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The soldiers' Christmas truce -- A bas la guerre! Nie wieder Kreig! Das walte Gott! Peace on Earth!

Review by Phil Shannon

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce
By Stanley Weintraub
The Free Press, 2001
206 pages

It was the war that was supposed “to be over by Christmas”. It very nearly was. A spontaneous soldiers' truce broke out along the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914, four months after the start of hostilities.

“Peace on Earth”, “goodwill to all men” — British, French and German soldiers took these usually hypocritical Christmas sentiments for real and refused to fire on the “enemy”, exchanging instead song, food, drink and gifts with each other in the battle-churned wastes of “no-man's land” between the trenches.

Lasting until Boxing Day in some cases, the truce alarmed the military authorities who worked overtime to end the fraternisation and restart the killing.

Paul Le Blanc: Theories of Stalinism

The Marxism of Leon Trotsky
By Kunal Chattopadhyay
Kolkata: Progress Publishers, 2006, 672 pages

Western Marxism and the Soviet Union
By Marcel van der Linden
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009, 379 pages

Reviews by Paul Le Blanc

Karl Marx and his comrades deemed their own approach “scientific”, as compared to “utopian” intellectual efforts on behalf of socialism, because they believed that practical efforts to challenge and ultimately replace capitalism with something better must be grounded in a serious study of economic, political, social, historical realities and dynamics.

More, they believed that lessons learned from practical organising and political experiences of the working class and popular social movements — sometimes glorious victories and often tragic defeats — must also guide practical efforts of the future. The combination of such study and experience has been called “Marxist theory”.

The massive crisis of capitalism has put the meaning of “socialism” back into public debate. Superficially equating state intervention in the economy with “socialism”, some are inclined to agree with Newsweek magazine that “we are all socialists now.”

Population control’s dark past

Fatal Misconception: The struggle to control world population
By Matthew Connelly, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2008. 521 pages.

Review by Simon Butler

November 16, 2009 -- A select group of billionaires met in semi-secrecy in May 2009 to find answers to a “nightmarish” concern. Their worst nightmare wasn’t the imminent danger of runaway climate change, the burgeoning levels of hunger worldwide or the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The nightmare was other people – lots of other people.

The self-styled “Good Group” included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, media mogul Ted Turner, David Rockefeller Jr and financiers George Soros and Warren Buffet.

The London Sunday Times said they discussed a plan to tackle overpopulation, something they considered “a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat”.

Tom Keneally's `The People's Train': Steaming along the tracks of revolution

The People's Train
By Tom Keneally,
Vintage Books, 2009

Review by Phil Shannon

October 10, 2009 -- When Artem Samsurov first came to Brisbane in 1911, the Russian exile noted that the poor did not eat horse meat like they did in his native country and he wondered whether this did indeed make it true that Australia was a “working man’s paradise”? A diet that was no stranger, however, to rabbit, and bread and lard, suggested otherwise.

Tom Keneally’s latest novel, The People’s Train, follows the political and romantic adventures of Samsurov, a fictional character closely based on Fedor (``Artem'') Sergeyev, a Bolshevik who escaped from exile in Siberia after the crushing of the 1905 revolution in Russia and who was a political activist in Brisbane for six years. [See the Australian Dictionary of Biography's entry for Fedor``Artem'' Sergeyev below this review.]

In regular trouble with the Red-persecuting Queensland police, Sergeyev returned to Russia in 1917 in time to be elected to the central committee of the Bolshevik Party and play a leading role in the Russian Revolution.

Review of `Renegade: The Making of Barack Obama'

Renegade: The Making of Barack Obama
By Richard Wolfe, Virgin Books, London 2009

Review by Jeff Richards

October 14, 2009 – Whatever your views are about Barack Obama, there is no doubt that his campaign for the US presidency was a major milestone in the history of electoral politics in the United States. How did a senatorial rookie who was black, with an alien name and a background in community organising get to the centre of the system of power? It was both a matter of circumstance (the crises and failure of neoconservative project) and the remarkable political skills of Obama and the campaign team led by David Axelrod.

Suffering and struggle in rural China

Will the Boat Sink the Water? The Life of Chinese Peasants.
By Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao.
New York: Public Affairs 2006

Review by John Riddell

Is China killing the goose whose golden eggs have financed its economic upsurge? Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao pose this question in their gripping portrayal of the suffering and struggles of Chinese peasants today.

Their book’s title refers to a 1400-year-old Chinese saying, attributed to Emporer Taizong: “Water holds up the boat; water may also sink the boat.” That is, the peasantry that sustains the state may also rise up and overturn it. Chen and Wu argue that in China today, the weight of the state is suffocating the peasantry: the boat may sink the water.

A media and publishing sensation

New books reveal Friedrich Engels’ revolutionary life

Engels: A Revolutionary Life, by John Green, Artery Publications, 2008.

Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, by Tristram Hunt, Macmillan/Metropolitan, 2009. (First published in Britain as The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels.)

Reviewed by Ian Angus

August 24, 2009 -- Socialist Voice -- Most people on the left know that Friedrich Engels was co-author of the Communist Manifesto and Karl Marx’s lifelong collaborator. But few of today’s radicals know much more than that about the man who built barricades and fought a guerrilla war in Germany in the 1848-49 revolution, the indefatigable organiser who played a decisive role in building the Marxist current from a handful of exiles in the 1850s into the dominant trend in the international working-class movement by the time of his death in 1895.

They can scarcely be blamed for their lack of knowledge: it hasn’t been easy to learn about Engels’ life. In the 110 years after he died, only two substantial biographies were published in English – by Gustav Mayer in 1936 and by W.O. Henderson in 1967 – and both have long been out of print.

John Bellamy Foster: `The transition to socialism and the transition to an ecological society are one’

John Bellamy Foster's keynote address to the Climate Change, Social Change conference (organised by Green Left Weekly), Sydney, Australia, April 12, 2008. This talk is the basis of the last chapter of The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet.

Read an exclusive excerpt from Foster's The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet at http://links.org.au/node/1066.

Links readers are also encouraged to purchase a copy of this important new book HERE.

* * *

The Holocaust: `May history attest to us' -- resistance, collaboration and survival

Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Warsaw, Poland.

Hitler’s Priests, by Kevin Spicer, Northern Illinois University Press, 2008, 369 pp. US$34.95

Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, by Samuel D. Kassow, Indiana University Press, 2007, 523 pP., US$34.95

Kasztner’s Train: the True Story of an Unknown Hero of the Holocaust, by Anna Porter, Scribe, 2008, 548 pp., A$32.95

The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman, Pantheon, 1996, 296 pp., US$35.

Review by Barry Healy

July 28, 2009 -- In October 2008 the Catholic Synod of Bishops convened in Rome for a four-day theological discussion. Without warning, on the first day, Pope Benedict XVI suspended discussion and ordered the 200 participants to attend a special commemoration mass for Pius XII, who was the pope between 1939 and 1958.

Australia: Damage on many fronts in false charge of slavery in Western Sahara

Fetim Sallem.

A documentary on Western Sahara refugees marks a low point, Kamal Fadel writes.

July 1, 2009 -- Last month in Sydney, the notion of democracy took a pounding. The launch of the documentary Stolen at the Sydney Film Festival marked a low point in local film culture, and signified the tenuous grip on truth we now have in contemporary society. That such a film should be financed with about A$350,000 of public money –- through Screen Australia -– and accepted by the prestigious festival raises questions about the nature of reality and on how it is depicted in mainstream media, such as through the medium of the film documentary.

The film purports, in a sensationalistic way, to reveal widespread evidence of racially based slavery in the Saharawi refugee camps on the Western Sahara-Algeria border. Central to the apparent scoop is an interview with Fetim Sallem, a 36-year-old mother of four. She was in Australia to explain her story, which is significantly at odds with the film's take on it (so much so that Fetim requested unsuccessfully to have her interviews removed from the film).

Can carbon trading save our forests?

By Susan Austin

June 26, 2009 – Hobart, Tasmania -- Along with over 400 other people, I turned up to the Wrest Point Casino here to attend the premiere of The Burning Season on June 1. I had the film’s headline --  “As inspiring as The Inconvenient Truth was frightening” in the back of my mind, hoping for a good news story. Instead I sat through a well-orchestrated promo for a carbon trading company, set up by a young Australian-based millionaire whose message was that it is possible to make money and save the environment at the same time.

By setting up a carbon trading company called Carbon Conservation, and brokering high-level deals between big banks and provincial Indonesian governors, the film’s “star”, young entrepreneur Dorjee Sun, was able to secure the protection of large areas of forests that may otherwise have been logged or burnt.

Fidel Castro’s declarations of resistance

Review by Alex Miller

The Declarations of Havana,
by Fidel Castro, with an introduction by Tariq Ali,
Verso, 2008, 138 pages

May 22, 2009 -- As Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, it is fitting that three of the most famous documents relating to the struggle against Batista and the early days of the revolution are published together in a single volume. The Declarations of Havana is part of Verso’s new “revolutions” series.

By reading the three documents back-to-back, one is able to trace the development of the Cuban Revolution from its nationalist-democratic beginnings to its socialist conclusion.

On July 26, 1953, a 26-year-old lawyer named Fidel Castro — along with his younger brother Raul — led an armed attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, hoping to spark an uprising that would remove the hated Batista from power.

