Pick of the quarter

Issue: 112

New Left Review continues to amaze those of us who got put off it by the academic obscurantism of many of its articles in the mid-1990s. The July-August issue contained at least three articles well worth anyone reading. R Taggart Murphy’s article ‘East Asia’s Dollars’ provides an interesting and provocative analysis of the contradictions facing Japan’s capitalism in its relations with the US and China (http://www.newleftreview.net/?page=article&view=2625).

Immanuel Wallerstein’s ‘The Curve Of American Power’ provides an analysis of the problems facing American imperialism, which comes to similar conclusions to those we have presented in this journal, despite some methodolgical dfferences. He insists, ‘The net result of the entire Bush foreign policy has been to accelerate the decline of US hegemony rather than reverse it. The world has entered into a relatively unstructured multilateral division of geopolitical power, with a number of regional centres of varying strengths manoeuvring for advantage—the US, the UK, Western Europe, Russia, China, Japan, India, Iran, Brazil at the very least.’

A short piece by Gadi Algazi, ‘Offshore Zionism’, shows how multinational capital is managing to use the Zionist structures of the Israeli state to its own profitable advantage (www.newleftreview.net/?page=article&view=2624).

And anyone who wants to know about the background to the military coup in Thailand should read the piece by Kasian Tejpira in the May-June issue.

But not everything has changed in NLR. I found the first article in the July-August issue, ‘States of failure’ by Malcolm Bull, virtually incomprehensible. If theory is to guide practice, it needs to be expressed in language the practitioners can understand.

Comprehensibility is one merit of nearly all the articles that appear in Monthly Review. And the last two issues are no exception. The July-August special issue on class in the US contains two pieces of speical interest. ‘Some Economics of Class’ by Michael Perelman (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0706perelman.

htm) provides careful analyses of statistical information to show the degree to which exploitation has risen over the last three decades. ‘Probably 80 percent of the population was worse off in 2002 than in 1970’, despite a doubling of per capita national output in the interim. In other words, nearly all of the enormous increase in output in these years has gone to the ruling class.

‘Six Points on Class’ by Michael Zweig (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0706zweig.htm) includes a breakdown of the US population in class terms which sees the central divide as between ‘the corporate elite (or capitalist class), who make up only 2 percent’ of the US labour force, and ‘the working class’ who make up 62 percent. ‘In between these classes is the middle class (36 percent)’—a figure which I would regard as too high since it includes groups like ‘public school teachers’. Zweig shows how mistaken it is to talk of the poor as being an ‘underclass’. ‘Poverty is something that, in fact, happens to the working class’, he insists. ‘Most poor people in the US are in families where the adults experience periodic spells of unemployment or work only part-time or on low wages. Two wage earners, one year-round full-time and one year-round half-time, each earning minimum wage, does not make enough to bring a family of three out of poverty. The “underclass”—people entirely marginalised from the legal economy—is only a small fraction of the poor.’

He also cuts through some of the confusion over race and class which enables politicians to give the impression that it is only blacks and minorities who are excluded from the American Dream. ‘In the US two thirds of all poor people are white and three quarters of all black people are not poor. Racism accounts for the fact that poverty is experienced disproportionately among blacks and Hispanics (and among women because of sexism). But we should not allow their comparatively heavy burden to blind us to the full realities of poverty in America.’

In September’s issue of MR Michael Watts’ ‘Empire of Oil: Capitalist Dispossession and the Scramble for Africa’ (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0906watts.htm) is about how neo-liberal policies have led to a fall in per capita income across Africa and, at the same time, to bitter and often barbaric armed conflicts in the enclaves where there are valuable raw materials, especially oil.

Readers who have liked two of the articles in this ISJ might like to read other recent articles by their authors. Christian Hogsbjerg’s ‘C L R James and Italy’s Conquest of Abyssinia’ appears in Socialist History no 26, while Paul Blackledge’s ‘Karl Kautsky and Marxist Historiography’, in Science and Society, July 2006, argues that Kautsky’s political degeneration at the time of the First World War has often led to an unnecessary dismissal of his historical writings.

Our last issue contained two pieces on the successful student and youth revolt against the French government’s CPE attempt to extent precarious working. The July issue of Critique Communiste contains five articles which will enable those who can read French to learn much more about an immensely important struggle.