Books of 2019!

As of this writing, I have read 53 nonfiction books in 2019, although I am still working on finishing several others.

However, since I don’t expect to be finishing any of the books I am reading right now in the next month, I thought now wouldn’t be a bad time to do a annual recap of all the books I read in 2019 🙂

Here are all the books I read in 2019 (not in order):

  1. The Struggle for Algeria — Joseph Kraft
  2. The Condition of the Working Class in England — Fredrich Engels
  3. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide — Gerard Prunier
  4. The Origins of the Civil War in Tajikistan: Nationalism, Islamism, and Violent Conflict in Post-Soviet Space — Tim Epkenhans
  5. How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger — Susan George
  6. The East Pakistan Tragedy — L. Rushbrook Williams
  7. Balochistan: In Quest of Freedom — Syed Ramsey
  8. West Papua: The Obliteration of a People — Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong
  9. War Economy and Crisis – Hyman Lumer
  10. The Right to Self-Determination in the South Caucasus: Nagorno-Karabakh in Context — Bahruz Balayev
  11. From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno Karabakh — Arsene Saparov
  12. Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism — Kwame Nkrumah
  13. Atomic Imperialism: The State, Monopoly, and the Bomb — James S. Allen
  14. The Sudanese Communist Party: Ideology and Party Politics — Tareq Y. Ismael
  15. Politics in Sierra Leone, 1947-1967 — John R. Cartwright
  16. Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution — Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy
  17. Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution — Dan Connell
  18. Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared — Awet Tewelde Weldemichael
  19. A History of South Sudan: From Slavery to Independence — Øystein H. Rolandsen and M.W. Daly
  20. The Communist Movement in Nepal: Origins and Development — Bhim Rawal
  21. Ethiopia’s Revolution — Raul Valdes Vivo
  22. Memories — Andrei Gromyko
  23. The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Iraq — Tareq Y. Ismael
  24. Namibia’s Liberation Struggle: The Two-Edged Sword — Colin Leys and John S. Saul
  25. The Baloch and Balochistan: A Historical Account from the Beginning to the Fall of the Baloch State — Naseer Dashti
  26. The Supreme Court of Canada: History of the Institution — James G. Snell and Frederick Vaughan
  27. The History of Siberia: From Russian Conquest to Revolution — Alan Wood
  28. Kenya’s War of Independence: Mau and its Legacy of Resistance to Colonialism and Imperialism, 1948-1990 — Shiraz Durrani
  29. Fifty Fighting Years: The Communist Party of South Africa, 1921-1971 — A. Lerumo
  30. Kyrgyzstan: Beyond “Democracy Island” and “Failing State”: Social and Political Changes in a Post-Soviet Society — Marlène Laruelle (Editor), Johan Engvall (Editor)
  31. The Balkan Wars, 1912-13: The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky — Leon Trotsky
  32. Psychiatric Hegemony: A Marxist Analysis of Mental Illness — Bruce M. Z. Cohen
  33. Land and Agrarian Reform in Zimbabwe: Beyond White Settler Capitalism — Sam Moyo
  34. Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and Peoples War — Patrick Chabal
  35. Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan — A. C. Grayling
  36. Fiji: Race and Politics in and Island State — Michael Howard
  37. Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR — Abeed Khalid
  38. A History of Niger: 1850-1960 — Finn Fuglestad
  39. Tajikistan: The Trials of Independence — Shirin Akiner, Mohammad-Reza Djalili, Frederic Grare
  40. The Trial of Hissène Habré: How the People of Chad Brought a Tyrant to Justice — Celeste Hicks
  41. Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered — Raymond William Baker, Tareq Y. Ismael, Shereen T. Ismael
  42. A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye — Melvyn C. Goldstein, Dawei Sherap, and William R. Siebenschuh
  43. State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic — Louisa Lombard
  44. The Problem of India — R. Palme Dutt
  45. Burkina Faso: A History of Power, Protest, and Revolution — Ernest Harsch
  46. The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Workingmen’s Association — Wolfgang Eckhardt
  47. Sir George Goldie and the Making of Nigeria — J. E. Flint
  48. The Fulani Empire of Sokoto — H. A. S. Johnston
  49. An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women — Karen Stote
  50. Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan — Adrienne Lynn Edgar
  51. The Birth of Tajikistan: National Identity and the Origins of the Republic — Paul Bergne
  52. Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic — Ervand Abrahamian
  53. Russian Colonial Society in Tashkent, 1865-1923 — Jeff Sahadeo

Most of the reviews I wrote for these books were published on other sites (another blog of mine, GoodReads, etc.). Below are reviews of what I feel are some of the most important books I read in 2019. Enjoy!

Almost immediately after declaring independence from the Soviet Union/USSR, Tajikistan, a small Central Asian republic bordered by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and China, collapsed into a civil war which killed an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 and displaced a million.

In this landmark study of Tajikistan’s civil war (1992-1997), the author, Tim Epkenhans, takes the highly unusual, but very informative, approach of relying mostly on memoirs/autobiographies written by the war’s leading personalities (warlords, politicians, Islamists, etc.). The advantages to this are that the author can utilize sources that are otherwise inaccessible or underutilized in most Western analyses of the war (not that there are many), and that author is able to reconstruct the origins of war through the narratives of those involved, instead of relying on preconceived ideological assumptions, a remarkable accomplishment. Never have I read a book about a civil war or any other conflict in which the author essentially refrains from arguing why he/she thinks the war started by limiting himself/herself to examining what the war’s leading personalities have written about it.

Although the memoirs/autobiographies are valuable for research purposes, I am still personally inclined to argue that economic contractions caused by the restoration of capitalism, the loss of Soviet subsidies for essential services, and perhaps due to Moscow’s unequal relationship with its peripheries, was the most important spark for violence, that was then exploited by local actors, as in the former Yugoslavia, for personal motive.

In Tajikistan, for instance, which was the least developed and poorest of the Soviet republics, between 1991 (independence) and 1993, two-thirds of the economy vanished, and consumer prices increased by more than 2,000+%. That would have devastated working people.

While I don’t know enough about the Armenian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani SSR economies, I think it is interesting that, at least in Central Asia, of the five republics that declared independence, the one that was the least industrialized was also the only one (or the first one, depending on how you view the Kyrgyz-Uzbek violence in Kyrgyzstan in 2010) to collapse into civil war. The lack of industrialization in the Tajikistan SSR and the republic’s dependency on a single crop (cotton), the market for which disappeared once the Soviet Union disintegrated and the republic became independent, have caused some of the sources the author uses in this book, not necessarily in my opinion without reason although I am no expert, to criticize the Soviet Union’s ‘colonial’ relationship with the Tajikistan SSR.

Far from being eccentric or irrelevant to Marxism, I think more Marxists should study the conflict in Tajikistan, as I think such things as the unequal relationship between Moscow and its periphery republics raise important questions about Marxist-Leninist political economy and social transformation.

On that note this book is not very accessible to the average reader and shouldn’t be used as a starting point in understanding the civil war in Tajikistan. First, the glossary of Tajik/Russian terms is woefully inefficient. Several Tajik/Russian terms the author uses throughout the book cannot be found in the glossary. Second, the author has a habit of switching between first names and last names when referencing the same individual (ex. Hoğī Akbar Tūrağonzoda is referenced throughout the book, even in the same paragraph, sometimes as “Hoğī Akbar” and sometimes as “Tūrağonzoda”, leading to some confusion as to if the author is referring to a different person or the same person). Third, no maps are provided, so unless you have one beside you or are familiar with the geography and administrative regions/cities of Tajikistan, such as Gorno-Badakhshan, Qurghonteppa, Khujand, etc., it will be difficult to follow along in the book.

