Monday, November 18, 2019

Philip Parker - The Northmen's Fury

Say the word "Viking" and most people in Britain will immediately think of raids. murder and pillaging, and possibly, remembering back to their school history lessons, 1066. To be honest, for a few hundred years after around 800 CE that was pretty much what most people who lived in Northern Europe would have thought too, before they ran for the hills. Picking up Philip Parker's book before a recent trip to Denmark I was looking to find out a bit more than the superficial depiction of the Vikings as raiders and explorers.

The vikings burst onto the scene with their raid on the abbey at Lindisfarne in North Eastern England. But this is a particularly English understanding, because the Vikings had clearly been around much longer. But rapidly, viking influence grew and by the ninth century covered almost all of Scandinavia, large parts of the British Isles, bits of Ireland, Iceland and the Baltic coast. By the time of peak Viking expansion they had spread into Russia, reached Constantinople, and were semi permanently in parts of the Mediterranean. They had also reached Greenland and the Americas - trying to maintain and create mini-versions of Viking society back in Scandinavia.

It's a phenomenal expansion, and understanding how it happened ought to be a core part of any history of the Vikings. So I was disappointed to find that Parker's book didn't really get to the heart of an explanation. His account focused very much on the raids and colonies, but often became little more than a list of kings and battles. Any historian of the period will be limited by the material available and Parker uses the material there is well - but this tends to focus on kings and battles. But I would have liked a little more on the organisation of viking societies, the economic base of their economy (in particular I felt their agriculture was neglected) and social relations. It was notable that most of the book was about viking men - and women tended to just have roles as wives (or occasionally fighters).

The most interesting bits of the book were the accounts of exploratory missions and the far flung settlements in Greenland, the Americas and Asia. These were incredible voyages and involved masterful pieces of navigation and combat. In particular I learnt that the Viking presence in Vinland (probably Newfoundland) was much bigger than I had previously understood. They clearly also visited for supplies (especially firewood) extremely regularly from Iceland and Greenland.

So I did get a lot out of the book, but I was left unsatisfied by it and would have liked much more on the functioning of viking society, which would help illuminate the reasons behind the raiding; as well as the decline of viking society - for instance, an deeper engagement with those, like Jared Diamond, who argues that the end of the Vikings in Greenland was singularly due to their failure to adapt to the local environment.

Related Reviews

Rodger - The Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History of Britain, 660-1649
Diamond - Collapse; How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive
McAnany & Yoffee - Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire
Gaiman - Norse Mythology

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Peter Ackerman & Jack Duvall - A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict

In this wide-ranging history authors Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall attempt to demonstrate that nonviolent strategies are the most successful and viable way of bringing about social change. Unfortunately their argument is limited by their understanding of social change and because they fail to get to the heart of what capitalism is.

The book covers a lot of 20th century territory. It begins with the 1905 Russian Revolution which, rather surprisingly for those in the Marxist and revolutionary socialist traditions, turns out to have be considered one of the earliest examples of a successful nonviolent movement. Figures like Gandhi and Tolstoy considered it a success because it did not degenerate into violence and introduced the first democratic victories under the Tsar.

Right at the start of the book then we already see the limitations of Ackerman and Duvall's philosophy. Firstly the 1905 Revolution was hardly a success for democracy. The limited enfranchisement that the Tsar granted was very much a toothless parliament, utterly unable to make any major changes that could benefit the mass of the population. Further though, the Revolution itself was limited by its failure to engage in a more forceful confrontation with the ruling class - a point that Trotsky makes in his own account 1905. Most importantly though, their account fails to acknowledge that one of the significant developments of the Russian Revolution of 1905 was the creation of workers' councils, in particular the Petrograd Soviet. These organs of bottom up democracy formed the basis for new ways of organising society, yet the authors fail to elaborate on what this might have meant for radical change.

Their account of 1905 demonstrates how the authors are, much like Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan's more recent theoretical book Why Civil Resistance Workers, limited by their belief that Bourgeois democracy is the highest achievable ambition for social movements fighting oppression and dictatorship.

Other chapters - whether discussing the 1923 German protests against the French Occupation of the Ruhr, the First Palestinian Intifada and the Anti-Apartheid movements (as well as many more) have many interesting accounts of the struggle, but fail to get to grips with key issues - in particular the nature of the capitalist state.

