Pick of the quarter

Issue: 176

Joseph Choonara and Richard Donnelly

Socialist Worker, our sister publication, recently published an online piece by one of our board members, Martin Upchurch, introducing readers to the mass of writings debating the relationship between the rank and file and bureaucracy in trade unions (https://socialistworker.co.uk/long-reads/an-activists-guide-to-trade-union-leaders-and-the-rank-and-file). It links to a number of pieces from our own archive and is a very good roadmap for those new to these discussions, as well as being timely given the recent uptick in strike activity.

Michael Roberts’ blog is always worth reading for Marxist analysis of the economy (https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/). As well as a series of posts charting the current inflationary crisis, the blog has an updated analysis of corporate profitability. As with the analysis in this issue, Roberts sees the “scissors” of rising interest rates and falling profit rates closing, spelling trouble ahead for the global economy.

Another author sympathetic to Roberts’ approach, Guglielmo Carchedi, has, over a long career, produced a mass of fascinating Marxist analysis of class relations and the functioning of capitalism. His latest piece, in International Critical Thought, is entitled “The Ontology and Social Dimension of Knowledge: The Internet Quanta Time”. Here Carchedi seeks to apply a dialectical approach to knowledge creation. This allows him to develop arguments he made in his 2010 book Behind the Crisis: Marx’s Dialectics of Value and Knowledge (Brill) about the relationship between value and “mental production processes”, shedding light on debates about the role of the internet and computing (including quantum computing) under capitalism.

Jayati Ghosh, Shouvik Chakraborty and Debamanyu Das have written an interesting article for the August edition of Monthly Review that investigates the relationship between climate change and imperialism (https://monthlyreview.org/2022/07/01/climate-imperialism-in-the-twenty-first-century/). The authors respond usefully to arguments about the carbon footprint of poorer countries such as China and India, which are increasingly used to support a form of climate fatalism that claims cutting emissions in the West is a waste of time given the increasing emissions of the developing world. The authors point out that the past few decades have seen a significant outsourcing of Western industrial production to countries with lower wages and fewer environmental protections, so that some 40 percent of emissions in developing countries today are actually due to export production for developed countries.

Doubtlessly, there are some theoretical problems in the article. For instance, the authors define imperialism as necessarily “dominated by a hegemonic power”, as though the imperialist system cannot be fractured into a number of competing blocs with no state in overall control. In fact, precisely such a configuration of powers was the background to Lenin’s first formula of the theory of imperialism during the First World War, and today the world is moving ever further from the unipolar moment in which the US was the world’s single hegemonic state. There is also little sense of how imperialism involves a fusion of the national state with the biggest corporations in its territory, leading to a relationship of interdependence that sees, for example, the British state rushing to protect the bottom line of BP and Shell. The result is that the authors throw a welcome light on the effects of the hierarchical nature of the world system but fail to also analyse how imperialist competition between nations shapes domestic energy and climate policy in the rich countries.

Nevertheless, there are some important arguments and statistics in the article. For instance, the authors point out that, although the differences in per capita emissions between rich and poor nations are absolutely enormous, the richest people in the Global South still emit much more than most people in the Global North. So, the lowest emitting 50 percent of Europeans produce five tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, which is much higher than the same section of the population in South and Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the top 10 percent in South and Southeast Asia still emit more than double per person relative to the bottom half of the European population. Moreover, the richest 10 percent of the global population are responsible for half of all emissions. This underlines the importance of understanding both the imperial and class dimensions of climate change.