May 2015
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Month May 2015

Review: Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015)

I rarely briefly tout very good books I read but in this case I want to make an exception.

While she is rarely mentioned by name, the book is straight-up Rosa Luxemburg: primitive accumulation and the mass strike. Fraser stirs in fictitious capital for good measure. (He earlier wrote a great book on Sidney Hillman, the “labor statesman” of the garment workers.)

Part I is a survey of class struggle in the United States from the American Revolution to end of the 1960s, emphasizing both the violence brought to bear against American workers (more than in any other “advanced capitalist” country) and the largely-forgotten extent to which these struggles (from 1877 to 1919 above all) scared the wits out of the American ruling class. I know of no comparable survey anywhere.

This is contrasted in Part II with the “auto-cannibalization” of the system starting around 1970, and the resulting “erasure” of the memories of the earlier period and of much of the productive economy.

The book was completed in the fall of 2013, so it does not deal with Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and more recently Baltimore. Nonetheless it is a relentless account of the reactionary rollback that set in around the early 1970s, and which may perhaps be ending now, perhaps not. Once again, I know of no comparable account of the “Great Glaciation” (as I call it) during which thousands of factories closed, the prison population rose to at least 2 percent of the population (those awaiting trial, those in jail, and those on parole), income disparity soared, and social services (never great at their best) were gutted.

I have tertiary criticisms but they amount to pot shots.

Highly recommended.