The setting of Thai Jones’s wonderful book will be all too familiar to those involved in direct action politics: a liberal urban administration, a radical protest movement, disparities of wealth deepened by economic crisis. A series of incidents sets off a new phase of demonstrations, with demands from the city’s elites for a restoration of order. The radical protests become disruptive, challenging the “progressive” administration’s commitment to free speech and the right to protest. Strident radicals, bent on revolution over reform, become objects of fascination for the press, and a political tennis ball for the city’s governing class. As it happened in 1970 and 2011, so it was in 1914, New York City’s “year of anarchy” in Thai Jones’s talented telling. The parallels to the protest waves of the past, particularly the late 1960s and early ’70s, and the recent Occupy phenomenon, are obvious, and most reviewers of Jones’s fine work have highlighted these connections. Jones himself makes this history relevant to our own times, but perhaps not in the more obvious ways.
A sign of the crass economic culture of our times is the recent release by Hasbro of the game “Monopoly Empire” based on the well-known “Monopoly” game, first mass produced in 1935 by Parker Bothers, now a Hasbro subsidiary. The new version can be played in thirty minutes and is designed to take the friction out of the game while glorifying the modern corporate system. Players collect iconic brands of corporations such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Samsung, which they add to billboard “towers” in a race to the top. Players no longer leave the game due to bankruptcy. The goal is simply to build the biggest monopoly brand empire.
It is an indication of the sheer enormity of the historical challenge confronting humanity in our time that the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, sometimes now called the Second Great Depression, is overshadowed by the larger threat of planetary catastrophe, raising the question of the long-term survival of innumerable species—including our own. An urgent necessity for the world today is therefore to develop an understanding of the interconnections between the deepening impasse of the capitalist economy and the rapidly accelerating ecological threat—itself a by-product of capitalist development.
If we are to build support for an alternative to capitalism we need clarity on the causes and consequences of the contemporary capitalist drive for greater liberalization and privatization, as well as the benefits from and limits to state direction of capitalist economic activity. Although a small country, Iceland’s recent experience has much to teach us about capitalist dynamics and strategies of transformation.
The biggest internal debate absorbing the world left for at least the last seventy-five years has been whether identity is a left concept and therefore a left concern. In 1950, most activists on the left would have said no. Today a majority would say yes, indeed. But the debate remains fierce.
When confronted in the 1980s with the failure of the younger generation of economists (both mainstream and radical) to take seriously the issue of the return of economic stagnation, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy stated in their book Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (Monthly Review Press, 1987, 12): “There is a temptation to say: just wait and see, you’ll find out soon enough…. But it would be a cop-out to leave it at that. We owe it to our readers at least to try to make clearer what we mean by stagnation and why we think it is so important.” They proceeded to do exactly that, producing a work that in terms of the trends of the last quarter-century has to be regarded as prescient.… Today, decades later, we can see the depth of the stagnation tendency of monopoly capitalism finally dawning upon some of the most realistic and competent of mainstream economists.
Only a few years ago governments, corporations, and energy analysts were fixated on the problem of “the end of cheap oil” or “peak oil,” pointing to growing shortages of conventional crude oil due to the depletion of known reserves. The International Energy Agency’s 2010 report devoted a whole section to peak oil. Some climate scientists saw the peaking of conventional crude oil as a silver-lining opportunity to stabilize the climate—provided that countries did not turn to dirtier forms of energy such as coal and “unconventional fossil fuels.”… Today all of this has changed radically with the advent of what some are calling a new energy revolution based on the production of unconventional fossil fuels. The emergence in North America—but increasingly elsewhere as well—of what is now termed the “Unconventionals Era” has meant that suddenly the world is awash in new and prospective fossil-fuel supplies.
Between October 2010 and April 2012, over 250,000 people, including 133,000 children under five, died of hunger caused by drought in Somalia. Millions more survived only because they received food aid. Scientists at the UK Met Centre have shown that human-induced climate change made this catastrophe much worse than it would otherwise have been.… This is only the beginning: the United Nations’ 2013 Human Development Report says that without coordinated global action to avert environmental disasters, especially global warming, the number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050. Untold numbers of children will die, killed by climate change.… If a runaway train is bearing down on children, simple human solidarity dictates that anyone who sees it should shout a warning, that anyone who can should try to stop it. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could disagree with that elementary moral imperative.… And yet some do. Increasingly, activists who warn that the world faces unprecedented environmental danger are accused of catastrophism—of raising alarms that do more harm than good. That accusation, a standard feature of right-wing attacks on the environmental movement, has recently been advanced by some left-wing critics as well. While they are undoubtedly sincere, their critique of so-called environmental catastrophism does not stand up to scrutiny.