There is also, and this is replicated in contemporary debates about violence in social movements, a tendency to create a false polarisation between violence and nonviolence. In fact, many of the movements illustrated show their is an interplay, and on occasion there is a grudging acknowledgement that at times violence played a part in the successful outcomes - one example is the South African struggle against Apartheid, where the authors show that the violent attacks on police and collaborators meant that state authorities were cautious about entering many black areas.

The authors appear to be motivated by a desire to discredit revolutionary politics in the Marxist tradition, through their understanding of this is extremely crude - limited to suggesting that Lenin and Trotsky favoured violence simply because they thought revolutions had to be violent. In fact both Lenin and Trotsky understood that the nature of the capitalist state meant that it would have to be violently overthrown and a new state, capable of physically resisting counter-revolution created.

Finally the authors also create a false argument when they look at what makes movements successful. Highlighting strikes, stayaways, sit-ins and mass protest movements they seem to think these are somehow dismissed by other revolutionaries. In fact, it is precisely because workers have collective power to change society that socialists constantly emphasise the need for more strikes and mass protests. Sometimes I got the feeling that the authors believed that only they understood this.

While it's been influential, I suspect that many people who have read A Force More Powerful found it interesting, but not particularly useful in arguing a course forward. Readers might want to look at some of the literature that comes out of the revolutionary Marxist tradition if they want a better understanding of what can make social movements successful.

Related Reviews

Trotsky - 1905
Luxemburg - The Mass Strike

Chenoweth & Stephan - Why Civil Resistance Works

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Naomi Klein - On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal

Naomi Klein's latest book, despite it being an updated collection of essays, is possibly her best. Punchy, polemical, insightful and angry. I highly recommend you read it.

I won't write more as I have been asked to review On Fire for another publication and I will link that here when it is published.

Related Reviews

Klein - The Shock Doctrine
Klein - This Changes Everything

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Duff Hart-Davis - Our Land At War: A Portrait of Rural Britain 1939-1945

The Second World War was a transformative period for British rural society. The restrictions of wartime production, the expansion of agriculture, the massive increase in the use of mechanised vehicles for ploughing and transport began the transition to an industrialised landscape in the 1950s. There were tremendous social changes too - as women worked the land and forests in huge numbers - and agriculture communities lost population to the armed forces and war industries.

So it was with interest that I picked up Duff Hart-Davis' book on rural Britain during the World War Two. But it is with great disappointment that I finished it. The book is constructed with a series of chapters looking at different aspects of the author's topic. Unfortunately these chapters are marred by two problems for those interested in agricultural history. Firstly most of the content is in the form of interesting (and entertaining) anecdote, and secondly many of the chapters and contents are only loosely connected to the topic.

For instance there are about 15 pages devoted to the Women's Land Army and about ten to the (often neglected) Women's Forestry Service and the Forestry Commission. But more devoted to the impact of the war on sports (is what happened to Lords' cricket ground anything to do with the rural experience at all?) and hunting. The experience of women working in fields and forests was fundamental to the social changes that took place during the war, yet is reduced here to a mere handful of pages. Similar comments could be made about many other chapters. Do we really need to know about the debates about whether Churchill should join the Navy's flagship during D-Day? Or the experience of animals at London Zoo? Or the details of V1 bombs landing on London? Almost a chapter of information on code-breaking at Bletchly Park is included apparently solely because the stately home was in the countryside.

All of these are interesting, but are extremely peripheral to the subject matter, and are often only included because of a tenuous link (V1s and V2s did land on fields sometimes...) Even when more anecdotes would have been illuminating we learn precious little - for instance there must be much more to say about the role of prisoners of war in the countryside than the handful of pages here.

It must be said that many of the anecdotes and short stories are highly entertaining, but give us barely a snapshot into wider experiences. While Hard-Davis does acknowledge that there is a major transformation going on, he tends to see this in a romanticised way - a golden era of old ways disappearing never to be returned. In fact romanticism pervades the whole book - lots of young boys exploring crashed bombers while out blackberrying.

Yet we learn nothing really about how the War changed agriculture. Did those years improve lives? Did they ultimately make Britain more or less dependent on imported food? What happened to wages, housing and living conditions?

If you want another highly romanticised view of life in wartime based on a few amusing anecdotes then this will while away a few hours. Otherwise avoid - you'd be better reading the chapters in Angus Calder's The People's War devoted to the countryside and Alun Howkin's excellent book The Death of Rural England.

