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The Great Inequality

Growing inequality of income and wealth have characterized the U.S. economy for at least the past thirty years. Today, this inequality has become a central feature of politics, both mainstream and within such radical uprisings as the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. This essay attempts to uncover the roots of inequality, showing that the source of it is in the nature of the capitalist economy. The magnitude of inequality ebbs and flows with the balance of class forces, but great inequality is built into the system’s fundamental structures.… | more |

Structural Crisis Needs Structural Change

When stressing the need for a radical structural change it must be made clear right from the beginning that this is not a call for an unrealizable utopia. On the contrary, the primary defining characteristic of modern utopian theories was precisely the projection that their intended improvement in the conditions of the workers’ life could be achieved well within the existing structural framework of the criticized societies…. As we also know, the high-sounding “utilitarian” moral principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” came to nothing since its Benthamite advocacy. The problem for us is that without a proper assessment of the nature of the economic and social crisis of our time—which by now cannot be denied by the defenders of the capitalist order even if they reject the need for a major change—the likelihood of success in this respect is negligible.… | more |

Recessions and Human Misery

Dating the Cycle

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) decides the peak and trough dates of the business cycle. Most economists, including the government economists, accept their dates as the bible of research. Their dates do accomplish what they set out to do: they reflect the highest and lowest levels of business activity. This was the definition set by the founder of the NBER and it is very useful for many purposes. Certainly, there is a major gain if all economists use the same dates. Nevertheless, it is useful to ask a different question and use different dates for some purposes. Suppose we do not want to know the peaks and troughs of business activity, but instead we ask: How much human misery is caused by the cycle? There are many ways to answer that question, but the easiest is just to examine the duration of recessions in terms of human misery.… | more |

Welcome to the Desert of Transition!

Post-Socialism, the European Union, and a New Left in the Balkans

The world’s attention has been on the political transformations in the Middle East, the wave of protests from Tel Aviv to Madrid to Wall Street, and the ongoing Greek crisis. But in the shadow of this unrest, the post-socialist Balkans have been boiling. Protests displaying for the most part social demands broke out throughout 2011 in Romania, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and, most notably, Croatia. Post-socialist citizens today feel largely excluded from the decision-making process. Most elections have turned out to be little more than a reshuffling of the same political oligarchy with no serious differences in political programs or rhetoric. During the privatization campaigns many lost their jobs, or had labor conditions worsen and pensions evaporate, and most of the guaranteed social benefits (such as free education and health care) have progressively disappeared as well. Neoliberal reforms were portrayed as a necessary part of the EU integration process.… | more |

Reviving the Strike in the Shadow of PATCO

In the summer of 2011, labor unrest on both coasts provided a sharp rebuttal to the widely held view that the strike is dead (and buried) in the United States. Even as veterans of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) gathered in Florida to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their historic defeat, a new generation of strikers was taking on big private-sector employers like Verizon and Kaiser Permanente. Last August, 45,000 Verizon workers walked out from Maine to Virginia in a high-profile struggle against contract concessions. One month later, they were joined by 20,000 nurses and other union members similarly opposed to pension and health care givebacks at Kaiser Permanente in California. Both of these struggles came right on the heels of last year’s biggest upsurge, the massive series of public employee demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin that included strike activity by local high school teachers.… Like the walkouts of 2011, [the three books under review] remind us what striking looks like, whether it fails or succeeds in a single union bargaining unit, or becomes part of a broader protest movement.… | more |

A Most Reliable Ally

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Unions

Martin Luther King, Jr., edited with introductions by Michael K. Honey, All Labor Has Dignity (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 240 pages, $17.00, paperback.

