by Michael Goldfield ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1997
Goldfield (Labor Studies/Wayne State Univ.) traces how race came to be at the heart of America's political vexations, and how and why it stays there. His survey is most useful in the portions offering an analysis of the past. Expanding W.E.B. DuBois's dictum that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line, Goldfield endeavors to demonstrate that at critical turning points of political struggle since colonial times (the Revolution, the end of Reconstruction, the Depression and New Deal, etc.), race was again and again central to the outcome. And in his Marxian view, it has been the absence of interracial solidarity among white and black workers during key struggles that has led to two of the defining elements of contemporary politics: the weakness of American labor and an enduringly segregated nation. Exactly why white labor repeatedly failed to support black workers, though, remains elusive in Goldfield's account: The indifference of northern labor to Reconstruction, for example, is repeatedly and unhelpfully attributed to obtuseness. The evasion of this question has consequences for Goldfield's ability to usefully address contemporary politics. While the account of the post-WW II period, especially the CIO's failed Operation Dixie, establishes a solid historical context for the recent history of progress and backlash, the chapter on the present offers a summary of macroeconomic shifts and an unobjectionable but familiar left-liberal response to racially coded issues like affirmative action. In short, having successfully postulated the centrality of race to a class analysis of American history, Goldfield fails to provide the logical epilogue and carry that class analysis fully into contemporary racial politics, sketching it out only briefly in short concluding remarks. Nevertheless, the focused examination of the role of race in shaping a broad range of American movements is enlightening in its own right, and the importance of the subject speaks for itself.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997
Page Count: 400
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997
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