Related Reviews

Calder - The People's War
Calder - The Myth of the Blitz
Kynaston - Austerity Britain 1945 - 1951
Howkins - The Death of Rural England

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tash Aw - We, the Survivors

Tash Aw's novel We, the Survivors is not an easy read. It deals with the consequences of economics and history for ordinary people. In this case the poverty stricken workers and peasants of Malaysia. Looming large over the individuals that we get to know in intimate detail is inequality - the wealth of Kuala Lumpur, whose glittering towers are a beacon to young people who dream of getting a little bit of the wealth that they see on the soap operas and in the expensive cars that drive past them.

The story centres on Ah Hock, who at the start of the novel is a not particularly attractive older man who is unable to work due to an injury he received in prison while serving a sentence for murder. His case attracts some notoriety, and a wealthy young idealistic graduate, Su-Min, decides that Hock's story can make her famous, as well as exposing the corruption and inequality in Malaysian society.

Hock tells his story to her, while gleaning nuggets of information from her about Su-Min's own, alien, life. Hock's life has been one of regular movement as he or his family have looked for work or shelter. His one experience of stability, when his mother and him work a small plot of land and grow food and breed fish for the market, is ruined as eventually the annual floods become to much and swallow the land. Dark murmurings about "climate change" are heard from the local villagers. Hock looks back on this teenage experience of intense labour with pleasure, remembering acting out the fantasies of his idols. But it's also the point he learns his mother isn't all powerful anymore, and there's a poignant story of him getting her a hearing aid via his friend Keong, who gets it with money from crime.

Hock, and many of those he lives and works with aren't, to paraphrase Marx living in circumstances of their own choosing. Their industries are made or broken on the whims of the international capitalist markets. The fishing community Hock is part of finds their prospects rise as newly middle class communities look for local seafood, but simultaneously the water is poisoned by pollution and plastic. As Hock muses:
Some politician in America decides that they can't buy Malaysian rubber gloves; suddenly ten factories in  the area have to shut down. The Europeans want to save the fucking planet so they ban the use of pal oil in food; within a month the entire port is on its knees. Life continues, but you feel it slipping quietly away, and you worry that it'll never return. And because of that fear, you feel caught in a suspended state. On the outside, life seems normal, but inside it's drawn to a standstill.
It's the fear that ultimately leads to the incident that means that Hock ends up in prison. His friend Keong has followed the path from small time criminal to minor gangster in charge of getting slave labour for unscrupulous businessmen. The victims are refugees and the dispossessed, many from Rohingya, but Keong sees them only as workers suitable, or more likely unsuitable, for profitable labour.

Suddenly the workers that Hock manages can't work due to Cholera, and the enterprise that he manages, a fish farm that needs careful maintenance is threatened with collapse. Hock desperately reaches out to Keong for replacement labour to save the farm, and his own livelihood. Hock faces the risk of losing everything - his home, life and partner, but this time in his 40s and unable to work like the young man he was. This is the real angst in the novel - the fear that everything that Hock has achieved, or hoped to do, will suddenly unravel and there's nothing that he can do, and it's partly why almost everyone in the book is a victim too.

Cleverly using Hock's interviews with Su-Min as a way of going back and forth through his life, Tash Aw avoids We, the Survivor's being just an expose of poverty. Rather it's an thoughtful discussion on how our lives are shaped by forces outside of our control, and how its the choices of politicians and big business as well as the gang-masters and exploitative bosses, that shape our destinies. There are hints at wider, collective solutions - the mass protest marches against corruption that Su-Min joins, but by and large there's no real hope for those at the bottom of the pile. It is not a cheerful book, but its powerful and brilliantly constructed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Giorgos Kallis - Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care

This short, readable and stimulating book begins with the author overturning perceived knowledge about the 18th century economist Robert Malthus. Malthus is best know for his extended work An Essay on the Principle of Population, an influential book that has rarely been read by those who claim to extend his ideas. Giorgos Kallis argues that it is important to understand what Malthus was really arguing for, because it is a key statement of a central tenet of modern economics, the idea of limits. In his introduction Kallis says that he aims to "reclaim, refine and defend the notion of limits" and proceeds to do just this with a critical examination of the way that limits have been understood by economists and environmentalists since Malthus' time.

