Back in 1972, when one of us was living in Toronto, the Canadian national hockey team played a series of much publicized games against the Soviet Union. Horror of horrors, the Soviet team started winning. The defeat of Canada’s favorites at its own national sport, and, worst of all, at the hands of Communists, was an occasion for some deep national soul-searching in the mainstream press. There were some astonishing editorials, which came very close to questioning the fundamental values of capitalism if it could so weaken the moral fiber of Canadians as to lead them to defeat by the Communist adversary at their very own game
Since it was first published 200 years ago in 1798, no other single work has constituted such a bastion of bourgeois thought as Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population. No other work was more hated by the English working class, nor so strongly criticized by Marx and Engels. Although the Malthusian principle of population in its classical form was largely vanquished intellectually by the mid-nineteenth century, it continued to reemerge in new forms. In the late nineteenth century it took on new life as a result of the Darwinian revolution and the rise of social Darwinism. And in the late twentieth century Malthusianism reemerged once again in the form of neo-Malthusian ecology.
There’s been a lot of discussion in MR about the implications of “globalization.” We don’t intend to repeat the arguments here, but we recently received a communication that brings into focus one major aspect of this much debated issue: what it means for workers to “think globally, act locally.”
The relationship between gender and class, central to understanding the history of the labor movement, raises important issues for Marxist analysis in general. Grappling with the complexities of this relationship forces us to confront a wide range of theoretical and practical questions. What is the connection between “material conditions” and “identity”? What role do culture, discourses, sexuality, and emotions play in shaping people’s responses to their material conditions? How are the varieties of consciousness of class related to other identities and affiliations? These questions challenge us theoretically and politically, as we seek to develop a working-class politics that incorporates struggles against all forms of oppression
The Communist Manifesto is the best known of all writings by Marx and Engels. Indeed, with the sole exception of the Bible, no other book has been translated so often or republished so many times. But what does it have in common with the Bible? Not very much, except for the denunciation of social injustice in some of the prophetic books. Like Amos or Isaiah, Marx and Engels spoke out against the vileness of the rich and powerful and raised their voices in solidarity with the poor and humble. Like Daniel, they read the writing on the walls of the New Babylon: Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin: thy days are numbered. But unlike the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, they put none of their hopes upon any god, any messiah, any supreme savior: the liberation of the oppressed is to be the work of the oppressed themselves
Even at the height of Hollywood’s political consciousness, which ended in the notorious Cold War repression of the Hollywood Ten and many others in the industry, American movies usually rendered their politics in code. But there’s nothing coded or coy about Bulworth. Whether you like the movie or not, whether you like its humor or not, its politics is definitely in your face. And, as far as it goes, that politics is much more left than anything we’ve seen in the U.S. for a very long time
Ask anyone what single event has most decisively shaped the culture of the left in the late 20th century, and they are almost certain to tell you that it was the “collapse of Communism.” Yet look at any of the dominant intellectual currents on the left today and you will find that, even while they invoke that historic Götterämmerung, they situate the great cultural and political rupture of our era somewhere else, and earlier
There are two central developments that define our era. One of these is the historic failure of the socialist project of the mass working-class parties, both Communist and Social Democratic. The other is, of course, what has commonly come to be known as the “globalization” of capitalism. These two developments are certainly related to one another, but they cannot be reduced to one another. Each also has its own specific dynamics which need to be analysed separately
The left has more than once heard calls for a “third way”. In decades gone by, people talked about a “third way” between Communism and capitalism, which was social democracy. Now that both the Communism of that period and the social democratic alternative have both more or less died, we’re beginning to hear about a new “third way”. The main exponent of this new alternative is the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. But there’s talk of a “third way” partnership between Blair and Clinton, or even a troika with the man who may become the next Chancellor of Germany, the German Social-Democratic Party’s Gerhard Schroder
What a difference a year makes. As recently as last summer, economic pundits and global investors were singing the praises of the “Asian tigers.” The World Bank basked in the glow of its 1993 report, The Asian Miracle. Throughout ruling circles, the “Asian model” was touted as proof that open markets and the free flow of capital would be the salvation of humankind
In Minsk, in the summer of 1992, I spoke to a militia officer (our term for the local police) who worked at the department responsible for the fight against organized crime. As a writer I was particularly interested in the activities (and thought patterns and language) of the newly emerging private business. The officers of the department were well informed, and they were in a despondent and confused mood. “I returned recently from the U.S.A., where I spent some time working in an American police department,” the chief of the unit told me.” An American policeman explained to me what we here in Belarus should be doing. ‘You want to build capitalism,’ said he, ‘good.’ ‘But where will your people get money to start a business, or to buy factories from the state? From what you tell me, they cannot obtain money legally. So you, the cops, should close your eyes to crimes that only involve money. Your job now is to see that people don’t kill each other in the streets—nothing more. When the ones who have stolen enough money take power they will adopt their own laws. And then you can do your best to achieve law and order in the country.’”
We write in early June, and these will be the last “Notes from the Editors” until some time in September when things will surely be a lot different from what they are now. Meanwhile you should not spend too much time trying to figure out what the difference will be. We are clearly in the last stages of one of capitalism’s periodic “business cycles,” and these are always periods of severe contradictions and much confusion. Later on, when things have calmed down a bit and the course of events seems to be following a more coherent pattern, there will be time enough to analyze the various tendencies and counter-tendencies that are combining to shape this phase of the twentieth century’s final cycle
The conventional view that agriculture was displaced by industry in two stages—by the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century, and as a result of the rise of the agribusiness system in the mid-twentieth century—has left many observers of the contemporary political economy with the impression that to deal with agriculture is essentially to focus on political-economic history rather than contemporary political economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of this special issue of MR is to help compensate for the neglect that agriculture has often suffered in political-economic literature of the late twentieth century. In so doing we will continue with a line of argument that was introduced in MR more than a decade ago in the July-August 1986 special issue Science, Technology, and Capitalism, edited by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, which included landmark essays on U.S. agriculture and agricultural research by Richard Lewontin and Jean-Pierre Berlan
One of the most well established conventions of Western culture is the association of capitalism with cities. Capitalism is supposed to have been born and bred in the city. But more than that, the implication is that any city—with its characteristic practices of trade and commerce—is by its very nature potentially capitalist from the start, and only extraneous obstacles have stood in the way of any urban civilization giving rise to capitalism. Only the wrong religion, the wrong kind of state, or any kind of ideological, political, or cultural fetters tying the hands of urban classes have prevented capitalism from springing up anywhere and everywhere, since time immemorial—or at least since technology has permitted the production of adequate surpluses
What’s the matter with Japan? According to today’s conventional wisdom—i.e., what we are told by the media and the syndicated pundits—almost everything. Its economy, the second largest in the world, is in a long-term crisis that affects on everyone else, most severely the United States, and it stubbornly refuses to do anything about it despite the friendly advice and frustrated pleas of its partners in the developed capitalist world.
What do they want Japan to do? Simple: they want Japan to “be like us.” Open its markets, deregulate its financial and trading systems, and then step on the economic accelerator—reduce taxes, especially on the higher incomes, and open wide the government-spending spigot. The consequence would presumably be that Japan would quickly become a bigger and better market for its stricken neighbors in Asia and its rich trading partners on the other side of the Pacific Rim.
This is of course the orthodox neoliberal cure for Japan’s crisis. Why does the Japanese government hold back, drag its feet, refuse to accept its “responsibilities” to the newly globalized capitalist economy? Until quite recently the answer to this question was to blame the ossified bureaucratic structure of the Tokyo government. The top bureaucrats, particularly in the Ministry of Finance, were seen as living in the past and being incapable of understanding the needs of the new situation. But this is not a very convincing story. The bureaucrats have been around for quite a while now, and during the great post-Second World War upsurge that catapulted Japan to the top level of the world economy, they gave a pretty good account of themselves. Why should we now believe that they have suddenly become a bunch of doddering incompetents?
In this situation, we have New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof to thank for a very different and much more satisfactory explanation of Japan’s recent performance, one that no one, at least in this country, seems to have had any intimation of. Kristof’s contribution is contained in a long dispatch under the headline “Shops Closing, Japan Still Asks ‘What Crisis?’” that takes up part of three columns on page one and almost all of an inside page (April 21, 1998).
Kristof’s thesis, reduced to its essentials, is that the Japanese as a whole are not feeling any crisis, that they are reasonably satisfied with things as they are, and that they have no interest in pumping up their economy to meet the demands of the Americans. In sum, “the lack of a crisis mentality means that Japan cannot summon the political will to lay off surplus workers, to extinguish insolvent banks, to snuff out the hopes of the kindly old ladies who run rice shops and futon stores. It means that there is little public pressure on prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to push for the sweeping deregulation and huge stimulus that the United States is urging.” As a further indication of Japanese opinion, Kristof cites Hironori Tatayama, a banker in a small town 200 miles southwest of Tokyo: “For people like Mr. Tatayama, the problem of economic restructuring is the price in fairness, equity, and civility. To foreigners, Japan often seems virtually socialist in mind set, profoundly believing in social equity and relying on the most progressive income tax system of any major country in the world—including a marginal rate of 65 percent on personal income taxes—to achieve the equality. After the Soviet Union collapsed, I [Mr. Tatayama] thought that socialism had failed and that capitalism was better…but when I visited Singapore one time, I saw skyscrapers and what looked like a slum next to them. I was surprised, and maybe that was because Japan is the only place where that kind of thing doesn’t happen, the only place where everyone thinks of themselves as middle class.&rdquo
As he approaches the end of his long dispatch from Japan, Kristof sounds a note that must be reassuringly welcome to his bosses at the Times in New York. Citing Yasuo Murata who runs a sawmill and has been hard hit by the opening of Japan’s economy: “Unless the Government changes its policy,” he said,
it’ll be impossible for me to survive here. The problem is the imports…. I want the Government to stop the imports of logs, but I know it can’t do that. Japan is selling high-tech products to other countries, and I understand that if the Government stops the log imports, then the other countries won’t buy Japanese cars or high-tech goods. I understand that the weak are eliminated. I’m really against deregulation, but ultimately I have to accept it. There is no other way.
According to Kristof there are a lot of people who think like Mr. Murata, and so far they have managed to resist caving in altogether. Perhaps this is because Japan is a much more egalitarian country than it is usually given credit for and the popular resistance to neoliberalism may be greater than those who rule Japan would like. If so, that is a piece of good news, coming at a time when good news is in sadly short supply.[mr-bequest]