Issue 196 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 1996 Copyright Socialist Review

BOOKS

Street wise

Growing Up Poor--Home, School and Street In London 1870-1914
Anna Davin
Rivers Oram Press £19.95

Growing Up Poor

Anna Davin has drawn together a wealth of oral history archive material to explain what it was like to grow up poor in London at the height of British capitalism. The book covers the era of Victorian social reform, from the workhouse to the beginnings of the welfare state, as experienced by the children of London.
By the 1870s the growth of the newly industrialised towns of the north and Midlands was matched by a comparable decline in size and volume of manufacturing in London. Industries involved in the manufacture of consumer goods were central to the economy of London and to the families of the poor. London was being rebuilt as the capital of its empire. Expanding population, building works, new roads and transport systems, and the growth of the suburbs were transforming it.
Within the wider picture another transformation was taking place. Anna Davin writes, 'Childhood, like the family or marriage, or adolescence or old age, is lived in a cultural and economic context its character and ideology cannot be assumed.'
The memories of those who grew up poor, the writings of social reformers, educationalists, local records and reports give a life to the history of social change as it was experienced. They provide insights into the way that experience was affected by ideology and in turn shaped the ideology.
At the beginning of the period covered by the book, once a child could get about independently, she or he was involved in labour. The book gives a wealth of information about the type of labour undertaken, focusing in greater depth on the role of girls. In her introduction, Anna Davin explains that her original intention was to study the working lives of women in late 19th century London from infancy to old age. Childhood became a book in itself. This bias makes the book particularly useful in tracing the patterns of women's oppression.
Children and everyday life, how they lived, how they were housed, how they played, the division of labour in the household, and codes of behaviour take up the first of the book's three sections. The dark shadow of eugenics, the dominant ideology of Victorian social reform, sought to impose impractical and often cruel measures to regulate the lives of the poor. The clash between middle class ideology and the practicalities of life for the poor is a central theme.
The introduction of compulsory education in the 1870s led to major changes in the family, and in the role of child labour. For the poor it was initially the cause of greater hardship. Child labour, central to the economy of the family, was not going to wither away simply by introducing laws. The central section of the book deals with the impact of education reform, the double role of girls in particular as carers at home and as schoolchildren, and on how the task of getting children to school influenced the reformers themselves.
There is a fascinating section on how girls charged with the care of their infant brothers or sisters would bring the babies to school with them. The authorities battled over the appropriateness of establishing creches in school. A note from one education department official maintained that baby rooms should be provided, because 'I do not see why these babies may not be regarded as cloaks or bonnets for which provision must be made.'
The tension between economic necessity for the poor and reforms built on the preconceptions of the middle classes was and remains at the centre of debate over social reform.
As with all things won from the state, the ruling class attaches conditions for its own use. Indoctrinating the future British worker with patriotism and pride in empire was part of the 'core curriculum'. London was home for thousands of refugees from around the world. The role education played in fostering division, prejudice and downright terror among the children of the poor and working classes is detailed in the latter half of the book.
One man recalls how a teacher addressed a class in a predominantly Jewish school in 1905, the year of the Aliens Act: '"Now all you foreigners who come from Russia--you should go back to your own country." And a girl sitting in the front--her name was Yetta Solomons--she was so incensed that... she took out this inkwell and flung it at her, and she smashed her glasses... and all the ink ran down her. I'll always remember that.'
It is the voices of children that bring this history to life. Their lack of power, yet their ability to rebel against even the greatest insults, seeps through the memoirs of those who lived in the inner city tenements.
Margot Hill


Lost and found

Talking Work: An Oral History
Trevor Blackwell and Jeremy Seabrook
Faber and Faber £15.99

