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:

Read more of this post

A Review: The Culture Show – The Art of Boxing

LeftCentral Review

Image © National Library of Ireland on The Commons

“Where did that thread of steel come from?…it came from the way you learnt to bite down on your gum shield and stick out your weary jab.  In your darkest hour, you will discover that you are better than you ever knew and it would be because you boxed”.  Tony Parsons

An economic downturn unfortunately tends to coincide with an interest in professional boxing.  And in this the era of food banks and retrenchment, the cliché of the `hungry fighter` is a haggard though apt one.  And the distinction between the amateur and the professional code is a crucial one – although this issue was not explored by Tony Parsons in his review of the noble art.  The economic and ideological features of boxing evident when one looks at Cuba, the world`s leading amateur boxing nation and a country where professional boxing is banned.  Read more of this post

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

You can`t be neutral on a moving train…

Nora Connolly 

Image © Jim from Steven Point WI, USA

…In graduate school you get basically the same point of view you get in elementary school, only with footnotes…Howard Zinn

Ed Miliband`s recent endorsement of Professor Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on Theodore Roosevelt, signals that his policy focus is regulation, regulation, regulation.  The Labour leader’s interest in Teddy Roosevelt appears a continuation of the `One Nation` theme, dressed in the star spangled banner of the Republican Party, albeit with a progressive tint. Read more of this post

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro) – a Review

Lincoln Green 23 Jan 2014

Image © Raidarmax

[The review contains plot details]

The film was released in 2011, its title connected more with the hugely popular song of that name first released in the 1960s and sung by Pascal Danel than with the Henry King’s 1952 film based on the Hemingway short story.  Directed and part written by Robert Guédiguian, recently described by the chair of a local Film Club as “a French Ken Loach”, left-wing sympathies are apparent as the film explores the dilemmas of a mature trade union activist when his principles are confronted by his emotional responses to a violent robbery.

The film begins with Michel (played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin) organising a lottery of dock workers in Marseille which determines those who will be made redundant.  He himself is one of the twenty selected and one of the film’s minor themes is an exploration of “an old man coming to terms with his weaknesses” at the end of full-time employment when there is a profound change in the role which has determined his life to date.  In his intimations of mortality he effectively sees the snows within which Gregory Peck’s earlier character reviews his life, and which the song claims “will make you a white coat, where soon you can sleep”.  Read more of this post

Wadjda – a Film Review

Lincoln Green 

Image © Arria Belli

[The review contains plot details.]

The child’s perspective provides the film director with an opportunity to observe and implicitly comment on a situation with an unencultured and potentially critical eye.  This device has been used in films such as Offside (2006, dir. Jafar Panahi ) where an Iranian girl attempts to watch a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro) where fantasy plays alongside the horrors of war in 1944 fascist Spain, and numerous others.

In Wadjda (2012) the female writer and director Haifaa Al Mansour employs this technique to comment on cultural norms, particularly those affecting women, in present day Saudi Arabia.  The film is the first official Saudi Arabian submission to the Oscars and the first feature length film made by a Saudi female.  To avoid problems when filming with mixed genders Al Mansour had to direct some outdoor scenes via radio when concealed in the back of a van.   Read more of this post

In Defence of the War Poets

Katherine Edwards

Should the First World War be seen principally as a European and world catastrophe or as a British triumph? As we mark the centenary of the Great War, the debate on its commemoration has intensified, with the Education Secretary recently lambasting senior academics for their lack of patriotism.  Attacks on the influence of Blackadder are fast becoming just as much a cliché of the ‘revisionist’ school as the clichés the revisionists claim to be dispelling.  And where Blackadder is mentioned we can be sure the war poets – and Wilfred Owen in particular – will be the target of the next sneer. Hew Strachan is intent on demonstrating that ‘there was something more between 1914 and 1918 than futility and poems’.   Michael Morpurgo came under fire in the Moral Maze for citing Wilfred Owen.  More recently John Blake painted a scornful picture of teachers ‘sonorously intoning’ Owen’s poetry, placing much of the blame for what he considers to be the ‘myths’ taught about World War One on the excessive influence of Owen and Sassoon, who he claims, are misleadingly ‘sold as the authentic voice of the front-line soldier’. Read more of this post

Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve, a Review

Lincoln Green  

Image © Weglinde

Simon Reeve’s series of 4 programmes broadcast on BBC2 attempts to explain why pilgrimages take place, particularly in an age of scientific rationalism and relative medical competence.  The presenter is deeply affected by the physical beauty of the holy sites, the architecture of our great buildings and the hospitality of pilgrims and their supporters.  Nevertheless the programme frequently appears little more than a travelogue broken up with interviews and meetings with kind and courteous eccentrics.  Despite the superficial treatment of its content the programme does however introduce a number of issues and helps the viewer to understand why huge numbers of people of many faiths have felt the need to participate in what could be potentially a very onerous and life-changing journey. Read more of this post

How many neo-liberals does it take to change a light bulb?

Nora Connolly 

Image © CharlesJshapr

We are all neo-liberals now. You might not like it but an insidious political metamorphosis has taken place, those in denial akin to the misfortunate frog unaware that it’s getting boiled out of existence. We are shedding our social democrat identity for an ugly neo-liberal form and the political implications for this are profound. Recently, I wondered why the economic meltdown of 2008 hadn’t undermined the neo-liberal project, a prescient query. Answers now provided by Professor Philip Mirowski in his recently published `Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (Verso 2013)`. His thesis a pessimistic one, although it provides the Left with a much needed counter narrative to reconceptualise their collective notion of markets.   Read more of this post

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