Thursday August 21st, 2014, 12:22 am (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

Subverting A Model

Vijay Prashad,The Karma of Brown Folk(University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 248 pages, $25 hardcover.

The Karma of Brown Folk is essentially addressed to two audiences and is surprisingly successful in being readable by both. Its primary audience is the “desi”—men and women of South Asian descent living in the United States. This widely dispersed group of some fifteen million first and second generation immigrants is often referred to as a model minority—untroublesome, hardworking, entrepreneurial, conservative, clannish, and family oriented. In approaching these countrymen the author’s freely avowed purpose is a subversive one. He wants to destroy the image by re-forming the fact behind it… | more |

Capitalism and Crisis: Creating a Jailhouse Nation

Creating a Jailhouse Nation

Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in The Age of Crisis (Verso,1999), 320 pages, $25 hardcover, $15 paper.

By the time I was captured in 1981, the prologue to a life sentence, I had twenty years of movement experience—both above and underground—under my belt. So I thought I had a good understanding of the race and class basis of prisons. But once actually inside that reality, I was stunned by just how thoroughly racist the criminal justice system is and also by the incessant petty hassles of humiliation and degradation. As political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal aptly noted in Live From Death Row, there is a “profound horror…in the day-to-day banal occurrences…[the] second-by-second assault on the soul.” The 1980s became the intense midpoint of an unprecedented explosion of imprisonment.1 Since 1972, the number of inmates in this country, on any given day, has multiplied six-fold to the two million human beings behind bars today.2 Another four million are being supervised on parole or probation. The U.S. is the world leader in both death sentences and incarcerations. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we hold 25 percent of the prisoners… | more |

The Myth of the Middle-Class Society

Michael Zweig, The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret (Cornell University Press, 2000), 192 pages, $25 cloth, $14.95 paper.

The claim that the U.S. is a “middle-class country”—which goes back at least to the eighteenth century—has set apart (white) yeoman farmers from the rural or urban poor, and notably from nonwhites. Thomas Jefferson envisioned his ideal nation as the land of, and for, hard-working property holders, free of the turmoil and corruption inevitable in Europe’s aristocratic fixed-class system… | more |

Refuting the Big Lie

Hugh Stretton, Economics: A New Introduction (Pluto Press, 1999), 864 pages, $90 hardcover, 35 paper.

Capitalism was first firmly established in Britain in the eighteenth century and it was then and there that economics was born, in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776). Economists have served capitalism ever since, but only in the past quarter-century has capitalism needed—and gotten—so much from them… | more |

About the Workers and For the Workers

Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling, The Working Class Movement in America, edited by Paul Le Blanc (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000), $55, 231 pp.; Paul Le Blanc, A Short History of the US Working Class (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1999), $30 (cloth), $20 (paper), 205 pp.

1886 was a momentous year in United States labor history. The great eight-hours movement had swept across the nation, and the Knights of Labor were in full flower. Working class politicial parties were forming, and the American Federation of Labor had been founded. In that year, Karl Marx’s daughter, Eleanor, and her partner, Edward Aveling, toured the United States, giving lectures and meeting comrades as guests of the Socialist Labor Party. They then returned to England and wrote about their trip. The first book under review is a timely reprint of the original. In addition to the reprint, it includes a useful introduction by Paul Le Blanc (including a fine annotated labor history bibliography) and interesting essays by historian Lisa Frank on Eleanor Marx and by writer and labor activist Kim Moody on aspects of working class life the two visitors failed to see… | more |

“Saving” Social Security: A Neoliberal Recapitulation of Primitive Accumulation

A Neoliberal Recapitulation of Primitive Accumulation

Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, Social Security: The Phony Crisis (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 175 pp., $22.

The pronounced insecurity that inevitably attends capitalism’s historic tendency to commodify, and hence privatize, everything that can be commodified and privatized has been met with two major forms of resistance. The first is revolutionary communism, which emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the second is social democracy, which developed in its strongest form in Europe after the Second World War. A defining feature of our present situation is that neither of these forms of resistance to capitalist hegemony is currently a major historical force … | more |

The Levittown Legacy

Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 352 pp., $27.50, cloth. (Due out in paperback in January 2001.)

Judging by the number of column inches now devoted to the subject in the national press, suburban sprawl has at last come of age. The sudden popularity of the topic may reflect the fact that suburbanites now constitute a majority of Americans. The impact of 132 million Americans on the landscape is hard to ignore. If, as environmentalists claim, more than four thousand acres of farmland are being devoured by suburban sprawl every day, then the prospect of a countryside bereft of open space can no longer be dismissed as alarmist. Sprawl is so pervasive and its predations so disturbing that its dynamics appear as almost a force of nature, inevitable and uncontrollable. So it is good to be reminded, as we are in the pages of Picture Windows, that the origins of large-scale suburbs were, in fact, anything but accidental and that the prime mover behind their massive postwar expansion was the federal government itself … | more |

Ecological Roots: Which Go Deepest?

Which Go Deepest?

Foster, John Bellamy, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 300pp., $18, paperback

“Oh no, not another great, thick, fat book on Marx!” thought Richard Lewontin when he saw this new book by John Bellamy Foster. I have to confess (despite the fact that I, too, have written a big book on Marxism) to a similar reaction. However, as he goes on to say in the book’s blurb, “as soon as I started to read, I found it hard to put down.” With this, too, I concur … | more |

Setting the Record Straight on the Korean War

Deane, Hugh, The Korean War, 1945-1953 (San Francisco: China Books and Periodicals, Inc., 1999), 246 pp., $14.95, paperback.