Talking Work: An Oral History

The changing nature of the workforce, the workplace and its implications for the wider transformation of society are arguments which socialists face daily, alongside those about the death of the working class both numerically and as a social force for change.
Blackwell and Seabrook's book revolves around a series of interviews with workers, their experiences of work, unionisation and home life. These partly reflect the changes in the workforce. They start with a shoe and boot worker, a coachman, a miner and steel workers. These are dynamic and energetic. Moreover, their stories are both interesting and informative.
But they are pessimistic too. Len, a shoemaker for 49 years, says, `What's gone out of life is the quality of things you buy. I think it stems from the root cause that people have no pride in their work.' Robert, a steel worker from the age of 15 in 1942, thinks that, 'Young people take no interest in work now... They have the wrong attitude today. Discipline is nil. They don't work, they only go for the money.'
Particularly in comparison with later interviews, these workers convey an image of a lost tradition, that of the manual working class, skilled and organised, and which is now gone forever to be replaced by workers who are identified by their fragmentation and instability.
But has all this working class tradition been lost? True, there have been fundamental changes, especially the decline of manufacturing and the growth in the service industries. However, these changes do not negate the actual organisation of workers or their potential strength. It is not, as Blackwell and Seabrook claim, that 'the working class has been, as it were, evicted from history ... a working class which emerged from, and defined itself against, the lower orders, appears to have lost itself again.'
There are around 20 million workers in Britain--a third of them trade unionists represented by some 300,000 shop stewards. And, just like yesteryear, there still exists brutal exploitation by a class which constantly squeezes workers to pay for their crisis. Over 5 million workers earn less than £4.15 an hour.
Talking Work fails to grasp that the fundamental character of the working class remains the same. This becomes more apparent in the later interviews. Women workers are portrayed as peripheral and no voices are heard from the many women employed in the financial sector or those working in the big superstores.
Women, already 44 percent of the workforce, are expected to be the majority of Britain's workers by the end of the century. A third of women workers are in trade unions and the majority of women in employment are full time.
Blackwell and Seabrook ignore all of this to push their theory of the domination of an underclass. They state that 'with this complete attachment of the working class to capitalism other, older fissures and fragmentings have become more obvious, particularly those which once divided the "respectable" working class from the "rough" working class. These two elements, a cleavage once scarcely visible to the outsider, have gone their different ways. The split has become magnified, as a majority of the working class has gone upward and a minority downward. The majority migrated to the middle class, whilst the minority sink to the underclass.'
Talking Work is a politically edited series of snapshots which leave you feeling empty and disorientated.
At heart the authors are pessimistic, viewing workers as self interested and motivated only by personal greed. Their opinion is that 'there is now no disharmony between the interests of rich and poor, united in their common commitment to more.'
The 'solidarity and values' of the working class--by which they mean western workers--have disappeared. 'They live on, particularly in the Third World.' And here's the crux of their argument: that western workers have created the problem of Third World poverty by their individual greed.
'The resolution of the problem of the working class within western society has been achieved, as we have seen, only by having been externalised; that is to say, it has created the ecological crisis and intensified poverty in other parts of the world.'
No mention here of the IMF, the World Bank or the huge multinationals who hop the globe in search of a cheap source of labour, or, indeed, that Britain itself is becoming a low wage economy--far from the working class moving ahead leaving an underclass behind, poverty pervades the working class.
Every region of the UK, with the exception of the south east, has lower labour costs than southern Italy. And while the poor get poorer the world over, the rich are getting richer. But the reversal of power Blackwell and Seabrook demand is not from the rich to the poor, but from western workers to Third World workers, thus conveniently missing the source of the problem: worldwide class divisions.
Singled out for criticism are Marx and 'revolutionaries ... still wedded to antique prophecies which would have put the working class at the centre of a project of redemption.' There is no mention of the failure of Labour and trade union leaders to lead a fight on the minimum wage or in defence of workers' basic rights, of jobs and services.
But Blackwell and Seabrook would probably view these struggles as movements of avarice!
Julie Waterson


