Reviews

System Change Not Climate Change

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This new collection of articles brings coherence to the climate maelstrom. Reading it shifted me from depressed romanticism to a deeper understanding of humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature. That understanding brings hope that, as Sarah Ensor puts it in her chapter on biodiversity, we can “shape a convivial, sustainable Anthropocene.” The Anthropocene is the idea that we have entered a new geological epoch characterised by humanity’s dominating influence.

The Case for People’s Quantitative Easing

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Financial blogger Frances Coppola has written a clear, informative little book arguing the case for what she calls “quantitative easing for the people” which she believes can end the stagnation in the world economy since the financial crash of 2008.

Quantitative easing (QE) is a process by which central banks create money digitally (“print money”) and use it to buy bonds in government, banks and corporations. QE played a crucial role in propping up the financial system in the US and elsewhere following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Writing the Lives of the English Poor 1750s-1830s

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The “Old Poor Law”, first passed in 1601, was a series of pieces of legislation to attempt to deal with poverty in England and Wales. It lasted, with amendments, until 1834 when the New Poor Law was finally introduced after growing discontent at the system’s inadequacies.

These laws have been closely studied by historians, because the treatment of the poor gives an indication of wider changes in society. The Old Law covered the period from the end of the Tudors to the birth of capitalism and industrialisation.

The Case for Universal Basic Income

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Louise Haagh mounts a passionate defence for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), “to give all residents a modest regular income grant that is not dependent on means-tests or requirements”. Her book “argues for basic income as part of democratic reconstruction at a juncture of global crisis in governance”. She makes some big claims for it: “By weaving basic security into the fabric of society, basic income is a rising tide, lifting all boats, whilst bringing those stranded into common waters”.

Mohandas Gandhi: Experiments in Civil Disobedience

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Talat Ahmed’s new book chronicles the life of Mohandas Gandhi, who was one of the leaders in the Indian Independence movement. She critically examines Gandhi’s political career and provides an understanding on how socialists should view him and his legacy. This is important because, in the UK especially, Indian history is taught with a rose-tinted lens regarding either the British state or Gandhi himself.

Germany’s Hidden Crisis

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Germany dominates Europe, so news in April that German business confidence had fallen for a seventh month in eight and that the government had halved its growth forecast for 2019 to 0.5 percent suggests there is more than Brexit weighing on Europe’s economic prospects.

The German working class remains Europe’s most powerful. Yet Germany’s equivalent of the Labour Party, the SPD, is in spectacular decline after entering one coalition after another with conservative chancellor Merkel and, between time, making a wholesale attack on welfare provision.

Glasgow 1919

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1919 saw the world in turmoil. Emerging exhausted from the slaughter of the First World War, ordinary people across the globe were questioning how society was organised and working class people, inspired by the flaming light of the Russian Revolution of 1917, were not just demanding fundamental change; they were determined to fight for it.

From Italy to Egypt and from Berlin to Limerick working people were willing to topple regimes and rulers who would not deliver change. Britain was no exception.

The Border

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The Brexit vote in June 1916 reignited the historically contentious issue of the Irish border. As the only land border between the EU and Britain it became the focal point of arguments about a withdrawal agreement, encapsulated in the “Backstop” proposal for Northern Ireland, the purpose of which was to ensure the continuation of the existing “frictionless” border and avoid the politically explosive prospect of a return to customs posts and tariffs on trade.

Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History

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Richard Evans’s biography of the late, great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm rightly recognises his subject’s towering intellect and brilliance as a scholar and teacher. It is full of fascinating, rich and often amusing vignettes, and Hobsbawm’s life and work is in general brilliantly contextualised, as one would expect given Evans’s honed skills as a social historian of modern Europe.

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