This quarter’s selection

Issue: 131

Making sense of the Arab revolutions is an urgent priority for the radical left. New Left Review 68 carries two pieces that seek to address this task. The first, by Perry Anderson, has a strange title, “On the Concatenation in the Arab World”, that maybe symbolises his distance from the upheavals. Anderson is caustic about the Western intervention in Libya, describing the vanguard role of France and Britain as “re-running the spool of the Suez expedition”. His complaint that “anti-imperialism is the dog that has not—or not yet—barked in the part of the world where imperial power is most visible” ignores the extent to which opposition to American domination and solidarity with the Palestinians ran deep certainly in the Egyptian Revolution. This has become more visible since the article appeared in April with protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo and the military regime’s decision to re-open the border of Gaza.

The same issue also carries a long interview about Egypt with Hazem Kandil. This contains much interesting detail (though friends in Cairo have queried some of its accuracy). Kandil concludes that, “if the movement remains as it is now, moderate and pragmatic, we will have a much better Egypt than existed before, not a perfect democracy.” Pressing for more radical change might provoke “an authoritarian backlash”. The problem is that it’s not impossible to freeze the situation where it is. The economic crisis presses the ruling class to clamp down, and workers, peasants, and the poor to fight for their own demands. Simply to defend the gains that have been already won will require the movement to fight for deep political and economic change.

The latest issue of Historical Materialism (19,1) carries a symposium on Chris Wickham’s great book Framing the Early Middle Ages edited by Paul Blackledge. Poignantly, the contributors include the late Chris Harman, whose piece is a model of clarity and erudition. Among the others are Jairus Banaji, Neil Davidson, John Haldon and John Moreland, and Wickham himself responds in a characteristically open but tough-minded way. The exchanges offer an impressive display of the quality contemporary Marxist historical scholarship.

The June issue of Monthly Review contains an interesting piece by the Chinese academic and former political prisoner Minqi Li which examines the changes within the Chinese working class in recent years and social unrest that has resulted. Although the article proceeds from the highly dubious perspective that the Chinese Revolution of 1949 and the Maoist period that followed it were socialist in character, it nonetheless offers an interesting snapshot of the contradictions and imbalances of the economic situation in China as well as a very optimistic view of the possibilities for the development of working class struggle.1