Books

Debriefing the President

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A book by an ex-CIA “leadership analyst” who admires George Bush senior and constantly seeks the best ways to defend American interests might not be the normal fare of Socialist Review.

However, this account of agent John Nixon’s meetings with the recently imprisoned Saddam Hussein has caused some minor ripples in the stagnant ponds of the bourgeois press for what it exposes of the American state and security services, and the way it clearly demolishes any lingering justifications of the US and Britain attacking Iraq.

Caught in the Revolution

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Helen Rappaport has skilfully woven together the accounts and reports made by more than 80 foreigners who were either visiting or working in Petrograd when, on International Women’s Day 1917, tens of thousands of women walked out on strike and began calling out more textile workers and their male colleagues in the engineering and munitions plants.

Their accounts of the following five days of escalating revolutionary turmoil are fabulous, not because of any political acumen — far from it — but because the revolution itself was fabulous.

Splinterlands

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The world of 2050 is a frightening, unstable place. The European Union has collapsed, having “hit a wall of Euroskepticism, fiscal austerity and xenophobia”. The United States is beset by environmental disasters, with Washington having been destroyed by Hurricane Donald in 2022.

A great uprising has fragmented China, and Russia has disintegrated along ethnic lines. Nationalism and terrorism are rife and the few centres of “order” are authoritarian safe havens where capital and the super-rich can carry on as before.

The Three Worlds of Social Democracy

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The authors discuss the social democratic models in Western Europe, South America and peripheries. The central model in Europe discussed by Max Crook is British social democracy, which championed a mixed economy with the free market dogma of containing inflation through a monetarist economic policy. New Labour saw social democracy integrate the neoliberal economic model.

The Corruption of Capitalism

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On the plus side, Guy Standing has put together a powerful indictment of contemporary capitalism. While some of his material is familiar, it seems fair to say that everyone will come away from this book knowing more about the inequities of capitalism than they did before.

He looks at the use of charities as a means of tax avoidance, for example. We learn that Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation raised $2.6 million in 2012 but gave away only $5,000. And the Cancer Fund of America over ten years raised getting on for $90 million, but only gave cancer patients a paltry $890,000.

No Way But This: In search of Paul Robeson

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Paul Robeson must be counted as one of the most remarkable Americans of his era, or indeed any era. It was for his singing voice that he was best known but that reflected only a fraction of his talents.

He was a good enough actor to be offered leading roles in a number of films and in theatre productions in the West End of London and on Broadway. He was also an outstanding athlete. All this was achieved in the face of the discrimination that came his way for being an African-American.

There's No Place

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The spectacle of President Trump rubbing his hands together in delight as he visits the ruined underwater city of Houston perplexed me to begin with; even for a man that strange, this was bizarre behaviour, surely?

Then I read Glyn Robbins’s new book and the penny dropped — Trump is a property developer. The destruction of homes and immiseration of the poorest people doesn’t evoke empathy. For him and his fellow developers it is an opportunity to mop up.

Abortion Wars

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Abortion Wars is a fantastic analysis of past and present-day debates and fights for abortion rights — but it is also a tool for organisation and resistance.

Judith Orr describes the period we are living in as “a choice moment”, shaped by the clash between huge threats from Donald Trump and the anti-choice movement on the one hand and the growth of movements for women’s rights, like the women’s marches in January 2017 and abortion rights movements in Ireland and Poland.

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