Critical Reading

  • Happy birthday Karl Marx!

    Marx's biographer, Mary Gabriel, writes him a birthday letter. --PG

    A letter to Karl Marx on his 200th birthday

    Source: Los Angeles Times

    By Mary Gabriel
    May 06, 2018

    Dear Karl,

    Happy birthday! It's tempting to say that much has changed in the 200 years since your birth, but as I sit down to describe those changes, I must admit I am more struck by the similarities than the differences between your time and mine.

    The big news is, of course, that the kings you fought so hard to unmask as charlatans no longer are divine. Well, there are a few monarchs who still claim tangential ties to a higher power, but most people have cottoned on to the fact that royal power is really just a combination of heredity and tenacity. And, unfortunately, your kings have been replaced by new ones who base their right to rule on an aristocracy of wealth.

  • What's wrong with Syria conspiracy theories

    Anti-imperialists oppose US military intervention in Syria, but that doesn't mean denying the brutal atrocities of the Assad regime or lining up with Russia. My enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend. --PG

    Why Are Some on the Left Falling for Fake News on Syria?

    Source: Truthdig

    Apr 19, 2018
    Sonali Kolhatkar

    There is a deepening rift within the American left over the war in Syria. It is unfortunate that this rift is eclipsing actual activism to stop the suffering of Syrians. But since apparent support for Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin is so strong among some sectors of the left, it is worth tackling the debate if only to try to get past it and on to the more urgent job of shining a light on the plight of Syrians and considering nonmilitary alternatives to ending the complex war.

  • Trump's trade wars

    Excellent analysis by Michael Roberts on the growing trade wars and why neither "free trade" nor protectionism benefits the working class. Go to the original for the full article and numerous graphs. --PG

    Trump’s trade tantrums – free trade or protectionism?

    Source: Michael Roberts Blog

    Today, the finance ministers of the top 20 economies (G20) meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the big topic for discussion is trade protectionism and the possibility of an outright trade war between the US and other major economics areas, particularly China.

    There is a real concern that all the blustering by President Trump is finally turning into reality and ‘The Donald’ is now going to honour his promise to ‘make America great again’ by introducing a range of tariffs, quotas and bans on various imports from Europe and Asia into the US. Trade protectionism is coming back after decades of ‘free trade’ and globalisation.

  • Capitalism vs. the climate

    Once in a while there is something accurate in the New York Times. My one point of disagreement is with the author's claim that "anticapitalist struggle" has become "a non-class-based issue." The climate crisis threatens people of all classes, but it will nevertheless take class-based organizing and class-based struggle to end the system that is causing it. --PG

    The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid

    Source: New York Times

    Benjamin Y. Fong

    THE STONE, NOV. 20, 2017

    Even casual readers of the news know that the earth is probably going to look very different in 2100, and not in a good way.

    A recent Times opinion piece included this quotation from the paleoclimatologist Lee Kump: “The rate at which we’re injecting CO2 into the atmosphere today, according to our best estimates, is 10 times faster than it was during the End-Permian.”

    The End-Permian is a pre-dinosaurs era of mass extinction that killed 90 percent of the life in the ocean and 75 percent of it on land. It is also called the Great Dying. Although those who write about environmental change like to add notes of false personalization around this point — “My children will be x years old when catastrophe y happens” — there is really no good way of acclimating the mind to facts of this magnitude.

  • Corbyn closing the gap in the UK election

    Six weeks ago, the UK general election (which takes place today), was shaping up to be a Tory landslide, but the polls have tightened as Jeremy Corbyn has run the Labour Party's most left-wing campaign in over 40 years. --PG

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    Could Jeremy Corbyn Pull off a British Upset?

    Source: The Progressive

    by Phil Gasper
    June 6, 2017

    Can the British Labour Party pull off an astounding come-from-behind victory in the UK general election this Thursday?

    The odds still favor Theresa May’s Conservatives (known as the Tories), emerging as the biggest party. But on April 18, when May called the surprise election, her party was over 20 points ahead in the polls, and looked to be heading towards a landslide win.

    Instead, Labour’s left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn has led a spirited campaign that has steadily closed the gap, with one recent poll showing Labour now just one percent behind the Tories.

    The recent terror attacks in Manchester and London have also added to Corbyn’s momentum. He has expressed sympathy with the victims while also criticizing Britain’s support for the “war on terror” and military intervention in the Middle East, which he argues has only led to more terrorist attacks.

