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February 2016 (Volume 67, Number 9)

Notes from the Editors, February 2016

From mainstream news reports, one might easily conclude that the Paris climate agreement, presented to the world on December 12, 2015, was a complete triumph. The Guardian headlined it as “The World’s Greatest Diplomatic Success.” However, by any meaningful criteria, the Paris climate change agreement was fraudulent, based on a fabric of illusion. Moreover, the distorted media coverage of the climate deal, presenting it as a historical agreement virtually without shortcomings, was made possible in large part by the French government’s banning of the mass climate protests, following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. With radical protestors silenced and their demands marginalized, the global power elite could make virtually any public claims it wished, without acknowledging any other public voice or alternative view.

France: An Algorithmic Power

The Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, demonstrate, if such a demonstration is still necessary, that the aim of new French intelligence laws is not to anticipate or prevent terrorist attacks, but simply to eliminate the private lives of French citizens. President Hollande’s statements that delays in implementing the law were behind the “failure” of the intelligence services are a denial of the fact that this legislation only confirms existing practices. The Law on Intelligence, just like the law on military planning, is mainly an attack on private freedoms. The state of emergency will likewise eliminate public freedoms.… Following the November 13 massacres, the government is already considering changes to the Law on Intelligence, with the aim of “eas[ing] the procedures the intelligence services must follow when they would like to use means of surveillance.” Yet this law does not establish any controls over the activities of the secret services. It does set up a National Control Commission, but this body has no effective possibility of carrying out its mission, and can only offer recommendations. It is not a question, then, of eliminating a control that does not exist, but of signaling that the very idea of monitoring the executive branch should be abandoned—a clear signal that no limitation can or should be placed on its actions.

New this week!

Socialism and Fantasy

China Miéville's Fables of Race and Class

Among a number of contemporary science and speculative fiction writers who identify as left-wing, China Miéville stands out, not only for the quality of his literary production, but also for the critical character of his political commitment, dedicated equally to socialism and to fantasy. In addition to his fictive works, he has written articles and given lectures on the nature and value of speculative and fantasy fiction; edited a collection of essays on Marxism and fantasy in an issue of the journal Historical Materialism; and, not least, published a list of “Fifty Sci-Fi and Fantasy Works Every Socialist Should Read.” I wish to discuss here the form and thematics of the early novels known (after the alternate world in which they are set) as the Bas-Lag trilogy—which remains, if you take it as a single work, his most ambitious and memorable achievement. But since Miéville is a serious critic and advocate of fantasy fiction, I will approach the books with a brief discussion of his aesthetic positions and program, gathered from essays and talks as well as from his literary works.

Marx’s Ecological Notebooks

This article will be published on February 15th.

Karl Marx has long been criticized for his so-called ecological “Prometheanism”—an extreme commitment to industrialism, irrespective of natural limits. This view, supported even by a number of Marxists, such as Ted Benton and Michael Löwy, has become increasingly hard to accept after a series of careful and stimulating analyses of the ecological dimensions of Marx’s thought, elaborated in Monthly Review and elsewhere. The Prometheanism debate is not a mere philological issue, but a highly practical one, as capitalism faces environmental crises on a global scale, without any concrete solutions. Any such solutions will likely come from the various ecological movements emerging worldwide, some of which explicitly question the capitalist mode of production. Now more than ever, therefore, the rediscovery of a Marxian ecology is of great importance to the development of new forms of left strategy and struggle against global capitalism.… Yet there is hardly unambiguous agreement among leftists about the extent to which Marx’s critique can provide a theoretical basis for these new ecological struggles.… This article… [takes] a different approach… [investigating] Marx’s natural-scientific notebooks, especially those of 1868, which will be published for the first time in volume four, section eighteen of the new Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe(MEGA).

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The Postracial Delusion

This article will be published on February 22nd.

David Theo Goldberg, Are We All Postracial Yet? (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2015), 200 pages, $12.95, paperback.
Linda Martín Alcoff, The Future of Whiteness (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2015), 224 pages, $19.95, paperback.

If we based our understanding of race relations in the United States on the events of the last year alone, it might seem like a racial Armageddon was upon us. Hardly a day seems to pass without a report of yet another black victim of a police shooting. Independent estimates confirm that the prevalence of such incidents has been rising over the past several years.… What we are witnessing…is a volatile combination of a rise in violence alongside the increasing visibility of that violence.… But despite so much evidence that black Americans and other people of color are under attack, nearly half of respondents to a recent Pew survey thought that race was “not a factor at all” in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the same number agreed that the United States has already “made [the] necessary changes” to achieve racial equality.… And yet…everywhere there is more evidence than ever that race and its cousin, ethnicity, still define the simple matter of who gets to live or die. Whether in the global refugee crisis, the aftermath of the Paris bombings, or the quotidian ways in which people of color in the United States face the denigration of both casual and institutional racism, one thing is clear: race survives.

