The New Yorker dated October 20-27 carries, along with a generous menu of futurology, a sensational article on the past and present. It is entitled “The Return of Karl Marx,” by John Cassidy, who is self-identified as an Oxford-educated friend of “a highly intelligent and levelheaded Englishman whose career has taken him…to a big Wall Street investment bank.” Visiting with his friend at the latter’s Long Island summer home during the early summer, the two discussed the economy and speculated on how long the current financial boom would last
Balloons transformed Harvard Yard on May 17, 1988, the day the “servants of the university,” as workers were originally called, voted on whether to join the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), an affiliate of AFSCME. “Ballooning” lightened the tension, but Kristine Rondeau, lead union organizer, had a grim warning for her staff: “You did a wonderful job. But we don’t have it … It’s very likely we didn’t win.”1 In fact, by a slim margin, they did have it. One of the most influential universities in the world had been outsmarted by some of its unknown employees, mostly women
By the early 1980s the more perceptive sectors of the neoliberal ruling classes realized that their policies were polarizing the society and provoking large-scale social discontent. Neoliberal politicians began to finance and promote a parallel strategy “from below,” the promotion of “grassroots” organization with an “anti-statist” ideology to intervene among potentially conflictory classes, to create a “social cushion.” These organizations were financially dependent on neoliberal sources and were directly involved in competing with socio-political movements for the allegiance of local leaders and activist communities. By the 1990s these organizations, described as “nongovernmental,” numbered in the thousands and were receiving close to four billion dollars world-wide
Ecology, a.k.a. environmental studies, is a relatively new area of scientific interest, mostly a product of the second half of the twentieth century and rapidly growing as the century draws to a close. It combines in one way or another most of the physical and social sciences, defies any attempt to force it into a neat definition of its own, and increasingly raises and attempts to cope with daunting problems such as the future of the human species and other forms of life on earth. No wonder it is an area not only of scientific interest, but also of excitement, confusion, brilliant insights, and stubborn adherence to self-serving dogmas.
Just before I left Paris I got a book from Michael Löwy with a new preface and a quotation I want to share with you. It said "Marx is definitely dead for humankind." Come on Daniel, you will object, did you have to travel all the way to give us that tripe we can get here for a penny a dozen! But it’s not your tripe. It comes from Italy. It is by Benedetto Croce from 1907 and it’s exactly ninety years old. I have quoted it to remind you that grave-diggers of Marx—the new philosophers, the Fukuyamas—have plenty of ancestors and will have plenty of successors and it’s not worth while spending much time refuting their paid or unpaid funeral orations. The one point I want to mention is the coincidence between the recent revival of such requiems and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Not only do we reject [so-called “weak” and “strong” versions of “globalization”], we reject the arguments used to support them, namely, that globalization has little basis in economic fact, is no more advanced than it was during the pre-1914 years, and has no significant political consequences. Our version, both “strong” and “nuanced,” would be that since the early 1970s changes in technology and politics have greatly increased the ability of capital to do what it has always wanted to do—turn the world into one “free market” for finance, production, and wage labor. Ideologically strengthened by the collapse of communism, corporate capital has used its initiatory power in the realms of investment, employment, pricing, industrial location, and selective implementation of new technologies to leapfrog ahead of the ability of progressive forces to mobilize and fight back—which takes time, organization, and, if history teaches us anything, decades of struggle. This is not exactly the first time workers, and the entire left, have faced this situation; nor is it the first time that capital has been able to use the nation-state to accomplish its ends easier and faster, this time in significant measure through the creation of supranational institutions promoting the needs of transnational finance and production (NAFTA, EU, WTO, MAI, and multilateral trade agreements, including the latest “Uruguay Round”)
In the June 1997 issue of MR, I wrote an essay, “Globalization is an Issue, the Power of Capital is the Issue.” Richard Du Boff and Edward Herman, two economists whose work I respect and whose books I have used in my classes, now polemicize against “Tabb’s unwillingness to acknowledge that globalization…has anything to do with the victories of capital over labor….” I wrote no such thing, as readers can verify for themselves by going back to that June issue. Such a view (which I do not hold) is indeed unreasonable and wrongheaded. They in fact attribute a number views to me which I do not hold. They propose “alternatives” and I agree with a number of these
I’m taking the liberty of appending this note because, though Du Boff and Herman’s article is directed mainly at Bill Tabb, it refers to some of the things I’ve written about globalization.…Recently, I got a letter from Bill Doyle, who wrote, “After reading Ed Herman’s comments in Z (magazine), I re-read your article and couldn’t see why Ed was so exercised. I’d be interested to know if you see a substantial difference between the two of you, and, if so, what it is.” Here, with some minor changes and additions, is what I wrote back.