Kallis writes:
Malthus and other early priests of capitalism constructed a picture whereby unlimited human wants clash with a limited world. Scarcity and growth became an inseparable pair, with limits spurring efforts for growth. My thesis is that it is only when we begin to accept the world as abundant that we can contemplate limiting our wants and delimiting a safe space for our freedom.
How does Malthus fit into this? As I've argued elsewhere, and as Kallis points out, Malthus was writing from a particular position in society. In the aftermath of the French Revolution Malthus was aiming to prove that the Utopian dreams of revolutionaries everywhere were doomed to failure. His argument, crudely, was that it would be impossible to provide for everyone's needs equally because nature is "naturally limited". As Kallis explains:
Malthus conceives of a world that is naturally limited because the needs of our bodies are naturally unlimited. Here is a conception of nature that lies at the heart of modern economics and, to an extent, environmentalism.
Paradoxically, given how he is remembered, Kallis says that Malthus "did not claim that population growth must be limited". Instead, Malthus was a "prophet of growth" arguing that a happy nation is one where "population grows". Helping the poor for Malthus was undesirable because it gave them, according to Kallis, access to "leisure" that they did not deserve as they had not worked for it. I don't particularly disagree with this reading of Malthus, though I do feel the author doesn't quite get to the heart of the contempt that Malthus had for the poor. To quote Malthus himself:
With regard to illegitimate children.. they should on no account whatever be allowed to have any claim to parish allowance... The infant is, comparatively speaking, of no value to society, as others will immediately supply its place.
He continues later:
We cannot, in the nature of things, assist the poor, in any way, without enabling them to rear up to manhood a greater number of their children.
It is no wonder then, that Friedrich Engels argued that Malthus' ideas had become the "pet theory for the genuine English bourgeois... since it is the most specious excuse for them."

Unfortunately modern environmentalism has become dominated by the bourgeois explanation for the state of the world. The 1960s saw a number of environmental writers, such as Paul Ehrlich, who "retained the idea of a limited world that would clash with exponential growth." Unlike Malthus though, the limits Ehrlich and friends were concerned with were natural resources, food, drinking water and so on, rather than the nature of people to over-procreate. This Kallis contrasts with the views of some societies that saw natural resources, such as the Yaka people who see the forests they live in as abundant, because their "social relations... do not spur conquest and depletion".

Here Kallis turns the idea of limits on its head. Instead of being real physical things fixed in nature and physics, limits are the product of particular cultural and social approaches and understandings. He says:
The limit resides in the subject and the intention, not in nature, which is indifferent to our intentions. And it is our intentions that should be limited. A mature, autonomous civilisation would be aware that nature is not a strict mother who imposes limits and tells us what we have to do. But this doesn't mean we can do whatever pleases us... It is our actions that have consequences that we might or might not like, and which we have to limit with an eye to the consequences of not doing so.
Kallis isn't setting out a precise approach to limits - indeed he asks rhetorically later, "do I want limits to everything?... clean energy or education?" What he is trying to get the reader to do is to approach the question from a different direction and that is one that arises out of understanding the limits imposed by the nature of society itself. Capitalism is, he points out is one were there is "accumulation-economic growth without limit". And this is, what needs to be limited.

Such an understanding of capitalism is at the core of Marxist ecological critiques of capitalism. Kallis argues the problem is the accumulation of money in the hands of the few - which is true enough, but the deeper problem is that the accumulation of wealth, for the sake of accumulation arises out of the nature of production under capitalism, particularly the system of competing blocks of capital. So it is right to demand more (unlimited?) democracy and limits on the accumulation of money etc, but we also have to demand an end to the system.

Given the similarities between Kallis' arguments and some bits of Marx and Engels, I was surprised to see his brief discussion on socialism. Here Kallis summarises Marx and Engels as saying that socialism would be a better system at "setting and sharing limits" and that they followed this up by arguing that "socialism can somehow develop production more rationally than capitalism... Socialism, on this view would supersede the land, resource,or population limits faced by capitalism because it would be rational and superior technologically."

Kallis points out that if such a system simply wanted to satisfy needs "similar to capitalism" then it doesn't matter as it would be as destructive. But this is a simplification of Marx and Engels' work in understanding how and why capitalism destroys the environment and their solution. But the two Communists had a vision of a completely different relationship between humans and the world around them under Communism than under capitalism. The metabolic rift that takes place under capitalism, would need to be healed through the conscious rational management of the metabolic relationship between society and nature. Marx noted that people who develop
their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this, their real existence, their thinking and the productions of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.
In building a new world, people will thus transform their understanding of the world and their place within it, and create a new way of approaching society and nature. Revolutionary transformation will create a new, revolutionary, consciousness that is more than simply workers control of factories.

