ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Marxism broke up the conception of the people as an integral organism.
It analyzed it into classes with opposed interests.
Books by Nicholas Berdyaev
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Communism as Russian Imperialism
Culture & Myth at Core of Socialist Politics
By Nicholas Berdyaev
Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948) — Russian philosopher, was probably the greatest Orthodox theologian of the first half of the twentieth century. He was also a leading figure in the existentialist school of philosophy, a role he acquired after taking up residence in the West in 1922.
In his Origin of Russian Communism, an excerpt from which is given below, Berdyaev expounds the thesis that communism, although it came to Russia from the West, was completely transformed by conditions in Russia. In the beginning, Communism made little sense in Russia, for an industrial proletariat hardly existed there.
But when Lenin, the founder of the Bolshevik party, replaced the traditional but outworn Russian myth of the Third Rome with the new messianic myth of the international proletariat, and when he replaced a discredited tsarist autocracy with the dictatorship of the proletariat, he was able to re-establish a tottering and demoralized tsardom on a new, and firm, religious base.
Thus for Berdyaev the ideological doctrine and the governmental practices of Soviet Russia are only secondarily Marxist or Communist. They derive mainly from the tsarist past.
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And in actual fact Russian Marxism, since it had risen in a country still not industrialized and with no developed proletariat, was bound to be torn by a moral self-contradiction which weighed upon the conscience of many Russian socialists. How is it possible to desire the growth of capitalism, to welcome this growth, and at the same time to regard capitalism as an evil and a moral wrong against which every socialist is called to fight?
This complicated question gives rise to moral conflict. The growth of capitalist industry in Russia presupposed the turning of the peasantry into a proletariat, depriving them of their means of production, i.e. reducing a considerable part of the nation to a condition of beggary.
This double-mindedness in assigning the values of capitalism and the bourgeoisie is to be seen in Marxism in its most classical form. Marx, in so far as he took his stand upon the evolutionary point of view and recognized the existence of various stages in history, to which different values are to be assigned, set a high value upon the mission of the bourgeoisie in the past and the role of capitalism in the development of the material strength of mankind.
The whole conception of Marxism is very much dependent on the growth of capitalism and adjusts the messianic idea of the proletariat–which has nothing in common with science–to capitalist industry. Marxism believes that the factory, and the factory alone, will create the new man. . . . But the first Russian Marxists were faced with a moral problem and a problem of cognition, and it set up a moral and logical conflict.
We shall see that this moral conflict was decided only by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. It is precisely the Marxist Lenin who will assert the possibility of establishing socialism in Russia independently of the development of capitalism and before a working class of any great size was organized.
Considering Marxism in Russia
Plekhanov [the leader of the Mensheviks] declared himself against confusing the revolution which was to overthrow the absolute monarchy with the social revolution. He was opposed to a revolutionary socialist seizure of power, i.e. tot he Communist revolution in the course it actually took. the social revolution must be waited for. The liberation of the workers should be the work of the workers themselves, not of a revolutionary clique.
This needs an increase in the number of workers, the development of their consciousness; it presupposes a greater development of industry. Plekhanov was fundamentally the enemy of Bakuninism, which he regarded as a mixture of Fourier and Stenka Razin. he was opposed to sedition and conspiracy, to Jacobinism and belief in committees.
A dictatorship can achieve nothing unless the working class has been prepared for revolution. He stresses the reactionary character of the peasant commune as a hindrance to economic development.
One must rely upon the objective social process. Plekhanov did not accept the Bolshevik revolution, because he was always opposed to the seizure of power of power for which neither strength nor consciousness had been prepared. What is needed above all is the revolutionizing of thought, not an elemental upheaval, and a revolutionizing of the thought of the working class itself, not of a partisan organized minority.
But with such an application of Marxist principles to Russia, there would be long to wait for the social revolution. The very possibility of direct socialist activity in Russia would be made a matter of doubt. The revolutionary will might be finally crushed by intellectual theory.
Thus, the more revolutionary-minded Russian Marxists were obliged to interpret Marxism in some other way and to set up other theories of the Russian Revolution, to work out other tactics. In this wing of Russian Marxism, the revolutionary will overcame the intellectual theories and the armchair interpretation of Marxism.
There occurred unnoticed a combination of the traditions of revolutionary Marxism with those of the old revolutionary outlook which had no desire to tolerate a capitalist stage in the development of Russia, with Chernishevsky, Bakunin, Nechaev, Thackev. This time it was not Fourier but Marx who was united with Stenka Razin.
The Marxists who were Bolsheviks stood much more clearly in the line of Russian tradition than those who were Mensheviks. On the basis of the evolutionary determinist interpretation of Marxism it is impossible to justify a proletarian socialist revolution in a peasant country, industrially backward and with a feebly developed working class.
With such an understanding of Marxism one must rely first of all on a bourgeois revolution, on the development of capitalism and then, when the time comes, bring about the socialist revolution. This was not very favorable to the stimulation of the revolutionary will. . . .
Orthodox Totalitarian Marxism
This ‘orthodox’ [Leninist] Marxism which was in actual fact Marxism which had been changed by being given a Russian form, adopted primarily not the determinist, evolutionary scientific side of Marxism, but its messianic side, which gave scope to the stimulation of the revolutionary will, and assigned a foremost place to the proletariat’s revolutionary struggle as controlled by an organized minority, which was inspired by the conscious proletariat idea.
This orthodox totalitarian Marxism always insisted on the preaching of materialist belief, but it contained strong idealist elements also. It showed how great was the authority of an idea over human life, if it is an integrated idea, and answers to the instincts of the masses.
In Boshevist Marxism the proletariat ceased to be an empirical reality, for as an empirical the proletarian was a mere nothing; it was above all the idea of a proletariat that mattered, and those who became vehicles for the expression of this idea might be an insignificant minority.
If this insignificant minority is entirely possessed by the gigantic idea of the proletariat, if its revolutionary will is stimulated, if it is well organized and disciplined, then it can work miracles; it can overpower the determinism which normally controls social life.
And Lenin proved in practice that this is possible. He brought about the revolution in Marx’s name, but not in Marx’s way. The Communist revolution was brought about in Russia in the name of totalitarian Marxism–Marxism as the religion of the proletariat, but it was a contradiction of everything that Marx had said about the development of human society.
It was not revolutionary narodnichestvo [a utopian peasant socialism], but orthodox totalitarian Marxism which succeeded in achieving the revolution, in which Russia skipped that stage of capitalist development which to the first Russian Marxists had appeared so unavoidable. And it was clear that this agreed with Russian tradition and the instincts of the people.
Peasant Myths & Messianic Ideas
At that time the illusions of the revolutionary narodnichestvo had already been outlived; the myth about the peasantry had collapsed. The people had not accepted a revolutionary intelligentsia. A new revolutionary myth was needed. And the myth about the people was changed into the myth about the proletariat.
Marxism broke up the conception of the people as an integral organism. It analyzed it into classes with opposed interests. But in the myth of the proletariat, the myth of the Russian people arose in a new form. There took place, as it were, an identification of the Russian people with the proletariat, and of Russian messianism with proletarian messianism.
The Soviet Russia of workers and peasants came into being. In it the notion of the people as a peasantry was combined with the idea of it as a proletariat, and that in spite of everything that had been said by Marx, who regarded the peasantry as a petty-bourgeois, reactionary class. Orthodox totalitarian Marxism forbade any reference to the opposition between the interests of the proletariat and those of the peasantry.
That was the rock on which Trotsky struck, desiring as he did to be true to classical Marxism. The peasantry was declared to be a revolutionary class, although the Soviet the Soviet Government had constantly to fight it, sometimes very bitterly. Lenin turned anew tot he old tradition of Russian revolutionary thought. He pronounced that the industrial backwardness of Russia, the rudimentary character of its capitalism, is a great asset for the social revolution.
There will be no need to deal with a strong organized bourgeoisie. Then Lenin was obliged to repeat what Tkachev had said, and by no means what Engels had said. Bolshevism is much more traditional than is commonly supposed. It agreed with the distinctive character of the Russian historical process. There had taken place a Russification and orientalizing of Marxism. . . .
