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Germinal (St. Ives)

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The Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity (Keep Calm and Carry On)
The Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity (Keep Calm and Carry On)
by Owen Hatherley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ministry of Nostalgia, 4 Feb. 2016
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This is an enjoyable rant about manufactured nostalgia that also has some serious political points to make.

I'll get my two criticisms out of the way first though: a serious look at manufactured nostalgia, and with it manufactured history, would look beyond the architectural sphere, and to a limited extent the cinematic arena which Hatherley inhabits and encompass music, literature, TV etc. For instance the role of Brit-Pop and Cool Britannia to the way that the Blairite era saw itself with nods to late 1960's fashion and music Secondly, the book has the feel either of an essay stretched to book length or of a splicing of a number of articles.

Nevertheless, Hatherley hits his target enough times with his main theme that the nostalgia for 1940's era austerity themes coincides with the Cameron era austerity reality and reinforces, especially via 'Keep Calm and Carry On', the idea that 'we are all in it together' when, in fact, the vast majority of us experience austerity while an elite enriches itself. The irony of this is driven home by the obvious, yet necessary point, that the gains of the 1940's austerity era in terms of the welfare state are precisely those legacies being destroyed today in the name of 'Keep Calm and Carry On'.


One Day In My Life
One Day In My Life
by Bobby Sands
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.50

4.0 out of 5 stars One Day in My Life, 26 Jan. 2016
This review is from: One Day In My Life (Paperback)
Gritty account written while Sands was engaged in the so-called 'dirty protest' in order that IRA prisoners regained the status of political prisoner. Very readable, honest, emotional. The brutality of the sectarian regime is what strikes the reader the most.


Year One of the Russian Revolution
Year One of the Russian Revolution
by Victor Serge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant corrective to distorted views., 22 Dec. 2015
Victor Serge's `Year One of the Russian Revolution' was written in the late 1920's and first published in 1930. It is not only one of the best books available on the revolution but is one of the great history books.

Serge represented the real Marxist, anti-Stalinist tradition that was being marginalised and crushed during the 1920's and would be killed in the 1930's. His history of `Year One' was written in the atmosphere of the rise of Stalinism and is reflected by that in that the chapters are short and punchy, designed to be stand-alone articles that were taken singly out of Russia to avoid the gathering censorship. This, coupled with Serge's style, makes for an extremely readable book.

There are two sets of people who won't like this book. The first are the Stalinists. Stalin himself barely features in the revolution or in the vital first year. Stalin's later picture of himself as the man who stood at Lenin's right hand in the revolution does not appear, precisely because he never existed. In Serge's account there are two individuals who count in the revolution, whom both the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries regard as vital personalities - Lenin and Trotsky.

The Stalinists will also not like the fact that the revolution and the Bolshevik Party are portrayed as being vibrant, active, popular, democratic. This latter point will also displease mainstream historians who have spent the last six decades trying to convince the world that the opposite was true. The revolution appears, not as the result of a dark conspiracy, but as a popular movement at the head of which stands the Bolshevik Party.

Serge does not neglect the international context as many mainstream historians do. He is quite clear, and backs it up with numerous quotations, that the Bolsheviks knew that the revolution in Russia could only survive if there was a revolution abroad.

The same treatment is given to the start of the Red Terror and the civil war. Serge is quite clear and, again, provides numerous examples to illustrate the point, that the Reds started by being magnanimous whereas the Whites started by being violent and terroristic. Many mainstream accounts either portray these events in reverse or even omit any reference at all to the White Terror. The role of foreign powers is also shown in their arming, financing and conspiring with the White forces.

So, Serge's account is one where the narrative and analysis are interwoven in the best tradition of historical writing. Serge also provides short pen-portraits of some of the characters in the drama.

A word should also be said about the footnotes which the modern editors added. These are excellent. They frequently back up Serge's writing with more more modern academic research showing that although Serge was a pioneer historian of the revolution he was, in the vast majority of cases, a very accurate comentator.

Serge left the USSR in 1936. Shortly before he left the GPU (the forerunner of the KGB) stole his manuscripts. Somewhere in the KGB archives should be the manuscript of `Year Two of the Russian Revolution'. A gem awaiting discovery.

Read `Year One' for a better understanding of what the Russian Revolution was actually about.


The Invention of the White Race Vol. 1
The Invention of the White Race Vol. 1
by Theodore W. Allen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Invention of the White Race Vol 1., 21 Dec. 2015
Theodore W Allen was a remarkable figure, he was a former miner and trades union activist who was a self-taught scholar. Allen’s concern was to oppose racial discrimination in American labour relations, to oppose the notion that racism is natural, to oppose the notion that ‘race’ or racism is defined or understood phenotypically and to understand and identify the origins of such ideas.

