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Digital Disconnect

The Internet and Monopoly Capitalism

Robert W. McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy (New York: New Press, 2013), 299 pages, $27.95, hardcover.

Without question, the Internet has had a profound influence on the world. As with most technologies, debates rage over whether this development has been positive or negative. Celebrants proclaim with utopian fervor that a new age of democracy has arrived, allowing for decentralized communication, challenges to corporate control, and mass public participation in the most important decisions confronting humanity. Skeptics point to the ways the Internet has spread ignorance and misinformation instead of knowledge, undermined the ability of artists to earn a living, and exacerbated isolation, unhappiness, and alienation. While these arguments illuminate the potential benefits and drawbacks of the Internet, they tend to ignore or disregard the larger political economy within which the Internet exists. In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, Robert W. McChesney transcends these one-sided engagements, offering a nuanced analysis of the development of the Internet within the context of monopoly capitalism, revealing both the limitations of this technology in its current state and its massive potential.… | more…

Marx at the Margins

Learning from Late Marx

This article will be made available online on October 24th.

Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies, expanded edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 344 pages, $25, paperback.

Recent years have seen the development of a fresh area of research into Marx’s critique of political economy, based on his previously unpublished economic manuscripts and notebooks, which have been made newly available in the updated edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). Lucia Pradella published the first detailed analysis in English of Marx’s London Notebooks, and Brill’s Historical Materialism book series recently celebrated its hundredth volume with a translation of Marx’s original manuscript for volume 3 of Capital, based on the new MEGA edition. The same series also published Heather Brown’s Marx on Gender, which drew extensively on his late notebooks. And earlier this year, the second, expanded edition of Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies appeared. The first edition of Anderson’s book, published in 2010, inaugurated this new trend in Marxist studies, and it remains among the most important achievements in the field.… | more…

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The Deeper Genome

The Science and Politics of DNA

This article will be made available online on October 31st.

John Parrington, The Deeper Genome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 272 pages, $19.95, paperback.

John Parrington’s book The Deeper Genome breaks new ground in establishing a materialist understanding of how the genome works. Most popular science books on genetics have dealt with the genetic code, focusing on the information contained in our genes and the physical or personality traits this information might “code for.” Parrington instead turns his attention to the molecules that form our genomes, uncovering new research and assessing its implications for the way we think about genetics.… | more…

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Someone Has To Die

A Working-Class Sherlock

This article will be made available online on October 31st.

Timothy Sheard, the Lenny Moss mystery series (New York: Hardball).

At its best, the art of fiction reveals the underlying truth of human relations: we are communal and collaborative by nature. Selfishness and greed are social aberrations because, ultimately, they violate the principle of self-preservation. No wonder we are drawn to crime stories: they mirror our common experience. Capitalism is high crime disguised as church doctrine. Conspiracy is evident, though the evidence is concealed. Hence, our fascination with the detective genre. We are in dire need of Timothy Sheard’s scrutiny—a detective who peers through a working-class eyeglass.… | more…

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Imperialism and Class in the Arab World

Ali Kadri, Arab Development Denied (London: Anthem, 2014), 250 pages, $40, paperback.

Perhaps nowhere does violence collapse the horizon as it does in the Arab world. Imperial wars have demolished the Libyan state and turned Syria into a charnel house. Yemen, the region’s poorest country, was a U.S. drone shooting gallery before Saudi Arabia…attacked it, sending it spiraling into famine. Iraq shudders under ISIS’s car bombs after decades of wars and sanctions. And Palestine continues to bleed and resist under the weight of Israeli settler-colonialism.… Why so much violence? The academic mercenaries of counterinsurgency studies fixate on terrorism as a response to material grievance, and Western war as the response. Others ascribe the region’s underdevelopment to a mix of institutional inadequacy and democratic deficits, remediable by the application of U.S. power.… Against this tableau, Ali Kadri in Arab Development Denied offers a coruscatingly intelligent account of how the United States has denied Arab development. Through wars, colonialism, and sanctions, it has sought for decades to prevent working-class sovereignty in the region.… | more…

Self-Rule in the Balance

Paul Street, They Rule: The 1% vs. Democracy (London: Routledge, 2014), 252 pages, $30.95, paperback.

In They Rule, Paul Street offers a thorough deconstruction of the status quo of U.S. capitalism. The book’s subtitle gives a nod to the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose main victory was to popularize the concept of U.S. class conflict, as embodied in the “1 percent.” The title also recalls John Carpenter’s 1987 film They Live, a sci-fi spoof of the Reagan era that prefigured the Occupy revolt. Carpenter’s characters don “magic sunglasses” for intellectual defense against media misinformation.… One current form of that misinformation is the view that the Democratic Party exercises “left” politics. Street smashes this notion.… [However,] this is no academic query.… | more…

Organizing for Better Lives

Todd Jailer, Miriam Lara-Meloy, and Maggie Robbins, The Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety (Berkely, CA: Hesperian, 2015), 576 pages, $34.95, paperback.

The new Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety—with drawings on every page—is a fun read, which is an unusual thing to say about a book with such a serious intent. Garrett Brown, an industrial hygienist with decades of experience as an inspector and activist in California, Mexico, and Bangladesh, claimed with some justification that of all the books on occupational health and safety, “almost none…are accessible to workers or their organizations.” The Workers’ Guide is the first major book aimed at organizing for healthier conditions in the labor-intensive export industries of countries like Bangladesh and China, Mexico’s maquiladora frontier, in Central America and Southeast Asia, and even in the United States itself, where for many, working and living conditions are being beaten down.… | more…

“Realists of a Larger Reality”

On New Science Fiction

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin is undoubtedly right about resistance in the “real” world, but in reading, only some books offer a call to resistance and the possibilities of a new reality. Among the books considered here, some come to us as “literary fiction”; others are marked as belonging to another, historically denigrated, form, “science fiction” or “fantasy.” This could be a distinction without a difference: two are near-future dystopian novels about corporate capitalism in the United States (both by well-established white authors); two are collections of near-future short stories that set out to critique the human powers that structure our world (written by both established and new voices, primarily writers of color). But the books that embrace rather than evade their status as science fiction or fantasy are the ones able to imagine the resistance and change that Le Guin invokes.… | more…

The Postracial Delusion

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.… | more…

Clerics and Communists

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.… | more…

Cuba’s Medical Mission

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.… | more…