What we’re reading

Apocalypse Now? Climate Change, Capitalism, and Revolution

The new Irish Marxist Review is a special issue on climate change. Especially interesting is Alexandra Day’s “Climate Apartheid,” reporting how global warming is exacerbating pre-existing injustices and sharpening social tensions in Palestine. There are also articles on air pollution; the harmful limits of the Irish state’s unambitious and marked-based official climate plan; the problems with solutions based on “new technologies” (such as carbon capture and storage and geoengineering); and an overview by John Molyneux, “climate change, capitalism, and revolution.” The table of contents and PDFs of all the articles are available on-line. Read more here… 

Capitalism and Robbery

December, 2019 • The latest of John Bellamy Foster’s work applying Marxist economics to ecological crisis also suggests a perspective for conceptualizing oppression within capitalism. In December’s Monthly Review  Foster, Brett Clark and Hannah Holleman address the concept of “expropriation”, the processes of robbery, including the dispossession of the peasantry, the effects of colonial conquest and the depletion of natural resources. They find it is “integral to historical capitalism and colonialism, determining the very boundaries of the system, and carried forward into the modern era.” The article argues for a “complex dialectical and historical relation” between exploitation (deriving surplus value through wage labor) and this outright “robbery” of expropriation. This analysis leads them to argue that ecological breakdown, racism and oppression are not “accidents” incidental to how capitalism works but fundamental to it. Read More… 

Non-violence, social change, and revolution

January 10, 2020 • Current movements from Extinction Rebellion to Hong Kong have re-kindled theories around non-violence, disruption, and fundamental social change. In the current International Socialism journal, Martin Epstein critiques theories of XR founder Roger Hallam, and the oft-cited academic work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, and delves further into the politics of non-violence and revolution from a socialist perspective. Read More… 

The Christian right, the Republican Party and Donald Trump

January 10, 2020 • Some 81 percent of evangelical Christians (1/3 of the electorate) voted for Trump in 2016, bringing him his minority victory. This raises the questions how did the Christian right come to have such a powerful voice in US politics, and why do they support someone like Donald Trump, a “bullying sexual predator and misogynist, a crook and a conman” with no knowledge of the Bible? In the current International Socialism journal, John Newslinger addresses these questions, examines the US evangelical subculture, the development of “the spiritual-industrial complex,” and emergence of Christian right.  The article spends more space on the “Moral Majority” and the Republican Party than the large but lesser known neo-fascist Christian theocratic right (which Mark Lyons stresses elsewhere). It concludes that the alliance of right-evangelicals, the committed vice-president Pence, and President Trump is secure for now, but developments in 2020 could see more elements of the Christian right manifest themselves as an American fascism. Read More… 

From Mass Incarceration to Mass Coercion?

December, 2019 • From the mid–1960s to the late 2000s, the number of people locked in U.S. prisons and jails, and forced onto parole or probation, increased from less than eight hundred thousand to more than seven million. While recent state policies to reduce prison populations have reduced jail admissions around 25 percent from their peak, this is a small and limited decline. Mark Jay writes in the current Monthly Review on the limits of cost-driven prison reform measures that rely on enhancement of the surveillance state, and reminds us that still, “elites are using mechanisms of mass coercion to control and exploit working people.” Read more… 

Update from Paris

December 26, 2019 • Thousands of people flooded the streets of Paris today (the Thursday after Christmas) in their latest march against the proposed pension reform. As John Mullen, a socialist supporter of France Insoumise in the Paris region, explained in a post today, the strike wave is building; the last day of generalized strike action and demonstrations on Tuesday 17th December saw well over a million demonstrating around the country. Support for the proposed pension reforms is down to 23%, and four union confederations are now behind the strikes. Read More…

A new cycle of revolt

December 16, 2019 • The year just passed marks the beginning of a new global cycle of revolt, claims Joseph Choonara. But it is not a coordinated movement and does not fit into a neat pattern. Choonara examines the common societal factors driving the resistance and mass protests, especially the continuing neoliberal offensive and the way that has led to a crisis of mainstream politics, with protests increasingly aimed not at individual politicians but entire political systems. However, the coup in Bolivia gives us a warning that progressive mobilizations are not the only possibility to come out of this. Chonara then examines relevant questions of the state and reformism, and the difficulties and potentials of new labor formations before concluding on strategies for social revolution. Read More…

Things You Need to Know About the Protests in Iraq

December 6, 2019 • In one of the more informed articles of the many on the demonstrations in Iraq, Janan Aljabiri (in Jacobin) gives on-the-ground details of the uprising’s origin. The revolt is broad and non-sectarian, though powered by unemployed and under-employed Shiite youth, and faces deadly repression by the state. Even the recent resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, an ostensible concession to protesters, hasn’t slowed the movement, which (as in Lebanon and Chile) is aiming to overturn the entire political system. [Since this article was written, the center of the movement in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square have been set upon by pro-Iranian militias with knives, and later guns, but still continues]. Aljabiri usefully outlines the participation of unions and parties in the largely leaderless young dispossessed working-class movement, and lists the main internal challenges it faces going into the future. She concludes, “the organized working class will have to play a bigger role in the movement if protesters are to win a state that actually addresses their needs.” Read More…

Protests have put resistance back on the agenda

December 7th, 2019 • The wave of protests involving Lebanon, Iraq and Iran have toppled two Prime Ministers in one month and are still going. Nick Clark writes that revolts sweeping the Middle East are overcoming sectarianism and terrifying US rulers. Read more…

Can an active 3.5% keep capitalism below 350 parts per million?

