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December 2007, Volume 59, Number 7

December 2007, Volume 59, Number 7

» Notes from the Editors

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thorstein Veblen, the greatest critic of U.S. capitalism in the early twentieth century and one of the foremost social theorists of all times. Veblen was the subject of a special issue of Monthly Review fifty years ago last July in celebration of the centennial of his birth. He remains important today from our perspective for at least three reasons: (1) he was the first to develop a theory of monopoly capitalism, including a recognition not only of the implications of the rise of a big-business dominated economy, but also the new role assumed in this era by finance, advertising, the penetration of the sales effort into the production process, excess productive capacity, etc.; (2) Veblen provided a strong critique of the ecological destruction of U.S. capitalism (particularly the devastation of forests); and (3) Veblen’s unbridled wit and sardonic language coupled with his keen analysis cut to the heart of capitalist ideology. Thus, for instance, he wrote of the ahistorical character given by orthodox economics to such categories as capital and wage labor… | more |

Political Islam in the Service of Imperialism

All the currents that claim adherence to political Islam proclaim the “specificity of Islam.” According to them, Islam knows nothing of the separation between politics and religion, something supposedly distinctive of Christianity. It would accomplish nothing to remind them, as I have done, that their remarks reproduce, almost word for word, what European reactionaries at the beginning of the nineteenth century (such as Bonald and de Maistre) said to condemn the rupture that the Enlightenment and the French Revolution had produced in the history of the Christian West… | more |

Abu Ghraib and Insaniyat

The issues that I will cover in this article and the cases I would like to describe make for uncomfortable reading. But I believe that it is important to record the torture at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq and to deconstruct the culture that accommodated and legitimated it, because what happened cannot be relegated to a mere footnote in the history of the region. I feel the same about Halabja and the chemical warfare employed by Saddam Hussein with the sponsorship of the “international community,” which is why I covered it in my other writings.1 I do not want to be misunderstood as arguing that the cultural context I will explain here is all-encompassing, that the U.S. presence in international society is singularly destructive, and that the “West” as an idea is nothing but “intoxicating.”2 What I say is much more confined. I am arguing that Abu Ghraib could not have happened without a particular racist current in the United States, that the individuals who committed the atrocities against the detainees were not isolated, and that they were part of a larger constellation with its own signifying ideational attitudes toward Muslims and Arabs. Those are the general claims that I would like to qualify in the following paragraphs… | more |

Self-Sourcing: How Corporations Get Us to Work Without Pay!

The expansion of the capitalist world economy, which accelerated after the fall of the socialist bloc, has produced everywhere drastic changes in the division of labor, occupational structure, and the quality and quantity of labor that is in demand. In the United States, public awareness about the causes of job losses (downsizing, capital flight, offshoring, and outsourcing) has vastly increased since it became widely known that these processes caused the loss not only of blue-collar but also of “middle-class” and “upper-middle-class” jobs; i.e., jobs requiring some degree of education and technical competence… | more |

On the History of Imperialism Theory

In his illuminating survey, “The Imperialist World System: Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth After Fifty Years” (Monthly Review, May 2007), John Bellamy Foster remarks that “The concept of the imperialist world system in today’s predominant sense of the extreme economic exploitation of periphery by center, creating a widening gap between rich and poor countries….had its genesis in the 1950s, especially with the publication fifty years ago of Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth.” While acknowledging that traces of such a concept could be found in Marx and Lenin, he feels that “The classical Marxist approach to the worldwide spread of capitalist relations has often been characterized as a crude theory of linear stages of development” whereby the less developed countries would necessarily traverse the same path as the more developed ones. Among the adherents to this view Foster includes Marxists in the Second and Third Internationals… | more |

Rediscovering the History of Imperialism: A Reply

The Research Unit for Political Economy’s (RUPE’s) brief historical account here of the origins of the Marxist theory of imperialism constitutes a crucial corrective to common errors regarding that history. In my article, “The Imperialist World System: Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth After Fifty Years” (Monthly Review, May 2007), I began by pointing out that Baran’s book was an outgrowth of classical Marxist thought—the ideas of Marx, Lenin, and Luxemburg. At the same time it represented a sharp departure from the rigid orthodoxy of linear development that had come to characterize so much of socialist (as well as bourgeois) thought—often presented in terms of Horace’s phrase, quoted by Marx, “the tale is told of you.” Baran’s treatment of the imperialist world system was a startling contribution at the time that his book appeared, challenging the conventional assumptions of both the right and an increasingly calcified left… | more |

