This double issue of nlr explores the tensions of the global conjuncture across three domains: the dynamics of world capitalism, the clash of forces in the political arena, the multifarious production of meaning in the realm of culture. For this journal, none of these spheres can be fully grasped in isolation: its pages offer the opportunity to read investigations of each in juxtaposition to the others, and in the light of internationalist solidarity. Most fundamentally: the post-crisis world economy, glutted with overcapacity, burdened by debt, is undergoing a far-reaching technological revolution, propelled by two asymmetrical centres, American and Chinese, with ambiguous economic, cultural and geopolitical effects. Can the left stake out a programme on the frontiers of data capitalism, to repurpose the means of digital production for social ends? In this number, reading Hayek against the grain, Evgeny Morozov explores the possibilities for extra-market economic relations, as well as processes of discovery and coordination, opened up by the algorithms of feedback infrastructure.
At the same time, popular discontents with post-crisis outcomes have begun to find organized expression, putting the West’s ruling liberal-democratic bloc on the electoral defensive—a slow-moving crisis, afflicting first the centre-left parties of the advanced-capitalist world, now the centre-right. How should these challenges be evaluated? In nlr 114, Dylan Riley contested a widespread left and liberal use of the ‘fascist’ label to characterize Trump, in particular, and the new right in general. To get a more accurate bead on these forces, they needed to be situated within their own national-political and cultural contexts: for Trump, the us entertainment industry as well as the Washington–Wall Street complex; for Modi, Hindu communalism and the dismal record of Congress hegemony; for Bolsonaro, the highly gendered forms of Brazilian militarism and evangelicalism, as well as the economic slump over which the pt presided. Here, Matteo Pucciarelli examines the route to power of Matteo Salvini, the wide-boy leader of a fringe regional party, in a context—implosion of the post-war party system and the left; stagnant economy, struggling under the ecb’s over-valued euro; war-zone refugees—that has put a premium on his mass-cultural capital and produced an audience for anti-migrant rants. But in contrast to the revolutionary counter-revolutionism of the inter-war mass fascist parties and their ‘new order’, the contemporary new rights don’t appear to aim at upsetting the present international order. Salvini has even gone quiet on the euro.
Also in nlr 116/117, a quartet of pieces—from China, France, Germany and the us—voicing the aspirations of the new left, generally acknowledged to be a weaker force at present than the new right. In their different registers, each explores the interconnections of the political and the economic, not least in terms of class relations, and the interpretive ideologies that combine these with everyday experience. The anonymous ‘May Fourth Manifesto’ translated here, written for the centenary of the movement of 1919, was fleetingly published on the Chinese internet. The ‘Young Pioneers’, themselves drawing on the literary resources of the Maoist tradition, expose the bitter ironies of official ideology in conditions of labour exploitation and political repression—most immediately, the arrest of students, former members of the Peking University Marxist Society, who had supported workers in struggle at Shenzhen’s Jasic Technology. As the ‘Manifesto’ recounts, they were seized and beaten by police, before vanishing into the detention system.
In France, as Stathis Kouvelakis writes, Macron’s neoliberal radicalization has provoked an extraordinarily resilient mobilization by layers of the popular classes on whose consent the ruling bloc had counted. In an analysis informed by Gramsci’s writing on the crises of mainstream political parties in conditions of economic depression, Kouvelakis examines the collective practices that have sustained the Gilets Jaunes, establishing a dynamic that may exceed the limits of their programme. On the question of the far right, his interlocutors outline a different approach to that proposed in the following piece by Christine Buchholz, a Die Linke member of the Bundestag, for counteracting the Alternative für Deutschland, now the official opposition to the cdu–spd’s Grand Coalition. Meanwhile in the us, a new political generation—radicalized against Trump, educated by Sanders, Black Lives Matter and MeToo—has transformed a once-moribund organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, into a 60,000-strong left formation with autonomous chapters forming across the states. Here, five members from California debate directions for the dsa—and the risks of being overshadowed by the immense electoral machinery of the Democratic Party, which may yet be set to work to win the White House for Joe Biden. In nlr 118, Daniel Finn will discuss the parallel, if distinct, situation of Corbyn’s supporters within the hulk of the uk Labour Party. Finally, cross-cutting these debates, Mary Mellor proposes an eco-feminist approach to environmental strategy that would mobilize ‘democratic money’ to reflate the public sphere.
In these conditions, ‘official’ culture continues to reproduce the vertiginous landscape of capital: quarter-billion dollar movie budgets, artworks as assets, epic tv. Yet autonomous enclaves of the imagination in the realm of the arts can still reflect critically upon it and explore other worlds of experience. In the work of the Portuguese director Pedro Costa, dreams and terrors of African immigrants to Portugal, and of their marginalized Lisbon neighbours, are rendered on-screen in a collaborative cinema of extraordinary visual beauty, operating across ethno-documentary and surrealist genres. Emma Fajgenbaum follows his trajectory, from high-art cinephilia to the dreamworlds of the black Lusosphere. Can cultural education, inside or outside the universities, also propose alternative modes of life? Only, Joseph North argues, counter-intuitively, in his reply to Francis Mulhern (nlr 110), if studies of literature are prepared to qualify the radical historical-contextualist approaches that have taken root since the 1970s with a return to aesthetic evaluation.
How have these questions been addressed within the broader literature? In the book-reviews section of this number, Cédric Durand, the author of Fictitious Capital, assesses Crashed, Adam Tooze’s ambitious chronicle of the financial crisis and the decade that has followed, asking whether its underlying conceptual framework can serve to generate explanations for the events it so vividly describes. Michael Rustin engages with Anthony Barnett’s Lure of Greatness, one of the few books on Brexit to extend a radical imaginative sympathy to the other side. Liberal Atlanticism still chokes on the project of Gaullism, as evinced by Julian Jackson’s biography of its eponymous strategist, reviewed here by Grey Anderson. Jan Breman, meanwhile, examines the class and caste-based outcomes of the soaring real-estate prices that have characterized the era of financialized capitalism on the land-poor villagers of Rajasthan, documented in Michael Levien’s Dispossession without Development. The ferocious resistance mounted by India’s rural dispossessed to retain what little access to land they have is here given social-scientific backing.