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E.P. Thompson: A Giant Remembered

Cal Winslow, ed., E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left: Essays & Polemics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2014), 333 pages, $23.00, paperback.

It is surely difficult for young people today to grasp that thirty years or so ago, radical historian-activist Edward Thompson was by opinion polls intermittently the second or third most popular person in England, just after the Queen Mother. This was despite the British establishment, to say nothing of U.S. Cold Warriors (liberal or conservative), slandering him for decades—and why not? He had led massive protest movements of ordinary people against their government. Worse, in cloistered academic quarters he was viewed as having reorganized the whole idea of social history and turned it over to ordinary people! More than anyone else in the English-speaking world, he made the history of such people important.

A Defining Moment: The Historical Legacy of the 1953 Iran Coup

Ervand Abrahamian, The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations (New York: New Press, 2012), 304 pages, $26.95, hardback.

The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States began in earnest as soon as the Second World War ended, shaping most of the remainder of the twentieth century. The U.S. doctrine of “containment” required confronting the Soviets at every point of contact, accompanied by the claim that lasting peace could be reached only through the establishment of an international order based on national states which enjoyed a U.S.-defined political liberty and a capitalist economic order. The Soviets bolstered their security through providing support to countries seen as friendly and close to their borders. Therefore, maintaining influence in Iran was a goal of Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East. U.S. foreign policy was shaped by its own state interests and ideology and driven by the American postwar, worldwide systems of military bases.… It is this turbulent period of geopolitical maneuvering that Ervand Abrahamian’s The Coup revisits. Yet, unlike other books on the 1953 events in Iran, Abrahamian locates the U.S.-backed coup less in the Cold War ideological confrontation between East and West than in the conflicts which opposed imperialism and nationalism; between the center of world capitalism and the underdeveloped economies heavily dependent on exporting raw natural resources.

September 2014 (Volume 66, Number 4)

September 2014 (Volume 66, Number 4)

This year is the 150th anniversary of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA), often referred to as the First International. Formed in 1864 under the leadership of Karl Marx, it operated—in contrast to what were subsequently called the Second, Third, and Fourth Internationals—under the principle of unity with diversity, rejecting a policy of absolute doctrinal unity. After considerable successes, however, it fell prey to sectarian struggles and finally expired in 1876. The 150th anniversary coincides with growing worldwide calls for the construction of a New International. In February 2014, MR published a paper, “Reflections on the New International,” that István Mészáros had drafted in 2010 at the request of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. In June 2014, we published Samir Amin’s “Popular Movements Toward Socialism,” addressing the same subject. Both Mészáros and Amin insisted that despite the eventual decline of the IWMA into the factionalism which led to its demise, it—and not the Second, Third, or Fourth Internationals—constituted the model for a New International.… The July 2014 issue of our sister publication Socialism and Democracy, edited by George C. Comninel, Marcello Musto, and Victor Wallis, is devoted entirely to the International’s anniversary, and adopts this same general position.

The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism

It is not by chance that the very title of this contribution links the return of fascism on the political scene with the crisis of contemporary capitalism. Fascism is not synonymous with an authoritarian police regime that rejects the uncertainties of parliamentary electoral democracy. Fascism is a particular political response to the challenges with which the management of capitalist society may be confronted in specific circumstances.

An Ecologically Sound and Socially Just Economy

Two weeks ago I returned from my fiftieth class reunion at Oberlin College in Ohio. The brief discussions I had there with environmental faculty and students left me feeling a bit dazed. So many good and intelligent people, so concerned, and doing what they think and hope will help heal the environment—this college has one of the best environmental education programs in the country. However, I was left disappointed and profoundly discouraged by the lack of discussion—or even interest in having a real continuing discussion and debate—regarding the root causes of our environmental disasters. Not just climate change, but also pollution of the air, water, soil, and living organisms, the loss of biodiversity both aboveground and in the soil, the extinction of species, and the overuse and misuse of both renewable and nonrenewable natural resources.

The Political Economy of Dyslexia

There are two diametrically opposed conceptions of reading and dyslexia, each with loyal advocates. This analysis will clarify some of the important categories that are needed in order to participate knowledgeably and critically in current discussions about dyslexia.… The first conception is dyslexia as biological disease—medicalized dyslexia. By the medicalization of dyslexia is meant that dyslexia is considered to arise from a pathologic condition of the human brain and mind.… A very different conception of why some people fail to learn to read can be found in the transactional sociopsycholinguistic model of reading, whose most widely cited figure is educator Kenneth S. Goodman. Rather than looking inside the poor reader for the source of the problem, this model looks to the surrounding social context.

Living in the (Right-Wing) Media Glare

Bill Ayers, Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013), 240 pages, $24.95, hardcover.