One of the problems with trying to comprehend the nature of the limits we require in the face of environmental catastrophe, is that the current system is so destructive that it obscures what might be. In order to have a rational discussion about the limits (or none) that society needs or must impose, we have to clear away capitalism.

There are important discussions to be had about the type of environmental politics and ecological economics that we need. Kallis points out that history will continue whatever we do, though I'd add that humans might not be there to partake in it. But if humanity is to have a future we need radical thinking, and Giorgos Kallis' book offers us a thought-provoking approach to an age old debate.

Related Reviews

Malthus - An Essay on the Principle of Population
Meek (ed) - Marx and Engels on the Population Bomb
Ehrlich - The Population Bomb
Dorling - Population 10 Billion
Foster - Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature
Burkett - Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective
Burkett - Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy

Gavin Maxwell - Ring of Bright Water

I've always thought fondly of Ring of Bright Water, a book that had a pride of place on my father's bookshelf and a film that I vaguely remember being on the Saturday afternoon schedules every few months. So when I recently discovered it on a pile of cheap paperbacks in a second hand book shop I decided, for the sake of Dad's memory, if nothing else to have a read. Repeated failures recently to see otters in the wild on a Scottish holiday may also have encouraged me.

The book was not what I had expected at all. I had always imagined Gavin Maxwell as being a strange lonely figure living in remote Scotland with only local otters for company. While he does live in remote Scotland - a location that gives us some fascinating descriptions of post-War life among crofters and the fishing community, he travels widely through the book and neither of the two otters he befriends come from Scotland. The first was actually a rare otter from Iraq's marshland and Maxwell gives his name to the species, the second from West Africa found by a family that Maxwell meets while still in mourning for his first otter that is killed in a tragic accident.

Much of the book is Maxwell's musings on the nature of otters and their suitability as pets. Maxwell's an unusual character himself. While staying in London he frequently walks the otters on a leash to Harrods to do shopping. He also is (or was an avid hunter). The book has, as a result, some laugh out loud comic moments and the occasional bit where today's reader might think, well thank god the past is a different country.

Actually the most interesting bits don't have otters in them at all, but discuss the wildlife, ecology and society of the small area of Scotland that Maxwell lives in, when he isn't travelling the world or shopping in Harrods. It's beautiful and you really get a sense of how the last fifty years have seen a complete sea change in local flora and fauna. Interesting though this is, I doubt I'll be looking for the sequels, though Maxwell's recently republished account of his time running a business hunting Basking Sharks for oil is on my list.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Mike Gonzalez - In the Red Corner: The Marxism of José Carlos Mariátegui

The recent radical "pink" governments in Latin America are part of a long history of revolutionary politics in that region. However discussion of that history in Europe usually neglects, or ignores, the rich and important revolutionary ideas that have developed there. So I was very pleased to see that Mike Gonzalez has published the first English language biography of one of Latin America's most important and original activists and thinkers, José Carlos Mariátegui.

In his short life (1894 - 1930: he died when he was just 35) Mariátegui proved himself a brilliant political organiser, writer and thinker. Gonzalez explains that Mariátegui was
A Marxist in thought and practice; his ideas evolved and grew in a specific time and place, and responded to the political demands of both. The evolution of his ideas began in Peru in the conditions of semicolonial society still stamping at the threshold of modern capitalism. But... Peru was not one world but two; in the encounter between indigenous Peru and criollo [people of Spanish descent] Peru, he found new challenges and the human and historical material for a creative new vision of how revolutionary change could occur in Latin America.
Mariátegui lived during a formative period for Peruvian capitalism, but also for world socialism. An extended trip to Europe in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the mass struggles that shook the country he spent much of his time in, Italy, turned Mariátegui into a Marxist. But his Marxism was not dogmatic. Influenced by the revolutionary ideas swirling around the debates during the formation of the Italian Communist Party, Mariátegui returns to Peru convinced that Marxism can explain both the historical development of the country and offer a strategy for the millions of oppressed and exploited.

In Peru four fifths of the population was indigenous and an important question for Mariátegui was their role in the movement. Gonzalez argues that "their consciousness was certainly formed by the their location in the economic system, but not only that" and for Mariátegui the key question was whether this "would separate them from the rest of the movement, or include them, enriching and diversifying the movement."