In a nutshell, it is Allen’s thesis that racial oppression, and the notions of racial privilege, are mechanisms of ruling class social control – a means to ‘divide and rule’ labour.

Volume 1 concerns itself mainly with Ireland and with Irish immigrant experience in the USA. Allen examines closely the process by which British rule in Ireland established a racial hierarchy based not just upon national origin but on religious supremacy, the Protestant Ascendancy, whereby the Catholic Irish became second class citizens in their own country and how the Protestant working class, via Orangeism, held a privileged position with regards to the Catholic Irish. Allen documents how legislation to enforce Protestant supremacy in Ireland were mirrored and followed in American colonies with regard to skin colour.

To reinforce this point, Allen then examines how the Irish immigrant experience in America assimilated the Irish to the ranks of the ‘white race’. That the Catholic Irish, as ‘white workers’, were seen to gain some sort of privilege in contrast to ‘black workers’, to oppose the abolition of racial slavery, to reject the calls for opposition to racial slavery made by Irish nationalists in Ireland who would make the comparison between the fate of Irish Catholics in Ireland and ‘black labour’ in America. Allen ties this in with Jacksonian Democratic politics, New York Tamany Hall politics and the link between elements of big business in New York and the Southern plantocracy as well as the conservative Catholic establishment in America.

It’s a well-argued and evidenced thesis.


Men in Prison: (Spectre)
Men in Prison: (Spectre)
by Victor Serge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Men In Prison, 30 Oct. 2015
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‘Men in Prison’ is the first novel in Victor Serge’s ‘witness’ cycle. It is a work of fictional literature but reads like a memoir and is based upon Serge’s experience of being in prison in the years just before and during World War I.

It is what says on the cover – a book about men in prison. It is possibly the most oppressive work I have read. The short chapters, especially for the initial two-thirds of the book, concentrate on the isolation of the prisoner, the system, what Serge calls ‘the machine’ or ‘The Mill’ – prisoners are thrown in and, like corn, ground down – are incredibly dark.

The mood lightens comparatively when the prisoners are at work, in Serge’s case in the prison printshop. Then there is resistance to the Mill – small acts that enable the imprisoned to retain their humanity and dignity. Prisoners long to be in the infirmary but the infirmary is a place of death and suffering.

Even what should be hope, the release from prison, sees the newly released prisoner face-to-face with a soldier from the trenches – another prison.

It’s a great book but is too dark to actually admit to enjoying.


Russia Goes to the Polls: The Election to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, 1917 (Studies in Soviet History and Society)
Russia Goes to the Polls: The Election to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, 1917 (Studies in Soviet History and Society)
by Oliver H. Radkey
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Russia Goes to The Polls., 22 Oct. 2015
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Most discussions about Russian revolutionary history usually discuss the elections to the Constituent Assembly. Usually it is dealt with in a perfunctory manner and a narrow perpsective offered. Oliver Radkey's study - actually there are two separate studies contained within this volume - is therefore helpful in that both a broader and deeper analysis is offered. This is especially interesting in relation to the vote for the Social Revolutionaries who received more votes than any other party - Radkey's exploration of the SRs as a party, their divisions and how they related to their social base in the peasantry and the dynamics of how this played out in a revolutionary situation is, therefore, especially useful.

The book can be read in an evening and anyone serious about the Russian Revolution should read it.


Highland Park Einar Single Malt Scotch Whisky 100cl
Highland Park Einar Single Malt Scotch Whisky 100cl
Price: £57.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Einar, 13 Oct. 2015
Aroma of smoke, oak and gentle peat.

Very woody taste - in a good way. Very smoky notes. A little sherried fruityness. Noticeable peat.

A medium finish of damp wood - which is actually quite pleasant even though the description doesn't suggest it.

Good value for a litre of decent Scotch.


History of the Russian Revolution
History of the Russian Revolution
by Leon Trotsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.20

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius, 29 Sept. 2015
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This book has a strong claim to being the best history book ever written. Why? Well Trotsky was a genius and he could write brilliantly and engagingly and with humour. Combine that with the fact that it's a history of a major historical event written by one of the key participants in that event and the theoretical insights that Trotsky brings to his work and you have the makings of a classic work of history and of historiography.

The book is actually three volumes in one and was written by Trotksy in 1930 when in exile and confined to the Turkish island of Prinkipo, under threat from Stalin's spies, assassins and saboteurs - the house where Trotsky and his family were living was the subject of a fire which was probably the result of an arson attack. The first volume considers the February Revolution which overthrew the Tsar and brought into being the Dual Power of the Provisional Government and the Soviet. The second the period covering the July Days and the attempted coup by Kornilov. The third covers the October Revolution.

It is a work of genius. The prose flows - it's great literature and, as others have said, in a parallel universe somewhere there is a giant of 20C Russian literature called Lev Bronstein. The historiographical insights based upon Trotsky's analysis of Russian society hold true, particularly the concept of uneven and combined development which places Russian economic development into the context of a global system and are great historiographical insights that are universally applicable. Trotsky's breadth of reading from documents he had gathered in his personal archive taken with him into exile on Prinkipo is impressive. The insights into historical controversies that still cause debate today are fresh and informative.

It's a real shame that Trotsky did not providing notes to the text - a lot of the time Trotsky uses the voices of others to write the story and follow up reading would have been appreciated.


The Raj At War: A People's History Of India's Second World War
The Raj At War: A People's History Of India's Second World War
by Dr. Yasmin Khan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Raj at War, 9 Sept. 2015
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Yasmin Khan's `The Raj at War' is a good book overall but does suffer from a few flaws.

The strengths: very well written, accessible language, short chapters that are then subdivided for easy dipping in and out. The `people's history' approach works well as major events, the war, death, loss, suffering, political resistance, growing religious divide, the apartheid style racial classifications imposed by the British, the famine of 1943, the fate of labourers building the road to China, Quit India agitators, soldiers at home and abroad - India had a volunteer army of 2 million - are all real and personalised as the generalised experience is illustrated by the personal experiences and words from the individuals themselves. A picture emerges that makes continued British rule after the war as untenable.

The weaknesses: the book is too short, despite being 320 pages, issues that deserve more attention and detail don't get it and some issues are not covered at all. For example, the activities and actions of grassroots Quit India campaigners could have a lot more detail as could the repressive measures in response by the imperial state. For a book about India at war, the war itself, the battles, the front line barely rate a mention. Some aspects such as the building of the road to China and the casualty rate amongst labourers could be explored more deeply - a British officer who recalls 600 labourers who died at one spot being just one possible glimpse of the death rate. The `people's history' approach means that high politics and their impact upon people and people's actions and their impact upon high politics is sometimes disjointed - for example, the Congress offer to the British to support them in return for post-war independence is mentioned but the content of the offer is not, so a reader unaware of the content would be left stumped as to what the offer actually was. The mutiny of the Indian navy, a key event in the disintegration of Britain's ability to control India, is skipped over and less significant issues such as the treatment of disabled war veterans is given more prominence. I find it an odd `people's history' that skips over the collective actions of people making history.

Criticisms aside, this is a good book that brings a neglected aspect to WWII to light and will hopefully encourage wider interest in Indian history.


The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire
The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire
by Kent Flannery
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Inequality - it's not human nature, 8 Sept. 2015
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This is a well researched book that traces the development of human societies from egalitarian hunter-gatherers to class divided, unequal societies such as monarchies.

Flannery and Marcus argue that the first human societies were ones dominated by generosity, sharing and altruism. These societies also had numerous internal checks to try and protect that egalitarian nature. For instance, Inuits have been shown to have used marked hunting arrows to determine who killed an animal. Other people's like the !Kung mixed up these arrows so no one really knew who had been the successful hunter. These two societies, and many other hunter-gatherer communities, used ridicule and humour to downplay success and prevent anyone gaining a position above others. While successful hunters were cherished, they were expected to downplay their skills and share the fruits of their victories.

These hunter-gatherers developed technology and skills and their social organisation developed as well. With the development of clan based societies, it was possible for inequality to appear. At first this could simply be the difference between someone who had skills or experience over those who didn't and so age appears to have been an early form of inequality or access to knowledge such as religious belief and practice. But with the rise of agriculture, the ability to store surplus food meant that "Big Men" could arise who could give others food because they had come to control the surplus. None of this was inevitable and the mechanisms by which inequality could arise are not always easy to discern.

All of this and much else contained within this book is welcome news to someone like myself, a Marxist, as it helps towards confirming the view that social inequality is not some natural or eternal condition of humanity but, rather, something which has developed and something which we have made ourselves.

I do have some quibbles, more like frustrations really, with parts of the book. I tend to think that the relationships that people enter into when producing the means of their existence is important in influencing the structures of the societies in which they live. Yet in this book that insight from Marxian thought could have helped explain apparent conundrums such as the native North American people who kept a store of food for `the poor' without any explanation of who the poor were or how they became poor or another example, again from North America, of slaves kept, it seems as no clear explanation is forthcoming, as trophies or status symbols by families who would also have access to the best fishing grounds with no indication whether the slaves were used as labour or not and if not, why not?

Quibbles aside, this book is a really valuable source for arguing that inequality is not a product of human nature.


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