New Left Review: Fifty Years 1960-2010

This fiftieth anniversary edition demonstrates NLR’s strengths and weaknesses. Stridently intellectual but sliding into pretension, it is devoted to the idea of a left-wing movement but divorced from actually existing social forces. Here we are presented with, among other articles, Perry Anderson’s incisive analysis of Russian and Chinese revolutions, Robin Blackburn on class struggles in post-reconstruction era America, and a US medical doctor’s searing call to arms in the battle for healthcare. Editor Susan Watkins ponders the future: “Can a left intellectual project hope to thrive in the absence of a political movement?” Her answer? “That remains to be seen.” SS

Second Series, Number 61, January/February 2010; 232 pages

Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liiberal World, by Alex Callinicos

Plenty of illusions but no bonfire. The problem with this book’s title – acknowledged by Callinicos – is that the ruling neoliberal ideology is very much alive and kicking. Fixing as his point of departure the timely conjunction of the financial meltdown of 2008 and the Russia-Georgia war, the author argues that these events marked the end of the post-Cold War epoch of unipolar US supremacy and neoliberal orthodoxy. A detailed accounting of the financial crisis, informed by an understanding of falling profit rates, gives way to a weaker outline of geopolitical strategy that frequently reiterates the earlier economic arguments. SS

Polity; 2010; 179 pages

No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South, by Gary Younge

Premised on The Guardian columnist’s journey along the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides, this somewhat confused book mixes travelogue and political analysis, sometimes to the detriment of both. Younge is at his best when talking to civil rights stalwarts, discussing contemporary social relations in the South and their intersection with history and sharing his experiences growing up in Britain as the son of immigrant parents from Barbados. He frequently returns to the nexus of race and class. But the book is weak in parts, occasionally slipping into banal description or simplistic cliché: like Bill Bryson but without the laughs. SS

Picador; 1999; 280 pages

Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century, by Giovanni Arrighi

This expansive work seeks to understand differing paths of capitalist economic development and portends tectonic shifts in world capitalism as China emerges as challenger to US hegemony. Beginning with a theoretical discussion of Adam Smith’s political economy, Arrighi contrasts Europe’s historical development with the purer market economics of the contemporaneous Far East. By examining historical transitions from one world-leading centre of capitalism to another, considering the role of financialisation in these processes, Arrighi ponders the future of US dominance after a series of monumental political and military failures. In the background China is rising; the new workshop of the world. SS

Verso; 2008; 418 pages

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, by Erich Fromm

Regarded as one of Fromm’s masterworks, this book mixes psychology, palaeontology and anthropology in its endeavour to address a simple question: why are humans violent? The underlying answer for Fromm is rooted in this social animal’s general condition of unfreedom since the Neolithic revolution some 10,000 years ago. In lengthy meanderings he takes in animal behavioural science, sketches the structure of Neolithic society and produces psychological biographies of Hitler, Stalin and Himmler. But for large parts of the book his central argument takes a back seat. While much of the material is fascinating its fragmentary character surrenders its polemical force. SS

Pimlico; 1997; 688 pages


Absolute Friends, by John le Carré

Despite being a Cold War author who successfully reconfigured his writing for the post-Soviet era, John le Carré doesn’t always remain as sharp in his contemporary storytelling. Such is the case in Absolute Friends, a book whose shifts in time and place sharply juxtapose the le Carré of old with his modern approach. The best of this book is the tension built around our protagonist’s adventures among Cold War double agents but the narrative is far weaker in other places, especially the finale – intended as an indictment of “war on terror” politics and subterfuge – which is bewildering and unconvincing. SS

Coronet Books; 2004; 338 pages

Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Global Development, by David Harvey

Here are three lectures delivered by Harvey, a geographer by trade, in 2004. In the first he analyses neoliberalism in what is a finely composed exposition of its meaning: the restoration of ruling class power. The second is focused on uneven geographical development and Harvey masterfully employs his Marxian analytical toolbox to demonstrate how this unevenness is inherent to the system via processes of primitive accumulation, competing capitals and commodity fetishism. Finally, for the specialist Harvey tackles the notion of ‘space’, producing a nine-coordinate ‘matrix’ of different conceptions which we are asked to consider simultaneously and dialectically; it’s challenging stuff. SS

Verso; 2006; 154 pages

Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers. George Orwell