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December 1999 (Volume 51, Number 7)

Notes from the Editors

Recently, we were talking about the environment to a well-known sociologist and got into a fairly heated debate about the ecological effects of capitalism. He insisted that capitalism has nothing to do with it. All human practices, he said, inevitably affect the natural environment and have done so since the dawn of history. This seemed to us a pretty simplistic and ahistorical argument

Global Economic Crisis, Neoliberal Solutions, and the Philippines

The economic crisis that has been affecting the global economy for the last two and a half years started in East Asia. We’ve heard story after story about the problems in Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and even Japan—but we’ve heard almost nothing about the situation in the Philippines. Is there something that the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank don’t want us to know about the situation there?

APEC at Auckland

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is the name for a series of meetings that has taken place in various Asian and Pacific capitals since 1989. For September of this year, the venue was Auckland, a city of a million people in the North Island of New Zealand. According to Joan Spero, U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, “APEC is about business not about governments;” however, the role of governments has been crucial. In the past, laws and regulations used to protect economies had to be revoked by governments, if untrammelled entry of trade and investment was to take place. And getting rid of barriers erected by governments is what APEC is all about. It is part of the attack—by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—on those economies that try to maintain some degree of autonomy in the face of capital’s demand for open entry everywhere

Competition and Class

A Reply to Foster and McNally

The postwar economy is widely understood to have gone through two major phases. During the long boom between the end of the 1940s and the early 1970s, most of the advanced capitalist economies (outside the United States and the United Kingdom) experienced record-breaking rates of investment, output, productivity, and wage growth, along with low unemployment and only brief, mild recessions. But during the long downturn that followed, the growth of investment fell significantly, resulting in much-reduced productivity growth, sharply slowed wage growth (if not absolute decline), depression-level unemployment (outside the United States), and a succession of serious recessions and financial crises. My goal in The Economics of Global Turbulence was to explain why the long boom gave way to a long downturn, to reveal why stagnation has persisted on an international scale for such an exceedingly long period, and finally to demonstrate how the failure to resolve the problems underlying the long downturn opened the way to the world economic crisis of 1997-1998

Marxism Human Nature, and Social Change

Sean Sayers, Marxism and Human Nature (London: Routledge, 1998), 203pp., paperback

At a time when politicians, academics, and media pundits celebrate the demise of Marxism as a credible school of thought, and hegemonic “postisms” (e.g., poststructuralism, postfeminism, post-Marxism) have succeeded in producing a generation of young academics for whom everything (themselves included) is “socially constructed” and open to “deconstruction,” in an endless game of shifting identities and “stories,” a book about Marxism and human nature seems hopelessly outdated. It is, however, precisely at this time that this book should be welcome, not only because it is full of illuminating insights that dispel many common stereotypes about Marx and Marxism, but also (and most importantly) because it demonstrates how Marx’s theory of human nature, and its social and moral implications, offer a necessary alternative to the current “antinomies of bourgeois thought” (e.g., essentialism vs. anti-essentialism; humanism vs. antihumanism; determinism vs. social constructionism). (I have borrowed this phrase from Georg Lukacs in History and Class Consciousness.)

November 1999 (Volume 51, Number 6)

Notes from the Editor

We’ve been discussing among ourselves exactly what we want to achieve with these Notes from the Editors, and our conclusion is that we want to leave the objectives of the Notes as open-ended as they always have been. Over the years, they have been everything from editorials about some pressing current event, to news about the MR community, or reflections on something we’ve read, including correspondence from our readers. What these all have in common is that they give us a chance to make more or less current comments on things that have happened or things we’ve been thinking about since the last issue

A Poetics of Anticolonialism

Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism might be best described as a declaration of war. I would almost call it a “third world manifesto,” but hesitate because it is primarily a polemic against the old order bereft of the kind of propositions and proposals that generally accompany manifestos. Yet, Discourse speaks in revolutionary cadences, capturing the spirit of its age just as Marx and Engels did 102 years earlier in their little manifesto. First published in 1950 as Discours sur le colonialisme, it appeared just as the old empires were on the verge of collapse, thanks in part to a world war against fascism that left Europe in material, spiritual, and philosophical shambles. It was the age of decolonization and revolt in Africa, Asia, and Latin America

Are New Trade Wars Looming?

I have agreed to talk on the question “Are New Trade Wars Looming?” The answer is yes, but I must also tell you that I think this is the wrong question. What we are really interested in is why trade wars occur and where the economic philosophy we call protectionism comes from. A major cause of the worldwide war and depression that crippled much of the first half of the twentieth century was imperialism and the rivalry of nations for trade, commodities, raw materials, and labor—this produced protectionism. I want to suggest the special importance of finance capital in this process, both earlier in the twentieth century and now. Rather than worrying about trade wars, we should concentrate on the power of capital’s control over our political economy, especially the role of international financiers

The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited

Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books), £20.

This book provides a detailed account of the ways in which the CIA penetrated and influenced a vast array of cultural organizations, through its front groups and via friendly philanthropic organizations like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. The author, Frances Stonor Saunders, details how and why the CIA ran cultural congresses, mounted exhibits, and organized concerts. The CIA also published and translated well-known authors who toed the Washington line, sponsored abstract art to counteract art with any social content and, throughout the world, subsidized journals that criticized Marxism, communism, and revolutionary politics and apologized for, or ignored, violent and destructive imperialist U.S. policies. The CIA was able to harness some of the most vocal exponents of intellectual freedom in the West in service of these policies, to the extent that some intellectuals were directly on the CIA payroll. Many were knowingly involved with CIA “projects,” and others drifted in and out of its orbit, claiming ignorance of the CIA connection after their CIA sponsors were publicly exposed during the late 1960s and the Vietnam war, after the turn of the political tide to the left

The Road Not Taken

Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), $18, 315 pp.; Mike Parker & Martha Gruelle, Democracy is Power: Rebuilding Unions from the Bottom Up (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1999), $17, 255 pp.

In a very well-known passage, Marx said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” Elsewhere, he said, “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” These words of wisdom provide us with a good entry point into a review of these two exceptional books