Reviews

Bessie Smith's blues are current

If you’re looking for a "straight" biography of Bessie Smith, then Jackie Kay's Bessie Smith, published by Faber, is not for you. Although Jackie Kay (Scotland’s maker, or poet laureate) has clearly done her research into Bessie Smith’s extraordinary life and gives credit to Chris Albertson’s definitive 1971 Bessie for much of the factual information she uses, this is not a conventional account of a life, but a semi-poetic description of the author’s identification and imagined relationship, with her subject. Kay writes: “I don’t know what gave me the idea … to write about my life and write...

Review: The Truth About Modern Slavery

Interview with Emily Kenway here. When I set out to research modern slavery for my master’s thesis in 2019, academic research which sought to understand modern slavery as a part of capitalism was few and far between, and information in the public sphere challenging the mainstream understanding of modern slavery was non-existent. Emily Kenway’s The Truth About Modern Slavery is an incredibly valuable text for that exact reason. It breaks down the way that the narrative of modern slavery is used by politicians in order to further reactionary political goals, for example tightening border...

Three books by Eric Vuillard

A review of: The Order of the Day (2019, Picador); Sorrow of the Earth (2019, Pushkin Press); The War of the Poor (2021, Picador) I had never heard of Éric Vuillard before, although he has a reputation both as a writer and documentary filmmaker in his native France. So far, these are the only books of his translated into English. All three are fascinating, beautifully written and deeply moving. The Order of the Day revolves around the meetings that took place between the European powers in the months preceding the outbreak of World War Two; Sorrow of the Earth considers the exploitation of...

John Brown through different eyes

Many in the Abolitionist movement to destroy US slavery were originally pacifists, militantly anti-slavery but hoping to convince slaveowners to abandon the institution. Many of the growing number of black Americans who joined the movement opposed such ideas, and events would severely test even those Abolitionists most committed to non-violence. When the Civil War finally came in 1861, the vast majority backed the Northern war effort. Abolitionist leader John Brown, the subject of recent seven-part TV series The Good Lord Bird, was frankly opposed to non-violence. He devoted himself to...

Class Power on Zero Hours

The book is the culmination of six years of “getting rooted” in Greenford in West London. It documents in workers’ enquiry style some key jobs and the lives of the supporters and organisers of the Angry Workers of the World (AWW) have been doing while based in an area of West London that has an extensive history of class struggle, but not an area of London that is heavily populated by the organised left. It also seeks to lay down a kind of manifesto or programme for others to consider “getting rooted” as well. The editors even included this Trotskyist’s reflection on working in a library out...

Wadsworth on Saklatvala

Sacha Ismail reviews Marc Wadsworth’s biography of Shapurji Saklatvala, Comrade Sak: A Political Biography (Peepal Tree Press, 2020) There are four biographies of 1920s revolutionary socialist MP Shapurji Saklatvala. Marc Wadsworth’s is the most recent, originally published in 1998 and republished in an updated version in September this year. It’s very good – mostly (when I started writing the recent series of articles on Saklatvala in Solidarity, I tried but failed to get hold of the original edition of Wadsworth’s book; the new version didn’t arrive until five out of six articles were...

Four climate futures

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright is an interesting read, with much to criticise, but some interesting and important questions raised.

Hitler's unwilling citizens

The resistance to the Nazis from within the German working class itself is a subject much overlooked in mainstream narratives around World War 2. The typical narrative that most people in Britain will come across is one of a relatively homogenous fascist population (minus Jews, homosexuals, Romanis, disabled people, etc.) that was overcome by the “good guys” of world politics at the time, chiefly Churchill and his plucky band of Brits. So the myth goes. Anti-Nazi Germans by Merilyn Moos offers a compelling left-wing alternative to this narrative. How could militants from the most advanced...

"Pluralist" is not "bipartisan"

To shun “partisanship” — that, according to a new book, is the way to success for Labour. And the proof is Joe Biden’s win in the US presidential election. The Dark Knight and the Puppet Master, by Chris Clarke, is published by Penguin and has been puffed on LabourList. The author is the son of Charles Clarke, who was Neil Kinnock’s chief of staff in the 1980s, then a minister under Blair. The book was first published (under another title) by a think-tank led by Peter Mandelson. The author tells us he is a sort of ultimate antithesis to the “Corbyn surge”. He grew up Labour-by-default, never...

Another history of Corbynism

If I were Owen Jones, I would be rather annoyed that Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire got Left Out published before This Land: The Story of a Movement. When I read both, in the order of release, with Jones’s book I felt like I had read it all before. Jones, unlike Pogrund and Maguire, is a participant in the movement. He was one of the few columnists in the mainstream media to support the Corbyn leadership. He started his career working for John McDonnell and alongside Andrew Fisher. He makes clear in the book that he rates both of them highly. He sees McDonnell as Labour’s lost leader. But...

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