“Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA”, edited by Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith (Harper, 2014).
A breath of fresh air! Just when I thought that writing about socialism had become the exclusive preserve of Marxist academics and their obscurantist jargon, we finally have a work that uses plain language to bring its ideas back to life in an American context. Of course, any edited collection of this kind has its strengths and weaknesses, its highs and its lows.
As for its strengths: (1) A multiplicity of perspectives from just left of social democracy to Marxism-Leninism to what I would call utopian; (2) Coverage of a wide variety of relevant policy issues; (3) Avoidance of abstract theoretical elaborations in favor of dealing with practicalities; (4) A willingness to “imagine” without leaving the real world behind; (5) Great readability.
Major weakness: The book as a whole fails to seriously explore the state of American political consciousness in the 21st century. This too often leads to utopian assumptions about the behavioral effects of changes in the social structure, and a romanticization of the defunct Occupy movement. The question of how we get from here to there thus remains largely unanswered.
The highlights: Rick Wolff’s economic analysis; Mumia Abu-Jamal/Angela Davis discussion of justice; Blanche Wiesen-Cook’s feminism; Steven Wishnia on drug issues; William Ayers’ wonderful essay on education; Dianne Feeley’s thoughtful focus on Detroit’s problems and their solution; Renate Bridenthal’s “workday”; Paul LeBlanc’s historical perspective on revolutionary politics; Martin Espada’s poem; and Terry Bisson’s wonderfully honest portrayal of a socialist future in “Thanksgiving 2077”.
On a somewhat lower plane: Joel Kovel’s utopianism; the Fraads’ apparent assumption that all sexual dysfuction is due to capitalism; Arun Gupta’s somewhat scary vision of collective farms and communal dining; Mat Callahan’s rant about art under socialism; Fred Jerome’s somewhat antiquarian old-left take on the media.
All that said, this is a thought-provoking collection–essential reading for socialists, those with questions about socialism, and anyone with a political open mind. A wonderful source book for a socialist reading group…or revolutionary cell. Buy it–send it to #1 on Amazon.com!
Well, it’s Friday night–have to stop now–time for “Shark Tank”!