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Marx the Feminist?

Heather A. Brown, Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012), 323 pages, $28.00, paperback.
Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2012), 189 pages, $15.95, paperback.

In the face of global economic crisis and the dismantling of social programs under austerity policies, many feminists are re-engaging Marx’s critique of capitalism. This return to Marx is necessary if we are effectively to overcome gender oppression, especially since the latest trends in feminism—or at least those “fit to print” and discussed in the popular press—place the onus of equal treatment squarely on women’s shoulders. Newfound feminists like Sheryl Sandberg advise women to “lean in” and adjust their behavior to suit the aggressively entrepreneurial norms rewarded in the real world that men lead. As Nancy Fraser aptly puts it, these tendencies within feminism serve as “capitalism’s handmaiden”: such identity-centered, cultural critiques have helped obscure capital’s dependency on gendered oppressions.… Fortunately, recent scholarship by Heather Brown as well as Federici herself provides useful insights for feminists on how to reconsider Marxist theory.… | more…

Reconstructing Marx’s Critique of Political Economy from His London Notebooks

Lucia Pradella, Globalization and the Critique of Political Economy: New Insights from Marx’s Writings (London: Routledge, 2015), 218 pages, $160, hardback.

In 2012, the second section of the new historical-critical edition of Marx and Engels’s complete writings, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), was finally completed, and all the editions and manuscripts of Capital became available in order to trace Marx’s own theoretical development and Engels’s editorial works. The remaining three sections are, however, only halfway completed, and it will likely take at least another twenty years before all the work is finished.… What is more, a great number of them are Marx’s journal fragments and excerpts, which have not yet been published in any language. In this sense, the distinct importance of continuing the MEGA project is the further publication of these unknown notebooks, which promise to reveal Marx’s unfinished undertaking, the critique of political economy.… It is therefore no coincidence that a new trend has emerged in the last few years of scholars studying Marx’s notebooks. Works like Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins, Heather Brown’s Marx on Gender, and my own article on Liebig in Monthly Review have shown the underestimated theoretical dimensions of anti-colonialism, gender, and ecology in Marx’s thought.… | more…

From Incarceration to Decarceration

The Need to Abolish Prisons

Maya Schenwar, Locked Down, Locked Out (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014), 228 pages, $18.95, softcover.

Prison justice issues are garnering more public exposure today than ever before. In June 2012, the United States Senate held its first hearing on solitary confinement, the second in February 2014. This past fall, the New York Times ran a series of prominent exposés on conditions on Rikers Island that resulted in substantive shifts in staffing and conditions. Even the immense success of the TV show Orange Is the New Black suggests that what happens to people locked up is no longer a fringe issue, but part of our public consciousness.… Yet there are so many contradictions bound up in the way we talk about prisons. Solitary confinement is torture for children, but not for terrorists; the death penalty is unjust, but locking people up for life is not; “inmates” are terrifying beings, except the ones who look or speak like us. Therefore, for many progressives, the question is not whether prisons “work”—but how to make them more humane for those who “deserve” time on the inside.… | more…

Cotton: The Fabric of Death

Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2014), 640 pages, $35, hardback.

For four years following the 2008 mortgage crisis, I worked as a cotton merchant for one of the “big four” trading firms—ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. These shadowy giants, two of them privately held, maintain oligopoly control of agricultural commodity markets. From desks in Memphis, my colleagues and I purchased mountains of cotton in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, warehoused it, speculated on it, and sold it back to mills on those same continents.… We sat at the pinnacle of a web of political and economic forces that funneled cotton into facilities we owned and cash into our accounts, but nowhere in the office was there a visible sign of the violence that made it all possible.… Too often liberal histories focus on a single period, territory, or class perspective, and end up obscuring the truth, severing the threads that tie a moment to its historical roots. Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton is different. Although a liberal historian, Beckert refuses to limit his scope in the traditional way. Instead, he follows the movement of cotton across time, space, and class, bringing forward the threads that bind the objects of an otherwise distorted past.… | more…

“A Torture Machine”

The Violent Story of Slavery and the Beginning of American Capitalism

Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 528 pages, $35, hardcover.

For an estimated hundreds of thousands of people, including some 60,000 workers who had served notice to their bosses, April 15, 2015, was strike day—reportedly the largest mobilization of low-wage workers since May Day of 1886, when a half million workers and their families (10 percent of the population at the time) struck for the eight-hour work day. Hundreds of us from here in Tennessee joined fast food workers, adjuncts, and home and child-care workers in the morning for strike actions, and many of us boarded buses to St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, for a Black Lives Matter protest that brought together strikers and supporters from all across the region. It was an intense and exact showcase of the irrevocable knot of violent and permanent racism in this country, and its broadening (and racialized) wealth and income gap and the deepening, permanent poverty of working-class life.… There is no legitimate history of this nation’s past and present that can deny the twin realities of extreme economic exploitation of people of color, especially African Americans, and the incredible violence perpetrated against them. Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told draws these two realities together in his contribution to the new set of histories of U.S. capitalism, slavery, and cotton, which include Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton and Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams.… | more…

Stripping Away Invisibility

Exploring the Architecture of Detention

tings chak, Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Montreal: Architecture Observer, 2014), 112 pages, 22 euros ($30.60 from Amazon), paperback.