Action is the life of all

Aristocrats, Plebeians and Revolution in England
Brian Manning
Pluto Press £9.99

Left Wing Democracy in the English Civil War
David Petegorsky
Alan Sutton £14.99

Aristocrats, Plebeians and Revolution in England

Brian Manning's new book is the best short introduction to the English Revolution.
The great strength of all of his work is that his is history from below. All the major players of the revolution--Charles I, Cromwell, Laud, Ireton, Lilburne and others--are analysed within the context of the great swirl of social upheaval around them. This is not the history of a foolish and incompetent king blundering on to civil war, or a scheming Cromwell plotting the rise of his class. It is the story of men and women at all levels of society, in all aspects of the class struggle, acting and reacting in the circumstances they found themselves in and shaping history.
Key to making sense of the course of events that led from the outbreak of civil war in 1642 to the king's beheading in January 1649 is understanding the structure and influence of what were known to contemporaries as the 'middling sort', a diverse and growing class in between the poor and the aristocracy. As Manning explains, the 'middling sort of people' were based in the class of independent small producers, but some of these were rising into capitalist employers and others were declining into wage earning employees.
This diverse group was moulded into a class through a common interest it had in opposing the aristocracy. 'Classes are constantly being shaped and reshaped, a process out of which history itself is made... Groups become conscious of themselves as a class in the course of conflict with other groups identifiable as different classes. Out of the diversity of the "middle sort" there emerged elements that... became conscious of the difference between their economic and ideological position and that of others, and found themselves united to defend it against the party which they identified with the aristocracy or ruling class.'
From this starting point Manning goes on to investigate the key political elements in the period. His understanding of the central role of political organisation in shaping events during the English Civil War is without doubt the strongest of any of the present day English Revolution historians. His work here on grass roots troop organisation in the New Model Army, at its high point in 1647, is one example. Manning outlines how the levels of popular democracy, the election of representatives or Agitators to put the troops' case, their political clarity and independent organisation were central to the revolution in this key year and set the course for the king's death two years later.
Like Manning's, David Petegorsky's book has many strengths. It was first published in 1940 in the Left Book Club series that helped popularise left wing writings in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a pioneering work in its day and still retains much of its clarity of analysis.
The majority of the book concerns the ideas and activities of Gerrard Winstanley and the 'true Leveller' or Digger movement he led. This was a short lived movement that sprang up in 1649 in ten or so places, most notably Cobham in Surrey, Enfield in Middlesex and Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.
Brian Manning describes the Diggers as the 'founders of socialism in that they recognised the economic imperatives of true democracy'. They protested against private property, the market economy and wage labour, and briefly established communes on uncultivated common and wastelands before being brutally put down and dispersed by local landlords.
Their mentor, Gerrard Winstanley, developed some fantastically advanced ideas and theories on the nature of the society growing up around him through his experiences during the English Civil War. He outlined the starting point of all his later ideas and activities in an early work in 1649 when he wrote, 'Action is the life of all and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing.'
This approach led him over time from a belief that society was governed by religious and mystical forces to realising that class struggle was the key to social change and human development. Ultimately he was to conclude, 'This divining spiritual doctrine is a cheat; for while men are gazing up to heaven imagining after a happiness, or fearing a hell after they are dead, their eyes are put out; that they see not what is their birthright, and what is to be done by them here on earth, while they are living.'
The first two chapters of Petegorsky's book help to put Winstanley's work in the wider context with a more general analysis of the English Revolution. As Christopher Hill points out in a short new introduction to this book, it was a highly innovative piece of work when it first appeared in 1940. It is an analysis which remains of interest today. If there is a weakness in the book, it's that in concentrating on discussion of Winstanley's ideas some of the later chapters tend towards abstraction.
Lee Humber


Collision course

The Day Before Yesterday
Colin Tudge
Cape £18.99

The Day Before Yesterday

This is an ambitious book. The author attempts to write a history of the last 5 million years in less than 400 pages!
But don't let that put you off. It gives an exciting account of our entire history from the evolution of the first mammals to the development of farming. The book shows that the world we live in today is not, and has never been, a stable, unchanging place. Whole continents have shifted around the world. The climate we take as fixed is as likely to be tropical from pole to pole as to be iced almost to the equator. Millions of fabulous species have appeared and disappeared over the millennia.
Tudge argues that to understand our own history and our impact on the environment we have to understand the big historical picture. It is not enough simply to study the history of the last few thousand years. We have to place ourselves in the context of the earth's billion year history.
He argues that the initial evolution of humans came in response to a drastic cooling in the world's temperatures. He argues that the collision of a vast island (which later became India) with Asia was the event which precipitated our evolution. The vast mountains of the Himalayas were thrown up, absorbing carbon dioxide and causing a reverse greenhouse effect. The subsequent drop in world temperatures caused a change in the environment of the pre-humans and precipitated their evolution into modern humans.
Tudge also shows that there has never been a time when humans and nature have lived in stable harmony. From the very beginning we have affected our environment. The beautiful highlands of Scotland were once covered in forest. The activity of humans has reduced it to the temperate equivalent of desert. Tudge provides convincing evidence that from the earliest times humans have caused the mass extinction of other creatures. Far from having some idyllic past humans, like all animals, have constantly changed, and been changed by, the world around them.
This is not to say that Tudge therefore argues we shouldn't worry about our effect on the environment. Quite the opposite. One of the central themes of the book is that environmental issues have to be taken seriously--that if tiny changes have caused vast alterations in the working of our planet in the past, they can do so again. But his pleas to change the way we are damaging the world seem a bit abstract, because he provides no mechanism by which we can persuade profit hungry big business and politicians to change the way we are destroying the planet.
This is because the big picture which he is so successful in drawing leads him to underestimate the importance of recent history (in his terms the last 10,000 years or so). He doesn't distinguish, for example, between feudal society and modern capitalism, seeing the differences as merely in the scale of damage done to the environment.
But whilst the damages done by the capitalist system are huge, without its advances we could not even begin to tackle the problems. The fact that we can understand the scale of environmental damage is a product of modern science. Modern science is only possible because of the economic system we live in, although this profit crazy system is incapable of using science to save the environment.
Tudge's argument that a million years is the correct unit of political time may in the abstract be correct. It may well be that in order to prolong our lives on this planet we have to start thinking long term. But we live in a system where short term profit is the driving force of society. We have to smash that system in order to tackle the big questions which Tudge poses.
John Baxter