“If it takes you six hours to read this book, somewhere in the world 2,500 people will have died of starvation or of hunger-related illness by the time you finish,” writes the author.

In “How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger,” author Susan George offers a devastating (and provocative, at least for mainstream, pro-capitalist analysts) of the policies and activities of major multinational corporations, the U.S. and its imperialist allies, and organizations like the World Bank and the IMF, that is still relevant more than 40 years later.

First, the author focuses her attack on the ‘Population Myth’, i.e., the Malthusian idea, widely propagated by major business foundations (Rockefeller, Ford, Gates, etc.), that world hunger is due to overpopulation. “A close look at the present situation shows that only the poor – wherever they may live – go hungry and that deeply-rooted patterns of injustice and exploitation, homegrown or imported, literally prevent them from feeding themselves. Needless to say, such analyses are not popular with those who may profit from injustice. This may be one reason so many ‘experts’ have tried to place the burden for hunger literally in the laps of the hungry; specifically their reproductive organs!” (p. 16-17). Although famines and shortages have existed since time immemorial, writes George, “the upper classes never stopped eating, whatever the weather. Surely climate cannot be the only factor that shapes our lives and our diets – social organization must have something to do with them” (p. 44). George makes a cogent argument about why organizations like the Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates foundations, the latter having pledged $1 billion in 2012 for birth control in ‘maldeveloped’ countries: “The mere fact that the rich and powerful have shown such enormous interest in limiting the birth rates of the poor and downtrodden should in itself make us suspicious. Is it their milk or human kindness spilling over? Such charitable intentions have been less evident in areas where they would do more good. It seems fantastically easy to get money for birth-control studies and programmes in Asia whereas research geared to more equitable distribution of food, ‘soft’ technology and the like must go begging. Could it be that philanthropists would rather have countries like India tailor their populations to existing capacities of agriculture – capacities limited by reactionary land-tenure structures – than see them undertake the thoroughgoing reforms and overhaul of the social system that would be necessary to feed growing populations?” (p. 54). George’s analysis debunking the population myth can best be summarized in this sentence on p. 59: “The first thing to realize when trying to think straight about population/food is that hunger is not caused by population pressure. Both hunger and rapid population growth reflect the same failure of a political and economic system.”

Secondly, the author takes aim at how climatic conditions (ex. drought, floods, etc.) do not cause famines. Major natural disasters will continue to happen, but as George highlights, “a hurricane in Florida and a cyclone of identical force in Pakistan do not have the same consequences, even though both are disasters,” just as a drought in the Southwestern U.S. “is not at all the same thing as a drought in the Sahel” (p. 44). This is because “[n]atural calamities may point up the weaknesses of underlying social structures, but they do not cause them. If a given social and economic system is vulnerable it may even reach the point of famine without natural disaster,” as an otherwise minor shortfall in a crop like grain could lead to famine “when it is accompanied by less cash to invest in the following year’s crop (and therefore by less employment and less income for rural workers), by hoarding and speculation on the part of local grain merchants and traders and by the consequent rise in food prices that put the poor totally outside the market” (p. 44). “Flood or drought,” George writers, “can help to create conditions under which famine thrives – but they do not create the human action and inaction that insures that the wealthy alone will eat – come literally hell or high water” (p. 46).

The rest of the book is mostly technical, examining specific policies and actions of multinational corporations, government policies, etc., and involving the author’s own experience working in international development and at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Chapter six, ‘Planned Scarcity’, I thought was particularly interesting, as I imagine few are cognizant of the scale in which multinational corporations and governments destroy food in order to create an artificial scarcity and keep prices high. “When we speak of scarcity today – and food must be ‘scarce’; otherwise why would so many hundreds of millions be hungry? – we must place it in the political context of those nations who largely control the world’s present food supply and of the huge corporations that dominate the food trade,” George writes. “According to the simplest rule of liberal economics, a vital commodity in short supply will be expensive and he who has some to sell will make money. This basic rule is being applied on a global scale, with considerable success” [p. 140]. In the 1960s, to keep prices for food high, the U.S. removed 20 million hectares out of production, and even in 1972, the U.S. was continuing to subsidize farmers to the tune of $3 billion per year not to produce [p. 29]. According to the author, just in the summer of 1972, the “United States paid farmers to withhold 60 million acres from production – fully 15 per cent of all US cropland” [p. 142].

George, as the saying goes, leaves no stone unturned in this book. While it is beyond the scope of my review to examine in each detail every issue she examines, in addition to the above issues, the author examines the policies and activities of the world’s leading financial institutions (World Bank, IMF), the use of food aid as a weapon to control the political and economic systems of foreign countries since the U.S.’s first ‘food aid’ shipment in 1812, land reform, and many more issues pertaining to world hunger.

Susan George’s “How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger” is a remarkable indictment of U.S.-led Western imperialism and mainstream development studies. Along with Josue de Castro’s “The Geography of Hunger”, it is a must read for those interested in international development, ‘overpopulation’, agriculture, and world hunger.

L. Rushbrook Williams’ “The East Pakistan Tragedy”, a book about Bangladesh’s (i.e., East Pakistan’s) struggle for independence, was not at all what I was expecting when I first started reading it. Almost everything I have ever read about Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971 has repeated ad nauseam how the military junta in [West] Pakistan launched a brutal crackdown in Bangladesh, killing some 3,000,000 people. According to Williams, a British civil servant who had worked in the Indian subcontinent since 1914, and who travelled extensively throughout Pakistan, West and East, during the war, the complete opposite happened: the Awami League, under the militant Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and supported by Pakistan’s archenemy India, were the terrorist marauders that committed widespread destruction and ethnic cleansing of non-Bengalis, not the Pakistani military.

This makes the book very difficult to review objectively, at least without more research on the history of Bangladesh, as I feel it is impossible for me to place the book in the right historical and ideological context.

On the one hand, Williams’ offers compelling evidence, ranging from his own extensive observations of refugee camps, visits to West and East Pakistan throughout 1971, and his own personal talks with President Yahya Khan, business leaders, and other prominent figures, for his case that the mainstream, Western narrative about what happened in Bangladesh in 1971, was a propaganda coup by the Awami League and India.

Among Williams’ strongest points that I feel hold considerable validity are: 1.) India, Pakistan’s main rival, wanted (and no doubt still does) to see the breakup of Pakistan, thus India supported financially and militarily the Awami militants, closed its airspace to Pakistani aircraft, and spread false information to major international news outlets; and 2.), that, according to numerous economic statistics provided by Williams’, West Pakistan did not economically exploit East Pakistan for the benefit of West Pakistani capital, one of the Awami League’s strongest arguments in favor of secession.

On the other hand, Williams’ depiction of Pakistan’s then military leader, Yahya Khan, as an almost divine leader, wanting nothing more than to save his country from inevitable ruin, I find to be highly suspect. Williams’ comparison of the righteousness of Khan’s response to the secessionist movement in East Pakistan with Britain’s response to the conflict in Northern Ireland, and Nigeria’s response to the secession of Biafra, leads me to seriously question his whitewashing of West Pakistan’s role during the whole period under examination. No state that I am aware of – including Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Britain, Indonesia, Sudan, or even Canada for that matter during the FLQ Crisis – has ever responded to the secession of a part of its territory with such benevolence as Williams’ depiction of West Pakistan in its conflict with East Pakistan. A more interesting comparison Williams’ could have made is that between West Pakistan’s response to the conflict in East Pakistan with the ongoing secessionist movement in Balochistan. Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, Balochi separatists have fought an increasingly brutal war for independence against Pakistan, including major outbreaks of violence in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63 and 1973–77. The fact that Williams’, in arguing for the righteousness of West Pakistan’s cause in the conflict with East Pakistan, never once makes any reference to the independence movement in Baolchistan, I find highly suspect.

