FALL OF THE NEW CLASS

A HISTORY OF COMMUNISM'S SELF-DESTRUCTION

The last reflections—together with a lot of older ones—of Djilas (Of Persons and Ideas, 1986, etc.), one-time number three in the Yugoslav hierarchy and its most famous dissident. Djilas, who died in 1995, added an introduction and a final chapter to material that has mostly been published before. Some of the older material (theoretical arguments about what constituted advances in Marxism) has all the immediacy of last week’s pizza. His more literary efforts are slightly embarrassing. But nothing can detract from the role he played in formulating the theory, dealt with in some detail here, that the supposedly classless society produced in fact a class more ruthless than any of its predecessors: —Communism,— he notes, —consisted above all of a new class of owners and exploiters.— His observations on those with whom he dealt are penetrating. Of Stalin he writes that there may never have been a figure from history with as little in common between the public persona and the private man: —Stalin was a bundle of nerves sticking out in all directions, sensitive to the most subtle allusions.— He dismisses the theory that Stalin was crazy or criminal, arguing that his murderous actions were the consequence of a perverted ideology. Tito, who, despite his break with Moscow, never abandoned the Leninist ideology, had something similar in his make-up, —an immediate, ferocious sense of danger.— Not surprisingly, Djilas’s newest material is also the most interesting, and his most significant conclusion may be that the economic failure of communism was less important in leading to its demise than the failure of its ideology. The final turning point, he argues, was when President Reagan undertook the decisive policy of rearmament in response to the Soviet challenge. The final conclusions, some reflecting old battles, some devastatingly contemporary, of a brave and honest man who, for his defense of freedom, spent nine years in the jails of his former comrades.

Pub Date: April 28, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-43325-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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