The vicious circle

Whither socialism?
Joseph E Stiglitz
MIT Press £27.50

Whither socialism?

'Competitive markets are the most efficient means of anticipating and supplying consumers' wants.'
'There is no reason to believe that markets themselves will be efficient.'
The first of these quotations comes from Labour's arch- spindoctor, Peter Mandelson. He is repeating a view so widespread among mainstream politicians and media commentators that it is repeated as a self evident truth.
The second quote is from this new book by the well known, pro-capitalist, economist Joseph Stiglitz. And, despite its title, most of the book is devoted to attacking the premises of established 'neo-classical' market theory.
This theory, he argues, fails either to produce an ideal model of an efficient economy or to depict the real organisation of capitalist economies.
The conventional model--most fully elaborated by Arrow and Debreu a quarter of a century ago--claims that if firms and individuals are free to set prices, then supply and demand will equate with each other at the most efficient level of output. But, Stiglitz points out, there is no way anyone can tell in advance what future supply and demand will be. And so for the model to work 'there must exist markets not only for periods in the immediate future, but for all periods extending indefinitely into the future.'
This clearly cannot happen. 'if there were markets for each of the millions of commodities, each of the billions of contingencies, each of the infinity of future dates, then so much of society's resources would be absorbed in organising these transactions that there would be little left over to be bought and sold on each of these markets!'
As a result 'even under the best of conditions, with business managers engaging in the most rational analyses... there is no assurance that markets lead to efficient outcomes'. Nor will the market automatically correct itself so as to follow the 'unique path converging to the steady state' that involves full employment of labour and resources.
Instead of proving that such a 'steady state' was bound to come about, defenders of the neo-classical orthodoxy have simply 'ignored' the problem.
But this was also to ignore reality. 'if the economy was well described by the Arrow-Debreu model... then coordinating failures'--where 'there are no jobs because there is no demand for the output of firms and there is no demand for the output of firms because people do not have jobs'--presumably would not occur. The slumps of the 1980s and 1990s, crudely, prove 'there is something fundamentally wrong with the Arrow-Debreu model'.
That is not all. The orthodox model's own assumptions are contradictory. It assumes perfect knowledge and perfect competition. But if these existed, then firms would never have an incentive to innovate, because the moment they did so their rivals would do the same and prevent them increasing their profits. In that case 'there will be underinvestment in research and development in a market economy... Market processes do not automatically ensure fierce competition or rapid research and development'.
Yet if perfect knowledge and perfect competition do not exist, then the model's own reasoning shows that the economy is not producing as much as it could, as efficiently as it could.
Stiglitz argues that the reality of capitalism is, in fact, very different from the model. There is 'imperfect', not perfect, competition and there are enormous gaps in firms' knowledge of what each other are doing. This leads to all sorts of problems. Thus it is not true that stock exchange valuations tell how well managed a company is--'much of the behaviour of the stock market cannot really be explained by any rational behaviour'--and, most significantly, 'equilibrium might not exist, prices may not be set at competitive levels... markets may not clear.'
Stiglitz's book has problems of its own. It is titled Whither Socialism? But for him 'socialism' means either the old order that used to exist in the USSR and Eastern Europe or schemes for market socialism--which fail, he argues, because they rest on the same basic model of the economy as the neo-classical orthodoxy.
He himself opts for a version of capitalism as it presently exists, but with some recognition of the need for the state to intervene to correct 'deficiencies' in the market. This involves him vastly underestimating the amount of waste and misery inbuilt into the present system. It also prevents him asking why interventions by states have failed to ward off three recessions in the last 22 years.
Despite these failings, however, the book will be a revelation for anyone who has been forced to swallow whole the message preached in school and college textbooks like those by Lipsey and Samuelson--or, for that matter, anyone who has been taken in by the 'modernising' ideas of New Labour.
Chris Harman


Free as a bird?