Despite its questionable historical accuracy, “The East Pakistan Tragedy” by L. Rushbrook Williams was offers an interesting insight into Bangladesh’s War of Independence.

Although I had heard of Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua, the Western half of the island of New Guinea, mostly through a few rap/hip-hop songs I listen to, I wasn’t as familiar with it as I was, say, Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor.

“West Papua: The Obliteration of a People” by Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong is a powerful indictment of Indonesia’s genocide of the native Melanesian (Papuan) people. In many ways Indonesia’s genocide of West Papua’s Melanesian people, as described in this book, is virtually identical to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and genocide against the Palestinian people.

Just as in Palestine between 1947-48 the UN failed to uphold the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Charter, and to protect Palestinians from ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Zionist paramilitaries, so, too, did the UN fail to uphold the Papuan people’s right to self-determination and protect Papuans from Indonesia’s merciless campaign of ethnic cleansing.

As part of the New York Agreement, the UN took over administration of West Papua on October 1, 1962, for seven months, before handing over the territory to Indonesia, which, no later than 1969, would be required to ‘consult’ with the people of West Papua over the future of their territory, whatever that meant.

During the seven-month UN administration of West Papua, the UN did nothing to stop the Indonesian military from torturing and murdering Papuans. Unsurprisingly, therefore, once the UN handed over administration of West Papua to Indonesia, there was nothing to hold back the Indonesian military’s genocidal campaign against the Papuan people.

Indonesia immediately banned all forms of political activities, including all “rallies, meetings, demonstrations or the printing, publication, announcement, issuance, dissemination, trading or public display of articles, pictures, or photographs without permission from the governor or an official appoint by him” (p. 16). In response to an anti-Indonesian insurgency by the Free Papua Movement, the Indonesian military, especially after Suharto’s coup in 1965, initiated a brutal, anti-insurgency campaign against the people of West Papua, not unlike that which it would later wage in East Timor. Hundreds were arrested, without charge or trial, and thousands were indiscriminately killed as whole regions were bombed. This was the context in which the 1,025 Indonesian-appointed ‘representatives’ of West Papua voted ‘unanimously’ to remain part of Indonesia. The UN General Assembly accepted the results of the Act, which the Ghanaian delegation called “a travesty of democracy and justice” (p. 26), leaving the Papuan people at the mercy of the Indonesian military.

Just as the construction of settlements is the hallmark of Israel’s colonial project in the West Bank, so, too, are settlements the hallmark of Indonesian colonialism in West Papua. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from Java, have been relocated into settlements on Papuan land in West Papua. These settlements are heavily guarded by the Indonesian military and exclude Papuans in an apartheid-like system.

And like Israel in its genocide against the Palestinian people, Indonesia’s overwhelming military superiority over the Papuan people, and its willingness to use said superiority, has caused massive human suffering. According to a Le Monde correspondent, for each Indonesian soldier killed, 100 Papuans will be shot and whole villages bombed (p. 78). In a single massacre in West Papua’s Central Highlands in 1981, Indonesian troops are estimated to have killed 13,000 Papuans (p. 81).

I would recommend reading “West Papua: The Obliteration of a People” by Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong to anyone interested in human rights.

As the first book I have ever read on the conflicts in the South Caucasus (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh”), I had high expectations for this book. Using the New Haven School of Law (NHS), the author attempts to offer a legal analysis of the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.

Unfortunately, I found this book lacking in analysis, and sometimes seemed like it was an attempt to rationalize U.S.-led Western imperialism than objectively analyze the legality of these conflicts.

The book can be divided into these two sections: 1.) An analysis of the right to self-determination, including secession, under international law; 2.) why Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh do not have the right to secession but Kosovo does.

All the reasons the author lists as to how Kosovo is ‘different’ from Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh are dubious if not outright false.

1.) “There is a possibility of Western countries’ not recognizing Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Prednestrovie, and Nagorno Karabakh because of gravitation of the latter entities toward Russia, almost depending on it. Which you cannot say about Kosovo which pro-Western authorities positioned themselves from the beginning as supporters of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures” (p. 168).

In other words, the U.S. and its allies don’t recognize Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Prednestrovie, and Nagorno-Karabakh because they are dependent on Russia and not the U.S.?

2.) “We should also pay attention to the arguments of the secession demands of Kosovo on the one hand, and the separatist movements in the post-Soviet space, on the other. The only argument in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Prednestrovie, and Nagorno Karabakh was, and still is, a reference to the right of the people to self-determination.” The author contrasts this to how the “main emphasis of Kosovars was on human rights, democratic elections, and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures” (p. 168).

Now the author seems to be substituting an objective legal analysis for his own subjective feelings, based on his own ideology, as to the claims used by these various entities for secession. The main emphasis of Kosovars was on “human rights” – what and who’s human rights? – “democratic elections” – that’s a catch phrase for ‘unhindered capitalist development in alliance with U.S.-led Western imperialism’, as democratic elections mean absolutely nothing outside the socio-economic context in which they occur, as demonstrated by U.S.-led Western imperialism’s ongoing coup attempt in Venezuela – “and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures” – meaning a desire to be subordinated to U.S.-led Western imperialism. None of these are legal arguments.

3.) “The ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was done by Serbia (mother country), not Albania. In Karabakh, it was done by Armenia, not Azerbaijan. In Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia, not Georgia” (p. 168).

This is outright false.

First, in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, there was inter-ethnic violence; it was far from being one-sided. In Azerbaijan, two notable anti-Armenian pogroms include the 1988 Sumgait pogrom, in which anywhere from 30 to 200+ Armenians were massacred, the largest anti-Armenian massacre since the 1915 genocide, and the Baku pogrom in 1990, in which 90+ Armenians were murdered in Azerbaijan’s capital.

Secondly, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) itself committed acts of ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo. This organization, which, according to the author, was fighting for “human rights” and “democratic elections”, has been linked to numerous crimes, including: mass expulsions and displacement of ethnic Serbs, both during and after the war (as early as 1999, some 170,000 of Kosovo’s pre-war population of 200,000 Serbs had been expelled or fled to Serbia), the use of child soldiers to fight for the KLA, the use of KLA-controlled concentration and torture camps (two links: one, two), the destruction of over 100 Serbian churches, and even the harvesting of organs from Serbs.

Nowhere have I read of concentration camps, organ harvesting, etc., with regards to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, by either the secessionists or by their supporters (Russia, Armenia).

To claim that Kosovo is unique from Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh because of ethnic cleansing is dubious, as Kosovars were both the victims and the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing, is dubious, and that Kosovars emphasize human rights and democratic elections is patently false.

Despite these obvious shortcomings, the value of this book, for me anyway, is less about what information it contains as to the questions it asks (or led me to ask).

Reading this book has left me with a lot of questions as to how Marxists should respond to unilateral declarations of independence of ethnic minorities, whether in socialist or capitalist states.

Do Marxists recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kosovo, etc.?

Stalin wrote that “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”

Do all such ‘nations’ have the right to secession/independence?

If so, how do Marxists reconcile the right to secession/independence of such ‘nations’ with the territorial integrity of the State? Surely, no Marxist would accept the Balkanization of a multi-ethnic state, such as the Soviet Union, along ethnic lines.

