Looking Back at Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy

Martinsburg, WV strike 1877

by Glenn Kissack

September 2, 2022

Not only do tens of millions of people around the world hate capitalism and want to see it replaced with a society run by and for workers, but they have felt that way for many generations. 125 years ago, Edward Bellamy wrote the novel Looking Backward, a powerful and intelligent critique of capitalism, a system that Bellamy considered cruel and wasteful. It was written at a time of great inequality and great workers’ struggles and also soon after Karl Marx had published his searing analysis of capitalism in the Communist Manifesto. Marx also raised ideas about how a post-capitalist communist society would work, most profoundly from each worker according to ability and to each according to need. Looking Backward is Bellamy’s vivid description of the egalitarian society that he saw replacing capitalism.

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Review: Plague at the Golden Gate

by Karyn Pomerantz, 6-4-2022

PBS film on the bubonic plague of 1901 in SF

Imagine this scenario:

  • Disease outbreak blamed on Chinese
  • Physicians coverup cases in white areas
  • Business needs outweighed health protection
  • Denial of healthcare to Chinese workers creates distrust of physicians and public health officers
  • No cure existed
  • It took years to find the zoonotic cause and control transmission

Sound familiar??

No, it’s not Covid. It is the bubonic plague that appeared in San Francisco in 1901. The Plague at the Golden Gate, a documentary produced by PBS, portrays the desperate search for the cause of the rapid deaths among Chinese residents crammed into a crowded neighborhood known as Chinatown. Out of 120 plague stricken people, 119 died. The handling of the outbreak holds lessons for public health workers, government officials, and the public today.

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Book review – Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War, by David Williams

by Fran Gilmore

January 15, 2022

I never studied the Civil War, except briefly in an eighth grade US History class. Thus my knowledge was confined to the myths in American textbooks and what I imbibed from the culture in general, such as movies and other media.  My conception was that southerners before and during the Civil War were solidly united in favor or slavery and the war to preserve it, and were solidly racist. Williams’ book shows that the latter notion was true–even those opposed to slavery were for the most part racist. But there were a few cases of whites opposed to both slavery and the war uniting with slaves to fight the confederacy, examples of the multiracial unity that remains so critical for the success of workers’ struggles today.

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Don’t Judge an Issue Just by Its Cover – 12 Important Points from Jacobin’s Latest Issue: “Reduce the Crime Rate”

by Joseph G. Ramsey

November 27, 2021

It’s not enough to judge a left journal by its cover. A recent case in point: people in left social media circles of late have been taking shots at the democratic socialist magazine Jacobin’s latest issue (https://jacobinmag.com/issue/lower-the-crime-rate), with its provocative (and maybe confusing) cover bearing the slogan “Lower the Crime Rate.” A range of radical voices online have reacted to this cover as if it amounts to a kind of endorsement of police repression in liberal guise. But actually the lead articles inside the issue are, in this comrade’s view, quite good. From the Opening Statement by Benjamin Fogel to the interview with Marie Gottschalk, the contents here are valuable for the way they highlight major blindspots structuring liberal and much “left” common sense and activism around policing, prisons, and the carceral state these days. The issue deserves wide engagement, as it can help us to see more clearly some of the real challenges that lie before us in terms of radically changing the system of “criminal justice” in the USA. One need not share Jacobin‘s emphasis on electoral politics (or the specific organizational vehicle of the Democratic Socialists of America) to find value in the magazine’s pages.

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Inflamed: Inspiring But Insufficient

A Book Review by Ellen Isaacs, October, 2021

The popular new book Inflamed, by Rupa Marya and Raj Patel, is both enlightening and enraging.  It has several dominant themes. One is that inflammation is behind most disease processes in all parts of our bodies, an idea that is more and more accepted by conventional medicine. However the authors carry the idea farther, showing how the environment, both physical and social, is deeply entwined with inflammation and how even heredity is affected by these processes. The second main theme is that modern medicine has detached bodily systems from each other and the body from the world it inhabits just as modern humans have fallen out of harmony both with each other and the world around them. In contrast, there are many indigenous cultures that are better synchronized with their environment.