  • Trump, Comey, & the crisis in the US ruling class

    It is not necessary to have any illusions in the role of the FBI or to believe conspiracy theories about the 2016 election, to recognize that Trump's firing of James Comey is part of a dangerous power grab by the executive branch and that the US ruling class is now in the middle of its biggest internal crisis since Watergate. --PG

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    Comey Affair Sign of a Fractured American State

    Source: The Real News Network

    May 10, 2017

    Historian Gerald Horne and Paul Jay dig deeper into Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey and the forces driving great divisions in the elites, the political class and the state apparatus

    Dr. Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations and war. Dr. Horne has also written extensively about the film industry. His latest book is The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. Dr. Horne received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from Princeton University.


    PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

  • How capitalism undermines social justice

    The scandal at Thinx illustrates why capitalism and social responsibility don't mix. --PG

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    What a Start-Up’s Scandal Says About Your Workplace

    Source: New York Times


    “Integrating feminism into our marketing is not a ploy, and it’s not exploitative; it’s a reclamation of how brands treat and speak to women,” proclaimed Miki Agrawal, a founder of Thinx, in a Medium post last year.

    But last week, Thinx, the “period-proof” underwear and feminine hygiene company based in New York, entered the growing canon of employers that have been accused of failing to live up to their socially conscious branding. Former Thinx employees, many of them women in their 20s and 30s, allege some very un-feminist practices, including substandard pay, verbal abuse and sexual harassment. Thinx has denied the harassment allegations, made by a former employee in a legal complaint, and says other allegations about the company’s culture are inaccurate. Still, the story of Thinx has broader implications for all workers.

  • iPhones aren't why we can't afford healthcare

    "This insistence that people would not be poor if only they would try harder defines the thinking behind the signature welfare restructuring law of the Clinton era, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act." --PG

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    Laziness isn’t why people are poor

    Source: Washington Post

    And iPhones aren’t why they lack health care

    The real reasons people suffer poverty don't reflect well on the United States.

    By Stephen Pimpare March 8 at 4:20 PM

    In response to a question about his party’s plan to increase the cost of health insurance, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) suggested that people should “invest in their own health care” instead of “getting that new iPhone.” He doubled-down on the point in a later interview: “People need to make a conscious choice, and I believe in self-reliance.” Of course, Chaffetz is wrong. But he isn’t alone.

  • Women workers began the Russian Revolution

    How the revolution broke out in Russia at the beginning of 1917. --PG

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    Russia’s February Revolution Was Led by Women on the March


    How the downfall of the Romanovs finally came about 100 years ago

    By Carolyn Harris
    FEBRUARY 17, 2017

    “I can’t remember a single day when I didn’t go hungry…I’ve been afraid, waking, eating and sleeping…all my life I’ve trembled-afraid I wouldn’t get another bite…all my life I’ve been in rags-all through my wretched life – and why?”- Anna, wife of a locksmith in The Lower Depths (1903), Maxim Gorky

  • What's behind Trump's Muslim ban

    Glenn Greenwald on the roots of Trump's extremism and the urgent need to fight it. --PG

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    Trump’s Muslim Ban Is Culmination of War on Terror Mentality but Still Uniquely Shameful

    Source: The Intercept

    Glenn Greenwald
    January 28 2017, 7:31 a.m.

    IT IS NOT difficult for any decent human being to immediately apprehend why and how Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries is inhumane, bigoted, and shameful. During the campaign, the evil of the policy was recognized even by Mike Pence (“offensive and unconstitutional”) and Paul Ryan (violative of America’s “fundamental values”), who are far too craven and cowardly to object now.

    Trump’s own defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, said when Trump first advocated his Muslim ban back in August that “we have lost faith in reason,” adding: “This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through this international system.”