Structuring the Revolutionary Party
Lenin’s purpose, which he followed up with unusual logical consistency, was the formation of a strong party representing a well organized and iron disciplined minority and relying upon the strength of its integrated revolutionary Marxist outlook. The party had to have a doctrine in which nothing whatever is to be changed and it had to prepare for dictatorship over life as a complete whole.
The very organization of the party, which was centralized in the extreme, was a dictatorship on a small scale. Every member of the party was subjected to this dictatorship of the center.
The Bolshevik party which Lenin built up in the course of many years was to provide the pattern of the future organization of the whole of Russia, and in actual fact Russia was organized on the pattern of the Bolshevik party organization. The whole of Russia, the whole Russian people, was subjected not only to the dictatorship of the Communist party but also to the dictatorship of the communist dictator, in thought and in conscience. Lenin denied freedom within the party and the denial of freedom was transferred to the whole of Russia.
This is indeed the dictatorship of a general outlook for which Lenin had prepared. he was able to do this only because he combined in himself two traditions: the tradition of the Russian intelligentsia in its most maximalist tendency, and the tradition of Russian Government in its most despotic aspect.
The Social Democrat Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries remained in the stream of the first tradition only, and that in a mitigated form. But combining in himself traditions which in the nineteenth century had been in mortal conflict, Lenin was able to fashion a scheme for the organization of a Communist state and to realize it.
Dictatorship of Proletariat, an Autocratic Imperialism
However paradoxical it may sound, still Bolshevism is the third appearance of Russian autocratic imperialism. Its first appearance being the Muscovite Tsradom and its second the Petrine Empire. Bolshevism stands for a strong centralized state. A union was achieved of the will to social justice and the will to political power, and the second will was the stronger.
Bolshevism entered into Russian life as a power which was militarized in the highest degree, but the old Russian state also had always been militarized.
The problem of power was fundamental with Lenin and all his followers; it distinguished the Bolsheviks from all other revolutionaries. They too created a police state, in its methods of government very like the old Russian state. But to organize government, to subject to it the laboring and peasant masses, could not be a matter of the use of armed force alone or of sheer coercion.
An integrated doctrine was needed, a consistent general outlook, and symbols which held the state together were required. In the Muscovite Tsardom and in the empire the people were held together by a unity of religious faith so also a new single faith had to be expressed for the masses in elementary symbols. Marxism in its Russian form was wholly suitable for this. . . .
Lenin did not believe in man. He recognized in him no sort of inward principle; he did not believe in spirit and the freedom of the spirit, but he had a boundless faith in the social regimentation of man. He believed that a compulsory social organization could create any sort of new man you like, for instance, a completely social man who would no longer need the use of force.
Marx believed the same thing, that the new man could be manufactured in factories. This was Lenin’s utopianism, but it was a utopianism which could be and was realized. One thing he did not foresee that class oppression might take an entirely different form, quite unlike its capitalist form.
The dictatorship of the proletariat, having increased the power of the state, is developing a colossal bureaucracy which spreads like a network over the whole country and brings everything into subjection to itself. This new Soviet bureaucracy is more powerful than that of the tsarist regime. It is a new privileged class which can exploit the masses pitilessly.
This is happening. An ordinary workman very often receives 75 rubles a month, but a Soviet civil servant, a specialist, gets 1,600 rubles a month, and this portentous inequality exists in a Communist state. Soviet Russia is a country of state capitalism which is capable of exploitation no less than a private capitalism.
The transitional period may be drawn out indefinitely. Those who are in power in it acquire a taste for power and desire no changes, which are unavoidable for the final realization of Communism. The will-to-power becomes satisfying in itself and men will fight for it as an end and not as a means.
All this was beyond Lenin’s view. In this he was particularly utopian and very naive. The Soviet state has become like any other despotic state. It uses the same methods of falsehood and violence. It is first and foremost a state of the military police kind. Its international politics are as like the diplomacy of bourgeois states as two peas.
The Communist revolution was distinctively Russian, but the miraculous birth of the new life did not take place. The old Adam has remained and continues to act, if in another form. . . .
