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Paul Bennett

In Search of Populism

So-called populist movements are on the rise, from the US to Turkey. But this prompts the question: is ‘populist’ just a label people attach to views they dislike, or does it reflect a consistent political position?

Some definitions of populism may make it sound reasonably attractive, such as, ‘A political doctrine or philosophy that proposes that the rights and powers of ordinary people are exploited by a privileged elite, and supports their struggle to overcome this’ (Wiktionary). But the term is subject to various interpretations, and it can be very hard to pin down what if anything unites those termed populists.

Unsafe at Any Price

 In August many Americans went to some lengths to view the solar eclipse that was visible, as either a total or partial eclipse, across many parts of the United States. Since looking directly at the sun can be dangerous, it was recommended that people viewed the eclipse through special spectacles that blocked out far more light than ordinary sunglasses. However, one couple sued Amazon on the grounds that the glasses they had bought were defective and had resulted in blurred vision and a blindspot. The glasses in question had in fact previously been recalled by Amazon, but probably not all users would have seen the recall notice, and it does raise the question of how it came about that such a recall was needed. The answer, of course, is the profit motive. Glasses intended for eclipse viewing were sold for as little as $15, but there were still big profits to be made, by manufacturers, suppliers and retailers.

Book review: Utopia Now

I Was Robot (Utopia Now Possible). By Ernest Mann. (Little Free Press, Rt 1. Box 102 Cushing, MN 56443, USA. $7.95.)

 We have always argued that many workers would arrive at conclusions similar to those of Socialists on their own, without encountering Socialist speakers or publications. This is just what happened to Ernest Mann: twenty years ago, at the age of 42, he decided that he had had enough of wage slavery and "dropped out”. Since then, he has been propagating his ideas in his own newsletter, issued from Minnesota. Many of these newsletters are now collected together in this volume. Unfortunately, this format means the book is very repetitive, and there is little sense of an argument being developed. Nevertheless, the result is lively and well worth reading.

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