  • Africa: The myth of the "resource curse"

    Lee Wengraf debunks an explanation for Africa's underdevelopment popular amongst policy makers. --PG

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    The Pillage Continues: Debunking the Resource Curse

    Source: Review of African Political Economy

    By Lee Wengraf

    A tidal wave of change has been unleashed on African economies and worldwide: a sharp dive in primary commodity prices globally, including oil, and a decline in the strength of the Chinese economy have produced major budget crises in oil-producing nations. African governments have imposed devastating budget cuts: Nigeria reported a N3 trillion (US$15 billion) budget shortfall in early 2016, in the face of the weakest GDP growth – 2.8 percent – since 1999. Angola cut its budget for 2016 by approximately US$15 billion, with a 2016 GDP forecast of 3.3 percent, its lowest since 2009, prompting job cuts and postponing of government projects. Despite promises in early 2017 of a rebound, a crisis of over-production plagues the global system, fueled by a glut in the capacity of raw materials, particularly in the world’s largest economy, China.[1]

  • The crisis in Venezuela

    Mike Gonzalez analyzes the crisis in Venezuela in the first of a new series of longer pieces at the rs21 website. Go to the website for the full article. --PG

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    Venezuela: for sale to the highest bidder?

    Source: rs21

    rs21onOctober 14, 2016/0 comments

    The theory of state capitalism has played a critical role in the International Socialist tradition’s critique of regimes claiming to be socialist. In the first of the new Revolutionary Reflections articles, Mike Gonzalez presents an account of the latest developments in Venezuela which draw on that tradition to make sense of changes that are taking place. His article explores changes to the system, and the growth of a new ruling class around President Maduro following the death of Hugo Chavez.

    A PDF of this article can be downloaded here


  • Extreme racial inequality in Wisconsin

    This report, issued just over a week ago, provides some background for the uprising that erupted in Milwaukee this weekend, following yet another fatal police shooting of a young African-American man. --PG

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    Wisconsin named worst state for black Americans

    Source: Milwaukee Business Journal

    Aug 5, 2016

    Dan Shafer Reporter Milwaukee Business Journal

    A new report says that with lower median annual income, higher unemployment and lower college graduation rates, Wisconsin is the worst state for black Americans with the country's biggest gap between black and white Americans.

    In a new report, financial news and opinion website 24/7 Wall St. listed all 50 states on metrics of black and white inequality. Wisconsin topped the list, joining other Midwest states Iowa (#10), Illinois (#5) and Minnesota (#2) in the top 10.

    Milwaukee County is home to more than 240,000 African-Americans, which is 69 percent of Wisconsin's total African-American population. Nearly 90 percent of Wisconsin's black population lives in six Wisconsin counties: Milwaukee, Dane, Racine, Kenosha, Rock and Waukesha, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

  • How Hillary Clinton Promotes Islamophobia

    Arun Kundnani on Hillary Clinton's record of imperialist intervention and how this strengthens discrimination against Muslims. --PG

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    Why Hillary's Neoconservative Foreign Policy Will Make The Problem of Islamophobia Worse

    Source: Alternet

    Clinton's neoconservative backers understand what her liberal supporters do not.

    By Arun Kundnani / AlterNet August 7, 2016

    In Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Democratic Party seems to have found the perfect counter to Donald Trump. Since Trump proposed banning Muslims from the US, his campaign has sought to exploit the fear that Muslims are dangerous and disloyal. But who could think that of the patriotic, constitution-waving Khans, whose son died fighting for the U.S.?

    Trump suggested that Ghazala Khan did not speak for Islamic reasons. But this backfired and the episode appears to have hurt him in the polls. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton has been able to establish herself as the candidate of tolerance and liberal progress.

    But take a closer look and things are not that straightforward. It is easy to lose sight of why the Khans lost their son in the first place. Humayun Khan died fighting in the illegal war in Iraq, which was launched on the basis of Islamophobic lies, and supported by Hillary Clinton, as senator for New York.

  • Owen Jones on the #Brexit vote in the UK

    Left-wing journalist Owen Jones on what led to the UK's vote to leave the European Union and what the left needs to do after the political earthquake. --PG

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    Grieve now if you must – but prepare for the great challenges ahead

    Source: The Guardian

    A working-class revolt has taken place, and frustration is spilling out in all sorts of directions. If Britain is to have a future, the escalating culture wars have to stop

    Owen Jones

    Britain has voted to leave the European Union: here is a statement that continues to shock leavers and remainers alike. Earlier this month I wrote that “unless a working-class Britain that feels betrayed by the political elite can be persuaded, then Britain will vote to leave the European Union in less than two weeks”. And this – perhaps the most dramatic event in Britain since the war – was, above all else, a working-class revolt. It may not have been the working-class revolt against the political establishment that many of us favoured, but it is undeniable that this result was achieved off the back of furious, alienated working-class votes.