Dominating the Whole of Life
Bolshevism made use of everything for its own triumph. It made use of the weakness of the Liberal Democratic government [of 1917], of the unsuitability of its watchwords to weld the insurgent masses together. It made use of the disorganization and discontent of the peasantry and divided all the land among the peasants, destroying what was left of feudalism and the dominance of the nobility.
It made use of the Russian traditions of government by imposition, and instead of an unfamiliar Democracy of which they had had no experience it proclaimed a dictatorship which was more like the old rule of the tsar.
It made use of the characteristics of the Russian spirit in all its incompatibility with a secularized bourgeois society. It made use of its religious instinct, its dogmatism and maximalism, its search after social justice and the kingdom of God upon earth, its capacity for sacrifice and the patient bearing of suffering, and also of its manifestations of coarseness and cruelty.
It made use of Russian messianism, which still remained, though in an unconscious form, and of the Russian faith in Russia’s own path of development. It made use of the historic cleavage between the masses and the cultured classes, of the popular mistrust of the intelligentsia, and it easily destroyed such of the intelligentsia as did not submit to it.
It absorbed also the sectarian spirit of the Russian intelligentsia and Russian narodnichestvo while transforming them in accordance with the requirements of a new epoch. It fitted in with the absence among the Russian people of the Roman view of property and the bourgeois virtues; it fitted in with Russian collectivism which had its roots in religion; it made use of the breakdown of patriarchal life among the people and the dissolution of the old religious beliefs.
It also set about spreading the new revolution by methods of violence from above, as Peter had done in his time; it denied human freedom, which had been unknown to the masses before, and had been the privilege of the upper cultured classes of society, and for which the masses had certainly not been roused to fight.
It proclaimed the necessity of the integral totalitarian outlook of a dominant creed, which corresponded with the habits, experience, and requirements of the Russian people in faith and in the dominating principles of life. The Russian spirit is not prone to scepticism, and a sceptical liberalism suits it less than anything.
The spirit of the people could very readily pass from one integrated faith to another integrated faith, from one orthodoxy to another orthodoxy which embraced the whole of life.
Russia passed from the Old Middle Ages to the New Middle Ages, avoiding the ways of the new history with its secularization, its differentiation of various fields of culture, with its liberalism, its individualism, its triumph of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism.
The Third Internationalism An Imperialism
The old consecrated Russian empire fell and a new one was formed, also a consecrated empire, an inverted theocracy. Marxism, itself so un-Russian in origin and character, assumed a russian style, an oriental style approaching Slavophilism.
Even the old Slavophil’s dream of transferring the capital from St. Petersburg to Moscow, to the Kremlin, was realized by the Red Communists, and Russian Communism proclaimed anew the old idea of the Slavophils and Dostoyevsky–ex Oriente lux. Light proceeds from Moscow, from the Kremlin, a light to lighten the bourgeois darkness of the West.
At the same time Communism creates a despotic and bureaucratic state, called into being to dominate the whole of life of the people, not only in body but also in soul, in accord with the traditions of Ivan the Terrible and the rule of the tsars.
Marxism in its Russian form proclaims the dominance of politics over economics, the power of the government to change the life of the country in any way he likes. In its grandiose schemes which were always on a world-wide scale, Communism makes use of the Russian disposition for making plans and castle-building which had hitherto had no scope for realization or practical application.
Lenin desired to overcome Russian sloth, the product of the life of the gentry and of serfdom, to conquer Oblomov and Rudin, the ‘superfluous people’, and in this positive task it seems he was successful.
A metamorphosis has taken place, i.e. an Americanization of the Russian people, the production of a new type of practical man with whom daydreaming and castle-building passed into action and constructiveness, of a technician, a bureaucrat of a new type.
But here also the special characteristics of the Russian spirit had their say. The faith of the people was given a new direction, the Russian peasants now reverence the machine as totem. Technical undertakings are not the ordinary matter-of-fact customary affair that they are to Western people; they have been given a mystic character and linked on with plans for an almost cosmic revolution. . .
