We are pleased to introduce our readers to a newly formatted and reconceptualized International Socialist Review. For the last decade, the ISR has been a bimonthly magazine with a web site that mirrored its print content. We have now decided to become a perfect-bound quarterly journal, along with a web site that carries both the contents of the print edition as well as additional web-only features.
Our decision to change the ISR’s format isn’t based on aesthetics so much as what we consider to be the changing needs of socialists and Marxists to take on the important theoretical and political questions facing them today.
The bimonthly format allowed us to provide fairly regular analysis of events and developments in the world. But the schedule made it difficult to produce more theoretical and analytical pieces that are necessary to take up important questions facing the Left in today’s radically changing world. We have redesigned the ISR in order to do this.
When we launched the ISR in the summer of 1997, the United States was in the midst of the second-longest economic boom since the Second World War. An air of triumphalism in the “miracle economy” pervaded the statements of US leaders and their media mouthpieces. US military dominance in the post-Cold War world led boosters of US might to speak of a “unipolar moment” leaving the US as the world’s unchallenged superpower.
Today, the political panorama is quite different. The financial meltdown of 2007–08 produced the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. A financial collapse was only averted through massive state intervention to bail out the profligate banks that had brought us into the crisis in the first place. The trillions of dollars in taxpayer money used to bail out the system shifted private debt into government debt, laying the foundations for what has been dubbed the “sovereign debt crisis.” To this day, the leading capitalist countries remain mired in a slow recovery, with some economies either stagnant or yet to achieve positive growth rates.
Ruling classes around the world aim to solve the crisis on the backs of the working class and the dispossessed through austerity measures involving the drastic dismantling of pensions and social services, deep cuts to public sector wages and jobs, and the restructuring of production. The crisis has devastated the lives of millions of workers around the world, and unemployment rates remain at historic highs—in some countries, like Greece and Spain, at Depression-era levels.
Washington’s “unipolar moment” is also looking a lot less spectacular these days. After squandering more than $2 trillion on failed decades-long imperial adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington’s ability to shape the world in its interests has been set back in spite of its unrivaled power since the demise of the Soviet Union. Though the United States remains by far the dominant military and economic superpower, observers of international relations now refer to an emerging “multipolar” world, where the US must contend for influence with other forces, and new centers of capital accumulation in Asia—particularly China—challenge the economic leadership of the United States and Europe.
The fact of global climate change reminds us that the crisis of world capitalism is not just political and economic, but civilizational as well. There is mounting evidence that the world is sliding—due to capitalism’s drive toward unplanned, breakneck accumulation—toward an accelerating cascade of environmental disasters that threaten the fate of life on the planet. The Fukushima nuclear disaster is only one of the latest reminders of the close interconnection between “natural” and “man-made” disaster.
The economic crisis has created an ideological crisis, throwing into question the economic mantra that markets are “self-correcting” and sapping support from traditional sources of political, business, and government authority. It has created a deep sense among growing numbers of people that neoliberal capitalism has failed—at the very same time that neoliberal austerity policies are the order of the day.
The neoliberal offensive has also provoked a resistance that has helped to reshape politics in the years since the ISR’s launch. In Latin America, the magnitude of social struggles by coalitions of workers, peasants, and the indigenous—as well as students—has raised the question of alternatives to “capitalismo salvaje.” The Indian working class in 2012 engaged in the largest general strike in world history, and the Chinese working class remains among the world’s most combative despite its dictatorial government.
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The Arab Spring’s toppling of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia has set off a multiyear struggle to determine the future of democracy and imperial intervention in the region. The continual struggle to expand rights for the oppressed has won equal marriage for LGBT people in a growing roster of countries. Movements like that of Occupy in the United States and the indignados in Spain express their solidarity with the global “99 percent” against the global “1 percent.”
