This quarter’s selection

Issue: 121

Our previous issue recommended a major three-part study of what’s happening in Bolivia by Jeffery R Webber in Historical Materialism. The second part is now out and fulfils the promise of the first. For readers who do not have access to that journal another very good piece by him, on the same theme, is available in the November-December issue of Against the Current. The same issue also contains a necessarily depressing account of the how the union bureaucracy allowed the AMA auto components strike we mentioned six months ago to go down to defeat.1

The September-October issue of New Left Review contained an overview of the economic crisis by Robert Wade. Although his solutions point towards a revived Keynesianism, rather than a radical transformation of the system, his analysis of the growth of finance is useful. And, like many of the writers in this journal, he roots the growth of finance in a falling rate of profit, arguing that this fell by roughly a quarter for non-financial corporations between 1950-73 and 2000-6.

Cultural Logic (which is freely obtainable online) contains two articles of interest. Roland Boer writes on Rosa Luxemburg’s attempt to win Christian workers in Poland to socialism, and Philip Bounds writes on the rarely commented on connections between some of George Orwell’s writings and those of the Communist-influenced writers of the 1930s associated with the Left Review.2 Readers should be warned, however, that the piece in the same issue by Grover Furr and Vladimir Bobrov on the trial of Nikolai Bukharin is a scarcely disguised apology for the sort of unadulterated Stalinism that still defends the Moscow show trials.

The latest issue of Science & Society (volume 72, number 4) contains two fascinating articles. The first, by the talented economist Guglielmo Carchedi, looks again at Marx’s mathematical manuscripts and in particular at his writings on differential calculus. Marx’s unusual approach to calculus has been regarded as a curiosity from the viewpoint of the history of mathematics; Carchedi shows it also implies a particular dialectical approach to systems—one which stresses dynamism and change through contradiction. This in turn gives weight to a reading of Marxist economics that rejects the idea that the system tends towards equilibrium.

The second article, by Thomas Weston, looks at debates on the dialectic in Soviet philosophy. When Marx took up the dialectical method of Georg Hegel, he also transformed it. Hegel often saw contradictions as being peacefully resolved in a new totality in which both poles of the contradiction were preserved. Marx saw contradiction as a more disruptive process—”development by leaps, catastrophes and revolutions”, as Lenin put it. But in Stalin’s Russia, in which it was proclaimed that antagonism between classes had vanished, a new version of dialectics was required—one based on “non-antagonistic contradictions” that could be peacefully resolved. Weston traces the political roots of this philosophical turn and shows its weaknesses.

Readers of Bill Dunn’s article in this issue of International Socialism may be interested in a piece by Ben Selwyn on the implications for workers’ strength of what management theorists call the “bullwhip effect”—the capacity of small dislocations to cause chaos in globalised production systems. Selwyn’s article is in the International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy (volume 3, number 2).

Finally, the Marxist Internet Archive informs us that one of the great books on the Paris Commune, by one of the participants, Prosper Olivier Lissagaray, is now available online.3

JC and CH


1: and

2: and