Book Review: The Russian Revolution by Abraham Ascher

LeftCentral Book Review  

This is short book with a long reach; it begins by outlining developments before October 1917, ending with the demise of the Soviet Union.  There is even a contemporary reference to Vladimir Putin – all achieved in less than 200 pages. Of course what is important is not what is covered but what is discovered by the reader and there is much to learn in this beginners guide.

The Russian revolution of October 1917 took place in a country that had not yet reached the appropriate stage of economic development, necessary for such a Marxist transformation.  This lacuna in economic development, required a Leninist push in a revolutionary direction encapsulated in his promise of Bread, Land and Peace and all power to the Soviets. Russia was an autocracy, with a tiny (though emerging) industrial working class, in a predominately agrarian peasant country.  Read more of this post

Bread and Roses Book Award 2014

LeftCentral Political Book Club 

Image © The Bread and Roses Heritage Comm

The Bread and Roses book award shortlist has been announced the winner to be named in May 2014.  The seven titles are: `Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police` by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis (Faber and Faber, 2013), `Soldier Box: Why I Won`t Return to the War on Terror` by Joe Glenton (Verso, 2013), `Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup against Salvador Allende, 11 September 1973` by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, (Bloomsbury), `Who Needs the Cuts?: Myths of the Economic Crisis` by Barry Kushner and Saville Kushner (Hesperus Press, 2013), `No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers by Katherine Quarmby (Oneworld, 2013), `Cancel the Apocalypse: The New Path to Prosperity` by Andrew Simms (Little, Brown, 2013) and Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain by Imogen Tyler (Zed Books, 2013).  The winning title must meet the following criteria:

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LeftCentral interview with Professor Jonathan Rose

LeftCentral 

“I do not want to impair the vigour of competition, but we can do much to mitigate the causes of failure.  We want to draw a line below which we will not allow persons to live and labour, yet above which they may compete with all their strength of their manhood.  We do not want to pull down the structure of science and civilisation – but to spread a net above the abyss.”  Winston Churchill, January 1906

Jonathan Rose is William R. Kenan Jr Professor of History at Drew University. His 2001 book for Yale, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, was winner of many prizes including the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History and was named a Book of the Year by The Economist magazine. Professor Jonathan Rose has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his forthcoming publication, The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, ActorRead more of this post

Good Old George, The Life of George Lansbury by Bob Holman book review

LeftCentral Book Review

In 1933 George Lansbury was hospitalised, his injuries sustained whilst campaigning to keep the British Labour Party afloat.  No easy task, the party a rump after the 1931 election – Labour reduced to 52 seats, compared to the 287 won in 1929.  As Labour Leader he played a vital constitutional role during a precarious time for democracy. According to Stanley Baldwin, Lansbury`s leadership of the opposition, “helped to keep the flag of Parliamentary government flying in the world”.  A remarkable tribute, after all he had previously gone to prison in pursuit of his political beliefs, even participating in a hunger strike.  And his commitment to constitutionalism dimmed briefly in 1912 when he flirted with syndicalism. Read more of this post

The Intellectual Life Of The British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose, Book Review

Left Central Book Review

Jonathan Rose has provided a service to the working class, an increasingly ignored and demonised section of UK society; clearly there is more to this maligned group than the sobriquet, Chav. Although such hostility is not new; as the working class portrayal by EM Foster in Howard`s End indicates, the caricature of Leonard Bast, soundly critiqued in this text. Rose compares Leonard Bast with Manchester clerk Neville Cardus, he and a companion we are informed, “talked and talked…not to air our economic grievances, not to spout politics and discontent, but to relieve the ferment of our minds, our emotions after the impact of Man and Superman, Elektra, Riders to the Sea, Pelleas and Melisande, Scheherazade, Prince Igor”. Cardus a brilliant autodidactic represents a highly prevalent though largely forgotten feature of our industrial past. Today readers assimilate classical literature by first buying a`Beginners Guide`, it can only be imagined what the Scottish weavers of the Industrial Revolution would have thought of this. Mill workers carrying out intricate and tough manual labour, while next to them perched on a reading stand was a copy of the Iliad or the Odyssey. They read an entire canon of classical literature this way, an army of working class autodidacts, learning at their work station. Jonathan Rose like the Scottish weavers he so eloquently describes has seamlessly woven a vast collection of working class memoirs into a compelling piece of prose with an essence of John Clare. Read more of this post

Homer, A Beginner’s Guide by Elton Barker and Joel Christensen – Book Review

Lincoln Green 

Image © User Bibi Saint – Pol

The first page of Barker and Christensen’s book leaves no doubt as to its relevance to readers of Left Central.  They dedicate their work to those “everywhere suffering many pains because of the incompetency and greed of their leaders and the capriciousness of the ‘gods’ who rule our world.”  At another level the book confirms the importance of reading widely, deeply and with attention.

