Chris Harman


Pick of the quarter

(Spring 2006)

From International Socialism (2nd series), No.110, Spring 2006.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Downloaded with thanks from the International Socialism Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The January issue of Monthly Review was worth £3 of anyone’s money. John Bellamy Foster provides a very useful survey of developments in US strategic policy that lay behind the decision to go to war against Iraq – and draws conclusions about the character of US imperialism not that dissimilar to those argued by Alex Callinicos in this journal. What was the Matter with Ohio by American union organiser James Straub looks at the way in which a combination of a decay in union organisation and the behaviour of the Democrats have allowed right wing fundamentalist Christians to establish a Republican hold on a state with old traditions of working class militancy.

Ursula Huws in What Will We Do? provides an analysis of how ‘the knowledge based economy’ is changing the skills demanded by capitalism and the implications of this for working class organisation. It does, however, suffer from the fault of exaggerating the spread of precarious employment. She claims it is greater in Britain than in continental Europe, whereas the figures I have seen suggest otherwise, at least as regards France, Spain and Italy.

The issue of precarious employment is also dealt with in an interesting analysis by Christophe Rumaux in the French journal Economie et Societé. He points out that the turnover in the labour force is not nearly as great as is claimed by those, like New Labour, who hark on about ‘the end of lifetime employment’. This is because the lack of certainty about the future caused by an increase in sackings has the effect of leading fewer workers to change jobs voluntarily. There are also reasons employers want a stable labour force, particularly the need for them to persuade workers to show commitment to their jobs. The result is that ‘precariousness’ tends usually to be confined to certain groups of workers, particular unskilled workers and young workers. Readers of French will also find very useful the dossier of facts and figures about French labour compiled by Dominique Mezzi in the December issue of Critique Communiste.

Analyses of what is happening in Bolivia featured in both the January New Left Review and spring issue of the Communist Review (produced by the rump Communist Party of Britain – not to be confused with the miserable sect that calls itself the Communist Party of Great Britain). NLR contains a piece written by the new vice-president Alvaro Garcia, written before the elections, which sees the way forward as being possible through through ‘gradual institutional change’ attracting ‘urban sectors – middle class, upwardly mobile popular and even business layers’. In interviews Alvaro Garcia has spelt out that this means making reforms while accepting there will have to be ‘50 years of Andean capitalism’. The Communist Review piece by the Indian Marxist Aijaz Ahmed does not dissent fundamentally from this approach, but does take seriously the arguments put forward by those on the left, both in Bolivia and internationally, who are critical of Morales’s tendency to compromise.

In this magazine the other John Foster (the Scottish academic without a middle name) has written a useful piece showing the continuing dependence of British capitalism on the state, criticising ‘globalisation theorists’ who suggest multinationals ‘exist virtually independently of capitalist state power’. Unfortunately, this is combined with praise for the long-redundant reformist British Road to Socialism calls for ‘an anti-monopoly alliance’ and sees ‘a serious challenge to the imperialist use of the WTO’ by ‘the so-called G4 of China, Russia, Brazil and India and the wider G20 including Cuba, Vietnam and Venezuela’. This, of course, was written before Bush’s visit to Delhi to line up India in case of an attack on Iran and as an ally against China.

Last, but not least, anyone interested in philosophy and with access to a university library should read Paul Blackledge’s excellent account in History of Political Thought (Winter 2005) of the development of the ideas of Alasdair MacIntyre – one of the New Left thinkers of the late 1950s and a one-time editor of this journal. It tells how he developed brilliant Marxist philosophical insights, only gave them up as he abandoned his faith in the possibility of revolutionary change (and tried to embrace faith of a different sort).

Last updated on 12 January 2010