In a world where the grossest forms of capitalist exploitation are ignored or rendered mundane by a bourgeois media machine fueled on free market fetishism and “news” about as enlightening as a lobotomy, it is refreshing to see a decent critique of society come off of the presses. Barbera Ehrenreich’s This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation is just such a critique. Although Ehrenreich is not, nor pretends to be, a Marxist, her work does well to shed light on the everyday injustices perpetrated by American imperial capitalism.
Broad Scope, Sharp Focus
One of the strengths of Ehrenreich’s work is that she covers a broad spectrum of issues related to social justice, including the hypocrisy of the immigration debate, the cruel character of American capitalism’s for-profit healthcare, the general exploitation of the working class by the wealthy elite, issues of patriarchy, and even the exploitative nature of so-called “self improvement gurus.” Furthermore, while addressing this cornucopia of social ills of all sorts, she does not lose sight of its cause, which is inevitably the bourgeoisie. Although her analysis lacks the benefit of a clear materialist dialectical understanding, it doesn’t take a Marxist to see that the proverbial cards are stacked in the favor of a wealthy elite, and Ehrenreich is thankfully able to see the forest for the trees when it comes to the causes of social injustice.
Enlightening, Yet Entertaining
Another strength of Ehrenreich’s book is that her work is actually quite fun to read; the combination of her sharp wit, bite-sized chapters, and entertaining personal analogies do well to keep even the most impatient of readers turning the pages. Her humor stabs mercilessly at those who perpetrate the moral crimes of capitalism, and at the same time, her compassion towards the masses of the oppressed in this country and abroad adds a humanizing edge to the work. She brings the facts, citing statistical data from the Department of Labor and the Economic Policy Institute (among other sources) to give her statements and positions a grounding in material reality. Yet, while the work is academically sound, This Land is Their Land hardly makes for dry reading.
A Surprising Departure from Bourgeois Feminism
It should be noted that Ehrenreich’s work is not without its failings. Ehenreich is not a Marxist, and as a result, her understanding of class is lacking, her rhetoric is often stuck in the liberal paradigm of “this new capitalism is bad, the old one wasn’t” and her plan of action is nothing more than an expansion of the welfare state. All of that said, I found myself pleasantly surprised by a chapter entitled “A Uterus is Not a Substitute for a Conscience,” in which Ehrenreich reflects on the failure of bourgeois feminism, and comes to the conclusion that “We need a feminism that teaches a woman to say no-not just to the date rapist or overly insistent boyfriend but, when necessary, to the military or corporate hierarchy within she finds herself.”
Conclusion: a Worthwhile Read
Even though Ehrenreich’s analysis is at points lacking (as is to be expected from such a mainstream work) it is still recommended reading both for those new to exploitation in America and those who are keenly familiar with it. In a way, Ehrenreich is like a more advanced (and more likeable) Michael Moore, and we at the APL cannot help but condone an improvement over the leading progressive social critic.