Review: John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff's `The Great Financial Crisis'

The Great Financial Crisis
By John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff
New York, Monthly Review Press, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-58367-184-9 paper

Review by Patrick Bond

Four decades ago, Monthly Review cofounder Paul Sweezy vigorously debated financialisation of the US economy with Robert Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer, whose article ``Who Rules the Corporations?'' in the journal Socialist Revolution proved most irritating. The central dispute was over whether debt relationships between banks and corporations – as well as interlocking directorships and other ruling-elite relationships -- translated into control by the former.

Asking ``The Resurgence of Financial Control: Fact or Fancy?'', Sweezy disdainfully answered ``fancy''. During the golden age era of financial stability, until the early 1970s, Sweezy's tracking of intracapitalist power relations allowed him to conclude that bankers were not in control, they were mainly facilitators.

Review: A materialist critique of pseudo-science

Review by Duroyan Fertl

Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present
By John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark & Richard York
Monthly Review Press, 2008
240 pages

March 13, 2009 -- In recent decades a form of militant creationism — masquerading as science under the name of “Intelligent Design” — has gone on the offensive, promoting the teaching of biblical creationism in schools, and carrying out a broader “wedge strategy”, aimed at transforming the place and nature of science in society.

Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present, is almost overdue in this respect. It traces the rise of the “design” phenomenon, and its relationship to conservative, right-wing politics, and places it in the context of a 2500-year-long debate between materialism and creationism that lies at the heart of Western civilisation.

India: West Bengal Left Front government sides with big capital, attacks peasants

By Satya Sivaraman

Nandigram and Beyond, edited by Gautam Ray,
Gangchil Publications, Kolkata, 2008, pp 224, Rs395.

In recent times there has been no greater rupture within the Indian left movement than that precipitated by peasant struggles in Singur and Nandigram against forced acquisition of land for industrial purposes. The spectacle of West Bengal’s Left Front regime, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) --(CPI (M) -- sending police and party cadre to gun down poor peasants fighting to protect their land not only earned it the wrath of ordinary Indian citizens everywhere but also left large sections among its own supporters deeply divided.

Sustainable capitalism?

By David Travis

September 9, 2008 -- On the fringe of the green movement, one always hears the following phrases coming from the mainstream with great regularity: "green capitalism", "sustainable capitalism", "social entrepreneurs", "green entrepreneurs", etc. None of these terms tend to mean anything specific, and no one who uses them is in a great hurry to spell out, for example, how a green entrepreneur is different in any fundamental way from some other kind of entrepreneur, or how capitalism could be driven toward sustainability rather than profit. So you can imagine my pleasure at meeting the author of a book called Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense.

The revolutionary life and tumultuous times of Ernest Mandel

By Barry Healy

A Life for the Revolution, Documentary by Chris Den Hond, 90 minutes, 2005; A Man Called Ernest Mandel, Documentary by Frans Buyens, 40 minutes, 1972, available of two-disc DVD, available from http://www.iire.org

Ernest Mandel, said to be perhaps the most important Marxist theoretician of the second half of the 20th century, died aged 71 on July 20, 1995. These two documentaries reveal why he was so respected but also expose a great deal more.

A Life for the Revolution uses Mandel’s life as a lens to examine some of the most significant revolutionary developments of the last few generations, with stirring archival footage and interviews with participants. The 1972 “talking head” interview A Man Called Ernest Mandel, in which he explains important aspects of socialist democracy and workers’ control of the means of production, is packaged as an extra.

Socialist Alternative gets the balance wrong on propaganda and action

Reviewed by Ben Courtice

From Little Things Big Things Grow: strategies for building revolutionary socialist organisations, by Mick Armstrong, Socialist Alternative, 2007.

As official politics continues to move to the right, a growing gulf is opening up between the hopes and aspirations of millions of working people and the agenda of the ruling capitalist establishment and its parties… Much of the time that disenchantment and discontent finds no outlet, but then it explodes in massive mobilisations like those against the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003, or the repeated giant rallies against Howard’s WorkChoices.[i]

Stuffed and Starved: `Snapping' the power of agribusiness

Review by Leo Zeilig

Stuffed and Starved, by Raj Patel, Black Inc., 2007

At the end of the 19th century huge areas of the globe where violently incorporated into the world market. Whole regions that had for generations been farmed for local consumption were transformed for the production of cash crops. In captured and occupied lands new food crops were introduced that had little or no local nutritional use: ground nuts (peanuts) in what is now Senegal and Nigeria, cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire, cotton and rubber production across thousands of square kilometres of Central Africa.

Friedrich Engels: the Che Guevara of his day

Review by Alex Miller

Engels: A Revolutionary Life

By John Green

Artery Publications

Paperback 2008

347 pages, £10

Most people know that Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) was the lifelong friend and collaborator of Karl Marx, and for most people the image of Engels that springs most readily to mind is of a heavily bearded, earnest old Victorian gentleman (most likely standing in the background of a group consisting of Marx and his family).

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