Pick of the quarter

Issue: 104

One welcome by-product of the growth of the anti-capitalist movement since Seattle has been the international flowering of Marxist analysis in a variety of journals. In this new column we begain a regular survey of articles which readers will find useful. Some, although by no means all, are available on the web.

This year?s special summer issue of Monthly Review will be of interest to any readers who want to follow up the analysis of China contained in the article by Charlie Hore in the last issue of International Socialism (IS). Monthly Review used to have a very different stance to us on what were referred to as the ?socialist countries?. But the book-length article ?China and Socialism?Market Relations and Class Struggle? bears many of the points made by Charlie Hore. They describe bitter strikes and other worker protests during what they still call the ?socialist? period under Mao. They argue that the turn to the market is increasing inequality and class divisions. They point out that the very successes of Chinese industry in exporting are creating problems for other ?newly industrialising? countries. And they insist that any tendency by the western left to identify with the Chinese model today can only have the effect of driving workers and intellectuals in opposition to it in China into the hands of anti-socialist forces internationally. Less satisfactory, but a useful supplement to both Monthly Review?s and Charlie?s articles is a piece by Arif Dirlik, ?China?s Critical Intelligentsia?, in New Left Review 28 (August-September 2004).

A different, but related, debate was taken up by another American socialist magazine, New Politics, last year. This was over the Cuban government?s jailing of a number of dissidents and the execution of the hijackers of a boat. Cuban-born socialist Sam Farber looked at the reality of Cuba today and discussed the politics of the dissidents. Sam has been active in US far left politics since the early 1960s (he first wrote on Cuba in IS some 41 years ago and debated Leninism with John Rees 12 years ago in IS 55). The interview, available online is worth looking at for anyone who wants to follow through some of the points made in Mike Gonzalez?s new book, Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. A similar interview also exists in a recent issue of International Socialist Review

More recently, New Politics has contained a fascinating account by French trade unionist Vincent Presumey of a very important event not noticed by many socialists in Britain?the big upsurge of strikes and demonstrations in France in the early summer of last year.

Marta Harnecker, the Chilean-born journalist resident in Cuba, and James Petras, the North American writer and activist, both backed Castro?s repressive measures. But an interesting article by Steve Ellner (?Left?s Goals and Debate over Neo-liberalism in Latin America?) in Science and Society contrasts their approaches on other issues. Harnecker is urging the left to build coalitions against neo-liberalism with sections of the bourgeoisie. Her views are to be found in a rather light piece (?Understanding the Past to Make the Future: Reflections on Allende?s Government?) in Historical Materialism 11.3 (autumn 2003), which argues that the lesson of Chile is that the left must not proceed too fast. Petras, by contrast, is seen as having a revolutionary stance towards capitalism which goes beyond mere opposition to neo-liberalism. His most recent analysis of Venezuela (?President Chavez and the Referendum?) in the Counterpunch online magazine is in some ways similar to that put by Mike Gonzalez in this journal.

Historical Materialism is a big, and quite costly, quarterly book of articles these days, difficult for anyone to read from beginning to end. But many IS readers will still find interesting last year?s issue devoted to the problems socialism has had taking root in the US compared with Europe. In particular it contains a translation of an article from a century ago by the most prominent Marxist theorist of the Second International, Karl Kautsky. This was written when Kautsky was in his most revolutionary phase and displays a subtlety of argument that vanished once he became an apologist for compromise with the system. Reading it, you grasp why Lenin was shocked by Kautsky?s behaviour when war broke out in 1914.

Also of special interest is Brian Kelly?s Isaac Deutscher memorial prize lecture, ?Materialism and the Persistence of Race in the Jim Crow South?, in the latest issue (12.2, summer 2004).

Readers of Spanish should look at the web magazine of the Argentine Movement for Socialism. Recent articles by Roberto Saenz on Bolivia and Roberto Ramirez on Venezuela have been particularly useful, as have articles on economics by the independent Argentinian Marxist Claudio Katz.

In French, the spring 2004 issue of the theoretical journal of the Ligue Communiste R?lutionnaire, Critique Communiste, contains a fascinating (and at times infuriating) debate on the Islamic scarf. There are excellent articles on the question by Catherine Samary, Olfa Tlili and Flavia Velli, by L? Cremieux, and by Emmanuel Sieglmann. They stand in sharp contrast to other articles (unfortunately reflecting the majority opinion in the LCR) which show little or no understanding of Islamophobia and oppression. There are also two completely contrasting articles about the Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan (who has just been banned from taking up a position in the US). The first, by Richard Moyen, is a crude hatchet job on someone he describes as a ?demagogue?. The other, by the Tunisian Marxist Sadri Khiari, is a sophisticated and very useful analysis of the development of Ramadan?s ideas, the ambiguities within them, and the possibilities they present for the far left engaging with people from a Muslim background.

Chris Harman

If readers come across any articles worth noting in this column, let us know at isj@swp.org.uk