Hugh Deane has written a concise, political, and engaging history of the Korean war. One reason this book is special is that Deane was in southern Korea during the late 1940s as a reporter, and his experiences there enable him to provide a more immediate and personal perspective on events than one normally finds in histories of the Korean war … | more |

Marx’s Ecological Value Analysis

Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 312 pp., $45, hardcover.

If there is a single charge that has served to unify all criticism of Marx in recent decades, it is the charge of “Prometheanism.” Although Marx’s admiration for Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and his attraction to Prometheus as a revolutionary figure of Greek mythology has long been known, the accusation that Marx’s work contained at its heart a “Promethean motif,” and that this constituted the principal weakness of his entire analysis, seems to have derived its contemporary influence mainly from Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism. The first volume of this work was drafted in Polish in 1968 and appeared in English in 1978. For Kolakowski: … | more |

About to Burst Free

James D. Cockcroft, Mexico’s Hope: An Encounter with Politics and History (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998), 320 pp., $18, paperback.

At the outset of this closely argued history of Mexican capitalism, James Cockcroft asks, “How long will the majority of Mexicans put up with being exploited on both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border? ”… | more |

Seeing the Forest and the Trees: The Politics of Rachel Carson

Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, edited and with an introduction by Linda Lear (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 288 pp., $16, paperback.

Lost Woods brings Rachel Carson back into the public realm. This collection of her writings, selected by her biographer, Linda Lear, reminds us yet again of the extraordinary range of her talents and the equally extraordinary use to which she put them. The book offers, in one modest volume, a taste of all the pleasures to be found in Carson’s longer works. Through a careful choice of speeches, articles, field notes, and letters, presented in chronological order, Lear allows us to witness, in Carson’s own words, her transformation from a natural scientist to a political advocate for the environment … | more |

The Road Not Taken

Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), $18, 315 pp.; Mike Parker & Martha Gruelle, Democracy is Power: Rebuilding Unions from the Bottom Up (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1999), $17, 255 pp.

In a very well-known passage, Marx said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” Elsewhere, he said, “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” These words of wisdom provide us with a good entry point into a review of these two exceptional books … | more |

Prison Sentences

Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (New York: Arcade, 1999), 349 pp., $27.95, cloth.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s old adage, about measuring a civilization by reviewing its prisons, if followed in the U.S. context, is a condemnation of this nation’s own version of the gulag archipelago. A cross-section of prisoner’s writings submitted to the PEN writing contest for the past quarter-century reveals the cold, dark underside of the American dream. Men and women, denizens of both state and federal prisons, write brilliantly about trying to stay human in the midst of places of marked inhumanity, and indeed, places that only succeed if they dehumanize … | more |

Is Overcompetition the Problem?

Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence: A Special Report on the World Economy, 1950-98 (Special issue of New Left Review, no. 229, May/June 1998), 262 pp.

It is tempting perhaps to attribute all the problems of capitalism to excessive competition. After all, capitalism is generally presented within contemporary ideology as a system which is nothing more than a set of competitive relations governed by the market. Is it not possible then that the economic contradictions of capitalism, and indeed the present world crisis, can be explained in terms of the globalization of competition which now knows no bounds, and is undermining all fixed positions, resulting in a kind of free fall? This seems to be the view of the distinguished Marxist historian and social theorist Robert Brenner in his ambitious attempt to account for the present global economic turbulence … | more |

Science in a Skeptical Age

John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18.

We live in a skeptical age. All of the basic concepts of the Enlightenment, including progress, science and reason are now under attack. At the center of this skepticism lie persistent doubts about science itself, emanating both from within and from without the scientific community. Recent titles by scientists give an idea of the extent of the crisis in confidence within science: Science: The End of the Frontier? (1991) by Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman; The End of Certainty (1996) by Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine; and The End of Science (1996) by Scientific American writer John Horgan … | more |

Honest, Able, and Fearless

Victor Rabinowitz, Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer’s Memoir (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 352 pp., $29.95, cloth.

Among the questions that divide my friends is whether it is possible that widespread revolutionary organization may someday occur even in the United States, the Belly of the Beast as goes a phrase all my fellow 68ers will recall. If you think the question deserves to be asked, then the history of the repression of the U.S. Left after the Second World War (and of what survived the storm) is worth your attention. After all, if this history is forgotten then the question is indeed not worth asking. How the ruling class of the United States manages its domestic repression is, in any event, of general relevance in many other places as well. Victor Rabinowitz at age eighty five offers a sharp, fascinating, and superbly written report on this question from inside that structured but flexible Great Intestine of the United States, its legal system.… | more |

Walter Reuther, “Social Unionist”

Nelson Lichtenstein, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor (New York: and Chicago: Basic Books, 1995), 575 pp., $35.00, cloth.

A New York Times obituary for Sophie Reuther on February 23, 1996, declared her husband, Victor, a co-founder of the United Auto Workers. So now the myth that Walter Reuther founded the UAW is extended to include his brother. Unfortunately, the new biography of Walter Reuther by Nelson Lichtenstein will do very little to squelch the myth; this despite the fact that the book documents Reuther’s career, warts and all.… | more |