MAIN CURRENTS IN MODERN AMERICAN HISTORY by Gabriel Kolko

MAIN CURRENTS IN MODERN AMERICAN HISTORY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Kolko has surveyed American history since the consolidation of modem US industrial capitalism after the Civil War. The book presents a series of specific arguments stitched together with a running indictment of other historians as ""myopic,"" leading policymakers as ""banal,"" the population in general as full of ""mindless optimism,"" and the Yankee Empire as desperately ""fragile."" The first of Kolko's specific reinterpretations is that Wall Street really possessed nothing like a comprehensive control over a national banking system in the late 19th and early 20th century; this deprecation of the role of ""finance capital"" continues throughout the book. Secondly, ""underconsumption"" is presented as the key to the recurrent economic slumps which even a ""warfare economy"" could not cure. As to why the American left could not get beyond mere trade-union militancy, Kolko places ultimate weight on the last wave of immigrants and their expectation of simply making a bundle and going back home. This novel thesis (which leaves out the Wobblies, among other things) is followed by an insistence that since 1896, the dominant mood of the ""masses"" has been ""apathy and infantilism"" toward politics (which leaves out WW II, among other things). Politics has consequently remained ""elitist and oligarchical,"" a corruptionridden ""means for administering and securing capitalist power in America,"" which power, however, fell into a new stage of its intrinsic tendency toward ""instability"" and ""failure and drift"" with the loss of Indochina. Most of the factual claims by Kolko, who has written respected studies of American industrial regulation and the US conduct of WW II, are highly debatable; much of his conceptual overview remains elusive.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1976
Publisher: Harper & Row