The Nabi Papers

Isador Nabi is widely believed to have emerged from the swamps of southern Vermont some time in the 1970s. The first written record of him was a short-lived biography in American Men of Science. Then he seems to have dissolved. But it is said that he is a sort of academic Golem and that whenever greed, obscurantism, careerism, reductionism, and opportunism afflict science, that is, most of the time, he condenses again out of hypothetico-deductive dust in some obscure vault in that library where they bury unread dissertations, and he lurks in and around academia spending his rage in jest. An unsuccessful obituary appeared in Nature in 1981. Since then he has been nominated (by himself) eleven times for the Grammy and his works have been retranslated into English from 116 foreign languages that didn’t want them. … | more |

A Guaranteed Annual Income Will Not Work

In “The Imperative of an International Guaranteed Income” (Monthly Review, April 2007) Stephen Fortunato Jr. presents a pretty good outline of guaranteed annual income (GAI) issues and how they might apply on an international scale. As a Marxist, I take the view that a GAI won’t work… | more |

Reply to Collier

Ken Collier raises concerns about increased rent, transportation costs, etc., that surely must be addressed theoretically and pragmatically in any push for a guaranteed annual income. Political realities, however, do not mean that socialists should take the GAI off the table or abandon living-wage campaigns or any other struggle for social justice… | more |

Reclaim the Neighborhood, Change the World

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 448 pages, hardcover $27.95.

In 1988, the National Urban League reported, “More blacks have lost jobs through industrial decline than through job discrimination.” For a civil rights organization, this was a remarkable observation. Born in the era of Jim Crow racism, the Urban League championed the aspirations for upward mobility among urban African Americans. When banks refused to lend money to black entrepreneurs or when municipalities failed to service the black community, the Urban League intervened. One of the demands of the Urban League was for public goods to be shared across racial lines. While the organization was not on the frontlines of the civil rights struggle, it would have been a major beneficiary of the movement’s gains. But the tragedy of the civil rights struggle was that its victory came too late, at least thirty years late. Just when the state agreed to remove the discriminatory barriers that restricted nonwhites’ access to public goods, the state form changed. Privatization and an assault on the state’s provision of social welfare meant that it was not capable of providing public goods to the newly enfranchised citizens. At the same time as the state retreated from its social welfare obligations, the industrial sector in the U.S. crumbled in the face of globalization. Industrial jobs, once the backbone of the segregated black communities, vanished… | more |

November 2007, Volume 59, Number 6

November 2007, Volume 59, Number 6

» Notes from the Editors

Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan’s new book The Age of Turbulence (Penguin 2007)set off a firestorm in mid-September with its dramatic statement on the Iraq War: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: that the Iraq war is largely about oil” (p. 463). The fact that someone of Greenspan’s stature in the establishment—one of the figures at the very apex of monopoly-finance capital—should issue such a twenty word statement, going against the official truths on the war, and openly voicing what “everyone knows,” was remarkable enough. Yet, his actual argument was far more significant, and since this has been almost completely ignored it deserves extended treatment here. … | more |

More Unequal: Aspects of Class in the United States

The glaring increase in economic inequality evident in the United States over the past thirty years has finally made it into the pages of the major media. In the past three years, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have each published a series of articles on the subject of class. The growing economic divide has also caught the attention of a few prominent economists, like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Even Treasury secretary Henry Paulson has admitted that inequality is on the rise… | more |

Gender and Mathematical Ability: The Toll of Biological Determinism

The glaring increase in economic inequality evident in the United States over the past thirty years has finally made it into the pages of the major media. In the past three years, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have each published a series of articles on the subject of class. The growing economic divide has also caught the attention of a few prominent economists, like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Even Treasury secretary Henry Paulson has admitted that inequality is on the rise… | more |

The Death and Life of Che

By the time Ernesto Che Guevara (1928–67) was executed on October 8, 1967, in La Higuera, Bolivia by soldiers under the direction of an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, he had become a kind of ideological “fetish” for his Washington adversaries. For them Guevara was not simply some “terrorist” or “insurgent”—words used to describe him and his Cuban revolutionary comrades then, just as they are used to describe those who resist Western imperial designs today. He was something new in the context of the post-Second World War Cold War. The United States and its clients claimed they were engaged in a struggle to staunch “Soviet aggression” Moscow saw itself as engaged in a contest of competing systems: capitalism versus socialism. But from the outset of his political life, Che’s perspective was burnished in and energized by the immiseration and oppression he confronted in the “Third World.” … | more |

