Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ten Years of the International Socialist Review

(Congratulations from the gang her at Dialogic :)

Ten years of the International Socialist Review

THE FIRST issue of the International Socialist Review appeared ten years ago, in the summer of 1997. The opening editorial announcing its publication staked out what we considered the justification for the inauguration of a self-consciously Marxist magazine in the United States:

The mainstream consensus among the defenders of capitalism is that socialism has collapsed and the free market has won. But look at what the “triumph” of the market really means. Millions of lives are being sacrificed on the altar of profit. Throughout the world, governments committed to the “best business climate” are busily hacking away at workers’ wages and the social safety net.

We argued that the collapse of Stalinism, which had for so many years distorted the real meaning of socialism and Marxism, as well as growing class and social tensions were creating the initial conditions for a revival of class struggle worldwide, a rebuilding of the Left, and within it, a genuine Marxist current. Yet the legacy of McCarthyism in the United States, which had uprooted left politics and organization from the labor movement, and the retreat of the New Left (as well as its “party-building” variant) after the sixties had once again left a political vacuum on the left that wasn’t going to be filled overnight.
Quoting a 1971 essay by British Marxist Duncan Hallas, we concluded:

"The events of the last 40 years largely isolated the revolutionary socialist tradition from the working classes of the West. The first problem is to reintegrate them."
The Review…will stake out an argument that the working class is key to transforming society; that revolution, not piecemeal reforms, is the only way to eliminate the profit system; that only an international struggle of workers, which challenges all forms of sexual, racial and national oppression, can ever hope to win.

We should have added that we would present a consistent line of opposition to U.S. imperial dominance, given that war was such a dominant feature of the decade.
As part of that reintegration process, and of building a broader Left, we have considered it essential not only to present Marxist politics and analysis, but also to open up the pages of the magazine to the broader Left with whom we share both common politics as well as some important differences. We have not always succeeded in our goals. For example, we would like the ISR to contain a great deal more debate, and we sometimes have sacrificed deeper theory for making sure we were covering topical subjects thoroughly; but we have made the attempt, and in the end must leave it to readers to judge the results. The task of making a more sharply defined set of politics (Marxism) relevant to a new generation while at the same time establishing the ISR as a link in the debates and concerns of the broader Left is a balancing act, and we don’t always stay on the wire.

It is instructive to remind ourselves how much has changed in ten years. In 1997, the Wall Street Journal, flush with exuberance over several years of economic boom, declared that “A new consensus is emerging from boardrooms…: ‘The big, bad business cycle has been tamed.’” Globally, the neoliberal “American model”—deregulation, privatization, and “flexible” labor markets—had established itself as the leading economic model. The U.S. economy, after going through a period of relative decline in the 1970s and 1980s, was able to rebound and establish itself as the dominant world economic power.

Through a string of mostly successful military interventions abroad—from the first Gulf War to Clinton’s bombing of Serbia—the U.S. had overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome.” With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, the U.S. considered itself poised to use its refurbished economic, political, and military clout to alter the balance of world power permanently in its favor.

But there were a number of underlying contradictions, some that were obvious, and others that in hindsight are much easier to see (which this journal did not completely miss). There were the accelerating extreme inequalities of wealth, not only between nations, but between classes within nations; inequalities that were beginning to produce a growing revolt, most prominently in Latin America (and heralded by the 1994 Zapatista uprising), against the twisted priorities of neoliberal capitalism. And there were the underlying problems of overproduction, debt, and trade imbalances that threatened to turn the world economy toward crisis and put an end to Washington and Asia’s “economic miracle.” The outbreak of the Asian crisis heralded a period of growing economic and political tension. Indonesia, the worst hit, saw its economy contract 20 percent, creating mass immiseration; and on its heels, the fall of Indonesia’s dictator Suharto, amid mass protests. The crisis became worldwide in 2001, most dramatically in Argentina, where economic collapse again produced a mass movement that brought down several different presidents.

To Read the Rest of the Editorial

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