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Monthly Review Volume 68, Number 1 (May 2016)

May 2016 (Volume 68, Number 1)

A little less than two years ago, in July-August 2014, Monthly Review published a special summer issue under the title Surveillance Capitalism, edited by John Mage.… The lead article by Foster and McChesney was itself entitled “Surveillance Capitalism: Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age.” In Foster and McChesney’s analysis, the problem of surplus absorption under monopoly capital was seen as having led to the development over the last seven decades of a massive surveillance network, extending across the sales effort, finance, and the military, and integral to the entire information economy.… We were therefore pleased to discover that the concept of “surveillance capitalism” has now entered the mainstream and is drawing considerable attention, through the work of Shoshana Zuboff, emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School.… ” She failed, however, to mention the prior treatment of “surveillance capitalism” in Monthly Review, despite the fact that her analysis was written in November 2014—judging by her accessing of numerous articles on the Internet on that date—four months after the MR issue was published and posted online.…… | more…

New this week!

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…

Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution

Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution

Forthcoming in December 2016

One hundred years ago, “October 1917” galvanized leftists and oppressed peoples around the globe, and became the lodestar for 20th century politics. Today, the left needs to reckon with this legacy—and transcend it. Social change, as it was understood in the 20th century, appears now to be as impossible as revolution, leaving the left to rethink the relationship between capitalist crises, as well as the conceptual tension between revolution and reform.… | more…

The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left

The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left

Forthcoming in January 2017

Utterly corrupt corporate and government elites bankrupted Greece twice over. First, by profligate deficit spending benefitting only themselves; second, by agreeing to an IMF “bailout” of the Greek economy, devastating ordinary Greek citizens who were already enduring government-induced poverty, unemployment, and hunger. Finally, in response to dire “austerity” measures, the people of Greece stood up, forming, from their own historic roots of resistance, Syriza—the Coalition of the Radical Left. For those who caught the Syriza wave, there was, writes Helena Sheehan, a minute of “precarious hope.”… | more…

Union Power: The United Electrical Workers in Erie, Pennsylvania

Union Power: The United Electrical Workers in Erie, Pennsylvania

Forthcoming in February 2017

If you're lucky enough to be employed today in the United States, there's about a one-in-ten chance that you're in a labor union. And even if you’re part of that unionized 10 percent, chances are your union doesn't carry much economic or political clout. But this was not always the case, as historian and activist James Young shows in this vibrant story of the United Electrical Workers Union. The UE, built by hundreds of rank-and-file worker-activists in the quintessentially industrial town of Erie, Pennsylvania, was able to transform the conditions of the working class largely because it went beyond the standard call for living wages to demand quantum leaps in worker control over workplaces, community institutions, and the policies of the federal government itself.… | more…

The Reawakening of the Arab World: Challenge and Change in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring

The Reawakening of the Arab World: Challenge and Change in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring

According to renowned Marxist economist Samir Amin, the recent Arab Spring uprisings comprise an integral part of a massive “second awakening” of the Global South. From the self-immolation in December 2010 of a Tunisian street vendor, to the consequent outcries in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against poverty and corruption, to the ongoing upheavals across the Middle East and Northern Africa, the Arab world is shaping what may become of Western imperialism—an already tottering and overextended system.

The Reawakening of the Arab World—an updated and expanded version of Amin’s The People’s Spring, first published in 2012 by Pambazuka Press—examines the complex interplay of nations regarding the Arab Spring and its continuing, turbulent seasons. Beginning with Amin’s compelling interpretation of the 2011 popular Arab explosions, the book is comprised of five chapters—including a new chapter analyzing U.S. geo-strategy. Samir Amin sees the United States, in an increasingly multi-polar world, as a victim of overreach, caught in its own web of attempts to contain the challenge of China, while confronting the staying power of nations such as Syria and Iran. The growing, deeply-felt need of the Arab people for independent, popular democracy is the cause of their awakening, says Amin. It this awakening to democracy that the United States fears most, since real self-government by independent nations would necessarily mean the end of U.S. empire, and the economic liberalism that has kept it in place. The way forward for the Arab world, Amin argues, is to take on, not just Western imperialism, but also capitalism itself.… | more…

The Testing Resistance and Reform Movement

In the spring of 2015, more than 620,000 students refused to take state standardized exams. The numbers were stunning in some places: 240,000 in New York; 110,000 in New Jersey; 100,000 in Colorado; 50,000 in Washington; 44,000 in Illinois; 20,000 in Oregon and Florida; 10,000 each in New Mexico and Rhode Island. Statewide, the New York opt-out rate reached 20 percent, topping 70 percent in some districts. Washington’s numbers represented half the grade eleven class. In several other states, high school refusals reached 15 percent.… These numbers are a huge leap over 2014, when the Opt Out movement first began to have an impact.… Leaders predict the numbers will escalate again in the March to May 2016 testing season.… | more…

Should New York City Teachers Support Opt Out?

Two Views in the UFT

New York State’s Opt Out movement was described by the New York Times as “the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country.” The movement consists primarily of parents and students who fought against high-stakes Common Core State Standard (CCSS) tests by “opting out” of taking the exams.… [However,] this article is not about the massive parent and student-led “Opt Out Spring” of 2015. It is about how Opt Out threw into relief two different ways of thinking about unionism within New York City’s UFT [United Federation of Teachers].… The leadership of…[the UFT,] the largest union local of any kind in the United States…. supported the CCSS and standardized testing, including the use of student test scores as part of teacher evaluations, and refused to support Opt Out.… Meanwhile, rank-and-file UFTers in the MORE-UFT (Movement of Rank and File Educators) caucus and other groups joined the city’s Opt Out movement as part of the struggle against “ed deform.”… | more…

A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerillas' Victory

A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory

Millions of words have been written about the Cuban Revolution, which, to both its supporters and detractors, is almost universally understood as being won by a small band of guerillas. In this unique and stimulating book, Stephen Cushion turns the conventional wisdom on its head, and argues that the Cuban working class played a much more decisive role in the Revolution’s outcome than previously understood. Although the working class was well-organized in the 1950s, it is believed to have been too influenced by corrupt trade union leaders, the Partido Socialist Popular, and a tradition of making primarily economic demands to have offered much support to the guerillas. Cushion contends that the opposite is true, and that significant portions of the Cuban working class launched an underground movement in tandem with the guerillas operating in the mountains.… | more…

France: An Algorithmic Power

The Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, demonstrate, if such a demonstration is still necessary, that the aim of new French intelligence laws is not to anticipate or prevent terrorist attacks, but simply to eliminate the private lives of French citizens. President Hollande’s statements that delays in implementing the law were behind the “failure” of the intelligence services are a denial of the fact that this legislation only confirms existing practices. The Law on Intelligence, just like the law on military planning, is mainly an attack on private freedoms. The state of emergency will likewise eliminate public freedoms.… Following the November 13 massacres, the government is already considering changes to the Law on Intelligence, with the aim of “eas[ing] the procedures the intelligence services must follow when they would like to use means of surveillance.” Yet this law does not establish any controls over the activities of the secret services. It does set up a National Control Commission, but this body has no effective possibility of carrying out its mission, and can only offer recommendations. It is not a question, then, of eliminating a control that does not exist, but of signaling that the very idea of monitoring the executive branch should be abandoned—a clear signal that no limitation can or should be placed on its actions.… | 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…

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