MONTHLY REVIEW / SEPTEMBER 1978
exceptionalism: race. The argument is straightforward: the £meri-can labor and socialist movements have been crippled by the racialdivisions within the American working class. Itseems undenial: Ie,yetfew explanations of American exceptionalism (why there is
so-cialism in the United States) have made race so central to theiranalysis as Michael Goldfield's
The Color of Politics: Race a.
For Goldfield, racial division has been
Achilles' heel. If [heAmerican left, "the key to unraveling the secret of American
I(cep-tionalism." (p. 30) Indeed, race has been "much more."
e hasbeen the central ingredient, not merely in undermining soli. laritywhen broad struggles have erupted, not merely in dividing wo
but also in providing an alternative white male nonclass worl. lviewand structure of identity that have exerted their force during bothstable and confrontational times. It has provided the everyday fl ame-work in which labor has been utilized, controlled, and exploit-d bythose who have employed it. And race has been behind many (
thesupposed principles of American government (most notably s atcs'rights) that are regarded as sacred by some people today." (p.: 0)To make his case for the centrality of race in American pol ticaldevelopment, Goldfield reinterprets American political histor- as aseries of crucial turning points, historical intersections at which raceset the direction of politics and from which the system of ricialdomination was created and perpetuated (albeit in continual y al-tered form and content). These turning points were the late
ven-teenth-century creation of racial slavery, the American Revolu ion,the Civil War and Reconstruction, the "System of 1896," and theGreat Depression and the New Deal. Heightened class conflict
har-acterized each turning point, creating real opportunity and
real progress for black and white workers. Yet, in every case,
division determined that the ruling classes would ultimately triumphover the working classes.Throughout his retelling of U.S. history, Goldfield places theinterplay of race and class at the center of his story. In his intro luc-tion, he critiques attitudinal, psychological, and cultural expl
tions of race, and insists upon "the class and economic roots of r: cialformation and systems of racial oppression." Then, as he worksthrough the history, he tries to expose these roots and the poisor ousfruit they ultimately sprout. He does a magnificent job sketching theclass context-the balance of class forces-in which each of hiscritical political struggles take place, setting each successive con .est