  • What is neoliberalism?

    Very clear explanation of neoliberalism by Neil Davidson in response to a letter by Dr. Jim Walker (Chief Economist, Asianomics, Hong Kong). --PG

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    Debate on the detail of neoliberal thought rages on ...

    Source: The National

    June 6th, 2016

    ... and an academic weighs in on the topic

    WRITING in Saturday’s National (Fry Will Contribute Common Sense and Clear Thinking), Jim Walker writes: “As an economist, I have no clue what a neoliberal is.” In Jim’s view we should therefore stop using the term, because “there is no such thing and you don’t have a clue how to define it.” Actually, there is and I can.

    The term neoliberalism can be used in three ways. First, it is an ideology which emerged in Central Europe during the 1930s in opposition to what was mistakenly called “socialism” (ie state planning and ownership) and which later migrated to the economics department at the University of Chicago. The adherents of this conception of neoliberalism actually adopted the term as a self-description; indeed, Milton Friedman wrote a paper in 1951 called Neoliberalism and Its Prospects.

  • The Torturing of Mentally Ill Prisoners

    The horrific realities of the American gulag. There is a follow-up report here. --PG

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    Source: The New Yorker

    May 2, 2016

    In Florida prisons, mentally ill inmates have been tortured, driven to suicide, and killed by guards.

    By Eyal Press

  • Joel Geier explains the global economy

    Why the world economy is headed for a new recession. --PG

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    Pigs at the trough of the economic crisis: an interview with Joel Geier

    Source: Red Flag

    Ben Hillier
    11 March 2016

    Red Flag editor Ben Hillier speaks with US socialist Joel Geier, associate editor of the International Socialist Review, about the causes of the ongoing economic stagnation in Western economies, and the potential for a new world recession.

    ­“You want to know what people are like in there? They’re pigs. No matter how much money they make, they want to steal some more. [The impulse] comes out of their class background.”

    Joel Geier is explaining to me the finer points of economics and the moral character of those at the centre of US capital-trading markets. “They think that entitlements – social welfare, Medicare, pensions – should be cut, taxes should be cut, the government should be small. It’s just more money in their pockets. And it is presented by good chunks of capitalist economists as a solution to the crisis facing everyone else”, he says.

  • Why the Democrats don't deserve your support

    Sarah Grey on why we should put our energies into building grassroots movements, not the Democratic Party. --PG

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    To Move Forward, We Must Stop Enabling The Democratic Party

    Source: The Establishment

    OP-ED February 23, 2016

    by Sarah Grey

    This story is part of The Establishment’s ongoing series exploring the political dialogue surrounding the democratic presidential candidates, progressivism, and feminism.


    Just say you’ll vote for the Democratic nominee. Just SAY it.

    Why do you have to rock the boat in an election year? This election is too important.

    Just help us get Democrats into office, and THEN you can call them out on their problems.

    I know the system is messed up, but we have to be realistic.

    If you don’t shut up, we’ll end up with President Trump!


    If you’ve ever criticized the Democratic Party from the left, as I recently did, chances are good you’ve heard all of this and more. It’s everywhere. It’s unavoidable.

    And it’s wrong.

  • Middle East crisis not due to religious divisions

    Corey Oakley refutes the claim that the Middle East's descent into chaos is the result of long-standing religious divisions, rather than imperialist interventions. --PG

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    Sectarianism not the root cause of Middle East chaos

    Source: Red Flag

    17 January 2016 | Corey Oakley

    For the vast majority of commentators and politicians, who neither anticipated nor wanted the unruly democratic uprising of the masses that was the 2011 Arab revolt, the region’s subsequent descent into sectarian violence has been a welcome relief.

    It appears to them a vindication of all the stale orientalist tropes with which they deny the possibility of a Middle East ruled by its people rather than colonialists or vicious local despots.

    “See?”, they say. “The Arabs were never cut out for democracy. Their archaic religion is the antithesis of the revolutionary demands of equality and self-rule that animated the protests from Tahrir Square to Damascus in 2011. The Arab world is wracked by ancient prejudices that if not held in check by a strong state will lead to the complete collapse of social order.”

