Leo Panitch and Colin Leys's In Search of Socialism provides a very interesting history of Tony Benn's new Left Labour movement and how it can evolve within the Labour movement.
Want to look at America from a slightly different perspective with a bit of mirth?
Exile by Belen Fernandez might be for you then.
If you were confused or surprised by Trump's relative success in the the 2020 election, then Fantasyland by Curt Andersen could well be of interest.
James Baldwin’s America and its urgent lessons for today
By Eddie S Glaude Jr
‘I was stupid enough to overestimate White America ‘ writes the author of this important book in the wake of Trump’s victory in 2016. He reflects bitterly that he didn’t feel he could vote for Hilary Clinton and that he exhorted many other black voters to leave the Presidential ballot blank. This, the action of a black Professor at Princeton. Chair of the Department of African and American Studies ; an influencer, born and raised in Mississippi. He felt let down by Obama and Clinton didn’t present enough post-recession policies to help the black voters. He failed to understand that the black voters needed the Democrats, needed them to buy time. So there we were ‘bookended by the likes of Reagan and Trump with, of all things, a black president pinched in the middle and wondering what will happen next.’
Glaude, now in his fifties, knew Baldwin well, his writings very well and still researches his works and influences. For guidance and solace at the beginning of the Trump presidency, the Professor turned to Baldwin’s artistic and political life with particular focus on America post the killings of Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King and the subsequent collapse of the Civil Rights Movement. ‘What do you do when you have lost faith in the place you call home’ ? In 2018, Glaude travelled to a place Baldwin frequently sought out when ‘home’ was insupportable, Baldwin’s house and a rough seventeen acres of maquis outside St Paul de Vence in Provence.
He had been warned what to expect ; Baldwin’s house had been all but totally
bulldozed to make way for a block of luxury flats. He surveyed the wreckage and remembered Baldwin’s admonition during the Reagan years ‘White people will never change ‘. Glaude also recounts another memory, made later and shortly before Baldwin’s death, ‘when someone finds themselves digging through the ruins [of my work] …I pray that somewhere in that wreckage ,
they’ll find me somewhere in that wreckage, that they use something I’ve left behind’.
BEGIN AGAIN , using Baldwin’s life and work as guide and inspiration, is Glaude’s attempt to find a way and find some sense and comfort in the story of America through the years of Malcolm X, Dr King, the ‘after years’ with the Panthers, Black Power and now Black Lives Matter.
The differing themes of Baldwin’s literary art, his political life, his personal life, the change and the lack of it in American attitudes, move throughout the book in a murmuration of fascinating history. The detail , occasionally shocking,, is inserted into the historical narrative without disrupting the flow . Baldwin knew King well but they were not really close - King was uneasy with ‘queerness’ ; Eldridge Cleaver was downright insulting . From white Americans, the assessment of Baldwin’s work became more critical and dismissive
as the artist’s ‘we’ changed and empathy with Black Power become apparent and unapologetic.
For readers, admiring or not, of Baldwin, this book gives an urgent and honest overview of his work but also of the resilience of the artist and the people he addressed and lived among. His life was lived in perilous and vicious times for black voters and politicians . The author points out in his introduction that as he started to write, COVID had not yet asserted a grip on the world and George Floyd was still alive . As he sat down to write his first chapter, he was despairing but finding comfort and help in the years of struggle Baldwin worked through.
Trump the man is gone now and America is looking at what next ? There is a pandemic that won’t be gone, ever, possibly and distracts in a way even Trump couldn’t beat. David Baldwin remarked that his brother believed that Hope is invented every day. ‘Not everything is lost. Responsibiity cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again’.
9 March 2021
I could not recommend Pedagogy of the Oppressed from 1968 by Paulo Freire more.
As a psychotherapist I do love when someone brings together psychoanalytical thoughts and politics, as it shows to me a deep understanding of how we are, where we, are and more importantly how we could create a very different world if we worked together. Instead we allow ourselves to be divided by people not interested in anyone’s welfare apart their own.
My main theme in this book would be the absolute need for dialogue and so one favourite quote for me would be ‘To impede communication is to reduce men to status of “things” – and this is a job for oppressors, not for revolutionaries.’ As well as ‘…avoidance of dialogue with the people under the pretext of organising them…is really a fear of freedom. It is fear of or lack of faith in the people. But if the people can’t be trusted, there is no reason for liberation…’.
It is hard to trust others but there really isn’t any other way.