Magic Death for a Magic Life

I believe in the armed struggle as the only solution for peoples who fight to free themselves, and I am consistent with my beliefs. Many will call me an adventurer, and that I am; but of a different kind—of those who risk their skins to test their truths. It may be that this will be the end. I don’t seek it, but it is within the logical calculus of probabilities. If it should be so, I send you a last embrace. I have loved you much, but I have not known how to express my affection; I am extremely rigid in my actions, and I think that sometimes you did not understand me. Besides, it wasn’t easy to understand me, but just believe me today. Now, a will that I have polished with an artist’s loving care will sustain weak legs and tired lungs. I will do it….Give a thought once in awhile to this little soldier of fortune of the 20th century

Workplace Democracy and Collective Consciousness: An Empirical Study of Venezuelan Cooperatives

Liberal ideology insists that a society in which conscious solidarity is the dominating attitude/approach is impossible, because humans are primarily and perpetually motivated by individual material incentives. But the revolutionary process that Venezuela embarked upon in 1999, known as the “Bolivarian Revolution,” is challenging the core liberal tenet that narrow self-interest is the immutable human condition… | more |

From Borderline to Borderland: The Changing European Border Regime

All along the European border, the year 2006 set new records: Spanish authorities reported 6,000 refugees dead, drowned in the Atlantic Ocean while trying to reach the Canary Islands, off West Africa.1 Hundreds more suffocated in containers, trucks, and cargo boats in the ports of London, Dublin, and Rotterdam, or froze to death in Eastern Europe. Others, locked up in one of the innumerable internment camps spread all over the heart of Europe and North Africa, desperately decided to end their own lives.2 At the same time, Europe reported the lowest rate in years of refugees officially seeking asylum. This list obviously doesn’t point to a more peaceful world. What it indicates instead is that in Europe the criteria and procedures for securing legal refugee status have become so restrictive that most migrants no longer bother to apply for it. In 2006, Germany for example counted only 20,000 petitions for political asylum, the lowest number since 1977. If we include the member states of the European Union (EU), that number rises to 200,000.3 However, the real story of the border regime, and its constriction of the category for legal entrance and residence, is in the rising body count… | more |

A New Stage in Capitalism’s War on the Planet

The introduction to this book, the last part to be completed, was sent to the printer in New York City only days before the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and was first published in October 2001 in Monthly Review. Since then the world has witnessed a continuing war by the United States for control of the oil-rich Middle East and an acceleration of the global ecological crisis—symbolized above all by global warming. The opening years of the twenty-first century can therefore be viewed as marking a new stage in the war of capitalism on the planet… | more |

Nepal’s Geography of Underdevelopment

Baburam Bhattarai, The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis (Delhi: Adroit Publishers, 2003), xx, 540 pages, hardcover, Rs 600 ($14).

Emerging from a middle-peasant family background in Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai excelled at school and then, with a Colombo Plan scholarship in hand, studied architecture and planning in India. By the early to middle 1980s, the theoretical structure of spatial and regional planning studies had changed—in a Marxist direction. Bhattarai wrote his doctoral dissertation at one of the centers of political-theoretical ferment—the Centre for Study of Regional Development, at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi—finishing in 1986. While he was a student, Bhattarai was president of the All India Nepalese Students Association on its founding in 1977. He joined the illegal Communist Party of Nepal (Masal) in the early 1980s. Returning to his native Nepal in 1986, he was the spokesperson of the United National People’s Movement during the 1990 uprising, and from 1991 the Coordinator of the United People’s Front Nepal, the legal front of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre), which in turn gave birth in 1995 to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN[M]). Bhattarai served prominently in the Peoples’ War 1996–2006, and is now de facto second in command of the CPN(M). As of the date of writing preparatory negotiations for Constituent Assembly elections are still taking place, with the fate of the monarchy and the future direction of Nepalese society to be decided in the continuing struggle… | more |

October 2007, Volume 59, Number 5

October 2007, Volume 59, Number 5

» Notes from the Editors

It is almost unheard of for a whole issue of MR (other than occasionally one of our special July-August issues) to be devoted to a single contribution. The typical MR issue consists of a lot of short articles. We have no intention of changing that. Nevertheless, we are making a rare exception in the case of Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s “The Dismantling of Yugoslavia,” which we regard as the definitive critique at this stage both of the U.S./NATO role in the exploitation and exacerbation of the Yugoslavian tragedy and of the “Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse” that made this possible. So effective has been the media propaganda system at presenting the imperialist wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s as “humanitarian interventions” that this not only bolstered support for the invasions and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq (in defiance of international law), but is now being offered as a justification for further possible “humanitarian interventions” elsewhere, such as Iran, the Sudan (Darfur), Nigeria, and even Venezuela… | more |