Pick of the quarter

Issue: 115

The rapid growth of the Chinese economy is gaining admiration not just from the columnists of the Financial Times, but also from sections of the left internationally. So the Left Front government in West Bengal in India (see Aditya Sarkar in this journal) is consciously adopting an economic model based on the Chinese experience, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) quite willing to see the Chinese ruling party as fellow Communists. There is also a section of the Cuban leadership that sees the Chinese model as one it would adopt if it could, and it recently welcomed a delegation from the Chinese Communist Party. But is China today really a model for the left? Martin Hart‑Lindbergh and Paul Burkett provide an excellent analysis of China’s economy in the May 2007 issue of Monthly Review.

They argue there are limits to Chinese growth that most observers do not take account of—particularly that most of its exports are based on the assembly of imported components from elsewhere in East Asia and are part of international production networks controlled by foreign multinationals. They also bring out the degree to which capitalist development does not mean a rise in secure employment and rising living standards for the mass of people. Their figures show that casual employment in the informal sector—the spreading blight in the burgeoning cities of Latin America, South Asia and Africa—is also the picture in China.

The authors would not agree with some of the analyses of the development of Chinese society during the Mao era we have made in this journal. But their article is a very useful complement to the articles by Charlie Hore in issue 103 and Chris Harman in issue 109.

New left Review 44 (March-April) is worth getting hold of for five articles. Two are pieces on Putin’s Russia. Vladimir Popov provides an overview of economic and social changes. He shows that the economy has revived somewhat in recent years, based on the devaluation of the currency nine years ago and the booming oil prices of the past five years. This comes after a slow deterioration of the economy in the final years of the Soviet Union, which escalated massively under the restructuring of the 1990s. Tony Wood accepts most of Popov’s empirical material, but is critical of his tendency to see the Putin regime as producing “stability”. Particularly interesting is Wood’s account of the merging on the industrial and state elites, and of the degree of continuity with the pre-1991 set up.

Forrest Hylton writes on the Colombian city of Medellín, showing how old antagonisms between its traditional elite and the drug gangs were overcome as they united to physically smash the left. And there is a fascinating piece by Stephen Graham on how the US is training its troops for warfare by building imitation Middle Eastern towns.

But the high point of the issue is an account of the interaction of economics and politics in Turkey by Cihan Tugal. It shows how the ruling Justice and Development Party, whose origins were in Islamist politics, has found no difficulty in imposing neoliberal policies—and retained some of its popular support while doing so.

Turkey also features in an important article in April’s Science and Society by Fuat Ercan and Sebnem Oguz. They argue strongly against the dominant notion on the country’s left that it can fight the neoliberal strategy of the government by uniting with some nationalist section of the bourgeoisie. This is to fail to see that it is Turkey’s place in global capitalism that leads its capitalists to attack the conditions of the mass of people and to link up with multinational capital. But, as the authors point out, implementing such policies does not rule out local capitalists themselves using nationalist agitation to try to improve the terms on which they are accepted as partners by multinational capital.

In New Politics (volume XI, number 2) John Giblet describes how a teachers’ strike in the Mexican city of Oaxaca turned into a peaceful rising against the national government—with the creation of “popular power” locally. This issue, available from www.wpunj.edu/newpol/ also contains an interesting article by Michael Löwy on the relation of Max Weber to Karl Marx. Löwy provides a rather more favourable view of Weber than does Kieran Allen’s excellent book Max Weber, which we reviewed a couple of years ago.

Readers interested in following up some of the things Kim Moody refers to in this journal should look at Paul J Nyden’s account in March’s Monthly Review of the rank and file rebellion of America’s miners in the 1960s and 1970s.

Over the past decade the lives of teachers in British universities has been increasingly dominated by the Research Assessment Exercise, which makes appointment and promotion dependent upon getting articles published in specialist “peer reviewed” journals. This brings its own version of the assembly line into higher education. But a fascinating piece of research by Frederic Lee in the Cambridge Journal of Economics shows it has another effect—of encouraging ideological conformity. He shows how the system works in economics to promote mainstream, neoclassical economics at the expense of “heterodox” economics, which challenges the neoclassical and neoliberal assumptions.

He shows that, as a result, “72 percent of economic students inhabit an educational environment in which heterodox economic ideas are very weak if not non-existent”. “The RAE,” he argues, “is essentially driven by the pro-market ideologies of the Thatcher, Major and Blair administrations” and has resulted in economics in Britain being no more than “an unintellectual, settled doctrine that supports the government’s pro-market agenda”.

Illusions in the United Nations as an impartial force for peace still befog the minds of many people on the left. Perry Anderson has written a review of two recent biographies of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan which provide a very different picture. This appeared in the 10 May edition of the London Review of Books, but unfortunately is not available on their website. So if you can get hold of a copy, read it, photocopy it and show it to those who still, as an editorial in this journal put it 40 years ago, “confuse the thieves’ kitchen in New York with the soup kitchen in Geneva”.