January 22, 2012


Paul Avrich, Anarchist Portraits (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1988) (a collection of essays on Michael Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Anatoli Zhelezniakov, Nestor Makhno, V. M. Eikhenbaum (Volin), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Benjamin Tucker, Oriole Tucker, C. W. Mowbray, Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Alexander Berkman, Ricardo Flores Magon, Mollie Steimer, Paul Brousse, Gustav Landauer, J. W. Fleming, and several other individuals and groups).

John Patrick Diggins, The Rise and Fall of the American Left (New York: Norton, 1992) ("The book has three aims: to describe the sensibilities and styles of thought that a radical intellectual movement assumes as a means of mobilizing its emotional energies; to explain the philosophical posture that movement adopts as a means of negating prevailing sentiments that sustain the existing order; and to analyze the historical developments that account for the 'deradicalization' of the left as a generational phenomenon. The main focus, therefore, will be not on the Left in general but on the three different American Lefts and a fourth Left that represents a curious life of the third." "These are the Lyrical Left of the First World War era, the Old Left of the thirties, the New Left of the sixties, and the Academic Left of our [i.e., late twentieth century] times." Id. at 19-20. Of course, early twenty-first-century America is seeing and experiencing another "Left." Certainly the, for lack of a better name, 'Occupy Wall Street' Left is neither a resurgence of the New Left of the 1960s, nor an extension of the Academic Left of of the late twentieth century.).

E. J. Hobsbawm, Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour (New York: Basic Books, 1964) (From the essay "History and 'The Dark Satanic Mills'": 'For most of the past hundred and fifty years the debate on what social conditions were like under early industrial capitalism had been pretty one-sided. The majority of the British people in the first half of the nineteenth century was convinced that the coming of the industrial capitalism had brought them appalling hardships, that they had entered a bleak and iron age. The economists assumed that the condition of the labouring poor must be rather miserable: much of their theory was designed to show why this was inevitable. . . ." "The historians who want to take a different view--and in the past thirty or forty years they have been very influential--have a very difficult job on their hands. This article proposes to discuss some of the ways in which they have attempted to tackle it. . . . " "The cheerful school of historians about the early industrial Britain has to explain away a mass of very inconvenient facts: the majority opinion of contemporary observers and students, the huge weight of documentation about the awful social and economic conditions of the working population in the first half of the nineteenth century, and, of course, the massive discontent for the labouring poor, which broke out, time and again, in vast movements of radicalism, revolutionary trade unionism, Chartism, in riots and attempted armed risings." Id. at 105-106. "The attempt to prove statistically that early capitalism made people better off has failed, for the time being. . . . The cheerful historians are left with the mass of evidence, which remains gloomy. What can they do? They can attempt to discredit it. . . . Now there is a well known and venerable academic technique for proving that, let us say, a desert is not dry and infertile. The critic points out that it is not actually waterless and lifeless. There are wells in it, and occasional temporary torrents, and sometimes it rains. Camels and bedouin, and various animals, down to fleas and mosquitoes, live in many parts of it, and so do plants, sometime in profusion. Nor is it all composed of sand. It is therefore wild and unscholarly exaggeration to say a desert is dry and infertile, and though the true scholar will not question the motives of other people . . . it is pretty clear that those who say so are unscholarly or probably actuated by a prejudice against deserts. Admittedly there is a lot of evidence that many people regard deserts in this light, but they should know better. This method is extraordinarily useful: it has has been used, for instance, to prove that there have never been such things as revolutions (including the Industrial Revolution). A realistic historian has once said that it is possible so to define subsistence agriculture as to prove that it never existed anywhere, and the same goes for deserts, revolutions, poverty-increasing or diminishing, capitalism, or whatever we choose. The only trouble is that if the scholar were actually to find himself in a desert, he would not be helped by the proof that it did not, strictly speaking, exist, or if it existed, was not dry and infertile as was often said. Fortunately for themselves the historian of Britain's early industrial age, having proved by these means, e.g., that the 'Hungry Forties' are misnamed . . . , will not find themselves in the situation of an English or Irish labourer of that period." Id. at 108-109 (italics added). Does not the reasoning of the cheerful historian seem quite common in late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century America? Poverty is not a problem because the poor don't exist or are only poor because they chose to be poor; affordable healthcare is not a problem because markets are efficient and, if people really wanted/valued health and healthcare, they would have save sufficiently for and reallocated money to their healthcare; that racism is no longer a problem, and we live in a post-racial American, because there are some interracial marriages, some interracial children, some members of racial minorities are wealthy, successful, articulate, and have have won high political office, and because there is not a race riot every other month all of which would not, according to the cheerful observer, were racism to still exist in America.).