Imaginings of Sand
André Brink
Secker and Warburg £14.99

Imaginings of Sand André Brink was one of South Africa's best known critics and his post apartheid novel has been a long time coming.
Almost six years after Mandela's release Brink's latest novel deals with endings and beginnings--the end of white rule and the emergence of a new South Africa, the end of exile for many, and the beginning of a new life.
Knowing Brink's hatred and criticism of the old regime I looked forward to Imaginings and the first few chapters seemed ready to fulfil the promise of an interesting and insightful critique of the emerging new state.
Kristein, a middle class white former ANC activist, is summoned back in the days before the first free elections to visit her dying grandmother.
Grandmother Kristina's death is the result of an arson attack on her huge ostrich farm and her death becomes a metaphor for the turbulence of the last days of the de Klerk regime.
At first the novel seems ready to fulfil its promise-- through Kristina's magical abilities the reader seems set to take a magical realist helter skelter tour of African history.
Kristina can take the shape of birds and flies back and forth through the landscape and history of South Africa from the Boer trekkers to the rise of majority rule.
Through stories which constantly recreate themselves she tries to teach her granddaughter the meaning of her past. The stories and openness are contrasted with the life of Anna. Kristein's sister, who obeys every rule of Afrikaner womanhood and has become a slave to her vicious, racist husband Casper. The magical events are contrasted too with the everyday events of white supremacy and preparations for the elections and become a powerful means of examining the reality of a multiracial South Africa. Unfortunately however, the deeper into the novel you get, the more both the style and the analysis begin to wear thin.
Brink's writing never reaches the heights of the great magical realists like Rushdie. I think this is not just because he is a less talented writer but because he is unable to follow the logic of the style he has chosen. Rather than using the style as a way of cutting through the liberal political analysis, he uses it simply as a way to reinforce straightforward liberalism--behind the magical events lies a barely hidden political text.
The other disappointing subtext which is drawn more and more from the background as the novel unfolds is a kind of guilty male feminism. So as the stories unfold a common theme of an Africaner woman reaching out to befriend black South Africans emerges. Violence and brutality are bluntly portrayed as a problem of male pride which can be overcome by a new understanding of women--in this way the magical realism becomes straightforward mysticism.
In the end the book drops the magical realist element altogether and becomes a beacon for the election of Mandela's government.
And herein lies the real problem--several years after the event--years in which all the contradictions and tensions of the ANC led government's compromises have become clear. A novel that simply says the end of white rule is a sign of hope sounds empty and hollow.
Elane Heffernan.