Over the past six years, more than 100,000 people, including children, have been jailed in Canada, many without charge, trial, or an end in sight, merely for being undocumented.… Locked away from the public eye, they become invisible.… Like the people within, immigrant detention centers are often invisible as well. Photos and drawings of these places are rarely public; access is even more limited. Canada has three designated immigrant prisons, and it also rents beds in government-run prisons to house over one-third of its detainees.… Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention begins to strip away at this invisibility. In graphic novel form, Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist tings chak draws the physical spaces of buildings in which immigrant detainees spend months, if not years. In crisp black and white lines, chak walks the reader through the journey of each of these 100,000+ people when they first enter an immigrant detention center.… | more…

The Part of “Illegal” They Don’t Understand

Anyone who really wants to understand U.S. immigration policy needs to read the brief history of the U.S.-Mexico border in Aviva Chomsky’s often-brilliant new book on immigration.… Politicians constantly tell us we have lost control of the border. In fact, as Undocumented demonstrates, never in the 166 years since the border was established by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo has it been so tightly controlled as it is now. For nearly half its history it was exactly the thing immigration opponents say they fear most—an open border. The first serious restrictions did not come until a head tax and a literacy requirement were imposed in 1917, and even then there was an exemption for Mexican workers, the people most likely to enter the country from the south.… The United States wanted this labor for a reason: it was cheap and disposable.… | more…

An Anti-Imperialist Feminist’s Tale

Roberta Salper, Domestic Subversive: A Feminist Take on the Left, 1960–1976 (Tucson: Anaphora Literary Press, 2014), 236 pages, $20, paperback.

Since second wave feminism is the largest social movement in the history of the United States, it is surprising that there are fewer than a dozen autobiographies written by the activists of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Roberta Salper’s Domestic Subversive is a welcome addition, especially because it is well-written, often with humor, and promises an anti-imperialist feminist analysis.… Domestic Subversive is a feminist’s take on a range of organizations of the left from 1960 to 1976: the student movement in Spain, New Left movement in the United States, Marxist-Leninist Puerto Rican Socialist Party in the United States and Puerto Rico, and a prestigious liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., the Latin American Unit of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), where she worked as a Resident Fellow.… | more…

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions at Ten Years

Reflections on a Movement on the Rise

Rich Wiles, editor, Generation Palestine (London: Pluto Press, 2013), 256 pages, $24, paperback.

When in March 2012, Barack Obama paused briefly from approving orders for drone killings of Pakistani and Yemeni villagers, in order to reassure the attendees at the annual gala of the AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) that, “when there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them,” the real target of his declaration was elsewhere: the myriad grassroots organizers across the world who have made the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns unignorable. Their mounting influence has provoked efforts to declare them anti-Semitic or illegal from London to Long Beach. In fact, the series of victories across the University of California system has so annoyed its managers that they have hauled in the Caesar of domestic repression, Janet Napolitano, to deal with campus activists. Obama’s declaration of support for Israeli colonialism had a simple message to those many activists: back down, because Washington will not.… | more…

The Nazi Threat in the United States

Imported or Homegrown?

Eric Lichtblau, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became A Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2014), 256 pages, $28.00, hardcover.

Fascism has come full circle…. The main sponsor of this regime this time is not Nazi Germany but Washington…. U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and Africa [and the] [r]esort to imperialist wars abroad also reflects growing social polarization at home, the hollowing out of U.S. liberal democracy as a result of the power of money, the gigantic expansion of the security and surveillance state, the spread of armed vigilantism, the intensification of racism, and the militarization of the U.S. police.… What we are likely witnessing is a situation in which it is no longer possible for the capitalist class in crisis to rule the people of the United States in the old way. A process is underway that involves the withering away of liberal democracy and the arrival of a not-so-friendly fascist order meant to bolster capitalism through a resort to authoritarian discipline. How far this process goes depends on political events and the effects of the ongoing economic crisis on public consciousness.… | more…

Cricket and Revolutions

C.L.R. James's Early British Years

Christian Høgsbjerg, C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 294 pages, $24.95, softcover.

The London Times once referred to the famed Trinidad-born C.L.R. James as a “Black Plato.” When asked about the phrase, James elliptically deflected it with a graciousness that should be noted, but the problems with being able to conceive of black intellect only within parallels within Western thought could take up pages. Christian Høgsbjerg’s new biography of James focuses on his first years in Britain, from 1932 to 1938, and skillfully avoids either fetishizing his subject or reducing him to a glorious “black brain.” The result is a riveting history that is bound to awaken the interest of those unfamiliar with him and add a dimension to what others already know of his life and work.… | more…