Many Americans who have failed to look deeply into the career of Martin Luther King, Jr. hold false assumptions about him. One is that he was a moderate solely focused on achieving civil rights for American Negroes (his terminology), and that he had a dream about a country where, as he said in August 1963, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Another is that he held to this vision of working within the system and building interracial harmony—“let us not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred”—until the spring of 1967, when for some inexplicable reason the train flew off the tracks. In his (in)famous Riverside Church speech on April 4, 1967, King came out forcefully against the war in Vietnam, defended the National Liberation Front as a voice for people seeking independence from forces like the United States (whose leaders he accused of saying one thing and doing another), and called for a “radical revolution in values” that put poverty and people ahead of “things.” By the time the sanitation workers struck in Memphis one year later, King seemed to have gotten back on track with a more or less traditional labor support role, albeit a critical one, as the spiritual motivator of the strikers.… | more |

February 2012, Volume 63, Number 9

February 2012, Volume 63, Number 9

» Notes from the Editors

This issue of Monthly Review focuses particularly on China. Aside from the Review of the Month by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, which addresses the Chinese economy and its relation to the current phase of the capitalist world economy, we are publishing two separate contributions by Chinese scholars, one by Wen Tiejun, et. al., on the new rural reconstruction movement in China, and one by Zhihe Wang on the development of ecological Marxism in China. Our own thesis is that the era of rapid growth in China is leading to a period of deepening contradiction. The present accelerated growth is based on the intensive exploitation of migrant labor and the capitalization of newly urban land. For various reasons this model is reaching its outer limits, economically, socially, and ecologically. This suggests that China is on the wrong road, and must change directions.… | more |

The Global Stagnation and China

Five years after the Great Financial Crisis of 2007–09 began there is still no sign of a full recovery of the world economy. Consequently, concern has increasingly shifted from financial crisis and recession to slow growth or stagnation, causing some to dub the current era the Great Stagnation. Stagnation and financial crisis are now seen as feeding into one another.… To be sure, a few emerging economies have seemingly bucked the general trend, continuing to grow rapidly—most notably China, now the world’s second largest economy after the United States. Yet, as [IMF Managing Director Christine] Lagarde warned her Chinese listeners, “Asia is not immune” to the general economic slowdown, “emerging Asia is also vulnerable to developments in the financial sector.” So sharp were the IMF’s warnings, dovetailing with widespread fears of a sharp Chinese economic slowdown, that Lagarde in late November was forced to reassure world business, declaring that stagnation was probably not imminent in China (the Bloomberg.com headline ran: “IMF Sees Chinese Economy Avoiding Stagnation.”)… | more |

Ecological Civilization, Indigenous Culture, and Rural Reconstruction in China

The governments of almost all developing countries are facing the long-term twin problems of capital shortages and high fiscal debts, resulting from their attempts to modernize the state forms and economic and financial relations left by colonialism or copied from western political culture. Whether they claimed to be of the left or the right ideologically, they almost invariably undertook policies to attract foreign investment and encourage domestic private investors to join the global industrialization competition during the twentieth century…. Continental China, the biggest developing country, with the largest population (but also with significant natural resource constraints) has close to 20 percent of the world’s population, but only 9 percent of its arable land and a mere 6 percent of its fresh water. Over the centuries, China had its share of drought- or flood-induced famines. But if not for a 6,000-year history of irrigated agriculture, with its related “village rationality” based on traditional indigenous knowledge—which internalizes risks by its multifunctional rural cultures of sustainable self-reliance—China would have been a land of perpetual hunger.… | more |

Ecological Marxism in China

Chinese interest in ecological Marxism has grown increasingly in the past twenty years. Amazingly, it has even become, to some extent, an important part of contemporary Marxism in China. But why has it been so well received? This paper will offer some reasons for this and also point out the challenges now facing ecological Marxism in China.… | more |

The Wisconsin Uprising

The essays in Wisconsin Uprising are outstanding. The accounts of the events in Madison in the winter and early spring of 2011 are the best I have seen in writing, with context, detail, and analysis I have seen nowhere else. Better yet, the connections of the Wisconsin revolt to the existential questions facing the labor movement are handled with a clarity, intelligence, perspective, and urgency that is exactly appropriate to the task. This book is a fundamental historical document in its own right and will stand the test of time. The authors include some of the most accomplished writers on the left, as well as a number of emerging young writers.… | more |

