Choice of term • International Socialism


As stated in our review article, New Left Review is one of the few socialist newspapers that shares a vision similar to International socialism on the conflict in Ukraine. This is reflected in its excellent double issue, which contains articles on the war by Susan Watkins, Tony Wood and Volodymyr Ishchenko, all of which are worth reading. The same issue also contains Evgeny Morozov’s critique of “techno-feudalism,” a fashionable but ultimately lazy concept that recycles old analyzes of online platforms and points to them as evidence of an emerging new form of feudalism. As Morozov suggests, the real challenge is to analyze these developments as an important element of contemporary capitalism, rather than invoking strained analogies with feudalism to try to explain the logic of Google, Uber and Amazon.

Still on the topic of technological change, Phil Taylor, one of our recent contributors, and Debra Howcroft wrote an article entitled “Automation and the Future of Work: A Social Shaping of Technology Approach” for a special issue of New technologies, work and employment (https://doi.org/10.1111/ntwe.12240). This is a useful contribution, showing the long history of predictions of a radical transformation of work due to automation. He opposes the technological determinism that often accompanies such narratives, instead offering a version of the “social shaping of technology” approach, drawing on Marxist and other radical perspectives.

We recently published on our site a debate on Ukraine between Gilbert Achcar and Stathis Kouvelakis, which began with a contribution by Kouvelakis in the French journal setback. This article (http://isj.org.uk/anti-imperialism-a-reply-to-achcar) echoes many of our own points about the war and comes to similar conclusions. Kouvelakis has a long history as a socialist activist and author, producing books such as Philosophy and revolution: from Kant to Marx (Verso, 2003) and co-editor of a Critical Companion of Contemporary Marxism (Haymarket, 2009). Now, at the instigation of a French publisher, Kouvelakis has produced an autobiographical reflection on his involvement in a series of struggles. These include his participation in the student movement of 1986 in France and more recently in Greece during the breakthrough and then the capitulation of the radical left party Syriza. The article, titled “Beyond Left-wing Melancholia: Reflections on a Militant Trajectory”, was translated by Verso Books and can be read on their blog (www.versobooks.com/blogs/5316-beyond-left-wing-melancholia-reflections-on-a-militant-trajectory).

Tomás Rotta has established himself among the most interesting scholars working in Marxist political economy. His article in New political economy“Bitcoin as a digital commodity” (https://doi.org/10.1080/13563467.2022.2054966) shows that cryptocurrencies should not really be seen as a form of money, but rather as a commodity produced for profit. However, since Bitcoin is produced without the input of living labor, he argues that the profits derived from its production and trade are “redistributions from the global pools of added value and liquid wealth in the global economy.”

Science historian Helena Sheehan wrote a short but stimulating article in the May issue of Monthly review on the “dense and dramatic” history of the relationship of Marxism to science (https://monthlyreview.org/2022/05/01/marxism-science-and-science-studies). Sheehan begins with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ engagement with science before examining the debates over the philosophy of science that played a central role in the intellectual life of the Russian Revolution. She also draws on her own experience as a radical scientific thinker attempting to come to terms with the ideas about science pioneered by the New Left in the 1960s.

Marxism made strong claims about the socio-historical character of science – how capitalism shapes and even distorts scientific endeavor – while still affirming the validity of the scientific method. This creates a certain tension at the heart of Marxist accounts of science. Because Marxism perceives the world as an interconnected whole, it necessarily sees science as intertwined with economic systems, political movements, ideological trends, and culture. Yet he simultaneously sees science as a path to true knowledge of nature. As Sheehan explains, this tension was an animating factor in the development of Marxist philosophy of science. This is perhaps best illustrated by Soviet physicist Boris Hessen’s paper on Isaac Newton, presented at an international conference in 1931 where Hessen was part of a delegation led by Nikolai Bukharin. There, Hessen places Newton’s ideas in their material and political context: the rise of English capitalism and the class compromise embodied by the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. At the same time, he absolutely insisted on the “cognitive credibility” of the Newtonian physics.

JC & RD.

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