Pick of the quarter

Issue: 177

As noted elsewhere in this issue, during the past quarter we have lost two towering figures who have each been important in developing the Marxist tradition with which this journal is associated: Mike Davis and John Molyneux.

Along with the works by Davis recommended by Alex Callinicos in his obituary in this issue, there are a number of pieces available on the Marxist Internet Archive. These include a lovely and very characteristic piece from International Socialism 91, “Wild Streets”, chronicling youth rebellions in the United States during the early Cold War. There is also a collection of pieces by Davis that appeared in US socialist journal Against the Current. Davis’s regular articles for New Left Review are another treasure trove.

Molyneux, who was on our editorial board from 1986 onwards, wrote extensively for International Socialism. A range of his recent contributions can be found on our website, including a typically sharp and polemical defence of party building, however tough it might be, from 2019. A large number of his earlier pieces are now available on the Marxist Internet Archive. Finally, in recent years, Molyneux edited Irish Marxist Review, and their archive is worth browsing for his work. We will prepare a proper obituary for a future issue, marking the contribution of a key theorist in our tradition.

The latest New Left Review to reach us contains a number of interesting pieces. The highlight among them is an analysis by Forrest Hylton and Aaron Tauss of Colombia following the victory by left candidate Gustavo Petro in the country’s presidential election. Petro’s victory, like many previous left breakthroughs in Latin America, reflects powerful protest movements by the oppressed—although in recent decades Colombia has suffered more than most countries in the region from the rule of a violent coterie of oligarchs and right-wing politicians. The article traces the development of social conflicts in Colombia through the country’s history and identifies the obstacles and limits to Petro’s strategy of confronting, or perhaps conciliating, right-wing forces within and beyond the state that are resistant to change.

The newest issue of Monthly Review, published in December, contains a number of interesting pieces, including an article by Ramaa Vasudevan on the rise and fall of cryptocurrencies. In late 2022, the collapse of Bahamas-based cryptocurrency exchange FTX underlined the tumbling decline of digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which has lost around three-quarters of its value since its peak in 2021. Emerging in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, cryptocurrencies were championed as a means to undermine the power of central banks and big finance. Instead of the validity of these cryptocurrencies being based on guarantees by the big financial institutions, their credibility comes from the process through which they are “mined”, which involves using vast quantities of electricity and computing power to solve cryptographic puzzles. Open-source software and a network of servers mean that transactions can be recorded without using banks as an intermediary. However, as Vasudevan shows, rather than decentralising power away from existing centres of financial clout, the sum result of cryptocurrencies has been further concentration of wealth in the hands of banks and super-rich investors.

Although much (perhaps too much) has already been written about what cryptocurrencies mean for society and the economy, Vasudevan’s explanation of the mechanics behind the collapse of tokens such as Luna, and the resulting contagion that brought down Singapore-based crypto-hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, is particularly clear and insightful. She shows how cryptocurrencies, far from being autonomous from the traditional banking system, are very much moored in the world of big finance. In particular, the so-called stablecoins used to anchor the cryptocurrency system are backed by commercial assets and Treasury bonds, with Tether, currently the leading stablecoin, being a massive investor in the short-term commercial loans market. Indeed, as Vasudevan explains, cryptocurrencies are being drawn more and more into the mainstream of the financial system, with crypto-tokens becoming a key source of liquidity in money markets. Not only is this further enriching traders, but the unregulated nature of the cryptoverse is also incorporating a new potential source of destabilisation into the global financial system.