The Russian people [had] not realized their messianic idea of Moscow the third Rome. The ecclesiastical schism of the seventeenth century revealed that the muscovite tsardom is not the third Rome: still less, of course, was the Petersburg empire a realization of the idea of the Third Rome. In it a final cleavage took place.
The messianic idea of the Russian people assumed either an apocalyptic form or a revolutionary; and then there occurred an amazing event in the destiny of the Russian people. Instead of the Third Rome in Russia, the Third International was achieved, and many of the features of the Third Rome pass over to the Third International.
The Third International is also a consecrated realm, and it also is founded on an orthodox faith. The fact that the Third International is not international but a Russian national idea is very poorly understood in the West. Here we have the transformation of Russian messianism.
Western Communists, when they join the Third International, play a humiliating part; they do not understand that in joining the Third International they are joining the Russian people and realizing its messianic vocation.
I have heard that at a French Communist meeting a French Communist asserted, “Marx said that the workmen have no fatherland. This used to be true, but now it is no longer true; they have a fatherland, that is, Russia, Moscow, and the workers should defend their fatherland.”
This is absolutely true and ought to be understood by everybody. Something ahs happened which Marx and the Western Marxists could not have foreseen, and that is a sort of identification of the two messianisms, the messianism of the Russian people and the messianism of the Russian proletariat.
The Russian working class and peasantry are a proletariat; and the proletariat of the whole world from France to China is becoming the Russian people–a unique people in the world; and the messianic consciousness of the working class and proletariat is bringing about an almost Slavophil attitude towards the West.
The West is always identified with the bourgeoisie and capitalism. The nationaliization of Russian Communism, to which all bear witness, has its course in the fact that Communism has come into existence in only one country, in Russia, and the communist realm is surrounded by bourgeois capitalist states. A Communist revolution in a single country inevitably leads to nationalism and a nationalist standpoint in political relations with other countries. . . .
In Soviet Russia now they talk about the socialist fatherland and they want to defend it; they are ready to sacrifice their lives for it. But the socialist fatherland is still the same Russia, and in Russia perhaps popular patriotism is coming into being for the first time. . .
Source: Kenneth M. Setton and Henry K. Winbler, eds. Great Problems in European Civilization. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Holt, Inc., 1958
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Nikolay Aleksandrovich Berdyaev (1874-1948) born of an aristocratic family on March 19, 1874, in Kyyiv and educated at a military academy and at the University of Kyyivdescribed his philosophical method as “intuitive and aphoristic rather than discursive and systematic.”
The foundation of his world view was his concept of the Ungrund, the mysterious primordial freedom from which God emerges. Out of this Ungrund, or uncreated potentiality, God creates humans, spiritual beings whose freedom and capacity for creativity were of the utmost importance to Berdyaev.
Berdyaevinitially supported the Russian Revolution (1917), then became critical of Marxismhas been called the philosopher of freedom, for he was preoccupied with the liberation of personality from all that inhibits free creativity.
This concern led him to struggle against a “collectivized and mechanized society,” envisioning a community in which religious, social, and political relations would enhance personal freedom. The Bolsheviks deported him from Russia in 1922.
Berdyaev felt that human creativity is destined to fail tragically in this fallen world. He was confident, however, of the eventual coming of the kingdom of God, an event toward which the Christian’s creative activity aims.