We are writing at the end of August. The two main events of the summer have been (1) the apparent ending of the long stock-market boom of the last few years, and (2) the successful strike of the teamsters against UPS. Neither can be said to have been anticipated and together they point to the emergence of new trends in the period ahead.
Global neoliberalism parades victoriously through our era, monopolizing its discourse and ideology. To confront the inherent perversity of the capitalist system’s universal domination we need, more than ever, alternative modes of thinking and acting that are universal, global, planetary. We need ideas and models that, in a thoroughly radical fashion, confront the worship of the market and of money which has become the dominant credo of the moment. As is the case with very few other leftist leaders of the twentieth century, the legacy of Ernesto Che’ Guevara—universal spirit, internationalist and consistent revolutionary—continues to mount such a challenge.
In its most recent issue (July 17th) Doug Henwood’s excellent Left Business Observer, now in its seventh year of publication, highlights what may come to be seen as an important turning point in current economic history. The gist of it is that Alan Greenspan and his supporters at the Federal Reserve have come to the conclusion that inflation is no longer a serious problem and the real threat today is deflation. “For all the bad press that inflation gets, deflation is generally far worse for all but the richest and best-positioned.…Greenspan and Co. might not fear an exact replay of the 1929-32 collapse, but clearly that’s the ‘it’ that central bankers don’t want ever to happen again” (to paraphrase the title of Hyman Minsky’s classic book Can ‘It’ Happen Again?).
Much has been written about “globalization” in the last few years. It is not my intention to add to this literature but only to put the topic into the context of my own understanding of the history of capitalism.…Globalization is not a condition or a phenomenon: it is a process that has been going on for a long time, in fact ever since capitalism came into the world as a viable form of society four or five centuries ago; (dating the birth of capitalism is an interesting problem but not relevant for present purposes). What is relevant and important, is to understand that capitalism is in its innermost essence an expanding system both internally and externally. Once rooted, it both grows and spreads. The classic analysis of this double movement is of course Marx’s Capital.
The conscious crafting of an honest history by a state commission is a rare enough event to justify our calling your attention to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But this writing of history is incomplete, in the same degree as the process of change in South Africa. Certain brute facts are ignored and avoided, and this avoidance was the condition of the bargain accepted by the ANC. As per South Africa’s Freedom Charter, now it can in some meaningful sense be said that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” But what belongs to whom is the question left unaddressed as the very condition of the transition negotiations, transferring its tension into all aspects of that transition, not least any permitted debate over present remedies for a history of injustice.
As of early summer the economic outlook for the rest of 1997, as portrayed in the major media, could hardly be brighter. “Strong growth with little unemployment and low inflation doesn’t have to peter out….Could it possibly get any better than this?” exults Business Week (January).…Up to a point this is clearly a case of déjà vu all over again. A “new era” was widely and enthusiastically proclaimed by professors, pundits, and plain people as the stock market boom of the 1920s neared its peak. A few months later the market collapsed, and the greatest depression in U.S. history began. The big question now is whether the rest of the scenario of the 1920s and the 1930s is likely to repeat itself. The answer of the media and Wall Street and probably of plenty of plain people too is a resounding NO.
After a long period of sustained attack by governments of various stripes, a steady deterioration of working and living standards, and declines in membership and militancy, there are encouraging signs that organized labor is moving again. This may come as a surprise to many, not least on the left, who have long since written off the labor movement as an oppositional force; and it may begin to challenge some of the most widespread assumptions about the nature and direction of contemporary capitalism, assumptions often shared by activists and intellectuals on the left as well as the right.…Although it is, of course, too early to make big claims about this trend, it does seem to be a good moment to take a close look not only at these new signs of activism but also at the nature of labor today and at the environment in which the labor movement now has to navigate.