Review: Marxism and the French Left – by Tony Judt

marxism and the french left

This is an in depth study of socialism in France. The book is broken up into a series of long chapters, each covering a critical period of the political left in France. The emergence of working class political culture in the nineteenth century is explored and we see the development of trade unionism and the creation of socialist parties. The development of the social party, the SFIO is looked at in detail, prior to its rise to power under Blum. We then see the decline in the power of the socialists as they concede proletariat votes to the PCF, communists. The chapter on the French communists looks at the theorists who were so successful at internationalising the ideas and images of French Marxism. Sartre among the most famous, also there is a detailed study of Althusser, who unlike many of the French Marxist writers – was also an actual member of the PCF. The tailing off off Communist popularity as it clung hopelessly to the vestiges of Stalinism, leads to the book’s final chapter, where the rise of the socialists yet again, culminates in the ascendancy of Mitterand at the 1981 French general elections where the socialists swept surprisingly into power. this victory is compared with the Revolution of 1791 and the Paris Commune of 1871 in terms of its relevance to leftist politics in France. I found this book to be very detailed and some chapters were a bit tricky in terms of ideas and specialist vocabulary – but the book, read for a History of French Labour course at Cardiff University – has certainly enlightened me on certain aspects of French working class politics and I feel that the knowledge imparted has been vital.

Advertisements

Review: Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: A Cause Without Rebels – by Peter N. Stearns

revolutionary syndicalism

This short book, written in 1971, is a study of syndicalism and its effects on the French Labour movement in the twenty years preceding World War 1. French workers had learned the effectiveness of striking to improve their wages and conditions and there was an increase in strike activity which was mainly co-ordinated by syndicalist labour leaders who drew on the ideas of theorists such as Proudhon. Syndicalist Unions organised their members and there was a shift in awareness among the working classes of how to unite and fight a class struggle. Syndicalism mainly avoided politics and focussed on the economic path to fighting for workers’ rights. Ultimately the non-syndicalist unions came to the fore to champion the workers and as wages increased and conditions improved as a result of strike activity, the thoughts and ideas of the syndicalists lost favour and faded away. The book analyses why the conditions were ripe for syndicalism. The artisanship of the workers, the lack of industrialism, and the regionalism of employers and lack of large companies, all meant that France, during this period was ripe for the syndicalist ideas to flourish.

Review: Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité at Work – by Steve Jefferys

liberté. égalité and fraternité at work

This is a relatively concise look at Employment relations in France. Taken from a contrastive Anglo-Saxon point of view, the author explores the intricacies of the French economic system and how industrial relations are different in France than other Western capitalist nations. In France, strikes, in particular by public sector workers, are notoriously common and tend to make headlines around the world. This study reveals some of the reasons for the French workers’ propensity to take strike action. The government tends to have a major effect on working life and state intervention is common in the French economy. From the effects of Vichy to the Gaullist dirigisme through to the more recent Aubry laws to the present day, the effects of the state, mixed in with the demands of employer and employee associations, there is a complex web of interactions. Trade Unionism in France is relatively undersubscribed but has a large ability to mobilise the workers en masse. There is a myriad of acronyms relating to the various unions and other associations. The CGT, the CFDT, the FO, the employer association Medef. All of these contribute in their own right to forming the employment relations. France has a strong welfare element to its state and has also moved away from its more traditional family-owned patrimonial role of the employer to being more Americanised in its business models with international pension funds being more predominant in the stock market. This book is a great introductory text for my History of French Labour course at Cardiff University and I felt that the author does a very good job of explaining how the French economy operates. I would imagine that over the next year I will be regularly thumbing the pages of this text for reference.

Review: Still Breathing: The True Adventures of the Donnelly Brothers – by Anthony and Christopher Donnelly (and Simon Spence)

still breathing

Chris and Anthony Donnelly are two likely lads from Wythenshawe, Manchester. Growing up to a backdrop of crime, allegedly part of the the notorious Quality Street Gang, these entrepreneurs became leading figures in the birth of Manchester’s Acid House scene, initiating illegal raves and forging bonds and networks across music from the Hacienda to the launch of their own short-lived crime-ridden Parliament Club, at the peak of The Gunchester headlines when Guns and gangs took hold in Manchester. After heading out of music they entered the world of fashion, launching Gio-Goi. Using a mixture of guerrilla marketing, incorporating their music friends and street buddies, they became a necessity of fashionistas. The brand ultimately became corporate turning over £40 million a year at its height. This tale, interview-style, arranged by Stone Roses biographer, Simon Spence, is a true journey of life’s ups and downs, for a most colourful family. From drug busts, media headlines and jail sentences to filming videos with Pete Doherty and Deadmau5. I especially enjoyed the reminiscences of Old Skool Hacienda DJs, Mike Pickering, Jon Dasilva and Graeme Park. This book has it all. I’m sure that no party is complete without the Donnelly brothers influencing it in some way.

