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 as follows:
They are [viewed as] hedonistically “natural” categories of such taxonomic force that their elemental lines of cleavage run through the facts of any given economic situation, regardless of use and wont, even where the situation does not permit these lines of cleavage to be seen by men and recognized by use and wont; so that, e.g., a gang of Aleutian Islanders slushing about in the wrack and surf with rakes and magical incantations for the capture of shell-fish are held, in point of taxonomic reality, to be engaged on a feat of hedonistic equilibration in rent, wages, and interest. And that is all there is to it. Indeed, for economic theory of this kind, that is all there is to any economic situation (The Place of Science in Modern Civilization [New York: Russell and Russell, 1961], p. 193).
Fifty years ago in 1957, the same year that Paul Baran published The Political Economy of Growth (see the exchange in this issue), Samir Amin completed his doctoral dissertation on imperialism, which was to become his classic work Accumulation on a World Scale (1970), translated from the French by Monthly Review Press in 1974. Since then Amin has continued to analyze developments in imperialism as they evolved, making him the greatest living Marxist analyst of imperialism. In this issue we are publishing a very important article by him on “Political Islam in the Service of Imperialism.” An understanding of the complex, often contradictory, development of political Islam and its relation to imperialism is critical for anyone wishing to fathom both the vulnerability of the Middle East to continued U.S. aggression and the likelihood of further explosive developments in the region in response.
In this issue we are introducing in MR for the first time Isador Nabi, who will appear frequently in the magazine over the upcoming year in a special section entitled “The Nabi Papers.” To explain who Nabi is (undoubtedly one of the world’s most mysterious figures who always crops up when science seeks to self-parody itself) Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin in their new book Biology Under the Influence make free with verse from Jonathan Swift writing: “In a jest we spend our rage” (p. 11). Biology Under the Influence, just published by Monthly Review Press (and including one short piece defined by the authors as an “Isador Nabi” selection), is a book that in the words of biologist Steven Rose offers “important insights into how biology—and science in general—could be reconceptualized in the service of human liberation.” It covers topics as varied as the Human Genome Project, complexity theory, and Cuban agriculture. Admirers of their earlier Dialectical Biologist (Harvard University Press, 1985) will find here not only dialectical biology galore, but, more importantly, the application of this method to many of the most pressing issues of science and society in our time. Biology Under the Influence can be ordered online at http://www.monthlyreview.org or by calling 1-800-670-9499.
On November 6, 2007, Richard Levins received the Milton Terris Global Health Award from the Socialist Caucus at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in Washington DC. Congratulations Dick!
On November 2, 2007, John Bellamy Foster gave a keynote address, “World Alienation: The Problem of Capitalism and Ecology,” at the Way to Sustainability III Conference, California State University at Chico. His immediate impressions of the conference in Chico and the national sustainability movement which it exemplified were very favorable. The idealism and activism of the students who did most of the organizing for this conference resembled some of the best activism in the universities in the early 1970s. His impressions are best captured by the phrase “Living the 11th Thesis”—the title of the last chapter of Levins and Leowntin’s Biology Under the Influence. What most participants in the conference seemed to understand was that social relations at every level in U.S. society have to be changed fundamentally for the sake of future generations. An indication of the seriousness with which such issues are now being addressed is that John’s basic message that ecology required socialism and socialism ecology was well-received by the audience.
The Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE), with which MR has had a close association since its birth, is turning forty this coming year. Celebrations are scheduled to take place at the meetings of the American Social Science Association (ASSA, of which both the American Economic Association and URPE are a part) on January 3, 2008, in New Orleans. Speakers will include MR and MR Press authors Lourdes Beneria, Arthur MacEwan, and Howard Wachtel, among others. Congratulations URPE!
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