November, 2019 • If the Sunrise Movement, the Campaign for a Million Climate Jobs, and Alexandria OcasioCortez helped bring talk of Green New Deal to a much wider audience, Extinction Rebellion (XR), along with Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future, has been at the forefront of bringing people out into the street against catastrophic climate change. The radical activism practiced by XR is essential to achieving the urgent and far-reaching change we need. But discussion remains on key questions of goal and strategy, What social force will we need to counteract the power of the carbon and other industries? What kind of change is needed to stop capitalism’s blind drive to profit and growth?  The leaders of XR, and many of their activists here in the U.S., have cited the writings of Erica Chenoweth as key to their strategy, as well as the idea that 3.5 percent of the population on the streets can topple a dictator (and hence stop climate change). In this article, Sue Caldwell, while supporting XR, looks at these claims and the social change research of Erica Chenoweth with a necessarily skeptical eye.  Read More…

Kevin Lin on Students, Labor, and the Ongoing Struggle in Hong Kong

November 21, 2019 • As the situation in Hong Kong (discussed elsewhere here) is growing more intense, Kevin Lin from the Lausan Collective of Hong Kong artists and activists unpacks the complexity of the struggle historically and in the streets,  in an interview at Real News. Read More…

The Arab Region’s Ongoing Revolution

November, 2019 • Roar has published an interview with Gilbert Ashcar on the current rebellions in the Arab world, portraying them as a continuation of an ongoing crisis and revolutionary process first seen in the “Arab Spring.” (Almost a month ago Roar also published an article by organizer and participant Nizar Hassan on the protests in Lebanon, still useful in laying out the background and history.) Ashcar’s article starts with Sudan and Algeria, then looks at Iraq and Lebanon. He mentions the role Iran has played in opposing the uprisings, although the article was published before eruption of mass protests there. Every article on the region seems to need immediate updating, but his comments add to the ongoing discussions of the dynamics of protest there, what to expect now and hope for in the future. Read More…

The Communist International 100 Years On

Fall, 2019 • This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Third International—the Communist International (or Comintern), the organisation of revolutionary socialist parties around the world. The Comintern represented the hope of millions for an end to imperialism and capitalism, yet that hope remains unfulfilled. The Third International degenerated and was finally killed off by Stalin less than a quarter of a century after its birth. In issue: 164 of the journal International Socialism, Gareth Jenkins and Tony Phillips assesses it’s achievements and weaknesses. Read more…

Chicago Teachers and U.S. Strikes

November 1, 2019 • After 11 days out on strike the Chicago Teacher’s Union has agreed a tentative settlement, a week after striking GM workers accepted their deal. CTU delegates voted 60% to 40% to approve the settlement, similar to the 57% yes vote from UAW workers at GM. “We feel like we achieved a lot of things,” said CTU president Jesse Sharkey, “There’s some things we didn’t achieve.” A comparison of the long list of progressive demands against the tentative contract would show mixed results. But over-all the lesson is that strikes win, gaining an estimated extra $500 million for pay and improvements in education from a mayor who had been insisting for weeks there was no more money.  This strike, like that of teachers in LA and Oakland, was important in how it incorporated “social justice” issues that impacted on the students (see Kim Rabuck’s report for Marx21). The practical results for these demands in new contract language and city policy are more ambiguous, as outlined by Rebecca Burns in In These Times, and more still needs to be fought for on this front.

In Labor Notes, where we have been reading crucial coverage of both strikes, Jane Slaughter criticizes the GM settlement, and Samantha Winslow reports on the Chicago Teachers and SEIU school employees strike as an impressive victory, outlines the results of a struggle where “we won a battle: we haven’t won the war.”  

2018 saw a significant raise in the historically low number of strike days in the U.S. After the UAW and Chicago educator’s strikes, 2019 has now surpassed that number. In that context we are also reading the new special issue of Labor Notes: How to Strike and Win. Read more…

The crucial experiment in the streets

October, 2019 • Much of the world at this moment is a laboratory searching for the cure for capitalism, and the social scientists running the experiments are in the streets, writes Dan La Botz in a New Politics article titled “The World Up in Arms Against Austerity and Authoritarianism.” A good addition to the reports mentioned below, La Botz’s article outlines the current wave of rebellions and their economic roots, putting them in the context of previous–sometimes uncompleted– revolutionary waves, and calling–despite their contradictions–for the necessary solidarity. Read more…

