This quarter’s selection

Issue: 122

The best thing to appear in recent issues of New Left Review is the article “Obama At Manassas”, which was in issue 56 (March-April). In it Mike Davis gives an analysis of the outcome of the US presidential election. This includes a detailed breakdown of what the voting meant and strong warnings about the make-up of Barack Obama’s new administration.1

Also of considerable interest is a long interview of Giovanni Arrighi by David Harvey, which appears in the same issue. In it Arrighi explains his own intellectual trajectory and his distinctive ideas on the origins and development of capitalism.

The best piece in the latest Historical Materialism (volume 17, number 1) is Henry Heller’s article on the development of French capitalism during the three centuries before the 1789 Revolution. He provides a mass of empirical material to refute the claim, made by revisionist mainstream historians and by Marxists such as Ellen Meiksins Wood and George Cominel, that the bourgeoisie was too weak for it to have been a bourgeois revolution.

Recent issues of the London Review of Books have contained a lengthy two-part article on Italy by Perry Anderson. The first part, “An Entire Order Converted into What It Was Intended to End”, is a very readable diatribe.2

The second part is much less satisfactory.3 It is scathing on the record of what it calls “The Invertebrate Left”, from the old Italian Communist Party’s helping hand to the Christian Democrats at the end of the Second World War through to the failure of its present day successor, the Democratic Party (previously the Democratic Left) to challenge prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But it attacks the left from a perspective that misses out the dynamics of the mass struggle. It endorses the notion that a struggle for socialism was not possible at the end of the Second World War (“an insurrection was not on the agenda”). It underestimates the extent of the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. And it provides a very distorted view of the wave of struggles against the second Berlusconi government, claiming that this started “a year after” it took office as the result of an initiative from a group of intellectuals.

In fact, the struggle began within four months of the huge demonstrations at the Genoa G8 summit and in protest at the murder of Carlo Giuliani. The leading role in these protests was played by the radical left, including Rifondazione Comunista—which made its later decision to abandon struggle for participation in a centre-left government even more disastrous.

Anderson also takes for granted a notion that any serious Marxist should question—that neoliberalism has destroyed workers’ capacity to fight. So he writes of “the fragmentation of postmodern labour”. And he repeats the old claim that “Thatcher in Britain” won “workers away from their traditional allegiance to the left”, even though Anthony Heath, Roger Jowell and John Curtice disproved this in their study, How Britain Votes, nearly a quarter of a century ago.4

New on the Marxists Internet Archive is Mike Kidron’s mistaken, but illuminating, 1971 article “Memories of Development”, which ruled out economic development in the Global South.5

There are a growing number of pieces by Marxist economists putting their own particular stances on the economic crisis. Robert Brenner spells out his ideas in a long interview with a Korean journalist, reprinted in the March-April issue of Against the Current.6 Most of his immediate conclusions are close to those expressed in this journal, although his starting point is rather different, with a theory of the “law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall” rather different from that developed by Karl Marx.

Anwar Shaikh also presents an account of the crisis that is in many ways similar to ours in a talk he gave with the left wing economist Doug Henwood in New York. The audio from the talk is available online.7

Readers who want to take a break from economic debates can read a useful article on Richard Wright, the important black American writer of the 1930s, by Alan Wald in Against the Current’s January_February issue.8

JC and CH





4: For a resumé of their conclusions, see Alex Callinicos’s “The ‘New Middle Class’ and Socialists” and Chris Harman’s, “The Working Class After the Recession”, available from