In April, the Northern Ireland process finally resulted in an agreement reached under the chairmanship of U.S. Senator John Mitchell. The so-called Good Friday Agreement, which is to be put to a referendum on May 22, proposed the establishment of a power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly (with the prospect of Sinn Fein actually joining a Northern Ireland executive), a cross-border Council of Ireland to reassure the Nationalist community that their interests are protected, and a British Council to similarly reassure the Unionists. A major concession to the Unionists is the proposal that the Irish Republic drop its constitutional claim to the North. There is also an understanding that the prisoners from those paramilitary organizations accepting the agreement will be released within two years of its implementation.
We live in a skeptical age. All of the basic concepts of the Enlightenment, including progress, science and reason are now under attack. At the center of this skepticism lie persistent doubts about science itself, emanating both from within and from without the scientific community. Recent titles by scientists give an idea of the extent of the crisis in confidence within science: Science: The End of the Frontier? (1991) by Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman; The End of Certainty (1996) by Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine; and The End of Science (1996) by Scientific American writer John Horgan.
The fifteenth annual Socialist Scholars Conference (SSC) was held this year on the weekend of March 22–23, several weeks earlier than usual, but at the accustomed venue, the Borough of Manhattan Community College, way down on the west side, a couple of blocks from the Chambers Street subway station. The weather on the first day, March 22, after a mild and benign winter—supposedly the gift of EI Niño, the fickle Christ Child who evened things up by punishing Florida and California—was abominable, a mixture of sleet, freezing rain, and snow that left many of the approaches to the city clogged with traffic jams and minor accidents but fortunately spared the city streets.
Under these circumstances it was truly remarkable that attendance at the Conference, estimated at 1,600 by the organizers, was higher than last year. It must be emphasized that the following comments make no claim to comprehensiveness, which in any case would be impossible to achieve. From 10 o’clock a.m. on Saturday morning to early evening on Sunday there were at all times multiple panels in operation—in big theaters, lecture halls, and classrooms, put together by a long list of sponsors. No one could attend more than a small fraction of the panels, even if she or he was a fast runner and knew his or her way around the building like the architects who designed it. So the best we can do is give you a sketchy report summarizing MR’s participation.
The theme of the Conference was “A World to Win: from the Manifesto to New Organizing for Social Change.” MR panels were all well attended and received, in particular the panel “One Hundred and Fifty Years after the Communist Manifesto,” which opened the Conference on Saturday morning with Samir Amin, Daniel Singer, Ellen Wood, Aijaz Ahmad, Paul Sweezy, and Harry Magdoff speaking. (We are printing in this issue of MR Paul Sweezy’s presentation given at this panel and also Daniel Singer’s talk from the Sunday evening plenary.)
MR’s other panels included “Rising From the Ashes: Labor in the Age of Global Capital,” with Bill Fletcher, Kim Moody, Michael Yates, and chair Ellen Wood; “Capitalism and the Media,” with Ed Herman, Joan Greenbaum, John Foster, and chair John Simon; “The Southeast Asian Crisis: Imperialism and Financial Capital,” with William K Tabb, David McNally, John Lie, David Kotz, and chair Harry Magdoff; “Are Left Intellectuals Irrelevant?”, with Michael Lowy, Aijaz Ahmad, Ellen Wood and chair Christopher Phelps; “A Chinese Model of Development?”, with Samir Amin, Nirmal Chandra, Sheng-Yu Liu, and chair John Mage; “Race and Class,” with Antonia Darder, Michael Goldfield, Joel Washington, David Abdulah, and chair Kira Brunner. Unfortunately, a scheduled debate “Ecology and Social Change,” between John Foster and David Harvey with Barbra Epstein as chair had to be called off because of Harvey’s illness, but Barbra andJohn did an excellent job of discussing the topic, and the audience got very much involved and asked excellent questions.
From our point of view the entire Conference was a great success, as well as a kind of unofficial kick-off to the many other conferences this year aimed at commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. An important meeting on the same theme—almost a sister conference to the SSC ’98—will take place in Paris in May, and MR has plans to participate. We did hear a few complaints about the SSC; for example some said that the Conferences are becoming “too Marxist.” If anyone wants to accuse us at MR of aiding and abetting this trend, we gladly plead guilty! Finally, in book and magazine sales at our display table, we set a new record. Best sellers were MR Press’s new edition of the Manifesto and Samir Amin’s Spectres of Capitalism.
Speaking of the Manifesto’s 150th anniversary, we’re marking the occasion in this issue with articles either about that great work or reflecting on the directions in which capitalism and Communism are moving 150 years later. Readers will notice that we’re marking another anniversary too: the beginning of volume 50 of Monthly Review, and with it, the beginning of our 50th year. We’ve made some changes in the format of the magazine: changing the size for purely practical reasons—because some sharp observers have noticed that it tends to disappear on magazine racks made for larger formats; changing over to what’s called “perfect binding” so that the name will appear on the spine; and, while we’re at it, making some minor changes in the cover design. If readers want to see some kind of symbolism in these changes, we hope it will convey the message that the basic values of MR and its commitment to socialist politics remain the same, while we always try to be creative in our responses to changing realities.[mr-bequest]
Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.
