This quarter’s selection

Issue: 154

February’s Monthly Review included a useful article by John Bellamy Foster on Donald Trump and climate change. Foster refers to the climate change denialists filling the ranks of the Trump cabinet and transition team, including Anthony Scaramucci who has said, referring to climate scientists, that “people have gotten things wrong throughout the 5,500-year history of our planet”.

But Foster also exposes the limitations of Barack Obama’s reformist climate policies, stating that the only answer is an “ecological and social revolution, in which the population mobilises to protect the future of humanity”. However, Foster’s call for an initial “popular front” against climate change will be controversial with readers of this journal given the association of the term with the failed Comintern anti-fascist strategies of the 1930s. Indeed, Paul Mason’s use of the term is criticised in “Analysis” elsewhere in this issue of International Socialism.

The March Monthly Review also featured several interesting articles: Ian Angus remembers the “red chemist” Carl Schorlemmer, a close friend and comrade of Marx and Engels who informed them of the latest developments within the natural sciences and fuelled both of their interests in this area. And Foster echoes these themes with his own piece on Engels where he disputes the idea that Marx and Engels fundamentally disagreed, including on the question of nature. The cover article by Joseph Fracchia, while billed as an inquiry into humans and animals, is really a much broader investigation into the nature of Marx’s materialism and the affinities between Marx’s and Darwin’s interest in the corporeal. It’s an important article, but those looking for a Marxist take on animal rights might be better off looking elsewhere.

The latest issue of New Left Review (II/103) starts with a substantial symposium on Donald Trump’s election and its significance. It includes a piece by Mike Davis, the premier Marxist diagnostician of American society and politics. This overlaps substantially with a longer piece in Jacobin, which is very much worth reading:

Perry Anderson’s contribution to the NLR symposium is noteworthy for its damning portrayal of the Obama presidency:

Overall, Obama’s performance in office looks like most American presidencies since Reagan, not altering all that much at home while pressing ahead with imperial tasks abroad—in effect, a largely conventional stewardship of neoliberal capitalism and military-diplomatic expansionism. No new direction for either society or empire emerged under him. Obama’s rule was in this sense essentially stand-pat: business as usual. On another plane, however, his tenure was innovative. For he is the first celebrity president—that is, a politician whose very appearance was a sensation, from the earliest days of his quest for the Democratic nomination onwards: to be other than purely white, as well as good-looking and mellifluous, sufficed for that. Catapulted into the White House on colour charisma and economic crisis, and commanding the first congressional supermajority since Carter, Obama in office continued to be an accomplished vote-winner and champion money-raiser. But celebrity is not leadership, and is not transferrable. The personality it projects allows no diffusion. Of its nature, it requires a certain isolation. Obama, relishing his aura and aware of the risks of diluting it, made little attempt to mobilise the populace who cast their ballots for him, and reserved the largesse showered on him by big money for further acclamation at the polls. What mattered was his personal popularity. His party hardly counted, and his policies had little political carry-through…

It was just such a presidency that paved the way for another celebrity to capture the White House, paying still less attention to the party that was a vehicle for getting him there.1

Other recent articles in Jacobin include one by Daniel Finn, the deputy editor of NLR, criticising those on the left and centre of British politics who have denounced Jeremy Corbyn for not opposing Brexit. His conclusion—“To adapt an old left-wing slogan, ‘neither Washington nor Brussels’ should be the maxim of the hour”—is confused. The original slogan was that of the IS tradition when this journal was founded in 1960 and the Cold War was at its height—Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism. This reflected an analysis (incidentally, vehemently rejected by NLR) of the East-West conflict as a struggle between rival imperialist powers. But, as Anderson himself shows in The New Old World, the European Union is no rival to the United States, but is thoroughly subordinated to American imperialism—something that Trump will probably be unable to change. Nevertheless, the substance of Finn’s argument—that the British left should not pursue the “mirage” of reversing the result of the ­referendum and should instead concentrate on resisting Theresa May’s neoliberal and xenophobic version of Brexit—is useful.2

An impressive collection of resources on the Palestinian Revolution (covering events between 1948 and 1982) has been put together and made available at The website includes teaching materials aimed at university lecturers and students and an archive of videoed interviews with participants in the revolution.