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Proletarian internationalism is the lens to view U$ economy

Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America
by Cynthia M. Duncan
Foreword by Robert Coles
Yale University Press, 1999, 235pp.

review by MC5

In 1999, Bill Clinton made a tour of various U.$. counties in poverty. The media recalled similar tours by Robert Kennedy in the 1960s.

Likewise, Cynthia M. Duncan's book found inspiration in Robert Kennedy. However, from MIM's perspective, the book is not very interesting.

Consisting of data from 350 interviews of mostly poor people, Duncan attempts to give readers an idea about poverty in the words of the rich and poor living in two poor counties. The interview details and investigations are called qualitative research.

Most of the interview details may suggest ideas, but nothing adds up to a story of "why poverty persists." Hence, we blame the publisher for using such a subtitle, probably to give the book some marketing appeal.

From Duncan's point of view, the poor should not be blamed for their attitudes as causing poverty. Nor does she accept Marxist views. Instead she points to a lack of community spirit in counties that are poor. The peoples of different races do not mix; the upper class seeks to prevent other businesses from coming in and people are trusted or not trusted with credit based on family history in Blackwell (of Appalachia) and Dahlia of the Mississippi Delta. In contrast, a northern New England rural county is blue- collar but solidly middle-class, because it mixed well and always had a business elite that was socially outward looking and tolerant of other business elites to move in and set up economic growth. In other studies she points to something as simple as a choir group that may be the basis of social interaction and community prosperity.

For what it is worth, Duncan may be correct to some extent. Like MIM, she seems to presume a middle-class United $tates is a possibility, so she wonders about these pockets of poverty. MIM is interested in how they relate to the international situation, but Duncan is wondering why these pockets of poverty do not escape. She concludes advice is necessary along with formation of community institutions.

Although Duncan does not say it, the real lesson of her book to the poor should be: "move!" Some of the rich crackers are quite simply both reactionary and dumb. The positive example of Gray Mountain that Duncan holds out does not have the question of national oppression in the community to anywhere near the extent it exists in Dahlia and Blackwell. Hence there will be a minority of places where the ruling class is terribly incompetent relative to ruling classes in other counties. They will also attract others of like-minded stupidity and chauvinism. When the people stay in one place out of excessive fondness of a locality, they are guilty of "provincialism." We Marxists encourage people to think more broadly and to aspire beyond their localities.

Often times we Marxists are told that we should go organize the Appalachian poor for their economic demands. Duncan gives us some up-to-date evidence on why that is a silly idea. Between 1980 and 1990, Blackwell county shrunk in population by 12%. That is the real social movement of Appalachia. Yes, there is a shortage of jobs, so people move. That is why there is no class solidarity or class consciousness that arises in Appalachia, no matter how many Marxists bang their heads on the wall there. To the extent that Marxists do influence or awaken anyone, they simply move or succeed in their middle-class ambitions. We do not need Marxism for that and hence we find the subject matter of Duncan's book boring. It is about how to integrate people into middle-class life. There is no other possibility when poverty is only in isolated pockets and not a generalized economic condition within a country's borders.

"Between 1930 and 1990 the population of Dahlia shrank from over 45,000 to around 20,000 while the number of employed dropped from nearly 20,000 men and women to just 6,000. Every black person I interviewed had relatives who had left the Delta for northern and midwestern cities, as well as a few southern cities like Birmingham, Memphis, Little Rock, and St. Louis. Usually at least half the siblings in a family would be gone."(p. 94)

Even if Appalachia had closed borders, it would only then be equivalent to some of the poorer European countries. At $15,321, central Appalachia's median income would still be more than 10 times higher than that of the median for the international proletariat.(p. 212) Between 1980 and 1990 meanwhile, Gray Mountain's income literally doubled.

Both the Mississippi Delta and central Appalachia are shrinking in population. Already in 1980, the two infamously poor regions combined had only a population of 1.8 million in a country of 226.5 million with open borders internally. In other words, they are less than one percent of the population and it was ridiculous to expect any class formation there. By 1990, the two regions combined shrunk to less than 1.7 million, or less than the number of people in prison today.

The trillions in super-profits sucked out of the Third World make it possible for whole countries to be rich like the United $tates. Although inequalities continue to exist within the United $tates, they are not nearly as central or as important to Marxists as those on a global scale.

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