Books

Scar on the Conscience of the World

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Review of 'Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa', ed. Leo Zeilig, New Clarion Press £12.95

Tony Blair's stance towards Africa effectively sums up that taken by the rulers of the world more generally. At the Labour Party conference last October he called Africa 'a scar on the conscience of the world'--before authorising the sale to impoverished Tanzania of a military air traffic control system that even the World Bank has condemned as inappropriate. Africa, in other words, is a basket case, there just to be exploited economically and militarily.

The plight of Africa is indeed grim. Giovanni Arrighi sums it up in the latest issue of New Left Review:

Even the Best Laid Plans Go Wrong

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Review of 'Russia: Class and Power 1917-2000', Mike Haynes, Bookmarks £12

For most of the 20th century anyone who described him or herself as a socialist would quickly be asked where they stood on Russia.

Today such questions are presented as being of historical interest, but as soon as we try to articulate a vision of a different world, the question of Russia reappears. Is any attempt at a radical transformation of society doomed to reproduce the horrors of Stalinist repression?

The Forgotten People

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Review of 'Nickel and Dimed', Barbara Ehrenreich, Granta £8.99

Anti-war activists are frequently accused of anti-American bias, of blaming all Americans for their government's actions. This is very far from the truth. Anti-capitalists have long been aware of the extent to which the US, like the rest of the world, is divided between a tiny minority who benefit from global capitalism and the overwhelming mass of people who produce the wealth but, in the race for the bottom, are denied even a living wage.

'Friend of the Unfriended Poor'

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Review of 'Shelley and Revolutionary Ireland', Paul O'Brien, Redwords £11

When Percy Bysshe Shelley set sail for Ireland in 1812 he was only 19 years old. He was full of radical enthusiasm and energy, having recently been expelled from Oxford for making his atheism public. He went to Ireland precisely to put his political ideas into practice: 'I beheld in short that I had duties to perform.'

The misery and oppression he saw in Ireland roused him to fury. He wrote:

Explaining a World of Extremes

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Review of 'World Development: An Introduction', eds. Prodromos Panayitopoulos and Gavin Capps, Pluto £16.99

In 1999 World Bank president James Wolfensohn admitted, 'At the level of people, the system isn't working.' This book will help you understand why. Introducing students, teachers and NGO workers to debates about the relationship between state, industrialisation and Third World development, it makes it clear that capitalism is a highly uneven system, creating winners and losers.

Good introductory academic books, such as this, used to be standard in development studies. Hopefully students will read this one before they are fed the routine sycophantic books found on courses today.

Deadly Fibres

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Review of 'Asbestos Blues', Jack McCulloch, James Currey £12.95

With the exception of cigarettes, asbestos is the most common carcinogen in the developed world. The fibre was once promoted as a 'wonder mineral'--crucial to many of the industrial processes and commodities developed after 1945. Asbestos fibre causes three major diseases--asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma --the last of which can occur with minimal exposure and has a latency period of up to 40 years and is incurable.

Food for Thought

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Review of 'The Irish Famine', Colm Tóibín and Diarmaid Ferriter, Profile £8.99

The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight but the English created the famine'--a voice from the time of the Irish Famine of 1847-1849 during which 1 million people died and a further million emigrated. John Mitchell, a journalist, historian and political activist, wrote one of the documents collected in this new volume from a wide spectrum of people affected by the tragedy. From politicians debating their response, to the clergy in Ireland attempting to alleviate the suffering, this selection gives an insight into the lives and deaths of the Irish population.

The Attack Queers

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Review of 'The Attack Queers', Richard Goldstein, Verso £14

The 'attack queers' of the title are various right wing gay journalists in the US, and Goldstein's book is a critique of everything they stand for. He sees in columnists such as Camille Paglia and Andrew Sullivan a fundamental threat to the gay movement.

Revolution on a Galactic Scale

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Review of 'Dark Light', Ken Mcleod, Orbit £16.99

Dark Light' is the second instalment in Ken Macleod's science fiction space opera, 'Engines of Light'. Ken Macleod is one of a handful of contemporary left-wing authors--others being China Miéville, Iain M Banks, Marge Piercy and Ursula LeGuin--who have shown the power of this genre to explore alternative histories and imagined futures.

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