Marx and Engels and “Small Is Beautiful” & A Response

I am a regular reader of Monthly Review. I read with interest the recent articles on ecology and Marxism…. It is true that Marx and Engels conceived that capitalism engenders a “metabolic rift” in nature and society. But both of them emphasized that the industrial growth that socialism would produce is beyond imagination under capitalism…. In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was impossible for Marx and Engels to envisage the ecological catastrophe that a constantly expanding industrial society can ensue.… | more |

First, They Came for the Sex Offenders

Roger N. Lancaster, Sex Panic and the Punitive State (University of California Press, 2011), 328 pages, $24.95, paperback.… | more |

January 2012, Volume 63, Number 8

January 2012, Volume 63, Number 8

» Notes from the Editors

In a little more than two months at this writing (December 3, 2011) the Occupy Wall Street movement has ushered in a new dialectic of world revolt. Occupy movements now exist in more than 2,600 cities across the globe. The response of the system has been increased repression. Yet, everywhere the movement has come up with new means of revolt. Had we tried in early October to predict how things would be at the start of November we would never have succeeded. Likewise we cannot predict now at the start of December how things will look even at the start of January. And it is precisely this quality of emergence, i.e. of not being predictable from the current state of affairs, which suggests that we are at a turning point. This global rip in the cloth of imperial capital’s supposed inevitability is irreversible; that we are fully ready to predict. Looking back it will be clear that as of late 2011, we are much closer to the start of a great global revolt against the plutocracy, the “one percent,” than to its end.… | more |

Women, Labor, and Capital Accumulation in Asia

One of the enduring myths about capitalism that continues to be perpetuated in mainstream economic textbooks and other pedagogic strategies is that labor supply is somehow exogenous to the economic system. The supply of labor is typically assumed, especially in standard growth theories, to be determined by the rate of population growth, which in turn is also seen as “outside” the economic system rather than in interplay with it. The reality is, of course, very different: the supply of labor has been very much a result of economic processes, not something extraneous to it. Throughout its history, capitalism has proved adept at causing patterns of labor supply to change in accordance with demand…. But nowhere has this particular capacity of capitalism to generate its own labor been more evident than in the case of female labor.… | more |

Food as a Commodity

Food is one of the most basic of human needs. Routine access to a balanced diet is essential for both growth and development of the young, as well as for general health throughout one’s life. Although food is mostly plentiful, malnutrition is still common. The contradiction between plentiful global food supplies and widespread malnutrition and hunger arises primarily from food being considered a commodity, just like any other.… | more |

The Paradox of Cuban Agriculture

When Cuba faced the shock of lost trade relations with the Soviet Bloc in the early 1990s, food production initially collapsed due to the loss of imported fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, parts, and petroleum. The situation was so bad that Cuba posted the worst growth in per capita food production in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. But the island rapidly re-oriented its agriculture to depend less on imported synthetic chemical inputs, and became a world-class case of ecological agriculture. This was such a successful turnaround that Cuba rebounded to show the best food production performance in Latin America and the Caribbean over the following period, a remarkable annual growth rate of 4.2 percent per capita from 1996 through 2005, a period in which the regional average was 0 percent.… | more |

Do the United States and Mexico Really Want the Drug War To Succeed?

Until late in the twentieth century heroin and cocaine addiction in Mexico was not considered a major problem…. [But today] both the governments of Mexico and the United States have demonstrated a need to justify military actions and to portray the “War on Drugs” as a battle between good and evil with no gray areas in between. To make the rhetoric effective it has been necessary to villainize the perpetrators of the “evil” and to ignore the dominant reasons that the evil exists: unabated drug consumption in the United States…. As long as the assassinations, beheadings, cateos, and the majority of the corruption of government official remain south of the border the United States can maintain its pro-military stance, send money and arms to Mexico’s conservative government, and focus on more demanding issues. Mexico, in contrast, rejecting any form of legalization, remains bound to its U.S.-appeasing commitment to continue a bloody confrontation that seems to have no end.… | more |

The Center Will Not Hold

The Rise and Decline of Liberalism

Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 396 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Revenge of the Surplus

Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (London: Pluto Press, 2011), 240 pages, $30.00, paperback.
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