If not, when do Marxists recognize the secession/independence of a ‘nation’? What criteria is used? No Marxist, that I know, would seriously contest the independence of, say, Bangladesh, which seceded from Pakistan in 1971, for example. Likewise, I can’t think of too many Marxists that would contest Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Why do Marxists recognize Eritrea and Bangladesh but not NKR, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, etc.?

After reading Balayev’s book on Nagorno-Karabakh, I was surprised when I read this one. What I expected was an anti-Marxist, anti-Soviet diatribe. Instead, while not hiding his anti-Marxist and anti-Soviet ideology, the author, unlike Balayev, maintains an extremely balanced and objective perspective throughout the book, which I found refreshing after reading Balayev.

In this book, the author focuses his attention on the historical roots of the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, since about the 1600s to the 1990s. The author provides a very interesting history of the origins and national identity of the Abkhaz and the Ossetian people, and of the Armenians living in Karabakh, as well as tsarist and Soviet polices towards ethnic minorities and ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus.

“It is often believed that the autonomies in the Caucasus were created to provide Moscow with leverage against the republics – a sinister divide-and-rule policy,” Saparov writes. “The main argument of this book is that the solution adopted by the Bolsheviks was not some deliberate attempt at long-term manipulation, but rather a practical, albeit often clumsy, compromise to contain violent conflicts. The Bolsheviks inherited a region plagued by ethno-political conflicts which now became their problem. As the sole power in control of the entire Caucasus, the Bolshevik leadership needed to resolve those conflicting issues that prevented the establishment of stable governance.”

A very good read for anyone interesting in the national question and Soviet history

“The Sudanese Communist Party: Ideology and Party Politics” by Tareq Y. Ismael is a comprehensive analysis of the history, evolution, and tactics of the Sudanese Communist Party, once considered “the largest, best organized, and most prominent communist party in the Arab world, with an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 members and supporters” in 1971.

Major areas of focus in the book include: the conditions leading up to the founding of the Sudanese Communist Party in 1949 and the role of the Party in the national revolutions in 1964, 1969, and 1985; the crisis in the Party following the military coup by Jaafar Nimiri and, after a coup attempt by some members of the Party, the bloody repression of the Party under his rule; the Party’s ongoing opposition to the regime of Omar al-Bashir; the crisis in the Party following the overthrow of the Soviet Union; the Party’s role in the First and Second Sudanese Civil Wars and the Party’s relationship with John Garang and his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM); the Party’s response to the crisis in Darfur; and the Party’s policies vis-à-vis Palestine, Arab nationalism, and other issues concerning the Middle East.

I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in socialism, Arab nationalism, and the development, evolution, and tactics of communist parties.

“Atomic Imperialism: The State, Monopoly, and the Bomb” is a Marxist analysis of state-monopoly capitalism as it pertains to the production and control of nuclear weapons.

“In capital assets the atomic munitions industry is bigger than General Motors and United States Steel combined. Owned by the government and operated by the private corporations [for profit!], the enterprise represents the merger of state and monopoly at the very highest national level.”

Billions of dollars in public funds are spent on nuclear research, testing, and production facilities that are then handed to the biggest names in American capitalism — the Morgans, Rockefellers, du Ponts, Mellons, etc. — without a single cent of their own capital invested. These monopolists then charge the government for their services in operating these state-financed and state-owned research, testing, and production facilities. As a further bonus, the need to protect ‘national security’ and state secrets guarantees zero competition and monopoly rights, since the current monopolists in control of nuclear research, testing, and production facilities ‘know-too-much-to-fail’, so to speak.

A very insightful, if possibly dated (the book was published during the Korean War), analysis of the nuclear weapons industry in the U.S.

John R. Cartwright, in “Politics in Sierra Leone, 1947-1967,” attempts to provide a thorough analysis of how Sierra Leone’s political system.

I write that the author ‘attempts to provide’ because whether he is successful in that depends on one’s conception of ‘democracy’.

If, as the author seems to, one believes that the existence of competing parties or individuals in a political system, regardless of whether those parties or individuals respond to people’s needs or not, is the pinnacle of human progress, then the author is successful in that.

If, as I do, one believes that there can be no real political democracy without economic democracy, that is, while the means of production remain privately owned, which the author makes a strong case for although no doubt unintentionally, then the author fails to offer a serious analysis of Sierra Leone’s political system. All the author is really interested in analyzing is how Sierra Leone managed to become a liberal’s paradise: a country in which the ruling elite can freely and peacefully enrich themselves at the expense of working-people and peasants without having to resort to more brutal methods. (The book was published in the early 1970s, thus does not include anything about the civil war in the 1990s.)

Although interesting from a historical perspective, the fact that the country collapsed into a brutal civil war in 1990s makes the author’s liberal analysis of Sierra Leonean politics seem somewhat immature and superficial.  

An incredible, first-hand account of Eritrea’s 30-year war of liberation from Ethiopia.

What really struck me about this book is the remarkable ideological and organizational similarities between the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), whose leader and the current President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, received political and military training in China in 1967, and Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement in Cuba, as described by Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy in “Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution”. This makes it all the more puzzling to me why the Soviet Union and Cuba would back Ethiopia’s brutal annexation of Eritrea, which, according to the author’s description and Professor Awet Tewelde Weldemichael in his book (which I am reading) “Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared,” was comparable in its brutality, if not in scale, to Indonesia’s invasion and occupation of East Timor under Suharto. I look forward to reading “Ethiopia’s Revolution” by the Cuban journalist Raul Valdes Vivo, hopefully to better understand the ‘other side’ of the Eritrean Revolution: the socialist revolution in Ethiopia and its Soviet and Cuban-backed Marxist-Leninist government that continued the feudalistic monarch Haile Selassie’s war against Eritrea.

Before reading this book I often felt like most Western Marxists have shamefully neglected to study the Eritrean Revolution, sometimes, I feel, because Eritrea is too distant or ‘African’ to be considered important, unlike, say, Cuba or Vietnam. Now that I have read this book, I feel even more strongly that this is the case.

Professor Awet Tewelde Weldemichael’s “Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared” is a fascinating analysis of Third World ‘secondary colonialism’ — when former colonial territories, namely Ethiopia and Indonesia, become themselves the colonizers, in this case of Eritrea and East Timor, respectively.

The author’s detailed analysis of the transformation and strategies of the Eritrean and East Timorese liberation movements were of particular interest to me and all those interested in colonialism.

In Eritrea, the liberation movement started as a Maoist insurgency of a “band of about thirty men” which “carried only nine long rifles and a pistol, as well as several traditional weapons such as swords and daggers.” Due to Eritrea’s demographic and geographic conditions, such as a relatively large and open territory and international borders with the Red Sea and Sudan, the EPLF transformed into a heavily-armed and mechanized conventional military, with a force close to 100,000 battle-hardened fighters, able to defeat and capture the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

In East Timor, the liberation movement started off as a conventional military, but with its mountainous and heavily forested terrain, and completely surrounded by an Indonesian air, naval, and land blockade, FRETILIN was virtually eliminated by the Indonesian military. Unable to defeat Indonesia in conventional battles like the EPLF, FRETILIN transformed into an amorphous and decentralized guerrilla movement, with hit-and-run tactics combined with international diplomacy designed to make Indonesia’s occupation too costly, politically and economically, to continue.

The different strategies of liberation of the liberation movements reflect each state’s current political system. “In the Eritrean case,” the author writes, due to the need for a highly centralized and disciplined liberation movement, “a lot can get done, but the system is, as it has always been, prone to abuse. The Timorese system,” due to the need for an inclusive and decentralized liberation strategy, “is less prone to be abused by the powerful, but little, if anything, gets done.”

