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ROSS, John. Murdered by Capitalism: A Memoir of 150 Years of Life and Death on the American Left.

Wednesday 29 December 2004, by ps

Nation Books: 2004, 400 p. paper. ISBN 1560255781

" Murdered by Capitalism is a unique fusion of personal memoir and lively history, a kind of Night of the Living Dead of the American left—the sort of Dia de Los Muertes fandango at which Che Guevara, Thelonious Monk, William Burroughs, Billie Holiday and Subcomandante Marcos would feel right at home.

John Ross is a long-time Mexico hand for Noticias Aliadas (Lima), Texas Observer, San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Anderson Valley Advertiser, amongst other screwball publications. He is the author of five volumes of nonfiction (Rebellion From the Roots won an American Book Award) and Tonatiuh’s People, a novel of the Mexican cataclysm. Ross also publishes a weekly online screed, "Mexico Barbaro" (now "Blindman’s Buff"), a mordant view of political outrages south (and east, west and north) of the border reported from the grass roots. He is also the author of nine chapbooks of poetry, both in and out of print, the most recent of which is Against Amnesia. "

David Kipen wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 2004:

"The red-diaper baby of a probable FBI informant and a mother
who helped organize a Broadway press-agents union, John Ross
has survived police nightsticks, amphetamine addiction and
an abortive stint as a human shield in Baghdad. Now he’s
written a ragged but downright glorious memoir, which
doubles as a kind of "Spoon River Anthology" for the
American left.

Like Edgar Lee Masters’ half-forgotten classic, "Murdered by
Capitalism" is, among much else, an oratorio for tombstones.
The book starts out as a riotous, fanciful duet in a
Humboldt County boneyard between Ross and the shade of
Edward Schnaubelt, a suspect in Chicago’s Haymarket bombing
of 1886. Between them, they know a century and a half of
radical history. Eventually, it all builds to a
hell-for-leather chorus of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and
anarcho-syndicalists — not to mention the bronzed corpse of
a brimstone-eating President McKinley.

All of which would have sufficed to sell out the initial
print run at City Lights (whose co-founder, Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, has joined Thomas Pynchon in ponying up an
endorsement), but does little to prepare more apolitical
readers for the rabid majesty of Ross’ prose. Check out this
hyperventilating hayride of a first line:

"Up against the splintery redwood fence at the top of the
blazing green jewel box of a cemetery in the tiny fishing
port of Trinidad, California, a few dozen miles short of the
Oregon line, amid daffodils and daisies and the family plots
of dead burghers and loggers, drowned fishermen and
Christianized Indians, a solitary cenotaph wobbles in the
Pacific wind like a peg-legged sailor

’E.B Schnaubelt

Born April 5th, 1855

Died May 22nd, 1913


the simple furious epitaph shouts."

I could have lived without those anticlimactic last five
words, by which time the passage has more than made its
point. But for panoramic sweep, high spirits and pure
sensory impact, the thing ticks along with all the momentum
of a saboteur’s countdown. Ross even sneaks in the verb
"wobble," as if to put readers on notice that this
one-of-a-kind memoir will be, in both senses of the word, a
Wobbly history."