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detail the rise and fall of the Communist experience in the region, the shortcomings of the left as it was gradually superseded by Islamic party formations, and the deep debt of the latter to the former.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 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.
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.
Like many other leftists working in labor or community organizations, I have long struggled to understand the role I can play in building a larger left movement. I have spent nearly a decade organizing for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and have only recently caught a glimpse of what a vibrant and popular leftist practice could look like.… In this analysis, I take inspiration from Antonio Gramsci’s ideas. He described a “war of position”—a protracted revolutionary effort to create an anti-capitalist hegemony—as a methodology for anti-capitalists in advanced industrial countries. Counter-hegemony is a process, built by concrete effort both through political education and political action. As a labor union organizer, I have become quite skilled at political action, but not at political education.…One alignment of organizations in Minnesota—Minnesotans for a Fair Economy (MFE)—has the potential to be part of such a counter-hegemonic process. On a day-to-day basis, member organizations of MFE organize people to confront their bosses and banks, as well as the corporations holding back their communities. On a sporadic basis, the member organizations come together to create a new narrative of what kind of a world we want.… It was in a MFE “week of action” that I first began to understand how the process of creating a counter-hegemony might play out in practice.
The Review of the Month in this issue (“Chávez and the Communal State” by John Bellamy Foster) focuses on the revolutionary political strategy introduced by Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. In the process it addresses how István Mészáros’s Beyond Capital played a key, strategic role in the development of Chávez’s thinking. Beyond Capital is a daunting philosophical work of around a thousand pages, while many of his other writings are nearly as challenging. MR readers will therefore be pleased to learn that we have just published a new book by Mészáros, The Necessity of Social Control (Monthly Review Press, 2015), expressly designed, as Foster writes in the book’s “Foreword,” as “an easily accessible work,” providing “a way into his thinking for the uninitiated” (9).… Yet, Mészáros’s new book is much more than that.
On October 20, 2012, less than two weeks after being reelected to his fourth term as Venezuelan president and only months before his death, Hugo Chávez delivered his crucial El Golpe de Timón (“Strike at the Helm”) speech to the first meeting of his ministers in the new revolutionary cycle. Chávez surprised even some of his strongest supporters by his insistence on the need for changes at the top in order to promote an immediate leap forward in the creation of what is referred to as “the communal state.” This was to accelerate the shift of power to the population that had begun with the formation of the communal councils (groupings of families involved in self-governance projects—in densely populated urban areas, 200–400 families; in rural areas, 50–100 families). The main aim in the new revolutionary cycle, he insisted, was to speed up the registration of communes, the key structure of the communal state.
The International Working Men’s Association (IWMA), nowadays better known as the First International, was founded in London in September 1864. Despite the importance of the event, there has not been much attention to its 150th anniversary. To an extent, this reflects the situation of the present day, with the hegemony of neoliberal politics and, conversely, the weakness of the left, that does not seem to be interested in its own history and the lessons that might be extracted from past experiences.… Luckily, there are exceptions. Marcello Musto, an assistant professor of sociology at York University in Toronto, has contributed to two important presentations of the experience of the First International… The International after 150 Years: Labour Versus Capital, Then and Now …[and] the first English-language anthology on the IWMA, Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later.
On October 7th, 2012, after hearing of his victory as the nation’s candidate with 56 percent of the vote, President Hugo Chávez Frias announced from a balcony in his hometown that a new cycle was beginning the very next day, October 8th.
Only a few days later, on October 20th, he headed the first meeting calling together the ministers of this new cycle, the Comandante called for a series of critiques and self-criticisms in order to expand efficiency, strengthen communal power, and further develop the National System of Public Media, among other themes regarding the construction of socialism.
This document synthesizes his words, as a tool for a debate in which we should all participate.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is among the most enigmatic and influential figures of the twentieth century. While his life and work are crucial to any understanding of modern history and the socialist movement, generations of writers on the left and the right have seen fit to embalm him endlessly with superficial analysis or dreary dogma. Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union and “actually-existing” socialism, it is possible to consider Lenin afresh, with sober senses trained on his historical context and how it shaped his theoretical and political contributions. Reconstructing Lenin, four decades in the making and now available in English for the first time, is an attempt to do just that.