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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Power & Powerlessness

POWER and Powerlessness
by Susan Rosenthal
Trafford, 2006
ISBN: 1-4120-5691-8
244 pages, paperback, £10.48
E-book available at

Book Review


Patricia Campbell, Independent Workers Union • 23 October 2006

Human rights activist Bernadette McAliskey coined the phrase "don't appeal to the conscience of your oppressors - they have none" In her book POWER and Powerlessness, Susan Rosenthal reinforces this view and explains in detail why.

Rosenthal takes the view that society is divided into two groups, one that wields immense power (the ruling class) and another that experiences varying degrees of powerlessness (the working class). A medical doctor and psychotherapist with first-hand experience of broken lives and human suffering, Rosenthal explains why the few dominate the many and why the many stay powerless

If one were to design a human being that was perfectly suited to the capitalist system, Rosenthal contends that person would be a psychopath. Backed up by the American Psychiatric Association's definition of a psychopath, she makes the point that the capitalist system, like the psychopath, is disconnected from emotions, having no empathy and no compassion, "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others". She propagates, Capitalism is the most violent society ever created. The violence of those who fight the system is minuscule in comparison.

The ruling class profits at any human cost. 'Seize the surplus' and 'compete or die' ensure that the biggest bully rules. It is more profitable to overwork one section of the labour force and keep the rest unemployed; maintaining a pool of unemployed workers pressures those with jobs to accept conditions they might otherwise reject. A myth is perpetuated that anyone can make it to the top if they work hard enough, are smart or ambitious enough. As a result, workers blame themselves and each other when they fail to advance.

Beware of the middle ground she cautions. The role of the middle class is to manage the working class. Within the middle class there are many well-intentioned Robin Hoods who lobby for a more humane capitalist system. They want reform, not revolution. Rosenthal insists that the capitalist system cannot be reformed. We need a completely different system based on reciprocity, where no one takes anything from others or from nature without giving back.

An advocate of maximising our similarities and minimising our differences, she condemns Nationalism which unites people in one country by dividing them from the people of other counties. Employers play workers of different nations against each other to lower wages. Capital flows freely across borders in search of profits, yet borders block workers from uniting to raise their living standards. Capitalism gives workers two choices: be loyal to your nation and betray your class; or be loyal to your class and betray your nation.

Rosenthal analyses why people are weary of organising for an alternative to capitalism. Failed revolutions leave people dejected and believing that it is not possible to win. She argues that the working class in Russia was unable to hold onto power because there were no neighbouring revolutions to come to its aid, not because socialism doesn't work. When people feel powerless, they use the psychological defence mechanism of dissociation. They disconnect from their turmoil and find escape where there is none. This state of mind enables inequality and exploitation to continue.

While much has been written about the problems of capitalism, Rosenthal has alternatives and solutions. She hasn't given up hope for the future because "Humanity is nature's youngest child." Capitalism is international, and the response to capitalism must be internationally organised. Workers must take charge of their unions, which have been purged of class-conscious militants and replaced by conservative bureaucrats. Rosenthal gives a powerful account of how life could be under a socialist system.

For those who support human and workers' rights, reading this book will crystallize their thinking. Those who are willing to open their minds to new ways of thinking will be left with much food for thought. Rosenthal's book will inspire all those who long for a better world. She has demonstrated a deep insight and knowledge into the workings of the system and her conviction that we can transform powerlessness into power will motivate many.














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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

7 November 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

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Souper Sinn Fein
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Dr John Coulter

St Andrews Agreement & 'the Left'
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Shotgun Wedding
John Kennedy

...and to create the space for a diversity of views...
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'Undo the Great Betrayal, Free the Occupied 26'
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The Wind That Shakes the Barley
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Power & Powerlessness
Patricia Campbell

The Constantine Institute
Terry O'Neill

Mary Robinson Spotlights Human Rights Abuses in Darfur
William Hughes

Fearless Speech
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30 October 2006

Granny Josie
Anthony McIntyre

Guardians of Perjury
Martin Galvin

Writing on the Wall
John Kennedy

The Litmus Test of Republicanism
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Monkey Business
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Northern Invasion
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Eamon McGuire: The Life of an Undercover IRA Activist
William Hughes

Deal Will Underline Delusions
David Adams

Blood in the Water
Dr John Coulter

Muslims = Terrorists
M. Shahid Alam

Nothing Could Be More Offensive!
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