I'm two-thirds through Late Victorian Holocausts, by Mike Davis about massive famines in the period from 1870-1914. It's a monumentally depressing read, to think of those tens of millions of doomed souls. They were doomed by a combination of weather pattern fluctuations, but, more importantly, by the perverted societal responses which were themselves conditioned by imperialism, racism, and neo-liberal fanaticism.
The same neo-liberal dogmatism was responsible for the appalling suffering of the Irish Potato Famine. In Davis's book, the process worked thusly:
Lytton [believed in free trade. He did nothing to check the huge hikes in grain prices, Economic "modernization" led household and village reserves to be transferred to central depots using recently built railroads. Much was exported to England, where there had been poor harvests. Telegraph technology allowed prices to be centrally co-ordinated and, inevitably, raised in thousands of small towns. Relief funds were scanty because Lytton was eager to finance military campaigns in Afghanistan. Conditions in emergency camps were so terrible that some peasants preferred to go to jail. A few, starved and senseless, resorted to cannibalism. This was all of little consequence to many English administrators who, as believers in Malthusianism, thought that famine was nature's response to Indian over-breeding.
For the record though, there's far too much repetitive quotations of accounts of the devastation and sufferings of the numerous famines in India, China, Indonesia and South America, and not nearly enough in-depth descriptions of the structural and political factors that made these natural crop shortfalls into devastating famines. Given that the latter is the subject of the book, Davis would have done well to have focused more on it.
Also, I'm going to investigate the historians' consensus on Davis's book. I'm not naturally disinclined to doubt Indian or Marxist historians and privilege mainstream Western historians. It's just that I'm not prone to discard what I'd previously believed as soon as I read something new that appears to contradict it. Reputable Western historians haven't mentioned these holocausts at all, and I'd read them first. It wouldn't be the first time that the West hasn't noticed its own crimes, so I'm not going to be floored to find out that this legacy has been overlooked either deliberately or unconsciously.
The fact of the matter though is that if this book is on target, then every single Western country has a moral inheritance equal to that of Nazi Germany of the Stalinist USSR.
The other book (which I'm almost finished) is Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution: The Political Trials of Ricardo Flores Magón in the United States by Colin M. MacLachlan. I bought this book a long time ago when I was desperate to learn more about anarchism as a political philosophy.
Magon was an anarchist opponent of late-19th century Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. During one of the dictator's early crack-downs Magon fled to the United States where he set up his newspaper Regeneracion and enlisted the aid of other leftists, both in the USA and around the world, into supporting his cause. As a result of these broader alliances, Magon eventually began to write about international working class issues as well as for political revolution in Mexico.
In any event, none of his interests were amenable to the capitalist political system of the United States. Magon was jailed several times by the US authorities, either to placate the Diaz dictatorship, the hyper-reactionary California capitalist class (who were enraged at his efforts to elevate the status of exploited Mexican workers in California), or as punishment for his anti-war writings during Wilson's World War I jingoism. He would eventually die in prison at the age of 49, worn down by depression, repression, and the consequences of diabetes.
The book is useful for analyzing the political weakness of radicalism at the height of its influence, and for some tactical thoughts that I had but will have to put off until tomorrow.