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Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Speaking Out For Antiracist Marxism

by Karyn Pomerantz, 9-12-2021

This article reviews the revolutionary politics of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Marxist, anti-racist scholar, author, and activist. It presents her positions on class, racism, and capitalism, and the critical need for working class unity.

Over the last ten years, tens of thousands of people have rebelled against racist police murders, immigrant deportations, climate disasters, Covid-19 catastrophes, and incarceration rates that disproportionately endanger black and brown workers. People are asking about the causes of oppression and strategies and solutions to end them. Explanations range from the exploitative practices of capitalism, bad legislation to misbehaviors of poor people. Strategies include voting, building organizations to fight specific injustices, decentralized and uncoordinated organizing, unionizing, cooperatives, community control of the police, and communist parties. People call for abolition to defund and eliminate the police and prisons and end all forms of injustice. Many believe in white privilege and blame all whites for racism.

In a time of these identity politics, leaderless protests, and decentralized organizing, Taylor’s call for organized, multiracial, revolutionary struggle provides a more realistic course of action that can achieve working class power. Her works are worth understanding and applying.

The editors strongly recommend reading her publications and listening to her presentations on YouTube. She has written 3 major books, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, and How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.

This blog has promoted multiracial organizing that fights the system of capitalism. Take some time to read the posts on “white privilege,” exploitation, and “It’s Time to Name Names: Capitalism and Imperialism” at  https://multiracialunity.org/category/capitalism-and-imperialism/page/3/ . (If you’d like to get together and discuss these topics, come to our biweekly discussion group and email us for the details).

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Review of Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

By Barbara Foley       Reprinted from Science and Society, July, 2021

Near the top of the New York Times bestseller list through the summer of 2020 and beyond, Kendi’s 2019 provocatively titled book is one among several books urging racial self-awareness and systemic transformation that attained prominence in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. Accompanied by a SparkNotes study guide, How to Be an Antiracist is clearly headed toward classroom use; it is not just a book, but an event. Moreover, in 2020 Kendi was appointed director of Boston University’s new Anti-Racism Institute, which he calls a “factory for antiracist policy.” One must ask, Does Kendi’s book help to develop the anti-capitalist potential of current attempts to de-naturalize racist ideologies and practices? Or does it aid and abet the current rush to the anti-racism bandwagon on the part of corporate America?

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The USSR in 1945 – A Book Review

by Ellen Isaacs

June 3, 2021

Edgar Snow, widely known for his portrayal of the Chinese Communist Revolution, Red Star Over China, also chronicled conditions in the Soviet Union in late 1944 to early 1945.  Although not a communist, Snow looked at the struggles to create a communist society with an honest and appreciative eye. In The Pattern of Soviet Power completed in April, 1945, Snow described conditions in the USSR and policies and plans of the Communist Party.

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Book Review: The Sum of Us- What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee.

By Karyn Pomerantz, 3-4-2021

In The Sum of Us (2021), Heather McGhee refutes the pervasive idea that racism, specifically white supremacy, benefits white workers. She contradicts the paradigm of a “zero-sum game” in which gains for black workers diminish the economic and social status of white workers. Instead, she advocates for “social solidarity” that would create a “solidarity dividend” that enriches the lives of all workers.

McGhee is another liberal capitalist author who has stong antiracist arguments but a weak analysis of the role of capitalism that requires racism to create profit and enforce divisions among workers. Liberal reformers, such as Sanders, the Ford Foundation, and unions, try to preserve capitalism by making it more equitable. McGhee was president of Demos, a liberal think tank for economic reforms. Her book reflects the insights she gained there.

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Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy — A Book Review and History

by Peter Scheckner. December, 2020

In many respects the early decades of the last century resembled our own disordered and perhaps calamitous moment, though the differences between the two periods were equally apparent. In the two decades between the two world wars, fascism was on the rise, particularly in Western Europe, notably in Italy, Spain, and Germany and, in the East, China and Japan. Benito Mussolini, the head of the Italian National Fascist Party, became Prime Minister in 1922. In the decade before Hitler became the Chancellor in January, 1933, post-war Germany was roiling with street battles between fascists belonging to roughly thirty different parties and at least eight left-wing parties, most significantly the KPD (the pro-Soviet German Communist Party) and various factions of the Social Democratic Party.

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