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Clerics and Communists

This article will be published on February 29th.

Rula Jurdi Abisaab and Malek Abisaab, The Shi’ites of Lebanon: Modernism, Communism, and Hizbullah’s Islamists (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014), 350 pages, $49.95, hardcover.

In the West today, political Islam is mostly equated with ISIS’s spectacle of violence, and with the narrow, bigoted understanding of religion and society that inspires it. It will thus intrigue many readers to discover that the legacy of Islamic intellectual and political activity, from the turn of the twentieth century until today, bore the imprint of a complex interaction between Communist and leftist traditions. A recent book by two professors at McGill University, Rula Jurdi Abisaab and Malek Abisaab, takes on the ambitious task of tracing the history of the sometimes symbiotic, sometimes confrontational relationship among Shi’i communities and clerics in Lebanon, along with occasional discussions of related issues in Iraqi politics. Based on a rich set of primary documents from both countries, the authors describe in great detail the rise and fall of the Communist experience in the region, the shortcomings of the left as it was gradually superseded by Islamic party formations, and the deep debt of the latter to the former.

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Cuba’s Medical Mission

This article will be published on February 29th.

John M. Kirk, Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2015), 376 pages, $79.95, hardback.

When the Ebola virus began to spread through western Africa in fall 2014, much of the world panicked. Soon, over 20,000 people were infected, more than 8,000 had died, and worries mounted that the death toll could reach into hundreds of thousands. The United States provided military support; other countries promised money. Cuba was the first nation to respond with what was most needed: it sent 103 nurses and 62 doctors as volunteers to Sierra Leone. With 4,000 medical staff (including 2,400 doctors) already in Africa, Cuba was prepared for the crisis before it began: there had already been nearly two dozen Cuban medical personnel in Sierra Leone.… Since many governments did not know how to respond to Ebola, Cuba trained volunteers from other nations at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine. In total, Cuba taught 13,000 Africans, 66,000 Latin Americans, and 620 Caribbeans how to treat Ebola without being infected. It was the first time that many had heard of Cuba’s emergency response teams.… The Ebola experience is one of many covered in John Kirk’s new book Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism.

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January 2016 (Volume 67, Number 8)

January 2016 (Volume 67, Number 8)

Prabhat Patnaik’s Review of the Month in this issue addresses problems of economic stagnation and imperialism in the context of explaining the current global crisis. Patnaik is part of a broad tradition of Marxian thought and heterodox economic analysis more generally that has long focused on issues of economic stagnation under monopoly capitalism. Such questions are now finally being taken up even by orthodox economists, but in ways that systematically ignore decades of contributions in this regard made by heterodox theorists. Ever since Larry Summers raised the issue of secular stagnation (referring back to Alvin Hansen’s theory of the 1930s and ’40s) at an IMF meeting in 2013, the question of stagnation has become part of a worldwide economic debate, moving issues that were once on the margins to center stage. This has resulted in a proliferation of mainstream economic treatments of the history of the secular stagnation concept in the 1930–1950s period, after which mainstream economists had essentially declared the issue dead.

Capitalism and Its Current Crisis

The “thirty-year crisis” of capitalism, which encompassed two world wars and the Great Depression, was followed by a period that some economists call the Golden Age of capitalism. Today, however, capitalism is once again enmeshed in a crisis that portends far-reaching consequences. I am not referring here to the mere phenomenon of the generally slower average growth that has marked the system since the mid-1970s. Rather, I am talking specifically of the crisis that started with the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble in 2007-8 and which, far from abating, is only becoming more pronounced.… The Western media often give the impression that the capitalist world is slowly emerging from this crisis. Since the Eurozone continues to be mired in stagnation, this impression derives entirely from the experience of the United States, where there has been talk of raising the interest rate on the grounds that the crisis is over, and inflation is now the new threat.… To claim…that the United States is experiencing a full recovery is, in terms of working class well-being and economic security, wrong. And if we consider the rest of the world, especially recent developments in the “emerging economies,” the situation is much worse.

Digital Labor and Imperialism

A century has now passed since Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) and Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy (1915), as well as Rosa Luxemburg’s 1913 Accumulation of Capital, all spoke of imperialism as a force and tool of capitalism. It was a time of world war, monopolies, antitrust laws, strikes for pay raises, Ford’s development of the assembly line, the October Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the failed German revolution, and much more. It was a time that saw the spread and deepening of global challenges to capitalism.… This article reviews the role of the international division of labor in classical Marxist concepts of imperialism, and extends these ideas to the international division of labor in the production of information and information technology today. I will argue that digital labor, as the newest frontier of capitalist innovation and exploitation, is central to the structures of contemporary imperialism.

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