this quarter’s selection

Issue: 145

This issue of International Socialism has coincided with two of New Left Review. The first (II/89) is the best for some time. It starts with a useful survey of the Scottish referendum by Neil Davidson (formerly of this parish). But the most substantial article, in every sense, is by Ching Kwan Lee, author of Against the Law, an important book on working class protest movements in China. Now she has turned her attention to the activities of what she calls “Chinese state capital” abroad. In a fascinating study of Chinese investment in mining and construction in Zambia, Lee shows that Chinese state-owned companies at least are more responsible investors than Western multinationals preoccupied with short-term profits (this reflects Beijing’s preoccupations with geopolitical relations in Africa and with securing long-term raw material supplies). But Chinese firms treat their African workers no better (but also no worse) than Africa’s traditional exploiters.

There are other interesting articles in the same issue. Erdem Yörük and Murat Yüksel analyse the participants in and supporters of the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013. They find that, contrary to the media image of a middle class movement, the majority of protesters were working class (indeed the majority was larger than Yörük and Yüksel suggest since they mistakenly exclude white collar employees from the working class). But the rate of participation by professionals, executives and capitalists was relatively high. This may help to explain why, according to Yörük’s and Yüksel’s research, the protests focused on democratic grievances directed against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan rather than on class issues. On a very different note, Timothy Brennan criticises Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (reviewed by Talat Ahmed in our last issue) for being insensitive to the intellectual context, shaped above all by poststructuralism, from which postcolonial theory emerged.

The second issue of New Left Review (II/90) arrived too close to our press date for us properly to absorb. But we must mention the editorial by Susan Watkins, a scorching critique of the European Union’s political evolution. Watkins highlights the ways in which the eurozone crisis has been used further to restrict the democratic accountability of EU institutions. Particularly helpful is the way in which she shows that the European Parliament, sometimes touted by people on the left as the solution to the EU’s “democratic deficit”, is very much part of the problem.

A journal that readers may not be familiar with, the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, has produced a special issue (volume 88, issue 4) dedicated to a former co-editor of International Socialism, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. In his contribution to this volume, Paul Blackledge assesses MacIntyre’s thought through the lens of his engagement with Marxism. In contrast to those who have sought to conflate MacIntyre’s critique of liberalism with modern American conservatism, Blackledge shows that MacIntyre rejected liberalism from a position inspired by Marx and that Marx continues to be a powerful and in some ways deepening influence on his work. Interestingly, MacIntyre’s key critique of Marxism is that it failed to transcend the limitations of liberal thought.

Blackledge argues that, though MacIntyre accurately identifies the weaknesses of some versions of Marxism, Lenin’s interventionist conception of political practice, once unpicked from its caricature at the hands of Stalin, points beyond these flawed traditions to a renewal of the ethical critique of capitalism first outlined by Marx and Engels in the 1840s.

Sinn Féin has fast become one of the major parties in the South of Ireland; therefore Kieran Allen’s article “The Politics of Sinn Féin: Rhetoric and Reality” in the Irish Marxist Review (volume 3, number 11) is timely. Allen demonstrates how Sinn Féin have been able to position themselves as a left wing, even socialist party. However, their position on water charges, which have sparked mass protests, exposes their reformist nature. Sinn Féin oppose a boycott campaign, preferring to try to get into government and implement “change from on high”. The latest issue also features an interview with Alibhe Smyth about her experience as an LGBT rights campaigner in Ireland (where homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993). Smyth reflects on the relationship between the women’s and LGBT movements and the forthcoming referendum on equal marriage.

Critical Muslim, a quarterly magazine of ideas and issues showcasing ground-breaking thinking on Islam, has a theme issue on “race” out in January 2015. Edited by Hassan Mahamdallie, it includes essays by Gary McFarlane on US anti-slavery radical John Brown, Jim Wolfreys on the Front National and the failure of political establishment, Ziauddin Sardar on racial hierarchies in the Gulf states, Samia Rahman on cool Muslim women, Hugh Kennedy on the 5th century Zanj slave uprising and Robert Irwin on the dark side of the Arabian Nights. Go to

Human Geography publishes lots of interesting geography articles from radical and socialist perspectives. The next issue (volume 8, number 1), due out in February 2014, will feature a selection of reviews of Naomi Klein’s latest book This Changes Everything by some eminent environmental geographers; the reviews are accompanied by a revealing interview with Klein, available already at

The London Review of Books of 18 December 2014 carries an article by James Meek, “Worse Than a Defeat”,, that surveys, in devastating detail, the total failure of the British military in Afghanistan. He writes: the British army’s “eight-year venture in southern Afghanistan is over. The extent of the military and political catastrophe it represents is hard to overstate. It was doomed to fail before it began, and fail it did, at a terrible cost in lives and money.

“How bad was it? In a way it was worse than a defeat, because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it.”