  • In memory of Ellen Meiksins Wood

    Vivek Chibber outlines the significant contributions of the Marxist scholar Ellen Meiksins Wood, who died of cancer at the age of 73 on January 14. For an excellent collection of Wood's writings, check out The Ellen Meiksins Wood Reader (Haymarket Books, 2013). --PG

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    Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood

    Source: Jacobin


    Ellen Meiksins Wood showed so many of us what it means to be a committed intellectual.

    by Vivek Chibber

    Ellen Meiksins Wood passed away yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. Wood was a thinker of extraordinary range, writing with authority on ancient Greece, early modern political thought, contemporary political theory, Marxism, and the structure and evolution of modern capitalism.

    But even more importantly, she was one of those enchanted few from the New Left who never relented in their commitment to socialist politics. In fact, it was with her 1986 book The Retreat from Class that she burst onto the stage as a major presence on the intellectual left.

  • Donna Murch on the real MLK

    Rutgers history professor Donna Murch refutes some myths about MLK. More on the real MLK here and here. --PG

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    Five myths about Martin Luther King

    Source: Washington Post

    By Donna Murch January 15

    The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is a historical figure every school child knows, one of the few from American history sculpted into a monument on the Mall. Yet much of his activism is misunderstood, even by some who seek to honor him. In the midst of protests by young African Americans in cities and on campuses across the country, King’s life and legacy remain profoundly relevant. As the holiday bearing his name approaches, here are five myths about the civil rights icon.

    1. King believed in a color-blind society.

  • Chris Williams on the fight to save the Gila River

    Must-read essay by ecosocialist Chris Williams on the fight to stop a $1billion river diversion project in the upper reaches of the last free-running river in New Mexico. Just including the opening paragraphs here, because you need to visit the original to see the accompanying photos. --PG

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    The Battle to Save New Mexico's Last Wild River

    Source: Truthout

    Thursday, 07 January 2016 00:00

    By Chris Williams

    "Somehow the watercourse is to dry country what the face is to human beauty. Mutilate it and the whole is gone."—Aldo Leopold, Conservationist in Mexico, 1937

    "… these subsidized water projects, they're not really intended to serve growth, or to meet growth, they're intended to create it."—interview with M.H. "Dutch" Salmon, author of ¡Gila Libre!, August 2015

    New Mexico's Gila is not a big river. At least, once it has left the state, along its lower reaches, it's not a big river anymore: Once it wends its dammed and diverted way through Arizona, it becomes a dry, sandy-bottomed reminder of a once living, powerful water course several miles wide - the epicenter of human cultures stretching back millennia. But now a new threat, closer to its source in New Mexico, has returned.

  • Why the Paris Talks Won't Stop Climate Disaster

    To keep global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius would require leaving most fossil fuels in the ground. That means taking on the immense power of the fossil fuel corporations, something that the United States and the governments of other major economies are not willing to do. Unless we are able to build a mass climate justice movement that can force them to take meaningful action, we are going off the climate cliff. --PG

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    Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of ‘Carbon Budget’

    Source: New York Times

    By JUSTIN GILLIS NOV. 28, 2015

    After two decades of talks that failed to slow the relentless pace of global warming, negotiators from almost 200 countries are widely expected to sign a deal in the next two weeks to take concrete steps to cut emissions.

    The prospect of progress, any progress, has elicited cheers in many quarters. The pledges that have already been announced “represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a statement a month ago.

    Yet the negotiators gathering in Paris will not be discussing any plan that comes close to meeting their own stated goal of limiting the increase of global temperatures to a reasonably safe level.

  • Understanding Trump's right-wing bigotry

    Good analysis of Donald Trump's politics. It is not accurate to call Trump a fascist, but his toxic brew of xenophobia, racism, and bigotry is nonetheless extremely dangerous. --PG

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    Corporate Press Fails to Trump Bigotry

    Source: FAIR

    Sep 17, 2015

    By Chip Berlet

    The outlandish rhetoric of Republican presidential wildcard Donald Trump has left many journalists at a loss for words—words such as bigotry, xenophobia, racism, sexism and demagoguery.

    Some media outlets raised these issues. Yet many reporters (or perhaps their editors) still seem reluctant to move past the aphasic and simplistic sports-reporting model, in which ideological content analysis is renounced.

    An example of a typical article is the piece on Trump’s stump speech by Michael Finnegan and Kurtis Lee in the Los Angeles Times (9/15/15). It is well-written, colorful and even includes the obligatory single sentence from an anti-Trump protester. Yet there is little serious political or historic context.

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