Berdyaevs most important books are The Meaning of the Creative Act (1916; translated 1955), The Destiny of Man (1931; translated 1937), Solitude and Society (1934; translated 1939), Spirit and Reality (1937; translated 1939), and Slavery and Freedom (1939; translated 1944)
In Berlin he founded the Academy of Philosophy and Religion, which he moved to Paris in 1924. In Paris he also founded and edited the influential journal Put (The Way, 1925-1940). He died in Clamart, France, on March 24, 1948
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By Lorraine Hansberry
I can hear Rosalee See the eyes of Willie McGee My mother told me about Lynchings My mother told me about The dark nights And dirt roads And torch lights And lynch robes
The faces of men Laughing white Faces of men Dead in the night sorrow night and a sorrow night
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Writer Lorraine Hansberry’s sober eulogy of the death of Willie McGee weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of the American Left. On May 8, 1951, a crowd of five hundred lingered outside the courthouse of Laurel, Mississippi, to witness the execution of yet another black man convicted for allegedly raping a white woman. His 1945 lightning trial resulted in a guilty conviction delivered in less than two and a half minutes by an all-white, male jury, setting off a heated five-year legal struggle that drew national headlines. Despite an aggressive appeals defense team who attempted every legal maneuver in the book, the US Supreme Court ultimately chose not to intervene. With the legal lynching of the Martinsville Seven in February, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s conviction in March, followed by the execution of McGee in May, 1951 was a bad year for Left-leaning lawyers (Parrish 1979; Rise 1995). Most discouraging, national news sources like the New York Times and Life magazine red-baited the “Save Willie McGee” campaign andas Life reportedits “imported” lawyers (Popham 1951a; Life 1951). Few felt McGee’s passing with as heavy a heart as his chief counsel, thirty-one-year-old Bella Abzug.
Before Abzug became a representative in Congress and a leader in the peace and women’s movements, she confronted the Southern political and legal system at the height of the early Cold War. Retained in 1948 by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC)a New York-headquartered Popular Front legal defense organizationthe novice labor lawyer honed her civil rights . . .
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By David Graeber
Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systemsto relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? Theres not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goodsthat is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections.
He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like guilt, sin, and redemption) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong.
We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known historyas well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy. Economist Glenn Loury /Criminalizing a Race
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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By John Lewis and Michael DOrso
Lewis, an Alabama sharecropper’s son, went to Nashville to attend a Baptist college where, at the end of the 1950s, his life and the new civil rights movement became inexorably entwined. First came the lunch counter sit-ins; then the Freedom Rides; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Lewis’s election to its chairmanship; the voter registration drives; the 1963 march on Washington; the Birmingham church bombings; the murders during the Freedom Summer; the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1964; and the march on Montgomery. Lewis was an active, leading member during all of it. Much of his account, written with freelancer D’Orso, covers the same territory as David Halberstam’s The Children. Halberstam himself appears here briefly as a young reporter but Lewis imbues it with his own observations as a participant.
He is at times so self-effacing in this memoir that he underplays his role in the events he helped create. But he has a sharp eye, and his account of Selma and the march that followed is vivid and personal. He describes the rivalries within the movement as well as the enemies outside. After being forced out of SNCC because of internal politics, Lewis served in President Carter’s domestic peace corps, dabbled in local Georgia politics, then in 1986 defeated his old friend Julian Bond in a race for Congress, where he still serves. Lewis notes that people often take his quietness for meekness. His book, a uniquely well-told testimony by an eyewitness, makes clear that such an impression is entirely inaccurate.Publishers Weekly
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By Tom Reiss
Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristoa stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature. Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slavewho rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.
Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle Eastuntil he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
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By Shirley Sherrod
Sherrod sets the record straight on her forced resignation from the Department of Agriculture in 2010. The author. . .was director for the USDA’s Rural Development in Georgia when conservative political blogger Andrew Breitbart attacked her for allegedly reverse racist comments she made at an NAACP event. The threat of exposure on national TV was enough to send the USDA running for cover, and she was dismissed. Sherrod decided she had to fight back. She and her husband have been directly involved in the struggles for political and economic justice in Georgia and elsewhere since the 1960s, and they were part of Martin Luther King’s movement for civil rights. She writes about growing up in segregated Georgia and the circumstances surrounding her fathers murder and the arson of her family homeat that time, fear was the daily diet that kept the status quo alive. In the 70s, Sherrod and her husband worked with other farmers in Georgia on experimental projects.
Denied drought assistance funds by the USDA, they faced foreclosure and joined a class-action suit to redress the discrimination. Eventually, they won the settlement, a decision strongly opposed by conservatives. Sherrod writes sharply about the continuing legacy of racism and how economic policy, hidebound bureaucracy and plain malice affect poor people everywhere, and why pretending that we are in a post-racial world doesnt help anyone. An inspiring memoir about the real power of courage and hope.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 24 September 2012