By Daniel Raphael (Original dateline: August 2006)
This book is outstanding both as autobiography and as historical political journalism. Bill Blum has been active–and activist–since an early age, and has a consequent wealth of stories to tell. He was one of the founders of the Washington Free Press, a member of the former alternative press that was illegally harassed and suppressed by the US Postal Service and the FBI-led COINTELPROL operation during the sixties and seventies. He has met Oliver Stone, CIA agents posing as radicals, and former kidnapper/comrades of Patty Hearst, among many others. He’s not a “name dropper,” though, and this book is neither a People-style cavalcade of the rich and radical, nor one of those waste-of-trees volumes that declaims about “the masses” and “historical forces.”
What it is, is an entirely understandable account of his life as a person who cares very much about his world and the people in it. He describes the routine (why is it routine? ever wonder?) poverty he witnessed in his travels through Latin America, his sojourn in Chile before its democratic government was overthrown by the US-engineered coup that ushered in the (truly) fascist regime of General Pinochet, his meetings with the ex-CIA agent, Philip Agee, and much more. He has been around, both geographically and in his efforts to expose and oppose the wrongdoings of a long series of US governments.
“No finer book has been written about the making of an American radical since Scott Nearing’s own reflections on that journey, but Blum is not driven by the pacifist absolutism of Nearing. His political compass is one calibrated by a clear-eyed understanding that the capitalist and imperialist horrors he opposes are so horrendous and encompassing that personal abstention from combatting them in any way possible (in the name of an abstract commitment to nonviolence) is at the end of the day a refusal to acknowledge one’s duty to do the right thing.”—P. Greanville
One of the attractive things about this book is that most people can relate to it. He’s known some really crazy people as well as some sweet and compassionate characters. He describes them all, using his combination of humor and intelligent grasp of what makes people tick. He describes without embellishment his frustrations and happiness with his succession of girlfriends, and his great joy at finally having a child with one of them. He has lived most of his life in various stages of poverty, so he knows the reality of the lives of real people unfiltered by the distance and ignorance of the well-to-do. He is a fellow who lives with few illusions.
Mr. Blum is the author of a well-selling book available here, Killing Hope, and has authored several additional books since that volume. He continues his activities by issuing a periodic email bulletin analyzing current events, and doing public speaking at various events. He’s a person worth reading and his life has been a positive contribution to our world.
Mr. Raphael is a citizen journalist and book reviewer with Amazon.com. We appreciate his work on that venue and other areas of the web.
WEST-BLOC DISSIDENT, A Cold War Memoir; Soft Skull Press, 2002. 240 pp, w. photos, softbound.