An outstanding scholarly work on the ideological battles between Marx (Communism) and Bakunin (Anarchism) in the International Workingmen’s Association (the First International).

Despite the author’s obvious anarchist inclinations, the book provides a superb history of the struggles waged between the adherents of Marxism/Communism and Anarchism in the First International.

The book is written very much like a suspense novel, not a dry, historical analysis, which makes it an exciting read (albeit not initially).

I’d highly recommend this book!


Using Marxist political economy, the author, Bruce M. Z. Cohen, completely exposes the “mental health” industry as well as the neoliberal education and healthcare systems for what they are — institutions of social control. He examines the history of psychiatry, the rise and fall of psychiatric institutions, the shift from welfare capitalism to neoliberalism and the corresponding ‘self-help’ culture, the patriarchal nature of psychiatry, etc.

Here are some excellent excerpts!

“The dominant norms and values of the ruling classes are reflected in the psychiatric discourse on human behaviour and the workings of the mind. Consequently, the psy-professions [psychiatrists, psychologists, etc.] are responsible for facilitating the maximization of profit for the ruling classes while individualising the social and economic conditions of the workers. The mental health system seeks to normalize the fundamentally oppressive relations of capitalism by focusing on the individual – rather than society – as pathological and in needs of adjustment…” (p. 19)

“As a part of the superstructure, the mental health system has aided the economic base through the naturalisation of the fundamental inequalities of capitalist society. This ideological role of the psychiatric system works to depoliticize and individualize the realities of existence within the current social order through medicalising deviance and enforcing conformity on suspect groups.” (p. 63)

“…neoliberalism requires a compliant and competitive population focused on correcting and improving their emotions, behaviour, and social capacities. This has been aided by the expansion of the psy-professions in governing populations ‘at a distance’; psychiatric hegemony has depoliticized fundamental inequalities of capitalism while proliferating neoliberal values through its classifications and philosophies on ‘treatment’. The pretext of scientific authority on the mind has allowed the psy-professions to enforce ruling class values and norms as consensual and taken-for-granted assumptions of human behaviour. This has happened to such an extent that individuals are now involved in acts of self-surveillance, seeking the solution to the structural failings of neoliberal society through individual DSM symptoms of ‘mental illness.’” (p. 93)

Honestly, this book is a masterpiece and explains so much of both my past and current mental health struggles.

A vivid account of the Ethiopian Revolution by a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Although I had known that Ethiopia under Haile Selassie was a backward, feudal state, and one of the most underdeveloped (or more accurately, maledeveloped) states in the world, I never realized just how backward Ethiopia was. Based on what this author has described, Ethiopian peasants toiled under a feudalistic system as bad, if not worse, than that which existed in tsarist Russia!

I’d highly recommend this book for those interested in the Ethiopian Revolution and revolutions in the ‘Third World’.

This book is a collection of articles by Leon Trotsky when he worked as a war correspondent covering the Balkan Wars (1912-13). His articles include a wide range of topics, including a Marxist analysis of the Young Turk Revolution (1908), the role of the ‘Great Powers’ in preventing the establishment of a unified, multi-ethnic state (his writings on this subject could almost equally be applied to the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s), the political and economic conditions in the various countries, and, occasionally, some witty humor. A refreshing work of journalism in the age of corporate media censorship.

Despite the book’s small size (200 pages, including notes, index, etc.), Karen Stote’s “An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women” is a devastating indictment of both capitalism and the Canadian state. I must admit, due to the overwhelming amount of information in this book, it is difficult to accurately review it, as I don’t think I can do justice to this book with a simple review.

The book begins with a brief introduction as to how the coercive sterilization of Aboriginal women, and to a far lesser extent men, served colonialism in Canada. “Aboriginal peoples,” the author writes, “have been strategically and systematically targeted for assimilation into Canadian society. The control of women’s reproductive capacities by the Canadian state has been central to this end.” Between 1928-73, “at least three thousand people were sterilized” in Alberta and British Columbia alone, “under the direction of a provincially mandated Eugenics Board.” In these provinces “Aboriginal peoples were those to whom legislation was most applied as compared to their numerical significance in the general population.”

In chapter one, “Eugenics, Feminism and the Woman Question,” the author examines the history of eugenics and how eugenics, racism, and the subjugation of women serve capitalist interests, as well as the centrality of women to, and the role of early feminists in perpetuating, these ideologies.

Racism is inherent to exploitative societies. “The basic purpose of a racist ideology is to deny the humanity of those who are being oppressed, to blame individuals for their miserable conditions and to divert attention away from those who are doing the oppressing. In the case of the burgeoning industrial capitalist state, the poor living conditions of the masses needed to be explained as due to individual failures. Eugenic ideology served this purpose.”

Also, “Under the capitalist patriarchal mode of production, the reproductive capacities of women have been subverted, exploited and controlled in particular and specific ways to ensure its [capitalism’s] proper functioning.”

According to eugenics theory, “women, as bearers of the next generation, were seen as responsible for ‘reproducing the race’ both in a biological sense and in their role as reformers and child raisers.” Thus “Eugenicists sought to actively encourage the reproduction of some women while at the same time seeking to ensure their cooperation in efforts to curb the reproduction of others through their support for measures like marriage regulation, institutionalization and sterilization.”

A marriage of convenience was consequently born. “Many eugenicists were prepared to support certain rights for some women to the extent that these would help buttress the political and economic enterprise of nation building based on an inherently racist notion of who belonged,” while “some feminists adopted eugenic ideology to strengthen their arguments for social reform…A ‘eugenic feminism’ was developed by these women who were involved in shaping North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

This ‘eugenic feminism’ served the interests of capitalism and the Canadian state, by arguing for “‘freedom’ only for those who demonstrated ‘fitness’ to use this ‘freedom’ appropriately, that is, within the confines of the existing relations of production…The eugenic feminism advocated by reformers like [Nellie] McClung, [Emily] Murphy or [Irene] Parlby did not become the dominant discourse on the rights of women in the early twentieth century because it held the possibility for emancipation from relations of oppression and economic dependency. This feminism was given prominence because it reinforced these very relations. It met the requirements of the mode of production by further assimilating women into socially desired roles, and by providing space for some to perpetuate oppressive relations on others.”

Chapter two, “Indian Policy and Aboriginal Women,” examines how the subjugation and control of Aboriginal women was imperative for colonization to be successful and for capitalism to become the dominant mode of production.

“Prior to European contact, Aboriginal women enjoyed a status drastically different from that held by women in Western European societies of the same time period.” In many Aboriginal societies, “Women were responsible for meeting many of the needs of their communities, and even though there was a division of labour, this did not imply inferiority. Rather, men and women enjoyed the right of access to food, tools and other means of survival by their simple fact of existence. Aboriginal women were also central decision makers affecting social life and they enjoyed greater freedom in their sexual life than did European women.”

These and other egalitarian “Indigenous forms of life existed in fundamental opposition to the relations required for colonization, or the imposition of Western capitalism.” Colonialists thus “proceeded to distort and undermine the roles of Aboriginal women.” If Aboriginal women “had no connection to their means of subsistence and were oppressed by Aboriginal men, then the colonial relations that were being imposed could more easily be justified as acts of goodwill, or simply another variation of what was already in existence,” thereby opening up Aboriginal lands for exploitation.

