Many on the left viewed last year’s food crisis and price rises as a blip, a delayed by-product of the debt-induced boom of the mid-2000s aggravated by speculation. According to this argument, concerns over the ability of capitalism to feed the world’s people in the long term are severely misplaced. But articles in recent issues of New Left Review and Monthly Review challenge such complacency.
A New Left Review article by Kenneth Pomeranz in the July-August issue considers the chronic problem of providing enough water for the agricultural systems of China and northern India. He shows how the methods associated with the “Green Revolution”, which have allowed food output to keep ahead of population growth over the past three decades, are also leading to a fall in the level of the water table. This is happening just as global warming threatens the annual input into water systems from the Himalayas where “glaciers and annual snowmelts feed rivers serving just under half of the world’s population”.1
Monthly Review devoted most of its July-August issue to articles on the issue of food. The quality of the articles is uneven, but some are very good indeed and contain important arguments. Deborah Fahy Bryceson writes well on the problems faced by Africa’s peasant farmers.2 And there is an outstanding piece by Utsa Patnaik which shows how the growth figures normally quoted for India—and probably China as well—hide a fall in average consumption of food, along with a growing inequality in its distribution.3
Not everyone on the left has yet heard the about The Wire, recently repeated on BBC and now available on DVD. This is a “cops and robbers” TV series with a difference—the cops often turn out to be robbers and the robbers to be victims of the wider system. Jumpcut, “a review of contemporary media”, contains a long and very readable Marxist analysis of the series by Helena Sheehan and Sheamus Sweeney.4
A year after the credit crunch turned into a full-blooded crisis, the discussion on its origins is now well under way on the Marxist left. Andrew Kliman (who reviews Chris Harman’s Zombie Capitalism in this journal) provides his analysis of crises and the destruction of capital in the July issue of Socialism and Democracy (volume 23, number 2). The most recent issue of Historical Materialism (volume 17, number 2) contains a detailed analysis by David McNally, whose views were among those discussed by Joseph Choonara in our previous issue, and a piece by Costas Lapavitsas, who roots the crisis in changes in the banking system and its technology, leading to what he calls (in our view misleadingly) “financial expropriation”. In the same issue Richard Seymour, a regular contributor to International Socialism, has written on John Spargo—a socialist who defected to the right and became an early architect of neoconservatism.
Soon after the Indian elections some of us were lucky enough to receive a widely circulated email containing an excellent analysis by two Calcutta-based Marxists, Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik. Now it is readily available on the International Socialist Review website, the best article to appear in that publication for a long time.5
Finally, most issues of Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation are required reading for anyone who wants to know what is really happening to the world’s workers. The latest issue, “Working at the Interface”, contains a series of articles looking at the call centre industry.
JC and CH