The year 1963 was a high-water mark for the civil rights movement—the year of the great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew hundreds of thousands to march for civil rights. But the march also set the stage for the opening of a what was perceived as second, far more radical, phase of the civil rights strategy, developed by the March’s organizers. This led to the development, over a three-year period, of the proposed Freedom Budget for All Americans. It projected nothing less than the elimination of all poverty and unemployment in the United States before the end of the 1970s.… The 1963 March on Washington continues to stand as a great achievement, which—combined with hard-fought nationwide struggles—helped to secure meaningful civil rights and voting rights legislation, and impressive shifts in consciousness. Yet the promise and expectations of King, Randolph, and Rustin for a full realization of their goals for interlinked racial and economic justice remained unfulfilled.
Kim Phillips-Fein has provided us with a very fine account of how we got where we are—in a stranglehold of big business conservatism that has by no means been broken by the liberal electoral victory of 2008. She has not only absorbed a considerable amount of secondary literature, but has also combed through the archives, combining her impressive research and insights with a well-paced narrative populated with a variety of interesting personalities—all quite well-to-do, all white, almost all male, and yet a very diverse and interesting lot.
Paul Le Blanc and Michael D. Yates explain the origins of the Freedom Budget, how it sought to achieve “freedom from want” for all people, and how it might be reimagined for our current moment. Combining historical perspective with clear-sighted economic proposals, the authors make a concrete case for reviving the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement and building the society of economic security and democratic control envisioned by the movement’s leaders—a struggle that continues to this day.
In these terrible times, to believe in the possibility of helping to make the world a better place, and to commit ones life to that, makes one a revolutionary. Over the years, some of us have been inclined to embrace Karl Marx because he was on our side—the side of labor, of the oppressed, of the working-class majority—and provided invaluable intellectual tools for understanding and changing reality. Others, in this dangerous time of intensifying capitalist globalization, are also reaching out to what Marx has to offer. With his comrade Frederick Engels he produced enough material to fill the numerous volumes of their Collected Works of which the final volume is due in 2003. A number of helpful books are now appearing that contribute to the collective process of understanding and utilizing this legacy for changing the world. Those who can offer some of the most fruitful insights will be those who, following the example of Marx and Engels, have committed themselves politically in their own lives. Which brings us to the works under review