A long essay that discusses racism, class struggle and corporate domination in a scattershot survey of American history—followed by poetry.
The author, a computer programmer and union official who was active in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960s, delivers a sketchy litany of injustice and oppression. He begins with America’s flawed foundations: the contrast between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the reality of bondage, sexism and inequality in the resulting nation; the Constitution’s corrupt compromises with slavery; and the flagrantly undemocratic structure of the U.S. Senate. He moves on to discuss the 19th-century struggles of working-class men to win the vote and abolish debtors prison and compulsory militia drills; the theft of Native American land and the Cherokee Trail of Tears; abolitionism in the United States and Great Britain; and the history of labor organizing. He also touches on some contemporary issues, including the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, the 2009 Employee Free Choice Act and the unfairness of software licensing agreements. Most of Rice’s essay is a spotty, garbled rehash of Howard Zinn–style left-wing historiography; there are also digressions into topics such as proportional representation and some daydreaming about how wonderful the Soviet Union might have been had Leon Trotsky prevailed over Josef Stalin. Blunt and simplistic pronouncements—“the big brothers of big business may control everything”—often stand in for analysis. Occasionally, though, the author explores less familiar ground; for example, he provides an interesting profile of William Mahone, a Confederate major general who later became a progressive on issues of race as a U.S. senator. The author also presents a less-dogmatic side in a selection of his poems, which include imagistic seascapes and pastoral language (his “Impressions of the Ocean” includes “Sun, like an orange light bulb through the clouds”); mystical anthems (“Oh Nameless One, You my womb and my grave, you are all”); and woozy roundelays (“Sing whisper strong and weather weary / Sing the wandering whisper song”). The author focuses his imagery into sophisticated themes, and, as a result, his poetry is considerably more cogent and engaging than his prose.
An uneven miscellany of stolid doctrine and lyrical verse.