Colonization and the imposition of capitalist relations necessitated Aboriginal peoples being “reduced to a marginal class within the capitalist mode of production.” Assimilation, allowing for the “termination of the legal line of descendants able to claim rights to the land and resources on which Canada depends for its existence,” was and continues to be a method to turn Aboriginal peoples “into menial wage labourers” and for gaining access to their lands and resources. The logical consequence of assimilation is that it “also becomes increasingly difficult for Aboriginal peoples to practice their own ways. Therefore, assimilation is a twofold process involving the imposition of a particular way of life at the expense and with the destruction of the former. Another manner by which assimilation is carried out is by stripping Aboriginal women of the ability to control their reproduction and denying them the opportunity to raise their children in ways that are in keeping with their ways of life. Colonial policy has attacked the ability of Aboriginal women to reproduce, and short of eliminating this ability altogether, has sought to curb it, or confine it within socially accepted forms conducive to capitalist relations.”

Chapter 3, “Sterilization, Birth Control and Abusive Abortions,” documents the history of the use of sterilizations, birth control (even before it was publicly available), and abortions in limiting the capacity of ‘undesirables’, namely Aboriginal women, to reproduce.

Since both Alberta and British Columbia had enacted “legislation mandating compulsory sterilization,” these provinces are discussed heavily in this chapter.

Interesting bits of information from this chapter…

“In Alberta, the Sexual Sterilization Act was in effect from 1928-73,” with a Eugenics Board overseeing the sterilization of 4739 people, of whom a disproportionate number were Aboriginal women. When opposition to the Act gained momentum and its repeal became likely, “the rate at which Aboriginal peoples were sterilized underwent a terrific increase,” almost as if Alberta, knowing the end was near (at least officially), made one last ditch effort to sterilize as many Aboriginal people as possible.

In 1937, the Department of Indian Affairs did express some concern about the Eugenics Board in Alberta, but only to ensure that it avoided “a charge that bears resemblance to genocide, despite the term not being prominent in international discourse at the time.”

British Columbia “was the second province to enact a Sexual Sterilization Act, in effect from 1933 o 1973. This act permitted the provincial Eugenics Board to sterilize any inmate of a provincial institution deemed ‘hereditarily unfit,’ specifically any inmate of an industrial school or industrial home school [i.e. Residential Schools] for girls.”

Contraceptives were also prescribed or coercively implanted (IUDs) to Aboriginal women before becoming legally available to all Canadians. Before “the legalization of birth control for contraceptive purposes, it was considered viable to promote their use in Indigenous communities and these were prescribed with the express intent of limiting the number of births within the group.”

Chapter four, “Settling the Past,” documents the many legal challenges that led to the repeal of the Sexual Sterilization Acts in B.C. and Alberta, as well as the unwillingness of past and present federal and provincial governments to acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Finally, chapter five, “Canada, Genocide and Aboriginal Peoples,” examines the applicability of the word ‘genocide’ to Aboriginal people in Canada, and how Canada has made it almost impossible for Aboriginal people to charge past and present federal and provincial governments in Canada with genocide.

The chapter begins with an analysis of ‘genocide’ as understood by the man who coined the term, Raphael Lemkin. According to Lemkin, ‘genocide’ is much broader than direct killing: “Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.”

Thus, as the author of the book summarizes, “genocide is not simply a singular event directed against individuals, but a process by which the ability of a group to exist is undermined through acts directed against members of a group because of their common group status.”

Despite Lemkin’s much broader definition of genocide, Canada, the U.S., and Britain succeeded in watering down the UN’s Genocide Convention to refer only the physical extermination of human groups. Instead these same states have emphasized human rights, with serious consequences for Aboriginal people. As Ronald Niezen writes (cited in the book): “The promotion of exclusively individual human rights has dangerous implications because many nation-states have vested interests in controlling and usurping collective rights (including the collective human rights) of Indigenous peoples. Individual human rights are insufficient to protect collective treaty rights. Emphasizing exclusively individual human rights leaves states with an opening to interfere in group identity, to provide only those cultural choices that weaken both Indigenous societies and the distinct collective (principally treaty) rights that are part of their relationship, as sovereign entities, with states. To do otherwise than to recognize Indigenous rights to self-determination is to invite the continued repression and marginalization of Indigenous societies.”

Interesting is how the refusal of past and present Canadian governments to enact legislation making it possible for someone in Canada to be charged with genocide, the only other avenue being the charge of ‘murder’, corresponds with Canada’s role as an imperialist country. Lester B. Pearson, the ‘founder of Canadian peacekeeping’, in his position as Foreign Affairs Minister, stated rather bluntly that Canada, “In approving this [Genocide] Convention…will be proclaiming throughout the world that genocide is considered by us to be a monstrous crime. We will be doing something to make it more difficult for ANY OTHER COUNTRY to commit that crime.”

Also interesting are the parallels the author draws between Canada’s efforts to circumscribe the definition of genocide with those of the Nazi leadership at Nuremberg. “The fact that Canada, by refusing to acknowledge certain elements of the [Genocide] Convention, sough to excuse itself from international law does not change the fact that genocide accurately describes many of its policies concerning Aboriginal people. One should also consider that the primary defense advanced by the Nazi leadership at Nuremberg was that Germany had never accepted the international laws they were accused of violating. Instead, they argued the policies they carried out were legal under German law. The allied powers represented on the tribunal, including Canada, flatly rejected this argument. The wriggling of the Canadian government in this instance bears an uncomfortable resemblance to that of the Third Reich.”

This review in no way does justice to this book. I’d highly recommend this book, especially to Canadians.

“Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan” by Adrienne Lynn Edgar is a brilliant and comprehensive history of the Turkmen people and the creation of Turkmenistan.

Edgar’s conclusions about Turkmenistan are similar to those in Adeeb Khalid’s study of Uzbekistan (the authors cite each other) and in Arsène Saparov’s study of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. These are:

  1. Whatever the merits or faults of Soviet nationalities policies, the Soviet Union was a maker and not a breaker of nations, as Conquest and others have argued.
  2. The National Delimitation of Turkestan, Bukhara, and Khorezm was not due to Soviet ‘divide-and-conquer’ colonial policies, since ethnic and religious violence were already widespread in Turkestan, or in the case of Saparov’s study, the Caucasus. Rather the purpose of the NTD and the creation of national republics was to minimize and contain ethnic and religious conflict, not enflame it.

That being said, Edgar’s approach to her study of Turkmenistan is markedly different than Khalid’s study of Uzbekistan.

In studying the creation of Uzbekistan, Khalid is primarily interested in the role of the Muslim modernist reformers known as the Jadids. His study is less concerned with the history of the Uzbek people and socialist construction in the Uzbekistan SSR than it is with how the idea of an Uzbek state emerged.

In studying the creation of Turkmenistan, Edgar focuses on the history of the Turkmen people and the objective difficulties in creating a socialist Turkmen nation. She examines the challenges of establishing a uniform Turkmen language out of the various dialects of different Turkmen tribes, indigenization, the Basmachi insurgency, revolts against collectivizing and the emancipation of women, etc.

An excellent book!

Adeeb Khalid’s “Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR” is a landmark study of not only the creation of the state of Uzbekistan, as well as neighbouring Central Asian republics, especially Tajikistan, but also of Soviet nationalities policy in the 1920s.

The haphazard and seemingly irrational borders of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, such as those of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, are often attributed to, at best, Stalin having some kind of seizure over a map of Turkestan, or at worse, to some kind of colonial, divide-and-conquer by Soviet authorities (a.k.a. Stalin, since we all know it was impossible for anyone to do anything in the Soviet Union without Stalin personally having approved of…each…and…every…single…thing…). Although I think this is a very crude interpretation of the Soviet Union, I have heard of some legitimate questions about the makeup of Soviet Central Asia. For instance, why were Bukhara and Samarkand, which were historically centres of Persian/Tajik culture, given to Uzbekistan and not Tajikistan?