Nevertheless, as important as these struggles are, they have yet to produce a successful struggle against the tide of austerity or a revitalization of working-class and left-wing organizations. There has been tremendous resistance, from Egypt to Greece. However, as the French socialist Francois Sabado recently wrote, “these struggles are not producing a phase of organic growth of the workers’ movement: there are no massive waves of people joining parties or trade unions.”1
In Egypt, the revolution has been stalled by counterrevolution, as the Egyptian military, taking advantage of mass anger against the betrayal of the revolution’s goals by the Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood government, has stepped in to assert its power over the state apparatus. In Greece, a series of mass protests and general strikes have been insufficient to stem the tide of austerity—and as Greece’s deep economic crisis continues, there is the new danger of the growth of the far Right in the form of the openly fascist Golden Dawn. Indeed, all across Europe, the failures of social democracy and the traditional centrist parties to solve the deepening crisis has led not only to working-class resistance to austerity, but also to the growth in far-right parties that use populist rhetoric to whip up national chauvinism. In France, for example, a recent poll revealed that the National Front is now the country’s most popular party.
In the United States, there have been important struggles, such as the Wisconsin capitol occupation, the Occupy movement, the Chicago teachers strike, the fight around Trayvon Martin, and struggles like the Fight for Fifteen among low-wage workers.
But these struggles have not been strong or sustained enough at this stage to reverse the largely one-sided class war.
There are reasons for this that need to be examined. Several decades of neoliberal offensive has battered the historic constituencies of the Left, especially the labor movement, in country after country. Internationally, trade unions have lost millions of members over the decades, and many of the historic gains of labor—from old-age pensions to job security—have been eroded or eliminated. In the United States, trade-union density has fallen to levels not seen since the 1920s, prompting many to wonder if US labor has any future at all. Ironically, this speculation occurs at a time when the global working class has never been larger or more urbanized.
In the 1990s, the collapse of Stalinism led many on the international left to conclude that liberal democracy, or “social liberalism,” was the only political alternative. The mainstream labor and social democratic parties, which had once talked about “breaking with capitalism,” accommodated themselves to the neoliberal mantra of deregulation, flexible labor, and privatization. Communist parties either dissolved or transformed themselves into social liberal adjuncts to the “center-left.” In most countries, the center-left parties have proven themselves to be accomplices to the austerity-driven immiseration of the working class.
As a result, many activists who are being shaped today feel that the “old models” don’t work anymore. Political certainties of the postwar or even neoliberal eras have been upended. But a sense of a coherent alternative to capitalism, embodied politically and organizationally, and connecting growing networks of activists and militants, is still to be recreated.
Today’s challenges have thrown up many new questions. Should the Left embrace a strategy of building political parties to the left of traditional social democracy, such as SYRIZA in Greece? Can experiments with workers’ control of production, such as emerged in Argentina in the early 2000s, provide a model for transforming capitalism? Can socialist theory explain racism, the oppression of women and LGBT people, and inform practice towards the liberation of the oppressed? Do the organizational models that have dominated the revolutionary left since the 1917 Russian Revolution have relevance in the twenty-first century? How do we understand the world economy and the role of the US empire in it? Is the working class today the agent for social change that Marx and Engels anticipated? How do we construct a viable, sustainable world in the face of global climate change? These—and many more—are precisely the types of questions that our newly introduced journal wants to address.
We feel that addressing these questions will be better achieved with an ISR that is published quarterly. We envision special issues that will focus on particular topics, bringing together a number of perspectives from the socialist left, and we plan to encourage and host debates and symposiums on these and other topics in a way that, we hope, makes the ISR a center for debate and discussion on the left.
It is in that light that this current issue, for example, includes two articles, one by Sharon Smith and the other by Tithi Battacharya, that take up the questions, respectively, of Black feminism and intersectionality, and that of violence against women in the neoliberal era. In addition, we are pleased to publish a response by Neil Davidson, author of How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?, to the article by Jonah Birch and Paul Heideman, “In Defense of Political Marxism,” which appeared in ISR 90 (July 2013).
The ISR is dedicated to advancing socialist theory and practice in the United States and internationally. We stand in the International Socialist tradition, affirming our commitment to socialism from below, the self-emancipation of the working class, the struggle against imperialism and against all forms of national, racial, gender, and other forms of oppression, and the building of a socialist current rooted in all of those struggles. We hope that the ISR will provide a forum for the development of an open and critical Marxist analysis of the challenges and opportunities that confront the Left and social movements in the twenty-first century. We welcome contributions, responses to published articles, and letters from all who are committed to that project and vision.