Review: Kanaval – Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haïti – by Leah Gordon

kanaval

Kanaval

Leah Gordon is a former punk artist from London. She is also a photographer and this book reflects upon her experiences of Kanaval on the streets of Jacmel in Haïti between 1995 and 2010. Haïti was the first black republic in the Western hemisphere, a black slave nation that overthrew the yolk of its French European masters. A core component of the revolution’s power was the African-inspired Vodou belief system and intertwined with politics the Kanaval (Creolisation of Carnival) traces its routes to the clandestine slave gatherings in the upland forests of the island. Gordon takes powerful black and white images of the key Kanaval characters and interviews these characters, capturing a series of oral histories from the poor local inhabitants who invest their energy effortlessly, creating characters, making costumes, designing props, organising dance routines and applying makeup, to create this pre-Lentern annual orgy of street theatre and fiesta. We meet the Lanse Kòd (The Rope Throwers), Jwif Eran (Wandering Jew), Papa Sida (Father of AIDS), Oungan (Vodou Priest), St Michel and also the Satanic Zel Maturin (The Wings of Maturin). These characters act out a fight of good versus evil, they challenge the audiences to raise small amounts of money and to reflect upon the political realities of Haïtian life. There is a series of critical essays throughout the book from key researchers of Haïti, that reflect upon the essence of Leah Gordon’s work. The book is enlightening and the images, that can be very disturbing, project an exoticism and spirituality that gives the reader a true taste of the Kanaval performers’ messages and allows the reader a glimpse of the post-colonial ‘Other’ that is the Caribbean.

Review: Dirty Combat – Secret Wars and Serious Misadventures – by David Tomkins

dirty combat

David Tomkins has led an interesting life, to say the least. Our swashbuckling protagonist begins his autobiography as a tough safe-cracker, self-trained in explosives. His early adventures lead him to prison life where he swaps tales and picks up skills, leading to further crimes. Moving away from his gangster life, Tomkins utilises his explosive skills to full effect by becoming a mercenary. His military adventures take him across Africa, from Angola to Togo and into Rhodesia. Constantly under suspicion at airports from Special Branch and security services, Tomkins becomes a darling of the Press, a true life mercenary who engages in politics at the highest level. Merging his mercenary work with business interests he becomes an arms dealer, strutting around the world, negotiating some stranger-than-fiction deals with some rather salubrious characters. Eventually his mercenary work comes back tot he fore when he is recruited to fight out in Colombia, first arranging an international special forces brigade to attack the FARC and then later, employed by the Calí drug cartel he is delivered a project to assassinate the head of the rival Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar. Ultimately both the Colombian adventures do not achieve their mission goals and later end our hero up in US custody where he returns to the prison system, detailing the flaws of the US Justice system and ending the tale whiling out his time in jail before luckily being returned to his wife and family in the UK. The book is well written and is truly compelling. David Tomkins’ life is surely a worthy tale to be told and I can’t think of many more varied real life adventure stories out there.

Review: The Repeating Island – The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective – by Antonio Benítez-Rojo

the repeating island

The Cuban author offers a postmodern view of the Caribbean. It is a sociocultural study that encompasses aspects of history, economics, sociology, cultural anthropology, psychoanalysis, literary theory, and non-linear mathematics, incorporating chaos theory. The book’s aims and theories are laid out in a flowing introduction whereby Benítez-Rojo’s notion of the ‘repeating island’ is explored, through the lens of polyrhythms and meta-archipelagoes. Benítez-Rojo sees in all of the Caribbean a repetitive streaming of ideas, of resistance to slavery, of Plantation culture of postcolonialist discourse. The book focuses on a series of Caribbean authors and poets, from Gabriel García Márquez to the author’s poet of preference, the Cuban Guillén. Critical essays explore how a multitude of creative characters have interpreted their lives in the Antilles, and recurring themes of the cult of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre or of the sacrificed slave Mackandal, reverberate in the author’s dissections of West Indian culture. This book gives a valuable postmodernist insight into the supersyncretic culture that comprises the Caribbean.