In this beautifully written memoir, Bill Ayers recounts his bizarre and unsettling experience as a “public enemy” during the 2008 presidential election. An unlikely grouping of right-wing web sites, Fox News, liberal foundations, George Stephanopolous, and even university faculty and presidents did their part to portray the then-Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago as a veritable mad man, someone profoundly immoral whom any self-respecting public figure or institution should immediately disavow. This suggests the salience of two phenomena: first, the perennial appeal of demonizing the U.S. left (especially—but not only—its militant wing), and the ready availability of a variety of tropes to do so.… Second, the incidents reveal a dark region of U.S. political culture striving to influence the mainstream. Many Americans were unsettled at the prospect of a black president, and they have displayed their fears, hatreds, and anxieties in various ways ever since.

How We Found Out About COINTELPRO

Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 544 pages, $29.95, hardcover.

Activists in the anti-war, civil rights, and New Left movements in the 1950s and ’60s were sure they and their organizations were being spied on by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. …. But there was little hard proof of a wider strategy to destroy deliberately entire organizations by the use of completely illegal methods. That was soon to change.… In late 1970 [William Davidon] recruited seven other anti-war activists, mostly pacifists, into a secret Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI. On March 8, 1971, the night of the Mohammed-Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight match, they broke into the unprotected offices of the FBI in Media, Pennsylvania and made off with all the files, on the assumption that they would find evidence of the FBI’s systematic spying on Americans. They had no idea that what they had in their hands would soon expose much more.

Flying Patterns

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 464 pages, $16.99, paperback.

Life is no crystal staircase for Dellarobia, the main character in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior. It is a stirring read, but not as much as her 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible, a powerful female-centric story set in the Belgian Congo.… In Flight Behavior, Dellarobia is rearing two small kids in a low-income household, and living in the “right-to-work” (at low pay) state of Tennessee. She is alienated from herself, her husband, and especially her mother-in-law. In an era of U.S. working-class demobilization, Dellarobia is adrift in a loveless marriage. She and her husband Cub married young and became parents before fully getting to know each other.… Dellarobia’s angst develops within monopoly-finance capitalism. Kingsolver, like Emily Dickinson before her, shows and tells the story slant.

July-August 2014 (Volume 66, Number 3)

July-August 2014 (Volume 66, Number 3)

Notes from the Editors

Allusions to Marx seem to be emanating from all points of the political compass these days in the context of the current political-economic crisis of capitalism, reflecting the remarkable resurgence of both Marxism and anti-Marxism. What is especially notable in this respect is the extent to which such allusions have come to focus on the saying, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”—usually identified with Marx’s famous 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme. Conservatives frequently quote “from each according to his ability” (ignoring the rest of the saying) and use it as a kind of code phrase for “Marxism” to attack all progressive measures.

Surveillance Capitalism

Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age

The United States came out of the Second World War as the hegemonic power in the world economy. The war had lifted the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression by providing the needed effective demand in the form of endless orders for armaments and troops. Real output rose by 65 percent between 1940 and 1944, and industrial production jumped by 90 percent. At the immediate end of the war, due to the destruction of the European and Japanese economies, the United States accounted for over 60 percent of world manufacturing output. The very palpable fear at the top of society as the war came to a close was that of a reversion to the pre-war situation in which domestic demand would be insufficient to absorb the enormous and growing potential economic surplus generated by the production system, thereby leading to a renewed condition of economic stagnation and depression.… Postwar planners in industry and government moved quickly to stabilize the system through the massive promotion of a sales effort in the form of a corporate marketing revolution based in Madison Avenue, and through the creation of a permanent warfare state, dedicated to the imperial control of world markets and to fighting the Cold War, with its headquarters in the Pentagon. The sales effort and the military-industrial complex constituted the two main surplus-absorption mechanisms (beyond capitalist consumption and investment) in the U.S. economy in the first quarter-century after the Second World War.

Electronic Communications Surveillance

The government is collecting information on millions of citizens. Phone, Internet, and email habits, credit card and bank records—virtually all information that is communicated electronically is subject to the watchful eye of the state. The government is even building a nifty, 1.5 million square foot facility in Utah to house all of this data. With the recent exposure of the NSA’s PRISM program by whistleblower Edward Snowden, many people—especially activists—are wondering: How much privacy do we actually have? Well, as far as electronic privacy, the short answer is: None. None at all. There are a few ways to protect yourself, but ultimately, nothing in electronic communications is absolutely protected.

The New Surveillance Normal

NSA and Corporate Surveillance in the Age of Global Capitalism

The National Security Agency (NSA) document cache released by Edward Snowden reveals a need to re-theorize the role of state and corporate surveillance systems in an age of neoliberal global capitalism. While much remains unknowable to us, we now are in a world where private communications are legible in previously inconceivable ways, ideologies of surveillance are undergoing rapid transformations, and the commodification of metadata (and other surveillance intelligence) transforms privacy. In light of this, we need to consider how the NSA and corporate metadata mining converge to support the interests of capital.