Mr Average goes to war

Lincoln
David Herbert Donald Cape £30

Lincoln

Writing about Abraham Lincoln in 1861, Karl Marx brilliantly summed up the man and his momentous role in history. 'No initiative, no idealistic eloquence, no buskin, no historic drapery. He always presents the most important act in the most insignificant form possible. Others, when dealing with square feet of land, proclaim it as a `struggle for ideas". Lincoln, even when he is dealing with ideas, proclaims their "square feet."... Lincoln is not the product of a people's revolution. The ordinary play of the electoral system, unaware of the great tasks it was destined to decide, bore him to the summit... a man without intellectual brilliance, without special greatness of character, without exceptional importance, an average man of good will. Never has the New World scored a greater victory than in the demonstration that with its political and social organisation, average men suffice to do that which in the Old World would have required heroes!'
The 600-odd pages of this book confirm that view at every stage. Lincoln came from humble beginnings, and became a self educated, small time mid west lawyer, who developed a taste for a career in politics. His rise thus far was not unique.
Indeed the first third of this book struggles to be interesting largely because Lincoln himself, up to the time of his nomination as Republican Party candidate for the presidency, led a very run of the mill life.
Like Lincoln's life, however, the book really takes off when Lincoln (through the 'ordinary play of the electoral system') is thrown at the head of a nation embarking on a civil war. That war would shape the future US, remove slavery completely from the country, and cost more American lives than the combined casualties of all America's subsequent wars.
The war pitted two different economic and social systems, which had up to then existed uneasily side by side, against each other. The struggle was between the pro-Union forces of the North, who represented the system of wage labour capitalism, and the Confederate forces of the South, who stood for the continuation of slavery.
Lincoln's sole aim from the outset of the war was to preserve the Union. He stood at the head of a divided government. On one side stood the moderate compromisers. They believed that a limited war which stopped the expansion of slavery to new territories in the West and allowed Southern slave states to maintain the prewar status quo, was all that was required.
On the other side stood the radicals, who believed the war to be a moral crusade against the institutions of slavery and for the full emancipation of America's blacks.
Lincoln's personal ties, political outlook and cautious nature all seemed to draw him to the moderates (a position which one senses is shared by this biographer). He abhorred slavery, but believed it was a doomed system that would eventually die a natural death. He certainly had little sympathy for the more radical abolitionists.
Yet events were to shape the man. The moderates dominated the leadership of the Union army. They repeatedly failed to press home military advantage, and indeed their compromising and compromised tactics led to a series of humiliating defeats. These defeats forced Lincoln eventually to remove the leadership and replace it with generals who, whatever their political views, were absolutely committed to all out warfare and the defeat of the enemy.
Similarly, on the question of slavery, Lincoln had said at one point that to preserve the Union he would free no slaves, some slaves, or all slaves, whichever the situation required. As the war unfolded it became clear that full emancipation was necessary. Despite the howls of the moderates Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation.
Lincoln was not a leader produced by revolution, but was certainly shaped by it. This most unlikely figure, with his never ending backwoods anecdotes, and his small town lawyer's mind, became a great leader of a great bourgeois revolution, one more than equal to the task and one who despite himself became the most radical president America has ever produced.
This book narrates very well the road down which Lincoln travelled in those turbulent years. So leave the author's political prejudices aside (which admittedly he tries hard to do himself) and enjoy it.
Pat Stack


Blame where it lies

Another America
Kofi Buenor Hadjor
Southend Press £11.99

Another America

Discussion on racism in the US has shifted massively to the right. Not only is it the 'ruling elites' that 'blame the poor... for being poor', but there is a strong conservative current in black responses to racism in America today.
Hadjor demolishes the notion that racism is a problem of individual attitudes. He makes clear from the outset that 'racial differences are a social and political construction' and the 'impetus behind the power of racial ideas... comes from the top downwards'.
The history of racism is not just the history of black oppression but also the history of how a 'ruling elite' is able to sustain its wealth, power and position. Not only did capitalism give rise to racism but it continually depends upon those ideas.
By far the most interesting chapters in the book are those on the 'invention of the underclass' and 'black responses'. For Hadjor the concept of an underclass is a conservative one. It conveys the message that 'you cannot solve the problem of poverty or deprivation by trying to change the way society is run through challenging the existing power structures'.
Unlike in the 1960s where organisations like the Black Panthers and the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, fought to change the fundamental structures of American society, today 'biack leaders... focus, not upon the nature of US society, but rather upon the internal affairs of the black community itself'. Many examples are given in the book from Bill Cosby's endorsement of the 'Bad Black Brother' campaign--with its attention directed towards the 'black drugs dealer' and the 'black criminal'--to Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson.
The politics of 'blame the victim' are captured well in a quote from old civil rights leader John Lewis: 'I'm sick and tired of people saying they don't have jobs, that they grew up in poverty. I don't care how poor you are, there's no way to justify what's going on in many of these communities.' Hadjor's response is worth quoting at length: 'The petty criminals and anti-social elements of the ghetto did not invent narcotics or the art of the rip off. Big business did that for them. Nor did they make violence an integral part of American life. This surely has a lot more to do with those who wield power at the top of American society, who have taught us all that the way to solve every problem from a labour dispute to an argument with Third World regimes is through the use of massive force.'
In the absence of any grassroots black movement since the 1960s a small group of middle class black politicians and intellectuals have been allowed to appoint themselves as exclusive spokespersons of black America.
What is the alternative needed to 'turn things around'? Hadjor argues, 'The first thing that needs to be done is to alter the terms of the political and intellectual discourse about race in America.' How is this to be done? Hadjor rightly points out the central role of ideas in the struggle against racism and capitalism generally. However, this cannot be divorced from human activity. It is in the process of the transformation of reality that people begin to change their ideas. Unfortunately, Hadjor ducks the issues. 'There is no scope here to launch into a detailed discussion about how to address... broader structural problems of American society.' This simply will not do. What is needed is a socialist organisation to put those ideas into practice.
Unjum Mirza


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