Pick of the quarter

Issue: 111

Chris Harman

Pick of the quarter

The US-British occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has led to a convergence between different sections of the anti-imperialist left internationally. While there are still those who believe they can somehow claim to be principled socialists without choosing sides between imperialism and those who are fighting back against it, there are others who are very clear who the main enemy is. Among them is Tariq Ali, who provides an overview of developments right across the Middle East in the March-April issue of New Left Review (www.newleftreview.net/NLR27201.shtml)

The same issue takes up another very important debate. In recent years most of the left has followed the Palestine Liberation Organisation into accepting a two states solution where Israel would continue to exist as a Jewish state alongside a separate Arab state. International Socialism has been quite isolated in continuing to defend the old slogan of a united secular state. But the continual expansion of Israel into the West Bank is making some people see that a genuinely independent state is not possible and they are going back to the secular state demand. One of them is Virginia Tilley, who published a book last year putting this case. She debates her position with Yoav Peled. There is, however, one limitation to the debate—both protagonists deal with the Palestine problem in isolation from the wider possibilities of revolutionary change across the Middle East as a whole.

Issue 179 of the French journal Critique Communiste is particularly interesting. A series of writers, including Alex Callinicos, debate revolutionary strategy. Part of the debate exists in English translation on the IST website (www.istendency.net). There are also two very interesting articles dealing with the legacy of colonialism in France. Alain Mathieu and Alain Farajadi go through the terrible record of the country’s ‘Republican values’ when it comes to justifying colonial oppression and racism. Michel Lequenne shows how wrong postmodernists are to identify the great Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century with such oppression when in fact people like Diderot were wholeheartedly on the side of the oppressed.

The most recent issue of Historical Materialism contains three interesting articles analysing Argentina’s economic crisis and popular uprising of nearly five years ago. Alberto Bonnet and Juan Inigo Carrera challenge, from slightly different approaches, what they describe as ‘populist’ analyses of the crisis, which see it as resulting from the ‘predatory impact’ of ‘finance’ on the national economy, rather than from the class dynamics of Argentinian capitalism. Carrera goes further and seems to imply, in my view mistakenly, that the uprising itself was not that serious and that the looting that precipitated the crisis of 19 December was part of a Peronist plot. A better political analysis is contained in a piece by Juan Grigera, which shows the limitations as well as the positive features of the various social movements (the piqueteros, the asembleas, the barter clubs and the recuperated factor ies) that figure so strongly in autonomist accounts of the country.

One of the latest additions to the Marxist Internet Archive is a history of Islam written in 1923 by the founder of Indian Communism, M N Roy (www.marxists.org/archive/roy/1939/historical-role-islam
/ch07.htm). His conclusion is that ‘knowledge of Islam’s contribution to human culture and proper appreciation of the historical value of that contribution would shock the Hindus out of their arrogant self-satisfaction, and cure the narrow-mindedness of the Muslims of our day by bringing them face to face with the true spirit of the faith they profess’.

Another web article of considerable interest is ‘Reality Check: Are We Living In An Immaterial World?’ by Steve Wright (whose book on Italian autonomist Joseph Choonara reviewed in IS 109). It argues that people like Negri adopt too uncritically fashionable notions which abstract from the reality of what work involves for most people, and which hide the dependence of capitalism on material exploitation (available on www.metamute.org/node/5594).

Finally, John Newsinger provides a very useful overview of various books on the history of British Communism in the Journal of Contemporary History, vol 4 no 3.