As a high school student, David McNally joined the movement against the Vietnam War; on entering university, he organized a campus chapter of the Committee to Free Angela Davis—early steps in a lifetime of activism in global justice, anti-racist, and socialist movements. Along the way, he earned a Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought and became Professor of Political Science at York University, Toronto, where he continues to teach.
David is the author of five previous books: Political Economy and the Rise of Capitalism (1988); Against the Market: Political Economy Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique (1993); Bodies of Meaning: Studies on Language, Labor and Liberation (2001); Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism (2002; second revised edition 2006); and Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism (forthcoming 2011). His articles have appeared in many journals, including Historical Materialism, Capital and Class, History of Political Thought, New Politics, Studies in Political Economy, and Review of Radical Political Economics. He has also contributed to Capital and Its Discontents, edited by Sasha Lilley and published by PM Press.
David actively supports a number of organizations including the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, No One Is Illegal—Toronto, Faculty for Palestine, the New Socialist Group, and the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly.
David McNally lives in Toronto with his partner, Sue Ferguson, and their children, Adam, Sam and Liam, all of whom indulge (and often share in) his love of jazz, baseball, and surrealism.
Listen to David speak about his contributions to Catastrophism, broadcast on KPFA's Against the Grain. Listen to it HERE.
Check out David speaking at the 2012 Historical Materialism Conference in London.
Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth Authors: Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, and James Davis Foreword by Doug Henwood Publisher: PM Press/Spectre ISBN: 978-1-60486-589-9 Published October 2012 Format: Paperback Size: 8 by 5 Page count: 192 Pages Subjects: Politics/Current Events $16.00
Our times are riven by catastrophe. The world is reeling from the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the threat of further meltdowns ever-looming. Global warming and myriad dire ecological disasters worsen—with little if any action to halt them—their effects rippling across the planet in the shape of almost Biblical floods, fires, droughts, and hurricanes. Governments warn that no alternative exists than to take the bitter medicine they prescribe—or risk devastating financial or social collapse. The right, whether religious or secular, views the present as catastrophic and wants to turn the clock back. The left fears for the worst, but hopes some good will emerge from the rubble. Visions of the apocalypse and predictions of impending doom abound. Across the political spectrum, a culture of fear reigns.
Catastrophism explores the politics of apocalypse—on the Left and Right, in the environmental movement, and from capital and the state—and examines why the lens of catastrophe can distort our understanding of the dynamics at the heart of these numerous disasters—and fatally impede our ability to transform the world. Lilley, McNally, Yuen, and Davis probe the reasons why catastrophic thinking is so prevalent, and challenge the belief that it is only out of the ashes that a better society may be born. The authors argue that those who care about social justice and the environment should eschew the Pandora’s box of fear—even as it relates to indisputably apocalyptic climate change. Far from calling people to arms, they suggest, catastrophic fear often results in passivity and paralysis—and, at worst, reactionary politics.
Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance By David McNally Author: David McNally Publisher: PM Press/Spectre Published: December 2010 ISBN: 978-1-60486-332-1 Format: Paperback Page Count: 248 Pages Dimensions: 8 by 5 Subjects: Politics-Marxism, Economics $17.00
Global Slump analyzes the global financial meltdown as the first systemic crisis of the neoliberal stage of capitalism. It argues that—far from ending—the crisis has ushered in a whole period of worldwide economic and political turbulence. In developing an account of the crisis as rooted in fundamental features of capitalism, Global Slump challenges the view that its source lies in financial deregulation.
The book locates the recent meltdown in the intense economic restructuring that marked the recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Through this lens, it highlights the emergence of new patterns of world inequality and new centers of accumulation, particularly in East Asia, and the profound economic instabilities these produced. Global Slump offers an original account of the “financialization” of the world economy during this period, and explores the intricate connections between international financial markets and new forms of debt and dispossession, particularly in the Global South.
Analyzing the massive intervention of the world’s central banks to stave off another Great Depression, Global Slump shows that, while averting a complete meltdown, this intervention also laid the basis for recurring crises for poor and working class people: job losses, increased poverty and inequality, and deep cuts to social programs. The book takes a global view of these processes, exposing the damage inflicted on countries in the Global South, as well as the intensification of racism and attacks on migrant workers. At the same time, Global Slump also traces new patterns of social and political resistance—from housing activism and education struggles, to mass strikes and protests in Martinique, Guadeloupe, France and Puerto Rico—as indicators of the potential for building anti-capitalist opposition to the damage that neoliberal capitalism is inflicting on the lives of millions.
