Reviews

Left politics without the activists

Gabriel Pogrund’s and Patrick Maguire’s book Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn is not really about the politics of the Corbyn Labour Party leadership, but about the “politics” in the sense of corridor chat, text-message exchanges, and WhatsApp groups at the top of the party hierarchy. Tellingly, it doesn’t mention the failure of the Labour Party in that period to promote any real ongoing political campaigns outside the general elections of 2017 and 2019. Either the authors take it as obvious that political parties won’t do political campaigning, or they picked up no argument or...

Unionising black workers in the USA

African Americans who maintained train engines had to sue the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen to gain admission to the union in 1944. Outside the court. The Memphis, Tennessee, bin workers’ strike of 1968 is now mainly remembered as an event that provided the backdrop for the assassination of Martin Luther King. King had made a turn, with his Poor People’s Campaign, towards fighting against poverty. 1300 black workers in Memphis struck against poverty pay rates that were so low many of the men wore dirty old clothes and needed social security payments to feed their children...

The New Jim Crow

Police violence in the USA is only a shore of a whole continent of racial oppression and marginalisation, so Michelle Alexander argues in her 2010 book, now a “classic”, The New Jim Crow. Alexander is a civil rights lawyer by trade. Chunks of the book are lawyerly, dissecting a string of Supreme Court rulings. She says herself that she wouldn’t have got to a “fancy law school” without affirmative action rules. Her punchline, though, is that racial oppression is knitted into a larger system of social inequality, and measures which create a bigger black middle class aren’t enough. “Piecemeal...

Abolish the police? Overthrow capitalism!

The slogan-title of Alex Vitale's book is The End of Policing. His detailed conclusion in the text, though, is that "policing needs to be reformed", with "a larger vision that questions the basic role of police in society". DeRay Mckesson and others, prominent in the Black Lives Matter movement, have circulated both a range of police reforms, and a narrower focus on curbing police powers. In the second exposition, some of the demands advocated in the first exposition are criticised as worthless, notably police body cameras and better training. In June 1917, when Lenin advocated revising the...

Socialism and science fiction

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash The simple connection between socialism and science fiction is that sci-fi imagines alternatives to the status quo. Frequently, this involves implicitly critiquing our present society or projecting possible outcomes of existing social trends. More to the point, sci-fi tends to imagine change at the level of the entire human species, such as by envisaging how humanity will evolve socially through the application of scientific inventions and discoveries. Since sci-fi imagines alternative worlds, it links in complex manners to both utopian and dystopian...

Is De Beauvoir worth reading?

What's often called 'second-wave' feminism is sometimes dated to begin with the publication of The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir in 1949. De Beauvoir herself was critical of that claim later in life; whilst acknowledging that she had some influence on the women's movement that grew in the 1960s, she argued that it had other more pressing, contemporary influences. It's a long book. Over 700 pages. So why is it worth reading a book long on how women have been treated in philosophy and literature and short on the specifically political? The pre-WW1 British women's suffrage movement is glossed...

The story of the Polish workers

Buy the book referenced, or listen to the audio, here. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of Solidarność (Solidarity), the Polish independent trade union, at what was then the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk. Solidarność both emerged from and provided the organisational infrastructure for the mass strikes of August 1980. This intense period of struggle thrust strike leaders like Lech Wałęsa and Anna Walentynowicz into the international limelight. With the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement on 31 August 1980, Solidarność became the first independent union to be recognised by a...

The world's housing crisis

A new film, Push, documents the work of a UN Special Rapporteur as she travels the globe to understand the housing crisis. On the face of it, it could be an inspiring call to arms. Unfortunately, it provides few solutions beyond governments working together to tackle global finance. The film title is a nod to the process of gentrification, whereby residents are “pushed” out of their homes to make way for typically more expensive developments. Housing has become a financial asset to be traded at the whims of private equity firms. Meanwhile tenants face ever increasing rents and stagnating wages...

Combatting antisemitism within the revolution

“Bolshevism has made Russia safe for the Jew. If the Russian idea should take hold of the white masses of the western world, then the black toilers would automatically be free,” wrote the Jamaican-American author Claude McKay in September 1919. By contrast, journalist and playwright Isaac Babel’s description of antisemitism in the Red Army in the years immediately following the October Revolution led him to ask the question: “Which is the Revolution and which the counter-revolution?” Echoing Babel’s question, the writer Ilia Ehrenburg described his experience of waiting to vote in the...

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