I’ve probably read the Communist Manifesto a dozen times, more or less. But it never struck me as old hat. It was always worth reading again. So I thought that in preparation for this panel, I should read it once more, this time with special attention to insights and formulations that seem particularly relevant to the problems we face in the world as the twenty-first century approaches
Probably the passage in the Communist Manifesto most frequently cited these days is a portrayal of the global spread of capitalism:
The Communist Manifesto is just that: a manifesto. It is not a long and comprehensive scholarly study but a public declaration of a political program, a short and dramatic statement of purpose and a call to arms, written at a time of political ferment, on the eve of what turned out to be the nearest thing the world had ever seen to international revolution
Readers may remember that in last year’s summer issue on labor we talked about a roundtable organized by MR for activists in the labor movement and held in our office in New York last March. The idea was to provide a forum for labor activists to establish connections among themselves and to discuss issues of common interest at a particularly important historical moment, at a time when the labor movement in various parts of the world, including the United States, is beginning to show signs of renewal. We also hoped to revive the long dormant connection between the socialist left and the labor movement, and we were very pleased to discover that people within the movement were anxious to work with us too
What’s remarkable about the aftermath of Ron Carey’s removal as a candidate for Teamsters president is the staying power of the reform movement. Most predicted the union would quickly fall back into the hands of the mobbed-up Old Guard, personified by James Hoffa, Jr. But in recent local elections rank and file members have chosen to carry on with the business of reform, without the man who once symbolized those changes in the Teamsters
One of the problems that has most troubled analysts of global ecological crisis is the question of scale. How momentous is the ecological crisis? Is the survival of the human species in question? What about life in general? Are the basic biogeochemical cycles of the planet vulnerable? Although few now deny that there is such a thing as an environmental crisis, or that it is in some sense global in character, some rational scientists insist that it is wrong to say that life itself, much less the planet, is seriously threatened. Even the mass extinction of species, it is pointed out, has previously occurred in evolutionary history. Critics of environmentalism (often themselves claiming to be environmentalists) have frequently used these rational reservations on the part of scientists to brand the environmental movement as “apocalyptic.”
A striking feature of the mountain of talk about the Asian crisis is that its root cause is all too often ignored The focus of the media and the pundits is on weak banks, bad management, corrupt officials, heavy indebtedness, excess speculation, and the fragility of the financial markets. Typically, the disaster is viewed as a regional affair. A rare exception is the statement of Eisuke Sakakibara, Japan’s vice-minister for international finance: “This isn’t an Asian crisis. It is a crisis of global capitalism.” (Business Week, January 26, 1998) But he too was apparently thinking of financial markets, concerned with effects, not causes
Human rights were embodied in international law for the first time half a century ago. According to the United Nations Charter, one of the goals of the organization is international cooperation “to advance and strengthen the respect of human rights and basic freedoms for all people, regardless of race, sex, language and religion.” The thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 set out in detail the UN Charter’s goal of international cooperation for the advancement of human rights and basic freedoms. The Convention on Prevention and Prosecution of Genocide of the same year is a great advance and landmark in the body of international law, binding on the states that have ratified it. These two achievements, which came at the very moment of the inception of the cold war, were due to the continuing democratic-antifascist impetus of the struggle and victory of the Anti-Hitler coalition in the Second World War. In the verdicts at Nuremberg the Nazi leaders were not only convicted of war crimes but also of crimes against humankind
The First Amendment stands as the crown jewel of the U.S. Constitution. Although it often has been ignored and violated throughout U.S. history, the First Amendment is the republic’s shining commitment to individual freedom of expression and to the protection of this institutional requirements for an informed electorate and a participatory democracy. Yet what exactly the First Amendment signifies and does has been the subject of considerable debate over the years. Currently or in the near future, any number of cases are and will be working their way through the court system that would seek to prohibit any government regulation of political campaign spending, broadcasting, and commercial speech (e.g. advertising or food labeling) on the grounds that such regulation would violate citizens’ and corporations’ First Amendment rights to free speech or free press
It has, unfortunately, taken far too long for Marxists to take environmental issues seriously. There are some good reasons for this, including the undoubtedly “bourgeois” flavor of many of the issues politicized under that heading (such as “quality of life” for the relatively affluent, romanticism of nature, and sentimentality about animals) and the middle class domination of environmental movements. Against this, it must also be recognised that communist/socialist government have often ignored environmental issues to their own detriment (the pollution of Lake Baikal, the destruction of the Aral Sea, deforestation in China, being environmental disasters commensurate with many of those attributable to capitalism). Environmental issues must be taken seriously. The only interesting question is how to do it
Monthly Review was chosen for a 1997 Frederick Douglas Award, an award given annually by the North Star Fund. We were of course pleased to be so honored and thought that MR readers would be interested to learn more about it. In fact, considering that so many of you, as supporters and friends, are members of the MR family, the award properly belongs to you as well as the staff