Christopher Jencks, The Homeless (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England: Harvard U. Press, 1994) ("In this book I define homelessness more narrowly, concentrating on the people whose existence most worries the public. I include everyone who slept in a public place or a shelter during a given week, and I treat welfare hotels as a species of shelter. I ignore people who are in jails, detoxification centers, mental hospitals, or other institutions through the week, despite the fact that many of them come from the street and will return to the streets as soon as they are released. I include children in family shelters and welfare hotels, but I ignore both teenage runaways and children in foster care, many of whom are far more homeless than most children in shelters." "This list should serve as a reminder, if any is needed, that what I am really writing about is what we call the 'visible homeless'--people whose presence on the streets upsets the more prosperous classes. These are not necessarily the poorest or the most deprived of our fellow citizens. If we look in jails, detox centers, mental hospitals, and foster homes, we can find hundreds of thousands of other Americans surviving without the physical or emotional support we normally associate with having a home. We do not count these people as homeless because they are out of sight. When people contemplate human misery, the cliche that equates 'out of sight' with 'out of mind' is all too accurate." Id. at 7.).

Michael B. Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America 9New York: Basic Books, 1986) (From the bookjacket: "Nobody likes the American welfare system. Yet it stubbornly resists fundamental change. In the Shadow of the Poorhouse examines the origins of social welfare, both public and private, from the days of the colonial poorhouse through the current tragedy of the homeless and explains why a system so thoroughly disliked and often criticized persists." "Almost from it inception . . . welfare has served four purposes: the relief of misery, the preservation of social order, the regulation of the labor market, and the mobilization of political power. [Katz] maintains that the unresolved tensions between these divergent goals have undercut all attempts to formulate coherent welfare policy. . . .").

Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era (New York: Tarcher/Putnam Books, 1995) (You know the story, and are suffering its consequences. From the bookjacket: "In this compelling,disturbing, and ultimately hopeful book, Jeremy Riflin argues that we are entering a new phase in history--one characterized by the steady and inevitable decline of jobs. Worldwide unemployment is now at the highest level since the great depression of the 1930s [note: this book was published in 1995, twelve to thirteen years before the worldwide economic and financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, which is continuing still). The number of people underemployed or without work is rising sharply as millions of new entrants into the workforce find themselves victims of an extraordinary high-technology revolution, Sophisticated computers, robotics, telecommunications, and other cutting-edge technologies are fast replacing human beings in virtually every sector and industry--from manufacturing, retail, and financial services, to transportation, agriculture, and government." "Many jobs are never coming back. Blue collar workers, secretaries, receptionists, clerical workers, sales clerks, bank tellers, telephone operators, librarians, wholesalers, and middle managers are just a few of the many occupations destined for virtual extinction, While some new jobs are being created, they are, for the most part, low paying and generally temporary employment, More than fifteen percent of the American people are currently living below the poverty line. The world, says Rifkin, is fast polarizing into two potentially irreconcilable forces: in one side, an information elite that controls and manges the high-tech global economy; and on the other, the growing numbers of permanently displaces workers, who have few prospects and little hope for meaningful employment in an increasingly automated world. Rifkin suggests that we move beyond the delusion of retraining for nonexistent jobs. He urges us to begin to ponder the unthinkable--to prepare ourselves and our institutions for a world that is phasing out mass employment in the production and marketing of goods and services. Redefining the role of the individual in a near workerless society is likely to be the single most pressing issue in the decades to come." "Riflin says we should look toward a new, post-market era. Fresh alternatives to formal work will need to be devised. New approaches to providing income and purchasing power will have to be implemented. Greater reliance will need to be place on the emerging 'third sector' to aid in the restoration of communities and the building of a sustainable culture." "The end of work could mean the demise of civilization as we have come to know it, or signal the beginning of a great social transformation and a rebirth of the human spirit." My heart hopes for the latter, but my head knows that the former is the better bet.).

Olivier Zunz, Making America Corporate 1870-1920 (Chicago & London U. of Chicago Press, 1990) (From the bookjacket: "In this far-ranging essay on social change, Olivier Zunz revises our understanding of the connections between business and society forged during the early years of the modern American corporation. Through collective biography of the middle-level managers and engineers, as well as salesmen and clerks, he links the formation of this group of middle-class workers to the question of corporate growth, Zunz asks both how the rise of corporations changed the middle class and why the creation of our modern work culture engaged the energy and imagination of so many Americans. Pushing beyond previous studies of power elites and oppressed workers, he argues that the disparate group of white-collar employees did not so much react to the corporate world as design it. Members of this new middle class interpreted the job of industrializing the land as their special mission and, to a large extent, succeeded in shaping their workplace in their own image. In doing so, they transformed American culture.").