America’s Revolutionary Heritage: Marxist Essays, by George Novack (editor)*****

americasrevheritageMany of the books I review here came to me as free advance copies. Not so for this often overlooked but meaty set of historical essays, for which I happily paid full jacket price. In fact, at one point I had a second, battered copy in my classroom, in the personal collection behind my desk alongside my second, battered copy of Battle Cry of Freedom. I used both more often than my other resources in preparing lectures.

This book is exactly what it says it is. It examines, chapter by chapter, revolutions as seen from an economic perspective, and from the point of view of the working class.

The American Civil War, my primary area of historical interest, was caused, says Novak, by two economic systems that had become mutually exclusive and incompatible–the feudal system of slavery (with a tiny minority of Caucasian power brokers ruling over the Black, poor white and racially mixed farmers of the still agrarian south), and the newly industrialized, capitalist north. The north needed to expand in order for capitalism to survive, but the southern aristocracy had ruined its own land with the nutritionally hungry yet profitable cotton crop. And the border states had taken up a trade seen nowhere before in the history of the world: the deliberate and planned mating of human beings so that their enslaved children might be physically strong, and bring higher prices.

Every chapter of this book covers a different aspect of revolution in the United States, but I recall the American Civil War strongest because it was my field for a number of years.

Whether or not you consider yourself a Marxist, if you are interested in American history, this well-documented series of scholarly essays is clear and thought-provoking, and well worth your time.

Available from Pathfinder Press.