A must read for today

People vs. Profits
Columns of Victor Perlo: 1961-1999
Volume 1: The Home Front
Edited by Ellen Perlo, Stanley Perlo and Art Perlo
International Publishers, 2003
Softcover, 372 pp., $9.95

While reading “People vs. Profits” by Victor Perlo the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” kept cropping up in the back of my mind. Capitalism has changed quite a bit in these last 40 years, and Perlo’s writings faithfully reflect many of these changes. Even more impressive, however, is how these columns about the basic laws of capitalist production and crises retain so much relevance for today.

Perlo, for many years the chief economist for the Communist Party USA and a world-renowned Marxist, wrote a weekly column for the World and its predecessors from the 1960s through the late 1990s – totaling over 3,000 columns. He also wrote 13 books over his lifetime and delivered numerous lectures, reports and conference papers, creating a substantial body of political economic analysis before his death in 1999.

Here, as in all his writings, Perlo takes very complex economic and political dynamics and makes them user-friendly to non-economists.

The first chapter, “Economic Situation,” starts with a column written in April 1961 entitled “What Kind of Recovery?” While the political situation was very different than today, including the leadership of the labor movement, the bottom line that Perlo points out is relevant to the current discussion and struggle around the idea of a so-called “jobless recovery.”

“Not everybody wants the same kind of recovery. For capitalists, recovery means the increase in profits above all. For workers recovery means jobs for the unemployed, higher real incomes, more paid leisure, and social security. The propaganda that the fates of labor and capital are automatically joined economically is a fiction.”

George W. Bush trumpeted his tax cuts to the rich for starting a so-called economic recovery, but that talk is exactly about recovery of profits for his ruling-class cohorts. The “jobless recovery” leaves working-class families, women and the racially oppressed wondering, “What recovery?”

Perlo focused a good portion of his writing on exposing racism. Using Marxist methodology, Perlo combines economic statistics with the historical and political situation and the people’s mass struggle to expose racism in the economic, political, and social life of the United States. In the process he demonstrates a committed partisanship to the struggles of the African Americans, Latinos and all victims of discrimination.

Other areas of thought, analysis and struggle Perlo covers include Marxism, labor and industry, big business and profiteering, militarism, taxes, Social Security, corporate corruption, agriculture, role of the CIA and FBI, education and problems faced by cities, states and regions.

“People vs. Profits” is illustrated with biting political art by notable cartoonists such as Bill Andrews, Fred Ellis, Ollie Harrington, Huck and Konopacki, Seymour Joseph, Peggy Lipschutz and Fred Wright.

Given Perlo’s prolific writing, compiling his columns was a daunting project for the editors, his wife and partner Ellen Perlo, and his two sons, Art and Stanley. They managed it with skill.

As former People’s Weekly World editor Tim Wheeler wrote in the forward: “The contradictions [Perlo] exposed are now hitting with devastating force: Enron thievery, a war for oil against Iraq, global corporations and the ultra-right running amok. I often wish Vic were still with us, hammering away at these greedy corporations.”

With “People vs. Profits, Volume 1,” Perlo is in many ways “still with us, hammering away” at the ills, evils and corruption of capitalism. We look forward to Volume 2, which will cover international affairs.

The book can be purchased directly from International Publishers by calling them at (212) 366-9816 or by ordering the book from your local bookstore.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.