Rachel Aldred

A Good Reader

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Review of 'Fire Alarm', Michael Löwy, Verso £16.99

Michael Löwy provides a detailed yet accessible discussion of one of "unclassifiable" philosopher Walter Benjamin's most important texts. Benjamin was a Marxist philosopher who was also drawn to Jewish messianism, the concept of a redemptive messiah. In interpreting his Theses on the Concept of History, Löwy stresses that Benjamin's work should be regarded as a "fire alarm" warning of a terrible catastrophe. In the 1940 theses, written just before Benjamin's failed escape from fascism, this was most obviously the triumph of Nazism in Europe.

Blair's Shame

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Review of 'The Impact of Inequality', Richard G Wilkinson, Routledge £19.99

Richard Wilkinson's new book comes out at an important time. A recent report commissioned by the Department of Health showed that health inequalities have got worse under Labour. Shockingly, men in social class 1 live more than eight years longer than men in social class 5.

The Right Analysis?

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The left needs to engage with the unpleasant truth that on 10 June political polarisation mainly benefited the right.

Comparing the two Greater London Authority (GLA) top-up elections, this becomes clear.

After the 2000 GLA elections Socialist Worker pointed that out if other socialist candidates had united with the Socialist Alliance we would have won a list seat with 5.3 percent. This time Respect, with no socialist competition, won 4.7 percent on the list, although accidentally spoilt ballot papers cost some votes. The Green vote fell from 11.1 percent to 8.6 percent, while the far right (BNP and Ukip) went from 5 percent to 12.9 percent.

You Weren't Really There

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Review of the 1968 season, National Film Theatre, London

The National Film Theatre's 1968 season continues through December, with an eclectic programme of screenings from the late 1960s. The feverish political climate and the increased opportunities for directorial independence helped create the conditions for some brilliant cinema. Even the least interesting, most obvious choices are still worth seeing on the big screen - Antonioni's visually sumptuous but pretentious Zabriskie Point (which includes a slo-mo shot of a house being blown up to the sound of Pink Floyd), and the overrated drug hippy biker odyssey Easy Rider.

One Love

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Review of 'Solid Foundations', David Katz, Bloomsbury £16.99

How has a small, impoverished island had such a massive and enduring influence on popular music across the world? New festivals keep springing up everywhere - this year it was the second Jamaican Sunrise festival in southern France, with 10,000 mostly local people showing that the language barrier made no difference to enjoying the music.

That was Then, This is Now

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Review of 'The London Hanged', Peter Linebaugh, Verso £15

As governments step up internal repression under the guise of the 'war on terror', it is appropriate that Peter Linebaugh's The London Hanged has been reprinted. Hanging in 18th century London, like lethal injection in 21st century Texas, was never only punishment. State terror was and is an active part of a dynamic system of antagonistic social relations.

The Good Side of Focus Groups

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In his article on asylum seekers, 'Labour puts asylum seekers in focus' (July/August SR) Solomon Hughes refers to focus groups as 'guided discussions which reflect the prejudices of their organiser more than public opinion'.

While it's absolutely right to be sceptical about Philip Gould's use of focus groups, they are also a valuable research tool. They have been used by critical social scientists to investigate how opinions are formed collectively--and how they can change collectively.

I'd refer interested readers to work done by the Glasgow Media Group, to Michael Billig's writings and especially to a fascinating book by William Gamson, 'Talking Politics', which shows working class Americans to be far more politically aware than their leaders think.

Rachel Aldred
London

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