Books

October Song

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Paul Le Blanc adds to a rich tradition of historical analysis that shows a clear discontinuity between the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as some bright periods of pluralism and worker self-organisation, and the later Stalinist dictatorship.

Le Blanc, in a simply-written, concise book, depicts all phases from pre-revolutionary Russia, to the period after the overthrow of Tsarism, the mixed economy, the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the Stalinist years.

The Common Wind

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This is a worthy companion piece to CLR James’s Black Jacobins, which immortalised Toussaint L’Ouverture and the successful slave revolt in the French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) in the 1790s. The book’s core brings to life the everyday resistance that often gets lost when recording revolutions. The slave owners were terrified of the slaves’ endlessly creative ways of spreading news. The existence across the Caribbean of “masterless” free black people made it harder for owners to control their slaves.

The New Enclosure

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Privatisation is the theme of the post-Thatcher era and key to understanding it is the attack on state assets, such as rail, post, coal and power, and on land ownership. The overt privatisation of public land that began in the 19th and 20th centuries is, the author states, the defining feature of the post-1979 era. Land ownership infers power: it shapes ecology, access to aquifers, fracking and more.

How It Happened

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This is a long overdue translation of Erno Munkácsi’s 1947 first-hand account of the final months and days that saw the extermination of over 400,000 Hungarian Jews in the death camp at Auschwitz. It is a powerful addition to any serious understanding of the degradation, humiliation and ultimately extermination that befell European Jewry with the victory of fascism. It should serve as an urgent and powerful reminder to all those fighting the far right today as to what awaits us if we are unable to stem its poisonous ideology.

The Realm of the Punisher

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I read this book hoping to learn about the Philippines, a country of which I have only a smattering of knowledge. I finished it with a slightly larger smattering: about Spanish and US imperial domination and Japan’s invasion during the Second World War; Rodrigo Duterte’s upbringing and his brutal reign as mayor of Davao, and his payment-by-results “war on drugs” as president that is causing hundreds of thousands of state-sponsored murders.

Art for All

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In Art for All Christine Lindey considers socially committed art and artists across three periods — 1914–39, 1939–45 and 1945–62. In her introduction she explains the use of the term: “‘Socially committed’ suggests an active engagement with social change...[and] allowing the flexibility needed for the consideration of a wide gamut of works ranging from paintings to posters.”

Don't Stop the Carnival: Black British Music

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This ambitious odyssey traces the start of black music in the UK from the 11th century onwards. From the point when knights return from the crusades with African instruments (such as the oud and tabour) Le Gendre takes us on an epic journey of triumph over prejudice culminating in the ubiquity of black and black-influenced music in the 1960s.

Harlem 69

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“In every city you find the same thing going down/ Harlem is the capital of every ghetto town.”

So sang Bobby Womack in Across 110th Street, which refers to the unofficial boundary between Harlem and the rest of New York City. In 1969 Harlem was a city within a city, with more than 90 percent of its population being black. It is the subject of the last book in Stuart Cosgrove’s trilogy about key political events and music of the late 1960s.

Stories of Solidarity

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In the chapter “The Secret World of the South Wales Miner”, Hywel Francis makes a strong case for the relevance of oral history when exploring the development of the working class in South Wales. By using it in this collection of essays, he uncovers some inspiring but often neglected Valleys history from the last century, and helps to fill some gaps in popular knowledge of events from the Rebecca Riots of 1843 to the General Strike of 1926.

The first section of this book deals with some rarely reported but very exciting uprisings and rebellions in the area.

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