Khalid demolishes the anti-Soviet idea that the origin and delimitation of Soviet Central Asia was due to “Stalin simply drawing lines on the map”. While far from being sympathetic to socialism or the Soviet Union, Khalid, like Arsene Saparov in his study of the making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh (which I also own!), argues that the creation of Uzbekistan and the delimitation of Soviet Central Asia was far more complicated than what most scholars seem to think.

According to Khalid, “No account of the delimitation [of Soviet Central Asia] has paid adequate attention to the role of Central Asia’s indigenous elites in the process or placed the delimitation in context of the rise of national movements in the region”.

As for the alleged divide-and-conquering of the Central Asia by the Soviet Union, Khalid argues, as does Saparov vis-à-vis the south Caucasus, that while mistakes were made and no doubt conflict existed, the wars in Central Asia were not one of a unified, independent people resisting Soviet colonialism. Central Asia was already divided and rife with conflict. “Much of the bloodshed that took place in Central Asia was the result of the extension into the region of the Russian civil war,” while “the Basmachi insurgency was…a Central Asian civil war, fought out amongst Central Asians. Instead of being a heroic resistance against outsiders, the Basmachi was a sign of deep divisions within Central Asian society.” The Soviet Union was not confronted “by a unified, cohesive local society, but a bitterly divided one. Conflicts within Central Asian society were just as important as conflicts between Europeans and Central Asians in the early Soviet period…As historians, we should rid ourselves of the phantom of Central Asian Muslim unity and look at Central Asia as an arena of multifaceted conflict.” For this reason, Khalid argues that “We should therefore be wary of claims of a primordial unity of the people of Turkestan that was shattered by Soviet machinations. Turkestan was quite literally a creation of the Russian conquest, and it encompassed no unity.”

Rather than being a consequence of Soviet machinations and divide-and-conquering tactics, Uzbekistan was “the triumph of an indigenous national project”. Khalid examines at length Turkic Muslim modernists in Central Asia and how they conceived of the ‘nation’ as a means of achieving their vision for Central Asia. “For the Jadids…the main inspiration [for Uzbekistan] was the rise of Turkism in the decades preceding the [October] revolution, which resulted in the ethnicization of the confessional-territorial vision of the nation (‘Muslims of Turkestan’) that had underpinned the political imagination of the Jadids before 1917.”

Khalid’s examination of the origins of Tajikistan still leave a lot of questions unanswered. He writes how “Tajik voices were conspicuous by their almost complete absence in the debates over delimitation,” but doesn’t explain very well how or why Tajik voices suddenly became heard. What Khalid does do is explain why Bukhara and Samarkand were given to Uzbekistan and not Tajikistan. Despite being a “continuous zone of Tajik predominance” and being home of the majority of the Soviet Union’s Tajiks, Bukhara and Samarkand were too “tightly connected to the surrounding Uzbek population, through economic and trading interests and conditions of water supply”, and economic harmony and unification took precedence over nationalism in the Soviet Union. For a stronger analysis of the creation of Tajikistan, I must restlessly wait until I an order Paul Bergne’s “The Birth of Tajikistan”!

Although a dense and difficult book to read, I would highly recommend this book for those interested in Soviet nationalities policy and Central Asia!

An absolutely outstanding scholarly work on not only the Baloch and Balochistan but of the whole Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia.

In the first part of the book, the author, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, traces the origin of the Baloch to the Aryan migrations between 2100-1800 BCE. He examines the linguistic, cultural, religious, and socio-economic evolution of the Baloch, from nomadic Zoroastrians to Sunni Muslim agriculturalists, and their migration/displacement/deportation under various empires (Persian, Parthian, Arab, Saka, Hephthalite, Sassanid, Ghaznavid, Greek, Mongol, Mughal, etc.) to present-day Balochistan.

The author then examines the rise of the first Baloch state, the Khanate of Kalat, from 1666 to its occupation by the British in 1839. Not only does the author provide a fantastic analysis of the rise and fall of the first Baloch state, the author offers a fascinating history of some of the empires and historical figures Kalat had to contend with and how major historic events, such as the assassination of Nadar Shah in 1747, influenced internal and regional developments for Kalat.

Finally, the author examines Kalat under British occupation, including how Kalat was thrusted into Britain’s ‘Great Game’ with tsarist Russia in Central Asia, how the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution inspired independent Balochi nationalism and anti-imperialism (a Baloch delegation participated in the Soviet-sponsored ‘Congress of the Peoples of the East’ in 1920), the short-lived independence of Kalat again in 1947 and its occupation by Pakistan in 1948.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and liberation struggles!

This book is a political biography of one of the most important and least known British colonialists, George Goldie.

Born into a wealthy Manx family, Goldie “revived the chartered company as a method of acquiring and ruling territory, added the most populous of all the tropical African colonies to the British Empire, and contributed vital techniques to British administrative policies.”

Goldie founded the Royal Niger Company, the first British chartered company since the British East India Company, and the prototype of the later British South Africa and British East Africa companies, founded by Cecil Rhodes and William MacKinnon, respectively.

Through his Royal Niger Company, Goldie was instrumental in establishing British control over the lower Niger against French and German competition, and in formation of Nigeria by defeating the Banza Bakwai states of Nupe and Ilorin, thus enabling the British to establish the Northern Nigeria Protectorate, which later merged with the Company’s territories of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Lagos Colony to form Nigeria’s current boundaries.

Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of Goldie; he didn’t ever want you to know about him. Unlike Rhodes, Goldie loathed publicity, and before his death “he systematically destroyed all of his papers, forbade his children to write anything about him or assist anyone who wished to do so, and threatened to haunt them after his death if they disobeyed him.”

I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in Nigeria or European colonialism in West Africa. The book provides a fairly balanced account of European colonialism in Nigeria and West Africa; it is definitely not like the colonialist trash published by Fuglestad!

A fascinating, if occasionally extremely dry, portrait of one of Africa’s foremost anti-colonial revolutionaries, Amilcar Cabral, the founder and leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde.

Knowing little about the anti-colonial struggle of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, I was really surprised at how successful Cabral was, especially vis-à-vis similar movements in Mozambique and Angola. According to the author, the Portuguese devoted proportionally more troops and resources against Cabral’s movement in Guinea-Bissau than they did in the far larger and more developed Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique.

The best chapter in my opinion was Chapter 7, “People’s Wars in Lusophone Africa: A Comparative Perspective”, wherein the author compares the success and failures of Cabral’s PAIGC, Mozambique’s FRELIMO, and Angola’s MPLA.

A really good book! I enjoyed it!

An outstanding, if terribly edited, Marxist analysis of Kenya’s little studied War of Independence, one of the first anti-colonial wars in Africa.

Although more commonly known in the West as the ‘Kenya Emergency’ or the ‘Kikuyu Affair’, this, as the author correctly argues, is nothing more than an attempt by imperialism to de-legitimize the Kenyan peoples just struggle against colonial exploitation as an uprising of ‘uncivilized savages’.

Far from being ‘uncivilized savages’, the Mau Mau were a multiethnic (Kikuyu, Somali, etc., even Indians whom the British imported as labourers supported the struggle, most notably the Marxist trade unionist Makhan Singh), class conscious, and organized resistance movement. Their slogan “Land and Freedom” echoed the peasants of tsarist Russia, and the author draws numerous parallels between Mau Mau’s socialist, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist ideology, organizational methods and tactics with those of the July 26th Movement in Cuba.

All aspects of Kenya’s War of Independence and the Mau Mau are examined in the book: the role of trade unions, women, ethnic minorities (especially Indians whom brought with them the experiences of India’s struggle against British colonialism); the development of Mau Mau ideology, organization, leadership, etc.; the brutality of Britain’s repression, including detaining entire ethnic groups in concentration camps, starvation, and torture; the transition from colonialism to neo-colonialism when the British were defeated; and more.

