Books

No Prize for Booker

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Review of 'Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921', Brian Kelly, University of Illinois Press £16.99

This book is a welcome addition to US labour history at a time when some labour historians find psychological explanations of racism fashionable. For some an emphasis on 'whiteness' is preferred to materialist explanations. In the hands of the 'whiteness' approach white supremacy has become a benefit for white workers, while the real beneficiaries--the white elite--are ignored. That racial antagonism exists between black and white Southern workers cannot be denied, but for Kelly the main instigators of racial oppression were not white workers, but the white elite.

Art for Our Sake

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Review of 'Artists on the Left', Andrew Hemingway, Yale University Press £35

In the heart of San Francisco's city district can be found the popular tourist attraction Coit Tower. Lifts take you to the top, from which you get a magnificent bird's-eye view of the bay. Once a week, for a few brief hours, the stairwell is open to the public. Inside is an Aladdin's cave full of some of the finest murals in America. Inspired by the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, artists like Clifford Wright, Bernard Zakheim and Victor Arnautoff have created a stunning series of wall paintings depicting life in the US.

The Leap Backwards

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Review of 'Stalinism', Ed: David L Hoffman, Blackwell £15.99

The history of the revolution in Russia in 1917 and its ultimate defeat provide important lessons for those seeking a socialist alternative to capitalism.This textbook, intended for students, is a collection of 12 essays from leading international Russian historians. The aim is to provide different interpretations for the rise of Stalin. In particular it seeks to address why the October Revolution led to a dictatorship instead of a communist utopia.

Justice on Ice

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The Wilderness Years'. TC Campbell and R McKay, Canongate £9.99

TC Campbell and Joe Steele were jailed for life, in the mid-1980s, for the notorious mass murder of the Doyle family.

It was alleged that the pair had firebombed the Doyles' Glasgow home in a bid to gain control of the city's lucrative ice cream runs--which were a cover for the distribution of drugs and money laundering. However, what was intended as a 'frightener', suggested the prosecution, turned into something else entirely.

Money for Something

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Review of 'Labour Party Plc', David Osler, Mainstream Publishing £15.99

Which party received more million-pound donations in 2002: Labour or the Tories? Ten years ago, when Tony Blair was still a shadow cabinet minister, this would have been a strange question to ask. Now, to know for sure, you would have to wait until they both published their accounts, and then ask about all the information not contained there. While political parties have to disclose who donates more than £5,000, they don't have to disclose the total amount they raise.

A Thin Line Between Love and Hate

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Review of 'Caught in the Crossfire', Alan Gibbons, Dolphin £4.99

We read about politics, we participate in demonstrations, strikes and all sorts of other activity in opposition to the system. But how different people react to it in all aspects of their daily lives is something beyond our immediate experience, except for a particular oppression we may personally suffer. But an insight into these real life experiences and emotions, which can dominate people's lives, rounds out and enriches our intellectual and political understanding. That is where novels come in.

Profits on the Line

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Review of 'Down the Tube', Christian Wolmar, Aurum £9.99

Christian Wolmar is a bit of a Kiley fan--not the former soap actress turned pop star, but the former CIA agent turned transport supremo. There is a touch of Kileymania on the soft left, with the 'Guardian''s Polly Toynbee and London School of Economics 'expert' Tony Travers among the fans. Wolmar quotes Labour MP Karen Buck describing Kiley as 'a wow'. These Kiley fans share both a realisation that the London Undergound PPP is a disaster for the tube, and a real hostility to tube workers. Wolmar describes a tube strike over safety as 'opportunist'.

Bright Lights, Big Cities

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Review of 'Dead Cities', Mike Davis, New Press, £16.95

Mike Davis brings to each subject a completely idiosyncratic vision, with a huge passion to tell stories, explain and reveal. Dead Cities is a brilliant kaleidoscope of essays. Each section revolves around a different theme, together revealing the power and arrogance of political leaders in cahoots with corporate capital. In the preface, 'Flames of New York', he cites Ernst Bloch's comparison of pre-bourgeois towns with modern cities. It is the Americanised, 'big city' ideology that believes all problems can be technologically solved.

A Balance Sheet That Doesn't Add Up

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Review of 'Revolution in the Air', Max Elbaum, Verso £20

By the end of 1970, in the wake of Nixon's invasion of Cambodia and the resulting explosion of anti-war activism across US campuses, the 'New York Times' reported a survey stating that 3 million college students thought a revolution was necessary in the United States. Out of this radical milieu a smaller but nonetheless significant layer of activists set out to actively build new revolutionary organisations.

The Bishops and the Brickies

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Review of 'The Communist Party of Great Britain since 1920', James Eaden and David Renton, Palgrave £40

Why should we be interested in the history of a party which dissolved itself 11 years ago, shrouded among accusations of reformism, spying for the USSR and trousering the infamous 'Moscow Gold'? The most obvious reason is that the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) certainly 'punched far above its weight'.

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