"In this book, McNally confirms—once again—his standing as one of the world's leading Marxist scholars of capitalism. For a scholarly, in depth analysis of our current crisis that never loses sight of its political implications (for them and for us), expressed in a language that leaves no reader behind, there is simply no better place to go." - Bertell Ollman, Professor, Department of Politics, NYU, and author of Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx’s Method
“David McNally's tremendously timely book is packed with significant theoretical and practical insights, and offers actually-existing examples of what is to be done. Global Slump urgently details how changes in the capitalist space-economy over the past twenty-five years, especially in the forms that money takes, have expanded wide-scale vulnerabilities for all kinds of people, and how people fight back. In a word, the problem isn't neo-liberalism—it's capitalism.” - Ruth Wilson Gilmore, University of Southern California and author, Golden Gulag
“Standard accounts of the present crisis blame the excesses of the financial sector, promising that all will be well when the proper financial regulations are in place. McNally’s path breaking account goes far deeper. He documents in great detail how the roots of the crisis are found in the systematic failings of capitalism. At this moment in world history the case for a radical alternative to the capitalist global order needs to be made as forcefully as possible. No one has done this better than McNally.” - Tony Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Iowa State University and author of Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account
On Political Economy and the Rise of Capitalism:
“McNally has developed a powerful interpretation that sheds a mass of new light . . .This is a superb book.” - Robert Brenner, author of The Economics of Global Turbulence
On Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique:
“By exposing the historical and theoretical roots of ‘market socialism,' David McNally demonstrates in a particularly lucid and powerful way the fundamental flaws and contradictions in that concept.” - Ellen Meiksins Wood, author of Empire of Capital
For a calendar of speaking events, please click here
Toronto Book Launch information here Toronto Book Launch Video here
Greek Lessons: Democracy vs. Debt-Bondage It is a truism to say that democracy began with the Greeks—less so to say that it originated in popular rebellion against debt and debt-bondage. Yet, with the Greek people ensnared once more in the vice-grip of rich debt-holders, it may be useful to recall that fact. For the only hope today of reclaiming democracy in Greece (and elsewhere) resides in the prospect of a mass uprising against modern debt-bondage that extends the rule of the people into the economic sphere.
Follow the Money: Behind the European Debt Crisis Lie More Bank Bailouts While I was cursing the inane mainstream commentary on the global economy recently, I was reminded of a pivotal scene in the 1976 movie, All the President’s Men. As two young reporters investigate the burglary of Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel, a disgruntled, high-ranking FBI agent, code-named Deep Throat, advises, “Follow the money. Always follow the money.”
And They Call This a Recovery? This is no more a normal economic recovery than the Great Recession of 2008-9 was an ordinary downturn. Instead, we are in the midst of a much more complex period - one of deep recessions, shallow upturns, high unemployment, government debt crises, renewed recessions . . .
Mubarak's Folly: The Rising of Egypt's Workers Rarely do our rulers look more absurd than when faced with a popular upheaval. As fear and apathy are broken, ordinary people – housewives, students, sanitation workers, the unemployed –remake themselves. Having been objects of history, they become its agents.
"The cultural preoccupation with zombies reveals this ‘catastrophic texture.’ In this way, McNally’s optimistic conclusion provides a fitting culmination of the book: “We need... to uncover the social basis of all that is truly horrifying and catastrophic about our world, as part of a critical theory and practice designed to change it” (p. 127).
The essays in this book each present a sophisticated and nuanced analysis of the politics and discourses of catastrophe. While the message is that the left must not succumb to catastrophic panic and the politics of fear, the authors do not deny that we do indeed live in a catastrophic age. It is not the time, however, for the left to indulge in apocalypticism, to resign itself to the notion that a better society will arise only from the ashes of the current barbarism. This insistence reflects the sober optimism offered by this collection of essays. Accessibly written and rich in analysis, this volume has much to offer any student of contemporary politics."
"Today I’m happy to present another in a series of feature interviews with outstanding Canadian political economists. In this segment my guest is David McNally — noted academic, activist and author. David is professor at York University and active in a number of grassroots organizations and movements in the Toronto area, including the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly. He is the author of numerous books, including his most recent Deutscher-prize winning Monsters of the Market and Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance, published in 2010. I caught up with David to get an update on what has happened to the themes in global political economy he explored in this latter book."
Catastrophism: A Review by David Laibman Science & Society Volume 78, No. 2 April 2014
"Eddie Yuen’s essay, “The politics of Failure Have Failed: The Environ- mental Movement and Catastrophism” (chapter 1) examines the catastrophic side of ecological thinking, citing the avalanche of recent writing on carbon emissions, global warming, tipping points, deforestation, resource wars, tens of millions of climate refugees, etc., all pointing to some sort of collapse of civilization itself, and calling into question the possibility of any political solution, i.e., of a social organization beyond capitalism that might achieve sustainable human development. He argues, persuasively i believe, that “an undifferentiated narrative of environmental doom is disempowering and encourages feelings of helplessness. . . . The fear elicited by catastrophism disables the left but benefits the right and capital” (21, 41–2). a reoriented radical environmental movement, rooted in networks of communities, can- not wait for capitalism to implode, and for this activism to emerge “it is vital that a movement offer something positive to go with the cold porridge of climate catastrophe” (43)..."
