Reviews

1917: Stories and Poems

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When the revolutionary workers of Russia seized state power in 1917, 70 percent of the population were illiterate. Yet the revolution revealed a hunger for knowledge and art, and a cultural debate raged over the soul of the revolution.

Translator Boris Drayluk says the aim of this collection of poetry and prose from 1917 to 1919 is not to describe the revolution, but to “steep the reader in its tumult”, and I think he is successful.

Rethinking Revolution

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This collection of essays looks at revolution in the 21st century via the legacy of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Individual contributions range from assessments of the left in Latin America and Greece to a survey of Marx and Engels’ views on the revolutionary party, the October Revolution itself and the Chinese Communist Party. However, there are some notable omissions, such as any analysis of the Arab revolutions in 2011.

Citizen Clem

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The 1945-50 government of Clement Attlee is seen as the Labour Party’s golden age — a period that brought about not only the creation of the NHS, national insurance and public assistance (the three pillars of the welfare state) but the nationalisation of coal, railways, electricity, gas, road transport and the Bank of England, and an improved education system.

Traveling Soul

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This Is My Country. People Get Ready. We’re A Winner. Mighty, Mighty (Spade and Whitey). Keep On Keepin On. Future Shock. We Gotta Have Peace. Power To The People. Ever since the Middle Passage, African-American struggles for freedom, justice and dignity have had a soundtrack.

At first it may only have been patterns beaten on a resonating surface and field songs of cruel Southern plantation work. But their steady elaboration into country blues, urban jazz and Sunday gospel forms became electrified after millions migrated north before and during the Second World War.

The Book of Harlan

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Born in Georgia in 1917, black jazz and blues musician Harlan moves north, first to Kansas City and then to Harlem. With best friend Lizard, a Jewish trumpet player, he forms a band that, in the late 1930s, joins other black musicians in the Harlem of Paris, Montemarte. But when Paris is occupied by the Nazis, Harlan and Lizard are transported to Buchenwald.

Events in Buchenwald are dramatised in stark, economical detail. In one particularly gruelling scene, Isle Koch, wife of the commander of Buchenwald, amuses herself by brutally abusing captives.

Unleashing Demons

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It is alleged in some quarters that we are seeing “buyer’s remorse” in the UK over the referendum decision to leave the EU. This reviewer has not felt it and the polls do not seem to support it, but Tony Blair, no less, is threatening to return on the back of it.

There is undoubtedly a more widely held perception that it is somehow more progressive to support the EU than to oppose it. This book, unintentionally, goes some way towards dispelling that particular myth.

No Borders

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The author explains that this book is a combination of PhD research, time spent as an activist in Calais and as a researcher activist in Athens. She says it has been undertaken in this way in order to avoid the artificial separation between theory and practice, which often takes place.

The introduction describes the recent refugee drownings in 2015 and the way in which they were reported. The movement of thousands of people to Europe is presented in most reports as a problem for Europe, and the refugees described first as victims of smugglers and then as criminals themselves.

The Speech

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“A paranoid conspiracy theory” — this is how Frank, lead character of this wholly fictional but entirely plausible novel describes his friend’s suggestion that the authorities, far-right politicians and Nazi thugs could all be ensnared in a web of racism, bigotry and brutality.

Reminiscences of RAR

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Reminiscences of Rock Against Racism (RAR) is an essential buy for every socialist and anti-racist. This is not simply a collection of stories, but a guide to building a mass movement, and it couldn’t be more needed. With the racist bigot Donald Trump in charge of the US and the far-right rising across Europe, the movement against racism needs to be united on a scale much larger than anything we’ve seen in recent years.

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