Letter from the editor

IN THIS ISR, Joel Geier provides a brief overview of the contradictions in the last few months’ economic recovery and notes that the financial free-fall was stanched by massive state intervention. This marks a practical departure from free-market neoliberalism, which emphasized privatization and minimal government interference in the economy. There is no doubt that both practically and ­ideologically, the Great Recession has thrown neoliberal orthodoxy into crisis.

At the same time, however, as the series of articles on education in the U.S. reveal, an economic “shock doctrine” for education is well under way. The current Democratic administration is using the economic crisis, in particular the massive budget crisis, to accelerate the systematic dismantling of public education and its replacement by charter schools—paid for with taxpayers’ dollars—and to mount an all-out attack on teachers’ unions.

Gillian Russom, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, examines in detail the contours of “Race to the Top,” the program of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, revealing how it aims to weaken or destroy teachers’ unions and to create a two-tiered education system that will reduce the access to quality education for the majority. “This situation presents education activists with tremendous challenges, but also an opportunity to build a new movement for public education,” she writes. In a companion piece, Russom details the shortcomings of charter schools and why they fail to deliver on the promises of their promoters. In a related article, Adam Sanchez examines the impact of the education “shock doctrine” in New Orleans, whose public education system was gutted after Hurricane Katrina, as well as in Detroit and Chicago, where Arne Duncan cut his teeth before joining Obama’s team.

Award-winning author Arundhati Roy traveled in March to Chhattisgarh, India, into the heart of a rural insurgency of indigenous people, backed by Maoist guerrillas, that fights for land rights and resists the discrimination and the brutality of India’s central government. In her engaging piece, she writes:

Over the past five years or so, the governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal have signed hundreds of MOUs [memorandums of understanding] with corporate houses, worth several billion dollars, all of them secret, for steel plants, sponge-iron factories, power plants, aluminum refineries, dams, and mines. In order for the MOUs to translate into real money, tribal people must be moved.

Therefore, this war.

Despite the economic recovery, unemployment remains high, at almost 10 percent. In this context, Danny Lucia’s analysis of the Communist Party-led unemployed councils of the 1930s covers a timely and relevant topic. Lucia argues that the unemployed movement, and later the explosion of class struggle in the factories that erupted in 1934, forced President Roosevelt to grant what today still stands as one of the most important achievements of the labor movement—the Social Security Act.

The most common argument among mainstream historians of Soviet Russia is that there is a direct line from Lenin’s politics and practice to Stalinism. The argument is also applied in some instances to Leon Trotsky. Robert Service’s new biography of Trotsky falls into this category. In our featured review, Tom Twiss and Paul Le Blanc demolish Service’s shoddy research, inept writing, and political ax-grinding, and in the process reveal the real Trotsky that Service so shamefully buries beneath a pile of inaccuracies and slander.

Jeff Bale reviews an important new book, written by Diane Ravitch, once a staunch supporter of Bush’s education policies, that dismantles the justifications for the No Child Left Behind law and school privatization.

As readers may know, the pages of this magazine were highly critical of Obama’s health care reform, which, we argued, reinforced the very system of privately-run system that created the health care crisis in the first place. The debate was deliberately narrowed down to a duel between right-wing Republicans, who were ready to denounce as “socialist” any program—even one with no public option and that mandated millions of people to buy private insurance—and Obama’s pro-business plan. By leaving out a clear option for publicly-funded health care, the debate created a tremendous amount of confusion that was exploited effectively by the extreme right.

Finally, however, Obama was able to rally the troops and push his plan through. That creates a double-edged outcome. On the one hand, it must still be said that the bill is a bad one overall, in the sense that it reinforces the private system, though it managed a few provisions that are an improvement over the previous setup. On the other hand, the passage of the bill against unanimous and vitriolic Republican opposition has stopped the GOP momentum and forced the “tea party” right wing onto the defensive. Lance Selfa examines the political dimensions of the bill’s passage, and Helen Redmond details the contents of the bill and why we could have gotten something far, far better.


Issue #86

November 2012

The legacy of the Industrial Workers of the World

Issue contents

Top story




Critical Thinking


  • Marxism and ethics

    Tyler Zimmer reviews Marxism and Ethics: Freedom, Desire, and Revolution by Paul Blackledge
  • Lenin and his biographers

    Paul Le Blanc reviews The Non-Geometric Lenin: Essays on the Development of the Bolshevik Party, 1910–1914 by Carter Elwood; Lenin by Lars Lih; Lenin's Brother: The Origins of the October Revolution by Philip Pomper; Conspirator: Lenin in Exile by Helen Rappaport; Lenin: A Revolutionary Life by Christopher Read; Lenin: A Biography by Robert Service; Forgotten Lives: The Role of Lenin's Sisters in the Russian Revolution by Katy Turton; Lenin: The Practice and Theory of Revolution by James D. White; and Lenin by Beryl Williams
  • The Red Dawn of a New Day

    Jason Netek reviews All Power to the Councils: A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919 by Gabriel Kuhn
  • How not to build a movement

    Ian Angus reviews Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay