John Newsinger

Long distance running: Alan Sillitoe (1928-2010)

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The novels of Alan Sillitoe rejoice in working class defiance. John Newsinger writes about a brilliant writer with a sad political trajectory.

(Photo: Monire Childs)

Author Alan Sillitoe died on 25 April 2010. He will be best remembered for his powerful novels and stories of working class life, such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Key to the Door, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, and a ferocious work of family biography, Raw Material.

Afghanistan: the elephant in the room

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The reason British troops are in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the safety of the British people and even less to do with the security of the world.

Instead it has everything to do with paying the "blood price" for the "special relationship" with the US, an unequal relationship that obsesses politicians.

The despatch of further British troops to Afghanistan in 2006 was accompanied by defence secretary John Reid's pious hope that they might not have to fire a shot during their three-year mission. We are now in the fourth year with no end in sight and millions of shots have been fired.

The End of the Party

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Andrew Rawnsley, Penguin, £25

Andrew Rawnsley's The End of the Party is a massive, overblown account of the rise and fall of New Labour, written in the manner of a court history. Not a court history written by a courtier, celebrating the virtues of the powerful, it has to be said, but rather a court history written by a disillusioned moralist, chronicling the dreadful consequences of human weakness. This is the great man school of history without any great men in evidence.

A World of Trouble

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Patrick Tyler, Portobello Books, £12.99

With grim inevitability, the US voted against the UN's endorsement of the Goldstone Report which condemned Israeli war crimes in Gaza (Britain, heroically, did not take part in the vote). The Obama administration has shown that, as far as Israel is concerned, US policy is unchanged.

A textbook protest

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In Chicago the Great Depression led to the witholding of teachers' wages. John Newsinger shows how the teachers fought back - and won

The Great Depression hit US state education hard. By 1933, when the economic crisis was at its worst (the US economy had shrunk by a third), in most states educational provision had been seriously cut back. Indeed, in 1932 and 1933 many schools did not open at all because of lack of funds. In Georgia, the worst hit state, over 1,300 schools were shut, leaving 170,000 children without schooling and their teachers laid off. Their pay was already in arrears to the tune of $7 million. At the national level, big business was pushing for the introduction of charges for secondary education.

Nato's bloody history

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Sixty years after its formation Nato continues to be an important tool of US imperialism. John Newsinger traces the organisation's history from its first meeting on 4 April 1949 to today's war in Afghanistan and its expansion into the countries of eastern Europe.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) is, we are assured by New Labour, a defensive alliance dedicated to the defence of peace and freedom. The members of this "defensive alliance" between them account for 75 percent of the world's military expenditure, with the US alone accounting for just over 50 percent. This is a clue that all is not as we are led to believe. Indeed, Nato's overwhelming military might is all the greater when one recognises that a large proportion of the rest of the world's military expenditure is spent by "friendly" powers, such as Israel, India and Japan.

Blacklisting the rainbow man

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The Xmas holidays will bring The Wizard of Oz onto TV once again. John Newsinger looks at the life of socialist Yip Harburg who wrote the song "Over the Rainbow".

As well as being one of the US's most celebrated songwriters, Harburg was a lifelong socialist and a victim of the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s. He remained on the left until his death from a heart attack in 1981.

The American Future

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Simon Schama, The Bodley Head, £20

Simon Schama was one of the historians invited by Gordon Brown to meet George Bush at Downing Street on 16 June 2008. Attendance at the event was not easy, Schama tells us: he had to reconcile his "uneasy conscience" by telling himself that if he was in the history business, how could he possibly stay away? He was worried that he was being somehow "implicated". And, indeed, he was. You cannot play the role of courtier, with no matter how many private reservations, to a torturer, a mass murderer and a war criminal without being "implicated".

Speaking for Myself

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Cherie Blair, Little, Brown, £18.99

The relentless harrying of Neil Kinnock by the Murdoch press at the time of the 1992 general election outraged Labour Party people, among them Cherie Blair. This was when the Sun proudly boasted that its continual ridicule and abuse of the Labour leader had won the election for the Tories. Indeed, Cherie's anger was such that the Murdoch papers were banned from the Blair household.

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