Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Book Round Up #11: Notes and Previews of "A Troublemaker’s Handbook" and "The Case For Goliath" [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Here is another of our occasional book round ups consisting of short notices of works we have not been able to fully review. These are essentially meta-reviews (reviews of reviews). If any of our readers are inspired to read one of these books (or any other) and wishes to write a full review, please contact us with your query at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net.

A TROUBLEMAKER’S HANDBOOK 2: HOW TO FIGHT BACK WHERE YOU WORK AND WIN edited by Jane Slaughter, A Labors Note Book, 2005, reviewed by Carole Pearson in DOLLARS AND SENSE: THE MAGAZINE OF ECONOMIC JUSTICE, November/December 2005.

This is a handbook for on the job activists, for those who find themselves living under a virtual dictatorship when they go to work. Slaughter quotes Dan La Botz, "when we get to work, we lose our rights. The boss takes over, a little dictator in the banana republic that is our home away from home." "Banana republic" may be an objectionable term, but the point is well made.

This book is a revised edition of the first handbook of 1991. Slaughter says it "reflects the new direction of labor organizing today" which, faced with the challenges posed by globalization and corporate erosion of democracy has to base itself not just in the workplace but also in "broad-based community coalitions."

La Botz is quoted again: "The goal of organizing is not merely to build unions: it is to increase the power of working people on the job and in society." The boss has to learn that he is dealing with a mass of united people not just a few class conscious union organizers. In addition to the slow and almost invisible process of grievances and hearings, the book explains how activists can engage in direct action and build broad based solidarity movements.

The reviewer mentions how music, theatre and humor can be utilized to ridicule the bosses and encourage people to fight back, as well as the creative use of union bulletin boards in the workplace, the launching of nonviolent disruption campaigns (as at Verizon and Midwest Express Airlines) when strikes may not work.

The growth of worker centers is also discussed where low paid nonunion and immigrant workers can get help dealing with issues such as with holding of wages, sexual harassment and discrimination. Workers also learn about the value of unions in these centers but the book points out, in another quote given by Slaughter, "the objective is not to push workers into a union but help them figure out how to organize themselves into a union."

Slaughter tells us the book is full of stories of victories gained by ordinary working people over their oppressors by using these methods. However, she points out one weakness in this work-- there are no accounts "of the failures." It is true that we can learn as much, sometimes, from failures as from successes, but this an upbeat book meant to inspire the fight back so perhaps it can be excused on this account. By the way, if you are unfamiliar with the magazine Dollars and Sense-- check it out, it is the Left’s anodyne to Forbes.

THE CASE FOR GOLIATH: HOW AMERICA ACTS AS THE WORLD’S GOVERNMENT IN THE 21ST CENTURY by Michael Mandelbaum, Public Affairs, 320 pp., reviewed by Anatol Lieven in THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, January 2006.

The reviewer rejects the argument of this book but also recognizes the hubris involved in its positions. He also points out the lamentable fact that the majority of policy makers and political leaders in both major parties agree with the basic premises of the book. These premises are that the US is effectively the acting world government, that it should remain so, and it is better world because of our de facto rulership. This is the point of view of the Bushite neoconservatives who think might makes right (this is the ultimate conclusion to be drawn from the notion "We are an empire now, we make our own reality"), but it is also the point of view of the leadership of the so-called "political realists" or pragmatists who have control of the Democratic Party (the Clinton people for example)-- I don’t mean the part about "might" but that America rules the world and ought too.

Lieven says Mandelbaum used to be thought of as a Democratic realist and even clashed with the Clinton people in the 90s when he thought they were getting to far away from the reality of world politics. He had reference to the failed attempts at "nation building" of the Clintonites.The reviewer suggests that Realists put order, trade and national security ahead of human rights, spreading democracy, and humanitarian intervention or at least that is the "emphasis." They reject what Mandelbaum called "foreign policy as social work." But Mandelbaum’s realism, in this book, makes a bolder claim than that made by any realist at any time in any country "assuming, that is, that Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler are to be classified as ideological fanatics rather than extreme realists." If Lieven doesn’t know the difference between Soviet and Nazi foreign policy then he doesn’t know much at all.

What is that claim? It is "that the United States not only ought to be, but actually is in vital respects the government of the whole planet." If you really support that view, Goliath would seem to be an unfortunate symbol to choose for your position. The reviewer has no trouble in shooting down this ridiculous claim as any decerning readers will be able to do. Mandelbaum bases his claim on the "fact" that the world is safer, economically better off, and in over all better shape under US domination and that the only objection to US rule stems from "envy" ( a few shared by Fouad Ajami, Charles Krauthammer and other intellectual minor leaguers).

One only has to look at the actual condition of the world we live in to wonder what planet can Mandelbaum be on? If US power should begin to "wane" -- to the detriment of the world-- it will be because, Lieven explains, the American people "do not wish to pay for international dominance at the expense of social welfare at home." Lieven says Mandelbaum thinks this "would be a disaster for the world." What happened to "guns and butter"? The old realists maintained the people would put up with the Empire (guns) as long as they got their butter. Now it’s just the guns and if the people protest about the lack of butter that will be a world disaster. A disaster for whom? Calling Lenin!

Lieven is a "better" realist that Mandlbaum. He thinks the Bushites are heading for real disaster due to their policies-- a disaster that may bring the Empire to an end-- as he puts it, it "will bring even the beneficial aspects of America’s global role to an early end." I’m looking at my short list and trying to find out what "beneficial aspects" of US imperialism working people around the world will truly lament if lost. Lieven reveals his own level of realism when he says that Mandelbaum’s problem is that he thinks "envy" motivates US critics when in reality other people really don’t mind being bossed around by the USA "much criticism of the United States today is motivated not by hostility to the idea of America leading, but by profound alarm at the quality of its leadership." If we had some quality control in place the world would just junk the UN and willingly be told what to do by the US.

Perhaps both Public Affairs Press and the American Prospect should exercise a little quality control themselves.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net.

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