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Literature

Copenhagen house' (John Gale Jones; Joseph Priestley; William Hodgson; John Thelwell; Charles James Fox), by James Gillray (died 1815), published 1795

The Trial of Thomas Hardy

A Forgotten Chapter in the Working-Class Fight for Democratic Rights

November 5, 2019, is the 225th anniversary of the acquittal of Thomas Hardy on charges of High Treason. Hardy is nearly forgotten today, but for decades workers and democrats in England celebrated November 5 as the anniversary of a major victory, a triumph over a powerful state that had deployed immense resources to crush working-class organizations and suppress popular demands for democratic rights. | more…

The Man Who Fell From the Sky

Race and Mystery in Cape Cod

In Bill Fletcher Jr.’s first novel, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, the sleepy Cape Cod town of Osterville has blood on its hands. In this murder mystery, Fletcher digs through layers of racism in Southern Massachusetts to uncover more than the killer’s identity. The novel compellingly exposes the racism of society, turning its victims against each other. | more…

Trump 1984

Trump’s America

Rethinking 1984 and Brave New World

With the rise of Donald Trump, U.S. politics has descended, like never before, into a theater of the absurd. Unbridled anti-intellectualism, deception, and “vindictive chaos” recall a morally reprehensible past in the guise of “making America great again.” But despite his populist posturing, Trump’s contempt for democratic processes is matched by his commitment to economic policies that favor the financial elite. | more…

Harbors Rich in Ships: The Selected Revolutionary Writings of Miroslav Krleža, Radical Luminary of Modern World Literature

Harbors Rich in Ships: The Selected Revolutionary Writings of Miroslav Krleža, Radical Luminary of Modern World Literature

Miroslav Krleža was a giant of Yugoslav literature, yet remarkably little of his writing has appeared in English. In a body of work that spans more than five dozen books, including novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and essays, Krleža steadfastly pursued a radical humanism and artistic integrity. Harbors Rich in Ships gives English-speaking readers an unprecedented opportunity to appreciate the astonishing breadth of Krleža’s literary creations. Beautifully translated by Željko Cipriš, this collection of seven representative early texts introduces a new audience to three stories from Krleža’s renowned antimilitarist book, The Croatian God Mars; an autobiographical sketch; a one-act play; a story from his collection of short stories, One Thousand and One Deaths; and his signature drama, The Glembays, a satirical account of the crime-ridden origins of one of Zageb’s most aristocratic families. | more…

Someone Has To Die

A Working-Class Sherlock

Timothy Sheard, the Lenny Moss mystery series (New York: Hardball).

At its best, the art of fiction reveals the underlying truth of human relations: we are communal and collaborative by nature. Selfishness and greed are social aberrations because, ultimately, they violate the principle of self-preservation. No wonder we are drawn to crime stories: they mirror our common experience. Capitalism is high crime disguised as church doctrine. Conspiracy is evident, though the evidence is concealed. Hence, our fascination with the detective genre. We are in dire need of Timothy Sheard’s scrutiny—a detective who peers through a working-class eyeglass. | more…

“Realists of a Larger Reality”

On New Science Fiction

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin is undoubtedly right about resistance in the “real” world, but in reading, only some books offer a call to resistance and the possibilities of a new reality. Among the books considered here, some come to us as “literary fiction”; others are marked as belonging to another, historically denigrated, form, “science fiction” or “fantasy.” This could be a distinction without a difference: two are near-future dystopian novels about corporate capitalism in the United States (both by well-established white authors); two are collections of near-future short stories that set out to critique the human powers that structure our world (written by both established and new voices, primarily writers of color). But the books that embrace rather than evade their status as science fiction or fantasy are the ones able to imagine the resistance and change that Le Guin invokes. | more…

Socialism and Fantasy

China Miéville's Fables of Race and Class

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. | more…

Friends of Alice Wheeldon: The Anti-War Activist Accused of Plotting to Kill Lloyd George

Friends of Alice Wheeldon: The Anti-War Activist Accused of Plotting to Kill Lloyd George

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. | more…

In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself

In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself

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. | more…

Don’t Waste Any Time In Mourning

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. | more…