"The final chapter takes a look at catastrophism in pop culture. David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, firstly discusses the relationship between capitalism and body panics by linking the rise of early capitalism to body snatching. The commodification of the body and the emergence of a corpse economy created fear among poor and working people, during the 18th century, that their bodies would be lost to medical experiments after their death. This also led to an increase in murders and grave robbing. McNally then discusses the historical origins of monsters, such as Frankenstein, who was constructed from dead body parts of humans and animals, and zombies, the cannibalistic consumer on one hand and the living-dead labourer on the other. McNally argues that the truths about social dynamics embedded in these tales about monsters need to be redeemed and translated into “languages and practices of social and political action."
"Still, even recognising the limited scope of the book (whether intentional or inevitable), it is a valuable and timely contribution to those who are frustrated by the limitations of the left. And, in addition to Lilley’s critique of the left, the book contains interesting essays dealing with the right-wing version of catastrophism and the Malthusian outlook prevalent among environmentalists."
For Jensen, “To think apocalyptically is not to give up on ourselves, but only to give up on the arrogant stories—religious and secular—that we modern humans have been telling about ourselves.” By contrast, Catastrophism’s authors say that such a view amounts to surrender. It’s a politics of despair, rather than ambition. “[It’s] one way,” says James Davis in Catastrophism, “to shift the focus from the essential questions of public policy, democracy, equality, access to education and health, environment, etc. and onto abstractions about civilization, culture, and threats to the prevailing social order that promises instability and worse.” The doomsayers, you might say, will continue to get what they wish for.
Each of the four essays in this evenhanded volume examines a facet of the tendency in the "Global North" (i.e., North America and Europe) to view current events in apocalyptic terms. Yuen (Confronting Capitalism, co-editor) believes that "the ubiquity of apocalypse in recent decades has led to a banalization of the concept"; awareness of climate change, for example, has begotten apathy rather than action, and Yuen proposes a return to grassroots activism to solve this. Lilley (Capital and Its Discontents) traces the leftist history of catastrophism, as manifested in hopes of the demise of capitalism, while documentary filmmaker Davis comes at the concept from the right, exploring Judeo-Christian beliefs about disaster and how end-time ideologies tend "to shift the focus from essential questions of public policy... and onto abstractions." In the final essay, McNally (Global Slump) pegs the recent popularity of zombies as arising from "catastrophic imaginings of everyday corporeal vulnerability." The thread connecting these articles is a desire to strip the rhetoric of catastrophism from all sides so that society can confront and solve real threats, and while the prose veers from jargon to straight talk and back again, each author offers valuable contributions to the discourse.
Catastrophism is a collection of essays analysing the obsession with a doom laden future and arguing that whether the left, the right or environmentalists, many have succumbed to an unremitting pessimism and helplessness. For the contributors, the world appears “saturated with instrumental, spurious and sometimes maniacal versions of catastrophism – including right wing racial paranoia, religious millenarianism, liberal panics over fascism, leftist fetishization of the capitalist collapse”. They have as their essential locus that such a confirmation and acceptance of an apocalyptic future, paralyses and prevents any way of challenging what is popularly assumed to be the inevitable. The response in the book reassert the essential requirements of thinking and undertaking actions which return us to the everyday; “to the idea that revolution grows out of the ordinary prosaic acts of organizing and resistance whose coalescence produces a mass upheaval” and the necessity of those “decidedly mundane activities – strikes and demonstrations meetings speeches leaflets and occupations”.
Admittedly, I was most engaged by the closing article, which explored the modern popularity of zombie outbreaks and similar stories, and how they reflect contemporary views and values on catastrophic thinking. It’s a wonderfully down-to-earth examination that backs up many of the arguments made earlier in the book that might have been lost in highfalutin’ narrative.
At its heart, Catastrophism states that fear-based politics are a dead end. Hopefully, this can be the spark for new discussions, more rational debate, and a collective change in direction for government. With well-directed skepticism and fresh eyes, this book is a decent start.
