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Volume 50, Issue 01 (May)

May 1998 (Volume 50, Number 1)

Notes from the Editors

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.


Why Socialism?

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.

The Communist Manifesto Today

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

A Note on the Communist Manifesto

Probably the passage in the Communist Manifesto most frequently cited these days is a portrayal of the global spread of capitalism:

All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands. We have universal inter-dependence of nations…. All nations, on pain of extinction, [are compelled] to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image.

The Communist Manifesto After 150 Years

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