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Rulers & Rebels: a People's History of Early California, 1769-1901.


By Laurence H. Shoup (New York and Bloomington, IN: Universe .com, 2010, 568 pp., $32.95 paper)

LAURENCE H. SHOUP is a man on a mission--a mission to share his understanding of a working class attempting to create a better life, of a capitalist ruling class of exploiters needing to be confronted and overturned, and of a world to be transformed. His Rulers & Rebels is early California history through the lens of ideology. It is all rulers, all rebels, all the time. He doesn't give up, he doesn't surrender, and he offers hope for the future.

Shoup makes a good case. He certainly takes sides. His love of humanity, and of the "people," is profound. He knows what he is about. Professor Shoup recounts being encouraged by the late Howard Zinn to "produce a people's history of California ... [Zinn] set a wonderful example of what it means to be an engaged scholar in solidarity with the people's movements." There you have it: a genuine and capable scholar, with a strong ideological bent, producing a fascinating, enlightening, sometimes frustrating, and often fruitful history of California from 1769 to 1901.

Within his richly annotated and cited 500 pages filled with fascinating primary source materials may be found Eureka! moments, Marxist economic theory, occasionally too extensive lists begging for some ruthless editor's digital knife, illustrations too dim to really see, and a genuine love for the exploited, the poor, and the rebels of society. He has a side, and his position is clear. In this book, "capitalist" is a curse word.

There is much to love and some to question in this book. I love Shoup's well-cited research, knowledge, insights, academic integrity, feeling for the oppressed, and desire for justice and democracy. He has shared some wonderful, painful glimpses of a long lost and troubled past.

I am not, however, comfortable with economic-agenda history, with an analysis devoid of even mentioning art, philosophy, humor, psychology, religion, or science beyond the use of technology for continual capital accumulation. Today, when the rights of working people to organize in self-defense into unions may seem more under threat and less accepted than in decades past, Shoup is determined to use the history of California to demonstrate the significance of just such a right. From the standpoint of furthering a broad wage earners' sense of class consciousness and of employing a Marxist descriptive vocabulary of capitalist-wealth accumulation, labor's surplus value, and the exploitation and "commodification" of people, he examines in great (occasionally too great) detail California's history.

Shoup's exploration is impressive, well documented, and well researched. Some of the most interesting writing, apart from his occasionally thick, data packed, ideological examinations of people and events, lies in the primary source quotations of great length, springing to life with that sense of another era--the not-so-distant, dramatically different past. It is the stuff of time travel that excites so many to a love of history.


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Author:Steinberg, Michael
Publication:California History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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