World in Rebellion

November 1st, 2019 • It is increasingly hard to catch up on the inspiring rebellions springing up around the world. Marx21 had written previously on Puerto Rico, the first of the current crop of mass protests (unless you count the earlier revolution in Sudan and protests that ousted Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria). We also published links (below) and an interview on the extended struggle in Hong Kong, and a short report from Haiti. Now we see renewed protests in Sudan, in what could be a new phase of the revolution there, and on Friday tens of thousands converged in Algiers demanding “a new revolution.” At the same time, mass actions on the streets of Chile, Haiti, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere are shaking governments, and we have seen the re-ignition of mass protest in Catalonia. The British weekly newspaper Socialist Worker has been a useful source of many brief reports from around the world, and recently published the round-up “Exploring a World in Rebellion,” where Sadie Robinson looks the root cause of these protests and how these struggles have the potential to win. Read more…

Empire of Borders

October 10 • The recent books Empire of Borders by Todd Miller and How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr are illuminating and useful for many involved with the new immigration movement or combating US imperialism, and wanting more background. Read more of the interview with Miller…

The Path to Climate Justice Runs Through the UAW Strike

September 23, 2019 • For Climate Week, Jane McAlevey discusses the GM strike, the sticking point of pay for workers building electric cars, and argues that “a real win by the GM workers, with active and aggressive and measurable support from the major environmental groups, would be a massive victory that would propel the movement for climate justice forward.” The Nation. Read more…

Ending GM’s two-tired labor system is UAW members’ top demand — and part of a bigger fight against worker misclassification

September 2019 • Nearly 50,000 GM workers are on strike, in part against a two-tiered system enforced by the auto giant that leaves “temporary” workers doing the same jobs as permanent staff for substantially less pay and fewer benefits,” writes Rachel M. Cohen for The Intercept. Read more…

Hong Kong: No Progress without Real System Change

September 2019 •  Interview with activist and Marxist Lam Chi Leung about the protests in Hong Kong, Socialist Review. For more background, see also: “Hong Kong’s protests in review,” John Smith, Socialist Review July/August 2019, and “Localism’s Contradictions in Hong Kong” by Promice Li, New Politics, June 2019. Also interesting for its details is “A New Generation Rises,” an eyewitness account by Hong Kong socialist Au Loong Yu, which briefly covers the history, composition, and ideologies of the movement, (New Politics August 2019).  Colin Sparks had an interesting series of articles on Hong Kong at RS21, and Lam Chi Leung briefly argues that “Unity, a general strike and organisation can strengthen the movement in Hong Kong.”

In Defense Of Party Building

July 2019 • John Molyneux defends party building after the recent collapse of the US International Socialist Organization. Read more…

Since 1989: the Top 1% Gained $21 Trillion, While Bottom Half Lost $900 Billion

June 2019 • “The top one percent owns nearly $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing, meaning they have more debts than they have assets” according to a new report by the People’s Policy Project. We know obscene and rising inequality is not news, but the figures are rightly called “eye-popping.” They analysed the Federal Reserve’s newly released “Distributive Financial Accounts” data series, and compared it to past figures to highlight the movement in wealth inequality. “Between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion. The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period.” Read more…

Whatever Happened to the Energy Transition?

June 2019 • John Treat of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy examines how market based strategies are failing to make the transition to renewables, and advocates instead for democratic ownership of energy as the best way to make the transition. Read more…

The Syriza Failure

June 2019 • In 2015, Syriza came to power promising change for the people of Greece. Now, the party looks set to lose office, weeks after damaging local and European elections. Greek socialist Nikos Lountos gives his take in Rebel News. Read more…

Why Stonewall Matters Today

June 2019 • Andy Thayer in Jacobin discusses why Stonewall wasn’t just an uprising for LGBT rights — it was also part of a broader movement that fought racism, war, and poverty. To go beyond today’s tepid gay activism, we need to remember its anti-capitalism. Read more…

Ecological Politics for the Working Class

Spring, 2019 • Solving the ecological crisis requires a mass movement to take on hugely powerful industries. Matt T. Huber argues here for a program to tackle the ecological crisis through organizing around working-class interests. Catalyst  Read More…

Betting on Infinite Loss

June 2019 • Alex Callinicos on the new movements over climate change, the latest from International Socialism. Read more…

Social collapse and climate breakdown

May 2019 • Wisdom only begins when we let in the grief and rage of understanding climate breakdown. Can we find radical hope in the face of social collapse around the world? Jonathan Neale discusses in The Ecologist. Read more…

Living on revolution time

June 2019 • This exciting article should be required reading on social movements and revolution. Anne Alexander on understanding the dynamics of the uprisings in Sudan and Algeria. International Socialism 163. Read more…

The Anti-Capitalist Movement and the Revolutionary Left

From the vault • A piece by Alex Callinicos from 2001 that offers an interesting perspective, foreseeing problems with the ISO’s orientation. Read more…

Fascism in Europe today

April 2019 • Mark L. Thomas looks at the rising far right and the resistance growing in Europe in International Socialism. Read more…

What kind of climate movement do we need?

April 2019 • Camilla Royle discusses emerging climate activism in Socialist Review. Read more…

Austria: fascism in government

January 2019 • David Albrich looks at the rise of the far right in Austria in International Socialism. Read more…

Puerto Rico, the Greece of the Caribbean

March 2018 • José Hernández explores the human-made disaster in Puerto Rico at SEK Online. Read more…