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.
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detail the rise and fall of the Communist experience in the region, the shortcomings of the left as it was gradually superseded by Islamic party formations, and the deep debt of the latter to the former.
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.
Forthcoming in January 2016
Winner of the first Paul A. Baran–Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Award for an original monograph concerned with the political economy of imperialism, John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century is a seminal examination of the relationship between the core capitalist countries and the rest of the world in the age of neoliberal globalization. Deploying a sophisticated Marxist methodology, Smith begins by tracing the production of certain iconic commodities—the T-shirt, the cup of coffee, and the iPhone—and demonstrates how these generate enormous outflows of money from the countries of the Global South to transnational corporations headquartered in the core capitalist nations of the Global North. From there, Smith draws on his empirical findings to powerfully theorize the current shape of imperialism.
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.
Forthcoming in June 2016
Out of early twentieth-century Russia came the world’s first significant effort to build a modern revolutionary society. According to Marxist economist Samir Amin, the great upheaval that once produced the Soviet Union also produced a movement away from capitalism—a long transition that continues today. In seven concise, provocative chapters, Amin deftly examines the trajectory of Russian capitalism, the Bolshevik Revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the possible future of Russia—and, by extension, the future of socialism itself.
Amin manages to combine an analysis of class struggle with geopolitics—both crucial to understanding Russia’s complex political history. He first looks at the development (or lack thereof) of Russian capitalism. He sees Russia’s geopolitical isolation as the reason its capitalist empire developed so differently from Western Europe, and the reason for Russia’s perceived “backwardness.” Yet Russia’s unique capitalism proved to be the rich soil in which the Bolsheviks were able to take power, and Amin covers the rise and fall of the revolutionary Soviet system. Finally, in a powerful chapter on Ukraine and the rise of global fascism, Amin lays out the conditions necessary for Russia to recreate itself, and perhaps again move down the long road to socialism. Samir Amin’s great achievement in this book is not only to explain Russia’s historical tragedies and triumphs, but also to temper our hopes for a quick end to an increasingly insufferable capitalism.
Praise for Samir Amin:
What is splendid in Amin’s writing … is his lucidity of expression, his clear consistency of approach, and, above all his absolutely unwavering condemnation of the ravages of capital and of bourgeois ideology in all its forms … Amin remains an essential point of reference, and an inspiration.
—Bill Bowring, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
Samir Amin was born in Egypt in 1931 and received his Ph.D. in economics in Paris in 1957. He is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal. His numerous works include The Law of Worldwide Value, Eurocentrism, The World We Wish to See, and The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism.
In this issue we feature two articles on the 1965–1966 mass killings and imprisonments in Indonesia. The army-led bloodbath was aimed at the near-total extermination of members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), then a highly successful electoral party with a membership in the millions.… In all, an estimated 500,000 to a million (or more) people were murdered. Another 750,000 to a million-and-a-half people were imprisoned, many of whom were tortured. Untold thousands died in prison. Only around 800 people were given a trial—most brought before military tribunals that summarily condemned them to death.… The United States…was involved clandestinely in nearly every part of this mass extermination: compiling lists of individuals to be killed; dispatching military equipment specifically designated to aid the known perpetrators of the bloodletting; offering organizational and logistical help; sending covert operatives to aid in the “cleansing”; and providing political backing to the killers.… [T]he mass killings…[were carried out with the active] complicity of the U.S. media.
In the early morning of October 1, 1965, self-proclaimed left-wing troops raided the houses of seven top army generals in Jakarta. In the process, six of the generals were killed—three were shot during the kidnapping attempt, while the others were taken to Lubang Buaya, an air force base located in the south of Jakarta, and then killed. The seventh general, Nasution, managed to escape. The perpetrators announced on national radio that they were troops loyal to President Sukarno, and they aimed to protect the president from the danger posed by the right-wing “Council of Generals”—who, they said, were planning to launch a military coup d’état.… This movement was very short-lived. Within one day, it collapsed. Major General Suharto…took control of the army during the morning of October 1 and quickly crushed the movement.… [W]hat happened on October 1, 1965 marked the fall of Sukarno and the rise of Suharto, who was soon to rule Indonesia under his military dictatorship for more than three decades. The brutality of Suharto’s New Order is probably not news for people familiar with Indonesia. But there is “an episode the West would prefer to forget,” as journalist John Pilger put it, that accompanied Suharto’s rise to power: the destruction of Communism and the mass killings that followed—a phenomenon claimed by Time magazine in 1966 as “The West’s best news for years in Asia.”
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.
To understand why the Middle East is now in shambles, with the United States currently involved simultaneously in wars against both the Assad government in Syria and the Islamic State in Iraq, generating the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, it is necessary to go back almost a quarter-century to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Gulf War, unleashed by the United States in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, was made possible by the growing disorder in the USSR followed by its demise later that same year. The USSR’s disappearance from the world stage allowed the United States to shift to a naked imperialist stance—though justified in the manner of the colonial empires of old as “anti-terrorism” and “humanitarian intervention”—not only in the Middle East, but also along the entire great arc that had constituted the perimeter of the former Soviet Union.
Monopoly Capital was the principal Marxian, and indeed radical, political-economic work to be published in the 1960s, written by the two most prestigious Marxian economists in the United States and perhaps globally. It grew out of the critique of militarism and imperialism and economic waste as much as out of economic crisis. It was one of the first major works to focus on multinational corporations. Its final chapter emphasized the “irrational system” and was influenced by [Paul] Baran’s early background with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. All of this made it extremely influential with the New Left in the United States, particularly its more radical, socialist wing. A good indication of this is Assar Lindbeck’s 1971 mainstream attack on what he called The Political Economy of the New Left, which focused almost entirely on Monopoly Capital.
Michael A. Lebowitz explores the obvious but almost universally ignored fact that as human beings work together to produce society's goods and services, we also “produce” something else: namely, ourselves. Human beings are shaped by circumstances, and any vision of socialism that ignores this fact is bound to fail, or, at best, reproduce the alienation of labor that is endemic to capitalism. But how can people transform their circumstances in a way that allows them to re-organize production and, at the same time, fulfill their human potential? These essays repay careful reading and reflection, and prove Lebowitz to be one of the foremost Marxist thinkers of this era.