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Incarceration

Journalism, Democracy, … and Class Struggle

Socialists since the time of Marx have been proponents of democracy, but they have argued that democracy in capitalist societies is fundamentally flawed. In capitalist societies, the wealthy have tremendous social and economic advantages over the working class that undermine political equality, a presupposition for viable democracy. In addition, under capitalism the most important economic issues—investment and control over production—are not the province of democratic politics but, rather, the domain of a small number of wealthy firms and individuals seeking to maximize their profit in competition with each other. This means that political affairs can only indirectly influence economics, and that any party or individual in power has to be careful not to antagonize wealthy investors so as to instigate an investment strike and an economic collapse that would generally mean political disaster  | more…

Capital Crimes

The Political Economy of Crime in America

American politicians have been declaring victory in the war against crime at least since Richard Nixon said in 1972 that “[c]rime…[is] finally beginning to go back down…[because] we have a remarkable record on the law-and-order issues, with crime legislation…and narcotics bills.” In other words, crime declines because the government passes laws and spends money; larger prisons, more police, fewer civil liberties, and tougher punishments are winning the war on crime  | more…

A Poetics of Anticolonialism

Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism might be best described as a declaration of war. I would almost call it a “third world manifesto,” but hesitate because it is primarily a polemic against the old order bereft of the kind of propositions and proposals that generally accompany manifestos. Yet, Discourse speaks in revolutionary cadences, capturing the spirit of its age just as Marx and Engels did 102 years earlier in their little manifesto. First published in 1950 as Discours sur le colonialisme, it appeared just as the old empires were on the verge of collapse, thanks in part to a world war against fascism that left Europe in material, spiritual, and philosophical shambles. It was the age of decolonization and revolt in Africa, Asia, and Latin America | 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…

Booming, Borrowing, and Consuming

The U.S. Economy in 1999

As we take our first steps across what Bill Clinton likes to call the bridge to the twenty-first century, we’re hearing a lot of praise for the state of the U.S. economy. The word “boom” is frequently used, as is the phrase “the best economy in a generation.” Wall Street economist Larry Kudlow, one of the most exuberant of his breed, calls it “the only adult economy in the world.” The United States, we’re told, is a natural to succeed in this post-industrial era—fast, flexible, polyglot, and decentered  | more…