Pick of the Quarter

Issue: 125

There were several good articles in the November/December issue of New Left Review.1 Ho-fung Hung’s piece, “America’s Head Servant?”, contests glib claims that China will emerge out of the economic crisis as a serious challenger to US hegemony. The article traces in detail the emergence of a relationship in which China and other East Asian economies are heavily dependent on markets in the most highly developed countries.

A piece by Mary Callahan explores the resilience of Burma’s military dictatorship, which, she argues, flows from the divisions fostered by British colonial rule. An interview with A Sivanandan, writer and founding editor of the journal Race & Class, discusses his background in Sri Lanka and the roots of the recent assault on the Tamil population by the Sinhalese dominated government. There was nothing inevitable about these divisions. As Sivanandan says of his youth, “I had no sense at all of being a Tamil.”

The highlight of the most recent issue of Historical Materialism to reach us (volume 17, issue 3), is an archive collection of two pieces by Paul Levi introduced by David Fernbach. Levi was one of the most able leaders of the German Communists in the revolutionary period following the First World War. He was sidelined, and eventually expelled, in favour of a group of ultra-leftists within the leadership, a shift supported by the Comintern leadership. The “March Action” of 1921 followed. This disastrous and unprepared assault on power saw the Communist Party hemorrhage members.

The documents reproduced here are Levi’s comment on the March Action. They will give readers the opportunity to assess Lenin’s comment on the leadership of the Germany party and Levi after his expulsion, that though he “lost his head entirely…he, at least, had something to lose. One can’t even say that about the others.”

The current crisis has sparked a renewed interest in the relationship between finance and the broader capitalist economy. The fall 2009 issue of Review of Radical Political Economics contained a series of articles on “financialisation”. By far the most interesting is a contribution by Dick Bryan and Mike Rafferty, coauthors of an important Marxist analysis of derivatives,2 along with Randy Martin.

They challenge the notion that financialisation is simply financial speculation grafted onto a non-financialised “true capitalism”. For them, financialisation is best understood as a process of capitalist development, accelerated since the 1980s, that has important implications for our analysis of the system. Some of their conclusions—notably that “the reproduction of labour power is itself a source of surplus value, in the form of interest payments”, rather than this representing a redistribution of surplus value—would be contested by contributors to this journal. Nonetheless, their thought-provoking article is well worth engaging with.

The November issue of Monthly Review contains an article by Stephen Eisenman entitled “The Resistable Rise and Predictable Fall of the US Supermax”.3 The growth of the US prison population over the past three decades has been astonishing, and with it has come a resurgence in solitary confinement, dubbed the “supermax” system.

Eisenman’s article charts the history of this form of torture from its 19th century origins through to its revival in prisons such as Tamms C-Max, in Southern Illinois, where “men are locked in their concrete cells for 23 hours per day, seven days a week, with an hour each day available for solitary exercise in another cell fitted with a mesh roof open to the sky. Meals are served through a slot in the cell door, and prisoners are allowed one shower per week. There are no communal activities, religious services, jobs, counseling, or rehabilitation, and no phone calls are allowed… Many men at Tamms have been subjected to this regime for years.”

Issue five of the International Journal of Scottish Literature carries an interesting article by Dougall McNeill on the politics of Irvine Welsh’s most famous work, Trainspotting. McNeill builds upon the incongrous appearance of a parody of Trotsky’s “Testament” in one section of the novel to argue that Trainspotting represents an example of “literary anti_Trotskyism” and an attack on the Socialist Workers Party in particular.4

Finally, the Marxist Internet Archive continues its superb work. For those inspired by our special collection on Chris Harman’s legacy, there is now a section of the archive devoted to his writings. This contains pamphlets, out of print articles, transcripts of speeches and book reviews from the 1960s written under his pseudonym Colin Humphreys.5

JC and JJ


1 Available from www.newleftreview.org

2 Capitalism with Derivatives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

3 www.monthlyreview.org/091116eisenman.php


5 www.marxists.org/archive/harman/