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Chestnuts roasting on an open fire and...
Holiday picks from Socialist Worker

December 17, 2004 | Page 9

SOCIALIST WORKER writers give their picks for books, movies and music to give as gifts--or to keep for yourself--over the holidays.

Alan Maass
Socialist Worker editor

I SPENT my summer vacation reading The Bolsheviks Come to Power by Alexander Rabinowitch, newly republished this year by Haymarket Books. Rabinowitch challenges the standard history of the 1917 Russian Revolution--that the Bolshevik Party, following strict orders handed down by Lenin, carried out a coup.

Quoting from numerous memoirs and contemporary accounts, The Bolsheviks Come to Power shows that at every important point, the initiative of masses of Russia's workers and soldiers was decisive--and that the Bolsheviks thrived on debate and the contributions of its rank-and-file members.

I suppose that a lot of people will be eyeing Bob Dylan's Chronicles at the bookstores this holiday season. The first part in a planned multi-volume memoir, it sounds fascinating, especially for Dylan fanatics.

But I suggest you first consider filling out your (or your treasured friend's) collection of Dylan albums. Start with the early years covered by the book. The Times They Are A-Changin' and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan are magnificent acoustic albums, packed with Dylan's most politically charged songs. With Bush and the Christian Right on the rampage, it does the soul good to listen to "With God on Our Side," "Masters of War" and "Only a Pawn in their Game."

I'm hoping some loved one with more cash on hand than myself will make me a gift of the 25th anniversary box set of London Calling, by the Clash, the best of the punk bands to explode on the rock scene in the late 1970s. London Calling is the group's high-water mark--a double album of modern-day protest songs against racism, corporate greed, government repression and cultural reaction, all set to an incredible range of musical styles.

The new box set includes a disc of previously unreleased songs and a DVD documentary about the making of the album. Or so I hear. Can't say for sure until someone special remembers me...

Lance Selfa
"Reading Between the Lines" columnist

IF THE November election showed anything, it showed the crying need for a mass-based left-wing alternative. But many on the left remain discouraged, thinking that that such a thing will "never happen here."

The most obvious argument against this is the fact that it has happened here. So I'm recommending a number of resources that will help today's activists to learn about the rich tradition of struggle in the U.S.

The easiest place to start is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. With the addition of the just-published Voices of A People's History, edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove, these two works show that time and again, ordinary people have changed the course of U.S. history.

Edward Countryman's The American Revolution and Herbert Aptheker's To Be Free or Eric Foner's Tom Paine and Revolutionary America are good places to learn about the American Revolution. James McPherson's The Battle Cry of Freedom, Peter Camejo's Racism, Revolution, Reaction, 1861-1877, and Eric Foner's Reconstruction are all broad surveys that provide a great introduction to America's second revolution.
Philip Foner's multi-volume History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Art Preis's Labor's Giant Step, and Jeremy Brecher's Strike! show that anything workers have won in this society has come through struggle.

To learn about the struggles for civil rights and Black Power in the 1950s and 1960s, I would recommend that readers set aside a few days to watch segments of the powerful PBS series, Eyes on the Prize. After spending some holiday time learning about the struggles of the past, we'll all have to get ready to make some history of our own.

Sharon Smith
"Which Side Are You On?" columnist

NOW THAT one of the most dismaying election campaigns in memory is finally behind us, the downtime of this holiday season can be used to regain focus on radical politics--for a much-needed reminder that fundamental social change is not only possible but worth striving for.

The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motociclet), based on the journals of the Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Ché" Guevara, is a film still playing in theaters that provides a large dose of inspiration.

The film follows the escapades of 23-year-old Ché and best friend Alberto Granado on a road trip through South America. Somewhere along the way, as Ché and Alberto encounter poor mining families and others impoverished by the system, Ché's compassion for the oppressed and exploited transforms him as a human being, the first stage in a lifelong commitment to revolution. The acting is superb and the dialogue is often hilarious, but the film's greatest strength is its message--the value a life dedicated to changing the world.

If you have some time for a reading project, I would highly recommend tackling Alexander Rabinowitch's The Bolsheviks Come to Power, recently published by Haymarket Books. With painstaking scholarship, Rabinowitz demonstrates that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was, first and foremost, a popular uprising from below, and that the party of Lenin was based upon a "relatively democratic, tolerant, and decentralized structure and method of operation" and possessed an "essentially open and mass character."

Although this book is lengthy, it is so absorbing you might find yourself racing through it. And at a time when so much of the left has given up on the possibility for revolution, this book offers concrete evidence that the Russian revolution was an exercise in genuine democracy, unknown in today's world.

Paul D'Amato
"Meaning of Marxism" columnist

IT'S THE season for kicking back and reading, but you're not the novel-reading type. Here's a real Christmas tie-in. Read Karl Kautsky's Foundations of Christianity, a fantastic materialist history of the rise of Christianity, with chapters on the historical Jesus, the disputes over his meaning, the rise of the early Christian congregation and the nature of the Roman Empire and slavery in the ancient world.

It was written in 1908 by one of the leading German Marxists of the time. The book is not only informative; it is clearly written, full of interesting historical tidbits and very accessible. If you can't find a hard copy, it's online at

If you prefer languishing through the holidays in a more vegetative state, try Monty Python's classic movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which includes Knights who say "Kni," holy hand grenades, human-beheading rabbits, men simulating horse-riding by hopping along knocking two halves of a coconut together, and French castle-keepers who keep Arthur's men at bay by tossing farm animals over the parapet and shouting, "I fart in your general direction."

My final pick, still in the holiday spirit, is Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. This nonfiction book tells the moving story of how along the Western Front late in December 1914, in a move that shocked and worried the high commands of both sides, German and British soldiers declared an unofficial truce to celebrate Christmas together.

Fraternizing between the trenches in "no man's land," soldiers who were meant to be slaughtering each other buried their dead together, drank wine, sang carols and exchanged gifts.

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