Reviews

1 August 2019 Pascal Ansell

Pluto Press, 2017; 224pp; £12.99

Music resonates in all corners of our lives. ‘It walks us down the aisle and marches us off to war.’ Dave Randall manages to sing music’s political praises while keeping his feet on the ground, siphoning the best of what has been thought about music into a book that is straightforward, intimate and downright delightful.

As a performer himself, Randall is no armchair theorist. We are with him as he plays with the band Faithless; and later pogo past him in a rave. Here in the club, we share his contemplation, alone yet together with…

1 August 2019 Ian Sinclair

Amberley Publishing, 2019; 296pp; £9.99

RT Howard is a writer specialising in intelligence and ‘defence’. His latest book looks at ‘individuals who were responsible for starting, conducting or extending an unnecessary war or show of force.’

Echoing the broad tenets of ‘Just War’ theory, four examples of what constitutes an ‘unnecessary war’ are provided: the decision to pursue military force rather than diplomacy or negotiations; the use of excessive force; ‘war undertaken for no obvious reason’; and futile wars.

Beginning with the North American revolutionaries in…

1 August 2019 Henrietta Cullinan

Polity Press, 2018; 240pp; £15.99

In this challenging analysis, Dave Wearing examines Britain’s relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and Oman – in the context of modern international capitalism.

From the outset, Wearing dismisses the familiar discourse of ‘British values’, which presents our liberal democracy as being in natural opposition to an authoritarian Middle East, warning that this obscures the far weightier ‘common cause’ held between British elites and Arab monarchies.

1 August 2019 Emily Johns

Sansom & Co, 2018; 128 pp; £25

This beautifully-illustrated book documents the lives of 44 artists who were conscientious objectors (COs) and pacifists in the two world wars.

In a series of monographs, Gill Clarke gives us a valuable insight into lives lived and shaped by political and spiritual objections to killing and the war machine.

She gives us a very particular record of the development of creative lives: how artists made a living; the political and social communities of artists; and the impact of war resistance on them – such as ruined hands from…

1 August 2019 Pascal Ansell

Pluto Press, 2019; 352pp; £19.99

 ‘Never have so many people decided so much in Portugal as between 1974 and 1975’. The peaceful revolution which kicked off this period, on April 25th 1974, is extraordinary. Not a single shot was fired by the revolutionaries, who risked everything to oust the country’s fascist regime and push the backwards state into the future. Raquel Varela is right to celebrate what followed, not just the day of the revolution. Workers took control of the factories, strikers won long sought-after rights, and after being systematically shoved aside by…

1 August 2019 Fiorella Lecoutteux

Zed, 2018; 272pp; £9.99

This short book addresses current feelings of disempowerment in Europe and shows us how to solve the crisis of the nation-state: together!

The writers are founders of the transnational European Alternative movement which promotes democracy, equality, and culture beyond the nation-state.

For Marsili and Milanese, Europe is a multitude of paradoxical things.

It is the European elites saving the banks rather than their citizens during the 2008 financial crash and forcing Greece’s progressive party Syriza into economic…

1 June 2019 Henrietta Cullinan

Lawrence & Wishart, 2018; 226pp; £18

In August 1976, women employed at the Grunwick photo processing plant in north west London walked out on strike. 30 years later, in 2006, women employees at Gate Gourmet, a factory that prepared in-flight meals for British Airways, also walked out.

This book describes how these two groups of women were led to take industrial action – and their subsequent betrayal by the trade unions. Their stories are set against an academic account of migrant settlement, work and family life in the UK.

Central to Striking Women are…

1 June 2019 Fiorella Lecoutteux

Verso; 2019; 320pp; £16.99

‘This is a war story.’

Thus begins Nick Estes’ historical recounting of the survival of – and the resistance waged by – Native American people, the ‘first sovereigns’ of – and the ‘oldest political authority’ in – America.

US history saw the first white settlers attempt to ‘permanently and completely replace Natives with a settler population’. This is a war that continues to rage to this day, as seen in the horrific police violence against Native Americans fighting to resist the contruction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. DAPL…

1 June 2019 Ian Sinclair

Yale University Press, 2016; 432pp; £30

Think of Adolf Hitler and invariably an image is conjured up of an all-powerful leader, the most evil individual in modern history, using extreme barbarity to crush his opponents at home and abroad.

The latest study from Nathan Stoltzfus, professor of Holocaust Studies at Florida State University in the US, challenges this simplistic representation, raising profound questions for historians, citizens and activists alike.

Citing a huge range of German- and English-language sources – there are nearly 100 pages of references – he…

1 June 2019 Cedric Knight

Allen Lane, 2019; 310pp; £20

In the future, there may be recriminations. Scientists will say that politicians failed to manage the quantified risks of climate change, while politicians will claim that the scientists didn’t shout loudly enough.

Whether because of laziness, corruption or ignorance, the dry facts have failed to prompt anything like adequate implementation of technical solutions. Maybe the idea that carefully nuanced refinements to the science could directly lead to a winding up of the fossil fuel industry within 20 years skated over some necessary…

1 June 2019 Pascal Ansell

Pluto Press: 2017; 294pp; £13.50

Academics join novelists, a judge and a curator in sharing emotive explorations of home and belonging in this rich collection of essays about the complexities of place and identity-making. Do I Belong? encourages the reader to think hard about what the European project actually means.

Ambivalence about the European Union pervades the essays, as does concern for home-grown terrorism resulting from Europe’s colonial history – a history now coming back to haunt the present. Many contributors believe that the EU has failed in its primary…

1 April 2019 Fiorella Lecoutteux

OR Books; 2018; 226pp; £16 (purchase online here)

How can we hold dictators to account? The list of those who have enjoyed complete impunity is long. Lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck has spent his whole life fighting to reverse this state of affairs: using the law to challenge Latin American ex-dictators, representing the families of US drone-attack victims in Yemen, and filing criminal complaints against the likes of ex-US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld.

Kaleck’s latest book is a manifesto for international law and how it can be used to change the status quo. As Edward Snowden…

1 April 2019 Penny Stone

HammerOn Press, 2018; 384pp; £16

I must start this review with a statement of interest: I am a singer in the street choir / campaign choir movement. In many ways this makes me a more critical reader of this book, which collates the oral histories of over 40 voices from street choirs across the UK. It really matters to me that these stories are collected and made available, both to document the often unwritten history of ordinary people resisting social injustice, and to inspire others to become active!

The book details conversations with singers from across Wales,…

1 April 2019 Ian Sinclair

Penguin 2019 (2018); 368pp; £9.99

Originating in a 2013 essay for the radical magazine Strike!, David Graeber’s provocative book is an engrossing, if sometimes uncomfortable, read.

A professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and an anarchist, Graeber helpfully works up a functional definition of what he considers a bullshit job: ‘a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though as part of the condition of employment the employee feels…

1 April 2019 Henrietta Cullinan

Pluto Press, 2018; 336pp; £19.99

Drawing on her own archives, interviews and experiences, Louise Toupin recounts, from a Canadian perspective, the beginnings (in 1972) of the now-famous global feminist movement, Wages for Housework. In ’70s Quebec, Toupin reports, women couldn’t serve on juries, rape was a crime only outside marriage, and contraception was difficult to obtain.

As Wages for Housework would frame it, the majority of women (60 percent in Canada, 72 percent in Italy) stayed at home, providing a variety of services for the male worker who supported…