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14 May 1998 Edition

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New in print

Connolly resurrected

The Lost Writings: James Connolly
Introduced and edited by Aindreas O Cathasaigh
Published by Pluto Press
Price £40.00 (hb); £12.99 (pb)

Any new material that enriches our understanding of Irish history is to be given a warm welcome. And so it is with the ``Lost Writings: James Connolly'', edited by Aindreas O Cathasaigh. For the editor, Connolly was the most interesting and relevant of men of 1916. And having delved deep in the various archives O Cathasaigh has come up with a collection of writings not known to have been published anywhere else from the time of their original publication by Connolly himself.

Arguing that most of Connolly's organising was carried out through the pen, O Cathasaigh seeks to bring to our attention the nature of that organising principle. Beginning with the Workers Republic (1898-1903), followed by The Socialist (1902-1904), The Harp (1908-1910), The Irish Worker (1911-1914), The Worker (1914-1915) and concluding with The Workers Republic (1915-1916), he has drawn together a series of pieces which he claims will help the reader to continue and finish the work of Connolly.

The editor has also provided a very useful introduction which traces the history of attempts to publish the work of James Connolly. In many respects this is as good as any part of the book, because it shines a light into the murky and censorial world of Irish publishing where short term narrow political interest held sway over more ``mundane'' matters such as the truth. However, in concluding his introduction O Cathasaigh was setting his sights a bit high by expecting that Connolly might be read ``on the bus from work, or after putting the kids to bed, or while waiting for the rent allowance''. It is difficult to imagine this courtesy being afforded to the less challenging work of Pearse, never mind the revolutionary `sedition' of his socialist colleague from the GPO.

We inhabit a different world in the 1990s. Dublin is no longer the city of 1916. And capitalism has outlived - and indeed outmanoeuvred - much of the socialist critique waged against it. Rummaging through the work of socialists from a long gone era in search of a panacea for the ills of the modern world makes Marxism appear as the opium of the Marxists. New modes of thought and methods of application are required to prevent Marxism becoming a sentimental collection of shibboleths.

Connolly's scientific approach to the understanding of society was a manifestation of a deeper need to truthfully pronounce on why a thing had come to be what it was regardless of surface appearances. Hence his sharp little comment on media manipulation: ``We are told that the truth must be kept back lest it give comfort to the enemy..... if the enemy takes a town he surely knows that he has taken it. It is not he, but the peoples of these countries that are being decieved''. A salutary lesson that the first principle of democratic leadership is that leadership must, before all else, be defended against leaders.

Doubtless, O Cathasaigh has added something to our understanding of Connolly. Some will claim that the insights gleaned are more chronological than theoretical. Yet that in itself is not an argument against O Cathasaigh's project. We wish him every success in his endeavours.

Exposing the cause of cancer

Living Downstream: An Ecologist looks at Cancer and the Environment
Sandra Steingraber
Published in Britain and Ireland by Virago
Price stg£18.99
Published in US by Addison Wesley
Price US$24, Can$32.95

Sandra Steingraber was receiving the plaudits and confessions of grassroots activists when the news came through that the chemical industry had done a hatchet job on her book.

It has been common for many years for industry critics to comment and review on authors and books which challenge their domineering world view of the modes of production, economics, politics and the environment.

In North America, in particular, the chemical industry has used spin doctors, public relations companies, scientists and bureaucrats to attack critics of modern industrial society. Despite its pretence of morality and ethics, the medical and scientific media has been one of the worst culprits, allowing industry apologists a free rein.

``The medical profession has failed to develop and enforce strict guidelines for disclosing conflicts of interest,'' Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle argue in their book Toxic Deception: How the chemical industry manipulates science, bends the law and endangers your health. ``Full disclosure of relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers is necessary to affirm the integrity of the medical profession and maintain public confidence.''

Sandra Steingraber's book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist looks at Cancer and the Environment, had been published in the US in the early summer of 1997 but had got off to a slow start. Few media picked it up and she feared it would be lost among the beach reading of the silly season. Then in July, the first world conference on breast cancer was held in Canada. Steingraber was a keynote speaker. ``It was very heavy on the environment, so I did a lot of international media there,'' Steingraber - who argues that up to 90% of all cancers have their causes in environmental pollution - recalled, noting that the book seemed to be moving through the grassroots movement, significantly the cancer activist community which was becoming more politicised. The cancer groups were also networking with a diverse range of groups which, Steingraber learned, were forming alliances under the banner of environmental justice and were looking at the causes of society's ills.

By October the book was into a second printing and was selling well. Then the mood changed. On 20 November the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) - regarded as one of the top medical journals in the western world - published a damning review of Living Downstream. It was written by Jerry H. Berke, who signed himself as a medical doctor and gave what appeared to be his home address - which was unusual. ``The objective of Living Downstream,'' Berke wrote, ``appears ultimately to be controversy.''

Berke, it turned out, was the director of toxicology at WR Grace, a large chemical manufacturer based in Woborn, Massachusetts. The company had been implicated in the pollution of the town's drinking water.

``It became a twofold issue,'' Steingraber said. ``Why was his employment not disclosed. More importantly, why did the NEJM think it appropriate to ask this person to review the book in the first place, particularly since this physician has no research published in the medical literature. His only claim as an expert is that he works in occupational medicine for this chemical company. He is not a published researcher in the field. Finally the NEJM apologised in the Washington Post for what it called an ethics blunder, that it was a mistake, not part of a larger systemic problem.''

Despite this attack, the book is set to continue selling when it comes out in paperback in the US later this year. Steingraber herself is still upbeat about the book's message. ``I see a lot of signs at the grassroots level that all kinds of different people are coming together, particularly the cancer groups, the anti-toxic groups, citizens groups, organic farmers and people who are fighting battles at small community levels. They are having some spectacular successes.

``It's true that they don't get reported in the national media so we can't all feel victorious because we don't know about them. In my job as circuit writer/author I'm amazed at communities who have come together and successfully stopped this or that, often after extreme struggle.''

Steingraber believes that democracy is on the side of communities, especially those who are ``bearing all the costs in terms of their health'' because some ``people are making profit at the expense of other peoples' health''.

``That's a basic ethical problem, especially when it involves children. The data on childhood cancers and the link to the environment, particularly pesticide exposures before birth is so clear. You can't blame their lifestyles because three year olds don't drink or smoke or hold stressful jobs. Most of these childhood cancers have no hereditary influences so the environment is the only reasonable place to look and when we look, those links are quite clear.''

By Robert Allen

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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