Labor, Free and Slave

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Bernard Mandel, University of Illinois Press, £14.99

Bernard Mandel was part of a response to a school of thought best summarised in the words of scholar William E Woodward: "American Negroes [were] the only people in the history of the world... that ever became free without any effort of their own."

Mandel originally published his examination of the fight against slavery just as the civil rights movement was taking off. His work illustrates the relationship between the white working class and the enslaved blacks, giving an analysis of how employers divided the class in its use of blacks as strikebreakers and excessively cheap labour.

Brian Kelly's extensive introduction offers the astounding story of Mandel's life and his relationship with the Communist Party, challenging censorship and the issues of class in the civil rights movement. As Kelly writes: "Mandel was clearly drawn to the problem of labour and its relationship to abolition because he believed that it had something to say about the world in which he lived."

Mandel was forced to print his book through an underground co-operative of radicals. Publishers were terrified of being tarred with the broad McCarthyite brush of being pro-communist. As a result, its importance was recognised by a notable minority of militants, but only around 2,500 copies were made.

This makes Kelly's decision to republish his work today all the more significant.