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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

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?

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. | 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…