Book review: Charles Derber’s ‘Welcome to the Revolution’ advocates action-based worldview

Charles Derber, Professor of Sociology at Boston College who is a Dedham resident, had his 20th book published earlier this year. Published by Routledge and titled Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times, it represents a clarion call to action for all those disturbed by the world’s trajectory on a host of social, economic, environmental and political issues.

The book’s prelude indicates the three audiences the author hopes to reach:

1. “An activist or advocate for democracy and social justice”;
2. “A student or teacher”; and
3. “Somebody who may not be an activist but is interested in politics and social change” (pp. xx, xxi).
The book’s ensuing 300-plus pages endeavor to meet those three objectives, via chapters arguing that the current, unequal system of political and economic power is tilted toward entrenching those in control by reinforcing, intertwining networks of wealth and hierarchies of race and gender.
Derber contends that the struggle of citizens to voice their opinions and collectively enhance their lives is a requisite antidote to the capitalistic militarism that characterizes too much of our public discourse. In classifying what we as a society are up against as a ‘culture of death’, Derber strives to make clear that the battle he perceives is high-stakes and extensive.
“The culture of death is manifest in an epidemic of psychological and spiritual malaise, expressing itself in atomization and social disconnection, pervasive psychological depression, anxiety, drug abuse, domestic abuse, rage, gun violence, bullying, illness, alienation, sense of meaninglessness, narcissism, competitiveness, and suicidal or homicidal impulses. The system defines these as personal, psychological, or biological disorders, to be treated by psychiatrists, therapists, and pharmaceutical pill-popping. The roots in the system are rendered invisible by the intensity of the therapeutic discourse resonating in an individualizing culture that doesn’t recognize the very idea of a system…” (p. 15).
Interspersed throughout the book are brief accounts by a wide range of scholars and organizers explaining how they are taking action. For instance Suren Moodliar, co-editor of the forthcoming ‘A People’s Guide to Greater Boston’, outlines the potential of the World Social Forum to galvanize oppressed people across numerous countries to resist those forces holding back progress. “The present moment combines the civilizational challenge of climate change, the rise in extreme capitalist inequality within and across nations, and the political urgency of ascendant international neo-fascism. With scant political and organizational resources, and energies refracted across a bewildering range of causes, the WSF is a singular platform and optic for refocusing the Left” (pp. 161-2).
One of the key moments in Derber’s view was the march that took place in many places across America on the day after the inauguration of President Trump. Titled the Women’s March by some groups who saw the president’s election as a direct threat to the victories of the women’s movement over the past fifty years, it utilized social media to gain adherents and build momentum. Combined with causes such as environmental and labor-based reforms, those demonstrations and previous incarnations of that mindset such as the 1999 ‘Battle for Seattle’ protesting trade talks in that city and the 2003 protests against the American invasion of Iraq constitute for Derber “clear examples of a universalizing global resistance conducted through virtual and rapid global connections that would have been impossible in earlier eras” (p. 156).
All of this is certainly topical right now. No matter your income, religion, political views or other factors defining your personality and heritage, this is a book worth pondering. With economic inequality showing little if any sign of abating, our national government adding a trillion and a half dollars to the U.S. debt in what several reputable economists explain as a tax reduction likely to primarily benefit the wealthy, and immigration/emigration at the forefront of public policy and cultural definition on a continental scale from Africa and Europe to the Americas, Derber brings his well-honed analytical skills to bear on seemingly intractable dilemmas.
The solutions to those, he argues, lie not merely in having reforms written into law, although that is a crucial step. Rather, Derber sets forth alignment with progressive politicians  such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as necessary but insufficient. Rather, he advocates that movements for social betterment “must always maintain their autonomy to prevent cooptation and to mobilize themselves for true revolutionary change” (p. 223). Furthermore, he contends that evidence of a broad-based will to improve life for the many and not submit to the whims of the few has existed in the U.S. for centuries and will help establish a new majority of those shaping our collective future: unions, Planned Parenthood, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), liberal churches, the Movement for Black Lives, Fight for $15 (minimum wage), etc.
I urge you to read this book, or at least to skim it. Even if you disagree with Derber about how to best ameliorate the issues that sometimes seem to be cascading out of control in our world these days, this reading is worth an investment of your time or, at minimum, a sense of respect for those who deem it worth an investment of their time. 
As a journalist and citizen I do not align my views exactly with all the causes Derber either implicitly or expressly espouses, but I think that this man from East Dedham, who happens to teach at one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, has written a meritorious book. When we have a president who insults his political rivals and routinely reveals his ignorance and/or lying about a broad range of policy questions, when our prison system incarcerates huge swaths of our population – especially those from low-income backgrounds – and invests scant resources to reduce rates of recidivism, and when our natural surroundings are showing ominous signs that the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries has brought on many more drawbacks than the corporate titans profiting off it will ever acknowledge, the time to step back from our day-to-day worries and contemplate the bigger picture is now.

In addition to Welcome to the Revolution, Derber’s most recent books include:

(2010) Greed to Green: Solving Climate Change and Remaking the Economy

(2013) Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States

(2015) The Disinherited Majority: Capital Questions – Piketty and Beyond

(2016) Bully Nation: How the American Establishment is Creating a Bullying Society (with Y.R. Magrass).