I’d recommend this book for those interesting in colonial and liberation struggles.

“Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered” is a devastating critique of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

The cleansing of Iraqi culture began “in the very early days of the invasion, with the wide-scale looting of all of the symbols of Iraqi historical and cultural identity. Museums, archeological sites, palaces, monuments, mosques, libraries and social centres all suffered looting and devastation. They did so under the very watchful eyes of the occupation troops. American forces in Baghdad guarded only, and very carefully, the Iraqi Oil Ministry, which securely kept all oil data, as well as the Ministry of Interior…”

Iraq’s cultural and historical heritage has suffered catastrophic damage in violation of international law.

Many important cultural heritage sites were taken over by U.S. occupation forces and converted into military bases. As one author describes, “The digging, bulldozing, filing of sand bags and blast-barricade containers, the building of barracks and digging of trenches into the ancient sites have destroyed thousands of years of archeological material, stratigraphy and historical data.” These include Ur, the famed birthplace of Abraham, which is now “littered with trash” and has suffered extensive damage since being converted into a U.S. military base; Babylon, the capital of Mesopotamia, which was bulldozed by U.S. forces to build a helicopter landing pad, and where U.S. soldiers used sand bags “full of artifacts” as barriers; the use of Khan of Rubua as a weapons disposal site; etc.

Museums, libraries, and institutions of higher education were all deliberately destroyed. Over 15,000 Mesopotamian artifacts have disappeared from the National Museum; the National Library, with more than a million books, and situated directly across from the Ministry of Defense, was twice deliberately burned in April 2003; and 84% of Iraq’s universities and colleges have been destroyed.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of educated Iraqis of all faiths and ethnicities have been assassinated. These include teachers, doctors, professors, curators, etc. One author in the book uses Baghdad’s College of Dentistry as a case study in the campaign to eliminate educated Iraqis, since, I would assume, one would probably not expect dental professionals and students to pose a significant threat to U.S. or other armed factions in Iraq.

On December 20, 2004, Hassan Abd-Ali Dawood Al-Rubai, Dean of the College of Dentistry at Baghdad University, was assassinated while he was leaving the college with his wife.
On November 15, 2005, Fkhiri Al-Qaysai, a faculty member of the Dentistry College, was critically injured in an assassination attempt.
On April 24, 2007, a bomb detonated inside the Dentistry College, killing a student.
On January 23, 2008, Munther Murhej Radhi, Dean of the College of Dentistry, was assassinated in his home.
In 2008, U.S. forces twice raided the Faculty of Dentistry at al-Mustansiriya University, destroying laboratories in the process.

The evidence indicates a coordinated and deliberate campaign to eliminate Iraqi intellectuals. First, the victims include Iraqis of all religious and ethnic persuasions, including Kurds and Arabs, and Shias, Sunnis, and Christians. Secondly, the assassinations seem to be unaffected by overall levels of violence (i.e., an increase or decrease in overall violence did not seem to impact the number of assassinations). Thirdly, the assassinations of educated Iraqis “are marked by an unusual level of professionalism. Very few of the intended targets survive and the killers, who frequently make use of one or more vehicles to stage their attacks and make their escape, display an intimate familiarity with their victims’ lifestyles and movements,” causing one former Iraqi general to note that the assassins “have special training and their purpose is to make Iraq empty of any professionals.” The assassins also leave behind “no direct evidence of which party or parties are responsible,” and to date no one has claimed responsibility for the murders of educated Iraqis.

I’d highly recommend this book!

In “Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republics,” Iranian historian Ervand Abrahamian offers a superb analysis of the ideology and complexities of Khomeini.

Abrahamian argues in this book that Khomeini’s ideology, rather than being Islamic fundamentalist, not unlike the Afghan mujahideen, as he is frequently depicted in the West, is akin to that of a Third World populist.

According to Abrahamian, populism “is a more apt term for describing Khomeini, his ideas, and his movement because this term is associated with ideological adaptability and intellectual flexibility, with political protests against the established order, and with socioeconomic issues that fuel mass opposition to the status quo.” In contrast to ‘populism’, the term ‘fundamentalism’ “implies religious inflexibility, intellectual purity, political traditionalism, even social conservatism, and the centrality of scriptural-doctrinal principles.”

Through an analysis of Khomeini’s shifting views on issues such as private property, the state, and society, Abrahamian demonstrates how “Khomeini broke sharply with Shii [sic – Shia] traditions, borrowed radical rhetoric from foreign sources, including Marxism, and presented a bold appeal to the public based not on theological themes but on real economic, social, and political grievances. In short, he transformed Shiism from a conservative quietist faith into a militant political ideology that challenged both the imperial powers and the country’s upper class. The final product has more in common with Third World populism — especially that of Latin America — than with conventional Shiism” or Islamic fundamentalism.

An excellent book for students of the Middle East and Islam!

2 thoughts on “Books of 2019!

  1. Wow, that’s quite the undertaking! Not just the reading, but the reviews. The one on world hunger touched on a lot of myths about poverty that I’ve heard addressed throughout my social work education but somehow these myths still permeate mainstream society! I’ve always had an interest in Eritrean history and like your comparison to the Cuban revolution which has also been a popular topic around my house over the years. The Marxist perspective on mental health reminds me of Michel Foucault’s book “History of Madness” which I own but admittedly have been a little intimidated to read (have been my eye out for an audio version) it also reminds me of, Dr. Brenda Francois’s writings (many articles and several books) which are anti-psychiatry. She is a professor, currently in Newfoundland, whom I had the pleasure of meeting over the phone several times. I can send you one of her articles, if you’re interested. Just read a National Geographic article about the looting of Iran (can’t remember the date) also devastating. What year is Karen Stole’s book? I feel like I heard of a very recent case of forced sterilization of an Indigenous woman on the news in the last year. Thanks for taking the time to share all of this, always love to hear about good reading!


    1. I’d definitely recommend Susan George if world hunger and the Third World debt crisis interest you (I have 5 of her books). However, if these are topics that interest you, I’d HIGHLY recommend Josue de Castro’s The Geography of Hunger (also published as The Geopolitics of Hunger — I own both). Castro turns Malthusian theory on its head! Contrary to Malthusian theory that says overpopulation causes poverty and hunger, Castro scientifically argues that poverty and hunger cause overpopulation! WOW, right?! His takedown of Malthus is even more epic than Henry George’s in his 1899 book Progress and Poverty (which I also own).  

      Bruce Cohen’s Marxist analysis of psychiatry is brilliant. He examines all aspects of psychiatry, from asylums, lobotomies, the excessive use of antidepressants and increasing clinicalization of human behavior, etc., and how each of these benefit the capitalist status quo.

      Karen Stote’s book on the sterilization of Indigenous women is brand new (2018 or 2019). It was one of the many treasures we found at the socialist bookstore, Turning the Tide, in Saskatoon. The whole store is exclusively socialism, Marxism, anarchism, LGBTQ, Indigenous peoples, environmentalism, etc., a lot like Mondragon was in Winnipeg. You’d love it!

      I’m always happy to talk books with you!

      Also, if you didn’t see them, I published some papers on Just trying to keep myself occupied at work and flex some of my brain muscles.

      Soviet Nationalities Policy and National Territorial Delimitation: “Divide at Impera”?

      Marxism and the National Question: Nagorno-Karabakh in Context (wrote this while I was at work!)

      Also, don’t forget, you can always search our book database:


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