We Can Do Better
Ideas for Changing Society
A short, accessible, measured, and methodical book that lays out what the author describes as a “reconstructed historical materialism” – that is, a way of understanding the world and of orienting our struggles to change it that fuses a critical marxist approach to class relations with the many other axes of oppression with which they interlock via the insights of anti-racist queer feminisms. It is pitched, I think, towards readers who are new to these questions, both in terms of how it is written and what questions it answers. In particular, I can see it being a very useful resource in related classroom spaces, in reading groups where people are attempting to build affinity and collective analyses, as well as in the hands of a certain kind of serious young person early in their journey of asking questions about the world that I very much remember once being.
I think it is especially critical at this moment that we have more resources that both draw from marxist traditions and also take seriously the interlocking character of the various relations of domination that we face, given the disappointing popularity in recent years of a sort of refurbished class reductionism. I also think the approach recommended in the final chapter on moving from theory to action is the right way to go (and not only because it quotes me a couple of times! ) – committed and radical yet open engagement with actual struggles on the ground as they are already happening in workplaces and communities, rather than obsession with finding a correct line or building a ‘pure’ organization that will supposedly know best how to proceed.
The book notes early on that even folks who share a similar big-picture sense of how the world works and how we must act to change it will no doubt have lots of quibbles with the particulars of the book. Certainly there are various aspects of how this book does its work that are not quite how I see things or how I would talk about them. Mostly, that doesn’t concern me – I’ve never been a believer in there being One True Way, and I certainly see this book as a useful contribution to the ongoing discussions we need to be having in movements. That said, I do have one concern, or perhaps two overlapping concerns, that feel big enough that I need to mention them. I was surprised that the overlapping nexus of relations captured by terms like slavery, colonialism, racism, white surpemacy, and anti-Blackness were not treated more centrally. I mean, they were there for sure, and were understood as part of the complex of interlocking relations at the heart of this book. They just didn’t seem to be given quite the centrality that I understand them to have in the social relations of the last five centuries and in any potentially successful anti-capitalist politics today. And on a related but distinct note, it was actually quite shocking to me that the book had so little to say about settler colonialism and struggles against it – to me, that has to be front and centre of any conversation about capitalism and anti-capitalism happening on Turtle Island.
That said, I think this book does a lot of useful work and has the potential to spark a lot of useful conversations, and I hope it helps people on their journeys towards articulating alternatives to class-only and class-first understandings of the world and of struggles to change it.
— Scott Neigh, May 2019