Homer’s stories, “The Iliad” which recounts events in the Trojan War caused by the elopement of Helen with Paris, and “The Odyssey” which describes the return of Odysseus home from that war, are over 29 centuries old and were captured in text shortly after the development of writing at the point when oral story-telling began to decline.  Despite their age the stories are rich in associations and fulfil Italo Calvino’s characteristics of the classic book:  “which comes to us trailing behind the traces it has left in the cultures through which it has passed” and “with each rereading offers as much a sense of discovery as the first reading”.   Barker and Christensen’s guide is singularly well placed to confirm such characteristics. Read more of this post

Orwell and Loach on Spain

Dr Alan Sennett  

Andreu Nin

Even for the well read lay person, the politics of Republican Spain during the 1936-39 civil war can appear baffling. A viewing of Ken Loach’s 1995 film Land and Freedom raises more questions than could possibly be answered in a standard length feature film.   Familiarity with George Orwell’s 1938 account Homage to Catalonia fills in much detail and has clearly provided both source material and inspiration for screenwriter Jim Allen.  For those with a deeper knowledge of the micro-politics of the Spanish Left, the contributions of Andy Durgan, Loach’s historical advisor and expert on the Catalan dissident communists, are also evident.  Yet the reasons behind the main protagonist’s disillusion with the official Communist movement, at one point prompting him to tear up his CPGB party card in disgust, might still appear unclear.  Ideally the viewer needs an appreciation of the origins and context of the dispute between those who saw an organic connection between the struggle against fascism and what they believed to be an ongoing social revolution, and those who viewed the fight as solely a defence of democracy with revolution an unwelcome distraction.  Much can be explained by analysing the film’s key political scene.  Yet it has to be said that both Loach’s film and Orwell’s account must be approached with a critical eye. Read more of this post

Planet Earth by John Gribbin, Book Review

Lincoln Green 

Image © THEBLITZI

An image of earth from space courtesy of NASA illustrates the cover of John Gribbin’s highly readable summary of how our planet originated and has evolved over the past 4.5 billion years.  The image is reminiscent of the iconic 1968 “Earthrise” photograph taken from the Apollo 8 mission, the first view of earth from deep space and a disorienting perspective which reminds us of our place within the universe.  The book is particularly relevant for helping us to live in a manner which consciously apprehends the impact of our activities on our environment and thoughtful reading may help us to dissolve those arbitrary categorisations which separate self from surroundings.  At a time when the British Geological Survey on Shale Gas Fracking, the Bowland Shale Gas Study, has just been released, and when there is considerable discussion regarding the potential exploitation of this resource and its social and environmental impact, the book provides a contextual backdrop which reminds us of the deep intimacy of our integration with our planet.  Its particles and energy comprise our physical being and flow through us.  We are indeed stardust, formed from the ashes of a supernova over distances, volumes and time scales which are barely comprehensible.  The book is of considerable assistance in promoting such comprehension. Read more of this post

Review of new pamphlet from the Socialist Education Association

Robin Richardson

Image© Keith Edkins

‘We hold,’ say the Tories and Lib Dems with their actions, though not with their exact words unless behind closed doors, ‘this truth to be self-evident, that human beings are born unequal.’  They continue – again with deeds rather than with explicit policy discourse – along lines such as the following: ‘It is urgent that we should return the education system to the essential role which it always played in the past, which is to prepare children and their parents for inequality, and to accept and appreciate inequality. Those who deserve to prosper will do so, for our desire is simply to set people  free from state intervention and control. Those who do not deserve to prosper, due to their lack of intelligence, energy or aspirations, will be treated with compassion, in so far as resources permit. But basically we say to them, tough, that’s life. In these various ways we are making the world safe for capitalism in its neoliberal variety. Everyone will benefit, of course, even if some do not yet realise this.’ Read more of this post

The Last English Revolutionary: Tom Wintringham by Hugh Purcell with Phyll Smith: Book Review

Red Lester 

image©KTo288

This biography is an account of the life of a man who now seems to have been forgotten but who lived an eventful and varied life in the first part of the twentieth century. I first came across Tom Wintringham as the inspiration for the character of Spud Wilson in the film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Wintringham was the original of this character, a believer in and teacher of ‘ungentlemanly warfare’, but this was just one aspect of this man; a World War 1 veteran, early member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), co-founder of Left Review, International Brigade member, author of anthologised poetry, Picture Post journalist, guerrilla warfare tutor and founder of the Common Wealth political party.  It is a portrait of a man who seemed not to have fitted in. Having been thought to be a bourgeois when a member of the Communist Party, once he had been expelled from the party, he was suspected by the establishment because he had never officially renounced his political loyalties. Read more of this post

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