Today, in many parts of the world, big social movements are developing around the ecological crisis and the way it is driven by capitalism. Indigenous people, in places like Canada, North America, Latin America and Australasia, are playing a key role in these movements, not simply as activists, but with sets of ideas that Gonzalez describes (in the context of Latin America) as territorio, a "notion beyond geography, which embraces history, philosophy, cultural forms and practices and theidea of enduring collective ownership". In particular, for Mariátegui, there were a set of ideas and social forms that arose in Peru in Inca society which carried through into modern society, and were socialist in nature.

Much of this book looks at the development of Mariátegui's own ideas and his life of activism. One central idea for Mariátegui is the concept of "myth" which one thinker quoted by Gonzalez describes as the "anticipatory consciousness of a class, or... its most advanced sector... at a given moment in time and which glimpses or senses... a new reality and struggles for its realisation."

This controversial idea was not Mariátegui's originally, but he develops it into a concept closely linked to his views on the "revolutionary subject". Here Mariátegui arrives at a "broader perception of that subject in which other social layers [than the working class] and classes could identify with, and participate in the social revolution impelled by the labouring classes". Gonzalez's notes that this concept might be seen as analogous with Hardt and Negri's "multitude" but that is an inadequate comparison. Certainly Mariátegui understood the central role of the working class as being in a unique position to transform society, which is why he spent so much time as a trade union and socialist organiser. Gonzalez writes:
Mariátegui was very clear that the Peruvian working class was not in a position to create soviets - it was too small... in a phase of disorganisation and demoralisation. Yet the general conclusion he did draw was that a socialist revolution, however far into the future it may occur, must at all costs avoid the emergence of a bureaucratic layer acting on behalf of and against the general interests of the class. The possibility of a socialist transformation would hang on the existence of a driving narrative with the emotional power to bind together the collective will - in other words, a myth.
The use of the word myth, and Mariátegui's broader comments on the "revolutionary subject", allowed many to dismiss his ideas as non-Marxist. In fact Mariátegui had a much deeper and dialectical Marxism than many of those who attacked him. It is noteworthy, for instance, that unlike some radical thinkers, Mariátegui was not Utopian about indigenous people or their historical societies. Mariátegui wrote "Modern communism is a very different thing from Inca communism... Each is the product of a very different historical epoch... In out time autocracy and communism are incompatible, but that was not the case in primitive societies. Today's new order cannot renounce any part of the moral progress that modern society has made."

 José Carlos Mariátegui
In other words, a socialist transformation of society is not a turn back to some historical idyll, but one that builds on all the developments of history. Mariátegui's Marxism did not fit with those rigid dogmatic idealists who took over the Communist International in the wake of the isolation of the Russian Revolution. They attacked him for refusing to help form a Communist Party in Peru at a time Mariátegui felt was unripe. Crudely applying Marxist concepts to Peruvian history didn't work and went against everything Mariátegui argued Marxism was:
Marxism, which many people talk about but few know or, more importantly understand, is a fundamentally dialectical method that is, a method that rests integrally on reality, on the facts. It is not, as some people wrongly suppose, a body of rigid principles and their consequences, identical for every historical age and all social latitudes. Marx pulled his method from the very guts of history. Marxism in every country, in every people, operates and acts in the ambience, in the environment, neglecting not of its modalities.
The tragedy is that Mariátegui's life, cut short by illness, meant that he was not able to develop and build on his revolutionary ideas. It is tempting to speculate about what might have been had Mariátegui lived longer, or had access to more writings of Marx and Engels or those of contemporary revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky in the 1930s. Stalinist writers tried to destroy Mariátegui's legacy for his failure to commit to the formation of the Peruvian Communist Party, though it is clear from Gonzalez's book that for Mariátegui, this was not a failure to understand the need for revolutionary organisation, but rather a complex strategical question.

With this in mind, and with the urgent need for the rebuilding of revolutionary organisation in Latin America and across the globe, it is excellent that Mike Gonzalez has produced this accessible and fascinating guide to the life and ideas of José Carlos Mariátegui, one of Latin Americas' great, and sadly neglected, revolutionaries.

Related Reviews

Gonzalez - The Ebb of the Pink Tide
Gonzalez - Rebel's Guide To Marx
Gonzalez - Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution
Sader - The New Mole