A critique that isn’t about the book
I WAS disappointed by Joe Allen's review of Will Jones's book, The March on Washington ("For jobs and freedom"). Joe's review criticized Will's book in an unproductive way and gave readers little sense of the book's virtues.
Early on, Joe rebukes Will for writing mostly about the events leading to the march, rather than focusing on the march itself. It is not productive to criticize a book for not being the book one expected or would have written oneself. A reviewer should ask if the author lives up to her or his own goals, not invent new ones.
Joe's review devotes very little space to discussing much of the history and arguments that Will actually writes about. For example, Joe tells us that, "the most fascinating part of the book was finding out about the emergence of Black feminism in the wake of the great march," but doesn't elaborate in his review on any of this fascinating history, which surely is of great interest to SocialistWorker.org readers.
Joe gives much more attention to A. Phillip Randolph's view of the Communist Party, and suggests that Will's treatment of this matter places him alongside "a new liberal anti-communism in U.S. labor studies." This is excessively uncharitable. In fact, Will argues that Randolph and other Black trade unionists "established their distance from the Communist Party without aligning themselves with conservatives or 'Cold War liberals.'"
He may be wrong, or have understated the damage that anti-communism inflicted on the movement, but to read this argument as an endorsement of liberal anti-communism is unfair.
Paul Pryse, Madison, Wis.