extended intervals of the post-apartheid period. And it offers her unique take on her birthplace, the United States, along with the unfolding realities confronting her chosen home, Ireland. She also reveals major changes in the culture of academe in the decades she has taught in universities.

As a philosopher, she scrutinizes the various intellectual currents prevailing, particularly positivism and postmodernism, and makes a persuasive case for the explanatory and ethical superiority of Marxism. As she moves through time and space, Sheehan pursues the perspectives of the vanquished in a world where the triumphalist narratives of the victors hold sway. The central storyline of the book is her political activism as waves of history swept through the left and challenged it in ever more formidable ways, bringing some victories but many defeats. She raises questions of how to keep going in this time of monsters, when the old is dying and the new cannot be born, when capitalism is decadent yet still dominant.

What people are saying about Until We Fall

Helena Sheehan is that rare revolutionary intellectual who, while known globally for her pathbreaking contributions to the philosophy of science and the history of ideas, has also been directly engaged for decades in struggles taking place in much of the world. Until We Fall is a passionate, partisan, sometimes joyous, sometimes disillusioning, even frightening, inside look at the efforts of a whole generation of socialist thinkers and activists, through the eyes one of one of its most creative, energetic, and indomitable representatives.
John Bellamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review, author of The Return of Nature and Capitalism and the Anthropocene 

The engaging quality of Helena Sheehan’s writing lies in its unique weaving together of the personal with the social and political. Whether it is the marketisation of the university, the anti- war movement, the momentous Greek battle against austerity, the waning class politics of the Irish Labour Party, Libya’s Arab Spring,  her direct participation in all of these brings  a vivid clarity and energy to her writing. Helena Sheehan does not use the complexity of the unfolding events to dodge judgement. She admits that the world we face is dark and can provoke despair, but makes clear that only the presence of the socialist left lights it up and offers hope.
Marnie Holborow, academic and activist, author of The Politics of English and Homes in Crisis Capitalism

Until We Fallis an autobiographical tale from the edge of history. From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the election of Syriza in Greece, from the anti-war movement of 2003 to the occupy movement of 2011, Helena Sheehan is present on the front lines as participant and astute observer. She artfully combines the personal and political. Her tenant organising to resist eviction is told with the same vitality as her struggles in a commercialised academia increasingly disdainful of big ideas. This lively story of the life of a committed Marxist, activist and academic provides a unique vantage point to understand the troughs and crests of movements over three decades.
Paul Murphy, TD, member of Dail Eireann (Irish national parliament)

From unexpected and dramatic changes that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall through post-socialist melancholia to hopes, achievements and disappointments of the occupy wave, Helena Sheehan vividly documents a life lived on the left across three continents. This book is for those who lived through these upheavals but also for activists coming of age in the 21st century. The left often repeats avoidable mistakes by not learning from previous experiences and defeats. We are lucky to have a veteran who never stopped dreaming even when the socialist alternative seemed gone forever. This book confirms that not only an examined life but a life in struggles and in solidarity with others, through comradeship and love of the world, is the life worth living.
Igor Štiks, novelist and scholar, author of W and Welcome to the Desert of Post-Socialism; Faculty of Media and Communications, Belgrade; Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana

A great read and walk down memory lane, this second part of Helena Sheehan’s memoir traces events from the mid-1980s up to the present. It is an extremely well-written book and it shows how Helena was influenced by a generation of communists who saw themselves and indeed gave themselves to a global struggle for socialism in which they exhibited an analysis and a commitment which gave them the capacity to be self-sacrificing and a loyalty, which built the first workers-state in history and the destruction of fascism. Helena also faces up to the collapse of communism by insisting that democratisation had the potential to renew European socialism. In this much bleaker landscape, she avoids the trap of continuing to believe in a dogmatic form of marxism by renewing the belief in the transformative power of marxism which has the capacity to engage in transforming the world as a tool kit for action, struggle and hope.
Michael O’Reilly, trade union and political activist, author of From Lucifer to Lazarus

Helena Sheehan, Marxist and left activist, has stood firm against the grain of defeat imposed by a triumphalist capitalism. This political memoir shares her important vantage point of experiencing the remaking of the post-Cold War world. From the transition of Eastern European socialism to wild west neoliberal capitalism, to decay inside the financialized USA and the leap from apartheid to degenerate national liberation politics in South Africa. Her grasp of the world historical significance of these developments and the potential for transformative possibilities has been a consistent and abiding intellectual pre-occupation in her political journey. This mode of thinking is crucial as we all wrestle with the challenge of securing an emancipated future beyond the tyranny of capital and the destructive logic of global capitalism. Read this book!
Vishwas Satgar, editor of the Democratic Marxism series and veteran activist in South Africa

In her superb new memoir, Until We Fall, radical philosopher Helena Sheehan folds her own political and personal histories into the dialectic of individual and humanity, offering an “I was there” perspective during the world-shaking events of the mid-1980s onward still shaping circumstances today. She guides us through how we got here over this past half-century, masterly annotating where historical path dependencies meet human agency and momentary chance. From high theory to gonzo travelogue, radical philosopher Helena Sheehan steers us through decades of her political experiences with a jocular clarity that can help the next generation gather up the red banner for global liberation. From perestroika and the whiplash expropriation of the Soviet bloc through a desultory Gulf War US, post-apartheid South Africa, a harrowing exit out of Libya on the brink, Greece’s structurally adjusted hopes, and the collapse of both the idea and practice of the public university in her long-time home of Ireland, internationalist Sheehan, equal parts rueful and wry, repeatedly speaks to strategic paths forward for a 21st century left prepared to listen. How, for one, might we survive the travails of fighting capitalist horrors one generation to the next? In among many sophisticated observations on people, place, and position, Sheehan models defying bitter odds with the atelic delights we share with friends and comrades along the way. Count reading this book among them. Sheehan shows where the utopian push against catastrophe depends upon the open play and mutual composure we find visiting each other, reading together, and talking through big topics and small while we dare to fight, dare to win.
Rob Wallace, scientist and activist, author of Big Farms Make Big Flu and Dead Epidemiologists

Helena Sheehan is Professor Emerita at Dublin City University, where she taught philosophy of science, history of ideas and media studies. She is author of many publications on philosophy, politics and culture, including such books as Marxism and the Philosophy of Science, The Syriza Wave and Navigating the Zeitgeist. She has been active on the left for many decades.

Format Clear

Publication Date: 10/1/23

Number of Pages: 360

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-68590-027-4

Cloth ISBN: 978-1-68590-028-1

eBook ISBN: 978-1-68590-029-8