Pick of the quarter

Issue: 113

Chris Harman

Political explosions are so frequent in Latin America these days that it is sometimes hard to keep up with them. The most surprising ones last year were in Mexico—first with the mass demonstrations in Mexico City against the rigging of the presidential election and then with the rising which developed out of the teachers’ strike in Oaxaca (pronounced wa-haka).

Our website contains a report of the Oaxaca events, but for a fuller account of the background to what is happening there are contrasting articles by Dan La Botz in Against the Current (available on the web at www.solidarity-us.org/node/186) and by Al Giordano in the September-October New Left Review (www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2633).

Also of interest in that issue of New Left Review is a fascinating piece by Mike Davis on Dubai (www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2635), while Against the Current has at least two other articles worth a read. Sam Farber reviews Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop—an account of how the neocons practised in Central America in the 1980s (against many Catholic populations) all the methods they are now justifying with Islamophobia in Iraq. And Au Loong-yu provides a very useful piece spelling out the interrelation of Chinese capitalism and the world system—in particular making the point that growth in China has been accompanied by the loss of 25 million jobs in the older sectors of manufacturing industry (www.solidarity-us.org/node/185).

There is another interesting piece on the Chinese economy by Phillip Anthony O’Hara in the summer issue of the Review of Radical Political Economics (which only those with access to certain university libraries are likely to able to get hold of), with attempts to calculate the Marxist categories of the rate of exploitation, the organic composition of capital and the rate of profit.

Even more interesting in that issue is a piece by Tim Koechlin, ‘US Multinational Corporations and the Mobility of Productive Capital: a Sceptical View’. He analyses the figure for US investment and concludes that between 1991 and 2004 Foreign Direct Investment by US companies only amounted to 7.4 percent of total productive investment by those companies—and investment in ‘developing countries’ only 2.5 percent. He concludes that productive investment (eg in factories) is much less mobile than you would believe from the fashionable hype about globalisation meaning all production moving from the richer to the poorer countries—with its implication that workers have lost any capacity to fight back over wages and conditions. It is an article that deserves to be pirated and plagiarised (with recognition for its author) as a weapon of ideological struggle.

The opening piece in the November Monthly Review by Fred Magdoff also contains some interesting facts. He points out that, although the proportion of US national output going to arms is lower than it was 30 years ago, it still has a considerable economic effect, since ‘official military expenditures for 2001-05 average 42 percent of gross non-residential private investment’.

Readers of the section on the events of 1956 in our last issue might want to read people’s memories of that year in Revolutionary History and History Workshop Journal (again, unfortunately, only readily available at certain libraries). One recollection is of the university authorities issuing an official ban on students from taking trains to London on the day of the big Suez demonstration (presumably as part of the Cold War ‘defence of democracy’). Especially fascinating are the minutes of the University Socialist Society committee, with Peter Sedgwick (later a founding editor of International Socialism but described by Jean McCrindle in another piece as a fervent admirer of Stalinism until the spring of 1956) arranging meetings to be addressed, among others, by John Saville (who had recently left the Communist Party to found the New Reasoner) and Mike Kidron (described in the minutes as recently at Balliol and into ‘Trotskyism’). Delegated to meet speakers at the station was Irfan Habib—today one of India’s foremost Marxist historians.

The contents of the latest issue (29) of Socialist History look interesting (I have not had a chance to read it yet) with articles on trade unionism in Gibraltar, UCU union activist Steve Cushion on a miners’ strike in Nazi-occupied France, and reviews by Ralph Darlington (challenging interpretations of the 2002-03 firefighters’ and the 1984 miners’ strikes) and Mike Haynes (on how Simon Schama treats history as a ‘commodity’).

Just arrived as we go to press is the latest issue of Film International, centred on cinema and realism. At first glance it looks like a treat. There is an excellent piece by Mike Wayne on realism, studies on realism in British cinema in the late 1940s, plus pieces on critical looks at the unification of Germany (including Goodbye Lenin), on John Sayles and on realism in South Asian cinema (by International Socialism contributor Talat Ahmed).