Interviewing Vijay Prashad

(1) Can you tell Znet, please, what your new book, Title? What is it trying to communicate?

The book is called Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare, and it is published by South End Press.

A few years ago, Ravi Ahuja of a Marxistishe Blatter asked me to scribble some thoughts on the US economy and the struggle. I’m neither trained as an economist nor am I by profession an observer of the US economy. I gave it my best try. I found it useful to pursue the problem of debt, which is a central issue for the working-class in this country. It also helped me focus on areas where I am involved — such as the fightback against welfare reform and its attendant issue, prison reform.


Study of the question of prisons and welfare, as well as of debt, allowed me to show how the self-enforced structural adjustment of the US created a class of people who we generally call working class, working poor, poor, unemployed, underclass, underemployed, etc. I call them all the contingent class — they are all either on the edge of unemployment, working several low end jobs, off the job train, in various illegal occupations, unable to work, etc. The frontlines of the struggle against US Empire is on the streets where the contingent hang out, and they are doing much to lead the struggle.


The point that follows from this is that those of us who travel from demo to demo need to do more organizing among the contingent and we need to know that we are not the frontlines even if we garner all the press coverage.


(2) Can you tell Znet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making thei book what it is?

I wrote the book using documents created by the frontline organizations as well as the government. I spent a lot of time interviewing the women and men who work in the groups against welfare reform, and are a part of the GROWL network (www.ctwo.org/growl). They spent time with me, explaining what needed to be told to me, slowly and patiently. These conversations helped me frame the book.

Government documents are a treasure trove, particularly the Bureau of Prison Statistics and the GAO. Activists need to use these more often. The state, in its contradictions, gives us a lot of information that can be used against the ruling elite’s hypocrisy.



(3) What are your hopes for Title? What do you hope it will contribute r achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

Writing, for me, is always worth the effort. It is part of my contribution to the struggle and it is a lot easier than doing the tough work of going door to door, listening and signing up our neighbors for the big fights. It is in many ways an escape from organizing.

I hope the book will be read by those who are involved in the anti-globalization efforts within the US, so that they can direct some of their energy to the creation of change within as much as without. We need to think programmatically about our struggle and that is what the book emphasizes throughout.

I hope that it will be read by unionists and other activists who work among the contingent. I wish we could have a broader argument about how the work against welfare reform and to abolish prisons is really also about labor — how the contingent class is disciplined not only by the wage and work rules, but also by the fact of welfare reform and the prison. These are not separate issues, and we need to be down on them at the same time.

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