Catastrophism: A Review by Tom Athanasiou EcoEquity January 31st, 2013
Doug Henwood’s preface sets the stage nicely. He immediately makes a point that all green pessimists should keep always in mind: “Catastrophe can be paralyzing, not mobilizing.” In fact, it usually is. The challenge is to remember this even as you face the real and present catastrophe that’s now visible on the horizon. It’s a dilemma, no doubt about it, but the way forward, whatever it is, is going to have to take both its horns into proper account. The question is how.
Catastrophism is a refreshing book that draws out important lessons from history, Marxism and current environmental movements. Its belief in the actuality of changing the world for the better is sorely needed at times when much of the left has given up hopes of the revolutionary and socialist transformation of the system. It reminds us of Gramsci's famous words, "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will".
Catastrophism: A Review by Ernesto Aguilar MR Zine December 12th, 2012
One of the Left's great challenges is to understand when the great watershed of change is upon people and seize the time. Racism, sexism, inequality, and uncertain futures have weighed heavily on the conscience of many a movement. For every great moment, hundreds of crushing defeats never to be remembered are handed down. Once in a rare moon, stunning defeats like the 1965 Selma to Montgomery demonstrations or the Long March galvanize participants and become iconic -- something history recalls as a moral victory that alters the fates of those involved. But how often does that happen? It's much more seldom than you'd think.
Posited as an intervention of sorts, “Catastrophism” is seemingly aimed to create debate on the Left. And those interests in contemporary Left history are sure to be avid readers. Its premise, that old radical ideas that destitution leads to revolution need reappraisal, deserves closer review. Lilley and company provide much to digest in an excellent book sure to challenge some long-held political contentions.
Taking up broader questions of oppression is vital in any revolutionary movement, but crucially that means tying these issues to the group in society whose collective resistance can most effectively challenge capitalism—and that remains the working class. The strategic issues this poses will be resolved through both shared activity and political debate. The need for revolutionary parties, committed to a revolutionary transformation of society, clear on the historical lessons hard-won in the 20th century and capable of working within wider movements, has not vanished; it is intensified in the current period. “Without a rebirth of mass struggle, it is impossible to get much beyond the sphere of small radical groups, some of whom do good work, others of whom are more intent on squabbling,” writes McNally.
Global Slump: A Review By Sarah Laslett, Labor Studies Journal 37(1) 127–140
David McNally’s book Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance provides an historically grounded and insightful analysis of the economic crash of 2008. The book would be appropriate for use in an undergraduate or graduate- level political economy class. It could also be useful for labor educators preparing popular economics workshops, although it would not be appropriate to assign to audiences without any higher education background.
Global Slump: A Review by Bill Burgess, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Socialist Studies 8 no. 1 (Winter 2012): 239-295
In addition to trying to clarify the nature of the crisis, Global Slump was written to “think through what all this means for movements of resistance, struggles for social justice, and anticapitalist politics” (ix). In his second-last chapter McNally tries to “chart pathways of resistance and anticapitalist transformation” (10) by reviewing recent movements to occupy factories, general strikes in Guadeloupe and Martinique, social uprisings in Bolivia and Oaxaca and mobilizations of immigrants in the US. He emphasizes that the anticapitalist Left must “reclaim democracy—radical, direct democracy in particular—as a core value” (189)...
This is an important book to read, especially for its distinctive explanation of the economic crisis.
Global Slump: A Review by Seth Sandronsky ZMagazine January 2012
McNally focuses closely on the gender and racial oppression built into capitalism. This is a major strength of his book. Further, he surveys popular resistance movements, from China to Mexico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, France and the U.S. The role of the U.S. military in enforcing the economic rule of American capital is sparse. Yet McNally has, concisely, delivered a radical description of a crippled and crippling social system. His prescription for a way of living that puts people first is clear-eyed and empowering for readers.
Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance reviewed in the New Socialist By Charlie Post The New Socialist January 30, 2011
David McNally's Global Slump offers a Marxian analysis of the current crisis that is neither an academic tract or, as he puts it "The Crisis for Dummies" (11). This book is both useful for people familiar with Marxian economics and accessible for those new to theoretical discussions. McNally locates the deep roots of the crisis in the most basic dynamics of capitalism—what he describes as its "manic depressive" tendencies—to better arm the labour and social movements' resistance to the capitalist onslaught in the workplace and our communities.
Capitalism's Global Slump: A Review in The Socialist Worker By Ashley Smith The Socialist Worker March 7, 2011
Canadian socialist David McNally's new book Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance, brilliantly explains the roots and nature of this new epoch of crisis, capitalist austerity and working class resistance.
In an accessible and witty style, he uses Karl Marx's theory of crisis to explain the arc of world capitalism from the long boom after the Second World War to today's slump. He also develops a perspective that can guide the revolutionary socialist left to build forces in the thick of emerging struggles for reform and eventual revolution.