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June 2007 (Volume 59, Number 2)

Notes from the Editors

In January 2007 the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the UK Ministry of Defence published a ninety-page report, entitled Global Strategic Trends, 2007–2036, highlighting a wide array of potential dangers to the prevailing order over the next thirty years. The report is organized around three “Ring Road Issues”: (1) climate change, (2) globalization, and (3) global inequality (p. xiii). Global warming and the possibility of abrupt climate change, together with the end of “the golden age of cheap energy,” are seen as placing increasing strains on populations throughout the planet (p. 31). The globalization of the world economy, embodying “particularly ruthless laws of supply and demand,” is viewed as creating new interdependencies, contradictions, and conflicts. Expanding global inequality, the UK Ministry of Defence insists, could lead to “a resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies…but also to populism and the revival of Marxism” (p. 3).

Like most contemporary military assessments, issues such as terrorism, rogue states, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are addressed. But the main emphases of the report are structural contradictions of the world economy, unsustainable development, and the social insurgencies that these may give rise to. One grave concern is the possibility of the reemergence of great power rivalry as a result of: (1) the economic development of China (along with India, Iran, Russia, Brazil, and other states), (2) the continuing decline of U.S. hegemony, and (3) the “decoupling” of the United States from Europe and the “stagnation” of the latter (pp. 49–51). Related to this is the destabilizing influence of a turn to unilateralism by a major (unspecified) state if it sees itself as blocked in its control of key strategic resources (p. 71). Another concern is the possibility of a social explosion in China due to the extraordinary class polarization emerging in that country. Global economic crisis, most likely induced by a financial meltdown, is portrayed as a persistent danger. Third world insurgencies of all kinds, led by populist and Marxist movements, are viewed as threatening the stability of the global status quo.

The most threatening “strategic shocks” of a social character depicted by the report are possible revolts by the “middle class proletariat” and youth. Utilizing the dominant class vocabulary, which treats as “middle class” all those who are not wealthy and yet who are gainfully employed and thus not part of the destitute underclass (thereby including under the rubric of “middle class” the greater portion of the working-class majority), the Ministry of Defence report warns:

The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own interest. (p. 80)

Further, we are told that “youth populations in Western societies could become increasingly dissatisfied with their economically burdensome ‘baby-boomer’ elders….Resentful at a generation whose values appear to be out of step with tightening resource constraints,” the young might be propelled toward a “civic renaissance” emphasizing “social obligations” (p. 79).It will therefore be necessary, the report indicates, to guard not only against enemies from without, including third world insurgencies, but also against enemies within: the middle (and working) classes, populists, Marxists, and environmentally concerned youth—all of whom could rise up in the next three decades in response to the contradictions of the system and demand revolutionary change and a civic renaissance. Ultimately, there is only one enemy according to the UK Ministry Defence: the mass of the population both at home and abroad.

Two defining contemporary literary figures with long associations with Monthly Review died in April:Kurt Vonnegut, on the 11th, aged eighty-four and Hans Koning (born Koningsberger) on the 13th, at eighty-five.

Vonnegut was an enthusiastic reader and subscriber to MR anda lifelong committed socialist who is best known for his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, a meditation on his experience of the horrific 1945 firebombing of Dresden where he was a prisoner of war. His politics more explicitly informed the utopian science fiction of Cat’s Cradle, his 1963 novel which satirized technology, religion, and imperial ambition. Vonnegut wrote fourteen novels in all, every one of them challenging the existing society. Vonnegut arrived at the 1999 celebration of MR’s fiftieth anniversary without a ticket. But room was found for him and he joined hundreds of others who celebrated the magazine’s history and editors.

When asked for a comment for the jacket of Hans Koning’s Columbus: His Enterprise (1976) Vonnegut wrote “I think your book on Christopher Columbus is important. I’m more grateful for that book than any other book I have read in the last couple of years.”

During the Second World War, Koning escaped from Nazi-occupied Holland and became one of the youngest sergeants in the British Army. He went on to work for Indonesian radio following independence, finally settling in the United States where the first of fourteen novels was published in 1959; four of his novels were to be made into films. Koning was a frequent contributor to The Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker, for whom he reported from revolutionary Cuba and China. He was also one of the first postwar western novelists to report from the latter country, publishing Love and Hate in China in 1966. When MR Press republished Koning’s Columbus book in 1992, the quincentennial of the European incursion, it sold over 30,000 copies and is still recommended reading in many high school and college courses in the United States. It was followed in 1993 by The Conquest of America: How the Indian Nations Lost Their Continent. Both books offered fundamental revisions of dominant historical mythology for popular audiences.

MR Press also published the paperback edition of Koning’s politically inflected memoir The Almost World in 1974. That book defined his socialist and anti-imperialist outlook and was informed by his own experience as a wartime resistance fighter, an anti-Vietnam War activist, and his deep engagement with the civil rights movement, during which for a time he served as bodyguard for Kwame Ture (then called Stoakley Carmichael).

A tribute to Koning by Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez is included in this issue.


2007, Volume 59, Issue 02 (June)
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