The year 1963 was a high-water mark for the civil rights movement—the year of the great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew hundreds of thousands to march for civil rights. But the march also set the stage for the opening of a what was perceived as second, far more radical, phase of the civil rights strategy, developed by the March’s organizers. This led to the development, over a three-year period, of the proposed Freedom Budget for All Americans. It projected nothing less than the elimination of all poverty and unemployment in the United States before the end of the 1970s.… The 1963 March on Washington continues to stand as a great achievement, which—combined with hard-fought nationwide struggles—helped to secure meaningful civil rights and voting rights legislation, and impressive shifts in consciousness. Yet the promise and expectations of King, Randolph, and Rustin for a full realization of their goals for interlinked racial and economic justice remained unfulfilled.
Once you were children. If you did not read The Carrot Seed or Harold and the Purple Crayon, probably your children or your friends’ children did. You might have learned internationalism from The Big World and the Little House, or cultural relativism from Who’s Upside Down?, or freethinking and obstinacy from Barnaby. If you did not, it is likely your friends and future comrades did. What you might not have learned is that all these children’s books (and many other progressive favorites) were authored by one or the other or both members of a couple whose left politics inflected their work.… Philip Nel—the editor, with Julia L. Mickenberg, of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature…—has devoted himself to rescuing twentieth-century radical children’s literature and its authors from relative oblivion.
Chicago is famed as a city of neighborhoods. Its reputation as such makes it seem like an adorably homey place to live or, as people are fond of describing it to visitors and friends alike, as a “big city with a small-town feel.” But the city’s open secret is that it does not just operate as any small town, but as a small town in the 1930s, with a segregation so deeply felt and embedded that it needs to be called out for what it is, a form of racism that surveils ethnic and racial populations to ensure they do not stray from their designated borders. The city’s increasingly ramshackle and inefficient public transportation system was designed along racial lines, with a system that makes it difficult for mostly white northsiders and mostly black southsiders to commute easily between their neighborhoods. On the west, areas like Humboldt Park and Pilsen are mostly Latino/a…and similarly cordoned off as ethnic enclaves.… Amy Sonnie and James Tracy are, doubtless, unsurprised by any of this. Their book Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power recovers a long-forgotten history of urban organizing by focusing on five groups: Jobs or Income Now (JOIN), the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), and Rising Up Angry in Chicago’s Uptown, along with White Lightning in the Bronx and October 4 Organization (O4O) in Philadelphia.
Look, a White! [by George Yancy] was written to share a way of looking at records, new ways of bringing attention to what has become the norm, business as usual. Yancy’s objective is to “name whiteness, mark it,” to share a critical view on it.… This book is a much needed, insightful look at the ideological construct of race. Since the invention of scientific racism in the French academy in the early nineteenth century, race has applied to every group but to whites. Thus, whiteness was made into an invisible trait of racist thinking and definitions.
One of the more remarkable public relations successes of the past two decades can be seen in the way neoliberals, and other supporters of an unfettered market economy, have portrayed their school reform efforts as in the interest of people otherwise excluded from the economy and the political process. A widely viewed film like Waiting for Superman, with its vilification of educators and public schools, suggests that only through the expansion of competition and privatization can the children of black and Latino working-class families be given learning opportunities that will allow them to participate in the American Dream. Thirty years ago, it was progressive educators and policymakers who stood by this constituency, arguing that schools were not fulfilling their social responsibility in providing an equitable education for all children. Now such educators and policymakers are portrayed as the defenders of a status quo that has failed to meet the needs of lower-income and non-white students.… Pauline Lipman’s 2011 volume, The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City, with its careful, on-the-ground examination of recent school reform efforts in Chicago, provides a comprehensive and illuminating analysis of how this has happened along with ways to circumvent policy initiatives that are eroding the integrity of an educational system that for a century-and-a-half has been a defining feature of U.S. life and democracy.